Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Vegetarian Dating

Every day you learn something new. The other day, for example, we were handed a flyer in the street, inviting us to join a vegetarian dating service.

A quick checkup when we got home (we were curious) revealed that the board is a project of Anonymous, one of Israel's oldest and most active organizations for animal rights. On their website, they are operating a vegetarian dating board, to which people post about their interests. Is this a unique venture? Apparently, there are others, like the American Veggie Date, which allows vegetarian applicants to specify whether their vegetarianism is related to religious or ideological concerns, and of which flavor.

Of course, what I asked myself was why. I mean, is vegetarianism such a fundamental trait that folks would apply to a specified board, because they wouldn't even consider dating meat eaters?

I suppose everyone's answer to that is different. Mine is, yes and no. There are some personal habits that I more easily identify as deal breakers. Smoking is one of those; nearly any dating board you see has a smoking/nonsmoking information. It's quite difficult for smokers and nonsmokers to live together. One could also think of more than one milieu where people of different political opinions would find it difficult to share a household.

But what about nutrition? I've seen Israeli families successfully negotiating the issue of keeping Kosher in the house. Usually, the solution is that the secular person gives in, since the religious person can't. It seems that vegetarians and carnivores can coexist even more easily, particularly if no separate dishes are required for meat. Even if the vegetarian party dislikes having anything to do with meat - including cooking it - the carnivore can chip in (actually, this could happen even with squeamish, not necessarily vegetarian, spouses).

The substantial problem arises when vegetarianism comes from a strong ideology, where the person can't live with someone who eats meat because that's taken to signify that the prospective partner is a cruel, insensitive person. I imagine in this case, vegetarianism in itself is not the issue, but it is rather an index of a whole other set of values.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Sandwich Substitutes for the Wheat Intolerant

The schoolyear is here! It begins on Sunday. With all the joy and the preparation comes, for some of us, the concern over what we'll be eating throughout our academic days. Cafeterias abound, but one not always has time to sit through an entire meal, when a hefty tome can be read in one's office while snacking.

The usual answer to this problem is the quintessential sandwich, sold at every cafeteria on campus. But what will those of us with wheat allergies do? I can't possibly have a sandwich every day; crime, in this respect, doesn't pay. Therefore, I have to get creative about my snacking habits.

Here are some ideas for sandwich substitutes I've come up with. Usually, if I stick to them, they keep me happy until the end of the day.

Microwaved Potato

Microwaving a potato takes five to six minutes, and can be done during your morning cup of tea. They are very easy to pack, and can be filled with various sandwichlike stuff, like pesto, cheese, and cooked vegetables from yesterday meal. Pack in foil or in a ziplock bag and enjoy.

Squares of Cheese

Nice hard goat cheese keeps me happy in a way vegetable sticks never can. Simply cut out squares and stick in a bag (better on cold days, of course).

Vegetable Sticks

The trick: pack them in a plastic box with a little bit of water. Keeps them from becoming shrivelled, dry and unappetizing. Want this to be more satisfying and less masochistic? Take with you a small container of tchina or eggplant salad.

Organic Soup Packages

If there's a hot water machine at the office, you can have yourself an instant cup of soup. Somehow, soup feels more filling than tea, perhaps because we tend to categorize it as "food" rather than "drink". Better yet, keep a bag of miso and a block of tofu at the office and get instant miso soup.

After the beginning-of-the-year-stress, we'll be back cooking and writing about it. Good luck with school, and everything else!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Istanbul Foods

Not much cooking this week... we were not home. Locked up the door, gathered some clothes up in a suitcase and went off to beautiful Istanbul, once capital of the vast, corrupt, excessive Ottoman empire.

Istanbul is beautiful. That can be read in any tourist guide. The city showcases the magnificent architecture of Sinan, a genius employed by Suliman the Magnificent for planning gorgeous mosques with blue domes and sharp-pointed minarets. The insides of the mosques are also beautiful; in the absence of religious imagery, Muslim artists perfected calligraphy and did wonders with it.

Now, as to the food (that's what we're all here for, after all): we were warned that there would be no vegetarian options. And, we were warned that the food is not hygienic and we should exercise great care in eating. The first of these warnings is a myth and has been thoroughly debunked. We ate plenty of very good vegetarian food. Fresh salads are available everywhere; and so are various interesting dishes made with beans, rice, eggplant, and excellent yogurt. A good example is the wonderful kidney bean salad in the picture, which you can find in this Turkish recipe website. The second, however, should be remembered well. While travellers with iron-clad stomachs will probably feel okay even eating things in the street, folks with some sensitivity to food might experience diahorrea, nausea, or (as in my glorious case) a combination of the two.

What do you do when you get food poisoning or sensitivity on a trip?

My suggestion: eat nothing. The body needs some time to work things out and get well again. Drink plenty of clean good-quality water, supplementing it occasionally with something sweet, like some honey or a date or raisins (so you can keep your energy). The stomach needs some rest and it will eventually sort itself out. When you feel a bit better, often on the second day, the Mapa Guide for Natural Healing recommends eating some fruit, drinking some juice, and having some bio yogurt and/or mashed potatoes. Following these instructions, I recovered within two days, and though they weren't very pleasant, they taught me something about the body's ability to clean out agents that cause toxicity and bad sensations.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Olives: Part Three

Hiya, all!

This final post in the "olives" series is also my entry for my dear, dear pal Barbara's spice challenge ("going back to school" and learning about spices). Now that the olives are ready - and that bay leaves had such an important part in creating their beautiful flavor - let's learn a tad about them.

From the McCormick Spice Encyclopedia:

Bay Leaves or Laurel, are the dried leaves of the evergreen tree, Laurus nobilis. The elliptically shaped leaves are light green in color and brittle when dried. They have a distinctively strong, aromatic, spicy flavor. Bay Leaves is the approved term for this spice, but the name "laurel" is still seen frequently.

In Ancient Greece and Rome, bay leaves and branchlets were used as wreaths to crown their victors. Champions of the Olympic games wore garlands of bay leaves. Our word "baccalaureate" means "laurel berries" and signifies the successful completion of one's studies. It alludes to the bay wreaths worn by poets and scholars when they received academic honors in ancient Greece.

Whenever I make soup, pasta sauce or anything that needs to taste rich, I add a leaf or two. They somehow add that little extra punch, and it's hard to explain what, exactly, it is they do, but somehow they make any less-than-perfect soup, chowder or sauce, perfect.

Since bay leaves are quite strong in flavor, they are to be used in small quantities and discarded before eating. In the process of making olives, we added one or two leaves to each of the jars.

The picture really doesn't do the olives justice. They came out delicious, and I suspect if we give them a few more days they'll be even better. So, here's the now-tried-and-true way to do it:

1. Upon getting your olives off the tree, soak them in clean water, for three days. Change the water daily. Optional but really improves the olives: make a small cut in each of them with a knife, or pound them with a heavy object so they are cracked. They will be tastier and absorb the marinade better and faster.

2. On the fourth day, get nice, clean jars and the following ingredients per 1 kg of olives:
* 1 red hot pepper
* 1/2 lemon
* 1 tablespoon black pepper, unground
* 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
* 1 bay leaf
optional ingredients:
* 1-2 garlic cloves sliced in half
* 1 rosemary twig

3. Make a water-salt solution - 1 heaped tbsp salt to 1 cup water. You know it's salty enough when an egg placed in the solution floats up.

4. Place the olives and the spices in the jars:
* First, put a couple of red peppers and two lemon slices in the bottom.
* Cover with a thick layer of olives.
* Sprinkle some pepper and mustard on top.
* Cover with olives.
* Place bay leaf and additional stuff, if you want to.
* Cove with olives.
Repeat until jar is full.

5. Then, pour on top of the olives the salty solution, all the way to the top.

6. Seal with a layer of olive oil and/or wine vinegar.

7. Let stand in a cool, dark place, for about two weeks.

8. Find out when your friends' birthdays and anniversaries are, so you can give them olives. Don't have any olives? Let us know and we'll send them some!

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Dessert from the Past: Flan!

Seasoned readers of this blog have probably gathered that I don't eat a lot of dessert.

I try to stick to fresh fruit for my sweets, and it works out fine for me, especially as I really love fresh fruit. This week's fare has included juicy nectarines and cactus fruit (peel carefully! the thorns, which protect the cactus for predators, do exactly what they are supposed to - and it stings!). But there's one big exception to this rule - and that's when Chad makes Flan!

Flan, a lovely and creamy milk, egg and caramel custard, is a dessert we both grew up with as kids in Ecuador. There are commercial versions, which are not bad at all, and then there's the home-made variety, which is fabulous.

The trick with flan is to mix the milk and eggs really well and leave some bubbles in the mixture, though not for too long, because too much foam ruins the creamy texture. It can also be seasoned with various treats - I'll place some good recommendations below. The picture above is taken of an anime site, (of all places!), because ours was eaten too fast to be photographed. But it was equally delicious!


Deep baking dish (shallow dishes make for shallow flans).

