Archive | March, 2012

Celebrating Spring with Asparagus

Happy Norooz! The first day of spring is Persian New Year, or Norzooz, which is a great excuse to celebrate the profusion of beautiful flowers and tasty spring produce arriving at the market. Seeing all the fresh strawberries and asparagus making their first appearance of the season at the farmer’s market, I get all hyper and usually buy so much that I could easily feed a family of 12. Today’s recipe is for a super quick and easy, wonderfully tasty asparagus side-dish, which I will be making every night for the next week since I went a little nuts at the asparagus stand. It’s such an energizing season of renewal – I can’t help myself!

Speaking of renewal, my friend Joanne Marquez recently told me about an interesting “sustainability challenge” at the bank where she works: New Resource Bank in San Francisco. For the year-long challenge, Joanne chose to convert to vegetarianism. Some people looked at her a little funny, probably because most people don’t realize that going meat-free helps the environment. A 2005 University of Chicago study concluded: “Plant-based diets are healthier for people as well as for the planet.” Researchers compared the impact that vegetarian and meat-based American diets have on the environment and found that “…the average American diet – including all food processing steps – results in the annual production of an extra 1.5 tons of CO2-equivalent [in the form of all greenhouse gases] compared to a no-meat diet.” Adopting a vegetarian diet can make as much of a difference on the environment as switching from a standard sedan to a hybrid vehicle. That’s pretty substantial! So go Joanne!

But the benefits don’t stop there. Joanne admits that her new vegetarian diet is getting her to eat things that she would have never before tried! Same holds true for my converting carnivore husband who is being such a great sport about trying new dishes.

When I first met John, he’d never tried asparagus. It took him a while to get used to it, and for me to figure out how to make it most appetizing for him, but now he looks forward to the first tender shoots of spring asparagus as I do. Well, maybe I’m a little crazier for it than he is, seeing as how I just bought 5 pounds of it for the two of us.

I hope you enjoy the recipe!

Roasted Asparagus

From fridge to table: 15 minutes

Serves: 4-6

1 pound fresh asparagus, woody ends trimmed off
1-2 tbsp olive oil (just enough to fully coat each asparagus spear)
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Smoked sea salt to taste
A dash of ground coriander
A dash of ground sage

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a bowl, mix together smoked sea salt, pepper, coriander and sage. Add the asparagus and oil and toss together to fully coat the asparagus. Arrange asparagus in a single layer in a baking dish and bake for 10 minutes (or 8 for the pencil-thin asparagus) until tender but still a little bit crisp. Serve hot.

 

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Carnivore Blinded by Science: Harvard Study Links Red Meat Consumption with Increased Risk of Death

(For those who just want today’s recipe – Fake Beef Fajitas – feel free to skip bottom of the post…but for those who want to hear about a groundbreaking study about red meat and savor the wonderful taste of a satisfying victory over a carnivore, read on!)

Oh, the sweet satisfaction of defeating an opponent! I’m talking about our friend Drew – a brilliant world renowned scientist (and red meat fanatic) – who evilly launched Operation Enduring Meat in response to my efforts to help my husband convert to a meat-free diet. Harvard School of Public Health totally helped me out here. Their research scientists recently released the results of an extensive two-decades-long study about red meat consumption. Their findings: “Red meat consumption is associated with an increased risk of total, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality,” and added that there is “clear evidence that regular consumption of red meat, especially processed meat, contributes substantially to premature death.” The lead author, An Pan,  a research fellow at HSPH, says: “Our study adds more evidence to the health risks of eating high amounts of red meat, which has been associated with type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers in other studies.” The best part about this: Drew found this study on his own – I didn’t even have to rub it in his face since Harvard did that work for me. (Thank you Harvard!)

The study is pretty fascinating. Researchers followed participants for up to 28 years and found that eating the equivalent of one hot dog or two slices of bacon per day was associated with a whopping 20% increase in death. But what about unprocessed red meat, like say a small slab of grass-fed organic beef? Eating a very small serving (about the size of a deck of cards) of unprocessed meat was associated with a 13% increased risk of mortality. That’s quite significant!

