Why you should eat vegetarian tonight: UTIs
I apologize in advance for associating a food post with the unappetizing topic of urinary tract infections (UTIs) but the reality is, surprisingly, they are related. I went to a very interesting lecture recently, given by a researcher at my organization. She studies the bacteria that cause UTIs; not the how, or the why but the "where do they come from?". Her research, and that by others, is showing that the bacteria that cause UTIs originate from the poultry and pork industries.
It is a little bit complicated, but from my understanding it goes a little something like this: A girl buys some chicken. She prepares it in her kitchen, maybe gets the bacteria on her counter so it contaminates other food items or maybe she undercooks the chicken because she doesnt read food blogs or maybe she is too hungry to wait the suggested recipe cooking time. The girl eats the chicken and the survivng E. coli bacteria live unnoticed in her gut. (If you are thinking about hamburger disease, stop right there, this is different; I will explain in a minute). It could be for months that this bacteria grows and lives happily and peacefully in her belly, helping her digest her food, causing her no grief. But one day, somehow (let's not go there) the bacteria finds its way into her bladder where her body is not so happy to have the bacteria reside. So her body gets all angry and upset, hits the immune response button, and voila, bladder infection.
This process, of bacteria getting from the intestine to the bladder is not such a new concept. The fact that the bacteria that seems to be causing some troublesome bladder infections is mainly coming from pork and poultry farms, is surprising. The worst part is that these specific meat industry born E. coli strains are antibiotic resistant, meaning they are very stubborn and hard to treat.
The point is, meat farms breed antibiotic resistant bacteria that are causing human infections beyond the standard food poisoning. These bacteria are a menace and a threat to human health.
I also learnt from this research that when farms switch to organic practices, the presence of antibiotic resistant bacteria all but vanishes. Because they don't use antibiotics, resistance does not develop. This is not your average hippy mumbo jumbo, this is science. And as we all know, you can't argue with science (okay yes you can, but its better than nothing).
I would like to reassure you that if you are vegetarian, you do not have to worry. Unfortunately I cannot because animal farms are not closed systems. The bacteria that breeds in the meat industry contaminates water supplies that can come into contact with produce farms, allowing spread of these organisms.
The only real solution is a long term one, to increase organic practices in animal farms and reduce the size and spread of animal farms. So if we all choose vegetarian tonight, and choose organic meat when we cannot resist it, we can make it easier for farmers to switch to practices that decrease the prevalence of harmful, antibiotic resistant bacteria circulating in our population.
For those of you who are curious, E. coli and other bacteria exist in many forms. At a very basic level we can categorize bacteria into three groups: 1) Those that do not affect us 2) those that actually help us and 3) those that harm us. Sometimes, a single bacteria can fall into all three of those categories; their effect however will be different depending on where in your body they end up (i.e. the surface of the skin versus the inside of a cut) or the state of our immune system (for example a healthy young adult versus an elderly person or someone undergoing chemotherapy).
Most E. coli strains are harmless. The E. coli that cause food poisening produce a toxin that causes the classic symptoms of food poisoning. The bacteria strains that have been associated with bladder infections don't make these toxins, so in our gut, they do us no harm. The symptoms of bladder infections result when the E. coli find a way to stick to the lining of the urinary tract, this elicits an inflammatory response made by our body when it detects these E. coli in the bladder. A classic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong (or right, depending on your point of view) time.
So todays recipe is a great winter recipe to make if you are looking to cut meat and other animal products out of your diet. Making this recipe does require some of your time and a little bit of strategic planning in the kitchen, and also several pots. But it is tasty, healthy, comforting and vegan and serves as a well rounded balance of vegetables and protein perfect for a cold and rainy Vancouver evening.
Cannelli beans, roasted potatoes and mushroom gravy
- 3/4 cup dried cannelli beans
- 1 garlic clove
- 3 sage leaves
- 12 medium (2-3") red new potatoes
- 1 large parsnip
- 2 carrots
- 1 leek
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves
- sea salt
- 1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms
- 2 cups water
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup chopped onion
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 sage leaves chopped
- 1.5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp flour
- The first step in this recipe is cooking the cannelli beans, which will take about two hours. Alternatively you can use a slow cooker to cook the beans while you are at work, or cook them the night before you plan to make the recipe.
- Making the beans is very simple and involves placing the beans in a pot with a clove of garlic, a few sage leaves and covering with a few inches of water.
- Bring the beans to a low boil, cover and simmer. If at any point, the liquid reduces enough to no longer be covering the beans, stir in more water and bring back to a simmer (repeat as needed).
- After an hour, stir in about 1/2 tsp of sea salt, cover again and continue to simmer another 30 minutes to an hour, until the beans are nice and creamy-soft.
- If you are making the beans on the same day as the rest of the recipe, preheat the oven to 400F when there is about 1 hour of cooking time left for the beans.
- Bring 5-6 cups of water to boil in a pot.
- Remove two cups of that water into a bowl, stir in the porcini mushrooms and cover. Let them sit about 30 minutes, or until you are ready to use them in the gravy.
- To the remaining pot of water, add the chopped potatoes, bring to a low boil, then continue to cook at a low boil for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, toss the chopped carrots, leek and parsnip with 1 tbsp of olive oil, 1 minced clove of garlic and season with sea salt.
- Spread on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.
- Drain the potatoes, toss them with the other tablespoon of olive oil, crushed garlic clove and sea salt. Spread the potatoes over top of the other vegetables, so that everything is in one, crowded, single layer.
- Place the vegetables in the oven and roast 25 minutes, tossing once half way through.
- While the vegetables are roasting, make the gravy.
- Sautee the onion, one crushed clove of garlic and the chopped sage in 1 tbsp of olive oil for about 8 minutes, until the onion is translucent.
- In a separate pot, make a roux by heating 1.5 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat. Stir in the flour and whisk continually, cooking, for 5 minutes (you can do this while also stirring the onions).
- Add a couple of splashes of wine to the onion mixture, stir and warm about 1 minute.
- Add the porcini mushrooms and broth to the onion mixture, season with sea salt and then slowly whisk the roux into the mushroom and onion mix. Whisk together about one minute.
- Transfer the mix to a food processor or blender and blend until fairly smooth (slightly chunky is okay).
- Return the gravy to the pot and rewarm over low heat.
- At this point you can season the gravy with sea salt and pepper to taste. Also, if there is liquid remaining in the simmering beans (there should be) you can transfer that into the gravy mix. The liquid should be salty and have a nice earthy flavour that adds flavour to the gravy.
- When the potatoes are done roasting, remove from oven. Serve the potatoes alongside a serving of cannelli beans and top with gravy.
- If you do not add the bean liquid to the gravy you can serve the beans with some of the liquid alongside the potatoes and then top with the gravy.