Monday, January 22, 2018

Vegetable Lasagna - our January 2018 Suppers/#WFPB meal at St. Helena's

This time around it was all chaos, as one of the organizers was not feeling well, but we made it work regardless.

The plan was vegetable lasagna, based on a recipe from the book The Vegan Cheat Sheet by Amy Cramer and Lisa McComsey, with a side dish of spinach, and a mixed green salad with Dr. Barnard's Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette. (Note: the book underestimates the amount of filling you need, in my view, so below I upped the amount of cauliflower relative to the book. We found out the hard way that we ran out of the white filling too soon.)

This is a very lovely #WFPB (Whole Foods, Plant-Based) dinner. And the #not62 health campaign in the Bronx would not be the same without it! The people of the Bronx are learning.

The Menu - Recipes

Note: these quantities were for 9 people. You can adjust them accordingly. Out of our $15 grocery money we only spend about $9, so in all there was an $6.00 refund.

To begin with, here is the salad dressing:

Dr. Barnard's Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette

Makes enough dressing for 1 large salad
1 large roasted red pepper
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pep per
1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Serve and enjoy.
For the salad we used:
1 head of red leaf lettuce
1 head of green leaf lettuce
1 head of romaine lettuce 
1 green pepper
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 red onion
6 cloves of garlic
6 sundried tomatoes
4 fresh tomatoes
2 tablespoons of Chia seeds
2 tablespoons of milled flax seeds
(Confession, we ran out of time, and we ended up making a 3/2/1 dressing with red pepper - 3 measures balsamic, 2 measures dijon mustard, and 1 measure maple syrup), so we'll do this recipe again some other time. In fact I will make it today.)

Tomato Sauce (Red)

Note: finding oil-free pasta sauce is not always easy, though there are some on the market. You can find one at Trader Joes, see this listing of OIl-free vegan products at Trader Joes, provided by Forks over Knives. Anyway, we could not find an oil-free sauce in the neighborhood, so I made it from scratch. As it was I started a bit late, but the idea was to have the pasta sauce ready when the class started at 3 PM, so that the class could make the salad, the spinach, and build the lasagna, so we just had to shove it in the oven. So we ran a bit late this time, but the meal was enjoyable.

4 28Oz cans of Organic Diced Tomatoes
4 onions, cut fine
8 cloves of garlic 
10-20 leaves of fresh basil chopped fine
7 leaves of laurel
2 peppers
2 8 Oz packs of mushrooms (one white and one crimini)
1 lb of carrots shredded
Braggs Liquid Aminos to taste 

  • Cut up the onions fine, and start dry-roasting them in the pan
  • add the peppers, cut up, and stir it up
  • add the garlic (first flatten it and cut it fine) and stir it up
  • add the carrots (match stick cut) and stir it up
  • add the mushrooms, sliced (note the mushrooms yield a lot of moisture) and stir it up
  • when these ingredients start to get soft and feel cooked, add the tomatoes and stir it up
  • let simmer, and finish with Liquid Aminos to taste
  • make it smooth with an immersion blender

Spinach side dish

4 bundles of spinach cut in 1.5" lengths
2 onions cut up fine
7 cloves of garlic flattened and cut fine
8 chilis sliced fine
3 jalapenos, remove the seeds
(Note: the chilis were fine for most, but a bit much for a few people, but evidently, you can vary that to taste. The jalapenos are much milder.

Again, start with dry-roasting the onlons, chilis, jalapenos and garlic, and when it is soft, add the spinach, and let it cook slowly for another 7-10 minutes.

Lasagna filling (White)

2 14 Oz packs of Silken Tofu
5-6 cups of steamed cauliflower

When the cauliflower is soft, add the tofu, and make a smooth sauce with a stick blender.

3 yellow squash sliced
3 zucchini sliced

Building the Lasagna

2 12 Oz packs of Whole Wheat Lasagna, or 3 packs if they are 9 Oz
some nutritional yeast

(Note: this was the fun part, doing it assembly style... We used 2 12 Oz boxes of Ronzoni Healthy Harvest Whole Wheat Lasagna - note: it is available next door, at Chang-Li Supermarket. More and more supermarkets are starting to carry it.)
Preheat the oven to 425 F
  • start with a layer of pasta sauce
  • layer whole wheat lasagna strips in the sauce (typically 3 strips make one layer)
  • layer on the white filling
  • make a layer of sliced squash/zucchini
  • repeat until the pan is full, finish with a layer of red sauce on top.
 In the oven for ca 45 mins.

