food matters monday…on tuesday!

Ramadan has been a relatively quiet time in the kitchen of Casa Squeaky.  Meals are simplified, and we benefit greatly from masjid iftar leftovers.  Still, our table showcases nature’s bounty with abundant fresh vegetables at every iftar.

Earlier this year, I’d begun to dabble in Middle Eastern salads, and have fallen in love with the idea of whole grains + veggies.  The formula is so simple – pick a whole grain and add whatever looks tasty at the farmer’s market.  For this week’s iftars, I put together a simple salad that is fresh and filling.  My apologies for the lack of good pictures.  One of these days I’m going to figure food photography out.

  • One large cucumber, diced
  • 4 ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 1 green pepper, diced (I would have added more, if I had any)
  • 1 cup of dry whole wheat couscous
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • good olive oil
  • dark leaf lettuce

Prepare the couscous as directed.  While it’s soaking, dice the vegetables.  When couscous is done, fluff with a fork and mix with the diced veggies.  Stir in lemon juice and olive oil.  I keep this mixture in a separate container, and chop lettuce fresh for each meal.  Plate a helping of lettuce and top with 2 or 3 heaping serving spoons of the couscous veggie mix.  Good hot, cold and room temperature.

food matters monday

Here’s another attempt to re-mix a middle east classic kofta.  Egyptian kofta is relatively simple – beef + onions + egg + spices – and in general, the fattier the meat, the tastier the kofta.  Delicious yes, but not something that can be granted a frequent spot in the dinner rotation at Casa Squeaky.

I’ve struggled with how to make this recipe healthier while still keeping it flavorful.  This is my latest attempt.  Still not as tasty as the full fat beef version, but not bad, IMHO.

  • 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thigh, ground
  • 3 peppers, one green, one red and one yellow
  • 1 large onion
  • 3+ cloves of garlic
  • handful of parsley, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp California Seasoning Pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • pepper flakes to taste

Heat grilling pan or skillet over a medium flame.  Brush with oil to prevent sticking

Chop peppers, onions and garlic and put in food processor.  Pulse until fine, but not pulpy.  Mix together ground chicken, vegetable mix, parsley and seasoning.

Form kofta into little patties – I’ve found these cook more evenly then the cute little tube shapes.  Cook until medium brown, then flip.  Once both sides are medium brown, remove one kofta and cut in half to make sure it’s cooked all the way through.

Serve over rice or in a whole wheat pita stuffed with veggies.  A yogurt and/or tahina sauce would make a good topping.

food matters monday

Last week was staff appreciation week at work.  Every year, you earn raffle tickets through participation in different events, and at the end, you can put them in for drawings on any number of prizes.  My strategy has always been to put all my tickets in the prize with the least number of other entries, and thus far, it has served me well.  This year, I won a combination griddle/grill pan made by the fine Minnesota firm Nordic Ware.  Yaay!

So of course, I had to make use of it this weekend.  I decided on grilled summer squash, marinated in a citrus mixed herb concoction from Vegan Soul Kitchen.  Mix up the marinade, slice up some squash (recipe also recommends using various peppers), let sit for at least 3 hours, and then grill.  All in all, it turned out well, although it probably would have been better on an actual grill.  AbuS gave it high marks.

The best part of it all (IMHO)?  The marinade is reusable.  I stuck it in the freezer when I was done, and plan to pull it out to marinade some more vegetables later this week.

food matters monday

It’s all salad all week at Casa Squeaky.  We have 2 salads from Classic Vegetarian Cooking from the  Middle East and North Africa by Habeeb Salloum and one AbuS conceived, UmmS executed original.

The salad on the left is Sudanese Salatat Jazar wa Zaytoon – Carrot and Olive Salad.  In the middle is the Levant Salatat ‘Adas, Lentil Salad.  And on the right is the Salatat AbuS.  It’s a very food matters-esque salad, and I’m happy that my constant harping overbearing nagging gentle reminders that we should eat less meat has actually found a receptive audience.  While it does have shrimp, it’s a garnish rather than the main event.  The body of the salad are freshly chopped vegetables, with a small amount of whole wheat pasta mixed in.

Salatat AbuS

  • 1/2 head romaine or other dark leaf lettuce finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1 cup carrots cut into small coins
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 1 cup cooked whole wheat pasta
  • 1/3 cup kalamata pitted olives diced
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • half dozen shrimp or less per serving.

