Articles in Vegan

Barbara Massaad with Syrian children at a Bekaa Valley refugee camp. Credit: Courtesy of Barbara Massaad

When faced with almost 1 million needy people, a bowl of soup — even a large vat — doesn’t go a very long way.

But Barbara Massaad refuses to let the daunting scale of the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon deter her from doing her small part to help — one bowl of soup at a time.

“If I were a barber, I would go and cut [refugees'] hair for free. But I write cookbooks, so that’s what I hope to use to better their lives,” Massaad says.

The longtime Beirut resident, founding member of Slow Food Beirut and author of the award-winning cookbooks “Man’oushé,” “Mouneh,” and “Mezze” recently embarked on a new venture: Soup for Syria. The project’s goal is to create a crowd-sourced cookbook of soup recipes and use the proceeds to build and stock a communal pop-up kitchen in the Bekaa Valley, a part of Lebanon that has become home to more than 300,000 Syrian refugees.

“Entire families — of up to 25 people — live in tents where the cold, water and mud seep through,” says Massaad, who visits a Bekaa refugee camp weekly, bringing donated clothing and vats of soup. “Some families have grains and pulses [beans], but people eat lots of potato chips and bread. Meat, vegetables and fruit are scarce. I would like to give parents [in the camp] a tool to feed their children healthy meals.”

With nearly 2.6 million Syrians registered as refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt — and an estimated 6.5 million more internally displaced — food insecurity is a growing concern.

According to a World Food Program report last year, 73% of refugees surveyed in Lebanon said they did not have enough money to buy food; about half of the displaced Syrian families residing in the country have cut down their daily number of meals from three to two. UNICEF estimates that 5.9% of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon and 4% of those in Jordan are malnourished.

Massaad says she hopes to inspire other people to help Syrian refugees as the conflict in their country enters its fourth year. Indeed, hers is not the only initiative trying to tap culinary know-how and skills to make a difference.

Elsewhere in Beirut, a group of refugee women have established a catering company dedicated to regional Syrian cooking, with the help of the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, the Lebanese branch of the Caritas charity, and the acclaimed local restaurant Tawlet – Souk al-Tayeb. Trained in professional cooking skills, food safety, and presentation, the women now serve up their culinary history at the Souk al-Tayeb farmer’s market, food fairs and other events.

“I am trying to prepare and sell … traditional dishes to generate an income that my family and I can live on, instead of waiting for the aid that is given to us,” one participant, Samira Ismail, told the regional news portal Al-Shorfa.com.

Before the conflict broke out in spring 2011, Syria — particularly its ancient cities of Aleppo and Damascus — was being touted as the next hot culinary tourism destination. Its fertile soil yielded flavorful ingredients and spices for a cuisine incorporating influences from around the greater Middle East, the historic Silk Road trading caravans and the diverse communities of Ottoman times. In 2005, the International Academy of Gastronomy in France awarded Aleppo its Grand Prix de la Culture Gastronomique for “having achieved distinction in the field of gastronomic culture.” Today, though, even staple food products are difficult to find and hard to afford in Syria.

As displaced Syrians in Lebanon and around the region struggle to survive, cooking dishes from home provides additional sustenance and a way to stay connected to their beleaguered country. It also helps to keep alive a once-thriving food culture — one that is at risk in their devastated homeland.

Addas bi Hosrom

A Syrian man from Aleppo named Omar Abdulaziz Hallaj shared this lentil soup recipe with “Soup for Syria” founder Barbara Massaad. “Hosrom,” also known as “verjuice,” is a concentrated sour liquid made from unripe grapes. Fresh lemon juice in season can be substituted for the verjuice.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

2 cups red lentils

10 cloves garlic

1 cup vegetable oil

1½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoon ground Lebanese seven-spice mix*

2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

½ to 1  cup verjuice (depending on how sour it is)

Directions

1. Boil the lentils in a large pot with 6 cups water until the lentils dissolve into a homogeneous soup. Remove foam from top of liquid as it emerges. Cook the lentils for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until tender.

