Vegetarian Mexican Casserole with Quinoa

Ingredients

1 cup water
1/2 cup quinoa
2 cups diced zucchini
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
1 medium green bell pepper, diced
One 14 oz can black beans or navy beans
1/4 cup sliced green onion
1 cup prepared salsa (mild, medium or hot)
1 cup shredded aged cheddar cheese
1/3 cup sliced black olives
Light sour cream (optional)

Taco Seasoning

1 tbsp chili powder
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1½ tsP ground cumin
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Method

  1. Combine all the ingredients for the taco seasoning in a small bowl. Set aside.
  2. Bring the water and quinoa to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for io minutes. Turn the heat off and leave the covered saucepan on the burner for an additional 4 minutes. Remove the lid and fluff with a fork. Set aside.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9- x 13-inch casserole dish and spread the zucchini and red and green peppers in the bottom. Sprinkle with 1 tsp of the taco seasoning.
  4. Combine the beans, cooked quinoa, green onion and 1 tbsp of taco seasoning and mix well. A small amount of taco seasoning will be left over, but it is not required for the recipe. Place the bean – quinoa mixture over the vegetables in the baking dish. Spread a layer of salsa on top of the quinoa mixture, then top with the cheese and black olives. Bake on the center oven rack for 25 to 30 minutes, until the cheese has melted and the casserole is hot throughout. Serve immediately and top with sour cream (if using).

Source: Quinoa 365

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Opinion: A Consumer’s Guide to Fake Meat

Foodies in North America and Europe can now choose from among dozens of meat substitutes. But they should choose carefully…

Glenn Zorpette wrote . . . . .

Meat is complex, and faking it isn’t easy. Some of the biggest food companies in Europe and North America have been trying for decades—with mostly dismal results. But over the past year or so, some new offerings and improved older ones with better texture and flavor have come on the market. If you tried one or more meat substitutes years ago and weren’t impressed, or are still shuddering from the experience, it’s time to give them another chance. This guide will help.

Although I’m not a vegetarian, I am an epicure of ersatz meats, a connoisseur of fake fillets. I have been eating them for more than 15 years. I’ve tried mock meats made from soy, wheat gluten, and fungus, as well as various mixtures. I’ve used them in Italian, Tex-Mex, Chinese, Latin-American, and other dishes. I have sprung them on my finicky grade-school-age children from time to time to gauge their reactions (mostly negative, with a few notable exceptions). I’ve also eaten creations made and served only in some expensive Manhattan restaurants. Here, I’ve distilled my experiences into some specific recommendations. I have limited this review to the foods I’ve tried, of course, which means it covers mainly products available in Canada and United States, where I live.

My first recommendation is to avoid anything made by Tofurkey (owned by Turtle Island Foods) and Yves (owned by Hain Celestial Group). All the products under those brand names are either rubbery or oddly flavored. Many are both. The ubiquity of those brands in U.S. supermarkets is a source of continuing befuddlement to me, and it has probably done more than anything else to perpetuate the somewhat negative image of these foods. (People’s appraisals are not universally disparaging, though: In his generally excellent book The Engine 2 Diet author Rip Esselstyne praises Yves’s hot dogs. But the ones produced by Field Roast—see below—are much better.)


Morningstar Farms

Morningstar Farms is another ubiquitous brand in the United States. Owned by the Kellogg Company, it is the largest producer of vegetarian foods in the country. Morningstar uses a good combination of soy protein and wheat gluten in its burgers and meat analogues. However, some of them contain disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, and autolyzed yeast extract, which in turn contain, or result in, monosodium glutamate. MSG is known to cause adverse reactions in some people. If MSG doesn’t bother you, then dig in. Morningstar’s burgers and breakfast patties are quite tasty. But bear in mind that Lightlife Foods (see below), somehow manages to make reasonably tasty foods without those ingredients.