Uber simple instructions.  Once everything is chopped, mix together.   You could add any vegetable you fancy.  I’m thinking red peppers, cucumbers, jicama, red onions, garlic, zucchini, the possibilities are nearly endless.  Sprinkle with lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste and serve.  Put shrimp on top of each individual serving.

Other animal proteins could be substituted for shrimp.  A few bites of grilled chicken, a small serving of salmon or a crumble of feta or Egyptian double cream would be good.

You could also add a few tablespoons of olive oil.  Many MENA salad recipes are dressed with olive oil+lemon juice, but give it a try without and see what you think.  You may not miss it.

food matters monday

Today’s edition:

What Casa Squeaky eats

You’ve probably seen at least some of the pictures from the book Hungry Planet floating around the interwebs.  The premise is simple – families from all around the world put all the food they eat in a week in one place at one time.  The disparities are stark, but not all together shocking:

See it all here and here, plus an interesting pdf from the author here.

I’d first seen these pictures years ago, probably via an NPR story.  I again stumbled on the book at the library last year, and had entertained the idea of doing a what we eat in a week pictures.  Well, I’ve procrastinated no more!

Total cost $60/week.  This isn’t an exhaustive list.  Each week is different, depending on what’s in season and what’s on sale.

Fruit – At least 15 lbs.  Usually 5 lbs of bananas, 6 lbs of apples, 1 lb lemon, and 3 lbs of another kind that is on sale

Vegetables – At least 10 lbs.  Carrots, onions, root vegetables, peppers, tomatoes, frozen mixed veggies, corn, broccoli, brussel sprouts, garlic, lettuce or whatever else is on sale.

Animal products – 1 gallon skim milk, 3-4 cans of tuna, 3 lbs of chicken, and 1 lb egyptian cream cheese.   We’ll occasionally get shrimp or fish.

Grocery:  Peanut butter, 1 lb whole wheat pasta or brown rice, 1-2 lbs assorted beans, 1/2 lb kalamata olives, 1/6 container folgers instant coffee, 2 oz tea, /4 lb nuts, 1/2 container hot sauce, 32 oz canned tomato, oats, 1/2 cup cooking oil, 10 pieces whole wheat pita and/or homemade tortillas, chapatis, or rolls.   Sometimes we’ll get popcorn, wheat thins or triscuits.

food matters monday

Finally, a recipe for the meat eaters in the house (aka AbuS).  This is an UmmS amalgamation of several sloppy joes recipes pulled from the top of my head.  I hope I’m remembering everything right!  I think this is a great food matters-esque recipe.  The goal is to increase your intake of vegetables and minimize the prominence of meat in your meal.  Here, veggies slightly outnumber the chicken.  Substituting red kidney beans for half the chicken would (IMHO) make it even better.  And, once zucchinis come into season, I’d probably add one or 2 to the mix.

not too sloppy joes

  • 2 lbs of chicken, ground.  I’d use 1 lb of boneless, skinless chicken breasts and 1 lb of boneless, skinless chicken thighs.
  • 2 green peppers, chopped
  • 1/3 lb carrots, shredded
  • 2 large onions, diced (if you’re not making this for lunch.  If you are, you may want to exclude, lest you have onion breath for the rest of the day at work)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, diced (again, omit if this is going to be a work lunch)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 2 tsp hot pepper flakes, or more to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp honey
  1. Season ground chicken with salt and black pepper to taste.  Brown in pan (no added oil needed), breaking it down into crumbles.  As the meat begins to lose it’s pinkishness, add the green peppers, carrots, garlic and onions.  Season with a bit more black pepper.  Continue to cook until meat is browned.
  2. Meanwhile, mix tomato paste and 3/4 cup water in a large pan.  Add hot pepper flakes, vinegar, honey and salt to taste.  Simmer while meat browns
  3. Add meat and veggie mixture to tomato pot and continue to simmer until the sauce has thickened considerably.  Again, if serving for lunch at work, it’s best if the sauce is very thick and not drippy.  If it’s to be served at home, it can be a little saucy.

