I have learned a great deal about the food industry over the last year. Over that time, I’ve taken a more proactive approach to cooking for myself following a moderate set of ethical guidelines that I’ve established in accordance to my new knowledge. There were some difficult moments and meals where I blankly ignored what I knew. The summer however has brought on a wealth of new flavors and ingredients that have provided me the means to easily follow a diet that is both more sustainable and healthier.
One issue I face during the year that affects my eating habits is the desire for diversity. In North America, with the annually available products from around the world in the grocery stores, this is not so hard to do. But doing so means sacrificing your appreciation for fresh ingredients. So often, you pick up a fruit or vegetable that has traveled (literally)thousands of miles to be there, was picked before being ripe and was grown on massive industrial farms where artificial fertilizers provided the necessary nutrients for their flavor profile… Fresh produce, in season, from locally sourced farms that practice sustainable agriculture taste vastly different from what we are used to seeing at the grocery store. Over the last weeks I’ve enjoyed a plethora of wonderful foods both colorful and nutritious that have helped me try new things in the kitchen. Much of that experimenting has been simple; fresh produce doesn’t need much work to taste good, and one thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve become creative again. I had gotten bored during the winter months and seemed to use produce redundantly, without any attempt at trying new things. Of course, the summer also provides a great deal more to work with.
Here are some dishes I quickly put together over the last 2 weeks that I enjoyed. You’ll find that there are reoccurring ingredients in these dishes… The fresh produce I’ve used the most recently has been green peas, broad beans, carrots, radishes, fresh leafy greens, herbs and tomatoes. Last weekend, at the Jean-Talon market, I learned that the corn season had just started…
Here’s a simple dish that surprised me with its depth of flavor, and I wanted to share it because I think I know why it turned out so much better than in previous incarnations…
Actually, it’s not that complicated: use fresh ingredients of a higher quality. For example, I recently heard an Italian woman on the radio complain about the poor flavor of the garlic that comes from China in grocery stores. I hadn’t thought of garlic as an ingredient that existed in many forms before. I’d seen it at the market but I had overlooked it. Now, lets make one thing clear, it’s not that China can’t make great garlic, it’s that those smaller, very white bulbs often found in packs of three are of the cheaper variety that gets shipped here. I now mostly buy local garlic at a bit of a premium when I shop. I can’t find it everywhere, but it’s around and I know where to get it now. There are also other varieties that pack a flavorful punch, and I suggest you try a few and see the difference it makes in your cooking. Garlic is often considered a very healthy addition to food, and I suggest you do a bit of research about it. One doesn’t need much of it, and it is easily added to many recipes. Perhaps you’d benefit from using it more often…
What do you need: eggplant, zucchini, green beans, carrots, garlic, green bell peppers, an onion, olive oil, canned tomatoes, fresh bay leaves and brown rice.
I still had(and have) some of the fresh bay leaves I bought for last week’s tajine dinner and I made great use of them once again when I prepared this meal for Carolina and I. They release such a fragrant and beautiful flavor: there’s no comparing it with the dried stuff as far as I am concerned, and I will start using it exclusively from now on when I care about how my dish tastes… The canned tomatoes I used were San Marzano tomatoes, which are tomatoes that come from a small village in northern Italy that are apparently among the best in the world. They cost more than other tomatoes though, and there is skepticism as to the legitimacy of these actually being San Marzano tomatoes. Rob, from Pasta a-go-go, did mention that you can get these tomatoes in great quantities around North America, despite the fact that San Marzano is a tiny village that could not produce the quantities necessary to fulfill everyone’s needs. That being said, the tomatoes are now grown in other parts of the world as well. I did find some information about Rob’s concerns, however, and I’m posting it below:
Most San Marzano tomatoes sold commercially are grown in Italy, though they are produced commercially in smaller quantities in other countries.
Unfortunately because of San Marzano’s premium pricing there is an on going battle against fraudulent product. On November 22nd of 2010 the Italian carabinieri confiscated 1,470 tons of canned tomatos worth €1.2 million of improperly labeled product, some branded with names mentioned above.
