Tuesday, July 8, 2008

This is your brain - on chicken stock

Since adopting a low fat vegan diet in April 2007 (for health reasons), the foods coming out of our kitchen have undergone a sea change. Gone are the lamb chops, the spicy meatloaf, the curried chicken, and the pork stir-fries. We have said goodbye to barbecue, adios to fajitas in many forms and adieu to crème anglaise, that divine and deceptively simple concoction of sugar, egg yolks, milk and cornstarch. We are over the shock of parting ways with linguine with clam sauce, seared tuna with wasabi sauce, buffalo burgers, and split half chicken grilled over charcoal with a lemon-butter & marjoram baste.

What we have lost in bidding farewell to old culinary friends, we have gained in diversity and new experiences, venturing into unknown territory with ingredients and cuisines. Who knew organic corn tortillas with chili sauce, pinto or black beans, sautéed onions, some black olives, a few pumpkin seeds and topped with freshly-made chipotle sauce, would be such a hit? There was no way of predicting that a broccoli quiche on an organic whole wheat crust would be more popular with the boys than the most authentic Quiche Lorraine ever was. Can anyone really tell the difference between a non-fat ‘veggie’ hotdog and the real - greasy - thing, when both are topped with ketchup, mustard and relish?

I’m still experimenting and feeling my way, but some new favorites are already emerging. Amongst these are several types of chile, with beans and without. Garbanzos (aka chickpeas) feature heavily, whether curried, in a salad or in a superb ‘African bean soup’ with sweet potatoes, tomato and a dab of peanut butter. We have produced a few stellar veggie-style hamburgers, I think the most popular one to date had spinach as the main ingredient! Some things don’t change (much) such as whole-wheat pasta with a marinara sauce. Hold the cheese. I am also getting familiar with quinoa (terrific in a sweet potato salad!); finding out that I really like wheat berries (what brown bread is really supposed to taste like) and trying out new ways with old standbys such as an Asian-inspired brown rice salad with snow peas. And gone are the days of just watching the mint grow in the large wooden barrel on the patio. I’m putting it – and some garden fresh broad-leafed parsley – to work in a superb low-fat Tabouleh with grape tomatoes and diced cucumber.

The nett result: dramatically less fat in our diet, zero ingested cholesterol, a quantum leap in fiber intake and much less time spent in food preparation. Many vegan staples such as beans, brown rice & various veggies are ideal for the pressure-cooker. Hardly a day goes by without my large Kuhn Rikon pressure cooker being pressed into service… How could I ever have existed without one! Oh yes and our total food bill (family of 4) is down by about 40% compared with a year ago, despite the recent rash of increases. We buy all the staples (red, white, black & pinto beans, wheat berries, steel-cut oats, garbanzos, brown rice, quinoa and bulgur wheat) in bulk at greatly reduced prices, compared with pre-packaged foods.

The greatest single revelation? The day I made my first batch of vegetable stock. My kitchen has rarely been without homemade chicken stock, which I would degrease and then reduce to near ‘glace’ consistency and freeze in ice-cube size. Aluminum-wrapped and packed into a heavy plastic baggie, they’d remain quietly in a corner of the freezer, until summoned forth to enliven a soup or to become the base for a stew of one kind or another. Since switching to vegan, I made do with store-bought vegetable stock for a while, but the stuff tasted too much like carrots. Having looked at a few recipes I eventually figured out my own combination. Yes on the carrots, no on the asparagus.

Anyway, the epiphany was not so much in the making of the stock, but in the cleaning up. If you’ve never tried, believe me, making chicken stock is one of the messiest things you can do in the kitchen. Two small fresh chickens in one huge stockpot produce an almost unbelievable amount of grease. It was a tedious and unpleasant task to scoop off the thick, warm layer of pure chicken fat once the stock was ready. Then to strain the stock through a damp cheesecloth, removing yet another layer of fat and finally to refrigerate the stock overnight, to remove what remained of the fat, by now congealed into a thin layer of visible grease. Cleaning up the stock pot itself was enough of a chore to tempt me never to make another batch of chicken stock. Lots of scrubbing, rubbing, rinsing. Repeat. And then one more time.

Cleaning up after making vegetable stock? Practically none required. Strain the stock, press out the liquids and discard the vegetables. Wash out the stock pot by hand if you like. No grease-cutting dishwashing soap required. None. Not a drop.

So there is your body – and your brain – on chicken stock. Load up on chicken, beef, fatty fish, cheese or any animal product and your body becomes a sieve for however much saturated fat and cholesterol those food items contain. Eat a low-fat plant-based food and --- nothing. Lots of nutrients, no cleanup required. Which is good now and even better later. Fewer digestive issues now, and much reduced likelihood for a nasty surprise later. Such as that much dreaded sensation of an elephant squatting on your chest one Monday morning on the way to work. Or your key slipping from your fingers when atherosclerosis rears its ugly head in your brain. Every organ in your body will benefit from the ‘vegetable stock effect’. Be healthier, feel better, sleep better, and maybe even run better. Just no bacon & cheese burgers.


Rene said...

Congrats on your wonderfull blog,Bert.
The veg stock def seems the better option - will you pls post your veg stock recipe. Thank you !!
SA greetings

Bert said...

Rene, hi

It's really quite easy. I start with a huge pot of water and add some or all of the following, all scraped or peeled and cut into nice chungs:

A couple of carrots
A couple of stems of celery
About 2 leeks or onion if you don't want to spend too much $$$
Some roughly chopped parsley with the stems(broadleafed Italian if you can get it)
A couple of white potatoes
2 or 3 peeled whole garlic cloves
1 tsp dried thyme or a couple of tablespoons fresh if available
You can add some mushrooms for more taste
1 tsp salt
1 TB or so whole black peppercorns

Place everything in the pot with the water, bring to a boil and then simmer for about 30 minutes minimum an hour is better.

Strain, adjust seasoning and there you go.

If you want to and have the time, reduce the stock by keeping it on a slow boil for as long as it takes to reduce to about 1/3 of its original volume. You can then freeze it in separate baggies (I use ice cube container & then wrap the cubes with foil).

For a more complex stock, roast the vegetables in the oven for about an hour or so (400 degrees). You can use a bit of olive oil to coat them so that they don't stick to the pan too much.

Then proceed as before.

Have fun!