Articles in Healthy Eating
Yogurt is not for just breakfast or smoothies anymore. While the dairy cases in supermarkets across the nation populate with more brands, tubs and tubes of yogurt — including novel flavors like sriricha-mango and carrot — a parallel trend is making it a star ingredient in cooking. Beyond its compatibility with granola or fruit blends, yogurt is becoming a foundational ingredient in dips, soups and sauces for roasted vegetables and meats in American restaurants and home kitchens.
The recent adoration for cooking with yogurt is not the result of some new flavor or formulation. This is plain (old) yogurt, an ancient staple food in many cultures of the world. Yogurt’s natural creaminess and acidity, coupled with its versatility, are feeding 21st-century culinary inspiration.
Why, over 70 years since yogurt’s introduction to the United States, has its moment arrived now?
There’s no doubt that Americans have claimed the world’s favorite cultured dairy product as our own. In fact, it’s one of the fastest-growing food groups of all time. Although nearly all of the yogurt sold in the United States is sweetened, the natural tang no longer puts people off as it did when the Dannon company introduced its brand in 1942.
The sea change came with Greek yogurt. Since 2005, domestic sales have doubled each year, and today over half of all yogurt sold here is Greek-style. With more liquid whey strained, this thicker, creamier product won consumers over, despite costing nearly twice as much. Yogurt’s alluring halo as a low-fat, high-protein, calcium-rich health product with the benefit of probiotics has made it the go-to breakfast choice and snack alternative.
At the same time, the DIY culture has inspired a renaissance in age-old cooking traditions, including food preservation and fermentation. Since yogurt is the product of fermenting milk with bacteria cultures that preserve and thicken, it has helped inspire the pickle-, sauerkraut- and jam-making crowd and has kicked off an online wave of homemade yogurt machines, how-to recipes and Pinterest posts.
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Long before yogurt became the one of hottest-selling foods ever, I encountered the concept of cooking with yogurt in two landmark vegetarian cookbooks, “The Moosewood Cookbook” and Deborah Madison’s “Greens.” Drawing on world cuisines, both featured soups with yogurt, yogurt sauce and raita, the Indian side dish often made with cucumber or other vegetables.
“Yogurt isn’t new. Not even a little,” writes Cheryl Sternman Rule in her 2015 cookbook “Yogurt Culture.” In many cultures throughout the world, yogurt is more than a healthful substitute for mayonnaise and sour cream but “is enjoyed globally in countless incarnations and preparations, both savory and sweet, across every meal.”
While it is common in Turkey to eat cucumbers and tomatoes with yogurt, for example, it’s only recently that such savory notions have enjoyed broad appeal here. It took a slow shift toward vegetarianism (even among meat eaters); world cuisines, especially those of India and the Middle East; and wholesome cooking to win this ancient staple newfound status. It is also due, in no small part, to the singular influence of an Israeli-born, London-based chef named Yotam Ottolenghi.
The Ottolenghi effect
With five cookbooks published in the past four years, Ottolenghi is wildly popular among professional and home cooks alike. His influence on American cooking is so widespread it is impossible not to encounter his mark in food magazines and popular blogs. Several of his recipes, including roasted butternut squash drizzled with yogurt, have become iconic.
Pairing yogurt with meats and fish, grains and legumes, herbs and spices, vegetables from eggplant to zucchini and even eggs, Ottolenghi has helped to transform our basic conception of the ingredient. In “NOPI: The Cookbook,” his most recent release based on his London restaurant, Ottolenghi again translates the idiom with another dozen yogurt-centric recipes using beets, chickpeas, lamb meatballs and more.
In falling so hard for its nutritional values, we’ve finally come to recognize yogurt’s vast culinary assets.
“Yogurt Culture” is one of two cookbooks devoted to the subject of cooking with yogurt released last year. Amid recipes for smoothies and fro-yo, the bulk of the book explores yogurt’s savory side. Poring over appetizer, lunch and dinner recipes, I discovered yogurt in marinara sauce for pasta, tangy mashed potatoes and a more stable whipped cream. Under the book’s spell, I served Rule’s yogurt dip of blood orange, Kalamata olive and red onion with pita breads when a friend came over for a glass of wine. A first.
“Yogurt: Sweet and Savory Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner,” by Janet Fletcher (Ten Speed Press) is akin, presenting a globally inspired collection of yogurt-centered recipes. Salted yogurt creates a bed for a farro and vegetable salad; it is a marinade for chicken and a topping on pizza. No fan of fusion, Fletcher nonetheless blends boundaries via an irresistible cumin-spiced raita with red onion to accompany grilled steak or lamb burgers. That’s a new one for cookout season.
Together, these cookbooks expand our understanding of plain yogurt in all its current forms, from organic and grass-fed to Australian (whole milk, unstrained) and Icelandic (even thicker than Greek) to homemade. Grounded in its history, they inspire some serious and fun exploration through cooking.
“As a cook, I love where yogurt has taken me,” writes Fletcher. I heartily agree. From here on out, yogurt — spiced, herbed, smoked and, yes, even sweetened (lightly, with fresh fruits and preserves) — promises to be anything but plain.
Cheryl Sternman Rule’s Blood Orange, Kalamata and Red Onion Dip
Note: Excerpted from “Yogurt Culture” copyright 2015 by Cheryl Sternman Rule. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
Prep time: Approximately 10 minutes
Cooking time: None
Total time: Approximately 10 minutes
Yield: Serves 2
3/4 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt or labneh, homemade or store-bought
1 blood orange (or Valencia, Cara Car, or navel orange if blood oranges are unavailable)
1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, drained and minced
1 tablespoon minced red onion
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon sumac (optional)
Toasted whole-wheat pita triangles, for serving
1. If using yogurt, season it with a good pinch of salt. (Don’t salt the labneh.) Scrape the yogurt into a shallow bowl and smooth it with the back of a spoon to create a wide indentation. Using a sharp knife, cut away the peel and white pith from the orange and dice the flesh.
