Posts Tagged ‘low glycemic index’

The Joys of Spring: Goumis


A few years ago I began a project to grow fruits that offered maximum antioxidants with minimum carbohydrates, in other words fruits very different from the swollen sugar-pops that fill the American grocery store. I had been reading with great interest about Goumi berries because genus Eleagnus thrives in my area with relatively little water. I planted three of them, and over the next two years they got a bit bigger but nothing much happened. Last year, their third year, they grew over 5 feet tall and one produced three tiny berries. Hardly an exciting outcome. But this year they have already earned their place; all three are covered with scads of small discreet blossoms and when the sun hits them, the scent that they throw all over my front yard is indescribable. It has the honeyed spicy sweetness that characterizes Russian olives in bloom, but without the grape Koolaid note. Utterly delicious. They are humming with bees, and I do wonder what Goumi honey would taste like.

The bush seldom tops six feet, and unlike their relatives the Russian olives and autumn olives, they are thornless.  They are nitrogen fixers and tolerate my poor alkaline soil, and are not demanding about water. I soak mine every two or three weeks and ignore them the rest of the time. They are not dangerously invasive like their cousins. I hope that later in the year I’ll be reporting on fruit production and quality. The berries have a high lycopene content and the seeds inside contain a quantity of omega-3 fatty acids.  But even if I had no interest in the fruit, they would be the stars of my early spring yard. Sometimes my message is a simple one: grow this plant, you’ll like it.

A Quick Summer Lunch, and more on fried grape leaves

Since writing about frying grape leaves crisp in the Crazy Salad post, I have become more and more interested in the range of flavors and textures produced by frying and toasting leaves. Grape leaves remain my favorites, because of the exquisite lemony-sorrel burst that follows the delicate crunch.
Before you try cooking your leaves, please read the part of the Crazy Salad post that deals with selection of leaves. The short version is : chew up a piece of leaf from the exact vine that you are thinking of cooking. If it chews easily, proceed. If you are left chewing what feels like a bit of wet paper between your teeth, rethink or find another vine. That fibrous quality will not go away when cooked in any fashion. I have liked the leaves of my wine grape vines best.
This is an easy and quick impromptu lunch or light dinner, vaguely Greek in its inspiration. Here I used a garnish of fried grape leaves and capers to add tang and herbaceous pizazz to a nice piece of black cod fillet. For each person eating, you need a 4-5 oz piece of Alaskan black cod fillet or salmon fillet, a handful of capers in salt, 5-6 fair-sized grape leaves, a clove of garlic, a small handful of lightly toasted pine nuts, a quarter of a lemon, salt, and 1-2 glugs of good olive oil.
Prep: Rinse the capers of loose salt, soak them in cold water for about 20 minutes, drain, and squeeze them dry one handful at a time. Rinse the grape leaves, shake them dry, snip the stem away, and stack them up for quick slicing. Slice them crosswise into strips about 1/4 inch wide. Salt the fish pieces, not too heavily because the capers will still be quite salty. Chop the garlic.
Cook: Heat a good nonstick skillet that can easily accommodate the fish pieces over medium heat. When it is hot, pour in 2 good glugs of olive oil. I would guess that this is about 2 tablespoons or a little less. Throw in one strip of grape leaf, and if it sizzles and changes color and crisps in several seconds but doesn’t burn, you are good to go. Otherwise, fiddle with the heat and try again. When the heat is right, toss in the grape leaf strips and stir-fry rapidly until they have all changed color and crisped and there are browned but not blackened spots. Scoop them out onto a paper towel to drain. Check crispness. Limp leaves will not give the right effect. Set them aside.
Wipe out the pan quickly, heat it again, put in the same amount of olive oil again, and add the chopped garlic and the capers. Sauté until the garlic is cooked but not browned at all and the capers have darkened a bit. You aren’t going for crisp this time because it would burn the garlic. When the garlic looks cooked, squeeze in the lemon juice and add the pine nuts. Cook a couple of minutes more and pour out into a bowl.
Reheat the pan, add a touch more olive oil, and put the fish fillets in skinless side down and cook over medium-high heat until they color an attractive gold in spots. Now turn skin side down and cook to your preferred degree of doneness. Personally, I like salmon medium-rare but black cod cooked until it flakes. Plate the fish, put the caper mixture over the top of each, and finally top with lavish drifts of fried grape leaves.
This is a good healthy dish for ketogenic and low-carb dieters and Paleo dieters, as well as for everyone else.

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

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.

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.

Kitchen staples: granola with chia seeds

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Kitchen experimentation is a lot of fun, but early in the morning on a busy workday I don’t feel very experimental. I want something comfortable and familiar, quick to prepare, healthy, and tasty. Oh yes, and I also want it to keep me feeling good all morning, not just give me a sugar rush to get me out the door.

       My homemade granola fits the bill perfectly. It offers whole grains, fruit, nuts, lots of fiber and antioxidants, and good flavor. If you eat it with yogurt, as I do, you get a good dose of healthy bacteria too. One easy kitchen job every 3-4 weeks keeps two people supplied with good breakfasts, plus an occasional handful out of the jar as a snack.

     I use agave nectar as the sweetener due to its low glycemic index and good flavor. I used to use vegetable oil but now use a light-flavored olive oil. This is a great vehicle for chia seeds, too. If you’ve read Christopher McDougle’s interesting new book Born to Run, you know about how the Tarahumara tribe uses chia seeds as an energy source. Personally, I won’t eat anything just because it’s good for me; it also has to taste good. In this recipe, chia seeds taste good.

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