FEATURED ON OPRAH JUNE 30, 2000
by Robin Robertson and Jon Robertson
Cuisine You Can Live With
The hardest part of changing one’s diet is breaking the old habits. When you’ve spent a lifetime with a meat and milkshake mind set, you may find yourself rethinking much of what you put into your mouth. Habit, food prejudice, and even addictions all play a part.
As you eliminate the “extreme” foods from your diet, a whole new world of possibilities can open up to you. Once you begin experimenting with new ingredients such as meat and dairy alternatives, you will find it’s not necessary to sacrifice the flavor or texture of your favorite dishes. If anything, your retooled recipes can actually taste better because they contain no greasy, hard-to-digest saturated fat.
Whether you’re already vegetarian or just want to cut down on red-meat consumption, it is likely that, while you want to improve the quality of your life through what you eat, you also want your food to be satisfying, enjoyable, and simple to prepare.
So, where do you begin? One strategy is to recreate your favorite recipes, but substitute healthier ingredients. Start by making a list of what you usually eat. If you’re like many of us, your list may include some family favorites like lasagna, chili, burgers, chicken picatta, fettuccine Alfredo, or cheesecake. No one is going to tell you that a splash of steak sauce on a slab of tofu will taste just like a filet mignon. But it is true that some thinly sliced seitan (wheat meat) sautéed with mushrooms, white wine, and lemon juice, can make a delicious “picatta” entrée. Serve it with a brown rice pilaf and some steamed seasonal vegetables, and you have a centered meal that is stunningly delicious.
We all love a good burger, but most people don’t realize they can have a burger made from grains or vegetables instead of ground animal flesh and be just as satisfied. Is it the flesh and grease we love so much, or the bun, onion, tomato, relish, and ketchup? Even fast-food companies sell the “sizzle” and “special sauce,” generally playing down the animal their burgers come from.
If you wish to use prepared foods to help with the transition, there are many good products available. A good brand of veggie burgers, when served on a toasted roll with all the trimmings, is just as satisfying in every way as a hamburger. Will you miss your ice cream? Try some tofu- or rice-based frozen dessert and be amazed at the creamy richness. Use silken tofu to make velvety cream sauces and delectable “cheesecakes.” Ground-meat alternatives can be used to make chili, tacos, and spaghetti sauce.
A centered diet can begin as simply as swapping some ingredients, and including lots of fresh seasonal vegetables and whole grains along the way. No deprivation, nothing austere. Try some of the recipes in this book to familiarize yourself with ingredients and techniques. Use them as often as you wish—every little bit can help to replace tired old habits with exciting new ones.
With a more centered cuisine, the range of protein sources in your diet can be even more varied than before. Soy foods such as tofu, tempeh, and textured soy protein, along with seitan and the many varieties of beans, are among the protein choices. Grains can include brown rice, basmati rice, millet, quinoa, couscous, barley, and many others.
Exploring ethnic diversity is another great way to achieve variety in your meals along with great taste sensations. Many Mexican, Indonesian, Asian, Indian, and Middle Eastern dishes are or can be adapted to become vegetarian, making use of wonderful combinations of vegetarian ingredients. You can also spice up your life by adding some Indian curry sauce, Jamaican jerk seasoning, or Mexican salsa to an otherwise bland dish. Quick stir-fries, hearty soups and stews, and all manner of salads, sauces, and sautés can be yours for the tasting. Expand your culinary horizons by using healthful and versatile ingredients such as sea vegetables, miso, tahini, buckwheat pasta, and many others. (Refer to the Pantry List for a Centered Cuisine at the end of this article.)
Now for the “cuisine” part. Food prepared in a sacred kitchen can and should aspire to be “haute” in the “highest” sense of the word, whether it be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a five-course dinner. This can be accomplished in several ways:
· 1. Change your attitude while preparing the food (energizing it with love and healing).
