Whole Wheat Chocolate Coffee Banana Muffins

Vegetal Matters - Whole Wheat Chocolate Coffee Banana Muffins Does anyone else love to bake with bananas, but hate to eat them plain? I used to always pilfer the sad, decaying bananas my roommates purchased for baked goods, but my current household is usually banana-free and I always forget to buy bananas to let them go bad. Tragically this almost caused me to forget about these muffins, which should be hard because they are most definitely my favorite muffins. They are equally wholesome and delicious, and almost pair better with coffee than chocolate chip cookies (but I haven’t reached the point of accepting those for breakfast quite yet). Or the excellent other half to a smoothie breakfast (which is never filling enough for me).

Whole Wheat Chocolate Coffee Banana Muffins

Adapted from The Vanilla Bean Blog

This makes a lot of muffins. They freeze so well though, with just a quick warming in the microwave before consuming. Yes, they are entirely wheat flour, but light enough that you will never notice. I haven’t experimented with other kinds of flour yet, but it will happen. It may seem like a lot of liquid, but the wheat flour sucks it right up.

20-22 muffins

  • 2 1/4 (9 oz) cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup canola or olive oil
  • 1 cup banana mashed (I usually mash 2 and don’t fret if it’s a bit over or under)
  • 1/4 cup coffee
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 (1.75 oz) cup sugar
  • 5 oz semisweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a muffin tin and a half (or bake in two batches if you only have one muffin tin like me).

Whisk wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.

Whisk the oil, milk, mashed banana, coffee, vanilla, maple syrup, sugar, and egg (easiest in a quart measuring cup, or measure and transfer to a bowl). Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and stir until just combined (don’t overmix!). Fold in the chocolate chips.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, filling each cup about three quarters full. Bake for 16-20 minutes, testing with a knife for doneness (it should come out clean, unless you spear a chocolate chip).



Edible (a book about eating bugs!)

edible-final-cover-hi-res-1Edible: An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet is a mouthful, and entomophagist Daniella Martin’s plea for the world to eat more insects. The first two thirds of the book are Martin’s case for eating bugs. She compares the energy and space required to raise the mammals we most commonly eat to the same requirements for bugs. The remainder of the book describes how to raise your own bugs, a detailed glossary of edible bugs, and then the final part of the cycle: recipes to get the bugs on to your plate (Hakuna Frittata is by far my favorite, and Crickety Kale Salad sounds like just the thing for trendy farm to table menus, but I haven’t tried either yet).

Martin’s case for eating bugs is well organized and supported. The numbers that really speak in favor of insect proteins are the food, water and space requirements:

  • 1 pound of beef = 10 pounds of feed, 1,000 gallons of water, 200 square feet of pasture (2 acres per cow)
  • 1 pound of pork = 5 pounds of feed, 600 gallons of water, 175 square feet of pasture (⅔ acre per pig)
  • 1 pound of chicken = 2.5 pounds of feed, 150 gallons of water, 75 square feet of pasture (100 square feet per chicken)
  • 1 pound of fish = 1.5 pounds of fish meal, variable amounts of water, considering spawning
  • 1 pound of insects = 2 pounds of feed, 1 gallon of water, 2 cubic feet of land space (18-19)

Martin also adds that “since most bugs don’t require deboning, there are also big savings in energy and water on the processing end, and because they require far less space to raise and thus can be farmed in an urban area, the fossil fuel required to transport them is minimal.” (18) So bugs take up almost no space, require barely any water, and can be deep fried?? It’s a wonder insects aren’t taking the place of popcorn chicken on menus across the country.

Besides the very limited space and energy requirements, crickets can reproduce incredibly quickly: “A cow gives birth to one calf per year. In that same time, a pig can produce twenty-five to thirty piglets, and a chicken lays three hundred eggs….In comparison to these warm-blooded livestock, a cricket lays around a hundred eggs in her three-month lifespan. Assuming half are male, that makes 50 female crickets, each laying a hundred eggs. After three months, we have 2,500 laying female crickets; in a year, 312,500,000. If 1,000 crickets weigh a pound, that’s 312,500 pounds of cricket in a year, a weight equivalent to 312 cows.” (27-8)

Westerners eating bugs is an important part of more of the world eating them, and the cultures that do continuing to do so. Martin fears that the more Western culture spreads, the more others will adopt the habit of only eating the meat of larger livestock and leave behind their insect eating traditions.

Last year I was able to try cookies made by Bitty with cricket flour. They were delicious, and tasted like any other well made cookies with whole grain flour.  Insect food companies in the US are well aware that there are many cultural issues for Americans to get over before insects become a part of our diets. They are smart to begin with flour, which has the same nutritional benefits of whole bugs, without the ick factor. This is another example of insect’s versatility–what other animal protein can also be used as a flour? With all our culinary innovations, beef crust pizza, chicken bread, and pork flour pancakes are nowhere to be seen (except maybe at a Guy Fieri restaurant, but that doesn’t count as real food).

