Friday, September 28, 2012

Spark up your Salads

I think one of the best things we can do for our health is to eat a daily salad. Full of raw vegetables, nuts, seeds, and sometimes fresh or dried fruit, you can’t beat a salad for getting your daily antioxidants and fiber. But we can sabotage our efforts to eat well by pouring on a terrible dressing. 

Bottled salad dressings are convenient, but they are also typically loaded with garbage like sugar, preservatives and artificial stuff. It doesn’t take that much effort to make your own, free of all that junk. And the possibilities are endless as to what you can put into them, thereby creating a never-ending supply of tasty ways to dress up your salads.

Which is hard for me to remember sometimes. I inevitably end up making the standard vinaigrette, but sometimes I get tired of it and crave something different. A couple of dressings that are particularly awful (as far as the store-bought variety go) are Green Goddess and Ranch Dressings. The Goddess dressing listed below is loaded with herbs and other things that will add loads of health to your salad. And even though I previously posted a super-simple Ranch dressing, this version has little to no mayo and is therefore even healthier because of the substitution of the Greek yogurt.


§  1/2 a ripe avocado
§  1/4 cup coconut milk
§  3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
§  1 garlic clove, finely chopped
§  2 anchovy fillets, finely chopped (optional)
§  1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
§  1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh basil
§  1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh tarragon 
§  1/4 teaspoon salt 
§  1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Blend the first nine ingredients in the food processor until combined. With the blade running, pour in the oil and process until the dressing thickens and the herbs are finely chopped.
Once you pour over your salad, add a little crispy bacon on top. Avocado and bacon are delicious together.


§  1/2 cup full-fat Greek-style yogurt
§  1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cultured buttermilk
§  2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill
§  1 heaping teaspoon chopped fresh chives
§  1/2 teaspoon white wine vinegar
§  1/4 teaspoon dried dill
§  1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
§  1/4 teaspoon tamari
§  1/8 teaspoon granulated onion powder
§  1/8 teaspoon black pepper
§  1/2 of a small garlic clove, finely minced
 *optional: 1-2 tablespoons mayonnaise

Simply whisk together all the ingredients. The flavors tend to get bolder after a few hours or overnight, so make the dressing ahead of time if possible and refrigerate.
Delicious on Boston or Bibb lettuce with tomatoes and radishes.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Around the World...Persia

Where is "Persia" anyway?

In 1935, "Persia" became what is now known as Iran, so Persian cuisine refers to the traditional and modern styles of cooking related to Iran. 

Situated in the Middle East, the Iranian culinary style is unique to Iran, though it has historically both influenced and been influenced by its neighbors at various stages throughout its history. It includes a wide variety of foods ranging from roasted meats, often on a skewer (kabob), stews served with rice (khoresht), thick stew-like soups (ash), vegetable souffles (kuku), white rice with the addition of meat and/or vegetables (polo), and a diverse variety of salads, pastries, and drinks specific to different parts of Iran.

It's a shame that Persian cuisine is not more widely recognized. Maybe the reason for this is because it's sometimes confused with Middle Eastern cuisine, a much broader and more general term. Persian cuisine is similar to Turkish and Greek cuisines mostly because of its kebabs. The problem is that many Persian supermarkets and restaurants are labeled as Middle Eastern or Mediterranean in order to broaden their appeal to the Western consumer. In multicultural cities such as London and Los Angeles, Vancouver, Washington D.C. and Toronto, which have significant Persian populations, Persian food is gaining popularity. Los Angeles and its outlying areas are well known for the number and quality of Persian restaurants which are usually centered around the kebab, but many also serve other traditional fare as well.

Typical Persian entree with meat, rice and veg
Typical main dishes are combinations of rice with meat, lamb, chicken or fish and some onion, vegetables, nuts and herbs. Typical flavorings include saffron, dried limes, cinnamon and parsley. Fresh green herbs are frequently used along with fruits such as plums, pomegranates, quince, prunes, apricots and raisins. Stews are big in Persian cooking, mixing many of these ingredients together. In general, Persian cuisine is delicious; not spicy, but full of flavor.

I read somewhere that the eggplant (aubergine) is considered “the potato of Iran” and so it features prominently in many Persian recipes, and that's a good thing because I LOVE eggplant. Once at my Persian neighbors for dinner, I enjoyed a chicken and eggplant stew that Amir’s wife made from his mother’s recipe collection. I have modified the recipe somewhat, finding that I enjoy the addition of more herbs and garlic. I think the Persians wouldn't have minded, since they love adding highly flavored ingredients to their dishes.

