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

How to Make Your Own Almond Milk

by Julia Sementelli

Spoiler: It’s so much better than the stuff you’ll find in the grocery store

Almond milk is one of the more popular food trends of the past ten years. It is a great option for individuals who are lactose-intolerant, vegan, or choose not to consume dairy for religious reasons. Moreover, it is an alternative to soy milk. While the jury is still out on soy’s high estrogen levels, we do know that it is best to consume it in moderation. For a food like milk that we consume multiple times per day—in our coffee, granola, or as an addition to a smoothie—it may be best to select a less controversial non-dairy substitute.

Almond milk has risen to the top of the “milk” hierarchy, but commercial almond milk has an undeserved health halo. Nearly every brand of almond milk contains fillers, thickeners, preservatives and added sweetener. Like most processed foods, these additives preserve almond milk cosmetically (it naturally separates) and extend its shelf life (the fats from the almond cause it to spoil rather quickly). But is the trade-off worth it?  The solution to limiting your intake of chemical and preservative-laden almond milk is: make your own!

Homemade almond milk is a game-changer. It is creamier than almond milk from a carton and it actually tastes like almonds. While making all of our food from scratch is a Sisyphean task, homemade almond milk is so easy and so much more wholesome than processed almond milk, that you have no excuse not to make your own.

 

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Photo By Julia Sementelli

 

Recipe: Homemade almond milk

Ingredients:

1 cup raw almonds (preferably organic)

4 cups filtered water (plus more to soak the almonds)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

Directions:

  1. Add almonds to a jar, then fill the rest of the jar with water to cover the almonds
  2. Refrigerate for 24 hours
  3. After 24 hours, drain and rinse the almonds
  4. Add almonds, 4 cups filtered water, and vanilla (if using) to a powerful blender
  5. Blitz for 1-2 minutes until almonds are pureed (make sure to keep your hand on the lid)
  6. Place nut bag or cheese cloth over a large bowl and pour almond milk into the bag or cheesecloth to strain
  7. Squeeze the bag/cheesecloth until all of the milk has been extracted
  8. Transfer almond milk to glass jars or other container and refrigerate
  9. Almond milk will remain fresh for up to 3 days

Julia Sementelli is a second-year Nutrition Communication & Behavior Change student.  She is also a Registered Dietitian who is passionate about REAL FOOD.  When Julia is not studying, you can find her searching for the perfect lighting to photograph her breakfast for Instagram  (follow me @thejuliasementelli) and her blog (http://www.juliasementellinutrition.com/girlversesfood/).

I Say Potato

by Lindsay LaJoie, RD

Growing up on a family farm meant changing roles with the seasons, and changing with the times.

For over 100 years, the LaJoie family has been growing potatoes in Aroostook County in Northern Maine. What was once a small farm with fewer than 10 acres has grown into a 1,300-acre operation, and as you can imagine, many aspects of production have changed. My father is a fourth-generation potato grower, and even in the last few decades, he has witnessed a multitude of technological advancements that have led to the growth and efficiency of our farm today. While the horse-drawn plows and potato barrels have faded from the images of the yearly harvest, replaced by high-powered tractors and mechanical potato harvesters, one thing has remained constant throughout the generations: family.

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Tractors on the Family Farm. Photo credit: Nic LaJoie

 

My father and his seven siblings—one brother and six sisters—grew up working on my grandfather’s farm, and as my aunts will tell you, the girls were always the fastest when it came to hand-picking barrels of potatoes. After studying Diesel Technology for a year after high school and spending a few years as a truck driver, my father ultimately returned to Grand Prix Farms, my grandfather’s 400-acre operation, to settle into his own farming career. He recalls using tractors and equipment built in the 1950s well into the 1980s, with little change over that 30-year span. In the 1990s, he witnessed the beginning of a stream of innovations that would forever change his life as a farmer. No longer did he have to rely on CB radios or listening for the sound of another tractor in a nearby field to communicate with my uncle and grandfather—he could pick up his cell phone anywhere, anytime. In the year 2000, when my grandparents bought us a computer capable of Internet connection, the family business was truly revolutionized.

