Monday, January 30, 2012

Sautéed veggie scramble

One of my nutritional aims is to eat a variety of veggies on a daily basis. And since I am vegetarian, this goal is quite important (otherwise, as beginning vegetarians often do, you would end up eating carbs and more carbs). Here are two variations of a breakfast/brunch/lunch favorite: The sautéed veggie scramble. I usually incorporate whichever veggie I have in the fridge (or freezer). Here, I show one of my favorite variations, the crispy okra and egg scramble. I fry the okra in about a teaspoon of olive oil until it is brown and crispy on all sides, then I add 1 egg (because what I want to eat is the okra, not so much the egg). I add salt, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes.

Another great combination, is fresh spinach and sun dried tomato. Again, I sauté the veggies in a about 1 teaspoon olive oil, and then add one egg. 
There are many variations of this one egg scramble, like the fresh spinach, mushroom and fresh, crushed garlic. Or fresh tomatoes and sweet peas. Or fresh, green and red peppers, with (cooked and cubed) potatoes. One of the key things about this dish is that the sautéed veggies are the heart of the dish (and thus should be more abundant that the eggs). Sometimes, I eat the veggie scramble wrapped in a whole-grain flour tortilla, to which I add salsa, hot sauce, and avocado slices.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Cream of broccoli & tostones

It was a snowy day. From the kitchen window, the world was the monochromatic color of snow: a winter postcard! (in Walcott's sense) And while you admire the snow, and you think it is beautiful, a gift from the heavens even, like a good Caribbean-islander that you are, your deepest wish is that you were standing instead in a tropical forest or looking out at the vast and warm Caribbean Sea. Right now, looking at the whitest snow you have ever seen your craving for the greenest of greens intensifies. It is in honor of this craving for green that I made a soothing (and vegan) cream of broccoli. I accompanied the soup with that dearest of viandas, el plátano verde (the green plantain) in the grand form known as tostones. On a snowy New England night nothing could be so soothing!

 I started out with raw, fresh ingredients. 
  • 1 lb. broccoli
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1 medium onion, cubed
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 cups vegetable broth or water
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups soy milk
  • 2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 2 tsp. basil
  • salt and pepper to taste
Cut the broccoli into florets. Put the broccoli, onion, garlic, and broth or water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium heat and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.

Put all the ingredients into a food processor and add the flour. Process until smooth. 

Return the soup to the saucepan and add the remaining ingredients.

Cook over medium heat until the soup thickens and is heated through. Season to taste with the salt and pepper and serve. 

Now the tostones. Friends from other latitudes have often asked me how to make tostones, and so here is a step by step photographic illustration that assumes you do not own a tostonera, but if you do, then substitute the low-tech, bottom of a dessert plate for the tostonera. The trick to this low-tech (bottom of a plate version) is to press down on the platano very gently).   

  1. cut plantains into thick circular pieces
  2. fry them in hot oil on each side until they gather color (but do not let them brown or fry for too long, about 1 or so on each side).
  3. remove and place on paper towel to drain out excess oil
  4. place on surface and 
  5. squash gently using tostonera or bottom of small plate (some people use a paper bag)
  6. lift the plate and remove tostón
  7. Fry tostón in hot oil until it browns (about 3 minutes on each side-depending on heat)
  8. Place tostones on a paper towel to remove excess oil and enjoy
Dinner is served!

A note: here I made "mayo-ketchup" for the tostones-- it is indeed a wonder sauce. It is simply mayonnaise and ketchup combined with crushed garlic (you can also use powdered garlic). Simple and delicious, but not vegan.

A note about tostones: because they are double-fried (yum! great for the soul and taste buds), it also means that they are not very good for your health (boo hoo! cholesterol, bad calories). This means that at our house we eat them sparingly. However, if you want to eat them more often and cut down on the health-related concerns, another and effective way to make tostones is to fry them once (steps 1 to 3 above), and then place them in the oven, on a cookie sheet, in a pre-heated oven to 300 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes or until brown and crisp.   

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Brief conversations with strangers

A Day in Downtown Los Angeles
February 15, 2006

After driving around for what seemed like hours, I finally find public parking I can afford. As usual, there is a movie crew on every other block crowding the sidewalks with equipment and all the stuff they use for making fantasy worlds. Worlds we (sometimes) believe are real. I zigzag my way through downtown, crossing the street every time I come across a movie production crew. They remind me of my summer at film school, and quite frankly, making movies was not that much fun! 

