All posts by Helen Akinc

Interculturalist, cook, writer, curious questioner and craft artist

Meatless Tuesday with Meatless Ground

We try to limit our meat consumption and, like many of you, are trying to eat healthy. Recently, I picked up a package of Gardein Meatless Ground. We had eaten at a friend’s house on Monday so we moved Meatless Monday to Meatless Tuesday.

beefless

It is in the freezer section of the grocery store and needs to be kept frozen until just the time you cook it. Last night I made some vegetarian chili from a terrific recipe and used the soy ground meat in the recipe. Delicious. The texture is correct, taste is fine. I was quite happy with how it turned out. I’ve used other products in the past, but I do like the Gardein version quite a bit. I will try some of their other products and report back on how those work as well. Meanwhile, do think about trying the Meatless Ground in vegetarian chili. Here’s a link to the recipe I used. https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/72508/the-best-vegetarian-chili-in-the-world/

The photo is of the Best Vegetarian Chili in the World from Jaxon’s Mom on Allrecipes.com where the recipe is posted:

recipe active photo

I made a few changes to the recipe. I prefer to not use canned beans, although I know they are fine. But I keep a variety of dried beans, peas, and lentils on hand and it is easier for me to use those. So, the night before I placed about 3/4 – 1 cup each of kidney beans, chickpeas, and black beans in a large bowl and covered with water. The next morning I put all in my Instant-Pot with a tsp. of salt and cooked for 20 minutes. You can do the whole recipe in a large Instant Pot. Mine isn’t quite large enough because the chili recipe makes a large batch, but I did use it to cook the beans and that saved considerable time. If you have a larger model you could do the whole thing in one pot.

The other changes I made to the recipe were that I used one, not two packages of the soy ground meat. I used two 28 oz. cans of tomatoes, not three and I added 1 small can of tomato paste. I think everything else I followed the recipe linked to above. It was very good.

We were very pleased with the whole combination. The Meatless Ground was actually easier to cook with than regular ground meat, at least in this recipe. When I do use ground meat, I use very lean grassfed, local, sustainably raised meat which has very little fat (a good thing) but tricky to saute with at times. The Meatless Ground was easy because I could just dump it into the mix and heat it thoroughly. I look forward to sharing some more soy ground meat recipes with you in the future.

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Luscious Late Winter Salad

This is a wonderful salad. It kind of visually symbolizes the hope of spring with sweet, juicy orange pieces and the still remaining bite of winter with arugula. Next time I make it, I promise I will take a photo and post it. It is tangy and sweet and bitter and juicy and soft and salty and crunchy! Delightful. Makes a great lunch.

  • 1-2 navel oranges, peeled and sectioned (see directions following red onion instructions
  • 1/4 red onion, peeled, sliced and wilted (see instructions following list of ingredients)
  • 4-6 cups of washed arugula (2-3 big handfuls)
  • 2-3 large romaine leaves, washed and sliced or torn into pieces
  • 1/2 c. feta cheese, chunked or 3-4 T. parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2/3 c. coarsely chopped walnuts
  • salt
  • sumac to taste (optional but very nice)
  • 1/4 c. Pomegranate Vinaigrette

Red Onion preparation: This is a good way to prepare any kind of yellow, white or red onion but it is especially good for red onions, in my opinion. I cannot eat raw red onions unless they are prepared this way. The easiest thing to do is to prepare the whole onion, use what you need and save the rest for a few days in the fridge. Peel the onion, cut in half and slice into very thin half moons. Place all the onions in a small bowl and liberally sprinkle salt over the sliced onions. Mix with your hands. Set aside for 15-20 minutes. When ready to add to salad, squeeze the salted onions several times and rinse carefully in water, squeezing while rinsing. Take what you want to add to the salad and refrigerate the rest in a closed container or sealed baggie.

Orange preparation: Do this over the salad bowl so that you can capture the juice. Using a sharp paring knife or a special fruit knife if you have one, cut away the outer peel of the orange, down past the membrane just to where the fruit appears. Once you have the peel cut away, go around and loosen with your knife each of the sections. Then, you can use the knife almost as a tiny spatula and flip into the salad bowl.

