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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Detox Salad

"58 days until Memorial Day Weekend!" screamed my spin instructor on Saturday morning; barking orders for a 360 degree left turn on the flywheel (no) while maintaining current RPMs (I'll think about it.) While beach weather is still a really long time away—evidenced by the fact I am still wearing my winter puffer with the regularity of a Catholic school uniform—it did start me thinking of how spring weather begets lighter clothes, which craves lighter spring fare, and Monday is high of 58 which is almost 60, and when do peas come to the farmers market? Anyway, I digress, but this thought process carried me through the end of spin class and I went home and made this Detox Salad and it was delicious.


If you recognize the name, it's because Detox Salad is a regular at the Whole Food Salad Bar. (A station I rarely frequent because I always manage to spend a mind-boggling $17 for a lunchtime salad and I don't. understand. HOW.) Anyway, the salad intrigued me—specifically, the finely chopped texture of raw broccoli and cauliflower, two vegetables I almost exclusively enjoy cooked—and the fact that Angela from Oh She Glows recreated it with contagious enthusiasm and exceptional reviews. This is the type of salad where the ingredients aren't anything crazy, but the combination is just right. Plus, its really nice to take a break from your regular lettuce leaf-based salad every once in a while!

There is something that feels so healthy about eating raw, don't you agree? I'm not a raw foodist by any means, but there's no denying that many raw foods are low in calories, fat, and sodium while high in fiber; giving my insatiable snacking appetite the luxury of eating large quantities of food for minimal cals. (I can go through a giant bag of baby carrots like it's nobody's business, if I do say so myself.)

The texture of this salad is great. It's crunchy and compact; a chopped salad at its finest. The cruciferous vegetables are dotted with crunchy pepitas and sweet dried fruit; made tangy with lots of fresh lemon, natural sweetener, and a dash of cayenne. I bulked up the salad's  protein content by adding quinoa and lots of salty feta, and the result was (r)awesome.

Warning: this recipe makes ALOT! As in if you don't have a huge mixing bowl or the appetite of a yellow lab; you may have to half it. (I admit, I got a little carried away with the food processor...the pulse button is just so much fun.) On the flip side, you'll go through the salad faster than you might think— its very addictive and I found myself eating second and third helpings of each serving.

Detox Salad (adapted from Oh She Glows)
Makes about 12-15 cups

Ingredients:
2 heads broccoli (1 bunch), stems removed
1 head cauliflower, stems removed
2.5 cups shredded carrots
1/2 cup pepitas (or sunflower seeds)
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1/3 cup raisins or currants
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup dried cherries or dried cranberries
6 tbsp fresh lemon juice (about 3 lemons), more to taste
generous dash of cayenne

2-3 tbsp maple syrup or agave nectar
1 cup raw quinoa, cooked according to package directions
3/4 cup crumbled feta
kosher salt (less if using feta), and lots of pepper to taste

Directions:
1. In a food processor*, process the broccoli until fine. Transfer to a very large bowl.
2. Process the cauliflower (no stems) until fine and add to the bowl. Do the same with the carrots and parsley. 
3. Stir in the pepitas, currants/raisins/dried cherries/dried cranberries, and quinoa once it's cooled.
4. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, cayenne, and maple syrup or agave nectar.  Pour into large bowl and mix thoroughly along with a sprinkle of salt & ample pepper.
5. Top with crumbled feta cheese. Serve cold or at room temperature.

*If you don't have a food processor, chop the broccoli, cauliflower, and parsley finely by hand, and shred carrots with a grater. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Butternut Squash & Tahini Spread

Hummus-lovers, are you sitting down? Because I have a recipe that's about to rock your chickpea-centered world upside down.

It's almost comical how much my female demographic loves hummus. Ranking #25 on the "32 things Jewish Girls Can't Resist" Buzzfeed list; showcasing domineering presence on the #birthrightproblems Tumbler, crowned "betchiest snack of the Mediterranean"....shrieking hungry girls and hummus come basically hand in hand. "I GOT A SABRA FLAVOR I'VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE," someone squeals while bounding through the dinner-party door, announcing the most ground-breaking news of the night within the first 5 minutes. (Kidding! Then we sit down to discuss history and politics at length.)

