Thursday, October 30, 2014

Cold & Not So Cold Sesame Noodles

I have found a new love: cold sesame noodles.

I know this is a New York staple, but it’s new to me. I made it from a recipe I found in Diana Shaw’s wonderful cookbook The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook. It is a very simple recipe. I changed it a little bit (so all blame is mine).


  • 2 qt or larger saucepan
  • 1qt or larger bowl
  • microplane grater
  • tablespoon measure
  • fork or small whisk
  • colander or fine mesh strainer
  • small, heat resistant measuring cup


1 clove garlic, freshly grated
2 Tablespoons Ginger, peeled & freshly grated
1 Tablespoon Peanut butter
1 Tablespoon Tahini
1 Tablespoon Sesame oil
1 Tablespoon Soy sauce
1 Tablespoon Rice vinegar
1 Tablespoon roasted Sesame seeds
1 Scallion, finely sliced, well into the green
1 bundle (8oz) Sobo noodles
Salt to taste, although you shouldn’t need it.
¼ Cup cooked pasta water, you may only use 2 tablespoons


  1. Fill the saucepan ⅔rds full with water & set on high to boil.
  2. Grate the garlic into a bowl, then grate the ginger. Add peanut butter, tahini, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and soy sauce. Wisk together. Add sesame seeds and scallions.
  3. Cook sobo noodles as per the package directions.
    OR place noodles in the boiling water. Stir to keep noodles separated. When water returns to a rolling boil, reduce heat enough to keep noodles moving. Stand over the pot, because sobo noodles will boil over fast. “A watched pot never boils” does not apply to sobo noodles. Cook until the center is cooked but still firm. Remove about ¼ cup of the pasta water before you drain the pasta and set aside.
  4. Drain. Rinse in cold water so that the noodles do not stick together.
  5. Toss the noodles in the sauce. Add 2 tablespoons of the pasta water. You will need only enough pasta water to toss the pasta until it is evenly covered with sauce. Discard the rest of the pasta water.
  6. Refrigerate the pasta at least three hours or over night.

Delicious variation: Replace rice vinegar with fresh lime.

  • juice of ½ of a lime
  • zest of ½ lime

What do you do with the other half of the lime? A good reason to double the recipe.

Another variation that I love because I can’t always wait three hours: When the noodles are cooked perfectly, toss a whole lot of (a real measurement) broccoli. When the cooking water returns to a simmer, the broccoli is done. Drain broccoli & noodle mixture in a fine mesh strainer, but do not rinse. Toss in the sauce. Eat right away.

Note on ginger: a thumb sized piece of ginger will produce two tablespoons of grated ginger. Also, if you grate the garlic first, then the ginger, the micrograter will be easier to clean. (Follow that with the lime zest!)

Note on peanut butter: I have read that real New York sesame noodles uses regular – sugar added, hydrogenated oil – peanut butter. I only had the “natural” stuff and I prefer it. Try whatever peanut butter you have on hand.

Note on sesame oil: “Roasted” or “toasted” if you can find it.

Note on soy sauce: Ms. Shaw lists low sodium soy sauce in the recipe, but I don’t salt the noodle water so I find that regular soy sauce is fine.

Note on the pasta water: You want to add enough pasta water so that the sauce is lose enough to coat the noodles. The sauce will thicken as it cools. The extra pasta water helps to keep the noodles from sticking when cold.

Note on roasted sesame seeds: I found roasted sesame seeds in the Asian food aisle, much cheaper than regular sesame seeds in the spice aisle. If you can only find regular sesame seeds, roast them in a small frying pan (or the noodle sauce pan before you fill it with water) for five minutes on high heat, constantly moving the pan over the burner until you can smell the sesame and they turn light brown. If they turn black, you have gone too far.

    Use only one tablespoon to measure:
  1. Scoop the peanut butter
  2. Pour the tahini, sesame oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar (no need to measure the lime juice.)
  3. Pour the sesame seeds.
  4. By the time you scoop one or two tablespoons of pasta water, the spoon should nearly be clean.

