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Flavorful Organic Food

If you think that cooking healthy means no flavor and no fun, well television personality and cookbook author Christina Pirello wants to change your mind.

Pirello, the award-winning host of public television's "Christina Cooks," stopped by The Saturday Early Show to take our Chef on a Shoestring challenge.

We asked her to create a delicious meal using recipes from her latest cookbook, which focuses on using organic ingredients for flavorful, but healthful vegetarian dishes.

Pirello believes in the power of eating good, healthy food. When she was 26-years-old, she was diagnosed with leukemia. She believes eating a strict, whole foods diet with no meat helped her body recover. She also believes that not enough people understand that making smart, healthy choices about what you eat can truly impact your body.

Pirello's latest book is all about whole foods. She says she wants people to know that cooking with whole foods does not mean boring, bland food.

Whole foods are fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains that have not been processed or tampered with in any way. Many experts believe that whole foods have more vitamins, minerals and enzymes because these nutrients have not been removed in processing.

Pirello believes that you can get your whole family to eat more healthful foods one step at a time. Don't feel that you need to give your entire cooking routine a makeover. Instead, she suggests starting with one meal at a time.

Pirello's menu: an appetizer of Nori Rolls with Vegetables and Brown Rice; an entrée of Stuffed Monkfish served with Broccoli and Fennel; and for dessert, Fried Bananas with Caramel Sauce.


Nori: Paper-thin sheets of dried seaweed. You can find them in Asian grocery stores and many organic food stores. Nori can be purchase toasted or plain. Pirello uses the toasted kind for her recipe. If you purchase plain ones, simple follow the directions on the packaging for toasting. Nori is rich in protein, vitamins, calcium and iron.

Monkfish: This fish's ugly outer appearance cleverly masks some of the most tasty and versatile meat on the market, leading many to call it "Poor Man's Lobster." It's actually a misnomer, as the taste is leaner and more delicate than lobster. Only the texture of the white flesh is reminiscent of shellfish. Monkfish easily produces boneless fillets as only one bone runs down its center.

Whole Wheat Flour: This flour comes in two basic versions: bread flour and pastry flour. Both are high in gluten and ideal for baking. Bread flour is characterized by its high protein content and works best in yeasted baked goods. Pastry flour is higher in starch and lower in protein, and lends itself to quick breads, cookies, muffins, pancakes, and other goods that rely on baking powder rather than yeast.

Chef Pirello uses an array of alternatives to dairy and sugar :

Rice and soy blend: A rice and soy blend is an alternative to dairy for those with allergies or lactose ntolerance. It's also an easy way to get soy isoflavones into the daily diet. It comes in a variety of flavors, and in both sweetened and unsweetened versions. Chef Pirello prefers the Eden brand.

Brown Rice Syrup: A sweetener that can be used in place of other sugars or honey. It is made from 100 percent whole brown rice. Comprised of 60 percent complex carbohydrates but less than 15 percent simple sugars, brown rice syrup is a mild, minimally refined sweetener. Brown rice syrup can replace sugar in desserts and recipes for baked goods. Substitute it one to one for sugar, but reduce the total amount of liquid in the recipe by 1/4 cup per cup of brown rice syrup used.

Barley Malt: Barley malt is a sweetener made from soaked and sprouted barley, that is dried, mixed with water, and cooked down to a thick syrup. High in complex, slowly-digested sugars, it's can be used in muffins, chocolate sauces, fruit breads, and desserts. Also use it in baked beans, legume casseroles, and jerk marinades and dressings. Substitute barley malt one for one with white sugar. Reduce the liquid in your recipe by 1/4 cup for every cup of barley malt used.

All recipes are from "Christina Cooks"
Published By Berkley Publishing Group

Nori Rolls with Vegetables and Brown Rice
Makes 2 rolls or 16 sliced pieces

1 small carrot, peeled sliced into long spears
2 bunches watercress, rinsed, left whole
2 sheets toasted sushi nori
1 cup of brown rice (see recipe below)

Bring a small pot of water to a boil and blanch the carrot spears until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Drain and set aside. Bring another small pot of water to a boil. Blanch the watercress until just wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain and set aside.

To assemble the Nori: Place one sheet of nori, shiny side down, lengthwise, on a sushi mat or kitchen towel. Add half cup of the rice (recipe follows) to the center of the nori and spread it out evenly over nori. Leave about 1/2-inch of nori exposed closest to and furthest from you. Then arrange half of the watercress over the rice, side edge to side edge. Then add two or three carrot spears over the watercress again the length of the nori and the rice.

Using the mat (or towel) as a guide, roll the nori around the filling, pressing gently as you roll, creating a tight cylinder. Wrap the mat completely around the roll and squeeze any excess liquid from the filling. Set aside. Make another roll with the remaining ingredients.

