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Veggin' Out: The Column

The Column "Veggin' Out" was born after
I submitted recipes to the Daily Record's
annual recipe contest.  During the recipe
judging I mentioned to another participant
that I am a vegetarian. She suggested it
would be nice to have a vegetarian
column in the newspaper. I have long
been interested in writing and this was a
great opportunity. After contacting the
newspaper and submitting a sample for
them, my column was "picked up" and
"Veggin' Out" was born.

The First Column

This is the first edition of Veggin' Out.  Published on December 31, 2003.

Do you know anyone who is a vegetarian?  According to a 2001 Gallup Poll, it is likely that you do.  Vegetarians make up about 4% of the population.  There are twice as many women as men who are vegetarians.  The number of people who have given up red meat has doubled in the last ten years.  People list many reasons for choosing a vegetarian diet, but the reason most often stated is that vegetarianism helps them lead a healthier lifestyle.
So what exactly is a vegetarian? According to the website mayoclinic.com, vegetarians fall into groups defined by the types of animal-based foods they eat:
*       Lacto-ovo vegetarians omit red meat, fish and poultry but eat eggs, milk and milk products, such as cheese and yogurt, in addition to plant-based foods.
*       Lacto-vegetarians eat milk and milk products along with plant-based foods. They omit eggs as well as meat, fish and poultry.
*       Vegans eliminate all foods from animals. They eat only plant-based foods.
It is important that vegetarians get the proper calories and nutrients.  In particular we must pay attention to the amounts of protein, iron, calcium and vitamin B-12.  If you are a thinking of becoming a practicing vegetarian, consult your physician regarding diet options.  Here are some general vegetarian guidelines:
Vegetarians who eat eggs or dairy products have convenient sources of protein. Non-meat sources of protein include soy products. Many foods marketed as natural, such as veggie burgers, are made from soy products or tofu. Tempeh, a fermented soy food, is a source of protein that some people prefer to tofu. Peas, peanuts, beans, breads and cereals all contain protein. Your body needs vitamin B-12 to produce red blood cells and prevent anemia. Vitamin B-12 is found almost exclusively in animal products (this includes eggs). To ensure you get enough B-12, use breakfast cereals and soy products fortified with B-12 or take a B-12 supplement. Everyone needs iron, another nutrient crucial to making red blood cells. Many foods besides meat contain iron: beans, peas, whole-grain breads, spinach, raisins, apricots, peaches, nuts, seeds and iron-fortified cereals. To help your body absorb iron, eat foods rich in vitamin C, such as strawberries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, cabbage and broccoli. Calcium is important to maintain strong bones and teeth. In addition to low-fat dairy foods, include dark green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, collard and turnip greens in your meals. Also try tofu that's prepared with calcium or drink fortified soy milk. All of these options contain calcium.
Maintaining a vegetarian diet can reduce the amount of fat, cholesterol and calories you consume. It is important to have some fat in the diet.  A vegetarian diet includes many sources of fat, such as dairy products, eggs, butter, margarine, nuts, seeds, salad oils, vegetable shortening and cooking oils.
The food pyramid is a simple diagram (shaped like a pyramid) that the US Department of Health provides to give the public some general diet and nutritional guidelines for sensible eating habits.  There is a "modified" version of the food pyramid designed especially for vegetarians.
  The vegetarian food pyramid is composed of six different food groups, and is not much different from the regular food pyramid. 
Vegetarianism can be a healthy choice. It is easier than ever to find and purchase soy and other vegetarian products in the grocery stores and at restaurants.  Every month this column will provide resources and recipes for those leading a meat-free lifestyle.

More Columns

January 25, 2004:  "Soup's On!"

            Ah, winter!  The season of sled riding, scraping car windows, snow shoveling, skiing and lots of cold fingers, toes and noses!  Along with the cold weather we seem to have an abundance of flu, coughs, and colds.  We all want a quick cure for the worst of our symptoms. What food often comes to mind when you think of a quick warm up or a cure for your ills?  My first thought is SOUP!  Many of us have heard about the benefits of chicken soup to help cure what ails us. Chicken soup does have some medicinal benefits related to the health of infection fighting white blood cells.  Of course vegetarians aren'tt eating chicken soup, so what benefits can we get from our soup?

            One of the greatest benefits of soup is its water content.  When drinking water in combination with food, study after study has shown we feel full more quickly, causing us to eat smaller portions.  This, as you can imagine, is one of the reasons that soup is a staple of all the fad diets.  In the October 1999 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition a study found that women who eat a bowl of soup feel fuller than those who eat the same ingredients in a casserole.  They also found that the soup eaters were less likely to be hungry later in the day and consumed fewer calories at the next meal.

