A Taste of Cooking in the Mekong Delta

by Eliot Martin

I’ve found that really good Vietnamese food is unfortunately difficult to find in the U.S. For that matter, Vietnam as a whole seems to be misunderstood by many. While the best solution would be to spend some quality time in Vietnam—something I would recommend to anyone—you can whet your appetite without going halfway around the world. Get a taste of Vietnam through my experience with bánh xèo.

When someone says “Vietnamese Food,” what comes to mind?

For most people, I would guess their answer is phở, maybe fresh spring rolls or bánh mì.

This was my impression before I stumbled across an incredible hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese restaurant while driving through Louisville, KY, several years ago. It was only then that my eyes were opened to another iconic Vietnamese dish—bánh xèo (pronounced: BÁNH-say-òh. Roughly translated as fried cake). I was taken aback by the complex flavors and textures in the dish. It was a crispy, yet chewy, vibrantly yellow crepe; rich with pork fat, but tempered with light and pungent herbs and lettuce; served with sweet, sour, and spicy nước chấm (a lime juice and fish sauce blend that goes with many dishes in Vietnam).

Fast forward a few years and I found myself living in Vietnam as a student. One of the first meals I had in country was a bánh xèo that well exceeded my recollection.

If you’re like me, a large swath of the pleasure of travel is experiencing culture through cuisine. I made it my mission to try every new food I could get my hands on during my nearly four months in Vietnam. I made a special point to not only experience the food I could find on the streets of Saigon and restaurants around the country, but through learning what people eat inside their homes first hand with my homestay mom—by my reckoning, one of the finest chefs in the world.

My learning from her was done mostly through gesturing and the communication of individual food words using translation apps, notes, or my homestay brother’s translations—my homestay mom hardly spoke a word of English and my Vietnamese is atrocious. I couldn’t hope to achieve many of her sophisticated dishes and I wasn’t sure what ingredients I’d even be able to replicate.

If little else could be imparted, she wanted to at least teach me my favorite Vietnamese food, so I asked her to show me how to make bánh xèo.

On a trip to the Mekong Delta with my homestay mom and friends, the time had come for one of my most memorable food experiences. In the early evening, I joined my homestay mom and a close friend of hers under a dining gazebo situated in a picturesque field of palm and banana trees along the river to learn how to make bánh xèo.

Ingredient-by-ingredient, step-by-step, she instructed me without words. My culinary background enabled me to fill in the blanks in many instances, and acquire the necessary skills quickly—though with nowhere near the acuity of my mentor.

Google translate assisted in confirming my hunch that the crystalline salt added was MSG, but I was dumbfounded by what turned out to be the quintessential ingredient in this iteration of the dish—some damp, fibrous strips of white vegetal matter. After fruitless engagement with Google Translate, she eventually pointed at the top of a palm tree—it was fresh heart of palm, an ingredient I had never seen before and to this day have never seen since.

After several attempts of trial and error, we put together an array of bánh xèo in varying degrees of presentability.

As I sat down at the outdoor table in good company and the moist, cool air of the Delta in evening, I knew I had been granted a truly extraordinary opportunity. The bánh xèo came out exceptionally crispy on the clay burners we had used to cook outside. The fresh ingredients left us with unique flavor impressions—the density and light, sweet coconut flavor the heart of palm imparted to the crepes was exquisite. The exotic atmosphere and new family the meal was shared with made the experience truly memorable.

While I can’t share every detail of that night or adequately describe the finesse of my homestay mom in the kitchen, the recipe I have included is an adaptation of my notes from that very meal. The only alteration I have made is the recommendation of bean sprouts as an alternative to the fresh heart of palm—true to the way the dish is prepared just about everywhere else in Vietnam.

It may take some experimentation to get right, but skip ordering bánh xèo in a restaurant, make it right and write your own story in the company of friends and family with this recipe. And next time you order Vietnamese food, remember to look beyond the famous Hanoian street food, phở, and delve deeper into an incredible and under-explored cuisine.

 

Bánh Xèo Recipe

Servings—Makes enough for several people as an appetizer or a few as a meal

Cooking time—Allow up to a couple hours for prep time. Making multiple crepes on one burner can be time consuming.

 

Batter ingredients:

Approx. One cup rice flour

One can coconut milk

Approx. ½ cup chives (finely chopped)

Water

Approx. one tbsp. turmeric powder

Salt to taste (the original recipe calls for 50% table salt and 50% msg)

 

Filling ingredients:

A strip of pork belly, diced (Typically available at Asian grocery stores. Sometimes you can even get it at Whole Foods. Though not ideal, it could be substituted with a mild bacon.)

One large onion sliced

One package sliced mushrooms

A couple handfuls small shell-on shrimp (These can typically be found in the frozen section at an Asian grocery store. Substitution with other shrimp is possible, but not recommended.)

A couple handfuls of bean sprouts

*I wouldn’t recommend substituting canned heart of palm for the fresh heart of palm my homestay mom used because it neither contributes the texture nor light coconut flavor that were so nice with the fresh heart of palm. You could try experimenting with mature coconut flesh for a similar effect—but that’s probably more work than it’s worth.

**When available, sliced squash blossoms are a delicious addition as well

 

For frying:

Traditionally lard is used, though it works nearly as well with vegetable oil

A traditional wok is ideal for this recipe for the edges of the crepe to properly crisp. If you don’t have one, a large sautéing/stir fry pan will work fine—it is important to have a large cooking surface though.

 

For serving:

Mint

Vietnamese/Thai basil

Cilantro

Purple perilla/sesame leaves (Available at Asian grocery stores. Can substitute with mustard greens)

Lettuce (I’d recommend a head of red oak lettuce)

A rice bowl of nước chấm

 

Instructions:

Mix coconut water and chives. Refill empty coconut milk can with water and add to mixture. Add rice flour, mixing evenly, keeping the batter very runny (About the consistency of coconut milk. If it is too thick, the crepes will not crisp properly). Add enough turmeric to turn the light batter yellow. Salt to taste.

