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Curries, more than just a Pun-gent Taste

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Curry . . .

Curry who?

Curry me back to Ole Virginny, or Curry on Wayward Son, for you Kansas fans.

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Curry . . .

Curry who?

Curry –iosity killed the cat.  [Thanks, so much for the groans.  I’m here through Thursday]

The pun is one of the oldest forms of humor.  It is also one of the highest intellectual forms of humor due to depth of understanding a language and its connection to culture.

Curries are one of the oldest types of stew recorded.  The first being documented in Babylon around 1700 BC.[1]  And, according to my hierarchy of cooking skills, curries are one of its highest forms due to the spice complexities melding to a specific flavor.

The word curry is theorized to be an Anglofication of a Sanskrit word, Karli.  However, it appears that there are a number of words theorized to be the origin.  All I know is that the tastes are multi-cultural and multi-dimensional.  Oh yeah, I love them all.

In my search for the biggest health bang for the caloric buck, the spices used in curries are akin to finding The Nutrient Dollar Store.  A pinch of this and a dash of that have been used for centuries to vanquish more than the common cold.  I chose my most favorite flavor enhancers and share their incredible properties.

Cardamom – This spice is used in the most unique ways from Indonesian curries to Scandinavian cookies.  However, cardamom has been researched for use with chelation therapy and for its antioxidant properties with positive results,[2] as well treating hypertension,[3] kidney and urinary disorders, modulating gut activity and acting as a sedative.[4]  The evidence is fairly clear that I need to eat more cookies.

Cilantro/Coriander – AKA, Chinese parsley.  People have a love/hate relationship with cilantro.  Many times I use it in my guacamole when I make it with my garden produce.  It can have a fabulous drying quality to flavors when used fresh.  Be aware that cooking can dull the flavor.[5]

The health aspects are numerous.  The traditional use of cilantro to decrease hypertension is heavily supported in scientific literature.[6]  [7] Historically, it has been used to treat diabetes, indigestion, rheumatism and joint pain.  Current research is supporting its use to decrease blood glucose in diabetics, though the research is not conclusive.[8]  The claims of including cilantro or coriander as part of chelation therapy for high mercury poisoning is anecdotal and based on loosely documented case studies.

Coconut Milk – We have all heard about the problems of coconut milk: high in saturated fat.  Saturated fat is what you find in butter and steak.  Conversely, native cultures which regularly ingest coconut milk do not show that intake has any connection with heart disease.  Studies divided traditional coconut eating subjects into those with coronary disease and those without.  Results showed that animal product intake related directly to risk of coronary events.  Higher carbohydrate intake and low animal product intake was what kept you heart healthy.[9]  Obesity rates among Tanzania adults rose with a lower activity rate and high consumption of dairy milk.  Decreased obesity rates mentioned coconut milk as part of this regular diet.[10]  In addition to heart health, anecdotally, coconut with aloe vera is purported to cure hair loss.[11]

Cumin – That lovely dry heat which goes so well in my Aloo Gobi has been shown to kick butt when it comes to colon cancer cells [Pun intended, See Knock, Knock][12]  The property of cumin playing The Terminator role on cancer cells is Thymoquinone.  Additionally, another fun name, factor-kappaB has been seen to initiate such diseases as cancer, atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction, diabetes, allergy, asthma, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, psoriasis, septic shock, and AIDS.[13]  Cumin, black cumin seeds in particular, have been put on a list of herbs which stop the manufacturing of this substance in your body.  Thus cutting, “I’ll Be Back” from your metabolic movie quotes.

Fenugreek – Although the most common method of calming infants in the United Arab Emirates was breast feeding, when herbal teas were used fenugreek was in the top five.  Interestingly, 90% of these mothers preferred not to use pacifiers, but themselves and their motherly instincts to help their babies.  Historically, fenugreek has been used in the treatment of diabetes and current research appears to support this theory, although the evidence is not conclusive.[14] [15]

Galangal – Beginning its life in China and Java, galangal is similar to ginger.  Its distinctive flavor not only gives a richness to Thai curries, it has been traditionally used to relieve many GI tract problems such as bad breath, sea sickness, indigestion, ulcers and stomach inflammation and diarrhea.  This may be due to its antimicrobial properties.[16]  Like ginger it increases circulation especially to the hands and feet.[17]  No wonder Tom Yum soup does the trick on colder nights.

Garam Masala – The term, masala means mixture.  There isn’t a garam masala bush or tree.  I include this to help you shop for ingredients found in this month’s recipes.  However, not all masalas are the same.  If you know your store, you can explain your taste preference and they may be able to assist you in finding the heat and flavor mixture for your palate.

