The Oldways Table Blog

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

July 2, 2015 | Oldways Table

What is creamy and buttery but good for you too? An avocado! In Spanish, mashed avocados are sometimes called “mantequilla de pobre,” or poor man’s butter. Avocados get their creaminess from healthy fats, which can help reduce cholesterol and decrease risk of heart disease when eaten in moderation.

Avocados can easily substitute for ingredients in recipes with these “bad fats” such as cream cheese, mayonnaise, butter, and sour cream. They add richness to dishes without the regret: avocados are also loaded with potassium, fiber, and vitamin C.

Smashed, sliced, cubed, or halved, they bring vibrant color to the table. Squeeze lemon or lime juice over them to prevent them from turning brown. If they do, it’s no big deal – they are still delicious!

  • The Aztecs believed avocados were aphrodisiacs due to their likeness to a certain male body part.
  • Think avocado toast is a recent trend? Think again. European sailors in the 1700s called avocados “midshipman’s butter” and spread them on their biscuits.
  • You can grow an avocado plant from seed at home! Take the pit out of a ripe, unrefrigerated avocado, and stab it with some toothpicks to hold it partially-submerged in a glass of water. In 4-6 weeks it will grow roots and sprout!
  • If you just can’t wait to eat your unripe avocado, speed up the ripening process by wrapping it in newspapers and putting it in a paper bag in a warm part of the kitchen.
  • There are around 400 varieties of avocados. Hass, named after a postal worker who bought the seeds in the 1920s, are the most popular.
  • Avocados have the most protein of any fruit.
  • In the early 1900s, avocados were called “alligator pears” because of their bumpy dark skin. California avocado growers complained that they were impossible to sell in the U.S. and the fruit was given a friendlier name. The rebranding effort has paid off: the average American now eats about five pounds of avocados a year.

And without further ado here are Oldways' ideas for 12 Great Ways to use Avocados!

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June 30, 2015 | Oldways Table

Three years ago we had the pleasure of seeing Hugh Acheson in action, up close and personal, at our Oldways Supermarket Dietitian Symposium, when he conducted a food demo for our dietitian guests. This past October, while attending FNCE in Atlanta, we dined at his Empire State restaurant and were even more in awe of his creativity.  (We  blogged about this meal!) We all left the restaurant with signed copies of his book, Pick a Pickle, and began counting down the days until we could read and cook from his newest book, The Broad Fork: Recipes from the Wide World of Vegetables and Fruit.  Although this book isn’t vegetarian it is all about making produce the star on the plate.  And for those of you who know Oldways, you know this is a principle we can embrace!

Hugh has a way of romancing ingredients. Read his description of field peas and you will not only be ravenous, you may even find yourself with first-date butterflies in your belly! Throughout the book he shares personal stories that demonstrate his connection to food and community and inspires readers to learn more about ingredients. He makes vegetables approachable and introduces readers to a variety we might otherwise be intimidated to prepare. From kohlrabi to kimchi, don’t worry, Hugh has you covered!


OLDWAYS:  Talk to us about your definition of a broad fork.
HUGH:  More than the agricultural tool, a broad fork can be defined as an embrace of your agrarian community. It allows us to eat in a way that revisits the seasons and the abundance of vegetable and fruit variety that exists across the country.

OLDWAYS:  Throughout the book, readers hear the message about the importance of connecting – with everything from  local farmers to the ingredients they eat.  You yourself discuss being disconnected and finding your way.  Why do you think a feeling of connection is so important?
HUGH:  I think that successful citizens are engaged in their community and I just happen to be lucky enough to be very involved in a community of food. To me community engagement connects the dots as to why I'm here and that we all have a common bond through food.

OLDWAYS:  For those interested in becoming better members of their food community but who may not have the deep roots you have planted, can you suggest some ways for them to begin this journey?
HUGH:  It is just a matter of engaging with your community as a whole. Food is something we all have in common. Go meet a farmer. Go talk to a maker. Go to the market. Converse with your bartender. Go engage with people in your neighborhood. Talk to the person who lives next to you and realize that they are from somewhere, they have troubles, beliefs, concerns, loves and interests. What are they eating?

OLDWAYS:  There is often a hesitation associated with trying new things. What first steps can the timid take to help them expand their vegetable palates? 
HUGH:  We have to pull the blinders off of how we cook. New things should excite, not be cause for alarm. Trying new ways of cooking often takes us on a tour of the globe or of the history in our area.