Anyways, San Marzano tomatoes are often considered great for sauces and I think that this dish came out better because I used them.
I started by making the rice. I heated olive oil, added two of the bay leaves and a whole garlic clove. When they had released some of their flavors, I added rinsed brown rice and mixed it in with the olive oil; attempting to coat each individual grain with some of the oil. I learned to this when taking a vegetarian Indian cooking class some years ago. The theory is that by doing so they won’t stick to other grains as much.
While slowly cooking the rice, I started with the stew.
The process is simple: sweat garlic and onions in olive oil. Roughly chop each vegetable and add to the pot, season with salt and pepper, and add the canned tomatoes with a bay leaf. Most of the vegetables cook quickly, so I waited until the carrots, which I had cut into larger pieces, were cooked through but not soft to know that my stew was ready. It didn’t not take very long, and I managed the keep each vegetables’ textural integrity in the process.
I served the stew over the savory rice and enjoyed. The whole thing took me less than half an hour to prepare and cook.
When I learned that Minka was vegan I decided to accommodate her by making the entire dinner vegan. I am always excited at challenging myself to make new things, and even if making a vegan dinner isn’t especially difficult, it allowed me to think outside my usual parameters of culinary creativity to come up with some new things. And so, for dinner, I prepared a green bean, walnut and caramelized cippolini onion warm salad, a chickpea, artichoke and rapini dish, and a vegetable tajine with couscous. I hit a homerun. Everything was delicious: one of those nights you just smile at what you’ve produced, humbly acknowledging that you are great, ahah.
Let’s look at some of what I used and I’ll then proceed to share with you the basic recipes for each dish. As always, this is an act of improvisation so it should become one for you too.
I did my shopping in the morning and when I returned I immediately started simmering the dried chickpeas I was going to use in water with some onion, garlic, fresh bay leaf, a carrot, pepper, star anise, a piece of dried guajillo chili and a cinnamon stick. I wanted to make sure that the chickpeas would be ready for dinner time and I usually let them soak over night before cooking them, but I was happy to find out that they took less than 3 hours to cook. I cooked them in a quick stock to imbibe them with flavor and because I wanted to use some of it later during the preparation of my tajine. It tasted quite nicely I might had. The guajillo added a bit of spice and an exotic sweetness that went well with that of the cinnamon and anise. The fresh bay leaf also worked wonders. I need to make sure to always have some at my disposal because I used it profusely and to great effect.
As my chickpeas cooked on the stove, I calmly went about prepping the rest of the food. I cut my vegetables(eggplant, zucchinis, tomatoes, red onion, potatoes, garlic, fennel, green beans, cippolini onions, rapini and bell peppers), took out my spices(mustard seeds, fennel seeds, coriander seeds,cumin and caraway seeds, turmeric, paprika, safran and dried oregano) and went about organizing everything for an efficient dinner.
I like to flavor my veggies before putting them in the Tajine. I do this in different ways. On Saturday, I cut my potatoes in half and boiled them in water with safran, I quickly sauteed my bell peppers and zucchini with my red onion and garlic, I seared my fennel slices in my iron skillet and softened them up a bit in the oven, and I sauteed my eggplant and mixed in my spices and some of the stock I used to cook the chickpeas. I avoid cooking the vegetables through; I’m simply looking to add additional layers of flavor, mostly by releasing the individual vegetables’ sugars. Often, when I make Tajines, I like to roasted pearl onions before adding them to the vegetable mix for example.
When all my ingredients for the Tajine were ready, I mixed them all together including some chickpeas(half of what I had cooked), some fresh bay leaves, and Moroccan black olives as well as Sicilian olives. I put them in the Tajine bowl and put it to the side. I would be needing about an hour in the oven to finish it and was only going to do that when our guests arrived.
