My Dirty Secret on How How to Make Healthy Eating Fun: 10 Foreign Foods

I’m at a point in my journey where healthy eating has become automatic. So much so that I’ve needed to jolt myself to remind myself that variety is the spice of life! I’ve needed to relearn how to make healthy eating fun again.

My days have a routine. It goes like this:

• breakfast: 1 cup legumes, 1/2 c cauliflower & breakfast seasoning blend + 1/2 c berries, cinnamon & flax + Brazil nut

• lunch: large salad + leftovers

• dinner: large salad + bean-heavy dish

I buy my salad ingredients in bulk and get them delivered to me every week. I love that it makes healthy eating easy and cheap. The downfall is that the store has the same ingredients every week. That means most weeks I end up making salads that are very similar. BO-ring!

I’ve become busier with modeling. And that means I don’t have the energy or creativity to make fantastic new dinner recipes like I used to. A variation of chili, curry and/or dal makes an appearance in my kitchen on a regular basis. It’s easy, it’s convenient… but it’s not exciting.

I was getting tired of the same green lettuce, carrots, zucchini and onions in my salad. And I was becoming weary of the regular (but still tasty) bean chili’s, curries and dals. I needed something different in my life. I needed to spice things up.

My solution to my routine was to add variety with different ingredients. Different ingredients encourage us to taste new flavors and cook new dishes.

Adding a beetroot here or Brussel sprouts there will cure your life of monotony. But if you’re going to learn how to make healthy eating fun, let’s go all the way. Discover the following ten exotic ingredients so you can truthfully say I love eating healthy!

1. Cactus

I first got the idea to eat cactus (!) when I went on a trip to New York City last October. I was at the Chelsea market with Rob. He noticed that a vendor was selling cactus tacos. We were both intrigued but never ended up ordering them.

Fast forward to two weeks ago. We were bored and needed something to do to spend time with one another. Rob remembered: cactus tacos! He wanted to make them at home. Lucky for us, we’re a short subway trip away from the Mission District in San Francisco. It’s home to all the Latino and South American foods we could want.

Within half an hour our arms were full of all the necessities to make the cactus tacos, aka tacos nopales. We had cactus, fresh tomatoes, onion and corn tortillas. We found inspiration with a recipe and got to work on making an exciting dinner together.

The tacos nopales were easy to make. We paired them with refried beans and the ingredient below ;) to round out our cena Latina (Latin dinner).

Cactus tacos are one easy way to incorporate cactus into your dinner. You slice the thorns off, chop it up and then grill it until it’s transformed from bright green to dark. Serve on top of warmed corn tortillas and a fresh, simple salsa made out of cilantro, tomatoes and onion.

The cooked cacti taste akin to cooked green bell peppers. Another way you could use them is to replace a recipe with green peppers in them with sliced or diced cactus.

Pineapple Guacamole Baked Plantains

2. Plantain

Plantains are an ingredient similar to bananas but they’re more heat-resistant. They’re common in Latin, South American, African and Asian recipes. Like bananas, they’re grown in the tropics of Central & South America and Asia/Oceana. Along with our tacos nopales, we also had oil-free fried plantains. One ingredient required for that: plantains! All you need to do is peel, slice and cook. You can cook them either at medium/medium-high heat in a fry pan or oven. I prefer to cook them until they have started to form a thin skin. It adds a small layer of crispiness to the otherwise mushy plantains.

Some recipes call for them green and other call for them ripe. When green, they look almost exactly like bananas. While ripe (and sweet) they’re completely black. Don’t let the black intimidate you. Even if it’s soft, they’re still good to cook and eat. Most of the time they’re cooked before consumption. However, very ripe (i.e. black) plantains are sweet and palatable raw.

Looking to dress up your plantains a bit more? You can’t go wrong preparing Pineapple Guacamole Baked Plantains. I recommend balancing out the fat from the guacamole with extra veggies and beans.

Raw Fall Zucchini Pasta with Persimmon Dressing

3. Persimmon

Are you familiar with persimmons? If not, persimmons are bright, round orange fruit. They look like tomatoes in that their orange color is very deep, almost red, and their stems are large and on top. When under-ripe, they’re quite hard. You want to wait until they’re very soft to eat them. That is the stage at which they’ll be sweetest and taste like the love child of mango and pumpkin. If you don’t wait, it can be bitter and starchy.

