Monday, March 20, 2017

Flavor Profile: Coconut Aminos

Soy sauce is so obiquitous. It’s in every Asian restaurant and probably in everyone’s refrigerator. For anyone wanting, or needing, to stay away from soy, there is an alternative!

But soy doesn’t work for everyone. It is considered a common allergen. and will appear on labels as such. When doing a detoxifying diet or anything of that sort, you’ll typically be required to give up the usual suspected allergens: gluten, soy, eggs, dairy, nuts, etc. Some people do find that they are allergic to soy, while for others it causes digestive upset. Of course, I’m in the latter camp.

As I’m sure you know, soy comes in various forms: tofu, edamame, tempeh, miso, natto, soy sauce, and soy lecithin, just to name a few. Soy, and especially soy lecithin, is in nearly everything these days. Why is that? Because it’s cheap. And it’s not as benign as they make it out to be. And unfortunately, over 90% of the soy in the U.S. is genetically modified. Something to rethink, isn’t it?

For as many articles as you read about the wonders of soy and how good it is for you, there are just as many that claim it the work of the devil. What’s clear is that soy is a phytoestrogen, a plant-based estrogen that mimics estrogen in the body. If you have uterine fibroids, for instance, which are the result of an abundance of estrogen, you’ll want to avoid consuming more and making them worse! Anything that stimulates more estrogen isn’t good for other conditions such as breast cancer and endometriosis either. There is also some research on soy messing with the thyroid, and that it contains phytates that are enzyme-inhibitors, blocking mineral absorption in the gut, etc. etc.

Soy Beans
Many nutritionists, however, feel that organic soy, especially fermented soy, can actually be an important addition to our diet. Tamari, for that reason, would be a far healthier choice than regular soy sauce, as it’s made from the brine of fermented miso and is chock full of lactobacilli and other good bacteria.

You do the homework and decide for yourself. I’m not here to tell you to avoid it or consume it, but do some reading and make an informed decision. Again, for many of us, it’s not the best choice.

So this article is really about soy sauce and somehow I got sidetracked with all things soy. Although I always liked the taste of soy sauce I eventually found it too salty. (Funny, because I love salt, but like to be able to control it myself). Eventually I switched to the low sodium variety and then thought I was doing myself a favor by switching to a "health food alternative” called Bragg’s Amino Acids. Recently a devoted reader of mine sent me some information on this stuff and I was appalled. The fact that it calls itself a health food is really laughable. Shows you how you really need to read up on everything! Don’t make assumptions that what you are eating is healthy. If it’s in any way processed, check it out.

An alternative to soy sauce that I have only in the last year come to try is something called coconut aminos. It tastes really good, is a bit lighter than soy sauce, and is made with only 2 ingredients, coconut sap and organic sea salt. It’s perfect for that soy-y flavor needed for Asian dishes, but also any dish for which that umami flavor really calls out for.

This is the brand I typically get, but there are a few. You can find this at most health food stores, and Sprouts Farmers Markets, if you have one near you.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Smӧrgåsbord to ring in the New Year

Spanish Tapas
Sorry this is a little late. I meant to post this right at the new year but got a little side-tracked with a car accident and a fall from a bike. Oops.  So allow me to go back a few weeks.

This year my holidays were marked with food from distant lands. Christmas “dinner” was served Spanish tapas style, with a wonderful assortment of salami, ham and Manchego cheese, olives, skewers of lamb, chicken, and shrimp, bacon-wrapped asparagus, and a veggie dish of marinated artichoke hearts with peas and red peppers.  Positively divine. New Year’s was celebrated early (by one day) and was welcomed with food from Scandinavia.

Planning meals around a theme or ethnic cuisine can be a lot of fun. I like the research involved - combing the Internet for ideas, looking for what’s typically served at an event like the one I’m interested in, reading the history behind the dishes and culture, finding recipes for those dishes, and figuring out what beverages go best with everything. It’s all part of the adventure!

The Julbord
Like the dinner I just planned with my Norwegian friend, Lorine. We put together what we commonly refer to in the U.S. as a Smӧrgåsbord, which is called Koldtbord or Kaldtbord in Norwegian. She referred to it as a Smorbord. It goes by a few variations  throughout Northern Europe.

The word Smӧrgåsbord is of Swedish origin and regardless of the country or word for it, it is a traditional Scandinavian meal served at special occasions, with multiple hot and cold dishes on a table. The word Smӧrgasbord breaks down as Smӧrgås (open-faced sandwiches) and bord (table). At the holidays it’s called the Julbord (yule + bord = Christmas table).

On a traditional Smӧrgåsbord you’ll obviously find the obligatory bread, butter and cheese, but there is also fish, especially herring and salmon, as well as baked ham, meatballs, pork ribs, head cheese, sausages, potato, beetroot salad, boiled cabbage and kale.

