This Holiday Season, bring good health and flavor to your table with a Timeless Mediterranean Tradition: Lebni. Enjoyed in homes and restaurants, particularly in Lebanon and Greece, Lebni is a delicious, thick, and creamy yogurt with a sophisticated texture served as a spread or a dip. As a dip, simply drizzle with olive oil and top with pomegranate seeds. This preparation is both visually beautiful and flavorful, adding just enough sweetness in each bite! Serve with either pita chips or vegetables.
Remember, Lebni may also be enjoyed as a spread and is a classic breakfast or snack. Simply spread on pita bread, add fresh tomato, cucumber, fresh mint, and a dash of *salt, and *olive oil (*optional) and voila!
As always we say, “Sah’tain”! Which means, “To your Health”!
Pomegranates are in abundance, and what a wonderful winter addition this fruit is! Pomegranates add visual and flavorful interest to our winter fruit options, and they are packed with powerful antioxidants to fight cancer and to boost our immunity. In the Middle East, pomegranates are a kitchen staple. Children from a young age learn to de-seed these babies like a professional! (And believe me, nothing makes this RaqiSa Momma more proud than to hear her kids request for, “More pomegranates, please”!) In addition, pomegranate seeds are used frequently for decoration. *See our “Baba-Ghanoush Recipe Photo. So, bring this delicious tradition into your home and start with one single pomegranate and enjoy three simple ways to use the whole pomegranate, today!
Start by de-seeding the pomegranate. The easiest way is to cut it in quarters, and open the wedges, letting the seeds fall into a bowl. It requires some finger work, but kids love it, so if you have kids, recruit them to help! With the exception of a small handful, keep the rest of the seeds in a baggie and freeze them.
Make pomegranate ice-cubes with fresh lemon. For extra vitamin C, Squeeze the juice of one lemon and mix with water, then add the set aside pomegranate seeds into each ice cube with pieces of lemon. Enjoy in your favorite flavored or plain bubbly water or add flavor and nutrients in your hot or cold teas. Speaking of teas…see #2.
In the Middle East, we are known for not wasting our foods! That means, keep the Pomegranate Peels and Freeze them…because once you feel a cold coming on, pull out your peels and boil them to make a delicious tea! Cover peels with ample water, bring the water to a boil, then reduce to low heat and cover – allow the peels to seep on low for approximately 4 minutes. To serve, discard the peels, and pour the tea into a cup and add the lemon and pomegranate ice cubes to cool the tea (and add nutrients). *Optional, add 1 tsp of honey.
We love our yogurt in the Middle East. It’s got so much to offer for muscle, bone and gut health because it’s a probiotic, with protein, potassium, and calcium. So try this recipe as a refreshing sunrise smoothie or a post workout recovery treat featuring the frozen pomegranates. This smoothie packs a powerful nutrient dense punch. Simply add all the Ingredients into Your Blender and Blend!
2 Tbls of vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup of non fat milk
3 ice cubes
1/2 of a banana (preferably frozen too)
1 Tbls of frozen pomegranates (plus more to dress the smoothie)
1 tsp of honey (plus more to drizzle on top)
As always, we say, “Sah’tain”! Which means “TO GOOD HEALTH”!
Summer grilling is always fun – but as summer drags on, you just might be all grilled out. To inspire the inner chef in you, I bring to you a versatile dish that in actuality can be served either hot or cold. A family tradition in most Lebanese homes, this lentil and rice dish is served with a crisp, fresh salad. (Refer to my “Kicked Up Mediterranean Quinoa Salad” post for my tasty lemon and mint dressing which compliments this dish nicely).
Ingredients: 3 1/2 Cups of Water, 3/4 Cups of Dried Lentils, 1/2 Cup of Rice, 1 Medium Onion, 1/4 cup (plus 1 TBS) of Olive Oil, 1 TBS Butter, 1 TSP Salt. (Serves Approx. 4)
Instructions: Sauté in 1/4 cups of olive oil 1/2 of the medium (chopped) onion until softened. Meanwhile, boil 3 1/2 cups of water with 3/4 cups of dried lentils until the lentils are softened (approx. 10 minutes). Add the sautéed onions with the olive oil, 1/2 cup of rice, and 1 TSP of Salt. Bring to a boil and stir gently. Reduce heat to low and cover tightly and cook until the rice is cooked through. Sauté the other 1/2 of the onion in 1 TBLS of olive and 1 TBLS of butter until caramelized. (*Note, I personally use either a sweet white or red onion, depending on preference) Serve in a dish and top with the caramelized onions.
