Pumpkin Pasta Sauce

Today’s Music (this was a favorite for late-night paper writing in college)

I’m proud to say that this post was requested by someone looking for a new way to use pumpkins.  Pumpkins are a veritable Autumnal installation, but they’re not just for pies and pissing off your neighbors while they degrade into a puddle on your front porch.  These gourds are loaded with beta-carotine (which your body converts to Vitamin A), and can be used in savory dishes, as well as desserts.

Why pumpkin sauce?  Excellent question!  Large batches of pasta primavera is one of the staples of my diet; it’s easy to make and store, it’s a great way to get vegetables into your diet, and if you use whole wheat pasta (and make sure to add variety to your diet) it’s a fairly healthy option.  I try to stay away from jarred tomato sauces when I can, and now that Barilla is off of my menu for now, I like alternatives (and shove the free market arguments, the president of the Barilla company is a douche and should be called on his comments).  Now that tomatoes are out of season, and because I have not yet learned how to can, pumpkin sauce works in a pinch.  Here’s roughly the recipe I used; you will need:

  • 1 small pumpkin (not the miniatures, a small large pumpkin…yeah…)
  • About a third of a cup of unsweetened almond milk (you can sub this with vegetable broth or dairy milk, if you would prefer)
  • 1 teaspoon of Italian seasoning mix
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder (you could probably use whole garlic here, I would only recommend roasting it so it purees better)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Cut off the stem of the pumpkin but do not pierce the skin.  Roast it whole for about 40 minutes, or until it becomes soft; the skin should depress at your touch.  Remove the pumpkin form the oven and let it cool briefly.  Cut it in half and scoop out the seeds (save them for roasting!) and remove the skin.  Add the pumpkin flesh to a blender with the almond milk and seasonings, and process until it has reached a smooth consistency.

Add to pasta or store immediately.

I sprung this recipe on some friends without telling them what was in it, and it was well-received.  The texture of the sauce compliments the pasta and vegetables well, and I thought it had a unique, mildly cheesy flavor that mixed will with the garlic.  Try it and tell me what you think.  What would you add?

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How do you know who is vegan at a party?

Punchline: Don’t worry, they will tell you.

Sometimes I feel that I’m a man (person) without a country: I love vegan cuisine, I read (raw) vegan recipes and blog sites all of the time, I actively look for vegan alternatives and substitutes in recipes, I agree that the meat and dairy industry are major contributors to climate change and do not ensure animal or worker welfare…and most days, I do not want to talk to other people about being or not being a vegan.

There is no one reason for this discomfort, it arises from several sources of discomfort.  I often joke that it’s because I dislike vegans, but a) this isn’t true and b) that’s no coherent reason for not talking about being vegan.  Let’s turn our attention to the first question: what is veganism?

Human evolution (if you choose to recognize it) tells a story of a groups of homonids who subsisted primarily on plant matter and sometimes seeds, eggs and insects and gradually introduced calorie-saturated meat into their diet, which helped create a mechanism for humans to develop the sophisticated brain we possess today.  Currently, much of the meat, dairy and eggs eaten in this country is raised in CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations).  I see veganism as a reaction to a bad system; meat is produced in an efficient yet troubling structure with externalities that veganism recognizes and attempts to remedy or combat.  Sound reasonable?  Yes?  Good.

I will also add that veganism is not a self-imposed, masochistic deprivation, as I think it tends to be perceived.  Nor is it a sadistic plot to force-feed anyone lettuce all day (which this dick thinks eating healthy entails).  It’s a rejection of food and actions that are deemed harmful to themselves, others (including animals), and the environment, and embracing those that are not harmful.

My main problem with veganism is context.  Jargon, slogans and buzzwords are not explanations for why someone is or should be a vegan.  The idea that meat is bad is too simple an explanation for the choice to be vegan, and not necessarily true, either.  Meat is murder.  Yes, technically it is…as is stepping on an insect.  As is killing whales and other marine mammals for food and blubber, which some Inuit communities have been doing for a long time in a responsible manner.  If you really cared about_______, you’d stop eating/buying/using______).  I dislike these statements because they assume that there is willing disdain for the planet or other people from the consumer (Fuck you, Earth!).   Animals are our friends.  No.  Please leave this phrase alone.

