Category Archives: Knowledge Is Power

Glorious Food Waste

For decades, I have been gently chided, and occasionally mocked, for my kitchen frugality. A drawer filled with wilting produce sets off a visceral reaction leading to aggressive cooking. I don’t think it’s cheapness, as much as it’s a deep-seated concern about waste. Over the years, cooking teachers have denigrated the big, re-purposed Ziplock in my freezer chock full of plant scraps and leavings; apparently only pristine produce is good enough to make vegetable stock or fruit sauces. But still I persisted because, frankly, that just didn’t make any sense to me. And, besides, I just can’t empty that seemingly still good food into the trash or compost heap.

A short while ago, I stumbled on a wonderful “cookbook” Scraps, Wilt + Weeds written by Mads Refslund and Tama Matsuoka Wong. Refslund was a co-founder of world-famous Danish restaurant, Noma, and, shockingly, shares my visceral reaction to wilting, near-rotting produce! But he goes many steps beyond just making vegetable stock, dry-roasting just-past-prime produce, stewing less than perfect fruit into sauces and, of course, freezing very ripe bananas for breads and smoothies. Mads Refslund has elevated waste to haute cuisine.

        

The concepts are invigorating and inspirational – with stunning photographs that make near garbage extraordinarily beautiful.  I use the word concept advisedly – to me the recipes are more conceptual than standard “multi-user-tested” ones. This is relatively new turf and the reader needs more guidance as to when, for instance, a tomato is near rot or just plain rotten. Even though I am a fairly accomplished home cook and long-time rescuer of wilted produce, I often had questions. For instance, a couple years ago I made carrot-top pesto from gorgeous, young CSA carrots and it was so bitter, it was inedible – why wasn’t his?

On the other hand, he encourages flexibility – use what you have (less, more or sub something else) rather than create more waste by buying to meet the specific recipe requirements. Other chapters focus on buying “ugly” produce, foraging for “weeds” and even using discarded fish parts. All told, it is a glorious paean to the minimization of waste and as I reluctantly released my non-renewable library copy, I concurrently added it to my Amazon list.

Mads Refslund has vindicated my kitchen frugality while he introduced others on whose shoulders he stands; those who have been long proselytizing waste reduction but who did not have his bully pulpit**. He has made reducing food waste sexy and chic. What a stunning, unbelievable accomplishment!! This is a book to own – a reference to stiffen our spines and alter our perceptions when we are about to sweep the leavings into the Waste King or the compost pot.

Why is this book so important? Every year, roughly 30% of all the food raised on the planet for human ingestion is literally wasted. If you just look at first world countries that number is even higher with the U.S. leading the pack at over 40%. According to the World Economic Forum, our global population is projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050 – raising the leading question: how do we feed everybody? The United Nation’s FAO (Food & Agriculture Organization) posits that we already grow enough food, we just have to figure out how to save that 30-40% that we are currently wasting – which represents about 28% of the earth’s agricultural land. A whopping 25 percent of that waste is imperfect produce left in the fields to rot and 15% comes from tossed out, perfectly edible, food. (An additional, crucial, benefit would be to save the carbon footprint of all that wasted food –according to the EPA, landfills account for 34% of all U.S. methane emissions.)

** I am reading some of the author’s references and will share reviews and content in future posts.

My Take on “Veganism”

Up until a dozen years ago, we’d been innocently and happily eating a whole-foods, sugar-free, “healthy diet” for about three decades; it included low-fat dairy, white meat chicken and fish. But then, my husband “pushed through” on a New York Marathon feeder race, collapsed and was unceremoniously hauled off to a local hospital. That was when we learned that he had plaque on his arteries! I took this as a personal affront to my hard-won nutritional knowledge and culinary expertise.

After listening to my angst-ridden breast-beating, a friend handed me the “Eating” DVD (3rd Revision) – it was a revelation. The interviewees weren’t McDonald addicts or slab-of-beef on the plate types; these were people who’d been eating just like us. And their health profiles were just like ours. Once they embraced a whole-foods, plant-based lifestyle – aka veganism – their health improved: plaque disappeared from arteries, insulin requirements nose-dived, weight slid off…… We were smitten and embraced this new life-style with vigor and enthusiasm.