My stomach is growling. And so I go to a sandwich shop, order a veggie sub and sit on a booth facing the street. For me downtown L.A. is striking: first because when I'm there I feel as if I am in Distrito Federal, Mejico (without crossing the border); second, because there is so much sand swirling in the air, each particle reminding me that this is a desert; and finally, and perhaps most disturbing, because there are so many homeless men and women here. Statistics reveal that 90,000 men and women call the streets of downtown L.A. their home. This part of downtown is known as "skid row." It is hard to tell skid row apart from any other part of downtown. Don't get me wrong, there are interesting and striking things happening even in the midst of all this "marginality." But that is precisely what bothers me most, that there is such extreme social and economic disparity coexisting side by side.  

After "wolfing down" my sub (I was really hungry), I step out into a balmy L.A. winter day. I love this weather! I do not miss New England winters at all. I love the cloudless sunshine raining down on me 300+ days a year. I love the roses that bloom year around and the fragrant smell of eucalyptus, and lavender, and rosemary. I love that the San Gabriel Mountains stand tall behind me, snow capping their peaks, and that the vast Pacific Ocean is on the opposite side. The weather here is just perfect! (but the smog and the traffic on the 405 isn't!).

As soon as I step onto the street, a homeless man approaches me: 
"hey, you have some change you can spare? I have mouths to feed...times are hard..."
I stand there staring at him. 
"hey, you got some change...i'm hungry, my kids are hungry, got mouths to feed..." he repeats.
Finally, I understand what he is asking...I search my pockets. I come up with 10 cents, and some pennies.
"Yeah man, this is all I have, you know, I'm sorry, I just had lunch and I spent my money..." I say apologetically.
We stand there staring at each other. I hand him the change. I feel someone 16 cents...that doesn't even buy a person water these days. 
So I say, "hey you want my drink? its cold...are you thirsty? here, have my drink!" 
He looks at me, his brown faced widening, revealing a shy smile, I see that he his missing some teeth... 
He replies, "no, I can't take your drink...I can't do that." 
"Of course you can, c'mon, have's hot today.... and beside I will probably not even drink it all...these cups are made for a large animal I think. You know, no one can really drink this much of anything in one sitting..." I force the iced-tea into his hand. 
He takes it.
I feel better. I gave him 16 cents and half of an iced tea and we both begin to walk our separate ways.
Then he turns to me and says: "hey, don't go over that street there...that's skid row over there...they'll try to offer you drugs and stuff, there's nothing good over there."
"Okay, I'll stay over these streets here" I reply. 
"Are you Caribbean?" he asks. I smile a big smile, happy that my "true" place in the world has been recognized, because here on this coast, being from the Caribbean is as exotic and far away as being from say, Alyatki.
"Yes, yes I do you know...?" I ask starting at his brown skin that resembles mine.
"I know the accent...I love that accent...!" he says. 
 Just then, I wanted to ask him all sorts of questions like, "where are you from?," and "how did you end up on skid row?" and "where are those hungry kids of yours?" But I think it is best to let him go carrying his stories with him.  
Then he says with big eyes and a teeth-less smile, "you know, people don't talk to us...we ain't bad people..." 
I don't let him finish and say, "I're human!" 
"Yeah, yeah," he replies smiling. As if thinking that's exactly right...but I can't believe you can see my humanity shining through in spite of the fact that I am another homeless man asking for money.
Then I say, "I better be going man...nice talking to you...take care!" He waves goodbye while sipping iced-tea. 

I cross the street and take pictures of the statues lodged discreetly on the side of buildings. Then I go into a nearby botanica. This botanica has one of the largest  inventories I have ever seen. They carry everything from beauty products to herbs. And I love the smell inside botanicas. Herbs, candles, oils, potions, perfumes, incense, all coming together to make the place smell spiritual, healing. It is so soothing. 

I continue to the central market. This place is one of my favorite places in L.A. There is produce, and people, and food, and all kinds of things going on all at once. I like the overwhelming feelings of buzzing markets. I talk to the food vendors and the chili vendors. They tell me the names of the huge variety of chilies and point out the hottest varieties. They pose for pictures. I don't like asking strangers to pose for photos, but if they volunteer I snap away. I always feel awkward taking someone's image, the image of a person whose story I don't and will never know.

