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A Springtime Quiche, Gluten Free

by | Apr 26, 2010
Springtime Quiche Recipe

Springtime Quiche

Today I’m excited to have one of my favorite scientists and healthy eating bloggers, Jenn Cuisine, sharing her story. Jenn is an amazing cook who has learned gluten free cooking because of her husband’s gluten intolerance.

I find Jenn particularly inspiring because despite her culinary restrictions, deliciousness is always her top priority. She cooks amazing, healthy food and takes beautiful photos. In fact, it was months before I even realized her recipes were gluten free.

Jenn Cuisine is perfect for anyone interested in delicious, healthy recipes. Follow her on Twitter @jenncuisine

A Springtime Quiche, Gluten Free

by Jenn

Hello! And thanks so much to Darya for inviting me to talk with you all. I have always been a big fan of Summer Tomato, the vast wealth of information that Darya provides about health and tasty food is just simply amazing!

The month of May, Celiac Disease Awareness month, is quickly approaching, and so I thought it would be the perfect time to talk about my family’s gluten free experience and how we get on in the kitchen.

My husband is not technically celiac, but is very intolerant to gluten and has many similar symptoms as celiac disease. Never having had any problems with gluten myself, I panicked a little bit when I found out. I learned about his condition soon after we started dating, and was completely overwhelmed at the thought of making gluten free food.

“No bread? No pasta?  No flour? OMG what in the world am I going to make for him??” This put a serious wrench in my plans to win over his heart with some fabulous home-baked goods, like my dad’s famous peach pie.

I was utterly clueless about how to prepare gluten free food, and my husband didn’t have a good handle on how to eat GF back then either. He was constantly miserable and reacting to everything, and just didn’t have the kitchen know-how to consistently create tasteful gluten free meals. Gluten free became a learning experience for the both of us. And together, by learning how to cook all over again, we fell in love.

At first, I felt that making gluten free food shouldn’t be a big deal. I wanted our lives to continue as if being gluten free were a mere afterthought–but I quickly realized this is not how this works. GF is a permanent and ever present part of his life, which needed to be acknowledged. Some foods are challenging and others are simple, but no matter what we will be gluten free. This is not some fad diet for us, this is a part of who my husband is, and therefore, who I am.

We started out simple and slow, at first relying on a number of packaged foods. However, these products really weren’t fulfilling taste-wise and were quite pricey for our grad-student budgets. Thus began my venture off into the world of gluten free cooking from scratch, learning about various alternative flours, binders and ratios.  I even managed to successfully make my dad’s peach pie.

As time went on, cooking transformed from something I used to stress over into part of our daily lives that we both can now proudly embrace. Gluten free cooking is not a handicap. If anything, GF has been liberating, because I have grown to appreciate so much about food, flavor, creativity and love.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that GF cooking doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, most of what we cook on a daily basis needs no alterations, no substitutions. I find it’s best this way. After all, food shouldn’t be a fuss–that takes the fun out of it. Cooking should be relaxing, a time for sharing, and a time to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. We learn from each other this way, and bond over soups bubbling on the stove, chicken roasting in the oven, or pastries being rolled out.

These are the little joys that food and cooking can bring us, little ephemeral moments of bliss, which are not limited to only glutenicious dishes. Through learning how to create food gluten free, I’ve learned to enjoy cooking all over again.

There are so many tips and tricks I have learned along the way–to remove the stress and panic that can so easily overwhelm the newly GF. If you are just starting out in the realm of gluten free food, here are some helpful little bits of advice:

1. Explore!

Be adventurous and try those grains you’ve never seen before. Quinoa, amaranth, millet. Each has a new, different flavor and often contains more nutrients than plain old white rice flour.

2. Find a recipe for a GF mix that you love?

Mix a bunch of the dry ingredients together ahead of time and store the entire mix in one container. This way you aren’t always grabbing a thousand ingredients at once, making baking just as easy as if you had plain old wheat flour in your pantry.

3. Embrace the flourless

Roasts, salads, soups, stir fries, risottos, curries. All of these things are very easy to cook without any substitutions. Many dishes are decadent without ever needing flour, from a simple tapioca pudding to a sophisticated chocolate soufflé.

4. Look to Indian and Southeast Asian cuisines

Several foods from these cultures are naturally gluten free, involve lots of great fresh legumes and produce, and pop with flavor–you may find some great gluten free ingredients at ethnic food markets as well.

5. Practice

Don’t be afraid to mess up! You may not find the perfect whole grain gluten free bread recipe on the first try, but don’t give up. With all things, practice and patience will yield great results.

Today I am sharing with you one of my favorite gluten free dishes to make, a quiche. Pie crusts and the like are great for adapting to be gluten free. They need none of the elasticity or network of air pockets that gluten develops in a bread dough. You can make a decent pie crust with just about any gluten free flours, as long as you keep around 1/3 of the flour a starch, like the tapioca I’ve used here.

