The Magic of Mucilage

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This post is about okra, a vegetable which is also known by the more romantic name of lady’s fingers, which would be apt if women’s digits were green, hairy and slightly hooked, like witches’ fingers.

Okra are a mucilaginous food which is a natural laxative and is beneficial for the digestive system. (Other mucilaginous foods are flaxseed and chia seed). For more information on why it’s good for you, see here and here.

Okra is in season now and I’ve been seeing beautiful specimens going cheap at my local greengrocer. I have also seen it in asian grocers. Choose ones which are unblemished (dark black patches indicate the withering of age) and firm. If you don’t have any prior experience with okra, don’t do what I did the first time and cook it in a pot of boiling water, unless you want to end up with a pool of inedible slime.

I prefer hot dry cooking for okra and you can eat the okra by itself as a side dish or on top of curries.

Pan-fried Okra

Trim tops off okra and slice into 2 or 3 pieces lengthwise. Pan fry in ghee (or other preferred cooking fat), turning several times, until softened and nicely charred. It takes just a few minutes to cook. Sprinkle a little salt.

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Gai Lan, Okra and Enoki Stir Fry

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon cooking fat of your choice: lard, schmaltz, coconut oil

  • 1 clove garlic, smashed
  • 1 bunch gai larn (chinese kale), washed and cut into 3 inch lengths
  • 200g enoki mushrooms, washed & ends trimmed
  • 3-4 large okra, sliced
  • dry sherry or Shao Xing cooking wine
  • 2 tablespoons gluten-free soy sauce
  • ¾ tsp sesame oil
  • salt, to taste

Method

  1. Heat fat in a wok or large frying pan. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and cook until oil is smoking (take care not to burn the garlic).
  2. Add the gai larn, okra, salt and sherry and cook over high heat, stirring frequently, until the gai larn is nearly done.
  3. Add enoki, soy sauce and sesame oil and cook until gai larn is tender.

3 ways with Broccoli

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Broccoli is currently in season, it is an absolute bargain so I wanted to present 3 ways to cook it as a side dish for your Go Paleo meals, ranging from the simple and quick to the elaborate and absolutely delicious.

Steamed Broccoli

Suitable for:

  • When you have no time, you want dinner and you want it literally NOW.
  • You don’t have an oven.

Prep and Cooking Time: 5 minutes

Fill a small saucepan with around 1.5cm water. Bring water to the boil. Meanwhile, wash broccoli and cut into florets. When the water boils, place broccoli in the pot, cover and steam for 4.5 minutes. Drain. Eat.

I have tried steaming broccoli in the microwave but find that sometimes the broccoli turns out rubbery, so I would not recommend using the microwave.

Roast Broccoli

Suitable for:

  • When you have a little more time, an oven, and a willingness to have your life changed by the loveliness of roast broccoli with its little crispy edges, such that you can never go back to eating steamed broccoli again. It is well worth the extra time, the flavour intensifies and the broccoli develops delicious crispy caramelised edges.

Prep and Cooking Time: 20 minutes

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Preheat oven to 190°C. Line a baking tray with foil and brush lightly with olive oil (or cooking fat of your choice, macadamia oil, butter, coconut oil etc). Wash broccoli and dry thoroughly using a tea towel, shaking out the excess water. Cut into florets. I like to cut the florets quite small so they cook quicker with more surface area to brown. Place broccoli on tray in a single layer and bake for 10 minutes. Around 5 minutes into cooking, open the oven door to release the steam. Turn the pieces and bake for further 5-7 minutes or until nicely singed but not burnt.

You can also use the same technique for cauliflower, although it will take longer to cook.

Roast Cauliflower, Broccoli, Spinach and Mushroom Bake

Suitable for:

  • Entertaining, special occasions, lunches, wedding proposals (yes, it is *that* good)
  • NB. Contains dairy

Prep and Cooking Time: 1 hour

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Serves 5-6

  • Cooking oil of your choice (such as olive oil)
  • ½ large cauliflower head, washed, trimmed and cut into florets
  • 1 broccoli head, washed, trimmed and cut into florets
  • 1-2 tsp butter
  • 300g button mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 box (250g) frozen spinach, thawed
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 50g sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (I am currently loving King Island’s Surprise Bay cheddar)
  • 140g sour cream
  • Salt and pepper
  • 45g parmesan cheese, grated

