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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Vin Chaud (Hot Mulled Wine)


One might think that vin chaud, pronounced "van show" and also known as hot mulled wine, is an unusual thing to find in France, where it's taken so seriously. The French pay careful attention to the region where it's produced, the foods with which it's paired, and the temperature at which it's served. So I was surprised in a very good way when I first found vin chaud at a Marché de Noël (Christmas market) in Toulouse, years ago. Warming and slightly spicy, it's still one of my favorite cold-weather drinks.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Pan Roasted Mushrooms with Herbs, Lemon, and Garlic


These roasted mushrooms make a great accompaniment to almost anything: vegetarian main courses, fish and seafood, or slow-cooked meats.

I used cremini mushrooms, also known as baby portobellos, but you could substitute white button mushrooms, shiitakes, oyster mushrooms, or even chanterelles.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Dark Chocolate Holiday Bark


Simple yet stunning, this chocolate bark makes a great DIY holiday gift or hostess gift. Best of all, you can personalize it or use what you have on hand. Along with coconut flakes and orange zest, I used dried cranberries and macadamia nuts, but you could substitute cherries and hazelnuts, or golden raisins and cashews, or apricots and almonds, or figs and pistachios. If you're using figs or apricots, roughly chop them first.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar


Each summer my dad picks wild strawberries when they're abundant and perfectly ripe. He preserves a portion for the winter using his dehydrator and shares them with me. I used some to make this fruit vinegar, which tastes like summer in a bottle.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Morning Detox Smoothie


Here's one of the recipes from my new book, The Prediabetes Detox.

Making a smoothie for breakfast is a quick and easy way to start the day right: with healthy fat and protein. You can make it in just one minute and it's a good way to get berries and ground flax seeds into your diet.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Orange Ginger Cranberry Sauce


Cranberries are full of antioxidants, vitamin C, and fiber. They also contain compounds called proanthocyanidins that stop bacteria from attaching to the lining of the urinary tract, which makes them useful for preventing urinary tract infections. And research studies show that cranberries can inhibit the growth and proliferation of several types of tumors including colon, lung, prostate, and breast cancers.

Cranberry sauce is a Thanksgiving staple and it's easy to make from scratch.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

White Bean Soup with Sausage and Greens


This soup is a simple but satisfying one pot meal. Because it's full of leafy greens, the salad is already included. And it's an easy way to incorporate inexpensive cuts of pasture-raised meats into a healthy diet.

I used a bunch of golden beets to make this soup. If you can, always buy your beets with the leafy greens attached. Beets are one of the best buys when it comes to healthy foods. They're full of compounds that reduce inflammation, support detoxification pathways, and promote healthy liver function. At my farmer's market, a bunch of beets is the same price as a bunch of kale or chard or collards, so it's like getting the beets for free. If your beets don't come with the tops attached, you can substitute any other leafy green vegetable.

Instead of celery, which is a traditional ingredient in most soup bases, I chop up the stems of the beet greens, making use of the whole plant. If you can't find golden beets, you can substitute carrots.

  • 1 cup dry white beans, soaked 12 to 24 hours
  • 5 cups bone broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Sea salt
  • Ground peppercorn
  • Pinch cayenne or aleppo pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp rendered duck fat or ghee
  • 1 pound home-made sausage
  • 1 medium onion, cut into small dice (about 1.5 cups)
  • 1 bunch beets
  • 1 organic lemon

