You think veganism is a recent trend? Think again! You think feminism was invented in the twentieth century? Missed it by about 2400 years!
Meet Orpheus, mythical Ancient Greek poet and musician, a hero of one of the best-known love stories of all times (if you are wondering about the black hole behind his lire, that had been a clock face, and we’ve been looking for a matching 18th century clock for almost twenty years, as this bronze was my in-laws’ wedding present; we are still looking…). Orpheus loved his wife Euridice, but sadly, she died. Inconsolable, Orpheus conceived a fantastic plan: he would go down into the Underworld Kingdom of Hades and beg his mom Percephone, who just happened to be married to Hades at the time, to convince Hades to release his beloved Euridice back into the world of living. Crazy? Not to his mind! If he was able to play music like this, he could charm even Cerberus, the monstrous Hound of Hades:
Fantastic Jean-Pierre Rampal, considered the best flutist in the world, immerses us into divine music of Gluck’s Orpheus and Euridice.
To make a long story short, mommy did what her talented son requested, and Euridice was released, but on one condition: she had to follow her husband without turning around, no matter what was happening around her. We have a similar, albeit much earlier story about Lot’s wife who had been given the same instructions, but haven’t heeded them, and turned into a salt pillar as a result. Poor Euridice, unfortunately, followed a wrong model of behavior, rather than following instructions. Reacting to baleful pleading of spirits, she turned around and was dragged right back. According to one myth, to console her son, Percephone added to his gift of charming animals with music by giving him a blessing to grow plants. It seems that her mother Demeter, the symbol of Earth, had bestowed upon someone a sheaf of wheat with a mission to teach people agriculture. Take another look at my Orpheus bronze, and you’ll see that sheaf of wheat on the pedestal. Note: according to another myth, it was Dionysius, not Orpheus, who was Percephone’s son, and Orpheus only started the Dionysian rites (that’s when everybody got drunk and rowdy). Regardless, vegetarianism was a mainstay of Orphism, or Orphisism, one of the two predominant Ancient Greek beliefs.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, by Steven Sondheim, opens with this number, brilliantly delivered by inimitable Zero Mostel. Moving from a Baroque opera to a Broadway musical, and from a tragedy of lost love to comedy, here is the famous comedy writer Aristophanes (5th century BCE) writing about some Orphists and Pythagorians who are so “strictly vegetarian” that they are “living on bread and water alone.”
Aristophanes is also pretty much involved with contemporary gender-related issues as he pens his famous comedy Lysistrata that deals with power of women to assume leadership roles and stop wars:
“There are a lot of things about us women
That sadden me, considering how men
See us as rascals,”
proclaims Lysistrata and enthusiastically sets out to change this perception.
“Where is the beef?” – demands Clara Peller in the old hilarious Wendy commercial. I confess: I do not subscribe to veganism or vegetarianism as described by Aristophanes (power of women is a different story!); I do eat meat on Shabbos and holidays, as our sages suggest that a positive commandment to rejoice includes eating both meat and fish and drinking wine. However, I feel that getting my protein from plant-based sources keeps me in better health. Therefore, I have taken a ubiquitous Mediterranean dish that dates back to Aristophanes’ times and replaced meat with Beefless Ground. Sorry, Mrs Peller, no beef in this recipe!
We are making yemista, or gemista – simple stuffed peppers. Certainly, everybody’s grandmother had the best recipe, and my grandmother was no exception, but we also had Greek neighbors who made yemista with raisins and walnuts, which is way different from a traditional Jewish recipe. The sauce is made of diced tomatoes, sweet red wine (my grandfather made his own!), and agave. A handful of baby yellow tomatoes is just there for decoration purposes, for a splash of color, but they do add a slight lemony accent.
Another important substitution is using quinoa instead of traditional rice for stuffing vegetables. Feel free to adhere to the tradition and use rice (feel free to use meat too, if that’s your pleasure), but I opt for having almost no carbs and double protein – it’s a win-win!
Carefully cut the tops off nice fat bell peppers and clean out the middle, seeds and all. Pour some sauce on the bottom of a baking dish and place your peppers side by side, standing up and at the ready, like good little soldiers.
Prepare your filling by mixing quinoa, meat substitute, grated carrots, chopped walnuts, and raisins. Add fresh chopped cilantro, squeeze some garlic into it, and flavor it with salt and pepper, cinnamon and cumin, and another splash of the sauce, to bind it. Mix it well to blend the flavors, fill your peppers to the brim, and tamp it down to compress it. Put the pepper tops back on and add the sauce to the dish to reach about half the height of the peppers. Cover it up tightly and bake it for about an hour, or until the peppers feel soft to the touch.
I checked on them about half-way through and tossed in the little golden nuggets – baby yellow tomatoes. They plumped up but did not lose their shape which was very nice of them!
For some mysterious reasons, stuffed peppers are usually served on Sukkos. I don’t always follow this American Jewish tradition; I make them any time peppers are in season, and they are in season four times a year in Florida. Am I lucky or what? Since they are meatless, they could be served with sour cream, but since dairy products have decided to exit my house a few years ago, I have been using Tofutti Sour Supreme – it works! Now I can invite Orpheus to dinner, together with Aristophanes, but not Clara Peller who is still looking for beef!
- 1 cup Beefless Ground or any ground meat substitute
- 1 cup cooked quinoa (1/2 cup uncooked)
- 2 – 3 large bell peppers (any color)
- 1/2 cup grated carrot
- 1 cup diced tomatoes
- 1/2 cup sweet red wine
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
- 1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
- 2 – 3 garlic cloves, squeezed
- 1 tablespoon or more agave (to taste)
- A pinch of cumin
- A pinch of cinnamon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Optional: 1/2 cup yellow grape tomatoes
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Prepare sauce by mixing diced tomatoes with wine and agave. Cover bottom of baking dish with 1 – 2 tablespoons of sauce. Reserve the rest.
- Cut tops off peppers, carefully seed and clean the middle without damaging peppers. Place peppers upright in baking dish on top of sauce. Leave tops on the side.
- Prepare filling by mixing remaining ingredients, except yellow tomatoes. Add 1 tablespoon of sauce while mixing. Mix thoroughly. Fill peppers, tamp filling down, cover with pepper tops. Add remaining sauce to the dish up to the middle of standing peppers. Place lid on firmly, bake for 1 hour or more, depending on firmness of peppers.
- Yellow tomatoes could be added after 30 minutes. Peppers are done when soft to the touch.
- Serve with sour cream or substitute on the side.