Zoodles with Meat Sauce

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Fun fact: I haven’t cooked pasta at home for myself in over a year. And, I’ve eaten it at a friend’s or out maybe once or twice in that same time. Which means that, basically, I don’t really eat pasta anymore.

It seems crazy when I think about that, because I remember just how hard it was in the beginning to transition from. Aside from really just loving all carbs at all times, it was also one of the first things that I “cooked” myself at home. Pasta dishes are easy and versatile and don’t really require a lot of thought. I ate it so frequently that I would do things like be snobby about spaghetti noodles (angel hair all the way!) and experiment with which noodles made for the best pasta salads (I personally liked farfalle). And oh man could I put away some mac and cheese like it was my job.

But then, I did the diet that was essentially paleo but even more restrictive and pasta was a definite no-no. And aside from the initial carb withdrawals, I didn’t really notice that it was gone. So, although it was never really a conscious decision to take pasta, specifically, out of my diet, it just happened, and in the end, I’m glad it did because it’s led me to learn how to make and eat more well-rounded meals where everything on my plate contributes something to my health. Plus, you’d be surprised at how much whole food you can eat for the same caloric content of pasta (or breads or grains).

But sometimes I remember with nostalgia the ease of making pasta-based dishes, and I kind of miss having it around (although when I do have it, I’m always underwhelmed these days). So, two weeks ago I got a spiralizer, and the easy world of pasta has opened up to me again. I’ve made a creamy, lemony zucchini pasta dish, a pesto cucumber caprese salad, and, getting back to the basics, these noodles for a classic spaghetti and meat sauce recipe, which is a favorite of Mr. Little Fish’s. We used to eat it, with noodles, regularly, but since I’ve taken over the cooking, it hasn’t been in the rotation as much. I’ve lightened and freshened up the original recipe from Allrecipes to take advantage of the abundance of fresh basil during the summer. And for an even lighter sauce, we’ve used ground turkey with equally delicious results. It’s great to have Italian food back on the table!

Zoodles with Meat Sauce
Adapted from Allrecipes
Serves 6

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Ingredients
:

Showerthoughts: Maybe Italian food is full of tomato, onion, and basil because it looks like the Italian flag.

Showerthoughts: Maybe Italian food is full of tomato, onion, and basil because it looks like the Italian flag.

1 pound ground beef or other meat
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 14-oz can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes (I like the Muir Glen brand)
2 8-oz cans of tomato sauce
1 6-oz can of tomato paste
1 tomato, diced
1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced
2 tsps dried oregano
1/2 cup tightly packed fresh basil, roughly chopped
1 tsp salt+1/2 tsp, divided
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 medium zucchinis (NOTE: if you do not have a spiralizer, a julienne peeler will work just fine. And of course, if you aren’t worried about carbs, then normal pasta will do too!)
1/2 tbsp olive oil

Directions:

1. In a large pot over medium high heat, combine the ground beef, onion, garlic, and green pepper. Cook until the meat is brown and the vegetables are tender, about 7-10 minutes.

2. Add in the diced tomatoes (both canned and fresh), tomato sauce, tomato paste, and mushrooms. Stir to combine.
IMG_76583. Stir in the oregano, basil, salt, and pepper. Then, lower the heat to medium low and simmer for 40-50 minutes, stirring frequently so nothing gets stuck on the bottom.
IMG_76594. Meanwhile, prepare your zucchinis for the spiralizer by cutting off the ends and then cutting each zucchini into thirds. Place a third into the spiralizer and, using the smallest blade, spiralize the chunk until only the bottom remains. Do this for all the rest of the zucchini. Then, use kitchen shears to cut the zucchini strands into manageable strands.

