A meal for those low in iron and folate

or about to become pregnant

Beef & Broccoli-4
Credit: Gwen (gkdavie on flickr) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Before pregnancy

check iron and folate

A year before trying to get pregnant, my family doctor informed me that my iron levels were low. (I also knew from my nursing classes that folic acid is especially important during pregnancy - and most women take extra to help prevent neural tube defects[1][3] in their baby).

Diligently, I sought out foods to replenish my iron levels prior to attempting to become pregnant. I even cooked dinners in a cast-iron pan.[4]

Blood tests are needed to determine if you are suffering from low iron or folic acid deficiency. In fact, in the latter case, red blood cells appear larger than normal.[2] However, you may also experience the following symptoms: tiredness, dizziness, shortness of breath, headaches, heart palpitations, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), altered taste sensations, and in extreme cases, angina (chest pains) and/or leg pains (intermittent claudication).[1][2]

As you can imagine, those symptoms can mimic about fifty other conditions - or even just a long, hard day at work. It kind of reminded me of the following Seinfeld clip.

"We're all suffering from intense malaise," Elaine says later.

Beef and broccoli in cast iron

Broccoli is one of the best vegetable sources of folate;[5] a 4 oz. serving of flank steak contains 1.84 mg of iron and 14.76 mcg of folate.[6] Cooking beef and broccoli in a cast iron pan certainly helped my blood levels (and energy levels) during pregnancy.

Once my daughter arrived, well, I got used to eating this meal cold (thankfully it still tasted great).

What's the difference between folic acid and folate?

Folic acid and folate are both forms of a water-soluble B vitamin. Folate occurs naturally in food sources, whilst folic acid is the synthetic, supplemental form.[7]

Seafood allergy? Try vegetarian oyster sauce:

As noted in my cashew chicken recipe, I use vegetarian oyster sauce since I'm allergic to seafood. I've also found that hoisin sauce works in this recipe (and tastes sweeter). My recipe was adapted from one titled "Beef and Broccoli with Baked Noodle Cake" from the book More HeartSmart Cooking with Bonnie Stern (on page 182).

I'm too worn out now to bake noodles, so I serve my beefed-up broccoli over rice using my Oster rice cooker instead (it's shown in my Mango Sticky Rice article).

What about the flank steak?

The funny thing is, flank steak (depending on which country you live in) could be derived from slightly different cuts of beef. It's all from the same general area (the side of the body between the ribs and hip). But just to confuse us all, I included some cool looking butcher maps next. I've never bought something called a short plate or skirt steak. But hey, I live in Canada.

Common British cuts of beef

I think Canadian cuts are similar

Common British cuts of beef
Credit: GameKeeper / Public Domain (on Wikipedia)

US beef cuts - where they come from

US Beef Cuts - Where They Come From
Credit: Ysangkok / Public Domain (Wikipedia)

Here's what I buy

Flank Marinating Steak
Credit: RoseWrites on InfoBarrel / All rights reserved

How I cut my flank steak

Freeze fresh flank for 25 minutes prior to slicing

How I cut my flank steak
Credit: RoseWrites on InfoBarrel / All rights reseved

More HeartSmart Cooking w/Bonnie Stern

More HeartSmart Cooking w/Bonnie Stern RoseWrites 2014-05-10 5.0 0 5

More HeartSmart Cooking w/Bonnie Stern

More HeartSmart Cooking w/Bonnie Stern
Amazon Price: $35.08 Buy Now
(price as of May 28, 2014)
Over 200 recipes are beautifully presented with easy to understand tips, cooking methods, and instructions from Bonnie Stern. I purchased several of her HeartSmart cookbooks since I discovered that high cholesterol and heart health issues run in my family. My beef and broccoli recipe was adapted from page 182 of this book.

Rose's Beefed-Up Broccoli on Rice

Serves: 4 | Prep: 45 mins | Total: 1 hour

Bonnie Stern mentions in her book that chicken, pork, or lamb could also be substituted in this recipe (although, I haven't tried any of those variations yet). Instead of rice, you could try any starchy carb to spoon it over (e.g. noodles, pasta, or mashed potatoes).


3/4 - 1 lb. (340 - 454 g) flank steak
2 tbsp. cold water
3 tbsp. cornstarch (using 1 tbsp. first)
2 tbsp. soy sauce (using 1 tbsp. first)
2 tbsp. white wine OR rice wine (using 1 tbsp. first)
2 tbsp. oyster sauce (vegetarian oyster sauce) OR hoisin sauce
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
3 - 4 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 tbsp. fresh ginger root (chopped)
6 green onions (chopped)
1 bunch (1 lb./ 500 g) broccoli (washed and cut into 1-inch pieces)
1 cup chicken broth (I use Vogue Cuisine brand since it's gluten-free) OR water
Soak broccoli in salt water overnight (or at least an hour) to remove any insects from the head. 
Freeze fresh meat for 25 - 30 minutes prior to slicing (this really helps). Slice flank against the grain about 1/8th of an inch thick. TIP: I cut the fresh flank in half lengthwise along the grain first and then pop it in the freezer.
In a shallow bowl (for marinating the flank slices), mix 2 tbsp. of cold water and 1 tbsp. of cornstarch together until smooth, then add 1 tbsp. wine and 1 tbsp. soy sauce. Stir well and add beef slices. Marinate at room temperature for 20 minutes. Put anything that touched raw meat (knife and cutting board) in dishwasher (or in sink) and wash your hands thoroughly.
Get out your rice cooker (or other starchy thing) and get that cooking.
In a small bowl, combine stock (or water), 2 tbsp. cornstarch, 1 tbsp. soy sauce, 1 tbsp. wine, and oyster or hoisin sauce (I use vegetarian oyster sauce) and set aside. (This sauce is added near the end).
In a cast iron pan (or wok or skillet), heat oil over medium-high and add beef slices. Stir fry until there are no raw-looking pieces (about 5 - 7 minutes). Don't overcook the meat. Then remove meat from pan and set aside in a clean bowl.
Return cast iron pan to stove and allow to heat up for 1 minute. Stir fry garlic, ginger, and green onions for about 1 minute. Add broccoli and 1/2 cup water. Cover and let it steam for 3 - 5 minutes. Add sauce (from small bowl) to pan and bring to a boil. Lastly, add meat and combine well.
Spoon portions over any starch such as rice, pasta, noodles, or mashed potatoes.

Lodge Pre-Seasoned Skillet with Silicone Handle

Lodge Pre-Seasoned Skillet with Silicone Handle RoseWrites 2014-05-10 5.0 0 5

Lodge Pre-Seasoned Skillet with Silicone Handle

Lodge L10SK3ASHH41B Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet with Red Silicone Hot Handle Holder, 12-Inch
Amazon Price: $40.95 $18.98 Buy Now
(price as of May 28, 2014)
Cast iron lasts virtually forever. I'm most impressed with the Lodge brand since they've been making cast iron cookware for over 100 years. They've won awards for their dutch ovens.

This skillet also comes in 7 other sizes. I recommend the 10.25 or 12-inch size for most stove tops. These skillets arrive pre-seasoned, ready for use, and are backed by a lifetime warranty.