Posts Tagged labelclaims

Almond Meal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Watermarked(2017-05-13-1519)

 

Guaranteed these little beauties are easy to make and delicious to munch on. My version is adapted from Cuisinicity, a recipe website developed by Catherine Katz. Definitely worth the time to check out especially if you are looking for vegan / vegetarian options. Catherine is a lovely, creative, energetic cook who write recipes that work.

I got to know Catherine when I did some metric re-engineering on some of her recipes. She’s French and has many followers from Europe who appreciate metric measures. Catherine’s original version is made with agave syrup instead of maple syrup. I used maple syrup because that’s what I had on hand and the recipe worked just fine. Reading through the comments I can see other adapters used honey. So it’s really up to you.

When I bake, my preference is to use my digital scale because to my way of thinking it’s easier. Before I start, the oven gets set at 350 F. Next I put a medium sized mixing bowl on the scale and zero out. Now comes the fun. Weight out each of the 4 ingredients directly into the bowl zeroing out after each addition. No mess. No extra spoons or cups to wash. No waste.

  • 100 grams almond meal  | 2 2/3  cups
  • 80 grams canola oil | 6  tablespoons
  • 120 grams maple syrup |  6  tablespoons
  • 100 grams chocolate chips | 3/4  cup

Remove bowl to counter and mix thoroughly.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, form dough into 24 little balls, and press each one down to flatten out into a fat pancake. Mine bake them for about 17 minutes, longer than Catherine recommends, or until lightly browned. Then cool on a wire rack and store in an air tight container or freeze.

INGREDIENTS – I’m particular about ingredients and am willing to pay a higher price for more specific and detailed ingredient credentials. But that’s me and I’ll okay with other folks choosing other options because just making your own cookies is such a big step towards eating healthier.  One caveat. Almonds and real maple syrup are not inexpensive and these cookies will cost $11 to $12 dollars per pound.

• Ground almonds come in two forms. Actually it’s three forms if you count grinding them yourself. The major provider of ground almonds is Bob’s Red Mill and he makes two versions: almond meal and almond flour. The meal is made from almonds with the skins on whereas the flour is made with balanced skinless almonds. I prefer the whole meal but either type will work.

• Canola oil comes in two forms too. Conventional or nonGMO. I use the nonGMO version. Not because I have concerns about genetically engineered ingredients – I remain neutral in that volatile issue – but because the oil is expellor pressed. Conventional canola oil is heat processed and expellor processing is a gentler way to get the oil out of the rape seed. Consider price and choose the one that works best for you.

• Maple syrup comes from the north east mainly Québec, New York, and Vermont. I use New York State dark syrup because I live in New York and buy local when I have the choice.

• Chocolate chips are the easiest to source. My preference is bittersweet or the darkest chip I can find. The ones I use for these cookies are the 67% cocoa Whole Foods house brand.

NUTRITION – Healthy has a very specific meaning as per FDA regulations and up until recently there’s no way I could label them healthy. Things are beginning to change which is, in my opinion, a positive and long overdue move.

The nutrition tag reads as follows: 140 calories per cookie, 11 grams fat (1.2g saturated), 9g carbohydrate (2g dietary fiber, 6g added sugar), 3g protein. Recipe analyzed using Bob’s Red Mill almond meal.

• Fat Profile. Don’t be concerned when I share with you that 72% calories come from fat. That fat comes from almonds, canola oil, and chocolate chips. I still can’t label these cookies healthy but one of the changes recently introduced by the FDA allows me to talk about the ratio of saturated to unsaturated fats. I won’t be able to calculate that ratio until Bob revises the nutrition facts label and lists mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats, but I can tell looking at the total fat and the saturated fat that the ratio will be very favorable. In other words, most of those 11 grams fat will be coming from “healthy” unsaturated fats.

• Carbohydrate. Both added sugars and dietary fibers get counted as carbohydrates. Each cookie has 6 grams added sugars about half from maple syrup and the other half from chocolate chips. I used USDA bittersweet chocolate chip for my calculation which breaks out the added sugars. Each cookie also has 2g dietary fiber from the almonds because I used almond meal which includes skins.

