Not your usual spaghetti…

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Do you fear the carbs?

I spend a good portion of my patient time counseling patients on how to manage their weight and diabetes, and often that involves talking about food choices, nutrition, and exercise (yes!  a few of my favorite things!).  Some of my patients hardly know where to start, while others have embraced multiple fads (Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, Grain Brain, Gluten-free, etc), sometimes even eliminating whole food groups or cooking (i.e. only eating raw) in their efforts to lose weight and feel better.  There is a lot of controversy over carbohydrates, which have recently been cast as the new enemy in our fight against diabetes and obesity.

I wish I had an answer for “Which diet is the best diet,” but I don’t.  The best diet is the one you actually adhere to, the one you can follow sustainably.  For me, that means a more plant-based diet that emphasizes fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables, while also incorporating lean protein, whole grains, and good fats.   Make your calories count, and be mindful of avoiding foods that are highly caloric but not necessarily nutritious.   It’s amazing how different 2,000 calories can look on your plate, depending on what you choose.

I think that carbohydrates (whole grain, unprocessed and unrefined ones) do have a place in our diet and can be enjoyed in moderation.  For those seeking to expand their options beyond pasta, however, the following is a tasty rendition of spaghetti squash – this would never be a substitute for pasta…it stands alone as a tasty interpretation of this now very popular squash, which is low in calories, high in fiber, and contains folic acid, potassium, vitamin A, and beta-carotene. 

Spaghetti Squash with Prosciutto, Lemony Kale, and Cherry Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 shallot, sliced thinly
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 slices proscuitto, chopped
  • ½ tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 2 packed cups of chopped kale leaves
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • ¼ cup oven roasted cherry tomatoes*
  • ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
  • salt & pepper
  • optional: freshly grated parmesan cheese

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Slice squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds.  Drizzle cut surface with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Place the squash on a baking sheet, cut side up. Roast for about ~30-45 min until the flesh is tender and you can scrape noodle-like strands with a fork.
  3. Remove squash from the oven, cool slightly and use a fork to scrape the squash into strands.  Set aside.
  4. In a large skillet over medium heat, add about 1 tbl olive oil to the pan.  Saute shallot and proscuitto until slightly crisp.  Add garlic, rosemary, and chile flakes.
  5. Add the kale leaves and a good pinch of salt.  Stir in lemon juice.
  6. Once the kale is partially wilted, add the squash strands, a little grated cheese, the oven roasted cherry tomatoes, and salt and pepper, to taste. Toss to incorporate.
  7. Remove from heat and top with toasted pine nuts and extra grated cheese.

* for oven roasted cherry tomatoes – halve cherry tomatoes crosswise and toss with a little olive oil, making sure they are evenly coated.  Lightly season with salt and pepper.  Stir in minced herbs if using (e.g. thyme or rosemary).  Roast in preheated oven at 250 degrees F for about 1 hr or until shriveled and almost dry, with a little juice.

On books, books, and more books.

IMG_2627“Is this a case of the rich getting richer?” J asked me when he saw me happily engrossed in Ottolenghi’s Plenty.  I think the answer would have to be unabashedly yes.

I have now also added Plenty More to my growing cookbook collection, courtesy of my thoughtful sister at Christmas.  Despite less and less free time to read over the years, I’ve continued to amass quite a few books, as my poor family and friends can attest after all the times they have had to help me move them – sometimes across the country!  (I have a hard time letting go of my books, academic or not).  Cookbooks have come to occupy more and more space in that library, despite the wide availability of resources online.  There is just something so engrossing about flipping through pages of beautiful pictures and recipes – recipes occasionally accompanied by others’ stories, but which also call out to be contextualized in new ways, in my own kitchen.

I would love to have a wall to wall library (like Belle in Beauty and the Beast!) someday.  A walk-in closet would also be nice, but I think J will really accuse me of being one of those “rich getting richer” if I insist on that.

Despite all of the zigzagging I’ve done on planes since college, I have yet to really travel the world.  Cookbooks are my window into other places and countries, a chance to discover other cuisines and cultures through taste, texture, and smells.  I’ve been fortunate to live in metropolitan areas rich in ethnic restaurants and cooks adept in translating the tastes of their homelands, but I know nothing compares to actually traveling there.

I recently made shakshouka* and this celery salad with feta and soft-boiled egg from Ottolenghi’s Plenty and Plenty More.  Both were fantastic, and I can not wait to try more recipes (I may or may not have bookmarked almost the entire book 😉 ).  I love the vibrant simplicity and bold flavors of both – delish!

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Warming up from the inside out –

As the Northeast braces for terrible, horrible, no-good, “frozen tundra” weather, I feel a little guilty to be enjoying the unusually warm and dry weather we are having on the Other Coast.  I did spend four years in -3o degree F temperatures, however, so I am not exactly one to run away from the cold.  In fact, cold weather is the best running weather, as far as I’m concerned.

