What’s the Beef?


The following is part of an article that appeared in a local publication a couple of years ago:

In early August 2013, scientists held a taste-testing for burgers made from laboratory grown meat. This report came out just about a year and a half after the “pink slime” report of March 2012.

For anyone who missed that story, pink slime is filler that was found to be present in 70 percent of the ground beef sold in supermarkets and at the time constituted about 25 percent of every hamburger.  It is gelatinous material made from the most contaminated parts of the cow formerly used only for dog food and cooking oil.  To make it USDA approved “safe” for human consumption, trimmings are simmered at a low temperature, fat separated from tissue by centrifuge and the result sprayed with ammonia gases to kill germs.  Safe and delicious.  Really?

Now we have burgers created by extracting stem cells from the muscle tissue of a dead cow, nourishing them in a chemical broth and engineering them to produce something like muscle tissue. Strands of tissue are compacted into pellets and frozen, then defrosted for cooking.  The artificial meat starts out white, so dyes are added to make it look more like the real thing.  And there we have it . . . tissue created in a laboratory from a dead cow’s stem cells bathed in chemicals and dyed to the appropriate color.  Safe and potentially delicious when they get the chemicals right.  Really?

The arguments in favor of this “magic meat” are that it requires killing fewer animals, is more sustainable and vastly more environmentally friendly.  I get it.  But there are other paths to the same goal.  For me, at least, those paths are healthier, tastier and more spiritually satisfying.

Speaking of “magic meat,” I was curious if the concoction would be considered kosher.  The Jewish dietary laws are centered primarily around meat, fish, poultry . . . and insects, in other words, living creatures.  I understand this body of laws as an expression of reverence for life.

I did a little research and found that while there is as yet no definitive ruling on this question, there is an interesting Talmudic discussion about the status of “magic meat,” meat that descends from heaven or is miraculously created by human beings.  The argument was presented (in the 16th century!) that this meat could be eaten without kosher slaughtering.  The meat could even be eaten live, limb from limb — otherwise forbidden — since normal laws do not apply to it.

Biblical and Jewish dietary regulations express deep and important values about living creatures, the line between life and death and our place as human beings.  The discussion of “magic meat” along with the rest of the discussion about the status of this manufactured meat expresses those same values and lays bare the complexity of ethical dilemmas involved in meat eating.

I’m often asked why I’m vegetarian.  The assumption is that it is for reasons of health.  It isn’t.  It also isn’t environmentally driven.  Although I disagree with the agri-business model for meat production current in our country and believe it is dangerous for our eco-system, our health and our spiritual balance, I can see there is a way to include meat in one’s diet that is healthy for ourselves and the planet.  For those who do eat meat . . . as Michael Pollan says, pay more and eat less.  There are options other than meat from factory farmed animals.

My own vegetarianism is driven by my spiritual values.  In that context, pink slime and “magic meat” are no more an option for me than supermarket plastic wrapped packages.  Meat from grass fed animals is also not an option for me.  I never eat or make meat “substitutes.”  I make good food from plants, which offer a world of delicious and spiritually satisfying options.

Here’s one: Falafel.  When eaten in the traditional way with Tahina, Falafel are a complete protein package.  Along with protein, this combo packs essential fatty acids and high fiber.  Falafel were not created to substitute for anything and in their long history were never anything but Falafel.  The beans are not cooked, just soaked, so they retain a wonderfully crunchy texture.  They can be loaded with lots of green stuff and seasoned with some of my favorite seasonings.  Occasionally frying foods in good oils at the correct temperature is, in my opinion, much less likely to damage to your health than “magic meat” or pink slime.  Certainly it will do less damage to your soul.

Dal for Dinner


Last night we enjoyed one of my favorites: Dal Makhani. It was a top pick when I visited the Indian and Pakistani restaurants on Devon Ave. near where I used to live.  When my Dad visited from Arizona, we were in heaven with those places so close by. He was late for his plane back once because he just had to visit our favorite Indian restaurant one more time before he left.

I never did know what those small round “beans” were in the Dal until I moved away from Devon Ave. and was forced to make the dish myself. Turns out they’re black lentils, “Urad Dal” in the little shop behind Joe Caputo & Sons where I purchase them: Bombay.

I made this one a little thicker than what I usually make it so we wouldn’t spill while we were enjoying this particular meal away from the table. I served up the Dal with a really nice whole grain rice mix I can get at Costco now that includes brown, red and black grains. These days I cook my rice in a 1:6 ratio of rice to water to remove arsenic.  Finally I sauteed some broccoli florets in extra virgin olive oil and garlic, then steamed briefly – and voila! We had an easy and delicious vegan meal.

