For someone who considers her typical days to be fairly mundane, it does seem I’ve got quite a soft spot for all things unconventional.
I’d trace this penchant for the eccentric back to my grade six art class with Miss Tarnofsky. Miss T (we all thought it should stand for “Terror”) was the strictest, most demanding and discerning teacher in our grade school, and we learned to tread carefully in her presence. With her short black bob (the bangs so severe they looked as if they’d been drawn with a ruler) and her terse directives in the classroom, all she had to do was raise an eyebrow in disapproval and even the most chatty of students would immediately be silenced. Her classes were always impeccably organized and presented; she was both an imposing disciplinarian and an admirable role model.
One day, Miss T asked us to produce a painting on a subject of our own choosing. I was determined to prove my artisitic prowess and gain her approval. I labored for the entire hour over my still life of a vase and flowers.
Meandering among the desks to assess our ouevres in silence, Miss T paused at the desk of SS, who was, even at the tender age of twelve, already christened the group’s science nerd (if only The Big Bang Theory had been broadcast back in those days, SS’s fate may have turned out very differently). Miss T grabbed the watercolor canvas and held it aloft as if she’d just rescued a kitty from a treetop. The rest of us stared incredulously at a large rectangle filled with muddy splotches, swirls and ragged brush strokes in various shades of grey. It looked like an oil slick floating atop a mud puddle.
“This is the best piece of artwork in the class,” she pronounced. “Unlike all the others, this one has feeling. It has a voice. It has personality.” She lifted it a little higher, as if to impress upon us the importance of her final proclamation: “This painting, boys and girls, exhibits a soul.”
Well, that was all I needed to hear. From that point onward, I felt totally validated searching for that kernel of soul within every nerd, misfit, outcast or rebel or iconoclast I encountered, seeking the unspoken connections between us.
Or maybe it was just written in my genes. As I grew older, I began to recognize my mom’s quiet idiosyncrasies, too. Almost daily, my mom would lament how, if only she were thinner (she was obese most of her life), she’d don the most colorful, ostentatious, tacky outfits she could find. Instead, she channeled her outlandish desires into her earring collection. On her way out the door on Saturday evenings, she’d hold up a pair of tomato-red-and-sunset-orange dangles, or fuscia and green dotted hoops, or sparkly faux-jeweled floral studs and ask my sisters and me, “Are these too young for me?” To which we’d readily respond with an energetic, “No, of course not!”. In the last photo I have of her, a month before she died, my mom is sitting in an armchair in The CFO’s apartment wearing a rainbow-striped tunic and massive, glittery silver hoops dangling from her earlobes.
At Canadian Thanksgiving a few weekends ago when we visited with my long-lost cousins, I discovered just how unconventional are the foods I regularly eat. What I (and, to some extent, the HH) now consider “normal” food, as I was reminded with a start that weekend, is still pretty bizarre to most “regular” eaters.
Nevertheless, I love my unconventional meals! When we celebrated on our own, the HH and I enjoyed a sumptuous feast, entirely comprised of healthy, whole-food offerings. I decided to re-create a traditional cassoulet, something my older sister and her husband have enjoyed as their Easter dinner for years. The traditional French stew is redolent with charcuterie, flageolet beans and a rich, savory broth. It’s also slow-cooked until the entire thing is saturated with fat from the flesh and bones of the meat–not exactly something that called out to me for reproduction. But when I considered the concept of a long-simmered, toothsome stew, that appealed mightily. So I went searching for vegan cassoulet recipes, and found one in Crescent Dragonwagon’sPassionate Vegetarian.
Although Dragonwagon’s original didn’t much appeal to me (it was replete with with several types of processed faux meat), I loved her idea of adding a full bulb of roasted garlic to render the sauce more robust and to add a touch of umami. Apart from that one addition, this recipe is entirely my own.
This stew is thick, filling, the sauce warm and comforting as a beckoning fireplace in winter. With just the right balance between hearty, meaty and saucy, this unusual rendition of the classic makes good use of my veg-based meat crumbles instead of all the processed stuff, and adds its own kick of umami from an unexpected source. I’ve decreased the baking time, too, as traditional cassoulet is an all-day affair (and I wanted you to have plenty of time to enjoy a big plateful of this delightful stew).
This cassoulet may just be the perfect dish to transform an otherwise mundane day into something exceptional. Enough to make you appreciate “unconventional” all the more.
And a Few Newsy Tidbits:
I’m delighted to be a guest poster on the xgfx blog this week! If you’re looking for a healthy (and perhaps unconventional?) dessert, check out my Marbled Halvah!
The ebook version of my cookbook, Sweet Freedom, is being offered at the incredible price of 50% OFF over at Vegan Cuts for the next 3 days! The sales have been brisk–they’ve already sold over 70% of the limited number of ebooks–so head over to get your copy pronto!
The voting for the SHAPE Best Blogger Awards continues until October 28th. I’d love your support to help bring a vegan, gluten-free blog to the top of their list! You can vote here.
Unconventional Vegan Cassoulet
Although it takes a bit of prep time, the final product is stellar. And since the recipe makes a hefty-sized stew, you can freeze leftovers for another meal at a later date. If you prepare the meat and cook your beans in advance, you’ll shorten the prep time considerably. I’ve toasted the bread crumb topping separately and pass it in a bowl for each serving as one would parmesan cheese with pasta, as I found it became too browned if baked on top of the casserole.
2 cups (480 ml) dry white beans (flageolet, Great Northern, navy), soaked in room temperature water overnight
3 cups (720 ml) vegetable broth or stock
1 bay leaf
1 full head of garlic, roasted (see instructions)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
2 large onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
4 medium carrots, trimmed, peeled and diced
1 large can (28 oz or 596 ml) diced tomatoes, with juice
1/2 cup unsweetened cranberry juice
10-20 drops unflavored liquid stevia, to your taste
1/3 cup (80 ml) chopped fresh parsley or 2 Tbsp (30 ml) dried parsley
1/4-1/2 tsp (1-2.5 ml) dried thyme, to your taste
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) dried marjoram
1/4 tsp (1 ml) ground cloves
1 tsp (5 ml) celery seeds
salt and pepper to taste
3 thick slices of your choice of gluten-free bread, or 2 gluten-free bagels
Make the meat: Prepare the meat as directed and set aside. If you’re making the entire cassoulet in one day, you can roast your garlic at the same time as the meat bakes.
Make the beans and sauce: Once the beans are soaked, drain and rinse them. Place the beans in a large pot with the broth and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then lower heat, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beans are soft and the liquid is almost entirely absorbed, about an hour. Remove from heat.
Meanwhile, roast the garlic: keeping the bulb intact, slice across the top of all the cloves, exposing the top of each one. If desired, drizzle about a teaspoon (5 ml) olive oil on top of the cloves. Wrap the entire bulb in aluminum foil and bake in a 350F (180C) oven until the cloves are soft and beginning to brown, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool.
