Deep Fried and Good for You

Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 9.05.03 AMFried food is probably not on anyone’s lists of healthy eats, but you have to start with this: Fat is good for you.

The long-lived people of Crete might not drink a glass of olive oil a day, but they consume three times as much as we do, and that’s probably more desirable than our misguided notion that the less fat you eat, the better.

There are differences among fats, of course, but with trans-fats in full retreat and lard and butter making comebacks, the whole fat-eating thing is starting to make some sense. Of course, the key word is moderation. You can eat fat as long as it’s high quality and you don’t eat it to the exclusion of plants.

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Posted in Recipes

Stuff Yourself

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Dolmades or dolmas — better known as stuffed grape leaves — have long been a fixture of Mediterranean-style appetizer spreads. They’re one of those foods that just seem to materialize magically from supermarket cans or specialty-store containers; we eat them happily, but most of us have never endeavored to make them ourselves. Truth be told, sometimes we don’t even know what’s inside them.

Until recently, I tackled dolmas exactly once: in a forlorn upstate New York town that had some vineyards. But since then, I’ve made the project routine, because D.I.Y. dolmas are not only doable but come with a significant advantage: choice. Whether they are from regular grocery stores (not great) or Mediterranean markets (much better), dolmas are typically the same: grape leaves stuffed with soft rice, sometimes lentils or meat and whopped with lemon. Making them yourself means you cannot only play around with the flavors of the fillings, but you can also use other grains and leaves as well.

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Posted in Recipes

Rescuing Tartare From the Stuffy, Old Power-Lunchers

Screen Shot 2013-09-13 at 10.04.11 AMIn the go-go ’80s, “tartare” pretty much meant a pile of raw, well-seasoned chopped beef topped with a raw egg yolk. It was seen as food for the carnivorous power-lunch crowd — tartare even had a cameo as a status symbol in “Wall Street”— and for old-fashioned people who ate at old-fashioned restaurants.

I’m not sure what the first nonbeef tartare was, but I do remember getting a chuckle when my friend and co-author Jean-Georges Vongerichten introduced me to beet tartare sometime around 1990. In any case, tuna tartare has far surpassed beef in popularity, lamb tartare is fashionable and carrot tartare is expensive. In short, the field is wide open, and it’s time for home cooks to forge ahead.

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Posted in Recipes, Seafood

Bring Your Lunch to Work

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 9.00.32 AMThere are few brown-baggers in the building in which I work. This is not because the food in the neighborhood is so great (it isn’t), or because the cafeteria is Google-like (it isn’t), but because many people are either “too busy” or too embarrassed to bring their lunch. Somehow one of our oldest and sanest traditions has become a laughingstock: it’s not hip to bring lunch.

Let’s try to fix that.

As a meal, lunch is undeniably tough; most people say that and I recognize it. But something good happens when you make the default a brown bag.

I am not talking literally about brown bags; you can bring your groovy REI lunchbox, or your authentic Mumbai tiffin carrier (actually, where I work the people who seem to bring their lunch most often are of South Asian origin) or — as I tend to do — your assortment of recycled takeout containers.

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Posted in Recipes

The Whole Story

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Whole grains, whether truly “whole” or not, have gone mainstream.

You can’t mention quinoa without hearing about the plight of the Bolivians who can no longer afford to buy their crop because we’re willing to pay so much for it. The word “rice” has become loaded: there are more colors (red? black?) and types (extra-long brown Basmati?) than those of us who grew up knowing only Carolina and Uncle Ben’s could have ever imagined. The other day I heard half a talk show devoted to what couscous really is. (Pasta, and I don’t know why it was so hard to figure out.)

It gets more complicated. Manufacturers claim processed foods are, or contain, whole grains when it isn’t true. Debates rage about the relative benefits of “whole grain” pasta versus the real thing. Then there’s the “are whole grains even good for you?” thing.

Feh. You shouldn’t care. They’re fantastic.

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Posted in Recipes

Too Hot to Grill? Try the Slow Cooker

Screen Shot 2013-07-01 at 3.43.23 PMWhen I told a friend that I was working on an article about slow-cooker recipes for summer, she gave me a concerned look and asked if I was in full possession of my faculties. I may not be, but I do know this: In addition to being nearly foolproof, slow cookers don’t heat up your kitchen. They don’t even require you to be in your kitchen — or your house, for that matter — while they do their thing. I’m not saying, “Stop grilling.” But I am saying that when the temperature starts to climb, you might break out the crockpot.

