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Soy Story

Dear Friends:  I thought I would ride a different trail this month and chat about an important staple of vegetarian food.  So please indulge me while I tell you a little “Soy Story.”

Although, the oldest evidence of soy milk production is from China dated around AD 25-220.  Buzz over soy milk in America was light years away from its original use in China.  It was not until 1967, that Cornell University made an important taste discovery that sky rocketed soy awareness.  The woody flavor was not from the beans they learned, but from the processing.   Regaining their spirit of adventure, soy manufacturers like “Silk”, “Edensoy” “Soy Dream” and “Soy Fresh” to name a few developed a range of both organic and “natural” flavors to suit the taste of any one daring enough to try the stuff.

As a vegetarian, and lactose intolerant, I’ve been consuming soy milk and soy products for years.  I might even call my self an “action figure” on the campaign to promote soy cheese at our local pizza restaurant.  Most restaurateurs still react to vegetarians and dairy issues like were from another planet.  Perhaps we are, but also perhaps the whole vegetarian thing is rather hard to accommodate considering there are several types of vegetarians.

As a result, restaurants never truly identify their menus and leave the questioning to the patron.  This is often at great risk to the patron, as the servers, in many cases, cannot respond accurately to the questions of ingredients.  So, why all the fuss you might ask.  If it says, “vegetarian” then that should be enough.  Right?  Well, no, wrong!

There are many motivations that cause individuals to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle. These include religious, health, animal rights, environmental, and economic to name several. There are those that simply do not enjoy the taste of meat or fish.  Others are strictly religious and so avoid products or by-products from animal slaughter.  Others have allergies that prevent them from eating dairy, fish, or eggs.

So here is where things get complicated and why your local restaurant is willing to roll all their meatless dishes into one category that they call “vegetarian.”  Serious, or what is often referred to as Lacto-Vegetarians practice eating fruits, vegetables, grains, seeds, nuts and dairy products.  Even more serious are Vegans who eliminate the use of all animal products, including dairy products, eggs, and honey. Vegans especially avoid dairy for reasons of that might include lactose intolerance or because many dairy products contain rennet especially cheeses.  There are many that practice a semi-vegetarian diet that includes eggs and quite often some fish. The Ovo-Vegetarian diet includes eggs but not dairy products and an Ovo-Lacto Vegetarian diet includes both eggs and dairy products.  No wonder restaurants are confused.

I have been a Lacto-Vegetarian since 1973.  At that time it was very difficult to eat in restaurants, as the menus were very limited.  By 1980 I became seriously allergic to cow’s milk so that ended eating milk cheeses until I discovered that I could eat goat or sheep cheese and enjoyed the sharp and spicy soy cheese.  Finally in the 1990’s more and more restaurants served goat cheese with various salads and vegetables.  This was ground breaking and made eating out more tolerable, but still no soy.

Unfortunately, lack of understanding, and lack of market power are the enemies of vegetarians. Of minor concern to the fast food industry, and major concern to vegetarians, is that fact that fast food French fries were made with animal fat.  When Starbucks sold Latte’s with Soy milk, I was thrilled at their market ingenuity. A few years later, but happily on target, Panera sold Soy milk. Bravo to all you soaring entrepreneurs.

So what will it take for the restaurant associations to educate their members on some simple, practical, and customer-appeal menu planning?  Not to speak of educating staff about menu ingredients.   For example, not all “vegetarian” Boca Burgers are made without cheese.  Why not get the Vegan Burgers and add cheese for an extra 50 cents and keep both Lacto and Vegan customers happy?  Sounds so ridiculously easy that I wince at mentioning it.  I only hope this blog letter gets into the hands of the president of the Restaurant Association and not Mr. Potato Head.

Now for all of you naysayers, let me mention that the absolutely best VEGAN restaurant I have ever eaten in was located in San Francisco, California. The Millennium Restaurant, located at 580 Geary Street, Telephone (415) 345-3900.  According to their website, the “Millennium Restaurant is dedicated to supporting the essential earthly concepts of organic food production, small farms, sustainable agriculture, recycling and composting. We cook with fresh produce delivered every day, and choose organic whenever possible. We believe that a gourmet dining experience can be created out of vegetarian, healthy, and environmentally friendly foods. We are proud to state that our restaurant is completely free of genetically modified foods.”

Over the past 39 years, I’ve managed to come up with a few delicious VEGAN recipes, some of which include the use of either soy milk or soy curd (tofu).  You might like to try this rice dish, which sent a recent corral of guests to the moon and beyond!  Enjoy.

God bless. Olivia

Olivia’s Brown Rice Pilaf

Cooking Instructions:

  • 1 Package of NASOYA EXTRA FIRM TOFU (14oz size) cut into ½ inch cubes.
  • San-J Organic Tamari (Soy Sauce that is also available “wheat free”)
  • 2 cups (about 8 ounces) sliced fresh mushrooms (your choice)
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 4 stalks of celery diced
  • One large bag of frozen peas
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 oz Pinoli Nuts (pine nuts)
  • 3/4 cup of freshly chopped parsley.
  • 1-lb bag Lundberg® Wild Blend Rice
  • 2 Herb Vegetable Bouillon Cubes
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Begin by rinsing the rice. Add four cups of water to a two-quart saucepan.  Add two vegetable cubes.  To boiling water add 2 cups rice and stir (If you use the whole bag of rice, then simply measure double the amount of water).  Place the lid back on the pot. Turn the flame all the way down to low. The rice will take approximately 45 minutes (take more time for softer rice, less time for crunchy rice.) After 45 minutes, turn the flame off and keep the lid on.  Let sit until you have your vegetable mixture completed.
  • While the rice is steaming, cut up the tofu into ½ inch cubes and toss with Tamari Soy Sauce. On a cookie sheet, lined with aluminum foil, which you have brushed with olive oil, place the cubes of tofu.  Put the tray into the oven to brown.  Check often and rotate the cubes so that all edges are browned.
  • Place Pinoli nuts on a pie dish and toast or broil in oven until slightly browned.  This is quick so be careful not to burn the nuts. Remove and set aside.
  • Cut up mushrooms and toss in soy sauce.  Heat a large deep skillet.  Then add oil. When oil is hot, add mushrooms and sauté mushrooms until slightly browned and tender.  Do not crowd the mushroom if you expect them to get evenly browned. Remove mushrooms to a side dish.
  • In the same sauté pan, add a little more oil.  When oil is hot, add onions.  After a few minutes, add celery.  Toss and stir in pan until both are tender.
  • Add peas to a pot of boiling water or place in the microwave.  Heat through, but do not overcook. Strain the peas.
  • Mix together in the skillet, onions, celery, mushrooms, and peas.
  • Remove the tofu from the oven and add to the skillet mixture.
  • Add ½ cup of chopped parsley to skillet and toss all gently.
  • When rice is cooked, transfer to a large bowl in sections.  Between sections add your vegetable tofu mixture until all is blended.
  • Top with toasted Pinoli Nuts and ¼ cup of parsley.
  •  Makes 6-8 servings.


2 Responses to “Soy Story”

  1. Nada says:

    Dear Olivia,
    Although he loved his hamburgers, my son decided at the of five, twenty years ago, that he will no longer eat “dead animals”, and that included fish. Thank you for the recepie, will try it for his next visit.
    Big hug,

  2. Vicente says:

    Bookmarked, I enjoy your blog! 🙂