The study estimated that 9.3% of the deaths of the men they studied and 7.6% of women could have been prevented had those participants adopted a red meat-free diet. It went on to say that replacing meat with healthy protein sources lowers your mortality risk. There’s a 19% reduction if you replace meat with nuts, 10% for legumes and 14% for whole grains. (It’s also 14% for poultry, but let’s not rain on my epic vegan parade, okay?) For the record, I’ve never tried to convert Drew into being a vegan, but once he launched his meat assault, the war was on. And I’m so happy to have won this latest battle!

Do you hear that sound? That faint sound of a brainiac meat-loving scientist screaming “nooooooooo!!!” in the distance is coming from our good friend Drew… being blinded by science! Ha ha! Sweet, sweet victory.

Funny, while Drew was telling us about this study and lamenting that “red meat is pretty much horrible on all levels – Oh God NO!” he was eagerly devouring an enormous bowl of my vegan African Curried Coconut Soup with Chickpeas. Something tells me Drew will be over at our house more often now, but probably not to secretly slip John steak anymore. Woohoo! Score another point for Team Veg and Operation Carnivore Conversion.

In honor of this study and to help Drew overcome his attachment to meat, I’m going to make him Beefless Beef Fajitas using a soy-based beef substitute from Trader Joe’s. Since my carnivore didn’t notice the difference, neither will Drew, and neither will you!

 

Fake Beef Fajitas

From fridge to table: about 15 minutes

Serves: 6

Ingredients:

1 tbsp oil (if you can, use an oil that’s suited to high heat cooking, like grapeseed oil)
1 package fake beef (I used Trader Joe’s Beef-less Beef. My carnivore husband gave it a thumbs up and said “Ooo, that’s very edible! You can’t tell it’s fake in these fajitas.”)
1 large yellow onion, sliced into thin strips
1 large red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
1/2 cup zucchini, chopped
1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped
1 package fajita seasoning (personally, I like to make homemade fajita sauce, but John likes the packaged version since he says it coats the fake meat better and helps fool his taste buds)
6-8 tortillas
In a large saute pan or wok, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Slide in the onion and stir for 2 minutes, then slide in the bell pepper and saute until the onion is translucent. Add the zucchini and saute for a couple minutes to soften the zucchini. Add the mushrooms and fake beef strips, then add the package of fajita seasoning and 1/4-1/3 cup water (depending on your desired thickness of the sauce). Turn down heat to medium-low and continue cooking until the fake beef is heated through. Just before you’re ready to serve, drape a tortilla over the hot fajita mix to soften the tortilla, then spoon the fajita mix into the tortilla and serve. Enjoy!

Warming the Soul: African Curried Coconut Soup with Chickpeas

This divine, filling, utterly delicious creamy curried soup takes me back to Kenya when we arrived fresh off the plane at the stately ivy-covered English-style Giraffe Manor, which sits on the grounds of a preserve they created for endangered Rothschild giraffes. Expecting Africa to be hot, John and I were stunned to be shivering in our shorts and t-shirts. No matter how cold I was, I was not going inside until I fulfilled my dream of having a giraffe wrap his two-foot-long tongue around my head. But the kind chef noticed my goosebumps, urged me to come inside and made me a soul-warming, exotically spiced vegan coconut soup with chickpeas to thaw me from the inside out.  That soup was a miracle – it was like being wrapped in a velvet-lined fluffy jacket and was just what both John and I needed. While hungrily devouring it, an elegant mama giraffe stuck her head through a large open window, put her face next to my cheek and while locking my gaze with her medallion-sized eye,  she gracefully stretched her enormously long black tongue past my face to slyly scoop up some sliced fruit on a plate beside me. (When I saw her snake-sized tongue up close, I was rather glad that my tongue-wrapped-head dream didn’t come true.)  As awed as I was by her presence and her comfort with me, I found myself instinctively protecting my bowl of soup – yep, that’s how good it was!

