Seasonal Eats Recipe Round-Up: 7/18/12

Let's talk tomatoes.

Here on the farm, we're growing 30 varieties of tomatoes. Like most, that variety includes a combination of hybrid and heirloom tomatoes. Now if you're thinking, what's the difference between the two? What's the big deal about heirloom tomatoes? then please allow me to elaborate after you scroll past this cute picture of my roommate (and coworker) Amy holding "seconds" heirlooms.

To quickly touch on that, heirloom means a valuable object that has belonged to a family for several generations -- something that's been passed down. In this sense of the word, heirloom seeds are varieties that have been passed down through several generations because of their valued characteristics (i.e., adaptation to specific growing conditions and climates; evolved resistance to pests and diseases). Think of it as though your grandmother grew tomatoes in her garden, saved some seeds from her favorite tomatoes, and passed them down to your mother, who in turn grew her own garden, saved her own seeds and passed them down to you. You can grow the exact same tomatoes your grandmother did! Heirlooms are prized for their diversity of taste, nutrition and color, but are more susceptible to diseases, can have smaller, later yields and are as ugly as they are tasty (heirlooms are known for splitting, cracking and getting easily beaten-up).

Meanwhile, hybrid tomato seeds are cross-bred to make tomatoes that encompass the best qualities (good looks and disease resistance) of multiple types of tomatoes. If you save the seeds of a hybrid and plant them, the next generation's tomatoes will not be true to the parent, so it requires buying new seeds each season for consistency. Hybrids can make for just as wonderful tomatoes as heirlooms; however, growing hybrid tomatoes often means buying new seeds each year. This means understanding the politics and knowing the good seed guys from the bad seed guys---so that biodiversity is preserved.

So the big deal with heirloom tomatoes is that they are all they are cracked up to be (vegetable dork humor, sorry)! Superior in taste, aesthetic and downright coolness, heirlooms 

So to recap, the big deal with heirloom tomatoes is that they're tried-and-true seeds from way back when, and they just so happen to produce some of the tastiest tomatoes ever. Meanwhile, hybrid tomatoes can still taste nice, but smaller guys been scientifically cross-bred to be heartier and less prone to disease.

But as easy as it is to go on and on with this, that's enough tomato talk for now.

Let's dive into what our CSA folks got in their shares (and what should be in season if you live in the mid-Atlantic):

  • Basil
  • Radicchio or Dandelion Greens
  • Lettuce
  • Carrots or Beets
  • Onion or Shallots
  • Cherry Tomatoes or Heirloom Tomatoes
  • Garlic
  • Summer Squash/Cucumbers
  • Jalapenos

To accompany those items, here are some recipes I suggest whipping up:

Dandelion Greens:

 

Now let's talk SALSA!

 

Seasonal Eats Recipe Round-Up: 7/10/12

This week I learned many things about people.

First, the popularity -- and downright obsession -- of kale chips. I cannot count the number of folks at our CSA, farmers markets and stands that rave about their adoration of kale chips. They gather as many bunches as their arms can hold, and proceed to swear it's the only way they'll eat kale. Don't get me wrong, kale chips are delicious, and they have their time and place (like when your kale is wilted and yellow at the edges); however, roasting a lovely green -- or any vegetable for that matter -- to death just isn't how I roll. (I blame too much reading about the benefits of eating organic produce raw.) Myself aside though, it is pretty awesome to see a demand for a green. So whether you enjoy kale in smoothies, as chips or tossed in salads raw, keep the demand'a'comin!

Second, not everyone loves eggplant. How is that possible? Never before had I met anyone who had a strong feeling, good or bad, about these bulbous purple fellas. Yet, just a few days ago, I learned that here on the farm I work with several folks that really dislike the dark purple, Italian eggplant. Then, during CSA pick-up, I learned that several of our CSA members share this distaste. Interestingly, the same folks on the farm that dislike the Italian eggplants do enjoy the long, thin Japanese eggplants. Apparently they're less bitter? I have a hard time tasting the difference between the many different varieties of eggplant, but because my taste buds dig eggplant to begin with, so I'm not exactly objective.

As you can guess, both kale and eggplant were in the CSA shares this week. Here's the rundown of what our CSA was able to select:

  • Basil or Cilantro
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi or Radicchio
  • Tomatillos or Eggplant
  • Onions or Shallots
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Garlic
  • Summer Squash/Cucumbers
With these items, I suggested making the following recipes:
 

 

Pickles:

Eggplant:

Radicchio

Tomatillos:

Summer Squash Recipes: 

 

Seasonal Eats Recipe Round-Up: 7/03/12

Ah, the Fourth of July. A day that, for a nomad that's spent a few abroad, doesn't always hold the most significance; however, when that nomad is a food-lovin, potluck fiend, then the slightest whiff of grilled vegetables or slaw will have me pulling up a chair.

