Along with salt, pepper is on nearly every table. Historically significant, pepper is the most common spice in use. Nutritionally beneficial, pepper offers a unique flavor and a variety of uses. It is the third most common ingredient used in cooking behind water and salt. There are a variety of peppercorns commonly used and the spice is versatile in all forms. Peppercorns are the seed berries of the Piper nigrum vine, originating on the Malabar coast of India. Said to be discovered more than 4,000 years ago, peppercorns were cultivated as long ago as 1000 B.C.
The pepper berries grow on bushes that are cultivated to heights of about 13 ft. If the berries were allowed to ripen fully, they would turn red; instead, they are harvested when they are green. Harvesting is done without any mechanical equipment. Workers pick the unripened berries and transport them in large wicker baskets to drying platforms. The berries are spread on these large platforms to dry in the sun over a period of about a week and a half. In their dried state, the green berries blacken to become the peppercorns we use in pepper mills.
Alternatively, the pepper berries can be picked just as they begin to turn red. They are plunged into boiling water for approximately 10 minutes, and they turn black or dark brown in an hour. The peppercorns are spread in the sun to dry for three to four days before they are taken to the factory to be ground. This process is quicker than air drying alone but requires the added step of the boiling water bath.
If white pepper is to be produced, the peppercorns are either stored after they have been boiled or they are harvested and packed in large sacks that are then lowered into running streams for seven to 15 days (depending on location). Bacterial action causes the outer husk of each peppercorn, called the pericarp, to break away from the remainder of the peppercorn. The berries are removed from the stream and placed in barrels partially immersed in water; workers trample the berries, much like stomping grapes, to agitate the peppercorns and remove any remaining husks. Some processors now use mechanical methods to grind off the outer coating to produce decorticated pepper, but many exporters prefer the old-fashioned method.
Black and white pepper are processed in the factory by cleaning, grinding, and packaging. Blowers and gravity separators are used to remove dust, dirt clods, bits of twigs and stalk and other impurities from the peppercorns after they are brought in from the field. Sometimes, treatments are used to eliminate bacteria on the cleaned, dry peppercorns.
Grinding consists of using a series of rollers in a process called cold roll milling to crush the peppercorns. Cracked peppercorns are only crushed lightly to bruise the peppercorns and release their flavor.
Further grinding steps crush peppercorns into coarse and fine grinds of pepper that are packaged separately. A sifter sorts the grains by size, and they are conveyed to packaging stations. Packaging varies widely among processors and includes bags, boxes and canisters for large-volume commercial sales and smaller jars, cans and mills for home use. Packing may also include the blending of pepper with other spices in a variety of spice mixes for preparing sauces, such as, cajun spice, Italian foods, seafood and a range of other specialized blends.
Because pepper is harvested by hand, quality control begins in the field with the careful observations of the harvesters. Bulk importation of peppercorns is monitored, as with all agricultural products, by government inspectors. In the factory, machinery and the steps in the processing or pepper are observed.
Pepper was considered so valuable that unscrupulous suppliers often mixed in mustard husks, juniper berries, and even floor sweepings and ground charcoal to stretch its value. In 1875, the British Sale of Food and Drugs Law imposed restrictions against the selling of adulterated pepper.
Although always prized as a flavor-enhancing spice, the peppercorn first gained fame for medicinal purposes as a digestive stimulant and expectorant. Its hot and pungent flavor causes the membranes inside the nose and throat to exude a lubricating secretion, helpful to those in respiratory distress by acting as an aid to induce coughing. Pepper was also used in an external ointment to relieve skin afflictions and hives.
Black pepper is also an effective deterrent to insects. A solution of one-half teaspoon freshly ground pepper to one quart of warm water sprayed on plants can be toxic to ants, potato bugs, silverfish and even roaches and moths. A sprinkling of ground pepper will also deter insect paths in non-garden areas.
Types of Pepper
Peppercorns (piper nigrum) ground for use on the table and in cooking originally came from India, but is now cultivated in Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Sri Lanka, Madagascar and South America. India is still the major producer of this spice with over half of the product coming from there.
A perennial bush, which often grows wild, is grown on trellises similar to grape vines. The bush has round, smooth jointed stems, dark green leaves and small white flowers. The flowers become the berries. The flowers grow in clusters of up to 150 berries. Grown from cuttings, the bush bears fruit after three or four years until about fifteen years old. Typically, pepper bushes grow best near the equator and some believe the closer to the equator the hotter the peppercorn. From this bush, three types of peppercorn are harvested: black, green and white.
Black peppercorns are the dried berry and the most pungent and strongest in flavor of the three. The berries are picked just before they are ripe and are typically sun dried. As they dry, an enzyme is released which darkens the hull of the berry to anywhere from dark brown to jet black. Within the hull is a lighter seed which causes a variance in the color of the ground pepper. Black pepper comes in many forms; whole, cracked and ground. The ground pepper has varying degrees in size from fine to coarse. Some of the uses are as follows: in whole form for pickling and stocks, cracked for meats and salads and ground for everything else.
Currently the Tellicherry pepper is the most popular. It is named after the port and region, it is gathered from. It is the oldest source of black pepper, though Alleppey and Pandjung are also long time areas for the export of this spice. The Tellicherry peppercorn is larger and darker than others. It has a more complex flavor which is why it is more popular. Tellicherry and Malabar come from the same region in Southwest India. The Tellicherry is picked slightly closer to being ripe and is considered to be slightly better than the Malabar. Malabar has a green hue with a strong flavor.
Green peppercorns are the green berry picked long before they are ripe, which can be freeze-dried to preserve the smooth texture and bright color. While the green peppercorn gives a strong tart punch of flavor to begin with, it does not linger long in the mouth. These can also be pickled for shipment. The berries for the green and black peppercorns are actually picked at about the same time but the green are not allowed to dry. Drying prevents enzymes from activating. Green peppercorns only come packed in brine, water or freeze-dried. Some of the uses are as follows: for meat sauces or for seasoning poultry, vegetables, and seafood.
The United States is one of the largest consumers of black pepper and has a much higher demand for black pepper than white pepper. However, Europeans prefer the white pepper over the black. This peppercorn consists of mature berries that are given a short water bath in order to remove the husks before the remaining seed is sun-dried. The removal of the husk prevents the dark color forming during the drying process. As the berry ripens, it becomes a bright red color. During the drying process, it becomes white. A second way for the white pepper to be harvested is to harvest the green berry, soak it for several days before rubbing off the outer layer. The remaining seed is then either dried for used whole or ground. This pepper has a long drawn out flavor which lingers. White pepper has two forms: whole and ground. Generally white is preferred over black for any dish where the pepper might show, such as in the following uses: white sauces, cream soups and fish or poultry dishes.
These are rare and difficult to find, particularly in the United States. They are the red berries ripened on the vine. Instead of just picking the berries, they are harvested with part of the vine. These are best used within a very short period of time. The red peppercorn has a sweet and mellow flavor in contrast to the pungent strong flavor of the black. Since these are rare in the United States, most recipes calling for red pepper are referring to ground cayenne or red chilies.
Blends and Combinations:
Blending the three types of pepper doesn’t really enhance the flavors; however, there are two blends which can work nicely. Black and green combined add a bit more bite to a dish. Black and white combined makes the flavor linger longer.
Peppercorns can also be blended with other products like garlic, coriander, lemon, shallot and chipotle pepper. A favorite is lemon pepper chicken or fish and the main spice in those dishes come from a combination of lemon and pepper.
There are several varieties of peppercorns which are do not belong to the piper nigrum family. These come from several different types of plants that have a different flavor and should not be used as a substitute. Some are as follows:
Long pepper (piper longum) originates in central Africa but is now also grown in India and Eastern China. The bud fruit is about an inch long and consists of lots of tiny black and gray seeds. The taste is a mild pepper flavor. This was commonly used during the Middle Ages and is best used in sweet, hot recipes that include ginger. Suggestions for use are in uncooked recipes where he flavor won’t be cooked away, such as, fresh fruit salad or coleslaw.
Pink peppercorns (shinus molle) are grown in Madagascar, Mexico and Australia. The pale pink berries are harvested in the summer. Initially this has a pepper flavor but ends tasting sweet. It is good for vegetable and seafood dishes and is not a good replacement for regular pepper. It can cause an allergic reaction in children. The schinus terebinthifolius species, also used as a pink pepper, looks similar to a holly tree and is grows in parts of the United States. There is an additional pink peppercorn which comes from the Baies rose plant (euonymus phellomanus) which is also from Madagascar.
Sichuan or Szechuan pepper is commonlyfound in China and used in many Chinese and Japanese dishes, but it is also a good addition to chicken noodle soup. The pepper comes from the berries of the prickly Ash tree native to China. They are more spicy than regular pepper.
Pepperleaf (piper sanctum) is cultivated in Peru and Argentina. The leaves are harvested year round. The green leaf is picked from a bush which is in the pepper family. It is very similar to cilantro and best used fresh. It has a little bite but mellows to a sweeter flavor.
Pepper Cooking Tips
In standard recipes, avoid adding ground pepper until the end of the cooking process, so its flavor does not get dulled. When cooking a recipe using a large amount of pepper over high heat, be aware, that any smoke from the peppered food can cause irritation, so be sure you have proper ventilation.
Italian Recipes That Use Peppercorns
Cracked Pepper Cheese Ball
Serve with breadsticks, crackers or focaccia bread as an appetizer.
Makes 12 servings
- 1-8 ounce package reduced fat cream cheese, softened
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley
- 1 small clove garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon cracked black pepper or more
In electric mixer bowl on medium speed, beat cream cheese until smooth. Add parsley and the next 5 ingredients and blend thoroughly.
