A Taste of Cooking in the Mekong Delta

by Eliot Martin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bánh Xèo Recipe

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

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

 

Batter ingredients:

Approx. One cup rice flour

One can coconut milk

Approx. ½ cup chives (finely chopped)

Water

Approx. one tbsp. turmeric powder

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

 

Filling ingredients:

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

One large onion sliced

One package sliced mushrooms

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

A couple handfuls of bean sprouts

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

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

 

For frying:

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

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

 

For serving:

Mint

Vietnamese/Thai basil

Cilantro

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

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

A rice bowl of nước chấm

 

Instructions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nước Chấm Recipe

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

 

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

Fresh lime juice

Fish sauce (nước mắm)

Palm sugar (cane sugar works almost as well)

Crushed fresh Vietnamese/Thai chilis

Crushed fresh garlic

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

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

 

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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.

Soul of the Louisiana Kitchen

by Katie Moses

When the only remnants of Mardi Gras are plastic beads hanging from the oaks along St. Charles Avenue, Louisiana still draws people from around the world for the lively music and incredible food. Discover the secret to the depth of flavor in Cajun and Creole cuisine and recreate a classic Louisiana dish, red beans and rice, in your own kitchen.

Celery, Onion, Bell Peppers. Photo credit: Flickr

Imagine early afternoon in southern Louisiana. The sweltering heat is held at bay by the air conditioner running on full blast; your grandmother begins to quarter onions, seed bell peppers, and break celery stalks. This “southern symphony” begins to swell with the sudden whir of an old food processor finely mincing onion, celery, and green bell pepper, while a layer of oil in a large pot warms on the stovetop. The sizzle crescendos in the Cajun kitchen as she adds the onions, then celery and bell pepper to the hot oil, and their aromatics waft through the 1960s ranch-style house..

Growing up in my grandmother’s home in the heart of Cajun country, this is how homemade dinners began. No matter if it’s red beans, gumbo, or jambalaya, every Cajun dinner starts with a little oil in a heavy-bottomed pot and the Cajun holy trinity – onion, celery, and green bell pepper.

History of the Trinity

The influences of French and Spanish occupation of Cajun and Creole country adds to the “southern symphony” with echoes of Catholic church bells in every town. Naming the aromatic trio the Cajun holy trinity in this predominantly Catholic region reflects how food traditions are as fundamental to the identity of the residents of south Louisiana as their faith.

Aromatic vegetables sautéed in oil as the foundation of flavor in Cajun and Creole cuisine is mirrored in the many cultures that have influenced its traditions: the mirepoix in France; the sofrito in Spanish-speaking countries; and the sacred flavor trinities of West African cuisines. The mirepoix combines onions, celery, and carrots. The slightly sweet carrot adds a different flavor profile compared to the bitter notes of the green bell pepper. A typical sofrito in Spain mixes tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, and garlic, while the Cuban sofrito is the Cajun trinity with garlic added as an official fourth ingredient in the seasoning mix. West African dishes typically begin with tomatoes, onions, and chili peppers. While West African and Spanish cuisines influenced both the Cajun and Creole cuisines, the tomatoes in Creole gumbo and not Cajun gumbo illustrates the stronger influence of West African and Spanish on the Creoles in New Orleans than the Cajuns in Acadiana.

Mirepoix: Celery, Onion, and Carrots. Photo credit: Flickr

Spanish Sofrito: Tomato, Onion, Bell Pepper, and Garlic. Photo credit: Flickr

West African Trinity: Tomato, Onion, and Chili Pepper. Photo credit: Flickr

A Kitchen Staple

Louisiana grocers make the lives of Cajun cooks easier by always stocking the produce section with celery, green bell peppers, onions, and garlic, and by making the ingredients available in many formats. For those who seek even more convenience, cooks can get Guidry’s Fresh Cuts Creole Seasoning a container of finely chopped yellow onions, green bell pepper, celery, green onions, parsley, and garlic. Every freezer section has the holy trinity pre-chopped and frozen at the peak of freshness if you’re willing to have your oil pop a little extra from the moisture of the frozen vegetables.

