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Archive for January 10, 2016

FOOD FUN: Why Ask Why? Food Trivia

Water Crackers

Red Stripe Peppermints

Top: Crackers have pin holes so the air
escapes and they don’t rise. Photo courtesy Bottom: A checmical in
mint tricks the brain info feeling coolness.
Photo by Jeffrey Collingwood | SXC.


Here are some fun food facts adapted from

Why Chiles Taste Hot

The heat in chiles comes from a colorless, odorless chemical called capsaicin, which is found mostly in the seeds and ribs of the chiles.

Capsaicin binds with certain sensory neurons in the mouth to trick the body into thinking it is burning—although no physical burning takes place. Details.
Why Crackers Have Holes

The holes allow steam to escape during cooking, which keeps the crackers flat. Otherwise, they’d rise like a biscuit.

Adding holes is an art: If they are too close together, too much steam/moisture escapes and the crackers will be dry and hard. If the holes are too far apart, parts of the cracker will rise. Details.
Why Milk Is White

Milk is composed of 87% water and 13% solids—fat and proteins. The chief protein is casein, which comprises some 80% of the proteins in milk. The casein proteins and some of the fats deflect light, which results in milk being fairly opaque and appearing white to our eyes. Details.
Why Mint Tastes Cold

Menthol, a chemical in mint, binds with cold-sensitive receptors and tricks the brain into thinking that you are feeling a cold sensation. In fact, everything is the same temperature as it was pre-menthol. Details.



Why Onions Make Your Eyes Water

Onions absorb sulfur from the soil. When chopped, the cells are broken and release enzymes which react with the sulfur. When this substance comes in contact with the moisture in the eye, it triggers a burning sensation, which then engenders tears.

Sweet onions grow in low-sulphur soil, which is why they don’t emit fumes when cut. Details.
Why Popcorn Pops

Popcorn is the only variety of corn that will pop. When the kernels are heated up, the water inside begins to steam. Eventually, the pressure of the steam gets so great that the shell bursts. When some kernels remain unpopped, it is likely that they are low in moisture. Details.

Why Swiss Cheese Has Holes

Some of the microbes added to the milk in the cheese-making process produce significant amounts of lactic acid, which is consumed by other microbes. These microbes produce carbon dioxide as a byproduct, which creates bubbles within the cheese.

Rather than pressing them out, the cheese makers leave them as a distinctive feature of the cheese. Details.


Red Onions

Popcorn Kernels

Top: The sulphur in onions makes your eyes water. Photo courtesy Burpee. Bottom: Popcorn is the only corn kernel that pops. Photo courtesy Belle Chevre.



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RECIPE: Collard Wraps

Tuna Collard Wrap

Hummus Collard Wrap

Collard Wrap

Top: tuna-collard wrap from Happy Bellies
with cooked spinach, grated carrots and
diced avocado. Center: hummus-collard wrap from The Pomelo Blog, with ham, tomato,
cucumber and sprouts. Bottom: For
portability or neater eating, tie a piece of
parchment or wax paper around the wrap.
Photo of Reuben collard wrap courtesy Spring


A few days ago, with the announcement of the new USDA Nutrition Guidelines, we mentioned collard wraps as a better-for-you sandwich option that fit right in.


There are two basic ways to make a collard wrap:

  • Simply cut off the stem (you can save it for salad or steaming) and trim down or remove the spine so the leaf will lie flat. If you remove the spine, you simply overlap both sides of the leaf, and fill and roll as if it were a whole leaf.
  • We like to first blanch or lightly steam the leaves to make them more flexible and easier to both roll and bite.
  • Whether or not you blanch, place the leaf underside-up, load the ingredients on one side of the underside, and roll like a burrito: Fold up the bottom, fold in the sides and roll. Here’s a video.
    Like any wrap or other sandwich, the creativity is up to you. You can simply roll up egg or tuna salad in the collard, or use a variety of different ingredients for layered flavors and textures. You can also accent your wrap with a dipping sauce.

