Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Spanish Stuffing Recipe

It seems like folly to let Thanksgiving pass without a recipe, so here's a Spanish-style stuffing to serve alongside your turkey. Rather than the traditional savory-bread-and-herb concoction, this one is sweet, nutty, and fatty - quite far removed from what you were probably planning. But don't worry, you can perhaps save this one for another winter feast, and if you want the full effect, cook the turkey with butter under the skin and stuffed with brandy-soaked oranges.

1/2 pound pitted prunes
1/2 pound dried apricots
3/4 cup brandy
1 large onion, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 pound ground pork (or chicken)
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage without casing
2/3 cup pine nuts (or walnuts)
1/3 cup ground almonds (or almond butter)
1 tsp cinnamon

First, chop the prunes and apricots, place them in a bowl, and add the brandy. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes. While the fruit is soaking, preheat the oven to 375 - hopefully the oven is preheated for your turkey.
Fry the onion until golden brown, and then add ground meat. Season to taste, and cook until it has changed color. Add sausage, and again, cook until it changes color. Stir in the nuts, and then add almonds and cinnamon. Add the fruit and brandy, and mix thoroughly.
Place the mixture in a casserole, cover with lid or tin foil, and bake for 40-50 minutes.

This is the richest, most decadent stuffing you'll ever have, and is practically a meal unto itself. Experiment with leftovers to make hash for breakfast the next morning, and the truly adventurous may even puree the leftovers into a thrilling pâté of sorts.

[This recipe is adapted from Claudia Roden's excellent The Food of Spain]

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Kimchi Recipe

In days of yore, our ancestors would spend much of the harvest season preparing vegetables for the long winter. Some foods would be dried, others would be stored in root cellars, and still others would be fermented as pickles. In Korea, the most popular pickle has historically been kimchi, a spicy mixture of cabbage, carrots, ginger, and peppers. As Americans have regained their interest in traditional foods, and as Korean food has become the new "It" food, kimchi has received a lot of attention of late.

Variations on the essential recipe exist, and the majority of commercially available kimchi includes fish sauce, dried shrimp, and red pepper flakes. The recipe given here is a variation on kimchi that is vegetarian, and somewhat closer to European sauerkraut, though with a strong Asian kick you won't forget any time soon. My taste for this style of kimchi was heavily conditioned by the kimchi offered by Real Pickles, a purveyor of fermented foods based in Western Massachusetts.

A note before beginning: Often times, people do not read an entire recipe before starting cooking. Please read this entire recipe first. It involves some important planning on your part.

1 head Napa or Chinese cabbage (green cabbage is fine, too) shredded.
1 cup carrots, grated
1 bunch scallions, chopped
1/4 cup daikon radish, grated (optional)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
1 jalapeño pepper, deseeded and minced
1 cherry bomb pepper (or other small red spicy pepper), deseeded and minced
2 tbsp fine sea salt
filtered water

Combine all veggies in large mixing bowl to achieve a homogenous mixture, and kneading them slightly to soften. Place in sealable 2 quart jar, pressing veggies down to fit into jar. Add sea salt to jar, and fill with filtered water, allowing approx. 1 inch of space at the top of the jar, and submerging the vegetable mixture. Seal jar and shake, in order to achieve even distribution of salt in water.

The next step is the tricky one. By brining and submerging the cabbage, you allow beneficial lactobacillus bacteria to ferment the kimchi. These beneficial bacteria are naturally present on the cabbage itself. However, if the cabbage were simply left out, it would fall prey to non-beneficial, potentially harmful bacteria - basically, it would rot. As a result, it is vitally important to keep the kimchi mixture submerged as it ferments. This can be achieved through a variety of means - if you are fermenting in a wide-mouth jar, a bowl or plate that has been weighed down can keep the vegetables submerged, but if you are fermenting in a small-mouthed jar, a smaller vessel such as a teacup will achieve the same purpose.

It should be noted that the jar you're fermenting in, and the object you're using to weigh the kimchi down should be cleaned thoroughly before using them. They do not need to be sterile, but they do need to be clean.

Allow to sit at room temperature for three days. I typically ferment in a closed container, because fermenting kimchi may have a certain... aroma. Additionally, you should expect it to bubble and overflow slightly, so have your fermentation vessel on a plate or something else that can be cleaned easily.

Once the initial fermentation phase is through, the kimchi should be refrigerated. It will take another week until the flavor has settled into maturity. Additionally, once the initial fermentation phase is through, the kimchi does not need to be kept submerged. Most will remain under the surface of the brine, but if bits and pieces stick out the top, that's fine.

To be sure, kimchi is work, but the reward is well worth it. It lasts for months and is absolutely delicious!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

What's In Your Herbs?