Today we’re still eating a primarily plant-based diet. We know that we’re healthier with it, that animals suffer less because of it and that the planet is better off (we could trade our Prius for a Humvee and our carbon footprint would still be impressive). But we’ve lost the religiosity. We prefer the term WFPB over Vegan because it is not so loaded. We still use the terms vegan or strict vegetarian in restaurants because plant-based does not compute with servers. But to the rest of the world, we call it a whole-foods, plant-based diet.

Over time, we’ve gotten easier with it. When we travel or dine out – especially at friends’ homes – we expand our options to include wild-caught salmon, mussels, oysters, brook trout and a couple other low-mercury, high omega-three, sustainable species (kudos to the Environmental Working Groups for simplifying this). Blue crab and lobster also make the few-times-a-year list because there are Crab Feast and Lobster Bake traditions on both sides of our families. On occasion, we also eat free-range “humanely raised” eggs. It makes life easier for everyone and, frankly, we welcome these occasional additional options. That said, when we are home, we eat a pretty strict WFPB diet – we like it; it’s easy and it allows us to “regroup” especially after long bouts of travel. When we entertain, it’s almost always a WFPB meal as well; we work hard at delivering luxuriously delicious meals that usually end with a dark chocolate dessert – and, hopefully, make the lack of animal products unnoticeable and irrelevant.

We don’t proselytize and only discuss our food choices when asked; we hope that this low-key approach might make the plant-based concept less off-putting and more appealing. It seems to us that the fewer animal products one eats and the more organic produce one consumes, the better off everyone is (for organic, we shop with the EWG’s Dirty Dozen [actually 20] and Clean Fifteen lists). As Columbia Professor Emeritus Joan Dye Gussow would say to the “Earth Friends” fourth graders: “it’s better for both worlds you inhabit – your body and your planet.”

We are fans of Meatless Mondays, Mark Bittman’s “VB6” (Vegan Before 6 pm), and any other variation that encourages people to dip a toe into this lifestyle. This is not a religion; it is a choice that is a win-win-win for you, for the animals, for the planet. Our philosophy is: just do what works for you; no one is taking notes.

Whole Protein Vegetarian – Delicious Plant-Based Recipes with Essential Amino Acids for Heath & Well-Being

Whole Protein

By Rebecca Miller Ffrench. The Countryman Press 2016 $27.95 (Amazon $18.50/ Kindle $14)

Ms. Ffrench approaches recipes and daily menus from the very particular perspective of amino acids – in other words protein. There is a mantra in the plant-based world that it’s impossible not to get enough protein. That we actually consume too much protein and the invariable question from the canivores “how do you get your protein?” is mock-worthy.

But the author demonstrates that that might not be as true as we had assumed I was surprised when taking a hard look at the protein counts of some of the pulses and vegetables that we normally consume. If adequate protein is a concern, then this might be a useful reference.

It’s a handsome, hard covered book with bleed and full-page photos of about half the recipes. The recipes themselves are not particularly adventuresome or noteworthy – assuming you are steeped in current plant-based culinary arts. If you are not, then this is an excellent primer. I prepared a couple and they were fine family-dinner fare – but not guest material.

The Lentil Underground – Renegade Farmers and the Future of Food in America

Lentil Underground

by Liz Carlisle, Avery 2015 $16 (Amazon $12)

An improbable group of renegade Montana farmers, led by David Oien, a former philosophy student, fight against Big Ag, local conventional farmers, GE seeds and worn-out soil to launch a sustainable business.  Oien decided to return to his family’s 280-acre farm and, defying the regional orthodoxy, grow organic lentils –  the edible seeds of plants that  return nutrients to the soil.

Generally considered part of a family of weed crops, lentils are actually a very marketable commodity; they’re an inexpensive protein that’s rich in fiber, B1, folate, and amino acids, that doesn’t require irrigation and makes its own fertilizer. But marketing this Big Sky strain of organic small, black Beluga lentils to other potential growers as well as to the country’s distant taste-makers became the challenge. He needed help and that support emerged from unexpected places.

