Keeping kosher

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As I have begun to explore a vegan pathway, I am once again thinking about the laws of kashrut. How does this practice relate to my life as a vegetarian and my journey toward a vegan lifestyle?

The Torah tells us the purpose of the dietary and other regulations put forward in it: to shape a “holy people.” What does that mean? I believe it means that following the laws given in the Torah, including the dietary laws, will teach those who follow them to stand in a particular relationship to G-d and creation.

What is that relationship? One view is that of Martin Buber, who describes two ways of relating to our fellow creatures and even G-d: “I-It” and “I-Thou”. In an “I-It” relationship, we view the “other” in a utilitarian mode. How can we use this creature to our benefit? Other creatures and even G-d are minimized to suit our utilitarian purposes.

Conversely, in an “I-Thou” relationship, we recognize and respect the uniqueness of the other and approach them in all their (and with all our) fullness. It is not a utilitarian relationship. It is not necessarily a safe relationship. It is a relationship based on freedom.

We may move in and out of these modes of relating and may relate to a particular person, for example, in an “I-Thou” mode at one point in time and in an “I-It” mode at another point in time.

One might be tempted to make a quick value judgment, viewing an “I-It” relationship as negative and an “I-Thou” relationship as positive. On that basis, we would assume the Torah requires us to maintain an “I-Thou” relationship to the world. I think this assumption would not be correct. The Jewish dietary laws provide us an opportunity to see how the Torah and Jewish ritual offer a more nuanced approach, an approach that maintains a tension between these two modes of being in the world.

Much has been written and spoken about the details of kashrut, the dietary regulations, in an attempt to understand their meaning. One thing stands out to me above all the details: these regulations center around the possibility of killing and eating other living creatures. Were that not a possibility, there would be no need for these laws since all plant foods are kosher. It is the burden of taking life that calls these laws into effect.

Like a blessing or prayer said with full intentionality before or after a meal, the dietary regulations serve to focus our attention on the gravity of what we are doing in eating a creature that once lived. These laws provide us with an opportunity to eat and be satisfied but to do it in a state of full awareness. Observing kashrut places us in a certain relationship to creation and to G-d.

There is some ambivalence in the Torah as I believe there is in most cultures about killing and eating living creatures. The first human beings, living in “the Garden,” were herbivores. Meat eating was a concession and only allowed after the flood. Killing and eating another creature once it was permitted was surrounded by ritual activity. This ritual activity served to heighten awareness of the fact that we are taking life to sustain life.

Similarly, in hunter-gatherer societies the hunt is surrounded with rituals that heighten awareness of the action in which one is engaging. These rituals guide the hunter to approach the hunt with a fullness of presence and encounter the fullness of the Other, the hunted. The outcome is never certain.

There are and have been other ways of dealing with what Michael Pollan calls the dilemma of being omnivores. Certainly one way, perhaps the most direct, is total abstention. This is the vegetarian and even more so, vegan path. At the opposite extreme is complete indifference to or alienation from the processes of life and death, a kind of thoughtless or thought-free consumption. This state of indifference or alienation is too easy to slip into today, as separated as we are from the sources of our food. We can eat and drink without much thought about the ethical dilemmas that would confront us if we were more directly engaged in our own survival.

Between these two extremes are the many symbolic structures of religions and philosophies that can guide us through the “omnivore’s dilemma”.

When I originally became vegetarian more than forty years ago, a primary motivation was that it simply felt wrong to buy the flesh of a creature neatly packaged in styrofoam and plastic at my local grocery store.  There was no direct connection to the fact that I was involved in taking the life of a creature. There was no connection to the process of life and death and survival and my place or role in that cycle. I could understand there might be an argument for eating the flesh of animals if one were prepared to hunt and kill the animal oneself. I couldn’t justify purchasing it in a styrofoam tray and having no personal connection to the life that had been.

There were other thoughts behind my vegetarianism at the time. I was inspired by the social consciousness of Frances Moore Lappe, presented in Diet for a Small Planet. I was inspired by the words of Adelle Davis, that she would “eat only the products that animals give us painlessly.”

Whether it was true at the time, that there were products animals give us painlessly, I’m not certain. I know it is not true now. The way our modern factory farms and industrial food processing operate currently means the products of it will cause ethical problems for many aware people — even when ethical consciousness allows eating meat and other animal products.

