Anyone striving to eat ethically these days has heard his or her share of mixed (and discouraging) messages: Eat lots of heart-healthy salmon – but not the farmed stuff, because it has driven some wild populations to extinction! Eat lots of heart-healthy sushi – but not with disposable chopsticks, which are deforesting the earth! Drink water instead of soda – but don’t forget that bottled water trucked across three continents leaves a trail of diesel fumes so thick it makes locally bottled drinks look like environmentally friendly treats.
No wonder so many people with good intentions skip cleaning up their act in favor of burying their heads in the sand. Why can’t someone sift through all that bad news and find some good, clear advice?
Actually, someone has. That someone is Jay Weinstein, a longtime restaurant chef and cookbook author. His newest book, The Ethical Gourmet (Broadway Books, 2006), takes a different tack, providing information on what really is good to eat (from grains to seafood to meats) for both you and the planet.
“I got tired of complaints without solutions,” explained Weinstein in a recent phone interview. “People want to know what to do, and people need to know what to do – not just what to avoid.”
Indeed, if you merely tell others to avoid this or to not do that, but fail to give them a better idea, where does that leave them? “That,” says Weinstein, “is why my book is full of Web sites, phone numbers and all sorts of resources – so that people can connect to the food they want, not just avoid the bad stuff.”
Weinstein also acknowledges that food is an incredibly personal decision: For many people, moving meat off the center of the plate is the best way to help both themselves and the environment, but for others, that’s an impossible ideal. “Just because you eat meat doesn’t mean you’re bad or that you have to support an industrial, cruel system – and that’s important for people to hear,” he says.
In his book, for instance, Weinstein directs readers to www.localharvest.org to find locally grown, humanely raised meats and other foods. “There are farmers’ markets, weekend markets, farm stands and good places to shop in practically every corner of this country – even places that are not famous as food cities often have great resources that just take a little time to discover.”
Discovering the good news is a specialty of Weinstein’s. For instance, did you know that farmed mussels are responsible for cleaning up algae blooms and returning healthy wild-fish populations to inlets and bays all around North America? I didn’t. More good news: U.S.-farmed catfish is mostly vegetarian-fed, so it has little impact on wild-fish populations and generates very little waste, while supporting workers in the historically impoverished region of the Mississippi Delta. Even more good news: Business travelers who need to dine in unfamiliar cities no longer have to settle for whatever’s closest to their hotel; they can find ethically minded restaurants at Web sites like www.chefscollaborative.org.
To help readers take advantage of all this good news, Weinstein, who has wielded his knives in some of America’s most renowned restaurants, including New York City’s Le Bernardin and Boston’s Restaurant Jasper, has arranged his book around more than 100 original recipes.
Some are everyday ideas that allow a home cook to lower his or her environmental impact painlessly – for instance, by whipping up some Coco-Vegetable Rice With Tamarind [free-range] Chicken Skewers, or making “risotto” with domestic barley instead of imported rice.
Other recipes are restaurant-worthy concoctions that prove eating ethically doesn’t mean eating plainly – it often means eating gloriously, feasting on sustainably raised Dungeness Crab Salad With Artichoke, Avocado and Red Bell Pepper Dressing, or Cardamom-Scented Grass-Fed Rib Steak With Herb Vinaigrette (see Web Extra! for both recipes).
All in all, Weinstein’s book is a great resource for anyone looking to hopefully move forward on a path that has them eating ethically. “I’ve seen so many changes over the last 20 years or so,” says Weinstein. “For so many years when I was working in restaurants, I heard there were problems in the food-production system, and that’s really what got me started thinking: ‘How can we get around these problems?’ The light really went off for me with the swordfish campaign a few years ago, when all of these celebrity chefs joined together and said: ‘We will not put swordfish on our menus. We will not encourage the consumption of these fish. It’s a moral wrong to fish a species to extinction, especially for something as trivial as luxury.'”
The logical extension of knowing a moral wrong, explains Weinstein, is championing a moral right. For those of us hoping to clean up our acts in the kitchen, that moral right is sounding more delicious all the time.
Tamarind Chicken Skewers
- 2 tbs. vegetable oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 tsp. chopped garlic
- 2 tbs. tamarind concentrate
- 1 tbs. Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce
- 1 tsp. honey
- 1/2 tsp. Asian toasted sesame oil
- 1 tsp. Asian hot chili paste (such as Sriracha brand)
- 1 lb. boneless chicken (preferably dark) or rabbit meat, sliced into 16 thin strips (choose free-range or organic meats whenever possible)
- 1 recipe Coconut Rice (see Web Extra!), warm or at room temperature
- 1 recipe Southeast Asian Slaw (see Web Extra!)
