The Vegetarian Party Trend, Coming in 2010

25 01 2010

It’s official, folks. Bon Appetit Magazine has announced their predictions for the food trends we will be racing to follow in the coming year. They even sent the photogenic Andrew Knowlton to CBS news to announce them. Yes, veg-heads, among the ten anointed trends was, drumroll please, Vegetarian Parties!

Whew, good thing it’s finally time. I guess that it is finally stylish to have some non-meat options on the appetizer spread, and high time. Of course, it’s kind of a mixed bag, with other trends embracing meatballs and New Austrian, but we will take what we can get.

So what on Earth will the Uber-hip NewYorkers that hang out at parties with Andrew Knowlton be serving? Well, on his TV spot he had a piece of polenta with tomato sauce over it, so I hope they put a little more effort into it than that. If you are going to be clinking martinis with the taste-setters, I’d think you could muster up some creativity.

For my part, I have always seen parties as an opportunity to put fun vegetarian food out for people. In my book, New Vegetarian, I lay out all the appetizers as recipes that a veg can take to a party with omnivores, and if there is nothing else good to eat, just hover by your own dish and call it dinner. For some reason it is more acceptable to the folks who insist that they need meat to nosh on apps without it. The same person who insists on a burger will accept wine and cheese, or beer and snacks, when it is eaten standing up.

According to Knowlton, what is fueling the new hipness of Veg cuisine is the interest in eating fresh, seasonal food. So, I’m guessing that come May, my recipe for Lemon Parmesan Asparagus Spears in Phyllo would be a good plate at a Manhattan soiree. And for right now, he would enjoy the Tibetan Potato Momos, which are fluffy steamed buns, stuffed with a homely potato and cheese mixture. And anytime of year, he could relish the Vegetarian Banh Mie, since he predicted that banh mie in general are a big trend this year.

It’s good to be part of a trend, for once. It’s always been cool, but the popularity of the meatless lifestyle sometimes shines just a little brighter. Trend is good, as long as it doesn’t become a fad, we are ok.

Try these pillowy, delicious momos, which I modeled after some I had at a now-defunct Tibetan restaurant in Minneapolis, where the chef was from the same hometown as the Dalai Lama.

Tibetan Potato Momos with Chili Dip (from New Vegetarian, Chronicle Books, 2009, $19.95)

Makes   20

3             cups        unbleached flour

1/2           cup          wheat germ

1              teaspoon                quick rise yeast

1 1/4        cups        milk or soymilk

2              tablespoons           sugar or agave

1/2           pound     yukon gold potatoes

2              tablespoons           butter or oil

2              cups        onion      chopped

4              ounces   mushroom              chopped

6              ounces   dry jack or other aged cheese             shredded

1/2           cup          cilantro

1/2           teaspoon                paprika

1              teaspoon                szechuan peppercorn          coarsely chopped

1/2           teaspoon                salt

parchment paper squares    2 inch

1. In a stand mixer or large bowl, combine the flour, germ, and yeast. In a small pot, heat the milk or soymilk and sugar to 100 degrees, no hotter or you will kill the yeast. Mix the warm milk into the flour mixture and knead until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for an hour.

2. In a medium pot, boil the potatoes whole, then drain and mash. You can slip the skins off if you prefer, or leave them skin-on. In a large pan, heat the butter or oil and saute the onions and mushrooms over medium heat until the pan is nearly dry, about 5 minutes. Let cool.

3. Mix together the cooled potatoes, sauteed onions, shredded cheese, cilantro, paprika, szechuan peppercorn and salt.

4. Form the dough into a cylinder and cut it into 20 equal disks. From each into a round, then pat and stretch around the edges to make it about 3 inches across, and thick in the middle. Scoop a rounded 2 tbs of filling into the center and pull up the edges. Place each on a parchment square and put on a steaming rack or plate, and cover loosely. Continue filling momos until they are all formed. Let the momos rise for 30 minutes to an hour.

5. Put water in the bottom of a large pan or steamer, and bring it to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and put the momos over the steam and put on the lid. Steam for 15 minutes, until the dough is firm.

