The Oldways Table Blog

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

April 23, 2015 | Oldways Table

Oldways Culinarias are specially-designed, incredible week-long journeys that shine a spotlight on the intersection of culture and cuisine.  We’ve just returned from Turkey, where with a group of 60, we traveled from historic Selcuk to Izmir and exotic Istanbul. The trip was long on cultural excursions (Ephesus, Ildiri, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi, the Blue Mosque, The Grand Bazaar and a cruise on the Bosphorus) and full of equally stellar culinary experiences (two cooking demonstrations by award-winning chef Ana Sortun of Oleana, Sarma and Sofra; dinners in a country hotel featuring a chef-sung serenade; meals under the sun in a winery and a small town courtyard; and lunch in the ever-amazing restaurant Ciya in the Kadikoy section of Istanbul).  And much, much more.

In between all of these highlights, we enjoyed the company of people from the US and Turkey who love food and appreciate its place in history and its pleasure on the plate.

But now, after the end of a journey like this one to Turkey, I’m reflecting on its impact, beyond being a “pinch-me” vacation.  At Oldways and Oleana we think about how to bring healthy, “real” eating to everyone’s kitchen and table.  How can the pearls of wisdom (and the tastes of Selcuk, Izmir and Istanbul) we learned and experienced in Turkey influence our everyday meals back in the US?

This is also what I’ve thought about over the last two weeks while speaking at two separate events in New York City – the first Mediterranean Diet Roundtable and the New York International Olive Oil Conference.

The old ways can be everyday ways.  It takes some planning, but the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid can be the key to succeeding.  When a panel of nutrition scientists updated the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid in 2008 they decided to put all the plant foods in one section of the Pyramid – the largest section – to highlight their lush variety and importance to good health (and to avoid playing favorites among these wonderful foods).  The guide next to this section of the Pyramid says: “Base every meal on these foods.” Not all of them, of course, but these are the foods that should be the foundation of every meal.  Start simply, if needed, look at cookbooks and websites for inspiration, commit to cooking, and focus on plants.

This, I believe, is the key to making the old ways an everyday way of savoring life.


April 21, 2015 | Oldways Table

In my work with Oldways’ African Heritage & Health Program and southern foodways, I’ve enjoyed preparing turnip greens in all different ways – steamed with lemon, sautéed with vinegars, and immersed in stewed tomatoes to name a few.  But, in all my years of cooking vegetables, I must confess: I don’t think I’d ever tried my hand at preparing turnip roots.  Sure, maybe in a roasted vegetable medley, with fragrant parsnips and candy-sweet carrots stealing the show, but never turnips solo. 

This all changed after a recent trip to Atlanta, GA with the Oldways team.  My colleague and Oldways’ Vegetarian Network trailblazer Georgia and I ordered a special vegetable plate at Miller Union, an extraordinary farm-to-table restaurant specialized in Southern fare.  This plate wasn’t on the menu per se, but it combined five different vegetable side dishes peppered throughout it. *Note: Most restaurants are happy to whip you up a colorful veg plate, pulling together sides to make an amazing main!

They asked us just one question: are there any vegetables you don’t like?  Neither of us could think of any, so anything was on the table—literally!   We were in heaven with the surprise turnout:  garlicky broccoli rapini, giant butter beans, wilted escarole and radicchio, roasted potatoes, and maple-glazed turnips.  This time, the turnips stole the show!  

A touch of maple syrup’s sweetness pairs perfectly with the peppery, bitter bite of turnip root, giving turnips a whole new personality.  My first grocery shop upon return, turnips were in my basket.  And I’ve been able to recreate the magic of that Atlanta dinner with the easiest little recipe.

Spring is turnips’ season, so it’s the perfect time to try them on in this new, sweet way. 

Hope you enjoy them too! 

