Cooking Healthy Vegetarian Gallo Pinto
Since I’ve been focusing on cooking healthy and eating healthy this month, I thought it would be a good time to share one of the reasons why I find cooking healthy a bit challenging. Below my story, you’ll find a recipe for one of my favorite healthy meals, Gallo Pinto, a Nicaraguan dish of rice and beans that I first found out about from this recipe by Seasonal and Savory.
My grandparents were meat-and-potatoes people. They raised my mom to be a meat-and-potatoes girl. And she raised me.
Cooking in The Meat-And-Potatoes Way is therefore easy for me. It’s automatic. The motions, the timing, all of it has been genetically passed down to me, or maybe I just breathed it in along with the smell of pot roast in my Baba’s kitchen.
Eating in The Meat-And-Potatoes Way makes me happy. Big meat, squishy potatoes, a slide of gravy. I’m comforted. I’m full. I’m satisfied.
Or at least eating that way used to make me happy. Lately there’s a sprig of guilt on my plate.
I’m pretty sure that this is a guilt my Baba never felt. I don’t think she knew that The Meat-And-Potatoes Way was bad for her heart, bad for her husband’s heart or that it was a less-than-ideal habit to be sharing with her children. For her, the satisfying food on her table meant she was taking good care of her family. And she was.
I’m also pretty sure that my mom didn’t feel this guilt when I was a child. She was proud that she cooked meals for us from scratch and she was sure that this was the best thing for us. Interestingly, she does worry about The Meat-And-Potatoes Way now. Her and my dad focus on vegetables, healthy grains, beans and very small meat portions, like a Friday night treat of a shared filet mignon.
But when we were kids, this healthier way of eating was not on her mind.
I don’t think it was on any parent’s mind.
It is now.
I worry that every time my kids breathe in a pot roast breath they’re getting closer to having The Meat-And-Potatoes Way imprinted on their soul; they’re coming to expect that all meals are big meat, a pile of potatoes, small veg.
And so I’ve been making changes.
It hasn’t been easy.
When meal-planning I can no longer do a simple jot down of “Monday: Chicken & Rice, Tuesday: Pork & Noodles, Wednesday: Beef & Mash, Thursday: Chicken & Noodles, Friday: Beef & Baked.” Instead, I need to search the internet, scour my cookbooks, brainstorm and work hard to avoid my easy groove.
When cooking I can no longer rely on my automatic cooking instincts. I need to think more about the items in front of me, carefully reading recipes and the directions on packages (last week I fished the quinoa box out of the recycling bin twice because I kept forgetting how long quinoa needs to cook), concentrating on the flavors in the vegetables and coming up with ways to make them into a more memorable dish.
When eating I can no longer count on meat-and-potatoes to deliver that comforting, full, satisfied feeling. I instead consciously tell myself to not miss the vast quantities of meat, to appreciate the beautiful vegetables that cover my plate and to enjoy chewing those unsquishy brown carbs.
So yes, it’s hard. But I know why I’m doing it and the reasons are good ones. I’m doing it for my own health, for the health of my husband and for the health of our kids. I’m doing it so that they grow up with different food habits from my own and end up better meal-planners, better cooks and better eaters than I am. And I’m even doing it for our planet (did you know that if a family of four skips steak once a week for a year the impact on our climate is like taking a car off the road for 3 months?).*
Those reasons make it worth it and I’m determined to keep at it until this new way of cooking and eating is automatic and has become tasty and fulfilling. And I’m o.k. with the bit of extra work and with finding different ways to feel satisfied.
But one thing bothers me.
I miss that pot roast air flowing through my kitchen reminding me of my Baba. And I’m sad that my kids won’t have that same memory trigger for my mom. Or for me. I’m sure that when they’re adults the scent of kale roasting in the oven will bring their minds back to my kitchen. But that kitchen, that smell, isn’t really me. Even if I’ve escaped from The Meat-And-Potatoes Way I will always be a meat-and-potatoes girl. It’s part of who I am. And that part of me is sad that it won’t be part of them.
*Statistic from the Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health by the Environmental Working Group.
Now, let’s start cooking healthy: Here’s the Gallo Pinto recipe.
Gallo Pinto, a Nicaraguan dish that I first learned about from the Seasonal and Savory blog, is not something that my Ukrainian Baba would have cooked. Nor is it something that my mom would have made for us when we were kids. But with its comforting mix of rice, beans and egg it has become a go-to meal in my kitchen. I've made it so often that I find myself wondering if the smell of rice and beans cooking with chili powder will be to my kids what the smell of pot roast is to me. If it is, I think that will be o.k. with me. (Note that this is not an authentic version of Gallo Pinto (as far as I know). It is instead how I have altered the Seasonal and Savory recipe to fit with what I tend to have in my pantry and in my fridge.)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 cup shredded carrots
- 1 small sweet onion, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 2 cups long grain white rice
- 3 and ½ cups water
- 1-14 ounce cans of chickpeas (garbonzo beans), drained
- 4-6 eggs
- 4-6 cups of arugula (rocket) or baby spinach leaves
- In a medium-sized saucepan that has a lid warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, onion and bell pepper. Cook stirring occasionally for a few minutes until everything is nice and soft. Add the garlic and the chili powder and stir and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in the rice, ½ teaspoon of salt and the water.
- Increase the heat to high and let it come to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer it for 16-20 minutes until the rice is tender.
- Stir in the chickpeas. Remove the sauce pan from the heat and replace the lid so that everything stays warm.
- Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Crack in the eggs. Cook to desired doneness. While the eggs are cooking, taste the rice mixture and add more salt if needed. Put 1 cup of arugula or spinach onto a plate and top it with some of the rice mixture. Serve topped with a fried egg.
Now head on down to the comments and tell me: What do you find most challenging about cooking healthy?