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Green Tomatillo Salsa (with Avocado “Crema” Variation)

Tomatillo Salsa

My mom has a friend named Maria Garcia. She’s adorable for so many reasons, and not just because her name rhymes. She’s always dressed in cheery, colorful clothing. She’s never without a broad smile and the room is perpetually filled with her lyrical laughter. My favorite thing about her though?

She usually has a shot of tequila in her hand.

That, and she makes a killer tomatillo salsa. I’ve known Maria for most of my life and lucky for me, her signature salsa makes an appearance at most of our gift-giving occasions.

I love tomatillo salsa. Give me a choice between salsa verde and just about every other condiment known to man, and the green variety is going to win 9 times out of 10. But Maria’s is something special. She doesn’t use any onion, which I like because I’ve had too many salsas where the onion dominated the flavor.

And she doesn’t shy away from the spice–another key to my heart. In truth, I ask chefs to make dishes “spicy like you hate me,” and yet I have never, not ever, used the number of jalapeños Maria suggests in her recipe. She is far more bad-ass than I.

jalapenos

She also boils her jalapeños and tomatillos, which I like as artistic license. I’ve had salsa verde made from fresh ingredients blended in a food processor, and while delicious, that version of tomatillo salsa tastes much “greener” in flavor and less seasoned or intense. Furthermore, the addition of lime juice becomes essential, otherwise there is hardly any tang. When you boil your veggies, the spice becomes spicier and the tang comes out of the tomatillos naturally.

boiling peppersWhich brings me to tomatillos, the funny little things. They tend to be quite hard when you purchase them and enclosed in a little husk. Although I wasn’t able to find any documented reason why, I’m told the husk can be boiled with nopales (cactus) to remove the slime that nopales–and similar plants like aloe–are notorious for. Which makes me wonder if it can be used when cooking okra…And also whether this is just an old esposa’s tale…

But I digress.

Ironically, tomatillos also have a lot of pectin in them. I say ironic because the husks reportedly remove goo, whereas the fruit itself can cause your salsa to get thick and well, goo-ey, once refrigerated. If this happens to you, it simply means that not enough liquid was added to the recipe. Just stir in a tablespoon at a time of warm water until you reach the desired consistency.

tomatillos

The only thing I do differently from Maria when I make tomatillo salsa–aside from using fewer than 10 jalepenos–is to add lime zest. As stated above, I don’t really feel that lime juice is a necessary addition, but part of me was yearning for a nod to that flavor. Zest to the rescue! I looooove citrus zest–it’s just got such zing to it! Apparently I also love four letter nouns that start with “z!”

So if you’re down with the zest, go for it. But know that it’s totally optional. I assure you the results are delicious either way!

zesting limes

Oh and one last thing. This is delicious on fish tacos, where it can comingle with a little lime-crema. But if dairy is no bueno in your universe, try my Avocado Crema variation. Just blend half a ripe avocado with a cupish of green salsa in your food processor until the avocado is completely blended and the mixture is creamy. Add more or less salsa depending on how pourable you’d like your sauce to be. I’ll sometimes make it on the thicker side and dip cold, crunchy crudite into it. Yum!

Green Tomatillo Salsa (with Avocado “Crema” variation)
  • 8-10 tomatillos, husks removed
  • 1-3 jalapeños, depending on your spice tolerance
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 tsp salt, to taste
  • zest of one lime, optional
  • 1/4 c water
  • small bunch cilantro leaves, torn from stems
  • tomatoes, optional
  • half a ripe avocado, peeled and seeded (for Avocado “Crema” variation)
  1. Put tomatillos and jalapeños in a saucepan with cool water. Bring to a boil and simmer 8 minutes until tomatillos are soft.
  2. Remove from water and allow to cool to the touch.
  3. Remove fibrous stems from tomatillos and peppers (retaining seeds and pulp) and place in food processor with garlic, salt and lime zest, if using. Process until combined. Add water, beginning with 1/4 c until salsa is slightly thinner than the perfect consistency. It will thicken in the fridge.
  4. Add cilantro leaves and pulse until just combined.
  5. Taste. If your salsa is too spicy, you can add whole fresh tomatoes. Just add one at a time until you reach your desired spice level. Or you can make the crema variation that follows, since the fat in the avocado also cuts down on the spice quotient.
  6. For Avocado Crema: Pour salsa into a bowl or beaker, preferably one with a pour spout. No need to clean the food processor.
  7. Process avocado until smooth and creamy. Pour in 3/4 to 1 cup of salsa and process until combined.
  8. Enjoy!

