Food
5:54 pm
Wed January 9, 2013

Post-Holiday Detox Dining Can Be A Tasty Surprise

Originally published on Thu January 10, 2013 3:24 pm

OK, I'll admit it: I've thought about doing a liquid cleanse. Detoxing, renewing myself, clearing out my system all sounds appealing, especially post-holiday binging. As baked brie, gingerbread cookies and rich stews settle onto my hips, a detox becomes ever more alluring. I've never taken the leap, though, for one simple reason: I like eating solids.

I cringe at the idea of slurping thin meals. I feel my stomach gurgling on empty as I imagine bottles of juice awaiting me. Sure, I wouldn't mind Gwyneth Paltrow's abs, but I am not going to sip my way there. I feel there should be a way to rejuvenate after the holiday season without sacrificing the sensations of chewing. I would rather gnaw than swish my way back to health.

In a wholesome effort to eat well and jump-start my nutritious new year, I looked at the top market cleanses and noted the common ingredients: ginger, tamarind and coconut, among others. Well, I thought, those don't sound so bad. And they certainly don't have to be consumed in liquid form.

Ginger is a frequent ingredient in the fad market detox blends. The spicy, pungent root is thought to alleviate a variety of ailments. It protects, soothes and aids one's tummy function (and let's be clear, this is the intended goal of most cleanses) by eliminating gas and calming the intestinal tract. It also has antioxidants and, thus, immunity-boosting effects. Antioxidants protect your cells against "free radicals." No, not flag-waving hippies, but dangerous combative elements that may damage your cells. Antioxidants also protect against that pesky seasonal flu. Ginger also holds compounds called gingerols that can ease arthritis and muscular swelling.

Then there's tamarind, an ingredient I saw used in numerous dishes while I was traveling through Thailand but have never mastered. The fruit looks like a bean pod but larger and brown. In the States, it's generally purchased dried and soaked in water to make tamarind juice or as a concentrate, resembling a sticky molasses. It has a tangy, sour flavor that, when added to a dish, provides a zing unlike other seasonings. Tamarind is a so-called superfruit, used as a treatment for ailments around the world: inflammation, fever, tummy issues and more. It also tastes great.

Finally, there's coconut oil. Coconut meat, water and oil are used in a variety of health foods. The water is touted as a better-than-water, electrolyte-filled alternative, the meat as high in vitamins and fiber. And now the once-evil coconut oil is making a comeback as a weight-loss tool. Like carbs, saturated fat has gone through a ping-pong debate between Good For You and Bad For You. At the moment, it's in the Good For You court, as researchers argue the benefits of coconut oil fat, which is apparently metabolized in a way that can aid in weight loss. Do I believe it? I'm not so sure, but I do know that the oil makes nearly everything I cook taste delicious. And if it happens to help shave off that last piece of cake I devoured, then I will be grateful.

So I got to cooking, looking up recipes and experimenting with the so-called diet-boosting ingredients. I added cayenne pepper and bought burdock root; sizzled onions, and mashed garlic and ginger. I created dish after dish and just kept going, it was all so good. I fed my friends, and we mmm-ed and ooh-ed at the deep flavors developed by the layered spices and oil.

Eventually it wasn't about losing weight but about eating a really great meal without the guilt. I did happen to lose a few pounds, my energy level was up, and I was eating quite well. Who says you need a smoothie to feel great? Nature has all the answers right there in the supermarket aisle, no blending or spiffy packaging required.


Recipe: Sweet Potatoes With Ginger And Lemon

This recipe involves a cooking technique called tempering, or tadka, where whole spices are fried briefly in oil to bring out the essential oils from the spices, sprucing up the flavor of the dish. The coconut oil enhances the sweetness in the sweet potatoes, a perfect pairing with the bite of the onion and heat of the chilies. This recipe is adapted from 5 Spices, 50 Dishes: Simple Indian Recipes Using Five Common Spices by Ruta Kahate (Chronicle Books, 2007).