Line an 8 ounce round bowl or crock with plastic wrap, leaving overhang long enough to cover the top of the bowl. Pack cheese mixture into bowl and smooth the top with the back of a spoon.
Cover top with plastic wrap overhang and refrigerate at least two hours or up to two days.
Place cracked black pepper on a piece of wax paper. Pull up on plastic to remove cheese from the bowl. Turn cheese ball onto the paper with the cracked black pepper and remove plastic wrap, Roll ball around on the cracked pepper to coat the outside evenly. You may need more pepper, depending on how much pepper covering you want on the cheese ball. Place on a serving dish.
Cacio e Pepe
- Kosher salt
- 6 oz. pasta (such as egg tagliolini, bucatini or spaghetti)
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and divided
- 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 3/4 cup finely grated Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese
- 1/3 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Bring 3 quarts water to a boil in a 5-qt. pot. Season with salt; add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until about 2 minutes before tender. Drain, reserving 3/4 cups pasta cooking water.
Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add pepper and cook, swirling pan for 1 minute.
Add 1/2 cup reserved pasta water to skillet and bring to a simmer. Add pasta and remaining butter. Reduce heat to low and add Grana Padano cheese, stirring and tossing with tongs until incorporated. Remove pan from heat; add Pecorino Romano cheese, stirring and tossing until sauce coats the pasta, and pasta is cooked al dente. (Add more pasta water if sauce seems dry.) Transfer pasta to warm bowls and serve.
Fennel And Peppercorn Crusted Tuna Steaks
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tuna steaks
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
Crush fennel seeds, peppercorns, pepper flakes and dried rosemary in a mortar and pestle (or pulse once or twice in a spice grinder – you want them slightly ground, but not pulverized).
If using a mortar and pestle, add garlic and salt and smash until garlic is evenly distributed (mixture will look like wet sand, not paste-like). If you used the spice grinder, coarsely chop garlic and leave on cutting board. Sprinkle with spice mixture and salt and press into with the side of a knife or bottom of pan until blended.
Pat tuna steaks dry with paper towels and press garlic-spice mixture into both sides of steaks.
Place dry skillet over medium-high heat – let pan get hot. Gently place tuna steaks in pan.
Cook about 2-3 minutes on each side for rare, 4-5 for medium or 6 minutes for well done, carefully flipping with spatula. Just like a steak, it’s ready to flip – when it’s seared properly, the tuna will no longer stick to the pan. Remove from heat and cover for about 5 minutes.
Beef Filet With Green Peppercorn Sauce
4 servings. For 8 (4-ounce) servings, cut steaks diagonally into thin slices; divide over 8 plates. Drizzle evenly with sauce.
- 4 (8-ounce) beef tenderloin filets
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon butter or margarine
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 2 cups Marsala
- 1 cup fat-free, low-sodium beef broth
- 20 green peppercorns, drained
- 5-ounces fat-free evaporated milk
- 1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- Garnish: Italian parsley sprigs
Sprinkle beef steaks evenly with salt and pepper.
Melt butter with olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef and cook 6 minutes on each side or until cooked to medium rare (145°F) to medium (160°F). Remove beef from skillet and keep warm.
Add wine, broth and peppercorns to skillet and bring to a boil; cook until liquid is reduced by half. Reduce heat to low and stir in evaporated milk and mustard; cook 5 minutes or until slightly thickened. Return beef to skillet and turn to coat in the sauce. Garnish with parsley, if desired.
Note: Green peppercorns are immature, tender peppercorns jarred in brine. They can be found near capers in the pickled food section of the supermarket.
Seared Peppered Scallops with Orange Sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 1/2 pounds sea scallops, patted dry with paper towels
- 2 teaspoons ground peppercorn blend, or ground black pepper
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped (about 2 teaspoons)
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1/2 teaspoon (packed) grated orange peel and the rest of the orange peeled and cut into segments
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Heat oil in large skillet over high heat. Sprinkle scallops with pepper blend and salt. Working in batches, add scallops to skillet in single layer; saute until lightly brown, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer scallops to a serving plate with sides, leaving drippings in pan.
Add garlic to drippings in skillet; stir 30 seconds. Add orange juice and orange peel. Boil until sauce thickens to syrup, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes.
Add the butter and oregano. Continue cooking over high heat, stirring to bring up any brown bits on the bottom of the skillet, about one minute more. Add the orange segments and mix well. Pour sauce over scallops and serve.
Pears with Vanilla Sugar Syrup and Black Peppercorns
From The Grand Hotel Timeo Restaurant in Taormina, Sicily.
- 4 ripe Anjou pears, stemmed, cut in half, cored and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
- Juice of two lemons
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 medium vanilla bean
- 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
Cover the pear slices with lemon juice and allow to stand covered for 10 minutes.
Combine the water and sugar in a medium-size saucepan. Bring to boil, lower the heat to simmer.
Slit the vanilla bean lengthwise with a small knife. Scrape out the seeds with the knife tip and add to the water and sugar mixture.
Scoop the pear slices from the lemon juice and add them to the water and sugar mixture along with the peppercorns. Simmer for 10 minutes. Cool in the pan then transfer to a bowl. Serve at room temperature.
- Your Questions: The 10 Essential Spices for Stocking Your Pantry (thebittenword.com)
- Make Your Own Pepper Blends for More Flavorful Cooking (lifehacker.com)
- I’m a pepper …. (madcrowherbals.com)
- White Pepper (lukehoney.typepad.com)
- The Spiciest Dish in the World (and How to Make it) (theflyingfugu.com)
Salt has played a key role in most cultures and, economically, it’s been important throughout the ages. Salt has been referenced and utilized in nearly all time periods and cultures from before recorded history. It’s been used as money and for trade in many early cultures.
Roman soldiers were paid with salt.
The Dutch foiled Spain’s aggression in the 16th century by blockading an Iberian salt supply and this led to Spain’s bankruptcy. With the loss of this commodity, war was avoided.
A salt tax in France became a major contributing factor to the French revolution.
China published, somewhere between 2700 BC to 4700 BC, a treatise concerning the medical uses of salt.
Some of the earliest Egyptian writings have a description of how to extract salt and Egyptians used salt in the mummification process.
Salt has been a part of religion as well. Some cultures ascribe magical powers to salt from protection to cleansing.
With its unique and versatile flavor, salt has been a staple throughout time. Enhancing almost every dish, salt is added to breads, meats, fruits and vegetables to sauces and desserts.
How Salt Aids Foods:
Preservation – helps protect against microorganisms, bacteria through dehydration and preventing growth of bacteria, which slows or prevents spoilage.
Texture Aid – in bread making, allows the dough to rise by giving helping the gluten hold more water and carbon dioxide. In meats it improves tenderness and in cheeses it aids in consistency of the cheese and the hardness of the rind.
Binder – in processed meats it helps retain water which reduces the loss of meat when cooking.
Color Developer – in ham, bacon, and other processed meats it helps obtain the desired color. It also helps create a golden crust for breads.
Fermentation Control – slows and controls the fermentation process in making pickles, cheese and sauerkraut.
What Is Salt?
Salt is made up of sodium and chloride. Sodium cannot be produced within the human body so it is important to the diet. Sodium helps regulate water balance and osmotic pressure. Chloride is equally important in the human diet for it helps the blood to carry carbon dioxide, absorb potassium, improve digestion and conserves an acid-base balance in the body. All of these benefits are received from the common salt shaker almost everyone has on their table.
The recommended salt intake varies for the individual. In general, though, a minimum of 500 mg per day with a maximum of 2400 mg is a good guideline. This is difficult to regulate because so many foods contain salt naturally. As with anything, too much salt may cause problems. Some of the problems include: hypertension or high blood pressure and high acidity, which may cause esophageal cancer.
In healthy people, too much salt is typically discarded by the kidneys. Since Americans tend to overindulge in salt, much focus has been placed on the effect salt has on hypertension. Many studies have been done and debate continues as to whether salt adversely affects blood pressure.
Three Basic Categories Of Salt:
Table salt – the one found in most salt shakers, is mined from salt deposits and has most of the minerals removed. Most salt in the United States is sold with iodine added making it iodized salt. This salt is harvested by forcing water into a mine to create brine (salt/water mix). The brine is then evaporated leaving cubes of salt. The salt is refined from there to create varieties like:
Pickling salt, Canning salt, Coarse salt, – fine grained without iodine or anti-caking preservatives. This is similar to table salt, but lacks the iodine and anti-caking additives that turn pickles dark and the pickling liquid cloudy. Pickles made with table salt would still be good to eat, but they wouldn’t look as appetizing.
Pretzel salt – large grained, does not melt quickly.
Rock salt – large crystal salt with a gray color, due to minerals not being removed. This form of salt is available in most grocery stores and in hardware stores.
Popcorn salt – very fine grained salt which is a flakier version of table salt.
Iodized salt – contains a small amount of potassium iodide and dextrose as a dietary supplement to prevent thyroid disease.
Seasoned salt – table salt with herbs added, such as onion, hickory smoke or garlic.
Kosher salt – is an additive-free coarse-grained salt. This salt was developed for the preparation of kosher meats in accordance with Jewish dietary laws. The salt itself is not kosher, but this is where the name comes from. The difference between table and Kosher salt is that during the evaporation process it is raked to give it a block-like structure which allows the salt to draw the blood out of meats. The raking makes Kosher salt coarser and flakier than table salt, so it disperses more easily. This makes it lighter and less dense than table salt. Since it is a lighter salt, there is less aftertaste with it. Kosher salt is recommended for rimming cocktail glasses for drinks, like margaritas. Today many cooks and chefs prefer it over table salt in their cooking, as it dissolves fast and its flavor disperses quickly. Kosher salt weighs less by volume than table salt, so you must increase the amount of salt used in a recipe (especially yeast bread recipes) when substituting it for table salt. This is a great all-purpose salt.