· 2. Use the freshest, best-quality ingredients possible. (The difference between a PBJ made with “balloon bread,” generic hydrogenated peanut butter, and a sugary jelly is vastly different from one made from a good-quality whole-grain bread, freshly ground natural peanut butter, and a good-quality fruit-sweetened jam.)
· 3. Pay special attention to the esthetics of your meal by establishing a sacred ambiance.
Have you ever gone out to dinner and ordered something simple that you could easily make at home, say linguine with marinara sauce? What is it that compels people to go out and spend $11.95 (plus tax and tip) on something they could have made at home for under $2.00? For many, it’s the ambiance of the restaurant and the visual appeal of the meal. If your linguine with marinara came served on a chipped mismatched plate, or worse, a pot of pasta slopped with sauce were plunked down on the table, along with a couple of bottles of salad dressing placed on the table for you to glob onto limp lettuce, you’d likely not go back to the restaurant. But isn’t that how many of us serve dinner on a busy night when we didn’t feel like cooking anyway?
An important element of making centered food into a centered cuisine is to take a few extra moments to add to the ambiance and esthetics of the meal. Start by setting a beautiful table. Go ahead and use the good china; what are you saving it for, anyway? Light some candles and put some fresh flowers on the table, even if just a single stem or a potted plant from elsewhere in the house. Make your table look special and inviting, and everyone will feel special.
Now back to the linguine. That same two dollars worth of pasta can look like a million bucks if you plate it correctly. Take a tip from a chef: Arrange each serving individually; use oversized shallow bowls set on top of large dinner plates. Portion out the pasta and ladle on the sauce smoothly. Garnish with minced fresh herbs and an extra sprig of basil, oregano, or parsley for garnish. Sprinkle some freshly ground pepper around the perimeter of the plate and serve.
The accompanying salad is prepared in much the same way. Serve it first, as in a restaurant—it makes the salad more special and makes dinner last longer for more quality time. Instead of a handful of lettuce in a bowl, arrange the greens on large individual plates. Top with a few colorful garnishes, even if all you have on hand is a carrot to shred and some canned chickpeas. Add a few sunflower seeds for a delightful crunch. Olives, artichoke hearts, or some thawed frozen peas (run them under some hot water for a minute) are also interesting last-minute touches that add nutrition and texture. Have some good homemade salad dressing ready to drizzle on each salad. If you get in the habit of making homemade dressing by the pint or quart, it will always be convenient and you’ll eliminate the extra expense of bottled dressings along with their additives.
This is just one way to elevate your home cooking to cuisine. Experiment with unusual ingredients, table service, and garnishes. Add elegant touches, like a basket of fresh hot bread and a dipping bowl of herb-infused olive oil to make a simple meal something special. Place wineglasses filled with spring water and a slice of lemon at each place. Use cloth napkins. Play relaxing music during dinner. Most importantly, whatever you do, do it with love. Your two dollars worth of pasta will suddenly seem priceless.
Overhauling your diet does not have to be traumatic. In fact, it’s best to think of it as an adventure. Enjoying a centered cuisine means being free of the ill effects of extreme foods, while striving to meet the challenge to prepare wholesome meals that are interesting, delicious, and even exquisite. This “new” cuisine is as ancient as Creation itself, for:
“Behold I have given you every herb-yielding seed and every tree, to you it shall be for meat” (Genesis 1:29).
We have explored our own centerdness and that of food. Here are some recipes for a delicious meal featuring tofu, a frequently misunderstood and much maligned source of vegetable protein.
When prepared with love and served beautifully, the following dinner of tofu lasagna will win more accolades than you ever thought possible. No one will miss the meat or cheese, and the health benefits for you and your family will be an added bonus.
Recipes for Change
If you’re ready to make some changes in your diet, but have no idea what to do with tofu, try this simple menu. The main course and dessert look like “the real thing,” but contain no cholesterol or saturated fat. The best way to think of tofu is as an ingredient, and not as an end in itself. You wouldn’t eat plain flour, but when you combine it with other ingredients, it can become a cake. This is also true of tofu.