(Serves 3-4 unless you have a big appetite like I do!)

  • Urad dal (Whole black lentils), 1/2 cup
  • Dark red kidney beans, dry, 2 TB rounded
  • Spanish onion, 1 large, finely chopped
  • Ginger root, 1 TB, peeled and finely minced
  • Garlic, 1 clove, peeled and finely minced
  • Plum tomatoes, 3
  • Green chilies, 1-2 finely minced (Serrano is a good one)
  • Tumeric, 1/4 tsp.
  • Cumin seeds, 1/2 tsp.
  • Chili powder, 1 tsp.
  • Coriander, 2 tsp.
  • Garam masala, 1/2 tsp.
  • Extra virgin olive oil, 1 – 2 TB
  • Cream (I used coconut milk for my vegan version), 1/2 cup
  • Salt, 3/4-1 tsp). (to taste)
  • Cilantro, a few leaves chopped for garnish


  1. Rinse and prepare the black lentils and kidney beans using these instructions from my post, Cooking Dried Beans – or just rinse and put on to cook with 2 cups water or to cover.
  2. Cook the lentils and kidney beans until they are overcooked.
  3. Whisk well till the dal is almost mashed.
  4. While the beans are cooking, finely dice or chop the onion and set aside.
  5. Finely mince the peeled garlic and ginger as well as the Serrano pepper (if you like it hotter, use the seeds and/or more than one pepper). Alternatively add to a food processor along with the three plum tomatoes cut up and pulse until all is well processed. Set aside.
  6. Add the olive oil to a large saute pan with a lid.  Add the cumin seeds and saute until they crackle.
  7. Add the tomato-ginger-garlic-chile mixture and saute for a moment.
  8. Add the remaining seasonings. Simmer for ten minutes or so. I made a thicker dal by simmering longer and reducing the sauce while retaining the flavor.
  9. Add the well-cooked lentils and kidney beans to the mixture and stir.
  10. Finally add the cream. I used coconut milk to keep it vegan. This is a rare instance where I prefer undiluted canned milk because it’s thicker and richer than fresh.


Red Lentil Soup

Cooking up some red, red “pottage” (lentil soup)…

Red Lentil Soup is one of my great favorites. I used to enjoy a cup every day when I was making it regularly in the Cafe. Not only is it delicious but it has a long history of Middle Eastern and biblical associations. I always think of Esau so craving the “red red” stuff his younger brother Jacob was making that he sold his birthright for it.

I admit, though, I am skeptical that the lentil “pottage” or stew Jacob made was anything like the red lentil soup I make. Red lentils turn kind of a beige color when cooked, and I add some fresh tomato and a bit of tomato paste to my soup to restore the color. Tomatoes were not available to the ancient Israelites. I also use carrots for some color, and they were available — but that’s still not enough to explain Isaac doubling the “red” in his description. Sumac, a popular Middle Eastern seasoning with a lemony flavor, is a possibility. On its own it has a “red red” hue, but it would require too much to get that noteworthy color in the soup itself.

Still, I like to imagine the biblical scene when I am making Red Lentil Soup in my own kitchen and savoring the wonderful aroma.

Red Lentil Soup
Red Lentil Soup


(Serves 8)

  • Red lentils, dried, 1 lb.
  • Extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup
  • Garlic, 2 tsp., minced
  • Celery, 3 stalks, small diced
  • Carrots, 3 medium, small diced
  • Onion, 1/2 lg Spanish onion, diced
  • Plum tomatoes, 2-3, petite diced
  • Tomato paste, 3 oz.
  • Water, after adding tomatoes and paste, add water to 10 cups
  • Lemon, juice of 1
  • Sea salt, 2-1/4 tsp.
  • Cumin, 1 TB, slightly rounded
  • Hot paprika, 1 tsp.
  • Cilantro, 1 bunch, chopped


  1. Petite dice washed celery, onion and carrots.
  2. Sauté minced garlic in olive oil. When softened, add diced veggies.
  3. When veggies are cooked, add lemon juice, tomatoes, water and seasonings.
  4. Bring tomatoes, veggies and water to a boil.
  5. Add prepared lentils.
  6. Cook soup until beans are tender.
  7. Check seasoning and consistency and adjust if needed.
  8. Stir in chopped cilantro and serve.

Cooking Dried Beans


As a vegetarian now progressing toward veganism, I have always eaten a lot of beans. It’s a good thing I love them!

Until this past summer, I never had any digestive difficulties with any foods at all including beans.  During the summer of 2014, I was unfortunately sick for four months, and my digestion and eating patterns were severely disrupted.  Now I’m back to normal — almost. While my difficulties aren’t severe, my digestion isn’t quite what it used to be. In particular I have some unresolved issues with beans.