            There are many broth based soups that are low in fat.  Broth based soups often contain a variety of ingredients which provide a nutritionally balanced meal.  It isn't necessary to make a from scratch broth base.  Grocery stores carry vegetarian bouillon, powdered vegetarian soup bases, and canned vegetable broth.  If you prefer, you can make your own vegetarian soup stock and keep it in the refrigerator for use when making soup.

            Milk and cream based soups are higher in fat content than their brothy brothers.  Milk and cream, according to the National Dairy Council, provides significant amounts of high-quality protein, calcium, riboflavin, magnesium, phosphorus, niacin equivalents, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, and vitamin A. All milks, from skim to whole milk, have a similar nutrient content, with the exception of fat and calories.  Milk and cream based soups are rich and full of flavor.  These soups make great starters for a dinner party, but also pair wonderfully with a slice of bread for a warming weeknight meal.

            Soups make great left-overs since their flavors are usually richer the longer the ingredients have a chance to meld.  The delicious soup you made for dinner on Sunday can be a great take along lunch on Monday.  Soup can also be made in larger quantities and refrigerated or frozen for use at another time.  Soup preparation times vary, but most of them do not require constant attention. 

            In case you haven't guessed, this month I'm sharing soup recipes.  All of them were originally meat based recipes and have been adapted to be vegetarian.  These are a few of my personal favorites.  I hope you enjoy them.

 

That's Amore  Italian Food Vegetarian Style:  February 29, 2004

 

Think Italian food and you might think of rich sauces, spicy sausages, pasta, bread, dipping oils the list just goes on and on.  One of the best things about Italian food is the variety and the many tastes of Italy in the food.  Each region of Italy has a special flavor that is a signature of that region.

 

The Northern part of Italy has a strong influence from France. It is common to see white truffles and butter in recipes from this region.  Another regional specialty is Polenta, which is actually celebrated with its own festival each year! A little further south in the Liguria region you will find recipes influenced by the sea.  One sauce that is quite common is Pesto Genovese which combines garlic, olive oil, pine nuts and Parmesan Reggiano Cheese.  Lombardy, to the East is an industrial region and has contributed Minestrone alla Milonese, and Risotto alla Milanese to the world's cuisine.  Gorgonzola and BelPaese cheeses are also native to this region. The flavors are a strong as the great cultural which finds its center in this region.

Trentino-Aldo Adige finds its food roots in the traditions inherited from the Austro-Hungarians. This is evidenced in their rich soups and food seasoned with caraway seed, prosciouto, strudels, and the use of sauerkraut and vinegar in their cooking.

Veneto is the region where you will find the city of Venice.  The food is simple with a country-like appeal.  In particular there is Risi e Bisi, which is porridge like soup made with fresh peas, rice and Parmesan cheese, and this is where the dish Pasta Fagioli was born.

In Emilia-Romagno agriculture is very successful. This contributes to the use of agricultural products in the food of that region, most particularly tomatoes.  The region is home to a variety of sauces and flavor combinations and very rich food.

 

Now that we have a little background for the flavors of Italy, let's look at then nutrition benefits that the foods from these regions offer us.  We will start with Pasta, which is a staple in most Italian fare. Pasta is fortified with folic acid which, according to Mary Jo Feeney, a Registered Nurse and Dietician, is a key nutrient for women of childbearing years.  Furthermore, she tells us there is new evidence that folic acid may protect against heart disease and some types of cancer.

 

Tomatoes are a fantastic source of lycopene.  Lycopene puts the red color in tomatoes and acts as a powerful anti-oxidant in our bodies.  A Harvard study of men who ate a tomato rich diet showed they may have decreased their risk of prostate cancer by 45 percent.  Your body absorbs the lycopene more easily from heat processed tomatoes. Not only are they a great source of antioxidants, but a consistent ingredient in Italian food.

 

There are many nutritional benefits of milk, cream and cheese, but we also have to consider the fat content of these ingredients.  If necessary, regulate fat content by using margarine instead of butter, 2% or Skim milk instead of whole milk, or substitute half and half for whipping cream.  Remember that a certain amount of fat in the diet is necessary so don't eliminate all fat.    Many cheeses and other ingredients come in light or lowfat varieties. All the recipes this month are perfectly suited to using a low fat substitute, but you can expect some taste variance.  In addition to this, by using a meat substitute, one lowers the fat content that would be present in meat.

 

Just Loafing Around, Meatless Meatloaf

 

In researching the History of Meatloaf I found many and varied versions of the humble Meatloaf's beginnings.  In one article I read about the meatloaf being an invention of the reign of Genghis Kahn. Kahn traveled the world in search of conquests of people and land, but was also a zealous seeker of new tastes. 

