It’s not often that you’ll see me extolling a dish for its hearth healthy qualities. It’s not that I don’t care about good health, it’s more that I prefer to focus on eating a diet that is balanced, with the philosophy that “all things in moderation” will render it unnecessary to have to specifically seek out recipes that are low cholesterol or low fat or whatever. But at the beginning of this year, Marvin let it be known that he’d like us to eat less meat and more vegetables and grains. He specifically requested whole grain salads, which I already make from time to time and which are great for quick lunches when you have the hectic schedule of a freelance photographer.
I happily obliged by adapting a recipe from Once Upon a Tart (a great cookbook for soups and side salads) with wheatberries, beets and pomegranate. The recipe instructs you to fold in the beets and pomegranate at the end so they don’t stain the salad, but I wanted the dramatic, deep reddish-magenta hue to soak into the wheatberries… so much prettier and seasonally appropriate. The salad is quite good as it is, but even better with a little crumbled feta or fresh goat cheese on top. (This I would add at the last minute though, since I draw the line at pink cheese.) Although there’s no reason not to make this any time of the year, it would make a dramatic Valentine side dish- I plan to serve it alongside a venison tenderloin tomorrow. And you can serve it feeling comforted in the knowledge that you’re not potentially bringing about your loved one’s early demise with rich foods. If you do have a decadent main dish or dessert planned, no worries- it’s all about balance. Continue reading
Although I’m an adventurous eater and love all kinds of Asian foods, it hasn’t been until relatively recently (the last 5 years or so) that I discovered how much I love Vietnamese food. Sad, because out of all the types of Asian cuisines I’ve tried, Vietnamese cooking calls out to me the most, with its pungent flavors of fish sauce, chilies, lime and fresh herbs. It’s ironic because although I lived in France, where there is a large Vietnamese population, my experience was limited to snacking on the occasional nem (fresh roll), which you could buy at the counter in many Vietnamese-owned groceries.
Here in Metro Detroit, there is also a significant Vietnamese population in the Madison Heights area (see this post about some of the Asian specialty stores in that area). A couple years ago Marvin turned me on to a restaurant on John R just north of 11 Mile Rd. called Thang Long *insert immature jokes here… you know you want to* and I’ve been hooked ever since. It’s not much to look at when you walk in- the decor is all rose-colored and clearly hasn’t been updated since the early ’80s; the vinyl seats are torn in places. There’s a long table in the middle of the restaurant where the family congregates to do food prep, wrap silverware, etc. But none of that matters because when you go to Thang Long, you go for the food.
I’ve tried several dishes at Thang Long, but my favorite is the Duck & Cabbage salad. Cabbage is shredded and doused with a dressing of vinegar, fish sauce, chilies and garlic; there are slices of red bell pepper, mint and basil leaves, a sprinkling of peanuts, and best of all, pieces of shredded duck breast. Last year I acquired Andrea Nguyen’s book Into the Vietnamese Kitchen (check out this post for a great stuffed tofu recipe from that book), and happily it contained a recipe for a very similar salad that used poached chicken breast in place of the duck. I made a batch and was delighted to find that, with just a little tweaking, I could now make my beloved duck salad at home. Best of all, it’s an incredibly easy recipe AND super healthy- there’s not even any oil in the salad dressing. The salad is great when it’s first made, but I also like it after it “marinates” in the dressing and the cabbage softens a bit. Either way, you’ll be glad it makes a big batch because it’s addictive and easy to eat huge portions!
Photo notes: The first photo is of the salad I made at home with chicken, following the original recipe without any modifications. The photo of the salad with the herbs and red pepper is the actual duck salad at Thang Long (hence the crappy lighting). The things on the side of the plate are delicious fried shrimp chips.
If you’re looking for a more weekday version of this dish, this salad works just as well with chicken rather than duck. I’m not usually a fan of the rather flavorless white chicken breast meat available in most stores (use Amish or organic if possible!), but the salad has so much flavor of its own that it works out. For the chilies, in a pinch you can do what I did and use dried bird’s eye chilies; just pour a small amount of very hot water over them and let them soak a bit before using. The items marked “optional” are ingredients that Thang Long uses in their salad that were not included in Ms. Nguyen’s recipe.