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic; cook until very soft and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender or food processor; add the tamarind, fish sauce, honey, sesame oil and chili paste. Purée until smooth. Mix with the sliced chicken and marinate for at least two hours (or overnight).
- Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Reserving the marinade, thread the chicken onto 8-inch bamboo skewers. (The skewers can be soaked in water for 30 minutes to prevent them from burning at the ends, but this is not necessary.) Heat the remaining oil in a large skillet until a piece of vegetable sizzles when added. Brown the chicken on both sides, working in small batches. Transfer to a baking dish, baste with excess marinade, and finish in the oven, no more than five minutes.
- Either combine the Coconut Rice and Southeast Asian Slaw, or serve them separately. Add the chicken skewers and garnish with cilantro and lime.
Cardamom-scented Grass-fed Rib Steak with Herb Vinaigrette
Serves four as a side dish
- 4 cardamom pods, crushed
- 4 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 star anise, crushed, or 1/2 tsp. anise seeds
- 2 tbs. red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 1 tbs. honey or molasses
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- One 1-pound rib-eye steak from grass-fed or pasture-raised beef
- 3 tbs. olive oil
- 1 tbs. Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup chopped tender fresh herbs, such as chives, flat-leaf parsley, chervil and/or tarragon
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Combine the cardamom, garlic, bay leaves, star anise, vinegar, wine, honey and soy sauce. Stir until the honey is dissolved. Place the beef in an airtight bag or container with the marinade. Marinate for eight hours, turning once.
- Scrape the marinade from the beef; pat dry.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat for 30 seconds, until hot but not simmering. Place the beef in the center of the pan. Cook slowly for 10 minutes without disturbing. Turn; cook five minutes more. Transfer the meat to a board to let it rest for five minutes.
- Whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, the Champagne vinegar and herbs. Season with salt and pepper.
- Slice the beef thinly, and serve dressed with the vinaigrette.
Dungeness Crab Salad with Artichoke, Avocado and Red Bell Pepper Dressing
Serves four as a main course
- 1 pound (about 2 cups) Dungeness or other crabmeat
- 1 shallot, finely minced
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup artichoke hearts (about six), packed in olive oil, drained and cut into small pieces
- 1 tbs. chopped fresh chives Pinch of Old Bay Seasoning Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
- 1 garlic clove, sliced
- 1 tbs. white wine vinegar
- 2 tbs. olive oil
- 2 ripe Hass avocados
- Kosher salt
- Lemon wedges
- Make the crab salad: Combine the crabmeat, shallot, mayonnaise, artichokes, chives and Old Bay; mix gently and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Make the dressing: Combine the chopped pepper, garlic and enough water to barely cover them in a small saucepan. Simmer until the pepper is soft, about 10 minutes. Reserve the liquid; purée the pepper in a blender, adding the vinegar and olive oil once the mixture is smooth. Season to taste; adjust the consistency with the reserved cooking liquid.
- Halve the avocados and remove the pits. Season the avocados with kosher salt. Use a spoon or ice cream scoop to mound the crab salad onto the halved avocados. Drizzle with dressing. Serve with lemon wedges.
Southeast Asian Slaw
Serves four as an appetizer
- 1/4 head (about 1/2 pound) Napa or other cabbage
- 1/2 carrot, grated
- 1 small red onion, cut into julienne
- 1 small Thai “bird” chili or jalapeño pepper, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 tbs. rice wine vinegar
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1 tsp. vegetable oil
- A few drops of Asian toasted sesame oil
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- Shred the cabbage as fine as you possibly can, using a knife, mandoline or slicing machine. Combine with the carrot, onion, chili pepper and cilantro.
- Dress with the lime, rice vinegar, sugar, vegetable oil, sesame oil and salt. Toss thoroughly.
- Let rest, refrigerated, for at least 30 minutes before serving.
- One 14-ounce can coconut milk
- 1 1/2 cups jasmine rice
- 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1 tsp. salt
- Combine 1 cup water, the coconut milk, rice, shredded coconut and salt in a heavy-bottomed saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Place over a low flame. Bring to a simmer; cook, covered, very gently for 20 minutes.
- Remove from heat; let stand 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.
Recipes excerpted from The Ethical Gourmet by Jay Weinstein (Broadway Books, 2006).