The longer we’re in Jerusalem, more in love I fall with the incredibly varied cuisine here. And like many international cuisines, no matter where the source, traditional recipes are long and labor intensive. I’m making an effort to learn one recipe a week, integrating it into my weekly paleo cook-up.
Sometimes, as with a recent experiment with maqluba, I simply say to hell with paleo! Rice doesn’t destroy my guy like wheat products seem to, so I made the traditional recipe as proscribed. Most weekends, though, I weigh how good I feel when I’m eating strictly paleo against trying a new recipe, and frankly, feeling good wins. This week, I decided to modify traditional stuffed zucchini in hopes of creating a paleo-friendly version.
AND BOY DID I.
I read dozens of recipes while trying to figure out this one, but this one was particularly useful (I am not the first blogger who needs paleo middle eastern foods!). I modified the recipe for a larger batch and much more robust flavor.
Recipe for Paleo Stuffed Zucchini
Prep time: 15
Cook time: 60
Six to eight large zucchinis (cut in half and cored) or a dozen small zucchinis, also cored
1 kg ground beef
1 onion, diced
2T olive oil
1T all spice
2t salt (divided)
2 diced tomatoes
3 whole tomatoes (or two cans diced tomatoes)
3T tomato paste
1c fresh chopped parsley
1c fresh chopped mint
1T garlic powder
2c chicken broth
Directions for the filling
Core your zucchinis. I used large zucchinis chopped in half, and a regular vegetable peeler. I’ve already ordered a regular corer from Amazon.
Heat 2T olive oil in a pan, then saute diced onions until slightly soft.
Add the ground beef, all spice, cinnamon, and 1t salt, then cook until beef is well browned and remaining liquid has evaporated.
Remove beef mix from heat, mix in a separate bowl with two diced tomatoes and chopped parsley, and allow to cool.
To make the sauce, puree tomatoes, then heat in a sauce pan with tomato paste, mint, garlic powder, chicken broth, and 1t salt. Cook for at least 30 minutes.
While the sauce is cooking, stuff your zucchinis! Smash as much of the beef mixture as you can into the zucchinis, then lay them sideways in a foil lined roasting pan. Add any extra beef to the cooking sauce.
Pour the sauce over the zucchinis in your roasting pan, being sure to distribute evenly.
Cook for 45 minutes at 400 degrees, turning zucchinis halfway through.
I am working on taking my lunch to work every day, but I needed an easy way to make an entire week’s worth of lunches in advance. I actually do a great job of cooking a week’s worth of food at once on Sundays, but never seem to find time in the mornings to pack my lunches. Enter the mason jar (side) salad. It’s a great way to take advantage of all of the amazing fresh produce that Jerusalem offers, without having to get up early to make myself a salad every morning for work.
I combine this salad with a more substantial entree (like paleo Shepherd’s pie, or meat balls, or whatever), and it keeps me full all day, including up and through my evening lifting sessions.
Mason Jar Broccoli and Pomegranate Salad Recipe
Serves 5 (or one person 5 times).
2/3 cup mayo (I use homemade paleo mayo, but store-bought will also work)
1/4 cup basalmic vinegar
2 heads broccoli (chopped into florets)
Seeds of one pomegranate (check out this YouTube video for helpful instructions on seeding)_
1/4 cup red onion (sliced)’
1.5 lbs cubed leftover chicken
1 cup goat cheese (feta, bulgarian, whatever, cubed; skip this if you’re strict paleo)
5 mason jars
Blanche the broccoli florets (bring a large pot of well salted water to a rolling boil, dump in the broccoli for one minute until the florets turn bright green, then drain immediately), and allow to cool.
Mix the mayo and balsamic vinegar.
Layer into each mason jar: 2T basaltic dressing, handful of broccoli, red onions, chicken, pomegranate, cheese cubes.
Everything is made from scratch. All of the ingredients are primal and paleo friendly. And I can make five salads at a time to store in the fridge.
It’s true that the mason jar is pretty hipster, but I’ll take an ounce of hipster over the ridiculous cost of buying my lunch every day at the consulate.
I spent the day cooking up a feast of Middle Eastern delights, specifically, recipes from Ottolenghi’s cookbook Jerusalem. I normally do all of the weeks’ cooking ahead of time, and I have been getting bored of hard boiled eggs and roasted chicken thighs.
Week after week after week.
Also, our CSA vegetables are starting to pile up in the fridge, which is a bone of contention in my marriage. Fortunately, Jerusalem is full of paleo and primal friendly recipes. Middle Eastern food is, in general, paleo friendly. Lots of delicious salads and vegetables. Amazing grilled meat. Lots of olive oil. Lots of deliciousness. And one of the great things about living in the States for a few months is access to high quality ingredients.
