Archive for the ‘Vegetarianism’ Category

The Great Kale Experiment

Mountains of kale. Image credit: SweetOnVeg

This story starts with what Kevin, with his usual verbal adroitness, calls the kale pillow.

This was a bag of kale similar in size and heft to a standard bed pillow. Now, let me say that I don’t get why people (especially greenies and vegans) think kale is OMG AMAZING. From my experience with the stuff, it has a similar mouth feel to plastic Easter basket grass (don’t ask), resists all attempts to soften, and traps grit like a sponge. Still, the kale pillow was $2. I’m cheap. I know I should be eating more nutritious leafy greens. Kale grows almost year round in California. And hell, I want to know what people are talking about when they swear that kale is the BEST THING EVER.

So I embarked on a week of kale everything. There are a few yellowing leaves left in the bag, but I’m feeling downright virtuous after chomping my way through three pounds of the stuff this week.

Alas, after our week-long fling, it’s clear that kale and I are doomed to be a failed romance. I just didn’t learn to love kale, though I’ve included below some of the recipes I found modestly enjoyable. Maybe it’s just my contrarian inability to embrace anything so trendy. Or maybe it’s that kale is a tough taste to acquire. Hmm…

The bad (spectacular kale failures):

  • Massaged kale salad with olive oil, lemon juice, and other stuff. 500+ positive reviews can’t be wrong, right? Perhaps I bought the wrong variety. Maybe my leaf-massaging technique is off. It didn’t soften up nearly enough. It still tasted green. And then I oversalted it.
  • Kale in my smoothie. Even with a measly half a leaf dropped in a smoothie otherwise chock full of yummy summer fruit, I found myself looking suspiciously at the dark green flecks and wondering if they were adding that astringent edge to my smoothie. I’ve got my eye on you, kale.
  • Kale ice cream. A not-in-earnest Twitter suggestion that made me gag just thinking about it.

The mediocre (might make this again):

  • Kale with scrambled eggs. Not too bad, couldn’t help thinking that it would taste better without the kale.
  • Finely chopped kale mixed with brown rice, mushrooms, and herbs to stuff eggplants. Could neither see nor taste it. That’s good, right?
  • Ethiopian-style gomen (usually made with collard greens). I tried a recipe adapted for kale and non-Ethiopian kitchens. It was edible, but hardly thrilling. Maybe if I started with more authentic ingredients, like the spiced, clarified butter traditional to Ethiopian cooking.

The good (relatively painless way to eat kale):

  • Kale chips. Ignore the panegyrics; these bear zero resemblance to potato chips. And the texture takes some getting used to. (Ever jump into an autumn leaf pile and start chowing down? Me neither. But the brittle crunch of kale chips seems very similar to the crunch of dead leaves underfoot.) After the first crumbly mouthful, they’re oddly addictive. There are lots of guides on how to make them, but most of them involve baking at around 350 for 15 minutes or so. I like mine with a sprinkle of garlic, nutritional yeast, and parmesan.
  • Colcannon. Twitter friend Mem_Somerville sent me a link to an Irish dish that involves, essentially, mashed potatoes, cabbage, and onions, lightly pan-fried until crispy. You really can’t go wrong with anything that involves fried mashed potatoes. This one was a keeper.
  • Kale and white bean stew. I’ve made this before, and up until the colcannon, it was the only kale recipe that had a place of honor in my recipe box. Tasty, comforting, and nutritious, if not quite appropriate for summer. (I substitute veggie stock for the chicken stock in the recipe, of course.)

Do you find it hard to get in your leafy greens? Or are you a die hard kale devotee? What are your favorite kale recipes?

A tale of mosquitoes and limited compassion

Female mosquito, unholy terror of the tropics

Nineteen.

That’s the total number of mosquito bites I received last week in Hawaii. Nineteen, despite trying to apply IPM with physical controls (long sleeves and long pants every single day — as a result of which I was bitten on the face, neck, fingers, and feet), cultural controls (dumping out any standing water and avoiding being outside from 5-8pm), and finally chemical controls (some all natural insect repellent that gave both Kevin and me headaches).

Of course, I started thinking evil thoughts about mosquitoes long before reaching 19. I’m not lucky enough to get small, well-behaved, M&M sized bumps. My bites turn into painful, raised hives 1-2″ across that itch irresistibly, swell into water blisters, and leave bruises (especially when I don’t touch them) that hang around for months afterwards.

hate mosquitoes. They, unfortunately, can’t get enough of me.

