Happy Wellness Wednesday everybody! In science, seeing the same experimental result three times gives you confidence that the phenomena is real. This is my third Wellness Wednesday post (click here and here for my previous two). I guess I can say, with statistical confidence and a p-value less than 0.05, that this feature is here to stay.
I am enjoying the process of photographing my kitchen creations, and writing up protocols…er….recipes after the fact. I have always loved cooking, but blogging about cooking makes me think about the process in a totally novel way. If anybody out there tries out one of my creations and enjoys it (or hates it!) please let me know. I, as always, would welcome feedback.
I try to post instructions for making nutritious dinners that come together quickly. I’ve also been making a point to give proportions that yield a single serving. The most common complaint I overhear is: “I’d be in the kitchen all of the time, but it is IMPOSSIBLE to cook for one.” I am here to tell you that this is simply not true. It MIGHT be impossible to make a single serving wedding cake. However, if you have a calculator, a set of measuring cups, and just a little creativity you can whip yourself up all sorts of delightful dishes in no time flat.
Sometimes it’s overwhelming to decide just WHAT you want to make for dinner. You open your fridge and see all of these…ingredients staring back at you, with no clear path as to how they will become food.
There’s no magic in the transformation, the key to successfully serving up healthy meals for one is to think about the critical components that go into the dish. For me, a balanced dinner has four star-players:
1) Something carbohydrate-y (this could be potatoes, whole grains, lentils, starchy root vegetables like turnips, winter squashes etc..)
2) Something vegetable-y (oh the ENDLESS possibilities, I love veggies and have to give another shout-out to my AWESOME C.S.A., SkyRoot farm, for providing me with a bounteous box of produce weekly).
3) Something protein-y (I usually opt for seafood or poultry, because those are what I grew up eating and those are what I like).
A meal featuring all of these fantastic four macronutrients is sure to be healthful and satisfying. Breaking down a meal into it’s individual component parts makes the overall cooking process seem less overwhelming. Now that we’ve gathered our thoughts, and girded our loins lets hit the kitchen and whip up something wonderful! We will be having steamed fish with dill-fennel chimichurri, boiled kale, and teff. This splendid supper took me about thirty minutes to prepare. I wish I could share the meal itself with you, my gentle readers, but I ate it all and internet technology hasn’t developed taste-o-vision yet. Let me offer you the next best thing: a recipe and some photos of all of the action.
First, let’s talk about carbs. For this meal I opted to get some whole grains with a serving of Teff. If you’ve ever eaten Ethiopian food, the flatbread (injera) that accompanies your meal is made out of Teff flour. Teff is considered to be an “ancient” grain because, unlike modern rice and corn, it has not undergone heavy selective breeding for big poofy kernels.
Even though Teff is tiny, it packs quite a nutritional wallop: a serving of Teff has the same amount of calcium as a serving of cooked spinach, and it is high in insoluble fiber. I like Teff because it has a pleasant, nutty flavor, and takes on an interesting porridge-like texture when cooked. Teff cooks pretty quickly (roughly 20 minutes), and can absorb three times its volume in water! I started my super-seeds simmering on low and then proceeded to prepare the rest of my dinner.
Let’s move on to vegetables. I wanted the fish to be the star of the show, so I decided on a simple preparation of kale.
I de-ribbed the leaves, roughly chopped my roughage, and threw it in a pot over low heat with some salt, pepper, chicken broth, and nutmeg (I told you about the nutmeg trick, right?)
For the protein portion of my delicious dinner I opted for fish.
Cooking fish can be intimidating, because dry, overcooked fish tastes about as delicious as corrugated cardboard. The absolute easiest-never-fail-method to masterfully cook marine life is to steam it. Steaming fish gives you training wheels: the gentle heat and moist environment make it darned-near impossible for your fresh filet to dry out. Adding herbs and wine to the steamer basket subtly infuses whatever’s cooking in there with flavor. Try it: you’ll look like a genius. For tonight’s dinner I made steamed fish with a chopped chimichurri-style sauce. This really is two separate techniques: the steaming and the sauce. Both sound very fancy, but are, in reality, extremely easy.
