Soft-Boiled Scotch Eggs

2 Sep


Gluten-Free, Paleo, Perfect Health Diet

Scotch eggs are a common picnic and party dish in the UK, and have been around for over 200 years. I first had one at the local Maryland Renaissance Festival some years back. Several restaurants and markets claim to have started the craze, but it’s likely that the dish was originally inspired by a North Indian and Pakistani dish called Nargisi Kofta, which encases a hard-boiled egg in spicy ground meat.

We make Scotch Eggs at home from time to time, basically any time we have some loose sausage on hand. But lately we’ve been soft boiling the eggs, which has shifted this dish from something comforting to something exquisite (and still comforting). Typical Scotch Egg recipes call for breading the sausage before frying, which gives them a nice crunch and helps the sausage stay in place; over the years we’ve come to prefer the ease and simplicity of not breading the eggs.

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Dolma (Stuffed Grape Leaves)

26 Aug


Gluten-Free, Perfect Health Diet

Dolma are stuffed grape leaves, originating in Turkey but expanding all over the Mediterranean, Middle East, and beyond. Their filling can be anything from tomatoes, to eggplant, to meat – really, you can’t go wrong with stuffing these little guys. This particular recipe is the Greek variation, called Dolmathes (an interesting use of Greek plural endings in a foreign word); they are made with rice, ground beef, and fresh herbs. And lemon juice! A whole lemon’s worth. The resulting flavor is both sour, salty, and rich, and is a perfect party dish to accompany other finger foods.

I was first drawn to this dish because it’s a one-stop-macronutrient-shop; it’s equal parts carbs, protein, and fats, ending up in a deeply satisfying experience. The only break from the norm that I adapted in this recipe was to cook the rice in chicken broth instead of water, in order to increase its nutritional profile and tastiness.

Before we move on, let’s have the white rice talk again. As you may know, I find rice to be a perfectly healthy and Paleo-friendly food, since it is very low in toxins (compared to brown rice, and even some common Paleo foods, like coconut). Common questions I get: But what about its glycemic load? Basmati rice (like in this recipe) has a very low glycemic load even compared to other rices, and when paired with protein, fats, and acids, it’s further reduced, and significantly so. But what about arsenic? There are some studies that show there is arsenic in rice, but the amount of arsenic in rice is lower than the arsenic found in other foods (3x less than what’s found in drinking water, for example). But it’s nutritionally poor? Cook it in broth, like in this recipe!

Anyway, those are the most common rice questions I get – be sure to leave more in the comments below if you have any. At the end of the day, I think that white rice is a good thing to have on the table; it’s delicious, and if having a bit of rice as part of a meal helps keep cravings for other (unhealthier) foods at bay, go for it – provided you tolerate it well.

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Cioppino (San Francisco Seafood Stew)

19 Aug


Gluten-Free, Paleo, Perfect Health Diet

Cioppino is an Italian-American seafood stew first developed in San Francisco in the late 1800s. Originally made by Italian fisherman who had settled in the region, it was crafted directly on fishing boats using rudimentary cooking tools before making its way into local restaurants and beyond. Much like the French Bouillabaisse or the Eastern European Brudet, Cioppino is made with a variety of seafood, depending on whatever is on hand. Also, apparently I’m obsessed with tomato-based seafood stews, because this is my third such recipe in the past year.

The origin of this dish’s name is the subject of some debate. The most likely answer is that it comes from the word ciuppin, which means “chopped” in the Ligurian dialect spoken in Genoa, Italy’s largest seaport, from where many immigrants in the San Francisco area originated. The idea is that fishermen chopped up a bunch of fish for the stew. There’s also a seafood stew from Genoa called Ciuppin, so there’s that, too. But a more compelling origin is that the name comes from Italian-Americans asking their fellow fishermen to “chip in” some seafood for a communal feast, and their broken English formed the word we know today as Cioppino.

No matter its etymology, this is a quick and versatile dish to make for any weeknight or weekend, allowing you to maximize your flavors based on whatever seafood is on sale at your local market. For us, king crab was (somewhat) affordable the other day, so that’s what we used to spice up our dinner. Just stick with the underlying foundation of the recipe and you can’t go wrong.

