Guide to Plant-Based Protein

You don’t have to be a vegetarian to leverage the power of plant-based protein. Adding these non-meat proteins to your diet will help make any meal more filling and nutritious, whether you’re reducing meat, eliminating it, or just in the mood for something different. 

What is plant-based protein 

Protein is a macronutrient required by our bodies. It promotes muscle health, and helps you feel full. You may remember from high school that proteins are made up of amino acids. Here’s a quick crash course in case it’s been awhile since your last chemistry class: our bodies require 20 different amino acids to form the protein in our cells. Eleven of them are naturally produced by the body, and the remaining 9 come from food. Foods like meat, fish, and eggs contain all 9 of those essential amino acids, and are considered complete proteins. 

Plant-based proteins are simply non-meat foods containing essential amino acids. Even though many vegetarian proteins are considered incomplete, meaning they do not contain all 9 essential amino acids, your body can do the work of completing them so long as the missing acids come from another food source. To ensure you’re getting all of the essential amino acids, eat a variety of plant-based proteins. 

Plant-based protein benefits 

In addition to protein, many of these plant-based options are full of other beneficial nutrients. A diet full of rice, beans, and vegetables will supply you with fiber and vitamins in addition to protein.

Our favorite plant-based proteins 

Quinoa

Quinoa is a nutrient-packed whole grain. In addition to protein, it’s packed with fiber, iron, and magnesium. Quinoa is a great addition to a salad, or as a dish in it’s own right. Each ½ cup of quinoa contains 4g of protein. 

To cook 1/2 cup of quinoa fill a medium pot 3/4 of the way up with salted water; cover and heat to boiling on high. Once boiling, add the quinoa and cook, uncovered, 18 to 20 minutes, or until tender. Drain thoroughly

cooking quinoa
Draining quinoa

Try quinoa with an assortment of roasted vegetables for a nutritious dinner

Swap quinoa in for rice and top it off with an egg for even more protein 

Chia seeds 

Chia seeds are tiny but powerful. They make a great addition to smoothies or salad dressings. Their unique ability to absorb water has led to a variety of inventive recipes. We’ve used them as an egg replacement in veggie burgers and to help make homemade jam spreadable. Chia seeds contain 4.7g of protein per ounce. 

Chia seeds help this veggie burger stay together

Use chia seeds to thicken a homemade jam

Tossing a few chia seeds into homemade granola will add a filling crunch

Tofu 

Tofu is endlessly versatile. It absorbs flavors, and makes any dish filling. Tofu isn’t just for vegetarians! Classic dishes like Mapo tofu serve it alongside ground pork. 

Tofu has 10g of protein per ½ cup serving. Try it roasted, baked, or fried.

Try this spicy, satisfying Mapo tofu

General Tso’s-style tofu is delightfully crispy 

This glazed-tofu is served on a bed of quinoa, for two plant-based proteins in one dish 

Lentils

Lentils can be served in soup or as the base of a grain bowl. They’re also excellent in curried dishes. 

Lentils have 9 g of protein per ½ cup serving. 

This hearty lentil curry gets its richness from coconut milk

Pair lentils with roasted vegetables for a variation on a grain bowl 

Nuts

Nuts like almonds, walnuts, and peanuts (which are technically a legume), are a great source of protein. Try topping a salad or a rice dish with toasted nuts, or grinding them to make a flour. 

Walnuts have 4.3 g of protein per serving (about 7 whole nuts).

Top bucatini off with walnuts to add a kick of protein to your pasta

Beans 

Legumes like black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, and edamame and an excellent source of protein and fiber.  

This Italian-inspired grain bowl combines white beans, farro, figs, and beets.

Use black beans and cheese to make a satisfying filling for flautas 

This list is just the beginning. Head to the Blue Apron cookbook for dozens of bean and grain recipes that are full of healthy plant-based protein.

All About the Za’atar Spice Blend

What is Za’atar

The term Za’atar refers to a family of herbs, including thyme, oregano and marjoram. It’s also a spice blend, and one of Blue Apron’s favorite ingredients. Recipes for the za’atar spice blend vary slightly, but our house version of this Middle Eastern condiment is made from sumac, sesame seeds, salt, ground thyme, dried oregano and crushed Aleppo pepper. 

Traditionally sun-dried, za’atar is often eaten with pita or used as seasoning for various meats, vegetables and hummus. Recipes for this spice blend were once considered so precious that they were kept secret—even from family members.

How Za’atar is Used

Cooks use za’atar for seasoning meats and other main courses, but the most popular form of consumption is as a dry dip for bread. Vendors sell the mix in little paper cones, along with fresh bread for dipping. If you try this method at home, we definitely recommend that your bread make a pitstop in olive oil to help the za’atar stick to it.