I was so happy to find a very similar tasting soup in this recipe from the The Tropical Vegan Kitchen cookbook. I’ve modified it just a tiny bit to more closely approximate that divine soup that I had at the Giraffe Manor. It’s thick and filling enough to be a main dish, but can also be a great starter for seriously hungry people.

I am IN LOVE with this soup – its mellow curry flavor, the perfect way that the rice and tomatoes compliment the coconut milk, and the interesting flavors that warm my memories and my soul with each bite. Every time I have this soup, I half expect to feel giraffe breath on my neck, and I can’t help but protect my bowl…but this time it’s from John who likes this soup as much as I do. I hope you like it as well!

African Curried Coconut Soup with Chickpeas

From fridge to table: about 25 minutes
Serves: 4

2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 jalepeno pepper, seeded and chopped
4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 15oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1.5 cups chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)
3 tsp curry powder
1 tsp smoked sea salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
1 14oz can coconut milk
3/4 cup cooked basmati rice
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

In a stockpot, heat the oil over medium to medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper and japeleno; cook, stirring, until softened – about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir constantly for 1 minute. Add the broth, chickpeas, tomatoes, curry powder, salt and black pepper. Bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and cook until heated through, about 4 minutes. Serve hot. Close eyes and imagine eating your soup with a giraffe standing next to you, possibly about to lick you and/or your bowl. 🙂

Pineapple Vinaigrette Makes To-Die-For Salads

It’s raining here today and I’m feeling sun-deprived. So how about we make a little pineapple sunshine for our taste buds?

In my constant struggle to get my husband to eat vegetables (according to John, “vegetables kill!” – now you see my challenge), I know my only hope is to make them irresistibly tasty. When it comes to salad, that means making a truly kick-ass salad dressing. I find that most of the store-bought dressings are, well, offensive. Many are made with things I can’t pronounce, and unfortunately so many of the organic ones lack interesting flavors. Blah doesn’t cut it on my dinner table and I doubt it does on yours either. Never fear, my friends. This Pineapple Vinaigrette will make your palate sing! It turns a boring salad into a spectacular feature dish that will have even vegetable-haters begging for more.

I’ve gotta give credit where it’s due: There’s a cool restaurant called Flatbread in Paia, Maui that has the best Pineapple Vinaigrette salad dressing on the planet, but unfortunately they will not share the recipe. Sadly, they were immune to my incessant pleas, tears and attempts at bribery. But by channeling RainMan with my taste buds, I think I was able to successfully deconstruct the dressing, or at least create a reasonable facsimile of it.

I hope you try it today – its sure light up your day with its sunny flavor. If you do give it a go, please let me know what you think!

Pineapple Vinaigrette

1/3 cup pineapple vinegar (I use one from “11 Olives” – it’s a white pineapple balsamic that is to die for. You can get it at http://www.11olives.com)
1.5 tsp tamari (tamari is a mellower version of soy sauce – find it at your grocery store in the soy sauce section)
1 tsp real maple syrup
1 tbsp fresh orange juice
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
1 clove garlic, pressed
1/2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and pressed through the garlic press
1 tbsp shallots, finely chopped
1/2 cup light oil (such as canola) or flavored olive oil (www.11olives.com has ridiculously tempting flavored oils. The blood orange olive oil goes amazingly well with this dressing – I highly recommend it)
Whisk all the ingredients except the oil. I think it’s best if you can let it sit for two hours to let the flavors fully blossom, and then rewhisk it vigorously. If you don’t want it chunky, run it through a sieve and blend in the oil. Personally, I don’t run it through the sieve since the garlic, ginger and shallots add a lot of flavor over time, but if you don’t want to risk having bits in your salad, by all means sieve it. Enjoy!

 

 

Delicious Meatless Tamale Pie Fools Meat-Addicts


Ha ha, a seriously delicious tamale pie (which happens to be meatless) just fooled 5 hardcore meat-addicts! If any meat-impostor entree could dupe our Supper Club buddies, I knew it would be this incredibly flavorful, goey blend of ground meatless ground ‘meat’, salsa, refried black beans, onion, garlic and melted vegan cheddar cheese sandwiched between hearty polenta discs. People used to freak out about this dish when I made it with ground turkey and real cheddar, and now I’ve figured out some easy fixes to make it vegan – and it passed the meat-lover test by fooling our friends.

