Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Holiday Spirit

The drinking started at nine. A.M. The singing started around noon. Both continued for another twelve hours. Our neighbor and his friends assemble in his back yard almost every weekend, but last Saturday’s festivity was particularly impressive. It was as though they were in training for the holidays.

There were no women in sight -- there never are. The men were, as usual, shirtless, but the only sixpacks in sight was the beer they consumed (I believe this accounts for the lack of women). The guys sat drinking and laughing in the pouring rain, under a jury-rigged tarp -- one rigged by an inebriated, impaired jury.

The rain was as noteworthy as the revelry. It was a deluge in the midst of our dry season, it lasted all day, and no tarp was going to keep the rain out. It flooded our street, soaked my garden but did nothing to dampen their spirits.

Sunday was. . . quiet, and for them, probably painful. By late afternoon, the party host, his complexion gray, delicately picked his way outside to the muddy swamp that had been his party playground, and began collecting all the empties.

No doubt, the party will start anew and afresh on Friday, noche buena, the night Latinos celebrate Christmas (and in this case, celebrate and celebrate and celebrate).

I could gladly pass on their lustily warbled but tuneless canciones. I wish they’d put on shirts. I worry about their unhealthy lifestyle (their two food groups appear to be beer and pig). But I admire their spirit. And fortitude.

Wishing you great spirit and fortitude in the new year and all delicious things, including:

Wild Rice with Winter Greens, Lemon, Pine Nuts and Raisins

An old Sicilian trick, balancing the bitterness of winter greens with rich pine nuts and sweet raisins, yields a dish that’s fortifying and fabulous. You could add some cannellini and have a very rad but delicious version of hopping john -- excellent at the new year (and healthier than pig and beer).

1 cup wild rice

4 cups vegetable broth or water

2 lemons

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 bunch winter greens -- kale, collards, dandelions, what you will, tough center ribs

removed, leaves sliced into skinny ribbons

1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

1/4 cup raisins

1 good pinch red pepper flakes

sea salt to taste

Rinse wild rice in a strainer or colander.

In a large pot, bring water or broth to boil over high heat. Add wild rice. Cover and reduce heat to low and simmer for half an hour. Turn off heat, leave the pot on the burner for another half hour or so, until all the liquid is absorbed. May be done the day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring back to room temperature before proceeding.

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion and saute, stirring until it softens, about 5 minutes. Add chopped winter greens, which will shrink in the heat to a fraction of their volume. Continue cooking until greens are just wilted -- another 3 to 5 minutes.

Tip in cooked rice and stir mixture gently to combine. Grate in the zest of both lemons, squeeze in lemon juice, stir in sea salt and pepper flakes. Add pine nuts and raisins just before serving.

Serves 4 to 6.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Tell Me What You Eat and I Will Tell You What You Are

Those of my ilk were once considered Pythagoreans, as in Pythagorus. Best known as ancient Greece’s math geek extraordinaire, Pythagorus was also into music and philosophy. It’s believed his own personal ethos abjured killing and eating animals, a practice followed by vegetarians for generations to come.

The word vegetarian itself had to wait until the mid-1800s for someone to come up with it. The term vegan wasn’t coined until 1944. More commonly, though, if you didn’t eat meat, you were just weird. Or a weirdo hippie freak. Or a tree-hugger. The term herbivore never caught on, not the way omnivore has. Of course there’s variations of omnivore, too. You can be flexitarian, which basically means you’re vegetarian when the mood strikes you. You can be fishaterian (okay, I came up with that one -- my own wry terminology for those who don’t eat meat but do eat fish) and less-meatarian (that one comes from the estimable Mark Bittman, Food Matters Cookbook author and all- around great less-meatarian guy). Meat-eater, though popular, sounds barbaric and a little too like Harry Potter’s Death Eaters.

There’s so many ways we explain how we eat, French gastronome Brillat-Savarin (“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are,”) would never have believed it.

Lately, I’ve even been thinking about what I call myself. Being the Edgy Veggie suits me. I’m edgy by nature, especially when I write about food -- a cheeky part of me comes out. Sometimes I think my wonderful editor at the Miami Herald just wanted to throw the paper’s meatless readers a (meatless) bone. What she got is someone who’s come to see how food -- Pythagorean or otherwise -- connects us to the planet, to our community, to the past, to each other, and has ramifications in politics, environment, nutrition, education and more.