Begin with the lovely fresh-tasting salad and move on to the main course: a rich tofu lasagna that will satisfy even a skeptic. The cheesecake is another tofu ambassador. One taste, and people will wonder why they waited so long to try tofu.
Field Greens with Lemon-Mint Vinaigrette
This salad incorporates a variety of lettuces, herbs, and zesty lemon to create a fresh-tasting salad that is a perfect complement to the lasagna recipe below.
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon minced onion
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint
1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
6 cups mixed salad greens
Sliced cucumber, shredded carrot, and/or black olives for garnish
In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, onion, mint, salt, and pepper. Whisk together until thoroughly blended and set aside. Portion the greens on serving plates and top with your choice of garnishes, arranged esthetically. Drizzle dressing on top of each salad.
Everyone’s Favorite Lasagna
This recipe is a great way to introduce tofu to family and friends. If you like a “meaty” tomato sauce, add some frozen soy “crumbles” (ground beef alternative) or some reconstituted TVP (textured vegetable protein) to your tomato sauce.
1 pound soft tofu, drained and patted dry
1 pound firm tofu, drained and patted dry
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 cups Fresh Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)
11/2 cups ground beef alternative or TVP (optional)
1 pound lasagna noodles, cooked al dente and drained
1 cup shredded soy mozzarella
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Put the tofu in a large bowl and crumble. Add the parsley, salt, and pepper and mix well. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Spread a layer of tomato sauce in the bottom of a 4-quart rectangular baking dish. Top with a layer of noodles. Top the noodles with a layer of tofu filling. Repeat with another layer of noodles and top with more sauce. Add a layer of ground beef alternative or textured vegetable protein, if using. Repeat the layering process with the remaining filling, noodles, and sauce. Sprinkle the soy mozzarella on top. Bake for 45 minutes, or until bubbly. Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes before cutting.
Fresh Tomato Sauce
This sauce is best made with very ripe tomatoes. If you wish, you may peel the tomatoes before chopping. Simply cut an “x” in the bottom of each tomato and plunge the tomato into boiling water for 30 seconds and remove. The skins will come off easily.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
3 cups chopped ripe tomatoes (about 2 pounds)
One 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil, or 1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano, or 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cups hot water or vegetable stock
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, uncovered, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, and dried basil and oregano, if using, and cook uncovered for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the water or stock, wine, and bay leaf and bring to a boil, stirring to blend. Reduce heat to low, season with salt and pepper, and simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes, or until the desired consistency is reached. If using fresh basil and oregano, stir in at this time. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Remove the bay leaf before serving. If not using immediately, transfer to a container and allow to cool. Cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
Makes about 4 cups
“Say Cheese” Cake
No cheese here—but lots of reasons to smile. For a touch of elegance, serve slices of the cheesecake on a pool of fruit coulis (simply purée some fresh fruit in a blender or food processor), and garnish with fresh berries and a sprig of mint.
FOR THE CRUST:
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 4 crackers)
3 tablespoons soy margarine, melted
FOR THE CAKE:
3 cups firm silken tofu, patted dry
1 cup sugar or a natural sweetener
1/4 cup soy milk
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups fruit spread, pie filling, or fruit coulis for topping (see Note)
Mint sprigs and fresh berries for garnish (optional)
To make crust: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly oil a 9-inch springform pan. Place the crumbs in the bottom of the pan, add the melted margarine, and toss with a fork until blended. Press the crumb mixture into the bottom and up the sides of pan. Bake for 5 minutes, or until lightly toasted. Set aside.
In a blender or food processor, process the tofu, sugar or other sweetner, soy milk, oil, cornstarch, and vanilla until smooth. Pour the filling into the prepared crust and bake for 30 minutes, or until firm. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Spread the desired topping on the cheesecake and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. Serve with topping, over or under each slice, garnished with mint sprigs and berries, if you like.
Note: If using fruit spread or pie filling instead of fresh fruit, place it in a small bowl and stir until smooth before spreading it on (or under) the cheesecake.