A number of remarkable farmers and other characters populate this tilting-at-windmills drama including buttoned-up, financial whizzes Doug and Anna Crabtree, the conservative Christian homesteading Manuel family, Senator-Organic farmer Jon Tester, eco-friendly builder and jack-of-all-trades Bud Barta along with a half dozen others.  With their help, David Oien founded Timeless Natural Foods and grew it into a million dollar business that includes several unique lentil products and a full complement of other high-end quality grains.

To do that, he first had to convince chefs to try his lentils and then put them on their menus highlighting these unique Beluga Lentils. Word spread within the culinary world which netted Oien contracts with Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods and hundreds of smaller healthy food stores (some of which came with hard lessons and losses). But Orien persevered and his network of growers stood by him.

Almost as interesting, is the story of the book’s Montanan author: Harvard & UC Berkley trained, former country singer Liz Carlisle also served as Legislative Correspondent for Agriculture and Natural Resources in the Office of U.S. Senator Jon Tester.  Today she is a Lecturer in the School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences at Stanford University, where she teaches courses on food and agriculture, sustainability transition, and environmental communication. Dr. Carlisle approaches her subject “The Lentil Underground” by integrating deeply-felt stories about the pioneers who risked all to farm holistically with clear, exceptional essays on the science of farm ecology.

Simple Green Suppers – A Fresh Strategy for One-Dish Vegetarian Meals

Simple Green Suppers

by Susie Middleton- Roost Books April 11, 2017 $24.95 (Amazon $14)

This is, as the title promises, a book of vegetable forward family dinners that strives for the unctuousness of meat-meals, the delciousness of deeply layered flavors, and the freshness of right from the garden produce. It is a beautiful tome, with lots of enticing full-page bleed photos from Randi Baird, that makes you want to dive in and start cooking

Ms. Middleton approaches the organization of her one-dish family suppers from an unusual perspective; each chapter focuses on a specific, but varied, base to which veggies are added: noodles, grains, beans, leaves, toasts, tortillas, eggs and broths. And each of those bases covers the whole landscape of, for instance, noodles – soba, udon, rice noodles, pasta, couscous, somen, egg. If you “go with” this horizon-broadening perspective, it can really step up the nightly dinner grind – and add some fun to the shopping and prep. Each chapter is preceded by a couple pages of useful “Tips and Strategies” – including prepping your larder. These aren’t ten minute projects and the ingredient lists can be a little bit daunting, but most can be executed well within an hour – and the results are far from fast food. There are some new concepts and fresh, upgraded re-works of old favorites.

But be aware this not a totally plant-based book. There is a chapter, as noted, on eggs and some dishes in other chapters include cheese and dairy. But most of  these ingredients are, IMO, easily substituted with vegan replacements since they are not center stage – or simply skipped. The egg chapter may be doable with the new Follow Your Heart VeganEggs (if you don’t have an issue with a primary ingredient – algal).

Note that the number of servings varies from two to three to four. So that means doubling or halving depending on your situation. As an empty-nester, I welcome recipes for two since I often find myself cooking the whole recipe for four –  and then there are often no leftovers!  The scale speaks.

I am looking forward to cooking my way through this lovely book and will post some of the results – especially when I’ve used dairy or egg replacements.

Essential Herbs and Spices – Discover Them, Understand them, Enjoy Them

Essential Spices

By Christina Nichol  – Rockridge Press 2015 $18.99 (Amazon $15.82 Kindle $4.99)

While not talking specifically to the plant-based cook, Ms. Nichol provides a useful overview of these critical components for all food preparations – not just for enhanced deliciousness but also for health promotion (almost all have “antioxidant, antiviral,  antiviral, or anti-fungal properties”), ceremonial rites, preservation and, historically, that biggie: covering up the taste of foods on the verge of rot. Herbs and spices figure prominently in the age of exploration – when, ounce for ounce, some were as valuable as gold. And the discovery of others changed the flavor profiles of major cuisines.