 

In each region he conquered, he explored the tastes of that region and often brought the chefs back to his kingdom to prepare the dishes for him.  During one of those forays for land (and food) he found there were no new taste combinations that interested him.  He challenged the chefs of the region to gather food grown in the region and create something entirely new.  It was during this process that the Genghis Kahn Meatloaf was born.  I've not been able to substantiate this in formal history books, but it is a well known folktale.

 

Even without the Genghis Kahn folktale, we know Meatloaf, in some form or another, has been around for a long time. In the 1900s, meatloaf became a quick dish to prepare where meat could be stretched further by adding fillers such as bread crumbs, crackers, or oatmeal, and held together with a couple of eggs. Almost every homemaker of that time learned to make meatloaf.  It was a recipe that was different in each family and passed down from generation to generation.  As a result, it has become one of America's comfort foods, and a staple weekly meal for many American families.

 

Cooking a Meatless Loaf, using vegetarian items, can be a challenge.  Finding the right combination and quantity of ingredients to gain both the taste and texture you seek, is a bit of an art.  Each meatless loaf recipe provides a different consistency, flavor, and texture.  This month's recipes were chosen for the variety of flavor, availability of ingredients, and ease of preparation.  I'm told they won't fool meat eaters, but the meat eaters I know have enjoyed the flavors and the sauces.

 

All of the meatless loaf recipes are high in fiber and contain protein through the use of eggs, cheese and/or nuts.  They are all quite flavorful, but you may find the textures between recipes vary considerably.  I also would advise the loaves are baked and then sit for about 5 to 7 minutes prior to cutting and serving.  I am including, due to a special request, the three sauces I use when serving meatless loaf.  The loaves are good without the sauce, but if you enjoy sauces, these are simple to make and quite tasty.

 

Don't Leaf Me Out...Cooking with Cabbage

The reputation of the cabbage has had its ups and downs throughout the centuries. In ancient times it was on a pedestal and revered by the Greeks for its many medicinal properties. However the European aristocracy before the 18th century shuddered at the mere mention of cabbage.

The cabbage played a central role in the Russian diet.  The peasants sustained themselves from the 14th to the 19th centuries on soup made from pickled cabbage, along with rye bread, buckwheat groats, and kvas, a mildly fermented beverage Russians still enjoy today.

From ancient times in China to the present day, cabbage leaves have been dried and stored for winter. These leaves are rehydrated and added to soups or stir-fried. The Chinese have also prepared pickled cabbage and served it as an accompaniment to meals.

Nomadic Turks introduced pickled cabbage in Poland and Hungary during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the early 1700's cabbage, pork, sausage, lentils and rye bread were a staple of Germany's hearty meals.

In 1984 the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations listed cabbage as one of the top twenty vegetables considered an important food source sustaining world population. Many countries of the world have incorporated cabbage as part of their national cuisine.

In its raw state, cabbage contains iron, calcium, potassium, and high vitamin C content. Cabbage is also high in vitamins B1, B2, B3, and D.   Although, cooking cabbage lowers its vitamin content it maintains a high level of nutrients.

Cabbage is in the mustard family of plants known as crucifers, a name derived from their cross shaped flowers. Other crucifers include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, and collards.

Researchers have learned that foods in the cabbage family inhibit the growth of breast, stomach, and colon cancer due to phytochemicals called indoles. These indoles tend to burn up the female hormone, estrogen, and tend to ward off cell changes that lead to colon cancer. Some of them even seem to produce anticancer enzymes. A University of Utah School of Medicine study on 600 men revealed that those who ate the most cruciferous vegetables had a much lower risk of colon cancer. On the side of caution, however, consuming excessive amounts of cabbage may contribute to thyroid problems.

Spring has Sprung

Just in case you haven't noticed it's Spring!  And spring brings longer days, warmer weather, beautiful birds, and gardening.  I love to garden and have been doing it since I was about eight years old. I love the smell of the freshly turned earth.  To me there's nothing quite as relaxing as digging in the dirt after a day of work.  I'd prefer gardening to mowing any day, and have a long-range goal of turning most of the yard into a garden, so I can mow in three minutes and spend the rest of my time sitting among the plants. 

 

Unless you want to cover your tender young plants each night, it's a good idea not to plant them much before the 15th of May. I took a risk this year, and planted in late April, which had me out covering the lettuce, onions, and spinach several times to avoid plant frostbite.  The result of the early planting is an early harvest and a chance at a second planting for double the bounty.  At last look my early harvest will include a beautiful mesclun salad mix lettuce, a bit of romaine, some leaf lettuce, and a very nice (but still quite small) spinach crop.  I also have onions, some to use as small green onions in various dishes and others to get larger and use over the winter.  Those of you who planted potatoes and peas may be ready for your first harvest any day now.

