Superfoods - What’s The Deal?

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Pictured above is an acai bowl with kiwi fruit and bee pollen. These are known as Superfoods. So what are superfoods? Do they have superpowers? Were they pollinated by mutant bees from outer space? Do they have glasses-wearing alter-egos that allow them to blend in with normal foods? 

Like this guy?

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Or maybe these people?

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Look at them trying to be nondescript. Sidenote: This is where four years of college have taken me. It’s midnight, and I’m putting tiny glasses on fruit.

Generally speaking, the term “superfood” is used to describe a food that has more health benefits than your standard fare. For example, it might have a crazy amount of vitamins or super amped-up antioxidants ready to stop free radicals from running amok. Here’s a diagram showing how antioxidants work: 

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Based on the roughly ten minutes of internet research I conducted, which was largely interspersed with me youtubing cat videos, there is some controversy surrounding the word “superfood.” Most fruits and vegetables offer vitamin C and carotenoids, which are antioxidant compounds. Implying that foods that are high in vitamin C are superior to other foods seems a bit radical (see what I did there) because ultimately it’s still important to have a healthy, balanced diet. 

However, here is a list of fruits and vegetables that are high in vitamin C that you can incorporate into your diet. I always assumed oranges had the highest amounts of vitamin C, but these guys pack a bigger vitamin C punch, turns out:

  • Yellow Bell Peppers
  • Kale 
  • Kiwi
  • Broccoli
  • Strawberries 

These are foods that are high in carotenoids:

  • Carrots (obviously)
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Cantaloupe 
  • Apricots

Coffee, tea, olive oil and chocolate are also known for their antioxidant compounds, which is fine by me. BRING ON THE CHOCOLATE. But again, it’s all about balance and common sense. Eat well-rounded meals and listen to your body. If your body wants fruit, eat fruit. If you’re thirsty, drink some water. In the words of Digital Underground in Doowutchyalike, “If you’re hungry, get yourself something to eat / And if you’re dirty, then go take a bath.”

Words to live by. And that’s my somewhat informative take on superfoods. I hope it was moderately or even a tiny bit helpful. 

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Happy Easter!

Happy Easter, everyone! I realize this has nothing to do with Easter, but it makes me happy, so I’ll just go ahead and leave this……. HERE:

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Vegetable Fried Rice

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When I don’t know what to make for dinner, I make fried rice. When I have leftover rice that I think needs salt and butter but I don’t want to feel guilty for dumping salt and butter on rice, I make fried rice. When I feel like I should eat vegetables, but don’t want to feel guilty for dumping salt and butter on them because that’s the only way I feel like eating them, I make fried rice.

The point is, salt and butter.

But also vegetable fried rice. And here’s how I do it! 

You will need:

  • 1 ½ tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced carrots*
  • 2 cups cooked rice
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup broccoli*
  • ½ cup peas*
  • ½ cup green beans*
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • dash of sugar
  • soy sauce to taste

*You can use any mix of vegetables you like - this is just what I happened to have around.

First blanch any raw green vegetables by sticking them in a pot of boiling water for a couple of minutes and then draining them. If you’re using frozen vegetables, follow the package cooking instructions, but stop shy of three minutes of cooking time so they don’t get mushy.

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In large pan or wok, heat your sesame oil over medium heat. (Vegetable oil works fine here, but the sesame oil gives it an authentic, nutty flavor.) Throw in the garlic and ginger and fry that up for about a minute. Add the carrots (if you’re using them) and stir quickly for a minute or two. Then add the rice.

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Now here’s where you add the soy sauce. Use a little if you’re not into salty. (Use a lot if you’re like me and sometimes secretly lick your Himalayan salt block when no one’s looking because you’re basically a small mammal that requires a salt lick and a wheel to run on.)

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Let that sizzle while you whip your egg in a small bowl. Move your rice to the edges of the pan so you have an empty space in the middle. Add the egg and scramble it up. When it looks close to being cooked, stir the rice back into the middle of the pan. BAM – egg fried rice. (By the way, tell me the picture of the egg below isn’t sexy. Look at it sweat.) 

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Next, throw in the broccoli and peas or other blanched vegetables of your choice. Add the sugar and stir for a couple minutes, then add the butter. Once the butter is melted through, let the rice sit there. Let it sizzle. Listen carefully – that’s the rice at the bottom getting crispy. Getting salty. Getting burnt-buttery. Getting awesome.

And that’s it! Plate it up and enjoy.  

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Indian Pickle Chicken Curry

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I love Indian pickles. It’s a problem. They’re supposed to be a condiment, not a meal - but says who? I often dump mango pickle on rice and call it dinner. I remember eating this as a kid alone at midnight so I couldn’t be told off and force-fed a proper curry. But now I’m an adult and I’ll eat what I want. I’M ALLOWED. 

