Case: Talla came to me for a dietary program. She felt she needed to eat healthier but she did not know where to start, what to change or what to do. She wanted to lose about twenty pounds, feel more energetic and sleep better at night. She was sure her present manner of eating had something to do with her odd energy levels.
I suggested to Talla something that I suggest to many of my clients – that she start with a detoxification program to cleanse her body and then ease back into a healthier way of eating.
I started her program with a ten-day detoxification program of neutral/non-allergenic foods to give her body a chance to reach a stressless state and to allow the detoxification herbs I would give her to work more effectively.
The diet she was to eat for the next ten days consisted only of vegetables of all kinds, fish excluding shellfish and clams, apples, brown rice, and green herbs such as mint, parsley and coriander.
She was also allowed small amounts of olive oil and salt with her cooking but wasn’t allowed to drink anything but water, wasn’t allowed any grains other than brown rice and wasn’t allowed any fruit except apples.
The detoxification tea I gave Talla was a traditional Spring Cleansing tea that has been popular since the Renaissance in Europe, the Middle East and America.
It is commonly known as root beer and was traditionally a carbonated, non-alcoholic beverage made from detoxifying roots grown in the area of consumption. The modern version contains no herbs, just flavorings and colors.
However, attendees of any renaissance festivals can still enjoy the real thing. Root beer was used as a yearly cleansing tea because its various ingredients target all the organs of the body from the liver to the spleen to the circulatory system and cleanse the entire system intensely and effectively.
For the reason of its strength I usually don’t recommend more than a glass or two of real root beer to children or people taking medications. I also don’t advice people who are feeling weak or underweight to use it.
However, Talla was healthy in general despite her energy level problems and was not taking any medication so I gave her the recipe for root beer and a mixture of the herbs. I also modified the recipe a bit to accommodate female needs. Many traditional root beer mixtures are geared towards a male audience.
Women’s Root-Beer Cleansing Tea
Also great for endocrine glands, liver, and hormone production: 3 parts sassafras bark. 2 parts dandelion root. 1 part licorice root. 1 part pau d’arco. 1 part vitex. 1 part wild yam. 1 part ginger root. 1/2 part cinnamon. 1/4 part orange peel. 1/4 part dong quai root.
To make the root beer add one teaspoon of herb per cup of water and simmer it for twenty minutes. Strain and add honey to taste. Don’t over simmer, boil or add too many herbs as it will become bitter. If it is still to strong you may add some water to weaken the tea.
Talla was happy with the herbs but was concerned about the detoxification. She told me that she did not have enough time to cook all those vegetables and that was one reason why she didn’t eat healthy to begin with.
“I don’t have enough time to eat healthy,” she said, “and how will I find time to cook all that food?” I explained that the concept of healthy eating being difficult was a concept propagated by advertisers of special programs and publishers of exotic or prolific vegetarian cookbooks.
With all the hype over vegetarian cooking and the introduction of the gourmet vegetarian restaurant we have come to associate vegetarian with gourmet and we automatically assume that it will involve a lot of work.
However, eating healthy or eating a lot of vegetables doesn’t have to be hard work as long as you can plan well and learn to be creatively simple with your meals.
I shared with Talla some of my basic formulas for cooking interesting and healthy vegetable dishes (below) as well as some of the methods I used to keep healthy food available.
She would not be able to use all of my ideas during the detox, however, she could use many of them afterwards as she tried to ease into a healthier way of eating. I gave her the following list of kitchen organization ideas:
1.Use the bread machine to create healthy breads and rolls for the family.
The way to keep this simple and easy is to experiment to find a recipe that pleases you and then use the same recipe every time you make bread but just change the flours for variety. Set the bread machine for dough only. When it is done in an hour and a half shape the bread into loaves or rolls and bake them.
This is something one can do upon first waking up, before going to the grocery store, or even at night as long as the recipe is egg-free. Using the bread machine to make only dough doesn’t require precise measuring so one can vary the flours used and add anything from buckwheat to spelt to oatmeal.
In the end, more flour can be added if needed. Dough can also be shaped into pita loaves or used as pizza dough. For a healthy snack dough can be filled or topped with ingredients such as zatar and oil or cheese and chives.
2.Buy a divided tray for quick snacks.
A divided tray with a lid is a staple part of my kitchen. I have eight of them. Each tray has six sections and a lid.
One tray is filled with various dried fruits, one is filled with six kinds of healthy seeds and nuts including pumkin and melon seeds and one tray is filled with juice-sweetened jams and homemade nut butters (put some nuts in a blender with a little olive oil) to spread on breads.
In another tray I keep baby carrots and baby tomatoes (because they don’t involved cutting, they always taste sweet and they last a long time in the tray) as well as cut up cucumbers, olives, pickles, and some alfalfa sprouts.