Serve in whole wheat pitas or tortillas, or over brown rice.

food matters monday

No pictures, just a few notes:

*I made my veggie ta’amia again this weekend and tweaked the recipe a bit.  I used half chickpeas, half fava beans, and cut out the bread crumbs.  It still bakes very dry and crumbly.  I’m thinking next time I’ll brown them in a pan instead.  If you’re not fat phobic (cof cof AbuS), you could lightly fry them, or just use a very very thin layer of oil in the pan.  I’ll probably just use cooking spray.  The reason I had baked instead of pan browned initially was because the pan method takes a lot more time and effort.  But, we’ll see.  I’m still waiting for zucchini to get cheaper, and will then include that in the mix.

*While at Trader Joes this weekend, I stumbled upon their Vegetable Masala burgers.  I couldn’t justify spending $3 to get 4 veggie burgers, so I’ve put it on my to experiment list for next weekend :)  The ingredient list looks easy enough, so it will just be a matter of playing with the amounts:

Potatoes, canola oil, carrots, green beans, water, bread crumbs (wheat flour, sugar, yeast, salt), bell peppers, onions, corn, salt, green peppers, sugar, ginger, cellulose gum, spices, citric acid, turmeric, mustard seeds.

*In case you couldn’t tell, veggie burgers are a huge thing at Casa Squeaky.  When I asked AbuS what he’d like me to make for this week, he suggested more of the ta’amia veggie burgers to eat for breakfast.  Not exactly my first choice, but hey, it’s healthy!

*And speaking of breakfast, this week I have breakfast couscous on the menu (based of course, on Mark Bittman’s Breakfast Couscous):

a half bowl of cooked whole wheat couscous + a tablespoon of raisins + 1/4 cup warm milk + one banana sliced thin + 1 tsp honey = yum, full until lunch

I made up a pot of couscous this weekend, and am just mixing the rest of the ingredients together at breakfast each day.

while revolution was (and still is) happening…

…I totally missed Mark Bittman’s (previously the Minimalist, more recently of Food Matters fame) move to opinion column-land.  For anyone who cares about more than just how their food tastes, these are must reads.

Some Animals are more Equal than Others

It’s time to take a look at the line between “pet” and “animal.” When the ASPCA sends an agent to the home of a Brooklyn family to arrest one of its members for allegedly killing a hamster, something is wrong.

That “something” is this: we protect “companion animals” like hamsters while largely ignoring what amounts to the torture of chickens and cows and pigs. In short, if I keep a pig as a pet, I can’t kick it. If I keep a pig I intend to sell for food, I can pretty much torture it. State laws known as “Common Farming Exemptions” allow industry — rather than lawmakers — to make any practice legal as long as it’s common. “In other words,” as Jonathan Safran Foer, the author of “Eating Animals,” wrote me via e-mail, “the industry has the power to define cruelty. It’s every bit as crazy as giving burglars the power to define trespassing.”

Yet Ms. Smith was charged as a felon, because in New York (and there are similar laws in other states) if you kick a dog or cat or hamster or, I suppose, a guppy, enough to “cause extreme physical pain” or do so “in an especially depraved or sadistic manner” you may be guilty of aggravated cruelty to animals, as long as you do this “with no justifiable purpose.”

But thanks to Common Farming Exemptions, as long as I “raise” animals for food and it’s done by my fellow “farmers” (in this case, manufacturers might be a better word), I can put around 200 million male chicks a year through grinders (graphic video here), castrate — mostly without anesthetic — 65 million calves and piglets a year, breed sick animals (don’t forget: more than half a billion eggs were recalled last summer, from just two Iowa farms) who in turn breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria, allow those sick animals to die without individual veterinary care, imprison animals in cages so small they cannot turn around, skin live animals, or kill animals en masse to stem disease outbreaks.

Sustainable Farming can Feed the World

Yet there is good news: increasing numbers of scientists, policy panels and experts (not hippies!) are suggesting that agricultural practices pretty close to organic — perhaps best called “sustainable” — can feed more poor people sooner, begin to repair the damage caused by industrial production and, in the long term, become the norm.

