Cheese plates are always a hit, so why not expand the idea to include charcuterie? Charcuterie includes any meat — although usually pork — that has been cured, brined, salted, fermented, or smoked. All of these natural methods involve time and a great deal of skill. Typically, meats prepared in such traditional ways start out as being artisanally produced themselves, which is to say the meat comes from animals that were pastured/grass-fed/allowed to roam. Living a natural lifestyle means more flavorful meat that is also more nutritious. That fact that some charcuterie methods add their own layer of nutritional benefits is a bonus. (Fermented meat, like fermented dairy, is fantastically probiotic.) All natural preservation methods involve creating deeper, richer flavors.
Enter lomo ibérico de bellota, which is Spain’s reigning example of fine charcuterie. These cured hams (“lomo” means “loin” or “tenderloin”) come from Iberian black pigs that are allowed to freely snuff about in forests for their favorite foodstuff: acorns, or bellotas. The resulting thinly sliced hams are incredibly rich in flavor and hue. Just a few slices go a long way — you don’t need many on a plate to have a showstopping dish.
For this charcuterie plate, I opted to include figs to offset the savory meat and cheese. Other good possibilities include apples, pears, and plums. You don’t want an overly sweet fruit, and you probably want a creamy cheese rather than an aged one — again, it’s all about providing contrast. A creamy cheese like this American Morbier is a velvety complement to the assertive ham. The fact that figs provide a bit of crunchiness was ideal, too, since it’s also nice to have different textures on the plate.
Just be sure to have all of your elements at room temperature when serving — a straight-from-the-fridge chill can dim flavors. And if you can’t find lomo ibérico de bellota, opt for imported Italian prosciutto de Parma, Spanish chorizo, or Portuguese linguiça. All of those fall squarely in the “charcuterie” category and are incredibly delicious. Charcuterie is becoming ever-more popular in the U.S., too, so you might also find some artisanal charcuterie products at your local farmer’s markets. Don’t pass them by!
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Of the hearty greens — kale, chard, turnip greens, beet greens, collards — chard is probably my favorite. (Although kale chips and Ethiopian-spiced collards and cabbage rank up there, too.) Chard is softer and thinner than the other greens, so it cooks more quickly and winds up being similar to spinach … which is why I had the idea to make a three-ingredient version of creamed spinach with chard, Morbier cheese, and ghee. After all, cheese and ghee contain plenty of cream!
I opted for Morbier because its earthy, raw-milk nature makes it a perfect partner for chard’s savory character. Morbier is similar to Raclette and Comté, albeit trickier to find than those two. But Comté is widely available and would provide the same rich flavor and smooth texture. The residual water from having rinsed the chard combines with the cheese and ghee to create its own thick sauce — all you need to do is chop and stir! It’s like macaroni and cheese without the macaroni. Much better to focus on delicious cheese made with grass-fed milk.
Wash and whack dry a bunch of chard (no need to pat it dry). Trim away the bottom tough stem, then roughly chop leaves.
Melt a generous knob of ghee in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add chard and cooking, stirring often, for about 4 minutes or until chard has wilted. Stir in grated or slimly sliced Morbier cheese and toss gently to coat the chard as the cheese melts. It only takes a minute or two. When you have a velvety cream sauce, remove from heat and serve immediately.
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It isn’t much of a leap from a dip to a dressing — since dressing is more free-flowing, just add more liquid to a thick sauce until it’s pourable. Usually that means drizzling in more oil, vinegar, or citrus juice since most dressings contain oil and an acid, but you could also shake/blend enough water into the dip (or sauce) to make it thinner. In this case, I had made some roasted red pepper hummus that I later decided to turn into a dressing for a simple side salad of crisp Romaine, sweet blueberries, and the savory hummus. Not only did I wind up with a near-instant dressing, adding hummus to a salad gave me a whole new way to enjoy it. A leftover doesn’t seem like a leftover when it’s a whole new dish! (Not that there’s anything wrong with leftovers.)
So the next time you have a tasty dip or sauce in the fridge, make it into dressing. Or make this hummus and enjoy it as a dip the first day and salad dressing the next. So easy!
Makes about 2 cups (16 ounces) of hummus.
For the hummus:
1 red pepper
4 cloves garlic, chopped
15 oz. chickpeas, preferably in a BPA-free can
1 heaping spoon of tahini (about 1 T.)
Generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. cumin
Sea salt to taste
For the salad:
First, roast the pepper: place a piece of foil in a rimmed baking sheet and position it in the center of the middle oven rack, then place the whole pepper directly over the sheet. (The sheet will catch the drips; otherwise, you’ll have a messy oven to clean.) Roast for at least 20 minutes at 450F. The goal is for the skin to be blistered and blackening. When it is, remove the pepper and let it sit until it’s cool enough to handle, then peel away the skin and discard the stem and seeds.
While the pepper roasts, saute the garlic with a generous drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat for 3 minutes or just until the garlic is starting to turn golden brown. Transfer to food processor. Drain the chickpeas, catching the liquid in a bowl, and add the drained ‘peas to the processor. Add remaining ingredients, including roasted pepper. Process until smooth, trickling in the reserved bean juice (or water) if needed to make a smooth texture.
To make the hummus into dressing, keep adding water — or more extra-virgin olive oil or lemon juice — until the hummus has taken on a pourable consistency. (I suggest keeping some of the hummus as a dip and using some to make dressing so that you can enjoy it both ways.) Toss with Romaine and blueberries or whatever else strikes your fancy. Leftover hummus/dressing can be refrigerated for 5 days.
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One of the reasons grains make great cakes is that they’re starchy, and starchiness = stickiness. (And some grains — specifically wheat, rye, barley, and all their variants — also contain gluten, which is even stickier.) Obviously, you need a certain amount of stickiness for your batter to work. Eggs, of course, also hold things together thanks to their protein structure, but if you want light-textured cakes, they need a starchy/sticky factor along with the protein-binding eggs.
Enter legumes! Like grains, beans (and lentils and peas) also contain lots of starch. Indian cuisine takes masterful advantage of this fact by using various beans as flours and as soaked, blendable batters. Dosas, cheelas, idlis, and papadums are all delightful flatbreads based in part or in whole on legumes. It’s surprisingly easy to make your own one- or two-ingredient versions, especially if you have a high-powered blender like a Vitamix. As long as you think to put your legumes in a bowl of cool water the day before to let them thoroughly soak, you’ll have light-textured, almost puffy cakes in a matter of minutes. Fry them in ghee to enjoy an even more authentic flavor!
Mung Bean Cakes
Soak split mung beans (or any lentil, bean, or pea that’s been split; split legumes soak more thoroughly than their whole counterparts) in a bowl full of cold water overnight. You should have at least twice as much water as beans. If it’s a hot night, soak the beans in the refrigerator to avoid any chance of them accidentally fermenting. Drain the next day.
Place in a blender (preferably a high-speed blender), add a pinch of sea salt, and start blending with a glass of cold water at hand. Trickle the water into the beans, adding just enough to create a batter that is pourable but still thick.
In a large skillet, heat a knob of butter or ghee over medium heat until melted. Add the batter in 1/4 cupfuls, making three or four per batch (whatever best fits your skillet). Cook for about 3 minutes on each side, peeking underneath to see if it’s golden brown before carefully flipping. Remove cakes to a wire rack as they’re done, and add more butter/ghee to the skillet with each batch of cakes.
These cakes are delicious served with a sprinkling of curry powder and a dollop of whole-milk Greek yogurt, either on their own as a snack or as a side dish.
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Nachos are a great summer snack — they don’t require much more effort than layering corn chips, salsa, and cheese onto a baking sheet and popping them in the oven. If you’re feeling fancy, you can add some black beans and cooked chicken strips into the layers. Perfect for a backyard BBQ appetizer! And if you have a toaster oven, nachos become even more summer-friendly, because toaster ovens are so much more energy-efficient than standard-sized ovens (plus they put out less heat).
The last time I made nachos, I thought I’d experiment with adding a different kind of pepper: a peppadew. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m too wimpy to add jalapeños to my nachos (as a contact-wearer, I’ve had very bad experiences with jalapeños), but I do sometimes add canned green chiles. Since peppadews are sweet/hot, though, they give nachos an entirely new kind of kick.
Lots of olive bars in grocery stores nowadays stock peppadews, or you might find them near canned olives, brined artichokes, and/or jarred roasted peppers. They’re fun to have around when you want to enjoy a not-hot pepper with a firm texture and beautiful bright color. (Peppadews are red and yellow.) And they’re stuffable, too, if you ever want to serve them as individual appetizers instead of slicing them to use as garnish. So many possibilities!
Nachos with Peppadew Peppers
Serves as many as you like — these are ideas for toppings and meant to be eyeballed in terms of amounts.