Part of what gets you on Martin’s side is that her argument is so reasonable. She doesn’t expect insects to take the place of the meat we consume, or even get them in every kitchen.  There is no such one food solution to sustainability.  But insects should be part of the mix, right alongside poultry, game, pork, beef, seafood and vegetal protein options.  As she states, veganism is “not a realistic choice for all or even most humans living on earth” because of cost and lack of year round access to plant foods. And I wholeheartedly agree with Martin that “it’s certainly not fair to expect someone who struggles to get enough to eat to limit their own biology according to a philosophy that nature itself doesn’t seem to echo.” (170)

Especially for those wary of eating insects, Edible is a great introduction to the concept. Martin’s style of writing is witty and conversational, and she includes enough numbers to to prove all her points but not so many to make you dizzy. With books like this that try to be both an introduction and a case for a certain diet or way of life, (such as In Defense of Food), shorter is always better. And if you are so moved by her case to start eating bugs, the recipes are right there to get you started. In an increasingly resource strained world, it’s important to keep all our options open. Insects aren’t going to be for everyone, but they should stay on the table.

Further Reading: Your Post-Workout Protein Shake Should Be Loaded With Insects (written by Martin for Slate); her website and blog (warning, lots of bug photos) http://www.girlmeetsbug.com/


Dijon Lentils with Roasted Cauliflower and Potatoes

Vegetal Matters - Dijon LentilsThis French lentil recipe by Ina Garten was my first introduction to cooking lentils. I’ve made it many times since that first delicious occurrence, but with quite a few changes. I find that the dressing adds enough flavor to the lentils that cooking them with a turnip that is discarded is unnecessary. Her quantity made just enough for 4 small meals, but I always wanted a little more and leftovers. I’ve made the lentils with roasted sausages, which could be in place of or with the cauliflower and potatoes. Some toasted bread with olive oil alongside is also quite nice, as would be a green salad.

Dijon Lentils with Roasted Cauliflower and Potatoes

Serves 8 as a side, 6 as a meal.

  • ½ cup olive oil, plus 4 tablespoons, divided
  • 1 lb cauliflower cut into florets
  • 1 lb potatoes, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons whole grain Dijon mustard
  • 2 cups green lentils
  • 2 cups carrots (about 4 medium)
  • 2 cups onion or leeks  (1 large onion, or 2 large leeks)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons smooth Dijon mustard
  • 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • salt
  • fresh ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 425F. Mix the whole grain mustard and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss cauliflower and potatoes in mustard olive oil mixture plus salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and roast for 25 minutes.

Pick over the lentils for debris and rinse. Bring a pot with the lentils generously covered in water to a boil and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

Heat a large skillet with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the carrots and saute for 5 minutes, until they just start to soften. Add the onion, and saute for another 5 minutes until both are soft. Add the garlic, and saute for a minute or 2 more then turn off the heat.

While the carrot and onion are cooking whisk together the ½ cup of olive oil, Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. In a large bowl mix the sauteed carrot and onion, Dijon dressing, and lentils. Serve with the roasted cauliflower and potatoes on top, with extra vinegar if needed.

Buffalo Cauliflower Salad

DSC00791 postThis salad was born out of super bowl leftovers. But there had been enough indulgence watching the game, and redemption was needed. Buffalo wings with bleu cheese, carrots and celery is amazing because it is a perfect spicy/creamy/crunchy combo. I don’t want to eat wings all the time though, so this salad is just the fix. Cauliflower is an excellent hot sauce vehicle, and I borrowed the method from Thug Kitchen’s delicious Buffalo Falafel recipe (CRUSH HUNGER BREATHE FIRE. Cracks me up every time.).

Buffalo Cauliflower Salad

Serves 4 as full meal salads, 8 as side salads.

The grocery store was out of red cabbage, but that would have been a nice addition for more color and texture. Green cabbage instead of lettuce could make this more of a slaw. Cucumbers are a good add, and if I had some avocado that probably would have gone in as well. You could easily use 4 tablespoons yogurt and leave out the mayonnaise in the dressing.

Buffalo Cauliflower

  • 1 lb cauliflower, split into florets
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon wheat flour
  • ½ cup cayenne hot sauce
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1.5 teaspoons cider vinegar


  • 8 cups of lettuce, washed and chopped (about 1 head romaine)
  • 2 carrots, shredded
  • ½ cup of red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 large celery stalk, halved lengthwise and sliced
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas
  • ½ ounce crumbled bleu cheese (optional)


  • ⅓ cup buttermilk
  • 1.5 ounces bleu cheese, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice (½ a lemon)
  • Salt
  • Fresh ground pepper

Blend buttermilk, bleu cheese, mayonnaise, yogurt, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a blender. If you prefer a chunky dressing, whisk everything but the bleu cheese until smooth, then stir it in. Let the dressing sit for at least 30 minutes, longer if possible, to let the flavors mingle (resist adjusting the seasoning until after the rest).

Preheat the oven to 425F. Toss the cauliflower with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, spread on a baking sheet, and roast for 20 minutes.