All of the above mentioned trays are very easy to prepare and if one really wanted to they could eat only the food in those trays and be full every day with healthy food. The other two trays I have take a little more effort but last for up to three days in the refrigerator and are worth the fifteen minutes of invested time to prepare them.
The first tray is a tray filled with cut up melons, sectioned oranges, pineapple, mango, grapes, berries and/or whatever is in season. I keep bananas and apples in a basket on the counter on a daily basis. The second tray is filled with cauliflower, broccoli, celery, radishes, and other vegetables that take some time to peel and prepare.
These trays provide the cornerstone for all meals and snacks. At breakfast the fruit and jam tray are always out. For dinner and lunch the vegetable trays come out. Rotating the variety in the tray keeps up the interest level and the maintenance of the trays takes only about ten minutes a day or a half hour twice a week.
3.Use a crock-pot.
I am surprised how many people do not use a crock-pot. A crock-pot is basically the electronic version of the traditional pot simmering over the open fire in a traditional village. One adds the ingredients to the pot in the morning, lets them simmer unsupervised to exquisite tenderness all day and then enjoys the meal in the evening.
This takes only minimal planning but the rewards are less time cooking, healthier foods and better and more frequent home cooked meals. The basic recipe for any crock-pot is simple: add vegetables, and/or meats, and/or pre-soaked beans until the pot is three-fourths full. Top these ingredients with a spice mixture and 3-8 cups of water, tomato sauce, or stock.
In 4-8 hours you have dinner or lunch to be served alongside vegetables and homemade bread. I often make traditional Indian or Middle Eastern dishes in the crock-pot as well.
Bisillah or Fusulia or any number of curries or dhals can be made in the crock-pot. If too much liquid is in the final dish the crock-pot can be left to simmer on high with the lid off for an hour or two to finish the dish.
Sometimes just thinking in a creative and simple way can help you create simple dishes. My favorite two dishes are hummus wrap-ups and squash bowls. The recipes are simple and easy and very healthy.
Don’t think that to make a healthy dish you have to use a lot of ingredients. Some of the best dishes use only two or three ingredients.
Spread hummus on a thin piece of wrap-up bread (purchase from the store) or pita bread. Add lettuce and tomato and some garlic and roll it up.
Cut a squash in half and hollow it out. Poke holes in it with a fork and put it in the stove for 40 minutes. Meanwhile stir-fry some sliced onion, green pepper, garlic, raisins, and pine nuts in olive oil. Fill the squash with the stir-fry mixture.
Talla was very excited to try the new ideas I gave her. She had a successful detoxification week and found it much easier to eat healthy food with the ideas I had given her.
Her closing comments to me were, “I never knew it was so easy to eat healthy! It’s actually easier than all the fast food and prepared foods I was making before. It’s easier than Hamburger Helper!”
Here are some of the basic formulas I gave Talla:
General Formula for Cooking Interesting Vegetable Dishes
- Chop, slice or julienne any vegetables you have around that seem to go together. This can be a combination of fresh and frozen.
- Chose a cooking method (stir fry, steam, baked or raw)
- Chose a spice theme (Mexican, Italian, Greek, etc…)
- Chose an oil, sauce, or stock base (this can be olive oil, butter, ghee, tomato sauce or even vegetable broth)
1 tsp. of oil. 1/2 tsp. of salt. 1 onion and some garlic. Sauté these in the oil and then add the spice mix for your “national flavor”. Add vegetables and sauté until cooked but not wilted.
1 tsp. of oil. 1/2 tsp. of salt. onion and garlic. Sauté the above. Add the vegetables and 2-3 cups of vegetable stock and spices. Bake for 1 hour in a covered dish. When finished pour off the liquid into a sauce pan. Add a little cornstarch with cold water to the saucepan to make a thick “gravy” for the veggies.
Use any of the leftovers from the methods above to stuff baked squash, potatoes, or yams. You can also steam green peppers or tomatoes and stuff those.
You can add up to 2 TBS. of nuts and/or raisins (sultanas) to your dishes to make them more interesting.
My Favorite Combinations
(You can and should add chopped greens to any of these if you like)
- Broccoli, cauliflower and red pepper with Italian seasoning
- Zucchini, tomato, peppers, green beans, eggplant and mushrooms with Italian seasoning
- Zucchini, corn, tomato, mushrooms, pimentos, red peppers, green peppers and yellow peppers with Mexican seasoning
- Baby corn, peas (snow peas if you can find), mushrooms, greens, sprouts, broccoli, peppers, and carrots with Oriental seasoning
- Green peppers, celery, onions, greens, walnuts and raisins stuffed in squash
- Peas and carrots in tomato sauce with Middle Eastern seasoning
You can find many websites and books that publish the ingredients for everything from Mexican to Middle Eastern seasonings to curries. You don’t need to purchase these prepared. However, I do keep a list of spice recipes near my spice cupboard.
This article was first published in 2008 and is currently republished for its importance.