This morning, as we walked our dogs in a county park near our home, Desi and I noticed a squirrel running frantically up a tree carrying something large in her mouth. It was a plastic water bottle. And she was not carrying it --her mouth was stuck in it.
We couldn't help the poor squirrel because she was high up a tree and probably would've been too afraid to let us approach her, so we did the next best thing we could: we spent the next few minutes picking up more than a dozen bottles and cans that people had dumped around the park despite the fact that there were at least a half a dozen trash bins within a 20-foot radius. Of course, we knew that what we were doing did not really matter-- that more bottles and cans would be back on the ground a few hours later and some unsuspecting animal might stick its mouth in one in the hope of finding food. But it was a good reminder that thoughtless littering has consequences far worse than just marring the beauty of our surroundings.
You have likely seen photographs of geese with bills stuck in beer cans or duck with feet trapped in six-pack holders. In India, hungry cows on city streets munch on, often with fatal results, discarded plastic bags and cigarette butts. A lot of litter ends up in waterways, hurting the fish, turtles, and other creatures who make rivers, streams and oceans their home.
Not all of us litter, but most of us can stand to reduce the waste we create which, even when we are cognizant about putting it in a trash bin, does end up littering our Earth. Over the years, Desi and I have worked hard to cut down to a minimum the trash we generate. Here's what we do:
1. We cook most of our meals from scratch. It is healthier to make our own food because we know exactly what's in it, but cutting out prepared and semi-prepared convenience foods also helps us cut down on our consumption of packaging materials. You can, for instance, buy a bulk, 20-pound bag of rice in a single recyclable bag, but buy a package of instant microwaveable rice and you are buying a lot of plastic packaging for just one or two servings.
2. We don't buy canned and bottled drinks. If there is one product in our world with absolutely no nutritive value, it has to be soda. Vitamin drinks and flavored waters are just more sugary stuff that don't do your health any favors. And bottled water is plain silly. Filtered water is the favorite drink in our home and when we travel, we take some along in those handy little steel water bottles. Water not only tastes great, it's good for you.
3. We bring our own ceramic cups to work (and I nag those who don't :D). My workplace, which is very eco-friendly, doesn't offer styrofoam cups for coffee-- everyone's encouraged to bring their own reusable cups. But almost every other office I've worked in previously offered employees styrofoam cups. I once had a colleague who occupied the office next to mine and I'd watch in horror as she'd go through five or six styrofoam cups each day. I talked to her about it at every opportunity I had, reminding her that it takes 500 years for a styrofoam cup to break down in a landfill. She was probably annoyed beyond imagination, but I did wear her down: she finally brought in her own ceramic cup. And she used it.
3. We bring our own bags to the grocery store. We've been doing this for years now, and when we do-- for any reason-- end up with a plastic bag, we put it to work as a trash liner, dog-poop-picker-upper, etc. Canvas and reusable plastic bags are easy to find, cheap and environmentally friendly. They even look better.
4. We reuse almost all plastic and glass containers. Most plastic and glass food containers that come into our home find a use in our pantry. Jars of nuts turn into nice little holders for beans and lentils. Hardy jars of protein powder with screwtop lids are great for storing flour. Glass bottles of jelly get washed and recycled into spice containers. Styrofoam vegetable packages become homes for seedlings. If we absolutely can't use something, we put it in the recycle bin.
Our squirrel with her face stuck in the water bottle had a happy ending. Minutes after she had climbed to the top of the tree we heard the bottle clatter down to the street-- she had managed to free herself. But not all animals are so lucky.
One of my Vegan Burrito Bowl is a burrito bowl. How can anyone not love the fresh, layered, healthy deliciousness of rice, beans, guacamole, and salsa?
I've been exploring fat-free deliciousness in my kitchen, trying to make my healthy favorites even healthier, and my last attempt was this vibrant bowl that is so healthy, it'll make you glow.
To make my burrito bowl healthier than burrito bowls already are, I made cilantro brown rice, refried black beans, avocado-free guacamole, and a tomato-corn salsa-- all of it without a drop of fat or oil.
You might wonder why I'd cut down on the avocado. After all, it is a veggie and the fats it contains are heart-healthy. I couldn't agree more, and I love me some avocado every now and then. But the goal with my fat-free cooking recipes is to cut down on as much fat as I can and avocados do contain a fair amount of fat. Besides, if you can get the same delicious goodness without the fat, why quibble?
