Monday, 23 June 2014

Recipe: Simple Soba

Lately I've been spending most of my free time packing so it's distracted me from this blog. Today I cooked a really simple and delicious meal and I knew I had to post it here. It's cool for the hot summer days (it's finally officially summer!) and it's very healthy. And it's a simple recipe, which is good since most of my kitchen things are packed already! Get ready to see a new kitchen in the background of my photos of food, because I'm moving in only one week.

This recipe involves soba noodles, also known as buckwheat noodles. You may or may not be able to find them in your local grocery store, but if not they can be found in almost any Asian supermarket. If you want you could sub out soba noodles for spaghetti noodles, but I urge you not too. Then you'd be missing out on the tastiness and healthiness of this delicious Japanese noodle. Soba noodles are high in protein, fibre, and manganese. They don't contain gluten so they're a perfect noodle option for people who can't eat gluten.

Soba noodles aren't just healthy, they're delicious. Like, really delicious. About four years ago I went through a period of time where I was obsessed with soba noodles. I ate them twice a week, at least. I ate them for lunch and dinner, sometimes on the same day. I ate them so much that after about a year I became tired of them. For four years I didn't eat any soba noodles. A couple weeks ago I saw them on the shelf in a grocery store and decided to buy them. One large and delicious bowl later and I'm hooked again. I just need to remember to pace myself this time!

Feel free to experiment with your toppings! 

Delicious soba noodles!

Recipe: Simple Soba
Serves 4

-4 servings of soba noodles (The same amount as what you would cook for 4 servings of spaghetti. One good rule of thumb is that a bundle with the diameter of a quarter is about one serving.)
-1 avocado, cubed
-1 cup soft tofu, cubed
-2 green onions, sliced
-1 large carrot, grated
-4 tbs toasted sesame seeds

-1/4 cup soy sauce
-2 tbs of sugar, or to taste
-1 tsp sesame oil
-1 clove garlic, minced
-1 tsp ginger, minced
-Juice of 2 limes

1. Boil water. Once the water is boiling, add the soba noodles. Allow the noodles to cook until al dente, about ten minutes. Drain the noodles and rinse them in cold water.

2. Whisk together all the sauce ingredients. Add more sugar if desired, depending how sweet you want the sauce to be. Traditionally, cold soba noodles are dipped into sauce with chopsticks. You can do this if you want, but I just mixed the sauce in with the noodles.

3. Serve the noodles in individual bowls topped with avocado, soft tofu, green onions, grated carrots, and toasted sesame seeds. Feel free to omit or add other toppings such as cucumber, edamame, fried mushrooms, or seaweed.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Product review: Yoso non-dairy yogurt

There's a new health food store which opened up near our place and my roommate, Sam, and I decided to poke around the other day and see what they have. There were a lot of interesting products I hadn't seen before, but the one that most caught my eye was the non-dairy, non-soy yogurts by Yoso. I like dairy yogurt and I've tried soy yogurt as a substitute, but I've always been disappointed. All the soy yogurts I've tried have a strong soy taste which I find off-putting. I bought two Yoso yogurts: one coconut milk yogurt and one almond-cashew yogurt. They are both organic, vegan, and cultured with non-dairy bacteria. I really enjoyed both of them, especially the coconut milk yogurt. They both are high-calcium, high fiber, and the almond-cashew yogurt is high protein. They both have very smooth textures, especially the coconut, and a yogurty taste from the fermentation. If you don't eat dairy or want to switch up your yogurt routine, I recommend you give Yoso a try.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Protein myths

Meat! A protein-rich food, but not the only one. By painter Pieter Aertsen.

Based on my experience of being vegan for many years, it seems that the major concern of fretful family members, curious acquaintances, and friends considering veganism is that veganism does not supply enough protein. Please allow me break down some myths about veganism and protein. 

First, a brief disclaimer. This isn’t me trying to convert anyone to veganism.  I believe that the best way to convince anyone to be vegan is to be a good example and to share my recipes and food. Most people just close their ears if they feel preached to or judged. And I certainly don’t think veganism is for everyone; it depends on your body and your circumstances. My intent in this post is to share what I’ve learned about protein, because it’s surprisingly different from popular knowledge about protein. 

1. You need a lot of protein to be healthy.

Certainly you do need protein to be healthy. You may be surprised, however, by how much protein is enough. For adults and teenagers, about 50 grams of protein is what most health organisations recommend. How much is 50 grams of protein? Well, a cup of yoghurt or a glass of milk has about 10 grams of protein, and a small serving of meat has about 20 grams of protein. So if you have yoghurt or milk with breakfast, plus meat with lunch and dinner, and then you add in the protein that you’re getting from all the other things in your diet, you’re almost certainly getting way too much protein.

 Amount of protein recommended by the CDC

2. Meat is the only food that is high in protein.  

Wait a second, protein from the other things in your diet? Not from dairy products or meat? Many people are surprised to learn that most things we eat have at least a bit of protein. For instance, a banana has about 2 grams of protein. And a lot of things we don’t even think of as good protein sources also have a lot of protein. For instance, 100 grams of dry pasta has 13 grams of protein. Then of course there are the staples of the vegetarian diet that omnivores perplexingly refer to as “meat alternatives”. Soy is a great source of protein, with tofu, for example, having about the same protein density as meat (20 grams per serving). For those who don’t like soy, there are nuts, beans, peas, quinoa, or seeds.

Tofu is a great source of vegan protein, but it's far from the only one!

To give an example, here’s a day of food which may seem to our meat-centric culture to be deficient in protein, but is actually perfectly fine. The grams of protein are given in brackets.

