My Asian Dumpling Obsession, and a Recipe

15 04 2012

Vegetable Dumplings at HanGawi in NYC

If you read last week’s post, you got a peek at my fabulous macrobiotic meal at a restaurant named Mana. We shared two kinds of steamed dumplings, one filled with a mash of lightly curried sweet potatoes, the other stuffed with greens and vegetables. This was not my first dumpling experience in the Big City. In fact, pretty much every time there is a veggie dumpling on a menu, I order it. The photo above is of a lovely veggie dumpling I had at the vegan Korean restaurant HanGawi, just a few days before. Although they are somewhat obscured by lightly steamed broccoli florets, you can see that they are folded in a tortellini-style shape. They were filled with tender greens, and perched on a puddle of sweet-sour hot sauce.

I couldn’t stop there, and when I had dinner at The Spice Market, a Jean Georges Vongerichten restaurant, I had another version. This time, they bobbed in a tasty soup.

Fresh Pea Soup with Sweet-Pea Miso Dumplings (sorry, it was dark)

This was definitely an upscale soup, a sweet and subtle puree of absolutely fresh, shelled peas, with a few chopped greens and herbs. The dumplings were tiny and tender, filled with miso-spiked pea puree. It was a celebration of the English Pea, a seasonal and fleeting delight. It was delicious.

Of course, then came the dumplings at Mana, where we shared them, dipped in tasty soy-based sauces.

Macrobiotic Veggie Dumplings

When you come right down to it, a plump, juicy dumpling is irresistible. Little pillows of deliciousness that they are, they are like a present, specially wrapped just for you. The sauce is the bow on top. You get to eat them with your fingers, if you want, or pick them up with chopsticks, which is also pretty playful. So, if you can see where this is all leading, I thought I should make some steamed veggie dumplings when I got home.

Steamed Chinese Style Veggie Dumplings at Home

Steamed Chinese-Style Vegetable Dumplings

I’ve made versions of this recipe for years, and found that they benefit from the complexity and funk that a bit of preserved or pickled cabbage adds. I used easy to find wonton skins in the photo, which are thinner, and kind of flop over in the steamer, but are just as yummy. If you are vegan, look at the ingredients on your wrappers, many brands are actually egg-free.

1 package potsticker or gyoza wrappers
canola oil
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/4 cup szechuan preserved vegetables or kimchee, rinsed and minced (not everyone has access to szechuan veggies, but kimchee is close enough)
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups minced bok choy
1 cup chinese chives, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pinch white pepper
2 tablespoons shao xing rice wine or sherry
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar

vinegar, chili sauce, and soy sauce

1. Use 1 teaspoon of the oil to stir fry the vegetables until almost wilted. Add salt, pepper, wine, soy sauce, and sugar, cook until thick. Remove from heat, scrape into a bowl and cool completely.
2. To assemble, get a pastry brush and a cup of water, and a steamer or plate, and cut some parchment pieces for each dumpling. Lay out several wrappers and place a scant tablespoon of filling in the center of each. Brush the top half of each wrap and pull the two sides up around the filling, and form a flat bottom. Pleat the top edge and set each on a piece of parchment on the steamer. Cover with plastic as you go. These can be covered and refrigerated for a few hours, or frozen raw to be cooked frozen.
3. To cook, set up to steam. When the water is boiling, put the steamer over it, cover, and steam for about 8 minutes. When the dumpling wrappers are tender and the veggies are hot all the way in the center, they are done.  Let diners mix the three condiments to suit their tastes on the plate.

With a little Sriracha





A Big Bowl of Happiness?

26 03 2012

Sunshine and Rainbows with the Happy Way to Eat

We all know the physical benefits of eating more plants. Lower cholesterol, a healthy heart, lower body mass, decreased risks of all the big, bad diseases. When vegans and vegetarians talk about their lifestyles, though, they often describe a new feeling, a feeling of being lighter, clearer, happier and more energetic. Feeling good is about more than getting good triglyceride numbers at your annual physical, and now some researchers have taken a closer look at why veg diets make people feel happier.

