Do you ever come home from a trip away and find that there’s nothing to eat – nothing ready at least – and then you scramble around for whatever you can quickly throw together as an offering to the hunger gods? Today was one of those days. My fridge had one large taro in it, as well as a jar of mustard. Ever since embracing the Paleo diet, I keep a variety of root vegetables in my fridge: sweet potatoes, purple sweet potatoes, Japanese sweet potatoes and taro. Taro is not as enticing as sweet potato; its flavour is somewhat bland and texturally it’s certainly on the starchy side, which might explain why it was the only tuber left in my fridge.
Despite it not being the most exciting tuber, we Lebanese love taro and call it kolkas, a name related to the tuber’s Latin name, colocasia. We usually prepare taro by boiling it in water or frying it it, and then covering it with tarator, a sauce of tahini, garlic, lemon juice and salt. Prepared that way, taro is super-delicious. Today though, I felt like chips (or fries, depending on where you live) and mustard. Taro cooks quickly. If you slice it thinly, it’s extra crunchy. If it’s thick, it has more of a comfort food chewiness. Using a mandolin is useful for achieving a consistent slice width. I personally used a knife tonight because I couldn’t be bothered washing up the mandolin.
I fry most things with coconut oil because I am a fan of saturated fats. If coconut oil is not available, I would suggest frying the taro with duck or goose fat, ghee, lard or tallow. Heat your fat of choice to 160c and add the slices in batches that suit the amount of fat you have available. Fry until the taro turns golden (approx 4 minutes). Sprinkle the chips with salt and dip them into a good quality dijon that has a bit of heat to it. This is awesome stuff – filling and delicious – so be careful as you might get addicted (not that there’s anything wrong with that). In Sydney, you can find taro at any Asian or Italian green grocer and should cost you just a bit more than your average potato. Try it and let me know how you like it!
With The Food Blog nearing its seventh year, it’s almost impossible to believe that I have never written a post about chocolate. Having deprived you guys from chocolate recipes, I’m amazed I have a readership at all. I hope this might make up for it, but excuse the health-oriented take on chocolate. Most of you know that I have been off sugar for well over a year now, in an attempt to regain my health. With abstinence from sugar, chocolate consumption declines drastically. I’ve looked for sugar-free/insulin-friendly chocolates, but most of them are made with aspartame (or some other artificial sweetener) or maltitol and emulsified with soy lecithin, and I try to stay away from these things. Of course, there are agave-sweetened chocolates, but health-wise, that stuff is the worst sweetener ever. Agave is higher in fructose than high-fructose corn syrup, and if you want to see why too much fructose is bad, do yourself a favour and listen to this.
My sweetener of choice is xylitol, but when it comes to home-made chocolate, xylitol doesn’t do the trick since it is not fat-soluble (does not dissolve in fat). I’ve found that the best sweetener to use is yacon. Yacon is a sweetener derived from a south-American tuber. The syrup is a sweet-tasting fructooligosaccharide, which is a prebiotic fermentable fiber and seems to have little/no effect on blood sugar (my blood sugars went from 4.3 to 4.8 on one of the tests I did to see if yacon affects me, which is pretty okay). It has a rich, caramel flavour and a buttery mouthfeel, and it also works wonders in chocolate. Now, yacon isn’t cheap (340ml for $22.40AUD from iherb.com), but for special occasions, it’s worth it. I’m a huge fan of hazelnuts and chocolate, and macadamia is by far my favourite nut, so to make my home-made chocolate a bit more of a treat, a few handfuls of roasted hazelnuts and Australian macadamias are perfect. One last thing. I recently bought a Thermomix and have used it to make the chocolate at home. The recipe below is a Thermomix recipe based on Quirky Cooking’s recipe (thanks Jo) but can easily be adapted if you don’t have a Thermomix. My guess is that you can melt the cacoa butter in a bain-marie, making sure the temperature doesn’t go over 50degrees C.
Makes 1 large chocolate bar
There is hardly a cut of pork that suits this style of cooking as well as ribs do. Within 2 hours of cooking, what starts off as tough pork ribs boiling away in a thin soup ends up being a brilliantly tender braise with a thick, sweet sauce. Really, with soy, mirin (sweet cooking sake), garlic and ginger, you can’t go wrong. Start off by browning 1.5 kilos of pork ribs in a heavy cast iron pot. I used leftover lard for the browning and browned the meat in 2 batches. Tip off any rendered fat, add 100 ml of soy sauce (I used gluten-free tamari), 100 ml of mirin, 400ml pork of beef stock, 2 finely chopped cloves of garlic, 5 star anise (optional) and 2 tablespoons of grated ginger. Bring to the boil and then turn down to a gentle simmer and cover for 2.5 hours. You are looking for the pork to be falling from the bone and for the sauce to have thickened. If the pork is still not tender enough and the sauce already looks too thick, add a little water and cook covered until the pork is done. If the opposite happens and the pork is already done while the sauce is too thin, uncover the pot and take the heat up, stirring often until the sauce thickens. Stir the pork to glaze it with the sauce. I ate this dish as is, with no accompaniment, since I rarely eat grains; but for those of you who do, rice would go perfectly well.
