The Oldways Table Blog

Celebrating health,
happiness, heritage,
and delicious,
nutritious food.

November 19, 2014 | Oldways Table

Earlier this year I had the great pleasure of attending an event at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, in California’s Napa Valley.  It was the first time I'd been to Greystone, and it lived up to all the hype I'd heard over the years. 

The event was the annual scientific and media conference organized by The Peanut Institute.  The speakers included scientists with the latest research on the healthfulness of peanuts (Ronald Pegg, PhD, of the University of Georgia and Kathy McManus, MS, RD, LDN, from Brigham & Women's Hospital here in Boston); Mark Manary, MD, a pediatrician from St Louis who has spent the last 20 years in Mali, helping to reduce hunger and disease through The Peanut Butter Project; and Bill Briwa, one of the lead teaching chefs at Greystone, who taught us all sorts of culinary tricks and demoed a number of peanut recipes. 

Being from Oldways, my job was to talk about the peanut's global culinary appeal, because truly, it is one of the few foods featured in cuisines around the world.  We've collaborated with The Peanut Institute -- particularly surrounding the science of healthy moderate fats -- since the early days of the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid in the 1990s.

Immediately before our International Conference on the Diets of Asia in 1995, Oldways organized a 2-day symposium on nuts and legumes. Then we created a monograph on Peanuts and Health from the Symposium.  In this monograph, food writer Anya von Bremzen wrote as part of her keynote address, “Of all the New World edible discoveries only the chile, perhaps, has enjoyed such stunning success in its travels around the globe."   

It is difficult to overstate the role of peanuts in healthy traditional world cuisine.  One way to gauge this is to thumb through the index of cookbooks written by well-traveled and respected authors.  Satays, sauces, cookies, stir-fries with peanuts, sweets and confections, salads and greens mixed with peanuts – the list of peanut dishes is a long one, rich with history.

But it is health that drove the peanut to be a building block of healthy, traditional diets.  Throughout centuries, legumes have been an essential component of traditional diets.  Whether in the Mediterranean, Middle East, Africa, the Indian subcontinent, Far Eastern cultures, or in Central or South America, humans have subsisted for millenniums on diets based upon one or several legumes.

While peanuts are botanically legumes, from a culinary perspective, they are used like a nut.  This connection between the two is close.  Legumes and nuts share very important characteristics.  The first one is the ability to be stored without refrigeration.  Therefore, they can be consumed after some time, even years after harvesting.  They share another property in that they both contain a good amount of protein – something they also have in common with animal products   Since we’re talking about the old ways, let’s go back to the beginning – to discover the roots of the peanut’s starring role.

Most everyone thinks the peanut originated in Africa, because of the peanut’s connection to the slave trade.  The truth is that it’s a New World food, South American, most likely from Bolivia or Peru.

Peanuts were brought to Africa by Portuguese slave traders.  and their popularity spread slowly.  Culinary historian Jessica Harris reports in her book, The Africa Cookbook, that "The Mandinka of western African still remember this and refer to the legume as tiga, a diminutive of the Portuguese word manteiga, meaning butter"  since the oil of the peanut was used for cooking.

The Africans recognized the incredible nutritional potential of this new food (26% protein by weight), plus the plant enriched the soil with nitrogen.  The peanut became the plant with the highest protein yield per acre.  Besides being a major source of nutrition, the tastes of peanuts became central to West African cooking.

Peanuts could be eaten toasted as a nut or consumed raw like other legumes.  Raw peanuts were boiled much like dried peas and served as a side dish.  In Ghana and Nigeria peanuts were cooked together with dried corn and made into flour and peanut butter.

The peanut traveled back to Brazil and was re-introduced to Northeastern Brazil by African slaves.  Often cooked with okra, it was made into stews -- similar to those in the African Heritage Diet.