Final thought. I like this dish because it’s economical. Think about it…It’s a basic beans and rice dish…AND YET, it is regal enough to be served to the Queen of England herself, (okay in my humble opinion anyway); AND it is heart healthy to appeal to the health and fitness enthusiast. So please, from my home to your home…Enjoy this (and all our dishes), toward good health, “Sah’tain”!
Shown here in this picture is me, my daughter Lillie and my dearest sister Leila. My mother would be here, except she is kind of busy up in heaven probably doing other amazing things as she did here on earth. It’s tough to lose someone, to be sure. But one of many great ways to honor her perfect memory is to pass down to my daughter her recipes and shared stories. Between me and my sister Leila, my daughter has a pretty keen sense of exactly who my mother was. And that’s a good thing.
In honor of Mother’s Day, I want to pass not just this recipe, but the shared experience that can be enjoyed when gathered to roll grape leaves. You see, every good Lebanese girl learns to roll grape leaves. It requires a patient cook with confident and steady hands. The labor involved does not fall under my “fast, quick, and easy” recipes that I usually offer. Rather, it is involved and time consuming. But that’s okay. It’s okay because you get to prepare something that almost everyone loves and when they do enjoy feasting, there is this great satisfaction the cook can enjoy when watching her table relish each bite. I hope you will not just enjoy this recipe, but the process involved. I hope that you will find loved ones in your life to either cook with or to serve as grape leaves seem to just need that right combination.
Grape Leaves served with cooked carrots
adds color to the table and makes it a complete meal.
Serves 6. Cooking time: approx.: 1 or more (1/2) depending on how much rice you use. Test the tenderness of the grape leaf and the thoroughness of the rice before serving
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons of natural butter
1 1/2 – 2 teaspoons of salt (depending on preference)
1/2 teaspoon of pepper
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4 – 3/4 cup of rice (depending on carbohydrate preference)
1 lb. of fresh ground beef (or lamb or a mixture of both)
1/4 – 1/2 cup of water (depending on how much rice you use less water for less rice, etc.)
Additional Ingredients used in the directions:
3 cloves of crushed garlic
1/2 cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon of dried mint
Sauté onions in the butter until soft. Mix onions and butter, salt, pepper and cinnamon into rice. Add the meat and water. Mix well. Note: *This meat mixture may be used as a stuffing for a variety of vegetables, not just for grape leaves.
Layer onto the bottom of your pot small baby carrots. Lightly salt the layer of carrots and squeeze some lemon. Roll your grape leaf, one by one. Lay your grape leaf with the rough side up and place a desired meat mixture (approx. 1 tablespoon or less) in the center. Fold the bottom of the leaf over the stuffing, then fold it in from each side to the middle. Roll tightly, forming a roll about 3 in long and 1/2-1 inch thick.Pack the rolls tightly, (open ends down) into fitted rows. Depending on the size pan you use, you may get 1 – 2 rows per jar of grape leaves. Sprinkle each layer with salt and lemon juice. The final layer sprinkle with 1tsp of mint, 3 cloves of crushed garlic, salt, and the remainder of the lemon. Cover with enough water to cover the grape leaves, place a heat resistant plate upside down over the grape leaves to prevent them from unraveling. Bring to a boil, reduce to low and let simmer until rice is cooked and grape leaves are soft.
Despite the snow still on the ground here in New England, it’s time to get into Spring Training! That means we need to lighten up our menu so we are more prepared to wear those shorts waiting to be pulled out with ease! Traditionally, Kefta is prepared with either lamb or beef – or a combo of both. However, I have taken liberty to make this a little more heart healthy for those who steer away from red meat. Mind you, this is amazing with ground beef. In fact, I must confess, the recipe I have does not share the exact same ingredients, in particular, I add butter to my beef! Delicious…but more calories and not so heart healthy! However, as a fitness professional, I aim for good health! Mind you, while this is healthy, you can be assured that the combination of fresh ingredients really make this so special; you won’t lose in great taste. In fact, my husband came home hungry after his workout while I was taking my pictures for this post and with the amazing smells waifed throughout the house…I had to slap his hands a couple of times from reaching for the Kefta to remind him to “wait” until I have finished posting!