This year, I learned that the beauty of having CSA pick-up the day before a summer holiday -- especially one that relishes in bring folks together around a picnic table -- is that their picnic baskets would be stuffed with the freshest vegetables, berries (that's right, our CSA folks got fresh blueberries in their shares!) and herbs, all things I had a hand in growing! OK, OK, stop nerding out about farm life and get to the heart of the issue: the recipes.

For this week's share, our CSA was able to select:

  • Cilantro
  • Kale or Chard
  • Kohlrabi or Fennel
  • Cabbage
  • Onion or Scallions
  • Summer Squash/Cucumbers (mix n' match)
  • Japanese Eggplant
  • Blueberries
With these items, I suggested making the following recipes:
 
Salads & Slaws:
Throw it on the BBQ:
Snacks & Spreads:

Seasonal Eats Recipe Round-Up: 6/27/12

One of my jobs here on the farm is to help run our CSA. Part of doing so involves providing weekly recipes to inspire our CSA members to cook up delicious seasonal food. Because I know you guys are as curious as the next, here are some of my favorite vegetarian recipes that I shared with our CSA members in relation to what's currently growing on our farm and around the Mid-Atlantic: 

Thyme Close-Up

Thyme

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What vegetarians need to know about fat

Jillian MichaelsThis morning I was listening to Jillian Michaels Podcast and one caller asked Jillian a great question that I think plagues most: should we be avoiding fat? Is fat the enemy?

Fat was given a bad name in the 90's and it's still recovering from the unfair rap it received then. Since so many wonderful foods that are staples in vegan and vegetarian diets are high in fat, I rarely give regard to how much fat I eat. Meanwhile, my friends and family's eyes often bulge to the size of cantaloupes when I start chomping on almonds or see me plop in a dollop of coconut oil to melt in a pan, as they timidly ask, 'Doesn't that have a lot of fat in it?'

Truth is folks, yes, some of the foods I eat are really high in fat. But that's not a bad thing. I've often struggled with explaining why that is, and upon listening to this podcast, thought Jillian had some great answers. Here's what she had to say:
 
  • Calories make you fat. Fat doesn't make you fat. Calories are a unit of energy, and when you do not use that energy then it gets stored as body fat. So, no matter what you're eating -- a sugar calorie, a protein calorie -- if it doesn't get burned then it gets stored as fat.
     
  • We need healthy fats. Fats are a main source of nutrients and fuel for our bodies. So when you look at the three macronutrients: protein, fat and carbs, we need healthy sources of fat (which are vegetarian and vegan staples like almonds, olive oil, avocados). These fats are necessary for all kinds of different bodily functions, from actually supporting heart health to supplying you with more energy, to boosting immunity, insulating your brain, etc. We need good fats in our diet.
     
  • Saturated fat is not the enemy. Many current studies suggest that we need a certain amount of saturated fat in our diet. It was once believed that saturated fat was linked to heart disease, high cholesterol, but more of the current research shows that it's actually that diets high in sugar, simple carbohydrates are what's elevating heart disease and cholesterol. Our bodies produce cholesterol, so even if you're not ingesting cholesterol, you can produce cholesterol. So that's when genetics come into play when it comes to heart health. We do want certain amounts of good cholesterol as well. So, it's easy to get confused because when you eat an egg, yes, it has cholesterol in it, but it also has good cholesterol in it which ultimately helps to lower bad cholesterol. So don't worry about fats that are natural.
     
  • Unnatural fat is the enemy. Unnatural fats are things like hydrogenated oils and trans fats, those are the bad guys. These are man made fats where a hydrogen atom is added to the fat, which makes it a preservative so it won't decompose on the shelf. When you ingest these fats they don't decompose on the shelf, nor will they in the body. Just think, if a Twinkie can last seven years on a shelf, what do you think that does in your body? It just sits there! And in terms of unnatural fat, It doesn't take much to do harm, if just 3% of your calorie allowance are trans fatty acids then you're upping your risk of heart disease by 23%. So these are the kinds of fats you never want to eat.
     
  • It's all about balance. When eating fats, the most important thing is to be mindful of the quantity of fat you eat. Calories make you fat, so it's key to understand that fat has more calories. For example, one gram of protein or carbohydrate has 4 calories, meanwhile one gram of fat has 9 calories. So, if you eat too much of anything, too many calories are going to make you fat. So look at things as a whole; count calories, not fat grams.

Take-away point

Don't be afraid of fat. Not only do our bodies need it to function, but fatty foods can be downright delicious! There are a ton of natural foods that are rich in fat, but have so many other health benefits that you'd be foolish to avoid them. To boot, if you're a vegetarian or a vegan, some of our protein staples, like dairy, nuts, seeds and avocados, all are high in fat, but avoiding fat can result in malnutrition (can block vitamin absorption), constipation and the like. 

Bottom line: whether you're vegetarian, vegan, raw or omnivorous, don't worry about any fat that is unnatural. 

Two wallet-sized lists of must-buy organic foods

To state the obvious: organic food is better for us than non-organic, therefore we should buy/eat it as often as possible.

