Monthly Archives: January 2009

The Quest for Kalonji, making the Bengali 5-Spice

I haven’t had any money in the past few weeks. Things are usually pretty tight but between going to Costa Rica, Dan crashing his car, and not getting paid since December 15th I have been beyond broke. I have been mostly eating rice and beans and other favorites from the pantry but I knew I needed some fresh vegetables. I went to the store attempting to spend only 5 dollars, I needed onions and garlic and some sort of green. When money is the tight the best thing to buy is usually cabbage because it is good for you and cheaper than the rest of the leafy greens.

The next day I was on Fat Free vegan and she had an Indian style recipe that looked too good to pass up but I also noticed that it was a side dish for a Cauliflower dahl that she raved about in a previous post. Since I also had cauliflower it seemed like the perfect meal, except that I was missing one spice, Kalonji.

I had never heard of it before so of course I became overcome with a burning desire to find it as soon as possible. Later that day Dan was in the area of Whole Foods so I sent him on a mission, they didn’t have it. The next day I went to the middle-eastern grocery store by my house that sells some other “ethnic” ingredients but they didn’t have it either. I ended up making samosas that night anticipating making an Indian feast later in the week and having the leftover samosas. I spoke with an Indian friend at work who told me she would look for it but had never heard of it. The next day, I stopped by Central Market, our huge, high-end, has-every-kind-of-produce store. I looked all over; the Indian section, the bulk section, the spice section. I was standing gaping at the spices when a friendly worker asked if I needed help. She couldn’t find the spices either but told me about a secret south side Indian grocery store. Thrilled, I went on my way to the access road of the IH-35 and nearly passed a non-descript Indian grocery store. I walked in the front door and the first thing I saw was Kalonji! I also found dried mangos for amchoor, black urad dhal, and some tamarind chutney.



Stimulate My Pocket

I was watching John Stewart last night and he came up with an simple solution to the economic “crises”. He said that instead of giving the banks the money they should just divvy it up among the Americans, then we would either pay back the money to the banks to get out of debt and they would have money again or we would spend it and thus stimulate the economy. It seems like such an elegant solution that can’t fail. No one would just put 10,000 dollars under the mattress, everyone would either put it in the bank or go shopping.

Are there flaws in this that I am not seeing? Please let me know why this wouldn’t work. The only thing I can think is that it is a government conspiracy after all.

High Fructose Corn Syrup Contains Mercury

Have you seen those pro high-fructose corn syrup adds? They really make me laugh because the prey on people’s stupidity in a very direct way. This is how the pretty much go:

Person 1: I can’t eat that, it has high-fructose corn syrup

Person 2: Well what’s a matter with that?

Person 1: (gives confused look)

Person 2: Its made from corn and has the same calories as sugar

Person 1: wow! I don’t know what is going on!

me screaming at the TV: Sugar is bad for you too! The only thing worse than white sugar is corn syrup! Calories aren’t the only thing that matters you *&*%#$@!

toxic-sodaFirst, the corn used isn’t some terrific whole food that we have all forgotten about, it is, in fact, one of the most genetically mutated crops that completely poisons the land, the farm animals that have to eat it, and people that eat anything that has been processed. In fact if you are unclear about what “processed” really refers to the phrase “made with corn” can easily replace “processed” in most cases. The corn used to make syrup isn’t the same as the sweet corn that we eat it the summer. It is a vile inedible mutant that most ingest every day.

Next, the process that they use to turn the already genetically modified corn into syrup has dramatic effects on how we then digest the syrup. It doesn’t digest in your body the same way that the sugars in fruit digest. Research has shown that high-fructose corn syrup goes directly to the liver, releasing enzymes that are told to store it as fat. This may elevate triglyceride (fat in blood) levels and elevate cholesterol levels. I don’t think it is any surprise that obesity levels started to rise at the same time as the introduction of HFCS into all foods in the 70s.

So now we find in today’s Washington Post the HFCS just got a little bit worse, that’s right folks, it also has Mercury in it.

Mercury poisoning, though, only effects your nervous system and who really needs that when you think about it.

People love dogs

Today I read an article that talked about a study where they tested if people love their dogs the same way they love their human children. The control group had people in a play session with their dogs and the experiment group was the same except they had to gaze into their dogs eyes. Both groups were tested and they found that those who looked into their dogs eyes had elevated levels of oxytocin which is a chemical that make you happy.