• Protein. Well we all know we don’t eat cookies because we want protein. However nuts are a source of protein and these cookies are almost 50% almonds, so it’s not surprising that one cookie delivers 3 grams.

ALLERGENS – Tree Nuts

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Do You Like Your Salads Well Dressed?

image

Summer is the season for salads.

The northeast is hot and humid during July and August and the last thing anyone feels like doing is spending hours in a hot kitchen. We want cool and refreshing. And we want it now.

Local farmers markets provide a variety of fresh greens. After that, it depends on what is available, seasonal, and handy.

But whatever you decide to throw in, please don’t be stingy with the salad dressing. Salads don’t make it to my table unless they’re well dressed.

Pictured above is a salad I put together recently. Red leaf Boston lettuce, small tender inner leaves of an escarole, some avocado, a couple of hydroponic tomato, a scallion, one whole chopped cucumber, a hard cooked egg, some nice canned tonnino, some chickpeas, and one of my favorite Italian imports, Roman artichokes that still have their stems intact.

For the vinaigrette, I make my own with California cold pressed Arbequina olive oil, imported sherry or wine vinegar (7 – 8% acidity), and salt. And I used a very generous tablespoon of my artisan vinaigrette for each 100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) salad.

Wait a minute! You’re a dietitian aren’t you?  Isn’t your job to remind us not to use too much oil and to cut back on salt?

My more zealous colleagues do just that. Especially those who work in weight loss or food addiction. Other colleagues separate healthy fats from unhealthy fats but will still recommend restraint. But not me. So I’m the first to admit that what I’m about to say is controversial.

Because flavor reigns supreme at my table, I use LOTS of vinaigrette because my well dressed salads tastes better than a salad topped a skimpy amount of dressing or worse some of that fat free stuff.

Putting an irresistibly delicious salad on the table makes it easy for folks to eat more vegetables. And getting folks to eat more vegetables is what we want right?

Found a wonderful quote in my facsimile edition of The Original Picayune Creole Cookbook originally published in 1901. The book says it is an old Spanish proverb. Who knows? Whatever the source it’s makes good culinary sense.

To make a perfect salad there should be a miser for vinegar, a spendthrift for oil, a wise man for salt and a madcap to stir all these ingredients, and mix them well together.

So please unless you’re committed to a low fat diet or limited fats to promote weight loss, don’t worry about olive oil. The fats in olive oil are mostly unsaturated and have a favorable fatty acid ratio.

Salad greens and vegetables are rich in potassium, fibers, and phytonutrients. Plus carotenoids are better absorbed in the presence of fat. Add some protein to your well dressed salad as I did with a locator mix of tuna, egg, and chickpeas. Serve with crusty whole grain bread and voilá a complete meal.

We normally eat about 2 1/2 cups or so for a meal or roughly 500 calories per plate not counting bread.

COUNT WHAT MATTERS

Heres how the conventional nutrition facts label looks for 1 cup of my well dressed salad:  16g total fat, 250mg sodium, 300 mg potassium, 6g total carbohydrate, 2g fibers, 0g added sugars, 10g protein.

We used to obsess about calories from fat and I’m so relieved the FDA has finally agreed to update the label. This well dressed salad clocks in at 68% calories from fat with a fat profile that reflects predominantly unsaturated fatty acids. Many of my zealous colleagues still obsess about sodium and, don’t get me wrong, for some sodium restriction is critically important. For most of us however it’s probably more important to take a look at how we’re using salt.

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Healthy versus Healthy.

image

Most of us agree now that healthy eating is important. This is new. Just a few years ago, labeling something healthy was the kiss of death. But times have changed.

Is it a seismic shift? Time will tell on that one, but observers agree that it’s big and important and requires attention.

The good news is we all want to eat healthy. The bad news is we can’t agree on what exactly healthy is.

Take supermarkets. The average supermarket has 45,000 individual items. At least that was what the Food Marketing Institute estimated when they did the count for 2013. And every one of those products has a label and many have additional certifications.

