Watermelon Rind and Bean Curry

Throwing food is something I try to avoid as much as possible. Almost everything we buy gets eaten or used this way or another. In this case, I’m referring to watermelon rind. Did you ever think it was edible? I didn’t think about it until a few months ago when a friend brought me some mysterious preserves she made. I couldn’t figure out what she could possibly had used to make the preserves. I was very surprised when she finally revealed her “secret” ingredient – watermelon rind. I enjoyed it, but when it was gone, I moved on with my life and completely forgot about it.

Yesterday, I brought home a watermelon. My husband cut it and placed the wedges in a special container, and we were left with a big amount of the rind. Just before we were about to dump it in the compost bin, my son reminded us of those preserves we all enjoyed, which gave me an idea. Try and make a savory dish using the rind as the main ingredient. I decided to go completely untraditional and use unconventional combinations of ingredients and flavors, and got some inspiration from a post I found in the blog Sumptuous Spoonfuls.

I think my creation came out pretty good…

Ingredients:
Sauce:
2 tbs minced fresh ginger
4 large cloves garlic, minced
Juice from 1 medium lime
2 tbs palm sugar (or light brown sugar)
2 tbs peanut butter
2 tbs rice vinegar
2 tbs soy sauce
5 tbs Thai masaman curry paste
1 15oz can coconut milk
4 tbs chopped cilantro
2 tbs Thai fish sauce (optional)

5-6 cups watermelon rind, peeled and cubed
3 tbs oil
3 cups cooked beans (I used pinto beans)
8 medium baby Bella mushrooms, sliced into thick slices

Preparation:
In a medium bowl, combine all the sauce ingredients and mix well. Set aside.

In a large saucepan, heat the oil and add the watermelon cubes. Sauté for 6-7 minutes over high heat, stirring the watermelon occasionally. The watermelon should be lightly seared and wilted.

Add the sliced mushrooms, the beans and the sauce. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook for 10 more minutes.

Not All Rice is Created Equal

In 2012 Consumer Reports and the FDA published some findings about the existence of organic and inorganic arsenic in rice. Organic in this case refers to organic matter (i.e. soil and water), not the organic growing process. Inorganic refers to pesticides and fertilizers used on the rice. The arsenic content of rice varies depending on the type of rice and where it is grown. 

  • Basmati rice is the safest to consume. It absorbs the least amount of arsenic, compared to other types of rice.
  • Brown rice has 80 percent more inorganic arsenic on average than white rice of the same type, due to the accumulation of pesticides and fertilizers in the outer layer of the grain.
  • Rice grown in India, Thailand, Pakistan and California contains less inorganic arsenic, because it is treated with none or less chemicals than in other parts of the world.
  • All types of rice grown in the U.S, with the exception of Sushi rice and rice grown in California, have the highest levels of pesticides and fertilizers. Consumer Reports states that rice from California has 38 percent less inorganic arsenic than white and brown rice from other parts of the country.
  • Rice that’s grown organically, may not have inorganic arsenic content, but it takes up organic arsenic from the soil and water, the same way conventional rice does.

Did I get you freaked out? Before you start panicking, let’s put things in proportions. Rice has been eaten for centuries all around the world, and in some cultures it is a staple item. Yet, people are alive and are generally healthy. Additionally, there is some arsenic in everything we eat due to environmental conditions and the way we grow our food. But we are still around, aren’t we? So no need to stop enjoying rice. Just eat it in moderation. I’m certainly not giving rice up. I love it! 

Here are some tips on how to minimize the amount of arsenic you get from eating rice and products containing rice:

  • Avoid processed foods that contain rice syrup, especially brown rice syrup. Processed food is not that great for you to begin with. Now you have yet another reason to stay away from it.
  • Look for imported rice from India, Pakistan or Thailand. California rice is also good. Avoid rice that was grown in Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana and Texas. Same goes for rice flour.
  • Try, if possible, to purchase white basmati rice (Indian or Pakistani) or white Thai Jasmine rice. Brown rice is also an option, but since it contains more arsenic, eat it in smaller quantities.
  • Soak the rice in water for 20 minutes before cooking it. Rinse well and then cook it according to your recipe. Some of the vitamin B in the rice may be lost in the rinsing process, but some of the arsenic will be washed away as well.
  • Some minerals such as selenium, magnesium and zinc, can help our body rid itself of arsenic, so if you are a rice eater, consider adding these minerals to your daily food consumption. 

