April 8, 2013
Chia seeds are gaining a reputation as a superfood, joining the ranks of açaí, pomegranate, goji berry and the most recent favorite, quinoa (the United Nations dubbed this year the International Year of Quinoa.) But unlike its health food brethren, which few knew of before they became ubiquitous, the ingredient once enjoyed some unusual success outside the kitchen: it gave life to Chia Pets, ceramic turtles, cows, pigs and other creatures that sprouted plant-hair and sat atop living room tables across America in the 1990s.
Chia, a flowering plant in the mint family known as Salvia hispanica, is native to central and southern Mexico and Guatemala. Domesticated in 2,600 B.C., the seed is said to have been a staple of the Aztec and Mayan diet. The Tarahumara of Mexico, famous for their incredible endurance running, consume a blend of maize and chia seeds while pounding the desert sand.
At just 65 calories per tablespoon, chia seeds are rich in protein, fiber, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. The seeds transform water into a gooey, gelatin-like mixture one can drink (slowly) straight out of the glass. Their unassuming mild, nutty flavor can disappear into countless different dishes, from pancakes and mashed potatoes to barbecue sauce and Jell-O. Here are five ways to cook with chia seeds that go beyond breading and salad garnishes.
Smoothies. Chia seeds can be ground down into a fine powder in a blender. Now a nearly invisible ingredient, chia powder can be swirled around with countless combinations of fruits, veggies and syrups. This recipe pulverizes the seeds with yogurt, blueberries, mangoes and vanilla extract for a tropical shake, while this one blends them with strawberries and apple juice for a quick breakfast beverage. For a brightly colored shake that tastes better than it looks, combine baby spinach leaves, chunks of kiwi, almond milk and a frozen banana and blend till smooth. Toss a few tablespoons of seeds with peanut butter, frozen bananas, chocolate-flavored coffee creamer, cocoa powder and milk to create a rich dessert smoothie. If the mix is too thick, add milk until it thins out.
Pudding. Some drink chia seeds straight with water, but if the gooeyness minus the flavor is too much for you, try pudding. Fold chia seeds into a mixture of cocoa powder, brown sugar, instant coffee and milk and stick them in the fridge for two hours to create decadent chocolate pudding. Combine the seeds with milk, sugar and vanilla extract and refrigerate overnight for a tapioca-like treat, sprinkling it with shredded coconut. For a breakfast pudding, toss water-soaked cashews with maple syrup, vanilla extract and chia seeds until smooth. Refrigerate eight hours or all night, and or top with dried or fresh fruit.
Breads. When chia seeds absorb water, they create a gelatinous mixture that can replace eggs, oil and butter in baking. In this recipe for pumpkin bread, chia gel takes on the role of butter and oil. Blend it with sugar, eggs and pumpkin puree. In another bowl, sift together flour, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir the pumpkin mixture in gradually, then fold in chopped walnuts for crunchiness. Spread the batter out into a pan and bake for an hour at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Once it’s transformed into a spongy loaf and cooled, smear with a sweet glaze of cream cheese, powdered sugar, milk and vanilla extract. Swap pumpkin puree for bananas for classic banana bread.
Burgers. For an extra protein kick at the picnic table, use chia seeds in homemade burger patties as a binding agent. Stir them in water to create a thick gel-like mixture. Saute chopped onion with olive oil in a pan until it begins to caramelize, then add minced garlic. In a bowl, combine them with ground meat, grated carrots, seasonings and the chia seed mixture. Using a large spoon or glove hands, mold the mix into 4-inch patties that are about half an inch thick and freeze them for an hour. Then, toss them on the grill, letting them sizzle for three minutes on each side.
Soups. Water-laden chia seeds can help thicken soup for a hearty comfort meal. For creamy cauliflower soup, boil chopped onion, cauliflower and vegetable stock. Ladle out half of the broth and stir in ground chia seeds. Return the mix to the pot and continue cooking. Garnish the soup with chopped parsley and black pepper, and serve with a crunchy slice of bread.
