Monday, February 28, 2011

Lemon Chickpea Lentil Soup

You may have noticed that I don’t make a lot of sandwiches or salads on my blog. This is due to my one particular idiosyncrasy, I don’t enjoy cold food. It doesn’t feel like a meal to me unless something has been steamed, sautéed, broiled, baked, or pan fried. The only exception to this is possibly sushi, but I generally order my sushi with some Vegetable Tempura to round it out. I can’t explain it, and believe me, I’ve tried. Many a friend or acquaintance has interrogated me on this quirk. So, if you’re a sandwiches and salads kind of vegan, then this is not the food blog for you. Because, ‘round here we like soups, stir frys, stews, and and sautés.

One thing that continually inspires me is how creative vegan chefs are. The simple margin of a plant based diet serves to energize great chefs to come up with satisfying, nutritious vegan dishes. Dreena Burton is one such chef, which she demonstrates in her book, Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan. This is the first recipe I’ve tried from her cookbook, and it is one of the best soups I’ve ever had. I’m still drooling over it as I write. Thick, warm, and rich, it’s perfect for winter; but, it’s also bright, citrusy, and healthy, making it an ideal spring dinner. It even freezes well, so make extra for later!

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 cup dry red lentils
2 small cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 small can diced tomatoes
2 zucchini, diced
2 cups vegetable stock
2 cups water
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and carrot, and sauté until tender, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute more. Add the cumin seeds, paprika, salt and pepper, oregano, and thyme, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the lentils, 1 can of chickpeas, tomatoes, zucchini, vegetable stock, water, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Remove the bay leaves. Using an immersion blender, purée the soup until it is thick, but not smooth. Add the second can of chickpeas and the lemon juice. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve immediately with a side of Herbed Garlic Bread.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Feast Fit for Oscar

It’s almost here, the biggest Sunday of the year! The musical performances, the blood and sweat of competition, fans brawling over the opponents. Yes, that’s right...I’m talking about the Oscars! (Fooled you, didn’t I? You thought I was going to say the Westminster Dog Show, right?)

I know I’m in the minority here, but I don’t really care about the Super Bowl. I used to at least enjoy the food served at this most American of all holidays, but now that I no longer eat Buffalo Wings or Doritos, football has lost all its allure for me. Oscar Sunday has always been more enticing: the over the top gowns, the general merriment, the snarky comments from Joan Rivers and Isaac Mizrahi, and the extemporaneous acceptance speeches. It’s all so much more fun than watching men crush each other; although seeing Colin Firth tackle Jesse Eisenberg for the Best Actor award would be awesome! And just as people carefully plan their Super Bowl menus, crafting dozens of sliders and broiling stuffed potato skins, I pay thoughtful attention to my Oscar menu. Over the years we’ve developed an hors d’oeuvres tradition, preparing canapés and drinking champagne between the major awards. Everything from pot stickers to mini tacos to lettuce cups have found their way to the Oscar table. But, this year I decided to go for a more cohesive theme: bruschetta. A trio of crostinis on tangy walnut bread provides a festive and simple Oscar night dinner.

For all three recipes, slice your favorite bread, brush with olive oil, and broil until the top is golden and crispy.

Tomato and Basil Bruschetta

3 cups tomatoes, dices
1/4 cup basil, chiffonaded
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt and pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve immediately, or refrigerate for later.

White Bean Bruschetta

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 carrot, minced
1/2 onion, minced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon thyme, chopped finely
1 small can white beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup water
salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a small pot. Add the onion and carrot, and sauté until tender, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme, and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the beans and water. Bring the pot to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes, or until thick and creamy. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Kale Bruschetta

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 carrot, minced
1/2 onion, minced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 bunch dinosaur kale, de-ribbed and chopped
1/4 cup water
salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a small pot. Add the onion and carrot, and sauté until tender, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the kale and water. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 3 to 5 minutes, until the kale is tender and the liquid is absorbed. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Summer Rolls, Part III: Peanut Dipping Sauce

Let’s face it. The very best part of Summer Rolls is the peanut dipping sauce. Mixed with lime and ginger, it has so many layers of flavor, and provides the perfect savory flavor to the fresh crispness of the rolls. Plus, peanut butter just makes everything better!

1/2 onion, diced finely
1/2 inch piece of ginger, grated
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons water
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/3 cup peanut butter
Juice of 1 lime

In a small pot, heat the canola oil. Add the garlic and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and ginger and sauté until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the soy sauce, water, brown sugar, lime, and peanut butter. Whisk until smooth and creamy. Serve immediately, or refrigerate until needed.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Summer Rolls, Part II: Making Your Rolls

Summer Rolls are a very common dish at most Thai restaurants. I love Summer Rolls for so many reasons; they’re light, fresh, and healthy, perfect for warm evenings eating in the backyard; they’re also quick and easy, making them good for weeknights when you’re short on time. Summer Rolls are so versatile; you can fill them with tons of different vegetables, brown rice noodles, and fresh herbs for a super healthy and nourishing meal.

