A Slice of Italy in Allston

by Megan Maisano

It’s the end of the semester. Motivation for cooking and weekly meal prep is low. Are you yearning for some Italian comfort fare, but don’t want to make the trek to North End? Fear not. This hidden gem will fill your heart and your belly.

As soon as I walked into the restaurant, I felt at home and part of la famiglia. Packed in tightly among 12 tables were families and friends, hunched over their meals in conversation, accompanied by glasses of wine and fresh bruschetta. The small room was filled with stories, laughter, and the smell of warm tomato sauce. I turned to my husband, Andrew, and got a nod of approval. It was our first time at Carlo’s Cucina in Allston.

Snuggled between a Vietnamese and Chinese restaurant on Brighton Ave, Carlo’s Cucina (pronounced coo-CHEE-nah) was nearly full on a Tuesday night. We snagged a table next to the kitchen in the back, with optimal views of the place in action. Paintings of the Italian countryside covered the walls and wisps of white painted clouds dotted the blue ceiling. Servers scooted between tables, waiting their turn to walk through the narrow passes, cracking jokes in Italian with regulars along the way.

The restaurant itself offers a no-frills dining experience. The table is set with paper placemats and napkins, and not much space for elbow room. While the ambience at Carlo’s Cucina may not compare to the gusto of dining in Boston’s North End Italian restaurants, the food will keep us coming back.

As someone who married into an Italian family and once took a cooking class in Tuscany, I like to believe I have developed a taste for authentic Italian food. But just to be sure my taste was true, I invited Andrew along for a second opinion. And let me tell you, we experienced some anguish when deciding what to order – we wanted to try it all! In addition to the usual spread of antipasti (appetizers), primi (pasta dishes) and secondi piatti (protein dishes), there was also a Specialità della Casa section.

While we examined the menu, our server brought us complimentary toasted bread, pimento stuffed olives, and olive oil. We did our best not to overindulge before our meal, but it was hard to pass up the aroma of freshly baked bread and olive oil.

For our antipasti, we ordered the fried eggplant, Melanzane Ripiene ($10). Laid over a large plate was eight inches of crisp eggplant rolled up with ricotta that oozed out of its sides, and topped with marinara sauce and broiled mozzarella that stuck to our forks. It was heavenly. In a rare act of self-control, we asked for a box to save half of this God-sent dish for later.

We decided to skip the primi piatti: with their generous portion sizes, I can’t imagine ordering more than one course here again. For the secondi piatti, we ordered off the specialty menu. I chose the Pollo Gerardo ($20), a chicken Marsala dish with tomatoes, peppers, and olives. Andrew chose the Vitello Carlo ($23), a popular Yelp pick of veal stuffed with artichokes, prosciutto and Fontina cheese, and topped with tomato sauce, mushrooms and sautéed onions.

I’m a sucker for a good Marsala sauce, so the Pollo Gerardo hit the spot. The dish had an appropriately oversized piece of chicken, lightly battered and pounded thin. The Marsala sauce was reduced to a thick texture and while it tasted just fine with the toppings, I missed the earthy sautéed mushrooms that traditionally accompanied it. Perhaps next time I’ll stick with the traditional Pollo Marsala dish ($20). Andrew picked the Vitello Carlo because of his love for artichokes. This dish had a lot going on, in a good way. The combination of flavors from the tender veal, plum tomato sauce, artichokes, and creamy Fontina kept us picking at it long after we had our fill. And while we planned to get desert, our stomachs begged for mercy. Next time, Cannoli… Next time.

Pollo Gerardo and remnants of the Melanzane Ripiene. Photo: Megan Maisano

Pollo Gerardo and remnants of the Melanzane Ripiene. Photo: Megan Maisano

By the end of the night, we had sung happy birthday twice to strangers, clapped, and raised our glasses to their fortune. It felt like we were a part of a large family gathering, spread across tables in a dining room, enjoying home-style comfort foods from our very own kitchen.

If you’re looking for authentic Italian dishes without making the arduous trip to the North End, Carlo’s Cucina is your spot. Make reservations, come hungry, and leave a part of la famiglia.

Carlo’s Cucina Italiana
131 Brighton Ave., Allston, 617.254.9759, http://carloscucinaitaliana.com/

Megan Maisano is a second-year Nutrition Communications student, an RD-to-be, and is generally disappointed by small portion sizes. After traveling and eating her way through 24 countries, Italian cuisine remains her personal favorite.