  1. Add the bone broth to a soup pot along with the pre-soaked beans and bay leaves. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the beans are tender, about an hour. (Cooking time will depend on soaking time.) Turn off the heat and add a generous pinch of salt and ground peppercorn and cayenne to taste.
  2. Prepare the beets by separating the root from the stems. Cut 1 large or 2 medium beet roots into a small dice, enough to make 2 cups. Remove the stems from the greens. Cut the stems into small dice and set them aside. Roughly chop the leaves and set them aside too.
  3. Warm the fat in a stainless steel or cast iron skillet over medium heat. If you're using sausage links, remove the meat from the casings. Add the sausage to the hot pan and break it up into small pieces. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until it develops a brown color. Transfer the meat to the soup pot with a slotted spoon, leaving the fat in the pan.
  4. Add the diced onion, beet root, and beet stems to the fat in the pan and sauté until soft and starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer them to the soup pot, then add 2 cups of water to the pan. Continue heating the water over medium heat and stir until any brown bits on the bottom of the pan have been dissolved. Add the water to the soup pot and stir everything together.
  5. Bring the soup to a boil, the reduce the heat to low and simmer until the beets are tender, about 1 hour.
  6. Zest the lemon into the soup and stir in the chopped beet leaves, in batches if necessary. Cook until the greens are just tender.
  7. Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and taste the soup for seasoning. Make any necessary adjustments, adding more salt or more lemon juice if you like. Once you're happy with it, serve it immediately. If you're making the soup ahead, wait to add the leafy greens until just before you serve it so they retain some texture and their bright green color.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Spiced Pumpkin Seeds


Now that Halloween is over, it's time to eat those pumpkins that have been sitting around as decorations. Use the flesh to make pumpkin soup or pumpkin custard, and roast the seeds for a healthy snack. They're a good source of fiber, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, and important minerals like magnesium and zinc.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Make Your Own Halloween Treats

If you want to make your own Halloween treats this year, try some of these healthy alternatives to store-bought candy. Unlike other DIY candy recipes, these are simple and straightforward, and you don't need a candy thermometer. You can create some impressive results with just a handful of ingredients that you may already have on hand.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Dark Chocolate-Dipped Mini Coconut Cakes


These little coconut cakes are like macaroons: light, airy, and made of coconut and egg whites. They're easy to put together but several steps are involved: mixing, baking, cooling, chilling, dipping, and chilling again. None are particularly difficult and the results are entirely worth it, so don't let that put you off.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Chocolate Almond Squares


These small bites are good and good for you. Raw walnuts and coconut oil add healthy fats, and cocoa powder adds antioxidants shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and cancer.

Be sure to use a good quality cocoa powder. Avoid alkalinized and Dutch-processed cocoa powders because alkalizing agents destroy healthy antioxidants.

I used a silicone mold with one-inch squares but you can use any mold or just drop spoonfuls onto wax paper.

  • 6 pitted dates, Medjool or other 
  • 3 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup raw almond butter
  • 2 tbsp unprocessed cocoa powder 
  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor and mix until smooth. Drop the mixure by spoonfuls into a silicone mold and transfer to the freezer.
  2. Once thoroughly chilled, unmold the squares and store them in an air-tight glass container in the fridge or freezer.

Yield: 18 (1-inch by 1-inch) squares

Saturday, September 28, 2013

What To Do With Tarragon

You bought a bunch of tarragon for a recipe and now you have most of it left over. Instead of letting it wilt in the fridge, use it in other dishes. Tarragon is more versatile than you think.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Chicken with Tarragon Tomato Sauce


This sauce is a surprise. At first glance, most people see a marinara sauce and expect to taste basil, but they taste tarragon instead. It adds a subtle licorice flavor that may seem out of place but goes surprisingly well with tomatoes. Make this dish while fresh tomatoes are still in season; later you can substitute the canned variety.

Saturday, September 14, 2013



This classic southwestern French dish is a celebration of late summer spoils like peppers, tomatoes, onions, and herbs. (Kind of like ratatouille without the eggplant and zucchini.) Pipérade is often served with scrambled eggs.  I also use it to dress up grilled fish, chicken, or vegetables.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

New York Pad Thai with Kelp Noodles


Pad Thai is a popular street food in Bangkok and when I took a cooking class there last spring I learned to make it myself. It sounds exotic, but Pad Thai is simply a dish of fried noodles and there are almost as many variations as there are people making it. This is the version I make at home in New York, pared down to the basics, using local ingredients from my farmer's market.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Mixed Herb Compound Butter


Compound butters make life easy. They give foods a fresh and luxurious flavor, transforming simple steaks, fish, poultry, and vegetables into special dishes with nearly no effort.

