Saturday, May 29, 2010

Black Lentils for a Busy Week

Four work deadlines have converged and taken time out from my real life: bike riding, reading, gardening and most of all, cooking.I did manage to make some black lentil dal, called Kali Dal in various spellings. I've been staring at these split urad dal in the pantry for too long and thought it was time to make something of them. And because I have so much of them, I actually doubled the recipe, thinking I could send the leftovers home with the troops after our semi-regular Sunday family dinner. Unfortunately, the Sunday family dinner didn't materialize. Faced with all this dal in the fridge, I dipped into it for lunch a couple of times and found that the flavor gets better and better as it sits. Which shouldn't have been a surprise, really. Most bean dishes are better the next day. We served it with delicious garlic naan bought frozen at Trader Joe's. I promised myself I'd learn to make homemade naan one of these days. But not this week.

 Kali Dal

1 cup split urad daal
2 onions thinly sliced
2 green chillies, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tomatoes, diced
3" piece of ginger, peeled and grated
2 tsps ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne
2 tbsps oil

Wash the lentils and soak in water to cover overnight. Drain.

Put lentils in a pan with 3 cups of water, 1/2 the onions, the chilis and a little salt. Bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer until tender.

In a skillet, saute the rest of the onion until transparent. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for a few more minutes. Add the tomatoes, cumin, coriander and cayenne, and cook a little longer. Add the tomato mixture to the lentils. At this point if the dal is too thick add a little water or stock.Cook until creamy and thick. Correct the seasoning.

2 tbsps butter
1 tsp cumin seeds

Wipe out the skillet and heat the butter. When it sizzles, add the cumin seeds and give them a stir. Cook until fragrant but don't let the seeds burn. Pour the butter and cumin over the lentils, put the lid on and turn off the heat. After a few minutes, give the dal a stir and serve.

    Tuesday, May 18, 2010

    Oil and Water

    As I watch the trail of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, I'm shocked by the extent of offshore drilling. This NOAA graphic maps 3,858 active platforms and each platform supports multiple wells. Everyone's focused right now on the disastrous spill from the explosion at BP's Deepwater Horizon well, but as catastrophic as that is, the very act of offshore drilling is harming the ocean environment every day.

    Lubricants and other waste drilling "muds" contain mercury, lead and cadmium that accumulate in marine life that makes its way to your dinner table. The water that comes up with the oil and gas contains tuolene, benzene, lead, arsenic and radioactive pollutants. This discharge ends up in local waters, marshes and inlets.

    Even the surveys they conduct to estimate the size of an oil reserve cause environmental damage. These surveys are done by ships towing airguns that emit high db impulses to map the ocean floor. The sounds damage fish eggs and larvae, disrupt migration and mating patterns and impair the hearing of fish and other marine life, making them vulnerable to predators. Onshore areas used as staging grounds for offshore rigs require infrastructure like roads, pipelines and processing plants, often built on pristine natural areas.

    On top of that day-to-day assault on the water, wetlands and wildlife, add the decades long disaster of an oil spill. Twenty years after the Exxon Valdez an estimated 20,000 gallons of oil is still wreaking havoc in Prince William Sound. We just don't know how to clean it up completely.

    Other sources of energy carry similar risks of environmental damage. Coal ash waste contains arsenic and lead that ends up in water supplies and wetlands. And radioactive waste from nuclear plants is forever, and can poison hundreds of square miles.

    When did it become acceptable to trash our planet?  How can any self-respecting public servant support reducing environmental regulations in exchange for campaign contributions? How is it possible that our government considers limiting liability when one of these companies causes an environmental disaster?

    I'm as addicted to electricity as anyone, but it's clear we have to change. We need to legislate and enforce environmental protections and fuel economy standards. We need to invest in alternative clean energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal. And we need to change our attitudes about what it means to be an earthling. In particular we need to relinquish the old biblical concept of dominion, and instead become stewards of our planet.

    Finally, I suggest that those people in Massachusetts who are against the wind farm off Cape Cod take a little journey down to the sugar-white sand beaches of the Gulf of Mexico before they're destroyed for generations by our greed and inertia. Wind farms are beautiful. Dead wildlife is not.