1 carrot, julienned
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 cucumber, julienned
1/2 cup snow peas, sliced finely
1/2 cup cilantro (basil and mint also go well)
1/2 package brown rice noodles
Rice paper wrappers
1 recipe baked tofu, sliced into 1/2” x 1/2” matchsticks

Bring a small pot of water to boil. Cook the brown rice noodles according to the package directions. Drain and rinse in cold water. Fill a shallow pan with cold water. Soak 1 rice paper wrapper in the water until flexible, but not mushy. Lay the wrapper flat on a smooth, dry surface. Lay a few stems of cilantro lengthwise on the wrapper. Cover the cilantro with the vegetables and tofu. Lay a handful of brown rice noodles across the vegetables. It’s easier to roll the wrappers if they’re not too full.

Fold the sides of the wrapper in toward the filling.

Pull the bottom of the wrapper over the filling, and roll the wrapper tightly. Set on a plate, and cover with a damp paper towel while making the other rolls. Serve with a side of tangy peanut sauce!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Summer Rolls, Part I: Baked Tofu

A lot of people think that being vegan means eating nothing but tofu and vegetables, and sometimes that’s true! Tofu + Vegetables = Crazy Delicious! Like I said yesterday, vegetables deserve our love and attention, and so does tofu. Tofu is a magnificent protein because it can take on so many flavors. Mixed with cumin, paprika, and lime, it goes great in a breakfast burrito; marinated in soy, chili, and garlic, it’s the perfect addition to stir fry; smooth, silken tofu even makes a great base for key lime or pecan pie. The point is, tofu can’t just be diced and eaten as a snack; you have to love it up a bit. This marinated and baked tofu would be great in stir fry, sushi, or crisp, fresh, Thai summer rolls, as I used it!

Baked Tofu

adapted from Children's Quick and Easy Cook Book

2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons agave nectar
Juice of 1 lime
2-3 drops Tabasco sauce
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 inch piece ginger, grated
1 container extra firm tofu

In a shallow dish, whisk together the soy sauce, agave nectar, lime, Tabasco, garlic, and ginger. Drain the tofu, wrap in several paper towels, then press with a heavy casserole dish and several cans, to remove any excess moisture. Slice the tofu into 1/2 inch slabs, then slice each piece in half. Lay the tofu in the marinade, coating it completely. Let marinate for 30 minutes. Heat the oven to 425ºF. Lightly grease an oven proof dish, then lay the tofu in the pan, then place in the oven. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until crisp and golden on both sides. Dice or slice according to the recipe.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Too Busy to Cook Pasta e Fagioli

You might be able to guess this, but I love talking to people about food, about being vegan, about getting healthy, about losing weight. My blog was inspired by my desire to have a continuous conversation with a lot of people about the joy and exuberance that has filled my life over the last year.

One thing that always comes up is time. People never seem to have enough time to take good care of themselves. Between work, friends, family, significant others, kids, going to the gym, traveling,and more, eating well gets pushed to the bottom of the list. I understand that compared to many people, the demands on my time are low, but eating healthy food should be at the top of all of our priorities, both for ourselves, and for our loved ones.

One of my strategies for eating healthy when my life is going full-speed, is to make a huge portion of soup, stew, or pasta on Sunday, and live off of it for 3 or 4 days. Alternatively, if you crave a bit more variety, you can make a large portion, and freeze single servings to thaw and enjoy at a later date. Being short on time does not have to mean sacrificing your health. So, the next time you’re looking at a hectic week, invest in your well-being with a pot of this pasta e fagioli.

Pasta e Fagioli

adapted from Dynise Balcavage’s The Urban Vegan

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
3 16 ounce cans of cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
3 cups vegetable stock
1 pound ditalini or elbow macaroni
1/4 cup fresh basil, chiffonaded

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, and garlic. Sauté until tender, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the crushed rep pepper and sauté for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the beans and the stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the basil, and taste for salt and pepper.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain, and add to the other ingredients. Stir to combine, and serve immediately!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Maple Glazed Carrots