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 200°C.
  2. Brush some olive oil on a large baking dish and set aside. (I use a large rectangular pyrex dish)
  3. Bake cauliflower and broccoli according to instructions above, turning once during cooking. The broccoli will be cooked before the cauliflower, remove from oven and set aside while cauliflower finishes cooking. You want the florets to be lightly caramelised. (Keep the foil from the roasted broccoli/cauliflower to use later.)
  4. Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, sauté the mushrooms in butter with a little salt until they have released their liquid and have browned. Add the onions and cook for 4-5 minutes until onions are translucent. Add the garlic, remove from heat.
  5. In a large bowl, combine the following:
    • eggs
    • sour cream
    • sautéed mushrooms and onion
    • spinach
    • cheddar cheese
    • roasted broccoli and cauliflower
    • salt and pepper, to taste
  6. Lower oven temperature to 175°C. Pour everything into the baking dish and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes, remove foil and bake for further 10-12 minutes or until nice and golden on the top.

Variations

  • Add ½ a butternut pumpkin, cut into 2 – 2.5cm cubes and roasted together with the cauliflower. If including pumpkin, add an extra egg to bind it all together.
  • Add a white sweet potato (I like the way the white version stays firm and not mushy when cooked) diced into 2cm cubes, baked along with the cauliflower, they take the same time to cook.

You can prep this dish up until (and including) step 5, and refrigerate until you are reading to bake. If you do this, add an extra 5 minutes to the initial bake time.

Breakfast Egg Bake

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I love egg bakes. They make it easy and delicious to pack in a big serve of veggies and protein at breakfast and can also be eaten cold on picnics. If you subscribe to a vegetable box, egg bakes are the perfect way to use up veggies that you don’t quite know what to do with. Basically egg bakes are frittatas, except that mine invariably turn out to be more like a mass of vegetables bound together with some egg. The only downside is that they take a bit of time to prepare, as I sauté some of the veggies beforehand to get rid of the water which would otherwise seep into the egg bake, but I make a big enough batch for several days and it saves so much time in the mornings.

Silverbeet, Leek & Bacon Bake

  • 1 bunch silverbeet, chopped into small pieces (kale or spinach works well too)
  • 250g button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 leek, finely sliced
  • 1 red capsicum, finely diced
  • 1 bunch parsley, chopped
  • 3 rashers bacon, diced
  • 9 eggs, beaten
  • 80g parmesan cheese, grated
  • Salt and pepper
  • Coconut oil, for sautéing veggies

Method

  1. Fry bacon until browned and crisp. Set aside.
  2. Cook leek, mushrooms and capsicum until they have released most of their water. Set aside.
  3. Cook silverbeet until it has released its water and is wilted. Place in a large mixing bowl with the bacon, leek, mushrooms, capsicum and parsley. Add the beaten eggs and combine thoroughly. Add salt and pepper.
  4. Pour mixture into a 9” square baking dish. Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top and bake at 180°C for 30 minutes or until a knife stuck in the centre comes out clean.

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Kale is the new black

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I have a confession to make. Only months ago, I was militantly anti-kale. It was too fashionable, too ubiquitous, too hipster-doofus, and too expensive. Heck, $5 a bunch was crazy, what am I – made of money?? But even I could not escape the curly tendrils of this dark green vegetation. First it made its way into my smoothies, then into breakfast stir-fries, and tonight kale pushed its way into my heart (or at least into my Top 10 favourite green leafy vegies). It did help that I scored a bunch for $2 at my local asian grocer. I hate to say it, but kale won.

Kale chips are so delicious, they should be forbidden on the Whole-30.

I followed the tips from Nom Nom Paleo. To begin, wash the kale. Nomnom Paleo said to dry it in a salad spinner but I don’t have one so I just wrapped the kale in a tea towel and shook it. The aim is to remove as much water as possible. Then I blotted them with kitchen paper. Cut off the stems and save them for stir frying. (It is ok to have a little stem in the kale chips but they are a bit tougher and definitely if you have company, the polite thing to do would be to only have leaf in your chips.) Cut the leaves into large pieces.

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Meanwhile preheat the oven to 175°C. Place the kale into a big bowl and add a drizzle (around 1 Tbsp) of macadamia oil (Nomnom used avocado oil). Melted butter or ghee would work well too. You don’t need to measure the oil, just drizzle a bit in. The aim is to have a very light coating of oil on the leaves. Use your hands to toss the kale and distribute the oil. Don’t salt them until after baking. Lay the kale in a single layer on a baking sheet (line the baking sheet with parchment if you wish; it is not essential as the kale chips won’t stick, but it will make cleanup easier).