Some fantastic news for those of you who are fans of sauerkraut: my experiment with vacuum bag sauerkraut was a success! Forget all about those recipes that call for jars and sauerkraut pressing. Vacuum bag sauerkraut is a set and forget method: shred some cabbage, salt it, put it in a vacuum bag and vacuum seal it. Two or three weeks later, and the kraut is made! And once you do make it, there’s no turning back to store-bought sauerkraut. Let me know if you decide to make sauerkraut and how it turned out.
For many, the flavour of sauerkraut is a bit too much like vinegar and is off-putting. I happen to like vinegar and therefore sauerkraut, but I also like a bit of variety, so I’ve come up with a recipe to turn my sauerkraut into a delicious salad. Drain some sauerkraut and dress it with olive oil, a few drops of sesame seed oil and sprinkle it with isot pepper (or any chili you like) and sesame seeds. This sauerkraut salad is the bomb. I like eating it on its own but it goes brilliantly with roasted meats.
I’ve been commissioned to organise a Middle-Eastern feast for a cool PR event and this dish is one of the first on the menu. I always attempt to use ingredients that are typical in the Middle East but rarely seen in restaurants. I feel people get a sense of authenticity, despite any contemporary take on the ingredient. This dish, for instance, is not one you would find anywhere in the Middle East. The ingredients are eclectic and not singularly regional. But they work.
This salad is all about balance, freshness and texture. The lentils need to be cooked just after the al dente stage, the pumpkin needs to be creamy, and roasted hazelnuts add crunch and nuttiness. Oven-dried tomatoes are a great alternative to fresh tomatoes: they’re sweet and not overly moist. Preserved lemons and fresh thyme contribute that “je ne sais quoi” element, where the flavour is somewhat fleeting and exotic, only identifiable by an experienced palate. The real kicker here is isot pepper – one of my favourite all time chilis, second only to Maras chili. I went crazy for isot in Turkey and am always well stocked. Find a Turkish shop and buy some. That smoky sweet flavour of isot pepper goes with anything.
Since this is a salad, quantities and proportions are up to you. Want a bit more kick? Add some more isot pepper. Love preserved lemons? Go crazy!
Mix the following ingredients together:
In effort to further learn how to make specialty foods from scratch, I gave sauerkraut a go around 2 weeks ago. I’ve been eating sauerkraut in serious quantities ever since I switched to a Paleolithic diet. It ticks many boxes – sauerkraut is very low in carbohydrates, its acidity helps when eating copious amounts of butter and meat, and it’s full of beneficial bacteria that are supposed to help with gut flora population and all that. My go-to brand was a German-style sauerkraut from my local supermarket, but then I read somewhere that most, if not all, supermarket sauerkraut are actually pasteurised. In essence, my sauerkraut was dead, killed by heat. The beneficial bacteria I thought I was consuming were no longer there.
That upset me for a while, but then I decided to look on the bright side and that it was a chance to have a go at making it myself. I bought half an organic cabbage from Eveleigh markets and took it home. My experience with fermented food had so far been limited to yoghurt and beer, both of which need the bacteria/yeast to be introduced from an external source. Sauerkraut is somewhat magical: its starter bacteria grow on the cabbage leaves while the cabbage is still in the field. Sauerkraut can be made flavoured by using caraway seeds, juniper berries or the like, but for my first go I decided to stick with plain sauerkraut. I tried the traditional method of fermenting the cabbage in a jar, and I also came up with a different approach and fermented the cabbage in vacuum bags. I’m yet to taste the vacuum bag patch (if that works, I’ll certainly be doing that from now on), but have tucked into the jar and it’s unlike any other sauerkraut I’ve ever tasted. There’s a delicate flavour of vinegar, but overall the flavour is earthy and somehow malty, similar to a beer. It’s delicious and the leaves are still crunchy and crisp. Making sauerkraut is easy and recipes abound on the Internet, so I won’t give detailed instructions. Find a recipe that appeals to you and try it (here’s the one I followed). But at a high level, you simply chop up the cabbage leaves and rub them with salt. Then, you put them in a clean jar, press them down and close the jar. A few weeks later, you have sauerkraut – healthy, living sauerkraut. And you become the god of millions, if not billions, of beneficial bacteria. It might be useful for you to know that my sauerkraut did not develop a bloom or scum like the recipe suggested would happen. I’m not sure if that is due to winter temperatures or anything else. In any case, the recipe worked really well is and is worth following.