**(These are all statements I’ve heard from actual vegans at some point in my life)**

There are, of course, reasonable, coherent explanations for becoming vegan or vegetarian.  Medical science has shown that a plant-based diet with a limited amount of animal protein is optimal for human health.  Lactose intolerance, high cholesterol, and diabetes are real health issues that can be helped by removing animal products from your diet.  CAFOs are a major contributor to global warming and ecosystem pollution.

I have considered becoming vegan several times in my life, but have not transitioned to this day.  Why not?  Because I like the eggs that I get from the farmer’s market and my grocery co-op.  Because much of the food I make is already vegan.  Because I’m cognisant of my health and make sure that I eat well and exercise.  Because I don’t like people freaking out that they might invite me over for dinner and I will be offended by their use of cheese or butter.  Because I don’t like to proselytize.  Because I’m tired of telling people that I don’t support PETA and that PETA doesn’t have the right to condemn someone who eats a grilled cheese or use eggs from a neighbor’s chicken.  Because finding solutions like nutritionally-poor school lunches, poverty, and climate change requires more than just going vegan.  Because purchasing power doesn’t equate to social change.  Because while I can see ditching fish in the future, once in a while I like a slice of pizza from the corner place down the street from me.  Because I don’t want people thinking I look down on them for not being a vegan.  Because I’m not ready yet.

Some things are inexcusable, like the torture of animals and eating fast food hamburgers multiple times a week.  Some things are reasonable approaches to a healthier diet, like taking time to walk each day and substituting meat with other options a few times a week.  My point here is that I’m really not trying to bash veganism; I’m trying to illuminate that becoming a vegan is not an end-all solution the issues related to meat production, but it’s a step in that direction.

I thought that this article was a thoughtful and honest account for what you might expect to happen when you become a vegan.  Please read and share with others.

Chapathis

Today’s Music: Preservation by Del the Funky Homosapien and Aesop Rock

So, this is my first entry in many months. I’m working eliminating ‘life being hectic’ as a valid excuse for anything, so let’s call this post a first step.

I did juggle deleting this blog because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue writing, or if I should just wait out until inspiration struck. As it turns out, people are still reading this blog, which has inspired me to try being creative again, if not in an office right now, then in the kitchen and on the keyboard. Plus, I’m using a full kitchen now (recently moved to a new place in my neighborhood), which means more room and a full oven.

So, if you’re still subscribed or check out my blog from time to time, thank you. I promise to keep putting out posts and recipes as long as people are still reading and eating.

Alright, enough of that. Onto eating…you know, if I were to have a family crest, I think that “Onto Eating” would be on there in Yiddish or Polish or something.

Chapathi (pronounced chapat-hee) is an unleavened flatbread from the Indian Subcontinent. Many of you who have eaten at an Indian restaurant are probably familiar with the flatbread naan; naan differs from chapathi in that naan is leavened bread prepared in an oven, while chapathis, and its cousin the roti, are prepared without leavening on a hot skillet or over an open flame. I like chapathis because they’re quick to make in large batches, and normally go well with what I eat on a consistent basis anyway (curries with lentils or chickpeas, stewed vegetables, hummus, etc.). The first time I had chapathi, I was hanging out in a Sikh temple, a gurdwara, eating lentils and pakoras in their communal dining hall, the langar. I’m going to be writing more about the Sikh faith and food in the coming week, but now, onto rolling out chapathis!

While making a batch this week, I wanted to try throwing in some spices and onion; I was very pleased with the end results. For your onion chapathis, you will need:

  • 2 cups of whole wheat flour (you can use white flour if you like, but I prefer wheat)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 small yellow or sweet onion (I used half of a large yellow)
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin power
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon of ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon of chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, separated
  • Water, start with one cup and ad more as needed

First, julienne your onion into thin slices. Add them to a large bowl with your spices, salt, flour, and one tablespoon of oil. Mix with a wooden spoon that the onions are coated with flour.

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Add water one cup at a time and mix well until you end up with pliable, if somewhat chunky dough.

