Friday, September 22, 2017

Simple vegan cooking

I don't like to follow recipes, partly because I don't like to use (and get dirty and then have to wash) a bunch of measuring cups, or to think about 3/8 and other numbers like that, and I don't like trying to read while I cook.

I prefer guidelines and tips over rules and recipes.  So here are my guidelines and tips, or generalized "recipes", which I have done in quantities large and small, for myself and for others.  I do not have the exact ratio of seasonings down to make something perfect, but generally every dish is healthy, tasty, unique, fun, easy, and doesn't result in lots of unnecessary dishwashing.  I learned to cook like this mainly through cooking with Food Not Bombs in San Francisco and then trying the same methods at home or elsewhere.

(Rice or any grain, e.g. millet, barley, etc etc)
Basically you want to boil it.  The process is the same for any kind of grain.  I do brown rice most often.  First you need to know the ratio of water to grain.  For rice, people usually use 2:1 water to rice.  For other grains you can Google the "ideal ratio", or just err on the side of too much water, or watch the grain and if the water gets low before it is soft enough to eat, add more water.  I like rice mushy, I think it tastes better, it keeps better for later by not drying out, and you don't have to almost burn the rice at the bottom of the pot.

Put water and rice into a pot on the stove, ideally where the water only reaches 1/3 of the way up the pot so it won't accidentally boil over.  Turn the stove to max until the water is boiling, then lower the heat so that it continues boiling slowly.  Use a lid so it will cook faster.  It'll take anywhere from 30-90 minutes depending on the size of pot, amount of heat, etc.  Water will continue to evaporate from the rice after you turn off the stove, so you can turn it off once the rice is properly cooked (taste some to see if it's soft).

(any kind of legume -- dried bean or lentil or chickpea etc)
Cooking beans is nearly identical to cooking grain, so follow the same process except use more water.  The standard rule of thumb is 3:1 water to bean.  If you don't mind your beans sitting in extra water, you can add extra water e.g. 4:1 or more, and this way you won't need to worry about burning the beans, as they'll cook through long before the water is all gone.

Soaking beans for hours before cooking them is not necessary but it does make them cook faster saving energy.  I usually add seasonings, e.g. salt, pepper, oregano, or whatever, to the beans while they cook.  You can throw minced garlic or onion into the pot too for that flavor.  You can throw in chunks of potato to make the beans creamier, assuming you're not using tons of extra water.

You can add any other kinds of seasonings after

(e.g. kale, chard, other mustards, beet greens, etc)
Greens are really good for you.  The easiest way to cook them is to chop them up (as small as you want, I usually make a big pile of greens on the cutting board, hold it tight, and chop it every half inch, with maybe a few perpendicular chops across the whole bunch so there aren't really long strands.  This takes very little time.

Put the greens in a pot on the stove.  If you want them to be tastier, put oil in the pot.  Coconut oil is my favorite, but any kind of healthy cooking oil will work.  Stir the greens with the oil first, so they are all coated.  Then, before turning the stove on, add some water.  Maybe an inch of water for every four or so inches of greens in the pot.  If you have more oil you can use less water.  Greens will cook down really small, so if you want more you can throw more in on top of the first ones after they cook down.  (Useful when cooking one big pot of greens for a hundred people at Food Not Bombs.)

To make them tastier, add vinegar or squeezed citrus or herbs or any kind of seasoning, or any combination of these.  A simple go-to is salt, pepper, and squeezed lemon.  Minced garlic or chopped onion are also good in there.

(e.g. root vegetables (potato, yam, carrot, beet, parsnip, turnip, etc), broccoli/cauliflower, green beans, brussels, zucchini, squash)
My go-to method for cooking vegetables is, like greens, to cook them in a pot on the stove with some oil and water.  More oil and less water means they'll be tastier (more fried than boiled) having more fat and thus more calories.  I'm not afraid to mix any combination of vegetables, but often I'll do either all root veggies or all green veggies.