Eat your vegetables! It’s something we’ve been hearing our whole lives, but most of us are reluctant to obey. On the American plate, vegetables have been relegated to a sideshow; the opening act that no one really wants to see. Vegetables are The Hollies to meat’s Rolling Stones. The amount of care and effort we put into our meats completely overshadows the attention we show our vegetables. Perhaps this is why we feel so lukewarm toward them. We steam them, sauté them, or just eat them raw, maybe some salt, some ranch dressing, maybe not. This is no way to treat vegetables! Plants deserve to be center stage; they deserve to be diced, julienned, and chifonnaded, marinaded, grilled, and roasted; they deserve to be the heart and center of every meal. In my vegan transition, I began by substituting vegan meat for animal meat, tofu meatballs for example. Then I started using beans and tofu and tempeh for the center of my plate. Now, I simply eat vegetables: vegetables and grains, vegetables and noodles, vegetables and legumes, vegetables and vegetables. Becoming vegan means reconciling your relationship with vegetables, and this recipe is a great first step toward achieving vegetable love!

Maple Glazed Carrots

2 cups carrots, sliced (or, you can use baby carrots)
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

Heat oven to 375ºF. Prepare carrots, and place in an oven-proof dish. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss until well coated. Roast until fork-tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Drizzle with maple syrup and return to the oven for 3 to 5 minutes, until the syrup is thick and sticky, and the carrots are coated with glaze. Enjoy immediately!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Green Spring Risotto

I’m sorry to rub this in anyone’s face, but it’s springtime here in the Bay Area. The cherry trees are blooming, daffodils are lifting their sleepy heads, and the hills have turned their most beautiful shade of green. I wouldn’t trade any fall colors, or so-called “seasons” for a California spring. It lasts forever, and every week something new is in bloom.

When the weather is this sweet, it puts me in the mood for light, bright, and fresh food. The vegan diet is the perfect canvas to showcase the fresh vegetables and fruits that are at their peak this time of year. The simplicity of this dish highlights the individual flavors of zucchini, asparagus, and peas, while bringing them all together for a blissful spring dinner. And, just in case you’re still in the land of ice and snow, this risotto is also warm, cozy, and satisfying.

Green Spring Risotto

1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed
2 zucchini, halved and chopped roughly
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups arborio rice
6 cups vegetable stock
1 cup white wine
1 cup frozen green peas
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest, finely grated
1/4 cup basil, chiffonaded

Heat the oven to 375ºF. Spread the asparagus and zucchini in a single layer in an oven-proof dish. Drizzle with the 2 tablespoons olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in the oven and bake until tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

Heat the 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot. Add the shallots and garlic, and sauté over medium low heat until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the rice, and stir to coat with oil. Sauté over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the wine and simmer, stirring frequently, until the wine is absorbed. Add 1 cup of stock, and continue stirring. When the risotto begins to look dry, add more stock, and continue stirring. Repeat until the rice is tender, and the risotto is creamy.

Slice the asparagus into 2 inch pieces, and dice the zucchini into 1/2 inch pieces. Add the vegetables, peas, lemon juice, and lemon zest to the risotto. Cook for 1 minute. Taste for salt and pepper. Add the basil, and stir to combine. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Winter Vegan Lasagna, Part II

Winter Vegan Lasagna

1 recipe tomato sauce
1 recipe Basil Pesto
1 roasted butternut squash
1 pound spinach
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound crimini mushrooms, sliced
4 tablespoons non dairy butter
1/4 cup flour
2 1/2 cups non dairy milk, unsweetened
1 pound whole wheat lasagna noodles

Heat oven to 375ºF. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the directions. Drain, and rinse with cold water. Set aside.

Place the spinach in a large, microwave-safe bowl, and microwave for 1 and a half to 2 minutes, or until just wilted.

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add the mushrooms and sauté until brown and tender. Set aside.

Add the milk to a small pot, and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat. In a medium pot, melt the butter. When it begins to bubble, add the flour, and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly. Bring to a simmer, and continue whisking until thickened, about 10 minutes. Add 1/4 cup of the pesto to the béchamel, and stir to combine.

Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce over the bottom of the lasagna pan. Place lasagna noodles lengthwise along the bottom of the pan. Spread the mushrooms, spinach, and squash across the noodles.

Spoon the béchamel over the vegetables.

Top with another layer of noodles, then repeat until you are left with one layer of noodles. Top with any remaining béchamel, and cover completely with tomato sauce. Cover the pan with foil, and place in the oven for about 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Remove from the oven, cut a square, drizzle with pesto, and serve immediately.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Winter Vegan Lasagna

Lasagna has an illustrious history in my life. My first-generation, Italian great-grandmother made pans of lasgana for my mother while she was pregnant with me; it was my favorite food as a child; and it was the first dish I ever made entirely on my own. A few months after I became vegan, I had an undeniable craving for lasagna. After doing some internet research, I found a recipe for vegan lasagna made with tofu ricotta. Commenters raved about the recipe, offered helpful revisions, and claimed that their omnivore friends ate every bite. I made my favorite tomato sauce, went to the health food store to get nutritional yeast, and put the whole thing together. It came out of the oven hot and bubbly. After cutting a big piece for myself, I took a bite and...was completely disappointed. I tried it again the next day, and swiftly slid the rest of the pan down the disposal. Ever since then, I have been plotting a seriously good vegan lasagna.

