Sunday, June 17, 2007

Variations on a Theme II - Meal Patterns

We've listed many grains and legumes in Part I of this post. That's a good beginning.

But this knowledge, as such, is not exactly useful when you don't know what to make for dinner! If you want to cut down on your meat consumption - for whatever reason - maybe you are disturbed about the environmental impact of the USA's factory farms, or maybe you have health reasons to cut down on
meat or maybe for other reasons - you need to know *what to have for dinner*.

Many of us in the Western World grew up with one particular pattern for dinner (and only one pattern):

Meat or fish
A green vegetable
Maybe a yellow vegetable too
A source of starch, such as potatoes or rolls or rice
Maybe a salad

If you remove the meat or fish from the plate, that dinner pattern is not satisfying at all. It's nutritional content isn't sufficient. People aren't going to feel that they have had enough to eat, nor will they feel that it's aesthetically satisfying.

But if we look, again, to ethnic and traditional foods from other cultures, we will find several meal patterns that are based on grains plus legumes. These meal patterns include many of the world's great dishes; many of them are 'national dishes', so to speak, that almost define a culture.

Let's take a look at a few of these patterns. In each case, I will include a few examples. (There are many other such pattern-meals based on whole grain and legumes that I'm not listing here.)

1. The soup or stew meal. In this case, the legume is included in the soup or stew. Sometimes the grain is also included in the soup or stew, and sometimes it's separate - in the cases where it is separate, it is usually some form of bread, whether whole-wheat rolls, Irish soda bread, biscuits (which can be made from whole-grain flour and are, in fact,
delicious when made that way), pita, or tortillas.

Sometimes this meal pattern includes a green salad. When the soup/stew has many vegetables, I don't include a salad. If the soup or stew consists mainly of beans, then I will include a salad.

Famous meals with this pattern are:

* Minestrone - Italian - in this case, the soup includes beans and pasta. It may be accompanied by bread too.

* Chili - TexMex - accompanied by a bread, usually cornbread or corn muffins.

* Split pea soup - American (?) - accompanied by biscuits, rolls or corn bread

* Lentil soup - American (?) - accompanied by biscuits, rolls or corn bread.

* Vegetable soup which includes beans - French or others - with rolls. (Example recipe:

* Senate bean soup - American - with a bread.

There are many other hearty soups which include a little bit of meat; the meat is used as a flavoring. These soups, whether meatless or with meat, are a full meal. They are nutritionally good, and aesthetically and physically satisfying.

2. The whole or cracked grain with a thick bean sauce over it or the grain can be a breadstuff served next to the beans. The grain can be made into a pilaf, or cooked plain. The grain in this case is often rice, but can be bulgur (wheat), or corn (maize) in the form of polenta or corn-meal mush. The grain can be millet too, or buckwheat (in the form of kasha).

Meals with this pattern include:

* Feijoada - Brazilian - rice with a black bean sauce containing vegetables and flavorings. Sometimes it includes meat.

* Black beans and rice - Cuban - spicy black bean sauce served over rice.

* Red beans and rice - New Orleans - spicy red bean sauce served over rice.

* Koshari - Egyptian - Lentils and rice, served with macaroni

* Various lentil and rice dishes, such as Mediterranean Lentils (Recipe at:

* Gallo Pinto - Nicaraguan - Rice cooked with spices, onions, and red or black beans.

* Nshima with various sauces - Various African countries - Nshima is similar to cornmeal mush, but made with white cornmeal and made stiffer. A typical sauce would include beans, vegetables, and spices.

* Cassoulet - French - white beans cooked with meats and served with French bread.

* Boston baked beans - New England - served with brown bread.

3. The pureed beans meal. This is a puree of beans, with breads and vegetables to dip into it, or accompanied by rice.

* Hummus - Middle Eastern - a puree of chickpeas, tahini, garlic, cumin, and lemon juice, with pita and vegetables to dip.

* Ful - Egyptian, Sudanese, etc. - served for breakfast in its own cultures, but could be dinner or lunch here. Includes fava beans (or other beans) and tahini, and is served with chopped hard-boiled eggs, diced tomato, chopped onions, and (often but not always) feta cheese.

* Refried beans and rice - Mexican - can be kidney beans, pinto beans, or black beans. The beans are made flavorful with spices, onions, garlic and sometimes chopped peppers.

* Mushy peas - UK - traditionally served with 'chips' (French fried potatoes) and fish.

4. The stir-fry with rice pattern. This is Asian in origin, and although today's Asians universally eat white rice, we can eat brown rice instead and increase the nutritional value plus the flavor of our stir-fries.

There are so many variations on stir-fries that I can't even begin to list them all, but many times stir-fries will include tofu or tempeh (the legume) as well as assorted vegetables, gingerroot, garlic, onions, soy sauce (I prefer tamari to regular soy sauces), and sherry. The gravy can be thickened with a cornstarch/water solution if desired.