Our Favorite Recipes Using Za’atar

Each ingredient in a za’atar spice blend helps build flavor. Thyme offers a wonderful earthy herbiness, sesame seeds bring rich nuttiness, sumac, made by grinding the dried berries from the sumac shrub, contributes a slightly sour, citrus-like flavor to the mix. Salt, of course, brings out each of the individual flavors. This blend is delicious on bread, chicken and other meats, or roasted vegetables. Check out some of our favorite recipes below. 

Beef & Quinoa with Tzatziki, Tomatoes & Olives

beef spiced with za'atar
This shawarma-inspired beef dish can be made ahead of time for an easy dinner

Chicken Burgers & Oven Fries with Feta-Labneh Spread & Garlic Chips

burgers prepared with za'atar
These Middle Eastern-inspired burgers are deliciously tangy

Chicken & Farro Salad with Beet, Goat Cheese & Pistachios

za'atar dinner with chicken
An elegant take on a classic flavor combination: sweet beets and tangy goat cheese

Roasted Cauliflower & Tzatziki over Fregola Sarda Pasta

za'atar spiced cauliflower
This seared cauliflower steak makes a satisfying vegetarian dinner

Beef & Carrots with Zucchini Rice & Lemon Labneh

beef and cauliflower bowl with zaatar
Lemony labneh keeps this dish bright and exciting

Beef over Spiced Rice with Lemon Labneh

za-atar beef and carrots
This dinner is full of vibrant spice and tender beef

Roasted Broccoli & Fregola Sarda with Hard-Boiled Eggs & Tahini Dressing

za'atar pasta
Crunchy almonds, tahini, and Pecorino make this vegetarian dinner super satisfying

Spiced Chicken with Pink Lemon Pan Sauce & Pearl Couscous

za'atar chicken
A simple pan sauce takes this recipe over the top

All About Duck Fat

If you’ve ordered a Blue Apron duck dinner recently, you actually got a secret bonus treat in your box: Duck fat. Chef Emily Ziemski is here to tell you how to make the most of this delicious treat.

Just look at those delicious pools of fat

A duck dinner is the gift that keeps on giving. Not only do you get a delicious meal, but afterwards, you’re left with reserves of delicious duck fat. Whatever you do: Don’t throw it away! Cooking with duck fat is an easy way to imbue any dish with an extra bit of super savory flavor. Its silky texture is beloved by many, and it’s a common staple at local farmers markets. Healthwise, its fat closely resembles olive oil! This French cuisine staple has earned its title as a pantry essential in my heart, and with a long shelf life and endless applications, it’s easy to make it work in your own kitchen. 

duck buns
Togarashi Duck Steam Buns

How to store duck fat?

After you’ve finished cooking your duck, and once your pan of fat has cooled, carefully transfer your rendered (melted) fat to an air-tight jar or other glass container. If you wish, straining the fat through cheesecloth or any fine-mesh strainer helps remove any bits of meat that may speed up the spoiling of the fat. A plastic container would work too, but it’s more susceptible to retaining a slightly greasy finish forever after use! 

For best keeping, store your precious fat in the refrigerator. It solidifies much like coconut oil will, which makes it easy to measure or scooping. If you haven’t cooked with duck recently, you can also purchase jars of rendered duck fat at many grocery stores or butcher shops. There is no shame in store-bought fat, but be warned: it’s expensive! 

How long does duck fat keep?

When stored properly (read: sealed), the fat will last 6 months in the refrigerator. If frozen, it will keep up to a year.

Cooking with Duck Fat

You can use duck fat as a general cooking substitute for oil. It’s smoke point (the temperature at which oil stops heating and starts to burn) is 375*F,  which is higher than both olive oil and butter. That means it can be used for more cooking applications, like a shallow fry or a sear.

How to Use Duck Fat

  1. As a spread on toast. Top with scrambled eggs for best results––this has been scientifically proven (by me). 
  2. In baking, as a substitute for butter or oil. The best use would probably be a cookie (sea salt chocolate chip + duck fat cookie? Hellooooo), a brownie, or a pound cake/loaf. The fat will add just a bit of savory flavor to round out the baked good. This is especially great for bakers who don’t want their treats to be overly sweet! The creaminess plus the umami richness that this fat provides will make you question ever using plain butter again.
  3. In a homemade dressing! Duck fat would make a delightful vinaigrette for a Cobb-style salad or a wedge salad
  4. A tried and true favorite: Duck fat-roasted potatoes. In a cast iron pan, toss potatoes with a few tablespoons of the fat, sea salt, and some herbs (dried or fresh), then roast in the oven. The fat creates a delightfully irresistible crust on the potatoes, while also lending its signature savory flavor. It’s the perfect side or, honestly, main course. This is a dish I would highly recommend if you’re trying to impress a new quarantine boo, or wanting to treat yourself to something lovely! You’ve earned it.