Stir fry briefly, in small batches, the onion, shrimp, pork, mushroom, bean sprouts, and squash blossom in frying oil in a very hot wok (it should be hot enough to vaporize any moisture that is released from ingredients).

Transfer mixture out of wok. Heat wok up again until very hot (retain the oil, adding more if needed).

Quickly pour a ladle of batter in a circular motion around the wok, tilting the wok as needed to fully cover the hottest portion with a thin layer of batter.

Carefully add a few large pinches of the filling mixture onto the middle of the crêpe (I know the mixture looks tasty, but resist the temptation to add more than a sprinkling of the ingredients in order for it to cook properly!) and cover for a couple minutes until the crêpe is bubbly.

Uncover and add lard or oil on edges to avoid sticking. Turn the wok over the flame on its sides to use the boiling oil to get the edges crispy.

When the edges are very crispy and it appears fully cooked, fold the crêpe in half.

Serve with nước chấm, herbs (typically mint and Vietnamese/Thai basil, and a little cilantro), purple perilla, and a variety of lettuces. Wrap the crepe in the herbs and lettuces and dip in the sauce (be prepared to get a little messy!).

 

Nước Chấm Recipe

Literally “lime water”—this sauce pretty much goes with an astonishing array of dishes in in Vietnam. You may also here it simply referred to as nước mắm  (fish sauce) as this is the typical way the traditional Vietnamese sauce of fermented fish is used.

 

Combine ingredients to taste (listed in order of quantity used):

Fresh lime juice

Fish sauce (nước mắm)

Palm sugar (cane sugar works almost as well)

Crushed fresh Vietnamese/Thai chilis

Crushed fresh garlic

(many places include grated carrot and shredded green mango too—though this are a good thing to skip when making it at home)

Eliot Martin is a first-year student in the Food Policy and Applied Nutrition program who, like many Friedman students, finds that much of his life revolves around food and travel. While the food-systems research he is most interested in pertains to behavioral decision making and its policy implications, he’s excited to share his personal experiences as well. He looks forward to contributing regularly to the sprout. Eliot can be contacted at eliot.martin@tufts.edu or on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/eliot-martin-52406289.

 

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Welcome (and Welcome Back) from Slow Food Tufts!

by Simon Ye, Slow Food Tufts

Students make dumplings at a Slow Food Tufts event. Photo: Simon Ye

Students make dumplings at a Slow Food Tufts event. Photo: Simon Ye

Slow Food Tufts, started in 2008, is one of many chapters across the world of Slow Food International. The mission of Slow Food International is to promote good, clean, and fair food for all through grassroots membership. Building community around food is so important to what Slow Food does, and at the Friedman School we want to familiarize students with the greater Boston food community.

During the past two years Slow Food Tufts hosted a few food workshops and food business tours. We explored breweries and chocolate factories in the Boston area, and hosted workshops for making kimchi and dumplings. We believe that a good way to connect with your food is to start making things and having your hands in the process. It is self-empowering! Part of the Slow Food mission is preserving those traditions, and the skill-sharing events provide a platform for doing that. The Friedman community is a diverse place where people have different family traditions and skills, and we want to provide a place where students can share those unique skills.

There are many opportunities to participate in food related events, from potlucks to visiting a local, sustainable, food business. Look for upcoming events to be posted here at the Friedman Sprout, Friedman Weekly Digest, and the Friedman Student Group on Facebook. If you have a good idea or want to share your food skills, please shoot me an email at Shumao.Ye@tufts.edu!

Best,

Simon Ye, Chair of Slow Food Tufts
Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition

 

From Soil to Sport: Sweet Potatoes to Power You

by Hannah Meier

As the temperatures slowly, and not so consistently, increase in Boston this spring, more of us will find ourselves out in the field, on the trails, or on the sidewalks soaking in the sunshine and working up a sweat. Even if you aren’t competitive, you have probably noticed the difference in how you feel during, and after, exercise when you are—or are not—properly fueled. Look no further for easy and delicious recipes to power your active spring using the grad student’s pantry staple: The sweet potato!

 

Photo: Hannah Meier

Photo: Hannah Meier

Feeling our best, and performing our best (who wants to be that person in a soccer game to miss a pass because you’re too fatigued to run for the ball?) is contingent on having the right amount of fuel to use for energy during activity. Nutrition beforehand is important to power your workout or game, and nutrition afterward is crucial for making physical improvement, gaining strength and replenishing tired tissues. Sure, you may be able to get through a game or a run without thinking about nutrition, but I bet you a million bucks (really) that you’ll make strides with appropriate nutrition.

 

Sweet potatoes come close to what I view as an athlete’s ultimate food. Rich in carbohydrates and easy on the stomach, they provide a spectrum of nutrients that help convert calories to available energy for our cells (ex. B-Vitamins), along with a generous amount of potassium, which is an essential electrolyte for heart and muscle function that can be lost in sweat. One medium (about 5” long) sweet potato provides 10% of the daily value for iron, which is a nutrient of concern for many athletes, especially women. Compared to white potatoes, orange sweet potatoes are rich in Vitamin A as beta-carotene, and provide more of the vitamin than a cup of carrots. Why should athletes or active people care about Vitamin A? During exercise, our tissues can become damaged and more prone to forming free radicals, especially in long, intense endurance training. Beta-carotene, as a powerful antioxidant, combats this free radical formation, keeping cell membranes better intact and less prone to destruction.

What about fiber? While sweet potatoes, like many vegetables, contribute to an adequate fiber intake, the average potato contains about 4 grams of fiber, mostly from the skin. This amount of fiber helps to slow down digestion enough to prevent sharp spikes in blood sugar. This keeps both our hunger and our cells satisfied, with sustained energy for hours. Athletes or competitors looking for a snack to eat less than an hour prior to their event could remove the skin to avoid the digestive slow-down that fiber provides. Many of the nutrients are found in the flesh of the potato, so removing the skin does not take away all the nutritional benefit of the tuber.

