The Oldways Table Blog

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

October 20, 2014 | Oldways Table

Oldways is always searching for creative ways to add more plants to our plates, so when we caught wind of the book, The Vibrant Table, we were excited to see what inspiration might lie inside.  The pages of Anya Kassoff’s cookbook do not disappoint – from salads, soups, savories, sweets and more, each dish is a feast for the senses. Her unique ingredient combinations and photography (taken by her daughter) leave the reader wanting more, more, more!

Today we share some morsels of this delicious cookbook with all of you.

OLDWAYS:  You talk about always dreaming of food, beginning with your vivid childhood dreams of huckleberry ice cream.  How does it feel to have made those dreams a reality and to have the ability to share them with others? 
ANYA:  I feel fortunate to constantly have access to such a variety of fresh ingredients - something that was only a distant dream in my childhood and youth in the Soviet Union. Sharing my recipes and inspiring others to be more adventurous with plant-based cooking is very fulfilling and what I love to do best. I still get giddy when I hear of a reader trying out and loving a recipe of mine.

OLDWAYS:  Can you talk with our readers about your transition from a meat-centric lifestyle to becoming a woman with a plant-filled plate?
ANYA:  That transition was very exciting for me. When it comes to cooking, I always look for novelty - otherwise I get bored. Once I learned about the amazing culinary potential of fruit and vegetables, I realized that I would never be bored in the kitchen again. There are countless kinds of fruit, roots, grains and nuts in this world, and all offer unique health benefits and flavors. I continue to discover new foods and ways of preparing them every day. Needless to say, I do not much miss cooking with meat.

OLDWAYS: What tips can you offer to readers who are just starting to think about cutting back on meat?
ANYA:  The most important advice I can give is to eat and cook according to season. Seasonal vegetables and fruits are usually at the peak of their freshness and flavor, and don’t require a lot of time or effort to turn them into an amazing meal. Incorporating a variety of grains and legumes, as well as plenty of fresh herbs, spices and citrus, can help calm down possible initial cravings by making your meals bright and exciting. Try to learn from international culinary wisdom as well - many cuisines from around the world are originally plant-based and contain many simple, yet flavorful dishes.  

OLDWAYS:  As you invite readers to your table you encourage them to be flexible with ingredients and open to new flavors.  What are some other suggestions you have for a curious (but maybe inexperienced) cook looking to become more versed in the kitchen?
ANYA:  Take on one step or ingredient/flavor at a time. Begin with simple techniques, like blanching and roasting, and get to know your food. Ultimately, you will become more versed, but only if you try and find out what works or doesn’t work for yourself.

OLDWAYS:  We love your commitment to cooking with kids.  Can you share some successful strategies with readers who want to bring their children into the kitchen?
ANYA:  In my experience, children love to help out in the kitchen, as long as you give them enough freedom and interesting, creative tasks. It takes more time and patience to cook with kids, but eventually, it will lead to them learning a few skills and starting to be truly helpful.

OLDWAYS:  We can never walk away from a conversation like this without asking, would you be so kind to share a recipe from your book with our readers?
ANYA: Absolutely. My butternut squash and sage fritters feel perfect for this time of year.

Butternut Squash and Sage Fritters
Makes about 12 fritters
I have a deep fondness for vegetable pancakes or fritters; they were one of the tastiest and simplest meals of my childhood. My mother made them with zucchini in summer and pumpkin in fall and winter, or we would enjoy potato pancakes, or draniki, the dish so dear to most Eastern European cultures.

These baked butternut squash fritters satisfy my craving for vegetable pancakes and deliver a strong fall flavor. You can also make them with zucchini in the summer instead of butternut squash—just squeeze out the excess water. For the summery variation, eliminate the sage and nutmeg and add 1 tablespoon each minced mint and dill and use almond flour rather than hazelnut flour.

1½ tablespoons olive oil, divided
½ medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 cups (about 14½ ounces) packed, finely shredded butternut squash
1 large egg
Large pinch of sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1½ tablespoons minced
Fresh sage (from about 5 sage leaves)
1 tablespoon minced fresh
Flat-leaf parsley
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
Dash of freshly grated nutmeg
1½ ounces (45 g) feta
cheese, preferably goat’s milk and/or sheep’s milk feta, crumbled
½ cup (50 g) hazelnut flour or almond flour

Warm ½ tablespoon of the olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes, until translucent. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

Wrap the shredded butternut squash in several layers of paper towels and squeeze gently so the paper towels can absorb the excess liquid. Remove the paper towels and place the squash in a medium bowl with the egg, salt, pepper, sage, parsley, paprika, nutmeg, cheese, and hazelnut flour. Add the onion and garlic and mix to combine.