First, I needed to get rid of several weeks’ worth of zucchinis. There’s an excellent recipe for zucchini turkey burgers that turned out perfectly. I doubled the recipe, rightly suspecting that everyone in the family would love the flavorful patties.
Jasmine loved ‘em. Bertrand loved ‘em. And Grace probably will too when I get around to feeding her one. Whole30 complaint.
Next, I had to use up some cubed butternut squash I’d bought thinking to steam for Grace, but had sat in the fridge for a week. Blech. This roasted butternut squash with tahini recipe is also 100% Whole30 compliant.
So good. I thought I’d have several servings for lunches next week, but we ate it straight out of the oven. Oops. It was delicious. Just as delicious was the leftover lemon tahini sauce, which will serve as dips for vegetables this week. Seriously. Make extra sauce and then eat it with a spoon. it’s that good.
Also, beets. The beets have been sitting in our fridge for almost two weeks now, and they were starting to make Bertrand cranky. I bought a few extras this morning to make sure I’d have enough, which may have been a mistake. Turns out, the beet puree recipe makes about 3 cups of beet dip.
I ended up adding a lot more yogurt and a lot more za’atar than the recipe called for; however, the recipe was absolutely delicious. Even my weird-food-adverse husband liked it. And yes, that is one of my kids’ bowls in the photo. All of my pretty dishes are sitting with our personal effects in Antwerp. So it goes.
And finally, I made the date syrup called for by the beet puree.
Soak half a dozen pitted dates in water for a few hours. Reserve the liquid, then blend the dates with an immersion blender, adding reserved liquid as necessary. Easy peasy.
Tomorrow, I’ll finish up with the more mundane parts of the cook-up. Boiled eggs. Chicken stock. Plenty of rice for Bertrand, Grace, and Jasmine to eat over the course of the week. Not sure I’m a fan of splitting the work up over a couple of days, but for now, I’m happy to be sitting down and blogging instead of working in the kitchen.
Costco’s summer strawberries are out of control. Is it possible to eat a over kilo of strawberries in a week? I managed to get through about half of them by making strawberry coconut ice pops for Jasmine and bringing some to lunch every day, but I got to the end of the week and still had about a pound left.
I needed a recipe that would be alright with imperfect strawberries just about at the end of their shelf-life, that didn’t have any added sugar (or honey or stevia or any sweetener whatsoever), and that I’ll be able to return to all summer, as our CSA continues to send us more fruit. I started pursuing Pinterest, but all of the recipes I found were either SWYPO (that is, paleo, but actually secretly a dessert, which is FINE, but not what I need right now), or had added sugars. So I got to work and started experimenting.
What better than a refreshing strawberry basil mocktail? The sweetness of the strawberries contrasts well with the subtle bite of the basil, but make no mistake, this is not a sweet drink!
Strawberry Basil Mocktail
Lots of strawberries (1 lb)
Lots of fresh basil leaves (1/2c)
Chop off the tops of the strawberries and blend them with 1/2 – 1 cup of water.
Roughly tear the fresh basil leaves in half.
Gently boil the strawberry slurry and basil down to a thick syrup, stirring frequently.
Store leftover syrup in the fridge for up to one week (or freeze it into ice cubes, like I did!).
Mix 3T strawberry basil syrup, 2T lime juice, and 1c fizzy water. Pour over ice.
FINALLY FINALLY FINALLY. Perfectly boiled easy-to-peel hardboiled eggs. No matter how new or old your eggs are.
The Internets are fill of lore on how to hard boil your eggs. How to get perfectly yellow yolks, with none of the grey-green of over-boiled eggs. How to get a white that is supple and tasty, instead of rubbery and over cooked. And most importantly, how to boil the eggs in such a way that they’re easy to peel.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have finally perfected my egg boiling technique. And for those of you who are laughing right now, you obviously don’t prepare two goddamned dozen hard boiled eggs a week. Because if you had to peel two goddamned dozen hard boiled eggs a week, you’d care a hell of a lot more about how easy they were to peel.
Theresa’s perfect hard boiled eggs
1) Bring a large pot of water to boil.
2) Once the water reaches a rolling boil, add your eggs (I use a spagetti do-hickey to do it one at a time).
3) Prep an ice bath in a bowl big enough to hold all of your eggs.
4) Leave eggs in soon-to-be-boiling-again water for 10 minutes. Note that this varies between burners. On the small burner, it takes 12 minutes. On the big burner, it takes 10.
5) Gently drain the eggs using a colander, then plunge the eggs into an ice bath. Once the eggs are cool, store them in the fridge.
Note: the ice bath is important to stop the eggs’ cooking and prevent grey yolks. If you don’t care about grey yolks, go ahead and skip that step.
What’s the best thing about coming back to the States from West Africa? Vegetable variety. Yes, access to asparagus and swiss chard and fresh broccoli narrowly beats out living close to friends and family. The quality of fruits and vegetables throughout West Africa is incredible. Everything bursts with flavor—after all, West African varieties haven’t been bred over the course of a century for appearance and sturdiness. Fruits come straight to the market from their trees.