So indeed, people love hummus. Even your gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, vegetarian, juicing friends (no really, it's Blueprint #7) cannot refuse it. The texture is just so smooth, and the dipping options so plentiful, and that rich, earthy, nutty undertone...what is that, chickpeas? Olive oil?

No! It's tahini, the real star of the hummus party; taking center stage in this delightfully, inextricably addictive, Butternut Squash & Tahini Spread. Hold that pretzel thin or celery stick right there, and let me explain.



Tahini is sesame seed paste. It is made by soaking sesame seeds in water, crushing them to separate the bran from the kernels, skimming the kernels off the surface, toasting them (sometimes), and grinding to produce an oily paste. After all these steps, we are left with our beloved ingredient in all its nutrient-filled glory; boasting an exceptional source of copper, manganese, amino acids and omegas; plus high levels of calcium, protein and "good" fats.

Tahini paste itself is extremely concentrated; and a little goes a long way. But I can wholeheartedly say that adding it to any dish—whether that be salad dressing, dips, or spreads—guarantees a distinctive subtle taste that's so habit-forming it's basically an addiction. (I recently made a tahini-based Green Goddess dressing that is certainly appropriately named, because my devotion is so strong it might as well be deity worship.)


But if tahini can have this effect, this butternut squash spread is the Hercules of them all. When the slightly acerbic seed is paired with sweet earthy squash; slow roasted in cinnamon, creamy Greek yogurt, and syrupy sugar; the combination is so spot-on that one bite equals total taste transcendence.

The texture of this spread is out of this world, too. While hummus is inherently creamy, the denser butternut squash contributes a chunkier fluidity, kind of like perfectly smashed mashed potatoes. Because of this, it almost doesn't even need vegetable sticks or pita chips to serve it with—I am definitely guilty of eating at least half the portion straight from the plate with a spoon.

In fact, the consistency of the spread gave me an idea. Recalling a grilled sea bass I'd ordered once that had come served a top a plantain mash, I decided to mimic the dish, swapping plantain mash with my butternut-tahini spread. Instead of serving as an appetizer, I marinated a flaky white fish in balsamic vinegar, sautéed some swiss chard with onions, and distributed the butternut-tahini spread onto the plate, topping with the fish and then greens. Yum!

Butternut Squash & Tahini Spread (from Jerusalem)
Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients:
1 large butternut squash (about 2 1/b lbs), peeled and cut into chunks (7 cups in total)
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cinnamon
5 tbsp light tahini paste
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
2 small cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp mixed black and white sesame seeds (or just white, if you don't have black)
1 1/2 tsp date syrup (can substitute maple syrup, molasses or Agave nectar)
2 tbsp chopped cilantro (optional)
Salt

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Spread the squash out in a medium roasting pan. Pour over the olive oil and sprinkle with cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Mix together, cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil, and roast in the oven for 70* minutes, stirring once during cooking. Remove from oven and let cool.
3. Transfer the squash to a food processor, along with tahini, yogurt and garlic. Roughly pulse so that everything is combined into a coarse paste, without the spread becoming smooth. (You can also do this by hand using a fork or with an immersion blender.)
4. Spread the butternut squash in a wavy pattern over a flat plate and sprinkle with the sesame seeds, drizzle the syrup, and finish with cilantro (if using.)

*My squash cooked in about 45-50 minutes. Once you hit this mark, keep a close eye on your squash as it might be finished sooner.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Fudgy Vegan Beet Cupcakes

Oh these Fudgy Vegan Beet Cupcakes are so beet-autiful. I was thrilled to see another vegetable join the dessert realm next to the avocado and pumpkin; but kept my excitement in check because the thought of a vegetable-centric cupcake sans butter and eggs that was actually tasty seemed to good to be true. But now that I've made them, and they are delicious, I can rejoice without abandon. These cupcakes are chocolate, fudgy, rich, moist, and delicious. They rival any other chocolate cupcake and they are not even bad for you!! Make them. I insist.








This recipe is about as easy as a cupcake recipe comes; it requires just one bowl and less than a dozen ingredients (most of which you likely already have in your pantry.) While I cannot deny the superiority of a fresh oven-roasted beet, here, vaccum-sealed cooked beets offer a great alternative and save lots of time and mess.

