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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Sayur Bening Bayam (Indonesian Spinach, Carrot, and Tomato Soup)

20 May


Gluten-Free, Paleo, Perfect Health Diet

Over this past weekend, I was scheduled to appear at the latest Perfect Health Retreat in Wilmington, North Carolina as a guest chef. I had a whole day’s worth of recipes planned for the 20+ attendees and staff members, most of them based on traditional Indonesian or Malaysian dishes. I was very excited, and had even devoted the previous weekend to practicing and tweaking the recipes to get everything perfect. And then life struck. My son Oliver started feeling very sick last weekend, likely a gift from one of his pre-school classmates, and by Tuesday I was feeling the full brunt of some relentless flu symptoms.

So I spent last week and this past weekend drifting in and out of a feverish state, catching up on several seasons’ worth of Archer and Portlandia episodes, and trying to find new ways of incorporating bone broth into my diet (hint: developing recipes while under the influence of flu medicine is never a good idea). I’m happy to report that Oliver and I are both on the mend, but unfortunately I missed out on my opportunity to cook at the retreat. So that these recipes don’t disappear from memory, I wanted to share two of them with you this week.

The first recipe is Sayur Bening Bayam, a clear Indonesian soup made with a variety of vegetables, but always includes spinach (and often corn – see my note below the recipe). I chose this soup as one of my dishes because it’s dead simple to make and serves as an appetizer in the most literal sense – its simple tastes both satisfy and whet the appetite for a main course.

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Roasted Leg of Lamb

13 May


Gluten-Free, Paleo, Perfect Health Diet

Spring has totally sprung here in Maryland. The temperatures are nice and warm most days, and we’re getting daily rain showers – perfect for new grass but not so great for taking our new dog for a walk. Oh yeah, we got a new dog. I’m not sure why we didn’t earlier; having a dog around has basically doubled my time outside, guaranteeing that I go on daily walks and hiking on the weekends.

Roasting a leg of lamb is a spring tradition in many cultures, particularly surrounding Easter and Passover. While roasting a leg of lamb may sound intimidating, it’s one of the easiest roasts to get right. The meat is naturally tender, so no marinating is required – in fact, marinating is often discouraged since adding acid would denature the tender meat.

As my friend Chef Schneller (who I met while touring the Culinary Institute of America last year) points out, the term “spring lamb” refers to a lamb born in the spring and eaten in the summer. Lambs sold in the early spring are typically from a particular breed (English Dorset) that are born in the fall, milk-fed through the winter, and feed on young grass before slaughter. Generally, a lamb is around six months old when slaughtered, although any sheep under a year old is classified as lamb.

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My Day with Tessemae’s

8 May

Salad dressings are an important part of many cuisines. Leafy greens were eaten in prehistory, and despite common misconceptions that early agriculture was entirely focused on grains, many of the first gardeners grew spring greens. The Ancient Greeks often mixed salads with oil, herbs, and seasonings (the word salad comes from the Latin salata, meaning “something salted”). Green salads were especially popular in Medieval Europe, and lettuce seeds were brought to the New World colonies, where salads were eventually redefined; the 20th century saw the advent of French, Russian, Thousand Island, Green Goddess, and even the mighty Ranch – all in the dressing-obsessed United States.

Today, the salad dressing aisle of every supermarket in America is downright embarrassing. Every dressing promises health, high quality and natural ingredients, and not a single one makes good on its promise. I dare you to try and find a dressing that is free of sugar, corn, soy, wheat, seed/grain oils, or chemically-extracted ingredients (hint: you won’t). It’s infuriating, especially coming from a product whose sole existence is to make salads more palatable and nutritious (adding oil increases the bioavailability of the fat-soluble Vitamins A, D, E, and K found in leafy greens). Salads have always been associated with health, but modern dressings have made it more difficult for us to make that connection. The salad dressing industry is so untrustworthy that after first switching my diet I resolved to just eat my salads with olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper.

Enter Tessemae’s All Natural. Our family has been enjoying their salad dressings since 2011; their dressings were first sold in the Annapolis Whole Foods (one of our local markets), so we’ve been riding on the Tessemae’s bandwagon from nearly the start. In fact, last year I used their Lemonette dressing to help secure my win in a bacon competition.

It’s relatively easy, albeit unglamorous and time consuming, to develop your own salad dressings. But I’m a man of simple truths, and the simple truth is that Tessemae’s dressings are so tasty, and contain such high quality ingredients, that I haven’t felt a need to make my own. Essentially, this is the basic principle of supply and demand; thanks to their supply, we carry no demand. Honestly, as a consumer I’d much rather depend on the convenience and reliability of a quality product than figure my own out. There is honor in creating one product, and doing it well – very rarely today do we find true craftsmen and artisans. This is something that Tessemae’s does unequivocally with their dressings and sauces.

I had the pleasure of visiting their Baltimore-based headquarters (lovingly called “the Treefort”) twice over the past few weeks. Here is what I learned.