Recently, the New York Times reported on an ongoing issue in the realm of herbal supplements. A group of Canadian researchers purchased a few dozen bottles of commercially available herbal supplements, and, using a fairly high-tech method for assessing their content, found that the majority included herbs not listed on the label, contained contaminants and fillers not listed on the label, or some were out-and-out substitutions. Only two of twelve companies tested had products without any substitution, contamination, or fillers. The people interviewed in the Times' article then went on to express considerable concern about the quality of the herbal supplements industry as a whole.

As regular readers of this column will expect, I'm going to take a middle-of-the-road approach to the article.

Some of the commentators took a very strong stance against the natural products industry, urging public outcry to rein in the industry. Underlying all of this is, unfortunately, an approach not intended to remedy the problem and create improved access to high quality products for consumers, but rather a strangulation of the industry. This isn't merely throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but then going on to sledgehammer the tub, pull out the piping, and burn the house down. While there is need for regulation and oversight of the industry, this overly aggressive stance isn't productive and isn't actually aimed at fixing the problem.

As Dr. Duffy Mackay of the Council for Responsible Nutrition noted in his comments, laws are in place that provide for adequate oversight of the industry, but the FDA, already tasked with oversight of the pharmaceutical industry and food industry, simply doesn't have the funding or manpower to enforce the necessary discipline on the supplement industry. The chronic underfunding of the FDA as long-reaching consequences that go beyond the supplement industry, however, so don't think that it's just the natural products people who are getting off the hook.

However, let's bring this back to a consumer's point of view. How does evidence of widespread contamination and substitution affect you? First and foremost, it's important to understand why this happens. It's not due to malicious business practices, or a desire to produce substandard products on the part of manufacturers. Rather, substitutions and adulterations happen in the supply chain that goes from field or forest to the supplement company - it's the many hands through which the products pass that add or substitute substances.

Knowing that, how are we to guard ourselves? The answer is that it's best to buy supplements and herbs from manufacturers that engage in extensive testing of all raw materials. The best way to do this is through working with healthcare practitioners who have done the work to ensure the quality of the products they recommend, or retailers who have likewise extensively screened the products they provide. Though many products out there are less than they claim to be, the study noted that a portion of products are exactly what they claim to be and are free of adulterants. The companies that manufacture and sell these high quality products can be counted on to continue to do so, and are worthy of your support. Practitioners and retailers who know the industry and have gone to lengths to assess the companies are likewise worthy of your support, and by working with them, you can avoid the pitfalls that are present in this marketplace.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Greek Salad Like You've Never Had It Before

Greek salad, let's face it, can be boring. It's not as bad as Caesar salad, or iceberg lettuce, but it can still be fairly bland, especially when made by guys at a diner who really have no interest in salad. A lot of Greek salad, it seems, is an afterthought placed next to a big gyro or sub sandwich, and it goes uneaten.

Enter now a wholly different Greek salad. Greek salad like you've never had it before. I picked this recipe up from the book Spice by Ana Sortun, chef at Oleana in Cambridge, MA, and while I've made some minor alterations to it, I'm giving credit where it's due. This salad, hearty and heavy, is practically a meal unto itself, and can easily stand alone.

The primary alteration I've made is to recommend to steam the vegetables, rather than roast or boil them. This is partially because steaming veggies is easier to clean up than roasting, not to mention more energy-efficient, but also because steaming preserves the nutrient content of vegetables, whereas boiling (even briefly) causes nutrients to leech into the water. It's also easier to moderate how "done" the veggies are when steaming, rather than boiling or roasting. Steaming is the way to go, in my book.

1 medium-sized butternut squash, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
8 Brussels sprouts, cut into quarters
Salt & Pepper to taste
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium bulb fennel, cored and julienned
1 Granny Smith apple or D'Anjou pear, cored and chopped
16 pitted kalamata olives, sliced
8 oz feta, crumbled or cut into small pieces
1/2 red onion, chopped finely
2 tsp dried oregano
2 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
4 tbsp olive oil

Instead of cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, you can use broccoli.
The original recipe calls for 16 oz of feta, but I find this to be too much.

Steam the squash until tender; you'll want it to maintain its shape, but still be soft enough that it falls apart on forking.
Steam the cauliflower and Brussels sprouts (or broccoli) until just tender, making sure not to overcook.
Mix the veggies in a bowl, seasoning them with salt and pepper, and coating them in 2 tbsp olive oil.
Mix in the fennel, apple/pear, olives and feta.
Mix the red onion, oregano, lemon juice and 4 tbsp olive oil, and allow to sit a few minutes. When ready, use to dress the salad.
The salad can be served warm, immediately after making, or cold (after flavors have married).

The result should be hearty, chunky, and taste a lot differently than you might expect. The oregano will lend a surprising pizza taste to the mix, and the olives will become little bites of delight that will jewel the mixture. This hearty combo makes a great meal in the fall.

Here's the salad served alongside lamb köfte, pickled peppers, and a dry white wine. As you can see, I've substituted broccoli for the cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.