A Food Manifesto for the Future

Outlaw concentrated animal feeding operations and encourage the development of sustainable animal husbandry. The concentrated system degrades the environment, directly and indirectly, while torturing animals and producing tainted meat, poultry, eggs, and, more recently, fish. Sustainable methods of producing meat for consumption exist. At the same time, we must educate and encourage Americans to eat differently. It’s difficult to find a principled nutrition and health expert who doesn’t believe that a largely plant-based diet is the way to promote health and attack chronic diseases, which are now bigger killers, worldwide, than communicable ones. Furthermore, plant-based diets ease environmental stress, including global warming.

food matters monday

I love love love Egyptian food, especially of the vegetarian variety.  What’s not to love?  It’s carbs carbs carbs, fried food, carbs, more carbs, more fried food and some pickles.  Yum.  Unfortunately, traditional Egyptian fare doesn’t fit well in a food matters diet.  This weekend, I attempted to rework a classic dish – ta’amia, aka Egyptian falafel, to be more Food Matters friendly.  In other countries, the main ingredient of falafel (aside from copious amounts of oil for frying) are chickpeas, but in Egypt, the base of the dish are fava beans.  Veggie burgers made from chickpeas and vegetables have been a big hit in the past at Casa Squeaky, so I thought, why not veggie-burger-fy ta’amia?

The base recipe comes from the most excellent Classic Vegetarian Cooking from the Middle East and North Africa.  I’ve added a bunch of shredded carrots (and will probably add shredded zucchini come summer when it’s cheaper), and baked the patties instead of frying.  The final result is a bit on the dry and crumbly side, but if you eat it with juicy vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers, and add a sauce to your sandwich made from yogurt or tahena, I think it’s decent.  Next time, I think I’ll add less in the way of breadcrumbs, and perhaps add a little moisture with added olive oil and/or lemon juice.  Plus, shredded zucchinis are quite moist and would add a lot I think.

Ta’amia with Vegetables

  • 2 cups dried split fava beans (you need the split version, as the whole has the skin on, and fava bean skin is very difficult to digest)
  • 1 large onion, diced fine
  • 3 cloves garlic, more or less to taste (my dishes are always very garlicy)
  • 1/2 lb carrots, shredded
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • salt to taste
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon (or more to taste) hot sauce or hot peppers chopped
  • 1 large bunch of parsley, washed and stems removed
  • bread crumbs
  • olive oil

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Put beans in a pot, cover with water and boil until beans are just beginning to get tender.  Don’t overcook, or the mixture will be too mushy.

While beans are cooking, heat olive oil in pan and saute onions.  After a few minutes, add garlic, cumin, pepper and coriander.  Saute a few more minutes, then add shredded carrots.  Continue to cook for 10 more minutes, stirring frequently so that the oil coats all the carrots and they cook through.

Drain beans and add to food processor.  Add parsley and pulse until well blended, but still slightly textured.  It shouldn’t be completely smooth.

In a large bowl, dump in onion and carrot mixture and the bean parsley mix.  Stir together and add a little bit of bread crumbs.  I’ve only made this once, and think I added too much (1/4 cup), as the ta’amia was very dry.  Next time, I may just add a tablespoon, and also add a tablespoon or 2 of olive oil.  As I’ve mentioned, AbuS likes cooking with NO OIL, which can make things kind of dry.

Spray cookie sheet with cooking spray and create small patties.  I fit 16 onto each sheet.  Bake 10 minutes, then remove from oven, turn and bake for 7 more minutes.

Serve in a whole wheat pita with abundant amounts of vegetables and a yogurt or tahena sauce.  Here’s another UmmS original, spicy tahena sauce.  Mix the following ingredients together and enjoy:

  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped fine or crushed
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • hot sauce to taste

food matters monday

No spiffy pictures this week (awwww), but I thought even though I was negligent in that arena, I’d still post a recipe.

This weekend, I made “Tunisian” Yam and Red Bean Stew.  I say “Tunisian” because I’m not sure how Tunisian said recipe actually is.  Anybody familiar with their cuisine want to look at the recipe and let me know?  Since I have no slow cooker, I made this in a regular pot.  After I sauteed the onions, I added the rest of the spices to saute a bit, and then threw everything else in and simmered until the beans were soft.   I love this stew – slightly spicy, very fragrant, and healthy.  I’m eating it over whole wheat couscous.

I may also eat it with one of the crusty whole wheat rolls I made.  I’ll have to type out of the recipe for that one at a later date.  I basically took Mark Bittman’s whole wheat baguette recipe and baked them as rolls.  Uber easy, probably 10 minutes worth of actual time doing stuff, plus another few hours worth of waiting from them to rise.  The crust would make an excellent edible spoon for the stew.