Using a sharp knife, slice each nori roll into 8 equal pieces. Arrange on a platter and serve with spicy dipping sauce (recipe follows) . Makes 16 pieces.

Brown Rice
Makes 1 cup

1/2 cup of brown rice
1 cup water
pinch of sea salt

Place the half-cup of rice in a bowl and rinse with water. Drain. Place the rinsed rice into a pot, add 1 cup of water to the pot. Using medium heat, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook until all of the liquid has been absorbed into rice. This should take about 30 to 45 minutes. Fluff with a fork, then cool to room temperature before using the rice in the nori rolls.

Spicy Dipping Sauce

1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons soy sauce

Using a Microplane or fine grater, grate the ginger into a small bowl. Using your fingers "pinch" the pulp to get fresh ginger juice. Reserve the juice and set aside.

In another bowl, combine the soy sauce, and the fresh ginger juice, adding water only as needed to thin dressing to desired consistency.

Baked Stuffed Monkfish
Serves 4

1 pound monkfish, cleaned
1 bottle dry white wine
juice of 1/2 (one half) fresh lemon
sea salt (or kosher salt) and fresh ground black pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
1 cup (approximate) whole wheat bread crumbs
4 lemon wedges, for garnish

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Wash fish and place in a deep baking dish. Using a sharp knife, cut a slit down the center of the fish for the stuffing. Pour white wine over fish to about a 1/4-inch deep in the dish. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice; sprinkle with salt and fresh ground black pepper.

To prepare the stuffing: Put one tablespoon of olive oil, garlic and onions in a sauté pan and place over medium heat. When the onions begin to sizzle, add a pinch of salt and sauté for one to two minutes. Stir in celery and carrot, add another pinch of salt and sauté for two more minutes. Sprinkle with about 1/2 cup of wine. Saute until liquid dissipates. Remove from heat and stir in breadcrumbs to create a moist stuffing.

Use a spoon and mound stuffing in the slit made in the fish, filling abundantly. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 15 minutes or until the fish lightly flakes. Remove foil and bake until stuffing browns lightly, another 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter and serve garnished with lemon wedges. Makes about 4 servings.

Broccoli with Fennel

4 tablespoons (approximate) extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves fresh garlic, thinly sliced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
sea salt or kosher salt to taste
1 small fresh fennel bulb, stems removed, thinly sliced, reserving 2-3 tablespoons minced leaves
1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, and thinly sliced into ribbons (see method below)
7 cups broccoli florets
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
2/3 cup spring or filtered water

Place about 2 tablespoons olive oil, garlic and shallots in a deep skillet and turn heat to medium. When the shallots begin to sizzle, add a pinch of salt and saute until golden, about 3-4 minutes. Add fennel and red bell pepper ribbons, a pinch of salt and saute until just beginning to wilt, 3 minutes more. Add broccoli florets, another 2 tablespoons of olive oil, dried herbs, a light seasoning of salt and stir to coat. Add water, cover and cook until broccoli is crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Remove cover and allow any remaining liquid to cook away. Stir gently to combine ingredients and transfer to a serving platter. Makes 6-8 servings. Serve with the fish.

Roasting Peppers: To roast a bell or chile pepper, rinse and dry the pepper and place over an open flame, or under the broiler. Cook, turning with tongs, until the outer skin of the pepper is completely charred. Transfer the pepper to a paper sack, seal, and allow the pepper to steam for about 10 minutes. If you don't have a paper sack, you can also place the peppers in a bowl and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Gently rub the charred skin from the pepper, and rinse gently to remove any charred residue. Roasted peppers will keep, refrigerated for about a week.

Fried Bananas in Caramel Sauce

Ingredients for Batter:
1 to 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
pinch sea salt or kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
scant pinch cinnamon
1/4 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
1 to 1 1/2 cups sparkling water

Ingredients for caramel sauce:
1/2 cup Eden Rice & Soy Blend
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1/2 cup barley malt
juice of 1/4 fresh lemon

4-6 ripe bananas, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch thick diagonal slices
avocado oil or light olive oil, for frying

Whisk all the dry ingredients together. Slowly mix in sparkling water to create a batter the consistency of pancake batter. Cover loosely and set aside.

To Make the Sauce: Place the Eden Rice & Soy Blend, brown rice syrup and barley malt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cook until the syrup has reduced and thickened, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in lemon juice. Set aside.

Prepare the bananas. Pre-heat oven to 150 degrees F. Pour about 2 inches of oil in a deep skillet and place over medium heat. When the oil is hot (patterns will form in the oil, known as "dancing"), raise heat to high, dip banana slices in batter to coat completely and fry until golden and crispy, turning once to insure even browning. Drain on paper. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet and place fried bananas in a warm oven until all the frying is completed.

To serve: Mound fried bananas on individual serving plates and spoon a generous amount of caramel sauce over top. Serve immediately. Makes 4-6 servings.

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