Thursday, September 21, 2017

West African Chicken Stew: A Paleo Recipe from Melissa Joulwan

For the most part, my husband and I are wedded to the Mediterranean diet or lifestyle, but will occasionally venture out and test some new diets.

At the suggestion of my sister-in-law, my husband and I decided to see what the Paleo diet had to offer.  I checked out a few books at the library, but eventually decided on a few cookbooks that I thought provided some interesting recipes.West African Chicken Stew

Before sharing an excellent recipe for West African Chicken Stew from Well Fed 2 by Melissa Joulwan, I would like to make a few observations about the Paleo diet.

The paleo diet is loosely based “on the types of foods presumed to have been eaten by early humans, consisting chiefly of meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit, and excluding dairy or grain products and processed food.”  In effect, it is the food that hunters and gatherers would consume rather than the food farmers who produce from domesticated animals and farmed vegetable gardens, particularly legumes.

As such, it differs considerably from the Mediterranean diet in the sense that you are eliminating one more level of “food processing” from your diet.   Clearly, a reduction in factory-processed and potentially chemically-treated foods is a way to eat more naturally and help restore body health.  In fact, many people have told us that they “feel better” after being weaned from artificially processed foods, sugar and dairy.  Who am I to argue?

The following recipe for West African Chicken Stew is reprinted from the Healthy Foodie Blog, which has some gorgeous photos on how this dish is assembled.  While the author of the blog substituted chicken breasts, I strongly recommend using chicken thighs because they have far more flavor.  We served this lovely stew with coconut cauliflower rice (also available in Well Fed 2).

WEST AFRICAN CHICKEN STEW

Ingredients (Serves 2 to 4)

  • 1/2 tablespoon coconut oil  
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • Salt and ground black pepper  
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)  
  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger, grated (about 1 tablespoon)  
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)  
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground coriander  
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper  
  • 1 bay leaf  
  • 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes  
  • 1/4 cup water  
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seed butter (no sugar added)  
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract  
  • garnish: minced fresh parsley leaves, sunflower seeds

Preparation

  1. Sprinkle the chicken enthusiastically with salt and pepper. Heat a large soup pot over medium-high heat, about 3 minutes. Add coconut oil and allow it to melt. Add the chicken in a single layer and brown well on both sides, about 10 minutes. (Don’t crowd the pan; cook in batches if you need to.) Remove the chicken to a bowl to catch the juices.  
  2. In the same pot, cook the onions and ginger until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic, coriander, cayenne, and bay leaf, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and water, stirring to combine. Nestle the chicken into the sauce, along with any juices it released. Increase the heat to bring the pot to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for 25 minutes.  
  3. Remove the chicken from the pot; it will be very tender. Break the chicken into large pieces with the side of a wooden spoon. Add the sunflower seed butter and vanilla to the pot and mix to combine. Return the chicken to the pot and cover. Heat through, about 5 minutes, then serve, sprinkled with parsley and sunflower seeds.

Enjoy.  This recipe is a little spicy but delicious.  It can easily be made ahead of time and reheated.  Thank you Melissa. We love your cookbook!

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Sunday, August 6, 2017

LuLu’s West Indies Salad Recipe

During our delightful getaway to Perdido Key in the Florida panhandle several years ago, our good friends Christy and John F. took us by boat through the intercostal waterways to LuLu’s in Homeport, Alabama.

Lulu's West Indies Salad

LuLu’s is the brainchild of Lucy Anne Buffet, the sister of Jimmy Buffet, who resurrected a small family-owned property in Homeport and quickly turned it into a world famous restaurant. LuLu’s well-deserved reputation is owed in great part to the caring and delightful food that is served there and their friendly staff. This is the real deal for all who appreciate fine food.

LuLu’s West Indies Salad has been adapted by Lucy from a recipe of Bayley’s Steak and Seafood restaurant in Mobile, Alabama. In her delightful cookbook – with a very interesting introduction – entitled Crazy Sista Cooking, Lucy Anne Buffet lays out her recipes in simple yet easy to follow steps.

Now, I did not eat the salad shown below, but I certainly would have given it a go because of its elegant simplicity. Lucy cautions to use the ice cubes as described below to chill the water. I think it probably has something to do with the amount of water added to the crabmeat, but this looks great served with pink champagne.

