Category: Low Calorie

Chai Tea, Simplicity and Substance in a Cup

chaiChai is the name for a spiced Indian tea that is generally served milky and sweet. I particularly like chai in the winter, as it is hearty and warming, but I find it quite satisfying as iced chai tea in the summer as well.

As with most food, there is no rule with chai, it is all about personal preference. Find the flavors you like. Experiment with them. Add more, add less of others. In India, chai, like curry, is no one mix. Different regions use different flavors, and even one particular family may make their curry or chai in a completely different manner than the family next door. Basically, find the flavors you like and play with them until you find your preferred taste.

What I do is simple, I take a black tea that I like (it can be a malty Assam, or a lighter Ceylon, or any thing in between. Using a tea bag from the store will work well too since a lot of flavor comes from the spices that steep with the tea, so heck, go ahead and use that bag that came with your Chinese food last night.

My chai ingredients:
Black tea
Green cardamom (crack the pods open)
Black peppercorns
Cinnamon (whole or small pieces, powdered will work, but won’t filter out easily)
Cloves
Ginger
Vanilla Extract (just a few drops)
Milk
Sugar

Directions:
Steep the mix in hot water for about 3 minutes. Add milk and sugar to your taste, it’s really that simple.

I find the best way to make chai is with an infuser basket. Place your selected ingredients in the basket in your cup, and remove when done. You could always toss all the items in a pot and pour the tea through a strainer, whatever is easiest for you.

Roasted Garlic – The Garlic Lovers Treat

roasted garlicRoasted garlic is one of the easiest things to make and is not only great when included into other recipes, but it is magnificent on its own, squeezed out onto a crust of bread. Garlic is a lucky little bulb; like all nubs in the Allium family, it has a high concentration of both flavor and sugar. When roasted, the Maillard reaction changes those sugars into a garlic caramel, which coincidentally are two of my favorite flavors.

Roasted garlic bulbs make for a simple snack to have around, and while it may take some time to roast, it’s pretty much fire and forget as you pop them into the oven for a while, wait, and they are ready to eat. Roast, let them cool a bit, snip off the top and squeeze onto a toasted baguette and you have license to ignore the kids.

One tip, though. Most recipes you find suggest you cut off the top of the bulbs with the head intact and then roast. That’s fine if your goal is to peel the bulbs, but I find it much easier to pull the bulbs apart without cutting them, roast, and squeeze the garlic out. Peeling roasted garlic is a hassle I’ll leave to the celebrity chefs who dump that work on their assistants.

Ingredients:
1 head of garlic

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400 F.

2. Pull the garlic bulbs apart from the head and place in a sheet of aluminum foil.

3. Fold up the foil to create a pouch, leaving some air space.

4. Place foil pouch in the oven for 45 minutes.

5. Let the garlic cool a bit before attacking it. Just snip the top off a bulb and squeeze out the sweet, garlicky goodness.

Classic Tomato Salsa

Salsa

Salsa

Per a request, this is my basic salsa recipe (enjoy this one, Tom). The great thing about salsa is that you can tweak it left and right to make the kind of salsa that suits your taste. Do you like cilantro, add an entire bunch (I do, it’s one of my favorite flavors). Hot or mild, play with the jalapeno to taste. Add a few chipotle peppers if you like it smokey. There are endless ways you can modify this recipe to make something incredible. I’m a huge fan of green salsa made with tomatillos, and I’ve even made salsa with spirits and odd spices. My point is that this is a great basic recipe and I challenge you to make it your own. Your taste buds will thank me.

Ingredients:
3 large tomatoes
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup red onion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon green jalapeno chilies
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions:
The easiest way to make this is to place all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse slowly until all ingredients are chopped but not pureed. I like a thick salsa, so I often add the garlic, lime juice and salt first, pulse (to get the garlic chopped well) then add the remaining ingredients and roughly process.

If you don’t have a food processor, or prefer to not use one, just chop up all the ingredients and mix together in a bowl. It is that easy. Sprinkle with a little dried cilantro, or even thyme or Mexican oregano for garnish.

Fiddleheads (Young Fern shoots)

fiddleheads

Fiddleheads with garlic

Would you ever think to eat a fern? I eat anything that won’t make me sick, so I sure have, but young fern shoots are not the first thing that comes to mind for most people when they think of spring. Oddly, they are the first thing that comes to my mind when someone says “spring.” Early spring is fiddlehead season, and these crunchy vegetables are one thing I look forward to when winter is ending. Fiddleheads are the young shoots of the ostrich fern, and I am surprised that they are not more popular than they are, the stem is crunchy, and the leafy spiral in the middle is soft and sweet. Plus, fiddleheads are cute, but not too cute to eat (like baby bunnies).