2. Scatter the orange pieces over the yogurt. Sprinkle the olives and onion on top. Drizzle with the oil in a thin stream. Season lightly with salt and more aggressively with pepper. Dust with the sumac, if using. Serve immediately with the toasted pita triangles.
Grilled Red-Onion Raita for Hanger Steak
Note: Reprinted with permission from “Yogurt,” by Janet Fletcher, copyright 2015, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
Prep time: Approximately 20 minutes
Cooking time: Approximately 25 minutes
Total time: Approximately 45 minutes
Yield: Serves 4
1 large red onion (10-12 ounces)
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 clove garlic, grated or finely minced
1 tablespoon finely minced cilantro or 1 1 ⁄ 2 teaspoons finely minced fresh mint
1 ⁄ 4 teaspoon toasted and ground cumin seeds
1 ⁄ 2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1. Prepare a moderate charcoal fire in the center of your grill, leaving the outer rim devoid of coals so you can grill the red onions over indirect heat. Alternatively, preheat a gas grill to medium, leaving one burner unlit for indirect grilling.
2. Peel the onion and slice neatly into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. Carefully thread a thin bamboo skewer through each slice to hold the rings together. Brush the slices with oil on each side, and season with salt and pepper on each side. Grill over indirect heat — not directly over the coals or gas flame — turning once, until the onions are soft and slightly charred, about 25 minutes. Do not rush them or they will blacken before they are fully cooked. Transfer to a cutting board and pull out the skewers. If the outer ring of the onion slices is dry and papery, discard it. Chop the remainder of the onion coarsely.
3. In a bowl, whisk together the yogurt, garlic, cilantro or mint and cumin. In a small skillet or butter warmer, warm 2 teaspoons vegetable oil over medium heat. Have the skillet lid handy. When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds. Protecting your face with the lid, cook until the mustard seeds pop and become fragrant, 1 minute or less. Pour the hot oil and mustard seeds over the yogurt and stir in. Fold in the grilled onion. Season the raita with salt.
Main photo: Yotam Ottolenghi’s yogurt-drizzled butternut squash. Reprinted with permission from “NOPI: The Cookbook,” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully, copyright 2015. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Food photography: Copyright 2015 Jonathan Lovekin. Location photography: Copyright 2015 Adam Hinton
Winter is making its presence chillingly known, and when the bitter winds and icy storms appear, so do the runny noses and sore throats. I’ve discovered that a key friend in these situations is also one of my favorite ingredients: ginger. The spicy root, while better known for curing nausea, also has secret anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting powers that make it a handy natural defense against winter germs. With its subtle heat, ginger even gives that extra warmth needed to sustain you in the frigid months. Luckily, there are several easy and delicious ways to incorporate ginger into your diet, so you can give both your immune system and your tastebuds that warm fuzzy feeling.
Try this bright tea to warm up your immune system and clear up your sinuses. Add several pieces of peeled sliced ginger (or a teaspoon of ground ginger) to three cups of water. Bring the water to boil and simmer 5 minutes. Add a teaspoon of turmeric (another anti-inflammatory immune booster), a pinch of cayenne pepper (decongestant), a tablespoon of lemon juice (vitamin C infusion) and a cinnamon stick (anti-inflammatory, bacteria-fighting, and antioxidant-rich). Simmer 5 more minutes, then strain into a mug and add a spoonful of honey (sweetens the spice). You can adjust measurements — just err on the careful side with cayenne and turmeric, which pack a strong punch. Prefer a shortcut? Combine the ingredients in a mug and pour boiled water over them, stirring well. Looking to really heat things up? Add rum or whiskey — it’s a Ginger Hot Toddy! A bit of a cheat on the health front, but will definitely help you stay warm.
This is a great option for when you’re on the run. Fresh ginger infuses refreshingly tart spice into any smoothie. Options include: mixed berries, milk, honey and banana; pineapple, coconut water, yogurt and cinnamon; mango, orange juice, ice and banana; strawberries, banana, milk and honey; carrot (juice), lemon juice, banana and mint; or kale, apple, lemon juice, blueberries, cinnamon, banana, milk and honey. Go wild with variations. I use frozen berries or banana to thicken, but you can add ice if using fresh fruit. Pick your preferred milk or yogurt — I go with almond and goat, respectively — and same goes for greens (like substituting spinach for kale). Toss it all in the blender with a few peeled slices of fresh ginger for a smooth and tasty immunity boost.
Here’s a zesty way to incorporate ginger into your lunch or dinner. Combine several peeled slices of ginger in a blender with a few tablespoons of miso, soy sauce, rice vinegar and about 1/4 cup olive or canola oil, a scant teaspoon of sesame oil, a clove of crushed garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice and/or orange juice, and salt and pepper to taste (and chopped scallions or fresh cilantro if desired). After a few minutes you have a mouthwatering, immune-empowering, Asian-inspired paste that can be used as a marinade for meat and veggies, a dressing for your favorite salad, or even a sauce for stir-fry.
Granola is the perfect snack: portable, versatile and filling, with lots of protein and flavor. If you’re a granola addict like myself, it just makes sense to create your own. It’s easy and enables you to add all your favorite elements — including ginger!
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Here’s a good starting recipe:
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 50 minutes
Total time: 65 minutes
Yield: 6 cups
4 cups oats (substitute other grains, like oat bran or quinoa)
1/4 cup each of your favorite nuts, roughly chopped (I use almonds, walnuts and pecans)
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger
1/4 cup each of dried fruit (figs, raisins, cranberries, apples, cherries — or a combination)
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup molasses (optional)
1/3 cup maple syrup (substitute agave or honey)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1. Combine oats, nuts, coconut, 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon, salt, ginger and dried fruit in a large bowl.