Boca

Boca Foods Co. (owned by Kraft Foods) is another megavega brand that you shouldn’t bother with. Boca’s products are typically mealy and bland. And many of them contain such MSG stand-ins as disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, and hydrolyzed corn protein.

But enough grousing. All mocking aside, there are quite a few worthy mock meats out there. Here are the companies and specific products I recommend.


Match Meats

Match Meats was the most consistently outstanding of the brands I sampled. This St. Louis-based producer mostly serves its regional area in Missouri, but it recently began offering its products in the Organix market in Los Angeles. I tried five products: Mediterranean Stuffed Chicken, Crab Cakes, Stuffed Pork Chops, Ground Beef, and Italian Sausage. They were all impressive. In the prepared foods, the mock meat’s fibrous structure and mild flavor were deftly enhanced with seasonings. To try the ground “beef,” I made patties and fried them in olive oil and served them on a bun with fried onions, lettuce, tomato, and the usual condiments. The result was a vegan burger that was as good as one I had at Café Blossom in New York City that cost US $13. Hopefully, Match Meat’s growth trend will continue, but until you can get its products in a store near you, they are available online for shipment within the United States.


Beyond Meat

The company got off to a flying start in 2012, with enthusiastic coverage in The New York Times and on National Public Radio. Part of the buzz came from the company’s high-profile backing, which included Twitter founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone. And then Bill Gates heaped praise on the start-up, singling it out for praise in an online slide presentation titled “The Future of Food.” So does the product live up to the hype? Mostly, it does. I found the texture of Beyond Meat to be remarkably chickenlike. When you bite into it, it has a fibrous, springy feel that’s uncanny in its resemblance to cooked chicken. But the taste isn’t quite as convincing. It’s not unappealing, but it isn’t much like chicken. That shortcoming can be overcome, I found, by using the product in burritos, chillies, pizzas, salads, and sandwiches, where its flavor is in the background. If somebody could make this stuff taste more like chicken, it would be amazing. Until then, it’s simply very impressive.


Plenti

Introduced in 2010, this Dutch product is produced by Ojah, based on technology developed at Wageningen University & Research Centre in the Netherlands. Ojah typically sells it in bulk, unflavored, to retail outlets that flavor it and sell it under their own brand names and in flavors including chicken, pork, tuna, and even smoked eel. I obtained some unflavored Plenti during a trip to the Netherlands, which I marinated in a broth made from vegan chicken-flavored bouillon cubes. I found the texture of the product to be amazingly like chicken, similar to Beyond Meat’s. But my clumsy flavoring attempt served mainly to make me wish I’d been able to sample some of the many professionally flavored versions. In 2012, Ojah was declared the most innovative small-to-medium-size entrepreneurial company in the MKB Innovation Top 100 contest, a prestigious national honor in the Netherlands.


Field Roast

For the retail market, Field Roast offers vegan sausages, deli meats, hot dogs, and various forms of meat loaf. I am fond of everything the company makes except the meat loaf. I have used the very spicy chipotle-flavored sausages in paellas, gumbos, and burritos. I particularly like the smoked apple-sage sausages, which work well with spaghetti and red sauce, in a cornbread stuffing, or on a whole-grain hot-dog bun with Dijon mustard. Field Roast sausages are among the few mock meats that my 12-year-old son will eat happily. I am also impressed with the company’s luncheon meats, which it calls “deli slices.” The Wild Mushroom is particularly delectable. Field Roast uses wheat gluten as the protein, so if you are avoiding soy for some reason, they are a good choice.


LightLife

Lightlife Foods projects a folksy, mom-and-pop vibe on its website. A recent page was titled “Veggie 101 with Mandy.” Who’s Mandy? Why, she’s “Mandy Ingber, the creator of Yogalosophy,” who has been “guiding people to love their bodies and lifestyles for over 16 years.” So it may come as a surprise that Lightlife is owned by megaconglomerate ConAgra. Lightlife has a noteworthy fake chicken, which is sold as Smart Tenders, Smart Cutlets, Smart Strips, and the like. It contains both wheat gluten and soy. The texture isn’t quite as convincing as Beyond Meat’s, but the flavor struck me as slightly more chickenlike. Because they contain small amounts of egg white, many of Lightlife’s offerings are not vegan.