Or farmer’s markets. Plenty of good stuff to buy at least in the summer. But the produce is dirty and untrimmed and needs to be stored correctly and cooked. Not easy tasks without a good kitchen set up and lots of time to shop.

Or restaurants. Cooking not required. But you still have to make choices and decide what to order.

Now imagine how much harder all this is if you never took a home economics course or learned cooking skills? Or if you had never seen a farm or had a home garden? Or if you never met anyone who stocked a root cellar or made cheese or baked bread? We have a situation where one to two generations comes to the marketplace without these basic skills.

What to eat is a tough decision. And sometimes all you have to go on is an image or a label.

People may know the words they want but they need help translating the words to the table. Now this is good for those of us in the translation business. We can plate healthy to fit what the person says they want. And that’s good for business.

But labels are like metaphors. They stand for something in the real world. Think about it this way. In Ireland, grass-fed isn’t used as a marketing label. It’s simply the way it’s done. At least for now.

Accessible, normal things don’t need labels. But today’s consumers don’t bring basic cooking and food skills to the table and so they depend on labels.  Healthy is defined by so many different labels today that I could not find room to fit them all in the infograph. Like I say, it’s good for those of us in the translation business.

Confusion continues and labels sell products and marketing works.

And the bright shiny silver lining to the dark cloud of confusion is most people may actually really be eating healthier today. The competition between contenders for the best healthy diet is fierce, but as long as it uses real food and more fruits and vegetables and whole grains, at least the essentials will be in place.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How do I feel about GMO labeling?

shrimp,tomato,arugula,radicchio, scallion | photo gourmet metrics

shrimp,tomato,arugula,radicchio, scallion | photo gourmet metrics

Labeling has been getting lots of buzz lately and there are a couple of really hot issues out there. Natural. Organic. Sustainable. But far and away the hottest and most fiercely contested is GMO.

Last April I attended my state dietetic association meeting and had occasion to talk to a nice lady from Monsanto. I opened by telling her I choose not to eat GMO foods but had come to learn more about the issue. She was informative, engaging and knowledgeable. Surprisingly, not many of my colleagues shared my curiosity so the nice lady and I chatted uninterrupted for a good 40 minutes. She made the case against mandatory labeling but we both agreed voluntary labeling was a good thing.

Now I like labels as much as anyone out there. My reason for studying nutrition in the first place was to learn how to run numbers and make nutrition labels.

Sometimes I use food labels, but I have never looked to the label as my only source of information. So my conversation with the nice lady got me to thinking. How do feel about GMO labels? And what I have come to appreciate is that neither voluntary or mandatory labeling makes much difference to me. Let me explain.

Pictured above is a shrimp salad I put together at the beginning of the summer. I took the picture because the salad presented well on the plate and I selected it at random for this post to explain why a label often doesn’t tell me things I don’t already know?

The shrimp are wild caught from North Carolina purchased from my favorite greenmarket fishmonger told me the origin when I bought them because I asked. The shrimp looked fresh, smelled of the sea, and cost a lot of money. Many places sell shrimp a lot cheaper but I don’t want to eat those shrimp. With or without a label. So I pay more to eat less of an excellent protein.

Those scallions, arugula, radicchio, and cucumber all came from California. No labels because they were fresh and hand selected. Industrial production yes, so not organic or heirloom or local, but carefully selected just the same.

Those tomatoes are hydroponic and they did come in a package with useful information like country of origin so I know they are from Ontario. I use a lot of hydroponic tomatoes because they do the job until local or heirloom tomatoes become available at the end of the summer.

As for the dressing, I make vinaigrette with olive oil, vinegar, and salt. Now these labels have value to me because they tell me things I don’t already know. The olive oil label tells me where in California my oil was pressed and even more important the pressing date. The vinegar label tells me the percentage acidity. The salt label tells me the salt is flake and not table. All critically useful information to an obsessive eater like me.

