Thursday, May 27, 2010

Beans are Neither Musical, nor Fruit.

But they do make a damn fine salad! Nothing quite says bbq season like bean salad! Ok, things you actually barbecue probably say it better, but still, you need to have something to serve with your grilled veggie burgers, don't you? In my family, this is one (often two or three) of the following 4 salads: coleslaw, potato salad, macaroni salad, and bean salad. Of these, only bean salad comes pre-veganized. It just so happens to be my favourite of these summer staples.

Here in Canada, last weekend was the Victoria Day weekend, which means we got Monday off! This year I spent my long weekend visiting family. My mom and I went to my brother's place for a bbq, and since he has a month old baby (as of tomorrow!) we brought all the food. Naturally, we made bean salad. Despite the extra day off this weekend, I somehow haven't managed to find the time to blog about it until today!

The original recipe calls for white vinegar, but I have updated it slightly by using cider vinegar instead. I also find the recipe quite sweet, and would normally only add half the sugar this recipe calls for, but my mom and brother like it that way. You be the judge! We usually make it with canned beans (for ease), but I'm sure it would be delicious if you cooked them up yourself.

Classic Bean Salad
Makes a lot! Great for pot-lucks, or a week's worth of bean salad!

1 can each: Red kidney beans, Chick Peas, Cut Yellow Beans, Cut Green Beans
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
2/3 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup oil
3/4 cup sugar (see what I mean? a lot right?)

Rinse and combine beans. Toss in veggies. In a separate dish, whisk together vinegar, oil and sugar. Pour over beans, mix well. Refrigerate and let marinate several hours or overnight.

Would you believe, with all that salad, that I forgot to take a picture of it? I'm sure you can imagine what it looks like, colourful and delicious.

Salad Challenge Countdown
Salads made: 20 Salads left: 32

Monday, May 17, 2010

"The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution." - Paul Cezanne

Maybe I'm not starting a revolution here, but I'd like to think that I might inspire someone to observe a carrot freshly.

The carrot, Daucus carota, is the same species as the common wild flower Queen Anne's Lace. It was domesticated in its homeland of Europe to make it sweeter and less woody than it's wild ancestor. It now also dons a delightful orange hue, and like most orange vegetables, it is high in beta carotene. If you look back to my Hot Cure for the Cold soup, you'll see all the goodness that beta-carotene can provide.

Beta-carotene is metabolized into vitamin A, which your eyes need to maintain vision. This is why your mother always told you to eat your carrots to make your eyes stronger. Unfortunately for me, all the carrots in the world won't reverse near-sightedness.

Factoid: Did you know that 'baby carrots' are not actually smaller, younger carrots, but regular carrots that have been peeled and shaped into these bite-sized snack favourites. Save some money (and some chemical preservatives) and peel and chop your own!

This Salad of the Week recipe I actually did make last week, I just didn't get around to blogging about it til now. This is a different take on coleslaw. I've done away with the gross mayonnaise-laden dressing, and gone for something a little lighter and fresher.

Gingery Carrot Slaw
Makes 2 servings

2 carrots, grated
1/4 cup grated red onion
1 tsp grated ginger
2 tsp rice vinegar
2 tsp oil
1 tsp agave/honey

Mix, chill for a while, and enjoy!

Salad Challenge Countdown
Salads made: 19 Salads left: 33

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Frappy Joy Joy

Those of you who know me personally, know of my deep, unwavering love of Starbucks. I love that a 16 ounce cup of indulgent deliciousness can bring me immeasurable amounts of joy. I love that I can order a decaf grande cinnamon dolce soy no-whip latte, and not feel like a complete jackass. Mostly, I love that I can get my lattes however I want them, because, after all, that's Starbucks' specialty.

Well folks, just when I thought I couldn't love Starbucks any more, they came out with however-you-want-it frappuccinos. That's right, fellow vegans and lactose-intolerants! You can now get your frappuccinos in soy! And for those of you who still consume the dairy but don't want all the calories, you can now get it with non-fat milk. Yes, we can now order frapps the way we've been ordering our lattes!
Soy Strawberries & Creme Frappuccino in a To-Go Cold Cup Tumbler

Do you want to know the best part? To celebrate our new-found icy blended expressions of personal choice, Starbucks is selling their frappuccinos for half price between 3 and 5 pm until May 16th!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