For custard:
2 eggs + 2 yolks
2 cups of milk (for this dish, cow milk works better than goat milk)
1 tsp vanilla
optional: 1-2 tsps sugar (if the topping is sweet, you can do without)
optional seasonings: lemon peel; cardamon; cinnamon; nutmeg; or, for coffee flan, a teaspoon of good espresso powder

For caramel topping:
1 cup sugar
1/8 cup water

Heat up oven to about 180 degrees celsius.
Heat up milk with spices and let cool.
Meanwhile, caramelize the sugar: heat it with water, constantly mixing it, until it reaches syrup consistency. It doesn't have to become solid, but it's preferrable if it's solid enough to be sticky.
Whisk milk with eggs until there's little bubbles everywhere, but don't make too much fluff.
Coat baking dish with caramel, then pour milk and egg mixture on top.
Bake for about 30 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick or a knife goes in the flan and comes out clean and dry.
Wait till it cools, then slowly and carefully use a knife to separate sides of flan from the dish. When you've done this to the best of your ability (patient people do better at this stage), invert the flan onto a plate. Whoa! There's caramel on top! Have fun.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Whole Grains Chart: A Service to the Public

In her fabulous book Sunlight Cafe, Mollie Katzen devotes a special chapter to whole grains and their cooking methods. In her honor, and as a service to the public, I'm posting a modified version of her excellent grain cooking chart.

Grain Water (cups) to 1 cup grain Cooking Time Yields (cups)
Oat Groats 2.5 40-45 mins. 3
Brown Rice 1.5 35-45 mins. 3.5
Wild Rice 2.5 1 1/4 hours 4
Pearl Barley 3 1 1/2 hours 4
Quinoa 1.5 25-30 mins. 3
Millet 1.5 25-30 mins. 3
Buckwheat 1.5 10 mins. 3.5
Amaranth 1.75 25 mins. 2

Happy cooking!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Olives: Part Two

What we see here in the picture, folks, is our new "olive cellar", containing - yes - FIFTEEN jars of olives!

We used different recipes for the olives. About half of them are what we call here zeitim dfukim - olives that were broken so their pickling will be more thorough and take longer. The other half we left whole. The solution is salt water, and the spices include fresh lemons, spicy red peppers, black peppers, mustard seeds, and occasionally garlic and rosemary and red wine vinegar. We still don't know how they are going to come out, but we'll keep you posted.

What we see here is a jar with layers of olives, lemons, peppers etc. Here's the way we did it:

1. We let the olives sit in water for four days, changing the water every day.
2. We washed the jars well (some folks even boil them to sanitize)
3. We cut about one lemon per jar into eight pieces. We peeled some garlic cloves and made a small dent in them with a knife. We prepared bay leaves, black unground pepper, mustard seeds, and rosemary twigs next to the spicy red peppers, lemons and garlic.
4. We placed two or three lemon slices and a hot pepper at the bottom of the jar, then layered with olives.
5. Then, we placed one or two bay leaves (per jar) and some of the other spices, depending on what we wanted the jar to be like. Then put some more olives, and so on and so forth.
6. With some jars, we added about a third of a cup good quality wine vinegar.
7. We placed an egg inside a large pot and filled the pot with water (the egg sank to the bottom). We started adding salt - about 1 tablespoon per cup of water - and mixing it with the water. Whoa! The egg started floating! That meant the solution was ready.
8. We filled the jar with salt water, on top of the olives.
9. We "sealed" the olives with a thin layer of olive oil on top.
10. We closed and sealed the jar, and put it in a dark, cold place (poor olives).
Now we wait.
And here at the blog, it'll be back to our previously scheduled programs.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Olives: Part One

My gentle readers have probably noticed how useful olive oil is in our Tel Aviv kitchen; there's hardly a recipe without it. Olives, and olive oil, are an inseparable part of the Israeli landscape, and often become the symbolic subjects of political struggle over the land.

There is a large, ancient olive tree in my parent's house, which yields "Syrian olives" of the small and bitter variety - the very best, in my opinion. This year the tree was full of fruit, and we decided to pick it and pickle it. My grandpa tried to dissuade us of the plan. A few years back, he had harvested much of the tree, and ended up pickling twenty enormous jars of olives, thinking he would give them out later as gifts. Hah! After a few weeks, no one in their circle of family and friends could bear the sight of olives, not to mention eating them, and the consumption took, well, quite a while.

But we were not convinced, and early on Saturday we charged the tree and started picking fruit. We spread large sheets under the tree and used two methods. First, we beat the branches - vigorously, but not ferociously - with Chad's martial art bamboo swords. Much of the fruit fell to the ground while the branches remained intact. Then, we went over the branches and hand-picked what was left.

That took about three hours.

Then, we had to start sorting the olives; there is a certain fly who stings them and leaves a worm inside the pit. So, we looked for tiny imperfections to examine whether they were fly bites. That took four hours and we hadn't finished by the time the sun set. Gaaaaah! One really learns to appreciate olives after such hard work.

Then, at home, Chad took half the amount of olives and "broke" them. Syrian olives are wonderful when they are cracked; there are various methods to do it, and his enterprising engineer nature led him to use our citrus juicer.

Now, all our olives are happily soaking in water, and will be pickled tomorrow. This is what our bathroom looks like:

What you can't see in the picture is the large bucket of cracked olives, fermenting.
More updates in the following days!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Madison County in Tel Aviv

Stuffed peppers... not necessarily a romantic dish, isn't it? When we think of romantic dining, some delicate, nouvelle-cuisine thing in delicate china comes to mind. Preferably something that is eaten sensually (and optimally fed to the other person, by hand). Stuffed peppers don't exactly fall into that category. Or do they?

For me, they do. And the credit all goes to Robert James Waller's The Bridges of Madison County. The book (for those of you who haven't read it, and there can't be too many who haven't heard about it) is an amazing, tear-jerking story of an Iowa housewife who meets a National Geographic photographer. The two fall in love - an unpredictable, all-consuming, impossible love. And one of the exotic features about the photographer - who is so different from the housewife's husband and all other men she knows - is his vegetarianism.

So, she makes him stuffed peppers. She stuffs them with wild rice and cheese. And it's a lovely, romantic, fabulous dinner.

Now here's why stuffed peppers are such a romantic food. First of all, they are extremely sexy. The contrast between their bold, colorful exterior and their comforting, nutritious interior is beautiful to see and fabulous to eat. Second, they are messy. Beautiful before touched, they require crossing a boundary when cutting into them and spilling their goodness on the plate. And third, they are soaked in good tomato sauce - the sexiest sauce of all, in my humble opinion.

The version photographed here (and eaten for lunch today by a hungry man studying for a university exam and his blogging girlfriend) is a bit unusual, and consists of cooked millet, leeks and dried tomatoes. You can be quite creative about the filling and many whole grains will do fine; the millet, however, tends to absorb flavors and liquids, sort of like couscous. Enjoy!

Stuffed Peppers with Millet, Leeks and Dried Tomatoes

4 large, nice, red peppers
2 leeks
1 1/2 cup cooked millet
3 garlic cloves
5-6 dried tomatoes
2 tablespoons rosemary, thyme, or (best) mixture of the two
2 1/2 cups good quality tomato sauce (or, if you're in a hurry, make a quick sauce by quickly mixing, without cooking, tomato paste, water, herbs and crushed garlic)

Cut the top of the peppers and remove as many of the seeds as you can.
Slice the leeks into little circles. Chop up the garlic cloves, and heat up the cloves and leeks in a pan with a little olive oil. Add cooked millet, chop in the dried tomatoes and herbs, and mix with a few tablespoons of the tomato sauce - until the millet's "thirst" is "quenched" and it's soft and moist.

Place the peppers in a baking pan so they stand firmly, and stuff each of them with the millet mixture. Pour the remaining sauce on top of the peppers (and make sure at least 1 cm of the baking pan is covered in liquid). Stick in a hot oven for about 35 minutes, or more if you want the peppers softer. If they get dry, add a bit of sauce and water on top.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Food is More than Chemistry

A few weeks ago I was stranded in an airport with a pal of mine on the way to a conference. We sat in a little coffee shop, having juice and tea, and talking about various interesting ways in which people relate to their bodies. She said: "Have you noticed how Americans always refer to eating and drinking in scientific terms?" She was right, of course. How many times have you heard someone say "I need my caffeine" rather than "I want to drink coffee"? How many times has someone ordered a smoothie not because they wanted one, but because they "need their vitamins"?

There are so many ways to relate to food. Some people numb their senses to health, binge on alcohol, sodas, sweets and fats, and contribute to the high rates of heart disease and obesity (both of which also have genetic componenets). Others become gourmet fanatics and impose highly-refined and expensive standards of wining and dining on themselves and on others. And some become body chemists rather than living, eating people; food loses its joys, smells, shapes and aromas, and becomes a set of particles required for maintaining the organism.

Why do people do that? Why would anyone eschew the pleasures of eating to regard it as merely good practical science? I have no idea; it could be, to some extent, related to the medicalization of diets. In a society obsessed with thinness, interest in calories, carbs, fats and proteins increases. We are bombarded daily with good and bad science about how what we eat contributes to how we function and to what we look like. I think the health obsession, maligned by the ones who are trying to label "orthorexia" an eating disorder, is a close sister to thinness obsession and often tries to mask it. We say "we're eating healthy" to mask the fact that we want to lose weight or maintain our diet achievements. Under these conditions, it is not surprising that our constant concerns with what we eat have turned into meta-science.

