Friday, December 23, 2011

Fun with Cauliflower

A favorite hack in the Paleo community is to make rice using cauliflower. Its white like rice and has a similar texture so it can be an excellent substitute to serve alongside the rest of your grain-free meal. Using a box grater or the grater attachment of your food processor is a simple way to turn cauliflower into a rice lookalike.

Just think of all that you can do with a head of cauliflower. Its sturdy texture gives it enough umph to be turned into a steak. Puree it, add some liquid, and you'd think you had mashed potatoes. Pulse it in the processor and you may notice that it looks more like cous cous than long grain. If we have cous cous, than we can make tabbouleh.

Go grab the grape leaves. This Middle Eastern staple salad, traditionally made with bulgur, is loaded with fresh herbs, citrus, and the wonder-spice za'atar. Za'atar is a blend made with sesame seeds, sumac, salt, and sometimes thyme or basil. In the summer months, try this recipe the more traditional way with tomatoes and cucumbers. In the winter months, go with dried fruits and maybe even (pine) nuts. Try a mixture of dried fruits like apricots, figs, or currants. Preserved lemons would also be a great addition.

Cauliflower Tabbouleh

adapted from Aaron Chambers' recipe

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets

1 small shallot

1 lemon, zested with a microplane and juice

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1/4 cup golden raisins, chopped

2 tsp za'atar

5 tblsp olive oil

2 tblsps each chopped cilantro, parsley, mint

Working in batches, pulse the cauliflower florets in a food processor until the consistency of cous cous. Something like this:

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a skillet and cook the shallot and garlic until translucent. Add the cauliflower and cook for several minutes until it has softened and lost its pungent, raw odor. Add more oil, if necessary, to keep it from sticking. Season with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl combine the raisins and lemon zest. Add the cauliflower mixture to the bowl and stir to combine. Fold in the fresh herbs.

In a small bowl whisk the juice of half the lemon, the za'atar, and the remaining olive oil. Pour this over the cauliflower mixture and combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Chill the tabbouleh in the refrigerator for several hours before serving to let the flavors meld. Fluff with a fork and serve alongside fish or lamb.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Spice Must Flow: Saffron

Whenever I think of Dune, I think of The Spice. In my mind, that spice has always been saffron. A spice prized for centuries and whose scarcity make it seem like a forbidden luxury. It is the stigma of the crocus flower—tiny bright orange threads—with the unique flavor of grass and honey. It is a spice that has been prized and revered through history, yet its short supply and expense keep it from the pantry of many home chefs. A mere quarter of an ounce of the best quality can cost over $100.

Saffron is commonly seen in specialty stores and some local grocery stores. Unfortunately, a lot of what you see on those shelves is fake—swapped out with a safflower impostor. For years I wondered what all the fuss was about with saffron, because I had been duped by the cheap copycats I was using. Choose a saffron that you know is the real deal by doing some research. I go with Penzey's who offers three varieties at reasonable prices.

Although, saffron may not have the power to fold space or alter consciousness like The Spice of Dune, it may have another power all its own. The ancient Sumerians used it medicinally for remedies and magic potions. Hocus pocus aside, saffron is loaded with the antioxidant carotenoids like lycopene and β-carotene. There are even some studies out there saying saffron has anti-cancer, anti-depressant, and tumor suppressant properties. The Sumerians must have been on to something...

But what do you do with the stuff? Well there are saffron buns, whose paleo-friendly alternatives may come at a later date. Saffron is also a main ingredient in paella. I like my saffron paired with a flavor from the sea—with fresh mussels.

I don't have the luxury of splurging on the good stuff, but I would imagine that if you were so lucky to have the best, you could decrease the amount of saffron used in this recipe without forgoing flavor.

Mussels with Saffron Coconut Cream Sauce and Chorizo

2 lbs mussels, rinsed and cleaned

1 small onion, sliced and halved

3 cloves of garlic, minced

3 oz chorizo (cured, not raw), small dice

rounded 1/2 tsp (1/2 g) saffron threads

1/4 cup white wine (broth works here too)

3/4 cup coconut milk

2 tblsp parsley, chopped

salt and pepper, to taste

Soak the saffron threads in a tablespoon of tepid water.

Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a high-sided skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the onion, chorizo, and garlic and cook until the onion just starts to brown and the chorizo is a bit crispy, but stir so not to burn the garlic. Add the saffron and cook for about 1 minute or until fragrant. Season with salt and pepper as you go. Pour in the wine to deglaze and bring back to a boil. When the liquid is reduced by half, add the coconut milk and stir to combine. Carefully toss in the mussels and put a lid on the pan for about 5 minutes. You will known when the mussels are done when they willingly open their shells and their flesh comes off easily from the shell. Throw out any that don't open.