For whom the Bhel tolls

Back in November I visited Burnaby, B.C. (that's British Columbia, not Before Christ for any Americans who may be reading this). While I was there I ate at a terrific Indian restaurant, the Bombay Bhel. I've had Indian food many times before, but this time I had something I'd never tried before. It's an appetizer called "bhel poori" (or bhel puri as it's sometimes written). Not technically a salad, but a "chaat". A chaat is a savoury snack usually consisting of crunchy bits, chutneys and cilantro. There are many variations on this theme, as I've come to learn. Bhel poori is essentially puffed rice, sev (crunchy noodle shaped bits made of chickpea flour), onion, tomato, cilantro, and tamarind chutney. A quick internet search reveals that no two recipes are exactly the same but those basic ingredients seem to be the standards that define this dish.

As I've said, bhel poori is a chaat, not a salad. But what is a salad, really? We cannot define it based on its ingredients, since a caesar salad, bean salad, and potato salad hardly share any of the same ingredients, and yet, we all know them to be salad. The word salad comes from the Latin word salata meaning "salty". Merriam-Webster defines a salad as:

1 : any of various usually cold dishes: as a : raw greens (as lettuce) often combined with other vegetables and toppings and served especially with dressing b : small pieces of food (as pasta, meat, fruit, or vegetables) usually mixed with a dressing (as mayonnaise) or set in gelatin

This definition, particularly part b, suits my concept of salad quite nicely. Let's think back to bhel poori: Usually cold? check. Small pieces of food? check. Mixed with a dressing? Hmmm... what constitutes a dressing? Merriam-Webster tells me that a dressing is "a sauce for adding to a dish". Well, I'd say that chutney counts as a sauce for adding to a dish. Thus, I deem that bhel poori meets the criteria qualifying it to be a salad, and thus, a valid entry in the Salad Challenge!

The recipe I more or less followed is found (ironically) at No Recipes. Funny that one should find recipes on a blog entitled No Recipes, but I'm not one to judge. It's actually an excellent blog with beautiful photography, I suggest you give it a browse.

The unfortunate thing about bhel poori is that proper ingredients are not always easy to find. The local superstore only carried mango chutney, and I couldn't find any sev. I did find a snack mix called "Jaffna mix" at the local bulk barn, and it did list the main ingredient as chick pea flour, so one can only assume that the little noodle-like sticks in this snack mix is indeed sev. I did come across the occasional bhel poori recipe that called for mango, so I thought the mango chutney would suffice, especially given the loose definition the dish has to begin with. With that, I give you my very own take on bhel poori.

Ash's Bhel Poori
Serves 1

1 small potato, cooked & coarsely mashed
1/2 roma tomato, chopped
2 tbsp red onion, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup puffed rice
1/4 cup Jaffna mix
2 tbsp mango chutney (or enough to coat all the ingredients)

Mix all ingredients together and serve immediately. This recipe won't keep (the rice & sev will go all soggy). I really liked this recipe, it was quick and easy, but I would really like to try it again with tamarind chutney (this seems to be pretty important and I get the feeling that without it I'm sort of missing the mark a bit). Maybe I'll try to hunt some down in Ottawa sometime, cause I doubt I'll find it anywhere in Brockville.

Salad Challenge Countdown
Salads made: 18 Salads left: 34

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Exploring Cilantrophobia

As I mentioned in my last post, there are people out there who have an aversion to cilantro. Maybe you know one of these poor unfortunate souls. Maybe you are one. Those who dislike it do so with fervor (there is even an "I Hate Cilantro" fanpage). The interesting thing is it appears that there is a genetic explanation for cilantro hating. In fact, they're not even experiencing the same taste - to them, this otherwise delightful herb, tastes like someone spilled soap in the food.

The New York Times ran a great article exploring cilantro aversions entitled: "Cilantro haters, it's not your fault." According to this article, the specific mechanism by which cilantrophobes taste this horrible soapiness is not yet known. There seems to be some unconfirmed speculation about the web that people of European descent are more likely to be cilantro haters. A quick search of recipes from the world would seem to confirm this fact, as most recipes containing cilantro seem to be from Asia, the Mediterranean & middle-east, and South & Central America.

Factoid: When Julia Child was asked if she would ever order a dish with cilantro she replied: "Never. I would pick it out if I saw it and throw it on the floor."