2. On medium-low heat, combine coconut oil, molasses, maple syrup, brown sugar, vanilla and 1 teaspoon cinnamon in a saucepan. Stir until sugar dissolves. Pour sauce over dry ingredients and combine.
3. Lay out granola on parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 275 F for 20 minutes; turn the pan; bake 20 to 30 minutes more until golden brown.
Again, feel free to personalize! Don’t like granola too sweet? Scratch the maple syrup and sugar. Wild for luscious clusters? Don’t stir while baking. And if you still need more ginger: Add 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger to the dry ingredients or shave fresh ginger into the saucepan mixture.
Main photo: Create a ginger tea with tumeric, cayenne pepper, lemon, cinnamon and honey to keep colds away. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rose Winer
Like 50 million to 70 million other Americans, I battle with insomnia. My love for food inspired me to start there in search of relief. Here’s what I found.
A shopping list for the sleep-deprived
Almonds: Rich in magnesium, a mineral needed for quality sleep. A recent study published in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine found that low magnesium levels make sleep more difficult.
Carbohydrates: A bowl of your favorite cereal with milk combines carbohydrates and dairy. Along with corn chips, pretzels and rice (especially jasmine rice), cereal has a high glycemic index, which causes a natural spike in blood sugar and insulin levels, shortening the time it takes to fall asleep. Normally we want steady levels to avoid mood swings and insulin resistance. But if you’re in need of sleep, the increase in blood sugar and insulin aids tryptophan in entering your brain and bringing on the sleep.
Chamomile tea: Steeped five minutes with a teaspoon of honey, this increases the glycemic index while acting like a mild sedative to aid relaxation.
Elk: Contains nearly twice as much tryptophan as turkey!
Honey: Raises insulin and allows tryptophan to enter the brain more easily. A spoonful before bed, whether by itself or mixed into chamomile tea or yogurt, could give you a more restful sleep.
Hummus: Chickpeas are a good source of tryptophan.
Kale and other leafy veggies: Loaded with calcium, these help the brain use tryptophan to manufacture melatonin. If you’re anti-kale, spinach and mustard greens are good options.
Lettuce: A Guatemalan friend swears that drinking boiled water in which three pieces of lettuce have been soaked for 15 minutes before bedtime will put you out. Lettuce contains lactucarium, the milky fluid secreted at the base of a lettuce leaf, which has been reported to cause a mild sensation of euphoria.
Passion-fruit tea: Contains a harmala alkaloid found in high levels in the passion flower. This is a naturally occurring beta-carboline alkaloid that quiets the nervous system. Drinking a cup one hour before bedtime will help induce a sounder sleep.
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Root vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, parsnips, daikon and red radishes, jicama, turnips and gourds are rooted in the soil and therefore reputedly ground us. When we are stressed, root veggies are the things to eat; in winter, they give us warmth and balance. Their magnesium helps relax the nervous system, which reduces stress hormones and helps the body rest; try eating them with leafy greens for additional magnesium. Potassium, which lowers blood pressure and calms the body, is found in high levels in root veggies, as is vitamin C, which does not deplete when cooked. And root veggies are complex carbohydrates, which produce serotonin (without causing a sugar rush) and lower stress. They can therefore help you sleep soundly without waking up.
Shrimp and lobster: Crustaceans contain a lot of tryptophan, which the body converts to serotonin and melatonin.
Walnuts: A good source of tryptophan, an essential amino acid that can enhance sleep by helping to produce the hormones that set our sleep-wake cycles — namely serotonin (a hormone in the pineal gland that communicates information between neurons) and melatonin (which controls the body’s circadian rhythm). Walnuts also contain their own source of melatonin.
Warm milk: My grandma used to say warm milk can help you sleep, but so can any dairy product ingested before bedtime, including cheese and yogurt. Calcium helps the brain use the tryptophan found in dairy to manufacture sleep-triggering melatonin. It also plays a role in regulating muscle movements, quieting the muscles.
A meal to excite the tastebuds yet calm the system
Here’s a perfect dinner that’s sure to induce sleep. Any full-bodied Pinot Noir or Cabernet will pair nicely.
For more information on health and sleep, see Ronald Bazar’s new book, “Sleep Secrets: How to Fall Asleep Fast, Beat Fatigue and Insomnia and Get a Great Night’s Sleep.” Also check out Jenny Herman’s website, Healdsburg Nutrition.
8 ounces dry chickpeas, soaked overnight, plus 8 ounces canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 clove of garlic, minced
Big splash of olive oil
Several pinches salt
4 tablespoons cold water
Blend all ingredients in a food processor. Serve with pita chips.
1 handful black kale per diner, washed, stemmed and lightly crunched with salt
1 handful toasted walnuts
Thinly sliced red onion or shallot
4 tablespoons olive oil
Squeeze of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon honey
1. Slice the kale very thin. Place in a bowl with the walnuts and onion or shallot.
2. Whisk together the oil, lemon and honey, add to the salad and toss to coat.
Roasted Elk Tenderloin
2 pounds of elk tenderloin
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
2. Pat tenderloin dry with a paper towel and rub with garlic. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Heat olive oil in an ovenproof skillet. When almost smoking, sear tenderloin on all sides. Drain off the oil and squeeze the juice of the lemon onto the elk.
4. Place pan with elk in the preheated oven. Roast for 10 to 14 minutes until medium-rare, then remove and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice to serve.
