Posts Tagged ‘Low-carb’

Low-Carb Gumbo, and Further Notes on Cauliflower Rice

Whenever I write about Louisiana food, I find myself eager to convey something of the spirit of the place,  and part of the spirit is that there aren’t really many culinary rules. Louisiana cooks are famously adaptable. I have been sternly informed, by people who didn’t grow up there, of various rules such as:

“ NEVER use file’ powder and okra in the same gumbo. It’s one or the other.” Except that it’s actually rather common to use some of each, depending on what else is in the gumbo.

“NEVER use garlic powder.” Except that Louisiana cooks commonly use both fresh and powdered garlic together, getting different flavor facets of the same seasoning.

“NEVER make a roux with butter. It isn’t authentic .” Except that I never knew a Louisiana cook who used anything else.   Cooks who liked really dark black roux might use vegetable oil, but that was not all that common.

“NEVER put anything but butter and black pepper in barbecued shrimp. It isn’t authentic.”  Except that I never knew a Cajun cook who could resist tampering, and everybody has his or her own recipe with a lot of ingredients that aren’t necessarily known to science.

And so on. So let’s forget all that. In the Louisiana that I knew and loved, the only thing that really mattered was whether food tasted good and pleased and nourished people.

With that in mind, I’m going to urge you to get a good Louisiana cookbook if you want to make gumbo,   and then if you want to bristle about authenticity, you can argue with that author and not with me.  Anything by John Besh is good. (Yes, I know about the sex scandal, but it doesn’t alter the fact that the guy could really, really cook.)  Lagasse’s “Louisiana Real and Rustic” is great. And if you really want to go in for the cooking that I grew up with, get an old copy of “River Road Recipes” or “Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen.” And remember that in Louisiana, gumbo is a wonderfully flexible vehicle for using all kinds of meats. If you don’t have shrimp, don’t use shrimp. If you don’t have andouille and tasso, use something else. You can make it work and end up with something wonderfully warming and tasty.   Remember that this started as the dish of backwoods  hunter-gatherers, and wild game of most kinds fits into it really nicely. And if someone happens to give you some alligator or possum  meat, well, you have found a good vehicle for it.

In the spirit of the wonderfully flexible Cajun omnivory, what I am going to talk about here is the fact that I like to keep my diet very low in carbohydrates, but I still want gumbo.  So I adapt. The meats, vegetables, broth, and seasonings are no problem. So the two areas of carbohydrate that you have to look at are the roux and the rice.

To make a low-carb roux,  I think that the best results come from Trim Healthy Mama baking mix,  which is available on Amazon.  It’s a combination of many different low-carb baking ingredients and they work well together in this context. It’s expensive but you don’t use much.   It won’t thicken the gumbo as much as a roux made with flour, but you can easily compensate for that with a little extra okra or file’. I like to make the roux in the oven if I don’t have time to devote exclusively to watching it, because it is easy and pretty foolproof.  Heat the oven to 350, in a small dish thoroughly combine 8 tablespoons of butter and 8 tablespoons of the baking mix, and put it in the oven. Total time will be about an hour and a half or a little less. In the beginning, you don’t have to stir very often, and toward the end you have to take it out and stir it thoroughly and frequently.  How dark to make a roux  is a matter of personal taste, and they vary from almost blonde to almost black.

This is a blonde roux. Way too bland for me.

This is more like it.

And here, where some of the floury particles are very dark brown but the whole roux does not yet taste at all burnt, is where I like it. But you can keep going if you prefer.

You can hold the roux in the refrigerator or freeze it until ready to proceed. You will be combining it with a sautéed vegetable mixture called the mirepoix and adding broth, seasonings, and meat.  When it comes to seasoning, remember that most Louisiana cooks have a bottle of Paul Prudhomme seafood seasoning tucked away somewhere, and it is awfully good in gumbo. Mine was based on ham and shrimp because that’s what I had left over from other meals. It was thickened with okra.

