Friday, June 29, 2012

Curried vegetables with yogurt naan

Like Naan bread? Like curry? I know I do, but usually they are full of oil, butter and possibly a high fat coconut milk. Here's a recipe for some low fat whole wheat Naan bread made with non-fat greek yogurt (but can be made just with water if you are dairy sensitive,) and a spicy curry summer vegetable dish to go along. Don't have the time to make your own Naan? Don't worry, you can substitute with a warmed an oil free pita (check the label there are a few brands out there,) or an oil free wrap would work just fine. Enjoy the summer and get currying.

For the Naan:

3/4 cup warm water (a little warmer than your body temperature but not hot!)
1/2 cup non fat yogurt (or hemp milk or just add extra water)
1 packet dry active yeast
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 T salt (omit if you are restricting salt intake)

Place the warm water, yogurt and yeast into the bowl of a kitchen aid mixer with a hook attachment (if you do not have a mixer, use a large bowl and mix with a spoon then knead with hands.) Turn mixer onto medium speed to dissolve the yeast. Turn off the mixer and add the flour and then the salt (salt can kill the yeast if added to early.) Mix on low speed until combined. Set speed to 
medium to knead for about 2 minutes. Place dough onto a floured large cutting board or clean work surface. Knead with hands by grabbing the 12 o'clock position of the dough and bring it to the 6 o'clock position. Give the dough a quarter turn and repeat the knead until the dough is smooth and comes neatly into a ball (if the dough is still sticky during the knead process, add more flour until it forms a smooth ball. Place in a clean bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Allow to rise in a warm area of your kitchen until nearly doubles in size (about an hour, good time to start cutting your vegetables for the curry, see recipe below.) Punch down the dough and re-knead for a few seconds. Cut the dough into four pieces and shape the dough into smaller balls. Place on a large plate or cutting board to rise again for 45 minutes (a good time to get ready to cook your curried vegetables (see recipe below.)) Preheat a large cast iron skillet (preferably,) or large saute pan on medium high heat. Roll one ball of dough into a 6-8'' circle (depending on size of skillet.) Place circle on hot skillet and brown on one side, flip over and brown the other side. Place Naan on a wire rack if available to allow naan to cool. Repeat with the rest of the dough balls until they are all cooked.

Curried Summer Vegetables:

1 yellow squash - washed and small dice
1 cup finely chopped cauliflower
2 cups small diced eggplant
1 ear of yellow corn - kernels cut of the cob
1/4 onion - small dice
2 cloves garlic - finely chopped
2 Tablespoons finely chopped ginger
1 hot chili pepper (serrano, jalapeƱo, red fresno, etc)
1 1/2 teaspoons mustard seeds
2 teaspoons Madras curry powder (or any good curry powder)
1/4 cup yogurt (can be omitted)
1/2 lime - juiced
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1/2 cup tomato puree
3 Tablespoons of chopped basil 

1 Large saute pan or tall sided pot (I like a wok for this preparation)

Preheat large tall sided saute pan or wok on medium high heat. Add the diced vegetables and dry roast in the pan until browning and almost tender, remove to a bowl and reserve, (if the pan seems to be getting too brown at this time, add a little vegetable stock and "deglaze" the pan before moving onto the next step.) Add the onion, ginger, garlic, chili pepper, mustard seeds, curry powder and saute the aromatics until the onion is translucent and beginning to brown (3 minutes.) Add the reserve vegetables and deglaze (a classic cooking term meaning to add liquid to dissolve the bits stuck onto the pan,) by adding the vegetable stock, tomato puree and yogurt. Reduce to a simmer and slowly simmer the curry until vegetables are to your desired doneness. Serve in bowls and top with basil and chunks of warm naan on the side. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Summer vegetable Pinto bean chili with chipotle

Here's a lovely summer vegetable chili that you won't even know that it doesn't contain meat! You wont miss it with a lot of "umami" flavors of spicy, smokey chipotle chilies; earthiness of mushrooms and pumpkin seeds, plus all the common spices that you might find in a common chili. A couple of interesting ingredients that stand out: kombu, vegetarian Worcestershire, and ancho chili powder.

Kombu - kelp, usually used for miso soup; when cooked with beans help your digestion of beans.

Vegetarian Worcestershire - most Worcestershire contains anchovies, so if you are vegan or vegetarian looking to reduce your animal intake, vegetarian Worcestershire is a great substitution.

Spices - please see my previous post about spices for more information.

