In celebration of Autumn – Pork Cassoulet

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We were inspired by the fine start to Autumn and the gorgeous produce at the markets to create a new dish which purchasers of our 10 and 15 meal packs will have the chance to enjoy for a limited time. Introducing our Pork, Chestnut and Cider Cassoulet, which is served with Apple and Cinnamon Compote (included).  It is made with pork belly, our favourite cut of pork, which is slow-cooked in low carb apple cider, plus chestnuts, fennel seeds, juniper berries, thyme, bay leaves and smoked speck. Finally we added some sauteed brussels sprouts because they are delicious and so seasonal right now.

We think the pork needed something a little tart and fruity to cut through the unctuous decadence so we also whipped up a chunky apple compote.  Originally we wanted to make a quince compote but after a brief appearance last week, the quinces seem to have disappeared so apple it was.

Traditional French cassoulet is made with pork and beans, but we gave the beans a miss for this paleo version and used chestnuts instead. Just re-heat and eat. Would be terrific with a sprinkle of chopped parsley. Hope you folks like it!

Pork, Eggplant & Bitter Melon Hotpot

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Recently Mark Sisson blogged about 4 foods that have medicinal benefits, and I was surprised to discover bitter melon among them. Growing up, bitter melon made an occasional appearance at dinner and it was not one of my favourite dishes, although it did have an astringent quality to it which was interesting and peculiar. After my recent attempt I must say it wasn’t so bad was delicious and I couldn’t detect any bitterness.

According to some studies, bitter melon has anti-diabetic properties and can help improve insulin sensitivity. Given that bitter melon is in season now, do you need any other reason to throw some in your basket and give it a try.

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Pork, Eggplant and Bitter Melon Hotpot

  • 2 tsp macadamia oil or coconut oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 500g pork mince
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 small eggplant or half large eggplant, chopped
  • 1 bitter melon (or 2 if you are really keen), seeds and inner pith remove, sliced 5mm thick
  • 1 ½ tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp tamari sauce or coconut aminos
  • ½ tsp sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp Paleo XO sauce, optional
  • 1 cup chicken stock or bone broth
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp tapioca starch mixed with 2 tbsp water
  • Chopped fresh coriander for garnish

Method
Fry onion in oil until softened. Add mince, garlic, eggplant, bitter melon, fish sauce, tamari, sesame oil, XO sauce and stock and simmer, covered, for 10-15 minutes or until eggplant is soft and completely cooked. Taste for seasoning and add salt if required, and pepper. Add tapioca roux and stir well. Bring to boil, then turn off heat. Sprinkle with chopped coriander. Serve with white rice or cauliflower rice.

I found there was no need to blanche or salt the bitter melon as some recipes suggest, as there was very little bitterness remaining after the braising.

Kanga Kheema

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One of the Paleo myths or criticisms I often come across is that the Paleo diet involves eating a lot of meat. Before I went paleo, this is what I thought too. In fact, many Paleo-eaters describe themselves as carnivorous vegans, meaning that vegetables form a large part of their diet. I am always looking for ways to add vegies to dishes for variety, taste and nutrition.

Today’s recipe is something I make a lot. I like it because you can throw in whatever vegetables you have in the fridge, it is economical and saves time as I make a big batch of it and it lasts for days, dare I say, even improving with age.

Kheema refers to a type of dry, mince-based curry. It is delicious made with grass-fed beef mince ($8.99/kg from Aldi) but recently I tried it with kangaroo mince (available from Coles and Woolworths) and it was superb. Kangaroo is in many ways the ideal paleo meat. It is one of the few truly free-range meats available to us, and thus guaranteed to have eaten a natural diet. After all, as Michael Pollan pointed out, “you are what what you eat eats”. (It took me a few seconds to think that one through.) Kangaroo is high in protein and low in fat (not that I am fat-phobic, it’s just one of its qualities). The only time I had eaten kangaroo previously was many years ago in a restaurant when I was served a rubbery rare kangaroo steak drizzled with some sweet sauce. So it was with a little trepidation that I used kangaroo mince, but was delighted to find that it wasn’t chewy at all. If you didn’t know it was kangaroo, you’d probably think it was beef.

