Monthly Archives: January 2018
So, here we are at the end of the month – how did I make out?
As I was hoping, I’ve been able to try out some new recipes and hone some fresh techniques – the increased use of tahineh, especially that sauce, was revelatory, breaking down my reticence to work with tofu is going to come in handy, and the triumph of the injera is something I’ll be returning to regularly.
Well, as noted at the half-way mark and, really, throughout, this hasn’t been that large of a change for me, starting as I did from a near-vegetarian diet. The restriction throughout the day made for some tight moments – even just today, come 11:20, my empty stomach was making its presence known. Much to the enjoyment of my most proximate colleagues. I’ve certainly been getting enough to eat at meal times, but the absent inter-meal grazing is still a lack sorely felt.
Regrettably, I didn’t weigh myself at the start of this whole thing, so it’s difficult to say whether I indeed lost weight. What with only really starting into exercise half-way through, and fairly light-on at that, I suspect that there wasn’t a whole lot shifted.
In the same vein, I’m afraid I can’t comment on what the drain on the purse has been, comparatively. Also, it’s not as if I was approaching this sustainably – in an effort to try new recipes, I was buying ingredients to fit the meal, rather than working in a more economical mindset. I was making heavy use of specialty stores and bodegas, notorious for inflating costs. I don’t usually make extravagant purchases, so I’m content to keep a fairly loose handle on the finances – so long as I’m in the black come the end of the month, I know I’m doing alright. I usually am.
Having to take the time to actually think through meal-prep and ingredient acquisition has brought an unexpected focus on the passage of time – so often, a month slips by, I wake up and it’s the 26th or later, and I wonder how it all went so quickly. Not so here – I don’t know if it was the recognition that the month, as a unit, was something distinct and unusual, or it it was that greater attention to the moment, but I feel like this January has been a bit more…thoroughly experienced? It’s difficult to articulate.
All in all then, a positive experience, with qualifications. There are still recipes I want to try, limits that I want to push. A month isn’t really enough for (slight) diet adjustments to make themselves felt. But…what about two months?
Having done a crash course, I now know what to be looking out for, what to improve upon. I should be able to back track and get a rough estimate of how much I spent, and the average before that, too – it’s been something I’ve been intending to do for a while, so the excuse is a convenient one. I’ll be approaching my weight in a more attentive manner, as well, which will actually give me some numbers to work with, rather than the fuzzy concept of ‘feeling.’ Also, having an idea of what is available locally, food-wise, I should be better equipped to really push the margins on recipes.
Thinking this through earlier today, I was reminded of this piece in (you guessed it) the Guardian. No doubt taking advantage of the New Years Resolution season, the article is written by a fellow reflecting on his former problem-drink habit. Sobering stuff in itself, but what really came to mind was his description of the ability, for a while, to turn off the desire to drink. For a period of ten years, he would spend the first three months of the year teetotal, until his birthday came in the Spring, from whence he would increase the consumption of alcohol throughout the rest of the year to Wakemanesque levels. But, during those first three months, he didn’t have any problem with it at all – was social, in pubs, at parties, you name it – without any desire for a drink. Speaking to a neuroscientist who specialises in this sort of thing, the author discovered that there is a known behaviour in play here – once convinced that something is off-limits, the temptation for it dissipates. Obviously, I’m not comparing my desire for the odd biscuit at work to someone’s alcoholism, but it’ll help to have something to stiffen my resolve, beyond the normal.
To that end, I think I’ll take up a version of the ‘Daytime Vegan’ diet. This will keep me away from the chocolate during the day, whilst giving me some more felxibility for socialising. My mate has a gallon of home-made mead that’s just come of age, and it ain’t going to drink itself. Plus, we’ve a growing collection of comestibles gifted to us by friends that have sat sadly neglected this past month. No longer!
It’s obviously not going to be a whole-sale forsaking of veganism – that would kind of defeat the purpose. I’ll still be trying to cook to a vegan diet, but, just, little things – a slice of cheese here, a litre of wine there. Nothing big, nothing regular. Still mostly vegan. Right?
