9 – Pressure Cooker

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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One of my favorite popular dishes in Indian cuisine is Saag, a leaf-based side commonly served with bread or rice. Years ago, I found myself ordering it in local restaurants, often for a steep price, and wondering how to recreate this dish at home. It’s been a staple in the house ever since, and I even included a popular variation, Saag Paneer (served with homemade, pan-fried cheese), in The Ancestral Table.

While I love Saag Paneer, and the sense of accomplishment that comes with making your own cheese, it is pretty time consuming. Lately, I often stick with a simple version of Saag, which is basically just the greens with some basic spices. Additionally, my friends at Primal Palate recently added Garam Masala to their collection of spices, so it felt like to perfect time to post my Simple Saag recipe.

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We’re in the thick of stew season here in the US; this is the time of year where I like to spend my lazy weekend afternoons filling the house with the smells of simmering meat and winter vegetables. Unfortunately for stew season, but fortunately for us, our little part of Florida is still experiencing warm weather: as I type this, it’s 74F outside right now. Understandably, I’ve had a hard time getting into the winter stew spirit, as warm weather calls for warm-weather food.

So this past weekend I decided to mix both worlds, combining the comforts of cooking a stew and the flavors of an exotic dish. Today’s recipe for Curried Beef Stew doesn’t quite have a distinct origin, and its flavor is equal parts Indonesian Beef Rendang and Japanese Curry (the latter’s recipe is found in my debut cookbook, The Ancestral Table): earthy, hearty, and exceptionally rich.

In developing this dish, I wanted to appeal to many audiences. The recipe is Whole30-friendly, to be used as a resource for those who are starting their New Year off with some squeaky-clean eating. Included at the bottom of the recipe are also instructions for those of you who were recently gifted an Instant Pot electric pressure cooker, or are dusting it off after a period of neglect. Finally, I was careful to choose ingredients that are readily available at any grocery store – no need to hunt down particular items across several different markets.

Quick note as you are grocery shopping: there are two bell peppers in this recipe – one in the paste, and another in the stew itself!

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As I mentioned over Instagram the other day, our youngest son recently came down with a fever, the first of his life (he’s only 11 months old, but still, I like saying that). Four airplane rides over the course of seven days will do that (we traveled to my home state of Washington for Thanksgiving last week). No problem regarding the fever, though – chicken soup to the rescue, and he was back to his usual, trouble-making self the following day.

I think the Instant Pot pressure cooker craze has reached a fever pitch this year; in fact, it was on heavilty discounted during both Black Friday and Cyber Monday this past week on Amazon (I mentioned the sale in my periodic newsletter – which you’re signed up for, right?). So it seems right to share a simple pressure-cooker chicken soup recipe with you folks today.

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We’re in the thick of tomato season (June to September in the US), which means it’s time to share one of my favorite simple soups.

Tomato soup is a common comfort food here in the US, and has a similar association in many western countries; Poland, I’ve found, is particularly fond of the soup, as it is the first thing young chefs learn to make (a quick Google search of “Zupa Pomidorowa” yields 1.5 million results).

Tomatoes are relatively new to the Western palate; first imported from Mexico to Europe by Spanish explorers, they were initially considered poisonous and used as ornamentals. In 1789, Thomas Jefferson introduced them to the United States – he was Secretary of State at the time, which leads one to wish all Secretaries of State were judged by the deliciousness of foods imported during their tenure. In the US, tomatoes were not commonly eaten until the 1830s, and the first record of tomato soup was written by famous American author Maria Parloa in 1872. Joseph Campbell’s condensed tomato soup cemented its comfort-food status in 1897.

The English word tomato is on loan from the Spanish tomate, which was lifted from the Nahuatl (Aztec) word tomatl. The first tomatoes were probably yellow, which makes sense when considering the other common word for the savory fruit, derived from the Italian pomodoro – a pairing of pomo ‎(“apple”) +‎ d’oro ‎(“golden”).

