Vegetarian Pyramid Series - Corn

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Posted by DK

Person1 : I am planning to buy some polenta today..
Person2: Buy? Why go for ready made stuff? You can make it so easily at home….?
Person1: Make? How am I going to make some wholegrain at home??
Person2: ????

As if the idiosyncrasies of the English language was not enough (quoting my German professor!), we have similar terminologies to mean different things in the Food dictionary too! It can sure be quite confusing at times. The word “Polenta” is used to mean a dish made with cornmeal as well as the cornmeal itself. When it comes to cornmeal, the variety available in the markets now days is simply mind boggling to say the least. Let’s take a quick look at corn shall we?

Corn is a wholegrain which falls under the category of cereal grasses. If you walk down your food aisle in the market, you will come across yellow corn (otherwise known as maize) and other corns colored red, blue and black. I recently happened to see multicolored varieties too. There are many corn products too.It is a staple in many countries around the world with having prominence in U.S.A, Italy and the Caribbean. (White cornmeal - image courtesy

The most commonly available forms of corn are –


The minute ‘cornmeal’ is mentioned, the first thing that probably comes to an American’s mind is the classic cornbread. For the Italians, its ‘Polenta’.

Polenta has a golden, thick-porridge like consistency and is flavored with butter and cheese. They make an excellent alternative to Mashed Potatoes. It is also used to make dumplings and puddings in the Caribbean.

Masa Harina
Masa Harina also known as Maize meal is made from the cooked wholegrain where it is ground into flour. This flour is mostly used to make Mexican flatbread called as Tortillas. (Yellow cornmeal - image courtesey -

This is a fine white powder mostly used as a thickening agent for stews, soups, casseroles etc. Sometimes it is also used in baked goods and in making desserts. (cornstarch -image courtesy

Hominy or Grits?
There is big confusion regarding these two where they are sometimes used interchangeably.

Hominy are the husked whole grains of corn. To use them, they have to be first softened by cooking them in hot boiling water and then used in other dishes like soups, stews or in any baked goods.

Grits are in fact coarsely ground dried yellow or white corn. They can be used in baking and also for pancakes.

There is wonderful article which throws more light about Hominy grits and corn grits with humorous analogies at Also a discussion regarding the finer differences between corn products can be seen here at

We all love popcorns don’t we? This is a completely separate strain of corn which is grown specifically for this purpose. The kernels can be store bought and the popcorns can be easily made at home with any type of seasoning added as per taste.

Corn syrup
This artificial sweetener is a staple in many households now. Though the name suggests it, it is not made by directly pulping the corn. Instead it is made from cornstarch which is actually the pulpy middle layer of the corn where it is separated from its outer husk and its inner germ layers. Storage of these in giant vats helps it to produce glucose when natural enzymes are added to it. This glucose is heated and made into corn syrup. It’s used in candy making and also in baked goods.

Few recipes with Corn based Products
  1. Skillet Polenta Pizza
  2. Iron skillet Jalapeno and Cheddar cornbread
  3. Corn Muffins
  4. Corn Tortillas
  5. Blue cornmeal pancakes
Health benefits
Corn plays an important role in American folk medicine where its famed to be a diuretic and a mild stimulant. Few studies have shown that it even helps to prevent colon cancer and lowers the risks of heart disease. Corn is one of the few grains (or probably the only one) that contains vitamin A as well as Vitamin B and iron. It has about 18.4% of daily recommendation of fiber. Since its high on fiber, it helps to lower levels of cholesterol in the body along with blood sugars proving beneficial to diabetics.

This post was written by Dhivya

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Posted by Jamie

How do we deal with the death of a loved one? You wipe away your tears as you walk away from the funeral, join the family back at the house for a cool lunch, cold cuts and fresh fruit and more tears but mostly laughter, enjoying this time together no matter how bittersweet, recounting family stories, pulling up memories from some deep spot in your heart. And then, what happens next? You pack your suitcases and fly back home where husband and kids await, the laundry pile has mysteriously grown all out of proportion, the dog dances around you, nosing into your bags as soon as they hit the floor, everyone clamoring for your attention.

Michael and I 1962

You try and get back into the swing of things, “real life”, as quickly as possible, partly because there are those who need you, who depend upon you, but more likely because it is the easiest way to block out the thoughts, the loss.