Similarly, the peanut traveled to the US with African slaves who cultivated and cooked with it in the plantations of the south.  From the time of the Civil War it spread throughout America.  Then a scientist at Tuskegee Institute – George Washington Carver – became a passionate advocate of the peanut, producing a peanut cookbook with 105 ways of preparing peanuts for human consumption.

How did the peanut travel to the East?  Anya von Bremzen says the peanut is first mentioned in China as early as 1530, only a little bit after the discovery of the Americas.  It was the Spanish and Portuguese again who brought the peanut east – they were spice traders and missionaries.  The Spanish took it to the Philippines and the Portuguese to India and Macau, from where it traveled throughout China via the returning China traders.  The peanut was widely accepted – the Chinese already knew how to use legumes and nuts.  They made sauces and used the peanuts oils.

And with the history of the peanut's global role in mind, Chef Bill Briwa at Greystone introduced us to spectacular dishes featuring peanuts from around the world.  Luckily for all of us, we got to cook at the CIA.  We were divided into four groups -- North American, Latin American, Asian and Mediterranean -- and produced four dishes per group for our lunch.  With 16 dishes to try, it was hard to pick a favorite, although I went back twice for Chile-Peanut Crusted Scallops with Jicama Slaw and today I am able to share the recipe with all of you.

Chile-Peanut Crusted Scallops with Jicama Slaw

Chile-peanut crust
½ cup peanut flour
1 teaspoon Chile de arbol, finely ground
1-teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon cumin, ground
3 tablespoons peanuts, toasted, ground for garnish

12 fresh scallops
3 tablespoons peanut oil

4 skewers
oil, for grill
Jicama Slaw (recipe below)
Peanuts, toasted, for garnish as needed

For the chili-peanut crust:  Combine the peanut flour, chile de arbol powder, salt, and cumin in a small bowl and mix to combine.  In a small sauté pan, toast the mixture over medium-low heat until it just starts to color and the aroma of the peanuts begins to fill the room; set aside and cool.

For the scallops:  Rinse the scallops, pat dry, and coat with peanut oil.  Rubin with the chile-peanut mixture.  Threat 3 scallops on each of the four 6-inch skewers.

Prepat grill to medium-high heat and oil the grill rack.  Grill the scallops until cooked through, about 4 =minutes per side.  Carefully remove the scallops from the skewers.  Serve warm with the jicama slaw and garnish with toasted peanuts.  

Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of Bill Briwa, Culinary Institute of America at Greystone for The Peanut Institute

Jicama Slaw

2 Jicama, medium, peeled, julienned
1 Napa cabbage, cored, finely shredded
3 carrots, peeled, shredded
½ cup lime juice
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 table spoons ancho chile powder
2 tablespoons honey
½ cup peanut oil
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup cilantro leaves, finely chopped

Place the jicama, cabbage and carrots in a large bowl.

Whisk together the lime juice, vinegar, ancho chile powder, honey, and peanut oil in a medium bowl.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the dressing over the jicama mixture and toss to cat well.  Fold in the cilantro and let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving.

Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of Julie Sahni for The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone

November 17, 2014 | Oldways Table
L to R: Kelly Toups, Mallory Cushman, Cynthia Harriman, Rachel Greenstein, Sara Baer-Sinnott and Harley Songin
Oldways and the Whole Grains Council just threw a giant three-day party for 200 people in our hometown of Boston – the Whole Grains: Breaking Barriers conference. We’re exhausted and exhilarated, and soooo glad we were able to get some important messages in front of our international attendees and the more than two dozen journalists who joined us. In today’s blog, we’ll share some of the key take-aways from this event.
We don’t all need to go gluten-free – or grain-free. Our keynote speaker, Dr. Alessio Fasano, world-renowned expert on celiac disease and gluten and Director of the Celiac Research Center at MassGeneral Hospital for Children, answered the key question of the conference – Should everyone avoid gluten? – with a resounding no. 
Dr. Fasano’s presentation put the rise In celiac disease into context, pointing out that many other autoimmune diseases – unrelated to gluten -- have been rising at similar rates in recent decades. Based on current research, he suggests that changes in our microbiome – the balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria in our guts – are likely at the root of the increase in celiac and other autoimmune diseases. “Nutrition is the key element, the most influential component, in microbiome composition,” he concluded, implying that an overall poor diet could make all of us susceptible to such diseases. “No question there is a fad component” to the gluten-free trend, he stated. “We are not born with the destiny to develop celiac disease
Dr. David Katz, Director of Yale’s Prevention Research Center, picked up that theme, declaring, “DNA is not destiny – dinner is destiny.” Dr. Katz, whose presentation was titled “What did Paleo man really eat?” said upfront that he “didn’t come to throw the Paleo diet under the bus” because there are many laudable aspects of the Paleo diet concept – such as eating whole, unprocessed foods. According to Dr. Katz, however, few people pick up on that core concept, instead using the popular fad diet as a rationale for “eating whatever the hell they want.” He pointed out, “Folks, there was no Paleolithic pastrami!”
According to Dr. Katz, many paleo-anthropologists believe that the Paleo diet was primarily plant-based anyhow, providing as much as 100g of fiber daily. He decried our society’s tendency to ignore established nutritional science, while constantly looking for some new magic-bullet answer and fretting about macro- and micro-nutrients. “Our problem is not what we don’t know; it’s that we don’t use what we know. … Get the foods right and the nutrients take care of themselves – and getting it right includes whole grains.”
Pam Cureton, RD, Clinical/Research Dietitian for the Celiac Research Center, is an expert on the pros and cons of gluten-free and grain-free diets. She advised conference attendees that gluten-free diets are a life-saver for people diagnosed with celiac disease – but she cautioned others against self-diagnosing a gluten problem and starting a gluten-free diet with medical advice. “If you take away just one point from my talk,” she asserted, “It’s this: never start a gluten-free diet before proper testing is completed.” Once someone is no longer ingesting gluten, testing will be inconclusive.
Cureton warned that gluten-free diets tend to be low in fiber, iron, B vitamins, calcium and several other nutrients, while generally being higher in calories, fat and sugar, often resulting in poor bone health, constipation and weight gain. She advised anyone with a medical reason for following a gluten-free diet to seek out the many gluten free grains – “These grains are little nutritional powerhouses!” – and skip the gluten-free brownies and cookies.
Whole grains have great taste and momentum (and oh yeah, they’re healthy). Among people not taken in by pseudoscience and fad diets, whole grains are going gang-busters. A few snapshots from the conference:
  • June Jo Lee, VP of Strategic Insights for the Hartman Group, cited “fresh, whole and real” as key food trends, adding that “whole grains are right at the center of that.”
  • Three award-winning Boston chefs --- Ana Sortun of Oleana, Jason Bond of Bondir and Barry Maiden of Hungry Mother -- accompanied by the farmer -- Liz L'Etoile of Four Star Farms -- who grows many of their grains, spoke passionately about some of the whole grain dishes that are flying off their menus. 
  • Chef and baking expert Peter Reinhart (below) explained the benefits of sprouted whole grains, and wowed us with the delicious taste of his sprouted whole wheat bread and sprouted cornbread (which he baked in the hotel kitchen early that morning!)