Since sweet potatoes offer a powerhouse of beneficial nutrients for exercise, I came up with four ways to dress them up before and after a workout. Feel free to use regular white potatoes or even purple potatoes. All potatoes provide a mix of nutrients valuable for exercise, but the darker the color, the more concentrated the antioxidants you’ll get. These recipes use medium sweet potatoes that were roasted in the oven for about 45 minutes at 375˚F. Just wrap each potato in foil, place on a baking sheet, and throw in a hot oven. They are ready when they are slightly soft to the poke of a fork.

 

Before Exercise

Before exercise, the goal of nutrition is to provide a boost of fuel for your muscles to burn for energy. While glycogen, the stored form of carbohydrate, is typically available, having full stores is crucial if you plan to exercise for longer than 2 hours. Even for shorter events, providing a boost of nutrition leading up to your workout can stimulate better performance. Combining carbohydrate sources with protein increases the satiety factor and provides your body a boost in amino acids to have available for protein re-synthesis.

Pre-Race Burrito

Inspired by many athlete’s favorite pre-race meal, the burrito bowl, this sweet potato highlights traditional burrito ingredients, which happen to be wonderfully rich in carbohydrate. This meal is a bit fiber-heavy thanks to the beans, so should be consumed at least 3 hours before exercise, or the night before an early start. The corn sauce is a recipe adapted from food blogger Pinch of Yum, and breaks down the corn’s fibrous coating so the carbohydrates are more easily available to be absorbed. Peppers and onions contain natural sugars that provide quick energy and delicious sweetness, as well as an additional boost of antioxidants. A little bit of Greek yogurt rounds out the potato with a bit of easily digested protein.

  

Photo: Hannah Meier

Photo: Hannah Meier

 

Makes 1 Serving

INGREDIENTS

  • One medium – large sweet potato, baked
  • 2 Tablespoons corn sauce (recipe below)
  • 1/4 Cup black beans, cooked or canned
  • ¼ Medium red pepper, sliced
  • ¼ Medium Onion, sliced
  • Salsa
  • Plain Greek yogurt of choice

Total Time (after baking potato) 10 minutes

DIRECTIONS

  • Cut baked sweet potato in half, lengthwise and set aside (reheating if necessary). Mash the flesh with a fork.
  • In a pan with a little oil, sauté the pepper and onion slices on medium heat until desired softness.
  • Top sweet potato with onions and peppers, black beans, corn sauce, salsa and Greek yogurt.
  • Enjoy!

CORN SAUCE RECIPE

Inspired by Pinch of Yum

Makes about 8 Servings (2 tablespoons each)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup corn kernels, from fresh or frozen (I used Trader Joe’s frozen Fire Roasted Corn)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh garlic
  • 1/2 cup water, milk, or broth (I used almond milk)
  • 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil

Total Time: 15 minutes

DIRECTIONS

  • Heat the butter or olive oil in a pan over medium heat.
  • Sauté garlic until fragrant. Add the milk and stir to form a creamy mixture.
  • Add corn kernels and sauté for another 5-10 minutes until very soft.
  • Transfer to a blender or food processor and puree until very smooth.

 

After Exercise

After exercise, along with hydration, the primary goals with nutrition are to provide your muscle cells with a replenishing dose of carbohydrate to store as glycogen, and amino acids from protein to aid in muscle tissue repair and growth. The post-exercise meal is also a chance to load up on vitamins and minerals that keep body processes functioning normally at the higher intensity that exercise demands.

Sweet Recovery

For those with more of a sweet tooth, sweet potatoes are a nourishing way to satisfy it. This sweet potato is topped with dark berries, rich in polyphenol antioxidants and natural sugars to reach muscles quickly. Almond butter provides a bit of protein and salt, which is an electrolyte athletes need to replace after very sweaty workouts. Full fat ricotta cheese rounds out the potato with easily digested dairy protein and a bit of satiating fat, without the overpowering taste and extra sugar that yogurt provides. Feel free to substitute more nuts and seeds for the cheese to make this vegan.

Photo: Hannah Meier

Photo: Hannah Meier

Makes 1 Serving

INGREDIENTS

  • One medium – large sweet potato, baked
  • 1/2 cup mixed berries of choice (aim for dark, bright colors; I used a frozen berry blend, thawed)
  • 1 tablespoon salted almond butter
  • 2 tablespoons ricotta cheese

Total Time (after baking potato): 5 minutes

DIRECTIONS

  • Cut baked sweet potato in half, lengthwise and set aside (reheating if necessary). Mash the flesh with a fork.
  • Top with berries, almond butter and ricotta cheese.
  • Enjoy!

 

Savory Recovery

For those of us who don’t crave sweet things post-workout, a sweet potato can still provide a canvas for a savory meal. This potato provides a rich carbohydrate base to refuel muscles and serves as the base for protein powerhouse eggs and hemp seeds, plus red cabbage and carrots for extra antioxidants and avocado for healthy fats. Top with hot sauce if desired—especially if you got sweaty and need to replace lost sodium.

Photo: Hannah Meier

Photo: Hannah Meier

 

Makes 1 Serving

INGREDIENTS

  • One medium – large sweet potato, baked
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 – 1 cup shredded red cabbage (I used a Trader Joe’s bagged mix)
  • 1/3 of a medium avocado, sliced or mashed
  • 1 tablespoon hemp seeds (or sunflower seeds)

Total Time (after baking potato): 10 minutes

DIRECTIONS

  • Cut baked sweet potato in half, lengthwise and set aside (reheating if necessary). Mash the flesh with a fork.
  • Whisk the egg well in a bowl, making sure to incorporate lots of air for a fluffier texture.
  • In a pan with a little oil over medium heat, sauté the cabbage until soft. When cooked, push cabbage to the side of pan to make room for the scrambled egg.
  • Spray the pan with a bit of cooking spray to prevent sticking, and add the whisked egg to the pan. Scramble the egg until cooked through.
  • Top sweet potato with cooked cabbage and scrambled egg, avocado, and hemp seeds.
  • Enjoy!

