Global Cuisine

GRILLEDSALMONIn other places in the world, September is the month that the heat of summer gives way to the welcome chill of fall.  Sadly for those of us in L.A., September is just a cruel extension of August…but with more traffic.

And if you, like me, are looking to keep the heat out of the kitchen this fall, here’s another skinny dish you can make on the grill that’s easy enough for a weeknight supper yet festive enough for a weekend party: Southwestern Spiced Salmon with Black Bean, Cucumber and Mango Salsa.

Without much effort (unless you consider opening a can of beans a work-out), this delicious dinner can be made on the fly in less than 30 minutes.  Or, if you’re cooking for a crowd, the salmon can be seasoned and the salsa can be prepared ahead and you can have dinner plated and served in just 20!

But the real magic isn’t just how easy it is…it’s how satisfying and nutritious it is…

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jamieIf you have as many chef crushes as I do, here’s some good news: you don’t have to break up with your favorite chefs in order to lose weight, you just have to redefine your relationships…

And here’s a Jamie Oliver “recipe re-do” to prove the point:  Skinny Steak with Mushrooms, Bok Choy and Gingered Tamari Sauce.

From the moment Jamie burst on the scene–with dishes that were both simple and sophisticated, and a style of cooking that was casual and fun–I was a fan; never questioning his recipes, I just cooked. But now, 30+ pounds lighter and with an eye on the health of everyone in my family, I do question the ingredients and instructions for every recipe I make and, though I still adore Jamie and his dishes, I happily alter them.

Found in Happy Days with the Naked Chef, the original version of this quick and easy recipe calls for one 8-ounce sirloin steak per person. Without getting into the other health risks of eating too much red meat, it’s just an awful lot of fat and calories…32 grams of fat, to be exact, and roughly 500 calories–about a third of the calories I need in an entire day… And I’m not talking about the fat and calories in the whole meal,  just the portion of the plate that’s protein!

By reducing that super-sized portion of beef and using meat-mimicking magic mushrooms to fill out the plate you can still enjoy the taste and sensation of a beef dinner but with half the fat, cholesterol and calories.

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misosoup.jpgMiso soup is a traditional Japanese comfort food that has gained popularity throughout the world. Here in the United States, it entered the zeitgeist along with sushi and sake when Japanese cuisine became popularized in the 1980s. In Japan, miso soup is eaten by everyone everyday and is as popular as tea. Most Westerners tend to find it difficult to appreciate miso soup, to say the least. It's just one of those foods that is either loved or hated. But for me it's a soup I've been trying to come to terms with for many years. Whenever I've had miso soup I've always hated it, but sometimes I've almost liked it. I've learned that depending on the restaurant and depending on the preparation and the paste used, miso soup can be very different.

There are three to four main types of miso paste used to make the soup including red, white, yellow, and a mixed paste. They can be made of soybeans, wheat, barley, rice, or a combination. The flavors range from very strong and salty, of red miso, to more delicate and refined, of white miso. I've become very fond of yellow miso, which is the one I use for this soup recipe. I use a brand that makes a low-sodium version, which is just how I prefer the taste. Most miso pastes are very high in sodium. I do love the umami flavor of miso, but do not like the overpowering salty taste of many miso paste brands. That's what turned me off in the first place. But making miso soup is mostly about personal taste.

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squashcurryYou can find a version of lentil stew or soup in almost every country. It's a dish that's popular because it's hearty, filling, and inexpensive. Some would call it food for the poor, but lentils stand for more than just that. Many cultures give it significant meaning, equating the small legumes with coins, symbolizing prosperity. Besides that, lentils are very nutritious, delicious, and perfectly satisfying on a cold fall day.

The cuisine of Morocco inspires this dish, which features a classic combination of lentils, chickpeas, and squash. Ras el hanout, the Moroccan spice blend, as well as saffron, give this stew its exotic flavor. Translating to "top of the shop," Ras el hanout is a special spice blend that is traditionally sold in markets by spice mongers, each of whom has his own secret mix, which can include cumin, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, and other spices. It's like the Moroccan version of the Indian spice blend Garam Masala.

The choice is yours—make this recipe into a stew or soup. The ingredients give you the option of using more or less stock, depending on how thick or thin you want the consistency. Since this recipe uses vegetable stock and contains no dairy, it's completely vegan. But all you omnivores, don't be afraid, it's packed with protein and fiber, so you won't even miss the meat. But if you can't live without meaty flavor, use chicken stock.

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kofta.jpg The flavors and spices of Middle Eastern foods, especially the grilled kebabs and koftas, are some of the most interesting and unique, with influence stretching from the Himalayas to the Mediterranean. Koftas, grilled ground meat patties, can be found in many countries in the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia, And Central Europe. A few years back I enjoyed some wonderful lamb koftas at a Turkish restaurant in New York City. Ever since then I've kept the idea in the back of my mind of creating my own recipe. Inspired also by the Hungarian fasírt my mother makes, I wanted to create a recipe that combined spices from the various regions: paprika from Hungary and coriander, cumin, and turmeric from India.

My mother's fasírt combines beef and pork and only uses the simplest spices, whereas koftas are generally made out of beef or lamb and use the most pungent spices. These koftas can be shaped into patties or meatballs, but I thread them onto skewers, one of the more interesting methods of cooking them. They can be fried in oil, but grilling them is healthier and lends more flavor. In South Asia, koftas are seared first and then stewed in curry. This recipe can be adapted to suit many tastes and preparations. The idea of meat on a stick is so novel that it's worth making, especially for kids.

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