The term veggie, though, is quaint, especially compared to the newer, more assertive term meatless (or as Brillat-Savarin would put it, sans viande). I would never have anticipated the success of in-your-face Skinny Bitch. (which is perhaps, alas, why I’ve struggled with publishing). Nor would I have guessed the likes of Bill Clinton and Oprah would get on the vegan bandwagon (Oprah, good on you for trying. Bill, stick with it, honey -- you look terrific). When I was the lone vegan in my teens, I never dreamed there’d be a Meatless Monday movement, let alone that it would gain traction. It does my vegan heart good.

Call us Pythagoreans, call us meatless, the only difference is spin. I hope I’ll always be the Edgy Veggie. But perhaps if I were starting out now, I’d be even edgier. I’d be the Meatless Marauder. With a mask and cape. And vegan superpowers.

Mushroom Risotto

The classic rice dish requires no superpowers, vegan or otherwise, just the time you spend stirring at the stove. Having friends in the kitchen and/or a glass of wine makes the time go faster.

1/2 cup white wine

a handful of dried mushrooms (8 to 12) (optional but flavor-enhancing)

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, chopped fine

1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms (regular button mushrooms work, too), sliced

1 cup rice -- Arborio is the risotto rice of choice, but really, any rice will work

4-1/2 cups vegetable broth

1 sprig fresh rosemary, stem removed, leaves chopped fine (about 2 teaspoons)

2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Over medium heat, bring white wine to simmer in a medium saucepan. Add dried mushrooms. Turn off heat and let mushrooms infuse the wine for half an hour.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion. Reduce heat to medium and saute until onions turn translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add sliced mushrooms and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, or until mushrooms become tender. Stir occasionally.

Add the rice and stir, coating each grain with oil Keep stirring another few minutes, until rice looks luminous.

Chop the wine-infused mushrooms. Add to the rice, along with the warmed wine.

Pour the vegetable stock or water into the medium saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. When stock reaches simmer, reduce heat to low but keep on burner.

Meanwhile, stir the rice until it absorbs the wine.

Add warmed stock to rice a ladleful (or 1/2 cup) at a time, stirring constantly. It’ll take about half an hour to work in all the liquid, by which time the rice will have turned creamy and luscious from slow cooking.

Stir in finely chopped rosemary and nutritional yeast. Season with sea salt and fresh pepper.

Serves 4.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Imagine the Real Food Project

Crackerman is a German baker with an expansive soul and a soft spot for sausage. I am a nervous American vegan. This is not the stuff of bad sitcom but a true, strange and beautiful friendship. We get together and talk about literature, family, travel, ghosts, but mostly about food and the way we wish everyone could eat -- real food, food without processing, preservatives or genetic modification, food that sustains and is sustainable, food that’s seasonal, local and cause for joy.

These talks sustain me, but Crackerman decided to take things further. He came up with what we’re calling the Real Food Project, a nonprofit call to arms, a grass roots demand for greater care and awareness in what we eat. We hammered out the language and with the mighty Khim, launched a website and forum. Crackerman thinks if we band together and speak out in favor of real food, we can make it happen. We can change the world. I hope he’s right and I hope you’ll be part of it. It’s free and all you gotta do to join is sign up.

What happens from here on out is up to you.

You might say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.

Sweet Potato Salad With Tahini and Ginger

Sweet potatoes, in season now are real, rich in vitamin A and roasted like this, reveal their own sweetness without (guuh) pineapple or marshmallow. This is a significant salad, but to make it more of main course, add 1-1/2 cups cooked whole grain, like quinoa or millet.

2 sweet potatoes, chopped into bite-sized cubes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pinch sea salt

1 pinch red pepper flakes

1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

3 cups fresh spinach, watercress, arugula or a combination of all three

juice and zest of 1 orange (about 1/3 cup juice)

2 tablespoons fresh ginger, chopped

2 tablespoons tahini

Preheat oven to 400.

Spread sweet potato bites on a rimmed baking sheet. Add olive oil, sea salt and pepper flakes. Toss to coat sweet potatoes and roast for 25 minutes, stirring once to make sure sweet potatoes roast evenly and don’t stick to the pan.

Meanwhile, make the dressing. Using a blender or food processor, blitz together ginger, orange juice and tahini for 1 minute or until smooth. Makes about 1/2 cup dressing, enough for the salad plus leftovers. Dressing keeps covered and refrigerated for up to a week.

Keeping the oven at 400, toast chopped nuts in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes, or until golden brown and fragrant.

To assemble salad: Place greens in a large bowl or arrange on a platter. Scatter with chopped celery, chopped sweet potatoes and chopped nuts. Drizzle dressing on top or serve separately.

Serves 4.

The Real Food Project

What : An appeal for real food -- food without additives, preservatives,

antibiotics, mystery chemicals or genetic modification.

