Sunday, May 31, 2009

What is a Vegetarian?

With so many different diets and food patterns emerging in society today, definitions can become easily blurred. What distinguishes a vegetarian from a vegan? What is a flexitarian?? Many individuals fall under the category of “vegetarian” that may in fact eat meat on occasion, particularly if it is in the form of fish or chicken. Yet some vegetarians will only eat dairy and eggs, but no meat at all. Let’s shed some light on the true definitions of what a vegetarian truly is.

Vegetarians by definition do not consume the flesh of any animal or anything that is a derivative of an animal, including fish. Lacto-ovo vegetarians will consume dairy products and eggs. Lacto vegetarians will consume dairy products but no eggs. Ovo vegetarians will consume eggs, but no dairy. Vegans by definition do not consume either dairy or eggs. Pescetarianism is the practice of vegetarianism where only fish and seafood are consumed. Pollotarianism is the practice of vegetarianism where only poultry or fowl are consumed.

The most recent form of vegetarianism to become prominent is called Flexitarianism. Flexitarians actually will consume meat, dairy and eggs on occasion in limited quantities. Flexitarianism has evolved as a compromise for those who for whatever reasons wish to maintain a largely vegetarian diet, but need to supplement their diets with the occasional consumption of animal proteins.

Vegetarians practice these food habits for many reasons ranging from religious obligations to cultural ones. Others simply believe it is a healthier way of eating. Whatever the reason an individual decides to practice vegetarianism, the issue always remains that a healthy balance of proteins must be obtained through non-animal sources. Often this comes in the form of beans, which are not only high in proteins, but fiber as well. The following is a recipe for a traditional Moroccan Couscous with Seven Vegetables. It is a fantastic recipe for vegetarians as it is rich in protein, high in nutrients and of course high in flavor.

Couscous with Seven Vegetables

Yields approximately 8 Servings

1 box of instant couscous
Olive oil
Boiling Water
3 Tbl Olive Oil
1 Onion, Diced
2-3 Garlic Cloves, Minced
2 Carrots, cut into 1” pieces
2 Parsnips, cut into 1” pieces
4 Red Potatoes, Skins left on and cut into 1” pieces
1 can chickpeas
1 Bunch Asparagus, Trimmed and cut into 1” Pieces (You can substitute green beans when in season)
½ cup Raisins, black or golden
Pinch Salt and Pepper
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsps ground cinnamon
Pinch of Saffron (If you don’t have saffron, you can use a pinch of turmeric, which is much cheaper)
2 Cups Vegetable Stock
1 Tbl Harissa (North African Chili Paste) or a couple dashes of hot sauce

For the couscous, empty box of couscous onto a large baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and a little boiling water. Carefully rub the oil and water all over the granules with your hands, spreading it out in one flat layer onto the baking sheet. Let sit for about 20 minutes. Repeat this process 3 times, each time making sure to rub the couscous between your hands so that the granules are separated and remain light and fluffy.

For the stew, heat the 3 Tbl olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until tender, about 8 mins. Add garlic and cook for one minute or until fragrant. Add carrots, parsnips and potatoes. Season liberally with the salt, pepper, ginger, cinnamon and saffron. Saute a couple of minutes to render the fragrance of the spices. Add vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour or until the vegetables are tender. Add asparagus or green beans, can of chickpeas and raisins and continue cooking, uncovered for an additional 15 minutes or until the asparagus is tender. Add the chili paste and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated and the sauce has thickened. Serve hot spooned over the couscous. This dish is almost better the next day reheated as it allows the flavors of the dish to marinate overnight.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What is a Locavore?

Locavore is a catch word that has become popular of late. Literally meaning “local eater,” the term refers to someone who consumes foods that come from resources located within no more than a 100 mile radius from home. The movement, while not recent, has gained momentum lately as consumers have become more aware of becoming “green” or using “sustainable agriculture.” Essentially, eating local makes environmentally, economically and from a health perspective.

Environmentally, locavorism reduces an individuals “carbon footprint,” meaning the amount of petroleum used in the production and transportation of a product is reduced, thereby reducing the amount of fossil fuels used and the amount of carbon dioxide being put into the atmosphere. It also encourages biodiversity, which studies have shown is beneficial in maintaining long term viability of soil.

From an economic perspective, eating local ensures that consumers contribute to their local economy, which is a great way of ensuring that businesses can continue to be viable and don’t get crowded out by large corporations. And contrary to popular belief, locally available produce and meats are not necessarily more expensive than produce and meats available in larger grocery stores. Particularly with higher gas prices, many groceries that were previously very affordable are now becoming more expensive because of the cost to produce and transport them.