 

Rest Day

Everyone needs a day off to let the body truly recover, fully top off glycogen stores, and repair damaged tissues. Despite being often overlooked in terms of sports nutrition, rest days are an important opportunity to supply your body with nutrients in high-demand. So do some yoga stretching, cook up this Buddha Bowl inspired potato and go to bed early—your body needs it!

Yoga Night Buddha

This is a meal full of plant-based power. As always, the potato is a base rich in Vitamin A and is topped with a trio of steamed broccoli, carrots and edamame that provide their own chorus of plant chemicals (phytochemicals), vitamins, minerals, and even protein (broccoli and edamame are some of the higher-protein vegetables). Tempeh (fermented soy) is the primary protein source of the meal, and is ideal for rest days when quick digestion is not necessarily the goal. Likewise, plant proteins are broken down more slowly in our bodies than animal proteins and reach muscles at a slower rate. Finally, a delicious peanut sauce brings the dish together with the unsaturated fat our body needs to absorb many of the ingredients’ fat-soluble nutrients.

Photo: Hannah Meier

Photo: Hannah Meier

 

Makes 1 Serving

INGREDIENTS

  • One medium – large sweet potato, baked
  • 1/2 Cup Broccoli, steamed
  • 1 small carrots, sliced or shredded (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1/4 Cup edamame, fresh or frozen
  • 1/4 Block Tempeh, sliced
  • Peanut sauce (recipe below)

Total time (after baking potato, including peanut sauce): 15 minutes

DIRECTIONS

  • Cut baked sweet potato in half, lengthwise and set aside (reheating if necessary). Mash the flesh with a fork.
  • In a steamer or pan with just enough water to cover the bottom, add broccoli, carrots, and edamame and steam until cooked through to desired softness.
  • In a pan with a little oil over medium heat, sear tempeh slices for ~2 minutes on each side, until cooked through.
  • Meanwhile, make peanut sauce (recipe below).
  • Top potato with steamed veggies, edamame, and peanut sauce.
  • Enjoy!

Makes 1 Serving

PEANUT SAUCE INGREDIENTS

  • 1 Tablespoon peanut butter
  • 1 Teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 1 Teaspoon reduced sodium soy sauce or liquid aminos
  • 1 Teaspoon water
  • ½ Tablespoon honey
  • Optional additions: ground ginger, red pepper flakes, garlic powder

DIRECTIONS

  • In a liquid measuring cup or bowl, whisk ingredients together until well blended. If the peanut butter is very thick, you may need to add more water to thin out the mixture.
  • Season to your taste. Add ginger for a bit of sweetness, red pepper flakes for heat, or garlic powder to make it more savory.

 

Hannah Meier is a registered dietitian and second-year student in the Nutrition Interventions, Communication and Behavior Change program at Friedman. She works one-on-one with undergraduate Jumbo athletes and sports teams at Tufts University, educating them on fueling for their best performance and mastering the fundamentals of nutrition for an active life.

That Chicken and Rice Dish

by Julia Sementelli

It’s March and the official month of the start of Spring! But here in Boston the temperatures have been playing games with our hearts, which makes trying to decide what to make for dinner a bit tricky. This recipe for Yotam Ottolenghi’s “chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice” is the perfect meal to help you transition from winter to spring. Warm and comforting from the spices and hearty chicken and rice, but refreshing and light from an abundance of fresh herbs and a tangy yogurt sauce. This dish has become a staple in my cooking repertoire and I’ll share with you my tips for making the best possible version of this delicious dish.

Chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice. Recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi. Photo by Julia Sementelli.

Chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice. Recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi. Photo by Julia Sementelli.

I was sitting in the grass in my backyard on a warm fall day, with the sun shining on my shoulders, perusing the Boston Globe when I stumbled upon a beautiful picture of a skillet brimming with verdant green herbs. There were so many herbs that you could just barely see the beautifully browned chicken thighs on a bed of spiced rice underneath. The accompanying article was about Yotam Ottolenghi’s latest cookbook, which had garnered a cult-like following. Ottolenghi is an Israeli-born, British chef and restaurant owner. He is well known for his cookbook, Plenty, in which he transforms vegetables into the most beautiful recipes. His recipe for “chicken with caramelized onion and cardamom rice,” and the photograph I was drooling over, was described as particularly outstanding. I knew I had to make it. I ran to the bookstore to get my hands on Jerusalem: A Cookbook.

Despite the recipe’s apparent simplicity, the result is an intensely fragrant and complex combination of sweet, from the currants and caramelized onions, and savory, from the crisp chicken thighs and tart yogurt sauce. It is a one-pot wonder to make on a cool, fall evening. It will solve your weeknight cooking woes because it makes a generous portion, easily satisfying a family of four with one or two rounds of leftovers. It could also feed one person for a whole week of dinners. It is a favorite among my family as well. I have received countless requests to make “that chicken and rice dish” for dinner.

The vessel in which you make this dish is paramount. If the skillet is too small, the chicken will simply steam rather than brown, the onions will not caramelize, and the rice will be unevenly cooked. Therefore, it is important to have a large skillet (at least 12 inches wide) with a tight-fitting lid. Once you have chosen your pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Next, add 2 cups of thinly sliced yellow onions. Allow the onions to cook for 20 minutes, only stirring occasionally to allow the onions to caramelize. You will know when to reduce the heat when the onions are a dark brown. Every time I make this dish I always question if I cooked the onions too long. We are used to golden onions as the sign that you can move on to the next step of cooking. But in this case, you want a deep brown color. In my opinion, the caramelized onions transform this dish so give them the attention (or lack thereof) that they deserve. If you move them around too much, they will not achieve that deep golden brown. Once the onions are concentrated and nearly syrupy, which is essential for the flavor and sweetness of the dish, transfer them to a dish and set aside.

