Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ana Sortun's Chef Sets: Complex Meals in Minutes

The intoxicating smell of mint rose up as soon as I tore open the first of three packets. That alone surprised me.  Even better, in less than 10 minutes with almost no prep, I was sitting down to eat sautéed shrimp with quinoa, Greek herbs and raisins.  I was trying out the new Chef Sets, a collaboration of one of my favorite chefs, Ana Sortun (of Oleana and Sofra) and SetPoint Health in Newton.  When I was asked if I would want to sample the new line, I never hesitated. Easy to prepare meals? Vegetarian options? Complex flavors?  Sure!  As a working single mom I struggle to find ways to get healthy, interesting meals to the table in less than 15 minutes.  These kits easily fit that need. Chef Sortun and Set Point Health have created 4 different options.  Each set comes with 3 packets, easy directions and a vegetarian option.  I tried two with the protein they suggested, and two vegetarian style.
Quinoa with Greek Herbs and Raisins: This was the dish with the wonderful mint.  The herb shaped the dish, lifting it up and mixing gently with dried orange. In fact, I could have happily served this at a dinner party. The suggestion which I replicated, is to use shrimp and feta. I always keep Whole Foods' frozen shrimp in my freezer for an inexpensive and easy protein fix.  Ironically, though, I loved the broccoli and quinoa the most. In fact, next time I may try pan roasted tofu.  I never would have thought (or taken the time) to grate an orange and find good dried mint for a mid-week dish.

Quinoa with Crushed Pistachios and Za'atar Spice: I loved the quinoa preparation which involved mixing it with sautéed onions and peas before adding the spice mixture. In this set, you top the quinoa with salmon and spoonfuls of Za'atar, a mixture of thyme, sumac and sesame seeds.  My favorite part? The crushed pistachios that added a wonderful contrast to the tender salmon.
Couscous with Moroccan Spices and Almonds: With little in my pantry and exhausted from packing up  to move, I reached for this set. And this time I decided to try the vegetarian recipe featured on the Chef Set Meals website.  Instead of chicken, I tossed chickpeas in with the sautéed onions and Aromatic packet. I scattered the almonds from the Garnish packet on top of the chickpeas and couscous.  I wasn't quite as taken with this set as the others. In retrospect, cooking the couscous with broth would have added much more flavor. This dish was just much more subtle than the others. But I still ate it all. In fact, I loved it the next day, cold and tossed with a bit of olive oil and sherry vinegar for a salad.
Bulgar Pilaf with Turkish Pilaf and Pistachios: This was by far my favorite grain mixture of the Chef Sets.  By using Trader Joe's precooked lentils, I was literally able to prepare this set with less than two minutes of prep. And the bulgur pilaf cooks up in 6 minutes. The point? I had a fabulous vegetarian meal together and full of cumin, spearmint, sweet and hot peppers.  The pistachios added a lovely crunch while the pepper added warmth and color to the lentils. The cucumber sauce would be just as fantastic of plain burgers or falafel.

Overall: One of the great strengths of the Chef Sets is that even the most inexperienced adult could pull these off. Second, these are a quick dish for any of us who don't have the time or money to put together these spice mixtures.  No, it will never replace a delightful meal at Oleana or Sofra, but it is certainly quicker, faster, and, of course, less expensive.  For people who are counting calories or trying to stay healthy, by following the recipes exactly, the sets empower you with knowing exactly the nutrition and caloric breakdown of your meal.  They may not be an easy sell to kids or even adults whose palettes aren't quite ready to leap into sumac or cumin and mint. But for those of us who crave full flavored and complex meals in minutes, these are a great option.

The Chef Sets are now available at selected Whole Foods, as well as Sofra in Cambridge for around $6.00.

Thank you, as well, to Chef Sets and Chef Sortun for giving me a chance to try these out.

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