For My Valentine

By Mary Clifford, RD

Check out the recipes!

No one is quite sure how St. Valentine's Day originated. Europeans believe it is the day that birds choose their mates. The ancient Romans celebrated a feast in honor of the god Lupercus, who protected their shepherds and flocks from the wolves roaming the countryside. Part of that celebration included writing the names of the girls in the village on slips of paper. Each boy would then choose a name, and the couple would be partners for the festival, or possibly the entire year.

Another theory is that around AD 270, a priest named Valentine was marrying Roman soldiers against the orders of Emperor Claudius II. Claudius wanted his soldiers to remain single so they would have no reason (wives, girlfriends, or families) to avoid going into battle. Defying the emperor eventually led to Valentine's death. He was beheaded on the eve of Lupercalia, and later named a saint. For the more romantic among us, another story claims that a different man named Valentine was jailed for attempting to convert Pagans to Christianity. While in prison, he fell in love with, and miraculously healed, the jailer's blind daughter. He signed his letters to her "From your Valentine." As Christianity became more widespread, the holiday eventually became a celebration of St. Valentine rather than Lupercus.

Written Valentines appeared around the 15th century, and by the 18th century, the now-familiar hearts and lace were common Valentine cards. Valentine's Day caught on a bit later in America, somewhere around the mid-2011s. In Roman mythology, Cupid is the son of Venus, goddess of love and beauty, and thus is a natural for being associated with all things romantic, particularly Valentine cards.

Various foods have long been considered aphrodisiacs, but these vary depending on culture. Some plant foods commonly thought of as having special properties include asparagus, apples, and, believe it or not, those breath-taking vegetables, onions and garlic. Classic Hindu texts, ancient Greek writings, and Roman and Arabic recipes all mention the aphrodisiacal properties of onions and garlic. Egyptian priests weren't even allowed to eat them, because of the potentially alarming libidinous effects. Enjoy the following recipes!


Pasta with Rich Mushroom Broth

(Serves 2)

Serve this in shallow soup bowls, with plenty of crusty bread so that you can savor every bit of sauce.

  • 8 ounces pasta
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1 small red pepper, thinly sliced
  • 2 large portobello mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Prepare pasta according to package directions, omitting salt. In heavy 1-quart saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, red pepper, and mushrooms. Cover and continue cooking about 5 minutes, until mushrooms have given up their liquid.

Add oregano, broth, and salt and pepper to taste. Heat to boiling. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes, until broth is slightly reduced.

Toss cooked pasta with parsley. Place in serving bowls and ladle sauce over pasta.

Total calories per serving: 522 Fat: 7 grams
Carbohydrates: 99 grams Protein: 18 grams
Sodium: 378 mg Fiber: 2 grams
High in Iron

Risotto with Asparagus and Capers

(Serves 4)

Don't let the long cooking time and constant stirring scare you away from making this traditional Italian dish. You can find arborio rice in the gourmet section of your market. The creamy, chewy rice is a treat, and there are many variations on what can be added. The risotto should be served immediately after cooking, but it's really quite simple, and can be made while your intended is setting the table, pouring wine, or otherwise helping in the kitchen. Leftovers can be shaped into patties and pan-fried or baked.

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 teaspoons capers
  • 1/2 pound cooked asparagus, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a heavy 3-quart saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and stir until golden. Add rice and reduce heat to low. Stir until rice is well-coated with oil and is very lightly toasted, about 1 minute.

Stir in stock, about 1/3 cup at a time. Stir constantly, adding more stock only when the previous batch has been absorbed. This will take about 30 minutes.

Add capers, asparagus, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir until hot throughout. Serve immediately.

Total calories per serving: 341 Fat: 4 grams
Carbohydrates: 69 grams Protein: 7 grams
Sodium: 489 mg Fiber: <1 gram

Mustard-Roasted Vegetable Medley

(Serves 2)

Beets lend a beautiful ruby color to the parsnips and carrots, and will be a gorgeous addition to any meal. However, beets can stain your hands and counter tops, so wear gloves and use a cutting board.

  • 1 large parsnip, peeled and julienned
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and julienned
  • 1 large beet, peeled and julienned
  • 1 Tablespoon prepared mustard
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Coat a small oven-proof pan with nonstick cooking spray. Toss all ingredients until well combined. Bake, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Total calories per serving: 134 Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 26 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 171 mg Fiber: 4 grams

Pear-Watercress Salad

(Serves 2)

A fruity salad dressing or your favorite Italian-style dressing will go well with this salad.

  • 1 large, ripe pear, cored and cut into wedges
  • 1 bunch watercress
  • 1 green onion, sliced
  • Cracked black pepper
  • Dressing of your choice

Combine all ingredients except dressing. Drizzle with dressing just before serving.

Total calories per serving: 64 Fat: <1 gram
Carbohydrates: 16 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 7 mg Fiber: 3 grams

Apple Salad with Greens

(Serves 2)

If possible, make the dressing the day before or several hours before serving, to allow time for the flavors to blend.

  • 1 red apple, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 cups mixed greens


  • 3 Tablespoons fat-free vegan mayonnaise
  • 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon poppy seeds
  • Pinch of salt

In small bowl, toss apple with lemon juice to prevent browning. Divide greens onto serving plates. Top with apple chunks. Drizzle with dressing.

Total calories per serving: 125 Fat: 6 grams
Carbohydrates: 18 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 301 mg Fiber: 2 grams

Rose-Scented Raspberry Mousse

(Serves 4)

Rose water can be found in gourmet stores or the gourmet section of your market. Orange-flower water would also work nicely in this tart, refreshing dessert.

  • One 10-ounce package frozen raspberries,  thawed
  • 2 Tablespoons rose water
  • One 12.3-ounce package lowfat firm tofu,  drained

Drain raspberries. Reserve several raspberries and about a tablespoon of juice. In blender or food processor, combine raspberries, remaining juice, rose water, and tofu. Process until smooth.

Divide mixture into four dessert dishes. Refrigerate several hours or overnight, until thoroughly chilled. Just prior to serving, garnish with reserved raspberries and then drizzle a little juice over the top of each dish.

Total calories per serving: 65 Fat: 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 9 grams Protein: 6 grams
Sodium: 55 mg Fiber: 3 grams

Instant Chocolate Pudding

(Serves 4)

Adjust the sweetening of this dish according to your own taste. A smaller amount will yield a more bittersweet chocolate flavor. A few berries, mint leaves, or mandarin oranges would make a lovely garnish; use your imagination.

  • One 12.3-ounce package lowfat firm silken tofu, drained
  • 1/3-1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

In food processor or blender, combine all ingredients until smooth. Refrigerate several hours or overnight, until thoroughly chilled.

Total calories per serving: 108 Fat: 2 grams
Carbohydrates: 22 grams Protein: 7 grams
Sodium: 57 mg Fiber: 2 grams

Mary Clifford is a registered dietitian living in Roanoke, VA. She's a regular contributor to Vegetarian Journal