Friday, May 29, 2009

Mango Pulp Fiction

I'd intended a loftier, more literary tone and look for this post.  The mangos had other plans.

Mangos are the world's best-beloved tropical fruit, with over a thousand varieties and a pedigree dating back to 5 BC in Asia. Buddha, it is said, meditated in a grove of mangos, and hey, he was the Enlightened One.  In India, mangos are a symbol of love.  Here in Miami, they're as much a part of summer as humidity and mosquitos.  Mangos go splat on your car or get pecked to death by birds.  Overmangoed friends and neighbors can't hand them off fast enough.  This is how I lucked into mine.  

I love mangos and I'm not the only one.  Florida was the first state in the union to grow them, starting around 1830. Horticultural hottie David Fairchild considered them "one of the most delicious fruits in the world."  Mango evokes the tang of peach, a tinge of carrot and the tartness of citrus, with a sweet, juicy stickiness all its own.

I was reminded of this when I sliced the mangos for this photo.  The goal was to show the fruit's rich golden flesh as well as the sunset shades of its skin.  Well.  There were juice issues.  It was all over my hands, all over my mouth because I'm only human and can't resist.  

Ahem, here is where I'd planned a Henry James tie-in.  As one of his characters in The Ambassadors exhorts,"Live all you can.  It's a mistake not to."  Mangos are messy, as is life, but you wouldn't want to avoid all the sweet, juicy pleasure they both bring.  

See?  Literary.  However, taking this photograph was more involved than I'd anticipated, and while I worked, I put on a CD -- Pulp, one of my favorite bands.  By the time I'd reached the cut "Underwear," the whole mood had veered well away from Henry James.  On the up side, I knew how I wanted to do the picture. 

There's mango cheesecakes and mango salsas and this simple mango and arugula salad, but trust me, mangos are best eaten plain, in all their succulent simplicity, in the bathtub, naked. It's sensual and saves on your laundry bill.

Naked Mango Salad

Peppery arugula. sweet, sexy mango, nuts for crunch and interest and an easy-peasy dressing -- this is one of my summer must-haves.  You can toss this salad, but with the gold of the mango and bright green arugula, it's lovely composed, and very easy.  Arrange arugula on a plate -- don't struggle, just spread it evenly.  Scatter mango pieces and nuts on top and pour dressing over all.  Give a grind of fresh pepper and eat at once.  

4 cups arugula (4 large handfuls)
1 mango, diced
1/3 cup pecans or pistachios, toasted

for dressing:
2 tablespoons walnut oil
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons mirin
1 teaspoon honey

Whisk dressing ingredients in a small bowl until emulsified and pour over salad.
Serves 4.

Here's a video of Pulp's "Underwear,"  The band's former frontman Jarvis Cocker has a new CD, Further Complications. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Killer Joe

Harvard Women's Health Watch says moderate coffee consumption can improve cognitive function and improve endurance performance. It's rich in antioxidants, too.  I like antioxidants, I like cognition and endurance.  I also like coffee.  I try not to drink it, though.  I try really, really hard. I limit myself to a cup a week and won't even make it at home, but go out and buy it, hence paying more.  It has not been the disincentive I'd hoped.

I'd been clean and coffeeless for years, but broke my streak when we all tend to break -- in the midst of trauma (it involved a funeral, and oh, you just don't want to know).  I didn't even want coffee, but someone poured me a cup, I numbly drank it and boom, there I was again, hooked on joe.

My main objection to coffee isn't the caffeine (which, being a raging insomniac, it should be) but the fact it's one of the most acid-forming foods.   Exuberant good health comes from our bodies being alkaline.*  C'mon,  you say, an occasional cup of coffee won't hurt you.  Even my doctor says this.  She says to lighten up.  And yet, trying to lead a healthful life, drinking coffee makes me feel guilty and conflicted.  This is an extreme reaction.  Even I realize that. Alas, I am at heart an extreme person.  You're probably figuring this out.  And you haven't even heard about the soya nazi yet.

A nearby popular coffee shop employs one scary waitress who always ferrets me out.  I'd order my weekly weakness, a soy cappuccino, a shot of naughty espresso ameliorated by soy.  She'd
narrow her eyes and say, "We do not have soya milk."

"Yes, you do.  I've had it here before."  Because I have.

"No.  We have never had soya milk." She'd furl her lip.  "We will never have soya milk."  

I called the coffee shop and spoke to the manager.  He said of course they have soy milk. When I could slink in there undetected by you know, her, he'd happily make me a soy cappuccino and it was lovely.  

