Posts tagged healthy

Shrimp and the Future

The BP oil spill has been spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico for about a month now, with no end in sight. As oil and chemicals drift towards the Louisiana coast, it’s easy to imagine the destruction being inflicted on these fishing grounds and the people who make their livings from them. This article from the New York Times addresses the issues straight-on, explaining how the majority of our domestic seafood comes from either Louisiana or Alaska, and how this spill will likely cause seafood shortages from the Gulf. It makes me wonder, between E-coli laced meat and toxic seafood, what will be left for us to eat?

One of the many reasons why I feel so sad about the BP situation is because in the past few years, I had recently renewed my love for shrimp. It all started with my first trip to Disneyworld as a child—whenever I think about it, I don’t remember the exhilarating curves and dips of Space Mountain or the sentimental sweetness of the It’s a Small World ride. No, my most vivid memory is of sitting at a white-clothed table with my parents and younger sister in front of a tall, narrow glass filled with my first shrimp cocktail. After my initial bites of those cold boiled shrimp dipped in their deliciously zesty tarter sauce, I couldn’t get enough, and I think I had a shrimp cocktail every night for the rest of that week. Mickey Mouse and Goofy just couldn’t compete.

But something changed in my early twenties, and for a long while I couldn’t stand the sight of shrimp. It had something to do with the texture, and I didn’t touch them for years. But in an effort to partake of their health benefits, I started eating and enjoying them again a few years ago. Their mild flavor works well in a variety of recipes, from Italian to Asian and everything else in between.

Currently my favorite shrimp dish is this recipe from the New York Times, published over a year ago. From the moment it appeared, these roasted, lemon-infused shrimp and smoky, cumin- and coriander-accented broccoli took the blogging world by storm, and with good reason. Served with brown or white rice, they form an easy and healthy meal, packed with a unique and addictive combination of flavors. I’ve been making it at least once a month for the past year, and I haven’t tired of it yet.

Jim and I recently tried a Thai-inspired recipe from Food & Wine as well, an intriguing mix of grilled shrimp, garlic, cilantro, shallots, red pepper, and soba noodles, mixed with various Asian seasonings. Jim loved the spicy combination of flavors with the buckwheat noodles, and I expect this recipe to enter our regular dinner rotation as well. We slurped up every bite in one sitting.

I don’t mean to minimize the oil spill in the Gulf with petty talk about my favorite shrimp recipes; there are so many huge ramifications of this catastrophic event that it depresses me just to read about them. But talking about the impact of this spill on my daily life in Brooklyn, miles away from where it is actually happening, reminds me that I’m really not so distant from it at all. These disasters, both natural and man-made, impact us all in one way or another. Shrimp dinners are just the beginning.

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Martha Rose Shulman’s Mediterranean Vegetable Pies

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I’m starting to think of Martha Rose Shulman as my personal hero. Those may be strong words to describe the author of the Recipes for Health section of the New York Times, but Shulman’s seasonal and healthy recipes—which often focus on one ingredient per week, prepared in myriad ways—never fail to inspire me. I’ve been hooked ever since I tried her sweet potato and butternut squash soup over the winter, and then her light and healthy Swiss chard lasagna a month later. Now I check out her column eagerly, every week, just to see what she’s up to.

A few weeks ago, Shulman published an article about Mediterranean vegetable pies. She describes these pies, which stuff seasonal produce, eggs, and cheese into pastry shells or phyllo dough, as wonderful ways to utilize seasonal produce in vegetarian main dishes. In addition to providing a recipe for an intriguing whole wheat pastry dough, she lists four different pie variations. I printed out every recipe, and couldn’t wait for an opportunity to try them. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait very long.

Last weekend I came home from my CSA pick-up overloaded with greens. I had piles of spinach, kale, and bok choy, as well as two small zucchini, snow peas, and garlic scapes. I always fear that the vegetables I receive from my CSA will wilt before I have a chance to use them, so I decided to cook as many as possible into one of Shulman’s vegetable pies. And although the recipes didn’t address all my ingredients specifically, I hoped that they were flexible enough to accommodate some variations. Using Shulman’s recipe for a Provençal zucchini and Swiss chard tart as my guide, I combined the spinach, kale, and zucchini with Gruyère cheese and fresh eggs that I had picked up at the farmers’ market.

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As Shulman had claimed, the pie was indeed a bit time-consuming to make, but it was totally worth the effort. I rolled out the pliable whole wheat dough easily, which created a light and crumbly base for my egg and vegetable mixture. When I pulled the tart from the oven an hour later, flecks of rustic greens were supported by a sea of brilliant yellow eggs, presenting a farm-fresh meal that I couldn’t get enough of. Hot from the oven, the pie was an airy and gently tasty main dish. I brought slices of it to work for lunch all week, eating it at room temperature and almost enjoying it more that way.

So do you see why Martha Rose Shulman is my hero? I don’t need her to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but now I rely on her for delicious recipes that also happen to be healthy. It’s a lot of pressure for one person, but I am sure she can handle it.

