Healthy Habits: Quinoa Black Bean Salad

“It’s a bit difficult to avoid all of nature….”

Recently my health insurance provider decided that they wouldn’t cover allergy medications any more which is a big blow to my health. When one goes to an allergist for the first time, the allergist will test you for 80 most common allergens. I am allergic to 78. Have been since I was a child, and they haven’t changed in over 40 years, despite repeated testing every seven years.

For the first thirty years of my life, I coughed, hacked, and sniffled my way through life, never without huge wads of tissues in hand and rarely able to breathe through my nose. The advent of new medications, specifically nose sprays, seemed an opportunity for relief. True to my life, though, it turned out I was allergic to most of the new medications. Go figure! But there was one which actually worked, and for the past 15 years, I was able to breathe through my nose, divest down to one tissue a day, and only hack, cough and sniffle two or three times a year when the allergy seasons were at their worst.

Now, though, I’ve slowly begun a descent back to what I had forgotten, not being able to breathe unless completely upright, blowing my nose so often that it’s red and raw, once again needing to invest in my own tissue company, and finding myself at the doctor’s more than I’d like to be for antibiotics for sinus infections.

On the plus side, I’ve been so sick at times that I’ve been forced to stay at home which is an unusual opportunity for me because I suddenly have time which I wouldn’t have had if I were out at my usual meetings and running of errands. It has also meant I can see firsthand which parts of my life really must be attended to and which can survive without me.

On the downside, feeling unwell makes me tired which stimulates cravings for food which aren’t always the healthiest of choices. Since I always have to watch my weight and my sugars, I have been trying to create comfort foods which curb my cravings but which are healthy.

One such recipe is for a quinoa salad. If you are unfamiliar with quinoa, it is essentially a seed which is a good protein source.  Because it cooks similarly to rice, folks tend to eat it like a grain, and folks who are diabetic or needing to watch carbs should know that quinoa is high in carbohydrates. Since quinoa is also high in protein and fiber, though, eaten judiciously, quinoa is a great comfort food.

I make a quinoa salad which I and my family really likes which uses multi-colored quinoa, black beans, kale and carrots. The quinoa and black beans provide the carbs which are filling but also fiber and protein. The kale and carrots provide nutrients gained from vegetables and cuts the amount of quinoa (and hence the carbs) in a cup serving.

Quinoa Black Bean Salad


2 cups water

1 cup multi-colored quinoa

2 cups frozen, chopped kale

1 cup thinly sliced baby carrots

16 oz can of no salt, no sugar added black beans, rinsed well and drained completely of all water

3 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

3/4 tsp ground cinnamon

3/4 tsp ground cardamom

1-3 tsp honey (optional; use desired amount of sweetness if using; if making for just the family, I omit; if making for company, I use 2 tsp)

Cooking Instructions:

  1. In a medium saucepan, pour the water and add the quinoa. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the quinoa has plumped, is showing white rings, and has absorbed all the water. This will take anywhere from five to 15 minutes, depending on how vigorously you are simmering the water. I find that it’s helpful to stir the quinoa every so often.
  2. Once the water is absorbed, remove the pan from the heat, cover the quinoa and let it sit. You want the quinoa to be completely dry before you mix it with other ingredients. This can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, depending on how much of the water was actually absorbed into the quinoa before you removed it from the heat.  When it’s completely dry, you will be able to fluff the quinoa with a fork. If the quinoa clumps together when you try to stir it, then it’s still a bit damp.
  3. While the quinoa is drying, thinly slice baby carrots to make a cup. You can use regular sized peeled carrots but then you’ll want to cut the thin slices in half because you are only cooking the carrots a short amount of time in the microwave with the kale, and you don’t want the carrots to be hard. Once you have a cup’s worth chopped, put it aside for the moment.
  4. Put 2 cups of frozen, chopped kale into a microwave safe bowl.  Follow the instructions for cooking, only halfway during the cooking time, remove the bowl, stir the kale and add the cup of chopped carrots. Finish cooking the kale in the microwave.
  5. Add the kale, carrots and black beans to the quinoa and mix well.
  6. In a measuring cup, whisk together the olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper, cinnamon and cumin and honey, if using.
  7. Drizzle the dressing onto the quinoa salad and use a spoon to incorporate the dressing into the quinoa salad.
  8. Salad can be served warm or cold. Can store in the fridge for a long time.

Recipe Creations: Chocolate Chip Carrot Snack Cake

“Yeah, but I’d rather eat that than cardboard.”

A couple of weeks ago, my son and I enjoyed a visit to a science museum where I was surprised by a new exhibit. They had created a room filled with information about healthy eating with a couple of hands-on activities for the children looking at skeletal bones and experimenting with food.

As we left the exhibit, we found ourselves behind a group of teenagers and overheard their conversation. One of the girls commented about the display that talked about how bad sugar was for our bodies, and one of the boys responded with, “Yeah, but I’d rather eat that than cardboard.”

I understood what he meant. Too often the “healthy” desserts don’t match up with our expectations for taste, and unfortunately, once someone’s had a negative experience, it turns them off to trying again.

Recently, my high school daughter had a couple of friends over, and they wanted something “sweet”. Since I don’t like to serve “junk”, I thought about what I could make, and carrot cake came to mind. The problem is that carrot cake in its traditional form is so utterly bad for you, despite the carrots. The fat content is really high because of the butter in the cake, the traditional use of nuts, and the cream cheese frosting, and to keep carrot cakes moist and binding, you use a lot of eggs.

I didn’t want to give up on this dessert, though, so I decided to work on a snack cake version, something without frosting and which would be considerably lighter in texture, taste, and calories — and of course, I wanted to eat it, too, so I made it allergy friendly for my allergies to wheat, dairy and nuts, making sure to add some flours higher in protein and fiber and minimizing the use of white refined sugar.

The result? My daughter, who has never actually liked carrot cake, loved it, and one of my daughter’s friends said it was the best carrot cake she’d ever had in her life. While I take that as the hyperbole it was, it is a reminder to me that if we continue to serve good tasting food which also happens to be healthy, then maybe, just maybe, we’ll find a way to reverse the trend of obesity, diabetes, and heart attacks….

Chocolate Chip Carrot Snack Cake


1 1/2 cup gluten free brown rice flour blend (I used Authentic Foods)

3/4 cup gluten free oat flour

1/4 cup sorghum flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips

20 oz container crushed pineapple in its juices only

3/4 cup agave

3/4 cup safflower oil

1 cup egg whites

2 cups loosely packed shredded carrots

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

2 tbsp agave

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ginger

Baking Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper.

2. Mix together the brown rice flour blend, the oat flour and the sorghum flour with the baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and salt.  Add the chocolate chips. Mix well, and set aside.

3. Drain the crushed pineapple and remove 1/2 cup of the crushed pineapples. Reserve the remaining pineapple. Puree the 1/2 cup pineapple in a food processor until it’s smooth.

4. To the pureed pineapple add the agave, safflower oil, egg whites, and shredded carrots. Mix well.

5. Add the carrot mixture to the dry ingredients with the apple cider vinegar. Blend just until everything is incorporated together and the dry ingredients are moist.

6. Pour into the prepared pan and bake in the oven until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. It took about 25-30 minutes for me, so I suggest setting the timer at 25 min and then checking.

7. While the cake is cooking, take the remaining crushed pineapple and mix it with the agave, cinnamon and ginger. You can put it into the fridge if you want it cold.

8. When the cake is done, serve slices of the cake with dollops of the spiced crushed pineapple.