Makes 4 servings

2 pounds sweet potatoes and/or yams

2 tablespoons coconut oil*

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

2 small green serrano chilies, chopped, or 1 small jalapeno

1 medium red onion, about 1 1/2 cups, finely chopped

1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger (about a 2-inch piece)

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

2 tablespoons lemon juice, or to taste

Cilantro, to garnish

Peel and chop sweet potatoes into 1-inch pieces. Place potatoes in a deep pan and fill with water just until potatoes are covered. Boil until tender. Drain and rinse potatoes with cool water and set aside for later use.

To make the tadka, heat coconut oil in a large saute pan over high heat. When oil is hot, add mustard seeds. Once heated, add chilies. When chilies are toasted, add onion and ginger. Saute until onion is slightly browned, then add turmeric and stir.

Add sweet potatoes and salt and toss gently to mix. Cover and steam over low heat until flavors meld, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle with lemon juice and serve hot or at room temperature. Garnish with cilantro.

*Available in supermarket or health food store


Recipe: Yellow Split Peas With Coconut

This dish can be plated along with rice or eaten on its own. It is delicious with a dollop of coriander chutney on top. This recipe is adapted from Coconut Oil: For Health and Beauty by Cynthia Holzapfel and Laura Holzapfel (Book Publishing Co., 2004).

Makes 4 servings

1 cup yellow split peas

4 cups water or chicken broth

1/4 cup coconut oil

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 medium onion, diced

1 tablespoon garlic, chopped

1/2 cup grated coconut, unsweetened

Simmer split peas in water or broth until soft and breaking apart, about 45 minutes. Heat coconut oil in a separate saute pan and add the turmeric, ginger, cumin seeds and cayenne pepper, stirring until the seeds just begin to pop. Turn heat down to low and add onion and garlic. Saute until translucent. Toss in grated coconut and combine. Add the sauteed mixture to the split peas, bring to a simmer and serve hot.


Recipe: Ginger-Tamarind Fish Soup

This recipe is adapted from Dancing Shrimp: Favorite Thai Recipes for Seafood by Kasma Loha-unchit (Simon & Schuster, 2001). Feel free to increase or decrease the amount of tamarind, depending on how much tang you want for the broth. Also, adding sweet potato or mushrooms will make the soup more substantial. As is, with flaky fish and a rich, potent broth, the soup is a great start to a meal. Keeping the shallots in chunks allows them to steam and become sweet, also staying slightly crunchy, giving the soup texture.

Makes 2 to 4 servings

2/3 pound filets of any of the following: tilapia, sea perch, catfish, red snapper or cod

2 shallots, cut in quarters

3 cups water

1 teaspoon shrimp paste*

1/4 cup or more thick tamarind juice or 1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate

1/4 cup fresh ginger, peeled and slivered

2 green onions, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons fish sauce*

1 1/2 tablespoons palm sugar, may substitute brown sugar

1 jalapeno or Fresno pepper (preferably red), cut into long, thin slivers, with seeds

Cut fish filets into 1-1/2 inch chunks. Set aside.

Bruise shallot chunks with the flat side of a cleaver or heavy knife.

Bring 3 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Dissolve shrimp paste in hot water and add shallots and tamarind juice. Return to a boil and add slivered ginger, white parts of onions and fish pieces. Do not stir. Cook at medium heat about 1 minute. Season to taste with fish sauce and palm sugar, and stir in chili slivers and green parts of onions. Cook 1 or 2 minutes longer, or until fish is cooked through. Transfer to bowl for serving.

*Available in the international aisle or Asian food store


Recipe: Tamarind Shrimp

This dish has unusual flavors and is simple to make. I see it taking a regular spot in my dinner repertoire. This recipe is inspired by one from Secrets of Success Cookbook: Signature Recipes and Insider Tips from San Francisco's Best Restaurants by Michael Bauer (Chronicle Books, 2000).

Makes 2 to 3 servings

Sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons coconut oil**

1 1/2 cups water

3 tablespoons tamarind concentrate**

1/4 cup palm sugar, may substitute brown sugar

2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced

1 stalk lemongrass, cut into 1-inch pieces and lightly crushed

1 teaspoon fish sauce*

Shrimp

1 teaspoon coconut oil

1 small shallot, thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, minced

1 jalapeno, thinly sliced into rings

1 pound jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

To make the sauce, heat coconut oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add water, tamarind, palm sugar, ginger and lemongrass. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until thickened, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in fish sauce. Pass the mixture through a sieve. Set sauce aside.

