This is Part II of a multi-part series on real-world paleo cooking, for those of us with jobs and kids and commitments. Part I, “The Functional Paleo Kitchen”, starts here, and my introduction to paleo, “Eat Like A Predator”, is here.
Most recipes are useless for anyone who is employed, except as a treat on special occasions—and ‘paleo’ recipes are no exception.
That’s because most recipes, between the shopping and the cooking, simply require too much of my time. And afterward I always end up with small portions of half-used herbs, fruits, vegetables, and juices slowly rotting in the refrigerator, plus a rack full of spices I’ve used once or twice. It’s the “hot dogs in packages of eight, buns in packages of six” problem, multiplied until it takes over my kitchen. Does this sound familiar?
Here’s my quick and dirty technique for cooking delicious paleo food in a hurry. First I’ll show you the basic version—and then I’ll show you how to adapt it to create many different meals, with only a few small changes to spices and vegetables.
Before You Start: A Reminder About Meat
Meat is the foundation of any paleo diet—specifically, grass-fed red meat. As meat will keep for up to a year in a good freezer (6 months for paper-wrapped, 1 year for vacuum-packed), none of us has any excuse for running out. We do, however, sometimes have this problem:
Defrostration (n.) – the feeling you get when you realize that you’re hungry…and all 90 pounds of that tasty grass-fed meat you bought are still in the freezer.
So whenever you cook meat, get in the habit of pulling more from the freezer. Active paleo eaters can easily wolf down a pound and a half of meat per day!
Quick and Dirty Recipe #1: The Basic Paleo Scramble
Variants on this dish provide a substantial proportion of my calories because it’s easy, fast, and delicious. (Note that you’re never wasting any time: you’re preparing each ingredient while the previous ingredients cook.)
Here’s how I make it!
- Half a pound of fatty hamburger or diced stew meat. Diced leftovers of any meat work fine.
- 3 eggs.
- A potato or sweet potato. (Skip this if you’re zero-carb/VLC. Perfect Health Dieters can use white rice.)
- Vegetables of your choice. I like Anaheim and bell peppers, but if you like broccoli and cucumbers, great! Frozen vegetables work OK too.
- An onion. I recommend yellow onions, as they’re milder and sweeter.
- Several cloves of fresh garlic.
- Butter. Beef tallow is optional but recommended, especially if the meat is lean. Coconut oil is another good option, especially if you’re staying 100% dairy-free…but I think the basic version tastes best with butter.
- ‘Creole seasoning’. Tony Chachere’s is a bit hotter and more straightforward: Zatarain’s is a bit sweeter and more complex.
Important! You should always have all these ingredients in your refrigerator: the veggies are the most perishable item, and they’ll keep for over a week in a sealed container. Everything else, including the onions, will last for several weeks or months.
Also important! This will be needlessly difficult if you don’t have the recommended kitchen tools from Part I.
Note that if you’re a re-enactment purist who refuses to use butter or salt, my recipes will not be of use to you. Personally, I don’t see any convincing arguments against: our kidneys are perfectly capable of excreting excess sodium (lack of potassium is the real issue), and it’s difficult to argue that animal fat is healthy but butter isn’t.
This recipe serves 1 very hungry person, or 2-3 less hungry people. Feel free to adjust quantities according to taste once you’ve got the technique down. And it tastes great as leftovers…just drip a little bit of water on top and microwave it!
- Step 1: Put your 12″ skillet on a stove burner at medium heat. Let it preheat while you…
- Step 2: Get out your vegetable cutting board. Peel a potato and slice it thinly: a few millimeters is about right. If it’s a huge potato, chop the slices into a couple smaller pieces: the pieces should be bite-size. Use enough potato slices to cover about half your skillet with a single layer. This will be a small potato, or part of a large potato.
- Step 2.5: If your preferred vegetables include broccoli, other veggies that need a longer cooking time, or anything frozen, chop them now and add them on top of the potatoes.
- Step 3: Melt some butter in the skillet, covering about half of it with a generous layer, and add the potato slices to the melted butter. (If the butter burns right away, the skillet is too hot.) Make sure the slices lay flat and aren’t stacked on top of each other, or they’ll take forever to cook. Cover the skillet.
- Step 4: Dice the vegetables into omelet-size bits. I usually use about three slices of onion, plus most of an Anaheim or half a bell pepper. (Meanwhile, your potatoes are cooking. Sweet potatoes cook a bit faster than regular potatoes.)