Sea Salt -is gained from evaporating salt water collected from an ocean or sea. The process is more costly than the mining process. Sea salt is less refined than other salts. Depending on the seawater used, you also get a variety of minerals in the sea salt.
Black Salt, Kala Namak, Sanchal – Significant for its strong sulfur odor (India) this salt is a pearly pink gray. It is used in Indian cooking.
Grey salt, Celtic salt, Sel Gris – Harvested from the light film of salt which forms during the evaporation process. The gray or light purple color comes from the clay in the region of France where it is harvested by traditional hand methods.
Hawaiian sea salt – Has a distinctive pink hue from the Alaea added to it. The Alaea is volcanic red clay with a high content of iron oxide. This salt is used in many traditional Hawaiian dishes like Kahlua Pig and Hawaiian Jerky.
Coarse salt, Gos Sel, Gale Grosso – Is a larger grained salt which resists moisture and is intended to be ground. Uses include flavoring for soups and salt crusts on meats.
Flake salt – Shaped like snowflakes and the sun and wind are used for evaporation. Then the brine is slowly heated to create the flakes.
Fleur de Sel, Flower of Salt, Flor De Sal – Skimmed from the top of salt ponds early in the process of evaporation and is considered a great condiment salt; also good on grilled meats, in salads and on vegetables. The flavor, like wines, varies depending on the region it is harvested from. Typically it is from France though some is produced in Portugal.
French Sea Salt – Processed less than American salt and retains more of the mineral content gained from the Atlantic seawater it is harvested from. This usually includes natural iodine. This coarse salt is good for salads, vegetables and grilled meats.
Grinder salt – Large dry salt crystal which can easily be put through a grinder. With a salt grinder you want to avoid metal as the salt will corrode the grinding mechanism.
Italian Sea Salt, Sicilian Sea Salt, Sale Marino – Harvested from the lower Mediterranean sea by hand using traditional methods of natural evaporation, this salt is high in iodine, fluorine, magnesium and potassium. A delicate salt which is good on salads and in sauces.
Smoked Sea Salt – The salt is smoked over real wood fires to add the flavor to the crystals. These can be used in soups, salads, pasta and also in grilling foods like salmon.
Some Other Types Of Salt:
Organic Salt: Organic salt has different standards than organic livestock or botanicals. Some organizations have started to set up guidelines to ensure the quality of water and production process.
Lite (light) salt and salt substitutes: These generally do not have a great flavor. Lite salt uses potassium chloride to reduce the sodium level in the salt. Salt substitutes have little or no sodium in them and are typically used by people who have a medical restriction to salt.
Sour Salt: is not made up of salt at all, instead it is citric acid. This is used to prevent browning when canning fruit. It can also be added to rye or sourdough bread to make it more tart.
Fine salts – used for baking in special recipes. The texture and size of a fine salt is smaller and more dense than a more coarsely ground salt.
Cooking With Salt
When making soups, stews or sauces that will reduce while cooking, use little, if any, salt at the beginning, since the flavor will concentrate over time.
Salt measurements in recipes are standardized for ordinary table salt, so if you’re using salt with larger crystals or flakes, like kosher salt, make sure to adjust the measurement as needed. (A rule of thumb: if 1 teaspoon table salt is required, use about 1½ teaspoons kosher salt.)
A dish salted to taste at room temperature will taste less salty after chilled.
To improve the flavor of chicken, rub salt inside and out before roasting.
Add a pinch of salt:
- To enhance the flavor of coffee.
- To whipping cream or egg whites to get them to whip faster.
- To milk to have it stay fresh longer.
- To boiled potatoes, salt after draining – this gives them a fine texture.
- Keep salads crisp by salting immediately before serving.
Here are some general guidelines in using salt amounts:
• 1 teaspoon per quart for soups and sauces.
• 2 teaspoons per pound for boneless raw meat.
• 1 teaspoon per 4 cups flour for dough.
• 1 teaspoon per two cups liquid for cooked cereal.
• 1 teaspoon per 3 cups water for boiled vegetables.
• 1 Tablespoon per 2 quarts water for pasta.
• 1 Tablespoon coarse or kosher salt = 2 teaspoons table salt.
General tips to help with using salt in the kitchen:
- Over salted soup – add a cut up potato or two to absorb the extra salt.
- To prevent food from sticking to skillets, waffle irons or griddles, sprinkle with salt and heat in a warm oven, dust off the salt and return to the cupboard. Next usage, foods won’t stick.
- Boil eggs in salt water to ease the peeling process.
- To set the whites of poached eggs, use salted water.
- Place an egg in a cup of water with 2 teaspoon of salt, a fresh egg will sink, a floating egg may be spoiled.
- Washing spinach, lettuce and other greens in saltwater will keep them crisp.
- Lightly salted cold water helps maintain the color of apples, pears and potatoes.
- Soak pecans in salted water to make shelling easier.
- Dampen a cloth with saltwater and wrap around cheese to prevent molding.
- Sprinkle ice with salt, place gelatin salads or desserts on ice to get them to set more quickly.
- Salt Institute
- Salt Traders
- Maharajh, Christina “20 Amazing Ways to Use Salt”
- Bardey, Catherine, Secrets of the Spas, Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 1999
- Breedlove, Greta, The Herbal Home Spa, Storey Books, 1998
- Edgson, Vicki and Ian Marber, The Food Doctor, Collins & Brown Ltd, 1999
Recipes Where Salt Is Important
Homemade Herb Salt
- 1/2 cup coarse sea salt
- 1/4 cup packed fresh rosemary leaves 1/4 cup packed fresh lemon thyme leaves
- 1 cup fine sea salt
Place 1/2 cup coarse sea salt, rosemary, and lemon thyme in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse, grinding salt until rosemary and thyme have a fine consistency. Add 1 cup sea salt and pulse to combine.
Pour salt mixture into a shallow baking dish and let air dry for 2 hours. Transfer salt to a glass jar and screw on lid.
Baked Kale Chips
- 1 bunch kale
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F. Line a non insulated cookie sheet with parchment paper.
With a knife or kitchen shears carefully remove the leaves from the thick stems and tear into bite size pieces. Wash and thoroughly dry kale with a salad spinner. Drizzle kale with olive oil and sprinkle with seasoning salt. Bake until the edges brown but are not burnt, 10 to 15 minutes.
- 1 quart water
- 4 tablespoons kosher salt or pickling salt
- 1 pound Kirby cucumbers
- 4-5 peeled garlic cloves
- 2-3 tablespoons homemade pickling spice, recipe below
In a medium pan, combine water and salt. Bring to a boil and heat until the salt is fully dissolved. Set aside and let the brine fully cool before using.
Wash a wide-mouth quart jar and a small four-ounce jelly jar and let them dry.
Wash Kirby cucumbers well and trim the ends. Pack them into the clean quart jar in one layer with the garlic cloves and the pickling spice. Pour the cooled brine over the cucumbers leaving space for the jelly jar to fit. Tap the jar gently on your counter to settle the cucumbers and to remove any air bubbles.
Place the four-ounce jelly jar into the mouth of the quart jar and fill it with some of the remaining brine. Press it down so that it holds the cucumbers in place.
Put a small square of cheesecloth or a tea towel over the jar and secure it with a rubber band. Set the jar on a small plate or saucer and place it in an area of your kitchen that’s cool and out of direct sunlight.
Check the jar every day to ensure that the cucumbers remain submerged in the brine. After a week, slice off a small amount of cucumber and taste. If you like the level of sourness that the pickle has reached, remove the jelly jar from the mouth of the quart, place a lid on the jar and move it to the refrigerator.
If you think they need to continue to sour, let them sit out for a few more days. Pickles can continue their fermentation process for up to three weeks.
Recipe can be increased to make multiple jars.They will last up to a year in the refrigerator.
Homemade Pickling Spice
- 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
- 2 tablespoons mustard seeds
- 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
- 2 tablespoons dill seed
- 2 tablespoons allspice berries
- 1 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes
- 10-12 bay leaves, crumbled
Combine and store in a glass jar.
Easy Soft Pretzel
- 3 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup warm water (120° to 130°)
- 1 tablespoon softened butter or vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons water
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- Kosher salt or coarse salt
In a large bowl, combine flour, yeast, salt, water and butter; beat until smooth (mixture will be slightly sticky).
Sprinkle with 1-2 tablespoons water if dough is dry. Cover and let rest in a warm place 30 minutes.
For topping, combine water, sugar and baking soda in a shallow bowl.
Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly greased surface; divide into six equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 24-in. rope.
Shape each rope into a pretzel and dip into the baking solution. Sprinkle pretzels with coarse salt .
Place on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake at 400° F for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.
- 8-10 lemons, scrubbed very clean
- 1/2 cup kosher salt, more if needed
- Extra fresh squeezed lemon juice, if needed
- Sterilized quart canning jar
Place 2 tablespoons of salt in the bottom of a sterilized jar.
One by one, prepare the lemons in the following way:
1. Cut off any protruding stems from the lemons and cut 1/4 inch off the tip of each lemon.
2. Cut the lemons as if you were going to cut them in half lengthwise, starting from the tip, but do not cut all the way. Keep the lemon attached at the base. Make another cut in a similar manner, so now the lemon is quartered, but attached at the base.
3. Pull the lemons open and generously sprinkle salt all over the insides and outsides of the lemons.
4. Pack the lemons in the quart jar, squishing them down so that juice is extracted and the lemon juice rises to the top of the jar. Fill up the jar with lemons, making sure the top is covered with lemon juice. Add more fresh squeezed lemon juice if necessary. Top with a couple tablespoons of salt.
