Thursday, June 12, 2014

On gluten and dairy: Fresh herb quiche with whole wheat crust

A traditional quiche is made with eggs and cream, and baked in a pie shell. One usually adds various vegetables and herbs. I have used whole wheat pastry flour and grass fed butter here, but if your diet calls for no dairy or gluten, you can find two good alternative recipes here. Typically, I would make the crust with olive oil, but I didn't have any in the house at the time. 

If you're going to eat butter at all, eat grass fed butter or cultured organic butter. My experience tells me that they aren't as harmful as their commercial counterpart. As I experiment with myself, I notice that any food that is made like it was 200 years ago is nourishing in moderation. It's the modern production and processing methods you have to watch out for. Getting eggs from the farmer's market, or buying them from a friend is a great step in that direction. They will have more nutrients, and less "bad stuff".

Finally, I'd like to speak about gluten. There's a nationwide gluten scare at the moment, and people are flocking to gluten free products by the truckload. Many of these gluten free foods contain gums and other weird stabilizers, which might effect your digestive system. I had problems for a while when I was eating gluten free breads, and the problems stopped when I started eating wheat breads again.

There is a tendency among people to generalize and make assumptions. We jumped to the conclusion that all gluten products are bad for us, and promptly forgot that not all foods are created equally. I would like to propose that most gluten products are bad for you. For example, cheap white flour is bad  for more reasons than simply lacking the nutrients of the whole grain. First of all, most non-organic flour is probably genetically modified. There are GMO wheat cultivars with herbicide resistance, and some for increased crop yield. Some people are saying that this new wheat is more inflammatory and toxic than traditional varieties. Also, white flour is required by law to be "improved", which means that they add vitamins and minerals to it. This may sound good, but you can be sure they get these from cheap sources, and that they are often waste products of other industries. White flour is often bleached with chemicals, or contains additives to preserve it. Gross! Whole wheat flour does not require improvement, nor is it bleached. If you're going to eat gluten, look for organic, whole wheat flours. Bob's Red Mill sells some great flours. You could even get radical and grind your own, or store it in the freezer.

One last piece of advice on how to be a successful gluten-eater: eat artisan sourdough breads wherever possible. The longer that the bread dough sits, the better. The sourdough process breaks down gluten proteins, making sourdough bread less glutinous. Before about 1920, there was no such thing as instant dry yeast, or active dry yeast, both of which are widely used in baking today. Yeast was gotten from the surface of the wheat, or from beer vats. Because those yeasts work more slowly, bakers let their bread sit for much longer. Nowadays, commercial bakers want to make their breads as quickly as possible, and thus yeast innovations have allowed quick rising varieties. I am suspect of this, as there is not as much time to break down proteins, develop flavor, and establish a healthy colony of bacteria and yeast in the bread.

Fresh Herb Quiche with Whole Wheat Crust

Pie crust
1.5 cups organic, whole wheat pastry flour
7 Tbsp cold, grass fed butter (straight from fridge)
1/8 tsp salt
2-3 Tbsp ice water

Making a good, flaky, piecrust is a battle against the sticky, long chain gluten protein. Gluten is activated through friction, heat and water. In breadmaking, you want to activate the gluten as much as possible to trap air bubbles. With pie, you don’t want to activate the gluten, because you want the crust to be flaky, not tough. When making a good crust, everything should be as cold as possible (I put the flour in the freezer), and you want to work it as little as possible. That is why a food processor is used. Rather than mixing it, it chops the ingredients.

In a large food processor, combine flour and salt and pulse to combine. Chop butter and add. Process until butter is in tiny pieces, and well mixed with flour. Use a ½ tsp measure to add the water a little at a time, pulsing a few times after each addition. Stop adding water when the dough begins to stick together (don’t add too much!) At this point, take the dough out and press into a ball. Try to avoid hand contact with the dough as much as possible, as your hands warm it up, activating the gluten proteins and making for a tough shell.

Roll out the crust into a circle, putting flour under and on top of the dough. Carefully lift it into a pie pan, cutting and molding it to the pan. If it breaks or cracks (it probably will), just use extra pieces of dough to press into it.

Pre-bake the piecrust at 350º F for 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow it to cool while preparing the filling. Sweet or savory fillings work.

Quiche filling
7 eggs (the freshest and most natural you can find)
¾ cup unsweetened almond milk
¼ tsp salt
1 Tbsp olive oil or butter
½ red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
4 Tbsp chopped chives
4 Tbsp chopped parsley
handful of spinach, dandelion leaves, or nettles (any cookable, edible green will do!)
3 handfuls fresh basil

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Combine eggs, almond milk and salt in a bowl and whisk together.

Heat up a sauté pan to medium heat. Add oil and onions. Sautée the onions until they begin to turn translucent, but don't burn them. Add the spinach and wilt it. Put this and all other ingredients in the egg mixture and stir it up, then pour it into the pie shell. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until it is no longer liquid in the middle. I suggest checking at 20 minutes to be sure.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Salad Secrets: White Peach and Basil Salad

Making good salad is an art. The reputation of salad suffers from the stereotype of romaine lettuce, tomatoes and croutons on a plate with your choice of thousand island or ranch. Salad can be so much more with a little creativity.

The first guideline I will put forward is to use quality ingredients. The best ingredients come from your garden, the next best from the farmer's market, and the next best from the supermarket. Freshly picked is better, tender is better, and greener is better.

Fresh herbs give your salad flavor. In my container garden on my balcony, I grow parsley, chives, peppermint, spearmint, and red shiso. The garden was as easy as getting fabric pots and soil from the nursery, planting starts in it, and watering when needed. The herbs that I grow are noticeably more flavorful than storebought. I buy cilantro, green onions, basil, and dill. All of these herbs are excellent in salads, and my salads are often at least 1/3 herbs and 2/3 lettuce.

Try putting fruit in your salad. Mango, strawberries, apples, pears, raisins, nectarines and peaches can put an interesting spin on your usual mix.

Fresh dressing is more delicious that storebought, and it doesn't have the additives. The dressing below can be used on almost any salad, and can be modified. Keep any homemade dressing in the fridge, and throw it out after 2 weeks.

Finally, the size and shape of the pieces in the salad can make or break the salad. I always chop the lettuce, rather than tearing it, and slice my herbs finely. If I add fruit, I dice it into small pieces. This way, each bite can have all the flavors. Also, your face won't be splashed with dressing as large leaves swing into your mouth. In addition to this recipe, try a papaya and avocado salad; a walnut, pear and raisin salad; or a black bean, red bell pepper and corn salad.

White peach and basil salad
Serves: 1-2 people
The intensely sweet white peach combines with fresh basil for a WOW flavor. 

3 Tbsp walnut, avocado or camelina oil (a mild flavored oil)
2 Tbsp Apple cider vinegar
1 tsp honey
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper

Put all ingredients in a jar and shake.

two handfuls of fresh basil leaves, finely sliced
one handful of fresh parsley leaves, chopped
3-5 large leaves of lettuce (oak leaf or red leaf), chopped
1/2 white peach, diced

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and toss with desired amount of dressing. Keep extra dressing in the fridge. Don't worry too much about measuring... the more basil the better.