Thursday, July 24, 2008

Recipe: Rajma (Indian Kidney Beans)

Beans and rice. Oh so nice!

Rajma, is a North Indian take on the popular combination. I grew up eating it prepared by both my mother and grandmother. This is my comfort food. And nothing pleases this 'gringo' more than being able to create my own version of this classic recipe.

Best of all it is really simple! I recommend serving with brown basmati rice.

Serves 4

2 15 oz cans red kidney beans, reserving water
1 red onion, diced
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp of grated ginger
1 tbsp olive oil
juice of one lemon
a few sprigs of cilantro, chopped

1. In a large wok or skillet, heat olive oil at medium high heat.

2. Cook onion until golden brown and fragrant, about five minutes.

3. Add tomato paste, salt, ground coriander, cumin, and garam masala. Cook for another seven minutes, and stir to form a nice paste. You might start to see the oil separate.

4. Add red kidney beans (with reserved water) and grated ginger. Reduce heat to medium and cook for another ten minutes or so. Should form a nice sauce. Remove from heat.

5. Add lemon juice to bring up taste. Add salt if necessary.

6. Serve on plate with basmati rice. Add cilantro as garnish.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Summer fruits: Enjoy them while they last

I'll admit it. I get lazy come summertime. The last thing I want to be doing is sitting behind a hot stove, especially when it is above 90 degrees outside.

Instead of my usual steel cut oatmeal in the morning, I've found myself gravitating towards the delicious fruits that are available this time of year. One can find local strawberries, blueberries, cherries, peaches, apricots and nectarines at your farmers market. I like to dice them up and eat in a bowl. Sometimes I will add some yogurt or granola or mueslix, depending on how hungry I am.

There is something wonderful about seeing the bounty of what nature has to offer in my little green bowl. Such beautiful colors. I feel immediately grateful to all the hard work that was put into making and delivering this beautiful produce to me. I am a rich man.

Suddenly the summer heat feels instantly more bearable.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The genesis of Rice of Life

I often get asked what does 'Rice of Life' mean? Or how did I come up with the name?

It is a harder question to ask than one might think. The reason being, like most good names, it didn't come from a logical thought process. But more of an intuitive one.

I wanted a name that summarized all that I wanted to talk about. Food, yes. But also how and where it comes from, and all that it influences - our bodies, digestion, thoughts, moods, emotions, and spirit. Yes, food effects everything!

I was brainstorming potential names with my friend Ella. When we came to Rice of Life it just 'felt' right.

Of all foods out there, I can't think of one that I relate more to than rice. It is my ancestral grain. Millions of people in Southern India depend on it daily. It is also a big part of the culture. In weddings and other religious ceremonies, we throw rice as a symbol of health and good fortune.

Rice (particularly brown rice) is said to have healing properties. The traditional Japanese or macrobiotic diet is said to have healed many ailments, including tuberculosis, by following a strict diet regimen that is centered around brown rice.

And lastly, I wanted a name that was kind of fun, lighthearted, and easy to remember. I hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Are you regular?

Other than clinical settings, breaking the ice with a question on digestive health might earn you an odd look. Yet I find it such an important way to truly know what’s going on with someone. Much more so than the unconscious response that often follows “How are you?”

As a health counselor, I’ve learned that digestion is linked to so many of the areas in life that influence one’s health and well-being, including food/diet, stress level, and exercise.

I often ask my clients regularly about their digestion. I’m often surprised by the responses. “Oh yeah, I’m regular.” Is a common one. Only to learn they are having a bowel movement every three or four days! To me that is a sign of imbalance.

If you were to benchmark yourself versus others, this would seem fine. (We are a constipated nation!) Yet, we are all meant to have one bowel movement a day. When this is not the case it can lead to toxins accumulating in our bodies that lead to unpleasant things like colon cancer. Not to mention make one rather unpleasant to be around (irritability, short-temper are common signs of constipation).

But what causes this imbalance? Often it can be the foods we are eating. It might be allergies to common culprits: dairy, wheat, gluten, soy, corn. Or perhaps it is our diet (too much meat, not enough vegetables). Even the temperature of our food can have an effect (hot/cold, raw, cooked)! It also very much linked to our lifestyle. When we are stressed, our bodies often shut down normal digestive function. And we are sedentary, our bodies have a hard time moving the food through our systems.

