Friday, January 25, 2013

Flavor Profile - Mustard

I love mustard!

Everybody seems to have a favorite condiment they can’t live without. For some it’s ketchup, others mayo, yet others relish.  For me, it’s mustard.

What makes mustard more interesting, IMHO (in my humble opinion), than say, mayo or ketchup, is that there are so many versions of it. I mean, let’s face it: mayo is mayo, and ketchup is ketchup, but MUSTARD, my God, there are so many kinds! French’s basic yellow, Dijon, whole grain, Bavarian, and spicy brown, just to name a few. I once had an apple ginger mustard. It was fantastic.

Mustard seeds
Mustard isn’t just a condiment. It’s a great way to add flavor to food. Pork chops, pork tenderloin, salmon, chicken, beef, hot dogs, hamburgers, sandwiches, cabbage slaw, potato salad, and as a hard-boiled egg filling.

Last Sunday, we had a picnic lunch at a local park. I made sautéed chicken breasts with whole grain mustard. Simple, yet packed with flavor. Had I served it hot at home, I would have likely added a little white wine and cream to the pan to make a delicious mustard cream sauce. But it was great cold the way it was.

Whole grain mustard
Naturally you can buy regular or gourmet mustards ready-made. But you can also buy a basic mustard and experiment with adding additional ingredients at home. Here are some ideas.

For a hot mustard, stir 3-4 finely chopped chipotle or jalapeno peppers into ¼ cup Dijon, yellow or honey mustard. Use roasted red peppers for a milder version. Serve on a burger with avocado.

Add finely chopped fresh herbs (chives, tarragon, parsley, cilantro, or basil, or a combination of any or all of them) to Dijon mustard. Especially good on chicken, fish, or pork.

Mix equal parts finely chopped walnuts, pecans or peanuts into Dijon. Could be good on chicken.

Mash cranberry sauce or cherry chutney into Dijon (puree in a food processor for a smoother texture). Try on a turkey or roast beef sandwich.

Other additions to mustard could be roasted garlic, horseradish, honey or rosemary.
And don't forget to add a tsp. of Dijon to your homemade salad dressings. Mustard is a great emulsifier, binding your dressing together so it doesn't separate so readily. Added to a good quality vinegar and EVOO (extra virgin olive oil), it helps to make your vinaigrette fantastic.

Here’s a recipe I want to try. I’m actually going to make deviled eggs with it, so I’ll add a little mayo. As listed, I would smear it on chicken before grilling it.

Lemon curry mustard

Into 8 oz. of spicy brown mustard, add ½  tsp. lemon pepper, 1 tsp. curry powder and ¼ tsp. grated lemon peel.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Around the World … Indonesia

We recently had a house guest from Australia. One evening he offered to make dinner. It was a dish called nasi goreng, something he had come to love from his many travels to Malaysia. So much of Asian cuisine is completely foreign to me because I wasn’t brought up on it, so I was interested and looked forward to him making it for us.

Frying rice in a wok
Nasi goreng is often described as Indonesia's twist on fried rice. And like many fried rice recipes in Asia, it can probably trace its origins to Southern China. It isn’t clear though when Indonesians began to adopt the Chinese fried rice and create their own version. 

What is known is that nasi goreng had the same beginnings as other versions: as a safe, delicious way to avoid wasting rice. Nasi goreng is traditionally served at home for breakfast and is made out of leftover rice from the night before. Besides ingredients like shallot, tomato, pepper and chili, the rice is fried with scraps of chicken or beef; usually leftover from a chicken or beef dish. Nasi goreng can also be found made by street vendors, and there are even dehydrated versions you can just add hot water to, like Top Ramen, in Asian supermarkets.

Indonesian fried rice distinguishes itself from its Indian, Chinese and other Asian counterparts mainly by the application of sweet soy sauce. Indonesians also have a preference for stronger and spicier tastes and often include fried shallots and fried onions for a crispier texture.
Ingredients for nasi goreng usually include the following: pre-cooked rice (fresh rice is too sticky), sweet soy sauce, salt, garlic, shallots, chili pepper, spring onions, nutmeg, turmeric, vegetable oil, onions, palm sugar, ginger, garlic paste. Some recipes may add black pepper, shrimp paste, fish sauce, or powdered broth for seasoning and as a taste enhancer. Eggs might be mixed into the fried rice or fried separately. Many recipes I looked up liked the addition of a fried egg on top.
But I like the idea of adding more vegetables. I think it’s too starchy without them.
So how was it, you ask? It was delicious!
I love the idea of taking just one pot (a wok is preferred) and adding all the ingredients to it in stages. Pretty soon you have a great-smelling dish to dive into and all you messed up is one pot. It’s a great way to use leftover meat, vegetables and rice. You can easily take it to work the next day for lunch or eat it as leftovers for dinner. And it’s a simple way to cook for a crowd.
Here’s what the Australian added to his:
Vegetable oil (I would use coconut oil because of the high heat cooking)
Onion, thinly sliced
Peas (we used frozen)
Corn kernels (we used frozen)
A few garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 – 3 eggs, beaten
Bok choy
1 packet Nasi Goreng Spice Mix, or a blend of all or as many of the following spices: salt, ground coriander, curry powder, cumin, white pepper, chili powder, freshly grated or ground ginger, soy sauce, fish sauce (optional)
Chicken, shredded from a previously roasted chicken
Long grain rice, previously cooked and allowed to cool completely

I’m not going to list quantities because it seems unnecessary. Add however much you want of one thing, leave out or add other things. The jist I got from all the versions of recipes I read was to simply be creative and use what you’ve got.