And as we all know, organic food doesn't always come cheap. So, those of us on budgets must prioritize which foods are the organic must-buys. I have a terrible time remembering which foods I should always buy organic, so if you're anything like me, you need a list you can pull out at the market, or grocery store, to remind yourself. If that's the case then here are two little wallet-friendly cheat sheets I just tucked into my pocketbook:

Number one (via EWG):

Wallet cut-out of the 'Dirty Dozen'

Download this PDF if you want to only print out the graphic and not this post.

 

Number two, which is slightly more extensive and graphically appeasing (via The Organic Center):

Graphic-oriented 'Dirty Dozen' cheat sheet

Click the image to download a larger version.

Happy organic shopping!

Tags:

Apple Martin is a vegetarian

Whenever I cross paths with lifelong vegetarians or vegetarian kiddos, I'm impressed. Whether their dietary choices were theirs, or something they were raised with, I cannot help but delight in their early abstinence from eating meat.

Countless resources rave about the benefits of a vegetarian diet. So just imagine how healthy the body of a lifelong vegetarian -- who eats a balanced diet -- is. How beneficial it would be when we're growing the most to consume such a healthy diet.

Apple MartinIt took me roughly 24 years to learn how to eat and feed myself properly, to make informed decisions about what I'm eating, which is why I love vegetarian kiddos; I find them really progressive. Most kids, myself included, spend most of their adolescence fitting in and doing what the other kids do. So having ability to say 'no thanks' to societal norms, like eating  meat, at such a young age is a great thing.

My hat is off to all vegetarian children, which includes Apple Martin, daughter of Coldplay's Chris Martin and actress Gwyneth Paltrow

The skinny on Apple's vegetarianism:

I wonder if being named after produce enhances the likelihood of one becoming a vegetarian? Doubtful, but c'mon!...maybe?

Sassy answers to commonly asked questions about vegetarianism

I appreciate a recent post that Megan Rascal wrote for vegansaurus! discussing easy answers to commonly asked questions about veganism. While there are a few questions specific to veganism, most of Megan's questions are also asked of vegetarians.

While I've seen these types of posts before, there's something about that vegansaurus! sass that made me want to share these with you.

Here are a few of Megan's responses that I particularly liked:

2. But cheese is gooooooood.

I didn’t give up cheese because I don’t like the taste (and the addictive casein high!), I gave it up because I morally object to the way it’s made. Did you know that male calves are taken away from their moms the day they’re born so they can be sold for veal? You know, because their mom’s milk is for humans, not for their baby. I like cheese but I don’t think it’s worth it.

REMEMBER: It’s not about the taste. (Ashley: this also works for meat and eggs)
 

3. Animals eat each other, why shouldn’t we?

Animals do a lot of stuff we don’t do—my neighbor’s dog eats its own shit. Humans are thoughtful, reflective beings and we can make choices in a way most animals can’t. Except lots of animals, including gorillas, who are badass natural vegans and way better than us.

REMEMBER: Humans have choices.
 

7. I tried to be vegan and I got really sick.

That’s weird because usually a vegan diet is healthier than a non-vegan diet. If nutrition was a problem, you could always read more about how to become a healthy vegan and try again! I could help! If you want to talk to someone more professional than me (please note: I wear flip flops in winter and usually have food on my hair, face, and shirt), find a vegan-friendly nutritionist or dietitian!

REMEMBER: Any diet can be unhealthy.


If you want to read Megan's full list then go to vegansaurus! for the rundown.

Bean cooking times

Canned beans and I have gotten along for a very long time. Until recently that is. 

Why the change? In addition to the vegetarian family I was living with swearing by dried beans and their pressure cooker, I've also been cutting kitchen expenses, and dried beans purchased in bulk are undeniably cheaper than buying canned. I couldn't find an awesome post that really broke down the price difference, so I'll write my own within the next few days. In the meantime, see the price differences over on Vegan Soapbox. (Check out "How to Save Money on Your Grocery Bill," a good read on general savings tips by Angela of Oh She Glows.)

me holding canned & dried beans

So will you save money? Yes. Are dried beans as convenient as canned? No. Dried beans do require some planning. Specifically, you have to forecast soaking and simmering time.

With that said, I think the best way to reap the rewards of dried beans, especially if you don't have a pressure cooker is to cook a bunch at once (hello weekend) and freezing them. This way, you can always have cooked beans on hand, which are always a quick thaw away from being used for any last minute recipes. (This tends to be when I used canned, is when I'm pinched on time, want to cook something at the last minute and don't have any dried beans pre-cooked.)

I crossbred two charts from The Whole Foods Market Cookbook and The Vegan Coach to create a nifty little chart detailing the various cooking times for a variety of beans.

