*STRANGE CRAVINGS*
Recipe: Mushroom Soup

May 13, 2013

Most people crave things that are sugary or greasy or otherwise unhealthy. Chocolate cake, for example. Or French fries—did you know French fries are the First Lady’s guilty pleasure? I knew I liked her for reasons beyond her politics and dedication to tackling childhood obesity. Most people, including health conscious ones, crave junk food, or at least that’s what they are vocal about craving. I don’t generally crave junk food. Aside from French fries, which I want to eat about 90% of the time, my food cravings are a little on the unorthodox side.

For example, the other day I was driving home from work, sitting in traffic on what must be the worst freeway in LA and thinking about how incompetent my health insurance company is, when all of a sudden I felt this overpowering urge for a glass of grapefruit juice. The odd part is that I don’t ever drink grapefruit juice. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I smelled grapefruit. Now you could argue this was my body telling me I need vitamin C, but if that were the case wouldn’t I crave orange juice, which I used to drink every morning?

Some of my more frequent cravings include tomatoes, pasta with lentils and Swiss chard, dumplings, peach ice cream, and Trader Joe’s olive hummus. None of these foods are that high in sugar or dense in calories (ice cream aside, obviously), and they’re not engineered by the food industry to induce cravings. So why on earth do I wake up in the morning and immediately think about, for instance, roast chicken with tahini sauce? It’s like my body is in a perpetual state of hysterical pregnancy. Continue reading

*LUNCHBOX—Not All Salads Are Created Equal*
Recipe: Vegetarian “Nicoise” Salad

April 12, 2013

I’m not a fan of taking a “lunch break” when I’m at work. I much prefer to eat while I’m working and then go for a walk to clear my head, get some (somewhat) fresh air—I live in LA after all—and recharge my battery for the afternoon. Because of this, I almost always bring lunch from home. In this new “Lunchbox” series of posts, I’ll share with you all the recipes and tips I’ve compiled for creating healthful and easy lunches that hold up well and are packed with flavor.

I have very strict requirements for my work lunches that I almost always follow (rules are meant to be broken, of course!). First, the lunches can’t be messy. Try eating BBQ chicken while going through your emails: this is not conducive to productivity or cleanliness. Second, they have to be some combination of low-fat, low-carb, vegan or vegetarian. I’d rather save my indulgent meals for the weekend when I can enjoy them. Third, most of the prep work has to be done on Monday when I do my cooking for the week.

Lastly, and most importantly, my work lunches have to be full of fiber. This is a trick I’ve discovered after years of experimentation. Grain- and/or protein-centric meals do not keep me full for the day. If I eat a turkey sandwich, I’ll be hungry an hour later. So instead, I generally eat salads. That may sound counterintuitive, but the right kind of salad can fill you up without making you feel groggy or adding on extra calories. Continue reading

*EAST COAST MEETS WEST*
Recipe: Persimmon Cranberry Sauce

December 10, 2012

Falling in love with a place is much like falling in love with a person. For a while, this place can do no wrong; its flaws all have silver linings; each street, shop, and tree possesses some sort of magic to hold your fascination. Inevitably, the novelty of its newness will fade. The place won’t just be a place anymore—it will be a part of you. It will frustrate you and humble you and excite you and teach you about yourself and humanity. And one day, if you leave, you will face the jarring realization that it will always be a part of you and you will always miss it, even if you never want to return.

The first time I had such a realization was in 2010 when I moved back to the US from Egypt. Standing in the back yard of my parent’s house in New York, looking at the forest and the fallen leaves and the patches of melting snow that were so poignantly not Egypt, I knew that wherever I was, I’d feel a longing for the place that I wasn’t. Even now I sometimes stumble into a vivid flashback of the vegetable market near my apartment in Giza or the filthy roach-infested dive bar that I loved for the diptych of the owner and Gamal Abdel Nasser at the entrance. Sometimes I want to be standing on a hill in al-Azhar Park at dusk listening to the hum of mosques as they slowly join the call to prayer.

Now that I live in California, I feel the same longing for New York—for a hike on the Appalachian Trail when the leaves are changing color; for a coffee in Riverside Park when the tulips are in bloom; for a cross-country ski with my dad through sparkling fresh snow and icicle trees. Southern California, I already know, will always be a part of me too, and one day, if I leave, I’ll miss its friendly, politically engaged atmosphere and its barren alien landscape.

Perhaps it’s time for me to stop moving before my self is a collection of fragments scattered around the globe! Continue reading

*RETHINKING COMFORT FOOD*
Recipe: Soft Tofu Stew (Soondubu Jjigae)

October 15, 2012

Fall is the season of comfort food. Even in southern California, where the leaves remain green and the temperature doesn’t drop below 65 degrees, pumpkin lattes and hearty stews abound. Most Americans, me included, associate comfort food with dishes like macaroni and cheese, chicken pot pie, beef stew, ice cream, apple pie, or pretty much anything loaded with fat and processed carbohydrates.

Conversely, most Americans associate unappetizing health food with things like tofu, salad, and any vegetable but potatoes (unless it’s a vegetable smothered in cream and/or cheese, in which case it crosses over into the realm of comfort food). But there’s definitely no American-style dish involving tofu that’s considered comforting. The very suggestion is enough to give children nightmares.

I always thought the American notion of comfort food was the universally accepted definition. Then I moved to Egypt and realized that comfort food in the Middle East generally involves rice, which was not on my comfort food radar at that point in time. Growing up, my family would eat rice for one of two reasons: either it was an accompaniment to some kind of “ethnic” meal, like Indian or Mexican food, or it was the only starch we had in the house. Potatoes, pasta, polenta and bread were always preferable to rice. So I associated rice with either foods outside of my comfort zone or as the undesirable substitute for much-loved potato dishes.
Continue reading

*MALIGNED VEGETABLES*
Recipe: Pumpkin Hummus

October 8, 2012

I’ve read numerous articles in defense of maligned vegetables, the most memorable being Frank Bruni’s praise of broccoli. I would argue that mushrooms—not broccoli—have the worst reputation and most fervent detractors. But what about that vegetable everyone loves yet only eats once a year in its singular, seasonal manifestation made from overly sweetened and spiced canned goods?

Of course, I’m referring to pumpkin and pumpkin pie. You may be thinking “Wait! We’re much more creative with pumpkin these days! I’ve seen pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin quick bread, even a pumpkin milkshake.” But delve a little deeper and you’ll realize that all of these dishes are made with canned pumpkin, lots of sugar, and “pumpkin pie spices.”

I rarely see fresh pumpkin or savory pumpkin dishes on menus, and that’s really a shame because fresh pumpkin is a versatile, unique, and tasty addition to a number of dishes. Also, fresh pumpkin puree is incredibly easy to prepare and it makes a much better pie than the canned stuff. Continue reading