At 4AM one morning, I awoke to the sounds of tropical birds, soft rain, and the unquenchable itch of the many mosquito bites that had woken me up. As I lay there awake, willing myself not to scratch, I found myself fantasizing about creating a highly contagious mosquito virus that would scramble the DNA of all the little bloodsuckers. (Someone has beat me to it.) Mosquitoes are not native to Hawaii, so I didn’t even feel too bad as I imagined wiping out every last mosquito on the bloody island. If that didn’t work, my busy mind considered engineering super flying geckos to eat more mosquitoes, or (more realistically) setting out a sacrificial dish of blood as a trap and directing a concentrated stream of DEET straight into the writhing mass.

(I’m actually cringing a bit writing this, now that I’m no longer unbearably itchy.) At that point, I realized that there was a definite limit to my compassion for animals and that I had definitely reached it.

As a vegetarian, I don’t eat animals. When asked why, my standard answer is that I like animals more than I like to eat them. This is generally true. The friendships I’ve had with my companion animals have convinced me that if I can be healthy without meat, I’d rather not have all that death on my conscience. My choice not to eat meat has very little to do with the environment. Instead, it’s about the relationship I want to have with the animals that I share this planet with.

But the truth is that I don’t like all animals, I don’t feel equal amounts of compassion for all animals all the time, and there are circumstances under which I would be willing to hurt or kill animals. Disturbingly, those circumstances are easier to reach than I anticipated. Under the veneers of language, philosophy, and morality, my brain still has a primitive us vs. them mentality.

Sometimes I wonder if my vegetarianism and compassion for animals is a product of a sheltered suburban existence in which I am almost never in competition with other animals. I live on a second story, in a fairly dry environment, surrounded by miles of asphalt. We have had minor issues with ants and carpet beetles, but no centipedes, fire ants, wasps, black widows, or anything dangerous. If we had those, I am 100% positive I would not be looking for a peaceful and compassionate way to co-exist. Does it even make sense to choose not to eat meat, yet mercilessly poison an entire ant colony with borax (after, admittedly, trying deterrents and other less extreme measures)? How close am I, are all of us, to being red in tooth and claw when our safety, territory, or even comfort are threatened? 

The relationship between humans and other animals gets a big check mark in the ‘it’s complicated’ box.

I’m curious how you navigate conflicts with other animals, especially if you follow a compassionate diet. Can you uphold that compassion when there’s a direct conflict of interest with another animal (mosquitoes, but also decidedly cuter, more empathetic animals like squirrels and mice)?

Photo credit: dr_relling

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie Recipe

Lentils are good for you. They’re one of the cheapest sources of high quality plant protein. They cook quickly. And…how I wish I liked them.  I mean, they’re OK. I’m not against eating them once or twice a month. But more than that and I start to gag at the thought of those slightly musty, pebble-like legumes.

I finally found a recipe I like them in. As in, “Wow, I’m really enjoying this!” instead of, “Well, at least they’re good for me.” It’s a vegetarian (easily veganized) version of shepherd’s pie adapted from Vicki Smallwood’s 100 Great Recipes: Vegetarian. Shepherd’s Pie is a stew topped with mashed potatoes and baked until golden on top. This recipe isn’t super fast, but it’s difficult to mess up, adaptable, cheap, and so enjoyable you might even forget how good it is for you. It’s a good dish to make in the winter when root vegetables are readily available. Go ahead and try different vegetables in it — sweet potatoes, turnips, celery root…I bet it’ll taste fine. As with all my recipes, proportions are flexible and forgiving.

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie (serves 4)

For the top:

  • 1.5lb russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1/2c milk (can be omitted for vegan version)
  • 2 TB butter or margarine
  • salt to taste

For the stew:

  • 2TB vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1c carrots (about one big one), cut into small cubes
  • 1 medium parsnip, small cubes
  • 1 medium rutabaga, small cubes
  • 1 c green lentils
  • 1 14oz can diced tomatoes (highly recommend fire-roasted for more flavor)
  • 2 tsp nutritional yeast
  • 2/3c vegetable stock
  • about 1/2 c water
  • dash of garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

