Meditations on the “Moral Food” Conundrum

>> Thursday, January 29

Inspired by a bite of:
Tender Elstar Apple Cake

Today, biting into my adaptation of a classic Swiss apple-polenta dish (straight from Betty Bossi!), I paused to think about the culture that had inspired me to make it. The flavor was light and simple, yet satisfying and oh-so-homey. Still, apparently food for thought.

Let’s be honest; Switzerland is a land of agrarian fanatics. It’s not something to scoff at either. I have nothing but respect for anyone who devotes their life to producing good food-and Swiss farmers seem to have gotten that one to a T, even if they have a bit of a "short man complex" about their specialty. Yes, for some strange reason, Swiss people are usually either embarrassed about their country’s history of stubborn agricultural productivity (these would be, obviously, not the farmers), or suspiciously quick to point out how steadfast and impressive the Swiss agricultural system really is (yes, farmers talking here).

I can’t help but smile at anyone who is embarrassed in front of me about their country’s history. I am an American, which means a certain amount of humility when it comes to claiming my nationality, and I would never judge a country based on how it has been in the past. The point is what I am experiencing here right now. Learning about Swiss cultural history is easier here, now, in this small, mountainous country, filled with patchworks of grain fields, cow pastures, and milk production facilities, than any textbook could ever describe it.

One of the most tell-tale signs that farmers are a revered force in the Swiss population is the fairly close attention that even big supermarkets pay to stocking local food products. Well, part farmer-appreciation and part stolid nationalism, to be fair, but the result is still nice! Even massive corporate shopping centers often list the name of the farmer who grewthe vegetable you’re holding and the address where it was grown. Wow! When I stroll around the farmers markets it is an even more lovely spread of local fresh vegetables, and fruits, and fine, handmade vinegars, pickles, and jams; and there you get to look the grower in the eye, essentially, and see for yourself the life of work that went into your carrots.

Of course, Switzerland is most notoriously a cheese- and chocolate-loving nation, which can’t help me a lot as far as vegan-food-adventures go (yes, I tried anyway, with awful results, peer pressure still being a driving force in ‘adult’ life apparently!). Here is where history is again evident in the present: With about 2000 years of cheese-making under their belts, a lot of the Swiss I meet would be happy to live off bread and cheese for the next 15 years, easy. Well, and chocolate, clearly. That confuses me-that a people with the potential to grow amazing produce, who live in an ideal way for spreading it to everyone through the tight-knit networks of villages, small cities, and interspersed plots of land, already well-adapted to agricultural work, still devote most of their agricultural energies to the less resource-efficient dairy and meat industries.

All I can figure out is that tradition has a strangle-hold on the food industry, including that of consumption. Much of Swiss life is rife with traditionalism like no Californian could have imagined. Food is certainly no exception. When I ask people here for their opinions, there are two main answers. First, the need for protein-rich foods. This is a straight-shot to the tradition issue. In tribal Switzerland, meat was probably what people had learned to ‘cultivate,’ and with it milk and methods for preserving it. Now that banking is a close runner-up for Swiss cultural value, something tells me that most people aren’t actually hand-milking cows every morning, and the choice is about where their Swiss francs are going, not which food they have the ability to produce. The second is a simple taste preference for dairy and meat products. I can’t really argue with what tastes better to one person or another, but I have a feeling that there’s more to good flavors in Switzerland than Lindt, Käse Fondue, and Würst. Otherwise I would’ve been outta here a long time ago!

But the simple fact is that when you eat some of one thing, you end up eating less of another (ok, modern standards of over-eating aside…). If your first thought for breakfast is a hunk of Gruyere and a slice of topf (like the challah of swiss bread), you’ve just passed up the ripe, juicy plums, apples, pears, and elderberries dripping with natural appeal. How about a bowl of nüsslisalat (corn lettuce), grated celeriac, and purple carrots, all native, seasonal veggies (yes, even in January!)?

Let’s think further, to the simple, rustic cuisine that everyone dreams of mom bringing to the table at Christmas; The standards include potatoes, meat, salad, cheese (raclette or fondue), bread, and lots of cookies and chocolate. The great part is, it’s all local. The drawback? Well, I can’t eat most of it, for one! But also, the focus on meat, cheese, milk products, and wheat means less focus on the amazing variety of heirloom vegetables and fruits in Switzerland, or the wide spread of grain crops that can easily be grown here but are replaced with wheat. about corn? It is evidently completely possible to grow it here, because in fact, quite a bit is. There’s just one catch-like most American corn, it is a variety to be used for cattle feed. One of the common imported items I see is whole corn on the cob, while the pig sliced into your sandwich could have easily been fattened on locally-grown corn! Funny how the world works…

On the other side, we can’t forget that just because something is local doesn’t mean that it is native, or easier to be grown. In the short-term, buying local is almost always better because you are cutting down on the costs, environmental and economical, of importing. But in the long-run, we are often just supporting the chosen monoculture of a given region. Wheat, spelt, and rye are NOT the only grains that grow in Switzerland. For whatever reason, cost, quantity, versatility, or demand, a few crops were chosen for Switzerland to produce on large scales, and that’s the way we’re taught to buy. It’s completely ludicrous to think that only a few kinds of plants are Switzerland-friendly. With major geographical differences from region to region, it’s a country supporting many vastly different microclimates in its small, mountainous confines. For example: Um, the Alps?

