Recipe From Another Time

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The Yale Babylonian Collection houses four unique tablets that contain various recipes for stews, soups and pies. Three of these tablets date back to the Old Babylonian period, no later than 1730 B.C. Klaus Wagensonner/Yale Babylonian Collection

A meal from ancient history, decoded, and the scholar who sleuthed the recipe discusses it in a brief interview:

Eat Like The Ancient Babylonians: Researchers Cook Up Nearly 4,000-Year-Old Recipes

What did a meal taste like nearly 4,000 years ago in ancient Babylonia? Pretty good, according to a team of international scholars who have deciphered and are re-creating what are considered to be the world’s oldest-known culinary recipes.

The recipes were inscribed on ancient Babylonian tablets that researchers have known about since early in the 20th century but that were not properly translated until the end of the century.

The tablets are part of the Yale Babylonian Collection at the Yale Peabody Museum. Three of the tablets date back to the Old Babylonian period, no later than 1730 B.C., according to Harvard University Assyriologist and cuneiform scholar Gojko Barjamovic, who put together the interdisciplinary team that is reviving these ancient recipes in the kitchen. A fourth tablet was produced about 1,000 years later. All four tablets are from the Mesopotamian region, in what is today Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Continue reading

Imagining Better Food

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A culinary student preparing mealworm quiches at the Rijn Ijssel chefs school in Wageningen, Netherlands. Jerry Lampen/Reuters

JoAnna Klein has a nack for getting me to think twice on a topic. My imagination is moving in the right direction. I may be embarrassed by my insufficient progress at cutting meat consumption, but I have made zero headway in the realm of insect appetite. It must change. But even with this story, and its beautiful pictures, my likelihood to indulge in one of these meals is best captured by the biblical phrase about the spirit being willing but the flesh being weak; I get why I must do this, but my body is not cooperating and I am not looking forward to the first such meal:

How to Develop an Appetite for Insects

Scientists who study bugs are thinking harder about how to turn them into good food.

Repeat after me: entomophagy.

It’s derived from Greek and Latin: “entomon,” meaning “insect,” and “phagus,” as in “feeding on.”

Some think it’s the future of food.

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Justin Butner

In 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released a report declaring the need to swap traditional protein sources for insects to support a sustainable future. The report helped drive an explosion of efforts all dedicated to making mealworms your next meal. Continue reading

“Impossible Milk” – Yet Another Animal Husbandry Alternative

Bay Area-based company Perfect Day Foods developed a vegan, lactose-free ice cream containing milk proteins made by microbes rather than cows. Credit Perfect Day Foods

We’ve been writing about “fishless fish” and its beef counterpart quite a bit lately, and for good reason. The environmental impact of animal based agriculture is staggering; even grass-fed cattle raised well outside of industrial feedlots are responsible for carbon emissions.

Entrepreneurs and scientists are becoming great collaborators to develop tasty alternatives that can be healthy for the planet and humans.

Got Impossible Milk? The Quest for Lab-Made Dairy

With advances in synthetic biology, researchers and entrepreneurs strive to create cows’ milk without cows.

In recent years, the alternatives to conventional cows’ milk have proliferated. The local grocery store is likely to offer any number of plant-based options: milks made from soy, almonds, oats, rice, hemp, coconuts, cashews, pea plants and more.

But most nondairy milks pale in comparison to cows’ milk. Plant-based milks are made by breaking down plants and reconstituting their proteins in water to resemble the fluid from a lactating bovine. These proteins differ fundamentally from true dairy proteins, and the results — milks, cheeses and yogurts in name only — often fail to measure up in color, taste or texture. Inja Radman, a molecular biologist and a founder of New Culture, a food company, put it plainly.

“Vegan cheese is just terrible,” she said. “As scientists, we know why it doesn’t work. It doesn’t have the crucial dairy proteins.”

Dairy tastes like dairy thanks to two key proteins, casein and whey protein. Researchers at several start-up companies, including New Culture, have begun producing these proteins in the lab, with the aim of creating a new grocery store category: cow-free dairy.

