Category: Super Healthy

Back with a Winner

November 13, 2013

Hello friends. How do I explain an over month-long absence? It would be easier if I had some good excuse as to why I’ve been gone. A long trip maybe or a super exciting professional assignment. I can’t boast either. I can’t hide behind illness or family troubles because, truthfully, everything is going swimmingly. It turns out that writing is like exercise for me. Either I’m in it, doing the work on an almost daily basis and it feels natural, or I’m out. I never meant to be out and I apologize that so much time has passed since my last post and this one. My own brother called me a slacker.

Here is a reason that I believe I will never have an over month-long absence for this space again. We moved around our guest bedroom and study. My writing space was once downstairs and is now on the main floor, just a few steps from the kitchen. I know it’s silly that a few stairs kept me from writing but, after living with things the old way for a year, it seemed time to make a change. Also, our new guest digs are bigger, brighter, and more private. A win win for everyone.

So I’m returning with a favorite. I have always loved making Indian food, never more than once I got my hands on two very special cookbooks from a favorite restaurant in London. (Amazon carries at least one of them.) I turn to them over and over again, their pages splattered and slightly coming away from the spine of the books. When an Indian food craving hits, I almost always make this dish alongside some rice (Peas Pilau Rice from one of the books is particularly good) and some other delicious offering, most often starring potatoes and/or chickpeas. Raita and some kind of chutney round out the meal. What makes this dish special is that it is mild, a bit tangy, but still with plenty of spices and the haunting and unique flavor of fresh curry leaves. It’s mildness and creaminess is most welcome on a table of spicy things. I love a dish that can taste so good with a slight richness and that is also so good for you.

Curry leaves are an ingredient that can be hard to find but they do add an unmistakable and hard-to-put-your finger on flavor here. I was able to find them at Uwajimaya in Seattle and I have found them in Berkeley Bowl and Monterey Market here in the East Bay. If you have an Asian market or other ethnic store near you, chances are you can find them. They keep for a long time so buy extra because you’ll want to make this dish again. If you can’t find them, make the dish anyway. In addition to being tasty and tangy, it’s healthy with tons of spinach and the creaminess comes from plain yogurt. Sorry for being away for so long.

One Year Ago:  Salted Caramel Ice Cream and Malted Vanilla Milkshakes (and another apology)
Two Years Ago:  Bulghur Salad Stuffed Peppers, Stilton Tart with Cranberry Chutney (Thanksgiving appetizer anyone?)
Three Years Ago:  Romaine Leaves with Caesar Dressing and a Big Crouton, Roasted Mushrooms and Shallots
Four Years Ago:  Holly B’s Gingersnaps, Gianjuja Mousse
Five Years Ago:  Bulghur and Green Lentils with Chickpeas, Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

Cheera Thayir Curry

Adapted from The New Tastes of India
Serves 4

Vegetable, canola, or coconut oil
2 tsp. mustard seeds
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 dried red chilies
10 curry leaves
Pinch of fenugreek (optional)
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 large tomatoes, seeded, finely chopped
3 jalapeno peppers, seeds and membranes removed for less heat, chopped
2 tbsp. peeled fresh ginger, minced or grated
1 tsp. tumeric
5 ounces baby spinach
1 cup plain yogurt (whole milk or 2%, do not use non-fat)
Kosher or sea salt

Place a large saucepan over medium heat and have a lid ready.  Pour in just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan and then add the mustard seeds.  After a couple of moments they will start to pop.  Immediately add the garlic, dried red chilies, curry leaves, and fenugreek.  If the popping gets out of hand, just cover the pot with the lid until it calms down.  Cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes, then add the onion, green chilies, ginger, and a large pinch of salt.

Cook until the onion is starting to turn brown, about 8 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, tumeric, and another pinch of salt.  Mix thoroughly, then add the spinach and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the pan from the heat.  Gradually add the yogurt, stirring slowly and continuously.  Return the pan to low heat and for another couple of minutes just to bring all the flavors together.  Serve warm.



Spring Vegetable Egg Drop Soup

May 30, 2013

I lived almost my entire life in Seattle and I will tell you that winter is not the cruelest season. Winter can be terrible in most parts of the country but in the Northwest, I never had to worry that my kids would actually freeze if they forgot their coat at school. As long as you had the right gear, you could be outside all season. I was thankful for no biting wind, almost no snow, and none of the electric shock you get in colder climates when you take off your overcoat. (And you don’t really have to wear an overcoat.)  Winter was no walk in the park but it was much milder and much better than many other places.