Our friends thought their incessant jokes about Operation Carnivore Conversion and my creative efforts to get my husband to go meatless had broken me. One of them even launched a counter assault called “Operation Enduring Meat” to thwart my efforts, and they thought I finally surrendered. Not sure why they’re so terrified of meatless meals – one of them was so worried that I’d serve her a vegan dinner that she called *three* times the day of our Supper Club dinner to ask if she could bring over steak. Seriously! Instead of destroying my resolve, I declared a secret all-out war and went all devious on their pork-worshiping butts. For the record, no, I did not feel bad lying to them and telling them that I had made them my famous tamale pie with ground meat when in fact I had used “beefless ground beef.” And yes, I relished every single moan of joy that came out of their mouths while they were devouring my vegan tamale pie and every single one of their comments that “fake meat is nasty.” Ha ha!

“So you guys like it?” I asked innocently. “It’s awesome! One of your best dinners ever!” they said. I waited until they had licked their plates clean before I slapped down a packet of beefless ground beef on the dinner table. “SUCKAS!” I exclaimed while doing a victory lap around the table of stunned vanquished carnivores. Serves my friends right for messing with me! One of them refused to believe it was true. Knowing that I don’t eat meat, she forced me to take a bite of the tamale pie to prove to her that it was made with faux meat.

So there you have it, Operation Carnivore Conversion wins the war! Damn, that victory lap felt great, and this tamale pie never tasted so good. 🙂

Meatless Tamale Pie

1 pound beefless ground beef (I used Trader Joe’s version, which worked great)
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
1.5 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 15-16 oz can of refried black beans
1 15-16 oz jar of your favorite salsa
1/2 can of white corn (optional)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
3 cups fake cheddar cheese (Daiya works great since it melts and stretches), or if you eat cheese, use sharp cheddar
2 rolls of prepared polenta, sliced into 1/3″ thick rounds. This is what packaged, prepared polenta looks like:

Preheat oven to 350.

In a large saute pan, saute the onion and garlic until the onion is beginning to turn golden and slightly brown around the edges. Add the fake beef and stir until it’s well integrated and warmed through. Add the chili powder and cumin, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add the beans, salsa and corn and simmer (stirring frequently) until mixture thickens, about 5-10 minutes. Turn of heat and mix in cilantro.

Oil a large, high-sided baking dish (13x9x2 works well) and place half of the polenta rounds on the bottom. Heap on heavy spoonfulls of the tamale filling onto each round – it might end up running together to totally cover the polenta, which is fine. Sprinkle with half the cheese. Then put the remaining polenta rounds on top to cover it all, then sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. This is what it looks like once you assemble it:

Bake for about 35 minutes until the dish is heated through and the sauce is bubbly, about 35 minutes. (Or bake refrigerated tamale pie, covered, for 20 minutes, then uncover and bake for another 35 minutes or so until it’s bubbly).

Enjoy!

Spectacular Sangria

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that the rough translation of sangria is: “awesome dinner party.” Is it a coincidence that John and I seem to have the most fantastic dinners with friends whenever we serve this spectacular sangria? Or that the food tastes extra delicious when accompanied by a big glass of this luscious, subtly sweet, ruby-colored nectar of the gods? I think not. And if you’re wondering what this has to do with Operation Carnivore Conversion, well, let’s just say that when John has a glass or three of this divine elixir, he’s far more willing to try new vegan dishes that he might otherwise deem as “suspect foods” when he’s not so well lubricated.

Whenever I make this, it disappears in a flash and everyone begs me for my secret recipe, and now I’m finally sharing it. Make some tonight and bring on the smiles!