In this recipe I like adding the cream cheese because it makes for a great texture–cream cheese is common in several glutenicious quiche crusts as well. Fillings are also extremely versatile, and baking is generally forgiving. I chose to highlight some of my favorite springtime vegetables–spinach and asparagus–but you can add in whatever you want!

Asparagus, Spinach and Bacon Quiche, Gluten Free

Gluten free quiche

Gluten free quiche

Ingredients:

For the crust:

1/3 cup chickpea flour
1/3 cup brown rice flour
1/3 cup tapioca flour
4 oz. cream cheese
1 stick (4 oz.) butter
salt, pepper, herbs

For the filling:

5 eggs
2 shallots, peeled
2 cups fresh spinach
1 bunch asparagus, chopped
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
4 oz. gruyere, grated
¾ cup milk

Directions:

1. Add all of the ingredients for the crust into a food processor and pulse until it comes together into a ball of dough. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Heat up a frying pan with a little olive oil and sauté minced shallots until softened. Add in fresh spinach and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until wilted.

3. Remove dough from fridge, roll out in between 2 sheets of plastic wrap (gluten free dough tends to be a bit sticky) until ¼” thick. Peel off top sheet of plastic wrap, flip and transfer to a 9” spring form pan. Press into the bottom and sides of the pan, and then peel off the remaining layer of plastic wrap.

4. In a large bowl, beat eggs and then add vegetables, bacon and cheese, and then add in about ½ to ¾ cup milk. Pour into quiche, cover edges of the crust with foil, and bake about 45 minutes (this will be longer if you make a taller thicker quiche as I did here), or until it has set and crust has nicely browned.

5. Let cool about 10 minutes, unclamp spring form pan, slice, and top with some fresh greens to garnish.  Serve and enjoy!

What are your favorite gluten free recipes?

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For The Love of Food

by | Feb 12, 2010
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

The interwebs gave us lots of great healthy food tips this week, from an unexpected benefit of eating (and smelling) real, quality food to peeling a mango like a zen master. There is also a great article on DIY packed lunch tips and some good news about beer.

I read many more wonderful articles than I post here each week. If you’d like to see more or just don’t want to wait until Friday, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@summertomato) or the Summer Tomato Facebook fan page. For complete reading lists join me on the social bookmarking sites StumbleUpon and Delicious. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you there. (Note: If you want a follow back on Twitter introduce yourself with an @ message).

Links of the week

  • Confused about nutrition? Eat food! <<Marion Nestle elaborates on her position regarding single nutrient science and why we’re better off just eating food. (Food Politics)
  • Complex smells make food more filling <<One of the reasons I emphasize real, high-quality foods on this blog is because they are so much more satisfying and contribute profoundly to a better quality of life. A new study suggests that their wonderful smells may be partially responsible. (New Scientist)
  • Another perspective on the sodium wars <<I always love to read Monica Reinagel’s perspective on nutrition trends. Here she elaborates on sodium and high blood pressure. (Nutrition Data)
  • Beer for the Bones? <<That’s right. The silicon present in some beers may contribute to bone health. I wouldn’t start drinking more to prevent osteoporosis, but it’s nice to fantasize right? (HealthDay)
  • The Zen of Peeling a Mango <<It’s mango season, Mangoes are good and healthy, Easy to peel. (Who doesn’t want to start the weekend with a mango haiku?) (ReadyMade)
  • A Butcher’s Tips for Avoiding Cuts in the Kitchen <<Safety first. Playing in the kitchen is fun, but it is easy to hurt yourself. Learn to handle a knife safely from the pros. (Lifehacker)
  • 8 Foods That Will Hide Your Bad Breath <<I haven’t written much about Valentine’s Day this year, but a little good breath could never hurt anyone. (Dumb Little Man)
  • How to cultivate the packed lunch habit & save <<I’m a big fan of lunch, habits and DIY foods. Saving money doesn’t suck either. This article is full of great tips. (Stone Soup)
  • You Know About Insulin. And Now, the REST of the Story . . . <<People LOVE to over-simplify health and nutrition. Insulin gets blamed for a lot, and rightly so, but keep in mind there is a lot more going on than just carbs and insulin spikes. (Diabetic Mediterranean Diet Blog)
  • Farro & Winter Vegetables Recipe <<I love Amy. I love seasonal vegetables. And for some reason I’ve never cooked with farro. Something is wrong with this story and I think this recipe solves it. (Cooking With Amy)

What inspired you to eat well this week?

