Friday, July 11, 2008

Tagine and teeth

This week I went to the dentist. My insurance plan allows me to go to what I think is the cheapest 10% of dentists in the area. This dentist is on the edge of a transitional neighborhood, in a basement office. He accepts walk-ins. My appointment was rescheduled because (I think) he forgot to pay the phone bill and the line was disconnected for a few days. But he is a character with lots of colorful stories and he swears like a sailor.

While he was examining me, he abruptly asked, "Are you a vegetarian?" When I asked how he knew, he said, "It's because your back teeth are worn down." He went on to say that cellulose (plant walls) wears down tooth enamel, but that steaming or sauteing vegetables will break down the cellulose enough for teeth to handle it. (So, this pointed to me eating a lot of raw vegetables, not necessarily to me being a vegetarian.)

Is this true or just another of my dentist's tall tales? All I've found is one article that says it probably isn't true, although eating citrus fruits isn't especially good for your teeth. I don't eat that much citrus, but I do eat a lot of raw vegetables. I like my veggies crunchy, and I think the nutrients I get from them are more important than some wear and tear on my teeth.

On a completely unrelated topic, I'm going to a potluck tomorrow where the theme is "Mediterranean Vegetarian." I'm bringing tofu tagine (pictured). This recipe is awesome. It won a Vegetarian Times reader recipe contest about 8 years ago and I've been making it ever since. It's somewhat time-consuming but totally worth it. Fried tofu is simmered in a sauce with savory spices, cinnamon, onions, garlic, lemon, and honey (I subbed maple syrup). It's served with couscous that also has a salty, lemony flavor, in addition to mint and dried fruit. Then the whole mess is sprinkled with toasted almonds. The flavor is complex and unusual. Let me know if you try it!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

When natural isn't better

I just got back from the vegetarian/vegan Mecca, NYC. We had great meals at Angelica Kitchen, Red Bamboo, and Two Boots Pizza. I can highly recommend all eateries. I'd wanted to try Angelica for several years and it did not disappoint. I had soup and a salad and HS had a seitan burrito. Red Bamboo has an extensive ecletic menu. This time we both had seitan; a sandwich and a skewer plate. Two Boots is my new favorite pizzeria, and they have a hearty vegan slice. They just need to put their jalapeno pesto on it (not really a pesto, more of a puree, and I'm sure it's vegan) and it would be perfect.

I have a letter to the editor in Natural Health magazine this month. My letter is in response to an article about sustainable sandalwood products. I say that sandalwood has been pushed to the verge of extinction due to the perfume industry, and that it's better to buy products with synthetic sandalwood, which smells exactly the same but uses only a fraction of the resources that sandalwood tree production (sustainable or not) does. It's important to replant sandalwood, of course, but I think it's a mistake to always prefer "natural" scents. In some cases it takes a ton of flowers, leaves, etc. to produce a gallon of essential oil. It just reminds me a bit too much of meat production in its resources in/ product out ratio.

Another way that I don't prefer natural is in regards to sweeteners. Actually, just one sweetener, agave. I figured out a few years ago (it involved tequila; don't ask) that I'm violently allergic to cactus derivatives. I can stay away from tequila but agave is more pernicious, often masquerading as a "natural sweetener." It rules out a lot of energy bars or vegan sweets for me. I'm writing about it because there is next to nothing on the 'net about agave allergies/reactions. (My reaction is horrendous stomach pains.) If you know anyone who's also allergic to agave, holla back so I know I'm not alone!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Taco time

I am woefully late in posting about this yummy dinner. What can I say? I've been busy with work, more work, wedding stuff, and trying to determine which of these is the better rhyme:
1) abuse me/ muesli
2) on ya/ Apollonia
(if you have an opinion, let me know!)

Anyway, one of my favorite vegan (or vegan-friendly) meals for guests is make-your-own tacos. It sure uses a lot of bowls but seems to satisfy all tastes. The picture above shows chipotle brown rice, avocado-corn salsa, Yves fake meat with tomatoes, onions, and chili powder, as well as soy cheese, lettuce, beans, etc. Although I'm not particularly drawn to meat substitutes, Yves is my favorite of the type. It tastes good and is filling, yet is freakishly low in fat and high in protein.

I wish I had gotten some pictures of the actual tacos people made but that's a good reason to have Taco Nite again. For dessert, we had mango-strawberry cobbler. This picture came out terribly blurry but it's all I had. I only remembered to take it the next day when the cobbler was nearly gone.

This cobbler is no ordinary dessert, at least not to me. A friend once described it as one of the best desserts he'd ever had. The secret is cardamom. I know, a container of it costs 7 bucks or more, but it is essential in this recipe. If you omit it, all bets are off. (Note that the recipe requires ground cardamom. If you buy the kind in the pods, you'll have to grind the seeds first.) Here is the recipe, heavily adapted enough (one might say cobbled) that I don't feel bad about sharing it:

Mango-Strawberry Cobbler

Fruit Layer
2 mangoes
1-1/2 pints fresh strawberries (about 4 cups, chopped)
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
3 tablespoons flour

Peel the mangoes and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Wash, remove the stems, and chop the strawberries into halves or quarters. In a bowl, mix together all fruit-layer dry ingredients. Add the fruit to the bowl and toss to coat.

1-1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons white sugar
1/4 cup oil
1 cup "milk"

Stir together the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar. Add the oil and milk and stir together until just combined. Place the fruit-layer mixture in a 8" square pan (you want the fruit layer to be pretty thick, thicker than in my picture, ideally). Gently pat the topping mixture over the fruit layer. Use a light touch--the less it is messed with, the better the topping will rise. Bake at 375 degrees for about 35 minutes. Serve topped with your favorite vanilla ice cream alternative.