Dan Dan Noodles

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I have written in a prior blog about my Sichuan ancestry and the spicy food that was a part of my upbringing. Dan Dan Noodles is a Sichuan street food that became well known all over China. Traditionally it is made with ground pork, but today I made it with 99% fat free ground turkey in an effort to curb our red meat consumption. It turned out to be absolutely delicious. I made it for lunch, but Peter asked me to make it again for dinner. I was watching a beautiful film called Five Days in Maine at the SF Film Festival when I received a text from Peter, “ These noodles are so fantastic that I can’t stop eating them.” 

This is a dish best made with fresh ramen, which gives it the extra chewiness and elasticity. I bought mine at a Chinese supermarket on Clement Street. It comes in a package of 2.2 pounds divided in 4 bundles.  Each bundle is about 2 servings. You can replace it with other noodles or pasta such as fettuccine if fresh ramen is not available.  

I usually make Dan Dan Noodles with a spicy pickled mustard called 榨菜 Zha Cai, but today I used a crunchy pickled lettuce that comes in a jar from the Chinese supermarket.  It adds flavor and crunch to the minced meat.

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Pickled Wo Sun, a Chinese lettuce stem

Dan Dan Noodles

Ingredients:

4 oz 99% fat free ground turkey or ground pork, beef, or chicken

1/3 cup Chinese pickled lettuce, chopped (Chinese market, see photo)

1 teaspoon pickle juice from the same jar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

3 tablespoons chopped green onion

1 teaspoon, grated or finely minced ginger

2 teaspoons dark soy sauce

1 1/2 teaspoon Shao Xing cooking wine

1/2 teaspoon tapioca or corn starch

8 to 9 oz fresh ramen noodles (Asian super market)

1 tablespoon oil

2 tablespoons ground peanuts

1 cucumber, thinly sliced

sliced red chilies, sesame seeds & chopped green onion for garnish

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Sichuan peppercorn & chili

Ingredients for Chili Oil:

3 tablespoons oil

2 cloves crushed garlic

4 to 5 dried red chili, chopped or 2 teaspoons chili flakes (more if you like it very spicy)

1 1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn 

Ingredients for Sauce:

1 tablespoon +1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 heaping tablespoon tahini sauce

2 teaspoons dark sweet rice vinegar (Chinese market)

1 teaspoon sugar

2 coves garlic, peeled and very finely minced

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Preparation:

Mix the first 9 ingredients in a bowl, cover with saran wrap and set aside in the fridge.

Heap up the oil in a small pot on high. When the oil is piping hot, add the chili, Sichuan peppercorn and crushed garlic. Close the lid and turn off the stove. Let the oil sit on the stove for 5 minutes before filtering out the chili, peppercorn and garlic and keep only the oil in a bowl.

Whisk together all the ingredients for the sauce with the chili oil. Set aside.

Boil a large pot of water to cook the noodle to el dente. Rinse in cold water and drain completely. (Fresh ramen cooks fast. Make sure you check the doneness often.)

Heap up 1 tablespoon oil in a wok or pan on medium high. Stir fry the minced meat mixture until done.

Mix the noodles, the chili oil sauce, the cooked minced meat together. Top with chopped green onion, chili flakes, sesame seeds. and serve with cucumber slices.  Mix about 3 tablespoons chili oil sauce with the noodles first and taste it before using the rest of the sauce just in case it’s too strong for you.

You can also mix the noodles with the chili oil sauce first. Separate into two serving bowls. Then top them with the cooked minced meat and the rest of the other goodies.

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Rhubarb & Strawberries with Healthy Vanilla Ice Cream

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Rhubarb is in season — plump, crimson and shiny like jewels. I bought two pounds of these ruby stocks today and decided to try them in two different flavors. One with grapefruit juice, which turned out to be best chilled, and other other with a bit cinnamon and brandy that is better served warm. They are both quite delicious by themselves, but absolutely divine with my home made healthy vanilla ice cream.

Most people might associate Rhubarb with British desserts, but the Chinese have actually used the rhubarb roots as medicine for over two thousand years. Rhubarb traveled along the Silk Road to Europe in the 1400s, and then from England to America with the early settlers.

Why did my ancestors only use the roots for medicine and not the delicious stocks for dessert? As a matter of fact, my contemporaries in China don’t eat rhubarb either.  2700 years after it’s first recorded use as medicine in China, I think it’s high time for rhubarb to travel back to China as a dessert!  I am taking Audrey to see my parents in Shanghai this summer and will bring rhubarb seeds with us.  Apparently the rhubarb roots that are used for medicine in China is of a different variety from the one that we use in America to make desserts.