Kaffir Lime – In southeast Asian cooking you may use the kaffir rind or leaf in a recipe.  Each has a sour flavor which works so well with the sweetness of coconut.  The vodka company, Smirnoff, makes a mojito with kaffir limes and the beer company, Molson flavors its Blue Moon line with the leaves.[18]  Folk medicine uses the leaves as a gum disease prevention, and a digestive aid.  So far the beverages are covered for this year’s May 8th, Thai Royal Ploughing Day party. [Yes, actual holiday.]

Lemon Grass – The antifungal activity of lemon grass oil has been well documented.[19]  Perhaps that is why it was considered a sacred herb and used by warriors.  Its pungent taste comes from a chemical which also gives it antimicrobial qualities.[20]  The astringent properties not only help in wound healing, but promote gum and hair health.[21]

Turmeric – Not only will it make your tofu scramble a beautiful yellow color, turmeric has been shown to increase detoxifying agents in your body, lessen DNA damage and heighten DNA repair.15  Why does that matter?  When DNA misreads, “I am an Ear Cell” for “Stick it in your ear gel”, the cell can mutate into a cancer cell.  We want our DNA copy machine with a just cleaned plate and no paper clips.

With all of these cleansing, antioxidizing, fungi-eating actions going on inside, it is little wonder why gurus live so long.

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Curry . . .

Curry who?

Curry up and end this diatribe.  We want to EAT!

[1] Grove P, Grove C. [2008] The origins of ‘Curry’, (Is it really English?)Retrieved from http://www.menumagazine.co.uk/book/curryhistory.html on April 25, 2009.

[2] Yadav AS, Bhatnagar D. [2007] Free radical scavenging activity, metal chelation and antioxidant power of some of the Indian spices, Biofactors, 31(3-4):219-27. [Abstract]

[3] Gilani AH, Jabeen Q, Khan AU, Shah AJ. [2008] Gut modulatory, blood pressure lowering, diuretic and sedative activities of cardamom, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Feb 12;115(3):463-72. [Abstract]

[4] Ballabh B, Chaurasia OP, Ahmed Z, Singh SB. [2008] Traditional medicinal plants of cold desert Ladakh-used against kidney and urinary disorders, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Jul 23;118(2):331-9. [Abstract]

[5] Loha-unchit K, [2000]. Cilantro – Pak Chee.  Retrieved from http://www.thaifoodandtravel.com/ingredients/cilantro.html on April 25, 2009.

[6] Jabeen Q, Bashir S, Lyoussi B, Gilani AH. [2009] Coriander fruit exhibits gut modulatory, blood pressure lowering and diuretic activities. Journal of Ethnopharmocology. Feb 25;122(1):123-30. [Abstract]

[7] Dhanapakiam P, Joseph JM, Ramaswamy VK, Moorthi M, Kumar AS. [2008] The cholesterol lowering property of coriander seeds (Coriandrum sativum): mechanism of action, Journal of Environmental Biology. Jan;29(1):53-6. [Abstract]

[8] Eidi M, Eidi A, Saeidi A, Molanaei S, Sadeghipour A, Bahar M, Bahar K. [2009] Effect of coriander seed (Coriandrum sativum L.) ethanol extract on insulin release from pancreatic beta cells in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. Phytotherapy Research, Mar;23(3):404-6. [Abstract]

[9] Lipoeto NI, Agus Z, Oenzil F, Wahlqvist M, Wattanapenpaiboon N. [2004] Dietary intake and the risk of coronary heart disease among the coconut-consuming Minangkabau in West Sumatra, Indonesia, Asian Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 13(4):377-84. [Abstract]

[10] Njelekela M, Kuga S, Nara Y, Ntogwisangu J, Masesa Z, Mashalla Y, Ikeda K, Mtabaji J, Yamori Y, Tsuda K. [2002] Prevalence of obesity and dyslipidemia in middle-aged men and women in Tanzania, Africa: relationship with resting energy expenditure and dietary factors. Journal of Nutrition Science and Vitaminology, Oct;48(5):352-8. [Abstract]

[11] Retrieved from http://www.wellsphere.com/wellpage/coconut-milk-health-benefits on April 25, 2009.

