Recipes, Food Prep Tips, & Spices as Medicines
There’s arguably a ‘next’ crash coming to us before too long, and partially because of that, I thought I might be able to a short series on how we might prepare for it as per the advice of a number of activists and writers. Making food count is first, even though not all of my choices are the wisest, for instance: I sincerely can’t like WW pasta. brrrr.
Food prices have already risen a hella lot, and saving where we can is increasingly important. We used to buy bulk from Tuscon, but the delivery service was forced to close down once some major player dominated the market. Recently a new man bought our local natural foods store, and I called him and explained our financial predicament, asking him if we might order through his distributors…for an added percentage to his wholesale price. Young as he sounded, he told me that he’s a hippie, too, and understood tithing food as well, especially with limited funds. As good as his word he’s been, even though I’d had to talk him in to raising our add-on charges a little…to 15%.
He provided me with the password and access to the ordering site, which is well-organized for searching by product type, brand, and so forth.
So I write down product numbers and descriptions, and either fax the store or phone to place an order. My stars, the savings! I don’t even have to buy cases of prepared products, though I do try to order multiples ahead of time and store things. Oils, seeds, nuts, legumes, rice, supplements, dried chiles and shrooms, cleaning products like orange Citri-solv spray, etc., but the major money saver for us is…1# bags of Frontier spices and herbs. A large percentage of the cost of bottled herbs is of course, the packaging, so bulk costs maybe 12 cents to a dollar bottled. Now we have a dedicated food room downstairs where it’s cool, and shelving to accommodate extras. I put the spices in wide-mouth quart jars w/labels so they’re easy to locate, then fill smaller spice bottles as needed. #10 and #25 bags of dried things we stick in trash barrels with lids to discourage mice. (smile
But you might approach a similar store to see if you can make a deal with some kind-hearted owner, or even talk to friends and neighbors about a group order if the answer is ‘Yes’.
A post I did on Spices as Medicines (and other home wellness products) in 2012 is here at an over-flow site I keep.
Food prep hints:
What blooming does is take advantage of the oil nature of the spice and the potential for flavor-changing maillard reactions without destroying too much of the flavor. The idea is to put the spices into a dry skillet and heat to somewhere just below the smoke level, tossing as they bloom. The essential oils will emerge from the spices and infuse the house with scent as well. Curry spices bloom well, as does cumin (also in curry) which sometimes can have a rather raw taste to it. Some folks bloom both powdered spices and whole spices in a bit of oil; I just do them dry in a skillet on a med-low heat, get them out once they’re ‘done’.
Other foods benefit from toasting, but walnuts, oh, my. I used to loathe them, and why no one ever told me to toast them I can’t figure out. But either in the oven or in a skillet, their oils bloom in much the way spices do. Piñons (pine nuts), sesame seeds, cashews, pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds), which will pop a bit like popcorn. You can even add a bit of oil to them, sprinkle on spices, Spike, or maybe a bit of Tamari, as you toast them…and yum.
I’ve gotten into the habit of using white basmati rice lately, and as it’s almost dustless, (not needing rinsing) this trick works. Pour a tablespoon of oil into a saucepan, warm it, then add the rice, turn up the heat, and stir the rice until it’s translucent. Allow to cool a bit, add the water or broth, then cover and steam. The grains will stay whole and fluffy.
This is a play on the roux in Cajun and Creole cooking, not as dark, but with a nutty flavor and earthy color. It’s good in étouffee, gumbos, green chile soup/stew, and other concoctions you may think up. If you’re vegan, there are oven versions that use oil as the Southern dishes use, but…these amounts will make a small batch of thickener, adjust at will.
Melt a stick of butter (1/2 C.) in a skillet, then add the same amount of flour, and whisk them together on a medium flame. The mixture will start to foam and darken. Keep whisking until it’s the color you’ like (I usually go for a dark café-au-lait, but don’t walk away (if it burns black, throw it away). The scent will knock you out. Remove from the heat until just cool enough to add hot liquid, either water or broth. Start with a cup or so, heat again until it thickens, then decide if you want it thinner; if so, add more liquid. Add it to your recipe and stir it in.
Before adding certain veggies to soups, stews, and casseroles, I usually carmelize them, especially onions. The difference is extraordinary, as lightly stir-frying them in a bit of oil blooms their oils much like spices, and brings out their natural sugars. To what tenderness you cook them depends on what you’re preparing, of course.
