Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Will the real Veggie-Ricans please stand up?!

In this photo, Sunday dinner at our house. (arroz con gandules, platanos maduros, potato salad with sweet green pea dressing, and cucumbers and red onion salad). (see green-potato salad recipe below!)

I have been a committed and practicing vegetarian for six years now and it is still one of the best nutritional decisions I have ever made. I don't much preach to others what they should or should not eat. I think food and eating are private and personal choices that are best left for each person to make. For me, becoming a vegetarian has taught me several life lessons. Among them is a deeper understanding of the ways in which foods are made and harvested in our industrial society. I also became a vegetarian out a profound concern for animal suffering and wellbeing (see THIS if you want to learn more). Again, industrial food production has done a remarkable job at marketing animals as “meat,” totally devoid from the actual animal whose life was shortened, made worse by antibiotics and other chemicals pumped into him to make him “fit” for human consumption, then merciless slaughtered, chopped into consumable pieces, frozen, packaged in plastic, transported thousands of miles and put up for display for your convenience at your supermarket (read this for a balanced view).

I had been trying to become a vegetarian since my early twenties, often succumbing to peer pressure or to eating out at non-veggie friendly places or to not wanting to feel “different” around family and friends. It is true that I was never a meat eater to begin with, I often preferred eating rice and beans without meat, and would turn for a peach or a mango before a piece of sliced ham. My digestive system seemed to dislike meat before I was even aware of it. And so, in 2007 when I decided that I would practice vegetarianism as a daily act of mercy, I have never turned back. At first, I had to consciously make the decision every day to forgo animal “meat,” eventually it became second-nature, and today I don’t even think about it. I was a vegetarian through my pregnancy and did not experience meat cravings or any complications whatsoever. I ate about a million pounds of mango and drank another million papaya and banana smoothies though!

The other life-changing lesson about becoming a vegetarian is that I now cook wonderful vegetarian meals. That by changing my eating habits, I became interested in food making and in turning the Puerto Rican dishes I love into vegetarian masterpieces. I think I am succeeding! And so, becoming a vegetarian has taught me to slow down and pay attention to the food I eat, where it comes from, and to honor food by making delicious dishes to soothe, nurture, and satisfy my family’s hunger. 
Here is the recipe for "Puerto Rican green potato salad" (this recipe was born after a conversation with my mom about how to make a healthier potato salad and it just so happens that it is also really tasty!). 

 What you need:
-potatoes (6-8 medium potatoes)
-1/3 cup plain yogurt
-2 tablespoons mayonnaise
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-1 cup (frozen or fresh) green sweet peas 
-3 chopped hard-boiled eggs
-1/2 chopped red apple (small pieces and peeled)
-1/2 chopped small white onion (small pieces)
-several small pieces of "fancy red pimientos" 
-salt & pepper to taste

What to do?
-peel, cut into small pieces, and boil the potatoes (once cooked set aside in large bowl)
-place the chopped apples and the white onions into a bowl with salted water for at least 10-minutes (the salted water will "kill" the pungency of the onion and will keep the apples from turning brown)
-cook the green peas and purée them in a blender or food processor 
-add the green peas to the potatoes and gently mix these together, but do not mash as if you were making mash potatoes
-then add mayo, yogurt, olive oil, eggs, apple, onion, and salt and pepper and again gently bring it all together
-if desired, add pieces of the red pimiento peppers to decorate the salad
-place in the fridge to chill for at least 4-hours before serving.  
 **of course, adjust the ingredients to taste.** however, to keep it healthy, if you need to make the salad smoother, add more yogurt or olive oil instead of mayo.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Summer Peanut Noodle Salad

This peanut butter based salad makes a perfect summer meal! I usually make it a day in advance and let it chill overnight before serving, but you can also make it a few hours before you serve it. It is delicious either way.

What you need
For peanut dressing:
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (I get low-sodium & reduced fat)
1/4 cup soy sauce (low sodium)
1/3 cup warm water
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
1 medium garlic clove, chopped 
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, hot sauce or chili paste
Mix these ingredients in a blender until smooth and set aside.

I like to use Udon noodles, but you can also use Soba or even thin linguini or spaghetti (it is entirely your choice). Cook pasta and put aside.
4-5 scallions, thinly sliced
1 medium red pepper, cut into small pieces
1 medium yellow pepper, cut into small pieces
half of one cucumber, cut into small pieces
1 carrot, sliced thinly with a potato peeler
Chop veggies and toss in large bowl. 

I like to make this salad by adding fried tofu. If you want to add tofu, all you have to do is get one extra firm tofu container, cut it into small squares and deep fry it until crispy.

Add noodles to the same bowl where you placed your veggies, add the tofu and finally add the dressing - gently mix all together and refrigerate. You can eat the leftovers for up to 2 days. This is a really tasty and refreshing salad!!!


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

on funerary rituals

My fascination with funerary rituals (but not with death) must come from my anthropological sensibilities. As I often tell students, death is a biological event, but funerals are a cultural event (and this is the part that fascinates me). In other words, we all die, but how we handle the dead varies widely from culture to culture. The other day when I visited the National Museum of Natural History I came across an ornate wooden airplane. At first sight, I saw a KLM airplane and thought that I was looking at a sculpture commenting on modern African travel and Diaspora. Then I got closer. 

Click here to read and see an interesting article documenting Paa Joe's coffins. (Though I don't agree that these coffins are either crazy or bizarre, rather they are interesting, playful, and artful takes on the traditional coffin).