[12] Gali-Muhtasib H, Diab-Assaf M, Boltze C, Al-Hmaira J, Hartig R, Roessner A, Schneider-Stock R. [2004] Thymoquinone extracted from black seed triggers apoptotic cell death in human colorectal cancer cells via a p53-dependent mechanism, International Journal of Oncology, Oct;25(4):857-66. [Abstract]

[13] Aggarwal BB, Shishodia S. [2004] Suppression of the nuclear factor-kappaB activation pathway by spice-derived phytochemicals: reasoning for seasoning, Annals of New York Academy of Science, Dec;1030:434-41. [Abstract]

[14] Jetté L, Harvey L, Eugeni K, Levens N. [2009] 4-Hydroxyisoleucine: a plant-derived treatment for metabolic syndrome, Current Opinion in Investigated Drugs, Apr;10(4):353-. [Abstract]

[15] Krishnaswamy K. [2008] Traditional Indian spices and their health significance, Asian Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition ;17 Suppl 1:265-8. [Abstract]

[16] Huang H, Wu D, Tian WX, Ma XF, Wu XD. [2008] Antimicrobial effect by extracts of rhizome of Alpinia officinarum Hance may relate to its inhibition of beta-ketoacyl-ACP reductase, Journal of Enzyme Inhibition and Medical Chemistry, Jun;23(3):362-8.

[17] Curry Simple. What is Galangal? Retrieved from http://www.currysimple.com/whatisgalangal.html on April 25, 2009.

[18] Wikipedia. [2009] Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaffir_lime on April 25, 2009.

[19] Mishra AK, Dubey NK. [1994] Evaluation of some essential oils for their toxicity against fungi causing deterioration of stored food commodities, Applied and Environmental Microbiology, Apr;60(4):1101-5.

[20] Irkin R, Korukluoglu M. [2009] Effectiveness of Cymbopogon citratus L. essential oil to inhibit the growth of some filamentous fungi and yeasts, Journal of Medicinal Food, Feb;12(1):193-7. [Abstract]

[21] Organic Facts. Health Benefits of Essential Lemon Grass OiI. Retrieved from http://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/essential-oils/health-benefits-of-lemongrass-essential-oil.html on April 25, 2009.

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Cooking Demo Ultimate – Forget the food

Hello Darlings, LaDiva here.

Yesterday I had the ultimate cooking demo.  It was for a FAB fundraising group.  This was their regional conference and they hired me to be the comic relief.  Of course, I was NOT going to disappoint so I got two LaDiva dancers to come along and the Incredible Mr. Fitz.

Since it is nigh on Mother’s Day, I decided to make some dishes someone could use to avoid the restaurant scene.  Mom’s day is the WORST day of the year in a restaurant.

Insta' Party Bean Dip
Insta’ Party Bean Dip

The demo has three recipes: Almost Fatless Flapjacks [brunch], Insta’ Party Bean Dip [cocktail appetizers] and Vital Vanilla Creme [dessert].  I would tell the group to fill in the dinner course with take out.

The dancers were new to the LaDiva gig, but they were smart and enthusiastic.  The day before I filled 75 goodie bags with a business card, LaDiva button, 1/4 page advertisement about my book with blurbs of the reviews by authors, Victoria Moran, Dr. Neal Barnard and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitarist, Lenny Kaye as well as 2 ginger snap cookies I had made that morning to give it a ‘homemade’ touch.  These were sealed with a LaDiva sticker thanking the receiver for coming to the demo.

All of the equipment was labeled with the recipe for which it was needed – spatulas, skillet, 2 food processors – down to the smallest detail.  All the ingredients were measured out into containers also labeled as to which recipe needed them – 2 types of flour, baking soda, flax meal, black beans, salsa, silken tofu, vanilla extract, sugar, 2 different containers for salt used in 2 different recipes, etc.  You name it, it was labeled and coordinated.  Everything that could be packed was packed the night before.  I showed the dancers the food and the equipment and explained the recipe codes when they gathered at my house. They would only have to put their recipe’s components on the demo table.  I had three crew people and three recipes.  Easy-peasy.

Earlier in the week, my music was sent to the fundraiser AV staff along with my photo for the screen which would be behind me.  I wrote when the music would be used for the program.

While at my house, the dancers learned the dance and how to throw leis at the crowd, got their costumes and we left.  We got to the venue at 1:38pm for a 2:30 show.  All we had to do was meet the AV guy and set up the demo table.  My makeup was on and I just needed 5 minutes to get ready.  My male dancer was already dressed and the female would take about 5 minutes.

We ran through the sequence of intro, music, dancers, my entrance and exit with the AV guy – Arnold.  Arnold showed me where he had my music cued and said that he was excited to see the cooking demo.  The introducer, Mr. Introducer, was charming.  I even had a separate room across the hall from the event in which to change.  I told the crew to start setting up and I left to set up the dressing table.