Recipe for Spinach, Kale, and Zucchini Tart (adapted from Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe for a Provençal Zucchini and Swiss Chard Tart in the New York Times Recipes for Health section)

  • 1 lb of spinach, washed
  • 1/2 lb kale, washed, leaves picked off from the stems and thick ribs cut out
  • salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 small zucchini, cut into a small dice
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Gruyère cheese, grated
  • 3 large eggs
  • freshly ground pepper

While the dough is rising, prepare the vegetables. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Fill a separate bowl full of ice water. When the water in the pot reaches a rolling boil, add salt and the kale leaves. After 30 seconds or so, add the spinach leaves. Blanch for 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the greens to the ice water, then drain. Squeeze out excess water from the greens and chop them. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender, stirring, for about five minutes. Stir in the zucchini and season to taste with salt. Cook until just tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and thyme. Cook everything together until the garlic is fragrant, about one or two minutes. Stir in the greens, toss everything together, and remove the pan from the heat. Season with salt and pepper.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt (to taste), the greens and zucchini mixture, and the cheese. Mix together and add a bit of pepper for seasoning.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Oil a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Roll out two-thirds of the dough very thin, and line the pan, with the edges of the dough overhanging. Freeze the leftover dough. Fill the dough shell with the greens and zucchini mixture. Pinch the edges of the dough along the rim of the pan. Place in the oven and bake for 50 minutes, until the mixture is set and beginning to color. Allow to rest for at least 15 minutes before serving. This tart can also be served at room temperature. Serves 8 to 10 people. Enjoy!

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More Chard

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I may have to change the name of this blog from Artichoke Heart to Swiss Chard of My Heart (or something along those lines.) Lately I can’t get enough of this leafy green. That Swiss chard, cannellini bean, and barley soup should have kept me satisfied for at least a few weeks, but last weekend Jim and I returned for more, making a meatless lasagna layered with tomatoes, ricotta cheese, and yes, more chard.

The more I cook with Swiss chard, the more I realize how versatile it is. I first discovered it last summer when I made chard leaves stuffed with lemon rice, and since then I’ve tried to cook with it whenever possible. With its mild flavor—it’s not one of those bitter greens like escarole or broccoli rabe—and its sturdy, almost elastic texture, it holds its own in a variety of recipes. And as stated here and here by the New York Times, chard is one of the healthiest foods you could possibly eat, full of calcium, potassium, and vitamins C and A.

I should confess that I had never actually made lasagna before this past weekend. But with the help of this recipe, I got the hang of things quickly. I infused the tomato sauce with onions instead of garlic—I just happen to prefer my tomato sauces this way—and Jim and I used no-boil lasagna noodles. The result was wonderful: a light, healthy pasta dish where the sweet tomato sauce and ricotta cheese were perfectly complemented by the gentle chard. I’ll be honest, I didn’t miss the meat at all. I’m just trying to figure out what to make with the next batch of Swiss chard.

Recipe for Lasagna with Swiss Chard, Tomato Sauce, and Ricotta (Adapted from the New York Times’s Recipes for Health section. Tips on preparing no-boil lasagna noodles adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine.)

  • 1 large batch of Swiss chard, washed thoroughly
  • salt
  • 1/2 pound no-boil lasagna noodles
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 5-6 leaves of basil
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Put a large pot of generously salted water over high heat. While you wait for the water to boil, make your tomato sauce. Add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil to a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the chopped onion to the pot and cook, stirring, until soft. This should take about 5 minutes. Remove the onions from the oil and discard. Add the tomatoes, sugar, basil, and a pinch of salt and bring to a simmer. Stir often, until the sauce thickens, about 30 to 40 minutes. When finished, remove the basil leaves and discard. Set the pot to the side and turn to the Swiss chard.

Fill a bowl with ice water. Cut the Swiss chard leaves away from the stems. Discard the stems or save them for another use. When the water in the large pot is boiling, add the Swiss chard. Boil for 1 minute (from the time the water comes back to a boil). You want the leaves to be tender but still bright green; do not overcook. Remove the leaves from the water with a slotted spoon and add them to the ice water; this stops them from cooking further. Drain and squeeze out excess water. Chop the leaves coarsely. Put the tomato sauce back over low heat, stir in the Swiss chard, and set the pot aside again.

Prepare the lasagna noodles. Fill an oblong baking dish with hot tap water. Add the noodles and soak for 10 minutes, shaking the dish often to keep the noodles from sticking together. Remove the noodles to clean dishcloths and dab excess water.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Add a thin layer of tomato sauce to the bottom of a rectangular baking dish. Add a layer of lasagna noodles. Spread half the ricotta over the noodles and half the tomato-chard sauce over the ricotta. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of Parmesan over the tomato-chard sauce. Add another layer of noodles and top them with the rest of the ricotta, sauce, and 2 tablespoons of Parmesan. Finish with a layer of noodles and the remaining Parmesan. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the top of the lasagna. Cover tightly with foil. Bake for 30 minutes. If you like, finish the lasagna under the broiler for 3 minutes, uncovered, until top is browned. Let the lasagna rest for 5 minutes. Serves 4. Enjoy!