Blue corn chips, preferably organic
Black beans, drained, preferably from a BPA-free can
Roasted/sauteed chicken, preferably free-range, cut into bite-sized pieces
Salsa of your choice
Shredded Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheeses, preferably made with milk from grass-fed cows
Peppadew peppers, drained and sliced
Arrange corn chips evenly over a parchment- or foil-covered baking sheet. Try not to overlap — the goal is for every chip to be topped with toppings, not tucked away underneath a neighboring chip.
Spoon beans, chicken, and salsa over the chips, then top with cheese and peppers. Heat in a 400F oven or toaster oven for 5 to 8 minutes or until cheese is melting. Serve immediately while the cheese is nice and gooey.
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I fancy myself a bit of an oil connoisseur — in fact, oils will be the focus of my next cookbook — and I don’t often run across oils that I’ve never seen before. Lately, though, I did come across a lush new unrefined oil, one that tastes incredibly buttery and rich: butternut squash oil. A company in New York called Stony Brook Wholehearted Foods makes a line of squash oils, all made from roasted squash seeds. Their oils include kabocha, pumpkin, butternut, acorn, and delicata. I’ve only gotten my hands on the butternut squash seed oil so far, but I’m sure the others are equally delicious.
Since most seed oils are primarily polyunsaturated oils, these squash seed oils shouldn’t be heated. (And store them in the fridge!) But that leaves lots of possibilities: in dressings, drizzled onto breads, tossed with freshly popped popcorn, used as a finishing garnish for already-cooked dishes, even drizzled onto ice cream. (Hey, we put nuts on ice cream. Why not nutty-tasting oil?) Using these no-cook oils in their proper settings allows their unique flavors to really shine. This salad is no exception — you’ll taste the rich butteriness of the oil overlaid with the sauteed eggplant and earthy lentils. If you can’t find butternut squash seed oil, opt for a high-quality olive oil.
Lentil & Eggplant Salad with Butternut Squash Oil
Serves 2. Recipe can easily be doubled or tripled.
1/2 cup brown lentils
2 medium beets, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 small unpeeled eggplant, ends removed, cut into 1/2″-thick slices
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. oregano
Drizzle of pomegranate molasses
Double handful of mixed greens
1 cup cooked chickpeas, drained
2 T. butternut squash seed oil OR extra-virgin olive oil
1 T. balsamic vinegar
Sea salt & freshly cracked pepper to taste
Bring 1 cup of water to a boil in a medium pot. Add lentils and reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until lentils have reached desired tenderness. Fill another medium pot halfway with water and bring to a boil, then add beets and reduce heat to medium. Simmer for 10 minutes uncovered or until beets have reached their desired tenderness. Drain lentils and beets in separate colanders. (That way, if you want to save any lentils or beets for later, you won’t have stained-purple lentils.)
Add a generous drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil to a large skillet. Stir in eggplant and cook over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes or until eggplant slices are beginning to soften and turn translucent. Add garlic, cumin, oregano, and the pomegranate molasses and continue to cook for another 2 to 3 minutes or until garlic is soft and fragrant. Remove from heat and stir in drained lentils and beets.
In a large bowl, toss together mixed greens, chickpeas, and the cooked veggies. Drizzle in the oil and vinegar and toss gently to combine, then salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately. The lettuce won’t do too well leftover, but the cooked veggies can be refrigerated for 4 days.
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The typical American breakfast consists of skim milk (which contains more sugar than whole milk does), orange juice (which is pretty much straight sugar), white toast (mostly sugar), and jam (ditto on the sugar). Or perhaps juice with sugary cereal, or sugary pancakes made with white flour and topped with maple syrup (or sometimes faux maple syrup, which is mostly corn syrup). Or fat-free yogurt with fruit in it, which contains more sugar than an equivalent amount of Coke. Point is, most people start off their day with a whopping dose of sugar, which results in a vending machine run by 9:30 a.m. What’s in the vending machine? Mostly sugary snacks. It’s a vicious cycle.
Time to start a new breakfast tradition! These savory mini-quiches consist of pastured eggs, wild salmon, goat cheese, and purple potatoes. The first three serve up satisfying anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats and plenty of protein; the latter is a complex carb and a great source of anthocyanin, which is the pigment that lends foods such a pretty purple/red hue and also happens to be a potent antioxidant. In other words, these quiches are darned tasty and nutritious, and since you can refrigerate them for a week, it only takes about 20 minutes of hands-on time to make a week’s worth of satisfying, non-sugary breakfasts that will get your day off to an ambitious start.
