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Ham and Kale Risotto

30 Dec


So here we are, five days after Christmas, and you’re probably wondering what to do with the leftover holiday ham in your fridge. After all, there are only so many ham soups you can make before they get tiring (and I’m a big fan of ham soups). As I was thinking about everyone’s ham problem yesterday, I put together this ham and kale risotto for lunch. I thought you folks would enjoy it as well.

Risotto is the most popular way to prepare rice in Italy, and has been around since the 1500s. The rice varieties used in risotto (typically Carnaroli, Arborio, or Vialone Nano) are high in starch and impart a creamy texture to the dish. There’s a certain technique to making risotto: you create a soffrito using fat and onion, toast the rice and coat it in the fat, pour in and evaporate wine, ladle in hot broth until cooked through, then finish with butter and/or cheese.

The risotto-cooking process requires almost constant stirring in order to loosen up the starch and to keep the rice from sticking to the pan, so expect to spend a lot of time in front of your stove when making this dish (I usually grab a book or watch some Netflix on my phone). As an added bonus, your arm will get a bit of a workout along the way.

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Apple, Bacon, and Duck Breast Salad

23 Dec


I love the idea of a good salad. They are simple to put together, and can be immensely satisfying under the right conditions. For me, a salad should be about varying tastes and textures, while still fairly satiating; after all, nothing’s worse than sitting down to 15 minutes of chewing and not feeling satisfied. In terms of satiety, duck breast is pretty high up there – it only takes a little to feel full, especially compared to something leaner like chicken breasts.

So I threw together this duck breast salad, paired with the opposing tastes of apple and bacon. Not too flashy, but it makes an excellent midday meal. There is a lot of good advice out there on how to properly cook a duck breast, but I really like my method: crisp it skin-side down in a skillet, then flip and transfer to an oven until it’s ready. It’s an easy process, assuming you have an oven-proof skillet. If you don’t, no big deal – simply leave a baking sheet in the oven as it heats, and transfer the breasts to the hot sheet instead.

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Lazy Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

25 Nov


Stuffed Cabbage Rolls are often considered the most comforting of dishes, so much so that every Eastern European country wants to stake claim on owning the original recipe. While there is no definitive origin story, the prevailing story is this: members of the Russian aristocracy, visiting France in the mid-1700s, became enamored with their dishes of stuffed and roasted pigeons. Upon returning home, they ordered the dish to be recreated, and the closest they could come were the stuffed cabbage rolls we know and love today. This is evidenced by the similarity between the Russian words for stuffed cabbage rolls (Golubtsy) and pigeons (Goluby).

In recent years, a new phenomenon has sprouted up: Lazy Stuffed Cabbage Rolls. Regular cabbage rolls require you to par-boil the cabbage leaves and roll each wrap before roasting or simmering everything; the whole process can take hours. Instead, home chefs have been simply chopping up the cabbage and adding it to the filling, cooking everything at once in about 1/4 of the time. This is the variation we’re going to tackle today.

Be sure to check out the video after the recipe; now that we’ve relocated to a house with a larger kitchen, I filmed a short cooking demonstration of the dish. I’m still working out some production kinks, but if you like the video I’ll keep cracking at it!

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Aloo Gobi Matar

28 Oct


Gluten-Free, Paleo, Perfect Health Diet

Earlier this year I wrote a guest article for Paleo Magazine, emphasizing the importance of eating vegetables. Americans tend to give vegetables a lower priority than the rest of the world; when comparing the most economically developed areas of the United States (those with the most money to spend on food) to similarly developed regions in Europe and the Western Pacific, we only eat about 75% as many vegetables as the other regions. Comparing the lesser economically developed areas of the United States to their global counterparts is much worse: there, we eat only around 35% as many vegetables.

Vegetables are an important factor in overall health. While not as nutrient-heavy as organ meats, fish, seafood, and naturally raised ruminants, they are often superior to pork, poultry, and fruit in terms of nutrient density. Fermented vegetables, a food that has been consumed for thousands of winters, also provide unique and essential forms of probiotic bacteria and increase the bioavailability (ability for us to absorb their nutrients) of vegetables.

Aloo Gobi Matar is Punjabi dish, and an excellent example of the potential tastiness and diversity to be found in a vegetable dish. Using a small amount of many vegetables will give your dishes deeper flavors and will make you less likely to tire of certain foods. If I ate just tomatoes every day, I’d get sick of them; adding a tomato or two to several dishes in a row wouldn’t have the same effect.