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Rhubarb & Strawberries in Grapefruit Juice

Ingredients:

5 cups rhubarb, sliced into 2 to 3 inch long strips

2 cups strawberries, stemmed and halved

1 cup or more red ruby grapefruit juice

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoon xylitol or sugar

Zest from 1/2 lemon

Mint leaves for garnish

Preparation:

Place rhubarb, juice, xylitol or sugar, 1/2 of the zest in a pot over medium high. Cook until rhubarb is soft, gently stir as it cooks.  It may appear to have not enough liquid in the beginning, but as the rhubarb softens, it should be completely submerged in the liquid.  Add a little more grapefruit juice if there is not enough liquid.

Make sure that you don’t cook the rhubarb for too long or it will become too mushy. 

Turn off the stove and let it cool for a minute before folding in the strawberries. Serve cold or chilled.

Healthy Vanilla Ice Cream

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cup fat-free Fage or other Greek Yogurt

1 1/2 cup 2% milk, or milk of choice

4 1/2 tablespoons xylitol or sugar

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

Preparation:

Blend all ingredients in a food processor. I used Vitamix. Pour into the ice cream maker and let churn for 25 to 30 minutes.

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Alternative:

Rhubarb & Strawberries with Brandy

Ingredients:

5 cups rhubarb, cut into desired shape

2 cups strawberries, stemmed and halved

1 cup water

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoon xylitol or sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/4 cup brandy

Preparation:

Place rhubarb, water, xylitol or sugar, vanilla, cinnamon in a pot over medium high. Cook until rhubarb is soft, gently stir as it cooks. Pour the brandy in and stir for 30 seconds.  Turn off stove and add strawberries. Mix and let cool.  Serve warm or cold.

Enjoy Tortilla Chips without Guilt!

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I received a package today from Que Pasa with three bags of chips made of organic whole grain yellow, blue and red corn, just in time to celebrate Cinco De Mayo.  There was also a bottle of yummy organic salsa that came with the chips.

I grew up in China and knew nothing about Cinco De Mayo when I was there.  As a matter of fact, I had not known about its meaning until I read about it on wikipedia today. According to wikipedia, the date is observed to commemorate the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over the French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín. It is a victory celebration!

These chips are quite delicious — fresh, crunchy and salty (but not too salty).  The only negative is my tendency of consuming too much of it in one sitting. So I decided to make a salad with the chips. This way you can at least eat a lot of fresh vegetables while you indulge on your chips.  The salad turned out beautifully with such vibrant Mexican colors, flavors and texture. It was so delicious that I had two plates of it. No guilt, though. I had to use a fork (for the vegetables), a spoon (for the salsa) and my hands ( for the chips and to scoop up the salad with the chips) all at once.

The salad was made of the vegetables that I would have used to make a guac plus a few more ingredients. It doesn’t need any dressing except for the lime juice that I used to coat the avocado, salt and pepper and a little salsa from Que Pasa.

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Some of the chips arrived crushed in the mail, but perfect for sprinkling on the salad

Cinco De Mayo Salad

Ingredients:

1 cup Que Pasa tortilla chips

1 to 1 1/2 large avocado, sliced and coated with lime juice

2 cups tri-color cherry tomatoes

1 cucumber, sliced

5 to 6 radishes, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon minced red onion

fresh corn kernels from one ear of corn, cooked

1/4 cup queso fresco cheese or fresh feta cheese, crumbled (omit if vegan)

3 to 4 tablespoon Que Pasa salsa

1 stock green onion chopped

Salt & pepper to taste

1 lime, for juicing

cilantro for garnish

Preparation:

Mix all the vegetables. Lay them on tortilla chips in separate individual plates. Top with chopped green onion, minced red onion, cheese, salsa and garnish with cilantro.

Or

Mix all the vegetables. Top with chopped green onion, cheese, salsa. Sprinkle on crushed chips and garnish with chopped cilantro and salsa.

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Note:

It’s important to enjoy the salad as soon as it is mixed if you don’t like soggy chips.

Vegetarian Bulgogi Rice Bowl

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Bulgogi is traditionally made with beef, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be a delicious and nutritious vegetarian dish. I cooked mine very mildly spicy because the girls and Peter don’t like their food too hot.  Add chili flakes if you like more heat in the dish as I do.

