Rice

One of the more unexpected tasks that come with writing a cookbook is establishing a baseline for the reader. For example, presenting a simple (meat + rice) recipe isn’t as simple as throwing together (meat + rice), especially if you’re going to reference a similar rice preparation in other parts of the book. So a (meat + rice) recipe turns into two separate recipes – one for the meat, and another for the rice. Likewise, if you want any vegetables to accompany the dish, you need to decide whether to include the vegetables as part of that recipe, or create a standalone vegetable side. And since the rice recipe will likely call for broth, you need a broth recipe, too. The layers keep coming, until the book just grows and grows.

This concept isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it allows me to focus deliberately on each portion of the dish to make sure it gets the attention it deserves. So today I’m going to share with you a simple recipe for Spanish Rice, sometimes referred to as Yellow Rice (Arroz Amarillo), which I’ll use a few different times in my upcoming cookbook. This recipe uses a healthy two pinches of saffron for its distinct yellow color, a reflection of its Spanish roots and famous cousin, Paella. Some preparations use annatto (anchiote) seeds to give the rice its yellow color, and I have included instructions for both methods below. The saffron and annatto will each bring very subtle flavors to the rice: the saffron is floral and a little pungent, while the annatto is nutty with hints of nutmeg. If you own both saffron and annatto, feel free to use them at the same time.

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This week’s recipe is unique for a couple reasons. First, it is the result of collaboration with my new friends at American Kitchen Cookware, who sent me a set of their American-made cast aluminum cookware to test and share with you folks – be sure to keep scrolling for more info on their products, and a giveaway for a set of your own.

The second reason this recipe is unique is because it is actually two dishes in one. Both the Boneless Fried Chicken and Carolina Shrimp Bog would be excellent on their own, but a) I wanted to highlight two distinct pieces of cookware, and b) I was drawn to the challenge of writing you through the process of building two dishes at once. Crafting a single recipe is relatively easy, but balancing multiple dishes to create one whole meal is more reflective of how most of us spend time in the kitchen; I hope this week’s recipe will give you some insight into how I tackle multiple tasks simultaneously.

When it comes to frying chicken, I’ve made a few breakthroughs over the years, and this Boneless Fried Chicken is like a culmination of those efforts. To start, we’re going to use the seasoning I developed in last year’s Seasoned Southern Fried Chicken recipe, which has a flavor not unlike what you’d find from Colonel Sander’s secret 11 herbs and spices. Next, we’re going to use boneless thighs to speed up the cooking process. Finally, we’re going to use a traditional 3-step breading for the chicken, but with potato starch, eggs, and crushed pork rinds for the different coatings – a technique I use in my Tonkatsu/Chicken Katsu recipes in Paleo Takeout – which gives the chicken a crispy crust and unforgettable bite.

Joining the chicken is Shrimp Bog, a simple, thick Southern stew of rice, veggies, and (you guessed it) shrimp. While “Bog” isn’t the most appealing word to describe food, it is a little fitting, since this dish is a more liquidy version of another Carolina staple, Perloo (which is sometimes spelled Purloo, Perlo, Poilu, or Pilau – the latter definitely linked to its Pilaf origins). In the Carolinas, these two dishes were traditionally made with Carolina-grown rice, which fell out of favor as other Southern rices dominated our grocery shelves over the past couple centuries. Recently, Carolina Gold heirloom rice has been making a bit of a comeback among foodies and historians (here is an excellent writeup), and for good reason – the rice is creamy and nutty in a way that’s seldom found in long-grain rices – well worth the extra expense to try it once, if only to experience a bit of American history.

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The other day, as I was experimenting with pressure-cooked rice to enjoy with my recent Simple Saag recipe, I thought it was long overdue to discuss the merits of white rice in my diet. I usually mention this every year or two, and I’ve touched on it in each of my books, but it’s always good to open up the discussion from time to time.

The use of rice on a Paleo-friendly website might seem counterintuitive, since most Paleo resources suggest avoiding grains. The reasoning is typically that grains are relative newcomers to humankind’s three-million-year history, since agriculture didn’t spread until the start of the Neolithic era, some 12,000 years ago. But historians estimate that the progenitor of rice existed over 130 million years ago (you know, about 127 million years before humans appeared). It’s so old that similar strains were found in both Africa and Asia, indicating that it was around before the continents first shifted to where they are today.

There is evidence that wild rice was eaten by prehistoric peoples when available, and it was first domesticated around 13,000 years ago, before the end of the Paleolithic era and a couple thousand years before wheat was domesticated. So it’s been around for a long time, much longer that many other foods on our dinner plates – like tomatoes, which were exclusive to South America until about 600 years ago, and cultivated in the Andes only for about 1,000 years prior to that. I’m not picking on tomatoes, because they’re delicious, but you get my point: worldwide, they’ve had 1/12 the culinary lifespan of rice.

