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Buttercup Squash + Creamy Black Bean Tacos

I frequently share with nutrition clients about the connection between mental and physical health, particularly between the gut and brain, but also just a reminder that it’s all connected. We’re all connected. Something that’s been labeled “all in your head” is also in your body, and vice versa.

That’s the paradigm I work out of.

In my own life, I’ve had a long journey with things in the realm of “mental health;” in the last few years mostly related to low grade anxiety that can simply be summarized as high vata dosha in Ayurveda. So I try to balance myself with daily habits that invite in slowing down (physically and as a result mentally), practices that sooth my nervous system, and a practice of breathing and meditation that’s begun to infuse into my days.

For the last few weeks, I’ve felt like I really hit a flow with presence and slowing down my brain’s looping and too-quick thoughts.

I’d cracked the code! (haha, right).

Then over the weekend, I set out on the longest run of my current marathon training cycle. As I settled into the last hour of running, when my body was tired and my pace/effort was meant to get higher, my brain kicked in.

My brain kicked in in all the ways I’ve been working to slow my thoughts down or just observe them rather than let them dictate my actions.

The run wasn’t a failure. Today, a few days beyond it, I mostly feel really good about how it went physically. But I’m disappointed with how I coped and let my mind decide to take it easier than planned in that last hour when I’d prepared for and practiced something else.

I guess that’s why we call it a practice. A running practice. A meditation practice. A breathing practice.

In fact, my last conversation with my long-time naturopath who sadly moved away was on this very topic. She told me that if I wanted to keep running marathons, I was going to have to balance the running out with yoga. And she didn’t mean the physical asasa of yoga poses–although that can be helpful too! She meant that if I was going to continue the going fast of running, I needed to balance it out with the slowing down of practicing breathing, presence, and eating slowly and mindfully, to digest food well.

It’s safe to say I’ve made progress from where I was then. But I have not cracked the code of always getting it right. Nor will I.

We’re all works in progress but as reminder to you, and to myself, we rarely make linear progress.

This recipe for creamy black bean tacos with lightly baked and seasoned winter squash, a simple sliced cabbage and creamy sauce to drizzle over the top, is one of those many-years-in-progress, mind and body are all connected recipes. It’s truly delicious for your fall and winter taco nights.

But I also wouldn’t have been eating it a couple months ago, when my gut health had temporarily returned to a compromised phase – I had to do a bit more healing and re-balancing first to return to eating a “more complicated meal.” That’s all to say, if you’re still in an iffy-digestion state, save this one for a little later. And let’s see about getting your system working optimally first.

And if you’re like me and tend toward too-fast, scattered thoughts, I encourage you to keep up the practice of breathing and returning to presence. I’ll be right there with you.

A true fall and winter favorite, these tacos have all the elements of a balanced meal with the six tastes, and are prepared in a way that makes them easier on digestion. The black beans are next level flavorful when cooked from scratch into a creamy, easier to digest consistency.
Any type of full-flavored winter squash works for this recipe. That includes basically all varieties of winter squash commonly used for eating except spaghetti squash and delicata. See what you have available from your local farmers and try a couple new varieties! I used a super tasty variety called Burgess Buttercup.
Nearly all components of this can be prepped ahead and gently reheated if you want to turn this into a weeknight meal. Additionally, I’ve shortened the preparation time with the way I slice and bake the squash.

Prep:  overnight   | Cook: 3-4 hours (for beans); 45  minutes to finish  | Serves: about 4

1 medium buttercup squash, or similar variety (butternut or any hubbard variety of squash)
Pinch of mineral salt
½ tsp. smoked paprika and/or taco seasoning (without preservatives/fillers added)

3-4 cups of red and/or green cabbage, thinly sliced
⅛ tsp. mineral salt
1-2 Tbs. lime juice

Cooked black beans, see below
Cashew crema, see below
12 small corn tortillas (6”)
Cilantro, minced

Black Beans
½ pound /  1 cup black beans, soaked overnight
¾ tsp. salt
1 ½ tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
Water to cover by 3-4 inches