Look for duck featured on the Blue Apron premium menu.

How to Cook Scallops

seared scallops

Scallops are easy to love. They’re juicy and mild, with a beautiful buttery texture. They can be a light dinner when served on a salad, or a decadent feast when they’re part of a surf ‘n turf. We especially like them when nestled into a bright dish of pasta. The best way to cook scallops depends on the meal you’re planning.

Tips for Buying & Choosing Fresh Scallops

It’s always important to start with good ingredients. The best scallops are usually called dry-packed, day boat, or diver scallops. This means they haven’t been treated with a preservative called sodium bisulfite, which bleaches them, plumps them with water, and makes them nearly impossible to brown. Don’t shy away from frozen scallops, especially if you live far away from the coast. Seafood is often frozen directly on the boat, making it super fresh.

How to Prepare Scallops

how to sear scallops

After you take your scallops home, use your hands to remove and discard the tough side muscle from each scallop. Before cooking scallops in pan (or the grill), it’s important to make sure they’re completely dry. If there is water on the surface of the scallop, it will evaporate in the pan and steam the surface of the scallop. This will prevent the outside from developing a delicious crunchy sear. Just use paper towels to pat away any moisture.

Best Ways to Cook & Eat Scallops

Seared

If you’ve cooked scallops at home, you’ve probably seared them. This method is very straightforward and just like cooking a steak. Heat butter or oil in a pan until very hot, carefully place scallops in the pan and cook for about 4-5 minutes or until golden brown (the scallops should easily release from the pan). Carefully flip each scallop and cook until opaque, about 1-2 more minutes. 

Grilled

Grilling scallops will make you look like a superstar, even though they’re incredibly easy. Simply drizzle your scallops with olive oil, salt, and pepper and thread onto a skewer. For extra stability, use two skewers side by side so the scallops can’t twirl around. Cook on a medium-hot grill for about 3 minutes per side or until opaque. 

Raw scallops

Don’t be intimidated by this restaurant-style cooking method. Simply slice each scallop into 3 thin rounds and scatter onto a platter in a single layer. Top with an acidic dressing. This will cook the scallops for you! You can keep it simple with just lemon juice and olive oil, or you can try something a little more involved like an aguachile: a dressing made from lime juice, fresh chiles, herbs, and cucumbers. 

Ready to try cooking scallops at home? Look for them on the Blue Apron premium menu.

All About Guajillo Chiles

What are guajillo chiles?

Guajillo chiles are the dried version of the mirasol chili. This pepper is the second most common dried chile in Mexican cuisine. Its flavor is fruity and smoky, with just a touch of spice. 

Is guajillo chile spicy? 

Guajillo chile is considered mildly spicy. On the official scale of spiciness, it’s ranked just below a jalapeño. In most dishes Guajillo chile will come across as pretty mellow. If you want to try the flavor of a chile pepper but you’re not a big fan of spice, try reducing the heat by pairing the pepper with a dairy-based product like yogurt or sour cream. 

How to cook with guajillo chiles

The fruitiness of guajillo chiles can add a layer of complexity to almost any dish. Choosing to pair them with more delicate meats like chicken or fish will help let the subtle flavors of the pepper shine through. They’re common in salsas, marinades, and rubs, but our favorite application is to cook them into a smoky sauce. At Blue Apron, we love using guajillo chile sauce in Mexican-inspired dishes. You’ll find them on the menu topping our enchiladas, spicing up our rice, and making our tacos unforgettable. 

Recipes with guajillo chiles

Guajillo Pepper Chicken & Cheesy Rice with Tomatoes & Avocado

guajillo chile chicken thighs

This recipe has it all: juicy chicken thighs, a smoky chile pepper sauce, and rich cheese and avocado. Together they form a rich and satisfying dish that’s full of flavor.

Guajillo Chicken Tacos with Creamy Corn & Jalapeño

guajillo chicken tacos

In these crowd-pleasing tacos, guajillo chile sauce makes the filling moist and slightly spicy. A side of corn is the perfect sweet and juicy complement.

Cheesy Chicken Enchiladas with Guajillo Pepper Sauce

guajillo chicken enchiladas

What’s not to love about enchiladas? This dish is stuffed full of satisfying rice, peppers, and chicken. A topping of guajillo chile sauce adds a little smoky complexity.

