Goat's Milk Labneh Dip

 
Goat's Milk Labneh Dip (image T.Freuman)

Goat's Milk Labneh Dip (image T.Freuman)

Labneh is a thick, creamy Middle Eastern yogurt dip, traditionally topped with a pool of olive oil and heavy sprinkle of za’atar– a green herbal mixture that features some combination of thyme, hyssop, oregano and/or marjoram with sesame seed and salt.  (Some versions also contain sumac.) Alongside better-known mezze staples like hummus and babaganoush, labneh makes a delicious topping for pita bread or–in our case– gluten-free alternatives.  

Labneh is hard to find in stores, even here in the New York area.  So when my mother-in-law showed up here with a huge vat of it–that she made herself (!!)– I naturally started plying her for the recipe. As it turns out, making homemade Labneh is so ridiculously easy that she didn’t even have a recipe.

Goat's Milk Labneh Dip

Directions:

  1. Line a sieve or fine strainer with cheesecloth, a thin tea towel or two layers of paper towels.
  2. Place it over a large pot.
  3. Dump a 32 oz container of plain, whole milk goat's milk yogurt* in it (you can use Cow's milk or Lactose-free cow's milk yogurt as well)
  4. Leave it out at room temperature for 2 hours.
  5. Remove and discard the liquid from the pot.  Refrigerate the strained yogurt until it is cold again.
  6. To serve: Spread onto a serving plate. Top with a pool of high-quality olive oil (fancy ones are great here, as you will really taste the nuanced flavors… a nice, green grassy one will be LOVELY).  Sprinkle generously with Za’atar, which you will need to buy at a specialty shop or online.  You can find it in supermarkets with a large selection of imported food products from Israel or the Middle East, at ethnic specialty markets like Kalustyan’s in New York City, or online.  This dish makes a great appetizer, or a fabulous, savory breakfast spread.

I made mine with plain goat's milk yogurt, which is lower lactose than cow's milk yogurt... and lower still after straining even more liquid from it; after draining for two hours, about 1/3 cup of liquid had seeped through the paper towels into my pot.  I think goat's milk yogurt gives a hint of the signature, musky twang of goat cheese that I love. You can use lactose-free cow's milk yogurt (Green Valley Organics) if you need to be sure your Labneh is fully lactose-free.

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Gluten Free Quinoa Matzoh Balls

 
Gluten Free Quinoa Matzoh Balls (image T. Freuman)

Gluten Free Quinoa Matzoh Balls (image T. Freuman)

Nothing says Passover like matzoh ball soup, the original Jewish comfort food. Feeling under the weather? Have some matzoh ball soup.  Depressed?  Have some matzoh ball soup. Homesick? Defrost some of mom’s matzoh ball soup.   Matzoh ball soup devotees tend to fall into one of two camps: those who prefer a feather-light “floater,” and those who prefer a firm, dense “sinker.”

Of course, for those of us who can no longer partake in matzoh or its glutinous derivatives such as the matzoh meal used to make matzoh balls, the soup course of the Passover Seder is a sad, sad time.  What’s more depressing than spending two hours recalling your ancestors’ persecution and suffering, only to be served a steaming bowl of plain, matzohball-less broth? While I’ve tolerated this indignity in years past, I decided that this year, it was time to MMODGFMB.  That’s Hebrew for: make my own damn gluten-free matzoh balls. Enough was enough.

II decided to see if I could find a gluten-free flour that was also kosher for Passover with which to fashion my GF matzoh balls.  I even consulted the family Rabbi, who confirmed what I had hoped: quinoa is considered by most authorities to be kosher for Passover.  Now, without delving into theological intricacies, I will mention that quinoa flakes may or may not be processed in a facility that is free of all off-limits-for-Passover grains, so if you’re on the more religiously observant side, you may want to err on the side of caution here.  And that’s all I’ll say on that topic.

 

 

Can you tell which is the “control” matzoh ball and which is the gluten-free one?

Can you tell which is the “control” matzoh ball and which is the gluten-free one?

It took two days and 8 different experiments, but I am happy to report that the following recipe produced a matzoh-less quinoa “matzoh ball” that is firm but not dense, fluffy but not overly feathery. It tastes like a matzoh ball is supposed to taste, and it’s made with whole grain, high-protein, quinoa flakes instead of starchy or heavy alternatives.

 

 

 

Tamara’s Gluten-free Quinoa “Matzoh” Balls (or, Quatzoh Balls)

Makes 10 quinoa matzoh balls

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup quinoa flakes*
  • 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt (use regular iodized salt, not kosher salt)
  • A sprinkle of ground black pepper to your liking

* look for quinoa flakes in the hot cereal/oatmeal section of your grocery store, or order online from your favorite site.  Ancient Harvest is the most well-known manufacturer.

Directions:

  1. Measure out quinoa flakes and xanthan gum and combine in a small bowl.
  2. In a separate bowl, beat the two eggs.  Add oil, salt and pepper and beat again until combined.
  3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, mix well until combined.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  (You don’t want the matzoh balls to be crowded).
  5. Remove batter from refrigerator and wet hands.  With wet hands, fashion a SMALL amount of batter into a smooth ball shape and drop into the boiling water.  (For reference, the batter should be enough to make 10-12 matzoh balls, so portion each one accordingly.  Each uncooked ball should be no larger than the size of a ping-pong ball… they will expand when cooking, and if they’re too big, the middle may not cook through sufficiently.)
  6. Cover pot and cook the quinoa balls, maintaining a rolling boil.   Cook 35-40 minutes.
  7. Turn off heat and let the matzoh balls sit in the cooking water to set for another 30 minutes or so. Then, remove the balls from boiling water with a slotted spoon and let sit to cool for a few minutes.  Refrigerate the balls until ready to serve.
  8. Before serving, place quinoa balls in pot of soup to warm them through.  Serve, and accept heaping praise from your gluten-intolerant guests at what a considerate host you are.

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Low Fat Black Bean and Plantain Tamales

 
The great tamale makeover: Mashed plantains replace traditionally high-fat tamale dough to delicious results. (image T. Freuman)

The great tamale makeover: Mashed plantains replace traditionally high-fat tamale dough to delicious results. (image T. Freuman)

When the universe closes a door, it opens a window.

And indeed it was so when our attempt to follow a recipe for a (naturally gluten-free) empanada using mashed plantains for the dough failed miserably.  The recipe’s chipotle-spiked black bean filling was nothing short of miraculous.  But while the plantain-based dough made a delectable fork-mate to the filling, it was too crumbly to respectably envelop it like a proper empanada pocket.  As I wallowed in our tasty but decidedly unphotogenic empanada experiment, my resourceful husband Alex had a brilliant idea: why not change the recipe from empanada to tamale?

And just like that, the window had opened.

A healthy tamale?  ¿Es posible?

Fact #1: Tamales are quite delicious.

Fact #2: Tamales are typically made with a dough that combines masa harina (cornmeal made from corn that’s been soaked in limewater) and a somewhat obscene amount of fat–usually butter or lard.  The lard renders most restaurant tamales off-limits to the vegetarian crowd, and even the butter-based approach makes homemade tamales a tough sell for those of us trying to keep our intake of artery-clogging saturated fat to a minimum.

Given these two facts, the prospect of a tamale dough that’s appropriately textured, 100% fat free, vegetarian and nutritious is a pretty big coup.

A coup, I’m delighted to say, we pulled off, thanks to some cooked mashed plantains and a little bit of creativity.

 

 

Ripe plantains are yellow with black mottling

Ripe plantains are yellow with black mottling

Plantains (plátanos in Spanish) are a fruit that resemble large, thick-skinned bananas and are commonly featured in Caribbean cuisine.  They are used both when unripe (green skin) as well as ripe (yellow to black skin); they are starchier when unripe and sweeter when riper.  Although related to the banana, plantains are usually cooked prior to eating; they have a drier, starchier texture and less banana-ey flavor than bananas.  Nutritionally, they’re closer to a starchy vegetable (like a potato) than to a fruit.  Like potatoes, plantains are a great source of blood-pressure-lowering potassium.  And as I recently discovered, when baked, mashed and lightly salted, plantains provide an excellent, fat-free alternative to a traditional tamale dough. Of course, a quick google search after-the-fact revealed that Alex and I were not the first people to come up with the idea of Plantain Tamales (hmmmph!), but I’m still pretty darn proud of us all the same.

Black Bean & Plantain Tamales 

This recipe was inspired by and adapted from a recipe for Roasted Plantain Empanadas from NYC’s Dos Caminos restaurant’s “Mod Mex” cookbook, by Scott Lundquist and Joanna Pruess.  (The more-addictive-than-crack black bean filling is taken exactly–and reverently– from the cookbook.  I’d suggest doubling the recipe, in fact, if you’d like to serve extra on top of the tamales… or perhaps to accommodate nibbling while you wait patiently for the tamales to cook.)  And if tamales seem like too much work, try making just the filling for omelets or to serve with rice… it’s SO very good.