Saturday, April 26, 2014


I was shopping for something for lunch. Something beans & greens. I wasn't in the mood for salad. There wasn't a salad dressing choice to choke down. The 'fat-free' dressings in their plastic packets were so full of chemicals and starches that I'd be afraid to pick them up, let alone eat them. There were sandwiches with big, fluffy bread or the 'dieter's choice' a wrap with more calories in the lard laden wheat tortilla then in the rest of the sandwich. Maybe a spinach salad with chick-peas and half a lemon for dressing? That's doable. A bag of spinach, a can of chick-peas, maybe some cherry tomatoes, a fresh lemon and I have lunch for a four days for the price of a sandwich.

While I was thinking chickpeas, I considered hummus, maybe with those little carrots. That is, until I saw the price of prepared hummus! You must be kidding. Hummus is super easy, super good for you and super cheap. So while I was still in the supermarket, I picked up a bag of dry chickpeas and a red pepper. I had garlic, olive oil, parsley, and salt at home.


Makes about two cups


1 C dried Chickpeas (garbanzo beans or ceci)
1   Red pepper
¼ C Olive oil
2 cloves Garlic, minced
2 Tbl Parsley (chopped if fresh)
1 tsp Salt


  • Medium bowl
  • Saucepan with lid
  • Timer
  • Tongs
  • Paper lunch bag
  • Cutting board
  • Knife
  • Microplane grater
  • Food processor with a small bowl attachment or
    a potato masher and a immersion blender.


  1. The night before: Place chickpeas in the small bowl and cover with water, to one inch over the top of the chickpeas.
  2. The next day: Drain & rinse chickpeas.
  3. Place in the medium saucepan & cover chickpeas with water, to an inch over the top of the chickpeas.
  4. Cook over high heat to bring to a boil.
  5. Cover. Turn off the heat. Allow to sit, covered, for one hour.
    1. While the chickpeas are cooking, prepare the red pepper
    2. Place the red pepper on a lit burner.
    3. Turn the pepper with the tongs, until all the skin of the pepper is blackened and blistered
    4. Place the blackened red pepper in the paper bag, fold the top shut.
    5. Let the red pepper steam in the bag for 15 minutes until the pepper is cool enough to handle.
    6. Remove the red pepper from the bag and remove the blackened skin by hand. You can run the pepper under a small stream of warm water to remove skin, but don't worry about the very small flecks that you can't remove.
    7. Core and stem the red pepper. Roughly chop it. Set aside.
  6. Peel & grate garlic.
  7. After an hour, check the chickpeas. They should be softened but not mushy.
  8. Drain the chickpeas, reserving the cooking water. Rinse in cold water.
  9. Process the chickpeas in a food processor until smooth, or mash with a potato masher.
  10. Grate the garlic on the microplane grater or mince garlic.
  11. Add garlic & red pepper.
  12. Process in a food processor or use an immersion blender to puree until smooth.
  13. Slowly add olive oil, until smooth. Add the cooking liquid if the hummus isn't smooth enough for you. Use the rest of the cooled cooking water for your plants.
  14. Add parsley and mix until just combined.

Note on the the chickpeas: You can boil them for an hour, two if you didn't soak them over night. Just remember to skim the foam off the top and don't let them boil over. My way uses less energy and cooks them perfectly.
You can also used canned chickpeas, but the hummus won't taste as good.

Note on the red pepper: If the idea of charring a pepper on your stovetop gives you the heebie-jeebies, don't worry. You can core and dice the pepper and microwave it.

Note on the salt: There is not a lot of salt in this. You can add more, but try it without additional salt first. Processed food has made us used to too much salt; fight the urge to make this potato chip salty.

Note on the olive oil: A quarter cup of olive oil! Yes. You can divide this up into four servings and have lunch ready most of the week. That is only about a tablespoon of olive oil per serving. If that is still too much, substitute more of the cooking water for the oil.