LuLu’s West Indies Salad

Ingredients (Serves 4-6 as an appetizer)

  • 1 lb fresh jumbo lump blue crabmeat (regular lump crab OK, but watch for shell bits)
  • Salt to taste (1/2 teaspoon)
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste (1/2 teaspoon)
  • 1/2 medium Vidalia (or sweet) onion, sliced paper thin, in half moon shapes
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup ice water (with 4-5 ice cubes)

Preparation

  1. Place half the crabmeat gently in th bottom of a glass bowl or plastic container, carefully picking out any shell. Sprinkle with just a smidgen of salt and pepper.
  2. Cover crab with a layer of onion.
  3. Repeat steps with remaining crab, salt, pepper and onion.
  4. Pour oil and vinegar over layers.
  5. Place ice cubes in a liquid measuring cup. Fill with water until volume reaches 1/3 cup and pour over crab. (Ice cubes are essential but don’t pour the cubes into the mixture)
  6. Cover and marinate for at least 2 hours before serving.
  7. When ready to serve, shake bowl gently, or if using a leak-proof plastic container, turn upside down and back upright to gently mix salad.
  8. Serve in a shallow bowl with juice.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

How to Cook the Perfect Soft-Cooked Eggs

The last time I ate a soft-boiled egg was over 25 years ago when a particularly gooey drop of yolk decided to befriend my $150 Hermes tie.  Thanks to a botched job at the dry-cleaner, they have become inseparable friends and, as such, I decided then to give up both expensive ties and soft-boiled eggs.

Nevertheless, our daughter has insisted that I share a recent recipe that appeared on Cook’s Illustrated that explains how you “steam” rather than “cook” an egg to achieve a soft-cooked egg “that delivered a set white and a fluid yolk every time.” Before caving into our daughter’s request, I have decided to share the highlights of Cook’s Illustrated “science” required to achieve the perfect soft-cooked egg.

Science Class:  According to America’s Test Kitchen, the traditional way of cooking soft-cooked eggs is to add eggs to boiling water. Sadly, this lowers the temperature of the water and makes for uneven cooking results depending on when eggs are added, hom many,  and how quickly the water reaches the boiling temperature again after each immersion.

The folks at America’s test kitchen have found that “steaming” eggs in a small amount of water achieves consistently perfect results.

How to Cook Perfect Soft-Cooked Eggs

Note:  This recipe works for any number of eggs.  Use large eggs that have no cracks and are cold from the refrigerator.

Preparation

  1. Bring 1/2 inch of water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Using tongs (or better yet a steamer basket), gently place the refrigerated eggs into the boiling water.  The eggs will not be submerged.  Cover the saucepan and cook the eggs for 6 1/2 minutes.
  2. Remove cover, transfer saucepan to sink and place under cold running water for 30 seconds.  Remove eggs from pan and serve, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

This is a simple and foolproof way to cook perfect soft-boiled eggs.

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Friday, July 7, 2017

Kit-Kat’s Protein-Packed Poached Salmon and Quinoa Bowl

Salmon is a rich oily fish.  Salmon is “high in protein, high omega-3 fatty acids, and high vitamin D content.”   Pair salmon with quinoa, which is also a rich source  of protein, dietary fiber, several B vitamins and dietary minerals, and you have a protein-packed meal that is great for diets.

Salmon and Quinoa Bowl Recipe

Inspiration for this wonderful recipe came from my niece, Katherine (aka Kit-Kat).   The beauty of this great recipe maybe prepared beforehand, is relatively simple to prepare and quite colorful.

I prefer to poach the salmon to avoid smells in the kitchen and then break off chunks depending on how many servings I need.  Most diets seem to call for 4 oz of protein and once you add quinoa and some color and greens you have a salad bowl that most gourmands would relish.

You can prepare the bowls before your guests arrive and refrigerate, but do try to bring the bowl to room temperature before serving.  Poached salmon will last about 3 days in the refrigerator.

Poaching Salmon

I have used the following New York Times recipe for years.  Once you poach the salmon, allow to cool to create several flavor-packed protein bowls.  Refrigerate the salmon and you can get several meals or snacks from leftovers.

Ingredients  (2 lbs makes eight 4 oz servings)

  • 1 small bunch fresh dill
  • Center cut for size consistency (roughly 4 oz per serving).  Wild salmon is great, but farm-raised salmon is fine if you are poaching.
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon of black peppercorns
  • 1 onion, peeled and quartered

Preparation

  • Place small bunch of dill with salmon SKIN UP in a large skillet or saucepan.
  • Cover with water, and add salt, sugar, mustard seeds, peppercorns and onion.
  • Place over high heat and bring to a boil.  Cook for 10 minutes.
  • Turn off heat and let salmon cool in water for an hour.
  • Remove skin.