Almost two months has past since I was standing in the burning Florida sun trying not to look in the direction of the wooden box stretched out serenely in front of us, saying good-bye to my beloved brother. Heartbroken doesn’t even begin to describe it. As we get older we begin to expect, to understand that one by one we will lose our loved ones, grandparents, parents, and we try and brace ourselves for the eventuality. Yet when another older generation passes away, someone in their 70s or 80s or 90s, we can comfort ourselves with the thought that they lived a good, long life, accomplished what they wanted to accomplish and hopefully didn’t suffer too much on the way out. It is the way of life, one generation at a time, life then death.

Sue and Michael 1960

Yet when the unexpected happens, friends or family of our own generation or, heaven forbid, a child, go, whether illness or accident, incomprehension intertwines with the pain: We look at their life and think of all they had yet to accomplish, the years and road ahead of them, and we wonder if the tears are for them or for ourselves. Their death brings us closer to our own destiny and, truth be told, we just aren’t ready, we have such a long time ahead of us, there is still so much to do, so how is this possible? The loss is so close, too close, and it is as if we have lost a limb or part of ourselves. And now we return to our family our home our job and must move ahead. How?

Michael and I 1972

I have been keeping busy. Blogging, writing, cooking, baking. Laundry, shopping, evenings out or in with the family. No time to think about the loss. Afraid to look at it in the face, scared and simply not understanding the unfairness of it all. And then I wonder if we, the survivors, cry for them and such life cut off in its prime, everything left undone, or are the tears for ourselves, left alone like orphans, no more birthday calls or silly cards, no more long catch-up phone calls or brotherly advice, no more visits or cooking together or laughing over stories of when we were kids. Or maybe this unexpected death forces us to look our own destiny, our own eventual death, in the face. And what happens afterwards? Heaven? Reincarnation? Nothing? And all too often, we close our eyes and refuse to look.

A dear friend of mine reminded me of the importance of grieving: “The death of a loved one is something that we all experience at some point in our lives and I think it is important to talk about it instead of tidily brushing it under the carpet. When my grandfather died, I was so unprepared and had no idea how to deal with my emotions.” We tend to skip around the issue, avoiding it as if it were taboo. Yet somehow it is comforting when people ask how the funeral went, how we are doing and open the door to discussion. Why are we so nervous bringing it up to someone who has just lost a loved one? We should talk about it, even if we stumble around searching for just the right words. Even no words, the “I don’t know what to say”, helps break down the invisible barrier and allows us to share feelings and fears, hopes and dreams, memories and ideas about where we go when it all ends. Another friend of mine sent me a fascinating book about reincarnation. Her philosophy? Spirits are all around us but aren’t there to do harm but rather to watch over us, help us understand what we don’t understand and we should simply give a friendly Hello from time to time and let them know we appreciate the visit and the care. Talking with her is so comforting, no black thoughts, no fear of the unknown, rather the joy of life, the dream of an afterlife and never losing touch with those who have passed on.

Michael with our mom and my boys @1995

And what about the kids? Children may not feel the death of a loved one as strongly, but may need to talk about it even more than we do. My 19-year-old son said “I didn’t see Uncle Michael often enough to really feel the loss, not like you do what with your history together.” Yet several weeks later, as we were strolling down the street, he burst forth with “I just can’t believe Uncle Michael is gone. It is so strange to think about!” The door to discussion needs to remain open for them as well as for us, for the strangeness of it all, the scariness of an illness or death, should be talked about. If we don’t talk about that then how can we spend the time talking about his life and all that fun that we shared together? It all blends into one.

So it is perfectly fine to broach the subject, don’t be afraid. There is comfort in allowing us to talk, to share the stories that we all have, to hear yours as well. This is the only way we can grieve, by telling the tale, sharing the stories, crying and laughing together. Not only does this draw us, the living, closer together, but it allows us to face our own fears of “what happens next” and realize that we are all in it, this crazy thing called life, together.

The family in Florida 2008

This post was written by JAMIE

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Foods You Thought You Knew

Friday, November 13, 2009

Posted by Hilda

So I think I’m probably going to be known as the baby-lady around here, but as many of you know, it does take over your life doesn’t it... but in a very good way.
Today we are going to talk about carrots. That’s right, you heard--err, read me correctly, carrots. Why are we going to talk about carrots? Because I use them a lot in my baby’s food and because they’re quite interesting in more ways than you’d think.