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How to substitute eggs with egg replacement, banana or yogurt

A few days ago, I discussed how eggs could be replaced using flaxseeds and silken tofu. Tonight, I have the rest of Isa Chandra Moskowitz's tips from Vegan with a Vengeance on how to replace eggs in baking:

  • Ener-G Egg Replacer
    • How to use it: 1 1/2 tablespoons Ener-G + 2 tablespoons water mixed well = 1 egg.
      • Isa's note: Many people swear by this egg replacer. I think it is good to use in a pinch, in all baking that requires a few eggs. However, I can definitely taste it in cakes and cookies (tastes chalky), and I'm not crazy about the dense texture it turns out.
      • Cracked egg shell with a red slash through itAshley's note: I agree here. It's ideal if you can find recipes that don't call for eggs at all, but if you want to use a substitute, then my go-to is this one.
    • When it works best: It seems to work best in cookies, or things that are supposed to be a little crispy.
    • Where to get it: Health food stores, some supermarkets (look in baking or ethnic food sections).
  • Banana
    • How to use it: 1/2 banana blended until smooth or mashed well = 1 egg.
      • Isa's note: Bananas work wonders as an egg replacer in baking, which is the reason many banana bread recipes don't require eggs. They hold the air bubbles well, making things nice and moist, and impart a nice flavor. However, you don't want everything tasting like banana, so use in things where the taste won't be intrusive. I've also noticed that baked goods using banana brown very nicely, but something you don't want your recipe to come out that brown.
    • When it works best: Quick breads, muffins, cakes, pancakes
    • Tip: Make sure bananas are nice and ripe and have started to brown.
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How to substitute eggs with flaxseeds & silken tofu

One thing that's changed about my vegetarian diet in the last two years is that I dropped the ovo from my lacto-ovo-vegetarianism. This now makes me a lacto-vegetarian, meaning I'm a vegetarian that abstains from eating eggs, but still eats dairy products (i.e., milk, cheese, yogurt).

I never noticed how many recipes included eggs until I gave them up, especially in baking. Many perfectly good recipes that wouldn't need eggs seem to have one or two thrown in for the sake of it. The good news is that there are so many alternatives to using eggs in cooking that it's very easy to use a substitute to reach the same, if not similar, end.

Raw egg sitting in a cracked shellIt's arguable whether or not egg substitutes properly reproduce the exact taste or consistency that eggs do. As I see it, you have two choices when it comes to wanting to cook something that calls for eggs: you forget about the recipe and don't make it, or you find a way around it!

If you're into finding a way around it -- whether you're a vegan, lacto-vegetarian or simply trying to reduce your cholesterol -- then here are Isa Chandra Moskowitz's tips from Vegan with a Vengeance on how to replace eggs in baking:

  • Flaxseeds
    • How to use it: 1 tablespoon flaxseeds plus 3 tablespoons water = 1 egg.
      • Finely grind 1 tablespoon whole flaxseeds in a blender or coffee grinder, or use 2 tablespoons pre-ground flaxseeds. Transfer to a bowl and beat in 3 tablespoons of water using a whisk or fork. It will become very gooey and gelatinous, much like an egg white. In some recipes, you can leave the ground flaxseeds in the blender and add the other wet ingredients to it, thus saving you the extra step (and dish) of the bowl.
      • When it works best: Flaxseeds have a distinct earthy granola-y taste. It tastes best and works well in things like pancakes, and whole-grain items such as bran or corn muffins. It is perfect for oatmeal cookies, and the texture works for cookies in general, although the taste may be too pronounced for some. Chocolate cake-y recipes have mixed results, I would recommend only using one egg's worth of flaxseed replacement in those, because the taste can be overpowering.
      • Tips: Always store ground flaxseeds in the freezer because they are highly perishable. This mixture is not only an excellent replacement for eggs, but it also contributes to vital omega-3 fatty acids.
      • Where to get flaxseeds: Health food stores 
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Hiatus: I moved to Australia

Things here on Freshly Vegetarian sure have been quiet in the last month or so. 

While this will not be one of those blog posts that apologizes for not posting, I would like to update you on why things have been quiet. As of two weeks ago, I moved to Noosa, Australia

Map of where I am in Australia

 

Over on the East Coast of Australia, Noosa is an hour, or so, drive north of Brisbane. Fairly small and comparable to where I grew up, the Oregon Coast (Cannon Beach/Gearhart specifically) Noosa has jaw-dropping scenery, sky-high real estate and great appeal for city folks to vacation at. 

Burnt out from a job at a stressful start-up company, I decided to pack my bags and take a break from my little yuppie lifestyle I was accruing in Seattle and shack up with my Kiwi boyfriend down under. Four weeks, a working holiday visa and one very long flight later, I'm here and readily falling into a new routine. For the first time ever, I live with other vegetarians -- a family of five (three children, all have been raised vegetarian, and the parents, like me, converted to vegetarianism in their early 20s). The family is far more conscious of eating balanced meals, and likes to cook Indian food, so you can expect to see some of their favorites featured here in the upcoming months.


