I’m delighted to join the Millstone News team as a contributor to the Food Section. I’m an avid cook, and, due to my husband’s life-threatening allergies to food additives and preservatives, I cook with all-natural ingredients. This can be a challenge; many common ingredients, including butter, cheese, wine vinegars, spices, dried fruits, mustards and sauces—to name just a few—often contain artificial colour, artificial flavour, sulphites and preservatives such as sodium benzoate. As for ready-made or processed foods, they are often loaded with artificial ingredients, so they are off-limits in our house. Fortunately, it is possible to cook without additives and preservatives. It requires lots of label reading and a little ingenuity. It’s also becoming easier to find all-natural products, as more consumers are demanding food without added chemicals.
I’ve been writing a food blog called Eye For a Recipe (www.eyeforarecipe.ca) for more than two years. It features recipes from published sources, such as food magazines and websites, with advice on how to prepare them without using artificial ingredients. I’m very pleased to share some of these old and new favourite recipes with you via the Millstone News. I look forward to your feedback, including any questions you may have on where to find all-natural products or on how to prepare all-natural substitutions for various ingredients.
My first recipe for Millstone News is a grilled yam salad from the Earthbound Farm Organic website (www.ebfarm.com). Peeled yam slices are parboiled, grilled and then placed atop a lovely mixture of baby spinach, red onion, toasted pine nuts and feta cheese. The balsamic/honey/mustard dressing is a perfect complement to the sweet potatoes, tangy cheese and pungent onion. Don’t overcook the yam slices in the water or they will fall apart. Remove them from the boiling water with a slotted spoon, as pouring them into a sieve will also break the slices. This is a great side dish for barbecued steak, chicken or ribs and is hearty enough to serve as a vegetarian entrée.
Avoiding Additives and Preservatives
The ingredients to watch out for in this recipe are the balsamic vinegar, feta cheese and mustard. Look for balsamic vinegar that contains only naturally occurring sulphites; I am currently using Acropolis Organics brand, which also has no preservatives, additives or dyes. When I haven’t been able to find balsamic vinegar with no sulphites added, I’ve improvised by adding brown sugar to all-natural red wine vinegar. There are a number of brands of feta, such as President’s Choice, that contain only natural ingredients. Mustard often contains colour, sulphites and sodium benzoate. I use President’s Choice Old-Fashioned Dijon or Simply Natural Organics Prepared Dijon, which are additive and colour-free. If the label on the mustard says it includes white wine as an ingredient, be aware that the white wine used may contain added sulphites.
Grilled yam salad
- 1 lb yams (454 grams), peeled and cut into ¼-inch (0.64 cm) thick slices
- ½ tsp (2 ml) salt
- 1½ tbsp (22.5 ml) olive oil
- 3 tbsp (45 ml) balsamic vinegar
- 2 tbsp mild honey (25 ml)
- 1 tbsp (15 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ tbsp (7.5 ml) whole grain mustard
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
- 5 oz (142 grams) baby spinach
- ½ small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- ½ cup (125 ml) crumbled feta cheese
- ¼ cup (50 ml) toasted pine nuts
Bring 8 cups (2 litres) of water to a boil in a large saucepan and add the salt. Add the yam slices and simmer until just tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain the slices in a single layer until cool.
Brush the slices with the 1½ tablespoons of olive oil and then cook them in a ridged grill pan over high heat (or on a barbecue) until grill marks appear, 2 to 3 minutes. Carefully turn the slices and cook on the other side for 1 minute. Set aside to cool.
While the yams are cooling, make the dressing by whisking together the balsamic vinegar, honey, olive oil and mustard in a small bowl. Taste and season with salt and pepper as you like. Set aside.
When the yams are cool enough to handle, cut the slices in halves or quarters, depending on their size.
Place the spinach and onion in a large bowl and toss. Add half of the balsamic dressing and toss again. Transfer the greens to a large serving platter and scatter the feta and pine nuts over the salad. Add the yams and drizzle them with some of the remaining dressing. Serve immediately.