It was at a young age that my siblings and I learned our own roles on the family farm. We’d wake up early, put on tiny work gloves and boots, and ride in dad’s pickup truck to the potato house. There, we stood on step stools to be able to see the potatoes whizzing past on the fast-moving conveyor belts, working alongside our senior family members, and reveling in the nods and smiles of approval from our grandfather. I never knew what happened to the potatoes once they were hauled away in huge 18-wheelers, just that it was my job to watch the conveyor and pull out any bad potatoes—along with rocks or any non-potato objects. At the time when our new computer came along, the market was tough, and my father was looking to find a new niche. In a career where success can be determined by something as uncontrollable as the weather, and with a wife and four young children to support, my father began to view the Internet—a foreign concept—as an opportunity.

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Photo Credit: Nic LaJoie

Most of what I remember about using the Internet at the age of 10 is that I could play a lot of computer games, and my mother couldn’t use the phone while I was online. My father, a man who once opted out of taking a high school computer course because he “never thought [he’d] need it,” was initially weary of online communication and its potential implications. He remembers finally finding the courage to contact people on the Internet, hoping to sell a new product he was interested in growing: blue potatoes. He grew small amounts at first, starting with five acres, and increasing to 10 acres the following season. These potatoes—blue on the outside and the inside—were sold to brokers in the beginning, until finally one of my father’s emails was forwarded to a buyer of raw product for Terra Chips. The buyer came to visit the farm, and soon after, my grandfather was trucking a sample of blue potatoes to the Terra Chip factory in New Jersey. The full load was sold, and a long-term relationship began.

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Photo Credit: Nic LaJoie

In 2007, our family farm was restructured to create LaJoie Growers, LLC, which is now an operation co-owned by my father and his brother, nephew, and cousin. Previously, the farm was structured in such a way that equipment and labor were shared, but the crop belonged to the individual farmer. This could be a problem if tending and harvesting schedules led to a great yield for one individual, and failed crops for another. Restructuring the company allowed for gains (and losses) to be shared, solidifying the teamwork that is needed to succeed in a large agricultural operation. But the owners are not the only members of the LaJoie Growers team. My grandparents instilled the essence of the family farm in their eight children and 26 grandchildren, myself included. The family is continuing to grow, and each of us contributes to the farm in any way that we can, even if right now it can only be love and support sent up from Boston.

Today, LaJoie Growers, LLC grows 220-acres of blue potatoes, all of which are dedicated to Terra Chips (as seen on JetBlue!) or as seed for next year’s crop. Over the years the scope has widened beyond potatoes to include multiple varieties of beets, carrots, and parsnips, all of which are also made into Terra Chips. There is no question that growing up on the family farm taught me about the importance of hard work, dedication, and perseverance, and I am incredibly grateful for that. Even though I am not at home to work anymore, I observe the business continuing to evolve by growing new vegetables and using GPS technology in tractors to maximize efficiency, and I am inspired to seek opportunities, take chances, and be innovative. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll find my blue potato.

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Photo Credit: Nic LaJoie

Lindsay LaJoie is a Registered Dietitian and second year biochemical & molecular nutrition student. Her favorite way to eat potatoes is any way her grandmother cooks them.

No Bones About It: A Primer on Bone Broth

by Grace Goodwin

What’s up with the latest nutritional “superfood” known as bone broth?  Is this trend all hype, or does it have legs, er, bones? 

For a nutrition student, food trends are always floating around us like bubbles at a 6-year-old’s birthday party. Your friends: “Have you heard about bulletproof coffee?” You: “Yup.” Friends: “Do you know about matcha?” You: “Yup.” It’s tough for us students to cling to fads when we study the science, because we know that they are just that – fads.

But bone broth has caught my eye. Bone broth is exactly what it sounds like: bones of poultry, pork, beef, or fish simmered for up to 24 hours in water. These broths can also include meat, herbs, spices, or acids (like tomato paste or vinegar), but bones are the main character here. If you were to compare it to the classic terms “broth” and “stock” used for cooking, the trendy bone broth would be much more similar to the latter. “Broth,” as a culinary term, typically means a liquid in which meats (not bones) are cooked, whereas stock requires bones and other connective tissue.