- Step 5: Flip the potato slices as best you can: don’t worry if you miss a few. Dump the diced veggies on top of the potatoes. Cover the skillet again. (Covering the skillet makes everything cook much faster.)
- Step 6: Mince a few cloves of fresh garlic. Use more than you think you should: the eggs and meat absorb the flavor. The easiest way is to half-crush each clove with the flat side of your chef’s knife to loosen the husk, peel the clove, cut off the little hard part at the top, and mince all the cloves together in a pile.
- Step 7: Melt some butter on the unused half of the skillet. Add the minced garlic to the butter. If you’re stuck with low-fat hamburger or lean meat, use lots of butter here (or beef tallow, if you have it).
- Step 7.5: If you need to dice up some meat, do it now. I recommend using one cutting board for veggies and one for meat. (You did buy the cutting board set from Part I, didn’t you?)
- Step 8: Drop about half a pound of hamburger or diced meat on the butter and garlic. (If hamburger, chop it up evenly with the spatula.) Distribute the meat evenly on the empty skillet half. Cover the skillet.
- Step 9: Once the meat has cooked about halfway to desired doneness, mix the meat, veggies, and potatoes together, and push them onto one half of the skillet.
- Step 10: Melt some butter on the unused half of the skillet. Cover the bottom well, and crack 2-3 eggs on top of the butter. Puncture the yolks unless you like underdone yolks in your scramble.
- Step 11: Shake some Zatarain’s or Tony Chachere’s over everything. Don’t be shy with it.
- Step 12: Once the bottom layer of egg is partially cooked, flip it over/push it around and get the rest cooking. (Imagine you’re making scrambled eggs, or an omelet.)
- Step 13: Once the eggs are about 3/4 done, scramble them together with everything else. Too early and they’ll make a mess: too late and they won’t mix well. Don’t cook the eggs too hard or everything will get all rubbery.
- Step 14: When the eggs are done, it’s ready to eat. Drop it onto a plate and enjoy!
Cleanup: The Inevitable Aftermath
Another problem with most cooking is that cleanup and dealing with leftovers takes forever. But since you’ve already bought a bunch of storage containers as per Part I, all you have to do is put the half-used vegetables in one container, put the unused meat into another container, put any leftovers in a third, and shelve them in the refrigerator. Then you can wash off the skillet, cutting boards, and chef’s knife with your dish brush, and you’re done! (You can even leave the washing for later if you’re running late for work.)
Trust me: this seems like a big, involved recipe, but once you’ve done it a couple times you’ll jam it out in the time you’d spend waiting for a burrito.
Variations On The Basic Paleo Scramble
Drop some avocado chunks on top of the final product, melt some cheese in with everything (add it after you add the meat), top it with a blop of sour cream—or go crazy and do all three!
Often I like a more Asian taste to my scrambles: I think this is my favorite of all the variations! To do this, you’ll need:
- Fresh ginger root.
- Gluten-free tamari. (Tamari = soy sauce.) ‘Health food’ stores will usually have this. Meanwhile, just use up your soy sauce if you aren’t celiac. (I’ve heard that ‘coconut aminos’ taste very similar if you’re trying to avoid all soy products.)
- Hot pepper flakes. (White pepper is another option. So is Sriracha.)
- Optional: sesame seeds, coconut oil. Technically you should use roasted sesame oil, but it’s a giant omega-6 bomb.
- Optional: Snow peas, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, bok choy, or other Asian vegetables.
- Optional but highly recommended: Five Spice Powder. This is the secret ingredient! Many supermarkets don’t carry it: here’s a boatload for cheap. Go in with some friends and you’ll all have a multi-year supply. Or visit your local Asian supermarket.
Follow the directions above, except:
- Substitute whatever Asian vegetables you like.
- Use coconut oil instead of butter, if you have it.
- Mince equal proportions of ginger root and garlic in steps 6-7 (it’s hard to add too much ginger) and add them to the butter together.
- Shake a bunch of sesame seeds, some Five Spice Powder, and a few hot pepper flakes on top of the ginger, garlic, and butter in Step 7. I can’t give exact amounts because Five Spice Powder varies between brands—but go easy the first time.
- Add a tablespoon or two of soy sauce in Step 11, instead of the Creole seasoning.