I used a rainbow of Mexican chilies to give my fat-free burrito bowl a flavor boost: serranos, habaneros, chipotles and jalapenos. The avocado-free guacamole is made with sweet peas and spiced with habanero. Habanero is one of the hottest peppers you can eat, but I use just about a fourth of a pepper. I love habaneros because besides the heat they have a great flavor that's wonderful in this guacamole. I blend the peas to silky smoothness in my blender, which gives them that smooth mouth-feel that avocados have. They taste different, of course, and a bit sweeter than avocados would, but they are perfect. And they have almost no natural fat.
The cilantro rice is brown rice with a dash of jalapeno fire. Use long-grain white rice if you want to, by all means. Long-grain white rice, like Basmati, has a fairly low glycemic index, so it won't send your sugars shooting into the stratosphere. I like the taste of the brown rice here, and the added fiber boost.
To spice my fat-free refried black beans, I used chipotle chilies in adobo sauce. I sauteed my onion and garlic in vegetable stock before adding the beans, which gives them a deeper flavor profile that goes perfectly with the cilantro rice.
Here are the recipes. Enjoy, all! And a very happy New Year to all of Holy Cow's readers.
Fat-Free Burrito Bowl
Cilantro Brown Rice
1 cup long-grain brown rice, like basmati
3 cups vegetable stock
2 cups packed cilantro or coriander leaves
Juice of 1 lemon
¼ of a regular-sized habanero pepper (use more or less per taste).
Salt to taste
Place the cilantro, lemon juice and pepper in a blender with ½ cup of the vegetable stock. Blend into a smooth paste.
Place the rice in a strainer and wash it. Washing the rice ensures it won't burn as soon as you put it on a dry saucepan (remember we are not using any oil here).
Heat a saucepan and add the washed rice. Saute for a minute or until the rice starts to dry and turn opaque.
Add the cilantro paste and the remaining vegetable stock and salt to taste. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and put on a tight-fitting lid.
Let it cook undisturbed for 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and let it continue to stand for at least 10 minutes more.
Nutrition estimate per serving: Calories 59.1, Total Fat 0.4 grams, Dietary Fiber 0.9 grams, Protein 1.3 grams
Refried Black Beans
1 cup black beans, soaked for several hours or overnight. Cook the beans on the stovetop or in a pressure cooker until tender. Reserve a cup of the cooking liquid and strain the beans.
¼ cup vegetable stock
1 large onion, finely chopped
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 chipotle chili in adobo sauce, finely minced
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Heat the vegetable stock in a saucepan. When it simmers, add the onions and garlic. Add some salt and saute until the onions are soft and the stock has evaporated.
Add the beans and the chipotle chilli. Add the reserved bean stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and using a potato masher or a heavy ladle, mash the beans.
Add salt and ground black pepper, if desired (remember you already have the heat from the chipotle chili).
Let the beans cook until most of the water has evaporated. You don't want the beans to dry too much because they will thicken further on standing-- keep the mixture a little soupy.
Nutrition estimate per serving: Calories 151, Total Fat 0.6 grams, Dietary Fiber 6.8 grams, Protein 8.7 grams
2 cups frozen shelled sweet peas.
1 jalapeno pepper, minced (deseed if you want to reduce the heat)
1 large onion, finely minced
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp lemon or lime juice
¼ cup chopped cilantro or coriander leaves
Salt to taste
Cook the peas for 2 minutes in boiling water or until just tender. Strain them immediately and place in a blender along with the jalapeno and lime juice.
Blend until the peas are smooth and creamy. Remove to a bowl.
Add the onion, garlic powder, cilantro and salt to the bowl and mix thoroughly.
Nutrition estimate per serving: Calories 72.8, Total Fat 0.3 grams, Potassium 175.6 mg, Sugar 4.1 grams, Dietary Fiber 3.7 grams, Protein 4.2 grams
1 cup frozen sweet corn (use fresh if you find it)
1 large tomato, cut into a small dice
1 serrano pepper, finely minced
1 tbsp lime or lemon juice
¼ cup cilantro or coriander leaves, finely minced
Salt to taste
Cook the corn in boiling water until just tender. Strain and add to a bowl.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and mix thoroughly.
To build your fat-free burrito bowl, layer the rice, beans, guacamole and salsa. Enjoy!
Nutrition estimate per serving: Calories 53.4, Total Fat 0.5 grams, Potassium 235.7 mg, Dietary Fiber 1.7 grams, Protein 1.8 grams