2. During the last 10 minutes of cooking, add the spices and verjuice to the soup.

3. In a skillet, fry the garlic in the oil until it is browned, but not blackened. Add the oil-and-garlic mixture to the soup while still hot. Mix well, then boil on low heat for a few minutes.

4. Serve hot with toasted-bread croutons. Garnish with a sprinkle of hot red paprika.

* Lebanese seven-spice mix is a blend of equal parts powdered nutmeg, ginger, allspice, fenugreek, cloves, cinnamon and black pepper.

Main photo: Barbara Massaad with Syrian children at a Bekaa Valley refugee camp. Credit: Courtesy of Barbara Massaad

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Potato Kebabs (Kartof Kababï). Credit: Charles Perry

They like their shish kebab in the Caucasus. The Azerbaijanis even make a potato version. It’s not really that exotic — just a fancier way of making roasted potatoes, really — but it is delicious, looks cool and might help vegetarians feel less like wallflowers at the barbecue.

The idea is simple. String small potatoes on skewers and grill until nicely browned. To serve, sprinkle with salt, red pepper, green onions and melted butter. It’s the sort of thing that is quite convenient to do when you’re barbecuing something else.

Probably the Azerbaijanis’ inspiration was the older Middle Eastern tradition of grilling chunks of eggplant on a skewer. They adapted the dish to the potato after it arrived from the New World. And they did the same with another New World import, the tomato.

Tomato kebab is a little less exotic though, at least if you were around for the Greek food craze that swept the country in the 1960s. Back then souvlaki just wasn’t souvlaki unless you inserted cherry tomatoes between your chunks of wine-marinated beef. Pomidor kababï is the same idea except that it does without the meat.

Interestingly, according to the photo I’ve seen, the tomatoes are pierced through the sides, rather than from the stem end. The recipe recommended small, juicy, fully ripe tomatoes, apparently of some size between cherry and Roma, which I imagine are best if you can get them.

Both these ideas come from “Azärbayjan Kulinariyasï,” a polyglot coffee-table cookbook published in Azeri, Russian and English.

Yes, there is an English translation but you can’t necessarily go by it. Take the recipe for gabirga-kabab, which reads, “Cut into equal pieces fat mutton brisket. These pieces string on a spit with flesh on one side and roast over charcoals. Dress with coiled onions, shredded herbs and pomegranate grains, when serving.”

From studying the Azeri and Russian texts and the photos, you can figure out that “coiled onions” are onion rings, “shredded herbs” are cilantro and “pomegranate grains” can be narsharab, a sweet-sour molasses made from boiled-down pomegranate juice, like the Lebanese dibs rumman but rather more tart.

As for this potato kebab recipe, the book calls for 16 “middle-sized potatoes left whole” but the photo shows oblong new potatoes cut in half. It sounds as if you can use just about any smallish spuds so long as they aren’t so thick that they will take too long to cook.

By the way, if you’re thinking about grilling tomatoes this way, you had better use the Middle Eastern skewers with a flat blade shape. On old-fashioned round skewers, the tomatoes will tend to slip, making it hard to turn the skewer over. They will cook in about 20 minutes.

Potato Kebabs (Kartof Kababï)

Serves 2

Ingredients

6 small potatoes

2 ounces (½ stick) butter, melted

Salt and ground red pepper to taste

1 bunch green onions, roots and ½ of green part trimmed

Directions

1. Cut and skewer the potatoes. Remove the eyes.

2. Start your barbecue. If using charcoal, burn until the briquettes are covered with gray ash.

3. Brush the potatoes very lightly with melted butter and grill, turning over from time to time to check doneness. When the potatoes can easily be pierced with a fork (taking care not to break them) and are browned on  both sides, about 45 minutes, remove and serve, sprinkled with salt and pepper and garnished with green onions with the rest of the melted butter on the side.

Top photo: Potato Kebabs (Kartof Kababï). Credit: Charles Perry

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The person who taught me to cook, my beloved stepmother Mary, died in January at the age of 95. She came into my life when I was 14 and motherless, lost in a sea of boys. Our family was in a state of disarray, and with amazing grace, she put it back together again.