Jasmine Rice Pudding
2 cups water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon or orange zest
1 cup jasmine rice
4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
1 cup raisins
Ground cinnamon and heavy cream for garnish
1. Combine water, butter, salt and zest in a heavy saucepan; bring to a boil.
2. Stir in the rice and return to a boil. Cover and simmer until all water is absorbed, 10 to 15 minutes.
3. Combine milk, sugar and vanilla bean in another heavy, uncovered saucepan and bring just to a simmer, stirring until most of the milk is absorbed and you have a creamy substance. Pour carefully into the rice and mix to combine.
4. Transfer to a serving bowl, and serve sprinkled with cinnamon and heavy cream poured on top.
Main photo: Kale salad with walnuts for a healthy new year. Credit: Copyright 2015 Andrew Lipton
I was intimidated by plantains. Having eaten them in Latin American restaurants, I knew they were good when served with roast chicken, rice and beans. But seeing them in the market, I had no idea how to cook them. A trip to Costa Rica changed all that when a chef demonstrated how plantains are easy to prepare and delicious.
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Like bananas, their sweet cousins, plantains are naturally fibrous and a good source of potassium.
Although they look like large bananas, they are not edible unless cooked. Primarily starchy, especially when green, plantains also have a stiff, bark-like peel. Delightfully easy to cook, plantains are used to create delicious side dishes.
Available all year round and grown primarily in the southern hemisphere, plantains are cooked in a great many ways — steamed, deep fried, sautéed, boiled, baked and grilled. The same fruit is prepared differently when it is green than when it is yellow or black. The first time I visited a Mexican market in Los Angeles, I noticed bunches of very large bananas with mottled yellow and black skin. I thought the blackened fruit was spoiled. In point of fact, when the peel turns yellow and then black, the starches in the fruit have begun to convert to sugars.
Plantains, yellow or black, will never be as sweet as a banana, but when cooked in this ripened state, they produce a deliciously caramelized side dish or dessert.
In his kitchen at Villa Buena Onda, an upscale boutique hotel on the Pacific Coast in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Provence, Chef Gabriel Navarette demonstrated in a cooking video how easy it is to prepare plantains. In fact, they are so easy to cook, now that I am home, I make them all the time.
The only difficulty with cooking plantains is finding a market that sells them. Not available in supermarkets in many U.S. cities, markets serving the Spanish-speaking community will have plantains. Seek them out because besides selling plantains, the markets will also be a good source of mangoes, papayas, tomatillos, chayote, fresh chilies, Latin spices and a good selection of dried beans and rice.
Navarette demonstrated how to prepare plantains three ways. He stuffed green plantains with cheese and baked them in the oven. He flattened green plantains and fried them twice to make patacones, thick, crispy chips served with pico de gallo, black beans, guacamole or ceviche. And, he caramelized yellow plantains to serve alongside black beans and rice on the wonderful Costa Rican dish called casado, which always has a protein such as chicken, fish, pork or beef.
Villa Buena Onda, or VBO as it is known locally, is an intimate destination. With only eight rooms, the hotel fells like a private home with a personal chef. The price of the room includes all three meals. Navarette and his fellow chefs make each dish to order.
Navarette studied at Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje, a prominent school training professionals in many fields. He worked in resort and hotel kitchens, moving up the ranks from server to line cook, then as a sous chef and finally as the head chef at VBO for the past eight years.
What attracted me to his food, as well as that of his cousin Diego Chavarria on the weekend and Rosa Balmaceda in the morning, was that each dish tasted home cooked but was plated in the most beautiful, five-star way.
Aided by César Allonso Carballo to translate, Navarette was happy to show me how to cook plantains. I was amazed at how easy they are to cook.
Cooking yellow plantains to use as a side dish or dessert is the essence of simplicity. Simply peel each plantain, heat a half-inch of safflower or corn oil in a carbon steel or cast iron pan over a medium flame, cut the plantain into rounds or in half lengthwise and then cut into 5-inch long sections, fry on either side until lightly browned, drain on paper towels and serve. All that can be done in five to eight minutes and the result is delicious.
The crisp and savory patacones are slightly more complicated to prepare but not much more so.
Patacones from the kitchen of Villa Buena Onda
Yellow or black plantains should not be used to make patacones because they are too soft.
In the restaurant, Navarette uses a deep fryer to cook plantains. That is fast and easy so he can keep up with the orders, but I discovered at home that by using a carbon steel pan I was able to achieve the same result using less oil with an easier clean up.
The oil may be reused by straining out cooked bits and storing in a refrigerated, air-tight container.
Enjoy the patacones with an ice-cold beer and, as the Costa Ricans say, Pura vida! Life is good because everything is OK.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
2 green plantains, washed
1 cup corn or safflower oil
Sea salt and black pepper to taste (optional)
1. Cut the ends off each green plantain. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut along the length of the tough peel being careful not to cut the flesh of the plantain. Pry off the peel and discard.
2. Preheat oil in a deep fryer to 350 F or a half-inch of oil in a large sauté pan over a medium flame.
3. Cut each plantain into 5 or 6 equal sized rounds.
4. Place the rounds into the deep fryer for 3 to 4 minutes or until lightly browned. In the sauté pan, turn frequently for even cooking, which should take about 5 to 8 minutes.
5. Remove, drain on paper towels and allow to cool.
6. Prepare one round at a time. Put the round on a prep surface. Place a sturdy plate on top of the round. Press firmly in the middle of the plate until the plantain round flattens, then do all the other rounds.
7. Place the flattened plantains back into the deep fryer for 2 minutes, or 4 minutes in the oil in a sauté pan as before. Turn as necessary in order to cook until lightly browned on all sides.
8. Remove from the oil, place on paper towels to drain and cool.
9. Season with sea salt and black pepper (optional).
10. Serve at room temperature with sides of black beans, pico de gallo, sour cream or ceviche or all four so guests can mix and match.