We are, of course, right to be concerned. Supermarkets and chains feed us sprayed, chemical-treated food devoid of nutrition. American food prices create strong incentives for purchasing boxes of mac 'n' cheese over a nice bag of tomatoes. I've seen it often at Safeway or Albertson's: a tired mother, standing in line in front of me, short on cash, and on a budget, trying to figure out how to feed her children for the week, and opting for the cheaper option - a humongous set of cardboard boxes of instant food ("just add water"). The dry and chemical-ridden food was, itself, exciting science at some point; isn't it ironic how now we regard other foods as such? It *is* upsetting that the machinations of food corporations has weakened us so much that health considerations have become a luxury. Here, in Israel, things are somewhat better, as vegetables and fruit are very affordable; and yet, whole grains and organic produce is still not easily available.

So, yes, there is cause for concern. And there's all the more reason to encourage healthy, organic, local food production, and to mind what we are putting into our bodies. But while we're at it, can we perhaps enjoy the food? Consider a nice fruit plate for breakfast. Yes, it offers sugar and vitamins and available energy. But that is not the (only) reason we eat fruit.

It begins with how they look. Their amazing array of colors, shapes and textures. It continues with their tropical intoxicating aroma. And it ends in their sweetness and tartness, and set of complex flavors. First and foremost - eating fruit is an enjoyable experience. The vitamins are important, but they are only part of the experience.

I'll be heading off now to eat a load of passion fruit and figs for breakfast; it'll likely make me smile, and give me an uplifting sensation that all is well. At the same time, yes, it'll introduce some vitamins and energy into the "system". Such is the magic of living things: we - and what we eat - are a web of complex science, and at the same time, so much more than that.

Friday, September 01, 2006


Okra, or Bamia, as we call it in Israel, is a much maligned vegetable. It stands, right next to cilantro and buckwheat, on the love-'em-or-hate'em shelf of foods in our collective consciousness.

When I came to the US, I discoverd, to my surprise, that breaded and fried okra was a Southern delicacy. I've also had it in Indian restaurants as Bhindi Masala - which is how my dear friend and heart-sister, Barbara, makes it.

Here, in the Middle East, we like our bamia in tomato sauce, over rice. It's an Egyptian recipe, apparently, and quite a favorite among those who like bamia. This week we were really fortunate to get a beautiful variety of bamia from Chubeza: it was dark burgundy, with a flourescent green stripe on the side. So, we set out to cook it.

Now, here's the tricky part: the folks who hate bamia, hate it because it produces a strange, mucuos-like substance. Ick, indeed. But the trick to eliminating that part of the experience is lightly frying the bamia before cooking it in the sauce.

Bamia in Tomato Sauce

3 cups of fresh bamia
2 garlic cloves
1 large onion
2 large tomatoes
1 container of tomato paste
juice from 1 lemon
1 tablespoon of spices: dried dill, dried parsley, caraway seeds... or anything else you like with your tomato sauce (no basil this time, sorry)

Take the bamias and chop off their stem. Do not mess with the rest of the vegetable! Put them in a hot pan with some olive oil, and lightly toss them around for three or four minutes. Then, add chopped onion and garlic. After a couple of minutes, chop in the tomatoes, add the tomato paste, lemon, and spices. Simmer for about half an hour; add water if it gets too dry. Spoon over rice and munch.

Eggplant and Squash!

It was a tad - just a tad - less hot the last few days. So, we rolled up our sleeves (absurd - who wears sleeves in this weather?) and set out to cook. In fact, Chad set out to cook. And made this wonderful stirfry.

The eggplant worked really, really well counterbalancing the orange ingredients of the stirfry, which include carrots as well as a special squash called "dalorit". Dalorit is a strange linguistic pun in Hebrew: it combines the words "dla'at" (squash), "dal" (less, not rich in-) and "calorie" (needless to explain). It's a funny little squash, like a ball that has a zucchini extend from it. It can be cooked just like squash and comes out delicious every time.


Eggplant, Carrot and Squash Stirfry

1 medium-sized eggplant
1/2 - 1 dallorit, or a cup of squash, cut into 1/4 inch thick chunks
3 carrots
5-6 champignon mushrooms (optional but really good)
1 large onion
3-4 garlic cloves
1 inch piece of ginger
1/4 cup good quality soy sauce
1 tablespoon caraway or cumin seeds (trust me on this)
1 tsp black pepper or chili flakes
1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley.

100 grams good quality brown rice vermicelli

Slice eggplants into 1/4 inch thick slices, salt and let stand for about twenty minutes. The eggplants will "sweat" out their bitterness. Afterwards, wash with waterr and pat dry with a towel. Slice into smaller pieces. Also, slice onions (quite thinly!) and carrots into rings. Chop ginger and garlic quite thinly.

Heat up some good canola or olive oil in a wok, and add garlic, onions and ginger. Let sautee a bit, until the kitchen starts smelling wonderful. Then add the carrots, squash and eggplant. The eggplant will tend to "drink" up all the oil, and you might have to add some. Now, add soy sauce, seeds and spices.

When vegetables begin softening, boil water and quickly cook and strain vermicelli. Add noodles to the wok with soft vegetables, and toss a bit, just until everything smells and tastes wonderful. Sprinkle fresh parsley and enjoy!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Tricky World of Refreshing Beverages

The other day, walking on the beach, a horde of enthusiastic youngsters with matching teeshirts pounced on me happily, chirping about a "new exciting product, here, try it". I looked behind them and saw their booth, belonging to a local mineral water company called Neviot. There were bottles, and plastic cups, and since I was very thirsty I took one and drank it up.

Gaaaah! It was sweet!

Apparently, the odd trend of flavored water has reached Israel.

As I was drinking, a strange sensation of deja vu hit me. After all, wasn't it, like, three years ago that I was accosted by a similar group of youngsters near San Francisco's Powell Station and offered a similar product? Yes, it was quite vile, even then. So now Israel has a line of peach and apple flavored water.

What is flavored water? apparently, it's somewhat of a lighter version of the juice syrups we used to have as kids, only without the food coloring. The water basically contains either sugar or an artificial sweetener and some artificial fruit flavoring, and also some added vitamins. If you are a Coke or Diet Coke drinker, this option might be better for you; but if you think (like me) that sodas taste vile and are vile, why not skip the ridiculous flavored water and drink water, instead?

The constant struggle to find new and exciting ways to quench and refresh us has yielded various interesting trends. I won't even get on the topic of sodas - there's plenty of people talking about that. There are also the sports drinks - again, much like the artificial syrups of our youth, only with the added halo of SCIENCE behind them. Sports drinks contain electrolytes and sugar, and are aimed at replenishing these particles lost in sweat, while encouraging one to drink more. "What's wrong with water?" asks one website, and answers:

Drinking plain water causes bloating, suppresses thirst and thus further drinking. It stimulates urine output and therefore is inefficiently retained. A poor choice where high fluid intake is required. Water contains no carbohydrate or electrolytes.

Yes, water does "cause" bloating. Anything ingested will make stomach expand as it takes some time to absorb. Yes, consuming liquids "stimulates urine output", as they are supposed to; the kidneys and bladder do their job for a purpose. This might, perhaps, be tricky for marathon runners, but for us simple folk there's really nothing better than good quality water. "Flavored water" is not much different from the fake juices of our childhood. Yes, it doesn't have coloring, possibly to make it seem more healthy (which it probably is, to some extent). But the flavor is still there. Want to ask yourself what it's doing there?

It seems that food manufacturers do not believe that we'll drink anything unless there's some sugar and added ingredients to it. Do pour yourself a glass of good water and prove them wrong.

The Merits of Israeli Breakfasts

Breakfast is a touchy subject. It appears that even folks who are ready to experiment with lunch and dinner don't want to confront something strange and unfamiliar when they get up.

While my breakfast preferences have changed over the years, there are still items that surprise me when I travel or stay with friends. The Large American Brunch, for example, completely threw me off when I came to Berkeley. Fried potatoes? And toast? And meat? For breakfast? I couldn't believe people would want to eat that (even if it's served at a good diner, rather than in an abominable Egg McMuffin). My roommate from Taiwan enjoyed a big plate of pork and fried greens at 7am, which was delicious for her and very odd for me. And, when scheduled to give talks in England, Oxford and London hotels insisted on serving fried tomatoes (why spoil a good thing?) and mushrooms, and beans. All these choices apparently work perfectly well for folks who are used to them, but me - I couldn't cope with those items.

My usual morning fare includes a cup of hot water with lemon, followed by fresh fruit; I find it works really well for me and gives me a nice start. But when going out or inviting people in, we often eat the traditional Israeli breakfast, comprised of the following items:

- eggs
- cheese of various kinds
- a big vegetable salad
- bread
- tuna or some smoked fish (optional)
- orange or grapefruit juice
- coffee or tea

Now, Israeli hotels are quite famous for their breakfasts, which include a variety of additional items: fruit, yoghurt, various muesli, granola and cereal options, hot cake, salty and sweet pastries, etc. Even less exciting venues often add good quality tchina. But the egg, cheese and salad are the key components.