Next, in a large bowl, combine 2 ¼ pounds of bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs with 1 ½ teaspoons each of kosher salt and black pepper, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 10 cardamom pods, and 2 long cinnamon sticks broken in half. Mix everything with your hands and wash your hands. Next, over medium heat, add the chicken and spice mixture to the skillet, searing the thighs for five minutes on each side. Try your best not to move the chicken as this will interfere with browning. Using tongs, remove the chicken and spices from the pan. While the pan is still hot, add 1 plus 2/3 cups uncooked basmati rice, 2 ½ tablespoons of dried currants, and 1 teaspoon each of kosher salt and black pepper to the pan. Return the chicken and spices to the pan as well, nestling the thighs in the dry rice. Now, add 3 ¼ cups boiling water, cover, and immediately set the heat to low. It is imperative to add enough water to ensure that your rice is perfectly cooked since nobody likes crunchy rice. There is a discrepancy between the prescribed amount of water between the cookbook and the Boston Globe article. The book calls for 2 ¼ cups of water while the article states that one more cup of water is necessary, recommending 3 ¼ cups total. The latter is the winner, based on personal experience. The couple times that I forgot to add that extra cup of water, the rice did not cook enough. Having crunchy rice bits mixed in with the soft ones is a nightmare. Trust me, two and a half cups is not enough water. It results in some uncooked rice in the pan and warrants adding more water as you go, so do yourself a favor and just start with the three and a half cups of boiling water.

Cook the chicken and rice covered for 30 minutes over very low heat. After 30 minutes, take the pan off the heat, remove the lid, quickly place a clean dish towel over the pan, and return the lid to the pan. The towel serves to absorb moisture to prevent the rice from becoming waterlogged. Let the dish sit for another 10 minutes, remove the dish towel, and then add 1 ½ tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, ¼ cup cilantro leaves, and ½ cup dill leaves, all chopped.

The final step is to make a quick yogurt sauce to go with the chicken and rice. I remember the first time I made this dish I omitted the yogurt, under the assumption that it wouldn’t make that big of a difference. When I finally decided to give the yogurt a try I realized that I had made a significant mistake the first time. The tangy yogurt cuts through the meaty, deep flavor of the dish. Combine 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt with 2 tablespoons of high quality olive oil. Serve alongside the chicken and rice.

Sometimes the beauty of a recipe is not necessarily in the final product but in the path that led you to it. My path to this recipe seems rather serendipitous given that I merely stumbled upon on it the newspaper on that warm summer day. I, as well as my friends and family, have fallen for a dish that seems so simple upon first glance. While there are only a handful of components, it is important that the ingredients are of high quality and all the steps are executed well. The combination of flavors is so warm and comforting that this recipe certainly deserves a spot in your cool weather recipe repertoire. It has surely become an unbreakable part of mine.

Julia Sementelli is a second-year Nutrition Communication & Behavior Change student and Boston-based registered dietitian who works in a local hospital and also counsels private clients. You can find her on Instagram (@julia.the.rd.eats- Follow her!) where she shares her love of real food, like this chicken and rice dish.

10 Hearty Soups to Make in Less than an Hour

by Katelyn Castro

Fresh almost always tastes better than the canned version, especially when it comes to soup. Having a few hearty soup recipes on hand that you can rely on can be a lifesaver when canned soup just doesn’t cut it. They say soup warms the soul, right?

Snow. Wind. Frigid temperatures. Winters like these usually leave me craving a warm bowl of soup. It’s one of those comfort foods that never really gets old. The problem I have, though, is choosing what soup to eat. 

Canned soup is always easy. Just crack open the can, pour it into a bowl, zap it in the microwave, and violà! You’re done. But, in the end, I’m usually not satisfied with canned soup. Either the meat isn’t fresh, the broth is way too salty, or it just doesn’t fill me up.

Homemade soup, on the other hand, almost never disappoints me. Making soup from scratch can seem tedious though, especially when it involves a slow cooker, a food processor, hours of your time, and 20+ ingredients. Finding simple yet tasty soup recipes can be hard, which is why I put together this delightful list. These soups made the cut because they:

  • Take less than 50 minutes to make
  • Require 15 ingredients or less
  • Are filling, with enough protein and fiber
  • Are delicious, with a variety of flavors and cuisines (a.k.a. not just your typical chicken noodle soup)
  1. TURKEY CHILI

This turkey chili is perfectly spiced and hearty with a mix of ground turkey, kidney beans and corn—you won’t even miss the beef! And it’s a quick recipe to make for game day eats.

  1. TUSCAN KALE AND BEAN SOUP

If you’re in the mood for something Italian, try this savory Tuscan soup. The blend of vegetables, beans, and herbs brings me back to when I was eating my way through Italy. Add a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese on top and you’re good to go!

  1. HAM AND POTATO SOUP

Now, if you’re more of a meat-and-potatoes kind of person, this creamy ham and potato soup is for just you. Bonus: It’s gluten-free and dairy-free for those with allergies or intolerances.

  1. TOMATO LENTIL SOUP

Most lentil soups that I’ve tried kind of just taste blahh. It seems like there is always something missing! This lentil soup is different, though. With tomatoes, peppers, chilis, and a mix of spices, it has the right boost of flavor.

Source: Wholefully

Source: Wholefully

  1. ITALIAN WEDDING SOUP WITH QUINOA

This one’s a twist on your traditional Italian wedding soup, but it’s equally delicious. Plus, with all the meatballs, quinoa, and veggies, it’s loaded with protein and fiber to keep you full.

Source: Love & Zest

Source: Love & Zest

  1. SPINACH ARTICHOKE PESTO TORTELLINI SOUP

If you’re looking for something a little more carb-y, then try this tortellini soup. It’s like spinach artichoke dip, but better. With just 9 ingredients and 15 minutes of cooking time, it’s also quick and easy to make.

  1. CREAMY CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP

Campbell’s chicken noodle soup is great and all, but when you use fresh chicken, noodles, and veggies to make soup from scratch it’s hard to go back to the canned version. Plus, the creaminess of this soup makes it soup-er satisfying.