The only supermarket source of certified grass-fed beef mince I have come across is from Aldi. The supermarket-branded beef from Woolworths comes from livestock which is able to range freely on pasture, but this does not mean they are exclusively pasture fed. According to Woolies, “livestock must range freely on pasture, not be given any growth promoters (including antibiotics) and have no genetically modified inputs”. Woolies beef is primarily grass-fed but in circumstances where there may not be enough grass they may be grain-fed. Coles advised that their beef mince is sourced from “a combination of grass and grain fed cattle depending on seasonal conditions to obtain the best quality beef available”.

Kanga Kheema

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil, macadamia oil or ghee
  • 2 large onions or a leek, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2cm piece of fresh ginger, grated
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste

Spices

  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 5 tbsp curry powder
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp chilli powder (or to taste)

Vegetables

  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 choko, peeled and cut into 1cm chunks
  • 1 zucchini, peeled and diced
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 1 can of sliced champignons or 300g button mushrooms, sliced

To serve

  • Lime juice
  • Chopped fresh coriander

Method

  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and a little salt, fry till onion softens. Add mince and spices, break up any lumps, and cook until browned.
  2. Add vegetables and 1 cup of hot water. Season. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until vegetables are cooked.
  3. To finish, sprinkle with coriander and serve with rice (white rice or cauli rice).

What I Eat

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I find the topic of what people eat quite fascinating. One of the first parts of the Sun Herald I turn to is the column in the Sunday Life magazine where a judgemental nutritionist critiques the daily intake of a random celebrity or businessperson. Although I rarely agree with 100% of what she says, I like her emphasis on eating veggies and it is interesting to keep up with what mainstream dietary advice is circulating.

I recently came across this very captivating book, What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Alusio published in 2010. It features 80 people from around the world, a variety of ages, occupations, social classes and religions, photographed together with what they ate on an ordinary day together with a riveting chapter on each person about their story, the conditions of their daily life, detailed listing of what they ate that day and why they eat what they do, and their fears, worries, hopes and dreams. The book is sorted in order of calorie intake, from 800 calories/day of a female Maasai herder who doesn’t get much to eat on account of the drought affecting their cattle herd, through to the 31 yr old mum and binge-eater living in North London who eats 12,300 calories/day.

This book affected me a great deal. The Maasai herder is photographed with a wide smile despite the lack of food, although there is a look of desperation in her eyes which divulges her dire circumstances. In other photos, other members of the tribe look happy in spite of things, a testament to the human spirit which can manage to find joy even in the most trying of existences. The cyclic nature of their life (from drought and famine to rains and plenty) makes me so grateful that I live in a place where my food supply is secure. How fortunate are we not to have to worry each day about where our next meal will come from, and how we should never take for granted that we can eat whatever we want, whenever we want.

The other story in the book which affected me a lot was the American Candidate for Obesity Surgery, who eats 1600 calories in an attempt to lose weight so that he can qualify for bariatric surgery. At the time of writing the book, he weighed 468 pounds; 100 pounds over the limit to safely undergo surgery. The sad part was that weight-loss diet which he was recommended to eat was full of refined and processed carbs and included wholegrain bagels, granola bars, Nabisco 100 calorie packs, and things sounding totally alien to me such as “nondairy cheese substitute, American cheese flavoured” and “whole wheat blend, yolk-free pasta”. Basically taking the most nutritious bit (yolks) out of pasta and leaving the bad stuff. My heart went out to this gentleman and all those like him who are getting wrong advice and being set up for failure after failure.

If you are curious about what people eat and how they live, I’d highly recommend you check out What I Eat. It inspired me to document my own food intake from a typical day, which appears below.

