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The Conscientious Cook

By Shan O’Connor:

The kitchen is much more than a place for food storage, prep, and cooking. Growing up in Louisiana, I was introduced to food and cooking at a very young age at the hips of my mother and grandmother. It was through their teachings and knowledge passed down from previous generations that I developed a love of food, spice, and culture. My passion for my own beloved Creole and Southern cuisine expanded as I grew older and developed my own cooking techniques to include cooking styles and ethnic dishes from around the world.

Just like smiles, love, and music, food can be a type of universal language, and the kitchen is a place of unity. In my own home, it is the busiest and most important room. It is a place where those old family traditions are honored and new ones are forged. Family gatherings occur on the regular around the kitchen table, where important discussions take place over steaming cups of tea, coffee, or wine, and the love, laughter, and memories are as nourishing as the food being served.

I’d like to invite each of you now into my modern, virtual kitchen that will serve as an extension of my home, where I'll be posting delicious recipes of all types and discussing sustainability, must-have ecologically friendly gadgets, and cooking tools that won't break the bank. I am a firm believer that eating consciously for health and well-being, as well as helping the health of our planet and environment, go hand-in-hand. Both can coexist peacefully without putting a severe strain on the pocketbook.

There has been great debate about what sustainability means.

What diets are considered sustainable? Those not willing to eliminate meat from their diets wonder if it is possible to make a sustainable impact on the world. Is it possible to eat consciously and ethically without adopting a new lifestyle such as vegetarianism, veganism, or pescatarianism? It can be overwhelming and confusing.

Sustainability, by definition, means avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.

Your diet and lifestyle are personal choices—regardless of which philosophy you choose—and I will certainly do my best to make sure that you will be represented here. Any recipes using meat will feature the most environmentally friendly meat sources, such as pasture-raised poultry, wild-caught fish or seafood, game meats, and cruelty-free dairy products, as well as alternatives to meat and animal products.

Good rule of thumb: reduce the amount of meat you consume and include more plant-based meals and snacks, avoiding anything produced by factory farming and processed foods.

My first tip is to do a quick search on the Internet for farmers’ markets, local farms, produce stands, and butchers (if you are carnivorous) to find locally sourced, ethically produced meat and dairy. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you find available in your area. One of my favorite stores to shop here in Arizona is called Sprouts—a chain store inspired by farmers' markets that has expanded to include locations across the country. They carry a wide variety of quality, ethically sourced meats, organic produce, and a wide selection of vegan and vegetarian items suitable for any diet or lifestyle—and at reasonable prices. Sprouts has a store locator on their website that can be used to check availability in your area.

I was able to source the ingredients for the following recipe at my local Sprouts. The recipe is inspired by my love of Greek cuisine and features bold spices and flavors of onion and garlic, balanced by the robust flavor of a prepared hummus or creamy Greek yogurt-based tzatziki.

Your taste buds will be transported to the Mediterranean by this delicious offering that is simple enough to prepare on a busy weeknight. Enjoy!

Mediterranean-Inspired Stuffed Pita Pockets

Prep time: 20 mins

Cook Time: 30 mins

1 lb. organic ground turkey or beyond meat ground meat alternative

1 tsp. olive oil divided

½ tsp. Granulated garlic

½ tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp. black pepper

½ tsp. each minced dried rosemary and thyme

1 tsp. store-bought Greek Seasoning blend

1 sm. minced shallot or red onion, if preferred

2 cloves minced garlic divided

1 tbsp. pine nuts divided

1 pkg. organic sprouted whole wheat pita

1 sm. Head shredded organic romaine lettuce

1 sm. Diced organic roma tomato

Container or block of feta cheese crumbled

Container store-bought hummus or tzatziki

Combine all dry spices in a small dish, stir to mix well. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix thoroughly the ground turkey or meat alternative and minced onion along with the dry spice mixture. In a medium-sized skillet on medium/high heat, add olive oil and ground meat or protein. Brown until very little pink remains visible or until almost cooked through. Then add garlic and pine nuts. Stir until both are golden brown and pine nuts are beautifully toasted and caramelized. Reduce heat to warm.

Cut the pita pockets in half, making slits for stuffing, and arrange in a single layer on a microwave-safe dish. Dampen a paper towel, being sure to remove all excess water. Cover the pita, place in microwave to warm, approximately 30 seconds depending on the power of your oven. Remove pitas and immediately stuff with the protein mixture and top with shredded lettuce, tomato, feta, and sauces of choice.

Pairs well with a fresh garden salad to complete this dish.

I hope you all enjoy this tasty recipe and meal as much as my family and I do, and I look forward to sharing more with you. Until next time . . . to your good health!


Shan O'Connor is an American freelance writer hailing from Southern Louisiana and currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona. She is an environmental and political activist who enjoys sustainable cooking, H.E.M.A.combat and sword training, and all things literary with a passion for fantasy/horror fiction.

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