    Gulf Coast Beans and Rice
    This is my vegetarian take on Cajun rice and beans

    1 cup of red kidney beans, soaked overnight
    1 yellow onion, chopped
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
    1 stalk celery, chopped
    1 bay leaf
    1/3 cup parsley, chopped
    1/2 package Trader Joe's soy chorizo
    3 cups vegetable broth
    2-3 green onions, sliced

    Saute the onions, garlic, celery and pepper in a little olive oil until the onions are transparent. Add the soy chorizo and cook a few more minutes. Add the drained beans, bay leaf, parsley and broth. Bring to a boil then lower the heat and simmer gently until the beans are just tender. Correct seasoning.

    Serve with rice.

    Tuesday, May 11, 2010

    Lillian R. Again and Again

    I was a new vegetarian in 1977 when I moved to State College, PA, with my 3-year-old son to attend Penn State. We happily explored the town together and found what would be our favorite food store for the next six years. It was called New Morning Natural Foods and it was my first experience with recycling and buying in bulk. We learned to reuse glass and plastic containers and scoop our own honey and tahini and peanut butter. We carefully folded and saved small brown bags for dried beans and grains.  

    We fell into the reuse-recycle routine easily, and I realized why almost immediately. On one of our trips to New Jersey to visit my mom, she loaded us up, as mothers do, with bags of groceries, leftovers and road snacks. One of the bags was a little brown paper lunch sack with her name, Lillian R, written in her beautiful Palmer Method cursive. She'd used it to take lunch to her church sewing circle meeting, saved the bag, brought it home and passed it on to us. She grew up in the depression, and saving was a way of life.

    We added the bag to our collection for shopping at New Morning. The first time we used it the shopkeeper noticed the name and asked about it. I told him about my mom and her lunch and New Jersey. We decided there must have been another Lillian at the sewing circle, prompting her to add the 'R'.  We used that bag over and over, week after week, for beans and rice and bulgur and nuts. Every time we went to the checkout counter the shopkeeper would say, "Ah, we've still got Lillian R." I told my mom she was famous at New Morning and we laughed about it.

    We took good care of that bag and used it for a very long time. One day I noticed it was missing from the pile. I don't know what happened to it; it just disappeared. But by that time the habit of reuse-recycle was a way of life, in part because of our personal connection to that one little bag and the pleasure we got from seeing my mom's name again and again.

    America's had a tough time catching up to many other industrialized countries in recycling, maybe because we're a throwaway society or maybe because we have so much land that using some for garbage dumps doesn't seem to matter much.We're finally getting the hang of it, though, even if we're not quite as sophisticated as some places.

    A few years ago on a trip to Germany I got sick on a morning train to Passau. I was dizzy and nauseated and by the time we got to the station I had to throw up. I grabbed the empty bakery bag from our breakfast pastries and hurled. Now grossed out in addition to dizzy and nauseated, I stumbled through the station looking for a trashcan to dump the bag. What I found was a long bank of labeled containers with strict instructions for their use: metal, glass, plastic, paper, etc. There I was, holding a paper bag of puke, wondering which bin to use. I wanted to be a good recycler but between trying to translate the German lists of acceptable materials, and an inability to categorize the bag and its contents, I had a hard time deciding. Paper? Yes, but --- ? The bag started to leak and I quickly chose Mülle, which I think means garbage, but it was a stressful moment and I wonder even now if some municipal worker in Passau cursed my ignorance.

    In my video production work I've been to many dumps and landfills and scrap metal yards and nuclear waste sites. It's staggering how much waste this country generates and we've really got to get a handle on it. All we  can do, I guess, is start at home. We save and reuse everything, and what we can't reuse we try to recycle. Jack thinks I take it to extremes when I wash and reuse plastic freezer bags, but we do what we can and I've got to believe it makes a difference.

    New Morning Natural Foods is gone now. I loved that store; shopping there helped me make the transition to vegetarian cooking and the sandwiches they sold gave me tons of ideas for meatless lunches. The sandwiches were made with hummus or tabouli or something called miso pate, always on pita. The best-selling sandwich was called Peanut Better, a concoction of peanut butter, bananas, applesauce and raisins that weighed about a pound and was nearly impossible to finish. I have fond memories of those sandwiches and replicated most of them through the years.

    This week I wanted to cook adzuki beans for Monday Beans, and thinking back to New Morning inspired me to make a sandwich they might have made. It's light and healthy, if a little messy to eat.