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Sabzi Polo ba Mahi (Persian Herbed Rice with Fish)

6 May


Gluten-Free, Paleo, Perfect Health Diet

Sabzi Polo is a traditional Persian herbed rice pilaf. There are several different ways to cook rice in Persian cuisine, but Polo (parboiled and steamed) is the most popular. This dish in particular is eaten during the Persian New Year (Nowruz, late March) and served with white fish. The type of white fish varies from rare local fish like Caspian kutum to something more accessible, like halibut or tilapia.

Rice is a critical food source in modern day Iran, and has a long history in the region; it was first introduced from South Asia around 1000 BC, and has been grown in northern Iran ever since. It’s also commonly believed that rice entered Europe via Ancient Persia.

It’s exciting to see that white rice is gaining more acceptance in the Paleo community. I started adding white rice to my version of the Paleo diet in early 2011 (here is an old post about it) and it’s definitely had a positive impact on my overall wellness. I explain many of my reasons for eating rice in my book, but the long story short is that it’s an ancient, delicious, satisfying, and neutral starch (it has fewer toxins than many foods we consider Paleo, like coconut and almonds – reference) whose glycemic load is easily tempered by eating low-glycemic varieties (basmati rice in particular is lower (28) than regular white rice (43) – reference). When eaten as part of a whole meal with added fats and acids, its glycemic index is even further diminished (reference). There are still people that have digestive issues with rice, but for everyone else, it may warrant a place on your dinner table.

Sabzi Polo is an excellent example of an optimal way of eating rice, since it’s paired with a huge amount of herbs – much more than your typical dish – and considering Mathieu Lalonde’s AHS 2012 talk where he found that herbs and spices are second only to organ meats in terms of nutrient density, it’s always good to eat lots of herbs.

This recipe is part of a collaboration with my friend Naz of Cinnamon Eats – after having several discussions about Persian rice dishes, we decided to each write up a recipe to highlight the varied and delicious choices available in Persian cuisine. Be sure to check out her half of the collaboration: Zereshk Polo (Persian Barberry Rice).

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A New Direction

3 May

When I started this blog nearly four years ago, I didn’t have many expectations. I simply wanted to have a better understanding of the food we put in our bodies. A recurring element in my recipes has been the individual histories of each dish I create; I think it’s important to know how recipes came to be, and I really adore following the culture that hides behind every dish. But to tell the truth, as of late, simply doing internet searches on food history or relying on my previous travels for culinary and cultural insights simply hasn’t been enough for me. Don’t get me wrong – I still love food history and sharing traditional/classic recipes – I just want to step it up a notch.

Consider the pizza in the picture above. It’s probably fair to say that this little pizza recipe has made a huge contribution to my current readership. Heck, I thought it was important enough to put on the cover of my cookbook, since it’s an excellent representation of classic, traditional, and modern cuisines. And while it’s cool that we can make pizza easily at home and say that we made it from scratch, the pizza above wasn’t really made “from scratch.”

Who harvested the cassava, and how was it processed into tapioca starch? How were the tomatoes grown and transformed into pizza sauce? Under what conditions was the milk produced, and how was it turned into cheese? Where did the salt, white pepper, and oregano come from? These questions aren’t easily answered, even in today’s information age. It’s much easier for me to tell you that oregano is a variety of wild marjoram native to the Mediterranean region than it is to figure out how the oregano in my spice rack actually made it into my home.

So I’m taking The Domestic Man into a new direction, partially inspired by my recent tours of The Culinary Institute of America and my local Whole Foods. Along with continuing to post new recipes every Tuesday, I’m going to start doing a little investigative work on the side. I’ll be traveling to and touring farms, manufacturers, and other organizations involved in the food industry to gain a better understanding of the processes in place to get food onto our tables. I plan on working with everyone from small, family-owned businesses to large, faceless corporations in order to better my understanding of how things work. And obviously, I’m going to share the results of my work with you.

The goal of this project isn’t to judge these food producers as being “good” or “bad”, but rather to look at the environment they are working in and how that affects us as consumers. I’m not an investigative journalist, policy maker, or food scientist; I’m simply a home chef with a nagging feeling that there’s more to what we eat than what we eat.

I should mention that if you are a farm or company involved in something related to food, send me an email so we can brainstorm some ideas. Bear in mind that these travels will be limited by my (constantly shrinking) free time and budget, but overall I’m very excited to get started. As always, thanks for sticking around.

Russ

Beef à la Mode (French Pot Roast)

29 Apr


Beef à la Mode (Boeuf à la Mode) is the French variation of traditional pot roast. What sets it apart from an American-style pot roast is that it uses red or white wine (and sometimes tomato), while the original American pot roasts were made with just water. Traditional Beef à la Mode employs a technique called larding, where a special needle is used to thread long strips of pork fat through a tough cut of beef to add fat and flavor. While that sounds pretty awesome, I didn’t think it was fair to buy a needle just for one dish; so instead I did what many modern chefs do today, and cooked some bacon with the roast. I’ve seen some old Beef à la Mode recipes call for a cow foot to be added to the pot to help thicken and gelatinize the braising liquid; personally, I just used some gelatinous homemade beef stock instead.

