The Spy Teaches with a Side of Vegit Prop

31 05 2009

First of all, I am generally as up front honest as can be.

But the other day, I had a wonderful, positive time tricking people into learning how to eat more healthfully. It was not subterfuge, really. The cooking class was listed as Main Course Salads, and I composed the menu description and the recipes for maximum curb appeal. Green Tea Noodles in Edamame-Cilantro Pesto on a Bed of Watercress, Topped with Wasabi-Ginger Panko Crusted Tuna, Roasted Beets and Grapes with Pistachio Crusted Goat Cheese (Recipe below), things like that.

It didn’t say Crown Roast of Veal or anything.

20 people came and had an exceptionally good time-and I have taught a lot of classes. Some hit, some miss, most do well enough. These folks were genuinely happy with me and my food. In fact, I got one of the best compliments I have ever gotten. The words themselves were too over the top to repeat (with any modesty) but the source, an older fellow who never cooks, was dragged along by his wife when someone else canceled, and whose son is a chef, was the type who usually sits scowling through the entire proceeding. Instead, he was engaged, loved the food, and came up to bestow a big compliment.

The subterfuge on my part, hidden by showing these people a good time, inspiring them to cook at home, and feeding them well, was that I taught them to use very little of the animal foods that they hold so dear. Yes, again, I have slipped low-meat, high vegetable fare into people’s lives without their really signing up for it.

Along the way, they got lessons in handling greens, emulsifying dressings, and a side order of veg propaganda. Isn’t this what teaching is all about, or should I hold back on extolling antioxidant rich plants? Isn’t teaching people how to make 4 ounces of chicken into a crispy garnish for a meal for four a service to humanity?

In these times we live in, sometimes taking the message to the other side, cloaked in deliciousness, is the kindest thing I can do for them. Isn’t it!

Roasted Beets and Grapes on Arugala with Pistachio Chevre

Serves  4

8              small  baby beets

2               cups  red grapes — stems removed

8             ounces  chevre cheese — chilled

1/2           cup  panko

1/2           cup  pistachio nuts — chopped

1/2      teaspoon  fresh thyme — minced

1              large  egg

1/4         large  granny Smith apple — finely chopped

1         tablespoon  fresh ginger — julienned

1                cup  apple juice

1         tablespoon  fresh lemon juice

2        tablespoons  extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper

olive  oil for frying

5             ounces  arugula — washed and dried

1. Preheat oven to 300. Toss grapes in a small baking pan with a drizzle of olive oil, roast for 20 minutes, cool. Peel beets and put in another baking pan with oil, cover with foil and roast with grapes, then raise the heat to 400 for 20 minutes, more, until beets are tender. Cool.

2. In a small saucepan, bring the granny smith dice, ginger and apple juice to a simmer, and cook until reduced to a syrup. Cool. when cool, whisk in lemon and olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. If too sour, add a pinch of sugar or maple.

3. Mix panko, pistachios and thyme in a plate. Cut each log of cheese in 6 slices, then dip in egg, then pistachios. Chill completely.

4. To serve, spread arugala on a platter or individual salad plates. Arrange beets around the edges and pile grapes in the center. Heat oil in a large skillet until very hot, and quickly fry the chevre disks over medium high heat. Drizzle the dressing over the salads and place the hot cheese on top, serve immediately.


Veg Proteins, No Big Deal

26 05 2009
Did you know lettuce has protein?

Did you know lettuce has protein?

It’s the classic scenario. A vegetarian reveals her diet-style to friends and family, and depending on their experience with it, they have various responses. There may be panic, there may be acceptance, but there is always one question that comes up.

How will you get your protein?

In a culture where meal planning starts with the selection of a piece of meat, it can be hard for folks to wrap their minds around the myths they hold about their prized nutrient.  I know, as the spy in the house of meat, that I plan meals that end up anchored on a flesh food, even if the whole meal is really built around the perfect spring asparagus or a great batch or heirloom tomatoes. In fact, there is a little bit of protein in just about every real food that you eat. From lettuce and spinach to whole grain bread or rice, proteins litter the plate, clustering around that all important “protein” centerpiece.

Just a few examples: a cup of cooked spinach has 41 calories and 5 grams of protein. A head of romaine lettuce contains 8 grams of protein and 106 calories. A cup of canned tomatoes has 2 grams of protein and 41 calories. Those are just the veggies.

More substantial foods, like grains and beans, pack even more. A cup of cooked long-grain brown rice has 5 grams protein and 216 calories. A slice of whole wheat bread has 4 grams protein and 69 calories. Quinoa, the current darling of the whole grain world, has an amazing 8 grams per cup of cooked grain, for 222 calories. Garbanzo beans, cooked, come in with 12 grams protein per cup and 286 calories.