  • Two local public school food directors, Samantha Weiss Kimball, MPH, RD from Boston and Mellissa Honeywood, RD from Cambridge,  explained how the new school food requirements for whole grain foods have been smoothly implemented at their schools. “We are trying to broaden the taste experience of these kids so they can grow into healthy adults,” said Ms. Honeywood. All her schools have gardens and some of the schools are even growing their own whole grains!
  • On our manufacturers’ panel, Anna Rosales, RD, Nutrition Director Region America for Barilla, stated that her company had started out making its whole grain pasta with 51% whole grain, but was now transitioning to a whole grain pasta that is 100% whole grain – with pasta sales holding steady or increasing, now that more and more people are on the whole grain bandwagon.
  • Even convenience stores are getting a makeover. Jim Bressi, Director of Product Development for Kwik Trip, says his chain of 425 stores in the Midwest  has its own bakery, where it produces whole grain breads qualifying for the Whole Grain Stamp that it sells for just 99¢ a loaf. Healthy breads and fresh fruit are becoming hallmarks of the chain, inspiring other c-stores.
Although Dr. Furio Brighenti and Dr. Nicola McKeown detailed the health benefits of whole grains in detail, everyone – from chefs, to doctors and dietitians, to manufacturers and retailers – agreed that using the “h” word tends to scare people off. Simply make whole grains delicious, with honest ingredients, sell them at an affordable price, and the fact that they’re healthy is just a hidden bonus, a whispered aside to mention while people are tucking into their favorite whole grain foods!
But wait, there’s more! We can’t recap every speaker in one blog. A few additional highlights were Dr. Marco Gobbetti (whose work we blogged about recently) explained how a mix of specific traditional sourdough cultures can render wheat technically gluten-free; Dr. James Hamblin alerted us to the “recipe” for successful pseudoscience; and Dr. Brett Carver detailed how today’s wheat is largely unchanged from the wheat of a century – or a millennium – ago and is not GMO or higher in gluten.
You can check out the full list of speakers and download presentations from most of them on the Whole Grains Council’s website. By early December we’ll be posting video of most of our speakers’ presentations so you, too, can hang on their every word, as we did last week in Boston!
-- Cynthia
November 13, 2014 | Oldways Table

One potato, two potato, three potato, four!  Well today it will be twelve - twelve ways to prepare potatoes. Loved by most, potatoes have been nourishing people for thousands of years.  Originally from Peru and domesticated approximately 6,000 years ago, potatoes have made their way around the world, both culinarily and agriculturally speaking.  Today, the potato is the fourth-most cultivated food crop in the world and grown in almost every country.  But before we dig into the wonderful ways we can prepare these special spuds we wanted to share some fun facts we learned along the way.

  • Botanically speaking, the potato belongs to the solanaceae family.
  • Nutritionally, potatoes are considered a healthy food. One medium potato contains just 110 calories and is packed with potassium, vitamins, and fiber.
  • America may have been behind the eight ball here, the potato wasn’t introduced to North America until the 18th century.
  • There are more than 4,000 varieties of potatoes that can be found worldwide.  Moral of this story:  Branch out, try a new type of potato. Popular potato varieties that can easily be found at the farmers market or your local grocer include Russets, Red, Purple, Fingerling and Yukon Gold.
  • Speaking of new, there is a misnomer about “new potatoes.”  A new potato is not necessarily a small potato; the “new” refers to the way in which it has been harvested, early in the season, young and thin skinned, fresh from the farm without curing, and delivered directly to market or your plate.
  • On average, a person in the United States consumes 140 pounds of potatoes a year.
  • Talk about a prize-winning potato! According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the world’s largest potato weighed in at 11 pounds!

And without further adieu here are Oldways 12 great ways to use potatoes!


November 11, 2014 | Oldways Table

The last time we checked in with Nava Atlas she was Wild About Greens. Today she is plant powered and living the good life, promoting her newest book, Plant Power, which celebrates the bounty of natural foods and teaches everyone—from committed vegans to those who just want more plants in their diet—how to implement a plant-based diet.  We love Nava’s practical plant-powered lessons as she shares approachable, joyful ideas that invite readers to accompany her on this delicious journey.

Today Nava joins us at the Oldways Table with a plant-filled plate of goodies to share with all of you!

OLDWAYS:  Plant Power is your eleventh cookbook.  How do you think your cooking has evolved over the years and what can readers expect from this latest book?
NAVA:  Is it my eleventh? I thought it was my twelfth or fourteenth … honestly, I’ve lost track, what with all the revised editions and such. But no matter what number, it adds up to a lot of recipes!