Makes 6 tamales (serves 2 as an entree or 3 as an appetizer)

Ingredients:

  • 6 dried corn husks, soaked in warm water for 10-15 minutes until soft and bendable

Tamale "dough":

  • 2 medium ripe plantains (skins should be yellow speckled with black or mostly black)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 TBSP chopped fresh cilantro

Tamale Filling:

  • 1 TBSP canola oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup canned black beans
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce, chopped
  • kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallions (including green parts)
  • 1 ounce grated cheese (your choice of cotija, feta, pepper jack or sharp cheddar will all work great)

Directions:

Ready to fold: plantain dough topped with black bean filling (image T.Freuman)

Ready to fold: plantain dough topped with black bean filling (image T.Freuman)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Soak the corn husks in warm water in a large shallow baking dish (per above instructions) prior to getting started.
  3. Make the tamale “dough”: Bake the whole plantains (unpeeled) on a cookie sheet until they are black, bubbly, splitting open and soft in the center.  Remove from oven, let cool and peel.  Place the baked plantains into a food processor with 1/2 tsp salt and chopped cilantro and mix until mashed.  The mixture will be a little dry and crumbly.  Add 1 TBSP water and briefly mix again until a uniform, smooth paste texture is achieved (depending on your plantain’s texture, you may need to adjust the amount of water… if 2 TBSP doesn’t yield a smooth texture, add 1 tsp additional water at a time until you get there.)

4. Make the tamale filling: Heat a medium, non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Add oil, then onion, and saute until onion is lightly browned–about 5-6 minutes.  Stir in garlic, cook 1 minute, then add black beans, half of the water (1/4 cup) and the chopped chipotle chili.  As the filling cooks, mash the mixture with a potato masher (or back of a wooden spoon) until chunky-smooth.  Add remaining 1/4 cup water, season to taste with salt.  Add the chopped scallions, the grated cheese and remove from heat.

5. Assemble the tamales: Lay a pre-soaked corn husk flat on working surface.  Spoon ~1/4 cup tamale dough (mashed plantain mixture) onto center of the husk and, using your fingers, spread it on the husk leaving a 1″ border all around.  Spoon 1/6 of the bean mixture across the dough.  Fold the tamale shut as follows: start by pulling up the longer edges of the husk until the edges of the plantain mash meet and fold over onto themselves, forming a tube around the bean filling.  Then, tuck one edge of the husk between the outside of the dough tube and the other husk.  Now you will have a tube-like tamale open on two sides.  Then, fold one of the remaining open sides so that the tamale has only one open end. 

6. Steam the tamales: Drop a penny into a large saucepan and fill with water up until the level of a steamer basket. Bring water to a boil; you will hear the penny rattling around so long as there is sufficient water in the pot.  (Over the course of the cooking time, listen for the penny rattling and add more water to the pot if the rattling sound stops.)  When water is boiling, pile the folded tamales into steamer basket, seam side down, cover saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, and steam for 45 minutes, replenishing water as needed.

7. To serve: Remove tamales from steamer basket.  Place on a plate, unfold the husk, and garnish with salsa of your choice (a chipotle salsa or salsa verde would work great), some additional shredded cheese and/or chopped cilantro to your liking.

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Japchae Noodles

 
Japchae Noodles (image T. Freuman)

Japchae Noodles (image T. Freuman)

 

I’ve wanted to try making Korean Japchae noodles for ages, but abandoned the project prematurely when I discovered one of the local Korean markets in my neighborhood didn’t sell the star ingredient– sweet potato starch-based vermicelli. Since this signature dish at Korean restaurants contains soy sauce (not gluten-free for a celiac gal like me), I knew that if I was ever going to taste Japchae noodles, I’d better make them myself.

Sweet Potato Vermicelli (ingredients: Sweet Potato starch, water)

Sweet Potato Vermicelli (ingredients: Sweet Potato starch, water)

But after securing the elusive noodles at a local Asian supermarket,  I was in business.  And a small small bundle of additional ingredients later– 1/4 lb of fresh shiitakes, a carrot, some scallions and a bag of baby spinach leaves– I was headed home to try my hand at Korean cooking.

I followed this recipe from Chow.com almost to a tee, swapping out the regular soy sauce for reduced sodium, wheat-free Tamari sauce instead.  It was a FUN recipe to make!  The highlights for me were using kitchen shears to trim fat, sesame-oil slicked noodles into manageable segments (a project I’d recommend you allow an older child to help with… it’s such a tactile pleasure to slice through those plump, slippery things!) and practicing my knife skills to achieve matchstick carrots and paper-thin shiitake slices that would find camouflage enough in the noodles so that my kids won’t pick them out.  To keep this dish interactive, try letting toddlers and preschoolers sprinkle their own sesame seeds on top when serving.

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Bok Choy Salad with Peanut Vinaigrette

 
Bok Choy Salad with Peanut Vinaigrette (image T. Freuman)

Bok Choy Salad with Peanut Vinaigrette (image T. Freuman)

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I completely overdid it this past Thanksgiving weekend.

I’m in serious reining it in mode, and have committed to low carb, vegetably dinners for this coming week– salads and vegetable soups.  Which means I’ve made a big batch of the only salad I could possibly stand to eat for a week straight: the crunchiest, most flavorful, packed-full-of-goodies salad I know. In case you haven’t met it yet, allow me to introduce you to this surprising Bok Choy Salad with Peanut Vinaigrette.

My mom once got the recipe from her friend, and we’ve been making it for years.  Over time, we’ve modified the dressing recipe to be waaaaay less sugary, and the salad is no worse for the wear.  This salad is a less common way to use bok choy, a most nutritious cruciferous vegetable that’s more likely to be stir fried or sauteed than it is to be eaten raw.  Which is odd, since raw bok choy beats most lettuces for crunch, but isn’t excessively tough and fibrous like raw kale and cabbage often are.  You can also use this vegetable salad as a base for proteins to add a bit more substance; some sauteed shrimp or chicken would be lovely, as would soy-marinated sliced steak or Asian- flavored baked tofu or tempeh.

Folks whose digestive systems disagree with the other cruciferous family veggies– like broccoli, brussels, kale and cabbage– may find that bok choy is the distant relative who they can tolerate.

Bok Choy Salad with Peanut Vinaigrette

Ingredients:

  • 2 bunches bok choy (or 4 bunches baby bok choy), chopped
  • 4 scallions (greens only for low FODMAP), thinly sliced
  • Dried cranberries (amount to taste; a 5oz package is not unreasonable)
  • Sunflower seeds (amount to taste)
  • Toasted slivered almonds or sliced almonds (amount to taste)

Toss together all of the salad ingredients.

Peanut Vinaigrette:

To make the vinaigrette, whisk together the following ingredients very well until uniform consistency.  Leftover dressing can be stored in a sealed container in the fridge, and brought to room temperature again for future use.

  • 1/2 cup olive oil (replace half with garlic-infused olive oil if making this low FODMAP)
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 TBSP soy sauce (can use gluten free Tamari soy sauce to make this gluten-free)
  • 2 TBSP crushed garlic (omit this ingredient if making low FODMAP)
  • 2 TBSP smooth peanut butter
  • dash of salt and pepper to taste

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Allergen Free Latkes (Potato Pancakes)

 
Allergen Free Latkes (Potato Pancakes) (image T. Freuman)

Allergen Free Latkes (Potato Pancakes) (image T. Freuman)

This is the fourth year in a row that I’ve brought my latke-making show on the road to my children’s school, staking out a corner in their classroom to fry up a seasonal storm of potato pancakes.  My trusted sidekick is en electric skillet that’s over a half century old–it once belonged to a great aunt– which I break out precisely once per year.  The electric skillet is my absolute favorite way to make latkes, as it keeps the oil temperature constant for evenly-cooked pancakes, and allows me to set up my frying station in any corner of the kitchen (or classroom) where there’s an outlet.

While I’ve toyed with a variety of latke recipes over the years, my forray into classroom cooking required me to depart from the typical cannon: potatoes, onions, egg and flour or starch.  That’s because my children’s former preschool was vegan, so I needed to find some sort of way to bind my batter without egg.  I did experiment with some online eggless recipes that called for potato starch as the only binder, but I found that as the batter sat around in the mixing bowl waiting to be fried, potato liquid began pooling at the bottom, making the batter watery and necessitating ongoing attention with more and more starch to sop it up. Too much maintenance.

I don’t know how the idea struck me back then, but I decided to see whether a bit of cooked oatmeal (from quick-cooking, gluten-free oats) might stand in as a batter binder instead. It worked like an absolute charm, and I’ve been making my latkes with oatmeal ever since. Using cooked oatmeal as a secret latke ingredient has other benefits besides binding, too.  It keeps the recipe vegan and gluten free, which allows even diet restricted friends to partake of the deliciousness.  The oatmeal coats the grated potatoes in a manner that seems to prevent them from browning, and it soaks up any liquid the potatoes may weep, as well; this means you can make the batter at home and transport it to a second location for cooking a little while later without a loss of quality or cohesiveness even as it sits.

The following is my base recipe and technique. You can double it to feed larger crowds.

Gluten Free, Vegan Latkes

Serves 6-8 as a side

Equipment:

  • 1-2 absorbent dishtowels, preferably darker colors
  • Electric skillet
  • Box grater
  • Roll of paper towels
  • Thin, slotted spatula

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium to large Russet potatoes, peeled (keep in bowl of cold water before grating to prevent browning)
  • 1 large onion, peeled and grated (this can be done the night before to save time)
  • 1/4 cup dry, quick cooking, gluten free oats
  • 2 tsp salt
  • Oil for frying (canola, grapeseed, avocado all work well for high heat)
  • Optional to serve: Applesauce, Sour Cream or Creme Fraiche (I like Green Valley Organics Lactose Free Sour Cream).

