Friday, April 24, 2015

Cooking With Vegetables From Root to Stem

Ever hear about something that is a new trend and all the rage and think, “I’ve always done that?” One of the food trends for this year is for chefs to put the focus on vegetables. Similar to the whole “nose-to-tail” practice used in cooking meat, there is now a “root-to-stem” practice where no part of a vegetable or fruit goes to waste. Well, it may be a new trend in the culinary world but I’ve been cooking that way for years. Other people may lop off the tops of carrots, beets and radishes, throw away the fronds from a bulb of fennel, and discard the stalks from a head of broccoli, but I cook with all of it. With the price of food rising and the increased amount of food waste, it only makes sense to get the most out of the food we buy. The leaves, stems, stalks and skins of vegetables have their own unique tastes and textures so it’s like getting multiple veggies in one package. Here are some ways you can start cooking from root to stem.

1. Asparagus Stems

Whenever I cook asparagus, I trim the tough, woodsy ends off. Then they go in a storage bag into the freezer until it’s time to make stock. Add the stems to the pot with the celery, onions, and water. Season with herbs and spices, bring to a boil and simmer for at least half an hour. Strain and store in the freezer until you’re ready to use it. Or use the whole asparagus right away to make this delicious and refreshing Raw Asparagus Soup.

2. Beet Greens

Beets are delicious and so are the greens that come attached to them. Use them to make Beet Greens Pesto or sauté them as in these Beet Greens with Garlic and Toasted Almonds and Sautéed Beet Red Greens. I love to use them to make a salad to go along with my Borscht soup. See more ways to use beet greens in Beet and Carrot Greens: How to Use Them Instead of Toss Them.

3. Broccoli Stalks and Leaves

There was a time when I preferred to buy broccoli crowns because I thought I was getting more edible food for my money. Then I realized that the broccoli stalks are delicious and really filling. Now I get upset if my broccoli doesn’t come with the stalks attached. When I cook broccoli, I cut off the florets and then get to work on the stalks. They can be peeled to remove the outer peel but I usually just chop them up and add them with the florets to whatever I’m cooking. Use the stalks in stir-fries and salads like this Broccoli Salad with Quinoa, Scallions and Roasted Cashews. Another way to use the stalks is to use a julienne peeler to make broccoli “noodles” or a regular peeler to shave the stalk into thin ribbons. Use these noodles raw or cooked in lighter pasta dishes like this Tomato Basil Broccoli Noodle and White Bean Salad and this Tofu Scramble with Broccoli Noodles. The leaves are edible as well. Add them to salads and stir-fries just as you would any other dark, leafy greens.

4. Carrot Tops

When I was a kid, we fed the carrot tops to our parakeets. Today, I use them in lots of dishes. Carrot greens can be bitter so blanch them first. Use them to make pesto, vegetable stock, and salads. Add them to sautés, stir-fries and smoothies. Running low on parsley or cilantro? No problem! Carrot greens can stand in for them in recipes or as a garnish. See all the ways to use carrot tops in Beet and Carrot Greens: How to Use Them Instead of Toss Them.

5. Cauliflower Stems and Leaves

Cauliflower is hot right now. You knew that but did you know you can eat the stem and the leaves? Every time we read a cauliflower recipe, it tells us how to remove the leaves and cut the florets off the stem. When I cook cauliflower, I cut off the florets and then I chop up the stem and cook it with florets. It takes just as long to get tender as the florets do. You can also leave the stems attached when you cut the head of cauliflower into steaks as in this Cauliflower Piccata. The next time you make Roasted Buffalo Cauliflower Bites, leave the stems attached to the florets so you have a “handle” to hold each piece by. Use the leaves by adding them to the dish towards the end of cooking so they slightly wilt.

6. Celery Stalks and Leaves

Celery is an under-appreciated vegetable as it is; don’t make it feel even worse by throwing away its outer stalks and pretty, tender leaves. Every bit of the celery is edible. Use all the stalks, inner and outer, in your dishes. You can peel the stalks to make them less “stringy.” Make celery the main attraction as in this Braised Celery dish. Celery is very healthy, so add it to your smoothies and juices turn it into soup and enjoy it in this Onion, Celery and Mushroom Stuffing. Use the celery leaves in soups and salads or as a garnish instead of parsley.