The cupcake batter tasted like chocolate pudding and I could've eaten the whole thing straight out of the bowl. Seriously, it's not like there were any raw eggs in there to stop me! The silky, creamy vanilla almond milk blends blissfully with the raw cocoa; and the beets add a juicy sweetness that upon baking yield a rich, fudgy cupcake light as a feather.




Dana of the Minimalist Baker (where this wonderful recipe hails from) swears you don't even need frosting because the cupcake is so hearty and delightful on its own. Instead, she serves with a smattering of fresh cocoa powder on top. While I do agree that frosting here is not essential (especially if you're keeping the healthy factor in mind,) I couldn't resist trying a few with a homemade vegan buttercream to really contrast the chocolate and vanilla. I wanted to add some beet juice to the buttercream frosting to make it pink and further celebrate my newly discovered union of beets and chocolate (to the beet of my heart! ok I'll stop) but I spilled my reserve beet juice all over the counter. So although these cupcakes are only black and white, you will have to take my word that I do truly love them.

One final note: I made both the cupcakes and frosting using an immersion blender; so if you don't own a proper egg beater do not worry! However, if it is a light and fluffy frosting you seek, I do recommend utilizing an electric mixer. Although delicious, my frosting was droopy and not as aesthetically pleasing as it could've been.

Fudgy Vegan Beet Cupcakes (from the Minimalist Baker)
Makes 10 cupcakes

Ingredients:

2 medium beets or 1 package steamed & sealed beets (available at Trader Joe's and Fairway)
1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1 tsp white or apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup raw turbinado OR granulated sugar
1/4 cup canola or melted coconut oil
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup + 1 heaping Tbsp whole wheat pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
scant 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder + more for topping
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt

Directions:
1. If cooking beets: preheat oven to 375°F, remove the stem and most of the root from your beets, and scrub and wash them underwater until clean. Wrap beets in foil, drizzle on a bit of canola oil, wrap tightly, and roast for one hour or until a knife inserted falls out without resistance. They should be tender. Set in the fridge (in a bowl to catch juice) to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, either finely grate or puree beets in a blender (adding orange juice or water to encourage mixing). Measure out 1/2 cup and set aside. (If not cooking, just puree straight from the package.)
2. Line a muffin pan with paper liners.
3. Whisk together the almond milk and vinegar in a large bowl, and set aside for a few minutes to curdle. Add the sugar, oil, vanilla extract, and 1/2 cup beets and beat until foamy.
4. Add the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt to a sifter and slowly sift it into the wet ingredients while mixing with a hand-held or standing mixer. Beat until no large lumps remain.
5. Pour batter into liners, filling 3/4 of the way full. Bake 22 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely. Do not try and unwrap them or they’ll stick to the wrapper.
6. Once cooled, dust with cocoa powder (or vegan vanilla buttercream, recipe below) and store in an airtight container to keep fresh.

Vegan "Buttercream" Frosting
Makes 2 cups

Ingredients:
1/2 cup Earth Balance (buttery stick or spread), room temperature
3 cups confectioners sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp vanilla almond milk (plus more to achieve your desired consistency)

Directions:
1. In a mixing bowl, beat Earth Balance with an electric mixer. Add in the milk and vanilla (and enough beet juice to make frosting pink if desired.)
2. Gradually add in confectioners sugar, starting with 1 cup and mixing slowly until fully combined. 3. Beat for about 5-10 minutes until nice and fluffy, or with a handheld mixer for at least 4-5 minutes.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Classic Moroccan Chicken and Vegetable Couscous

Every once in a while I stumble across a dish that delivers restaurant-style presentation with relatively easy prep; robust flavors with healthful ingredients; and a pricey air despite not even coming close  to breaking the bank. This Classic Moroccan Chicken and Vegetable Couscous is totally that kind of recipe. It is—as Jimmy Kimmel so carefully recounts after each Bachelor episode—amamaaazzzzzzzing.