Directions:

  1. Prepare oatmeal according to package directions, using slightly less water than it calls for to ensure a dense, thick oatmeal. Set aside.
  2. Squeeze grated onion over the sink to remove as much excess water as possible. Place onion in large mixing bowl when done.
  3. Grate potatoes one at a time.  After finishing each potato, squeeze the gratings with both hands over the sink to remove excess water. Next, place the squeezed-out gratings in a horizontal line across the center of a spread out clean dishtowel.   Fold the towel over to cover the gratings while you work on the rest of the potatoes. Repeat the grating-squeezing process with each of the remaining potatoes.
  4. When all 4 potatoes are grated and piled across the center of your dishtowel, roll up the towel lengthwise and twist the edges as tight as you can to squeeze out as much extra water from potatoes as humanly possible. (It will look like a long piece of taffy or a tootsie roll.) The towel should start feeling moist as the liquid soaks through.  Keep squeezing and twisting for about a minute.
  5. Once all 4 potatoes are squeezed as dry as possible, place the shreds into the large mixing bowl, along with the onion.  Add 1 tsp salt and the cooked oatmeal. Using your hands, combine the batter very well until fully blended.
  6. Heat oil in the electric skillet to 375 degrees until it is starting to shimmer.
  7. As oil heats, line a serving tray or large plate with paper towels.

8.  Drop batter into the skillet in ~2 TBSP mounds, flattening them a bit to ensure they cook through.  When edges are golden brown and latkes release easily from the pan, they’re ready to flip.  Cook the second side until golden brown.  Remove from skillet when done and place on paper towel lined plate, layering more paper towels as the plate fills.

Add oil to the skillet as needed to ensure surface is well slicked as you continue to fry additional batches.

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Gigante Bean Salad

 
Gigante beans: Some foods are OK to supersize

Gigante beans: Some foods are OK to supersize

If you know not the creamy comfort that is biting into an enormous and aptly-named gigante bean, then it is my mission today to convince you to seek out this elusive packet of leguminous deliciousness.

While many folks profess to like beans, they fail to see what inspires my unbridled passion for these little packets of complex-carbohydrate goodness.  After all, the American bean vocabulary tends to be pretty limited: we know garbanzos, kidneys, black beans and cannelinis.  Occasionally we dabble in pintos or black-eyed peas.  But unless it comes in a can, most of us can’t be bothered to expand our bean horizons.

If ever there was a bean to inspire a nation to abandon its lazybean tendencies, however, surely the Gigante (aka: Gigande, Yigante, Hija) must be it. Most popular in Greek cuisine (yes, the same clever people who brought us geometry and democracy have also retained this most delicious of beans in their collective leguminous repertoire), gigante beans boast a divine creamy texture and the ability to maintain their shape after all sorts of cooking.  I decided it was time to start making my own gigantes after the $9.99/lb Antipasto bar at Whole Foods lured me in one time too many with that ridiculously delicious Gigante Bean salad of theirs.  (What kind of person spends $18.98 on an impulse bean purchase?!)  Like all bean varieties, Gigantes are an excellent source of complex carbohydrate, protein, fiber, antioxidants and a good source of iron.

Buying Beans

My new favorite place to buy beans is Purcell Mountain Farms, an Idaho-based farm with an excellent online store.  In addition to having the most reasonable prices for my favorite hard-to-find Gigante beans and Beluga lentils, they offer a surprising variety of organic and heirloom bean varieties with romantic names and fashionable appearances.  

If you are a bean buff and are interested in learning more about the folklore behind the wide, wonderful world of beans–as well as how to prepare them–I strongly recommend Aliza Green’s essential cookbook, Beans, from which I learned, for example, that Gigante beans are a variety of so-called “runner beans” that were brought to America from Greece and Spain.

Cooking beans from scratch

While I resisted it for years, I have come to discover that cooking beans from dry isn’t nearly as annoying as I had thought it would be. If you have the foresight to plan ahead, tomorrow night’s dinner beans into a big bowl of water in a ratio of about 3 cups water per 1 cup beans before you go to bed is the easiest way to prep your beans for a faster cooking time the next day.  And if you’re as Type A as I am, the feeling of accomplishment that comes with multi-tasking overnight will lull you into a happy, albeit geeky, slumber.   This would be the regular soaking method.

The quick-soaking method takes about an hour to an hour and a half.  In this case, you’d put your beans in a large saucepan so that they’re covered with 2 inches of water.  Bring the water to a boil and simmer for 2 minutes.  Then, turn off the heat, cover the pan, and let your beans soak in the water for 60-90 minutes, until tender.  Drain the water and proceed with your recipe.

The #1 rule when cooking any dry bean is to avoid adding acid of any kind with the bean until it is already tender.  Don’t add any vinegar, wine, citrus juice, tomato product or anything else acidic to the cooking water until your beans are nice and soft; otherwise, the acid will prevent your beans from softening no matter how long you cook them.

Gigante Beans: Two Ways

Yigandes Plaki: Loosely translates to "Why, oh why, was I not born to a Greek grandmother?"

Yigandes Plaki: Loosely translates to "Why, oh why, was I not born to a Greek grandmother?"

I am obsessed with this first recipe for Greek-style Baked Gigante Beans, (aka Yigandes Plaki) which was adapted from Nancy Harmon Jenkins’  The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook and posted on another food blog.  (Better they should have to deal with the copyright issues than me!)  While I’ll admit that it took forever and a half to make, I happen to live in a freezing old house and am all for any recipe that involves keeping the oven on for long periods of time.  (If you pre-soak your beans overnight, the first 40-50 minute bean simmering step can be cut in half.)  It strikes me that this recipe would be perfectly suited for a slow-cooker, but since I have yet to figure out how to use the slow-cooker I got for my wedding, I will defer to any ambitious crock-pot enthusiasts out there to adapt this recipe on our behalf.)  Since I didn’t have fresh herbs, I used a bunch of dry ones (including basil and oregano), which resulted in a final product that, in addition to being mouth-meltingly creamy, gave a similar flavor effect to lasagna…in the best possible way.  In fact, I would recommend serving it like you would lasagna; accompanied by a nice garlicky side dish of broccoli rabe or sauteed bitter greens to counteract the sweetness and bring some green to the plate.  It is absolutely delicious.  If your children don’t like this recipe, then send them back for a refund.

Another easy way to serve gigantes is as a room temperature bean salad appetizer.  Gigantes are commonly featured among the mezze in Greece, and a salad is a perfect way to pay homage to this civilized bean.  Mark Bittman offers an easy-to-follow formula for a Greek-style gigante bean salad in his modern kitchen staple, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

Of course, to replicate the Whole Foods Antipasto version that I’m so addicted to, here’s the closest recipe approximation I could come up with, reconstructed from the posted ingredient list on their salad bar signage:

Tamara’s Whole Foods Gigante Bean Salad Knockoff

Directions:

  1. Cook 1/2 lb of gigante beans per the cooking instructions above
  2. Roast 1 small red pepper and 1 small green pepper over open flame (your gas burner will do just fine).  Peel their skins off and slice peppers into super-thin strips.
  3. Mix cooked beans with 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 2 TBSP olive oil, 1 TBSP fresh chopped parsley, 1/2 cup (or more, to taste) or roasted pepper strips, 1-2 minced garlic cloves and salt to taste.
  4. Let salad marinate in fridge for several hours so flavors can blend.
  5.  Serve at room temperature.

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Roasted Maitake Mushrooms

 
(image T. Freuman)

(image T. Freuman)

I’ll be the first to confess that elaborate mushrooms scare me a bit. The otherworldliness of enokis, the meatiness of King Trumpet stalks, the sponge-like texture of Lion’s Manes.

But I’ve been served Hen of the Woods enough at high-end restaurants to know that something delicious would await me if I could just bring myself to push past the awkwardness of our first face-to-face kitchen encounter. So I did. And I’m glad.

If the name Hen of the Woods doesn’t sound familiar, perhaps you’ve encountered this mushroom elsewhere under its Japanese name, Maitake? Maitakes get a lot of good press for their high antioxidant content, and they’ve even shown promise as a food with cancer-preventive potential.

We’re going to skate past the question of “why” to roast Hen of the Woods mushrooms, because the answer is quite obvious. In short:

  • They’re a delicious umami bomb
  • They make mundane foods like polenta, plain pasta, mashed potatoes or burgers extremely fancy
  • They’re insanely nutritious and are a part of your balanced, inflammation-taming, disease-preventing diet
  • You’re getting sick of roasting cauliflower

Now: Hen of the Woods mushrooms grow in a log-like cluster (below, top) that can be a bit intimidating. But once you approach the cluster with a knife, you can cut off little florets that have such a strong resemblance to cauliflower, that you’ll feel comfortable in no time (below, bottom).  As you take apart the mass of mushrooms into smaller florets, use your finger or a paper towel to dust off any little clusters of dirt embedded among the stalks.