Continue reading

Vegan Hooligans @ Abby’s Diner

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When I started reading this short piece below, subtitled “The chefs Roy Choi and Jose Mejia sample the Vegan Hooligans’ plant-based junk food at an L.A. pop-up.” and containing no photos, before getting two paragraphs in I had to see what Abby’s Diner looked like, and found the image above and those below, on Instagram and in a story by KCET, so following is a mix of the sources:

The chef Roy Choi posted up at the counter of Abby’s Diner in Los Angeles recently. Several times a week, the place morphs from a traditional greasy spoon—booths, tiled floor, B.L.T.s—to a greasy spoon that serves vegan renditions of such drive-through classics as the McDonald’s McRib.

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Entrepreneur, social activist and chef Roy Choi takes a journey through his hometown of Los Angeles to explore complex social justice issues including food deserts, food waste and sustainability. Learn more about “Broken Bread.” Watch this trailer.

Sheila Marikar has not appeared in our pages before, but I will be on the lookout for more from her, because even without images (thanks to KCET and the Hooligans’ Instagram account for those here) her words make vegan more compelling:

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Jose Mejia is the man behind the Vegan Hooligans.

“I like to re-create a lot of stuff from fast food so people feel comfortable,” Jose Mejia said. He is a founder of the Vegan Hooligans, which began popping up last February. (The name is a nod to his love of punk rock and soccer.) He wore overalls and a brown beanie. “I wanted to create a brand that didn’t just capture the eyes of, like, vegans,” he added.

BeLeaf.jpgEleven years ago, Choi co-founded Kogi BBQ, a fleet of Korean-taco trucks that fuelled a food-truck renaissance and got him on a number of best-of lists (Food & Wine Best New Chef, Time 100). He is not a vegan. “Kogi, for Pete’s sake, means ‘meat’ in Korean,” he said. But after meeting Mejia while filming an episode of his TV series, “Broken Bread,” a less hedonistic version of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations,” Choi decided to try more meat substitutes. Now he eats animals maybe once a week. Continue reading

Could “Fishless Fish” Play a Part Helping Oceans Recuperate?

This salmon, by Wild Type, was grown from cells in a lab. The company is one of several developing seafood alternatives. Kelsey McClellan for The New York Times

First, there was the meatless burger. Soon we may have fishless fish.

Impossible Foods, the California company behind the meatless Impossible Whopper now available at Burger King, is joining a crowded field of food companies developing alternatives to traditional seafood with plant-based recipes or laboratory techniques that allow scientists to grow fish from cells.

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Good Catch Tuna, made from plants, is available at Whole Foods. Kelsey McClellan for The New York Times

So far, much of Impossible’s work has focused on the biochemistry of fish flavor, which can be reproduced using heme, the same protein undergirding its meat formula, according to Pat Brown, the company’s chief executive. Last month, Impossible’s 124-person research and development team, which the company plans to increase to around 200 by the end of next year, produced an anchovy-flavored broth made from plants, he said.

“It was being used to make paella,” Mr. Brown said. “But you could use it to make Caesar dressing or something like that.”

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Wild Type held a tasting of its lab-grown salmon last month in Portland, Ore. Kelsey McClellan for The New York Times

The fishless-fish project is part of Impossible’s grand ambitions to devise tasty replacements for every animal-based food on the market by 2035. Whether that aim is achievable, either scientifically or financially, remains to be seen. But for now, Mr. Brown said, he’s confident Impossible’s plant-based beef recipe can be reconfigured to simulate a new source of protein.

It’s unclear whether consumers — even those who eat meatless burgers — will embrace fish alternatives.

Those faux-beef products owe their success partly to the enthusiasm of so-called flexitarians, people who want to reduce their meat consumption without fully converting to vegetarianism, but flexitarians are not necessarily motivated by a desire to save the planet. Indeed, industry experts say, many of them are drawn to plant-based meat more for its perceived health benefits than for its role in reducing the food industry’s reliance on production techniques that release greenhouse gases. Continue reading

Pulses Improving Life In Multiple Ways

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Chickpeas are often called by their Spanish name, garbanzos or garbanzo beans, in the United States. Inga Spence/Getty Images

Whitney Pipkin, appearing for the second time here, has another great story about healthy food with environmental benefits:

Your Hummus Habit Could Be Good For The Earth

Hummus is having a heyday with American consumers, and that could be as good for the soil as it is for our health.