5. Seal the jar and let sit at room temperature for a couple days. Turn the jar upside down occasionally. Put in the refrigerator and let sit, again turning upside down occasionally, for at least 3 weeks, until lemon rinds soften.
To use: remove a lemon from the jar and rinse thoroughly in water to remove salt. Discard seeds before using. Discard the pulp before using, if desired.
Store in refrigerator for up to 6 months.
Chicken with Preserved Lemons and Green Olives
- 4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 medium onions, sliced 1/4 inch thick
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 8 pieces preserved lemon
- 1/2 cup chicken broth
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 16 pitted green olives, halved
Pat chicken dry, then season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then saute chicken until golden brown, about 3 minutes on each side. Transfer chicken to a plate and keep warm, covered.
Add remaining tablespoon oil to skillet and reduce heat to moderate. Cook onions and garlic, stirring frequently, until softened but not browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Add turmeric and pepper and cook, stirring, 1 minute.
Scrape pulp from preserved lemon, reserving for another use. Cut rind into thin strips and add to onions with broth, wine and olives.
Return chicken, with any juices accumulated on plate, to skillet. Braise, covered, until chicken is cooked through, about 12 minutes.
Kosher Salt Encrusted Prime Rib Roast
- 2 cups coarse kosher salt
- 4 pound prime rib roast
- 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon seasoning salt
Preheat oven to 210 degrees F.
Cover the bottom of a roasting pan with a layer of kosher salt. Place the roast, bone side down, on the salt. Season the meat with the ground black pepper and seasoning salt, then cover completely with kosher salt.
Roast in the preheated oven for 4 to 5 hours, or until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 145 degrees F .
Remove the roast from the oven and let rest for 30 minutes. This sets the juices and makes the roast easier to carve. (Note: Be sure to remove all the salt from the roast before carving and serving.)
- The Difference Between Kosher Salt and Table Salt (todayifoundout.com)
- Salt and Its Many Varieties: What Are the Differences? (foodiefriendsfridaydailydish.com)
- Pink Himalayan Salt Soap (imagesinbloom.wordpress.com)
- Dietitians Dish: Cut back on sodium (victoriaadvocate.com)
- Scientists Say it’s Safe to Pass the Salt, For Now (liheart.org)
Winter is a great time to experiment with fruits like the kumquat, which can be added to a salad for a low-calorie, high-vitamin option. You can also try star fruits, which are great for heart health, or the flu-fighting quince. Certain varieties of tropical and citrus fruits, which are grown in places like Florida and Hawaii, have the highest levels of heart-healthy antioxidants of any fruit, so you can still make your heart happy without having to purchase fruit flown in from another hemisphere.
Some Not So Common Winter Fruits
The tiny little olive-sized citrus fruits are full of disease-fighting antioxidants, which are contained in their sweet, edible skin. A serving of five (which is about five calories) also contains one-fifth of your daily fiber needs, along with a healthy dose of potassium and vitamins A and C. The most commonly found variety is the Nagami, and California and Florida are home to most of our domestic crop, which peaks between November and March.
Slice kumquats and add to a salad or use in place of oranges in your recipes. Diced kumquats and avocado make a great salsa when mixed with red onion, cilantro and lime. At the market, look for firm fruits that are bright orange in color (green ones aren’t ripe), and store kumquats them at room temperature for two or three days or for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.
Carambolas or Star Fruit
Exotic fruits are generally higher in vitamin C, higher in potassium and lower in calories than domestic fruits. Carambolas, or star fruits, are no exception. High in inflammation-lowering polyphenols, they’re also great for your heart and full of fiber. Most of the star fruits you’ll see in stores now come from Hawaii or South Florida. Look for firm, shiny, evenly-colored yellow fruit. Handle with care, as star fruit bruise easily. Ripen them at room temperature for a few days until light brown ribs form and a full, fruity aroma develops, then refrigerate them for up to a week. The carambola’s taste has been described as a cross between citrus, apple and pear, and you can eat them as is, or slice them into fruit salads.
In Hawaii, the decline of the sugarcane plantations has led to a growing specialty fruit industry and antioxidant powerhouses rambutans, lychees and longans are now grown there. The rambutan, also known as hairy lychee or hula berry, is a tropical treat and their season runs from September through March. They might even be better for you than green tea. Rambutans have higher levels of the antioxidants: flavonoids and anthocyanins, both of which are believed to reduce the risk of chronic diseases and cardiovascular problems. They also contain iron and calcium. Look for rambutans in Asian and other specialty markets and handle them with care — they’re fragile and keep only a day or two at room temperature. If you’re not eating them right away, place them in a perforated plastic bag and refrigerate. To enjoy them, simply peel and pop into your mouth or add them to a fruit platter.
A relative of the lychee, longans are native to China but now are grown in Hawaii and in Puerto Rico. Stock up on them this time of year because they are traditionally used to settle upset stomachs and reduce fevers, making them great natural flu remedies. Also known as “dragon’s eye,” it’s easy to see why—the fruits have a black seed centered in translucent white flesh—and they taste similar to a chewy grape. You can find Hawaii-grown longans in Asian markets nearly year-round. Store them in the refrigerator in a perforated plastic bag for a week or two. You can simply rinse, peel and seed longans to eat as snacks or add them to fruit salads and desserts.
A study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that a persimmon a day could be better for your heart than an apple, because they contain significantly higher concentrations of dietary fiber, minerals and phenolic compounds that prevent atherosclerosis, a leading cause of heart disease, heart attacks and stroke. An added bonus: the antioxidants in persimmons can help control diabetes and the cell damage it causes. Their flavor and texture has been compared to plums or apricots, with spicy undertones, and you can use just the pulp or the entire fruit in puddings, pureed in ice creams, breads or cakes. Try them in savory dishes, too, like salsas, stir-fries and salads.
Though their softer Bosc relatives are long gone by now, hard-when-ripe Asian pears are perfect for cold storage and easy to find in farmer’s markets and grocery stores this time of year. Asian pears have significantly more fiber than other pear varieties and are good for your heart. Select the most fragrant, unblemished Asian pears when shopping; a sweet scent is the best indication that the pears are ripe. They can be kept for up to a week at room temperature or up to three months in the refrigerator. Their sweet pear flavor and crunchy texture make Asian pears perfect additions to salads and are delicious grated into slaws. They work well in place of apples in recipes from holiday stuffings to baked dishes. Try sauteing them to serve alongside meat entrees.
Some Common Winter Fruits
In general, look for plump oranges that are free of blemishes or bruises. As the season goes on, you may find different varieties of oranges popping up, such as Cara Cara and blood oranges. Both of these varieties are very sweet and have a darker flesh, ranging from pink in the Cara Cara to dark red in the blood orange.
Oranges are filled with vitamin C (a large orange has more than the daily recommended value), which may help smooth your skin. If you chose a blood orange, you’ll also be getting anthocyanins, a compound that turns the orange’s flesh red and is associated with helping to keep the heart healthy and the brain sharp.
Buy them in bulk (they may be cheaper in a bag than when sold individually) and store them in the refrigerator to extend their life by a couple of weeks.
Though there are hundreds of varieties of bananas, the Cavendish is the variety most familiar to North Americans. Bananas are in season year-round and are different from other fruits because they can be picked while they are still green. If you do buy green bananas, wait until the skin ripens to a yellow and the starches convert to sugars.
Bananas are one of the best sources of potassium, which is associated with healthy blood pressure. Also, a medium banana is an excellent source of cell-building vitamin B6 and is a good source of vitamin C and fiber.
Though bananas are relatively economical–ripening bananas cost about 90¢ per pound–overripe bananas are often on sale for less. Even if banana peels have started to brown, the insides often remain sweet and ripe. Buy a bunch or two and peel the extras before placing them in the freezer. They will keep for several months and are excellent in banana bread and smoothies.
Avoid green pineapples–they are not ripe. A ripe pineapple should smell like a pineapple. There should be a golden color present–starting at the base–and the more yellow a pineapple is, the better it will taste throughout. Some people claim that pulling leaves easily from the top of a pineapple is an indication of ripeness, but this has not been proven. Your best bet is to go with color.
Pineapple is full of vitamin C, delivers a healthy dose of fiber and is an excellent source of manganese, a nutrient involved in bone formation. Though convenient, prepared pineapple chunks in the produce section may cost more per pound than a whole pineapple. Many markets though sell pineapple peeled for the same price as an unpeeled one.
Color is not a good indicator of a ripe pomegranate. Instead, choose a fruit that feels heavy in your hand.
Pomegranate juice is rich in antioxidants, natural compounds found in plants that help protect the body from harmful free radicals. (Free radicals are compounds in the body that damage tissues and may contribute to a variety of chronic conditions, such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer). Although you don’t get as many antioxidants eating the seeds as drinking the juice, you will get fiber and abundant punicic acid, a polyunsaturated heart-healthy oil.
Pomegranates aren’t the cheapest fruit in the produce bin (about $2.50 each), but the good news is that one fruit goes a long way. Your best bet is to compare prices at competing stores and buy the cheapest you can find.
Like oranges, select fruits that are free of blemishes and bruises. Buying grapefruit can be tricky–the skin color of the fruit is not always a reliable way to tell if the fruit is sweet inside. If the fruit is heavy in your hand, that may be a good indication of its juiciness. Grapefruits are high in vitamin C and are a good source of fiber. Studies have shown that the soluble fiber in grapefruit may even be beneficial in lowering cholesterol. Half a medium grapefruit has only 60 calories.