Serving suggestions:
The salad is obviously colorful.
The main dish is red/white, with a side of green.
For topping, you can sprinkle on some nutritional yeast


The above is a very complete and satisfying meal. And, it was fun to build with the group, even though this time we went far over schedule, mainly because I started too late to make the pasta sauce and the Cauliflower/tofu filling in advance.
The point of the exercise however, remains, that in the spirit of the Suppers program, this is all about home cooking, and about creating a mutual support mechanism on a local level. Audelle has been doing Suppers meetings at her home in Throgs Neck for a long time, but doing this at the St. Helena's school cafeteria enables a slightly larger group.
Meanwhile, the idea of sharing the grocery bill, also teaches us that a very healthy and abundant Whole Foods Plant-Based meal can be made on a budget. In this case, we came out to $9 per person. The highest we ever did was $11.50 per person, but it seems that we can typically do these productions for under $10 pp in groceries. You can do it for less, or you can spend more. In the long term you are reducing your medical expenses and nearly completely eliminates the need for any supplements. In this case we added chia seeds and milled flax seed to the salad for Omega-3s and as long as you keep that in mind, the only supplement you should ever need is a vitamin B12 every other day.
If you think about it, the degenerative diseases which consume 86% of our healthcare expenditure, are diseases of affluence and can largely (ca 75%) be prevented or largely reversed with the Whole Foods, Plant-Based diet. It produces such nutritional abundance that the mere thought of supplements is silly. On top of that, there is more and more evidence that isolated supplements are not absorbed as well by the body, or even absorbed at all, as nutrients which are consumed as part of a whole foods diet. In some cases, supplements can even be toxic.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

2018 is the year of veganism in general and #WFPB in particular

I can no longer keep up with the list of links alongside this blog. It is growing too fast.

Doug Schmidt, Josh LaJaunie

Recently, there was an ABC News story on Doug Schmidt, a Rochester school teacher who went all-out plant-based, and turned his life around and is inspiring a whole Facebook support group. Megyn Kelly also did a piece on Josh LaJaunie.  These reports were great, but clearly the interview by Megyn Kelly did not dig any deeper, into the most important aspect, namely that this is a nutritional paradigm and a true paradigm shift, not just another diet.

The bottom line is that the profound shift in nutritional science that underlies the Whole Foods Plant-Based diet (without added Sugar, Oil, or Salt), is the sine qua non of this lifestyle, which is not a diet, but a whole new nutritional paradigm, in which nutritional abundance is the norm, making all supplement (except for some B12), and most medications superfluous. No more counting calories, you can not help but end up with your homeostatic weight. No more effort, no more "dieting," just enjoy the rich variety of new foods.

All of this is why it is so important that we teach children in school, as is now happening in LA County, in Midland TX, and in Brooklyn, NY, and now apparently in Rochester too. Check out the Coalition for Healthy School Food and PlantPure, and the Healthy School Food Summit.

#WFPB is a Nutritional paradigm, not a diet

T. Colin Campbell recently published a list of six important publications of his, which also lend credence to the notion that the time has come. These articles show clearly that what is going on is a total re-framing of nutritional science along purely evidence-based lines, for the first time ever. What came before was essentially myth and fiction, including all the versions of the food pyramid, which is now called "My Plate."
The endless parade of contradictory diet advice is evidently the simple result of the fact that there was never a cohesive framework previously, as "diets" generally simply tinker with the relative amounts and styles of food within the overall paradigm that prioritized protein, and in particular was stuck in the notion that animal protein was "more efficient" and therefore better. Instead, it turns out that the vaunted efficiency of animal protein, in terms of the ease of absorption by the body, is a liability and not an asset: animal protein causes cancer, plant protein does not.
Taken together, these six articles by Campbell are a material contribution to the dialog about nutrition and healthcare, and provide a solid foundation for the only feasible change of our healthcare system, where we need to go back to the Hippocratic notion of "Let food be thy medicine."

