Thats Goan, as in, Goa state, located in the south western part of the Indian Subcontinent. My friend Nandini owns and operates the goanwiki website, a paean to all the wonderful stuff that come from that stunningly lovely corner of the world. She’s an engineer, a marketing guru, and a multi-lingual incredible chef to boot.
Goa, while thoroughly Indian, has deep Portuguese roots than infuse the culture, and especially the food of the region. Goa is the smallest, and one of the least populated states in India; Otis immensely popular with tourists for its beaches that border the Arabian Sea, as well as its rich flora and fauna. The Portuguese influence is certainly noted in the name of the largest Goan city, Vasco da Gama, named for the legendary explorer, and in the city of Margao, where it’s notable in architecture as well. Claimed by the Portuguese in the late 16th century, Goa remained a holding until it was annexed by India in 1961.
Basque Piperade, or more properly, Piperrada, is an absolutely fabulous tomato-pepper sauce from the Basque country; the name derives from the Basque word for pepper. As with so many signature dishes, everyone has a recipe and they’re all different. In broadest terms, piperrada contains green and or red, yellow, and orange sweet peppers, tomatoes, and onion. Like that, it may be served as a side dish like a salsa or a base for stews, more like the basque version of mire poix. With the addition of a protein, (Eggs, ham or sausage), it becomes a hearty main course. The generally agreed point is that any version should be powered by red Espelette peppers, Piment d’Espelette in the French, and Ezpeletako biperra in the Basque.
That legendary chile comes from its namesake town and a few surrounding communes in the Pyrenees. For about 12 years now, they’ve had AOC status, meaning that just like Champagne and Dijon mustard, they gotta be grown there to be called the real deal Espelette. Introduced into France by explorers hundreds of years ago, they’ve become a veritable cornerstone of Basque cuisine, and a key ingredient in piperade. An pepper festival is held annually in October, with colorful ristras of drying chiles be decking the towns. Espelettes score around a 4,000 on the Scoville scale, making them about like a Jalapeño in heat output.
Fresh and dried Espelettes are available online, but caveat emptor, there are also a lot of fakes. I get mine ground from World Spice; they’re genuine AOC chiles and the quality is consistently high, https://www.worldspice.com/spices/piment-despelette. Be prepared if you decide to dive in; an ounce will set you back about twelve bucks. That said, if you want to make the authentic dish, you need the real chile; they have a fruity, earthy heat that reflects their terroir; like legendary grapes, that certain je ne sais quoi comes from nowhere else. Here’s my version.
5-7 fresh, ripe Tomatoes
1 large Sweet Onion, chopped
1 Green Bell Pepper, seeded and chopped
5-6 small, sweet Yellow and Orange Peppers, seeded and chopped
1-2 Hatch Chiles, (Hot or Mild as you prefer)seeded and finely chopped
2-3 cloves Garlic, crushed and finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground Piment d’Espelette
1/2 teaspoon local Honey
1/2 teaspoon Sal de Mer
1/4 teaspoon ground Pepper Blend
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the onion, peppers, garlic, salt, paprika, black pepper, and sugar, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked through.
Add the tomatoes to the cooked vegetables and simmer the mixture, uncovered, for 15 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the sauce has thickened.
Transfer to a glass or stainless container and allow to cool thoroughly before serving.
Will last for a good week refrigerated in any air tight container.
My friend David Berkowitz is a true renaissance guy; on any given day, he might be mixing sound at Wolf Trap, or building guitars of truly sublime beauty and power; often enough, he follows that up with some very inspired cooking. I’ve seen great dishes with influences from French, through Middle Eastern and North African come from his talented hands. The former launched this question the other day.
“Do you have a good recipe for lamb merguez? The ones I’ve found around here are mostly beef and then end up having kind of a gritty texture. Not sure why that is.”