Got any tips to share on making your own sauerkraut? Leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you.
In keeping with yesterday’s theme, here’s another great ingredient, full of fat’s goodness: bone marrow. I saw a documentary a few days ago which showed that eating bone marrow was one of those factors that guarded man’s ancestors from extinction. You see, when food was scarce, and when fierce predators would get all the meat around, our ancestors had an advantage. The lion would go home and leave nothing but bone. Our ancestors were unique among mammals in that they knew how to smash a rock against those bones and extract the nutritious bone marrow. Smashing rocks, a unique evolutionary trait…
As you have probably guessed from the photo, I didn’t smash a rock against the bones. Mine were cut in half by my butcher’s vertical saw. A much more elegant, though less stress-relieving approach, wouldn’t you agree?
The following recipe is my creation. I smoked some eggplants under the grill, mixed in some butter, walnuts, cumin, salt and lemon juice. I topped that with roasted bone marrow, more lemon juice and some olive oil infused with garlic and rosemary. The dish came together beautifully, mostly soft, but with the occasional crunch from the walnuts and fried garlic. I’ll be cooking more bone marrow and trying a few different recipes with it. How about you? Do you eat much bone marrow? What do you think of it?
For the Garlic and Rosemary Oil: Add 3 tbsp olive oil, 2 cloves of garlic and a sprig of rosemary (de-stemmed) into a pan and heat until it sizzles nicely. Remove from heat and leave aside. The garlic should be come golden and crunchy
For the Eggplants: cut 1 large eggplant in half and roast for half an hour under a hot grill. Make sure it blisters, but doesn’t burn. Scoop out the flesh into a bowl. Add 1 tbsp cumin, 1 tbsp butter and salt and lemon juice to taste. Add a handful or two of chopped walnuts. Taste and adjust seasoning. Keep warm.
For the Bone Marrow: preheat the oven to 170c and roast the bone marrow for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove marrow from bone and keep warm. You can use the bones in stock.
Putting it All Together: In a bowl, spoon some eggplant, top with some bone marrow, squeeze a bit of lemon and add some of the olive oil you prepared earlier, along with some garlic flakes and rosemary sprigs. Enjoy.
Those of us who take ice cream seriously know the delicate balance of ingredients required. Do it right, and you end up with ice cream, luscious and velvety. Do it wrong and you end up with ice (sans cream). You know what I mean, just a frozen bit of flavoured stuff that you need an icepick to even chip away at the surface.
Ice crystals – that’s what you need to manage in order to avoid having a piece of Antarctica sitting in your freezer. Ice crystals form when you freeze a liquid. The larger the ice crystals, the icier the ice cream. The smaller the ice crystals, the better. The size of ice crystals can be influnced by churning – the quicker a liquid freezes, the smaller the ice crystals – so an ice cream machine is great help. Another piece of the puzzle is the ratio of solids to liquids in your ice cream mixture. Water is the liquid, fat and sugar are the solids. The more solids you have, the softer the ice cream. Try to be healthy and reduce the amount of sugar you have in a recipe and you will attract the wrath of the gods. Of course, there is a whole arsenal of tricks to manage the texture (alcohol and salt lower the freezing point; pectin, salep, cornstarch and gums like xanthan and guar gum can all be used as thickeners), but it feels a bit like cheating.
I no longer use sugar in anything, including my ice creams and go for xylitol instead (which, despite the chemical-sounding name, is a great natural alternative to sugar with a very low glycemic index). Xylitol, however, doesn’t have all the properties of sugar (it doesn’t caramelise, for instance). Since it’s also a bit sweeter, less of it is required when making ice cream, which means ice crystals are larger. The end result just isn’t as satisfying as normal ice cream.
When I saw a recipe for cream cheese sorbet on the Saveur website, I knew I’d hit the jackpot. It was obvious that the huge amount of fat from the cream cheese would certainly result in a sorbet with good texture, with or without sugar. I tried it with xylitol, and, yes, it’s awesome and tastes like a frozen New York cheesecake. If you want to use sugar, go for the recipe on the Saveur website. My adaptation is for a xylitol sweetened sorbet. I buy my xylitol here.