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Quick Fix: Super Easy Kale With Pecans Recipe

by | Feb 8, 2010
Easy Kale With Pecans Recipe

Easy Kale With Pecans Recipe

It has been forever since I’ve posted a recipe, and I apologize. The thing is, I’ve been really busy. And when I’m busy my meals don’t tend to be super interesting or fancy.

But they are definitely delicious.

Kale has been my favorite instant meal lately. I can usually find three different kinds–curly, Tuscan (aka dinosaur), and red Russian–and they all work with this recipe. You can also substitute chard or any other sturdy greens to mix things up. If you want to make your life even easier look for kale with smaller, young leaves so the stems are tender enough to leave in while cooking.

The key to making a plain green vegetable worthy of an entire meal is adding something with protein or fat (preferably both). Nuts work perfectly, as do any kind of beans or lentils. This recipe calls for pecans, which are wonderful, but I usually use roasted pistachio nuts since they don’t need to be chopped. I was out of pistachios today since I ate so much kale last week (these things happen).

For me this meal is a perfect lunch. Alternatively you can serve it as a side dish and it can serve a few people. If you would like a little more substance serve it with lentils and brown rice or quinoa. I will sometimes have sardines or smoked mackerel or trout on the side.

Super Easy Kale With Pecans Recipe

Serves 1-3 people. 10 minutes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch kale or chard
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans or pistachios
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Sea salt to taste

Start by mincing your garlic, just to make it a tiny bit healthier. Rinse your greens and place them all on a cutting board oriented in the same direction. If the leaves have very thick stems you may want to remove them as explained here. Personally I buy greens that are fresh and tender enough that I rarely bother removing stems.

Pile the greens on top of each other. Starting at the tip of the leaves, cut 1 inch strips until you have cut the entire bunch. If you are using Tuscan or red Russian kale, a lot less chopping is necessary because the leaves are thin and only need be cut in one direction. If your leaves are wide, cut them into 1-2 inch squares. It’s okay if your greens are still wet, the water will help them steam.

Using a pan with tall sides and a lid, add the nuts and turn it on medium heat. Lightly toast the nuts, stirring regularly with tongs. After 2-3 minutes, add olive oil to the pan and allow it to heat up. Add your chopped greens to the pan, sprinkle generously with sea salt and toss with tongs. Cover.

Stir the greens occasionally so they don’t burn, always replacing the lid after stirring. Continue cooking the greens as they wilt and turn dark green. If they start to burn lower the heat, add 1-2 tbsp of water and cover again to steam.

Kale is done cooking when it is dark green and the stems are tender. Unlike spinach, it is very difficult to over-cook kale because it retains its crispness very well.  Before turning off the heat, use tongs to clear a space in the center of the pan and add your minced garlic in a single layer. Allow the garlic to cook until it becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds, then mix it up with the kale and nuts. Add half cup of beans or lentils at this point if desired.

Continue to cook greens uncovered for another minute or two. Taste test a leaf for saltiness and adjust to taste (be careful if you are using chard, it is naturally salty and easy to over-season).

Serve immediately.

Who loves kale as much as I do?

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For The Love of Food

by | Jun 12, 2009
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

We have lots of fantastic articles this week from Lifehacker‘s food week: Eat To Live. Also featured are several healthy shopping guides including ones for fish, seasonal produce and pesticide-free foods.

If you would like to see more of my favorite articles each week or just don’t want to wait until Friday, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@summertomato) or the Summer Tomato Facebook fan page.

Submissions of your own best food and health articles are also welcome, just drop me an email using the contact form. I am also currently accepting guest posts for any healthy eating and exercise tips.

Note: If you have not received any Summer Tomato email updates this week please check your spam folder and mark my email address as “not spam” in your contacts. Please let me know if you have any problems with this adjustment.

For The Love of Food

What great articles did you read or write this week? Leave your links in the comments.

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Quick Fix: Mexican-style Quinoa Salad

by | May 18, 2009
Mexican-style Quinoa Salad

Mexican-style Quinoa Salad

Cinco de Mayo is one of my absolute favorite holidays. Half my family is Mexican, so I have memories of tacos and Coronas by the pool while basking in the first hints of summer sun. Good times!

Unfortunately this year I was too busy to even go out with friends for some real Mexican food (or at least San Francisco’s version of it). Instead I made a quick, healthy quinoa salad using Mexican herbs and spices to help me feel like I didn’t completely neglect my heritage.

You can find all these ingredients at your regular grocery store. I used arugula, but you can substitute spinach if you prefer. I also recommend being creative with your spices (jalepeño or cumin come to mind). If you have fresh salsa or pico de gallo around you can stir in a spoonful or two at the end to accentuate the Mexican flavor.

I recommend making extra so you have leftovers for lunch the next day!