Guide to Cooking Oils

types of cooking oils
Tip: keep multiple cooking oils in stock

Take a look in your pantry. How many types of cooking oil do you have in stock? If you cook often, you most likely have some olive oil and a neutral oil on hand at all times. If you’re an avid cook, you may have an entire shelf full of different cooking oils for salads, sautés, and frying. Treating yourself to a new oil can be a great way to get inspired to try new recipes. Here are a few types of cooking oil that the Blue Apron team loves to keep on hand.

When choosing a cooking oil, one of the most important aspects to consider is the smoke point. The smoke point is the temperature at which the oil will begin to burn. If an oil is heated past its smoke point it can impart an unpleasant flavor into food and fill your entire kitchen with smelly smoke. If you’re working with a high-heat cooking method, like frying, you’ll need to pick an oil with a high smoke point. 

Common Types of Cooking Oils

Olive oil 

If you’re out of olive oil, go to the store (or order some) right now.  Olive oil is an essential cooking staple. It’s the start of excellent sauces and sautees, and the backbone of many classic vinaigrettes. 

We love olive oil because it’s versatile, delicious, and heart-healthy, but there’s a reason it isn’t the only oil in our pantry: it has a low smoke point. This means that olive oil isn’t suited for high-heat cooking applications. If you’re searing or deep frying, choose an oil with a higher heat tolerance. 

Sesame oil 

Most grocery stores will carry both toasted and untoasted sesame oil. The toasted variety has a delicious nutty flavor that is the perfect complement to many stir-frys and other Asian-inspired dishes. Untoasted sesame oil has a neutral flavor, and a high smoke point (around 410˚F). This makes it well-suited to basic sautés, roasts, and braises.  

Coconut oil

Coconut oil is the only type of cooking oil on this list that is solid at room temperature. Because of this, it’s not a good fit for salad dressings or general drizzling. Coconut oil has a subtle sweetness and buttery texture that can make it a lovely addition to baked goods. 

Peanut oil 

Peanut oil’s high smoke point (450˚F) makes it a great choice for frying. However, frying can tend to send some oil into the air and onto the counters, so it’s best to avoid this oil if you’ll be hosting anyone with a peanut allergy, even if they won’t be eating the food in question. 

Grapeseed oil 

Grapeseed oil is inexpensive and lightly flavored. This neutral oil has a smoke point of 420˚F. Its neutral flavor can make it a good base for salad dressings, especially when other, more flavorful ingredients are in the mix. 

Whether you’re baking a cake or frying chicken, the right oil can make your food more delicious. Keep several oils with a range of smoke points on hand, and you’ll be ready to cook anything at a moment’s notice. 

All About Shichimi Togarashi

shichimi togarashi spice blend

Togarashi is one of those spices that the Blue Apron chefs turn to time and time again. It’s the not-so-secret-ingredient that makes recipes like our Togarashi Popcorn Chicken and Vegetable Fried Rice with Togarashi Peanuts into unforgettable dinners. If this beloved Japanese spice blend isn’t a staple in your pantry yet, keep reading. We’ll show you how to cook with togarashi, and why you should love it. 

What is togarashi?

Togarashi is the Japanese word for Capsicum, which is a broad term defining all chili pepper-bearing plants. When we talk about togarashi in cooking, we’re most often referring to a spice blend made up of seven ingredients, including dried, pulverized red peppers. It can also be referred to as shichimi togarashi, or nanairo togarashi.

As with many spice blends, the exact recipe for togarashi can vary. No two brands or cooks will use the exact same ingredients. A typical togarashi spice blend includes:

  • coarsely ground red chili pepper
  • orange or yuzu peel 
  • ginger
  • nori
  • sesame seeds
  • hemp seeds
  • poppy seeds

These ingredients come together to form a wonderfully complex spice blend. Although it has some heat, it’s not just about making meals spicy. This blend brings a subtle smokiness and citrusy zing to the table, along with mild heat. In addition to the delicious flavor, the seeds in a togarashi spice blend create a delightfully crunchy texture that can be a welcome addition to soft foods like noodles or rice. 

How to cook with togarashi 

You’ll often see togarashi used as a condiment. You can sprinkle it over any finished dish to add a touch of heat, citrus, and crunch. This flavorful spice pairs well with light meats, like chicken or fish, grains, and noodles. For a real treat, try stirring a spoonful into mayonnaise to make a delicious topping for proteins or a decadent dip for french fries.  

Recipes with togarashi 

Togarashi Popcorn Chicken with Sweet Chili Cabbage Slaw

togarashi popcorn chicken

Crispy Fish Katsu with Creamy Potato Salad & Ponzu Mayo

togarashi fish

Vegetable Fried Rice with Togarashi Peanuts

togarashi rice

Try this at home! Blue Apron’s togarashi spice blend would be a delicious addition to your pantry.