Which brings me to veganism. Personally I love eggs and cheese. Although I never gave up eggs when the doctors said we should, I was delighted they are once again on the “ok” list healthwise. I subscribe to the Sally Fallon school of thought on food, put forward so well in Nourishing Traditions and at westonaprice.org. I have often wished I lived in an environment where I could have my own milk cow and chickens, make my own cream and butter and more. I don’t live in that environment, though, and as I learn more, using these products of agri-business is becoming increasingly problematic for me.  It is even more problematic because I know this kind of food is not required for my good health.

What I have been forced to become aware of is that anything I use that is part of this system involves me in a world with a morality that is not what I consciously choose for myself. How so? There is a rabbinic statement: “It’s not the mouse that’s the thief; it’s the hole.” To the extent that I purchase and eat products that are produced through means that are unacceptable in my moral universe, I am more responsible for the existence of that system than the producers of those products.

I have learned that much of what I eat, I can enjoy only because its production is hidden from my view. Our current system is a vast mechanized empire operating under the surface and out of sight. The system engages in practices that if they were happening before my eyes would make me cry out in shock and horror.

Perhaps even more disturbing than the practices that are too often at the foundation of bringing animal products to us is the anonymity of the system. We are completely separated from this world and can remain unaware of what is happening if we wish. By the time any animal product arrives to us, kosher or not, it has been completely separated from its source in life and completely sanitized of the death involved in its production. Our beef and our cheese and our eggs have no relationship to their source.

This is a moral scenario that has particularly painful echoes for Jews, as I was reminded recently when I watched a powerful video presentation by a Holocaust survivor: http://www.jewishveg.org/ (scroll down to the video presentation of Alex Hershaft).

Sadly the kosher industry is also built on the back of agri-business which includes practices contrary to Jewish law. These practices affect the animal long before arrival at the moment of kosher slaughter. Even in the absence of deliberate physical abuse, I cannot imagine that the Torah and later Jewish values envisioned or would accept the massive destruction of life and indifference to the process that is endemic to the production of animal products today.

Others have detailed the ways in which eating meat and chicken, even kosher products, from today’s factory farm system transgress many commandments and are completely at odds with the worldview of the Torah: http://www.jewishveg.com/course.html (see in particular the sections on “Judaism and Animal Rights” and “Judaism, Vegetarianism and Ecology”).  Kosher meat, too, is sold in styrofoam and plastic packages. Cows — and chickens — “produced” in huge numbers for a utilitarian purpose live out their short lives in unnatural situations even when they are destined for kosher slaughtering.

The fundamental problem with the modern meat and animal product industry from my perspective is that the tension between an “I-It” mode and an “I-Thou” mode has been dissolved. We are not moving consciously back and forth between the two modes, guided by principles of Torah. By participating in this system, whether we consume kosher products or not, we are perpetually in an “I-It” mode in relation to the world. The world and the creatures that inhabit it are here for for one purpose, and that is for us to use in order to gain benefit from them for ourselves. Worse, we can do that without carrying any ethical burden in relation to that activity, even if it involves practices that are not in accord with the principles of the Torah. Those practices are conveniently hidden from us.

Nowadays more and more people are becoming interested in sourcing and localism — personally knowing the sources of food, knowing how that food was managed through its life. If we are so concerned that our fruits and vegetables are handled properly, that they are “sustainable” and free of substances we think are bad for our health, shouldn’t we be even more concerned with looking into the handling of creatures that produce meat, eggs and cheese? Shouldn’t we want to be certain they are not part of a system that is so devastating to our moral health?

For someone who does eat animal products in a kosher framework, tho, backward vision can stop at the meat counter of the kosher market. The product has a heksher so is ok — but where did it come from? We are always shocked when we discover that a kosher facility is engaging in practices contrary to Jewish principles — but what about before the animal arrives at the facility? What were the practices associated with life and death that brought it to this place? Was there any reverence exhibited for the life of this creature? Respect for its creaturehood?