Practical, practical, practical

For myself, my new year's resolution started by taking the Course for the Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutritional Studies. The course covers all the research, but it ends up with the practical application. In the links along side this blog, you will find a ton of practical resources, and most of them are free, but the avalanche of sound plant-based recipes is almost overwhelming. I have had more fun with food preparation since I started eating this way, and I have been an enthusiastic cook for all of my life.

Some of the best practical resource are:
And always keep the fundamental definition in mind:
  1. Whole Foods
  2. Plant-Based
  3. without added SOS (Sugar, Oil, or Salt)
These simple three points are elaborated further on the Diet Guide at NutritionStudies.

In our own community we are currently doing a monthly cooking/dining event at St. Helena's parish in the school cafeteria. We are starting to have two success stories of our own, with one person losing over 80 lbs in 6/7 months (sofar) and another losing 55 lbs in four months, and she recently reported that her bloodwork was perect after just four months on the Whole Foods Plant-Based diet. My personal experience was similar, as I have reported here before: I celebrated my 65th at my homeostatic weight (back to when I was 20) and free of all medications.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

More Plant-Based news from New York: Doug Schmidt

This is an amazing news study, a teacher from Rochester is promoting Plant-Based living.

Doug Schmidt also keeps a page on Facebook, as a sort of a support group.

He is following the pure Whole Foods, Plant-Based without added Sugar, Oil or Salt paradigm.

Unfortunately, the nutritionist ABC interviews at the end still does not know anything about plant-based nutrition. Still thinks that getting enough protein is a problem. The real problem is we're getting too much protein, and mostly animal protein. Again and again, all the serious research shows that animal proteins are the most powerful carcinogens we get in our diet. Together Animal protein, Oil, and Sugar (simple carbohydrates in general) are the worst elements in the Standard American Diet.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Plantricious to the rescue

This is a name to remember: Plantricious.

Finally, a label that means nutritionally sound vegan food: Certified Plantricious.

Certified Plantricious label

Confusion abounds about vegan food, and marketers are having a field day. Many, many vegan foods are not healthy. Start with things like vegan mozarella that is made from canola oil, and it goes downhill from there... marketers confuse a sociological term "vegan," for a nutrition label and peddle any amount of garbage. Canola oil is not suitable for human consumption on the best of days. Most people think "vegan" is only defined in the negative, as an absence of animal products, but that is no way to approach nutrition.

The only serious research base in plant-based nutrition is the work of T. Colin Campbell, beginning with the China Study, and now continuing in his Center for Nutrition Studies. It is the foundation for all serious work in plant-based nutrition, including the work of Esselstyn, PCRM (Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine, and the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.

Plantricious will be rating both restaurants and foods, and looking to create some order, by providing consumers with one label that actually means something. Follow Plantricious on Pinterest for the latest.

General Guidance

First, you need to understand how simple the plant-based nutritional paradigm really is. It is defined on Nutritionstudies as the Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet Guide, and it can be summed up simply as Whole-Foods, Plant-Based without added SOS (Sugar, Oil, or Salt). That's it #WFPB without added SOS.

Second, you also need to get some clue about the economic (and environmental) significance, meaning that with a plant-based diet you consume on average 14x fewer resources than someone on a Standard American Diet (SAD).

Third, you need to understand that the plant-based diet can prevent 7 of 10 of the leading causes of death in the Western world, and it is therefore the only realistic solution to the healthcare crisis, as I have argued in a recent article on the CVS/Aetna merger.

The upshot is that the plant-based nutritional paradigm is the key to a sustainable world,  and the solution for our healthcare crisis and our environmental crisis all in one. Plus, you will feel better to boot!

KISS: 80/10/10, carbs/protein/oils

In general terms, you end up getting 80% of calories from complex carbohydrates, 10% from (plant-based) protein, and 10% from naturally occurring oil - never added oil. You want to watch it on the oily fruit such as avocado, nuts, or coconut. Serious heart patients, according to Esselstyn should even cut those out, but a normal person can have a little bit, like a handful of walnuts, or a quarter of an avocado in a day. It is easy to go over 10% because many plants naturally contain oil.

No more need for most supplements or pills. Take a B12 every other day, and you should be fine.