Heat oil in wok or other sauté pan. Add onion and sauté until translucent (about 5-10 minutes).  Add frozen vegetables and garlic. Saute for a few minutes until thawed, bring pan up again to high heat (the frozen veggies will have cooled the pan down), make a well in the center and add your egg, stirring around with a fork. Add zucchini and boy choy, then your seasonings and cook about 10 minutes more. Finally add your cooked chicken and rice until just warmed through. The entire process should take you about 30-35 minutes.

Next time we have it, which I think will be this weekend, I’ll make the following changes: leave out the corn and add some shredded Chinese cabbage for more greens, include some thinly sliced red bell pepper, and a few red pepper flakes for a little heat (or maybe I’ll finally be brave and try those little Thai red chilies I’ve seen at the Asian farmer’s market stall), and do a combination of chicken and shrimp. If you’ve wanted to try an Asian vegetable and haven’t known what to do with it, this would be a good way to try it: add it to your nasi goreng.

If you have any versions of fried rice that you make that you’d like to share, please do!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Soaking and sprouting for better health

I’ve been very interested in recent months in evolutionary diets: what people ate before industrialized food production. It seems early man was healthier than he is now, despite technological advances in the fields of medicine and health. I was curious to find out why.

According to a website I recently discovered, “We know that modern diseases like diabetes, obesity, cancer, autoimmunity and heart disease were rare or even nonexistent in hunter-gatherer societies and are still rare in the few groups around the world that have been lucky enough to preserve their traditional diet and lifestyle. We know what when modern foods like wheat flour, industrial seed oils and sugar are introduced in these populations, the incidence of modern diseases goes up commensurately. And even more telling, when these groups return to their traditional ways, the modern diseases disappear again. This suggests that it wasn’t some genetic vulnerability that caused them to develop modern diseases with the introduction of modern foods. I find this correlation immensely interesting and I would think that anyone else who is interested in health would do so as well.”

I am also very interested in optimal digestion, and read a lot to glean what I can about how to better mine (you’ll find these sources at the end of this post). Many nutritionists and food scientists believe that good health stems from our digestive system, and that any problems we end up with can be directly linked to poor digestion.

Conventional wisdom today tells us we should minimize our meat consumption, and instead we’re told to eat more whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes for fiber and protein. While I think that’s a good idea, especially if you’re not buying organic poultry, grass-fed beef, or wild seafood on a regular basis, apparently it’s not entirely good advice.

It seems there is this thing called phytic acid.

Apparently, phytic acid in grains, nuts, seeds and beans represents a serious problem in our diets. According to the Weston A. Price Foundation this problem exists “because we have lost touch with our ancestral heritage of food preparation. Instead we listen to food gurus and so-called experts who promote the consumption of raw and unprocessed “whole foods” or we eat a lot of high-phytate foods like commercial whole wheat breads and all-bran breakfast cereals.” While raw may be great when it comes to fruits and vegetables, “raw is definitely not Nature’s way for grains, nuts, seeds and beans.”

Their website says it best. “Phytic acid is the principal storage form of phosphorus in many plant tissues, especially the bran portion of grains and other seeds. It contains the mineral phosphorus tightly bound in a snowflake-like molecule. In humans and animals with one stomach, the phosphorus is not readily bioavailable. In addition to blocking phosphorus availability, the “arms” of the phytic acid molecule readily bind with other minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, making them unavailable as well. In this form, the compound is referred to as phytate.

Phytic acid not only grabs on to or chelates important minerals, but also inhibits enzymes that we need to digest our food, including pepsin, needed for the breakdown of proteins in the stomach, and amylase,needed for the breakdown of starch into sugar. Trypsin, needed for protein digestion in the small intestine, is also inhibited by phytates.

Over the long term, when the diet lacks minerals or contains high levels of phytates or both, the metabolism goes down, and the body goes into mineral-starvation mode. The body then sets itself up to use as little of these minerals as possible.

Cooking is not enough to reduce phytic acid*—acid soaking before cooking is needed to activate phytase and let it do its work. For example, the elimination of phytic acid in quinoa requires fermenting or germinating plus cooking. In general, a combination of acidic soaking for considerable time and then cooking will reduce a significant portion of phytate in grains and legumes."

*By acid, what’s usually recommended is whey, which, if dairy is tolerated, is ideal. For those who are milk intolerant, vinegar or lemon juice evidently works.

