The dangers of riding on bicycles and other meatless Monday adventures

In observance of meatless Monday and its message of sustainability and “being green” I decided to ride my bike to work this morning ( my car was also acting up but that’s another story).  Orlando is not the most biike friendly city in the world and so I find myself riding on the sidewalk at a much slower speed all the time. This might have saved me from a great deal of pain this morning because in a not so bright display of common sense, I rode my bike with  my apron rolled up against my handle bar ( we cannot take large personal bags into work so a backpack was not used). As I made my way to work down the cobblestone sidewalks of historic Winter Park, the apron straps became loose and got tangled on my front wheel pulling the entire apron to come between the break pads and the tire and causing a sudden halt. Luckily I was not going as fast and so I simply did a semi front flip over my handle bars and landed on my right arm. So the lesson this Monday is;  Be green but safety first, wear a helmet and do not try to balance anything on your handle bars as you ride (wear a backpack).  However, back to being green, riding a bike to work is the perfect way to complement your going-green-for-meatless-Mondays effort. Seriously, when people at work found out I had ridden to work they seemed so surprised, as if it was an out of this world concept… When did riding a bike become such an archaic way of transportation? I don’t get it? Anyway, on to the food!!

Tortilla Soup! Ah yes, Mexican comfort food at its best. Crunchy baked tortilla strips, creamy, buttery avocado, and a smoky chipotle spice make up this classical south of the border delicacy. I figured it would be fitting to make today because a looong time ago I worked in a Mexican kitchen. My first job ever! Delicious Mexican Eatery is known to El Pasoans as the home of the most authentic Mexican food you can get (other than your abuelita’s home ofcourse). In fact, Julia Child payed a visit long ago and got a few tips herself from the very knowledgable ladies that work in the kitchen. There was a daily special everyday of the week and Mondays was always tortilla soup day.  That tortilla soup had chicken, but today I made mine with veg stock and a side of black beans.

To make a hearty and healthy tortilla soup you need to saute a small onion in a deep pot.  Add small diced celery and garlic. Sweat for 5 minutes the add 1 tbs of chipotle powder, 1 tbs ancho chile powder, and 1 tsp of cumin. I like to get my chile spices from Pensey’s spices because they are always so fresh tasting, but you can actually grind up the dried peppers yourself if you have time.  Now add 1 cup of finely diced tomatoes and allow to simmer for five minutes.  This will build the foundation to all the flavor in your soup.  Now you’re ready to add veggie stock. If you don’t have any stock you can use water instead or even chicken stock if you decide to make this soup some other day! I used 2 qts of veg stock.  Allow the broth to simmer for at least 30 minutes so that all the flavors can concentrate and you get a richer soup. While the soup is simmering, bake a corn tortilla until crisp and golden. Please don’t burn it. I always burn mine =(.  To serve ladle some soup broth into a bowl, top with crunchy tortilla pieces, avocado wedges, a bit of grated queso blanco ( found in any supermarket), and lots of cilantro, epazote, and lime!!!! Eat with black beans on the side for the perfect dinner! Enjoy and happy M. Monday!!

My Meatless Monday, an inspired vegetarian meal

What exactly is Meatless Monday? Why does it matter, and why should we care? Meatless Monday is a grassroots organization which has been around to promote a healthy lifestyle since the days of World War I. It started as an effort to promote restraint towards the consumption of certain items so that those items (meat, wheat, etc) could be reserved to feed the troops abroad. Since 2003, it has been revived by Sid Lerner after he noticed a spike in  lifestyle diseases among Americans.  Many of these diseases were preventable through healthier food choices.  This non-profit simply encourages that you make a conscious effort at the very beginning of your work week to start with a healthy and sustainable meal that will also promote a healthier planet.

This leads me to a very interesting issue that I come across with in the culinary industry; vegetarian cooking.  As chefs, we must have an open mind about food. Whether we are herbivores, omnivores, or carnivores (although I highly doubt anyone can be a carnivore and live to be 40), we are chefs because we love food, we respect food, and we want to bring people closer to food. We want them to enjoy it and respect it like we do.  That is why I feel very disappointed when vegetarians visit the restaurant where I work and find that they have very limited options available to them.  Many chefs will claim that everything must have bacon fat in order to taste good, or that vegetarian cooking is uninspiring and dull. I don”t respect a chef who thinks that way.  A chef must always have an open mind and be ready to learn from everyone, whether the teacher is a fellow chef or just a home cook.

I was inspired to make this quick meal yesterday (Sunday) and had my leftovers for Meatless Monday.  Although I am not a vegetarian, I strive to eat sustainably everyday and save my meat consumption for occasions when I can learn new cooking techniques from trying a meat dish or when friends and family share their food with me. Food is all about sharing after all.  Speaking of sharing, I have several vegetarian friends who are always on the go, and I wanted to share this recipe with them. I prepared quinoa/garbanzo bean patties yesterday. They are extremely versatile because they can be made in advance and stored in the freezer until they are ready to be eaten. They can also be eaten with sauteed veggies on the side or with a pita wrapped around them. Either way, they are very healthy as they are  low in fat and high in protein (quinoa is very high in protein).

Quinoa/Garbanzo Patties

1/2 cup drained and roughly mashed garbanzos

1 cup cooked quinoa (squeeze out excess liquid)

1/3 cup minced cilantro

1/4 cup minced oregano

2 minced garlic cloves

1/4 c greek yogurt (plain)

1/3 cup minced sundried tomato

1/4 cup tahini paste (sesame seed paste) optional

OR 1 beaten egg

Salt and pepper to taste

To prepare mix the herbs into the mashed garbanzo beans. Add tomato, yogurt, and garlic. Mix well then add the quinoa and mix well again. Season with salt and pepper to taste.   Add the tahini paste if available ( it is not necessary but it does help bind the patty together). If no tahini is available then just add a beaten egg. Now to the fun part.  Shape the mix with your hands into small patties about 3 inches in diameter. place them on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 350 °F.  after 15 minutes check for a golden crust on the top of the patties, turn to the other side and bake another 15 minutes.

I ate these with tzatziki sauce which consists of grated 1/4  cucumber, 1 minced garlic clove, 2 tbs minced fresh mint, and a pinch of cumin and salt mixed into 1/2 cup of plain greek yogurt.  Enjoy!!