Mary, aka Mumsie (my stepsister, who was also part of this wonderful bargain, called her Mumsie, as in “Mumsie and Daughtsie,” so I did too), was a woman of tremendous style and fun. She was also a great cook. I will never grasp how she managed to go seamlessly from being a single mother of one for 15 years to being a wife and mother of five; from turning out meals for two to preparing festive family dinners for seven or more every night when we were all home during school vacations. The French would say of those evenings, “c’était la fête tous les soirs“: It was a party every night.

She made dishes you just didn’t see in mid-1960s suburban Connecticut: ratatouille, pan-cooked Italian peppers, arugula salads. She roasted lamb rare. Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding were not for Christmas dinner; they were for dinner … maybe once a week! So much meat. I always said, when I became a vegetarian in the ’70s, that the reason had nothing to do with principles; I simply had had my quota of meat by then.

Mary tricked my father, who was vegetable-phobic, into eating vegetables. One August night during the summer after they were married, he told her that he didn’t eat corn on the cob because it gave him stomach trouble (he was convinced that all vegetables gave him stomach trouble). She took a paring knife and deftly scored each row down the middle of the kernels. “If you score the kernels,” she told my father, “the corn will be much more digestible.” This was totally bogus, but he fell for it, and from then on we would have amazing corn fests every night throughout the summer. “It’s a short season,” we would say, as we passed the platter around the table for the fourth time, butter dripping down our chins.

My education in the kitchen began with salads. “Go in the kitchen and help Mary with the salad,” my father would say to me and my sister, while he and my brothers carried on in the den. She gave me the ingredients for a vinaigrette, some measuring spoons and a whisk, and told me what to do with them (3 parts oil to 1 part lemon juice or vinegar, dry mustard, salt, pinch of sugar, marjoram, pepper). This was much more fun than washing and drying lettuce (three different kinds — romaine, red leaf and Boston — unlike the iceberg salads with Russian dressing of my childhood), a task I learned early on to relegate to my sister and friends. There were no salad spinners then; we had a folding mesh lettuce basket that you swung around outside, weather permitting, hoping you would not dislocate your shoulder. I learned to slice the mushrooms and the radishes thin, to score the sides of the cucumber before slicing it; I discovered the avocado.

I didn’t grow up cooking by my mother’s side, as some girls did. I was a teenager before I became interested. Then Mary taught me by giving me the tools and telling me what to do or pointing me to a recipe, sometimes from afar. The summer I started cooking (beyond vinaigrette and salads) was the summer between my junior and senior years in high school. I was 17, I had a job at the local newspaper, and my parents were not around much because my father, a writer, was working on a play in New York City. I told Mary I wanted to learn to cook.

“What do you want to cook?”

“The things we eat,” I responded.

I do remember Mary walking me through a very simple spaghetti sauce — showing me how to cook the onion and add the garlic, then brown the meat, etc. But mainly, I would tell Mary what I wanted to cook, and she would tell me what book the recipe was in, the most frequently used being Julia Child’s “The French Chef,” Irma Mazza’s “Accent on Seasoning” and Mildred Knopf’s “Cook, My Darling Daughter.” If I wanted to make something really simple, like broiled lamb chops, she’d just tell me what to buy at the butcher’s and how long to broil the chops on each side.

Every day after work, I would go to the market (and charge the food to my parents), then go home and make dinner for myself and my sister, and whoever else was around (our boyfriends, who knew a good deal when they saw it). Cooking was fun for me, and easy; my food tasted good because I’d had such good food at home, I knew what I wanted it to taste like. By summer’s end I was giving dinner parties, and continued to do this when I returned to boarding school, where I would borrow a teacher’s house from time to time. But it never occurred to me then that I’d make a career of this passion.