This recipe makes a lovely orange hued hummus with green flecks, but this is only the begining, use your imagination
Variations: Maybe a little lemmon will brighten it up. Some chopped spinich would add more greens to these beans. Onion? Other roasted vegetables? Finely chopped jalapinos? It is all worth exploring.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Maybe Not “Healthy”, But “Healthier”

I have a problem with breakfast. There are few healthy choices for breakfast, except oatmeal — and there are some mornings when I just can’t take oatmeal.

Spaghetti carbonara is not a breakfast dish. In fact, I have avoided spaghetti carbonara because it is pasta, eggs, heavy cream, butter, cheese, bacon or pancetta – otherwise a heart stopping concoction of carbs, fats, and cholesterol. I gave it a pass.

Then, Ruth Reichl happened. Ruth Reichl’s Spaghetti Carbonara recipe is delicious and wonderfully simple. No heavy cream. No butter. Only pasta, egg, a little cheese, some garlic and bacon. Oh, it is so good. Just bacon & egg. I can handle bacon and eggs. It isn’t a ‘healthy’ meal, but it has fewer carbs and less fat than two eggs over easy with bacon, hashbrowns & toast.

But still, there was something missing. Ruth Reichl is a bit coy with garlic; cooking it then removing it. If you are afraid of fat, she can offers to remove some of the bacon fat. I felt the recipe needed something more. It needs spinach!

I added spinach, kept the garlic & the bacon fat. Let’s face it, I gilded the lily. Now it is my Sunday brunch choice.

Spaghetti Carbonara with Spinach


1 serving a (dime sized bundle) dry, uncooked, Angel hair pasta
slice thick sliced, good quality, Bacon
1 clove Garlic
1   Egg
¼ lb. (¼ 1lb. frozen bag) Spinach
¼ C grated Parmesan cheese
    Salt, to taste
    fresh, ground Pepper, to taste


  • 10-inch skillet
  • 2 quart saucepan
  • Knife
  • Cutting board
  • Microplane grater
  • Small bowl
  • Fork
  • Tongs
  • 2 tablespoon measuring spoon
  • Heat-proof cup
  • Spider, strainer or colander
  • Small rubber spatula;
  • Trivet


  1. Fill 2qt saucepan ⅔ full with water. Heat on high.
  2. Place 10" skillet on high heat.
  3. Cut bacon into ¼-inch slices (lardon), immediately place in heated skillet. Turn down heat to med.
  4. While the water is heating and the bacon is browning, peel and grate garlic.
  5. Break the egg in the small bowl. Discard eggshell. Use the fork to whisk the egg.
  6. Add parmesan cheese to the egg. Set on the table.
  7. Set trivet & small spatula on the table. Make sure salt & pepper are on the table too.
  8. Have the spinach measured and ready to cook.
  9. When water comes to a boil, place pasta into the boiling water and give it a stir.
  10. The bacon should be browned and crisp. Add grated garlic. Allow to cook for only 30 seconds. It should be ivory colored; if it gets any darker the garlic will burn and become bitter.
  11. Immediately add the spinach to the pan, on top of the bacon and garlic. This will stop the garlic from burning. Turn the heat up to medium high.
  12. Check the pasta. Give it a stir.
  13. Turn the spinach/bacon mixture in the pan. Use some of the larger spinach bits to deglaze the bottom of the skillet.
  14. By the time the pasta is cooked (one of the few times I say to cook to al dente) the spinach/bacon mixture should be heated through. Lift the pasta out of the pasta water with a spider and place in the skillet. Use the tongs to mix.
    OR If you are using a strainer or colander: drain pasta, reserving at least a ¼ cup of pasta water. Add pasta to skillet and mix.
  15. Add between 2 tablespoons and ¼ cup of pasta water to the pasta/spinach/bacon mixture. Enough to make it slightly watery. Toss while in the pan to mix the pasta with the spinach.
  16. Remove from heat and place on trivet on the table. Immediately add egg/cheese mixture, using rubber spatula and fork to mix egg in with pasta, bacon and spinach.
  17. Taste and add salt to taste
  18. Sprinkle with fresh, ground pepper just before serving.

