“NoMeat” Loaf

 NoMeatLoaf_Sliced

I started this meal with a recipe from Chow Vegan on Pinterest (Home-style Vegan Meatloaf). I noticed there was a discussion associated with the recipe about a gluten-free version (the original was not gluten-free).  I came up with the following by substituting flaxseed and water for the breadcrumbs and using Tamari wheat free soy sauce. Although I am not personally gluten-free, many of my customers are, and when it’s possible to make something taste just as good without gluten, I try to do it.

Ingredients

  • 2 lg onions
  • 4 stalks celery
  • 8 carrots
  • 4 cups dried chickpeas
  • 1+ cups extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tsp oregano
  • 3 tsp basil
  • 2 tsp sage
  • 2 TB lemon juice
  • 2 TB salt
  • 8 TB Tamari wheat free soy sauce
  • 1 tsp hot paprika
  • 12 garlic cloves
  • 4 cups ground flaxseed
  • 1 cup reserved chickpea liquid
  • Organic catsup

Preparation

  1. Wash and dice the onions and celery and saute in extra virgin olive oil.
  2. Wash and chunk the carrots and process with the garlic until they are in small pieces (not pureed).  Add the carrots and garlic to the onions and celery and continue to saute.
  3. Add seasonings to mixture in the pan.
  4. Cook the chickpeas until al dente (fairly soft).  Drain (reserving liquid) and pulse in the processor until they are a rough chop. Place in a bowl.
  5. Stir the veggie and seasoning mix into the processed chickpeas and mix well.
  6. Add flaxseed to veggies, seasoning and chickpeas and mix well.
  7. Add reserved chickpea liquid and salt and mix well (you can start with a reduced amount of salt and bring it up to your taste).
  8. Form into loaves and coat with a good, organic catsup.
  9. Place on a baking sheet and bake at 475 degrees for 30 minutes.
  10. Remove from oven.  Place about 2 tsp catsup on top of each loaf and spread over top and sides.
  11. Remove each loaf carefully from the baking sheet with a spatula and turn to the opposite side.  Place about 2 tsp catsup on top of each loaf again and spread over top and sides.
  12. Return loaves to the oven to bake another 15 minutes or until the catsup has darkened some.
  13. Remove the loaves from the oven and, using a spatula, from the pan to a serving platter.
  14. The loaves are most attractive when they are cut.  They will cut more easily with a serrated knife when somewhat cooled – best if cold. They can be served cold or warm.

NoMeatLoaf_whole

This recipe yields 28 1/2 cup mini-loaves.  Extra loaves can be frozen for another occasion, or the recipe can be reduced to 1/4 quantities for a family meal.

The Value of Cooperation

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This post was published in The FOODshed Coop blog.

I have learned many things from the experience of owning a cafe, but my most important lesson is that putting good and wholesome food on a table is by nature a cooperative venture. Even if we imagine ourselves to be independent, we are not. I believe that recognizing our interdependence and building on it makes us better.

As my son, Jeremy, recently wrote in his 3D printing blog, amazing things happen as the result of sharing resources and cooperation. I have come to believe that the vast challenges to our food supply and consequently our health cannot be resolved by a cafe here or a business there or by government intervention. These issues can only be addressed effectively through cooperation and sharing among like-minded individuals and organizations at every level of the food supply chain.

Until the recent economic downturn, I was privileged not to have to worry about the grocery bills from week to week.  I was able to raise a family on mostly organic food, for a period of time from my own garden. I was also blessed in being a stay-at-home mom during my kids’ early years. This meant I could take the time to read about health, search for good recipes and, most importantly, make all of our meals at home from whole foods. I was able to maintain the illusion that in my efforts, I was independent.

Now I work many hours, like so many folks out there.  I have learned how difficult and exhausting it can be having to worry about pennies and dimes.  I have learned how challenging it can be to work long hours and still try to plan a healthy menu of home-cooked meals, to shop for them and to cook them. And purchasing those beautiful organic and specialty items I was no longer able to grow or gather? Forget it! Here too were lessons about the importance of cooperation and a reminder that when it comes to food, independence is indeed an illusion.

Still, I had the advantage of what I learned during those years  when I was a stay-at-home mom, planting and caring for my large organic garden and experimenting with cooking until I found things I loved to eat that were usually easy to make. To the extent those meals were vegetarian, they were usually comparatively economical even when opting for high quality ingredients over cheaper processed items.

When I ended up in the restaurant business, I thought I would like to share what I had learned with others. I wanted to make the same healthy, economical foods in my cafe that I learned to make at home. I assumed that since I am vegetarian, and my cafe would be vegetarian, it would be easy to keep food costs down, and I would be able to make a small but sufficient living. I could just cook from scratch from whole foods as I had done at home and serve it up to people, no problem.

Right.

Anyone who has ever been in or had anything to do with the food business probably knows how naive that thought was. The food business is difficult under any circumstances, more difficult for someone with no business background or background in the food industry — and in today’s world, there are special challenges to doing what I want to do.

