Monthly Archives: August 2012

Forks Over Knives

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I’m an ethical vegetarian. I came to eat a vegetarian diet because of my unease with having animals die for me. If I could live on a diet that didn’t require animals to die, then that was what I wanted to do. The health aspects of it, didn’t really come into it at all, other than me making sure I was getting all the nutrients I need in my vegetarian diet.

There are people out there, though, who are stressing the health rather than the ethical values of a vegetarian diet. ‘Forks Over Knives’ was the most prominent one I’d come across. The Forks Over Knives website has the basics, but it’s there to supplement the book and the documentary film. The film is on DVD but only in Region 1 format. I did a quick bit of googling and managed to find the film online.

It’s ninety minutes long and very much in the American style. It puts a persuasive case for a plant-based diet (they don’t call it vegan, I suspect because that might be too scary). They put the blame for heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure squarely on meat and dairy products and promise that any signs of these disease can be stopped and remedied by eating a low-fat vegan diet.

I don’t know enough science to argue the case with them. They quote studies that show a correlation between a diet with meat and dairy in it with the heart disease and cancer rates. However they don’t show a large-scale study where these diseases are removed by a vegan diet. They have stories of people who have apparently done this, but no studies on the same scale as the first. It also raises some of my hackles that it comes up with an ‘all you have to do’ solution. I hate those. I do not believe that there are any issues in the real world that have single, easy solutions and certainly not something as complex as the human body.

Still, it’s an interesting documentary and it certainly adds another level of motivation for me to stick to a vegetarian diet.

Edit: I found a critique of the documentary here on WordPress. It highlights some of the issues that were nagging me – correlation is not causation and the lack of big studies of the vegan diet.

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Recipe: Tabbouleh

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I love tabbouleh. Let me amend that. I love real tabbouleh, authentic tabbouleh. The tabbouleh that isn’t a couscous salad by another name. To summarise Yotam Ottolenghi’s version in the Guardian it’s all about the parsley.

There needs to be parsley – lots and lots of parsley. You have to get the proportions right. At least 4 to 1 herb to grain. The main herb has to be parsley, but mint and coriander can help things along. The grain should be bulgar wheat for authenticity, but I think couscous is fine and so is quinoa, as long as it’s subordinate to the herbs.

Then add red or spring onion, de-seeded tomato, salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon juice. I’m going to be specific here and say that it has to be lemon juice – the citrus flavour is needed. And so is sharpness against the sweetness of the herbs so I would up the proportion of lemon juice from that for a vinaigrette, say.

The recipe below, gives a generous lunch-sized portion for one to eat with falafel and bread.

Tabbouleh

Ingredients & Method
4 tbsp flat-leaf parsley (finely chopped)
1 tbsp mint or coriander (finely chopped)
1 medium tomato (de-seeded and finely chopped)
1/2 red onion (finely chopped)
1-2 tbsps couscous (I took mine from a ready-made supermarket couscous salad)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper

Add all the ingredients to a bowl and stir thoroughly. Check acidity levels and add more olive oil or lemon juice to taste.

Be warned. This stuff gets addictive. You can also ring in the changes by adding cucumber, peppers, radishes etc for extra texture and crunch. Just go easy on the grains!

Recipe: Boursin-stuffed mushrooms

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So the two fat veggies packed their belongings in a spotted hankie and headed off on their hols to France, that well-known mecca of vegetarian cooking… We were staying with friends in the Dordogne, and went equipped with some recipe ideas to entertain our hosts (and they didn’t involve goats cheese either!)

One of the nicest meals I’ve had in France was mixed mushrooms, cooked with garlic, olive oil and a dash of cream and served with pasta. So mushrooms seemed like a good bet, and I toyed with my mushroom burger recipe (portobello mushroom, basted with olive oil, garlic and pesto and then flash-fried on both sides before being shoved in a ciabatta roll with any trimmings you might fancy). We were, though, limited by what Intermarche in Montignac stocked. Their vegetables section is large, but the quality a tad patchy some days. But they did have some fairly large mushrooms which looked promising.

I maintain that life is too short to stuff a tomato or courgettes, and I do not propose to repeat a stuffed cabbage dish that looked like a turd and didn’t taste much better. But mushrooms are another matter. My partner-in-crime Anth reckons part of it is down to the weight in the mouth – even the most dyed-in-the-wool carnivore will appreciate the texture.

I forget now where I found the recipe I used, but it’s one I use a lot. You can serve it with mashed potatoes, although we went for boiled potatoes and a side salad.

Large mushrooms (two or three per person)

A couple of shallots

Boursin or a similar soft flavoured cheese (take it out of the fridge about an hour before you want to use it)

Breadcrumbs

Tarragon

Lemon juice

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Fry the shallots until they are just starting to soften, then mix in some tarragon. I use about a level teaspoon of the dried stuff. In a separate bowl soften the cheese and mix in the breadcrumbs. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper, then push a generous amount into each mushroom. Put them on a baking tray, drizzle plenty of lemon juice and olive oil over them and then bake until the mushrooms soften and the breadcrumbs go brown.

France tweaks: We couldn’t get tarragon, so I used mixed herbs instead, and they tasted fine. French bread works very well for this recipe, as it seems to go stale the moment you walk it out of the shop. There wasn’t a blender to blitz the breadcrumbs, so I chopped the bread not terribly finely with a sharp knife. It was OK, but the texture was more like croutons and a little more crunchy than the usual recipe.