From a health perspective, many local farms utilize organic farming practices. While they may not be certified organic due to cost of certification and regulations regarding proximity to commercial farms, these farms often refrain from using pesticides and antibiotics and often allow their animals to roam free, hence the term “free-range.” Also, keep in mind that many items labeled “organic” in the grocery store are not necessarily organic. There are many loopholes to certification that commercial farms often find to get certified that consumers are not aware of. This is a subject for a future article.

There are many locally available resources for produce, including Coneflower Farms and Plowcreek Farms outside of Princeton and Indian Trail Farms outside of Kewanee. For meats, Meadow Haven Farms here in Sheffield offers free-range chickens and organic grass fed beef and Red Barn Nursery offers free-range lamb. In Buda, Grubbsteaks offers free-range buffalo. While this list is by no means exhaustive, it is just an example of some of the many farms locally that provide these valuable resources. In the summer you can find many of these as well as a whole host of others at the Farmers Markets in both Princeton and Kewanee. Many farms also offer CSA’s, or Community Supported Agriculture programs, that you can join for an entire growing season, allowing you to take advantage of what is seasonal and fresh on a weekly basis.

Here at the Chestnut Street Inn we make an effort to go out of our way to utilize as many locally available resources as we can, including an annual subscription to Coneflower Farms CSA. We encourage all of you to do the same. It is a great opportunity to give back to the community while doing something good for the environment, your pocket book and your body. For more information on these and other locally available resources, contact us at or 815-454-2419.

Wraps Around the World

Join us for a special cultural food experience on June 6, 2009. We are doing a world tour called Wraps Around the World. It will feature wraps from seven different countries, highlighting cultural similarities through food. The menu will be as follows:

Japanese Shrimp Spring Rolls, Mexican Pork Taquitos, Moroccan Beef Briouats (Cigar Shaped Pastries), Greek Vegetarian Dolmades (Stuffed Grape Leaves), Polish Golumpki (Cabbage Rolls), Spanish Chicken Empanadas, Hungarian Palacinta (Crepes with Ricotta Filling and Apple Compote)

Seating will begin at 6:30pm. Cost is $28 per person plus tax. All non-alcoholic beverages are included. Beer and Wine are available for sale. Space is Limited. Reservations required. Call 815-454-2419 or email us at

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Spice of Life

Herbs and spices are an integral part of most ethnic cuisines. Rather than being an afterthought they are often the central themes of a dish around which various meats and vegetables are paired. The specific combinations of spices and herbs used by a particular culture are often key markers of those cultures, defining both their culinary habits and the particular climates in which they have emerged. There is more to spices than salt and pepper, however. The vast array of herbs and spices ranging from A to Z are almost endless and learning how to use and store these herbs and spices is critical to mastering the art of cooking.

Most spices and dried herbs have a shelf life of approximately six months after which they lose most of their flavor. In general, it is recommended that these be thrown away and replaced with a fresh batch of spices. Fresh herbs can generally last for a week if stored properly. There are two theories to how herbs can be stored. One is that you can place them in a cup of water and keep them on the counter away from direct sunlight which can bruise or damage the delicate leaves of some herbs. Another good method to lengthen the shelf life of fresh herbs is to rinse them gently in water and then wrap them in paper towels. Place the herbs wrapped in the paper towels in a Ziploc baggie and squeeze all the air out of the baggie before sealing. The baggie can then be stored in the refrigerator in the produce drawer.

Another key element to herbs and spices is how to buy them. Certainly most spices are available in most grocery stores in small containers by large national spice distributors who shall remain nameless. However, most of these spices are purchased because they can be bought in bulk and may or may not be of a good quality meaning they may either be old or tainted with other fillers. Spices should be purchased in small quantities from reputable spice purveyors.

A good local source is Austin Parker Natural Foods in Princeton, IL. Another great source for high quality spices is the internet. Many internet sources actually offer spices from particular countries, which is a fantastic way of learning about the specific flavor profiles of various types of cuisine. For example, there is a very noticeable difference between Mexican Cumin and Moroccan or Indian Cumin. The Mexican Cumin is generally smoky and almost spicy in nature. The Moroccan or Indian Cumin is subtle in flavor with an almost toasty flavor profile. Which type of cumin you use will completely changes the taste of a particular dish. Two good internet sources for spices are Penzeys Spices, which can be located at and Zamouri Spices, which is a Moroccan import store and has a fantastic collection of spices from all over the world. They are located at

One final note on herbs, when you can use fresh herbs over dried ones, do so. While the dried ones can certainly lend good flavor to a dish, nothing can substitute the potency and intensity of a fresh sprig of mint or leaf of basil. Most grocery stores do not carry high quality herbs and they are almost prohibitively expensive. Grow your own or go to a farmer’s market where local farmers often have fresh herbs available. Most herbs grow perfectly well in pots as long as they receive enough sunlight and water. No matter where you get your herbs and spices, don’t be shy. Try new flavors. You never know what you might enjoy and you may be surprised at how diverse your palette can become.