Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Lemon and Herb Quinoa

My new life in Argentina continues to excite and challenge me, but I have to admit that I find it a bit ironic, that I now live in quinoa’s native region, and yet I have to pay more for it than I did when I was in the States! At 150 peso per kilo, it is easily the most expensive cereal we buy. Especially when compared to lentils at 17 peso per kilo, or brown rice at just 15 peso per kilo!

Thankfully it’s not out of our reach as it is becoming for many Argentines. The reason quinoa is becoming so expensive in one of the top producing nations is obviously very complex, however one of the simplest explanations is because quinoa has become more popular as it's healthful properties have become known.

As I wrote in an older post on pseudograins, quinoa is not a grain, but actually a seed. As such, it is naturally gluten-free. It is also high in iron, B vitamins and calcium, as well as boasting a great protein profile, containing roughly 15% of it’s calories from protein.

This weeks recipe is a light and fluffy lemon and herb quinoa that is perfect for summer time. It is versatile, and can be served as a side dish or as the main attraction. We served the dish on July 9, Argentina's Independence day (hence the Albicelete flowers,) and accompanied it with a simple beet and cabbage salad. Both dishes were enjoyed by all. Best of all, the dish is quick and easy to prepare, but has a sophisticated taste as the Italian herbs blend beautifully with the cumin and lemon.  

Lemon and herb Quinoa
Serves 3-4

2 cups uncooked quinoa
1 cup brussel sprouts - steamed and halved
1 juiced lemon
1” of lemon zest
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon oregano
¼ teaspoon rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
4 ½ cups veggie broth

Bring the broth to a boil and add the quinoa. Cook for about 10 minutes and add the lemon zest, and spices. Keep the lemon juice to the side for now.

Once the broth is almost fully absorbed and the quinoa is close to being ready, add the steamed brussel sprouts. Combine well so the flavors of the quinoa begin to set. I also added a half cup of cooked black beans to the dish.

Once the broth has been completely absorbed, squeeze the juice of the lemon onto the hot quinoa and brussel sprouts and toss well.

This dish can be served hot or cold.

As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Fish, Our Oceans, and Our Health - Pat II Farmed Fish

This is the second part to last years post Fish, our Oceans and Our Health.

If you live in the US and consume fish, chances are at least a percentage of the fish you eat are from fish farms. Roughly half of all fish consumed in the U.S. is now from the aquaculture industry, which is the fastest growing animal agriculture segment - in part due to misinformation about the sustainability and health of the product. Unfortunately farmed fish are not the paragon of sustainability the industry wants us to believe.

While many farmed fish live on GMO corn or soy, certain fish cannot do that. Fish like tuna and salmon need to eat as much as 5 pounds of fish for each pound of body weight. The result is that feeder fish are being fished to the brink of near extinction to feed the world’s farmed fish. 

This, of course, has a negative impact on the populations of everyone’s favorite aquatic creatures- whales, dolphins, seals, and sea lions as well as others - as their food supplies are quickly disappearing. As Dr. Richard Oppenlander writes, “It is a bizarre, ecologically unhealthy circle, where the demand to eat fish has taxed the oceans so there has been a proliferation of controlled fish-farm production, which places further stress on the oceans because of the need for fish-meal and oil in the production process.”

Not surprisingly, the fish that are fed corn or soy are far less nutritious than their wild caught friends. Loaded with toxins and lacking in the Omega 3s fish are famed for, farmed fish make a great Christmas present for someone you hate. Since wild caught fish get their omega 3 fatty acids by consuming plants (the same way we should!) or from eating smaller fish that eat plants, farmed fish, which are typically fed corn, soy, or other foodstuffs (as well as healthy doses of antibiotics just for good measure) contain little or no omega 3s. Instead these unnaturally raised fish accumulate large amounts of unhealthy fats and very little of the omega 3s for which they are so valued in many circles.

