In 1982 the Nobel Prize for Physiology was awarded to three researchers, Sune Bergstrom, Bengt Samuelsson, and John Vane, for their elucidation of the pathway by which arachidonic acid becomes prostglandins and leukotrienes. These compounds cause pain and inflammation. John Vane was able to determine where aspirin fit in all this (blocking the creation of prostaglandins), and how it affected pain and inflammation. I remember this because someone at Rice University managed to get Bengt Samuelsson as a speaker, and his lecture was really excellent. From this research we now have a whole stable of NSAIDs: knowing where aspirin worked, people tested other compounds to create a whole array of drugs.

This work is important because omega 3 fatty acids work on the tail end of this same process. It turns out that dietary omega 6 fatty acids are the precursers to arachidonic acid. Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids use the same enzymes in these pathways, and they are competitive inhibitors of each other. Hence, by reducing the ability of the body to turn omega 6 fatty acids into arachidonic acid and then into prostaglandins, omega 3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation.

Of the omega 3 fatty acids, the most effective are the long chain omega 3s, DHA and EPA. This can cause issues for vegans, as they need to get their omega 3s in the form of ALA. ALAs then need to be converted to DHA and EPA by the body, but that conversion is regarded as “limited” by the research we have at the time. Or is it?

One novel interpretation of the data is provided by Doctor Bill Lands. Lands argues that the conversion itself is being limited by the overwhelming presence of omega 6 fatty acids. In other words, the conversion of omega 3s from 18 chain (ALA) to 20 (EPA) and 22 chain omega 3s (DPA) works much better the less omega 6 is around in the first place. It was the writer and diabetic David Mendosa who noticed this before I did, so if you want the details, please check out Mr. Mendosa’s article on his blog. It includes charts (table 2 is the important one) and a link to a video of Bill Lands’s presentation to military physicians.

The take home is pretty simple. If ALAs are your main source of omega 3s, you need to work at reducing your omega 6 intake. If you’re taking fish oils or eating a lot of fish, it’s not as crucial to lower omega 6s to get a medical effect (If table 1 of David Mendosa’s article is correct, though, it might extend your lifespan).

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I’ve made several lentil soups whose results I’ve documented (also here and here) on this blog. I hadn’t much success with urad dals (Buford Highway Farmer’s Market sells them as urid dals), a kind of black lentil, because they needed a substantially longer cooking time. Most recipes that use urad dals speak of soaking overnight and then cooking for 3 hours.  So, I decided to try again, and the results are worth reporting. As I’m inclined to improvise, we’ll talk about ingredients as we use them.

We started with a cup of urid dals purchased from Buford Highway Farmer’s Market. Those were soaked overnight and set to simmer in the morning with 6 cups of water. I usually start another pot simmering with nothing but water, so that I can add hot water if the dish requires it.

ud_simmer_1

After 2 hours I tasted the dals, which seemed soft and probably edible at that point. I added 1/2 cup of bulgur (I would have preferred pearled barley but couldn’t find any) and 2 bay leaves, some hot water and started prepping vegetables. I cut up a yellow bell pepper, 3 stalks of celery, some carrot, equivalent to 1-2 full sized carrots, 3/4 of a large yellow onion, and 1 jalapeno pepper, with seeds. These we sauteed in olive oil for 7 minutes (until the onions begin to turn transparent) and added to the pot (after 2 hours, 15 minutes). We let it simmer for 40 more minutes.

ud_veggies

ud_simmer_2

One characteristic of the Indian recipes is that they wait until the very end and then sautee aromatic spices, garlic, etc in ghee (clarified butter) and add that to the soup. In the same spirit we prepped 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and deveined, 2 large cloves of garlic, thin sliced, 3 decent sized shallots, and a handful of destalked fresh spinach. These we sauteed in olive oil until the spinach was limp and dark green and the shallots were turning transparent (ca 3 minutes), and we added that to the soup, and let it cook 5 more minutes.

ud_sautee

ud_final

The soup that resulted is vegan, creamy, rich, and full of flavor. All I added was some salt substitute before I served it. Others may choose to add spices of their choice.

ud_in_bowl

I’m not 100% sure whether the soup grew so rich because of the dals themselves, or because the bulgur acted as a thickening agent. In many of these soups, (great examples are here, here, and here) potatoes can be added to give it a vegetable component, and that will thicken the stock over time.

Cafe Sunflower is a pretty vegetarian restaurant in the strip mall on the southwest corner of Hammond and Roswell Road, near one of the last intersections on Roswell before reaching the 285 loop from the north. We went there recently for lunch, a coworker and I, in part because I’m eating a lot of vegetarian foods for lunch, and in part as a change of pace.

It’s pretty inside. I wish I could say more, but all I remember are the nice tables and solid wooden chairs, the kind that just seem to fit. The staff seemed largely Asian and was quite efficient.  Service overall was good.

We had soft drinks. I had their stir fried vegetables with tofu, my partner had their special, a stuffed pepper, full of quinoa. Of the two dishes, the stuffed pepper was quite spectacular looking, a mountain of quinoa with a slight brown cast to it. I asked him what he thought of his dish, on a scale of 1 to 5, and he rated his a “5”. He had never had quinoa before, and he liked it a lot. I liked my dish, full of vegetables and lego sized chunks of tofu. I was confused by the rice, both short grain in size but chewy as brown rice is. Looking at the menu after the fact, it must have been a short grain brown rice. I’m more used to long grain brown rice.