And now to my favorite part – recipes. There are many ways to cook rice, either on its own as a side dish, or as part of a whole dish. At home we eat a lot of both. As part of my Persian and Kurdish heritage, I grew up eating rice very often, so for me it is a staple item in the kitchen.

The best tasting white, plain rice, in my opinion, is basmati rice cooked the Persian way, such in this white rice recipe. If you’re looking for ‘all in one pot’ try Halebibi – Persian Pilaf.

The easiest and fastest way, though, and what we usually do at home on a regular basis, is the following recipe. You could use Jasmine rice, or any long grain rice, but the best result in texture and flavor is when you use basmati rice.

If using whole grain rice use 2 cups water for every cup of rice. Cooking time will be longer as well, and the texture will be closer to cooked wheat or oats.

Everyday White Rice
4tbs oil
2 cups white basmati rice
3 cups water
1 tbs salt

Place the rice in a bowl and rinse well, two-three times, to get rid of the starch and any potential arsenals. If you have the time, it is even better to soak the rice in water for half an hour and then rinse it. Drain.

Heat the oil in a medium pot. When oil is hot, add the drained rice carefully, and stir lightly. Be careful not to break the rice grains.

Add the water and salt. Give the rice a stir to prevent it from clumping. Bring to a gentle boil, then lower the heat to low, cover the pot and cook on low heat for 20 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and let stand covered for 5 more minutes, then remove the lid and fluff the rice.

Enjoy with your favorite chilis, stews, soups, or just eat it with a spoon strait from the pot.

Soba Noodles with Mango and Herbs

A fun, light, and quick dinner. We made it last week, and even had some leftovers that my son took to school the following day. This recipe is based on a recipe I saw online in an Israeli website, with some mild changes.

1 lb soba noodles (I used the wheat free ones)
1 mango, cut into pieces
2 scallions, chopped
¼ cup cilantro leaves, chopped
¼ cup mint leaves, chopped
1 tsp roasted sesame seeds
1 tsp black sesame seeds
2 tbs sweet chili sauce
2 tbs rice vinegar
1 tbs lemon juice
1 tbs soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil

Cook the soba noodles in boiling water, as instructed on the packaging. Drain the noodles.

In a large bowl, place the drained noodles, mango, scallions, cilantro, mint, and both sesames.

In a smaller bowl, combine the sweet chili, vinegar, lemon juice, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Mix well and add to the larger bowl. Mix all the ingredients well to let the flavors combine and serve immediately.

Enjoy!

Sweet Potato and Coconut Milk Soup

Thanksgiving has always been one of those holidays that makes me want to get in the kitchen and cook up a storm. The question was always, though, what to cook?

On the one hand, there is the traditional American menu with the turkey, mashed potatoes, string bean casserole, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, etc, which is the unbeatable menu for this holiday, especially during the years when we did not live in America.

On the other hand, I’m not crazy about the whole turkey idea. No matter how you treat it, before and during cooking, it doesn’t taste good enough, and every year I’m disappointed all over again. There were times when instead of cooking the turkey in one piece, I cut it into pieces and made different dishes out of the different parts. It did taste better, I must say, but we were missing the sight of the whole bird sitting on the table.

With time, my husband Doron and I picked up recipes that we liked. We ended up composing our own Thanksgiving meals, with the idea of using the ingredients commonly used in the original menu, but cooked differently. Since both Doron and I like to innovate and discover new recipes, no Thanksgiving meal in our house is similar to its predecessors.

This year, though, we are invited to our friend’s house, and I’m only in charge of dessert. I plan on baking a mixed nut tart, a recipe I have from a book by one of my favorite bakers, Karin Goren. Expect a post on that in the next few days.

In the meantime, here is a recipe that I love, that I think would make a great Thanksgiving first course.