Kit-Kat’s Poached Salmon and Quinoa Bowl

Ingredients (for eight 4 oz salmon servings)

  • 2 lbs of center-cut poached salmon (see preparation above)
  • 4 oz per serving of cooked quinoa (follow instructions, but drain thoroughly and allow to dry)
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped red pepper
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of chopped scallions
  • Several arugula leaves (optional)
  • Sprig of mint
  • 1 wedge of lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

  • Add warm or room temperature quinoa to bowl
  • Pull apart about 4 oz of poached salmon and place on top of the quinoa
  • Add pepper, scallions and mint over salmon
  • Garnish wish wedge of lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Bowls can be prepared beforehand, but cover if you plan to refrigerate.  Serve at near room temperature.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

White Balsamic Vinegar and Jicama Slaw Salad

Balsamic vinegar is frequently used in Italian cooking. In fact, many restaurants will often bring a bottle of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar to your table when dining.

White balsamic vinegar is found less frequently, but is often used in preparing foods where the dark color of balsamic vinegar may cause distraction.

Officially, there is no such thing as “white balsamic vinegar,” it is referred to as “condimento bianco” because it is not regulated by the Italian consortium and is not aged in wooden barrels like most fine balsamic vinegars from Modena.

We have sampled many white balsamic vinegars and found them lacking.  As such, we decided to private label our own white balsamic vinegar to use occasionally with salads and fish.

For those unfamiliar with condimento biancoit tends to be somewhat lighter and less viscous than good quality aged balsamic vinegar.  We find it particularly refreshing on spring and summer salads.

This following recipe is from Rebecca Rather and Alison Oresman and is reprinted in May, 2010 Epicurious from their cookbook: Pastry Queen Parties:  Entertaining Friends and Family, Texas Style.

white balsamic vinegar, jicama slaw salad

White Balsamic Vinegar and Jicama Slaw Salad

INGREDIENTS (12 Servings)

For Salad

  • 1 medium head napa cabbage (about 2 1/2 pounds)
  • 3 medium carrots, grated on the large holes
  • 1 large jicama (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into large matchsticks
  • 1 bunch chopped green onions, white part only
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into large matchsticks
  • 3/4 cup dried currants or dried cranberries

For White Balsamic Dressing

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (about 1 medium lime)
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar (Gourmet Living)
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds

PREPARATION

To Make the Salad:
Trim off the cabbage root end, thinly slice crosswise, then chop into pieces that can be easily picked up with a fork. Combine the cabbage, carrots, jicama, green onions, apples, and dried currants in a large bowl.

To Make the Dressing:
Vigorously whisk together the garlic, lime juice, honey, oil, mustard, balsamic vinegar, and mayonnaise in a medium bowl until the dressing is thoroughly combined. Whisk in the fennel seeds and pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture. Stir until the dressing evenly covers the slaw. The slaw will be a little soupy, which is just the way I like it. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until ready to serve.

Variation
For those who plan to wear their summer shorts short, you can lighten the dressing: for the 1 cup mayonnaise, substitute 1/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise plus 3/4 cup nonfat or low-fat yogurt.

white balsamic vinegar condimento bianco

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Skillet Chicken for Paleo and Mediterranean Diet

During winter, it seems like one’s batteries run down quite a bit quicker than they do on a warm summer’s day.   This is certainly true in my kitchen where I try to focus on hearty meals that I can prepare and then serve on more than one occasion.  Certainly, stews and soups can be refrigerated, so one can often can more than one meal with a little forward planning.

Paleo Mediterranean Chicken Skillet

I recently came across this appealing recipe on Pinterest.  The photograph, shown below, caught my eye and I decided to give this Paleo Mediterranean skillet chicken a go.  While it may be a bit heavy and elaborate for a summer meal, it hit the spot for a chilly evening at home and my husband and I can enjoy the leftovers another day.   The spinach leaves gave this hearty winter recipe a lively bit of color.

The recipe comes from a lovely website called Paleo Newbie, so if you are into Paleo diets, you may want to give it a go.  I can certainly recommend this particular dish – love the artichokes.

