Sexy Legumes

Well, what do you eat?

Growing up I had the fun, glamorous experience of being a vegetarian in the public school system. Whenever it came up (usually the first day in a new school, during lunch break), the other kids looked horrified and fascinated. From kindergarten through high school I got the same reactions. What do you eat?

It didn’t help that I was a bit chunky through high school. The general assumption was that vegetarians looked like waifs. Like starving heroin addicts. Oh, and that we supposedly smelled like vegetable soup. Huh?

The response of course was, “everything you eat except for the animal parts”. Often waving at my overly generous hips, I would elaborate on pizza, cookies, ice cream, and everything else that tastes yummy and can make you fat. To this day, I know some of those kids didn’t believe me.

Then I found a kid in high school that was trying to convert to being a vegetarian. He confided in me that he had only been eating rice and lettuce for a month and wasn’t sure he was going survive. Well, duh! We fellow vegetarians got together and gave him a quick education on nutrition. Maybe I’m biased, but I think that people with ‘alternative dietary habits’ tend to have a bigger education on nutrition than those ‘normal’ people. Survival skills.

The number one problem with being a vegetarian (besides the weird beliefs of the carnivores) is getting proper protein in your diet. There’s an ongoing argument about protein sources, so it’s a good idea to vary types of protein on a daily or weekly basis. And legumes are your BFF.

Legumes are peas, beans, soy, peanuts (no, they are not nuts), and lentils. There are many more that are not a common food source. They contain the essential amino acid lysine, but lack methionine. Which is nice because whole grains are rich in methionine and low in lysine. When you combine legumes and whole grains, you create the complete protein necessary to keep you going. This doesn’t mean you have to do this at every meal. Your liver stores various amino acids, so by keeping a balanced intake, your body can actually build protein as it gets the necessary parts.

If you look back at history and traditional meals of different cultures, you’ll see that meat at a meal was often a once-a-week thing (if at all, depending on wealth, the season, and environment). A lot of traditional meals already combined these two elements because people aren’t stupid and natural selection picks off the people that don’t eat properly.

In India there are a lot of rice and dahl combinations. Asian cuisine likes to combine soy with rice, and Indonesians like tempeh with rice. The Americas with a lot of Spanish and native influence combines beans with corn. Even kids like peanut butter sandwiches.

(Okay, don’t get all upset if I mention the word ‘tofu’. That’s another five-page essay in itself. People who don’t know it, think it’s like eating slugs. And people who know it too well, think it’s one of the worst things you can eat because it’s over processed. So we won’t even go into tofu right now.)

There’s always a lot of argument going on when you get people who feel passionately about eating ‘right’. So everyone has something to say about what the perfect diet is. I’m more of a moderation kind of person. The Man and I try to eat a wide variety of foods to not only fill our nutritional requirements, but to keep from getting bored, and learn to make different kinds of food. I feel like anything carried to an extreme is unhealthy. Whether that’s food, religion, politics, or even washing your hands.

Being a vegetarian is a challenge for many reasons. But like anything else, if you have a basic education in it, you can make good decisions. You know what GI Joe says about knowledge.

There are literally thousands of ways to bring legumes into your diet. And yes you can make it taste awesome. Don’t forget your whole grains along the way. When in doubt, put some cheese on it. That’s my usual M.O. Yummmmm!

[Girl21]

Ketchup and Cheese Sammies

Growing up, I had a friend who had those cool anything-goes parents. My friend got to play in her mom’s make up. The dad gave her brother a full case of Bazooka bubble gum for his birthday with the one rule that it all had to end up in the trash immediately post-chew. They had a black Lab mutt named Cucaracha that would climb the shed in the back and jump up on the house’s roof to bark at neighbors and buzzards. When I slept over there were no bed times, or rules about the TV (which was always on) or when to take a bath. It was very Pippi Longstocking.

On the other hand, there weren’t actual meal times, and no one claimed responsibility for grocery shopping regularly. And although I doubt we would get into trouble for using the stove, we didn’t know how to cook. To make matters worse, the dad was almost always out doing stuff or in his shop, and the mom often wasn’t feeling so good (in retrospect, the word would be ‘hangover’). So we were sometimes left to fend for ourselves in an empty kitchen.

This is the first place I ever experienced a ketchup and cheese sandwich. At six-years-old, it was love at first taste.

I am not talking about grilled cheese with ketchup. Just two slices of bread slathered in your standard ketchup, and then closed around whatever slices of cheese you have handy. I prefer a nice sharp cheddar or Swiss. That’s it.

