Sunday, June 14, 2015

Tuscan Tuna Pasta Salad

When the weather warms up, I really like to eat dinners that don’t require heating up anything in the kitchen. It makes the house hot and me hot, so I like to minimize that. Salads are the perfect thing then.

Tuna is something I don’t usually make much, but it is one of those omega-3 foods that should really have a place in our diets, provided it is responsibly caught. You’ll find the company’s stance on that usually on the label - for instance, Wild Planet’s line of fish. You can find this brand at Whole Foods or Sprouts Farmers Markets here in Southern California.

I used to always get albacore canned in water but I recently discovered the taste of yellowfin tuna canned in olive oil and it makes a big difference! The oil keeps it really moist and the Yellowfin variety has a very mild, un-fishy taste to it. I like it better than albacore now.

Yellowfin Tuna

Anyway, the tuna salad most of us think of is usually coated in mayonnaise, and that’s fine once in a while, especially when you have a fishy tasting fish and want to cover it up with mayo and pickle relish. But I have found that I like tuna salad best when it’s made with an oil and lemon juice dressing. It has a cleaner, fresher taste to it I think, and it allows the flavors of all the other ingredients to come through, especially when there’s a lot going on like in this salad.

Tuscan Tuna Pasta Salad

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and chopped
1 lb. gluten-free pasta
2 cans tuna in oil, drained and flaked, preferably Yellowfin packed in olive oil
1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives
1/2 cup shredded basil leaves
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup chopped green onion
Salt and pepper to taste
Lettuce leaves
Lemon wedges

  1. Place the oil, crushed red pepper and tomatoes in a jar and shake well to combine. Set aside for 1 hour.
  2. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water until just tender, following the package instructions. Drain and place into a salad bowl. 
  3. Stir in the oil mixture, tuna, olives, and half of the basil. Season with salt and pepper as needed. 
  4. Divide the salad among 4 plates, placing the tuna over a large lettuce leaf, and sprinkle on the Parmesan and remaining basil. Squeeze a little lemon over the top before serving.
Sometimes I add a few more things to spice up my tuna salad even more: cherry tomatoes cut in half, chopped cucumber or celery for a little crunch, a hard-boiled egg, and instead of the kalamata olives, sometimes I use a little olive tapenade which provides even more interesting flavors because it has capers and a few other things in it. Get creative and add whatever suits you. Today I added garbanzo beans which was pretty unique, and tasted better than I thought it would.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Homemade Sauerkraut

I realize not all of you are going to try this at home, but I wanted to share how super easy it is to make your own sauerkraut. I made it a few weeks ago and have been wanting to tell you about it!

Sauerkraut directly translated from the German is “sour cabbage” and consists of finely cut cabbage that has been fermented by various lactic acid bacteria. It has a long shelf life and distinct sour flavor, both of which result from the lactic acid that forms when the bacteria ferment the sugars in the cabbage.

As I’ve previously written, fermented foods have a long history in many cultures with sauerkraut being one of the most well-known. The Romans mentioned preserving cabbages and turnips with salt but it is believed to have been introduced to Europe in its present form 1,000 years later by Genghis Khan after invading China. The Tatars took it in their saddlebags to Europe. There it took root mostly in Eastern Europe and Germanic cuisines, but also in countries like France.

Ok, that worked for people back then, but why eat it now?

The health benefits of sauerkraut are numerous. It is a source of vitamins B, C and K. Get this: the fermentation process increases the bioavailability of nutrients, rendering sauerkraut even more nutritious than the original cabbage! It is also low in calories and high in calcium and magnesium and is a very good source of dietary fiber, folate, iron, potassium, copper and manganese.

Sauerkraut contains live lactobacilli and beneficial microbes and is rich in enzymes. The fiber and probiotics improve digestion and promote the growth of healthy bowel flora, protecting against many diseases of the digestive tract. It soothes the digestive tract and is effective against stomach ulcers.

Sauerkraut can even save your eyesight! That’s because it is high in lutein and zeaxanthin, both associated with preserving ocular health.

And perhaps most important of all, for this affects everyone, not just those of us with digestive issues: fermented foods, including sauerkraut, bolster the immune system.  Dr. Oz tells us how and why this is so important.

Anyway, now that I’ve (hopefully) sold you on the importance of eating this stuff not just once a year at Oktoberfest, let’s discuss how to make it. Here’s what I gathered to make mine:

1 head of green cabbage
4 peeled carrots
1 peeled daikon radish
1/2 bunch cilantro
a rather large wide mouth glass canning jar with a gasket and hinged lid (see photo below)

A Note:
While sauerkraut can and usually is as basic as just cabbage and salt for the brine, you can experiment as I did with adding additional vegetables such as carrots or cucumbers, raw ginger or daikon, herbs, and spices such as caraway seeds (very yummy - they will appear in my next batch). Makes things a little more interesting.