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High in fiber and protein, chickpeas are playing a starring role on menus at fast-casual chains like Little Sesame in Washington, D.C., where hummus bowls abound. Chickpeas also good for soil health — and growing demand could help restore soils depleted by decades of intensive farming. Anna Meyer

Formerly relegated to the snack aisle in U.S. grocery stores, the chickpea-based dip has long starred as the smooth centerpiece of Middle Eastern meals and, increasingly, plant-based diets. Occasionally, it even doubles as dessert. Last year, Americans spent four times as much money on grocery-store hummus as they did a decade before, according to the latest consumer surveys, and a growing number of snacks and fast-casual concepts also feature the fiber- and protein-rich chickpea as their pièce de résistance.

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Anna Meyer

Part of a subcategory of legumes called pulses, chickpeas — along with lentils, dry peas and several varieties of beans — have been a critical crop and foodstuff for centuries in Middle Eastern and Asian countries. The crops are so promising that the United Nations deemed 2016 the “Year of Pulses” to expand interest in these ancient foods and their potential to help solve dueling modern-day conundrums: hunger and soil depreciation. Continue reading

Why Is Vanilla So Expensive?

The Economist has not been one of our go-to sources for stories because it has an ideology that sometimes gets in the way of deeper investigation. Their stories and explanations are extremely thorough and very compelling, but we can usually guess the answer before the question is even asked.  Every now and then they surprise us, and here is a good example:

The bitter truth behind Madagascar’s roaring vanilla trade

How did hunger for the humble pod lead to greed, crime and riches? Wendell Steavenson travels to Madagascar to meet the new spice barons

In pods we trust
A quality-control chief in a co-operative in Belambo

I follow Felicité Raminisoa and her father, Romain Randiambololona, up a narrow track along the forested slopes of her family’s farm in southern Madagascar. It is lychee season and, as we walk, we break off branches of fruit and peel off the pink, spiky shells. Large yellow jackfruit grow like Chinese lanterns among loquat and clove trees, pepper vines and coffee plants. Sapphire dragonflies flash by as they chase each other over ponds of tilapia dammed into the valley. The air is muggy under the banana leaves but grows fresher as we climb. In all directions we can see vanilla vines winding around tree trunks. Each zigzag stem has been trained so that it grows no higher than Raminisoa can reach. Every so often she stops at a pale-yellow bloom and parts its waxy petals. With a spike snapped from an orange tree, she delicately scrapes away the membrane separating the anther from the stigma in order to pollinate the flower. This is a task that requires perfect timing. Each flower must be pollinated by hand on the morning it blooms or the beans won’t sprout.

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A vanilla flower is pollinated by hand

The family began to plant vanilla vines about 20 years ago mostly as “decoration”, says Randiambololona, his big grin punctuated by a missing tooth. At first the family sold fresh green vanilla pods to tourists, surprised that they would pay anything for them. But in 2014 the price of vanilla began to rise. Over the next three years it went from less than $40 per kilogram to more than $600 per kilogram. It felt like money was growing on their trees. In 2016 Raminisoa travelled to the northern region of Sava, where vanilla has been grown for generations, to learn how to cure the green pods into the commodity that was in such demand: pungent and wizened black beans. Continue reading

Food Traditions & Modern Realities

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A woman prepares couscous in a small Amazigh (Berber) hamlet on the eastern slopes of Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains. Jeff Koehler for NPR

It seems ages (if only six months) since the folks of the salt, over at National Public Radio (USA), offered a story like this, so thanks to Jeff Koehler – Writer – Photographer – Cook – Traveler for bringing it:

Couscous: A Symbol Of Harmony In Northwest Africa, A Region Of Clashes

In 2016, Algeria announced that it would be applying for UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage status for couscous. If successful, the staple food would join a diverse list of more than 500 cultural treasures ranging from hand puppetry in Egypt and tango dancing in Argentina and Uruguay.