One of the best things about coming in from the cold is the enveloping warmth that greets you when you escape the outside, and finally shed all of your layers.  Even better is a bowl of soup to warm you up from the inside out.  Perhaps it is the memory of my mother’s comforting soups, some of them enviably simple in their composition, that makes me gravitate towards making soup now when I’m in the mood for comfort food.

I’ve moved beyond the simple broth-based soups I grew up with to heartier soups inspired by winter vegetables and other produce I’ve seen in the market, although my preference is still towards lighter soups.  The following recipe for Creamy Cauliflower Soup, adapted only slightly from America’s Test Kitchen (The Best of 2015 issue), is my idea of a perfectly balanced soup – not too heavy, delicately flavored, and nourishing.  Simmering the cauliflower for different lengths of time adds complexity to the flavors, and the lower insoluble fiber content of cauliflower lends itself well to silkier, creamier soups without added cream.

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Creamy Cauliflower Soup (slightly modified from America’s Test Kitchen)

Ingredients:
1 head cauliflower (2 lbs)

1.5 tbl butter, divided use

4 tbl olive oil, divided use

1 leek, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced thin, and washed thoroughly

1 small onion, halved and sliced thin

salt and pepper

4.5-5 cups water

1/2 tsp sherry vinegar

3 tbl minced fresh chives

Instructions:

  1. Pull off outer leaves of cauliflower and trim stem.  Using paring knife, cut around core to remove; slice core thin and reserve  Cut heaping 1 cup of 1/2 inch florets from head of cauliflower; set aside.  Cut remaining cauliflower crosswise into 1/2 inch thick slices.
  2. Melt 1 tbl butter with 2 tbl olive oil in large saucepan over medium-low heat.  Add leek, onion, and 1.5 tsp salt; cook, stirring frequently, until leek and onion are softened but not browned, about 7 minutes.
  3. Increase heat to medium high.  Add 4.5 cups water, sliced core, and half of sliced cauliflower and bring to simmer.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer gently for 15 minutes.  Add remaining sliced cauliflower, return to simmer, and continue to cook until cauliflower is tender and crumbles easily, about 15-20 minutes longer.
  4. While soup simmers, melt remaining 1/2 tbl butter in 2 tbl of olive oil in 8 inch skillet over medium heat.  Add reserved florets and cook, stirring frequently, until florets are golden brown and slightly caramelized.  Use slotted spoon to transfer the florets to small bowl, toss w/ vinegar, and season w/ salt to taste.
  5. Process soup in blender until smooth, about 45 seconds.  Rinse out saucepan.  Return pureed soup to saucepan and return to simmer over medium heat, adjusting consistently w/ remaining water as needed (soup should have thick, velvety texture but should be thin enough to settle with flat surface after being stirred) and seasoning with salt to taste.  Serve, garnishing individual bowls with browned florets, drizzle of olive oil, and chives and season with pepper to taste.

Packing in the veggies!

When I was studying in the Midwest, I used to crave the foods I had no hope of finding anywhere nearby: jiao zi, luo bo gao, dolsot bibimbap, kimchi, pho, banh xeo, bun rieu, Vietnamese cha gio…the list went on and on.  The homesickness for the diversity of Asian cuisine drove me to the kitchen, where I tried to recreate the tastes from memory and by researching the internet or cookbooks.  Some people received care packages with sweets and treats; my mother shipped me Asian ingredients and sent me back to school with suitcases stuffed with gai lan, which was not readily available where I was living.

I still love buying and preparing Asian vegetables, which shine in the simplest of preparations.  Living in a part of the country with amazing produce also helps.  Inspiration is always around the corner at the next farmer’s market!

I made this simple miso-glazed broiled eggplant the other night for a light dinner, and couldn’t wait until the next day to have the leftovers for lunch.  Enjoy!

Miso-glazed eggplant
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Ingredients:

  • 1 tbl mirin
  • 1 tbl sake
  • 2 tbl shiro miso
  • 2 tbl sugar
  • 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 2 Japanese eggplants, halved lengthwise
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • toasted sesame seeds (garnish)
  • green onions sliced on the bias (garnish)

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  • Place the mirin, sake, and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Add miso and ginger and stir until smooth.  Reduce heat to low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, while you prepare the eggplants.
  • Score the cut sides of the eggplant with diagonal cuts.  Brush the cut sides of the eggplants with sesame oil. Put the eggplants cut-side down on a baking sheet and roast  in the oven for about 15-20 minutes until they just start to shrivel. The flesh should be fork tender. Remove from the oven and carefully turn them over.
  • Brush the top of the eggplants with a good layer of the miso sauce (use up all the sauce!) and put them under the broiler until the sauce bubbles up and starts to caramelize, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat, garnish with toasted sesame seeds and green onions, and enjoy!