 

 

While I'll continue my blogging as before, here are some pics from my trip this time last year to paint a clearer picture of life here in Noosa:

photo by David Wall

 

 

 

photo by Tourism Queensland

  

 

Are you oversteaming your vegetables?

I've been cooking spinach wrong for years.

I like to blame the lack of home economics taught today in schools for the reason why I don't know how long to cook vegetables. Yes, that's what I'll blame...

Truth be told, I'm still trying to get timing down to pull a meal together all at once, so it's not a surprise if I forget my beloved asparagus in the broiler (it's OK, I've grown to love 'em charred) or steam my broccoli for so long it's more like a wet noodle than a hearty tree o' green.

 

Stove top

 

There's an art of cooking produce, which is suddenly clearer after flipping through my newest Seattle Public Library read, Vegetables: The Most Authoritative Guide to Buying, Preparing, and Cooking with more than 300 Recipes by James Peterson. 

Peterson has a nice guide on the approximate vegetable boiling/steaming times (he notes it's basically the same function but some folks usually prefer to do one or the other), which includes the proper time to cook spinach, that not even I can screw up.

Artichokes:

  • Baby (trimmed): 15 min
  • Medium (whole): 15-20 min
  • Large (whole): 20-25 min
  • Large (bottom only): 12-15 min

Asparagus

  • Small: 1-2 min
  • Medium: 3-5 min
  • Large: 8-12 min
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Pantry 101: frozen foods every vegetarian should have in their freezer (part 4)

To continue the discussion on items every vegetarian should have in their kitchen, today we're changing things up and shifting from dry goods to frozen ones.

 

Man looking in the freezer

 

Pulling from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Vegetarianism, here's the recommended list of frozen foods (or items that can be frozen for later):

  1. Tofu - I only buy tofu when I have a recipe I want to use it in, I've never frozen mine
  2. Tempeh
  3. Quorn
  4. Bean burritos - make from scratch, far tastier and perhaps the easiest thing ever?
  5. Lentil loaf
  6. French fries - I don't need the temptation of easy-to-make french fries in my freezer; I figure if I'm going to be unhealthy then I'm making them from scratch, which usually curbs my craving
  7. Frozen vegetables - I like to have corn, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and green beans regularly
  8. Filo dough - I buy this when I want to make something with it; otherwise it risks freezer burn in my house
  9. Egg roll wrappers - you'd have to make a whole lotta egg rolls to need these in your freezer at all times...no thanks
  10. Shredded soy or regular organic cheese - I've never frozen my cheese before, as I like fresh, chilled cheese, so I keep mine in the fridge
  11. Gardenburgers - they're multifunctional as a meat substitute, so it's always nice to have a few handy
  12. Vegetarian sausage patties - meat replacements aren't my favorite, so anything more than gardenburgers are, with my diet, a waste of space and money
  13. Vegetarian bacon - see sausage patties
  14. Tofu hot dogs - see sausage patties

In this series, part five will detail everything else -- foods that don't cleanly fit into the previous four categories - that TCIGtV recommends a vegetarian kitchen should have.

Part one: bulk foods every vegetarian should have in their pantry

Part two: dried and prepackaged goods every vegetarian should have in their pantry

Part three: canned goods every vegetarian should have in their pantry

Image: Robert Couse-Baker - Flickr

Pantry 101: canned goods every vegetarian should have in their pantry (part 3)

To continue the discussion on items every vegetarian should have in their pantry, today I want to outline which canned goods vegetarians should have in stock.

Pulling from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Vegetarianism, here's the recommended list of canned goods:

(Since I live in a tiny apartment with only two cupboards, I'm really conservative with that I have on-hand at all times, so I have bolded my essentials)

  1. Vegetarian refried beans
  2. Water chestnuts
  3. Diced chilies and jalepeños
  4. Veggie soup - as I noted in my previous post, I like Amy's soups
  5. Veggie broth - I know it's easy to make your own, but I have yet to, so I always watch the price of vegetable broth in a few stores and then load up when it dips below $3/box
  6. Tomato sauces, paste or whole tomatoes - this is the first year I've decided to eat fresh tomatoes only when they're in-season, which means a whole lotta canned lovin' for the other 8-9 months of the year -- my favorite brand of canned tomatoes are San Marzano
  7. Veggie chili
  8. Artichoke hearts
  9. Bamboo shoots

In this series, part four will detail what TCIGtV recommends every vegetarian's freezer should have.

Part one: bulk foods every vegetarian should have in their pantry

Part two: dried and prepackaged goods every vegetarian should have in their pantry

Pantry 101: dried and prepackaged goods every vegetarian should have in their pantry (part 2)

Earlier this week, I discussed some of the bulk food every vegetarian should have in their pantry. Today, I want to outline some of the dried and prepackaged goods that should accompany those items.

Before I dive into Frankie Avalon Wolfe's list (found in The Complete Idiot's Guide to Vegetarianism), I must confess that I like to avoid prepackaged foods as much as possible, but that's not always easy depending on the season and where you live.