Bad Diet Advice

Most diet books and videos and the like live off of confusion. The tell tale signs are when they promote single ingredients. It makes no sense to not look at the total diet and figure out if one ingredient or another makes a difference. If you are on a healthy #WFPB-SOS diet, there is NO need for supplements, except for some B12.
Just one example of such consumer confusion was a good looking PDF document that was sent to me the other day, titled African American Vegan Starter Guide. It remains focused on protein, as if that were an issue and also uses added oils and fried foods, all of which are a no-no, for both heart disease and diabetes, as well as many other health problems, of which the book correctly represents that the African American population is particularly vulnerable, yet they don't make an effort to provide nutritionally sound advice. Unfortunately, this type of consumer confusion is more the rule than the exception.

All dietary advice that remains concerned with protein is suspicious. These folks are stuck in the old wives tales that it is somehow hard to get our protein, whereas the truth is that we tend to get too much protein, not too little. The first step is no animal protein whatsoever. Animal protein is proven to stimulate cancer growth. We need plant protein ideally for about 10% of our caloric intake, not much more. Again, it is very easy to overshoot the target.

Another tell-tale sign is using added oil. Vegetable oil is made from plants, but we do not need the added oil in our diet, for oily food directly affects your arteries, preventing them from flexibly expanding and contracting with physical activity for 3-6 hours after an oily meal. Oil simply paralyzes your arteries and while Extra Virgin Olive Oil may seem to taste better than motor oil, its nutritional value is about the same. Avoid!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Knives and other food prep - a starter set & beyond

The last few years I have much expanded my understanding of knives. I really started to get into it by watching Ryky Tran on YouTube (Burrfection). After a lot of experimenting, I decided to compile a list to sort of logically build up a beginners outfit of kitchen knives, which can then be expanded and grow over time. Based on all of that, if I were to start over again, here's how I would like to set myself up today. For some alternative info, I recommend the "Best Kitchen Knives of 2017" from Burrfection 

A serious starter set of knives 

Rada Paring knives galore from 2.5"to 3.25"
Rada "granny paring knife"


  1. A set of paring knives, like the Rada Cutlery Paring Knives Galore Gift Set.  I prefer the aluminum handles for visibility. I think I lost one with the black handle, because of that color, by inadvertently throwing it out with the cuttings.
  2. A bird's beak paring knife, such as the Rada Cutlery "Granny Paring Knife."
    The birds beak design is better for close in peeling tasks, including digging out sprouts from a potato, for you can operate it with your thumb opposing the tip, because of its short length. Bird's beak knives are also better for the slalom and things like tourné cuts.
  3. Don't forget to get a sharpener with it, I would just use Rada's own Quick Edge Knife Sharpener.
  4. A Gefu, or similar potato peelers. A serrated peeler is good for peeling various fruit with thick skins.
  5. A starter set of MAC Original Series Again don't forget a sharpener, probably at least the MAC 8 1/2" White Ceramic Honing Rod (about 1000 grit), or the MAC 8 1/2" Black Ceramic Honing Rod (about 2000 grit). The MAC knives are excellent for your plant-based kitchen, they are very thin, very sharp and slice easily through all plant materials, but you don't want to risk chipping them with overly woody parts or other hard things.
  6. A traditional European 8" Chef Knife, examples are in the budget category the KUMA 8"Chef Knife, or the Imarku 8" Chef Knife, or the Cozi life 8" Chef Knife. Notice that the Kuma and the Cozilife have a softer steel, which is still easy to maintain. You need to have at least one knife like that because the harder knives chip more easily if you ever have to cut hard things, like even peeling a pineapple, or hacking the top off a cassava root. See my notes below... I might go for the Kuma, and its accompanying honing rod. Having said that, I like the Imarku a lot too, but you don't want it as your ONLY chef knife if you already have a set of MAC knives. Burrfection likes the Mercer Culinary M20608 Genesis 8" knife best in the budget category.
  7. You might want to get a decent sharpening stone, a 1000/3000 stone is a good range to have for knives that are not seriously damaged, just dull.A leather strop and stropping compound are no luxury either, it is THE best finishing touch for any knife sharpening job.