My sister and I have always been amused by Mumsie’s adoring, proud line about my work, something she said when I was promoting my second cookbook in the early 1980s. I was preparing a press luncheon that my parents hosted in their beautiful Los Angeles apartment (they had moved to L.A. in the mid-’70s), and she exclaimed  — “she took a frying pan and a piece of paper and forged a career!” But it was Mary who gave me the frying pan … and the wok … and the casserole … and the Sabatier knife, and the food memories and first recipes … and always, the support and encouragement.

Spinach Salad With Mary’s Basic Salad Dressing

The dressing is a slight variation on the recipe for Mary’s Basic Salad Dressing that I published in my first cookbook, “The Vegetarian Feast.” The spinach salad recipe is one I found scrawled on the endpapers of “Accent on Seasoning,” a cookbook Mary used so often that the cover fell off when I removed it from the shelf as I was cleaning out her apartment.

Serves 6

Ingredients

For Mary’s Basic Salad Dressing:

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon white or red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ to ½ teaspoon dry mustard or 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Freshly ground pepper to taste

1 small garlic clove, put through a press or puréed in a mortar and pestle

½ teaspoon dried marjoram

1 teaspoon chopped fresh herbs (such as tarragon, parsley, dill; optional)

9 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, or a mixture of grapeseed or sunflower oil and olive oil

For the salad:

10 ounces (1 bag) fresh spinach (this was before baby spinach; 1 bag baby spinach could be substituted today)

6 strips crisp bacon

1 bunch scallions, sliced

¼ pound fresh mushrooms, sliced

Directions

1. Whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, salt, mustard, pepper, garlic and herbs. Whisk in the oil or oils.

2. Stem, wash and dry spinach (Mary underlined “dry” in her handwritten recipe). Put in bowl, crumble bacon over top, add sliced scallions and mushrooms. Chill until ready to serve.

3. Toss with dressing and serve.

Variation: In the recipe scrawled inside Mary’s book, she includes an egg yolk in the vinaigrette.

Top photo: Mumsie, in the kitchen. Credit: Courtesy of Martha Rose Shulman

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Escarole, cabbage and spinach. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Everyone claims to want to cook simple food. As soon as we’re in the kitchen, things aren’t so simple. It’s actually hard to cook simple dishes because we cooks always want to fiddle or add things or just not stand around looking at “simple,” because simple doesn’t require much, that’s why it’s called simple.

The irony is that once we start our fiddling and the simple dish becomes more complicated, it often ends up not the best thing in the world. Here’s the deal, I think. You’ve got to trust your food. You’ve got to trust that raw food is actually delicious without you manipulating it beyond recognition. You’re not Ferran Adrià, and furthermore, that’s a style of cooking that should not necessarily be replicated.

So in this recipe I’m going to ask you to force yourself not to work too hard, which will mean you’ll have to resist the temptation to add herbs, spices or other stuff, such as truffle oil or kale or whatever. In this simple dish you’ve got to do nothing. There are only six ingredients (if you count the salt), but how they interact is the magic of cooking.

In this preparation, you’ll sauté the escarole, a slightly bitter green when eaten raw. It’s also called chicory since it’s a kind of chicory, along with Savoy cabbage, which is crinkly leafed cabbage with leaves that are more tender than the common green cabbage. Finally you’ll stir in the spinach for the briefest of moments, just until the leaves wilt. Now eat it — don’t do anything else. Don’t garnish it.

Simple Escarole, Cabbage and Spinach

Serves 4 as a side dish

Ingredients

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 large garlic clove, finely chopped

¾ pound escarole (chicory), washed well and thinly sliced

¾ pound Savoy cabbage, thinly sliced

½ pound spinach leaves

Salt

Directions

1. In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil with the garlic over medium-high heat until the garlic starts sizzling.

