Remember Michael Pollan from last month, my real-food guru? Well here is why I just love this man—one of his food rules is: Eat all the junk food you want, as long as you cook it yourself. Once you start to think about this deceptive little rule, you realize it is about eliminating way more than that bag of chips you’re reaching for.
I mean, what if you had to make those chips yourself? Wash, peel and slice all the potatoes. Heat the oil. Fry the little suckers. And then, clean up the big mess you made. How many would you make? How often? And, consequentially, how many would you eat at a sitting?
Ah. Enlightenment. Pollan is offering more than just a lesson on choosing good food over bad; it’s a lesson in food value, food waste and food integrity. Pollan not only wants us to value our food more by taking the time to prepare it ourselves and eat less by realizing how much energy, time and expense go into our favorite junk foods but also to understand that the junk food prepared cheaply and quickly by others takes a terrible toll on our environment and our bodies.
Pollan wants us to love real food—even yummy “junk food,” and so do I. But we need to learn—me, you and the rest of the planet—to make it ourselves and value it (and ourselves) more than we do now. So much depends on this one small thing, I think—a sustainable global agricultural system, a circular economy that doesn’t create mounds of packaging waste when there is no place to put it, and a healthier human population that can turn around a healthcare system that is currently dependent on illness and self-neglect for its existence.
OK, I’m not saying we need to get rid of doctors or subsist on roots and berries. But I am saying we need to retool. I’m beginning with my approach to Lent this year by joining my Confluence Climate Collaborative comrades to love what I have (buying as little as possible) for 40 days. But for now I’m suggesting we take Pollan’s junk food lesson to heart—literally during heart month, if you will, by making our own “junk food” with a new Blogger Box favorite: Farmer’s Way Cassava Flour.
My inspiration came from my desire to romance my gluten-free daughter and my grain-free friend Deb. Both these sweeties struggle at parties when it comes to “the cracker basket.” I mean, they can eat many of the dips and spreads, but on what? OK, there are celery sticks and carrot sticks and apple wedges, but what they want is a crunchy cracker that shatters with flavor when you bite down. Ever price the really good-quality gluten free crackers? Yeah, 10 crackers for 10 bucks. Admittedly, that’s an exaggeration but not by much. So my Valentine’s Day gift for Heather and Deb was simple, clean and gluten free: Cassava Flour Pita Chips. Yes, they take more work than busting open a processed food bag. But, oh, are they good…. and CRUNCHY!
- Two cups cassava flour
- Two teaspoons seasonings, consider a mixture of fine sea salt, cumin powder, garlic powder and smoked paprika
- One-half cup unsweetened almond milk (or milk of choice)
- Four tablespoons olive oil
- Three to four tablespoons coconut flour, plus more for your bench
- One-half cup or more coconut oil for your non-stick or case iron skillet (whichever you prefer for frying)
- Combine the cassava flour and seasonings in a medium mixing bowl.
- Add the almond milk and olive oil and blend into a sticky paste
- Add the coconut flour, one tablespoon at a time, until you have a nice smooth dough ball (Note that the dough will remain tacky. Use your hands at this point.)
- Flour your bench well with additional coconut flour because this dough is sticky and can prove frustrating to get off your bench into the skillet. I rolled out my little chips one at a time between two sheets of parchment paper, sprinkled with plenty of coconut flour. Unlike traditional bread dough, it’s pretty hard to get this dough too dry.
- Pinch off small mounds of dough, roll in balls and have them waiting in your bowl for their turn with your rolling pin. Heat the coconut oil in your preferred skillet (I liked my nonstick Calphalon skillet for this recipe.).
- Between the floured parchment paper, roll out small rounds or squares of dough, as thin as you can get them. Shape, in the end is of no consequence, but thickness and size matter—smaller pieces are better and easier to work with. Lift your dough pieces carefully to your skillet using a silicon spatula, sliding the spatula underneath your “chip” to get it from bench to pan. Cutting your crackers into smaller squares or halfmoons makes them easier to handle, in my opinion.
- Make sure the oil is melted and hot as you add the chips—which should sizzle at the edges and start to puff nearly immediately. Cook about one minute and turn. Cook for an additional minute. The crackers turn a golden brown and go pretty quickly. They cook from the outside in, so edges get extra crunchy, while centers can be slightly chewy depending on the size of the cracker. Remove to drain on paper towels and repeat the process.
You will need to experiment a bit to find your happy place with these little treats—how much coconut flour to add, how big or small to make your crackers, how much frying time per side, etc. So it is a work in progress, and it is not super easy. It takes practice. Many of my first crackers were failures, (Well we could eat them, but I knew they could be better.), but eventually I got it. And you will, too.
You can double this recipe to increase the yield, but keep in mind it doubles the labor, too. Perhaps help in the kitchen is called for on this one.
So you can see why I think the Cassava Pita Chips perfectly illustrate Micheal Pollen’s rule about eating all the junk food you want, as long as you cook it yourself. Even though this somewhat labor-intensive crispy chip tastes like you are indulging in junk food, you really are not.
Cassava flour is a great alternative to wheat flour, if you must be gluten free. It is derived from the root of the yucca plant and has no real flavor of its own when it is in flour form. Thus, it can be a added to recipes without changing the taste. It also contains a significant amount of magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and potassium. It is said to be far more digestible than wheat and actually aids in gut health. So eat up!
But all in moderation, right? The “labor” invested in this junk food is also critical to your diet. You might have these once a week, I’m thinking. You might divide out your little treats among diners—everybody gets five or six to savor—you know like the serving-size suggestions on the bag of chips you completely ignore.
And about Farmers Way Cassava Flour specifically…. what a find! I fell in love with this product immediately. In fact, it played a critical role in my Classic French Onion Soup, acting as the gluten-free thickener. I stirred it into my skillet, and it smoothed out immediately to absolute silkiness. So effortless for a perfect consistency, with no lumps or clumps as I added the stock. It is now my go-to for thickening all sorts of sauces because it has no flavor of its own and can be used in just about every instance that calls for a flour-based thickener.
And just by the way, cassava flour is only one of the many great products offered by Farmers Way. I suggest checking out their probiotic and protein smoothie mix, too. I loved it, and it is just real food. Their recipe begins with quinoa and adds in a combination of vegetables and vitamins: kale, spinach, broccoli, Provitamin A Carotenoids, Vitamin C and Vitamin K, alfalfa, barley grass, wheatgrass, and ginger. All real foods that are pronounceable and recognizable. Nothing funny or artificial.
Farmers Way is definitely becoming one of my ways to better eating…even when it comes to junk food. I’m sure Mr. Pollan would approve.