World Vegetarian Day Is October 1st, Non-Vegetarians Can Win $1,000

25 09 2011


We are kind of between holidays right now, Labor Day is over, Halloween is coming up, but did you know, October 1 is World Vegetarian Day?

Sure, it’s time to tart contemplating your pumpkin carving design, and deciding on your Halloween treats. But don’t miss out on another important date coming up- October first is World Vegetarian Day. It’s the kick-off of vegetarian awareness month, and according to the organizers at the North American Vegetarian Society, it’s the day that we should make the effort to bring more non-vegetarians into the fold.

This “open enrollment” day is announced on their website, where you can get cards and materials for convincing friends and family to pledge to go veg for the month. If they are willing, they can sign up to win a $1,000 prize at the end of the month, or $500 for a weeklong commitment, or $250 for making it a whole day with no meat, fowl or fish. If you pledge to go veg, your name will be entered into the drawing, and some lucky person will get not just a healthier body, but a nice chunk of change.

Of course, we all have to decide whether to try to convert the people around us. The hard sell can really turn people off, and guilt or preachiness are equally likely to backfire. That must be the idea behind the cards you can get from the website- you can just hand them over, and see if it clicks. We all know people who are omnivorous who could go meatless for a month without a second thought, but they have no desire to give up meat permanently. We also all have people in our lives who don’t want to hear about it, try it or even think about it. Just knowing that there are vegetarians out there seems to irritate them. Approach this person at your own risk.

Maybe if you open with the $1,000 prize, you will have a better outcome.

Living well is the best advertisement for the plant-based lifestyle, but sometimes a little nudge helps carry someone just a little closer to change.


A Great Vegetarian Dish from the New Southern Latino Table

19 09 2011

A Beautiful New Book

It’s a great big world out there, and as people move around in it, they bring their cultures and cooking with them. Cuisines evolve, living and breathing along with us. New traditions are born. When a talented chef grows up moving between cultures, absorbing and reinterpreting cuisine as she goes, you can bet there will be some tasty results. When that chef is Sandra Gutierrez, the tasty results are the creative recipes, gorgeous photographs, and enticing prose in her new book the New Southern Latino Table (UNC Press).

Sandra Gutierrez has taken a path that started in the US, went to her parents’ homeland of Guatemala, looped up to Canada, and ended up in North Carolina. Along the way, she learned to cook her native dishes at the side of her Aunt, traveled a lot, and learned more about Latin cooking, even as she absorbed the multicultural foods all around her. She also noticed that the South was home to a whole collection of Latinos, from all the countries south of the border, and they were creating a new kind of cuisine in their adopted homeland. From this realization came the New Southern Latino Table. This cuisine is bigger than Sandra’s home cooking, encompassing the evolving food styles of all her Latino brethren. It’s a beautiful book, and Sandra clearly embraces both the food of her origins and of her current home, and composes from their palette thoughtfully and affectionately.

When you take a forkful of any given dish from this book, you might be tasting Guatemala, Mexico, and Mississippi Delta in one bite. Or Peru via New Orleans, or Brazil with a soupcon of Creole. It’s exciting stuff, delicious at face value, but fun to analyze a little bit, to see which influences she’s whisked together this time. That’s why I wanted to share her recipe for Causa Vegetariana, and the thinking that went into its creation.

I asked Sandra to tell me more about the origins of the causa, a Peruvian dish.

“Potatoes are native to Peru and they have dozens and dozens of varieties and colors of potatoes there. You find causas all over Peru and it’s one of their most famous dishes, along with ceviche. There is a Southern element in my causa because I took the elements of a classic Southern potato salad and de-constructed it; then I built it in the shape of a causa.

All causas have these things  in common: first the potato part is always enhanced with lime and chile ( traditionally with the Peruvian aji Amarillo). Second is that they are always stuffed with a mayonnaise based salad which can be made with anything you want: other veggies only, seafood, or meats. But the one I made with egg salad is new and I pulled from southern elements in traditional potato salad. Causas therefore can be vegetarian but many times are not.” Said Gutierrez.