Serves a hearty six portions


4 cups pinto beans - canned or 2 cups dried beans cooked fresh
2 small pieces of kombu
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup diced canned or fresh tomato
4 oz mushrooms - small dice
1 yellow squash - small dice
1/2 globe eggplant - small dice
2 stalks celery - small dice
1 carrot - peeled and diced small
1/4 onion - diced small
1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon dried sage or 2 sage leaves
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 Tablespoons vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
1 Tablespoon organic molasses ( optional)
2 canned chipotle chilies in adobo - finely chopped
2 cloves garlic - finely chopped
1 cup vegetable stock
1 cup tomato juice

If you are cooking fresh beans, place the washed pintos (or other bean,) in a pot of water with the kombu. Cook beans until soft, yet still holding shape. While beans are cooking, heat a large stock pot on medium high heat. Add the eggplant, squash and mushrooms, dry saute until soft and browning. Remove from the pot and place in a bowl to reserve for later. If the pan looks like there are lot of stuck on vegetables, deglaze (adding liquid to a pan to dissolve the stuck on bits of vegetables,) with 1/2 cup of vegetable stock.

Place the pot back on the heat and add the rest of the vegetables to dry saute until they begin to "sweat" - meaning to give up their liquid and begin to soften. Add the spices, garlic and pumpkin seeds. As the vegetables begin to brown, deglaze the pan again with remaining vegetable stock and tomato juice. Add the reserved vegetables, tomatoes, molases, chipotle chilies, Worcestershire and salt and pepper. Turn the burner to a low setting and simmer on low as you wait for the beans to cook. When beans are done, remove the kombu with a spoon. Finely chop the seaweed and add to the stock pot with rest of vegetables. Strain the beans and reserve some of the pot liquid, by straining them into a strainer lined medium sized mixing bowl.  Add beans to the pot with reserved pot liquid. Simmer for 30 minutes until slightly thick. Top with your favorite chili toppings and enjoy!

Toppings - avocado, olives, cabbage, marinated onions, cilantro or parsley, pickled peppers

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Lebanese style Bison pita sandwich

My wife and I have really gotten into Persian/Middle Eastern foods lately and love our local restaurant for classics like Shawarma (and of course we had to go after watching The Avengers movie!)

So here's a Lebanese influenced pita sandwich made without added oil. Why bison you ask? The main reason is that we are conscious about what animal products we do eat and how they are raised. Grass fed beef would be wonderful here or even free range chicken (ground or breast,) if you don't know why to eat grass fed or free range, there is a ton of information out there (I will let you decide for yourself.) Also this recipe could easily be done with marinated eggplant or mushrooms for a vegetarian version.

Serves four pita sandwiches

1 lb ground bison
1/4 cup chopped mint and parsely
1 teaspoon sumac or other dried herbs
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper
Four oil free pitas (check ingredients on label found one brand at local grocery store.)

Preheat broiler. Mix ingredients together in a bowl, make 8 small meatballs and flatten with palm of hand. Place on foil lined cookie sheet. Broil when ready to serve for 3 to 4 minutes per side or until medium temperature (try not to overcook, otherwise bison can become dry easily. They should be a very slight pink in the center.) Place in warmed pita and top with favorite toppings, for suggestions please see below.


Minty yogurt:
1 cup non fat greek yogurt
1 tablespoon chopped mint
1.5 tablespoon rice vinegar or lemon juice
Stir together in small bowl

Oil free hummus (recipe to come)

Quick Pickled beets:

1 red beet (boiled or roasted until tender, peeled and diced small)
1/2 cup rice vinegar (natural)
1/4 teaspoon ground pickling spice

Place diced cooked beets into a sauce pot and add vinegar and spices. Bring to a boil and reduce to a medium heat, cook until vinegar has reduced by more than half. Drain and chill beets.

Shredded beet tops or cabbage:

If your beets come with tops, they make terrific salads or here as a crunchy garnish to the pita sandwiches. If the beets are without tops, substitute with finely shredded cabbage or romaine lettuce.

Other toppings:

Avocado, tomato, chopped olives, feta cheese especially Valbreso French feta! And any other condiment you've got hanging around in the fridge. Pickles, of course. Dijon mustard? You bet! Salsa, why not! Hard boiled eggs, go for it. Go crazy and think out of the box, if your guests aren't into curry aioli and Sriraccha, there are many other options they could have on their sandwiches, to each their own, right?

Bison Pita Sandwich Ready for Eating! Fold over or eat tostada style!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

What if I have to use some oil? What kind should I use?

It's grilling season!

I know there are those out there thinking, well I have to use oil for somethings, right? I mean what about grilling? Well I've been meaning to post an easy no oil grilling recipe, however I'm off to my own weekend outing and have limited time today to outline such a procedure.... So for those who think they must use some oil or other fats to cook with this weekend, here's a tip.