What are herbs and spices? They are all some kind of plant. If used for medicinal purpose then the entire plant is referred to as an herb. But for culinary uses, the leaf (fresh or dried) is the herb and the stronger, more pungent seed, root, berry, bark, and flower are the spices. Herbs are at their best fresh and tend toward “bitter astringent, tart or savory” while spices are better dried with “earthy, nutty, warm” and pungent profiles.

The author makes a good case for knowing more about the history and contemporary usefulness these small bottles of big flavor stacked in our pantries. She focuses on a selection of 50 popular herbs and spices as well as ten useful blends – helping the cook triage if s/he isn’t ready to stock them all. Each is described along with its history,  kitchen methods, healing uses, what foods it complements and what other spices and herbs it pairs with followed by a couple of concrete recipes.

Exploring the magic that these condiments can exert over the most plebeian dishes, may make the temptation to take the plunge to stock them all irresistible. Ms. Nichol also lists the critical herbs and spices of major cuisines: Cajun, Caribbean, Chinese, French, Indian, Italian, Korean, Mexican, Middle-Eastern, North African, Thailand and Turkish. I found this particularly useful when cooking without recipes – just pick a favorite flavor profile then pull out the particular jars that deliver it. Then play.

I have a spice cabinet containing well over a hundred herbs and spices and a pullout with two dozen ethnic mixes – but I still learned a lot from this book:

Whole spices can last up to 4 years, most ground spices up to three years and dried herbs up to two – contrary to prevailing myth to toss all at the one year mark. But always smell and taste your spices first to be sure. Then toast them

Red pepper spices increase in intensity during cooking! Beware

Asafetida is a vegetarian gift with a taste blend evocative of garlic, shallot, onion and leek that imparts that meaty, umani flavor. Love it but never knew why! It’s the dried sap of an herbaceous plant from the fennel family and also a wonderful gift for those with a sensitivity to the allium family.

 

No Excuses Detox – 100 Recipes to Help You Eat Healthy Everyday

No Excuses Detox

by Megan Gilmore. Ten Speed Press 2017 $19.95 (Amazon $10.70, Spiral $22.50)

This beautiful book landed on my doorstep and I had to read it right away. Yes, I actually do read cookbooks (cover to cover); it’s a glitch in my system and my friends think it is hilarious.  This is not a totally Plant-Based cookbook, but it is gluten-free with lots of vegan options – and many that are easily convertible.  The goal here is “clean eating.” The author blogs at detoxinista.com which will give you some further ideas about her food and if it will work for you.

The design is attractive and enticing with front and back cover “fold-overs” so you have two easy bookmarks.  The easy-to-use recipe layout has multiple circled annotations so you can choose vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free, egg-free, nut-free, soy-free, sugar-free and those with meat protein options are clearly noted as well. She also indicates: 30-min recipes, 15-min prep, kid-friendly, freezer friendly and slow/pressure cooker options (with specific instructions for the Instant Pot).  The photos, not one for every recipe but a lot, are beautiful but sometimes don’t match the written descriptions exactly. And there are written descriptions – an interesting lead-in and often very useful notes at the bottom.

Ms. Gilmore is also a fan of food combining – that was big in the ‘70s and I can’t really tell if this is rejuvenation of that same perspective. But she suggests eating only certain foods together – and makes that easy if you follow her recipes and three week-long sets of menus that make sure that the recipes in those menus also follow that food-combining perspective. That concept requires more study on my part…..

I picked a couple recipes to try out. But first – some of the basics that I noted: Ms. Gilmore uses oil (sometimes a lot and sometimes a little) and she uses salt – sometimes with abandon. In many cases, those are easily modified – although she cautions about changing the ratios in baking when using coconut oil or trying to sub EVOO for coconut oil lest you create a major disaster. She also warns that mixing coconut oil and baking powder together creates a perfectly safe green (albeit surprising) product – with St. Patrick’s Day coming up I might just try that.