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Why is bone broth different from other fads? To me, it is simply its familiarity. Unlike goji berries, Icelandic yogurt, or zoodles, the image of broth evokes the scene of a post-Thanksgiving evening with my mom boiling our turkey carcass with celery and rosemary in an enormous pot. There are emotions associated with warm, comforting broths that other cooler, newer trends don’t impart. Its stamp of Grandma’s approval makes it seem safe to me. Though I haven’t been sipping bone broth post-workout or at breakfast, as its fans now do, I’ve been eating it my whole life as a base for different meats, herbs, and vegetables.

I certainly acknowledge that at Friedman, we cover many cultures – not everyone celebrates Thanksgiving, and while a nutrition trend like turmeric may be new to me, it’s as classic as it gets for our Persian classmate, Nusheen. However, broth seems to be an international staple. NPR’s The Salt gave seolleongtang in Korea, sopa de lima in the Yucatán and “Jewish penicillin” (chicken soup with matzo balls) as comparable examples. Bone broth is also well respected in traditional Chinese medicine.

If you’re a skeptic of bone broth’s modern popularity as a nutritional wonder-drink, this map can serve as proof: 12 Locales to Sip on Trendy Bone Broth (Eater), or just give the phrase a quick Google search and notice that it’s on every list for what’s “hot” in 2015 (pun slightly intended). An 8 ounce broth in stores seems to retail for about four to five dollars – not much more than an almond milk latte, but perhaps a steep price when you realize its made with a butcher’s refuse. A New York Times article by Julia Moskin this January said that suppliers have even popped up online that offer monthly subscription of frozen versions.

Bone broth is a compatible subcomponent within a bigger trend of the past half-decade: diets that embrace ancient traditions – a “return to our roots” – like the Paleo Diet.  Moskin wrote: “[Human] ancestors probably made theirs by dropping fire-heated rocks into the stomachs of whatever animals they managed to kill. The subsequent invention of the pot made soups, stocks and broths staple in virtually every corner of the culinary world.”

And so follows the logical next question: bone broth is popular now, and has been for centuries in less trendy forms – but what is the science? It’s pretty sparse. There are very few journal articles or studies about the effects of specifically bone broth on health. The topic does appear in numerous books, typically those about naturopathic medicine, traditional medicine (including Chinese), and herbal healing. In her theory of the Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride advocates for bone broth as a remedy for natural treatment for autism, dyspraxia, A.D.D., dyslexia, A.D.H.D., depression, and schizophrenia.

Bone broth analyses also appear on myriad blogs. Mark’s Daily Apple provides a thorough rundown of each of bone’s components and their respective health benefits: glycine, collagen, proline, hyaluronic acid, chondroitin sulfate, calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium, to name several. It is important to note that collagen (like other proteins) is not absorbed “whole,” so there is no proven benefit to their ingestion. Furthermore, the USDA food database shows that the values of micronutrients in bone broth are still inferior to more “classic” healthful foods – for example, spinach.

Dr. James Hamblin, The Atlantic’s charismatic doctor-editor that spoke at Friedman last month for the Stanley N. Gershoff Symposium, covered Bone Broth in his If Bodies Could Talk video series. Hamblin does not scientifically analyze broth in this piece, though he does say that he is an occasional broth-drinker and seems to implicitly endorse the practice.

I only found one study specifically investigating bone broth: a 2013 study in the journal Medical Hypotheses that found that chicken bone broth as well as broth cooked with chicken skin and cartilage, yet no bones, had a “markedly high lead content” (7.01 μg L −1 and 9.5 μg L −1, respectively), most likely because bones sequester environmental lead. Based on these results, the study did not provide guidelines for bone broth or meat broth consumption, but the research suggests that bone broth may be inadvisable in excess. What determines “excess” is quite unclear.

Its restorative properties may be more psychological than physical, invoking images of family and holidays. However, bones are full of micronutrients and it seems logical that slowly steeping them could offer some benefit. Whichever the case, bone broth is something that we can trust as safe – as part of a balanced diet and not to excess, of course – because it has stood the test of time.

Grace Goodwin will be graduating this May with an MS in Food Policy and Applied Nutrition, and is already nostalgic for hanging out in the Jaharis Café.