How to Prep the Trinity

If you prefer to prep your own vegetables, the perfect ratio of aromatics is 2 parts yellow onion:1 part celery:1 part green bell pepper. Every Cajun cookbook will tell you to pair the trinity with garlic for extra depth of flavor. The goal is to mince the onion, celery, and bell pepper so finely that they almost disintegrate while cooking. If you’re far from southern grocery stores that offer the Cajun trinity pre-chopped, you can follow the steps below to hand chop or emulate my grandmother and save time using a food processor. Note: a key to preparing the trinity is to keep the onion separate from the celery and bell pepper; you don’t want to overcrowd the onions, so you always add the celery and bell pepper later.

Hand Chopped:

Supplies needed are a large stable cutting board, two prep bowls, and a sharp non-serrated knife.

  1. Peel and cut the onion into a small dice, a ¼ inch square cut, and place in a prep bowl.
    1. If using garlic, peel and crush or finely mince and mix with the diced onions.
  2. Cut off the stemmed top of the green bell pepper to remove seeds and create a flat surface. Slice pepper into planks and then cut into a small dice. Place in a separate prep bowl.
  3. Chop off white base of celery then halve stalks. Bunch together the halved stalks with your free hand and cut into a small dice. Mix celery with the bell pepper in the prep bowl.

Food Processor:

Supplies needed are a food processor with chopping blade and two prep bowls.

  1. If using garlic, peel and add 4 cloves into the processor first, pulsing until finely chopped. Peel and quarter the onion, then add to the processor and pulse until finely chopped. Remove the onion and garlic mixture and place in a separate prep bowl.
  2. Cut off the stemmed top of the green bell pepper, remove seeds and quarter. Remove white base of celery then roughly chop stalks into 3-inch pieces. Add to the food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Then, place in a prep bowl separate from onion and garlic.
Louisiana Kitchen

Among those who live far from the shade of the magnolias, my home state of Louisiana is known for three things – Mardi Gras, music, and good food. When the only remnants of Mardi Gras are plastic beads hanging from the oaks along St. Charles Avenue, Louisiana still draws people from around the world for the lively music and incredible food. While those outside the kitchen may assume the rich depth of flavor in Cajun and Creole cuisine is thanks to a heavy hand with butter and cayenne pepper, the soul of the unique flavor is the holy trinity. The recipe below blends Cajun, Spanish, and African flavors with a few culinary shortcuts to showcase the holy trinity in a delicious pot of the Louisiana Cajun classic: red beans and rice.

Figure 5: Red Beans and Rice with Louisiana Hot Sauce. Photo credit: Flickr

Good Friday Red Beans and Rice

Servings: 8

This classic south-Louisiana dish saves on time without cutting back on flavor by using canned beans and chipotle peppers in adobo instead of ham hock or tasso. This recipe is perfect for a Lenten Friday or a vegetarian potluck.

Ingredients   

4 cloves garlic, peeled

2 medium yellow onions, peeled (2 cups chopped)*

3 ribs of celery (1 cup chopped)*

1 green bell pepper (1 cup chopped)*

1 tbsp olive or vegetable oil

4 (15-oz) cans dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed with hot water**

1½ tsp Better than Bouillon Vegetable (or No Chicken) Base***

3 bay leaves

½ tsp cayenne pepper

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 chipotle pepper canned in adobo, chopped

2-4 cups of water (just enough to cover the beans)

Optional: 2 tsp dried thyme and 2 tsp ground oregano

1 lb long grain brown (or white) rice, prepared according to package directions

Instructions
  1. Prep then combine the finely minced onion and garlic in a bowl, and celery and green bell pepper in a separate bowl.
  2. Heat a large heavy-bottom pot over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive or vegetable oil.
  3. Add the onion and garlic to oil and sauté until onions are translucent and garlic is golden.
  4. Add the green bell pepper and celery to the pot and sauté until soft. Be careful not to let the garlic burn.
  5. Add the remaining ingredients to the pot: the kidney beans, bouillon base, bay leaves, cayenne pepper, black pepper, adobo chipotle pepper, and enough water to cover it all by an inch.
  6. Stir until all ingredients are well combined then simmer, covered, over low to medium-low heat for at least 45 minutes. Check and stir occasionally, adding water as needed if beans begin to stick.
  7. The red beans are ready when most of them have begun to fall apart.
  8. Serve on top of an equal portion of rice.