The study, published in Nutrition Journal, put control groups of omnivores on either an omnivorous, fish only, or vegetarian diet. The study went for two weeks, and at the end, the participants were tested for mood and depression. The researchers, Bonnie Beezhold and Carol Johnston, theorized that the balance of essential fatty acids in the different diets would make a difference in mood. At the end of the study, the mood test scores of the veg group improved significantly, while the rest stayed the same.

So, the researchers wanted to know if the fish group, with their Omega 3 (EPA and DHA) rich diets, would have better moods, and they did not. In blood tests, the fish eating group had more Omega 3′s in their blood, but they had far more Omega 6′s. The vegetarian eaters had dropped their blood levels of EPA, DHA and more importantly, AA, the arachidonic acid in meat, down to negligible levels.

So, the researchers drew the conclusion that the arachidonic acid could be a real downer. Its important to remember that conventional meat and dairy is much higher in Omega 6′s, including AA, because it is fed corn and grain, while grass fed is supposed to have a better balance of 6 and 3.

The effect of essential fats on the brain is well-known, we need them for our brains and nervous systems to function. So, a little background is in order. Basically, we need to get Omega 3′s and Omega 6′s from food.

A typical Western diet has plenty of the omega-6s, linoleic acid, gamma-linoleic acid, and arachidonic acids (LA, GLA, and AA). Linoleic acid is in nuts, seeds and their oils, grains, and soybean oil, all of which are eaten by omnivores and vegetarians alike. AA is largely from animal foods and is associated with heart disease and inflammation. Arachidonic acid has also been found to cause negative changes to the chemistry of the brain that lead to negative moods and depression.

The omega-3s EPA and DHA are where most people fall short, omnivores and vegetarians alike. Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), found in flax, hemp, walnut, and canola oils, as well as in green leafy vegetables and sea vegetables, is pretty pervasive, thanks to the popularity of canola. But the eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids (EPA and DHA) that come from fish or the algae that fish eat, or from sea vegetables .

Vegans will be relieved to know that the body converts some of the LA you consume into GLA and AA, and the ALA into EPA and DHA.

The imbalance, which the researchers point out, is that most of us eat way too many Omega 6′s. Vegetarians, though, are not getting all of the Omega 6′s and especially Arachidonic acid that meat eaters get from meat. In the current state of affairs, industrial meat and dairy is contributing to the imbalance in Omega 6, as well as the high AA in the diet.

So, veg-heads, if you have been convinced for a long time that eating this way just makes you feel better, there is scientific evidence to back you up. Keep striving to get those Omega 3′s from chia, flax, walnuts, and canola oil, since they are good for you, too. And omnivores, you would do well to cut back on meat, if you want to improve your mood.





Crunchy Sunflower Seeds, The Hippies Were Right

5 03 2012

The Sunny Seeds

When was the last time you thought about sunflower seeds? Were you cracking the shells at a summer picnic or ball game, or filling the birdfeeder with the shiny black seeds? I know that  I forget, sometimes, that sunflower seeds are such a nutrition powerhouse. I don’t think I am the only one who associates them with old-school hippie food, something we used to sprinkle in salads and bake into granola back in the day.

Well, sunflower seeds are much more than a little crunch on a salad, and they are just as exciting as the chia and flax seeds that are so hot right now. Recently, folks with peanut and nut allergies have been embracing sunflower seed butter, and in my neck of the woods, an enterprising farmer is making a lovely cold-press sunflower oil. (Read about it here.)

So, I am reminding myself to eat more of these tasty seeds. Sunflower seeds are a prime source for phytosterols. Phytosterols are the plant based compounds that lower cholesterol, so effectively in fact that they are made into special margarines and pills for that purpose. Phytosterols are so similar to cholesterol that they compete for absorption in the digestive tract, decreasing LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood.The food highest in them is sesame seeds, followed by sunflower, which delivers  280 mg per 100 grams.

They are also a good source of magnesium. Magnesium calms nerves, muscles and blood vessels, and helps with detoxification and cancer prevention, and recently was shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. The seeds also deliver lots of folate, the important B-vitamin that prevents neural tube defects and is good for your brain function.