I would also like to take this opportunity to profess my love for Moroccan food. What an understated cuisine! Teaming with lush spices, hearty meats, plentiful vegetables, and generous use of dried fruit; Moroccan food embodies everything I love when it comes to cooking. Although salads, mezze, grills, and bastillas are all commonplace Moroccan dishes, this particular one is modeled after tagine— a signature slow-cooked stew named after the clay pot it is traditionally cooked in. Tagines traditionally simmer for hours, but this one only needs about 30 minutes to boast the same hearty, plentiful flavors.

Hearty stews are particular nice for the long winter months, when sometimes it seems like a warm bowl of broth and anything else is the only thing to help endure one more cold yucky day. I know the ingredient list is long, but I promise its a lot of quick, imprecise chopping and can-dumping. The prep is really super easy!

The wafting smells from the kitchen will draw you in immediately, a serendipitous mix of savory and sweet. The former stems from your root vegetables, fragrant garlic and onion, cumin, cayenne, turmeric, and chicken, while the latter is derived from sweet cinnamon, golden raisins, and dried plums. Even though the taste alone is enough to"wow", just wait for the presentation: ladled gently in a circle around a mound of fresh couscous with a dollop of Harissa—spicy Moroccan red chili pepper paste—as the final touch. Did I really make this? I thought to myself incredulously, staring at my brimming, colorful bowl but waiting to snap out of a dream and find myself actually sitting at Cafe Mogador. But it was me!—a second (or third) helping confirmed—and it tasted even better the next day.


Classic Moroccan Chicken and Vegetable Couscous (adapted from The AMA Family Health Cookbook)
Makes 8 servings

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 3/4 lbs boneless chicken thighs or breasts, cut in rough 2-inch cubes (I used both)
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus additional to taste, plus 1 1/2 teaspoons
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon curry powder
3/4 teaspoon turmeric
6 cups defatted lower-sodium chicken broth
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
1 lb (about 8) slender carrots, peeled and cut in 2-inch lengths
3/4 lb white turnips or parsnips, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
1 can (16 oz) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes
1 slender zucchini, cut into 1-inch slices
1 1/2 cups pitted prunes
3/4 cup golden raisins
3 cups raw whole-wheat couscous
1/3 cup Harissa (I used Mina brand, spicy red, from Whole Foods)

Directions:
1. Heat the oil in a very large nonstick skillet. Season the chicken with 3/4 teaspoon salt and cayenne and cook over medium heat until lightly browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Remove to a plate, leaving drippings in the pan.
2. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to soften, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, curry powder, and turmeric and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add broth, cinnamon sticks, carrots and turnips or parsnips. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and cook, covered, for 10 minutes.
3. Add chickpeas, diced tomatoes (drained), zucchini, prunes, and raisins. Return the chicken to the stew and simmer uncovered over medium heat until the vegetables are tender and chicken is no longer pink in center, about 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning; add more salt if necessary.
4. For the couscous, bring 4 1/2 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and stir in the uncooked couscous. Remove from the heat, cover, and let stand until the couscous is tender and the liquid is absorbed, 5 to 6 minutes.
5. Mound the cooked couscous in the center of wide, shallow soup bowls. Spoon the chicken and vegetables around the outside of the couscous and ladle the broth over them. Serve with a dollop of Harissa in the center.


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Buffalo Wings, 3 Ways

Buffalo Wings, 3 Ways is what happens when an overzealous cook last minute decided to make chicken wings for the Superbowl and in a frantic moment of indecisiveness makes not one, not two, but three kinds. I apologize that this post comes post-game day, but think of it this way: now you have next years recipe(s) 360 days early!
All of these recipes are excellent. Who knew Frank's hot sauce (and a secret ingredient, which I'll get to later) could produce such, well, awesomesauce! These wings are so sticky spicy tangy tasty that I might even start watching more sports just for an excuse to make them! Not really. But I could.

So, what's the difference between the recipes? Well, let me clarify that they are not all technically wings. In descending order of healthy (but the last one is still a much improved version to your regular fried, butter-batter wings), I'll go through each and every bouyant, melt in your mouth buffalo bite.