As always, big thanks for asking; first, let’s look at that grainy issue. Merguez is highly spiced, and on top of that, if those makers close to Dave are using mostly beef, I can see a few potential issues. My first suspect would be not processing at cold enough temperatures – With as much dry spice as merguez boasts, you need to make sure that everything is really cold – Meat semi-frozen, spices fully chilled, and all vessels frozen throughout production. If those steps aren’t taken, then I’d think the chance of ingredients separating is quite high, and that’s the number one reason sausage will get grainy. Secondly, beef is quite marbled compared to lamb, or at least the most common sausage making cuts are, so potentially one could have a meat/fat ratio issue there. And finally, for a relatively heavily spiced sausage like this, you pretty much gotta add a bit of liquid after grinding and work that into the mix before stuffing.
Merguez is a French derivation of the Berber word for sausage, mirqaz. This is a fresh sausage, bright red before cooking, made from mutton or lamb, and heavily laced with North African spices – chiles, garlic, fennel, and cumin are dominant notes. The characteristic red color comes from paprika and harissa, a Tunisian chile paste. While some recipes just add chile flake or powder, as far as I’m concerned it’s not the real deal unless it includes harissa, and that too should be home made. We make ours with roasted red Hatch and Serrano chiles, and it’s got all the heat you need – Knowing David as I do, I’ll bet his version will have Habaneros in it, if not ghost chiles – He’s that kinda chile head…
Traditionally, Merguez is stuffed in lamb casing, and you can get those online from Butcher & Packer, Amazon, etc, but frankly, there’s nothing wrong with using beef or even synthetic if that’s what you like. Served with a nice couscous and a cucumber salad with yoghurt sauce, you’ve got a truly fabulous meal.
First off, here’s the harissa; refrigerated, it’ll last a couple weeks in an airtight container. It’s great with all kinds of meats, veggies, and even eggs.
5 red Hatch New Mexican Chiles
5-7 fresh Serrano Chiles
3 cloves Garlic
2 Tablespoons Avocado Oil
1 teaspoon Coriander
1 teaspoon Caraway Seed
1/2 teaspoon Cumin
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
Set oven to broil and a rack on the highest setting.
Place whole chiles on a dry sheet pan and roast, turning steadily, until skins are blackened uniformly.
Pull chiles from oven and set aside to cool.
Combine coriander, caraway, and cumin in a spice grinder and pulse until uniformly blended and powdered.
Remove skins and stems from cooled chiles. If you’re a heat weenie, use gloves when processing them, and you might want to remove some or all of the seeds, (but you should feel shame for doing that, because this stuff is meant to pack a punch.)
Smash garlic, peel, and remove nibs from both ends.
Load all ingredients but the salt in a blender or processor and pulse to a uniform paste.
Add half the salt, pulse again and taste; adjust salt as needed.
Store refrigerated, in an airtight, glass container.
And here’s the sausage. If you have access to local grass fed lamb, that’s what you want; the benefits of that far outweigh commercially packed stuff. Whatever you get, make sure it’s as fresh as can be. Lamb gets a bad rep for being funky, but to be honest, that has far more to do with how the animal is raised and fed than it does the meat itself. Lamb fat is more piquant than beef, but the beauty of lamb is that the fat isn’t marbled into the meat nearly as much, so when you trim, you can remove exactly as much of the fat as you like, and end up with beautiful, lean meat to work with. Lamb fat is traditional for Merguez; you can add some pork or beef as well, if you like. I use 50% – 50% lamb and pork fat; that balance makes a sausage that many folks really enjoy.
NOTE: I use a Kitchenaid grinder and stuffer attachment, so I’ve got a stand mixer basically set up when I build this sausage. If you have a dedicated grinder, prep your stand mixer with a paddle blade attached before you start.
Real Deal Merguez Sausage, (Makes 4 pounds of pre-cooked sausage)
3 Pounds Lamb Shoulder
1 Pound Lamb, Pork, or Beef Fat
1/2 Cup Harissa
1/4 – 1/2 Cup Ice Water
6 cloves Garlic (pick uniformed sized ones)
2 Tablespoons hot, sweet Paprika
2 Tablespoons Sea Salt
2 teaspoons Fennel Seed
2 teaspoons Cumin
2 teaspoons Coriander
1-2 teaspoons Sumac
Natural Casings, 28mm to 32mm
NOTE: Sumac has a tart, citrusy flavor that is potent and complex. Try a dab on your fingertip and decide how much you like it, then add either 1 or 2 teaspoons.