 

Dried goods in jars

 

Alright, here's Wolfe's recommended list of dried and prepacked goods every vegetarian should have on-hand:

(Since I live in a tiny apartment with only two cupboards, I'm really conservative with that I have on-hand at all times, so I have bolded my essentials)

  1. Prepackaged grains - I am more inclined to get these as bulk food, as they're often cheaper; however, Trader Joe's offers some pretty excellent quinoa,
  2. Cereal - more often than not I can't pronounce most of the ingredients in most cereals, so I either go Kashi or not at all
  3. Couscous - my favorite is also found at Trader Joe's - I like both the Israeli couscous (each grain is massive) and the whole wheat couscous
  4. Vegetable bouillon
  5. Spices
  6. Hummus - since homemade hummus is incredibly easy and fare more tasty, opt to make your own
  7. Falafel - every falafel mix I've attempted has failed miserably, likely operator error, so I avoid homemade and mix altogether and only eat falafel when I'm out
  8. Tofu scrambler mix
  9. Tabbouleh
  10. Dehydrated refried beans - I had to Google these to learn what they are, as I find dehydrated anything - except fruit - kinda disgusting. Instead of a just-add-water approach, I'd encourage you to get canned vegetarian refried beans instead (or to make your own)
  11. Dehydrated soups - along the same lines as dehydrated refried beans; besides, you can either make your own soups or get some seriously delicious vegetarian canned soups, like Amy's soups
  12. Dehydrated mashed potatoes - make your own from real potatoes, NOT hard
  13. Egg replacer - I'm a lacto ovo vegetarian, so replacements aren't relevant for me
  14. Whole wheat pasta - not on Wolfe's list, but I always have one or two types of whole wheat pasta on-hand for a quick meal

In this series, part three will detail what TCIGtV recommends every vegetarian's pantry should have in terms of canned goods.

Part one: bulk foods every vegetarian should have in their pantry

Pantry 101: bulk foods every vegetarian should have in their pantry (part 1)

When I was a meat eater, I always had last minute dinner fixes in my pantry -- canned tuna fish, beef-flavored Top Ramen, mac n' cheese (reflective of my college diet, huh?).

When eating vegetarian, it requires a slightly different set of pantry items than you may have already, so here's The Complete Idiot's Guide to Vegetarianism's list of bulk food pantry staples:

(since I live in a tiny apartment with only two cupboards, I'm really conservative with that I have on-hand at all times, so I have bolded my essentials)

  1. Raw nuts (cashews, almonds, or pistachios) - I always have cashews, almonds & walnuts, but when I can get a good deal I also like to have hazelnuts and macadamia nuts
  2. Grains (rice, couscous quinoa, barley, oats)
  3. Granola - if you eat porridge or oatmeal regularly, I don't see granola as a necessity
  4. Nutritional yeast flakes - I've seen this in a variety of recipes, mainly my favorite hummus recipe, but I usually skip it
  5. Textured vegetable protein (TVP) -- I have yet to use this
  6. Sesame and sunflower seeds
  7. Dried beans
  8. Bean flake powders
  9. Hummus mix -- make your own, mixes are less tasty
  10. Tabbouleh mix - same sentiment as above
  11. Organic spices - don't feel guilty if you can't afford organic spices, I only buy organic spices when they're on sale or not that much more expensive than the non-organic alternative
  12. Sesame sticks
  13. Carob chips or flour (in place of chocolate) -- I prefer real chocolate, as I almost always have nice chocolate on hand to make Mexican chocolate tofu pudding, but also to throw on top of frozen yogurt, sorbet or a small chocolate fix
  14. Dried fruit - I'm a big proponent of dried fruits, as they're great source of iron (a nutrient most  Americans are deficient in, but the Mayo Clinic notes that vegetarians should be especially weary):

"Because vegetarians don't eat meat, they're at greater risk of iron deficiency anemia. Iron that comes from grains and vegetables isn't absorbed by the body as well as is iron that comes from meat."

While I will elaborate on iron in a future blog post, do know that not all dried fruits are good sources of iron -- figs, sultanas (golden raisins) and apricots are all good sources -- (The Vegetarian Society put together a nice list of iron sources for vegetarians).

In this series, part two will detail what TCIGtV recommends every vegetarian's pantry should have in terms of prepackaged and dried goods.