Fiddleheads

Fresh fiddleheads vs. old fiddleheads

Fiddleheads do not have a long shelf life. I generally cook them the day I buy them, or perhaps the next day. It is not that they go bad, but that they tend to oxidize quickly, which will make them look less appealing. You may want to cut off the dark, oxidized skin on the fiddleheads to prepare them for cooking, which is very easy as it is just the skin that oxidizes and turns brown. It is not required, though, as the oxidized skin will not contribute any off flavors to the fiddleheads.

One thing to keep in mind is that fiddleheads should not be eaten raw, they contain compounds that are both unpleasant, and could potentially make a person ill. But cooking them makes them entirely safe to eat, and tenderizes the shoot as well. Fiddleheads are also surprisingly high in anti-oxidants, much more so than even blueberries, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, making them both healthful and tasty. Fiddleheads are very high in fiber and vitamin A, and low in everything that you don’t want. They are an excellent spring treat, particularly for those who are watching what they eat (e.g. no fat, no cholesterol, almost no carbs, and very low in calories, only 35 per 1/2 cup serving). Many recipes call for boiling or steaming them, which works well and doesn’t add any fat or calories from oil, however I prefer to saute them with a little oil and garlic. That said, I have been known to steam my fiddleheads prior to a quick saute in order to speed the process and this can also reduce the potential for bitterness that may be found in them. They also go well in pasta and stir fry, but nothing beats a good old saute to bring out their own natural flavor. Fern shoots may not be an obvious star of a dish, but you would be surprised at their delicate and interesting flavor. Even my children find fiddleheads a fun and interesting diversion to the usual vegetable argument.

Ingredients
1/2 pound fiddleheads
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 -2 cloves of garlic, thickly cut

N.B. a few drops of lemon juice can bring out the flavor and help prevent darkening (oxidation) of the fern shoots.

garlicGarlic cut thickly

Directions
1. Cut off any black ends of the fiddleheads, and slice off any black/brown skin from the stems.

2. Wash the fiddleheads and pat dry.

3. Slice the garlic clove(s) into thick pieces, thick enough so that they won’t cook too quickly (they tend to become bitter if overcooked)

4. Put the garlic in the oil and turn heat to medium high.

5. When the garlic starts to sizzle, add the fiddleheads. Turn the heat down to medium and saute fiddleheads until soft, about 10 minutes, then serve. Salt to taste.

Serves 1, but this recipe easily scales to as many servings as you need.

Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar

Strawberries with balsamic vinegar

Strawberries with balsamic vinegar

It may seem odd to add vinegar to berries, but a surprisingly tasty combination is a very simple dish of strawberries with balsamic vinegar. The acidity of the vinegar brings out the sweetness of the berries, and the contrast of flavors allows the intensity of each to come out, enhancing the “berry-ness” of a simple strawberry. This is a great summer dessert when the strawberries are at their peak ripeness, but is a great dish any time of year (and a great way to enjoy so-so strawberries out of season).

There are two ways to make this, the inexpensive way, and the more expensive way. The inexpensive way (relatively speaking) is to add standard balsamic vinegar and sugar to the berries, while the latter method is to use a special type of balsamic vinegar that has been bottled with some of the concentrated must from the wine-making process. Must is what one calls the sweet grape juice prior to fermentation. This particular vinegar is thicker and sweeter than traditional vinegar, and a little goes a long way, but it is an incredible addition to any sweet dessert, and I keep a bottle around always for this very purpose. You will find it in specialty food stores, such as cheese shops and foofy high-end food shops.

Ingredients
1 pint strawberries
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar

If you have the sweetened, reduced balsamic vinegar you can leave out the sugar.

Directions
Mix all ingredients in a bowl and serve. Really. You don’t need any whipped cream (although you can add it if you wish), this dish is incredible on its own. Also, feel free to increase or reduce the vinegar to your taste. Some people prefer just a hint of vinegar, and some (like me) like soup. In fact, I’m seriously thinking of experimenting with this to make a smoothie, if I can find the proper mix of ingredients (and I will). Expect that post this summer.