November 7, 2012
Should you ever encounter my Mom’s mom and get her on the subject of cauliflower, she will go on to tell you about the best deep-fried cauliflower recipe in the world, the one with the nutmeg in the batter that made the snack sing and how she could sit down and eat a whole bowl if she didn’t watch herself. She will then go on to tell you how, after making up a batch, she spent an entire workday thinking about diving into the leftovers in her fridge only to come home and find that one of her daughters beat her to it. Due to dietary restrictions, she hasn’t had it in a number of years and she, always with good humor, will never let go of the cauliflower that got away. I’ve yet to have the fabled fried treats for myself, but it’s a wonderfully versatile fall vegetable that I love roasting or using in soups. If you’re planning on getting your cauliflower fix, here are five ways to put this high-fiber piece of produce through its paces.
Roast it: The means of cooking may be simple, but you have lots of options in how you execute a dish—namely through how you season the cauliflower and if you pair it with other veggies. It can be as simple as florets dressed with olive oil and paprika gunning it solo in a roasting pan. You can find companions for your cauliflower: broccoli is fairly traditional, but explore other options such as onions and fennel or even Brussels sprouts and sunchokes.
Grill it: Cauliflower really doesn’t require a ton of elbow grease to make it a flavorful companion to a meal. Throw in those endorphin-producing flavors that only a grill can provide, and you’ve got it made. A little salt, pepper, parmesan and those endorphin-producing flavors that come from food fresh off the grill make this recipe an attractive option. You can also cut the head into steaks and put them directly over the heat—and I’m definitely intrigued by the idea of serving them up with a little A1.
Soup it: I have my go-to family cauliflower soup recipe that gets made up a few times once the weather turns cold and it’s a perfect comfort food. Now, I’m fussy—I prefer soups that have a bit of body. For those of you who are agog for for hot purees, you can try this deliciously simple version from chef Paul Bertolli. If you’re like me and like your bowl teeming with discernible bits of veg buoyed by a rich stock, this might be more up your alley.
Sweeten it: Yes, you can use cauliflower in un-savory ways. Cauliflower has a very mild flavor, so it’s easy to sneak it into desserts, like chocolate cake or jam-topped thumbprint cookies. You can also dip them in a basic batter, deep fry and top with sauce made from honey and butter. It’s a fair start at curbing any guilt you have from indulging your sweet tooth.
Don’t Forget the Greens: Well, it can actually be quite easy to forget the greens. Whenever I see heads of cauliflower in my local supermarket, the leaves are pruned back so that the white flesh of the vegetable is the main attraction. But if you grow your own or have access to freshly-harvested veg (e.g. a CSA or farmer’s market), you can use the greens to make a great side dish. With a little oil and garlic in a frying pan, wilt the greens and cook them up or add a few other vegetables and spices for a pungent stir fry. You can also season and roast them with the rest of the cauliflower.
February 13, 2012
In the fall of 1970, Lucy Horton went to stay with Robert Houriet and his wife in Vermont. Horton learned to type and “made order out of the chaos” that would eventually become the book Getting Back Together. Houriet suggested that Horton write a cookbook. And so, after a brief stint cooking for a wealthy woman in Manhattan the following spring, Horton stuck out her thumb and began hitchhiking around the country to gather material. She visited 45 communes and collected dozens recipes for casseroles, couscous, chickbits and a curious soup that calls for Love.
Country Commune Cooking was published in 1972. The comb-bound book resembles earlier community cookbooks put out by clubs and church groups, except that its instructions sometimes contained an overt recipe for social change. I called Horton, who now runs Autumn Leaves, an online bookselling business in Allentown, Pennsylvania, to ask about the legacy of these commune cooks. “They were the forerunners of something,” she told me. “I went to a lot of places where people had what I thought were nutty ideas. But the basic idea was a diet based on what’s available locally, prepared nutritiously, getting away from meat and fat and sugar. That really has become a mainstream idea.”
Not every idea has been a lasting one, Horton said. “The recipes were all donated. I didn’t really own them. And people had a lot of notions about food. I couldn’t accommodate everybody’s notions.” If there were any notion she would forgo today, Horton said it would be what some communards then considered an insidious chemical toxin. “A lot of people thought that baking powder was a poisonous chemical, so I did all the baking recipes with yeast, which is difficult and not very practical.”