1. Boil potatoes 12-15 minutes until tender. Drain and mash with milk, butter, and salt to taste. A little chunky is OK.
2. While potatoes are boiling, chop onions,  celery, carrots, and rutabaga. Do smaller cubes if you’re in a hurry.
3. Heat 2TB vegetable oil in a pot and saute onion on medium until fragrant (about 5 minutes). Add other vegetables and continue sauteing another 5 minutes.
4. Add green lentils, stock, tomatoes, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, and just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer about 20 minutes, or until lentils are just tender. (You can try red lentils to reduce the simmering time.) I recommend (ahem!) also trying some of the vegetables to make sure the crunch has gone out of them, too. They will not get much softer in the oven. Season to taste.
5. While lentils are simmering, preheat oven to 350 and spray an 8×8 dish (optional, makes clean up somewhat easier). Pour in lentils and top with mashed potatoes, using a spatula to smooth potatoes into one layer. You might end up with extra mashed potatoes. Extra mashed potatoes have never been a problem in my household.
6. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until potatoes are lightly golden. Alternately, you could try broiling it for just a few minutes.

This is a hearty, warming winter meal. I loved it with the smoky fire-roasted tomatoes, which complemented the earthy flavor of the lentils. It’s also a good way to work in some different root vegetables. Parsnips are a slightly sweet, fragrant root vegetable that tend to get overlooked, and that’s to say nothing of the homely celeriac or rutabaga.

I’m willing to eat lentils in soup, chili, and dal, but this recipe is my new favorite way to get them in to my diet. Do you like lentils? What are your favorite recipes?

Photo Lentil Macro 3 by Nick Mote

[Almost] vegan lime cheesecake recipe

This week’s Change the World Wednesday was to go vegan for one whole day. I think one of the difficulties about a challenge like this is our tendency to immediately focus on the things we can’t eat and reject substitutes as weird or dissatisfying. It’s true that I have yet to find a vegan mac and cheese that I enjoy, and having tried black bean brownies, I still don’t think beans belong in dessert, but it pays to keep an open mind.

Especially when it comes to cheesecake. I’ve made this raw vegan cheesecake several times now, and although it doesn’t really taste like dairy cheesecake, it is omnivore-approved for its smooth texture and creamy sweetness. No tofu, no vegan cream cheese substitutes, just whole, minimally processed ingredients. (Note: it is not low in fat or sugar.)

My recipe is based on Bon Bon Mini’s raw vegan cheesecake. I can rarely avoid the temptation to fiddle with a recipe, and I’m not a precise cook (everything is ‘to taste’ in my world), so if in doubt, check hers out first. However, this is a pretty forgiving recipe. I used honey and graham crackers in this particular batch (my best ever), so that’s why they’re only mostly raw and mostly vegan.


[Mostly] Vegan Raw Lime Cheesecake
Yield: about 24 mini cupcake sized cheesecakes

Filling:

  • 1 1/4 c raw cashews, soaked for 2 hours and drained
  • 5 TB unrefined coconut oil (melted is easier to measure)
  • 1 TB coconut butter (for more flavor; you can substitute another TB of coconut oil)
  • seeds of 1 vanilla bean
  • 1/3 c fresh lime juice (to taste, about 3 medium limes)
  • grated zest of 2 limes
  • 1/8 c  – 1/4 c light agave or mild honey (I prefer honey; start with 1/8 c and add 1TB at a time to taste)
  • 6 TB water or almond/coconut milk
  • pinch of salt
Raw crust:
  • 2 c raw almonds (soaked 2 hrs and drained)
  • 1/2 c raisins
Cheater alternative crust (roughly):
  • 4 graham cracker sheets
  • 1 1/2 TB margarine
  • 1 TB sugar
  1. Soak the cashews and almonds (if using) 2 hours in advance. Drain and rinse.
  2. Combine all filling ingredients in the blender. Start with the lower quantities so you can adjust to taste. (You don’t need a power blender. Just a regular blender and some patience.) Blend, scrape down, wait for blender engine to cool down. Adjust sweetness. Repeat. If the blender is really struggling, you can add 1TB more water or almond/coconut milk. It may take some time until the mixture is really smooth.  I use this time to make the crust and/or clean the kitchen.
  3. If you’re going for the raw crust, combine almonds and raisins in a food processor and process until finely crumbed.
  4. If you’re cheating with the graham cracker crust (which I always do, since I don’t have a food processor), crush the graham crackers, add the sugar, and rub the margarine in until crumbed.
  5. Line mini muffin cups with paper liners (trust me, they will stick otherwise) and press the crust into it. If using the cheater crust, bake at 350 for about 7 minutes.
  6. Pour the filling into the cups and freeze for at least 1 hour (more if you are using bigger muffin cups). Transfer them to the fridge 1-2 hours before serving so they have time to soften up to perfect cheesecake consistency. Of course you’ll want to check to make sure the consistency is right before serving them to your friends…

How did I do for CTWW vegan day? It’s hard to say. I didn’t make a concerted effort to keep away from all animal products for any particular day, but 1-2 of my meals every day is either completely vegan or with minimal animal products (a splash of milk in my tea, a little parmesan on my popcorn. I don’t eat a lot of dairy to begin with, though eggs continue to be an important source of protein in my diet.

