Cajun Chickpea Cakes

For someone raised in the desert Southwest, I have an inexplicably great affinity for Cajun cuisine. Though I’ve never been to Louisiana (or anywhere in the South except Jacksonville, Florida and a brief weekend in Oxford, Mississippi) I harbor rich fantasies about eating crispy beignets in the shade of a cypress tree while jazz music floats through the air. Admittedly, most of this probably stems from visits to New Orleans Square in Disneyland…so my dreams of Cajun culture may not be the most authentic.

Still, I know there’s authenticity to my love of Cajun food. Case in point: recently, a new seafood restaurant opened in our neighborhood. I had no particular interest in trying it, but kept hearing rave reviews. Once my husband and I finally visited, I discovered it was a Cajun seafood restaurant, with some of the best Cajun catfish I’ve ever had. Now it’s our favorite spot for a lunch date. There’s something about the mix of spices with flaky breading and hot fish that is piquant perfection, if you ask me.

Though Cajun food often centers around fish or meat fried in oil, it can also easily be made vegetarian, and it doesn’t have to be a grease-fest. Take these Cajun Chickpea Cakes. They pack the sublime flavor for which Cajun food is famous in a fiber-rich, lower-fat package. After tinkering with this recipe for years, I think it’s finally ready for prime time. Served with dirty rice, these cakes are a unique, flavorful vegetarian meal!

Not only are these Chickpea Cakes quite healthy as is, full of veggies and beans, they’re easily modified for dietary restrictions. Need a gluten-free meal? Sub cornstarch for the flour. Going vegan? Replace the egg with 1 Tablespoon flax seeds + 3 Tablespoons water. You can also feel free to experiment with the spices to achieve whatever level suits your taste.

P.S. Fun trivia: did you know the word “Cajun” is a shortening of the term “Acadian”? Acadians were French immigrants who initially settled in Canada and the Northeastern U.S. (which is why Acadia National Park is in Maine) but eventually migrated south to Louisiana.

Nice of them to bless American culture with their delicious food traditions!


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Cajun Chickpea Cakes
A unique vegetarian main dish with all the flavor you expect from Cajun cuisine!
Cuisine cajun
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
Cuisine cajun
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
Instructions
  1. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add diced celery, onion, and green pepper and saute about 5 minutes or until tender. Remove from heat and reserve skillet.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mash drained chickpeas until only some chunks remain (you don't want them super mushy). Add sautéed vegetables and all remaining ingredients. Mix until the mixture begin to hold together. Add more flour if necessary.
  3. Form mixture into 1/2 thick patties (should make about 8).
  4. Heat remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium/medium-high in the same nonstick skillet you used for the veggies. Add patties and cook about 3 minutes per side or until browned and crispy. Serve immediately (especially good with dirty rice)!
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Miratel Solutions.

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Bulgur Salad with Grapes and Feta

I know it’s still only September, but I’ve already got Thanksgiving on the brain. Somehow, once the weather starts cooling down, it feels like one big slip and slide ride to the holidays. And as a foodie, Thanksgiving is definitely a holiday to look forward to. While I enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving dinner as much as the next person, I also love the idea of trying new recipes (especially healthier versions of classics) for the feast. Last year, on A Love Letter to Food’s Facebook page, I did a ten-day countdown to a healthier Thanksgiving, featuring ten different recipes for better-for-you sides and desserts.

This year I already know what healthy side I want to take to Thanksgiving: this Bulgur Salad with Grapes and Feta.

It may not bear much resemblance to mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, or dinner rolls, but stick with me. When we tried this recently as a side with grilled chicken, it was a match made in heaven. I can only assume the same for how it would pair with turkey.

If you’re new to bulgur, join the club. Though a variety of different grains have become available in mainstream grocery stores these days, bulgur hasn’t caught on as much as the “cool kids” of quinoa, couscous, and wheat berries. If you had asked me a year ago to tell you anything about this particular grain, I would have drawn a blank (except for an internal snicker at how its name sounds kinda gross, like “Aunt Tillie can’t make it to Thanksgiving because her bulgur is acting up again”).

The deeper I get into trying to follow a Mediterranean diet, though, the more new foods I’m exposed to. I now know that bulgur is essentially just hulled whole kernels of durum wheat. Translation: it’s a whole grain, and it’s good for you. It’s low in fat and sodium, extremely high in fiber. Plus, it has a pleasing chewy texture, soaks up marinades and dressings beautifully, and can be used in place of just about any other similar grain, like quinoa, couscous, or even rice. I’m a believer.

