Skillet-braised Salmon with Kale and Cauliflower

salmon, coconut, kale, cauliflower

This wasn’t a blog post I planned to write.

That wasn’t a dinner I planned to make.

Sharing a story I didn’t intend to share, and a dish I didn’t contemplate making feels strange for me. Out of character. What I do here – it’s planned, calculated. From carefully sorted grocery lists to the weighing of ingredients to gram scale accuracy. Detailed nutritional information. I hardly think of posting a recipe without it. And it’s not even because I still count my calories every day (haven’t in quite a while, actually) but moreso because I’ve set a precedent and my gut tells me that some of you really like it. Plus, I like to keep myself in check, even if I’m not tallying every bite. While this is going on, and sometimes weeks later, I plan out a story to tell you. The stories I share are not made up by any means, but perhaps a little exaggerated at times. Just to keep you interested. I often play it through my head, deciding what feels right, before I get around to writing it.

Rarely do I sit and let my fingers flow and do the talking, but that’s what I’m up to now.

Because something else has happened, something totally unplanned. I’m not sure what to say and what not to say, because I’ve used my blog as a place to be candid and dig deeper.

It’s silly to think we can plan the lives we want. According to my plan, I’d be somewhere different right now. But now I’m in a place I never planned to be. I’ll just say it: I’m having some health issues, and I’ve decided to take a natural approach, involving acupuncture, herbs, and dietary changes in accordance with Chinese medicine. My practitioner has asked me to eliminate from my diet: DAIRY, WHEAT, SUGAR, and CAFFEINE.

DAIRY. That yogurt I rely on every day at 11am? Forget it.
WHEAT. Low-carb wraps I use for sandwiches? Gone.
DAIRY and WHEAT. Daily ZoneBar on the way to the gym? Think again.
SUGAR and DAIRY. A very-once-in-a-while ice cream or latte? Uh uh.
CAFFEINE. Shoot me.

I cried with the weight of this heavy news. Didn’t know what to do, despite knowing exactly what I needed to do. I stopped at the grocery store because I knew there was nothing at home to eat, and without a plan, stuffed my basked with vegetables. Then I cried some more.

I can tell myself, and I imagine that you would tell me the same, that I’m fortunate, in a way. If anyone had to receive this kind of news, I’m a good candidate. Why? Because I already cook many meals that would qualify under these restrictions. I understand food, I know the value of eating clean and I’m sensitive to others’ dietary needs. I know that plenty of people eat this way all the time, and it’s really no big deal. In fact it shouldn’t feel restrictive at all once you take into account all the things which are safe (and delicious) to eat. This should be manageable for me. Easy, even.

But, at the end of the day, even though I sometimes choose to cook without, I can eat bread, cheese, chocolate cake with cream cheese buttercream. Could. Well, I still can, very rarely if I choose. I am lucky in that I don’t have a true medical intolerance to these foods and they won’t make me sick. But in a way I am already sick. Somewhere, something inside feels broken, and I have a strong, innate desire to fix it. To give this holistic approach the best chance of working out for me, I know I need to give it a full, fair shot and clean up my diet as much as I possibly can.

The tears are coming again, and I know I’ll feel them brimming up through the back of my throat, pressuring on the backside of my eyes, at various points during the day. What if my coworkers catch me crying?

I don’t know why I’m taking this so hard. I know where all the resources are. I have a support system at my fingertips (you know who you are) should I choose to engage. Close friends, and family – I’m sure they’ll be willing to listen, but fully understanding and supportive? I don’t know. I hope so. I need that.

Without a plan of what I was going to eat for dinner (never mind breakfast, lunch, dinner the next day and the next) I began chopping. And here’s what came out of the skillet half an hour later. It wasn’t planned, and it’s not calculated. But for now, that is me. It felt good and nourishing, delicious. I’d like to think that is me too.