Mexican-style Quinoa Salad

(serves 2-3)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dry quinoa
  • Half bag of arugula or baby spinach
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup chopped red pepper
  • 1 spring onion or shallot
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, stems removed
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Lime
  • Tapatio or favorite Mexican hot sauce

Rinse and cook quinoa. Crush and mince your garlic. While your quinoa is boiling, halve your tomatoes and dice your onion and pepper. If using a spring onion, save some of the green onion slices for garnish. Remove the stems from your cilantro. Dice your avocado and sprinkle it with salt.

When your quinoa is finished cooking, heat a frying pan on medium high heat and add 2 tbsp olive oil. Add onions and red peppers and cook on medium high heat until caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Turn off heat and add quinoa, stirring to mix. Fold in arugula or spinach and season with salt and cayenne pepper to taste.

Transfer quinoa mixture to a large serving bowl and add avocado, tomatoes and cilantro. Squeeze in juice of half a lime and add a few dashes of Tapatio or Tabasco to taste. Gently stir, being careful not to mash the avocado chunks.

Adjust salt and spices. Garnish with green onion slices, extra cilantro leaves and a wedge of lime.

Do you try to recreate nostalgic moments with certain spices and flavors?

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Automatic Health: Lessons From Personal Finance

by | Apr 3, 2009
Healthy Breakfast

Healthy Breakfast

Probably the biggest misconception about health and weight loss is that it takes a tremendous amount of willpower to succeed. Another myth is that it requires a substantial time investment.  In fact, neither excessive willpower nor time are necessary to be healthy and thin. So isn’t it useless to trying to force them on yourself? I think so.

After reading a captivating article by Ramit Sethi on Tim Ferriss’ (The Four Hour Work Week) blog, I learned most people have the same delusions about personal financeas they do about health—-they think paying off debt and saving money require willpower and time. So we should not be surprised that the solutions for personal finance offered by Ramit are the same fundamental strategies necessary for investing in your personal health. Make no mistake about it, your health is an investment. And a pretty important one at that.

Today I am going to show you how the advice and reasoning Ramit uses in his article can apply to health and weight loss, and how automating these steps can help you achieve your goals. In future articles I will describe in detail how to implement each step. Be sure you are subscribed with either RSS or email so you can follow the series.

Choice Paralysis

Ramit starts by pointing out that we have dozens of choices to make every day when it comes to money. The same is true for health. Should I eat breakfast? Should I pack a lunch? Am I going to the gym?

“Faced with an overwhelming number of choices, most people respond in the same way: They do nothing.”

Clearly “nothing” is not a winning strategy. In both finance and health you must set your default activities so that you will automatically contribute to your long-term goals. Automation is the essence of healthstyle.

Establish a Foundation

Ramit says the first step to automating your personal finance system is to make sure you are getting the best deals you can from your financial institutions, meaning that you have the lowest possible interest rates and are not paying annual fees. Not doing this is equivalent to throwing money away.

In health the first step in establishing your foundation is having the tools you need to succeed. Since how you eat is the biggest factor in determining your long-term health and body weight, you must have the ability to eat properly. In our modern lives, this ultimately means you need to know how to cook for yourself. You will never get healthy eating at restaurants every day. This is the same as throwing your health away.

Therefore it is essential that your kitchen is supplied with the tools you need to cook, eat and store your food. This may seem obvious to some of you, but for many people the kitchen is a foreign and scary place. To assist both newbies and veterans in upgrading your kitchenstyles, I have put together a section of the Summer Tomato Shop called Kitchen Gear (go to the Shop then use the navigation in the sidebar on the right).

Kitchen Gear is grouped into categories that are meant to help you find exactly what you need. The Basics has all the essential items for a functional kitchen. Additionally, below each item I give a brief description of why it is on the list.

If you regularly follow my blog, however, you will soon find that I sometimes use items that are not in The Basics. Usually you can find these in Accessories. In general, Accessories are items that are not absolutely necessary for cooking, but they can make your life a whole lot easier if you have them. For example, you can peel vegetables with a knife, but a vegetable peeler makes it quick and easy.

Storage & Transport has products that help you mobilize your healthstyle, which is especially important if you work away from home during the day. There are also reusable grocery and farmers market bags available.

The Finer Things offers the top-of-the-line products that I wish I had (okay, I have a few of them). I have spent an embarrassing amount of time reading reviews of kitchen products and appliances, and these are the products I envision in my future dream kitchen. For those of you who can afford them, this is your list.

I feel confident in the quality of the items I recommend–I own or have used most of them. I also consider price in my recommendations and try to make this clear in my explanations. If, however, you feel you want an item that is different from what is on my list, you can still navigate to and purchase it through the Amazon links on this website to support this blog. My store is run through Amazon.com and almost always represents the best prices on the internet.