Changing something like the amount of agricultural biodiversity in a society isn’t something I know how to do. Do you? Then help me out. In the meantime I can try to cut down on both imported and local-monoculture foods, and eat…well, heirlooms! Lucky for me there is an almost guerilla-like movement of heirloom activists in Switzerland, who distribute the seeds for personal use and research the ‘lineage’ of plant species all the way back to texts from monastery’s of the Middle Ages.

Now, here I sit with a piece of Tender Elstar Apple Cake in front of me. The ingredients are the usual hodge-podge of what I had and what I wanted, and the result is a multi-cultural take on a Swiss tradition. Inside are little South American Amaranth grains, Italian polenta, and cashews from…it doesn’t actually say, and that’s eerie. Everything inside is organic, and some things were locally produced. Some came straight from the farm, like the apples and the elderberry blossom syrup. But how much better is it to enjoy this newly hyped gluten-free grain, fair trade and more well-traveled than most Americans my age, than to buy the Kellogs Corn Pops, which are also gluten-free, cheaper, and produced on the same continent? Well, I would still say it’s better, but it’s not as much of a perfect action as I would like to imagine.

It’s so easy to fall into the traps of advertising and wind up wreaking havoc on our supposed ‘environmentalist’ morals. Where does our soymilk come from, dairy-free eaters? If you make your own, where are the beans grown? Rice milk? Almond milk? How far have the ingredients for your perfect curry traveled? How much plastic should really be involved in buying organic peppers? I just have to think that if what we need is a change in the way we shop and eat, what we need is less mindless extremism and more conscientious decision-making. “I shop all organic” is not enough to make me living well in relation to the environment, the economy, and other individuals. Neither is “I shop local.” It is a complicated, messy state our food has sprouted into, and the answers are similarly messy.

Don’t underestimate your actions! Think!

There is no codified method for ‘good’ actions-the answer always lies in the moment, and to face this is the most honest expression of humanity. When you enter the grocery store, whether you choose the farmer’s market, the local organic shop, the Tesco, the Walmart, or the garden, what you have to work with is always the next choice. Organic and imported, local and sprayed; fair trade from South America or grown next door by underpaid immigrants; packaged or bulk; paper or plastic; savored or snacked; spoiled or saved…Think about it. Enjoy the process. This is living. It is our gift and our eternal possibility to do it with as much awareness as possible. Two bites into my Elstar Cake, I’ve got a smile on my face as I think about exactly what it means to eat “Swiss”.


Tender Elstar Apple Cake

This cake inspired quite a rant about Swiss food culture, which you can find here. It's a magnificent example of how thought-provoking a simple, light taste can be.

Every week at the market in Basel, I visit the apple stall and smile contentedly. "phew, there are still Elstars." I dread the day when for some reason, my tangy, crisp friends are done for the season or the supply is exhausted. The Elstar is absolutely my favorite apple, with the most flavor of any I have ever tasted, a slight sour bite, and a rich sweet aftertaste. Oh yes, they're divine. As this recipe was inspired by a traditional Swiss recipe (with lots of butter and eggs, so we've modified a few things), it seems only fitting to use a local apple.

The cake itself is beautifully gluten-free because of the polenta used instead of flour. With the addition of soy yogurt instead of milk, it is so moist and tender, I couldn't resist eating the firs tpiece before I took a picture. It is an excellent dessert or breakfast choice, and has much less sugar than most cakes, so it won't throw you into a coma 30 minutes after eating it. Most important, it is yummy yummy yummy, and it's nice ot think that you're eating something that people here have eaten for hundreds of years. I can almost imagine I am eating the first apple-polenta cake if I close my eyes and savor a bite with the air blowing in the window straight off the Rhine...

Tender Elstar Apple Cake

(Timeframe: 3-4 days. For a quick recipe, see the “Notes” section)


  • 1/2 cup corn flour
  • 1 1/2 cups polenta
  • ½ cup brown rice flour
  • 1 tsp guar gum (opt.)
  • 2 tbsp fresh flax meal (opt.)
  • 2-3 cups water kefir, milk kefir, or yogurt
  • ¼ cup sunflower oil
  • 6 crisp Elstar apples, or your favorite local variety
  • ½ cup cashews, walnuts, or pecans
  • 1/3 cup elderberry blossom syrup* (or sweetener to taste)
  • ¼ cup raw sugar
  • ½ tsp grated nutmeg
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp baking powder (opt.)
  • 1 lemon

Directions: (always have all ingredients at room temperature to assist yeast development)
  1. Mix corn flour, ½ tsp guar gum, and 1 cup of kefir/yogurt in a clean glass container until it is moist and gooooshy. Cover loosely with a cloth and set in a warm place for 1-3 days, until bubbly and fluffy, stirring at least once daily.