Maple-Glazed Turnips

1 cup water

1 large turnip or 2 smaller turnips, peeled and cubed

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon maple syrup 

1. In a large skillet or pan, bring the water to a boil and add the cubed turnips.  Cover with a lid and let the turnips steam through for about 5 minutes, until you can just pierce them with a fork.  (You don't want them mushy.)

2. Drain the water and place pan back on the burner, lowering the heat to medium. 

3. Add the olive oil, garlic and maple syrup to the turnips, stir to coat.  

4. Cook turnips for 5-7 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally.  (It's okay if they brown a bit.) 

Serve hot and enjoy, perhaps as a side with turnip greens! 

*You can add more maple syrup if you would like the turnips sweeter. 

Nutritional Analysis:  Cal: 124; Fat: 4g; Saturated Fat: 0g; Sodium: 3mg; Cholesterol: 0mg; Carbohydrate: 22g; Fiber: 4g; Sugars: 3g; Protein: 1g


Yield:  4 Servings


April 17, 2015 | Oldways Table

I recently had the great fortune of joining the Skinny Beet podcast to chat cheese fundamentals and to talk about my own plans to celebrate Raw-Milk Cheese Appreciation Day.

I’m hosting an afternoon potluck party and have invited several of my closest friends to bring along their favorite raw-milk cheese recipe (and I hope they choose one from my favorites list of Delectable Dishes: Recipes with Raw-Milk Cheese).

Rather than a cooked dish, for my contribution I plan on keeping it simple with just the sort of composed cheese plate that I shared with Richard, Katie, Dylan and Rachel on the podcast.

Putting together the perfect raw-milk cheese plate seems like a daunting task. But it really is quite simple. Luckily it’s artisan cheese, which is always delicious, so there just isn’t a wrong way to do it.  If the labor still seems herculean, just ask the friendly folks behind the counter. At any reputable cheese shop, like the hundreds listed here that are participating in the Appreciation Day celebration, there will be several expert mongers chomping at the bit to share their knowledge and passion for fine fromage.

I generally select 3-5 cheeses, of various ages, textures, styles, and milk types.  I prefer wedges that have been cut directly from the wheel but in a high-traffic cheese shop pre-wrapped options work perfectly fine.  As an appetizer, a good rule of thumb is to buy about a quarter pound per person, total. So if it’s me and my seven friends and I want 4 cheeses on the plate, a half pound of each would easily do the trick.

Once I have my selection, I find a condiment or beverage (or both!) to compliment the cheeses. There’s no exact science to this but it plays on the principle of compliment and contrast. Tangy goat cheese? try it with sweet honey! Nutty Gruyere? Try it with a Nut Brown Ale. Spicy blue cheese? Get some dark, bitter chocolate and a sweet Sauternes dessert wine.  Again, it’s really, really tough to go wrong here.

For the Skinny Beet, I selected four cheeses and four condiments. I wanted it to be international in scope but for the domestically-produced cheeses to keep it local to New England.  Thankfully, we here in Boston don’t have to look too far for fantastic artisan cheese. This board is a great example of an easy spread with all the fixin’s and none of the work. It’s sure to be a crowd pleaser.

Although it was an ostensibly a plate full of raw-milk cheeses, we started off with a pasteurized goat’s milk cheese from Vermont Creamery. A cheese plate should begin with the most subtle and lactic and work its way up to the most intense, the most pungent. So fresh or bloomy-rind goat’s milk cheeses (or even brie-style cheeses) are a great place to start. However, these cheeses tend to be very young and (teachable moment!) cannot by federal regulation be commercially sold if they are made from raw milk and are less than 60 days of age (learn more about raw-milk regulations here).  So if you want these styles, you’ll have to stick with their pasteurized version or go ahead and book a flight to France.  If you have been fortunate enough to have unpasteurized “soft-ripened” cheeses, you’ll know they tend to be even more flavorful, more aromatic, and in my opinion, that much more delicious.