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Skillet-braised Salmon with Kale and Cauliflower


A dab of coconut oil
~ 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/4 of a red bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
a small pile of grated fresh ginger
1/2 of a small head of cauliflower, chopped into florets
a few big handfuls of chopped kale
small handful of raisins
1/2 cup light coconut milk
3/4 cup reduced sodium chicken broth
6-8 oz raw salmon, diced into bite-size pieces
a pinch of crushed red pepper
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste


In a large nonstick skillet, heat the coconut oil over medium-low heat. Saute the onion and pepper, for about 5 minutes, until softened and beginning to brown. Add the garlic and ginger, and stir to combine.

Increase heat to medium high and add the cauliflower and kale. Cook, stirring, for a few more minutes, until cauliflower begins to brown in spots. Add the raisins, coconut milk, and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook for about about 7 minutes.

Uncover, stir, and add the salmon. Replace cover and cook for another 5 minutes, until salmon is cooked through. Stir in the crushed red pepper, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cara Lyons,

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31 Responses to “Skillet-braised Salmon with Kale and Cauliflower”

  1. 1

    Molly — November 17, 2011 @ 3:00 pm Reply

    I am so sorry to hear you're not feeling well. I do hope these diet changes will yield some results. If I hadn't read the post and just scrolled down to the recipe I would have no idea how you were feeling because this dish looks so amazing.

  2. 2

    Gabby — November 17, 2011 @ 3:34 pm Reply

    This is such a touching post. Thank you for sharing and I wish you the very best. Please know that you are not in this fight alone. I will make this dish this weekend in honor of you and your great blog.

  3. 3

    Elina (Healthy and Sane) — November 17, 2011 @ 3:36 pm Reply

    This looks delicious! I hope the dietary changes make a difference. I'm here if you want to talk!

  4. 4

    Jennifurla — November 17, 2011 @ 4:04 pm Reply

    you are stronger then I, good luck.  This particular dinner, made me click on your blog right away!  Delish.

  5. 5

    Amanda L. — November 17, 2011 @ 4:15 pm Reply

    Cara I know that you are an incredibly strong person and you have the will power and the strength to do this!! I know it will be hard, but you will be rewarded by feeling fantastic!

  6. 6

    Alisa — November 17, 2011 @ 4:32 pm Reply

    Ooh, this looks amazing Cara! Light, yet rich, warm and comforting. My kind of meal.

  7. 7

    pfal6 — November 17, 2011 @ 4:42 pm Reply

    I have been following your blog for a few months now. About 2 months ago I embarked on a paleo challenge at my CrossFit gym. It has completely changed my view of nutrition and  I have never felt so good. I haven't been able to make a lot of your recipes latesly due to this challenge. Once I saw the above recipe it immediately got my attention. So glad I read about it first or else I would not have understood your change. I am sorry to hear about your medical issues, what ever they may be. But know that after a few weeks of this diet your cravings should go away completely. The thought of eating pasta a cheese actually makes me grossed out now. Good luck to you and I look forward to more paleo recipes!!

  8. 8

    Kelly — November 17, 2011 @ 6:10 pm Reply

    Hang in there.  I agree that I am sorry to hear you haven't been feeling great and hope the changes help.  I know what you mean that you're well equipped to deal with those changes but I still don't think that makes things any easier. I think there is a difference between not eating something often, but knowing it is still available to you, vs. being told you should give it up completely.I know this would be a hard one for me because moderation is something I can 100% live with but the more I am told I should cut something out completely or shouldn't do it, the more I want to.  Good old teenage mindset buried.That said, I always love when bloggers are honest and candid, even if sometimes it is under the most unfortunate circumstances.  I too like to plan and orchestrate, but love the posts where I can connect with a blogger over their real experience, unfiltered.

