Healthy, Delicious and Easy Vegetable Curry

In this frigid tundra we call Connecticut (will it EVER stop snowing this winter?), I needed a break from the salad thing.  Something hearty and filling and warm.  Something that I could make for dinner that would yield lunch leftovers.

Casting about for a new Lo-Co recipe to meet these demanding criteria, I turned to one of my favorite sources, Cooking Light.   There I found a crock-pot recipe with 53 reviews and 4 stars (my minimum requirement for trying any new Cooking Light recipe) that looked interesting.

Then I hesitated.

First of all, this vegetarian recipe has 19 ingredients – 20 if you include the garnish of lemon wedges.  But a solid read-through revealed all was OK because I recognized each of the 19 ingredients (as opposed to the sunchoke (?) potato soup recipe I also considered).   Plus, all this recipe required was chopping — and many of these ingredients I could buy pre-chopped, so really, it was just mixing.

Totally do-able.

But still I hesitated because I’ve tried crock-pot cooking many times, always with mediocre results.  While dealing with the drudgery of eating salads I was in no mood for chopping and mixing 19 ingredients if there was a chance the result could be boring.

My worries were unfounded: this Vegetable and Chickpea Curry recipe is hands-down the best thing I’ve ever made in a crock-pot.  It’s hearty, creamy and so delicious that my husband, who was enjoying a pizza dinner with our son (way too many vegetables for broccoli-only-boy to try), pushed aside his slice and gulped down a bowlful.

Then we both had it for lunch the next day, and my husband asked when I was making it again.  I’d call that a huge recipe success, made even more delightful since not only is this recipe low cholesterol – it has NO cholesterol.

If you’ve never read Cooking Light, have a look at this recipe and its reviews on their website: Vegetable and Chickpea Curry. I took the advice of reviewers and added MORE curry (I like Penzeys Spices Sweet Curry Powder) and substituted sweet potato for baking potato.

Other modifications I made: as I detest green peppers, I went with red instead.  And since I accidentally purchased a jalapeno instead of a serrano pepper, I just opened a can of diced green chili peppers instead.

Way easier.

Plus, there is no need to measure all 19 ingredients carefully, which I love.  For example, I just diced one red pepper and one sweet potato, and tossed in most of the can of diced green chilis – and ignored the precise measurements listed.

For the recipe with my modifications, download the PDF on my Lo-Co Recipes page or here: Vegetable and Chickpea Curry, Modified.  As it just started snowing again, I think I’ll make another batch this weekend.


Statin Benefits Overstated?

Going on a statin to reduce cholesterol has long felt like an inevitability to me, since I have a family history of high cholesterol.  But what’s odd is that cardiovascular disease is not what ultimately ‘gets’ my relatives.  So that got me to wondering why lowering my LDL and overall cholesterol is so important.

Serendipitously, my friend Tina posted a comment with a link to an enlightening 2008 article in Business Week: Do Cholesterol Drugs Do Any Good? In this excerpt the author, John Carey, states that statins DO help people who have cardiovascular issues, but for those who simply have high cholesterol but no current cardiovascular disease, statins do NOT appear to offer health benefits.

“…the drugs (statins) can be life-saving in patients who already have suffered heart attacks, somewhat reducing the chances of a recurrence that could lead to an early death. But Wright had a surprise when he looked at the data for the majority of patients, like Winn, who don’t have heart disease. He found no benefit in people over the age of 65, no matter how much their cholesterol declines, and no benefit in women of any age. He did see a small reduction in the number of heart attacks for middle-aged men taking statins in clinical trials. But even for these men, there was no overall reduction in total deaths or illnesses requiring hospitalization—despite big reductions in “bad” cholesterol. “Most people are taking something with no chance of benefit and a risk of harm,” says Wright.

Reading the entire article reveals a clear divide in the medical community: some feel strongly that statins like Lipitor should be used to prevent heart disease, while others no longer agree.

Let them argue all they want: I’ve got 4 months to see if my go Lo-Co diet and exercise changes can reduce my cholesterol — and I can take myself right out of the medical debate.


Why Exercise Daily?

The whole “It’s Important To Exercise Daily to Lower Cholesterol” thing is really bugging me.  (Possibly because I didn’t exercise yesterday or today.  No elliptical, no tennis, nada.)  But daily exercise as a goal feels unreasonable to me.  It seems like overkill — I mean why daily?  Why is daily so critically important?

And aren’t I exempt because I’m already in decent shape?

Searching for that exemption led me online, where I found the opposite.  Turns out, there is a concrete reason why exercising daily is important to lowering LDL, no matter what kind of shape you are in (there are probably many reasons, but I can only handle one at the moment.) Here’s an excerpt from WebMD’s “The Exercise-Cholesterol Link.”

“…But recent studies have more carefully examined the effect of exercise alone, making it easier to evaluate the relationship between exercise and cholesterol.Researchers now believe there are several mechanisms involved. First, exercise stimulates enzymes that help move LDL from the blood (and blood-vessel walls) to the liver. From there, the cholesterol is converted into bile (for digestion) or excreted. So the more you exercise, the more LDL your body expels.

