Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dinner a Few Nights Ago

Buckwheat with Portobello Mushrooms, Onions and Miso
Drop 1 1/2 cups buckwheat into about 4 cups of boiling salted water and cook at a brisk simmer for 15 minutes. Drain in a colander set over a large bowl to catch the liquid (you should have about 1 1/2 cups). Put the buckwheat in a separate bowl and cover to keep warm.
     Heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin coconut oil in a large pot and add 1 large onion, cut in 1/2-inch dice. Stir a couple minutes until it starts getting just a little color. Add 4 medium Portobellos, cut into 1/2-inch dice, and stir often until the liquid they release is absorbed. Stir in about 1/4 teaspoon Celtic salt and then add the saved buckwheat cooking liquid. Cook until reduced to a few tablespoons. Turn off the heat and cover to keep it warm.
     While it’s cooking, mix together 1/2 cup chick pea miso (or mellow white miso), 1/4 cup Simple Garlic Udo’s Oil, 2 tablespoons mirin and 1 tablespoon tamari in a little bowl. Then slice 1 bunch of scallions thinly on a slight bias {for looks, but also to keep them from rolling off the cutting board} and put them on a small plate.
     When the parsnips (below) are ready, add the buckwheat to the pot with the mushrooms and reheat it all, stirring gently to keep from making a mush of it. When it’s hot, take it off the heat and add the miso mixture {you don’t want to kill the miso or hurt the omega-3s in the oil} and the scallions, tossing it all together.

Roasted Parsnips
Preheat the oven to 400F.
Scrub 1 pound of parsnips well. {I find that it works best if instead of using a normal back-and-forth scrubbing motion, you strike the vegetables with the brush in a slightly glancing motion. This jabs at the imbedded dirt, dislodging it and then scrubbing it off.}
     Cut into sticks about 1/2-inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long and uniform as possible. {This is easiest to do if you’ve got big fat parsnips, because you’ll end up with a lot more nice rectangular pieces instead of a bunch of quarter-rounds.}
     Heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin coconut oil in a large pot and add the parsnips. Stir often as they cook, until they begin to show a little color. Combine 2 tablespoons tamari and 2 tablespoons mirin, and add to the pot, stirring furiously to coat the parsnips before it all bubbles away.
     When the liquid has been absorbed and the parsnips are quite dry, scrape them into a clay pot (preferably!) or other ovenproof dish. Return the cooking pot to the heat and throw in 1/4 cup sake {I use Gekkeikan because it’s good and it’s inexpensive}, shaking and swirling to deglaze briefly. Add the bubbling sake to the parsnips and stir.
     Place the clay pot into the oven and bake about 45 minutes, or until tender, stirring every 10 minutes or so, to prevent burning. Near the end, when they get a little dry, add 1/4 teaspoon Celtic salt and 1 tablespoon tamari, stirring well. Cover for the last 10 minutes to keep them moist.

Blanched Spinach
Drop 2 pounds baby spinach into a large pot of boiling salted water and stir well for about 15 seconds, just until all the leaves wilt and turn bright green. Immediately drain in a colander and refresh under cold running water. {I know, this is a big waste of precious nutrients, but it also rids the spinach of that awful turnoff tannin taste that ruins the fun of eating spinach, so there you have it. Drink the water if you’re that worried about it.} Drain well, squeezing as needed to get nearly every last bit of water out.
    When everything else is ready, put the spinach in a sauté pan and reheat quickly, so as not to cook it any further. Crack some Javanese comet’s tail black peppercorns in a mortar and add to the spinach, along with some Celtic salt to taste. {Yum. These peppercorns are pretty exotic, so don’t worry if you don’t have any—just grind some regular black pepper, no big deal.} When the spinach is hot, pull from the heat and add about 1/4 cups Simple Garlic Udo’s Oil and stir it in.

These recipes make enough for about four people, depending on how voracious they are. I had this with a mixed green salad on the side; your call.


I'm an omnivore. At least I have been. For 30 years I was a private chef to the rich and famous. When people asked me what my specialty was (for some reason a lot of them seemed compelled to ask me this), I would usually say, "rich people." Of course this was me being a smartass (a favorite pastime), but it was also accurate. My talent--and part of the secret of my success--was catering to the whims of the privileged class while surprising and delighting their pampered little palates.

Sometimes they wanted to “lose weight,” or "eat healthy," and sometimes they just wanted to pig out on whatever they had a craving for. Hilariously, they would often run these priorities in sequence, perhaps believing this would work in the alternate universe they inhabited. Forget whether their fad diet would (or could) make them skinny, much less healthy--my job was to give them what they wanted and amaze them with it.

I focused exclusively on the sybaritic aspect of food, with no particular regard for its impact on health. I was gifted with a furious metabolism that enabled me to eat copiously without storing a single gram of fat. If my clients wanted to try a new diet, I obliged them, but always with pleasure at center stage (reputation and job security, you understand). And it was a good living, with fabulous fringe benefits.

But in the last 10 years I've slowly begun to rethink all this, and reshape my food ideals to mesh with my evolving personal values. I'm on a lifelong quest to ascend, awaken, and become more conscious. Looking at food with new eyes, it was impossible to ignore the glaring issues of sustainability, ethics, and health surrounding what I choose to eat. One thing leads to another, and my first cookbook, Omega 3 Cuisine, turned out to be a collection of vegetarian recipes that feature plant-based essential fats.
My publisher belongs to a community that pioneered the vegan diet back in the sixties, so the subject has been hovering nearby for over a year now. I had been a fairly strict vegetarian from 1973 to 1981, but the vegan thing struck me as unnecessarily extreme (perhaps even laughable). Still, I can’t help but respect people who’ve remained true to their convictions for well over 30 years. Whatever they’ve been doing, it has made them extremely likable people, and we hit it off quite nicely.

The first book was performing well, so I pushed for another project. After huddling with his team, my publisher gave me one:  quick vegan recipes that can be completed in 30 minutes or less. I enjoyed the challenge (my meat-eating family was fairly tolerant) and dubbed my new book Speedvegan (look for it spring/summer of 2010).  Now I’m on a roll, right? What’s next?

Coincidentally, my wife was reading “Born to Run,” by Christopher McDougall, about the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyon, who can run hundreds of miles without resting. Apparently their diet is mostly vegan—beans, corn, the odd vegetable here and there, and chia seeds (along with the occasional barbequed mouse). Hmmm, I’m thinking...

Then she says to me, “Hey! How about The Vegan Runner?” I wasn’t—had never been—a vegan or a runner, but the idea went right in and straight through to the next book idea: A 56-year-old cook becomes a vegan and becomes a runner, and writes a book about it, complete with recipes and musings.

A quick google (I hear that’s a verb now) revealed, sadly, a host of references to “vegan runner,” although the focus was more on running than food. I tried “vegan challenge,” but it turned out Oprah had been there and done that, although mostly for a week or so (some challenge, right?). Then it hit me: I would add the extra challenge (like being the only vegan in my house wasn’t enough) of running the Pikes Peak Ascent in 2010! That gave me less than a year to get in shape, and at least three if not five months of that would be runner-hostile. Perfect. So there you have it: Vegan Ascent. And here we go...