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Bake for 12 minutes or until crisp. Don’t let them burn otherwise they will be bitter. They reminded me of Thins potato crisps, only better and totally utterly guilt-free.

Roasted Taro

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In an impulsive fit, I bought a taro the other day and it languished in my fridge for days as I didn’t know what to do with it until I came across a recipe on The Paleo Mom for savoury roasted taro.

If you’ve never seen taro before, it looks very much like something you could imagine your prehistoric ancestors digging up, and then grunting excitedly to each other. Here’s one:

It is available from asian grocers and is a very popular ingredient in Chinese cooking and desserts, although I personally never understood the appeal of taro-based desserts. There is even a taro dim sum (it is the shape of a giant rice bubble, deep-fried with a brown lattice shell). They taste bland and starchy with a similar texture to that of potatoes except drier. Some people extol taro’s “complex flavour”. In terms of their nutrient profile, they are higher in carbs than potatoes (taro has 26g total carbs per 100g vs 17g in potatoes), 112 cal (taro) vs 77g (potato), higher in potassium, fibre and calcium. Taro has a similar profile to potatoes for iron, Vitamin B, magnesium, protein and sugar.

I chopped up my taro into quarters, leaving the skin on for the time being and cooked it in the pressure cooker using the steamer basket for 7 minutes. It could also be conventionally steamed for 10-12 minutes. You don’t want to overcook it otherwise it crumbles, so I cooked it until it had a texture similar to firm potatoes. Once cooked, the skin peels off easily. I chopped it into smaller pieces and tossed it in a large bowl with melted fat left over from roasting chicken (really tasty). Sprinkle with salt and put under the grill (broiler) for 15-20 minutes, turning once, until nicely browned. The edges crisp up deliciously. My favourite parts were the little chunks of taro which had broken off as they ended up uber-crunchy.

So would I eat them again? Maybe. If you can’t tolerate potatoes, taro is a good alternative. It would probably work better in a stew-type preparation as it can absorb the flavours.

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.

Variety on the Paleo Diet: Nose to tail and things in between

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Personally I found that since going paleo, the amount of variety in my diet has drastically increased. Pre-paleo, I was under the illusion that I was eating a variety of foods because wheat can be processed in so many different ways, but it turns out that on a typical day I could have been eating wheat in one form or another at every meal.

When one goes paleo, one is encouraged to seek out new forms of protein and vegetables to keep from getting bored. It does take a bit of effort and a sense of adventure to commit to a new vegetable, but I say feel the fear and do it anyway.

Foods I ate rarely (or never tried) until going paleo:

  1. Leaf amaranth (a leafy vegie similar to spinach)
  2. Cabbage
  3. Cauliflower
  4. Liver (lamb, calf, chicken and duck)
  5. Roasted pig’s head
  6. Black pudding/morcilla
  7. Berries
  8. Grapefruit
  9. Pig trotter
  10. Brussel Sprouts

A criticism often made against paleo is that it is expensive. Like any diet, it can be expensive but it doesn’t have to be. You can eat grass-fed eye fillet every day, or you could enjoy grass-fed mince, at a fraction of the cost. My favourite local chinese BBQ joint sells roast pig’s head for $2 per half a head. It has a bunch of crackling and head meat plus the bones make a delicious bone broth.

For vegetables, I get my asian greens from asian grocers where they go for 70 cents to a dollar per bunch. In addition to the usual suspects, you will see greens that you’ve never eaten before and don’t even know the names of. Wombok is another asian leafy vegetable, a great option as it lasts for ages in the fridge (unlike the other asian greens which go limp after a couple of days) with a nice sweet, mild flavour. This is my go-to recipe for asian greens which we will have at least 3 times a week.

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Easy and Quick Stir-Fried Asian Greens

1/2 tablespoon coconut oil
1 bunch choy sum or bok choy, washed to remove all grit and cut into manageable pieces (halves or thirds) and well drained
2 thin slices of ginger
1 clove garlic, smashed with the back of a knife
salt
Shao Hsing Chinese cooking wine or dry sherry, a wee splash (can be omitted if you are doing the Whole30)

Heat coconut oil in a wok. When oil starts smoking, add the ginger and garlic immediately followed by the choy sum or bok choy. Stir frequently to prevent the greens at the base from burning, add the wine and a little salt and cook until wilted (around 2-3 minutes). I like to cook it so that it retains a bit of crunch left in the stems.

Shao Hsing wine contains wheat so if you are gluten-intolerant, either skip the alcohol or use dry sherry.

What foods do you enjoy now, that you never ate before?