Monday, May 30, 2011

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa (Salsa Verde)

Tomatillos are readily available here in Texas during the spring and summer; I'm not sure how popular they are in other parts of the country. They are widely used in Mexican cooking, most often to make salsa verde, or green salsa.  They grow within a husk, as seen on the left, and the husk splits to reveal the ripe tomatillo, which is usually still green. There are other colors of ripe tomatillos, but I have only ever seen green! 

Ripe tomatillos are firmer and harder than ripe tomatoes, and give this salsa is distinctive sharp, fresh flavor.  

3 pounds ripe tomatillos
2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped jalapeno
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
3 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon Mrs. Dash Extra Spicy Seasoning
3/4 cup vinegar
3/4 cup fresh lime juice

Remove the husks and stems from the tomatillos and wash the fruit. It's not uncommon for mildew to form between the husk and fruit, so be sure to wash it all away!

Roast the tomatillos on a grill or in a heavy pan over high heat.  Turn about every 3 minutes to char all sides- total of about 10-12 minutes.

Once the tomatillos are roasted, place in a pan and cover with foil to continue cooking. Set aside while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

Roast jalapenos over a gas flame until charred.  Cool slightly, then slice, core, and seed.  Chop finely.

Puree tomatillos in food processor.  Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth.  Pour into large saucepan or stock pot.  Bring to boil and cook for 10 minutes.

Ladle hot salsa into hot jars leaving 1/4 headspace.  Wipe rims with a clean paper towel, apply lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.  Remove jars and allow them to cool completely.  Test seals, apply labels, and store for up to 1 year at room temperature.  Best served warm.


Okay, so it's not Cajun! But it IS spicy! And these recipes are VERY low sodium! So, let's DANCE!

It begins with a trip to the farmer's market for fresh tomatoes, onions, jalapeno peppers, and cilantro.  I also found beautiful tomatillos, so we'll make a batch of that, too!

8 pounds fresh tomatoes
1 large red onion, chopped 
1 large yellow onion, chopped 
3 medium white onions, chopped 
1 1/2 cups chopped cilantro, packed 18 cloves garlic, minced 
8-10 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped 
(leave the seeds for more spice) 
1 teaspoon Mrs. Dash Extra Spicy seasoning 
1 1/2 cups red wine or cider vinegar  

Dunk tomatoes into boiling water until skins begin to crack.  Cool in cold water. Peel and core tomatoes, dice into 1/4 dice. 

Core and chop jalapenos.  Remove the ribs (they're bitter!) Remove all seeds for the mildest salsa; leave more seeds for hotter salsa.  Chop fine- I use a small food processor to get a really fine chop.

Chop onions finely using food processor.  Three different types of onions give this recipe a more rounded flavor- use the same amount in any combination you wish.  The red (purple) onion helps give the jarred product some of its color.

Momma G always taught me that the flattest onions, like the one on the left, had the mildest, sweetest flavor, while the rounder, more bulbous onions, would be stronger and would make you cry more.  You'll have to decide for yourself whether Momma G was right!

Once everything is chopped, combine it all in a big stockpot and bring to a boil.  Cook for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare (12) 1 pint jars for canning by boiling them for 10 minutes.  Boil the lids for 10 minutes as well.

Ladle the hot salsa into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Apply lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.  Remove jars and cool.  Test seals and label jars.

This salsa will keep for up to a year on the shelf in your pantry.  You can serve it hot or cold, with unsalted tortilla chips, for a low sodium treat any time, or you can use it in any recipe that calls for jarred salsa.

Nutrition Facts
Low Sodium Tomato Salsa
 ( 96)  1/4 cup Servings
  Total Fat
0.0 g
  Saturated Fat
0.0 g
  Polyunsaturated Fat
0.0 g
  Monounsaturated Fat
0.0 g
0.0 mg
0.3 mg
21.2 mg
  Total Carbohydrate
1.0 g
  Dietary Fiber
0.2 g
0.3 g
0.1 g

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Momma G's Fried Shrimp

Admittedly, it may seem strange to feature fried shrimp on a healthy cooking site.  I'm not going to claim for a minute that this recipe is low fat! This recipe is, however, quintessentially Cajun, and I have reduced the sodium content, so I think there's a spot for it on here! Plus, it is a very unique recipe handed down from my mother and grandmother, so it's worth preserving for posterity! I've never known anyone else to make shrimp this way, and I've never seen a printed recipe even similar to this!

Momma G only fried about 6 times a year when we were kids. On our birthdays, we could pick whatever we wanted for dinner, and all of us almost always picked fried shrimp. The only other time she fried was on a summer Thursday when one of us was at scout camp.  That  was family day, and Momma would fry up a hamper full of fried chicken and make a picnic for us to have at the campsite.

Any good Southern cook is only as good as her deep fryer, and Momma G was no exception!  She had an old harvest gold fryer that she always complained about bitterly- "why can't someone invent a fryer that can hold its heat?"  She would be so impressed by the modern immersion fryers we can buy today!  Because the heating element and temperature probe are submersed in the oil, they regulate the temperature accurately and recover quickly. Because everything comes apart, clean up is a snap, and all the oily parts can go in the dishwasher! Still, frying is stinky business, so this Queen prefers to do it outdoors!