Spring is when I would start to go nuts. Because most years, there isn’t really a spring in Seattle. The winter just drags on and on. You will get a week or so of nice weather and everyone and their mother/grandmother/uncle/dog will be outside and everyone will be oh so optimistic that winter is over only to have it return, with a vengeance. Some people say if you are going to live in Seattle, you have to plan to get away in February, but I would change that month to May. February is when you can take refuge in the fact that you aren’t shoveling snow out of your driveway, or wondering if your car is going to start, or hoping your pipes don’t freeze. May is when you can’t quite understand why people are talking about spring and grilling and eating outside.  It is also when you might be cursing the fact that it is light until almost 10pm but you can’t enjoy it because it is raining. May is when I would question my choice to live in that city. May is when I would long for spring but never really feel it.

To add insult to injury, the spring produce would take forever to come in. Seattle markets, when they are in their prime, are a thing of beauty and glory. Early spring is not that time. Early spring, spring at all really, is meager and frustrating. While seemingly the rest of the country is enjoying all the lovely springy green things, Seattle has just not quite caught up.

Because I shop at the farmers markets and because I cook seasonally, I am very in tune to seasonal transitions in produce. At no time are those transitions more remarkable than going from winter to spring. You essentially go from root-type vegetables that need to be roasted or stewed or braised to make them tasty, to gorgeous green things that only need a minute on the grill or in the oven or on the stovetop – or no cooking at all! – to make them tasty.  I found this soup on Epicurious when I was searching for a recipe for garlic scape pesto (it was actually in the May 2013 Bon Appétit).  It immediately brought back memories of my childhood because my mom used to make me egg drop soup all the time.  The one she made me was very kid friendly, i.e. no vegetables, and I loved it.  In this version, the vegetables are definitely the star of the show but the egg saves it from just being, you  know, a vegetable soup.  I served this as a main course and thought it needed a little something to make it more substantial, so I included a dollop of red quinoa.

One Year Ago:  Tartines with Gruyère and Greens
Two Years Ago:  Shaved Spring Vegetable Salad
Three Years Ago:  Rhubarb Bette
Four Years Ago:  Rosemary Raisin Pecan Crisps
Five Years Ago:  Roasted Potatoes and Onions with Wilted Greens (also the story of when I stopped eating meat)

Spring Egg-Drop Soup
Bon Appétit
Serves 4

The only changes I made to the recipe below is that I used less olive oil to sauté and served the quinoa on top.  I would say it serves 3 as a main course.  I spring garlic cloves instead of the garlic scapes only because I used all mine in the pesto.

¼ cup olive oil
2 medium carrots, peeled, chopped
6 small spring onions, bulbs only, coarsely chopped (about 1 ½ cups)
3 medium spring garlic bulbs, 1-2 garlic scapes, or 2 regular garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Kosher salt
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
½ pound asparagus, sliced on a diagonal ½” thick
¼ pound sugar snap peas, sliced on a diagonal ¼” thick
2/3 cup shelled fresh peas (from about 2/3 pound pods)
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan plus more for serving
¼ cup torn fresh basil leaves
¼ cup torn fresh mint leaves
1 ½  teaspoons (or more) fresh lemon juice
Cooked red quinoa (optional)

Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add carrots, spring onions, and garlic and season with salt. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft, 15-20 minutes.

Add broth and bring to a boil. Add asparagus, sugar snap peas, and peas and cook until vegetables are crisp-tender, about 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat eggs in a small bowl with 1 tablespoon Parmesan, a pinch of salt, and 1 tablespoon water.

Reduce heat to low and stir basil and mint into soup. Drizzle in egg mixture in 4 or 5 spots around pot. Let stand for 1 minute so egg can set, then gently stir in 1 ½ teaspoons lemon juice. Season soup with salt and more lemon juice, if desired. Serve soup topped with more Parmesan and a dollop of quinoa, if desired.



I Do Not Love Kale

May 9, 2013

I’m thinking of starting a support group for People Who Do Not Love Kale. Would you join me? Are you, like me, sick of hearing/reading about kale?  I’d actually like someone to explain the kale phenomenon to me.  Why is it that this vegetable specifically has been singled out as the second coming? Why the special treatment? And really – kale? It’s not the sexiest of vegetables. Someone I know said they would like to hire the PR firm that is responsible for the kale explosion.

Not only do I not get the hype, I have to say I don’t really get kale.  I use it. I like it better than some of its other dark leafy siblings (although I love this chard dish and chard is also lovely in this tart, and collard greens are terrific in this curry). I have made kale chips and my kids spit them out and honestly, so did I.  Often I have a choking sensation when I eat kale. Does anyone else have this reaction? I’ve learned to chop it in small bite size pieces no matter what dish I am throwing it into. I don’t have to do this with broccoli. Broccoli never makes me choke. (I love you broccoli!)