I made a couple other slight modifications to this dish. Instead of celery, I used celery root, which imparts a similar flavor but is much heartier and more satisfying to eat (I bet it’s more nutritious, too). Secondly, I garnished the dish with some fresh chopped parsley and thinly sliced lemon zest to add a bit of brightness to the dish. The modifications definitely worked; my wife said this was the best pot roast I’ve ever made.

And yes, “à la Mode” means more than just “topped with ice cream”; it roughly translates to “in the style/modern”, meaning that when the French first started braising beef in wine it was in style. In that same sense, when Americans first started putting ice cream on pies (around the 1890s) it was considered stylish, so we adopted the French phrase. If you went to France and asked someone to bring you some “Tarte (Pie) à la Mode”, you’d probably just get funny looks. Continue reading

Sweet and Sour Chicken (Paleo, Gluten Free)

24 Apr


Gluten-Free, Paleo, Perfect Health Diet

Let’s talk about Sweet and Sour Chicken for a second. It is probably not surprising to read that while this dish is served in Chinese restaurants in many Western countries, it doesn’t really exist in China. There are several sauces in China that incorporate both sweet and sour tastes, the most common being from the Hunan province, but they’re still a far cry from what you can get at your local Chinese-American restaurant. The reality is that this dish is now nearly more of an American dish than Chinese. On the flip side, the Chinese have their own interpretation of Western tastes – like flying fish roe and salmon cream cheese stuffed crust pizza (Hong Kong Pizza Hut).

But at the end of the day, it’s still a unique and comforting meal, and I thought it would be fun to try and replicate it using Paleo-friendly ingredients. My first order of business was figuring out how to make the sauce without resorting to ketchup as a base; instead, I used a combination of chicken stock, tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, tamari, honey, and spices. For the chicken, I used my new breading technique highlighted in Tuesday’s chicken nugget recipe. Lastly, I found that gently simmering the sauce while I cooked the chicken helped the sauce ingredients to perfectly marry, resulting in a balanced, delicious flavor.

For this recipe in particular, I teamed up with the folks at Vitacost; they offered to have me experiment with their online store and see what I could come up with. I had been thinking of trying out this Sweet and Sour Chicken recipe for a while now so it seemed like a good fit. I was surprised at how easy and cost-effective it was to use their shop; many of the items in their store were comparable or even cheaper than what I can find locally. Not only that, they had many of the brands we already buy. It was a lot of fun to conceive an entire meal using only their store items (minus the produce and meat). I think Vitacost would be a great resource for three types of people: (1) those who don’t live near a gourmet or international market, (2) those who have a high cost of living (big cities, for example), and (3) those who don’t have time to rummage through the aisles of several stores to find the right ingredients.

Okay, let’s get cooking.

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Building a Better Chicken Nugget (Gluten Free, Paleo Recipe)

22 Apr


Gluten-Free, Paleo, Perfect Health Diet

I have always been proud of my Paleo “Chick-fil-A” nugget recipe from a couple years back, and it has definitely been a hit with readers. If fact, I’m sure a few of you stumbled upon my little blog because of them. But to be honest, I’ve never been satisfied with the texture of the nuggets themselves; while they are very similar to the thin coating that you’ll find at Chick-fil-A, I personally prefer a spongier breading around my chicken nuggets. So while experimenting with breading techniques for a different recipe (I’ll post the results of that one on Thursday), I happened upon my eureka moment – something I like to call “reverse battering.”

You see, I’ve always been taught to bread meats using a liquid-then-flour (or flour-liquid-flour/breading) method. Sounds logical, right? It’d be just crazy to not put flour or breading on nuggets before frying them. But after some YouTube surfing for Chinese recipes, I noticed that sometimes people would bread their food with starch and then egg before throwing it in the oil. Turns out it’s a genius idea for getting a light, crunchy, and satisfying texture for nuggets without having to deal with that whole pesky “wheat flour” or “breadcrumbs” stuff. The trick is in not heating the oil too hot, so as to keep the egg from burning; medium heat works perfectly.

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Moroccan Goat Curry (Tagine Makfoul)

15 Apr


Gluten-Free, Paleo, Perfect Health Diet

Tagine Makfoul is a traditional Moroccan curry made with goat or lamb. When my friends Brent and Heather of Virginia is for Hunter-Gatherers recently invited us over for dinner, promising some goat shoulder to accompany their excellent company, I knew that this recipe was the perfect choice; goat becomes tender after extended cooking, and serving it with makfoul (caramelized onion and tomatoes) adds a deliciously sweet and fresh dynamic to an already tasty dish.

This post is actually the second of a joint collaboration with Brent and Heather – be sure to check out another dish that we made on that same day, Tom Kha Gai, which is hosted on their wonderful site.

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