Friday, April 02, 2010

Big Smooth

I've been making smoothies for a while now. Our whole family loves them, and it's an easy way to pack in a lot of nutrients at once. If you're in it for pure flavor, recipes like this can't be beat. I've now adjusted my thinking on the smoothie's role in my family's nutrition since those days, and it's gone from being a sorta-healthy treat to becoming a real nutritional workhorse in our diet. I've gotten a lot of emails and DMs asking for ingredients and measurements, so I'm gonna give it a go here. This is a process that you really eyeball and taste as you go, but I've tried to observe and record approximate measurements as I went along this time. I'll explain the low-carb version that I make for myself (and Alex), and then show how that can be changed and added to with Bella's "everything but the kitchen sink" version.

THIS IS A RECIPE FOR TWO. First into the blender (or Magic Bullet, or Kitchen Ninja--yes, I have them all) is liquid--a good bit of it. Back in the sugar-high days, I used straight juice, and even supplemented that with a splash of tart cherry concentrate. Delicious, but OMG the sugar. Even orange juice contains a full day's carbohydrate allowance for me per cup. Now if I use juice, I put in about 1/2 cup, then add a cup or so of water to that. I flavor that up with a teaspoon or so of lime juice and a few drops of stevia or a couple packets of Splenda. Another really easy solution to the liquid problem is to use sugar-free limeaid. It provides the perfect base flavor for all manner of fruit smoothies. The reason I use so much liquid is that I don't use ice...more on that later. For now, just follow along, and trust me.

Next in: A couple tablespoons of chia seeds. Yes, chia. THAT chia. You can do your own Googling on the nutritional benefits of chia, or salba, or iskiate. If you've read Christopher McDougall's amazing book, "Born To Run," then you've been introduced to chia seeds. An excerpt:

[Iskiate is]...brewed up by dissolving chia seeds in water with a little sugar and a squirt of lime. In terms of nutritional content, a tablespoon of chia is like a smoothie made from salmon, spinach, and human growth hormone. As tiny as those seeds are, they're super-packed with Omega 3s, Omega 6s, protein, calcium, iron, zinc, fiber, and anitoxidants. If you had to pick just one desert-island food, you couldn't do much better than chia, at least if you were interested in building muscle, lowering cholesterol, and reducing your risk of heart disease; after a few months on the chia diet, you could probably swim home.

McDougall hearts hyperbole just a bit, but he's on target here. I used to try to grind the seeds prior to use, thinking they would be like flax seeds, and pass through your system intact. I couldn't really do the "gel method" that most people seem to, where you reconstitute the seeds with water into a substance that resembles frog eggs and eat them straight, because ewwww. I recently consulted a chia-eater friend, and she said she just dumps hers into smoothies straight. My solution has been to dump them into the smoothie liquid at the start of the process, which gives them time to start absorbing liquid and doing their chia thang. So anyway, couple tablespoons of chia seeds. You can get them from this friendly hippie, who will include a free sample of other stuff, instructions on how to use chia seeds, and a hand-written note encouraging you to adopt a raw food diet. If you're like me, you will mentally wish him well while saying "NO, THANK YOU" to the latter. I need my cooked meat.

Here I plop in a couple tablespoons (remember this is for two servings) of a good quality coconut oil. I'm not a total organic fanatic--I can't afford to be, nor would I have the resources if I could. I do prioritize what I feel needs to be organic, however, and at the top of that list is fat, which really should be as clean as possible. That includes vegetable oils, meat, fish, and dairy sources of fat. So yeah, I pop for the organic coconut oil. This is also the substance I crank up when my weight-loss stalls. Sounds crazy, right? Not losing weight? MOAR FAT, PLZ. It has always worked. Listen, you need fat. You must have it to live. NONE of your organs can function without it. Don't be a fat phobic. Just avoid altered fats, and stick to pure, clean fats, and you'll be fine. Without grains, you're just fine (and arguably, better off). Without fat, you're dead. There's a lesson in that. Of course, you don't have to put the fat INTO your smoothie. You could just eat some along with it, or take your daily dose of fish oil at the same time--whatever floats your boat.

Why am I putting fat into my smoothies (or eating fat alongside them)? Because I'm about to pack a truckload of veggies and fruit into them, and all that good stuff that's in your veggies and fruit? Your body can't metabolize that stuff without...drumroll...FAT. This is what drives me nuts about self-appointed nutritional gurus like "Dr. Oz," who I heard last week prescribing diets FULL of fat-soluble nutrients, but not enough fat to metabolize those nutrients. (I also heard him tell an obese man to eliminate pasta from his diet because it "turns to candy in your bloodstream," and then follow that by telling him to snack on white-flour pretzels when he's hungry, but that's a rant for another time.) Onward to the good stuff.

Green leafy vegetables. Spinach is an easy choice, because you can buy pre-washed bags of tender, organic baby spinach, ready to go. I'm all about the convenience. Anything works here, really--chard, kale, any kind of greens, really, but spinach is my go-to-guy. For two servings, at least 4 cups of fresh spinach. That's right, FOUR CUPS. It blends down a lot, don't worry. A few carrots or beets in there won't be noticed, creative. Anything goes. The recipe I'm talking about today did contain carrots.