Sometimes, making things better doesn’t mean reinventing the wheel, but rather going back to the traditional. Living in Italy gave me the chance to experience the very best Italian food. The most surprising thing to me was how different traditional lasagna is from the dish you find in America. First of all, it doesn’t have the requisite top layer of browned and melted mozzarella. Secondly, it isn’t layered with ricotta and parmesan. Rather, it is comprised of layers of fresh pasta sheets, rich and creamy béchamel, and tart tomato sauce. The addition of three kinds of cheese is a quintessentially American adaptation of foreign foods. Creating a vegan lasagna gave me an opportunity to make a healthier, and more traditional layered pasta. Fortunately, I already knew how to make a rocking vegan béchamel, so a fabulous plant-based lasagna couldn’t be far away. After some experimentation, and a lot of planning, I’ve developed a flavorful, luscious, and hearty lasagna. Check back tomorrow for the full recipe!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Back to Basics: Roasted Butternut Squash

The next step in my winter vegan lasagna is another vegan staple, roasted butternut squash. I was never especially fond of butternut squash before I became vegan. I would never choose butternut squash risotto when there was a seafood risotto on the menu, or a butternut squash ravioli when they had a ricotta and spinach option available. Once I became vegan, butternut squash was my new best friend, and I could not have been more delighted. Every time I eat this winter fruit, I am surprised by the delicate balance it maintains between sweet and savory. I feel warmed to my core whenever I make this food, and start immediately contemplating the next dish I can make with it.

Roasted butternut squash gives this lasagna a nice heartiness and bite along with mushrooms and spinach. It would also be perfect in soups, stews, and even stir frys. Squash mellows out the heat of Mexican food, rounds out the layers of Moroccan dishes, and provides a savory flavor to classic American cuisine. Bright and colorful, and so good for you, try this winter fruit before it’s too late!

Roasted Butternut Squash

Heat the oven to 400ºF.

Cut off the top stem of the squash. Slice the squash in half, lengthwise. Remove the seeds. Slice the squash lengthwise again, then cut each wedge in half. Brush each piece with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the wedges on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until fork-tender. Cut the flesh from the peel before using.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Back to Basics: Pesto

I realized today that I have been utterly neglectful of one important dish in my vegan repertoire: pesto! I’ve mentioned it many times before, and it’s long been one of my very favorite foods, but I’ve yet to talk specifically about a vegan pesto.

Pesto is a very simple Italian sauce, made of basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and parmesan. My experience over the past year has shown me that removing the dairy from foods actually heightens the flavors. So, omitting the cheese from pesto actually amplifies the herbaceous basil, the fruity olive oil, and the salt and warmth of the pine nuts, leaving only a smooth, rich sauce for pasta, crostini, and more.

Preparing the pesto is the first step in my wintry vegan lasagna, but it’s also a great staple. I like to make a large batch, and freeze it, so I always have a kicking condiment for my salad pizza, or my fettuccine with pesto and cranberry beans. One of my favorite weeknight dinners is spaghetti with pesto, green beans, and cherry tomatoes. Spend a few minutes one afternoon to make a sauce that will carry you through so many meals.

Basil Pesto

4 cups fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Combine the garlic and pine nuts in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until chopped roughly. Add the basil leaves, and pulse until chopped finely, but not mushy. With the processor on, slowly add the olive oil until it reaches a smooth consistency. Add more olive oil if you would like the sauce thinner. Add the lemon juice and pulse to combine. Use immediately, or freeze for up to 6 months.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Frog Hollow Peach Scones

I’ve already shared these spectacular barley scones with you, but I wanted to share my latest iteration in case you needed a little more incentive to try them in your home.

What makes these scones so marvelous is their malleability; any kind of jam can be used, and spotlighted, between the twin buttery crusts of this light and savory-sweet scone. A few weeks ago, I was at my favorite of all grocery stores, Berkeley Bowl. Upon first entering, it looks like your average grocery store, but what makes this place truly special is the variety of items they carry. Two aisles are devoted to bulk bins of nuts, seeds, pastas, cereals, grains, flours, powders, and more. Berkeley Bowl is where I go if I want to find something that no one else has. They also have an extraordinary produce section full of fresh, local, seasonal, organic, and abundant fruits and vegetables. And, in any given aisle, you will find more, and better choices of every prepared food you can imagine.