Finally, to serve it, you need rice to soak up all the highly seasoned deliciousness.  Cauliflower rice is better than you think it’s going to be as long as you keep one thing in mind: while a cauliflower seems solid, it is mostly liquid. That liquid is your enemy when it comes to getting a decent texture. You have to get it out of there. If you use frozen riced cauliflower, thaw it completely, and then squeeze and wring it in a dish towel. You will be quite surprised how much clear watery liquid comes out.  If you are dealing with fresh riced cauliflower, salt it rather heavily, let it sit for an hour, and then again squeeze and wring it in a clean dish towel. Really go at it and get all that fluid out. Then cook the cauliflower grains with a pat of butter, but no liquid, in a saucepan,  stirring frequently because it burns easily. And salt during the cooking  so that it cooks in, and you are likely to end up adding more salt than you think because cauliflower is pretty bland and absorbs a lot of salt, but taste along the way so that you don’t overdo it, especially if you disgorged the liquid with salt.   I use only the butter and salt as seasoning because my gumbo is already highly seasoned and very spicy. You will need to keep sampling as you cook to get the texture  right. Personally I don’t want it to crunch like a vegetable, but I stop cooking as soon as it is soft and doesn’t crunch so that it doesn’t get mushy.  I grew up among some of the best rice cooks in the world, and no, this does not taste like really good rice, but I also don’t care to gain lost weight back and have diabetes. So this is a small price to pay.

Also bear in mind that while rice swells in the cooking process, cauliflower shrinks. To make sure of generous portions, I recommend having 8 ounces of riced cauliflower per person to start with, maybe even more.  In the Louisiana fashion, you can always put the leftovers into something else.  Pile a cone of cauli rice lavishly in the bowl, pour gumbo all over it but leave the top of the pile sticking out, and eat. Yum yum yum.

Low Carb Colcannon

image

A few decades ago when I owned a sheep farm, I grew a lot of potatoes and made a lot of colcannon in the winter. This old Irish dish combines smashed boiled potatoes with milk and cream, and incorporates other vegetables according to your fancy. Onion and cabbage are traditional favorites, herbs and greens are common, and others are possible.

These days I want low-carb vegetable dishes, but I still want my easy accommodating colcannon and I have a ton of green garlic and green onions around, so I started there. I write a lot about green garlic and green onions because they are so easy to grow and have available for earliest spring, so chock-full of allacin and various antioxidants, and so very tasty. If you grow no other vegetable, put some small organic onions and at least a few dozen garlic cloves in among your ornamentals in fall (as long as you don’t use pesticides,) and next spring you will have these sweet and delicious vegetables to work with.

image

I started with six big green onions, a dozen stalks of green garlic, a head of cauliflower, half a head of cabbage, and butter and cream.

First, cut the florets off the cauliflower and put them in the steamer for half an hour. They need that much steaming time to be soft and smashable. I use my old couscousierre to steam veggies because I like to look at it, and incidental pleasures are half the fun of cooking.

image

Wash the green alliums and trim off any yellowing or dry-looking leaf tips. On a large cutting board, slice the washed and trimmed green onions and green garlic into quarter inch cross-section slices.

imageHeat a large skillet over medium heat, put in about 3 tablespoons of good butter, and sauté the greens over medium heat, adding some salt and stirring frequently, until thoroughly cooked, soft, and sweet. Meanwhile, slice the cabbage into very fine slices, discarding any thick ribby pieces. When the green alliums are cooked, scrape them into a bowl, return the skillet to the heat, add another good-sized knob of butter, and put in the cabbage shreds. Cook them over medium heat with some salt, stirring frequently, until very thoroughly cooked and sweet. This takes a while, and you need to keep an eye on the time and open your steamer when the cauliflower has cooked for 30 minutes.

image

When the cabbage is cooked, put in the steamed florets and start smashing them with the back of a big wooden spoon. When thoroughly smashed, add half a cup of heavy cream and the cooked green garlic and taste the mixture for salt, correcting to taste. Cook over low heat for another half hour, stirring occasionally, to let the flavors amalgamate. Stir in a generous amount of freshly ground pepper and serve.

image

This is the fun part. Serving possibilities are endless. I pan fried some lardons of mild bacon to top it off and put a small steak on the side. It’s so filling that I didn’t eat more than a bite or two of the steak, so now I have leftover steak to plan another meal around.

