Monday, July 21, 2014

Meatless Monday: The Wonderful Watermelon

Watermelon may not be local just yet in Connecticut, but it is in season in the southern states. That means it’s inexpensive and plentiful in my local stores.


Watermelon is a nutritional powerhouse. Two cups of this colorful fruit provide 8% of the potassium, 30% of the vitamin A, and 25% of the daily requirements of vitamin C, with just 80 calories! 


Watermelon is 92% water. That means eating a slice or two is a cheap and good way to replenish the fluids lost after a few hours spent out in the hot summer sun.

These days there is much more to watermelon than eating it by the slice and seeing how far one can spit the seeds. With the advent of seedless watermelon [more on this next week], this fruit is trending in the food world, as an ingredient in salads, appetizers, salsas, beverages, desserts, and even main dishes. 

A regional chain has me on their direct mail list and sends along the occasional promotional piece, replete with coupons and recipes tailored to my taste. Last week the promoted item was watermelon. With basil in plentiful supply, how could I not try “Watermelon Skewers with Feta?” They make the perfect appetizer to impress your guests, but they are so easy and delicious that you may find yourself wanting to eat them all by yourself, again and again!



WATERMELON with FETA Skewers
Ingredients
  • 1 small watermelon, cut into 48, 1-inch cubes
  • 1 lb. feta cheese, cut into 24, 1-inch cubes
  • 24 basil leaves, washed, patted dry, and cut in half vertically
  • 24 small wood skewers or toothpicks
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • Balsamic Glaze

Method
  • Skewer 1/2 basil leaf, 1 cube of watermelon, 1 cube feta, 1 cube of watermelon, 1/2 basil leaf
  • Drizzle with balsamic glaze
  • Repeat until you have as many skewers as you need

Here’s a tip. Store any remaining ingredients separately in covered containers in the refrigerator. Pick and prepare the basil just before you need it, and you will be able to throw a few skewers together in no time. 

The one “mystery” ingredient  – Balsamic Glaze – is a reduction of balsamic vinegar and some sort of sugar. I found some in a squeeze bottle on the shelf of Trader Joe’s. If you are pressed for time, you can make a substitute by combining honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar and balsamic vinegar in a 1/1 ratio, but it will not be as thick as the bottled kind, and you won’t be able to drizzle it as neatly. If you want to make your own glaze, and time is not problem, there a number of recipes online. Here is a link to one. [Be warned, however, that user comments indicate that if you do not pay attention while the glaze is reducing, you can end up with a mess.]

I also tried “Watermelon Agua Fresca.” According to the recipe, this translates to “juice made with fresh water” and is “a super satisfying way to beat the summer heat.”

WATERMELON AGUA FRESCA
Ingredients
  • Watermelon
  • Water

Method
  • Blend together 2-3 parts watermelon with 1 part water

This drink was refreshing, but I found myself wondering why I had gone to the extra trouble when a cold slice of watermelon would have been easier and more flavorful, with fewer dishes. 

For more recipes, check out the recipe section of the National Watermelon Board’s website. You will be amazed at the creative ways watermelon marketers have found to promote their product.

Have fun, and come back next week for the saga of the seedless watermelon.

Happy Monday. Have a great week!

On Mondays I often blog on food, food issues, or gardening in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Meatless Monday: With Basil In Season — It’s Pesto Time!

When the days are perfect for spending time at the beach — long, hot, and sunny — conditions are also right for growing a bumper crop of basil.


Basil is a highly fragrant annual in the Lamiaceae (mint) family, with origins in the tropical Old World. Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is the most familiar, but there are a number of other varieties — in colors ranging from light green to purple, and with flavors from “classic” to licorice.

Many sites tout basil’s antioxidant and antibacterial properties; WebMD states that two tablespoons of chopped fresh basil provide 27% of the RDA of Vitamin K, as well as significant amounts of vitamin A, manganese, and magnesium.