For the salad:
1 Tbs fish sauce
1 bone-in duck or chicken breast (both sides)
1 small red onion or two shallots, thinly sliced
½ to ¾ cup distilled white vinegar
1 small head green cabbage, about 1 lb, quartered through the stem end, cored, and cut crosswise into ¼-inch-wide ribbons
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded (I use the large holes of a box grater)
a good handful of cilantro, finely chopped (about 2-3 Tbs)
¼ of a red bell pepper, thinly sliced (optional)
2-3 sprigs mint leaves (optional)
2-3 sprigs basil (optional)
2-3 Tbs finely chopped unsalted peanuts (optional)
For the dressing:
1-2 Thai or serrano (red) chilies, chopped (see notes)
1 clove garlic, chopped
½ tsp sugar
pinch of salt
3 Tbs fish sauce
6 Tbs unseasoned Japanese rice vinegar
Choose a lidded saucepan just large enough to hold the meat. Fill half-full with water and the 1 Tbs fish sauce, and bring to a rolling boil. Drop in the duck or chicken breasts. When the water starts bubbling at the edges of the pan, remove the pan from the heat and cover tightly; let sit undisturbed for 30-40 minutes. If you’re at all nervous about undercooked meat, use a meat thermometer to ensure the meat has reached 160°. (Alternately, if time is not an issue, you can cook the meat in a slow cooker on low for a couple hours; folks on Serious Eats claim they get a moister result this way.)
Meanwhile, place the cabbage, carrot, cilantro and red bell pepper (if using) in a large bowl. Put the onion or shallots in a small bowl and add the white vinegar just to cover (the vinegar tames the onion’s bite). Let sit for 15 minutes. Drain well and add to the cabbage. When the meat is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and shred the meat by hand along the grain; when cool, add to the bowl of cabbage.
Using a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic, chilies, sugar and salt until they form a fragrant orange-red paste. Scrape the paste into a small bowl and add the rice vinegar and fish sauce, stirring to dissolve and combine.
Just before serving, pour the dressing over the salad and toss well to combine. Taste and adjust the flavors as needed, balancing the sour, salty, sweet and spicy. Transfer to a serving plate, leaving behind any unabsorbed dressing. Garnish with the herb sprigs and the peanuts, if using (or leave on the side for your guests to add as desired).
Last year I had the rather brilliant (if I do say so myself) idea to host a soup swap for myself and some girlfriends. The concept was simple: do the work of cooking one soup, but wind up with a fridge full of 4 or 5 different soups. This was mostly born from the fact that while I love to cook big batches of things to take in my lunch for the week, I don’t exactly want to eat the same thing 5 days in a row. So, in what I hope will become an annual tradition, we got together and traded soups (and stories of youthful indiscretions, but that’s for another blog… or not!).
Once again I made two soups, this Cheese Soup with Caramelized Onions & Cumin (sooo good!!), and an “African-inspired” carrot soup from Moosewood Daily Special that had peanut butter, lime and chili sauce. The carrot soup sounded like a good idea at the time, but I had to majorly tweak it to get it to taste good to me. I added a pretty significant amount of brown sugar, upped the peanut butter, and also added coconut milk. It ended up tasting like peanut satay sauce, which I guess was not a bad thing, but the fact that I altered it so much makes it pretty impossible to give a recipe. (But make the cheese soup- that turned out great!)
This year’s batch of soups were no less delicious and satisfying than last year’s. So without further ado, here are my “tasting notes”. For the recipes, just follow the links.
French Lentil Soup
First of all, the “French” refers to the type of lentils used, not the style of the soup, so don’t worry- it’s not some heavy-cream-and-butter bomb! French green (Puy) lentils are so great in soup; they are much firmer than regular brown lentils and have a nice chew to them. This soup is seasoned with mint and cinnamon, among other things, which gives it a delightful Middle Eastern feel. There is an optional garnish of thick Greek yogurt. I would up the suggested salt content a tiny bit, but other than that I found it to be just right as-is. Oh, and there are greens in it too so it’s super healthy. Thanks Kate, this is definitely going into the rotation!
Caldo Tlalpeño (Chicken, Chipotle & Chickpea Soup)
The soup for those who like to eat alliteratively! Amanda says she makes this for weeknight suppers on a pretty regular basis, and it seems pretty straightforward and simple. The only thing that might throw you off is finding fresh epazote, but I believe she made this batch without and it was still delicious. I tend to prefer dark meat so I would probably sub out an equal weight of bone-in, skinned chicken leg quarters, but that’s just a personal preference and it was certainly good (and probably a bit healthier) with the breast meat. Although it’s not in the recipe, I couldn’t resist adding some chopped cilantro when I reheated mine.