Breakfast: Orange juice (1.7), banana (2), cheerios (3) with half a cup of milk (4)

Lunch: Peanut butter (8) and jam sandwich (two slices of bread = 16), apple (0.5)

Dinner: Pasta (13) with tomato sauce (3), salad (1)

Total protein: 52.2 grams

3. The more protein the better.

It’s clear from the examples above that to get the recommended amount of protein you don’t need to eat meat or dairy. But if some protein is good for you, maybe a lot is even better? This seems to be the logic of the Atkins diet. If you eat too much protein it’s true that you’ll just pee it out. So maybe you should eat too much protein just to be sure you’re getting enough, and then pee the extra out. Unfortunately, there may be health risks involved in consuming excess protein. There is evidence that your body will increase its excretion of calcium with that protein, which could be damaging to your bones. Excess protein also increases your likelihood of forming kidney stones by 250%. Like all good things, protein is best in moderation.  

4. Your proteins need to be “complete”.

This is a myth that I’d like to address in more detail in a future post, but let me just say here that the concept of “complete proteins” is a little out-dated. To quote the CDC, “In the past, it was thought that these complementary proteins needed to be eaten at the same meal for your body to use them together. Now studies show that your body can combine complementary proteins that are eaten within the same day.”

5. If you lead a lifestyle that requires high protein, such as being an athlete, you can’t be vegan.

Although your average person needs about 50 grams of protein per day, some people, such as athletes, need more protein at certain points in their lives. For instance, when I was preparing for and recovering from surgery I increased my (vegan) protein intake to help my body heal faster. It’s actually pretty trendy for athletes to be vegan, and there are plenty of examples of successful athletes who are vegan. Check out this athlete’s blog. One easy way to boost your protein as a vegan is to drink vegan protein shakes. Another is to snack regularly on nuts. Perhaps the most obvious way is to make sure there are protein-rich elements in every meal (ex, tofu, beans, quinoa). 

Amare400.jpg Basketball player Montell Owens is vegan

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Recipe: Russian beet salad

Nothing beats a beet! I love the sweet taste and most especially the bright purple colour of beets. This potato and beet salad recipe was taught to me by a Russian friend. My only changes are using apple cider vinegar instead of white vinegar and adding fresh mint. My friend told me that adding a handful of sweet peas is also a nice addition, but I haven't tried it myself. Unlike the heavy mayonaise-drenched salads featured at many a summer barbecue, this salad has a delightful mix of sweet and salty and won't spoil quickly in the sun. I love the contrasting colours of the red-purple beets and the green apples. I wonder what this would taste like with sweet potatoes.

Look at that beautiful colour!

Make sure to dice the onion nice and small.

Recipe: Russian beet salad
Serves: 6

-3 medium-sized beets, in 3 cm cubes
-4 medium-sized potatoes, in 3 cm cubes
-1 green apple, in 2 cm cubes
-1/4 cup white or yellow onion, diced very finely
-1/4 cup sliced gherkin pickles
-1/4 cup olive oil
-1/4 cup white vinegar or apple cider vinegar
-salt and pepper to taste
-a handful of fresh mint (optional)

1. Boil the beets for approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until tender. Add the potatoes to the boiling water about 25 minutes after the beets have been added. The beets and potatoes should both be tender at about the same time because the beets take longer to cook.

2. While to potatoes and beets are boiling, prepare the apple, onion, and pickles.

3. Once the potatoes and beets are tender, drain them. Add all the ingredients except the optional mint into a bowl and mix them together. If you wish, mashing some of the potatoes a little bit with a fork may improve the texture of the salad. You might be worried that the onion will be too strong, but the hot beets and potatoes cook the onion a little when you mix everything together, so it ends up not being too strong.

4. Allow the salad to cool in the fridge. The salad is best if it's left overnight, but it should be good after cooling for at least an hour.

5. Before serving, optionally add some fresh mint.

Enjoy! It's even better a day or two later.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Puerto Rico

Drinking basil lemonade (!) in a pescatarian restaurant called Verde Mesa in Old San Juan

It's been nearly two-week hiatus from this blog because I was travelling in Puerto Rico with my partner, Julie! We had a really wonderful time. We stayed in San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, for most of the time. It's a great travel destination because it has both cultural and outdoors things to do, as well as being affordable. We saw old Spanish forts, walked through rainforests, visited museums, swam at beautiful beaches, and met kind people. Most importantly, at least in the context of this blog, we ate delicious food and drank delicious drinks. I think you would have to be doing something very wrong if you went to Puerto Rico and didn't eat delicious food.

Traditional Puerto Rican cuisine involves ingredients like rice and beans, plantains, fish, pork, yucca, bread fruit, and bananas. We had many excellent meals which involved one or more of those elements. One excellent dish we tried, called mofongo, is unique to Puerto Rico. Mofongo is made by frying green plantain and then mashing it with a wooden mortar and pestle with garlic, broth, salt, and other ingredients. The mash, which is like thick mashed potatoes in consistency, is then shaped into a ball or bowl, and then optionally a meat or vegetable stew can be poured over the mofongo.

Wikipedia has an informative article about the traditional Puerto Rican dish, mofongo.

This post is basically a reminder to myself that I'd like to try making my own vegan mofongo in the near future. If you'd like to try making your own mofongo, here are a few recipes that might work. Vegetable broth should be fine as a substitute for meat broth.

-This recipe has pork, but it seems like it could easily be omitted.
-This recipe explains that Dominicans also enjoy mofongo.
-A step-by-step guide with photos.

If you want to serve your mofongo with stew, here are some vegetarian Caribbean stew recipes, none of which I've tried.

-Puerto Rican stewed beans
 -Vegetarian sancocho (root vegetable stew, usually includes beef or chicken)
-Dominican stewed cabbage
-Puerto Rican-inspired stewed stewed tofu

Please let me know if you try any of these and how it turned out!