One of the most intriguing recipes comes from the Brotherhood of the Spirit, a commune in Western Massachusetts headed by Michael Metelica, “a youthful guru who in turn receives spiritual teachings from a medium, a retired bus driver” named Elwood Babbit. The Brotherhood (later renamed the Renaissance Community) was one of New England’s longest-lasting New Age communes. They tried to spread their message through rock and roll. Their recipe, too, is an attempt at communicating the group’s social and spiritual ideals through the medium of food.
Whether “Brotherhood Spirit in Flesh Soup” is emblematic of an era or more of a recipe for the future remains an open question. Either way, the collection reflects one of the most lasting legacies of counterculture. As Darra Goldstein said at the recent Cookbook Conference: “They were so much more than cookbooks. They were a way of being in the world.”
Brotherhood Spirit in Flesh Soup
From Country Commune Cooking, edited by Lucy Horton, reprinted with permission from the author.
Get everyone together and get a good feeling between you. Work out anything and everything that lies unexpressed. Realize that you are Spirit—and that the health and balance of those you feed depend only on your Thoughts—that balance and order of the body depend upon balance and order of the Mind Positive. The ingredients are of secondary importance, and always in a divine relativity. This soup was made by Alan, Martin, Tam, Lynne and others, and Duh Bear.
1. Two big pots half full of boiling water.
2. Add 2 cups of pinto beans and a little later several handfuls of barley.
3. To each then add a lot of sautéed onions. At this writing the soup isn’t done, but we’ll add 12 canning quarts of squash, carrots and tomatoes from last summer’s garden. Also some green beans someone gave us. Later some salt and seasoning, kelp powder, and a few tablespoons of miso to each. Follow your own Awareness most of all. This soup will feed 130 along with two pots of brown rice and two pots of millet. Pots are about 3 or 4 gallons.
Finally, one last ingredient to be used throughout—Love.
Thanks to Danielle Kovacs, special collections curator at UMass Amherst, for assistance securing permissions for the above photographs and also to Stephanie Hartman, whose article “The Political Palate,” provided inspiration.
November 2, 2011
After potatoes, perhaps no vegetable has kept more bellies full in more places through winter than cabbage. It’s cheap, it’s filling, and it’s available long after a lot of other vegetables have gone into hibernation.
It’s also versatile and is found in cuisines that span the globe. Whether green, red, savoy or napa, here are a few ideas to keep you inspired through spring.
1. Stuff it. Nearly every country between Poland and Lebanon has its own version of stuffed cabbage rolls, each a little different. In Hungary, they’re called Töltött Káposzta and might be stuffed with ground pork and served with sauerkraut, paprika and sour cream. In the Arab countries of the eastern Mediterranean, they’re called Mahshi Malfuf; they’re stuffed with ground lamb and rice and flavored with allspice, cinnamon, garlic and lemon juice. The ones my mom used to make were probably of Polish-Jewish origin, stuffed with ground beef and cooked in a sweet and sour tomato sauce, similar to this version of Holishkes from Epicurious. For a vegetarian take, this Russian recipe stuffed with apples, dried apricots, raisins and spinach and served with sour cream sounds interesting.
2. Stock your soup. I can’t condone eating cabbage soup every day, as one of the crazier (and most intestinally distressing) fad diets has suggested, but the ingredient does deserve a place in your soup repertoire. I like to add shredded napa cabbage, which has thin, frilly leaves, to minestrone soup; this version, from Food52, includes zucchini and green beans, but you could easily substitute fall and winter vegetables. A simple German soup, from Teri’s Kitchen, combines shredded cabbage with onions, rice, nutmeg and a garnish of shredded Swiss cheese. And for a recipe that is defiantly not on the cabbage soup diet, try Closet Cooking’s creamy cabbage and double-smoked bacon soup, which also includes sausage and grainy mustard.