Pomegranate Vinaigrette

  • 1/4 c. pomegranate molasses (available at Middle Eastern groceries (you could substitute 1 T. honey and add 1 T. of lemon juice)
  • 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1/2 c. good quality olive oil
  • 1 T. Dijon mustard
  • 1 t. salt

Mix all ingredients together. Blend in a blender or shake like a crazy person. Use what you need and refrigerate the rest for another salad in a day or two.

Clean and prep the arugula and romaine. Add the orange sections. Sprinkle the wilted red onions over the mix. Add the feta cheese or parmesan. Put the walnuts on top of everything. Drizzle with dressing (start with 1/4 cup and add more if necessary).

Enjoy!!!!

One recipe, 4+ different meals

I like to cook, but sometimes I am not in the mood to cook, do not feel inspired, and just want to get meal preparation done quickly. Something that saves me a significant amount of time is to prep ingredients common to several foods we like all at the same time, then pull out of the freezer as needed. An example makes it clearer.

We like soft tacos or burritos, chile, spaghetti and stuffed eggplant. All of those dishes can start with a ground meat, onion, green or hot pepper, and tomato mixture. So, to save time in a large skillet, spray with Pam or drizzle a small amount of oil and saute:

  • 2 lbs. ground beef (we use organic, grassfed, preferably local which will wind up being very low fat ~ 93% lean)
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1-2 medium green bell peppers, diced or 1 green bell pepper and 1 jalapeno
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onions and meat together, until onions wilt and meat loses its redness and is cooked. Break up large pieces of meat. Stir in the peppers and cook for a few minutes. Add the canned tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer a few minutes and add a little water if needed to keep the dish from becoming too dry.

Now you are ready to divide into about four containers. Freeze three of them and save out the one you are using today.

To make chile, just add chili powder, beans, cumin, more heat if needed.

To make spaghetti sauce, stir in tomato sauce, pureed tomatoes or tomato paste and water, along with crushed garlic and oregano.

For burritos, add some chili powder and cumin, wrap in a soft tortilla with cheese, salsa, light sour cream, etc.

For stuffed eggplant, basically you make a lengthwise slit in the center of Japanese eggplant and then lightly saute the eggplants in a small amount of vegetable oil until softened. Remove from pan and let cool enough to handle. Gently open up the eggplant using the slit and stuff the opening with the filling mixture to which you may have added chopped parsley. Set all the eggplants in an oven safe glass dish and pour some tomato juice over everything. Cover with foil and bake at 350 F. for about 35 minutes. A more detailed recipe can be found in Turkish Family Favorites.

The possibilites are numerous but in each case if you have the meat mixture ready to go, you are significantly reducing your prep time.

Balsamic Mustard Vinagrette

Salad dressing is an area where homemade is usually far better than store bought. It is also so customizable and that allows your creativity and tastes to flourish. Plus, you can tweak the dressing to bring out the flavors of whatever is in your salad. I made a salad of romaine, green onions, a carrot, four or five celery sticks, a tomato and half of a large green pepper. I used probably half of a largish head of romaine. Cut the veggies in different shapes. I sliced the carrot on the diagonal and then in half to make half crescent moons (kind of ). Celery in rounds. Pepper in squares, tomato medium dice. The lettuce was strips. Toss the salad with dressing immediately before serving. Enjoy!

BALSAMIC MUSTARD VINAGRETTE

  • 1/4 cup good quality balsamic vinegar
  • 1 T. lemon juice
  • 1/2 T. dijon mustard
  • 1/2 T. mayo
  • 1/2 T. honey
  • 2/3 t. salt
  • 1/3 t. black pepper
  • 1/2 c. good quality olive oil
  • 1/2 t. basil

One Pan Dinner: Salmon and roasted veggies

This could not be any easier. Not only do you just dirty one pan in the entire dinner, but the prep entails just one bowl. Here’s what you need:

  • 2 salmon fillets
  • 1/2 small bag baby potatoes or 2 c. butternut squash or sweet potato chunks
  • 1 large broccoli crown
  • 3 T. olive oil, mixed use
  • kosher salt, to taste OR garlic salt
  • soy sauce, to taste
  • sriracha sauce, to taste
  • 1 T. hoisin sauce or ketchup or 1/2 T. balsamic vinegar and 1/2 T. honey

If you plan to cook immediately after prepping the food, go ahead and preheat your oven to 375 F. If you are prepping ahead of time and want to let the fish marinate a bit, wait to preheat your oven.

