The Oldways Table Blog

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

January 22, 2015 | Oldways Table

Few things feel as frugal as tucking leftovers into the freezer.  Who among us isn’t looking to stretch food dollars or count on a meal all ready to go, needing just a quick reheating?

But, even with the best of intentions, we often lose our way when navigating the frozen terrain behind the freezer door. What are those unrecognizable solid things in plastic bags? How long have they been in there?  Are they safe to eat?

Like any tool designed to make your life easier, your freezer can save you time and money, but you have to know how to use it.  Here are some guidelines to help you develop a warmer relationship:

Seal all food before freezing it. Dehydration, or freezer burn, attacks the color, flavor, and texture of food that is exposed to air as it freezes. Use containers, bags, and paper designated specifically for freezing when storing leftovers.   (Regular weight aluminum foil, waxed paper, and thin plastic bags won’t do the job.)  Store liquids and soups in rigid, stackable plastic containers with airtight lids, and fill them to within an inch of the top of allow room for expansion. When using plastic freezer bags, squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing.

Rewap bulk quantities. When you want to keep meat, poultry, or seafood for more than two weeks, remove items from their store packages as soon as you get them home, and wrap them in freezer paper or heavy-duty aluminum foil, seal with freezer tape, and wrap in freezer-weight plastic bags.

Label everything. No exceptions. Use an indelible marker and a strip of freezer tape to label each package with the name of the item and the date you are freezing it. And when you go looking for something to eat, use the oldest items first.

Create a system. Put unfrozen meats, vegetables, and fruits in a single layer on the freezer shelf as close to the freezing plates or coils as possible.  Leave room for air to circulate around the food, which will bring its temperature down quickly and help preserve its texture and taste.  Once it is frozen, layer or stack your packages and free up the shelf for new arrivals. Did you know that when your freezer is 75 to 85 percent full, it runs more efficiently than when it harbors just a tray or two of ice and a package of frozen peas?

Check the temperature.  Invest in a freezer thermometer, widely available for $10 or less. Your freezer should be at 0° F or below. If it gets up to 10° or above your food will be only partially frozen.

Don’t re-freeze! Freezing buys you time, preserving foods that would otherwise spoil. As soon as you thaw them, the clock starts ticking.  We checked in with several food pros on this topic.  Here’s what they told us:

“I don't generally re-freeze - with the exception of soups.”Melissa Clark, food columnist for the New York Times and cookbook author

 “I think that the whole thing about re-freezing is that you never remember how long you defrosted it for the first time and then you add those additional days and it goes way beyond what is safe and fresh.  I don’t usually re-freeze.” Joan Weir, chef, restaurateur and cookbook author

“I believe this is mostly a quality issue; although if you do not handle an item with good food safety technique, it can pose safety concerns.  When you thaw and refreeze foods, you damage their cell structure, which can contribute to poor texture and taste.”Sharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Dietitian

Wondering how long something can keep in your freezer? Check out this helpful table.

January 19, 2015 | Oldways Table

As we go into a new year, it’s fun and refreshing to switch out some old habits for new ones. On the top of the list for many people is organizing the many aspects of their lives – from health and wellness to their career. We’ve found that putting order to one area in particular – the kitchen – is a good place to start as it can help save time and money at home and in the grocery store. (Who knows, with a little more change in your pocket and more time to spare, you may be motivated to tackle your other New Year’s resolutions, too!).

Here are 17 of our favorite tips and savvy shopping secrets:

Kitchen Tactics:
- Take time to organize your pantry and cupboards, fridge, and freezer. Decide how to organize your food so you’ll always know what you have on hand.
Keep similar products together, for example cereals and grains; oils and vinegars, and spices and herbs. You’ll find that when things have a designated place you’ll be able to keep things organized more easily.

- Keep a running tab on your food inventory. As you use something up, add it to your shopping list. If your budget can handle it and space will allow, always keep one item in use and have a back up in storage. Store older items up front so you’ll use them before newer ones.

- Keep kitchen counters clean and clear of clutter that can be distracting when you’re cooking. Keep utensils and other items that you use frequently at hand in a main drawer, cupboard or on your counter near your stove so you’ll know exactly where they are when you need them.

- Embrace your freezer. Freezers works more efficiently when full, so stock up on bulk and frozen foods such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, when on sale. Make extra portions of meals and freeze them for later use.