Who: You and everyone else who wants real food.

Where: Everywhere around the globe.

When: Now.

How: Become a fan. Choose food made without additives. Read labels.

Join us and speak out in favor of real food.

Why: Because everyone deserves access to real food.

Our food is contaminated. It’s processed with chemical preservatives and additives, genetically modified products and laced with salt, fat and sugar.

Our seas are overfished and polluted, killiing off 90% of our oceans’ fisheries.

Our national productivity, creativity, economy and health are crippled by obesity-related illness.

At Real Food Project, we’re into:

Families who cook together.

Families who eat together.

Teaching basic cooking, sourcing and nutrition in all schools.

Serving real food in our school lunchrooms.

Meat produced ethically.

Fish caught sustainably.

Eating less meat.

Farm and garden initiatives that reintroduce heirloom varietals.

Bringing local foods directly to consumers.

School gardens that bring real food to communities, starting with our children.

Home and community gardens.

Preventative health

Companies that feed employees real food.

Fresh sustainable and organic foods.

We’re anti:

Multinational food conglomerates

Industrialized food distribution systems

Factory farming

Genetically modified food

Artificial preservative

Chemicals and additives

Misleading food labels

Obese, unhappy children

Obese, unhappy adults

We deserve a change and so does our planet.

We ask our readers to pay attention to what’s in our food and to who makes it.

We encourage vendors to provide fresh, local, unprocessed food.

We ask the USDA to step up oversight on corporate food production.

We want companies to reward employees who make real food a priority.

We demand food made without additives.

We want a choice in what we eat. We choose real food.

Join our Project.

Working together, we can make companies, institutions and government listen. We can make the move, make the change to real food. Become a fan now.

Post links, comments, photos and videos. Introduce your project, coop, company, community and even post jobs here.

Network with others and profit from an ever-growing web of real food supporters.

Live better, eat better. Welcome to the Real Food Project.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Ramadan, Harira and True Religion

Ramadan has begun and I have a pot of harira, the traditional Moroccan soup to break fast, simmering away on the stove. I do not fast at Ramadan, I fast at Yom Kippur (one day, get it over with). So what’s a nice lapsed Jewish girl doing with harira?

Harira and I have a history. I made it years before I visited Morocco, made it from a recipe in Erica Rozin’s Ethnic Cuisine, a book so old and battered now, my copy is in pieces. I keep it as a talisman because it was, in its own way, the book that launched my food writing career.

I had been writing for BookPage and Ann my wonderful editor asked if I ever reviewed cookbooks. I hadn’t but sure, I could, why not. She suggested kitchen-testing some recipes. I chose harira because it was winter and I had a wretched cold. It looked comforting. It looked easy. And it looked odd. I’d never seen a soup recipe that called for yeast. I've since learned this is traditional for harira, giving it some oomph and thickness and a mild fermenty kick.

I was then as I am now, a vegetarian but for professional reasons, a closeted one. A food writer with a limited diet can result in a limited career. So I quietly went about substituting the chicken in the recipe for vegetables. The result was something greater than the sum of its parts. I loved harira and wrote about it so rapturously, other editors approached me about doing food writing.

Even if they hadn’t, I’d still love this soup. I have since learned every family makes their own version of harira, and over time, I’ve changed up my own version even more. Harira is entirely forgiving, allowing you to add more of this or that. You can make it elegant with a pinch of saffron or ras el hanout, a blend of up to two dozen spices and botanicals, you can make it simple and straightforward. I’ve since seen recipes with lamb, with chicken, with eggs. I haven’t seen many plant-based versions like mine, though.

By the time I discovered harira’s link to Ramadan, I was already besotted with all things Moroccan. On a bad day, or sometimes even a good one, I dream of running away to Marrekesh. I can imagine living (somehow) within the medina, in a riadh with a blue-and-white zelig-tiled interior courtyard and a small burbling fountain that makes watery music. Every day, I’d shop in the souks for dinner. I’d gossip with my neighbors over mint tea poured out boiling hot from a battered silver pot. I’d ride a camel. I mean, if you’re going to fantasize, there’s no point in half-measures.

At the very least, I can make harira. It sustains the body because its made with ingredients that are humble but whole, nutritious and recognizable. It sustains the soul because it has a rich cultural and culinary history, a history that goes back centuries before my first taste of it. It connects me to the past and to others. As I make harira here, women in Morocco are probably making their own for their families to eat at Iftar (the Ramadan break fast at sunset).

I will serve it to those I love the way they will, with dates, bread and coffee or tea. Harira makes me feel I’m not alone in the universe. If that’s not true religion, what is?