The low down on knife maintenance

Knives like Rada are of a softer, stainless steel and will need regular maintenance. Fortunately the company provides a very convenient little sharpening tool. Harder knives like MAC will keep their edges a long time if you don't abuse them, but will need periodic touching up. Fortunately the company provides these ceramic honing rods that are a perfect match for their knives. If you need serious sharpening, you can either send them back to the manufacturer, or get a more serious sharpening setup yourself. The chef knives will need some regular maintenance and periodic sharpening.

Here by the way is a good video to explain why harder knives are worth it, but you will also understand why you need to have some softer knives as well. The bottom line is, harder knives are worth having, but you need to treat them with care, and you should simply let no-one else use them, unless they understand and are coachable about the proper use.

Specialized knives

We're now getting into the dream knives category. As you expand your cooking, this is worthwhile. Knives generally are easier to clean and maintain than fancy kitchen tools, so the more time I spend in the kitchen, the more I prefer knives over other tools in the kitchen, if I can help it at all.
With vegetables the difference between cutting and crushing is very important in general, and even more so if you are serving things fresh. Delicate things such as tomatoes and strawberries will show you the difference. But even slicing celery for a salad is very telling.
It is most important to realize that Nakiri or Usuba knives are not choppers. Their very sharp, delicate edges could be damaged. You want to use them in a locomotive fashion, pushing forward and down and pulling backward and up. The mass of these knives, combined with that gentle rhythm make cutting vegetables almost effortless, and very precise. The design of the blade gives you firm control. Speed comes with practice, but you want to learn proper hand techniques so your fingers never end up under the blade. For the most part it seems the single bevel, or kataba, knives are typically called usuba, and the dual bevel are nakiri. Here is a good intro to single bevel knives. The Usuba are also slightly hollow ground on the back side, enabling thinner slicing. That is where Usuba shines.
Dalstrong Shogun 6" Nakiri knife

Shun Premier 5.5" Nakiri knife

  • An Usuba and/or Nakiri knife, also known as a Japanese Vegetable knife. They range in length from about 5 to about 7". Examples are: the Shun Premier 5.5" Nakiri knife, or a Dalstrong 6" Nakiri knife, both of these are dual bevel, i.e. European style. 
  • If you are into thin slicing, you might want to get into a single bevel (kataba-style) or Usuba knife, like the Shun Classic Pro 6.5"Usuba.
    I have a Kamikoto 7" Nakiri knife and I love it. Interestingly, Kamikoto calls theirs a Nakiri knife anyway, probably because it is single bevel, but not hollow ground on the back. Kamikoto advises me: "You are correct in observing that our Nakiri vegetable knife indeed shares many similarities with an Usuba, including the single bevel sharpening or kataba. However, as Usuba can come in multiple different variations, and as other features of our knife - such as its dimensions, weight, and blade tip - correspond better with traditional Nakiri, we consider our vegetable knife Nakiri rather than Usuba." The upshot is, that if you can have only one, a good single bevel knife might be your first choice, it is the basis of a lot of fine cutting and thin slicing and it cannot be beat.
  • A stainless Chinese vegetable cleaver is a better option for serious hacking like my example above of chopping the top off a cassava root. For this I love any budget stainless steel Chines vegetable cleaver, or a large chef knife.
  • Ceramic knives are not my favorite for most tasks, I do not like the light weight. The exception is for cleaning fruits, which is delicate work. I like the Kyocera Revolution fruit knife, or the paring knife for that. The downside of ceramic is that it is brittle, so you want to baby these knives, but for the right task they are unbeatable.
  • A high end paring knife/utility knife is a useful addition at some point. My favorite has become the Dalstrong Shogun Paring Knife, but I consider it to be a transition to a small utility knife, just like the MAC paring knife. The MAC paring knife even more so than the Dalstrong is almost designed for small cutting tasks on the board. For both of them the blade is too wide and too long to work effectively with the tip for peeling, etc. that's why I recommended the Rada paring knives. To put things in perspective, you can have a basic set of 3 straight paring knives, a birds beak paring/peeling knife and a sharpener from Rada cutlery for the price of a MAC paring knife, and you can have two MACs for one Dalstrong Shogun. I have had some of my MAC knives for over 30 years and they continue to perform.
In terms of paring knives, my conclusion is that they range from 2.5" to 3.5" in length, and I want them with a narrow blade. The important thing is that they are easy to control in the hand for peeling, etc. The wider, longer paring knives are really small utility knives, and the larger utility knives are small chef knives. In my view, over 4.0" up to 5.5" is the range of utility knives, and so-called paring knives over 3.5" tend to the low end of that range. In short, I agree with the folks from Rada, their paring knives run from 2.5" to 3.25," 3.5" is about the limit for comfortable hand operation.

