Archive for Lunch

Like sriracha? Then you gotta try gochujang

Like many of you out there, I’ve long been a fan of sriracha. The bright red sauce made of ground chilies and garlic is a staple in Asian cuisine, yet like so many other condiments it’s a multicultural star that enlivens everything from eggs to hamburgers.

On a recent trip to South Korea, I found something even better: gochujang. Like sriracha, gochujang is a condiment made from red chilies. And as with sriracha, it pairs well with a variety of foods. It’s also absolutely addicting. Gochujang is a regular at the tables in Korea (it goes great with barbecue, as seen below in Seoul), but like sriracha it deserves a place at yours.

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Yes, you can cook with cactus

There are some things that one can’t help but bristle at upon the notion of eating. Sure, we’ve all heard about the “delicacies” involving insects and offal in other countries, but what I bring to the table here is much simpler in nature yet can be just as confounding for the uninitiated: Cactus.

That’s right — those desert-loving plants known for their sharp spines can actually be eaten.

Two of the most popular edible portions of cacti are the pads, called “nopals,” and the pears, cactus fruit that in Spanish is known as “tuna.” The former are the flat, broad portions that look like paddles. Once their needles are removed, they can be grilled, baked or simmered.  The latter can be peeled and eaten as is. Their delicious fruit is surprisingly sweet, with a texture that’s a cross between a kiwi and a pear.  Fresh cactus pads and cactus pears can be found at Hispanic markets such as Northgate, as well as some well-stocked mainstream grocers. Thankfully, the work of removing the needles has usually already been done.

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Recipe: Get keen on quinoa

Peer closely at quinoa, and you may think you’re looking at something aliens would ingest. Tiny spheres with what appear to be pale tails, the granules of quinoa are mysterious. They’re also delicious.

Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is also an oddity when explaining what exactly it is. Though quinoa cooks in less than 20 minutes by simmering it in liquid like rice, it’s not a true cereal grain. The quinoa that you can find on grocery shelves near the rice section are actually the seeds of a crop plant that, believe it or not, are related to beets and tumbleweeds, of all things.

Humans have been eating the stuff for thousands of years, and more recently I’ve seen it landing on the menus of upscale restaurants. Quinoa is a nutrition powerhouse. Hailed by the Incas as the “mother grain,” it is low in fat and high in protein and fiber. It’s also gluten-free.

Quinoa is a snap to cook. If you can boil water, you can make it. Once cooked, it has a hearty, grain-like flavor. It’s also extremely versatile. Quinoa can be served warm or cold, and mixed with everything from peppers to pears. The recipe below brings cranberries, red onion, celery and pecans to the party for extra flavor and crunch. Oh, and those tails? They’re actually the seed’s germ. Once the disc-like granules are cooked, they expand and the germ separates from the seed. Looks odd, tastes great.

Let’s make a quinoa salad that acts as a super snack or side dish.

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Last-minute Super Bowl recipe ideas

The big game is right around the corner, as the Baltimore Ravens take on the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 47.

If there is ever a day for indulgence in front of the TV, this is it. Many viewers will be chomping down on chips, wings, hot dogs and pizza, but these are just of a few of the treats that can be enjoyed on the big day. And they’re admittedly not the healthiest.

This year, either in supplement or substitution to those standards, here are some other easy food ideas for party noshing.

  • Ranchero beans — Think of this as a Spanish version of chili. It’s delicious, filling, and awesome with chips and tortillas.
  • Tzatziki — This yogurt-based dip and spread is a great alternative to the usual fat-laden dips.
  • Bruschetta — Sounds fancy, but this hearty tomato and basil mixture atop crostini is light, satisfying, and a cinch to make.
  • Blue cheese wedge — This version is spiced up with buffalo sauce. Perfect to go with those wings!
  • Shishito peppers — These addicting Asian peppers are relatively mild and are perfect finger foods.
  • Homemade salsa — What would Super Bowl be without chips and guacamole? Spice things up with this easy dip that complements them both.
  • Homemade hummus (picture above) — Forget the expensive store-bought stuff. Hummus is ridiculously easy to make at home and serves as a delicious dip.
  • Oven-baked potato fries — Another healthier alternative to frying, this version of a classic is just as satisfying.
  • Pasta salad — Add some color with the carbs in this multi-hued take on a classic side dish.

Whatever the outcome of the game, I hope you enjoy it and those wacky commercials alongside friends, family, and good food!


Easy recipe: You can rock these Ranchero Beans

I probably don’t need to tell you that beans are magnificent. Yes, you probably already know that they’re packed with stuff like protein, fiber and other nutrients that will do your body good, all while being very low in fat and simple sugars. They are also extremely inexpensive. Even in canned form, at about a buck a pound, it’s hard to find a food that packs this much nutritional density for the price.

Beans are also very adaptable. And that’s a good thing, because let’s face it: When eaten alone, popular beans such as pintos aren’t exactly multifaceted in their flavor. But throw in other ingredients and some seasoning to the party, and the beans that anchor a dish can be eaten and enjoyed in a whole new light.