I want to prepare and serve delicious food, wholesome food, food prepared from scratch with love and with minimal and highly selective use of those ingredients that are a product of food factories. I would like to do that in a way that will make the food affordable for my customers. Good food, whole food made from scratch that is low-cost? At some distance from major cities? An oxymoron, perhaps?

Here are the special challenges of running a cafe featuring unprocessed vegetarian foods at some distance from a major city:

  • Not as many products are available locally as are available closer to the city.
  • Vendors don’t deliver to smaller operations at a distance from urban centers.
  • Preparing all fresh food from produce is labor-intensive. I hoped to do it myself. I can’t. Imagine cooking for a party of 60 or more people every day — and doing it as the guests are arriving!

It  costs a lot to run a food business, even a vegetarian cafe featuring unprocessed foods, perhaps especially a vegetarian cafe featuring unprocessed foods. Processed items are a ubiquitous part of our nationwide food supply chain.  Being off the beaten track either geographically or conceptually costs. We struggle to make ends meet, especially during the long, cold Midwestern winters.  So I should raise my prices, right? But then I can’t fulfill my commitment to produce affordable wholesome food for my customers.

It has occurred to me recently that many food solutions currently out there are solutions only for the wealthy: organic foods, small specialty food operations like mine. Recently I saw an organic food delivery business – great idea for those who can afford it.  I saw an indoor aeroponics system, another great idea for year-round home-growing for seed-to-table foods.  Also costly.

And yet one out of every five children in this country is living in poverty.  People in the Delta region of this country have a 10 year lower life expectancy than the rest of us, and one of the biggest factors in that is lack of access to wholesome food.

A couple of months ago, I was privileged to host a movie called Food for Change, a film that explores the development of the cooperative movement in the United States with a focus on food.  It’s hard to describe the impact this film had on me the two times I viewed it. It portrays a world I want to live in, a world based on cooperation more than self-interest.

As the movie unfolded, I recognized it as a giant step toward resolving our food supply problem.  A food cooperative is a system where each participant is an important part of the whole, and each participant both benefits and contributes.  There is an understanding that each must benefit, each must have a sustainable position in the overall economy of the cooperative.  This kind of cooperation is locally based so presents an effective model for areas that are remote from large cities. The principle of local cooperation celebrates our food interdependence from seed to table.

The movie was shown as part of a membership drive for a McHenry County food cooperative.  The Food Shed (www.foodshed.coop) is scheduled to open sometime during 2015. I am very excited about this effort and see it as a way to make wholesome food available and affordable to everyone in this country.

As my son said in his 3D printing blog, amazing things happen when people cooperate!

Chermoula Eggplant ala Yotam Ottolenghi

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In Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, this dish is called, “Chermoula Eggplant with Bulgur and Yogurt.” The book is filled with exquisite photographs, and this dish is an example of food that is not only beautiful and delicious but easy to make and healthy.  On our vegan days in the Cafe, we substitute Tahini Sauce for the yogurt.

Sauce Ingredients

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp chili flakes (I used 1 tsp hot paprika)
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • 2 TB finely chopped preserved lemon peel (I used the same amount of fresh lemon peel – another time a whole preserved lemon, chopped)
  • 2/3 cups extra virgin olive oil

Bulgur “Filling” Ingredients

  • 1 cup fine bulgur (#1 cracked wheat)
  • 2/3 cups boiling water
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 3.5 TB warm water
  • 1/3 oz. (2 tsp) cilantro, chopped, plus extra to finish
  • 1/3 oz. (2 tsp) mint, chopped
  • 1/3 cup sliced pitted green olives*
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 1.5 TB freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup Labne (Middle Eastern yogurt) or Tahina
  • Salt

2 medium eggplants (I used 6 of the narrower Japanese eggplants)

Eggplant_lg

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Crush the garlic and mix with the other ingredients for the Chermoula, or blend all in a Vitamix.
  3. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Score the flesh of each half with deep, diagonal crisscross cuts, making sure not to pierce the skin. Spoon the Chermoula over each half, spreading it evenly, and place the eggplant halves on a baking sheet, cut side up. Put in the oven and roast for 40 minutes or until the eggplants are completely soft. Time may vary considerably depending on the size of the eggplants. Watch that sauce doesn’t burn.
  4. Meanwhile, place the bulgur in a large bowl and cover with boiling water.
  5. Soak the raisins in the warm water. After 10 minutes, drain the raisins and add them to the bulgur along with the remaining oil. Add the herbs, olives, almonds, green onions, lemon juice and a pinch of salt and stir to combine. Taste and add more salt if necessary.
  6. Serve the eggplants warm or at room temperature. Place 1/2 eggplant, cut side up, on each individual plate. Spoon the bulgur on top, allowing some to fall from both sides. Spoon over some yogurt (or Tahina), sprinkle with cilantro and finish with a drizzle of oil.

*Middle Eastern olives have a different flavor from American olives, and I prefer them.  They also tend to be made without chemicals and preservatives.