This Bulgur Salad with Grapes and Feta is adapted from America’s Test Kitchen’s Complete Mediterranean Cookbook (which I’m LOVING RIGHT NOW and will soon be posting about!). It’s a no-cook recipe, as the bulgur kernels take a soak in lemon juice and water for 90 minutes to soften up to the point of chewy edibility. Once the soaking is complete, the now-chewy grains are tossed with grapes, feta, fresh mint, slivered almonds, and an olive oil-based dressing.

As a side for Thanksgiving–or any other meal–give this refreshing and different salad a try!


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Bulgur Salad with Grapes and Feta
A refreshing, healthy salad featuring high-fiber bulgur, grapes, and feta cheese.
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl (the bowl you intend to serve this salad in), soak bulgur in a mixture of 1 c. water, 1/4 c. lemon juice, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Cover and let sit for about 90 minutes, or until bulgur has softened and become chewy and no liquid remains.
  2. Meanwhile, make the dressing: in a measuring cup, combine 1 Tbsp. lemon juice, olive oil, cumin, cayenne powder, and 1/4 tsp. salt.
  3. When all liquid has been absorbed in the bulgur, pour dressing over the grains and toss to combine. Add feta, almonds, grapes, green onions, and mint and toss again. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately or refrigerate.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook by America's Test Kitchen.

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Roasted Chickpea Pitas

I think if I were a chickpea, I wouldn’t be very happy. Poor chickpeas. They’re always getting mashed, pounded, and ground up for things like hummus and falafel, or playing second fiddle as a side dish to meat. It’s rare that you eat anything in which chickpeas in their whole, unadulterated form take center stage. Can’t we give these little guys their time to shine?

Why yes, we can, in the form of Roasted Chickpea Pitas!

This tasty vegetarian Mediterranean meal features whole chickpeas roasted in a piquant blend of seasonings and paired with caramelized red onions. Finished off with some spinach, tomato, and creamy tzatziki sauce in a whole wheat pita, it’s a super healthy choice for dinner or a one-dish lunch. Every time I eat it, even without adding a side, it keeps me full for hours–probably because of all the “good carbs” found in the whole wheat and beans. Plus, chickpeas contain plenty of protein and even a little unsaturated fat. Can you really go wrong by adding more of them to your diet?

So if I were a chickpea, I’d like to think I’d approve of this recipe (even though I’d have to be roasted in a 400 degree oven). Worth it.


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Roasted Chickpea Pitas
Spiced roasted chickpeas and cool tzatziki sauce make a hearty filling in these pitas.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
For the roasted chickpeas:
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
For the roasted chickpeas:
Instructions
Make the chickpea filling:
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together chickpeas and sliced red onions. Pour olive oil and all spices over the mixture, stir to toss, and spread on the prepared baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through baking.
Make the tzatziki sauce:
  1. Meanwhile, make the tzatziki sauce by combining all ingredients in a small bowl.
Assemble the pitas:
  1. Assemble the pitas by filling them with the chickpea mixture, tzatziki sauce, spinach, tomato, and/or feta.
Recipe Notes

Inspired by Live Eat Learn.

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Broccoli Three Cheese Lasagna

Today, in addition to bestowing upon the internet the gift of an amazing Broccoli Three-Cheese Lasagna that might just become your family’s new favorite vegetarian pasta dish, I’m trying a little something new on the blog. For kicks, and because as a nutritionist I care about providing (reasonably) healthy recipes, I’ve decided that moving forward, I’d really like to include nutrition information with my recipes. Also because I’m curious. So today, for this lovely lasagna, I’ve included a nutrition facts label for your perusal.

Adding up actual counts of calories, fat, sodium, etc. can feel like a bit of a peeking-through-your-fingers potential train wreck, like “oh nooooooo, I’m eating WHAT? Why did you have to tell me that?”

But I do (usually) want to know what I’m putting into my body–and I want YOU to know, too.

I’m starting with this particular Broccoli Lasagna recipe because, in its original form via Real Simple, this homemade comfort food classic contained a whopping 833 calories, 56 grams of fat, and 1,500mg of sodium–even with vegetables in place of meat. I shudder to think about the nutrition facts for restaurant lasagna. Actually….let’s go there. Olive Garden’s Lasagna Classico will set you back 930 calories, 53 grams of fat, and 2,070 mg of sodium! (For reference, your daily intake of sodium should be below 2,400 mg. Good luck only eating 300 mg of sodium in the entire rest of your day!)