That’s when it hit me.  Where was the food?  That’s right.  In packing the car, we had taken everything from the kitchen, but by-passed the refrigerator on the back porch where the ingredients were twiddling their thumbs ready to go.

Panic set in for about 10 seconds.  “Mr. Fitz, what time is it?”

“Two o’clock.”

We had 30 minutes to get food.  Could I buy it?  Where was a store?  Okay, there were no samples going out so could I get food that LOOKED like our ingredients?

I told Mr. Fitz to set up the equipment table and I would think of something.  I went out to the hallway to see if anyone could tell me how close a grocery store was.  Then, I saw a hotel server and stopped her in her tracks.

“Hi, my name is LaDiva Dietitian.  I have a food demo in 25 minutes and I have no food.  Do you have any beans, like black beans on your menu?”

“Wow, no food?”

“No.  But maybe you have something in your kitchen.”

“Okay, come on in the kitchen.”  She wasn’t sure what to do with me, but whatever I needed was not in the hallway.

She introduced me to a manager, “This woman needs some help.”

“I’m an event manager, how can I help you.”

“I have a cooking demo and I forgot all the food.”

“Well, I’m sure we can help somehow.  I can set up a meeting with our chef and we can see if we can sort anything out.”  She was very nice and manager-y and I truly appreciated her intent, but was not the conversation I needed.

“Um, I have this cooking demo in 25 minutes, so I don’t really have time to set up meetings.”

“OH!”

Just then, Jared the Wonderful, passed by.  “Jared, could you help this person?  She has a cooking demo and need some things from the kitchen.”

Jared is a chef that should be from a surfer community.  He was very laid back and said,”Yeah.”  I began to tell him my plight.  He not only said yes to having legumes, he opened a #10 can – one of those big, industrial-sized suckers for me.  Then, he asked the prep cooks about leftover salsa.  Insta’ Party Bean Dip – Done!

Next we had to figure out the pancakes.  He had a pancake mix that we could put in bowls to look like flour, then some small ramekins with salt, salt to represent sugar, high protein gluten flour to represent flax meal, an actual small amount of vanilla extract, an empty bowl to be my “magic” bowl with all other ingredients that I needed, but was for the moment forgetting.  Now, silken tofu?  He was at a loss.

I said, “Do you have any vanilla pudding?”  Close enough for jazz.

I, quickly, amassed my goodies on to a full sheet tray and walked into the event ballroom.  Except, that I didn’t know how to get out of the kitchen.  Oh, and, the tray was astonishingly heavy.  I finally found a door to the hallway, but it had a door handle that had to be turned.  Balancing the tray on one knee, I steadied it with one hand and used the other to turn the handle.  I flung it open about 10 inches, turned my foot into the open space and slammed the door into my foot in to keep it open. I put my knee holding the tray down.  Turning my torso towards the door, I used my other foot to open it enough to get my leg through.  My rear end bumped it wide enough to get the tray through.

The Incredible Mr. Fitz had the table set up and figured out how I could use the extension cord for all three electric pieces of equipment.  Great!  This was going to move right along.

I grabbed the female dancer and told her to come with me to get dressed.  We whipped ourselves into shape and I sent her to get my mic and tell Mr. Fitz we were ready to ROCK!!

She returned with the mic pack and left to get ready for the music cue.  We bad!

That’s when we found that he speaker who was before the food demo decided to give the War and Peace version of his slide show about water.  Now, I like water as much as the next person, but at 2:30 I had risen above all challenges and was prepped for launch.  The dancers had the plastic leis on their arms, wigs on, but no where to go.

So, I stood in the hallway learning about – and I do appreciate what this guy does – water filtration in third world countries via watching through a crack between the double doors.  For 20 minutes.  Having no idea when he would run out of slides of various world leaders exonerating his program and the wonderful things it did for their nations.  Oh, but wait, there is another president.  And another prime minister.  And this is how much cash the group, for whom I was being paid, could raise for this very useful filtration project.

I should have been interested.  I should have thought, “How amazing that this project is doing so much good in the world.”  But I kept thinking, “Dude, I have one crew member who has to leave at 3pm for another gig, and two people who know nothing about breaking down a cooking demo and the skillet behind you is getting hotter by the second even though it is on medium HEAT.  I hope it doesn’t start smoking.”

Finally, Mr. Filtration realized what Tolstoy did, that even War and Peace had to end. Cue the applause.  It is now 3pm.