Quorn

I have one word for you: mycoprotein. Quorn would rather you didn’t refer to it as fungus, although many people do. But Quorn is having the last laugh. From a single faux chicken in 1985, the company’s product line has grown to include 23 offerings in five categories that are sold in 10 countries. And the stuff is good, too. For most items, the combination of taste and texture is as appealing as any comparable product on the market.


Gardein

Gardein was started in 2006 by mock-meat magnate Yves Potvin, who also started Yves and reaped a tidy fortune when he sold it to Hain in 2001. As does Beyond Meat, Gardein makes its product from a proprietary mix of soy and pea protein and other ingredients. This Canadian company, based in Richmond, British Columbia, has 30-odd offerings, in two lines: frozen and refrigerated. They vary quite a bit. I found the meatballs to be dry and the BBQ skewers to be bland. And although the company supposedly uses an extrusion process very similar to Beyond Meat’s, some of Gardein’s faux chicken offerings are rubbery and lack the fibrous nature of Beyond Meat’s product. But Gardein’s BBQ pulled shreds aren’t bad, especially if you serve them as sliders, on little whole-grain buns with coleslaw.

Source: IEEE Spectrum

The Problem with Fake Meat

It might be possible to create a burger that helps the environment and improves your health. But will it taste good enough to win over the masses?

Corby Kummer wrote . . . . .

People want burgers. It seems hardwired. You can read Richard Wrangham’s Catching Fire to learn how man evolved into a thinking primate by learning to cook the animals he killed. You can talk to the stylish proprietor of a leading cooking school in Japan, who co-owns an artful Manhattan sushi restaurant. What does he find the most efficient fuel for his triathlon training? A couple of McDonald’s quarter-pounders a day.

Vegetarian and vegans want burgers. Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods, says that from the time he started a health-food store in the Northern California of the late 1970s, he had to sell tofu, seitan, and anything else that could be made to look like meat but wasn’t. “The stuff sells,” he says simply. Entire books are dedicated to veggie burgers, even if they all taste like overseasoned, underhydrated corrugated cardboard.

Of course, there are rational reasons not to eat meat. You can probably recite them along with Ethan Brown, a strapping 6-foot-5 vegan who sold his house in Washington, D.C., and raided his family’s savings accounts to fund a startup called Beyond Meat. Because raising livestock is such an inefficient use of land and water, he thought that making soy “chicken” strips and vegetable-protein “Beast” patties would be an even better way to improve the environment than creating fuel cells, the career he abandoned. Along the way he signed up Bill Gates and Twitter founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams as investors. It’s hard, in fact, to find a tech billionaire who hasn’t invested in a protein alternative that aims to stamp out factory farming. They all recognize the realities of the market: everybody buys burgers. “Meat is such a macho thing,” Williams says.

* * * * * * * *

I eat meat. It’s hard to be a restaurant reviewer, as I am, without eating meat. I like to think I’m less culpable if it has been raised with care, killed humanely (not something whose meaning I’m so clear on, though from the time I started writing about food I’ve watched chickens, lambs, and cattle be killed and butchered in farms and factories), and sold at a price that allows fair wages to everyone involved with its production. But I have never tried to delude myself that more than the tiniest fraction of people who want meat can afford to keep these illusions of enlightenment alive.

The problem is that the new alternatives are—in the words of one tech billionaire who isn’t sold on the idea, Nathan Myhrvold (a trained chef and author of the encyclopedic Modernist Cuisine)—essentially “slightly better Tofurkey.” So why bother? This was the question on my mind when I headed to Beyond Meat’s office in El Segundo, California. Why kill yourself to produce a not-quite-rubber burger? Why not just make something new?