If you regularly buy organic, you may make an exception for grapefruit. According to the Environmental Working Group (a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization) it is a fruit that is less likely to be contaminated with pesticides.
Recipes Using Winter Fruits
Pears with Blue Cheese and Prosciutto
Makes 4 servings
- 2 pears, each cored and sliced into 8 wedges
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 3 ounces blue cheese cut into slices
- 6 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto cut in half lengthwise
- 1 cup arugula
Roll up an arugula leaf, a piece of pear (lay on its side)and a piece of cheese in a slice of prosciutto. Repeat with the remaining pear slices.
Sicilian Fennel Salad with Oranges, Arugula, and Black Olives
In Sicily , this salad is traditionally prepared with chicory , a slightly peppery , tender-leafed green. Substitute with arugula if you can’t find chicory .
- 3 navel oranges
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 bunches trimmed arugula or chicory
- 2 cored, halved, trimmed medium fennel bulbs
- 1/4 cup oil-cured black olives
Trim off and discard peel and all of the white pith from oranges, then slice crosswise into thin rounds and set aside. Mix together the extra-virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar in a large salad bowl, then season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Tear arugula into large pieces and arrange in the salad bowl. Slice fennel bulbs into long strips. Toss salad just before serving, adjust seasonings, then arrange orange slices and black olives on top.
Braised Chicken with Kumquats and Green Olives
- 3 lbs. chicken legs or thighs
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, sliced into ¼ inch half-rounds
- 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 1 cup white wine
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup kumquats
- 1 cup green olives
- Salt and pepper
- Couscous, cooked according to package directions
Rinse and pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a large pan with a cover over medium heat. Add chicken and cook, turning occasionally , for about 15 minutes, or until evenly browned. Transfer chicken to a plate.
Add onion and garlic to pan and saute over medium heat until transparent. Add wine and bay leaves and reduce over high heat until syrupy . Return the chicken to the saucepan, skin side up and add enough chicken broth to cover 2/3 of the chicken. Tuck the kumquats and olives into the broth, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered, until the sauce is thickened and the chicken is cooked through and tender, about 40 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon over couscous and serve.
Makes 12 servings.
- 4 lbs. (about 10 medium) assorted apples, such as McCoun, MacIntosh, Golden Delicious, Jonathan, Jonagold or HoneyCrisp, peeled, cored and quartered
- 1/3 cup fresh apple cider
- 4 lemon slices, paper-thin, or 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 (3-inch) piece stick cinnamon, or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional
- 2 tablespoons sugar, agave syrup, or honey, optional
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Place apples, cider and lemon slices or juice in large Dutch oven or heavy casserole with a cover. Toss apples to coat them with lemon. If using, add cinnamon stick or sprinkle on cinnamon and sweetener and toss again.
Bake apples, covered, for 60 to 75 minutes, until very soft and moist. Stir to combine soft apples and liquid into applesauce. If mixture is too thin, bake the applesauce, uncovered, for 15 minutes longer. Cool to room temperature before serving. Applesauce thickens as it cools. The applesauce keeps, covered in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Orange-Scented Olive Oil Cake
- 2 oranges
- 2 1/3 cups sugar or 1 cup plus 2 ½ tablespoons sugar alternative, such as Truvia or Domino Light
- Cooking Spray
- 2 1 ⁄2 cups flour, plus more for dusting baking pan
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 eggs
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 ⁄4 cup fresh orange juice
- 1 ⁄4 cup confectioners’ sugar
- Sugar crystals for garnish, optional
Trim about 1/2″ from the tops and bottoms of the oranges; quarter oranges lengthwise.
Put oranges, 1 cup of the sugar or 1/2 cup of the sugar alternative and 4 cups water into a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, lower heat and cook, stirring often, until sugar dissolves and orange rind can be easily pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes.
Remove pan from heat and let cool to room temperature.
Heat oven to 350°F. Spray a 10″ round cake pan with cooking spray and dust with flour; line pan bottom with parchment paper cut to fit. Set pan aside.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and baking soda in a medium bowl and set aside. Remove orange quarters from syrup, remove and discard any seeds, and put oranges into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until oranges form a chunky purée, 10–12 pulses. Add remaining sugar, reserved flour mixture, vanilla, and eggs and process until incorporated, about 2 minutes. Add olive oil; process until combined. Pour batter into prepared pan; bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 40–45 minutes. Let cool for 30 minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk orange juice and confectioners’ sugar to make a thin glaze. Remove cake from the pan and transfer to a cake stand or plate. Using a pastry brush, brush orange glaze over top and sides of cake; let cool completely . Garnish cake with sugar crystals, if desired..
- 9 Funky Fruits You Have to Try (theflyingfugu.com)
- Healthy Breakfast Recipe: Winter Citrus Compote with Yogurt – Recipes from The Kitchn (thekitchn.com)
- Winter Fruit (foodiefriendsfridaydailydish.com)
- Green Smoothies – A Tasty Tempting Mix Of Fruit and Veggies (bestfruitsmoothies.com)
Calabria is one of the oldest regions of Italy with the first evidence of human presence in the region dating as far back as 700,000 years BC. Around 3,500 BC, the first villages in Calabria were settled. By the eighth century BC, the Greeks had control over the region and, in the second century BC, Calabria was conquered by the Romans. After the fall of the Roman Empire the region was conquered by the Goths, the Byzantines and later the Longobards. It wouldn’t be until 1860 that Calabria would consolidate and became part of the larger region of Italy.
Calabria’s economy is based mainly on agriculture. Chief agricultural products include olive oil, onions, mushrooms, wheat and other cereal grains, wine, eggplant, figs, chestnuts and citrus fruit. Calabria is the largest producer of bergamot oranges in Italy. The rinds of bergamot oranges are used to manufacture perfumes, teas, and other aromatic creations. Despite its small size and low population, Calabria is responsible for producing a third of all the olive oil produced in Italy.
Calabria is fortunate to have a great deal of forested land and, as a result, most industry is developed around construction and building. Textile, clothing and chemical industries are also present in the region. A substantial portion of the region’s economic resources stem from the production and sale of handicrafts by individuals and very small family businesses. Tourism, which is increasing, also plays a major part in the Calabrian economy and is the motive behind some of the region’s most recent technological advancements.
It is a place of contrasts, with high mountain villages seemingly built on the sides of mountains in the interior to red roofed villas on the coast, clustered around an ancient castle or church. Calabria hosts several world class seaside resorts, as well as, mountaintop resorts dedicated to winter sports. Tourists also enjoy watching local artisans produce any number of handicrafts, with pottery and ceramics being the most common.
The Food of Calabria
Calabrians use the mountainous area covering most of the region to raise hill-loving pigs, goats and sheep and comb the woods for chestnuts, acorns and wild mushrooms to add rustic flavors to their cooking. Adventurous fishermen have little trouble finding swordfish, cod, sardines, and shellfish. The inland freshwater lakes and streams offer trout in abundance.
Most of the cuisine of Calabria is heavily influenced by the Mediterranean and is often spicy. Pasta dishes with peppers, onions and sausage sauteed with or without sauce are very common. Frittatas made with pasta and sausage are also prevalent. Eggplant is a favorite dish in the region and is served in a variety of ways.
Due to the humid climate and the high risk of rapid molding and spoilage, food preservation is important. Oiling, salting, curing and smoking – almost all of the area’s food products can be found preserved in some form or another. Calabria’s many varieties of cured meats and sausages are served alongside fresh produce. The local pancetta pairs perfectly with summer melons.
Calabrians do their best to utilize the entire animal letting nothing go to waste. The spicy-hot tang of nduja (also known as ‘ndugghi) is a singularly unusual flavor, made from pig’s fat and organ meats and mixed with liberal amounts of pepperoncinis. This salami-style delicacy (left alone to cure for an entire year) is a testament to the Calabrian patience of waiting until foods have reached their perfection before eating. Other salamis such as Capicola Calabrese and Sopressata di Calabria also come from the region and are served alongside local breads and cheeses.
Breads, cheeses and pastas are all important to Calabrian cooking.
Pane del Pescatore is a local bread specialty made with eggs and dried fruits. Focaccia and pita breads are popular in the region, reflecting the Greek and Arabic flatbread influences. Similarly, special pastries and dessert breads take on a Greek flavor with many being fried and dipped in honey.
Cheeses lean toward the goat and/or sheep milk varieties, though cow’s milk cheeses are becoming more common. Sciungata (a sheep’s milk cheese similar to ricotta), ricotta calabrese (a ricotta with the addition of milk and salt), butirro (a buttery cow’s milk cheese) and the prized, caciocavallo silano, a cow’s milk cheese hung to dry thus developing its signature teardrop shape, are just a few of the cheeses found on the Calabrian table.
Calabrian pastas are hearty and varied, with the names of some of the more creative cuts like ricci di donna ( “curls of the lady”) and capieddi ‘e prieviti ( “hairs of the priest”) belying a whimsical spirit of the region’s people. Fusilli is a common pasta component in Calabrian dishes, as are Scilateddri, Lagane, Cavateddri and Maccheroni.
Make Some Calabrian Inspired Recipes At Home
Serve with Italian Bread
Serves 4 to 6 people
- 2 large eggplants, peeled and cut into slices
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 2 roasted chili peppers, packed in oil, minced
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup of fresh oregano, minced or 1 tablespoon dried
- 3 tablespoons of white vinegar
- 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
- Fresh ground black pepper to taste
Cut the eggplant slices into one inch strips and place in a bowl.
Salt the fresh cut eggplant and let it set for an 1 hour.
Rinse the eggplant thoroughly under cold water.
In a large pot of boiling water, cook the eggplant for 4 to 5 minutes until tender. Drain.