Years ago, I used a particular routine for cooking beans:

  1. Rinse the beans and soak them in water overnight.
  2. Pour off any excess water, rinse the beans again and place in a pot with water to cover.
  3. Bring the beans to a boil, remove from heat, pour water and beans into a colander to drain, return beans to pot.
  4. Repeat step 3 at least one more time (twice if there wasn’t time to soak the beans the night before).
  5. After the final boil, return the beans to the pot, cover with water, bring to a simmer and cook until done.

While I was working with my vegetarian Cafe, I didn’t have time for this process and usually just rinsed the beans, put them into a pot covering them well with water, brought them to a boil then turned the heat to simmer and cooked them until they were done.

When I continued to have difficulty digesting my own food after I was sick, I thought I might return to my old method and see if that helped. It did! One day in particular I noticed that I had considerable digestive difficulty after a visit to a favorite restaurant where I can enjoy vegan burritos. The next day I made a bean dish in my own home preparing them as I described above, and I had no difficulty at all.  Sounds like a good discovery, right?

I decided to check out the science of my own experiment. There must be an explanation for my experience, right? Among others, I read an article from the LA Times called: “Don’t Soak Your Dried Beans – Now Even the Cool Kids Agree!” I didn’t let the title put me off — soaking isn’t essential to my method. Boiling and throwing off the water multiple times before cooking will work just as well. I saw right away that the article contained the scientific explanation I was seeking:

“…beans contain complex sugars called alpha-galactosides. The human body does not produce enzymes to digest these sugars. Mainly raffinose and stachyose, they pass through the stomach undigested until they reach the large intestine. There they ferment, producing gases…It was thought that soaking beans in cold water leached these sugars out of the bean. Throw away the water and you throw away the gas…”

That information coordinated well with what I learned through going on the Low FODMAP Diet of Monash University in Australia over the summer: some sugars in carbohydrates can cause difficulty for some people. Although I never had been one of those people before, I was at the time I found the Low FODMAP Diet, and the diet helped me tremendously. Never mind that the next sentences of the LA Times article stated: “Unfortunately, it isn’t true. These sugars are part of what the bean uses for nourishment as it grows into a plant, and the bean does not part with them gladly.”

OK, I can accept that and eliminate the soaking overnight. But then boiling briefly, allowing to stand and soak for a couple of hours, then pouring off the water and repeating the process does remove those pesky alpha-galactosides, at least 90% of them. Aha! That explains it.

The article went on to note, however, that this blanch-soak, blanch-soak method did not consistently reduce intestinal distress. Furthermore, the method reduces flavor slightly so is not preferred. The author of the article recommends just rinsing and cooking beans.

I’m left, though, with the experiential fact that when I eat beans that have not been boiled and the water thrown off multiple times, I experience intestinal distress. When I prepare the beans properly, I don’t. Maybe my former excellent digestion will return some day — but for now, I will prepare all my beans like this:

  1. Start with dried beans. Place them in a colander and rinse.
  2. Move the beans to a heavy pot with a lid. Cover well with water.
  3. Bring beans to a boil, turn down heat and simmer for 3 minutes.
  4. Allow beans to stand and soak (the article recommends 2 hours – I shorten this time, sometimes to just a few minutes – seems to work for me)
  5. Pour beans into colander, draining water.
  6. Repeat the process.
  7. After the second blanch-soak procedure, place beans in pot and cover with water.
  8. Bring beans and water to a simmer. Cook on low heat until done.

I do agree that some flavor is lost. I check the seasoning and adjust it at the end. I find I also need to adjust the water content of my dishes. Most of my recipes from the Cafe are designed around just rinsing and cooking the beans. When I use the blanch-soak method, I reduce the liquid content of recipes somewhat. I can always add it in again at the end if I want to thin a soup or a dish.

So…my current recommendation for cooking beans: just rinse and cook if they don’t cause you any difficulty. If beans do cause you difficulty, don’t soak overnight but do blanch and soak (for some amount of time) at least twice.

Curried (Vegan) Cauliflower & Leek Soup


This creamy Curried Cauliflower & Leek Soup is a delicious addition to our repertoire in the Cafe and has been very popular. It was the first creamy soup I had tried using a non-dairy milk.

The original recipe that I picked up on Pinterest from Beard and Bonnet calls for canned coconut milk, which I have listed in the recipe below. It was also elegantly garnished with crushed red pepper and cilantro stems.