Skillet Breakfast Hash was my first try. Green cabbage, onions, and green peppers form the base. The recipe suggests topping it with eggs, sprinkling with goat cheddar (all ingredient cheeses in the book are from goat or sheep milk) and finishing in the oven. Since I actually had a couple of free-range, local organic eggs left by a guest, I put two on the hash. And instead of the two ounces of goat cheddar, I finally shredded 1 ounce of Daiya Mozzarella and sprinkled it on the top.  The result was tasty although the Daiya was so finally shredded that its presence was unnoticeable. The eggs didn’t add that much so I think I might try this again with some tofu – or nothing.

The next recipes I’ll try are Baked Parsnip Chips, Butternut Mac ‘n Cheese (still looking for the one that really works), Deep Dish Chocolate Cookie and No Bake Brownie Bites.

This book contains some fresh ideas. New recipe concepts seem to be generated in the ether and then appear simultaneously in many books, blogs or sites. So when you read some new thoughts, that’s a good thing.

VEGANIZE IT! Easy DIY Recipes for a Plant-Based Kitchen

BY Robin Robertson – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt March 7, 2017. $25. Amazon $14.92/ Kindle $12.99

veganize-it

Another really good book from one of the top vegan cookbook authors. Robin Robertson’s books are classics and I have most of them. So I had high expectations for this one. It’s a beautifully designed book with a stiff fold-in cover for marking your place and lots of full-page photos and chapter intros that sometimes bleed across a double-page spread.

The chapters are similar to those of an omnivore cook book – with a twist. Plant-Based Meats, Vegan Charcuterie, Instead of Seafood, Dairy-Free and Egg-Free, Too…. all very enticing.
Since 2010, I’ve been turning to Steen & Newman’s “The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions: Veganize It! Foolproof Methods for Transforming Any Dish into A Delicious New Vegan Favorite.” And collecting recipes from chef-written cookbooks, blogs and the www. There have been so many advances in plant-based cooking in the past six years that I thought Roberstson might, essentially, be providing an updated, cutting edge version of “The Complete Guide…”. And in some ways she has. But I was hoping for some break-through ideas instead of riffs on existing chef or blogger-developed veggie cuisine. Or at least a compilation of those best of the best ideas. But I misunderstood the intention – which might have had something to do with the similarity of the titles…..

Instead, the book provides “clean” vegan recipes for lots of basics like sour cream cream cheese, cheesy sauces, ricotta, hollandaise, feta, butter!, gravy plus many, many more. Beyond basics are burgers, pulled pork, fish ‘n chips, sausages, meatballs, sea scallops, five bacon recipes, and more. Many of these products are available in the supermarket freezer or refrigerator case but made with a laundry list of additives and other unpronounceable ingredients. So this is why I add the word “clean.” Ms. Robertson first chapter includes home-made versions of pantry items (many of which are not vegan in their store-bought versions). Each chapter also includes more involved recipes that use a few of the basics made from the included recipes or, if time is short, from store-bought versions.

I started my review by preparing a couple of the recipes. First was Creamy Ranch Dressing that starts with 1 cup of mayo – it had good flavor but the mayonnaise was too prominent so I cut it with a little almond milk that also made it more pourable. The second one was Cheddary Sauce which is pictured below (these are my photos, not from the book). This was a tasty cream sauce and it worked well over a steamed veggie and quinoa bowl, but it didn’t taste anything like cheese, especially cheddar, which the name implied. I made it in a Vita Mix so just letting it blend a little longer heated it up –  once the cashews had been soaked, it was quick and easy despite a lengthy list of ingredients. I will make it again – perhaps amping up the seasonings and playing with the liquor choices. Next up are the five bacon recipes and the pulled pork.

IMG_1474 IMG_1478 IMG_1481

A couple nitpiks: Recipes labeled with cheesy names have to taste cheesy – nooch just doesn’t taste cheesy to me. And there isn’t any nutritional info – I’d like to know the calorie count and the percentage from fat – is it a 30-cal tablespoon or a 125 cal one? Also while the cashew craze has been well addressed, alternatives would be appreciated (since cashews are high-FODMAP)  and a little more on aquafaba would also be helpful and suggestions for those among us who choose oil-free.