Line a baking sheet with lightly oiled parchment paper. With your hands, shape the squash mixture into patties and arrange them on the baking sheet about 1½ inches (4 cm) apart. If the batter doesn’t stick together or is too wet, add a little more flour. Brush the patties with half of the remaining olive oil and bake for 10 minutes.

Remove the sheet from the oven and flip the patties using a thin spatula. Brush the other side of the patties with the remaining olive oil and bake for another 10 minutes. Serve with sour cream or yogurt and/or a simple green salad on the side.

For a vegan variation: Roast ½ cup hazelnuts in a 350°F (180°C) oven for 7 to 10 minutes. Let the nuts cool, then remove the skins by rubbing them with a kitchen towel. Grind the hazelnuts into small pieces in a food processor. Add the hazelnut meal to the shredded squash along with salt, spices, herbs, and sautéed vegetables. Add 1 tablespoon ground chia seeds and ¼ cup buckwheat flour. Mix well, then form the patties and bake as directed above.

From The Vibrant Table by Anya Kassoff, © 2014 by Anya Kassoff.© 2014 Photographs by Masha Davydova. Reprinted by arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications Inc., Boston, MA.

October 15, 2014 | Oldways Table

Here in New England the temperatures are cooling and the leaves are beginning to turn. When I hear the crunch of a crisp juicy apple or the crackle of colorful leaves underfoot, I’m reminded that holiday gatherings with friends and family are just around the corner.

It’s never too early to think about the approaching festivities and activities of cooking, baking – and everyone’s favorite – eating! But, if you find yourself panicked about potentially overeating or succumbing to sugar laden sweets, take heart. With a little planning and a few tried-and-true tips, you can still enjoy the holidays without sacrificing your taste buds or your waistline.

Stick to your normal meal routine and avoid skipping meals; you’ll have more willpower to pass on the tray of goodies if your tummy isn’t growling.

Eat most of your meals at home. Stock up on items that let you create delicious, filling, and nutritious meals quickly and easily. Pantry items, such as canned tuna, tomatoes, a good olive oil, whole grains, as well as frozen vegetables are perfect to keep on hand and have at your fingertips whenever you need them. Create a list of items that you know you’ll use, and buy them on sale when possible.

Savor every bite. Research has shown we feel fuller with less food when we eat mindfully.

Be conscious of little tastings all day long. That piece of candy offered by a co-worker, the “taste test” of the cookies you baked, or those samples at the grocery store can add up to extra calories before you even realize it.

On the Go
Stay hydrated when shopping. The air in malls and stores can be downright drying this time of year; keep a small bottle of water with you, as well as healthy snacks in your backpack or purse. A handful of unsalted almonds or walnuts for example, can help stave off hunger pains and keep you energized until you have time to sit down to a meal.

Shop on a full stomach when you’re grocery shopping, you’ll be less tempted to nibble on the in-store samples or buy impulse items.

Opt for healthier grab-and-go options. Airports, malls, grocery stores, and many fast food restaurants are now offering healthier foods that you can enjoy on the run.

Relax mentally whenever you can, but let your body move. Dance to music when you’re baking, take the stairs whenever possible. Physical activity throughout the day helps keep your mind clear and stress levels low.

Party Time
Before leaving for a party, drink water or eat a hydrating snack, such as a small serving of veggies and hummus; when you’re hydrated and sated you’ll be less likely to overindulge at the get-together.

Enjoy the party fare, but don’t graze. Check out the buffet table first, then fill your plate with lots of vegetables and fruit options. Once you’ve served yourself, move away from the table and find someone interesting to talk with!

If you’re the host, make sure there are lots of delicious and healthy options like whole grains, fruits, and veggies on the table. Your guests will thank you.

If you’re the baker in the family, swap out at least half of the white flour in your recipes with whole-wheat flour. Also, many desserts like crisps and crumbles are topped with lots of butter, suga,r and flour. A just-as-tasty and healthier option is to top them with a mixture of oats, chopped nuts, and a bit of brown sugar and canola oil.

Keep it Real
Keep stress levels low. Remember that the holidays are about spending time with loved ones and less about the ideal gift or perfect outfit. So breathe, enjoy nourishing foods, and just as importantly, the company of good friends and family.

