Nom Nom Paleo’s gluten-free recipes (yes, potstickers!)

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Palo Alto’s Michelle Tam has been described as an umami evangelist and the Martha Stewart of paleo. Both are true. But it is the Cantonese term wai sek that the Nom Nom Paleo blogger and recipe developer says best describes her and her family. It means “lives to eat.”

“Gluttonous is another good translation,” Tam says, laughing. “And that’s pretty accurate, going all the way back to my grandparents.”

No time of year is food more celebrated and symbolic than the approaching Chinese New Year — or Lunar New Year. For the Year of the Tiger, which begins Feb. 1, Tam and thousands of other Bay Area home cooks will be whipping up family specialties for all the good luck foods, from dumplings and longevity noodles to fish.

“Nom Nom Paleo: Let’s Go!” is the third volume from Michelle Tam and Henry Fong of Palo Alto. (Andrews McMeel) 

If you follow a paleo diet or avoid gluten, like Tam and her husband, Henry Fong, you need not miss out on a single festive food.

Their latest cookbook, “Nom Nom Paleo: Let’s Go!”, offers 140 flavorful, protein-and-plant-centric recipes, from Cantonese Pipa Duck with Sunbutter Hoisin Sauce to Chicken Chow Mein, made with spiralized white sweet potatoes. The majority of the recipes are Whole30-compatible and about half are Keto-friendly, with vegan, vegetarian and Instant Pot options.

Tam, a child of Hong Kong immigrants, grew up eating her grandmother’s whole poached chicken on the eve of every Chinese New Year. It was always slathered in a piquant, ginger scallion sauce that Tam now puts on everything, from weeknight poached chicken breasts to white fish, which is traditionally eaten on the holiday to promote prosperity.

But it is her pork and shiitake potstickers that hold the most meaning. While quick and easy recipes are her jam (especially when there is a sheet pan involved), Tam says the time she spent making these pinched purses of pan-fried goodness with her mom and grandma are among her favorite memories.

“Homemade dumplings are the physical embodiment of the love Asian moms have for their kids,” says Tam, who makes her gluten-free dough from cassava flour and arrowroot powder, the same combo that’s in her Scallion Pancakes. “Sometimes you just have to do the work. It’s so worth it.”

It helps that all the Nom Nom Paleo content — the blog, the meal-planning app and all three cookbooks — are filled with Fong’s step-by-step photographs, kid-friendly cartoons and corny jokes.

“We were very intentional about that,” Tam says. “And we try to make it so there’s no way you can mess up a dish.”

Palo Alto’s Michelle Tam and Henry Fong are the husband-and-wife duo behind Nom Nom Paleo. (Oliver Fong) 

Tam started blogging back in 2010, after she and Fong switched to a paleo diet and noticed improvements in their health. But Tam says they’re not paleo preachers, so go ahead and have some rice with those gingery fish fillets, if you’d like. The couple simply want families to get into the kitchen and believe that the healthiest meal is the one you make yourself.

And while the duo’s first two cookbooks focused on what they thought others wanted to cook, this latest collection, written and photographed during the pandemic, focuses on what they love eating, from a simple Garden Pesto Scramble to Shoyu Ramen and Shrimp Simmered in Green Mole.

“I think for many people (making and eating) sourdough was their comfort during this time,” Tam says. “But for me, comfort foods are the Chinese and Mexican dishes that I grew up eating in the Bay Area, especially my mom’s Chinese food.”

“Nom Nom Paleo: Let’s Go!” is dedicated to their grandparents, who didn’t show affection with hugs and kisses, but with food, Tam says.

“We knew we were loved because of the foods they cooked for us.”

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