This compound butter is full of summer herbs, lemon zest, and garlic. For the herbs, I chose a bold combination of basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, dill, cilantro, and mint. You can use any herbs you like, even if it's just one or a few. 

I made this compound butter in my food processor but you could do it by hand, finely chopping the herbs and stirring everything together. If you're feeling adventurous, you can make it even more complex by mixing in some crumbled blue cheese or anchovy paste.

½ pound unsalted grass-fed or organic butter
1½ cups lightly packed herbs  (not chopped)
Zest of 1 organic lemon
2 cloves garlic, grated
¼ tsp sea salt
Freshly ground peppercorn to taste
Cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil

Add all of the ingredients to a food processor and purée until smooth. Drizzle in some olive oil if needed to start blending everything together.

To serve, slather onto freshly cooked meats, fish, and vegetables. Dab a dollop on freshly scrambled eggs. Slather some onto whole wheat toast and top it with gravlox. Use it to finish pan sauces. Warm it with some lemon juice and serve it as a dipping sauce for seafood.

What you don't use right away, store inside an air-tight container in the fridge or freezer. 

Alternatively, you can roll the butter into a log, wrap it in parchment or waxed paper, and chill it in the fridge until it hardens. Then use a sharp knife to cut off a portion when the need arises. Or cut it into single serving slices for the freezer. It also works well to portion the butter into an ice cube tray or silicone mold.

Once the cubes are frozen, release them from the mold and store them inside an air-tight container in the freezer.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Thai-Style Pork Salad


Serve this dish as an appetizer or make it a light but filling main course. It's a good way to incorporate inexpensive cuts of pasture-raised meat into a plant-based diet. If you want to stretch the meat even more, add some shredded cabbage, finely chopped bell pepper, or mushrooms.

In Thailand this dish is usually made with sugar, but I've omitted it. If you do want that sweet note to balance the sour, spicy, and salty flavors, drizzle in a small amount of honey while the meat is still warm.

Unlike most versions of this dish, mine has a surprise ingredient: minced whole lime. Tiny pieces of fruit and rind burst with citrus flavor when you bite into them, adding sour and slightly bitter notes to this savory and spicy dish.

If you don't have any lemongrass, don't let that stop you from making this dish. It will still be a winner.

  • 1 lb ground pasture-raised pork at room temperature
  • ½ cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, inner leaves finely chopped
  • 1 red chili pepper
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 organic lime
  • 2 Tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 cup blistered (soaked prior to roasting) or dry roasted peanuts, chopped
  • 1/2 cup packed chopped mint leaves
  • 1/2 cup packed chopped cilantro leaves and stems

  1. Preheat a cast iron or stainless steel skillet over medium heat. Add the meat and break it up with a stainless steel spatula. Add the onions, ginger, lemongrass, and chili. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat browns.
  2. While the meat cooks, cut 4 sides off the lime, each ¼- to ½-inch thick. Place each slice skin-side down and cut into the smallest squares you can. Set them aside.
  3. Once the meat has browned, turn off the heat. Grate the garlic into the skillet and stir to incorporate it into the meat mixture. Add the lime juice and fish sauce and stir, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Stir in the peanuts, mint, and cilantro. Taste for seasoning make any necessary adjustments.
  4. Serve immediately with lettuce leaves.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Raspberry Swirl


These cookies are melt-in-your-mouth soft and oh so delicious. They're also relatively good for you.

Instead of a lot of sugar, my recipe calls for a little bit of honey, and instead of refined wheat flour I use ground almonds, which creates very tender cookies (as long as they aren't over-baked). The raspberries and dark chocolate are full of antioxidants.

These cookies are grain-free and gluten-free. They don't contain eggs but they do contain butter. For a dairy-free variation, substitute coconut oil for the butter.