Eggplant Koresh
Eggplant Koresh

2 white onions, sliced
6 or more garlic cloves, chopped
3/4 can tomato paste
2 - 14 oz. cans Italian style tomatoes
4 diced fresh tomatoes (soft)
1 Tbsp. fresh chopped oregano
3-4 chicken breasts (kabob cut, or cubed)
2 eggplants (peeled and cubed)
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Saute the onion over medium high heat in a little grapeseed oil until browned. Add the garlic, saute another minute. Add the tomato paste, mashing it into the vegetables, and saute another minute or two until browned. Add the chicken and the two kinds of tomatoes, as well as the oregano. Turn down the heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, saute eggplant in a separate pan in a little olive oil until soft (also about 30 minutes). Add eggplant to chicken, simmer together another 20-30 minutes. Add seasoning to taste.

Serve with basmati rice and a green vegetable of your choice. I like green beans.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The best ever Asian Chicken Salad

WOW! I just had the best Asian Chicken Salad EVER! I mean it. It was fantastic. I don't think I've ever enjoyed one as well at a restaurant.

At work, I've become known for my healthy lunches. People are always looking at what I brought. I schlep along all sorts of things from home and whip them up into a big salad nearly every day.

I really prefer salads for lunch. They don’t weigh me down making me want to take a nap at my desk in the afternoon. Plus, they give me a chance to substantially increase the amount of veggies I promised myself I’d eat. Without the salad, it would be a lot harder to eat this many veggies in a day.

Today was actually the 3rd in a row that I had this salad. It’s that good. What’s even better is how easy it was to prepare. If you shop at Trader Joe’s it’s even easier, because nearly everything was purchased there and much of it is ready-to-go: either already-cooked, or already shredded. Easy, delicious and healthy. Can’t beat that.

So what’s in it? Here you go.

Asian Chicken Salad

A bag of mesclun or mixed baby greens
A handful of cherry or grape tomatoes, preferably from someone’s garden, either red or yellow
1-2 stalks celery, finely chopped
½ bell pepper, preferably red, yellow or orange, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
Shredded green cabbage
Shredded red cabbage
¼ cup or more chunk pineapple
Cilantro, finely chopped, a few stems are ok
Pre-cooked sliced teriyaki chicken, cut into bite-sized chunks
Salt and pepper to taste

Trader Joe’s Sesame Soy Ginger Vinaigrette (has no oil)
Trader Joe’s organic virgin coconut oil

Chop what needs chopping. Toss in a handful of each of the rest. Pour on just enough of the ginger vinaigrette. Finish with a drizzle or two of coconut oil. Add the seasoning, toss and eat.

If you make a big bowl of it, which inevitably happens when you keep adding all this stuff, you’ve got enough for one humungous salad for yourself, or enough for 2 to share.

I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Cold-brewed coffee

I was recently sitting in the lunch room at the office, eating, while paging through a copy of Bon Appetit that someone had donated to the reading pile. As I flipped through it,  admiring the “food porn” (the elegantly photographed food fussed over by food stylists), I found myself at an article about coffee. But it wasn’t just about regular coffee, which might have been boring. The article was about cold-brewed coffee and how this latest trend is sweeping the nation. This was news to me.

Everybody who loves coffee will likely love a good iced coffee as well. In the summer with all its heat, it's certainly more appealing to drink cold beverages than hot ones. But the article wasn’t just about drinking iced coffee, but how to best prepare it. So, I was intrigued. 

Apparently the cold brew method is superior to brewing it hot (and then allowing it to cool down and ultimately pouring it over ice). The article claims, “Steeping ground beans in cold water overnight produces bold, intense flavor with less acid and more velvety sweetness. Count on this method for consistent iced-coffee excellence.”

Given such a claim, I had to try it out for myself. I decided to make their recipe for coffee concentrate, although I wasn’t sure I needed so much of it, so I made half.

Cold Brew Iced Coffee Concentrate

Makes 5 cups of concentrate

What you’ll need:
12 oz. coarsely ground fresh coffee beans*
Milk (optional)
Special equipment: cheesecloth and a large paper coffee filter

Place ground coffee in a large container. Gradually add 7 cups cold water. Stir gently to be sure all grounds are moistened. Cover with a layer of cheesecloth. Let stand at room temperature for 15 hours.

Remove cheesecloth and use it to line a fine-mesh sieve set over a large pitcher (do not stir); rinse jar and set aside. Discard cheesecloth with solids.

Line same sieve with a large coffee filter and set over reserved jar. Strain coffee through sieve into jar. (It may take up to 45 minutes for all of the coffee to drip through; do not stir or coffee may become cloudy). Cover and chill. Keeps for 2 weeks, chilled.