For shrimp, heat oil in a large saute pan or wok over medium heat. Add shallots, garlic and jalapeno, and saute until soft, about 3 minutes. Add shrimp and saute 2 minutes. Add sauce and stir gently, cooking until sauce begins to boil and shrimp are cooked through. Transfer to a warm platter and serve immediately.

*Available in the international aisle or Asian food store

**Available in supermarket or health food store


Recipe: Tamarind Beef

The beef is tender and the broth is sweet and tangy. It's a great dish for a cold evening in. This recipe is adapted from Cook's Book of Everything: Over 1,000 Recipes, Cooking Tips and Techniques by Lulu Grimes (Murdoch Books, 2009).

Makes 4 servings

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 pounds beef chuck, cut into cubes

2 red onions, sliced

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tablespoon julienned ginger

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1 cinnamon stick

1/2 cup tamarind puree or 2 tablespoons concentrate*

3 fresh curry leaves*

2 tablespoons palm sugar, may substitute brown sugar

1 tablespoon fish sauce*

4 cups water

1 cup coconut cream

3 1/2 ounces green beans, ends trimmed and cut in half

Cilantro, to garnish

Heat a nonstick wok over high heat, add oil and swirl to coat pan. Add the beef in batches and cook over high heat 2 to 3 minutes, browning all sides. Remove from wok and set aside.

Add onion and cook over medium heat 2 to 3 minutes until softened, then add garlic and ginger and cook for 2 minutes. Add coriander, cumin, fenugreek, chili powder, cloves and cinnamon and cook 2 minutes.

Return the meat to the wok and stir to coat with the spices. Add tamarind, curry leaves, sugar, fish sauce and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to very low and simmer. Cover and cook for 1 1/2 hours, or until the beef is tender. Stir occasionally to prevent the meat from sticking.

Pour in the coconut cream and cook, uncovered, 5 to 10 minutes, then add the beans and cook for 5 minutes more, or until tender. Garnish with cilantro before serving.

*Available in the international aisle or Asian food store


Recipe: Ginger-Lamb Coconut Curry

This recipe is my favorite of them all. Adapted from Mangoes & Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels through the Great Subcontinent (Random House of Canada, 2005) by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. Definitely one to make again and again.

Makes 4 servings

1 pound boneless lamb meat

Marinade

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and ground

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon salt

Water

Curry

2 tablespoons coconut oil*

1-inch piece whole cinnamon stick

4 whole cloves

4 green cardamom pods

2 cups coarsely chopped onions

6 green cayenne chilies, seeded and chopped (may substitute chiles de arbol or jalapenos)

1 teaspoon minced garlic

2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger

1 1/2 cups canned or fresh coconut milk, with 1/2 cup of the thickest milk set aside

1 cup water

1/2 cup minced cilantro leaves or mint leaves

1 or 2 limes, cut into wedges

Trim lamb of excess fat, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, and set aside in a large bowl.

Combine all marinade ingredients in a small bowl, adding water as necessary to make a paste. Add to the meat and mix well to coat the meat. Set aside to marinate for an hour or so. (If it's more convenient, marinate the meat for up to 12 hours, covered and refrigerated.)

Heat oil in a wide, heavy pot over medium-high heat. Toss in cinnamon, cloves and cardamom and stir-fry briefly, then add onions and stir-fry until softened, about 8 minutes, adding the chilies after the first few minutes.

Lower the heat to medium, add the garlic and ginger, and stir-fry 2 to 3 minutes, until softened. Add the meat and any excess marinade, and turn and stir over medium to medium-low heat until all the surfaces have been exposed to the heat, about 6 minutes. The meat may stick a little; just loosen from the bottom of the pan.

Add the 1 cup thinner coconut milk and the water and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the meat is tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Add the thicker coconut milk and bring almost to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer a few more minutes.

Transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle on the cilantro or mint, and serve hot. Put out lime wedges so guests can add a tart note as they eat.

*Available in supermarket or health food store

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