This last time I made it, I used fresh coconut milk, which was thinner than the canned. It was easy to adjust for this by using only milk and no water in the soup. I have a few heat-sensitive customers, so I garnished this time with cilantro and red bell pepper.

I made a few other changes in the recipes, mainly in the procedure.

Curried (Vegan) Cauliflower & Leek Soup


  • Cauliflower, 2 lb.
  • Leeks, 1 cup cleaned chunks (white or light green parts only)
  • Ginger, 1-1/2″ piece
  • Basmati rice, dry, 1-2 TB
  • Limes, 1-1/2 for garnish and additional flavor
  • Cilantro, 1/3 cup
  • Thai green or yellow curry paste, 2-3 TB
  • Coconut butter, 2 TB
  • Coconut milk, 4 cups (either use one can augmented with water to make 4 cups, or use 4 cups of fresh coconut milk)
  • Salt, to taste


  1. Add coconut butter/oil to the soup pot.
  2. Prepare the veggies for cooking and pureeing, beginning with the cauliflower. Remove the greenest part of the cauliflower leaves and discard or save for use in another soup stock. Cut out the core and stalk portions of the flowerets and add to the soup pot. Reserve flowerets.
  3.  Wash mud out of the leeks and cut lower portion into chunks, leaving the tougher darker green portions for another soup stock. Add prepared chunks of leeks to soup pot.
  4. Peel ginger piece and add to soup pot.
  5. Cut away any brown parts of cilantro stems. Cut of remainder of stems and put into soup pot. Reserve the leaves to mince for garnish.
  6. Add the dry rice to the pot.
  7. Add half the coconut milk (fresh or reconstituted from can) to the pot.
  8. Bring mixture in pot to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cook veggies until soft.  Cool slightly.
  9. Move the contents of the soup pot to a Vita-Mix or blender and blend until very smooth and hopefully thick.
  10. Move blended ingredients back to the stock pot and add the curry paste and perhaps a little lime juice if you wish. I like to use the lime as a garnish and let people squeeze their own lime juice into the soup if they wish.
  11. Add the uncooked cauliflowerets to the pot and simmer until the cauliflower is slightly soft. This won’t take long at all.
  12. Check the seasoning and add salt to taste or more curry paste if desired.
  13. Dish up, garnish with minced cilantro and either a few red pepper flakes or chopped red bell pepper. Enjoy.

Creamy Vegan Corn Chowder


I love potatoes and consider them a great vegetable despite the bad rap they’ve gotten in recent years. I know the arguments about their role in spiking blood sugar — but the peel counteracts that. Whole foods – that’s the key.


  • Extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup
  • Spanish onion, 1 large, small dice
  • Red bell peppers, 2, small dice
  • Red Potatoes, 16 small peel left on, quartered
  • Carrots, 6, 1″ dice
  • Water, 4 quarts
  • Cashews, 2 cups, soaked overnight
  • Cornstarch, 1 cup
  • Corn, fresh or frozen, 1-1/2 quarts
  • Salt & Szeged hot paprika to taste
  • Parsley, 1/4 cup chopped


  1. Saute the onion, bell peppers and carrots in extra virgin olive oil.
  2. Add half the water, add potatoes, and cook covered until potatoes are barely softened.
  3. Add other half of water to Vita-Mix or blender with soaked cashews and cornstarch. Blend until smooth and add to soup.
  4. Add fresh or frozen corn shortly before ready to serve. Bring back to a simmer, season and cook for 10-15 minutes.
  5. When serve, sprinkle chopped parsley on top.

Matboukha (Moroccan Salsa)


I often serve Matboukha as a salad in the typical Middle Eastern style with pita (or Challah) for dipping. It is a delicious and versatile cooked tomato salad.  I have also used it for Shakshouka, a Middle Eastern dish in which eggs are poached in saucy tomatoes and peppers. Whenever I make something that calls for a tomato sauce, I like to use this one for a unique flavor.

This recipe makes 2 quarts


  • Extra virgin olive oil, 2 TB
  • Garlic, 4-6 lg. cloves
  • Green pepper, 1 large
  • Tomato paste, 3 oz. (half a small can) – opt.
  • Plum tomatoes, 15 large
  • Cilantro, 1/2 cup chopped, packed
  • Salt, 1.5 tsp.
  • Cumin, 1 TB.
  • Szeged hot paprika, 1.5 tsp.


