Yummy Pasta, Made from Beans!

We're not gluten free in my house (we're nut free and fish free and my littlest one is dairy free, but all of that is another story). As an allergic person, I have an affinity for products that are specifically directed to those with allergies or special food needs, even if they aren't catering to my particular needs. 

When I spoke with the folks at Explore Asian, it was clear that while they set out to create products that were delicious, they are also keenly aware of the needs of those who are gluten free, health conscious, vegan and kosher. I fit into one of those four categories (health conscious) and I can say confidently that these pastas are delish. My kids have added this bean pasta to our LaLa Lunchbox Food Library and now we pack it in our school lunches. I struggle with family dinner sometimes, so this has been a welcome addition. 

The first flavor we tried was the Organic Edamame Spaghetti. My kids are big fans of spinach pasta (affectionately called 'green noodles' in my house) so the color of this was an immediate plus. The kids giggled - how can pasta be made with beans and water? These products are 92% beans and 8% water. I find that amazing. No weird fillers! I was initially a little nervous that the texture would be strange and gummy or rubbery but my concerns were unfounded. While it doesn't taste exactly like pasta made from wheat flour, the mouth feel is pleasant in it's own right. 

Explore Asian Edamame Spaghetti

All three of my kids liked this. I gave it a quick toss with roasted garlic olive oil (see below) and my kids added freshly ground black pepper and voila! Dinner was done. These pastas are loaded with fiber and protein - it's like eating a giant bowl of beans with dinner, but with the ability to twirl on a fork! 

A few nights later, I made the Soybean Spaghetti for dinner with my husband (with plans for leftovers for my two year old). Again, the taste and texture were both satisfying. This time, I made the dish with olive oil, homemade roasted red peppers, sautéed snow peas, steamed green peas and salt. We devoured this. 

Explore Asian Soybean Spaghetti

Explore Asian has other flavors (all organic) including Black Bean pasta, Mung Bean pasta, Adzuki Bean pasta and an Edamame and Mung Bean combination. They also make rice noodles, wheat noodles and noodle soup, but I have not yet tried any of those. 

Have you tried the Explore Asian products? If so, I'd love to hear about how you prepare it! 

Here's the deal with that Roasted Garlic Olive Oil: I roasted several heads of garlic recently and followed this recipe. I then mixed the soft, roasted garlic with olive oil, poured it into an ice tray and froze it. Now whenever I want roasted garlic-flavored olive oil, I just pop out a cube. For pasta dishes, I melt a cube into a sauce pan and give the pasta a quick toss, adding veggies or whatever else might be accompanying the dish. It is typically ready to plate in about 3-4 minutes. 

If you're interested in changing up your dinner game, or adding more variety to your school lunches, check out:
Our 2016 lunch resolutions
Fall/Winter 2016 lunches
Quick Weeknight Meatballs
Our favorite lunchboxes
Easy Spinach Pie

** full disclosure: Explore Asian sent me these pastas to try but I have not been compensated to write this post. 

Kale Soup for All Kinds of Comfort

It's ridiculously cold here. Twenty something degrees! And the thing is, it's only December. I fear January. And I'm terrified of March. (February has always been one of those easy peasy months in my mind because it's so nice and short.) Besides the hectic pace of the holiday season (interwoven with little reminders like "stop the madness and smell the roses," which is totally easier said than done), we have been struck down by some unkind stomach virus chez moi. I have two things to say on the matter: first, I'm incredibly grateful that it was only the 24 hour variety. And second, I'm so fortunate to have a babysitter who is loving and patient, good spirited and also amazing with sick kids. She didn't blink an eye when my son lost his lunch all over her. Seriously. #Feelingblessed. 

Naturally, after a bout with any kind of stomach thing, bland and basic is always best. So for my son, it was all toast and oatmeal. But the grownups need to eat too. I threw together this soup and it hit the spot. It was hearty and comforting after an exhausting day. It was warm and filling after facing the bitter cold. And it was delicious, thanks to simple ingredients. 