Go ahead and blend up what you've got so far. Don't panic when it looks like this.


Next, we go to the berries. Any fruit, really, works fine, but I use berries for two reasons: Lower carb count, and spinach disguise. Not that I have to hide the spinach from my family; they know it's in there. But there's a psychological barrier for me in drinking a green drink. I know, grow up. Whatever. I almost always use strawberries and blueberries. Being locally available, and something I can stock up on, those are my go-to fruits. I'll add other berries, like raspberries and blackberries, cherries, whatever I've got on hand. Bella likes to add every fruit you can think of: peaches, apples, bananas, grapes, plums, everything. Pineapples, when used in a mixture with coconut oil, give a nice tropical drink flavor. Add rum, what do I care? Have fun with it. When in doubt about carb loads, stick to berries and grapes and stay away from the starchier fruits most of the time.

Here is the critical tip of this whole smoothie tutorial: FREEZE YOUR FRUIT. When you make smoothies with frozen fruit, you don't have to use ice. Also, this allows you to keep more on hand, especially if you have freezer space. Tomorrow marks the beginning of strawberry season in central Arkansas, and I'll be heading to the farmer's market to buy a flat of fresh, organic berries from my favorite grower. (Berries are also at the top of my "must be organic" list, because they are thin-skinned and porous.) I'll come home and wash and freeze those babies immediately, because I opened my last package of vacuum-sealed frozen berries from last year's crop today! The way you do this with berries is to flash-freeze the berries on a tray before you package and seal them for storage. That way they don't stick together, and you can grab a handful for your smoothies as needed. With strawberries, I slice the bigger ones prior to flash-freezing, so they're less work for the blender later.

So go ahead and whomp those berries in there. Depending on how hardcore you blender is, you might want to do them a few at a time, or all at once. If the mixture gets too thick, just add liquid. For today's recipe for two portions, I used about two cups of berries. Specifically strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries. Remember how I told you the spinach would be your secret? Behold (this also gives you an idea about the volume, when compared with the previous pic).


That picture wasn't so great, so I took another one, free of the frosted glass of the blender, to show the color.

you can't see or taste the spinach

Four cups of fresh spinach in there, yo.

Bella gets to decide on her smoothie ingredients if she gets up early enough, and she leans toward an Everything But The Kitchen Sink philosophy on smoothies. Today, hers had: Orange juice, 1 Tablespoon chia seeds, 1 Tablespoon coconut oil, 1.5 cups spinach, a carrot, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, grapes, half a banana, a splash of lime juice, and a packet of Splenda. She sucked it down and asked for another. And yes, we drink them out of Mason jars. (How's that for hillbilly cred, Liv?)



  1. Thanks for this Belinda! We are a smoothie household as well, but I am a chia seed virgin. Likewise the coconut oil. Not that my diet is fat deficient ;)
    Bella has the most alluring hands...the kind that make me want to draw or paint. Unusual for a kid.

  2. who the hell is Liv? :-) I love this...and may just email you about some of the funky things I'm adding to smoothies for protein, mood & va-va-vooming the bedroom life! :-)

  3. I've been making smoothies just like this for months and oh em gee they are so good. I haven't tried coconut oil, but you bet I'm going to go buy some after reading this! Thanks B! xoxo

  4. Coconut oil is magic, I kid you not. I eat a spoonful straight on days I don't cook with it. It has a high smoke-point, too, so it's good for hot-temp sauteeing. I can't afford grape seed oil for cooking, too much, so this is a good find for me.

  5. I am kind of scared of this, yet intrigued.

  6. Those smoothies look delightful but alas, I have no blender. Guess I could use my immersion blender in the right cup/bowl thingy but, meh. Instead I'll just cheer you on with WOOHOO smoothies!

    As a random note I just have to ask - The Russian Farmer? Really? I always felt like he was kind of a dick. I'm much more a fan of North Pulaski Farms (Kelly Carney), Willow Springs (Robert Lashley), and 3 Buddies (David Owens). Just say8in'...

  7. Never made a smoothie...I will give it a whirl! (like that??!) C

  8. LOVE Val the Russian Farmer. He's my absolute favorite. A bit gruff, yeah, but the best stuff of all. I do buy from the others, too, and usually a truckload from Jody Hardin by summer's end, but Val's my absolute go-to guy for fruit all the way through the fall.

  9. So glad to have you posting regularly again Belinda. If it wasn't Easter Sunday, I'd be off to Planet Organic to buy some Chia Seeds and Coconut Oil...I'll do it tomorrow after work. Those smoothies look devine!

  10. We live on smoothies! All of mine end up looking green or brown because of all the spinach I use, but the taste of the spinach isn't that strong, and its sooo healthy! Thanks for letting me know about chia seeds too...need to look into that!! :)

    Also, I'm wondering if you would be interested in participating in my Mom Blogger Contest for $100 Cash prize during the month of April for

    The details are here

    Thanks for considering! I think your readers will really enjoy this too!

  11. Thrilled to find your smoothie recipes and your blog!

  12. Would love to hear your comments on what low end blender will create the smoothest smoothie out of whole foods for ease of drinking. I'm looking for reviews on the Ninja 1100 blender. Any thoughts?