Source: Well Plated

Source: Well Plated

  1. GINGER TOFU AND VEGETABLE SOUP

Looking for a soup with more of a savory, umami flavor? With a blend of ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and bok choy, this Asian noodle soup is the perfect choice. To all the tofu skeptics out there: Give it a try!

  1. CHICKEN AND RICE FAJITA SOUP

Like the turkey chili, this soup definitely has a kick to it. Luckily the rice and beans are there to help you handle the spiciness a little better. Bonus: You only need one pot and 25 minutes for cooking time.

  1. CHICKPEA FARRO TOMATO SOUP

Farro is one of those whole grains that tends to stay under the radar. If you’ve never tried it before, now is your chance!  Cooked similarly to rice, farro’s nutty flavor makes it a tasty alternative to more common whole grains—especially in this soup.

Katelyn Castro is a second-year student in the DI/MS Nutrition Program at the Friedman School. She is a food science geek who loves experimenting with simple, flavorful recipes in the kitchen and forcing her friends and family to try her healthy concoctions.

Fall Flavors and Balanced Bites: Easy, Tasty, and Flexible Recipes for your Thanksgiving Repertoire

by Hannah Meier, RD, LDN

 For many, Thanksgiving is a time to take a step back and enjoy the little things–not least of which are family, friends, and food. But Thanksgiving also falls at a high time of stress for many students (and professors alike). Take advantage of the nostalgia that this season brings, and embrace your life as it is right now–how cool is it that you GET to be stressed out by your finals at the only nutrition school of its kind in the country? Okay…maybe that’s a stretch, but I know you will at least enjoy these recipes as simple and creative ways to squeeze in some Holiday cheer. And because I love finding tasty ways to enhance the nutritional value of any dish (without, of course, compromising taste!), all of these recipes are those I’ve developed or modified from their original versions to not only provide positive Holiday vibes, but also powerful nutritional moxie.

With the dawn of the 11th month of the year comes Thanksgiving. (Really, one could argue that the feast-filled festivities kick off with the first bite of pumpkin spice whatever, which this year happened to be August 29th when Dunkin Donuts debuted its sweetly spicy treats.) If you listen closely, you might be able to hear American foodies across the country .

Thanksgiving in America has long been associated with a bountiful table of rich and delicious food, prepared with care and shared among close friends and family. As graduate students in Boston, often far from home, harnessing anything reminiscent of warm thanksgiving dinners of years past can bring some peace to the hectic pace of school and work life.

But of course, as students with limited budgets, thinly stretched time, and perhaps a particular dietary preference or two (I see AND appreciate you, vegans!), it can seem like preparing a traditional Thanksgiving feast often isn’t in the cards. Think again! Get inspired with the following recipes that require just a few seasonal and nutritious ingredients, everyday kitchen tools, and easy preparation methods and savor the season as a thrifty, well-nourished omnivore or herbivore. Rest assured that the seasonal ingredients in these recipes provide meaningful nutritional benefits and come together in balanced combinations of nutrient-dense carbohydrates, cardio-protective fats, and lean proteins. Most importantly, they are absolutely delicious and worthy of being shared with your favorite people.

Appetizers & Finger Foods

Lox and Cracker Bites

Makes about 24 “Bites”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A play on the classic cream cheese, capers, and lox combination, these savory snacks can be pulled together in no time. Compared to more traditional cheese and sausage on crackers, the smoked salmon here offers anti-inflammatory fats and is less of a saturated fat bomb for a similar amount of protein. Look for whole grain crackers to round out the dish with filling fiber.

Ingredients

  • One 4-oz package of smoked salmon, sliced into thin strips
  • Plain strained (think Greek or Icelandic) yogurt—I like the consistency of Siggi’s in this recipe
  • Capers
  • Whole grain crackers (I like Mary’s Gone Crackers Rye)
  • Fresh dill (optional)
  • Cracked black pepper (optional)

Instructions

  1. Lay out about 24 crackers (you may need less or more depending on the type of cracker you use).
  2. Spread about 1 tablespoon of yogurt on each cracker. Top the crackers with a few capers, one or two slices of smoked salmon, and a pinch of fresh dill (optional).

Sprinkle black pepper over the crackers and serve.

 

Tahini Stuffed Dates (vegan)

Makes 25 dates

Photo Sourced via Pinterest (baconveggie.blogspot.ca)

Photo Sourced via Pinterest (baconveggie.blogspot.ca)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A sweet-and-savory combination, stuffed dates are another great finger-food option to bring to whatever Thanksgiving celebration you find yourself attending this season. Super simple to prepare, the dates pack their sweetness into a portable, fiber-full package that is a perfect complement to the tangy tahini filling and crunchy pistachio topping. Made from sesame seeds, the tahini brings a satisfying dose of unsaturated fats and protein that helps to balance out the sugary dates.

Ingredients

  • 25 Medjool dates, pitted
  • ½ cup of tahini
  • 25 shelled pistachios for topping

Instructions

  1. If not already pitted, remove the pit from 25 dates and lay on flat surface.
  2. Peel open or slice dates down the middle, forming a “boat” for filling.
  3. Stuff each date with 1 teaspoon of tahini and top with one whole, shelled pistachio.
  4. Enjoy!

 

Side Dishes

Cauliflower and Celery Root Mash (vegan)

Inspired by Gourmande in the Kitchen

Makes 4-6 servings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is nothing wrong with potatoes, but why not try bringing something unique to the table this year? Celery root, also known as celeriac and knob celery, is in peak season during October and November. Though it is not the most handsome of vegetables, it can be eaten raw and tastes like a refreshing cross between celery and fresh parsley. When cooked, its flavor mellows to an almost nutty flavor. The combination of cauliflower and celery root in this mash brings a creamy alternative to potatoes in a dish with far less concentrated starchy carbohydrates per serving.