Cashew Crema
1/2 cup cashews, soaked for 4-8 hours or overnight
¼ tsp. garlic salt
1-2 tsp. freshly squeezed lime juice, to taste
a pinch of ground turmeric and dash pepper
a pinch of ground cayenne, optional
1 Tbs. nutritional yeast, optional
½ cup water or more

  1. For the Black Beans: A few hours before or in the morning, cook soaked black beans in a medium pot in the spices and water until very soft and flavorful and creamy, almost to a refried bean consistency.
    This is best done for at least 3-4 hours, adding water as needed.
  2. For the Baked Squash: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
    Slice your squash in half, and remove the seeds and pith. Then rub the salt and smoked paprika and/or taco seasoning onto the flesh of the squash.
    Then place the two squash halves in a large, rimmed baking pan (like 13×9-inch), with cut side down/skin facing up. Add water to about ⅓ of the way up the side of the squash and bake until completely soft when pierced with a fork. This will take about 30-4o minutes.
    Remove from the oven and allow to cool before slicing. The water should all be absorbed and the spices infused into the flesh.
  3. For the Cashew Crema: Drain and rinse the cashews.Put all the crema ingredients, except the water, in a high-speed blender or food processor and blend, adding water a little at a time until the desired consistency is reached.
  4. While the squash is baking, prepare the sliced cabbage. If your digestion is strong, you can thinly slice and dice the cabbage, stir in the salt and lime juice, and allow to sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes to soften.
    If digestion is compromised, gently steam the cabbage instead, just until lightly soft. Then remove to a bowl or dish, add the salt, and lime juice.
  5. Heat the tortillas over high heat, in a clean cast iron skillet.Do this by working in batches, two tortillas at a time and heat for 30-60 seconds per side of each tortilla.
  6. To serve, spoon the black beans into each taco, followed by sliced squash pieces, cabbage, a pinch of minced cilantro, and then a drizzle of crema. Enjoy!

Much of my nutrition practice is focused on individuals and athletes with digestive health issues such as leaky gut, food allergies and intolerances, chronic GI distress, malabsorption of foods and nutrients, and inflammation. If you’re tired, stressed, and not really sure what to eat to help or hurt anymore, I invite you to reach out to me for more personalized support.

Rooibos Masala Chai

Let’s talk about tea, and more specifically caffeine.

The last few years, I’ve taken a semi-annual mini break from my morning (caffeinated) black tea ritual. In part because caffeine can be both good and bad, helpful to athletic performance and health, but also contributing to imbalance.

The bad includes disrupting female hormone metabolism and stress hormones, providing another chemical for our often overloaded livers to break down and excrete, drying out the body over time leading to constipation and dryness, raising blood pressure, and being just a little too stimulating on certain days when we’re already naturally over-stimulated (hello, way too many open tabs and general 21st century overwhelm).

Perhaps because of my history with disordered eating and controlling-my-food tendencies, I also think it’s a good idea to periodically question what it is we’re attached to. Why are we attached to it? Can we loosen up the mind’s attachments, and then the body’s? Is it contributing to some of our other health symptoms?

My planned caffeine break coincided with just having finished reading Michael Pollan’s latest book, This is Your Mind on Plants. In his typical great-storytelling pattern, Pollan takes us into the history and politics of caffeine use in one third of the book, as well as his own personal experience going off, and then back on, caffeine. It made me even more curious about my — and our — attachment to the daily cup or two of warm and fuzzy stimulation.

In my case, going off my not-that-much-caffeine daily tea ritual was much more symptomatic than the idea of it I was attached to. (It turns out when you decide to change your mind about what you’re attached to, you’re already no longer attached to it). And though my mind was not suddenly cloudy and unable to do anything productive without caffeine – like Pollan’s– it also wasn’t suddenly more focused and productive when I added a little back in after a couple week break.

While I was on break from black tea, I began making this Rooibos Masala Chai instead, and still am most days. Its’ simple, lightly spicy, and nuanced. Red rooibos is a popular caffeine-free herbal option from South Africa, and is often pronounced “Roy Buhs.” Rooibos literally translates to “Red Bush” in the Afrikaans language, so think of that if it helps you to remember it’s pronunciation.