I could improve my already relatively low impact diet, of course, but I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be more effective for me to transfer my money into a credit union to protest how my current big bank invests my money. Hmm. All signs are pointing to the idea that individual action needs to become more political in order to be effective. Clearly, I need to spend some more time thinking about that idea.

Have you ever tried going vegan for a day? Have you found any vegan ‘substitutes’ that you were pleasantly surprised by?

Is it OK to eat invasive species?

File:EriocheirSinensis1.jpg

Here’s the scenario: the Chinese mitten crab is an opportunistic and invasive species in Europe and the US that outcompetes native species, damages fish salvage facilities, disrupts local food chains, and causes considerable environmental and economic damage. To the Chinese, mitten crab is a sought-after delicacy.

Lightbulb.

Humans are so good at eating species into extinction — why not apply our cunning, hunger, and sheer numbers to invasive species that damage biodiversity? There are almost 7 billion of us to act as predators to rabbits, lionfish, Asian carp, mitten crabs, and rusty crayfish (to say nothing of invasive plants, my favorite of which is Ipomoea aquatica, a mild leafy green that tastes amazing sauteed with a little garlic and salt). Introducing these species was our mistake. Why not clean it up and feed ourselves at the same time?

From an environmental standpoint, this is a brilliant idea. Even if we can’t completely eliminate an invasive species, we can actively control it, and maybe use that food to replace  some of the most resource-intensive and pollutant forms of animal farming we currently use. Eating them is not the only way to deal with invasive species, but it might be one of the most resourceful. (We’ve discovered through trial and error that introducing other species to deal with an introduced-turned-invasive species has a tendency to backfire.)

As an environmentalist, I am completely OK with eating our way out of invasive species (if we can’t be wise enough to prevent spreading them in the first place). But as a vegetarian? I stopped eating animals because I hated the thought of suffering, blood, and death in my meal.  Invasive or not, these  species are no less sentient for being out of their element. What gets priority? Preventing individual suffering or preserving biodiversity?

It’s becoming more obvious that the goals of vegetarianism and environmentalism don’t always coincide. As the authors of The 100 Mile Diet discovered, it’s hard to get complete nutrition from a local diet without incorporating some animal products. Vegetarianism is mostly about not harming animals; environmentalism is about restoring or preserving balance. Call me cold-hearted, but my bottom line is not ‘Is it compassionate?’ but rather, ‘Is it sustainable?’ Do the bigger picture benefits of biodiversity and healthy ecosystems outweigh the suffering of the individual animals? I think so.

I don’t personally want to eat invasive animals, and I don’t think I need to when most of the 7 billion humans in the world are omnivores without conflicted consciences. As a species, we have more than enough manpower to practice, er, conservation through gastronomy. I would hope that this would also allow some of the species we’ve pushed to the brink with our appetites to recover.

What do you think about eating invasive species? If you’re vegetarian or vegan, would you do it (or encourage others to)?

Rawlicious Review & Basically Green Smoothie Recipe

Raw food is based on the idea that eating plants, lots of them, minimally heated, is good for you. No argument from me there. However, a lot of raw food books also assume that you have 1)  a dehydrator, food processor, power blender, and juicer; 2) unlimited time; and 3) unlimited money for ingredients so obscure that even Whole Foods doesn’t have them.

Uh…no. So I was intrigued by Rawlicious, which claims to be accessible even to the non-hardcore raw dilettante.  Talia over at North Atlantic Books kindly sent me a review copy. Written by South African raw food chefs Peter and Beryn Daniel, it’s an appealing  introduction to eating raw (all, mostly, or partly) with basics on sprouting, juicing, nut milks, and raw nutrition. There are over 140 recipes that range from the truly simple (salads, smoothies, juices) to the fairly elaborate (raw pizza, anyone?), and almost all of them are accompanied by gorgeous full color photos.