Simple ingredients for Kale Soup

Simple ingredients for Kale Soup

Kale Soup

4 ounces of bacon
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 bunch of green leafy kale, chopped
8 cups of water
1 can of navy beans (or white beans)
1 bay leaf
1 rind of parmesan
dash of cayenne pepper or red chili flakes
salt to taste

Fry the bacon in a soup pot for several minutes until the edges begin to brown. Turn off the heat, remove the bacon and drain on a paper towel. Leave the bacon fat in the pot. When the bacon has cooled, chop into smaller pieces and add back to the pot. Turn the heat to medium and add garlic and kale and stir. After about 2 minutes, add water, beans, bay leaf and parmesan leaf. Simmer with lid on for about 40 minutes (or longer). Add cayenne pepper and salt if desired. Enjoy! 
*Note: for a richer soup, use chicken broth instead of water and feel free to add grated parmesan when you serve soup. 

My other favorites for cold weather: 

Winter Root Vegetable Soup

Best Cold and Flu Fighter Soup

Rainy Day Carrot Soup

Easiest Black Beans



Roasted Black Beans and the Healthy Lunch Challenge

You know that phase when kids start counting and then they delight in counting all the time? My son is there now and it's incredibly entertaining. He's super excited to count to 20 these days and, while he skips 17 every single time, it is amazing to hear him sing out his numbers. Though he doesn't truly understand quantity, addition or subtraction in the formal sense, he can see that ten grapes are more than 5 grapes, and if his big sister reaches over and takes one of his four strawberries he can count that he now only has three. Math and food are a thrilling combination. 

Our Healthy Lunch Challenge plan

Our Healthy Lunch Challenge plan

Enter Crunch a Color, the Healthy Eating Game. It's an award winning card game that families can play together to encourage nutritious eating. The cards have colors, food lists, cute drawings and point values and the person with the most points wins. But there's deeper learning here; avocado and green grapes are both green foods but avocado gets 10 points and green grapes get 5. That makes for interesting conversation. My kids love to compare and it's pretty neat to see my daughter helping out her little brother with the tally (after the whole "haha, I win" bit is done, of course).

When Jennifer Tyler Lee, Crunch a Color's creator, asked me to be part of the Healthy Lunch Challenge, I was thrilled. My daughter chose the lunch below that features three colors, a protein, a healthy grain and no processed foods. We planned it using LaLa Lunchbox so I was sure to have everything I needed on hand. 

This lunch features a delicious and healthy new food that we are crazy about chez moi: roasted black beans! YUM. My daughter calls it black bean popcorn thanks to its satisfying yet light crunch and practically begs for it on a daily basis. We packed this lunch together and snacked along the way. Aside from the roasting time for the beans, this took less than 10 minutes to prepare.

Check out this deliciously colorful and balanced lunch!

crunch a color.JPG

3 colors: Green celery, Orange carrots and Red raspberries
Protein: Black beans (two ways: roasted and pureed into an easy dip)
Healthy Grain: toast crust from whole wheat bread
We always pack lunch with water (5 points extra) bringing the total points to 55!

I used half of one can of black beans for roasting and the other half to make a black bean dip that was finished in three minutes. I cut carrots and celery for dipping and added the toast crust (affectionately called Toast Crust Dippers in my house) that I cut from the bread of my anti-crust son. My daughter grabbed and washed a handful of raspberries and voila! Lunch is complete! 

Here's how we made the roasted black beans:

black beans, ready for roasting! 

black beans, ready for roasting! 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Open one can of black beans. Rinse and dry them with a paper towel. Spread half of the can onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and drizzle with olive oil and a scant sprinkle of salt. Roast in the oven for approximately 35 minutes or until crispy. 

Here's how we made the black bean dip:

Ingredients for black bean dip

Ingredients for black bean dip

We poured the other half of the beans into a bowl and then added: 
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh chopped cilantro
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of ground cumin
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
* note: I initially intended to add fresh garlic but changed my mind at the last minute.  This dip can be made with either, depending on your penchant for garlic flavor. 

Using a stick blender, blend all of the ingredients until smooth.

Enjoy and happy lunching!