Lay the eggplant out on a towel to dry.
In a medium size bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, chili peppers, garlic, oregano and pepper.
Lay the eggplant out on a plate and drizzle some of the oil mixture on top.
Place another layer on top and repeat until all the eggplant is used.
Refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours and serve chilled.
Pasta with Sardines
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs, made from stale bread
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound long, thick pasta, like perciatelli or bucatini
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons drained capers
- 2 cans of sardines packed in extra virgin olive oil, undrained, (or 1/2 pound fresh, boned)
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente; drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.
Put 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring frequently, until golden and fragrant, less than 5 minutes, and then remove.
Add the remaining oil and the onion and garlic to the pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.
Turn the heat under the onions to medium-high and add the lemon zest, capers and sardines with the oil the fish was packed in; cook, stirring occasionally, until just heated through, about 2 minutes.
Add the pasta to the sardine mixture and toss well to combine. Add the parsley, most of the bread crumbs and the reserved pasta water to moisten. Taste and adjust seasoning, garnish with parsley and remaining bread crumbs.
Lamb Chops Calabria Style with Tomatoes, Peppers, and Olives
- 1 large red bell pepper, cut into bite-size chunks
- 8 lamb chops, each about 1″ thick
- Sea salt
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 2 cups Italian chopped tomatoes, such as Pomi
- 3 tablespoons Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 1/4 cup green olives in brine, pitted and coarsely cut up
- freshly ground black pepper
Cut each pepper lengthwise, remove the stem, seeds, and core. Cut into approximately 1 1/2″ squares.
Salt lamb chops on both sides. Pour olive oil into a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add lamb chops. Brown thoroughly on one side, turn, and brown thoroughly on the other side (cook to your liking). Remove from the pan to a plate (cover with foil).
Add chopped onion to the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it becomes soft and golden. Add the tomatoes, stirring occasionally, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the peppers, parsley, olives, salt and black pepper.
Turn the heat down to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes, until the peppers are tender but firm.
Sprinkle the chops with freshly ground pepper and put them into the pan with the sauce. Turn the chops over several times to coat them well and after a minute or so turn the full contents of the skillet onto a warm platter and serve.
- Pristine beaches and wild scenery: welcome to Calabria (mylittleitaliankitchen.wordpress.com)
- Calabria: Time Will Tell (acevola.blogspot.com)
- Completing The Map of Calabria (relijournal.com)
- A stellar Italian food experience in Calabria (acevola.blogspot.com)
- The Cuisine Of Italy – Catanzaro (jovinacooksitalian.com)
- The Cuisine Of Italy – Cosenza (jovinacooksitalian.com)
Hit the market and it sure seems like everyone is cooking for a crowd. Everything seems to be in such large packages.
In reality, there are a lot more folks cooking for one or two than you might think. There are, of course, those seniors and empty nesters but there are also the newlyweds, the college kids, the single parent and child and other young professionals.
It does take a bit of organization to make cooking for two a pleasurable experience. With some organization, you won’t find yourself eating goulash leftovers for an entire week.
Here are some organizing ideas for cooking for just two.
- Purchase a supply of freezer bags, plastic wrap, foil, freezer dishes, freezer labels and a permanent marker. This way you can be prepared for those too-large-for-you portions.
- Sure you think you’ll remember but, once frozen, it is often hard to tell which dish is which. Use your marker to write on the foil or bag or use stick on labels. Adding the cooking temperature and time will save you from looking it up later.
- Perhaps your recipe needs only half of a can. Place the remaining half of the can in a small freezer bag or container, label and freeze for another day or use.
- Most recipes seem to serve four, six or eight. However, you don’t need to divide the recipe in two. This often results in less than satisfactory results. Instead, prepare the dish but divide it in two. Have half for dinner and place half in the freezer.
- Individual casserole dishes are a great gift for you. Dishes, such as lasagna, chicken tetrazzini and tuna casserole, can be prepared and divided among small casseroles. Freeze the extras and pull out one or two, as needed, on a busy night.
- Shop in smaller quantities. When cooking for two, the big box discount stores are probably not your friend. You’ll surely tire of the five pounds of anything before it is consumed. You might think you are saving money but, if you end up wasting some of what you bought, then you haven’t saved anything.
- Continue to buy the meat you enjoy but divide the package into smaller portions and place some in the freezer. When buying something larger, like a roast, you can ask at the meat counter for them to split into two pieces for you.
- Purchase frozen vegetables in plastic bags. This allows you to pour out just the right serving for two and reseal the bag to preserve the rest.
- For dry goods, such as pastas, beans and rice, use what you need and then reseal the container. Sometimes, you can just place the entire box in a quart or gallon plastic bag and zip it shut to keep it fresh.
- Desserts for two pose a special challenge. While you can make a whole cake or pie, you might not want to be tempted by having the entire cake on that kitchen counter. Turn that cake recipe into cupcakes, freezing some of them. Turn the pie recipe into tarts. Look for dessert mixes that make an 8 x 8-inch size pan rather than a 9 x 13-inch pan. When making desserts, such as brownies or cookies, divide them into individual portions and wrap them separately.
- When making a casserole that calls for half-cup of green pepper or a few ribs of celery, head to the salad bar. Instead of an entire head of celery going bad in the refrigerator drawer, you can scoop up just the portion you need.
- If you have trouble using fresh produce before it can go bad, try some of the fresh produce bags, sometimes marketed as “green” bags. These extend the life of produce.
Here are some menus to get you started and these recipes are designed for two.
Seared Scallops with Mint Pesto
Serving Size: 3 scallops, 1/4 cup pesto, 1/2 cup spinach
- 1/3 cup lightly packed fresh mint
- 1/4 cup lightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 2 tablespoons almonds, toasted and chopped
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 6 sea scallops (8 to 10 ounces total)
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 cup fresh spinach
In a food processor, combine mint, parsley, almonds, Parmesan cheese, the water, lemon juice, garlic, 1/8 teaspoon of the salt, and 1/8 teaspoon of the pepper. Cover and process until nearly smooth. Set aside.
Rinse scallops and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle scallops with the remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add scallops; cook for 5 to 6 minutes or until scallops are opaque, turning once halfway through cooking.
Serve scallops and pesto over spinach.
Roasted Beets and Shallots
- 6 ounces trimmed red and/or yellow small beets, quartered
- 2 small shallots, chopped
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- Dash ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon snipped fresh sage or tarragon
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Arrange beets and shallots in a single layer in a 2-quart square baking dish. Drizzle with oil; toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Cover with foil and roast for 20 minutes. Uncover and roast for 10 to 15 minutes more or until beets are tender. Cool completely. Peel the beets. Drizzle beets and shallots with lemon juice; sprinkle with sage.
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 2 small apples (such as Granny Smith, Braeburn, or Honeycrisp), cored, quartered, and thinly sliced (1-1/2 cups)
- 2 tablespoons dried cranberries
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons low-fat granola without raisins
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Coat two 6-ounce custard cups or other 6-ounce oven-safe dishes with nonstick spray; set aside. In a medium bowl, stir together apple slices, cranberries, honey, the water, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Divide mixture between prepared custard cups. Cover cups with foil.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until apples are tender. Remove foil and top with granola. Bake, uncovered, about 5 minutes more or until granola is lightly browned.
Grilled Fish with Pepper Salsa
Serving Size: 1 fish steak and 2/3 cup salsa each
- 2-5 ounce fresh or frozen fish steaks, cut 3/4- to 1-inch thick
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
- 1/2 teaspoon finely shredded lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup chopped, seeded tomato
- 1/2 cup chopped yellow or orange bell pepper
- 1 scallion, thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons snipped fresh mint
- Lemon wedges
Thaw fish, if frozen. Rinse fish; pat dry with paper towels. Place fish in a large resealable plastic bag set in a shallow dish.
In a small bowl, combine crushed fennel seeds, the lemon zest, lemon juice, oil, 1/8 teaspoon of the crushed red pepper and the salt. Pour over fish in bag; turn to coat fish. Seal bag. Marinate in the refrigerator for 30 to 60 minutes, turning bag occasionally.
Meanwhile, for salsa:
In a small bowl, combine tomato, bell pepper, green onion, mint, and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper. Set aside.
Drain fish, discarding marinade. For a charcoal grill, grill fish on the greased rack of an uncovered grill directly over medium coals for 6 to 10 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork, gently turning once halfway through grilling.
For a gas grill, preheat grill . Reduce heat to medium. Place fish on greased grill rack over heat. Cover and grill as above.
You can also use a preheated stove top grill or grill pan; follow directions above.
Serve fish topped with salsa mixture and lemon wedges.
Serving Size 2/3 cup
- 1/4 cup quinoa, rinsed well and drained
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 3/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 1/3 cup chopped seeded cucumber
- 1 large green onion, thinly sliced, or 3 tablespoons snipped fresh chives
- 2 tablespoons snipped fresh basil
In a small nonstick saucepan, cook quinoa and garlic in hot oil over medium heat for 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add broth. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed and the quinoa is tender. Remove from heat. Stir in cucumber, green onion, and snipped basil.
Berry Cheesecake Dessert
- 1/4 cup fat-free cream cheese
- 1/4 cup skim ricotta cheese
- 4 ½ teaspoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon finely shredded orange peel
- 2 teaspoons orange juice
- 1 ½ cups sliced strawberries, raspberries, and/or blueberries
- 2 gingersnaps or chocolate wafers, broken
In a blender container or food processor bowl combine cream cheese, ricotta cheese, sugar, orange peel and orange juice. Cover and blend or process until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl; cover and refrigerate for 4 to 24 hours.