Just 1/4 cup of sunflower seeds has 61% of the Vitamin E you need for the day. Vitamin E is a powerful fat soluble antioxidant, reduces inflammation and helps with all conditions in which inflammation is a part. It also prevents cholesterol from oxidizing and forming plaque in the arteries. Vitamin E rich foods have been linked to reduced risks of stroke and alzheimers disease.

Are you motivated to get some sunflower seeds into your life? The most common way to eat them is as a snack, and roasted sunflower seeds pack easily to accompany you on your busy life. Think of them whenever you might use nuts, whether in a muffin, cookie, bread or salad. Add them to your granola or hot cereal, or use them as a crunchy coating or casserole topping.

Try these tasty cookies, for a little bit of sunflower goodness.

Sunflower Seed Nutrition Info:

¼ cup/%DV

Vitamin E 61%,B1 34%Manganese 34%, Copper 31% ,Tryptophan 31%, magnesium 28%, selenium 26%, B6 23%, phosphorus 23.1%,  folate 19%, calories 11%

Sunny Cookie

Sunflower-Maple Cookies

Makes 12

Use toasted sunflower seeds for these, and check them for freshness before buying. The great taste of a fresh sunflower seeds is easily ruined by sitting in a bin for too long.

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. In a medium bowl, stir the coconut oil, maple, and vanilla, then stir into the dry ingredients. Scoop 2 tablespoon sized portions of dough and form into 3/4 inch thick cookies. Place on an ungreased baking sheet. They won’t spread much.

Bake for 12 minutes, switching the position of the pan halfway. Cool on racks. Keeps for a week, refrigerated.





The Only Winter Tomato

3 03 2012

Sweet Grape Tomatoes

It’s the dead end of Winter, here in Minnesota, and as much as we love the roots and greens, we crave a little taste of summer. I must admit, when I want a taste of true tomato, the only fresh tomato I even bother with these days is the grape tomato.

The grape tomato, a pear shaped or oblong version of the cherry tomato, is pretty much available in all the grocery stores these days, but it wasn’t always so. They really emerged on the market in the ‘90s, where their dependable taste made them a hit. The Santa Sweet is a trademarked variety, owned by a Philadelphia company that has made them as familiar as the old cherry tomato. I keep an eye out for the assorted packs of multicolored pear and grape tomatoes, with yellow, red, purple and orange little tomatoes. I know they are not local, but they actually taste like tomatoes.

The main difference between these little ovals and big tomatoes is that they are really sweet. In fact, the yellow ones can be so lacking in acid that once they are dead ripe they taste kind of flat, so don’t wait to use them up. I like growing the red and yellow pears because they grow quickly and profusely, even in less than optimum spots in the yard.

My winter habit is buying my pints of Grape tomatoes, setting them on the sill, and letting them keep ripening as I slice them onto sandwiches, throw them into salads, and the usual. If I don’t get to them fast enough, they often start to crinkle and shrink. This is actually a sign that it’s time to roast them off.

Sliced and Juicy

Slice the grapes in half, drizzle with olive oil, and roast at 400 for 35-40 minutes, uncovered. Give them a shake, and if they are really wet, roast another 10, but basically, just cook them til they shrink and concentrate into flavor bombs.

Roasty tomatoes

Now, with a sprinkling of sea salt, they are ready to keep on hand for sandwiches, pastas, pizzas, wherever a pop of tomato flavor will add some summer joy to life.

Today I toasted up some multi-grain ciabatta, smeared it with dijon, and piled on sliced avocado, the roasted tomatoes, and chopped spinach. A sprinkling of good salt and pepper on the tomatoes and avocadoes was all I needed. It tasted like summer.

The taste of the Sun

aaah. Summer. I can dream.





The Truth About Weight Gain, and The Nutty Salad

9 01 2012

Start with Lettuce

So, here we are in the January shape-up season, the time of year when a few million people resolve to eat better and possibly lose some weight. Should you go high-protein, low carb, whole grain, fat free, vegan, paleo?

Well, a new study published in the Journal of American Medicine says that what really matters is the calories that you consume. The researchers overfed a group of 45 volunteers in a controlled environment, making sure they all got the same excess of calories.  But, to test a theory, Dr Bray and his researchers tried three diets, low, medium and high protein, with the same excess of calories, and the people all gained weight. The unexpected thing was that  low-protein eaters actually gained less. For some reason, people eating only 5% protein gained less weight. The researchers speculated that there was a metabolic difference for the low protein over-eaters.