What's so good about an Israel breakfast? Obviously, considering that most people eat bread in the morning with their eggs and cheese, it offers a combination of carbs and protein. Count the juice in, and you've got some more sugar and vitamins. If one is into food combinations, the best and safest way to enjoy this is to focus on the eggs, cheese and vegetables.

Thinking about this, the Israeli breakfast is not less strange than other breakfasts. Its appeal to Israelis is in its familiarity, and to tourists - in its novelty. Most people are not used to raw vegetables on their morning plates.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Takeout Pet Peeves of the Vegetable Adventurer

Takeout is an inevitable part of city life. Often, we are too tired, lazy or hyper to cook. When one's vegetables are delivered to one's door, it doesn't happen often, but still, there comes a time when you pick up that box or bag or folder of leaflets and browse through them, searching for something that the good city restaurateurs can haul over to your doorstep.

Such, indeed, was my mood a few days ago, when I picked up the Tel Aviv Food Book, proclaiming itself to contain menus for most of the restaurants in Tel Aviv. Now, we are very fortunate here in this respect; there's more than pizza and MG-laced Chinese. The city has hundreds of wonderful food digs and many of them offer deliveries.


However, the offerings in the vegan/vegetarian/whole grain department are pathetically slim. I assume there's not much demand: folks who like wholesome food have often gotten used to making it themselves, thus diminishing the supply market for such foods. But wouldn't you occasionally like someone *else* to bring you your quinoa bowl? Also - it's possible that health food is considered snobbish and expensive; but so are many of the extravagant items on the menu, and whole grains and beans don't have to be expensive, at all.

So, here are some of the things I was disappointed with.

1. I *know* there are organic restaurants in this city. I've *eaten* in them. Why no deliveries?

2. Is it too much to ask for Chinese and Indian restaurants to offer steamed brown rice, in addition to the white rice? I'd be willing to pay more and I bet many others would, too. It could make a whole lot of difference for me. One Indian place already does deliveries with brown rice; others should join.

3. It'd be kind of fun for those of us that eat eggs to be able to order Shakshuka from eggs that don't come from chicken coops. Again: there are people who care about this. Would anyone pick this idea up?

4. How about marking the menus, to let us know which dishes are vegetarian/vegan and which aren't? We hate being pests and asking on the phone "does this have meat?". Yes, there are people who won't eat the soup if it's chicken broth. Yes, there are people who want to know if there are eggs in the cake. Why not help them out?

5. Sometimes, generous restaurants give us really nice offers: if we order a certain value of food, we get desert - free! That's really nice of them. Would it be possible to ask them to extend that good will, and offer a free small salad, or water, instead? Some people in this town are diabetic, and it'd be really nice to treat them to something as well, if they spend a lot of money ordering food from your establishment.

6. We can deal with paper containers. No need to produce and consume all this plastic. How about that? And, while we're at it, most of us can, and will, use our own cutlery. The less plastic in this world, the better.

Thank you for your attention, restaurateurs of Tel Aviv; there are many, many great options for folks who eat locally and ethically, here, if they want to eat out. All we need to do is stretch them out a bit, so they apply to folks who order in, as well.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Orthorexia: The Sickness of Eating Healthy?

Heyya, folks, gather round and I'll give you a lecture that has as much to do with sociology (one of my other loves) as it does about food.

How can you tell if one is sick or healthy? With many physical diseases, it's not a difficult task. If one coughs, sneezes and feels awful - they have a cold or a flu. Things get somewhat trickier in the world of mental illnesses. Sure, popular culture is saturated with examples of extreme psychoses, but less serious patterns - neuroses and disorders - raise a lot of issues. And like many other things, defining a certain set of behaviors as an illness is very much a matter of politics.

Mental disorders appear in a special guide called the DSM. The DSM lists a series of symptoms, and clinicians are supposed to see how many of them are manifested in the patient, in order to establish whether or not a disorder is present (here, take a look). Naturally, the disorders don't just appear in the newest DSM edition by themselves; many professionals have to acknowledge them as such, and there is much controversy about which behaviors and phenomena are and are not included in it. For example, part of the struggle for gay rights recognition had to do with removing homosexuality from the list of disorders in the DSM.

Why am I telling you this? Because in recent years, some controversy has arisen over a certain set of behaviors, which some people would like to see defined as a disorder. They call it "Orthorexia", which, in literal latin means "correct appetite".

According to Steven Bratman, who coined the term "orthorexia" and wrote about it in his book, Health Food Junkies, the disorder consists of a pathological obsession with eating healthy food. For an orthorexic, adhering to rigid nutrition disciplines becomes the focus of life. Eating healthfully and "correctly" is seen as a moral, or even spiritual, virtue; the orthorexic might graudally limit his or her consumption of foods, trying to achieve a "purer" state of being. An orthorexic often feels superior to others who eat a less healthy diet. When "falling off the wagon" and eating something unhealthy, the orthorexic experiences a deep sense of guilt and engages in various health-rites of penance such as fasting.

Now, there's no much sense in defining something as an illness if it doesn't cause harm or suffering. Bratman argues that, in severe cases, an obsession with health food can lead to severe physical damage and even to death. However, even when things are less tragic, limiting oneself to what one deems to be extremely healthy food can seriously impair one's life. People who are more attached to their eating regimes than to other aspects of their lives isolate themselves from friends (restrictive eating habits hinder going to lunch together, and so does consistent lecturing about food!), find it difficult to travel and eat out, and become, to a certain extent, slaves of their diet.

Others oppose the medicalization of health food obsession, for various reasons. One of them is that, in general, being a health nut causes no harm. There is no much cause for concern over someone who gets in nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and is interested in wholesome food; that would lead to stigmatizing half of the food blog community, for goodness sake! Cases in which people are taking upon themselves extreme and restrictive dietary regimes could merely be a manifestation of dogmatic, inflexible thinking patterns in general, and not merit a specific disorder title. Moreover, there is no much basis to distinguish between people whose healthy diet is an aspect of their worldview from folks whose dietary restrictions stem from religious decrees (such as kosher or halal diets). What makes one worldview pathological while the other isn't?

Whether or not you think orthorexia should be medicalized, it's probably a good opportunity to say here: all in moderation, folks. I'm the last person to recommend polished grains, white sugar and saturated fats, but hey, if you feel like having a good ice cream or a nice bit of delicious chocolate, and it doesn't hurt you physically, go right ahead and enjoy it. Yes, we should take good care of our bodies, most of the time. Our bodies will reward us by bearing with the occasional treat we have.

To bring this balance to earth, I'll finish with a short quasi-recipe: Oven fries. As good as, or even better than regular fries. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius. Slice thinly some nice potatoes. Place them on an oiled piece of foil on a baking pan, and sprinkle whatever you like on top. In this house, it's usually rosemary, garlic and chile peppers, but there's endless possibilities. Stick in the hot oven for about 35-40 minutes, then munch to your heart's content. Yeah, it's carbs. Yeah, it's not a nutritional powerhouse. But it's fun. Enjoy.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Vegetables and Olive Oil and Peace

This post is my contribution to Barbara's "Fresh and Local Challenge" in Tigers and Strawberries; although all of what I cook comes right out of our Chubeza box, this one has summer vegetables in it, and is therefore very appropriate for this season.

The two dishes I have here feature a common ingredient which may not be exactly a spice, but is a very typical flavor in Middle Eastern cooking: fabulous olive oil from the Gallille. It's not easy being cheerful in Israel Aviv these days, as many of you probably can guess from following the news; but cooking with olive oil is a reminder of the ancient, bountiful olive trees all over the north of Israel, which produce our superb oil, and which are now under missile attacks. May these dishes remind all warring parties in the world of the goodness in the Earth, and how living off the richness it offers shouldn't be taken for granted. While many humans are hurt in our current conflict, there are also silent sufferers: plants and animals hit by rockets, forests that die in forest fires. When (if?) this is over, hopefully soon, humans will have to work not only on reconnecting with each other, but also on restoring some of the natural world that is so often harmed by humans fighting with each other. The vegetables, fresh from a field near Latroun, are a reminder of that world.

When you have good ingredients, there's no need to mess with them more than necessary. The fresh flavors speak for themselves. So, while the two dishes I have here are cooked, they're both cooked for a very short time and preserve the vegetables' essence very well. It's a double feature dish: Green Beans with Garlic and Roasted Peppers. The beans are sauteed in a small amount of light broth and, of coruse, garlic. The peppers are roasted on an old pot lid, then steamed in a plastic bag and served with a tiny bit of olive oil and, possibly, balsamic vinegar. This is proof that very simple things can make very festive dishes.

Green Beans with Garlic

4-5 handfuls of fresh green beans
3 large garlic cloves
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp good quality soy sauce
1/2 cup water or vegetable broth.
1/2 tsp chili flakes
1 inch ginger, thinly sliced
1-2 tsps sesame oil

Prepping green beans is a funny task, because no matter what shortcuts you try to take, you *will* have to chop off their corners. I've stopped bothering with lining them up - they are never the same size and it doesn't simplify things... so just chop their corners, will you? Then, slice the garlic cloves, heat the olive oil in a pan or wok, and add the garlic, the ginger and the chili flakes. When a nice garlicky smell fills the room, add the soy sauce and the beans. Stir gently to mix up , and when they're all heated, add some water or broth - just enough so nothing sticks to the pan. Then, cook for a few more minutes, stirring occasionally, until beans get as soft as you like them, but retain their character. Remove from pan, drizzle a bit of sesame oil, and voila.