Another reason to avoid grains is the fact that many contain low-grade toxins and antinutrients, which can be disruptive to the digestive system. White rice has the lowest toxicity of all the cereal grains, and most of its toxins exist in the bran found in brown rice. A common concern is that grains contain phytic acid, which binds to dietary minerals like zinc and iron, causing them to be less digestible and potentially leading to micronutrient deficiencies. While brown rice carries a significant amount of phytic acid (about the same amount as whole wheat bread), white rice is much lower; in fact, it has less phytic acid than many foods approved by common Paleo diet standards, such as coconut, avocados, walnuts, almonds, and spinach. Finally, the majority of toxins that remain in white rice are destroyed in the cooking process. For this reason, I prefer white rice over brown rice (and it tastes better, too). I like to think of it this way: consider that rice has a reputation among many traditional cultures as being a safe food for digestion, and it is often given to children and the infirm as a way to provide safe, digestible calories. Rice is not nutrient dense, so it’s a good idea to cook it in broth and eat it as part of a nutrient-packed meal; we often top our rice with furikake, a Japanese rice seasoning made from seaweed.

Glycemic load is also a concern when eating rice, and I think my friend Paul Jaminet summed it up perfectly several years ago, here. To paraphrase, the GI of white rice is tempered by a number of factors, including its type (basmati is better than average), cooking method (boiling is best), and the presence of other foods which contain dairy (butter!), fat (meat!), fiber (veggies!), or acids (wine! fermented veggies!). So while the glycemic index on paper looks scary, rice is rarely eaten in a vacuum, but as part of a complete meal.

Last sticking point: it’s true that like other plant-based foods, rice absorbs inorganic arsenic, and there are some pretty frightening reports about the arsenic content found in rice products. First, it’s important to note that the vast majority of rice products with high arsenic content come from brown rice, not white rice. Moreover, the source of your rice is also critical; for example, most rice grown in the US is from Texas, Arkansas, or Louisiana, typically on former cotton fields. Those fields contain high levels of arsenic in their soil, as a result of using pesticides to combat boll weevils, and these rices absorb that arsenic. Alternatively, rice grown in California, East Asia, and South Asia generally contain less arsenic than rice grown in the Southern US. The type of rice also influences its arsenic content, with basmati rice containing the lowest amount of arsenic. While the effects of inorganic arsenic is often disputed, to play it safe, we stick to white rice grown in California or Asia (or Europe, if buying risotto or paella rice).

Okay, I hope I’ve made my point, that white rice isn’t some predatory frankenfood that should be avoided at all costs. So let me leave you with one last example: most people would agree that a meal of sautéed chicken, steamed broccoli, and a bit of olive oil is technically “healthy” meal (albeit one that would have me craving pizza afterwards). So how would that meal compare to the flavor, satisfaction, and nutrients found in this Seafood and Sausage Paella, made with broth, seafood, a bunch of veggies, and 1 1/2 cups of white rice spread among six servings? Case closed. Let’s make some rice.

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Happy Friday everyone! I just wanted to send along a quick note to let you know that I’ve released a new, 2017 edition of my eBook, The Safe Starch Cookbook.

In this update, I’ve added 27 new recipes to the eBook, 42% more content than the previous version. I’ve also updated the cover, graphics, and some of the recipe formatting. The Safe Starch Cookbook now contains 221 pages. Here’s a short list of what you’ll find inside the book:

  • 91 recipes (24 rice, 28 potato, 15 noodle, and 24 other starch dishes)
  • a picture for every recipe, taken by yours truly
  • comprehensive recipe index with thumbnail hyperlinks to each page
  • a look at portion sizes and meal timing for optimum health
  • tips to save money using starches (nearly $1,000/year per person!)
  • a breakdown of meal-planning in the context of carbs
  • a thorough substitution guide for common food allergies
  • all recipes are gluten-free and developed using a whole-food mindset
  • my argument for why white rice should be considered “Paleo”
  • rice-buying guide to avoid arsenic and other toxins
  • 221 pages total

For more info, please check out The Safe Starch Cookbook‘s main page. Happy cooking!

Paella is one of my favorite dishes to prepare at home – like fried rice or risotto, it’s an excellent way to clean out the vegetable bin. Moreover, it’s one of my favorite examples how the judicious use of white rice can in fact be very health-promoting; while rice gets a bum rap for being fairly devoid of nutrients, I think it’s just fine in the context of the broth, seafood, and vegetables used in this recipe.

This dish was a standout recipe in my first cookbook, The Ancestral Table, and here’s what I wrote about it:

Paella is a dish from Valencia, along Spain’s eastern coast. Rice was a product of Moorish influence and was a staple in Spain by the 15th century. Paella developed over the years as people began to add combinations of meats and vegetables. While water vole was one of the first meats used in paella, today’s Valencian paella includes rabbit, chicken, snails, and beans; seafood paella is equally popular and is considered a traditional dish along the Valencian coast.

Using an appropriate type of rice is important, as many varieties were specially bred to absorb liquid without losing texture. Calasparra and bomba rices are preferred and are available from gourmet food suppliers and online. Arborio, a common risotto rice, fares pretty well. In a pinch, plain calrose rice will get the job done. Paella is best made over an open flame and is traditionally prepared outdoors.