- Store foods in an airtight containers whenever possible – air can dry out and spoil many foods. These containers can also help avoid cross contamination between foods as well as prevent nasty spills or accidents in cupboards and in your fridge.

- Plan Your Weekly Meals - Ten to fifteen minutes each week is usually all it takes to get your weekly shopping list and menu plan in order. Once you have a few meal plans under your belt you can rotate them, giving you variety throughout the month.

When planning your menus, let your ingredients work in different dishes. For example, chicken can be the main focus of one meal, and left overs can be added to a soup or top a salad.  (Leftovers are terrific for lunches and snacks, too!).

Shopping Strategies:
- Check out your store’s website before your trip and search for weekly specials or coupons for items that you use or need based on your shopping list. (Alternatively, you can read the printed circular when you arrive at the store.) Avoid the temptation to buy something if you don’t need or use just because it’s on sale  – you’ll more than likely not use it.

- Avoid shopping when you’re hungry or tired – either can lead to expensive or unhealthy impulse buys.

Comparison Shop:
- Learn to read labels, ingredient lists and understand how unit pricing works. You’ll be able to comparison shop and find the healthiest items for your budget. Having a calculator on hand can help you determine the best buy.

- Look for store brands and compare with their national brand alternative. You’ll find in most cases they’re less expensive and are similar in nutrition value. Store brands are usually made by the same manufacturers as the well-known brands, but you’re not paying for advertising and special packaging).

- Look up, look down – most often, pricier brands are placed at eye level, with less expensive options above or below

- Buy in-season fresh produce, but only purchase what you think you’ll use in 2-4 days.

- Buy canned and frozen produce. Eat your fresh produce first and then fill out your week’s menu with your canned and frozen items. Select low-sodium versions, and look for ones without sauces or butter added. 

- Buy whole grains, coffee, nuts and seeds in the bulk aisle whenever possible. You’ll save money and have less packaging waste. Items such as nuts and grains can be frozen, so if they’re on sale, stock up and store in your freezer to use later in the month.

- Pantry items, such as canned tuna, canned tomatoes, low-sodium stocks, as well as frozen vegetables, are ideal to stock up on when on sale, too.

- Buy frozen fish in place of fresh fish. It’s usually less expensive and more convenient – you won’t worry about it spoiling in the fridge and it’s always ready when you are.

- Check expiration dates on perishables such as yogurt, milk, cheese. Buy only what you think you can use by the expiration date – that gallon of milk on sale is no bargain if it spoils before you can use it all.

With a little preplanning and a few shopping strategies you’ll find your time in the kitchen and in the grocery store will be more pleasurable and efficient. We hope these tried-and-true tips will be inspiring and helpful to you in the New Year.

For more ideas, tips, and recipes check out our Oldways Nutrition Exchange Toolkits.


January 15, 2015 | Oldways Table

Rawia Bishara’s first book Olives, Lemons & Za’atar is bursting with food memories so vivid you can almost taste the flavors jumping off the pages. Rawia had us at za’atar and once we learned more about her philosophy on food and the culinary traditions that have influenced her cooking we were hooked for life.  Today we are happy to have the opportunity to share some of what we learned with all of you.  

OLDWAYS:  Talk to our readers about what experiences in your life have influenced the food you cook.
RAWIA:  Most significantly it was my mother’s cooking and meal making process. Her Sunday suppers and nightly meals were virtual meditations.  She was a schoolteacher with 5 children and always on the go, but somehow managed to gather the entire family to sit down for a home cooked supper every night.  She would prep the meal in the morning while making breakfast, then cook it after work and add her final touches. Meals were an expression of care for her. There was no Internet, cell phones and no fast food. There was conversation, reading, telling stories and organic produce.
OLDWAYS:  Your restaurant, Tanoreen, in Brooklyn, has been in business for almost 15 years.  In an age where restaurants come and go what do you believe keeps your customers returning time and time again?