Even the best of us digestive artists can go awry now and then. Including myself. So today I made it a point to take a yoga class (all this blogging has its consequences) and also order some delicious cooked food prepared by my friend Ella, The Regal Vegan, which is easier for my body to digest.

We’ll figure this thing out. In the meantime, if you see me on the street, you know what to ask…

Monday, July 14, 2008

Recipe: Greek salad with feta and olives

I put together this salad for a picnic in Prospect Park this weekend. It was such a hit with my group that I thought I would post the recipe.

I love this salad this time of year as all the ingredients are in season. I think the key to this salad is the addition of herbs, like parsley and thyme, which give it a strong fresh taste. A good quality extra virgin olive oil is nice too (cold filtered, unrefined). Look for these ingredients at your local farmers market!

It is also important to remember this is only a salad. So feel free to deviate from the measurements listed. You can't do wrong with a few more cherry tomatoes or olives. Make it your own creation!

Serves 3-4

1 bunch red leaf lettuce, chopped
1/5 bunch parsley, chopped finely
1 to 2 cucumbers, peeled and diced
8-10 Cherry tomatoes, quartered
8 Kalamata olives with pits
A few springs of thyme
2 oz feta cheese

Dressing (approximate measurements)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/8 cup of vinegar (use any combination of red wine and balsamic)
1 tsp dijon mustard
Thyme, dried oregano, salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredients for dressing into a small jar. Shake until well mixed. Next, place salad ingredients into a large bowl. Add dressing to salad. Mix and serve.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Yummy food comes from yummy compost

I've officially caught the compost bug.

I never thought I'd get much satisfaction from dumping smelly food scraps into a bin of other smelly food scraps. But sometimes I surprise myself.

I now bring my raw food scraps (i.e. fruits, vegetables, egg shells, tea bags) to the Garden of Union community garden every Thursday in Park Slope. The scraps are then processed into compost that is used to nourish the vegetables and other plants in the garden with essential minerals.

I love the concept of making some useful from something we have no use for. We recycle paper and plastic. Why not food? Food waste accounts for the largest component of our trash each year. Composting also reduces our need for chemically laden fertilizers, most of which are derived from oil.

If you are interested in composting, check with your local sanitation department to see what options are available in your area. New Yorkers can drop off their compost at the Union Square Farmers Market every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. There are also several other community gardens and ecological centers around the city that will gladly accept your goodies.

I store my food scraps in the freezer. That way, you can enjoy the benefits of composting without the stink factor. You can also buy a special compost bin that has a carbon filter. I then make my weekly trip to the Garden of Union (Union St between 4th and 5th Ave) on Thursdays. I simply look for the marked bin, add my scraps, and cover with sawdust. And that's it! I'm doing my part to reduce my footprint, and yes, make yummy food!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Seaweed: My friend and yours

I'll admit, I'm a sucker for underdogs. And I can't think of a food item more in need of a public relations overhaul than my friend seaweed.

Sea vegetables do not necessarily inspire in the kitchen, but these nutrient-rich foods are much needed in modern diets. I especially recommend to my vegetarian clients and those who eat a diet heavy in convenience foods. Seaweed is a rich source of iodine, which promotes proper thyroid function, as well as magnesium, calcium, and b-vitamins.

Thanks to a heavy influx of Japanese restaurants in the last ten years, many individuals have had a relationship with seaweed - from nori, the sea vegetable that holds together our dear sushi rolls, to hijiki or wakame, which is used in seaweed salads. However, in the home, most of us are still clueless.

One simple solution I've discovered in the last year is to add a two-inch strip of kombu in the cooking water of my brown rice or any whole grain or bean dish. By cooking slowly over time, the minerals in the sea vegetables naturally form a nutrient-rich broth that is absorbed by the rice. And if the sight of seaweed makes you gag, no worries, just throw it out and enjoy rice! You'll still get the benefit of the added minerals.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Embracing your sweat

I never thought I'd say this, but I enjoy a good sweat.

After spending the weekend in Virginia, I arrived last night to my sweltering Brooklyn apartment. I realized that I spent most of the weekend in denial of the actual weather. Homes, shops, restaurants, cars - I was in an alternate air conditioned universe.

For much of my life, I preferred it this way. And when outdoors, I did everything possible to avoid the heat. I avoided active sports. Chose the shade over the sun. Even moved to San Francisco for its mild climate!