So, after making these scones the first time, I was ineluctably drawn to the jam aisle, and I was blown away to discover something I never even knew existed: Frog Hollow Peach Conserve. Frog Hollow peaches are something of a legend in this area. They are only available for a very limited period at the end of the summer. They are so perfect that Alice Waters, the original locavore, serves them unadorned, solo on a plate. If you visit the Frog Hollow stand in Ferry Plaza during peach season, they will respectfully ask whether you would like to enjoy your peach now, or take it home. If you say that you would like it now, they will ask how you would like your peach prepared; sliced, diced, or simply washed. This is the height of food snobbery...and I love it!

I hope this will inspire you to scout out your neighborhood grocery for a spectacular jam that will do justice to these scones.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Oprah & Dinner Peace, Part VII

We’ve reached the end of our Oprah week, and I’d like to wrap things up by addressing the end of Oprah’s vegan episode. After celebrating the weight loss of several Oprah staffers, Michael Pollan interjected, “I hate to cast any kind of shadow over this dietary revival meeting,” to which Kathy Freston responded, “Then don’t.” Pollan continued anyway, saying “there is nothing evil about meat.” I have very mixed feelings about this statement. First of all, Freston, like many vegans and vegetarians, said that, “it doesn’t sit right in my soul...I’m trying to incorporate my values like compassion and empathy and kindness and mercy. When I see that [video of Cargill], I have to ask myself, ‘Can I look into the eyes of an animal, and say that your suffering, or your pain, or your fear is not as important as my appetite.’” Oprah, completely missing the point, replied “but, they don’t suffer.” All evidence to the contrary, Ms. Winfrey.

As I have already discussed in my last post, this system fails more often than it succeeds, and to unilaterally apply one day at one factory farm to the entire industry is naive and irresponsible. Our rate of consumption has outpaced our compassion. We would rather pretend that the animals we eat don’t suffer, even when we’ve been told over and over that they unequivocally do, than decrease our consumption of animal products. This is nothing short of ludicrous. Further, as Freston pointed out, over 9 of the 10 billion animals we kill for consumption in America are chickens and turkeys, who are exempt from the laws requiring humane animal treatment. There is no Temple Grandin-designed slaughterhouse for chickens and turkeys. So even if you’ve managed to convince yourself that the cows you eat haven’t suffered, there is no such feint for your poultry.

I am extremely glad that Oprah gave her staff the chance to try a vegan diet. There were obviously a lot of successes in weight loss, overall health, and general awareness. More than one person has decided to extend their vegan week to see how they feel after 21 days, or even a month. This is a huge triumph! However, I fear that other people came away with a convenient excuse to continue their unexamined lifestyle, whether from Michael Pollan telling us that we must eat meat in order to support the small, local farmers, or from Oprah and Nicole Johnson-Hoffman telling us that animals don’t suffer, and this is indeed the natural order of things. I hope my week of Oprah examination has added a little more information to this dialogue, and offered some compelling doubts to the unfortunate distortions presented by Oprah and her guests. I implore you all to take a serious look at your own diet, and consider your contribution to animal treatment, the environment, and your own health.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Oprah & Dinner Peace, Part VI

The reality is, not all cattle are treated in this way. Jonathan Safran Foer details the typical transport process for most cattle, a part of the process Lisa Ling did not address in her documentary:

"One way or another [roping, shouting, tail twisting, shocking with electric prods, and hitting], they are herded onto trucks or trains. Once aboard, cattle face a journey of up to forty-eight hours, during which they are deprived of water and food. As a result, virtually all of them lose weight and many show signs of dehydration. They are often exposed to extremes of heat and cold. A number of     animals will die from the conditions or arrive at the slaughterhouse too sick to be considered fit for human consumption."

Cargill’s general manager, Nicole Jonson-Hoffman, made a big point about the bolt that is shot into the cow’s head, rendering it insensible to the rest of the slaughter process, and its own death. What Johnson-Hoffman never mentions is that sometimes the bolt is administered inaccurately, and the cow is alive when their artery is cut, or regains consciousness while they are being “processed.” According to Foer, “animals are bled, skinned, and dismembered while conscious. It happens all the time, and the industry and the government know it. Several plants cited for bleeding or skinning or dismembering live animals have defended their actions as common in the industry and asked, perhaps rightly, why they were being singled out.”