But most of the time, there was the waitress with her Nosferatu face, her Teutonic accent and attitude and the soya milk discussion. Things escalated until I dragged her to the manager and said, "This waitress says you don't serve soy milk, but I've had it here before. In fact, you assured me you have it."

"We do," he said.  "But we're out today."

The waitress flashed a demonic smile.

"By the way," I said to her.  "You don't pronounce the a in soy.  Because it isn't there."  This was a sorry riposte but I couldn't think of a better one at the time.  I flounced out and have not returned.  It is bad enough to have a coffee jones.  I don't need to be Gaslighted, too.

Another coffee shop has opened nearby and it is wonderful. Called Pasion del Cielo (passion of the sky?), they offer beans from various coffee-growing countries.  You choose your region, be it Costa Rica or Kona, they grind the beans right then and brew it up.  The staff is sweet, not surly, the coffee is out of this world, and I feel. . guilty and conflicted.  I feel like I've fallen for a bad boy who says, "Trust me, baby," the one who's only going to break my heart.

I hope to give up coffee again.  Some day.  Maybe.  In the meantime, I can tell you Peru makes a kickass cup of joe.  And Pasion del Cielo always has soy milk.

If you're going to coffee, and thus acidify your body, you should balance your body's pH level with a lovely, alkaline piece of fruit.  Or if you must pair your coffee with pastry, try this morning glory bread instead of the usual acidic processed white flour and sugar stuff.  It's awfully easy, full of alkaline-rich carrots, pineapple, raisins, coconut and flax, and it doesn't even taste virtuous.

Morning Glory Bread

2 cups spelt flour
3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 carrots, grated (about 2 cups)
1 8-ounce can crushed pineapple with juice (do not drain)
4 tablespoons ground flaxseed (also called flaxseed meal)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup molasses
2/3 cup sugar 
1/2 cup shredded dried unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup raisins
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350.  Lightly oil 2 9" by 5" loaf pans.  

Into a large bowl, sift spelt and whole wheat flours, baking powder and baking soda.  Add grated carrots and toss to coat.  Stir in pineapple with juice, oil, molasses and sugar.  Add coconut, raisins, cinnamon and vanilla and stir until just combined.  Batter will be thick. 

Pour into loaf pans.  Bake for 1 hour.  

Makes 2 loaves, one to freeze or give as a gift, one to enjoy with a cup of coffee.    

* For a list of alkaline and acidic foods, check out

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ghent -- On Board for Vegetarian Day

Can you legislate a meatless life?  The folks in Ghent are trying. According to a United Nations report, livestock is to blame for nearly a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions.  The mayor of Ghent has taken this to heart and has launched Veggietag, in which civil servants and school children will be provided meatless meals one day a week.  

The mayor feels it's a win-win.  Ciizens will reduce their risk of obesity and reduce their carbon footprint.  A self-described flexitarian, he's hoping others will join in as an act of solidarity. While meat will not be banned outright, Thursdays may be looking grim for beef-loving bureaucrats.    

I'm on board, even if Belgian bureaucrats are not, and wanted to create a dish in honor of Veggietag.  But what? The Belgians are known for waffles, beer and chocolate.  Technically vegetarian, not to mention delicious, they don't comprise the most nourishing diet.  I'd rather have a Veggietag meal with, you know, vegetables.  

When it comes to local produce, the Belgians boast two -- Brussels sprouts, your classic Belgian crucifer, and Belgian endive, or chicory.  But the Brussels sprouts in my market are not grown in Belgium, they are from Mexico, and the endive looked world-weary and downtrodden.  And since the posterboy for Veggietag is seen zipping about the canals via eggplant, I went with eggplant, now in South Florida, in all its glossy purple glory.  

Behold, here is a re-envisioned Belgian classic, carbonnade a la Flammande, an ale-rich beef stew gone beefless.  Your traditional dish basically consists of beef, beer and onions.  This strikes me as lonely.  Here,  eggplant is abetted and enriched by carrots, celery and mushrooms.  It lightens up the classic, yet honors the beery tradition.  And it's pretty luscious. Because while you can try to enforce people to go vegetarian, I prefer to entice them. 