This is a simple dish to make but very satisfying to eat. I used firm tofu, but extra firm will work well too. I used light soy sauce, but if you want the color of your tofu to be darker to resemble the real bulgogi, use 2 tablespoons light soy sauce and 2 teaspoons dark soy sauce. Go Chu Jang is a very sweet chili sauce. If you don’t like your dish too sweet, you can replace with other mild chili sauce. 

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Vegetarian Bulgogi Rice Bowl

Ingredients:

1 box 14 oz firm tofu, water drained and finely diced

3 stocks green onion, chopped

1 to 1 1/2  teaspoon grated ginger

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 egg + more if serving with sunny side up (Skip if vegan)

1 1/2 teaspoon tapioca, or corn starch

2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons pure dark sesame oil

1 to 2 teaspoons Korean sweet & spicy sauce called Go Chu Jang (replace with other mild chili sauce and add a little more sugar if you don’t have Go Chu Jang)

1 to 2 teaspoons xylitol or brown sugar

1 1/2 tablespoon cooking oil

1/2 carrot, thinly sliced or julienned

1 teaspoon sesame seeds for garnish

Sliced cucumber and/or Kimchi for serving

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Preparation:

Open the tofu package. If the tofu is soaked in water, drain all the water and let it sit on a plate with another plate on top to press more water out.

In a large bowl, mix together tofu, 5 tablespoons chopped green onion, grated ginger, minced garlic, egg, soy sauce, Go Chu Jang, tapioca or corn starch, sesame oil and sugar with your hand. Let marinate for about 10 minutes.

Heat cooking oil in a wok or pan on medium high heat, stir fry the tofu mixture for 3 to 4 minutes until aromatic. Add thinly sliced carrots and stir to mix.

Serve on top of cooked rice, garnish with green onion and more Go Chu Jang if desired. Top with a sunny side up egg to make it a more fulfilling meal.

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Yummy Ketchup Sriracha Prawns with Broccolini

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Audrey left today for a debate conference and I really miss her, especially at dinner time.  She is representing China in the negotiation of the South China Sea dispute.  I was reading up with her on the history of the region and the involved countries.  It is amazing how biased most of the Western publication is against China.  So much of the original Chinese history and geography books and the maps that prove China’s sovereignty rights in the area have been completely ignored by the Western media, which is only interested in portraying China as an aggressor.

Audrey spent almost her entire spring break doing research on the topic.  As she read more and more about the issues, she began to worry, “Philippines and Vietnam are going to gang up on me, mommy. And Malaysia is not exactly on my side either.” Then she found out about the Gulf of Tonkin Agreement between China and Vietnam and got really excited.  She said, “We have both been benefitting a great deal from this bilateral collaboration. We can do it again!”  (Lately I have often been surprised by her casually uttering terms such as “bilateral collaboration.” I guess the debate lessons are paying off.) Audrey quickly dashed an email to Vietnam, expressing her wish to repeat the same success. As she found out more about the interdependence of the the nations involved, she wrote a few more emails to Malaysia and to South Korea.

The first text I received from her after she landed in her seaside destination was: “Landed safely. Lobbying went well on the flight.”  I had to laugh.  The Chinese diplomats should be envious of my 13-year-old girl, who seems to possess a natural sense of fairness and talent for negotiation and peacemaking.

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Audrey doing research with the help of a little home-made ice cream

Angela is working tonight at the take-out restaurant and will not have dinner at home.  I made this absolutely delicious prawn dish for the empty nesters. 

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Ketchup Sriracha Prawns with Garlic Broccolini

Ingredients:

1.4 pound large prawns, shelled and deveined

2 to 3 tablespoons cooking oil

3 tablespoon ketchup

1 1/2 teaspoon Sriracha sauce

1 teaspoon xylitol or sugar

2 teaspoon low sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon packed minced garlic

1 tablespoon minced or graded ginger

3 stocks green onion, chopped

1 teaspoon tapioca or corn starch

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon Shao Xing cooking wine

Ingredients for Broccolini:

2 bunches broccolini

1 tablespoon cooking oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

Salt to taste.

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Preparation for Broccolini:

Remove rough parts of broccolini.

Heat oil in a wok or pan on medium high. Add minced garlic and stir until aromatic.  Add broccolini and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes or until tender. Add salt and stir for a few more seconds. Set aside.

Preparation for Prawns:

Peel and devein the prawns.

Add 1 teaspoon salt to the raw prawn and squeeze and stir with your hand for a minute.

Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes and rinse the prawn in cold water.