5. The Indian pattern of rice and/or a chapati (whole wheat flat bread), with a bean sauce (called 'dahl') on the side plus a vegetable curry.

These meals are often accompanied by a yogurt-based salad, called a 'raita'. A typical raita would have chopped cucumber, chopped tomato, chopped onion, cumin, and plain yogurt.

There are various dahls - some are made from lentils plus spices, some from chickpeas, some from split yellow peas.

There are an almost infinite number of vegetable curries, so I won't try to list them.

A simplified or Indian-style meal recipe is here:

6. The Ethiopian and Mexican pattern of beans (and other foods) served on a bread. From Mexico, this includes burritos, tacos, and tostadas made with beans. Even though served on a tortilla, these foods are sometimes accompanied by rice too.

The Ethiopian bread is called injera, made with the grain 'teff', and served with a thick lentil dish, plus various vegetable and meat stews. Injera is a large flat bread, the foods are placed on it in separate piles, and eaten with the hand.

The Middle-Eastern falafel, fits into this pattern. Falafel is a spicy burger made mainly from ground chickpeas, accompanied by lettuce, chopped tomatoes, and tahini, served on a pita.

We've identified five broad patterns for grain and legume-based meals:

1. The soup or stew meal.

2. The pattern of whole or cracked grains with a thick bean sauce.

3. The pureed bean meal.

4. The Asian stir-fry pattern including tofu or tempeh, vegetables, and rice.

5. The Indian pattern of rice, dahl, and vegetable curry.

6. The Ethiopian and Mexican pattern of beans (and other foods) served on a bread.

There are other famous bean meals that don't fit into any of these patterns. And then of course there are adaptations of meat meals, some of which can be quite good: bean burgers come immediately to mind.

More detailed information on cooking beans, general advice, equivalencies, etc. can be found in my blog post entitled 'Eating Beans and Rice':

If you are new to eating whole, basic, natural foods, and/or new to eating less meat, it would probably be very helpful for you to buy a few cookbooks that give recipes for these foods. My top choice of cookbook for this purpose is 'Extending the Table', one of the World Community Cookbooks
published by the Mennonite Central Committee - you can read about 'Extending the Table' here: .

This is a really lovely book: it's not 'food of the rich' but food as eaten by ordinary people in many countries of the world - much of it legume and grain-based. It has good recipes, and good coverage of the world's food, especially Africa (which is usually totally ignored in Western
cookbooks). I cannot say enough good things about 'Extending the Table'. It also has little homilies, a few of which are explicitly Christian. This doesn't bother me, but if it bothers you, you can skip the explicitly Christian ones.

My second choice of cookbook for this purpose is 'Lean Bean Cuisine' by Jay Solomon. Just what it says: bean cuisine. Solomon includes many bean recipes. They are appealing to me; flavorful and satisfying.

I would *very strongly* recommend that you read about vegetarian nutrition as well (even if you are only cutting down on meat, and will continue to eat some meat). In this connection, I recommend 'The New Laurel's Kitchen,
A Handbook for Vegetarian Cookery and Nutrition,' by Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders, and Brian Ruppenthal and 'Diet for a Small Planet,' by Frances Moore Lappe. Both of these classics discuss vegetarian nutrition and both have many really good recipes.

My other recommendation here is 'Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure,' by Lorna Sass. The use of a pressure cooker is a tremendous time and fuel saver when you are cooking dried beans (as well as other foods). Lorna Sass is the definitive pressure-cooker cookbook author, and this particular
book (in my opinion) is her best. It includes directions for cooking every imaginable whole grain plus many, many beans, as well as excellent recipes! Lorna's recipes rock!

There are many other cookbooks useful for bean and grain cuisine, but I think these are the most important, so I'll stop now. Besides it's breakfast time for me. :) (Why do I write before breakfast? I don't know, except that I have always been a distinctly morning person.)

Friday, June 08, 2007

Variations on a Theme I - Food Patterns

I've been thinking about a theme or pattern relative to food.

So far as I know, most of the world's peoples (cultures) have relied for sustenance chiefly on a combination of grains plus legumes. Grains plus legumes are their main calorie and protein sources, with vegetables, fruits, and other foods supplying nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Herbs and spices add flavor, and oils add calories and nutrients. Eggs and dairy foods are valuable supplements for many people, with meat generally being an occasional treat reserved for festivals and similar great occasions.

There are a few exceptions to this reliance on grains plus legumes, such as the Inuit relying on seal meat and whale blubber, South Pacific Islanders relying on breadfruit, or the Irish and potatoes. These exceptions are usually caused by living in areas which are not suitable for growing any reasonable quantity of grains plus legumes.