First up is Buffalo Cauliflower. Hold that skepticsm my friend: believe me, you will not realize these are vegetarian (and vegan and gluten-free, if desired) until you've popped at least 5 in your mouth. This recipe is a wonderful way to include vegetarians on this chicken domineered game food scene. Battered in a countryesque flour/cornmeal mix peppered with zesty spices, this coating gives the bites a substantive crunch—where they are then doused in buffalo sauce to deliver the perfect poppable punch of hot pepper. Because the flavor of hot sauce is so overpowering, the taste is really identical to buffalo wings.

Next up: Buffalo Honey Chicken Skewers. Replacing dark, fatty wing meat with lean white breast meat, these tender, well, tenders are melt in your mouth succulent and juicy; sweetened with ample honey for a twist on the regular. These little guys are super easy and quick to prepare, and while the skewers are optional, they definitely rid the possibility of sticky finger licking.

Last but not least (and most true to this post's name) is your traditional Crispy Baked Buffalo Chicken Wings. For those unwilling to budge on a the beloved classic, these guys are way healthier than the regular preparation: baked instead of fried, and substituting butter with...drumroll for my secret ingredient...almond milk! Yup, a key ingredient to each one of these "wings", almond milk delivers a fabulous healthy substitute for butter: same creamy, milky nuance; sans the bad fats.

Note: Since all these recipes really "healthy-up" the classic buffalo wing, make sure to serve each recipe with ample carrot and celery sticks. On the side, choose a blue cheese dip of your liking.


Buffalo Cauliflower Bites (adapted from Nutriton Stripped)

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 3 cups raw cauliflower, cut into small bite sized pieces
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk + 1 additional tablespoon
  • 1/4-1/2 cup water (more to create a thinner coating)
  • 1/2 cup red hot sauce, preferably Frank’s
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (can be GF)
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal 
  • 1 tablespoon butter (grass-fed or vegan)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
  • dash of cayenne pepper
  • ground black pepper and sea salt

Instructions:
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper and coat with olive oil spritzer or 2-3 tbsp olive oil.
  1. Assemble buffalo sauce: combine 1 tablespoon almond milk, hot sauce, and apple cider vinegar in a small bowl. Set aside.
  1. Assemble batter: mix flour, cornmeal, 1/4 cup almond milk, water, spices, and dash of salt and pepper into a small bowl.
  1. Dip each cauliflower floret into the batter, adding more water if you prefer a thinner batter. Lay coated florets on baking sheet in an even layer.
  1. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Then, pour buffalo sauce mixture over the bites, stirring so each cauliflower floret is coated in the sauce.
  1. Bake for another 10-15 minutes. Serve with carrot and celery sticks, and blue cheese dip of your liking.



Buffalo Honey Chicken Dippers (adapted from Epicurious)
Serves 6

Ingredients:
12 wooden skewers (optional, can serve as finger food too)
2 tablespoons olive oil or single layer of olive oil mist
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon unsweetened almond milk
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup Frank's hot sauce, divided
1 pound chicken tenders, cut into strips
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional; use to make extra spicy)

Directions:
1. If using skewers, soak skewers in water 15 minutes. Heat broiler; coat a broiler pan (or baking pan with foil) with 2 tablespoons olive oil or olive oil mist. In a bowl, stir cornstarch into 1 tablespoon hot sauce until smooth; stir in remaining hot sauce, almond milk, vinegar, honey, cayenne (optional), and dash of salt and pepper. Add chicken; toss to coat. 
2. Thread chicken lengthwise on skewers; reserve remaining hot sauce mixture.  Place chicken in pan so skewers hang off edge; cover exposed sticks with aluminum foil. (If not using skewers, place directly onto broiler pan or foil.) Broil for 4 minutes. Turn chicken; brush generously with remaining sauce. Broil until chicken is cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes.  Serve  with vegetable sticks and blue cheese dipping sauce.