Spray oils: 1/3 to 1/4 of a second spray has zero calories, however if you spray longer there would of course be the same amount as to pouring oil out of a bottle: one tablespoon = 120 calories of added fat.

What kind of spray oil? I only have two that I use in a pinch - coconut oil and olive oil (make sure they are 100% of that oil without any other ingredients if possible.)

Why coconut oil? Well even though it's fat's come from saturated fats, these fats are full of nutrients. Now there are some health "experts" recommending that we should take coconut oil as a supplement and I can't agree with that, it would be better to eat more nuts and seeds (where you would also get fiber and many more nutrients and healthy fats - as I've used in some of the dressing recipes in previous posts.) After many months of a close to an oil free diet as possible, I noticed a few more wrinkles and drier skin. Uh oh! So when I feel I have to use an oil for cooking, I use coconut oil and on some occasions have spread some on my skin and it seems to have stopped the additional wrinkles and dryness I had been experiencing. (Just remember if you spread it on your skin you will smell like a Mounds bar.)

Our family pet always had problems with dry skin and shedding. Now I give him less than a teaspoon of coconut oil every two days or so and spread some on his skin/fur - his shedding has lightened along with his occasional skin irritations he would get on a monthly basis. (Just don't let your dog sleep on the couch afterwards!)

In conclusion, you have to use some oil in a recipe? Don't worry - try virgin coconut oil in you're recipes and you might just be rewarded with healthier looking skin at the same time, (as Bones might have said in Star Trek: "Jim, I'm a chef not a nutritionist!)

Happy Memorial Weekend!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Pantry: Spice

What do you have in your pantry? Well if it's still that stale old jar of poppy seeds you used for a cupcake recipe ten years ago, it might be time for an upgrade. Now pantry staples are costly if you plan to go to the store and pick them up all at once. I wouldn't recommend that to anyone, first of all the cost and second you don't need them all at the same time. Instead, accumulate some ingredients and spices over time, so that when you are inspired to make a Turkish recipe you just happen to have sumac in the cupboards, however don't go out and buy spices in bulk. Buy spices whole if you can because you don't know how long pre-ground spices have been stored in the warehouse before shipping and storing on the shelf at the supermarket. Whole spices can be stored up to two years without too much loss of pungency and then grind them as you need them.

Below is a top ten for the spices in my pantry, but number one (actually they are two but they go together,) SALT and PEPPER. Not any kind of salt and not any kind of pepper. Salt means cooking salt not table salt (Kosher salt, sea salt, and other fancy cooking salts: fleur de sel, maldon, Hawaiian, Himalayan, etc.) Pepper means freshly ground pepper, whether from a hand grinder or spice grinder - grind it the day off and only what you need (as with all spices,) but pepper loses aromas and pungency quickly so grind it fresh!

Top ten spices

1) cumin - this spice is one of my favorites but can be overused, it is so many cuisines that I could probably do an entire post on cumin (Greek and most of Mediterranean, Indian foods, North African, Mexico and Latin America....)

2) coriander - these two spices go hand in hand sometimes, there are fantastic together in curries, stews, fish, or whatever you are cooking

3) Madras curry powder and garam marsala - now you could take the trouble to make these spice blends yourself and you can search for recipes on the web if that's the route you'd like to go, but buying them blended is okay with me as long as you toast them in a skillet prior to use to waken up the spices - and these spices are not just for curry, they make lovely dressings, sauces, deviled eggs, etc. Just remember to toast first and if you are going to use them for a sauce add some water to the skillet to make a paste then add the paste to your sauces.

4) dried herbs - now I promoted using fresh herbs at all times. There are times when you are say "cooking from the fridge" - meaning being frugal and instead of going to the store for a few ingredients you cook with what you got. Here dried herbs come into play. I actually only have four basic ones I keep in the pantry:

  • herbs de provence (a magical blend of lavender, thyme, savory and other herbs,) - find one that looks the freshest and brightest lavender flowers (don't buy an inexpensive one - they are not very good and usually the herbs are too coarsely chopped.)
  • dried thyme - great on roasted potatoes or soups
  • dried oregano or marjoram - good with tomato sauces or Greek foods
  • dried dill - good in a pinch for cold sauces
  • fennel pollen - if you can find this ingredient in a specialty spice store, buy it. If you love fresh fennel you are going to love being able to put the aroma and flavor into soups, fish, vegetables, etc.
  • bay leaf - better if you can find fresh but a must in any kitchen
5) cayenne pepper and red chili flakes - need a pinch of heat? this chili offers a nice kick to any recipe that needs a pick me up - a must have in any kitchen

