Monday, May 17, 2010

Meatless Monday

Food is like fashion: trends come and go.

One of the trends that has been around awhile is the penchant for stylish restaurants to serve par-cooked vegetables.

Now some vegetables are suited to being served and eaten hot and partially raw, like radishes, which we often think of as a cold, salad veggie.

For the meatless dish (above), I char-grilled Easter egg radishes so that they were piping hot on the outside, but still crunchy and firm and not as hot on the inside.

Asparagus is another vegetable that does not need to be boiled till it's limp and tasteless.

You may recall the dish I posted last Meatless Monday: Grilled Asparagus atop Fried Bread with Tomato Salad.

My preference these days is to grill asparagus spears in a skillet, just as I grilled the radishes. This cooking technique ensures the color of the vegetable isn't compromised, the flavor remains intact, as does firmness, texture and crunch.

One vegetable that does not lend itself to the par-cooked method is eggplant.

Much to my chagrin, I was served trendy, almost raw eggplant as an appetizer at an Italian restaurant late last week. Given that it's fairly neutral in flavor with a sponge-like texture, eating par-cooked eggplant is akin to eating a dirty kitchen sponge -- not nice!

Eggplant needs to be cooked well in order for it to be palatable and in order that the naturally occurring toxin solamine (or solanine), present in high quantities in eggplant and the other nightshade, potato, is destroyed.

If you're a raw foodist, it really is important to understand that cooking certain foods was a crucial step in human evolution; cooking eliminates the danger of ingesting naturally occurring toxins and it makes some foods easier to digest.

Solamine won't kill you, but like any toxin, it's not something you want to consume often. So cook your potatoes and eggplant!

Today's Meatless Monday meal is a combination of cooked, par-cooked and raw, which made for an unusual and interesting combination of the following:
  • hot, soft food(polenta)
  • hot, crunchy food (radishes), and
  • cold, crunchy food (sprouted beans).
Squash Polenta with Grilled Radishes and Sprouted Beans
1) Into a pot pour a cup of polenta and 3 cups of water. Bring to the boil.
2) Peel, core and chop a small acorn squash into chunks.
3) Add squash to polenta and once the pot is boiling, turn heat to low. Stir contents often.
4) Cook polenta and squash for about 30 mins. At the 20-min mark, add half a cup of your favorite firm cheese. Continue stirring until the cheese melts, the squash is soft and the polenta mix solid but not too solid. Taste test for seasoning, add salt and pepper to your liking.
Note: If you prefer your polenta soft, add more liquid, i.e. water, stock or even half and half if you want to enrich the flavor.
5) Set cooked polenta aside, now wash a bunch of radishes, either plain radishes or the colorful Easter egg radishes I used, and then cut the radishes in half lengthwise.
6) Heat a skillet lined with a spoonful of olive oil, drop the radishes into the skillet and stir them about on high until the skins are charred and hot, and the insides are still firm.

To Serve: Spoon a portion of steaming hot polenta onto a plate, decorate the edges with the char-grilled radishes and top the lot with a sprinkling of raw, sprouted beans, lentils and peas.

You can sprout your own bean / lentil mix (follow this link and watch a New Zealand couple with heavy accents show you how to sprout at home).

Or you can buy sprouts at your local organic market or farmer's market. I bought a small pack at Whole Foods Market for about $3.

"Sprouting" is soaking a seed until it germinates. Rich in protein, vitamins and minerals and live enzymes, sprouts are an easy-to-digest raw food, they're also delicious, with an almost peppery flavor, and they're crunchy.

Sprouts are the perfect accompaniment to spring salads, and hot dishes in need of texture, color, added flavor and crunch.

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