Vermont Creamery’s Bonne Bouche is the most amazing mix of sweet, creamy and tangy. Bloomy-rind cheeses get their name from the white molds that constitute their rind. These molds are delicious and not only do they give the cheese its pristine white color, they also help to produce an interior paste that is, when ripe, gooey and decadent.  So why isn’t Bonne Bouche white? The grey exterior of this particular cheese comes from a light dusting of vegetable ash. This is an ancient cheesemaking technique for preserving fresh curds that has made its way down to us mostly for aesthetics in modernity. But it certainly does look sharp on a cheese plate. We paired it wish some honey, a classic combination.

Although some cheese styles can’t be made or sold unless they have been pasteurized, most cheeses can still be found produced from pure, raw milk. In fact, many of the world’s most famous cheeses (Le Gruyère, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Montgomery’s Cheddar, and numerous others) are required to be unpasteurized. Comté, the second cheese on our cheese plate, is great example. Produced in the Jura mountain range that separates France and Switzerland, Comté is as old and as delicious as its Swiss cousin gruyere. Always made with raw milk, Comté must also be produced within certain boundaries and from the rich and flavorful milk of the Montebéliard cow. It is matured in deep underground cellars for anywhere between twelve and twenty four months. Older versions have firmer textures and a more nutty, more saline, less swissy-sweet flavor profile.

For our cheese plate, Comté makes for a great example of natural-rind cheese. The outside rind is nothing more than the cheese itself. However, it has been liberally rubbed with salt and encouraged to dry out to form a protective crust. It is also a firm alpine-style cheese that nicely contributes to the diversity of textures available. 

Comté pairs tremendously well with any number of condiments, but I like to have it with either complimentary nutty flavors, such as marcona almonds, or something contrastingly sweet and acidic, like the fresh apple we paired it with here. Try it also with Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and the lightly oxidized white wines of the Jura region.

Next on the plate is the washed-rind cheese Winnimere. Winnimere is produced by the fine folks at Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont who are well known for their extraordinary commitment to raw-milk cheese (just a few months ago in fact, their blue cheese Bayley Hazen was awarded the esteemed title of World’s Best Unpasteurized Cheese at the World Cheese Awards). A product of their own herd of Ayrshire cows, Winnimere is only made seasonally, in the Winter months, when the cows are giving rich, hay-fed, raw milk. This cheese is only available for a couple months out of the year, so if you can find this highly coveted delight (it was awarded Best in Show at the 2013 American Cheese Society Conference) I recommend taking home a whole wheel to share with friends and family.

Winnimere, as a washed-rind cheese is soft, creamy and decadent with no shortage of savory, umami notes. It is unusual to find this style of cheese made from raw milk because they generally can’t be aged out to meet the sixty day maturation requirements without turning into a mere puddle of goo. But Winnimere does this exceptionally well, in part due to its tradition-inspired birch bark wrapping. Washed-rind cheeses get their orange color, and their funkiness, from the salt water baths they regularly receive which encourage a particular, and particularly delicious, type of bacteria to grow. Ripe washed rind cheeses are so full of flavor they generally need little more than a vehicle to get it to your month; Bread or an artisan cracker work just fine. Alongside, I like to have a meaty red wine or porter-style beer.

Last but certainly not least is the king of the classic blue cheeses, Roquefort. Many people don’t especially love blue cheeses, but all blue cheeses are not created equal. So I encourage folks to at least give it a chance and Roquefort is perhaps the best place to start. Roquefort is the ancestor of all blue cheeses. It has been produced for at least a thousand years. It can only be made with unpasteurized milk of particular ewe breeds, but perhaps the most critical characteristic of traditional Roquefort is the ripening it receives deep in the caverns of the local limestone caves. A nearly 2km cavernous labyrinth was formed upon the collapse of the limestone plateau of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, and it isn’t a stretch to say that blue cheese was born in these damp and moldy hollows.