Fill a glass with ice. Dilute 1 part coffee concentrate with 1 park milk, if desired, or water. Add ice if you're heading out of the house with it. Top with whipped cream sprinkled with cocoa powder or cinnamon, if you like. Otherwise, drink as is.

* Your usual coffee blend will work just fine for cold brew – lighter roasts make for a less bitter drink. For a clear liquid, use coarsely ground coffee (finely ground beans make for a cloudier drink).

Monday, September 3, 2012

Flavor Profile : Relish this!

One way to add flavor to foods is to add condiments alongside them. If you think of the usual - mayo, mustard, ketchup - those are some of them, but there are many, many more, especially if you think globally. The one I want to talk about today is relish.

Typical pickle relish
If pickle relish is all you envision when you think of "relish", then you should know that there is a whole universe of relishes out there. There are more varieties of this condiment made around the world than you can imagine. Nearly every continent has its own version. They consist of every conceivable combination of fruit, vegetable, herb or spice you could toss together.

Wikipedia defines relish as “a cooked, pickled, or chopped vegetable or fruit food item typically used as a condiment in particular to enhance a staple. Examples are jams, chutneys, and the North American 'relish', a pickled cucumber jam eaten with hot dogs or hamburgers”.

Relish can be made out of all sorts of things, usually finely chopped fruits or vegetables, and are generally not smooth textured sauces, like ketchup, but rather a bit more chunky. The taste sensation may be sweet or savory, hot or mild, but always there is a strong flavor component that adds to the primary food that it’s being served with.

Mango chutney
Relish seems to have originated in India as a way to preserve vegetables in winter. Indian chutneys are probably familiar to most people. There is a vast array of types: mango, tamarind, coconut, cilantro, onion, tomato, lime, garlic, even apricot, to name a few, with each part of the country seemingly having its own kind. Chutneys began being shipped to European countries in the 17th Century as a luxury food item. By the 19th Century, brands like Major Grey’s and Bengal Club were created for Western tastes and were generally made of fruit, vinegar and sugar cooked down to a reduction.  

A wonderful relish which hails from Serbia is called Ajvar. Consisting of red bell peppers, eggplant, garlic and chili pepper, it is one of the few relishes that are smooth in texture. Depending on the capsaicin content of the peppers and the amount of added chili peppers, it can be sweet, piquant (the most common), or very hot. The relish can be used as a bread spread, a salad or a side dish. I will serve it alongside a mixed appetizer plate I make that usually involves stuffed grape leaves, sheep’s milk feta cheese, kalamata olives, taboulleh salad, sliced tomatoes with onions, and maybe some falafel, pita bread and hummus. Ajvar is also good spread on sandwiches for a different twist. It’s especially good on a veggie sandwich. Layer sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, provolone or munster cheese, and a handful of sprouts on 2 slices of whole grain bread, spread some mayo on one slice and ajvar on the other, and presto! You’ve got a killer sandwich.

I have 2 relish recipes for you: one savory and one sweet/sour. You can make either with summer veggies available right now. The first one is compliments of my mother. It is very refreshing on a hot summer day. Eat it cold as a snack, or at room temp alongside grilled sausages, chicken or fish.

Zucchini relish
Zucchini Relish

3 pounds zucchini
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
2 onions
2 Tbsp. salt
325 ml white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. mustard seeds
½ Tbsp. cayenne pepper
1 ½ Tbsp. paprika
2 ½ Tbsp. flour

Yield: 8 small jam size glasses with screw top lids for canning/preserving

Chop all the veggies into a small dice. Place in a colander, sprinkle with salt and allow to sit for 30 minutes to draw out the liquid. Place zucchini, bell peppers, onions, vinegar, and mustard seeds in a saucepan and bring to a boil, simmer 15 min.  Add the remaining ingredients, simmer another 10 min. Add a little water to the flour and add this to the pot to thicken. Fill glasses, leaving a bit of space at the top for air, and seal tightly. Place glasses on their heads and allow to cool. 

Friends Greg and Michelle offered up this enticing relish at their house a few years ago as an appetizer. They served it with crackers and cream cheese. Everyone loved it and asked for the recipe. It's really good and easy to make.

Red Pepper Relish

2 large red bell peppers
1 onion chopped
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

Combine the first 5 ingredients in a 2 qt. pan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to medium high heat, stirring often, until liquid looks like syrup and is reduced by 2/3. Simmer an additional 25 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cool and then puree in a food processor. Serve with crackers and cream cheese or with a wedge of brie. Also great with roasted meats like turkey, chicken and pork. Keeps in the fridge for about a month.

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