Magic Flax, The Vegan Egg

29 08 2011

Pretty flowers, Powerful Seeds

When conventional bakers contemplate baking vegan, the ingredient they find hardest to do without is the eggs. You can use other fats instead of butter, and there are vegan sugars that will do most of the tricks that white sugar does. But eggs, well, you don’t see vegan angelfood cake for a reason.

I’ve baked my share of vegan treats, and have found that one of the most natural and healthy ways to bake without eggs is flax seed. In the 20 plus years that I have been putting eggless treats into ovens, there have not been any technological innovations to replace the venerable flax seed. Powdered egg replacers are ok for some things, but flax is so whole and natural, why not stick with it?

To work your egg replacing magic, whole flax seeds just need to be ground to a fine powder and mixed with water will form a gluey paste. The classic substitution is 1 tablespoon of ground flax mixed with 1/4 cup water to replace one egg. The flax must be ground, since the hulls of the tiny seeds are very sturdy, and can’t be broken by chewing or in your digestive tract. Grinding the seed causes the contents of the miracle seed to open up and create a gel-like substance when wet. What is so unique about it is the way it works in the oven. The thick gel actually traps and holds the gases created by leavening, allowing baked goods to rise and hold their crumb.

Golden Flax in the Grinder

The perfect symmetry of it all is that flax seeds also pack a concentrated dose of nutrition, including the Omega 3’s that vegans need to seek out in plant form. Thanks to Mother Nature, flax is a great source of ALA that is converted in the body to the EPA that everybody is seeking out in fish oil.

For your information, 2 Tbs flax has 146 % of the Omega 3’s, 30 % of Manganese, 20% of the fiber, 18% of the magnesium, 15% of the folate, 12% of the copper and 10% of the phosphorus you need per day.

That Omega 3 is important for vegans, who don’t get any fish, so that they can reap the health benefits of this essential fat. Omega 3 is used by the body to make anti-inflammatory prostglandins, which help balance out the inflammatory effects of many other fats. Studies show that the omegas help prevent bone breakdown. O 3’s produce flexible cell membranes, which are associated with better processing of glucose and insulin. O3’s also protect the colon from cancer.

In studies done with flax, its been shown to  prevent and control high blood pressure, lower risk of stroke, and lower cholesterol in a way that is comparable to statin drugs. One of the super components of flax are the lignans, which convert to estrogen like compounds in the gut that protect breast health, and have been shown to reduce hot flashes by 60%

So, to get started baking with flax, start with a simple cookie or muffin. A recipe that has just one or two eggs will be easiest to experiment with. Or try this link:


Heirloom Tomato and Basil Season is Here!

21 08 2011

Tomato+Basil+Olive Oil

To you, it’s August, which may mean that the school year is almost upon you, or that it’s time to get to those projects in the yard you had been putting off. For me, it’s heirloom tomato season. Here in Minnesota, we wait through several frigid months of winter to make it to this respite, and we are very serious about enjoying summer. One of the most fleeting joys of the year is the homegrown heirloom tomato season. Because our season is short, and the heirlooms take a long time to mature, we are lucky to have them from late July into September.

My personal tomatoes, all 8 plants, have produced 3 small regular tomatoes and a few handfuls of mini-pear tomatoes in red and gold. It has been a tough year for them, with high heat and periods of heavy rain. Of course, I always wonder why plants that originated in the tropics would be so unhappy with heat, but I shrug and just keep pulling those brown leaves that might have fungus.

And buying great tomatoes from my local farmers.

So when the juicy, lumpy motley crew that is the heirloom tomato harvest finally comes my way, it’s time to put down whatever I was working on and revel in deep, vine ripe flavor. Luckily, my basil is in sync with the tomatoes, so all I really have to do is put the two together and magic happens.

From the purple and black to the yellow and nearly white, heirlooms are a rainbow of goodness. They call them heirlooms because they were saved from seed by home growers, and bred for flavor rather than shippability over many years. The results are fragile, sometimes oddly shaped, and intensely unique tasting tomatoes.

Of course, tomatoes have the super healthy bonus of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that is thought to lower risks of prostate and breast cancers. Tomatoes are also good at lowering cholesterol and unhealthy fats, and are associated with lower risk of osteoporosis, too. It’s not hard to get the recommended 3 servings a week that are recommended for your health. This is food as medicine at its most delicious.

The Purple Blush

So tonight I will simply chop some tomatoes, I’ve got some gorgeous Purple Cherokees, ready to go. Chop some fresh basil, mince some garlic, and toss it all with olive oil and coarse salt and cracked pepper. You now have a versatile dish that can become a salad, with a spritz of balsamic and maybe a few croutons or bits of fresh mozz. You can pile it on some toasted French bread and call it bruschetta. You can boil some angelhair and toss it with the tomatoes and basil in the hot pan before serving.

You can even add a chopped chili and scoop it up with chips, and call it Italian salsa.

The main thing is to let the simple flavors of those precious tomatoes and basil shine through. They won’t be here long.

Is Your Spice Rack Better than a Medicine Cabinet?