Have all spices and Harissa refrigerated and thoroughly chilled.
Meat needs to be semi-frozen prior to production; I usually trim and size it, then lay it on a small sheet pan and put that in the freezer. All bowls need to be frozen as well.
Trim all gristle and connective tissue from lamb and fat.
Trim meat to size so that it’ll feed smoothly through your grinder.
Set grinder up with a coarse plate for your first run.
Casings should be thoroughly rinsed, inside and out, then soaked in warm water for 30 minutes prior to stuffing.
In a heavy skillet over medium heat, add fennel, cumin, and coriander; toast spices, (staying right with it, ’cause they can burn really quickly), mixing with a fork for 1 – 2 minutes until their fragrance tells you they’re done. Transfer to a small bowl to cool.
Smash, peel, trim ends from garlic, then mince and set aside.
Transfer cooled spices to a grinder and process to a uniform powder.
Transfer ground spice to a small mixing bowl, add sumac, paprika, and sea salt, blend thoroughly, and set aside.
Set one of your chilled bowls up inside a slightly larger bowl with plenty of ice in it – snug your receiving bowl down into the larger so it’s well iced.
Run fat and meat through your grinder.
Add spice blend, harissa, and garlic to ground meat and combine thoroughly by hand. Return grind to freezer.
Set your grinder up for a second run with a fine plate, with the same iced set up for your receiving bowl.
Set a small sauté pan over medium high heat.
Transfer bowl with sausage grind to your stand mixer with a paddle blade attached. Add half the ice cold water and process at fairly low speed, (2 or 3), until you’ve fully incorporated the water, about 1 minute. Sausage should be moist and slightly sticky; if it’s not quite right, continue mixing and add more water, a tablespoon at a time, until you get there.
Hand form a small patty of the sausage, (about 3″ around and 1/4″ thick), and return the rest to the fridge. Cook the patty through, 1 – 2 minutes per side. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. If you add more seasoning, blend with the paddle on the mixer. You can add another teaspoon or so of water, if needed.
Set up your grinder for stuffing; fill about 3/4 full and twist into 6″ links. Coil and refrigerate for at least 4 hours prior to cooking.
Merguez should be cooked over wood or charcoal. Once you’ve got nice, glowing coals and a preheated, brushed, and lightly oiled grate, grill to an internal temperature of 155° F. Allow a 5 minute rest prior to serving.
Here's another great question from reader Pauline all the way over in New Hampshire, on a topic that probably doesn't get asked all that often;
“So, I bake infrequently, and I've got containers of baking soda and baking powder that have been in my pantry forever; do these things go bad? And while you're at it, was is this stuff anyway?
Glad to help, Pauline, and thanks for asking.
The quick and dirty answer to the former question is, yes, they can go bad. Baking soda and powder are chemical leavening agents that promote rising in baked good recipes that don't employ yeast. While the end result is much the same with all three leaveners, the primary benefit imparted by baking soda and powder is speed; they can and should be used right away after mixing, while yeast takes time and really can't be rushed much. The active constituents of both do have a shelf life, albeit a long one. Fortunately, there's a couple of quick test you can do to see if yours still makes the grade.
The first test is to find and read the expiration date; at the risk of being flippant, there are printed dates on the containers of both products, though they may take a bit of sleuthing to find. If yours is past its date, discard it and buy a fresh replacement. When you're at the store, check that expiration date on what you're about to buy; in a professional kitchen, we check the dates on every case that comes in, because it's not that uncommon to find expired product in your just-made delivery, and your local grocery is no exception to that rule.