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Sweet couscous is popular across the Maghreb. It is generally served with leben, a buttermilk-like fermented drink.
Jeff Koehler for NPR

Couscous refers to both the tiny, hard granules typically made from crushed hard durum wheat semolina, as well as the dish itself. The tiny balls are steamed in a two-level pot with a perforated steamer basket called kiskis (known in much of the world as a couscoussier) over a stew of meat or fish, vegetables and spices, which is served on top.

While a catalog of outside influences has shaped Algeria’s cuisine over the years, it never lost its ancient traditions or uniqueness, wrote Mokhtaria Rezki in her authoritative book Le Couscous Algérian. “Algerian couscous remains in this respect the symbol of our originality and our greatest invention. … If one had to culinarily and symbolically award a medal of our national cultural identity … certainly couscous would be the star and the subject.” So key is couscous to Algerian culture that some simply refer to it as ta’am, or “food.” Continue reading

Bees, Conservation & Otherworldy Honey

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In the well-kept hives tended by beekeeper Fred Merriam in Georgia, every bee has a job to do. Credit Stephen B. Morton for The New York Times

Kim Severson last caught my attention about a year ago. She covers food culture for the New York Times, and this is the fifth time we have found a story of hers a perfect fit for our platform’s themes. Food intersecting with conservation is always welcome, and honey specifically is on my mind these days. Honey bees? Always of interest. During our transition from India back to Costa Rica over the last two years we spent much of our time in Atlanta. The honey in this story was available in the farmer’s market we shopped at, and we occasionally indulged. I am gratified to learn more about it here:

On the Trail of Tupelo Honey, Liquid Gold From the Swamps

Hurricanes, blights and encroaching development have cut into the harvest in Florida and Georgia, but a small cadre of beekeepers still fiercely pursues this lucrative prize.

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Tupelo trees, which produce small, nectar-filled light green and white flowers for two weeks each spring, rise out of swamps in the Altamaha River Basin in southeastern Georgia. Credit Stephen B. Morton for The New York Times

ODUM, Ga. — The most expensive honey in America starts in these mucky Southern swamps, where white Ogeechee tupelo trees twist up out of water so dark you can’t tell if that was an alligator or a snake that just broke the surface.

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Tupelo honey fresh from the comb has a distinctive light green tint. Credit Stephen B. Morton for The New York Times

For two precious weeks each spring in this slice of southeastern Georgia and in the Florida Panhandle, tupelo trees bloom with pale, fragile flowers that look like pompoms for tiny cheerleaders. Beekeepers tuck their hives along the banks, or occasionally float them out into the water on rafts. Then the bees get to work, making honey that looks and tastes like no other.

Good tupelo will glow with a light green tint, especially when it’s fresh from the comb and bathed in sunlight. The first taste is of cinnamon with a tingle of anise. That gives way to a whisper of jasmine and something citrusy — tangerine rind, maybe? The honey is so soft, light and buttery that the only logical move is to chase it with another spoonful. Continue reading

Melissa Clark’s Kelp Call

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Kelp, a variety of edible seaweed farmed near Portland, Me., is harvested in spring. It’s delectable and nutritious, it’s easy to cook with, and it actively benefits the ocean’s health. Matt Cosby for The New York Times

Melissa Clark has appeared in our pages plenty of times, starting in 2014 when we were launching a restaurant whose menu featured tasty, nutritious and environmentally friendly dishes–i.e. the types of foods she promotes. Today’s pitch is right in line with those we have featured before:

The Climate-Friendly Vegetable You Ought to Eat

Kelp is delicious and versatile, and farming it is actively good for the ocean. Melissa Clark wants you to just try a bite.

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Justin Papkee, kept company by his dog, Seguin, pulling up a line of kelp. Harvesting wild kelp is ancient, but farming it is a relatively new practice in the United States. Matt Cosby for The New York Times

PORTLAND, Me. — It was a sharp, windy March day, but the gray water of Casco Bay glimmered green in the sun. On his lobster boat, the Pull N’ Pray, Justin Papkee scanned the surface of the ocean, searching for his buoys. But he wasn’t looking for lobster traps.