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The Paleo/Primal Cook and Blogger

Age: 37 • Height: 5’2 • Weight: 47kg (104 pounds)

One Day’s Food

In April, non-workout day

BREAKFAST  Green smoothie (spinach, chia seeds, cucumber, Granny Smith apple, kiwi fruit, pear, avocado) 340ml • 1 boiled egg • Broccoli, 3 florets • Paleo Chilli (beef, heart, liver, celery, carrot, onion), 170g • full fat sour cream, 1 Tbsp
LUNCH  Lamb Chop, ½ (leftover from previous night’s dinner) • Pork bone broth, 1 bowl • Asian greens (choy sum), 1.5 cups
DINNER  Spinach and Lamb Curry, 0.7xpacket • white rice, 1 cup • Roast Cauliflower, Pumpkin and Spinach Bake
SNACKS  Lindt 85% chocolate, 1 square • Green & Black 85% chocolate, 1 square • macadamia nuts, 12g • Brazil nuts, 12g • Mayvers Crunchy Peanut Butter, 8g • tap water (quantity not ascertained, not shown in photograph)

Calories

1,660

Macronutrient Breakdown

Carbs 122g • Protein 104g • Fat 88g

Related Links

Easy Paleo Pickles

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You may have noticed pickles are rather trendy at the moment and be wondering “what’s the story with pickles?” Every second restaurant is serving them, Pete Evans is releasing his own fermentation range (which every self-respecting celebrity cook ought to have), they have even found their way into McDonald’s hamburgers. The paleosphere likes pickles because they assist in populating the gut with diverse bacteria or probiotics which is good for digestion. Hence eating foods such as sauerkraut and kim chi are encouraged. Unfortunately, store-bought pickles or sauerkraut are of limited probiotic benefit as the pasteurisation process which industrially-made products are required to undergo kills the good bacteria along with the bad. Store-bought pickles also tend to have added sugar.

I was initially turned off by the idea of fermenting something myself. What if it didn’t work and went bad? How would I know if it was fermenting properly? And leaving food unrefrigerated caused me some unease. But living by my mantra Feel the fear, and do it anyway I finally decided to take the dive and make some pickles. The next morning I was very happy to see the popped up cling-wrap which was evidence that my little pickles were indeed fermenting away and producing gases, and I had fun checking in on them from time to time and ‘burping’ them. By the third day it was sour enough so I screwed the lid on and popped it in the fridge.

I made my pickles with carrots and jicama, which is a tuber which can be cooked or eaten raw and tastes like a cross between an apple and a potato, but daikon can also be used and is more widely available.

Uses

  • Pre-dinner nibbles, their sourness stimulates digestion
  • In salads
  • In rice paper rolls

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Ingredients

  • 1 medium jicama or 400-450g daikon radish, peeled and julienned
  • 2 carrots, peeled and julienned
  • 1 red or green chilli
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or grated
  • 1½ tsp fine sea salt
  • 1cm slice fresh ginger, peeled and grated

Brine: 175g cooled boiled water + 3.5ml fine sea salt

Method

  1. Place carrots, jicama or turnip and salt in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly and set aside for an hour (or up to 4 hours).
  2. Using your hands (I wore food handling gloves) squeeze the vegetables until they release their juices. Add the chilli, garlic and ginger.
  3. Pack the mixture tightly into a jar and pour over the veggie juices. If there is not enough liquid to cover the vegetables, make up some brine and pour over the top. To make the brine, heat a little of the water, dissolve the salt and add the rest of the water. Reserve the extra brine and store in the fridge as you may need to top up the jar during the fermentation process.
  4. Cover the jar with cling film secured with a rubber band, excluding all the air. Place the jar on a saucer to catch the brine which will be exuded when fermentation begins. Place the jar where the temperature remains pretty constant, preferably 15 – 21°C. Let it ferment for 2-3 days, releasing the built-up air and topping up with brine as required.
  5. Taste and when sour to your satisfaction, screw on lid and refrigerate.

