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More with Mangos

The golden flood of spring mangos is still in full force and we’ve been taking advantage of this bounty. We’re eating lots of them fresh, saving most of the dried and pureed ones for later when fresh ones are no longer available.

Two nights ago I made a fresh mango salsa. Mango goes great with most meats, and since I’d already slow roasted a chicken earlier in the week, I wanted to use the leftovers.

Mango Chicken Tacos with Jicama ShellsSalsa and chicken? Sounds like tacos! Since I can’t eat grains, Zevin’s allergic to corn and we steer clear of processed foods, we usually just skip taco shells and go the route of the lettuce wrap. Lettuce wraps work great for hand held food and I’m usually quite content with them.  With tacos, though, I wanted something closer to a traditional taco shell. I wanted something more firm in my hand and little crunch for when my teeth first bite in.

A while back I came across a photo of  jicama standing in for a taco shell. I don’t know who came up with the idea, but it was brilliant. Jicama is quite pliable when sliced uber thin, and it provides the bite and crunch reminiscent of a traditional taco shell. Jicama make the perfect spring taco shell because they’re light and even a bit juicy. Their slightly earthy flavor melds well with fresh spring veggies and fruit. Yes, including mango!

The salsa is quick to put together and the jicama takes only a few minutes to slice on the mandolin. You can cook some chicken from scratch, use leftovers or pick up a roasted bird from your local market to keep things fast and easy. A quick and easy meal bursting with flavor and crunch.

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Mango Mania

DSC01553Mangoes are marvelous. A juicy sweetness like nothing else. They’re great plain or with a squeeze of fresh lime and a light sprinkle of cumin. Smoothies turn velvety with cubes of frozen mango blended in and have you ever had a mango lassi? Wow, the coconut milk-mango combo is such a treat! Mangoes also are great as the base for chutneys and salsas. Fresh, frozen or dried, hot or cold, mangoes are amazing.

Our favorite kind is the small champagne, sometimes called ataulfo or honey, mango. They’re not stringy like their larger cousins are.  The skin turns a golden yellow when ripe and inside is a brilliant orange-golden flesh with a thin, but large seed. And they are delicious. Incredible, really.

Available only twice a year, spring and summer, they’ve been for sale here in Seattle recently. We do love them, but they’re pretty expensive. Recently, though the sale was so awesome that I decided to stock up; we bought six cases of 12.

Mango SlicerBut fresh mangoes don’t last very long, so what do to do? Eat them, dehydrate some, eat some, puree some, eat some, freeze some, eat some more.

I set up an assembly (disassembly?) line to tackle the job. I rinsed them, sliced & pitted them, and scooped out the flesh. The choicest pieces were then sliced thinner to become dried mango. Anything slightly mushy or scraggly would be pureed, with the puree destined for fruit leather and mango ice cubes.

To make fast work of opening mangoes I rely on my trusty mango splitter, a gift from my mother-in-law a few years back. That slicer changed the way we look at mangoes in this house. I used to avoid buying them regardless of their succulent flesh because the seeds can be a beast to remove. Then came the magical mango slicer, and we’ve been enjoying copious fresh mango ever since.

DSC01578 Dried Mango

This was the first time I’d dehydrated mango, and now I’m hooked. We used the Nesco FD-60 Snackmaster Food Dehydrator, and not only is ours so much less expensive than store bought, it’s far superior. The slices are dried but not at all dry or tough. They retain a slight, but easy chew and the flavor is much more intense than the dried mango we buy bought.

After pureeing I poured some of the mango into ice cubes trays, froze them, then popped them out and stored them in ziplock bags in the freezer. These were a hit, too: they add a delicious punch to Jordan’s morning smoothies or can be sucked on like little popsicles. Eating the cubes is yummy, but slippery!

DSC01583   DSC01579

The rest of the puree was dehydrated and, though it made decent fruit leather, wasn’t our favorite of the three preparations. Flavor-wise it’s great, but it’s a bit tough and gummy on the teeth. This was also my first foray into fruit leather dehydration, so maybe next time will be better.

And there will be a next time. It’s incredibly gratifying to prepare food for later knowing that I saved some moolah in the process. And the outcomes were so deliciously satisfying that I’m sure by the time fall rolls around, and the stores fill with mangoes again, our stash will be long gone and we’ll be eager for more.

It’s Gluten Free, but is it Healthy?