To serve, spoon the fruit into two dessert dishes. Top with the cream cheese mixture and sprinkle with the broken cookies
- 1 boneless beef top sirloin steak, cut 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick (8 to 10 ounces total)
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1/4 cup dry red wine
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon honey
Trim fat from steak; cut steak into two equal portions. In a medium skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add steaks. Reduce heat to medium; cook for 10 to 13 minutes or until desired temperature (145 degrees F for medium-rare or 160 degrees F. for medium), turning steaks occasionally. If steaks brown too quickly, reduce heat to medium-low. Transfer steaks two dinner plates; keep warm.
Add mushrooms, garlic, and crushed red pepper to skillet; cook and stir for 2 minutes. Remove skillet from heat. Carefully add wine. Return to heat. Boil gently, uncovered, for 3 to 5 minutes or until most of the liquid is evaporated. Add balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, and honey; return to simmering. Cook and stir about 2 minutes or until slightly thickened. Spoon over steaks.
- 6-8 slender carrots, trimmed, scrubbed
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon finely grated orange peel
- 3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
- 1 tablespoons honey
- Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Preheat oven to 400°F. Arrange carrots in single layer in a small baking pan. Add olive oil and orange peel; sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss. Pour orange juice over; cover tightly with foil. Roast until crisp-tender, about 20 minutes. Remove foil. Increase oven to 450°F. Drizzle honey over carrots. Roast uncovered until carrots are tender and browned in spots, about 10 minutes longer. Divide carrots and transfer them and any juices to the dinner plates with the steak.
Cucumber Radish Slaw
Serving Size: 3/4 cup
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar or sugar substitute equivalent to 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- Dash salt
- Dash ground black pepper
- 1/4 of a medium English cucumber, thinly sliced (1 cup)
- 1/2 cup radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced
- 1/4 of a medium red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped green onion
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together vinegar, olive oil, sugar, salt, and black pepper. Add cucumber, radishes, sweet pepper, and green onion. Toss to coat. Serve immediately or cover and chill for up to 2 hours.
Roasted Mangoes with Brown Sugar Topping
- 1 medium ripe mango, halved lengthwise and pitted
- 1 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoons flaked coconut
- 1 teaspoons finely shredded orange peel
- 1 teaspoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
Place mango halves in a small baking dish. Combine brown sugar, coconut, orange peel, and crystallized ginger in a small mixing bowl. Sprinkle over mango halves.
Bake in a 425 degree F. oven about 10 minutes or until mangoes are hot, and topping just begins to brown.
Vegetarian Entree Option
Substitute this entree for any of the entrees above.
Spicy Black Bean Burgers
- 1 15- to 16-ounce can black beans, rinsed, drained
- 1/3 cup chopped red onion
- 1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup grated carrot
- 2 tablespoons plus extra salsa, recipe below
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (such as Tabasco)
- 2 whole wheat hamburger buns, optional
Using a fork, mash half of the beans in medium bowl. Mix the remaining beans, onion, carrot, bread crumbs, 2 tablespoons salsa, oregano and hot pepper sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Using moistened hands, shape bean mixture into two 3- to 4-inch-diameter patties.
Preheat broiler. Brush broiler rack or pan with oil. Broil burgers until heated through, about 3 minutes per side.. Spoon 1/4 cup salsa over each. Serve in a hamburger bun, if desired.
Homemade Tomato Salsa
Makes 3 cups
- 2 medium sized fresh tomatoes (from 1 lb to 1 1/4 lb), stems removed, finely diced
- 1/2 red onion, finely diced
- 1 jalapeño chili pepper (stems, ribs, seeds removed), finely diced
- 1 serano chili pepper (stems, ribs, seeds removed), finely diced
- Juice of one lime
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Chop 2 medium sized fresh tomatoes. Prepare the chilies. Be very careful while handling these hot peppers. If you can, avoid touching them with your hands. Use surgical gloves or a paper towel to protect your hands. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water after handling and avoid touching your eyes for several hours. Set aside some of the seeds from the peppers. If the salsa isn’t hot enough, you can add a few for heat.
Combine all of the ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Taste. If the chilies make the salsa too hot, add some more chopped tomato. If not hot enough, carefully add a few of the seeds from the chilies and the oregano
Let sit for an hour for the flavors to combine.
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If you already follow a healthful meal plan filled with whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies, and lean protein, congratulations! You’re on your way to a long, healthy life and are taking a major step in controlling your weight and blood glucose levels. Plus, you’re probably already eating most of the foods on this list.
For those who are taking the baby-steps approach to eating better, this list is even more helpful. Not only are these power foods high in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, they’re also familiar and easy to find. That means you don’t have to hunt down any exotic ingredients or shop at specialty grocery stores to find foods that will help you get on track with a healthy meal plan.
Some fruits, veggies, and grains are so good for you that they practically have superpowers. These power foods are packed with antioxidants and other disease-fighting nutrients. Plus, they’re delicious in recipes. What are they, you ask?
Asparagus is high in folate and vitamin C, which both contribute to a heart-healthy diet. It’s a non-starchy vegetable with only 5 grams of carbs per serving and nearly 2 grams of dietary fiber. It is also high in B vitamins, folate, vitamin C and an antioxidant called glutathione. The cardiovascular benefits of folate and other B vitamins have been studied in relation to lowering homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood, that has been linked to a higher risk of coronary heart disease. As a result of these studies, the American Heart Association recommends including foods containing folate and other B vitamins in your diet to help lower homocysteine levels. A serving of asparagus is a 1/2 cup, or 4 ounces cooked, and provides 33 percent of the daily recommendation of folate, according to the FDA.
Blueberries and Raspberries
Enjoy the benefits of blueberries on their own or in a variety of foods, including smoothies and pancakes. Blueberries provide dietary fiber, vitamin C and flavonoids, a type of phytonutrient that offers antioxidant protection, such as boosting your immune system and fighting inflammation. A phytonutrient is a chemical compound that occurs naturally in plants.
Blueberries get their dark blue color from anthocyanins, plant pigments that are another disease-fighting antioxidant, that may benefit heart health. Blueberries have also been studied for their potential to protect and improve vision. One serving is 3/4 cup and has 15 grams of carbs. You can enjoy fresh, in-season blueberries May through October or buy the frozen varieties year-round. So next time you make pancakes, add a cup of blueberries for a healthy boost.
Raspberries are packed with fiber (partly due to their tiny, edible seeds) and are high in vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that the body can only get through food. Vitamin C is beneficial for bone and skin health as well as cancer and heart disease prevention. These delicate berries are also rich in anthocyanins, which give red raspberries their color and more antioxidant power.
Beans are high in fiber and protein and are a good source of vitamins and minerals, such as folate, iron, magnesium and potassium, which are essential for the water balance between the cells and body fluids, such as electrolyte balance. The American Heart Association recommends eating a variety of foods to get the necessary soluble and insoluble fiber needed daily–about 25 to 30 grams a day, which is twice the amount the average American adult normally consumes. One serving of navy beans is 1/2 cup and has 5.8 grams of fiber per serving.
There are so many delicious varieties of beans to choose from, such as black, kidney, garbanzo, white, lima or pinto. It is easy to find ways to incorporate beans in your diet. Soak and cook dry beans or use canned beans. Try substituting beans as your main protein source for lunch or dinner a couple times a week. Protein is an important part of your daily nutrition, which helps the body repair and produce cells and build muscle and bones.
The vitamin A in broccoli promotes healthy vision, teeth, bones and skin.Truly a super food, this non-starchy vegetable has more vitamin C per 100 grams than an orange and is considered a good source of fiber and the antioxidant beta-carotene, which the body uses to make vitamin A. Vitamin C is essential for healing wounds and is a disease-fighting antioxidant. One serving of broccoli is 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked. Pick up fresh broccoli in the produce section or your local farmer’s market or try the frozen food section for cut florets.
Cooked or raw, carrots are a healthy addition to any meal plan. Have them for a snack with 2 tablespoons of light ranch dressing or include them in your main course or as a side dish.
Carrots provide vitamin A from the antioxidant beta-carotene. This powerful phytonutrient may help prevent cancer and heart disease, Carotenoids found in yellow and orange produce may also help reduce insulin resistance. Carrots are another source of fiber and heart-healthy flavonoids, which can also be enjoyed juiced with other fruits and vegetables such as apples, beets, or the spice, ginger. One serving of carrots is 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked.
Fish is a great addition to your meal plan, especially omega-3-rich fatty fish, such as salmon, trout, tuna, sardines, mackerel and herring. Omega-3, a type of polyunsaturated fat, can help lower triglycerides and can also help reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of blood clots. Try preparing fish on the grill, baked, broiled, or steamed, instead of frying. Eating fish twice a week is the recommendation for a healthy meal plan.
Flaxseed is noted for its alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a fatty acid that can be converted into omega-3 fatty acids, which offer similar benefits as the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA found in fish. ALA omega-3s are known for helping to lower triglycerides, reduce inflammation and decrease the risk of heart disease. High in both soluble and insoluble fiber, flaxseed is also a good source of lignans, a phytoestrogen that is considered beneficial in preventing cancer and heart disease. Lignans have also been shown to alleviate other estrogen dependent conditions, such as menopausal symptoms and osteoporosis.
Flaxseeds are available whole, ground (milled), or as flaxseed oil. To reap the most nutritional reward from the nutty-flavored flaxseed, use ground flaxseed on salads and cereal or mixed into breads, smoothies, and dressings. So, if you do not like fish, add this omega-3 source to your meals.
