10 August 2012

Food-related ramblings & Summery Couscous-Kidney Bean Salad

I realize I haven't updated this blog in a while and I have no good excuse. I've decided to come back to talk about something I haven't been so vocal about as of yet: food. I love food. It's something so essential and yet something we find such pleasure in when done properly. Among our basic needs, satisfying our craving for food is generally more wondrous than, say, breathing or drinking water (although those are fun impulses to indulge once in a while, I suppose, like maybe after a good, long run). Lately I've been watching those TED Talks, particularly those about food, and while some of them were garbage, a few were inspiring and perceptive. One featured a man by the name of Heribert Watzke who claimed, I believe quite accurately, that humans distinguish themselves from other animals primarily because we can cook. Our bodies, our mouths, are biologically adapted to be able to process a softer, less tough sort of food--that is, cooked food. We are not necessarily carnivores or herbivores or even omnivores but, as he put it, coctivors--eaters of cooked food. He finally concluded with a claim that even philosophers should change their ideas about the basis of humanity-it's not cogito ergo sum but coquo ergo sum (not "I think, therefore I am," but "I cook, therefore I am"). Of course, I'm also a long-time fan of the Food Network, although some of those are, again, better than others--Good Eats yay, Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, nay (although I can see the fun, gluttonous appeal of that one, now that I'm actually trying to get healthy, it's not all that helpful)!

All that is to say that I feel that cooking is a primary human operation, and one that I'm trying, now that I have copious amounts of free time, to get better at. As some of you know, I worked as a line cook for just over three years at Earls in Lethbridge, AB, and before that I spent several months in the same position at Cheesecake Cafe. My time there was pretty influential and fun. Obviously, I wouldn't have stayed as long as I did there if I didn't feel a strong attachment to cooking and have fun while doing it, although of course paycheques were also a big incentive. I also learned a lot of cooking skills there that I feel like a lot more people should have the opportunity to learn. Too many people approach cooking as a daunting task that is an inconvenience, something to get out of the way, when really it is quite rewarding. It's also an art that requires imagination, and that's what I'm really trying to work on right now.

As some of you might also know, I made a decision back in April to stop eating or buying meat and other products of animal slaughter like gelatin. The reasons for this choice are kind of extraneous to the main point of this post, but they were multifarious--I wanted to lose weight and lower my blood pressure (which was starting to climb at that point and which, as a type-1, insulin-dependent diabetic, I have to keep a closer eye on than most as it compounds pre-existing symptoms), I knew too much about the way the meat industry works to support it any longer even if its products tasted delicious (not just the brutality and inhumanity of the killing but the inefficiency and unsustainability of the whole operation--it just burns through resources like grain and water and gas to transport the meat around like nobody's business), and mainly I just feel like if more people swore off meat or at least reduced their intake of it, we would absolutely have enough food to feed everyone on the planet (just think of how much arable land is used up by the meat industry, and how much grain, corn, etc. is fed to animals raised solely to be killed that could instead be used to feed people).

But I digress. Becoming vegetarian (ovo-lacto-vegetarian to be precise... although I'm starting to replace milk with almond milk and coconut milk in the case of baking, and I always have tried to buy free-range eggs... although apparently claims of 'free-range' and 'organic' are hard to trust anymore) means that you basically need to learn how to cook properly and creatively. Which challenge I've taken up during this lazy summer. And it's stoked my passion to cook once more and made me want to develop my skills and creativity to be better than I'd been before. I've come up with a roster of new recipes--with a little help (OK--a lot, sometimes) from my friends of course.

Here's a delicious one I tried out today! (And I'll try and post more of them in the coming days, weeks, whenever...)

Summery Couscous-Kidney Bean Salad


  • 1/2 cup   cooked kidney beans (I went with the dried kidney beans this time and it made a world of difference compared to canned... soak these overnight in the refrigerator in 1-1/2 cups of water, then cook them in a saucepan by bringing them and about the same amount of water to a boil along with 1 tbsp canola oil, then simmering on just-under-medium heat [3.5-4 level on most stoves] for 75 minutes or until tender)
  • 1/3 cup   couscous (cook this by boiling 1/3 cup salted water and 2 tsp canola oil and then pouring the boiling water over the couscous, then waiting 3-4 minutes for the couscous to puff up and absorb the water, then stirring in about 2 tsp margarine until the grains are fluffy and not sticking together)
  • 1/2 cup   chickpeas (I used canned but if you have dried and the time to prepare/cook them beforehand, go for it)
  • 1/3 bunch   green onions, chopped
  • 1/4   red onion, diced
  • 3   grape/cherry tomatoes (I like the sweetness of this kind of tomato and it went nicely with the sweet-and-sour nature of the red onion but a more hearty tomato could be subbed)
  • 1 tsp   thyme (basil might be worth a try instead of thyme, too, as it pairs better with sweeter tomatoes--but then again, this worked like a charm)
  • 1 tsp   parsley (if you have cilantro, use that instead, and maybe even drop the thyme too... I didn't have any but I imagine it would be better/ more Mexican-style)
  • 1/2 tsp   pepper
  • 1/2 tsp   salt
  • 1/2   lime, squeezed over top
  • dash   lemon juice (or 1/2 real lemon, squeezed over top, if you have it)
  • 1-1/2 tbsp   canola oil

After cooking the kidney beans and couscous (and chickpeas if they aren't yet), put them in a large bowl and then add in all other ingredients, mixing together well. Let it chill in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving for optimum deliciousness. Serves 2 normal people, or 1 hungry bastard. Makes a great lunch!

According to the recipe I based this off of (credit where credit is due), black beans, corn, and a chopped red pepper would also make nice additions, and couscous could be substituted for orzo. I really just used what I had on hand, which meant omitting those things. I think mine is more sweet and light and suited to the summer but that would be nice to try too, and maybe more filling. Bon appetit! More recipes to come, hopefully.

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