Roasted Red Peppers

4 large red peppers
1 old lid of a large pan
1 plastic bag
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar (optional)

This works really well on my stove, which has open fire; folks with electric stoves are welcome to offer ideas on how to do this in other kitchens. Anyway, in my kitchen, I found the best method to do this in Shari Ansky's fabulous book Vegetables. I changed it a bit, but it's essentially the same.

Basicaly, what you do, is turn on the stove and place an old metal lid directly on it. Then, you cut the peppers into eight pieces each, lengthwise, and place the pepper slices on top of the lid. Move them around a bit, so they don't get too burned on one side. You'll start seeing black burns on the peel, which is absolutely fine.

When the peppers all get soft and burned (doesn't this sound a bit like an inquisition method?), you turn off the stove, remove the peppers from the lid (careful! they're hot!) and place them in a plastic bag. tie up the bag and let'em sweat for fifteen minutes (inquisition, indeed). Then, open up the bag: if you want to peel the peppers, this will be very easy now, but you don't have to. You can eat them as they are. Put the peppers in a bowl, and drizzle some olive oil and, if desired, some balsamic vinegar on top.

It'll be time to harvest olives soon, and my family will gather to pick them right off our olive tree in September. Then, we'll be making olives off my grandpa's secret recipe, and they will be good and bitter; a reminder of life in this region, which can be very good, but very bitter at times, and a reminder of the olive branches that bear this fruit, and a hope for peace.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Anti-Inflammatory Cooking

Cold and flu in the summer are always a strange surprise, though not entirely unexplainable. If you live in a hot area, you'll notice that offices and homes tend to crank up the air conditioner in the summertime, making our daily journeys in and out of buildings a real challenge for our immune system.

Chinese medicine does not recognize illnesses as "flu", but categorizes the entire situation of the person by his or her warmth/coldness, dampness/dryness, etc. What Western medicine would call a cold, or a flu, usually falls into one of two categories: wind-cold and wind-heat. Wind cold is a cold which leads one to be sluggish, cold, and inactive; wind heat tends to be accompanied by fever and redness. Both, but particularly the former, are associated with dampness, which manifests itself as phlegm.

Milk and dairy products are generally considered to increase phlegm in the body, and are therefore not recommended at times when one has a cold. Whether one eats cold or hot foods (which would depend on the type of cold one has), drying, anti-inflammatory foods are of essence. When in doubt, the three winning ingredients are garlic, ginger, and lemon.

Here are some things you might want to try next time you have a cold:

* Ginger-lemon tea (affectionately referred to here as "lemon-ginj")
* Thai curries, preferrably soy-based (coconut milk is a bit rich for ill, sluggish systems, though also good)
* Spicy stir-frys with garlic and ginger
* Tchina with lots of lemon and garlic
* vegetable stock with a bit of grated ginger on top

Be well!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Those Big Purple Things

Our two most recent deliveries from Chubeza contained a beautiful surprise: the season's first nice, fresh, purple eggplants. What a thrill! Being a Middle Easterner means that I love eggplants a great deal, and have cooked them in many different ways. There aren't many things that are as local as eggplants; Israelis love them almost as much as they love their tomatoes and eat them in every possible form, from baba ganoush to mousakka to quiches to simply roasted slices with goat cheese and olive oil.

Some people have a hesitant relationship with eggplants. This stems from two main reasons. First, eggplants belong to the nightshade family of vegetables, which has been much maligned in relation to diseases like fibromayalgia. Some nutritionsts recommend avoiding nightshade vegetables altogether, a penalty inconceivable from the perspective of a Mediterranean person: that would mean giving up tomatoes, sweet peppers and potatoes. Ah, the horror! Indeed, nightshades contain a certain amount of poisonous components, but these are, according to most nutritionists, ruined in cooking, and they have several nutritional benefits to offer. Eggplants, for example, contain several vitamins from the B family, as well as manganese, copper, potassium, and folic acid. Not in great amounts, but still, they are all there.

The second reason people fear eggplants is their capacity to absorb unbelievable amounts of oil. Many eggplant dishes are extremely greasy and, while eggplant itself is quite lean, with the oil it can become a bit of a fat trap, albeit a delicious one.

Here's one pretty basic thing you can do with your eggplants. Eggplant salad is magnificent in sandwiches or as a nice dish garnished with vegetable sticks. Here, one finds it often in two combinations: with mayonnaise, and with the more common tchina as baba ganoush. This recipe is my (successful, hurrah!) attempt to recreate my grandma's version, which uses neither, and showcases the eggplant in all its glory.

Eggplant Salad

2-3 eggplants
5 garlic cloves
juice from 1 lemon

Cut the eggplants lengthwise. Unlike other eggplant recipes, there is no need to salt the eggplants or let them "sweat" - the bitterness actually makes this better.
Place the eggplant halves, face down, on aluminum foil, and stick in a 200 degree celsius oven for about twenty minutes. You know the eggplants are ready when their peel becomes all brownish-black and charred.

After taking them out of the oven, we grab a nice spoon and scoop the eggplant's meat into a bowl. This can be a bit tricky, but I urge you to scrape out as much as you can. If you're crazy, like me, you'll enjoy munching on the empty baked peels after you're done.

The eggplant meat goes into the food processor with the lemon juice and the garlic, or, if you like your salad chunkier, you can mash it with a fork.

Excellent stuff.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Leaning Tower of Pesto

(pic to come)

Yes, we're still jetlagged. But when has that stopped us from eating?

Meals are still regularly served at Hadar and Chad's home, even if they consume their breakfast at 3am, their lunch, well at about 8am, and their dinnner anywhere in between. And since our Chubeza delivery included fresh basil, and we were very hungry, something had to be done immediately.

Fortunately, our food processor was up to the task, and we were able to produce two dangerously unbalanced bowls of Tinkyada brown rice pasta with fresh, simple, homemade pesto. I know, not a remarkable feat. And yet, here it is. I wish I could comment on how well this keeps in the fridge, but as I said, we were hungry, and the entire batch was immediately consumed.

Homemade Pesto Sauce

2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup excellent quality olive oil
3 tablespoons pine nuts
3 large garlic cloves
1 tablespoon salt

Mix in food processor (adding small batches of stuff at a time). Then, mix with pasta. Eat, enjoy, rest in simplicity.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Tribute to Phyllis Glazer

Hi, everyone; sorry for having disappeared for so long. I was out of the country, and just came back, still jetlagged and without much motivation for cooking beyond salads and omelettes. In such circumstances, the best I can do for us all is to use this opportunity to pay tribute to a wonderful lady - the "first lady" of vegetarian cooking in Israel: Phyllis Glazer.

Originally from Boston, Phyllis Glazer arrived in Israel and worked as an actress, gradually shifting to the world of vegetarianism. She started writing about healthy cuisine, whole grains and beans, and ecological issues, when none of these was anywhere near the Israeli mainstream. Recently, a festive 25th year anniversary edition of her book Vegetarian Feast was issued; she still writes extensively about vegetarian cooking and eating. Since writing this classic, she's written a second vegetarian book called Phyllis' Kitchen, which is also very good, and also a book about Jewish festival cooking.

I got acquainted with Glazer's work in my early twenties, as a student in Jerusalem. I learned to cook from two sources: my neighbor Frida and Glazer's book. I bought the book somewhere - can't remember well - and made each and every recipe in it, though I didn't follow it to the letter (I always like to invent and improve on written recipes). Glazer taught me the importance of combining whole grains and beans, the possibilities in vegetables I wasn't familiar with, and the secrets of quick breads, an American novelty I hadn't been exposed to. With her book, I made fruit custards, pureed soups, homemade granola, and bean casseroles. My first Irish soda bread came out of that book, as did my first muffins - real, genuine powerhouses of bran and fruit, not flavorless sweet treats. Much of my enthusiasm about healthy nutrition echoes the excitement conveyed by Glazer's writings, and her efforts to make vegetarianism more palatable to the Israeli mainstream.

If you read Hebrew, you'd do good to buy yourself a copy of the book. It's still relevant and useful. And if you don't, you can always wrap a banana in foil and freeze it (Glazer's simple and delicious ice-cream substitute) or make the following leftover dish - my take on one of her classics.

Brown Rice Patties

2 cups cooked brown rice
2 eggs
1/2-1 cup grated vegetables, like zuccini or carrots
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
1/3 cup whole wheat or brown rice flour

Mix all ingredients and make into flattened discs. Fry in olive oil, or, if desired - bake on a baking sheet until brown.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Buckwheat Salad

This is a quick but helpful entry, because this salad is oh-so-easy and good. I served it yesterday to my pal Rosie who stopped over for dinner.

Buckwheat is actually not a grain; it is a fruit seed, akin to rhubarb. But it is cooked and eaten like a grain. Buckwheat is rich in manganese and magnesium and contains plenty of insoluble fiber. A cup of cooked buckwheat has almost six grams of protein.