Remove the mussels to a bowl using a slotted spoon. Cook the sauce down for a couple minutes or to your desired consistency, then add the parsley and check for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the mussels and serve immediately.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Step 1: Eat a Better Breakfast

Its the time of year when everyone starts thinking of making a fresh start. New Year's resolutions almost always entail losing weight and eating better. My best advice to you this year is to not make a resolution. Resolutions are made to be broken so instead, decide to be more mindful about what you eat. In the process you will find yourself making healthier eating choices and losing weight in the process without the stress of a real diet or the guilt of breaking a promise to yourself.

Why wait until January 1 to get a fresh start? Start today by taking a simple first action. Change one meal out of the day – eat a healthier breakfast. Instead of starting the day with a bowl of oatmeal or a bagel, opt for foods that will give you energy throughout the entire morning. Our bodies preferred fuels are fats so fear them not! Change up your breakfast routine by simply eating high fat, high protein choices like eggs and bacon. Our hunter-gather ancestors weren't reaching for the Cheerios upon waking, they needed nutrient dense foods like nuts, berries, and meat from the previous night's hunt.

Try this one small step and see how different you feel after a week or two. Are you still getting hungry hours before your lunch break? Then eat a bigger breakfast but keep it grain- and sugar-free. Notice how much more awake you feel in the morning compared to the muffin morning. Skip the freshly squeezed orange juice and go for black coffee or tea instead. Lose the sugary yogurt and choose plain, Greek-style that you add your own berries and nuts to.

If you're feeling adventurous you can even make pancakes. You won't find these pancakes on any Grand Slam menu but they are so simple to whip together you can have a stack any day of the week. I've tried various flours and combinations to make a Paleo pancake but using nut butter seems to work the best. Keep the pancakes on the small side because they will be hard to flip if they are too large. With a little practice you'll get them just right.

Paleo Pancakes

adapted from Mark's Daily Apple

2 very ripe bananas

2 heaping tblsp almond butter (or cashew)

1 egg

pinch of salt

tsp vanilla

In a bowl mash the bananas to a paste with the back of a fork. Stir in the almond butter, egg, salt, and vanilla then mix well to combine. Stir until a batter comes together and there are no lumps. Pulsing the ingredients in a food processor would work just as well.

Heat a large skillet with coconut oil on medium/high heat. Add about 1/4 cup of the batter at a time. Flip after about 2-3 minutes (you won't see the bubble-up like normal pancakes) and cook an additional 2-3 minutes. Serve hot with melted butter, berries, walnuts, or coconut syrup.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies

My mother swears by the cheesecake recipe on the back of the cream cheese box. I once made an excellent coleslaw by tweaking a recipe on the bag of shredded cabbage. I'm sure I'm not the only one to shun the recipes on the back of packaged food, thinking they'd be inferior to ones I'd find on my favorite blog or in a glossy new cookbook. All food snobbery aside, sometimes those recipes that get thrown out without as much as a glance are worth exploring. After trying the recipe for chocolate chip cookies on the bag of almond flour, I will say that I am not above product sponsored recipes.

Elana of Elana's Pantry graced the back of my brand new 5 lb bag of almond flour. Since her blog often tempts me with gluten-free, paleo treats I thought I had to take this a little more seriously than I would a recipe on a bag of Tollhouse mix. But before I got started, I had to know a little about almonds.

Its important to note that almond meal and almond flour are not the same and will result in drastically different products when baked. Don't make the same mistake I did! Almond meal contains the outer skin of the nut giving it a different texture, making it better suited for breading. Almond flour, however, is made from blanched almonds, skins removed, giving it a finer texture ideal for baking. Apparently some almond flours can be processed with steam treatments, chemical agents, or mixed with filler that may make them not gluten-free and can change the texture of your baked goods. I will admit I haven't tried many brands of almond flour, but am happy with Honeyville so far based on these cookies and on Elana's high praise. Buy in bulk but store it in the refrigerator and here's why...

Refrigeration is necessary to protect the polyunsaturated fats almonds have in abundance. This includes both the omega 3's and the omega 6's fats. As opposed to the more stable saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats are quick to oxidize (become free radicals) which can potentially cause more harm than good in the body. While I definitely believe in the value of maintaining an optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 (3:1) to dampen chronic inflammation in the body, I don't think these fats should be our primary dietary fat based on their fragility. Given all the environmental toxins we are exposed to daily and how easily some benign molecules turn into free radicals (e.g. Vitamin C), why add more fuel to the fire? But, abandoning polyunsaturated fats outright would leave us missing out on the other nutrients that these foods have to offer. Some of which may protect the fats themselves. For instance, the high vitamin E content of almonds and olive oil is thought to protect the fragile polyunsaturated fats from oxidation.