Verdict: All in all, I liked it. I almost had their three bean chili, and someday I’m coming back to try that one. It looks good, and I assume any vegetarian or vegan, or just someone like me, can find what they want at Cafe Sunflower.

Cafe Sunflower
5975 Roswell Rd NE
Atlanta, GA 30328
(404) 256-1675

Cafe Sunflower/Sandy Springs on Urbanspoon

Because of the kinds of jobs I do, I’m always looking for something that is cheap, filling, good, low sodium, low glycemic index, requires little refrigeration, and microwaves easily, to serve as a “good lunch”. And although I’m very happily omnivorous, I’m conscious of the kinds of themes that Michael Pollan touches on in the books, “Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food“. I’m equally aware of the kinds of issues that Mark Bittman touches on in “Food Matters“,  in the article “Vegan Before Dinnertime“,  and in what I regard as his best article, “Putting Meat Back in Its Place.” And I believe this “more plants, less meat” trend is attracting attention not because it’s outrageous, but because it makes both sense and dollars and cents. In the case of the “good lunch”, interestingly, these disparate themes merge. Vegan dishes tend to have all the traits I’m looking for, and I can control the salt content if I cook it myself.

Kashi makes a number of prepared products, some of them good, others really good, but they also make a 7 grain cereal mix:

Kashi 7 grain pilaf.

Kashi 7 grain pilaf.

With 2 cups of water and a cereal packet from the box, you can make a nice hot cereal in about 25 minutes.

Uncooked kashi, with 2 cups of water

Uncooked kashi, with 2 cups of water

I was thinking I didn’t want just cereal, and it would be a shame to waste those nice grains. So I decided on a stir fry. To note, there are very few Kashi based stir fries in the blogosphere, and this one from the Plain Cook site is more complicated than I wanted.

Total time required: ca 40 minutes.

Ingredients:

1 package Kashi 7 grain pilaf.
2 cups water
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 carrots, sliced finely
2 stalks of celery, sliced thin
1 poblano pepper, sliced thin
1 red bell pepper, diced
some green onions
2 cloves of garlic, sliced thin.
ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons of olive oil.

So, we put the kashi in a pan once the water is boiling and simmer 25 minutes. In my case, it wasn’t quite done at 25, there was still some water, but I had started and ended the first 25 minutes with the pot covered. I’m much more likely to leave it uncovered after 10 minutes or so, if I do this again.

Prepare the vegetables as the kashi simmers and just before the kashi is ready, add olive oil to a pan and heat the pan on high. Once the pan is hot enough, add vegetables, and reduce the heat to medium.

Vegetables, ready to stir-fry.

Vegetables, ready to stir-fry.

Let the vegetables cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring, waiting for the onions to begin to turn translucent. At this point add the kashi and let it cook for about 3 minutes more. Afterwards, put the stir-fry into serving bowls and season to taste.

A kashi stir-fry. Season to taste.

A kashi stir-fry. Season to taste.

The recipe above serves about 3-4. In practice, kashi is a bit stickier in the pan than quinoa, so my suggestion is transfer it into microwave bowls (that portion you’re preserving for lunch) as soon as you can.

The vegetables I chose were simply those I had around. You can substitute as you wish (cubes of zucchini would be good here, and I’m personally fond of baby bok choy).

It can be scary what a bachelor (or in my case, a husband in a family with a working wife) can do if they master a few techniques. I don’t cook many different foods, but quinoa is very easy to prepare and tastes good even if it’s plain. Quinoa salads are one popular way to prepare foods with this pseudocereal, but I’ve been fond of a recipe.. no, more a way of cooking that the blogger Feed Yourself demonstrated and I like to use. Although Feed Yourself called it a pilaf, it’s really more of a stir-fry.  This time the point was to make something good tasting out of vegetables I had to cook or let spoil. Oh yes, and also leave enough behind to do lunch the next day.

Ingredients:

4 ounces quinoa (rinse if necessary)
carrots, several of the “bite” sized pieces, diced
celery (rescued pieces), equal to about 2 stalks
1/3 large red onion, diced.
4-5 mini bell peppers, halved, deveined and deseeded, and then thin sliced
2 cloves of garlic, thin sliced.
2 sprigs each, oregano and thyme.
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce (optional)
1 cup water
1 tablespoon olive oil.

Get a 2 quart saucepan and add quinoa and the cup of water (and some soy if you want), cover, heat until simmering,  ca 15 minutes, when the water is gone. Set the quinoa aside. Prep the veggies you need. To note, the combination of onion, carrots, and celery is common enough it has its own name. And in my case, the onion had sprouted, the celery had bad spots, the peppers were showing their age, and the oregano and thyme were almost dry (but smelled so good it was a shame not to use them). I cut the bad pieces out and threw them away.

Put one tablespoon of oil in the frying pan, let it heat on high (I like a drop of water in the pan, to tell me when the pan is hot enough to use. The drop will boil off and that’s your sign). Add vegetables, and turn the heat down to medium. Stir until the onions just begin to change color, about 5-7 minutes. Add quinoa, and the leaves of the spices. Stir for a minute or two, so the quinoa is nice and warm. Pour into a bowl, season to taste, and serve.

Two servings of a quinoa stir fry.

Two servings of a quinoa stir fry.

Notes: on the blog Pink Spots, there is a very nice looking pineapple cashew quinoa stir-fry. The blogger Au Naturel has a recipe she calls an Asian quinoa stir-fry. The blogger Fat Free Vegan has a nice recipe she calls vegetable fried quinoa. The blogger Adventurous Eater likes adding a bit of egg to her quinoa stir-fry.