Crustless Smoked Salmon & Goat Cheese Mini-Quiches
Makes 12 mini-quiches.
1/2 lb. fingerling or redskin potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled, cut into ½” cubes
4 oz. smoked wild salmon, chopped
6 eggs, preferably from pastured hens
3/4 cup whole milk, preferably from grass-fed cows
2 oz. soft herbed goat cheese, crumbled
1 tsp. dill
1 T. capers, drained
Preheat oven to 375F. Line a muffin tin with 12 parchment cups and set aside.
Melt a generous knob of butter in medium-sized skillet over medium heat. Add potatoes and cook, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes or until the potatoes are turning golden. Transfer to a large bowl. Whisk in remaining ingredients, then scoop into the waiting muffin cups. Bake for 28 to 30 minutes or until tops are golden brown and puffy. Quiches can be refrigerated for a week.
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As far as desserts go, you can’t get much healthier than a raw dessert. The raw foods lifestyle is all about using 100% whole-food ingredients, minimally processed/prepared in delicious combinations. That means desserts principally comprised of nuts, coconut oil, fresh fruits, cacao (“cacao” typically refers to raw nibs/powder; “cocoa” products have typically been heated over 118F), avocados, and whatever else fits into the whole-foods/raw-foods category. Those kinds of ingredients won’t make your blood sugar levels spike — great news for diabetics, pre-diabetics, and anyone who does not wish to become a diabetic. That covers all of us.
Pretty much all you need to make raw desserts is a food processor, although if you want to achieve amazing silk-texture results for some of the pie fillings, you need a high-speed blender like a Vitamix. On the plus side, raw desserts aren’t cooked, which is a boon in the hot summer months.
For this not-quite-raw rendition of a coconut-milk-based Boston cream pie, I toasted the walnuts and rolled oats to create a crust with a slightly crunchy texture that’s more reminiscent of a standard baked pie crust than raw crusts are. (They’re pretty soft.) Toasted coconut definitely does not qualify as a raw ingredient; nor do rolled oats, which have been steamed to make them soft enough to roll out. I also used coconut milk, which is typically heated over the raw limit of 118F. But like raw desserts, I used entirely whole-food ingredients with a minimum of natural sweeteners (in the form of dates and bananas), and I didn’t bake the pie. You’ll only need to turn on the stove briefly to make this luxurious version of a Boston cream pie. Perfect for a hot summer night!
Coconut-Banana Cream Pie
Makes a 9″ pie.
For the crust:
1 cup walnut halves
1/2 cup rolled oats (be sure to use gluten-free oats if you’re making a gluten-free pie)
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
4 dates, pitted
2 T. coconut oil
For the pie filling:
2 ripe bananas
1 T. + 1/4 cup coconut oil, divided
1 tsp. vanilla
Pinch sea salt
15 oz. canned WHOLE coconut milk, unshaken and stored in a cool place (this will not work with light coconut milk!!)
Place the walnuts and oats in a large skillet over medium heat. Toast, shaking the pan occasionally, for 3 minutes. Add coconut flakes and continue to toast for another 2 minutes or until everything is fragrant and turning light brown. Immediately transfer to a food processor. Add dates and coconut oil and process until it starts to clump together. (Add another tablespoon of oil if it’s not clumping.) Press into a 9″ pie pan.
Slice the bananas into the same skillet you used for toasting and add one tablespoon of the coconut oil. Saute bananas over medium heat for about 3 minutes or until they’ve begun to caramelize, flipping them about halfway through. Transfer to food processor and add remaining 1/4 cup oil, vanilla, and salt.
Carefully open the can of coconut milk and scoop off JUST THE CREAM THAT HAS RISEN TO THE TOP.* It’s utterly important to use whole coconut milk that has been chilled — light coconut milk doesn’t contain enough cream, and warm whole coconut milk/well-shaken whole coconut milk will be homogeneously thinned out. Chilling whole coconut milk causes the cream to separate and rise to the top. You need to use the cream rather than the milk (which is the cream mixed with the coconut water) so that the pie filling will set when chilled. Add the cream to the processor and blend until the filling is smooth.
Pour filling into the crust and refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving to fully set the pie. Pie can be refrigerated for up to a week, although note that the cooked bananas will cause the pie to become faintly brownish-purple after a few hours. Don’t worry about that — it tastes just as delicious. You can always toast extra coconut flakes and scatter them on top as a covering garnish if you like.
