Category: Food Knowledge & History

Pomegranates: Food of the Gods and Mere Mortals

PomegranatesNovember is National Pomegranate month, so before the month ends, I wanted to write a little about the history and uses of this many-seeded, delectable fruit.

Growing up in Arizona, pomegranates were one of the joys of winter season. They were prolific here in the Southwest. My dad was a gardener and worked where there were many pomegranates. He would bring them home during season for us to eat. I loved cracking them open and just picking out the seeds one by one. Some people like to pop them out into a bowl. Not me. The challenge was how to get the seed out of the pocket with the juice intact. read more

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Month of Watermelon!

Yes, it’s almost here! August is National Watermelon Month. We’ve been enjoying this luscious, rich, vibrant fruit all summer, but August is the month to celebrate it every day.

Did you know that there are more varieties of watermelon than what we usually eat? White, yellow, and red are just a few of the options you can choose. Watermelon has been domesticated for as long as humans have been eating it, but where did this vine originate?

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Experimenting with Yuca Root

Because I like to do things the hard way, I figured I would attempt to make my own cassava flour. I purchased the yuca root at my local grocers, brought it home, and followed the recipe. Grate, boil, oil, knead, mash, and make empanadas . My first attempt at making tapioca flour turned out to be a disaster, but I’ll make another attempt. I’m a determined chef.

What exactly is yuca root (not to be confused with yucca, which is a different plant)? It is known by different names in different parts of the world. Cassava, tapioca, manioc, mandioca, kappa, and mogo. Here’s a little of the history.

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The Power of Cilantro

Cilantro in a glassI’ve been using cilantro in cooking for years. Growing up in the Southwest, it is easily accessible. I’ve always enjoyed the flavor, the smell, and the taste. What I did not know was the considerable health benefits linked to this one plant used as both herb and spice.

Cilantro, also known as fresh coriander and Chinese parsley, has been used in medicine and cuisines around the world for over 5,000 years. Thought to be one of the oldest cooking herbs, traces of the plant have been discovered in tombs in Egypt and an ancient cave in Israel. Cilantro provides a healthy dose of Vitamin K, Vitamin C, and E. Reported health benefits include aiding digestive health and relieving anxiety. There is some research that indicates it can alleviate the food poisoning known as Salmonella. It can act as a preservative that helps prepared foods last longer. Combine it with citrus and the shelf life of salsa and other foods increase by 3-4 days. read more

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The Earthy Goodness of Chayote

The conquest of the Aztec and Mayan civilizations by the Spanish led to the disappearance of many native foods. They disappeared because the priests and the conquistadors made it illegal for the natives to grow their own food. This helped conquer and humiliate an entire population. The conversion to Christianity was well on its way with the methodology employed. More importantly, the Spaniards obtained land to grow wheat, a food imported into the Americas.

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Cabbage, The New Super Food

It has a crunch, it plays well with many other vegetables, we eat it by the pound, for Fourth of July Picnics, and BBQ parties, but what is the story behind this humble vegetable that is usually associated with corned beef? 

Cabbage has long been cultivated by humans. We’ve spent several thousand years selectively gardening cabbages so that there are a handful of well-known varieties. Brussel sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower have been selectively bred for the tight florets they produce. Green and red cabbage provide larger heads with tight leaves. And then there’s the loose leaf cabbage known as kale. read more

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Arrowroot and It’s Companions

Arrowroot_prepWhen we think of thickeners, classic French cooking comes to mind with a mixture called roux. Roux involves butter and flour.  The butter is melted and the flour added to the butter and then cooked until the flour loses its pasty taste. This roux is then added to soups and sauces to thicken them. Roux is a large component in Country Gravy, and Alfredo Sauce. And alongside veal stock, it is the backbone of Classic French Cuisine

It’s not so surprising that there is more than one kind of thickener in the world. Arrowroot, cornstarch, tapioca starch, potato starch, kudzo, and others can be used in various ways to thicken sauces, soups, and other mixes. Arrowroot is my favorite. It is flavorless and gives a glossy sheen to a soup or sauce. read more

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Questions and Answers about Vegans and Vegetarians

grilled veggies1) How do you get nutrients in a vegan/vegetarian diet?

2) Why don’t vegans eat honey?

3) Isn’t being vegan just like being a vegetarian?

These are the tops questions that come up in discussions about vegan cuisine. It is getting almost as old as the top three questions about being a lesbian (people don’t ask me these questions any more, we are a little more educated as a population).

1) How do you get nutrients in a vegan/vegetarian diet?

Nutrients are easy. Eat legumes, lentils, beans, split peas, dahl, fava beans. All these foods have high amounts of protein. Eat vegetables. Vegetables have loads of minerals that your body needs to function. Folic acid, potassium, calcium, manganese, and some I can’t quite pronounce. Eating a solid stream of plant matter keeps the body balanced and healthy. Fruits and nuts also help the body. Nuts have loads of protein and other minerals and vitamins. Fruit is loaded with Vitamin C, sugars, and fiber that the system needs to keep going. Some people say fruit has bad sugars.  Not true. The body can process these sugars easier than the sugar produced by corn. read more

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Next Course: King Quinoa

Save the Date: September 4th, 2011, 5:30 p.m.

kinqquinoaflyerI’ll be teaching a class on quinoa — how to make it, how to spice it up, what to serve it with, and I’ll have the nutritional facts and history of quinoa. If you’re in the Phoenix area, and want to check it out, make a reservation at Luci’s Healthy Marketplace for a seat.

The Bonus? Sampling the food we make in class.

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Following the Spice: Cumin

In ancient times, cumin was as common a spice as black pepper is on our tables today. Used as a condiment, baked in bread, and distributed widely, cumin seed generated several fascinating myths and origin stories as a list of incredible health benefits. In the Ancient World, people believed that cumin could cure anything but death. What is Cumin?

Sa cuminThere are two kinds of seed that are called cumin.

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Books by Chef Johnna

  • Delectable Vegan Soups -------------------------------------------------------
  • Things Vegans Fry: Crunchy Comfort Food for Vegans

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