Friday, May 27, 2011

Easy Hummus Recipe

I bought a food processor for the sole purpose of making homemade hummus, and have never looked back. (Of course, the lovely bonus is that I get to make all kinds of things I otherwise wouldn't.) If you use canned chickpeas, this recipe comes together in about 15 minutes, and it's a great way to sneak in veggies for picky eaters. I've included celery here, but I've also had success with carrots, roasted red peppers and kale. Actually, I love the kale hummus, but at a certain point my daughter was on to me and refused to eat any more of the "green hummus."

Easy Hummus
(Basic Recipe)


15 oz. can chickpeas
3 TBSP tahini
1/4 cup water
2-3 TBSP olive oil
1-2 cloves garlic (depending on size)
2 lemons
2 celery hearts, chopped
handful fresh parsley (dried works in a pinch)
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. sea salt (or to taste)
1 tsp. fresh ground pepper
paprika, additional olive oil, and parsley for garnish

1. Begin by draining and rinsing the chickpeas. I usually let them sit in the colander while I prep the rest of the ingredients.
2. Spoon the tahini into the food processor, making sure to stir it first so the oil is well mixed in.
3. Squeeze the juice of both lemons into the processor.
4. Add all the rest of the ingredients, including the chickpeas, and with the exception of the garnish.
5. Run the processor for about a minute or so, until the mixture looks pretty smooth. At this point, I scrape down the sides, run it again, and then add more water if it seems too thick. (It will thicken up in the fridge, so I usually make the initial batch pretty thin, slightly thicker than a salad dressing.)
6. Taste, and adjust seasonings.
7. Spoon into a bowl or storage container, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle paprika and more parsley on top. Enjoy with crackers, veggies, as a topping on rice cakes or bagels -- or, as my two-year-old prefers, with a spoon straight from the bowl!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Forks Over Knives

Last night my friend Mudpie and I went to see the new documentary Forks Over Knives at the Kendall Square theater in Cambridge. It was a Sunday night at 9:30, so I shouldn't have been surprised that there were only a handful of people watching. Still, it was kind of a shame, because the movie was so incredibly moving and inspiring.

I was braced to see heart-wrenching footage of factory farms and gory images of sickly hearts undergoing surgery, but there was actually much more of the latter than the former. This isn't a film about animal rights, although it touches upon the subject briefly when the filmmaker visits Gene Baur, the founder of Farm Sanctuary in Watkins, NY. Its subject is nutrition and the indisputable science behind the fact that a plant-based diet is the most beneficial diet for humans from every perspective: warding off disease -- including cancer, heart disease and diabetes -- lowering incidences of depression, lowering the cost of health care on an individual and institutional basis, stabilizing the economy and contributing to the health of the planet. Seems like tall order for a salad, no?

The film explores why we seem to favor surgery and pharmaceuticals over such a simple answer to our national health crises. (Hint: The same people who created the food pyramid represent Big Agro and sit on the Dairy Council.) There's fascinating footage from the fifties and sixties showing ads encouraging people to drink lots of milk and eat meat for protein. And all those messages are still lodged firmly in the consciousness of the American people even as meat and dairy over-consumption continues to make us sicker and sicker.

The two stars of the film are T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. and Caldwell Esseltyn, M.D., whose work provides much of the decades-long research and clinical experience to back up the therapeutic claims of a plant-based diet. But they are joined by many other medical professional whose work also verifies these claims. (There are, of course, dissenting opinions gathered by representatives from the American Dietetic Association and the USDA, but these are pretty easily dismissed when their ties to Big Agro are exposed.)

Some surprises in the film: the only person to ever use the term "vegan" was Mac Danzig, an ultimate fighting star whose physique should put to rest forever the false claim that you need animal protein to build muscle. Danzig takes great pains to portray his dietary choice as personal, not political, saying that it's what works for him, and that he did it for totally selfish reasons to get into optimum shape. Still, watching him in action is a pretty compelling argument for becoming vegan! (Abs to rival Phil Collens's, y'all!)