Heat the 2 Tbsp (30 ml) oil in a large frypan over medium heat. Add the onions, 4 cloves of garlic and carrots, and sauté until the onions are translucent, 7-8 minutes. Lower heat and stir in the tomatoes, cranberry juice, stevia, parsley, thyme, marjoram, cloves, celery seeds and salt and pepper. Take the whole bulb of roasted garlic and add the inside of each clove by squeezing it out from the bottom (as you would a toothpaste tube). Mash up the softened cloves so that they are blended into the sauce and stir them into it. Add the bean mixture (you can leave the bay leaf in it; remove it before serving the cassoulet) and stir gently to coat all the beans. Cover the frypan and allow to simmer for about 5 minutes.
Assemble the cassoulet: Preheat oven to 300F (150C). Grease a large (2 quart or 2 liter) casserole dish or spray with nonstick spray.
Place about half the beans and sauce mixture in the bottom of the casserole and spread evenly. Top with the entire recipe of meat crumbles, then spread the remaining beans and sauce over the top. Cover and bake for about an hour, until the mixture is bubbly and browned on the edges. If it becomes too dry, add 1/4 cup (60 ml) extra vegetable broth (and up to 3/4 cup or 180 ml). Serve with toasted bread crumbs sprinkled over each serving, if desired. Makes 6-8 servings. May be frozen.
For the breadcrumbs: Process the bread or bagels with 2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil in a food processor. Heat in a nonstick frypan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the crumbs are browned to desired degree. Pass a bowl of crumbs at the table, with the cassoulet.
*Or, ACD-Friendly Fast Food. Or, Intercultural Lasagna. Or, What to Do with those Nearly-Stale Nacho Chips.
Even though these days it takes me almost 15 minutes before I can stand up fully erect after first rolling out of bed (in which I sleep on my back, with 2 pillows under my knees so my spine can retain its proper curvature) in the morning; even though driving at night has become more and more an exercise in blinking and squinting than a convenient means to return home after a dinner out; even though I sometimes do a double take when walking by a mirror after thinking, “What the heck is my mother doing in there??”; even though my students perceive me more as a Nanny McPhee than a Sheba Hart–even though all these things are true, I still can’t help but feel as if, internally, I’m the same person I was in my 20s.
Getting older can really be a shock to the system, let me tell you. One of my class projects in nutrition school was to assess how sensory perception changes over time. Boy, was that ever a wakeup call! (Then again, it would have to be a much louder wakeup call if I were in my 80s). You see, for every year you age past, oh, about 18, each of your five senses diminishes. And the older you get, the more quickly and more dramatically they do so. (Are you depressed yet? Don’t worry, you will be–that’s more common when you’re older, too).
So, while we all may realize that sight and hearing fade with age (a 70 year old needs three times the light of a 20 year-old to see accurately–no wonder septuagenarians shouldn’t be driving!), most of us don’t really think about how our sense of taste diminishes as we grow older.
Well, the HH and I must be bordering on superannuation. (Okay, actually, it’s just the HH, but I didn’t want to make him to feel bad. That is, if he can still feel anything at his age).
I’ve noticed lately that the HH has started pronouncing my cooking ”not spicy enough” or “too bland” or “not flavorful enough” even when it seems fine to me (or is something that isn’t supposed to be spicy, like mock tuna or stroganoff. A recent exception was the vegan pasta carbonara, which he scarfed down anyway). Could it be that his taste buds are feeling a little exhausted after 50+ years of operation? Not sure. But I do know that what we eat has become more and more piquant over the years.
True, I’ve always enjoyed spicy eats, but my tolerance–and desire–for ramping up the heat has definitely increased of late. I’ll never forget a dinner party to which I was invited by my office mate when I first began teaching at the college; she had just come back from seven years living in Mexico and promised us an authentic feast.
While the rest of us guzzled cold drinks between tiny nibbles of fiery-hot mole appetizers, our hostess calmly plucked an entire jalapeno from a plate and, hoisting it by the stem, popped it in her mouth. Then she continued to relay her anecdote while chewing contemplatively, never even breaking a sweat. I was truly amazed by her seemingly asbestos-lined palate at the time; little did I know I’d be eating whole jalapenos myself (at least I stuff mine with goat “cheese” first) two decades later.
One evening last week, I had dinner plans with friends and wanted to leave something for the HH to enjoy at home. After viewing at least a dozen enchiladacasseroles on otherblogs as a result of the Daring Cooks event last month (plus Celine’s Mucho Macho Nachos and Angela’s Time Crunch Vegan Enchiladas) I was craving Mexican food. We had all the ingredients on hand, so I thought I would whip up some of the HH’s favorite nachos. Of course, I knew that jalapenos were non-negotiable. Not to mention super-spicy salsa (arriba!). Plus, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to make just a single platter versus the two we usually make: his, with ground beef and melted cheese; mine, with crumbled tempeh or tofu and cheesy sauce.
I grabbed all the ingredients and began prepping. Only one problem: the already-opened bag of nacho chips had been sitting too long, and the chips had lost their snap, bordering on stale. What to do?
Of course, I could have thrown them away. But that would have traumatized my inner frugalista. I could have given them to The Girls with their supper (“We vote for that choice, Mum!”), but that wouldn’t help with my dinner needs. What if I simply tossed all the ingredients into a casserole dish, and let them bake up? I envisioned a super quick, nacho-meets-enchilada dish. And so, the new, fast-food, ACD-friendly, Mexican nacholada casserole was born.
I mixed everything up and left it on the counter with a simple note:
Here’s a casserole for dinner. Heat at 350 for about 25 minutes, then take as much as you’d like. Have fun with The Girls!
xoxoxoxo kiss kiss kiss
Upon my return that night, I casually inquired, “Um, so how was the casserole?”
It’s true, the dish was so fiery hot it may have finally triggered the HH’s antiquated taste buds (in fact, you may wish to tone down the jalapeno screaming a few decibels in your own dish). True, I didn’t disclose in advance that this casserole was simply a new, unfamiliar twist on his oft-rejected vegan nachos. True, the HH was on his own that night, and would probably prefer to eat rose petals dipped in sand than have to whip up something of his own. Whatever the reason, the dish was a huge hit.
“That stuff was delicious!” he exclaimed. ”I loved it. You can definitely make that again.” (Hee hee). Even after I revealed that it contained tempeh and cheesy sauce, he was still enthusiastic. “Well, I don’t know why, but this time it tasted great,” he insisted (of course he forgot there hadn’t been a “last time,” since he’s always refused to try it in the past). Triumph!
I’m hoping this is the end of separate nacho platters from now on in the DDD household.
As is so often the case, the HH’s initial skepticism was overruled by the transformative deliciousness of my plant-based meal. And luckily, despite his natural penchant for meat, he’s happy to embrace a vegan meal “if it tastes good.” I guess that’s just one more reason why I’ve decided to stick around as we grow old(er) together.
* No, I didn’t really write, “HH” or “Ricki” on my note–I used our usual pet names for each other. But the HH would never speak to me again if I published them on the blog!