Chop dense vegetables in roughly 1/2 by 1 inch pieces, or smaller.  Bigger pieces will just take longer to cook.  Broccoli and cauliflower pieces can be a bit bigger.

As with greens, add minced garlic or onion, herbs, and other seasonings.  The earlier you add them the more they'll infuse the vegetables.  Mushrooms go good in here too.

Vegetables can also be baked in the oven.  Leave out the water if you're baking them, but oil is fine.  Bake at around 350F.

Green salad
Take any kind of good-to-eat-raw greens and throw them in a big bowl.  Some greens (e.g. mustard) are edible raw but are spicy, so only use those if you think everyone can handle it.  I like to chop or shred the greens on a cutting board, similar to the greens I mentioned earlier, but usually more finely shredded.   This makes them easier to eat and easier to digest, and easier to fit more on a plate without them falling off.  Add any mix of good-to-eat-raw vegetables/fruits, such as sliced cucumber, shredded carrot, sliced radish, sliced zucchini, diced or cherry tomato, avocado, sprouts, olives, maybe some citrus.  If you have dry ingredients like nuts or seeds or dried fruit, those are good in there.  Add a dressing.

If it's just me, I'll eat the fruit whole.  If preparing a meal for a crowd, I usually chop it up into a fruit salad.  Basically any kind of typical sweet fruit goes well together in a fruit salad.  You can add citrus juice or some kind of seasoning, but it's really not needed.

My ideal dessert is what people call a "crisp".  Just put chopped fruit, e.g. apples/pears, berries, or stonefruit like peaches and plums, into a pan.  Oiling the pan will make it easier to clean after.  Put oats on top, with cinnamon or other seasoning.  Bake until the fruit is soft / shriveled.  You can add sugar, but it's totally not needed, and people will feel better afterward if you don't.  If you want a more gooey texture, add chia seeds and a little water to the pan.

Baked goods
Normally yeast or sourdough bread is vegan.  I don't have a favorite recipe and on the rare occasions I do make bread, I like to wing it with flour, water, oil, salt, and yeast.  Maybe add some rosemary or other seasoning to it, or other fun ingredients like mashed zucchini.

The easiest baked bread-like dessert is shallow dish banana bread.  Just mix flour, water, oil, salt, and baking powder, and add bananas.  Season with cinnamon, vanilla, crushed nuts if you have them.  To make it a little fluffier and healthier, add chia seed or ground flax seed.  It's hard to really go wrong, whatever you make will taste good, and depending on the ratios of ingredients you'll end up with something drier or gooier.

Put the batter in a pan of any kind, maybe 1-2 inches deep, and bake at 350F until it's firm enough to cut and eat.  Since there's no animal ingredients, it's safe to eat the batter raw, so you don't have to worry about when it's really cooked.

A typical meal at Food Not Bombs San Francisco has rice, beans, 1-3 vegetable dishes, a green salad, a fruit salad, and maybe a dessert.  Plus sometimes other fun things we come up with.

See also my whole-plant-foods minimum-waste backpacking food guide!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Simple whole-plant-foods minimum-waste no-cooking backpacking food guide

