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Freakishly Good Japanese-Style Shiso Pesto Recipe

by | Jul 29, 2013
Shiso Pesto With Shrimp

Shiso Pesto With Shrimp

The first time I had shiso I was at a sushi bar in San Francisco. At the time it was the best sushi I’d ever had, but it wasn’t just about the fish. Every now and then a new flavor, one I had never tasted before, would fill my mouth with happiness. It was a fresh flavor, almost like mint, but richer, more earthy and, at the same time, ethereal.

I asked the chef what I was tasting and he explained it was a Japanese herb called shiso (also called green perilla). Ever since that day I had been on a mission to find a place to buy it so I could use it at home. Occasionally I’d find shiso at a Japanese market, but always in small quantities and often at steep prices. Not an ideal situation for a shiso fiend.

I’d always wanted to have a more regular supply of shiso, and this year I finally had the opportunity when I started my first garden. To my delight our shiso plant thrived. Or more accurately: exploded.

Shiso Leaves

Shiso Leaves

For the last few weeks I’ve had shiso coming out my ears and have been using it in salads, stir fries and everything else I could think of. It’s been awesome, but I still had barely dented the towering shiso bush that was taking over my garden. I needed to figure out a way to use a huge bunch of it so it wouldn’t go bad. And fast.

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Pan Roasted Baby Artichokes With Pistachios, Lemon And Black Quinoa Recipe

by | May 7, 2012
Pan Roasted Artichokes With Pistachios And Black Quinoa Recipe

Pan Roasted Artichokes With Pistachios And Black Quinoa

Small artichokes really don’t get the love they deserve. While the large ones are delicious and great for entertaining, the smaller kind are easier to work with and much more versatile. They are tender and delicious, and usually even less expensive.

This recipe for pan roasted baby artichokes was born out of necessity. After a solid week of forgetting to buy the herbs I needed to make my usual recipe, my bag of artichokes were the last remaining vegetable in my refrigerator and I knew if I didn’t cook them they would soon go bad. So I started digging around my pantry.

Since I didn’t have parsley, I needed something else to season the artichokes. The only other fresh flavor I had was lemon, so I decided to use the zest as a primary ingredient. I also used pistachio nuts that I had left over from my Chard, Pistachios and Mint recipe, and some black quinoa (here’s my favorite brand) to make the dish more substantial.

I was completely unprepared for how delicious this turned out. I caramelized the lemon zest with some shallot, which gave the artichokes a sweet tanginess that perfectly balanced their creamy flavor. The quinoa added a beautiful contrasting color and an intriguing crunchy texture, while the nuttiness of the pistachios gave the dish a rich earthiness.

As soon as I tasted it I knew I needed to share this recipe. The second time around it turned out just as good.

Pan Roasted Baby Artichokes With Pistachios, Lemon and Black Quinoa

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb small artichokes
  • 1 half medium shallot
  • 1/4 c. shelled pistachio nuts
  • Juice and zest of 1 Meyer lemon
  • 1/2 c. black quinoa cooked
  • 1/4 c. + 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper

If you haven’t cooked your quinoa, start that first. Remember that it expands to four times its original volume when cooked, so you don’t need to make a lot.

Whisk 1/4 c. olive oil, lemon juice and a pinch of salt in a large mixing bowl. Clean your artichokes by cutting off the top third and the bottom, then removing all the tough leaves. You do not want the artichokes to be stringy, so it is better to remove extra leaves than too few.

Cut your clean artichoke in half then submerge it instantly in the olive oil and lemon juice mixture. Artichokes quickly oxidize and turn black when exposed to air. The acid from the lemon juice will prevent this from happening. As you’re cleaning the artichokes and adding them to the bowl, stir the mixture regularly to be sure none are exposed to air for too long.

Thinly slice your shallot. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a deep pan on medium high heat. When the oil swirls easily in the pan add the shallots and pistachio nuts. When the shallots begin to brown, add the zest and stir. Cook the mixture for another minute or two until the shallots have almost completely caramelized.

Add the artichokes and liquid to the pan and salt and pepper to taste. Turn the artichokes so their faces are touching the surface of the pan and allow them to brown and the liquid to reduce. Stir the artichokes every few minutes until the liquid is almost completely reduced and all surfaces of the artichokes start to brown. If the pan dries before the artichokes have finished cooking, add 1/8 c. of water to prevent the shallots and nuts from burning.

The artichokes are done cooking when then are tender all the way through. At the last minute, toss in the quinoa and mix well. Make sure to scrape the caramelized bits of shallot and zest into the quinoa. Adjust salt and pepper and remove from heat.

Makes one main course or 2-3 side dishes. This would pair beautifully with roasted rosemary chicken.