Layered Mexican Casserole
I call this “fast food” because it’s one of the few dishes I don’t make entirely from scratch. Jarred salsa is fine on the ACD if you find an organic brand with no added sweetener, vinegar, or other taboo ingredients. This casserole is a great way to use up less-than-fresh nacho chips (the chips absorb the moisture from salsa and cheese to become soft inside and crunchy on the edges of the casserole dish), but if your chips still crispy, feel free to assemble these ingredients in regular nacho fashion.
About 4 cups (1 L) nacho chips (or enough for 2 layers of overlapping chips in a 10-inch/25 cm casserole dish)–I used tri-color ones by Que Pasa
1 jar (about 2 cups/500 ml) medium or hot salsa of your choice (I used Neal Brothers)
** For ACD Stage I, use brazil nuts or macadamia nuts instead of cashews; use 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) powdered mustard.
Quick tempeh crumbles: In a large sauce pan, crumble one package (12 ounces or 350 g) tempeh. Add 1 cup (240 ml) vegetable broth or stock; 1-2 Tbsp (15-30 ml) Braggs liquid aminos, tamari or soy sauce; 5-10 drops liquid smoke or 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) smoked paprika; and 2-5 drops liquid stevia. Bring to boil over medium heat, then cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid is absorbed and the tempeh just begins to brown. Use in this casserole, in pasta sauces, sprinkled on salads, or in sandwiches.
Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Spray a 10-inch (25 cm) casserole dish with nonstick spray or lightly grease with oil.
Place a single layer of nacho chips in the bottom of the casserole dish, taking care to overlap so that little, if any, of the bottom of the dish is visible. Dollop about half the salsa randomly over the chips. Sprinkle with half each of the tempeh, beans, red or green pepper, jalapeno and olives; then drizzle half the cheese sauce over all. For the top layer, repeat the process, setting aside the peppers and olives; once the cheese sauce has been added, sprinkle the top with peppers and olives.
Bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, until the casserole is hot throughout and the top of the cheese begins to brown slightly. Remove from oven and allow to sit 10 minutes before scooping out onto plates. Garnish with chopped cilantro, if desired. Makes 4-6 large servings. May be frozen.
This month’s SOS (Sweet or Savory) Kitchen Challenge asked readers to whip up dishes with spinach, and wow, did you ever take on this challenge with gusto! We received a dozen fantastic, creative recipes to try that all highlight the super-healthy leafy green. And yes, a few desserts are included as well!
Thanks to everyone who entered the challenge this month. As always, if you’ve submitted a recipe and I forgot to include it here, please let me know asap so I can add it to the list.
Here’s what’s on the menu with spinach:
THE SAVORY CONTRIBUTIONS:
Our very first entry was from Janet at Taste Space (Toronto) –a colorful and delicious Quinoa and Butternut Squash Spinach Salad with Cranberry and Pear. Well, I think the title tells you everything you need to know–doesn’t that just sound delectable? This savory salad is also a bit sweet with the pear and cranberries. Suitable for gluten free, vegan, sugar free, egg free and dairy free diets.
Jacqueline of Tinned Tomatoes (Dundee, Scotland) offers up a great recipe for Spicy Spinach and Potato Curry adapted from a recipe she found in one huge tome of a cookbook. Her pics look great (and check out the gratuitious cuteness of her new baby, Cooper!) This recipe is suitable for gluten free, soy-free, vegan, and ACD diets (contains coconut milk).
Kiersten from Full of Beans (Charlotte, NC )’s vegan Coconut Curried Chickpeas and Spinach looks like the perfect quick weekday dinner. I love a good curry, and with chickpeas AND spinach, you can’t go wrong with this one! Vegan, soy-free, gluten free, ACD-friendly and otherwise nut-free.
She also “uncooked” some gorgeously green Spinach-Hemp Flatbreads on which to spread it. Unlike many other dehydrated flatbreads, these remain soft, perfect for sandwiches. These both are vegan, dairy free, gluten free, raw, and sugar free.
Mom at the Gluten-Free Edge (Georgetown, Texas) decided that her Spinach Mushroom Pie should undergo a vegan revamp for this month’s entry! This is her remake of a long-time favorite recipe, and it worked out beautifully. The recipe is gluten free and vegan.
Chaya from The Comfy Cook is back this month with a fabulous Oriental Rice Pizza. This savory dish is filled with veggies and is a snap to make with its rice-based crust. It’s gluten free, sugar free and dairy free.
Johanna of Green Gourmet Giraffe (Melbourne, Australia) offers a cheezy spinach-based soup this month with her Pumpkin, Bean and Spinach Soup. While the recipe itself looks delicious, half the fun of the recipe is Johanna’s recounting of the experimentation that led her to it. And doesn’t the concept of tofu croutons just sound fabulous?
Valerie of City Life Eats (Washington, DC) has created a Lemony Spinach Pepita Pesto. With a unique combination of ingredients, this pesto would be delicious on more than just pasta. It’s gluten free, vegan, nut free, sugar free and ACD-friendly.
Aubree Cherie, who blogs at Living Free (Kennett Square, PA), decided to move out of her usual spinach zone with these Almond Spinach Biscuits. A great savory biscuit with a hint of sweet (dried cranberries), these treats were gobbled up by her significant other in no time. Definitely a fun (and delicious) recipe. Gluten free, sugar free, vegan and ACD-friendly.
My event partner, Kim at Affairs of Living, cooked up a fabulous Creamy Spinach and Celeriac Soup for those days when you crave something rich and healthy at the same time. The recipe is vegan, gluten free, sugar free, ACD friendly, soy free and nut free.
My savory contribution this month is a Classic Tofu Quiche recipe that I’ve had for years but never thought to post. The millet crust helps to make it quick, easy, and delicious! It’s gluten free, sugar free and vegan.
THE SWEET CONTRIBUTIONS (Yes, even spinach has a sweet side!):
Rachel from My Munchable Musings (WA) treated us to two sweet recipes this month! First up are these Spring Picnic Cupcakes, her take on the classic Strawberry and Spinach Salad–in a sweet mini confection! She’s also included a great bit of additional history and nutritional information about spinach here. These are wheat free, sugar free and vegan.
Rachel also created these adorable Green Thumb Print Cookies, that are gluten free! I love how the strawberry sits perfectly in the thumb print–seriously yummy looking. These are gluten free, sugar free and vegan.
Kim’s second contribution this month is her Invisible Spinach Smoothie. While you may have enjoyed smoothies with spinach before, this quick and easy recipe contains another veggie that you might not expect. Vegan, ACD-friendly, gluten free.
Finally, my sweet contribution is this Green Monster Muffin. Based on the concept of green smoothies, these muffins offer up spinach in a slightly sweet, hearty breakfast baked good. I’ve used chopped apples, but you could add in raisins or even chocolate chips to the mix if you like. Vegan, sugar free, gluten free.
Thanks again to everyone who played along this month. Enjoy these recipes until next month, when Kim–our hostess for June’s Challenge–will announce the new SOS ingredient.
