Friday, August 6, 2010

Healthy Foods Myths?

Here is a good, sane article on the health effects of Raw Food Vegan Diets.  Too often I see folks in a vegan-type health lifestyle who fall prey to superstitions and pursue (usually expensive) purist paths of one sort or another.  In that light, I have a few questions. (Caveat: I am setting aside the "ethical vegetarian" concern about avoiding animal foods. That's a discussion of another sort--I'm thinking mostly about health.)

How are liquid aminos nutritionally superior to traditional soy sauce? I realize the sodium content is lower, but equivalent to lower-sodium soy sauce. Where do these aminos come from, besides the high-priced health-food store?

The article discusses raw food enzymes, but I wonder about how the process of long dehydration (even at low temperatures) really preserves any nutritional content better than other methods of cooking.

Are the fats in nuts and avocado SO superior to the fats in oils that a free hand with nut purees and such is really better for us than a bit of olive oil or other oil (or even butter!)?

The same goes for cheeses--recently I've seen on at least one blog that folks are excited about a new vegan cheez (great spelling!) that will make their meals look and taste just as cheesy as the SAD meals, but with nutritional superiority (I assume).  I wonder whether the intensive processing that goes into making such a product results in something that is inherently nutritionally superior to regular old cheese (or a lower-fat version)?

It seems to me that creating vegan versions of omni foods sometimes goes to the point of ridiculousness, especially for those vegans who aren't really watching the calories. It reminds me of the tradition I once heard of whereby strictly-vegetarian Buddhists create mostly tofu-based foods that mimic animal foods to the point of looking just like a fish on the plate, for example.

Is it REALLY that important to substitute stevia or a pureed date for a tiny half-teaspoon of sugar in my fresh-picked blackberries from the garden?

How much of the "current practice" of many vegans and vegetarians is powered by the marketing power of product manufacturers?

I won't even get into the "organic" thing, but that's a particular interest of those who really focus on whole foods. Seems like some marketing gets in there, too! My husband the scientist (with work in toxicology and DNA damage and repair) is not impressed with the superiority of organics in many cases, though he's happy to avoid treating things in our garden when possible!

I'm trying to eat nutritarian for health reasons, so my recipes often include small amounts of things many purists eschew (what a great word!) when I don't see a real advantage to the vegan alternative, though it's certainly others' prerogative to make those substitutions.  And I feel like a bit of a slacker when I post those ingredients, too! :-)

Monday, August 2, 2010


My husband estimates he's picked about 200 pounds so far of summer squashes, mostly zucchini, with more to come, so I'm trying to find various ways to use it.  A couple of weeks ago I dehydrated some thin longitudinal slices to emulate lasagna noodles, hoping to create something that would not have the wateriness that regular zucchini would lend to such a dish. My thought was that if the dry slices could absorb flavored moisture from the sauce, the whole thing would turn out nicely.

I was right!

Because I had some cheeses for traditional lasagna, this recipe is not as "clean" as I would like to try later, but it's a good start for the experiment. Try it with tofu filling, non-dairy cheeses, etc., if you like.


Makes a 9x13 and a 7x11 dish

5-6 cups marinara sauce (I used the 43-oz. jar of Ragu from Costco)
Dehydrated longitudinal slices of zucchini to make two layers in each dish (I didn't count!)
48-oz. carton lowfat ricotta cheese
48-oz. carton lowfat cottage cheese
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons garlic powder
handful of freshly-picked basil, oregano, and rosemary (or smaller amounts of dried--about 2 tablespoons)
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups mozzarella shreds

Spread enough marinara sauce to cover the bottom of each dish, then arrange dried zucchini in a single layer. Combine ricotta and cottage cheese with parmesan, garlic powder, and herbs and divide between the two dishes. Sprinkle with about 1/3 of the mozzarella (divided between the dishes). Arrange another layer of zucchini slices in each dish and top with the remaining sauce.  Seal with foil and bake at 360 for about 30-40 minutes (large dish), then remove foil, sprinkle with remaining mozzarella, and bake until bubbly, about ten minutes.

Verdict: Excellent! Everybody liked this, and now I think I can dial back the dairy and try some other variations. The zucchini was chewy and satisfying, with a sweet flavor that I think would lend itself to some Middle Eastern variations.

Now I'm dehydrating another load of zucchini with a lot more to go after that!

Customizing Curry

Last fall I posted "Craving Curry" to share a great healthy meal. We have curry of some sort about once a month, and the perennial favorite is a casserole of broccoli topped with chicken breast and then a sauce of cream-of-mushroom soup, mayonnaise, sour cream, curry powder, lemon juice, and cheddar cheese. You get the picture. So yesterday I wasn't sure how a new recipe would be received, but they loved it!

I started with this recipe for Spicy Thai Chicken, using half the coconut milk called for, and chicken breast chunks instead of thighs. I made some other tweaks, but mine is basically what is here. Having the chicken breast in chunks allows for each serving to incorporate the quantity of chicken that person desires. For Sunday dinner I served this to the family over brown basmati rice with fresh broccoli from our garden on the side, and condiments of diced tomato, shredded coconut, raisins, and chopped onion.  I chopped up my broccoli into a small amount of rice and used only a couple of ounces of the chicken in my serving. (I had some other leftover veggies on the side.) Everybody enjoyed it, especially customizing the condiments.

Today for lunch I picked out about an ounce of the chicken and a bunch of carrots from the leftovers, with the only fat being the coconut milk floating on top that clung to the carrots as I fished them out. I steamed some fresh broccoli again and added about a third of a cup of the rice and mixed it all together with a tablespoon of raisins and some chopped tomato and onion leftovers from yesterday, with a squeeze of lemon and a few peanuts on top.  Excellent lunch!!

For breakfast today I had oatmeal with chopped fresh peaches from our tree, a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar, and some roasted edamame. I realize how much I like having something a bit crunchy in something soft. With the rice yesterday and oatmeal this morning, I probably should have skipped the bit of rice in my lunch. I'll try to figure out something non-grain for supper . . .