I keep trying to love it. I keep trying to get excited about it. I keep buying it at the farmers’ market because it is always there and I must need some of that, right? I put it in soups and stews and sometimes I just let it languish in my crisper drawer.   Which is saying something because kale keeps well.  Then I feel guilty and so I sauté it in olive oil with minced garlic and red pepper flakes, let it cool, and then keep it in the refrigerator to eat with quinoa, avocado, and poached eggs. (My new husband-is-out-of-town dinner.)

Just as there is a lot of hype about kale, there is a lot of hype about Deborah Madison these days. (Nice segue, don’t you think?) The difference is, in my opinion, Deborah Madison deserves every bit of it and then some. Her new book Vegetable Literacy is a beautiful and well-researched tome that every vegetable lover should own. Especially if you garden (which I don’t). The thing I find so incredibly inspiring about Ms. Madison is that after all these years and all these books, she still has the passion for food that she has always had, and the curiosity to do investigative journalism about produce. The book, as you have no doubt heard, is arranged by vegetable “families” and I had plenty of surprises seeing which vegetables and herbs are related.

The recipes are true Deborah Madison. If you own a few of her books (or six like I do), you might see some familiar things. Sometimes things are a little more complicated than they need to be, sometimes they are shockingly simple. In just a quick casual glance through the book, I saw no fewer than 15 things I wanted to try right away. I’ve already made one thing twice (a simple dip of all things), and I know that her recipes are tested to perfection and fairly portioned. You never have to wonder as you attempt one of her recipes whether it will turn out. And if it doesn’t, it is most certainly your fault, not hers.

This dish spoke to me at a time when I was not eating many things. For three weeks, I ate fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and lots of eggs. I was trying to see if my acid reflux had to do with a food intolerance.  You can used to a diet like that but it isn’t much fun. I decided that if I used 100% buckwheat soba noodles (which are gluten free) then this dish fit into my elimination diet. It is a testament to how tasty it is (even with the kale) that I would make it again, even now that I am eating normally again.


Buckwheat Noodles with Kale and Sesame Salad
Adapted from Vegetable Literacy
Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a first course

While I will say that you should never rinse traditional Italian-style noodles, you should definitely rinse soba noodles.  They are very starchy and will clump together in one big lump if you don’t.  This recipe calls for both toasted and light sesame oils.  Toasted sesame oil is a tremendous flavor booster but you have to be careful with it as the flavor is very strong.  If you don’t have light sesame oil (I don’t), you can use peanut oil or even canola oil for that part of the recipe.

6 ounces soba noodles (make sure they are 100% buckwheat if you want gluten free)
Toasted sesame oil
1 bunch Tuscan kale (also called lacinato or dinosaur kale)
5 tsp. light sesame oil (not toasted)
Sea salt
4 brussels sprouts
1 plump garlic clove
1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. sesame seeds, toasted in a dry skillet until golden
2 pinches red pepper flakes
Slivered chives or green onions to finish

Cook the soba noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water.  Check the package for how they need to cook and taste a noodle to make sure they are not overdone.  Drain and immediately rinse with cold water, running your hands through the noodles to make sure they are cool.  Give them a good shake and then drizzle them with a bit of toasted sesame oil, mixing them with your hands.

Slice the kale leaves off their ropy stems and discard the stems.  Working in batches, stack the leaves, roll them up tightly lengthwise, and then thinly slice them crosswise into narrow ribbons.  Put the ribbons in a salad bowl with 1 teaspoon of the light sesame oil and a pinch of salt.  Squeeze the leaves repeatedly with your hands until they glisten.

Discard any funky outer leaves from the brussels sprouts.  Slice them paper thin on a mandoline (or with a very sharp knife), then toss them with the kale.

Pound the garlic with another small pinch of salt in a small mortar until smooth.  Stir in the vinegar then whisk in the remaining oil and the soy sauce.  Pour the dressing over the greens and toss well.  (If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can also chop it roughly on a cutting board, sprinkle the garlic with the salt, and then use the flat side of your knife to smoosh the salt into the garlic.  You are looking for a rough paste consistency.  Then just transfer the garlic to a bowl and continue.)

Just before serving, toss the greens with the soba noodles, the sesame seeds, pepper flakes, and the chives.



