Friday, April 7, 2017

Book Review: Vibrant India by Chitra Agrawal

I have a wide-range of cookbooks, spanning multiple countries and continents.  Surprisingly, I do not own one single Indian cookbook.  As per my Indian friends (all from the state of Gujarat), all the rich, cream heavy curries you commonly find in New Jersey Indian restaurants is Punjabi food.   This book is not that.  The recipes in this Vibrant India are based on Chitra Agrawal's mother's hometown of Bangalore, which makes this South Indian food.  Expect lighter, healthier recipes that are delicious, heavy on coconut and full of flavor.

For those of you unfamiliar with Indian cooking, she includes tips and techniques, usual tools and South Indian pantry items.  I'd add that if you're not used to Indian cooking, be prepared for longer than usual lists of ingredients.  That's mostly because of the sheer number of spices being used.  I know that scares off a lot of people that are used to more American recipes, but if you like Indian food, it's worth it to make the investment into buying these spices.

Go to your local Indian-Asian store if you want to save money....stay away from Whole Foods types places which charge a premium and a half.  As a vegan, you'll also find that Indian-Asian stores have super cheap prices on bulk nuts, beans, lentils and even garlic and ginger.

IS IT VEGAN-FRIENDLY?  Vibrant India is a vegetarian cookbook, with vegan and/or gluten-free recipes clearly labeled.  In terms of substitutions, I'd suggest (as she did in the book) coconut oil for ghee and simply replacing dairy yogurt for non-dairy (Forager is my favorite.)  There is some cheese, but again, just use a non-dairy cheese.  I didn't notice too much milk, but stock up on coconut milk for sure.

WOULD I BUY IT?  Yes, I think so.  My daughter actually isn't a fan of those creamy Punjabi style curries, so I think she'd like these lighter versions.  While the recipes in Vibrant India don't seem complicated, they do seem a bit labor intensive.  But like a lot of recipes, once you've made them a few times, it becomes old hat.  Like dumplings used to take me half the day, and now I can make the filling and bang out 50 in under 20 minutes!  So don't be thrown off by all the "make a curry paste" instructions.  I mean're just throwing stuff in a blender!

I received a free copy of this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.  There was no obligation to give a positive review, and if you read my blog, you know I'm a tell-it-like-it-is kind of girl.  I mean what I say and say what I mean, that holds true for my review.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Is Movie Theater Popcorn Vegan?

Have you read  PETA's "Accidentally Vegan Movie Theatre Snacks" article or VegNews Vegan Movie Snack(s) Time?  They usually provide relatively accurate information, but these two articles are not giving you the full story.  (For the record, I have tweeted PETA twice, asking them to update this article, but never received a response.  And I tweeted VegNews once.)  While the buttery topping at Cinemark and AMC Theatres are vegan, their salt is not.  Seriously?!?!  Yes, seriously.

I tweeted the three major movie theater chains in my area, Cinemark, AMC and Regal for confirmation about their popcorn.

Cinemark was the least interested in interacting with me, simply directing me to their Nutritional and Allergen Information Page.

On that page you will find this;

"The popcorn salt that we use to pop the corn with does have some soy as well as dairy.

If the guest would prefer to have a batch popped without the popcorn salt (if this was found to be the cause of a reaction) - the employee would be able to accommodate this request.  We have asked theatres to honor requests for no salt batches of popcorn, so they should be aware of this - not only for allergy reasons, but more due to recent concerns about salt intake levels.  There may be trace amounts left in the popper from previous batches though."  

While it stinks that their popcorn has dairy in the salt, I appreciate how detailed this information is, as most establishments apparently refuse to provide any nutritional information (that means you Starbucks and Texas Roadhouse, whose french fries are cooked in animal fat!  WTF?!?!)

AMC Theaters admitting to dairy in their salt is what started all of this inquiry.  A person from a vegan Facebook page I am part of had always gotten the popcorn at AMC because they told her it was vegan. After hearing a rumor that it wasn't, she asked again the next time she went.  This time she asked the employee to check the ingredients on the bag.  After reviewing it together, it was clear that there was dairy in the salt.  When I brought this incident to their attention, they responded:

When I pointed out that people have asked, and they were told it was vegan.  They simply repeated that you could ask for it without seasoning.

But that's not the point....  Shouldn't your employees be trained to know what's in your food? Especially if you don't have an online or printed nutrition and allergen list available?  So ignore PETA's and VegNew's article, they are wrong.

While PETA was wrong about AMC, they were right about Regal!

As someone who always tries to support vegan-friendly businesses, Regal is now my one-and-only when it comes to going out for a movie.

On a separate note, if you were interested in a bag of freshly popped popcorn, but not into going to the movies, you can grab some at Target.

I guess they mentioned salt is a mineral because they were probably very confused by my question. As they should be!  Why is anyone adding dairy to the salt?  Some people may lead you to believe that it's to prevent the salt from caking.  I don't remotely believe that's the case.  In my opinion, it's for the same reason they add dairy or dairy by-products to almost everything we has addictive properties.  Some research proves the link, some research (usually funded by the dairy industry or people benefiting from denouncing the link between dairy and bad health) says it's not.  Do your own research, apply some common sense and make up your own mind.

In terms of the popcorn, stick with Regal for an evening out; or Target if you're having a movie night at home.