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Lay down a layer of flour on a wooden board or a countertop and knead the dough for a few minutes. Let it rest for a couple of minutes, then divide your dough into 10-12 pieces (or more if you want smaller chapathis). Use a rolling pin to roll one out as flat as you can, taking care not to totally crush your onion slices.

Pour your second table spoon of oil onto a pan, and set it on your burner on medium to medium-high heat for a minute or two. Use a piece of towel to grease the whole pan; your bread is not going to be fried, but the oil while help prevent too much sticking. Carefully lay your rolled-out chapathi on the pan, which should be very hot at this point. Each chapathi should only cook for about 30 seconds to a minute on each side. When brown spots appear on the pan-facing side, flip the bread and allow the other side to cook.

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Ideally, these would be served immediately, but you can allow them to cool and eat them later. If letting them cool, let them rest on a wire rack, or perhaps in your oven if it is not in use. I thought these chapathis turned out very well; they were a little thicker than anticipated, but cooked all the way through. The onion softened and became very sweet during the cooking process, which made for a pleasant mingling of flavors. The spices wasn’t very prominent part of the final product, so if you want a stronger turmeric or chili taste, add more to your liking.

Next week: Sikh and You Will Find…a Hot Meal and a Cup of Tea

Eat this! (not every title can be a winner, but check out these Raw Burritos)

I love Sunday mornings.  Since college, I’ve appreciated having one part of my week being dedicated to being intentionally slow.  Sometimes I troll recipe blogs or watch silly YouTube videos with my partner (this has become a favorite).  Today, I’m spending it drinking my coffee at a leisurely pace (I’m on my second cup already) and writing about raw food burritos (and no, I don’t meant steak tartar and crunchy rice wrapped up in a tortilla).

I’ve been reading a lot recently about raw vegan diets and, a more recent phenomenon, the Paleo Diet, one that tries to recreate a diet that our hunter-gatherer ancestors consumed.  The Paleo Diet stresses consumption of “fresh meats…eggs…seafood, fresh fruits, [vegetables], nuts and seeds and healthful fats”, while avoiding, well, pretty much everything else, including dairy, salt, and often caffeine, alcohol, and marijuana*.  Raw food diets are a little more self explanatory: your diet consists of raw fruits, raw vegetables, nuts, seeds, some roots, and perhaps some fermented foods and salts.  All of your food is prepared fresh, and cooking is essentially limited to dehydration.

There are ups and downs to both diets, the most evident being the many (but not all) adherents to either diet are often self-righteous tightwads.  Seriously, spend a few hours with a groups of raw vegans and see if can resist grinding your teeth.  These diets are easier to follow in locations where access to fresh vegetation is more readily available; having spent five miserable winters in New England, it’s easy to see why adhering to raw veganism might be difficult.  The Paleo Diet sounds like a great idea at first glance, but depending on meat, and often red meat, as the bulk of your caloric intake can lead to high risk of heart disease, kidney problems, and certain cancers.  On the bright side, these diets do advocate for increased consciousness of what you are eating, when you are eating throughout the course of a day, and greater food preparation at home rather than depending on prepared and packaged food.  Furthermore, both the Paleo Diet and raw veganism advocate for an active lifestyle with plenty of exercise, meditation, yoga, and other activities.  At the heart of both diets is increasing your nutritional intake and trying to eat in harmony with your surrounding environment, and it is hard to be angry at that.

For me, these diets are exciting opportunities to try a new recipe, which brings me to the burritos.  I apologize for not having pictures to accompany this post, so bear with me.

Raw food or raw vegan burritos are essentially a handheld salad on the go.  They’re a fun addition to dinners and potlucks (or Superbowl parties, which I will be hopping tonight), and they are highly versatile; there is no right or wrong way to enjoy these.  There are really only two ingredients that I think are necessary for raw burritos.  The first are collard greens, which will serve as your tortilla.  Collards are related to kale and cabbage, and are extremely healthy; the leaves have high quantities of fiber and calcium (great for people who are avoiding dairy), and also pack Vitamins A, C, and K.  The second necessity is avocado.  I like adding avocado because it provides a healthy dose of monounsaturated fat (the kind that helps maintain low cholesterol levels), Vitamin E, and fiber, and it adds a creaminess that goes will with whatever else you are adding to your burrito.