Automate the Basics

The next step in Ramit’s personal finance plan is to automate your bank accounts so that regular payments and savings deposits occur as soon as you get your paycheck (also automatic). This takes care of all your goals and gives you the freedom to make personal decisions with the rest of your money without worry, guilt or willpower.

If you are like most people the structure of your day stays pretty much the same all year long (particularly Monday through Friday). We wake up, go to work (or equivalent), come home, eat, spend time on personal things then go to bed. This structure provides us an excellent opportunity to optimize for health.

Breakfast. One of the simplest things you can do to improve your health is eat breakfast, particularly whole grains and fruit. To easily begin improving your metabolism and blood sugar control, find a couple whole grain cereals you like and start eating breakfast every day. If you think you do not like to eat first thing in the morning, you are most likely dehydrated. Wake up, drink water, then eat breakfast.

Lunch. For many people lunch is the most difficult meal to make healthy because they do not prepare for it, get stuck at work with no food and end up going out and eating something unhealthy. But since you know you always eat one meal at work each day, this is something you can easily automate in your favor.

Each weekend you need to plan in advance what you will be eating for lunch all week. Make sure you cover at least 4 days, but five is better. There are several ways to approach this: you can bring ingredients and prepare your own lunch at the office, make a large batch of food on weekends especially for lunch during the week, or make enough food each night at dinner that you have leftovers for the next day. All these strategies are effective because they help you avoid buying your lunch.

Shopping. In order to accomplish the two above points, you need to set aside a little bit of time each weekend to go grocery shopping and plan (or at least consider) your meals. This time must be non-negotiable; ultimately it saves you time later in the week. For my personal healthstyle the weekend always includes a trip to the farmers market, but there are many other options if this is not realistic for you.

Effective shopping has several components. You must always have the basic stocks of items in your pantry, freezer and refrigerator. You need to shop regularly for staples (milk, for example) and fresh items must be purchased weekly. Details on how to shop for all these components will be given in future posts.

Dinner. People expect the most out of dinner. It generally needs to be quick (I’m starving!), simple (I’m busy!) and delicious (I’m picky!). Luckily, the changing seasons offer great opportunity to keep variety in our dinner menus without needing too many different cooking techniques. If you can get at least a few of the basic skills under your belt, you can make an infinite number of healthy, interesting and delicious meals. Basic cooking techniques will also be summarized in future posts.

Work exercise into your daily routine. Physical activity is essential for staying fit and trim, but it doesn’t particularly matter where you get it. The important thing is that you make it happen consistently by incorporating it into your average day. Personally I walk to work, take the stairs, and make it to the gym for cardio and weights whenever I can.

Whatever method you choose as your source of physical activity must be your default, and skipping your exercise must be the exception. If you prefer using a gym, make sure you have a membership, a gym bag and the necessary apparel to workout at all times. Don’t like the gym? Find an activity that you enjoy and recruit friends to join you. Even if you prefer not to engage in formal workouts at all, you can make an effort to increase your non-exercise daily activity. Some scientists think non-exercise energy expenditure may be especially effective for people who are trying to lose weight but dislike structured workouts.

Tweaking Your Style

Ramit’s final recommendation for automating your personal finance is to customize your plan for your personal circumstances.

We are all individuals and have different needs and preferences, especially when it comes to food and exercise. I do not recommend trying to incorporate every ounce of my advice into your life at the same time. Try the things that are easiest for you and see how they work. Once a few new habits are formed, you can try to tackle some harder ones. As you grow and evolve into your own healthstyle, you may find things that never worked for you before are suddenly feasible. Or you may come up with your own hacks to optimize your health and fitness.

This blog is meant to be a source for suggestions and guidelines, not dogma or a regimented plan. Discovering and improving your own strategies for success are essential for building a lasting healthstyle that reflects both who you are and who you want to be.

How will you upgrade your healthstyle?

Read more on How To Get Started Eating Healthy:
http://forms.aweber.com/form/95/split_2017558195.htm

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North African Couscous With Beans and Cauliflower

by | Mar 16, 2009

Moroccan cauliflower stewA little over a month ago I published a recipe for a warming Moroccan vegetable tagine. As would be expected from a tagine, the recipe (modified from Mark Bittman’s blog Bitten) contained dried fruit and was spiced almost like a dessert (with cloves and cinnamon) but with a rich, savory undertone.

Last week I tried a thinner, spicier variety of North African soup. Again from the New York Times, this stew was loaded with beans and vegetables and is served on a bed of spiced couscous. More brothy than the tagine, this recipe packs a unique heat that gives it a completely different feel from its richer, sweeter counterpart.

Since North African cuisine is unfamiliar to most Americans, it is my pleasure to showcase its delicious versatility.