While slow cookers are best known for their meat-braising prowess, they also work wonders on dried beans, rendering them almost impossibly creamy inside while leaving them completely intact. Throw some liquid, seasonings and meat in the bottom, vegetables on top, and you’ll wind up with slow-cooked stews that take advantage of summer ingredients.

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Posted in Recipes, Slow Food

With the Grain

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Grains bring different characters to different seasons. When it’s cold, they’re mostly porridge, or beds for stews and stir-fries. But as spring turns to summer, it’s time to think about grains in salads. And these salads make for a terrific transition to the time, which will be here soon enough, when you wish you didn’t have to use the stove at all.

Grain salad is more of a concept than a “dish” — there are virtually infinite variations. But the current season could not be more ideal, replete with late-spring and early-summer vegetables that require only chopping, slicing or grating. All that you’ll need to cook are the grains, which neither demand very much of your attention nor heat up very much of your kitchen.

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Posted in Recipes

The VB6 BBQ

Nutty Falafel

Summer is an interesting season if you’re trying to be VB6. While the bounty of fresh summer produce can all-but make you forget about meat, the smell of backyard grilling makes you crave it. Striking a balance is the key. With that in mind, here are my favorite summery recipes from VB6, some with meat, most without, all delicious.

Baked Falafel with Tahini Sauce

Makes: 8 servings

Time: 45 minutes, plus up to 24 hours to soak chickpeas

Falafel is easy: just soak raw chickpeas until they’re soft enough to grind in the food processor, combine with some spices, shape, and bake. The baking makes lighter falafel, but they’re just as crunchy as deep-fried. This makes a big batch, which is fine, since you can refrigerate the leftovers for several days, or freeze them for a couple of months. To reheat, wrap them in foil and bake at 350°F until they’re hot throughout, 15 to 30 minutes depending on whether they were frozen. Here are some serving suggestions: Make a sandwich with half a whole wheat pita, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and other raw vegetables, then drizzle with sauce. Or add lemon juice to the sauce and eat on top of a green salad, using the tahini for dressing.

1¾ cups dried chickpeas
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small onion, quartered
1 tablespoon cumin
Scant teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
1 cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
1½ teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
½ teaspoon black pepper, plus more to taste
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup tahini

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Posted in Mark Bittman Books, Recipes, Uncategorized

Make Peace With Meat

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 10.01.16 AM                   I probably eat a third as much meat as I used to and, on the not-rare (three times a week?) occasions that I do indulge, I eat less of it.

I’m reminded of a really good plate of slow-roasted lamb shoulder I had in Seattle two weeks ago; there were about six ounces on the plate, and I ate half. It was delicious, and it was enough. This is no longer a conscious thing but a new habit.

The new habits, I suppose, come from new attitudes. The vast majority of Americans still eat meat at least some of the time. Statistically, most of us eat it in unwise, unsustainable and unhealthful quantities.

I’m betting that you eat meat more consciously (and less of it) than you once did. The health, environmental and ethical concerns affect the attitudes of almost everyone I encounter, and although our priorities differ, few people I know indiscriminately fill their supermarket carts with shrink-wrapped meat and leave. Not long ago, almost all of us did that.

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Posted in Food Politics, Recipes

What Can’t You Make With Chickpeas?

Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 10.06.13 AMI’m partial to chickpeas — or garbanzo beans, if you prefer — and not because they were among the first legumes I ever ate. (My mother would open a can and put them out at parties, with salt and pepper; you can do better than that. Sorry, Mom.) They have what to me is an irresistibly robust and nutty flavor, and a texture that can run from crunchy to tender.

In addition to canned, you may see fresh chickpeas; peel them and cook them quickly, as if they were favas or peas. Increasingly you can find chickpea flour, also called besan or gram flour, in Indian markets, where it’s most common, though it’s also becoming more popular as a flour substitute for the gluten-intolerant.

But dried is the most common form. Dried chickpeas take longer to cook than other beans (two hours is a likely cooking time); use enough water, and the process is stress-free. One major benefit to cooking chickpeas yourself — aside from the superior flavor and texture — is that the water you cook them in becomes particularly rich and flavorful by the time they’re done. Save it for soups like the cold one here, which is a refreshing riff on hummus.

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Posted in Recipes, Vegan