A Guide to Spicy Peppers and All Things Hot

Believe it or not, jalapeño peppers are considered mild

Spicy food can be divisive. Some people love to douse hot sauce on every meal, while others find cabbage to be slightly too spicy. The key to cooking with spicy ingredients is knowing what you’re working with. Exactly how hot is that pepper you’re about to add, and what can you substitute if you want to turn up the heat? Here’s a closer look at a few common types of hot peppers, and how heat is measured. 

What makes food spicy? 

There are a few different types of spiciness. The heat in spicy peppers is caused by the chemical compound Capsaicin, which creates a pleasant burning sensation on the tongue. Horseradish and wasabi get their spice from a chemical known as TRPA1, which tends to create heat more in the nose and sinuses. Sichuan peppers get their numbing, tingling spice from a chemical known as hydroxy-alpha-sanshool. All of these chemical compounds create slightly different sensations, but they can all be referred to as spicy. 

About Scoville heat units

The spiciness of chili peppers is measured using the Scoville scale. This scale calculates heat units based on the level of spicy chemicals concentrated in each pepper. The scale ranges from “non-pungent” at 0-700 Scoville Heat Units, to “very highly pungent” above 80,000 SHU. To get a better understanding of what this means, take a look at how these common peppers rank on the Scoville scale.  

List of hot peppers

Jalapeñ

Jalapeños are considered a relatively mild pepper, ranking between 2,500 and 8,000 Scoville Heat Units. If you’d like to turn down the heat when cooking with a Jalapeño, use a knife to remove the seeds and ribs inside the pepper before cooking. 

Habanero

Habenero peppers are extremely spicy, ranking between 100,000 and 350,000 SHU. If you’re brave enough to work with this pepper at home, be sure to wear gloves and be careful not to touch your skin. 

Red Pepper flakes 

Crushed red pepper flakes are a staple topping at pizzerias, and a common pantry ingredient. Although they can incorporate a mix of spicy red pepper, they’re primarily made up of cayenne peppers, which rank between 30,000 to 50,000 SHU. 

Poblano 

Poblano peppers are pleasantly mild, which is why you’ll often see them whole, like in these stuffed peppers with feta cheese. They rank between 1,000 to 1,500 on the Scoville scale. 

stuffed poblano hot peppers
Couscous-Stuffed Poblano Peppers with Spinach, Raisins & Tahini Dressing

Ghost Peppers

Ghost peppers are punishingly hot. When it comes to the Scoville Heat Units, they measure between 855,000 to over 1,000,000. Yikes! If you’re new to cooking with spicy ingredients, stay far, far away. 

How to Cook with Cream

how to cook with cream

Fat is a great way to add heft, flavor, and satisfaction to our food. Yes, fat! Don’t run away. For years, fat has been a threatening ingredient, one that people avoid. But, as any chef knows, meals get a lot of their flavor from fat. Imagine quesadillas without cheese or pad Thai without peanuts; these are not pretty thoughts. We’re on a mission to show you how to fearlessly use fat in your cooking. Today’s focus us how to cook with cream.

Cream can be a luxurious addition to dinner. If you pour your cream judiciously, you’ll wind up with a rich and flavorful dish that’s still fresh and bright. Though there are a few types of cream to use, today we’re focusing on heavy cream, with a spoonful of sour cream on top.

A Guide to Cooking with Cream

Creamy Salad Dressing

For most vinaigrettes, we drizzle olive oil into vinegar, or a mix of vinegar, mustard, and garlic. But oil doesn’t have to be the only fat used here. You can substitute cream for some of the oil in a vinaigrette to wind up with a more decadent drizzle for your greens. The dressing on our Crispy Chicken Chopped Salad uses buttermilk, but you could substitute cream to an even more delicious effect.

Creamy Sauces

Creamy pasta sauces are some of the best sauces out there. (No offense to tomato sauces.) One of our all-time favorites is pasta primavera. After sautéing some vegetables, we simply pour in heavy cream. On the heat, the cream reduces into a sauce in just a few minutes. Once you add fresh pasta to the skillet, you’ll find that the sauce coats each strand of spaghetti beautifully. But you don’t need the pasta. Cream also turns chicken, fennel, and tomatoes into a lusciously creamy dish of Chicken with Tomato, Fennel & Creamy Tarragon Sauce.

Creamy Soups

Much as in creamy pasta sauces, creamy soups need just a dash or two of cream to both thicken and enrich the broth. In our Corn & Vegetable Chowder, cream turns a sauté of corn and radishes into a bonafide, and yummy, soup. This is a place where you can add as little or as much cream as you’d like–it’s up to you how rich you’d like your soup to be.

