Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Quick and easy

A carnivorous but open-minded friend, wanting a healthy meal after a lunch he described as "a wad of meat and cheese," asked me: "What can I make for supper out of a block of tofu?"

After some discussion, we settled on barbecue-baked tofu. What could be simpler? Slather your favorite barbecue sauce on thin slices of tofu, and bake it. He wanted more details, though. So here goes....

You'll need:

A pound of firm or extra-firm tofu. Use the kind that comes in a water-filled tub in the refrigerator section of most grocery stores – not the silken kind that comes in little shelf-stable bricks.
A cup or so of your favorite barbecue sauce.
A baking sheet.
Foil or parchment paper.
An oven.

It's nice if the tofu is gently pressed for 15 minutes or more to drain more liquid from it. The easiest way to do it is to use two dinner plates. Set one plate in the sink, set the block of tofu on top, put the second plate on top of that, and top it with some weight. A phone book and some canned goods work well – you want enough weight to press out the liquid, but not enough to crush the tofu. Although this step will improve the texture of the baked tofu, it is not essential.

Meanwhile, cover the baking sheet with foil or parchment paper for easy cleanup.

Once the tofu is drained to your satisfaction, slice it crosswise into slabs about a half-inch thick.

Cover all sides of the tofu with barbecue sauce, and lay the slices on the baking sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for about an hour, until the sauce has baked in. (This part is flexible; you could increase the heat and bake for a shorter time, too. Actually, all the parts are flexible; you could use different sauces on the tofu. Experiment and enjoy!)

Another easy-bake tofu dish I really like is adapted from the recipe for Crisped Creamy Tofu in Carol Adams’ book Living Among Meat Eaters. We’re up to four ingredients now, but it’s still simple. Drain and slice a pound of tofu as described above, and place on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Mix 1/4 cup light miso with 2 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate. Spread this mixture on top of the tofu slices. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon (or more to taste) sesame seeds, or finely chopped nuts or seeds of your choice. Preheat the oven to 475 and bake tofu for 8 to 10 minutes, until golden brown.

Here are a few more suggestions for making a quick meal out of a block of tofu: Add small cubes to soup (silken tofu is especially tasty this way); cube tofu and use in a stir-fry with your favorite vegetables and sauce; make scrambled tofu and have breakfast for supper.

With the holiday season of overindulgence and limited time upon us, we could all use more ideas for quick, healthy meals. What would you do to make a simple supper out of a block of tofu?

Friday, November 24, 2006

A veggie list

Today marks the "official" beginning of the holiday-shopping season. Here are a few items that might be good for the vegetarians on your gift list -- or that you might want to put on your own list for Santa!

A wok: Stir-frying is a low-fat, quick way to cook. Chop up some veggies and stir-fry with some seitan and sauce, and voila! A carbon-steel wok seems to be the most-preferred kind. And make sure it's a flat-bottom one.

A vegetable steamer: Either an electric one, a bamboo one that can be used with a wok, or a steamer basket that goes inside a large pot. Great for cooking vegetables in a low-fat way. A bamboo steamer is perfect for making steamed, filled dumplings.

A subscription to Vegetarian Times or VegNews.

Cookbooks: I have a confession to make: I'm a cookbook-aholic. I own far more cookbooks than is necessary, but I'm of the mind that you can never have too many cookbooks -- unless you run out of shelf space, as I have done! Here are a few suggestions:
*Any of the 11 cookbooks put out by Moosewood Restaurant, a restaurant in Ithaca, N.Y., known for its healthy, natural-food cuisine. I have (and use a lot) Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites, which won a James Beard Award in 1997.
*Another cookbook I use a lot (and which was a gift from my co-blogger, Julie) is Passionate Vegetarian, by the interestingly-named Crescent Dragonwagon.
*The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen by Donna Klein. I haven't bought this one yet, but I have my eye on it. I love Mediterrean cooking, so I really do need a cookbook devoted to it. Plus, the Mediterranean diet is a very healthy one.

The Bountiful Container, by Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey. This is one of my favorite gardening books, and even though its focus is on container gardening, it has a lot of really good general information. There are pages devoted to individual vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers, detailing different varieties and how to plant and harvest them. It also includes some intriguing recipes for using up your bounty. (Who knew you could make Begonia Sorbet?)

A fun T-shirt that advertises the vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, such as Don't Have a Cow, Man, Seitan Worshipper or I :Heart: Tofu.

Do you have any good gift ideas for vegetarians, or is there something veggie-related you're hoping to get?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

How sweet it is

The best part of Thanksgiving, of course, is the gathering of family and friends. Our group is usually small - this year it will be Mom, Dad, my sister Shari, Rusty the springer spaniel, and me – but we are always happy to be able to spend the time together.

