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.
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.
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.
Jerusalem artichokes have an interesting history. There is no connection between this tuber and the city that bears the same name; they were originally cultivated by Native Americans. The most common theory behind their current name stems from the fact that Italian immigrants named them girasole, which later became “girasole artichoke”, which then eventually developed into “Jerusalem artichoke”. Its other name, sunchoke, is a relatively new name for the tuber that stems from the fact that its flowers look a lot like sunflowers.
While only distantly related to artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes still carry a distinct (okey dokey) artichokey flavor when cooked. They have a similar texture to potatoes. They’re one of my favorite starches because of their versatility; they can be eaten raw or cooked, they don’t need to be peeled, and they taste good both gently cooked and fully roasted.
Over the weekend I was invited to a one-on-one tour of my local Whole Foods Market in Annapolis, Maryland. Although we shop at this store often, it was enlightening to walk around the store with their resident Healthy Eating Specialist and discuss some of their programs and policies. While we had a few opposing food philosophies, the amount of overlap between their goals and my health principles was impressive and encouraging. So, let’s talk about what I discovered.
Roasted asparagus is no big deal, right? To roast asparagus, you basically just roast asparagus – not really worthy of a dedicated blog post. But pair this under-appreciated vegetable with a traditional Béarnaise sauce and you’ve got something spectacular. It’s funny what a few egg yolks and some butter can do.
Asparagus is an ancient vegetable, found in records dating back 5,000 years. In fact, an asparagus recipe appears in the oldest surviving cookbook (Apicuius, 4th century AD). While widely used by the Greeks and Romans, it nearly disappeared after the fall of the Roman Empire, only to be reintroduced in the late Middle Ages by the French.
Béarnaise sauce is relatively modern, first developed in the 19th century. It is often associated with Hollandaise sauce, as it employs a similar technique of emulsifying fat (butter) in egg yolks and acid. While Hollandaise is made with lemon juice, a Béarnaise is made with an herb-infused vinegar reduction. The sauce has nothing to do with bears, or the capital of Switzerland (Bern), but rather is named after Béarn, a former province in southwest France. Fun fact: d’Artagnan (one of the main characters in The Three Musketeers) was from Béarn.
My friends at Pacific Merchants donated this Enamour dish for my recipe, which was pretty cool of them. Enamel-coated stoneware is very sturdy and versatile, and this dish is a thing of beauty. It can be used for baking and broiling, but in this case I used it as a serving dish. They are also offering 25% off purchases on their site for my readers, valid March 4-12, 2014! Use code DomesticMan at checkout.
Callaloo is a Caribbean dish that originated in Africa. It is typically made with amaranth leaves (aptly called callaloo in the West Indies), taro leaves (dasheen), or water spinach; since these plants are somewhat hard to find in the United States, spinach is a common replacement stateside. There are many variations of this dish, and my recipe follows the Trinidadian version, which includes coconut milk and okra. In the Caribbean, Callaloo is often served as a side dish, but when I make it, it almost always turns into a main course. I’m not the type of guy that craves vegetables often, or vegetable soups for that matter, and I crave this dish. A lot.
I think I could eat my weight in Callaloo. I don’t know what it is about this dish that makes me go crazy about it. For one thing, I feel like a superhero after I eat it – like I’ve consumed a week’s worth of vegetables in one sitting. It’s also ridiculously delicious, and carries a unique flavor despite using fairly common ingredients. The only ingredient in here we don’t eat regularly is okra, since my wife isn’t a fan of okra’s slimy texture; luckily, the texture is cleverly masked in this dish.
To tell the truth, it’s not often that I get a hankering for a meal-sized salad. There’s a lot of chewing involved. But if I am going to sit down and enjoy a full salad, I prefer to eat something made with a wide variety of hearty ingredients. In that regard, Cobb Salad takes the cake: it’s basically lettuce and a bunch of solid, pleasurable mix-ins. No dainty ingredients like sprouts, no sir! Okay, sometimes Cobb recipes call for chives, but you get my point.
Both the salad and dressing used in today’s recipe come from California in the early 20th century. Bob Cobb, owner of the Brown Derby Restaurant in Hollywood during the 1930s, whipped up a quick salad for a friend with a toothache using leftovers found in his kitchen. He cut the ingredients up into small pieces so as not to exacerbate his friend’s condition. (Personally, I would have whipped up a pureed soup if my friend had a toothache.) Other stories contend that there was no toothache involved. Either way, the salad was such a hit that Cobb added it to his menu, and it took off from there. Green Goddess Dressing was made by a San Francisco chef in the 1920s, after a popular stage play of the same name. While the salad and dressing don’t traditionally go together (Cobb salad is usually served with red wine vinaigrette), I really like the pairing of the two. Plus, they each call for 1/2 an avocado, so in that sense, they fit together perfectly.
Special thanks to my friends at Pacific Merchants who donated the hand-carved acacia wood salad bowl for the picture you see above. Their 12″ bowl is both beautiful and sturdy; it’s a perfect size for a whopping salad like this one.
Gobhi Musallam is a roasted cauliflower dish from the Uttar Pradesh region of Northern India. While the origin of the dish itself is hard to trace, the origin of cauliflower isn’t. Cauliflower is a direct descendant of wild cabbage, and a close cousin to broccoli. Although it was known in Europe during the Middle Ages, it disappeared until sometime in the 17th Century, when Italy reintroduced it to the rest of Europe. Surprisingly, the Italians probably got cauliflower from the Middle East and Asia, who had likely acquired it from Europe during the Middle Ages. I think it’s pretty cool that cauliflower disappeared from its place of origin, only to be re-introduced by another culture.
We love this dish for several reasons. First of all, it’s an easy dish to put together: parboil the cauliflower, whip up a sauce, combine the two and roast in the oven. It’s a very impressive dish to serve to guests, and slicing/serving the cauliflower is a memorable experience. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, Gobhi Musallam is absolutely delicious and an interesting way to enjoy cauliflower.
Although the common consensus is that collard greens originated in the Mediterranean, they gained their most widespread popularity in Africa (see my Sukuma Wiki recipe). It is assumed that collards made it to most of the Americas via African slaves. In Brazil, it’s a different story, as collard greens were likely introduced via Portugal, where it has been a staple veggie for hundreds of years (as evidenced by my Caldo Verde recipe). Today, collards are served often in Brazil, usually as an accompaniment to fish or beef.
Today’s recipe is a collaboration with my friend Alex Boake, who stayed at our house for a few days before heading off to Ancestral Health Symposium with us. She’s going to post an illustrated version of this recipe on her blog later this week, so bookmark her site! We’ll be knocking out a couple other illustrated recipes in the near future as well, so this is just the tip of the illustrated Paleo recipe iceberg. Update: Here is Alex’s post!