Creamy Garnish

how to garnish with sour cream
Don’t skimp on the sour cream

When using cream for garnish, the best–and most obvious option–is sour cream. That’s what we turn to for our fajitas, as well as for dishes like Mushroom Stroganoff that can use a bright and creamy topping. And hey–for dessert, there’s always whipped cream, too.

Now that you know how to cook with cream, try our guides for cooking with nuts, butter, cheese, and oils.

All About Halloumi: The Undeniable Fryable Cheese

fried halloumi

We’re pleased to welcome Suzanne Kahn, author of the food blog An Overdetermined Lifeto share her research into an incredible cheese: halloumi. Read on to learn why halloumi doesn’t melt, the difference between halloumi and paneer, and everything else you’ve ever wanted to know. Then dive right in and make this Blue Apron Halloumi Sandwich.

When you write about food, it’s hard not to want to eat everything you write about immediately.

This is doubly true for halloumi. In case you haven’t heard, halloumi is a Middle Eastern cheese that can be fried or grilled without melting. I’m going to repeat that so you understand why spending a week writing about halloumi makes you very, very hungry: This is a cheese that you can fry or grill until it’s brown. It will get warm and delicious, as cheese does, but hold its shape. It’s basically a walking mozzarella stick waiting to happen.

what is halloumi

Halloumi is eaten across the Middle East and, increasingly, the world. Originally from Cyprus, halloumi is traditionally made from sheep or goat milk. As halloumi has grown in popularity, cheese makers have produced large amounts of it with cow’s milk. In 2012, after an extended lobbying battle between Cypriot dairy farmers and Cypriot shepherds and goat herders, the government mandated that all halloumi produced in Cyprus be made of at least 51 percent sheep or goat milk.

But, the truth is, what makes halloumi so special is not the milk that goes into it, but the way it is processed. The basic process for making any cheese begins with culturing milk, also known as heating milk to a temperature at which bacteria start to grow. It is at this point in production that any acids or special bacteria that promote specific flavors are added. After the milk is cultured the cheese is typically set with rennet, a complex enzyme that coagulates milk. The setting process separates curds and whey. The curds are then drained and sometimes pressed. To make many hard cheeses, after this draining, cheese makers heat the cheese again. That second heating is how halloumi gets its unique characteristics.

Why Halloumi Doesn’t Melt

During the second heating, halloumi is cooked in its own whey and brought to a temperature past the curd’s melting point, 135 degrees. I discussed the second heating with Steve Ballard, the owner of Idaho’s Ballard Family Dairy and Cheese, which makes a prize-winning halloumi-style cheese (he calls it Idaho Grilling Cheese). He explained that, when cooked in their own whey, pressed cheese curds behave like an egg being poached in boiling water: the curds come together as they cook instead of spreading out. That’s why it won’t melt.

Halloumi vs. Paneer

All cheese that gets cooked past its melting point can later be heated and hold its shape. The most common example of another such cheese is the South Asian paneer (which you might know from saag paneer and other common dishes at Indian restaurants). Paneer and halloumi are not interchangeable, although they can make good substitutes for each other in a pinch. The main difference is that paneer is a high acid cheese and halloumi is unique for having almost no acid in it at all. High acidity and low acidity both help prevent melting.

how to fry halloumi

I chatted with Steve for a while about how his family of Idaho dairy farmers got into making a halloumi-style cheese. He told me that he learned about the cheese at a course on cheddar making. Although the family continues to mostly produce cheddar, he decided that adding a grillable cheese to their offerings would make them stand out in the crowded Idaho dairy market. The bet has paid off, but not without hard work. They quickly realized that since Americans were unfamiliar with grilling cheese they would have to work hard to successfully introduce the cheese to a new population. That said, since they started producing the cheese in 2006 it has grown in popularity as knowledge of halloumi has spread.

fried halloumi with lemon

And, indeed how could a cheese that can be grilled or fried until caramelized and brown not become wildly popular? You can grill it along with vegetables in order to turn an otherwise healthy meal into something a little more indulgent. You can panfry it in olive oil and toss it with salad or scoop it up with bread. I asked Steve about his favorite things to do with his cheese. His answer made my mouth water. He told me he likes to start his morning with a few slices of grilled or seared halloumi paired with slices of navel oranges, drizzled with honey, and served next to Greek yogurt. I made a note and put navel oranges and halloumi on my next grocery list. I felt more excited about breakfast than I had in a long time.