Other means of slicing and dicing, chopping and blending

For some tasks, other tools do help, although, if you have a good knife collection, you will generally prefer a knife if you can help it. Examples of other useful tools:
  • Mandolin (V-Slicer), for a mandolin, the Swissmar Boerner V-slicer is my favorite. Personally, I prefer the original model, the V-1001 V-Slicer Plus,  the newer version, VPower or V-7000WH is supposedly a bit more compact to pack up, but in my view not necessarily more convenient.
  • Both a Magic Bullet and a Nutribullet are your best options for other blending tasks that are beyond the reach of knives.
  • A good immersion blender, like Braun, is another powerful option. A good one is the Breville BSB510XL, according to Consumer Reports. It is a great way of blending a soup or a sauce right in the pan, and these units have such a small footprint, you can find room for them in any kitchen.
  • Although I used to have larger food processors, my kitchen nowadays is simply too small for them, but I am not so sure that I would have one again if I had all the space in the world. The set of "power tools" listed here is really all you need.
And for the rest, it is whatever makes you happy, but a lot of fancy tools will quickly disappoint. I have owned a ton of garlic presses and crushers, but crushing garlic with the flat of a chef knife and chopping it up by hand is still the hands down winner. Sometimes I crush the cloves in my mortar and pestle. Endless gadgets have been produced to slice herbs. Forget them all. A super sharp Usuba or Nakiri knife, or even a large paring knife or a utility knife on a good cutting board beats them all and is a hell of a lot easier to clean. Sometimes I think that many of those gadgets come up only because people don't know how to maintain their knives. Go watch some Burrfection and others on YouTube. On and on. Happy slicing and dicing.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Inspiration from Ecuador

Courtesy of Fatima, the cook for the school at St. Helena's, we experienced some Ecuadorian foods, while Audelle created an interesting green salad to go along with it, so we all get our regular requirement for leafy greens.

In this post I will report on the recipes, and I will elaborate on the preparation only after re-creating them and making some changes based on some things we tried.

Meanwhile, some notes on the ingredients:
In general, we use herbs & spices rather than salt, or if need be we add some Braggs Liquid Aminos which has 1/3rd the sodium of even low sodium soy sauce.
We included the green salad because a healthy #WFPB diet should see us eating 4-6 "fistsized" portions of leafy greens per day, because the leafy greens help the body produce nitric oxide that is good for endothelial health. And keeps your blood vessels flexible.
Added oils are always avoided, because they practically paralyze the endothelium for 3-6 hours after a meal. Small amounts of oily fruits (avocado, coconut, nuts) are allowable, but you definitely don't want to overdo it either.

Evidently, the cassava, lentils, potatoes, and veggies provide plenty of carbohydrates, so that this meal is probably close to the ideal balance of 80% (complex) carbohydrates, 10% fats, and 10% protein.


Locro de Lentejas (Lentils locro) - a thick soup 

red onions
Bragg's Liquid Amino's (instead of Salt)

We initially made it as above, with just water. Some people were adding a green habanero sauce at the table, or more Liquid Aminos. So next time I prepared this soup, here's what I did, to make about 1.5 gallon of it:

  • 1 lb whole lentils
  • 1 lb young potatoes (the kind with the thin skin, either yukon gold or redskin), quartered or smaller, depending on the size and personal preference
  • one small green cabbage, quartered and sliced in 1/4"stips
  • a large red onion and two white onions (just because I was out of red onions),sliced thin
  • 4 green chilis, sliced thin, with seeds
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, sliced thin (without seeds)
  • 6 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped fine.
  • a teaspoon of savory
  • a teaspoon of tarragon
  • 5 bay leaves
  • two pints of low sodium vegetable stock
  • three pints of water
  • a tablespoon of "Better than bouillon" vegetable bouillon
  • a half a cup of cilantro, chopped (leaves only)
  • Some Braggs Liquid Aminos to taste
Initially, I fried the onions (dry) with the chilis and jalapenos, over a low flame for about 5 minutes until they got soft, then I added the vegetable stock and the herbs, the lentils and the potatoes (with about a 15-20 minute delay).  Finally I added the shredded cabbage and let it cook for another 15-20 minutes.
(Note: some people would peel the potatoes, but if you buy thin-skinned potatoes, you can easily cook them in the skin, even cut-up: you lose less nutrition that way.)