I made this salad with cooked buckwheat, but if you have uncooked stuff, just cook it and add the vegetables in the very last minute of cooking.

Buckwheat Salad

2 cups cooked buckwheat
1/2 onion
3 garlic cloves
4 carrots, grated
2 zuccini or summer squashes, grated (the food processor is truly a great invention)
2-3 tbsp water or vegetable broth

Heat some oil in a wok. Add onions and garlic and sautee for a while. Add the grated carrots and zuccinis, and sautee for about five minutes, adding broth if stuff sticks to the wok too much. Then, add buckwheat and mix well together in the wok, adding more broth if necessary. Enjoy.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Missing Meat?

My recent post about TVP yielded several emails and conversations about the place of meat substitutes in a vegetarian diet. The comments that most piqued my curiosity were tose of my old-timer vegetarian pals, who questioned the need to eat anything "resembling meat" at all, merely for the sake of how it looks.

They do have a point, there. We all understand the importance of eating enough protein, iron and B12; every responsible vegetarian (well, every responsible person, for that matter) has to take precautions against deficiencies and consume enough protein-rich grains, beans and seeds. As long as this is quality protein, it's not important what it looks like. Or, as my grandma says sometimes, "it doesn't stay pretty in your stomach".

It is, therefore, quite entertaining to see how food industries insist on producing highly-processed, meticulously-designed products which are supposed to be meat substitutes. Tofurkey can be quite funny; it's made to look like a real turkey. Lightlife produces a series of soy-made salamis and bolognes and turkey slices that look very much like the original (and, if memory serves me right, taste quite like it, too). A short google of "fake meat" or "mock meat" will take you to quite a bunch of links, including restaurant links, which sport realistic-looking "meat" recipes for vegetarians, such as this picture.

This stuff was most likely made from TVP or from seitan, which is textured wheat gluten. Both of these products happen to contain a good amount of good quality protein, but that's not why they're there - they're there to remind vegetarians of meat. The absurd thing is that not all these substitutes have protein, or even are good for you. For example, Tivall, a wildly successful Israeli food manufacturer, produces "wiener schnitzels" made of corn and broccoli. Yes, it has hydrolized vegetable protein (?!?!) and bread crumbs and "flavoring", but how much actual good protein is in there? Is it just that we need a patty of something on one corner of our plate to feel as if we've eaten?

It's quite obvious - particularly from the Tofurkey example - that the vegetarian search for fake meat is cultural, not nutritional. We miss meat-based dishes of our omnivorous childhood, and want to recreate them in their cruelty-free form. An important corollary follows: it's not important whether the protein is actually in the fake meat, as long as we get the protein from somewhere. We can therefore have as much Tivall corn schnitzels as we like, we'll still need beans, and nuts, and perhaps cheese and eggs. This disconnect between how the food looks and what it actually is, is quite disturbing to anyone who wants to eat as close to nature as possible.

But, but but but, let's not dis our pals who eat these things too soon. For many people who come to vegetarianism, be it for health or conscience reasons, the move is very difficult. This is particularly true for societies in which meat is considered the centerpiece of the meal. Someone who was raised to think of meat as "the meal", and of rice, and beans, and vegetables, as "those things that come with the meal", it is very difficult to get used to meals that seem incomplete. Naturally, thinking beyond the traditional plate is to be encouraged; but there is nothing wrong with a little bit of nostalgia, particularly if you can indulge yourself in a healthy, fun way, and not feel deprived.

I don't miss meat. Really, I don't. I have no need to eat meat. Haven't had it for twelve years. There's one thing in particular I miss, though: my grandma's chopped liver. It was rich and creamy and nice, and full of fried onions. As I don't eat chicken innards anymore, I occasionally look for fun vegetarian pates and spreads, and yesterday I made my own in our kitchen. So, here it is, for your eating pleasure.

Vegetarian Chopped Liver

I don't know exactly what it is, in mock chopped liver recipes, that recreates the alchemy of actual liver. Is it the eggs and the nuts? Is it the aroma of the fried onions? Surely it can't be the zuccini, because I've looked everywhere for recipes, and found recipes that use mushrooms, green beans, and - an Israeli favorite - eggplants. Alas, I had a surplus of zuccini from Chubeza and absolutely had to use it up. I vaguely remembered having eaten something like this in Passover, but could not find the recipe, and my invented one turned out fine. The only problem was that I didn't add enough salt. We don't usually add salt, but this recipe is somewhat of an exception, so be generous with the salt shaker.

4-5 large zuccinis or summer squashes
2 large, white onions
1/3 cup good quality olive or canola oil
4 hard-boiled eggs
3/4 cup walnuts
salt and pepper

In a large pan or a wok, heat up the oil. Chop up the onions and fry them until brown. This requires patience: they absolutely must be dark brown for the flavor alchemy to work properly. Once they are nearly there, add up the chopped-up zuccinis. Keep frying, until the zuccini is golden and soft as well, and the onions emit their lovely fried aroma.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we need to take care of the eggs and nuts. Simply stick'em in your food processor bowl and grind them to dust.

Add the fried stuff to the food processor bowl, and keep grinding, until you get a brown, uniform paste. Keep tasting it ("oh, no, do we have to?") and add salt and pepper until your grandmother's presence is strongly felt in the kitchen. If you come from a different ethnic background and your grandma never makes chopped liver, you can channel mine - hers is fantastic. Anyway: remove from bowl and refrigerate. Enjoy with crackers, vegetables, and - for those of you who eat wheat - fresh bread.

Party Food : Part II

I was hoping to post about the farm day, when I got to see the organic farm and meet the vegetables, and their growers, face to face; it was a lovely morning. But the camera, with the farm pictures, has gone with Chad to Colorado, so we're left with stuffed zuccini.

Stuffed Zuccini

4 zuccini or summer squashes
1/2 white onion
5 mushrooms, or 10 mushroom stems (if you're stuffing the rest of the mushrooms)
1/2 cup crumbled goat feta cheese
3 garlic cloves

Cut each zuccini to about four pieces of equal size. With a small knife, remove some of the inside, leaving a little "cup" with a bottom.

Grate the stuff you took out of the zuccini; chop the mushrooms.

In a pan, sautee chopped garlic cloves and onion; then, add grated zuccini and chopped mushroom. Sautee all this together until soft and aromatic.

Then, mix in a bowl, with cheese. This is the stuffing.

Now, hear your oven to 180 degrees celsius. Scoop some stuffing into each of the zuccini "cups". Organize in a baking dish and bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until the zuccini is cooked but still firm. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Party Food (alas, no pictures): Part I

The other day I had lots of beautiful ladies of all shapes and sizes over here for a clothes swap, and had to serve them something to eat.

The original concept was of finger foods, but then things got complicated; some of the stuff I was planning to make required vegetables which were unavailable from our Chubeza delivery, and some of the ingredients simply called to make them into something else. Eventually I settled on a different, but fun, menu, and it got rave reviews from the ladies.

So here it is, for your cooking pleasure; part I includes recipes for cabbage rolls and stuffed mushrooms. Tune in tomorrow for stuffed zuccini.

Shavuot Cheese Suffles (see below)

Cabbage Rolls with Quinoa

This one, in its meat version, is an old Mennonite favorite, and Chad's family has been eating it for years. Chad and I have been working on a vegetarian version, and recently we discovered that a combination of quinoa and lentils for the filling works wonders. The following version, however, has only quinoa - but is equally delicious.

1 white cabbage
1 cup quinoa
1 onion
5-6 cloves of garlic
3 tbsp of rosemary, or herbs-de-provence, or any other mixed herb
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1-2 cups of your favorite homemade tomato sauce

In a pot, fry up the onion and garlic. Add the quinoa and herbs, and 2 cups vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, then lower the temperature, cover pot and cook for about 20 minutes. Drain any excess broth and set aside.

In another pot, place cabbage in water. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes, or until cabbage becomes slightly translucent and leaves are soft. Drain and let cool.

Using a small, sharp knife, remove the core of the cabbage. Then, carefully peel each leaf at a time (this requires practice), and remove the white tough middle of each leaf (so the leaf remains complete, but can be easily bent).

Heat up your oven to 180 degrees celsius. Pick a nice, deep, wide baking dish and oil it lightly with olive oil. Pick up every cabbage leaf, and using a spoon, place a healthy spoonful of the quinoa mix in each leaf. Fold the sides and roll all the way. Place in baking dish. The idea is to put the leaves in the dish quite snugly. When the dish is full and you've run out of usable cabbage, mix the tomato sauce with the broth and pour on top of the cabbage. Put in oven and bake for 45 minutes.


25 champignon mushrooms
3 large potatoes
1/2 onion
olive oil
black pepper and chili flakes to taste

Carefully remove stems from all mushrooms. Chop up the stems and the onion, and fry in olive oil until brown and fragrant. Meanwhile, bake, boil or microwave the potatoes. Mash'em with the stems and onion. Then, stuff some of the mash into each stemless mushroom, place in a lightly-oiled baking dish, and put into a hot oven (200 degrees celsius would work) for about half an hour (or more, if you really want a crispy top).

