Gluten Free

Spring Soup by Anne Livingston

Why is it so hard to get—and stay—healthy with food in this day & time (& place)? It’s a question I ponder almost daily. Our country is so bizarre when it comes to food. How do we navigate all the pyramids, diets, charts, supplements, and plans? How do we do it cheaply, quickly, without too much thought? I guess we can’t, that’s the thing. But sometimes, we can.

When Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page said at IFBC last year that one of the hottest food trends in the U.S. is vegetables, I was optimistic. No chart or diet or plan will disagree: vegetables are where it’s at, man. Of course, they always have been, but making them sexy to the general public could lead to some interesting culinary developments. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next few years in restaurants, cookbooks, and grocery stores. Let’s watch it develop together.

So meanwhile, vegetables! There’s never a bad time to eat them, but now that it’s spring, it’s an especially good time. According to both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic principles, now’s the time to be extra nice to your liver and gall bladder after a long winter of heavy comfort foods and hibernating. I have been studying Chinese 5 Elements and nutrition, so I’m starting to understand some ways to support those parts of the body.  Right now we need to focus on foods that are:

  • GREEN  all the green vegetables. Leafy greens, such as spinach, chard, kale, and fresh herbs
  • RISING QUICKLY – If it grows quickly or shoots up as it grows, it’s great for spring. Asparagus, bamboo shoots, and radishes
  • ACIDIC/SOUR – citrus, vinegars, pickles, kimchi
  • YOUNG – young shoots or roots, such as mung bean sprouts, baby carrots or beets

All this sounds like a chance to pull out the blender and make a green smoothie, right? Yes, if you live in southern California or Arizona, where it’s already hot. But if you are like me and live in cooler climes, our bodies need it warm and cooked until the weather warms up some more.  This will ease our digestion and ultimately give us more energy. We need something like a green smoothie in our regular rotation, but cooked. And delicious, of course.

This “recipe” is easy, quick, and has interchangeable ingredients. I’ve mixed and matched several soups and have loved them all. I also throw in a few young (unsprayed!!) dandelion leaves from the front yard. Being a wild food, dandelions are beyond ridiculously good for you in the spring, although they’re also intensely bitter, so be sparing if you have a sensitive palate. Shiitakes or other mushrooms also enrich this soup as a garnish. The soup pictured above is asparagus, with a few sauteed shiitakes sprinkled in at the last minute.

I also have some edible flowers growing in the garden, so I use them for festive garnishes. In case you didn’t know, dandelion petals are edible! It takes no money to be fancy around here.

SPRING SOUP

Serves 4 | Start to finish: 15 minutes

INGREDIENTS:

  • About 1 pound green vegetables, such as trimmed asparagus, spinach, chard, or broccoli
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion, scallion, or shallot
  • 2 cups stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 cup assorted herbs, such as parsley, chives, dill, mint, and a few dandelion leaves
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 1/4 cup yogurt or crème fraîche, plus more for garnish
  • Sea salt, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Cook the vegetables and onion with the stock for about 10 minutes over medium heat, or until just cooked and still bright green.
  2. Place the fresh herbs, cream, and yogurt into a blender, and pour the stock and vegetables over the top. Place the lid on the blender, remove the inner “plug” to allow steam to escape during blending, and cover the hole with a kitchen towel to avoid splattering. Blend until completely smooth.
  3. Pour into bowls and garnish with edible flowers and more yogurt or crème fraîche. 

Tomato Fried Eggs: A Chinese Comfort Food by Anne Livingston

How much comfort can you get from a different culture’s comfort foods? I wondered this when I started cooking at a girls’ international boarding house a couple of years ago. I distributed questionnaires to the girls and chatted with them about their favorite “homesick” foods. 

With the Chinese girls in particular, I was impressed by the depth of our culinary differences in their answers. Chicken feet! Preserved duck eggs! Fish balls! Beans for dessert! So many wonderful things they listed were beyond what I’d even heard of. Although I had trouble wrapping my mind around preparing a couple of dishes (prepping the chicken feet the first time was difficult), I loved almost every new dish I tried cooking, with the help of the girls’ advice, YouTube videos, and the kindness of a couple of Chinese women. I never fully mastered any one dish.  At least, however, I developed an appreciation and respect for real Chinese food, as elusive as it still is to me.

One of the dishes that came up in conversations and questionnaires was something called “tomato eggs.” I looked it up online, but as simple as the recipe sounded, I wanted real-life help. The school’s Mandarin teacher graciously came in to show me how to cook it while she was in between classes. Thanks to her and a few practice runs with good response from the girls, I feel like I have the hang of at least one authentic Chinese comfort food recipe, using ingredients found in many American kitchens.

And how is it as a comfort food? Oh, it hits the spot just right. Luxurious texture. Bold flavors. And yet the simple preparation and the short ingredient list make it as comforting as a plate of mac & cheese. You’ve got to try this if you like tomatoes and eggs. When prepared properly, the sum is so much greater than its parts.  Give it a whirl sometime this summer when you have extra tomatoes and want to try something new for breakfast (or lunch! Or dinner!). I feel like making it again, right now.

Tomato Fried Eggs

Serves 3

Ingredients:

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup high heat oil, such as canola or sunflower
  • 2 scallions, sliced thinly
  • 3 or 4 roma tomatoes, or 2 larger tomatoes, chopped in large chunks, about 3/4”
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar

 Directions:

  1. Beat the eggs with the soy sauce and the white pepper. In another small bowl, whisk the cornstarch in with 2 tablespoons of water.
  2. Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of the oil to the pan. When the oil shimmers, add the scallions and the eggs. Stir the eggs and scallions around quickly with a spatula, until almost completely cooked. Remove the eggs to a plate.
  3. Wipe out the wok or skillet, return it to the burner, and add the remainder of the oil. Add the tomatoes and sprinkle the salt and sugar over them. Cook for 1 minute, stirring with the spatula. Stir in the cornstarch slurry to thicken the juices, about 30 seconds.
  4. Return the eggs back to the pan, gently stir them in with the tomatoes, and serve immediately.