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.