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Jollof Rice

21 Oct


Gluten-Free, Paleo, Perfect Health Diet

You know, for being a guy who’s so pro-rice in the Paleo community, I have relatively few rice recipes out there. Sure, there are a bunch in my cookbook (the Dirty Rice recipe is my favorite), but considering the fact that we eat rice several times a week it should be better represented. So here’s a recipe.

Jollof Rice is a dish originally prepared by the Wolof people of Senegal and The Gambia, which has expanded to the rest of West Africa since. It is characterized by its addition of tomatoes and onions, and is put together in one pot – its other name, Benachin, means “one pot” in the Wolof language.

Wondering how rice fits into a Paleo-style diet? Read a bit about my take on it in this recipe from earlier this year.

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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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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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Ham and Pea Soup

17 Jun


Gluten-Free, Paleo, Perfect Health Diet

PNW friends! I’ll be appearing in Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver BC next month, signing books with Sarah Ballantyne and Mickey Trescott! More info on my events page.

Peas are an ancient food, eaten seasonally during the Paleolithic era. They were also one of the first cultivated plants, first grown in Western Asia about 8,000 years ago, and spreading to nearly every major culture from there. Today, there are many reasons to enjoy peas. They are very economical, and frozen sweet peas are one of the cleanest vegetables even when raised conventionally. They’re also very practical, since grabbing a handful of frozen peas from the freezer couldn’t be simpler. This soup is a great example of how convenient the little green guys are; start to finish, you can be enjoying this delicious and deeply flavorful meal in 25 minutes.

The word pea has an interesting origin; it was originally written as pease in English (taken from the ancient Greek pisum), which referred to both the singular and plural forms of peas. People confused the word pease with peas, incorrectly thinking it was plural, and later formed the singular word pea, which eventually became the norm around the 1650s. Pease still exists in some contexts, such as in pease pudding, or the children’s song “Pease Porridge Hot”.

Referring to thick fog as “pea soup” has been around for about 200 years, first used to describe the fog in London.

There is some controversy as to whether peas are “Paleo” since they are legumes. Like green beans, peas are the result of cultivation, and were selectively bred to reduce their toxicity, to the point where they can be eaten (and enjoyed) in their raw state. Theoretically legumes should be avoided, but I’m not one to follow food rules based solely on theory (see: my support of one of those pesky “grain” things, white rice). Personally, until the science definitively proves otherwise, my personal take is that they’re fine. Obviously, if you react poorly to them (or any other food, for that matter), you may want to rethink this approach.

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Sambal Terung (Malaysian Roasted Eggplant with Chili Sauce)

22 May


Gluten-Free, Paleo, Perfect Health Diet

My second recipe of the week also comes from Southeast Asia, this time from Malaysia. Sambal Terung is a roasted eggplant dish, covered in sambal (a spicy chili-based condiment). Like Tuesday’s recipe, this is a dish that comes together easily and would allow me to focus on the main dish of the night (in this case, I was going to make Beef Rendang). I personally like this dish because it carries a deep, exotic flavor with minimal hands-on time; you’ll mostly spend your time soaking and roasting the eggplants.

Sambal has its origins on Java island in Indonesia, traditionally made with 75-90% chiles and a few other ingredients (shrimp paste, salt) added for depth of flavor. The sauce spread to other countries, most notably Malaysia and the rest of Southeast Asia (I have a theory that Sriracha is a product of sambal influence, but it’s hard to say for sure); it also made its way into Europe due to the Dutch colonization of Indonesia in the 17th century and beyond.

Eggplant was first grown in the Indian subcontinent, and spread both East and West from there. It reached China around 500AD, and was wildly popular in the Mediterranean starting in the Middle Ages and continuing today. It wasn’t accepted in Europe until later, around the 17th century, as it was originally considered by Europeans to be poisonous. Because of its widespread use in early history, the words for eggplant itself are all over the place, with no one single root spreading to each language (unlike something like “tomato”, whose origin is easier to trace). This is why you’ll see a myriad of names for eggplant; even English has several words for the vegetable (aubergine being the British variant, borrowed from Arabic, and the Caribbean often refers to eggplant as melongene, also of Arabic influence).

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