Bottom line – this book is a keeper. There are enough interesting concepts in here to encourage experimentation. It is not haute cuisine, but it is reliable, tasty, clean vegan. And that’s worth a lot.

Good Clean Food Shopping Smart to Avoid GMOs, rBGH and Products that may cause Cancer and other Diseases

By Samuel Epstein, MD and Beth Leibson – Skyhorse Publishing 2013. $24.95/ Amazon $16.99, $6.50 used

Good Clean Food
Dr. Epstein is a voice we should hear. His long and deep expertise on the avoidable causes of cancer has been shared in twenty books and 270 peer-reviewed articles. He is professor emeritus of environmental and occupational medicine at the University of Illinois School of Public Health and chair of the Cancer Prevention Coalition. He has also served as president of the Rachel Carson Council and other industry organizations. Co-author Beth Leibson knowledgeably unpacks this far-ranging erudition to make it accessible and understandable to the layperson.

This is a short read outlining important concepts that are clearly described – the main foci are:

Milk – the US permits the injection of the genetically-engineered growth hormone (rBGH – named by Monsanto Posilac) into dairy cows which causes elevated concentrations of IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor). The upside is that it increases milk production by 11-15%, the downside for the cow is that they get sick, for instance 25% get mastitis which adds more pus to the milk and which also requires antibiotics. About 20% of dairy farms in the US inject their herds with rBGH which creates IGF-1 but, since labeling is not required, consumers have no idea. The downside for the consumer, in addition to the antibiotic load, is that IGF-1, which is not destroyed by pasteurization, encourages cells to grow – in children it’s usually bones and organs, in adults it can be cancer cells. So, if you choose to continue to use dairy products, buy only organic from grass-fed herds. BTW: The EU and Canada outlawed rBCH and IGF-1 in the 90s. Better yet – plant milk.

Beef – Starting in the ‘50s, US cattle have been injected and/or fed a wide variety of sex hormones and other growth drugs. Today that cocktail, injected into 90% of all US cattle, contains natural estradiol, testosterone, and progesterone plus synthetic hormones zeranol, trenbolone, and melengesterol – all designed to add quick weight and roughly $80 additional profit per animal. The EU outlawed this practice in 1989. Industrial farmed meat cows are also fed prophylactic antibiotics which has contributed to the creation of superbugs that jump to humans and are resistant to most if not all antibiotics. Other beef topics include nitrates (and the link between hot dogs and pediatric brain cancer), radiation, the significant advantages of grass-fed beef and, again, the need for labeling.

Produce – The Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen – The Environmental Working Groups master list of the dozen most likely fruits and vegetables, when conventionally grown, to be drenched with pesticide – add kale and collards to the EWG list. The Clean Fifteen lists those least likely to be tainted. The authors also suggest buying “American” since imported produce usually contains higher percentages of pesticides. This chapter then details the negative effects of these insecticides and herbicides, many of which contain Organophosphates, which has been shown to block acetylcholinesterase that stops nerve cells from firing. The demonstrated effects include increased incidences of ADHD, autism, reduced memory and lowered IQ. The answer is organically grown produce.

Corn and Soybeans & GMOs – These are the two most prolific foods on the planet; corn, for instance, provides over 20% of all human nutrition – but both are largely used for animal feed. Both can be cultivated as vegetables or as oil or as…. The broad-spectrum herbicide Roundup, a ramped up version of Glyphosate (which is a type of organophosphate), was developed by Monsanto to increase field yields. Monsanto also developed many Roundup-ready, patented crop seeds that can tolerate the pesticide. Initially Roundup works, but then, over time, the weeds become resistance and the farmers find it necessary to increase the quantity of Roundup creating more dangerous conditions for farmers and consumers. Glyphosate-resistant alternatives exist but share the same problems – they kill off amphibians as well as pests and weeds and they contain an inert ingredient (a surfactant) to help the chemicals penetrate the plants which has shown to be harmful to humans. A newcomer is Bt corn (Bacillus thuringiensis), a plant that exudes its own pesticide which is also dangerous to other living things, like butterflies and humans. The chapter concludes with a review of the politics as well as alternatives – especially non-GMO organic.