Aside from the impatient toddlers forced to hold their grandmothers hand, I realize I am one the youngest persons in the entire market. I am always mystified at how (many) young people disregard local, central and traditional markets, repositories of incredible foods, knowledge, recipes, and wisdom for the impersonal, hyper-sanitized, and processed food of most contemporary food retailers (including those that flaunt high-end foods--which are often so ex-clusive that they are in fact, undemocratic and elitist).

After the market, I walk back out into the sunshine and begin to look into the windows of the stores selling elaborate quiceañera and wedding dresses. The dresses themselves look like they are made of sugary frosting, they look like elaborate cakes. They are big, puffy, and embellished. There are literally hundreds of stores selling these cake-like dresses in L.A. Then again, there are 20 million people living here. I walk around taking pictures, admiring the dresses in the window displays (I fantasize about trying on  big puffy dresses and having a big "tacky-Latino" party, with bright dresses, and cheap figurines to give away, and a layered cake with thick, sugary frosting, and even a piñata!). (Note to self: must have a puffy-dress "tacky-Latino" party at some point in the near future, maybe for my 40th birthday? Note to self pps. but such a party might be misconstrued by family and friends as a "midlife crisis"? *Must consider implications further and thoroughly).

I continue walking, camera in hand, watching the overall scene in the busy discount-store area (my favorite). A woman walks by and gives me a really nasty look; she looks back at me every so often, giving me dirty looks each time. I have no idea what that is about. I suspect it has to do with my camera. By that point, I am tired of snapping photos, so I take her cue and put the camera away. I make my way to the super cheap designer clothing samples that end up in the racks of the wholesale district. And suddenly I feel I have arrived in a discount clothing nirvana!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Mushroom & Spinach Quiche

It is obvious that I am a little obsessed with the mushroom/spinach combination. I am. It is true. I admit it. For me, Spinach is a wonder green (yes, I realize I am sounding like Popeye!), but it has iron, calcium, even protein, and scores of other "good for you" nutrients. Mushrooms are similarly nutritious. Not to mention delicious. Here is a easy quiche recipe that I know you will enjoy. Try it!

First, I made a simple crust--the only adjustment I made to the existing recipe is that I chilled the dough in the fridge for about 10 minutes. This made it easy to roll out and spread onto the baking dish. 
           1 cup flour 
           1/2 teaspoon salt
           1/4 cup olive oil 
           1/4 cup ice water (I use refrigerated water)
           Mix flour and salt with fork.
           Beat oil and water with whisk or fork to thicken. 
           Pour into flour and mix with fork. 
           Press into 9" pie crust. 
           Fill with quiche mixture and bake at 400F until done.
*You can double the recipe, divide dough in half, and roll out into a pair of rounds for two-crust pies. 
**This recipe is not suitable for baked pie crust shells.
***It makes a nice, flaky crust that's suitable for everyday use

Then I made this filling. 
        1 Tablespoon olive oil 
        2 cups fresh mushrooms (bellas)
        3 cups fresh spinach
        1/2 cup parsley
        1 small shallot, cut into small pieces
        2 cloves, crushed garlic
        4 eggs
        3/4 cup milk
        1 1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar
        1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
        Salt & pepper to taste 
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
In a saucepan, add olive oil and sauté veggies (spinach, mushrooms, shallot, and garlic) together for 4 minutes or until spinach begins to shrink. 
In a bowl whisk together eggs, milk, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, parsley, and cheese. 
Let veggies cool down and add to the egg mixture. Combine all together (do not beat mixture, combine it lightly).
Add mixture to the crust and bake in oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until quiche begins 
to brown. 

                                           Egg, milk & cheese mixture

                                   Sautéed veggies
                                          Ready for oven!

                                          After dinner.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Creamy veggie grits

I like grits. I like grits a lot. But I often feel guilty eating them because they don’t offer much in the way of fiber (though they pack a punch of folic acid)—luckily, we can add veggies and make a perfectly delicious, and nutritional meal. I specially enjoy this recipe for lunch!

Here is my veggie grits recipe for *one serving—follow directions to cooking your grits on the packaging (I use the 5-minute quick grits, but note that for truly creamy grits is best to cook them for at least 10 minutes, covered on low-heat [at about 3 on your stove’s dial]).