The second test is for a chemical reaction, and is therefore a bit more definitive. Take a good pinch of baking soda and drop it into some fresh vinegar; if it fizzes actively, you're in business. For baking powder do the same thing into hot water. If either just sit there, toss them
On to the latter question;
Baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate, an alkaline or base in chemical terms. Combined with moisture and an acidic ingredient like dairy, chocolate, or honey, you get a mild chemical reaction akin to the freshness test you just did. The resulting tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide, (CO2), remain trapped in the batter matrix. Exposed to baking temperatures in your oven, they expand and cause your baked goods to rise. baking soda is a pure chemical base, so it can impart a bitter taste note if you add too much; that said, a little extra is actually a very good thing, for a most interesting reason. Just a bit more baking soda than that needed to neutralize the acid in your recipe contributes in a very positive way to browning and flavor in your finished product. This has to do with the Maillard reaction, named after Louise-Camille Maillard, who first described it about a hundred years ago. What Maillard detailed was a complex set of reactions that lead to such culinary wonders as the luscious crust on your steak, the sweet beauty of caramelized onions, and the golden brown outside of a cream biscuit. On top of the lovely color added, the reaction also produces hundreds of aromatic compounds that add savoriness and complexity; in other words, it's a very good thing indeed. The key is moderation; an eighth of a teaspoon above a stated recipe amount is enough to hit the sweet spot.
Baking powder is a mixture of a base and an acid or acids; sodium bicarbonate is the base, while cream of tartar and sodium aluminum sulfate are the common acids. There's typically a bit of added starch as a carrier for the active ingredients as well. Baking powder is a more complex and balanced leavener than baking soda, since it contains both acid and base; it is completely inert when dry, but when introduced to moisture, the base and acid mix and generate CO2, and you're in business. The reason baking powder is called 'double acting' is the presence of the two different acids. When added to your recipe, the first acid, cream of tartar, mixes with the baking soda and goes to work right away. The second acid, sodium aluminum sulfate, is temperature activated; when your batter or dough hits roughly 175° F, that acid combines with the remaining base and contributes a bit more rise.
You can make basic baking powder at home by combining,
2 teaspoons Cream of Tartar
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 teaspoon Corn Starch
The obvious benefit is fresh product, assuming your constituents are, of course, but this will not be a double acting powder and as such, won't have quite the lifting power of the commercially prepared stuff.
If the aluminum makes you nervous, maybe it should. Aluminum has been found to adversely affect reproductive and nervous systems in animal studies. Some human studies have suggested a possible connection between aluminum and Alzheimer's Disease. The health effects of aluminum on humans are not definitive, but nonetheless, the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) significantly lowered the tolerable intake of aluminum as a result of such studies.
Some recipes call for baking soda, others for baking powder, and some employ both. The leavener(s) called for is governed by the over-arching recipe. The straight base chemistry of baking soda dictates does well with more acidic ingredients, like buttermilk pancakes, or cake recipes that employ vinegar. Baking powder commonly gets paired with more neutral ingredients like plain milk or non-dairy alternatives.
So how about the interchangeability of these two? You can substitute baking powder in place of baking soda using a ratio of 3:1 powder to soda, but it's not a desirable substitute; the significant amount of added acid will impact the taste of your finished product. On the other hand, you cannot sub baking soda for baking powder, since baking soda lacks the acidity needed to make things rise.
With both these leavening agents, it's important to keep in mind that the reaction produced is relatively short lived and begins as soon as you mix ingredients. It's always best practice to have your oven preheated and to bake promptly, otherwise you'll miss the window of efficacy and your goodies will fall flat. Unlike a yeasted dough, which is relatively low in moisture and kneaded until a tough, elastic gluten network is produced that will trap massive amounts of carbon dioxide, quick batters and doughs are made with an extremely moist batter, because baking powder just doesn't generate enough gas to effectively leaven a thicker dough. Additionally, batters have relatively little gluten formation, so they're not that meaning that great at trapping and holding bubbles.
We've had a bunch of requests for “that glaze” on our Thanksgiving turkey, so it's time to stop procrastinating and bring it out.
Bourbon Maple Pecan Glaze is a truly decadent delight. It adds a sweet, smoky, savory touch to poultry, ham, or pork, as well as on veggies such as Brussels sprouts, green beans, carrots, or cauliflower. Make the glaze so that it has about an hour to sit before it's applied; this will allow the flavors to marry nicely, and also generates the perfect state to simply brush it on your chosen host.
You can make this a day or two ahead and refrigerated as well; just bring it back to room temperature before you baste it on.