2. Add the escarole and cabbage and cook, stirring frequently, until a minute past wilted, 4 to 5 minutes.

3. Add the spinach and cook, stirring, only until it is wilted, about 1 minute.

4. Salt to your taste and serve hot.

Top photo: Escarole, cabbage and spinach. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

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Gourmet flavored popcorn. Credit: Caroline J. Beck

It’s Oscars time, and in addition to dressing for the occasion, we always like to set the table with award-worthy snacks. Some years required black-tie starters like Champagne and oysters. Other years, California-made cheeses like Cypress Grove’s Humboldt Fog and the wonderfully stinky Red Hawk from Cowgirl Creamery competed for Best Cheese in a Supporting Role. But this year, we plan to honor the movies with their best-loved partner, popcorn.

Of course, because it’s the Oscars, it couldn’t be just any microwaved popcorn. Last week when I found some dried popcorn being cut off the cob at the farmers’ market, I knew it was time to use my newly inspired love for spices to elevate popcorn to a starring role.

First, you must be willing to set aside the iconic melted butter and find the very best extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) to dress the hot kernels. EVOO’s intense flavor will lend an earthy, grassy, herbal flavor that just belongs with farm-grown popcorn.

Next, your choice of salt is critical to the perfect box of popcorn. It’s got to be soft enough to cling to the kernels, but crunchy enough to hold its own on the palate. I found that the moisture of grey sea salt fit the bill perfectly.

Finally, adding variety with ground spices, grated cheeses and even cocoa powder creates an interesting mix of options for movie-loving guests. Any blend of favorite flavors will do, but my winning combination was hot salted popcorn tossed with grated pecorino romano cheese, sprinkled with Aleppo pepper flakes and doused with another healthy drizzle of olive oil.

Old-Fashioned, New-Flavored Popcorn

Serves 4

 Ingredients

½ cup popcorn kernels

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil, to taste

Sea salt, to taste

Flavoring suggestions:

Grated hard or semi-hard cheese

Aleppo or Marash chili pepper

Cocoa powder mixed with sugar

Cinnamon

Smoked paprika

Saffron

Freshly ground peppercorns

Directions

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a 3-quart, deep saucepan. As soon as the oil melts and spreads evenly, add enough kernels to fill one layer on the bottom. Cover and increase heat to high flame. As soon as the corn starts popping, shake rigorously over heat until popping is complete.

2. Immediately dress with olive oil and salt and toss to coat.

3. If you are adding grated cheese, do so immediately after removing from heat to ensure that cheese clings to popcorn.

4. Sprinkle with other seasonings to taste.

Top photo: Spiced popcorn. Credit: Caroline J. Beck

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Sweet pea guacamole. Credit: Caroline J. Beck

It’s so easy to gobble up a big bowl of guacamole. Just mash a dozen avocados, add some spiced-up tomatoes, garlic and citrus juice. When surrounded by a pile of fresh tortilla chips, nothing disappears faster in our house when it comes to party starters.

But what to do when you don’t happen to have an avocado tree in your backyard and the price of out-of-season green globes starts climbing into the stratosphere? Sweet peas, fresh or frozen, provide an amazingly tasty alternative when made a little creamier with extra virgin olive oil. If you blindfolded your guests, they would be hard pressed to name the main ingredient, but they’d be just as happy with the flavor.

Best of all, sweet pea guacamole doesn’t turn that nasty brownish gray color over time like avocados do as they oxidize. You can even make it a day or two before the party and it will look and taste just as fresh as the moment you created it.

I have Michelin-starred chef María José San Román to thank for my first introduction to this simple swap when I joined her at Nancy Harmon Jenkins’ Amorolio event in Tuscany. As English shelling pea season kicks into high gear this spring, I’m going to be digging into my own riff with this nonclassical composition.

Sweet Pea Guacamole

Jalapeños can be very hot or mild, so test the level of spice before adding to your dish, according to your preference.

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 pound fresh sweet peas, shelled

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 shallot, chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

2 jalapeño peppers or to taste, chopped

Juice of 2 limes

2 ripe avocados (optional)

2 teaspoons salt

¼ cup cilantro, minced

Directions

1. Steam peas until tender, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, cool.

2. In a blender or food processor, purée peas, olive oil, shallot, garlic, jalapeños and lime juice until almost smooth but still a bit chunky.