Germination increases the enzyme activity of the food by as much as 6 times. This is due to the proteolytic release of the enzymes by inactivation of the enzyme inhibitors found in all seeds. Soaking the seeds allows proteases within to neutralize the inhibitor and release the enzyme from bondage, making it better for our digestion and health. We are simply absorbing more of its nutrients.

What’s interesting is that we’ve gone completely away from all this soaking, fermenting and germinating. Who does this anymore? From a historical perspective, what’s really interesting is that ancient people all around the world knew that grains, nuts and seeds required additional handling to be better digested, despite living in “primitive” times. For example, the Indians of California consumed acorn meal after a long period of soaking and rinsing, then pounding and cooking. Nuts and seeds in Central America were prepared by salt water soaking and dehydration in the sun, after which they were ground and cooked.

An interesting book to read is “Nourishing Traditions” by Sally Fallon. The beginning is chock full of information on the benefits of eating more like our forefathers with a breakdown on each of the micronutrients (proteins, fats and carbs) and how these fit or don’t fit into a healthy diet. The rest is a cookbook of recipes from around the world that support her beliefs.

I’ve got a batch of sunflower seeds soaking right now. You can get instant gratification from sunflower seeds - they take the least amount of soaking of all the seeds and nuts.

What you’ll need: a tall mason jar covered with a piece of cheesecloth and a rubber band to keep seeds in but allow air to circulate. Or you can buy a sprouting jar from the health food store that has a mesh screen inside a screw top lid that fits on a mason jar. Soak the seeds in filtered water overnight. In the morning, tip jar on a 45 degree angle for a few minutes to drain, rinse as directed below.

Directions for sprouting:
Beans (e.g. kidney, lima, black) – Rinse beans 3-4 times per day. Sprouts are ready in about 3 days when sprout is ¼” long. Beans should then be cooked but will cook in much less time than beans that have been merely soaked.

Lentils – Rinse 3 times/day. Takes 2-3 days to sprout. Steam or cook lightly.

Almonds – Rinse 3 times/day. Sprouts are ready in 3 days. Sprout is just a little white appendage, 1/8” long.

Sunflower Seeds – Rinse twice a day. Ready in 12-18 hours when sprout is just barely showing. Eat right away or they turn black. Great in salads.

Chia, onion, cress or radish seeds – Rinse several times a day. Takes 3-4 days. Sprouts will be about 1-2” long.

Not recommended – alfalfa sprouts. Why? Read the book.

The book also explains how to prepare grains. Nuts like walnuts and pecans that have been removed from their shells can’t be sprouted, with the exception of almonds, but an overnight soak in warm, salted filtered water will neutralize sprout inhibitors.

For an in-depth look at what the Weston A. Price Foundation says about phytic acid, you can read the entire article here as well as find more information on phytic acid at these sites I visit regularly:
Dr. Joseph Mercola

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A stew to start a new year

Stews are wonderfully warming on a cold winter’s evening, aren’t they? Nothing soothes better when coming in from the cold than a steaming bowl of goodness. Be they vegetarian or not, stews are hearty and satisfying. 

They're easy to make and they don’t usually dirty up a lot of pots and pans. Ideally a slow cooker or Dutch oven are best suited for stews, depending on how much time you have to devote to overseeing the cooking process. For optimal flavor, braising meats on the stove top will provide much more flavor than simply putting them in a slow cooker. The carmelization of the meat is what provides the key to maximum flavor. But you can also sear/brown meats on the stove top first and then place them in a slow cooker to finish cooking, alongside vegetables, which will help with flavor tremendously. For vegetarian stews, you can usually overlook this step and go straight to the slow cooker.

However, this vegetarian stew calls for sautéing spices and garlic together on the stove top before everything goes into the slow cooker. This activates and releases the flavors of the spices.

It’s a delicious stew. I made it while back and recently came across the recipe again. I think I will make it this weekend. 

It’s perfect for getting more vegetables in to our diet, now that the holidays are over and it’s time to refocus. (Because chocolate is not a vegetable. I guess it could be considered a legume, right? But I digress).

Here it is. 

Moroccan Vegetable Stew

2 tsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. cayenne
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
5 cups vegetable or chicken broth
4 carrots, peeled and cut into ½ inch lengths
2 ½ cups diced peeled eggplant
2 ½ cups sliced zucchini
2 cups cauliflower florets
1 cup diced onion
28 oz. can stewed tomatoes
15 oz. can garbanzos, drained and rinsed
¾ cup dried currants (or raisins)
1 cup chopped toasted almonds
½ Tbsp. kosher salt


Pour oil into a small frying pan over medium low heat. Add garlic and spices and cook, stirring often until fragrant (1-2 minutes), being careful not to scorch the garlic. Scrape mixture into slow cooker (at least 5 qt.). Add everything else (including juices from canned tomatoes) and stir to combine. Cover slow cooker and cook on high until vegetables are tender to bite and flavors are well blended, 8 to 9 hours.
Serve as is, or ladle about 3 cups of the vegetable mixture into a blender and whirl until smooth (make sure to hold down lid with a towel and take care to avoid steam). Return puree to slow cooker and stir to blend.

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