Shrimp & Corn Chowder with Fennel
Shrimp, corn, fennel, bacon… what’s not to like about this soup? Some of the commenters on the Real Simple site (where this was taken from) were pretty harsh, saying it was very bland. I could definitely picture a dash or two of Tabasco, and just a wee bit more salt, but it was far from being as bland as they implied! (You’re probably starting to think I’m a salt freak at this point, but a pinch of salt can be the difference between bland and just right. Taste and add as you go… everyone’s taste buds are different!) Michelle made this with the suggested (optional) bacon and I would too, but I would maybe crumble it in just before serving. The only other tweak I would consider is adding a bit of cornstarch to give it a thicker, more “chowdery” feel (dissolve cornstarch in cold water before adding to the soup).
African Curried Coconut Soup
This vegan soup was delightful and looks really easy to make. The rice is listed as “optional” but I would definitely include it- not only does it make it a bit more filling, but it’s beneficial to eat rice and legumes together, especially for non-meat eaters. Sarah added some spinach at the end of the cooking (not in the recipe) and it was a nice touch.
Thanks again, ladies… Can’t wait for our next swap!
If you watch any TV at all, you’ve probably seen one of Wal Mart’s recent ads that feature a mom bragging about how she can feed her family on food from Wal Mart on less than $2 a serving. One of the ads is at breakfast time, and the products featured are a sugary yogurt targeted at kids, toaster pastry, and some soy milk (I’m guessing that has added sugar as well). The other ad takes place at dinnertime and the meal consists of frozen garlic bread, bagged salad, bottled Wal Mart brand salad dressing and what looks like frozen lasagna.
Every time I see these ads I get so riled up because I think to myself “I could easily make a meal for less than $2 a serving using food from the farmers’ market!!” I decided that instead of getting mad, I would get even, so I’m hosting an anti-Wal Mart protest challenge to all food bloggers to make the point that eating healthy delicious unprocessed food does not have to be expensive or a luxury!
I’m calling all bloggers to participate- now through Dec. 31, do a blog post using the guidelines below, and email me the link at mlle.noelle(at)gmail(dot)com. Non-bloggers can use Google Docs- just click “save as web page” and it will give you a url that I can use as the link. Please include a linkback to this post so people know where to go if they want to participate. I’ll update this post regularly with a running list of your contributions. Please spread the word via your blogs, Facebook, Twitter, email, etc. The more participation the better!
Unfortunately, there are those who cannot even afford $2.00 for a meal. So, to make it more interesting, for every qualifying link submitted, I will personally donate $2.00 to Gleaners Food Bank. [Update: I just found out my contribution will be doubled- yay!] Please feel free to do some sort of charity-related incentive of your own on your individual posts, although it is not required.
Here are the guidelines:
- “$2.00 per serving” means $2 a person for a whole meal, not $2 per individual dish. A “meal” would preferably have a few components, for example, “chili and cornbread” or, like in the commercial, “lasagna, salad and bread”.
- No processed ingredients allowed. Frozen or canned vegetables are allowed, but no boxed mixes, canned soup, jarred sauces or the like. I’m fine with things like dried pasta, bread from a bakery, etc, as long as there are no trans fats, preservatives, high-fructose corn syrup or other nasties.
- Try as best you can to estimate the cost of all ingredients used, and provide a per-serving cost for each menu item. If you make something that will have leftovers, just factor that in; we’re just going for the per-serving cost of each item for a particular meal, when added up, to be under $2. For example, “Lasagna @ $1.10/serving + salad & dressing @ 45¢/serving + bread @ 40¢/serving=<$2 per serving for a meal”
- Try to stay away from anything too “exotic”, and stick to ingredients and equipment that the average person would have on hand. The idea is to make the point that ”working families” like the one pictured in the commercial can make affordable food without resorting to processed crap!
- Most people are drawn to processed foods because of the “convenience factor”, so try to make a meal that could be prepared in under an hour and which would not require trips to multiple stores.
- BONUS LOCAVORE CHALLENGE: Use all or mostly local ingredients.
I can’t wait to see what you guys come up with! Several of my fellow Michigan Lady Food Bloggers have already agreed to participate, and I know they will come up with some great contributions. The more the merrier, so please spread the word, I’d love to get lots of participation on this, both to make a point and because hey, we can all use a few more budget friendly recipes!