7. Chard Stems

Whenever I get rainbow chard, I make sure that I use the stems. They are too pretty to throw away! They can be blanched until tender and used to make pickled relishes. I like to chop them up and saute them before adding the greens in dishes like this yummy Swiss Chard with Onions, Currants and Pine Nuts and Gluten-Free Lemon Swiss Chard Pasta.

8. Fennel Stalks and Fronds

Fennel can be used from bulb to fronds. The bulbs have overlapping layers of fennel, sort of like a cabbage. The stalks are similar to celery in both texture and crunch. The feathery fronds look like fresh dill but taste like anise and make a beautiful garnish. Fennel seeds can be bought whole or ground and add a bright note to dishes. Check out 10 Ways to Cook with Fennel Tonight and then try this Orange Fennel Salad with Agave-Mustard Dressing, Mizuna, Fennel, and Mulberry Salad and Roasted Fennel.

9. Jackfruit Cores

When I first cooked with jackfruit, recipe instructions said to cut the outer part of the sliced jackfruit away from the core and discard the core. That would have meant throwing away about half of the jackfruit that came in the can. I didn’t understand that since the core is really tender so I just cut up the entire slice and cooked it. Read Have You Tried Cooking With Jackfruit Yet? Get Started With These Recipes! Then use the meat and the core to make Jackfruit Philly Cheesesteaks, Jackfruit Ropa Vieja, and BBQ Jackfruit.

10. Leek Greens

Leeks are relatives of onions and garlic, but they have a milder taste than either of them. They are most often used as an aromatic for soups and stews, but they can also be the main ingredient of dishes. Leeks can be eaten raw in salads, sautéed until tender, braised to make them soft and sweet or grilled until charred. Most recipes tell you to cut the green leaves off and discard them but they are edible and delicious. Cook them along with the rest of the leeks or cook them as you would other leafy greens. Use them to make this Pureed Lentil Dip with Caramelized Leeks, Sweet Potato, Carrot and Leek Soup, Cheesy Leek and Potato Gratin, and Mushroom and Leek Risotto With ‘Parmesan’ Tempeh.

11. Potato Skins

Like so many of my other vegetables, I don’t peel potatoes before cooking with them. I just scrub them clean and cook. If you do peel your potatoes, don’t throw the peels away. Cook them the same way you cook fries. You can fry them or you can bake them in the oven. Simply toss the peels with a bit of olive oil and seasonings – my choices are garlic powder, paprika, and black pepper. Then cook them in the oven for about 20-25 minutes at 425 degrees. When they are browned and crispy, sprinkle with kosher salt and munch away. They make a great snack or use them as a crunchy garnish as you would crispy fried onions. It’s like having Potato Skins or French Fries without the actual potato.

12. Radish Leaves

One year I had a ton of radishes. The green leaves on radishes do not last long so you have to use them right away. I used the radishes to make my Caramelized Radishes and the leaves to make Radish Leaf Pesto that became an amazing pasta sauce. To make it: combine 4 cups fresh chopped radish leaves, ½ cup chopped walnuts, 3 cloves garlic, the zest and juice of half a lemon and 2 Tbs. vegan parmesan in a food processor. Stream in up to ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil while processing the ingredients. When the pesto is smooth, season with kosher salt and black pepper to taste. When the pasta is al dente, reserve 1 cup of the cooking water and add it, little by little, to the pesto to loosen it up a bit. Toss the pasta in the pesto sauce and serve hot. Radish leaves can also be used in salads but they can be bitter so you might want to blanch them first.

Learning how to use all the parts of a vegetable is like trying new foods. When we cook from root to stem, we not only lessen the amount of food we waste but we gain a larger variety of healthy and delicious dishes we can make. Try it and let us know how it goes.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Simple, All-Natural Homemade Toothpaste

We all know about eating healthy and as organically as we can, but now I am concerned about a new issue. It seems some studies claim fluoride, when taken daily, can be toxic. Since most of us receive fluoride unwillingly and unknowingly in our water supply, having it in our toothpastes can lead to overexposure. It is not a nutrient, therefore our bodies do not require it.  Dr. Joseph Mercola has found that too much fluoride affects children's IQ, causes thyroid issues, and can even cause cancer. Most of Europe -- 97% -- has banned it from their water supply, and the claims that it fights tooth decay are also being questioned.