These traumas are only a drop in the bucket. Every step of the process is vulnerable to human error, and thus extreme cruelty. Oprah’s inclusion of Cargill makes it seem like their standards of practice are universal, and all of the beef you find in supermarkets and restaurants is slaughtered and processed in this way. In truth, this thinking is naive, and lets us off the hook of demanding better animal treatment practices. If you truly care about where your meat comes from, I encourage you to read Eating Animals or watch PETA’s brief documentary Meet Your Meat. As admirable as Fort Morgan’s humane efforts are, this is still not typical, and serious change is still necessary.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Oprah & Dinner Peace, Part V

Another major component of Oprah’s vegan-centric episode was Lisa Ling’s tour of the Cargill meat processing plant. Michael Pollan repeatedly said that, “we cannot get right with our food until we know where our food comes from.” To that end, Oprah dispatched Lisa Ling to visit the Cargill beef facility in Fort Morgan, CO, and spend time with the general manager, Nicole Johnson-Hoffman.

Ling was first brought to the feed lot, where 12,000 cattle are fed a corn-rich diet for 200 days, until they gain approximately 600 pounds. They are then transferred to the meat processing facility in Fort Morgan. Approximately 4,500 cows are slaughtered every day in this facility. Ling followed the cattle’s path through the Temple Grandin designed pathways, intended to keep the cattle calm as they approach their death. Each cow is shot in the head with a bolt, that is intended to render them insensible. Their artery is cut, and they bleed to death within a couple minutes. The cow’s carcass is washed, skinned, and hooves and head removed. The carcass is placed in a large refrigerator where it is inspected, butchered, and packaged, then sent to distributors.

I give Cargill credit for bringing Lisa Ling in, when 20 other companies refused to allow the cameras in. But Cargill is a massive, worldwide organization, and Fort Morgan is only 1 of their processing facilities. All we can know from the footage of their plant is what happens on one particular day in one particular plant. However positively things are being done in Fort Morgan, this says nothing about what other companies are doing (like all the groups that refused access to Oprah). Unless you know that your meat is coming from Fort Morgan, you cannot know that this is how your cattle is slaughtered.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Oprah & Dinner Peace, Part IV

In an effort to help the vegan neophytes adjust to their new eating style, Kathy Freston took Oprah’s Senior Supervising Producer, Jill, grocery shopping at Whole Foods. A brief interview with Jill’s family showed that they were not too enthusiastic about forgoing all animals products, even for 1 week. Her son, Luke, said that he expected to eat apples every day. This is an excellent example of one common misconception about a vegan diet, how limited it is. When you tell people that they can no longer eat animal based foods, they envision restriction, lack, and dissatisfaction. In reality, Americans eat less than 0.25% of the Earth’s known edible food. The minor restriction of veganism inspires a necessary culinary creativity that encourages us to eat vegetables, greens, grains, and proteins we never would have tried otherwise. My vegan experience has introduced me to so many wonderful foods that I was ignorant of before.

In order to help Jill and her family “lean into” the vegan diet, Kathy asked Jill what kinds of food her family eats. Jill reported pizza, spaghetti, and tacos, three things I have written about repeatedly on my blog. Kathy, rather than thinking outside the omnivorous box in order to find delicious, vegan reimaginings of these classic American foods, proposed one-to-one substitutions; vegan sausage for Italian sausage in the spaghetti sauce; textured vegetable protein for ground beef in the tacos; non-dairy cheese for regular cheese on the pizza. I found these food suggestions incredibly disappointing, because non-dairy cheese doesn’t taste like mozzarella, and “soysage” doesn’t taste like sausage, and TVP doesn’t taste like ground beef, which inevitably leads to dissatisfaction. This kind of cooking does not encourage people to stay vegan, because they are shallow reproductions of foods that rely on animal products.

If you peruse my blog, you will find hardly any vegan meat products, and non-dairy cheezes. That is because real food always tastes better than fake food. Being vegan does not automatically equate to being healthy. It’s easy to be a vegan who subsists on potato chips, french fries, Oreos, and chick’n nuggets. Being healthy means eating whole, real foods, like fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and grains. Instead of TVP tacos, I would encourage Jill to try roasted vegetable tacos with peanut salsa, or grilled pizzas with cashew cream, or perciatelli with roasted tomato and almond pesto. These are foods that will delight your tongue, nourish your body, and make you forget all about their animal based counterparts!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Oprah & Dinner Peace, Part III

Along with Michael Pollan, Oprah invited Kathy Freston, best-selling vegan author. Freston is not a nutritionist, but she has been vegan for 7 years, and she’s a pretty good advertisement for the lifestyle. One Oprah staffer even told Freston that she would become vegan if she could look like Freston! Kathy is responsible for encouraging Oprah to try a 21 day vegan, gluten-free, caffeine-free, and alcohol-free cleanse last year, and she led Oprah and her staff in their week-long vegan challenge.