Mr. Papkee was farming, not fishing: His crop, clinging to ropes beneath the cold waves, was seaweed, thousands of pounds of brownish kelp undulating under the surface. Growing at a rate of 4 to 6 inches per day for the past six months, it was nearly ready to be harvested and sent to restaurants like Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Estela, Houseman, Saint Julivert Fisherie and Luke’s Lobster in New York, and Honey Paw, Chaval and the Purple House here in Maine.

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Justin’s father, Chris Papkee, at left, and Jimmy Ranaghan removing the kelp from the long ropes on which it grows. Matt Cosby for The New York Times

He pulled a blade of kelp from his line and handed me a long, translucent strip. I took a bite, and then another, seawater running down my chin.

I’d eaten plenty of seaweed salads at Japanese and vegan restaurants, but this was not that. A variety called skinny kelp, it was lightly salty and profoundly savory, with a flavor like ice-cold oyster liquor, and a crisp, snappy texture somewhere between stewed collard greens and al dente fettuccine. The chef Brooks Headley, who adds it in slippery slivers to the barbecued carrots he serves at Superiority Burger in New York, described it in an email as “insanely delicious and texturally incredible.” Continue reading

Misunderstandings That Become Taken For Granted

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The Atlantic’s website helps me ensure that I do not miss any intriguing episodes of Gastropod, which I listened to more frequently before we moved back to Costa Rica. Especially when we were in the process of developing 51, a restaurant in the colonial spice-trading district of Fort Cochin, in southwest India. This current headline in the Atlantic, which took me back to those years when delicious misunderstandings were the daily fare, was one I had to surrender to:

The Word Curry Came From a Colonial Misunderstanding

No Indian language uses the term, and the closest-sounding words usually just mean “sauce.”

And over at the Gastropod website, this ensured that I would listen all the way through:

9780465056668_custom-faec8d5203f296c0cc17efb91baa211c41c48a88-s600-c85…According to Lizzie Collingham, food historian and author of Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors, to trace the origins of curry, we need to go back to when the Portuguese first set up shop in Goa, in the early 1500s. “And they’d say, Oooh, what are you eating?” said Collingham, “And the Indians replied using a word like khari or caril.” At the time, Collingham explained, those words likely referred to a particular spice blend, as well as the finished dish it was used in; the same words are still in use, but they now mean sauce or gravy. Today, that’s Raghavan Iyer’s definition: he authored a doorstop of a cookbook called 660 Curries, and he uses “curry” to refer to “anything that has a sauce or gravy—it can be with or without spices.”…

Bananas, Taught New Tricks, Can Perform Wonders

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Vegan fish and chips from Sutton and Sons. Photograph: Sutton and Sons

The last time I posted on banana blossoms it was because a bunch of bananas outside our kitchen window coincided with an article about vegan fish and chips. Today, a bit more of the same coincidental mixing of kitchen and reading. I just tasted a sample of the fifth batch of banana ceviche made by the kitchen assistant for Organikos, who spent seven years assisting in the kitchen of a Peruvian family. Each time she has made banana ceviche I have wondered whether it was a lucky batch. It is that good. And today’s was as good as each previous batch. Now as I turn to my review of options for what to post about on this platform, I have encountered a story with the photo above, and the photo below, with a headline guaranteed to pull me in:

Banana blossom: the next vegan food star with the texture of fish

Sainsbury’s is to include the flower, which hails from south-east Asia, in its ready meals

Thanks to Anna Berrill and the Guardian for that, and for the several ideas that will guide me at the farmer’s market this morning:

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Banana blossom can also be eaten raw and has a chunky, flaky texture. Photograph: Suwatwongkham/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Following on from beetroot burgers and jackfruit curries, the next star of the vegan “meat” world hails from the gardens of south-east Asia and looks somewhat like an artichoke.

Banana blossom, also known as a “banana heart”, is a fleshy, purple-skinned flower, shaped like a tear, which grows at the end of a banana fruit cluster. Traditionally used in south-east Asian and Indian cooking, it can also be eaten raw and its chunky, flaky texture makes it an ideal substitute for fish.