Next prep the potatoes. Pour two T. olive oil into a largish prep bowl. Rinse the potatoes, butternut squash, or sweet potato chunks you plan to use. Rinse off the broccoli and cut into largish bite-sized chunks and drop into the oil. Cut the potatoes in half and drop into the olive oil. If using butternut squash or sweet potatoes just drop into the olive oil, stir around to make sure all the pieces are covered and then spread on a large rimmed sheet pan. Sprinkle with salt or garlic salt. Next, add soy sauce, sriracha, and hoisin to olive oil in the bowl and add one more T. of oil. Mix all together. Take the salmon fillets and place them into the bowl, skin side facing up, directly into the sauce so that they absorb the seasonings into the flesh. You can leave them to marinate 30-45 minutes. Or, cook immediately.

When ready to bake, first place the sheet pan into the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes. When the veggies have roasted for fifteen minutes, remove sheet pan from oven briefly and set on top of stove. Carefully remove the salmon from the marinade and place skin side down on the hot sheet pan (with the partially roasted vegetables) . Drizzle whatever remains of the marinade on top of the fillets. Return pan to oven and roast for another 20-25 minutes, or until vegetables and salmon fillets are done. You may need to adjust the cooking times based on the size of your potato/butternut squash chunks and the thickness of the salmon fillet. For 1-1 1/2 inch potato chunks and average sized salmon fillets, the times given are about right. Voila! Dinner is ready and there are very few dishes to wash! Enjoy.

Sourcing ethnic ingredients

Depending upon where you live, you may have a plethora of sources for ethnic ingredients available or not. It may be necessary to order items online or rely on people who are travelling to bring back special spices, etc. You may find, for example, that black lentils are not in your grocery store but are available online. However, with just a little more research you may find them tucked away in one or more local small ethnic groceries that most towns have. These shops may be stand alone or frequently can be housed in one corner of a restaurant serving that type of cuisine. I’ve been shopping for years at a little market which is in a corner of an Indian restaurant close to where I live. There are others, often tucked away and unless you know the restaurant or search online, you may not know about these little places.

The Indian market close to me has many ingredients that cross cuisines, so I wind up shopping for quite a few staples there. The rice is far better quality than grocery store rice, no matter the brand. There are many more brands and types of rice at this little store than at a grocery. I talk with the people who work there to find out what brands are most popular and/or the highest quality. A variety of lentils are available, as well as many hard to find spices and sauces. I especially like the produce at this little market, as the long, thin eggplant, fresh ginger root and hot peppers are far fresher and higher quality than what I can find in any of the grocery stores in the area, not to mention cheaper. Substantially so. It is wise to ask when their produce is delivered as there will be more variety if you shop the day of or day after the delivery.

By going there with one of my friends, I also learned that not all of the produce may be out on display. She asked the owner for some sort of vegetable and he brought it out from the back. I started using that as well, as I often need only a small amount of cilantro, not a giant bunch.

It’s well worth doing a computer search to find out what is available. I live in a medium sized city in the Southeast US and within 25 miles of me there are something like nine Asian groceries, more than twenty Mexican tiendas, fifteen to twenty Middle Eastern/Mediterranean markets, and several others. Who knew? So, do a search before you automatically assume you have to place an online order. You may just be able to find your ingredients locally and support local business in the process.

Asian Style Chicken and Lettuce Wraps

There are many many recipes for Asian style chicken and lettuce wraps. My inspiration for this came from an article in the Winston Salem Journal recently. https://www.journalnow.com/home_food/lettuce-wraps-are-the-perfect-low-carb-vehicle-for-chicken/article_810d4239-7706-5602-8175-78be310d1607.html

Wraps are among the most versatile of food forms. They are often easy to put together and the filling possibilities are endless. One of the things I like most about something like this is that one does not have to be a slave to the recipe. There’s lots of room for creativity. These wraps are also frugal because you can use what is on hand and substitute ingredients according to your own preferences and what you may need to finish.