 

 

Once you have the mushroom cluster cut down into florets, the rest is a cinch. Toss the florets in olive oil to lightly coat and sprinkle with salt. Arrange on a parchment paper lined baking tray. Roast in a 425 degree oven. Check on them after 10 minutes; smaller pieces may already be crisp on the edges. Remove these from the tray and put the tray back in the oven for another 3-5 minutes to get the larger pieces a little bit crispier. Remove from oven and serve!

Oatmeal Banana Bars (Low FODMAP)

 
Oatmeal banana bars (Low FODMAP) (image T. Freuman)

Oatmeal banana bars (Low FODMAP) (image T. Freuman)

Have I gotten your attention yet?

We all have our ingredient buzzwords.  You know, those words your eyes gravitate towards on a menu and compel you to order the item that features them?

For most people, it’s probably bacon.  But in my case, peanut butter and banana are major turn-ons, and fortunately, I have bequeathed this passion to my kiddos, who will happily eat these foods in any incarnation.

Always on the search for a healthy, low-sugar, portable snack for the kinder, I came upon a great recipe on my local online mommy board for Oatmeal-Banana-Peanut Butter squares.  They were fast, easy, froze well, and when I brought them to the playground for my kids’ snack, I was like the Pied Piper of toddlers… they swarmed me like little toddler zombies in search of brains. The bars’ texture was soft, chewy and cake-like… but not so cakelike as to be crumbly.  Perfect, portable toddler fare.  I wish I knew this recipe’s origin so I could give proper attribution to its author!

Never one to leave good enough alone, however, I thought I could cram even more nutrition into these already wholesome snacks.  Since my dear son seems to have strong vegetarian (actually, fruitarian is more accurate) inclinations, I’m always trying to make sure he gets offered one or two iron-rich foods per day.  And while oats are naturally a good source of iron… so are chia seeds.  So I decided to spike the squares with some chia and see if the kids would notice the difference.

I’m happy to report that they did not.

I’m even happier to report that these can easily be made gluten-free by using certified GF quick-cooking oats (such as Bob’s Red Mill), that they make a great low-glycemic mid-morning or pre-workout snack, and are nutritious and delicious for kids and kids at heart alike.  The recipe as written contains < 1 tsp added sugar per bar, though if your banana is super ripe, you could probably even cut down on the brown sugar even further.  

Oatmeal-Banana-Peanut Butter-Chia Bars 

(Let’s call them “OBPB” bars, for short)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups quick cooking oats (for gluten-free, use a certified GF brand, like Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar (not packed)
  • 3 TBSPs Chia Seeds
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup milk (can use lactose-free or swap in a non-dairy milk if you prefer)
  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 large mashed banana
  • 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter

Directions:

  1.  Mix together the quick cooking oats, light brown sugar, chia seeds, baking powder, kosher salt and ground cinnamon.
  2. Add in the vanilla extract, milk and egg.
  3. Mix the ingredients together. Then add in the mashed banana and peanut butter.
  4. Combine all of the ingredients. Pour the mixture into a lightly greased 8 by 8 inch metal baking pan. Bake at 350 F degrees for 20 minutes. Cut into squares and enjoy!

 

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Turkey Quinoa Burgers

 
Turkey Quinoa Burgers (image T. Freuman)

Turkey Quinoa Burgers (image T. Freuman)

I hope this uncharacteristic recipe post for a turkey burger doesn’t turn off too many of my most dedicated vegetarian readers.  I personally follow a Mediterranean diet, which means lots of beans, whole grains and veggies, but also some poultry and fish.  I do feed my kids meat more regularly than I eat it myself, mostly because I've got an aspiring fruitarian son who teeters on the verge of anemia all the time, and I’m constantly obsessing about whether he's getting enough iron.

Not surprisingly, my latest experiment was to create a high-iron burger that was moist and delicious enough for the kids to accept, but healthy enough for the adults in the family as well. For the latter reason, I chose turkey instead of beef, though red meat does have more iron than turkey.  By using ground dark meat turkey and adding iron-rich quinoa as a binding agent, I thought I could compensate for some of the difference, while sparing us all the extra saturated fat.  (Oh goodness.. reading this out loud I just realized that Turkey-Quinoa burgers are exactly the kind of thing people imagine nutritionists feed their kids, aren’t they?  When did I become such a stereotype…?

Turkey-Quinoa Burgers

Makes 4 burgers

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup grated zucchini (or substitute 1/2-3/4 cup well-chopped spinach)
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 TBSP Worcestershire sauce (can substitute Dijon mustard if you avoid fish)
  • 1 lb ground turkey (preferably dark meat/thighs)
  • Kosher Salt

Directions:

  1. Cook quinoa according to package directions in a very small saucepan.  You may need to add a bit of extra water to account for evaporation since the quantity is so small.  Note that 1/4 cup dry yields about 1 cup cooked.
  2. Meanwhile, while quinoa is cooking, saute the shallots and garlic in olive oil for 1-2 minutes until starting to sweat.  Add the zucchini (or spinach) and continue to saute for 2 minutes more until veggies are soft and sweating.  Remove from heat.
  3. Combine ground turkey, cooked quinoa, worcestershire sauce and sauteed veggies in a mixing bowl.  Add a generous pinch of kosher salt.  Mix with hands until well-blended.
  4. Form mixture into 4 patties of equal size.
  5. Grill burgers on a preheated grill until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.  (About 10 minutes on an outdoor grill, flipped halfway through; 7-8 minutes on an indoor sandwich press grill, such as the Cuisinart Griddler, set at “high”)

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Bella’s Stuffed Grape Leaves

 

I never much cared for stuffed grape leaves (or dolmas, as they’re known in Greek) until I tasted my mother-in-law’s version.  While I always found other grape leaves to be too briny or bitter or mushy or flavorless, Bella’s are taut little rolls of flavorful, textured rice filling wrapped in a leaf that’s been soaked to remove the tangy briny residue, and marinated in a heavenly lemon-juice-olive oil-garlic sauce until they soak up its Mediterranean deliciousness. 

From the moment I first tasted one, I knew I had to have the recipe.

As soon as I asked for it, everyone just smiled at me pityingly.

Bella is a wonderful, self-taught, instinctive cook who has never used a recipe in her life.  Even when she owned her own cafe, and made authentic grape leaves, hummus and tabbouleh all from scratch, she still never used recipes.  I asked her how she managed to replicate her recipe each time, she replied that she just knows how its supposed to look.

Still undaunted, I decided to invite her over and have her give me a grapeleaf tutorial.  My plan was to write down the ingredients and quantities in a veritable public service effort to liberate the glorious recipe from her head and share it with the grape-leaf deprived masses.  I will preface the rest of this posting by admitting that I was only quasi-successful in my mission: I kinda-sorta pinned her down to a recipe whose quantities will fill a 9×13 baking dish stacked with 2 layers of tightly-packed stuffed leaves, about 80 total.

Please forgive the loosey-goosey nature of the pseudo-recipe below.  Believe me when I say it is a veritable coup that I even managed to wrangle this out of her.  To compensate for the shortcomings, I provided some photos so that you can see what things are supposed to look like at different stages, which is Bella’s preferred gauge.  And of course, taste as you go and feel free to improvise.

Bella’s Stuffed Grape Leaves

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz of jarred grape leaves

For the filling:

  • 3 cups uncooked white rice
  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa or millet
  • 1 cup pine nuts or sunflower seeds, toasted
  • *approximately* 1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped (or, a bunch of peppermint tea bags opened up, contents added to the rice until it looks like the photo below.  Sorry… I told you this was only a pseudo-recipe.)
  • Dried parsley, maybe about 2 TBSP?  Can be substituted for fresh parsley or freshly chopped chives, too.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.  Spicy Hungarian paprika to taste, optional.

For the marinade:

  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 bulb garlic, crushed
  • A handful of fresh mint, chopped
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  1. Soak the jarred grape leaves in a big mixing bowl full of cold water to remove the brine.  Dump water and repeat 2-3 times until the leaves don’t taste salty or feel slimy from the brine.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Cook the rice and quinoa separately per package instructions.  (~4.5 cups water for the rice and 2 cups water for the quinoa).
  4. Meanwhile, while rice is cooking and leaves are soaking, toast the pine nuts or sunflower seeds in a dry saute pan or toaster oven, just until golden/fragrant.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked rice, cooked quinoa, pine nuts/sunflower seeds, mint and parsley.  Season to taste, making sure the mixture is salted enough that it would taste good if you were to eat it as a side dish.  It should look like this (See Step 5 below):
  6. Meanwhile, make the marinade.  Combine lemon juice, olive oil, crushed garlic and chopped mint into a small bowl, and season with salt and pepper.  The marinade will be very strong– garlicky and tangy.  That’s what you want.
  7. Using your now-drained but still wet grape leaves, lay one grape leaf flat on your working surface.  If it has tears or holes in it, place a smaller leaf on top of it to patch it up.
  8. Spoon a small amount of rice filling onto the base of the leaf and use your fingers to pinch the rice into a more compact row.  See Step 8 below.
  9. Begin wrapping the grape leaf from the base, pulling the leaf base tightly over your rice mound.  Fold in the sides like a burrito and finish rolling.  The final product should be tight and compact.  Place the stuffed grape leaf into your baking dish, and pack them in tightly together, with the end flap down, as you continue to roll more.  When the bottom of the dish is full but before you start stacking the second layer, drizzle half of the marinade on top of the stuffed leaves. See Step 9 below.
  10. Continue rolling and stack a second layer on top until the baking dish is full. Drizzle the second half of the marinade onto the top of the second layer of grape leaves. See Step 10 below.
  11. Now, fill the baking dish with some water until it’s ~3/4 up the sides of the dish.  (I know it sounds weird, but it will help cook the grape leaves through and will boil off in the oven.)  Cover with aluminum foil and cook for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and cook for another 30 minutes, until the water boils away.  The top layer of grape leaves will be a little dried and brown, but shouldn’t be burnt. The bottom layer will be softer, but more saturated with flavor.  