Go figure. Of course, the high-protein diets will always be popular, and there will always be a new weight loss book coming down the pike. It’s interesting that we just have to keep learning about calories in, calories out, over and over. All that flesh food that people build their meals around is, at least according to this study, turning to fat just as fast as french fries and white bread-possibly faster.

So, if you want to lose weight, cut calories, and don’t go crazy for protein. One great way is to keep loading on those high-volume, low calorie vegetables. Last week I talked vegetable soup, this week, let’s look at salads. Are you bored with yours? I refuse to eat boring salads, just because they are good for me.

In fact, if you make boring salads, you are just making sure that you will not love, crave, or continue eating them, and that runs counter to everything we should be doing in a healthy kitchen. So I have a little trick to share.

Try adding the nutrition of nuts to your dressing, then sprinkling some on your salad. It adds calories, yes, but they are very nutrient-dense calories, and will make you feel satisfied as you eat your piles of low-cal veggies. Since you are a vegetarian, you can handle a little high fat food in the form of nuts, which you need to get healthy EFA’s, the fats that your brain and heart need to function. This dressing is cut with a little veggie stock, and uses less oil than the conventional vinaigrette, but gets body from the nuts.

I know it runs counter to all the anti-fat diets out there, but nuts are actually associated with weight loss, because they are so satisfying. So pile up the plants, and douse them with this tasty, nutritious dressing, and dig in.

You’ll feel full and enjoy it. I promise.

Super Nutty Dressing for Salads

1/2 cup pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts, pine nuts or pistachios, toasted-save half for the salad
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup fresh basil, parsley, cilantro or other mild leafy herb

1/2 cup vinegar, lemon juice or combination of the two

1/4 cup vegetable stock

pinch of sugar or agave
salt and pepper
1/2 cup nut oil, olive oil or a combination with flax oil added

1. In a processor, grind the nuts, saving half for topping. Add the garlic and parsley or herb and grind to a smooth paste. Scrape the sides of the processor bowl and add vinegar or lemon, stock, sweetener and salt and pepper. Process until well mixed, then with the machine running, whip in the oil.

2. Then, build a big, interesting salad with lettuces, shredded kale and cabbage, tomatoes, slivered onions and zucchini, sprouts, and all the raw veggies you enjoy. Add some cooked veggies too, for wintertime, like blanched green beans, halved and steamed brussels sprouts, steamed broccoli, whatever sounds good. Top with nuts, drizzle with your nutty dressing, and enjoy.

Adding salad to all your meals will help you fill up and feel satisfied. Having a meal that is all salad, well, that is just more of a good thing!





The Latest Numbers on Meatless Eating-Yes, It Is Growing

12 12 2011

Chopped Salad with Thousand Island, Big Vegan Style

For much of my life, I liked believing that there were lots of vegetarians out there. I wanted to believe that our numbers were swelling exponentially, every day. Even when I was the only vegetarian I knew, I held out hope that if I got in a car and drove far enough, I would get to some veggie nirvana. Back then, we didn’t really have any numbers, and anyone you talked to was stuck with their own experiences. If you worked in a Coop or a vegetarian restaurant, you might think half the world were vegetarians. If you lived in a small town in the Midwest, you might not know a single one.

Well, thanks to the Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) we have numbers. If you have been feeling like vegans are getting some attention lately, well, their numbers have doubled since 2009. Extrapolating from the results, 7.5 million people call themselves vegans. There are 15 million people who call themselves vegetarians, and still eat dairy and eggs .

In the latest poll, done by Harris Interactive for VRG over the phone, between March 30 and April 3 2011, it becomes clear that even as the numbers for dedicated vegetarians and vegans grow slowly, the numbers for people who eat vegetarian often are growing much more quickly.

These numbers show a real mainstreaming of the idea that you can enjoy meatless meals, even if you love meat. Basically, 17% of Americans don’t eat meat, fish poultry at many meals but less than half, 16% more than half. That adds up to about a third of the American population opting for meatless some of the time.

