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so delicious PAINT sugar free cocunut milk

Have you seen this?  

It’s just a little tricky thing some of the alternative milk companies are doing.

The label on the front says “No Sugar Added.” You might think you’re getting something without sweetener.

No. You’re not. You’re getting something that doesn’t have sugar but does have some kind of other sweetener added that you may or may not want.

They used to just say “unsweetened” and that was that. But now there is “unsweetened” and this other, “No sugar” label.  They are definitely not the same.

To be fair, there is nothing on this label that tries overtly to make you think there is no sweetener at all in this product. But I know food shoppers and I know that many of us don’t actually read every label and if we do, we might not get all the ingredients that we aren’t familiar with defined for us before we buy and consume them.

I just bought a box of So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut Milk. That was after first picking up and reading the one that said “Sugar Free.” The sweeteners were “Reb A,” which is a stevia extract and “Monk fruit” which is a small, exotic Asian fruit that one writer called the “latest darling of the alternative sweetener world.”

Monk fruit sweetener, however is usually mixed with other things such as erythritol, a sweet substance extracted from certain lichens and algae, along with molasses and sugar. Another monk fruit sweetener recently marketed also contains corn-derived dextrose.

Right off the bat when I see one of those words ending in “ose” I know that it is a simple sugar that can wreak havoc with our bodies just like any refined sugar does. I personally stay away from foods with any “-ose” ingredients and that has been a very workable way to avoid unhealthy sweeteners.

Then there’s the matter of “corn-derived,” which should raise another red flag if you’re interested in avoiding genetically modified foods. Corn, unless it specifically says “organic,” is most likely GMO. The exception is when you buy corn at a farmers market, can talk to the farmer himself and he says he doesn’t grow GMO crops and you trust his integrity. But then you aren’t buying a corn-derived extract from him, so he can’t help you with the monk fruit sweetener problem.

I don’t know which type of monk fruit sweetener the folks at Turtle Mountain (who manufacture the So Delicious line) used. But I know that I’ll avoid it altogether and stick with the “So Delicious Unsweetened” which I like very much.

The moral of the story is 1) Read your labels thoroughly, and 2) Understand what the ingredients actually are before trusting you should consume them.

Creamy Moroccan Chickpea Soup

I was out looking for a fast dinner one night and picked up some “Moroccan Creamy Soup” to try. Somehow I got the impression that it was a vegetarian soup, but darn, I think it was made with chicken broth. The soup was nevertheless delightful especially in its consistency and the way it was seasoned.

The main ingredients were chickpeas and spinach and I could taste cumin and perhaps cinnamon. There were onions and some garlic in the soup as well. The creaminess of the soup I bought came from milk or cream and that didn’t thrill me.

So I decided to make my own version of this soup using a vegetable broth, chickpeas, spinach, onions, garlic mushrooms, spices and for added creaminess–a little coconut milk.

Luckily I was able to save this last little serving for a photo!

Luckily I was able to save this last little serving for a photo!

Moroccan-Style Creamy Chickpea Soup

No need for much of a recipe here. I didn’t measure anything. I just constructed the soup this way:

  • Cooked chickpeas in vegetable broth, partially blend leaving at least half the beans intact. I used 2-3 cups of cooked chickpeas.
  • Dice an onion and saute in olive oil with some salt until the onions are translucent and sweet. Continue to saute to caramelize the onions. Add this to the soup.
  • Add garlic and mushrooms.
  • I added some seitan chunks since I didn’t want chicken. Seitan is made by creating a dough from whole wheat flour and then washing out the starch and the bran. The protein (wheat gluten) is left. I will show you how to make this in the near future.
  • Add the coconut milk until it is creamy enough for you
  • Season with salt, pepper, cumin, thyme, allspice and a bit of cayenne. Taste. Adjust. Taste again.
  • Add spinach at the end. I was making about 2 quarts of soup and used about 2 cups of chopped spinach.
  • I garnished my soup with a few slices of Preserved Lemon Rinds, which some of you know I just love to use! If you don’t have this, try a thin strip of lemon peel.

I served this yummy soup with a side of olives and a simple salad. It got almost all eaten up before I had a chance to take a picture for this post! I finally ensconced the last little serving to the back of the refrigerator and we had our “photo shoot” today.

I wanted to see if I could capture steam in the photo and I did just barely. Can you see it? I can probably because I know it’s there!

Maybe if I circle my steam in bright pink you can squint real hard and imagine you can see it!

Maybe if I circle my steam in bright pink you can squint real hard and imagine you can see it. Hey! That sort of works!

I have not even reached the “amateur” status in food photography just yet but I’m working on it. However my soup cookery is quite good!

Bhakti Chai

Mural at a local ayurvedic cafe.

Mural at a local ayurvedic cafe.

Other than my once-a-month quest for dark chocolate mousse, I do not use sugar in my cooking. Lately, this has caused quite a dilemma for me because I’ve had a tremendous hankering for chai! Chai is tea made with milk, spices and yes–sugar.

But I don’t drink milk and I avoid sugar. I tried ordering chai at the local coffee shop a couple times, made with soy milk, but the chai part is pre-mixed and you cannot get it without the sugar. And it is, in my opinion, way too sweet. I knew I wouldn’t continue ordering it and I also knew I probably wouldn’t make it myself at home. Sigh.

There are lots of things I do take the trouble to make myself even if it seems time-consuming. Nothing but the best for me and my family! Most of the time when I write about food and cooking here, I am talking about making things yourself, with high-quality ingredients you yourself have chosen and not falling for poor substitutes of pre-made, pre-packaged food. Even from the natural food store!