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For the Love of French Fries

by Erin Child

 As a nutrition student, my unabashed love of French fries may seem out of place. But for me, they are just one delicious part of an otherwise decently balanced diet. They’re my go-to when out at a bar with friends, and my favorite accompaniment to a bowl of steamed mussels. So, I decided to finally try my hand at making some real deep-fried French fries. However, I can’t in good conscience let this story be all be about deep-fried food. And so, I also made a batch of oven fries to compare to the deep-fried originals. I recruited a couple Friedman friends to taste test, and we had a delicious Fry-day night.

The first time I attempted deep frying I wound up with second-degree burns. My college roommate and I had decided to make fried chicken for our then-boyfriends in our closet-sized kitchen. The moment I bent down to check on the root vegetables roasting in the oven, my roommate chucked the last piece of chicken into the hot oil, splashing it all over the top of my head and hand. Boyfriends arrived an hour later to find me on the floor, forehead covered in aloe and my hand in a pot of cool water. Never again, I vowed, would I deep fry anything. Leave that to the professionals.

A decade later, I have mostly kept my promise. I can count on one hand the number of times I have fried something, and it has always been using a relatively safe, contained, counter-top fryer. I’ve made donuts, pakora (an Indian snack food), and Flamin’ Hot Cheeto®–crusted chicken. (You read that right.) But I still have never attempted one of my all-time favorite foods, French fries.

Before my deep-fried adventures began, I did some shopping. I ordered a thermometer and splatter screen from Amazon for $25.81 worth of safety precautions. I then did some research. I consulted Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, and Serious Eats, and found that both recommend the double-fry method for crispy goodness. I had hoped to find a way to avoid deep-frying twice, but couldn’t find any source to persuade me that one fry was sufficient for the texture I desired. Smitten Kitchen had a recipe for single-fried fries, but I was not convinced; however, I did follow the recommendation of using Yukon Gold potatoes instead of regular Russets. They have similar starch content, and thus are both good for frying. And I liked the idea that because of their yellow color, Yukon Golds have more carotenoids, and thus were a smidge healthier. (But the potatoes were going to be fried, so who am I kidding.) For the oven fries I found a recipe on Eating Well that looked promising and instead used that as my reference for my “healthy” fries.

The day of my adventure, I purchased ten pounds (about five pounds too many) of Yukon Golds, as well as peanut oil and dried parsley—for a dash of green—at my local supermarket. The peanut oil was for frying, as everything I read kept pointing to peanut oil as the ideal oil due to its high smoke point. I already had salt, olive oil and ketchup at home. I was ready.

First, I rinsed and chopped five pounds of potatoes into relatively even batons. My knife skills are passable at best, so following the instructions found on Smitten Kitchen I was able to cut reasonably evenly sized fries. Recipes all recommended drying the potatoes first to ensure maximum contact with the oil—so I spread them out over paper towels. All told, almost an entire roll of paper towels was used in my frying adventure.

french fries evenly cut

My attempt at evenly cut fries (pretty good!) Photo: Erin Child

While the fries dried, I turned the oven on to 450˚F and then poured 4 1/3 cups of peanut oil into a heavy-bottomed pot before turning the burner to medium-high. I placed the thermometer into the pot and watched as the temperature slowly climbed to 325˚F. While I waited, I made the oven fries.

I dressed two and a half pounds of the potato batons with four tablespoons of olive oil, a heaping half teaspoon of salt, a half teaspoon of ground thyme, and enough parsley flakes to fleck them all with green. The potatoes went on an unlined baking sheet and into the 450˚F oven. Per the Eating Well instructions, the fries would need to be flipped after ten minutes. When I went to flip the fries, they all stuck to the pan. Panicked, I left them in for another five minutes. When I checked them again, the starches in the potatoes must have shifted, because the fries were golden-brown on the bottom and easy to flip. I left them in for another eight minutes. At this point, most of the fries had two golden-brown sides, so I pulled them from the oven. Once they were cooled enough, my friends and I dug in.

They required more salt than was in the recipe, and they were not crisp, but the flavor was good. As one friend put it, “they taste like a bite-sized baked potato.” Savory and satisfying, but not really a French fry. Next time I try oven fries (and there will be a next time) I may try hand-rotating them to get a better, crispier sear on each side and make them taste closer to the real (fried) thing.