* * * * * * * *

Beyond Meat can count itself a tech company, in that it began when Brown plowed through scientific papers to find the university researchers who were doing the work likeliest to advance the T in TVP—textured vegetable protein, which has generally had a consistency somewhere between modeling clay and latex sponge. Texture, Brown thought, was the key to a better meat substitute. He also wanted to vary the V: most TVP means soy, in a world where many people want to avoid genetically modified organisms and almost all soy is a GMO. His assumption was that the flavor challenge had been cracked by chemists working from the late 1960s through the ’80s—a golden era for experimentation in processed food, when instruments to measure flavor were being invented and refined, multinational flavoring companies were racing to develop new molecules, and cranks hadn’t started talking about eating only what your grandmother ate.

The El Segundo offices, on a street in a quiet beachside neighborhood with strip malls, seem less like a tech startup than like the laid-back domain of amiable tinkerers. The essential research machine is a clunky-looking extruder Brown calls “the Steer,” to point out its efficiency at converting feed to “meat.” Product developers scoop white soy and pea protein meal that looks like animal feed from white plastic buckets into one end of the machine, along with water, and grab strips out of the extruder to see how moist and tearable they feel. A young man at a walnut-Formica table uses an eyedropper to squeeze rust–colored liquid, colored with turmeric, onto a Beast patty to see if he can get the liquid to stay in the burger during cooking and create the look of myoglobin, a protein in muscle cells; the paper plates under the cooked patties stubbornly keep getting stained. The test kitchen has an open pantry of wire shelves filled with spices and peppers and starch powders only slightly more abstruse than what you’d find in a supermarket, and a stove that could have come out of a rental apartment.

Dave Anderson, a friendly, slightly shaggy chef, ran a popular vegan restaurant in Los Angeles, where he was particularly proud of his multistep portobello mushroom bacon and his seitan poached in mushroom broth (“You could tear it like filet mignon”). Brown may have assumed that flavor was the easy part and texture the hard part, but Anderson has learned from trial and error that both are still high hills to climb. Meat, says Don Mottram, an emeritus professor of food chemistry at the University of Reading, is the hardest problem for flavor-chemical companies to solve. Because of its complex structure, he says, meat develops flavor at different rates as fat, muscle, and bone successively cook. Mottram spent decades investigating meat flavor and in particular the Maillard reaction, the caramelization of carbohydrates that releases hundreds or thousands of compounds during cooking.

Anderson approaches flavor like the cook he is: by constantly experimenting with the proportions of ingredients. He gamely warms up some Beyond Chicken “lightly seasoned” strips, Beyond Beef “beefy crumbles,” and a Beast Burger for me to taste against their real-meat counterparts—something that he and the rest of the flavor developers, including the diehard vegans, regularly do (they figure that giving fellow vegans better alternatives will make up any lost karma).

I’m impressed by the “lightly seasoned” strips, insofar as they bear a strong similarity to my Hungarian grandmother’s Saturday lunch of re-boiled chicken from her Friday-night chicken soup. She used garlic and onion in everything, too much salt, and usually some dried or fresh parsley. So does Anderson. What took her hours of simmering for a particular waterlogged yet dry, chewy texture, Beyond Meat achieves by tossing pieces of extruded soy protein into a flavored brine under a vacuum, so the liquid and flavor will penetrate better. The chicken strips out of a bag from Tyson or a similar mass-market supermarket brand—the standard Anderson says he is aiming for—do have a meatier flavor. But only slightly. Their chewy-fibrous texture is more unmistakably meaty than that of the Beyond Meat strips, though the strips are pretty close and getting closer. Tim Geistlinger, who’s in charge of R&D, lets me sample a new batch of “chicken” strips extruded from the Steer, which have a more variegated and branching striation than the current version. With better hydration, the newly configured strips will be possible to confuse with something out of a Tyson bag. I went through the better part of a bag of Beyond Meat strips without really thinking about it. And I’d certainly rather eat what Beyond Meat extrudes than what Tyson packages.