Cimeron’s Spectacular Sangria

Serves: 6

– 1 bottle dry red wine – I’ve found that Italian sangiovese works best
– 1 bottle dry white wine – my favorite for this recipe is sauvignon blanc from New Zealand
– The juice of one lemon, preferably a meyer lemon
– 1 cup sugar
– 1 lemon, thinly sliced into circles or half moons and seeded
– 1 seedless orange, sliced into half moons
– A large handful of sliced strawberries, pineapple or nectarines

In a large pitcher, pour in the wines, sugar and lemon juice. Stir well until all the sugar has dissolved. Toss in the sliced lemon and orange. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, but preferably overnight. An hour or so before serving, add the other sliced fruit (strawberries, pineapple or nectarines). When you’re ready to serve it, toss in some ice cubes. Enjoy!

Costa Rican Gallo Pinto for Meatless Monday

This recipe is dedicated to my friend Caryn who is looking for a crave-worthy, healthy dish that integrates grains and beans that even her kids will eat (without gagging or complaining).

Whenever I go to Costa Rica, I pretty much live on Gallo Pinto. I’m not joking. I eat it for breakfast and lunch and as a side dish with dinner. And now that I know how to make it, well now I pretty much live on it at home, too.  It’s a super tasty, very healthy traditional dish of Costa Rica and Nicaragua which is basically their version of rice and beans, but with plenty of flavorful twists. Translated, Gallo Pinto means something like “multi-colored rooster,” and that’s exactly what it looks like! Little bits of vibrant red peppers and tomatoes flash colorfully between black beans, white rice, flecks of green cilantro, caramel-colored onion and garlic. And it’s topped with the most delicious flavor found in Central America: Lizano Sauce! While this delectable mild pepper sauce can be found in the Hispanic section of many supermarkets around the world, don’t worry if you can’t find it – worcestershire sauce is a great substitute.  All the protein and deliciousness in this dish makes it the perfect food!

I’m not the only one who is in love with Gallo Pinto – my Carnivorous Crusader also adores it so much that he gladly forgoes meat to eat this zesty, filling dish. That automatically qualifies Gallo Pinto as a “magic dish” in my book! Especially for its versatility and universal likability. John likes it so much that it got him to stop sulking when I told him we were doing Meatless Monday – yes, that is the power of Gallo Pinto. Impressive, indeed.
A few years ago while we were kiteboarding in Costa Rica, the cook at the restaurant where ate every day – a lovely elderly lady with very few teeth named Maria – took me under her wing in her kitchen and taught me how to make her special version of this beloved Costa Rican dish. She spoke no English, and mi espanol no es buena, but luckily we spoke a common language: food.  Now whenever I make Gallo Pinto, I think of Maria and her joyful toothless smile, rainforests, volcanic waterfalls, cute Costa Rican three-toed sloths, and the big smile that I’m sure to get from my converting carnivore when he sees that I’m making Gallo Pinto for dinner (or breakfast, or lunch, or as a side dish). Hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
Gallo Pinto
Serves: 4 as a meal, or 8 as as side-dish
From cutting board to table: about 15 minutes if you’re a fast chopper! Personally I like to cook the rice a little longer in the pan to get some crispy bits, but that’s optional.
2 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 onion, peeled and finely diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
2 roma tomatoes, finely diced
1.5 cups black beans (drained and rinsed)
2 cups cooked white rice
3/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 tsp salt (smoked sea salt if you have it)
freshly ground pepper, to taste
2-3 tbsp Lizano sauce* or worcestershire sauce
*Lizano Sauce can be found in the Hispanic aisle in many supermarkets. But if you can’t find it, worcestershire sauce is a good substitute
In a non-stick saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the onion and garlic for 2 minutes. Add the red pepper and saute everything until the onion is translucent and a bit golden (3-4 minutes). Add rice and stir well until rice is heated through. (* optional – you can cook the rice a little longer to get some crispy bits at the bottom – yum – or you can just forge ahead. Your choice!) Add tomatoes and saute for 4 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan so the rice doesn’t permanently weld itself to your pan. Add the beans and stir for 2 minutes. Add the cilantro, salt, pepper and Lizano (or worcestershire sauce) to taste.  Serve hot and enjoy pura vida, Costa Rican style!