This is a nice break from caffeine option or when you’d like to enjoy a quick at-home masala chai. When making the masala chai spice blend, using freshly ground spices will result in the best, most potent flavor. Diaspora Masala Chai blend is an excellent alternative to purchase and supports the real cost of spices (premium quality, fair trade / fair wages).

Prep:  3-5 minutes   | Infuse: 10 minutes  | Serves: 1

12 oz. water
1 Tbs. red rooibos tea (loose-leaf)
1/2 -3/4 tsp. Masala chai blend (see below)
Non-dairy milk of choice, optional

Masala Chai Blend (makes enough for about 13-18 cups)
1 Tbs. ground cardamom
1 Tbs. ground ginger
1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground fennel seed
⅛ tsp. ground black pepper
1/16 tsp. ground cloves

  1. Bring water to a boil in a tea kettle or in a small pan on the stove. 
  2. In a tea basket, measure out the rooibos leaves and masala chai spices. 
  3. When the water has boiled, pour it over the tea and infuse for 10 minutes. Then add a couple splashes of non-dairy milk and enjoy warm.

To make the Masala Blend: 

  1. Combine all freshly ground spices in a small container with a tight-fitting lid. Stir to mix thoroughly or cap the lid and gently shake.  

Sushi Rice with Red Lentil Miso Soup, Carrots and Turmeric Daikon

I heard an idea I really agree with this morning, a snippet of a conversation on a podcast while I was in between places. Fittingly, it was the idea that we really like beginnings and endings in our culture. But not so much the middle.

We really get into the beginning of a new project, a new adventure, a new wellness routine or dietary protocol, a new workout routine or training plan, a new way of being…

And we relish the celebratory endings. The race after all the weeks and months of hard work, the “after” photo to a renovation project or “our new self,” the feeling of triumph when we turn a big project in on the deadline day. The feeling better after months or years of feeling run-down, depleted, and in pain.

But we don’t love the messy middle. We get sidetracked or completely turned off course here. We lose motivation. Nothing is glamorous. It’s just work and there’s often nothing to show for it. Or none that we can see.

I’m personally starting to really lean into the messy middle more in the last few years.

Chalk it up to having a Taurus sun (incredibly stubborn and will not give up, ever), or the literal get-back-in-the-saddle, work’s not done until it’s done mentality that must have been instilled in me since birth or before by way of my upbringing. In any case, I first remembering enjoying the messy middle in my first couple marathon training build-ups. I realized I just loved the training process, the stacking bricks that was happening over weeks and months and then years, followed by both the routine and shifting nature of it. If you’re a runner or athlete, you might relate.

Or at least maybe you’ll relate when those bricks are being stacked instead of taken away?

In the nutritional realm, the messy middle is often where all the magic happens, and unfortunately, it’s where most of us just plain give up or get distracted.

If the goal is to feel better…or perform better…or look better, the messy middle is the training plan that works like magic only because of it’s consistency.

So this is my little mid-week reminder for you. Keep up the better-lifestyle eating and cooking practices you know are the right ones for you right now. If you feel stuck or circling, just choose one thing to focus on. And focus on it until it’s routine again.

For you, that might mean making a meal plan again and shopping so you have a stocked kitchen when weeks are busy. Or it might mean closing the laptop, and the phone, and the TV…and the tablet. And sitting down with yourself at your table and just eating your meal, chewing each bite.

And it might mean returning to making and eating balanced meals when you’ve gotten off track. Getting off track here is one that used to happen so much with me, and still does sometimes. But I’ve been working on it and thankfully, creating balanced meals has become more or less ingrained as routine.

In that light, here is a balanced meal I’ve been making lately in the past few weeks. Initially, I simply called it a Sushi Bowl. But it didn’t really remind me of sushi in any way other than the light touches of seasoning and sticky rice. To make it more of a sushi bowl, add some seaweed if you’d like, and roll all the fillings up inside. I basically never do that. So we’ll just call it what it is.

The idea with this recipe–and making any balanced meal–is that there’s a protein source, a grain, a vegetable component that’s sweet, and a vegetable component that is more pungent, astringent (drying), or bitter. Like dark leafy greens! Or radish! And those components are all in proportion.