These concerns led me to create my own toothpaste, which tastes just as good as the commercial brands. I make the paste with coconut oil, which is known to be antibacterial and helps guard against tooth decay. If you want more of a whitening paste, add a drop of hydrogen peroxide.

Here is the recipe. It's great fun to make with the sprites!

  • 3 tbs Organic Baking Soda
  • 3 tbs Coconut Oil
  • 20 drops of peppermint or cinnamon oil
  • 2 tsp glycerin
  • a few drops of stevia or one packet of xylitol (which also fights tooth decay)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

What to Do When Organic Isn't an Option

Whether you're stuck in a food desert or have a tight food budget, you don't need to be exposed to dangerous pesticides.

Despite the fact that organic food is your healthiest option, buying it isn't always feasible. A recent study conducted by the Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center found that, overall, organic foods cost 47 percent more. And if cost isn't a limiting factor, not everyone has equal access to fresh produce (let alone organic produce), such as those living in food deserts.

Organic trumps all, since it's better for you and the environment, but the Consumer Reports study points out that eating conventionally grown produce is still better than not eating any fruits and vegetables. Here are five ways to protect yourself if conventional produce is your only option.

#1. Look for Country of Origin
Knowing where your food comes from matters. If you're stuck buying conventional produce, aim for these very-low-risk options, according to Consumer Reports:

• Asparagus grown in Mexico
• Avocado grown in Chile, Mexico, or Peru
• Blueberries grown in Uruguay
• Broccoli grown in America
• Cabbage grown in Canada, Mexico, or America
• Cantaloupe from Honduras or Mexico. Avoid those grown in America
Celery grown in Mexico
• Cilantro grown in America
• Eggplant grown in Honduras
• Green onions grown in Mexico
• Mangoes from Mexico
• Mushrooms grown in Canada
• Onions grown in Peru or America
• Papaya grown in Belize, Brazil, Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico, or America
• Pineapples grown in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, or America
• Prunes grown in America
• Spinach grown in Mexico
• Sweet corn grown in Mexico or America
• Watermelon grown in Guatemala
• Winter squash grown in Guatemala, but not America

#2. Avoid the Worst Offenders
The Environmental Working Group identifies the most pesticide-laden produce on the market, naming it the Dirty Dozen list. Limit eating these foods whenever organic options aren't available.

To add to this list, Consumer Reports says high-risk produce (in terms of pesticides) include peaches, tangerines, plums (from Chile, but not America), apples (from America, but not New Zealand), green beans, bell peppers, hot peppers, and sweet potatoes.

#3. Clean Your Produce
Thoroughly washing your produce can help clean off the pesticides. Researchers at Consumer Reports recommend washing fruits and vegetables for 30 seconds to a minute, using a produce brush when possible. They even suggest washing foods that you're going to peel to help avoid contaminating your clean food with pesticides.

Consider making your own produce wash.

#4. Grow Your Own
Don't want pesticides in your food? You can choose not to put them there if you grow your own food. You'd be surprised what you can grow, even in a small space.

#5. Don't Rely on Organic Canned Foods
Organic canned foods sounds like a great way to eat organic on the cheap, but you're just swapping out one evil (pesticides) for another (BPA). The only organic canned-food brand that does not contain BPA or harmful BPA replacements is Eden Organics. Opt for frozen or dried organic foods, instead. Dried organic beans are not expensive, and Consumer Reports found that frozen organic foods are sometimes cheaper than conventionally grown ones.

Why You Should Never Eat Nonorganic Green Beans

For real. You definitely don't want these on your plate, Consumer Reports finds out.

Sometimes organic just isn't available. So is it safe to go the nonorganic route if there's no other feasible option? While organic is always best if you're trying to protect your family from chemicals linked to breast cancer, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, ADHD, thyroid problems, and other ills, Consumer Reports recently released a super-handy report that helps you figure out which veggies are riskier choices than others whenever you're in a position where organic isn't an option.