  • Collard wraps can be vegetarian or vegan, or rolled with eggs, fish/seafood, meat or poultry.
  • Proteins can be main ingredients or accents: cheese, chopped nuts, fish/seafood, legumes (beans, lentils), meat, seeds, seitan/tofu, sprouts, whole grains
  • Vegetables: mashed/puréed, pickled, raw, roasted, steamed
  • Condiments: barbecue sauce, chili sauce, cranberry sauce, guacamole, horseradish sauce, hummus, ketchup, mayonnaise/aïoli, mustard, nut butter, pesto, pickle relish, salsa, tahini, tapenade, Thai peanut sauce, vinaigrette or other salad dressing, yogurt or any dip or spread.
  • Spices: You can sprinkle the fillings with any spice, from curry to sesame seed.
  • Herbs: You can add dry or fresh herbs (we like fresh basil, chives, cilantro, dill, ginger, horseradish, mint and parsley).
  • Fruit: You can add sweet notes with fresh or dried fruit.
  • Heat: If you prefer heat to sweet, add red chili flakes, diced jalapeño and/or a splash of hot sauce.
  • Zest: If you have fresh lemons and limes, grate in some zest.
    While they don’t get as much press as collard wraps, Swiss chard and Savoy cabbage make equally good wraps.


    We adapted this wrap idea from Spring Vegan, which made it as a vegan wrap. We used actual corned beef and Swiss cheese, the fundamentals of a Reuben Sandwich.


  • Collard leaves
  • Corned beef or vegan substitute
  • Swiss cheese or Swiss-style soy cheese
  • Russian dressing
  • Optional: Sliced tomato

    1. REMOVE the stems from the collards, blanch them, let them cool.

    2. ADD the ingredients to the collard leaf and roll up as you would would a burrito.



    This recipe, for a classic raw vegetable wrap, is from Urban Remedy. However, we do prefer our sesame seeds toasted (how to toast seeds).

    Ingredients Per Sandwich

  • 1 collard leaf, stem and rib removed
  • 1 sheet of raw nori (toasted seaweed sheets)
  • ¼ cucumber, julienned
  • 1 carrot, julienned, grated or shredded
  • ¼ avocado, cut in long strips
  • Optional vegetables: green onions, red bell pepper, sprouts
  • ¼ cup raw sesame seeds
  • Optional: 2 tablespoons hummus
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt or seasoned salt
  • Optional: Asian chili sauce, peanut sauce, ponzu or soy sauce for dipping

    1. PLACE the nori sheet on a dry cutting board. Pat the collard leaf as dry as possible, and lay it atop the nori.

    2. PLACE the carrots, cucumber, avocado and sesame seeds on one end of the collard leaf. If using hummus, spread it on the leaf before adding the vegetables. Sprinkle the vegetables with salt.

    3. ROLL the leaf tightly, starting at the end with the vegetables. Eat it like a Japanese hand roll. If you haven’t used hummus, you can dip the roll in chili sauce, peanut sauce or soy sauce for moisture and flavor.


    Egg Wrap With Collard

    Purple Collard Greens

    Top: Make an egg wrap with fried, hard-boiled or scrambled eggs. Photo courtesy Pancake Warriors. Bottom: purple collard greens (the stems are purplish) from Good Eggs.



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    TIP OF THE DAY: Eat More Legumes

    Spring Chopped Salad

    Prosciutto Salad

    Top: A chopped salad with spring peas. You
    can substitute sugar snap peas, or any other
    legume. Photo courtesy The Foster’s Market Cookbook. Bottom: This creative salad wraps
    leafy greens in prosciutto, with a side of
    cannellini beans in vinaigrette.


    Nutritionist advise that we eat more legumes. But most people don’t know what a legume is, so here’s an overview:


    First, some food trivia: Peas are not green vegetables, but legumes, a botanical category that includes beans, peas and lentils.

    They are ancient foods that have been eaten for more than 8,000 years. Man the hunter-gatherer began eating legumes as soon as he created vessels to cook them in.

    Back then, in the Neolithic Era, agriculture and permanent settlements evolved as nomadic hunter-gatherers realized the benefits of stable communities. As they tilled the earth, legumes were among the first cultivated crops.*

    Legumes used to be called “wonder foods,” now they’re “superfoods.” Versatile, they are used in soups, stews, salads, side dishes, dips/spreads and more (bean burgers and lentil cakes are yummy!).