Bella’s grape leaves taste best on the second day once they’ve been soaking in their delicious marinade overnight and after being reheated in the oven until warmed through.  (Or, microwaved in a pinch).  Even better, pour some more lemon juice and olive oil on the grape leaves before re-heating.  

Now, if I could just get her to give up her hummus recipe…

Pink Stuff (Beet & Sunflower Seed Spread)

 
Pink Stuff (Beet & Sunflower Seed Spread) (image T. Freuman)

Pink Stuff (Beet & Sunflower Seed Spread) (image T. Freuman)

I’ve always found vegetarian sandwiches to be a bit uninspired.  It can be hard to come up with enough substance to make the sandwich satiating– a pile of vegetables just doesn’t do it for me. To be sure, the vegetarian sandwich pantheon has some pretty great occupants: a good egg and cheese; a well-seasoned roasted vegetable with goat cheese; an avocado and cilantro with lime juice and sea salt; pesto grilled cheese; hummus and cukes.  But this rotation gets old after awhile, and variety is indeed the spice of life.

Of course, I’d eat peanut butter sandwiches happily until the day I die.  But nowadays you can’t always pack a PB&J to bring into public spaces, particularly if you’re making a picnic for your kids that will be eaten in public shared spaces, as nut-free zones abound.

So you can imagine how revolutionary it was to discover an entirely new sandwich condiment– a nutrient-packed, vegan and densely-flavored one at that– which would serve as the basis for a whole new category of vegetarian sandwiches I could add to my repertoire.  This condiment–which hails from Germany and is called simply “streichcreme” (rote Bete-meerrettich)– has been dubbed “pink stuff” by my kids.

This sandwich spread is ubiquitous in Germany, and my sister in law always brings us a jar when she visits from Hamburg, where she now lives.  It’s a silky-smooth, magenta colored spread whose primary ingredients are roasted beets, sunflower seeds and horseradish.  It tastes more of mild horseradish than beets or sunflower seeds, in my humble opinion, and is positively addictive.  My kids like to dip mini Triscuits in it as if it’s hummus.  I’ve found it most appealing as the basis for a savory breakfast sandwich, paired with cheddar cheese and a handful of peppery arugula leaves (pictured above). I've turned many of my patients on to this breakfast sandwich, and they're as obsessed as I am. 

Since German ingredient labels list ingredients by percentage, I decided to try to reverse-engineer this product.  After a few attempts, I came up with this recipe as the closest approximation to the real deal.  My homemade version is more rose colored than magenta, owing to the fact that I don’t have the benefit of “roasted beet concentrate” in my pantry, but the flavor is similar enough. Of course, if you happen to know someone traveling over there for any reason, ask them to pick up a jar for you as a souvenir so you can compare this homemade version to the original.

Pink Stuff (Roasted Beet & Horseradish Spread)

Yield: ~1/2 pint plastic deli container’s worth

Ingredients:

  • 3 small roasted beets, about 5-5.5 ounces (I lazily used pre-cooked ones from Love Beets; homemade roasted beets would probably have an even better flavor)
  • 3/4 cup roasted sunflower seeds, unsalted
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 TBSP + 1 tsp Gold’s prepared horseradish (sold in the refrigerated section of the supermarket, near the cream cheeses, butter and eggs)
  • 1 TBSP lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process until well blended and very creamy textured.  You may need to stop a few times to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula to ensure all ingredients are well combined.
  2. Store in refrigerator.

To make Pink Stuff Sandwiches:

  1. Spread pink stuff on both sides of your favorite toasted bread, regular or gluten free
  2. Top each side with 1/2-1 slice of orange-colored cheddar cheese (for visual effect)
  3. Top one side with a handful of washed baby arugula leaves
  4. Cover sandwich and serve.

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Zucchini Halloumi Napoleon

 
Zucchini Halloumi Napoleon (image T. Freuman)

Zucchini Halloumi Napoleon (image T. Freuman)

If ever there was an homage to everything summer– grilled dinners, fresh mint and zucchini from the garden, simple, unfussy recipes– this lovely appetizer would be it.

This savory Napoleon recipe was inspired by summertime Caprese salads using fresh basil from the garden and sweet Heirloom tomatoes from the Farmer’s Market.  It’s a grilled version that combines some of my favorite ingredients– garden mint, salty Halloumi cheese, and globe-shaped summer squash.

What’s that?  You’re not familiar with halloumi?  Well, allow me to introduce you.  It’s a salty sheep and goat’s milk cheese with a firm, slightly rubbery texture, originally from Cypress.  I find it more pleasant than feta–with all due respect to the Greeks– as it’s less sharp and tangy.  Halloumi’s claim to fame–and what makes it a perfect summer cheese– is that it holds its texture when grilled.  In other words, it will soften and get grill marks like a slab of tofu, but won’t melt all over your grill.  Like other salty white cheese, halloumi is divine when paired with watermelon and mint in a salad as well.

Now, back to our Napoleon.  You can make this warm layered appetizer as I’ve written it, or you can improvise by adding additional layers of grilled tomato or eggplant.  Use round, globe-shaped ones for visual appeal if they’re available.  This will take your Napoleon into ratatouille territory, without all the fuss of sauteing.  If you can’t find globe zucchini, then use the biggest, fattest zucchini you can find and cut it lengthwise into four thick slabs, then halve each large slab.  Use two pieces each per later.  To turn this appy into a meal, serve it atop a bed of well-seasoned quinoa and lightly steamed spinach.

Grilled Zucchini-Halloumi Napoleon

Serves 4 as an appetizer

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium/large globe zucchini, sliced into 4-5 rounds of equal thickness
  • 1 8oz block of halloumi cheese, sliced into 4 rectangular slabs of equal thickness
  • 6-8 large fresh mint leaves (~1 TBSP chiffonaded)
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar (preferably a thick, syrupy one)
(image T. Freuman)

(image T. Freuman)

Directions:

  1. Heat grill to medium (a countertop panini grill will work fine, too)
  2. While grill is heating, chiffonade the mint leaves.  (Stack them up, roll them into a log lengthwise, and slice into skinny strips horizontally.)
  3. Brush zucchini slices generously with olive oil on both sides.  (You do not need to season with salt; the halloumi is salty enough to flavor the dish.)
  4. Grill zucchini on both sizes until its tender and brown grill marks have formed; just a few short minutes.  Remove slices as they’re ready and set aside.
  5. While zucchini is grilling, brush halloumi slices with thin layer of olive oil to prevent sticking
  6. Place halloumi on the grill and cook until brown grill marks develop and cheese softens, just a few short minutes
  7. When both components are ready, assemble the napolean as follows: Zucchini later, halloumi layer, sprinkle of mint.  Repeat layers until all ingredients are used up.
  8. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar to taste.  Cut into 4 sections and serve!

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Avocado Tacos

 
Avocado Taco (image T. Freuman)

Avocado Taco (image T. Freuman)

If “taco night” takes your mind to a greasy place of fried tortilla shells stuffed with a generic combo of sloppy refried beans, ground beef, lettuce, shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream, then you’ve been missing out on the taco renaissance currently underway in major cities nationwide.

Soft tacos with fresh, flavorful and inventive fillings are the name of the game, and there’s no ground beef, refried beans or cheddar in sight.  While my heart belongs to the taco menu at Cascabel Taqueria (and their fabulous Luchador salad on the side), sometimes a girl needs a good, filling vegetarian taco option as well.  And this, as it turns out, is easier said than found.

I stumbled across the perfect vegetarian taco to satisfy my spicy craving in a nauseous haze during my first trimester of pregnancy, when the very thought of meat made my stomach churn: the Aguacate taco at La Esquina.

The taco was a delightfully overstuffed affair starring a gorgeous green hunk of avocado accompanied by a scrambled egg, nestled in a doubled-up soft corn tortilla and accessorized with black beans, citrusy salsa verde, pico de gallo and a crumble of white queso fresco.  (That’s a lot of taco to fit into a 6″ wrap… and a deal for just $3!)  When drizzled with my favorite hot sauce, El Yucateco, I was in taco heaven.

I recently decided it was high time to make my own version of this divine taco creation, staying true to the original concept but swapping out the pico de gallo for some gorgeous pink pickled onions… they’re so easy to make and they have a transformative effect on a workaday taco.  If you happen to have a grill going, I’d suggest grilling the avocado to take this recipe from divine to sublime, though the original version used raw avocado and was still perfectly delicious. Instructions on how to grill an avocado follow below.

