Grilled Stuffed Pears

Pears grilled and stuffed with quinoa and cheeseWhen it comes to summer grilling, pears are often overlooked. But the fact is their hardy texture is ideal for standing up to the intensity of the grill, and as they cook, their delicious flavor is enhanced by the smoky flames. Grilled pears can be prepared in both sweet and savory ways: think grilled pear halves topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert, or sliced grilled pears tossed in a summery salad. Here they are cooked on the grill until just tender and juicy, with a quinoa salad stuffing that evokes flavors of the Mediterranean. Extra-virgin olive oil, Spanish-style chorizo, and fresh mint add a bold, summertime flare, while white balsamic vinegar adds a sweet, fruity tang to complement the flavors found in the grilled pears. Serve these at your next backyard barbecue, for an outside-the-box appetizer or entrée.

Serves 4 as a main course, or 8 as an appetizer

4 USA Anjou pears
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar (sometimes labeled “golden” balsamic vinegar)
1/3 cup chopped dry-cured Spanish chorizo
1/4 cup sliced or coarsely chopped almonds, toasted
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup crumbled feta
8 cups baby arugula

Put the quinoa in a small saucepan and add 1 1/4 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring it to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, cover, and cook until the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside, still covered, for 5 minutes. Uncover and fluff the quinoa with a fork. Drizzle in the olive oil and vinegar, and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Toss the hot quinoa to coat evenly, then spread it out on a platter to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, add the chorizo, almonds, scallions, and mint and gently toss to incorporate. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Prepare a hot fire in a gas or charcoal grill, or preheat a stovetop grill pan until smoking hot. Grease the grill grates with oil.

Meanwhile, cut the pears in half. Using a round metal spoon, such as a tablespoon-sized measuring spoon or a melon baller, remove the core plus a little extra flesh. Rub the pears on all sides with a light coating of olive oil and sprinkle them with salt.

Grill the pears on the cut sides until deep grill marks appear, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn the pears over and fill them with the quinoa stuffing, piling it on in a big heap in the center of each one. Sprinkle the tops with the feta. Close the grill lid and continue grilling until the pears are tender when pierced with a fork and the feta topping is lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the ripeness of the pears. If they seem to be cooking too quickly on the bottom before they become tender within, simply move them to a cooler part of the grill and continue grill roasting, with the lid closed, until they are cooked through.

Serve the hot grilled pears over the arugula, finished with a drizzle of olive oil over the pears and greens.

Be Your Own Valentine!

RBP9037046 Woman with Pear

Some people are lucky. But some of us, unfortunately, are a touch unlucky, whether it’s in love, career, health… My family health history is a convoluted maze of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. My genetic prescription suggests I may not live a long, healthy life: That’s not just disheartening, it’s downright discouraging!

But this Valentine’s Day, there is good news! Although DNA plays a role in health and lifestyle, we can combat our genetic roadmaps; we can change our lives, we just have to love ourselves enough to make the change! At one point I was much heavier, couldn’t name many fruits or vegetables, had disordered endocrine function, and was, simply, lazy. One day I decided I was done being uncomfortable in my own skin and decided to love myself. I experimented with veggies, added fruit to my lunches, found activities I enjoyed, and recruited a positive and supportive group of friends. These changes successfully instilled new hope in my future, and indeed, my life will be longer and happier. Love yourself enough to make the change, too! Start with a piece of fruit or ten minutes of activity today. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Eat Fresh!

Pear and Celery Salad hero

Halloween is over but the holiday season is just getting started; my calendar is already booked with holiday parties, family trips, and a multitude of feasts! Every year I struggle with old habits; holidays should be about celebrating and enjoying time together, but I stress about overeating at holiday celebrations. I’m not going to be hard on myself, but I am going to prepare ahead of time.

First, I already have a new physical activity regimen in place, and I plan to keep it up well into the new year. Second, I am going to focus on enjoying myself rather than falling into old habits. For me, holiday overeating is a habit based on many years of overindulgence; this year, I’m focusing on practicing a new habit – enjoying the company and not overeating. To do this, I’m going to plan ahead and eat fresh: I generally like to call this the clean plate or undressed plate, or in other words, I focus on eating more fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins and steering clear of boxed and bagged foods. Sounds easy, right? The hard part is when temptation is right in front of me, particularly in the form of party tables full of food! Thus, my tricks will be to fill up on fresh fruits and veggies before events and to stick to the fresh nibbles during events. And with all of the fresh varieties of pears at the store, it’s going to be easy to grab, go, and stay on track!

Make Half Your Plate Pears!

The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans are here! Every five years, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services update the Dietary Guidelines, guidance that focuses on nationwide health promotion and disease risk reduction based on current nutritional science. Not surprisingly, the latest guidelines focus on trimming waistlines though physical activity and proper nutrition, including increasing consumption of nutrient-dense foods, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. The guidelines form the basis for federal nutrition policy, but also provide specific messages to improve consumer health.

One of these consumer messages, and in my opinion the most effective message, is to make half your plate fruits and vegetables. The most recent data reveals that 72% of men, 64% of women, and 32% of those younger than age 20 in the United States are overweight or obese.1,2 The obesity epidemic is driven by many factors, including excessive consumption of processed and convenience foods. Half a plate of filling, nutrient dense produce is easy to visualize and easy to attain, and likely swaps out calorie-dense foods for better nutrition. So don’t wait, start your very next meal with a pear!

1 Flegal KM, Carroll MD, Ogden CL, Curtin LR. Prevalence and trends in obesity among U.S. adults, 1999-2008. JAMA. 2010;303(3):235-241.
2 Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Curtin LR, Lamb MM, Flegal KM. Prevalence of high body mass index in U.S. children and adolescents, 2007-2008. JAMA. 2010;303(3):242-249.

illustration credit: Produce for Better Health Foundation