I don’t know how long it keeps; I suppose until it goes moldy and tastes bad.

Paleo XO Sauce

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One of the things I found after going paleo was that most asian sauces and condiments are decidedly non-paleo, which was tricky and not very convenient. Most store-bought asian sauces contain one or more of the following non-paleo ingredients: sugar, soybean oil, vegetable oil, soy, wheat and MSG. The top ingredient in hoisin sauce is sugar, which is also found in every oyster sauce and some soy and fish sauces. Don’t despair though, there are a few goodies to be found. Mae Ploy thai curry pastes are generally ok and don’t contain sugar or vegetable oils. Red Boat Fish Sauce is sugar-free, though hard to find (I bought a bottle from the fruit shop at Rhodes Shopping Centre), and I also found a thai chilli sauce which is paleo-friendly.

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So what to do? Make your own! Like this XO sauce, the original recipe for which comes from Adam Liaw, the Masterchef winner. I have amended the original recipe to make it more paleo and also adapted it to my tastes. It is not 100% paleo because the lup yook – chinese bacon – is made with non-paleo seasonings like sugar and soy sauce, but you can leave it out or substitute with prosciutto if preferred. Leftover lup yook can be frozen.

I don’t like to have a lot of oil floating at the top of my XO sauce so I reduced the quantity of oil and tweaked the seasonings to ramp it up a bit. XO sauce is named after XO cognac, the ‘XO’ designating a prestige product. XO sauce doesn’t actually contain alcohol and has nothing to do with cognac. Adding XO sauce to simply stir-fried or steamed asian greens will take it to another level. Imagine the difference between playing slot machines in your local pub and being invited to the VIP room at Caesar’s. Actually neither of those appeals to me … but you get the idea. It is great with steamed seafood, or add a few generous dollops to stir-fried snow peas and prawns. I like to spoon off the oil and use it to stir-fry asian greens, makes the dish very tasty indeed.

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Ingredients

  • 50g dried scallops, soaked in water overnight
  • 50g dried shrimp, soaked for 1 hour
  • 290g extra light olive oil
  • 4 large red or golden shallots (or 1 large red or brown onion), peeled and finely chopped (I process in food processor)
  • 5 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 6 large cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped (I process in food processor)
  • 60g lup yook (Chinese bacon, available from asian grocers, found near the chinese dried sausages), or chinese sausage ‘lup cheong’ or prosciutto, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 4 tsp chilli powder (cayenne)
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce (or gluten-free soy, tamari or coconut aminos)
  • 1 ½ tsp fish sauce
  1. Drain the scallops and shrimp. (The soaking liquid is not used in this recipe but is tasty and can be reserved for using wherever stock or a bit of umami is called for.) Shred the scallops using your fingers to separate the strands. I find this highly tedious but if you have access to child labour, their nimble little fingers would be perfect for this task. Roughly chop the shrimp in a food processor (or mince using a knife).
  2. Heat 1 cup of the oil in a wok or large saucepan over medium heat and fry the onion/shallots, chilli flakes and garlic for 10 minutes. Add scallops, shrimp, lup yook/lup cheong/prosciutto, salt, chilli powder, soy sauce and fish sauce and fry for a further 10 minutes.
  3. Add remaining oil and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes or until the sauce is oily and jammy. Place into sterilised jars and screw on lid whilst hot so it will form a vacuum. It will keep for months in the fridge.

For another condiment recipe, check out NomNom Paleo’s Paleo Sriracha.

Sous Vide Salmon with Crispy Skin

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I was reading a book on superfoods recently, and it mentioned chlorella and spirulina (types of algae) and how good they were for you. So I rushed out and bought some greens powder, which is a combination of chlorella, spirulina, wheatgrass, powdered green vegetables, enzymes, probiotics and vitamins. I added a teaspoon to my smoothie and voila, not only did my smoothie look like pond scum (as per usual) but it now tasted like pond scum too. I finally managed to choke most of it down, but since then, the jar of greens powder has remained firmly shut.