Avocado tacos

(Makes 1 taco; multiply as needed)

Ingredients:

  • 2 soft corn tortillas
  • 1/3 fresh, ripe avocado
  • 1 egg, scrambled and fried
  • 1 heaping tablespoon canned black beans
  • Salt

Garnish:

  • Pickled onions (see recipe below)
  • Salsa verde (storebought)
  • Cotija cheese (aka, aged Mexican white cheese; or use other crumbly white cheese as available)
  • Fresh lime wedges

Directions:

  1. Sprinkle avocado with pinch of salt (alternate prep: grill avocado halves instead of serving raw.  See note below for directions on how.)
  2. Warm corn tortillas one by one in a frying pan over medium (no oil) until soft; stash warmed tortillas stacked on a plate covered by a kitchen towel to keep warm and soft until ready to serve.
  3. Double up corn tortillas and fill each duo with beans, egg and avocado (in that order).
  4. Drizzle salsa verde to taste.
  5. Top with pickled onions to taste.
  6. Sprinkle cotija cheese to taste.
  7. Squeeze a lime wedge over the fillings.
  8. Serve with your favorite hot sauce as desired.

To grill avocados: Slice avocado in half lengthwise and remove pit.  Brush with olive oil and lime juice.  Grill flesh side down on a hot grill until pretty grill marks appear, about 5-7 minutes.

Pickled onions

(Recipe from America’s Test Kitchen cookbook)

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium red onion, sliced very thin
  • 2 jalapenos, seeded and ribs removed, and sliced into thin rings
  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Directions:

  1. Combine jalapenos, vinegar, sugar and salt in a small saucepan and heat until sugar dissolves.
  2. Pour mixture over sliced onions in a heat-resistant bowl; stir to ensure onion slices are covered
  3. Cover bowl and let steep for 30 minutes.
  4. After 30 minutes, pour off the liquid and discard.
  5. Store extra pickled onions in a sealed container in fridge for up to a week.

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Pumpkin Paletas (Popsicles)

 
Pumpkin Paletas (Popsicles) (image T. Freuman)

Pumpkin Paletas (Popsicles) (image T. Freuman)

I don’t remember all that much about the foods my mother made for us growing up, other than that things were pretty simple and homey.  Baked chicken with potatoes and broccoli.  Scrambled eggs with salami.  Macaroni and cheese with tuna.  Chopped liver on Ritz crackers (!).  Homemade desserts were equally simple: Chocolate pudding.  Frozen bananas.  Apple pie.  And then there were the pumpkin popsicles.

I’m not sure how these frozen pumpkin treats made it into the rotation, though if I had to guess, I’d bet my dad bought a huge pumpkin one year that, when gutted, left a glut of innards that needed to be purposed.  In any event, when colder weather came calling, these unusual, creamy pumpkin treats would show up in the freezer.  And this was years before popsicles became fashionable and before exotic ice cream flavors made frozen pumpkin treats de rigueur in the frozen confection section of specialty markets.  Now, I’m not trying to claim my mom invented Post-It Notes or the Internet, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and assert that she may have been an early pioneer of frozen pumpkin novelties.

I asked her recently if she could recall what went into her original recipe.  She claims they were made with leftover cooked pumpkin custard that was destined for pie; a blend of pumpkin puree, eggs, milk and sugar.  Interesting.  But far too much work (and sugar) for my purposes.

My goal was a low sugar treat whose creamy texture and warm flavors delivered seasonal indulgence without the requisite fat and calories.  One that didn’t require any cooking of ingredients; more like a frozen pumpkin smoothie than a frozen pumpkin pie.  To that end, I chose low-fat kefir for creaminess without the fat; some pumpkin pie spice and vanilla extract for flavor, and a touch of agave nectar to take the bland edge off of plain pumpkin puree and tame the tang of the yogurt to allow the warm, autumn flavors to come through.  The great thing about using agave is that it’s so much sweeter than sugar, so just a little bit can go much further flavorwise.  Also, it’s liquid, which makes it very easy to blend into this recipe.  I’ll admit that when the final product was done, even I was surprised at how low calorie and healthy these puppies were.  And satisfying!  

Lastly, I call them “paletas,” which is Spanish for “popsicles,” because I used to work in marketing and recognize that Pumpkin Paletas sounds way more interesting than Pumpkin Popsicles.  If you need to market these to xenophobic or neophobic relatives, other descriptive names that would be appropriate would include: Pumpkin Pie On a Stick or Frozen Pumpkin Spice Treats.

Pumpkin Paletas  

Makes ~6 pops (may vary depending on the size of your molds)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie mix)
  • 1 cup lowfat plain kefir*
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 TBSP agave nectar
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice  (note: if you don’t have pumpkin pie spice on hand, blend 1/2 tsp cinnamon + 1/4 tsp ground ginger + 1/8 tsp nutmeg + 1/8 tsp allspice or cloves)

Directions:

  1. Blend all ingredients in a blender until well mixed
  2. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze until solid

* To make these lactose-free (as I do), use Green Valley Organics lactose-free kefir**. To make vegan/dairy-free, substitute 1 cup LITE canned coconut milk.

 

What to do with Leftover Canned Pumpkin

It’s a first-world problem that we all face every fall: What to do with that extra bit of pumpkin puree thats leftover from piemaking?  In our house, I freeze any remaining puree in an ice cube tray.  When the cubes are frozen, transfer them to a freezer-safe ziploc bag.  Then, next time you’re making pancakes or waffles from a mix, defrost 2 cubes (about 2oz) of pumpkin puree and add it to the batter along with a dash of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice.  Voila!  Pumpkin pancakes!

**FTC disclosure: I am a paid consulting dietitian for Green Valley Organics

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Black Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash

 
Black Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash (image T. Freuman)

Black Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash (image T. Freuman)

While the rest of the world is testing the upper limit of their insulin sensitivity on Halloween, I prefer to treat myself to a delicious, savory and very righteous black-and-orange meal instead.

Black quinoa-stuffed acorn squash fits the bill, both because the colors are right and because they are incredibly nutritious and delicious foods in their own right.  (Subliminally, the fact that acorn squashes kind of look like mini pumpkins may have played a role, too.)  Since I’m also on the hook to come up with a vegetarian entree option for our family’s Thanksgiving meal this year, I figured that developing this dish would give me a good practice run for the big day next month.  It was the Thanksgiving angle that inspired the flavor profile of the quinoa stuffing, in fact.  Why not stud it with Thanksgiving-stuffing-ish ingredients like savory sauteed onions, chestnuts, mushrooms, and sage to offset the sweetness of the squash?  And why not top it with a garnish of roasted squash seeds while I was at it?

It was all sounding so delicious that for a moment I almost believed squash and quinoa could be the next classic Halloween combo–right up there with chocolate and peanut butter.  (Alas, my husband assured me that it could not be, but conceded that it was damn delicious nonetheless.)

Black Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 3 acorn squash, cut in half lengthwise, seeds and stringy membranes scooped out and set aside
  • Olive oil
  • 1 cup black quinoa, rinsed well
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 cups diced mushrooms
  • 1 cup diced peeled chestnuts (from a jar; equivalent of about 1/2 cup of whole chestnuts)
  • 6 fresh sage leaves, minced
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • Salt
  • To garnish: Roasted acorn squash seeds (see instructions below)

Directions:

  1. Roast the acorn squash as follows: using your hands, rub the exposed squash flesh (flat part as well as the scooped-out cavity) with a thin layer of olive oil and sparse sprinkle of salt.  Place squash halves flesh side up on a baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees until the flesh is soft and cooked through.  (Depending on your oven and the size of the squash, this may take anywhere from 30-45 minutes, so keep an eye on them.  ).  When squash halves are roasted, remove from heat and set aside.
  2. While squash is roasting, cook the quinoa as per package directions and set aside when done.
  3. While squash is roasting and quinoa is cooking prepare the vegetables as follows:
    • Heat 1 TBSP olive oil in a large saute pan; when hot, add minced onion and cook until it starts to soften and become translucent, about 4 minutes.
    • Add minced garlic and stir for about 30 seconds
    • Add the minced mushrooms and chestnuts to pan, stir constantly until vegetables are well-blended and mushrooms cook down
    • Add the minced sage leaves and thyme leaves; stir until blended.
  4. Add the cooked quinoa to the vegetable mixture in the saucepan and stir until well-blended.
  5. Add salt to taste
  6. Fill the hollowed-out squash with quinoa/vegetable mixture
  7. Garnish with roasted acorn squash seeds (see directions below) and serve!

Roasted Acorn Squash Seeds

Directions:

  • Rinse seeds in a colander under running water to remove excess flesh/stringy membranes.
  • Spread clean seeds on a paper towel and allow to dry thoroughly
  • When dry, toss seeds with just enough olive oil to coat and sprinkle with salt
  • Spread seeds out on a baking tray so that they’re not overlapping
  • Bake for 15 minutes at 275 degrees (preferably in a counter-top toaster oven, or until golden brown)

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Timbale (Eggplant-encased Spaghetti Pie)

 
Timbale (Eggplant-encased Spaghetti Pie) (image T. Freuman)

Timbale (Eggplant-encased Spaghetti Pie) (image T. Freuman)

Late summer to early fall is high season for eggplant, and if you’ve hit a farmer’s market during that time, no doubt you’ve noticed the abundant and regal assortment of jewel-toned eggplants on offer.