For this version, I’ve used a variety of daikon radishes called Baby Purple Daikon. We grew three successions this summer and something about the location and timing of the weather and planting has made for an incredibly robust and delicious third crop. Daikon can be found at nearly any specialty/natural foods grocer, especially in the fall and winter when they’re at their peak. We love them best cooked as they are here, simmered in a little oil, spices, turmeric, and water until they are soft all the way through.

If you make no other component of this meal, try the daikon and add it to your fall and winter meals!

And try to enjoy that messy middle.

Sushi Rice with Red Lentil Miso Soup, Carrots and Cucumbers, and Turmeric Daikon, serves 4

Lots of substitutions can be made depending on your ingredients to create a balancing sushi-inspired meal. For the soup, use either red lentils or split mung beans. Adjust your vegetables depending on the season, omitting the cucumbers in cool late fall and winter by adding a couple additional carrots. Additionally, the daikon can be interchanged with early summer asparagus, cabbage or broccoli. If you do not have access to many different oils in your cooking cabinet and/or do not eat ghee, choose untoasted sesame oil throughout the recipe. Using toasted sesame oil throughout will overpower the recipe. 

Red Lentil Miso Soup
2 Tbs. untoasted sesame oil
½ tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. dried wakame seaweed or kombu
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. fenugreek seeds
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
¾ cup red lentils
4 + cups water
1 Tbs. light miso 

Sushi Rice
1 cup short grain sushi rice (or half white sushi rice, ½ short grain brown rice)
¼ tsp. mineral salt
½ tsp. ground coriander
2 cups water

Carrots and Cucumber
1 Tbs. ghee (or untoasted sesame oil)
⅛ tsp. mineral salt
1 tsp. minced/grated fresh ginger
½ tsp. ground fennel seeds
2 large carrots
2 large cucumbers, peeled and seeded
water to ¼ the height of veg
minced cilantro leaves

Daikon Radish:
1 Tbs. toasted sesame oil
⅛ tsp. mineral salt
½ tsp. turmeric
¼ tsp. ajwain seeds
Water to ¼ the height of veg
Squeeze of fresh lime
sushi nori , optional

  • First begin with the red lentil soup. Warm the sesame oil in a medium saucepan. Add the salt, chopped seaweed, cumin, fenugreek, and black pepper and stir. Continue to heat just until the spices become fragrant. Then stir in the red lentils and water. Bring to a boil and then turn down and partially cover. Cook for 25-35 minutes, until soft. Then mash in the miso paste. A good way to do this is to take out a couple spoonfuls of the soup into a small dish and then mash the miso into it thoroughly. Then stir the mixture back into the soup and distribute throughout. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  • For the rice, add 2 cups water to a medium saucepan along with  ¼ tsp. salt, coriander, and rice. Give it all a good stir and bring to a boil. Once it’s boiling, turn down to a simmer, cover and cook for 25 minutes. When the rice has finished, take the lid off and allow the steam to escape for a few minutes. 
  • For the carrots: heat the ghee or sesame oil in a sauté pan and simmer the salt, ginger, and fennel until an aroma is present. Then stir in the carrots and stir to coat in the spices. Add water to about ¼ the height of the carrots and simmer until nearly tender, about 15 minutes. Then stir in the sliced cucumbers and stir to mix with the carrots and spices. When the carrots are fully tender and the cucumber is warm, turn off the heat. 
  • For the daikon radish: warm the toasted sesame oil in a small sauté pan and simmer the salt and spices until the aroma is present. Stir in the daikon pieces. Add water to about ¼ height of the daikon. Cover and cook over medium-low until it is fully tender, about 10-15 minutes. Turn off the heat, squeeze in the lime, and let sit for about five minutes. 
  • Serve the rice and vegetable components together, topped with minced fresh cilantro and pieces of nori seaweed, as desired, along with the red lentil miso soup on the side (see notes below).

Notes: Learn more about Ajwain seeds here. You can purchase them from Mountain Rose Herbs or Diaspora Spice Co. Or alternatively, use oregano, thyme, or fennel instead. 

Also, the miso soup can truly be soupy and served in a bowl, or you can cook it longer (or add less water), and make it thick and more of a puree. This latter version would be great if you are actually going to use nori and roll the various components into a sushi roll.