This soup takes about an hour to make with fresh tomatoes, slightly faster when using canned tomatoes, and significantly quicker with the help of my favorite kitchen appliance, the Instant Pot electric pressure cooker (instructions for each method below).

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My parents-in-law recently visited from Hawaii over the holidays, to help around the house as we adjusted to having a new baby in our family. It was great spending the holidays with them, but it also made me realize how much I miss living in Hawaii. I lived there from ages 21 to 28, and many of the events that shaped who I am today – from meeting and marrying my wife, to honing my skills as a home chef, to suffering the worst of my health adventures – came while living in view of the Honolulu skyline. For a few of those years, Janey and I lived with her parents, whom we affectionately called our “roommates”.

When we left the island in 2008, it genuinely felt like I was leaving home; time has caused that sentiment to wane a bit, but in the end, Hawaii has a special place in my heart. And within that special place in my heart there is another, perhaps specialer place in my heart, which is where Hawaii’s Chinese-style oxtail soup resides.

The title for Hawaii’s best oxtail soup is hotly contested. I’ve heard everything from Kapiolani Coffee Shop to Aiea Bowl. Somewhat surprisingly, restaurants attached to bowling alleys are generally known for having good oxtail soup – even the famous Kapiolani Coffee Shop oxtail soup got its start at Kam Bowl, which closed in 2007 but re-opened just last month.

I like to think that preparing an authentic dish from Hawaii makes the sting of not living there hurt a little less, and you really can’t go wrong with a Chinese-inspired creation that’s equal parts rich and comforting. So we’re going to recreate it today for those of us who can’t just drive to our local bowling alley to buy a bowl of soup. Included below are stovetop and electric pressure cooker variations of the recipe, whatever floats your boat.

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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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As far as I can tell, one of this year’s most popular gadgets was the Instant Pot, an electronic pressure cooker that doubles (triples, etc) as a slow cooker, rice pot, steamer, yogurt maker, and more. I’m most frequently asked to develop recipes for it by my readers, followed closely by folks looking for slow cooker (crockpot) recipes. So this week’s Pot Roast recipe is the best of both worlds – a pressure cooker recipe that also includes instructions for slow cookers. Heck, I even threw in Dutch Oven instructions while I was at it.

Don’t let the lengths of these instructions scare you away. Each recipe is essentially four parts: brown the roast, cook the roast (and vegetables), broil the roast (and vegetables), and reduce the sauce. It’s a bit more involved than dumping everything in a pot, but well worth the extra effort: tender meat, roasted vegetables, and tasty sauce all at once.

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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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A favorite dish from Paleo Takeout is my Ramen recipe (page 112), which contains eight different types of Ramen and a variety of add-ins. It’s an excellent way to enjoy different takes on the same soup, while sneaking in a good amount of broth at the same time.

Like a lot of North America, we’re receiving a ton of rain right now, which always puts me in the mood for soup (admittedly, it doesn’t take much for me to get in a soup-eating mood). I figure some of you might be interested in soup right about now too, so here is my take on a simple pork-based Ramen, with some added curried winter squash to celebrate the coming winter season. Both pressure cooker and stovetop instructions are provided.

Ramen is a Japanese noodle dish inspired by Chinese cuisine (the word Ramen itself is borrowed from Lāmiàn, a type of Chinese noodle). Ramen is a relatively new phenomenon; it first started appearing in Japan during the early 20th century, but quickly gained ground after World War II, when soldiers returning from war in China had developed an affinity for Chinese-inspired cuisine (namely noodle soups). At the same time, Japan started importing American-grown wheat flour, which spurred the Japanese noodle-making industry. Ramen’s popularity was secured in 1958 when instant ramen noodles were invented, and later exported starting in 1971.

The impressive reach of Japanese Ramen can be neatly summarized by one fact: it has become very popular in China, where it is called Rìshì Lāmiàn (“Japan-style Lāmiàn”). That the soup can originate in one country, gain prominence in another, only to return to the original country with a new identity is both a testament to how delicious this soup is, as well as the ingenuity and adaptability of the human spirit.

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