My personal practice is always to cook a large pan of soup, and to have enough to freeze about 3, 4, or 5 quart-size freezer bags, which is about one large bowl of soup each. This way, you can have some the day you make it, and maybe keep some for the next few days, and have the rest in reserve for days when you don't have time to cook.

Mixed Beans and Vegetable Salad 

2 lb beets, boiled, cut in small chunks
2 lb carrots, boiled, quartered and cut in 1.5" chunks
2 bunches of scallions, sliced thin
4 lb fresh beans from Ecuador (Mama Tere, Frihol Mixto, Frozen)
1 bunch cilantro leaves only, chopped fine
Braggs Liquid Aminos to taste

This is the kind of recipe that is delicious as is, and people can individually choose to spice it up more with Tabasco, or Sriracha Sauce, sambal, or as I tried this morning a splash of Habañero infused balsamic vinegar.

Cassava Side Dish

Cassava (yuca) with a onion sauce (parboiled red onions, lemon, cilantro, liquid aminos)
  • Cut off the top of the cassava and peel it
  • Cut into 1.5" slices
  • Boil for about 30 mins until soft
  • peel some red onions, and slice thin
  • parboil the onion slices in boiling water for a few moments, so they are limp.
  • pluck the cilantro leaves and cut them up.
  • use the juice of one or more lemons to make the dressing
  • add in liquid aminos to taste.

Creamy Avocado Dressing

2 avocados, peeled and pitted

Juice of 1 lemon

Juice of 1 lime

1 tsp. lime zest

1 cucumber

~1/2 c. water

1/4 c. chopped cilantro

1/2 to 1 tsp. chili powder

Dash of sea salt or Braggs Liquid Aminos
Blend all ingredients together until smooth, adjusting water to get desired consistency. Refrigerate unused portions.
Makes 3+ cups

This dressing is brilliant. When I made it a second time, at home after our event, I made a complete kitchen sink salad, with red leaf lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, peppers, thinly sliced red onion, capers, olives, milled flax seed, chia seed and quinoa, and it was out of this world. Obviously, you can adjust the heat to your liking, but the cucumber makes it milder.

In any case, since I prepared all these things at home in the week before Christmas, I had some chance to share them with a neighbor, and I got very positive response to all of them. Notably, this was from someone who has no idea about the plant-based diet. And that to me is the real test, if you simply make good food, except that it just happens to be very healthy.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The truth about paring knives

Periodically, I get excited about kitchen tools, everything to make life easier in the kitchen. Using the appropriate tools really does make a difference.

A good shopper can find excellent tools for a reasonable price, the trick is to know what tools you need to really make your life easier.

For the most part, a paring knife is about tasks you can do by hand, i.e. off the board. There are however two main varieties and it pays to know the difference.

Some of the best knives I've owned in my life were no-name knives, and others I picked up at street fairs. One of my favorites for an easy to maintain paring knife is Rada Cutlery. Besides a regular full length paring knife, they offer what they call a "granny paring knife," which has a curved "beak-like" bladed, like this:

Rada "Granny Paring" Knife
That type of a paring knife, or it's close equivalent, a peeling-paring knife, which typically has a short blade (like 2.5") are great for peeling apples or potatoes, because of the short blade and the long handle, they offer great control of the tip when you have to cut out the sprouts from a potato, or cut out the seeds from an apple, or simply in peeling fruit. In those jobs, I find myself controlling the action with my thumb, and if the paring knife is too long, you end up gripping the blade, and that's not a comfortable situation, and outright dangerous with some of the wider blades.
In other words, these curved paring knives are especially good in the curves, or when you want to do a tourné cut. The other solution for the peeling problem is is the "peeling paring" knife from Rada:

Rada Cutlery's 2-1/2 "peeling paring" knife
Again, these little paring knives are good in the curves, and offer a sharp tip, for coring fruit or the sprouts of a potato, and ideal for situations where you have to oppose the tip with your thumb.