  1. When the starter is ready, mix together the polenta, rice flour, sugar, and 1-2 cups kefir (at least 1 cup, and the rest can be water), or as much as you need to make a stirrable mix
  2. Add starter, mix well, and cover in a warm place for at least 12 hours.
  3. 2-4 hours before baking, activate your nuts by soaking them in water. Drain water when finished and grind the nuts into coarse pieces.
  4. Add 1/3 cup water to the flax meal in a sauce pan, and bring to a simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally. Let simmer for a few minutes, remove from heat, and let cool, continuing to stir occasionally.
  5. Slice the apples into medium-thin slices, squeezing juice of half a lemon on them and tossing to prevent browning as you go.
  6. Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C)
  7. Mix brown rice flour, guar gum, and baking powder together, then add to the batter.
  8. Stir in the nuts, ¼ cup elderberry blossom syrup (save the rest for garnish), the flax meal mixture, cinnamon, nutmeg, oil, and all but 10 or so slices of apple.
  9. Pour batter into an oiled, floured casserole or cake pan, and arrange the leftover apple slices on top.
  10. Dust with cinnamon and nutmeg.
  11. Bake for 10 minutes and turn the heat down to 325 F (162 C).
  12. Bake for 30 minutes, or until firm. Serve with yogurt and drizzle with elderberry blossom syrup mixed with the juice of half a lemon**.
If you find some leftover in a few days, check out Gingerbread Pudding, the cake recycling recipe

This is a fermented version of the recipe, which is not necessary, but aids in digestibility of grains and adds a wonderful zing to the flavor. If you would rather make this spur-of-the-moment, cook the polenta in milk or water until done, and treat it as your starter. Begin from step 3 under batter. Leave out the cornflour (it is used in the fermented version as a good sourdough starter flour, but it isn’t necessary to make the cake itself.)

*This is a delicate Swiss specialty which I get from my boyfriend’s mom, and I never saw it in the states or anywhere else. If you can’t find it, use a different sweetener with a light taste, like agave nectar or sugar

**Instead of this mixture, you can do the classic powdered sugar and lemon juice icing and drizzle it on top. Mmmm!


Mom's Skillet-Baked Cornbread

>> Monday, January 26

My mom grew up in America's south and southwest, and her cooking has always maintained a hefty southern tang. From Mexican-inspired dishes like enchiladas, black bean soup, chili, and tostadas, to classic American dishes like baked yams, chicken-fried steak, barbecued ribs, and sour bean salads, guests at her table have never gone unsatisfied with her simple, hearty cooking. And mind you, rarely was there a meal that didn't involve one of her heavy old cast-ion skillets. "Girl's gotta get her iron," she likes to say, "and that's not exactly what comes out of teflon."

She and I both started eating gluten free around the same time, and I slowly moved towards veganism-this meant a lot less of those favorite meals I had always had-fried wheat noodles with yeast and soy sauce, homemade gluten-meat, and beef stew. For a while we nibbled sadly at what was sold to us as gluten-free rice bread, and chased the crumbly mess with warm rice milk hot chocolate, reminiscing about the days of baking muffins together early in the morning, and catching the first whiff of rich molasses buns on rainy evenings Dark times, that's all I can say.

The Renaissance bloomed when we realized that what we needed were not necessarily imitations of gluten-containing products, but naturally gluten-free things that we could enjoy just as they were. Suddenly, cooking was magic again. And one of the most magical things of all was just a skillet flip away: Mom's cornbread.

This particular cornbread is so moist and decadant you could treat it like a cake if you wanted to. In fact, when I first made it for Dani and his roommate, they were amused at the name "cornbread" as what I had clearly just made was a corn cake. Elaborating on this idea, it is easy to create a sweet cornbread (ahem, "cake") by adding a bit of molasses, sugar, lemon and poppyseeds, or apples, ginger, anis, and cinnamon for a rich spice cake. Similarly, the simple flavor of the base recipe can be brought more to the savory side with garlic, onions, peppers, tomatoes, basil, thyme, rosemary, fresh corn, beans, chili powder, curry, or black olives. This is one versatile little loaf, and so easy you may well find yourself with an empty skillet before dinner's finished.

Mom's Skillet-Baked Cornbread
(The original recipe has been adapted to be vegan as well as gluten-free)


  • 2 cups total flour (at least 1 cup of polenta/coarse corn meal, and the rest in your choice of flour. I like to do 1 1/2 cups polenta and 1/2 cup rice or chickpea flour)
  • 3/4 cup milk (almond is fantastic)
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp raw sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 F (190 C)
  2. Mix all dry ingredients together in a bowl
  3. Mix in the milk a little at a time until you have a very thick, not-quite-pancake-batter consistency.
  4. In a medium cast-iron skillet*, heat the oil over a low flame until just bubbling (not smoking!), tilting the pan to coat the sides and bottom.
  5. When bubbling, pour the oil into the batter and combine quickly.
  6. Pour everything back into the same skillet* and put it in the oven
  7. Immediately reduce the heat to 325 F (160-165 C) and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick in the center comes out mostly clean (extra moist is ok!)
* If you don't have a cast-iron skillet, as many people don't, you can heat the oil in a sauce pan and pour the finished batter into a gratin form or bread loaf pan. If you use a loaf pan, keep the heat lower and cook a little longer so it has a chance to cook in the middle.

There are SO many variations possible with this recipe! here are a few:

Eggier Cornbread
Before beginning, grind 2-3 tbsp flax seeds and let sit in a glass with 1/4 cup hot water for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When it is thick and viscous, add it with the milk and continue as before.