Here’s the process:

Peel and mash your avocado. Using a sharp knife, shave the stalk of the collard green leaf off so that your leaf is flatter and more amenable to folding.  Lay your leaf out flat and spread some of the mashed avocado.  Add your other vegetables, not so much that your burrito will be overstuffed and burst, but enough to have a good blend of flavors.  Fold the bottom of your leaf (the broad top part without the stalk ending) up and over to create a pocket, and then fold the two sides of the collard leaf over the middle, one over the other.  If you want, feel free to attach a twist tie or rubber band to the middle to hold the burrito together.  That’s it!  The fillings are up to you, but here are some ideas:

  • Bean sprouts
  • Grated root vegetables (I like shredded carrot and turnip mixed with lemon juice)
  • Brussel sprout leaves
  • Nut butter spread
  • Bell peppers
  • Chopped tomatoes or red onion added to the avocado
  • If you’re not avoiding animal products, some shredded cheese or some filleted fish (this won’t make it a raw burrito, but what the heck, enjoy it)
  • Make an accompanying dipping sauce

For some further journalistic explorations raw and Paleo diets, check out these exciting pieces from NPR:

Have you experimented with a raw food or Paleo diet? What were your experiences?

*Note: “Roots, Leaves, and Everything Else” in no way advocates for the consumptions of cannabis except as prescribed by a physician.  For more information about marijuana legislation and activism, please check out NORML.  For a great movie about marijuana consumption, check out Half Baked.  Seriously, it’s worth watching.

Chewy Snacks for Crunchy People (Vegan Oatmeal Breakfast Bars)

I started a new job as a contractor a couple of weeks ago.  That means I’m out of the house early in the morning and in the field most of the day, so I usually am eating a cold lunch or going for a sandwich with the other crew members.  These oatmeal bars are great for when I’m on the job; they can be a quick breakfast or a filling, protein-packed snack during the middle of the day.  The walnuts, apple, and oatmeal provide some lasting energy, and the flax seed add a healthy dose of dietary fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.  I recommend these for vegan-friendly potlucks, folks with a busy workday and poor vending machine options, and people who are hitting the gym at some point in the day.

I’m not a vegan.  I’ve gone through vegan/“vaugan” periods over the last few years, but I haven’t made the change to full-time, and I’m not sure that I ever will.  However, I believe it’s always a good idea to know a few recipes that are vegan-friendly (or ways you can substitute ingredients to make something vegan) should you ever need to take someone’s dietary preferences into consideration.

You will need:

  • 2 cups quick oatmeal
  • ¾ cup soy or almond milk
  • I apple, grated (I used a Granny Smith because it was the firmest I had at the time)
  • ¼ cup brown sugar (I substituted this with a little less than ¼ cup agave nectar)
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ~½ cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • Flax seeds (optional; I had a few tablespoons left and decided to add them)
  • 2-3 tablespoons shredded, unsweetened coconut (optional)
  • Oil for greasing the pan

Yield: Around 9 bars (depending on size)

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Reserving the apples (and agave if you’re using it), mix together all of the dry ingredients.  Add the apples a small amount at a time, followed by the milk and combine will.  My mixture looked a little like this:

Grease a baking pan (8”x8” to 10”x10” works, but you’re not restricted to this) with some oil and spread the mixture evenly.  Bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes, then remove and let cool.  Cut the mixture into bars or squares, and enjoy.  These are great cold, room temperature, or warm; I like to stick them in the toaster oven for a few minutes when I have the chance.

This is my third attempt at making these bars, and I think these are the best yet.  The first time I omitted the sugar and used bittersweet chocolate chips; the flavor combination wasn’t bad but the chocolate remained melted and made for messier eating.  The second attempt I substituted the apple for a few finely shredded carrots and once again didn’t add sugar.  These were pretty bland and didn’t make for great eating.  This newest version remains moist but not soggy, and has texture somewhat reminiscent of apple cake.  Overall, I’m very satisfied with this version.

*Side note

I did a little research, and while oatmeal might be considered gluten-free, it often gets cross-contaminated by wheat.  I’m honestly not sure if there is a way to make this gluten-free except to find oatmeal that is labeled as such.  If I find out more information I will post this, but feel free to comment and contribute.