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More Snow, More Soup

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How much snow can we get in one winter? Lately it seems like hardly a day has gone by without some sort of snowfall, whether as light flurries or fat, drippy flakes. And of course we can’t forget about the freezing winds and equally low temperatures. At night I struggle home from the subway in my puffy coat, arms hugging my sides as I try to reach my apartment as quickly as possible. All I want to do is to get warm. And recently, to my surprise, warming up after a long, cold day has meant soup.

I’m surprised by my need for soup because I’ve never considered myself a soup person. But since this never-ending cold arrived I’ve rarely thought of any other type of meal. I started with my soul-satisfying lentil soup and moved on to this sweet potato and butternut squash soup from the New York Times Fitness and Nutrition section one week later.

I was attracted to this soup because of its ingredients: sunny sweet potatoes and butternut squash. With these two orange vegetables, Jim and I would receive a double dose of vitamin C, always welcome during flu and cold season. I was also curious when I noticed that the recipe didn’t require cream or butter. And then I saw that the recipe was for a pureed soup and I knew I had to make it. Pureed soups are simply my favorite.

This one is especially easy to prepare after a long day at work. The most time-consuming aspect of the recipe is just peeling the potatoes and butternut squash. After that’s done you just toss the vegetables in a pot with some onion, fresh ginger, and some stock or water, and cook it for a while, maybe 30 to 40 minutes. I used up some homemade vegetable stock from the freezer mixed with a bit of water. A quick whir with the immersion blender, and dinner was served.

Pureed into a rich, soothing soup as orange as a sunset, the sweet, buttery vegetables slid easily down my throat and warmed me from head to toe. Spicy ginger added a tingly accent to the meal, and I honestly didn’t notice the lack of cream. The soup didn’t melt the snow outside, but at least I was warm inside. That’s what counts.

Recipe for Sweet Potato and Butternut Squash Soup (adapted from Martha Rose Shulman’s recipe in the New York Times Fitness and Nutrition section)

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes (about 1-1.5 lbs), peeled and diced
  • 1 medium butternut squash (about 1-1.5 lbs), peeled, seeded, and diced
  • 2 small Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 6 cups water or vegetable stock (I used 4 cups of vegetable stock and 2 cups of water)
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Heat the olive oil in a heavy soup pot or large Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger and cook for another minute, stirring. Add the squash, potatoes, and whatever liquid you have chosen. Bring to a simmer. Stir. Add a bit of salt to taste, lower the heat, and cover. Simmer for about 30 to 45 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and can be broken apart with a spoon.

Puree the soup with an immersion blender. Stir with a whisk to even out the texture. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with crusty bread. Soup should serve 4 to 6 people. Enjoy!

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Squash(ed) Resolutions

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New Year’s Resolution #1: Eat less meat and more vegetables.

New Year’s Resolution #2: Take better photographs.

Looking at the photo of last week’s winter squash gratin (above), I’m wondering if I should reverse the priority of these resolutions. That is one terrible photograph up there. And I wonder why I have such a small readership.

OK, so we’ve established that I will work harder on my food photography in 2009. But now let’s address resolution #1. I came back from the December holidays feeling meated-out. Beef Wellington, pasta and meatballs, pork three ways: You name it, I ate it. And I’m still feeling it. My focus for the new year is to get back on track with a balanced diet, eating as many different vegetables and healthy, home-cooked meals as I can.

Aiding me in this quest is the Fitness and Nutrition section of the New York Times, which I stumbled upon online a few months ago. Whenever I clicked around the Times’s site something from that section caught my eye, whether it was a delicious-sounding recipe or an intriguing article like that list of healthy foods all of us should be eating but aren’t. (There’s another resolution in there somewhere, but I just can’t deal with it right now.)

I decided that the section’s winter squash gratin would be my first vegetarian dish of the new year. Following the recipe closely, I roasted the squash, chopped the parsley and sage, beat the eggs and mixed them with the cooked squash, milk, and Gruyère cheese before topping the mixture with Parmesan and baking it for 30 minutes.

It emerged from the oven fluffy, bright, and steaming, and practically floated onto our plates. The two cheeses added a sharp, almost tangy edge to the sweet squash, but I have to admit, I didn’t fall in love with this gratin. It was missing something, and in retrospect I’m guessing it was the carbs. Perhaps next time I will sprinkle more Parmesan across the top to achieve a more intense brown crust. I’m also tempted to top the gratin with panko and see if it satisfies my yearning for bread.

Although my gratin was a rather lackluster attempt at vegetarian goodness, I haven’t lost faith in the Times’s Fitness & Nutrition column. I have a whole host of recipes to try in the new year, and I’m sure I will find a way to make this gratin work as well. I’m considering a stewed lentils and cabbage dish for next week. With recipes like this, I shouldn’t have any problems sticking with my resolution. To be honest, I’m a little more worried about the photography…

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