Ingredients

  • 1 medium celery root, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes
  • 1 small head (about 16 ounces) cauliflower, cut into small florets
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Steam the celery root and cauliflower in a microwavable steamer or in a steamer basket over boiling water.
  2. Transfer the cooked celery root and cauliflower to a tall blender or food processor (you may need to work in batches). Add oil and salt and blend/process until smooth. Add 1-2 tablespoons of steaming liquid to loosen the puree if needed.
  3. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

 

Main Course

Roasted Turkey

Servings vary depending on size of bird

Adapted from Food Network Magazine

Photo Credit: http://www.bhg.com

Photo Credit: http://www.bhg.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can you get more traditional than a roasted turkey at Thanksgiving? Probably not. Though most Thanksgiving feasts are not famous for their stellar health profile, placing oven-roasted turkey at the center of the dinner table is actually a nutritionally sound tradition. According to the USDA Nutrient Database, one 3 ounce serving of light meat turkey (without the skin) contains 125 calories, 2 grams of fat, and 26 grams of protein (plain meat of course does not provide any dietary carbohydrates but that’s before you smother it with cranberry sauce or gravy). Dark meat turkey gets a bad rap, but actually only contains 3 more grams of fat per serving with slightly less protein and about 25 more calories. Dark meat tends to contain a higher concentration of vitamins B-6, B-12, niacin, choline, selenium, and zinc, though the light meat is also a good source. Compared to other animal meats, roasted turkey is generally a lean choice that is low in saturated fat (animal-based saturated fats seem to consistently have the worst effect on cardiovascular disease markers) and a good source of easily digested protein. In order to get the most out of your turkey dish and avoid post-feast “meat sweats,” try to keep your portion to about a size of a deck of cards, especially if you’re filling your plate with other protein-rich dishes.

Ingredients

  • A 10- to 12-pound turkey
  • Salt and pepper (or salt-free seasoning such as Mrs. Dash)
  • Onions, carrots, and apples, all chopped into large bite-size pieces
  • Fresh herbs like sage, rosemary, and thyme (per personal preference)
  • Olive oil

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F .
  2. If not already removed, pull neck, liver, and giblets out of cavity. Save giblets for gravy if desired.
  3. Dry turkey with paper towels, then season inside and out with salt and pepper. Try using salt-free seasoning like Mrs. Dash to reduce sodium content for sensitive individuals.
  4. Fill turkey with chopped vegetables and apples, as well as fresh herbs of choice.
  5. Place breast-side up (legs on the bottom) in a roasting pan and brush with olive oil. Tent with foil and roast for 2 hours (add an extra 15 minutes per pound for larger birds).
  6. Remove foil, baste with more oil and turn up oven to 425 degrees. Roast for another hour or so until the meat at the thigh registers 165 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 seconds.

 

Cranberry, Lentil and Wild Rice Stuffed Acorn Squash (vegan)

Makes 4 Stuffed Squash Halves

Photo Credit: http://www.lentils.ca

Photo Credit: http://www.lentils.ca

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stuffing acorn squashes is an easy way to make it look like you can get fancy in the kitchen (but look at you, you can!) This time of year, acorn squash is plentiful at the grocery store and market, and is often on sale. If you can’t find or don’t like acorn squash, you can use a kabocha or small butternut squash instead. Winter squash, with its deep orange and yellow color, is bursting with phytochemicals, and when roasted takes on a caramelized flavor that makes it easy to forget how richly fibrous the flesh is. Did you know you can eat the squash skin? Just be sure to wash it well before cooking!

Wild rice, actually a seed not a grain, joins forces with lentils to provide a complete amino acid profile and round out the entrée as one that is entirely satisfying. Dried cranberries balance out the texture of each bite and provide irresistible jewels of tart sweetness. Enjoy this plant-based acorn squash dish as a vegan entrée or on the side of any traditional Turkey Day feast.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup uncooked wild rice
  • ¼ cup dried green or brown lentils
  • 2 cups vegetable broth or water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ½ cup dried cranberries (unsweetened, if you can find them)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Spices (optional): ½ teaspoon rubbed sage and  ½ teaspoon dried thyme

  • 2 medium acorn squashes, cut in half and seeds removed.

Instructions

  1. In a medium saucepan, large skillet, or rice cooker, combine rice, lentils, and vegetable broth or water. If cooking in skillet or saucepan, bring liquid to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low and simmer until rice and lentils are cooked, about 50 minutes. If cooking in rice cooker, use brown rice setting and let it do its thing.
  2. While the rice and lentils cook, preheat the oven to 400°F. Cover baking sheet with aluminum foil, lightly coat foil with oil or non-stick spray, and place squash halves cut side down. Bake until tender, about 30-35 minutes.
  3. Coat the bottom of a large skillet with olive oil and cook onion over medium-low heat. Add sage and thyme if using and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion softens and just begins to caramelize, about 15 minutes. Add garlic and cook one minute more.
  4. Add wild rice and lentil mixture to skillet. Add cranberries, and raise heat to medium-high. Cook 1-2 minutes, until mixture is heated through. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.
  5. To serve, scoop wild rice, lentil, and cranberry mixture into each squash half and enjoy!

Hannah Meier is a second-semester Nutrition Interventions, Communications and Behavior Change student and not-so-closet foodie. She loves to come up with better-for-your-body substitutions to traditional recipes that don’t sacrifice flavor or appeal. This year, she is thankful for a supportive and trusting family, and beautiful fall weather in New England.

 

We Found East Asian-Inspired Soul Food in a Hopeless Place

by Julia Sementelli

Little Big Diner is bringing innovative yet comforting and delicious East-Asian food to Newton Centre, an often overlooked culinary spot, and helping to put the suburb on the foodie radar.