For more recipes and tips for the holiday season and New Year, be sure to check out our Old Year/New Year toolkit posted on the Oldways Nutrition Exchange.


October 13, 2014 | Oldways Table

Eight women gather around a table, sipping wine and seltzer water, chatting about their latest food adventures, while nibbling on top-quality Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese and Kalamata olives. Is it the prelude to a long-standing suburban book club’s monthly meeting? No, it’s the final judging of the Whole Grains Council’s Make the Switch recipe contest.

Throughout September, to celebrate Whole Grains Month, we invited people across the country to visit the WGC website and view a group of sixteen whole grain recipes created by leading bloggers and dietitians. The dishes, which ranged from soups and salads to casseroles and comfort food, had been specially crafted to inspire everyone, everywhere, to make the switch to whole grains.

For thirty days, people tried out the recipes (or simply drooled over them!) and voted for their favorites, elevating five of the recipes to the status of finalists in our contest. The five finalists were: Spiced Ginger Citrus Millet, Apple Pie Smoothie, Wild Rice and Fall Fruit Salad, Ratatouille Quinoa, and Corn Chowder with Wild Rice. Now it was time to cook these five recipes, and pick the ultimate winners.

The cook-off was masterminded by Janice Newell Bissex, of the Meal-Makeover Moms. Janice was the logical choice to head up this part of the contest not only because she’s a registered dietitian and seasoned recipe developer, but also because she has an amazing professional-grade kitchen where she regularly shoots videos for her business. (Not to mention she is the ultimate hostess!)

Even the pros are challenged with five recipes to prepare in a single afternoon, however, so Kelly Toups (left above) and Mallory Cushman (right above), WGC Program Managers, stepped up as sous-chefs, chopping and sautéing under Janice’s oversight. By the time Oldways Communication Manager Rachel Greenstein (center, above) and our other judges arrived, delicious smells met us at the door of Janice’s house.

Let the judging begin! Our panel of five judges included me, Janice, Kyle Potvin of Splash Communications (media consultants to Oldways) and two additional celebrity judges: Mary Ann Esposito, beloved host of PBS’s longest-running food show, Ciao Italia, and Maria Speck, culinary expert and author of the award-winning book Ancient Grains for Modern Meals.

Judges, L to R: Maria Speck, Kyle Potvin, Mary Ann Esposito, Janice Bissex, Cynthia Harriman

We tasted our way through all five recipes, and rated them on three qualities (creative use of whole grains, ease of preparation, and taste, as per the contest rules) with input from our cooking team on any unclear or difficult cooking instructions. The decisions were difficult, and our judges took their roles seriously, carefully considering each dish in turn.  “Love the crunch of the hazelnuts…” “The texture isn’t quite what I expected…” “Nice balance of flavors between the grains and vegetables…” “Lots of flavor, without being heavy…” Mary Ann and Maria were especially generous in sharing their experience with foods and flavors in other cultures.

Such decisions are never easy, but in the end we are delighted to announce our three prize winners:

These three weren’t the only winners. We also picked one of our voters at random, to win $500 and a Virtual Gift Basket of whole grain foods. Congratulations to Danielle Liszka of Oxford, OH – a nutrition student at Miami University.

At the end of the day, everyone who switches to whole grain is a winner, because of the proven health benefits of whole grains. We hope everyone enjoyed our Whole Grains Month contest and we thank our three sponsors – Bob’s Red Mill, ArnoldBrownberry / Oroweat bread, and Gen-Ji-Mai rice – for helping to make this contest possible.


October 8, 2014 | Oldways Table

Named “Nutrition Hero of 2014” by Food and Nutrition Magazine, Tambra Raye Stevenson is fully living up to her name, helping to save lives and endangered food traditions around the globe.

Tambra is an Oldways African Heritage Diet Advisory Member, a food justice advocate, nutrition educator, and founder of NativSol Kitchen, designed to help people embrace healthy, traditional cooking at home. Tambra was recently named National Geographic’s Traveler of the Year, for her sojourns to Africa for nutrition education work.

Tambra has most recently returned from Ghana, Africa, where she was invited to lecture on nutrition at the University of Cape Coast’s Medical School. We got the chance to catch up with her about her trip.

OLDWAYS:  Thanks so much for talking with us today, Tambra. Welcome back! What an honor to be invited to present overseas. Can you tell us about your lecture to the medical students at the University of Cape Coast? What was your presentation on?
TAMBRA:  My presentation covered the rising epidemic of obesity around the world. Though the numbers are low in West Africa, heart disease is the #1 killer (39%) in Ghana. After heart disease, respiratory diseases are an issue in Ghana given the current air pollution and environmental standards.