I have an aversion to running to the store for one or two ingredients. It’s preferable to try to be creative and find a substitute for the missing ingredients. Sometimes, that is not possible, the recipe would be ruined. But, in other cases, it is just fine. For this recipe, I was missing a couple of items, so I found some creative solutions. The food was delicious, and that is what we value the most.

In a small amount of oil, I sauteed the chicken until it was done. Then I added chopped scallions, diced water chestnuts, dried basil, juice of one lime, the grated rind of one lime; 2-3 T. of black bean sauce (instead of fish sauce called for in the recipe since I’m allergic to shellfish and wasn’t completely sure I could eat fish sauce safely;) soy sauce to taste and probably 1 T. of crushed red peppers. I also stirred in one large spoonful of crunchy peanut butter, as I didn’t have the peanuts on hand called for by the recipe. I also added a little bit of blush wine. I’m not really a fan of blush wine, but we had a bottle open and it seemed a good way to add a hint of sweetness and a touch of wine flavor. You could add chopped celery, cilantro, garlic. It would all be good. I just stirred in the seasonings and cooked until it was done. I served it with cooked brown rice and lettuce leaves. Delish!!!

I will say that you pretty much need to have bibb or buttercrunch lettuce on hand if you are going to wrap the chicken mix in the lettuce. Of course, it was really quite good just along side the rice. For what we had leftover, I reheated the chicken mixture and the rice and made a salad with the rest of my romaine and some other salad veggies which is what I had on hand when I made the dish. Not exactly the same effect, but it was good, quick, and tasty.

Velocitea: Game Changer for Tea Lovers

We love tea. We have been drinking tea for many many years. Because we do intermittent fasting and I cannot drink tea on an empty stomach, we now drink our tea in the afternoon and/or evening. Our intermittent fasting period is from about nine PM until about 12:30 or 1 PM the next day, so we do not eat breakfast except once a week when we take a break from intermittent fasting. But we like tea so much that we drink different kinds of tea in the afternoon and evening. There are some really high quality decaffinated teas and we usually drink those or decaf herbal teas at night.

This may look like an advertisement for Adagio.com’s Velocitea, but it isn’t. I just love my new electronic tea maker. It is so easy. We are big tea fans and prefer to use loose tea. I like a variety of teas-black, green, oolong, herbal. I think the popularity of the book, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane  by Lisa See has resulted in more interest in tea culture and tea-drinking.  (http://www.lisasee.com/books-new/the-tea-girl-of-hummingbird-lane/). Many of our friends are tea drinkers and I like to be able to make tea quickly. So, in my opinion, the best things about this teamaker are:

  1. It makes tea quickly.
  2. Water temperature and brewing times are specific to the type of tea you want to make.
  3. Both loose tea and tea bags work in the pot.
  4. Amount of water and tea are adjustable.
  5. The tea is very good.

I do think it is kind of pricey, but so far, it is worth the price. My daughter and son-in-law gave me a gift certificate to Adagio.com and I ordered it there. I had wanted this for a while, but had hesitated because it cost around $100.00 (if you pre-ordered) and then increased a little. Still that is not an insignificant amount of money. So far, I love it and recommend it to anyone who likes top quality tea on a regular basis.

Lentils: Ezo Gelin Soup

When people see “lentil”, probably the first thought for most of us is lentil soup. There are dozens of types of lentil soups, one of which I’ll share with you today.  Lentils are one of my favorite ingredients because they are healthy, inexpensive (at least for most of them) and very nutritious. For all of my adult life, we have always had lentils in our pantry. In the beginning of our life together, my husband and I went through some very lean years. Frugality became and remained a cornerstone of our life. Eating lentils provided us with good nutrition at an affordable price. We could always eat lentil soup and enjoy the meal. In many cultures, particularly those of the Middle East, there are countless lentil soups.  In subsequent posts, I plan to share some other really terrific lentil recipes including additional lentil burgers (see my Mushroom Lentil Burgers that taste great post from 2016) https://honeyandyogurt.com/2016/04/12/mushroom-lentil-burgers-that-taste-great) as well as lentil taco filling, lentil salads, lentil curry and stews.