I step into a hole-in-the-wall restaurant to see two chefs, one tossing ramen noodles and the other seasoning and tasting his giant pot of steaming something, and a slew of happy patrons slurping bowls of broth. This is a no reservations place with a line out the door. As I wait for my name to be called I suddenly remember that I am in Newton. Not hip Cambridge, not the trendy South End. Newton, Massachusetts. A suburb known for its wonderful school system and the hometown of Friends star, Matt LeBlanc. As a native, I know that Newton isn’t necessarily known for its culinary scene. While Newton is speckled with some delicious, homey spots, it isn’t my first choice when I want new and exciting food. Or even second. But this suburb has begun to step up its culinary game. Sycamore, a new American restaurant known for its use of seasonal and local ingredients, put Newton Centre on the map in 2013. But now, owners, Sycamore chef David Punch and his business partner at Sycamore, Shane Smyth, along with Little Big Diner head chef, Daniel Scott are breaking the mold of Newton dining by introducing another restaurant to the community. And given the line out the door on a rainy Sunday night, it appears their endeavor has been successful.

Having opened only recently, in February 2016, Little Big Diner offers East Asian soul food with organized and efficient yet friendly service. Both times that I dined, there was a wait. That hardly ever happens in Newton, unless it’s 11am on a Sunday morning at a local brunch spot. The host provided an estimated wait time (which ended up being very accurate) and offered to take my cell phone number and call me when a table was ready. Or another option, much to my surprise, was to enjoy a drink while waiting for our table. While the lack of a waiting area does not allow for a very comfortable waiting experience (some patrons were clutching their beers towards the back of the restaurant near the restrooms while I was pressed up against the front door) the fact that we were invited to stay despite the tight fit was a welcome hint of hospitality that is often absent in restaurants. A spiked beverage also makes waiting for a table a bit more enjoyable.

Once seated, our server promptly brought us menus and explained the layout of the menu. The service was memorable, in a good way, because it seemed to be backed by well-trained staff. Tricia Meegan, previously of Sycamore, manages the front-of-the-house. She kept the hectic 19-seat spot running smoothly. Talented chefs are often recruited for restaurants but front-of-the-house can frequently seem like an afterthought. An experienced manager maintained an enjoyable dining experience separate from the food. Waiters were well versed in the menu items and offered to answer menu-related questions since many dishes included a number of not-so-common ingredients, such as shoyu chicken, mayu, and ajitama eggs. They did not flinch at my substitution request to try both of the rice bowl sauces on the side since I couldn’t decide between the two. Water glasses were refilled frequently despite staff having to push their way through the tables to get to our glasses.

Green Papaya Salad at Little Big Diner. Photo: Julia Semetelli

Green Papaya Salad at Little Big Diner. Photo: Julia Semetelli

While the menu appears simple at first glance, the food is packed with inspired flavor. It is divided between Starters, Little Big Rice Bowls, and Noodles. Servings were generous (always something that I take note of) and the food arrived swiftly. They also have a notably high-quality drinks menu with draft cocktails, including a refreshing Yuzu Margarita, sake, local beers, wine, and non-alcoholic options, like local soda. To start, the green papaya salad was a large, shallow bowl of papaya ribbons with toasted garlic, salted peanuts, and chili and citrus. The amalgam of textures—crisp papaya, crunchy garlic and peanuts, and a burst of bright citrus and heat—made for the perfect starter to awaken the taste buds. In my experience, the usual Thai restaurant papaya salads are extremely spicy and consequently difficult to enjoy. But this salad had the perfect amount of heat and, even though the portion was substantial, I was left wanting more. (In fact, I ordered it both times I visited Little Big Diner). Next, the Miso Ramen, their signature dish, was a generous bowl filled with chili ground pork, nori, ajitama egg, bean sprouts, sweet corn, mayu, scallions, and homemade noodles that were both delicate and hearty. The broth flavors were deep and concentrated. On a rainy October night, this dish was perfect.

The next dish was the pumpkin ramen. While pumpkin is rampant in coffee shops and grocery store packaged foods, pumpkin is an unfamiliar addition to an East Asian menu. But the pumpkin ramen was delicious and popular as I overheard multiple tables ordering it as well. The earthy yet sweet flavor of the pumpkin coconut broth was intoxicating. Brimming with smoked maitakes, chili onions, crispy kale, noodles, and topped with pepitas and scallions, this ramen was unique but still had that comforting ramen essence we all crave.

Tofu Bowl at Little Big Diner. Photo: Julia Sementelli

Tofu Bowl at Little Big Diner. Photo: Julia Sementelli

While the ramen is the star of Little Big Diner, their rice bowls will keep me coming back when I want something lighter. The bowls are rather straightforward—select white or brown rice, a protein, and a sauce. While burrito bowls at other establishments are a mess of one-note flavors, give other such bowls a bad reputation, the flavors in this dish held their own as each ingredient seemed to have a designated role. A garden of fresh, bright herbs, including Thai basil, mint, and cilantro with house pickled vegetables on a bed of brown rice provided the vibrant base. Next, I selected shoyu chicken and “that sunny side egg,” which was beautifully cooked and provided me with that oozing egg yolk I always pray for. I sampled both of the sauces, a hot and spicy and a sweet katsu sauce and decided upon mixing both. Separately, the spicy one packed too much heat while the sweet did not provide enough of a kick. Together they made the perfect sweet and spicy sauce. The chicken, boneless thighs were cooked well and remained moist despite not being prepared on the bone. During the other meal I selected the charred heiwa tofu that, unlike most restaurant preparations of it, was not cooked to death. It was tender with perfect char marks and a bright seasoning. Both times, I did find myself wishing that the herbs were chopped a bit smaller as I found myself having to cut them myself in order to avoid a bite full of mint. Overall, the dishes were a bright and creative take on the sometimes widely available heavy bowls of ramen while providing modern dishes like the rice bowl that cater to those who like to choose their own adventure.

Although the food at Little Big Diner is not necessarily groundbreaking, it is a breath of fresh air in a place that has great potential to expand past its culinary mainstays and show food lovers that Newton is just as great food-wise as its neighboring cities.

Rating: ★★★

Julia Sementelli is a second-year Nutrition Communication student and registered dietitian. If you ever need to get in touch with her just go to the Whole Foods or sweetgreen near Friedman. There’s a 99.7% chance that she will be there at any given time, probably photographing an aerial shot of her salad or stocking up on kombucha. You can also find her on Instagram as @julia.the.rd.eats