Unlike potato colcannon, which can get gummy if reheated, the cauliflower version is even better when left over. You can top it with sautéed greens, or a fried or poached egg, or both. A bit of mild cheese could be grated in or gratineed on top, or this could accompany a roasted chicken. It is a wonderful basis for meals in mixed omnivorous-vegetarian crowds, because the vegetarians will find it satisfying on its own or with an egg and the omnivores can have meat on top or alongside and will probably not eat much meat because it isn’t needed.

I do think it’s wise to respect the essentially sweet and delicate nature of this dish, and keep seasoning simple. If you take your time with the sautéing, and use butter, the cabbage and green alliums develop wonderful depth of flavor. Heavy cream is essential in my opinion, and it has a lovely sweet flavor of its own. I also think a key step is to add some salt during the sautéing process so that it cooks into the vegetables well. Just not too much. This all takes some time, about an hour from bringing the green alliums in from the garden to finished colcannon, so there is no point in making smaller quantities. It will get eaten.

 

 

 

Low Carb Easy: The Clay Pot Bake

image

When I’m having special friends over for dinner and want to have plenty of time for serious conversation, my favorite weapon is a 14″ Spanish cazuela that I got at a Spanish import store many years ago. Any large clay baking pan would do just as well. The idea is to be able to roast chicken and vegetables together in chosen seasonings and have a veggie-rich low-carb meal come out of one pan without a lot of fuss, and be able to bring the baking dish straight to the table fairly attractively. Dark meat of chicken is ideal for a “mixed bake,” and if you don’t grow your own, get the best pastured chicken that you can lay hands on.

Decide on your seasonings. One of my favorites is a loose paste of a few cloves of garlic, about half a cup of oil-cured black olives, a little salt ( half a teaspoon or so, since the olives are pretty salty,) a sprig of rosemary chopped, the juice of half a lemon, and enough olive oil to form a runny paste in the food processor. Work this paste over eight pieces of chicken thighs and legs and set them in the refrigerator overnight.

Then choose your vegetables. A head of cauliflower cut into florets is top of the list for me because it takes up the seasonings so beautifully. Leave out all the stemmy center, which is a nice break for your backyard goat. I always add a cup of thickly sliced celery and a lemon sliced thin, peel and all. You can put in 7-8 chopped stalks of green garlic at this time, or if you already have some cooked green garlic in the refrigerator, it can go in later with the chicken. Have your veggies prepped in a bag in the refrigerator.

image

About forty-five minutes before you want to serve, preheat your oven to 425. Spread the lemon slices in the bottom of the dish and put the other veggies on top. Sprinkle lightly with salt but for the most part they will be seasoned by the chicken. Stick in the oven and roast about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, enjoy some wine and nuts or other nibble with your company. Pull the pan out and arrange the chicken on top of the veggies skin side up. If you like (and I do,) you can also add several stalks’ worth of green garlic at this time before putting in the chicken if you have green garlic waiting, pre-sautéed, in the refrigerator. Glop any remaining seasoning paste on top and pour in about half a cup of rich chicken broth to prevent burning.  Return to the oven and roast until the chicken is done, put the pan on a trivet on the table, provide a large serving spoon and a pepper mill, and eat. That’s all there is to it.

image

I find the softened, slightly caramelized lemon truly delicious and include a bit of it in each bite, but dubious guests can shove it to the side of their plate if they prefer and still get the flavor. I only suggest doing this with organic lemons.

Even people who don’t usually eat low-carb will find this a satisfying meal, but you can provide some toasted sourdough bread if you want to make sure.

Berries or dark chocolate or both make a good finish.

Kitchen staples: the pantry (and freezer) of the low-carb home

image
There are ingredients and seasonings that I have to have on hand at all times or I get nervous. With them, I’m ready to make a meal out of whatever foodstuff comes to hand. All such lists are intensely personal and idiosyncratic and I make no claims for universality, just usefulness. Due to my very low-carb eating, staples like pasta and flour aren’t on the list for me.