My two starter dishes. For the green bean salad I sauteed my green beans and added a bit of stock to coat them and help with the cooking. I like mine crunchy so I didn’t cook them for very long. While I did that, I put my skinned cippolini onions in aluminum foil with some fresh bay leaves and olive oil. After taking them out of the toaster oven where they cooked at 400 °, I roasted some walnuts at about 300 °. To finish off the salad, I mixed the onions with the green beans and walnuts, added some olive oil and zested some lemon over it. It was ready for service.
Finally, my most successful dish of the evening, something I will be adapting and re-doing frequently: a chickpea, marinated artichoke heart, and rapini salad.
The secret of this dish lies in the subtle sauce I mixed the ingredients in. Before I get to that though, for the chickpeas I used the other half I had cooked, I steamed my rapini, making sure they remained fresh and crunchy, and I quartered my store bought marinated grilled artichoke.
When all of those things were ready I went about cooking my sauce. You might have noticed earlier that my picture of the zucchini features the core of it cut out and placed to the side. This core is softer and soggier when cooked with steam or braised and I like to take it out and use it for other purposes when I cook zucchini. In this case, it was to become the base of my thick dressing. I cut it into smaller pieces and slowly softened it on the stove with olive oil and seasoning.
While cooking the zucchini I toasted some sunflower seeds. When both were finished I blended them in my food processor with olive oil, lemon juice, flat leaf parsley, and fennel greens. The mix was beautifully nutty and savory, a subtle but flavorful addition to the dish. I mixed in my chickpeas and added the artichoke and rapini. The slight acidity of the lemon juice, the bitterness of the rapini and the earthiness of the chickpeas assumed different personalities and each bite was a fresh mix of the three, independent but complementary flavors. One of the best dishes I’ve made in a long time.
Before serving the Tajine, I made some couscous in which I mixed fresh parsley. The mix of the richness of the exotic vegetarian Tajine and the simple and light couscous works wonders.
Hope you like this. It’s a great meal for meat eaters and vegetarian alike, offering lots of energy and nutrients. I also contains that carb(the couscous) that meat eaters usually crave in foods that don’t contain the heavy proteins of animals.
I was alone for dinner last night and needed to use up some of the vegetables we had bought during the weekend. A short jog where my throat and lungs burned of cold convinced me to cooking with what was available at home. I’ve always approached assembling dinner by thinking of my protein, my carbs, and my ‘healthy’ vegetables(more often than not, the green ones…). I think this is a result of my mother’s influence. Whatever the case, I think it is an efficient way of making sure you’re properly balancing your diet. However, sometimes I find it constrictive. I fall into the boring habit of developing my meals around the meat, fish, or vegetarian alternative as the center piece. Often, it’s simply very convenient. Sear, sautee, bake, roast your protein; bake, boil, mash, steam the rest… Simple, quick, and if done well; tasty. ( I really need to take a class on using punctuation… I’m an ok writer but my use of punctuation is cringe worthy.) What also happens when you cook this way is that you’re guaranteeing yourself at the very least two distinct flavors. A salad, stew, sautee, and so on, will have distinct elements within it, but they will combine with the other ones to create a new one. My gluttonous self loves variety so when I make these types of dishes, I usually prepare something else to go with it, and that can take up too much of my time.
This is when leftovers are good to have. I decided to make a quinoa salad because of its high content of quality amino acids, i.e the building blocks that make up proteins.
**I’ve described the benefits of quinoa before but will quickly go over them again, as they are a fantastically healthy food to eat. Quinoa is one of the rare plant foods that contain all of the essential amino acids, and is thus a complete protein. It is high in magnesium, dietary fiber and iron, is simple to make, relatively cheap and easily digestible. **
I had some blue potatoes, cherry tomatoes, onions, chives, green beans in the fridge and decided to build my quinoa with the aforementioned ingredients.
I boiled the quinoa, while I cut the potatoes and green beans into smaller pieces so that I could steam them quickly, and I went about mixing my halved cherry tomatoes, finely chopped onions, and chives with red wine vinegar, olive oil and seasoning. When both the quinoa, and the potatoes and green beans were ready, I let them cool down, and mixed them with the tomato mix, adding more olive oil, vinegar and seasoning to taste.