Tip!

Balance your plate by pairing this fiber- and protein-rich dish with collard greens, stewed okra and tomatoes, or a simple cucumber and onion salad.

Substitutions:

*4 cups pre-chopped frozen trinity

**1 lb dry kidney beans, soaked overnight, drained, and brought to a boil then simmer in lightly salted water with bay leaves.

***1½ tsp favorite bouillon/stock base. Alternatively, replace water with your favorite vegetable stock or chicken broth (if not vegetarian).

Southern Serving Suggestion:

If you’re left pining to recreate the Louisiana restaurant experience, turn up a Louis Armstrong record, pour yourself an iced tea,and top those red beans with some thin-sliced, pan-fried andouille sausage. Laissez les bon temp roulez!

Katie Moses is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who has worked as a culinary nutrition educator for over 5 years. Starting life with a unique culinary upbringing in the heart of Cajun country with Sicilian, Syrian, and French grandparents, she finds ways to adapt traditional dishes to fit current nutrition recommendations Katie is currently enrolled in the Master’s Degree Program in Nutrition Interventions, Communication, and Behavior Change at the Friedman School. Connect with her at linkedin.com/in/mkatiemoses.

Four Smoothie Bowl Recipes That Will Put a Spring in Your Step!

by Julia Sementelli

While there a handful of smoothie bowl spots in Boston, I have found that the best smoothie bowl is the one that you make at home! Fuel up for finals with these four perfect-for-spring smoothie bowls that will keep you feeling satisfied and refreshed to take on this busy yet exciting month.

While Winter Storm Stella may have set us back a little in the warm weather department, Spring has officially begun! April is when we start to shed our winter skin and crave foods that are bright and refreshing. Although I have been known to eat them in the dead of winter, smoothie bowls are the ultimate breakfast to fuel you for busy days but also to keep you feeling fresh. And they are also a great way to eat your fruits and veggies, especially when life gets hectic (Hello, upcoming finals!) All of my smoothie recipes have one thing in common: they all include pomegranate arils, the seed pod inside of a pomegranate where all of the fiber and nutrients can be found. Pomegranates are a source of antioxidants and have even been shown to potentially improve performance during exercise! For the sake of ease, I typically buy pre-packaged arils since de-seeding a pomegranate can be rather time-consuming.  Read on for four spring-ready smoothie bowl recipes:

Tropical Pomegranate Smoothie Bowl. Photo: Julia Sementelli

Tropical Pomegranate Smoothie Bowl. Photo: Julia Sementelli

Tropical Pomegranate Smoothie Bowl (Serves 1)

Ingredients:

For the smoothie:

1 cup frozen strawberries

½ cup frozen mango

½ cup frozen pineapple

1/3 cup almond milk (recommended: coconut-flavored almond milk)

1 teaspoon maca* (optional)

Toppings:

2 tablespoons pomegranate arils

1 tablespoon melted coconut butter

2 teaspoons shredded unsweetened coconut

Directions:
  1. Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth (mixture will be thick)
  2. Top with pomegranate arils, melted coconut butter, and shredded unsweetened coconut
  3. Enjoy!

*Also known as Peruvian ginseng, maca’s primary benefit is increasing energy without the less desirable effects of caffeine.

Antioxidant-Packed Green Smoothie Bowl. Photo: Julia Sementelli

Antioxidant-Packed Green Smoothie Bowl. Photo: Julia Sementelli

Antioxidant-Packed Green Smoothie Bowl (Serves 1)

Ingredients:

For the smoothie:

1/3 cup coconut water

1 cup baby spinach

1 cup frozen mango

½ frozen banana

1 teaspoon chlorella* (optional)

½ teaspoon turmeric

Toppings:

2 tablespoons pomegranate arils

½ sliced banana

Directions:
  1. Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth (mixture will be thick)
  2. Top with pomegranate arils and sliced banana
  3. Enjoy!

*Chlorella is a single-celled algae that can provide a solid dose of antioxidants and protein (it is 50% protein per serving!).  While science has yet to support many of the claims surrounding it, there is no denying that it is a simple way to give you a boost of nutrients when you are short on time.