Certainly we live in a world where we cannot do everything ourselves. Most of us cannot have our own cows and chickens, and none of us can have cows and chickens that are not the result of a massive utilitarian system. It is hard to imagine sourcing human productions without finding utilitarianism, suffering and even abuse at some point along the way. It is even harder when we consider the veil of modern marketing and labeling practices that put yet another unreliable layer between us and the sources of our food. In order to eat anything, we probably have to draw a line for our backward vision, for how deeply into sourcing we want to go. For each of us, the place where that line is drawn will be different.

As I have often said when I teach, one’s food choices depend on how much of an ethical burden one is prepared to carry. For me, keeping kosher on the back of a food production industry that operates in ways completely contrary to what I understand as the intention of the Jewish dietary laws does not solve the ethical problems involved in taking life to sustain life. Increasingly I am aware that being vegetarian is also not a resolution or even a pathway through the dilemma. I continue to experiment more with vegan foods.

I don’t yet know exactly where my line is. What I do know is that the one required task for each of us is to become aware and to make thoughtful, informed, aware choices for how we will live, specifically what and how we will eat.

Keeping kosher continues to be an important part of that process for me. With pausing as I shop to be certain that everything I purchase fulfills certain requirements, with thinking about what is in my kitchen and how it is used, with considering the counters I work on, the utensils I use and the pots and pans and dishes that are part of my environment, with a blessing before food and an extended blessing after food, I am provided with ample opportunities to think about what and how I eat and to consider my place in creation.

On Making “Water Challah” for Shabbat

Two challot, plated and tucked under their cover and ready for Shabbat dinner.
Two challot, plated and tucked under their cover and ready for Shabbat dinner.

Thirty-five years ago, I made challah weekly. In recent years, my schedule has not allowed me to continue this practice. When we began to host Shabbat dinners in my Cafe, some of our regulars always brought in whole wheat challot from a bakery forty minutes from us. On a recent week when that particular group was unable to attend, I decided to try my hand again at making challah.

These days I have considerations I didn’t have thirty-five years ago. One is that I like more of a whole grain loaf than I did in years past, and grains require time and patience, as Sally Fallon points out in Nourishing Traditions.

Another consideration is that I wanted the challot to be vegan, that is, they should use only plant food ingredients, no animal products. With the traditional egg challah, that changes the program considerably. Since my favorite challah, though, is water challah, which I remember fondly from my days in West Rogers Park, that didn’t strike me as a problem. Wrong.

Try searching the internet for a water challah recipe! Many of the recipes with that name included eggs, at the very least an egg wash on the crust to hold the seeds on top. More often the eggs were in the challah itself. Puzzling.

In other search results, it was clear that the search engines simply brought up a result for water challah because the recipe was for challah, which contained water. In addition, all the recipes had quite a bit of sugar.

After much searching, I decided to try using my spelt and 7-grain cereal roll recipe. That worked – sort of. The loaves weren’t as pretty as I hoped and ended up going into my freezer for future home consumption. Back to the internet.

Finally I found an article about something called berches. With that new search term, I was able to find a host of appropriate recipes, recipes with no eggs and very little sugar. I actually did try one of those recipes, and it worked beautifully with one exception – the crust dilemma.

How could I get that beautiful, shiny crust so characteristic of challah and hold an abundance of seeds to the loaf?  Flaxseed and water can work as an egg substitute in many cases, so I tried a flaxseed/water wash. It turned the crust white, and all the seeds dropped off. I tried several other techniques, but nothing worked. Finally I gave up on the seeds, but I gave a little shine to the crust by brushing it lightly with extra virgin olive oil when it came out of the oven.

In the search for a water challah recipe, here are some things I learned about challah making that will enrich my own experience:

  • What I was calling water challah was an egg-free type of challah made in Germany and called berches. The word berches is from the word berach or “bless”. It refers to the challah or bread that one blesses at the Sabbath meal. Many Jews, German and other, no longer know or use that word for the challah, but there are a few bakers in Germany who continue to make it. I was enjoying a commercial variety in West Rogers Park under the name water challah.
  • Traditionally challah has seven ingredients, corresponding to the seven days of the week or to the fact that Shabbat occurs on the seventh day: 1) flour, 2) water, 3) yeast, 4) salt, 5) sugar, 6) eggs, and 7) oil.
  • When the Temple was destroyed in 70 c.e., the rabbis created a system of substitutions for Temple worship and a priestly sacrificial system. The family table substituted for the altar, and the ordinary Israelite took on the role of priest. The two loaves of challah on the table represent that transition with the challah substituting for the two loaves of showbread on the ancient altar.
  • Women were included in that transition as well, and challah-making is a place where we can see that clearly. Part of the ritual of challah-making includes separating the challah, removing a small piece of the dough, saying a blessing and burning the piece in the oven.  Since women, once upon a time, were likely to be the ones making the bread, this “sacrifice” would have been an example of their taking on the role of the priest in the absence of a Temple and priestly system.