I like a ratatouille as much as the next girl, but somehow my mind always goes blank when faced with gorgeous piles of deep purple eggplants, and I wind up passing it over in favor of more familiar summer produce.  But since my husband took a week-long Italian cooking class and brought home this show-stopping recipe for Timbale– a highly-impressive pasta “cake” wrapped in sliced baked eggplant–we’ve been seeking out the biggest, most beautiful eggplants summer has to offer with a very specific plan in mind.

Throw the Kitchen Sink in your Timable

Timbale, named for its drum-like appearance, scratches the same flavor itch as, say, eggplant parmesan, without all of the breadcrumbs and extra oil.  It’s always stuffed with pasta (gluten-free works perfectly well), sauce and cheese, but beyond that, the variations are endless. You can keep your Timable vegetarian, embellishing your filling with anything from a modest bit of frozen peas and fresh basil to a pile of cooked spinach and thinly-sliced zucchini, or you can add your favorite variety of ground meat (ground turkey would be the healthiest option here) if that tickles your fancy.  So long as you:

  • use a springform pan
  • make sure to include the pasta, sauce and cheese to help glue the insides together
  • allow adequate time for the Timbale “rest” after coming out of the oven to enable the insides to firm up…

…your Timable will be excellent.

Admittedly, Timbale is not an everyday dish given the labor and time that goes into it.  But if you’ve got extra hands in the kitchen over Labor Day weekend, its a fun group project, and the results are pretty impressive.

Eggplant Timbale

Serves 10-12 as a side dish

Note: the recipe below is offered as a baseline only.  As discussed above, feel free to swap vegetable and/or meat ingredients in and out to your liking, so long as you keep the pasta, sauce and cheese in there.  Prep is not difficult, but it is multi-step, so be sure to allow adequate time both to prepare the ingredients, to bake the Timbale, and to allow it ample opportunity to cool after baking.  It is worth the wait, and your family, Facebook friends and Instagram followers will be very impressed with the outcome.

Ingredients:

  • One 10″ springform pan
  • Cornmeal (for dusting pan)
  • 3 medium-sized eggplants (about 1.5 lbs)
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 TBSPs extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing on eggplant and oiling
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/8 cup fresh basil leaves
  • OPTIONAL: 1/4 lb ground turkey (note: can substitute with vegetarian fillings, such as diced mushrooms, chopped spinach or julienned zucchini, and play around with quantities to your preferences)
  • 2 cups canned crushed tomatoes (can use fresh tomatoes in season and puree them in lieu of canned)
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 2 TBSPs sweet Marsala wine
  • 1 lb penne or similarly-shaped pasta (e.g., fusilli, rotini or spirals), cooked and well-drained.  You can absolutely use whole wheat pasta.  For gluten free, use gluten-free brown rice pasta.
  • 1 lb part-skim mozzarella, diced and dried on paper towels if necessary
  • 1.5 cups grated Romano cheese
  • Optional: additional marinara sauce to serve

Directions:

  1. First, slice 3 thin (1/4″ thick) rounds each off the fat end of two of the eggplants for a total of about 6 rounds.  Then slice remaining eggplants lengthwise into 1/4″ slices.  Sprinkle with salt, place in colander, and let moisture drain for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  3. Rinse eggplant slices and pat dry.  Lightly oil a sheet pan (or a few, as needed) with some olive oil, and place eggplant slices on it.  Brush the eggplant slices(side facing up only) with olive oil as well and bake until lightly brown (pictured below), about 10-15 minutes.  Cool.
  4. Next, you’ll make your sauce.  If using ground meat and/or alternative vegetables (mushrooms, spinach or zucchini), heat 2 TBSP olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add garlic and basil and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add the meat and/or the vegetables, increase heat, and cook until the meat has lost its pink color (about 10 minutes) and/or the veggies are soft and well-cooked and excess water has been cooked off.   Add the crushed tomatoes, season with salt and pepper to taste.  Reduce heat to medium and cook to allow flavors to blend, about 15 minutes.  Add the marsala wine and the peas, cook one minute more just to blend, and remove sauce from heat.
  5. In a large bowl, combine your drained pasta with the sauce, the diced  mozzarella and 1 cup of the grated romano cheese.  Set aside.
  6. Now, to prepare the pan.  Oil a 10″ springform pan with olive oil and dust with cornmeal as pictured below.
  7. Then, line your cornmeal-dusted springform pan with overlapping slices of the baked eggplant as shown in the pictures, allowing the eggplant to drape over the sides of the pan.  (You will use these draping flaps later to seal up the Timbale).  Cover any gaps in the center of the pan with all or part of eggplant slices to ensure the pan is fully lined.
  8. Now, spoon the pasta mixture into the springform pan.  The mixture should fill it all the way to just beyond the top and form a bit of a mound.
  9. Next, fold the draping eggplant flaps over to cover the mound of pasta.
  10. Now, top the Timbale with a few slices of the baked eggplant rounds to seal it completely.  Using your hands, gently compress the Timbale to make sure its nice and packed in there firmly.
  11. Then, sprinkle the top with some remaining grated Romano cheese and put the whole thing in the oven for 35-40 minutes, until the cheeses are melted.
  12. Remove from oven and let sit to cool IN THE SPRINGFORM PAN for 45 minutes to an hour.
  13. Once Timbale has cooled, place pan on a serving plate/platter and unmold from the Springform pan. Voila!  Are your guests impressed yet?
  14. If you wish to re-heat before serving (optional; the dish tastes great at room temperature), gently replace the springform mold over the top of the dish and warm in oven at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes.  To serve, slice the Timbale like a cake and serve in wedges with extra marinara sauce on the side.

Iddiyappam

 

Iddiyappam (image T. Freuman)

I'm a part-time dietitian married to a schoolteacher, and we've got twin children. In other words, we don't get to take exotic vacations.  So, I decided to create a faux getaway by visiting Newark Avenue near Journal Square in Jersey City, a veritable slice of India right in my own backyard.  Granted, it’s not the most picturesque of neighborhoods.  But it boasts a half dozen “cash and carry” markets where the offering of vegetables, herbs, beans and pantry items capture the imagination… and inspire me to cook dishes that make my house smell wholly unfamiliar.  The perfect cure for cabin fever.

I scored a bag full of goodies to fuel a week’s worth of cooking experiments, but the fresh bag of curry leaves I bought for a mere $0.50 turned out to be the magic ingredient I needed to transform a pantry of mundane, workaday foods into Iddiyappam: a bright, unusual accompaniment to the aromatic lentil dal (stew) my husband was working on for dinner.

 

Curry leaves bear no relation to the spice we know as curry powder.  (In fact, curry powder isn’t actually a spice so much as a blend of multiple spices that vary by brand.)  Curry leaves are narrow, edible, green leaves grown on (what else?) curry trees–also known as Kari trees– and are sold fresh on the branch.  They smell nothing like curry the spice, nor do they taste anything like curry the spice.  To me, they smell a little bit nutty, but others describe the aroma as bell-pepperish or citrusy.  To unlock their distinctive flavor, you just fry them in some oil; this process unlocks their alchemistic ability to transform a dish beyond the mere sum of its parts.  (If you’ve ever fried sage leaves, you’ll understand what I’m talking about here.)  I don’t recommend leaving them out of a dish that calls for them.

If you are lucky enough to live near an Indian market–or a specialty grocery that carries fresh curry leaves (you may seem them sold as “meetha neem” or “kadhi patta”)–buy them. Alternatively, if you love Indian food and live in a temperate climate– California comes to mind– why not consider planting yourself a curry leaf plant? The species name is Murraya Koenigii, and you can order one online from a variety of sources.  According to Carol Selva Rajah, the Sydney-based co-author of The Food of India (Murdoch Books, 2002), her outdoor curry plants have grown to over six feet tall (!) in sunny Sydney.  (However, you can grow more modestly-sized plants potted indoors).  Just think of all the great produce you could barter with your neighbors with that many curry leaves!  Note that dried leaves have nowhere near the flavor or aroma as fresh leaves, so if you find some fresh ones, it’s best to freeze any extras for a rainy day and thaw them when needed.

So once you’ve scored yourself some leaves, you can try frying them in a bit of oil before starting your favorite curry recipe (especially fish) and then proceed as usual; they’ll add a surprising bit of depth and complexity. You can use them as a garnish to mulligatawny (or any lentil) soup, as Carol suggests.   Or you can use them to try out the Iddiyapam recipe that brightened up my dreary weekend; it’s a Southern Indian rice noodle based dish that makes an interesting substitute for plain old rice alongside a more strongly-flavored sauce or stew.  With Carol’s permission, I offer you her recipe–adapted only to reduce the oil slightly for my calorie-conscious readers.  (I assure you, it’s no worse for it.)  I recommend getting a big pot of water boiling at the outset and cooking the eggs while the rice noodles are busy soaking.  After 10 minutes, scoop the eggs out with a slotted spoon and keep the boiling water going for the rice noodles.