3. In a medium bowl, combine mashed avocado, if using, with pea mixture, leaving chunky. Add salt to taste. Garnish with cilantro. Serve with tortilla chips.

Top photo: Sweet pea guacamole. Credit: Caroline J. Beck

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Legumes, clockwise from top: chickpeas, brown lentils, red lentils (masoor dal), green gram (moong dal), black gram (urd dal), pigeon pea (red gram or toor dal). Credit: Clifford A. Wright

The variety of dried legumes used in Indian cooking can become quite mind-boggling. When you are in an Indian market, you may find yourself walking back and forth in the aisle trying to figure out what’s what.

When I was writing my book “Some Like It Hot: Spicy Favorites from the World’s Hot Zones,” I came up with some explanations I hope are helpful.

The best known Indian dish using dried legumes is called dal and although that word simply means legume, the prepared form is a kind of mushy side dish made with the legumes, spices and chilies. Many Indian dishes also use dried legumes as a kind of seasoning, sometimes calling for as little as half a teaspoon in other, more complex, concoctions.

Some dal favorites include red gram, black gram and green gram. Sometimes the word dal specifically refers to split dried legumes. Adding to the confusion, Indian authors writing in English sometimes use the same word for two different legumes. Here’s a little guide to help (or confuse) you more. Arhal dal or tur dal (toor dal) are either split red gram or pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan L.). But tur dal, and also thuvar dal, is used by some authors to mean yellow split peas (Pisum sativum L. var. hortense). The English word gram derives from the Portuguese word for grain, which is what the early Portuguese voyagers to India called these little dried legumes in India.

More on sorting out Indian dal

Gram generally means chickpea (Cicer arietinum L .), specifically Bengal gram (also channa dal), but can also mean any dried legume.

Channa dal is the whole or split chickpea although some writers use it to refer to yellow split pea.

Black gram (Vigna mungo L. syn. Phaseolus mungo) is urad dal known also as urd, and sometimes called horse bean, horse gram, Madras gram, sword bean and jackbean (bada-sem). This is complicated by the fact that those last five identified as urad dal are a different species, Canavalia ensiformis L. and also called kulthi dal. Urad dhuli dal is the white version or split white gram.

Sometimes chowli or chowla dal or lobia is the cowpea, also known as black-eyed pea (Vigna unguiculata L. subsp. unguiculata syn. V. sinensis), although chowla dal also refers to the related Vigna catjang.

Beginner’s dal sauté. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Beginner’s dal sauté. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Green gram (Vigna radiata L. syn. Phaseolus aureus and P. radiatus) is more familiarly known as mung bean and in India is known as moong dal. Kesari dal (Lathyrus sativus L.), or grass pea. If you eat too much of it, grass pea causes a crippling disease called lathyrism.

Masoor dal is split red or yellow lentils (Lens culinaris Medikus syn. L. esculenta; Ervum lens; or Vicia lens).

To round out the dals, matki is moth or mat bean (Vigna acontifolia), sem (also valpapdi, avarai) is hyacinth bean (Lablab purpurus [purpureus] (L.) Sweet. syn. L. niger Medik. and Dolichos lablab L.) and sutari is rice bean (Vigna umbellate).

OK, got that? Personally, no matter what a recipe you’re following says, I find that the cooking of all this is quite easy. It’s only if you were to write a recipe for someone else that it gets confusing.

Beginner’s Dal Sauté

Serves 4

Ingredients

3 tablespoons black gram (urad dal)

3 tablespoons green gram (moong dal)

3 tablespoons dried chickpeas

3 tablespoons red lentils (masoor dal)

3 tablespoons pigeon pea (red gram or toor dal)

2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil

Salt

Directions

1. Place all the legumes in a saucepan and cover with cold water by several inches. Turn the heat to high and once it comes to a boil, cook, salting lightly, until tender, 45 to 60 minutes.

2. Drain and place in a sauté pan with the olive oil and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Salt to taste.  Serve hot.