 

Planting and harvesting a garden is a rewarding thing to do.  The plants and/or seeds are relatively inexpensive and require minimal ongoing care, yet they yield a wonderful bounty of fresh food.  In addition to this, there is the comfort of knowing that the food is grown without chemicals, and has no additives or preservatives.  When the harvest yields more than you can eat, most things can be frozen or canned which really stretches the food dollar.

 

Gardening is a great activity to pursue with children. They seem to enjoy helping plant and seeing the plants when they break the earth. Children are a great help with picking, especially those things low to the ground!  Often children will try new foods that are grown in the garden simply because they've had a hand in their production.

 

If you haven't planted a garden, it's not too late!  Consider plowing up a small plot for some tomatoes or peppers. If you lack yard space there are many tomato plants that are bred especially for pot gardening.  Fresh herbs grow well indoors, and I've even seen cucumbers in large pots on patios.  Becoming a gardener is an easy thing to do, why not give it a try?

 

All of the recipes this month will feature vegetables that are readily available in gardens at this time of the year.  I will continue to feature vegetables from the garden throughout the summer months. 

 

There's A Fungus Among Us:

 

On a recent Saturday visit to the Farmers’ Market on the Square in Downtown Wooster, I found an abundance of wonderful produce, along with some beautiful flowers and European style bread.  In addition to the more traditional produce, I happened across a small table filled with fantastic fungi.   These are no ordinary mushrooms, but colored in shades of blue-gray, yellow, and pink, as well as the “usual” white mushrooms. I learned these fungi are grown in the Overton Valley by Tom and Wendy Wiandt of Killbuck Valley Mushrooms, Ltd. (Tom and Wendy are certified organic gourmet mushroom growers).  During my conversation with Wendy, we discussed a recipe she gave me last year that uses stinging nettles and oyster mushrooms. Her recipe uses the ingredients to make a wonderful vegetarian version of the Greek dish, spanikopita.  Indeed it sounds like a rather strange and somewhat dangerous food, but nettle taste and texture is much like spinach.  Wendy informed me that the recipe is one from her husband’s family that she has modified to be used with nettles.  It can be made with spinach, if one would prefer less “sting” during the preparation process.

 

The Killbuck Valley Mushrooms are lovely; the variety of color makes them a delight to use, and the flavor is wonderful.  I am thrilled to have found this treasure, right in our own backyard!  On this particular morning I purchased a few of the blue oyster mushrooms, planning to use them to prepare a new sauce recipe.

 

Knowing there are fungus among us, I decided to learn more about their history and nutritional value.  Mushrooms can be traced as a food source as far back as pre-historic times when women were food gatherers. They were eaten raw, as was most food of that time, and were an important part of the overall diet because when the men hunters were unsuccessful the whole group existed on the “gatherings” of the women.  In the 18th century the mushroom was used in a variety of ways, although the French philosopher Diderot once said, “Whatever dressing one gives to them, to whatever sauce is put to them, they are not really good but to be sent back to the dung heap where they are born.”  It wasn’t until 1841 when Roques wrote a book on mushroom cookery that the mushroom became appreciated and accepted in epicurean circles.  Since that time, mushrooms have become a very important part of French cooking and are use in a variety of dishes throughout the world.

 

In Asian culture the shiitake mushroom is purported to have many medicinal qualities, and has long been associated with the ability to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, boost the immune system, and inhibit tumor growth.  Lentinan, a substance derived from the shiitake mushroom is used to treat cancer in Japan.  Chinese black mushrooms, known as wood ear, contain an anti-coagulant type substance which is believed to prevent blood clots.  The trace mineral germanium, which is found in mushrooms, is noted for its antiviral and anti-tumor effects, and is believed to energize the body.  These qualities have caught the attention of doctors in the United States who have begun to look at the medicinal properties of mushrooms.

 

Depending on the variety, mushrooms contain up to 3% protein and all the essential amino acids, making them a complete protein.  In addition, mushrooms contain many of the B vitamins. Most cultivated mushrooms contain vitamins C and K, and some vitamin E.  They are a rich source of potassium and phosphorous, and are low in fat, carbohydrates, and calories.  The Chanterelle mushroom is the only mushroom that contains beta carotene and vitamin D.  In addition to these nutritional benefits, mushrooms add a wonderful flavor to a variety of dishes.   

 

 

 

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