Other Root Vegetables
You can try carrots, turnips, beets, or cassava instead of potatoes. Carrots need a longer cooking time.
The “Leftover Steak”
Often if I have leftover cooked steak, roast, or any other meat, I won’t throw it in with the scramble: I’ll just cut it up and put it on top, cold. It tastes great that way!
The “Hot Chili”
And here’s a delicious chili taste. I like this one when I’m just doing meat, eggs, and veggies without the potatoes, or even just meat and veggies. (Magic spice ratio courtesy of The Well Done Chef.)
You will need:
- 3 parts chili powder. I make my own from crumbled dried Ancho and Japones chilis, but store-bought works fine.
- 2 parts paprika.
- 1 part ground cumin.
- Dash of oregano.
Shake them over everything in Step 7. BOOM!
The “Thai Curry”
This is absolutely delicious and surprisingly easy! You will need:
- Can of coconut milk. Note that the directions on the can say “shake well before opening”—but if you live in a cold climate, shaking will be hopeless because all the fat will be completely solid. You’ll have to open the can, transfer the contents into a jar (save those spaghetti sauce jars, kids!), microwave it for a few seconds, and stir it well.
- Jar of Thai curry paste. I think red goes best with beef, yellow with chicken, and green with pork—but they’re all good. Sadly the ubiquitous “Thai Kitchen” brand, once very good, has gone far downhill in recent months, requiring several times the recommended amount to taste like anything at all. So here’s what you want: genuine Made In Thailand “Mae Ploy” brand curry paste. (If you’ve got access to an Asian supermarket, absolutely go there, as it’ll be cheaper and you won’t have to pay shipping. Coconut milk will be cheaper there, too.)
- Basil. Fresh Thai basil from the Asian market tastes best, but dried is acceptable. A lot of Thai recipes call for cilantro too, but I think it tastes better without.
- Optional: fish sauce. A little bit makes the curry taste pleasingly authentic, but go easy or your house will forever smell like anchovies.
- This version works much better with meat chunks instead of hamburger, and is also great with chicken or pork. And I usually cook it without potatoes…just meat and veggies.
Follow the directions above, except:
- Spoon in enough coconut milk to cover the potatoes in Step 5. If you didn’t use potatoes, just put the coconut milk in first.
- Add curry paste to taste, and mix it in with the coconut milk. I can’t give an exact amount because each brand is different, but the directions on the tub will give you a starting point.
- Mince and add the fresh basil, or add a few shakes of dried basil.
- Cook everything uncovered so the water has a chance to boil off of the coconut milk.
- Add a tiny squirt of fish sauce when you add the meat. Go easy until you find out how much you like: that stuff is strong!
- Don’t add eggs! It’ll just make a mess. There’s plenty of fat in coconut milk.
Conclusion: Real-World Paleo Cooking
I’m sure you can see a pattern here. Instead of thinking of day-to-day “cooking” as a collection of individual recipes, think of “cooking” as a collection of spicy tastes that you can mix and match in a skillet, according to your mood and available vegetables.
- Don’t want eggs, vegetables or starch? The “Thai curry” taste works great with nothing but meat chunks.
- Want a spicy omelet? Omit the potatoes.
- Not feeling the eggs? Use that ridiculously fatty meat you didn’t quite know how to cook.
- Looking for more spice ideas? Try Penzey’s.
- And make it all new again by changing your suite of vegetables.
Coming soon: Part III, MEAT.
Live in freedom, live in beauty.
Do you have your own favorite spice and vegetable combinations I should add? Got any hints for Indian curry spicing, yogurt or cream-based sauces, or anything else? Please let me know by leaving a comment! I hope to continually improve this article with reader ideas.
This is Part II of a multi-part series on basic techniques for real-world paleo cooking. Part I, “The Functional Paleo Kitchen”, starts here, and my introduction to paleo, “Eat Like A Predator”, is here.
A final note: I don’t have a diet or recipe book to sell you. One of the joys of ‘going paleo’ is that it doesn’t require a series of books to explain it. But if you enjoy my writing here at gnolls.org, you’ll most likely enjoy my “Funny, provocative, entertaining, fun, insightful” novel The Gnoll Credo. Read the glowing reviews, read the first 20 pages, and buy it on Amazon for just $10.95. (Outside the USA? Click here.)