Momma G's recipe is more of a process, really. To feed her family of 6 hungry men, she would buy 15-20 pounds of shrimp! We all took shifts at the sink, heading and peeling (unless it was YOUR birthday!) and Artie and I usually helped with the breading process. I took my place at the front end, running the food processor, and Artie worked the other end of the line, breading the shrimp and lining them up for the fryer. To bread that many shrimp, Momma would clear all the stuff off of the kitchen counters and line them with waxed paper.  It's been years since I've seen that many shrimp in one place!

Before you start your shrimp, make your cocktail sauce so the flavors can blend.  This is a Louisiana classic, but here's my low salt version:

1 cup Heinz Salt Free Ketchup
2 tablespoons Salt Free Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons reduced sodium Worcestershire sauce 
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish (more or less to taste)
4-5 dashes Tabasco sauce (more or less to taste)

Stir all ingredient together and refrigerate

Now, prepare your shrimp. This can be done earlier in the day if you wish, as long as you have space to refrigerate the shrimp on baking sheets.

Drain, rinse, and pat your shrimp dry on paper towels.  Place them in a large ziploc bag or clean paper bag with about 1/2  cup of all purpose flour.  Shake to coat.

In a blender or food processor, pulverize one sleeve of unsalted-top saltines until they are the consistency of cornmeal.  Repeat with another sleeve.

In a bowl, beat 3 eggs.

Cover a baking pan or cookie sheet with waxed paper or paper towels.

Working a few at a time, dunk the flour covered shrimp into the egg, and then toss into the cracker crumbs. Coat all sides with crumbs and transfer to the prepared pan.  Repeat until all shrimp are coated.

It is impossible to bread the shrimp without breading your fingers as well, so work near the sink and rinse them often!

Once the shrimp are all breaded, deep fry them in batches at 350 degrees, for about 2-3 minutes, until the cracker crumbs are golden brown. 
Drain on clean paper towels and serve hot!

I once asked Momma G why she used crackers to bread her shrimp, and she told me "because that's how my momma taught me to do it, and because they taste good!"  I certainly couldn't argue with that, but now that I am older, and wiser, and have sample many, many, MANY fried shrimp over the course of my lifetime, I can tell you why these are far and away the best fried shrimp in the world!

But first, consider the other contenders. Many people fry their shrimp in cornmeal.  Cornmeal has oil in it, so anything fried in it will become more oily.  Plus, cornmeal has a distinct "corny" flavor that competes with the taste of delicious Gulf shrimp!

Battered shrimp are iffy. Some batters don't stick well. Some batters overpower the shrimp. Some batters absorb too much grease.  And worst of all, many batters don't cook quickly enough.  If you cook them long enough to cook the batter through, the shrimp get rubbery. And if you protect the shrimp with a short cooking time, you risk having raw, wet batter in the interior.  Quelle dommage!

These shrimp are perfect every time, because crackers are already cooked!  The morsels only need to be cooked long enough to brown the crackers slightly; about the same amount of time it takes to cook the shrimp.  Because they are already cooked, they don't absorb as much oil.  And because they are already cooked,  there is never a "raw" center!  

Because Momma G always did, I always fry in peanut oil.  I find that it tends to be the most neutral in fried foods, and doesn't leave an oily "mouth feel" the way canola and corn oil do.  You can use whatever oil you wish, as long as it can be heated to 350 without smoking.

So next time a special birthday or other occasion rolls around, try these! I promise, if you have them once... you will want them again!  

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Crawfish Boil!

Maine has its clambakes, Texas has it's barbeques, and Louisiana has it's crawfish boils- and when it comes down to it, this Cajun Queen thinks we got the good end of the stick!  Crawfish boils are fun, easy, relatively cheap, and deeeee-licious!  If you live in Louisiana, you can find crawfish all over during the season, which traditionally runs from about mid-March to about mid-June. Modern crawfish farmers often supply crawfish to New Orleans early for Mardi Gras, but they are usually really too small and not worth the trouble! You can have live crawfish shipped nationwide by air, and if Southwest Airlines flies to your town you may even be able to get them cheaper here!

Unlike shrimp, it matters not whether your crawfish were wild caught or farm raised, as the culture of both is essentially the same.  Crawfish prosper with a specific pattern of flood and drought to their environs,  the same pattern of flood and drought that produce the best harvests of rice.  Louisiana rice farmers control the flood and drought of their fields with levees and gates, and crawfish farmers use the same technique to provide habitat for their crops.  In fact, many rice farms grow crawfish in between crops!

In addition to crawfish,  you'll need a "boil" to season your pot.  When I was a kid, Momma G always used bagged boil, which is pretty much a gigantic tea-bag filled with dried spices.  In later years, Zatarain's invented liquid boil, which is very concentrated.  Either one of these choices would be appropriate for your low salt boil.  There is also now a powdered or granulated boil, but it is salt based and should be avoided if you are trying to reduce your salt intake.  You will probably want to add some salt to your boil, but those powdered boils are VERY salty!