I wonder if it would work from looking at this picture of my dogs?

Gallo Pinto (Costa Rican Rice and Beans)

This is it folks! The definitive version of Gallo Pinto. It took a long time to get here and I have a lot of people to thank, Dan for eating Gallo Pinto all the time, the Ticos for endlessly varying their national dish so that I could try 1000 different recipes, Dinger and Willow for eating the leftovers when we couldn’t face another day of rice and beans…

Gallo Pinto is a terrific recipe to perfect, it works best with leftover rice and/or beans, you can increase the amount to feed 20 without really doing anything different, it is a very hearty breakfast, it is probably the cheapest thing you could ever make, you can make a version with stuff that you have right now in your pantry, and it tastes like Costa Rica! It does take a little planning if you don’t have beans on hand. What works great is to make a big batch of beans & rice for dinner (maybe bean burgers, black bean soup, or burritos) and then when you get out of bed the next day you are 15 minutes from having breakfast on the table. I will write out the recipe assuming that you are just making the rice and beans so that you have them so you can make Gallo Pinto for breakfast for four people.

1 cup rice, (any will work, I use basmati)
1 tsp Vegeta or half of a vegetable broth cube
1 cup black beans
2 bay leaves
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
2 dried ancho chilie peppers, seeds removed (any other pepper can be subbed, some will be more spicy, anchos aren’t spicy, you can also use jalapeños or bell peppers just add them when you add the garlic instead)
1 Tbsp oil
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves or garlic, chopped
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped and packed
1 lime

The Beans:
Soak the beans for at least 8 hours. If you live somewhere that is really hot (e.g. Texas in the summer) you should do this in the fridge.
When the beans are done soaking change the water (add about 7 cups), add a couple bay leaves, and bring to a simmer for around 90 minutes. You will need to check the doneness of the beans at around 1 hour because the timing will vary depending on how dry your beans are. You can also do this step in the crock pot. Whatever you do, make sure that you save some of the cooking water with the beans because you will need it later.

The Rice:
Dissolve the broth cube or 1 teaspoon of Vegeta in 2 cups of water. Add 1 cup of rice, bring to a simmer, and then reduce heat to almost off for 35-60 minutes depending on what kind of rice you are using. It works best to refrigerate the rice overnight because then it drys better.

Gallo Pinto:
Toast the cumin, coriander, and dried peppers until fragrant and then grind in either a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. (Conversely, if you are short on time or don’t have the seeds you could also toast the powders and when you put in the garlic). Add enough oil to cover the bottom of the skillet and place it over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion. Sauté for 5 minutes, until the onions start to turn translucent. Add the garlic and the spice mixture and sauté another minute. Add a little more oil if you can’t see any and turn the heat up. Add the rice and stir fry for about a minute breaking up any chunks but don’t smoosh the rice. Once all the rice has changed color add the beans starting with just one cup until you have a pleasing ratio of rice to beans. Also add some of the bean cooking water with the beans. Gently mix and once everything is heated through adjust the spices, add the cilantro, and turn off the heat. To make the mold, press the Gallo Pinto into a small bowl, invert a plate on it, and then flip both over and lift up the bowl. Serve with the lime, salsa (preferably lizano), tofu scramble, and fried plantains.

Eating Vegan in Costa Rica

I love Costa Rica! This was my second trip out there this year. Last January, my plane was overbooked so twice I ended up staying the night in a hotel paid for by the Airline and a bunch of travel vouchers. This January I went for 17 days with Dan and I checked out other places I didn’t get to go to last time. Sadly my camera was stolen so I am going to try and find other pics in the ‘net to illustrate this post.

I feel that Costa Rica is probably one of the easiest places to travel as a vegan, certainly a lot nicer than the sausage fest that is Eastern Europe. Even as a raw vegan it would be fairly easy since you can always get fruit plates, smoothies, and salads. The best part about Costa Rican food in my opinion is breakfast, specifically the food of my dreams: Gallo Pinto.I have been working of the recipe for awhile and I think I have almost perfected it, will try and post soon. Basically you cook & season the rice and the beans separately then you stir fry them together with more peppers, onions, and celery. In Costa Rica they come with a side on fried plantains (if you are lucky) or eggs or meat. I really want to make some tofu scramble to go with my gallo pinto this weekend because I think it would be really good.