As delicious as the original version of this recipe might have been, it really didn’t need to be so heavy, and with a few changes to slim it down, it’s still plenty rich. With a bit less cheese and a more portion-controlled 5 servings instead of 4, this lighter incarnation contains 586 calories, 12 grams of fat, and 1,245 mg sodium. High in sodium, yes, but with fat and calorie counts I can feel good about with a one-dish-meal dinner. Especially one that combines the Italian nirvana of tender pasta and ooey-gooey stretchy cheese with the nutritional powerhouse of broccoli.


Print Recipe
Broccoli Three Cheese Lasagna
Stretchy mozzarella, tender lasagna noodles, savory sauce, and plenty of broccoli make this a one-dish delight.
Course Main Dish, pasta
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Servings
Course Main Dish, pasta
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Servings
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. If using fresh broccoli, steam in a microwave-safe dish by adding a few tablespoons water, covering with a lid, and microwaving 2-4 minutes until bright green and crisp-tender. If using frozen, thaw and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Place steamed or thawed broccoli in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped (but not pureed).
  2. In a large bowl, mix chopped broccoli, ricotta, 1 c. mozzarella, 2 Tbsp. Parmesan, garlic powder, oregano, basil, salt, and pepper.
  3. In a medium bowl, stir half and half into marinara sauce.
  4. Assemble lasagna: in an 8-inch square baking dish, spoon a thin layer of sauce. Top with two noodles, a quarter of remaining sauce, and a third of the broccoli mixture. Repeat twice. Top with the remaining two noodles and sauce. Sprinkle the top with remaining 1/4 c. mozzarella and 2 Tbsp. Parmesan.
  5. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake 35-40 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 10-15 minutes.
Recipe Notes

Inspired by (but heavily adapted from) Real Simple.

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The Best Black Bean Burritos

After this post, I swear I’ll stop talking about our summer in Germany so much…but since we returned just two days ago, I do have one more thing to say, and that is:

Mexican food is the greatest.

Wait, how is this about Germany? Well, when you’re from Arizona, enchiladas, burritos, tostadas, guacamole, and salsa are like mother’s milk. They’re a part of the fabric of “normal” food in our part of the world. In kindergarten, my class learned the Mexican hat dance in P.E. and sang “Feliz Navidad” at our Christmas recital, if that tells you anything about how Mexican culture (and therefore food) are a major part of the Arizona lifestyle.

When you live in Germany, on the other hand, Mexican food might as well be Martian food. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. There was one Mexican restaurant in our neighborhood in Cologne, but it definitely did not serve the Sonoran cuisine I’m used to. And although German grocery stores often technically sell some Mexican foods, it’s something akin to if someone told you they had an Italian marinara and sold you tomato sauce. There’s a difference.

So essentially, I’ve gone without my regular dose of life-giving Mexican food for almost three months. And ¡ay, caramba!, I have missed it.

Therefore, when we returned home a couple of days ago, eating Mexican was FIRST ORDER OF BUSINESS. Like, unpack, shower off the grody-ness of spending a total of almost 20 hours on airplanes, and get me some Mexican food. These amazing black bean burritos are one of my go-to Mexican faves, and since they’re also vegetarian, they sounded especially wonderful after what may become known in our family as our Summer of Sausage. (Don’t get me wrong, I love brats, but I was reaching my personal point of Meat Overload by the end of three months.)

The Best Black Bean Burritos did not disappoint! With grilled corn and a side of chips and guac, these are my Mexican happy place. Our family had such a valuable, meaningful time in Europe, but it sure is good to be home for many reasons, but especially because…


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The Best Black Bean Burritos
Eating is believing! These delicious black bean burritos are packed with veggies, have amazing flavor, and are a snap to make!
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
burritos
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
burritos
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Wrap tortillas in aluminum foil and place them in the oven to warm for 15 minutes.
  2. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, red onion, red pepper, and jalapeño and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in black beans and cook another 3 minutes.
  3. Add cubed cream cheese and salt and cook until the mixture becomes creamy and heated through. Stir in cilantro.
  4. Serve mixture in tortillas, with any additional toppings desired.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Allrecipes.com.

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