At this point, my peanut oil was ready to go. The double-fry recommendations were to fry once at 325˚F for about 8-10 minutes, let the fries rest, and then fry again at 375˚F for 3-4 minutes. So, I put the full 2.5 pounds of potatoes in the oil. That was my first mistake. The pot was too small for all those potatoes, and the temperature dropped to below 200˚F. For the next ten minutes I essentially gave all the potatoes a warm oil bath. After nothing was noticeably frying, I took all the potatoes out and tried again. This time, I fried them in two batches at 325˚F for 10 minutes. Then increased the temperature of the oil to 375˚F. To my surprise, I did not need the splatter screen. At all. If I was mindful of my movements there was minimal splash back, and the hot oil did not splatter out of the pan during frying.

french fries frying

Warming up for the second attempt. Photo: Erin Child

The second fry at 375˚F also occurred in two batches, and was three minutes per batch. After removing them from the pot, I immediately tossed the fries in a liberal dash of salt. Crispy, golden, salty and warm—they were the clear winner of the evening. Not too shabby for my first batch of French fries.

oven fries and french fries

Oven fries (left) vs French fries (right). Photo: Erin Child

During clean up, I decided to remeasure the peanut oil, and found that I had four cups left. This mean than a third-cup went into the French fries. This is only about one more tablespoon of oil than I used for the oven fries, which was a smaller difference than I expected.

Overall, nothing quite beats the taste and texture of a fried French fry, but for my health and wallet (all that peanut oil was expensive!), I’ll keep homemade French fries to a very occasional treat.

Erin Child is a second year NICBC student in the dual MS-DPD program. She is also the social media editor for the Sprout. At this point in the semester she is frequently procrasti-cooking and cleaning—her belly is full, her room is spotless, and she always has a paper to write.

Bringing Everyone to the Table: Accommodating Special Diets During the Holidays

by Kathleen Nay

Thanksgiving is over and the leftovers are dwindling, but there is more holiday eating and meal prep on the horizon. As food and nutrition professionals, we understand that emotions can run high when it comes to sharing meals, traditions, and dietary restrictions with a crowd. So what can a holiday meal that balances a variety of special diets look like?

In my family, every shared meal requires some logistical acrobatics. We have vegetarians, vegans, people with nut allergies, and people with Celiac disease. Some of the dietary restrictions are self-imposed—my husband and I choose not to consume meat, and he prefers to extend that choice to eliminating all animal products, including eggs and dairy. (Me? Well… I enjoy cheese and sour cream, and the occasional fried egg.) But the dietary restrictions of others in our family are not by choice. My brother has a severe tree nut allergy; my mother in law has Celiac disease and must be careful to avoid even a crumb of gluten. Most in our extended families also abstain from alcohol. Needless to say, communal meals can be a challenge.

This year our guests included some friends from undergrad, one friend's dad and cousin, and my husband's parents. We tried to make our meal both vegan-friendly and gluten-free where possible. Photo: Kathleen Nay

This year our guests included some friends from undergrad, one friend’s dad and cousin, and my husband’s parents. We tried to make our meal both vegan-friendly and gluten-free where possible. Photo: Kathleen Nay

Last November, the New York Times published an article about the ways in which special diets can heighten tensions at the holidays. The article focuses its attention on teenagers and children who use dietary restrictions to exert their budding independence. While I think it misses its mark in this regard—there are plenty of adults, young and old, who have legitimate reasons for their specific dietary needs—this doesn’t change the fact that tensions often run hot around holiday food traditions, regardless of the reasoning.

Though the article itself was published over a year ago, the comments section is still active—and telling. There is much hand-wringing, with recent comments ranging from, “Why make Grandma cry? Eat it and say thank you!” to “Welcoming people into your home involves actually being welcoming. When I invite people over I always ask about food restrictions…” to “Sounds awfully complicated to be required to chart everyone’s restrictions.”

So how do you plan a holiday meal that is inclusive of every eater’s needs? In our household, we’ve figured out a few strategies that work for us and our loved ones.

Be up front about your needs, and ask guests if they have special diets.
When sending out invitations for the holiday gatherings, we tell guests up front that we’re a vegan/vegetarian household. Giving people forewarning about the foods you personally cannot eat gives them a chance to plan accordingly, and saves you both from embarrassment at the dinner table. Likewise, as you plan your meal, ask your guests for advice about any foods they avoid and alternatives they prefer. This will give them some assurance that there will be something they can eat.