Tuscan Cornbread

Puree tomatoes, basil, and garlic and substitute for the milk. Slice up black olives and add to the batter. Garnish the top with salt, pepper, rings of sliced onion and Italian herbs-thyme, basil, marjoram, etc.

Richer, Fluffier, Generally more Fantastic Cornbread
substitute soy yogurt or silken tofu for most or all of the milk. Add a splash more milk if needed to get the right consistency.

Apple-Spice Cornbread
To dry ingredients add 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1/4 tsp anis, and a pinch of cardamom. Grate in 1 apple when adding the milk (reduce the amount of milk to make up for the fruit's moisture, and/or use yogurt instead of the milk), and add 1-2 medium apples, chopped in slices. Increase sugar or add 2 tbsp molasses/agave nectar.

Lemon-Poppyseed Cornbread
Substitute soy yogurt or silken tofu for some or all of the milk. Add the juice of 1 whole lemon, and the grated rind if organic. Add 3 tbsp poppyseeds and agave nectar or other sweetener.

See also:
Morning-After Carrot Bread


Fermented Buckwheat Pancake Starter

After reading Wild Fermentation and various blogs about fermentation, and talking a friend who had just discovered some really great fermented pancakes, I have begun experimenting with my own version. The results have been mixed, to be honest, but the starter is at least an excellent beginning. Not just for pancakes, mind you-letting the mixture mature for 24 hours give a thick, gooey batter unlike any gluten-free creation I've ever seen. So far it has been unbelievably helpful in making moister, springier, crumble-less gluten-free loaves of bread! As for pancakes, well, they worked too, but were so gooey that I had a hard time getting a good consistency. So, help me out! Try the starter out and see what works for you...


  1. Place all ingredients in a food processor, blender, or a bowl with a hand mixer, and blend until well combined.
  2. Cover with a cheesecloth and set in a warm place for 12-24 hours.
That's it! Now use this as the base for your favorite pancake recipe, as you would use sourdough starter in making bread-just add a little flour, milk, water, and baking powder if desired, and fry it up. If you want to try crepes, add a bit of flour and a lot of milk to get a thinner batter. These are good savory or sweet, with hummus or jam, curry or syrup. Possibilities abound!

Suggested uses:
  • Binder in veggie patties
  • The missing link in gluten free bread
  • In vegan 'loaves', 'meatballs' or other vegan meat alternatives
  • In GF dumpling dough, for added 'glutinous' texture
  • ...


Morning-After Carrot Bread

>> Tuesday, January 20

Last night was my roommate Eve's birthday party. It was a fantastic party with a huge feast of food cooked by Eve, her mom, Dani and I. We were all duly exhausted this morning when we met with Baruk, our couchsurfing friend, for breakfast. Not to mention, still not hungry after all the festivities. Which is why we went for a fresh carrot juice instead of the leftover cakes and mousses.

I'm sure most of you who make your own juices share my dismay at the thought of tossing all the solids of your beautiful, fresh produce. Something just has to be done with the leftovers. As usual, mine evolved into some sort of "bread," containing nothing bread-like really, but ending up a wonderful platform for either sweet or savory toppings, and with a dense, moist texture. This particular loaf was a concoction of all the leftovers from my recent experiments: activated pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed milk, homemade soy yogurt, leftover fermented buckwheat pancake batter, and about 2 cups of carrot pulp. That makes it a fairly picky recipe, but substitutions abound, and the point is not to have to think about it too much when you're wiped out from last night's chaos. So, breathe easy and use what you have.

Morning-After Carrot Bread


  • 2 cups of carrot pulp
  • 1/2 cup fermented buckwheat pancake starter*
  • 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1/2 cup polenta
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • milk of any type, until you have a good, thick, cornbread-like consistency
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 1/4 cup activated pumpkin seeds
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • dash of cinnamon, cardamom, or other desired spices
  • Flax, Pumpkin, Sunflower, or other seeds for garnish
  • Preheat oven to 375 F (190 C)
  • Mix flours, baking powder, and spices
  • in another bowl, combine yogurt and buckwheat starter, then add to the dry ingredients and stir together
  • Stir in carrot pulp and pumpkin seeds
  • Add milk until the batter is a very thick glop. Picture cottage cheese
  • In a large cast-iron skillet, heat the oil until just bubbling (not smoking!).
  • Pour the oil into the batter and quickly mix together, then pour everything back into the cast-iron skillet.
  • Smooth out the top, sprinkle with seeds and put in the oven
  • Immediately reduce the temperature to 350 F (175 C)
  • Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick in the middle comes out mostly clean-a little moist is ok!
*If you would rather skip the fermented starter, just add a little extra polenta and yogurt, and a binder like xanthan or guar gum if desired-the starter is very gooey and helps to make a springier bread, but is not necessary.


Infamous White-Bean Bucket Salad

>> Sunday, January 18

This has a long backstory, which is in no way important to the recipe. Feel free to skip to the bold recipe title below if you don't feel like reading it all.

The Balkans seem to hold a special place in most travelers' hearts, and I am not unlike the rest. The last leg of my travels in the Balkan states was a long hitch-hike from Svoge (northern), Bulgaria down through Macedonia, Albania, and back up the coasts of Montenegro and Croatia, to finally land in Ljubljana, Slovenia. In March, the weather was decidedly mixed, and while hitchhiking, accommodations are never secure. After a day of solid hitchhiking, well into the night, and a night of climbing through the windy, orange streets of Ochrid, Macedonia to my final resting point in the castle gardens, I was hard-pressed for some comfort food.