  • -Cut up ½ cup of mushrooms (*more if you are making a larger amount)
  • -Cut up 1/3 cup fresh chives
  • -Cube ½ a of a tomato
  • -Crush 1 garlic clove
  • -In a saucepan, melt 1 teaspoon butter
  • -Once butter is melted, add veggies, sautéed for 2 minutes on medium-high heat or until tomato begins to melt
  • -Lower heat and add 1 veggie bouillon cube
  • -Add one cup of water and ½ cup of half and half (milk will work too, but it won’t be as creamy)
  • -Add salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste
  • -when liquid boils, add grits (*for on serving I add ¼ cup of grits—or slightly more for thicker grits).
  • -Cook covered on low-medium heat (3 or 4 on stove’s dial) for about 10 minutes
  • -Turn off, add Sharp Cheddar or fresh Parmigiano-Romano – let stand for a few minutes before serving. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

I love garbanzos!

I really do. I make several garbanzo dishes--some of which I will post in the future--and my three-year old loves hummus, but he doesn’t know that hummus is actually ground garbanzos (and other delicious ingredients), and please don’t tell him.

For vegetarians and vegans, garbanzos are a delicious source of protein, zinc, folate, and, dietary fiber. In fact, they are low in fat and contain iron and several other important minerals. I was in love with garbanzos from day one!

Usually, I buy a 16oz bag of dried garbanzos and I pour them in a large bowl then I cover the grains in water. Softening grains is something my mother has always done and I think it is one of the reasons her grains are so flavorful! Following her tradition, I let the grains sit in water overnight. The next day I drain the overnight water, pour new water in a pot add the grains and boil them for 30 to 40 minutes (no salt added). A 16oz bag will yield 3 small containers full of grains (see photo below). I put these bowls in the freezer and whenever I feel like having my favorite grain in stews, soups, hummus, etc… they are ready to go.

One of my favorite dishes is stewed garbanzos or garbanzos guisados. I like eating them over rice and green veggies.

Guiso de garbazos is simple to make. In a pot I add 1 tablespoon olive oil, another one of sofrito, 2 cloves of fresh, crushed garlic, several fresh pieces of red or green peppers (or whichever you have at hand), sautéed this together for a few minutes (3 or 4) on low-medium heat, add the garbanzos (one bowl or 1 can), then add 1/3 of can of salsa (tomato sauce), 1 packet of sazón, ½ teaspoon garlic powder, salt to taste, and the most important, ½ dried, but pulverized, oregano flakes (you can just crush the oregano with your fingers as you add these to the stew). Sometimes I add small, cubed pieces of calabaza (pumpkin) or cubed pieces of sweet potato. You can also add green beans or small cubed pieces of potato to the stew. I tend to add whichever of these foods I have at hand. The greens in the previous photo is romaine lettuce that I sautéed in a bit of olive oil. 

Recently, I made garbanzo-brown rice veggie burgers! The recipe for these filling burgers was featured in this month's Whole Living magazine. They were simple to make and absolutely delicious. 



Friday, January 13, 2012

Heavenly Cobbler

I like to buy large batches of strawberries and blueberries at our local farmer's market or directly from the farm (both of which are plentiful here in Rhode Island), and freeze them. I use the berries throughout the winter to make morning smoothies: 1 banana, 2 cups apple juice, 1/2 cup strawberries, 1/2 cup blueberries-combine in blender and blend away! With my very last bunch of frozen berries from last summer's crop, I decided to make a cobbler. And the results were heavenly!

I tweaked the original recipe, which was very good to begin with--but with small changes, you can make it even more nutritious and wholesome. I also enlisted my main helper Khalil, to assist with the task!

  •  4 tablespoons butter
  • 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground almonds (I grind almonds** in a blender)
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 cups of sliced fresh peaches or nectarines, or whole blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries or a combination of fruits (or a 12-ounce package of frozen berries)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar      

**Ground almonds, which I keep in a glass container, make a fine addition to the cobbler dough--making the dough grittier.
  1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position, and heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Put butter in an 8-inch square or 9-inch round pan; set in oven to melt. When butter has melted, remove pan from oven.
  3. Whisk flour, 3/4 cup of sugar, baking powder and salt in small bowl. Add milk; whisk to form a smooth batter. Pour batter into pan, then scatter fruit over batter. Sprinkle with remaining 1 Tb. of sugar.
  4. Bake until batter browns and fruit bubbles, 50 to 60 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream or a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, if desired.             