Fortunately not all superfoods are disgusting. Some are even truly delicious. Did you know that salmon is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet? It is one of my favourite fish, sustainable and high in Omega 3 fats.

If, like me, you are fussy about how your salmon is cooked, then this post is for you. I usually don’t order salmon at restaurants as they often overcook it; it can quickly go from moist and slightly translucent to dry and stringy. For that reason I have salmon either raw, ceviched, smoked or sous vide. Sous vide is a method of cooking where the meat is vacuum packed and submerged in a heated water bath where it is left to slowly cook and reach a certain temperature. The advantage of sous vide is that the meat cooks evenly all the way through, without the outer parts of the meat getting overcooked before the inside is done.

You don’t need to splash out several hundred dollars for a sous vide machine. Here’s how to cook sous vide salmon using things you probably already have. It works very well and the result is perfectly cooked salmon every time. It does take more time than plonking the salmon in a fry pan so even though it is a great method, I can’t be bothered to cook it like this all the time. Where this method comes into its own however is for dinner parties. It is an especially efficient and stress-free way to cook salmon en masse for guests, as you can do most of the cooking beforehand. In the recipe below I haven’t included any flavourings as I am mainly conveying the method of sous vide cooking, and because I typically eat salmon simply, with a squeeze of lemon, some parsley and black pepper.

salmon process

Equipment

Double boiler (I use a metal bowl which sits inside a saucepan, such that the base of the bowl does not touch the water inside the saucepan)
Digital probe thermometer
Zip lock bag

For 2 serves:

Brine solution: 200g cold water and 20g salt, dissolved
2 salmon fillets (approx. 160g per person); get the freshest you can, sometimes this is labelled ‘sashimi grade’.
Coconut oil or ghee

  1. Remove skin from salmon, in one piece if you can. Reserve the skin.
  2. Place salmon pieces in the brine and leave for 20 minutes at room temperature. This step flavours the salmon and prevents white coagulated protein from seeping out during cooking, which can be unsightly.
  3. Remove salmon from brine and dry with kitchen paper. Discard the brine solution. Place the salmon in a ziplock bag and add any spices or herbs you wish, such as dill. If you are cooking very large pieces of salmon, put them in their own bag. Small multiple pieces can be placed in a single layer in one bag. Close the bag except for a small gap.

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  4. Fill a bowl (for your double boiler setup) with water measuring 48-50°C. Fill your saucepan with around 2 inches of just-boiled water. Place bowl on top of the saucepan. The base of the bowl should not come into contact with the water. Immerse the bag of salmon in the bowl, holding it by the open end. When all the air has come out of the bag, close the bag and submerge it entirely. Cover with lid. Maintain the water temperature at around 47°C for 15-17 minutes. This is sufficient for 160g fillets but you may need to go up to 20 minutes for larger pieces.

    The advantage of sous vide is that provided the water temperature is maintained, you cannot overcook the fish even if it is left in for longer. Hot water from the tap should be hot enough to reach the stipulated temperature initially, and the hot water in the saucepan will help to keep it warm. Monitor the water temperature from time to time and if it drops, place saucepan over the heat until the temperature comes up, or replace some of the water in the bowl with freshly boiled water. I find that I only need to do this once during the cooking process.

  5. Meanwhile, pan fry the skin with a little salt until it is browned and crispy. Sometimes it curls up in the pan, in which case you can tease it out so that it goes flat. When it is done, remove from pan and set aside.
  6. Remove fish from bag, dry with kitchen paper and sear for 30 seconds on each side.

If you prefer your salmon cooked a bit more, increase the water temperature by a couple of degrees and leave it in longer. It may take some experimenting to find your perfect salmon, but keep notes and once you work it out, you can replicate it every time. Bon Appétit!

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