I make Gallo Pinto regularly at home but I have learned during this recent trip to Costa that the missing link is Lizano Salsa which is the key to authentic Costa Rican Gallo Pinto.Tico’s love their gallo pinto as much as I do so you can get it at every single restaurant, even Burger King so it is nice to know that you are always going to find a vegan option. Fruit plates can usually be ordered at any time and are often breakfast if you are staying at a place that includes breakfast.

Another great fruit option is a batido en agua. These shakes are everywhere and can be with milk or water (sometimes even soy milk). Usually they list about 14 different kinds of fruit but then only have a couple available. Pineapple and cantaloupe are my favorite.Mixed drinks with tropical fruits are so yummy too. Horchata, which is a rice milk drink was often available as well. The best part is that they are really cheap and fresh. Usually they are around a dollar. The greatest drink in all of Costa Rica, however, is agua de pipa. If you are lucky while you are lounging on the beach a guy with a machete will wander by and open one up for you.

The common lunch in Costa Rica is called a Casado, which actually means husband. I think it stems from what the wife would pack up for her husband when he went off to work. It always involves rice and beans, often a plantain, and instead of meat you can say Casado Vegetariano and you never know what you will get, usually rice and beans and a salad and either a pasta or vegetable dish.

I had so many good meals. We stayed in Santa Elena first by Monteverde in a wonderful place called Cabinas Vista El Golfo which I highly recommend. They had a full kitchen to use and I was shocked to find tahini at the grocery store so I was able to make hummus! Note that lemons in Costa Rica look exactly like limes. We had to ask. Next time I travel I am going to try to remember to bring some tahini. It keeps well and hummus is so great to have along, especially with some olives on bus rides or hikes. In Monteverde we hiked on hanging suspension bridges in the cloud forest. and we took a boat ride on Lake Arenal. It was so beautiful. I rode a horse named Pinto to the top of a mountain where you could see the entire Pacific coast. He was the most adorable horse. We got to see sugar cane growing and learned how the made it into liquor. They also grew coffee, beans, avocado, bananas, and all sorts of other stuff, you would never need to shop if you lived in the tropics.

After Monteverde we took the bus and then the ferry to Montezuma on the Nicoya peninsula which is a very veg friendly town. The stores had soy milk powder and some other vegan offerings and the restaurants were just wonderful. I had a fantastic sweet potato and spinach curry at a place called “the bakery cafe” that had a full vegetarian menu.

The food at this place was so great! They had the menu divided into sections by country and I wanted to try it all. The cool part is that they put out food and tropical birds and monkeys come by while you are eating. One day we saw a whole family of monkeys including a mama with a baby on her back!

There was also a really cool juice place called Organico that was all organic and had mostly vegan food.they even had vegan literature on their menu! It was a really laid back place but do to the organicness it was rather expensive so I only went once. Maybe the greatest part was the fact that they have an air conditioned chill room where you can hang out on pillows and read magazines and books. It was really nice. I wish I would have noticed it my first day there when I was feeling sickly.

We stayed at a really nice and cheap place on the beach called Hotel Lucy that also had a kitchen. (This is one of my two pictures, you can see hotel lucy on the right)

We also went snorkeling at the Isle of Tortuga, it was so beautiful! I saw so many tropical fish and the water was gorgeous and a psychotic blue. Here we are on the boat!.

After over a week in Montezuma we went to Mal Pais for a couple days and stayed at the Mal Pais Surf School and Resort. It was fabulous because they had a pool and a restaurant with a ping pong table. I beat Dan 7 times in a row at ping pong.  We went to one little restaurant there that was on the beach and it just had the most gorgeous view. We sat eating gallo pinto and fried plantains and discussed the fact that Austin really needs a Costa Rican restaurant. If I perfect my gallo pinto recipe, who knows maybe I will open it 🙂


Just a word to let you all know that I have been travelling through Costa Rica taking gorgeous pictures, eating tons of great food, and even cooking some but tragically my camera was stolen from the beach so I will not have any pics to share.

Will be back soon.