For a marinated salad made with bite-sized steamed and carmelized veggies, you can even and a bit of water once they’ve browned ever-so-slightly, then cover the skillet with a lid. Red and green peppers, and eggplant, and clelery work well this way. For cauliflower, shrooms, and zukes and summer squash, I just steam in the same skillet with a bit of water, and cool things in the fridge to stop the cooking. Then I put them in a sealable container, add (very inexpensive cheap date, especially when BOGO) Zesty Italian dressing with a bit of garlic salt or diced fresh garlic, lemon pepper, oregano, some dried onion bits…(okay, I’ll hush now) and tip them upside down now and again. Yummy with a bit of feta or cottage cheese. For the mushrooms, I like cleaning them with a amp sponge, putting them on the cutting board stem side up, and slicing them in half down the center of the stems. For larger ones, I’ll turn them and slice them in quarters across the stem in the other direction, sort of latitude and longitude.
You likely know this, but try not to buy shrooms whose gills underneath are open; they put off a deadly ammonia scent upon cooking. Grilling veggies is similar, but adds another dimesion.
Broccoli for Chinese dishes and basil first come to mind, but most any veggies that you may want to freeze benefit from shocking. It’s counter-intuitive, but shocking keeps the nutritional content higher. Have a bowl of ice water and a sieve handy; bring a pot of water to boil, and ladle or drop in the veg, allow to boil for about a minute, remove and sieve, then plunge into the ice water bath. Broccoli won’t turn pea-green later, and basil won’t brown when you store or freeze pesto.
Chocolate in tomato-based dishes
Adding a bit of unsweetened dark chocolate (plus a bit of sugar) creates a deeper and more complex flavor; red wine helps, too. Add it at the end so it doesn’t burn. I’d read that the enzymes in the chocolate actually aid digestion of the tomatoes, but I can’t find a link, so…I dunno.
Sesame fried tofu
This is a knock-out, seriously. Slit open a 1# package of extra-firm tofu, and stand it lengthwise on the upside down container in the sink. Once the water has dripped off, pick the tofu up by the broad sides and gently squeeze until most of the water is gone.
Move it to a paper towel on a cutting board, stand it on its longest narrow edge, and slice it into eight bars. Arrange them flat on the towel, then blot a bit with another paper towel. As they dry, add equal parts (1/2 C or so) hulled sesame seeds, large flake nutritional yeast, and cornstarch in a glass pie plate. Add dry spices at will, then fluff together with a fork.
In a skillet, non-stick, ceramic, or cast iron if you have one, pour a couple T of oil, and add a T of toasted sesame oil (again, if you have or can afford it). Heat on medium flame until it sizzles slightly, then one by one press the tofu bars into the dry mixture, turn over to coat the other side, then slide carefully into the skillet. Peek underneath, and when it’s golden brown, turn over carefully, then sprinkle on a bit of Tamari if you’d like. When the second side is golden, turn the Tamari-ed side down until it sizzles again. (It’s so good, I usually make 2 packages’ worth, so that there are left-overs to reheat.
Yummy with fried rice, which is on the second of these other Café recipes diaries. Also included are traditional Mexican Sopa Seca (dry soup with toasted long noodles), sinfully delicious gourmet cornbread, and juliania’s stove-top enchiladas, America’s test kitchen’s best-ever pumpkin pie, and mentions of some helpful kitchen tools. Also, easy pasta in lemon cream sauce.
Golden Potato Salad
It’s made with Yukon Gold potatoes, which as far as I can tell was developed through cross-breeding, not genetic modification back in the 1960s, marketed in the 80s. The skin is very thin, and the inner flesh a lovely pale yellow/gold. I scrub them, then cut them into half-bite-sized pieces, maybe 16 to 20 per small potato, then steam them until they are tender…pour them into a large bowl and refrigerate to stop the cooking.
Next I cut celery heart stalks (especially the pale inner ones) vertically into thin strips, then slice them into 1/8” pieces. I prepare scallions in the same way, both whites and greens, then chiffonade some fresh cilantro, using the tender stems, as well, then rock a chef’s knife over the bits to make them even smaller.
When the potato pieces have cooled enough, I add the other veggies, dress it with maybe two parts mayo and one part ranch dressing, add a bit of Worchestershire sauce, cider vinegar, paprika, Spike, lemon pepper or whatever sounds good.
Given that hard-boiled eggs are yummy in potato salad, and too-fresh peeling eggs is not a great endeavor, I found an alternative, and you’d want to prepare them ahead of time.
I lightly oil a broad-bottomed bowl, break some eggs into it, cover it with a plate, and nuke them on low power, checking now and again to see how they’re doing. Once they look sorta hard-boiled, I take them out and remove the plate, but don’t even try to loosen them until they’re cool. They can explode, which I er…learned the hard way. When cool, I turn them onto a cutting board and cut them into pieces, add them to the salad as well, mix everything together.