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Mofongo

12 Aug


Gluten-Free, Paleo, Perfect Health Diet

Mofongo is a Puerto Rican dish made with fried and smashed plantains. It is related to the West African staple starch dish called Fufu, originally made with yuca; slaves sent to the Caribbean originally brought this dish across the Atlantic.

Fufu made it into several Caribbean cuisines, with varying levels of alteration. In Cuba, it is known as Fufu de Platano, and in the Dominican Republic it carries the name Mangú. In Puerto Rico, it is almost always made with plantains, but yuca and breadfruit variations exist. The plantains are typically smashed using a wooden mortar and pestle called a pilon, and sometimes served directly in the pilon. My stone mortar and pestle gets the job done nicely.

There are many ways to enjoy Mofongo. It is often dipped in chicken broth or a sauce made with mayonnaise and ketchup (aptly called “mayoketchup”), or served with a tomato-based sauce and grilled or sautéed shrimp. Personally, I enjoy it plain, as a simple starchy side dish, which is what you’ll find in this week’s recipe.

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A Morning with Salt, Fire, and Time

7 Aug

Last month I visited my parents in the Pacific Northwest (they live in a small town in Washington called Yelm). Along the way I stopped by and toured a few health-minded food producers in the area. First on the list: Salt, Fire & Time, a traditional healing foods kitchen in Portland, Oregon.

As expected, they had a variety of tasty and healthy food items (more on that later), but what stood out to me about Salt, Fire & Time is their journey to find the best way to bring health to its customers. It got me thinking about how businesses have to find a common ground between themselves and their community, so we’ll talk a bit about that, too.

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Yassa Poulet (Senegalese Grilled Chicken)

5 Aug


Gluten-Free, Paleo, Perfect Health Diet

Yassa Poulet (sometimes called Chicken Yassa) is a West African dish originally from Senegal, characterized by its spicy marinade of peppers, lemon, and onions. I was initially drawn to this dish because the marinade uses a crazy amount of onions, and they’re not wasted; instead, they are recombined with the chicken during cooking.

Many traditional recipes call for the chicken to be browned in a skillet and then braised with the marinade until tender. That sounds good, but our nice summer weather always compels me to grill, which left me with a conundrum; how do I reincorporate the onions into this dish after grilling? The answer turned out to be simple – caramelize the onions while the chicken is on the grill. Combining the sweet, delicate flavor of the caramelized onions and the bright, crispy grilled chicken was a pretty awesome move.

I’ve also found that this makes a perfect weeknight dinner – throw together the marinade before work (or the night before), then finish the dish in less than an hour when you get home. Since both the chicken and onions are relatively hands-off, it gives you plenty of time to prepare other accompaniments along the way. Sure, it’s a bit more work than something like my Simple Grilled Chicken Drumsticks recipe, but it’s totally worth it in terms of flavor.

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Ital Stew

29 Jul


Gluten-Free, Paleo, Perfect Health Diet

Ital stew is a Jamaican dish aligned with the Rastafarian movement. The word “ital” is derived from the word vital, and is similar to the concept of kosher. Specifically, ital food should be vegetarian, unprocessed, and from the earth. Some believe that even iodized salt should be avoided, and only pure sea salt is acceptable. Since meat is considered dead, it is not ital, although some Rastafari are known to eat small fish.

Like in my Callaloo recipe from earlier this year, there is a lot of variation to this dish. Typically, it’s made with several different kinds of starchy foods (I used squash, taro, potatoes, and plantain) in a coconut milk broth. It’s lightly spiced, with just thyme and pimento (allspice).

Funny enough, when doing my research I discovered this dish isn’t considered an exceptionally tasty stew, to the point that I was almost turned away from trying it. I have a suspicion that the reason it’s not well-received is because every recipe I found had you adding all of the vegetables at once, which likely resulted in a mushy, jumbled, and slightly confusing stew. I tried a different tactic, and added the dishes in increments so that they all were perfectly cooked at the end of the recipe. This extra care made a huge difference in the final product; in fact, we’re adding this dish to our regular rotation because it’s easy, quick, and hearty – a perfect summer soup when you’re not in the mood for a meat dish.