Add the Shao Xing wine and let marinate in the fridge for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the Ketchup, Sriracha, soy sauce and xylitol or sugar in a small bowl. Set aside.

Pat dry the prawns with paper towel and add mix with tapioca or corn starch.

Heat 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoon oil in a non-stick pan on medium high. Pan fry the prawn to about 85% done on both sides. Scoop out and set aside.

Add another 1 tablespoon oil to the pan and sauté the minced garlic, green onion and ginger until aromatic, about 30 seconds to a minute.

Add the prawns back in and pour in the Ketchup Sriracha mixture.  Stir for 30 seconds to a minute and serve hot with garlic broccolini and rice.

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Coconut black Rice Pudding with Fresh Mangos

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I went to a Vietnamese Chinese market yesterday and bought some beautiful and delicious tropical fruits.  The mangos reminded me of the ones that I used to buy in Malaysia when I was filming Marco Polo.  This morning, I made a coconut black rice pudding with fresh mangos for breakfast. Rice with crushed peanuts is a usual staple for breakfast in Southeast Asia. It is as ordinary as oatmeal in the West.  Of course you can also serve this rice pudding as a dessert.  For me, coconut and mango is a perfect combination, like peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and chocolate.

I made my rice in the automatic rice cooker as I sliced the fruits. It’s simple and easy. I used the coconut milk beverage from the carton to cook the rice. And I drizzled about 2 to 3 tablespoons full fat coconut milk from the can on top of the pudding before serving. 

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Coconut Black Rice Pudding with Fresh Mangos

Ingredients:

1 cup of Thai black sweet rice or Forbidden Rice

2 cups coconut milk, beverage from the carton

1/4 cup or more xylitol or sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 to 3 tablespoons full fat coconut milk, can

2 tablespoon crushed peanuts, optional

2 ripe yellow mangos, peeled, pitted and sliced (small, flattened oval shape mangos)

Preparation:

Pour the rice, coconut milk beverage, xylitol or sugar, vanilla in the rice cooker and let soak for 30 minutes before pushing the on button.

When the rice cooker turns to warm, let rice sit for 5 minutes. Scoop rice into serving bowls and top with fresh mango slices, coconut milk from the can and crushed peanuts if using.

If you like your pudding wetter and creamier, you can also pour 1/4 to 1/3 cup of coconut milk from the can into the rice cooker after rice has been cooked. Mix with a non-scratch spatula before scooping into serving bowls.  If you use forbidden rice instead of sticky rice, it tastes better in the creamier version.

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I used the left-over coconut milk from the can and the mango to make coconut mango panna cotta. I will share the recipe another time. 

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Vegan Creamy Cauliflower Soup

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Kale and beans give the creamy soup texture

I love cauliflower for its great versatility, superb nutritional value, low calorie count and its fresh, neutral taste. This seemingly bland vegetable yields to your wishes and can become so many different things in a wide variety of dishes. Mark Twain called it cabbage with a college degree for a good reason. Some of my favorite ways to enjoy cauliflower is Cauliflower Mac & Cheese, Cauliflower Steak, Cauliflower Fried Rice, Venetian Cauliflower and simply Roasted Cauliflower.

Today, I made a deliciously creamy cauliflower soup that does not require any cream. The girls had the Kale and bean version while Peter, who doesn’t like kale had the red pepper swirl version. We have a couple of house guests from LA; the three of us tried and loved both varieties. The recipe makes a huge pot of soup that is enough for 8 to 10 people. If you are a cauliflower fan like I am, give this a try. If you are not a strict vegetarian or vegan, you should try it with chicken broth and Better Than Bouillon. It’s even more flavorful this way.

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Red pepper sauce gives it a kick and a vibrant splash of color

Ingredients:

1 large Onion (chopped)

5 cloves garlic (chopped)

1 1/2 cauliflower, chopped

1 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon coriander

8 cups Vegetable Stock, or chicken broth if not vegetarian

2 to 3 tablespoon Extra virgin olive oil for sautéing

1 tablespoon organic reduced sodium Better Than Bouillon Roasted Chicken Base (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

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For the Kale and Bean Version:

1 bunch Kale, stemmed and cut into thin ribbons

1 15 .5-ounce kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil for sautéing

Salt and pepper to taste

For the Red Pepper Swirl Version:

2 red bell peppers

2 red jalapeno peppers, seeded

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/4 teaspoon Cayenne

1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil for sautéing

Salt and Pepper to taste

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Preparation:

Place a heavy bottomed soup pot over medium-high to high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and then toss in the garlic, stir for 1 minute, then add onion. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until aromatic. Add the cauliflower, the Better Than Bouillon (if using), coriander and oregano, stir for another 2 to 3 minutes.