Top photo: Legumes, clockwise from top: chickpeas, brown lentils, red lentils (masoor dal), green gram (moong dal), black gram (urd dal), pigeon pea (red gram or toor dal). Credit: Clifford A. Wright

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Apps

These app reviews will teach you to become a vegan in 21 days or to mix perfect cocktails from sight alone. There’s also a complete guide to garden herbs (perfect for a farmers market) and finally, a tool to identify the hottest peppers. Enjoy!

Eyeball those cocktails

Clinq takes a strikingly different approach to the cocktail recipe. Instead of listing shot measures, Clinq shows you the ratio of ingredients, each represented by a different color. The idea being, whether you’re making one drink or 20, you’ll get the measures right without counting shots. The stunning yet simple visuals add to the app’s appeal. The home page gives you a choice of five different spirits (gin, vodka, whiskey, bourbon and rum) spelled out in stylish black typeface on a white background. Once you touch the screen to make your choice the screen slides to the left, revealing the outlines of four different glass shapes (highball, martini, hurricane and lowball). Choose your glass and you are given a choice of cocktails — there are over 140 listed. Once the color-coded ratio is shown, you can press the screen for a few seconds and the ingredient names are revealed, then hold it again for a few more and the cocktail making procedure is shown. It may take a few times to get used to the controls, but this has to be one the more creative apps around. Happy mixing!

99 cents on iTunes

Help for the Virgin Vegan

Just how does one become a vegan? The first step is probably the most difficult, but if you want to take it, 21-Day Vegan Kickstart might just be the app you need.  Designed by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the app provides you with daily food lists and recipes to help you along your vegan route. You are able to see what ingredients you’ll need a week in advance, then each day you are given a plan for breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus a snack (one I imagine you will look forward to each day).  Click on the meal and the page flips, providing you with the recipe and nutritional information.  All in all, a very resourceful app that is simple to use and follow. It might just change the way you eat, forever …

Free on on iTunes

How hot is that pepper?

Say you’re cooking up a vindaloo curry or making a salsa, and you want to calibrate the heat that you’ll be bringing. When you’re talking peppers, you need to know one word: Scoville. That’s the name of the scale that measures a pepper’s spiciness.  Every pepper has a Scoville rating, from the slightly sweet bell (0 units) to the burn-your-head-off habanero (100,000 to 350,000 units).  The scale was invented by Wilbur Scoville a century ago — and no, he didn’t assign the heat levels by chomping his way through the world’s chilis. He got other people to do it for him. Scoville the app lists pretty much every pepper in existence, its Scoville rating, and tasting notes or other background information.  The “Jamaican hot,” for example, has flavors of apples, apricots and citrus (under a furnace-like heat on your palate, one presumes) and is mainly used for hot sauces in the Caribbean. In fact, after a quick browse, it seems that everything higher on the scale than the habanero has some sort of health warning and can only be eaten in the tiniest of quantities, with a pint of milk at the ready. One of the hottest peppers, the terrifyingly named Naga Viper, has a Scoville rating of up to 1,382,118 units. It is usually dabbed on food with a toothpick, so as to only use a tiny drop – that is hot to the point of pain!

$1.99 on iTunes

Apps field guide to kitchen herbs

Most of us can tell the difference between rosemary and basil … but to the untrained eye (especially my own), telling lavender from sage can sometimes prove difficult. That’s where Herbs+ fragrantly wafts in. This app would be particularly good for finding fresh herbs in the wild. The entry for each herb offers gardening tips, culinary ideas, medicinal uses and an image to help you identify the herb.

There’s also a handy link to Wikipedia, which you can access without leaving the app.  In the “Herb Garden,” you’ll find basic guidelines for how to launch your garden successfully as well as sections on harvesting, preserving, propagating and winterizing your herbs. There are also useful tips — did you know dill doesn’t grow well if planted near fennel? No, neither did I.  All in all, a very good app to spice up your phone and quite possibly your next dinner too!

$2.99 on iTunes

Top image, clockwise from top left: logos for Clinq, Scoville, Herbs+ and 21-Day Vegan Kickstart.

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