A quick lunch of 2 ounces of corn chips and a cup of refried beans totals at 17 grams of protein.

The point here is to show how easily our protein needs are met without much effort- in fact, a meat eater who also eats healthy foods like vegetables, grains and beans is probably eating way too much protein.

An average sized woman needs from 27-48 grams of protein per day, and the high end is if she is pregnant or an endurance athlete. An average man needs about 35-60, and again, the high end is for serious athletes, not weekend warriors and desk jockeys.

Don’t fall for that old saw about complete and incomplete proteins, either. While there are essential amino acids that the body needs, they don’t have to all come from one food. That was a theory that was put forward by Frances Moore Lappe in her book, Diet for a Small Planet, back in the 70’s, in part to convince people that vegetarian diets could work if foods were combined properly. It was a nice idea, but it has since been shown that the human body is perfectly able to put the amino acids it gets where they need to go. I once had a vegan dinner with Ms Lappe, and later interviewed her at length. She has done her best in the intervening years to correct the record on protein combining- but the idea resonated and echoes to this day.

The protein myth is a powerful one, bolstered by the periodic resurgences of high-protein weight loss regimes like Atkins. Americans love their meat, and consume huge amounts of the worlds resources in pursuit of protein.

They are missing the point, the protein is all around you.

It’s just not in white bread, gummy bears or pop. Eat real food and the protein takes care of itself.

A Vegan Pro Athlete Speaks Out

19 05 2009
hot chilis, loaded with Vitamin C for healing

hot chilis, loaded with Vitamin C for healing

You would think he had announced that he were on steroids.

Oh wait, that is normal now.

Granted, the unlucky Twins relief pitcher Pat Neshek has been sidelined with a ligament replacement surgery. But he is a pitcher for the Minnesota Twins, and he recently came out to the world as a vegan. That is right-no steaks, no burgers, not even a big glass of raw eggs after the morning run.

In the Star Tribune interview, he described how the switch had made him a better athlete. Despite the prevailing omnivorous athletic diet, his own body has been telling him that the new-diet-style is working.

Thanks to his vegan wife, he read “The China Study” and realized that the road to optimum health was paved with plant foods. Since 2007, Neshek has been meat, egg, and dairy free., and feels great. His doctors recently did full work-ups, and passed with flying colors.

As you can imagine, he faces nearly constant ribbing and harassment about not eating meat with the team. Every vegan does, but it really takes conviction to face his team-mates. He even describes his manager sticking hotdogs in his face. Of course, his presence as a vegan who can perform athletically flies in the face of their deeply held beliefs.

Every vegan or vegetarian who lives healthfully ends up carrying the banner-because they represent all vegetarians in the minds of the people they meet. I took a look at the comments made online about the article, and it was clear vegetarians and vegans have plenty of opposition.

But each person who raves on about how stupid a vegetarian diet is has now seen someone tremendously athletic, playing on a pro baseball team, who eats only plants. It may take a while to sink in, or it may never, but there it is.

Hello world!

8 05 2009
Tofu Skin Rolls in a Salad

Tofu Skin Rolls in a Salad

How do they get it so beef-like?

How do they get it so beef-like?

Well, hello blogosphere.

This is my first post, so if you have not read my About page, please do.

One of the best mock meats I have ever tried

One of the best mock meats I have ever tried

I am on a journey.

As part of my quest to make vegetarian food as delicious as possible to the omnivores, I had recently become very interested in making mock “meats.” Like any good whole-food advocate, I find the test tube fake burgers and spun-soy sausages more than a little suspect. Then looking at our many plant based proteins, beans, nuts, seeds and even high protein grains are really quite high-pro enough for a healthy life.

But still, folks like the textures and flavors of meat subs, and I wondered how well I could make a few clean ingredients into something resembling meat. It has been interesting.

I am working on various concoctions made from vital wheat gluten, bean flours, tofu and tempeh. And on the way to the ultmate faux, I made a stop at Evergreen Restaurant, on Eat Street in Minneapolis.

Evergreen is a mecca for vegans, and because it is new the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) in the bo-ho neighborhood of Whittier, it has found a niche catering to local veg-heads. The great thing about it, is that it is a conventional Chinese restaurant first, and a vegetarian place, second. the menu is just like any Chinese menu, with the usual authentic Chinese dishes mixed in with the Americanized ones. Where is differs is that most dishes can be ordered with a mock meat-and they make a chicken, a beef, and seafood versions.

Instead of the same tired mock duck from a can, Evergreen excels in making convincing, chewy textured mocks that you just can’t get anywhere else.

I’m working now on trying to come up with some faux that rival theirs. Wish me luck!