* Refrigerate and save the coconut water that is beneath the cream for other uses, like adding to smoothies, using as cooking liquid for grains, or just flat-out drinking. It’s just as delicious as the cream!
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Single-skillet breakfasts are ideal: they’re piping hot, don’t take long to make, and leave you with an easy clean-up. This frittata-turned-scramble is all of those things, plus it has a decidedly Southwestern flair thanks to the peppers and cilantro. Letting it cook undisturbed for a few minutes lets a frittata-like crust to form on the bottom, too, which allows the sausage drippings to give the eggs more flavor. Why waste drippings? And flipping the eggs in pieces scramble-style is quicker to do than the frittata-making techniques involved in flipping the eggs as one extra-thick omelet.
You can downsize this scramble and only make enough for one or two servings, but whenever I make breakfasts, I like to make a week’s worth at once. It’s a minimum of extra time for an entire week of relaxed, no-prep-time-needed breakfasts. And combining pastured eggs with meat from grass-fed animals makes for one heck of a satisfying start to your day. Add lively peppers and fresh cilantro, and you’ve got a four-ingredient hearty treat!
Sausage & Pepper Frittata Scramble
Makes about 7 servings.
1 lb. sausage of your choice, preferably made with meat from pastured animals (I used pork sausage)
1 red bell pepper, seeds and stem removed, flesh cut into strips
6 eggs, preferably from pastured hens
Hearty bunch cilantro, leaves only, rinsed and drained
Place the sausage in a large skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally to break it up, for about 4 minutes or until sausage is beginning to turn opaque. (Pastured meats cook much more quickly than conventional meats because they’re much leaner.) Add pepper strips and continue to cook until peppers are softening, about 4 more minutes. The sausage should be browned. Transfer to colander and allow to drain.
While sausage and pepper drain, crack the eggs into a large bowl and whisk lightly with a fork. Stir in cilantro and drained sausage and pepper.
Return skillet to medium heat and pour in the egg mixture. (No need to wipe out the skillet — you’ll make use of the drippings. If any grease has trickled down the sides of the skillet, though, wipe those away before pouring the eggs into the skillet. A few seconds spent doing that will save you many minutes of cleaning the stove later on.) Let cook undisturbed for 5 minutes to allow a crust to form, then use a spatula to roughly scramble the mixture, turning it over in pieces to cook the other side. You’ll only need another minute or two for the eggs to cook through and turn opaque.
Serve promptly. Leftover cooled frittata-turned-scramble can be refrigerated and eaten as instant breakfasts for a week. (Or dinners, for that matter.)
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I’m calling these muffins, but if you want to call them cupcakes and serve them as a dessert, that’s easy: just top them with some fresh whipped cream or a dollop of mascarpone with vanilla extract and maple syrup stirred into it. Or, if you’re feeling more adventuresome, melt a few squares of 75% dark chocolate and a dash of heavy cream and then whisk until smooth to make a quick ganache frosting. Any of those toppings would pair well with these hearty Greek-yogurt-batter muffins.
Of course, you can enjoy these muffins just as they are for breakfast. Seeing as they’re made with 100% almond flour — no grains needed! — these muffins are not only filling, they have a hearty texture reminiscent of devil’s food cake. Getting up is easier when you know you have chocolate muffins waiting for you.
Chocolate Almond Muffins
Makes 12 muffins.
1 1/4 cups almond flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably un-Dutched (look for “natural” cocoa powder)
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup + 2 T. plain whole-milk Greek yogurt, preferably from grass-fed cows
1/2 cup whole milk, preferably from grass-fed cows
1 tsp. vanilla
6 T. butter, preferably from grass-fed cows, at room temp (one of the many virtues of grass-fed butter will be soft within 10 minutes of taking it out of the fridge)
1/2 cup palm sugar OR sucanat
2 eggs, preferably from pastured hens
Preheat oven to 350F and line a muffin tin with 12 cups.
In a small bowl, whisk together the almond flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda. In another small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, milk, and vanilla. Set bowls aside.
In a large bowl, beat butter until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Beat in palm sugar and the first egg until well-combined. Beat in second egg, then beat in the wet and dry ingredients alternately, adding half of the dry ingredients and then half of the wet and repeating.
Scoop batter into waiting muffin cups and bake 28 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the center-most muffin comes out clean and warm. Let muffins cool on a rack until they’ve cooled enough to touch, then take them out of the tins and let them finish cooling on the rack. Completely cooled muffins can be refrigerated for a week.
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