I woke up the next morning to the call of the morning prayer from a Mosque behind me. A strong, male voice sang out the words just as pink first-light tinged the grass beside me and crept up the trunks of the freshly-blossoming cherry trees. I was dewy and chilled, but not uncomfortable, and when I stood up, the vast dark emptiness I had ignored below me in the night was not a flat expanse of valley as I had imagined, but a huge lake surrounding the high knoll I had slept on. I laughed out loud in amazement and stretched my limbs slowly in the morning sun, savoring every billow fresh air that blew towards me from the water below.

Wait, what does this have to do with beans, salad, or buckets? Let me explain. I had left Bulgaria with the following food items: a jar of tahini; a bottle of lemon juice; 1 head of garlic; dried basil, cinnamon, and many bags of hungarian paprika; a jar of honey; a bag of seeds; 2 kilos of fresh dates; carrots; an onion; and a plastic bucket with a snap on lid, which had originally contained Bulgarian strawberry jam, but now held a bunch of friend polenta and veggies, nearly finished. Looking out over Lake Ochrid, with a few more long days (and nights) ahead, I realized that once again my plans of eating a few carrots a day and some seeds was not going to cut it. I was hungry in a deep and needy way, like most travellers seem to get after just a few days on the road. Everything tastes better, and food is always welcome.

So I set out on a mission to find some more hearty, travel-friendly foods. I came out of a weird little shop with 2 cans of white beans (remembering that they contian a lot of iron, more than most other beans even), a horseradish, a green cabbage, and some vinegar of an unidentifiable variety (I challenge you to decipher Macedonian food labels!). I finished my polenta that morning, and by midday I sat over my bucket in Tirana, Albania and carved up the vegetables. I added a can of beans, tahini, lemon, water, vinegar, garlic, basil, and paprika, shook it all up thoroughly, and kicked back to enjoy one of the most satisfying meals of my life. Every day after, I made a new version of the same salad, adding chickpeas one day, sesame seeds the next. When I finally met up with my boyfriend in Ljubljana, I was greeted by immediate laughter,

"Nice to see you found a friend!" he smirked. Confused, I looked to where his gaze fell, and realized he was speaking of the little plastic bucket I clutched in my hand, where I had carried it ever since the first white bean salad to protect it from getting lost or broken on the way. I grinned and chucked it at him.
"You have to try this salad." He took a bite and his eyes widened (I kid you not!). The bucket was finished in minutes, and later that night, as we began to get hungry again, we picked up the bucket and knew immediately what we would make. Why, another white bean salad, of course...

Infamous White-Bean Bucket Salad

Ingredients: (obviously, they can vary widely, and I can't stress that enough. With that in mind, here's one nice combo)


  • 1 can (or 1 1/2 cups home-cooked) white beans
  • 1 medium carrot
  • a few leaves of a dark green, like spinach, beet greens, chard, or kale
  • 5 yummy little radishes, or a few inches of horseradish
  • 1 small green cabbage
  • 1 head fennel
  • 2 tbsp roasted pumpkin and/or sunflower seeds (garnish)
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 4 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 4 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • fresh, chopped/dried basil, 2+ tsp
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2-1 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
  • salt to taste, pinch of black pepper
  • dash of cardamom powder
  • water (opt.)
  1. Press garlic and combine with all dressing ingredients. Mix well, and set aside.
  2. Drain beans and place in a bowl.
  3. Add thinly sliced radishes and carrots (longer, narrow strips look very nice)
  4. Finely chop the fennel. Slice very thinly enough cabbage for about 3/4 cup, and the greens.
  5. Add the above to the bowl and combine everything.
  6. Add a little salad dressing at a time, combing as you go to see how much you want. it doesn't have to be drenched, it's also very nice just moist. Or, well, lots of dressing is good too, as you like!
  7. garnish with seeds and fresh basil
As always, fantastically delicious with Erin's favorite: Tahini Whip


Luscious Tahini Whip

There are few plant materials I value as much as tahini when it comes to creating something truly decadent and flavorful. Tahini, crushed sesame seeds, is full of calcium and other nutrients, good fats, and when eaten with legumes helps to create a complete protein source. But that's not what sells me. It's the fact that with a sprinkling of water the thick nutty paste becomes an elegant, fluffy creme, unparalleled in the vegan world (except for maybe whipped cashews, those are fairly magnificent too).

The best testimony I can give on behalf of this dip/condiment/spread is that after tasting it for the first time, I hitchhiked for a good 3 hours and walked through all of Sofia, Bulgaria to reach the Women's Market where I could buy a huge jar for just a few dollars. For the next 3 months of traveling, a jar of tahini was always in my bag, and I ate some with almost every meal, in one form or another. I never felt so well-nourished roughing it on the road.

I had this particular tahini whip one night in Bulgaria, eating with Katz and Ian in their beautiful kitchen. We ate it on sesame oil and white bean salad, another recipe I will post my imitation of soon, and the combination was something like a supernova in my mouth. Really. This is so good. My friend was recently visiting after having been in Israel, and served the same thing to us next to hummus and fried eggs in sauteed tomatoes (I've forgotten the name). Again, I melted straight through the floor. Just one example of how versatile it can be.