  9. 9

    Pamela — November 17, 2011 @ 6:29 pm Reply

    I hope you end up okay, Cara! I'm sorry you have to eliminate all those foods from your diet, but I think if anyone can do it, you can!And don't give up on yogurt – there are lots of non dairy alternatives, like almond and coconut milk yogurts. The caffeine….well, I don't envy you that. But you'll manage!!! I look forward to hearing more about your journey. Even people you don't know are rooting for you!!! 🙂

  10. 10

    Cara — November 17, 2011 @ 8:32 pm Reply

    Thank you! Your encouragement means a lot. I still have some dairy and wheat containing recipes that I've made in the past few weeks that will make their way on to the blog, but hopefully more and more paleo-friendly ones in the near future too 🙂

  11. 11

    Cara — November 17, 2011 @ 8:32 pm Reply

    aww, thank you. It means a lot!

  12. 12

    Lisamariestein — November 17, 2011 @ 11:13 pm Reply

    Hey, Cara. You will get through this tough transition. Two ideas for thanksgiving or anytime:  reduce balsamic vinegar with some vanilla extract and use as a syrup on lots of stuff. it is sweet and terrific. great on pork or figs or even strawberries….Add Chia seeds to coconut milk. In about 20 minutes it will taste like tapioca pudding and have the consistency of yogurt or tapioca. add vanilla extract or vanilla stevia if you like.Slice some small brussels sprouts in half lenghwise and mince shallots. Saute in coconut oil til al dente and a bit golden. remove from heat and toss with fresh lemon juice and raw pistachios. You will adore this combo, guaranteed. all ok on your new restrictions.Dr. Lisa Stein, D.C.

  13. 13

    Lisamariestein — November 17, 2011 @ 11:17 pm Reply

    after a month or two of your new eating plan, you may find that you can get away with an occasional (ie 10-20% of intake) foray into the "forbidden foods". Forbidden is not such a good mindset….

  14. 14

    Julie @BananasforBourbon — November 17, 2011 @ 11:27 pm Reply

    Wow, Cara.  Thanks for sharing that.  It must be hard, but if there's one way to brave the storm of dietary restrictions, it's the food blogging community, right?! It's completely understandable to cry.  I would cry!  You love food, and you're having to give up things you love, even if you don't partake in them daily.  Here I come with the chipper way to look at it!  You can handle this so much better than most people because you are already halfway there.  You already don't eat heavy in any of those categories – especially the sugar, which I would argue would be the hardest to give up!  Instead of focusing on what you can't have, focus on the delicious foods you CAN still eat.  I see more recipes here using coconut milk than dairy.  Good thing it's flipping delicious, right?  Quinoa?  Not wheat based, and also delicious.  Score!  And with the vegan and gluten free craze right now, there's a ton of recipes using buckwheat flour, soba noodles, tofu, nuts, seeds (pumpkin, sesame, flax!).  All great, delicious things!  You can still enjoy eggs and meat and fish.  You can still enjoy polenta and white beans – things I see often here!  Oatmeal needs no dairy!  You can make your own Zonebar substitutes because you are a domestic goddess!  Girl, you are all over this.  I'm not even worried for you.  Not worried, but still very sorry you have to go through it.  We're here for you!

  15. 15

    Julie @BananasforBourbon — November 17, 2011 @ 11:28 pm Reply

    And I really hope whatever you're going through – that there new diet changes work for you and help you to feel better.

  16. 16

    Cara — November 18, 2011 @ 1:38 am Reply

    Thanks, Lisa! I appreciate the encouragement. I know I can get through this as I definitely enjoy food without wheat/dairy/sugar already. I think it's just the thought sinking in that I have to do this (almost) all of the time that is stressing me out. But good news, I am already switching over a bit more to empowering/hopeful and made my first batch of chia pudding tonight, and I'm testing out a homemade protein bar that will work with my diet 🙂

  17. 17

    Cara — November 18, 2011 @ 1:39 am Reply

    Thank you so much Julie 🙂 I really appreciate the encouragement. I know I can handle it – just need to do more planning, find time for more cooking (what? time?) and be careful. But I am hopeful that the results will make it worth the effort.