1 stick grass-fed butter 
¼ cup honey
2½ cups almond flour
¼ to ½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
Seeds of 1 vanilla bean or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ cup frozen raspberries, thawed to room temperature inside a bowl to catch the juices
3½ ounces 85% dark chocolate, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Melt the butter and honey together in a glass or stainless steel bowl over a pan of simmering water.

Meanwhile, whisk together the almond flour, sea salt, and baking soda in a large mixing bowl.

Once the butter and honey have melted, add any juice from the raspberries and whisk in the vanilla. Cool to room temperature.

Once the butter mixture has cooled, stir it into the dry ingredients until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chunks, then gently fold in the raspberries.

Shape large spoonfuls of the dough into discs about 1½- to 2-inch in diameter and about 3/4 to 1 inch thick. Place them about 3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. The dough will spread out as it bakes, making 3½-inch cookies, so don't put more than 6 cookies on a 11-inch by 14-inch baking sheet.

Bake the cookies in the preheated oven until still soft but just cooked through, about 12 minutes. Be attentive and do not over-bake them. If the edges start to brown, take them out. Cool the cookies completely and store them inside an air-tight container in the fridge.

Yield: 24 large cookies

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Marinated Cucumber Salad with Yogurt and Mint


Refresh yourself on hot summer days with simple salads like this one. Serve it as a light starter or a cool side next to spicy dishes or grilled meats.

Because there are just a few ingredients, use good ones like full-fat yogurt made from whole milk and the freshest herbs you can find. I used mint, but dill or tarragon, or even a combination, would also be good. I used white wine vinegar to give this salad a slight sharpness. You could substitute red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar if you like.

Unless you have very good knife skills, use a mandolin to cut the cukes if you can. It's fast and easy, and the slices are always uniform.

2 medium cucumbers, peeled or unwaxed and unpeeled, very thinly sliced
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup Greek or strained yogurt
3 tablespoons finely chopped mint
Freshly ground peppercorn

Toss the cucumber slices with the salt and drain them in a colander for 30 minutes. 

Arrange the slices in a single layer on a clean kitchen towel. Cover with another clean towel, pat dry, and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, mint, vinegar, and pepper.

Drop the cucumber slices into the yogurt mixture and stir to coat them thoroughly. Set them aside to marinate for 15 minutes.

Once the cucumbers have marinated, stir them again. Taste for seasoning and make any necessary adjustments, then serve immediately.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Monkfish Medallions in Fresh Tomato Sauce


Monkfish has a mild flavor and a texture similar to lobster. Here I serve it with a very simple sauce that complements it but doesn't cover it.

If you want to make it extra special, you could stir in some capers or a spoonful of heavy cream at the end.

Monkfish tail fillets usually weigh about a pound. Cut into 3/4-inch thick slices, one tail should yield about 12 pieces which is enough for 3 or 4 main course portions.

If you don't have monkfish you can substitute another meaty white fish like halibut or cod, or spoon the sauce over grilled sardines or shrimp.

If you don't like anchovies, add them anyway. They're good for you (full of healthy omega-3 fats) and you'll never even notice they're there. If you absolutely can't include them, substitute chopped olives.

I used red scallions because that's what I had on hand. You could use another variety of scallion or substitute shallot or red onion. For fresh herbs, I used oregano and basil, but you could substitute others, like thyme, dill, or parsley.

This year I planted two varieties of basil in my window garden: the popular sweet basil with large leaves and globe basil with small leaves. I like to use the small leaves in cooking because they're small enough to be added whole, so I don't have to chop them. I simply strip them from the stem. It saves me a step and prevents the leaves from getting bruised with a knife.
Globe Basil

2 tbsp grass-fed butter
1 pound monkfish tail fillet(s), silver skin removed
2 organic lemons
Sea salt
Ground peppercorn
6 red scallions, red, white, and green parts, thinly sliced
4 anchovies
3 large tomatoes, diced
2 cloves garlic, grated
Sprig fresh oregano yielding about a tablespoon of loosely packed leaves
Fresh basil leaves to garnish (sliced into ribbons if large)

Cut the monkfish into medallions about 3/4-inch wide. Arrange them on a plate in a single layer so they will come to room temperature quickly.