6. Serve hot with chili sauce.


Go Terminator, Hasta La Vista Trans Fats

18 01 2010

Governor Blows Margarine Away

Thanks to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the new ban on trans-fats in the state of California went into effect on January 1, 2010.Of course, baked goods and deep fried foods have until 2011, as the purveyors of those foods complain that they just can’t do it yet.

Margarine and hydrogenated vegetable oils were an extra-cruel trick on vegetarians. We all ate the margarine, too, or even the french fries fried in healthy vegetable oil, unaware that the manipulated oil was doing far worse things to us than animal products.

Slowly but surely, the move to get trans-fats out of our food is progressing. It was in 2006 that the FDA started requiring manufacturers to list trans-fats on nutrition labels. It’s all aimed at the artificially hydrogenated fats that industry uses in industrial baked goods and deep frying, not the trace amounts of trans-fats found naturally in butter and meat.
Trans-fatty acids are almost a perfect example of the bizarre results that our modern food production system have wrought. Basically, natural vegetable oil is refined and hydrogenated to the point that it becomes toxic, all for the sake of making it solid, stable at high heat, and slow to spoil.  We humans are too clever by half when it comes to making new foods. Adding a hydrogen molecule to the oil may have looked like a good idea on paper, but when the concoction enters your body, it wreaks havoc. The human body is an amazing machine, but when you create something brand new to throw in there, it may just not know what to do with it. In the case of trans-fats, the cheap, sold fat went straight to artery walls, clogging up the system faster than any real food possibly could.

We know this, but industry wields great power. Trans-fats have no redeeming nutritional qualities, but they are still in our food. Coffee cakes that sit on a shelf for months, and fryers full of oil that can be used for hours on end are just too essential to day to day life to let go.

The first ban on trans-fats was done in New York City, so many of the issues have been raised and, hopefully, worked out. The total ban had the unintended effect of outlawing butter-and that gave the whole effort a bad name, as bakers rent their garments and fell on their Croissant cutters in protest. The race to find new fats to use in baking has been like the race to get to the moon-big food has worked overtime to try to find ways to get that unctuous quality into foods without the trans. It’s a little scary, really, since they are applying the exact same modus operandi to the situation. New hyper-refined conglomerations of super starches and cleverly concocted oil processes will somehow break through to save the day. We can only hope that they don’t come up with something that we will have to ban in 20 years.

As always, eating real food is the best course, and avoiding processed or deep-fried foods will never steer you wrong. Real fats spoil, so foods that can sit for months on the shelf are suspect, plain and simple.

Remember Olestra?

Better Know a Salad Green, Mache 101

10 01 2010

So it’s January and we are all trying to eat a little better. Or at least we all said we would. If you live just about anywhere in the US, you have been experiencing colder than usual temperatures, which seem to make it impossible to stop craving comfort food. I know, here in Minnesota we have been in the subzero darkness for weeks, in a landscape coated with dirty, rutted ice. Hard core joggers can still be spotted picking their way among the ankle twisting icescapes, I figure they are endorphin addicts who just can’t stop.

So where my sunlight-deprived mind is going with this is toward a food that will save me. When the world around you begins to feel like one large hibernation chamber, your natural response is to eat hibernation food. Cravings for comfort food are constant, whether to balm the sting of all the cold with mashed potatoes, or to bulk up against the bitter winds by building a parka-like layer of fat out of creamy casseroles, I can’t say.

We call them “hotdish” in Minnesota, by the way.

But while we know we are craving something, maybe it is actually a great salad. In fact, I will shamelessly advocate now for a California import. Sorry locavores, but we only have one local lettuce grower in winter and it gets old.

Mache, corn salad, lamb’s lettuce, field salad, doucette, or lamb’s tongue, whatever you call it, Mache is the green for me these days. The deep green, succulent leaves are said to resemble a lamb’s tongue, which must be very small. The green grows in little rosettes, formed from leaves that are either shaped like a little round spoon or a longer oval. The taste is sweet and nutty, without any bitterness. Buttery, for a green, and tender in texture.