Mr. Introduction takes the stage.  I can’t really hear what he’s saying, but I know it is about me.  The dancers are by the doors ready to start as soon as Arnold hits music.  Mr. Introduction finishes, AND… nothing happens.  Finally, through some freak of nature, Arnold starts the music.  The dancers start throwing leis at the folks at the tables and encouraging them to get up and dance.  The crowd thinks this should be an after lunch polite chat.  Zumba was at 1pm.

Then, I come in with more energy than the Sun and get folks on their feet.  YAY!  We all swim and back stroke and then hold our noses and pretend to go underwater.

“That’s great everybody.  Let’s get started.”  All of us applaud ourselves to the music playing. The crowd begins to sit.  And the music keeps going.  I finally look at Arnold and give him the international-“Cut the music”-hand-slicing-across-the-throat-sign.  The music stops.

I decide to be honest with the folks about the lack of demonstration ingredients and they laugh.  This is a good sign.

“How many of you have worked in a restaurant?”  A few hands go up.  “What is the worst day to work at a restaurant?”  One woman pipes up, Mother’s day.  Another good sign.

So, I start into my spiel hoping I won’t forget anything really pertinent because I don’t have the recipes with me.  I use the ingredients to remind me what goes into what, but those ingredients are at home in the back porch refrigerator.  Snickering at me.

The pancake batter is going swimmingly.  People are giggling when I use the same white powder for flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  They are really listening when I am describing the need of fiber in the diet and how it works with diabetes.

Everyone smiles or laughs each time I sing out “I want to keep My Girl-ish Fig-ure!”

Then, poof, I have ready-made batter to pour in the skillet, [mixed up by Jared the Wonderful, I told you he was wonderful], from a little pitcher.  The skillet which I turn off because it starts to smoke.  Then, I realize I have no oil for the skillet and the batter I have just poured onto the skillet is going to stick like crazy.

I blather on about how you can decrease the sugar on pancakes by mashing fresh fruit with a little bit of maple syrup.  This compensates for the inevitable berries that are over-ripe or just not good tasting.  Everyone plays along with me when I ask them to put on their “pretend hats” and see the blackberries in this empty plastic bowl.  Then, I begin using a real potato masher to mash imaginary berries.  I get so caught up in pretend-land, that when I am done talking about the berries and mashing them, I tap the masher on the side of the bowl as if there were berries stuck to it.  No one noticed.  Yay team.

Then, I have to get the pancake off the skillet.  Comedy ensues, but I manage to wrestle it on to a plate.

Next is the bean dip, easy because I have bean and salsa.  Slide right through the information about legumes and blood sugar stability.  And on to Vanilla Creme.

This is really going well.  I finish the vanilla creme with miming smooshing a strawberry in the creme and eating it.

I give a shout out to the LaDiva Dancers.  I give a shout out to the Incredible Mr. Fitz.  I turn to Arnold.  “Hit it, Arnold.”

Arnold is nowhere to be seen.  In fact, there is NO ONE at the sound board.

Do this with me.  Let your jaw drop and leave your mouth open for 10 seconds.  While your mouth is attracting flies, think about the fact that you have no idea on how to get off this stage.  You don’t have a pithy tag line.  You don’t have anyone else to thank.  You can’t grab anything to eat or hand out as you leave.  You have just blown the momentum of the entire demo.

Close your mouth and move on.  “Wow, so thank you so much for coming to this.  Ta-ta, Darlings.”  Grab your boa and shake it around your shoulders viciously as you leave the stage and head for the door.

Oh, you forgot to tell everyone to get goodie bags as they leave.

Now it is time for a martini or a hot bath or 75 stabs from LaDiva buttons followed by 150 cookies.  Screw your girl-ish figure.

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Lose the Fat, Keep the Flavor

Thursday, April 26, 2007

There is a large movement to decrease or eliminate added oils to food.  But how do you do it?  Here are a few tips.

Most of the time oil can be cut in half, if not eliminated entirely in baking by substituting with plain apple sauce or prune puree.  My latest experiment is crushed pineapple.  I blend most, if not all, the wet ingredients with the sauce or pineapple with my immersion blender and it works just fine.  I almost never use oil in cakes. Click here for egg substitutes to take the cholesterol out of your baking.  The main substitution I use for eggs is flax meal – not flax seeds.  Humans do not have the enzyme to break open hull of the seed.  So, either buy flax meal or grind your own in a cheap coffee or spice grinder.  Not only will the flax bind like an egg, but it has few calories, lots of fiber and zero cholesterol.

