Sunday, April 13, 2014

Homemade Dukkah... and a Snack of Mandarins with Yogurt, Olive Oil, Sunflower Seeds & Dukkah

I loved the winter snacks post that Laura of The First Mess posted a couple months back. I thought her suggested combination of cara cara oranges with savory yogurt, olive oil, za'atar and pinenuts was inspired-- a little sweet, a little savory, perfect. I had some leftover dukkah that I made a couple of weeks ago to coat cubes of pumpkin before I roasted them, and thought it would go well with the mandarins I like to keep on hand.
mandarins with yogurt, olive oil, sunflower seeds & dukkah (pardon my retro, tea-stained countertop)
So this is my version, and it's a little out of season here. We're still getting a few Aussie mandarin oranges on the shelves, though they aren't as juicy as the ones we'll have a little later in the year. I used my favorite plain yogurt, and a local extra-virgin olive oil. I didn't have pinenuts on hand, so sunflower seeds were a good substitute, but any small nut or seed would do here.
Middle Eastern inspired snack, gluten-free and delicious
Hope you enjoy this tasty, Middle Eastern-style alternative to your typical mid-morning or mid-afternoon pick-me-up.

Madarins with Yogurt, Olive Oil, Sunflower Seeds, and Dukkah
serves 1

1 mandarin orange, peeled and separated into segments
1/4 cup yogurt (I used plain cow's milk yogurt)
1-2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil (good quality)
1 tablespoon shelled sunflower seeds
1/2 teaspoon dukkah (recipe below)

In a small bowl, arrange mandarin segments. Top with yogurt, olive oil, sunflower seeds, and dukkah. Serve immediately.

Dukkah
makes just over 1/4 cup

1/4 cup hazelnuts
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds (or 1 teaspoon ground cumin)
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
pinch of freshly ground sea salt

Pre-heat oven to 177C/ 350F. Roast the hazelnuts in a baking tray for about 10 minutes. Remove hazelnuts from the oven, and carefully rub them together (in your hands after they cool, or in a tea towel) so that the outer papery shell comes off-- discard the outer shell. Finely chop the hazelnuts.

Heat a medium sized skillet over medium heat, and toast the sesame seeds, coriander seeds, and cumin seeds for about 3-4 minutes, until they are beginning to brown and fragrant (be careful not to burn the sesame seeds). Remove from the skillet and crush/chop the seeds with a knife (I used the side of a large knife to crush the seeds, then chopped them more finely)... or use a mortar and pestle to grind them down to a coarse mixture.

Add the finely chopped hazelnuts, pepper, and salt to the toasted, crushed seed mixture, and blend well.

Store covered at room temperature or in the fridge for up to six weeks.

Serving tips: Dukkah is delicious sprinkled over roast meat (before or after roasting), coated over vegetables such as pumpkin before roasting, sprinkled over salads, or in savory-sweet dishes like the mandarin-yogurt snack above.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Southeast Asian Beef Lettuce Wraps

The hubs and I are still enjoying our eating plan that focuses on plenty of protein and vegetables, quality fats, and limited gluten and carbs. We both have more stable energy levels throughout the day, and it's been fun / challenging to create new lunch and dinner meals that don't include grains.

One of our favorite regional cuisines is southeast Asian, which influences a lot of the food options here in Australia. At the moment we're steering clear of grains, though, and it can be hard to find southeast Asian food without rice or rice noodles. Last weekend I thought I would try to recreate the delicious lettuce wraps I remembered from trips to P.F. Chang's with friends in high school. Now, P.F. Chang's is hardly as authentic as some of the food we can get in Sydney, but those chicken lettuce wraps of theirs were awesome!
southeast asian style beef lettuce wraps, flavorful & filling, paleo-friendly & gluten-free
We subbed lean ground beef for chicken, and mixed it up with mushrooms, onions, and some celery for crunch. For dipping sauces we used our favorite store-bought oyster sauce thinned out with some mirin, vinegar, and water, and we mixed up a simple spicy mustard to go with it. The chopped basil and mint, combined with the sauces drizzled on top, made for incredibly fresh and delicious beef lettuce wraps-- better than the P.F. Chang's version that I remember!  We made these a meal by serving them with steamed, thinly sliced green cabbage and radishes, tossed in a little toasted sesame oil and soy sauce with freshly ground pepper.
tasty beef lettuce wraps with steamed cabbage and radishes
We liked this meal so much we're repeating it tonight. Highly recommend trying these-- they're gluten-free, dairy-free, full of protein and vegetables, and, as we say in Oz, tasty as

Beef Lettuce Wraps
Serves 2 - 3 as a main dish

1 tablespoon oil (cooking olive oil)
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup finely diced mushrooms
1/4 cup finely sliced celery
500g (1 lb) ground beef (high quality, grass-fed preferred)
2 tablespoons soy sauce (divided use; make sure it's gluten-free if you're cooking g-f)
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon rice vinegar (divided use)
1/4 teaspoon chili pepper flakes
pinch of freshly ground pepper