Furthermore a new report shows that the mercury levels in many fish actually cancel out the benefits of consuming their Omega 3s in the first place, and since food is a packaged deal, it’s impossible to just order the Omega’s while holding the mercury or PCBs on the side! One study that looked at 364 children in California found all of them exceeded safe benchmark levels for arsenic, mercury as well as the banned pesticide DDT among others. The paper argued that the children's exposure to these toxins was largely due to their diet, and actually suggested that the best way to avoid them was by eating lower on the food chain, and specifically pointed to a plant-based diet as ideal.

Another problem with farmed fish is increased disease among the fish. Disease spreads among fish just like it does in any other population. Since farmed fish - like their hoofed and beaked feed-lot counter parts- live in their own excrement, diseases spread quickly.  Not only our diseases rampant among the fish in the tanks, but if any of them escape, they can also spread unusual diseases among wild fish populations, only furthering the destruction of the rivers and oceans (do yourself a favor and don’t google sea lice!). As one professor of fisheries at the University of British Columbia has noted, fish farms “are like floating pig farms.”

Farmed fish also have a huge impact on our oceans environment. Vast amounts of feces, fertilizers, and antibiotics can all cause the death of plants and sea life, as it causes massive algae populations that leave inadequate oxygen for other forms of life. Known as “dead zones” one need not look further than the Gulf of Mexico where there is a dead zone – where nearly all the fish and plants have died – that is roughly the size of half of Maryland.

It is also worth noting that currently nearly 70% of all farmed fish come from China where they have weak standards regulating toxins, antibiotic use, and almost no concern for the environment.

For those that claim fish farms are the answer for how to get healthy, sustainable protein, they should really reconsider that stance. The weight of the evidence is against it. 

Sorry for the incredible delay in posting part II. My original draft and research was lost and it took a while to find the motivation to re-do it.

Further Reading:
“Overfishing: Plenty of Fish in the Sea? Not Always.” National Geographic.
Ivan Macfadyen, “The Ocean is Broken.”
Pauly, D., et all. “Towards sustainability in world fishers,” Nature 2002.
General Situation of World Fish Stocks, United Nations Food Agriculture Organization (FAO)
Harrington, J.R., et all., “Wasted Fishery Resources: Discarded By-Catch in the USA.” Fish and Fisheries 6.
Janicke Nordgreen, et all., “Thermonociception in fish: Effect of two different doses of morphine on thermal threshold and post-test behavior in goldfish.”Elsevier
Rosamond L. Naylor, et all., “Effect of Aquaculture on World Fish Supplies,” Nature Vol. 405, June, 2000.
Oppenlander, Richard. Food Choice and Sustainability: Why Buying Local, Eating Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won’t Work. New York, Langdon Street Press, 2013.

As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.

Monday, June 15, 2015

A traditional Argentine Fiesta: Carbonada

Last week, M and I invited her younger brother and his girlfriend over for a traditional Argentine fiesta. 

We made a gaucho stew that hales from the northern regions of Argentina called Carbonada. While it appeares to call for a lot of ingredients, the truth is its more of a kitchen-sink type of dish, so feel free to get creative with this savory and sweet dish.

We served the stew inside a roasted gourd that is very common here in Argentina called, Zapallio Okaido (cabotea). However any large squash would be fine, but I think acorn squash is the closest Northern American counterpart to the Okaido.

The stew is a savory and sweet dish (that is what the apple and apricots are for). Traditionally the stew was thrown together in the morning and cooked while the gauchos worked and then served at midday when the sun forced the gauchos to stop and rest during the hottest part of the day. 

We invited family over and all shared mate while the stew finished cooking. Once the stew was ready we transferred it to a roasted gourd and served it with a large salad. When we served the stew from inside the gourd, we also scrapped away at the gourd to include some of the flesh of the roasted gourd. If you want, you can skip the roasted gourd, however it does make for a beautiful centrepiece.

While the entire stew takes about 30 minutes of prep and about 1 hour of cooking time, it is a quite easy and very hearty. The stew can also be frozen and saved for future meals.