    Adzuki Bean Salad in a Pita
    (based on a recipe in Gourmet, September 1994)

    1/2 cup adzuki beans, washed
    broth to cover by an inch or so

    Bring the beans to a boil, lower the heat and simmer until just tender. Drain. (I didn't soak these and it took about 50 minutes for them to be fully cooked. I don't know if soaking would reduce that.)

    1 large carrot, finely diced
    2 stalks celery, finely diced
    6 stalks of asparagus, steamed and cut in 1/2" pieces
    1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
    1/4 cup finely diced red onion
    a couple of handfuls of fresh parsley, chopped
    2 2-inch strips of lemon zest, very finely julienned

    Mix together in a bowl; add the cooked beans. In a small bowl, whisk together 1 clove of garlic, finely minced, 2 Tbps. each of olive oil and lemon juice. Pour over salad and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.

    At this point you can go several different ways. You can go Mediterranean and add fresh basil and grated Romano. You can go Turkish and add cilantro and mint. Or you can do what I did this time and add ground cumin, coriander and a little cayenne. Be creative and add whatever you're in the mood for.

    Fill pita halves with the salad. Add sliced tomatoes and lettuce. Or just put it on a plate.

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010

    Cuatro de Mayo

    This week is Cinco de Mayo, commemorating the victory of the Mexican army over the French in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It's something we almost always celebrate in our house because it's an opportunity to have a theme party featuring our favorite Mexican foods, tequila drinks and beers. But for me, and for many people of my generation, Cinco de Mayo will forever be overshadowed by what happened on May 4th, 1970, at Kent State University.

    I was 18 that May, young and lost, trying to understand what was going on around me and out in the world. I had spent the previous year as an exchange student in Sweden, an experience at once exhilarating and disorienting and I arrived home in July 1969 to the moon landing and something called the "Vietnamization" of the war. That was followed by Charles Manson, My Lai, the draft lottery, Altamont, Apollo 13 and Cambodia. The number of dead in Southeast Asia hit 50,000 but it would be 1971 before the 18-year-old boys being drafted would be allowed to vote. At the same time there was Woodstock and Earth Day and the Moratorium to End the War. We were full of hope and optimism even as we saw the mess our parents' generation had made.

    The one thing that expressed the confusion, fear, anger and power we were feeling was the music we listened to. Buffalo Springfield, Country Joe, Bob Dylan, Edwin Starr, John Fogerty, John Lennon and others gave us anthems to sing and a connection to each other that remains to this day. They were our age and they spoke to everything we were feeling and some things we hadn't thought of on our own yet and they made us believe we could change the world.

    I remember feeling the power of youth and the absolute certainty that my generation knew more than our elders and that the world we would create would be better than before. And then came May 4th, and the news that the Ohio National Guard fired live ammunition into a crowd of college students protesting the invasion of Cambodia. It was a punch to the gut. I remember the moment, and I remember thinking, "they're killing us."

    For me it was the beginning of distrust, of cynicism, of defeat. What had been a renaissance of art and philosophy, peace and love, became the butt of jokes and a theme of Halloween costumes. A few months after Kent State we lost Jimi Hendrix, then Janis Joplin. It would be five more years before the fall of Saigon and the end of US involvement in Vietnam. But at least we had the music.

    Four dead in Ohio.

    Spiced Red Beans

    1 lb. Dominican Red Beans
    1 medium onion, quartered
    1 bay leaf

    Wash the beans, then bring to a boil in water to cover. Add the onion and bay leaf, reduce heat and simmer until beans are just tender.

    3 Tbsp. oil
    1 large onion, chopped
    2-3 jalapeno peppers, minced
    3 cloves garlic

    1 box of chopped tomatoes in tomato juice
    1/2 tsp. salt
    1/2 tsp cinnamon
    1/4 tsp ground cloves
    juice of half a lemon
    1 tsp chipotle chili, or to taste

    While the beans are cooking, saute the onion and garlic in the oil; add the jalapenos and cook for a few minutes more. Add the tomatoes, salt, cinnamon, cloves and lemon juice. Simmer for a few minutes.

    When the beans are nearly tender, add the tomato mixture and simmer the beans for as long as you want. Correct the seasoning, then add chipotle to taste.
    I like to make beans like this at least a day before we're going to eat them to allow the flavors to develop. I initially served them as a side dish with enchiladas for our early Cinco de Mayo dinner, but on Monday we ate them alone with rice and a little salsa verde. Delicious!