OLDWAYS:  In the book you talk about planning being an important part of cooking (and using all your CSA ingredients).  What are some other recommendations you have for getting people to cook more often?
HUGH:  Have a plan for the week. Have a plan for the box. If you don't things go to the compost pile. Think through ideas and try something new. When life gives you cabbage, you should learn how to make kimchi.

OLDWAYS:  As I mentioned, many of us at Oldways own (and love) your book, Pick a Pickle.  Throughout The Broad Fork you encourage people to enjoy fermented foods.  What is the easiest way to start pickling ingredients at home?
HUGH:  Buy some jars and find a Saturday to hang out with the family in the kitchen. Consult the NCHFP site. Preserving, fermenting, and pickling is about teaching us ways to take a seasonal snapshot.

OLDWAYS:  We can never walk away from a conversation like this without asking: Would you be so kind as to share a recipe from your book with our readers?
HUGH:  Of course!

SOUTHERN RATATOUILLE
Hugh Acheson | THE BROAD FORK
I love ratatouille. It screams “summer” in all the right ways and is a great place to put pounds of your garden’s bounty. When the tomato and squash harvests are getting a little out of control, this is the best way to use them up.

Serves 6 to 8 as a side, or as a light entrée with some bread and wine

Ingredients:
1 globe eggplant
½ teaspoon ascorbic acid or freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ cup olive oil
1 large yellow summer squash, cut into ¼-inch-thick rounds
1 large zucchini, cut into ¼-inch-thick rounds
Fine sea salt
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 large tomatoes
1 cup chopped pickled green tomatoes or dill pickles
1 cup torn fresh basil leaves
Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Cut the eggplant into ½-inch cubes and place them in a large bowl. Cover with cold water, add the ascorbic acid, and stir well. Let it sit for 10 minutes. Then drain the eggplant and pat it dry with paper towels to blot up as much of the water as possible.

Find the largest sauté pan in your arsenal and place it over medium-high heat. Add ¼ cup of the olive oil, and when the oil is shimmery-hot, fry the eggplant, in batches, being wary of overcrowding the pan. Cook for about 2 minutes a side, until the eggplant is golden and just about cooked through. As the batches finish, use a slotted spoon to transfer the eggplant to a plate lined with paper towels. When all the eggplant is cooked, discard the oil that you just worked with and clean out the pan because we’ll be using it later.

In a mixing bowl, toss the sliced squash and zucchini with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and fine sea salt to taste. Place them on a large baking sheet and roast in the hot oven for 5 minutes, until just tender. Remove from the oven and set aside, still on the baking sheet to cool.

Take the cleaned sauté pan and place it over medium-high heat. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, and when the oil is hot, add the peppers to the pan. Cook for 10 minutes or until tender. Then add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes, until aromatic. Add the eggplant, squash, and zucchini. Lower the heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes to bring the flavors together.

Cut the tomatoes in half and grate them into a bowl using a box grater. Discard the tomato skins. Pour the grated tomato into the pan of vegetables and simmer for 5 minutes. Then add the chopped pickled green tomatoes and fine sea salt to taste. Stir to combine, and finish with the torn basil leaves and black pepper to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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June 24, 2015 | Oldways Table

How is it possible that most of us are so intimidated when we approach the cheese counter at our local supermarket, when we have been eating cheese for all of our lifes? Probably, the mystification either comes from a growing selection of cheeses from far and more diverse places; or from the many news reports and opinions saying that the cheese we eat is not healthy. Talk about making grocery shopping a more complicated and stressful journey.

Here at Oldways, we love good traditional food, but the most important thing for us is to empower you with information to make you choose the best food for your lifestyle. Lets get some basic information first and then on to some serious recommendations.

In the U.S. most people think of cheese as a comfort food or an integral part of a comfort meal. Think hamburgers, nachos, or even breakfast sandwiches. Comfort meals are normally inexpensive, ready to eat on-the-go, and full of calories. They are designed to feed us without contemplation for how we are nourishing our bodies. The problem is not that we eat these foods, but rather that most of us eat them all the time. A second problem is that we want them to be cheap, and that normally translates to the lower quality ingredients, and at times the drive for inexpensive food is used as an incentive to add extra ingredients to make them go further. In the case of cheese, this means putting chemical additives, preservatives, and hydrogenated oils along with poor quality milk to make generic cheese. What we loose by adding all these extras is flavor. This either gets corrected with more salt, more added flavors, and ultimately leading to larger portions. At the end, we need higher quantities of melting cheese, to give us the comfort we are looking for. 

