Sunday, August 30, 2009

Discovering New Foods: Beets

Nobody ever says, "Can I have your beets?"
— Bill Cosby
Since I became vegan, I am giving myself the opportunity to try again many of the plant foods that I disliked before. Beets are one of them. They are one of those vegetables that I only knew in canned version. And just to make it clear right from the start: I absolutely hate canned beets. I hate them! Now, the fresh vegetable...that's another story.

Beets are root and stem vegetables, which means that both the root and the stems can be eaten. They come in a variety of colors, but the most commonly found varieties are red. The root part can be cooked just like we cook other root vegetables, like potatoes, for example. They are sweet and very healthy too. One beet has 22% of the daily value (DV) of folate, 13% of the DV of manganese, and 2.3 grams of fiber, among other nutrients (source).

I gave beet an opportunity after watching an episode titled "Didi Emmons Beet Burger" from Delicious TV Veg video podcast (in iTunes). These seemed easy to make and yummy too, so I gave 'em a try. The original recipe can be found here. I made mine a little (very little) different. And the recipe goes like this:

My Version of Didi Emmons Beet Burger
2 medium beets, with the skin (my beets didn't have the greens so I just used the root)
1 medium yellow onion
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 medium carrot, scrubbed, with the skin
1/2 cup walnuts
1 cup millet, raw
2 cups of water
2 slices of whole wheat bread, toasted
1/2 c flour
2 Tbsp canola oil
cumin, salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease the a roasting pan (or cookie sheet) with half of the canola oil. Cut the beets and the onions into quarters. Cut the carrot in pieces of size similar to the beets (so that they cook ant the same rate). Put all the vegetables on the greased pan (including the garlic). Season lightly with salt and pepper. Roast until the beets and the carrots are cooked (about 30 minutes). Check after 20 minutes and adjust cooking time if needed. The beets and carrots are cooked when a knife or fork enters easily, with no "resistance". Let cool.

While the vegetables are roasting, cook the millet. Bring the water to a boil, and add the millet. Bring the heat down to medium heat and let cook until water is not covering the surface of the millet. Cover the pot, and bring the heat down to low and let to finish cooking. It takes about 20 to 25 minutes. When the millet is finished, put in a large bowl and let cool.

In a food processor, combine the flour, the bread (roughly cut in pieces), and the walnuts. Process until the mixture has a fine crumb texture. Add to the millet and mix well.

Add the vegetables to the food processor and process until well chopped. Add the vegetables to the millet mixture and combine everything with a large spoon. (I don't recommend a plastic spoon, as this mixing takes some muscle). Season to taste with cumin (I used about 1 Tbsp) salt and pepper.

Now form into patties about 1/2" thick, and of the size you prefer. (My recipe yielded 10 patties). Heat the remaining canola oil in a pan over low heat. Add the burgers when the pan is hot. Let them cook for about 3 minutes without touching them until nicely browned. Then flip 'em carefully with a spatula and let them brown on the other side.

You can freeze the remaining burgers in a tightly closed container and with parchment or wax paper in between them to prevent them from sticking to each other.

This is how mine turned out (before cooking).

My first meal with the beet burgers:

They are absolutely delicious, and look very pretty. They are very filling. Plus, they have zero cholesterol (of course! they are made out of plant foods). They don't taste anywhere near the taste of beef burgers, so don't be shocked to find that out. These are great by their own merit (and by the merits of the veggies they are made of).


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Why Humans Don't Need to Drink Another Mammal's Milk

I have heard and read vegans talk about the many times a meat-eater asks them where they get their protein. In my case, no meat-eater has shown much interest in my protein intake, but they seem to be very interested in my calcium intake. I have been asked how do I get enough calcium without drinking milk (referring to dairy, or course) many more times than I can remember.

I am no expert in nutrition or have any academic preparation in this topic. But I read a lot, and feel confident that I am better informed than many people out there. So, my response to them is that we humans need to drink milk as much as we need to drink soda. We don't need it at all! Even if we needed to drink milk, wouldn't it make more sense for us to drink human milk? I know is sounds ugly, but think about it. A mammal's milk is meant for her baby to drink for a period of time. In a natural situation, after that period of time, the baby mammal turns to what will be his or her natural diet for the rest of his or her life. They don't go back to drink milk, even less, another specie's milk.

In reality, the only reason we humans think we need to drink milk is because it has been marketed as THE source of calcium for our diets. Well, it is true that milk has lots of calcium, but it is because the mother mammals get it from their foods. The milk that is available to us is produced mainly by cows and goats. In a natural situation, these animals get their calcium from the grass, which gets calcium from the soil. Not so much for the animals that produce the milk that we buy at the super market. They are not grazing around eating grass; they are fed stuff that is not natural to them. Their diet is supplemented with calcium so that the milk they produce gets calcium so that we can drink it.