RAWIA:  Well, of course the basics: food, service and ambiance, but beyond those essentials, I think one of the keys is consistency… Many restaurants will be impressive the first time you dine, but when you return for the same dish, it’s not nearly as good. It doesn’t stand the test of time. I have been very adamant over the years that every customer that makes a trip to my restaurant enjoys the same level of food quality they have come back for some many times before… Also, I keep trying to push the envelope and to try new things. For instance, I just came up with a new dish: Beet Hummus… It’s vibrant pink and the beets work seamlessly. It’s a big hit and the recipe will definitely be in the next book!
OLDWAYS:  What is it that you hope readers will learn or take away from your cookbook?
RAWIA:  That in this day and age, food tradition shouldn’t be something that happens only a few times a year, at Christmas or Labor Day etc., but that food traditions happen every day… Memories carry stories, mythology and culture over generations, over centuries. Mealtime is an excuse to come together and connect. It’s something that we lack these days.
OLDWAYS:  In your book you describe the meaning of mezze and the way these small plates can set the mood.  Can you offer our readers some examples or advice for creating a mezze, depending on season or occasion?

RAWIA:  I love mezze because it’s versatile for practically any occasion, from wedding to dinner party to a one on one special occasion. It can be meat heavy or vegan or somewhere in between.  It can be a simple weeknight spread such as: a few olives, cheese, hummus, crudité, raw almonds, Labne, and warm Arabic pocket bread. Or for the summer, it can be more salad heavy (fatoush, tabouleh or beet salad), or can heartier, in the form of fresh baked spinach pies, baba ganoush, makdous (olive oil cured baby eggplants), and raw or cooked Kibbie... And honestly, any of these can be mixed and matched. That’s the beauty of mezze.

Mezze creates a mood first and foremost by simply gathering people. Secondly, can you imagine the visual, visceral, almost primal response between a mezze spread filled with salads and spreads, pickled eggplant, meats and breads of different colors textures and flavors and some store bought cheese and crackers... You can't even compare.

Whenever people visit my restaurant and ask me to choose their mezze, I always make sure to visit the table halfway though their course for one reason…. To see the smile on my their faces. I love that.
OLDWAYS:  Reducing pickling time by boiling the vinegar is just one of the wonderful bits of advice you offer to readers. Can you share another culinary tip (or two) with our readers that you have picked up over the years that have truly changed your life?

RAWIA:  Here are a few tips and short cuts that really make a difference:

I will say that one of my best tricks is the little bit of baking soda in the boiling water of chickpeas for hummus. It makes the final mixture so much smoother and fluffier. It’s a must.

Also, I make my “Tanoreen spices” in my restaurant and use it in countless dishes. I advise doing this at home as well. Personalize it, make a chicken spice mix with a few herbs and some spices, or a more robust mix for lamb etc., so that, you have a, go-to when cooking a quick weeknight meal. It takes the guess work out. And by all means, alter it to your taste.

"Tanoreen Spices" have 9 ingredients that I developed over years, and for certain dishes I still alter the measurements.  I sell it at Tanoreen because when using my cookbook it makes life so much easier. 
OLDWAYS:  Last, but not least, we could not walk away from this conversation without asking: Can you share one of your favorite, easy recipes with our readers?  

RAWIA:  It would be my pleasure…

Makes 6 - 8 servings

In most Middle Eastern countries (apart from Nazareth, where baba ghanouj is called mutabal), the ingredients in this dish are as simple as eggplant, garlic and lemon juice—a lightened up, tahini-free version of baba ghanouj. But when I arrived in America, I experimented with various ingredients and found myself adding tomatoes, chile pepper and a hint of cumin to my mutabal. I serve it with grilled meat and chicken. My children love this preparation, which is also great spread on toasted or fresh Arabic bread, crusty flatbread or crackers.


3 medium eggplants, 2 1/2 to 3 pounds total

4 plum tomatoes or 2 Jersey tomatoes, finely chopped

2 chile peppers, seeded and finely chopped, optional

4 to 5 cloves garlic, minced

1 shallot, minced
1 cup chopped fresh parsley

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or to taste

Juice of 2 lemons, plus more for finishing

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin or to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Sea salt to taste

Sliced cucumbers for garnish


Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for grilling over high heat, or turn 3 gas burners to high.  Place the eggplants directly onto the coals or flame and grill, using tongs to turn them as the skin chars, until blackened all over. Set aside to cool.

Alternatively, roast the eggplant in the oven. Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Pierce the eggplants in a few places with a sharp knife, place them on the prepared baking sheet and roast, turning every 5 minutes or so, until the skin is blistered and begins to crack all over. Set aside to cool.