If you do decide to cook the glaze in, set your oven temp at 325° F, and bake for about the last 15 minutes of whatever you're making; watch it closely, as the high sugar content can burn quite quickly.
3/4 Cup Apple Cider, (local, fresh)
1 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
1 Cup Pecans
1/4 Cup Maple Syrup
1/4 Cup Bourbon
3 Tablespoons Brown Mustard Seed
1 Tablespoon fresh Sage
In a sauce pan over medium heat, combine cider, bourbon, brown sugar, and maple syrup. Simmer until the mixture is reduced by about 30% and coats a spoon well, about 5 minutes.
Chiffonade Sage. Process pecans into a rough crumb mix.
In a sauté pan over medium high heat, combine pecans and sage and dry sauté, stirring steadily with a fork, about 2-3 minutes, until the nuts have a nice toasty scent.
Process mustard seed in a spice grinder until evenly powdered.
Combine all ingredients in a glass mixing bowl and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes prior to basting.
We've been delving deeper into oils and fats, springing from a couple of questions Christy posed back a week or so. Her tongue in cheek caveat for asking was that she's “always looking at that little bottle of sesame oil and wondering…” She hits the nail on the head with this observation; sesame oil is one many of us have but use quite sparingly, and as such, it's prone to being well past its prime when we next reach for the bottle. Fortunately, you can make your own at home, and enjoy a fresher, more robust product completely free of additives as well.
Sesame oil is derives from sesame seeds; the nutritional value of the oil closely mirrors the seed form, containing important trace elements like calcium, copper, zinc, iron, and magnesium. Extracting your own oil is a bit labor intensive, but also a fun exercise in cooking chemistry. Here's how to do up a small batch without the need for a $150 manual oil press.
1/4 Cup fresh white Sesame Seeds
1 Cup fresh Sunflower Oil
In a preheated 350° F oven, dry roast fresh white sesame seeds on a clean, dry baking sheet. After about 10 minutes, give the seed a good stir, then continue roasting, watching carefully, for another 5 to 10 minutes. When the seeds have turned light golden brown and release a distinct nutty scent, remove them from the oven, and place them on a plate to cool.
Non-pressed, reasonably effective extraction of sesame oil is achieved with moderate heat and sunflower oil, at a ratio of .25:1 cups sesame to sunflower. In a heavy sauce pan over medium-low heat, combine the oil and seeds. Stir occasionally and allow to heat through for 10 minutes.
Remove the mix from heat and, while still warm, pour carefully into a blender. Process in short pulses until the seeds are evenly broken up into a slurry with the oil.
Transfer the slurry to a glass bowl, cover with a clean cloth or paper towel and allow to steep and cool for 2 hours.
Strain the oil blend through butter muslin into a clean bowl. You may require two straining passes to clarify the oil adequately if you use a cheesecloth of lesser density.
Store the extracted oil in an airtight glass container for up to 3 months.
Follower Christy sent another great question, “Which oils/fats need to be refrigerated and which do not. Also, shelf life. I'm always looking at that little bottle of sesame oil and wondering…”
Heres another topic that simply doesn't get the attention it should, from both a food quality and food safety perspective, so let's have a look.
Air, heat, light, and age all can and will negatively impact the quality of most edible oils. High storage temperature and oxygen exposure are the primary causes of spoiled oil. Rancidity will result rather quickly if not properly stored. The same compounds that provide the smells and flavors we like in a given oil will cause unpleasant changes if we're not careful. That means, naturally, you should store your oils in a cool, dark, dry place, and in an airtight container. As such, cruets or open top pour spouts are not the best choice, even in a busy home kitchen. Additionally, exposure to direct sunlight causes a substantial loss of antioxidants, especially tocopherols, meaning many of the benefits of healthy oil choices are lost as well.
Rancid oil generally won't do you serious harm; nonetheless, it's obviously not a desirable pantry guest. When your oil looks, smells, or tastes off, it is, and should be discarded. Smells described as winey, metallic, or skunky are clear signs that something is amiss.