I recently stumbled upon one such dish – ranchero beans – in the deli section of a Ralphs of all places, and was surprised at how well the humble pinto livened up with a larger culinary cast. I promptly decided to re-create this recipe myself, adding even more impact with additional ingredients.

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Recipe: Hearty Tomato Basil Soup

As autumn sets in and the temperatures outside fall accordingly, nothing warms the body and soul quite like a sturdy bowl of soup. Among the easiest, least expensive and most nutritious to make is tomato soup. Served as an appetizer or a dinner with bread or sandwiches, it is a perennial favorite that can be tailored to a variety of tastes.

If your idea of making soup is opening a can and turning on a microwave, I have good news for you: Making it the homemade way involves not a whole lot more work, yet tastes worlds better. And because you control the ingredients that go into your soup, there’s no guessing as to how much sodium or other less-than-good-for-you things lurk in that bowl.

My version of this soup uses canned tomatoes in diced and crushed form. Not only are these main ingredients inexpensive, they’re always “in season” and ready when you are. Because this tomato soup relies on the real thing and plenty of other veggies, it’s thick and hearty. This recipe calls for chicken broth, but for a vegetarian version, vegetable broth can be used instead. The soup can be served chunky or blended for an even texture. If you have an immersion blender, now is the time to use it. The pureeing can also be done in small portions in a regular blender.

Lastly, I like to introduce both dry and fresh basil leaves for added essence. If you want some kick, add crushed peppers or even a dash of horseradish to the mix. Here’s how to make tomato soup.

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Recipe: Bruschetta is like summer in your mouth

Bruschetta is one of those dishes that sounds complicated but in reality is a cinch to make. The name is technically used for crisped bread rubbed with garlic, but most of us know bruschetta as a savory, herb-licious tomato topping that sits above crostini. And there’s another, similar term, as crostini is simply bread that has been crisped in an oven or under a broiler.

If you have the grill going, there’s no reason not to create your crostinis over the fire or coals. When making them indoors, I prefer to brown the bread under a broiler in the oven. If you’re watching your carb intake or can’t do gluten, you can substitute the bread entirely for a piece sturdy lettuce such as romaine, making what I dub bruschetta boats.

Bruschetta is a perfect appetizer any time of year, but really shines in summer when tomatoes are cheap, plentiful and – most important – in season. I prefer Roma tomatoes because their thick flesh and relative lack of seeds, which are to be scooped out anyway for this recipe.

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Make this: buffalo blue cheese dressing on a wedge

We all know that restaurant food usually costs far more than what you would pay to make the same thing yourself, and most of the time we’re OK with that. When it comes to things like good steak or seafood, it can make sense to have a professional chef perfectly cook an item of food whose base cost would still be relatively expensive even if you were to buy it at the store. This is especially true with ingredients like USDA Prime-graded steak or sushi-grade fish, which are often reserved for the food-service industry and thus are more difficult to attain.

Salad, on the other hand, is just the opposite. The menu item that vexes me most is the iceberg wedge. Basically it’s a wedge of iceberg lettuce slathered in blue cheese dressing and often garnished with small tomatoes and maybe some onions. It’s delicious and a fine complement to a hot summer day. But for the $10 or so restaurants can charge for this starter, it’s a rip off.

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Easy recipe: Stuffed bell peppers

Know what’s better than eating delicious food served on a beautiful dish? Eating delicious food and the equally delicious dish it’s served in. If you’ve ever had soup in a bread bowl, you’ve already enjoyed this experience. But summer is around the corner, and soup is going out of favor. Thus we turn our attention to something in season, a versatile something that’s not only great on its own, but one that can act as a delicious bowl: the bell pepper.

Bell peppers are available year-round, but they can be pricey in the milder months. Now that summer is nearly here, so are the deals on bell peppers, including the usually more expensive orange and red varieties. I recently scored half a dozen for just a few bucks at Sprouts Farmers Market. Though peppers are great cut up and grilled or roasted, “Why not use them whole and stuff them?” I thought.

When I was young, my mom made stuffed bell peppers regularly because they come together quickly, can be bolstered with a variety of leftovers such as rice and vegetables, and even freeze well for future lunches and dinners. They also stretch your dollar. If you can find peppers cheap, the only other main ingredient required is ground meat. Beef was the staple when I was young, but I now prefer leaner turkey or chicken. Seafood lovers can go a more exotic route with crab or shrimp, and vegetarians can get stuffed by using whole beans or tofu as foundation for the filling.

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How to pan-steam like a pro

You probably already know that steaming is a great way to cook vegetables because it helps them retain nutrients and adds no fat. It’s also fast and super easy.

If steaming has one transgression, though, it’s that it doesn’t add flavor.  When you’re depending on steam from boiling water to cook food held aloft in a basket, the flavor is ultimately dependent on the item being cooked. Begin with a rather plain veggie like cauliflower, for example, and you’ll end with up with a vegetable that is indeed softer and easier to chew, but whose flavor isn’t greatly enhanced.

Luckily, there’s a special method of steaming that is just as easy as the traditional one, yet offers much more flexibility when it comes to resulting flavor and what ends up on the plate. It’s even got a cool name that will make you sound like a kitchen rock star: pan steaming.

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