Making every bite count

19 February 2008

The sweet spot

Sugar is no friend of mine. Empty calories, those white crystals get the cold shoulder in my kitchen. Stevia, maple syrup, honey, even fruit juices are good stand-ins with a bit more nutritional value. Sugar goes against the "making every bite count" philosophy. That said, I know that sometimes I have to swallow my pride and make nice with the sweet stuff, especially in baked goods.
This weekend I picked up my new baking bible, "The Joy of Vegan Baking," at Park + Vine. I'm in love. I'm not vegan, and I probably never will be, but I enjoy vegan baking. Giving baked goods that harm the health of your loved ones brings bad karma, à mon avis.
I have already tried out the carrot cake recipe and delivered a mini version to my friend Dan. Instead of eggs, this recipe calls for flaxseeds and water. When whipped with a hand blender or in a food processor, the flax breaks down, turns light and becomes a thick, foamy cream similar to a nut butter. Instead of butter, the recipe used canola oil (I used olive oil because that was all I had).
But the sugar. Oh, the sugar. During my recent trip to the natural foods store in my mom's hometown, I bought what I later realized was evaporated cane juice. The grains are similar in size to plain old granulated sugar, but the color is slightly darker.
Sugar, I recently discovered, is not vegan. Cane sugar is processed using charcoal, which usually is from an animal source, bone char. According to, the use of bone char in refining sugar is a touchy subject. The bone char is so far removed from animal matter that it can be called kosher pareve, which means it neither contains meat nor milk. However, vegans disagree.
For me, the matter of refinement is what bothers me. Why not just leave the sugar in as pure a state as possible?
A decade ago, wandering down the sugar aisle of a traditional grocery store would have yielded few choices: light and brown sugar, white sugar, powdered sugar, and sugar substitutes.
Today, those sugars have plenty of company: Turbinado, sucanat, Splenda, evaporated cane juice, raw sugar...
What are those sugars and how do they "work"?
Granulated sugar is the stuff in five-pound bags. White, sweet, grainy. It comes from either sugarcane or sugar beets. The white color comes from treatment wih phosphoric acid, then filtration through charcoal (this is where the bone char is used).
Brown sugar is either a processed white sugar with molasses added or partially unrefined sugar that still has molasses attached.
Powdered or confectioners sugar is simply granulated sugar ground to a fine consistency, with constarch or another anticaking substance added.
Artificial sweeteners never have a place in my kitchen, and they shouldn't have one in yours. Therefore, I'm ignoring their existance. Use real sugar or go without.
Turbinado is a kind of raw sugar (those "Sugar in the Raw" packets are turbinado). It's a kind of sugar cane extract, with little molasses and a light golden color. It is made by steaming raw sugar.
Sucanat, or Sugar cane natural, is unrefined cane sugar. It is evaporated cane juice. Sucanat is the best choice; it has the least amount of sucrose.


03 February 2008

veggie meatballs

My latest obsession is veggie meatballs. My first inspiration was Valerie Williams of Five Star Foodies, which is the subject of my column on Wednesday. She's coming out with a veggie burger made from artichokes and cashew flour. Unfortunately, I have a cashew allergy. A few days later, I had one of the best falafels I've had in a long time, at Jordan Valley around the corner from work. And then this morning, I caught an episode of Bobby Flay's "Throwdown." The challenge? Spaghetti and meatballs.
I set to work. I got a new grinder for Christmas, so now one is strictly for coffee and the other is for grains, seeds and spices. I tend to push the limits of my appliances and have burned the motors out on a couple of gadgets already. I was surprised that my little grinder could tackle chickpeas, and soon I had a batch of chickpea flour. (Later, I realized that lentils are far easier to grind and substituted lentil flour for chickpea flour.)
Veggie-ball No. 1
2 cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
1/2 c chickpea flour*
1/4 bell pepper
1/4 onion
1 teaspoon harissa (a North African spice blend)
In a food processor, place chickpeas, pepper and onion. pulse until a coarse paste forms. Add the chickpea flour and spices, then pulse again until well mixed.

Shape balls and refrigerate for a few hours to allow them to set.
Veggie-balls No. 2
2 cups chickpeas, soaked overnight
1/2 c lentil flour
1/4 bell pepper
1/2 onion
1/2 jalapeno pepper
1 t ginger
3 cubes frozen cilantro (or handful of fresh)
3 cloves garlic
1 carrot, roughly chopped
Combine all ingredients except flour in food processor; pulse until a coarse paste forms. Add flour and pulse again until well-incorporated. Shape into balls and refrigerate so balls can set.
Veggie loaf
6 slices dark rye bread
1 egg
3 small carrots, chopped
1/2 onion
1/4 bell pepper
1 t dried oregano
8 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
3 cloves garlic
Pulse veggies and garlic in food processor until well chopped. Add bread and spices, pulse again. Add egg and pulse until mixed. Place in greased loaf pan and bake at 350 for 15 minutes, then top with pureed tomatoes or ketchup and bake another 10 minutes.
This tastes deceptively like meatloaf!

*Place dried beans or legumes in a clean coffee grinder and pulse until a powder forms.

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weeknight meals

My body feels really good right now. I've been eating well and doing yoga. I feel strong, lean and healthy.
This week was full of great food, only some of which was photographed.
A simple salad made from odds and ends around Fred's place is near the top of the heap: a head of red romaine, a can of organic black beans (drained, rinsed, with two cubes of frozen basil and a pinch of red pepper flakes), a slice of cornbread, and a guacamole dressing (an avocado, 2 T yogurt, 2 diced roasted red peppers, 4 chopped green onions and a pinch of red pepper flakes).
I had quite a bounty of produce lasst week and integrated greens into quite a few meals.
I've been thinking about Swiss chard as an alternative to cabbage for rolls. I made a quick dinner last Tuesday after yoga and ended up with a great new snack idea: Instead of throwing out the tough, fibrous stalks, I cut them off and filled them with almond butter. What a fun replacement for celery stalks. If you used rainbow chard, I think kids would love these. The taste is milder than celery, but the texture is the same.
I placed roasted red pepper chickpea spread and a sprinkling of onion and pepper inside a Swiss chard leaf, then covered it with some leftover curry sauce. I baked them for 15 minutes at 350.