Monday, March 18, 2013

The developing world is more righteous

I'm pretty sure I look confused and lost and generally out of tune with my surroundings while I'm food shopping. Every once and awhile I'm snapped back into reality from a can slipping out of son 2's hands or the feeling of ripping flesh at the back of my ankle from son 1's mini-cart as it plows into me from behind. Mostly, I walk around appearing clueless to passer-byes while thoughts of "what's for dinner and lunch and tomorrow's dinner and snacks and....." spin through my head. So goes the problems of a middle-class mother in the developed world. 

Somewhere, another mother is ladling a paste of ground roots and unpurified water into her son's mouth with her bare hands. And she's probably a righteous vegetarian. 

"Can I help you find something?," the young woman with blond dreadlocks at the co-op asks me. "I'm okay, thanks," I reassure her. Son 1 begs for some string cheese and the girl smiles and suggestingly adds, "all the meats and cheeses are in the next isle." 

"MEAT?!?" Son 1 exclaims, as if she just dropped the f-bomb at us, "we don't eat MEAT! We are vegetarians!" 

"That's awesome!" Responds Ms. Dreadlock as she turns to me, "ya know, only in the first world do people eat so much meat. Most of the world is vegetarians, like us." 

I tried my best to hold back. I wanted to give her well-meaning self a small lecture on why the term "first world" isn't even accurate terminology. I wanted to tell her the Cold War is over. I wanted to ask her why her nose is pierced and her nails painted blue and green and glitterly. I wanted to zap her into pause mode so I could just go back into the fog of grocery shopping.... But I couldn't. She continued to glorify the righteous choices of developing world peoples and somehow her rambling entered something about how Africans use and eat plants that they gather on a daily basis. How fresh and ..... How very, very Vegetarian. 

"The thing is," I heard my mouth start to spill out, "most of those vegetarian developing world peoples would and do die for a piece of meat. They don't choose to be vegetarians after some PETA video or after a Dr Oz show. They are not eating meat because they simply do not have the access to it. Some are hardly sustaining on what they can gather. I'd hate to ever have to look at even one of these individuals in the eyes and explain to them why, with the access that is given me (such a blessing), I've chosen to be a vegetarian." 

The fog began to lift and her nose-ring came back into focus. Her sweet, well-meaning expression had faded into an expression that could only say, "what's your problem, lady?" And so I just flashed a quick smile and moved onto the next isle. Back to the problems of a middle-class mother in the developed world. Back to "what's for dinner next week?" and "gee... I need a haircut!" 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Beet Hummus

I said it once and I will say it again, I like pretty ingredients. Beets are gorgeous. There aren't that many beet recipes that I love AND really showcase the beautiful hue of a magenta beet. This is one of the few.

Hummus is pretty mainstream these days in it's more traditional form of chickpeas with tahini, garlic, lemon, olive oil. It's really so easy to make, I'm not sure why I still buy it. What you may not know is that this same recipe (tahini, garlic, lemon, olive oil) goes very well with so many different beans and veggies. This one is beets, but if you can't have beets (maybe you have sensitive kidneys?), you can easily make this recipe a gorgeous bright orange using carrots (or purple using purple carrots!).

You can roast the beets for this recipe or you can boil them. I usually boil them because it's easier to slip off the skins after boiling and because I really do not notice any flavor change in roasting for this recipe. Also, if you do not have tahini (Arab sesame seed paste -- you can find it also in most health food stores/natural food section of your local grocery store), you can use toasted walnut blended with olive oil.

3-4 medium sized beets
1/4 cup tahini
juice of 1 lemon
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
Olive oil
salt to taste

Wash the beets and cut into half, cut the halves into quarters. Cover with water in a medium pot - bring to a boil and boil until a fork easily slides into the beet (about 45 minutes). Drain and run under cold water briefly - just so they are cool enough to touch. Slip off skins and place in a food processor.

Add the tahini, garlic and lemon juice. Process the mixture while slowly adding the olive oil until the mixture is the right texture to please your taste (I usually end up using about 1/4 cup).