Sainsbury’s, which will be rolling out a series of plant-based meals later this year, is to include banana blossom in its ready meals in the hope the flower will catch on among a burgeoning population of shoppers looking for meat-free alternatives. Continue reading

Rutabaga’s Moment In The Light

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Rutabaga tagliatelle, from Olmstead, in Brooklyn.Photograph by Evan Sung

In the interest of cutting back meat consumption, my eye is easily caught these days by pretty shiny things, like the image above, but even more so by rich description, especially when the history of a food is illuminated. This brief history of one root vegetable, accompanied by a couple of beautiful photos, led me to the book below right. Click the book image to go to the source. RutaB.jpg

The original is in a collection akin to the one where Seth did his History honors thesis, and akin to the one where some of my doctoral dissertation‘s historic data was sourced (if you are a Cornell geek or library geek scroll upward from the cover page to see the details). Thanks to Helen Rosner once again brilliantly for getting me exploring:

The Swiss botanist Gaspard Bauhin was born in Basel in 1560, and he dedicated his life to obsessively cataloguing the vegetable world. To present-day historians, he’s notable primarily for his botanical thesaurus “Pinax Theatri Botanici” (“An Illustrated Exposition of Plants”), published in 1623. But, among cooks, he’s sometimes recalled for his lesser work, published in 1620: “Prodromos Theatri Botanici” (“Prologue to the Exposition of Plants”), a compendium of flora in which he describes a plant with vivid yellow flowers, a spray of leaves, and massive, hairy roots “more or less similar to those of turnip or carrots.” It was a specimen that had never before appeared in any scientific list of plants: the rutabaga.

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The rutabaga is a culinary underdog. It struggles to shine among its fellow root vegetables.Photograph by Matthias Haupt / Picture Press / Redux

The annals of botany abound with claims that Bauhin was not only rutabaga’s biographer but also its inventor: that he found it growing wild and domesticated it; that he was a civic-minded scientist seeking a cold-resistant turnip to feed his chilly countrymen and not (more likely) a monomaniacal scholar who spent his life ensconced in an herbarium, scrivening endless latinate lists of plant names. “The turnip is older than history,” the caption on a color plate in a 1949 issue of National Geographic declares. “The rutabaga almost modern.” In fact, the vegetable has been around at least since ancient-Roman times, when the naturalist Pliny the Elder, writing in the first century, described an edible root “between a radish and a rape”—meaning the plant from which rapeseed oil derives, which is a cultivar of the same species. Bauhin writes that in his time the vegetable was widely grown in “the cold Noric fields of Bohemia,” where it was eaten pickled or mashed and was called simply “root” by its cultivators. Continue reading

Nutrition & Conservation

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To help protect the planet and promote good health, people should eat less than 1 ounce of red meat a day and limit poultry and milk, too. That’s according to a new report from some of the top names in nutrition science. People should instead consume more nuts, fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, the report says. The strict recommended limits on meat are getting pushback. Westend61/Getty Images/Westend61

Preparing ahead for a meal to be cooked today, I was reading this recipe, whose image (below) was competing for my attention with the image above. The picture above is eye-catching, at least to me, a visual cue leading me to the type of meal I should be thinking about more often. It is a big picture picture. I have red lentils in the cupboard, and I intend to prepare them today, so the recipe won the race for my attention.

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Melissa Clark’s red lentil soup.CreditJoseph De Leo for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Monica Pierini.

The story by National Public Radio (USA) waited. It is about diet, with the kind of explanatory information that motivates me to find lentils more appealing, and to understand why meals like this should dominate the weekly menu:

What we eat – and how our food is produced – is becoming increasingly politicized.

Why? More people are connecting the dots between diet and health – not just personal health, but also the health of the planet. And the central thesis that has emerged is this: If we eat less meat, it’s better for both.

So, how much less? A new, headline-grabbing report — compiled by some of the top names in nutrition science — has come up with a recommended target: Eat less than half an ounce of red meat per day. That works out to about 3.5 ounces — or a single serving of red meat — per week. And it’s far less red meat than Americans currently consume on average: between an estimated 2 and 3 ounces per day. Continue reading

Making Bread In 2019

Bread.jpgHelen Rosner, surprisingly appearing for only the second time in our pages, catches us just after our new year’s resolution to take up bread baking.

Well timed.

