Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Hooray for real food - and common sense!

Here's my review of this book, which I haven't read yet. I discovered it poking around on the site after reading most of The Way We Eat by Peter Singer -- which I plan to write about on this blog. I saw this book, and that it had only 19 reviews. Mostly I just wanted to say a word or two and do the good deed of making the number of customer of reviews 7% longer. But of course I got carried away.

Real Food, by Nina Planck
Bloomsbury USA
ISBN: 1596911441
My one-line summary: If you need a factory to make it, it's probably not real food -- and really not good for you.

Hooray for real food - and common sense!, November 15, 2006
Reviewer: Vesna Kovach "duonexus" (Madison, Wis. USA) - See all my reviews
Hooray! I'm thrilled that there's another voice crying in the wilderness, joining the likes of Sally Fallon (Nourishing Traditions) and Uffe Ravnskov (The Cholesterol Myths) in promoting real food over the fabricated analogs so in vogue in modern health literature.

So much dietary advice comes at us from all media these days, and much of it just seems founded in bizarre suppositions: the idea that we can be so darn certain about the long-term effects of food products and eating habits that are, relatively speaking, brand new.

For instance, we're told that a certain nutrient is essential, but that it's impossible to get enough of it from its natural food source. Three bushels of kale, 1200 tomatoes, that sort of thing. So we should eat some factory-made product that's fortified with the proper amount of the substance. Now, how could this possibly be? How could our bodies require any dosage that has been, for all but the last five minutes of human history, technologically impossible to ingest?

Here's another. The mainstream recommendation today is for low-fat dairy products for everyone who has reached the age of two. But consider this. I was a child only a few decades ago. No kid was subjected to low-fat anything. Low-fat versions of this, that and the other thing didn't even exist then. Yet, it was very unusual for any kid to be overweight. There would be one or two obese children among a given age in an entire elementary school. Today, children are increasingly fed low-fat (read: fake) versions of everything, and childhood obesity rates continue to climb. If full-fat dairy makes kids fat, why isn't it the reverse? Why didn't the childhood obesity epidemic occur when children ate full-fat products?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Slava with a friend, and Djuvec recipe

My friend Michelle came over to celebrate Slava with us today, and we cooked and feasted into the late hours. Michelle is fast becoming our Serbian holiday co-celebrant de rigeur -- she's already come for two Serbian Christmases in a row.

November 14 is my family Slava -- a Serbian custom celebrating the patron saint of the family. In my case, we have two, Sveti Kuzman i Damian (Cosmas and Damian). Slava originated way back when the Serbs converted to Christianity; the history is not completely known, but it's thought that they didn't want to abandon their family patron gods. That was the dealbreaker. When offered patron saints to replace their family gods, the pot was, evidently, sufficiently sweetened.

It's not known (as far as I can tell) whether the saints and saint days chosen corresponded in some way to the original gods of the household. Some say the date of a family's Krsna Slava is the anniversary of the day the family was originally baptized into Christianity. At any rate, I'm happy to observe it each year because the lineage reaches back into Serb antiquity even farther back than Serbian Orthodoxy, which is itself, in discourse at least, so often the non plus ultra of Serbian identity and heritage .

Most articles I've found on the Web (here's one) that explain Slava are heavily doctrinaire, and choked with a peculiarly stuffy religiosity that makes it hard for me, at least, to read. I do like this Wikipedia article.

Being an American, too, I made merry on the weekend date closest and most convenient to the authentic date. That's the American way of observance. (Thanksgiving is a notable exception; if it were being established today, it never would be set as a Thursday. And Christmas and New Year's Day wander peskily throughout the week. VIP birthdays and other commemorations, though, may be condensed and corralled with impunity to benefit the business calendar.)

Any get-together is a good reason to make fabulous food, especially a Serbian holiday. We made gibanica, djuvec, pogaca and, of course, kolach. I plan to get recipes for absolutely everything up on the blog eventually. For now, here is a heavenly djuvec. Enjoy!

Djuvec (JOO-vech, with a hard “j” as in “jingle”)
(Meat and vegetable casserole)

Djuvec is a Serbian layered casserole. It falls into the category of one-pot meals that are named after the vessel in which they are prepared. Another example is, in fact, the casserole; it’s the French word for a shallow baking pan.

Djuvec at its best is mellow and succulent, with a complex play of meat and vegetable flavors. It’s meant to be served straight out of the pot. As the top layer of sliced tomatoes roasts and concentrates, it becomes both decorative and delicious

I’m amazed by how much flavor this dish carries, since the seasoning is so minimal. It’s a wonderful tribute to the powerful deliciousness of vegetables. Tasting this dish, I realized I’ve come to rely on herbs, spices and stocks to create the flavor profile of a dish, using vegetables mainly for their volume, texture and color – but not especially for flavor. This djuvec brings home how potent are the tastes of tomato, of eggplant, of bell pepper, of celery. Onion, too, even though it isn’t caramelized, is a big player in this dish.

This recipe is adapted from one that I found in Yugoslav Cookbook (1963, Izdavacki Zavod Jugoslavija). That one calls for green peppers instead of red, and for 3 pounds of fresh, sliced tomatoes, instead of 1 pound fresh and 2 cans of crushed. The book calls for equal parts beef and pork, or, alternately, lamb.

It doesn’t specify what cut of pork (or anything else) to use. I chose country-style ribs – a cheaper cut with a moderately long cooking time and a fairly hefty amount of fat and flavor. Its strong pork presence can be overwhelming, but that’s a strength when you want flavor that will permeate a great big pot of food. Another good choice, I’ll warrant, would be pork belly. I’d love to try this with pork we’ve smoked in the smoker we built this summer, and with other meats as well. By contrast, a bad choice would be something like pork tenderloin – a delicacy that’s marvelous on its own, simply rubbed with salt, pepper and herbs and grilled or flashed cooked to medium rare. But it doesn’t have a lot of flavor to spare, and it would just get lost in a accompanying stew.

This dish is assembled in layers. Use a heavy pot with a big footprint. This recipe will fill two standard Dutch ovens. Halve the recipe for a single Dutch oven. I used a massive French oven casserole, which is similar to a Dutch oven, but its oval shape makes it suitable for use as a roaster as well. Ours is made by Club, and it’s a beauty in white-enameled cast iron with a black enamel interior. We got it at a Goodwill in the early 1990s for 10 bucks. What a fabulous deal.

1 large eggplant, cubed
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
Handful parsely, chopped
1 1/2 pounds onions, quartered
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 pound fresh tomatoes, sliced
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 t black pepper, approx.
4 pounds country-style pork ribs, cut off the bone and cut in 1" cubes
1 1/2 cups olive oil
1/3 cup uncooked white rice, or 1 cup day-old cooked rice

In a mixing bowl, toss together all the vegetables (except tomatoes and crushed tomatoes) with the salt, pepper and 1/2 cup of the olive oil.

In a heavy skillet over highest heat, sear the pork until nicely browned. (Sear pork in batches small enough that they don’t crowd the pan, so that there is enough space for evaporation. Otherwise, they’ll start to boil without browning.)

Put down layers in this order:
1 can crushed tomatoes
Half of the veggies
Remaining veggies
1 can crushed tomatoes
Sliced tomatoes
1 cup olive oil

Bake at 350 F for about 2 hours, or until the meat is tender and the rice is thoroughly cooked. Remove the lid for the second hour, to get the tomatoes to form a nice crust.