I never regret not eating gluten: I felt so bad before that it’s just a no-brainer now. I’ve accidentally eaten it and then suffered terrible reminders of what it does to me, but since I cut it from my diet a few years ago, I’ve never intentionally eaten it.

And that worked for a while. Like a sort of secular “removal of chametz“, I cleared the house of gluten and went shopping for gluten-free goodies.  The taste and texture of gluten-free foods required an adjustment, but after a while of having no baked goods, no breads – well, just about anything was worth trying. So with some taste tests and a then few things immediately ditched, I found many gluten free foods to replace what was now verboten. Cereals, crackers, cookies, pasta, boxed and frozen foods. And as time passed, more and more things became available at the grocery store.

The quality of gluten free food improved, too. We tried them all and increased our pantry inventory. We ate gluten free waffles, gluten free muffins and gluten free cereal for breakfast. Mid-morning snacks for my (then) toddler and I usually included gluten free crackers or gluten free granola bars. Lunch often found itself on gluten free bread with some gluten free chips on the side. Gluten free pasta would find its way onto our dinner menu at least twice a week along with gluten free burger buns and gluten free pizza. Gluten free treats were never in short supply, either, whether whipped up from a mix or eaten straight from a box.

We even dined out with more frequency as local restaurants jumped on the gluten free train. Plenty of gluten free buns and pastas were offered on menus alongside fries and onion rings prepared in safe, dedicated fryers. Eating gluten free became easier and tastier by the day.

That is, until the day that I realized that I no longer felt great.

I started questioning my diet and looked at what I was really eating. It was all gluten free, most of it was even organic, but it was highly processed. One of the cornerstones of eating healthy is variety, but after reading several packages one thing was clear – they all had the same basic ingredients, and those ingredients weren’t particularly healthy, either: rice flour, potato starch, xanthan gum, and sugar in some form or another  topped the list. None of those provides much nutrition and practically zero dietary fiber.

These gluten free treasures were full of processed starches and white sugar. Are they safe for someone on a gluten free diet? Sure. Are they healthy? Most often, no. And, to add insult to injury many aren’t even fortified the way other processed food is so they’re utterly lacking in vitamins. Processed foods have the good stuff processed right out of them so the FDA requires that nutrients be put back in. However, gluten free foods are not required to be fortified.

What would make me feel better? What is our bodies need to fuel themselves? Our bodies need nutrient-dense, healthy foods. Many of modern health ailments didn’t exist before processed food, or at least not in the numbers that they appear today. So if we were healthier before we started putting food in boxes, what did that food look like? It was unprocessedwilly-wonka-and-the-chocolate-factory-20091006005120611_640w. These foods are called whole foods because they’re basically unchanged from how they grew or lived. I guarantee that you won’t find crunchy, airy cheese puffs growing in a field or vines of multi-colored licorice draped in trees (except perhaps, in the factory at right). And if you eat meat, it probably didn’t grow with nitrites or fillers.

So I did another pantry overhaul. I knew that a healthy diet was based on whole foods – foods that have no processing, that look like they did when they grew or walked or flew. I’d plan meals around vegetables, meats, nuts, seeds, and fruit. I even changed the fats we use – no more processed oils like canola or grape seed. Instead we’d use butter, olive oil and coconut oil. Anything that came in a package was scrutinized – was the ingredient list made of real food? Were they whole foods? I allowed for nut flours and coconut flour because they’re basically a whole food, they’re just ground up. Nothing was chemically altered, no ingredients added to make the product. Same thing with nut butters. I even found some crackers and packaged snacks that met this criteria.

I kept a few packaged products like gluten free pasta, rice crackers and truly wholesome granola because I knew that I’d occasionally need a few quick-fix solutions, especially until I got this new whole foods eating plan working for our family. Our pantry was now pared down considerably and our fridge and freezer more filled with meats and produce. At first I spent a lot of time in the kitchen prepping and cooking but as time went on I developed strategies to minimize my kitchen time and still turn out healthy, tasty meals. It’s certainly more work than ripping open a box and adding water, but not much and we all feel great and that’s worth all the time in the world, if need be.

If completely overhauling your pantry seems daunting, here are three high-impact things you can do to reduce your reliance on processed foods:

  • Cut up several days worth of carrots, peppers or other crunchy vegetables in advance, then store them in a clear jar in your fridge. Grab these when you when you want something to munch on.
  • Instead of the toast that goes with your plate of eggs in the morning, try putting your egg on a bowl of quinoa or even oatmeal. Sprinkle a little salt and drizzle a little honey for a sweet-and-savory and satisfying breakfast.
  • A great substitute for sliced “lunch meats”: real meat. Grab a pre-roasted chicken from PCC or Whole Foods, then pull it off the bones for convenient snacking.