You might be able to find them at local farmers markets in the fall and or at the grocery store. My first encounter with a persimmon was back in 2013 in Fargo, North Dakota. You never know where you’ll find them! I find them at my San Francisco farmer’s market October through February.

An easy way to incorporate a persimmon into your meal is to add them to one of your huge salads. Green lettuce, carrot, onion and persimmon would make a beautiful salad combination. Top it off with my basic dressing recipe (found in this blog post) and you have yourself a sweet salad to enjoy with lunch or dinner.

I don’t recommend adding persimmons to smoothies. When blended, they make blended concoctions very thick. However, blending persimmon with a banana or mango would result in a thick fruit pudding for you to enjoy.

Looking for another way to use persimmon? I recommend trying this Raw Fall Zucchini Pasta recipe. It includes persimmon and and suggestion #8. Plus, the enire recipe is packed with veggies and flavor.

Sauerkraut Chickpea Flour Ravioli

4. Sauerkraut/Kimchi

If you’re looking for a new flavor in your life, fermented foods are a healthy way to do it. Before becoming sauerkraut, cabbage is healthy on its own. Being a leafy green, it’s full of nutrition and enthusiastically promotes weight loss.

When fermented, the health benefits morph and grow. It’s no longer as crunchy or filling as raw cabbage, but new benefits are added. The fermentation process has allowed vitamin K2 to form. Plus, eating raw fermented sauerkraut adds beneficial bacterium to your gut. The bacterium can boost your digestive system and has immune benefits.

All fermented foods have a unique flavor that’s unlike anything you’ve tasted before. Fermented foods are acidic, like vinegar, but have a depth that’s difficult to describe.

If you’ve never had sauerkraut or kimchi, the best way to do it SLOWLY. An easy way to dip your toe into kimchi or sauerkraut is to use it as a garnish. Add sauerkraut to your favorite German recipe or Kimchi to your favorite eastern Asian dish. If you’re picking out Kimchi for the first time, be aware that it tends to be spicy. If the sight of a jalapeño makes you sweat, look for a mild kimchi so you don’t set your mouth on fire. Cooking either, like the sauerkraut in these Sauerkraut Chickpea Flour Ravioli, will also make the flavor milder.

Since sauerkraut and kimchi are fermented, you’ll get the most benefit by leaving them raw. Either would be delicious in a salad. Another way to use sauerkraut is to prepare my Raw Vegan Buddha Bowl. Since it’s a light dish, pair it with something more filling like bean burgers or falafel.

If you’re ready to dive headfirst into making your own, check out my fermented sauerkraut recipe.

Okra, Zucchini and Chickpea Gumbo

5. Okra

What can I say about okra? It’s a funny little vegetable that’s common in Southern American cuisine. The flavor is mild and it’s most known for the ‘slime’ it oozes. The flavor could be described as a combination of eggplant and asparagus. Okra is definitely a food you want to cook; don’t add it raw to your salad!

It’ll be uncommon to find fresh okra at the supermarket but you can find it at farmers markets in late-summer and early fall. Some supermarkets, like Trader Joes, carry frozen okra.

Unfortunately, many recipes call for it fried. But fortunately, you don’t have to. I recommend checking out the Okra, Zucchini and Chickpea Gumbo from Sipping on Soy or Trinidad Callaloo Soup. The gumbo is a classic usage of okra and soups are weight-loss rock stars.

Spicy Cranberry Mushroom Bok Choy Stir Fry

6. Bok Choy

Want to learn how to make healthy eating fun with minimal effort? Try bok chow or pak choy. They’re two Asian greens that are watery and neutral in flavor. They blend well with other Asian flavors, like mushrooms and ginger. Though they’re edible raw, they’re best cooked.

Two simple combinations I have for preparing bok choy are:

a. Sautéed carrot, bok choy and ginger

b. Sautéed bok choy and mushroom (see my Warm Asian Bok Choy and Mushroom salad recipe)

I love how bok choy lends itself to sweet and gingery recipes, savory mushroom recipes and even spicy, peppery recipes.

You can turn my Warm Asian Bok Choy and Mushroom Salad Recipe into a filling, Asian-inspired meal. Just add tempeh, tofu, edamame or cooked soy beans to the recipe. Opt for chickpeas or black beans if you prefer to avoid soy.