Turn Your Eating Space into a Centered Dining Experience
Being a “good cook” is only one element to putting a great dinner on the table. There are several other factors that can contribute to a positive dining experience:
1. Ingredients. Use organic, fresh, whole foods with no additives, artificial ingredients, or processing.
2. Attitude. The “secret” ingredient of the best meals is your own loving energy.
3. Variety. Vary cooking methods: sautéing, steaming, baking, broiling, stir-frying, and roasting. Experiment with ethnic dishes, ingredients, and seasonings.
4. Color. Nature’s color palette ranges from creamy white mushrooms to deep purple eggplant, and includes vivid oranges, soothing greens, and vibrant reds.
5. Presentation. Learn how to cut vegetables in different ways. Arrange food on plates esthetically. Consult food magazines, cookbooks, and fine restaurants for ideas.
6. Proper tableware. Use a variety of attractive glass and ceramic bowls and plates. Avoid using plastic or metal containers, as they may react with foods.
7. Garnishes. A subtle dusting of spices, a sprinkle of parsley, some minced scallions, or chopped nuts can add color contrast and flavor enhancement.
8. Quality cookware. Stainless steel, cast iron, and earthenware pots and pans are best.
9. Cleanliness. Keep a clean, well-organized kitchen, use well-washed ingredients, and set your table with pride.
10. Table decor. Add a special touch to the ambiance in your dining area with fresh flowers, candles, good table linens.
11. Environment. Remove styrofoam and any toxic materials from your kitchen. Use only filtered or bottled water for washing ingredients and for cooking.
12. Gratitude and good attitude. Express gratitude at meals with a moment of silence, a prayer, or a food blessing. Have pleasant conversations and avoid arguments, worries, and concerns.
Tips for Buying and Storing Fresh Produce
Grow your own vegetables and harvest them when ripe.
Grow herbs and sprouts in a window garden.
Buy organic produce (grown without pesticides).
Pick your own vegetables and fruits at an organic farm.
Buy seasonal produce from a farmer’s market or roadside stand.
Buy or pick produce when ripe.
Judge ripeness by fullness of color, good texture, and correct fragrance.
Produce should look healthy and unblemished: no bruises, gashes, or moldy spots.
Leafy greens should be crisp and fresh looking, not wilted or brown.
Seasonal, locally grown produce (even if nonorganic) is safer than imported.
Fresh vegetables shipped long distances may actually be less potent than frozen.
Buy produce that is nonirradiated and without plastic or foam packaging.
Store ripe produce in the refrigerator; leave unripe produce to ripen at room temperature.
If using commercial imported produce, discard outer leaves, remove peels, and wash.
Eat refrigerated fresh foods at room temperature for fuller flavor.
Pantry List for a Centered Cuisine
Below is a sample grocery list that can serve as a guide to stocking a basic vegetarian pantry. You may wish to refer to it when compiling your weekly shopping list. When you plan your menus, you can do a checklist of the ingredients in each recipe you are using to see what you have on hand and what you need to buy. Do this each week, adding a few new ingredients each time. Before long, you will have a well-stocked “centered” pantry. Buy grains and beans in bulk if possible, as it is more economical and environmentally sound. Buy as much as you can store in large, decorative glass jars.
Dried fruits: raisins, dates, prunes, apples
Seitan Quick Mix
Vegetarian “cold cuts”
TVP (textured vegetable protein)
Sea vegetables (kombu, nori, kelp, etc.)
Vegetable broth cubes
Olives, capers, pickles
Toasted sesame oil
Tofu hot dogs
Ground beef alternatives
Frozen non-dairy desserts
Vegetables: artichoke hearts, peas
Chickpeas and other beans
Nuts and Seeds
Brown rice syrup
The Sacred Kitchen by Robin
Robertson and Jon Robertson. Copyright © 1999 by Robin Robertson and Jon
Robertson. Excerpted by arrangement with New World Library. $16.95.
Available in local bookstores or call 800-972-6657, ext. 52 or click