Less than $2 a serving… take that, Wal Mart! (Crock Pot spaghetti sauce, homemade garlic bread & salad) Kudos to Mother’s Kitchen for being the first to submit!
Local Food Challenge: Crock Pot Collards & Cornbread also from Mother’s Kitchen
$1.00 Local Meal: Sweet Potato and Lentil with Feta courtesy of Chef Brian
Dinner on Less than $2 a Serving (homemade multigrain bread & minestrone soup) from Patti, posting on our MI Lady Food Bloggers blog
The Anti Wal-Mart Challenge (vegan chili & cornbread) from Kate at So Far from Interesting
$2 menus: a “greatest hits” collection a list of several of my under-$2 recipes
U.P.-style Pasties from Mother’s Kitchen
Stir-Fry Beef & Spinach from Mother’s Kitchen
2 meals for $2 or less (pork and beans; mac and cheese) from Lacey at Things I Do to Save Money
Garlic Shrimp Pasta (my own contribution)
The other day I was catching up a little on my blog reading, and came across something on a very well-known food blog that kind of blew me away. It was a recipe for a pepper salad, and was basically just red & yellow peppers, red onion, feta and cucumber. The kind of thing that I throw together without thinking twice; not the kind of dish I would deem “blog-worthy”. There was no cute story with it; just the recipe and a bit about how the author had stopped eating salads with lettuce. But there, underneath the post, were close to 150 comments saying how great it was, and how people were dropping everything to rush to the store to make this salad. I have to say, I was flabbergasted. Really?!?
Reading this person’s post, it jolted me back to the reality that many people (possibly even the majority?) who regularly read food blogs and watch the Food Network rarely cook! All those commenters that said stuff like “Wow, that looks so delicious”…? I would bet money that less than 5% of them go on to actually prepare the recipe. (I guess this isn’t so strange if you think about, for example, all the people who read fashion magazines but don’t dress fashionably.)
So what does this have to do with balela? (Huh? Remember that… the title of this post? Oh yeah…) Well, I made some a few weeks ago (or rather, my interpretation of it), and even took a couple photos, but never posted it because I didn’t think it was “fancy” enough or something. Clearly, I am out of touch with what the blog-reading public wants! I guess the moral of the story is that instead of trying to second-guess what people may want to read about, I should just post whatever I feel like?
Trader Joe’s sells balela in little plastic tubs, but the portion they sell amounts to about one whole serving, and it’s easy and much cheaper to make yourself. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of making big batches of grain or legume-based salads to take in my lunch. They’re also good potluck fare- this one was for the Memorial Day BBQ I went to (the one with the grilled pizza). My version isn’t “authentic” balela in any way, as I added some extra veggies (peppers, cucumbers), but I like the extra crunch they add. The dressing is inspired by the dressing for fattoush and can be used in any salad where you want Middle Eastern flavors.
Mediterranean Chickpea Salad (aka Balela, my way) (printer-friendly version)
1 can chickpeas & 1 can black beans (or two cans chickpeas), drained & rinsed
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
1/2 an English cucumber, peeled, seeds removed and diced
1/2 a small red onion, diced, or 3-5 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 red or green bell pepper, diced
1 good handful flat-leaf parsley leaves, minced
Notes: I use grape tomatoes because they’re more reliable year-round, but if you have good-quality regular tomatoes, go ahead and use them. This salad is excellent with a bit of feta crumbled into it- I don’t believe it’s traditional, but it makes it a little more substantial and adds a welcome texture and richness to the austerity of raw vegetables. If you can’t be bothered with the za’atar and sumac, the salad will still be good without them- I threw them in because I happened to have some handy. And if you’re inclined to use a whole lemon, just sick with a 1:2 ratio of lemon to oil and up the seasonings a bit; if you have leftover dressing it’ll keep indefinitely in the fridge, and is great on green salad too.
Directions: Combine all of the vegetables in a large bowl. Smash the garlic clove with the flat side of a chef’s knife. Place in a small screw-top jar with the other dressing ingredients and shake well. Let the garlic clove marinate in the dressing for 5-10 minutes and then fish it out and discard. Pour the dressing over the salad and stir well to combine. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper, or for more oil or lemon juice according to your taste. (It will almost definitely need more salt, but I’d rather err on the side of you having to add some.) Let the salad sit for at least 15-20 minutes to let the vegetables marinate and release some of their juices. Taste again and add more salt or dressing if needed. If not serving immediately, wait until serving to add the parsley. For best flavor, serve at room temp or only slightly chilled.