I'm often asked what "you people" eat when the subject of diet comes up. Not that I usually bring it up myself, mainly because of questions like that...
Cookery is the homier dance partner of Still Room work and a vital component of what we teach. Most of our research and experiments in reClaiming appropriate technology focus on ancient and medieval European writings and practices. However, trying to reCreate the diet can be problematic. Most of the writings focus on specialty items, feast days, high caste foods and other unusual or rare dishes. Though the European settlers were mostly peasants, the current standard North American diet is no help, either in reCreating diets of the past or an evolution of the future. It's largely a corruption of the meat intensive "rich man's" food, coveted by the non-Native peasantry that ended up here, altered by poverty as well the traditional native foods found in their new home. It's high fat, high salt, low quality, limited variety, and mismatched combinations are one of the primary sources of illness in this culture. To be healthy and to encourage health, the cornerstone must be diet. Studies have shown that the best way to achieve that is proper knowledge and practice of cookery. Although we do attempt authentic medieval dishes, there are much more available traditional sources to draw upon in our day-to-day living. As part of the Global Peasant movement, we specialize in traditional peasant cuisine from around the world. Traditional peasant foods are tasty, incredibly inexpensive, and can usually have most ingredients locally sourced. They are traditionally organic and much more nutritious. Traditional foods from mature cuisines have also been time-tested sometimes for thousands of years with the correct and appropriate food pairings - combining the proper proteins, carbohydrates, and other best nutrition factors. In most parts of the world, peasants do not have access to large amounts of meat, as it is usually a higher caste or price item, and therefore most peasant cookery is intrinsically vegetarian. They usually require less cooking time or prep from limited fuel supplies, and so have less vitamin degradation than more longer cooking dishes. It has very little, if any, waste. Cooking as a Global Peasant is therefore one of the healthiest, cheapest, easiest, and most eco-friendly practices available.
I have been focusing on specific Chinese and Indian regions for the past few years. To ensure proper food combinations, I never mix cuisines in any one meal, unless it's a traditional fusion. Like Indian/Chinese! Which I now have to study up on...
Here's one of the dishes we enjoy regularly. It's incredibly simple and can easily be converted to a vegan version. It makes use of pre-cooked rice from previous meals, as well as pre-cut veggies from others, so it's non-wasteful and budget-stretching.
Chinese Fried Rice
This is such an easy dish! If you have rice in the freezer, and choose to microwave it to defrost, it can take you about 7 min. start to finish to build this tasty, nutritious creation! Less if you have some cut, raw veggies sitting around...
Like many Chinese dishes, many of the ingredients are cooked separately, and then combined just before finishing. According to Jeff Smith in The Frugal Gourmet Cooks in Three Ancient Cuisines: China, Greece, and Rome , "in order to bring each food product in a particular dish to its own point of fulfillment, you must cook several ingredients separately, and then join them together in the wok at the last moment. In this way you have contrast in both flavor and texture, all in the same dish."
I use a small carbon steel wok for this. It's just the right size, imparts some iron, is highly efficient, and needs very little oil to cook with. One of the perfect Global Peasant cooking tools! I use my wok for everything. A small wok is one of the best kitchen investments you will ever make, if you don't have one already...
Don't forget to use a high heat cooking oil, like peanut, walnut, sunflower, or safflower. Soy oil won't cut it, since it is completely non-nutritive. Canola tastes weird, even when organic, and olive should never be cooked, as it degrades into transfats so quickly.
2-3 cups previously cooked rice, defrosted or partly dried
I use organic Jasmine rice with nearly all of my Chinese meals. The flavour is incomparable with any other type of Western or conventionally grown rice, as well as being more nutritious and eco-friendly. I usually steam extra for a meal, and put any we don't eat into the freezer. It's vital to this recipe that the rice sit overnight or is left in the freezer to dry out a bit. Wet or fresh rice will clump and not come out right.
1-2 fresh eggs
Feel free to leave these out if you are feeling vegany. I know that eggs often revolt me, but personally, this dish seems a bit incomplete without them. I haven't tried substituting tofu, though... Again, organic, local eggs are the clear choice for so many reasons, not the least of which is that they are safer and healthier. The chickens are not constantly exposed to broad spectrum antibiotics, and organic eggs are seven times less likely to contain salmonella.
Start by cooking the eggs. Use very little oil. I find too much makes the eggs a bit greasy. Stir fry. The effect you are looking for is a bit like scrambled eggs. Set aside.
frozen or fresh peas
I find peas to be integral to the dish. I can't even make it without them. If they are frozen, I put them in first for a minute or so. Then the remainder of the veggies. It's the only time I cut up carrots like those little cubed frozen ones. It's more fun, and rather like the take-out style. Same with the mushrooms, and sometimes the peppers. Onions, scallions, whatever you like! I often use pre-cut veggies from a previous meal, say from tacos or falafel. Anything we didn't use gets saved for a day or two, and goes into fried rice or omelets.
|Veggies should be about the same size, for ease of cooking time and for the look of the dish.|
This is the time to sprinkle in your seasonings. Salt, pepper, and maybe some five-spice powder, fennel or anise. After a few minutes of cooking, set aside on the same plate as the eggs.
|Defrosted jasmine rice in wok|
Make sure it's pretty well thawed, and stir fry with a bit of oil to remove any clumps. Add the soy sauce or tamari. Again, only organic is recommended, since it is made with non-GMO soybeans, which should be avoided. Just a little! A tablespoon or two. It's easy to overdo it, and your guests often add a bit more to their taste at the table.
|Rice sprinkled with tamari|
|Rice stir fried.|
Now add the rest of the ingredients. Stir fry for a few moments, reheating and distributing evenly.
Your dish is complete! I usually just serve it in the wok itself. Eat alone for satisfying lunch or snack, or as an accompaniment to a larger meal.
Now I'm all hungry...