Pulse everything in batches in your food processor using the shredding disk. As the processing bowl fills, dump its contents into another larger bowl. Keep working until everything is shredded. When everything is in the larger bowl, sprinkle 6-7 tsp of good quality sea salt over it all and then get your hands into the kraut and start squeezing it.

Really work the salt into the veggies. Do this for about 10 minutes until you extract a good amount of liquid from the vegetables. This is an important step because by doing so you are creating the all-important brine that will begin the fermentation process. Now, spoon the kraut mix into a container large enough to fit it all in there and cover. You’ll want a container that looks something like this:

Ok, so you’re done......for now. Let it do its thing.

The fermentation process:
Every day you’ll need to open the lid and let it burp. Gasses will be forming that need to escape. I let mine sit on the counter like this for 10 days, burping it daily (there was less gas on those final days), until the 10th day when I moved the container to the refrigerator. I didn’t get around to eating it right away because I was going out of town for the weekend, so it sat in the fridge another 3-4 days resting. Sauerkraut, believe it or not, actually improves the longer it sits, so don’t be afraid you have to eat it right away.

The tasting:
So the day finally came about 2 weeks after having started the process when I actually got around to opening up the sauerkraut and trying some. I was pleasantly surprised to find, like the cauliflower I had previously made, that the vegetables were not mushy at all but crunchy even, and that tangy flavor from the fermentation was there, but not overly so. My husband was leery about eating my “science experiment” as he called it, but was also surprised at how good it was.

Sauerkraut, as long as it remains raw and uncooked such as this one, is a tremendous addition to anyone’s health. Make some and enjoy it for lunch, alongside a sandwich or some lovely gourmet sausages with mustard.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Chicken Noodle Soup

Most of you know by now that I just love soup. I inherited this gene from my mother. And this week the temperatures here in Southern California provided the ideal conditions for “soup weather”. So I looked for something new to try out. New to me, but certainly not new to most. The humble, but ever popular, Chicken Noodle Soup sounded good.

This recipe contains digestive-friendly ingredients that soothe the digestive tract. There is nothing in it that could irritate, so just like when you have a cold and aren’t well, a bowl of chicken soup is perfect for when you need a little something soothing for your insides.

Just like in my post a few years ago on that wonderfully fragrant Vietnamese soup called Pho, this soup, as nearly all of them, calls for a rich bone broth to start. If you’re short on time, you can certainly use a prepared chicken or vegetable broth, but as I stated in that article, making your own homemade bone broth is not difficult and because of the rich nutrients that a bone broth contains, it’s definitely worth making.

Here’s the recipe I made this week.

Chicken Noodle and Vegetable Soup

Image result for chicken noodle soupIngredients:
2 Tbsp olive or coconut oil
3 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 large stalks celery, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. turmeric
5 thyme sprigs, plus 1 Tbsp. finely chopped
3 marjoram sprigs, plus 2 tsp. chopped, or 1-2 tsp. dried
8-10 cups of homemade chicken bone broth
10 oz. boneless skinless chicken thighs, thinly sliced
1 cup corn kernels (frozen is fine)
1 cup rice vermicelli, broken into short lengths
salt and pepper
2 Tbsp. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the carrot, celery, bay leaf and turmeric, and cook, stirring regularly, for 10 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened.
2. Add the chicken and brown a little with the vegetables. Add the herbs sprigs, broth and corn kernels and simmer over medium heat for 10-15 minutes (10 minutes if you’re using fresh or canned corn, 15 minutes if you’re using frozen).
3. Meanwhile, pour boiling water over the vermicelli noodles and let them soak in a bowl until they soften. Drain.
4. Remove the bay leaf and herb sprigs from the soup, add the noodles (*see note below) and cook an additional 2 minutes. Stir in the chopped thyme and marjoram, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve with a sprinkling of parsley.

*You will surely have leftovers. In that case, I have found that the noodles soak up too much of the broth and get mushy the next day. What I do in Step 4 is leave the noodles out and instead, when the soup is ready, I take my bowl, put some noodles in the bottom and pour some soup over the top, and then sprinkle with parsley. I keep the noodles separate when storing them in the fridge overnight as well. So I would just add the herbs in Step 4, and leave out that bit about adding the noodles, and proceed with the rest of the directions.

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