You won’t be able to make all the recipes in Rawlicious if you don’t have the standard set of raw cooking appliances, but you can make many of them with nothing more than a hard-working home blender and a good vegetable knife. I did.  And while some recipes call for superfoods like spirulina and maca, most of the ingredients are available in a well-stocked supermarket.  

I started with the juicing section, using my blender instead of a macerating juicer. The authors don’t assume that dark green juice is immediately palatable, so they offer a series of progressively darker green juices. I have to admit I stopped at the first one because it tasted so good and lent itself to so many delicious variations. Here’s the recipe — bet you have everything on hand already.

***

Basically Green
Makes 1 generous cup, dilute with the same quantity of water to make 2 cups.
2 apples
1/2 cucumber
2 celery stalks
1/2 lemon

Juice all the ingredients and dilute with water.

From Rawlicious: Delicious Raw Recipes for Radiant Health by Peter Daniel and Beryn Daniel, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2011 by Peter Daniel and Beryn Daniel. Reprinted by permission of publisher.

***

I can never resist the temptation to meddle with a recipe. I enjoyed the  light, clean flavors the first time I made it in my blender; the next time, I cut down on the celery and added a dollop of raw honey to sweeten it up. The time after that, I dumped in a cup of berries and a kale leaf and left out the celery altogether. It was terrific. I’ve always been afraid of putting leafy greens in a beverage, but I couldn’t even taste the kale. This juice has become my favorite way to get at least 3/5 of my daily servings of fruit and vegetables in one easy go. It’s a breakfast or light meal several times a week for me now.

Raw cashew cheese. Why yes, I made the bowl.

What really surprised me was how easy raw food can be to make. Nut-based cheesecake, which always seemed like it would be complicated, came together in a snap in my blender. I fed it to non-vegetarians, and we all enjoyed the thick, rich texture and mild flavor. Even simpler was an instant cashew ‘cheese’ sauce that made a tasty dip for [non-raw] crackers and would probably be great on a vegan burrito. Many of the techniques and basic recipes in Rawlicious lend themselves to improvisation.

The only recipe I didn’t care for was the raw leek and broccoli soup. Raw soups use warm water, but they don’t have the comfort food feel of a steaming hot bowl of cooked soup. Also, raw leeks are hot, even mixed in with other things.

I didn’t get into the gourmet section — that’s best left to raw food enthusiasts with dehydrators and lots of time — but the recipes I did try were enjoyable, and there are lots of salads and smoothies I want to try once spring produce has arrived in earnest.  Just looking through the photos of vibrant food makes me hungry. If you’re at all curious about raw, Rawlicious is a wonderfully friendly and unassuming resource.

How to milk an almond

Moo?

Although I’ve never been a big milk drinker (like most of the world, I am mildly lactose intolerant), I’ve run into one major roadblock when replacing it with non-dairy alternatives: milk tea. I drink my tea the British way, and have found that non-dairy milks are distinctly stingy on the creaminess and leave my tea a far cry from the robust yet balanced cup of awesomeness with which I like to start my day.

I think I’m getting a little closer to being able to cut out dairy. Three words: raw almond milk.

It’s ridiculously easy to make. The result is beautifully creamy with that cling-to-the-glass look of whole milk and a faintly cinnamony finish. (Kind of like how I expected goat milk to taste after it got talked up in Heidi and before discovering that it was gross.) It’s great in tea. And although raw almonds are not exactly cheap, your homemade almond milk will make your storebought stuff taste like cardboard. Seriously, you have to try this.

Ingredients
1 cup raw almonds (cost: less than $2)
2 1/2 -4 cups filtered water (depending on how creamy you want it)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract / 1 scraped vanilla bean (optional)
2-3 TB sugar or other sweetener (to taste)
dash of salt (optional)

Equipment
Regular old blender
Square of cheesecloth or muslin (a piece of an old but clean sheet or a cotton bag will work fine)

1. Soak the almonds in plenty of water overnight (keep them in your fridge).
2. Drain the almonds, discarding the water, and place them in your blender along with the filtered water and vanilla.
3. Blend on high until smooth (about a minute).
4. Strain the mixture through fabric into a bowl. You’ll have to squeeze the fabric to get out the liquid. Put the almond meal in a separate bowl. You can use it to bake or do other things with. (I’m still looking up what.)
5. Add sugar and just a little salt to taste. The salt really does bring out the flavor.
6. Store in the fridge, enjoy within the next 2-3 days.

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