Indian Food Pep Talk

May 6, 2013

Let’s talk about Indian food.  Do you love it?  Are you making it at home?  If the answer to the first question is yes and the second is no, why not?  Why are you not making Indian food at home?  I’m guessing it is one of these reasons:

1) The recipes are too long.
2) The recipes have unfamiliar ingredients.
3) It’s too spicy!
4) Who has all those spices?

You might notice that reasons 1-4 actually have to do with spices.  #1 Sometimes Indian food recipes have long lists of ingredients but if you look carefully, many of those ingredients are actually spices.  Sometimes up to half of the list really just needs to be measured out of a jar.  #2 Once in a while, I will find a recipe that calls for bitter gourd or drumstick (not the kind that is on a chicken) but usually the unfamiliar ingredients are actually spices.  #3 “Spicy” and “spiced” are really too different things.  Yes, there are a lot of spices in Indian cooking and that is why it is so intoxicating.  Most of the spices are there to give the food flavor and color, not necessarily heat.  When you are cooking it yourself, you control the level of heat so what are you afraid of?  #4 needs a new paragraph.

If you cook regularly, you probably have jars of cumin, coriander, and cayenne at home, these are spices commonly used in Indian food but also in Thai, Mexican, and Middle Eastern food, among others.  Perhaps you even have turmeric and mustard seeds.  Maybe you don’t.  Maybe you want to make a recipe that calls for fenugreek and garam masala and when you see that you think to yourself, “Now this is why I don’t make Indian food.”  I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to go buy whole jars of things that you are not going to use on a daily basis.  Most grocery stores these days have a bulk spice section where you can buy a couple of teaspoons for less than a dollar.  An added bonus is that the bulk spices tend to be much fresher than those you get in a  jar because there is a lot of turnover.  Take a tip from me and clearly write on the bag which spice it is and then store all your little bits of spices in one Ziploc bag.  That way, you can pull out that one bag when you want to make Indian food.  If you are looking for online resources for spices, I can highly recommend World Spice Merchant and Penzey’s.  World Spice Merchant has a storefront in Seattle and Penzey’s has locations all over the U. S.

Now that we are not afraid anymore, can we continue?  I make Indian food often in my kitchen.  I was never a fan of the Indian restaurants in Seattle so when I craved it, I made it myself.  I turn to several trusted cookbooks over and over and although I am a person always wanting to try new recipes, I gravitate toward the same dishes.  They are that good.

This Cauliflower and Potato Curry is a great place to start if you are apprehensive about cooking Indian food.  The recipe is easy, the ingredient list relatively short, ingredients are familiar, and it is not spicy (as in hot).  I have probably made this recipe 30 times and I change up little things each time.  Sometimes I use big tomatoes that I seed, sometimes I use cherry tomatoes, sometimes I use canned tomatoes.  I have made it with more cauliflower and fewer potatoes, and also with more potatoes and less cauliflower.  I’ve added frozen peas on more than one occasion.  I’ve used all coconut milk and also half coconut milk and half water.  I have made it soupier and drier.  My point is this is a very adaptable recipe.  How you see it below is how I like it best.

One Year Ago:  Flan, Layered Pasilla Tortilla Casserole
Two Years Ago:  Cheddar Crackers (I’ve made these about 1,000 times), Kaye Korma Curry
Three Years Ago:  Gianduja Gelato, Orange Grand Marnier Cake, Spaghetti with Mushrooms, Asparagus, and Tarragon
Four Years Ago:  Mexican Brownies, Noodles in Thai Curry Sauce with Tofu,

Cauliflower and Potato Curry
Adapted from The New Tastes of India
Serves 4

Coconut oil (or canola or peanut oil)
1 ½ tsp. fennel seeds
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tsp. turmeric powder
1 tsp. chile powder
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 ¼ pound new potatoes (assorted colors are nice), cut into large chunks
1 small cauliflower, about 1 ¼ pounds, broken into florets
4 plum tomatoes, quartered and seeded
4 ounces coconut milk
4 ounces water
Kosher or sea salt
Handful of chopped cilantro

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan.  Sprinkle in the fennel seeds and allow them to cook, stirring often, until they are toasted and fragrant, about 3 minutes.  Add the onion and cook until the onion is turning brown, about 10 minutes.  Add the turmeric and chile powder and stir for 2 minutes.  Stir in the tomato paste.

Add the potato, cauliflower, tomatoes, coconut milk, and another healthy pinch of salt.  Next stir in the water.  Bring the mixture up to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and cover the pot.  Allow to cook at a brisk simmer until the potatoes and cauliflower are tender, about 20 minutes.  Be sure to check with a fork or a paring knife.  If the mixture needs more liquid in your opinion, add more water or coconut milk.  Just before serving, taste for salt, and stir in the cilantro.