The animal studies highlighted in the film that test links to dairy and cancer used groups of rats fed a diet of 5% casein (dairy protein) and 20%. The rats in the 5% group had negligible cancer rates, whereas the rats in the 20% group had skyrocketing cancer rates. But when the rats in the 20% group were brought down to a 5% casein diet, their rates dropped back down to the levels of the rats that had been fed a 5% diet all along. Now, I have to admit, animal studies (even for such a good cause) make me cringe. Still the idea that cancer triggers can be turned off just as easily as they can be turned on is pretty exciting. Even more exciting is that the no-cancer group didn't have casein removed entirely, just lowered to a 5% rate, which supports the idea that we can leave room in our diets for the occasional indulgence, and still enjoy health as long as the majority of the time we're consuming the stuff that's good for us. (Vegetables, grains, fruits.)

We also got to see some regular people with the usual diseases (heart, diabetes, breast cancer) who switch to a plant-based diet under the supervision of Dr. Esselstyn and the results are pretty astounding. Diabetes is completely reversed, heart patients given less than a year to live thrive for the next 20. And then there's Ruth Heidrich, a woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer in her forties, who is still running Ironman triathlons in her seventies. There's a particularly clever shot of her running through a crowded park, past a bench where two elderly people -- probably her age -- are sitting, hunched, while she trots by in her form-fitting shorts. Almost like the viewer is given a choice: which person do you want to be? The sickly, tired one on the bench, or the one that's still vital well past an age when we expect people to have the energy for long walks, never mind running marathons.

Drs. Campbell and Esselstyn are also living examples of why a plant-based diet works. Both these men (born in '33 and '34, respectively) are in their seventies and healthy and active in their fields. Go see this movie! And if you don't want to take my word for it, take Roger Ebert's. He says it'll save your life.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Fountain of Youth (Or, how to look like a rock star forever)

Anyone see those great photos of Def Leppard guitarist, Phil Collen in both Vegetarian Times and VegNews this month? (Although with Veg News' reputation, you never know, maybe that was a fake meat-filled Phil Collen! Har, har... seriously, I love those guys.) Anyway, if you didn't here's a link to another recent photo that will leave you wondering, can this guy actually be in his fifties? How does he do it? Don't most rock stars look like this, or this, at that age?

Here's a hint: in the VegNews article, Phil is referred to as "the resident juicer on the band's tour bus." His recipe includes spinach, kale, lemon and ginger. Well, now I can say that Phil and I have something in common other than our prowess on the axe. (OK, so mine's mostly imaginary.) Because I've finally gotten that new juicer I've been stalking on amazon.

I'd been making due with this guy, a thirty dollar special from Target, since last year, and I have to admit it was a good, cheap way to try out juicing. But it was also loud enough that my kids would run screaming from the room whenever I turned it on. It also spit out a lot of wet pulp, and sometimes even chunks. The one time I tried to juice carrots it was clearly overwhelmed. It was all the little guy could do to make juice for one, never mind an entire family.

Now, RC and I are juicing every morning and enjoying our first meal of the day liquid and raw. (There's a dirty joke in there somewhere.) I start with a basic recipe I got from Natalia Rose's Detox 4 Women: romaine, kale, ginger and lemon, and then add whatever else we've got or need to use up. Lately that's been cucumber, green apple and celery. This morning I added green pepper with great success - it gave my juice a subtle nutty flavor. I also stir in a packet of stevia, which takes away the bitters if I want to go heavy on the kale.

I've been doing this for about a week now, and have started to crave my green juice in the morning. It definitely makes me feel energized, but also light, in a way that I never did with my old coffee and a bagel routine. Then, mid-morning, I have some green tea (you didn't think I was going completely caffeine-free, did you?) and my first solid food of the day, cereal or yes, a bagel (but with smashed avocado in place of the cream cheese.)

The best part? My kids love the new juicer. You can actually watch as the pulp is separated from the juice, and the noise isn't obnoxious at all. That last part I will also let stand as my mini-review of Def Leppard, although I have to admit to liking this version of Pour Some Sugar on Me even more than the original.