The other night we had some dear friends over for dinner that have some significant dietary restrictions. When I first surveyed the list Billy Preston’s “nothing from nothing” ran through my head. Then I spied this past Sunday’s New York Times Week in Review on the kitchen table. Mark Bittman’s lead article broke my abstraction (my preston subtraction).
The crux of the article debunks the myth that junk food is actually cheaper (it’s a fascinating premise and one I hope to come back to soon in a future post). But what caught my eye and put a stop to my negative flashback was this- cooking a healthy meal is a “choice”.
Here I was, list in hand, bemoaning everything I couldn’t make- not looking at the opportunity to lean out of my comfort zone and step up to a healthy challenge. And a challenge it was- no carbs, sugar, dairy, nuts, shellfish, red meat.
There’s a Sanskrit term I love “neti neti”- meaning not this, not this. You conceptualize something by defining what it is not. A little sage intervention could definitely help this Ohio girl see the culinary light.
After little carbs, no refined sugar, dairy, nuts, shellfish or red meat- what’s left? Color, flavor, and protein. I’m going to pump up the freshness and blow away the negative trappings.
A big stumbling block is the canapé. Mine are historically filled with carbs, fat and dairy. Neti neti- crudités? While a bag of carrots is boring how about a little twist- I’ll offer some raw vegetables on the perimeter but inside I’ll place a little radish “canapé” topped with a smidge of goat cheese and pesto.
Those humdrum carrots will be braised with the lackluster turnip. Neti neti- a carrot and turnip bisque consisting of nothing else other than a little onion, one tsp of olive oil and some chicken broth. The key is to cook down the carrots and turnips together until they sing a sweet subtle melody. Then pulverize them with a hand blender.
Main is simple- citrus grilled salmon. Sides? Neti neti- grilled thin asparagus and a trio of flash sautéed yellow, red and orange peppers.
Susan Gion’s citrus prep for fish is stunning in it’s simplicity and tried and true results. Fresh lemon zest and minced fresh flat parsley. Covered with plastic wrap for four hours in the frig. Then grilled for minutes on a side over hot coals.
Choosing thin baby stalks maximizes the fresh grilled taste. Simply steam the asparagus for two minutes in the microwave, refresh in an ice bath, dry and toss with a little Italian dressing. Grill for two minutes, turning once. Place on a baking sheet to cool at room temperature. Reheat in a 350 degree oven for three minutes right before serving.
Making thin uniform cuts to your peppers gives it a confetti feel. It also makes flash sautéing a breeze. Heat 1 tsp olive oil in a large nonstick pan over medium high heat and sauté the peppers until al dente but slightly charred on the edges of a few of the peppers.
Dessert calls for an OM neti neti. Transform that sour puss into a citrus indulgence. An impressive presentation goes a long way in disguising portion size. Half a lemon lengthwise and scoop out the center with a grapefruit knife.
Fill with a fresh lemon ice (Dayton’s own Dorothy Lane Market has an incredible lemon basil sorbretto). Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze until ready to serve.
Toss fresh blueberries with a splash Grand Marnier. Spoon on top of lemon ice. Garnish with a mint leaf.
Dinner was a hit. Fresh, healthy and unbelievably fast- how’s that for a “fast food” challenge.