For gifting, I often garnish the top with more paprika, then a circle of ripe olives around the outer perimeter, then one of either small tomato pieces (drained after cutting), or once or twice those wee grape tomatoes. It looks so lovely, and is a delectable treat.
The amounts I’ll have to leave up to you; for most things I don’t have recipes per se; I just kind of wing it. Baked goods are different, of course, as actual chemistry is involved.
Now there may be more reasons than diet for the fact that Mexicans aren’t all that prone to heart disease, and that East Indians have relatively low rate of Alzheimers, but in the case of the former, it’s long been posited that diets heavy in chiles (vitamins A and E), capsicum (the heat that can dilate and cleanse blood vessels), garlic (lowers blood pressure, antiseptic, antiviral), and their liberal use of maize, beans, squash and comino (cumin), it seems to be my favorite cuisine. I also add a lot of cabbage and onions to about any dish that might benefit from them. Sulphur is an overlooked mineral, imo.
Rick Bayliss had a cooking show on PBS for years, and had traveled extensively in Mexico to collect recipes. He shares most of them online here and here. One of my faves is also a fave in Puerto Rico: chilaquiles (a page-full of varieties here). This version is a breakfast one with a fried egg on top, and features guajillo sauce that I cook in large batches and freeze for later. Now he dips the tortilla chips into the pot of salsa, but I just warm the chips and ladle on the sauce, and garnish with cheese, scallions, and cilantro.
On his Ingredients page is fresh poblano chiles, including recipes. For my money, they are preferable to green chiles like Anaheims. Fleshier and tastier, but they’re bit harder to peel after roasting, and indeterminate as to heat levels, unlike green chiles: those heat levels are determined by the number of internal veins: two, three, or four, two being mildest. Freezing after roasting, then thawing makes the peeling easier.
Oddly, I can’t find pepita sauce on his website, and this is the closest I’ve found. The recipe I first used had 24 ingredients, so…this is simpler, although it’s used to dress up quinoa. I freeze it to top off Mexican dishes later, as well (tostadas, enchiladas, chalupas, even sopa seca. When our blender died a few years ago, Mr. wd found one that was able to reverse the blades on demand, and it does make the sauce smoother, I admit. Pepitas are nutrition powerhouses, including high zinc content, essential for male prostate health. But: mole, tamales, and posole, Oh My!
As for Turmeric’s beneficial constituent curcumin, it’s both anti-inflammatory and binds to, and destroys the beta-amyloid brain plaques present in Alzheimer’s. Cool. For easy access to Indian recipes, this is India Snacks, with three pages of vegetarian recipes.
Lidia Bastianich is the PBS queen of Italian food, or used to be. One pasta sauce (not her recipe) I make is all-veg. I slice, then dice one veg at a time…mushrooms, garlic, onions, zukes, sometimes peeled eggplant, then mince them with a chef’s knife, heat some extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet, and sauté them. You might add oregano, fresh or dried basil, tomato sauce (or not), even some fennel if you have a yen for it. By the way, fennel maybe one of the few spices I know which tea can alleviate extreme stomach sickness.
For pasta, it’s good to boil it without any oil so that sauces will stick to the noodles. I love special shapes, especially campanelle trumpet flowers; really fun for mac and cheese, and chirren love ’em.
Thai Peanut sauce over noodles
In a saucepan, blend together 13 oz coconut milk, ¼ C. red Thai curry paste, 1 C. peanut butter, 2 T Tamari soy, ¾ brown sugar, 2T rice vinegar, 2 or 3T lime juice, 1/w C. water, 1 tsp. ginger or to taste. Whisk until it bubbles a bit, pour over the noodles of your choice; I just use hard wheat white noodles. Add sautéed veggies as you will
Thairecipestoday.com has a (holy crow!) curry paste section, this one is easier (ish on fish paste), or…you can buy some at the market when you get coconut milk in a can (Thai Kitchen, most likely). Mmmm, Daelene’s main Thai page is here, yummy recipes.
To stretch ground meats
If you happen to be more on the omnivorous side, once in a while a burger sounds great. Rather than tossing out heels or stale bread slices, I crumble them up and freeze the crumbs. They’re great to add to ground meat (elk, chicken, beef, etc.) along with some minced onion, pat into rounds and fry in a bit of oil.
Now I haven’t included desserts, and while I love to bake them, I’m not really a fan of sweet, save for a few lemon or molasses goodies, and even then a little goes a long way This molasses gingerbread cake looks like it might be wonderful even unfrosted. Given that cookies take a lot of oven energy to bake singly, I often adapt recipes to spread into large, high-sided cookie pans and make cookie bars, instead. But do ask if you have a fave and might like some hints.
Please feel free to share your own recipes and tricks.
(cross-posted at Café Babylon.net)