Serves 5-6

3 medium sized white potatoes - cubed
2 medium sized sweet potatoes - cubed
2 cups of squash or pumkin – cubed
1 cup of brown rice
1 large sweet onion - diced
1 medium red pepper – chopped
3-4 stalks of celery – chopped
¾ red apple – finely cubed
½ cup of dried apricots or a can of dried peaches
1 full ear of corn or 1 can of sweet corn
1 can of diced tomatoes
1 small can of tomato paste
1 cup of white wine
6-7 cups of veggie broth or water

Spices – Start with small amounts and adjust to taste as the stew cooks

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning mix (marjoram, thyme, parsley and rosemary)
1 tablespoon garlic powder
½ tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2 bayleafs
½ teaspoon of organic brown sugar (optional or maple syrup)
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Begin by sautéing the onion, red pepper and garlic with a bayleaf in a large pot.

Once the onion begins to turn transparent, add celery, tomatoes, tomato paste, and all the spices into the pot. Cook for 5 minutes.

Add the potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, corn, apples and apricots along with 2-3 cups of broth. Mix everything together and allow to cook for another 5 minutes.

Once the soup comes to a boil, add the cup of rice. If your pot is not large enough, you can cook the rice separately if needed, however if you can, cook the rice with the rest of the dish as the rice will absorb a lot of the flavors.

Once you add the rice, add another 2 cups of water and ½ teaspoon of sugar (this is optional however the sugar is very minimal and is used to help enhance the other flavors. If you prefer, try using a small amount of maple syrup - unfortunately we don’t have access to maple syrup down here). Turn the heat down so the stew is cooking on a low simmer. As the rice cooks, and the liquid evaporates, continue adding broth or water in small amounts and stir occasional to keep the bottom from burning.

Allow to cook for 30 – 40 minutes.

Preparing the Gourd

If you want to serve this inside of a gourd as we did, start by washing the outside of the gourd, cut the top off and clean out the inside as if you were craving a pumpkin. We put ½ cup of plant-based milk inside the gourd and then roasted it in the oven at 300 until the milk completely evaporated – roughly 20- 30 minutes. Make sure the skin can be easily pierced, and the flesh of the gourd is soft and brightly colored. Let it cool while the stew is finishing and then transfer everything inside. 

This dish would make for a wonder holiday meal, particularly in the fall and winter months as it is quite hardy.

As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Argentina Food Culture and Black Bean & Barley Burgers

I’ve now been in Argentina for several weeks and the immediate culture shock is wearing off. I’m still amazed, but no-longer as shocked that the buses (or boni’s as they’re called) open their doors to let passengers off before coming to a stop, or that they begin moving while passengers are still boarding, or that they often just blow by you without stopping at all for no reason other than the driver just didn’t want to pick you up. Whenever this happens, a smile spreads across M’s face as she says, “Welcome to Buenos Aires,” in her most sarcastic tone. 

Also, currency is a little fluid here. Because the peso is currently so cheap, they really don’t use anything smaller than a one-peso coin. As a result places often round to the nearest peso to make giving change easier.  However, sometimes at some of the small markets, instead of giving change, they try and give you little candies instead. That’s right, their money is so cheap it’s comparable to small tasteless candies. While astonishing, and slightly hilarious, it is troubling that candy is given instead of coins, considering the President (who in my opinion is both delusional as well as dangerous) declared that diabetes is a rich person disease while also saying Argentines should be proud that they are now the world’s largest consumers of Coke. All of this on top of the fact that nearly 60% of the adult population in Argentina is obese.

There have been other really interesting learning moments as well. For instance I’ve stopped saying I’m “from America” or am “an American.” (Soy de America). I’ve stopped doing this not because I’m ashamed to be from the US, or because I’m afraid how people will respond towards me. (While Argentina’s government hasn’t been particularly warm towards the US, the average person has nothing against us.)