So you see my style of sourcing and eating takes me out of the GMO marketplace. I prefer cooking to opening packages and most of the food I buy has no label because it’s fresh or local.

So what would a GMO or a nonGMO label tell me that I don’t already know? Not much.

As for the larger issues, I am not concerned per se about health risk and GMO. I’ve done enough research over the last few months to determine to my satisfaction that seeds modified in a laboratory are probably as safe as any other seed breeding technique.

As long as the food is safe, I am okay with honoring choice. Some people want food cheap. Some people want food convenient. Some people want food certified and labeled. I am okay with as much diversity and choice as the market wants to offer.

This issues of genetic modification has aroused more passion that any other I can remember. But for now, I don’t need to get into the fight because in terms of how I choose to eat it’s just not going to make much difference.

Tags: , , , , ,

Do more words on the label make it healthy?

image

Don’t get me wrong. This veggie patty is a is fine product and with the addition of some avocado, tomato, a healthy amount of BBQ sauce, and two slices of robust whole grain bread, my lunch yesterday was very good.

But take a look at the package. Being the prototypical nutrition nerd, I read the whole package as I ate my lunch.

Gluten Free. Dairy Free. Soy Free. Made with organic vegetables, quinoa & walnuts. No GMOs.

Turning the box on its side, I found more. 0g Trans Fat. No added MSG. No Preservatives. Vegan. All this plus the now familiar Nutrition Facts and allergy disclaimers.

I finished up my lunch, was enjoying a slim can of Perrier, and I got to thinking. There is a lot of data on that package. I counted up 11 food related terms / product verifications and 12 ingredients.

There is no doubt in my mind that every statement on that package is honest and accurate. And since I had a little extra time yesterday, I went back and checked the items I added to enhance my lunch. Here is what I found.

The avocado comes from Mexico. Period. I always choose California when I have the option, but that’s only because I’m a native and believe in supporting your own. Mexican avocados taste just as good. The BBQ sauce is USDA organic. The tomatoes are hydroponic and imported from Canada. Fresh greenhouse vegetables / légumes de serre frais in environmentally friendly packing. No comparison with a heirloom seasonal summer tomato ripened on the vine but with the advantage of year round availability. My whole grain bread is doubly certified both USDA and Northeastern Organic Farming Association organic. And it’s local.

Note to self. Checking out labels takes a lot more time than preparing the sandwich. Add second note. It’s better for your health to cook than to check labels.

The last thing I checked was sodium. My rough estimate for the patty plus BBQ sauce plus bread is about 900mg. To my palate, it all tasted pretty good, but it might be on the high side for sodium sensitive people.

So is it all healthy? Of course it’s healthy for most people, but I could have told you that before checking all those labels. How can you go wrong with avocado and whole grains?

Tags: , , , , , , ,

It’s illegal to label my green salad healthy!

mesclum mix | gourmet-metrics

mesclum mix | gourmet-metrics

 

Like pornography, healthy food might be tough to define but you know it when you see it. Now a simple green salad should be the picture of healthy. Right? But since healthy means different things in different contexts, defining healthy gets confusing at times.

Take the green salad I am serving tonight. The choice of greens always depends on availability so some mesclun from my local greenmarket will serve as the base. A handful on each plate, a few tomato pieces (still not seasonal I admit), some thinly sliced scallion, and for the final touch, a tablespoon or two home crafted vinaigrette made with a fine California Arbequina, some sherry vinegar, and salt. Delicious? Yes. Healthy? Of course. Who would say no?

Those rich dark greens and shades of almost purple are the colors of healthy.

Not boring or austere thanks to good oil, salt, and pristine greens. Not too much sodium. Nutrition points for dark green vegetables. Expensive, local, fresh, and natural. Organic? Now that one I am not completely sure about. The mesclun is probably organic. But tomatoes and scallions? Just not sure.

And the vinaigrette is not unprocessed. Grinding olives to olive oil is complex, but the oil is unfiltered with shades of green in the sunlight and was pressed within the last 6 months so I am am going to say “good” processed. As far as the salt and the vinegar, those two products are complex too.