3. Fry it. My favorite way to prepare cabbage is probably to stir-fry it—it’s not mushy or limp, as it can get when boiled, and it’s not dry and starchy, as it sometimes tastes when raw. Plus, it absorbs flavors perfectly—from a simple Chinese-style soy sauce, garlic and ginger mixture to a complex, Indian-spiced dish with potatoes, Aloo Patta Gobhi Sabzi. Or go soul food–style, frying up some cabbage with bacon, garlic and crushed red pepper.
4. Shred it. Slaws are usually thought of as a summer side dish, but they also make a good stand-in for green salads in the colder months. I Really Like Food suggests adding apple, celery, red bell pepper and autumn spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves for a seasonal twist on cole slaw. And, as a transplanted Southern Californian, sometimes I’ve gotta have my fish taco fix, which wouldn’t be complete without a little shredded cabbage and lime juice—like these ones from Koko Likes.
5. Pickle or ferment it. Germans and Koreans independently came up with the idea to ferment cabbage, with very different but equally delicious results. If you’re ambitious—and patient—you could try making your own sauerkraut or kimchi. Or you can do the shortcut version of either, though they will have a less pungent flavor: A quick kimchi recipe on Epicurious takes only 3 1/2 hours to pickle, rather than days, and Brian Boitano (yes—the figure skater—he now has a show on the Food Channel) improvises a quick sauerkraut to serve with Schnitzel by cooking shredded cabbage with German beer, vinegar and mustard seeds.
September 20, 2011
California is on the road to becoming the fourth state in the union to ban shark fin soup on account of the ecological impact that rising demand is having on shark populations. A bill nixing the sale, trade or possession of shark fins passed the state senate on September 6 and is awaiting governor Jerry Brown’s signature to be passed into law. The namesake ingredient for this Asian delicacy is harvested by fishermen who catch sharks, remove the fins and dump the carcasses back in the ocean. While other parts of the shark are edible or can be used for other purposes, it makes more financial sense for the fishermen to haul back the fins because they are the most valuable: they can sell (depending on size and the species of shark) for upwards of $880 per pound on the Hong Kong market. (In 2003, a fin from a basking shark sold for $57,000 in Singapore.) It is estimated that between 26 and 73 million sharks are killed worldwide each year for their fins, and with sharks unable to reproduce at such a rate to meet human demand, sustainable shark fishing is a bit unrealistic.
So what’s the big to-do over this dish? It’s certainly not the fin’s flavor—which has been described as being relatively tasteless—but rather it’s unique, rubbery texture. Once dried, processed and incorporated into the soup, the fin looks like fine, translucent noodles whose culinary value is in their mouthfeel—all the flavor has to come from the other soup ingredients. Some chefs have tried using gelatin-based substitutes, but, for those intimately familiar with the dish, imitation shark falls short of capturing the feel of the real deal.
“This is the most stunning aspect of the entire economic empire that has arisen around shark’s fin soup” environmental reporter Juliet Eilperin writes of the soup in her book Demon Fish. “It is, to be blunt, a food product with no culinary value whatsoever. It is all symbol, no substance.” Indeed, with some iterations costing upwards of $100 a bowl, it’s a dish that, if nothing else, displays one’s social status.
The dining tradition that dates back to the Song Dynasty (960 to 1279 A.D.), becoming a mainstay of formal dining during the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644 A.D.), and it continues to be a popular dish at Chinese weddings. Opponents see the ban as an act of cultural discrimination, with the language of the bill singling out shark fin soup and giving no mention of other shark-based products, such as steaks or leather goods.
But shark populations are declining. In the 1980s, Hong Kong’s local shark populations were overfished to the point that its fishing market went bust. In the U.S., dusky shark numbers have declined by roughly 80 percent since the 1970s, with conservationists estimating that it would take upwards of 100 years for those populations to rebuild. In western Atlantic waters, hammerhead sharks have declined by up to 89 percent over the past 25 years. And in spite of cultural traditions, the international community—with the exceptions of Japan, Norway and Iceland—has placed bans on whaling because humans put such a strain on those populations. Should the same reasoning be applied to sharks?