Chicken & Eggs – Conventionally raised chickens (and eggs) are fed a wide range of ingredients to encourage speedy growth including prophylactic antibiotics – which pass to humans creating similar problems to those of beef. At first brush, the answer seems to be organic. In order to be labeled organic, broilers and egg-laying hens alike, must be fed organic feed without antibiotics (except for illness), hormones or pesticides and they must have access to the outdoors. An organic egg comes from an organic laying hen. But beware the various levels of “organic” – large-scale industrial and some family-size organic egg farms may offer an open door with an impenetrable maze to access it so there is no “scratching in the dirt.” The key descriptor seems to be “pasture-based” or “free-range” organic where mobile housing moves frequently to fresh fields and the birds are outdoors as often as inside. All of this applies to “broilers” as well.

Avoiding GMOs – This gets harder every day; again look for the word “organic” otherwise almost any, for instance, soybean or soybean derivative will likely be from GMO plants– but at least know the legal definitions: “100% organic” means just that. “Organic” means 95% of ingredients are. “Made form Organic Ingredients” 70-94% is organic. The word “organic” on the ingredient panel only means that less than 70% is organic. An on fruits and vegetables – look for a label with a 5-digit number beginning with 9 – that’s organic. Beginning with an 8 means GMO (but that’s rarely labeled). Four digits beginning with 3 or 4 means conventional.

The remainder of the book discusses detoxification and future trends like Budget organics – private labels, Farmers’ markets, CSAs Buying clubs, Food Co-ops. And trends among various ethnic groups and around the world – all of which are well worth reading. Finally check out the organic industry watch dog: Cornucopia Institute www.cornucopia.org.

Asian Tofu

by Andre Nguyen. Ten Speed Press 2012, Large format, hard cover $30 ($23.56 or $12.99 Kindle)

Asian Tofu

The only book that I owned on making tofu was the “Book of Tofu” by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi circa 1979. It’s a very yellowed, dense paperback ($2.95 then*) filled with tons of information. But somehow it always intimidated so when I picked up Nguyen’s “Asian Tofu” with lots of big, beautiful photos, graphics and white space (albeit at ten times the price ), I was encouraged to try this again.

Not surprisingly the basic recipe that Nguyen uses is almost the same as Shurtleff’s – she just makes it sound easier.  It’s soybeans, water and coagulant with a proper mold and accoutrements – that’s pretty much it. Nguyen begins with a highly detailed Homemade Tofu Tutorial: an immersion in the various types starting with soy milk, then on to silken tofu, tofu pudding, block tofu, seasoned pressed tofu, tea-smoked pressed tofu, white fermented tofu, fresh tofu skin and soy-simmered fried tofu.  The rest of the book is devoted to how to use each kind of tofu once you successfully mastered it. Again, the photos are the name of the game here.  Seeing the process and knowing what you’re going for makes all the difference. She has encouraged me to try this to see if the result is as good as or even better than the lovely artisanal product produced by The Bridge Company in Middletown, CT. (I was privileged to spend several hours there watching the process – seeing how very minimally processed this product can be.)

Nguyen continues to teach the reader/cook through chapters on Snacks and starters, Main Dishes, Salads, Mock Meats, Buns, Dumplings, Crepes, and Sweets. . She ends with a chapter on Basics that covers stocks, and sauces. Be aware this is not a totally plant-based book. There are many recipes using seafood and meat. But, as in her earlier book, plant-based substitutions are relatively easy and it is a host of basic concepts that she is teaching.

*BTW: The original “Book of Tofu” is still available for $7.23 on Amazon (used $0.1 and up) and a new edition, “Book of Tofu – Protein Source of the Future… Now!,”  a larger paperback with photos, updated information and newly designed covers, was published in 2012 ($17.95, available from $8 up). That might be well worth purchasing.  Together these two books will tell you all you want, need or wish to know about tofu.