See what I mean, about the thought process that went into building this dish? It’s not the kind of thing most cooks can pull off with such skill and familiarity. That comes from years of crossing and mingling cultures and cuisines, and a rare ability to work both analytically and intuitively. The book is full of recipes like Chile Cheese Biscuits with Avocado Butter, Coconut, Chayote and Corn Bake, and Chile Chocolate Brownies, all of which make mouth-watering use of New Southern combinations.

Since this vegetarian version is a brand new creation, I asked Sandra how vegetarians would fare south of the border, in places like Peru and Guatemala.

“There are many vegetarian dishes in Peruvian cuisine but mostly, each Latin cuisine features a huge array of plant-based dishes. Vegetable Escabeches( pickles), rice and bean based dishes such as Nicaraguan Gallo Pinto, fruit smoothies (sometimes called aguas or batidos), and a wide selection of salads are traditional to Latin American cuisine in general.”

Maybe I need to make a trip to North Carolina, to get a taste of this Nuevo cuisine. Pimento cheese and collards never sounded so appealing!

The Causa, Ready to Slice!

Causa Vegetariana

(Layered Potato and Egg Salad) by Sandra Gutierrez

This is Sandra’s version of the causa. Like a potato-based egg salad sandwich, this causa will definitely wake people up at your next potluck, with its zingy lime-chile potatoes and a generous topping of olives. Vegans can use crumbled tofu instead of eggs for the filling, and with vegan mayonnaise, you can enjoy this creative new party dish!

Serves 12

For the Potato Layers:

4 pounds yellow potatoes, boiled, peeled and mashed

½ cup minced white onion

1/3 cup key lime juice (can use standard Persian lime juice)

1 teaspoon aji Amarillo paste (can use hot sauce)

2 teaspoons salt (to taste)

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

For the Egg Layer:

9 hard boiled eggs, peeled and finely chopped

½ cup finely chopped pimiento-stuffed green olives

2 tablespoons minced capers

1 teaspoon yellow mustard

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 pinch salt

For the Garnish:

1 cup sliced pimiento-stuffed green olives

¼ cup finely chopped chives

Spray or oil a 9x13x2 inch casserole. In a large bowl, combine the potatoes and onion and stir. In a medium bowl, combine the lime, aji or hot sauce, salt and pepper and whisk, then whisk in the olive oil. Pour over the mashed potato mixture and stir to mix well. Divide the mixture in half and press half in the pan, reserving the rest.

In a medium bowl, mix the eggs, chopped olives and capers, mustard, pepper and salt. Spread over the potato layer. Cover the eggs with the remaining potatoes and gently spread to an even layer. Garnish with sliced olives and chives, then cover and chill for at least an hour and up to 14 hours.

Have a Bite

If you like the sound of this recipe, check out the other blogs that are participating in the potluck One is not vegetarian, but you can probably mock it up)

Spiced Pepitas, prepared by Meghan Prichard of nestMeg
Chile-Chocolate Brownies, prepared by Dean McCord of VarmintBites.

If you missed out on our first dinner party, here’s what we ate:

Peach Salsa, prepared by Tara Mataraza Desmond of Crumbs on My Keyboard
Chicken Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce, prepared by Jill Warren Lucas of Eating My Words
Pecan Rum Cake with Figs, prepared by Amy Lewis of The Practical Cook


The Environmental Impact of Your Food May Surprise You

11 09 2011

Just One Planet

If you still had questions about the impact of the consumption of meat, you got more answers in the last couple of months.

In August, Al Gore finally weighed in. Gore’s emphasis on transportation in his lectures and film, An Inconvenient Truth, had left many of us wondering why he didn’t mention the role of global meat production in climate change. Since the film came out in 2006, Gore has kept silent as Peta staged protests at his events, and various organizations asked him to speak publicly on the impact of meat on the environment. Finally, in an interview he acknowledged the role of ag. “Industrial  Agriculture is part of the problem,” he said, and went on to discuss the clearing of forests and reliance on synthetic fertilizer as well. Better late than never.