Hidden Gluten Ingredients

Shopping for gluten free has become much easier in recent years. Many packages promote their status with splashy labels of “GF” or even “certified gluten free”.

gfBut what about the packages that don’t have those handy words printed on them? Do you just read the ingredient list and look for the word ‘gluten’? Or maybe check to see if it says ‘wheat’? If you must avoid gluten, neither of those words is enough.

Since gluten is found in barley, wheat and rye, those words are great starting points, but gluten is often hiding out in the ingredients list under other names. It’s hiding in there and your job is to identify it and avoid it.

Malt flavoring? It comes from barley, doh! Seiten? Sure, it’s vegetarian – but it’s got wheat!

Now here’s the really tricky stuff: these things don’t even sound like foods, much less like gluten. Hydrolyzed plant protein? It can be derived from a gluten-containing plant. Dextrin? Unless it’s labeled gluten free, it might come from wheat. Triticum vulgare germ extract? It’s basically wheat germ oil.

Other key words to be wary of include filler, coating, natural flavoring, natural coloring, binding, starch and stabilizer. These can all contain gluten, unless specifically labeled otherwise.

Foods that often seem fine at first glance, but are not upon closer inspection include soy sauce (but not tamari), teriyaki sauce, vegetable broths and bouillon.

There are a number of good lists online of “hidden gluten”, but I’ve found to be one of the most extensive. They have an ‘unsafe ingredients’ list as well as a ‘safe ingredients’ list. I recommend bookmarking them on your smart phone so that you can call them up while you’re shopping. When I changed to a gluten free diet I relied on these lists until I became familiar with some of the more common terms.

Finally, note that although oats are inherently gluten free, sensitive individuals may experience trouble eating them. Cross-contamination with gluten during the growing, transporting, processing or packaging of oats can occur, so always look for the gluten free label if you buy oats. Also, people who can’t eat gluten frequently have problems with oats regardless of their gluten free status.

Passover 2013

Ah, Passover. With the proscription on “leavened bread”, it’s already almost gluten-free. Except, of course, for the star attraction, matzah.

Fortunatley, we found a very tasty “matza-like” alternative: Yehuda Gluten Free Matzo Style Squares. They’re tasty, a bit sweeter than their glutinous cousins, and just as difficult to break along the scoring. The matza, made from potato starch, is kosher, but not for “sacramental purposes”. Since we can’t have gluten, though, these work as a suitable replacement for our family.

Of course, our family has about 20 other foods on the “no” list, but I actually enjoy the challenge of creating a menu that will accommodate everyone’s diets and still be thoroughly enjoyable and memorable.

For a seder (the Passover ceremony and meal), there are a few traditional dishes that I use as my base, and then, keeping in mind what’s safe for all diners to eat, I make a menu.  2013-03-25 01.27.57This year we ate:

  • Matza & Charoset
  • Deviled Eggs
  • Matza Ball Soup (thank you, Elana’s Pantry for the matza ball recipe)
  • Green Salad with Jordan’s Famous Dressing*
  • Roasted Sweet Potato Strips
  • Roasted Balsamic Asparagus
  • Roasted Beets with Orange Zest
  • Applesauce
  • Brisket

Followed by

For the matza balls, Elana’s pantry recommends some specific almond flours that have a fine texture. We didn’t have those, so I substituted Bob’s Red Mill Almond Meal/Flour instead. The matza balls came out tasting very much like a “regular” matza ball, but with a slightly grittier texture, at least when they first touched the tongue. It wasn’t a bad sensation, just a little jarring when you’re expecting a fluffy soft matza ball like your bubbe used to make.

Yum, right? Keep in mind that this delicious menu contained only whole foods (with the exception of the matza, but, hey – you gotta have matza!), had no grains or refined sugar. Any of the recipes could work for a host of healthy diets – whole foods, gluten-free, and paleo. Most are suitable for both SCD or GAPS.


* Equal parts 1/2 c olive oil, 1/2 c balsamic vinegar, 3 healthy “splorches” (Jordan’s words) of stone ground mustard, one hefty spoonful of honey, in a blender.