Most importantly, what I learned from challah-making is how rituals can create a thoughtful, meditative experience and, by the way, good (and nourishing) food. At the intersection of the rituals of bread making, rituals I have developed over the years for creating healthy foods, my newly developing ritual of vegan bread making, and the rituals of challah-making, I had an opportunity to experience with full awareness my place in the cosmos, in history and in the environment. As I ate the challah I made, I experienced it as the Staff of Life it once was and can still be.

Here is my recipe for spelt berches or water challah, which I now make every week again. Be sure to WEIGH the flour. Your challah will come out perfectly every time! If you’ve never used spelt, try it. It’s a form of wheat flour, and it is absolutely beautiful to work with. I use spelt in all my breads now.

BERCHES
(Makes 2 loaf pan-sized loaves or two double-braid loaves. 3 lb. 8.2 oz. of flour are required to separate and bless the challah, so if you’d like to perform this ritual, double the recipe).

Ingredients
(Still seven ingredients even tho no eggs!)

  • 1 lb. spelt flour, WEIGHED
  • 1 lb. unbleached wheat flour, WEIGHED
  • 1 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 1/4 cup + 2 cups warm water
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 white potato, peeled, cooked, mashed and cooled
  • 1 TB salt

Directions

    1. Peel and cut up the potato and place it in a small pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are soft.
    2. Drain the potato cooking water into a measuring cup. Add cold water or ice cubes until the water level reaches 2 cups.
    3. Pour the 2 cups of water back into the potatoes and mash thoroughly with 1 TB salt.
    4. Weigh the spelt flour into your mixing bowl until you reach 1 lb. Add unbleached wheat flour until you reach 2 lb.
    5. Stir the flours together and make a well in the center.
    6. Pour 1/4 cup warm water in the well. Add yeast and sugar and stir gently to dissolve. Let sit for 5-10 minutes until bubbling.
    7. Add the mashed potato, salt and water mixture to the flours. Add the extra virgin olive oil to the mix.
    8. Stir all together briefly.
    9. Knead the dough for 10 minutes until it is smooth and elastic. I do this on my Kitchenaid Mixer with the dough hook. The spelt dough works so beautifully that I never have to clean out the bowl before the next step.
    10. Add a little oil to the mixing bowl, and roll the dough in it it until it is completely coated.
    11. Cover the dough in the bowl with a plastic bag (I reserve a garage bag for this purpose). Let rise until doubled in bulk, about two hours.
    12. Punch down, knead slightly and set aside.
    13. Get out your scale and mixing bowl again! Divide the dough into two halves, one for each loaf. Make certain the two halves weigh the same so your loaves will be the same size.
    14. Shape the challot. Divide each half into six approximately equal pieces. Roll into strips as in the picture, with the middle of each strip larger than the ends. Roll in very light flour so strips will remain separate from each other as they rise.
    15. Three strips will make a braid. Place one strip on your work surface, and place two strips over it in an “x” shape. Braid from the middle toward each end and tuck the ends under. Repeat with three more strips. Place one braid on top of the other, and secure the ends.
    16. Repeat this process with the other half of the dough.
    17. Place each loaf on a baking sheet sprinkled with semolina to prevent sticking.
    18. Cover the loaves again with plastic, and allow to rise until doubled, 40 minutes. DO NOT overraise. The top braid will fall to one side, and/or the loaves will flatten.
    19. During this second rise, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
    20. When the loaves are ready, remove the plastic and put the baking tray with the loaves into the pre-heated oven.
    21. After 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 325 degrees and bake for an additional 30-35 minutes.
    22. Remove from the oven and brush the crust lightly with extra virgin olive oil. Cool.

challah04

challah05

At this point, I brushed my loaves with a mixture of flaxseed and water, an egg substitute which I hoped would hold seeds in place. It didn’t, and it turned the tops of the loaves white.  It did not affect the flavor. I’m going to do a little research for other solutions for a seed-sprinkled shiny vegan challah crust.