The next best part is the sweet-potato pie. That is perhaps the only constant in the ever-changing Harris holiday-meal lineup. My Mom can make a fine sweet potato pie, but these days my Dad usually does the honors, using his mother's recipe. Usually he'll make two pies, one with shredded coconut, and one plain.

While recipes for sweet potato pies often use eggs and milk, it is not difficult to make them vegan. A good recipe for vegan sweet potato pie, from the Los Angeles restaurant Real Food Daily, is available online at http://www.vegparadise.com/otherbirds311.html.

You have to scroll down a bit to get to the pie recipe, but pay attention as you go. The other recipes from Real Food on the same page could make an entire vegetarian Thanksgiving feast: Red Bean, Squash and Okra Stew; Skillet Corn Bread With Scallion Butter; and Garlicky Greens.

Type "vegan sweet potato pie" into any search engine to find many more choices.

The sweet-potato pie tradition comes naturally to a North Carolina family. Our state produces more sweet potatoes than any other state in the U.S. And the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission is happy to share ideas on how to use this bounty at its Web site, www.ncsweetpotatoes.com.

Its featured recipe right now is for Curried Roasted Sweet Potatoes, a Weight Watchers recipe that promises to "Revamp your traditional thinking about sweet potatoes during the holidays." The recipe happens to be vegan, simple and healthy too.

Whatever traditions you enjoy, may your Thanksgiving be joyful and abundant!

Friday, November 17, 2006


I just found out that the Triangle Vegetarian Society has a big annual Thanksgiving feast in Durham on the 23rd. What a spread! You can read more about it or make reservations here.

It's shocking to me that Thanksgiving is less than a week away. For most Americans -- and for me for most of my life -- the holiday centered around eating a big, juicy turkey. But since I gave up poultry, that's no longer a part of my Thanksgiving. Instead, I fix a Tofurky or a Veat "chicken" breast, and I've found that I don't really miss the meat -- especially with all the yummy side dishes, like my Mom's sweet-potato casserole (no marshmallows), mashed potatoes, stuffing (being careful to get a kind that doesn't contain chicken fat or stock), creamed corn, green beans, rolls and dessert. I'm always stuffed afterward and ready to partake of that other Thanksgiving tradition: lying on the sofa and watching TV!

The Web site GentleThanksgiving.org is encouraging Americans to celebrate nature's bounty in a wholesome, noncarnivorous way. They provide recipes, suggestions for ways you can help spread the message, on online form to order a free veg kit and a list of events (unfortunately, no public dinners in North Carolina).

Here are some other places to find vegetarian Thanksgiving recipes:
International Vegetarian Union
Animal Advocacy

What are some of your noncarnivorous Thanksgiving favorites or traditions?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Get Growing

Even a person like me, who lives in a condo specifically to avoid yardwork, can enjoy growing food. The effort required is small, and the rewards are great.

It's hard to beat the freshness, flavor and quality of homegrown herbs and vegetables. Talk about eating locally and seasonally! Growing part of your own food can save you money, too. And perhaps best of all, it fosters a connection to the natural world, even in the middle of a city.

For example, this past weekend marked a true changing of the seasons. I cleaned up the tattered remains of the summer garden from pots on the deck – goodbye, dear basil! – and planted the first fall crop in a jar in the kitchen. The harvest of sprouts will begin in a day or two.

Sprouts may be the easiest food of all to grow. To give you an idea of what's involved, I'll tell you how my garden grows. It takes:

1 quart-size glass Mason jar;
A sturdy rubber band;
Two bowls, one medium-size and one large;
Mix of alfalfa, radish and clover seeds for sprouting;
Lots of water.

Begin by putting 3 tablespoons of seeds into the jar. Fill the jar about halfway with warm water, and soak the seeds overnight to germinate.

The next morning, cover the top of the jar with a double layer of cheesecloth, and use the rubber band to hold it on. Drain the seeds. Then refill the jar with water, swirl it around to rinse the seeds, and drain them again thoroughly. Rotate the jar to distribute the seeds as evenly as possible, and then prop it at an angle in the medium-size bowl, top-side down so that it can continue to drain. Set the bowl in a warm place - the top of the refrigerator works well.

The seeds need to be rinsed and drained morning and evening, and the jar propped back in the bowl to drain. And that’s it. The rest of the time, they just quietly grow and grow.

When the sprouts get to be an inch or two long, develop little leaves and nearly fill the jar, they’re ready to eat. At that point, it’s good to remove as many of the seed hulls as possible. Put the sprouts into the large bowl, and cover them with water. Most of the hulls will float to the top, where they can be skimmed off and discarded.