To make my dinner more exciting, I made pita chips with stale pita bread I had, by cutting it into slices, mixing it in olive oil, paprika, garlic, chives and thyme. I baked it in my toaster oven for around 10 minutes at 400°.
I made a plate with some leftovers from the other night: braised squash and cabbage, brown rice, the quinoa salad, humus and the pita chips. Not bad for a simple meal after a long day. I got my protein, lots of fiber, and a host of other important minerals and vitamins without too much work involved. The meal was light and I easily digestible. It contained a good mix of simple and complex carbohydrates and thus left me feeling energetic and alert for the rest of the night.
I made trout with root veggies and kale recently. I was tired, didn’t feel like doing much and had these seasonal options in my fridge.
I started by quickly scrubbing the beets, parsnip and carrots. I was too lazy to peel their skin and I’ve often heard that much of the vitamins found in such vegetables resides in that tougher outer layer. I cut the tip of my pearl onions, threw them in boiling water for half a minute, took them out, plunged them into ice water and removed their skins by squeezing the onion out. I turned on my oven to 375, mixed all the veggies in olive oil, salt and pepper, cut the larger beets in half and covered them all in aluminum foil and went to read. After about 30 minutes, I started going to check on their consistency every 10 minutes or so until I found them to be almost “al dente.” I took them out of the foil, spread them in the baking sheet and turned the oven to 425. (Why? I don’t know… haha, instincts?)
I took out my cast iron pan, covered the two trout fillets I had in salt, pepper and olive oil and waited for it to heat up to a warm temperature. In order to get the skin crispy you don’t want to have the heat on too high. I boiled a small amount of water, steamed the kale for a few minutes and added it to my roasting vegetables. I gently fried the fish skin side down until it became crispy and finished it on the flesh side hoping to keep the inside from over-cooking. I failed, but it still tasted good.
The vegetables were nice and earthy. The skin wasn’t that good, but I convinced myself of its health benefits and thus enjoyed them anyway. The kale came out crispy and delicious, and the onions were nice and sweet, although, they, more than any of the other vegetables, could have use more cooking time. I tend to like them really brown and sweet like candy.
An elaborate but easy and relaxing meal to make. Hearty and seasonal, healthy and comforting.
So a few weeks ago I wrote that I would be experimenting with energy bars over the next few weeks in order to offer you a variety of options for homemade healthy snacks that are great to have around for when one wants to exercise, or simply as a healthy filler between heavier meals.
On Tuesday morning, rushing to get to school, with eggs frying in the pan, bread toasting in the toaster oven, packing my things, and making sure I had everything for work in order to go immediately from school, I took out the food processor and made energy balls with no processed sugar that were sweet, tasty and healthy.
I didn’t have any fruit, so I had to try a new method that I wasn’t sure would work. When I make these energy bars, I’ve always added an apple or a pear in order for their juices to help bind all the ingredients.
On this occasion, I mixed dates that I soaked in a few tbls. of hot water, lots of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, ginger, and carob chips.
I quickly took out the mixture from the processor, rolled it into balls and spread some cacao powder on a plate in which I coated the balls.
They’re a nice alternative to the more savory bars I often make. They feel more like a treat and are great for keeping you away from unhealthier alternatives like chocolate bars, pastries or cakes…
Carob Chips Benefits
Carob chips are a healthy replacement for the chocolate chips. Comparatively, carob chips have more dietary fibers than the chocolate chips. Also, carob chips are rich in protein and high in fiber. The calcium content of carob chips is higher than that of the chocolate chips. The absorption of calcium is blocked by oxalic acid present in chocolate and carob chips do not contain oxalic acid. This is another nutritional benefit of carob chips. Chocolate chips contain phenylethylamines which is many a times responsible for triggering migraines. Carob chips do not contain these small nitrogen containing molecules. Apart from these nutritional benefits, carob chips have some health benefits. Carob chips are used for treating diarrhea in children. Sometimes, carob chips are used to provide relief in traveler’s diarrhea.