Kathy’s main message is to “lean into” a vegan diet, taking small steps toward living a life free of animal products. I am hugely in favor of this idea. My first experience with veganism was a whole-hearted leap into the lifestyle. During the six weeks of Lent, I vacillated between enthusiasm and reluctance toward this lifestyle. After Lent was over, I knew I could never go back to the way I had eaten before, but I was unprepared to never eat another hamburger, or eggs benedict, or lasagna. I spent the next few weeks having my last animal products, and quickly felt ready to let it all go for good. For me, “leaning in” was the key to committing to a vegan lifestyle.

“Leaning in” can mean a lot of different things, from “Meatless Mondays” to Mark Bittman’s “vegan before 7:00 pm.” Writing this blog for the last six months has been my way of promoting the idea of “leaning in.” Embracing a vegan diet even once a week can have a monumental impact on the environment, the food system, and your health. Directing your money toward plant foods rather than animal foods sends a strong message to the American food industry about our desire for a more humane and sustainable product.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Oprah & Dinner Peace, Part II

Like many discussions of veganism in our current culture, Oprah and her guests  took two steps forward and one step back. Her first guest was Michael Pollan, now one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential people. I have a lot of respect for Michael Pollan. His perspective on eating has encouraged Americans to eat less food, more vegetables, and use their purchasing power to positively impact America’s broken food system. He advocates for the local, the sustainable, and the humane. Michael Pollan’s  eating identity as conscientious omnivore is an admirable one, but ultimately unrealistic.

My favorite vegan food writer, Jonathan Safran Foer, discusses this concept the most eloquently.  He first addresses Pollan’s idea of “table fellowship,” and how Pollan criticizes vegetarianism for being a divisive, rather than unifying, food experience. In some ways this is true; having to eat something different than your companions changes your experience, and excludes you in a fundamental way. However, Foer’s critical point is that “to be a selective omnivore is a much heavier blow to table fellowship than vegetarianism.” Being invited to dinner, and requesting a meatless option is a far more manageable entreaty than requesting only compassionately slaughtered, humanely and sustainably raised, local meat.

After my six week vegan experiment, I was reluctant to give up all animal products, but ultimately unwilling to contribute to the dysfunction of our current food system. I hoped that Pollan’s idea of the conscientious omnivore could be a happy medium for me. I quickly found it to be untenable though, waving my Seafood Watch pocket guide at bewildered waiters, and futilely asking where the eggs and butter in these cupcakes comes from. More often than not, I couldn’t get the answers to these questions unless I bought all my food at the farmer’s market and prepared it myself. In the end, I realized that if I was serious about reducing my personal impact on animal cruelty and environmental harm, selective omnivorism wasn’t the answer.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Oprah Goes Vegan for 1 Week & Dinner Peace Goes Oprah for 1 Week!

On Monday, Oprah detailed her experience going vegan for one week with her Harpo staff, colorfully relating the cravings, the weight loss, the anxiety, and the bowel movements. Oprah challenged her staff to give up animal products for one week with the help of best-selling vegan author Kathy Freston, and 378 Harpo employees took her up on it. Spoiler alert! 300 people successfully completed the challenge, and collectively lost 444 pounds. I love that Oprah is directing her considerable resources to the vegan cause; without Oprah, thousands of people would be as unfamiliar with veganism as they previously were with Charles Dickens. Thank you, Oprah!

Because Oprah gave the vegans a week, I’m going to give Oprah’s show a week of thought. I’d like to start with the good, specifically the success stories. Oprah’s video editor, Rich, lost 11 pounds in 1 week...11 pounds! Rich is the first one to point out that along with giving up animal products, he also gave up bad-for-you foods. He wholeheartedly embraced the vegan diet, filling himself with vegetables and whole grains instead of junk food. Along with his extraordinary weight loss, Rich told the audience that he’s no longer popping 6-8 antacids a day, or suffering from crippling migraines.

Oprah highlighted several other staffers who experienced weight loss, increased energy, not to mention overcoming junk food withdrawal symptoms. I think this is a good moment to remind my readers of my own vegan transformation. Since embracing a whole-foods, plant-based, vegan diet last June, I have lost 22 pounds. I feel better every single day, more comfortable in my body, more aligned with my values of compassion and respect, and more content with my impact on the animals and the planet. While I used to carry aspirin with me everywhere due to my frequent headaches, I can’t remember the last time I had a headache. Becoming vegan has changed my life, and I’m grateful to Oprah for bringing her substantial influence to an ideal I believe in so deeply.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Spicy Lime Slurping Noodles

A few weeks ago, I saw a very exciting post on my facebook news feed: “Have your vegan recipe published!” Chef Christy Morgan, friend to vegan superstar Alicia Silverstone, was requesting recipes for a Southeast Asian vegan cookbook she’s currently working on. The only stipulations were that it be an original dish inspired by the food of Southeast Asia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysian, Laos. It seemed like a spectacular opportunity, and a fun challenge. As I said last week, I have been taking tentative steps toward developing my own dishes without recipes, and I am pleased to report that my first attempt was a huge success!