Image: jules:stonesoup - Flickr

Food pyramid for vegetarians

According to Frankie Avalon Wolfe, of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Being Vegetarian, here is a mock-up of the lacto ovo vegetarian (a vegetarian that consumes dairy and eggs) food pyramid, which follows the ADA guidelines:

Now that you’ve seen a visual for lacto ovo vegetarians, let’s talk about the necessary servings needed per day for a healthy and balanced diet:

  • Oils, sweets, alcohol: use very sparingly
  • Eggs: up to 3-4 per week
    • Example serving: 1 egg or 2 egg whites
  • Dairy: up to 3 servings
    • Example serving: I cup milk; 1 cup yogurt; 1 ½ oz cheese (Wolfe suggests using skim or low-fat dairy, I opt for full fat)
  • Legumes, nuts, seeds, meat alternatives (like tofu): 2 – 3 servings
    • Example serving: 4 oz tofu or tempeh; ½ cup cooked beans; 8 oz soy milk; 2 tbsp nut butter
  • Vegetables: 4+ servings
    • Example serving: 1 cup raw or ½ cup cooked vegetables
  • Fruits: 3+ servings
    • Example serving: 1 piece fresh fruit; ¾ cup fruit juice
  • Whole grains & pasta: 6+ servings
    • Example serving: 1 oz ready-to-eat cereal; 1 cup dry cereal; 1 slice of bread; ½ bagel, bun or muffin; ½ cup cooked pasta or grain

A is for Arugula (or R for Rocket)

Close-up of a bundle of arugula on a white plate

Last week was artichokes, this week, I feel the need to downsize and talk about something that's a little smaller and has several different names.


Nutritional low-down

This cruciferous little mama is infamously known for it's antioxidants and potent anti-cancer qualities (some, like Harvard Medical School's Diana Post say this isn't scientifically proven).

The keyword there is little, as arugula comes with huge flavor in small doses - so while you may not cure leukemia with one bite, it remains a healthy vegetable.

In addition, Produce for Better Health notes that arugula is also low fat, cholesterol free, very low sodium, good source of folate and calcium, excellent source of vitamins A and C.

Based on an average serving of arugula, here are the major nutritional gains:


What's in a name?

Arugula is also known as rocket, roquette, rugula and rucolarocket, or roquette.

 
Tis the season

Arugula tends to grow year round, so you're in luck!
 

Picking a good bunch

  • Color: Leaves should be crisp and dark green with stems and roots still attached. Pass on any bunches that have yellow tinges or the leaves look slimy.

  • Does size matter? Yes! Bittman notes in his How to Cook Everything Vegetarian that baby arugula tends to be much milder than its fuller-leafed counterpart. So if you're looking for something less spicy than opt for the wee-sized arugula bunches.
     

Storage

Arugula is a fragile and spoils quickly, so make sure to pick it up within a day or two of preparing it, otherwise you'll risk some fridge rot. In the event that you want to extend the life of this peppery green, Bittman later notes:

Dunk the stem end in a glass half full of water and wrap the whole thing, glass and all, in a plastic bag. Store this cool tropical mini-environment in the fridge.


Preppin' it

Again, arugula leaves is on the fragile side so you'll want to make sure you wait just before using it to prep the bunch. In Jack Bishop's Vegetables Every Day, he advises:

  1. Remove the stems - while those leaves are pretty frail, stems can be snapped off by hand.
  2. Wash arugula leaves in a bowl of cold water, changing the water several times, until clean, and then let it either air dry, use a salad spinner (no thanks), or blot dry any remaining moisture with a tea towel.
  3. Keep leaves whole or tear them by hand.

Cooking methods

According to just about everyone, arugula has a strong, peppery flavor, which is far more roaring when wild. Arugula is often a nice kickinthepants to any salad, bed of grilled vegetables (as it will slightly wilt while absorbing the grilling juices) or atop a bowl of soup, or something coming out of the oven -- like pizza.

Margie King, in her related post, "Arugula is a nutritional rock star," over on Philadelphia Nutrition Examiner notes that arugula can pinch hit for spinach in many recipes and basil in several pesto sauces.
 

To re-cap

Anyone who mocks greens as rabbit food clearly hasn't had this flavorful, peppery green served up in the right way. Experiment with it and swap it out for some of your expected greens to see how it changes the flavor.

A is for Artichoke

Upon scouring the pages of Jack Bishop's Vegetables Every Day over the past few weeks, I have learned a ton about produce -- when certain vegetables are in season, how to pick good ones, best storage methods and the like.

While I risk re-capping some well-known facts about various vegetables, I plan on slowly blogging through the produce section - using books like Bishop's, Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and other great reads - to either reinforce the basics or teach you noobs, like myself, a thing or two.

Close-up of an artichoke

In true alphabetical fashion, we'll start with "A" - as in artichoke.


Nutritional low-down

Artichokes are a waist watcher's best pal, as they pack a low caloric punch while vamping up other nutritional gains. Based on a medium-sized artichoke, here's the skinny:

  • Potassium - One medium artichoke provides more than 400 milligrams of potassium, about as much as a small banana.
  • Fiber - Very fiber-rich, artichokes providing just shy of half, or a third depending on who you are, of our daily fiber requirement 10.3 grams in one artichoke.
    • USDA recommends men consume 30-38 g of fiber per day, meanwhile women should consume 21-25 g each day.
  • Vitamin C - Average artichokes contain 15 mg of vitamin c a piece, which chips away at the loosely estimated 60 mg advised daily intake amount for adults.

