I had gotten lazy. I’ll admit it. Since getting married almost five years ago, I had not really set foot in a kitchen (to cook, that is — I wash plenty of dishes). Not that I was any great chef before. But I was a bachelor, living alone, and I had my meager repertoire, including something called “Eggplant Surprise” — don’t ask what the surprise was. Even that was abandoned in the fairly commonplace division of labor that happens when two people make a home. She cooked. I cleaned.
But recently I’d started feeling strange about how disconnected I’d become from what I was putting in my mouth everyday. When you don’t cook, it’s easy to disregard what makes up the food you eat. When it’s something that’s made for you, it’s easy to stop thinking about how it’s made or — more importantly — what it’s made of. I can’t say I was eating unhealthily, but I just wasn’t very conscious beyond knowing, generally, what was good for me and what wasn’t.
Enter Mark Bittman and his new book, “VB6: Eating Vegan Before 6:00 To Lose Weight and Restore Your Health…For Good.” (And this is when I’m going to try my damnedest not to turn this post into an infomercial.) I don’t know what precipitated it — maybe one too many days of a pastry in the morning or a turkey sandwich that just made me feel sluggish — but about a month ago I started feeling the need for some kind of alteration in my eating habits. And then I discovered Bittman’s new diet book, which has a fairly simple and easy-to-follow main premise: Eat like a vegan before 6 pm.
Reprinted with permission from “VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health … for Good” by Mark Bittman.
Makes: 4 servings
Time: About 1 hour
Combining grains with vegetables and meat makes for a better meatball, moister and more complex in texture and flavor. The combination here is bulgur and spinach, but any soaked or cooked grains (brown rice or steel-cut oats are also nice) work well, as do mashed beans (use about 1½ cups).
There are just as many ways to eat these meatballs as there are to cook them: Put a few on a tossed green salad, stuff into a pita with sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, or add them to the tomato sauce on page 239 and simmer for a few minutes, then serve with pasta or on toast.
¼ cup medium-grind bulgur
1 cup boiling water
1 pound ground beef, or lamb
1 cup chopped cooked spinach (thawed frozen is fine), squeezed as dry as possible
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
Black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil
1) Combine the bulgur and boiling water in a small bowl; cover and soak until fully tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain in a strainer, then press out as much of the water as possible. Combine the bulgur, beef, spinach, garlic, and salt and sprinkle with pepper. Shape into 16 meatballs, handling them no more than is necessary.
2) Put the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, add some of the meatballs; work in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding. Cook, turning once or twice and adjusting the heat as necessary, until they’re firm and browned all over, 5 to 10 minutes. As they finish, transfer them to paper towels to drain and repeat with the remaining meatballs as necessary. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Nutritional Info (4 meatballs, made with 80% lean ground beef): Calories: 439 • Cholesterol: 81mg • Fat: 34g • Saturated Fat: 10g • Protein: 23g • Carbohydrates: 10g • Sodium: 609mg • Fiber: 3g • Trans Fat: 1g • Sugars: 0g
If there’s anything that reminds me of a day’s end, it’s a hot pot of tomato sauce bubbling on a stovetop. There was often one in my home on Friday nights growing up, attended to diligently by my mother, who would stir the ground veal meatballs within gently.
Spaghetti and meatballs: the perfect Shabbat meal. My lawyer father worked brutal hours early in his career, and though we didn’t eat dinner as a family every night, on Friday we waited until he finished with work, made it through rush hour traffic, offloaded his briefcase, snapped open a bottle of beer and plopped down to eat. The meatballs would simmer away patiently, soaking up sauce and getting only more delicious as we waited.
When finished, they were spooned over bowls of whatever noodles we had in the house. Sometimes it was spaghetti and sometimes it was cappellini, but if it was linguini, my father might muster his best Felix Unger and say: “It’s not spaghetti, it’s linguini!” We’d laugh, recalling the scene from “The Odd Couple” in which Walter Matthau, at his wit’s end, throws Jack Lemmon’s plate of noodles at the wall and proclaims, “Now it’s garbage!”
Unlike most of my friends, my parents didn’t inherit a lot of Jewish food traditions from my grandparents. My mother’s family had been in Canada for so many generations that they ate like WASPs. She grew up with roast beef dinners washed down with a glass of milk, and her mother’s cooking, which I experienced on visits to Montreal, was more a source of comedy than comfort.
Grandma cooked from a lot of cans and powders, which came out of a deep pantry that seemed to be restocked every two decades. She was capable of making a mean roast beef, it’s true, but a stern frugality flavored everything in that Formica kitchen. Her favorite dishes to prepare were “concoctions”, essentially experiments with leftovers. Some — the vanilla iced cream she melted, mixed with crushed red and white swirly mints liberated from restaurants, and refrozen — had their charms. Others, like the casseroles of no discernable origin, had my father sneaking out to Snowdon Delicatessen after dinner, to cleanse his palate with salted meats.