Summer Treat: Mango Dessert

Mango Shaved Ice, Mango Ice Cream, Mango Fresh Cream, Mango Pudding and Fresh Mango

Food History: Celery

Natalie Jacewicz wrote . . . . .

Celery, the mild-mannered straight man of the vegetable world, packs a puny six calories per stalk and — in my opinion — about as much flavor as a desk lamp. Yet despite its limitations, the fibrous plant has featured in Mediterranean and East Asian civilizations for thousands of years.

The paradox puzzled me enough that I called a bunch of specialists at the intersection of botany and anthropology to pick their brains. They shared their best guesses about how celery sneaked into our diets.

“Celery is odd, right?” says botanist Charles Davis of Harvard University. “Another thing that’s always baffled me about umbellifers [the family to which celery belongs] is that most species are wickedly poisonous.” Socrates famously died by consuming water hemlock, a member of that family.

Wild celery is native to the Mediterranean area, according to Davis, though archaeological remains from Switzerland have suggested that humans were transporting celery seeds as early as 4,000 B.C. Another variety of celery called “smallage” was present in China as early as the 5th century. Strong aroma may have boosted the appeal of the varieties in the Mediterranean and Asia.

But celery enthusiasts of yore were probably not munching it for taste, according to Carlos Quiros, a plant geneticist emeritus from the University of California, Davis. He says that people in Egypt, Rome and China used the wild plant medicinally for a slew of ailments, but “usually for hangovers or as aphrodisiacs.” (Lonely hearts beware: There’s no medical proof that celery helps with either.) The Greeks and Romans favored wild celery’s leaves to weave victory crowns for athletes, Quiros says, as did the Egyptians. In fact, archaeologists discovered a celery wreath in Tutankhamun’s tomb.

A 16th century woodcut shows the interior of a kitchen. In medieval Europe, cooks combined contrasting flavors and spices in much the same way that Indian cooking still does today.

Based on my conversations, it seems as though culinary celery cultivation probably began in the 1600s in Italy or France. Horticulturalist Joe Masabni, of Texas A&M University’s extension school, speculates that Mediterranean flavors assisted celery’s big break.

“You saute anything with olive oil, and it tastes good,” says Masabni, who thinks celery also might have served as a filler food, to “beef up” meals, as it were. “In the old days, you take chicken and it feeds one person. But you take a chicken and add it to soup with lots of vegetables, and you can feed a whole family.” Davis thinks that during this period, Europeans began selecting for crunchy, succulent stems, while the Chinese cultivated a leafier variety, which today features in soups and sautes as “Chinese celery.”

There’s some debate about which individual first grew celery in the United States, but we know cultivation began in Michigan in the late 1800s. The crop grew well in the state’s mild summers, and Dutch immigrants in the area seized the opportunity to farm the vegetable for a celery-curious American market. Today the average American consumes six pounds of celery per year, UC Davis’ Quiros says.

Though detractors criticize the watery stalks for culinary blandness, celery does have some devotees.

“I love celery. It’s awesome,” says Robin Willis, a librarian in Frederick, Md. “I’m a big fan of foods that crunch, so celery is right up there. And you can dip it in stuff.” She also calls celery the unsung hero of soups, infusing subtle­ — but critical — flavor.

But like the Mona Lisa or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, celery’s flavor seems to defy description. When pressed to describe celery in musical terms, general manager of the Michigan Celery Promotion Cooperative, Gary Wruble, compared the vegetable to classic rock. “I don’t know why,” he says. “It’s my favorite genre.”

“I’m actually a pretty big fan of celery,” says ethnobotanist Thomas Carlson of the University of California, Berkeley. He sings the praises of the vegetable’s fibers, which he says aid digestion. He also tried to win me over to celery seed. “In the past two weeks,” says Carlson, “I’ve had it in several meals, and it was quite tasty.”