1. Really good fresh olive oil. Olive oil oxidizes fairly rapidly and, in my opinion, should not ever be used if more than a year old. Rather than take chances on freshness, I belong to the Fresh Pressed Olive Oil club; every three months they ship you three (or more if you choose) bottles of olive oil guaranteed to have been harvested and produced within the last 3 months; sourcing from the Southern Hemisphere as well as more traditional source areas makes this possible. I have belonged for years and hope they go on as long as I live and cook. A wide range of olive varieties and oil styles is represented. Pour it over cooked vegetables, dress salads, drizzle it on meat dishes, use as a base for a sauté of veggies. The Cretans and Ikarians thrive on it and so can we. I also keep oil-cured olives around at all times for their meaty umami belt in mixed greens.
2. Red Boat fish sauce. This is not only the best fish sauce available for Asian cooking, but pinch-hits very nicely for Italian colatura (garum.) A dash in vinaigrette gives a wonderful savor.
3. Dried mushrooms. I keep dried shitake, maitake, and porcini on hand at all times, and others at times as the mood takes me. With them, I am always prepared to add texture and flavor to cooked veggies, give a fitting garnish to a good piece of meat by soaking and sautéing them, or make a really good soup on short notice. I am ketogenic and don’t use flour, bread crumbs, or any other starch product, so I intend to try grinding them to powder and using them to “bread” and fry chicken, but that’s still on my to-do list.
4. Eggs. The best eggs I can get. Most of the time I have eggs from my own chickens, and in midwinter when my hens take a rest, I buy from a local co-op. Beyond the obvious omelet, frittata, and scramble, a fried egg is a wonderful way to make vegetables into a complete meal, and egg yolks are a wonderful velvety thickener for sauces.
5. Grass-fed butter. Grass-fed because it’s better for the cows and the planet as well as for me. Butter because there is nothing like it for improving flavor.
6. Coconut milk, which in my book is a joint pantry item with Hand brand Thai curry pastes. On days when I am short of time, energy, and verve, I can pick up some fresh fish or thaw a couple of pastured chicken thighs, soak and slice a few shiitakes, and pull together a healthy meal in under twenty minutes.
7. Freezer item: Wild-caught Alaskan salmon. I pay whatever I have to pay to get good fish, and I always buy Alaskan because their fisheries are well managed. The fillets are thin and thaw rapidly when I haven’t thought ahead about dinner. After a workday that ran later and harder than I expected, I’ve been known to take a frozen fillet still in its vacuum seal into the hot tub with me. Fifteen minutes later, I feel rejuvenated and the salmon is ready to cook.
8. Freezer item: homemade broth from grassfed beef and pastured chickens. I have written at length elsewhere about homemade broth. I really feel that nothing else will do as much to instill food thriftiness and improve your soups and sauces.
9. Nuts of various kinds. Almonds and Macadamias always, others here and there. Because they taste good and you can run for hours on a handful of them if you need to and they add flavor and crunch and specialness to all kinds of dishes.

10. Freezer item: blanched and chopped greens. Mine are a mixture of whatever was fresh and vibrant in the garden and field on any given day. If I had no garden and didn’t forage, I would use mixtures of spinach, chard, and Tuscan kale, and blanch and chop them and vacuum-seal before freezing. I find that I eat a lot more greens if I have them available in a handy form, and can make horta or whatever in a matter of  ten minutes rather than having a more prolonged process to go through.

11. Good red wine. Because life contains joy and is worth celebrating.

12. Very dark chocolate. Because see #11.
image
image

The Eggplant Chronicles IV

DSCN0199
Summer vegetables are at their peak now, and in my home most of our meals are based on them. This one makes a great lunch or light dinner. I used to wrap this mixture into a pita as shown above but now that I am low-carb I just pile it on a little plate, drizzle with the sauce, and eat it. I like it warm, but it is also very tasty served at room temperature. It can be made ahead, and keeps a few days in the refrigerator. Oil-cured black olives are used to add a meaty savor to eggplant and zucchini, and capers add an herbal note. This meal is vegetarian, and can be made vegan if you alter the sauce recipe a little. You can use all eggplant or all zucchini if that’s what you have, although I think that the mixture is best.