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An Elimination Diet-Friendly Chinese “Chicken” Salad: Debunking the Deprivation Myth

Chinese Salad 2I’d like to state for the record: This Post to Post Links II error: No post found with slug "challenge-2013-elimination-diet-food-allergen-cleanse" has been the best thing I’ve done for myself in the past five years of my life. And as much as I’d like to wax poetic about the program’s many virtues, that’s a different post for a different day. I am here today however, to debunk the idea that my eating life is so deprived now. Have a looksy . . .

The penthouse* has been without gas for the last two weeks (in part due to my disorganization while we were moving, but in part also to the fact that Southern California Edison is as efficient and devoted to excellence in customer service as the DMV).

So what’s a cooking instructor on a highly limited diet and no access to a microwave to do? Get creative? Certainly. Pull out all those rarely used appliances tucked away into dark corners? You betcha. You’d be amazed what can be accomplished with a blender, a juicer, a crockpot, and a food processor.

And what can you make with those things? Sauce. And sauce makes this elimination dieter a happy girl. In fact, I read a post recently on The Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen where a reader had stated, “Just give me sauces and I can eat anything.” Kindred spirits, we are.

So using Tom and Ali’s garlicky green sauce, I created this Asian influenced salad that can be eaten as early as Phase Two of the Elimination Diet, but is even better once citrus, nightshades, and chicken are reintroduced. The disclaimer is that nothing is trying to be chicken in the Phase Two friendly variation–it’s just that few descriptions have the same name recognition as “Chinese Chicken Salad.” Chinese Salad? Asian Salad? Chickenless Asian Salad? You get the picture.

This concoction tastes a lot like peanut sauce, and it is AMAZEballs. I didn’t want to spend $15 at Whole Foods on a jar of pumpkin seed butter, so the first time I made it, I used sunflower butter and it was delicious. This go around I used homemade (thus, cheaper) pumpkin seed butter, and added lime for balance, crushed red pepper for spice, and enough water to make it the consistency of salad dressing. Feel free to omit the citrus and the red pepper if you’re still in Phase Two.

Build your salad with your favorite combination of the following ingredients:

Phase Two-friendly options:

Romaine
Shredded cabbage (Red or green)
Radicchio
Shredded carrots
Shredded beets
Broccoli
Snap peas, cut into strips (I like these better than snow peas, but either would work)
Bean sprouts
Julienned green apple (you need something with tang, to mimic the flavor of mandarin oranges)
Cilantro
Pepitas (to mimic the crunch of the chow mein noodles), toasted for extra flavor loveliness.

Other options, once you’ve graduated from Phase Two to Reintroduction:

Julienned red, orange, and yellow pepper
Organic chicken, cut into strips–I used Fiance’s delish go-to marinade of Sriracha (here’s a homemade, paleo version http://nomnompaleo.com/post/36060636540/paleo-sriracha-homemade-20-minute-sriracha), sesame oil, and soy sauce. Use wheat free tamari if you’re eliminating gluten.
Orange, supremed–I toyed with using peeled and separated tangerines, but I think the seeds would be annoying.
Organic water chestnuts—I would love to buy these fresh, but apparently that would require a quick jaunt to an Asian food market. In Asia.
Organic baby corn–see note about water chestnuts.

