“Paleo Perfected” by America’s Test Kitchen. $26.95

I’ve long been conscious of the in-your-face carbohydrates, like rice, pasta and potatoes, but around the beginning of the year I started to make a concerted effort to also avoid the ones that are otherwise considered healthy, like apples, chickpeas and yogurt.

One plus side of a low-carb diet – on top of filling up quicker and feeling lighter – is that you’re supposed to eat more fat, so I don’t have to hesitate before topping something with cheese.

The downside is that it takes a bit more creativity to put together a complete meal. There are only so many times you can eat zucchini “noodles” or cauliflower “rice.”

Luckily, the popularity of the paleo diet – which largely overlaps with a low-carb one – bore books upon blogs of new recipes. “Paleo Perfected” by America’s Test Kitchen is the best compilation I’ve seen, complete with pictures for every recipe.

While it does sport those zucchini noodles on the cover and suggests serving dishes over cauliflower rice, the recipes in the book offer ways to infuse flavor into those foods that I never would have imagined.

Herbs, spices and shallots can turn ground-up cauliflower into a curried version of the fake rice, and zucchini noodles can be used to replace pasta in more ways than under red sauce. With tahini and sesame seeds, they can turn into a Asian noodle salad, or they can take the place of egg noodles in chicken soup.

Soups are one of the meals I found easiest to adapt to a low-carb diet. Usually, all it takes is leaving out an ingredient and, most of the time, I didn’t miss it.

Although I eventually gave up a strict adherence to the diet, that trick has stuck with me.

While many southwestern chicken soup recipes call for rice, black beans or corn, along with tortilla strips on top, the one in “Paleo Perfected” packs all the flavor without the carbs, or corresponding calories. The heat from the spices and the jalapeño is balanced by the toppings – coolness from the avocado, acid from the lime and freshness from the radishes and cilantro.

Since I don’t have a slow cooker, I simply seared, then simmered the seasoned chicken in water until it was ready to shred, then used that water as the base for the soup, with some store-brought broth added. (The recipe calls for the book’s paleo chicken broth, which is just water, chicken, olive oil, salt and bay leaves, all strained.)

Although many of the recipes in “Paleo Perfected” call for ingredients that I imagine only dedicated paleo followers will have, like coconut aminos and tapioca flour, there are many good suggestions, from stuffed mushrooms to garlicky Swiss chard, that would make for healthier appetizers to serve to carb-conscious guests or more well-rounded meals for dieters sick of grilled chicken salad.

SLOW-COOKER SOUTHWESTERN CHICKEN SOUP

For the paleo broth the recipe calls for, I used water from cooking the chicken and some store-bought broth. I did not use a slow-cooker. Instead, I seasoned the chicken and seared it in oil in the bottom of a saucepan, then covered it with water and simmered it until it was cooked through. I then added the flavored onion-chile mixture to the pot, and I skipped step 2. On the stovetop, I cooked my soup for another half-hour.

Serves 6-8

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 onions, chopped fine

1 jalapeño chile, stemmed, seeded and minced

Kosher salt and pepper

3 tablespoons tomato paste

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1½ teaspoons chipotle chile powder

8 cups paleo chicken broth

3 (12-ounce) bone-in split chicken breasts, trimmed

1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch thick

2 tomatoes, cored and chopped

2 avocados, halved, pitted, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

4 radishes, trimmed and sliced thin

½ cup cilantro leaves

Lime wedges, to serve

1. Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, jalapeño and 1 tablespoon salt and cook until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, garlic, oregano, cumin and chile powder and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in 1 cup broth, scraping up any brown bits stuck to the skillet; transfer the mixture to slow-cooker.

2. Stir remaining 7 cups broth into slow cooker. Season chicken with salt and pepper and nestle into slow cooker. Cover and cook until chicken is tender, 3 to 5 hours on low.

3. Transfer chicken to cutting board, let cool slightly, then shred into bite-sized pieces using 2 forks; discard skin and bones.

4. Using wide, shallow spoon, skim excess fat from surface of soup. Stir in zucchini, cover, and cook on high until tender, about 30 minutes.

5. Stir in shredded chicken and let sit until heated through, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Top individual portions with tomatoes, avocados, radishes and cilantro and serve with lime wedges.


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