5. Put your spiralized zucchini into a colander over a bowl, and sprinkle liberally with salt (about 1/2 tsp). Use your hands to massage the salt into the noodles. Then leave the zucchini alone for about 20-30 minutes so that some of the water from the zucchini drips out.
IMG_76726. About 10 minutes before the meat sauce is done, put a large skillet over medium heat and add about 1/2 tbsp of olive oil. Add your zucchini noodles to the pan when its hot, and saute quickly for 3-4 minutes. You want the noodles to be just a little wilted/pliable, but not over cooked. The heat from the sauce will do more to wilt them!
IMG_76767. Once the sauce is ready, add the noodles a plate and top with sauce! |
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Zoodles with Meat Sauce
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 1 pound ground beef or other meat
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 14-oz can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes (I like the Muir Glen brand)
  • 2 8-oz cans of tomato sauce
  • 1 6-oz can of tomato paste
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • ½ cup mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 tsps dried oregano
  • ½ cup tightly packed fresh basil, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp salt+1/2 tsp, divided
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 4 medium zucchinis (NOTE: if you do not have a spiralizer, a julienne peeler will work just fine. And of course, if you aren't worried about carbs, then normal pasta will do too!)
  • ½ tbsp olive oil
Directions
  1. In a large pot over medium high heat, combine the ground beef, onion, garlic, and green pepper. Cook until the meat is brown and the vegetables are tender, about 7-10 minutes.
  2. Add in the diced tomatoes (both canned and fresh), tomato sauce, tomato paste, and mushrooms. Stir to combine.
  3. Stir in the oregano, basil, salt, and pepper. Then, lower the heat to medium low and simmer for 40-50 minutes, stirring frequently so nothing gets stuck on the bottom.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare your zucchinis for the spiralizer by cutting off the ends and then cutting each zucchini into thirds. Place a third into the spiralizer and, using the smallest blade, spiralize the chunk until only the bottom remains. Do this for all the rest of the zucchini.
  5. Put your spiralized zucchini into a colander over a bowl, and sprinkle liberally with salt (about ½ tsp). Use your hands to massage the salt into the noodles. Then leave the zucchini alone for about 20-30 minutes so that some of the water from the zucchini drips out.
  6. About 10 minutes before the meat sauce is done, put a large skillet over medium heat and add about ½ tbsp of olive oil. Add your zucchini noodles to the pan when its hot, and saute quickly for 3-4 minutes. You want the noodles to be just a little wilted/pliable, but not over cooked. The heat from the sauce will do more to wilt them!
  7. Once the sauce is ready, add the noodles a plate and top with sauce!

Watermelon Mint Salad and How to Cook the Perfect Steak in the Oven

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Long title, I know. But really, this recipe is two recipes in one. You could easily make the watermelon salad by itself if you’re just looking for a nice, refreshing side. Or you could also make just the steak. Or, best of all, you could just make both.

Just like the restaurant in Denver where I first had it on a weekend trip with Mr. LF and our friends K and M a month ago. After two days of hiking in the wonderful Colorado mountains, we’d decided it was time to explore the city we were actually staying in. Our first stop was The Great Divide brewery, which was so great  (see what I did there?)that we didn’t actually end up exploring very far. But it was totally worth a lovely afternoon sampling all their beers and doing a fun tour around the brewery.

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Side note: While we were there, small world that it is, we actually ended up seeing one of M’s friends that she’d met while studying abroad! Isn’t that crazy? I love those serendipitous moments. But anywho, with the beer running through my system, both literally and figuratively, I became curious about this group of locals waiting in line with me for the restroom. I feel like typically only tourists end up going to these sorts of things, so I decided to chat them up. I asked their opinions on this brewery versus others, and they said Great Divide was a good one and also suggested a German-style brewery that Mr. LF and I spent our last day at. They also volunteered that if we were looking for a great place to eat that was close by, we should check out Steuben’s. Since yelp hadn’t actually been steering us in the right direction, we decided to give it a try.

Beer tends to fill me up, so I wasn’t actually that hungry when we got there. Which meant that I thought I’d take the opportunity to order a salad off the menu, something I rarely do. When the waiter came around, I ordered the watermelon mint salad, and he asked whether I wanted grilled chicken or flank steak on top. Although I typically don’t give in to these up-sells, the drunk munchies had me giving an enthusiastic, “YES steak please!”