Serve with pita, bread, veggies... just be careful when dipping... beets will stain! :)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Squash and Chickpea Tagine with Couscous

It was established, before we married, that The Professor and I would (upon winning the lottery) take the most amazing vacation to Southern Spain and Morocco. If we liked it (and we shall), we would buy an adorable vacation home near Marrakesh with a courtyard big enough to eat in and grow at least two citrus trees. I'd make Moroccan preserved lemons from our courtyard tree. At night, we'd sit outside surrounded by a few candles in rich colored glass lanterns and sip tea. I'd own exactly seven tagine pots (heavy bottom Moroccan cooking pot with a cone shaped lid - genius idea to cook a most perfect stew with the steam rising and then falling back down to keep the stew moist and the spices deeply involved) - not from Le Crueset (ok, maybe one!), but from the local market. Surrounded by beautiful things and flavorful foods: that's what I am convinced Morocco would be like.

I'm still waiting for my Powerball habitude to payoff, so I didn't have any homemade preserved lemons to add to this dish. Nor have I found a reliable recipe for homemade harissa (and it's impossible to buy the stuff locally) or I would have used that instead of cayenne pepper. Worst of all, I've yet to visit the market in Marrakesh to buy that handmade tagine I most certainly deserve, but my French oven (cast iron pot) worked well. With any luck, I maybe blogging to you from exotic and *warm* Morocco... someday! Until then, here is the recipe...

1 butternut (although probably most any squash would do) squash, peeled and cut into 2-3" cubes
1 can diced fire roasted tomatoes
2 cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp chopped fresh coriander/cilantro, plus a few sprigs for garnish
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
4 cloves of garlic crushed
1 yellow onion finely chopped
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or - better yet - harissa!)
1 tsp paprika
1 tbsp agave nectar or apricot preserves or a sweet lemon preserve
2 tsp tomato paste
2 cups of water
salt to taste

In a tagine - or heavy bottom pot (cast iron or dutch/french oven) soften the onion and garlic in the olive oil for just a couple of minutes. Then add the cumin and turmeric and cook for about 1 minute. Add the cayenne, paprika, agave, and tomato paste. Add the coriander and parsley.

Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Reduce heat to low (simmer) and cover. Let cook until the squash is soft, about 25 minutes. 

After about 15 minutes into the fully assembled stew cooking, make the couscous. It's best to make it towards the end because couscous cooks very fast and is best (fluffy and light) right after it is made. For this you need:

3 cups of vegetable broth or water
1 1/2 cups of Moroccan style couscous (tiny grain)
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 cup of golden raisins
1/4 cup pine nuts
handful of chopped fresh mint 

Bring the water and olive oil to a boil. Add the couscous and return to a boil. Promptly remove from heat and let stand covered for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and fold in the raisins and pine nuts and mint. The raisins add a really nice sweet chew to this dish.

Top the couscous with a generous portion of the tagine and garnish with coriander/cilantro.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Pumpkin Mandu (만두)

It's the end of October. The leaves have turned or fallen or both. And on my counter sits three adorable pie pumpkins from our CSA. Pumpkin bread? Yeah. Pumpkin cookies? Eh, maybe. Pie? No, for sure no. (The Professor devoutly attests pumpkin pie.) So... what to do with these sweet little icons of a North American Autumn harvest? Mandu! Yes, yes! YES!! Let's stuff it inside a fat, chewy, slightly crispy Korean dumpling! Now we're talking! 

Traditionally, a mandu is stuffed with ground pork or beef (or both), tofu, Korean chives (boo chu) and onion, shiitake mushrooms... give or take a few ingredients. Basically, this recipe is just swapping pork/beef with pumpkin. Need I tell you how this adds to the nutritional benefit of these mandu? No, but I shall! High in vitamin A, fiber, and low in fat. We know this. And the bright orange color should be a dead giveaway: beta-carotene (studies show that diets with a good amount of beta-carotene are less likely to develop certain type of cancers). 

