Archive for February, 2010

Vegan Gyros

Today I made vegan gyros for the first time. They turned out quite well and more gyro-ish than I expected.

First, I made some vegan feta cheese following a recipe I found online:

Basically, it’s marinated tofu, and basically, it tasted like marinated tofu. That’s not a problem for me since I like marinated tofu, but this didn’t taste much like feta to me, and it really didn’t feel like feta at all. It was good, but not in a feta-esque way.

Next I made some vegan tzatziki sauce, following another recipe I found online:

Oooo, this was really good. It tasted very similar to “real” tzatziki sauce, although it was a bit thicker than any tzatziki sauce I’ve had before. I didn’t know that if you ran silken tofu through a blender it ended up with a consistency like that of sour cream. Live and learn.

For the meat I cut up some Field Roast Co. vegan Italian sausages and pan fried them in olive oil:

This worked even better than I expected. The feel of the fried sausages was amazingly similar to that of gyro meat, and the Italian sausage flavor fit in surprisingly well with the other gyro indgredients.

I put the meat, sauce, and feta on a pita, added some sliced onion and chopped tomato, and voila! A vegan gyro:

It really does look like a “real” gyro, doesn’t it? And it tasted pretty much like one too, much more so than I was expecting. Usually vegan versions of carnivorous dishes don’t taste much like the dishes they are imitating, although sometimes they taste good in their own way. (And sometimes they just taste awful.) Of all the vegan imitation dishes I have made this is the one that turned out the most similar to the carnivorous dish it was imitating.

For what it’s worth, I estimate that it cost about $3.00 to make one of these gyros. That’s a pretty good price for a gyro, certainly lower than I’ve ever paid for one in a restaurant. And for those who (needlessly) worry about protein in vegetarian and vegan diets, I estimate that each of these gyros has about 40 grams of protein: 25g from the sausage, 8g from the pita, and about 7g from the tofu in the feta and tzatziki sauce. The last time I checked the daily RDA of protein is 46g for adult women and 56g for adult men, so 40g is quite a lot.


Film and Book Review: "The Gleaners and I" and "Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal"

Recently I watched a wonderful documentary by Agnes Varda entitled “The Gleaners and I” (or “Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse” in the original French). It is all about French gleaners, i.e. people who scavenge discarded food (and, sometimes, other things) from various places such as garbage bins, market stalls, and agricultural fields. Some of the gleaners glean simply as a means to save money or, in some cases, to avoid going hungry. Others do it for more ethical reasons – to avoid waste and/or to protest other people’s wastage of food. Some of these more ethical gleaners are what we would call freegans here in the U.S. Whatever their motivation may be, it is fascinating to watch the various gleaners scrounge up much of their sustenance from food that other people have thrown out for no good reason. I’m always fascinated by people who live against the grain, especially when they do so in ways that are more sustainable and eco-friendly than the ways in which the average person lives.

A day or two after I finished watching “The Gleaners…” I started reading “Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal” by Tristram Stuart. This book covers a little of the same territory as the film – Mr. Stuart is a freegan, and food gleaning is discussed in the book. However, the book is mainly about the ways in which food is wasted in the industrial nations, and the effect that this has upon impoverished people in the third world and elsewhere. Since food is traded globally according to the laws of supply and demand, wasted food increases demand (because people are buying or “demanding” more food than they need) and decreases supply (because a lot of the food that is grown is discarded by farmers and manufacturers before it even has the chance to be sold, or “supplied”). Increased demand and decreased supply leads to a higher price for food, which has the effect of pricing food out of the reach of many impoverished people who cannot grow their own food.

A truly stunning amount of food is wasted, perhaps as much as 50% of what is grown. Perfectly edible food is left to rot in farm fields because it is not perfectly shaped and unblemished, on the theory that picky grocery shoppers won’t buy it because it looks funny. (In Varda’s film she collects two-lobed, heart-shaped potatoes that are routinely discarded because they are not shaped like conventional potatoes). Food manufacturers waste a lot of food making their products. Grocery stores routinely order more produce and baked goods than they can sell before it goes bad. Restaurants entice customers with big portions that few people can eat all at once, and that many people do not bother to take home. “Best by” and “use by” dates greatly exaggerate how quickly food spoils, in order to avoid potential lawsuits. Most grocery shoppers buy more food than they can eat before it goes bad, and often throw out leftovers for no reason other than that they don’t feel like eating them. All of this adds up to a considerable amount of wasted food, with consequent bad effects upon the environment and the world’s impoverished people.

I don’t see myself becoming a gleaner/freegan. I’m more interested in being efficient by growing my own food and not buying more food than I eat. I do a little bit of gleaning by eating leftovers that my mother and sister would probably end up throwing out, even if there are other things that I would rather be eating. But I really can’t see myself raiding the trash bins behind grocery stores. Nonetheless, after watching this movie and reading this book I will be even more conscientious about not letting food go to waste.

Oh, and another thing I learned from this book is the best way to preserve head lettuce. Instead of storing it in the fridge, store it on the counter in a bowl with some water in it, just as you would do with cut flowers. Apparently a head of lettuce can remain good as new for well over a week if stored in this manner!

Improvised Indian Tomato Rice Soup

I made a big batch of this soup yesterday. Making this soup allowed me to use up some leftover cooked rice and to clear some frozen tomatoes out of our freezer.

I have made it once or twice before but I could not for the life of me find the recipe, so I had to remember/guess how to make it. It turned out quite well, actually. It was spicier and less sweet than when I made it before, but that’s fine. Both ways are good.

Here is what’s in it:

1 or 2 tbsp. of olive oil
1 tsp. of cumin seeds
1 tsp. of yellow mustard seeds
A little bit of onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped (homegrown last year)
2 tbsp. of madras curry powder
10 cups of water
2 cubes of vegetable bouillon
3 cups of stewed and frozen tomatoes (homegrown last year)
1 cup of chickpeas
1 bunch of lacinato kale
3 or 4 cups of cooked rice

I didn’t mean to use that much rice. I was trying to scrape about half of it out of its dish and into the soup but, like the fool that I am, I was scraping out the rice over the soup pot. So of course the whole big block of rice fell out of the dish and into the soup, thereby turning my Indian Tomato Rice Soup into what would more accurately be called Indian Tomato Rice Stew. And that’s after I added more water, bouillon, and curry powder after the big rice incident.

But, as I say, it was quite yummy.

What I Am Planning to Grow This Year

This past month I planned my garden and bought most of my seeds. Here is what I am planning to grow this year, with things I have not grown before marked in red:

Red Onions
Yellow Onions
Red Scallions
Golden Beets
Chioggia Beets
Red Potatoes
Russet Potatoes
Green Beans
Filet Green Beans
Snow Peas
Butternut Squash
Zephyr Squash
Lemon Cucumbers
Pickling Cucumbers
Swiss Chard
Curled Kale
Lacinato Kale
Red Russian Kale
Leaf Lettuce
Romaine Lettuce
Butterhead Lettuce
Giant Sunflowers
Scarlet Runner Beans

I like to grow a little bit of a lot of different things. I have 18 containers of varying sizes, and will be growing the leafy greens and the herbs in them. The sunflowers and scarlet beans will be grown on either side of our birdbath, with the scarlet runner beans running up the stalks of the sunflowers. (It will be absolutely beautiful if it works). Everything else will be grown in the ground plot, which is currently 8 feet deep by 30 feet long, and which I am planning on expanding to about 11 feet deep by 30 feet long. The garlic and shallots were already planted last fall.

I can’t wait to get started! Planting I mean. The digging – not so much.

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