It sounds pretty boring when you say it like that: grains plus legumes. Nevertheless, there are almost endless variations on this theme and it has supplied the basis of many of the world's greatest cuisines and most famous dishes. So I'd like to run down the list of grains and the list of legumes, first, and then note some of the great dishes made from them.

I'm not doing research on this, the grains and legumes will just be those that I remember... and they will all be generally available to people in the developed countries. (I doubt if I have any readers from Third World countries - and if I do - they no doubt already know how to best use the food available to them).

First, the grains. All of these can be eaten in the form of whole grains with their nutrition intact.

* Wheat
* Brown rice - Long-grain, short-grain rice, Basmati, jasmine, black rice, red rice
* Rye
* Corn (Maize) - White, yellow, blue, multi-colored
* Millet
* Quinoa
* Amaranth
* Oats
* Teff
* Triticale
* Kamut
* Spelt
* Buckwheat
* Barley
* Sorghum

That's 15 grains, and I've probably forgotten a few. There are many varieties within most of these grains, a very few of which I've listed (corn and rice).

Most of these grains can be eaten in the following forms:

* Whole
* Cracked
* Made into flakes
* Ground into flour

And some can be:

* Puffed
* Popped

With those various forms, many different foods can be made, including all the world's many different breads and pancakes. The various forms of grain are used for pilafs, cereals, soups, and a multiplicity of other foods.

Now let's take a look at legumes - I'll list legumes until I get tired of doing it (there are many more legumes than grains). First I'll list some of the 'odd' ones, the ones that are not in the species Phaseolus vulgaris:

* Soybeans
* Lentils, brown, red or green
* Dried whole peas, yellow or green
* Split peas, yellow or green
* Pigeon peas
* Chickpeas (garbanzos)
* Fava beans (broad beans in the UK)
* Runner beans
* Tepary beans (many varieties)
* Cowpeas (includes black-eyes peas, )
* Lima beans
* Hyacinth beans
* Adzuki beans
* Mung beans
* Moth beans

Now just a few of the common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) :

* Black beans
* Navy beans
* Kidney beans
* Cannelini beans
* Pinto beans
* Good Mother Stallard beans
* Anasazi beans
* Great Northern beans
* Calypso bean
* Cherokee Trail of Tears bean
* Jacob's cattle bean
* Hidatsa shield figure bean
* Lazy housewife bean
* Hutterite soup beans
* Lina Sisco's bird egg bean
* Tiger's eye bean
* Cranberry bean
* Arikara yellow bean
* Brockton horticultural bean
* Boston favorite bean

There are dozens more, I'm sure. But I think this will be plenty to give you the idea that there are lots of different beans. Some differ in minor ways from other; some are very different.

As an aside, please note that, according to Wikipedia:

Some raw beans, for example kidney beans, contain harmful toxins (lectins) which need to be removed, usually by various methods of soaking and cooking. The soaking water from kidney beans should be discarded before boiling, and some authorities recommend changing the water during cooking as well. Cooking beans in a slow cooker, because of the lower temperatures often used, may not destroy toxins even though the beans do not smell or taste 'bad'[1] (though this should not be a problem if the food reaches boiling and stays there for some time).

Beans can be cooked in various ways: boiled and baked are two common preparation methods. Some beans can be popped. Dried beans can be ground into flour, and the flour used in various ways. The falafels of the Middle East are based on ground chickpeas, for example. Beans can be made into tempeh, which is often based on soybeans, but other beans can be used. Soybeans can be made into tofu, tempeh, miso, or tamari.

So there is a tremendous variety of ingredients to work with for the basis of your grain and legume dinners. When you add the many vegetables, fruits, herbs, spices, and other foods, there is an almost infinite variety.

The next post will discuss meal patterns, and some very good meals based on grains and legumes.

08 June 2007

Monday, June 04, 2007

Report on My New Haybox Cooker - Success!

What's a 'haybox cooker'? See
for a good explanation.

I didn't want to ask my husband to build a wooden box for me although I would like to have a very pretty, decorative wooden box. But, while my husband does sturdy, he definitely doesn't do pretty! (He'd be the first to tell you this.)

I wanted something more permanent than cardboard and less subject to being scratched to pieces by our cat who finds cardboard boxes irresistible.

My friend Jan has a stainless steel 'fireless cooker'. It works very well, and is nice looking. This would be especially nice to take hot food to a church supper or the like.

It's here:

(You'll need to cut and paste, sorry, I have not yet figured out how to do URLs to make links in the new version of Blogger.)

or try:

Jan reports that the stainless steel inner pan is nearly a gallon in size, and that it cooks soups and stews very well, but it is not suitable for cooking dried beans.

But it's expensive - $99. And I often cook large amounts of soups or stews, then freeze quite a few dinners' worth for later no-cook nights. One gallon isn't large enough to cook for the freezer in quantity.