To keep this fresh and lively, I serve this with a tasty yogurt and cucumber recipe. The coolness from the yogurt when served with warm Turkey Kefta keeps it interesting. To turn this into a family meal, I serve this with a salad, as well as other traditional additions such as pickled turnips and olives. (Posted in this picture is a cabbage salad, which I will save for another post!) Another way to enjoying this is with hummus and sliced tomatoes and toasted Arabic bread – Delicious and nutritious! Please note that I have offered the smaller portion in parenthesis, in case you have a smaller household or you are making this just for yourself to enjoy throughout the week. *Also consider, if you like to prepare your weekly foods in advance, you can assemble the meat mixture and keep this is tin foil until you are ready to cook it as it cooks quickly!
TURKEY KEFTA INGREDIENTS
2 lbs of Ground Turkey (1 lb) 1 cup of finely chopped parsley (1/2 C) 1/2 cup of finely chopped white onion (1/4 C) 1 finely chopped garlic (1/2) 1 tsp of cinnemon (1/2 tsp) 1 tsp of cayanne pepper (1/2 tsp) 1/4 tsp dried cilantro (1/8 tsp) 2 tsp of salt (1 tsp) 2 eggs (1 egg) 2/3 cup of plain bread crumbs (1/3 cup)
1. Combine meatball ingredients and mix well w/hands
2. Roll into golf ball size meatballs and place on a baking sheet.
3. Preheat oven broiler and place rack in the center
4. Broil meatballs for 5 minutes, flip them over and broil 2 minutes more.
YOGURT AND CUCUMBER WITH MINT
In a bowl, pound one fresh garlic with a little salt. Add 2 cups of yogurt. Add 2 tsp. of dried mint. Add 1/4 cup of a cucumber peeled and diced. Combine together. Add salt to taste.
Yes, Spring is in the air and we are making shifts in our house with great anticipation of the the warm days ahead! And yes, my darling husband finally got to enjoy the Turkey Kefta! Truly, he was indeed served like a King. Well, he is my King any way; and I am his Queen. And as always, he was moaning a groaning in delight with each bite. I am grateful to have someone so supportive and expressive…I think I’ll keep him.
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Fresh, clean, lively, and spicy are my chosen adjectives to describe this delicious, fast and easy salad. While it is true that the ingredients in this Mediterranean Quinoa Salad are close to that of the traditional Lebanese tabouli salad I grew up enjoying, you will never hear me say, nor will you read in writing that this salad is a “tabouli salad.” Why? Because I have too much respect for the labour of love involved in preparing a traditional Lebanese tabouli salad. Each ingredient traditionally is chopped to perfection, and when assembled together, it takes an artistic eye to know the balance of parsley to cracked wheat. Hailed by my mother as the “Christmas” salad for the balance of green, red, and white hues; this salad doesn’t quite meet the criteria. In fact it is such an involved labour of love, that when I was single, I created “Tabouli Making Parties” with my girlfriends just to share the chopping time and the camaraderie in both preparation and serving. On one occasion, my dear friend’s husband introduced to me for the first time ever, to serve a jalapeno pepper to individual tabouli portions. I was quizzical at first. But, I had to try it. It was such a surprising addition that it made the cut in this quinoa salad.
Fast forward many years, many jobs, a husband and two children later. Today I need fast, healthy, and easy. So, I created this salad to cut the time and with a modern…casual spin. While I personally can eat a whole bowl, (which I did), it is technically “two” servings. I also do not use all the dressing for this portion, just to watch my calorie in take, but one could if they really enjoy the flavors…Okay, I used most of the dressing. In all seriousness, the instructions are to simply assemble all the ingredients together and add the delicious salad dressing. Serve chilled and enjoy each and every bite. Prepare to feel alive and energetic. In fact – it’s the perfect incentive to exercise!