Pour the vegetable stock or chicken broth over the cauliflower and bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 8 minutes or so, or until the cauliflower is fork tender.

Let cool for a few minutes before transferring to a blender and working in batches until the content is creamy and smooth. I used Vitamix.

Pour the blended cauliflower into another heavy bottomed soup pot. Taste to adjust saltiness and flavor.

For the Kale & Bean Version:

Over medium high, sauté the kale with a tablespoon of olive oil in a wok or pan for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the beans and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes.

Add sautéd kale and beans into the cauliflower soup.

Heat 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil in a wok or pan on medium high. Add paprika, cayenne and Sriracha; stir for a minute. Add in chopped peppers and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes or until soft.

Let cool for a couple of minutes before transferring to the blender and blend until smooth and creamy.

Scoop 2 tablespoons of the red pepper sauce on top of the cauliflower soup and use a chopstick or the butt end of the fork to make pattern.

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Freekeh Tabbouleh: Or, Shout Your Rejection

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When Angela was in third grade, she started going with her classmates to Stanford football games. Although she didn’t understand football, she loved the veggie burgers and tailgate parties, and she quickly became a Stanford fan. When she learned that Stanford was considered by many to be the best university in the world, she decided – at age eight – that she wanted to be a Cardinal someday. She wore Stanford sweatshirts and Stanford sweatpants and we sent her to programs at Stanford over the summer. My friend whose daughter went to Stanford met Angela, recognized her intensity and tenacity, and declared that Angela would go to Stanford someday.

On December 11, 2015, Angela’s world came to an end. She learned that she had been rejected by Stanford despite her 2380 SAT, 5s on all 5 AP exams, stellar GPA, and long list of extracurriculars and community service hours. She was heartbroken, and in the days and nights after she was rejected, she couldn’t stop crying. “Why would they do that to me?” she asked. “What did I do wrong?”

Come March, the next two college decisions she received were both waitlists. Zero for three. We were all in full panic mode. Most of her friends have already committed to their early decision colleges, and she was the only one in her friend group left hanging.

But the world did not end. That was the lesson. Life must go on and you persevere: there were classes to attend, assignments to complete, friendships to be enjoyed, and laughter to be shared. 

On the last day of March, Angela was accepted to Harvard; maybe she can’t be a Cardinal, but she will wear Crimson. To me, it doesn’t matter where she goes to school. I thought about the possibility of her being rejected by all the elite colleges. She’d still be my precious Angela with her intelligence, her perseverance, her achievements, regardless of whether they will shine through the capricious haze of the college admissions process.

We feel extremely grateful for how things have turned out for Angela. We realize that there will be many more new challenges and new setbacks in her life. We hope that she will always bravely carry on no matter what happens. Ultimately, life obliges us only one thing: to carry on.

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Anyway, you’re probably tired of my humble-bragging about Angela so here’s some food. This is a really simple, but very delicious and satisfying vegan recipe. Well, it can be vegan, but I cheated today. I cooked the freekeh with chicken broth. No one in the household is religiously vegetarian. Angela cannot stand the taste and smell of meat or seafood.  Audrey became vegetarian after she saw the film Food Inc.. Peter loves all meats and seafood, but is cutting back because I make him. I used to be a shameless pork lover, but find myself eating less and less meat as I age.

I have shared a Mediterranean Freekeh Salad and a Freekeh Pilaf with Beets in previous blogs and talked about what a great grain it is in terms of both nutrition and taste. An ancient grain from a distant land, it was food fit for the Pharaohs. If you haven’t yet tried it, you are in for a treat. 

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Tabbouleh with Freekeh and Walnuts

Ingredients:

1 1/2 heaping cup cooked fresh (I cooked mine in the rice cooker)

1 1/2 heaping cup chopped parsley

1 cup quartered cherry tomatoes

1 cup seeded diced cucumber

1/4 cup thinly sliced radishes

20 black olives, chopped

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

3/4 cup toasted walnuts

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Preparation:

Cook freekeh according to package direction. It is about 1 cup freekeh to 2 cups liquid.

Prepare the vegetables while the freekeh cooks.

Mix the cooked and cooled freekeh with the vegetables, olives, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Mix in the walnuts right before serving.

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