The number that said that they eat meat at every meal was 48%, which is still a little scary, since that is a lot of animal foods for anyone to consume. I didn’t think anybody was still eating it at every single meal, which shows how much I know.

Other interesting results confirm a few things that you may have suspected. There are more vegetarians out West (think California) than down South (think Texas,) and more women than men are vegetarians, but not by much. A hopeful number is that equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats are veg-heads, possibly the only thing the two parties can share, these days.

So, after all these years in the vegetarian movement, it’s nice to hear that our numbers are growing. Every little bit helps, and we have to give credit to everyone who has done her part to build awareness and make veg look appealing and do-able. From the animal rights activists, to the chefs and authors, to the hot celebrities who endorse a plant-based diet as they look great on the red carpet, everybody has a role to play. Powerful books and films have been getting the word out, and people like Bill Clinton have put a face on the miraculous cure of a good diet. Campaigns like Meatless Mondays have helped put the veggie option in front of millions of people, and many of them are choosing to go that way, at least some of the time.

So, be of good cheer, in this season of giving, since we give the world a present every time we don’t eat meat. Our message is getting out, my friends, and that is something to celebrate.





The Secret Ingredient for Satisfying Vegan Food Is….

4 12 2011

jar of magic

Today I wanted to touch on a secret weapon in the vegan and veg cooking arsenal. And that is smoke. In my book and classes, I often talk about using umami to give meatless foods a sensation of meatiness. Umami is abundant in animal proteins, but it can also be found in mushrooms, fermented soy, eggplant, ripe tomatoes, wine, and a host of plant based foods. Well, one of the most intriguing ways to get umami is through the flavor of smoke. It’s not really a food, but the taste and smell of woodsmoke send signals to your brain that it is enjoying something meaty and satisfying.

So, now that it’s wintertime, and your grill is probably either stored away or covered in snow, how do we get smoke into our plant’ based delights?

Easy, with a few smoky ingredients, you can add instant smoky complexity. In fact, you may want to make a few of these simple tastings just to see what smoke does to food. I started with my smoky ingredients. For smoke with no chile heat, I have some fabulous smoked salt from Spain. There are smoky salts from all over the world, and all are unique, so taste what you buy. Most are artisanal salts, which start with a distinctive, regional salt, then smoke it over a flavorful wood, so you may find applewood, mesquite, cherry, or whatever the creatives had to work with. For pure and intense smoke, I have liquid smoke, which is super concentrated, so just use a drop if you give that a try.

Another tasty source of smoke is the chipotle pepper, available in cans in adobe sauce, dried whole chiles, or ground powder. Of course, they add chile heat as well as smoke. You can also get smoked paprika from Spain. If you are not so into hot stuff, the paprika may be for you, as it is milder and sweeter.

For my tasting, I slowly caramelized some onions in coconut spread and served them on a whole wheat roll with a sprinkle of smoked salt. The simple sweet earthiness of the onions, one of my favorite flavors anyway, was instantly enlivened by the smoke and salt. As soon as I took the picture, I ate it all.

simple goes spectacular

I also boiled some potatoes and beets, and cut up cauliflower and baby carrots, and served them with a simple vegan may with chipotle powder stirred in. Addictive. This is an old trick of mine, adding chipotle to creamy dressings is always a hit, whether its a mayo, a sour cream style dip, or a creamy white sauce.

Chipotle Dip to the Rescue

I boiled some lacinato kale until just tender, then stirred some canned chipotle and adobo with olive oil and tossed it with the kale. It was amazing.I knew there was a reason they always cooked kale with a hunk of smoky pork-the smokiness brings out the sweetness of the greens, and adds depth.

Smoky Spicy Kale

For more sweet and smoke, I cubed a sweet potato and roasted it with whole garlic cloves and olive oil, covered, for about half an hour, then served it sprinkled with smoked salt. This could be a great bruschetta topping, tossed with pasta, or just served like this. I loved it.

Sweet Potatoes and Smoked Salt

Any simple salad will come alive with smoked salt, just sprinkle the crunchy grains on just before serving. Any pot of beans will seem heartier with a few chipotles-or you can keep going until it’s chili.

So give smoke a try, and see if it gives you a more satisfying dish. I think you will love it, and its so EASY.








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