On the cheese board, it’s best to conclude with the big, boldest, baddest cheese that appeals to you, and blue cheese is a great place to leave off. Blue cheese gets its name from the blue veins that striate its interior. These particular molds are as delicious as they are spicy. For that reason I like to pair big blues with something sweet to contrast. Chocolate is perhaps the most classic pairing and we chose it for the cheese board here. To wash it down, you need an equally bold beverage. Port wines are great and so too are stouts. My personal favorite is a sweet dessert wine, such as a Sauternes, or if you can find them a dry apple cider or apple ice wine. Yum!

So that’s how I’ll be celebrating this weekend? What kind of raw-milk cheese is on the menu for you?


April 16, 2015 | Oldways Table

The media seem to delight in recasting dietary indulgences as health foods, and it appears that salt (also known as sodium chloride, the main contributor of sodium in our diets) is the latest food additive to be pardoned by the press. But with everything we know about diet and blood pressure, is it wise to start reaching for salty snacks?

Although studies have emerged that question the benefits of sodium restriction, the overwhelming scientific consensus is not as wishy-washy as headlines would lead you to believe. Virtually all parties, including those that question the risks of sodium, agree that excess salt can cause high blood pressure (though their definition of excess leaves room for debate). Additionally, respectable health organizations, including the American Heart Association, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, and the Harvard School of Public Health, all agree that at an average of 3,500mg per day, current sodium consumption is too high. (The current recommendation from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is 2,300 mg of sodium per day, which is about one teaspoon of salt.)

Salt is only one of the many food compounds that affect the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. So by choosing low sodium versions of standard American junk food, you aren’t taking advantage of all of the nutritional tools available to help you live a healthier, longer life. That’s why, at Oldways, we encourage home cooking, especially recipes inspired by traditional food cultures across the globe, such as the Mediterranean diet, or the African Heritage diet.

Over 75% of the sodium in American’s diets comes from restaurants and processed foods, so by choosing fresh, whole foods and cooking from scratch, your salt intake will fall naturally, and your diet will improve. Talk about a win-win! A healthy pinch of salt in home cooked recipes brings out the flavor in vegetables, and still doesn't come close to the amount of salt that processed foods require to keep from spoiling as they sit on store shelves for months on end.

In the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (a newly released document, prepared by 14 of the nation’s leading nutrition experts), the authors found that “dietary sodium reduction can effectively prevent and reduce high blood pressure,” and found moderate evidence that high levels of sodium are a risk factor for heart disease. The committee concluded that, “Given the ubiquity of sodium in the food supply, concerted efforts to reduce sodium in commercially prepared and processed foods, as well as encouragement of home cooking using recipes with small amounts of sodium are needed to decrease intake toward recommended levels.”

Indeed, home cooking is a wise approach to stay healthy. One third of US adults have high blood pressure, and many more are at an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. In fact, the estimated lifetime risk of developing high blood pressure in the US is 90%. While these numbers don’t apply to all Americans, cutting down on salt is a good idea for just about everyone. That’s because foods high in sodium (restaurant meals and highly processed foods) are often nutritionally inferior to home cooked meals made from fresh, wholesome ingredients.

Rather than eating by the numbers (nobody wants to bring a calculator to the dinner table!), we invite you to prepare more home cooked meals, centered on whole grains, beans, fruits, and, vegetables, and garnished with spices, olive oil, fish, meats, or cheeses. When shopping for pantry staples, such as canned beans or vegetable broth, look for low sodium or no-salt-added varieties. We also encourage you to experiment with the herbs and spices of traditional culinary cuisines, to flavor your food without relying on salt as a crutch. (See our heritage pyramids for inspiration).

Cooking from scratch is a great way to keep control over the amount of salt (and other nutrients) in your diet, instead of putting your health at the mercy of companies where cost and shelf-life may be top priorities. For healthy and delicious meal ideas, browse the recipes on our site, or in our 4-Week Menu Plan books. What is your favorite home cooked recipe?



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