My Old Job

April 25, 2013

My first job working with food kind of fell in my lap.  I had a good friend who had recently hired a personal chef.  While she liked the convenience, she found the food heavy and not all that inspired.  Without thinking too carefully I said, “I’ll cook for you.”  Without thinking too carefully she said, “OK.”  And suddenly, poof!, I was a personal chef.  The arrangement worked out for both of us and my friend recommended me to another family.  Up until I had Spencer, I cooked for those two families three nights a week.

When all was said and done, I did that job for three years.  I had my two regular families for all that time and a few others who stopped and started.  Graham, who is now eight, was 17 months old when I started cooking for money and I did it through my pregnancy with Spencer and, after a short maternity leave, when he was an infant.  I was lucky to have had very flexible clients who were great eaters and were just happy to eat whatever I brought them.  I was able to be creative and make a serious dent in my “want to make” recipe file.

I kept notebooks with every menu I ever made.  It is amazing to look back and see the food I was able to produce in my kitchen with very small children and not a lot of time.  In all three years, I almost never repeated dishes and when I did, it was because someone had made a request.  I’ve been thinking about those days recently because I’ve been thinking about whether or not I’d like to start personal cheffing again.  I loved doing it and the only reason I stopped is because I found the work too solitary.  Teaching cooking classes allowed me to have prep time alone but then to share time and food with others.

Whenever I think about starting up again, I think of this dinner.  It was the first thing I made for my first client and I agonized over the choice.  I felt so much pressure (from myself) for the meal to be a hit.  I wanted so badly to succeed.  Because of that, I went to a no-fail cookbook, Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen, and made a favorite dish.

Over the years since I hung up the personal chef hat, I have made this dish many times.  I’ve made others like it too – I just really like my red lentils.  They are quick cooking and healthy and in about the time it takes for the rice to cook, you have a tasty and nutritious meal.  Recently I saw tables full of broccoli romanesco at the farmers’ market and whenever I see that beautiful vegetable, I always think of this dish.  After several years of making other versions of red lentil dhal, it was nice to come back to an old favorite.  There are a lot of steps to her recipe, and a little underseasoning, so I tweaked it to my current tastes.  Still, a classic is a classic.

One Year Ago:  Ginger Fried Rice with Roasted Tempeh, Maple Blueberry Tea Cake
Two Years Ago:  Butterscotch Pudding Tarts, Greek Salad
Three Years Ago:  Leek Frittata, Strawberry Ricotta Tartlets
Four Years Ago:  Ricotta Calzones with Broccoli Rabe, Miso Soup
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Fragrant Red Lentils  with Broccoli Romanesco
Adapted from Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen
Serves 4

The final swirl of spices in oil might sound like an annoying extra step but it is really what makes this dish special.  I like to use coconut oil in this type of cooking but feel free to use butter, ghee, or another type of oil.

3 tbsp. coconut oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large jalapeño chile, seeded and diced
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1½ tsp. ground turmeric
¼ tsp. cayenne
2 cups red lentils
1 bay leaf
Kosher or sea salt
1 can coconut milk
1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro, plus extra for garnish
1 head broccoli romanesco or cauliflower, cut into bite sized pieces
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1 tsp. cumin seeds
Cooked basmati rice for serving

Place a large saucepan over medium heat.  Spoon in about 1 tablespoon of the coconut oil, then add the onion and a large pinch of salt.  When the onion is translucent and starting to brown, about 5 minutes, add the ginger, garlic and chile.  Sauté for a couple of minutes, then add the ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, and cayenne.  Stir for one minute, then add the lentils.  Stir to coat the lentils with the spices, then pour in 3 cups of water.  Turn up the heat so the mixture boils, then add the bay leaf, and turn the heat down so the mixture simmers.  Partially cover the pot and cook until the lentils are soft and most of the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

Add the coconut milk and simmer for another few minutes until the lentils are very soft and falling apart.  Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro.  Cover and keep warm.

Steam the broccoli romanesco or cauliflower until tender.

To finish, heat another tablespoon of coconut oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the mustard and cumin seeds and cook until they become very fragrant and the mustard seeds start to pop.  Immediately add to the red lentils and stir to combine.

To serve, pack the hot rice into ramekins and turn them upside down, one each, in a shallow pasta bowl.  Spoon a cup or more of the lentils around them, then lift off the ramekin, leaving the rice intact.  Top with the broccoli romanesco and garnish with cilantro sprigs.

 



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