After many gruelling trials (So many brownies! So much chocolate! All that taste-testing! Ah, the sacrifices I make in the name of food blogging), I’ve finally developed a recipe for fudgy, dense and delectable brownies that are grain-free, gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, egg-free, vegan, stevia-sweetened and ACD-friendly. Decadence never tasted so sweet!
For the recipe, a review of the NuNaturals stevia I used, and a giveaway, click here!
Update, April 28: The winners have been announced! Check this post.
[Sometimes, you just want to eat something now. I've decided to offer a mini-post every once in a while, for a dish that comes together incredibly quickly or else is so easy to make that no recipe is required. Here's today's "Flash in the Pan." (For other FitP recipes, see "Categories" at right).]
While reading other blogs lately, I’ve noticed an increase in the number of savory breakfast recipes. Having been on the ACD as long as I have (longer than some Hollywood marriages, longer than Edge of Darkness was in movie theaters, longer than a piece of Stride gum’s flavor, longer than the beards on those ZZ Top guys), I’ve been enjoying savory breakfasts for some time. But it does feel great to know that so many of you are willing to give them a try, too!
When I saw this recipe for Egyptian fava beans, I knew I had to try it. It’s a variation on Ethiopian ful, about which I’d read many years ago–and have wanted to sample since. In fact, I’ve wanted to try fava beans in general for ages, but have been deterred (now, don’t laugh) because they still hold such negative connotations since I saw the original Silence of the Lambs. I just couldn’t bring myself to attempt something that was so relished by Hannibal Lecter.
Get over it, I told myself. These are friendly fava beans. And no liver in sight.
And so, I cooked up the dish. I mean, the recipe seemed so good and so easy, I jumped right in–fava beans be damned! (If only all phobias could be overcome so easily.). This dish is made with dried favas (versus the Martian-green fresh ones, which are obviously not in season about now). I must admit that I cut corners and used canned favas–I knew they had to be well-cooked, and didn’t want to risk messing up my first attempt. Next time, I’ll buy the dried beans and soak ‘em first.
While not quite as spicy as ful, this dish is certainly rich with flavor. The favas are a bit more starchy than your average legume, which made them even more breakfast-like in my mind; though, of course, you could eat this at any meal. At the same time, they’re packed with nutrition: one cup of cooked favas provides a whopping 13 grams of protein, 9 grams of fiber, almost no fat, and 14% of your daily iron. Their flavor is a bit unusual, slightly sour–almost fermented–yet creamy, satisfying and addictive all at the same time. And considering I ate almost the entire plate in one sitting, I’d say they grew on me pretty quickly.
I had mine with Meghan’s version of “instant injera“–a quick and delicious, high-protein, flatbread. Overall, a delicious, savory breakfast–one that won’t leave you craving dessert!
I’m thrilled that I can finally submit this as an entry in River‘s E.A.T. World event–check out all of River’s amazing international dishes (and why not submit one of your own?)!
Side note: this is my last post before the HH and I head out on holiday for a week–to Florida! I was determined to spend at least some time in a warmer climate during my vacation from the college this year, and since my dad is there at the moment, it seemed a perfect destination. Thanks to everyone on twitter who recommended restaurants for this fast-food challenged gal.
Not sure whether or not I’ll be able to update from the road, so I’ll leave you with this nourishing breakfast (or lunch, or dinner) until I return.
See you all in about a week!
Egyptian Fava Beans (ACD-friendly: Phase I or later)
1-1/4 cups (300 ml) dried fava beans, rinsed and soaked in cold water for at least 12 hours with 1 Tbsp (15 ml) baking soda (or just use canned, rinsed beans, as I did)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 large tomato, finely chopped (seeded if you want to be fancy)
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) fine sea salt (or to taste)
pepper, to taste
1 small jalapeno pepper, sliced (remove seeds for less heat)
freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste
Drain the beans and rinse well; place in a pot and cover with fresh water. Bring to boil, then lower heat and simmer until extremely soft. At this point, you should peel the waxy skin off each bean if you like (not essential, but much better as the skins are quite chewy). Simply squeeze one tip of each bean until the bean pops out of the skin (tutorial here). (I did this with the precooked, canned beans, and it worked perfectly.)
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the onion; cook for about 5 minutes, until it begins to soften. Add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is soft and just beginning to brown. Add about half the beans to the skillet and mash with a wooden spoon or spatula to create a bean-onion mush. Add the remaining (whole) beans, tomato, and heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and toss the jalapeno slices over all just before serving.
To serve, sprinkle the beans with fresh lemon juice (I used the juice of 1/2 lemon) and drizzle with extra olive oil, if desired. Best served with flatbread. Makes 2 large servings.
[Dinner Bowl with millet, sesame chard, grated carrot, avocado, grape tomatoes, and almond sauce.]
When I was about four and the Nurse was eight, my parents decided to have our portraits taken. Now, in those days (we’re talking Dark Ages of technology, folks) no one had heard of digital photography, let alone Photoshop; you had to make due with photos as they appeared once developed, sometimes days or weeks after you’d snapped them in the first place.
[Insalata Roma: Mesclun greens with roasted red peppers, toasted walnuts, "goat cheese" and balsamic vinaigrette.]
In those days, the style was to dress up your kids, have them sit still for an hour or so while a photographer (who had arrived at your home hours earlier, toting enormous cameras, lenses, black boxes, velvet throws and a host of other tools of the trade) cajoled your child into staring at the camera long enough so that he could snap fifty or so photographs. Then, he went away and developed the photos, returning a few weeks later with the contact prints so that you could choose the one you wanted.
[Purple Monster I: gluten-free pancakes with blended berry sauce and tofu scramble.]
In order to simulate traditional artists’ portraits, the photographer blew up the black and white print to portrait size, then painted over the original with colored oil paints. These “portraits” were then hung in ornate gold frames, usually in the living room or family room. Most of my parents’ friends had similar portraits hanging in their own homes (with their own kids in the frames, that is). In fact, the image of four year-old me, a Mona Lisa smile on her face and hair teased and flipped like a 50s housewife’s, wearing my favorite dress with the white princess collar and pale blue crinolines, still gazes over my dad’s sofa (with matching portraits of each of my sisters on either side).
[Purple Monster II: Red cabbage slaw with green apples, toasted walnuts and poppyseed dressing.]
Why am I telling you all this, you wonder? Well, occasionally there were kids who simply wouldn’t participate (I recall hours of silly voices, fuzzy bears and sparkly jewelry passing before the CFO’s tear-stained face on the day, years later, of her portait-sitting; after almost four hours, the disheveled photographer finally elicited a semi-smile, which is the shot that was ultimately used). Worse, there were sometimes kids who were more than happy to oblige the photographer, but who, after all the developer was mixed, the paper bathed in the stop bath and the photos hung to dry, simply weren’t meant for such things.
[Gluten free pizza with pesto, zucchini, tomatoes, garlic and red onion.]
Well, sometimes, I cook food that tastes great, but for one reason or another, doesn’t give good blog. You know the meals–either you chomp them up too quickly, and by the time you remember to snap a pic, the meal is half gone; or else you snap and snap, eventually tuning in more to the rumbling in your stomach than the food on the table, and give up before you acquire that one useful photo. In these cases, I usually file the pics away, assuming I won’t be using them.