Essential Ingredients of Japanese Cuisine

Japanese Ingredients Blue Apron

Japanese cuisine is wholly unique, involving food customs and cooking processes that may be unfamiliar. Some dishes can get quite complex, requiring a master chef’s artful hand (sushi is just one example)—and yet some of the best Japanese meals are completely simple. Anyone can cook Japanese food, but it’s important to first gain a basic understanding of the essential ingredients.

There are various ingredients that make up and complement the Japanese diet, which primarily consists of rice, soy, fresh fish and seasonal vegetables. Cooking methods are delicate and flavorings subtle, which mean Japanese chefs rely on a handful of important ingredients for savory depth, or umami. Here are 21 Japanese ingredients to start with—and a few ideas for cooking with them.

A Guide to Japanese Ingredients

Bonito Flakes

Bonito is a kind of tuna, which in this preparation, has been smoked, dried, fermented and shaved into delicate flakes. It’s used to add umami to noodle broth, soups, stews, sauces and as a topping on the classic comfort-food, okonomiyaki.

Daikon

A radish the size of your head? Yes, this white variety grows quite large and is prepared by simmering, pickling or grating and served with oily or fried foods to cut the fat. The taste and texture differs depending on the part of the radish. The sweet and hard section below the leaves is best eaten fresh or grated, while the sweet and soft middle part is good braised in stews and soups. The tangy tip may be grated onto grilled fish or meat.

Dashi

This fish-based stock (a mix of bonito and kombu) is the backbone for pretty much any simmered dish, including miso soup and ramen broth.

Dried shiitake mushrooms

Dried Shiitakes, a Japanese ingredient

The intense meaty flavor from this all-vegetarian ingredient enhances the savory flavor of soups or any dish that needs umami. The mushrooms need to be soaked at room temperature for 30 minutes before using, so give yourself a little extra prep time. Try switching out the fresh mushrooms for dried ones in this miso and shiitake ramen and see how it affects the flavor.

Kombu

Kombu

Used as a flavor enhancer, this sea kelp is combined with bonito to make dashi stock. It also appears in many other ingredients, including monosodium glutamate (MSG). Kombu is salty and subtly sweet, again, serving to create that umami effect.

Mirin

This rice wine, made from fermented rice and shochu alcohol, adds a mild sweetness and aroma to dishes. It’s especially good in seafood dishes but can also be used to add a nice luster to sauces (it’s a key ingredient in teriyaki). It’s partly why miso-glazed eggplant looks so mouth-wateringly good.

Miso

Miso


Used as a base in soups, marinades and condiments, this fermented soybean paste comes in a wide variety of colors (from light to dark) and flavors (from salty to sweet). White miso paste’s mildly earthy and sweet flavor pairs well with flank steak in this beef ramen.

Natto

These fermented soy beans are sticky in texture with a strong, unique flavor — definitely an acquired taste. Natto is popular for breakfast mixed with a bit of dashi and mustard and eaten with steamed rice. It’s also sometimes used in sushi rolls or as a topping for noodles.

Panko

Panko, Japanese ingredient similar to breadcrumbs

Essentially Japanese breadcrumbs, these are used to coat foods for frying, like in tempura or tonkatsu dishes. Panko crumbs are lighter and coarser than other varieties, and get extra crispy.

Rice

Short Grain Rice


The staple food in a Japanese meal, short-grain rice is stickier than jasmine rice and is always served in a separate bowl, often topped with seasoned seaweed (nori). And though most people equate “sushi” with “raw fish,” the word itself actually refers to the seasoned rice used to make it. Rice vinegar is mixed with salt and sugar to make sushi vinegar, which is used to flavor the rice. Try this vegetarian maki roll that’s filled with crisp cucumber and creamy avocado.

Rice vinegar

Rice Wine Vinegar

Used in dressings, pickles, marinades, sushi rice and anything else that calls for mild, slightly sweet acidity.

Sansho powder

This seasoning pepper is made from the ground berries of the prickly ash tree. Rather than spicy, the flavor is tangy and lemony. Use it to heat up ramen or other noodle soups.

Seaweed

Nori

Nori seaweed is commonly used as a wrap for sushi and onigiri rice balls. It is also used as a garnish in noodle dishes and soups.

Sesame seeds

Sesame Seeds

These tiny seeds give dishes a nutty, delicate crunch, as in this ginger-soy glazed salmon where they contribute texture and contrast to the tangy sauce.

Soba noodles

Soba, a Japanese noodle ingredient

Made with buckwheat flour, these thin spaghetti-like noodles are prepared in both hot and cold dishes. The most basic soba dish is mori soba in which cold soba noodles are eaten with a soya dipping sauce.

