Even people jaded by an overload of popular diet “dos and don’ts” might have a hard time rejecting the recipes and style of Michelle Tam, dubbed “the Martha Stewart of paleo” by The New York Times.
Her relaxed and cheerful approach to paleo eating — along with a delicious menu — drew a full house to Fresh Starts Chef Events, where she greeted a mix of ardent fans and newbies among the guests.
“Some people are hard-core,” she explains, noting “paleo” eating – referring to what was available in the Paleolithic era – focuses on meat and vegetables along with dropping gluten, most grains, processed sugar and most dairy items.
“You can be willing to give up salt and potatoes,” Tam says, “but I reside in a happy medium. It should be delicious, shouldn’t hurt your body and be sustainable for the long term. It’s really about finding out what works for you and what doesn’t work.”
Her event opened with Tostones with Mango & Avocado Salsa, letting fried green plaintains stand in for potato or corn chips. They didn’t last long at most tables.
The author of the award-winning “Nom Nom Paleo” blog and a best-selling cookbook prepared a hearty second course of Sunnyside Salad topped by Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus, relying on simple ingredients: lettuce, egg, carrot, asparagus and prosciutto.
To crisp the whites of the egg that tops the salad, Michelle uses a piping-hot pan and bastes with the hot oil as it cooks. She mostly uses avocado oil or ghee, a clarified butter, for high-heat frying.
The simple broiled asparagus can be a separate appetizer or, atop the salad, combine for a light supper. Sunnyside Salad sometimes serves as her breakfast, she adds.
As a busy mom, Michelle recommends a pressure cooker as a kitchen essential to accommodate tougher cuts of meat like short ribs or pork butt in a shorter time frame. Her main course of Korean Braised Short Ribs also can go into a traditional slow cooker.
Like many of her recipes, she says the short ribs take a well-loved prescription and “paleo-ify” it, removing gluten and sugar. The Cauliflower Fried “Rice” offered with the main course has become a staple of many paleo devotees, substituting for a common starch and easily incorporating many Asian flavors.
Two top ingredients for Michelle are Asian fish sauce and coconut aminos. The first she describes as “magical,” saying, “It smells awful, but just a little bit can boost the flavor.” She uses coconut aminos, the fermented sap of the coconut palm, as a gluten-free replacement for soy sauce.
While she demonstrated her dishes, students from Fresh Starts Culinary Academy prepared them and served the courses to guests. “I’m a home cook, not a chef. This crew has more training than I do,” Michelle told the audience.
A Mexican Chocolate Pot de Creme capped the menu, her response to the question of whether paleo fans can eat dessert. She calls for dark chocolate (70 to 85% cacao) and just a bit of coconut cream with palm sugar on top, adding ““It’s high fat but just a little bit is satisfying.”
With a second cookbook in the works and frequent Facebook Live videos that engage a large online fan base with her cooking, it seems the fans of Nom Nom Paleo are far from satisfied yet. Try her recipe for Cauliflower Fried “Rice” for a taste of paleo eating. — Contributed by Maura Thurman with photos courtesy of Neely Wang.
Cauliflower Fried “Rice” — Serves 6
1 head of cauliflower, separated in florets
3 slices uncured bacon, diced
2 large eggs
1-inch knob of ginger
1 small onion, minced
4 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 to 2 tablespoons coconut aminos
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
A splash of Red Boat Fish Sauce
A splash of coconut vinegar (optional)
1. First, pulse the cauliflower in a food processor until the pieces are the size of rice and chop the rest of the ingredients.
2. Toss the diced bacon into a large cast iron skillet over medium heat and fry until the bits are crispy. While the bacon cooks, whisk the two eggs in a small bowl with some salt and pepper to taste. When the bacon is done, move to a plate for later.
3. Pour the whisked eggs into the hot bacon grease and fry a thin egg omelet. Take the egg out of the pan, slice thinly, and set aside.