Generous single serving (because everyone else seems to be squeamish about eating garlic on Sunday morning). This recipe can be easily doubled.

I serve the carbonara in the skillet, placing the skillet on a trivet on the table. If you are making more than one serving, bring the skillet to the table and add the egg/cheese mixture with a flourish! Showmanship will only add to the taste.

Have everything ready ahead of time and the cooking will run like clockwork. It takes about the same time to heat the skillet as it takes to cut the bacon into lardons. The bacon takes about the same time to cook as the water takes to boil. Once the garlic hits the pan, you have only half a minute to add the spinach if you don’t want the garlic to burn. The spinach takes about the same time to heat through as the pasta takes to cook.

Note on spinach: I use the frozen, chopped spinach in the bag. It doesn’t have to be cleaned. It doesn’t have to be chopped. It doesn’t have to be squeezed or drained. I have used fresh, bagged baby spinach greens, but I prefer the frozen, chopped.

Note on bacon: One and half slices? Well, one is too little. It doesn’t deliver the taste. You can go to two slices, especially if you cannot find a good quality, thick sliced bacon. Any more makes the bacon overwhelming.

Note on the egg: Some people are wary of eating raw egg. If the egg mixture is added just as the pasta/spinach is removed from the heat, the egg will cook and thicken the sauce. Watch the pasta water in the bottom of the skillet; if it has small bubbles when you remove it from the heat, the temperature will be at least 212°F (100°C) which is enough to cook the egg. If you are still not sure – or your immune system is compromised – you can add the egg while the skillet is still over the heat; then toss and remove it to the table.

Note on the pasta water: The added pasta water makes a silky sauce. Without the pasta water or adding the egg while over the heat can curdle the egg, so that you end up with scrambled egg instead of a silky sauce. It’s not a major disaster and still tastes delicious. See my Pasta Rant for more on cooking pasta.

Note on salt: I don’t salt the pasta water. The bacon and the parmesan cheese add salt. Taste it after the egg is added to see if it needs salt. (Also, the unsalted pasta water is great on your plants once it cools.)

Note on pepper: Don’t skimp at the end. This dish needs fresh ground pepper.

Okay, I admit, while the bacon & egg & pasta have remained the same, I keep on adding more garlic and spinach. I’m up to two cloves of garlic per serving, which definitely makes this an apres church dish.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Get Up & Get Out!

Forget about your New Year's resolutions, they probably crumbled by Valentine's Day. Think spring. There should be vernal equinox resolutions, because spring is the time to get out and about. You are not fighting a blizzard, slip sliding away to get to you where you want to go. You are not sweating under the summer sun being reduced to a puddle after five minutes of exercise. The January crowds are gone from the gym and the running paths aren't rush hour congested. The parks are empty and the clothes are cute.

Now is the time to move. Eating greens & beans will only get you so far. To be healthy you have to move. Get your body in gear. Here is what no one will tell you about diet & exercise: they reinforce each other! After an early morning walk, it is easier to forego the doughnut that will spike your blood sugar at nine and crash you at eleven. After a week of good, healthy eating, you will find yourself pricing sports bras. (And if you fellows need a sports bra, brah, then you should have started eating healthy a wee bit earlier.) As your energy increases, you will need exercise to release it.

But what do you do? You've tried exercise and hated it. I say do what you enjoy. Walking? Biking? Gym work? Tennis? It doesn't matter. Do it if you like it. Like the rule that says eat it only if it tastes good, the corollary is choose an exercise that you like. You don't have to swear to get up at 4:45AM to be out of the house by 5AM to get a three mile walk in before work (although, having done that, it is really cool - drink one glass of water before you begin). Instead just tell someone else to do the dinner dishes and begin with an evening walk around the block. You don't' have to jog, but you can walk.