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Working Class Soy Products

The other day I stumbled upon a health food store I hadn't seen before; which is quite surprising, because it's right in the city center, on Dizengoff and Frischmann. The folks who work there are extremely nice and knowledgeable about the lovely stuff the city has to offer, including spices, teas, grains, baking and cooking products from cast iron and silicone, and various mystery items in bins.

It was one of these mystery items that I stumbled upon as I was looking for something nice to eat for dinner; it had strange, dry brown/beige pellets of varying sizes, and was very, very cheap. "What is this?" I asked. "You've never seen these before?" said the salesperson. "They are really, really cool; these are soy slices. You cook them like meat, only you have to soak them first".

Several hours later, I started searching the internet for interesting things to do with the funny pellets, which I now realized were called TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein). Apparenly, TVP has been around for a while, but has not enjoyed the yuppie publicity of tofu and soymilk. Probably because it is much, much cheaper. It's been served in workplace cafeterias and canteens way before vegetarianism became a lifestyle, rather than a financial necessity. And, yeah, it's very tasty.

As opposed to tofu and miso, TVP is not fermented. It is made from defatted, ground soy, and textured to look and feel - when wet - like a little sponge, with a texture not dissimilar from that of chewy Chinese beef or chicken bits (haven't had those for nearly fourteen years, but still got the memories). It is bought dry, then soaked in boiling water for several hours before it can be used. In fact, it's not dissimilar from seitan (wheat gluten puffs).

TVP seems to be a good alternative for folks transferring to vegetarianism after years of eating typical Western fare. For example, this website provides some ideas on how TVP can be "meat in disguise" in some common North American dishes. Here are some options, too.

These recipes all indicate that TVP serves mostly as "fake meat". While I find no particular reason to constantly imitate meat in my kitchen, it's fun, occasionally, to eat something one used to eat as a meat eater and use TVP. I used it, therefore, to prepare a stir-fry "beef" with green beans and mushrooms (this week's delivery of green beans from the farm was particularly impressive). When Chad came home, he came up with the idea of eating the leftovers in pita, with tchina, as one would in a shewarma stand (see other picture). It was very good both ways.

Stir-Fry TVP "Beef" with Green Beans and Mushrooms

30 pellets of dark TVP
1 cup fresh green beans
1 cup fresh forest mushrooms, or soaked shiitake mushrooms
4 garlic cloves
1/2 cup good quality soy sauce
1/2 inch fresh ginger
1 tsp chili flakes, or hot sauce
(optional) 1/2 tsp honey

STEP I: prepare the TVP. Soak it in lots and lots of boiling water for a good eight hours (leave it soaking when you go to work, it'll be ready for dinner). It will nearly quadruple its size. Then, discard the water, and gently squeeze the puffed sponges to remove a bit more water (this will leave room for them to soak the sauce).

STEP II: Cut off (scissors are really fun for this) the green bean tips. Slice the mushrooms and garlic cloves. We start off with some oil in the wok, then add the garlic, ginger and chili/hot sauce a nice aroma fills the room. Then, we put the TVP in the wok and just let it absorb and get used to its new situation. Not much stirring (yeah, you, leave it be!). After the TVP begins to warm up and get slightly darker (five minutes is enough), add up the soy sauce, honey (if desired) and any more aromatics, if you so prefer. Then add the vegetables, and stir fry for another five minutes. Voila, "beef".

My serving suggestion: eat as is, or on brown rice.
Chad's serving suggestion: stuff into a pita with tchina and raw vegetables.

So, there's another way to eat some vegetable protein and not go broke. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Entire City is Going on a Diet

When I have thoughts of leaving my tiny metropolis and leaving somewhere else, this is exactly the sort of thing that always dissuades me from doing so. Tel Aviv is one of the most entertaining and amusing cities in the world. Every day there are fascinating things going on. Right now, there's a coffee and theater event close to my house, and several fantastic exhibitions at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

However, the most entertaining occurrence these days is Health and the City - a citywide event, happening mostly on the beaches, and designed to make all of us fitter and healthier. The idea is as follows: there are fitness classes, at almost all hours, right on the beach; health consultants, dieticians, and exercise instructors give free advice to all participants; many restaurants in the city are offering discount salads and whole-grain dishes; there are lots of discounts in fitness clubs; the mayor even spoke on the radio, encouraging all citizens to walk more.

I know some of the lesser enthusiasts would see this as a nuisance and perhaps even a paternalistic attempt to regulate the citypeople's behavior (after all, are we less worthy citizens if we don't exercise, or if we eat junk?). I also dislike the emphasis on weight loss, rather than health (this city needs less, not more, weight-related neurosis). However, you really have to applaud the city for creating what I believe must be the world's greatest health support group. Going on my daily walk, I saw folks doing pilates on the beach and push ups in the park; it was fun to see how dedicated everyone was, and I can only hope it will lead folks to explore local farming and nutrition, as well.

Most important, these enterprises always make me smile; it's so much fun to live in such a benevolently crazy place.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Goats and Cabbage in the Desert

What you see in the somewhat dark picture, is a post-Shavuot dinnertime snack: tomatoes with basil, various types of goat cheese from the desert, and a really cool cabbage salad.

We spent our Shavuot vacation camping in the Negev, Israel's southern desert area, and were very surprised and heartened to meet knowledgeable and idealistic people who use ecology and organic farming to make the desert a wonderful area for activism. Shavuot is a holiday of harvest and bounty, and a good opportunity to support small farms. In the last few years, several of these small farms have opened in the vicinity of Mitzpe Ramon, a town right next to the breathtaking Ramon Anticline, an amazing place to see Mother Nature at work. I suppose it is this beauty and magnitute of natural forces that inspired good people to come along and start small farms, growing all sorts of interesting vegetables which benefit from the desert climate, as well as raising goats and making excellent goat cheese.

We got to visit Naot Farm, where we talked to the farmworkers about the realities of raising goats in the desert and of making sheep. Apparently, the desert climate is rough, but not impossible, to work with, and the goats enjoy fresh pasture and desert plants. Eating the cheese, one can almost taste the different plants the goats have eaten.

Here's a simple baking recipe I intend to use with the lovely cheeses we bought; it can be easily done with a twelve-hole muffin pan.

Shavuot Cheese Suffles

3 cups whole wheat or whole rice flour
1 1/2 cup milk, buttermilk or goat yogurt
3 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp olive oil (plus oil or spray for oiling the pan)
a rosemary twig
12 cubes of good quality goat cheese

Heat oven to around 200 degrees celsius. Sift flour into large bowl; slowly add milk and eggs and mix until uniform. Add oil and chop in rosemary. Carefully pour mix into muffin holes, filling them up to about 3/4 of their height; then, drop a cube of cheese into the center of every hole. Bake for 45 minutes, or until mixture has finished rising and is golden and fluffy. Delicious for breakfast.

Elsewhere, we were served a simple and nice cabbage salad, involving chopped cabbage, vinegar, oil, and lots of fresh dill. Which we then reconstructed at home with our Chubeza cabbage. By the way, we happened to read, in one of the places we visited, that the common association of cabbage with gas stems not so much from the cabbage itself, but from its interaction with common pesticides; organic cabbages are generally thought to be gas-free.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Yesterday's Dinner, Today's Fabulous Lunch

The nice black-bean-sauce dish we served Ilan over the weekend served us well this morning. We had cooked something like three pounds of azuki black beans, and froze them for future use.

That future was this morning, when I took five minutes to prepare us a great lunch, that can be eaten cold and is extremely tasty. The dish is inspired by (but quite different from) the neat salads in Benny Seida's cool salad book.

Black Azuki Beans with Goat Cheese, Tomatoes and Basil
2 cups cooked black azuki beans
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
100 grams goat cheese, crumbled
10 basil leaves
5 sun-dried tomatoes, soaked in hot water for a minute or two and chopped
1 tsp pesto sauce

Mix all ingredients and enjoy.

Monday, May 29, 2006

They come in all colors!

As we got home yesterday, our Chubeza box was waiting for us in the parking lot. We couldn't wait to get into the house and see what was in it. And, indeed, among many other surprises, there was fresh spinach, and there were summer squashes in three colors!

Summer squash, and its different varieties (like zuccini, crookneck and straitneck squash, and pattypan squash) originates from South America, and despite its presence in year-round supermarkets, is really a summer vegetable. The winter ones are really much inferior to the creamy, rich summer ones, which, while eaten, make you feel as if the sun is warming up your belly from inside. Summer squash is kind of like a "decathlon nutrition source"; it doesn't excel in any nutrient category, but it provides many of them.

My grandmother used to make a dish called Givetch, which featured zuccini. Each family has its own version of givetch, which is a mixed vegetable dish; ours featured mostly zuccini and tomato. Yesterday, we had our own version, which contained the fresh spinach, as well as basil, and three colors of squash. Actually, it's sort of a renegade version - because, while in regular givetch, you cook everything for very long until it becomes soft, here you cook everything just barely, so you still feel yourself biting into the vegetables. What you see in the above picture is the beginning of the cooking process - aren't those colors fun?