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Challot rising…
Two double-braid loaves of Water Challah or "Berches," just in time for Shabbat.
Two double-braid loaves of Water Challah or “Berches,” just in time for Shabbat.

Another Quick Vegan Meal in a Dish

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One of my favorite additions to the shelves at Costco has been pastas made of bean flours. These pastas are a find for vegetarians and vegans and are a great way for carbohydrates to double as protein. Organic Black Bean Pasta has been a favorite for awhile. The other day while I was shopping, I noticed a new item on the shelves, Organic Red Lentil Pasta. Of course I had to run right home and make something with it for dinner. Here’s the result.

First, I set the salted water with a few drops of olive oil in it to boil. When it was boiling, I threw in enough pasta for three servings.  I kept a pretty close eye on it, because pasta doesn’t usually do well with overcooking, and these bean flour pastas are  no exception!

I had to use up a few green beans, a couple of plum tomatoes, a roasted yellow pepper and part of a bunch of parsley. That made my dinner decision really easy. I just threw some extra virgin olive oil into my trusty cast iron fry pan with some minced fresh garlic, chopped onion and a little salt as well as quite a bit of crushed oregano and some red pepper flakes. I sautéed the mixture for a moment, then added the green beans, yellow pepper cut into 2″ strips like the green beans, the petite diced tomatoes and chopped parsley.  Because it seemed like it would taste good with those items, I also added some capers and sliced green Middle Eastern olives I always keep in the ‘fridge.

By the time I added my leftovers to the pan and they were warmed through, the pasta was done. I drained it. Next time I’ll remember to rinse it after cooking as well, because this particular pasta has a tendency toward a little gumminess. I added the pasta to my cast iron pan with the veggies, stirred gently together for a moment, and it was a delicious dinner.

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Waste-not: mother of invention

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This morning I read an article posted to Twitter from New York Eater titled “Blue Hill to Transform Into Food Waste Pop-Up.” It intrigued me as a cafe owner in the process of rethinking how the food business works. As part of my rethinking, I am experimenting in a smaller frame, my own home.

The article directly connected to my experience last evening in using up a few post-prime items I had stored: the last few pieces of spelt challah remaining from a batch I made a week and a half ago, part of a red cabbage that has been in my crisper bin for . . . awhile, two lonely pieces of roasted pepper remaining from a full batch, and the remains of the Red Lentil Kefta I made early this week as a Cafe special.

I decided to make a sandwich.  My thought in putting these items together into a sandwich was that if each individual food item was delicious and well-made, putting them all together might be awesome – and it was! Here’s my story in photos:

First I brought the 10-day old challah back to life with a little sautéing to crisp the crust and soften the rest:

sandwich_kefta01

Then I thought it could use something tasty and squishy. The leftover roasted peppers were perfect, sliced into strips:

sandwich_kefta02

Then I added some sliced avocado for richness. My first attempt used a vegan mayo, but I didn’t much like the texture, and it didn’t add anything to the flavor:

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Next came the leftover kefta, which was really the point of the whole exercise. I crumbled the delicious little balls of red lentils and cracked wheat:

sandwich_kefta04

And finally a sautéed/roasted red cabbage “steak.”

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You have the final result at the top of this page. OMG. It was really delicious! And it pleased some folks who aren’t the least bit interested in being vegan. Just a really good blend of tastes and textures.

And I felt really good about making it all from little bits of things that might otherwise have been thrown away, adding to the 35 million tons of food thrown out yearly by Americans (2012 estimate, most recent available).

Searching for a Vegan Broccoli Cheddar Soup

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Yesterday I woke up craving Broccoli Cheddar Soup, a demonstration to myself that I’m not vegan at heart yet.  Then it occurred to me: aha! a perfect opportunity to create something new.

My first thought was of a book I just purchased, Artisan Vegan Cheese by Myoko Schinner. While I’m very excited to try out some of these recipes, and the results look awesome and tantalize me, it wasn’t going to work for me on this one. The recipes require a curing process, which is probably what makes them good — I’m all for taking time with food — but I wanted Broccoli Cheddar Soup right now. Instant gratification.