Just what I need to comfort me in my arctic encampment.

I first had mache in Europe, so I will always associate it with a streetside cafe in Paris, and with the corner market in East Berlin where I bought it in plastic boxes and ate it by the handful. Mache is actually a common weed that probably originated in Eurasia, and still grows wild in North Africa, West Asia, and most of Europe, and has taken up residence on both coasts in the US. It was a foraged green, wildcrafted until Louis XIV’s gardener planted it and brought it to us all. Now you can get the seeds and grow your own, or buy the somewhat pricey greens that are grown in California.

So why mache, and not spinach or mesclun? Well, to start with, mache has 1/3 more iron than spinach, and offers high levels of B-9 and Omega-3. B-9 is folic acid, which we hear about for preventing birth defects, but it’s good for everybody-and thought to prevent depression and fatigue. The Omega-3′ are also good for the brain, keeping those neurons communicating, promoting heart health, and all that. And it’s got high levels of calcium, potassium, fiber and lots of other good stuff.

So while the weather outside is frightening, I can trek to my local grocer and buy some French weeds via California, and dine on some delicious greens that just might stave off the despair that deep winter can bring. Maybe I should invest in one of those hydroponic growing kits. I promise, I’ll get back to the Better Boy hydroponic lettuce, after this little treat.


When you buy a green as tasty as Mache, just dress it simply with really good oil and vinegar or lemon. Sometimes I don’t even put on the vinegar or lemon, just coat the leaves with nut oil and sprinkle it with fleur de sel. The mildness of the green makes it pretty wine-friendly, too.

4 ounces of mache

1 sliced apple, orange, or other fruit

a handful of toasted nuts

About 1 tablespoon of either walnut oil, extra virgin olive oil, or flax oil

About 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice

coarse salt, freshly cracked black pepper

Pile the salad in a large bowl and drizzle on the oil, and toss it, massaging it gently with your hands. Drizzle on the vinegar or lemon and toss again, to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and eat.

Mache Lettuce on Foodista

The Skinny Vegan Diet, Just in Time for 2010

4 01 2010
Have a salad, it's called "butter" lettuce!

They call it "butter lettuce" cause its buttery, right?

It’s the cycle of life, I suppose, we tend to put on weight in winter, and lose it easily in summer. Unfortunately, we also have the cycle of the holidays, which gives us all sorts of opportunities to eat rich food and skip exercising for most of the month of December. It’s January 4 today, and I think it’s the official end of the party.

Time to step on that scale and see what happened this year. I’ll wait.

I’m assuming that the groaning sounds I heard coming from the bathroom were your reaction to the numbers on that innocent little scale. Or if not, and you are exactly as big as when you entered the season, Bravo!

Either way, it may be a good time to cleanse a bit, eat a bit more for sustenance and less for pleasure. If you keep eating the way you were at the New Years party, things are not going to go well for your fave pair of jeans.

Now, I am not usually a fan of diets. Short term changes make short term changes. Long term shifts and new habits make for a new you. We are all the sum of our habits: Me plus calories minus exercise equals me. Period. Still, it can be a good thing to kick start your good habits with a clean and lean plan. The vegan plan.

This one is so simple, you really can remember it. Servings are half a cup, or with grains, a slice of bread.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, or PCRM, recommends the following:

Eat 8 servings of Whole Grains a day

Eat 3 servings of Legumes per day

Eat at least 4 servings of vegetables per day, at least one dark green

Eat 3 servings of fruit per day.

Eat as low in fat as you can, no oil added, and allow yourself one 100 calorie sweet if you must.

That adds up to about 1500 calories, a lot of volume to fill you up, and plenty of protein. Add exercise to this and you should see results. It’s not meant to be forever, so once you drop a few pounds and feel better, add a few of the higher fat healthy foods back, like nuts and avocadoes.

I’m way into eating great food, but even I need a spartan food day now and then-just to stop the overstimulation and remember what plain food tastes like. Big salads, piles of veggies and whole grains and beans are soul food. Eat like a gatherer and feel better.

I hope your jeans like you better in February!