Though the pace at which I report on my progress will slacken, I’ll still put together the odd post should I come across a worthwhile recipe, or if I’m noticing a big change weight- or energy-wise.
In the spirit of that, then, I offer up this – another from the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘River Cottage Everyday!’:
Keeping to the appreciation of tahineh, we have a recipe for beet and walnut humous. Beyond the pre-cooked beet (about 200g) and walnuts (50g), there was also a recommended 1 tbsp tahineh, juice of one lemon, salt, 15g stale bread, one garlic clove, and 1 tbsp toasted cumin seeds. Obviously the tahineh amount was too little, so that was doubled. I cheaped out and just used ground cumin, though, the next time, I’ll do it properly. All in all, a nice twist on the usual!
Realised it was getting a bit late in the week and we’d not yet used any of the potatos from our veg box. Plus, between the spinach in the salad spinner and the goodly bunch of kale, space in the fridge is at a premium. What to do?
Stole some time whilst at work to hunt about for recipes – kale and potato, kale and potato…not feeling a soup, could do without a hash…but what is this, several pages deep into Google? Quesadillas!
Didn’t get to use any potatoes, but I put a good dent in the kale, which is win enough for me.
Apart from a glance at the recipe at work, made this one up more-or-less free hand. I more than doubled the sweet potato recommended, used a whole can of black beans, and maybe 3 or so sizeable double-handfuls of cut kale. I’m not a big fan of smoked paprika (though I do enjoy the non-smoky variety!), so I swapped that out for two fat, fresh chillies.
Baked my potatoes, after slicing into discs, for 40 minutes at 200. About half an hour into that, started prep on the other ingredients – steaming the kale, frying the onion, chilli and black beans together. After all the various parts were done their individual cooks, into the blender they went. Given the amount I was playing with, it took two rounds, with the mass recombined afterwards (our blender is a hand-me-down, and, while we’re grateful for it, there are better designs. You might be able to get away with just one go).
Divorcing further from the original recipe, I spread a bit of salsa on half of the tortilla previous to filling with the kale/potato mash. Before folding the tortilla over, I sprinkled a few leaves of cilantro and an appreciable amount of the tahineh sauce, recalling how well it did with the lasagna. I’d finished off another jar of stewed peppers the other day, and so fried the quesadillas in the leftover oil for a bit of an extra flavour kick. In an effort to multi-task, I was filling the next quesadilla while the initial was frying, which caused some overcooking – though never to a burn. In the end, that amount of veg mix made for 4 quesadillas, with a reasonable portion added to each. I was full after 1 and 1/2, so, while it mayn’t stretch as far as some other recipes I’ve used, it’s not terrible.
Last night, took another crack at the makhani dhal I made back at the start of the month, this time with proper urad lentils – though I’ve still not picked up any asafoetida! I was prepping the urad from dry, having soaked them from that morning. I didn’t have any trouble myself, and I did cook the whole batch for at least, probably more than, the recommended time, but my wife found more than few undercooked lentils. Which is never fun. Maybe it’s just her, though. Didn’t catch any today at lunch. Probably just making it up…
(Pre-soak yer lentils fer at least 24hr!)
Caught this article over at the grauniad during lunch today – new research which, while the responsible researchers don’t commit outright, might point to the source of cocoliztli, the plague that swept through the Aztec empire killing perhaps 80% of the population. At the time this started, 1545, smallpox had already rolled through two decades previous and taken out between 5 and 8 million. Cocoliztli, though, was a different kettle of fish –
people started coming down with high fevers, headaches and bleeding from the eyes, mouth and nose. Death generally followed in three or four days…(w)ithin five years as many as 15 million people…were wiped out.
A second outbreak, several decades later, took out half the remaining population.
But what was it?
Well, the good folks at Tübingen (or Tuebingen, according to the graun) have found evidence that the disease was a form of enteric fever – a typhoid-like disease caused by the salmonella enterica bacterium. Salmonella enterica, we know, was present in Medieval Europe.