Barring any severe allergies, invite guests to bring what they like (even if you might not eat it yourself).
Although we’re vegetarian, turkey has been served at our table! A benefit of hosting potluck-style meals is that everyone gets to bring at least one dish they know they’ll be able to eat. When we’ve hosted holiday meals in the past, we usually make most of the dishes, but include a list of suggested sides that people might bring to complement the meal. At Thanksgivings past, I’ve always told guests that they should feel free to bring a turkey if they’d like to have it (because I know that most people are thinking, what’s Thanksgiving without turkey?) One year, a friend felt up to the challenge of roasting his own bird, so he brought it to share with our other omnivore guests. (Our cat was also very happy to have real meat scraps thrown her way.) Not only does this make guests feel more welcome in our home, it also gives people the space to cook what they’d like.

Emma wonders hopefully whether anyone brought turkey this year. Sadly, no one did. Photo: Anna van Ornam

Emma wonders hopefully whether anyone brought turkey this year. Sadly, no one did. Photo: Anna van Ornam

Make sure to include at least a few dishes that everyone can eat (and be clear about which dishes have hidden ingredients someone may wish to avoid).
Remember that not everyone will necessarily eat everything—and that’s okay. At our recent holiday gathering, everything was vegetarian, but not everything was vegan or gluten free. There were “meatballs” made from quinoa and black beans—gluten-free, but not vegan. However, we also had Portobello mushroom patties on our table—both vegan and gluten-free! If there are dishes that are not made from scratch, be sure to read labels for hidden ingredients.

A sampling of what was on our table this year. Photo: Kathleen Nay

A sampling of what was on our Thanksgiving table this year. Photo: Kathleen Nay

If you can use a substitute, do.
Not every recipe lends itself to being easily converted to a nut, gluten, or dairy-free dish. But try to make simple swaps. Toss veggies in olive oil instead of butter to go dairy-free. Use vegetable stock instead of chicken or beef stock to make a dish vegetarian. Consider using a plant-based milk like nut, seed or soy instead of cow’s milk. Use gluten-free cornstarch to thicken the gravy. Try crushed ginger snaps to make a gluten-free crust for your pumpkin pie.

Leave the toppings on the side.
We have a recipe for lemon green beans that we absolutely love. The toasted pistachios sprinkled on top gives them just the right nutty flavor and crunch. But when my nut-allergic brother visits? Leaving the pistachios in a dish on the side is an easy fix.

Don’t question what is or isn’t on a guest or family member’s plate.
Whatever people chose to eat or not eat while at your house—just don’t worry about it, and don’t be offended! A friend of mine in recovery from anorexia recently reminded folks on her Facebook page to be sensitive to friends and family who suffer from eating disorders, which might not be outwardly obvious. She advised that comments about weight, talk about having to diet or exercise to work off your holiday meal(s), and general comments about not “needing” to have seconds or dessert can be triggering for folks with eating disorders. What a person decides to put on or leave off their plate is their choice. If a guest isn’t into a particular dish you’ve made, just remember that whatever their reason, it probably isn’t about you.

I'm thankful for friends who let us try out sometimes-unusual recipes on them! Photo: Kathleen Nay

I’m thankful for friends who let us try out sometimes-unusual recipes on them! Photo: Kathleen Nay

Finally, share your recipes!
We’ve hosted lots of friends and family at our place over the years. Most of our friends don’t typically eat strict vegan diets, but thankfully all of them have been willing to try our sometimes-weird recipes. (Not a holiday food, but jackfruit carnitas, anyone?) Sometimes they’ll even ask how we make a particular dish. I believe that good food is meant to be shared, and I’m always happy to do so if it means making future meals together a little more inclusive.

Kathleen Nay is a third-year AFE/UEP dual degree student who’s been vegetarian for nearly eight years (though she admits to the occasional sneaky turkey sandwich). Her cat Emma, seeing her humans eat only vegetables, thinks human food is utterly bland and will stick to her kibble, thank-you-very-much.

Pumpkin Spice: Fad or Fallacy?

by Sara Scinto

Would you want a watery pumpkin pie? A savory pumpkin spice latte? How about a stringy pumpkin bread? Yeah, I wouldn’t either. I adore pumpkin spice everything as much as the next person (pumpkin is actually my favorite food), but are pumpkin and spices actually in these products?

My mom and I enjoying real pumpkin whoopie pies

There has been an explosion of pumpkin spice products rolling out for fall in recent years and each season it starts sooner (apparently as soon as July in 2017). Fall flavors are creeping into summer because the consumer demand is there and food companies want in on the profits that have soared in the last 5 years. Tiffany Hsu from The New York Times article purports pumpkin spice sales “…surged 20 percent from 2012 to 2013, then 12 percent the next year, then 10 percent in 2015 and in 2016”.