Cranberries are a power fruit, packed with the disease-fighting antioxidants, that can be eaten year-round. Although best known for helping to prevent urinary tract infections, cranberries and their abundant phytonutrients, may also help protect against cancer and cardiovascular disease studies suggest. Add cranberries to smoothies, salads, or chutneys. Look for cranberries packaged in bags in the produce section of your supermarket, in the freezer section, jellied, dried or juiced. One serving of dried cranberries is 2 tablespoons.
The soluble and insoluble fiber in apples can benefit people with diabetes and a diet high in fiber can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. One medium-sized apple contains 3 grams of fiber–12 percent of the recommended 25 grams per day. Plus, the soluble fiber in an apple may help slow digestion, help regulate cholesterol and stabilize blood glucose. Eating apples, especially with the skin, not only increases your fiber intake but provides vitamin C and flavonoids, a disease-fighting antioxidant.
A dessert straight from nature, melons come in many varieties including watermelon, cantaloupe, muskmelon, honeydew, casaba, crenshaw and Persian. While all provide good nutrients, watermelon is high in vitamins C and B6 and is a good source of the antioxidant, lycopene, which may help protect against cancer. Lycopene is commonly associated with tomatoes and tomato juice, but watermelon is another optimal source. Watermelon is also high in beta-carotene, which the body uses to make vitamin A.
Honeydew is high in vitamin C and a good source of potassium, which can help improve or maintain blood pressure, Cantaloupe is also high in potassium and the antioxidant beta-carotene, and it’s a good source of fiber, vitamin C, and folate. The American Heart Association recommends getting enough folate and other B vitamins in your diet to help lower homocysteine levels, which may help decrease the risk of heart disease.
Nuts are a good source of protein, fiber, vitamin E, flavonoids and are power-packed with monounsaturated fat. Plant sterols, known to lower cholesterol, also naturally occur in nuts. Walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, pecans and hazelnuts are just some of the nuts that can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, making them heart-healthy choices. Eat nuts in moderation and avoid salted, sugared, or chocolate-covered options that increase calories and decrease the nuts’ natural health benefits. One serving of almonds, cashews or mixed nuts is 6 nuts. One serving of pecans is 4 halves, a serving of hazelnuts is 5 nuts and a serving of pistachios is 16 nuts.
The soluble fiber in oats can help lower cholesterol, improve blood pressure and stabilize blood glucose by slowing digestion. Oats are also a source of antioxidants that provide vitamin E, B vitamins, magnesium and potassium, which may help lower blood pressure.There are several types of oatmeal to choose from. Steel-cut oatmeal has a dense, thick texture and can take up to 45 minutes to cook, while old-fashioned (or rolled) oats are thinner and take less time to cook. The less processed the oat, such as steel-cut oatmeal, the lower it is on the glycemic index. The glycemic index provides a measure of how quickly blood sugar levels rise after eating a particular type of food. Quick cooking oatmeal and instant oatmeal are also available. Be sure to check the labels for added salt and sugar. One serving of oatmeal is 1/2 cup.
Red onions don’t just add great color to salads, sandwiches, and stews. They also score highest in antioxidant power, with yellow onions not far behind and white a distant third. Onions are also a good source of fiber, potassium and folate-all good for heart health. The flavonoid, quercetin, found in onions may lower the risk of chronic illnesses. One serving of this non-starchy vegetable is 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked.
This dark green leafy vegetable is loaded with vitamins and minerals, including vitamins B2 and B6, folate, copper, magnesium, potassium, zinc and fiber. Studies of spinach have found it has the potential to decrease the risk of cancer, cataracts and heart disease. Spinach is high in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that the body uses to make vitamin A. Beta-carotene helps protect the body’s cells from chronic illness and aging. Plus, just 1/2 cup of cooked frozen spinach has 145 mg. of calcium and 3.5 grams of fiber. You can find fresh or frozen spinach at your local market year round. One serving of spinach is 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw, which is great for salads.
The next time you pour yourself a cup of white, green or black tea, you could be doing your health a favor. Tea contains antioxidant-rich flavonoids, called catechins, which have been studied for their effectiveness in preventing chronic illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease. White tea is the highest in antioxidants, with green coming in second, followed by oolong tea, then black tea. Tea can be enjoyed either hot or cold.
The tomato is an excellent source of vitamin C and potassium and is rich in lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that is easier for your body to absorb from cooked and processed tomatoes, such as tomato juice, than from fresh, whole tomatoes. Adding a little bit of oil while sauteing or cooking tomatoes can help aid in lycopene absorption.
Studies suggest lycopene-rich tomato products may help protect against certain types of cancer, including prostate cancer, and may offer cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory protection. Check the Nutrition Facts food labels on packaged and canned tomato products to find those with the least sodium and sugar.
Yogurt is an excellent source of calcium, which helps promote the health of bones and teeth, as well as muscle and blood vessel function. Yogurt is also a good source of energy-boosting vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and protein. It also provides zinc, which can be deficient in some people, and aids in immune function and wound healing. Probiotic yogurt contains health-promoting bacteria that some research has proposed is beneficial for digestive health, including lactose intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome. There are different yogurts to choose from on the market, including Greek yogurt, which is thicker than regular yogurt because it is strained before being packaged. One serving of 2 percent fat Greek yogurt is 6 ounces.
Resource: American Heart Association
Recipes Using Super Foods
Sauteed Shrimp and Asparagus
- 1 pound fresh or frozen large shrimp
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
- 4 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
- 1/4 cup dry white wine or reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut on the diagonal into ½ inch thick slices
- 1/4 cup finely chopped green onions
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Thaw shrimp, if frozen. Peel and devein shrimp. Rinse shrimp; pat dry with paper towels.
Heat olive oil over medium high heat in a large skillet and place the shrimp in a single layer. Cook about one minute on each side and remove to a plate.
Add garlic and asparagus to skillet, and cook one minute. Add tomato, green onions and wine, cook one minute, and return shrimp to the pan.
Cook 1 minute, until the shrimp are cooked and the asparagus is still crisp. Season to taste, stir in chopped herbs and serve immediately.
Broccoli with Feta Cheese and Walnuts
- 1 pound broccoli, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup thinly slivered red onion
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted
- 1 ounce feta cheese, crumbled
In a covered large saucepan cook broccoli in a small amount of lightly salted boiling water for 6 to 8 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain and set aside.
In a large bowl whisk together buttermilk, parsley, mustard, olive oil, thyme, red wine vinegar, garlic, kosher salt, nutmeg, and pepper. Add the broccoli and red onion; stir gently to coat. Top with walnuts and cheese. Serve warm.
Salmon and Spinach Salad with Flaxseed Dressing
- 12 ounces cooked salmon, cut into chunks
- 3 cups fresh baby spinach
- 1 cup coarsely chopped cucumbers
- 1/2 cup quartered red onion slices
- Salt to taste
- 1/4 cup Flaxseed Dressing (recipe below)
In a large bowl, combine cooked salmon, spinach, cucumbers, and red onion. Pour Flaxseed Dressing over salad; toss gently to coat. Makes 4 (1-1/2-cup) main-dish servings.
Cook the salmon by grilling or broiling. You’ll need a 1-pound fresh or frozen salmon fillet to give 12 ounces salmon after cooking. Thaw salmon, if frozen. Rinse salmon; pat dry with paper towels.
To grill salmon: Measure thickness of salmon. Place salmon fillet, skin side down, on a greased grill rack directly over medium coals. Grill for 4 to 6 minutes per 1/2-inch thickness of fish or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork, turning once halfway through grilling. Using a wide metal spatula, lift fillet away from the skin to a serving platter. (Scrape skin from grill rack and discard.)
To broil salmon: Preheat broiler. Skin salmon; measure thickness of salmon. Place salmon on unheated rack of broiler pan. Broil 4 to 5 inches from heat for 4 to 6 minutes per 1/2-inch thickness of fish or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork, turning once halfway through broiling.
- 1 tablespoon flaxseeds
- 3 tablespoons champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots or green onion
- 2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
- 1 clove garlic, minced
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place flaxseeds in a shallow baking pan; bake for 10 minutes. Cool. Place toasted flaxseeds in a spice grinder and pulse until ground to a fine powder. In a small bowl, whisk together ground flaxseeds, vinegar, olive oil, water, shallots, mustard, and garlic. Makes about 1/2 cup.
Tabbouleh with Cranberries
6 servings; ¾ cup serving
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
- 2 ½ cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 1 cup bulgur
- 1 cup chopped, seeded cucumber (1 large)
- 1/4 cup dried cranberries
- 1/4 cup snipped fresh mint
- 1/2 teaspoon finely shredded lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Lemon wedges (optional)
Coat a large nonstick saucepan with nonstick cooking spray. Preheat over medium heat. Add shallots; cook and stir about 3 minutes or just until tender. Add broth; bring to boiling. Stir in bulgur. Return to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer about 15 minutes or until tender. Transfer to a large bowl. Cover; chill about 3 hours or until cool.
Add cucumber, cranberries, mint, lemon zest, lemon juice, and pepper; mix well. Serve with lemon wedges.
Make Ahead Tip: Prepare the tabbouleh as directed. Cover and chill for up to 24 hours.
Italian White Beans
Use these beans as a side dish for dinner or add to a salad for lunch.
Makes 4 servings.
- 1 tablespoon. olive oil
- 1 tablespoon garlic, crushed, or to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon dried sage
- 1 (14-oz.) can cannellini beans (Italian white beans), drained or 2 cups cooked dried beans
- 2 cups chopped canned plum tomatoes
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil, shredded
- 2 teaspoons. red wine vinegar or to taste
Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and sage. Sauté about 2 minutes.
Add drained beans and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir gently to combine. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer about 10 minutes.
Uncover pan and remove from heat. Immediately add basil and vinegar and serve.
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