For salad dressing, you can use orange juice or apple juice concentrate for a lot of flavor, yet no added fat.  Orange juice concentrate alone or with a tiny amount of toasted sesame oil is fantastic on fruit salads.  Also, pineapple juice and a little salt and fresh ground pepper.

When you saute, try using wine, broth or water instead or oil.  Adding more spices will pick up flavors without adding calories or sodium.  During the winter, I keep a small sauce pan on the stove and toss in the ends of my vegetables while making dinner to create a broth.  This broth can be stored in small containers in the fridge for use later in the week, or frozen in a large container and used later in the month.  I have a quart container in the freezer that I keep adding to.  I usually need at least a quart of broth or stock when I make soup.  I also add the leftover stock from stir-frys or other dishes.

Another type of cooking is searing.  When cooking without oil, you can sear vegetables to achieve a crispy browning.  The most important point is to have your pan hot enough.  Let the pan heat with medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Sprinkle in a couple drops of water.  If the water sizzles off the pan is not hot enough.  The water should turn into small beads and run the interior of the pan.

Why worry about the amount of fat?  Well, one tablespoon of cooked quinoa is about 12 calories.  One tablespoon of any fat in a jar or tub, whether it be lard, corn oil or extra virgin olive oil, that never even thought about having sex, is 120 calories.  For those of us wanting to keep our girl-ish figures that can equal almost 10% of the entire amount of calories eaten in a day.  Something to think about.

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Italian Cooking – Thinking outside the pasta box

Monday, August 3, 2009

What could a girl from a meat and potatoes, Irish background know about Italian cuisine?  Um . . tomatoes and pizza?  Putting my curiosity to the test, I researched for some “real” cuisine and found an abundance of ingredients.  Besides the traditional red sauce spaghetti bowl, true Italian dishes consist of eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, fennel, grains, legumes–  Grains and legumes?

Yes, much of Italian cooking is not merely substituting rice cheese for its cow-derived alternative.  Here is sample of the grains and legumes used in Italian cooking.  Some are well-known food staples such as semolina, and others I hadn’t known or thought of for years.

Farro – This grain, also known as Emmer Wheat, was what the Roman legions fed their troops oh-so-many years ago.  It was one of the early domesticated plants in the Mideast.[1]  The grain almost went out of existence or would have been relegated to a tiny, local crop except that the French introduced it into the high-end restaurant trade.  They found it worked well with hardy soups and sauces.

While farro resembles spelt, the two are extremely different with regards to cooking methods.  Spelt can be cooked directly, while farro needs to be soaked.  Farro also has a str

Spring Pesto from 2015-2016 Farmers Market Recipe Book
Spring Pesto from 2015-2016 Farmers Market Recipe Book

ong texture and spelt can become mushy.  Historically, farro was ground into a paste and cooked.[2]

I found recipes for farro in soups from the Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, and Garfagnana areas.  They used all types of vegetables including kale and other greens.  It is also used as a cold dish with vegetables and spices from many other areas of Italy.

Since spelt is a virtual twin, read any packages closely to make sure you are getting the real thing.

Semolina – Semolina is not a grain itself, rather a course remnant of durum wheat particles separated from the bran.  This is the heart of the durum kernel or semolina.  There is a soft semolina called “farina”, generally used as a breakfast cereal. It is the hard and coarse, ground semolina or “durum flour” which is used to make pasta, couscous and many bread products.[3]  The high gluten and protein content allows the flour to be shaped into the many pasta derivatives.[4]

Polenta – When corn meal met Italian cooking expertise, polenta was invented.  Originally combined with farro or chestnut flour, polenta can be milled fine or coarse to create a mush or firm meal component such as polenta cakes.  Polenta is found in northern Italy and can be cooked with mushrooms, rapini or other vegetables to create a truly Italian dish.

            In traditional cooking, polenta takes at least an hour and required constant stirring.[5]  However, there are methods using a microwave that take about 12 minutes.[6]  Polenta can also be used as a coating or batter for baked vegetables or even made into a simple cake for dessert and topped with fruit compote.[7]

Risotto – When is rice, not rice, and when is pasta, not pasta?  When it is risotto.  I have to confess I had no idea they actually grew rice in Italy.  In fact, Italy is the largest rice producer in Europe, especially northern Italy.  During the Middle Ages, rice was considered medicinal and was only in seed form.  Then some nameless brain-child got the idea to plant it in the Po valley, and, VOILA! the Italian rice market was born.  There is a natural water flow which floods rice fields in the Piedmont and Lombardy regions.  The hot summers also add to necessary climate conditions for cultivation.[8]  It was a small industry until 1839 when an unnamed friar ripped off some seeds from the Philippines, planted them and began experimenting to germinate a disease resistant strain.  An irrigation system was put together and in the early 1900’s the Experimental Rice Centre was established.