Or try this Spicy Cranberry Mushroom Bok Choy Stir Fry. This recipe gets a gold star from me. It includes berries, mushrooms and bok choy — three anti-aging, weight loss and cancer-fighting superfoods.

Applesauce Jicama Salad

7. Jicama

Jicama (say HICK-ah-mah or HEE-kah-mah) is a root vegetable native to Central and South America. The outside is brown and inside is white. Jicama’s flavor is light and delicate while the texture is crunchy. Think of jicama as a potato that you can eat raw with a slight pear-like sweetness. Some supermarkets sell them, but you have the best chance at a South-American or Latino store.

It may sound boring, but my favorite way to eat jicama is raw. I love the crunchy, almost juicy texture it adds. Comparing heat vs. cooked, raw jicama is my favorite. While crunchy, it’s not as difficult as a carrot to bite through. It’s crunchy, but eagerly yields when you go to bite it.

Add julienned jicama to slaws, tacos or salads. Or finely dice it and add it to a salsa.

If you don’t want simply dice it, consider grating it like Heather Nicholds’ Applesauce Jicama Salad suggests.

Chocolate Orange Chia Parfait

8. Pomegranate

Pomegranates are both familiar and unfamiliar in Western countries, especially the United States. On one hand, most people have heard of them. But it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I finally saw and ate one in person. Pomegranates have a hard, red outer shell. The flesh you eat are actually the dark, juicy seeds of the fruit. In the winter, your local grocery store will likely stock them. You might be able to find pomegranates at your farmers market October-February if you live in a warmer climate.

My favorite way to prepare pomegranate is to combine them with sautéed and caramelized Brussel sprouts.

How to:

Cook Brussel sprouts in a little water, garlic and sautéed onions. I like to add turmeric and black pepper for the health benefits and typically use the oven or electric fry pan.

Remove from heat and add pomegranate seeds to your taste. If you like it on the sweeter side, add more. If you prefer savory, add fewer. Then enjoy warm!

Pomegranates are also tasty for dessert. If you have a sweet tooth, you could try a Chocolate Orange Chia Parfait with pomegranate seeds.

Homemade Salsa Verde

9. Tomatillo

I’m a huge fan of tomatoes, but they can get a little overused. I love how tomatoes are versatile. South American, Indian, Mediterranean and other regional recipes use tomatoes. But being widespread and easy to use can make them a little…boring.

Instead of tomatoes, try a tomatillo instead. Tomatillos are greener, slightly sharper and more acidic tomatoes. Tomatillos are to tomatoes as plantains are to bananas.

Like other ingredients, just chop it up and add it to your salad or main dish for flavor and garnish. Another common way to use tomatillos is to make a salsa verde out of it, either cooked or raw.

Pulled BBQ Jackfruit Sandwiches

10. Jackfruit

Green jackfruit is a trending vegan/vegetarian meat replacement. When under-ripe, jackfruit can be used to replace pulled pork. Alternatively, jackfruit can also be eating sweet and ripe.

My preference is to use jackfruit under-ripe. I like that I can make a main meal out of it without my main meal being heavy and too filling. It’s lighter since it’s a fruit, not a mock meat of tofu or seitan.

The easiest way to use jackfruit is to make BBQ jackfruit. Just add your favorite barbecue sauce to the jack fruit, heat and eat! If you need some guidance check out these Pulled BBQ Jackfruit Sandwiches. The post also includes a recipe for Tahini Slaw.

If you’re still clueless about how to make healthy eating fun, open your eyes and check out one of the recipes I suggested. The ingredients I mentioned aren’t only fun weight loss foods. They’re also healthy, flavorful foods that will make you excited to cook dinner at night.

I love eating healthy because there are so many healthy plant foods out there to try. Adding variety to your meals can be as simple as picking up a new ingredient at the grocery store or farmer’s market.

Recipe suggestions (from above):

· Pineapple Guacamole Baked Plantains

· My Basic Flax Dressing Recipe

· Raw Fall Zucchini Pasta

· Sauerkraut Chickpea Flour Ravioli

· Raw Vegan Buddha Bowl

· My Fermented Sauerkraut Recipe

· Warm Asian Bok Choy and Mushroom Salad

· Spicy Cranberry Mushroom Bok Choy Stir Fry

· Applesauce Jicama Salad

· Chocolate Orange Chia Parfait

· Homemade Salsa Verde

· Pulled BBQ Jackfruit Sandwiches

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