Like most people my age of a particular bent, I’ve read the drek of Jared Diamond, and am current with the ideas of virgin soil epidemics and the Columbian Exchange, but, reading the article, I was struck by the asymmetry of contagion. Sure, syphilis ain’t fun, and it’s caused any number of deaths here in Europe over the centuries, but it doesn’t hold a candle to smallpox, malaria, measles, or – as seems to be the case – enteric fever.
It doesn’t take much reflection to figure out why Europe was such a lethal influence on the New World – the cross-contamination between Europe, Asia, and Africa goes back thousands of years: the Black Death coming in from Mongolia, smallpox running rampant on the heels of Roman conquerors, and on back into the mists of pre-history. As soon as wide-spread trade started up, microbial disease was hitching a ride. And, those it didn’t kill, it left hardened to the pathogenic menace of the Old World. Seemingly, that strength extended in many ways to the New.
That said, I was kind of surprised that there wasn’t something lying in wait for the early European rapists and slavers that rocked up on Hispaniola, something even more noxious than syphilis. Perhaps it merely betrays my lack of epidemiological knowledge, but it seems at least plausible that there could have been something totally unknown to the Eurasian/African experience in the Americas, that would have been as effective as those diseases listed above were on the immunologically-unprepared natives. Sure, yellow fever was a major issue for white settlers, but even that was brought over – if from Africa, rather than Europe-proper.
Can you imagine how differently things would have played out? It’s unlikely there would have been the full-scale colonial invasion, east to west, if the first few ships brought back some horrendously infectious disease. But, neither is it likely that word of strange men from across the sea wouldn’t have gotten around. The Aztec were equipped with as sharp a sense of Imperialism as anything going in Europe – would they have sat on their haunches, knowing foreign lands were available for the taking?
Perhaps, sitting here in Britain, we’d all be speaking Nahautl today.
Brought it a bit closer to home tonight – at least as close as the Maghreb. As the title suggests, elected for a tajine.
Though I hadn’t really intended to hew so close, the dish ended up looking basically the same as this one from the BBC (I pay my television license, least I deserve is some free recipes!). Obviously left out the honey, and rather than a harissa paste, used this, another purchase on the fly –
The instructions call for only 2 tsp, and, though I used a bit more than that, it’s not far off the mark for the amount of veg I used. Strong lemony flavour, and I can see it being too tart at more substantial amounts.
I think, when I go to do it again, I’ll up the amount of cumin and pepper I use, to provide a counterbalance to the heavy lemon. Also, as you can see, the tagine was pretty full – and that’s only with one courgette and a half capsicum. It’s the first time I was using the tajine we have – housemate bought it maybe half a year ago, and I’m not sure why I held off for as long as I did. We’re lucky to have as large an oven as we do here in Britain, and we needed it – the top of the lid was just shy of scraping the ceiling. Boiled over ever so slightly in that second cook, but it wasn’t too bad and I caught it before any real damage was done.
Rather than the more standard flatbread or couscous tajine is usually served with, picked up some lavash – my usual go-to to pair with Ethiopian (before the success of the injera, that is!). Doesn’t do so well for soaking up the flavours, but it does do a good job as a scoop. The piece in the first photo is actually half a sheet torn, and unfolds four or five times from there. Thin. But strong.
Half-way through the month!
And how am I doing?
As I said at the start, this isn’t really that big a shift for me, coming from a more-or-less vegetarian diet to begin with. I’ve definitely tried to branch out from my usual recipes, and I’ve done an okay job with it – either trying new things altogether, or mixing up ways I’d do things normally.
Save for that slip-up at the start, I’ve not snuck, or even really been tempted to sneak, any dairy. I’ve certainly had it around me, in the house, at work, but it’s not been terrible. One thing I have noticed is the shittiness of the tea at work – much better with milk to mask. I think I’ll start taking my own in, something with a bit of flavour to it.
I don’t think I’ve been any more irritable than usual. Every time I’ve been in a bad mood, it felt justified – but then, it always does, doesn’t it? Had a pretty wicked headache for most of the afternoon today, nicely ensconced behind the left eye. Even that, though, likely had more to do with last night’s poor sleep than anything else. It cleared up pretty quick once I got some paracetamol in (and no, it didn’t have any gelatin, lactose or carmine, so there). Similarly, I didn’t really get a massive energy spike at the start, the way that some people describe. Neither, though, was I over-burdened with animal protein to begin with, so there was no massive decompression or anything like that. Nor would there have been any scramble on the part of my body to find it’s usual source of nutrition, suddenly absent.
