Newfound respect for 5 underrated foods

What looks to become an annual houseboating trip to Lake Shasta again saw me preparing mostly from-scratch suppers last weekend for a group of 10 friends. On the menu: grilled, honey mustard-glazed chicken with potato salad; foil-wrapped seafood with Mediterranean wild-rice salad; and penne with meatballs and Tuscan kale salad.

But this year’s scaled-back effort also included plenty of prepared and packaged foods, including chips and dips, cereals and muffins, as well as a considerable variety of alcoholic and otherwise caloric beverages. Craving lighter meals and resolved to avoid snacks, I was starting to regret the weekend of indulgence when I came across a list of five underrated (read “healthful”) foods.

Oddly enough, our prolonged picnic featured all five in some form or another. Also worth noting, at least three of them went over far better than expected.

The watermelon, which I considered a cop-out on dessert and don’t usually like much, myself, was the first item to disappear. Our two grade school-age companions grabbed slices between jumps in the lake, and I found myself joining in.

Nancy’s honey yogurt, which I insisted upon for breakfasts of granola, was pretty much unknown to the group. One guy even commented he thought he opened a container of sour cream, but I was pleased to see he went back for more the next morning.

I was likewise pleased to confirm that, unlike the spinach I packed for last year’s green salad, the two varieties of kale I brought held up beautifully despite transfers from our home refrigerator to warm car, to unpredictable boat refrigeration to ice chest for the trip home. And the Tuscan Kale Salad I made from a recipe previously posted to this blog got rave reviews.

Still eating leftover hummus today, my husband issued a request for more the next time we shopped at Costco. Of course, I was quick to remind him we could just make our own at a fraction of the expense. In fact, if I’d known he was set on serving the garbanzo-bean dip, I would have happily spared 10 minutes to whip up our own.

If you’ve never made hummus, make a point of doing it this summer. The dip holds up better than mayonnaise-based spreads at summer’s outdoor potlucks and is a much more healthful vehicle for chips and veggies. Below is a recipe courtesy of McClatchy News Service, right after their list of five foods — in no particular order — that deserve your respect.

1. Sunflower seeds — They may not get the good-for-you press that almonds and walnuts do, but a quarter-cup packs 3 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protein and 25 to 75 percent of such daily nutritional needs as copper, vitamin E, manganese and selenium. Downside: The same amount packs 180 calories. Try eating them from the shell as we did; they’ll take longer to eat so you’re less likely to eat too many.

2. Watermelon — If you haven’t had it in a while, here are a few reasons eating it is a splendid idea: A two-cup, 85-calorie serving provides 38 percent of a day’s supply of vitamin C and 32 percent of vitamin A. It’s thick skin keeps bugs and pesticides at bay; thus, it’s labeled one of the “Clean 15” — fruits and vegetables with the least pesticide residue.

3. Unsweetened yogurt — Chances are, your daily yogurt is of the sweetened variety. Swap to plain for several benefits; namely, more calcium, potassium, protein, zinc and vitamins B-6 and B-12. You can also jazz it up with your choice of fruits or cereal, or dollop it on a baked potato. Cut the tartness by mixing it with a little vanilla yogurt.

4. Leafy greens — If they’re so good for us, why don’t we eat more of them? Because, like some of my friends, many people are a bit in the dark about how to cook them. Start by buying them already chopped, bagged and washed (then wash them again for good measure). Saute garlic in olive oil and add the greens. Cook, stirring occasionally, for five to 20 minutes or until they’re soft.

5. Garbanzo beans — While all beans are good, these (aka chickpeas) are as versatile as they come. If buying the protein- and fiber-rich food in a can, choose salt-free. Rinse, then season with olive oil, chopped scallions and lemon juice for a side dish or salad topper. Coat them with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and chopped garlic, then roast until crunchy. Or just stir them into soups or chili.


1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas or 2 cups cooked chickpeas

1/2 cup cooking liquid or vegetable broth

1 garlic clove

3 tablespoons lemon juice

4 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon coriander

1/8 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Chopped, fresh cilantro, for garnish

Olive oil (optional), for garnish

Pour the chickpeas, cooking liquid, garlic, lemon juice and tahini into a food processor or blender. Cover and process for a minute or so, until mixture turns pale and beautifully creamy. Add the seasonings and process briefly to mix. Garnish with the cilantro and a drizzle of the olive oil. Serve with pita wedges or crusty whole-grain bread, celery and carrot sticks, radishes, strips of fresh red or green bell pepper or lightly steamed broccoli florets.

Makes 2 cups, about 6 to 8 servings.


Bonus recipe

A reader decided to request proof of my cooking skills in the form of a recipe for the above-mentioned honey mustard-glazed chicken. I confess to making it up as the clock closed in on 10 p.m. the night before our trip. The inspiration is my husband’s love for honey-mustard and my fondness for mustard with lavender. Here is my best recollection of how the chicken came together, which also reflects a few adjustments I would have made after tasting my own dish.

Honey Mustard-Glazed Chicken

Start by brining about a dozen chicken legs and thighs overnight in the refrigerator. Mix up your brine from 1/4 cup each sugar and salt, 1/2 bottle white wine and 1 cup cider vinegar. To that, add 4 smashed garlic cloves, 1/2 lemon sliced into rings, 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns and a blend of 1 tablespoon each yellow mustard seeds and dried lavender flowers. Crush the mustard seeds and lavender together in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. If you don’t have mustard seeds, substitute 1/2 tablespoon mustard powder. If you don’t have lavender, substitute 1/2 tablespoon dried, crushed rosemary or 1 tablespoon fresh, minced rosemary.

To keep meat immersed in liquid, brine it in a resealable, plastic bag and turn it a few times while marinating. Do not marinate more than 24 hours ahead of time.

To make the glaze, combine 1/2 cup honey, 1/4 cup tamari or soy sauce, 2 tablespoons prepared Dijon-style or brown mustard and 1 teaspoon ground ginger. Heat this mixture for a few minutes on stovetop over low and stir until combined. May transfer to a plastic squeeze bottle for ease of applying to chicken.

When ready to cook chicken, heat grill to medium-high. Drain chicken and discard marinade. Brush away any mustard seeds or peppercorns clinging to meat and grill chicken, turning as skin browns, about 15 to 20 minutes. When chicken skin has browned on all sides, brush or drizzle glaze onto one side. Replace grill cover and let cook about 5 minutes. Turn and brush second side with glaze and cook, covered, another 5 minutes. Check thicker pieces of thigh meat to ensure doneness before serving.

You may have some glaze left over. If you dispensed it from a squeeze bottle, or using some other method that didn’t contaminate it with a utensil that touched the chicken, you can serve it as a sauce on the side.

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