Almonds, as well as most other nuts seem like a perfect food with the right balance of nutrients—low in carbohydrate, high in fat and protein. But are they really?

For instance, 1 cup of whole almonds contains 8.6 mg of omega-3 fats and 17,253 mg omega-6 fats. That's a lot of linoleic acid and far from our ideal 3:1 ratio! Don't throw out those almonds in your desk drawer just yet. Let's compare this to 1 cup of corn oil which contains 2,531 mg of omega-3 fats and 116,651 mg of omega-6 fats! Whereas corn oil has little else to offer us nutrient-wise, nuts are the clear winner. A small amount as a snack or a spoonful of almond butter now and then should be fine as long as more problematic omega-6 fats are reduced, like grains and seed oils.

Now let's think about how many almonds went into those cookies you're about to bake. A mere 1/4 cup of nuts offers substantial nutrient density that should last throughout the day. I can't even begin to guess how many almonds went into the 2 1/2 cups of almond flour in these cookies but it is a reminder that even Paleo cookies should be eaten in moderation. I have heard more than once, "these are Paleo, so I can eat as many as I want."


These cookies are loaded with healthy ingredients and very low in fructose. I wish I could tell you to feel free to eat a half dozen with a tall glass of almond milk. Try to show some constraint with these treats in the same way you refrain from eating an entire jar of almond butter. I know its hard but its a lot better than the flour/sugar alternative.

Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies

adapted from Elana's Pantry

I've tweaked the original recipe by using what I think are healthier oils and sugar substitutes. Feel free to experiment.

2 1/2 cup blanched almond flour

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 cup coconut oil

1/4 cup coconut syrup

1 tblsp vanilla extract

scant 1 cup dark chocolate chips

makes 18 cookies

Preheat the oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine the dry ingredients. Stir in the wet ingredients and mix to form a dough. Fold in the chocolate chips. Using a melonballer or 2 spoons, form balls about 1 inch in diameter. The dough will spread as it cooks so leave at least 2 inches between cookies on the baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until just brown on the edges and they smell up your kitchen. Cool before serving since the cookies are quite fragile warm.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Green Sauce

This Summer in Barcelona, we spent many nights nibbling on salty anchovies chased with glass after glass of bubbly cava. That may have been perfect for hot nights in Spain, but snacking on anchovy filets back home in NYC seems far less appealing. Don't get me wrong, I have a slight fondness for the way the soft, tiny bones crumble under my teeth. And how the oily flesh melts on the tongue. Anchovies, however, can overpower, leaving you sated after just one bite.

These tiny fish are near the top of the list when it comes to their anti-inflammatory, omega-3 fatty acid content. Rich in the polyunsaturated fats eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), anchovies are an excellent addition to your diet. EPA and DHA have been shown to be excellent for inflammatory conditions, heart health, nervous tissue health, to name a few. The downside here is eating enough of those salty, fishy morsels. Let's look at how these fishes compare:


EPA + DHA (g)

Atlantic Salmon












Flounder and Sole



Regardless of how accurate, these numbers give us a rough estimate of what to expect when we eat fish. From this table, you probably think salmon is a tastier option than anchovies. You'd have to eat a lot of anchovies to get the same nutrients as salmon. However, unlike other fish, anchovies are incredibly versatile in the kitchen. They are easily mixed into sauces and melt when they hit a hot pan. Drizzle an omega-3 rich sauce over that salmon and get a real dose of EPA and DHA.

I like to keep a small jar of anchovies on hand just in case I want to make salsa verde. This salsa verde, not to be confused with similar green sauces of French and Latin America origin, is the rustic Italian version. Try it over steaks, white fish, grilled veggies, or seared scallops. This sauce is a nutritional powerhouse; with anti-inflammatory garlic, anchovies, and olive oil, probiotic, pickled caper berries and gherkins, plus the antioxidant benefit of fresh herbs. If it weren't so potent, salsa verde might be a good addition to your green smoothie. On second thought, don't try that one at home.

Basic Salsa Verde

2 cloves of garlic

3 cornichons

3 anchovy filets

1 tblsp capers, drained

2 tsp dijon mustard

3 tsp red wine vinegar

handful of mint

handful of parsley

olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Combine the first six ingredients in a food processor and blend. Add the fresh herbs then blend again while streaming the olive oil into the top of the processor to form an emulsion. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Makes about 1/2 cup.

I never measure ingredients when I make this. Feel free to add more of this or less of that until it tastes right and has the desired consistency.