Lentils are also a mainstay of plant-based eating, which is becoming increasingly popular for a variety of reasons. Plant based eating can be very healthy as well as very tasty.  Some reports indicate it can actually make a positive difference in saving our planet. See the recent articles in The Guardian for more on that. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/16/new-plant-focused-diet-would-transform-planets-future-say-scientists; https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/31/avoiding-meat-and-dairy-is-single-biggest-way-to-reduce-your-impact-on-earth

For today, however, I want to share with you my recipe for Ezo Gelin Soup.

  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1/3 c. rice
  • 1 big spoonful tomato paste
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 T. oil
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 7 cups water or vegetable stock
  • 3 T. butter
  • 1 T. dried mint
  • red pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, heat the oil and saute the chopped onion. Stir in the tomato paste and add the stock/water; the lentils, rice, and salt.  Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and let simmer until the lentils and rice are tender, probably about thirty minutes. If using an Instant Pot or pressure cooker, follow the directions with your pot (using the pressure cooking feature) and this part will be finished in probably 10 minutes. At this point, if you want a very smooth soup, use an immersion blender to puree the mixture. Add in the lemon juice and garlic and let simmer a few minutes more. Just before serving, in a small pan melt the butter until sizzling, stir in the dried mint and red pepper and let fry just half a minute before stirring the butter/mint/pepper mixture into the soup. Stir well and serve.  Enjoy

This is such a delicious soup. (This recipe and others can be found in my cookbook, Turkish Family Favorites . (https://www.amazon.com/Turkish-Family-Favorites-Helen-Akinc/dp/1519376979)

Fan of tofu? Not so much? Try baking or grilling it…

Tofu is one of the mainstay ingredients of a plant-based diet. If you haven’t seen the recent piece in The Guardian, take a few minutes to read it. Here’s the link. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/16/new-plant-focused-diet-would-transform-planets-future-say-scientists.

Regardless of whether you embrace the idea that a plant based diet will save the planet (although it seems plausible to me), reducing meat and focusing more on a plant based diet seems to have some health benefits. ( https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/plant-based-diet-for-heart-health). Certainly, as 2019 begins, many of us are evaluating our lives and trying to make positive changes to improve our health and well-being. Incorporating tofu into your diet can give you some variety and flexibility as well as nutrition.

Not everyone likes the smooth, silky gooshiness of silken tofu, although it is great in some types of custardy desserts. Try Williams-Sonoma’s recipe for Very Chocolate Mousse, for example (https://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/very-chocolate-mousse.html).  I made that a few years ago for company and no one knew that tofu was a main ingredient of the mousse until I told them.

But if you want to try something like tofu kebabs or Asian Inspired Wraps (found on Meatless Monday, contributed by Liz of This and That) (https://www.meatlessmonday.com/recipes/asian-tofu-wraps/) three things are key for success:

  1. Buy the right kind of tofu (has to be extra firm if at all possible)
  2. You must press it (not difficult, just takes a little time)
  3. You must season it before and during cooking.

Buying the right kind of tofu should not be difficult as groceries have all sorts of tofu now.

Pressing the tofu is easy. Most instructions encourage the use of wads of paper towels, a couple of cutting boards, and some sort of weight. I try not to use too many paper towels so I take maybe four sheets of paper towel, two for the top and two for the bottom. Lay a cutting board on a counter or table. Take some newspaper that you’ve already read and put say one section of the paper on top of the cutting board. Then fold the two sheets of paper towels in quarters and place on top of the paper. Next comes the tofu, another two sheets of folded paper towels, the second cutting board, and then some sort of weight. I used a metal canister full of flour. Set the timer for 30 minutes while you prepare the rest of the recipe. Be sure to check on the tofu press because unless the arrangement is perfectly balanced,  the tofu can be pressed unevenly which may result in the weight sliding off the cutting board. I like to use newspapers on the bottom because they are absorbent and keep the tofu juice from dripping all over the counter or even on to the floor. Just be sure to use paper towels between the tofu and the old newspapers for cleanliness and hygiene.

Season the tofu you plan to grill or roast or bake after  it is pressed and after you slice or cube it. Assuming you’ve pressed the tofu well, and depending exactly on how you cook it, you usually wind up with a very flavorful result of tofu pieces with crunchy edges and creamy flavorful insides. Delicious.

In a subsequent post, I will try to post my friend Rashmi’s recipe for Tofu kebabs. Do try the Asian Tofu Wraps; they are quite good. Expand your horizons! Try tofu!