You will need a filet of fish, a big bunch of fresh herbs, some garlic, salt and pepper, high quality olive-oil, a splash of dry white wine, and a good attitude. I happened to use Dover Sole, fennel greens, fresh dill, and Sancere because that is what I had in my house. Always remember that cooking is like Jazz: highly amenable to interpretation, and improvisation! I think you could use any combination of herbs and seafood that you like and this dish would still turn out delicious. Salmon and basil would take you to Italy. Cilantro and oregano could send you south of the border. Whatever you choose, if you have fresh, good quality ingredients going in, it will taste good coming out. Let’s get our steamer set up. First salt and pepper one side of your piece of fish.
Next, set your steamer basket into a large pot. Add about an inch of water to the bottom.
Lay a generous bunch of herbs in your steamer basket (not all of them, you’ll need some for the sauce)
Lay your fish on top of the bed of herbs, seasoned-side down. Salt and pepper the other side, then pile more herbs on top.
Pour a generous glug of wine into the basket and over your fish.
Then pour a generous glug of wine into a wine glass, and sample some for yourself. You’ve been working hard, you deserve it.
Bring the water in the steamer to a low simmer. The fish will take approximately 5-7 minutes to steam. That gives you the perfect amount of time to make the sauce that goes with it!
It’s time to get saucy. Almost every culture has some variation of a sauce that is made up of garlic, herbs and oil. The French use lots of parsley to fashion pistou, the Italians add basil and pine-nuts in their pesto, latin cultures opt for cilantro to make chimmichurri. I didn’t have any of those things, so I’m not sure what this sauce is called, except for “delicious.” You might be saying: “wait, Sam, don’t you need a food processor to make pesto?” The answer is NO, chimmichurri was around for a long time before Cuisinarts were invented. You only need a big knife and a little bit of patience. You could make this in a food processor, and that appliance certainly helps when you’re cooking large volumes. But, my food processor is enormous has 6 individual parts to wash afterwards. Making a small batch of sauce the old-fashioned way saves time and clean up. Ready? Let’s begin. Grab a large clove of garlic.
Mince that clove of garlic.
Now here’s where the magic happens. Sprinkle roughly ⅛-¼ teaspoon of salt on top of your finely-chopped garlic.
Now keep chopping. The coarse-ness of the salt will start to turn the garlic into a paste.
Keep on chopping, and periodically mash your garlic paste with the flat side of your knife.
Keep going…turn on some music if you’re getting bored. Eventually your garlic should be nicely macerated:
Use the edge of your knife to collect the garlic and shape it into a nice little flavor-brick.
Now grab whatever herbs you have leftover from the fish, and put them on top of your garlic.
Can you guess where I’m going with this? Chop chop! I promise, all of this chopping will TOTALLY be worth it.
Keep chopping your herbs and garlic together, sporadically scraping everything into a pile until the herbs have formed a delicious green paste.
Now it’s time to get some healthy fat in on this action. Pour roughly a tablespoon of olive oil on top of your herbs.
Use your knife to chop and mix everything together. Congratulations! You just made pistou all by yourself! Give yourself a pat on the back!
OK- you’ve cooked your grains, you’ve boiled your veggies, you’ve made your sauce. Let’s put it all together.
Check on your fish. The flesh should be opaque, firm, and flake easily.
For an extra special garnish, put some raisins in a bowl with a splash of white wine and plump them in the microwave for 20 seconds.
Arrange your greens, grains, and fish on the plate. Spoon your sauce and the drunken raisins on top. Decide that the plate looks too monochromatic, and chop up a tomato to put on top of your teff (if you’re into tomatoes). Pour yourself another glass of wine. ENJOY