Only upon arriving in New York two years ago was I forced to confront my relationship with the summer. Central air conditioning was just one of the many comforts I've had to sacrifice as a result of moving here.

New York forced me to embrace the requisite sweat that comes with this time of year. From a holistic perspective, there is nothing 'bad' about sweat. While it may be socially unpleasant, sweating is in fact it is a great natural way to release the toxins that build up in our body over the year.

Turning off the A/C, also makes me feel more connected to the natural world. I crave foods that are in season this time of year. Cherries, strawberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, all have a high degree of water, which help extinguish the summer heat. These foods provide me with a great degree of energy, and my body is also more in sync with the flow of life - rising when it is light, and sleeping when it is dark.

Our attempts to control our environment or our bodies attempt to sweat are just worse in the long run. Antiperspirants contain aluminum compounds that actually plug up our sweat ducts, and are toxic to our bodies. Running our air conditioners deplete more of our energy resources, raising prices, and exacerbate global warming. We literally pay now, and pay later.

For all those A/C hogs out there, I dare you to live a couple days outside the box. You'll be surprised what a couple of cooling foods, a nice fan, and some clothes made from natural fibers will do for you. When it comes to those triple digit scorchers, however, I'll be the first person you'll find curling up to the box.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Recipe: Arepas with Avocado and White Cheese

An Arepa is a flat corn pancake that comes from the Andes (Columbia and Argentina), and as regulars to the Caracas Arepas Bar in the East Village, Swati and I were very excited to find this recipe.

Not only did these arepas come out amazing, we were so surprised by how easy they were to make. For some reason, I think international or exotic foods always seem more trouble than its worth. In reality, arepas were just as easy to prepare as pancakes. Especially if you're someone who keeps masa harina around the house. But unlike pancakes, Swati and I can enjoy these as they are both wheat and gluten-free!

Arepas are delicious by themselves or with simple toppings - ranging from butter to avocado to white cheese. Enjoy!

Serves 4

2 cups canned white or yellow hominy
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup masa harina
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
coconut or canola oil for cooking

Place hominy in food processor with a metal blade and puree, adding the oil, water, and the salt. Run the processor for a few minutes until mixture is smooth and creamy.

Pour the pureed hominy into a medium bowl. Add the masa harina and scallions and mix until you have a nice pliable dough. Add more water if necessary. Form into 5 equal balls.

Flatten the balls into patties 1/2 think and about 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Don't make them too thick or they won't cook through.

Heat a griddle or a cast-iron pan over high heat until hot. Lightly oil the griddle, then turn the heat to medium and add the arepas. Cook them on the first side until golden, 5 to 10 minutes, then turn and cook the other side for 5 minutes longer.

Serve warm with your choice of toppings. Pictured with avocado and white cheddar cheese. Accompanied by sauteed sweet potatoes.

-Adapted (by Swati) from The Voluptuous Vegan by Myra Kornfield

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Fancy Food Show: Hundreds of samples, still hungry

Imagine Costco on a Sunday times one thousand. That is perhaps the best way to describe the Fancy Food Show, a three-day trade show that ended in NYC today. Buyers and sellers of 'fancy food' come together for this event, to meet, greet, and sample wares.

As someone who can spend a good hour or two just browsing the aisles of a grocery store in search of new products, this event was of particular interest to me. While most buyers were more interested in talking about boring things like 'shelf life' and 'inventory turns,' I was eager to see what new things our food industry was busy dreaming up. As should be expected, I mainly found snack foods at the event: chips, crackers, cookies, chocolate, cheese. This is nothing new. For years, these categories have been the source of growth in the food industry, the products in which countless marketing dollars and energy has been spent. Not exactly the core of a well-balanced diet.

I did see lots of the new health buzzwords at the event such as 'raw' and 'gluten-free' and 'organic.' And it was exciting being in the room and taking samples of coconut macaroon dark chocolate, salsa with live probiotics, and agave-sweetned raw gelato.

Yet I think my body's response to the whole event one hour later was telling. I was still hungry! This even after I gravitated towards the 'healthier' options. My body was still in search of nutrition. And despite all the marketing claims to address health and wellness trends, I would have probably been better served with eating basic whole foods that have been around for centuries.

Still there was something appealing about seeing all the entrepreneurial energy in the room. I was charmed, entertained. But in the end, I still needed a complete meal.

Integrative Nutrition