So what do we do? We don't need to drink milk, but we need the calcium. Well, we can supplement our diets with calcium too! We can eat plants that are rich in calcium, or eat and drink calcium-fortified food. That is exactly how I get my calcium. I take a multivitamin every day (that has calcium) and count on a variety of calcium-rich foods in my diet.
  • I eat calcium-rich veggies like: broccoli and rhubarb. There are more out there, just google "calcium rich vegetables".
  • I drink fortified non-dairy milk. There are many alternatives in the market, the most popular are made with soy, almond, rice, oats, or hazelnut. Most come in vanilla or chocolate flavor, and of course the "original" flavor. The ones that I drink have at least 20% of the daily calcium* requirement. I looooove vanilla flavored soy- and almond-milk.
  • I drink juice that is fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Instead of selecting the regular orange juice, I select the fortified version (some times there is no difference in price!). An 8-oz glass of fortified juice often has more calcium than the same amount of milk!
  • I spread almond butter on my bread and make AB & J (almond buter & jelly) sandwiches . It is sooooooo delicious. The brand that I use has 8% of the daily calcium* requirement per serving.
  • I eat almonds. A 1/4 of a cup has about 8% of the daily calcium* requirement. I know that nuts (almonds included) have fat, but since I don't eat meat, dairy, or eggs (huge sources of fat) I don't worry too much. Plus, almonds (and all other nuts) have the good-for-your-health kinds of fat, and are naturally cholesterol free (unlike meat).
  • I eat calcium-set tofu. The brands that I buy have at least 15% of the daily calcium* requirement per serving.
  • I eat soy yogurt. The brands that I buy have more than 30% of the daily calcium* requirement.
I don't eat each and every one of these foods every day. But it helps to have a wide variety of plant foods to choose from to create a menu that is both nutritious and enjoyable.

We humans have no need to drink milk or eat it's derivatives. Us drinking milk is a custom that generates lots of suffering for the mother animals and their babies. All animals deserve our respect. We are not here to create suffering. We need to direct our advantages over other species in such a way that creates peace and joy for all. Don't support the industries that inflict suffering on them. Don't drink milk from another mammal.

*Percentages are based on a 2000 calorie diet, as on the nutrition data labels on the foods.

The picture on this post was provided by

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Strawberry Banana Smoothie

This smoothie is very easy to make, and very tasty too. I prefer it without adding sweeteners, but you can use the one you like.

For one serving you will need:

6 oz soy milk (I use low fat, unflavored)
5 or 6 frozen strawberries
1 ripe banana, peeled, cut in big chunks, and frozen
1/2 cup frozen summer squash (I buy it fresh, slice it and freeze it) or carrot
2 Tbsp ground flax seed (I buy it whole and grind it in a coffee grinder)
sweetener to taste (optional)

In a blender, blend until smooth about 6 oz of the soy milk (first add half of it, add the rest to reach desired consistency), the bananas, the strawberries, and the summer squash. Add sweetener to your taste (I find this is unnecessary if I use very ripe bananas) and the ground flax seed*. Serve and enjoy!

*I prefer to add the ground flax seeds and mix-in with a spoon when the smoothie is already in the glass. When I add it in the blender, I find that too much of it stays stuck on the sides of the blender cup.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Discovering New Foods: Almond Butter

If there is any butter in the world better than almond butter, I have yet to find it! Since I tried it, I can't resist it. It is soooooo goooooood. It is a million times better than peanut butter (and I like peanut butter very much).

I saw three varieties at the food store: organic, non-organic, and raw. I picked the raw, just because the word "raw" sounded healthier (interesting, huh?). I tried it first on a very simple AB & J (almond butter & jelly) sandwich. I fell in love with it after licking it off the spreader (before having a single bite of the sandwich!). The sandwich was super delicious with this butter.

And the best part is that is it healthful.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Fortune Cookie: Hope and Encouragement from an Unexpected Source

My family and I were running some errands last weekend, and were kind of "forced" by our hurry to have lunch at a big chain Chinese fast-food. I used to love one of the chicken complements that they make, and was a little bit nervous about not being able to refuse to eat it this time.

I ordered everything vegan, and felt very proud of myself, and enjoyed the food very much. However, I could not stop myself from thinking about the chicken (and these were not compassionate thoughts about the chicken at all).

I finished my vegan lunch and reached for my fortune cookie. I opened it and read the message, and for a few seconds became speechless. It was like someone was reading my mind, and was giving me the much needed encouragement. The message reads (I still have it with me): "DON'T LOOK BACK, ALWAYS LOOK AHEAD".

This is crazy! (I thought). This cookie is so... wise :) It is so funny now, to think about it. Some people might take this as mere coincidence. But crazy or coincidental, this cookie told me to live my truth; it was the little pat on the back that I needed at that moment. And it is a signal that I am not alone...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Discovering New Foods: Introduction

From the moment I decided to become a vegan, it became my mission to learn about new food options to add to my repertoire. I told myself "I have to make this work!" So, little by little I am "discovering" foods that I never imagined existed, and others that I knew existed but never tried. I am falling in love with most of them!

I think that my best asset right now is my attitude to try the new things and judge them by their own merits and not by how well they substitute, taste, or resemble meat, eggs, or dairy, or any of their non-vegan or less-nutritious counterparts.

Every once in a while I will dedicate a post to one of these items.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Good Reads for Any Vegan Reader

My very favorite book on veganism is "Becoming Vegan", written by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina. It is very easy to read, not too big, and explains TONS of things about good nutrition for a plant-based diet. It has a vegan diet guide and data on research and many, many, many studies carried in different countries.

I am an obsessive compulsive buyer when it comes to books, and for being kind of a "newborn vegan", I bet that I have more books about veganism, vegetarianism, recipes, etc., than others like me. Some are better than others, but this one is outstanding. The authors are registered dietitians, and well versed in nutrition.

It is very informative and I recommend it even to people that are not vegan or trying to become one. In reading this book I am learning how eating too much or too little of a nutrient causes health problems (to both vegans and meat-eaters), and how plant-based diets are superior in delivering the nutrients we need, and in preventing and lowering risks of various diseases.

The authors also have a book on vegetarianism: "Becoming Vegetarian". Check it out.