Main photo: Green and yellow plantains at Carniceria Mimi in Canas, Costa Rica. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt
Cooking for dinner parties should be fun. If the occasion is a holiday, a birthday or a personal landmark, celebrating at home with a meal cements relationships with friends and family. But when preparing the meal is too much work, the fun goes away.
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With relative ease, chef Nicole Heaney shows how to create a flavorful dish featuring a filet of fish that is perfect for entertaining. The key for a dinner party, as she demonstrates, is a little planning.
In the kitchen at Schooners Coastal Kitchen & Bar in Monterey, California, chef de cuisine Heaney shows how to prepare sablefish with crispy skin in a brown butter sauce. Adding flavor, Heaney pairs the rich, fatty fish with al dente Brussels sprouts, creamy farro cooked risotto-style and savory apple puree to add acid and sweetness.
Key to making the festive plate is the combination of four elements, each of which takes very little effort to create. And of the four, three can be made ahead. The Brussels sprouts, farro and apple puree can be made hours ahead of the dinner or even the day before. Then, just before serving, reheat the three components and cook the sablefish as your guests are sitting down ready for a celebration.
For a delicious vegan and vegetarian meal, leave out the fish and serve the Brussels sprouts, farro and apple puree.
A kitchen with a view
Schooners Coastal Kitchen & Bar is the main restaurant at the Monterey Plaza Hotel on Cannery Row. Working with executive chef James Waller, Heaney cooks in a kitchen with a view of Monterey Bay. Growing up in Wyoming and working in Colorado and New Mexico, Heaney was an adult before she saw the Pacific Ocean.
She confesses that, even after a year at the restaurant, when baby humpback whales swim close to the restaurant, she joins the other kitchen staff members to rush outside for a closer look from the dining patio. There they watch as the whales breach for a long moment before disappearing in the cold blue water.
Her cooking is influenced by the time she spent in Sedona at Mii amo Café. Preparing meals for health-conscious guests of the resort and spa, Heaney learned the importance of clean, fresh flavors. Fats were kept to a minimum. The kitchen did not use butter or cream. Asian ingredients and techniques were frequently used.
The regime is not as strict at Schooners, but Heaney still creates dishes with distinctive flavors and innovative ingredients like the kelp noodles she uses to make her version of pad thai.
An avid reader of Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen,” she knows that the more you understand the chemistry of cooking, the better you can control the results. In her video demonstration, she points out the importance of using acid to round out flavors, as in the savory apple puree and farro risotto.
The apples Heaney uses are grown locally on the Gizdich Ranch in Watsonville, California. She recommends using Gala apples in the recipe. Heaney leaves on the peels to add flavor and color. Because the apples will be pureed, there is no need to cut them precisely.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
Final assembly time: 5 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes
Yield: 3 cups sauce
4 large Gala apples, washed, pat dried, peels on
1 yellow onion, washed, peeled and trimmed, roughly chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup bourbon (optional)
Unsweetened apple juice to cover
Freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste
Kosher salt to taste
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1. Heat a large saucepan on a medium flame.
2. Cut open the apples. Remove and discard the core and seeds. Do not peel the apples. Cut the apples into large pieces.
3. Drizzle olive oil into saucepan, add onion and apples and sauté together until translucent.
4. Add bourbon (optional). Cook off the alcohol, which may catch fire. Be careful not to singe your eyebrows as chef Heaney once did.
5. Cover with unsweetened apple juice. Simmer on medium heat until reduced by half and the apples soften and begin to break down.
6. Puree in a large blender. Start blending on a low speed and progress to a higher speed until the puree is smooth.
7. Taste and season with lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and kosher salt.
8. If preparing ahead, store refrigerated in a sealed container.
9. Just before serving, reheat. Taste and adjust the seasoning and, if the puree is too thin, continue reducing on a medium flame to thicken.
Farro Risotto Fit for a Dinner Party
Cooking farro risotto-style means heating and hydrating the grain as if it were Arborio rice. Substituting farro for rice adds a nutty flavor. Heaney prefers her farro al dente but that choice is entirely personal. Many people prefer their risotto softer rather than al dente.
Better quality ingredients yield a better result. With risotto, that means using quality rice or, in this case, farro. The stock is as important. Canned stocks are available, but they are high in sodium content and can have an off-putting aroma. Homemade stocks are preferable. Any good quality stock can be used — beef, pork, chicken or seafood. For vegetarians and vegans, the farro can be prepared with vegetable broth and without the butter or Asiago cheese.
The cooking time may vary depending on the farro.
Like other whole spices, pepper has volatile oils. To preserve the freshness of its flavor, Heaney prefers to grind the peppercorns just before using.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 30 to 45 minutes
Final assembly time: 5 minutes
Total time: 40 to 55 minutes
Yield: serves 4
64 ounces hot stock, preferably homemade, can be vegetable, beef, pork, chicken or seafood
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, washed, peeled, trimmed, small dice
1 large carrot, washed, peeled, trimmed, small dice
2 large celery stalks, washed, peeled, trimmed, small dice
3 garlic cloves, washed, peeled, rimmed, minced (optional)
16 ounces farro
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon sweet butter (optional)
1 bunch Italian parsley, washed, pat dried, leaves chopped fine
1 tablespoon chives, washed, chopped fine
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, washed, chopped fine
1 cup shredded Asiago cheese (optional)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt to taste
Black peppercorns, freshly ground, to taste
1. In a saucepan, heat stock on a low flame.
2. Heat a separate medium saucepan over a medium flame. When hot, add olive oil and sauté onions, carrots and celery until the vegetables are translucent.