For instance, researchers found nonorganic green beans to be among the riskiest produce picks you could eat.

In the report, veteran researcher Charles Benbrook, PhD, a collaborator on the Consumer Reports report and leader of the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University, had this to say: "Acephate, and its breakdown product methamidophos, on green beans was the No. 1 risk driver in 2013. That use accounted for around one-half of total risk across all pesticides and food."

Because of this, green beans fall into the report's "very high risk" category. And the thing about green beans is that they are consistently contaminated with toxic pesticides. Looking at the measure of both the amount of pesticide residues found on the beans and the chemicals' toxicity, green beans have landed on the very-high-risk category nearly every year since testing began in 1992.

The Consumer Reports' From Crop to Table Pesticide Use in Produce explains that the organophosphate chemical acephate is among the most concerning chemicals showing up on green beans, despite the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency canceled its use in 2009. (Organophosphate bug-killing chemicals are associated with brain damage in people. That makes sense, since they are designed to scramble a pest's nervous system.)

The Environmental Working Group recently also came out with its list of pesticide-laden produce, calling it the 2015 Dirty Dozen list. To add to this body of research, Consumer Reports' report on green beans and other high-risk produce (in terms of pesticides)—including peaches, tangerines, plums (from Chile, but not America), apples (from America, but not New Zealand), green beans, bell peppers, hot peppers, and sweet potatoes—makes it easier for you to make smarter choices while shopping for produce. (Be empowered by this knowledge; don't shy away from eating produce, since eating more veggies has consistently been shown to help you live longer.)

If you find it's difficult to get your hands on organic produce, use these 5 great tips on what to do if organic isn't available.
[via Rodale News]

12 Fruits and Veggies You Should Avoid (If Buying Non-Organic)

Contrary to the old adage, an apple a day may not keep the doctor away. According to the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) 2015 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, apples topped the list as the most pesticide-contaminated produce for the fifth year in a row. Peaches and nectarines round out the top three “dirtiest” foods while avocados, sweet corn and pineapples are among the cleanest. EWG’s annual Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists rank fruits and vegetables according to pesticide residue levels reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Despite growing consumer demand for pesticide-free fruits and vegetables evident in increased organic food sales, pesticides were found on nearly two-thirds of the 3,015 produce samples tested by the USDA, even in some cases after they had been washed and peeled.

“The bottom line is people do not want to eat pesticides with their fruits and vegetables,” said Ken Cook, EWG’s president and cofounder. “That’s why we will continue telling shoppers about agricultural chemicals that turn up on their produce, and we hope we will inform, and ultimately, empower them to eat cleaner.”

165 different pesticides were identified on the USDA food samples with 99 percent of apples, 98 percent of peaches and 97 percent of nectarines testing positive for at least one residue. Cherry tomatoes, grapes, snap peas and potatoes were also among the most contaminated with potatoes averaging more pesticides by weight than any other produce. For the third year in a row, EWG also expanded the Dirty Dozen list with a Plus category to include hot peppers and leafy greens that contain trace amounts of highly hazardous pesticides, including organophosphate and carbamate insecticides. Acephate, chlorpyrifos and oxamyl (highly toxic insecticides) are banned on some crops but still permitted on hot peppers. And although pesticides DDE and dieldrin were banned years ago, residue from agricultural soils is still found on leafy greens grown today.

Pesticides have been linked to a number of negative impacts on the environment and human health, including depression and suicide in farmers, decreasing bee populations and increased risk of Parkinson’s disease. A recent study found lower pesticide levels in people who eat organic food, and EWG confirms that the best way for consumers to avoid pesticides in food is to purchase organic produce if possible. If food accessibility or financial restrictions limit access to organic foods, the Clean 15 list highlights produce with the lowest levels of pesticide exposure and is also a good option.

“We are saying, eat your fruits and vegetables,” said Sonya Lunder, EWG’s senior analyst. “But know which ones have the highest amounts of pesticides so you can opt for the organic versions, if available and affordable, or grab a snack off the Clean Fifteen.”
[via EcoWatch]