Chocolate-Covered Pomegranate Smoothie Bowl. Photo: Julia Sementelli

Chocolate-Covered Pomegranate Smoothie Bowl. Photo: Julia Sementelli

Chocolate-Covered Pomegranate Smoothie Bowl (Serves 1)

Ingredients:

For the smoothie:

1 cup frozen cherries

1 cup frozen peaches

1/3 cup pomegranate juice

1 tablespoon unsweetened cacao powder

1 scoop chocolate protein powder

Toppings:

2 tablespoons pomegranate arils

1 tablespoon cacao nibs

Directions:
  1. Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth (mixture will be thick)
  2. Top with pomegranate arils and cacao nibs
  3. Enjoy!
Peanut Butter and Pomegranate Smoothie Bowl. Photo: Julia Sementelli

Peanut Butter and Pomegranate Smoothie Bowl. Photo: Julia Sementelli

Peanut Butter and Pomegranate Smoothie Bowl (Serves 1)

Ingredients:

For the smoothie:

1/3 cup pomegranate juice

2 cups frozen strawberries

1 tablespoon powdered peanut butter

1 scoop unflavored protein powder

4 ice cubes

Toppings:

2 tablespoons pomegranate arils

1 tablespoon smooth or chunky peanut butter

Directions:
  1. Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth (mixture will be thick)
  2. Top with pomegranate arils and peanut butter
  3. Enjoy!

 

Julia Sementelli is a second-year Nutrition Communication & Behavior Change student and Boston-based registered dietitian who divides her time between being a clinical dietitian, working with private clients to heal their relationships with food, eating, going to SoulCycle, and taking pictures of the delicious smoothie bowls (among other things) that she makes in her apartment.  You can find her on Instagram (@julia.the.rd.eats—follow her!) where she shares her love of real food, fitness, and balance.

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.

Ackee: Jamaica’s Irresistible Delicacy

by Christine Sinclair

Ever heard of Jamaica? Yes? Ever heard of Bob Marley and Usain Bolt? Yes? Ever heard of ackee? No? Well, just like Jamaica and our international stars, ackee is a star in its own right. You don’t quite know Jamaica until you know ackee. So let me introduce you. Sit back, because you are in for a treat! Ackee has a rich history dating back to the slave trade. It has a delicious flavor, and a unique texture that you will want to add to your cooking repertoire. And the recipe below is Friedman approved, having debuted the recipe below to a group of students with rave reviews.

Ackee is a fruit that grows in clusters of three in a pod on large evergreen trees in tropical climates, namely on the Caribbean island of Jamaica and in other parts of the world, including West African countries, Haiti, and parts of South America. The outer shell of this fist-sized fruit is bright red, with hues of orange and yellow. It has a tough outer skin that protects its delicate inside. As ackee matures and ripens, it naturally opens up to expose its edible contents. This unique and bountiful fruit grows throughout the island and, in fact, is Jamaica’s national fruit and a main ingredient in the national dish, ackee & saltfish.

Ackee has been Jamaica’s national fruit for centuries, having made its way to the island during the 18th century, carried over on slave ships departing West Africa. Its name is derived from the West African Akye fufo and its scientific name, Blighia sapidawas, was coined by a man named Captain William Bligh, and has since become a staple food in the Jamaican diet. The yellow arils are edible, while all other parts of the fruit, including the seeds are discarded.

Ackee fruit by Rik Schuiling

Ackee fruit by Rik Schuiling

Ackee not only has an interesting history, but a unique and potentially dangerous toxic property. Ackee goes through stages of maturation and ripening. During these different stages, ackee has varying levels of a water soluble toxin called Hypoglycin A and B. These toxins produce a symptom called Jamaican Vomiting Syndrome (JVS) aka Toxic Hypoglycemic Syndrome (low blood sugar as low as 3 mg/dL), which can cause severe vomiting, abdominal pain, coma and death. But, wait! Before you run off dismissing this delicate treat, let me explain how ackee can be enjoyed with no toxic effects at all.

In unripe ackee, the concentration of Hypoglycin A is about 1000 parts per million (ppm). As the fruit matures, in addition to its exposure to sunlight, Hypoglycin A is drastically reduced to 0.1 ppm in the mature fruit. Ingestion of immature ackee (a.k.a. ackee not left to properly ripen and naturally open) produces the toxic effect in humans.