3. Add farro. Stir well and sauté until lightly toasted.
4. Add garlic (optional) and sauté until translucent but do not brown.
5. Deglaze the pan with white wine. Cook until alcohol is fully cooked out.
6. Add hot stock in 6- to 8-ounce portion. Stir well.
7. As stock is absorbed, add more stock and stir well. Do not scald the farro.
8. Each time the stock is absorbed, add more stock until the liquid becomes cloudy and the farro softens.
9. If the farro is being made ahead, when the farro is soft but not yet soft enough to eat, or 75 percent cooked, remove from the burner, allow to cool and refrigerate in a sealed container.
10. If continuing to cook or if reheating, taste and continue cooking the farro until it is al dente or to your liking. Set aside until the fish is cooked.
11. Just before serving, to finish, add sweet butter (optional) and stir into the heated farro until melted.
12. Add Asiago cheese (optional) and stir well to melt.
13. Taste and season with fresh lemon juice, salt and freshly ground black pepper.
14. Just before plating, sprinkle in chopped fine parsley, chives and thyme and stir well.
15. Serve hot and plate as described below.
Caramelized Brussels Sprouts
Heaney prefers her Brussels sprouts al dente. Some people like them softer, in which case, after the Brussels sprouts are washed, trimmed and halved, blanch them in salted boiling water for two minutes, drain and then sauté as directed below.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Final assembly time: 5 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes
Yield: serves 4
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 pound medium-sized Brussels sprouts, washed, discolored leaves removed, ends trimmed, halved
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black peppercorns to taste
1. Heat a large sauté pan.
2. Add extra virgin olive oil and halved Brussels sprouts.
3. Season to taste with kosher salt and black pepper.
4. Stir well to prevent burning. Sauté until Brussels sprouts are caramelized on both sides.
5. If the sprouts are to be served later or the next day, when they are cooked 75 percent, remove from the burner, allow to cool and refrigerate in an airtight container.
6. When the fish is cooking, heat the sauté pan with a small amount of olive oil. Add the cooked Brussels sprouts to reheat and plate with the fish, farro risotto and apple puree.
Crispy-Skin Sablefish in a Brown Butter Sauce
Also called black cod, sablefish is not actually cod. Heaney uses sablefish caught in nearby Morro Bay. She likes cooking the fish because it is almost “bulletproof.” The flesh is difficult to overcook and is almost always moist, flavorful and delicate.
In order to achieve a crispy skin, Heaney has developed a simple technique described in the directions. She recommends buying a wooden-handled fish spatula with a beveled edge, which helps remove the fish from the pan. The spatula is preferable to tongs, which tend to break apart the filets.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 5 to 10 minutes
Final assembly time: 5 minutes
Total time: 15-20 minutes
Yield: serves 4
4 6-ounce skin-on filets of sablefish or black cod, washed, pat dried
1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon Italian parsley, washed, pat dried, leaves only, finely chopped
1. Season each filet with kosher salt and black pepper on both sides.
2. Heat a large sauté pan on a medium-high flame. When the pan is hot, reduce the flame to medium-low.
3. Add the olive oil. Allow the oil to heat.
4. Place the filets into the pan, skin side down. Do not overcrowd the pan, allowing space between each filet. If the filets are crowded together, the skin will not crisp.
Sear but do not burn the skin.
Jiggle the pan. That will help prevent the filets from sticking to the pan. If they do stick, use the fish spatula to gently release them from the bottom of the pan.
5. Add sweet butter to the pan and swirl around the filets.
6. Let the filets cook without fussing too much. The fish is cooked when the flesh is opaque.
7. Using the fish spatula, gently flip each filet over. Swirl the filets into the melted butter, being careful to brown but not burn the butter.
After 30 seconds, use a spoon to baste the filets with the melted butter.
8. At this point, the fish is cooked. Add parsley for color and season with lemon juice.
Put the saucepan to the side.
Assembling the dish:
Plate the fish when everyone is seated at the table.
All of the elements — fish, apple puree, Brussels sprouts and farro risotto — should be hot and ready to serve.
Select a large plate. Using the back of a soup spoon, spread a tablespoon of the apple puree across the plate. Add a good portion of the farro risotto in the middle of the plate, then the caramelized Brussels sprouts.
Gently add the sablefish filet, crispy skin side up. Spoon a little bit of the brown butter on top of the filet, farro and Brussels sprouts. And as chef Heaney says, “That is it.”
Serve the dish hot with a crisp white wine and let the festivities begin.
Main photo: Chef Nicole Heaney shows her sablefish with apple puree, Brussels sprouts and farro risotto. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt
Puréed vegetable soups make an excellent entrée for a delicious meal consisting entirely of a soup and salad.
Wanting an authentic French recipe, I visited chef Jacques Fiorentino in the West Hollywood kitchen of his restaurant L’Assiette Steak Frites where he demonstrated his easy-to-prepare sorrel soup.
Sorrel brings dark, leafy goodness
Sorrel is not spinach. The leaves are similar, but the flavor is completely different. Richly flavored with citrus notes, sorrel’s dark green pointed leaves are a good source of potassium, vitamin A and vitamin C.
Unlike many leafy greens, sorrel is a perennial. One spring we were given a small plant in a 3-inch pot. During the first year the plant doubled in size. By pinching off the floral buds and harvesting the young leaves, the plant flourished and we enjoyed sorrel soup on a regular basis. After several years it grew so vigorously that it all but took over the garden.
A riff on soupe à l’oseille, a French classic
Calling his restaurant Steak Frites, Fiorentino announced to the world that his restaurant was solidly in the French bistro tradition. The dark wood interior and precise menu puts a spotlight on favorites that would be found in neighborhood restaurants throughout France.
Like Proust and his madeleines, Fiorentino uses a few carefully chosen dishes to evoke his childhood in Paris. For him that means grilled steak, double-cooked french fries (frites), foie gras and sorrel soup with deep herbal accents. As a nod to contemporary preferences he added salmon and, for vegetarians, portobello mushrooms with frites.
