Two weeks ago, food columnist Mark Bittman published ten Recipes for the Semi-Vegan in The New York Times Magazine along with photos that left many of us salivating.
What a great source of inspiration, I thought, for those of us who aspire to eat more plants and fewer animal products. I, in particular, need help. See, in May 2010, after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals,I resolved to stop eating meat. My reasons were personal. (You can read them here.) And I kept my resolution until the end of February 2011.
Then my mom died.
After the memorial service, my sister came home with a giant sack of Wendy’s cheeseburgers, Mom’s favorite food, and, dumping them out on the kitchen table, she announced, “Everyone must partake.” I couldn’t refuse this ceremonial gesture. I ate a cheeseburger. And then another. And then for the rest of my trip home it was all meat all the time. Something inside me craved the comfort it provided. The problem was that once I came back to California, I still craved meat. So last year, a tough year, I let myself eat as much of it as I wanted. Probably less than the average American, but still, I want this year to be different.
In addition to reducing the suffering of farm animals and being healthier for our bodies, cutting down on the amount of animal products we consume can also help mitigate global climate change. The United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization estimates that livestock production generates about 18% of human-derived greenhouse gas emissions. The animals themselves, of course, produce methane, and large portions of the world’s carbon-sequestering forests are destroyed for grazing lands.
I’m not ready or willing to go all the way vegan, but I will return to my previous vegetarian state and add one vegan day per week.
Preparing Bittman’s Vegan Recipes without Plastic
To jump start my vegan experiment, I plan to make all 10 recipes, while generating a minimal amount of plastic waste. Some of the recipes — roasted squash with kale, for example — will be easy to make plastic-free. But others include ingredients that are usually found in either plastic packaging or BPA-lined cans. They will be challenging but not impossible.
I made the first recipe last weekend, and it was just lovely.
Recipe #1: Saffron-and-Mushroom Barley Risotto
I love making risotto. And I love criticizing restaurants that serve something they call risotto that really isn’t. If you have to add a ton of butter and cream to make your risotto creamy, you’re doing it wrong. (I’m talking to you, Pasta Pomodoro!) A good risotto takes time. I’ve heard you can do it quicker in a pressure cooker, but I don’t have one, and to me, spending several hours on a weekend afternoon cooking risotto is meditative and relaxing. And the wine doesn’t hurt. A little for the risotto. A little for me.
- Dried porcini mushrooms from the bulk bin at Berkeley Bowl West
- Shiitake mushrooms from farmers market in a paper bag that I reuse over and over
- Saffron in glass vial. I bought this stuff many years ago and am not even sure it’s still good, but I used it anyway because I had it.
- Pearled barley from Whole Foods bulk bin in my own reusable hemp bag from the ChicoBag produce stand collection
- Onions from farmers market — except I can’t actually eat onions, so I used onion powder instead
- White wine — I always look for wines in glass bottles without any capsule (wrapper) around the neck and without a plastic cork or plastic-lined screw cap. I’ll write more about plastic-free wine in an upcoming post.
- Olive oil in our own bottle that we refill at Whole Foods or Market Hall
- Vegetable stock. I used Better Than Bouillon in a glass jar, but many of you have left comments about how easy broth is to make from scratch, and I actually have a post from a guest blogger coming up in a few days explaining how she makes her own plastic-free vegetable broth.
- Parsley from produce aisle
In addition to Bittman’s ingredients pictured above, I added a few more as I went along:
- Nutritional yeast from Berkeley Bowl bulk bin to add protein and B vitamins and give some extra umami flavor
- Juice of one lemon because I wanted just a bit more tanginess
You’ll have to read Mark Bittman’s recipe for the exact instructions, but I’ll just say that to make any risotto, you saute your grain (rice — or barley in this case) in some kind of fat and then very slowly add liquid, a cup at a time, stirring almost constantly to help the grains release their starch. You don’t add the next cup of liquid until the previous one is absorbed. The liquids are usually wine and broth, and you can use your own taste buds to determine how much of each. I substituted wine for some of the broth in this recipe because I love the flavor of wine in food. Use as much liquid as it takes to create a super creamy food that melts in your mouth. When the barley or rice is soft enough to eat, the risotto is probably not done yet. Keep going and have patience to create the perfect texture and mouth feel. Yum!
The next Bittman recipe I’m going to make is Spinach and Chickpeas. Care to join me?