Over the years, I also grew to love jelly and cheese. If brought to school and left in your backpack for the morning, the jelly soaked into the cheddar and crystallized a little. Or cream cheese and jelly. My sister went in the other direction and developed a life-long love of mustard and cheese sandwiches. And my brother went another route and does Sriracha and cheese.

I brought this up the other morning while The Man was getting his coffee and I was making his lunch for work. He was duly horrified at the thought of a ketchup and cheese sammie. After much dramatics, he allowed me my sandwich because he liked mustard and cream cheese on a bagel.

Not one to let something like that alone, I posted this on Facebook and got back a volley of other personal favorites which included PB&J with hot sauce, grilled cheese with jam, and avocado/cheese/honey. I think everyone has a secret comfort sammie. Something they eat that is fast, weird, and a little ghetto. But hits the spot and makes your belly purr.

My dad was a repair guy his whole life and every day he would take a PB&J to work and leave it in the sandwich baggie on his dash in the truck. It would sit in the sun and heat up and get all soggy and crusty. If he didn’t have time to break for lunch, or it was a particularly difficult afternoon, he would sit in his truck in the shade of a tree for a few minutes and eat that mangled, baked, dripping sammie like it was a cold beer and a pizza. Comfort food.

If you haven’t tried the ketchup and cheese version, I highly recommend it. Preferably at 2AM, in your PJs, leaning over the kitchen sink. Possibly while it’s raining. It’s awesome.

[Girl21]

No Shenanigans Mac & Cheese-off, 2011

No Shenanigans Mac & Cheese-offAs with most epic battles, it all started with two guys kicking dirt on each other. Somehow I got stuck in the middle, and innocent (okay, not so innocent) bystander.

I posted a link to a macaroni and cheese recipe to a friend on Google+ (the geeky version of Facebook). There was a bit of debate regarding the need for bacon, and amazement that Paula Deen’s recipe didn’t include mayonnaise (everything else she makes does). The Man got involved, being a back seat driver to my online conversation, and offering the opinion that his version was the best ever, end of story. That was the equivalent of a woman asking her friend to hold her purse and her earrings. The gloves were off.

Seeking further advice on the topic, I switched to Facebook and invited my foodie friends to weigh in on mac & cheese. I was surprised that everyone seemed to have the opinion that their mac & cheese was better than anyone else’s, and IT WAS ON!

Apparently there are very strong feelings about a dish that is basically noodles and cheese and a few other things. Screw politics and religion. Bring up mac & cheese among foodies and you’re going to have an argument on your hands. I suppose it’s because this is one of the most popular comfort foods in the US.

There are variations of macaroni and cheese around the world, including Switzerland (Älplermagronen, which includes potatoes), and the Caribbean (called macaroni pie). Even the French have a version, although they tend towards a traditional mornay sauce rather than our wacky cracky American cheesiness. And as always, the Italians take credit for inventing the whole concept.

Even among our friends, there was a vocal disagreement about what ‘real’ mac & cheese was. What shape pasta? What types of cheese? How many extra ingredients could go in before it was no longer mac & cheese? So many people were in on the pasta scuffle, we had to formalize the date and time, and fortunately friends at Loosey’s arranged for us to use the bar for neutral ground. The date was set for October 9th. A month of trash-talking, spying, comparing cheeses, and testing recipes gave way to the No-Shenanigans Mac & Cheese-off.

Seventeen versions of macaroni and cheese arrived to fight it out. There were a few ‘classic’ styles, but the rest were an amazing variety of flavors and ingredients, proving it’s not just cheese and noodles. Once the judges had waded through them all and gone into a back room to deliberate (and possibly throw up from that much mac & cheese), they arrived at winners for the veggie category and the carnivore category. And the best-in-show overall crown went to a version that incorporated lobster bisque into the cheesiness.

Of course the feeding frenzy after the judges were done was just as much fun. Competitors and bystanders devoured the entries, sharing foodie notes, drinking beer, and slowly clogging their arteries in a convivial atmosphere. Eventually everyone had to sit down or go home for a nap. That’s a lot of carbs and dairy.

The casserole dishes were barely being scraped clean when conversation turned to the next cook-off. The what? Yep, the general populace wanted another food fight. Sometime around the holidays. So stay tuned to see what the next competition is about. I’m thinking pie. I like pie.

Many thanks to Loosey’s for becoming our Mac & Cheese Thunderdome. 🙂

[Girl21]