I guess there could have been many other vegetables I could have written about for this post but I picked carrots because -WARNING: I’m about to admit something I probably shouldn’t here so get ready- I only just discovered- NO not carrots silly, of course I’ve known carrots forever, who hasn’t- rainbow carrots. I’ve only just discovered rainbow carrots. I didn’t actually know there were other colors of carrots than orange, (did you?) so imagine my surprise when my husband brought home these beautiful carrots in shades of purple and greenish-yellow and told me there even were red carrots out there somewhere.
Upon doing a little bit of research I discovered that carrots, in fact, were not orange to begin with. That seems odd doesn’t it? It seems like no actually they always were orange and then some guy with too much time and a lot of carrot seeds laying around started making hybrids and coming up with cool funkedelic colors, but it just seems that way, that’s not really what happened.
In reality, it’s not exactly clear what the chronology of the modern carrot is other than, from evidence found in archaeological digs, some form of carrot, as in plants from the carrot family, existed back in the Eocene period (55 to 34 million years ago). After that, there is no actual written record of their use either for food or medicinal purposes until the Greeks and Romans, although the domesticated version of carrots (oh yes, I’ll tell you about that in a minute) are believed to date back to approximately 5000 B.C. in Afghanistan.
So, to the issue of wild vs. domesticated carrots. When I first read that there were wild carrots and that the carrots we take for granted as simply being carrots are the hybridized and domesticated descendants of "wild" ones, I imagined a Mr. Potato Head version of a carrot wearing a loincloth and carrying a sharpened stalk of celery for a spear. It turns out that you probably know wild carrots by another name; they are commonly known as Queen Anne's Lace and are mostly considered to be a weed, albeit a pretty one; the root is tough, pale (most often white), bitter and quite small. Presumably, over thousands of years and many combinations, the modern, domesticated carrot evolved partially from the wild carrot, but attempts to create domesticated edible carrots -such as we know them- purely from wild carrots have failed, so the belief that domesticated carrots come entirely from wild ones is inaccurate.
The first domesticated carrots that I mentioned above were purple and sometimes yellow. Through time and cross-cultivation, other colors appeared, first red, then white, then orange which became the most common form of carrot particularly in the West. They were brought to Europe by the Arabs in the 10th century, at which time the orange version did not yet exist, and it is thought that Western Europeans eventually developed the common orange-colored carrot some time around the 16th century.

Now to the nutritive properties of carrots, which is really why you might still be reading this post:
Carrots are phenomenally nutritious. They contain the most beta-carotene (unsurprisingly and that which gives carrots their orange color) of any fruit or vegetable which is converted to vitamin A by the body. They also are a source of vitamins B6 and C, and a pectin fibre known as calcium pectate which may have the ability to lower cholesterol. Carrots are loaded with potassium, thiamin, folic acid, and magnesium and when cooked also contain copper, iron, manganese, phosphorus and sulphur. The lesson here being that an apple a day is all well and good, but maybe you should consider eating some more of those carrots you have laying around. It's as easy as washing and peeling one. If you happen to get a bunch of carrots with their greens, those contain vitamin K which is not present in carrots themselves, so you might want to use those as well. It's all good.

I used to hate cooked carrots when I was little, but realized in retrospect that that was only because my mother didn't cook them and the only cooked ones I had were often boiled to death and lacking any flavor. I've always loved them raw however, and now like them cooked as well. I've been making all of the carrots pictured above for my little noodle and she loves them, no matter the color or the manner in which they are cooked. It is thanks to her that I've discovered all of these things about carrots, and that I continue to discover things every day about foods I eat.
Have you learned anything about foods you thought you knew from your children?

This post was written by Hilda

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Tiffin Tuesday - The Grain-Free Bento

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Posted by Petra Hildebrandt

Whenever I read (quite useful) instructions on packing bentos, I stumble upon tipps like this one:

Plan your meal. Bento lunches traditionally consist of 4 parts rice, 3 parts protein, 2 parts vegetables and 1 part dessert or pickles. Even easier-- mentally divide the box in half. Half for rice, then 1/3 of the other half for protein, 1/3 for veggies and the final 1/3 for condiments and dessert.

While this is great advice, I sometimes feel at a loss. What are people on special diets supposed to do? E.g. my body doesn't respond too well to grains, to put it mildly - rice is one of the few things I can digest in small amounts, and I'd rather keep that portion for other occasions. If you are on a low-carb diet, or suffer from type 2 diabetes, having to control carbs, or are restricted in your food choices for one reason or another, especially when it comes to carbohydrates, you'll have to find alternatives.