As for shelf life, the method of production for the oil in question has a bearing. Most unrefined oils, (cold or expeller pressed), will keep for 3 to 6 months, properly stored. They may be refrigerated, and will last a bit longer as a result, though they'll tend to solidify and will need to return to room temperature to liquefy again. Too many such cycles can impact the chemistry of the oil, and the need to re-liquefy might inhibit spontaneity, so you're probably best served buying smaller quantities and storing carefully at room temperature. If that sesame oil Christy mentioned is older than 6 months, it's time for it to go. Refined oils, (oils obtained from heat and solvent extraction), tend to keep twice as long as unrefined oils; at least 6 to 12 months if stored properly. Oils high in polyunsaturated fat, (walnut, safflower, and hazelnut oil, for instance), have a much shorter shelf life than high monounsaturated, (think peanut), or saturated fat oils, (like canola). Again, refrigerated storage is an option, but small containers of fresh oil at room temp is best.
Most solid fats traditionally used in cooking are animal based, (lard, ghee, duck fat, schmaltz, etc), however tropical plant oils such as coconut oil, (one of my favorites), are also solid or semisolid at room temperature, as are vegetable shortening and margarine, (made from plant oils and solid due to the hydrogenation process). Many solid fats also contain a higher proportion of saturated fat than liquid fats do; as such they're generally quite stable and will keep well for at least 6 months. Solid fats will absorb the flavor or scent of other foods readily, so should be kept in airtight containers.
Our industrial food system has lead us all, to some degree, toward keeping things longer than we should. Just because something can last 6 months doesn't necessarily mean that we really want to cook with it. I'll guarantee that, whether the ingredient be oil, fat, spice, or even flour, fresh will always taste better than many moons old.
My friend Jenn had a disappointing experience with gingerbread, so we need to address that before another day goes by. Here Ya go, Pal, this'll fix it!
Real Gingerbread is a far cry from store bought or box mix versions. The timeless, heady mix of spices just can't be beat. Use fresh, high quality ingredients; whenever possible, fresh, whole spices, ground as you build, are well worth the time and effort.
Real Homemade Gingerbread
2 1/2 Cups Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
1/2 Cup local Honey
1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter
1 Cup Blackstrap Molasses
1 Large Egg
1 1/2 teaspoons Baking Soda
1 teaspoon True Cinnamon, (About 1″)
1-2 teaspoons fresh Ginger (Good quality, freshly dried is fine too)
1/2 teaspoon Cloves
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
1 cup hot Water
Pull all ingredients and allow to come to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 350° F and place a rack in the middle position.
Lightly butter and flour with Wondra a 9″ square, glass baking pan.
In a medium mixing bowl, cream the butter and honey with a whisk until throughly combined.
Add the egg and whisk thoroughly.
Add the molasses and whisk thoroughly.
Peel and mince ginger.
In a spice grinder, combine cinnamon and cloves; process until evenly powdered. Add the ginger and pulse a few times to break it down further and incorporate all the spices.
In a large, glass mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, and the spice mixture and blend thoroughly.
Add the wet mix to the dry and combine thoroughly with a whisk. Add the hot water and continue whisking; you want to beat some air into the blend so that it looks and feels a bit lighter than when you started.
Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish.
Bake for about 50 to 60 minutes, until the top of the bread has browned slightly and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the pan comes out clean.
Allow the bread to cool in the pan for about 15 minutes, then release the edge gently with a knife, and turn the bread over onto a wire rack to cool for another 15 minutes.
If you like herbs like we like herbs, then you plow through more than the average American. There are also likely fresh favorites you keep around pretty much all the time. For us, that would include cilantro and parsley. Both have subtle, lovely flavor profiles that go great with many dishes.
That said, both can get long in the tooth quite quickly. They're highly perishable, and can be hard to keep fresh after even a couple of days in your fridge. Considering the handling such foods receive as a part of modern distribution and sales, it's no wonder, really. A little handling and preserving work can go a long way toward having these indispensable always at hand.
When you get delicate perishables home, inspect them first and foremost. Get them out of the plastic produce bags, and better yet, don't put them in those things in the first place and reduce your plastic throughput. Remove any off colored or bruised stuff and toss it in your compost.