In recent years health studies have pointed out that cheese is actually a nutritious and healthy food. The single consistent recommendation in these studies is moderation. Still, cheese can be a comfort food, but it is important to limit the portions and find those truly delicious, high-quality cheeses that will satisfy our cravings.

Here at Oldways, we refer to those cheeses as traditional. These are cheeses made all around the world using techniques that respect livestock, the environment, the producer, and finally yield a better product for the consumer. Some of them are made with raw milk, some are aged in natural caves, and some others are made with milk of more than one breed of animal.

Did you know that one of our programs is dedicated specifically to promoting traditional cheese as part of a healthy diet? Visit our Oldways Cheese Coalition website where there is much to learn and explore - from health studies to a cheese glossary, all supporting traditional cheese. You can also subscribe to our quarterly CheeseMatters newsletter and get tips and recipes in your inbox.
… 

Recommendations
These traditional cheeses can be eaten by themselves, or include them as an ingredient in a recipe to bring them to life. The best way to start eating better cheese and limit your intake is to find a recipe that calls for a specific cheese. Buy double the amount of the cheese and use it both as an ingredient and as an extra in another meal or as a snack. This way you will become acquainted with this cheese and know how it behaves with different foods. In time, you should have an ample selection that you can then use to your advantage to create your own recipes or to start substituting cheeses in your favorite recipes.

Also, eat cheese seasonally. Look for fresh goat and cows’ milk cheeses in spring and summer, while you reserve fall and winter for aged cows and ewes’ milk cheeses. This way you will have variety, but also follow the regular cycle in which cheeses are produced and matured.

Finally, keep moderation in mind, think of cheese and any other dairy not as a staple food. It is not meant to be. Cheese should be enjoyed once a day at the most, but preferably a couple of times a week.

-C. Yescas, Program Director, Oldways Cheese Coalition

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June 23, 2015 | Oldways Table

The Fourth of July is just around the corner, and what’s more American than burgers and hot dogs on the grill? Veggies!

If you haven’t tried grilling vegetables yet, this is a great time to experiment.

You’ll find that vegetables and some fruits, too, take really well to the grill – their flavors become mellower, deeper, and depending on how long you keep them on the heat, they develop a caramelized taste and texture. Divine.

Here are a few tips to enjoy the goodness of the grill:

  • Avoid vegetables with a high water content such as celery, cucumbers and leafy greens, instead try asparagus, eggplant, onions, bell peppers, squash, zucchini and mushrooms.
  • When preparing veggies, remember the more surface area the better for getting that grilled flavor we all enjoy.
  • To make sure they cook evenly, cut vegetables into similar sizes. Square and round shapes are great for skewers; if you want to cook directly on the grill, cut items such as zucchini and eggplant into lengthwise planks. Some items such as asparagus can be grilled whole. (If you’re using bamboo skewers, be sure to soak them first so they won’t burn.)
  • Before grilling, toss vegetables with a little olive oil and your favorite herb or spice.
  • The oil adds flavor while helping to keep the food from sticking to the grill. Be careful not to saturate the veggies with oil or a marinade – too much could cause a flare-up.
  • The best part of grilling veggies is that they cook quickly – usually just 4 to 10 minutes. To speed up the cooking even more, you can parboil your vegetables indoors, then simply grill for a minute or two to add that nice grilled look and smoky taste. Watch them closely in any event, so they don’t burn.
  • Don’t forget stone fruits such as plums and peaches – and even thick slices of watermelon can be grilled, too. Cut stone fruit in half, remove the pit, brush with a little oil and place directly on the grill. After grilling serve as is, or cut up and add to salads or use in a dessert.

Summertime, with the abundant fruits and vegetables at hand, is the perfect time to add more plant-based foods to your diet, and grilling is just one way to prepare them.  For more ideas, check out our Oldways Nutrition Exchange Plant-Based Diets toolkit. We rustled up resources including more tips and recipes for enjoying these foods in your diet any time of the year.

Happy grilling!

-Deborah

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