Thus, this salad was born. It could definitely have been the beer talking, but it was the best salad I’d had in a long time. I knew that I would recreate it as soon as I got home, and here it is! Feel free to use any protein you want–I’ve made this with beef sirloin and ribeye and with the backstrap of a nilgai.. And, since it’s summer, feel especially free to put it on the grill instead of cooking it in the oven! =) Happy 4th!

Watermelon Mint Salad with Grilled Steak
Serves 2

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Ingredients:

2 cups seedless watermelon, diced
1 medium cucumber, diced
2 handfuls spinach or other leafy green (I’ve used arugula before with great results)
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp olive oil
Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup mint leaves (about 15 leaves) or more, to taste
Juice of 1 lime
Optional: goat feta cheese
1 lb grass-fed steak of choice
1 tbsp coconut oil or bacon grease, melted

Directions:

For the salad
1. In a large bowl, mix together the watermelon, cucumber, and spinach.
IMG_75682. Mince your mint leaves.

3. Add the minced leaves to a small bowl, and add in the honey, olive oil, lime juice, and salt and pepper to taste.
IMG_75744. Whisk together until well blended, and pour the dressing in the large bowl with the veggies. Mix until well-coated. Cover the bowl, and refrigerate while you make the steak.

For the steak:
5. Open the package of steak, and drain any juices. Place the steak on a cutting board, and use a few paper towels to blot the steak dry. Let the steak come to room temperature if it isn’t already.
IMG_75826. Turn on your oven’s broiler to high, and place an oven rack about 6-8 inches below the broiler. Put a cast iron grill pan (or regular skillet) on the rack to heat it up with the oven.
7.  Using a pastry brush, brush the coconut oil or bacon grease onto both sides of the steak. Generously season each side with the salt and pepper.
IMG_75838. Turn a burner on your stove to medium high. Make sure that your house is well-ventilated, as the pan and the steak are going to produce a lot of smoke (I put a fan in my window that pulls the smoke outside)!
9. Using an oven mitt, carefully take the cast iron pan out of the oven, and place it on the burner you turned on earlier. I like to put a little bit more of the bacon grease into the pan at this point to help keep it from sticking.
IMG_758510. Use tongs to place the steaks onto the hot grill pan. It will sizzle and smoke! DO NOT TOUCH IT. Cook the steak for 30 seconds. Then, flip it over and cook for an additional 30 seconds.
IMG_758711. Use your oven mitt to put the cast iron pan with the steak back into the oven. Turn off your stove burner, and cook the steak for 2 minutes in the oven. After two minutes, open the oven, and use your tongs to flip the steaks one more time. Cook for an additional 2 minutes for a medium rare to medium steak. If you’d like it closer to being well-done, leave for another minute.
IMG_759012. Take the pan and steaks out of the oven, and remove the steaks to a cutting board. Tent loosely with foil to allow them to rest (this is where the juices redistribute so you don’t get a dry steak) for about 5 minutes.