Give your goods a gentle rinse in cold, running water. Shake them dry, gently but thoroughly; excess water is not a friend to successful storage.
Remove any rubber bands or twist ties; all they do is bruise the goods and promote rot.
Place the washed produce on a clean paper towel and let them air dry a bit. Wrap the goods in the paper towel and store them in your crisper drawer just like that. If you use what you buy steadily, and pay attention to FIFO, (First In, First Out), in your fridge, your cilantro, parsley, green onions, radishes, etc will stay fresher, longer.
Consider drying some of those staple fresh herbs. It's a given that fresh is better than dry, but house dried herbs from a good fresh source are far better than store bought or none. Those faves of ours will dry thoroughly in a dehydrator in less than 30 minutes. I've tested both cilantro and parsley and found that our home dried stuff retains reasonably potent flavor for up to a month when stored in glass, in a cool, dark, dry spice cabinet.
Finally, and especially as the winter months are upon us, plant a fresh herb window box. An 18″ x 6″ x 6″ box will allow you to grow a full raft of your faves, and reasonable tending will sustain them through the season. There's nothing cheerier in the dark months than fresh, bright herbs growing in your kitchen.
If you've hung around here much, you'll know we're all about investigating the food world. We like to think that by so doing, we can save you some pitfalls and missteps. Today's topic, grape seed oil, might just qualify as such.
Any kitchen worth its salt needs a decent selection of oils, taking advantage of their specific taste profiles, cooking uses, and health benefits. M and I are no longer spring chickens, so we pay more attention to the health thing than we might have when we were younger; naturally, oils deserve significant scrutiny.
Ask the question, “What are the healthiest oils you can use in your kitchen,” and the answers might be more complex than you anticipated. We lean toward proven winners like olive, canola, coconut, peanut, and clarified butter. If the peanut oil and clarified butter surprise you, they shouldn't, by the way; used in moderation, they're quite healthy, and no oil in that list has higher heat tolerance than clarified butter. Olive oil, with generous amounts of monounsaturated fats and vitamin E, is the hands down health winner, but what to use when you want something with a lighter taste?
Onto the stage strides a relative newcomer, grape seed oil. Purveyors claim a host of pluses, from the subtle, nutty taste and a relatively high smoke point, to a raft of health benefits, including abundant vitamin E, zero cholesterol, low levels of saturated fat, and the highest concentration of heart-healthy omega-6 polyunsaturated fat, (AKA PUFAs), of any cooking oil. And the fun doesn't stop there. Google grape seed oil and you find claims for everything from anti-aging to curbing hair loss. Can all this be true? As far as the constituent claims, the answer is yes, but a qualified yes. As for the other stuff, remember what P. T. Barnum said about suckers?
Grape Seed oil is indeed pressed from grape seeds, predominantly wine grape seeds. This sits well with wine makers, naturally, as it provides the opportunity to convert a waste product into a significant profit source. The first potential downside for this stuff lies with the fact that it's not cheap. Peruse your favorite grocery shelf and you'll find that the per ounce cost of grape seed oil rivals that of high quality olive oils. Why is that? The answer is twofold; one, all those sexy claims allow makers to charge premium prices, and two, grape seeds are relatively small and do not yield their oil easily. As such, makers must employ fairly expensive pressing processes to extract the oil.
Or not: If you come upon surprisingly inexpensive grape seed oil, it's likely to have been chemically extracted. If the label doesn't reveal the extraction method, peruse the product: If the oil is crystal clear and light in color, chances are good it's chemically extracted. Mechanical extraction tends to produce slightly hazy oils, as small quantities of proteins and other plant matter remain in the oil. The solvents used for extraction are toxic; the most common is hexane, a known carcinogen. As with so many food products, manufacturers are not required to tell you how they extract the oil. If the oil doesn't specifically state that it was pressed, chances are it wasn't.
If the oil is pressed, you want to know if the process used was expeller or cold. Expeller pressing can heat the oil it is generating, especially when the seeds are stubborn, as grape seeds are. Doing so can change the quality of the oil and reduce the health benefits as well. Cold pressing avoids this by adding temperature control to the process; as such, it's the most expensive method of production, but produces the best quality oil.
