250 Cookbooks: Vegetariana

Cookbook #140: Vegetariana, Nava Atlas, The Dial Press, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1984.

Vegetariana cookbook“A rich harvest of wit, lore and recipes” continues the title. Yup, that’s this book! It has sat too long on my shelf. I am entranced with the illustrations and quotes:

“Of Soup and Love, the first is best”
“Ther ought t’be some way t’eat celery so it wouldn’t sound like you wuz steppin’ on a basket.”
“In the early Greek and Roman eras, beans were widely used as ballots. Casting a white bean signified an affirmative vote, whereas a dark bean was a negaitve vote.”
“Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.”
“Ginger sharpneth the sight, and provoketh slothful husbands.”

As I turn the pages of Nava Atlas’s book, I get hung up on reading and pondering all these non-recipe “extras”. I can copy a few quotes and a bit of lore, but I can’t show you all the illustrations (copyright issues and/or laziness on my part). Happily, Amazon will let you view some of this book (click on ‘Look Inside’).

Shame-faced, I haven’t tried many (or any?) of the recipes. I have always meant to take a day a week and cook no-meat meals. But it never really happens (and I can only blame some of this on my partner-in-eating).

I turn to the Introduction. Atlas begins: “‘What on earth do you eat?’ was a question I was often asked when I first became a vegetarian in the early 1970s. Even then, a meatless diet was not as widespread and accepted as it is today.” As a child, she didn’t have to be urged to “finish your vegetables” but to “eat your meat”. Meat just didn’t appeal to her. “It was not until I was sixteen years old that I was ‘adult’ enough to assert my way in the kitchen and delare myself a vegetarian. At first, this decision was not met with cheers from the family.”

She is a delight. And informative: “Many of my generation believe that vegetarianism sprand up in the 1960s and blossomed into the new age of health consciousness of the 1970s. However the roots of vegetarianism run as deep as ancient India, classical Greece and Rome, and the Old and New Testiments of the Bible. More recently, but perhaps even more obscure is the story of the almost concurrent, widespread vegetarian movements in ninteenth-century America and England, attracting scores of pominent writers and reformers.”

So us hippie baby boomers weren’t so groundbreaking. Funny how each generation thinks they are the first to discover the world.

Happily, Nava Atlas is still writing, and enchanting us and sharing recipes. Do visit her website: VegKitchen with Nava Atlas.

Recipes in this book? Lusty Curried Peas, Vegetable Lo Mein, Buckwheat Noodles with Snow Peas, Herbed Wheat Berries, Barley and Blackeye Peas, Mozzarella Mashed Potato Pie, Mushroom Barley Soup, Potato Corn Chowder, Chocolate Chip Peanut Cake. All the recipes look easy to follow, are nicely seasoned, use fairly common ingredients – and many are interesting, even to non-vegetarians.

I choose to make “Swiss Cheese or Gruyère Pancakes”. Cheese goes right into the batter of these crepe-like pancakes. Atlas suggests serving them with “Summer Harvest Squash Saute” (butternut and summer squash and zucchini sauted in butter with wine, soy sauce and herbs), filled with steamed vegetables, or sauced with Onion and Garlic Sauce.

Gruyere Crepes recipeI plan to stuff them with steamed vegetables. I made a half recipe; since it is hard to “halve” an egg, I beat up two eggs, weighed the total, then used 3/4 of the amount (this translated to 75 grams of beaten egg.) The remaining egg went into scrambled eggs the next day.

These cook up like crepes, so that is what I am calling them in my version of this recipe, below.

Gruyere Crepes
makes about 6 crepes

  • 2 eggs, beaten, then remove 1/4 of the mixture for a later use
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon white wine
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons wheat germ
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon mustard
  • 1 cup grated Gruyère cheese, firmly packed

Combine the eggs, milk and wine. Stir together the wheat germ, salt, paprika, and mustard, then add to the egg mixture. Stir in the cheese.

Heat a pan until a drop of batter or water sizzles when dropped on it. Turn the burner down to medium to medium-high because these crepes brown a bit easier than most due to the cheese in the batter. Add a little butter or non-stick spray, then pour about 1/4 cup of the batter into the pan and tilt the pan so the batter spreads. Cook until brown, then flip and briefly cook the other side. Continue until all the crepes have been cooked.

cheese crepesI served them with a medley of steamed vegetables. I would also love these wrapped around cooked, creamed or plain spinach.

filled cheese crepesI added cooked salmon to the meal to satisfy our non-vegetarian cravings. Later in the week I used one like a taco, filled with ham and tomatoes and lettuce. Delicious!

