Roasted Acorn Squash and Red Lentil Soup

Humor me here. I’m trying to pretend that fall has arrived in Austin.

2 acorn squash, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil, halved
3 cups vegetable broth
1 cup red lentils, ready to go
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 tsp salt
rosemary sprigs, for garnish

1. Preheat your oven to 400°. Place the squash in a roasting tin and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and some of the rosemary, crushed between your fingers. Sprinkle with some salt and pepper, and roast for about 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, pour lentils into a medium saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and boil for ten minutes. Strain the lentils and set aside.

3. In the same saucepan, briefly sauté the onion and red pepper in 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat, about five minutes. Then pour the lentils back into the pan. Add vegetable broth, along with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer over low heat for approximately five minutes.

3. Remove the now-roasted squash from the oven. Using a fork, mash the chunks and then add them to the soup. Continue to simmer for about half an hour.

4. Ladle the soup into bowls, garnish with rosemary and additional pepper, if desired, and serve immediately.

Serves 4.


Pesto-Tossed New Potatoes

4 cups new potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
dash of salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup freshly prepared pesto of your choice – we like this one

1. In a large pot, bring about four cups of water, with a dash of salt, to a boil. Once roiling, add potatoes and stir. Cook for approximately ten minutes, or until potatoes can easily be punctured with a fork but are not yet too mushy or easily halved. Drain potatoes.

2. In a large skillet over medium high heat, warm olive oil. Add potatoes and stir frequently as they begin to brown around the edges. Tossing them gently with a wooden spoon works well. Meanwhile, prepare pesto if you haven’t already.

3. Once the potatoes are getting a little crispy (about 5-7 minutes), reduce heat to low. Continue stirring carefully for a couple of minutes as the pan cools down, then add pesto in big heaps. Stir well with spoon, so that all potatoes are covered in pesto.

4. Using a slotted spoon, remove potatoes from pan, a few at a time, allowing any excess oil to drain through spoon. Serve immediately or save for a later use in a breakfast fry-up.

Review: Hai Ky

I’ve been going to Hai Ky since they opened their Guadalupe location in May 2009. Convenient to my office at the time, I regularly popped in for an affordable vegan lunch, and was continually amazed at the portion sizes, tangy sauces, perfectly-fried tofu, and hassle-free service.

Since then, I’ve found that the freshness is a bit hit-and-miss, but when they get it right, they really get it right, and, for $7.25, you can’t really complain. Often one order is enough for me to make into two meals. It’s really a great spot for a quick lunch near campus. The space is clean and neat, and they have cozy little two-person booths in the front window that make for a perfect people-watching spot. The vegetarian menu is impressive, with clearly-marked vegan choices, and they have the usual selection of Vietnamese meaty favorites, including a variety of pho dishes, all types of bun, a “create your own stir-fry” choice, and several Chinese-inspired items such as General Tso, Kung Pao, and Sesame Chicken. Hai ky also serves up your standard Asian restaurant appetizers, so you can satiate your spring roll or edamame cravings here, too. Personally, I like the Cream Cheese Rangoon:

Pictured up top is the Beef Satay: tender, flash-grilled beef in a spicy satay sauce with onions and chives, served on a bed of steamed rice, carrots, cucumber, and cilantro. It was as good as it looks, and is also a steal at only $7.25. Another meat dish I enjoyed is the #70 lemongrass and vegetables with stir-fried chicken:

Even though I’m now an omnivore, I can’t resist Hai Ky’s tofu dishes. Their fried tofu is so perfect, I rarely even look at the meat menu. In fact, there is one dish that’s so good, I rarely look at the menu at all. I just order the #83, bun goi cuon tofu. It’s a heaping bowl of vermicelli, served with chunks of fried tofu and onion in a tangy brown sauce, plus your choice of spring roll or egg roll, and a side of peanut dipping sauce, all topped with fresh grated carrots, chopped green onions, sliced cucumber, and bright cilantro.

This is probably one of my favorite lunches in Austin. It’s fast, affordable, and filling – a great value for hungry college students or time-poor wage slaves who need a quick but satisfying meal.

Did I mention the perfect fried tofu?

Hai Ky
2000 Guadalupe St
Austin, TX 78705

Why I Am an Ex-Vegan

Written December 10, 2009.

Yeah, it’s shocking to me, too.

I thought I would be vegan for the rest of my life.

But in recent conversations and blog discussions, I have been forced to confront some of my own assumptions and values, and I no longer believe that the vegan diet/lifestyle is the most sustainable.

I suppose, to sum it up in a sound byte, I have come to the conclusion that the main motivation for my diet is sustainability, and that eating fossil-fuel-dependent, industrially farmed tofu (and other proteins, grains, and indeed vegetables) is far less sustainable than eating locally raised, organic, sustainably farmed animal products (and vegetables).

I know this will anger the few vegan readers I have. I’m sorry. We have come to different conclusions, either through having different information or because we interpret the information differently. But I can no longer ignore the fact that whole ecosystems are being destroyed for my industrially farmed diet. Oil is being extracted violently from the earth to fuel these massive operations, and to transport these foods thousands of miles to my table. These are not compassionate actions. On a macro level, they are far less compassionate than slaughtering a free range, naturally-fed, sheltered, and cared for farm animal.

I will be doing everything I can to eat local produce. I shop almost exclusively at Wheatsville Food Co-op as it is; I will be making use of their local, traditionally farmed vegetables and animal products. I can only encourage others do to the same.