So, what's the potential downside of this stuff? The answer lies in that very high level of omega-6 polyunsaturated fat. Grape Seed oil averages 70% omega-6 PUFA, with some brands claiming levels as high as 77%. Compare that to the 19.0% found in canola oil or the 10% in olive oil, and you get an idea of how high too high is.
The problem is that human bodies just don't tolerate sustained high levels of PUFA intake without incurring health problems. We're just not built for the stuff; throughout almost all of human history, we consumed only a very small amount of polyunsaturated fat, whatever was naturally present in the foods we ate. The industrialization of our food supplies changed all that. Read our post on ranch dressing if you've not already, and you get a broader view of what this means. As a result, we've been consuming more and more polyunsaturated fats, concentrated in processed foods and modern cooking oils. According to WebMD, we consume over a thousand times more more PUFAs today than we did 100 years ago. That’s a lot, by the way…
The problems exacerbated by this trend include a myriad of ills brought about by free-radical damage. If you're unfamiliar with that issue, allow Jeffrey Blumberg, Professor of Nutrition at Tufts University, to explain: “Free radical is a term often used to describe compounds that are missing a critical molecule, which sends them on a rampage to pair with another molecule. These molecules will rob any molecule to quench that need. If free radicals simply killed a cell, it wouldn't be so bad, the body could just regenerate another one. The problem is, free radicals often injure the cell, damaging the DNA, which creates the seed for disease. When a cell's DNA changes, the cell becomes mutated. It grows abnormally and reproduces abnormally, and quickly.”
In terms of our cooking oils, free radicals form when PUFAs are oxidized by heat, light, and pressure. PUFAs are extremely fragile and heat-sensitive, their carbon bonds break easily. Industrial oils that are heated and pressurized by processing are especially likely to contribute free radicals into our systems, but even cold-pressed PUFA oils will oxidize when heated for cooking.
So, what is a healthy strategy for dealing with the potential health hazards? All things in moderation. We recently wrote about arsenic in rice; here's another situation where intelligently limiting your intake will go far. No more than 4% of total caloric intake from a 1:1 ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 will do the trick. That level and ratio closely emulates what occurs naturally in grass-fed meats, dairy, eggs, and plant foods.
We do have a nice little jar of high end, cold pressed grape seed oil in the pantry by the way. We stick to Olive and canola oils as our every day go-to's, and use the grape seed for what it is best at; really nice salad dressings. The nutty flavor and light mouth feel is truly delightful. Again, all things in moderation, they say, and educated moderation is best.
One final note; the high heat claims for this oil are sort of true. It stacks up very closely to Olive oil, but lower than peanut or clarified butter. We prefer those two for frying, frankly; they're far cheaper and probably healthier.
4 Ounces Grape Seed Oil
1 Ounce Rice Vinegar
1 small Lemon
2 teaspoons Chervil
Rinse, zest and juice the lemon.
Combine oil, vinegar, half the lemon juice, chervil, a pinch of salt and a twist of pepper and whisk thoroughly to incorporate. Taste and adjust lemon, salt, and pepper as desired. Allow to rest for 15-30 minutes before use.
3 Ounces Grape Seed Oil
1-2 Ounces Apple Cider Vinegar
1 teaspoon Savory
Tasmanian Pepper Berry
Combine oil, vinegar, and savory with a pinch of salt and a twist of pepper. Whisk thoroughly to incorporate, adjust vinegar, salt and pepper as desired. Allow to rest for 15-30 minutes before use.
4 Ounces Grape Seed Oil
2 Ounces Champagne Vinegar
1 small lime
1 teaspoon Cilantro
Grains of Paradise
Rinse, zest, and juice the lime. Mince 1 tablespoon of shallot.
Combine oil, vinegar, half the lime juice, zest, cilantro, a pinch of salt and couple twists of grains of paradise. Whisk thoroughly to incorporate. Adjust lime, salt, and grains as desired. Allow to rest for 15-30 minutes before use.