Luscious Tahini Whip (Enough for...well, after you're left alone with the bowl for a few minutes, you'll just have to see how much is left)


  • 1/2 cup tahini (organic and raw is my preference)
  • juice of 1 whole lemon (+/- to taste)
  • salt to taste
  • 4 cloves fresh garlic (or more...)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • water
  • optional: paprika or zatar (a delicious tangy middle-eastern spice mix)
  1. Add a few spoons of water to the tahini and whip iwth a fork to combine. Even if it looks like it might curdle, just keep going, adding a little more water at a time, until it is fluffier than you thought it ever could be. You'll know.
  2. Slowly add the lemon juice, combining a little at a time.
  3. Add the oil, salt, (paprika if using), and garlic (pressed or finely chopped) and mix well.
  4. Garnish with zatar, toasted sesame seeds, or thyme


Slovakian Beetroot Salad

Another of my favorite travel salads, this one was first shown to me last winter at Sekier, a tiny Slovak alternative living community. I sat in the main room on a little wooden stool with Lucka and prepared a huge bowl of it for dinner one night, slowly washing each beet and carrot by hand in a little metal tub, grating until my arm was sore, and slowly roasting nthe sunflower seeds by the woodstove. Of course, preparing this salad in an average kitchen is not as work-intensive, and you probably have a sharper grater than Sekier did. Fear not, it's actually unbelievably simple. Still, each time I make it, I remember that slow afternoon and I like to take my time and savor the process, knowing this has been a staple for eastern europeans for centuries in winter months, when the last stored vegetables are all root crops from the cellar.

Slovakian Beetroot Salad (this version serves 4)
This is a healthy raw salad with a fresh, robust flavor. The dressing is only there to accentuate the flavors of the vegetables, and is low-fat as well.


  • 2 large beets (3-4 small), washed and with the greens removed (and saved*!)
  • 2-3 large carrots, washed
  • juice of 1/2 lemon (plus more to taste if desired)
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • garlic (optional)
  • 1 tbsp your choice of salad oil
  • 3/4 cup (+/-) raw sunflower seeds
  • any fresh herbs you have around: I reccomend dill for a nice tangy flavor
  1. First, heat a skillet on the stove over medium-low flame and add the sunflower seeds. Stir occasionally until golden brown, remove from heat and set aside
  2. With a large-sized grater, grate carrots and beets** into a bowl together.
  3. Add lemon juice, vinegar, salt, pepper, any herbs you have (finely chopped), the garlic if you want (finely chopped or pressed), and a drizzle of oil.
  4. Toss until well-combined, taste, and adjust any of the ingredients as neccesary.
  5. Chill (optional, and very nice. letting it sit for a few hours in the fridge brings the flavors out)
  6. Top with the roasted sunflower seeds and a sprig of any herb you have used in the recipe. Tastes great (and looks wonderful) with a dollop of plain soy yogurt or tahini whip.
*Beet greens are so delicious and good for you! you can chop them up and add them to the salad if you wish, or save to add to soup, eat steamed with lemon, etc.
**I have made it with both peeled and unpeeled beets, the choice is yours!


'Activating' Seeds and Nuts-An easy digestion aid

Like most vegans, and for that matter, gluten-free folks too, I find that seeds and nuts are a huge part of my diet now (I am oh so joyous that I am not allergic to any! phew!). I really crave them, especially almonds, hazelnuts, and pumpkin seeds, all of which are very healthy and a good way for people with alternative diets to get healthy fats and essential nutrients. Plus they just taste so goood, and nothing enhances gluten-free anything like nut-meal or milk. Oh, *muah* "delicioso!"

In cooking, I rarely have a problem digesting nuts, especially when they are ground or made into milks. But lately, when I have gone over to my boyfriend's house, his roommate has a beautiful bowl of mixed nuts from her travels in Syria, and the temptation to eat a handful (every time I walk in the room) is too much to resist. Oh they're good alright. that's what I keep telling myself when i wake up at 5 in the morning with a lance in my abdomen! "Shhhhh, my dear digestive tract, you wouldn't believe the flavors tongue up here is experiencing!" But my lower organs are just not happy with whole, raw nuts, or even roasted whole nuts.

I started looking around for a solution and found one that sounds surprisingly simple. so far I have only tried it with pumpkin seeds, but the result was a seed that was plump, juicy, and even better than the average dried pumpkin seed. And I didn't have a twinge of cramping or any bloating after eating (ahem, possibly too) many. Woah...really? Truly. But don't take my word for it, try it yourself-and try any seed or nut.

The science here is simple. Usually when we eat seeds and nuts they are dormant, perceiving in their little seedy senses that it's winter or some insanely dry spell that's not suitable for growth. So none of the living nutrients we find in plants are released. However, if you soak the seeds in good clean water, you have cleverly tricked them into thinking it's spring-the first rains. They begin to germinate, though it's not visible from the outside at all. The wonder of it is, they taste somehow better, though they retain the same flavor and crunch, look the same, and have gotten rid of most of the digestion-inhibiting factors on their own, because they are now focused on growing-which makes them all the more nutritious too.