6) chili powders - now here's where it gets interesting: there are dozens of chili powders: ancho, pasilla, chipotle, etc and you could make your own (toast whole dried chilies and grind them,) these are the ones I always have on hand

  • smoked paprika - Pimenton de la Vera (great for adding a smoky flavor to cooking - just don't use to much, it can be overpowering)
  • sweet paprika - Hungarian foods, deviled eggs, marinades, etc
  • ancho chili powder - when fresh it is the mild poblano chili when dried it is the ancho, fragrant, rich, mild heat, smoky sweet flavor
  • pasilla chili powder - dark and deep, colors foods to a deep red when usued, delicious in mole's, grilled vegetables, bean soups
  • chili powder - do not use anything just labeled chili powder - usually its a blend and not very flavorful - keep to chili powders with the name of the chili on it for best flavor

7) seaweed - yes I know not really a spice, but I use it like I would use salt or any other seasoning: place some kombu in your pot of beans when you cook them, deepens the flavor and makes beans more easily digestible, sprinkle some seaweed flakes on foods instead of salt for delicious flavor, see the "Creamy" Apple Dilly Dressing from previous post

8) sweet spices - this is a general term that includes: cardamon, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, ginger, star anise, nutmeg, mace, and many more (it's more than one spice, I know!)

9) sumac - delicious lemony spice, wonderful on fish, chicken and really anything for a tart flavor

10) achiote/annatto, turmeric and saffron - these spices offer flavor and color to foods (but they can be overpowering also, so limit how much) - also fresh turmeric is wonderful in soups and many other recipes so if you see it at a farmers market give it a try, to be used like fresh ginger (recipe to come)

Next post? Asian condiments and sauces - a myriad of flavors and some pitfalls....

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Oil free Salad Dressings

Last week I had a request, from actually a family member, to post some salad dressing recipes. When we look for salad dressings in the supermarket that contain the words "fat-free" on the label, they are unfortunately full of high fructose corn syrup or other processed sugars. One solution I resort to is just to sprinkle a little low acid vinegar (as in rice vinegar,) or citrus juices and call it a salad, which is perfectly fine for my work week lettuce eating. But if you have just a few extra minutes of precious time in the day, these simple salad dressings can be made without fat or processed sugars. Remember a recipe is just a guideline, if you don't like an ingredient try substituting that item with something else that you enjoy. There's no limit to what combination of ingredients you could add to produce fine dressings or vinaigrettes. If any of your experiments turn out to be winners, please let me know in the comments or email me at and I will post them on this blog.

 I will feature two dressings here: one creamy style (addition of nuts,) and the other an "emulsified" "vinaigrette." Each dressing should be enough for about four servings.

Mango Orange Tarragon Vinaigrette

1/2 cup ripe mango (riper the better) - small diced
1/4 cup red onion - small diced, dry saute in non stick pan till soft
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
1/4 cup rice vinegar (unseasoned - no sugar added)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice with pulp
salt if desired

Place all ingredients into a high speed blender, pure until mostly smooth and pureed with some small chunks showing. 

"Creamy" Apple Dilly Dressing

1/2 large apple - peeled and diced
1/4 cup almonds - "blanched whole" preferably
1 pinch dulse seaweed or 1 Tablespoon seaweed flakes
2 Tablespoons chopped dill
1/4 cup red wine vinegar (Sparrow Lane makes a great Cabernet or Zinfandel vinegar)
1/4 cup apple juice (can be replaced with filtered water)
cracked black pepper to taste
(no salt needed if adding dulse)

Place all ingredients into a high speed blender. Puree into a smooth creamy dressing

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Think you can't stir fry some pork and noodles without oil? Think again! Here's an easy stir "fry" recipe for a simple evening meal.

1/2 lb whole wheat spaghetti or rice vermicelli - par cooked and drained
1/4 onion - minced
1/2 lb ground pork
1 stalk lemon grass - peeled of one layer, white part minced
1 small knob fresh ginger - minced
1 clove garlic - minced
1/2 cup chopped spring onion or scallions
2 tsp chili flakes
2 Tablespoon fish sauce
1/4 cup orange juice
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 bunch cilantro
2 cups shredded red cabbage or bok choy
1 stalk celery - small diced

Start by heating a high sided pot or wok, add the aromatics - onion, lemongrass, celery, ginger, garlic and spring onions. Dry saute for three to five minutes, until the vegetables begin to stick to the pan, add the ground pork and saute stirring frequently until mostly cooked through, add the cabbage and chili flakes. Deglaze the pan with the orange juice, soy sauce, and fish sauce. Keep cooking until cabbage has wilted and pork has browned thoroughly. Add the noodles and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with more fish sauce or soy sauce to taste. Enjoy!