Vegetable Farro with Figs and Sunflower Seeds

Every week I plan my meals for the next week or two, so I can do grocery shopping on the weekend and schedule the cooking throughout the week. Recently, I remembered my slow cooker, which hasn’t been used since last winter. The slow cooker can be a woman’s — or man’s — best friend.

The only challenge is finding recipes that are healthy, and in my case, vegetarian. A majority of slow cooker recipes involve a large white rice, bean or meat component, which can be fine as long as you pair it with heavy dose of vegetables, but I wanted a recipe that was naturally good for you and filling. When I typed “slow cooker” into my recipe app Paprika, I discovered this recipe, which I knew was going to be a winner in my book. The farro provides a nutty flavor, the veggies melt in your mouth, the figs give it a sweet kick, and the nuts on top make it crunch.

Vegetable Farro with Figs and Sunflower Seeds

Ingredients:

> 1 cup farro
> 2 tablespoons olive oil
> 2 cups water
> salt and pepper
> 1 tablespoon chili powder
> 4 cloves garlic
> 1 lemon, sliced into slivers
> 1 green bell pepper, sliced 1/3″ thick
> 1 red bell pepper, sliced 1/3″ thick
> 1 large eggplant, cut into bite-size pieces
> 1 cup dried Black Mission figs, stemmed
> 1 fennel bulb, cut into 8 wedges
> 1/2 pound cherry tomatoes, halved
> 3 small zucchini, cut into bite-size pieces
> 6 ounces spinach
> roasted sunflower seeds, for garnish

Instructions:

Turn a 6-quart slow cooker on high and set the timer for 6 hours. Add all of the ingredients up to and including the cherry tomatoes. Cover and cook for 4 hours.

Stir the mixture gently and add the zucchini and spinach, submerging them in the liquid. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook for 2 more hours.

Season with salt and pepper and garnish with roasted sunflower seeds.

Makes 4 servings.

Adapted from Food & Wine.

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Curried Heirloom Carrot Soup

Carrots are a staple in my fridge. If I don’t have any other veggies, I’m bound to have these — and most likely they’re the heirloom variety from Trader Joe’s. I’ve made carrot soup with crisped chickpeas before, but this soup has new textures and flavors thanks to the leek, fennel, celery and apple.

Curried Carrot Soup

Ingredients:

> 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
> 1 medium onion, chopped
> 2 medium leeks, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
> 1 medium fennel bulb, cored and chopped
> salt and pepper
> 2 pounds heirloom carrots, cut into 1/4-inch rounds
> 2 ribs of celery, cut into 1-inch chunks
> 1 Granny Smith apple, cored and chopped
> 1 tablespoon curry powder
> 2 garlic cloves
> 1 quart vegetable broth
> 1 cup roasted sunflower seeds

Instructions:

In a large saucepan, melt the better. Add the onion, leek, fennel and season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat, until softened, about 9 minutes.

Add the carrots, celery, apple, curry powder and garlic and cook until vegetables soften slightly, about 10 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.

Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender until smooth. Serve with roasted sunflower seeds on top, and any other garnishes. (I added roasted white beans to provide additional protein.) If the curry is too dominating, add milk to subdue the spice.

Makes 6 servings.

Adapted from Food & Wine.

Pumpkin Banana Frozen Treat

Halloween and Thanksgiving are long gone, so what do you do when you find a can of pumpkin puree in your pantry? Recently I’ve seen many delicious recipes for a healthy version of homemade ice cream, so I decided to give it a try with my pumpkin puree. This recipe is simple yet delicious, and thankfully it’s healthy so when you find yourself eating nearly your bodyweight in this frozen treat, you’re not nearly as guilty as if you’d done the same with, say, Ben & Jerry’s.

Pumpkin Banana Frozen Treat

Ingredients:

> 2 medium bananas, sliced and frozen overnight
> 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
> 2 tablespoons honey
> 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Instructions: 

In a food processor, blend the bananas, puree, honey and spice thoroughly. Transfer to a freezer-safe container and freeze for 8 hours.

Makes 2 servings.

Adapted from The Gracious Pantry.

Bulgur Wheat, Beet and Chickpea Medley

As I start to train for my fourth half marathon, I’m reminded how important it is to fuel my body with the right nutrients — alongside stretching, getting plenty of sleep and of course taking care of my body when it hurts. For my normal green salads to have the right combo of nutrients, I need to be more thoughtful about getting the right mix of protein and carbs.

A grain salad full of vegetables is the perfect dish for high-intensity training. This dish, in particular, is characterized by a nutty texture from the bulgur wheat, a heartiness from the beets and chickpeas, a creamy element from the goat cheese and a sweetness from the honey dressing.

Bulgur Wheat, Beet and Chickpea Medley

Ingredients:

> 1 cup bulgur wheat
> 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
> 4 large beets, cut into bite-size pieces
> 5 cups green beans, cut into bite-size pieces
> 2 tablespoons olive oil
> 2 tablespoons honey
> salt and pepper
> 4 tablespoons goat cheese
> 1/4 cup roasted sunflower seeds

Instructions:

Cook the bulgur wheat in a medium saucepan, about 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 400°F. Meanwhile, whisk together the olive oil and honey. Mix beets with half of the dressing. Place in a baking pan lined with foil. Roast about 20 minutes. Add chickpeas to beets after about 10 minutes.

Steam green beans in a small saucepan. Combine the bulgur, chickpeas, green beans, beets and the remaining dressing. Season with salt and pepper. Top with crumbled goat cheese and sunflower seeds.

Makes 4 servings.

Adapted from Nourish: The Fit Woman’s Cookbook.