Heat a small sauce pan over medium heat with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Add the flour, and cook while whisking continuously for 5 minutes. It should smell nutty, but not boil. Add half of the hot sauce and whisk until smooth. It will be very thick. Add the remaining hot sauce, water, and vinegar, and whisk until smooth again. Turn off the heat.

Assemble the salads with lettuce, carrot, celery, red onion, chickpeas and any other veg you’re adding. When the cauliflower is done, toss it in a bowl with the hot sauce until thoroughly coated. Top each salad with ¼ of the cauliflower, and drizzle with dressing and an extra crumble of bleu cheese, if using. Serve with extra hot sauce for those who like a serious kick.

Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper - Vegetal Matters

Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China is Fushia Dunlop’s account of her introduction to Chinese (particularly Sichuan) cuisine, obsession and immersion, and her calling to record and share little known regional delicacies to the English speaking masses. Dunlop built her career on eating in China, after going to Chengdu first as an exchange student and realizing her intense interest in local cuisine, and the fact that it was widely unknown outside China. The title captures so many of the struggles in this book. Between the revered but environmentally destructive delicacies, and the authentic and truly unique flavors that make Chinese food so legendary; the wonderfully diverse regional cuisines and the blanket unification of “Chinese” food outside the country.

Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper is one of the best food memoirs I have read. Dunlop’s descriptions of specific foods and meals are so intense you can taste them yourself. But her real talent lies in describing how she fell in love with the food of another country and the infinite complexities that few outside China have tried to fully understand. She says “Learning another cuisine is like learning a language. In the beginning, you know nothing about its most basic rules of grammar. You experience it as a flood of words, or dishes, without system or structure.” (71) Dunlop makes the effort to give us that basic grammar throughout the book, describing the history that influenced regional cuisine differences and explaining the techniques and tastes balanced in specific dishes.

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper - Vegetal Matters

Most of the chapters end with a recipe, but my favorites had what are more like little cheat sheets on one aspect of Chinese cooking. This one pictured is “A small taste of the ‘complex flavors’ of Sichuan.” I have always been frustrated coming across dishes on restaurant menus with vague descriptors such as “strange-flavor.” If only I had known that those two words really describe “the harmonious mixing of salty, sweet, numbing, hot, sour, umami, and fragrant notes.” Dunlop also describes the many, very specific shapes food can be cut into and the wide ranging types of mouthfeel.   It certainly makes our food descriptors seem inadequate, and I think any level of familiarity with Chinese cooking could improve skill cooking and appreciation of all other cuisines.

After reading this book (and loving it) I read some infuriating reviews on Goodreads. Some criticized the lack of detail about Dunlop’s personal life in the book. She does not talk at all about intimate relationships, and only vaguely about her family (I didn’t know she had a brother until I read the acknowledgements). But this was not a book about Dunlop’s personal life, as the subtitle clearly states. It was a book about her relationship with China and its food, and the career she built being an English and Mandarin-speaking foreigner willing to go anywhere and eat anything. Those topics are complicated and interesting enough to fill more books than just this one.

There were also numerous reviewers who put down the book (why are you reviewing this book if you didn’t read the whole thing?!) or were off-put by the descriptions of eating an incredible variety of animals, some of which were endangered. As a vegetarian or vegan you may wholeheartedly disagree with the consumption of these creatures, but these issues are fully acknowledged and part of meaningful discussion (especially in the latter half of the book). Dunlop fully acknowledges the questionable morals in eating living things, discussions she has that make her reevaluate her consumption habits, and the change in attitude she had towards eating any and all animals. These are all difficult topics, and they are described honestly as Dunlop experiences and wrestles with them. (She also tackles the use of MSG in cooking which was especially interesting.)

A quality I admire most in memoir writers is bring able to write frankly about situations in which the author made poor decisions, behaved less than admirably, or questioned a belief they once fully embraced. None of us behave exactly as we want to in all situations, but if we can reflect on and learn from ones in which we made mistakes we will grow. We also change as we experience more things, and hopefully become different people as we see and engage with more of the world. Dunlop’s love for a country, it’s people, their cuisine, and their complex relationship with food paired with another life in England, where food regulation is far stricter and public awareness of food issues more widespread creates a difficult situation. She wants to experience as much culture and food as possible, but is also increasingly conscientious of bad food practices and their effect on the planet. As a result she becomes more reserved, and instead of seeking out delicacies eaten because they are rare and prized, works to find foods that are delicious because of their heritage, thoughtful crafting, and ties to local agriculture.

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper - Vegetal Matters

I’ve read through two of Dunlop’s cookbooks, Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province and Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking (her third, Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking, is working its way to me through the library request system).  I especially loved Every Grain of Rice, which has dishes from many regions and gorgeous designs made with rice grains between each chapter. Over time I hope to fill out my shamefully inadequate Chinese cookbook collection with each of them, and recreate as many of Dunlop’s meals as I can. (The photo above is Bear’s Paw Tofu, Chinese Broccoli in Ginger Sauce, and Vegetarian “Gong Bao Chicken” from Every Grain of Rice.