[Thai-inspired Coconut Curry Tofu Scramble with spinach, carrot, peppers and cashews.]
Still, some of those foods were really tasty. And just because they’re not photogenic, does that mean they should miss out? Heck, no! Just like the legendary blind date “with the great personality” (ah, if only I had a dime for all the times I was described in such a way), these dishes are really wonderful if you give them a chance.
[Tuscan Bean Soup, adapted from this recipe--my version below.]
And so, I thought it might be fun to share some of the more homely–yet still appealing–foods I’ve made in the past few months.
Just don’t try to snap their portraits.
“Mum, you know, we let you snap our portraits all the time. But if you want me to smile, well, how about a little cajoling with treats or a frisbee?”
Tuscan Bean Soup
This is a thick, filling, and comforting soup for cooler months. I used the stems from the chard, but found their flavor a bit overpowering; I’d leave them off next time.
1 pound (450 g) dried white beans (Great Northern, cannellini, or navy), picked over and rinsed
Soak beans in cold water overnight, or at least 8 hours. Discard water, rinse the beans, and set aside.
In a large pot or dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, fennel and garlic and sauté until the vegetables are soft, 8-10 minutes. Add the beans, stock, water, bay leaf and pepper and simmer, uncovered, until beans are tender, 45 minutes to an hour.
Stir in the swiss chard and salt to taste and continue to simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until chard is tender, 8 to 10 minutes.
Remove about 2 cups of the soup to a blender and blend until smooth, or use an immersion blender and blend briefly in only one or two spots so that most of the soup remains chunky. Stir the blended soup back into the pot, simmer until heated through, and season to taste. Garnish with nutritional yeast, if desired. Makes 6-8 servings. May be frozen.
[As promised, today I'm posting a giveaway along with this recipe. Who knew there were so many Larabar fans out there? But no, my friends, sorry to say that no one guessed the bar I'm giving away! (Though I did love Alex's suggestion that it might be one of The Girls' treats.). I'm guessing these bars are new to most of you. . .so get ready to be delighted, to be taste-tempted, and to become an instant fan! To learn more about the bars and the giveaway, go here. Then be sure to come back to leave a comment--and for this yummy recipe!]
Remember last week, when I crowed about summer finally arriving in Southern Ontario? Well, little did I know that that single day would constitute the entire season! As of this week, we’re waking up to a distinct chill under ever-darkening skies; there’s condensation on my car windows when I slip into the driver’s seat; and the air has that crisp, hollow clarity that seems to catapult sounds exponentially, even across mountains (not that there are any mountains in our little suburb, of course, but you get the idea).
Huh? Where did our summer go this year?
This type of weather always brings to mind a course in oil painting I took back in tenth grade (my brain tends to free associate that way). With my high school art teacher’s encouragement and visions of a really hip garret in my mind, I rode the Number 17 bus across town for an hour each way every Thursday evening to sit at my easel and soak up instruction about rendering depth, shadows, perspective. . . and to paint nude models. Yep, this little 15 year-old moi was mighty shocked, I must confess, at the cavalier nature with which those women threw off their cover sheets and posed in any variety of positions for us novice painters (as I recall, I came down with a cold the evening of the male model class. . .but in reality, I was probably too freaked out to attend. Ah, sweet and innocent youth!).
One of the things I loved most about oil painting was the pigments themselves, the linimint smell and gooey texture, and the magical, musical names by which they were known: Burnt Umber. Burnt Sienna. Cerulean Blue. Cadmium Red. Cadmium Yellow. Yellow Ochre. I loved the cadences in the sounds and the appearance of the hues just out of the tubes–deep, intense versions of the real-life counterparts (sort of like using super-saturation when you doctor your blog photos–except real!). For some reason (perhaps the fact that I was born in the fall), the warming reds, oranges and yellows were most appealing to me, and I often painted with those.
Suddenly, all around our neighborhood are reminders of my foray into oil painting: amid the remnants of green, the trees are beginning to sport their fall finery, festooned with splashes of ochre, rust and crimson, all vying for prominence on the branches.
So when I served dinner to a couple of old friends last night, I thought this warm summer salad would be perfect. Leaning heavily on the emeralds of June and July, highlighted with the yellows of August and September, this dish bridges the short divide between summer and fall as the weather extends its first chilly grip (or would that be grippe?) on Ontario’s resentful denizens.
Remember that high school reunion I attended back in May? Well, ever since then, I’ve planned to get together with my old friend The Poet. The Poet (so named because he penned the poem that graced our yearbook’s cover page) and I were best buds back in high school and through our undergraduate years. He helped me survive those boyfriendless undergraduate years without feeling like too much of a social outcast, by providing a Saturday night perma-date. A contemplative, sensitive soul, TP could also be uproariously funny and always cracked me up.
Eventually, we lost touch. We had neither seen nor heard from each other until the reunion. Just as Sterlin and I were loitering around the hotel lobby after checkin, I heard a distinctive bellow: “Ricki Heller, I’d recognize you anywhere!” and turned to see none other than TP. (On one hand, I was flattered to hear this; I suppose it means I look sort of the same as I did in high school. On the other hand, I was a bit aggrieved to hear this. I mean, do I look the same as I did in high school??).
And while many of us that weekend promised to get together once we were back in the city, I really meant it when I vowed to contact The Poet again. And so, last evening, he and another old high school chum came to dinner.
This dish was one of the dinner’s highlights. Also featured were a terrific leafy green salad with roasted peppers and “goat cheese” (recipe anon); herbed sweet potato fries; raw almond-veggie pâté; and (for me) herbed walnut burgers (another recipe I’ll post soon) plus salmon for the guys. For dessert, I served the chocolate layer cake with chocolate buttercream frosting from Sweet Freedom** and filled it with sweet potato buttercream (a huge hit).
I based this recipe very loosely on one I came across in the Australia Women’s WeeklyVegetarian Cookbook, a salad called “Hot Spinach and Pea Salad” (even though the actual recipe lists chard, not spinach, in the ingredients!). Since I am wont to wax poetic about all things antipodean (I know, it’s more like, ”wax pathetic”), it makes sense I’d veer toward this dish. But I’ve made so many changes to the original, I consider it entirely mine now.
The salad can be served warm or at room temerature (I actually prefer the latter) and features a truly resplendent display of autumnal greens and golds. The flavors are mild and pleasing, without a sharp sting of garlic or spice; just a flavorsome combination of Asian seasonings, just-soft zucchini, crunchy, juicy beans and plump, sweet peas.
Best of all, it only takes 10 minutes to make–so you can still run outside and catch the last few rays of that elusive summer sun.
**For those of you who have the book, be sure to check the correction here!
Gold and Green Warm Summer Salad
A warm, filling dish that can help you through the transition from summer to autumn. You can use edamame in place of the peas if you’d like to boost the protein for a main dish.