Aubergine a la Flammande

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 onions
1 medium eggplant
4 cloves garlic
2 carrots
2 celery ribs 
8 ounces mushrooms
1 tablespoon flour
12 ounces dark ale, preferably a Belgian beer like Chimay
4 to 6 sage leaves (about a tablespoon)
small handful of celery leaves (about a tablespoon)
grated rind of 1 orange
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Add oil to large soup pot.  Heat to medium-high heat.  Add onions, stirring to coat, then cover pot and reduce heat to medium-low to sweat the onions for about 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, chop the eggplant and mince the garlic, then add to onions.   Place lid on pot.  Increase heat to medium.  Cook for a few minutes, until the eggplant softens.   Chop the other vegetables and add. When the carrots, celery and mushrooms just soften, about 3 minutes, add the tablespoon of flour.  Stir well and make sure the vegetables are coated.  Pour in the ale.

Mix well then add the sage and celery leaves.  Cover and reduce heat to low.  Simmer for an hour and a half, coming back and give the whole thing a stir now and again when you've a mind to. 

After 90 minutes, remove the pot lid, bring heat back to high. The eggplant will be meltingly soft.  Bring to a boil and boil for about 3 minutes to reduce sauce and concentrate the flavor. Stir in nutmeg, grated orange rind and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve over rice (and since it's me talking here, I'd recommend whole grain brown rice over traditional white).  Nice with a green salad.   Stew flavor improves over time.  It'll taste better tomorrow, if you have any left.

Serves 4 to 6.

Next time -- I confess my weakness for a bad boyfriend .

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Mother's Day -- Say It With Lentils

She's probably cooked you upwards of 20,000 meals, so do you think giving mom a wilted bunch of daisies is going to cut it on Mother's Day? Show her the love.  Show her the lunch. Make it yourself.

When you're entertaining, especially when the guest is your mother, timing matters.  You don't want to be stuck in the kitchen (or perhaps if you have strained relations, you do, but maybe Sunday you can get past that and join the party).  This requires planning.

A doable, typical American Mother's Day lunch might be salmon, salad and something starchy or eggy like rice or rolls or strata.  I started with this nice, safe menu, but as usual thought, what if. . . And that's where things took a wild turn and lunch went from American to Indian.  Fortunately, my mother's game when it comes to global cuisine.  I like to think this has been because of my influence.

The basics are the same -- salmon (I'm going with smoked, so there's no work) and salad, but peppery arugula and sweet mango just now in season here replace the standard lettuce and tomato. I'd add nuts to the salad, but the only nut my father likes is me. The eggy thing is a green chutney souffle, courtesy of Niloufer King's terrific book My Bombay Kitchen.  The souffle goes in the oven when my folks arrive, the salmon's already done, the salad can be tossed right before we eat.  There'll be mom's favorite sauvignon blanc with lunch and cardamon shortbread, apricot cream, fresh berries and chai for after.  

This would be ample, but for the vegan at the table -- me.  Plus, as my mother taught me, it's always nice to offer a little something extra.  So -- red lentils and tomatoes.  It's a relish, it's a side dish, it's a main.  It's layered and complex in flavors and amazingly quick and easy.  Lentils are a great nutritional deal, high in protein and fiber, low in calories and fat, rich in folate and magnesium.  Plus they're your friendliest of legumes, needing no presoaking. Red lentils, the weensiest members of the lentil family, cook up in minutes.  Really.  The only risk is not trusting me on this and letting your lovely red lentils overcook and so go to mush. 

The beautiful thing about this dish is you can make it a day or two before.  It allows the flavors to deepen and means no last-minute scrambling in the kitchen.  Served with the salmon, the red lentils and tomatoes give your table a pretty pinkness, pleasing the eye as well as the palate. You'll impress your mom, you won't break a sweat, it's a win-win.  Happy Mother's Day.

Mother's Day Red Lentils and Tomatoes

1 cup of red lentils, rinsed
2 cups water or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons canola or coconut oil
1-1/2 tablespoons chickpea flour (also called besan)
1-1/2 teaspoons turmeric
3 tablespoons dried unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
2 tablespoons tamarind paste (in desperate straits, substitute a tablepoon each molasses and fresh lime juice)
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved if large
sea salt to taste
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped

Pour water or broth into medium saucepan.  Bring to boil over high heat.  Add red lentils.  Cover and reduce heat to low.  Cook for 10 minutes, by which time the lentils will have plumped and turned tender.  Remove from heat and let them cool to room temperature.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Stir in chickpea flour, turmeric, coconut and ginger, stirring for about 3 minutes, until mixture is toasty and fragrant.  Add tomatoes.  Stir well to coat.  Turn off heat.  

Gently stir lentils and tamarind paste into coconut and ginger mixture.  Have a kind hand so as not to mushify lentils.  Season with sea salt.

Refrigerate overnight.  Best enjoyed at room temperature.  Stir in chopped cilantro just before serving.

Serves 4 to 6.