My next thought was to check Pinterest, which is where I often do my initial research. Lots of possibilities there. I rejected the soups that use nutritional yeast. In my limited experience, they yield an odd flavor to foods when used to try to imitate cheese, and then a lot of salt is added to try to cover up the flavor.

I have a little bit of a conflict here. My approach to vegetarianism has always been to just make good food, not to try to imitate meat. As a result, I try to avoid adding unusual ingredients for the sole purpose of imitation. Part of me thinks I should use the same philosophy with veganism and cheese, which makes me question the addition of nutritional yeast. It also makes me question why I am trying to make a vegan version of Broccoli Cheddar Soup in the first place, but that is another story. For now, we’ll just say it is human to be contradictory.

Anyway, back to Pinterest. I found two recipes that were virtually the same differing only in the addition of tahina to one and garlic powder to another. The basic idea was to use cooked and pureed carrots and potatoes to mimic cheddar. I made a couple of modifications to the recipe . . . including bringing in some nutritional yeast! Why? Because it occurred to me that nutritional yeast is a seasoning and perhaps the problem was that the recipes I had tried with it just used too much and then had to use too much salt. I wanted to sneak in a little and see what happened. In addition, the soup was good but . . . well, lacked a certain pizzaz. I thought I might see if the nutritional yeast did anything for it if added in a smaller quantity.

The nutritional yeast improved the soup some, but I think if I’m going to use it, I will have to increase the quantity, which I may experiment with next time.  I also wonder about adding some lemon along with nutritional yeast. Lemon brightens the flavor of anything and doesn’t have to taste lemony.

On the other hand, it occurs to me that I can use this recipe as a start to create something with a similar mouth feel but that doesn’t really try to imitate cheese. I suspect it could be just as delicious and satisfying and be something in its own right.

What changes will I make next time? I would decrease the salt in the original recipe, might or might not use nutritional yeast or lemon, and might consider some curry powder or fresh ginger. I’ll also make the proportion of carrots smaller so the soup isn’t quite so day-glo, and I think I will use fewer cashews and perhaps add some extra virgin olive oil instead. The soup thickens quickly as it cools slightly, and the olive oil may help that.

I will share here the recipe I used for this soup but will wait to post it in my recipe files until I get it to taste just the way I’d like. It’s a work in progress, as I am!

This recipe makes about four servings.

Ingredients

  • Carrots, 2 or 1-2/3 cups
  • Potatoes, 2 medium or 1-1/2 cups
  • Spanish Onion, 1/2
  • Cashews, 1/2 cup
  • Water, 3-1/2 cups
  • Salt, 2 tsp.
  • Nutritional yeast, 2 tsp. (I added this to the recipe this time)
  • Hot paprika, 1/2 tsp. (I added this to the recipe this time)
  • Broccoli, 3 cups

Directions

  1. Soak the cashews for at least 2-3 hours before making the soup.
  2. Peel and cut up the potatoes and onion. Rinse and cut up the carrots.  Put into a pot with 2-1/2 cups of water, bring to a boil, and simmer with the lid on until soft.
  3. Cut the stalks off the broccoli. I usually like to cut up the stalks and add to my soup base (the carrots, potatoes and onion) to cook. In this case, I added just a little bit because I was concerned about the color. I might try more next time.
  4. Steam the small flowerets in the remaining cup of water until just tender. Drain, reserving the cooking water.
  5. Place the cashews, reserved broccoli cooking water, and seasonings in a Vita-Mix.  When the carrot, potato, onion and broccoli stalks are soft, add them to the Vita-Mix as well. Blend well, at least one minute, until smooth.
  6. Return the cooked broccoli flowerets to the pot, and pour the blended “cheese” mixture over them.

People who are a little afraid of veganism or who prefer standard American foods will like this soup!

A Quick Vegan Meal in a Dish

It’s great to have a list of fast, nourishing meals in mind for those nights when you’re tired after a long day. Here’s what we had for dinner a couple of evenings ago:

pasta_tomatosauce03

 

Here’s all I needed to do to make this lovely plate of delicious food:

1. I cut up four juicy tomatoes and put them in a pot with extra virgin olive oil (maybe four TB), some minced garlic (two cloves) and lots of oregano (fresh would have been great, but since I didn’t have it on hand, I had to go with dried).  I let them simmer with the lid on while I made the rest of the meal.