Unfortunately, not all pumpkin spice products have either pumpkin or spice blends in them. Sugar is first on the ingredient list of both Pumpkin Spice Oreos® and Kraft’s Jet-Puffed® Pumpkin Spice Marshmallows; neither contain actual pumpkin NOR spices, unless they are hidden in the natural or artificial flavorings. However they do contain artificial colors to mimic that beautiful pumpkin orange. According to Wikipedia, pumpkin pie spice is usually “a blend of ground cinnamonnutmeggingercloves, and sometimes allspice”, but commercial pumpkin spice products typically include chemical compounds to simulate the taste of pumpkin pie. You are not only getting fooled by the absence of real pumpkin and spices, but you are not able to reap any of the nutritional benefits of these foods. Pumpkin is a rich source of carotenoids, vitamin C, and fiber; nutmeg contains multiple B vitamins; cinnamon is full of antioxidants; and ginger provides the essential minerals magnesium and copper. If you’d like to create your own pumpkin pie spice, here are the proportions recommended by Julie R. Thomson at the Huffington Post:

Natural pumpkin pie spice blend

  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 5 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon cloves

 

 

 

Seemingly healthier stores like Trader Joe’s are no exception to the pumpkin spice fallacy. Their Pumpkin Shaped Frosted Sugar Cookies and Chocolate Mousse Pumpkins don’t include an ounce of pumpkin (they are just pumpkin shaped). And although Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Joe-Joe’s and Gluten Free Pumpkin Bread & Muffin Baking Mix do contain pumpkin and “spices” on their respective ingredient lists, sugar comes first. This is something to be cognizant of if your body doesn’t handle sugar well.

Pumpkin may not be as straightforward as it seems either. As it turns out, the canned pumpkin that is so heavily used in pumpkin pies and other fall goodies often contains one or more types of winter squash! For example, the company Libby’s uses a Dickinson pumpkin, which is more closely related to a butternut squash than a pumpkin you would find in your typical patch. Dickinson pumpkins and butternut squash are both part of the Cucurbita moschata species, while a traditional jack-o’-lantern pumpkin belongs to the Cucurbita pepo species.

Before you start a false advertising class lawsuit, a couple things should be clarified. Jack-o’-lantern pumpkins actually taste pretty bad and would make a terrible pumpkin pie. They’re stringy, watery, and not that sweet. This is why canned pumpkin companies use a variety of winter squashes that are more vibrant in color, “sweeter, fleshier and creamier” than a classic carving pumpkin. It just tastes and looks better. And these companies aren’t technically breaking any rules, since the FDA has a quite lenient definition of pumpkin, which includes any “firm-shelled, golden-fleshed, sweet squash”.

The reason pumpkin spice mania has taken America by storm is that sugary pumpkin spice products taste good! Food companies know this and give consumers what they want, which may not always be the best for the health of our bodies or our food system. But do not fear: we can still enjoy all the delicious pumpkin spice goodness by being more aware of ingredients and making our own treats.

Here are some of my all-time favorite recipes that have real pumpkin and/or spice blends in them:

1-Bowl Pumpkin Bread (V, GF)

1-Bowl Pumpkin Bread

DIY Pumpkin Spice Syrup (can substitute stevia for sugar or reduce sugar)

DIY Pumpkin Spice Syrup

Overnight, Slow Cooker, Pumpkin Pie Steel-Cut Oatmeal (GF, can be made V)

Slow Cooker Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal

Pumpkin Curry (GF)

Paleo Pumpkin Curry

Pumpkin Dream Cake (for very special occasions)

Pumpkin Dream Cake

Lastly, a pro tip for making your own pumpkin pancakes: substitute pumpkin puree for some liquid (whether oil or water) and shake some pumpkin pie spice into the batter. Play around with how much you substitute until it reaches a consistency that you like-there’s no wrong way to do it! The end product will be a dense and delicious pancake that pairs wonderfully with some maple syrup and/or berry topping.

Sara Scinto is a second-year NICBC student, avid coffee drinker, runner, triathlete, and yogi. She has a love for rainbows and all things food/nutrition related. During the fall, there is a 100% chance she has made some kind of pumpkin food within the last week. You can find her on Instagram @saras_colorfull_life.

 

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.

 

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.