True Religion Harira

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 teaspoon turmeric

3 zucchini or yellow squash or a combination, chopped

2 red peppers, chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

1 28-ounce box diced tomatoes or 2 pounds gorgeous ripe tomatoes

1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

6 cups vegetable broth

1 pinch saffron or ras en hanout (optional but very nice)

1 small handful whole wheat vermicelli or angel hair, broken into pieces

1 tablespoon yeast dissolved in 1/4 cup warm vegetable broth or water

juice of 1 lemon

sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

1 handful fresh cilantro, chopped

extra lemon wedges for serving, if desired

In a large stock pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and turmeric. Saute a few minutes, until onion softens and turns golden. Add chopped squash, red pepper and celery.

Continue cooking, stirring often, for another 5 minutes.

Stir in tomatoes, chickpeas and broth. Reduce heat to medium-low and let harira simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes to an hour.

Add broken noodles and dissolved yeast. Squeeze in the lemon juice. Season with sea salt and pepper. Stir in chopped cilantro just before serving.

Serve with extra lemon wedges if desired.

Serves 8.

Friday, June 11, 2010

You Say You Want a Revolution?

I am not a vegansexual. This is a vegan who won’t have sex with nonvegans. I sleep with the enemy. I’m married to a meat-eater. He was such when I married him, I was a vegetarian who has since gone vegan. Call it crazy love.

Occasionally, we have differences of opinion. We work it out. This seems revolutionary for some to grasp. Based on reader response from my Huffington Post piece “Anger Management,” there are some very angry carnivores out there. And some tediously self-righteous vegans.

I know some vegans who take the approach of a former national leader and say we as a plant-based people do not negotiate with terrorists, by which we mean everyone who is not us. But then you run the risk, as he did, of being all alone on your moral high ground and losing the fight. As well as your audience.

Nonvegans may think we’re insane -- and I’ve heard from a vociferous lot of them who say as much. But nonvegans are not fussy. They’ll have sex with vegans, nonvegans, anyone who’s willing.

This shows an openness us plant-based folk should take to heart. Gentle readers, dialogue is good. Even when it seems like there’s a line in the sand between meat-eaters and vegans, Republicans and Democrats. We may not always agree with each other, but frankly, we don’t have anywhere else to go. The fact is, whatever you eat or believe, we’re all on this planet together.

Veganism is all about compassionate choices. It means a commitment to protecting the environment and being kind to our animal friends. That should include all sentient beings, even those that can sometimes be hard to like -- humans. You don’t bash some meat-eating someone over the head because he’s an idiot -- um, because he does not share your world view. Enlightened you may be, but when you take that approach, compassionate you are not.

That’s why I prefer the carrot -- or in this case, brightly spiced Moroccan carrot salad -- to the stick. Food itself can convince where rhetoric cannot. Cooking vegan lets me make and share food aligned with what I believe in -- more compassion, less carbon. It lets me be the change I want to see in the world, to quote Gandhi (a vegetarian). When I feed others, it encourages them to be that way, too. It provides pleasure, besides, both to them and to me.

Vegansexuals may consider me a traitor to the cause, but I’m not going to divorce my husband because we have different ideas of what’s right for dinner. It is nice to have someone who’ll pull your ass out of the fire. Even if he does eat the occasional burger.

Sometimes reaching out, whether it’s across the aisle, across the table or across the bed, can be a revolutionary act. Vegans, locavores, green advocates and activitists, we have an important message and like John Lennon once sang, “We all want to change the world,” but we like to party, too -- I do, anyway. And I want to invite everybody.

Revolutionary Moroccan Carrot Salad

Eleven months of the year, I forget about this recipe entirely, but come the hottest days of the year, I crave the bright colors and bracing yin-yang of this Moroccan carrot salad. It’s refreshing to eat, beautiful to look at and absurdly easy to make.

1 pound of carrots

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon paprika (smoked is particularly nice)

generous pinch cayenne pepper or, if you have it, Aleppo pepper

2 teaspoons agave or honey

4 teaspoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

a good handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

Coarsely shred carrots in a food processor or chop into 1/4-inch matchsticks, your call.

Dump into a good-sized bowl and set aside.

Heat oil and spices in a small skillet over low heat, stirring until spices darken and the whole thing turns fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Add oil and spice mixture to carrots and toss to coat. Add honey or agave, lemon juice, and sea salt.

May be made a day ahead and chilled in an airtight container.

Before serving, gently mix in parsley and enjoy slightly chilled.

Serves 6 to 8.