P.S. I promise, I will share with you my mother’s Lebanese Tabouli recipe, but for now, enjoy this toward good health!
It may seem impossible with a busy work week; or perhaps it’s the last thing on your priority list, but preparing your own foods is always the healthiest option. To start off, try keeping in your pantry Mediterranean staples to help inspire the impulsive chef you may be. As taught by my mother, a good Lebanese woman, (or man), will always keep in their pantry: Olive oil, Tahina, Garlic, Lemon, fresh, as well as dried mint.
Want popcorn? Make it with olive oil! Need an instant salad dressing? Mix olive oil, lemon, garlic, and dried mint. Any vegetable dish always tastes better with olive oil drizzled. In fact, you may be surprised by the bright flavors in grilled zucchini drizzled with olive oil and topped with fresh mint! But for this blog, the spotlight is on the EGGPLANT prepared as a simple (and fast) recipe you can enjoy called: Baba Ghannouj. This versatile dip can be served as a delicious snack in between meals, or is worthy enough to serve as an hors d’oeurvre. Having a “meatless Monday”? – Enjoy baba ghannouj as a spread for your wraps!
BABA GHANNOUJ INGREDIENTS:
2 Medium Eggplants
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
5 Tbsp Tahina
2 Cloves of Garlic crushed into a paste
Juice of One Lemon
Salt to taste.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place the eggplants into a hot oven for approximately 15 – 20 minutes, (or until the eggplant is completely soft). Allow to cool. Remove the skin carefully, while holding the stem. Discard the stem. Place into a food processor as shown below. Add the 1 Tbsp of Olive Oil and 5 Tbsp of Tahina, and squeeze the juice of one medium lemon. Blend until creamy. Prepare a garlic paste by adding a little salt to the garlic before crushing. (As shown in picture, I squeezed a bit a lemon first to hold it together.) Combine in a dish all the ingredients and mix well. Add additional salt to taste and place in a serving dish. Drizzle 1 Tbsp of olive oil before serving.
In Summation: Making your foods with a Mediterranean spin is actually easier than expected. I am a busy mother and a wife; and I work just like the rest of the world, but I delight in knowing that I am also the self proclaimed nutritionist in the house who aims to serve only the best for my family. It’s funny. Before I sat to write these final thoughts, I served my husband the pictured dish with the fresh vegetables. And do you know what I just heard my husband say as I type this? “Mmmm. I love eating healthy foods…Healthy foods made by you. Mmm, the garlic in it is good too. Mmmm.” Now that’s what I like to hear! I will tell him what I always say… “Sahtain”! – Which means “may it be toward good health”!
I have been teaching belly dance for fitness for a long time. What you may be surprised to know is just how rewarding my job is on several levels. Sure, I help women get fit, and that’s just fantastic. As the obesity epidemic in America tops the charts, I know that my job is helping tip that scale toward optimal good health and well-being in active participants. Ask any fitness professional…I am inclined to believe that across the board each will say, “I love my job.”
But RaqiSa Belly Dance for fitness is special. Based on my humble observation, and the many years of teaching, women who initially participate in a belly dance for fitness class, will walk in with hesitation. The exception may be if the participant is Middle Eastern, and they are aware of the cultural aspects of belly dance and her many traditions and roots. Otherwise, for most, there is a certain mystic and uncertainty that ensues. I suppose there is this projected film image, that is emblazoned in the mind, of tantalizing women in movies who wiggle and move their hips seductively during a scene filled with men, who are foaming at the mouth. This is unfortunately a grave misconception of this timeless, elegant art form with deep cultural roots. And, please, let me be clear: RaqiSa Dance is in actuality a beautiful, (and dare I say) respectable dance enjoyed with and for women to celebrate her beauty, to celebrate family, and even love.
In due time, women who grow in the signature RaqiSa formats, such as Belly Barre, Belly Dance, and Belly Ball often share with me three amazing things: 1) they are acutely aware of their posture throughout the day, 2) they are complimented by others as they walk with a renewed confidence, 3) they are becoming more fit and flexible, with the added benefit of noticeably more defined abdominals! Do you realize how that makes me feel as a fitness professional? It’s pretty awesome, I can assure you.