Wash. Sauté. Simmer. Blend. Season.
Depending on the chicken flavoring used, you will need more or less salt. Homemade chicken stock has the least salt and is preferred. Packaged stock, chicken concentrate and bouillon cubes have considerably higher salt contents.
Good quality concentrated chicken stock and bouillon cubes can be purchased in restaurant supply stores and supermarkets. Since the sodium content varies considerably, delay adding salt to the soup until all ingredients have been blended, then taste and season.
A vegetarian version can be created by substituting vegetable for chicken stock. As with chicken stock, homemade vegetable stock is preferable to bouillon cubes and will have a lower salt content.
In the restaurant, Fiorentino uses potato flakes for flavor and convenience. If you would prefer to use potatoes, boil the potatoes in salted water until a paring knife pierces the flesh easily. Allow to cool, peel, cut into quarter-sized pieces, add to the soup and blend.
L’Assiette Sorrel Soup
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Total time: 60 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
4 ounces unsalted butter
1 small red onion, washed, peeled, roughly chopped
1/2 stalk celery, washed, trimmed, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
1 medium-sized potato, Yukon Gold preferred, washed
1 1/2 cups chicken stock (homemade preferred) or 1½ cups water and 3 cubes Knorr chicken bouillon
8 ounces whole milk
4 ounces cream
1/4 pound fresh sorrel, washed, leaves only
Sea salt to taste
Pinch freshly ground white pepper, finely ground
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1. Heat a large saucepan over a medium flame. Add butter, melt and allow to lightly foam. Add chopped onion and celery, stir well and sauté until the onion is lightly translucent. Do not allow to brown. Add thyme and marjoram, stir well to combine flavors.
2. Boil a pot of salted water, cook whole potato, covered, for 20 minutes or until a pairing knife enters easily. Set aside to cool.
3. Add liquid, either chicken stock or water, stir well and continue simmering for a minute or two. Pour in milk and cream, stir well and bring flame up to medium so the liquids simmer five minutes to combine the flavors, being careful not to boil.
4. Add whole sorrel leaves. Stir into the soup. Reduce flame so the soup simmers. Stir frequently and cook 25 to 30 minutes to combine flavors. If water was used instead of chicken stock, add chicken bouillon or base, stir well. Simmer an additional 5 minutes.
5. Blend the soup using either an immersion or a general purpose blender, about 5 minutes. Peel the cooked potato, dice and add to the soup. Blend until smooth.
6. Taste and adjust seasoning with sea salt and freshly ground white pepper.
Serve hot with fresh bread and, if desired, a tossed green salad.
Main photo: Sorrel soup with crème fraîche prepared by chef Jacques Fiorentino at L’Assiette Steak Frites. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt
These days, many are choosing a gluten-free lifestyle. But artificially contrived gluten-free products such as pasta, bread and baked goods can be disappointing. With its rich tradition of rice-based dishes, Japanese cuisine beautifully suits a gluten-free diet. Here are six delicious, easy to prepare, gluten-free Japanese rice dishes for spring and summer.
Stir-fried rice with hijiki and Parmesan
Stir-fried rice dishes make use of one- or two-day-old rice and other ingredients that happen to be on hand. This recipe is one I invented for American audiences to showcase hijiki, my favorite Japanese seaweed. Rich in dietary fiber and minerals, it also has a pleasantly crunchy texture and tastes of the sea. It uses the black hijiki along with Parmesan cheese, cilantro and ginger.
The cheese is the secret to the success of this dish, whose recipe was in my first cookbook, “The Japanese Kitchen.” Fifteen years later, hijiki is much more widely available in this country.
Maze-gohan with parsley, shiso and egg
Maze-gohan, translated as “tossed rice,” is a simple dish of cooked rice tossed with flavorings. This version uses chopped parsley, dried purple shiso leaves and scrambled egg — ingredients that elevate the flavor, color and texture of plain cooked rice into a festive dish. Western-style flavorings can be used instead, such as ground black pepper, crisp butter-browned sliced garlic, finely chopped parsley and toasted pine nuts.
Maze-gohan goes well with any protein dish, such as fish, chicken or meat.
Donburi with teriyaki steak
Donburi dishes combine cooked rice with a topping of separately cooked ingredients and sauce. This one is a beef lover’s favorite: I cook the steak in a skillet, cut it into cubes and flavor them with a sizzling sauce of shoyu (Japanese soy sauce) and mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine) to create everyone’s favorite teriyaki sauce.
When it’s time to serve the donburi, put the teriyaki beef and sauce over freshly cooked rice for a quick, mouthwatering dish. The sauce trickles down and gives its delicious flavor to the rice. A similar dish can be made with chicken teriyaki.
Takikomi-gohan with chorizo and peas
Takikomi-gohan is rice that is cooked with seasonal vegetables and/or seafood or poultry in kelp stock or dashi stock. It’s like Japanese paella or risotto.
Spring pea rice is a traditional version of takikomi-gohan for spring or summer. The key to producing the best green pea rice is to blanch the peas in stock, then cook the rice in that stock and add the briefly cooked peas toward the end of rice cooking. This method keeps the peas very green and firm.
I emphasize the paella comparison by adding chorizo as well as ginger. Unlike paella or risotto, though, takikomi-gohan usually has no added butter or oil. This allows all the ingredients to speak for themselves in the dish.
Takikomi-gohan with mushrooms
For a version of takikomi-gohan studded with mushrooms, I use shimeji mushrooms for savory umami flavor, maitake for their fragrance and king mushrooms for their distinctive texture.
For all these rice dishes, I recommend that you use freshly picked vegetables and mushrooms from your local market or store. The natural taste and sweetness will come through.