Ackee found in the United States is precooked and canned, and has gone through extensive processing checks by the USDA to ensure safe consumption. And these checks seem to work: There have been no known cases of JVS in the United States from canned, imported ackee due to these regulations.

Photo: Ackee stages of maturity

Photo: “Tastes Like Home,” Ackee stages of maturity

What are the health benefits of ackee?

Although there hasn’t been a lot of research on ackee—partly because it isn’t grown in the United States—what little literature we do have suggests that ackee provides many health benefits. People in Jamaica will eat ackee cooked or uncooked. The uncooked version is said to serve as a strong diuretic, helping move the bowels and keep them in good shape. While the uncooked version cannot be found in the United States, the cooked form can be found canned in international markets. And don’t worry, only mature ackee is canned for your eating pleasure!

Ackee in both forms is rich in the monounsaturated fatty acids, oleic acid (55.4%), palmitic acid (25.57%), and stearic acid (12.59%), and is low in calories (about 151 calories per 100g can of ackee). Ackee is also rich in many vitamins and minerals, according to the West Indian Medical Journal.

How is ackee prepared?

When ackee is cooked with different meats and spices, it takes on the flavors of what you pair it with—without losing its own unique taste. Many find it difficult to describe the actual taste of ackee, saying it has the consistency of avocado with a rich buttery flavor. After interviewing a number of people, the verdict is still out. The best way to know? Try it for yourself!

At Ackee Bamboo Restaurant in Los Angeles, CA, owners Marlene and Delroy Beckford prepare this staple dish for customers unfamiliar with ackee’s delicious taste and powerful history. Hoping to give them a true and authentic experience of Jamaica, they give out samples to convince the novice that they are in for a treat. As Marlene said, “If you say you have had ackee [and saltfish] you have been to the island.”

Ackee and Jamaican Culture

Ackee’s uniqueness, beautiful range of colors and its authentic and delicious taste describes the very essence of Jamaica. Ackee is Jamaica! Rooted in a deep history of the slave trade, revolution and liberation, ackee is so much more than a delicious meal. To try and put into words the meaning that this national fruit has is close to impossible. But, if you would like a bite size experience of a rich and powerful history, the next time you spot ackee in your local market or pass by a Jamaican restaurant, be sure to pick up a can or stop in and ask for a plate of ackee and saltfish with dumplings, green banana, yellow yam and callaloo!

Picture: Ackee & saltfish with green banana, yellow yam, boiled dumplings and greens

Picture: “Pinterest,” Ackee & saltfish with green banana, yellow yam, boiled
dumplings and greens

Ackee Recipe

Ingredients – 4 people

1/2 lb saltfish (dried, salted codfish)*

12 fresh ackees or 1 (drained) can of tinned ackee

1 medium onion

1/2 tsp black pepper

3 tbsp of butter or cooking oil

1/2 a hot chili pepper (ideally Scotch Bonnet)

1 bell pepper (red, green or both)

1 chopped tomato

1 sprig fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme

Optional ingredients: 2 cloves of garlic 4 scallion (green onion)

*Eliminate the saltfish to make this recipe vegan

Preparation

  • Cover the saltfish in cold water and let it soak overnight (minimum 8 hours) changing the water several times (this removes most of the salt)
  • Bring a pan of cold water to boil and gently simmer the fish for 20 minutes (until tender)
  • Chop the onion, bell pepper, chili pepper and tomato
  • Remove the fish from the water and allow to it cool
  • Remove all bones and skin then flake the flesh of the fish

Cooking

  • Melt the butter or add oil in a frying pan and stir fry the onion, black pepper, bell pepper, chili and thyme for about 3 minutes
  • Add the tomatoes and flaked fish and stir-fry for another 6 minutes
  • Add the ackee and cook until hot throughout and tender. Stir gently to avoid breaking-up the ackee

Serve with yam, green banana, or fried dumplings

ackee4

Christine Sinclair is a second-semester NICBC student in the dual MS-DPD program whose family is from the beautiful island of Jamaica. She is an avid health enthusiast who loves challenging activities such as boxing, cross-fit, and distance running. If Christine isn’t cooking, she is eating, or talking about food. 

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.