For a few minutes of bread love, click the image above. For a few minutes more of bread geek-out, read on:

In the immeasurable history of people talking about food, has there ever been a single statement more raw and moving and real than Oprah Winfrey, sitting before a television camera, flinging her arms emphatically forward, narrowing her eyes with fevered intensity, and declaring, with a passionate roar, “I! Love! Bread!” Continue reading

New Ways Of Eating Old Dishes

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Johnny Miller for The New York Times. Food stylist: Maggie Ruggiero. Prop stylist: Hilary Robertson.

Tejal Rao, the California restaurant critic at The New York Times and a columnist for The New York Times Magazine, came to my attention not long ago. At that time I did not look at her background and thought perhaps she was a science writer, based on that story. We are committed as much as anything in these pages to featuring stories by people who explain science well to a lay audience. But as of this week I realize she is a food writer and if you believe in James Beard awards she must be one of the best. That makes me think we will see more of her work because that is another of our favorite things. As I went through her website to read some of her earlier work, this story immediately stood out because of the title: Not Your Dickensian Bowl of Porridge. And that has been a favorite topic of mine since introducing savory porridge on our menu in Kerala a few years back. I cannot wait to test this out, even though I favor oats for my porridge:

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Credit Johnny Miller for The New York Times. Food stylist: Maggie Ruggiero. Prop stylist: Hilary Robertson.

“How much time do you have?” Minh Phan wanted to know, when I showed up at her restaurant in Los Angeles after hours. I was hoping to learn how she cooked the delicious rice I ate there about a week before. It was covered with curls of see-through pickles and little scoops of sticky, savory jams, and many kinds of herbs. The grains of rice were whole and tender — soft but not soupy. How much time could we possibly need, I wondered, to boil some rice until it was tender?

What I learned was that a simple bowl of soft rice, in the hands of Minh Phan, was in fact extraordinary. It tasted familiar and comforting, but it was built meticulously and garnished effusively, its flavors carefully layered, its textures arranged in sequence. Continue reading

Foraged Wild Foods

Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this brief story by Maia Stern, which expands our knowledge of foraged wild foods:

The first insect that Pascal Baudar ever tried eating was an ant he found in his kitchen. The verdict? “It tasted like some kind of chemical,” says Baudar.

Most people would have probably given up on the bug-eating experiments right there. But Baudar? He’s made it part of his life’s calling. Continue reading

The Upped Ante Of Vegan

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At Sans, the former Eleven Madison Park sous-chef Champ Jones gives vegan food the fine-dining treatment, offering a five-course tasting menu with optional beverage pairing, in addition to an à la carte selection.Photograph by Haruka Sakaguchi for The New Yorker

In her review titled An Eleven Madison Park Alum Does Vegan Fine Dining at Sans Hannah Goldfield asks in the header Would an omnivore give up meat if she could still have foie gras?  and then at the end of the first paragraph shows the image to the left below. This question rings out to me because from the days when I worked for a chef known for his preparation of this delicacy, I have thought it the ultimate test of whether I could swear off animal protein permanently.

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A beautifully marbled disk of black-plum terrine—made with plum jam and fair-trade palm oil and served with slices of fresh and pickled plum and neat rounds of toast—is as silky as foie gras. Photograph by Haruka Sakaguchi for The New Yorker

Long gone are the days when vegan restaurants in New York were limited to places like Candle 79, a sort of bistro on the Upper East Side trading in unapologetically hippie-ish fare like black-bean burgers, seitan piccata, and spaghetti and wheat balls. We have vegan diners now, serving comfort food like vegan tatertachos and Nashville Hot Chik’n sandwiches, vegan fast-casual chains and bakeries, vegan omakase counters, and vegan dim-sum parlors. We have big-name chefs—Jean-Georges Vongerichten, John Fraser, and Brooks Headley among them—operating buzzy vegetarian restaurants (abcV, Nix, and Superiority Burger, respectively), where it’s easy to eat vegan. We even have vegan foie gras.

This review continues a trend of raising the stakes for going vegetarian, including gauzy photos that project status with simplicity.

