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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Blood Orange Sea Salt


Citrus sea salt adds fantastic flavor to special dishes. You can stir it in during cooking or save it for a finishing touch. Either way, even simple dishes become extraordinary.

(Last night I did both. I used Blood Orange Sea Salt to season a chicken before I roasted it, then I sprinkled a bit over sautéed Brussels sprouts just before I brought them to the table.)

I choose blood oranges for this citrus salt because I wanted to extend their short season. You can use any citrus fruit, just be sure to avoid fruits that have been sprayed with pesticides or other chemicals.

Most of the citrus flavor is in the peel, thanks to the essential oils found there. It also contains antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer compounds.

My citrus salt recipe differs from others. I use more zest because I like a stronger citrus flavor. It enables me to use less salt and I can always adjust the seasoning later with regular sea salt if need be.

Also, I don't dry my citrus salt in the oven. Instead I set it aside to cure for a day or two before I grind it. Salt is a natural drying agent and preservative, so the heat is unnecessary. Heat can also make citrus zest bitter, it causes the flavorful essential oils to evaporate, and it can destroy the healthful compounds.

You'll need:

1 organic blood orange, zested, about 1½ to 2 tbsp, or substitute limes or lemons
½ cup sea salt

Rinse the oranges well and allow them to dry completely before you zest them.

When you remove the zest from the oranges, take only the colorful layer, leaving the bitter white layer underneath. Zest the fruit over a glass bowl. Add the sea salt and stir to break up any clumps, distributing the zest as evenly as possible.

Cover and set aside for 24 to 48 hours.

Once the zest has been allowed to cure, transfer it to a clean electric grinder and grind until smooth.

(Alternatively you can use a mortar and pestle.)

Taste for seasoning and add more sea salt if the citrus flavor is too strong.

Transfer the finely ground citrus salt to glass containers.

Cover tightly and label the jars with the contents and date.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Simple Salmon Spread


This simple salmon spread is an easy make-ahead appetizer. And it's full of healthy the omega-3 fats that support good brain and heart health.

I used gravlox made from wild Alaskan salmon but you can substitute smoked wild salmon if you like, or even canned wild salmon, but be sure to avoid farm-raised salmon. Also use strained or Greek yogurt and organic lemon zest. If you use regular yogurt or add lemon juice, the finished product will turn out too runny.

I served this spread with cucumber slices, to keep it grain-free and gluten-free, but it can also be slathered onto toast triangles or a crusty baguette. 

You can also serve it as a dip with celery sticks and bell pepper strips. Or use it to fill up the center of avocado halves, so you'll get a small bite of the salmon spread with each spoonful of avocado.

4 ounces gravlox
1 cup organic whole milk Greek yogurt
Zest of 1 organic lemon, about 2 tablespoons loosely packed
1/4 cup loosely packed dill fronds
1 cucumber to serve

Add all of the ingredients to a food processor and pulse until smooth.

Transfer the mixture to a serving dish, cover and chill for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

Thinly slice a cucumber. Serve the chilled spread with the cucumber slices. Garnish with fresh dill fronds.

Yield: 1⅓ cups

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Leek Shiitake Soup


This mushroom soup is great for cold and flu season.

Mushrooms have been revered as both food and medicine for thousands of years in Asian countries. As powerful modulators of the immune system, they play an important role in protecting the body against pathogenic microbes and abnormal cells. In Japan and China, shiitake mushrooms are used to cure the common cold and increase energy.

I used fresh thyme and oregano in this recipe, but you can use any herbs you like. If you don't have  fresh herbs, use dried herbs instead. Substitute one teaspoon of dried herbs for each tablespoon of fresh herbs.

2 portobello mushrooms, caps wiped clean
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Ground peppercorn
7 large shiitake mushrooms, caps wiped clean
3 medium leeks, halved, cleaned and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, grated, crushed or minced
1 tbsp fresh thyme
1 tbsp fresh oregano
4 cups beef, vegetable or mushroom broth

Pre-heat the broiler. Place the portobellos on a baking tray, gill-side up. Drizzle them with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and ground peppercorn. Broil until the mushrooms are browned and the gills are crispy, about 7 minutes. Set aside to cool. Once cool, dice them into 1-centimeter pieces.

Cut off the stems from the shiitake mushrooms and save them for soup stock. Thinly slice the caps.