Looking at the nutrition numbers, the fatty acid ratio is excellent. Well above the ratio recommended by the Healthy Eating Index. This ration is a calculation used by nutritionist nerds like me to evaluate the quality of the fat for clients who want to reduce dietary saturated fat.

My plate of salad counts for about 180 calories out of my usual dinner of 700 to 800 calories.

So far so good. Eating salads before the meal makes good nutrition sense for two reasons. First it is nutrient dense. And second, salads fill you up so you are less likely to devour the main course.

But think about this scenario. And until the FDA finalizes nutrition guidelines for restaurant menu labeling, we won’t know for sure. As an off the shelf product, my salad could not be labeled healthy. Sodium is okay, but there is too much fat and too much saturated fat. What that means is that if the restrictive labeling criteria remain intact when the restaurant regulations are finalized, it would be technically illegal for a restaurant or deli take out to label my salad healthy. That’s what I mean about healthy meaning different things in different contexts.

I am still going to give it a healthy thumbs up.

How about you?

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Clams & Linguine

Fresh, local, and in season depends on where you live and what is accessible.  During the summer, I have easy access to clams because my local greenmarket is on the south shore of Long Island and offers a constant supply of fresh, local fish and shellfish.  All last summer I cooked flounder, bluefish, porgies, tuna, even a swordfish caught off Montauk Point.  And all last year I kept looking at those delicate Long Island little neck clams.  I never bought them because I’m just not used to clams.  Love to eat them and never cooked them.  So this year I decided to do it.  How else can you keep on learning if you don’t try new things?  I pulled out my best reference sources, put together a starting structure, and am ready to share the results.  Steaming little neck clams open is easy once you get the hang of it.  I used a 3 liter pot (actually the bottom of my steamer) as you can see in the picture below.  White wine or dry vermouth can be substituted for all or part of the water needed to steam the clams.  100 grams linguine gripped firmly in the hand measures about ¾ inches or 2 cm in diameter.  You will also need a medium sized sauté pan and a 2 liter saucepan to cook the pasta.  Proportions listed below are for 2 modest servings.

Linguine and Clam Sauce

makes 2 cups

cost $11

serves 2

440 calories per serving

RECIPE

2 dozen little neck clams (about 900g measured raw in shell), scrubbed and de-sanded as required

1 cup water (¼ liter) for steaming

4 robust cloves fresh garlic (25g), peeled and smashed

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (30ml)

⅛ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

½ teaspoon oregano

3 ½ ounces dry linguine (100g), made with 100% hard durum wheat or semolina flour

½ cup chopped parsley (15g)

Assemble all ingredients before starting.

Bring water to boil in the bottom of a large pot.  When the water is boiling, add the clams.  As the clams open, remove each one carefully to a bowl retaining every drop of the flavorful liquid.   Steaming the clams open takes about 5 minutes.  As soon as the shells are cool, remove clams from shells.  Keep clams in a small bowl and strain the remaining liquid to remove any remaining sand or grit.  Put aside keeping clams and juice separate.  As the clams are steaming, add olive oil to the sauté pan and slowly soften garlic over low heat.  Add crushed red pepper and oregano to garlic oil, letting the mixture steep for about five minutes.  Add reserved clam juice, increase heat, and reduce volume to about half.  Keep sauce warm.

Cook linguine al dente in salted water.  Remove with a pasta fork and transfer to the sauté pan.  Retain cooking water.  Stir in clams and parsley.  If more liquid is required, add some from the pasta cooking water.  Serve immediately.

METRICS

Clams are a significant source of protein as well as many essential vitamins and minerals.  Olive oil is a natural source of oleic acid.

Total fat exceeds “healthy” limits, but please remember to put this disclaimer in the context of the great fat debate.  Saturated fats are within “healthy” range.  Your may be asking where does the saturated fat come from?  It is the olive oil.  Rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, olive also contains a fraction (14%) saturated fatty acid so a couple tablespoons adds up.  Sodium is within the current standard of less than 480mg per serving and 140mg per 100 grams.   Now let’s step back a moment and consider carbohydrate metrics.    My favorite Italian recipe source, Le Reccette Regionali Italiane, lists 100 grams dry pasta per person.    My version reduces that amount by half to 50 grams per person.    My preference is less pasta and more clams.  But that’s the joy of cooking!  It is completely up to you.