13. While the steak is resting, take your salad out of the fridge, and plate onto two large bowls. If you eat cheese, sprinkle some of the feta over it.
14. After 5 minutes, slice your steak against the grain, and then fan the pieces on top of your salad!
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Watermelon Mint Salad and How to Cook the Perfect Steak in the Oven
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Salad
Cuisine: American
Serves: 2
Ingredients
  • 2 cups seedless watermelon, diced
  • 1 medium cucumber, diced
  • 2 handfuls spinach or other leafy green (I've used arugula before with great results)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup mint leaves (about 15 leaves) or more, to taste
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Optional: goat feta cheese
  • 1 lb grass-fed steak of choice
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil or bacon grease, melted
Directions
  1. For the salad
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the watermelon, cucumber, and spinach.
  3. Mince your mint leaves.
  4. Add the minced leaves to a small bowl, and add in the honey, olive oil, lime juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk together until well blended.
  5. Pour the dressing in the large bowl with the veggies, and mix until well-coated. Cover the bowl, and refrigerate while you make the steak.
  6. For the steak:
  7. Open the package of steak, and drain any juices. Place the steak on a cutting board, and use a few paper towels to blot the steak dry. Let the steak come to room temperature if it isn't already.
  8. Turn on your oven's broiler to high, and place an oven rack about 6-8 inches below the broiler. Put a cast iron grill pan (or regular skillet) on the rack to heat it up with the oven.
  9. Using a pastry brush, brush the coconut oil or bacon grease onto both sides of the steak. Generously season each side with the salt and pepper.
  10. Turn a burner on your stove to medium high. Make sure that your house is well-ventilated, as the pan and the steak are going to produce a lot of smoke (I put a fan in my window that pulls the smoke outside)!
  11. Using an oven mitt, carefully take the cast iron pan out of the oven, and place it on the burner you turned on earlier. I like to put a little bit more of the bacon grease into the pan at this point to help keep it from sticking.
  12. Use tongs to place the steaks onto the hot grill pan. It will sizzle and smoke! DO NOT TOUCH IT. Cook the steak for 30 seconds. Then, flip it over and cook for an additional 30 seconds.
  13. Use your oven mitt to put the cast iron pan with the steak back into the oven. Turn off your stove burner, and cook the steak for 2 minutes in the oven. After two minutes, open the oven, and use your tongs to flip the steaks one more time. Cook for an additional 2 minutes for a medium rare to medium steak. If you'd like it closer to being well-done, leave for another minute.
  14. Take the pan and steaks out of the oven, and remove the steaks to a cutting board. Tent loosely with foil to allow them to rest (this is where the juices redistribute so you don't get a dry steak) for about 5 minutes.
  15. While the steak is resting, take your salad out of the fridge, and plate onto two large bowls. If you eat cheese, sprinkle some of the feta over it.
  16. After 5 minutes, slice your steak against the grain, and then fan the pieces on top of your salad!

Mom’s Quick Chili

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I’ve been very lucky that the weather here has been cooperating with my recipe posts.  Because chili isn’t really a summer food, is it? But I’ve had this recipe in the queue for a while now, and now that it’s gloomy, rainy, AND cold outside, it really is just perfect timing.  Plus, it was Mother’s Day on Sunday, so what better way to honor my own mother than by posting one my favorite recipes from her.

Brownsville, where my parents still live and where my brother and I grew up, at only 6 hours South of Austin, doesn’t ever really get a “winter” to speak of.  Once, in high school, it snowed. Just once. Luckily for a lot of people in Brownsville who had never seen snow before, it happened to fall on Christmas Eve and lasted throughout Christmas day.  It was actually quite magical to hear the entire neighborhood running around the streets at midnight. And it’s easy to understand why: it was the first time it snowed in over 100 years. 100!

But aside from the 100-year snow, it really doesn’t get that cold down there. You could get by without ever owning a heavy coat (although I heard this year there were a few more cold fronts), and even when I visited them in December, I was wearing jeans and a short sleeve shirt out on the water (Brownsville has the very lovely side benefit of being a 20 minute drive from South Padre, which used to be my point of reference when telling people where I was from). I wore boots that day, and I was hot.

But no matter the temperature, the one thing that always made me feel like it was wintertime was when mom would break out this chili. This is a no-fuss chili.  It has beans. It cooks in 30 minutes. It’s warm, comforting, and straightfoward–all qualities that remind me of my mom. She is all those things and more, and although I’ve changed the recipe to lighten it up a little bit, there’s no changing the memories of coming home to a house filled with the smells of a simmering pot of chili on the stove. And even though it’s totally May and not at all winter (global cooling, amirite?), there’s no day like today to fill your belly with the cozy warmth of chili.