You'll also need a "rig" to boil your crawfish in sufficient quantities.  When I was a kid, if you needed a rig, your daddy found a friend who worked at a welding shop, or the gas company, or somesuch, and they devised and made a "rig" for you.  Then you went to the restaurant supply store and bought a big pot.  Nowadays, turkey fryers and crawfish cookers are readily available in many cities and online.  Lesson learned this weekend: while you may be able to use the burner from a turkey fryer for crawfish, you really don't want to use the turkey pot like I did.  It's too small to hold a sack of crawfish, and it's too tall to boil efficiently.  Ideally, you want an 80 quart pot that is the same diameter as your burner.

Start your pot early because it takes a long time to get 40 quarts of water to boil!  Fill your pot a little over halfway full, and add 4 boil bags, plus an 8oz bottle of liquid boil.  Quarter 5 onion and 5 lemons and add those to pot. For a normal boil, you would add a box of salt. You may add less than that if you are trying to reduce sodium. 

Crawfish need to be purged in salt water before you cook them. Use a clean plastic trash can, empty an entire box of salt in the bottom, and fill about 3/4 with water.  Careful release the crawfish into the salt water.. They will immediately begin to spit all the mud out of their systems, and the water will foul with mud.  Once the water has darkened, empty it out, rinse the crawfish, and fill again with fresh water.  If the crawfish continue to purge and foul the water,  empty, rinse, and fill again.

You'll also want corn and potatoes to finish out your meal.  Use the smallest red new potatoes you can find, or cut larger ones in half or even quarters.  You can use fresh corn or frozen, and traditionally the cobs are cut in half.  

Once your water is at a rolling boil and your bugs are purged, place the potatoes in the basket of your cooker and boil them for about 10 minutes (they take longer to cook than the crawfish!)  After that time, carefully remove the basket from the boiling water, drain the crawfish, and add them to the basket. (Watch for escapees!)  Return the basket to the boiling water, add the corn, and watch for it to come back to a boil.  Once they are boiling,  time for 7-8 minutes.

When the time is up,  turn off the heat and let the crawfish sit in the boil for 15-30 minutes, depending on how spicy you want them. The longer they sit, the spicier they get! Start testing them at about 10 minutes, and once they are spicy to your liking, dump them out onto a newspaper covered table and start eating!!  If someone wants them saltier and spicier than you cooked them, they can sprinkle their pile with Tony Chachare's seasoning!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Shrimp and Okra with Tomatoes

I know what you're saying: "Gross! I HATE okra! It's slimey!"

Well, you're confused. That's "Oprah", not "Okra"!  And she's not exactly slimey, just a little smarmy.

When I was a kid growing up in South Louisiana, the state legislature subsized farmers who grew okra, and then gave the crop to the various parishes (school districts) for the cafeterias.  The cafetieria ladies would smother it whole with canned tomato sauce, and it did make the slimiest, most disguting glop in the world.  Their step saving method of cooking it whole turned many a Louisiana school child off of okra, which is a shame.  It's full of fiber, easy to grow, holds up fresh for a long time, and freezes well.  And when prepared correctly, it's delicious!

So, here's the recipe:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium bell pepper, diced
1 lb okra, sliced crossways
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 cup seafood or vegetable stock
3 red riped tomatoes, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon Mrs, Dash Garlic and Heb Blend
1/4 -1/2 teaspoon Mrs. Dash Extra Spicy Seasoning
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
Heat large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and swirl to cover pan.  Add onions and peppers; saute until onions are translucent.  Add seasonings and stir completely to distribute.  Add okra and cider vinegar; stir gently to distribute without breaking the slices.  Cook on medium low for a few minutes, Add tomatoes and stock; stir gently.  Don't stir after tomatoes are added and okra begins to cook; overstirring will release the sap from the okra and cause the mixture to get slimy. Simmer for 20-30 minutes until okra slices are tender and mixture has thickened slightly,  Very gently stir in shrimp, simmer for 7-10 minutes, or until shrimp are cooked and no longer translucent.  Serve plain or over rice.

The secret is to get most of your stirring done early, while the okra is still firm.  The more your stir it toward the end, the more sap you release, and the more you risk creating "slime".
The shrimp cook quickly, and will add a bit of their own juice as they cook. Stir at this point just enough to get them submerged.

The finished dish should be spicy, so feel free to add hot sauce if you like it!  This dish is delicious without the shrimp for a great vegetarian meal, and we have kept the fat and sodium content very low!

Nutrition Facts

  8 Servings
Amount Per Serving


  Total Fat
3.0 g

  Saturated Fat
0.5 g

  Polyunsaturated Fat
0.7 g
  Monounsaturated Fat
1.4 g

86.1 mg

93.8 mg

381.1 mg

  Total Carbohydrate
9.2 g
  Dietary Fiber
3.1 g

2.5 g

13.8 g