I changed the recipe slightly from the original version, mainly in the interest of time. Personally I have no patience for beans to cook, so I used a pressure cooker then added the beans to the soup later rather than cooking them in the broth itself (which takes hours). To replace the bean soaking water that the recipe calls for, I substitute 1 qt chicken (or vegetable or beef) stock and some of the bean cooking liquid. In my opinion, this change does not have a big impact on the flavor. It may even improve it.

Also, after following the original recipe I thought the soup tasted a little dull. I rescued it with the juice of a Meyer lemon, which really highlighted the depth of spice and flavor in the dish.

I made my harissa from a powdered mix I bought a few weeks ago from Tierra Vegetables at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. They told me it is the one used at Chez Panisse (when on the menu). I know, I’m spoiled rotten.

I will provide a recipe here for making your own. If you have a blender or food processor, the recipe is not terribly difficult to follow. You will make more than you need for one soup, but you can freeze the rest indefinitely. It is a wonderful spicy sauce that is great on meats or in stews. I realize that making harissa is a little intimidating, but it is amazingly delicious and is definitely worth the extra work. It really isn’t that hard either.

Alternatively, Whole Foods and other specialty stores often carry pre-made harissa.

North African Couscous With Beans and Cauliflower

Harissa:

  • 6 dried ancho chilies
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed and minced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 ripe tomato, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 0.25 – 0.5 cup olive oil

Gently rinse chilies or wipe off dust with a damp cloth. Remove and discard the seeds and tops of the chilies and soak them in hot water for half an hour. Discard the soaking water, cut up the chilies and place them in a blender with all other ingredients except the olive oil. Blend into a smooth paste. Remove the paste from the blender and slowly mix olive oil into the mixture. DO NOT overwork the olive oil, it can become very bitter if you are not careful with it.

Stew Ingredients:

  • 1 large cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
  • 2 cups dried white beans, soaked in 2 qts water overnight
  • 1 qt chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup frozen petite peas, thawed
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds (or 0.5 tsp ground)
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds (or 0.5 tsp ground)
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds (or 1 tsp ground)
  • 2 tbsp harissa (recipe above)
  • Meyer lemon juice to taste (half lemon)
  • 1 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 2 cups couscous (whole grain is slightly better)
  • 0.5 cube chicken bouillon
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Kosher or sea salt to taste

Put beans in a pressure cooker and follow the instructions for cooking the kind of beans you are using. In the meantime if you are grinding your own spices, toast them lightly for a few minutes on a skillet then grind them into a fine powder in a spice grinder. Set aside. (You can use these same spices to add to the harissa, just double the amount then split it in half.)


In a large soup pot, heat olive oil and add onion. Cook, stirring regularly until the onions are tender and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, ground spices and 0.5 tsp salt. Cook and stir spices until fragrant, about 1 minute, then add the stock, 1 extra qt of water, the harissa and tomato paste (I recommend the kind in a tube, which keeps indefinitely once you open it). Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Remove 0.5 cup of broth and set aside.

Add cauliflower florets to the simmering broth and cook, partially covered for 20 minutes. Your beans should be done by the time the cauliflower is tender. While the stew is simmering, follow the instructions on your box of couscous and substitute the broth you reserved for 0.5 cup of water, also adding the half bouillon cube.

There is something of an art to getting couscous to cook right. I usually end up adding slightly more dry couscous than the box calls for using the given amount of water. After boiling the liquid and removing it from heat, if when you add the dry couscous to the pot you cannot see individual grains under the liquid surface, then I would add slightly more couscous until you can just see it, like pebbles in shallow water. I know this is vague, but I always have to eyeball it to get it right. It’s not the end of the world if you’re off a little, since this is going into a soup anyway.

Also be careful while your couscous is steaming. Steam it (covered) exactly 5 minutes then fluff it immediately with a fork (be gentle with the grains). Over-cooking or over-watering your couscous will make it clumpy and gummy–not ideal.

When your simmering cauliflower is tender, add all the beans and 1 qt of their cooking liquid. Return the pot to a simmer and add lemon juice, salt and adjust harissa as desired. You may need to add the juice of the entire lemon. It should be bright and spicy. Stir in peas, parsley and simmer 5 more minutes.

To serve, scoop a large spoonful of couscous into the bottom of a bowl and a generous portion of the stew on top. Garnish with additional parsley and harissa.

I am very interested in your experiences with making or buying harissa. Any suggestions or recommendations are appreciated.

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Fennel, Tomato and White Bean Soup

by | Feb 13, 2009

The fennel at the farmers market has been particularly beautiful lately. I bought one last week without having a real plan of what to do with it. When Sunday night rolled around and I realized I had not made my lunch soup yet, this recipe from Splendid Soups seemed like the way to go.