You can roast, steam, or bake a pumpkin to make your own pumpkin puree. (It can be frozen, but according to the USDA it should not be canned at home due to it's low-low-low acidity.) I decided to boil mine for this recipe. Knowing exactly where my pumpkin was born and raised, I know it is organic and chemical-free ... so I had no worries about boiling it with it's skin on. (Otherwise you are just cooking the nasty stuff sprayed on your pumpkin into the flesh. Not really my idea of a good time.) If you are unsure of your pumpkin's toxicology status, you will want to peel it first. Organic pays off - because a cooked pumpkin just falls off the skin. I boiled and didn't roast because I wanted a very smooth and plump flesh - and fast. Keep the seeds... I plan to lecture you on why you must eat pumpkin seeds in the near future.

And now...

1 small pumpkin, or average sized pie pumpkin
1 box of soft tofu, drained
1 bunch of chives (ideally, boo chu, or Asian chives), finely chopped
1 bunch of green onions, finely chopped
4 shiitake mushrooms (fresh, if you can), finely diced (optional)
2 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil

1-2 packages of mandu (or wonton) skins
small bowl of water

Dipping sauce: 2 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 Tbsp rice vinegar. Optional: sesame seeds, splash of sesame oil, and/or any chives diced up. Mix.

Remove your pumpkin's stem and wash your pumpkin - scrubbing with a vegetable brush if needed. Using a sharp knife, cut the pumpkin in half. Scrap out the seeds and cut the halves in half (so you now have a pumpkin sliced into four quarters). Put the pumpkin in a large pot and cover in water. Boil for about 20 minutes, or until a fork slides easily into the pumpkin flesh. Drain and cool. Remove the flesh from the skin and mash or puree in a food processor (usually not needed).

Add the rest of the filling ingredients to the pumpkin puree and mix until evenly distributed.

Holding a mandu skin in the palm of your hand, place a teaspoon of filling into the center. Using your pinky finger, dip your finger into the water and lightly brush the edges all the skin with water. This will help the closed mandu stay stuck together. Fold over and crinkle the edges if you want. Alternatively, bring the corners together after folding the skin over for a soup mandu (shaped like a wonton).

Using a non-stick pan, fry your mandu on both sides in vegetable oil or sesame oil. Serve warm with dipping sauce. Once you have assembled all your mandu, you can freeze some - just in a ziplock! When you want to use a frozen mandu you don't even need to defrost it - just fry it like you normally would.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Back, I hope!

I've been getting a lot of grief from my too-kind-friends for dropping the Midwest Munch ball. (Really, you are too kind!) It's not that I stopped eating (trust me, this definitely is not the case... as I shift through my winter clothes to see what fits), or cooking, or taking pictures of it all... it's just that things got a bit busy with Son 1 entering pre-school and violin lessons and Son 2 turning one year young and thus becoming mobile, and The Professor's semester starting up. And, to top it all off, something happened one day... that made me switch around my priorities again. Here, take a look for yourself:

That's Son 1. When I asked him what he was doing he said, "I'm Mama now. This is my job. I'm blogging." And cute as it might be (I must admit that I was proud that he was 'taking a picture' of his 'jigae' of all things!), I wanted to spend some time showing Son 1 and Son 2 that my job is them... not my blog. 

Yet, we still eat. I still cook. And I still want to share that process with you (whoever "you" are - I like comments!). And that is basically my excuse for the delay. I hope you will bare with me. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Feasting during Famine

I know I am behind in posting. I have about 6 started and never finished posts. I've been thinking a lot lately about Somalia and it's hard to post about what we are feasting on daily while 29,000 children under the age of 5 have died from famine in the past 90 days in Somalia. I lack words to describe my horror as I read, from my food filled pantry home, what is happening there. Mother's losing 4 of their 5 children within 24 hours. Mothers leaving their weakest children to die in the bush so that they can walk faster to what they hope will be food aide, to save their stronger children. It's nothing anyone should ever have to live through. I wonder and I doubt that enough aide will ever come. Heartbreaking.