Iddiyappam

Adapted ever so slightly and reprinted with permission from Carol Selva Rajah

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz rice vermicelli (look for these in the Asian section of any supermarket)
  • 2 TBSP oil
  • 1/3 cup cashew nuts
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 10 curry leaves
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 2 leeks, finely shredded
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 2 TBSP ketchup
  • 1 TBSP soy sauce (to make it gluten-free, use wheat-free Tamari sauce instead)
  • 1 tsp salt

Directions:

  1. Soak the rice vermicelli in cold water for 30 minutes
  2. Meanwhile, get a pot of water boiling and cook the eggs for 10 minutes to hard boil, the remove with a slotted spoon and cool in cold water.  When cold, peel them and cut into wedges.
  3. Drain vermicelli and put them in the pot of boiling water.  Remove from the heat and leave in the pan for 3 minutes.  Drain and rinse in cold water.
  4. Heat 1 TBSP oil in a non-stick frying pan and fry the cashews until golden.  (Note: don’t be tempted to toast them without oil to save calories; frying them in oil results in a ridiculously delicious effect)
  5. Remove cashews from pan, add the onion to pan, fry until dark golden, then remove from pan and set aside.
  6. Heat the remaining 1 TBSP oil in the frying pan and briefly fry the curry leaves.  Add the carrot, leeks and red pepper and stir for 1 minute.  Add the ketchup, soy sauce/tamari , salt and vermicelli, stirring constantly to prevent the noodles from sticking to pan.
  7. Serve on a platter and garnish with the peas, cashews, fried onion and egg slices.

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Cranberry Fig Jam

 
Cranberry Fig Jam (image T. Freuman)

Cranberry Fig Jam (image T. Freuman)

Growing up, I never touched the cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving.  Back then, my mom served the cloyingly-sweet jellied version, straight from a can, and I never quite understood the appeal.

Fast forward to adulthood, when I had the good fortune to acquire a sister-in-law who is an expert maker of all things jelly and jam.  She has taken on the annual Thanksgiving cranberry sauce-making, using fresh cranberries, a hint of orange zest, and only half the sugar called for by standard recipes.  Finally, I came to appreciate the important role of this seasonal condiment on the Thanksgiving table beyond the gorgeous pop of magenta it provides on a plate dominated by brown-hued mounds ofcomfort food.  When done right, a good cranberry sauce adds tart counterbalance to a meal dominated by earthy flavors, while the acid helps cut through the fat of those buttery mashed potatoes and gravy.  After all, there’s plenty of sweetness come dessert time; I want my cranberry sauce to be a bit more on the tart side.  If you’re in the market for a classic cranberry sauce that fits this bill and has 75% of the daily value of vitamin C to boot, here’s recipe #1: a simple Cranberry Sauce that’s just sweet enough.

But if you’re going to go through the trouble of making a cranberry condiment from scratch, wouldn’t it be great to make one with legs beyond its one-meal-a-year debut at Thanksgiving dinner?

It was this idea that got me thinking about making a hybrid condiment–part jam, part spread, part chutney– that could dutifully serve its function at the Thanksgiving table, but could continue on into the season to adorn the bread that holds together the leftover turkey sandwiches…to serve as a fruit filling to seasonal cookies…to accompany nutty, aged pecorinos on a holiday cheese platter… to spread on pancakes and waffles for winter morning breakfasts… to put into mini mason jars and give as gifts for the holidays…

After tinkering with a recipe provided by Chef Greg Aversa of Smokin’ Betty’s restaurant in Philly, I came up with a jam-like, chutney-ish spread that tastes sort of like a cranberry fig newton filling and has me finding all sorts of excuses to spread it on foods both savory and sweet.  It’s a super-fast, beyond-easy and incredibly versatile condiment to have on hand as the holidays approach.

Cranberry Fig Jam

Adapted from Smokin’ Betty’s restaurant, Philadelphia, PA

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb dried figs, stems removed, cut in half
  • 1 cup 100% cranberry juice* (unsweetened; look for it in the 32oz jars in the unrefrigerated juice aisle of your supermarket by brands like Lakewood or R.W. Knudsen)
  • 2 TBSP pomegranate molasses (Look for it among the Middle Eastern foods of your specialty market.  If you can’t find it, regular molasses will do fine, too.)
  • 1 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup agave nectar or honey (orange blossom or clover honey are best)

Directions:

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine figs, juice, molasses, mustard, sugar, pepper and salt.
  2. Simmer ingredients, stirring occasionally, until figs are nice and soft.  If too much liquid evaporates and your figs start sizzling, add a bit more juice or water
  3. When figs are soft, transfer them to a food processor.  Add the agave nectar or honey and pulse briefly until the mixture is an even texture.

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Pao de Quejo (Brazilian Cheese Buns)

 
Loosely translated, Pan de Yuca means "God loves Celiacs and wants us to be happy."  Pao de Quejo (Brazilian Cheese Buns) (image T. Freuman)  

Loosely translated, Pan de Yuca means "God loves Celiacs and wants us to be happy."  Pao de Quejo (Brazilian Cheese Buns) (image T. Freuman)  

Don't you just want to cuddle up with this cute, fuzzy Taro?

Don't you just want to cuddle up with this cute, fuzzy Taro?

Cassava (aka: Yuca, Manioc), Ñame (Caribbean Yam), Yautia (aka Taro), Batata (aka Boniato, or Sweet potato)… if you haven’t come across these staple root vegetables of Hispanic and Caribbean cuisines, what better time than autumn, when roasted roots and chunky stews take front and center?

I was formally introduced to my Hispanic roots when I had the opportunity to take a tour of NYC’s historic Essex Street Market with Lorena Drago, a fabulous dietitian, author and diabetes educator. Lorena opened my eyes to the wide, wonderful world of starchy root vegetables that hail from the southern hemisphere.  Cooked, these root veggies would generally take the place of a potato or serving of cooked grains as the carbohydrate in your perfectly-balanced plate.  Generally, these root veggies are good-to-excellent sources of potassium (which helps lower blood pressure, especially in conjunction with a reduced sodium diet) and Vitamin C; and while not extremely high in fiber, will have more fiber than a calorically-equivalent portion of white OR brown rice, which makes them a nutritious substitute. 

If you’re ready to get in touch with your Hispanic roots, consider this:

  • Yautia (Taro) should be relieved of its thick and sometimes hairy peel (not unlike that of a coconut) before cooking; Drago describes its flavor as sort of a “combination of artichoke heart and boiled chestnuts.”  Um…hello?  Could that possibly sound more appealing?  
  • Ñame is probably the most nutritious of the bunch; it’s the highest in fiber (1/2 cup serving has 3g fiber and counts as 1 starch exchange) and is loaded with potassium, vitamin C and Vitamin B6, which makes this Caribbean version of the yam resemble a banana more than a conventional American sweet potato, nutritionally speaking.  Drago describes the flavor as a “slightly sweet, smoky baking potato” with a texture that is “softer and lighter” than a typical yam.
  • Batata (Boniato) is a Caribbean sweet potato very popular in Cuban cuisine.  It sort of resembles a typical sweet potato on the outside but tastes more chestnutty than overtly sweet and squashy like the sweet potatoes you’re probably used to.  You can use it as a substitute for conventional potatoes in all the usual ways.
  • Yuca (Cassava, Manioc) is generally eaten boiled or fried, but must always be peeled before eating!  Baked yucca “fries” are a nice compromise; they’re more fibrous than potatoes, and therefore offer a nice textural change from the ordinary. 

Equally interesting to me is the role of flour derived from cassava/yuca (which you’re probably more familiar with under its alias of Tapioca Flour) in traditional (gluten-free) breads and rolls.

Casabe is a crispy, crackery Latin American flatbread made from Cassava flour; look for it in the Hispanic food aisle of your local supermarket; it’s usually sold wrapped in paper.  And then there is Pan de Yuca, which goes by many different names depending on the country, but is essentially a tapioca flour-based cheese roll. They are beyond easy (and fast) to make, and have a wonderful savory, chewy appeal when served hot from the oven.  While they get hard as rocks after a day or so of baking, they are easily revived to their soft, chewy selves with a quint stint in the microwave, and are versatile enough to accessorize breakfasts and dinners alike.  Stale rolls could also be cubed, toasted and stored in an airtight container to be used as a gluten-free crouton or possible base for an upcoming gluten-free Thanksgiving stuffing. Using lactose-free milk and a nice, mature hard cheese like Parmesan will keep these rolls virtually lactose-free, if that’s also a concern.

Pão de Queijo- Brazilian Cheese Buns

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup lowfat milk (use lactose free or your favorite milk alternative as desired)
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 1/4 cups tapioca flour (aka Cassava flour)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Bring the milk, oil and salt to a boil
  2. Remove from heat.  Slowly combine half of the tapioca flour into the liquid mixture.  (It won’t all absorb at this point.)
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, each followed by half of the remaining flour, and mix into a well-combined batter, which will be thick, gummy and somewhat difficult to stir.  Do your best.
  4. Using your hands, mix the cheese into batter, kneading until well incorporated.
  5. Using wet hands, roll the dough into golf-ball-sized balls; this quantity of batter should yield 15 rolls.
  6. Bake for ~15 minutes at 375 degrees , or until rolls are puffy and golden brown on top.
  7. Serve immediately; they taste the best when hot!

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