To help speed the muscle development as well as the necessary mobility and stability required to be an effective RaqiSa dancer, I train with a fitness ball. Seriously, who doesn’t love playing with a ball? It’s probably the first word most children say, and it’s the one sportive equipment enjoyed at any age. It also happens to be the perfect solution toward effective RaqiSa fitness training. But before I offer my summation, let’s talk essential ball and fitness logistics:
Safety & Guidelines
♦ There are two standard fitness ball sizes: 55 cm & 65 cm.
♦ Standard rule: When seated on the ball the knees should be in line with the hips or slightly above the hips, this determines which ball to use for you. (Test this on a 55 cm or 65 cm ball to see which is best for you).
♦ Maintain good postural alignment by contracting abdominals and keep the chest lifted. Note: shoulders dropped in opposition (and relaxed) if ball is over head.
♦ When learning choreography, master the foot pattern first, then add the ball.
♦ When learning seated ball exercises, beginners should hold on the ball until they are securely engaged through the core for stability. Tip: Find neutral spine and keep shoulders and hips “squared.”
Working with a fitness ball trains all three planes of motion which enhances overall athletic performance and serves as a method to prevent injury. In addition, other benefits include:
♦ Improved coordination, balance, and body awareness
♦ Optimal upper body conditioning as both arms are in constant action, unlike unilateral movements performed with a dumbbell. (This is very much like working with a veil)
♦ An increase in muscular strength and endurance in the upper body.
♦ An improvement in deep abdominal stabilization and an increase in hip range of motion when training seated on the ball.
In Summation, training with a fitness ball will help prepare the body to effectively DANCE. Of particular interest to RaqiSa enthusiasts, the upper body movement is likened to that of a veil and the seated movement enhances hip awareness as it increases hip range of motion. Consider if you will the three dimensional upper body and hip movements one must master with balance and precision. And how about the many stretching options when working with the ball? The possibilities are endless. So if you see Belly Ball as a RaqiSa option, careful to not dismiss this amazing workout, (and effective dance teaching technique). Try belly ball. You can expect to enjoy rapid results with a bonus “fun factor” as you add “play” to your day. Seriously. I. LOVE. MY. JOB!
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The Belly Ball workout is currently in production, so stay tuned for this amazing RaqiSa Fitness solution!
Have you ever been to a restaurant and enjoyed a dish so much that you went home to try to prepare a version of it? Well, that’s how this recipe came to life. My son and I use to share a bowl of sausage soup at an Italian restaurant chain, and we liked it so much, that I studied the ingredients and decided to make a heart healthy version. Keeping the flavors savory and vibrant, yet more heart healthy with the turkey, this recipe has turned out to be a huge hit amongst my girlfriends and my family.
I like to enjoy this soup as a “flat belly” recipe on days I am eating light. The original recipe included rice, however, to keep the carbs low, I do not add rice. To turn this into a meal for my family, I serve this with a delicious salad and a slice of freshly prepared garlic bread. Remember, the wise words of Hippocrates: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” This recipe won’t disappoint in flavor, and it contains all the heart healthy ingredients to boot! “Sahtain!” – Enjoy this toward good health.
Italian Turkey Sausage Soup
1 lb of Sweet Italian Turkey Sausage
1 cup of chopped white onion
1 cup of chopped carrots
1 cup of chopped celery
2 cups of chopped fresh spinach
1 – 2 cloves of chopped garlic
2 boxes of Organic Chicken Stock (32 FL OZ)
Shredded Cheese (to taste)
Red Pepper Flakes (to taste)
Lightly brown the turkey on medium. Add all the other ingredients together and bring to a boil on high. Reduce heat to low and allow time for all the vegetables to soften. (Approx 20 minutes). Add your favorite cheese and Red Pepper Flakes to taste. *Note, depending on which chicken stock you choose, additional salt is not necessary.