Eggplant and Zucchini with Olives and Capers

2 small or one large eggplant, fresh and firm
2 small zucchini
12-20 oil-cured black olives depending on your taste for them (no other kind of olive will do here)
3 tablespoons salted capers, rinsed and then soaked in cold water for an hour and squeezed dry
1/4 cup good olive oil
2 large or 3 medium cloves garlic
chopped parsley to taste, probably a couple of tablespoons
Cut the eggplant in cubes 1/2 inch or a little larger on a side. Whether you peel it first is up to you. The finished dish has a more tender texture if the eggplant is peeled, but has less fiber and fewer antioxidants, so take your pick. Personally, I leave the peel on for this dish as long as the eggplants are young and tender. Cut the zucchini in quarters and slice each quarter into segments on the small side of 1/2 inch. Toss the vegetable cubes together in a bowl with 2 teaspoons of salt and let sit at least 1 hour, tossing occasionally. This step is important for this dish and shouldn’t be shortened. Don’t worry about the quantity of salt; if you do the squeezing step well, most of it will be removed with the liquid. You can soak the capers at the same time. Pit the olives and chop them coarsely, and chop the garlic finely. At the end of an hour, drain off exuded liquid and squeeze the veggie chunks in a clean kitchen towel, a few handfuls at a time, until as much liquid as possible has been squeezed out. Squeeze the capers dry and chop them coarsely. In a clay cazuela or 10″ skillet, heat a few tablespoons of the olive oil and add the garlic. Cook until opaque and cooked but do not allow it to start to brown even a little. Now add the olives, capers, and veggie chunks, toss to coat with the oil, and cook over low heat for about an hour, tossing occasionally and making sure it doesn’t burn on the bottom. Add a little water if needed to prevent burning.
Texture is very important. Start tasting a little after 45 minutes or even 30 if it looks like it’s cooking quickly. When the zucchini is just tender but not mushy, and the eggplant is melting in texture, it’s done. Also check for salt, but the seasonings are salty and you are unlikely to need any. Stir in the parsley just before serving. Serve with the sauce below.

Lemon-garlic sauce
This sauce is like an aioli but looser and less rich. The egg yolk just binds it and thickens it a little. If you leave out the egg yolk the whole dish is vegan, and the flavor is less rich but still very good. The texture of the vegan version will be liquid, not thick, and it will need to be stirred up by each diner before taking any.
1 egg yolk
1 large clove garlic
juice of half a lemon
1 Jalapeno pepper, seeds and veins removed unless you are a heat freak
olive oil as needed, usually about 1/4 cup.
salt to taste
1-2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
In a small food processor, chop the garlic clove and the chile pepper. I always mince fresh chiles before putting them in the processor to make sure that big chunks don’t startle diners. Add the egg yolk and lemon juice, process briefly, and slowly drip in the olive oil until it’s as thick as you want. I like it to be liquid and spoonable, but velvety. Taste and salt as needed. Add the thyme leaves and stir in. For the vegan version, proceed the same way except leave out the egg yolk, and be aware that it won’t thicken in the same way but will be more like a vinaigrette.
This dish is suitable for a low carb diet. All veggies have some carbs but not enough to worry about.
As far as portions, I think this quantity only serves two, maybe even just one on a hungry day. Daintier eaters might get three or four portions.

Clove Currants

image

The native clove currant, Ribies odoratum, grows beautifully in my area. It is sturdy, healthy, drought-tolerant, will tolerate some shade, suffers from no bugs or diseases, and is reasonably attractive, especially in spring when covered with thousands of tiny yellow flowers that have a soft pleasant scent. I haven’t found them growing wild in my area but I have a bush that was planted by birds; they grow that easily, and start to bear within three years.  I have several large bushes and would have planted more if not for one major disadvantage: I thought the fruit tasted awful.  The fruits, like most berries, are relatively low-carb for fruits and probably contain a good set of antioxidants, but eating things prescriptively rather than for pleasure is just not my style.

But sometimes plants just have to hang around my yard until I learn to use them well. This year, after living with clove currants for five years, I finally figured out (duh) that the fruits are not ready to eat when they turn black. Don’t grab those first black shiny fruits. Leave them on the bush for another couple of weeks. Taste every few days, and when they taste sweet and spicy (still very tart but with a balance of acid and sweetness) they’re ripe. The fruits actually get a little smaller as they ripen, and some will look a bit wrinkled. Don’t worry. Don’t use any that are dry and shriveled, but a little loss of turgor just intensifies the flavor.