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Tuna Stuffed Potatoes

22 Jul


Gluten-Free, Paleo, Perfect Health Diet

So, did you see the news? The Whole30 program now includes white potatoes. For those of you that aren’t familiar with Whole30, it is a 30-day eating program with a moderately strict interpretation of the Paleo template – no alcohol, sweeteners of any kind, or faux foods (like almond flour pancakes); in my cookbook, I reference it as “a tough-love plan to transform your diet.” It’s especially popular right around the New Year, as people look to clean up their eating habits.

Since its inception, the Whole30 has forbidden white potatoes, likely due to the fact that most potatoes are eaten in the form of chips or french fries. I have been an advocate for white potatoes since first changing my diet in 2010, after reading about the Perfect Health Diet. My inclusion of those little delicious tubers on this site has constantly confused readers who were introduced to Paleo through the Whole30 concept. So I’m happy to see that potatoes are gaining more acceptance as a whole food that has just as many nutrients as its favored cousin, the sweet potato.

White potatoes serve as an excellent example of mindful eating. They have a moderately high glycemic load, but studies have shown that it is greatly reduced when eaten with certain foods, especially fats and acids. So be sure to smother your baked potato with butter and sour cream. Also, the skin of white potatoes are high in glycoalkaloids, which can cause gastrointestinal irritation. This is a known issue – in fact, modern potatoes are much lower in glycoalkaloids than in earlier history, as farmers cultivated certain potatoes (especially the russet potato) to be more digestible.

Preparation of potatoes is also important; when compared to white bread, boiled potatoes are 323% more satisfying per calorie. Potato chips? Only 91% as satisfying. That’s why most people are able to easily eat three potatoes’ worth of potato chips, when they’d have a hard time eating three boiled potatoes in one sitting. So at our house, we typically only eat our potatoes boiled (and mashed) or baked. Or twice baked, like in today’s recipe.

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Kuy Teav – Cambodian Pork and Seafood Noodle Soup

15 Jul


Gluten-Free, Paleo, Perfect Health Diet

Kuy Teav is a Cambodian pork and seafood noodle soup, much like the Vietnamese Pho; in fact this dish is enjoyed in Vietnam, under the name Hu Tieu Nom Vang (“Phnom Penh Noodle Soup”). While I’m a huge fan of Pho (it’s in my cookbook), sometimes it’s a little too beefy for my tastes; Kuy Teav serves as an excellent break from the norm.

It’s believed that this dish originated among Chinese immigrants living in Cambodia, and later spread to the rest of the country. It’s also a popular breakfast meal. Like many Asian soups, there is no one way to prepare this dish. Feel free to experiment with all sorts of add-ins, including meat balls or any leftover meat you may have.

This dish sits firmly in the Perfect Health Diet spectrum of Paleo since it uses rice noodles, but feel free to use sweet potato noodles (or even zucchini noodles) instead. One of these days, I’ll help convince the Paleo world that rice is indeed Paleo, but until then, I’ll continue to use my favorite little hashtag: #teamwhiterice.

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Homemade Kombucha

7 Jul

Kombucha is a bit of an enigma in the health world. It seems every health-minded group appreciates the benefits of this fermented, effervescent, and probiotic drink – from Vegans to Paleos alike. One unfortunate side effect of being a kombucha drinker is that if enjoyed regularly, you could basically end up completely broke; bottles range from $3 to $5 each at most grocery stores. Luckily, making it at home is fun, economical, and takes only a little foresight.

Kombucha is a fermented black tea drink, originating somewhere in Northern China or Central Asia at least 2,000 years ago. It reached Russia sometime in the 19th century, and quickly gained popularity as a health drink; at one point, most Soviet-era homes were growing their own kombucha culture. It spread to Europe and beyond through Russia. The Russians have several names for the drink, the most popular being чайный гриб (“tea mushroom”) and медуза (“medusa”, their word for jellyfish). The drink is made by fermenting a batch of sweet tea with a culture known as SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), which eats the caffeine and sugar, leaving you with a sour, slightly vinegary drink that’s not unlike apple cider vinegar.

The drink has some notable links to health, especially in regards to cancer. Author Alexander Soltzhenitsyn claims it cured his stomach cancer while imprisoned in a Soviet gulag. Ronald Reagan purportedly treated his colon cancer by drinking kombucha daily in the 1980s. While proven results have varied, it goes without saying that the fermented, probiotic profile of the drink carries benefits. In this age of antibiotics and antibacterial products, it’s good to see helpful bugs making a bit of a comeback.

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