Fortunately for me I am not a cilantrophobe, and it appears, as promised, in tonight's salad recipe as well. This recipe is also a re-creation of a recipe I had whilst away in Bracebridge. During the course our lunches were provided. One day after a bizarre miscommunication with the caterers, lunch for the group consisted of pizza. For myself and a celiac in the group, a local health food store, the Muskoka Natural Food Market, was charged with the task of handling our special dietary needs. One of the things they brought us was a delightful rice & cashew salad. I have done my best to duplicate it here, and I think I've hit the nail on the head. I hope you like it as much as I do.

Sesame Cashew Rice Salad
Serves 2-3

2 cups cooked brown rice
1/2 cup cashews
1/4 cup dried currents
2 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup (loosely packed) chopped cilantro
1 tbsp sesame oil
1-2 tsp fresh lemon juice
salt & pepper

Salad Challenge Countdown
Salads made: 17 Salads left: 35

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Love at First Bite

It is now the 18th week of the year, and yet I have only blogged about 15 salads. That means that this week I will attempt to make 3 posts containing 3 new and delicious salads. I could make excuses, but I won't. That's not what this 52 week challenge is all about.

Last week I went away on an OBBN training course. The OBBN is the Ontario Benthos Biomonitoring Network, and they are a network of researchers who collaborate, collecting and sharing data on the invertebrates that inhabit the bottom of freshwater bodies (streams, lakes, wetlands), for the purposes of assessing the health of freshwater systems throughout Ontario.

Ok, ok.... back to food. Whilst away for this course, inspiration was not in short supply. On the last day as we made our way home from Bracebridge, we stopped in Whitby for dinner. I had a hankering for sushi, but after parking and waiting to cross the street, we noticed a delightful looking Thai restaurant called i-Thai. I have to say, if you are ever in or near Whitby, you need to check out this place. We left that restaurant with full bellies, and smiles on our faces. Sometimes food really can bring immeasurable amounts of joy, and this place delivered. We started our meal with their mango salad, and it was love at first bite. I knew I had to go home and recreate it.

The key to this dish is using fresh herbs. This salad has both cilantro and mint, giving it a fresh bright taste. If you're one of those people who has an aversion to cilantro, I apologize, as it will appear in all three of this week's salads. It's not my fault really... if the grocery store would sell them in more reasonably sized bunches I wouldn't have this problem.

Mint belongs to a very prestigious
family- Lamiaceae. The mint family contains many delicious herbs including rosemary, oregano, lavender, sage, savory, thyme, oregano, marjoram, and catnip. There are many mints that are native to Ontario as well such as wild basil (Clinopodium vulgare), wild bergamot aka bee-balm (Monarda fistulosa) and a hat full of mountain mints (Pycnanthemum spp.). Mints have so many good things going for them. Mints aid in digestion, soothing the stomach and settling indigestion (ever wonder why Pepto-bismol and the like are always minty?). Mints are beneficial for asthmatics in two ways: first, rosmarinic acid blocks production of inflammatory compounds, and encourages the production of prostacyclins that keep the airways open. It's anti-inflammatory action also makes it a good choice for cold & flu season. And to top it off, they have a healthy dose of antimicrobial properties, suppressing the growth of bacteria (hence its presence in toothpaste).

Factoid: In Greek mythology, a nymph named Minthe was turned into a sweet smelling plant by Persephone

Enough rambling, and onto the salad!

Thai Mango Salad
Makes 2 servings

1 unripe mango
1 smallish carrot
1/4 red bell pepper
1 tbsp red onion
1 tbsp crushed peanuts
1 tbsp crushed cashews
5 or 6 fresh mint leaves
~2 tbsp fresh cilantro
juice of 1 lime
1-2 tsp agave nectar (or other sweetener)

Peel your mango and cut it into thin strips. Slice carrot, pepper, and onion as thinly as possible into thin matchsticks. Chop up herbs (Tip: an easy way to cut flat-leaf herbs like mint & basil - stack them on top of each other, roll them up along the long side, and slice thinly for even thin strips of herbs). In a small dish/cup, combine lime juice with agave nectar (or other sweetener). The amount of sweetener you'll need will depend on the tartness of the mango (less ripe = more tart), and your personal preference. Adjust as necessary. Toss all ingredients together. Allow the salad to rest for several minutes, allowing the flavours to get to know each other. Garnish with fresh mint leaves if you're feeling fancypants.

Salad Challenge Countdown
Salads made: 16 Salads left: 36