This is the April 2006 issue of the Low Budget Vegetarian newsletter.

This issue includes:

- changing recommended nutrition standards
- slow-cooker easy bean cooking
- getting spices at ethnic groceries


About changing nutrition standards

One of the nice things about being in my mid-fifties, is that I have watched recommended nutrition standards change several times. The one consistent rule seems to be, that whatever the previous generation thought was good for you, isn't.

I thought of that while I was reading an article in the local coop newsletter. The title was, *The Truth about Saturated Fats*. (This week's truth, anyway.)

Recommended cooking oils used to be those with unsaturated fats, and saturated fats were to be avoided. So, oils like canola and safflower were recommended, and saturated fats like coconut oil were to be minimized or avoided.

Nope. Saturated fats are now in, unsaturated fats are out. The new recommended cooking oil is the old villain, coconut oil.

In another part of the newsletter, a cook that used to do classes on vegetarian macrobiotic cooking, avoiding red meat, is now doing classes on using 'grass-fed protein'. I think that means meat from grass-fed cattle - last I checked, protein didn't eat much.

The biggest flip-flops I have seen in my life are in relation to *CARBS* . For a long time they were to be avoided since carbs=calories, and calories are Evil. Then for awhile, good quality carbs from whole grains were in, and fat was out. Recently the fad was to have low carb or no carb diets that were high in fat and protein, although that appears to be passing.

Granted I am being mildly sarcastic here. My point is, Gentle Reader, consider taking changing diet standards with a few grains of salt (depending on whether sodium is in this week), and learn to pay attention to how your body reacts to food.

From my own personal experience, my body really likes a balance of whole grains and vegetables as the center of my diet, with judicious amounts of other food added in. The crucial thing seems to be balance, and whole living food, that has been processed as little as possible. I can tell that food is working for me, by a sense of peace, clarity and balance, and a lack of cravings. If I get too far away from grains plus vegetables, I feel off-balance and not as clear-headed.

Over the years I have watched my own ideas on diet change. The single most important difference, is that I am a lot more relaxed and open-minded now than I was in my earlier years. I am a lot less likely to jump on fad bandwagons, and I no longer view any food as my enemy. I am MUCH more aware of how important my attitude and state of mind is, towards myself and others. I would much rather cook with processed food, than prepare a meal while angry. The most nutritious food of all, is prepared and served with love and awareness. They are my two favorite ingredients.

So, trust your own body's intuitive wisdom. Pay attention to how you feel when you eat, and a few hours afterwards. What your body likes best may evolve over time, but I doubt you'll have the kind of scientific flip-flops you see in the news.


Slow-Cooker Easy Bean Cooking

I have been experimenting this month with cooking beans in a crock pot the ultimate lazy way - put them in the pot, add water, and let them sit until done.  No soaking, no pre-prep other than cleaning.

It works beautifully.

The traditional way to cook beans in many cultures, is to put them in water in a pot at the back of the fire, and just let them cook slowly, for a long time. That is exactly what a slow cooker does.

I have been putting the beans in the pot on low, in the evening after dinner, and then checking late afternoon the next day, when I'm ready to add vegetables and spices for dinner. I have tried this with pintos, kidney beans, garbanzos and soybeans, and all are done to extreme tenderness in that time frame. (Garbanzos and soybeans are both known for having long cooking times.) I have found them to be very digestible cooked this way.

I haven't yet tried split peas, which I normally cook stovetop.

When you cook beans this way, you need to remember that dried beans swell a lot, to something like 3 or 4 times their bulk. I have a 4 quart crock pot, and use 1 or 1-1/2 cups of beans, and cover with water to within about an inch of the top. I do not add any spices, salt or seaweed at all until after the beans are thoroughly cooked. You can check them after around 12-15 hours - cooking times may vary depending upon the pot you have, and how old the beans are. If they sit longer than necessary, that's fine. In my experience, any bean should be completely soft after 18-20 hours, and I think it's pretty much impossible to overcook beans.

For digestibility, the single most crucial thing is to cook them until they are very soft, with no crunchiness left at all. Do that, and be judicious in proportion of beans in a meal, and there's a good chance you'll be fine digesting them.


Getting spices at ethnic groceries

If you like vivid spices, and inexpensive spices, as much as I do, it is worth checking out your local ethnic grocers, to see what spices they have. You can often get spices a lot less expensively, and often of better quality or more vivid taste.

Here are a couple of my personal favorites.

Mexican oregano - the oregano you will find in Mexican groceries is stronger than the usual American market variety. This is especially good if you are fond of chili. You can often find it in economical bags. The brands I have found are 'Oregano Entero' or whole oregano, so I pick through it to take out some stems before I crush it into the food.

Thai basil - this is a dark green and purple in color, and tastes a lot stronger than usual basil. The fresh Thai basil I see in oriental markets is often a lot less expensive than the gourmet fresh basil in American stores - I have found it at something like $5.00 a pound, instead of $15 or $20 a pound at a supermarket or coop.

Dried red chili peppers - if you like these, consider buying them in bulk bags at Mexican, Indian or Asian groceries. Those cuisines all use large amounts of dried chilis, so they are a diet staple instead of an expensive luxury.


This has been a busy month for me, so I have just one new recipe for you.

Avocado Dulse Dip ( - I make a couple of different dips with avocados, all of them dairy free. Avocados are already high fat, so they don't need sour cream. They go very well with sharply sour, salty and hot spices, and they soak up massive amounts of garlic. They also go well with scallions and raw red onion.  This dip uses dulse flakes - dulse is a salty seaweed that is high in iron and other minerals.


And that is all for this month.

Happy and healthy eating to you, and best wishes for the New Year.

Charlie Obert


Low Budget Vegetarian Survival