Crispy Baked Buffalo Chicken Wings (adapted from Epicurious)
Makes about 30 wings

Ingredients:

For buffalo sauce:
2 tablespoons unsweetened almond milk
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup Frank's hot pepper sauce
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Wings:
3 pounds chicken wings, tips removed, drumettes and flats separated
2 tablespoons olive oil oil
pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:
1. Make buffalo sauce by mixing together all six ingredients in a small bowl, set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a large rimmed baking sheets with foil. Mix together wings, olive oil, and salt and pepper; spread out in a single layer on baking sheet.
3. Bake wings for 30 minutes.
4. Remove wings, brush each side generously with buffalo sauce (reserve the leftover), and increase temperature to 450°F. Bake for 15 minutes more, until cooked through and skin is crispy. 
5. Toss finished wings in remaining buffalo sauce. Serve immediately. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Polar Vortex Soup

This Polar Vortex Soup is my response to the infinite stretch of arctic weather we've been having in New York. At first it was kind of fun; an excuse to cozy up with a big glass of wine as the snow fell in the background; an opportunity to spend a guiltless day baking in the kitchen without getting  out of pajamas. But after 3+ weeks of bone-chilling numb, enough is enough. I have a cold, and I am cold. I would like to stop wondering if people can tell that I'm wearing long underwear under my jeans, and if they think I'm a criminal beneath my ominous black neck-warmer.


Last night, when my real-feel Accuweather app told me that while it was really 9 degrees it felt like -1, I stopped at Foragers' Market to pick up dinner. Blowing my nose with my second tissue packet of the day, I asked what kind of soups they had.
"Chicken kale," said the guy behind the counter.
"Chicken or kale?" I asked, mishearing.
"No, just one—chicken kale."
"Whats in it?"
"Chicken and kale."

I got it.  And while I initially thought his curt response was just attitude, he was absolutely right: the soup, aside from some carrots, onions, parsnips, and garlic, was basically just chicken and kale. But it was perfect. Fragrant chicken broth laced with shreds of juicy chicken warmed body heart and soul, while the kale delivered substantive nutrition that made me feel like I was arming my body with the proper vitamins and nutrients it needed to fight my cold. And so was today's recipe, a perfect harmony of chicken noodle soup nostalgia and nutrient-packed winter veggies, born.

This recipe is super malleable; broths, vegetables, proteins, spices, and herbs can all be tweaked or swapped to your liking. I do think though that the key to a real homestyle soup is the chicken; a shredded rotisserie cannot be beat.  I used chicken breast because I had it on hand, but next time will probably go whole-bird.

Fingers crossed, the sub freezing temperatures are supposed to break this weekend. But who knows what next week may bring!

Polar Vortex Soup
Serves 4

Ingredients:
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 leek, white parts only (optional)
Root vegetables galore (carrots, parsnips, turnips; the more the merrier! I used 2 carrots and 2 parsnips)
2 cups cubed squash, butternut or acorn
1 big bunch of dark leafy greens, chopped (kale, collared greens, spinach, swiss chard, bok choy)
1/3 cup whole grain such as brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, barley, or pearl couscous
32 oz low-sodium chicken broth
3-4 large pieces of chicken, shredded and off the bone (breasts, thighs, legs, drumsticks, or a combination)
pinch of thyme and nutmeg (optional; oregano and hot red pepper flakes may also be used)
Parsley for garnish (optional)
juice of 1/2 lemon, or 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
salt & pepper

Directions:
1. In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, cook for 2 minutes. Add leek, chopped root vegetables, and garlic; cook for 5 more minutes, stir every few minutes. Sprinkle with pinch of thyme and nutmeg, and ample salt and pepper.
2. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Once a boil is reached, add grains. Cook until grains have 10 minutes left until al dente, and then add squash, leafy greens, and chicken. (So rice will cook for about 25 minutes before adding next ingredients, while pasta will just be cooked with rest of ingredients because of shorter cook time.) If not using pre-cooked chicken, cube and let the raw meat cook in the broth (about 5 minutes.)
3. When all ingredients are cooked through, add more salt and pepper; adjust seasonings to taste. Sprinkle pot with parsley and lemon or red wine vinegar, stir.