* * * * * * * *

The Beast is more problematic. It has to be tarted up with a lot of seasoning—more onion and garlic, paprika, mesquite, sugar—to cover the taste of the nutrient powder it contains so that Brown can claim in TED-talk tones that it has more iron and protein than the same amount of ground beef, more omega-3s than the same amount of salmon. What the Beast doesn’t have is enough hydration to keep you from needing a good bit of liquid to get it down. When I saw Brown eat one, he added the emollients of ketchup, sliced tomato, and iceberg lettuce.

What’s most striking is not how close these products are to supermarket chicken strips and ground beef but how debased our own flavor sense has become. If Bill Gates and other luminary investors in Beyond Meat can be fooled, as they say they have been, it may be more because of what they’re used to than what actual chicken or steak tastes like.

After my taste-through, I went to Cut, one of Los Angeles’s most expensive steakhouses, in the Beverly Wilshire hotel. There’s nothing like a steak with the intramuscular marbling fat that bastes every bite of a bone-in porterhouse: tender loin with just enough chew not to seem rancid, sinew and cartilage for texture, and a heavy fat cap that is like a food group of its own. Beyond Meat and its rivals are decades away from anything like that.

What’s most striking is not how close these products are to supermarket chicken strips and ground beef but how debased our own flavor sense has become.

But as for the kobe sliders that came as a giveaway at Cut after my table ordered enough steak to make it worth the restaurant’s while: once you scrape away the ashy char and ignore the house-made ketchup and freshly baked brioche bun, the chewy gristle isn’t so far from the dry, flavor-free crumbs of supermarket ground beef Anderson plunked down beside the Beast. Plain ground beef is dismal. With some essential work on flavor and moisture, Anderson and Geistlinger will be able to get beyond the cooked-dog-food appearance of the Beast. They might even perfect the Salisbury steak, that staple of school cafeterias, that Anderson says he can imagine achieving in his lifetime (he doesn’t mention the school-cafeteria part), or the skinless chicken breast that both men think might not be far down the road.

* * * * * * * *

Another alternative—test-tube meat, also known as cultured meat, in vitro meat, and lab meat—is probably decades off, despite the introduction of a $332,000 burger at a London press conference in August 2013. The pinkish ground meat had been produced in a Maastricht University lab directed by Mark Post, a vascular biologist and surgeon: it consisted of billions of cells cultured from skeletal muscle cells taken from one beef neck, nourished in a warm broth of synthetic nutrients and cow-fetus serum. To get the cells to grow into myotubes, the building blocks of muscle fiber, the researchers reduce the serum in the broth, which causes the cells to stop dividing and fuse. Then they suspend the cells in a gel surrounding a central column that allows them to align and form muscle fibers. For the scaffold, Post and others first used Velcro and then searched out biodegradable options. At the live-streamed tasting, the testers reported that the burger tasted almost like a real one, but not as juicy and “surprisingly crunchy.” (The burger backer was Sergey Brin.)

Somewhat more practical-minded researchers based in Brooklyn, New York, are aiming to produce cultured meat at a company called Modern Meadow (the names of these companies, you will have noticed, border on the Orwellian). Gabor Forgacs, a theoretical physicist who changed midcareer to developmental biology, and his son, Andras, are incubating beef cells and mixing them with pectin and spices to create a range of products, including “baked steak chips.” Their original company, Organovo, intended to produce living tissue for drug testing; food seemed to be an equally achievable goal. Of course, Modern Meadow has its own Silicon Valley angel: Peter Thiel.

In theory, cultured meat can be scaled and may offer something closer to real meat than any other inventions in the works. By its nature, it would offer the complex flavors of meat. But it is still in the basic-research phase. The problems are many: scientists must figure out how to build intramuscular fat, sinew, cartilage, and even bone, and a structure to mimic veins and blood vessels that will keep the cells fed so they don’t become gangrenous. The work is so expensive that the steps forward are likely to come from trying to produce organs for transplant—which are “worth millions of dollars a pound instead of $10 a pound,” as Myhrvold points out.