Then my beautiful young friend Lindsay started talking about chai and how she makes it at home. She said she buys a chai concentrate made with real ginger and traditional spices that is UNSWEETENED!!!!

I couldn’t believe my ears! We went over to the local Whole Foods and to my enormous delight they carry the very chai concentrate Lindsay was telling me about. It is called, “Bhakti Chai” and comes in a quart or larger size in the dairy section.

I read the ingredients: organic fair trade black tea, organic fresh-pressed ginger, organic cardamom (love that stuff!), black pepper, and other spices. That’s it! And it is non-GMO which is very good news.

I was so excited to try my first chai which I made by mixing the concentrate with coconut milk and heating it. Oh! Oh! Yes! That ginger was the dominant flavor and the other spices were in perfect harmony with it. The next day I made it with almond milk. The almond milk was also excellent, but I vote for the coconut milk as being the best choice of the two. I’m sure you can use soy, rice milk or regular milk if you drink that. On the label they suggest several other ways of drinking the chai without any milk at all and one of them is–ready for this–in chocolate! (Yes, the wheels are indeed turning regarding a chai-themed chocolate mousse.)

Here’s to the warmth of fresh ginger and cardamom in a delicious chai tea!

I know some of you have much more expertise when it comes to tea than I have. Have you tried this tea? Did you like the amount of ginger in it? Do you make your own chai?

It’s Rasta Pasta Time!

It happens to all of us sometimes, I’m sure.

I love to cook.  I really do.  And I’m good at it!  But occasionally the culinary muse seems to have gone on vacation.  No incoming inspiration.  No outflowing “Ahas.”

Sometimes all it takes to start the wheels turning is a trip to my favorite farmers market or natural food store to see what’s there.  Sometimes a little game, like “Use Up What’s in the Refrigerator,” or “Cook a Meal Using Only Locally Grown Food,” or “Take Five Unlikely Ingredients and See What You Can Make Out of Them” gets the creative juices going.

But one of my all time fav games is to put on my ear buds, turn up the volume on the iPod, head out to the market and let the music take me.  Today’s choice is a selection of Bob Marley classics!

Wait for it . . .

Wait for it . . .

English: Bob Marley live in concert, just a co...

English: Bob Marley live in concert, just a couple of years before his death (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mmmmm.  This could be good.  I’ll call it “Rasta Pasta!”  Inspired by Reggae music and Jamaican spices and flavors, I created my own jerk spice which can be used as a dry rub on fish.  But I am using it today as seasoning for a pasta dish.  Not that Rastafarian cuisine includes pasta, mind you.  I don’t think it does.  Many before me have named their Jamaican-inspired dish “Rasta Pasta” and this is my version!

First you need a selection of spices typically found in Jamaican food.  I checked in my natural food store and could find no Jamaican spice combos or Jamaican jerk rub that didn’t have sugar in it.  So I made my own this way:

Jamaican-style spicy rub or seasoning

  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1/4 tsp ginger powder
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp powdered stevia
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • chile pepper flakes to taste

Combine these dried spices and adjust according to how you want it to taste.  My family doesn’t like extremely spicy food so I used a bit of chile pepper flakes.  You could leave that out and add a very hot diced pepper to the dish such as scotch bonnet or habanero. Or you could go with a super-mild taste and include green pepper in your dish.

Next I started the pasta and for this I used orzo because it imitates the shape of rice and a very typical Jamaican dish is “rice and peas” which is actually rice and kidney beans.  I decided to use black beans instead because they are slightly smaller and I thought they’d look good.

Rasta Pasta for Four

  • 2 TBLS olive oil
  • 3 cloves of crushed garlic
  • 1/2 cup of diced onions
  • 2 cups of orzo pasta [Note this is not a whole grain pasta.  It is 100% semolina.]
  • 14-16 ounces of coconut milk
  • salt
  • 1 TBLS or more of your Jamaican spice mix
  • 14 1/2 oz canned organic whole peeled tomatoes or use fresh if available
  • 1/2 cup diced green pepper
  • 1/2 cup cooked black beans
  • 1/2 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined [I am staying away from Gulf shrimp and Key West shrimp because there are still many problems in the Gulf area due to the oil spill despite what the media would have us believe.  I used Thai shrimp for this dish.  You can use other seafood or another white fish or don’t add any at all and you will still have pasta and beans which create some protein]
  • 1 lime
  • 1 scallion sliced thinly for garnish

Put olive oil in a large frying pan or stewing pot.  Saute the garlic briefly without letting it brown then add the onions.  Add a pinch of salt and saute the onions until they are translucent.  Add the orzo pasta and stir it around a few seconds to coat with oil.  Add another pinch of salt and add the coconut milk.  Stir that in and put a lid on your pot and simmer the orzo on a low flame, stirring occasionally to keep the bottom from sticking.  After about 15 minutes, add the tomatoes.  Break up the tomatoes in the pan while they cook into the dish.  When the pasta is just about tender add the green pepper and put the lid on for another 1-2 minutes.  If you need to add more coconut milk while the pasta is cooking, do so.  Stir in the black beans and put the shrimp on top.  Let this cook with the lid on until the shrimp are pink.  Don’t let the shrimp overcook or they will be tough.

When the dish is finished cooking, serve it out with a garnish of sliced scallions and maybe a squeeze of lime and some lime zest if you have it.

Enjoy mon!