And that’s awesome.
But it’s nice to have access to a diverse selection of fresh fruits and veggies. The great thing about spring in DC is that many of the fruits and vegetables I buy are grown locally (for varying degrees of “local,” of course). Crystal City has a lovely farmer’s market, and I’ve been taking advantage of it to buy fruits and vegetables to compliment my GMO bred-for-longevity but OH SO AFFORDABLE Costco veggies.
Even at the farmer’s market, sugar-free nitrate-free (that is, Whole30 compliant) bacon is prohibitively expensive. I’ve been looking for paleo-friendly way to stretch my bacon dollar, as well as incorporate vegetables (which is, after all, why I’m so happy to be back in DC). Bacon Wrapped Asparagus does both. The plate pictured is one rasher of bacon, and a double bunch of asparagus.
Recipe: Bacon Wrapped Asparagus
(OK, and some olive oil, salt, and paper)
Rinse and pat dry asparagus.
Snap off any tough ends.
Wrap bunches of 3-4 spears in half a slice of bacon (cut the short way, not the long way).
Place bunches on a grill on a cookie sheet (or, if you’re living out of an air freight shipment like me, use aluminum foil to create a fake grill) so that the bacon grease has somewhere to drip.
Drizzle exposed asparagus with olive oil, lightly salt and pepper.
There’s been some chatter on a few of the Whle30 boards I’m on about exactly how to get so much cooking done every week. How do you go paleo without devoting your entire life to cooking? There’s no getting around that paleo takes a hell of a lot of time in the kitchen. I’ve found that front loading the heavy lifting on Sundays makes week day meals a lot easier. I’ve been doing a cook-up for the last six months, and I’ve more or less got my technique down. Today, I got everything done in three hours.
Today I cooked:
Two rashers of bacon
20 hard boiled eggs
6 lbs of drumsticks (about 15)
Sweet potato soup
1.5 lbs of seasoned ground beef
Slow cooker meatballs in italian sauce
Chopped vegetables for a stir-fry
A bowl full of meat off two Costco chickens
The snack pot (see below for details)
Sweet potatoes, broccoli, spinach, and carrots for the baby
Part of being working parents has meant giving up some of the thing we loved most about being young and single and carefree. Like spare time. Ever. So, to save some time and money during the week, I do a cook-up every Sunday morning. I need to make it easy for me to throw dinner together in 15 minutes when we get home from work, and easy for both Bertrand and I to prep lunches for the next day every evening. Yes, it takes most of my Sunday, but well worth it to save the time during the week.
Step the first: Boil eggs and put vegetables in the steamer for baby food
I use my big stock pot for everything (including boiling eggs), and I usually make at least two different dishes in it during my cook-ups. The first thing I do when I get into the kitchen is throw my eggs into the pot, so that it’ll be free later for sauces.
Once the eggs are in a pot, my first batch of vegetables for the baby goes into the steamer.
Step the second: Prep the Crockpot meal
I cook a meal in the crockpot every Sunday. Today, I made Melissa Joulwan’s Italian Slow Cooker Meatballs. She has two fantasic cookbooks, Well Fed and Well Fed 2 that I use just about every week. Luckily, this meatball recipe is one where I can substitute out just about every single ingredient and still make it work. So I did, and it did. I whipped up some quick pasta sauce while boiling my hardboiled eggs, made the fastest meatballs ever, then dumped everything in the crockpot with some leftover chicken stock.
If i’ve got any other meat that’s gonna need defrosting in the microwave (like say, 3 kg of drumsticks), I get that going too.
And finally, I clean any dirty dishes.
Step the third: Vegetable Prep
While sauces and eggs are peculating on the stove, I start chopping. I prep a stir fry mix for the next week with any leftover vegetables sitting in the fridge. I chop vegetables for the delicious bowl of snack love (see below) I keep in the fridge. If I’m roasting vegetables, this is where I chop and season them. And I peel all of the sweet potatoes in the house for both baby food and eating during the week.
I do a lot of this step sitting at the dining room table, entertaining my toddler while I chop.
Once my eggs have been at a rolling boil for two minutes, I take them off the heat and throw them into an ice bath to stop the cooking. I like ‘em just barely hard boiled, and I’ve found that the ice bath is crucial to impeding grey yolks and that awful boiled egg sulfur smell.
And finally, I clean any dirty dishes.
Step the fourth: Baking
Baked items into the stove. Today, it was drumsticks (toss in oil, salt, and pepper, then bake forever at 400 degrees). Sometimes it’s roast vegetables, or a whole chicken, or both. The nice thing about thighs and drumsticks is that they’re forgiving of extra long stints in the stove. No dryness if I forget about them and take them out after 1h15 instead of 45 minutes.