Basil requires lots of sun, and frequent watering during dry spells, but it does well in either a garden or a good-sized container. If you are interested in growing your own, check out these tips on the Old Farmer’s Almanac site [The tips are good; ignore the hokeyness of the site.] 

Now is the time to find basil in plentiful supply at the farmer’s market, where it is sold by the bunch at likely the lowest prices of the season.

Pesto (“paste” in Italian) is what I always make when I have a large quantity on hand, as I did on Saturday. I turned to a favorite source — Beard on Pasta  — for a recipe. Beard’s “Pesto” calls for pignoli (pine nuts) and pecorino or Parmesan cheese, the traditional ingredients. But this time I opted for his alternate version which calls for walnuts as a substitute for pignoli. Vegans rejoice! Cheese is NOT an ingredient in Beard’s “Pesto with Walnuts.” It was delicious served atop of a bowl of rotini, whose spiral shape holds pesto so well. [If you find you miss the cheese, just add a few curls of Parmesan.]



PESTO with WALNUTS
Ingredients
  • 4 cups basil leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 cup Italian parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 to 1 cup olive oil 

Method
  • Remove the stems from the basil and parsley.
  • Wash well and spin dry.
  • Put the basil, garlic, walnuts, parsley, and salt into the food processor with 1/2 cup of olive oil. 
  • Process, adding just enough additional oil to make a smooth paste.

Often served as a topping with pasta (hot or cold), pesto has many other uses, from soups and salads to sandwiches and vegetable toppings. 

Google “Basil Pesto” for more ideas. If you plan to freeze your leftovers for winter use, note that most recipes call for freezing WITHOUT cheese. You can add in the cheese of your choice once your pesto is thawed.

Don’t miss this great opportunity to prepare some great, low-cost summer meals and to put some food by for the winter — all without cooking!  

Happy Monday. Have a great week!

On Mondays I often blog on food, food issues, or gardening in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

Monday, July 7, 2014

Meatless Monday: Better Late Than Never

Belated Thoughts for Independence Day 2014

As Americans we enjoy many freedoms, including for most of us, freedom from hunger.

In fact, many of us enjoy the freedom to acquire almost any food we desire at almost any moment.

We can buy fresh berries in winter and lettuce all year long. We can shop the frozen food aisle for barramundi from Vietnam or lamb from New Zealand. 

If we are willing to pay the price, the foods we crave are as near as the closest supermarket.

I learned at the recent New Haven Green Drinks held at Miya’s Sushi that eels that start their life off the coast of Maine are shipped to China to grow to maturity, then shipped to Japan for processing, and back to the US for purchase. This surprised me. This is a huge carbon footprint, and it seems to me, a loss of American jobs.

Next time you are ready to buy an exotic or out of season item, stop to consider some of the hidden costs to the planet and society. 
  • How far did this product travel?
  • What were the growing conditions?
  • Where was it processed?
  • Were the workers paid and treated well? 

Just as we have the freedom to buy what we want when we want, we also have the freedom to say “No, I don’t need that.”

We can
  • grow our own if we have the space 
  • purchase items in season, and process and freeze the fall harvest for those long winter months
  • support our local farmers by shopping at farmers markets, through a CSA, or by purchasing items marked LO (for Locally Grown) at the grocery store

When buying packaged foods, we should read product labels to learn
  • where the product is grown and processed 
  • whether it is raised without pesticides and growth hormones
  • if it contains any artificial ingredients

If you don’t like what you discover about a familiar product, stop buying it, and tell the manufacturer you are boycotting it, as I did when I discovered that the frozen, organic green beans I bought in the winter months were actually grown in China

Meat, fish, and dairy purchases pose a plethora of additional questions, as does eating out, but that is too much to discuss on a first day back from vacation.

Exercise your freedom by supporting our hardworking family farmers and those in the food industry who are helping to get their products to the market.

If all of us spend our food dollars wisely and well, we can make a difference.

Happy Monday. A belated Happy Independence Day. Have a great week!

I’ll be back with a recipe next time, for sure.


On Mondays I often blog on food, food issues, or gardening in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”