This dish was inspired by the flavors and techniques of Malaysia; the bright tartness of lime, and the heat of red chiles. Tender and chewy noodles accompanied by crisp vegetables immersed in a bright and savory broth. So called “slurping” noodles because you won’t be able to resist slurping up this broth, even after all the noodles are gone!

Spicy Lime Slurping Noodles

2 tablespoons chili-garlic sauce (add more if you want it spicier)
1/4 cup shoyu
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Juice of 1 lime
2” of ginger, grated or chopped finely
2 cups of vegetable stock
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 red bell pepper
4-5 heads of baby bok choy
1 pound whole wheat noodles (I used linguine, but you could use soba or rice noodles)
3 green onions
1/2 cup cilantro
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 package extra firm tofu (15 ounces)
Crushed peanuts for garnish

Prepare the broth. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the chili-garlic sauce, shoyu, lemon juice, lime juice, and ginger. Pulse until smooth and thoroughly mixed. Pour the mixture into a small saucepan. Add the vegetable stock and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat for 5 minutes, until all the flavors have combined.

Prepare the vegetables. Remove the very end of each head of bok choy, separating the leaves, then rinsing thoroughly. Leave the very center of each bok choy intact. Seed and de-rib the bell pepper, then slice into 1/4” strips. Slice each strip in half. Slice the green onion into 1/4” circles, using both the white and green parts. Remove the cilantro leaves from the stems, then finely chop the stems.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the noodles according to their individual instructions. Drain and set aside.

Prepare the tofu. Drain the tofu, then press firmly with paper towels to remove the excess water. Slice the tofu into 1” slices, then cut each slice in half.  Heat 2 tablespoons of  vegetable oil in a large not non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Place the tofu in the pan, repeatedly pressing down on the tofu with a spatula to release some of the remaining water. Allow the tofu to brown until it comes up easily with a spatula. If it sticks, it’s not ready. Flip the tofu, and repeat on the other side. Transfer the tofu to a cutting board, and chop into 1” cubes. Place the tofu in the broth and return to a simmer.

Putting the whole dish together. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in the same sauté pan. Add the bok choy and bell pepper, and cook until just tender, about 3 minutes. Add the noodles to the vegetables, then pour the broth over the whole thing. Toss briefly, allowing the noodles to soak up some of the sauce. Serve the noodles with a generous portion of broth, and top with the cilantro and peanuts.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Chickpea and Artichoke Masala

I love to cook. Obviously, I write a food blog. I read cookbooks, food magazines, and other food blogs. And I love to watch cooking shows. You would think that someone who cares as much about food as I do would love the Food Network. Well, I used to. It’s partly because I’m now vegan; this is a network where audiences cheer at the mention of butter and cheese. But, lately I have noticed an overall decline in the quality and standard of the network as a whole. One of my favorite chefs, Ina Garten, or the Barefoot Contessa, regularly invites her audience to watch her shop at elegant East Hampton boutique grocers, and then artfully arrange expensive meats and cheeses as though it’s teaching. Don’t even get me started on Rachel Ray and “Semi-Homemade” Sandra Lee.

But, occasionally, there is cooking on this channel, and sometimes even innovation. The latest winner of “The Next Food Network Star,” Aarti Sequeira is one such chef. And she was a food blogger herself! Her show, “Aarti Party” presents itself as American food with an Indian twist, introducing her audience to flavors and techniques they wouldn’t normally experiment with. Because I don’t know much about Indian cooking, I always learn something new when I watch her show. She also tends to be a lot more vegan and vegetarian friendly due to the massive vegetarian influence in Indian cooking. I hope Aarti’s food and creativity is an indication of Food Network’s future, not a relic of its past. 

Chickpea and Artichoke Masala

Adapted from Aarti Sequeira

1 red onion, chopped roughly
1 clove garlic
1/2 inch piece ginger, peeled and chopped
3 Roma tomatoes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seed
2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 cup almond milk, unsweetened
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 bag frozen artichokes
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the onion, garlic, ginger, tomatoes and 1 tablespoon oil. Pulse until smooth.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large pot, or sauté pan. Once the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds. Allow to pop briefly, then add the onion mixture to the pot. Sauté until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Add the spices, and sauté for 1 minute more. Add the almond milk, lime juice, chickpeas, artichokes, salt to taste, and water. Stir until thoroughly combined, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cilantro and serve immediately over your favorite whole grain with a side of whole wheat naan!