I will get back to posting. Tonight.... is a plea and prayer for Somalia.

Solitary Mama's Instinct  
The ONLY aide organization allowed into the famine areas: Red Crescent Society

Saturday, July 30, 2011

(A) Christmas (Story) in July!

"My little brother had not eaten voluntarily in over three years. " -Ralphie
I don't remember much about fourth grade, but third grade was a big year for me. I had a teacher who I really adored, but she was absent most of the year due to a brain tumor. We often had this substitute who had a slight speech impediment. She once asked me to go down to the principle's office and say, "My teacher feels faint" which I dutiful accomplished even though I had no idea what "faint" was and suspected it might be a practical joke. I was pretty surprised to see the principle's secretary jump out of her skin and race upstairs once the message was delivered. I remember thinking, "Ooo! She's in trouble nowwww!" At home, we were hosting a German exchange student who was eating us out of house and home, as teenage boys tend to do. He introduced me to Nutella and Toblerone chocolate, so I named my pet turtle after him. I met one of my best friends (shout out to SMP!). And most importantly, I was introduced to the best movie ever made: A Christmas Story. I still cannot believe we were shown that in school! Do you have any idea how often they say "damn" and "sons of bitches" and "hell" in that movie?! That is curse words for a third grader! I loved it! It did not take me long to find "A Christmas Story" on TV and record it (good ole VHS) and then subject newly obtained best friend to many a sleep-overs in which the main event was watching this movie over and over and over... (Do you remember how long it took to rewind an entire movie?)

Ever since I first laid my eyes on that glorious movie I was smitten with the idea of a meal of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and red cabbage - everything covered in a thick brown gravy. In the movie, Ralphie's mother, being a stay-at-home-mother, slow cooks this same meal every single day for their family dinners. Ralphie (the main character) complains about being served red cabbage daily and his younger brother, Randy, simply refuses to eat. My own mother, being somewhat adventuresome and health-conscious (not to mention not of German-heritage), never delivering "A Christmas Story" meal to my own satisfaction. I have had no choice, other than to attempt to recreate this meal to the best of my ability. Granted "A Christmas Story" lacks recipes, a gross oversight on the part of the development crew (and it's only flaw), and the minor fact we do not eat MEATloaf... I did what I could. The results were everything I imagined and then some. And you maybe wondering, "why is she doing this in July?" Good point. We got a gorgeous head of red cabbage in our CSA box and doing anything else with it seemed like such a waste.

A Christmas Story Lentil-loaf
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp olive oil
2 stalks of chard, finely chopped
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 (15 oz) can of lentils
1 (15 oz) can of red kidney beans
1 egg
1 carrot grated
1 cup of bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated mature cheddar cheese
2 tbsp ketchup
1/2 tsp of each of the following: cumin, coriander, ground chipotle pepper

Grease a 2lbs loaf pan and preheat your oven to 350°F.

In a pan, saute the chard (starting with the stems and adding the leaves after the stems have softened slightly), onion, and garlic in the butter and olive oil. Once soft, but not browned, remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

In a food processor, add the lentils and kidney beans (rinsed and drained), the chard/onion/garlic mixture and egg. Process until smooth. Add the rest of the ingredients and process until well mixed.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared loaf pan and level the surface. Bake for one hour. Let the loaf sit for about 15-20 minutes in the pan to firm before removing. Slice and serve.

Ralphie's Favorite Red Cabbage

1 stick of butter
2 yellow onions sliced in rings or half rings
1 head of red cabbage (anyone else think it should be called "purple cabbage"?)
1 cup of chunky applesauce
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 cup vegetable broth

Core, slice or shred the cabbage.

In a huge (staying true to the movie, otherwise, use your dutch oven) heavy bottom stock pot, soften the onion in the butter.

Add the cabbage and applesauce and vinegar.

When the cabbage softens, add the broth. Simmer on low for about an hour, or until the Old Man (Ralphie's Pops) comes home from work and is ready to eat. ;)