Risotto is made from one of three types of rice grown in Europe: Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone nano.[9]  Many people confuse the pasta Orzo with Arborio rice.  Orzo stays  in separate pieces while Arborio creams together.  Arborio is the most popular rice for risotto in the United States, whereas Carnaroli is more popular on the other side of the Atlantic.

What I found interesting is that Arborio is cooked so differently than its Asian counterpart.  Asian rices are added to boiling water, lidded and boiled for a time.  Risotto is heated with oil, stirred until it absorbs the oil, and then a stock is added.  We are all told not to lift the lid on Asian rice; risotto is constantly stirred and made in small batches.  Unlike rice which is fluffed with a fork at the end of cooking time, risotto should, in the words of Wisegeek, “ooze on to the plate much like a lava flow.”  Could risotto be a tip of the hat to Pompeii?

Borlotti beans – These beautiful beans come in red and white streaked pods.  When the pods are opened the beans have red and white streaks in the opposite direction.  They may not seem like a bean you can get in North America, but according to the United States Department of Agriculture, they are exactly like cranberry beans found in many natural foods stores throughout the US.[10]   Most recipes researched simply had the beans cooked until tender, not soft, and added a few spices with olive oil.  They have a nutty taste.  Though bold in color when raw, they turn brown during the cooking process.  That’s something to keep in mind, if color is key to your meal presentation.

Cannellini – These are the ones used in most Italian soups, although theiry origin is Argentina.[11]   In Tuscany, the cannellini bean became a principal crop.  In fact, Tuscans are known for their bean consumption and are called, mangiafagioli, translated to Bean Eaters.  Many beans species were eaten throughout Italy; however, since Cannellinis were from the New World, they really didn’t take on nationally until the 17th century.[12]  White and delicate in flavor, the cooked beans stay in tact.  This makes them very versatile as the base of a bean and veggie salad, hot meals including zucchini and summer squashes, antipasto spread with pickled onions or as a lettuce salad topper.

Chick Peas – Is there a cuisine which doesn’t use chick peas somewhere?  The origin of chick peas is not clear.  What is clear is that Italian cooking includes the Ceci peas [chick peas] for salads, soups, and spreads.  There are a number of recipes which call for cecis to be soaked for eight hours or more.[13]  I haven’t found this necessary.  I will soak them in hot water for 20 minutes before cooking, but not much more is really needed.  Italians serve them just cooked with oil and a few spices or as part of more elaborate dishes.  With a blender or food processor you can create chick pea flour which is used to make a type of polenta called panissa.  It is mixed with onions and greens to make a one dish meal.  Sounds like lunch to me.[14]

Fava Beans – Once used as currency, fava beans are traditionally planted November 2 or All Souls Day, a holy day in the Catholic religion.  Supposedly there are small cakes made to resemble fava beans eaten that day called, fave dei morti, or Beans of the Dead.  Having a fava bean in your pocket is considered good luck since you carry with you the essentials of life.[15]

Fava beans are also known as broad beans and are only available fresh a few weeks a year.  They are labor intensive when used fresh because you must first boil them to open the skins.  Then, boil again.  However, the flavor is worthy of some of the work.  Other than use in soups, fava beans are in side dishes with artichokes, eggplant and a host of vegetables and broths, including one recipe with a mélange of root vegetables.  One of the easiest and tastiest is with onions, garlic and beet greens in a fava bean puree.[16]  However, you use them; they’ll increase your nutritional currency exponentially.

Lentils – Back when I was young, during the Paleolithic and Mesolithic ages [13,000 – 9,000 B.C.], I used to park my dinosaur at the Franchthi Cave  in Greece, and chow down on lentils.  They didn’t serve lentils with coriander chutney then, just a little salt.  And I have to confess that I just couldn’t talk Esau, the guy from the old Jewish and bible story, out of giving up his birthright for a plate of them.[17]  That was either one hungry dude or one great plate of lentils.

Lentils didn’t hit it big in Italy until the Bronze Age. [And Italians think they are so cutting edge!  My people had already built Stonehenge.]  After that it became a core component of Italian cooking.  The obelisk in St. Peter’s Square dates back to 37 A.D. and was shipped from Egypt to Italy packed in a crate of lentils.[18]  [I wondered where the idea of packing peanuts came from.]