The role of Western lifestyle (more stress, less traditional foods, less community focused, and less spiritual) has an impact on our health.

I covered several studies showing the health benefits of African traditional foods and highlighted one study where a group of Zulu members swapped diets with African Americans in Ohio, which showed the Zulu had an increased risk of colorectal cancer. And the African Americans decreased their cancer rate by having a Zulu diet composed of mostly complex carbohydrates and fiber and less meat.

I concluded that we [health professionals] should preserve cultural traditions like the African heritage diet, create empowering media messages, encourage more grassroots activism to promote a healthy Africa with good nutrition, upgrade nutrition and medical school curricula, and enhance current policies with a focus on balancing people, planet, and profit.

Beyond the lecture, I learned that the developing academic programs in Ghana are ripe with opportunities for partnerships. I had a wonderful meeting with the Dean of the medical school to support their growing nutrition program. I had the chance to tour the hospital and medical school facilities and speak with the local nutritionists working in maternal and child health. And I am currently interviewing the President of the African Nutrition Society for an upcoming blog post for an international foundation to learn more about Africa and the state of nutrition and traditional foods.

Another great highlight was my visit to Kakum National Park, which includes a tropical rainforest and was created in 1931. Along the hike in the rainforest, the guide, an African female elder, shared healing benefits of some of the tropical plants on the nature walk and how her family swore by certain plants that helped with their eyes and diabetes. It was fascinating to hear her and see the plants up close. That’s the power of African healing plants.

OLDWAYS:  Where does traditional eating stand in Ghana today? Are traditional foods and cuisines still enjoyed the majority of the time? Or have they been totally replaced?
TAMBRA:  Ghanaian traditional foods are a mainstay, especially with the price hike on Western foods like burgers, pizza and ice cream that are mainly found in expat areas. However, with the increased urban development, convenience, fast paced lifestyle, people seek quick, yet nutritious, food like Nestle’s Milo, which is a common beverage.

OLDWAYS:  How has the health of Ghanaians been effected by the nutrition shift?
TAMBRA:  The wave of obesity has not yet penetrated the shores of Ghana like South Africa. However if the development picks up despite the Ebola crisis in the Western region, there will be a growing concern of non-communicable diseases. Currently heart disease grips the country’s population at 39%. Stores of traditional healers were readily visible to provide solutions for diabetes in Accra.

A published 2005 study in the Ghana Medical Journal reports in urban and rural Accra that the overall crude prevalence of overweight and obesity was 23.4% and 14.1% respectively among adults aged 25 years and above. The rates were higher in females than in men. Obesity increased with age up to 64 years. There were more overweight and obese in the urban high-class residents compared with the low class residents and in urban than in rural subjects. It was highest among the Akan and Ga tribes and relatively low among Ewes. Subjects with tertiary education had the highest prevalence of obesity compared with less literate and illiterate subjects. Subjects whose jobs were of a sedentary nature had higher levels of obesity.

OLDWAYS: Are there nutrition efforts in place to help Africans revive and preserve their dietary and culinary traditions?
TAMBRA:  At the university-level nutrition programs in Ghana, they learn from Western nutrition science books. There is a distinct division between herbal medicine and the nutritional and medical training, which is similar in the States unfortunately. There are advocacy groups and events that take place to preserve the organic and whole foods in Ghana. However, it’s a story of David and Goliath, with the government and corporations working together in the name of smart agriculture, green revolution, and economic development. So, a more concerted effort along with banded alliances and resources should support programs and initiatives to preserve African heritage foods and understand the nutritional value of the foods.

Ghana signed up for the Scaling Up Nutrition, a global initiative on food and nutrition, with 54 countries currently joining and several major partners like the Gates Foundation, World Bank, etc.

The goal is to increase government funding on nutrition, ratify the national nutrition policy, and engage families and communities on good nutrition and several other indicators. However there is no mention of preserving heritage foods. The Ghanaian president supports smart agriculture, which is code for GMOs and creating foods with additional levels of vitamin A, foods like the “Super Cassava” to fight night blindness.