Activated Seeds and Nuts


  • some raw, whole, organic nuts
  • some fresh (spring, filtered, etc.) water, room temperature
  • a clean jar/bowl
  1. Just put your nuts in some water and soak for:
almonds/hazelnuts: 12 hours +
cashews/walnuts/pecans: 2-4 hours
brazils/macadamias: 6-12 hours
For seeds, the soak times are usually less, 2 hours or so.

If you want them salted or flavored, drain off the water and add whatever flavor you want while they're still wet. dry them on a tray in the oven at the very lowest temperature (you should only make it hot enough to imitate sunlight, so you don't kill the nutrients you've just accessed) until dry to the touch. Enjoy!
There are many websites with helpful tables of detailed soak times. At the moment, I can only find this on in my history. 12-24 hours for most hard nuts seems fine. soft nuts like cashews and walnuts, about 4. For seeds, use your judgement and a little less time.
Vegan and Vegetarian Health guide: Nuts and Seeds


Summery Lemon-Lentil Salad

>> Saturday, January 17

Last year I was left flat broke with nothing but a ticket for the Sziget festival when my wallet was stolen in Poland. I decided, 'well, there are worse places to be money-less than an awesome festival,' so I continued on to Hungary and camped out with Couchsurfers. As I had accommodation costs covered with my borrowed tent (thank you Gregoire!), I was left with no worries. Except...what to eat...

Well, to be honest, with all the drunken festival-goers buying food and leaving it literally untouched on the picknick tables around, all I really had to do was sit at one and wait for a steaming plate of food to be stumbled away from. Which I did a few times. But with so many eating peculiarities (just try not eating dairy or meat at a festival in hungary...), and a sturdy craving for something better, I scraped together my change and trekked off Margit-Sziget to the Auchan supermarket in search of a good meal.

I returned, after a thorough perusal of the food aisles, with the cheapest "meal ingredients" in the place (at least, from things that didn't need to be cooked): canned lentils, tomatoes, carrots, a lemon (my luxury item), and garlic. This was to be the beginning of a long series of lentil salads which kept me going happily through even the weirdest circumstances in my travels.

The recipe here is a more domestic adaptation, including things like (gasp!) salt and other luxuries travellers rarely posess. It is extremely flexible, and is a fantastic way to eat a satisfying meal in summer that still keeps your stomach light and unburdened. Fresh herbs and seasonal veggies are always, always better, so if you can manage to get to somewhere other than the bargain section of Auchan, I reccommend varying to fit your environment!

Summery Lemon-Lentil Salad (serves 6 as a side salad.)

Ingredients (like I said, I'm lenient-be creative):


  • 4 cups cooked lentils, cooled (the small dark ones, dunno what they're called. just not any that will get mushy! you want them firm; aldente, we'll say)
  • 2 large carrots
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes (firm is best)
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 small onion
  • fresh basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano, parsley, marjoram...whatever, it's all good
  • juice of 1 whole lemon, and a dash of grated zest if it's organic
  • 2 tbps of your favorite salad oil (sesame is delicious)
  • 1/2 tsp Braggs liquid amino acid, if you have it. Otherwise, soy sauce, tamari or salt to taste
  • 2 tbsp apple cider or light wine vinegar
  • a splash of balsamic vinegar
  • as much garlic as you like raw
  • add your own special seasoning-miso, paprika, curry, mustard, cumin, cardamom...
  1. Wash carrots and tomatoes, and any other veggies you're using.
  2. Chop tomatoes, carrots, and cucumber into small cubes (creative carrot chopping techniques look nice too)
  3. Finely dice the onion and herbs
  4. Combine all of the above in a bowl
  5. Press the garlic, mix up your dressing and add some water if needed to get a light, thin consistency.
  6. Mix the dressing with the salad and chill. It tastes better after a few hours to combine flavors. Garnish with fresh herbs and lemon slices.
Serve with bresh bread, on rice cakes, in wraps, over rice, and/or with the amazingly yummy Tahini Whip (highly reccommended)!


Molasses Water-Kefir (from milk kefir grains)

I hunted for days to find anyone in Basel with some extra kefir grains to share, and when I found them, I was too relieved to be picky. Which is why I wound up a vegan with milk-kefir. Not knowing what to do with them to get them away from dairy milk, I turned to Dom's kefir page for some inspiration. Not only, as it turns out, is it possible to switch milk kefirs to water kefir, it's actually ridiculously easy. The result is a bubbly, sweet, tangy drink that I think would be great with some ginger added at the beginning...maybe next time...anyway, as always, it fulfils requirement number one: delicious.

The recipe here I adapted from Dom's Kefir d'Acqua recipe to fit the materials I had. It's simpler for me, but as always you can feel free to adjust as desired to what you have available.