I made a few modifications to suit my needs. First, my corner store didn’t have any large white beans dry (I like to avoid canned beans–it’s a taste thing), so I used their small ones. They turned out well, and cooked a lot faster than the big kind. Also, this time of year I can’t help but put Meyer lemon juice in everything. It’s like sugar only better.

One other thing is that this recipe calls for 18 garlic cloves (that’s not a typo), which is essentially an entire bulb. I was taken aback by the number but decided to just follow the instructions. In retrospect it was a little too garlicy for me (stank up the fridge). Next time I might use 10-12 and see how that works. Up to you.

Fennel, Tomato and White Bean Soup

(5 large servings or 8 first course)

Ingredients:

  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 1 medium-sized sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 10-18 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 28-oz can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 qt chicken broth
  • 1 bouquet garni (e.g. 2 sprigs marjoram, 1 sprig rosemary , several sprigs parsley, tied with string)
  • 1 cup white beans, cooked until tender (1 can cannellini beans okay)
  • 0.25 cup parsley, finely chopped
  • Juice of 0.5 Meyer lemon
  • Excellent olive oil
  • Fresh ground salt and pepper
  • Crusty bread or quinoa

If you are using dry beans and cooking them in a pressure cooker, you can put them on the stove first and they will be ready by the time this recipe calls for them. I soaked small white beans 1 hour before putting them in the pressure cooker 15 minutes. It takes another 10 minutes or so for the pressure cooker to re-pressurize.

Rinse and remove a few handfuls of the fuzzy greens from the fennel, coarsely chop and set aside. Cut fennel in half longways, cut off bottom, remove core and discard. Lay fennel cut side down, cut in half one more time longways and thinly slice.

Combine fennel, onion, garlic, broth and bouquet garni in 4 qt pot. Gently simmer about 15 min, until vegetables soften. Add tomatoes and simmer another 10 minutes.

Remove bouquet garni. Add beans and 0.5 cup of their cooking liquid. If using can beans, rinse them and do not add liquid. You can use more broth or water if you want your soup thinner. Add parsley, reserved fennel leaves and lemon juice. Adjust salt.

When serving, drizzle with olive oil and garnish with freshly ground sea salt and pepper. Fresh baked country bread is amazing with this recipe, but 0.25 cup of quinoa at the bottom of your bowl is a great alternative.

Let me know how it turns out!

UPDATE: One reader had a bad experience with the rosemary in this recipe. You might consider leaving it out or trying a different herb. Also, saffron is a nice addition to this recipe.

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Healthy Lunch: Moroccan Vegetable Tagine

by | Feb 6, 2009

If you really want to be healthy, you need to find a way to prepare most of your meals yourself. Eating out is fun and if you are careful you can avoid too much damage, but when you find yourself at restaurants multiple times per week chances are you will have a lot of trouble maintaining a healthy weight.

For many people, lunch on weekdays (at work) is one of the hardest meals to make healthy because bringing your own food requires planning and preparation, which is difficult on a busy schedule. There can also be powerful social pressures at the office to do what everyone else is doing, and that usually means hitting up the local restaurants.

I have combated this lunch issue with delicious food and a little planning. During the summer I make seasonal, fresh salads that are the envy of everyone at the office (aka lab). But since tomatoes and my other favorite salad treats are not available in the winter, I have been on a quest to find the perfect cold weather lunch.

Soup has been the winning ticket so far. The chicken chard soup I posted a few weeks ago was satisfying, delectable and lasted me the entire week. This past week I made red lentil Indian style soup following a recipe from Splendid Soups, my favorite soup cookbook (sorry, no post on this one).

This week I modified Mark Bittman’s Moroccan tagine recipe, skipping the chicken and adding some beautiful romanesco broccoli instead. A tagine is a thick and hearty Moroccan stew made with spices, chickpeas and dried fruit.

Normally a tagine is served with spiced couscous, but I didn’t have any so I used red quinoa I found at my corner market, Valencia Farmers Market (24th Street and Valencia). At first I was really mad at myself for forgetting I was out of couscous, but the red Inca quinoa was amazing and in the future I may actually prefer it for a lunch recipe like this.

Quinoa is substantially healthier than couscous, which is not whole grain.

Bittman’s recipe was quick and easy because I made the chickpeas the day before in my pressure cooker. It was simple and perfect for my lunch this week.

But if you want a tagine that is the real deal (harissa and all), I recommend the recipe from Splendid Soups.

Moroccan Vegetable Tagine

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium head romanesco (or cauliflower)
  • 1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 28-oz can of diced tomatoes, drained
  • 3 cups chickpeas, cooked (or 2 cans, drained and rinsed)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 0.5 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 0.5 tsp ground black pepper
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 0.5 cup diced dried apricots (or golden raisins or dates)
  • 0.25 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Bittman adds half a vanilla bean and cautions not to use extract. I didn’t have a vanilla bean so I just left it out. Also it appears I forgot to add the parsley. Feel free to use it as a garnish, I’m sure it would be a nice addition.