One Skillet Paleo Mediterranean Chicken

Ingredients (Serves 2 – 4)

  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 8 oz jarred artichoke hearts, liquid drained
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/3 cup Kalamata olives, chopped
  • 1 lb cooked organic chicken
  • Fresh spinach – a couple of handfuls
  • 2-3 tablespoon olive oil or ghee (1-2 tablespoons to sauté the veggies, another tablespoon for cooking)
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar  (Gourmet Living, of course!)
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped for garnish
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Preparation

  1. In a large skillet over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sauté the chopped onions for 3-4 minutes
  2. Add the minced garlic and sauté together one more minute
  3. Add the sliced mushrooms to the sautéed onions and garlic and cook 5-7 minutes until the mushrooms are golden. Add salt and pepper to taste while cooking
  4. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar to the pan then toss in the Roma tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and olives. Sprinkle in the parsley, oregano, and stir a few minutes
  5. Next add the chopped chicken and spinach to the pan – stir and cook 1-2 minutes, or until chicken is heated through. Add more salt and pepper if needed.
  6. Serve hot garnished with the fresh basil

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White Balsamic Vinegar Custard Tart with Seasonal Berries

Balsamic vinegar is frequently found in many Italian restaurants.  In fact, in northern Italy most tables will have a bottle of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.   You need to ask for butter!

White balsamic vinegar is found less frequently, but has become quite popular in preparing foods where the dark color of balsamic vinegar may detract from the colors of other ingredients.

Officially, there is no such thing as “white balsamic vinegar,” it is referred to as “condimento bianco” because it is not regulated by the Italian consortium and is not aged in wooden barrels like most fine balsamic vinegars from Modena.

white balsamic vinegar, balsamic berry tart

We have sampled many white balsamic vinegars and found them lacking.  As such, we decided to private label our own white balsamic vinegar to use occasionally with salads and fish.  In fact, this recipe takes it a bit further and is used in a dessert.

This delightful white balsamic custard tart with a fresh berry topping comes from a 2004 Bon Appetit recipe that is available on Epicurious.  We found it delightful, particularly with Gourmet Living’s new white balsamic vinegar.

White Balsamic Custard Tart with Fresh Berries
INGREDIENTS (8 Servings)

Crust

  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon whipping cream

Filling

  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar (Gourmet Living – Condimento Bianco)
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

Topping

  • 2 large strawberries, hulled, sliced
  • 2 1/2-pint containers blueberries
  • 1 1/2-pint container raspberries
  • Note:  Feel free to substitute depending on the season

PREPARATION

For crust:

  1. Combine flour, sugar, and salt in processor; blend 5 seconds. Add butter and blend, using on/off turns, until coarse meal forms.
  2. Add egg yolk and cream. Using on/off turns, blend until moist clumps form.
  3. Gather dough into ball.
  4. Press dough evenly into 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom.
  5. Pierce dough all over with fork. Chill 1 hour.
  6. Preheat oven to 375°F. Bake crust until golden, pressing with back of fork if crust bubbles, about 22 minutes. Cool.

For filling:

  1. Stir cream and cornstarch in medium bowl until cornstarch dissolves.
  2. Add eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla; whisk to blend.
  3. Boil vinegar in heavy medium saucepan until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 3 minutes.
  4. Add 3/4 cup water, sugar, and butter.
  5. Stir until butter melts; return to boil.
  6. Gradually whisk vinegar mixture into egg mixture; return to pan. Whisk until custard thickens and boils, about 1 minute.
  7. Strain into bowl; cool.
  8. Spread custard in prepared crust.
  9. Cover and chill tart at least 3 hours and up to 1 day.

For topping:

  1. Arrange strawberry slices in star pattern in center of tart (or some other variation).
  2. Arrange raspberries in star pattern. Surround with blueberries.
  3. Cover loosely and chill until ready to serve. (Can be made up to 6 hours ahead.)

white balsamic vinegar

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Mediterranean Diet, Paleo and Fast Metabolism Diet Compared

I am wedded to the many benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Nevertheless, I will occasionally experiment with other diets to shed a few unwanted pounds.

The Paleo and Fast Metabolism diet’s are two that support the nutritional benefits of the Mediterranean diet.  I believe the Mediterranean diet is far easier to follow as there are less “rules.” One must avoid factory-processed foods and limit the intake of carbohydrates.

As Dr. Kenneth Pelletier points out: “All diets are fad diets. At the same time, all diets work because people pay attention to what they eat while dieting.”

Found below is a brief “high-level” summary of the Paleo and Fast Metabolism diet’s.  The benefits of a “diet” are short-lived unless there is a conscientious change in eating habits.  For this reason, I refer to the Mediterranean diet as a lifestyle change. I consciously seek out seasonal fruits and vegetables and organic chicken and wild-caught fish rather than factory-processed foods and carbs.