Truly new

None of this will do much for people who care about cuisine. Fooling more people by coming closer to debased industrial meat will hardly elevate America’s palate. Admittedly, none of these companies is aiming to do that: people on the frontiers of flavor are not their intended audience. But for people who do want to be on the frontiers, some of the new research could result in actual improvements.

What I’m interested in seeing is how cooks will use these companies’ protein-isolation techniques to create entirely new textures. Two ethereal dishes pointed the way for me. I tried them during a competition among practitioners of washoku, a Japanese cooking philosophy that glorifies umami with results from the simple to the exquisite. One was a pyramid of trembling, subtle sesame tofu, a Kyoto specialty of Buddhist monks. Flanlike, with the musky flavor of toasted sesame and light soy, it didn’t attempt to be anything but delicate, and it was unlike any tofu I’d had anywhere, including Koreatown restaurants that make fresh batches every few hours.

The other was a small white bowl of luminescent white tofu as reconceived by Rene Redzepi, Lars Williams, and their staff when they set up an outpost of the Danish restaurant Noma in Tokyo last January and February. It was the one classic Japanese dish they dared try to make, Williams explained one night as we stood watching the kitchen crew. Tiny corkscrews of soft, beige grated unripe walnut coated it like snow; an emerald-green herb sauce lay at the bottom. The tiny cube of tofu didn’t quite taste of milk or soy, though it was reminiscent of both; it was silken air, the clear expression of a passing if intense notion of what fresh tofu could be. In the hands of cooks capable of that kind of imagination and high-wire skill, pea-protein isolates—even fortified with omega-3s and iron—can be the way to save the world and keep it safe for culinary invention, too.

Source: MIT Technology Review

Massive Tea Consumption Linked to Kidney Failure

The puzzling case of a 56-year-old U.S. man who suddenly developed weakness, fatigue and body aches is leading doctors to warn that massive consumption of tea may be responsible for some unexplained cases of kidney failure.

It’s being called iced-tea nephropathy by the New England Journal of Medicine, which published a letter describing the case.

The source of the problem was an excessive amount of oxalate, a compound found in many foods. Excessive amounts can also come from “juicing,” having gastric bypass surgery, and by consuming foods with a lot of ascorbic acid such as beets, spinach, nuts and strawberries.

But in this case, the man reported that he was drinking 16 nine-ounce glasses of iced tea each day, giving him more than 1,500 milligrams of oxalate per day.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics advises consuming no more than 40-50 mg of oxalate per day, the authors note.

“If you drink tea once or twice a day, it probably wouldn’t exceed what is the normal range for Americans. But this patient was taking 10 times that amount,” said Dr. Umbar Ghaffa of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, a coauthor of the letter.

Consuming too much oxalate can lead to kidney stones, which can damage the kidney by blocking the flow of urine. “But in this case there were oxalate crystals inside the kidney, and that generates an inflammatory reaction,” Ghaffar told Reuters Health. “If that’s not resolved it will cause scarring and loss of the kidney tissue. So that’s what probably was happening in this patient.”

He ultimately needed dialysis and remained on it because his kidney damage was so extensive.

“Usually if they’re at the stage where they need dialysis, it would be unusual for it to reverse,” said Dr. Gary Curhan, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who was not involved with the case.

The irony is that previous research has suggested that “people who take tea in the usual amounts actually have a lower risk of kidney stones,” Curhan said.

“But in this case, the person was drinking huge amounts of oxalate,” he said. “I would caution people against drinking that much, but drinking a glass or two would not concern me.”

Ghaffar and her colleagues speculated that such regular excessive consumption of oxalate “may be an underrecognized cause of renal failure.”

“The summer season is coming and a lot of people use a lot of iced tea in this season,” she said. “We just want to make patients aware that too much of anything is bad.”

Source: Reuters


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