About 13 or more years ago, when most of my closest friends were still cramming back burgers laden with bacon, cheese, some type of rich condiment, and enough lettuce, tomato and possibly onion to give the whole mess color; I was flaunting my new green lifestyle. I’d sit down to colorful, carefully prepared meals; hey I’m a Chef so it was going down like a live Bob Marley concert at each and every meal. My friends would be sure to shake their funky forks in my face, as their lips glistened with animal fat; mouthing “I don’t care, I love meat”. All I could ever manage to do was just chuckle and enjoy my meal, quietly, ….ignorance is bliss. I’ve plenty of memories of sitting through family gatherings, and crew lunches at work, struggling to enjoy my meals as I was always the topic of discussion. Somehow my love of plant based foods became the brunt of jokes, while feasting on a dead carcass was “hot in the streets”. As I grew in knowledge, my meals, and my lifestyle became more sophisticated. I added exercise, supplements, meditation and all complementary elements into my repertoire and I prospered for it. I gained lean mean muscle, better breathing, clear skin, and vibrant health. In contrast, my cronies, well, …each and every one has gained a lot of extra body fat. They complain not only of their problem areas, but also of the general lack of energy, loss of sex drive (yikes-shoot me when that happens) and irritability. Well, guess who became a sounding board, and a go to when my loved ones wanted to make life changing adjustments? Boy that felt good…. Then something happened that not only validated my lifestyle, but blew my mind- Russell Simmons announced that he was going vegan *insert fireworks here* Now I’m very aware that there were many vegetarians and vegans before myself, or Uncle Russ. For example; Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo Da Vinci , and Pythagoras were all vegetarians before it was the hip thing to do. But when Uncle Russ made that monumental move it shed a very different light on us African Americans. And then Rosario Dawson went and made it all sexy ( Listen: http://youtu.be/kKuzyO0WykI). Since then one of the hippest presidents to bop into the White House; Bill Clinton claimed his vegan lifestyle and brought a little bit more prestige to us “salad eaters”. Suddenly in my mind I had more in common with the upper echelon. Being a lover of all things green and in between went from a fad to something of more legitimacy. Talk about validation! Then things got down right dope on December 4th, 2013 when Jay Z aka HOVA ( Listen: http://youtu.be/1tWmyPMf3wU) professed his vegan status.
Being a vegan/vegetarian has its health benefits, plenty of em. Why else would we who grew up gnawing on flesh, bone and sinew change palates, and lighten our plates in such a dramatic way? Some of the more obvious benefits are; a trim waistline, increased energy, decreased rate of heart disease, reducing the rate of cancer, and the cool factor -that’s right you’re automatically that much cooler being a vegetarian (trust me). Being a vegetarian promises longevity. In fact citizens of Okinawa, Japan have the longest life expectancy in the world based on a 30 year study of 600 centenarians. Citizens of Okinawa enjoy a diet that is predominately plant based. Okinawans also consume animal products such as fish and seafood (its an surrounded by water, why not? ), they also include physical activity as part of their recipe for healthy living. But I digress, back to vegetarianism- reliever of menopausal symptoms, regulator of digestive systems ( yes enjoy dropping a deuce daily my friends), inspiration for more fun and colorful meals, and reducer of all kinds of pollution. All HAIL VEGETARIANISM! As the new year approaches, you still have time to clean out your pantries, brush off your food processors, write new shopping lists and prepare to turn up with your new sexy self. Your friends will roll their eyes at you, and crack jokes at your expense, but by spring time lets see who has the last laugh. Here’s an easy, but tasty recipe from The New York Times to get you cranked up like a true veggie head.
Chef Will Hall
1 quart vegetable stock or garlic broth
Generous pinch (about 1/2 teaspoon) saffron threads
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 red pepper, cut into strips
1 green pepper, cut into strips
2 cups medium-grain rice
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 pound ripe tomatoes, seeded and grated on the large holes of a box grater; or peeled, seeded and chopped; or 1 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes with juice
1/4 pound green beans, trimmed and cut in 1-inch lengths
2 or 3 baby artichokes, trimmed and sliced (may also use frozen artichoke hearts, sliced)
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed, or 1 1/2 cups fresh or thawed frozen lima beans
1 cup shelled fresh or thawed frozen peas
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1. Bring the stock to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Crush the saffron threads between your fingertips, and place in a small bowl. Add 1 tablespoon warm water, and set aside.
2. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy frying pan, an earthenware casserole (cazuela) set over a flame tamer, or a paella pan. Add the onion. Cook, stirring, until the onion is tender, about five minutes. Add the garlic, peppers and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until the peppers begin to soften, about three minutes. Add the tomato paste, paprika and rice. Cook, stirring, for one minute until the grains begin to crackle. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring, until they cook down slightly and smell fragrant, about five minutes. Stir in the saffron with its soaking water, scraping in every last bit with a rubber spatula. Season generously with salt and pepper.
3. Add the stock, green beans, artichokes and chickpeas or lima beans. Bring to a boil. Stir once, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer without stirring until the liquid has just about evaporated, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the peas. Continue to simmer until the rice is dry, another 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and serve.
Yield: Serves six to eight.
Advance preparation: This does not have to be piping hot, so it can be made an hour before you wish to serve. If you make it further ahead than that, you can reheat it in the pan.
Nutritional information per serving (six servings): 432 calories; 1 gram saturated fat; 1 gram polyunsaturated fat; 4 grams monounsaturated fat; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 81 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams dietary fiber; 261 milligrams sodium (does not include salt to taste); 13 grams protein
Nutritional information per serving (eight servings): 324 calories; 1 gram saturated fat; 1 gram polyunsaturated fat; 3 grams monounsaturated fat; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 61 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams dietary fiber; 196 milligrams sodium (does not include salt to taste); 10 grams protein
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