Ingredients:
2 oz (50g) butter
3 tbs canola oil
1 large onion finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, sliced
3 lb (1.5kg) sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large cubes
2 tbs fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 tsp lemon zest
salt and black pepper to  taste
6 cups chicken stock or water
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup coconut milk
½ cup cilantro chopped for decoration

Preparation:
In a large pot, melt the butter with the oil. Add the onion, garlic, sweet potatoes, lemon zest, ginger, salt and pepper, and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the chicken stock, cover the pot and bring to a boil. Cook over low heat for 45 minutes.

Add the cream and the coconut milk. Using a hand blender or a food processor, blend the soup until smooth. Heat the soup until it almost comes to a boil, then turn off the heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

When serving, mount some fried onions in the middle of the bowl , swirl a bit with some coconut milk around, and drip some sweet chili sauce on top. Garnish with some parsley.

Green Papaya Salad

A friend from work brought me papayas from his tree, one ripe and the other one green. With the ripe one, I baked a papaya bread and used whatever was left in fruit salad.

But I was especially excited about the green papaya. For a while now, I’ve been wanting to try and make the famous Thai green papaya salad, and there was my chance.

When I read through some recipes it seemed like making the salad was a piece of cake. When I actually started making it, I realized that although the salad was not hard to make, it was time consuming. Luckily, the salad was so delicious and refreshing that it was worth the time put into making it. I’ll most probably make it again.

1 ½ lb green papaya (1 large or 2 medium papayas)
8 cloves garlic
3 small Thai chilies
1 ½ tbs coconut palm sugar or golden-brown sugar
3 tbs Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
1 cup sliced green beans
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
6 tbs fresh lime juice
½ cup roasted unsalted peanuts, finely chopped

Peel the papaya and cut in half. Discard of the seeds. Slice the papaya into thin slices, where it is still green (my papaya was already changing color into orange on the inside). Cut the slices into thin julienne strips. Use a mortar or a meat tenderizer tool to lightly pound the papaya strips. It will make the strips absorb the sauce better.

Lightly pound the string bean strips and the tomatoes and place in a large bowl. Add the pounded papaya and the chopped peanuts.

Place the garlic and chilies in a mortar and pound them to bits. Add the sugar and fish sauce and blend them in using the pestle. If you do not have a pestle and mortar, place the ingredients in a small food processor bowl equipped with the blade and chop thinly. Add the lime juice and mix well.

Pour the sauce on the vegetables in the large bowl, mix well and serve.

Banana Lotti

Banana Lotti (Roti) is a famous Thai street food that actually originated in India. The original recipe consists of pieces of banana and condensed milk wrapped in a crepe-like dough, and fried on a griddle so the banana is kind of dissolved. When cooked, it is drizzled with condensed milk on top, and served hot.

I was looking for a recipe of this mouthwatering dessert to make at home, and came across the following gluten and dairy free version (it is also vegan). Since the preparation in this recipe seemed much easier than the original lotti, and the recipe actually sounded yummy, I’ve decided to give it a try.

It became an instant hit in our house. We will surely make it again, and I highly recommend it to all my friends who try to avoid gluten, dairy, and/or are vegans, and to all of you who like really good exotic desserts.

 Ingredients:
4 ripe bananas
8 rice papers for spring rolls
3 tbs coconut oil
1 cup coconut flakes
1 cup chopped nuts
Maple syrup for drizzling

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 430F.

Oil an ovenproof baking dish with one tablespoon of the coconut oil.

Cut each banana in half.

Dip one rice paper in a bowl with water for a few seconds, then set on a work surface, and place half a banana in the middle.

Wrap the rice paper around the banana to create a pocket. Place in the greased baking dish.

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Repeat the process with the rest of the rice papers and bananas.

Brush the wrapped bananas with the rest of the coconut oil and bake in the preheated oven for 15 – 20 minutes, until the rice paper is starting to crisp a little.

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Remove from the heat. Place each banana pocket on a serving dish and sprinkle with coconut flakes and chopped nuts (I used salted and roasted nuts). Drizzle some syrup on top and enjoy! I actually skipped the syrup on my banana. It was already sweet enough for me as is.

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I still want to try and make the original Lotti recipe. I’ll keep you posted…

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