This week just plan it out. Is your gym membership still active? Is there one piece of equipment that you've always been curious about? How does that elliptical thingy work? If you like it, cool. If you don't, just move on. Promise yourself 15 minutes, then you can go home. Just enough to decide if you need a Stairmaster or will the stairs at work do.

Did you play tennis in high school? Where is your tennis racquet? Where is the nearest tennis court? What jazz dance does the park district offer? Do your bike tires need air? Driving home tonight, can you use your odometer to plot out a three mile course - that is one league, about three miles or what you can walk in an hour - a mile and a half out and a mile and a half back. Half a league, half a league onward!

Do you like birding? Bring a pair of binoculars. If you are a suburbanite, just walking makes you suspicious you might a well add binoculars.

I am not asking you to change your life, I am saying that you should do one thing this week that you will enjoy. That might just change your life. See you out on the bike path!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Packed Up With Protein

A recent article in Eating Well magazine it is suggested that you eat thirty grams of protein per meal. My opinion: THAT IS INSANE!

Shaun Dreisbach blithely writes in his article “Feed Your Strength” that thirty grams of protein per meal is “equal to a three-egg omelet with ½ cup hard cheese”. Per meal? Twenty-one meals per week? That is 5.25 DOZEN eggs per weeks with another 5.25 POUNDS of cheese per week. I doubt if you would survive the first week.

He cites a study by Susan Kundrat from the University of Wisconsin for this recommendation. A quick search shows that the recommendation was for athletes in a structured program to increase lean muscle strength. The recommendation is for 20 to 30 grams, in supplement form, three to four hours during the day. Even at that level, you would have to be very careful of how much additional protein would stress your kidneys.

Dreisbach, Shaun; “Feed Your Strength” Eating Well, Volume XII, Number 2, April 2013; pp. 25

Kundrat, Susan; “Packing Protein”, Training and Conditioning;; September 2012

Friday, March 15, 2013

Pasta Rant

I was going to save my pasta rant for a few weeks down the line, but the February [2014] "Pasta" edition of Bon Appetite forced my hand. Don’t get me wrong, there are wonderful recipes, but I hoping you keep the pasta component to less than a third of the plate. Among the recipes was the sidebar "Four Steps to Pasta Paradiso".

    Here is what they suggest:
  • The more water, the better.
  • Don’t skimp on the salt.
  • Cook "to the tooth".
  • Put the Pasta water to work

To which I reply: Hogwash! Hogwash! Hogwash! Good idea.

The four steps were from an interview with restaurant chef in New York. Now, I’m not going to name the chef because I hold no grudge against the chef. These rules are common culinary school wisdom, but sometimes there is no wisdom in common. It does illustrate the difference between restaurant / food service and home cooking; what you learn in culinary school is not always applicable in the kitchen. What you watch on testosterone laden chefs on food programing is to your mind what T.V. dinners are to your body.

First - Use enough water to keep the pasta moving

The article recommends six quarts per pound of pasta. You can get by on half that. You only need enough water to keep the water boiling and the pasta moving. Use less energy by heating less water.

Six quarts of water is twelve pounds – because a pint’s a pound the world around. Twelve pounds of boiling water, plus the pound of pasta, plus the weight of the pot, makes an awkward and dangerous trip across the kitchen from the stove to the sink.It takes a lot of energy and time to boil six quarts of water.

Six quarts makes sense in a restaurant where the pot is always on the boil and the pasta water is reused. Restaurants also use those quarter pot strainers, so they are not picking up a pot of boiling water to walk it across a crowded kitchen. They may add more water as the night wears on, but if they didn’t begin with a lot of water the pasta water would end up like wall paper paste at the end of service.

    For the home cook, filling a 3-quart pot three-quarters full should be enough to cook a pound of pasta.
  • Heat the water on high until you have a rolling boil, a lid on the pot while the water is heating will save energy and time.
  • When the water is boiling, put the pasta in.
  • Stir the pot to separate the pasta. Make sure you stir along the bottom to be sure no pasta sticks to the pot.
  • When the pasta returns to a boil, reduce the heat enough to keep the pasta moving but does not boil over.