14 08 2011

Open These Jars for Great Health

We have known for some time that spices like turmeric and cinnamon have health benefits. Turmeric is a potent antioxidant and anti inflammatory, and cinnamon is thought to help regulate blood sugar. But a recent study found that adding antioxidant-rich herbs and spices actually changed the way diners bodies reacted to a high fat meal, by reducing their insulin response by 20% and increasing the antioxidant levels in their blood by 13%. The really interesting thing was that it also reduced their triglyceride response by 30%.

The spiced meal contained 2 tablespoons of  rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, cloves, garlic powder and paprika. On another day, participants ate the same meal, without spices, and on both days the participants blood was drawn and tested every 30 minutes. The study was done at Penn State and published in the Journal of Nutrition.

Trigycerides are a kind of fatty acid found in the bloodstream, which come from food and provide energy. High triglycerides are a harbinger of high risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke, and in recent years have become a regular part of having your cholesterol tested. We have also become more aware of the role of inflammation in all of these conditions.

The gist of it is that your body will be better able to process the fat in your food if you have plenty of these antioxidant rich spices at the same time. Instead of flooding your bloodstream with triglycerides and spiking your insulin, your Korma with Raita and Dal will keep you on the even keel we all want.

So, curry lovers rejoice!

Try cooking with spices with an Indian recipe, like dal or rice, and try adding a little more spice than the recipe calls for, and see how you like it. Look for fresh turmeric roots in the produce department, and add them to stir fries and other veggie dishes. Of course, rosemary and oregano are on the list, too, so you can go Mediterranean and mince lots of fresh rosemary and oregano into olive oil for a bean salad or bruschetta.

Whenever we talk curry, we think India, but there are plenty of curries with turmeric, like the yellow Massaman curry of Thailand, Sri Lankan curries, even the curry of Jamaica. Basically, eat foods with plenty of color and spice, and you will probably reap the benefits.

Of course, the two tablespoons of spice per meal may be a bit much for many of us to accomplish on a regular basis. Many of these herbs and spices are available in pill form, too, so if you don’t eat enough spice to have an impact, you can always supplement.

Let your food be your medicine, and life can be tasty AND healthy. Now that is a good deal.

Mash Ki Dal/white Lentils Recipe

Is Eating Healthy Too Expensive?

8 08 2011

High in potassium, fiber, and cheap protein

A study made headlines this week, announcing that eating a diet that matched up with the new USDA guidelines costs consumers $380 a year more than eating whatever they usually eat. The study was done at the University of Washington and reported in the Journal of Health Affairs.The study looked at four nutrients that most Americans don’t get, analyzing the costs of getting enough potassium, fiber, calcium and vitamin D. Potassium was singled out as the nutrient that cost the most to get from food.

It’s no surprise that most Americans don’t get enough of certain nutrients, and that high-fat, nutrient poor foods are cheaper. The Standard American Diet is way too packed with saturated fat, salt, sugar, refined and processed foods, or so we hear all the time. But when a study like this is done, they never run the numbers to see how you could balance out the expense of buying fresh veggies and fruits by cutting back on meat. The guidelines recommend eating fish, meat and animal products as just a given, as if there were no alternatives.

My suggestion would be to at least cut back on animal foods and supplement the diet with cheap beans and grains. Then spend those dollars on nutritious veggies.

Take potassium. Adults need to eat 4.7 grams per day. A banana has half a gram. A cup of cooked swiss chard has 1 g, and spinach is not far behind. A cup of winter squash has 1 g. Half a cup of dried apricots has .9g. A large baked potato has .9g. Half an avocado has .8g. Lentils and kidney beans have.7 g.

All of these foods are also high in fiber, but adding them to your diet may not help with vitamin D. That is highest in foods like fish, eggs and dairy, although there is a little in mushrooms. Of course, vitamin D can be absorbed for free from sunlight. Depending on where you live, and hour or so in the sun with your face and arms exposed can be all you need.

Another point in the study was that the less people spent on food, the more saturated fat they ate. Rearranging priorities at the store can reverse that statistic.

I realize that poverty and lack of access to good food go hand in hand. I’ve lived in neighborhoods that didn’t have real grocery stores, and lower-income residents were often stuck walking to the corner market, which didn’t have anything fresh or un-processed. Kids ate pork rinds and Mountain Dew for lunch, and it was heartbreaking.

When I was broke and car-less, I worked volunteer hours at a Coop once a week, and used my discount to fill my backpack and two grocery bags with whole, real foods, then lugged them home on the bus. I was lucky to be able to do this, I know, and I didn’t have the added time commitment of a house full of kids.  I thought it was important to make sure my cheap beans were soaked and my whole wheat biscuits were baked. Sure, I may have put some effort in, but it was not as hard as my Great Grandmother would have worked to get a meal on the table.

Now that I am not so broke, I can indulge in some of the expensive healthy foods that drive up my food budget, like hemp seeds and imported oils, and I go organic, even when it costs much more. I can even afford supplements now, and non-dairy milks that are fortified with vitamin D and B12.But I know it is nothing compared to what people spend on free range meat, which is really the only kind that anyone should be buying.

So if you are willing to make it a priority, you can build a nutritious diet by cutting your costs at the meat counter, not the veggie case.

Bean Basics