It was about time, since The Environmental Working Group came out with a new report, called the Meat Eaters Guide to Climate Change, which compares the carbon footprint of all the protein-containing  foods.

The report didn’t pull any punches, and ovo-lacto vegetarians will be sad to hear that cheese is number 3 in environmental impact, just behind lamb and beef. Next in line were pork, salmon, turkey, chicken, tuna, eggs, and then plant foods, although yogurt and milk were down in the lower impact group with things like beans and nuts.

The metrics they used were pretty sophisticated, taking into account all the environmental effects and costs. It’s a fascinating report, and they really added in everything, start to finish, from the gas used to grow and transport animal feed to the emissions that come from the animals’ waste, to the refrigeration at the sales point. It’s interesting to know, just to nail down numbers for all these things. It all adds up.

The group also makes the important distinction between local and grass fed animal products and industrial ones. They urge that anyone who wants to eat meat and cheese will do far better by choosing those that eat only grass, not trucked in high energy grain, and that are not trucked or flown long distances to get to you.

Still, what it all comes down to, is eat plants, save the planet. One person eating one less burger a week is like taking your car off the road for 320 miles, on up to if the whole US population ate no meat or cheese just one day a week would be like not driving 91 billion miles.

So, if you are a meat eater, try meatless as much as you can. Eat small amounts of local, grassfed, and stretch it with plants. If you are ovo lacto, go local, and go vegan some nights, to reduce your impact even more.

We only get one planet, and it only seems polite to save a little for the next guy.

In Defense of the Humble Spud

5 09 2011

Purple, Yellow, Baking and Red Potatoes

Potatoes have been a popular food for centuries, one of those elemental ingredients that can be cheap food for the masses one day, then whipped or turned into an haute gourmet masterpiece the next. These culinary chameleons originally flourished only in Peru, where hundred of varieties are still grown, each enjoying a different climate at a different elevation of the mountainous region.

And like so many good things, Columbus took the potato around the world, and once it made it past suspicions and skepticism, it became ubiquitous. Now the mass produced french fry and potato chip have risen to global dominion.

The potato had a place in every kichen. Then the anti-carb movement came along and insisted that the carbs in the poor tater were fattening us up. Just this year, a widely reported Harvard study found that the one factor that indicated a higher body weight was the number of servings of potatoes that a person ate. Some saw that as a sign that potatoes are driving the obesity crisis- but to my mind, it might well be that eating French fries, potato chips or rich mashed potato dishes is not just a pretty high-calorie, high fat way to eat potatoes, but also usually a sign that you are eating hamburgers, steak, or the other foods that typically go with them. If you actually delved into the info behind that study, though, the weight gain was highest in people eating fries and chips, not boiled potatoes, but the headlines didn’t get that far.

But the tide may be turning- a new study done at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania fed overweight, hypertensive volunteers purple potatoes. These brilliantly colored tubers are rich in colorful polyphenol antioxidants, which protect the body from free radical damage. All the volunteers microwaved the potatoes, and ate about 218 calories worth per day. All had reductions in their blood pressure, and none gained weight.

Peruvian Purple Potatoes

Of course, this was just a small study with 18 subjects, but it does make a point. According to the author of the study, Joe Vinson, the process of deep frying to make fries and chips seems to destroy most of the healthy substances, leaving mainly starch, fat and some minerals. That makes sense, since potatoes are a good source of vitamin C, which is destroyed by high heat. They are also a good source of potassium, needed for heart health, and they have lots of fiber, especially if served skin on.

Simply Roasted Purple Potatoes

To celebrate this new finding, I roasted some beautiful purple potatoes. I just cut them in even inch wide chunks, drizzled them with olive oil, sprinkled on some coarse salt and cracked pepper, and tossed it all in a deep roasting pan. Into a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes, then a shake and stir and 20 minutes more. To honor the Peruvian origins of these potatoes, I served mine with a lime-avocado salsa, but you can also adorn yours with fresh herbs and garlic.


Potatoes are back baby, and purple is the way to go!