Then I thought of an Igloo (or Igloo type) cooler; the hard-shell coolers. These have obvious advantages in that they are already well-insulated and meant to retain heat or cold. However, all of the coolers that I could find, both locally and online, were narrow rectangles in shape. I don't
have any pots that are narrow rectangles.

Finally, we came across an Igloo 'Cube' cooler in a local drugstore; it's this one: (if this doesn't work for you,
just Google on 'Igloo Cube' to find one)

It cost us $29.99. I have several pots that fit into it, including one of my pressure cookers and a very large soup pot (separately, not at the same time, although I do have two smaller pots that will fit in it together).

I do not think it would be a good idea to put a hot pot directly on the bottom of the cooler. My husband cut a piece of scrap wood that fits on the bottom, and I put two layers of aluminum foil on top of the scrap wood. A couple of pieces of cardboard, again covered with aluminum foil, could be
used instead of the wood.

Then I scotch-taped aluminum foil to the sides of the cooler. I had meant to use heavy-duty aluminum foil but couldn't find any (at home; I didn't go to the store), so I just used regular foil. (And then I found the heavy-duty foil later on, of course. But the regular foil seems to work fine for this purpose.)

None of our quilts would fit in the cooler after putting a pot in it. I don't want to cut up any of our quilts, so I nestled an afghan into the cooler. An afghan is fairly loosely knit (at least this one is), so it's not the ideal insulation or air-space filler.

I'll go to the GoodWill Store soon and buy an old quilt that I can cut up to use in the haybox. Or maybe I'll buy a really cheap pillow at the Dollar Store and cut that up.

I decided to start out with long-grain brown rice.

I will experiment with using my pressure cooker in the haybox later; but I wanted this first experiment to be accessible to as many people as possible and lots of people don't have pressure cookers.

I put 3-3/4 cups of water in a heavy pot, and put it on the stove. I brought the water to a boil, then stirred in 1-1/2 cups of long-grain brown rice. (The proportion of water to rice is two to one.) I again brought it to a boil, put the lid on the pot, and put the pot in the haybox cooker/cooler, tucking the afghan in around the pot. Then I closed the cooler.

Four hours later, I opened the cooler, removed the pot, took a look at the rice and tasted it. It was not quite cooked enough so I again brought it to a boil (which only took about two minutes, as it was still quite hot), covered the pot and returned it to the haybox. One hour later I again took it out and the brown rice was perfectly cooked.

Brown rice generally takes about 45 minutes in a pan on the stovetop: so I saved at least 40 minutes of natural gas (stovetop) or about 60 minutes of electricity if I had used my electric vegetable steamer/rice cooker to cook the rice.

I'll be able to cook lots of soups, stews, chili and other such dishes in it when the weather is cold again (we don't want them now that it is summer). I believe I can use it to cook dried beans (soaked overnight first), although I may have to re-boil them in the middle of the cooking time.

I am sure that I can cook anything that cooks in a crockpot in the haybox cooker. Obviously, it can also be used for some things that I don't use a crockpot to cook, such as the brown rice.

Two pots of mine will fit in it, one stacked on top of the other. I would need to turn the cover upside down on the lower pot. But that should be OK.

I will also experiment with incubating yogurt in it: we make two quarts of yogurt at least once per week, sometimes more often.

UPDATE: It works beautifully for incubating yogurt. The yogurt is ready in four hours, just as it would be if I had
used the electric yogurt maker. But the haybox cooker doesn't use any electricity. I will do it this way from now on.
Complete directions are here:

I like this very much because it's so accessible to so many people. You don't need any skill to make it; you just buy it. You don't need carpentry tools. The cost is not exorbitant and will fairly quickly be recouped in saved energy costs. The concept is a cinch to master and it's easy to cook in it - no burning the food, no watching a pot on a hot stove. It doesn't heat your house or apartment - a very good thing in summer, not so good in winter.

You don't need sunshine to use it, although use of a haybox cooker would probably combine well with use of a solar oven. You can live in an apartment and use the haybox cooker.

If you have an elderly parent (or parents) who live nearby, you could prepare a soup or stew, take it to their place, pop it into the haybox cooker, and leave it with them so that they can have a good hot dinner.

The cubic-shaped coolers also come on wheels:

If I had seen one on wheels, I would probably have bought it instead, although carrying the cooler isn't a problem for us. But I believe the wheeled version would be better for a frail or elderly person.

And of course, there's nothing to prevent use of the Igloo cooler as a .... (surprise!) picnic cooler. You could also use it in your car to bring frozen food home from the store if the store is a long distance and the weather is hot.

One tiny step for independence, one smidgen less pollution emitted from our household, one tiny bit less greenhouse gas caused by our household, one step away from corporate control, one little bit less fossil fuel used by our household .... all to the good.

Most of us can only take small steps. But small steps taken by many people add up to something significant.