Neo-Givetch with Summer Squash

3 large squashes, preferrably of different colors
2 large, ripe tomatoes
3 garlic cloves
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup fresh spinach leaves
20 basil leaves
dash of frsh ground chili pepper

Cut each squash to half, then slice to semicircles. Cube the tomatoes and chop the garlic cloves. Heat up oil in a deep pan or wok, add the garlic. Then, we go by order of hardness: in go the squashes; then, the tomatoes; and finally, the spinach leaves and half the basil. Each vegetable gets added about two minutes after the previous one's been added. We cook everything a little longer, until the spinach leaves wilt, the tomatoes become the sauce, and the squash is pleasant to eat. Eat happily on top of your favorite grain.

Fabulous Greens!

Over the weekend, we had an unexpected but very welcome guest for dinner: my dear old friend Ilan. Fortunately, he came on a day when Chad was energetic enough to cook a very special dish: kale, mushrooms and tofu in black bean sauce.

The little black beans were somewhat of a mystery: I had picked them up in the Asian market, and only days afterwards did I find out they were simply a black variety of azuki beans, which are extremely beneficial for the metabolism. We cooked two pounds of them in broth, freezing most of them to eat over the week, but left out something like three or four cups; the sauce is simply mashed black beans with soy, garlic and some chili pepper. Chad was the architect of this one, but I think I can reconstruct how he did it.

Kale, Mushrooms and Tofu in Black Bean Sauce

1 small package of extra-firm tofu
10 large forest mushrooms
10-15 leaves of kale (our variety had pretty, purple veins)
1/2 a head of a purple cabbage
5 sliced garlic cloves
4 cups of cooked black azuki beans
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tsp ground chili

Tear up kale leaves, slice mushrooms thickly, slice cabbage into ribbons, and cut tofu into cubes.

In a small saucer, heat up some oil (canola or olive). When hot, add about half of the garlic, then follow with soy sauce. Take about 1/2 cup of the black beans, add them to the saucer, and mash them with the back of a wooden spoon, while mixing them up with the other ingredients. They should puree quite easily, rendering an exquisite, black sauce.

Now, pick up your wok; heat up some oil and add the rest of the garlic. Place tofu cubes in bottom of wok and let brown for a while. Then, add mushrooms, and after a couple of minutes, add the kale, the cabbage ribbons, and a tablespoon of water or vegetable broth. When the kale wilts and is good to eat, pour black bean sauce over the vegetables and gently mix to coat them. When everything is thoroughly coated, serve over the remainder of the black beans, or over rice.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Appetite, Nutrition, Feminism

The picture you see in this post comes from the new fashion catalog of an Israeli designer store for women, Comme Il Faut. Comme Il Faut is a fashion store which adopts an interesting and controversial concept: selling expensive, well-tailored, chic clothing - but with a feminist edge. Their catalogues often feature a variety of Israeli women of all sizes, professions, ages and shapes; the glossy pages feature a variety of women in their seventies, lesbian couples, crossdressing men, large women, etc, who are mentioned by name, age and profession. On the store's shelves, in addition to shirts, dresses and pants, you'll find basic feminist literature (Simone de Beauvoir, bell hooks, Naomi Wolf) and newer books on women, violence, activism, body image, etc. The store and its image has been the focus of an animated feminist debate. Despite their commitment to fair trade, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, equal pay and fair treatment for women, the store caters to upper-class women, the only ones who can afford their high-priced clothing, and is therefore somewhat of an exclusive space, which makes their radical feminist messages somewhat problematic.

This is, however, a blog about food and nutrition, which is why I want to discuss the store's latest campaign, titled "Bon Appetit, Honey". The catalog and motto of the summer season is to encourage women to eat heartily, to indulge themselves in food, to avoid depriving themselves of anything, and to reflect on body image and on food choices they make as a feminist issues. As you can see above, the summer catalogue sports beautiful women of all ilks heartily and happily biting into meat, pasta, cake, ice cream, etc, etc.

The store's focus on food is not surprising. Next to their flag store at the Tel Aviv Harbor, in a special and pampering compound, they have a fabulous cafe, serving great meals made with wholesome, organic ingredients, blended fruit and vegetable juices, and excellent homey desserts. The connection between womanhood, body, fashion and food is therefore a very immediate one. To make things more obvious, the current campaign is accompanied by a brochure explaining how the confinement of women to dietetic, barely-survival food has been a technique for debilitating and weakening women, and for establishing their place in society as people who primarily nourish others while depriving themselves of the joys of food.

Now, I have a lot of sympathy for messages aimed at liberating women from confining social institutions, and, in particular, the institution of fad dieting and pleasure avoidance. So, notwithstanding my criticism of the campaign which will follow, I am happy to see these messages infiltrate our consciousness and take up space which, otherwise, would have been taken up by anorexic 15-year-olds. The store's guest book features an entry from a young woman with anorexia, who tells them that she hung the catalogue in the wing where she, and other anorexic girls, are hospitalized, and they get a lot of encouragement out of it. Can't say this, in itself, is a negative trend. Not only that, but some of my clothes, I confess, were purchased in Comme Il Faut, and these ladies are truly talented, so I can't really begrudge them too much. However. (of course there's a "however"; you should know me already).

Comme Il Faut is a fashion house. A fashion house, albeit an idealist, activist one, is all about selling clothes. Clothes are designed to make women look their best, and this "best" can't be entirely disconnected from social notions of what looks well and what doesn't. Moreover, Comme Il Faut is a fashion house that, shall we put it bluntly? sells clothes to upper- and middle-class women. Affluent women. Women who have enough social cache, resources and leisure to be concerned in many ways about their looks and grooming. It is very probable that many of the customers are those who engage in several delightful activities, like the botox injections we discussed earlier. It is naive to expect that this population will be genuinely moved, by the store's message, and order a large dish of ice-cream at the cafe. After all, wouldn't they want to look their best in their newly purchased gorgeous clothes? Yes, it's important that Comme Il Faut is talking the talk. But let's not be illusioned into thinking that their customers are likely to walk the walk.

What we have here, ladies, is excellent, politically-correct (and I say this in the most positive, irony-free sense of the word), healthy, empowering ideology, at the service of our old pal, capitalism. Indeed, by shopping at Comme Il Faut we are more likely to contribute to fair salaries of female workers who are treated like family, and to donations to various peace organizations. But primarily, we are contributing to the wealth of an extremely successful enterprise for profit. Let's not forget that (the same can be said about shopping at feel-good, organic, cruelty-free beauty shops: here's what my thoughtful new pal (hopefully), Carmit, has to say, in Hebrew, about the Body Shop). The empowering messages make this contribution more palatable, but they don't cancel out its existence. The more extreme radicals might say that, by having these messages supposedly broadcasted by the hegemony, we are numbing women from engaging in ideological battles (why go out to the streets in protest when we can purchase another gorgeous pair of pants and feel good about it?) - but I'm not sure the situation is made so much worse by this campaign. It just isn't made as better as we'd hope for.

And here's where I come to the actual issue - the food. The catalogue is encouraging women not to leave the steak, cake and ice cream to the men, and to engage in the world of sensual culinary pleasure. Yay! Yay? I'm not so sure. I'm not sure that feminism is well served by encouraging women to consume red meat, white bread, sugars and sweets. Indeed, dammit, it's annoying that food is such a gendered field. It's annoying that social conventions are regulating different food consumption regimes for women and men. The answer is not to clog our collective arteries in a gender blind fashion. Folks, if we want to conquer the world, what's going to help us do it? What is going to make us stronger and healthier so we have energy for social reform? A sugar crash from a chocolate cake, or a nice bowl of brown rice and beans with steamed vegetables? Depriving outselves of calories is never a good idea; but depriving ourselves of nutrients which make us competent and help our bodies help us isn't any better.

My argument here isn't abstract. The personal is political. So here it goes. My health comes from months of making a conscious effort to eat extremely healthy food. Yes, I've lost weight, but I also feel a lot better, phsicaly. Making the effort to eat wholesome and organic was one of the best things I ever did for myself and I refuse to be told that it was a weakening, unfeminist thing to do. How, exactly, would a message encouraging the consumption of ice cream be helpful or empowering for my life? And why does health need to be equated with deprivation? Isn't this message, in itself, unfeminist, by buying into the existing capitalist foodchain which makes sustainable, organic farming, so removed from the reality of working-class family nutrition? Is it only possible to enjoy life by consuming red meat? Is clogging our arteries the best method we can think about for subverting patriarchy?


If we want real feminist power, of course we must oppose any message that we should starve outselves to fit anyone's image of beauty. But we must equally oppose any half-baked message that tells us to give up our health and livelihood in the name of feminism. You hungry, girl? Spend the time to make yourself a nice bowl of grains and greens. Grab a nice plate of hummus, and wipe it off the plate with whole-grain pita. Eat a hearty vegetable stew, then lick the plate. Enjoy a refreshing drink of cultured yogurt. Support whoever works hard to grow and supply you with the ingredients for healthy, satisfying meals. Go for a nice walk, fill your lungs with fresh air, and think how lucky you are to live where healthy fresh food is readily available for you. The first step for causing postive change in the world is taking good care of ourselves, so that we have the most important resource - our health - at our hands when we do so. The next stage, is to make this health, through local, sustainable food, available to all. Now that's real power, and surely if we've done that, or at least done our share for ourselves and for others, we all (regardless of our income) deserve a nice, comfortable, well-tailored pair of pants.