Indian pickles are different from American pickles in that the vegetables are cooked in different spices and then preserved in oil. The best part of Indian pickles is the masala that sinks to the bottom of the jars. I always greedily dig my spoon in to excavate that oily, spicy goodness. So when I came across this spice mix by Shan, I nearly flipped my little toupee:

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"Achar Gosht" means Pickle-Style Meat. Where had this been all my life? It made me angry that no one told me about it. This spice mix is basically that spicy goodness I would scoop out from the bottom of the pickle jars. And here I was, holding a pure, Heisenburg-quality box of it. What makes this spice mix distinctly pickle-like is its addition of fennel, caraway and fenugreek, the last of which imparts a sweet, licorice taste. 

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Shan is a company that sells spice mixes for any type of kebab or curry imaginable. It can be tiresome mixing and grinding all the different spices you need for a curry (this one has over 14), so it’s convenient to be able to buy 1 box that has the exact spices you need. The recipe is also conveniently written on the box, but following it exactly often results in an insanely spicy dish.

Below is how I made my Indian Pickle Chicken Curry. While it still ends up being spicy, it’s nowhere near as spicy as it would’ve been had I followed Shan’s instructions. (These instructions included slitting whole green chilies and stuffing them with masala before adding them to the curry. Hot!) 

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 4 medium garlic cloves, mashed or microplaned into a paste
  • 2 inch piece of ginger, mashed or microplaned into a paste
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 cup yogurt
  • 2 roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 tbsp Shan Achar Gosht Curry mix
  • 2 tbsp ghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil

Begin by cutting the chicken into 1 inch cubes. Mix them in a bowl with the garlic, ginger, salt and 1/4 cup of yogurt. Set this aside while you chop your tomatoes and heat your ghee or oil. 

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When the ghee or oil is hot, throw in the chicken mixture and allow the chicken to just start to brown.

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Then add the remaining yogurt, tomatoes and spice mix. Stir well, bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer until the chicken is tender, about 20-30 minutes. (South Asian cooks, I’ve realized, don’t really time things. Their general rule when making a chicken curry is to wait until the oil separates and floats to the top. Once this happens, the chicken is usually done.) 

I like to serve this with chopped tomatoes and cucumber, plus a side of yogurt to take off the heat. And if you want to go the extra mile…serve with a side of pickle. 

Rainy day pickle chicken curry. A basic curry with fennel and lemon flavors. #shan

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Miso Beef Omusubi @ Sunny Blue, Santa Monica

Omusubi. Ohhhh, musubi. What they are: Japanese rice balls filled with your choice of beef, tuna, salmon, you name it, topped with a salty sesame mix and wrapped in seaweed. How it tastes: Like a salty, chewy, meaty taste-punch in the mouth. Order 1 as a snack, 2 for a meal, 3 if you’re greedy like me. 

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Saucy Slow-Cooked Shredded Chicken Tacos

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My buddy Ram has been describing in aggravatingly-delicious detail all the things he’s been making in his slow-cooker. Swedish meatballs, lasagna, tender pot roasts ready to eat the moment he gets home…what sorcery was this? Envious and salivating, I knew I had to get in on this slow-cooker thing.

And that’s when my friend Kevin brought me a slow-cooker that he’s had sitting around and never used. It was like winning the gastronomical lottery. I immediately began hounding Ram for slow-cooker recipes, and each conversation ended with, “That’s it? That can’t be it.” It all seemed too easy. I didn’t believe. I didn’t trust it

But it is that easy.

Take this shredded chicken taco recipe. The chicken takes 10 minutes of prep time and just 3 store-bought items. I know what you’re thinking: That’s it? That can’t be it. It is! And it’s delicious! 

You will need:

  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 16oz jar salsa
  • 1 oz taco seasoning

Since I’m usually in a rush in the morning, I threw all three items into the slow-cooker’s removable pot, covered it and put it in the refrigerator the night before. In the morning, I put the pot back onto the slow-cooker base and set it on low. 

About 9 hours later, I had saucy, tender chicken. I carefully shredded it and placed it in soft flour tortillas. (You can squeeze lime juice on top, add shredded lettuce, sprinkle on cilantro and chopped onions…the variations are endless.) The chicken itself was bursting with flavor despite its preparation being so deceptively simple. 

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I decided to top my tacos with lime and a mixture of yogurt and adobo seasoning that I got from the Savory Spice Shop in Encinitas. Adobo is a mixture of garlic, onion, mild green chiles, honey powder, cumin and oregano. It has a distinct and authentic flavor, and it’s great sprinkled on eggs, too. 

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If you want to be frugal and/or fancy, I recommend mixing up a batch of your own taco seasoning:

  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin powder
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper

This isn’t necessary, but if you have the above spices and 10 minutes to spare, then why not? 

What I like best about using a slow-cooker is that it’s not an exact science. At the lowest setting it’s difficult to actually burn food, and it encourages experimentation. Don’t want to add a jar of salsa? Add canned tomatoes next time. Cooking a pot roast but don’t have any beef broth? Throw in some wine. Have an extra can of coconut milk sitting around? Throw it in with chicken, beans, chili and ginger and have yourself a curry! If you have meat and liquid, you’ve got potential for a great meal. 

I’ll be picking Ram’s brain for more slow-cooker recipes, which I shall dutifully report. (Thank you Ram and Kevin!) 

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