    They’re also a good source of protein and fiber, low on the glycemic index, and can be a fat- and cholesterol-free substitute for meat.


    Nutritionists recommend that we consume up to three cups of legumes a week. They are one of the healthiest foods you can eat, and are inexpensive, too.
    Eliminating The Gas

    Some people shy away from beans because they are gassy. But there’s a solution for that: Just soak the beans for several hours or overnight in cold water and change the water several times, including right before you cook them. This helps to rinse away the indigestible complex sugars that create intestinal gas.

    Even with beans cooked elsewhere, or those from a can: The more often you eat beans, the more your system accommodates them without digestive incident. You can get there in just three weeks of eating beans. [Source]
    *The first cultivated crop is believed to be figs, followed by wheat and barley, grapes, olives, sugar, tea, rice and sesame.

    Where To Start

    There are more than 4,000 cultivars of beans in the U.S. (and many more worldwide). See our Bean Glossary to discover some of them.

    Beyond supermarket beans, take a look at heirloom beans. These are varieties grown from old strains, and have more flavor, better texture and a beautiful appearance. Due to lower yield, more demanding growing requirements or other factors, these strains have been passed by by large-scale commercial growers.

    Many heirloom varieties have been rescued from extinction by dedicated specialty growers. For a beautiful bean selection, check out:

  • Rancho Gordo of Napa Valley (our review).
  • Zursun Beans of Twin Falls, Idaho.
    Their heirloom beans are sold in specialty food stores and online. They’re one of our favorite gifts for cooks.
    Finally, here’s a tip to help you eat more legumes in general:
  • Create a meal-planning calendar with your online calendar system (Google Calendar is free).
  • Map out the weekly food categories you want to include, from Meatless Monday to baking and weekend cooking projects. Add the word “legumes” every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, for example. The calendar software can block out the whole year for you. Then, as you come across interesting recipes, fill them in on particular dates, along with the URLs or other sources of recipes.
  • Incorporate all forms of legume recipes. For example, instead of hummus make white bean purée, which is also delicious as an appetizer on crostini.
  • And of course, use the calendar planner for all other foods as well.


    This is one of the many ways in which legumes can be combined with other ingredients for fresh, tasty results. This filling salad is both hearty and flavorful. The lentils give it a nice heartiness, and two different types of olives give it a briny punch.

    If you don’t like olives, substitute something you do like: cherry tomatoes, pimento, sliced gherkins, whatever. Prep time is 10 minutes, total time is 30 minutes.

    Ingredients For 2 Servings

  • 1 bunch arugula
  • 1 cup of beluga or green lentils
  • 3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • ½ red onion, diced
  • 1 lemon
  • ½ cup castelvetrano olives, roughly chopped
  • ½ cup kalamata olives, roughly chopped

    1. RINSE the lentils in a sieve, then add to a pot with 2 cups of water, a few pinches of salt and a bay leaf. Bring the lentils to a simmer over medium heat and cook until tender, about 25 minutes. If all of the water is absorbed before the lentils are fully cooked, add a bit more along the way. When the lentils are done, set them aside in a mixing bowl. While the lentils cook…

    2. HEAT a few tablespoons of olive oil in a pan until hot; then and add the red onions. Cook the onions for 5-7 minutes, until they’re translucent and starting to brown. At this point, add the carrots and turn the heat down to medium.

    3. COOL the carrots and the onions together for 5 minutes, until they’re tender but still a bit crunchy in the center (overcooking is worse than undercooking, so take them off the heat sooner rather than later). When the carrots and onions are done, add them to the bowl with the lentils. Add the olives, squeeze in the juice of half a lemon, add a few pinches of salt and stir gently.

    4. COOL the lentil mixture. When it has cooled completely, gently combine with the arugula. Add more lemon if you like, plus salt and pepper to taste.


    Lentil Arugula Salad

    Salmon With Beluga Lentils

    Calamari & Beans

    Top: Lentil and arugula salad from Good Eggs | San Francisco. Center: Salmon with beluga lentils from Gourmet Attitude. Bottom: Grilled calamari atop heirloom beans and avocado cream (think puréed guacamole lightened with cream or yogurt), with dressed vegetables, from Bestia | LA.



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