 
Tis the season

Like most things, you can score an artichoke all year round; however, they're most plentiful and economic in the spring (although they'll trickle into summer and have a late surge from California's crops in the early fall).
 

Picking a good one

  • The test: Bishop says that a tightly closed, heavy artichoke is fresher than one that feels fairly light and its leaves are opened up.

    Also, bend back an outer leaf:
    • If the leaf snaps off, the artichoke is fresh.
    • If the leaf bends all the way back, the artichoke is older.
       
  • Color: Green, with no brown or yellow spots.

  • Does size matter? Yes! Artichokes come in a variety of sizes; therefore, when picking out a good one, remember that because these bad boys require some intensive cleaning, the size of your artichokes aren't always worth the labor they require.

    • Small: while a teacup-sized artichoke might be irresistible in cuteness and overall require less cooking time, Bishop advises that cleaning more than a few of these teeny tiny germ mongers may grow tiresome quickly.
       
    • Medium (best): should roughly weigh 8 oz each -- this is the ideal size because they offer a nice balance between size quality and ease of preparation.
       
    • Large: Bishop notes avoiding really large artichokes, as they tend to pack a woody taste.
       

Storage

In Martha Stewart's Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook, my girl Martha advises storing artichokes, unwashed, in a plastic bag in the refrigerator up to 1 week.


Preppin' it

Although washing it is enough for this low maintenance gal, it does truly depend on how you're using the artichoke in a recipe for with how you prepare it.

Here are the options that Bittman recommends in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian:
 

For a whole artichoke:

  1. Cut off the whole top third or so; sometimes using a large serrated knife will help you get through the tough leaves, but any heavy knife will do the job.
     
  2. Use a paring knife to peel around the base and cut off the bottom 1/4 inch.
     
  3. Pull off the toughest exterior leaves.
     
  4. To remove the choke (the fuzzy part) before cooking:

a. Half or quarter the artichoke and scrape it out or cut off the tops of the leaves
b. Pry open the central leaves
c. Pull and then scrape out the choke with a spoon.
 

For artichoke hearts:

  1. Cut off as much of the tops of the leaves as possible or halve the artichoke length-wise.
     
  2. Use a paring knife to trim and peel the base.
     
  3. Scrape out the choke with a spoon.


Cooking methods

To re-cap

Unless you're from California, you want to kick your artichoke taste buds into gear come springtime and aim for those medium-sized bulbs of caloric-friendly perfection.

Six steps to going meatless

Before becoming vegetarian, I remember feeling overwhelmed by the large amount of research and consideration I had to do before switching to vegetarianism.

Truth is, the first few times I wanted to become vegetarian, I gave it a very temporary shot, but was discouraged by how daunting the transition felt. In fear I wouldn't know how to get enough protein (and other essential nutrients), give up some of my favorite foods and how to stand up to friends and family, I readily buckled under pressure and returned to my meat eating ways.
 

Meat market in Athens, Greece


Now that I have been vegetarian for roughly six months, I feel like I have gotten a solid handle on some of the do's and don'ts of transitioning to vegetarianism. If you ask me, the secret sauce to successfully becoming vegetarian was to stop thinking about the switch as a huge, intimidating transition into a positive thing broken into baby steps.

Over at MyRecipes.com, Anne Cain wrote a lovely list for new vegetarians on, 6 First Steps to Going Meatless. While I dug the list as a whole, not all steps were applicable to me as I quit eating meat cold turkey instead of transitioning into it.

After the jump, see my modified list of Cain's.

Continue Reading...

Defining vegetarianism

Close-up of fresh market vegetables

Upon hearing that I am a vegetarian, there is a high percentage of people that immediately respond with a flood of questions: do you eat fish? Do you eat eggs? Do you drink milk?

While it's tempting to get irritated at the naivete, it's much easier to explain the sometimes subtle, or vast differences between diets out there.

So here goes:

  • Vegetarian: a diet that excludes meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or crustacea, or slaughter by-products (gelatine or rennet)
    • Lacto-Vegetarian: a vegetarian diet that consumes dairy, but not eggs
    • Ovo-Vegetarian: a vegetarian diet that consumes eggs, but not dairy
    • Su Vegetarian: a common Buddhist vegetarian diet that also doesn't consume fetid vegetables (onion, garlic, scallions, leeks or shallots)
  • Semi-Vegetarian or Flexitarian: a diet that may exclude certain types of meat (such as red meat), but includes others
  • Pescatarian: a mainly vegetarian diet that consumes seafood
  • Vegan: a vegetarian diet that also excludes all other animal by-products (eggs, dairy products, honey, leather, fur, silk, wool, cosmetics, etc.)
    •  Raw Vegan: a vegan diet consisting of all uncooked (or not cooked over 115°F | 46°C) fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds

Naturally, there are a ton of other names and classifications out there for branches of vegetarian and vegan diets; however, this is a solid rundown of the basic meat-free or almost meat-free diets most commonly referred to.

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