Originally published April 19, 2010.

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Swiss Chard With Pistachios And Mint Recipe

by | Apr 5, 2010
Rainbow Chard

Rainbow Chard

I realized I left many of you hanging this weekend after talking so much about chard without giving you my favorite recipe. Chard is a regular in my weekly meals because it is delicious, inexpensive and usually available year round. But this time of year, it shouldn’t be missed.

This recipe is a true crowd pleaser–I’ve won over more than a few self-proclaimed chard haters with it.

When older and larger, chard can sometimes take on a slightly bitter quality (not a problem this time of year). In this recipe I cut the bitterness with fresh mint, which brightens the dish in a subtle yet surprising way. I also add pistachio nuts to give the dish a pleasant crunch.

I love this dish with eggs or as an accompaniment to beans or lentils.

Swiss Chard With Pistachios And Mint

Makes 2-3 side dishes

Ingredients:

  • One bunch Swiss chard, any color
  • One shallot or leek
  • 1/4 cup pistachio nut meats
  • About 12 fresh mint leaves
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil

To start, dice a small mild onion such as a shallot, leek or ciopollini. If you use a leek be sure to clean it well and remove all the trapped dirt between the leaves.

Next slice a large handful of mint leaves. Leaves such as mint and basil are easiest to cut if you chiffonade them by stacking the leaves on top of each other and rolling them lengthwise like a cigarette. From there they are easy to cut into thin strips. Set the mint aside.

Clean your chard. If the stems are very thick (which they often are) you may want to remove them from the leaves. After removing the stems, cut the chard leaves into 1 inch squares. If you want to include some stem in your dish for color and texture, cut them in half and add them to the pan a few minutes before the leaves so they soften and are easier to eat.

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat until it swirls easily in the pan. Add onion, pistachio nuts and chard stems and sauté until the onion is soft and starts to brown slightly.

Add chard leaves and stir to coat in oil. Gently sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover for 1-2 minutes, allowing the chard to wilt. Uncover, stir and continue to cook until chard is dark green and the stems are tender, about 8 minutes.

Sprinkle mint over the chard and stir. Continue cooking another 1-2 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.

Have you ever tried chard with mint?

Recipe was originally published August 17, 2008, but has been much improved.

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Fatty Foods Enhance Memory By Same Mechanism As Emotional Learning

by | May 4, 2009
Go Nuts!

Go Nuts!

Have you ever noticed that some of your strongest food memories are of rich, fat laden meals shared with family and friends? According to new research, this may not be a coincidence. A study published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences demonstrates that digesting fatty foods enhances memory consolidation using the same neural pathway as emotional learning.

This finding has far reaching implications for cognitive therapies to fight over-eating, but may also suggest new, easy to implement strategies for memory enhancement. Pistachios anyone?

In the study, rats being trained on memory tasks were administered a substance called oleoylethanolamide (OEA) that normally increases in the gut after the ingestion of dietary fat (not carbohydrate or protein). Several days later, the rats given OEA performed better on the tasks than rats that were not, demonstrating enhanced learning.

To determine the neural pathway involved in this effect, the researchers chemically blocked signaling in the region of the brain that receives neural inputs from the gut (solitary nucleus), which abolished the effect of OEA. Next they selectively blocked neural transmission between this region and another region of the brain that has been shown to be critical for emotional learning (amygdala). This also eliminated the memory enhancement effect of OEA, indicating that emotional memory and memory enhancement from fatty food ingestion share the same neural network.

These findings may partially explain the emotional component that is often associated with chronic over-eating, something that frequently involves learned habits triggered by emotional situations.

However, OEA does more than enhance memory. It is also critical in feelings of satiety after a meal (decreasing hunger) and has been implicated in controlling body weight. Is it possible this new information could be harnessed for the power of good?

Low-fat diets have proved to be a colossal failure for both health and weight loss, partially because they encourage over-consumption of starchy (usually refined) carbohydrates. Moreover, vegetable and fish oils are protective against many chronic diseases that plague Western culture. Regularly seeking healthy fats in your diet can help control hunger, promote weight loss and lower risk of disease. But it now seems that healthy fats could also be a useful tool in overcoming emotional eating, a problem more complex than the standard weight gain that comes from 21st century living.

Another interesting corollary of this study is that fat (specifically oleic acid, a healthy fat found predominantly in olive oil and nuts) may enhance learning and memory. Since the benefits of OEA were only evident when it was administered at the time of or immediately after training, the next time you study or prepare for a presentation you might want to have some nuts around to snack on. Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pecans and pistachios are highest in oleic acid.

Are you interested in foods that could provide cognitive enhancement?

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