The main evolution is having gone from vegetarian to vegan. I also went through phases, especially when my kids were growing up, when I was much more willing to use shortcuts, like prepared BBQ sauce, peanut sauce, salad dressings, and such, so I could focus more on prepping veggies and other hands-on ingredients. And I still heartily approve of that, so long as the convenient products are all-natural and not loaded with added sugars or fats. Now, I give myself as well as readers of Plant Power the option of making these kinds of flavor-enhancing add-ons from scratch, or not.

Since I’ve been a busy working mom (my kids are grown now and live in Brooklyn, like all young people their age) I understand how challenging it is to get a good meal on the table each and every day. So I wrote Plant Power with that in mind. It’s not just for those who want to go vegan, but anyone who wants to enjoy a more plant-based diet, and do so easily and enjoyably. In addition to recipes, there are make-ahead tips, strategies, ideas for creating full meals, ways to make leftovers more exciting, and lots more.

OLDWAYS:  In the book you share your own personal journey to a plant-based lifestyle and how early on you were met with some resistance.  What advice can you offer to others who may experience similar resistance from friends and family?
NAVA:  My advice is always to be armed with great food and credible info. I’ve rarely gone on the offensive, but if someone wants to challenge you, or to simply understand what the plant-based diet and/or vegan lifestyle entails, know whereof you speak! You don’t have to give lectures, but be familiar with the basics of the health, ethical, and environmental benefits, so you can enlighten in a positive way.

If you know you’re going to be the only vegan at a family dinner, for example, always offer to bring a great main dish, and if you’re ambitious, a dessert as well. The best way to win skeptics over is with delicious food. And make sure to bring plenty, because almost invariably, people are curious and want to try what we plant-based eaters are having.

OLDWAYS:  What are some common mistakes people make when they decide to start eating a vegetarian or vegan diet and how can they avoid these mistakes?
NAVA:  A common mistake is to assume that because you’re going vegan, you’re necessarily eating healthier. Just like any regimen, a plant-based diet can be good and adequate, or inadequate. You need not be a nutrition expert to adopt this way of eating, but do know a few basics, like what your protein sources are (not because this is a concern, but because everyone is going to ask you; trust me on that one!); and be aware that you’ll need to find a good way to supplement vitamin B12.

I’ve heard from many younger people who want to go vegetarian or vegan for the right reasons, but then admit that they’re picky eaters who don’t particularly like vegetables. Sometimes it’s a matter of retraining the palate, and trying new ways of preparation.  Personally, I think it would be a sad plant-based diet without lots of veggies.

There’s also the danger of falling into a rut, just as with any kind of diet, and then getting discouraged because meals get boring. In Plant Power, I talk about approaching meal planning with the same enthusiasm one brings to going out to eat. Finally, I don’t want people to make the mistake of thinking of the plant-based diet as one of deprivation or substitution. It’s a cuisine that has come into its own, and most people who make the commitment find that their palate and meal options expand rather than contract.

OLDWAYS:  You do a fantastic job of debunking myths pertaining to plant-based diets. Can you talk to us about some of the biggest misconceptions of plant-based eating?
NAVA:  We already touched on the protein question; the myth is that it’s difficult to get sufficient protein on a plant-based diet. It’s a question that comes up all the time. The reality is that if one has a varied diet and is getting enough calories, you’re very likely to be consuming sufficient protein. Of course, allowances need to be made for pregnant and lactating women, very active athletes, and those who are healing from injuries.

Similar to the concern about whether a plant-based diet will be one of deprivation, is the myth that it’s a boring and restrictive diet. Nothing could be further from the truth. I think that’s amply borne out not only by Plant Power, but the hundreds of vegan cookbooks and websites that have burst onto the scene. On the other hand, some people worry that they’ll have to use strange and exotic products. You can, of course, but that’s not a requirement. I focus on ingredients that are just plain food — vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains, beans … and all the myriad ways to make them delicious.