Serve piping hot—with, in my case, a heaping pile of clean tissues alongside the bowl.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Valencian Seafood Paella

"Wait a second," you're thinking. "Valencia? Didn't you just come back from Argentina? Why are we now in Spain?"
Yes, I most certainly did. During my time in Argentina I ate like a queen, unapologetically consuming copious quantities of steak, Malbec, manchego, gelato, and dulce de leche. But I realized that the uniqueness of these delicacies lies in the superior quality inherent to their home turf, making them quite difficult to recreate in the states. Argentina beef is delicious because it comes from grass-fed, free-grazing cattle in the country's northwest plains and pastures.  Mendoza vineyards create fragrant, local wines. Instead of strong recipes, Argentina boasts strong ingredients, served simply and plainly to best highlight their exquisite quality. And since I was not able to pack that bife de chorizo and sinfully delicious manchego-fontina fondue in my suitcase, I'll have to leave my delightful Porteño culinary experience (but not the 5 pounds that came with it, unfortunately) back in South America.
Cuisine-wise  though, I will stay in the Spanish-speaking world.  So across the globe to Spain we go, where this Valencian Seafood Paella gives me an opportunity to gush about my new favorite ingredient: saffron.


Up until now, I've been faking saffron yellow rice with turmeric. Same color, tasty spice, healthy benefits—good enough! But I recently was lucky enough to obtain two packages of the highly urbane (and costly) saffron spice, whose feather-delicate threads belie the flavor-packed punch they deliver. A meer pinch of the fire-colored spice is all you need to transform any dish into a regal, sophisticated masterpiece. Apparently, Ancient Romans used to perfume their baths with saffron, and Europeans who were caught adulterating saffron in the 1400s were burned at the stake. Now, I wouldn't go that far to get the ambrosial, honey-nuanced spice, but you get the gist.

Obviously, paella was the first dish that popped into my head to make with my new ingredient! A recipe search quickly debunked two previously existing myths of mine, and I was excited to learn that first, paella is not complicated to make at all, and second, it can easily be adapted into a light dish. (I often find restaurant versions way to rich for my liking.) Minimize the oil, choose a brown rice, amp up the vegetables, and pick seafood for a protein—and you have yourself a wholesome, healthy meal. Speaking of: check out this recent Chicago Tribune article highlighting the benefits of whole grain rice's phytonutrient oryzanol, boasting cholesterol-lowering, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic and anti-oxidant properties to name a few.

Valencian Seafood Paella
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 dried bay leaf
2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped (or 1 15oz can diced tomatoes, drained)
4 canned artichoke hearts, quartered
3 roasted red peppers, cut into thin strips
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
dash of cayenne pepper (optional; for heat)
A generous pinch of saffron threads (about 30 threads or a scant ½ tsp)
2 cups whole grain rice (traditionally short-grain rice such as Arborio or Valencia is used, but Basmati, Jasmine, and Brown can be substituted)
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth, plus more if needed
1 cup dry white wine (plus 1/2 cup; see note below)
16 jumbo shrimp in their shells
16 mussels, scrubbed and debearded
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
1. Crush saffron threads and place in a small bowl with ¼ cup hot water. Let sit for 15 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large, shallow skillet over medium heat. Cook onions until they start to soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, cooking for one additional minute, and paprika, bay leaf, and tomatoes; cooking for 2-3 minutes more.
3. Add rice, stirring well until all the grains are coated. Pour in saffron mixture and broth, chicken broth, wine, and a generous sprinkle of salt; bring to a boil. Add artichokes, peas, and peppers.
4. Reduce heat to low and cook the rice, without stirring, for 10 minutes, rotating the pan to ensure that the rice cooks evenly. (If at any point the rice seems too dry or you hear crackly frying noises before it’s done, add more broth.) 
5. After 10 minutes, add the shrimp, and turn when they become pink on the first side. Nestle in mussels hinge-side down*, and cook until mussels have opened and rice has absorbed the liquid (al dente), 5-10 minutes more. Discard any mussels that remain closed.
6. Remove pan from heat, cover with aluminum foil, and let sit for 5 minutes until serving.

*Only cook the mussels with the rice if you have ample room for them to open when the lid of the pot is on. Between the cooked rice and shrimp, I didn't have room, so I cooked them separately. To do this, place mussels in a large pot with 1/2 cup wine and salt & pepper. Cover pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a steady bubble (you'll hear it and see some steam escaping.) Cook, undisturbed, for 5 minutes. If most mussels shells are still closed, cover again and cook for a few more minutes. Discard any mussels that remain closed, and add to paella pot when the shrimp is finished.