  1. Petite dice the tomatoes, and place in a pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and allow the liquid to be released. This won’t take long. Drain with a colander (you can reserve the liquid that drains and use it as a soup base).
  2. Petite dice the green pepper and set aside.
  3. Finely chop the garlic, and saute it briefly in the extra virgin olive oil. Add the petite diced pepper, continuing to saute until pepper softens.
  4. Add the other seasonings (salt, cumin, hot paprika) and saute briefly.
  5. Add the thoroughly drained tomatoes and turn off the heat.
  6. Add the tomato paste to thicken, up to half of a six oz. can.
  7. Add the finely chopped cilantro.
  8. Serve with bread for “dipping” or use in another dish.

Butternut Squash & Spinach Lasagna


I saw a beautiful picture of Butternut Squash and Spinach Lasagna and thought I would like to make it for our Vegan Thursday entrée along with some roasted green beans, red pepper and cabbage slivers. Butternut Squash is often used in dishes as part of creating the color and mouth feel of a cheese dish. Alas, the recipe turned out not to be vegan. I went to work on my own version.

I built this dish based on a “Moroccan Eggplant Parmesan” dish I created several years ago. That dish included fried eggplant Middle Eastern style (without breading). The eggplant develops a great texture and is a wonderful addition to these layered vegetable dishes. It also included chickpeas and Matboukha, a Middle Eastern “salad” that we call Moroccan Salsa. I’ll post that recipe as soon as I finish this one.

I forgot to sprinkle capers on my lunch above, but they would make a great addition to the dish!

Serves 4-6


  • Butternut Squash, 2 lb. after peeled and cut
  • Spinach, 1/4 lb.
  • Eggplant, 1 regular
  • Matboukha (see recipe), 2 cups
  • Green onions, 3-4
  • Tomatoes, 2 plum
  • Chickpeas, 1/2 – 1 cup dried
  • Whole wheat lasagna, 8 strips (about half a box)
  • Parsley or cilantro, a little for garnish


  1. Prepare each ingredient for the layers separately. Start with the beans, which take longest. Soak overnight, discard water.  Add water to cover, bring to a boil, drain. Repeat process. After the second boil, add water to cover, bring to simmer, and cook until soft. Drain chickpeas and set aside.
  2. Make the Matboukha (you can also use a bottled spaghetti sauce, seasoned to your taste).
  3. Cut eggplant into round “steaks,” about 1/2″ thick. Salt and drain overnight or for several hours. Pat dry, deep fry or saute both sides in a pan. When light brown, remove from heat to a paper towel.
  4. Peel and cut the squash. Cook in a small amount of water until tender. Drain (if needed) and mash slightly. Set aside. I have a hard time peeling butternut squash, so I’m going to try roasting the squash next time and scooping out the contents.
  5. Wash and chop the spinach and set aside.
  6. Cook lasagna in salted water with a few drops of oil until al dente. Use a large shallow pan so strips can lie flat.
  7. Using a deep 8″ x 8″ pan, layer everything twice in this order: lasagna strips, cooked and mashed butternut squash, cooked chickpeas, spinach, fried eggplant, chopped green onions, Matboukha, sliced tomato.
  8. Bake at 325 degrees for 40 minutes or until heated through. Remove from oven. Add a little Matboukha to the top and/or chopped parsley garnish.
  9. Serve and enjoy.

Quick & Easy Fatoush

fatoush02In an earlier post about Fatoush, made the old-fashioned way, I wrote about “value-added products.” There are some good ones out there, and here’s one I love:  a “Salad Kit” from Eat Smart, which I get at Costco. Most of the bag is made up of a slaw-type preparation of broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale and chicory.

What a great idea to run the unused parts of vegetables through a shredder to make a salad! The package contains a pumpkin seed and craisin packet — and unfortunately the package also contains a poppy seed salad dressing with ingredients I don’t want to use, which I generally have to discard.


I use at least one of these 28 oz. packages every week. It’s a great source for important nutrients and allows me to put things together very quickly. Early in the week I use it for salads, and later in the week, as it gets a little older, I can use it in a stir-fry.

One of my favorite things to do with the slaw is to use it for a quick Fatoush, a salad that is characteristically made with leftover toasted or dried broken pita pieces. I like to use whole wheat Lebanese pita for this salad.

Fatoush means “crushed” or “broken” and refers to the Pita croutons that are a prominent feature of this salad.

  • Salad Kit – two large handsful of slaw
  • Avocado – 1/2 ripe, sliced
  • Tomato – 1 plum, petite diced or cut into slivers
  • Whole Wheat Lebanese Pita – one piece, heated in oven until crisp, broken into pieces


  • Lemon – juice of 1/2 lemon (about 1 TB) or to taste
  • Tahina – 1 TB
  • Salt – 1/4 tsp. or to taste
  • Pepper – freshly ground, to taste

This recipe is enough for two large salads.