References:  Le Riccette Regionali Italiane (La Cucina Italiana, Quart edizione: settembre 1976), Fish without a doubt, Rick Moonen (Houghton Mifflin Company 2008)

 

Pper Serving (255g):  440 Calories, Fat 17g, Saturated Fat  2.5g, Sodium  240mg, Carbohydrate  45g, Fiber 3g, Protein  25g.
Excellent  Source:  Protein, Vitamin A,  Vitamins B1,  B2, B3, B12, Vitamin C, Folate, Iron. 
Good Source: Vitamin B6, Vitamin E, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Zinc.  

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Salad Dressing

Salads are quicker to make when the dressing is handy, so I have always had a bottle of one of the respectable brand names waiting and ready to go. Then one day about a year ago, I read the label. No extra virgin olive oil! I checked other labels and discovered that most of the bottled dressings had no olive oil. Even the most expensive, most prestigious brands! The best I could find was a mention of extra virgin in the list of ingredients along with other oils. So I started experimenting and ended up with this superb dressing. It is significantly more expensive to make and somewhat more cumbersome to use, but the exceptionally fine flavors and clean taste of the vinaigrette for me at least are worth any extra effort and cost.

makes 14 fluid ounces (400g)

cost $12 per carafe

yield 28 tablespoons

90 calories per tablespoon

RECIPE

300 ml (1 ¼ cup) moderately priced extra virgin olive oil

100 ml (6 tablespoons, 2 teaspoons) sherry vinegar, at least 6% acidity

2 teaspoons flake style salt (5.6g )

freshly ground black pepper to taste

Make the vinaigrette in a standard glass 2 cup (500ml) measuring cup.  Measure out ingredients in the order listed.  Using the metric side of the cup simplifies the process, but standard cup, tablespoon, teaspoon equivalents are also listed.  Beat the mixture into a state of emulsification using a wire whisk and pour vinaigrette into a 14 fluid ounce (420ml) storage carafe with a pouring spout.

Like some cooks and some dietitians I know, olive oil and vinegar need encouragement to share the same plate.  There are two options:  an emulsifier or brute force.  This vinaigrette has no emulsifier and therefore requires a lot of agitation.  It is easy to make, but can be cumbersome to use.  Once made, the carafe of vinaigrette should be stored in the refrigerator.  Olive oil gets cloudy and starts to congeal at that temperature.  Bring the vinaigrette to room temperature and shake vigorously before pouring.

METRICS

How much dressing you use depends on the size and composition of the salad and of course on your personal preference.   For a small salad appetizer, 1 tablespoon or ½ serving is usually enough for me.  Extra virgin olive oil gets very expensive really fast.  This carafe was made with a moderately priced oil $16.99 per 500ml.  Sometimes I use an even more moderately priced oil $11.99 per 500ml and the carafe only costs me about $9.  Going even cheaper, say $15.99 per liter (34 oz), the cost drops to under $7.  Expensive extra virgin olive oils start about $21.99 per 500ml and goes exponentially up from there.

Salad greens and intensely colored raw vegetables are loaded with carotenoids and other fat soluble phytonutrients.  Full fat salad dressings increase absorption rate so any oil based dressing is preferably to fat free dressings.  Extra virgin olive oil is a natural source of both monounsaturated fat and polyphenols.  Research on the antioxidant effects of dietary polyphenols has been promising and the FDA actually permits a qualified health claim for monounsaturated fat from olive oil and reduced risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).

My vinaigrette has a good sodium profile.  The 2014 National Salt Reduction Initiative sodium target for salad dressing is 570mg per 100g and my homemade version has 560 mg per 100g.  For comparison sake, a commercial off the shelf brand can be as high as 1500mg per 100g or more ….