Soybeans

Soybeans are one of the central ingredients of Japanese cuisine, and one of the most versatile. They constitute the basis of many distinct Japanese flavors, such as soy sauce, miso and tofu, and are processed into countless other culinary products. Served in their shells, they’re known as edamame.

Soy Sauce

Soy Sauce

Made by fermenting soybeans, salt and wheat, this dark translucent liquid, also known as soya, imparts saltiness and is also a chief ingredient for umami.

Tofu

In a process much like making cheese, pressing soybean curds and soymilk into blocks creates tofu, which can then be used fresh, boiled or fried—an essential vegetarian protein.

Udon noodles

Udon noodles

These thick, chewy wheat noodles are most often found steeped in hot broth seasoned with soy, dashi and mirin. Our udon noodle soup features Chinese broccoli and seared tempeh.

Wasabi

Also known as Japanese horseradish, this root vegetable is most famous in its green paste form as a condiment for sashimi and sushi. However, wasabi is also eaten with other Japanese dishes, such as soba. Its strong, hot flavor adds zest to otherwise mild foods but dissipates within seconds, leaving no burning sensation in the mouth. While wasabi paste and powder are widely available in supermarkets, most of these products contain very little real wasabi, or none at all. Cultivation of real wasabi is expensive and difficult to come by.

Once you’ve stocked up on the ingredients, try out some of our favorite Japanese-inspired recipes.

The 5 Best Cuts of Lamb To Cook at Home

Beginner cooks tend to shy away from lamb, but buying, preparing and cooking lamb is actually quite easy — and it’s more versatile than you may think. Over the past decade, breeding and feeding methods have improved the quality of different cuts of lamb available in the U.S.. According to Adam Matthews, the store manager of Fleisher’s in Brooklyn, that means less of that gamey aroma and flavor. Fleisher’s sells pasture-raised, grain-finished lamb that is super tender and mild — definitely not your grandmother’s mutton.

If cooking lamb is new territory for you, here are five cuts that are best to start out with: rib chop, loin chop, sirloin steak, stew meat and ground meat.

Cuts of Lamb to Try

1. Ground Lamb

ground lamb

As with all ground meats, lamb shouldn’t be over-handled; “It’ll get tough,” says Evan Lobel, co-owner of Lobel’s of New York. He recommends “using a gentle touch and only seasoning the outside.” Loebel also suggests cooking a lamb patty a little more than you would a beef patty. Aim for medium instead of medium-rare, for about 7 to 11 minutes. Lamb is also a great candidate for kebabs and bolognese.

2. Rib Chops

lamb rib chops

Rib chops are cut from the center rib section of the lamb and usually come with a long rib bone attached to the end. While not the meatiest of the chops, tenderness and a smooth flavor make them a prized cut. Lobel says they’re easy to cook because all you need is a hot skillet. He prefers a cast iron pan: “Just a few minutes on each side, and they’re good to go,” he says. For best results, “opt for a one-inch-thick cut; thicker than that and you increase the risk of over-cooking or under-cooking.”

3. Loin Chops

loin chop cut of lamb

This cut comes from between the ribs and the leg. Loin chops look like mini T-bone steaks, and tend to be meatier than rib chops. While not as tender as rib chops, loin chops also have a wonderful smooth flavor. This is a good choice when you’re looking for a hearty dinner.  Try  searing them in a hot skillet (a couple minutes each side) and finishing in an oven set at 325°F for about 15 minutes.

4. Sirloin Steak

sirloin cut of lamb

This larger, meatier, leaner cut is best marinated in advance. “Novices tend to like throwing stuff on the grill, and this is perfect for just that,” says Lobel. “Cook it for five minutes and call it a day.” Other options are to slice it into slivers and stir-fry it Asian-style or cut it into cubes for kebabs.

5. Stew Meat

lamb stew meat

This boneless shoulder cut tends to be tougher than chops, which requires a longer cooking time. Matthews likes simmering this cut low and slow (like one-to-two-hours slow) with Middle Eastern or Indian seasonings.

Whichever cut of lamb you choose, select the best quality you can find by heeding Lobel’s shopping tips:

  1. Look for meat that has a soft pink color with white marbling — the fat that gives lamb its incredible flavor. Once lamb turns deep red, it means it’s old.
  2. The flesh should be fine textured and firm, like the pad of your palm.
  3. Any fat surrounding the lamb should be a milky white not yellow.
  4. If it’s wrapped in packaging, make sure there’s no moisture trapped in there. It could mean it was frozen and thawed out, not freshly butchered.
  5. Store raw lamb in the refrigerator immediately after purchasing. Use ground lamb or stew meat within two days. Lamb chops should be used within seven days.