To Serve: 

8 Romaine, butter, or iceburg lettuce leaves, washed and chilled

Oyster sauce:
oyster sauce
1/4 teaspoon mirin
1/4 teaspoon rice vinegar
1/2 to 1 teaspoon water
pinch of freshly ground pepper

Hot mustard sauce:
1 tablespoon mustard
1/4 teaspoon rice vinegar
1/8 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 to 1 teaspoon water

Herb mix:
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint 
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the oils and swirl to coat pan. Add the onion and cook for 3-4 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic and cook for 1 further minute. Add diced mushrooms, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, mirin, half of the rice vinegar, and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring to make sure it doesn't burn. Add ground beef, remaining tablespoon of soy sauce, remaining rice vinegar, chili flakes, and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until beef is cooked through, about 5-7 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish. 

Meanwhile, make the sauces. In a small serving dish, mix together all ingredients for the oyster sauce, adding enough water to make it a runny enough to spoon easily. In another small serving dish, mix together all ingredients for the hot mustard, adding enough water to make it runny enough to spoon easily.

To Serve: Arrange the beef mixture, lettuce leaves, serving sauces, and herb mix on a serving or dining table, and let guests help themselves to building their own lettuce wraps with accompanying garnishes.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Nutrition changes (Southern Spoon goes a little paleo)

Some big dietary changes going on in the Southern Spoon household the past couple of weeks that I wanted to share. Pour a cuppa tea, this post is a little longer than usual.

rocket salad with roasted eggplant, dukkah-crusted pumpkin,
grass-fed beef steak, and garlic, olive oil, tahini vinaigrette
If you read this blog, you know that I cook whole foods and work around a number of food intolerances: preservatives, artificial colors / flavors, peanuts (and lentils), and foods with high levels of the natural food chemical salycilates (tomatoes, for example, are out for the hubs, as is wine). Since moving from England to Australia in 2011 we have adopted what we presumed was a more healthy diet: making many more meals meatless, eating a wider variety of vegetables (produce is so much better here!), and being more active in the balmy weather.

However, despite those dietary changes, a massive reduction in stress levels, getting more sleep, and losing a little weight over the last two-and-a-half years, recent medical tests have revealed extremely high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. In an effort to ensure we're treating our bodies as best as possible, a doctor referred us to a nutritionist.

This nutritionist has planned a dietary approach with the goal of reducing inflammation in the body. Inflammation is believed by a number of medical and nutrition professionals to be a major cause of poor health (including heart disease), and it's not hard to trust that reducing inflammation through dietary and lifestyle changes is a good idea.

cauliflower crust pizza with chicken & veggies: delicious
On this nutritionist's plan, breakfast is the carb-iest meal of our day: carbs with a protein and a fat, preferably working in barley and soy milk (to up soluble fiber and help clean up bad cholesterol). Lunch and dinner should have a protein, a fat, and what the nutritionist calls *free foods*, basically low-carb vegetables (so excluding potatoes, grains, legumes). This diet is meant to keep insulin and blood sugar levels more level during the day, and thus help reduce inflammation.

This means our lunches and dinners are very similar to a paleo-style eating plan, emphasizing plenty of protein (mostly animal-based protein, since higher-protein plants like legumes and grains are to be avoided), vegetables and some fruit, and sources of fat from things like avocados, olive oil, even butter. The nutritionist didn't cut out dairy, and even recommended some cheese, yogurt, etc, so we're still eating some dairy.

salad with roasted tomatoes, eggplant,
dukkah-crusted pumpkin, & chorizo
We've been eating this way for two weeks. We both feel more energetic - physically and mentally - and I find that my blood sugar swings are hardly non-existent, whereas I used to rush home after work starving for dinner, even after having a big, veggie and grain-based lunch, and a granola bar snack. I feel full more quickly when eating increased levels of protein and fat (lots of eggs, yum!), but without feeling bloated. We're also trying to get out and move a little more: walking to the beach, running a few laps, doing more strength training.

It's been an adjustment to think of our typical dinner dishes without grains, legumes, or potatoes, but so far we've made it work, and everything tastes just as (if not more) delicious. I'll be interested to see what the medical tests reveal about cholesterol and blood pressure levels in three months after the next check-up, but mostly I'm interested in simply continuing to feel a little bit better, in mind and body.

From now on I'll be sharing some of the dishes we're enjoying on this eating plan: they'll be low-carb, usually grain- and legume-free, with an emphasis on quality protein and fat, and a variety of vegetables. The photos in this post are some of the meals we've enjoyed so far, recipes to come.

Hope you like these dishes too, and, of course, always communicate with a medical or nutrition professional before making big changes in your own diet. Happy Spring, all.