Second, exercise increases the size of the protein particles that carry cholesterol through the blood. (The combination of protein particles and cholesterol are called “lipoproteins;” it’s the LDLs that have been linked to heart disease). Some of those particles are small and dense; some are big and fluffy. “The small, dense particles are more dangerous than the big, fluffy ones because the smaller ones can squeeze into the [linings of the heart and blood vessels] and set up shop there,” says Khera. “But now it appears that exercise increases the size of the protein particles that carry both good and bad lipoproteins.”

Which means that if — every day — I’m eating things that produce cholesterol (or my stupid body is over-producing it every single day), then getting daily exercise to remove that LDL cholesterol seems, um, pretty necessary. Because otherwise, that cholesterol has nothing to do but build, right?  Which is how I got here in the first place.

Well, that and Phish Food ice cream.

Is this new learning enough to get me committed to a daily workout as part of my Lo-Co lifestyle?  Not sure yet.  But it does have me thinking about it.


The I HATE Salad dinner

We all know that salad – without too much dressing, of course – is a healthy lunch or dinner choice.

But here’s the trouble.  I don’t really like salad.  I don’t like making it. I don’t like eating it.  For me, salad is just not very appealing.  And for dinner?  Frankly, I find it a bit sad.

But it is a good Lo-Co option.  And it’s easy to get it quickly on the table.  So at 6pm when – again – I have not planned a Lo-Co dinner, I can make a salad for myself and serve my husband and son something totally different, with very little extra work.

So the salad for dinner IDEA is growing on me.  But the reality of it was just BORING until last week.  So, a big ‘thank you’ to the NYT’s Melissa Clark and my sister Melissa (!) because I now have 2, count them 2, salad options that I actually enjoyed for dinner last week.

  • Trader Joe’s ‘Emergency Chicken’

    The ‘Emergency Chicken’ dinner salad.

    Take whatever salad fixings you have in your refrigerator (for me, it’s either red leaf lettuce or romaine, a half-avocado, pre-shredded carrot, and a bunch of grape tomatoes and some walnuts or pine nuts toasted in toaster oven) and then heat up a piece or two of what my sister Melissa calls ‘Emergency Chicken’ (aka Trader Joe’s Frozen Breaded Chicken Tenderloins) in the microwave.  I slip off the breading because I don’t really like it much, then slice the chicken and place it on top of the salad with a bit of dressing.  Something about the warmth of the chicken makes this otherwise-plain salad work for me.  And if this sounds like a lot of ingredients to just ‘have on hand in the fridge’ you might want to reconsider: they are all easily found at TJ’s, and very easy to keep stocked. (Bonus: the avocado is surprisingly easy to keep on hand and Melissa taught me how to ‘cube’ it!)

  • The WOW, I Remembered-To-Plan Salad-for-Dinner Option. Melissa Clark’s Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Watercress, Walnuts and Gruyere was just fantastic.  I found this recipe in the 1/5/11 New York Times and it was both easy and filling and didn’t leave me feeling deprived for dinner.  I had never roasted cauliflower before (surprisingly easy and delicious), had never used watercress in a salad, and don’t like gruyere so I substituted crumbled bleu cheese.

I liked this recipe so much that I made it TWICE last week!   And the second time, I roasted 2 cauliflower heads so I could use the leftovers as an easy-to-toss-in vegetable in other lunch/dinners last week.

Thank you Melissa and Melissa!


Exercise DAILY? Really?

For me, food is the most interesting AND most difficult part of this Lo-Co quest.  I enjoy cooking, so searching my cookbooks (and buying new ones!) for recipes to jump-start this Lo-Co journey has been fun.  That said, I am starting to enjoy it less, as the pressure mounts to PLAN and then actually MAKE a healthy dinner every day…or at least most days. Or, more accurately right now, some of the time.

But there’s more to the Lo-C0 equation than just diet.

There is also exercise.  Now here’s the thing – I’m in decent shape.  Sure, there’s always that 5 lbs that’d be great to lose.  But I do exercise – we have an elliptical in the house, and I go to a spin class occasionally and sometimes even run.  (Like 2 miles, max.)  And those gym-rat activities are OK, but the only exercise I think is FUN is tennis.  That said, I’m pretty ‘active’ as the parlance goes.

But when I started looking into the key things to do to lower cholesterol, exercising daily is listed.  Here’s what the Mayo Clinic site (the link is listed in my Resources page) said:

“Exercise regularly
Regular exercise can help improve your cholesterol levels. With your doctor’s OK, work up to 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day. Take a brisk daily walk. Ride your bike. Swim laps … And, you don’t need to get all 30 to 60 minutes in one exercise session. If you can squeeze in three to six 10-minute intervals of exercise, you’ll still get some cholesterol-lowering benefits.”

DAILY?  REALLY?  Is that absolutely necessary?  Because who can do that?  Who has that kind of time and commitment.  Oh, right, someone who doesn’t eat ice cream daily.

OK, if I have to exercise daily (and I need to ask my doctor if  the daily part is critical), my pick would be to play tennis.  That I could happily do every day.  Though frankly, even if playing tennis daily helped my cholesterol, it’d wreak havoc on my body parts – I already snapped an elbow tendon and have bursitis in my heel.  Sigh.

I guess I could try to exercise every day that I don’t play tennis.  I mean, the elliptical is literally 3 steps from my side of the bed.  I get that makes me very lucky.  And really, how hard could it be?  I should start tomorrow.

Luckily, I have a tennis clinic tomorrow morning.