2. I brought a pot of water to a boil and threw in some salt and extra virgin olive oil (about a tsp.) and added the black bean pasta to it. What a great find this product was! I keep it on the shelf all the time now.

black_bean_pasta

3. While the pasta and tomatoes were cooking — which just takes a few minutes — I used my spiralizer to make a little zucchini “pasta”. It’s very festive looking with the black bean pasta:

spiralizer03

4. When the black bean pasta was al dente, I drained it and placed it on the dish, added some of the zucchini “pasta” on top of it, spooned on the stewed tomatoes seasoned to taste with salt and red pepper flakes, sprinkled on a little chopped parsley (again, fresh oregano would probably have been nicer).

Voila! A delicious and pretty home-cooked meal from real foods in ten minutes. Can’t do better than that!

Now to use those Moroccan carrots…

kefta_salads

After I made my Moroccan Carrot Salad, I decided maybe I should make a meal to go with them.

On the left is a favorite Algerian and Moroccan salad combination, cauliflower and roasted zucchini. To the right of that is a lemony and garlicky cooked spinach salad . . . then, of course, Moroccan Carrot Salad. Around the back are Red Lentil Kefta, for which I will soon post a recipe. Just in case those kefta weren’t zesty enough for anyone, I included harif/harissa, a very hot sauce.

Moroccan Carrot Salad

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This Moroccan Carrot Salad is a traditional Shabbat salad among my friends in West Rogers Park, and I got in the habit of making it weekly. Its beautiful colors contribute to a festive table along with my other salads.

Ingredients
(Makes 1 Quart)

Ingredients
Carrots, 1 lb.
Garlic, 1 clove, minced
Lemon, 1 juiced (2 TB)
Extra virgin olive oil, 2 TB
Sea salt, 1 tsp.
Cumin, 2 tsp.
Szeged hot paprika, 1 tsp.
Cilantro, 1 oz., chopped

Directions

  1. Wash, slice and cook the carrots in water just to cover (bring water to boil before adding carrots).
  2. While carrots are cooking, mince the garlic and chop the cilantro.
  3. When carrots are just tender, remove from heat.
  4. Add lots of ice to quickly cool carrots.
  5. Drain.
  6. Place cooled carrots in mixing bowl.
  7. Add olive oil, fresh lemon juice, minced garlic and chopped cilantro.
  8. Season with salt, cumin and hot paprika to taste. The salad should be “zesty.”

An inspirational project

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When my son, Jeremy, decided on a career shift, he got engaged with an amazing volunteer organization. Their story is inspirational and a reminder that “people are basically good at heart.”

Check out this article from the front page of the New York Times online this week: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/17/science/hand-of-a-superhero.html?_r=0.

Read more in Jeremy’s blog at 3duniverse.org or check out his business page at shop3duniverse.com.

Food Products or . . . Food?

“You have a choice. You can continue eating the foods manufacturers want you to buy that are making you unhealthy. Or you can return to eating the foods God provided for you, already magnificently packaged in their own skins, rinds, pods and shells” . . . Rabbi Celso Cukiercorn

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Picture this: a five-year old watching TV happily munching a fluffer-nutter sandwich on something manufacturers alleged was white bread. That was me, more than 60 years ago (OMG!).

I enjoyed fluffer-nutters and many other American favorites for the next 15 years. Then in 1968, my Fort Smith, Arkansas, grandmother died of colon cancer at 65 years of age. I had a vague sense her disease was what some of us call “a foodborne illness.”

I began a lifelong research project with a consistent theme: “real food.” I campaigned to bring real food back to the center of my table. I raised a family on real food, much of which got its start in my organic garden. I even owned and operated a five-star vegetarian cafe featuring real food. I never ate another fluffer-nutter.

What is real food? In Food Rules, Michael Pollan says: “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.” Food choices I make for myself, my family and my cafe are guided by the real food principle. I cook my own food and choose the least processed ingredients — plant food, organic when possible. I stick to the produce section of the supermarket.

Healthy vegetarian foods can be a tough sell, easier in recent years as research supports what was anecdotal 40 years ago. Finally, though, healthy eating has to taste good and satisfy. I believe that is most likely to happen with real food, prepared by hand from whole, fresh ingredients.