Saute onions in 2 tbsp of olive oil until tender and soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and spices and stir until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add romanesco pieces, salt and continue to saute for another 5 minutes.

Add tomatoes, chickpeas and dried fruit and bring to a boil. Turn heat down and simmer. Taste and adjust salt. You can add 0.5 cup of water if necessary, but keep in mind a tagine should not be very fluid. Cover and allow to simmer 30 minutes, or until romanesco is tender. Stir occasionally.

While the tagine is simmering, rinse and cook quinoa according to the instructions on the box (takes 15 minutes). You can also toast your almonds during this time if you haven’t already. I tried to toast mine on a cookie sheet in the oven, but forgot about them (as usual) and they burnt. I toasted a new batch in a non-stick pan on the stove. Toast nuts on medium-low heat without oil, turning occasionally for about 5 minutes. If you prefer to use the oven, set a timer!

To serve scoop half a cup of cooked quinoa into a bowl and cover generously with tagine. Tagine is very hearty, so an additional side dish is probably not necessary. Sprinkle with toasted almonds and serve immediately.

This recipe has fed me 1 delicious meal per day for 4 days.

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Healthy Lunch: Chicken Chard Soup

by | Jan 21, 2009

Since summer ended I have been searching for the perfect winter lunch to bring to work. I want something healthy, delicious and, given the season, warm.

Roasted vegetables are a pretty good choice, but I learned the hard way that they don’t quite have the long-term appeal of summer salads (i.e., I got sick of them really fast).

My latest experiment is soup.

Soup appeals to me for many reasons:

  1. It stores and transports easily and can be heated up in a minute or two in the microwave. This makes it a perfect food for the office.
  2. Almost any recipe can be turned into a soup, so you can enjoy cuisines from all cultures–you could eat soup every day for the rest of your life and never eat the same one twice.
  3. Soups are easy to modify, and hard to mess up.
  4. As many of you know, I have a lot of experience making soup.

I accepted the challenge.

The first place I turned was my faithful Splendid Soups, by James Peterson. I can’t imagine there is a better soup recipe book on the planet. Not only have I used it to make dozens of spectacular soups, but it has made me a better overall cook as well. This book is truly a treasure.*

I had several goals for my first soup:

First, I wanted it to be healthy and light, meaning it should have something green (e.g. chard) in it and be broth based rather than cream based.

Second, I wanted to use the whole chicken I bought at the farmers market. I don’t normally eat meat for lunch, but I had been wanting to experiment with whole chicken and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

I ended up modifying one of the vegetable recipes in the book to include chicken. Peterson gives detailed instructions on how to use chicken in any soup, so I simply followed his technique.

My soup turned out divine, but preparing it took longer than I had hoped.

Word of advice: Ask the butcher to quarter the chicken for you (unless you are planning on roasting it). This was only the second time I had quartered a chicken, and though it wasn’t very difficult it definitely cost me 20-30 minutes because of my inexperience. Oops.

Chicken Chard Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium chicken, quartered
  • 1 large bunch of Swiss chard, trimmed
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 medium sweet onions, diced
  • 2 jalepeno peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 1 28-0z can of diced tomatoes, drained
  • 4 cups (1 box) chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • 0.5 cup parsley, finely chopped
  • Juice of 1 Meyer lemon
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil

Heat some olive oil in a pan just large enough for the chicken to cover the bottom. Add the chicken skin-side down and cook on medium heat for about 8 minutes. Turn with tongs and cook for another 5 minutes, remove from heat and set aside. If at any point the chicken begins to burn, lower the heat.

Shred the chard by cutting out the stems (I like to leave a few in, but I cut them in half), stacking and rolling the leaves, then cutting them in thin, 0.25 inch strips. This is the same chiffonade technique we use on basil, sage and mint leaves.

In a 4-quart pot, cook onions, garlic and chilies in olive oil on medium heat for about 10 minutes. Allow the onions to become translucent, but not brown. Add thyme and cook 2 more minutes.

Add broth, water, tomatoes and chicken and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently for 15 minutes or until the chicken feels firm to the touch. Remove chicken and set it aside to cool. Add chard to the soup and simmer 10 more minutes.

Remove chicken skins and cut chicken into bite-sized chunks. Return chicken meat to the soup, add parsley and simmer 2 more minutes. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste and serve with crusty bread.

This soup will keep up to 5 days in a cold refrigerator.

*Note: If you decide to buy Splendid Soups (or any other item from Amazon), please consider using one of the links from this site and help support my blog. My favorite books and kitchen equipment are listed in the Shop.
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