It is important that the water is brought up to boil as soon as possible and remains at a boil. If pasta is cooked at a simmer it will become gummy. It is the boiling temperature that firms up the pasta.

Some claim that the extra water keeps the pot from boiling over; I don’t find it to be true. That little ceramic disk you place in the pot, doesn't work, it will boil over. A tablespoon of olive oil in the water only makes a mess, it will still boil over. You just have to pay attention. You can do that for ten minutes.

Some pasta, like sobo noodles, are going to boil over as soon as you look away, no matter what you do. You have to watch them.

Some would have you put the lid on the pot – or partially covered - while the pasta is cooking. Don't do it. That is a sure way to have the pot boil over. You have to fiddle with the heat so much that the pasta will be cooked before you find the heat to cook it. Once the pasta goes in, leave the lid off so that you can give it the occasional stir and check its progress.

Second - Watch your salt

The article suggests one quarter cup of salt per six quarts of water per pound of pasta. That is too much, far too much. I will go even further, I am a renegade on salt – sometimes I don’t even salt the pasta water! Dum-dum-dah!

    Here are my quick and easy guidelines:
  • Lightly dressed pasta (such as olive oil, garlic & broccoli), or pasta that you put the sauce on top (such as spaghetti sauce) or large pastas (such as mostaccioli, which you should never make because it never cooks right and should be dammed to bad banquets) should be cooked in salted water. One or two tablespoons of salt should be more than enough.
  • Pastas that are going to be cooked further (such as noodles in casseroles or mac & cheese) can be cooked without salt. Pastas that are going into a pan sauce should never be salted, it throws off the taste of the sauce.

Now before I get all the Italian nonna’s coming after me with their upraised wooden spoons, there is good reasoning behind this. Pasta, like potatoes, are a salt sink; it sucks up all the salt around it. It makes whatever you put it in taste less salty. It cannot do this if it is loaded with salt. If you make a beautiful pan sauce, you don’t want ruin it with over salted pasta. I find it remarkable that the same cooks that lecture on using unsalted butter allow over-salted pasta.

Another reason is that plants LOVE pasta water. Do not salt the pasta water you use on plants - you kill your plants. If your houseplant soil is dry and hard, add cooled pasta water. There is a certain circle-of-life thingy to feeding your basil plant pasta water.

    Three caveats, for using pasta water on plants:
  1. Again, salted water will kill your plants.
  2. Hot pasta water will also kill your plants. Let it cool.
  3. If you leave it in the too long in the watering can – say about three days – it begins to smell like old socks. The plants will love it but you will wonder where you left your gym bag.

Third - Al dente is overrated

Someday I am going to catch this Al and pull his dentes out. Frankly, I am tired of crunching through the pasta special.

"Waiter, this pasta is undercooked."

"It is served 'al dente'."

"This is served 'undercooked'. I just chipped a tooth."

Let me explain al dente. Fresh, homemade pasta cooks in the blink of an eye. If you let it go even a few seconds too long and it is mush. You have to cook fresh pasta al dente, otherwise it is not pasta, it is paste.

The hard, durum wheat pasta you get out of a box is more forgiving. You have a few minutes between a crunchy center and mush. The time it takes pasta to cook depends upon the size of the pasta, the hardness of the wheat, the hardness of the water, if the water maintains a boil, and how long the box stayed on the shelf.

Let’s say that the recommended cooking time for the pasta is ten minutes. It may actually be less or it may be more. The first six minutes or so the pasta is sticky with a crunchy center. Then then pasta gets gummy, but the center is still hard. The pasta then firms up. A minute or two later the pasta softens. Keep cooking and the pasta turns to mush.

There is only one way to check pasta, bite into it. Do not toss it against the wall to see if it sticks. Do not take it into your hand to twist it. Do not run it under cold water. None of these work and they only make a mess. Remove one piece and bite into it. It should be firm all the way through. If the outside is gummy or the center is crunchy, spit it out and check again in a minute or two. If the outside is firm but the center is chewy (not hard), this is 'al dente'; drain the pasta to be cooked further in a casserole or pan sauce because at this point, the pasta will still absorb sauce. If the outside is softening, but the center is still firm, drain and lightly dress; at this point the sauce will not be absorbed much, so top the pasta with sauce at the table. If let the pasta goes too long and is mush, throw it out; you can't save it..