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At Sans, the former Eleven Madison Park sous-chef Champ Jones gives vegan food the fine-dining treatment, offering a five-course tasting menu with optional beverage pairing, in addition to an à la carte selection. Photograph by Haruka Sakaguchi for The New Yorker

I am all for that. Bring on the images that make vegetables and greens and other non-animal edibles look as tempting as their meaty counterparts:

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Grilled onion in a pool of smoked-onion purée, garnished with fried shallot and dandelion leaves. Photograph by Haruka Sakaguchi for The New Yorker

 Does a vegan want to eat foie gras? And would an omnivore give up animal products if it meant she didn’t have to give up things like foie gras? The latter question, in particular, seems to be what Champ Jones, a former Eleven Madison Park sous-chef and an omnivore himself, is exploring with Sans, which opened in September and is described on its Web site as a “dynamic one-year project where non-vegans do vegan food.” Much of vegan food culture centers on substitution, on manipulating plant-based ingredients to approximate meat, milk, eggs, and cheese, a challenge that Jones seems to be facing with particular ambition.

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From left to right: Maine seaweed with “frothy ocean broth” and tapioca pearls; the onion; parsnip cake with pear and cashew-milk sherbet; and the black-plum terrine.Photograph by Haruka Sakaguchi for The New Yorker

In fact, if you didn’t know going in, it wouldn’t necessarily be apparent that Sans is a vegan restaurant. Continue reading

Graphics For A Better World

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09meanwhile-image7-superJumbo.jpgClick the image above or to the left to go to the graphic narrative published in the New York Times by Wendy McNaughton, whose website is a treasure chest of visual wit and explanatory power.

I have heard of Pantone before, and probably even their Color of the Year tradition. But until seeing this I never cared enough to understand the meaning behind it.

Now I care. I will not explain why, instead suggesting you take three minutes to see how you respond.

Or maybe I will just hint that for me it has something to do with this panel, not just the words but how they appear on the page, and the communication of how corporate communications can sometimes be tone deaf if not color blind:

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Dan Barber On Future Food

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‘Restaurants can become these cathedrals of ideas.’ … Dan Barber chef and co-owner of Blue Hill restaurants in Manhattan and upstate New York. Photograph: Ali Smith for the Guardian

Thanks to Emma Brockes for this article, another in this important Guardian series:

Dan Barber: ’20 years from now you’ll be eating fast food crickets’

In the latest from our series on biodiversity, the Blue Hill chef says we’ve got sustainable agriculture wrong. It’s not a question of sacrifice, but deliciousness

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Barber holds a staff meeting. Photograph: Ali Smith for the Guardian

How does it taste?” says Dan Barber, regarding me expectantly in the garden of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, his restaurant in the Hudson Valley just north of New York. I am gnawing the crust of a large piece of bread that has been grown from Barber Wheat, a hybrid seed developed by Barber and his partners to be nutrient dense, high in yield and – a radical thought in seed breeding, apparently – full of flavour. (Whereas clapped out old seeds might yield 30 bushels an acre, Barber Wheat will stretch to 95). The bread is simultaneously light, and dense, and intricate in flavour in such a way that I can’t think of a single word to do it justice. Barber, who at 49 has the manic energy of someone for whom no plate of food will ever live up to the ideal in his head, looks at me gloomily. “That’s the whole problem with food writing,” he says.

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‘At a restaurant you’re like a conductor in an orchestra.’ Photograph: Ali Smith for the Guardian

There are bigger problems in the food world. With the possible exception of “financial regulation”, there can be few more deadly phrases to the casual reader than “sustainable agriculture”, a heavy-weather issue most of us recognise as increasingly important but nonetheless killingly dull. This is where Barber, who set up his restaurant in 2004, is hugely persuasive, a charismatic leader who, if you talk to him for an hour while walking around the kitchen and bucolic surroundings of Stone Barns, will have you genuinely excited about crop rotation, and soil conditions, and the fact that the food industry is a dying behemoth reliant on low-yield, agronomically risky seeds that produce ever more tasteless and nutrition-less food.

“There’s never been a time where there’s been such a wholesale decline in frozen processed food,” he says. “Ever. The only units of those companies that are actually increasing market share are prepared vegetables that are not processed.” Which isn’t to say we are all rushing into the open arms of the nearest farmer’s market, although it is Barber’s mission, through his restaurants, to change this. Continue reading