1 Tbsp (15 ml) sesame seeds, toasted
1 Tbsp (15 ml) coconut oil, preferably organic
1 clove garlic, minced
6 collard leaves, shredded
1 medium (250 g) yellow zucchini (summer squash)
2 cups (480 ml) fresh green beans, cut in half
1 cup (240 ml) fresh or frozen peas or shelled edamame, thawed
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot or cast-iron skillet, melt the coconut oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and collard and sauté until greens are wilted. Add the zucchini, beans and peas and cook another 2-3 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, Bragg’s, lemon juice and ginger. Pour the mixture over the vegetables in the pan and cook another 2-3 minutes, until warmed through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with sesame seeds just before serving. Makes 4 servings. May be frozen.
Even though the HH is of Scottish descent and I hail from the Poles and Russians (the joke possibilities are endless, aren’t they?), we live in a predominantly Italian neighborhood. And while we enjoy a good relationship with most of our neighbors and have even become friendly with some of them, in some ways, living here has induced a bit of an inferiority complex.
I know it’s a cliché, but in our neighborhood, at least, the lawns are perfectly tended, with gardens that have been pruned and primped more than J Lo’s hair on Oscar night. On any given evening as the HH and I enjoy our stroll with The Girls, we pass yards that could qualify as tourist attractions, complete with plush grass carpets, a profusion of exotic flowers in myriad colors, and hand-crafted topiary in any variety of shapes (my favorites are the bear and cat shrubs–I kid you not). And while we like our house and do try to keep it in good repair, the HH’s idea of ”property maintenance” is picking up the newspaper from the porch each morning.
But in the realm of food–what a learning experience it’s been! I was already a lover of Italian cuisine even before we moved here, and felt a bit heartbroken when I was told I could no longer eat wheat. No more pasta primavera? No more wholegrain bread dipped in chili-infused olive oil? No more gnocchi–my all time favorite (and most elusive) type of pasta? Luckily, there are a couple of places in the city where I can still enjoy rice pasta or spelt pizza–and, of course, I can make my own.
Since we moved here, though, I’ve had a series of culinary coaches. Each time I enter the local grocery/deli to pick up something for the HH, Melvin, my friend behind the counter, offers a tutorial on the varieties of asiago cheese or which olives are best. Our (extremely generous) landlord, who lives only a few blocks away, provided all kinds of tips on how to plant and raise my tomato garden last year–then presented us with several jars of his own home-canned tomato sauce. (Thanks again, Vince!). And can it be that The Girls have developed a predilection for basil (pesto-coated potatoes at the top of the list)?
So, when I happened upon them in the bulk store a few weeks ago, it seemed only natural that I’d want to give lupini beans a try. A new legume I’d never eaten before! I grabbed a small bag full and headed to the cash.
“Have you ever eaten these?” I asked the cashier.
“No,” she replied, “but our Italian customers make them all the time. You have to soak them for ten days. But every day, you have to spill out the water and replace it. Do you still want them?”
Of course I still wanted them, I assured her. Besides, I knew she’d made a mistake. Who ever heard of a dried legume that needed ten days of soaking? Anyone who’s ever cooked dried beans from scratch knows that you simply soak them overnight, drain, refill, boil, and eat. Simple!
Er, sorry Ric, but that’s simply WRONG. After a bit of Internet sleuthing, I discovered that the cashier had, indeed, been correct. Apparently, a high alkaloid content produces a bitter taste that can deter even the most steadfast legume-lover from sampling the beans. Soaking, then rinsing and soaking again–and repeating the process every day for at least ten days–allows the bitterness to be washed away so that the beans are then palatable.
According to Purcell Mountain Farms’ page on lupinis, “All this effort is worth it. The Lupins family of the grain legumes are one of the highest in protein content, second only to soy beans.” Hooray for serendipity–and an alternative to tofu!
Lupini beans are generally served at Easter or other holidays (and no wonder–when else would people have the time to prepare them?). I suppose you could simply boil them in advance, then keep in the fridge while you moved on to other holiday dishes. Once they’re ready to eat, you replace the soaking water with salted water (brine). This way, the beans will keep for weeks in the refrigerator. Here’s a basic tutorial, including info about the tough outer skins.
In the past, while in the midst of baking a birthday cake or other multi-ingredient confection, it’s often occurred to me, ”Who ever thought it would be a good idea to mix raw broken eggs, milk, sugar, flour–and then take that wet mixture, pour it into a metal pan, and bake it?” I mean, why on earth would they assume that would work out? In this case, did someone cook up the beans just like any other, bite into one only to spit it across the room like the sparks flying off a welding torch before suddenly thinking, ”Hey! Why don’t I take these putrid beans, put them in a jar, refresh the water once a day for ten to fourteen days, and then taste them again?!” Seriously, how do these recipes come about?
Well, luckily for us, some fool masochist did think to repeatedly rinse the beans before eating, and we all get to benefit from the innovation. While I can understand the reverence these tidbits receive in Italian homes–they are springy, toothsome and offer the same snacky enjoyment as biting into unshelled edamame (with the same “pop” as you crack the tough outer skins and enjoy the inner bean), I’m not sure I’d make them again. Checking on the beans for ten days felt like a commitment just shy of cohabitation, and I’m not sure I’m that much in love.
Laced with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and sage, however, these made a delectable contribution to our antipasto plate a while back, providing a great boost to the protein content of my meal. I’ve still got half a jar left in the refrigerator, too. Which, come to think of it, would make a great gift for my landlord.
A great snack once you’ve got them on hand. . . just don’t plan on eating these at the first sign of hunger.
About 1 cup (240 ml) dry lupini beans, rinsed and picked over
4 cups (1 liter) water, plus more for boiling
1 clove garlic, minced
splash of extra virgin olive oil
ground or freshly chopped sage, to taste
Place the beans in a pot in the water and soak overnight. After 24 hours or so, drain the beans, refill the pot, and bring to a boil. Boil gently until the beans are relatively tender (these will never get really soft), 1-2 hours.
Drain and rinse the beans. Place in a clean jar or container and cover with water. Place in the refrigerator and change the water once a day for 10-14 days (it took mine a full 14 days for the taste to lose all its bitterness).
Once the beans no longer taste bitter, add salt (to taste) to the water in the jar. They can be stored this way in the refrigerator.
When ready to eat the beans, remove some from the jar and splash with olive oil. Toss in the garlic and sage, and dig in. Makes about 2 cups (480 ml) beans.
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[NB: Just a reminder that you have eight chances to win a free copy of my new cookbook, Sweet Freedom, in the next post!]
I was around 12 when my friends and I first began to find ourselves interested in boys as romantic partners, and not simply background annoyances during art class. (Yes, twelve is ancient by today’s standards!)
During that year at school, we girls were all given a little blue pamphlet (because pink would have been so conventional, and this was a progressive publication, you see) with a title something like, “For the Young Lady.” It was sponsored by Modess sanitary napkins (who knew it was pronounced “Mo-DESS”?)–and it was filled with platitudes about “what attracts a boy.”
