Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

More thoughts on food in meals

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I got to thinking more about the way I approach food now that I am on  the whole-food plant-based diet set out in Part 2 of Dr. Michael Greger’s How Not to Die. (Details of the approach I worked out and the lessons learned can be found in this post.)

I’ve come to realize that my main dish/meal does not fit well into common designations. Dishes consisting of a variety of vegetables, chosen ad hoc, and without meat don’t have a comfortable category here. A stir-fry, perhaps, or a stew, but even with a stew the tendency is to ask “what kind?” as though stews fit in nameable categories: a beef stew, or a chicken stew, or a lamb stew — or Irish stew of Scotch broth (though that’s a soup, but the soup/stew distinction is sometimes unclear for a given thick semi-liquid mix of meat and vegetables).

My core meal, plant-based and thus without meat, cheese, or eggs, is not exactly a stew, though it tends to be moist enough to hold together. It’s something between a stew and a stir fry.

I have recently been calling it a “melange.” It does have a kind of conceptual structure in that it includes representatives from categories:

  1. Cooking oil — almost always extra virgin olive oil, but sometimes avocado oil or macadamia nut oil, occasionally toasted sesame oil added at the end for flavoring. In the old days I would occasionally use duck fat or bacon fat or chicken fat, but no longer.
  2. Allium — always garlic and also scallions or leeks or shallots or storage onion (most often red, but also yellow or white from time to time). Scallions and leeks are the most common.
  3. Beans — always beans — cooked dried beans or lentils, or my homemade tempeh or tofu (soft tofu or firm or extra firm or smoked or fried — packaged tofu comes in various formats). If I’m using tempeh or tofu, I always cook it in the melange.  Cooked beans or lentils I might include in the melange, or put a portion into a bowl topped with a serving of melange.
  4. Grains — always cooked intact whole grain: oat groats, hulled barley, whole rye, kamut (a favorite), spelt, farro, emmer, etc. — occasionally cooked quinoa or amaranth instead of a grain). I treat cooked grain the same way I treat cooked beans/lentils: sometimes I include it in the melange, sometimes put a portion a bowl and top with a serving of melange. I tend to take this approach more often with grain than beans.
  5. Vegetables — asparagus, diced summer squash or zucchini, diced raw winter squash (in finished dish, it’s often al dente), root vegetable(s) (diced raw beet, daikon, carrot, turnip), diced Japanese or Italian or Indian eggplant, celery, fennel bulb (and some fronds), broccoli, broccolini, bitter melon, green beans — basically, whatever vegetables look good and fresh when I shop. I often include asparagus: its fiber (like that of the alliums) is particularly beneficial. I almost always also include sliced cherry tomatoes and cut-up dried tomatoes (dry-pack not in oil) and a small can of no-salt-added tomato paste, a good source of potassium and umami and lycopene.
  6. Leafy greens — always some green: spinach or red chard or kale or bok choy (usually baby bok choy or baby Shanghai bok choy) or cabbage (red or green) or collards or tung ho or other green (turnip, mustard, beet, dandelion, red dandelion, but those are rarely seen up here — even collards or hard to find), also sometimes parsley cooked with the melange, sometimes cilantro added at the end. Sometimes I will shred red cabbage, put a portion in a bowl, and top that with a serving of melange.
  7. Mushrooms — always mushrooms (good source of pantothenic acid (B5)). I use oyster or crimini or domestic white, and I coarsely chop (rather than slice) them.
  8. Peppers — always jalapeños chopped with core and seeds, sometimes also chopped Thai red chiles or Serrano or habanero as well. Fairly often I also include chopped bell peppers (red, yellow, orange), sometimes other peppers (Anaheim, poblano, Hungarian, and/or banana peppers).
  9. Other — olives (pitted Kalamata olives that I chop, most often), sometimes soy sauce (occasionally with mirin) or Worcestershire sauce or tamari. I often use pepper sauce, homemade or relatively low sodium (e.g., Tabasco), but I tend to add that at the table. I might include 2-3 tablespoons horseradish (from the refrigerated section) in the melange, but more commonly I just add 1 tablespoon horseradish to a bowl of melange once a day. (Horseradish is a cruciferous vegetable and a I go for one serving of cruciferous vegetables a day, and a tablespoon of horseradish is a serving.) I abandoned capers because of their salt content.
  10. Herbs — always marjoram and dried mint, sometimes also thyme or sage or rosemary, or other herb.
  11. Spices — always minced fresh turmeric, added with the allium at the start; often minced fresh ginger as well; always a good amount of ground black pepper to go with turmeric (improves absorption); perhaps ground cloves; perhaps ground ancho or chimayo chiles; maybe curry powder; sometimes ground cumin
  12. Acid — quite often I use lemons — remove peel, blend, pour over melange after cooking and stir to blend. I might sometimes instead use a vinegar (balsmic, red wine, sherry, apple cider). Acid brightens the taste, and the blended lemon is quite healthful.

For breakfast, I will stir into my bowl of melange 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed, 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast flakes, 1 teaspoon amla powder, 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric, 2 teaspoons ground black pepper.

The ingredients of a melange vary considerably, based on what looks good in the produce department, but the above list gives an idea of how I approach it and what I get. When it’s finished, he root vegetables are al dente, and often the broccoli or broccolini is as well. Celery and fennel retain some crunch. Eggplant is soft, the grain and dried tomatoes a little chewy. The result is that each bite carries multiple textures so that the mouthfeel is more interesting.

And it’s quite tasty, I find, with a good level of spiciness but not burning hot, and a fresh taste because of so much in the way of fresh produce.

The melange makes a lot, so I usually cook it in my Field Company No. 12 cast-iron skillet (cooking surface 11.5″ in diameter, walls 2.25″ high), but if I think the melange will have a fair amount of liquid (as when I use frozen chopped spinach, which comes in a 300g/10.6 oz block), I’ll use my 4-qt All-Clad stainless steel sauté pan because long simmering removes the seasoning on the cast iron skillet. If I think I’ll be sautéing the melange, I use the cast-iron because it does a better job; if I think I’ll simmering the melange, I use the stainless steel pan. For example, if I’m taking the melange in the direction of chili, when I will include canned tomatoes and tomatillos and simmer, I will definitely use the stainless steel pan.

The benefit is that once I cook a batch, I have multiple meals already prepared. And since the melange varies a fair amount from batch to batch, it doesn’t always taste the same.

And many variations are possible. This morning, for example, I diced some of the soybean tempeh I just made and sautéed that with some finely chopped red onion in a little olive oil in the Smithey No. 8 cast-iron skillet and put that in a bowl, topped with with about 1/4 cup kamut, added the breakfast stuff (flax seed, nutritional yeast flakes, amla powder, ground turmeric, black pepper), and topped that with melange from the fridge.

I don’t think my melange method fits the common meal descriptions/categories.

I should note that in addition to thee meals as described above, I also eat three pieces of fresh fruit each day and also a bowl of berries (mostly frozen mixed berries — blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries).

Written by LeisureGuy

25 November 2019 at 11:15 am

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