Regular paring knives typically have blade lengths of 3.5" to 4" and the emphasis for these is more on cutting or slicing, mostly off the board, but sometimes on. There are some of these with a straight edge, which are really a compromise between the super short peelers, and a paring knife, for they offer the sharp point that is good for paring. I have a Sabatier 3.75" paring knife like that. It came with my original Sabatier set, and it remains a favorite. In my view, if you're going to have just one paring knife, this is the type you want. The blade is not too wide at the base.
Sabatier set with 3.5"straight edge paring knife
Many paring knives are more for cutting and slicing various finicky small items. The general idea of a paring knife is in the hand, off the board.

At the high end, Dalstrong offers a knife like that, which has become a favorite of mine. Besides super sharpness and long edge retention, these Dalstrong paring knives have superb handles, which give you a lot of comfort and control. They also have a weight that I actually appreciate when cutting. However, because of the type of steel and the shape of the blade (long, and fairly wide), this is for the straightaway, and not for the slalom course. It is unsurpassed for a task like preparing scallions, where you will really appreciate the difference between cutting and crushing. However, the wide, flat and fairly straight blade means you need another paring knife to handle the curves...
Dalstrong Shogun series 3.75" paring knife.
 Fortunately, Dalstrong also offers a peeling knife, as in here:
Dalstrong Shogun 3" peeling knife
These types of bird's beak knives are also ideal for a "tourné"- cut, where you cut in a slightly rounded fashion. This video makes the point whey the "bird's beak" design makes it easier, although you can actually do it with any decent paring knife if you have to. But you can see the attraction of having some different paring knives.

Some other paring knives, such as the Kyocera Revolution, and the MAC original series, have rounded tips, and are really purely for slicing and less so for peeling, or even small jobs on the board. These also often have wide blades, so besides not having a tip, they are awkward to control if you need to control the tip. You don't want to be gripping a wide blade like that. For the rest, the lightness of ceramic knives is actually a feature that I don't generally, like except for delicate tasks like quartering strawberries and then the lightness is an asset.

Kyocera Revolution, 3.7" paring knife
Another example is the MAC 4" paring knife, which besides not having a tip and a wide blade, has a handle shaped for on-board cutting, so it is really a transition between a true paring knife and a small utility knife. I have had one in my kitchen for 30 years. And it's another favorite for the right tasks.
MAC Original Series 4" Paring Knife.

All the usual precautions apply. The harder the steel, the longer it keeps its edge, but also the more brittle it is. That applies especially also to ceramic, which is super sharp, and keeps its edge a long time, but it is no good for twisting and turning, for they will snap. The best compromise approach at the high end are knives like the Dalstrong Shogun, where the central core is a high carbon steel with 62+ Hardness on the Rockwell Scale, while the outer layers of the steel are stainless. This layered method of knife construction (Damascus steel) is the best of both worlds in a lot of ways, but you should remember very strongly not to leave it wet for the super sharp edge is also more prone to corrosion. So you want to use it, wash it, and dry it and put it away safely for the next time. Typically knives are in the range of HRC 55-66 on the Rockwell scale, where 66 is really extremely brittle, so that harder may not be better. It is really a matter of compromise. Softer knives don't keep their edge as long, but they are also easier to sharpen.

The conclusion is, you can find excellent paring knives from $6 to $60, and anywhere in between, but what you want to watch for is the appropriate tool for the task, so that with experience, I found myself liking the two separate types, both a regular 3.5" to 4.0" paring knife and a 2.5" to 3.0" peeler to navigate the curves.

As I wrote in my previous post, if you want to know about knives, Ryky Tran is your man, his channel is Burrfection on Youtube. I find him fun to watch and he really motivated me to restore some old knives that I had neglected for a while. It remains true that dull knives are really dangerous, because they are harder to control. That applies in spades to paring knives, because you often use them for finicky little tasks and tight corners, so if you lose control, you can easily hurt yourself, whereas if you maintain them well, all your tasks are easier.