OLDWAYS: You also traveled to Ethiopia this year, on the other side of the Continent. Can you describe some of the major differences and similarities between Ethiopian and Ghanaian traditional foods?
TAMBRA:  In Ethiopian cooking, injera, which is eaten several times a day, is the common staple whole grain product used to scoop up spiced ground meats and lentils. In comparison to West Africa, starchy vegetables were not common in my food journey in Ethiopia.

In Ghana, the grain of choice is corn to prepare kenkey or white rice to accompany a dish. However, many people opt for fufu made from yam, cassava and/or plantain to scoop soups made with palm oil, fish, and peppers. Eating by hand is part of the tradition on East and West coasts of Africa, which furthers this connection to the food and source.

Prepared street food was constantly available in Accra, Ghana, even more so than in Addis, Ethiopia. In Ghana, freshly prepared daily popcorn, peanuts, tiger nuts, and plantain chips carried on silver trays balanced on the heads of women and girls sold for a few Ghanaian cedis (currency).

For beverages, coffees and teas or freshly squeezed fruit juices are seen throughout Addis Ababa. While in Accra, drinks like sobolo (which are dried hibiscus flowers) mixed with ginger and pineapple or portable bags of water are commonly found.

OLDWAYS:  To you, what are the most significant impacts that eating traditionally can have—nutritionally, physically, emotionally, culturally, and spiritually?
TAMBRA:  The most significant impact of eating and preparing foods traditionally is having a feeling of coming back home, which is the essence of NativSol Kitchen. For many African Americans who cannot connect to or identify their African roots, the simple act of preparing an African heritage meal can be a path to coming back home. In the 1920’s Marcus Garvey of United Negro Improvement Association leveraged his charisma of motivating disheartened African Americans after the War to come back to Africa.

For many African Americans repatriating was not possible. Through the power of transforming their meal, they can come back to Africa—their ancestral home. By doing so, they can incorporate African ingredients into everyday dishes while supporting local African businesses and restaurants. It speaks to self-determination, cultural restoration, and solidarity. Food can be that tool to reconnect, heal, and restore across the Atlantic divide. That’s my culinary response to the belated Garvey.

OLDWAYS:  What do you think are the biggest obstacles for West Africans to return to traditional ways of eating? What about for Americans? What are the differences?
TAMBRA:  The biggest obstacles are the cultural shift from African traditions to Western, with the impact of foreign investment, media, and role of colonialism. Those with little economic means will continue to eat African traditional foods. In the markets produce was readily available and affordable.

But for those upwardly mobile Africans living the hustle bustled life, there are impeding challenges such as time and convenience. As studies have shown those Africans with education and higher economic status are more likely to consume more ready-to-eat meals and have more non-communicable diseases like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, hypertension, and kidney failure.

OLDWAYS:  What have you found to be the most helpful ways to get people more interested in reviving cultural culinary traditions?
TAMBRA:  The most helpful ways of getting people interested in reviving cultural culinary traditions is by speaking to their innate ancestral spirit that lies within them.  I talk about restoring lost tradition and values by coming together and reconnecting to loved ones and to food as a healing tool for connecting to our God within – the source of all things. It may not be realistic for everyday eating; however we can at least reclaim these rich cultural experiences for special occasions and holidays.

Nowadays, people go to the store to pick up meals to go even for holidays; no cooking on that special opportunity to take time and connect with family. I know it’s not easy or realistic for everyone; but for those who can, invite friends and estranged family and use food to create lasting memories and build bridges to love again. Because, ultimately, that is what we all want. Food is that bridge to connect us to our loved ones. That’s why we break bread together as a symbol in religion, culture, and business.

OLDWAYS:  You shared that you got to do some traditional Ghanaian cooking while there. What were some of the dishes that you prepared?
TAMBRA:  For an Afro-foodie’s dream, I got to prepare traditional fufu, fresh palm nut soup, and sobolo, to name a few dishes. Prior to coming to Ghana I would see images in African cookbooks and museums of two women working together pounding ingredients with a stick. And it was a wonderful experience to work with another African sister preparing a dish to share later that day. It was the experience I speak about in my talks and classes about the traditional forms of cooking involved working, praying, and eating together. Food created community especially among women and children. And that has slowly eroded in the Western culture of individualism.

OLDWAYS:  Based on your travels, are there any interesting ingredients that you now keep in your kitchen that everyone should know about? Where can people find these products here in the U.S.?
TAMBRA:  In my NativSol Kitchen, staple foods nestled in my cabinets and fridge include teff, millet, palm nut, coconut oil, plantains, hibiscus, and berbere. These items can be found in African markets or health food stores.


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