Slice the eggplants in half lengthwise and scoop out the flesh, transferring it directly to a strainer to allow the liquid to release. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes with the chile peppers, if using, garlic, shallot, 1/2 cup parsley, 3 tablespoons oil, lemon juice, cumin, pepper and salt. Add the drained eggplant and mix together with a fork. Transfer the eggplant mixture to a serving bowl and drizzle with the remaining 3 tablespoons oil. Garnish with the remaining parsley and surround with the cucumber slices.


January 13, 2015 | Oldways Table

Guest Post: Sharon Palmer, RD, The Plant-Powered Dietitian, author of Plant-Powered for Life.

It’s time for New Year’s resolutions—a time to look back at the past year and make goals for a healthy 2015. Whether your resolved to get to a healthier weight, boost disease protection, fight inflammation, live a more peaceful life in touch with your environment, or simply feel and look a little bit better, the answer to all of the above is simple: get powered up on a plant-based diet strategy for the New Year! 

Here are my top 5 tips for a healthy 2015.

1.  Ditch the fad diets. Studies increasingly show that fad “diets”—the kind you go on and off because it’s virtually impossible to feel satisfied and eat normally while you’re “dieting”—do not produce long-lasting results. It’s easy to understand, because when you’re on a fad diet you can’t wait to get off of it and eat normally. And once you fall back into your old diet groove, then your weight falls back into the same patterns, too. What does work is an eating strategy for life; something easy, delicious, and sustainable. That’s the beauty of a plant-based diet. No measuring tools, crazy ingredients, deprivation. Just simply fill your plate at each meal with minimally processed plant foods: beans, lentils, soy foods, fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, herbs.

2.  Get to know your food supply. Take an extra minute to read your ingredients list before dropping the breakfast cereal in your shopping cart; spend your Saturday mornings at the farmers market, start a kitchen garden this spring. Try to eat foods that are as close to nature as possible—closest to the way they grow in the soil. Do what ever you can to make better, cleaner food choices this year; choices better for you and better for the planet.

3.  Be more mindful. Even if you’re making wise food choices, you can derail your best intentions by eating mindlessly—at the computer, while watching TV, in the car. Those eating occasions don’t often register in your brain, thus you feel less satisfied and more apt to keep eating. Those extra portions—even of healthful foods, like grains, nuts, dried fruits—can push up the calorie levels in your day and lead to weight gain. Instead, try to be more aware of your eating occasions. Take a pledge to eat at the table and enjoy the time, flavors, textures, and beauty of the food you are eating. Chances are you’ll feel more satisfied and less likely to snack in a few hours. Keep an eye on portion size, using a measuring cup to get familiarized with what a portion size should really look like. Track your intake using a diary—either online or with pen and pencil—to gain more awareness of how much you really eat. You’ll be surprised how all of those little pinches and nibbles add up!

4.  Move every day. You don’t need a fancy gym membership to get active. Just get moving! Walk every day, take a dance class, start a garden. Do anything that will keep you moving. Exercising every day can help you achieve a healthy weight, reduce your risk of chronic disease, and make you feel happier.

5.  Get in the kitchen. If you limit your food choices to packaged foods at each meal, you’ll never gain the benefits of a whole foods, plant-based diet. So, vow to get yourself into the kitchen more often in 2015! Here are a few tips for cooking up healthy, plant-powered meals:

  • Do your food shopping on the slowest day of your week.
  • Make a menu and a shopping list for the week.
  • Keep a plant-powered pantry (whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, spices, herbs, healthy oils) on hand each week as your go-to staples.
  • Buy fresh, seasonal produce each week to supplement your pantry supplies.
  • Make simple dishes on your busy nights, such as chili, black beans and rice, or tofu mushroom tacos.
  • Once a week, try a new plant-based recipe. Look one up on your favorite website, magazine or cookbook. If you love the recipe, make it again and pretty soon you won’t even need to look at the recipe to make it!

Looking for even more ideas to keep those healthy, plant-based resolutions?  Join @SharonPalmerRD the Plant Powered Dietitian, @VegKitchen‘s Nava Atlas, @TodaysDietitian magazine and @OldwaysPT as we join forces to host a plant-powered Twitter party tomorrow (January 14th) at 3pm EST (hashtag #PlantPower).  Questions will be answered, prizes will be won, and veg-tastic recipes & tips will be shared. Please join the fun!


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