While the health arguments are comforting and provide rational justification, the real reason I continue to make my own comes down to it just tastes better!

 

Per Tablespoon (14g): Calories 90, Fat 10g, Saturated Fat  1.5g, Sodium  80mg, Carbohydrate  0g, Fiber  0g, Protein  0g.
A 2,000 calorie diet is used as the basis for general nutrition advice; however, individual calorie needs may vary.

Tags: , , , ,

Spinach with Currants & Walnuts

makes 2 cups

cost $6.00

serves 4

150 calories per serving

This complex richly flavored dish is best balanced against a simple braised protein like fish or served on its own as an appetizer.  A robust, loose leaf spinach works best, but sometimes this spinach can be hard to find.  I am lucky enough to have a local grocer who carries the real thing all year round.  And since I live in New York City, that means shipping spinach in from California or Texas when local product is not available.  Alternatives are bagged, pre-washed, or hydroponically grown spinach.  For me the taste and texture of the real thing are worth it, but it is a personal decision.  Waiting for local product would have reduced the cost, but what can I say.  I was impatient!

Spinach grows best in sandy soil and each leaf requires washing several times to remove any little pieces of grit that may have lodged in the crevices.  So spinach whether transported or grown locally can be time consuming.  My first encounter with the combination of spinach, nuts, and fruit was in Claudia Rodin’s wonderful book The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.  Her version calls for pine nuts but I use walnuts.  I always have a few walnuts on hand and I prefer the taste.

RECIPE

1 ⅓ pound spinach as purchased fresh and untrimmed (600g)

1 whole shallot (65g) peeled and chopped

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (15ml)

¼ teaspoon flake salt

4 tablespoons chopped walnuts (30g), about 6 walnuts as purchased in shell

2  tablespoons currants (30g)

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (15ml)

2 teaspoon first cold pressed olive oil (10ml)

Trim stems and roots from the spinach, wash thoroughly, chop into large pieces, and spin dry in a salad spinner.  Remove walnuts from shell and chop.  Refresh currants by covering with hot water and letting them soften for about 10 minutes.  Assemble other ingredients.

Sauté scallions in olive oil using a sauté pan that comes with a cover and is large enough to hold all the spinach.  When the shallots have softened and turned translucent, add balsamic vinegar and let most of it evaporate.  Then add the chopped walnuts, softened currants, and finally the spinach, pressing the spinach down into the pan.  Do not add any additional water.  Cover and leave over low heat until the spinach softens into a mass.  Incorporate the walnuts and currant evenly into the spinach and finish with remaining cold pressed olive oil.  Tastes as good at room temperature as it does served hot.

METRICS

The experts agree that spinach is a healthy food.  A dark green vegetable as per MyPyramid.   A source of essential micro-nutrients as per Nutrition Facts Label.  The experts however do not agree about fat.  Using olive oil in classic proportions will always exceed the austere requirement of 3 grams per serving* required by the FDA to label a preparation “healthy.”  The role of fat in the diet, especially unsaturated fats and oils, is becoming controversial and consensus has not been reached yet.

My friends and family take a liberalized approach to fats and olive oil and devour my spinach faster as I can wash the leaves with comments like “I can eat this all day!”  If good cooking is the art of creating food people love to eat, than smart cooking is using those skills to encourage people to eat healthy food.  So wouldn’t that mean that olive oil is serving a noble purpose?  But there I go again – me and my simplistic mind!

 

Per Serving  (114g):  Calories 150, Fat 11g, Saturated Fat 1.5g, Sodium 125mg, Carbohydrate 12g, Fiber 3g, Protein 4g.
Excellent source  vitamin A as beta-carotene, folate, magnesium.
Good source fiber, vitamin C, calcium, iron, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, vitamin E, potassium.
A 2,000 calorie diet is used as the basis for general nutrition advice; however, individual calorie needs may vary.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Green Split Pea Soup