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Arroz con Pollo is a chicken and rice dish popular in Spain and Latin America. While its origin is difficult to trace, it is likely an adaptation of the Paella, a staple Spanish (Valencian) rice dish dating as far back as the 15th century. As with many dishes stemming from Spain’s exploration and colonization, Arroz con Pollo deliciously marries both worlds; Spanish rice and technique combine with ingredients native to the Americas (namely tomatoes and peppers).

There are dozens of variations on Arroz con Pollo, and I fully expect a few comments below lamenting the fact that my version is not exactly like abuelita’s recipe. It’s understandable that this dish evokes some fairly raw emotion, as it is closely aligned with what I’d consider comfort food. I find that there is beauty in creating a personal version of an oft-tweaked recipe; I think that personalization is part of being human, and the many variations of this dish stand as a testament to this concept.

Some common extra add-ins for Arroz con Pollo include pimento-stuffed green olives, beer, and/or ham. Its flavoring paste, known as sofrito, is also the subject of some debate; some call for tomatoes, others eschew them, and still others use an added fat like lard or olive oil.

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Recently, I stumbled upon J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s technique for pressure-cooker risotto, and decided to take it for a spin using my Instant Pot electric pressure cooker. Considering that risotto has been around for 600 years, it’s nice to see a new spin on a classic preparation.

This technique worked perfectly (big surprise), so I have been using it frequently as a means to make perfect risotto without all that stirring. I even had to buy a new bag of arborio rice this past weekend, which is a rare occurrence – risotto rice always seems to last forever. If you don’t have a pressure cooker (yet!), don’t worry, I’ve included stovetop instructions as well.

To highlight this new take on risotto, I decided to err on the side of decadent: duck fat, mushrooms, prosciutto, and orange zest all fit together seamlessly to form a dish that’s equal parts familiar and exotic – and surprisingly dairy-free, to boot.

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Friendly reminder that the Kindle version of my debut cookbook, The Ancestral Table, is available for $2.99 on Amazon for today (Nov 24th) only!

Jambalaya has its origins in European cuisine, and it is commonly believed that the dish is the result of Spaniards living in New Orleans attempting to recreate Paella using local ingredients. The word Jambalaya itself comes from the Provençal (Southern France) word Jambalaia, which means “mish-mash”. Some folktales posit that the word is a combination of Jamón (“ham”) and Paella, but that falls a bit flat when you consider that ham is not a traditional ingredient in Jambalaya.

But what are traditional ingredients, you might ask? Good question. First, there are two major types of Jambalaya – Creole (or “Red”) and Cajun. The main difference between the two is that Creole Jambalaya, the more popular version of the two, contains tomatoes (the Cajun version has more rural roots, where tomatoes weren’t readily available).

Aside from the standard “holy trinity” mirepoix of onion, celery, and bell pepper, there are plenty of proteins used in this dish: shrimp, sausage, alligator, chicken, crawfish, oysters, and nutria rat. For this recipe I used the most readily-available proteins: sausage, shrimp, and chicken; if you have access to some of the more adventurous ingredients from this list, go for it.

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Local friends: I’ll be having a talk, cooking demo, and book signing in a couple weeks – for more info, see the bottom of this post.

This little soup has made quite a journey over its lifetime. It was traditionally a sauce served over rice in its native India, but British colonials returning to England from travels abroad in the 19th century sought to recreate the dish at home. It eventually evolved into a mildly-flavored soup and spread as far as Australia, and there are now hundreds of variations of the dish.

While coconut milk was likely the original ingredient used to add richness to the soup, cream eventually took over in the UK. Personally, I like the exotic notes that coconut milk provides, so I reverted this dish back to its roots. This soup is typically thickened by adding rice and blending it with the other ingredients, but if you’re rice-free, don’t worry about it, the soup will still have a fairly hearty thickness to it thanks to the soup’s blended sweet potato.

One of my favorite aspects of this dish is that it imparts a slightly exotic flavor while using common ingredients (much like another favorite, Sukuma Wiki). Lastly, one fun fact: the name mulligatawny is derived from the Tamil (Southern Indian) words மிளகு தண்ணீர் (mullaga and thanni), which translate to “pepper water”.

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Avgolemeno is a Mediterranean sauce and soup, most commonly associated with Greece. As a sauce, it’s often served with Dolma or used as a vegetable dip. But if you ask me, it really shines the most as a mild and comforting soup, and that’s why I’m sharing this recipe with you today. It features egg yolks and lemon juice which enrich and enliven the soup, and some fresh dill brings it all together to give it a distinct and just slightly exotic flavor.

I’m a big fan of taking my time when making recipes. After all, cooking is one of my main sources of relaxation (second only to reading cheesy sci-fi). But I realize that’s not always the case for folks, so I’m trying something new today; below you’ll find a “short version” of the recipe that can be made in 20 minutes, as well as the traditional 2-hour version. Let me know what you think. If you like it, I’ll try to incorporate more variety into my recipe posts (kind of like how I’ve been adding pressure-cooker versions to some recipes).

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