Each page offered a different imperative, such as, “Boys like a girl who sits with her ankles crossed” and “Attractive girls always chew with their mouths closed.” But the decrees that made the strongest impression on me all concerned comportment–how to present yourself in the unspoken quest for a male: ”Always walk with your head high and your shoulders back,” or “Boys like girls who stride from the hips, not the waist” (still don’t get that one), or “Boys appreciate girls who laugh at their jokes.”
I spent many hours sequestered in my bedroom, eyes fixed on my contorted image in the mirror as I endeavored to perfect a near-military posture, shoulders pinned stiffly back, hips thrust forward and derriere in the air in an exaggerated arch (the origin of my current lumbar problems, perhaps?), laughing at imagined quips in a (vain) attempt to imitate the dulcet giggle of Serena (the more beguiling cousin on Bewitched). Unfortunately, I ended up looking like that farmer whose body is overtaken by aliens in Men in Black.
For some time after I studied that booklet, I worried that I was perhaps too much “myself,” and that was the reason why my friends all had beaux while I stayed home Saturday nights watching SNL (wait a sec–I still stay home Saturday nights watching SNL!). But I just couldn’t bring myself to “laugh at their jokes” if the jokes weren’t funny. Or to pretend I didn’t know the Calculus answer when I did. Or to fuss over his shiny red sportscar when really, isn’t it just a big metal box that gets you where you want to go?
As I got older, I began to believe that “being myself”–despite any drawbacks to my social life–was just easier than trying to be someone else. I’m with Mark Twain on this one, who once remarked that you should always tell the truth; “that way, you don’t have to remember anything.”
Fittingly, I’ve come to feel the same way about foods: comestibles should be just exactly what they are, rather than aspire to be a lesser imitation of something else. Partly for that reason, I’ve often resisted making veggie “burgers” (there are but two such recipes on this entire blog). It’s not that I don’t like a good, juicy veggie burger as much as the next guy (I tend to order burgers–and my beloved sweet potato fries–almost every time I go to a particular popular resto here in Toronto). It’s just that, for the most part, veggie burger recipes I’ve encountered in the past are often a thinly veiled attempt to impersonate a similar burger of the animal variety.
I just don’t see the point in using one food (for example, soy) to stand in for another food. If I wanted meat, I’d eat meat. I have no illusions that my tofu is going to taste like anything other than tofu–though that’s not to say it won’t be well-marinated, savory, intensely flavored tofu.
So if you’re looking for “meaty” burgers, I’m guessing these may not appeal to you; these are really and truly veggie burgers. They are not brown or pink like meat (their golden hue clearly suggests a more herbaceous origin). They are not dense and sinewy. They proudly pronounce their contents with clear flecks of chopped veggies. There is simply no mistaking that this is a vegetarian food. Eat these, and you are unequivocally entering a “no-meat” zone.
I got this recipe from my major ACD reference, The Complete Candida Yeast Guidebook. At first, I was skeptical that anything created specifically to help eradicate candida could be flavorsome. In the end, though, I actually loved these. With a hearty slather of avocado mayonnaise, they were the a perfect segue to spring. (These would also be smashing with some tahini-miso sauce.)
In typical fashion, the HH dismissed the patties as “too veggie” and continued reading his newspaper. But after I set down my plate, smacked my lips a few times and licked my fingers, he peered over the Business section and couldn’t resist asking for a bite.
“Not bad at all,” was the initial verdict. Pause. “Hmm, those are pretty good.”
I kept eating.
About halfway through the meal, he commented, “You know, those were great. They taste like something you’d get at one of those expensive health food restaurants.”
I kept chewing.
A few minutes later, he added, “You know, I’d eat one of those.”
Oh, really? What a surprise!
“Would you like me to heat one up for you?” I asked.
“Sure, that would be great,” he said. Then he scarfed it down in less time than it takes to push back your shoulders, thrust out your hips, and giggle oh-so-fetchingly.
Well, if you’ve read this blog for any time at all, you know that this scenario plays itself out fairly frequently in the DDD household; change the recipe, but the gist of the exchange is the same. Why, then, won’t the HH simply learn his lesson and trust me that he’s going to like what I cook, vegan or not? No idea. Guys are still a mystery to me, blue pamphlet or no blue pamphlet. But at least the HH is consistently the HH–his true, authentic self.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Springtime Veggie Burgers
adapted from Complete Candida Yeast Guidebook
These burgers really do evoke spring, with their multicolored flecks of vegetable matter, garden flavors and lighter texture. They’re perfect baked, as I made them, but would be great on the grill as well.
1 cup (240 ml) cooked, drained beans (I used chickpeas–but black beans, kidney beans, navy beans or pinto beans would be wonderful in these)
1 cup (240 ml) chopped mixed vegetables (I used carrot, celery, red pepper and tomato) or vegetable pulp from a juicer
1 small onion, cut into chunks
1/2 cup (120 ml) raw sunflower seeds
1 Tbsp (15 ml) raw pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup (60 ml) fresh parsley or cilantro, chopped
1 Tbsp (15 ml) Bragg’s, tamari or soy sauce
1/2 tsp (5 ml) dried dill weed
1/2 tsp (5 ml) dried basil
1/2 tsp (5 ml) dried tarragon
1/4 tsp (1 ml) fine sea salt
1 tsp (5 ml) finely ground flax seeds
1/4-1/2 cup (60 ml-120 ml) flour (I used chickpea, but any mild-flavored flour would do; and finely ground breadcrumbs would be great in these)
Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, or spray with nonstick spray.
Place everything except the flour in the bowl of a food processor and blend until almost smooth and only small flecks of vegetables remain (I like my burgers fairly homogenous; if you prefer chunkier burgers, process a bit less). Sprinkle with 1/4 cup (60 ml) flour to start, and pulse to combine; check the texture of the mixture with your hands. It should be very moist but still hold together. If the mixture is too wet, add more flour until desired consistency is reached.
Shape the mixture into 6-8 burgers, depending on how big you’d like them. Flatten each burger to 1/2 inch (2.5 cm) thickness and place on the cookie sheet, spacing evenly (these won’t spread as they bake).
Bake about 15 minutes on one side, then flip and bake another 10-15 minutes on the other side, until burgers are lightly browned. These may also be cooked on a flat grill; spray with olive oil spray and grill 8-10 minutes on one side, then flip and grill another 5-8 minutes on the other side.
Serve in buns with all the accoutrements, roll into wraps with tortillas or leafy greens, or serve with flatbreads. Makes 3-6 servings. May be frozen.
[Totally tangential rant: When I woke up this morning, I was sure my eyes were playing tricks on me--it is snowing outside! Snowing. BIG snow. As in, "little white flakes that fly across your field of vision." As in, "icy and slushy and boots weather." As in, "everything is coated with rime and appears opaque and goes crunch when you walk on it." As in, "turn the heat back on and pull those sweaters out of storage again." As in, IF I SEE ONE MORE DAY OF WINTER I AM GOING TO LEAP UP AND DOWN AND FLAIL MY ARMS LIKE A CRAZED FLAMINGO AND SCREAM BLOODY MURDER AND WEEP LIKE A CONTESTANT ON THE BIGGEST LOSER AND THEN DISSOLVE IN A PUDDLE LIKE THE WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST. Okay, maybe not really. But I will not be very happy, let me tell you.]