Have I lost any weight? Kinda…? It’s difficult to tell – it’s pretty early on yet, as you wouldn’t expect much to change up in 2 weeks. Plus, I’ve not been exercising heavily, though I intend to ramp it up a bit for this latter half. I’ve definitely felt hungrier than I usually do, but I don’t think that has to do with a reduction in the quality of the food I’m eating so much as it does the inability to graze on biscuits or grab the customary pre-lunch sandwich. So, yeah, probably eating less over-all. I’ve been upping my use of the old fizzy-make-feel-good, on the assumption that an effervescent tablet every day or two’ll cover off any nutrients I’m missing out on. As you’ve seen, I’ve been doing alright keeping things balanced, but it can’t really hurt and it’s affordable.
So, that’s the half-month in broad focus. More proximately, the weekend saw a rather less-adventurous effort. Thursday saw the completion of that satay in a curry-style dish. Had a head of broccoli that needed using. Friday I was working late again (wooooo 11 hour days!) and so my wife gave the vegan lasagne another run. Anticipating in advance the dryness, we ended up with a much more…moist…dish. Apologies to our poor friend who had to deal with the first attempt! Saturday and Sunday saw some store-bought vegan burgers, from Aldi. Not bad, but not something I would’ve gone with if not feeling so lazy (or hungover – turns out a lot of the beer I had on hand was vegan).
Tonight, resumed the experimentation. Nothing too bold, picking up from where I left off Thursday before last with another deep-fried tofu dish.
Did a stir-fry of hoisin sauce and chinese five-spice, and elected for a store-bought tempura batter for the tofu. I also threw in some re-hydrated shitake, which I fried a bit before adding. Didn’t come out too badly, had a good, earthy-smoky flavour. The tempura-fried tofu was alright – was able to do the whole of my 600g pack, which means I’ll have to pick some more up for another meal I intend to do, later in the week. I don’t know if I’d grab that tempura-mix again, it was a Blue Dragon number, and was suitably generic-tasting. Ah well, got the job done for tonight, and it was purchased on a whim.
Keep your eyes peeled for a post that should be coming soon – inspired by the succesfulness of the injera, there’s something else on the ferment…
Happy to report – the injera was a success! More or less…
Made up a pretty basic jalfrezi to go with, mixing idioms as we do here.
Not the best I’ve ever had, but still pretty pleased with it – really great, earthy taste. I’ll keep trying to improve it, but that 3:1 teff – flour ratio was a real game changer. Think I’ll next try some different, non-white flour. It’d be nice to get a good wild yeast yield, but the early addition of baker’s yeast definitely…leavened…things up a bit.
Picked up some tips here, including the need to cover the batter at a certain stage in the cook. Unfortunately, the lid I used left the finished product a bit ragged around the edges. We have a lid (for a different pot) that just fits inside our non-stick frying pan. When it’s hot. Not when it’s not. As we’ve found out.
The next one down in size leaves a gap of a few centimetres, which is why the edges got a bit banged up. Experimentation is required.
The second batch is coming along nicely, thanks no doubt to the early addition of baker’s yeast directly to the mix.
Reckon I’ll give the injera another crack, tomorrow night.
Tonight’s supper was comparatively light – tabouleh and humous, with store-bought chapatis.
Finished the humous I made last week over the weekend, so it was time to whip up another batch. Much like last night’s potato and turnip mash, it’s turning out to be no bad thing to have on hand.
My personal approach to humous is likely a far cry from the real deal, but, as we’ve seen with previous recipes, we’re no strangers to sacrilege in these parts.
Depending on the size of the batch I want to make, I usually go for 2 cans of chickpeas, 4-6 tablespoons tahineh, ~3tbsp olive oil, 4-5 tbsp lemon juice, and – heavens forfend – about a half pint of water (300ml). I’ll add a good amount of salt, with cumin, coriander and chilli to taste (which should translate as “a lot”).