Vegetanaria is a keeper!

250 Cookbooks: Diet for a Small Planet

Cookbook #128: Diet for a Small Planet, Frances Moore Lappé, Ballantine Books, NY, NY, 1971.

Diet for a Small Planet cookbookI bought Diet for a Small Planet in the 1970s when it was a popular book in the health food movement. In this book, Lappé encourages everyone to become vegetarians (or at least eat less meat), because raising meat requires a lot more resources than does growing crops meant for direct human consumption. One drawback to becoming a vegetarian can be a lack of protein in the diet. Lappé has a solution for that: the quality of protein found in meat could be had for vegetarians if they combined specific vegetable groups to obtain “complete proteins”.

What is a “complete protein”? Here goes. Proteins are made up of chains of amino acids (trust me, this is true, I am a chemist!). According to Lappé, a complete protein contains the eight amino acids that our bodies cannot make: tryptophan, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, valine, threonine, the sulfur containing amino acids, and the aromatic amino acids. These are the essential amino acids, or EAAs. These EAAs must not only be present in our foods, they must be present in the right proportions. And you need to eat the complementary foods in the same meal.

For instance. Nuts like sunflower seeds are high in the amino acid tryptophan and low in lysine, while legumes like black beans are high in the amino acid lysine and low in tryptophan. Toss some sunflower seeds on top of black beans and you consume a complete protein. Examples of other combinations are grains and milk products, seeds and legumes, and grains and legumes. (Note the milk products: this is not a vegan diet.) Often the traditional dishes of cultures exemplify Lappé’s theory: Cajun red beans and rice, India’s dal and flat wheat bread, Mexican beans and corn.

Below is a scan from the book that illustrates the complementary protein scheme:

complete protein chartThe first part of Diet for a Small Planet contains a ton of charts and tables to support Lappé’s hypothesis: Amino Acid Content of Foods and Biological Data on Proteins, Food Values of Portions Commonly Used, Composition of Foods, Amino Acid Content of Foods, Protein Requirements, Calorie Cost per Gram of Usable Protein, and more. The data in these tables is supported by bibliographical references. The second half gives recipes for twenty different vegetable combinations.

I swallowed the “complete protein” theory totally, and although I never became a vegetarian, I believed the theory after reading this book. I do remember hearing that you no longer had to eat the combinations in the same meal, only the same day or so. Imagine my surprise when I went online today and found that the complete protein method is no longer held as true!

In this 2013 article, Jeff Novick writes that Lappé’s hypothesis is based on a 1952 article by William Rose that reported minimum daily requirements of the eight EAAs. Rose then doubled the minimum and claimed it as the recommended daily requirement. Novick states: “Modern researchers know that it is virtually impossible to design a calorie-sufficient diet based on unprocessed whole natural plant foods that is deficient in any of the amino acids.” Setting the Record Straight, by Michael Bluejay (2013), is another good article that refutes the complementary protein theory. Interestingly, Wikipedia’s article on Complete Protein does not address the controversy.

Back to cooking. I decide to make Tabouli, or “Zesty Lebanese Salad”. It incorporates the “complementary protein foods” wheat (bulghur) and legumes (garbanzo beans). Bulghur (or bulgur) is a wheat product, kind of like a cereal. (We enjoyed a related wheat product called burghul or cracked wheat in Turkey. Bulgur is fine-grained and quick-cooking, while burghul takes a long time to cook and is big and chewy.)

Tabouli RecipeTabouli, or Tabbouleh, is an Arabian dish. It usually doesn’t contain garbanzos (chick peas), although these beans are quite common in Middle Eastern cooking. Lappé’s version of tabouli calls for dried garbanzos and I wanted to use canned ones, so I just sort of guessed at the amount of beans to use. Also, I often make myself a bulghur salad, and usually just toss it together sans recipe, so I again strayed from the book’s version of tabouli.

Tabouli
serves 3-4

  • 1/2 cup bulgur wheat, uncooked
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1 can garbanzo beans
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley (or to taste)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint (no substitutes!)
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • freshly ground pepper

Boil the water in a pan, then add the bulgur. Leave it on the burner for a minute or two, then remove from the heat and let stand at least 10 minutes. Put in a strainer to drain off all the water, then put it in a bowl.

Add all of the remaining ingredients and mix. Refrigerate until cold. Taste the salad and adjust the seasonings if you want to. Serve as a side dish or over greens.

