Extending the Table: Honoring Dietary Restrictions

Ben and Heather Kulp’s 6-week challenge to cook exclusively from
Extending the Table Cookbook.

Extending the Table

One of the worst feelings a host can have is setting down a plate of food only to realize your guest can’t eat it. Heather had this experience recently when she planned dinner with two friends she hadn’t seen in awhile. She picked a restaurant they had all loved during a younger period in life. When they arrived, though, the friends mentioned that they were following a gluten-free diet. Very little on the menu was gluten-free, so the friends ended up eating plain salad. Heather’s tempeh reuben was less tasty because of it.

We used to be a culture in which it was rude to have dietary restrictions. You were labeled “picky” or even worse, “weird.” Even though Heather’s been a vegetarian for 13 years, her grandmother’s maxim rings through her ears whenever someone serves her meat, “Eat everything on your plate; there are starving children in Africa!”

The funny thing is, most countries do not eat as much wheat or meat as we do in the U.S. and Canada.

Our soil and land space has made farming and animal husbandry easier than in some other countries. Heather’s ancestors grew wheat in Kansas and Oklahoma, even surviving the Dust Bowl in order to grow food for market. Ben’s ancestors raised chickens. But both also had substantial gardens, where they could grow diverse “crops” to be eaten at home. So, the dietary focus was not on wheat or meat alone, but on lots of fresh vegetables and fruits.

Now, it’s hard to go a meal without having at least two servings of wheat or one serving of meat—that is, unless you cook from home! Well, Grandma, thanks to Extending the Table and other resources about global diets, we understand that our dietary choices—including being “picky” about not eating much meat and focusing on whole grains and vegetables–can actually help reduce starvation in Africa.

One of the new features in the latest edition of Extending the Table is the letters next to each recipe indicating whether it is vegetarian and/or gluten-free. This was particularly helpful this week, as we cooked for many people with dietary restrictions.

First, Heather and our son visited her family in Colorado. With a sister and brother-in-law who both have celiac disease (which means eating gluten can cause severe intestinal damage and even cancer—this is distinct from people who choose to eat gluten-free or have a wheat allergy/sensitivity), the gluten-free designations came in handy. Too often, these relatives find themselves buying expensive “imitation” foods that are trying to be like the wheat-based version: crackers, cookies, and bread that aren’t very wholesome and are rarely tasty. So many recipes are naturally gluten-free, though, so Heather focused on those.

The New Mexico Hominy Soup (p. 102) was a hit. We subbed in chorizo for the pork neck and kicked up the spice a bit (after all, we were in the West, where chili powder is used like salt and pepper!). We even looked up how hominy is made. It seems like a great way for families in cultures without refrigeration to preserve corn. An attempt at Cabbage and Tomato Sauce (p. 128) was less well-received. Though it was wholesome, it didn’t have much flavor. I’ll follow the suggestion in the margin next time and include chunky peanut butter (as long as no one has a peanut allergy!).

The next dietary restriction we faced was a friend who gave birth recently. Babies are quite sensitive to what their mothers eat, so things that cause gas in us—beans, cabbage, broccoli—can be incredibly painful for them. So, we focused on bland and healthful items, especially those high in protein (a necessary nutrient for breastfeeding mothers around the world). While Heather’s grandmother’s sauerkraut and bratwurst is anything but bland, most German food is known for its baseness. So, we stuck with a mostly-German menu. First was the Creamy Carrot Soup (p. 79). Rich in beta carotene, this helps baby’s eye development. We paired it with the Grambrot Hearty Wheat Bread (p. 61), though we found the bread almost too hearty! We laughed at the comment in the recipe’s margin, “It’s real bread that gives you something to chew.” Indeed, it was great dipped in the soup. To honor the new father’s heritage, we also made the Colombian Orange and Peanut Salad (p. 118), subbing spinach for the Boston lettuce. Fresh and rich in both iron and protein, we served the salad after the soup for a cool finish to the meal.

10_OrangePeanutSalad_ExtendTable-1293Colombian Orange and Peanut Salad

The final dietary restriction we had this week was an unpleasant one—both of us got the flu. We lived off of Ginger Tea (p. 39) and other ayurvedic-type dishes. We especially loved the heat of the Assorted Vegetable Saute (Indonesian, p. 138). As the older version of the cookbook recommends, we added some tempeh (fermented bean cake) to increase the protein content. The spices, especially the chilis, used in other countries’ cooking certainly cleared our sinuses and gave us the immunity boost we needed!

IndonesianDishAssorted Vegetable Saute, author photo

As we navigate the increasingly complicated world of the global food trade and its impact on our bodies, we are grateful to have tools to help those who host us, and those we host, honor a variety of dietary choices.

To buy Extending the Tableclick here

MennoByte_photoBen Kulp is a cellist, Suzuki cello instructor, and entrepreneur. Heather Scheiwe Kulp is the Clinical Fellow at the Harvard Law School Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program. Along with a son born February 2014, they live in Boston, Massachusetts, and attend the Mennonite Congregation of Boston. Together, they enjoy hiking, listening to live music, and enjoying good food with friends.

Look for their posts each Wednesday thru June 11, under the special series category, Six Weeks with Extending the Table. Or sign up to receive all Mennobytes posts by subscription from the SUBSCRIBE button on the right side of the blog.