Today when I sat down to write this blog post, I started an episode of the Netflix series The Mind of a Chef. I enjoy watching this series. I find the chefs inspirational; I appreciate their passion and their creativity. The first episode I watched today, though, increased a little internal conflict I’ve had this Lenten season. Actually, it’s also the same conflict I had Lenten season 2017. During Lent last year and again this year, I gave up meat. Going forty days without meat should be easy for me, since I fast from meat two days a week all year long. This Lenten abstention is truly a sacrifice for me, though. Hamburgers are my favorite food, followed by filet mignon. For six weeks I have to go without (I do eat hamburgers more often than I do filet mignon). I love bacon, and I eat a lot of chicken. When I abstain from meat I miss hamburger, bacon, and chicken. The absence of meat from my diet is all the more noticeable since I cannot have gluten: a gluten-free, meat-free diet is even more difficult to follow (for me, anyway).
Today, however, the episodes of The Mind of a Chef I’m watching show people catching cute little puffins, killing them, and then stuffing them with cake batter before they boil them. People climbing cliffs in order to steal the eggs from the nests of their fulmar parents. People killing ducks that look much like Beatrice Potter’s naive Jemima Puddleduck and Robert McCloskey’s mama duck. The killing of birds and stealing of eggs is bad enough, but once the birds on this episode are killed they are only plucked. Their bodies still look like little bird bodies, instead of the less identifiable pieces of meat one purchases in the grocery store. Other episodes of this series have made me look away from the television, as the camera focuses in on whole lambs and pigs, their flesh and bones objectively manipulated by the chefs who prepare them for cooking. As I look away from these images that actually show the reality of meat preparation for human consumption, I realize I am a hypocrite. I don’t want to completely omit meat from my diet, yet I don’t want to face the harsh reality that animals must die in order for humans to eat meat. It’s a conflict I have to live with, I guess. No solution to the conflict seems possible to me. One factor that eases the seeming cruelty of killing animals for human consumption in this series is that the chefs who prepare the animals for eating seem to respect the animals they use in their culinary creations. Additionally, the people who raise the animals featured on the shows exhibit great love and respect for these animals they raise. This respectful attitude of chefs, farmers, and ranchers have toward these animals adds an element of grace to their lives and deaths.
My conflict of conscience aside, this spring Phillip has aided me in my vegetarian Lenten observance by giving me a copy of Yotam Ottolenghi’s vegetarian cookbook Plenty. This book is beautiful. It’s hard cover is also soft and cushiony. The photos inside the book are gorgeous. Just as a book itself this volume is a bibliophile’s delight. The recipes are delightful, as well. I’ve tried several recipes from the book in the month since my birthday. The recipes are filling and flavorful, and most of them are naturally gluten-free. Many of the recipes have ingredients commonly used in Middle Eastern cooking, to be expected given Ottolenghi’s Israeli roots. The range of flavors represented in Plenty is broad, though, indicating Asian, Italian, and French influences. One of my favorite recipes from the book is Gado-Gado, a salad made with quite a few ingredients and dressed with a rather labor-intensive satay sauce. It’s a dish well worth the effort that goes into making it, though. The satay (spicy peanut) sauce recipe makes more than enough necessary for the salad and can be used in other dishes, so making it is worth the effort. Just the tasty flavor alone makes it worth the effort.
Gado-gado is a naturally gluten-free salad; I didn’t need to deglutenize the salad, but I did make some changes to the recipe. Now, don’t gasp, but I omitted the four cloves of garlic from the satay sauce. I didn’t just reduce it; I omitted it. Garlic overpowers other flavors and lingers unpleasantly on the breath of those who eat foods flavored with garlic. I’m not alone in my reticence to add garlic to the dishes I create, although people often react strongly when they find out I don’t use garlic in my cooking.
Other changes I made to the recipe: I used olive oil instead of vegetable oil in the satay sauce; substituted mushrooms for the tofu; substituted gluten-free rice vermicelli for the potatoes; and substituted plantain chips for the cassava chips. I prefer olive oil as a healthier choice to vegetable oil. Mushrooms are a viable substitution for tofu for people who don’t eat soy (I don’t eat soy, except for the occasional gluten-free soy sauce). Potatoes and boiled eggs seem to create dissonance with the other ingredients of the salad and satay sauce. I always have plantain chips in the pantry; I rarely have cassava chips. I like to cook with ingredients that I usually have in the house, as long as those ingredients complement the other flavors in the dishes I make. Finally, I increased the amount of green beans, bean sprouts, and cucumber required for the recipe. In short, I kept the satay the same except for omitting the garlic, and made the salad more to my taste. This salad is beautiful, and satisfying the palate as well as the appetite. I’ve eaten it a few times, now. Once the sauce is made, the salad itself is easily put together for lunch or dinner. The first time I served this salad for dinner, I made black rice gluten-free yeast pull-apart rolls to accompany it. The flavors of the Gado-Gado and the black rice bread worked well together.
*A note about the crisp-fried shallots listed among the recipe ingredients: I use fried shallots often enough to keep a package in my pantry. I find them at Asian markets, and they are gluten-free (fried crisp in oil, not dipped in batter first).
This recipe, adapted from the Gado-Gado recipe in Plenty (Ottolenghi, 2010. 195), combines fresh vegetables and a spicy peanut sauce to create a light, but flavorful and satisfying salad.
- 1 lemongrass stalk roughly chopped
- 2 1/2 tablespoon sambal oelek (crushed chili paste)
- 2 small pieces fresh ginger peeled
- 4 small shallots peeled
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 3/4 tablespoons salt
- 7 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon paprika
- 2 tablespoons tamarind concentrate
- 1 1/2 cups peanuts roasted, unsalted
- 1 3/4 cups water
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 4 servings rice vermicelli according to package information
- 1/2 cabbage roughly shredded
- 1 cup mung bean sprouts
- 1 cup haricot green beans
- 3/4 cup cucumber thinly sliced
- 1 cup portobello mushrooms (or shiitake) sliced
- plantain chips (or cassava)
- 4 tablespoons cilantro chopped
- crisp, fried shallots
In a food processor, blend together the lemongrass, sambal oelek, peeled, chopped ginger, and shallots until the mixture forms a paste. Heat the olive oil in a pan. Add the lemon grass / ginger paste and cook over low heat, stirring often, until oil starts separating from the paste (about 20 - 30 minutes). Add the salt, paprika, sugar, and tamarind concentrate to the paste and cook for ten more minutes. While the paste is cooking, roughly chop the peanuts in a food processor. Mix the chopped peanuts and 1 3/4 cups water in a pot and cook over low heat until the mixture thickens and the water has evaporated. Add the thickened peanut mixture to the paste. Add the 1 cup of coconut milk. Blend well and remove the satay sauce from the heat. Set aside.
Cook the rice vermicelli according to package instructions, adding the 1 teaspoon of turmeric to the water in which you cook the vermicelli. When the rice vermicelli is done, drain well and set aside to cool. In another pot, blanch the bean sprouts for about 30 seconds. Remove the bean sprouts from the boiling water with a slotted spoon. Add the haricots to the boiling water and blanch for 3 - 4 minutes. Drain the green beans and set aside to cool. Divide the cabbage among four plates. Place 1/4 of the rice vermicelli on top of the cabbage on each place, followed by 1/4 of the blanched bean sprouts, 1/4 of the blanched haricots, 1/4 of the cucumber, 1/4 of the mushrooms, and 1/4 of the cilantro. Sprinkle roughly crushed plantain chips over the top of each salad, followed by a sprinkling of crisp-fried shallots. Generously drizzle each salad with satay sauce. Enjoy!