I enjoy eating a handful in the garden when I make my morning rounds, but my favorite use for them is in cobbler. If you are low-carb, use my recipe for red, white, and blue cobbler, using clove currants alone or adding in some frozen wild blueberries to make up the fruit volume if you don’t have enough clove currants. Work the sweeteners into the fruit with your fingers, crushing the fruits a bit as you go. If you eat sugar and flour, just use your own favorite cobbler recipe. Be sure to grate a little fresh nutmeg into the fruit mixture to bring out the spiciness.
image
The fruit clings to the stems and often has a little wiry “tail” clinging to the blossom end which has to be removed, so harvesting them is a bit tedious. I wait until early evening and then sit comfortably under the bushes with a bowl, pulling off stems and tails as I go so that fruits that hit the bowl are ready to use. I eat a few along the way. The laborer is worthy of her hire, after all.

I’ve been thinking of other ways to use them, and I think that they might be good in sauces for meat and game. I can recall reading a British recipe for a blackberry sauce for venison, and along those lines I plan to try using clove currants for a sauce for roasted pork. But right now they are going into cobbler or disappearing straight down my greedy gullet.
image

I also have a couple of bushes of Golden currant, also known as wax currant, but they are slower to bear and I haven’t had enough fruit to experiment with yet. More on that later.

 

Fennel in the Garden and Kitchen; a Nose-to-Tail Herb

image
image
Fennel carries the true taste of summer. I love fennel and always have it around, and my favorite form, the only variety that I keep these days, is the subtly metallic bronze fennel. If you want fennel bulbs you will have to grow a bulbing type, but my interest is in other parts of the plant so the bronze suits all my purposes.
The first pleasure it offers is aesthetic: this is a lovely plant to have around. The color isn’t really bronze but a soft coppery-purple, and when hung with drops from a summer rain it is nothing short of breathtaking, in a quiet way. When dry, it is furry like a cat until the stalks form, and a little later the umbels of tiny yellow-green blooms look surprisingly pretty against the darker background. It would pass muster as a front yard edible in the most exacting neighborhood.
Second, it is beautifully aromatic. I brush my hand down a frond every time I pass it to inhale the anise-y scent.
Third, it’s delicious. I can’t understand why so few people eat their bronze fennel. I admit that my main use of it is to chew up a frond while weeding or doing other garden tasks. The resiny rush is succeeded by a taste of intense sweetness and herbal licorice. I realized years ago, when going through a Greek cookbook binge, that fennel and not dill is a primary seasoning herb for horta, the greens mixture that forms a part of so many Cretan meals and snacks. A generous handful of chopped fennel fronds, sautéed with other aromatics, gives the right flavor to a batch of greens mixture. Chopped fronds are also an essential part of fish marinades and rubs, in my view, and can be delicious on chicken. A little dab of herb salad, made from chopped bronze fennel and chives or garlic chives and dressed with a very good vinaigrette, is good as a seasoning garnish alongside fish or chicken. Chopped fennel fronds are lovely in mayonnaise to sit atop grilled salmon, or yo dress cold fish salad. When grilling fish, consider putting the larger stems of fennel across the grill to make aromatic smoke. I love a small handful of chopped fronds in salads. This is a nose-to-tail herb, since besides using the leaves and stalks you can collect the pollen if you have enough plants (fennel pollen is a common aromatic seasoning in Tuscany,) and the seeds can also be collected for culinary use. One cookbook writer said that she made an anise-flavored pesto from blanched bronze fennel fronds, and that sounds delicious too, although I haven’t tried it yet. On days when I’ve worked late in the garden and the late sunset finds me hot and dirty and with a poor appetite from the heat, I can throw together smoked salmon crostinis with fennel:

Cut a few diagonal slices off a good baguette or, if you are ketogenic, cut a few thin slices of ketogenic coconut bread. Toast them, spread with green mayo Or your own favorite tarragon-seasoned mayonnaise, put on one thick or two thin slices of smoked wild-caught sockeye salmon, smear with some mascarpone or creme fraiche, and top each with a couple of generous pinches of  chopped fennel. It takes five minutes, it’s cool and soothing, and yum.

image
Incidentally, I remember reading somewhere long ago that fennel stalks coated with tallow were burned to summon good witches, and mullein stalks were used the same way to summon bad witches, unless maybe it was the other way around. So if you want to try it, you’ll need to get straight which is which. But I can say from experience that a couple of dried fennel stalks tossed on a dying fire in the fall give a lovely aromatic end to the evening that doesn’t summon anything but contentment and sleep.
image