Fourth - Put the pasta water to work

Let’s talk about draining the pasta. If the pasta is going into a casserole, use a heat-proof measuring cup to remove some pasta water and set it aside before you drain the pasta. Use a colander. If you have more prep to do on the casserole before you can add the pasta, rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. If it sits for a minutes it will be fine. For anything thee minutes, use butter or olive oil to keep the pasta from sticking together.

If the pasta is going from the pasta water to a cooking pan sauce in the skillet next to it, use a spider, slotted spoon or mesh strainer to lift the pasta out of the pasta water to the skillet. Use the pasta water as need to loosen the sauce as needed.

If the pasta is lightly dressed, place the pasta bowl in the sink. (What, you don’t have a pasta bowl? Get one.) Place the colander in the bowl. Drain the pasta, using the water to heat the bowl. Save some of the pasta water in a heat-proof measuring cup to loosen the sauce, as needed.

And finally - We have already talked about using the cooled pasta water for your plants. If you have been following along, the big, lovely pot of pasta water sitting on the stove should be unsalted. All the salted pasta water went down the drain. Taste it before you feed it to your plants, just to be sure, and that whole circle-of-life thingy will work for you.

Let's put it all together

  1. Use enough water to keep the pasta moving.
  2. Use salt sparingly, or not at all, according to what you cook.
  3. Cook the pasta according to how it is going to be served. Cook al dente if it is going to be cooked further.
  4. Pasta water is a wonderous thing. Set some aside to loosen up dry sauces. Save the unsalted water to cool and use on your houseplants.

Pasta is easy. Comedy is hard.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Greens & Beans

Would you rather eat a fresh spring roll or a rice cake? By now your new year’s resolutions to eat healthier may have hit the wall. Lose weight? Lower blood pressure? Hoping to get back on the tennis court this summer? But here it is March and you can’t face another rice cake.

I have a simple proposal: if it doesn’t taste good, don’t eat it. Eating healthy does not mean eating bland or gritty. It doesn’t mean spending big bucks on supplements because the food you eat is empty calories; even if they are few calories. You do don’t have to perform diet accountancy where you replace this thing here for that thing there. You don’t have to fill yourself with chemicals. You don’t have to live in perpetual food penance.

How about we eat healthy and well? Begin by eating your vegetables.

    Here are the guidelines, in order of volume:
  • Green leafy vegetables – Turnip greens, collards, kale, spinach, broccoli.
  • Vibrantly colored vegetables – Green peppers, red peppers, carrots, tomatoes.
  • Vegetables that make life worth living – Onions, garlic, mushrooms, celery.
  • Beans & legumes – lentils chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans.
  • Fruits
  • Starchy vegetables (whole grain when possible) – rice, oatmeal, pastas, potatoes, sobo noodles, corn tortillas.
  • Dairy (but not much)
  • Meats & poultry
  • Sweets (when fruits are not enough)

Now, let’s put it all together in a recipe.

Taco Loco

(Because it is crazy good)

1 lb. Ground turkey
1 clove Garlic, minced (or 1 tablespoon of garlic powder, not garlic salt)
2 Tbl Ground cumin
2 Tbl Chili powder, more if needed
1   Onion, chopped
1   Green pepper, cored & chopped
1   Red pepper, cored & chopped
OR if you can find a package of red, orange and yellow peppers, then one half of each, cored & chopped
1 can (7oz.) Chipotle salsa
1 can (10oz.) Black beans, rinsed
1 can (10oz.) Diced tomato
1lb. pkg Frozen mustard greens, turnip greens and/or collard greens
OR ½lb bag of fresh kale
1 pkg (12) corn tortillas.


