Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Healthy Fare

I remember back when I was awaiting my admission date to culinary school my father jokingly said: "Nobody trusts a skinny chef." I was twenty years old and twenty pounds underweight; nothing a crash course in classical French cuisine couldn't cure. I gained thirty pounds in two months. Thirteen years later I am literally embodying my father's words.

My weight now isn't so much of a result of my success as it is a result of my love for rich, fatty foods; if there's a Bacon Anonymous group I should be a member. I'm still not a huge guy, but I'm starting to push the index and with my 34th birthday just around the corner it's all downhill from here if I don't make some changes soon, so after I came home from NYC back in May I decided to really concentrate on my diet.

With a hereditary disposition to cholesterol I had already been focusing on chicken, turkey and fish, but that had proved not enough so I had to start focusing on my culinary nemesis: tofu.

Even as a chef I had problems coercing tofu into something satiable enough for a serious meat-eater like myself, but with perseverance and a little imagination I came with some delicious uses, the easiest of which is by using the silken variety as a substitute for cream in purees, which led to the sauce component of this special, as well as the notion that I could create a dish that not only tastes fantastic but is healthy too.

The main focus of the dish was inspired by a Asian-style marinated beef that I grilled and made into tacos to celebrate our server Tommy's 40th birthday last month, and after the great response I realized that I had to let our customers enjoy this amazing flavor as well. The marinade consists of ground, dried chiles, fresh lemongrass, lime juice, ginger, garlic, scallions, sesame oil, soy sauce, and black sugar, a unique variation popular in Asian cultures. I stuck with beef for the special - a Flat Iron steak - merely for presentation and consistency, though it is fantastic with chicken and could easily have been done successfully with a block of "extra firm" tofu if I had the gall to offer it!

Since I had this Asian theme going I knew I could put my new tofu techniques to good use by creating a sauce from two totally different ingredients that are actually of the same plant. Edamame is a popular soybean snack that originates from Japan but is now enjoyed all over the world, but the most famous soybean product is tofu, which is simply a vegan cheese made from soymilk. I used this adjusted thinking to make a surprisingly rich puree by blending the cooked soybeans with garlic, green onions and a touch of wasabi with soft tofu before pressing it through a fine strainer, leaving me with a refined sauce that stays true to the art of Japanese cookery.

To keep with the light theme I decided on a slaw based with jicama, a high fiber, low calorie root vegetable that I tossed with shredded carrot, unsweetened coconut, scallions and sea beans, a plant grown in salt marshes that has a bite like green beans and a fresh sea salt flavor. To bring the slaw together I made a vinaigrette with tamarind pulp, shallots, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and rice wine vinegar. By using the tamarind along with the lowly acidic vinegar I was able to reduce the amount of oil that's usually needed to make a vinaigrette by half!!!

Who knew that healthy could be this delicious?!?!

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In a rare coincidence I am able to offer a cocktail special that actually compliments the dinner special!!!

I say coincidence because I've had this drink on the back burner of my mind for a little while now, and since fresh orange and ginger already go together so well on their own, they will flourish alongside the Asian and citrus components within the marinade.

I wanted to go with a variation of our house margarita where we muddled fresh limes and oranges, but also with the addition of ginger slices and leaning more heavily on fresh orange juice and less on the manufactured triple sec and sour mix, ending up with a drink/food combo that has been called Chino/Latino, but I've lovingly referred to it as Latinasian.

With Love,


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