Mom’s Quick Chili
Serves 6

 

Ingredients:

1 lb ground turkey or other meat
2 cans Rotel original
2 cans pinto beans, undrained
3 fresh tomatoes, diced
1 onion, diced
1 tbsp garlic powder or more, to taste
1 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp each chili powder, cumin, and paprika
Optional toppings: cheddar cheese, saltines, sour cream, green onions

Directions:

1. In a large pot, cook the ground meat and diced onions over medium heat until the meat is no longer pink, about 5-7 minutes (if you are using turkey, you may want to add about a tsp of oil so that the turkey doesn’t stick. You don’t need to do this for beef). Make sure to mix it around frequently so that the meat doesn’t get stuck to the pan.

2. Once the meat is cooked, add all other ingredients and mix well. If you like a more watery chili, add about half a cup of water. Simmer on medium/medium-low heat for 30-40 minutes. Stir frequently so that nothing gets stuck to the pan.

3. Serve with shredded cheese and sour cream on top!
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Mom's Quick Chili
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dinner
Cuisine: American
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 1 lb ground turkey or other meat
  • 2 cans Rotel original
  • 2 cans pinto beans, undrained
  • 3 fresh tomatoes, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder or more, to taste
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • ¼ tsp each chili powder, cumin, and paprika
  • Optional toppings: cheddar cheese, saltines, sour cream, green onions
Directions
  1. In a large pot, cook the ground meat and diced onions over medium heat until the meat is no longer pink, about 5-7 minutes (if you are using turkey, you may want to add about a tsp of oil so that the turkey doesn't stick. You don't need to do this for beef). Make sure to mix it around frequently so that the meat doesn't get stuck to the pan.
  2. Once the meat is cooked, add all other ingredients and mix well. If you like a more watery chili, add about half a cup of water. Simmer on medium/medium-low heat for 30-40 minutes. Stir frequently so that nothing gets stuck to the pan.
  3. Serve with shredded cheese and sour cream on top!

Cooking Cure Day I-don’t-know-anymore

Well, guys, as it happens, sometimes our best-laid plans go awry.  After successfully completing two weeks of the Cooking Cure, I fell off the wagon during dinner week.  Happy hours, rehearsal dinners, and weddings all conspired to make me uninspired to keep up with the Cooking Cure (and eat all the delicious things at these events instead….worth it!). And you know what? It’s OK.

When it comes to dieting, you can’t let guilt consume you.  Dieting/losing weight/maintaining weight loss is a long haul.  You will have ups and downs, and you will have setbacks. It is a very easy thing to think that one mistake ruins the whole process, but it doesn’t.  You are human.  Humans make mistakes.  But, best of all, we also learn from them.  I know this was true for me when I was losing weight, and I know it will continue to be true throughout this whole healthy eating thing.  I will have weekends or vacations or, hell, weeknights, where the last thing I want is to eat healthy, where all I crave is greasy pizza and sweets. And, lucky for me, I’ve never felt terribly guilty about this, because I know I can, and will, pick up again.

Just as I don’t feel particularly guilty about not getting through dinner week on the Cooking Cure. Instead, when this week started again, I just jumped right back into planning my meals for the week.  Thing is, the Cooking Cure for me was never about learning to meal plan or to cook at home all the time–I had already been doing those things for months and months.  It was about reinspiring and motivating me to continue learning and being creative in my meals.  And I think the first two weeks of the Cure were sufficient for me.

In fact, after having such success with the Coconut Carrot Soup during lunch week, I decided to revisit my lunch plan this week and choose another recipe to make: Sriracha Steak Lettuce Wraps. If I’m being honest, the decadence of the weekend actually made me crave some of the lighter, healthier, salad-based recipes I had found during lunch week, so I decided to ride that wave. And boy am I glad I did.

I was very intrigued by the cube steak, which I had never cooked with before.  It’s basically a steak that has been tenderized with a meat mallet so that it looks like ground beef but is actually one piece of meat.  This means that you dice it, and you get bigger chunks of meat than just the little morsels of ground beef, which I actually liked as it felt both more substantial and more manageable. The only things I changed from the original recipe was the amount of honey used, and that I added some sesame oil to the relish to give it that toasted flavor!