Here's what I did for food this summer while bike/backpacking in Oregon.
No heavy cookware or fires required. Everything can be purchased in the bulk section of a good food store, ideally your local food co-op if you have one. Everything lasts a long time so you can keep your leftovers for next trip. This is healthier, less expensive, and less polluting than buying typical backpacking food. It's basically the same food that goes into protein and granola bars, but unprocessed, without the chemicals and stuff.  It’s very tasty too, and with a variety of seasonings, you can get a wide variety of delicious combinations.
The basic idea is to eat rolled grains, soaked, with nuts/seeds and seasonings added in. I'll tell you what I buy, roughly how much, and how to carry/use it.
. . .
What to buy?
  • rolled oats
  • rolled barley (and/or rye, spelt, wheat)
  • lentils (many possible varieties)
  • sunflower seeds
  • walnuts
  • almonds
  • pumpkin seeds
  • sesame seeds
  • chia seeds
  • peanuts / peanut butter
  • etc (whatever you like, but don’t support the cashew industry)
Greens: (for nutrients)
  • dried nettles
  • dried seaweed
  • dried kale
  • etc
Dried fruit:
  • raisins, or whatever you like! raisins are usually the cheapest, I also love dates, craisins, dried blueberries, and dried currants.
  • salt
  • whatever else you want!
  • I like pepper, nutritional yeast, curry powder, cinnamon. But there are plenty of options -- use what you like.
  • bowl and spoon (I use one of those tall plastic yogurt containers as a bowl)
  • durable container with screw-on cover for soaking lentils (soak for 8 hours, e.g. overnight)
How to prepare?
Put rolled oats or barley in your bowl and add water. Let sit for 5 minutes. Then add in all the other ingredients, whichever combo you like, stir a couple times with the spoon, and eat.
How much to bring?
I’m 6’4”, ~190lb and a big eater. For 10 days, I had roughly:
  • 8lbs rolled grains (~1800kcal, 60g protein / lb) ($0.50-$1.50/lb)
  • 1lb dry lentils (~1600kcal, 120g protein / lb) ($1/lb)
  • 4lbs nuts/seeds (~2800kcal, 90g protein / lb) ($2-$15/lb)
  • 1lb dried fruit (~1500kcal, 15g protein / lb) ($3-$10/lb)
for a total of roughly 3000 calories and 100g protein per day, costing about $50 for the food, plus I spent about $20 more on greens and seasonings. I buy organic — if you don’t, it’ll be even cheaper. I am lucky to be on the west coast of the USA where these foods are relatively inexpensive, too. Other parts of the world it may be pricier, but still probably cheaper than processed foods.  I don't eat this much when I'm not getting intense exercise every day.
Dried greens don’t really count toward calories — basically bring as much as you can afford, the nutrients will make you feel good.
How to carry?
Use reusable plastic bags or containers for everything. You can use these same bags for buying in bulk and carrying with you. Use a little gorilla tape to patch holes in the bags. Like any backpacking food, you should either hang it from a tree in some kind of larger bag, or put it in a bear canister.
. . .
Other tips
My favorite combos:
  • Sweet: soaked oats, cinnamon, walnuts, chia seeds, dried fruit
  • Savory: soaked barley, lentils, curry powder, nutritional yeast, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, salt, pepper, dried nettles
If you’re in a place where plants grow, learn to forage greens, herbs, and berries. Don’t count these for calories, but they’re great nutritionally. In california and oregon, miner’s lettuce is all over, for example.
If you let your lentils soak long enough they’ll sprout which is OK! They can soak for days and still be OK to eat. They'll be slightly crunchy but perfectly palatable after 8 hours soaking.
No need to wash your bowl (although you are welcome to). Just eat it mostly clean, and let it dry in the sun. I went a month without washing it with soap, only rinsing it with water occasionally.
I like to bring a little coconut oil. Rinsing your mouth with coconut oil is a good idea in addition to brushing. I just swallow the oil after rinsing, so it’s not wasted.
I love walnut flavor infused in the oats, so I chew the walnuts a little and then spit them into the bowl, when I begin soaking the oats. You could also crush the walnuts, but I find that more difficult to do.
Sesame seeds are great and cheap, but they're hard to chew if you mix them with other food -- you'll end up swallowing them whole, and I believe some of them won't be digested. So I eat spoonfuls of just sesame seeds, separately. If you can grind them before the trip, then they're fine to mix in.
Flax seeds are also great and cheap, but you need to either grind them before the trip, or roast them and eat them separately just like the sesame seeds. Eating raw whole flaxseed is difficult, and won't work at all mixed with other things.
Bring enough salt! With no processed foods, all the salt you get will be the salt you bring, and the little sodium that's found in these foods. I'd guess you want at least 2-3g of sodium each day -- but I'm not a nutritionist.