  • Cutting board
  • Knife
  • Wooden spoon
  • Dutch oven
  • Oven-proof dish
  • Can opener
  • Strainer
  • Tea towel


  1. In a dutch oven, over medium high heat, brown the ground turkey. With the spoon, chop it up into chunks the size of your thumbnail.
  2. While the turkey is browning, chop the onion and the peppers into dices the size of your thumbnail.
  3. When the turkey is no longer pink, reduce the heat to medium. Add garlic. Stir. Allow to cook for thirty seconds or until you can smell the garlic.
  4. Add the cumin and the chili powder. If you are using garlic powder, add it also. Stir.
  5. Place corn tortillas in an oven-proof dish, cover and heat in the oven. Heat for 10 to 15 minutes. Or cover and microwave for three minutes. Turn off the oven. (If heating less than a dozen, separate and place three on a plate, one tortilla thick. Microwave for one minute. Flip over and they are ready to use.)
  6. Add the chipotle salsa, black beans and the tomatoes.
  7. Heat through.
  8. Add the greens.
  9. If you are using frozen greens, cook until well heated. You may have to bring the heat up to medium high again.
  10. If you are using fresh kale, a half-pound will fill the dutch oven. Don’t worry, it will reduce. Cook until kale is wilted and reduces in volume, but do not overcook to the point where the kale becomes mushy. If it is dark green and you can still see the curl, it is good.
  11. Add more chili powder to taste. Be careful, the chipotle salsa will make it hot.
  12. Remove tortillas from the oven, cover with a clean tea towel.
  13. Place one spoonful of taco mixture in the lower half of the tortilla. Fold. Eat.

Makes four generous servings. Have extra tortillas.

Freezes well. I keep one serving containers for when I just don’t want to cook.

These tacos are good enough that you don’t need cheese or lettuce or sour cream or anything else that isn’t as healthy. Of course if you want them, go for it.

Note on turkey: This can be made with ground beef, but I think that the turkey tastes better as well as being healthier. Look for one pound frozen ground turkey roll in the freezer section. Make sure that it is thawed before you begin.

Note on tomatoes:You can use fresh tomatoes, but why? If you have home grown tomatoes, safe them for eating, not a meal where they are second playing second banana (Fried plantains may be good with this). Tomatoes are one of the few vegetables that I recommend using the canned version. Diced canned tomatoes have calcium citrate, which means the tomatoes won’t go mushy.

Note on black beans (also known as turtle beans): You can use one cup of dried beans that have soaked overnight then cooked for an hour until soft. It will certainly taste better, but not substantially better enough to add all that work.

Note on the chipotle salsa: It is in the Mexican food aisle. It is a small can, but it packs a wallop. When you open the can, it looks like tomato sauce. It is worth looking for, I have tried other hot sauces and none of them work as well. This is something you will want to stock up on. If you absolutely cannot find it, take a can of chipotle peppers and run them through a blender until smooth. It is good but it will burn your insides. Pick out the chipotle pepper seeds to make it a little less hot.

Note on greens: Non-traditional, but oh, so good. I first made this with mustard greens – loved it! Again, you can use the fresh greens, but why? Rinse, rinse again, cut? Don’t bother if you can find them in the frozen food section. They are probably fresher there anyway. I found bagged, fresh kale that is already cleaned and cut, much easier.

Note on corn tortillas: I shouldn’t have to tell you not to use wheat tortillas. I have been warning against them every chance that I get. They are made with lard. They can be as much as three hundred calories each. All those people who think that eating a wrap is healthier than a sandwich would be much better off with fluffy bread than a wheat tortilla. Also, the combination of black beans and corn tortilla give you complete amino acids, so you don’t even need the turkey.

Vegetarian variation: Substitute a large can of chickpeas, rinsed, for the turkey. You don’t have to brown them, just heat them through with two tablespoons of olive oil. Mash them with the back of a spoon or a potato masher. Don’t mash them too much, you don’t want a puree, you want chunks – yes – the size of your thumbnail.