I’m sure we’ve all heard it before, but I’m here to reiterate: diets don’t work. In fact, I’m living proof of that axiom.
I embarked on my first bona fide “diet” at age thirteen (thirteen! there oughta be a law) because, at the cusp of adolescence, I entered a new school and was, for the first time, startled to discover that there were boys–and they had somehow become appealing overnight!–out there. And that my friends whose mammaries had developed the previous summer seemed to attract the boys more than I did. And that maybe, if I lost twenty pounds, I might be the object of male hormonal affections, too.
And so, the beginning of a lifetime of serial dieting was born.
That initial diet was called the Stillman Quick Weight Loss Diet (a precursor to the later Atkins fiasco) and it allowed NO fruits or vegetables, NO grains and, basically, nothing but protein. For three months or so, I dutifully ate hardboiled egg for breakfast, tuna fish (no mayo) for lunch, and some kind of cooked meat (likely chicken) for dinner. And yes, the pounds did drop. Unfortunately, so did my IQ, my heart rate, and several of my friendships.
Before long, it wasn’t just boys who paid attention to me, but my parents and teachers, too, as my skin became pallid and wan; my clothes bagged in decidedly unattractive ripples across my chest, waist and hips; my hair lost its luster, hanging scraggly and thin; and my basic demeanor shifted from formerly sweet, pleasant, and interested in academics to introverted and skittish, eyes flitting from one point to another without ever focusing, like a kleptomaniac hiding a pair of shoes in her purse as she crosses the electronic detectors at the Bloomingdale’s exit. Needless to say, my parents convinced me to abandon the Stillman diet.
Subsequently, in my 30s during a “heavy” cycle, my world changed for a time when I met Dean. He didn’t mind that I was chubby; in fact, he welcomed it.
Dean, you see, was Dean Ornish, author of the diet plan called Eat More, Weigh Less. I loved the book immediately and bought it based on the title alone (you know that myth about how every twenty-something guy dreams of being locked in a room with two sexy, randy lesbians? Well, every dieter dreams of being able to pig out uncontrollably without limits, yet still lose weight).** I didn’t care about the actual diet, no sir; all I cared about was that title–I could eat more, and weigh less! Yessss!
Little did I know that Ornish was a medical doctor–a cardiologist, no less–and his book was based on years of extensive study. In fact, Ornish was the first (and only, if my sources are correct) medical professional to prove in scientific, double blind studies that you can actually reverse heart disease with diet alone. That’s right; reverse, not just diminish; and diet alone–no pills, no medications! His original idea has now blossomed into a full-fledged industry, including an institute that practises what he preached. It’s called the Preventive Medicine Research Institute and people go there to recover from (and reverse) their heart disease. How cool is that?
The first edition of the diet, however, was incredibly stringent, allowing no more than 10% of calories from fat (from all food sources combined). Clearly, well-marbled steaks, chicken with skin, or whipping cream are not on the menu. It was a radical notion back then: a vegan diet, and one with a very low fat content (Happy Herbivore, rejoice!). Best of all, the book included recipes.
Following the Ornish plan, I never felt better. I see now that the menus were fairly grain-heavy, but at the time, I was happy to cook up the recipes, pile my plate as high as I could, and methodically shove one forkful after another into my mouth, chewing away. At times it took me the better part of half an hour to polish off a plate, but I never worried that I was eating too much–I was eating MORE so I could weigh LESS!
Ornish’s Seven Grain Dirty Rice and Beans was my first encounter with this spicy Cajun favorite and also my first foray into the world of cooking dried beans from scratch. The dish is a variation on the classic combination, with corn for chewiness, and a spirited spice mix. The result is a satisfying, multi-textured meal. The beans and rice pair up to offer a complete protein. As a single woman living on my own, it was also a godsend to be able to create meals from basic, inexpensive ingredients that would last a few days (theoretically, I’m sure, the recipes were intended for 6 or more servings, which would have lasted much longer than a few days, but I really was piling my plates pretty high).
I achieved the desired weight loss on the Ornish plan and even managed to maintain it for several years, until I moved to Toronto and began teaching at the college where I still work today. And then, I met my starter husband, we got married, and I ballooned once again, the cycle repeating itself. Did my weight gain play a role in our split? No. But our split played a role in my weight. . . after I dumped the guy, the weight began to recede as well, which led to my current relationship with the HH, after which I gained back all the weight and more. . . which is why I now need this ACD to clear out the toxins and, ideally, lose more weight. . . .
Do we detect a pattern here? Diets don’t work!
Nevertheless, I still love this dish. And I’ll always have a soft spot (well, right now, several soft spots, most of which are located between waist and hip areas) for Dr. Dean.
**Oh, dear me. I can just imagine the blog searches that will lead people here now. Especially since this dish has the word “dirty” in its title. Groan.
I have no idea why this is called “SEVEN” Grain Dirty Rice (unless I’m missing something, aren’t the rice and corn the only grains in this?). Whatever the reason, it’s a slightly spicy, very flavorful and hearty dish, one that’s easy to prepare–and it won’t break the bank.
2 cups (480 ml) dry brown rice (I used basmati)
1-1/2 cups (360 ml) chopped red onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup (240 ml) finely diced carrots
1/2 cup (120 ml) finely diced celery
1 small jalapeno pepper, minced (remove seeds for less heat)
1 Tbsp (15 ml) ground cumin
1 Tbsp (15 ml) ground coriander
2 tsp (10 ml) chili powder
1/4 tsp (1 ml) fine sea salt
3-3/4 cups (900 ml) vegetable stock or broth
1 bay leaf
1-1/2 cups (360 ml) chopped tomatoes (I used a large can of diced tomatoes)
1-1/2 cups (360 ml) cooked red beans (I used kidney; any firm bean will do)
1/2 cup (120 ml) fresh or frozen corn kernels
3-4 Tbsp (45-60 ml.) fresh chopped parsley
3-4 Tbsp (45-60 ml) fresh chopped cilantro
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Spray a large casserole dish (one with a cover) and set aside.
In a fairly large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the rice, onion, garlic, carrots, celery, jalapeno, cumin, coriander and chili powder over medium heat, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes, until lightly browned.
Add the salt, stock, bay leaf and tomatoes, and stir to combine. Cover, lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the beans, corn, parsley and cilantro. Turn the mixture into the casserole dish, cover and bake for another 30-40 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked. If necessary, add a bit more stock and continue cooking until the rice is sufficiently soft. Garnish with more chopped herbs, if desired. Makes 6-8 servings. May be frozen.
NOTE: The original recipe suggests cooking the entire dish in your pot on the stovetop. I found, however, that the rice never really absorbed the liquid that way, and it remained hard even after an hour of simmering. If the stovetop method works for you, however, go ahead and use it–you’ll save yourself some dishes to wash that way.