Molasses Water-Kefir (from milk-kefir grains):

Ingredients: (I used all organic)

  • 1 liter spring water or filtered water (if treated with chlorine, boil and cool or let sit before using) at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp molasses
  • 1/4 cup raw sugar
  • 1 slice lemon, washed (if not organic, squeeze the juice in and discard peel)
  • 1 dried fig
  • A few raisins
  • 1 tbsp milk kefir grains, rinsed
  1. In a clean glass container, mix molasses, sugar, and water until molasses and sugar dissolve.
  2. Toss in the milk-kefir grains, fig, raisins, and lemon.
  3. Set in a warm place covered with a thin towel or cheese-cloth to keep bugs out.
  4. If you want, strain out the fruit after 1 or 2 days (just to prevent mold from forming)
  5. Let it sit for a few days, smelling/tasting every day to check the progress. It's finished when you like it and it's got a nice bubbly sourness.
  6. When it's to your satisfaction, strain out the grains using as plastic mesh strainer or a cheesecloth and refrigerate your drink. start a new batch with the grains!
Because of the switch from milk to sugar, it may take longer the first few times than normal kefir-mine took about 5 days the first time, 3 the second.


Enchanted by Fermentation

A few days after Christmas this year I decided it was time to clean out last year's junk. No, not from my apartment; I felt like I needed something to get my body back into a good, balanced state. After moving a few months ago, and traveling for most of the year before, it seems like the very idea of taking the time to develop good habits just hasn't had space to manifest. So, with the help of Oscar, a very nice juicer I borrowed from my friend, I began a 10-day juice fast to clear the slate for the new year.

As I neared the end of my fast, I felt like I had better start preparing some healthy things to consume for afterwards, or surely I would just go back to the cupboard exactly where I left off. I spent a lot of time thinking about how I have eaten in the past and reached the conclusion that although I ate pretty healthily by most standards, the way I ate just didn't cut it. I tended to have quick meals that didn't require a lot of foresight or preparation-or leave much room for enjoyment. One solution dawned on me as I found myself gazing wistfully at jars of sauerkraut and pickles-home fermentation is a perfect way to get more involved with your food.

What ensued was a frenzy of research and experimenting, which has resulted in the erection of a "Fermentation Corner" covered in bowls, jars, and bottles in the living room next to the heater and the posting of a 'Mission Log" for recording the starting dates and notes for projects (because wow did I get lost fast without a record!). It was suddenly obvious that having live, fermented foods around is a healthy and delicious part of a good diet. It also makes for a lot more interaction with your food. Processing each item is like throwing a new thread into the weave of your daily life, and as it become habitual to think about fermentation as a part of your life, the pattern becomes more and more interesting.

The health benefits of fermentation are undeniable: mass marketing alreayd tells us how wonderful yogurt is, and this is because of the presence of healthy bacteria, which help both to break down the hard-to-digest parts of foods in the fermentation process, and aid in digestion in our systems. A great example of how fermentation can enhance foods is seen in soy products. Studies have been done (it's worth noting, these are in western countries) to show that soy products are unhealthy. What others have shown (sources coming soon) is that the 'unhealthy' part of soy is actually due to conventional processing methods. In asian countries, where soy has been a crucial part of diet for centuries, the beans are almost always fermented in some way to help break down the parts that are difficult for us to digest.

Another point I think is worth noting is the history of breadmaking. There are so many theories about gluten allergies and how they have arisen so much in recent years. Many point to white flour as the culprit, and I think there's no way to deny that it is truly difficult for any person to digest white flour, much less get nutrients from it, regardless of a gluten allergy. But whole wheat and other gluten-containing grains also give celiacs and gluten-sensitive eaters some belly-rumbles. Why?

Traditionally, all cultures gathered yeast for bread making from the air around them. this is done through a fermentation process; ground grains and water are left to collect yeast and occasionally stirred to help spread yeast and introduce oxygen. Yeast also accumulates on fruit and other foods. The process involves different types of bacteria entering the flour-water mixture and changing it in small ways which make it more hospitable to new bacteria, which finally make it a comfortable home for yeast. During this process, the grains are essentially pre-digested by the bacteria, including the parts which normally impede digestion by gluten!

Then the 'starter' is added to more flour to make dough, and the fermentation continues. Depending on the type of bread, it can be for days, and the bacteria continue to digest the grains (meanwhile creating that delicious sour flavor). So even though ancient people ate a lot of wheat, it was in a much more easily-digested form than we usually have today. How long do you think commercial bread ferments before it's baked?...yeah...

Sourdough bread and fermented soy-products are some of the better known fermentations. there are many simpler, equally nourishing and delicious dishes, which basically require no extra work on your part. Soaking grains before cooking (for anywhere from 24 hours to weeks) also allows these good bacteria to enter and start munching. It's like sending your teeth in a day early, and the result is less work for your digestive system. Or how about sauerkraut, or sauer-anything? Amazingly easy!

My point? Well, I'm not really interested in telling you what you shouldn't eat; you can figure that out by listening to your own body's responses. But for a lot of us westerners, fermentation just hasn't been a part of our lives, or not in a major way. I'd like to point out that it's really easy, healthy, and yummy (and so satisfying) to make your own live-culture foods. I never made a fermented product growing up; I never even preserved jam! So maybe I am a little over-excited by the prospect of making my own tempeh and sourdough pancakes from wild yeast, but I sure am enjoying the learning experience.

That being said, there are a lot of knots to work out too. Some things seem to work magically well, like yogurt, soured beets, kvass, and seed milks. But others (pumpkin-seed milk kefir, for example) I just haven't managed to perfect...none-the-less, you can expect a lot of fermentation recipes in the near future as I brine my way along!

You can find some great links for home fermentation in my "Fermentation Links" list; check them out, you will amaze yourself with how easy it is.


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