Source: npr

Chinese Vegetarian Won Ton Soup with Tofu

Ingredients

2 boxes firm marinated tofu
12 pieces won ton wrapper
20 g pickled vegetables (榨菜), cut into thin strips
40 g Chinese dried mushroom, soaked in cold water until softened
50 g baby bok choy, cut into 2 to 3 portions

Seasoning

1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp sesame oil

Soup
3 cups vegetarian broth
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sesame oil
dash ground white pepper

Method

  1. Soak pickled vegetables in water. Remove and drain. Set aside.
  2. Cut Tofu and mushroom into dices. Mix well with the seasonings to make the filling.
  3. Place a tbsp of the filling in the center of the wrapper. Wrap up into a won ton.
  4. Boil the soup ingredients in a pot. Add won ton and cook until they are done.
  5. Add bok choy and pickled vegetables. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove and serve.

Source: Vegetarian Tofu Dishes

In Pictures: Foods of by CHLOE Restaurant, Los Angeles

Vegan Casual Dining

The Restaurant

Vitamin D May Not be the Great Solution to Health Problems

As Canadians prepare for long summer days in the sun, a new publication is shedding light on the suggested medical benefits of a nutrient that comes with the sun’s rays: vitamin D.

The vital nutrient is widely seen as an important element to good health. Many people place strong belief in its potential benefits in treating a number of medical conditions–such as depression or Multiple Sclerosis–and feel a need to supplement their vitamin D intake. But according to Michael Allan, a professor of Family Medicine and director of Evidence Based Medicine at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, much of that belief isn’t validated by science.

“Wouldn’t it be great if there was a single thing that you or I could do to be healthy that was as simple as taking a vitamin, which seems benign, every day? There is an appeal to it. There is a simplicity to it. But for the average person, they don’t need it.” says Allan.

Allan is the lead author of a review published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine that examines the evidence for 10 common beliefs about vitamin D. The beliefs range from the ability of vitamin D to reduce falls and fractures, improve depression and mental well-being, prevent rheumatoid arthritis, treat Multiple Sclerosis, and lessen incidences of cancer and mortality. The review finds little evidence though that supplementation with this vitamin has much of an effect at all.

According to Allan, only a few of the 10 beliefs the team looked into seemed to exhibit some scientific proof. Strongest among them, vitamin D was shown to have a minor impact in reducing the number of falls among the elderly and reducing fractures.

“Even areas that we really thought there was good evidence for benefit early on, don’t seem to be bearing out,” says Allan. “The one that we probably have the most evidence for is fractures. If you were to take a group of people who were at higher risk of breaking a bone–so had about a 15 per cent chance of breaking a bone over the next 10 years–and treated all of them with a reasonable dose of vitamin D for a decade, you’d prevent a fracture in around one in 50 of them over that time.”

“Many people would say taking a drug for 10 years to stop one in every 50 fractures is probably not enough to be meaningful. And that’s the best vitamin D gets as far as we know now.”

Allan says other possible benefits of vitamin D covered in the review were not borne out or are still unproven. He is quick to point out that much of the existing research around vitamin D was poorly executed and consists of poor quality evidence. While he welcomes ongoing research in the area, he says moving forward it needs to consistently be of a higher caliber to be of clinical relevance.

“It makes it really difficult to determine a lot of time if there is anything substantial there that you could tell a patient, ‘You can take this and it can help you this much.’ There’s really not nearly enough there to say that.”

Despite the lack of evidence, belief in the benefits of vitamin D supplementation remains strong. Allan believes much of that stems from misplaced trust in previous research studies showing low vitamin D levels are associated with poor health outcomes, however they don’t prove causation. The bottom line, he says, is that while moderate vitamin D supplementation won’t cause harm to the average healthy person, it won’t heal either.

“The 40 year old person is highly unlikely to benefit from vitamin D,” says Allan. “And when I say highly unlikely, I mean it’s not measurable in present science.”

Source: University of Alberta


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