One of the things I have loved about this Paleo journey is the food. There are so many fabulous recipes floating around out there, and I’ve only had a chance to cook a small portion of the recipes I’ve bookmarked. So far, the majority of recipes I’ve made have made bold use of spices. And I love this! I have a new appreciation for the uses of cumin and coriander and spicy powders (paprika, chili powder, chipotle chile powder, just to name a few!).
Unfortunately, these particular flavors tend to be too intense for my toddler (and are often too challenging for my teenager, as well). What’s a newly Paleo mom to do? One option is to simply dial down the amount of heat in recipes whose “kick” is optional. In my experience, however, most of the interesting recipes I’ve tried so far rely on the kicky spice(s) to create their depth of flavor, so this approach won’t lead to very many family-approved meals that we actually want to eat.
The second option is to search out kid-friendly Paleo recipes in cookbooks and online. There are a number of these recipes available online, and even some blogs dedicated to this (for instance, Paleo Parents, who’ve also published a cookbook), but I think this is an area which could stand some expansion. With an eye to contributing to this expansion, I am going to devote the next few food posts to items I consider to be “kid-friendly.” These are items which a) they may have come across in a non-Paleo setting (chicken fingers, spaghetti), and b) do not rely on spices with much “heat.” In addition, going forward, I’ll make a point of mentioning whether I adjusted the spice level for my daughter, and how that adjustment worked for us in terms of flavor (me) and palatability (her).
I will begin with spaghetti. When I put this recipe onto my menu plan, I didn’t expect my daughter to like it, or even to try it. For one thing, she is only very occasionally willing to eat something sauce-based; for another, I though she might find the spaghetti squash noodles to be a bit odd. I made this for myself, because I miss making spaghetti — my family recipe uses cottage cheese to cut the acidity, plus the sauce relies on LOTS of garlic, which I’m having trouble digesting. While I could cut back on the garlic, it was one of the main “spices” (so to speak), and its absence would be very obvious. The real problem, though, was acidity. Most recipes use sugar to cut the acid, which wasn’t an option if I wanted to stick to strict-Paleo guidelines. When I saw this recipe with carrots, I suddenly recalled my high school best friend making her sauce with shredded carrots (this blew my young mind, at the time), and my sense was that this had tasted pretty good. Furthermore, the recipe uses more dried spices as well as Italian sausage, so perhaps the lowered amount of garlic wouldn’t be a problem.
As it turned out, my daughter loved this meal. Apparently the spices reminded her of pizza (something she adores) and she is too young to think that sauce belongs on pasta instead of spaghetti squash. I am therefore declaring this a “kid-friendly” recipe. Enjoy!
Spaghetti Bolognese (with Spaghetti Squash Noodles)
Recipe for “Collette’s Spaghetti Sauce” taken from Cascade Cross Fit
4 carrots, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup salad oil (even a little less) — This is for browning the veggies, so I used coconut oil, maybe 2 Tbsp
1 16 oz. Can diced tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce (I eyeball this one and sometimes add more) — I used 2 15oz cans, and the sauce was pretty thick
6 garlic cloves, minced — I used 2 because of my personal dietary issues, and it was fine
2 Tbsp dried basil
1 Tbsp dried oregano
2 tsp salt — I would recommend waiting to add most of this, then salting to taste
1 tsp pepper (optional)
1/2 tsp sage (optional)
1/2 tsp rosemary (optional)
1/2 tsp thyme (optional)
MEAT FOR SAUCE
¼ lb. Ground beef (I usually use turkey)
¼ lb. Ground Italian sausage
1 spaghetti squash
Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Cook garlic, onions, and carrots, stirring occasionally until soft but not crumbling. Stir in remaining ingredients. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and let simmer, uncovered, for about 1 ½ hours. (I usually stop after about an hour). I have always found that spaghetti sauce tastes best after hours of simmering, so I simmered this for 2 hours.
MEAT FOR SAUCE
Brown all above ingredients together.
Add meat to Marinara sauce. I usually quadruple the recipe so I can use 1 lb. Each of the meats. When I do this, I haven’t increased the onions with the meat at all. Just seems too much, but I do use a large one.”
Note: If you have a preferred way to make spaghetti squash noodles, follow that and ignore these directions. This is for folks who haven’t cooked with the squash, or who haven’t yet found a preferred method.
Preheat oven to 400, unless your oven is already in use at a different temp. (I have cooked it at temps from 350-425, and the only difference I observed was in the time required to reach doneness. I like 400 because it speeds up the cooking time, but gives me some leeway in case my toddler suddenly requires a chunk of my time.)
Cut spaghetti squash in half (Melissa Joulwan provides a nice tutorial for this over on Clothes Make the Girl; her tutorial includes cooking directions, so you could always read hers and skip over the rest of mine). Scoop out the seeds, then place face-down on a baking sheet. (Cleanup will be much easier if you first lay down a sheet of parchment paper or aluminum foil, but this isn’t absolutely necessary.) Joulwan recommends sprinkling some water around the squash; I usually do this, but haven’t had any problems when I omitted that step.
Cook for 30-40 minutes. You will know your squash is done when you press down on the rind & it feels soft. If you like your squash al dente, take it out as soon as you feel some give. I like my squash to be a bit less chewy, so I either cook for an extra 5-10 minutes (until the squash really gives when I poke it), or I saute it for a few minutes. Leaving it in the oven is definitely easier.
Turn squash face-up and let cool to the point where you can handle the squash. Using a fork, scrape the inside of the squash “against the grain” of the spaghetti-like strands. You can scrape right down to the skin.
Serve with spaghetti bolognese sauce on top, or with noodles stirred in (my daughter’s preference).
Verdict: I liked this sauce quite a bit. As mentioned above, the inclusion of large amounts of basil meant that the flavor was reminiscent of pizza sauce. We enjoyed it on spaghetti squash noodles and zucchini noodles, and we also enjoyed it on chicken cutlets (this was tasty, although I did feel like the chicken parmesan was missing something without the melted cheese). My daughter liked this a lot, hooray!
My only complaints are: a) I used 1/2 the recommended salt, and this was way too salty (perhaps my tomato sauce included salt?), and b) there sure were a lot of carrots (while I’m happy about the carrots, I think they made the sauce a tad too thick).
Substitutions or Alterations to the Recipe: The only change I made was to add the spices my family always uses in spaghetti sauce. I’ve always used Simon & Garfunkel to help me remember: “[hm-hm], sage, rosemary & thyme. Remember me to the one who lives there…” I suppose now I can use “basil” instead of that initial hum, so long as I remember to use the oregano too!
For next time:
- I will use 1/4 tsp salt to begin with, then I will check the flavor after 1 hour to see if it needs more salt. If it does, I will add to-taste, and ignore the recommended 2 teaspoons.
- I might try 3 carrots instead of 4. I wouldn’t want to cut back too far on these unless I find another way to add sweetness.
- In order for the spices to blend, it’s best to let this simmer for a couple of hours. The slow cooker seems perfect for this, so next time I may try tossing all my prepped ingredients into my Crockpot. The only issue I’ll need to work out is how long to simmer with the lid on, and how long with the lid off….