On the other hand, this is one reason for me - and I bet many of you - to pack my own lunches, aside from better value for money: being able to control what is in my foods, catering for the needs of allergic children or spouses.

Still, rice, or noodles, bread, potatoes, are the obvious fillers in a bento - so we are in need of fresh ideas.

Here I packed feta cheese cubes, with a sprinkling of pepper, and halved grape tomatoes (actually the pepper came in a small paper sachet I had saved on an airplane trip last year, and waited under the lid until lunch time), cucumber pieces, an egg, and a tuna dipp.

In the spirit of getting back into the habit of packing bentos, here are just a few ideas for (not only) grain-free bentos:
  • grilled chicken pieces
  • leftover grilled steak, sliced
  • tiny brochettes (saté) with shrimp or meats or fish
  • paneer cubes
  • mini cheeses
  • cubed feta
  • eggs (think quail eggs!)
  • tamagoyaki, of course
  • omelette
  • konnyaku noodles (shirataki)
  • cooked chickpeas
  • tiny amounts of curry (any kind) to be eaten with torn romaine leaves
  • chicken or tuna salad, in muffin cups, or in cucumber cups or tomato halves
  • dips - guacamole, tuna dip, herbed quark or cream cheese, tsatsiki, hummus, Mexican bean dip, blue cheese dip, peanut dip, salsa
  • cooked beans
  • edamame
  • green beans
  • cherry tomatoes
  • kohlrabi sticks
  • celery sticks
  • carrot sticks
  • cucumbers
  • radishes
  • bell pepper strips
  • pickles
  • mini salamis
  • nuts
  • dried fruit
  • steamed cauliflower or broccoli
  • olives
  • yogurt (any type)
  • berries
  • mango pieces, to name just some fruit (because some are rather evil on the glycemic load)

To replace flour, instead of using gluten-free mixes, you might coat chicken pieces with sesame before frying them - the sesame adds great nutrients, too!

If your diet allows them, potatoes and sweet potatoes make great fillers, from potato salad to braised sweet potato, as do jerusalem artichokes - I like to eat these raw, they have a great crunch and nutty taste.

Do you have allergies you need to consider when packing lunches? Please feel free to share your ideas for special diet bentos - we'd love to hear / read from you.

This post was written by Petra

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Roasted Potatoes and my trip to Aleppo

Monday, November 09, 2009

Posted by Antonio Tahhan

note: I want to apologize to everyone for being late with this post. I am going out of town in a few days and have been running around like a crazy person trying to get everything in order before my trip.

A couple weeks ago, I finally bought my plane ticket to go to Aleppo. My grandmother is there now, visiting her sister, and I will get to join them in just a few days. Middle Eastern food, like most of the food from around the Mediterranean, is extremely fresh and healthy. I promise to be back with lots of pictures and recipes that I will share on the Daily Tiffin.

In the mean time, I've been strategically trying to use up all my produce and perishables for the past couple of weeks. Today I chose to write about roasted potatoes because they're a healthy alternative to fried potatoes, but are still popular with the kids. They're great in lunch boxes or afternoon snacks, and easy enough to make in large batches. There are a few steps, however, to ensuring a perfect roast with an extra crispy exterior and ultra creamy inside.

Preparation is simple. It makes a big difference to scout out good potatoes for this dish: small, firm and tight skin. I prefer reds simply because they have a higher sugar content, so they tend to caramelize better than other potatoes in the oven.

Since potatoes grow underground, you'll want to give them a quick rinse before you roast them. Make sure to pat them dry so that the outsides crisp up.

It's also important not to crowd the potatoes in a pan, otherwise they will still steam, regardless of how well you've patted them dry.

Although I usually use Spanish paprika, or pimentón, it's a lot easier to find the Hungarian variety at my local grocery store. My inspiration for using paprika in my roasted potatoes came from patatas bravas -- a classic tapas made from fried tomatoes covered in a spicy pimentón-base sauce. If you can't find Spanish paprika near where you live, Amazon is where I usually buy from.

Once they come out of the oven, they can be eaten hot or at room temperature. Enjoy!

Click here for the recipe.

This post was written by Antonio Tahhan

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