When I was a kid, food was not just a thing in our house — it was the thing.
My family’s heritage is a blend of Lebanese, Italian, Slovak, and Dutch, so I was eating foods like anchovy-stuffed dough balls before I could read. Everyone in my family was an excellent cook, and you could say that playing around with flavors from other countries was our family hobby. I clamored for cumin when most kids were pleading for pancakes.
Not surprisingly, as an adult cook and cookbook author, my personal style gravitates toward the multicultural. I’ve found that by focusing on flavor — playing around with spices and sauces and experimenting with what might be unfamiliar or unexpected — cooking becomes an adventure, rather than a chore.
When you start with the basics and concentrate on making the flavors bold and the colors vibrant, you can put meals together quickly while still achieving stunning results.
Smoked Salmon and Hard-Boiled Egg Salad
This protein-rich Icelandic breakfast will keep you energized for whatever adventure your day has in store (though you can certainly enjoy this dish any time of day).
Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes
Cook time: Nine minutes plus time to boil water
- 4 cups water
- 8 large eggs
- 12 oz. smoked salmon, cut into slices
- 2 medium cucumbers, sliced
- Dill pickles (spears or chips), cut into bite-sized slices
- Homemade mayo (recipe below)
- A few sprigs fresh dill, minced
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
- Salt and pepper to taste
• Place water in a medium saucepan, cover, and bring to a rolling boil over high heat.
• Use a spoon to lower the eggs one at a time into the water. Cover and reduce heat to low, and simmer the eggs for nine minutes — exactly! This produces whites that are firm and yolks that are just-gelled.
• When the eggs are finished cooking, remove them from the pot with a slotted spoon and lower into a large bowl filled with ice and cold water. Let them chill for five minutes, then peel and cut in half.
• To serve, arrange the salmon and veggies on a serving platter or individual plates. Add the eggs, and top with a dollop of mayo. Sprinkle with dill and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Tip: Made with olive or avocado oil as its base, this mayo is healthier than store-bought. Get the recipe below.
Tip: Smoked salmon is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to better brain function.
Tropical Tacos With Jicama Slaw
The sharp contrast of key flavors and textures is what makes some foods so irresistible. These tacos juxtapose the tender consistency of ground pork (you could also use ground chicken or turkey) with a crisp slaw, and then contrast the zingy bite of lime and island spices with sweet and cool mango.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
- 1 large carrot, peeled and grated
- 1/2 small jicama, peeled and grated
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced
- 1 lime, zest and juice
- 2 tsp. coconut oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, minced
- 1 medium jalapeño, minced
- 1 1/2 lb. ground pork
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 tsp. powdered ginger
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
- 1 ripe mango, peeled and diced
- 1 tbs. coconut aminos
- 4 scallions, sliced, dark-green parts only
- 1 head butter or Boston lettuce, leaves separated
• For the slaw, place the grated carrot and jicama, minced cilantro, and lime juice and zest in a medium bowl. Toss to mix.
• For the meat, warm the coconut oil in a large, well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and jalapeño to the skillet with a pinch of salt, toss to coat in oil, and cook until soft, five to seven minutes. Crumble the pork into the skillet and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until it’s no longer pink.
• Crush the garlic in a small bowl and add the ginger, salt, pepper, and allspice. Add the mixture to the meat and combine.
• Add diced mango and coconut aminos to the pan and stir again. Let the flavors meld, about five minutes.
• Garnish the pork with the sliced scallions. Serve the meat and slaw family-style in large bowls, letting your dining companions make their own tacos with the lettuce leaves.
Tip: Jicama is a good source of vitamin C and antioxidants, as well as soluble and insoluble fiber.
Green Goddess Salad
Herbaceous and creamy, this dressing is loaded with flavor, thanks to a surprising ingredient — anchovy paste — that adds an underlying richness and makes everything it touches better (without any fishiness).
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 to 20 minutes
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (4 to 6 oz. each)
- 2 cups water
- 1 tbs. salt
- 1 lemon, sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- 1 large egg yolk
- 2 tbs. plus 1/2 cup light-tasting olive or avocado oil
- 2 tbs. lemon juice
- 2 anchovy fillets or 2 tsp. anchovy paste
- 1/4 cup (packed) fresh parsley leaves, minced
- 2 tbs. dried chives
- 1 tbs. dried tarragon leaves
- 2 heads butter lettuce
- 4 scallions, green and white parts, thinly sliced
- 1 large avocado, thinly sliced
- 1 large seedless cucumber, thinly sliced
• Pound the chicken to 1/2-inch thickness between two sheets of plastic wrap. In a large saucepan, combine the chicken, water, salt, lemon slices, and two cloves garlic. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on low for 15 to 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the chicken continue to cook while you make the rest of the salad.
• For the dressing, place the third crushed garlic clove in a pint-size Mason jar. Add the egg yolk, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the lemon juice, and anchovies. Whirl with an immersion blender until puréed. With the blender running inside the jar, add the remaining 1/2 cup oil and blend until thickened. (You can do this in a regular blender as well.) Stir the minced parsley into the dressing, along with the chives and tarragon. Place in the fridge to chill.
• To serve, tear the butter lettuce into bite-sized pieces and arrange on individual serving plates. Divide the scallions, avocado, and cucumber among the plates. Remove the chicken from the pan and pat it dry. Cut the chicken crosswise into slices and arrange on top of the salads. Dollop with dressing or present it on the side.
Tip: Add shredded carrots, slivered red bell peppers, and sliced purple cabbage to transform this into a more colorful confetti salad.
