Jul 27, 2013

Holy Greens

Chard is the plant that keeps on giving. It's really hard to keep up with its growth. One gardening friend of mine (no doubt still somewhat confused by overindulgence during his hippy daze) calls it the Ultimate Spinach.

Another friend was watching me prepare dinner one night and was a little horrified that I was using chard leaves that had holes chewed in them. "How can you do that?" he said, making a yuck face, "something has been eating that already."

"I know," I replied, "the insects and animals in my yard are like the royal tasters, keeping me from getting poisoned."

The way I figure it is that a perfect plant is a sign that something is wrong. If other animals don't want to eat it I get suspicious. It doesn't mean that I won't knock hornworms off the tomato plants into a bucket but usually I don't mind sharing my produce with other animals if they leave me enough for my needs. The leaves get washed well so no-one has to worry about caterpillar or bunny spit, and they get chopped into pieces anyway.

I just gathered some chard and basil from the garden a few minutes ago. Tonight I'll stir fry them with tofu, baby corncobs and mushrooms, and serve it over curried rice.

Jul 15, 2013

Mmm Mmm Mjeddrah

It's probably strange to be thinking about hot food on a day like this (92 degrees fondly fahrenheit), but I've been reading an assortment of recipes for Mjeddrah, and it is interesting to see the variety of interpretations.

Mjeddrah is one of my go-to recipes and for years I've used the one I learned from "Diet for a Small Planet" and it has worked well both as a main course and as a base for other foods. You can even use it to make a kind of veggie burger. The recipe was simple, cook rice and lentils together with some herbs, spices and stock to get yourself a mess of pottage.

When you have a recipe that works, you can sometimes take it for granted. I did. I recently got hold of an Arabic cookbook and found two recipes in it that were interestingly different. The first one substituted bulghur for the rice, added chilis, tomato sauce, and yoghurt. It is an intentionally soupy mixture rather than the dense starchy mass that I was used to. It was delicious, and I solved the yoghurt problem by blending some silken tofu with lemon juice. I have no proportions for this last since it was done by taste.

The second recipe deconstructed the mixture into concentric circles. The outermost circle is rice, within that is a circle of red lentils and at the bullseye a mass of crispy fried onions. I haven't tried this one yet, but what's not to like?

Then I found a third recipe. This one boils the lentils until soft then puree them. Add some water and boil the puree then add a mixture of rice and bulghur. Chop some onions into small pieces and fry them in oil until golden and crispy. When the rice is almost done add the onions. Serve it with shredded green onion and radishes.

The radishes in my garden are nearly ready, so maybe I'll try that last recipe when the heat wave breaks.


I have always admired G.K. Chesterton. I don't share his religious persuasion, but his thoughtful, intelligent, witty, and philosophical writing style has made him one of my more consistent heroes. On alcohol, he has this to say:
"A modern vegetarian is also a teetotaler, yet there is no obvious connection between consuming vegetables and not consuming fermented vegetables. A drunkard, when lifted laboriously out of the gutter, might well be heard huskily to plead that he had fallen there through excessive devotion to a vegetable diet."
In my recent experience, the use of alcohol as an anesthetic should not be underestimated. We see it used in so many movies when some doctor is extracting a bullet from a gunfighter. that it has become so ubiquitous that it seems to have lost its meaning.

The Attack of the Chard

I have never grown chard before, so it came as something of a surprise when it took over my garden. I bought six small plants this spring, and within weeks was harvesting it almost daily. The tomatoes, eggplants and chilis are moomphing along, but the chard, basil, and radishes are growing faster than I can consume them.

In addition to my recent Parrot recipe, I have used it as the greens in a bulghur salad, as a primary vegetable in a green salad, shredded in spring rolls, and in green smoothies. If the temperature were not so high, I'd experiment with using the leaves to make something akin to doulmas.

Chard leaves, basil and chard stems.

Jul 14, 2013

Stir-fried Parrot

This recipe is called parrot because the bright mix of colors looks like the plumage of one of those colorful birds. Chard works well because of its natural color, but other leafy greens like kale, cabbage, bok choy, etc. will also work nicely.


  • 4-6 large leaves of ruby chard
  • 1/2 large sweet onion
  • 1/2 yellow bell pepper
  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 1/2 pound of tofu
  • 5-6 fresh basil leaves
  • 1+ tsp curry powder
  • 1+ tsp sesame/chili oil
  • 2 Tbs olive
  • 2 Tbs grape seed oil


  1. Press the tofu for about two hours.
  2. Cut the tofu into small bite-sized chunks.
  3. Mix the sesame and olive oils with the curry powder.
  4. Marinade the tofu in the oil and spice mixture for an hour.
  5. Roll up the chard leaves (stems at one end of the roll) and chop into 3/4 to 1" width strips. Make sure to include some stems if not all.
  6. Slice the peppers into slivers.
  7. Chiffonade the basil.
  8. Heat the grapeseed oil in a wok on medium.
  9. Add the tofu piece by piece, ensuring that it does not stick.
  10. When the tofu has a crisp surface, remove it and let it drain.
  11. Add the onions to the oil, followed by the peppers, chard, basil, and marinade.
  12. Stir fry very briefly until the chard wilts. The onion should still be slightly crisp.
  13. Remove the wok from the heat.
  14. Add the tofu to the wok.
  15. Toss quickly.
Serve with rice. Basmati is especially good.

Chard is high in oxalates, so if you are subject to kidney stones (as I am) lemonade, or unsweetened lemon soda is a healthy accompaniment.

The photos are of a simplified Parrot without the bell peppers.

Jul 12, 2013

Fennel Compote

This is the last time that I will mention how long I have been chewing vegetables and eschewing meat, dairy, and eggs. Today is the 656th day that I have been on this regimen and I think that it now counts as a permanent change in lifestyle.

I have been lackadaisical at updating this blog, but I hope to do better.

Here is a wonderful recipe with multiple layers of flavors.

Fennel Compote

  • 2 small or one large fennel
  • 3 garlic scapes
  • 1 carrot
  • 3 pear or small tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (or a little less)
  • 1/2 cup olives (I prefer a mix of green and black and I leave the pits in.)
  • 1 tsp green za'atar
  1. Slice the fennel and garlic scapes thinly.
  2. Quarter the carrot lengthwise and slice thinly.
  3. Heat the oil in a frying pan or wok on medium low.
  4. Add the fennel, garlic, and carrots.
  5. Cook on medium low.
  6. Chop tomatoes into small pieces.
  7. After the fennel has cooked for about 15 minutes, add the tomatoes, olives, and za'atar.
  8. Cook another 10 minutes or so.
Serve over rice, pasta, or ruzz al shierie.

I served this over Israeli whole wheat couscous made in a rice cooker with vegetable stock.

I'm one of those people who hate to waste, so it used to distress me to discard most of the fennel fronds unused. I'd use some for garnish but most of them would be composted. I recently tried an experiment that solves the problem. I simmer the fennel fronds, along with some carrot tops for about 45 minutes, strain it, and put it into a bottle in the refrigerator. It makes an excellent, slightly licorice, ice tea.