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sunday Dinner: Black bean & Brown rice burrito w. fresh guacamole

A simple, but delicious food: burritos. You can make them in any combination you like and never go wrong. In Providence, we like to eat burritos from La Lupita's, an "authentic" and affordable cafeteria-style restaurant in Olneyville. Yet, these delights are so easy to make that making them at home is a no-fuss undertaking. Here is my favorite combination, which is filling and can be served both: as a vegetarian (if you add cheese) or as a vegan entrée (without cheese). 

I start by making the brown rice. Brown rice takes longer to make than white rice, and like all foods in their natural state (unbleached, unprocessed), it is much better for your digestive system and your overall health. I prepare the brown rice, just like I would white rice, by adding salt, olive oil to the water, letting it boil then adding the rice. Brown rice requires more water, so if you make 2 cups of rice, add 4 to 5 cups of water. It will look  watery, but I promise that the rice will absorb all of the water. After I add the rice to the boiling water, I cover it and cook it on low-medium heat (covered for about 45 minutes). If the brown rice still feels "hard" after this, I add a tablespoon of water, cover it, and will set it to low for about 10 more minutes. But keep in mind, that brown rice will not get mushy, in the same way that white rice does. It's supposed to have a grainy, slightly hard consistency. (**Also, do not turn the rice while it is cooking, simply let it cook and turn it at the very end).

While the rice is cooking, I start the black beans. I make a black bean stew. I begin by adding olive oil in a pot, adding a tablespoon of fresh sofrito, add fresh peppers (either red or green, or whichever you have at hand), I add fresh, crushed garlic (about 5 cloves), one cubed tomato, and sliced mushrooms (bellas are best). I then add salt and pepper and about 1 teaspoon of vinegar (the more beans you use, the more vinegar you should add to "break up" the flavor density). I let these ingredients come together for a few minutes then I add the black beans and cover to cook for about 20 minutes on low-heat (on 4 on the stove's dial). 

While the black beans are cooking, I begin on the guacamole. This guacamole is simple to make. I begin by cutting the avocados in half, taking the pit out and with a spoon remove the "meat" and place it in a bowl. Cut up fresh cilantro and add it to the avocados. Crush fresh garlic and add it, squeeze some lime juice from a fresh lime into the mix, then add hot sauce or chili sauce, and salt to taste. Using a fork smash and mix everything together until you get a paste, it is fine if its a little lumpy. 

Heat your large tortillas and begin piling your ingredients. I start with the brown rice, then I add the black beans, the guacamole, salsa, and finally cheese if you so desire. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Udon Noodles, Shiitake & Cornbread

On a recent shopping expedition, I came across a generous bag of dehydrated shiitake mushrooms. And just a few weeks ago, I had dinner at Ama’s, a small, Japanese eatery in Providence’s Federal Hill neighborhood – I ate their Udon Noodle Bowl and it was very good. So when I bought the dehydrated shiitakes I also bought Udon noodles and decided to try my version at home. It turned out delicious! A real winter warmer! (I’m all about “warming” foods in the winter and “cooling" foods in the summer).

Here is my recipe for Shiitake Udon Noodles. This recipe is based on the dehydrated shiitakes, however if you are making it with fresh mushrooms, you can cut the broth simmering time in half.
-3 cups of water
-2 cups shiitakes – cut in halves
-1 carrot, shaved – I use the potato peeler to shave off long strips
-fresh, crushed garlic (3 cloves)
-1/4 cup soy sauce (low sodium is best)
-Fresh chives (1 tablespoon)
-Fresh spinach (about 1 cup)
-Red pepper flakes (1 teaspoon)
-Sesame oil (1 teaspoon)
First, I bring everything to a boil (allowing it to boil for about 2 minutes), then I lower the heat to low and allow it to cook together for about 30 minutes (again, because mushrooms needed to be re-hydrated).
In the meantime, I cook the Udon noodles and set aside. Udon is a full, thick noodle that grows quiet a bit, so I put about half a package (or 2 bunches) of dried noodles. After the broth has simmered together, I add cooked Udon and let it sit together (heat off and covered) for about 10 minutes. 

I also made a delicious, whole-grain cornbread recipe that I first spotted in Whole Living Magazine. Their recipe calls for a cast iron skillet, but I made it in a regular tin pan and it turned out well. I use whole-wheat flour and stone-ground, old fashioned corn meal.

I drizzle honey while it is still hot. This is a wholesome, grainy cornbread that is great with  soups or for breakfast all by itself. Enjoy!