Another myth is that you’ll be hungry all the time on the plant-based diet. This concern seems prevalent by those who haven’t yet tried it, and are pre-worried that they won’t feel satisfied. I point to hearty dishes that people are already familiar with — chili, stews, casseroles, even mac and cheese. These can all be made in plant-based versions that are just as filling as their meaty or high-fat counterparts, but much healthier.

OLDWAYS:  We all agree that having a well-stocked pantry is key to cooking wholesome meals.  What are a few items that are always on the shelves in your plant-powered pantry?
NAVA: My pantry is always stocked with a variety of whole grains, though quinoa seems to be my go-to grain most often; also a variety of canned beans, because I’m usually too busy or lazy to cook them from scratch. I consider potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, and garlic pantry items, because they’re kept at room temperature, and those are always on hand.

Nuts and dried fruits are in the pantry to be used in moderation, not only due to the fat content of the former and the sugar content of the latter, but the cost. I’m a fan of seeds, too, so sunflower, sesame, and hemp are staples. I like pumpkin seeds, too, but can’t always find them.

Going back to the convenient shortcuts we spoke of before, good-quality marinara sauce and salsa are always on hand. I do make them from scratch, but only when the garden is bursting with tomatoes. Otherwise, as I say in the book, I let Paul Newman make them for me so I have more time to prep veggies!

OLDWAYS:  Your book includes more than 150 recipes – might we share one of these delicious dishes with our readers?
NAVA:  Sure, let’s give your readers a filling one for the cold season ahead.

Vegan Cream of Broccoli Soup
Serves: 6

A longtime favorite in our family of broccoli enthusiasts, this soup gets a thick, creamy base from pureed white beans or tofu. The addition of green peas at the end of cooking time brightens the color and heightens the flavor of the soup.


1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or 3 tablespoons vegetable broth or water
1 large onion, chopped
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
32-ounce carton low-sodium vegetable broth or 4 cups water mixed with
 2 to 3 teaspoons salt-free all-purpose seasoning blend (such as Frontier or Mrs. Dash)
5 to 6 cups coarsely chopped broccoli florets and peeled stems
2 cups frozen green peas, thawed
One 15- to 16-ounce can great northern beans or cannellini,
 drained and rinsed, or one 12.3-ounce package firm silken tofu
1 cup unsweetened rice milk or other unsweetened nondairy milk, plus more as needed

To finish the soup:
2 cups finely chopped broccoli florets
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill or parsley, or a combination, plus more for garnish
Juice of 1/2 lemon, or 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


Heat the oil, broth, or water in a soup pot and add the onion. Sauté over medium heat until translucent, then add the garlic if desired. Continue to sauté until the onion is golden.

Add the broth and broccoli. Bring to a simmer, then cover and simmer gently until the broccoli is tender but not overcooked, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the beans or tofu and half the green peas. Continue to cook just until everything is nicely heated through.

The easiest way to puree this soup is to simply insert an immersion blender into the pot and puree until it’s as smooth as you’d like it to be. You can also leave it a bit chunky. If you don’t have an immersion blender, transfer the mixture to a regular blender and puree (don’t overprocess!), then transfer back to the soup pot. Add enough nondairy milk to give the soup a medium-thick consistency.

To finish the soup, add the remaining green peas, the finely chopped broccoli florets, the chopped herbs, and the lemon juice. Stir together, then season with salt and pepper. Cook over very low heat for 5 minutes longer, or until the finely chopped broccoli florets are tender-crisp, then serve.

Recipe from Plant Power: Transform Your Kitchen, Plate, and Life with More Than 150 Fresh and Flavorful Vegan Recipes by Nava Atlas. ©2014, published by HarperOne, reprinted by permission. Photos by Hannah Kaminsky.



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