Put the sprouts back into the jar, cover it loosely (the sprouts are living things and need to breathe), and store in the refrigerator. These sprouts can be enjoyed in many sandwiches and salads.

In addition to seeds, many grains and beans can be sprouted. Sprouted grain can be used in baked goods, and bean sprouts are delicious in stir-fries or other cooked dishes. Different sprouts are grown in slightly different ways, you may want to do a little research before you get started.

I follow the brief sprouting guide in Lorna Sass's book "Recipes From an Ecological Kitchen." But you can find detailed instructions in other books, and at many sites on the Internet. A thorough site is Sproutpeople’s "Sprout Basics" at http://www.sproutpeople.com/grow/sprouting.html

Friday, November 10, 2006

Very Vegetarian Society

Tuesday night, Julie and I visited the monthly meeting of Winston-Salem's own Very Vegetarian Society at Miller Park Recreation Center. The group was founded in 1990 by Ann and Wes Weaver, and it meets on the first Tuesday of every month.

It's a shame that it took us this long to get to a meeting, but my work hours usually keep me from evening activities. There were about 10 members there that night -- attendence averages from eight to 20, I was told, although there are about 100 members in the group. We shared a wonderful vegan potluck dinner -- it's a rare treat to be able to sample every dish at a buffet or potluck dinner! Then we settled back to listen to a presentation by dietician Dayle Fuentes of BestHealth -- though I'm not sure "settled" is the correct word, since we had a lot of questions and discussion about the topic!

Vegetarians are well on their way to having a heart-healthy lifestyle because of our food choices, but avoiding meat isn't the only answer. Did you know that 40 percent of the deaths in the United States are blamed on some type of cardiovascular problem? I knew it was a major factor, but I didn't know it was that major.

It was fun to mingle with other vegetarians of all ages, and I hope that we can make it to some more meetings.Check out the group's Web site for more information about how to join, nutrition information and a reading list.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Veggin' on the Road, Part II

Here are a few more restaurants that are worth a drive for a hungry vegetarian. This time, the road leads to Greensboro:

BOBA HOUSE is a completely vegetarian restaurant, with many vegan options. It's a small, laid-back restaurant at 332 Tate St. near the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Most of the items feature faux meats - "chicken," "duck," "beef" or "seafood" - in addition to tofu. Everything I’ve tried has been delicious, and attractively presented. In addition to the vegetarian dishes, Boba House features a large menu of teas. The most unusual is the array of boba, or bubble, teas. These fruit- or coffee-flavored drinks include "bubbles" of tapioca or coconut jelly that you drink up through an extra-wide straw. The boba teas are colorful, sweet and fun; more like dessert than a beverage. You can read more about Boba House's food and bubble teas on its Web site at www.bobahouse.com

Also near UNCG, at 1601 Spring Garden St., JACK'S CORNER serves tempting Mediterranean food in a casual, deli-style atmosphere. It's not completely vegetarian, but there are many choices, and vegetarian and vegan items are clearly marked on the menu. I generally choose a combination plate that has such delights as hummus, baba ghanouj (eggplant dip), falafel with tahini sauce, tabouli salad, and warm pita bread.... All so tasty.

At 2505 BattleGround Ave., HEALTHY SPICE is an elegant, sit-down restaurant. Though the menu includes some seafood, there are so many vegetarian and vegan choices that it takes a long time to consider them all and make a decision. The menu is innovative, combining influences from across the globe. As the name suggests, the restaurant focuses on making food healthy as well as delicious. Many meals include soup, salad, entree and dessert for a very reasonable price. The restaurant has a Web site at www.healthyspicerestaurant.com but does not yet have its menu posted. There are photos of several dishes, though, so you can get an idea of what to expect.


Friday, November 03, 2006

The return of spinach

The last time I went grocery shopping, I saw that fresh spinach was back on the store shelves. However, I didn't buy any. Before the E. coli scare, I always had fresh spinach in my refrigerator. However, when given the opportunity to purchase it again, I didn't quite trust it. Even though the FDA says it's safe to eat now, I wasn't quite ready to buy it again.

I'm not the only one who's having a knee-jerk leery reaction to spinach. Even the sales of other pre-packaged greens have taken a hit. The industry is currently searching for ways to win back consumer confidence.

I love fresh spinach and greens, so I'm certain I will get over my wariness and start buying fresh spinach again. I'm not sure how long it will take, though. Maybe the next time I go grocery shopping, I'll put a bag of spinach in my cart again.

What about you? Are you eagerly buying spinach again, or are you a bit wary, too? And if you are, what do you think it will take for you to trust spinach again?

By the way, in case you haven't heard, investigators now seem to be focusing on wild pigs, of all things as the culprit in the E. coli outbreak.