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    Copyright 2008-2018Slow Food Fast. All writing and images on this blog unless otherwise attributed or set in quotes are the sole property of Slow Food Fast. Please contact DebbieN via the comments form for permissions before reprinting or reproducing any of the material on this blog.

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    SlowFoodFast sometimes addresses general public health topics related to nutrition, heart disease, blood pressure, and diabetes. Because this is a blog with a personal point of view, my health and food politics entries often include my opinions on the trends I see, and I try to be as blatant as possible about that. None of these articles should be construed as specific medical advice for an individual case. I do try to keep to findings from well-vetted research sources and large, well-controlled studies, and I try not to sensationalize the science (though if they actually come up with a real cure for Type I diabetes in the next couple of years, I'm gonna be dancing in the streets with a hat that would put Carmen Miranda to shame. Consider yourself warned).

New hope for lowering arsenic levels in rice

A new study has identified a key protein in rice plants that allows some varieties to keep any absorbed arsenic safely contained in a separate part of the plant from the grain itself. The authors are hoping to introduce the gene for this highly effective transporter protein into plant strains that don’t have much of it and see whether the new genetic hybrids can reduce the arsenic level in major rice crops.


Prunes and Lentils III: The Lentil Variations

Today’s (and last week’s, and the week before’s) topic is STILL the lentils-and-prunes challenge.

Before I get on a roll about lentils, I should mention that the first Prunes and Lentils post was my 101st post for this blog. I don’t know if we should celebrate, but why not. Woo-hoo! Good enough. Consider it celebrated.

It’s taken me a full two weeks to put up this post because this is where the rubber meets the road, or at least where the lentils meet the prunes. The moment of courage. And I don’t know whether it’s going to be great or whether people will go back to wondering why anyone ever let me in a kitchen. (That’s easy: because no one wanted to do the cooking  themselves.)

Ordinary brownish-green lentils are kind of a workhorse ingredient in European, Mediterranean and Near East cooking (also in Indian and African cooking, though red lentils are better known). Unlike restaurant chain buffalo wings, lentils are actually rich in protein and iron, and they aren’t surreptitiously pumped up with sugar, salt and fat to entice you to overeat. The Center for Science in the Public Interest is not likely to sue, because a bag of lentils doesn’t come with a deceptive toy to con the kids. (See? we can be topical and up on the hot news of the moment even while discussing an arcane Slow Food subject like lentils).

And lentils are CHEAP–the whole point of starting this Prunes and Lentils challenge in the first place. Somehow even the big supermarkets that push shoppers to the middle aisles to buy boxes instead of actual food always carry dried store-brand lentils over near the bags of rice and split peas and kidney beans and such. It’s one of the few middle-aisle purchases that are worth it.

I don’t know if lentils have even kept up with inflation over the past 20 or 30 years, because they’re always something like $1-$1.25 for a one-pound bag. Same as when I was a student on a $20 a week food budget. And a pound makes 5-10 meals, not just one serving.

Actually, the recent agroeconomics of growing lentils in the US makes unexpectedly interesting behind-the-scenes reading for policy wonks like me. Lots of people are now clamoring for the US to change the crop subsidy laws to encourage more nutritious crops than corn, soy and wheat. Lentils are still a minor crop, but apparently the USDA introduced new marketing loans and other incentives for lentils, peas and chickpeas under the Farm Act revisions of 2002 and 2008, and exports for pulses have risen by about 45% in the last few years to India, Spain, the Philippines, and other major lentil and chickpea consumers. The rest are bought for animal feed and international food aid programs, especially those for sub-Saharan African nations.

That’s because lentils still fly under the radar here. The average annual consumption in the US is still just about a pound per person. Up from 0.8 pounds in 2008, so a 20 percent jump, but still. One pound per person in a year. If my continuation of the Prunes and Lentils Challenge posts has no other benefit to humankind, I would hope that it inspires you to buy and cook–and eat–at least one additional pound per year in a creative and satisfying way. Pass it on–Two pounds per year? At a cost of $2-3 total? We can but dream…

Of course, now that bean cuisine has become a point of pride for Meatless Mondays and other trends in eating green (if not eating local), lentils don’t just come dry in bags or bulk anymore–not glamorous enough, perhaps? If you’re upscale, you can get them precooked in little cans at your Whole Foods or steamed in vacuum packs at your Trader Joe’s, but those chic packages are much, much more expensive per meal and don’t taste as good. I frankly wouldn’t bother unless you’re on the road or camping or something and don’t have a kitchen at your disposal. Dried lentils don’t need a presoak to cook up within about half an hour even on the stove top, and they’re so easy to cook in a microwave (and avoid the watched-pot-never-boils problem) that the extra expense and time trying to find the precooked ones is usually not worth it. (And what about all that extra plastic and metal packaging? Be righteous–buy ’em dry.)

If you cook up a whole pound bag at once, you can use it throughout the week or (better, for a lot of people) freeze half of it with a bit of cooking liquid in a microwave container and save yourself some time the next time you want a batch. I keep thinking of that old “Cook Once, Eat Twice–That’s Italian!” lasagna ad (can’t remember if it was for noodles or sauce) from the 1970s. It’s a bit old-fashioned, but still a good idea for  when you’re too tired to cook for real.

In this post, I’ve got 3 or 4 main “strategic” ideas for the prunes and lentils challenge, along with more recipes and variations than should really go in a single post (and THREE more prune accompaniments as well), so just roll your eyes, bear with me, and if you decide never to let me in your kitchen, I’ll understand (plus I’ll never have to do the dishes–win/win!).

So first things first–gotta cook that bag of lentils (and recycle the bag). This recipe is probably longer than the actual process but it contains valuable Continue reading

Microwave tricks: Pasta You Don’t Have to Babysit

Mark Bittman’s post-Thanksgiving look into the brave new world of absorption pasta and Pete Wells’s “Cooking with Dexter” piece in the New York Times yesterday on the virtues of a pot of boiling water have me thinking hard about why neither of them has even tried the microwaves that must be sitting on their counters. Especially Wells, who has not one but two very young and active children to watch out for.

You can cook standard dried or frozen pasta very well in a microwave, with only a few minutes of actual cooking time and almost no need to stay close by. You can cook rice too–and we’re not talking Minute Rice, either. Basmati rice, the queen of difficult rices, cooks perfectly in a microwave.

The setup for microwaving tortelloni

The setup for microwaving tortelloni and other filled pasta

I started cooking pasta in a microwave when my daughter was a toddler. She was pretty active and I couldn’t leave a pot boiling away on the stove to go and chase her–either the pasta or I would have boiled over. By the same token, I had nightmares of her getting over the baby gate and into the kitchen as she got bigger and more impatient. My mother-in-law still has extensive scars from having a boiling pot tip over on her when she was a child, and it’s one of the reasons I decided to try microwaving pasta instead. Even though my daughter is now kitchen-savvy, it worked so well I’ve never been tempted to go back. Continue reading

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