Zest the lemons and reserve the zest. Cut one of the lemons in half. Squeeze the juice from one half over the fish, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn the medallions over and season the other side the same way with the other lemon half.

Once the fish has reached room temperature, warm the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the red, white, and light green parts of the scallion to the skillet (reserve the dark green parts). Sauté until they become soft and start to brown, about 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, anchovies, and pepper. Cook until they begin to break down, about 5 minutes.

Place the pieces of monkfish on top of the tomato sauce and cook, uncovered, until just cooked through, about 4 minutes on each side.

Once the fish is just fully cooked, transfer the medallions to a plate. Squeeze the juice from the remaining lemon over the fish. Cover to keep warm.

Stir the garlic, oregano, and lemon zest (reserving a little for garnish if you wish) into the tomato mixture. Cook until the liquid reduces and it becomes a thick sauce, about 5 minutes more. Stir in 1/4 cup or more of the dark green scallion parts and save any remaining scallion for future use (toss them with salads, add them to scrambled eggs, or use them to garnish other dishes). Taste the sauce for seasoning and make any necessary adjustments.

Once the sauce is ready, if the fish has cooled, place it back in the pan briefly, along with any juices, to re-warm it. Serve the monkfish medallions with the tomato sauce and garnish with fresh basil leaves and lemon zest.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Seafood Salad with Octopus


I love seafood salads, especially in the summer. In this one I used octopus and shrimp, but you could easily substitute firm white fish, squid, crab, or even lobster. If seafood is expensive or your choices are limited, toss a cup or two of cooked chickpeas into the salad and garnish the top with half the amount of seafood.

Octopus tends to get tough and rubbery, so I always cook it in a pressure cooker to ensure it  stays tender. If you don't have a pressure cooker, you can simmer it slowly on the stove until it becomes tender, which can take an hour or more. 

This recipe calls for olives and caper berries. I used a combination of olives - Kalamata and green - but you can use any olives you like. I like to use caper berries because they have roughly the same shape and size of olives and cherry tomatoes. If need be, substitute capers, the small unopened flower buds of the same plant. 

For a fresh herb flavor, I added cilantro. You can use any fresh herb you like. Dill or basil would also be very good.

2-pound octopus at room temperature
2 tablespoons cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground peppercorn
1/2 pound peeled wild shrimp like pink shrimp or spot prawns at room temperature
1 organic lemon
2 cloves garlic
1 cup pitted olives
1 roasted red pepper, finely chopped
1 fresh chili pepper, any color, thinly sliced
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes (any color)
2 scallions, thinly sliced, white and green parts 
1/2 cup halved caper berries, halved or quartered, or substitute 1/4 cup capers 
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves and stems

Cook the octopus for 15 minutes in a pressure cooker according to manufacturer instructions. Cool down the cooker with cold water. Reserve the cooking liquid in the pot and lift out the octopus. Place it on a plate to cool.


Bring the cooking liquid to back a boil in the pressure cooker, uncovered. As soon as it starts to simmer, turn off the heat, drop in the shrimp and place the lid on top. Allow it to sit for 5 minutes. (Cooking the shrimp with residual heat prevents them from getting tough and rubbery.)

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, salt, and pepper with the zest and juice of the lemon (approximately 1 tablespoon of loosely packed zest and 2 tablespoons of juice). Smash the garlic cloves and add them whole. Stir in the olives, roasted red pepper, and chili pepper and set aside.

Strain the shrimp after 5 minutes, reserving the cooking liquid for another use (excellent in seafood soups and sauces). Transfer the shrimp to the bowl with the sauce and toss until they are evenly coated. Set them aside.