Add 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil to a soup pot over medium heat. Add the sliced leeks and shiitakes and saute until soft, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add the garlic. Stir until the garlic becomes aromatic, about 30 to 60 seconds. Do not burn the garlic.

Add the broth, raise the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.

Stir in the fresh herbs and taste for seasoning. Adjust if necessary and serve immediately.

If making in advance, cool to room temperature. Transfer it to the fridge within 2 hours and gently re-heat it when ready to eat.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Red Bean Chili with Dark Chocolate


This satisfying stew is not a regular chili. Made with shredded grass-fed beef instead of ground beef, and finished with a bit of dark chocolate, it's exceptionally rich and savory.

It's also a good way to use less expensive cuts of grass-fed beef and a fine example of how to eat meat as a condiment in a plant-based diet.

I top this dish with a dollop of strained whole milk yogurt and chopped cilantro. Substitute fresh chopped tomatoes for the yogurt if you want a dairy-free version. For a vegan version, follow the variation at the end of the recipe.

However fancy it may appear, this chili is easy to make. But it does require some advance prep and a few hours to cook, so plan ahead.

If you can, season the meat and soak the red beans 24 hours in advance. Red lentils are so small and tender that they don't really require soaking, although you certainly could do a short soak. I used a combination of adzuki and pinto beans, a half cup of each, but you could use a full cup of one or the other.

1/2 cup dry adzuki beans, pre-soaked for 8 to 24 hours
1/2 cup dry pinto or kidney beans, pre-soaked for 8 to 24 hours 
1 lb organic grass-fed beef for stew, cut into large chunks and seasoned 24 hours in advance if possible
Sea salt
Ground peppercorn
8 cups water
1/2 cup red lentils 
2 cups crushed or pureed tomatoes
1 heaping cup diced red onion (1 large onion or 2 small)
2 heaping cups bell peppers (2 medium)
1 fresh chili pepper, thinly sliced in cross section (optional, remove seeds for a milder flavor)
3 garlic cloves or more, grated or finely chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp Three Alarm Chili Powder (recipe follows)
1 oz dark chocolate, 70 to 85%
Whole milk plain yogurt to garnish, Greek, strained or other (optional)

Season the beef cubes with sea salt and ground peppercorn (do this in advance if you can, to allow the seasoning to penetrate the meat). Add the seasoned beef chunks to a large soup pot. Add 8 cups of water and bring to a boil.

Once the water comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Simmer until the beef is tender enough to be shredded easily with a fork, about an hour and a half. Meanwhile, prepare the other ingredients.

Remove the beef from the pot and set aside to cool slightly. Add the soaked beans and red lentils to the pot, along with the tomatoes, onion, green pepper, garlic, chili pepper, tomato paste and Three Alarm Chili Powder. Stir to combine. Before it cools too much, shred the beef with two forks and return it to the pot. If you wait too long it won't fall apart so easily.

Stir together all of the ingredients and return the mixture to a boil. Once it starts to simmer, reduce the heat to lowest setting. Continue to simmer gently for another hour, until the beans are tender.

Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Poke the dark chocolate down into the chili, cover the pot, and set it aside for 2 hours.

Once the chili has rested, stir to thoroughly incorporate the chocolate into the stew and taste. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve immediately or transfer to the fridge for future use. When ready to eat, re-warm the chili gently over low heat. Do not let it boil.

Garnish with strained whole milk yogurt, chopped fresh tomato, and/or chopped fresh cilantro.

Three Alarm Chili Powder:

1 dried ancho chili pepper (dried poblano chili pepper)
1 dried red chili pepper
1 dried chipotle pepper
1 rounded tbsp coriander seeds
1 rounded tbsp dried oregano leaves
1 rounded tbsp peppercorns, black, white or mixed
1 rounded tbsp ground cumin
1 rounded tbsp ground paprika
½ tsp ground cinnamon

Use clean kitchen shears to cut the chili peppers into pieces and add them to an spice grinder with all the other ingredients. Grind to a powder and store in an airtight container, labeled with the contents and date. Alternatively you can use a mortar and pestle.

Vegan Variation:

Omit the beef. Cook all of the ingredients, except the chocolate and any garnish, with 2 cups of sliced mushrooms until the beans are tender. If desired, add 2 cups cubed tofu or  tempeh and cook until heated through, about 15 more minutes. Add the chocolate and finish as directed above.