As for order – I add the tahineh, oil and lemon juice to the blender at the start. The chickpeas I microwave before adding, one can at a time. I usually find that 3 minutes a bowl does the trick, first 2 minutes, stir, and then another minute. It gets the chickpeas that much closer to being cooked, and allows for an easier blend.
After giving that a whir, moving things around in the blender with a fork if necessary, I’ll cook and add the second bowl, adding water and maybe a bit more lemon juice to keep things moving. The addition of the water, rather than more oil and tahineh, is something I stumbled on maybe a year or so ago. It gives the whole thing a much fluffier texture, rather than the dense paste you might get from Sabra or the like.
The tabouleh was an off-the cuff affair – two bushels of broad leaf parsley, a handful of fresh mint, one cup of bulgur (one cup dry – obviously has to be cooked before use), maybe nine or ten cherry tomatoes of a goodly size, 2 shallots. I threw in a carrot for a bit of colour, and swapped out the customary lettuce for cavolo nero, as that’s what we had available. Salt and pepper to taste, a good drizzle of olive oil, a few dashes of lemon juice and some cumin and awayyyy we gooo.
It’s a good thing that this was a light affair, as, on a whim, I picked up a bag of what was being sold as ‘Sagoo seeds’ when I was getting some of the other ingredients. No idea what they were, nor how to prepare them. Upon getting home and doing a bit of digging, it turns out that these were in fact Sago, something I am current with.
Sago is starch extracted from the pith of the Sago Palm (actually a cycad), endemic to Southeast Asia. It’s usually sold in a pearled form, a bit like tapioca – the starch of cassava, incidentally. The plentiful nature of the Sago Palm and the ease by which the material is harvested is of such note that Marx used it as an example in Das Kapital, in the chapter on Absolute and Relative Surplus Value, to underline the georaphically and historically situated nature of surplus value production. Chapter 16 of Volume 1, if you want to check it out (also, if you’re new to the blog, spoiler alert, I’m no liberal).
But, what does it taste like?
I used this recipe as a jumping-off point, doubling the amount of sago I was using, and, one would have thought, everything else accordingly. I found that, come the allotted time, there was still a goodly amount of water left in the pot, which I drained off. Maybe I ought to have taken note of that at the time, especially when I elected to double again the amount of coconut milk, using a whole 400ml can. This left me with plenty of liquid and my sago nearly spent – I added some more sago (you can see the uneven cook in the photo above), maybe another 1/4 cup, and allowed the mixture to cook down for about another 20 minutes – low heat, so as to avoid any sticking to the bottom of the pan.
I was hoping to get the sago pudding off ahead of the rest of the prep and popped into the fridge to cool before eating, but the situation didn’t quite play out that way. Had it still-warm, which may have determined what followed.
How did it taste? Upon first blush, with the appropriate 2 tbsp sugar, a bit of cinnamon, some mint? According to my wife, “tastes the way rubber gym mats smell.”
A heaping teaspoon of sugar directly to the bowl covered the most offensive aspects of the taste, but there was a definite hint of chlorine on the finish. It wasn’t too bad, come the end, and the texture was fun. As I mentioned, it’s a good thing the rest of the meal was light, because the sago pudding definitely wasn’t. Had just the one bowl, and I’ve been in some pain writing this up afterwards.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
Guess this entry will work as a bit of an overview for the last couple of days. A few meals have been had!
Friday night, took the lazy route and ate out after overtime at work – got some mushroom pho at the creatively named Pho, which did me nicely.
Saturday we had a friend over for dinner, and tried out the lasagne recipe featured on last Monday’s post. Satisfying; that tahineh sauce is really showing its potency. Next time we make it, though, I’m thinking we’ll put some tinfoil over the top from the get-go. Without the cheese to provide an insulating top layer, that first sheet of noodles gets a bit over-cooked.
Sunday, it was time for the long-awaited Ethiopian.