Once the octopus has cooled enough to handle, use a sharp kitchen shears to cut off the legs. Cut each leg into bite-size pieces, dropping them into the bowl with the shrimp as you go. Cut the head off the octopus and cut it into bite-size pieces as well. Because it's already been cleaned, you can eat the whole thing. Trim as much tender meat off the middle part as you can, avoiding the hard beak in the center. Discard the beak or save it for making seafood broth or freeze it for later.

Toss everything together until the octopus is evenly coated with the lemon sauce. Finish cooling the mixture to room temperature.

Cover and transfer to the fridge for 24 to 48 hours. Stir occasionally, if you think of it.

Just before serving, toss everything one more time. Remove the garlic cloves or thinly slice them and add them back in. Stir in the tomatoes, scallions, caper berries, and cilantro. Transfer the salad to a serving dish (covered with a bed of lettuce if you wish) and serve immediately while still cold.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Strawberry Vinaigrette


This dressing is a summer stunner.  It's one of my favorite vinaigrettes for summer salads (or magret de canard) so make it while strawberries are still in season.

Serve strawberry vinaigrette with fruit salads and vegetable salads. Serve it as a dipping sauce with grilled vegetables, or as a condiment with chicken, meat, or seafood.

This simple recipe lends itself well to variations, so feel free to add something extra.

Strawberry Lemon Vinaigrette: Add the zest of one lemon and replace the vinegar with an equal amount of fresh lemon juice.

Strawberry Dijon Vinaigrette: Add a spoonful of Dijon mustard.

Spicy Strawberry Vinaigrette: Add a minced clove of fresh garlic and/or a finely chopped fresh red chili pepper.

Strawberry Herb Vinaigrette: After the vinaigrette has been blended, stir in some finely chopped fresh herbs such as basil, tarragon, or mint.

If you don't have red onion for the basic recipe, substitute shallots or scallions. You can also substitute white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or sherry vinegar for the red wine vinegar. It's OK to add a bit of balsamic vinegar but don't add too much or it will overpower the fresh berry flavor.

I made this vinaigrette with an immersion blender inside a glass measuring cup, but you could also use a stand blender.

1/2 cup finely diced fresh organic strawberries, about 4 medium or 3 large
2 tablespoons finely diced red onion 
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
Pinch sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

Add all of the ingredients to a glass two-cup measure (with a pouring spout, ideally).

Blend until the mixture is smooth.

Serve immediately or transfer to an air-tight container in the fridge.

Yield: a scant cup

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Blistered Shishito Peppers


Shishito peppers mostly mild and sweet, but occasionally you'll find a spicy one. They're in season now, so look for them at your local farmer's market.

These peppers can be eaten like any other pepper, in stir fries, curries, or omelets. I like them as a simple starter. It's one the quickest and easiest appetizers ever: Just sauté, salt, and serve.

You'll need a cooking fat that tolerates high temperatures to cook the peppers quickly, so they maintain some of their structure. I used ghee but you could substitute cold-pressed coconut oil. 

I prefer eating them au natural, but if you want to add some flavor, you can drizzle them with cold-pressed sesame oil once they've finished cooking. (Don't cook the sesame oil because it's too fragile for cooking.)

1 pound shishito peppers
1 tsp ghee
Sea salt
  1. If you've just washed the peppers, dry them. Any water droplets will spit and splatter once they hit the hot pan. 
  2. Warm a cast iron or stainless steel skillet over medium-high heat. Once it's hot, add the peppers in a single layer and cook until they brown and blister, just a minute or two. 
  3. Flip the peppers over and brown the other side. Don't walk away from the stove because they will cook quickly. 
  4. Once they're evenly blistered, remove them from the heat, sprinkle with sea salt, and serve immediately. This dish is finger food: Hold them by the stem end and bite off the pepper part.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Vietnamese-Style Chopped Salad


I fell in love with fresh mint all over again in Vietnam. It gives dishes an unmistakably refreshing quality, which is especially welcome in hot weather, over there and also over here.

As soon as I got home, I bought a mint plant for my windowsill so I could have access to fresh mint all summer long and re-create some of the salads I ate while I was there.

