Thursday, June 20, 2013

Stress and the Digestive System: Babaganoush and Brown Rice with Chickpeas, Carrots, and Aji Gustoso

Time, in my world, is defined by the start and stop of a school year, and our school year just ended.  In both my personal and my professional life, it was one of those years that makes you cringe. But finally, my vacation has begun and I'm already seeing the world differently!

A sunny day in Bahoruco, DR, on a mini-vacation day in the spring.
This picture makes me happy. It's summatime, bitches!

Even though stress has been something that has plagued me since high school, I've been taking active steps to control it for the first time in my life. Physical health is so linked to mental health, and when one is out of wack, the other is, too. When I'm eating no lactose, no gluten, and very little meat, I know that, at least, the physical part of the equation is under as much control as it can be. However, it's been so hard to be consistent when I've been under so much stress.

Stress f's up our digestive system, and mine is already slow. I know what I need to eat and when I need to eat it. I know the importance of following my diet. But on the really trying days, that's the hardest thing to do. talks about the effects of stress on the digestion system.
"Digestion is controlled by the enteric nervous system, a system composed of hundreds of millions of nerves that communicate with the central nervous system. When stress activates the "flight or fight" response in your central nervous system, digestion can shut down because your central nervous system shuts down blood flow, affects the contractions of your digestive muscles, and decreases secretions needed for digestion. Stress can cause inflammation of the gastrointestinal system, and make you more susceptible to infection."
On top of these effects, stress and anxiety can cause uncontrollable cravings, particularly for carbohydrates because they boost our serotonin levels (also known as the happy hormone), and for fat and sugar, which have calming effects on our bodies. For most people, even though these foods might not be the most healthy, they don't have debilitating effects on their day-to-day life. The foods I crave - chocolate, cheese, chicken, and anything with sugar - I just don't tolerate. At all. Ever. But I can't seem to stay away from them.

Cravings + food intolerances + lazy colon + stress's natural effects on the digestion system = 
3 enterocolitis flare-ups for the first time in my life. These 3 flare-ups just happened to coincide with the 3 very difficult periods this year. Enterocolitis, an infection that results in the swelling of the intestines, is my body's way of telling me to slow the fuck down. Get it together, woman! The infection goes away in a week or so with antibiotics, but it's painful and embarrassing because I know I could have prevented it. 

Why am I talking about this now, you ask? Because a few weeks ago I had my 3rd flare up, and I know that I can't keep falling back into this cycle. The changes I'm making in my life are helping - more exercise, meditation, yoga - but bigger changes need to happen. I need to feel alive! And at peace. I know that good things are coming because (1.) I can feel it and (2.) I'm making them happen. We cannot underestimate the power of the mind on the body, which we so often do.


So, a few weeks ago, we had the day off from school, and I spent it cooking and relaxing. I spent the day at peace, stress free, and creating healthy food for the fiancé and me. After spending the previous weekend in Las Matas de Farfan for Dominican Mother's Day, the fiance's mama sent us back to Santo Domingo with 2 huge boxes of fresh produce: carrots, auyama (it's like the DR's version of butternut squash), tomatoes, eggplant, limes, cucumbers, ginger, red peppers, and sweet potatoes. Needless to say, all this produce kept me busy.

I made:
- Babaganoush (roasted eggplant spread) with red pepper slices
- Brown rice with carrots, chickpeas, and aji gustoso
- Roasted eggplant and squash ratatouille
- Baked polenta with corn and sage
- Detox Water (Water with cucumber, mint, lime, and ginger) (Pictures and recipe coming later)

Today I'll just be sharing the first 2 recipes: babaganoush and brown rice with carrots, chickpeas, and aji gustoso


Babaganoush with red pepper slices

1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 red bell peppers, roughly chopped into 1/2 inch-1 inch pieces
1 red onion, roughly chopped into 1 inch pieces
3-4 cloves of garlic, smashed
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup tahini
1 tablespoon of tomato paste

Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees.

Put the eggplant, peppers, onion, and garlic in a large roasting pan. Add the olive oil, salt, and pepper and toss so that they are distributed evenly among the veggies.

Ready for roasting!

Roast for 45 minutes, tossing once while they are cooking. You'll know when they are done when the vegetables are soft and lightly browned. Let them cool for around 15 minutes.

Place the cooled roasted vegetables in a blender with the tahini and tomato paste and blend/pulse until smooth. Enjoy with red pepper slices, gluten and dairy free crackers, or anything else that your little heart desires.



Brown rice with carrots, chickpeas, and green peppers (aji gustoso)

Brown rice and veggies!
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 large carrot, cut into cubes
1/3 cup aji gustoso, or whatever pepper you would like to add, mild or hot
1 14 oz. can chickpeas
2 cups uncooked brown rice
4-5 cups water
1 tablespoon salt

First, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil on medium-high heat in a medium-sized pot with a perfectly fitting top. Add the garlic for about 30 seconds, then add the carrots and peppers, or whatever vegetables you would like to have with your rice. Then, add the can of chickpeas and salt. Stir so that the garlic does not stick to the bottom of the pot. Scoop your uncooked rice into the pot, along with the water, and stir again.

Let the pot boil on medium-high heat, uncovered, for about 30-40 minutes, or until the rice has soaked up most of the water. You want a little water in there for the final step of making the rice fluffy and soft.

Brown rice takes longer to cook than white rice, so keep that in mind. When you think that the rice is ready to be covered (the next step), you need to check to make sure the rice is cooked enough. Normally when the rice is not ready, one part of the grain is still hard as a rock and white-ish in color (its original, uncooked color). When all of the rice is uniform in color and no part of the grain is hard, and there is still a little water visible in the pot, you are ready for the next step. IF there is no water left in your pot, and you notice that the rice is still a bit uncooked, add another half cup of water. Check again in 10 minutes or so to see if the rice is ready. If it isn't, add another half cup of water and repeat until it is.

Once the rice is uniformly cooked and there is still a little water visible in the pot, lower the heat to low, and cover. Let the rice sit for another 15-20 minutes. When you take off the top, the rice should be moist and fluffy.

Serves 6!

a buen tiempo!

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