The best part of this meal was how easy it is to make! In fact, while the steak was marinating in the delicious Sriracha sauce, I checked the mail, fed my cats, chopped up the cucumber relish, and minced all my aromatics (not bad for weeknight cooking!).  By the time I was done with all that, the steaks were ready to throw in the wok, and once they got in there, they only took about 7 minutes!

Spicy Steak Lettuce Wraps
Adapted from Simply Scratch
Serves 4

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Ingredients:

For the steak:
1 lb cube steak, diced
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp Sriracha
1.5 tbsp soy sauce
Juice of one lime
2 tbsp (for the marinade) coconut oil, melted+1 tsp coconut oil (for sauteing)
5 green onions, sliced
1 tbsp minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt
1 tbsp cornstarch
Lettuce leaves

For the cucumber relish:
1/2 cucumber, finely diced
1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 small red onion, finely diced
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
Kosher salt

Directions:

1.  In a large bowl, whisk together the honey, melted coconut oil, Sriracha, lime juice, and soy sauce.

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2. Add the diced cube steak the bowl, and mix together to coat.  Let marinate, uncovered and on the counter, for at least 30 minutes.

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3. Meanwhile, do any small errands you need to, and then get to making the cucumber relish!  Combine the finely chopped cucumber, red bell pepper, and red onion in a bowl (with a lid so that you can store this later!) with the toasted sesame oil and a dash of salt.

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4.  Slice and mince the green onion, ginger, and garlic, if you haven’t already.  Once the 30 minutes are up, heat the remaining tsp of coconut oil in a large pan or wok over medium high heat and add your aromatics to the pan.  Saute for 1-2 minutes until fragrant.

5. Add in the chopped steak, with all the marinated juices and stir fry for 4-5 minutes until there is no more pink visible.  Then, mix in the tbsp of cornstarch and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes.  You will notice that the sauce will begin to thicken and darken and will really coat the meat.  That’s what you’re looking for!  Season with some kosher salt!

6.  Put a lettuce leaf or two on a plate, and fill with the steak mixture, making sure not to overfill so that you can pick it up with your hands!  Top with as much or as little of the cucumber relish as you’d like!

Steak wraps and carrot soup!

Steak wraps and carrot soup!

Sriracha Steak Lettuce Wraps
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Lunch
Cuisine: Asian
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • For the steak:
  • 1 lb cube steak, diced
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp Sriracha
  • 1.5 tbsp soy sauce
  • Juice of one lime
  • 2 tbsp (for the marinade) coconut oil, melted+1 tsp coconut oil (for sauteing)
  • 5 green onions, sliced
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • Lettuce leaves
  • For the cucumber relish:
  • ½ cucumber, finely diced
  • ½ red bell pepper, finely diced
  • ½ small red onion, finely diced
  • ½ tsp toasted sesame oil
  • Kosher salt
Directions
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the honey, melted coconut oil, Sriracha, lime juice, and soy sauce.
  2. Add the diced cube steak the bowl, and mix together to coat. Let marinate, uncovered and on the counter, for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, do any small errands you need to, and then get to making the cucumber relish! Combine the finely chopped cucumber, red bell pepper, and red onion in a bowl (with a lid so that you can store this later!) with the toasted sesame oil and a dash of salt.
  4. Slice and mince the green onion, ginger, and garlic, if you haven't already. Once the 30 minutes are up, heat the remaining tsp of coconut oil in a large pan or wok over medium high heat and add your aromatics to the pan. Saute for 1-2 minutes until fragrant.
  5. Add in the chopped steak, with all the marinated juices and stir fry for 4-5 minutes until there is no more pink visible. Then, mix in the tbsp of cornstarch and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes. You will notice that the sauce will begin to thicken and darken and will really coat the meat. That's what you're looking for! Season with some kosher salt!
  6. Put a lettuce leaf or two on a plate, and fill with the steak mixture, making sure not to overfill so that you can pick it up with your hands! Top with as much or as little of the cucumber relish as you'd like!