Note that this week I also started the sweet potatoes boiling at this step.
And finally, I clean any dirty dishes (starting to notice a theme here?).
Step the fifth: BACON BACON BACON
I stopped by Whole Foods to pick up some Whole30 compliant bacon while I was up in MD for dinner earlier this week. YUM. I get two frying pans going, and fry 5 pieces in each frying pan at a time.
Keeping the kitchen clean as I go has made a huge difference in how stressful and frustrating the cook up is. If you wait until you’re done to clean, not only are you exhausted from cooking for several hours, you’ve STILL got more work to do.
Step the sixth: MOAR PROTEIN
Use one of the bacon frying pans to brown a pound of so of ground beef. Then, pull the chicken off any leftover Costco chickens sitting around and refrigerate. Dump the bones, skin, and leftover bits and pieces into my big stock pot for, you guessed it, chicken stock.
Step the seventh: Clean, then puree the baby food
At this point, I’m done with the stove and I can start cleaning. Yeah, the kitchen’s usually a disaster at this point, and I can use the downtown while the chicken is baking to straighten things up a bit.
Then it’s time to finish up the baby food. If I’m making a lot (like today), I’ve been switching vegetables in and out of the steamer all morning, while working on other things. I puree the baby food with expressed milk or formula (depending on what I’ve got around), then dump it into ice cube trays for freezing.
Step the LAST: SNACK BOWL LOVE
This last step can be done in your living room in front of the TV if you want. Sit down and drink a bottle of ice water, then get back to work.
The snack bowl is exactly what it sounds like. Plastic baggies full of mixed vegetables, nuts, and dates for Bertrand and I to grab and throw into our lunch boxes every day. This way, we don’t have to get out the chopping board or put any effort into including healthy vegetables in our lunches. In the bowl: 5 baggies of mixed veg, 5 baggies of baby carrots, 5 baggies of raw almonds, 5 baggies of roasted cashews, and 5 baggies of dates.
Keep an eye on the stock and the slow cooker, as they’ll need to simmer all day.
Congratulations! You’ve got your major meal prep for the week done!
After my last post, I got a few questions (and a few snarky emails) about making my own baby food. Here’s the thing. This works for me. I spend all day Sunday cooking *anyway* (thanks, paleo!). So it’s no big deal for me to steam more vegetables, then puree them before making some paleo mayo. It might be a real hassle for someone else, and that’s OK. My making Grace’s baby food isn’t a criticism of those who don’t.
Why do I make my own baby food?
In Freetown, the supply of baby food available to purchase locally was not reliable. Jars were often expired, their provenance was often unclear, and there weren’t any hippy organic brands without sugar and additives.
Here in DC, there are a wealth of baby food options available! Hurray! But after making all of Jasmine’s food in Freetown (often from frozen vegetables), making all of Grace’s here in the States doesn’t seem nearly as scary.
It’s less expensive. Seriously. 5 lbs of sweet potatoes vs. 20 jars of sweet potatoes? A bag of collard greens vs. 10 jars of spinach? I made 2 months worth of vegetables for less than $15.
No sugar. No salt. No additives of any kind. I can get my control freak on and make sure that nothing’s going into Grace’s mouth that I don’t want to. Hahaha. Except when Jasmine tries to feed her Cheerios. *sigh*
Less waste. No jars, no pouches, no nothing that has to be tossed, aside from the occasional ziplock bag that’s too grody to be reused again (yes, I wash and reuse my ziplocks).
It’s a relatively simple process. Buy food, steam or boil food, puree food, freeze into ice cube trays, move into ziplocks when completely frozen.
My baby likes it. My husband likes it. I like it. And that’s really all that matters.
The bad news is that I spent the weekend eating wheat products in hopes of increasing my milk supply. The good news is that I am now super clear on what types of food utterly destroy me when eaten in any sort of quantity.
My supply did increase, but at the expense of my body. And it STILL wasn’t enough! ARGH! All this misery, and Grace still needed bottles of formula this weekend. We introduced her to solids this week, and I think the answer is MOAR FUD PLEEZ. Sure, I could spend another week eating bread and oatmeal and other grains, and being absolutely miserable, or …
I could get out the immersion blender and get to work:
Sweet potatoes. Butternut squash. Pears. Collard greens. Carrots. Plantains. Bananas. And one tray of oatmeal, to mix in as her appetite continues to grow. Yeah, she’s gonna eat better than I do. :-P One of the best things about being back in the States is how damn easy it is to find an enormous variety of fruits and vegetables. And also, being able to mix in water from the tap to get the consistency of my purees right. SO MUCH EASIER. I love America!
In any case, if the apocalypse comes tomorrow, I have enough frozen purees to last us awhile. And if it doesn’t, then I still won’t need to do this again for several weeks. Hellsyeah.