Now healthy cooking is a topic I can relate to. I have been trying to practice healthly cooking for many years, that is until I started Culinary School and started using butter and cream and frying things in a deep fryer! I have a huge collection of cookbooks from Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, Super Natural Cooking to the Passionate Vegetarian. I even subscribe to The Vegetarian Times magazine. I would much rather make simple, good tasting dishes with small amounts of meat, fish, or poultry or substitute tofu or beans for the meat. My favorite convenience foods are Amy’s Organic frozen dinners–all vegetarian with no preservatives or chemicals. It was so refreshing to hear about the healthy cooking techniques such as steaming, poaching, roasting, cooking with little fat. Since fat is a flavor carrier and enhancer the use of generous amounts of oil and butter is what makes the food taste so good to us, particularly when we eat out since we don’t really see what goes into the food. I have seen the amount of clarified butter we use and it’s not pretty! Also, drizzling olive oil on the food after it’s finished is also recommended. I remember a conversation I had with my mother a few years ago. She would watch Food Network during her dialysis treatments and she was horrified at the practice of “pouring” olive oil on top of cooked food. Being Japanese she used very little oil to cook food (except for the occasional treat of tempura). I don’t remember her using butter on bread and she always used the smallest amount of oil possible to saute or cook anything. I still prefer eating that way whenever possible.
Healthy cooking is emphasized more today than ever–after all the baby boomers like me are all getting old! We are dealing with weight gain, cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and lack of activity while the food industry tempts us with food choices we can’t resist. Ever notice how huge the portions are in a restaurant? Portion control is one of the most important components of healthy eating but probably the most ignored factor when we eat out.
We discussed the history and types of vegetariansim: vegan, ovo-vegetarian (eats eggs), lacto-vegetarian (eats dairy), Lacto-ovo vegetarian (eats eggs and dairy) and fruitarian. We heard about the various non-meat protein sources such as beans and soy products and learned about the various soy products: tofu, soymilk, TVP (textured vegetable protein), tempeh (fermented soybeans), and miso. I have eaten all of these products and like most of them, especially tofu.
Our assignment for the evening was intended to help us learn to work faster, be creative, and cook some healthy food. Chef Kurima would write a start time, end time, and type of dish on the board. The first assignment was “healthy appetizer”. Of course my mind went completely blank even though I’ve made dozens of healthy appetizers. This is where being recipe-dependent is a big disadvantage. No recipes so just use your own imagination and experience. Why is that so hard? I’ll tell you why–but only a menopausal woman would understand. Anyway, I was able to put together a bruschetta with brushed with garlic and rosemary infused olive oil, sauteed mushrooms and feta cheese. Not bad. Next assignment: Ovo-lacto entree. I know lots of things to make with eggs and cheese but in 20 minutes–now that’s hard. I felt like I was on the show “Chopped”. I made an omelet with spinach, goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes with some garlic pepper potatoes. It was OK but a little heavy on the sun-dried tomatoes. My next assignment, vegan entree, was pretty successful. I used tofu, edamame, garlic, ginger, mushrooms, carrots, onions, bell peppers, lemon juice, soy sauce and made a fried rice dish. It was actually very tasty and my favorite dish of the evening. The next assignment, vegan breakfast, was also a good one. I used soyrizo (very tasty), onions, garlic, chopped tomatoes, cilantro, brown rice, and sauteed it in a small amount of oil, seasoned it with salt & pepper. I softened corn tortillas and put the filling inside, browned the outside of the tacos in a little oil and served the tacos with some pico de gallo. I really enjoyed the flavors of that dish and will make it for my family. We then had a “your choice” dish using some type of tofu. I wanted to make edamame hummus, something I’ve eaten but never made so I thought I could incorporate silken tofu into the edamame. I processed the edamame, tofu, garlic, lemon juice and made the hummus. It was actually pretty tasty. I served it with corn tortilla chips (not too healthy since I fried them).
The last dish was another healthy appetizer. I made a brown rice, egg, and cheese dish shaped into rounds but got it the the chefs 3 minutes late so I didn’t get credit for it. Oh well, all in all it was a lot of fun and I didn’t feel so bad. I felt very good about the food I made without recipes, using ingredients I saw in front of me, no pre-planning and managed to make them taste really good.
My brown rice and tofu recipe:
Cooked brown rice (2 cups)
To make the best brown rice use the same method you use for pasta–lots of water, salt, but cook it until it’s done all the way, then drain in a colander. Try it–it works great.
tofu–1 cup small diced firm tofu
edamame–1/4 cup cooked shelled edamame
mushrooms–1/3 cup sliced
onions–1/4 c diced
red bell peppers–2 T diced
carrots–1/4 cup small diced
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp minced ginger
soy sauce to taste
salt & pepper to taste
tsp of sweet/hot chili sauce
Brown tofu in small amount of olive oil, set aside. Saute all vegetables in small amount of olive oil, add brown rice, tofu and soy sauce. Cook until vegetables are tender but not overdone.
Serve with sprinkle of lemon zest and some sweet chili sauce.