Fresh, clean herbal flavors like dill, fennel and caraway, along with mustard and lemon, make up the sauces and accompaniments. Here’s what we did:

Lorine had prepared the open-faced sandwiches which we simply assembled at my house.

They consisted of shrimp and seafood salad garnished with lemon slices and tomato, ham and a salad topping of carrots and peas in a creamy sauce on another, one sandwich of deli meats with crunchy fried onions and tomatoes, and then my absolute favorite: crispy bacon over a delicious sautéed apple and onion medley. Yum-my!

These were each served on a different type of bread: rye or white.

Following these we enjoyed “frikkadeler" or meatballs, sweet and spicy pickles, red cabbage, boiled potatoes with butter and parsley, and a cucumber dill salad. The hubby smoked salmon on the smoker for a few hours beforehand.

Crispy bacon over sautéed apples and onions

Everything was washed down with Aquavit (a traditional Norwegian liqueur), wine or beer, and later some coffee. For dessert, anise biscotti, leftover from Christmas.

It was indeed a feast, and lots of fun. We had a chance to enjoy some cultural foods that we had never had before that have been a part of our friend's holiday experience since she was a girl.

Planning a dinner party around a theme is enlightening and fun, especially when prepared with friends. Put a few of these kinds of events on your list of New Year’s resolutions this year and gather some people around you to share them with.

Happy 2017!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Fire-roasted Tomato Basil Soup with Grilled Eggplant and Havarti Sandwiches

There is something very soothing about tomato soup. It's simple and straight-forward.  Satisfying, yet at the same time, light.

A few weeks ago it finally turned nippy where I live, and "comfort food" sounded, well, comforting. I had a hankering for tomato soup, and grilled cheese sandwiches with roasted eggplant sounded like it needed to go with it.

But I wanted a tomato soup with a little more assertive flavor so I decided to use fire-roasted tomatoes instead of regular ones. I was not disappointed!

Here’s what you’ll need for

Fire-roasted Tomato Basil Soup

2 Tbsp. butter or ghee
1 onion, diced
2 pint-sized cans of diced organic fire-roasted tomatoes (I like the ones from Muir Glen)
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth (preferably home-made)
salt, to taste
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. honey
1/4 cup fresh chopped basil (about 15-20 leaves)
2 cups heavy cream
sour cream (optional)

Melt butter in a 2-3 qt saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until they turn translucent. Add tomatoes and broth, cover, raise heat, and bring to a boil

When boiling, reduce heat to medium, uncover, add salt, balsamic and honey. Stir. Simmer 15-20 minutes.

Just before serving, remove from heat and add basil and cream. Blend soup with an immersion blender (or by transferring to a blender, being sure to allow soup to cool before blending!).

Serve with a dollop of sour cream and enjoy!

So the soup is good, but wait until you try these babies!

Grilled Cheese on Sourdough
Baked Eggplant


= Grilled Eggplant and Havarti Sandwiches

Now, before you read below and think this is too much trouble, let me tell you that yes, making these sandwiches is a little more work than your usual grilled cheese, but let me also tell you that it’s totally worth it. If you don’t like eggplant, you can omit it and just go with the red peppers. If you have the wherewithal to make your own, do so by roasting them over a grill or in the oven so that they impart that natural smoky flavor that sends these sandwiches over the edge! But you can just buy fire-roasted red peppers in a jar if you are short on time.

Here’s what you’ll need for your sandwiches:

1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp minced garlic
salt and pepper as needed
1/2 inch sliced eggplant
bread for your sandwiches (I use sourdough)
sliced Havarti cheese
1/4 inch thick slices of red onion, optional
1/2 cup roasted red pepper strips, optional

Heat the broiler.

In a medium bowl, mix the oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and black pepper together. Brush onto the eggplant slices, reserving the extra. Place eggplant on broiling rack and broil 6-7 minutes per side or until lightly golden.  While those are broiling, sauté your onion in a little olive oil until it reaches your desired doneness. I don’t like my onions raw anymore but if you like them raw, leave them "au natural”.

While your onions are cooking, spoon the remaining oil/vinegar mixture on one side of your bread and toast under the broiler until lightly golden, about 45 seconds.

Top one slice of bread with a slice of eggplant, a piece of roasted red pepper, a little salt and pepper if you like, 1-2 slices cheese and an onion slice and then the other slice of toast, and grill as you normally would a grilled cheese sandwich, heating until the cheese is melted through.

(If you don’t want to go through all this, omit the peppers and onions and just brush your eggplant slices with some EVOO, salt and pepper and a little balsamic vinegar and bake them in the oven, turning once. Add your cheese and grill as usual).

This is a wonderful combination of soup and sandwich, perfect for lunch or a light supper with a small green salad on the side. Enjoy them together and be toasty warm tonight!

Print Friendly