Unfortunately, the injera was not the unqualified success I was hoping for. It certainly wasn’t bad, but it’s not quite there. Trouble started early – it seems our flat is too clean, and even a day and a half in, I wasn’t seeing any wild yeast action. The housemate bakes quite a bit, so I nicked some baker’s yeast from the cupboard and hoped that that would get me a good enough flavour in the time remaining. It certainly started the froth going, and things were smelling fine within a short while. The recipe I tried out called for a 3 to 1 ratio plain flour to teff, though it did say feel free to experiment depending on your tastes. Wasn’t able to achieve the characteristic texture when I went to actually cook, but there were a few things working against me there – improper cooking implement with only a non-stick frying pan, improper baker with only a novice me. Truth be told, I didn’t go into it expecting it be perfect the first time, though I was a bit bummed by the results. Ah well, have another batch fermenting as I write. Added some yeast off the bat, and switched the ratio – 3 parts teff to one plain flour. From what I’ve read, the traditional way to do it is all-teff, so perhaps this will get me a bit closer. Experimentation!
For the actual, you know, food, I fell back on a pair of recipes I’ve been using for years (not really the point of this month, I know, but I thought the injera was experiment enough). I first came across them in an article from the Toronto Star, which, as luck would have it, is still available in digital. There are a few recipes there – my go to are the yemesir wot and the tikil gomen, as below –
3/4 cup (185 mL) canola oil
1-1/2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup (125 mL) berbere spice blend, or to taste
1 tbsp (15 mL) puréed fresh, peeled ginger
2 tsp (10 mL) puréed fresh garlic
1 cup (250 mL) dried red lentils, washed
3 cups (750 mL) water + more if needed
1/2 tsp (2 mL) fine sea salt, or to taste
The article recommends you buy a pre-made ‘berbere spice blend,’ but I’ve never done that. The first hit on a google search pulls up this recipe from epicurious, which has always stood me in good stead –
- 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek
- 1/2 cup ground dried New Mexico chiles
- 1/4 cup paprika
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
Depending on the chilli-type you grab for that 1/2 cup, this is going to end up one scorching spice mix. Masochist that I am, I’ve always leaned in to it, and am happy to report that even at its most searing, the other flavours still push through. I can understand if the wide range of spices is a bit daunting, but the amounts specified will leave you with plenty extra blend (honestly, depending on how hot I’ve made the mix, I use shy of half the requested berbere) and you can use it for more than just this dish.
1/2 cup (125 mL) canola oil
1-1/2 medium yellow onions, halved, thinly sliced
3 large carrots, peeled thinly sliced on diagonal
2 white boiling potatoes, peeled, cut in 1-inch cubes
1 tbsp (15 mL) puréed fresh garlic
1 tsp (5 mL) pureéd fresh, peeled ginger
1/4 tsp (1 mL) each: turmeric, fine sea salt, black pepper
1 cup (250 mL) water
8 to 10 cups (2 to 2.5L) chopped, cored green cabbage
1 jalapeno, chopped with seeds
As you can see from the photo, I’ve swapped out green cabbage for red this time round. I also usually at least double the amount of ginger and turmeric, if not fourfold, and throw in some cumin for good measure.
As an aside, the ‘canola oil’ specified in the recipes is a type of rapeseed oil, developed in Canada back in ’70’s, with a slightly different fatty acid character. Depending on where you’re from, you’ve probably come across it before, but thought it might be worth mentioning to avoid any confusion.
Tonight’s dinner wasn’t anything too special – a black bean stir fry with rice noodles. Had a head of broccoli that needed using, and wanted to polish off the last of the tofu from Thursday’s post. Fresh ginger and some lemon grass gave it a brighter colour, improving on what was basically just a store-bought sauce. Easy Monday fare.
So that’s about it for the past couple days.
I’m about to go make a potato and turnip mash. Trying to make some room in the crisper for fresh veg (we get a weekly delivery through Able&Cole – all organic, and it provides a bit of variety) but, as I learned last week, it would be nice to have some carbs ready to hand. Rather than butter, an obvious no-no, I’m going to use some Flora Dairy Free. It’s remarkable how difficult it was to find a margarine without any dairy. I swear, back in my day…
Any rate – mashed potatoes. It’s what’s for dessert.