Instead Argentino’s find it arrogant that people from the United States use the term “American” to apply solely to themselves. They are also “Americans” in their view. So are people from Uruguay, Mexico, and Canada. In fact, in school they are taught that there is only one American continent, while those who grow up in the US are taught that North and South America are separate. It’s true, I’ve looked this up, and apparently the concept of a continent is a completely unscientific term. Instead I now say “Soy de Estados Unidos” or just tell people I’m from New York – although they insist on calling it “Nueva Chork” (In Argentina the Y makes a CH sound.) I wonder how they would like it if I referred to Buenos Aires as "Good Airs?"

The food culture here is also really different from the one I was use to. In New York, you can literally get any type of food or spice at any time of the year – not to mention you can order anything you want from the internet. Here it is a different story. First off, Argentina remains more of a seasonal eating culture than the US. It’s almost winter, and produce like grapes are very hard to find, and berries are non-existent. The idea of ordering food from the internet seems to be completely foreign to them. Instead we eat what is in season, and M and I and are currently inundated with incredible, and very cheap and delicious squashes, gourdes and other root veggies, which I’ve been enjoying immensely. Except mandiocas… I don’t see how anyone can enjoy these dirty, little, fibre-packed roots…

Veganism and plant-based eating is still pretty unknown here. If I had to guess, I’d say it is roughly 8-10 years behind New York, which, all things considered, isn’t so bad. In fact, I think veganism is more advanced in Buenos Aires than it was in south central Pennsylvania. I was given a “go vegan” leaftlet when I walked passed the National Zoo, and increasingly places and products are advertising as "vegano." There are also two restaurants here that can compete, if not beat, any restaurant in New York  for creativity and flavor – and for ½ the price!

While it is true that much of the Argentine meat is “free-range” even this is starting to change and increasingly (and without much comment in the press, or the publics awareness), their cattle management is being more industrialized. The northern provinces of Argentina, which looks like could be a completely separate country, is a Monsanto powerhouse. GMO soy has become the nations leading export. Much of this soy ultimately fattens animals for consumption in the States.

And if you are thinking there is nothing wrong with that, think again. Not only have cancer rates in Argentina recently doubled according to a report from the Ministry of Health in Cordoba, Argentina, but birth defects in the agricultural regions have also risen. 

See… the decision to consume meat is not only a personal choice but impacts all of us. Just ask California how our consumption of animals is impacting their state. As a result, M and I have put an increased importance on purchasing organically grown food when possible.

All of this said, I love Argentina, besides Spanish, I am learning a lot about their culture and politics and it all fascinates me. The culture is a unique blend of ancient and modern, and Argentina is a physically beautiful nation. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to travel beyond the city soon.

Over the weekend, I invited two new friends over for dinner when M was working a 24 -hour shift. These black bean and barley burgers were on the menu for that night, and they are absolutely delicious. Since they are perfect for a summer-time BBQ, I hope you enjoy them as well!

Black Bean & Barley Burgers
Makes 8 Patties

1 cup black beans or two cans of black beans
1 cup barley* 
½ cup old fashioned oats
3 cloves garlic
1 carrot – chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon ground flax seed
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 bay leaf
¼ - ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Black pepper and salt to taste

Cook the beans for 30 to 40 minutes in boiling water (if you are using dried beans). Add barley, garlic cloves, bay leaf, and more water (if necessary). Cook until the beans and barley are soft and fully cooked – roughly 30 more minutes. About 8-10 minutes before the beans and barley finish cooking, add the garlic powder, carrot, and turmeric. Cook until the water is fully absorbed.

Transfer the beans and barley with the remaining spices and flax seed to either a blender or food processor. Blend until almost smooth (you want to keep the mixture slightly chunky).

Add the oats and tomato paste and mix well using a strong fork or your hands. Let the mixture sit for 10 -15 minutes. During this time, check the spices and make any necessary adjustments.

Heat a pan while forming patties with your hands. Place each patty in the hot pan and cook for 3-5 minutes before flipping. Repeat until both sides are well browned.

I've learned some traditional Argentine dishes as well, and will be blogging them soon, so be sure to keep checking back!


*Barley contains gluten so these are not suitable for those following a gluten-free diet. Try subbing brown rice for a gluten-free version. 

As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.