October is the month to pull out the soup pot.  Mine is made of bonded stainless steel, holds about 3 quarts (3 liters), and has been on the shelf since spring.  October days in New York are cool, crisp, and can be spectacularly beautiful.  Except when it rains.  And sometimes it rains a lot.  Either way makes good soup weather.  Bean based soups are easy to make but time consuming because beans require soaking time.  Quicker and just as satisfying are lentil and split pea soup.  Today it is going to be green split peas.  October is a good month for roots, bulbs, and tubers and no split pea soup would be complete without carrot, onion, and potato.  Some recipes call for ham hocks, pancetta, or bacon.  These are delicious, but my recipe works with just vegetables.  A freshly chopped garnish at the end, aromatics added during the cooking, and the right amount of salt are my flavoring agents of choice.   Yes, I use salt and I am going to tell you why.  But first the recipe.

THE RECIPE

1 pound (450g) dry split peas, rinsed, drained

2 small or 1 large yellow onion (250g) peeled, chopped

2 medium or 1 really big carrot (170g) peeled, chopped

1 potato (160g) scrubbed, quartered, eyes removed, skin intact

4 cups (1 liter) low sodium chicken stock, brick pack is fine

4 – 6 cups  (1 – 1 ½ liter) additional water

2 teaspoons Kosher style flake salt (7g)

Aromatics – thyme, oregano, garlic (optional)

Garnish – fresh scallion, fresh parsley, freshly ground black pepper

Put split peas into the soup pot, add potato, carrot, onion, stock, and water.  Bring to boil, partially cover, and gently simmer over low heat for about an hour or until the peas are completely soft.   Add salt and aromatics about half way through the cooking process.  Pass the soup through food mill.  Alternatively, blend using an immersion blender or an old fashioned stainless steel egg beater.  Add more water for a thinner soup and adjust seasoning.  Garnish with fresh cilantro, parsley, scallions, and black pepper.

THE METRICS

makes about 12 cups (3 liters)   ●   total cost $5.00   ●   $1.70 per liter

portioning information   ●   150 calories per cup   ●   230 calories per bowl 

On to salt now.   Nothing is new about salt being controversial.  What is different this time around is the substance of debate.  Salt the mineral is tangible, visible, tactile, and real.  Sodium the element is elusive, conceptual, and measureable only by calculation or laboratory analysis.   Leaving aside the legitimate debate over health consequences of too much sodium, the measurement logistics are challenging.      

When the 2010 Dietary Guidelines are finally released later on this year, sodium recommendations will probably be set lower than under previous guidelines.  New York City formed a partnership at the beginning of 2010, the National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI), to guide a voluntary reduction of sodium levels in packaged and restaurant food by 2014.   Meanwhile, the restaurant and food industries continue the search for culinary salvation – a sodium free substitute  for salt.

As a cook, I love salt.  Powerful, robust, an exceptionally effective flavor enhancer, salt does the job.  Because of its strength, salt easily overwhelms other more delicate flavors so I have always used a light hand and treated salt with respect. 

Salt added in the proportions noted above meets current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) criteria for low sodium and falls below the proposed 2014 target set by the NSRI guidelines for soup.  In fact the amount could be increased to just under 2 ¾ teaspoons flaked Kosher style salt and still meet both standards.  Serious cooks know that salting to taste is more a matter of personal preference than a function of software analysis.   Those of us who salt intuitively may need to be more attentive to tracking our use.  As sodium comes under increased scrutiny, our approach to measurement may benefit from analysis.  More to come on salt and sodium …

 

Nutrition Facts per 1 cup serving*  (240g):  Calories 140, Fat 0g, Saturated Fat  0g, Trans Fat  0g, Cholesterol  0mg, Sodium  230mg, Carbohydrate  24g, Fiber  8g, Protein  10g.  Vitamin A 40%, Vitamin C 10%, Calcium 2%, Iron 8%.  Excellent Source:  vitamin A as beta-carotene, fiber.  Good Source protein, thiamine, folate.
*Serving sizes are reference amounts defined and regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).  A 2,000 calorie diet is used as the basis for general nutrition advice; however, individual calorie needs may vary.

Tags: , , , , , , ,