(I chose peppermint over spearmint because I favor the cleaner, sharper flavor but also because the small leaves are bite-size, so I only have to tear them off the stalks. There's no chopping involved, which saves me a step and prevents the leaves from getting bruised.)

I ate a lot of salads in Vietnam: green mango salad, banana flower salad, pomello salad, green papaya salad, lotus root salad. More often than not they were tossed with fresh mint, grated carrot, chopped peanuts, and a dressing made with fresh lime juice, lemongrass, chili peppers, and fish sauce. These salads were so delicious because they were flavorful in all the right ways: sour, sweet, salty and citrusy.

My version of a Vietnamese-style salad may not be an exact match, but it's a very good substitute half a world away. I used a variety of crisp local vegetables like pea pods, red bell pepper, daikon radish, and savoy cabbage. I substituted grapefruit for pomelo, which adds a slight sour note that complements the lime juice in the dressing. If you can't find grapefruit or if it isn't in season, you can omit it.

When I don't have fresh lemongrass, I substitute the powdered lemongrass I bought back from Vietnam. It isn't as flavorful as fresh lemongrass, but it adds a subtle citrus flavor and helps to thicken the sauce, just slightly. If you don't have lemongrass, you can omit that too. There are so many good flavors in this salad that even if you're missing one or two, it will still be a winner.

I tossed chicken into this salad because I happened to have some on hand. On other occasions I've added grilled calamari or sautéd tempeh strips. In the future I'll try grilled beef or steamed shrimp. Picked crab or lobster would also good.

This recipe yields about 12 cups of salad before you add protein. It could be served as 3 or 4 main course portions or 6 or 8 smaller portions served as starters, dish sides, or a separate salad course. If you're making it ahead, or making more than you can eat, keep the dressing separate and toss it with the salad just before you serve it.

To make the dressing:

2 limes, juiced 
1 large clove garlic, grated 
1 tablespoon honey 
2 tablespoons fish sauce
½ teaspoon grated ginger
4 inches of tender lemongrass stalk (tough outer leaves removed)
1 fresh chili pepper, any color, thinly sliced

Combine the lime juice, garlic, and honey and set aside for a few minutes to allow the honey to dissolve and the garlic to soften.

Whisk in the remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Set aside.

To make the salad:

I use a mandolin to very thinly slice the pepper and scallion, but you can use a sharp knife instead. I use a food processor to grate the diakon and carrot, but a hand held grater would also work.

1 cup blistered (soaked prior to roasting) or dry roasted peanuts
20 pea pods (snow peas)
1 grapefruit (optional)
1 medium red bell pepper, thinly sliced on a mandolin
1 large scallion, white and green parts thinly sliced
1 large carrot, grated
Piece of daikon radish about 2 inches in diameter and 4 inches long
2 cups thinly sliced savoy cabbage
1½ cups chopped cilantro leaves and stems chopped
1 cup fresh mint leaves (loosely packed)
2 cups shredded or cubed cooked chicken, tossed with enough dressing to coat

In a dry skillet over low heat, toast the peanuts until they start to brown and become fragrant. Set them aside to cool.

Prepare a bowl of ice water. Lightly steam or sauté the pea pods just until crisp-tender, then cool them in the ice water. Thinly slice them.

Slice a whole grapefruit in half and reserve one half for future use. Cut around and extract each segment. (Or, supreme the entire grapefruit and save half the segments for future use). Use your fingers to pull apart the segments into small pieces of pulp. Set them aside.

Roughly chop the cooled peanuts. Add half of them to a large bowl along with the red pepper, scallion, carrot, radish, cabbage, cliantro, and mint. Add the chicken and half the remaining dressing and toss again, making sure that all of the ingredients are lightly coated with the dressing. Add more dressing if you need to. Gently fold in the grapefruit pulp.

Transfer the salad mixture to a serving plate. Sprinkle the rest of the chopped peanuts over the top and serve immediately.