Thai Basil Beef
This stir-fry features the quintessential interplay of sour, sweet, salty, bitter, and spicy flavors that characterize authentic Thai cooking. You can transform it into a creamy curry by adding unsweetened coconut milk at the end.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 lb. green beans
- 3/4 lb. Japanese eggplant, cut into strips
- 2 tsp. coconut oil
- 1 large red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 lb. ground beef
- 1 small jalapeño, sliced
- 1 tsp. salt
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 lime
- 1 tbs. fish sauce
- 2 tbs. coconut aminos
- 4 scallions, sliced
- Generous handful fresh basil leaves
• Boil the water in a large, well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over high heat. Add the green beans and eggplant, cover the pan, and steam the veggies until they’re just tender, about four minutes. Transfer the vegetables to a large bowl and empty out the water.
• Pour the coconut oil into the skillet and warm the pan over medium-high heat. Add the bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until just soft and beginning to get brown spots, two minutes. Transfer the pepper to the bowl with the beans.
• Return the skillet to the heat; add the ground beef, jalapeño, and salt. Cook until the meat is browned and sizzling.
• Peel and crush the garlic and place it in a small bowl. Squeeze the juice of the lime into the bowl and add the fish sauce and coconut aminos. Whisk with a fork to combine.
• Return the veggies to the skillet and use two wooden spoons to toss them with the meat. Add the sauce and stir to coat the meat and veggies. Cook until the sauce browns and thickens. Turn off the heat, add the scallions and basil to the pan, and toss to combine.
• Serve with a spritz of lime juice for an extra punch.
Tip: Basil is an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as the minerals manganese and copper.
Reprinted with permission from Well Fed Weeknights: Complete Paleo Meals in 45 Minutes or Less by Melissa Joulwan, photography by David Humphreys, published on November 1, 2016, by Greenleaf Book Group Press. Copyright © 2016 by Melissa Joulwan.
Why No Numbers? Readers sometimes ask us why we don’t publish nutrition information with our recipes. We believe that (barring specific medical advice to the contrary) if you’re eating primarily whole, healthy foods — an array of sustainably raised vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, meats, fish, eggs, whole-kernel grains, and healthy fats and oils — you probably don’t need to stress about the numbers. We prefer to focus on food quality and trust our bodies to tell us what we need. — The Editors
Lemon-Garlic Chicken Thighs With Fennel
This sauté is a tasty example of how fresh, flavorful ingredients combine to create something special. The licorice quality of the fennel can be surprising, but balanced with garlic and lemon, it’s delightful and satisfying.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
- 2 tsp. ghee
- 3 tbs. almond flour
- 1 tsp. plus 1 pinch salt
- 1 1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
- 2 to 4 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
- 2 large fennel bulbs, sliced crosswise into strips
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
- 3 tbs. fennel fronds, minced
- 1/2 lemon
• To make almond “dust,” warm the ghee in a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the almond flour and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the flour is toasty brown, about two minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool. As the mixture cools, the fat will solidify and the almond dust will become crumbly.
• Slice the chicken thighs into 1/4-inch-wide strips and toss with salt and pepper.
• Warm 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and toss to coat in oil. Then spread in a single layer; cook undisturbed for three minutes. Flip the chicken with a spatula, separating the pieces, and cook an additional three minutes. Cook until the chicken is browned and sizzling on all sides, five to six minutes more. Transfer to a plate using a slotted spoon.
• Add the fennel to the skillet, and toss to coat it in the remaining chicken fat. (If there is not enough fat, first add 1 tablespoon olive oil and warm it over medium-high heat for two to three minutes.) Cover the pan and reduce the heat to medium; cook fennel for two minutes.
• Remove the lid from the skillet and sauté the fennel until it begins to soften and show a few brown spots. Push the fennel to the side of the pan, add 1 teaspoon olive oil, then drop the crushed garlic and pepper flakes into the oil. Stir to combine.
• Add the chicken and accumulated juices to the pan. Stir to combine and cook for one to two minutes longer, until browned. Remove the skillet from heat, stir in the reserved fennel fronds, and squeeze the juice from the lemon over top.
• Serve divided among individual plates and sprinkled with the almond dust.|
Melissa Joulwan’s Paleo Homemade Mayonnaise
The technique you use to make this popular mayo recipe varies depending on whether you’re using a regular blender or an immersion blender. Experiment with the amount of salt and dry mustard suits your palate.
Prep time: 5 to 10 minutes, plus time to bring the egg and lemon juice to room temperature
- 1 large egg
- 2 tbs. lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup plus 1 cup light-tasting olive oil (not extra virgin) or avocado oil
In a regular blender or food processor:
- Place the egg and lemon juice in a blender or food processor and allow them come to room temperature together, about 30 minutes. Add the mustard powder, salt, and 1/4 cup of the oil. Blend on low for 20 to 30 seconds.
- With the blender on low, very slowly drizzle the remaining 1 cup of oil into the mixture. Pour the oil in the thinnest drizzle you can manage and still have movement in the oil; this should take about three minutes. Do not lose your nerve and dump the remaining oil!
- Use a spatula to transfer to a jar or other container and refrigerate. Your mayo will keep for two weeks in the refrigerator.
Using an immersion blender:
- Place the egg and lemon juice in a wide-mouth Mason jar and allow them to come to room temperature together, about 30 minutes.
- Add the mustard powder, salt, and all of the oil. Blend on low for 30 to 60 seconds.
- Your mayo will keep for two weeks in the refrigerator.