Corn rice with shoyu and butter
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The diverse world of Japanese cuisine contains hundreds of such naturally gluten-free dishes. If you are looking for more recipes, consult my two books, “The Japanese Kitchen” and “Hiroko’s American Kitchen.” Both are widely available and contain detailed instructions to make some of the dishes described here.
Corn and Ginger Rice with Shoyu and Butter
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
2 ears corn
2 1/4 cups short or medium grain polished white rice, rinsed and soaked 10 minutes, then drained
2 1/2 cups kelp stock or low-sodium vegetable stock
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 ounces peeled ginger, finely julienned (1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon shoyu (Japanese soy sauce)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1. Remove the corn husks and quickly grill the ears over a medium open flame on a gas stove, turning them until the entire surface becomes lightly golden. Or, boil the corn in salted water for 1 minute.
2. Cut each ear of corn in half. Place each half ear on the cut end in a large, shallow bowl and use a knife to separate the individual kernels from the cob. Repeat with all the pieces. You will have about 1 1/2 cups of kernels.
3. Place the drained rice and the stock in a medium heavy pot. Sprinkle the corn, salt and ginger evenly over the rice. Cover the pot with a lid and cook the rice over moderately high heat for 3 to 4 minutes or until the stock comes to a full boil.
4. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook the rice for 6 to 7 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. Turn the heat to very low and cook for 10 minutes.
5. Remove the lid and add the soy sauce and butter. With a spatula, gently and quickly toss and mix the rice. Divide the rice into small bowls and serve.
Main photo: Tossing the ingredients for maze-gohan. Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo
I am a culinary instructor, a cookbook author, a food blogger. And yet, despite my ability to plan very well all the other aspects of my life, I have a confession to make: I am meal-planning challenged.
For those of us who view with rose-colored glasses those who can successfully execute a weekly meal plan, I have often attempted this feat, and, finally, given up. I’ve realized that it’s perfectly fine to embrace a daily practice of winging it when it comes to dinner. And you can, too.
Here’s my secret. With lentils or dal as the cornerstone of my family table — and of many Indian tables — the possibilities are endless for a quick, easy and healthy dinner, with the addition of vegetables into the mix. As long as I have a variety of legumes and grains stocked in my pantry, I’m good.
Despite my meal-planning-challenged self, I often produce a balanced meal on short notice. I have 10 examples here in the slideshow.
Winging it runs in the family
There’s a history of that in my family. As a child of a mother who worked outside the home, I never saw my mother poring over menus or meal plans. Our meals were simple to elaborate – depending on the day and the time available to cook. And while my mother didn’t obsess over food groups, somehow, her meals always ended up being well-balanced.
That turned me into a very practical mother who views the weeknight dinner as a ritual that is not up for a lot of discussion or drama. I have found that by doing my own cooking, it saves me the hassle of worrying over details such as sodium content, whether something’s organic or the meal is well-balanced. Since I’m doing the cooking, I pretty much control what’s happening in those departments.
There’s plenty of peer pressure to do it the hard way.
Keeping up with the meal-planning warriors
We seem to have a battle of the parents – often mothers — who tout their ability to produce multidimensional, unprocessed meals every day for their weeknight dinners. They wage that war armed with apps on everything from meal planners to calorie counters and recipe trackers. These well-armed planners are pitted against the seemingly meal-planning-challenged parents, who feel they should follow suit.
Instead, busy, working parents often find it easier to pick up a pizza or Chinese takeout – and then feel chagrined when they analyze the nutritional content of those meals.
At a recent event, I was asked about the good old family dinner. I flippantly mentioned that most people would say I raise my children on rice and beans.
I mention lentils as an extended example. I am sure most people have favorite dishes in mind and a culinary repertoire that are relatively simple, full of childhood nostalgia and lacking any artificial trappings of flavor or processed ingredients. My lentils can be someone else’s chicken noodle soup – or whatever your pantry offers.
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My favorite comfort food will always be red lentils. So, depending on my mood, I can make a meal of red lentils by adding anything from kale to carrots to chicken. It brings back memories of warmth, simplicity and family time.
My son often feels the same way about his morning eggs, which I scramble simply for him. He tells me that they start his day right. Once again, it is sometimes the simple, unplanned things that resonate with us most at the meal table.
So embrace your meal-planning-challenged self. I can get you started with 10 one-dish meals that range from light and lively to elaborate, comforting and elegant. Dishes like khichuri or a biryani are always nourishing and they can do the trick in your household, just as they do in mine.
You can get started with this recipe from my cookbook, “Spices and Seasons,” for Bulgur or Cracked Wheat Pilaf.
Bulgur or Cracked Wheat Pilaf
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes (mostly unattended)
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
For the pilaf:
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 tomato, chopped
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
3/4 cup bulgur or cracked wheat
3/4 cup cooked red kidney beans or chick peas
1/2 teaspoon red cayenne pepper powder (optional)
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick, broken
2 cups water
For the garnish:
Juice of 1 lime or lemon
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1. Heat the oil in a pot on medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and when they begin to sizzle, add the onion and sauté for about 6 minutes, until it wilts and begins to turn gently golden.
2. Add the tomato, salt, and bulgur and mix well.
3. Stir in the red kidney beans, cayenne pepper powder (if using), and the cinnamon stick. Mix in 2 cups of water and gently bring to a simmer.
4. Cover and cook on low heat for about 25 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the bulgur is soft and cooked through.
5. Squeeze in the lime or lemon juice, stir in the cilantro and serve.
Note: This recipe also can be made with quinoa or faro, depending on your preference, and you can add in vegetables such as mushrooms or zucchini to modify.
Main photo: By keeping legumes and grains on hand in your pantry, you can create quick, healthy weeknight dinners like this Tomato Rice With Peanuts. Credit: Copyright Rinku Bhattacharya