TabouliI really liked this salad, especially with some feta cheese mixed in. And the cookbook, Diet for a Small Planet? I will keep it, for nostalgia rather than the recipes.

250 Cookbooks: Healthy Homestyle Cooking

Cookbook #22: Healthy Homestyle Cooking. Evelyn Tribole, Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pennsylvania, 1994.

Healthy Homestyle CookingThis is another of my low-calorie cookbooks. Several pages are neatly dog-eared, noting recipes that still look interesting to me today, although I’ve never tried them. A page with a recipe for falafel is marked with a newspaper-clipped recipe for “Hummus Patties”. I love falafel (made from garbanzos), but they are usually fried in a lot of oil and so I avoid them because of calories. Both recipes I just re-found call for cooking in a minimum amount of oil in a non-stick pan. A great idea.

This is a useful cookbook, and I ask myself: Why is it that I haven’t I used it in ages? I think I know what happens. I buy a cookbook and read it and try recipes for a few weeks or months, then the cookbook gets covered with papers and forgotten and eventually re-shelved. Doing this 250 Cookbooks blog is great for me, personally, because the project is forcing me to re-discover books that have a lot of good ideas.

The good ideas in this book are lower-calorie versions of many common home-cooked meals: pot pies, lasagna, chicken divan, enchiladas, carrot cake, brownies, and lots more. Each recipe has a personal note and pointers on how to reduce calories. And as a bonus, the book is nicely illustrated with many full-page color photos.

I’m going to try “Greek Penne”. It’s one of the pages that I had dog-eared. This is a vegetarian dish, and I decided to try it on a night when I just have me to cook for. I’m looking forward to this easy-to-prepare dish of penne, tomatoes, spinach, pine nuts, and feta. It’s interesting that the tomatoes are just barely cooked: I just took a cooking class at Escoffier Boulder where we made a dish including barely-cooked tomatoes called “Concasse”.

The original recipe is below. I plan to change the recipe a little: I’ll peel and seed the tomatoes and use fresh spinach, and add a little fresh basil.

Greek PenneGreek Penne


This recipe serves about 6 people, depending on appetites.

  • 12 ounces penne pasta
  • 5 teaspoons olive oil (or to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 10 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and drained (or use fresh spinach, see below)
  • 4 tomatoes, peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 1/2 cup cottage cheese (non- or low-fat for less calories; substitute with feta if you wish)
  • 4 ounces feta cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cook the pasta; drain and set aside.

Press the cottage cheese through a strainer into a small bowl. Rap the strainer against the top of the bowl to get all the cottage cheese into the bowl. You could also put the cottage in a small blender, but the texture is kind of nice if you use a strainer. Add the feta cheese to the cottage cheese and mash up with a fork (or pastry blender). Set aside.

Cook and stir the pine nuts and garlic in a small amount of olive oil in a pan large enough to hold the entire finished dish. Cook until the pine nuts are lightly golden – watch carefully as it doesn’t take very long. Then stir in the spinach and tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes, until heated through.

The pasta is probably cool by now, so add it to the tomato-spinach mixture and heat and mix gently until it is serving temperature. Add olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Finally, add the feta cheese mixture and gently mix. Serve with a little chopped fresh basil, if you wish.

Greek PenneComments

This was very good, and I’ll make it again. My following comments concern only the calorie-cutting suggestions.

The author states that the original recipe had 646 calories per serving, the new version has 365 calories. The calorie value of the original recipe must include a huge amount of butter/oil per serving. The best cutting of calories comes from not tossing the pasta with butter – duh. I think the nit-picking of using non-fat cottage cheese to cut the feta is a little obsessive.

Feta cheese: 4 ounces of feta has 320 calories, 200 of which are from fat. Per serving, that’s about 55 calories (33 from fat). If you don’t care about an extra few calories per serving, use a little more feta and skip the cottage cheese, because it isn’t going to change the overall calorie content very much.

Pine nuts have a lot of calories! But just a few go a long way.

Pine nuts: 2 tablespoons weigh 1/2 ounce, and according to Nutrient Facts this amount has 90 calories (mostly fat-calories). Divided amongst 6 people, that’s only 15 calories per serving. I’d say, add more pine nuts if you want.

Spinach

I cooked my own spinach. First, I weighed out the proper number of ounces (I was cooking for one, recall) and put it in a large sauce pan:

spinachI added about a half-cup of water and set the pan over high heat, covered. When it came to a boil, I removed the pan from the heat, drained and chopped the spinach. Look how much it cooked down:

cooked spinachOf course, it’s easier to use frozen spinach, but the fresh spinach tasted really good.