Two types of lentils are grown in Italy, mainly in the south.  Neither strain was stated as used more than another. Of course, lentils are used in soups, but also side dishes such as lentil fritters, and appetizers.  On New Year’s Day, lentils are a must.  They symbolize coins and bringing financial success in the new year.[19]

Again, I found many recipes suggesting soaking them for hours before use, something I have not found necessary especially if you are pressure cooking them.

I can’t end this section on beans without referencing Maccu de San ‘Gnuseppi, or Legume soup for St. Joseph.  The story goes that one year all of the crops failed in Sicily except for beans.  The beans kept everyone from starvation.  The grateful population gave thanks to St. Joseph for this food crop.  The commemorative soup uses all of the aforementioned dried seeds in a broth flavored with a native herb, borragine, which can be substituted with greens.[20]  Made at the spring equinox, this dish incorporates the old winter staples the housewife clears from her pantry making room for the fresh yield of the coming seasons.

So, beans and grains are used throughout Italy with greens, onions, root vegetables, squash, fresh herbs, and artichokes.  Oh yeah, they also have some dishes that use . . . tomatoes.

[1] Wisegeek.  What is Farro? Retrieved from http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-farro.htm on January 26, 2009.

[2] Phillips K. [nd]. Farro: Grain of the Legions. About.com. Retrieved from http://italianfood.about.com/library/rec/blr0002.htm on January 26, 2009.

[3] Semolina, Wikipedia.  Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semolina on January 26, 2009.

[4] Conent, P. [nd] Grain products basics – semolina and couscous. Epicurean Table. Retrieved from http://www.epicureantable.com/articles/agrainsemolina.htm on January 26, 2009.

[5] Wikipedia. [nd] Polenta. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polenta on January 26, 2009.

[6] Cooks.com. [nd] Microwave polenta. Retrieved from http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,1629,148162-224203,00.html on January 26, 2009.

[7] Mele D. [2008] Olive Oil Polenta Cake With Poached Pears. Italian Food Forever! Retrieved from http://www.italianfoodforever.com/ on January 26, 2009.

[8] Italian Institute for Trade. Five centuries of Italian Rice. Retrieved from http://www.italtrade.com/showroom/riso.htm on January 27, 2009.

[9] Wisegeek. [nd] Is Risotto Rice or Pasta? Wisegeek.  Retrieved from http://www.wisegeek.com/is-risotto-rice-or-pasta.htm on January 27, 2009.

[10] Ehler JT. [nd] Borlotti Beans. Foodreference.com. Retrieved from http://www.foodreference.com/html/fborlottibeans.html on January 27, 2009.

[11] Ehler JK. [nd] Cannellini Beans. Food Reference. Retrieved from http://www.foodreference.com/html/fcannellinibeans.html on January 27, 2009.

[12] Belanger L. [2006] Cannellini Beans. HighBeam research. Retrieved from http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-7946313.html on January 27, 2009.

[13] Phillips K. [nd] Ceci! Chick peas or garbanzos. About.com. Retrieved from http://italianfood.about.com/od/aboutingredients/a/aa021100.htm on January 27, 2009.

[14] Phillips K. [nd] Panissa. About.com. Retrieved from http://italianfood.about.com/od/primivari/r/blr0687.htmon January 27, 2009.

[15] Wikipedia. [2009] Vicia faba. Wikipedia.  Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vicia_faba on January 27, 2009.

[16] Phillips K. [nd] Fava Beans and Beet Greens. About.com. Retrieved from http://italianfood.about.com/od/legumesandpasta/r/blr0615.htm on January 27, 2009.

[17] Wright C. [nd] A short history of lentils. Clifford A Wright.com. Retrieved from http://www.cliffordawright.com/caw/food/entries/display.php/id/61/ on January 27, 2009.

[18] Barrett J. 2004. Fagioli. Pennsylvania. Rodale.

[19] Phillips K. [nd] Lenticchie, That’s Lentils! About.com. Retrieved from http://italianfood.about.com/od/aboutingredients/a/aa012200.htm on January 27, 2009.

[20] Phillips K. [nd] Legume Soup for Saint Joseph’s – – Maccu di San ‘Gnuseppi. About.com. Retrieved from http://italianfood.about.com/od/legumesandpasta/r/blr0689.htm on January 27, 2009.

Spring Pesto from 2015-2016 Farmers Market Recipe Book
Spring Pesto from 2015-2016 Farmers Market Recipe Book