Also, dine with family and friends (without the distraction of electronic devices). This encourages and reinforces good dining habits. Exposing children to healthy foods at an early age will most certainly curb obesity.

Paleo Diet Overview

The Paleo diet focuses on eating natural foods that a caveman might eat.  Actually, the diet is a shortened name for “the Paleolithic diet (also called the paleo diet, caveman diet or stone-age diet) and is based mainly on foods presumed to have been available to Paleolithic humans.

The diet focuses on eating natural foods which have not been processed or harvested.  For instance, dairy, cultivated crops (grains, cereals, legumes) and highly processed oils must be avoided.  Foods to consume in moderation on the Paleo diet would include tree nuts (almonds, but no peanuts), organic fruits and natural sweeteners like honey.

The Paleo diet is far more restrictive than the Mediterranean diet.  However, it does steer one clear of that great diet-buster:  factory-processed foods!   Furthermore, there are some wonderful recipes featuring many “forgotten” foods from the Middle East and Africa.  One of my favorites is the West African Chicken Stew, featured in a delightful Paleo diet cookbook from Melissa Joulwan called Well Fed 2.

There are many good Paleo cookbooks.  I will often incorporate many of their innovative and international recipes into my cooking.  My only reservation is that I love cheese, some pasta and the occasional glass of wine with my meal (all No Nos!).

Fast Metabolism Diet Overview

The Fast Metabolism Diet also rejects fast-food and processed foods and is quite similar to the Paleo diet.  Nevertheless, it does allow you to incorporate vegetables and fruits into your diet during certain phases.

Without getting into too much detail, the Fast Metabolism Diet, tricks the body into “not knowing what food comes next,” which causes the body to burn the food rather than store it as fat.  For instance, during one phase of the diet you eat certain fruits but no legumes.  During another phase, you eat legumes, but no fruits.  Overall, the Fast Metabolism diet is a somewhat more balanced diet than Paleo, but you need a spreadsheet to track meals.  Fortunately, there is a Fast Metabolism App for those technically connected.

Also, you eat 5 meals a day (2 snacks).  Again, like the Paleo diet you should avoid eat dairy products, wheat and potatoes.

The Fast Metabolism Diet will help you shed weight – and many family members swear by it.  However, it requires considerable planning and faultless execution (particularly during the first two weeks) to see results.

Summary 

While I have had success with both the Paleo and Fast Metabolism diet’s, I prefer the flexibility of the Mediterranean diet to maintain my weight and still allow me to look forward to enjoying a well-balanced meal.  Nevertheless, there are many things to be said about these diets as they all encourage people to eat healthy non-processed foods.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Chicken and Walnut Salad Recipe

People complain that the Mediterranean diet is somewhat bland and lacking in “bite.” Personally, I have never found that to be the case, but I often look to the Far East for inspiration. Like balsamic vinegar in Italian cooking, I have found that soy sauce tends to add a special flavor that triggers a whole new host of tastes.

Salads are wonderful during the summer. The Chinese chicken and walnut salad below incorporates a number of Asian condiments – hoisin sauce and soya – that add a flavor complexity to an otherwise simple salad. The Napa cabbage has become a frequent ingredient for my summer salad preparations since I enjoy the “crunch.”

Napa cabbage

This recipe is a summer favorite and we normally serve it with shredded chicken rather than shrimp, but for those who are feather-challenged we provide you with a harvested-shrimp alternative.

A note on the dressing: Use it sparingly since it tends to overwhelm the rest of the ingredients. Toss in half of the dressing, taste and then add more if needed. This recipe is derived from several sources from my salad archives.

Chinese Chicken and Walnut Salad Recipe

Ingredients for Salad (Serves 4 easily)

  • 1 bunch of spinach
  • 1/2 bunch of Napa cabbage (don’t substitute)
  • 4 carrots julienned
  • 1 1/2 cups of walnuts
  • 1 red pepper julienned
  • 4 scallions sliced
  • 2 cups of shredded chicken or shrimp
  • 2 stalks of celery sliced
  • 1 small jalapeño thinly sliced

Ingredients for Dressing

  • 1/2 cup of oil
  • 1/4 cup of hoisin sauce (maybe less)
  • 1/4 cup of soy
  • 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon (heaping) of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon (heaping) of ginger
  • 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds

Preparation

  1. Toss salad ingredients together
  2. Mix dressing thoroughly and then add about half of the dressing to the salad and toss thoroughly. Taste and then add more dressing to suit your taste.

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