Take a look at both versions. No deprivation here.

Packed with Phase One-friendly goodies

So crunchy and flavorful

Chinese Salad 3

Then once you add in citrus, nightshades, and chicken

Chinese Salad 4

Adaptable for any Phase and so good you’ll be eating it well after the diet’s over

 

And just so’s I’m not alienating the non-Eliminators out there, I’ve got more killer sauce recipes coming soon: high on flavor, low on refined sugars and other yucky additives, as well as a comprehensive guide of refined sugar alternatives due out in the next few weeks. So stay tuned.

In the meantime, do something delicious!

Lighter Lemon Curd (Refined Sugar-Free, Plus a Vegan Variation)

lemon-curdHave you ever noticed that kids don’t seem to like lemon-flavored things? I didn’t as a wee lass, and my favorite little (who’s eleven now) won’t even eat a sugar cookie if it has lemon zest in it. It’s a funny thing, because when you fast forward to grown up me, I simply can’t get enough of the stuff. Lemon sorbet, lemon pound cake, lemon poppyseed muffins, lemon in my cocktails. It’s simply my favorite! Maybe in weaning myself off chocolate, I found sour to be a way to get my dessert fix without dying in the clutches of cloying.

Lemon curd might be my favorite way to enjoy my obsession. I’ll spread it on gluten-free toast or muffins, fill tarts and layer cakes with it, or mix it with fluffy coconut whipped cream and dollop it atop fresh berries.

The thing about lemon curd is people freak out about the fat content. While I no longer demonize fat (you can read all about why here), I’m always game for healthifying a recipe if it’s still going to taste great. And this recipe does just that. It’s basic lemon curd, except it uses whole eggs instead of just yolks to keep it copacetic for the folks in the world who still crunch the nutritional numbers. And it also makes use of an all-natural sweetener, maple sugar–which is my favorite replacement for table sugar in recipes with light-colored ingredients and delicate flavors.

And I even took it a step further: I found a vegan variation! Made egg and butter-free, obviously, but maintaining the pudding-esque consistency like a champ, and tasting every bit as good as the carnivore variation. I’ve included both recipes here so that no matter what your preference, you can do this deliciousness STAT!

Lemon Curd (Refined Sugar-Free)
Author: The Wellness Chef
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Makes 2 cups. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for a week.
Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup maple sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 Tbsp. grated lemon rind
  • 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Instructions
  1. Place sugar and eggs in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until blended.
  2. Gradually beat in rind and juice. Spoon mixture into a heavy-duty saucepan over medium heat.
  3. Add butter to pan; cook 5 minutes or until thick, stirring constantly (do not boil).
  4. Spoon mixture into a bowl. Cover surface with plastic wrap. Chill thoroughly.
Lighter Lemon Curd (Refined Sugar-free & Vegan)
Recipe Type: Dessert
Author: The Wellness Chef
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 1 1/2 cups
For your loved ones who are vegan, and all who aren’t but will never know the difference!
Ingredients
  • 1 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/4 cup maple sugar
  • 2 T lemon zest
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 T coconut milk
  • 3 T [url href=”http://” target=”_blank”]cornstarch[/url] dissolved in 3 T cold water
  • 2 T dairy-free margarine, divided
Instructions
  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the lemon juice, sugar, lemon zest and salt, stirring well to dissolve the sugar.
  2. After the sugar is dissolved, add the corn starch mixture and the coconut milk.
  3. Stirring constantly, cook until the mixture begins to thicken and bubbles gently, about 8 minutes.
  4. Add the margarine, and continuing to stir constantly, cook for several minutes more or until mixture resembles thick pudding.
  5. Transfer the mixture to a heat proof dish, cover the surface of the curd with plastic wrap and let cool completely before placing in the refrigerator.
  6. Chill 2 hours before serving.

Photo credit: French Tart via Foter.com / CC BY-ND