Day 28

September 28, 2008

I had quite a productive day today, at least for a Sunday: I got my washing done, mucked around a little bit in the garden, did some tidying up around the house. Nothing earth-shatteringly important, but still OK.

I didn’t eat much during the day, just a little snacking here and there. Some nice garlic and herb pitta breads, though.

When it came to dinner time, I was at a little bit of a loss; I couldn’t really think what I wanted to eat. I was sort of in the mood for something a little spicy, but couldn’t figure out what to have. I also had some peppers in the fridge which I had to use up a bit quick, because they were about ready to go wrinkly, and were already a little crinkly, to tell the truth. I also wanted something fairly quick and easy, because I wasn’t really in the mood to do a lot of cooking.

I go through stages like that sometimes, where I just don’t feel like it; as much as I enjoy cooking most of the time, sometimes it just feels a little like too much effort.

Anyway, I was in the mood for something spicy, and I had those peppers, which immediately brought to mind that I should cook some chili. And then I had a brainwave moment. I decided to stay withe the idea of lentil chili, but instead of putting the peppers into the chili, I would put the chilli into the peppers! Peppers stuffed with lentil chili, in other words.

Sometimes, it just needs the spark of a new idea to make you take renewed interest in something.

I started with a finely chopped onion, and a stick of celery, also finely chopped. I think the key with making stuffed anything is to make sure that anything which has to be chopped isn’t too large – you want your filling mixture to be fairly small so it can get right down into the nooks and crannies and fill the space efficiently. I also chopped a single green chili, and two cloves of garlic.

All of this went into a pan with some oil, and was gently fried for a while. Meanwhile back at the ranch I opened a can of red kidney beans, which I drained. These were added to the mix, along with maybe a 1/4 lb or so of red lentils, a can of chopped tomatoes, a canful of water, two teaspoons of ground cumin, some ground coriander (cilantro to you Americans) and some salt and pepper; I also added a teaspoon of chipotle paste, because I like the smoky flavour it gives to whatever you add it to. I brought it to the boil, and then down to a low simmer.

I left it cooking for maybe 20 mins to half an hour, uncovered, so the lentils could break down and the water cook away, making sure to stir frequently, because red lentils will stick the moment your back is turned if you’re not careful. I eventually ended up with a stiff chili, because I had purposely let a touch more of the water cook out that I would ordinarily, just because it would be used to fill something rather than just eaten alone. I then stuffed it into three peppers, which I had blanched previously in some boiling water: two green and one yellow. They then went into the oven on a high heat for about 15 mins, and emerged slightly browned here and there.

Delicious all round — the peppers were tender but not falling to pieces, and the extra cooking gave the spices in the chili a little extra time to cook and work their magic. It was excellent, and I’ll definitely make it again some time.

I also made far too much chili to actually go into the peppers, which I have to admit I was nipping at while doing the stuffing, although that leaves me with leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

Two more days of the experiment left, and I’m half-sad and half-impatient to see it through. It’s been good to have some kind of direction and some focus to my month. I’d been feeling a little directionless as far as my diet and personal life went, so it’s been good to have some kind of rudder for the month, something to aim towards.

I think I’ll kind of miss that.


Day Eight: White Sauce and Spanish Rice

September 8, 2008

I’ve said here before that I’m having a hard time with not eating cheese. Milk is also something I miss; while soy milk fulfills part of the desire, there’s nothing quite like a nice big glass of cold skimmed milk.

Coffee is not quite the same without it, but I’m getting used to that, and I’m certainly not about to try using soy milk in it anymore: soy milk is actually what is known technically as an emulsion, or immiscible liquids in a stable blend. Basically, it’s oil, water and small particles. Unfortunately, soy milk is not quite so stable an emulsion as dairy, meaning that unless stirred vigorously every minute or so, it separates into what looks like curds. Not terribly nice, and something of a pain to keep going at. You can get it to not do that by adding it when the liquid has cooled down, but who wants to drink lukewarm coffee? I’ll stick with black and one sugar for now, I think.

One thing which I’ve been trying to think of cooking somehow is macaroni (and) cheese, name dependent upon where you live. Unfortunately, the means to do it seemed to have eluded me, until I happened to land upon the site called Vegan Village, which maintains a list of vegan recipes.

Oddly enough, they have a recipe for white sauce, which is simply a vegan version of the standard variety, literally: the ingredients are identical. Vegan margarine, soy milk and flour. It recommends using yeast flakes for a cheesy flavour, and I may well give it a try during the week.

That’s not what’s on the menu today, though.

Two of my favourite styles of cookery are Mexican and Tex-Mex, which are distinct forms of cuisine, despite what most people think. Unfortunately for me right now, both of them are kind of heavy on the meat, particularly beef when it comes to Tex-Mex.

Two of the other staple ingredients of these two related cookery styles are rice and beans, and this is indeed a classic form of both, not to mention being widely used throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Variations of the theme include the Brazilian feijoada, a hearty stew of black turtle beans with salted pork; Platillos Moros y Cristianos, a Cuban dish of black beans and white rice which translates as Moors and Christians, named for the colours; and of course, the New Orleans Creole classic of red beans and rice.

Protein is an important part of every diet, as it aids in cell formation and regeneration, and is a necessity for life. Indeed, the name is Greek for primary. The most complete and easily used forms of protein come from meat, which leaves vegans in something of a pinch; this may also be related to the source of the common stereotype of the vegan as weak and skinny.

Plant proteins often are incomplete, meaning that they lack all of the essential amino acids necessary for the maintenance of life. This is relatively easily solved, however, using the fact that different plants supply different protein formations, and combining them in different ways can resolve the issue of protein. Coincidentally, the combination of rice and beans supplies all the proteins necessary to sustain life, as well as carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and fibre. It should be noted, though, that the proteins need not be combined in a single meal, despite popular misconceptions to the contrary.

Plus, of course, there is the fact that beans and rice together are generally very cheap, and can provide a nutritious meal for several people (or for one over several days) at very low cost and effort.

While I like rice and beans, and would probably kill wound someone for a good plate of red beans and rice, I’m after something a little more interesting than simply adding them together. This experiment isn’t just about surviving as a vegan, after all, but seeing the whole picture together. That means I get to cook stuff which I actually enjoy eating too.

Crazy idea, I know.

So, my idea for tonight is to cook Spanish rice and bean burgers. To add a certain Tex-Mex flavour, I’ll be using pinto beans for the burgers.

The bean burgers will be more or less along the same lines as the felafel I made before, albeit with a few minor differences. I’ll be using chipotle paste instead of harissa, for example, and corn meal instead of white flour. Otherwise, the basic ingredients – onions, beans and spices are more or less the same.

The Spanish rice is a little different. I struggled with this dish for quite a while, I have to admit. It used to come out soggy and bright red, sticky and clumped together. Then I hit upon the idea of cooking the rice and the tomato base separately. Aha! I tried it, and it came out perfect, so every time since I’ve done it that way. The sauce base is chopped tomatoes, onions and peppers, garlic, salt, pepper, herbs, tomato puree/paste and some chilli if I feel like spicing things up. After last night’s curry, I’ll leave it out. It’s all gently fried and simmered together until it results in a thick sauce, to which you add the rice and stir it in. It comes out a beautiful orange colour, non-sticky and delicious.

Right, that’s it for today. I’m off to cook!

Crossposted at The Odd Blog.