  18. 18

    Joanne — November 18, 2011 @ 2:29 am Reply

    Oh babe, I'm so sorry! I came thisclose to being diagnosed with Celiac's disease last summer and I flipped out.  I screamed.  I yelled. I cried.  A lot.  But you know, if I HAD been diagnosed…I would have survived and survived well because, liked you, I get food. It would have been okay.  and look at this amazing meal!  You can totally do this.

  19. 19

    Thehealthyhostess — November 18, 2011 @ 3:52 am Reply

    What a great recipe!  I hope you feel better but I am glad you have accepted the challenge!  I can't wait to make this – i am on a kale kick. 🙂

  20. 20

    Kate — November 18, 2011 @ 4:33 pm Reply

    I agree with some of the commenters – you are probably one of the best able to handle this kind of dietary change (well, minus the dairy of course).  Especially since you've been playing with vegan and gluten free options as of late.  And I'm thinking that sugar refers to actual sugar, or all sweetners (honey/syrup/etc?)

  21. 21

    Cara — November 18, 2011 @ 4:35 pm Reply

    Right, sugar means regular white granulated sugar and brown sugar – I'm pretty sure all the unrefined, natural sweeteners are ok 🙂

  22. 22

    janet @ the taste space — November 18, 2011 @ 4:37 pm Reply

    Cara: *HUG*Even though you are stronger than you think, and definitely prepared better than most, it sucks when you lose that control. Or freedom, in your case.I hope you feel better soon and your diet helps you in that direction.As you know, I already eat a whole foods-based vegan diet, so feel free to let me know if you have any questions, need to vent, etc. If there is any food I miss, it is probably my salmon, but it looks like you still get to eat it – yum! 🙂

  23. 23

    Shannon — November 18, 2011 @ 6:09 pm Reply

    you can totally do this!!!!!  i think you can already tell it is harder mentally than actually doing–  you created a delicious meal w/o even thinking/planning 🙂  Hope it helps, and i'm definitely here if you need to chat!

  24. 24

    The Healthy Apple — November 19, 2011 @ 2:42 am Reply

    This looks fabulous, Cara; such a simple and lovely dish. Sorry you are not feeling well; hope you start to feel better soon…I'm looking forward to seeing you at the GF Expo in Chicago this Spring!

  25. 25

    Kristi Rimkus — November 19, 2011 @ 5:02 am Reply

    This meal looks wonderful, I adore kale and salmon. The addition of cauliflower is a big plus. I hope your new diet helps and you're feeling much better soon!

  26. 26

    Bridget — November 22, 2011 @ 2:44 pm Reply

    Hey Cara!I'm a little late here but I'm so sorry that you're having some medical problems!!  However, I'm thrilled to see you're taking the holistic approach and I hope you share some more about that!  I think I would do the exact same thing.  The dietary changes do sound rough (and I know you love food), but if anyone can make it work it's you.  You come up with great recipes!  Hope to see you soon!  Cookie swap maybe??  Not exactly within the guidlines but I bet you could come up with something 😉

  27. 27

    Cara — November 22, 2011 @ 4:23 pm Reply

    Thank you for the encouragement 🙂  I do plan to be at the cookie swap and bring something that I can eat (and that everyone else will love too, hopefully!) and since my husband isn't on this diet I'm sure he won't mind me bringing home other goodies 🙂

  28. 28

    Lizzy — November 23, 2011 @ 7:13 pm Reply

    Dearest Cara… I loved how authentic and sincere this post was…. and I'm sorry I'm so behind in reading it.  I think its smart for you to do the right things for your body right now and I'm hopeful for you that the holistic approach will turn your frown upside down.  You know I'm always here for you.  And wow, if you can take out all those ingredients and still make a dish look that good, you're my hero!

  29. 29

    Christine — November 28, 2011 @ 4:51 am Reply

    Hey Cara, your Skillet-braised seafood is a Recipe Guessing Game on Knapkins. Think your friends can win?

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