While I am aware that there is not enough land to support all 300+ million Americans – much less 6+ billion humans – on this diet, it nevertheless remains a fact that we cannot all be fed on industrially farmed soy and wheat, either. There are simply too many people. And, pooh-pooh me all you want, but I do believe we are headed for some kind of crash. Within most of our lifetimes, oil extraction will no longer be cost effective. Without oil, industrial agriculture will fail.

So, as before, I am making decisions from a place of compassion and concern for the planet. I will continue to fight against factory farms, which are killing us with their chemically-soaked pseudo-meats while relegating billions of animals to a life of torture followed by an excruciating death. All for profit. This is unacceptable.

In coming to this decision, I also realized I was making the mistake that is a feature of so-called religious logic, and one that I constantly bemoan. I started with a moral declaration and then sought to justify it: killing is always wrong. But the proper approach to the question of an appropriate human diet is simultaneously much more complicated and much more obvious.

I never thought people were anything other than omnivores; I just thought, like many vegans, that since we could choose not to eat meat, this choice was a moral imperative. I also have to admit, I never really had any problem with people hunting for food, reasoning that it was far superior to grabbing a shrink-wrapped piece of factory meat at the local supermarket.

But the fact is, killing isn’t always wrong. Is it worse for an animal to be raised with care and protection, then – as painlessly as possible – killed for meat, or for an animal to be torn apart by the claws of another animal and eaten alive, which is what happens in “nature”? Why is it okay for other omnivorous animals to eat meat, but not for humans, even though we generally go out of our way to reduce or eliminate the suffering of any animal we’re hunting or slaughtering? Is it really wise to move so far away from the omnivorous diet that our species has evolved, over hundreds of thousands of years, to eat? Do we really want to support industrial agriculture as we depend upon mass-produced processed soy products, out-of-season vegetables, and artificially sourced B12? And without manure, without petroleum-powered (and often petroleum-based) fertilizers, where is all this soy and grain going to come from to feed the starving, desperate world? Ignoring these very real questions is a dangerous luxury afforded only to those of us compassion-driven urbanites who are totally removed from and ignorant of where, in fact, real food comes from.

So, yeah, I’ve changed my mind.

I know many people won’t agree, and I will get angry comments and catty chattering on other sites. However, I respect the impulse of vegans, which is one of compassion. I have just come to the conclusion that they are asking the wrong questions. The vegan diet and lifestyle is not, after all, the solution. Of course it pains me to acknowledge this, and to say it. It’s been a difficult road. But I cannot profess something I no longer believe.

Likewise, I would like to apologize to all my friends. Even though I strongly object to the commonplace claim that all vegans are judgmental and pushy, I have nevertheless been guilty of my share of misplaced judgment. In my zealousness, I no doubt castigated people unfairly and demonstrated a self-righteous attitude. For that I am sorry. None of my friends, be they vegans or barbecue-lovers, are murderous or even unkind. If they were, they wouldn’t be my friends. I find now that the wall of mutual incomprehensibility between me and these friends has fallen away. My disgust at their refusal to admit that killing is always wrong has turned into a humbled shame at my own ignorance of where food comes from, and how.

Yet, because of my nearly two years of veganism, I now know so much more about cooking, and for that I am ecstatically thankful. Herbs, in particular, are a revelation. My vegan readers will no doubt remove this site from their blogroll, and I don’t blame them. My non-vegan readers will probably enjoy the wider range of foodstuffs I’ll be talking about. I hope that readers will patronize their own local, organic, sustainable food producers.


Further reading:
Interview with an Ex-Vegan: Stella
A Vegan No More
The Vegetarian Myth

Homemade Bread

A homemade boule!

We’ve been experimenting with homemade bread at my house, working from the Rocket Bread and New York Times recipes that have gotten so much attention in the food blogosphere. These simple recipes require at least 24 hours of waiting time, but only about 10 minutes of working time and a total of 45 minutes to an hour of actual baking. And, though of course the results are delicious (especially fresh out of the oven, with a little drizzle of extra virgin olive oil), the best part is really the smell that wafts through your house while the bread is in the oven! It’s also pretty easy to make a loaf or two per week, and drastically cuts down on the cost of bread. Plus, you can experiment with a variety of different herbs, nuts, fruits, wheat and white breads, and flour-to-cornmeal ratios.

Homemade bread with Broccoli Pine Nut Soup.

This week, Eric made use of our first little “crop” of oregano, along with some rosemary kindly given to me by one of my favorite emeriti, and created a richly fragrant herbal bread. He either didn’t include enough yeast, or our yeast is a little old, though, because the loaf didn’t rise spectacularly from my new, rectangular metal pan as expected. However, it was eminently edible, and I had a slice this morning, toasted with butter.

Eric’s Rosemary and Oregano Bread

We also tend to like sourdough best, so we let our bread rise for at least 24 hours, often longer. So, this activity is really perfect for lazy procrastinators who happen to like fresh, homemade food. It’s like the anti-croissant. I must mention here, of course, that the very best sourdough toast I have ever eaten is served at the Buena Vista Cafe in San Francisco!

Butter, y’all!

After I made my first boule (pictured at top), I was sold. I vowed never to buy bread again. I couldn’t believe it was so easy. Like it’s cousin, beer (or, as my partner calls it, “liquid bread”), bread is often a bit intimidating to the home cook; it’s so fundamental and, like other forms of baking, seems to require more magic than just following the steps in a recipe. And this is true. Baking bread involves science: chemical reactions, timing, experimentation. But since all cooking is, after all, a form of art, it makes sense that baking bread is not simply a matter of mechanically following instructions; it is also alchemy.

Rosemary Garlic Bread