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 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.

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


How To Be Conscious, Gluten-Free, and Thrive

30 04 2011

Scrambled Tofu, Corn and Collards

I’ve always had a soft spot for whole foods cooking. Not the packaged, half white, trying to be conventional food kind of whole foods, but the old school way. The kind of cooking that involves a pot of whole grains and a pile of chopped veggies, and maybe some tofu, or beans that you actually soaked and cooked yourself.

I recently connected with a kindred spirit, Leslie Cerier, the author of Gluten-Free Recipes for the Conscious Cook, A Seasonal Vegetarian Cookbook (New Harbinger Publications, $17.95.) Cerier has the crazy idea that basing a gluten free diet on whole grains can be really diverse and good for you, and good for the planet.

Says Cerier: “Eat as much local, seasonal and organic food as possible, and cook for health, vitality and pleasure.”

Cerier has packed the book with plenty of gluten free recipes, as well as recipe templates that allow you to improvise with what’s in season. Both celebrate whole grains that don’t contain gluten. “Four of the gluten free grains, quinoa, teff, amaranth and oats are complete proteins and very quick-cooking. They make a great meal, and you can mix and match, and try different methods of cooking them, for infinite variety.”

To show you how, she has cooking charts and measures for cooking grains, and several recipe templates, and suggestions for varying and subsituting. “If you take a creative approach to what’s in season you can have great variety. If you are cooking like an artist, and your plate is really colorful, you have great nutrition on the plate. A meal of brown rice, tofu, and cauliflower is not as exciting as a plate of black rice with red lentil curry, which is full of antioxidants.”

Cerier prefers to teach people in her classes and books, to make foods their own. “It’s really fun when people who take my classes come back and say they used my recipe as a jumping off point. Then I know I have done my job.”

Don’t expect recipes for breads just like the wheat flour ones you grew up with. “Alot of gluten free books use xanthan gum and potato starch and make refined products that are gluten free. These are foods that I eat for energy and vitality. They are nutrient dense.”

Using all real food, Cerier gives you tasty recipes for breakfasts, mains, sides, sauces and dressings, and desserts. If you have ever wanted a good recipe to try teff, definitely check out this book, even if you are not gluten-free. In fact, Cerier has no gluten intolerances herself.

“I eat gluten free because it expands my choices, and the nutrients are just off the charts. I’m a whole food vegetarian, so I’m not looking for ways to make gluten free hot dog buns or pizza, because I don’t eat those things.”

So if you love whole foods and eating seasonally, this is a good book for you, and if you need to avoid gluten, give these whole foods vegetarian recipes a try. You can shrink your carbon footprint and reap the benefits of ancient grains. You will feel so much better when you eat real food!

Veggies sizzling in the pan

Scrambled Tofu with Sweet Corn and Collard Greens

I admit that I was drawn to this dish by a rush of nostalgia for the many tofu scrambles I have prepared and eaten in now-defunct vegetarian restaurants. That and my obsession with eating leafy greens. Turmeric is a brilliant anti-inflammatory, and nutritional yeast is loaded with B12 that vegetarians may need.

Serves 3 or 4

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 cups chopped collard greens

1 cup green beans, cut in 1 inch pieces

1 cup coarsely chopped scallions

2/3 cups fresh corn kernels, steamed

1 teaspoon turmeric

14-16 ounces soft tofu, 1/2 inch cubes

1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro

1/4 cup nutritional yeast

1 tablespoon tamari

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the collard greens, green beans, scallions, corn and turmeric and stir. Saute for 3-5 minutes, until the veggies brighten in color and become fragrant. Gently stir in the tofu and cook for about 3 minutes, until the tofu takes on the golden hue of the turmeric. Stir in the cliantro and cook for a minute more. Take off the heat and stir in the nutritional yeast and tamari. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. (Variations below)

Stirring in the Tofu


Substitute other greens, like spinach, tatsoi, chard or even broccoli, whatever is freshest and most vibrant.

Substitute mushrooms, summer squash, zucchini, or asparagus for the greens and green beans.

To take the flavor in a different direction, add a few cloves of chopped garlic when you saute the vegetables, and substitute basil for cilantro.

Cerier has a website, where you can see what she is up to:

Here is a gluten free vegetarian recipe for amaranth (not by Cerier):

Amaranth and Roast Veggie Salad