By Tim Scallon, MS RDN LD
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
I recently had the opportunity to participate in an archeological field day in the Nacogdoches area where we did preliminary digging at a site not previously explored. It is the site of a Caddo Indian village probably dating before the 1600s. While standing on this hillside surrounded by forest, my imagination took me back to life in that village. No doubt, many families spent time here sitting around fires, sharing meals and telling stories. The Caddo were farmers and supplemented their vegetable diet with game. Their meals may well have included a pot of stewed vegetables flavored with some meat. A simple recipe with only a few ingredients can benefit from layers of flavors.
You have heard me mention layering flavors in past articles. This is a popular culinary idea that refers to adding multiple flavors in a dish to deepen and expand the complexity of the overall end product. This can be achieved by combining herbs and spices or it can involve cooking techniques such as caramelizing vegetables that bring out various flavors. Sauteing onions in butter or olive oil until browned chemically changes the food and brings out a sweet flavor. Carrots become sweeter. Radishes that are typically a little peppery become a delicate sweet when caramelized. You first taste the sweet, then the softness of the butter and this flavor combines with other flavors that you have layered in the dish.
Another technique to layer flavors is to cook batches of ingredients in the same pan. Each time you remove a batch of ingredients that have reached the desired doneness, you leave flavors in the pan in which to cook the next batch. This month’s healthy dish combines seasoned lean ground beef with nutrient-dense veggies that are batch cooked to create a flavorful and satisfying meal.
The meat and potatoes provide flavor, texture and satiety. If you use ground beef of lesser than 90% lean i.e., an 80/20 grind, you will not need to add oil before cooking the potatoes. Rather you will need to spoon some out leaving about a tablespoon for the potatoes. Otherwise, your dish will be greasy affecting both texture and flavor. When browning the potatoes, don’t be afraid of letting them turn dark brown on some sides. This browning is another layer of flavor that you are building in the pan.
The seasonings in this dish are not Caddo but call back to Mediterranean cuisine. Thyme, an herb that is often overlooked on our spice rack, pairs very well with garlic, salt and pepper and particularly with beef. This bouquet of flavors is better if salt is not over used. Salt is a unique spice in that a little enhances other flavors. But beware. Too much salt can easily cover up the symphony you are creating. Who wants an orchestra where all you hear are clarinets? You will know when you have added enough salt if you can taste a balance of different flavors.
Kale or collard greens hold up well to sautéing providing texture and color. The tomatoes and parsley add flavor and color. A fascinating note about food and nutrition is that the very pigments that color vegetables are themselves often the active ingredients that provide health benefits. Dark greens, tomatoes, parsley, peppers add eye appeal, flavor and texture but also lend a whole cornucopia of nutrients and beneficial bioactive elements.
The Caddo probably had fewer ingredient options than today but given that they lived here for over 1000 years, it is reasonable to assume that they had their own ways of layering flavors to improve meal enjoyment. Wonder what stories those hills in East Texas could tell?
Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian nutritionist with years of experience practicing nutrition therapy in local hospitals and clinics, teaching nutrition and developing healthy recipes. He helped create the popular TV show Memorial Cooking Innovations celebrating the world of food and health. Memorial Cooking Innovations is produced by CHI St. Luke’s Health and the City of Lufkin. It has featured in 62 cities and is locally available on Sudden Link cable TV channels and online at www.chistlukeshealthmemorial.org.
Seasoned Beef and Vegetable Skillet
Serving Size: 1/6th of the recipe
— 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
— 1 pound 90% lean ground beef
— 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
— 2 teaspoons ground cumin
— 1 tablespoon oregano
— 1 tablespoon thyme
— 1 teaspoon garlic powder
— 1 teaspoon salt
— 1 teaspoon black pepper
— 3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes (~1 pound), diced ½ inch
— 1 large onion, diced
— 1 poblano pepper, seeded and diced
— ½ - 1 bunch kale or collard greens (~4-6 leaves), stemmed and chopped
— 1 large garden-fresh tomato, diced
— 2 tablespoons parsley, diced
— 1 green onion thinly sliced crosswise
• Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the beef, Worcestershire and spices and stir often to break up the meat. Cook until browned, ~6 minutes. Reserve the meat to a large bowl and cover to keep warm.
• Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan drippings. Stir in the potatoes and cook until they are tender and begin to caramelize, ~15 minutes. Allow the potatoes to get some browning as this adds additional flavor. Lightly salt the potatoes and reserve to the bowl with the beef.
• Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the skillet over medium heat. Stir in the onion and poblano and sauté until tender and browned, ~10 minutes. Scrape up browned bits of potato and beef from the bottom of the pan as you sauté. Some of the onions may start to look a little burned. Remember, browning means flavor. Stir in the greens, tomatoes and parsley, lightly salt them and cook until the greens are wilted and the tomatoes are heated through. Return the beef and potatoes to the pan and stir bringing your dish to serving temperature. Allow a few minutes for the flavors to blend. Garnish with green onions and serve with your favorite salsa and tortilla chips.
Notes: If using a higher fat ground beef i.e., 80/20 it is not necessary to add the third tablespoon of oil. Rather you will need to remove all but a tablespoon of the drippings before sauteing the potatoes. The meat is seasoned. Adding a light sprinkle of salt to the other batches will bring out the flavors.
Exchanges per serving: 3 lean meats, 1½ starches, 2 vegetables, 1½ fats. Nutrients per serving: Calories: 385, Calories from fat: 135, Total Fat: 15g, Cholesterol: 49mg, Sodium: 498mg, Total Carbohydrate: 43g, Dietary Fiber: 7g, Protein: 22g