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“Health is like money, we never have a true idea of its value until we lose it.” – Josh Billings
Fitness is about your health. It’s about your well being. You do not have an imperfect body; and a fitness program is not a punishment for an imperfect body. Nope. Love your body; it’s the only one you’ve got. Rather, fitness is an investment in you. If you struggle with motivation, begin to take steps toward making fitness a habit. Choose to redefine your whole approach to fitness with these five easy habits, so on days when you feel unmotivated, you can stare it the face and say, “Nope. This is just what I do.”
Supposedly, it takes a minimum of 21 days to develop a habit. But I say go the distance and commit to 30 Days. You will go through a “honeymoon phase” where it’s easy, but it’s when it gets tough that you will need to rely on the key strategies. I believe in these habits and practice them myself. In fact, I am inclined to believe that most athletes you admire subscribe to these fitness habits. Now it’s your turn. Commit to These Five Fitness Habits toward a more focused and fit you for 30 Days:
1) MAKE A 10 MINUTE MINIMUM RULE– Consistency is key. Commit daily to doing a minimum of 10 minutes of exercise. Do something. Anything. 10 minutes of something is better than nothing! In fact, don’t go to bed until you have done SOMETHING. Begin to make exercise just “what you do.” As long as your doctor gave you the green light, you aren’t going to break! You will be surprised by the muscle tone you can enjoy rather rapidly simply by doing something e.v.e.r.y.d.a.y. Remember, you have all of eternity to “rest.”
2) CHOOSE TO RESPOND TO YOUR FEELINGS WITH A HEALTH OR FITNESS SOLUTION – Feeling overwhelmed? Try grabbing weights or begin a muscle training class and notice how centered you feel. Feeling irritable? Pay attention to your nutrition. Feeling restless? Go for a walk or a run. Listen to your breath as you move. Feeling worried? Draw inward to your breath and practice deep diaphragmatic breathing.
3) CREATE VISUALS – Post daily a visual list of your objectives. (Post it somewhere so you can see it!) Doing so will help you keep the course more vibrant and alive. Or create a check list of a variety of exercises that work various muscles and actively check off (one by one) a goal you have accomplished for the day or week. Keep it positive. Write a note to yourself at the top of your calendar. If you belong to a gym, think outside of the box and try new group class. If you workout on-line, review a list of workouts and post which you’d like to try so you can see it. To keep you encouraged and your perspective healthy, have a friend take a picture of you doing something active, where you feel alive and energetic and post it as a refreshing reminder of your love for good health and fitness.
4) CHOOSE TO STOP MAKING EXCUSES AND BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF – Nothing has power over your health and fitness plan unless you give it power. Look excuses head on and toss each one in the path far away. This is how you begin to develop WILL POWER. Coach your way out of a bad thought. That’s right – become your own best coach – It’s great to read up on other people who are inspirational. Most, if not all, have developed an inspirational inner voice that they keep alive. Now its your turn; develop a few key phrases that resonate with you. Figure out what your objective is and tell yourself you can do it. I walk around the house talking to myself all the time! My childhood nick name is “Siso” (See – So) and for some reason when I am having a coaching time, I am “Siso” all over again! Maybe because of the young athlete I remember myself to be! Keep your pep talks optimistic and solution oriented!
5) CHOOSE TO FOSTER YOUR DETERMINATION: GET RIGHT BACK UP WHEN YOU FALL – You will succeed; you will fail, trust the process, nonetheless. The word “determination” is just so lively! Truthfully, no one can give it to you, this is something you must relish and develop on your own. Ironically, the more you participate in a fitness program, the more your determination is exercised.
KEY STRATEGIES TO HELP YOU SUCCEED: 1) Progress slowly – I am going to give the new exerciser both a word of advice and some good old-fashioned, tough love: Doing too much exercise too soon may deter you from the point of enjoying fitness. I have seen it countless times in my fitness classes…new or returning participants will take back to back classes, or overload the first week – never to return again. Strategize wisely and begin to develop a love for how great it feels to be fully alive. 2) Remove obstacles that may draw you away from your objective. For example, going on a media fast may be a solution for many as it may be the one obstacle that is preventing you from actualizing many of these habits. 3) Narrow The List – Pick one of two to master initially if it feels too overwhelming. Or choose one habit that resonates with you the most.
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RaqiSa Fitness: We Believe Strong and Healthy is Beautiful