Who won Waldorf?

I’m sure you’ve all been holding your breath to know whether or not “The Seven Species” won the competition! Well, here’s the update.

The second annual Taste of Waldorf competition (organized by the Waldorf Astoria group in partnership with James Beard Foundation) wrapped up this week in New York as chefs from Amsterdam, Beijing, Jerusalem, New Orleans and Orlando competed for the honour of adding to the hotel chain’s signature dishes.

A few weeks ago I offered my take on Jerusalem chef Itzik Barak’s dish, which spun on the seven sacred plant species of the bible. In the end, the competition went to Beijing chef Benoit Chargy and his partner JBF Rising Star Semi-Finalist Chef Erik Bruner-Yang for their dish entitled “Jing roll”. The plate presented comprised Wagyu beef wrapped in Chinese cabbage and served with a fried black mushroom, hoisin sauce and salted duck eggs.

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 23: A view of food during Taste of Waldorf Astoria at Waldorf Astoria Hotel on February 23, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts)
NEW YORK, NY – FEBRUARY 23: A view of food during Taste of Waldorf Astoria at Waldorf Astoria Hotel on February 23, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts)

Funnily enough, I made cabbage wraps this week as well, though it was before I knew about the competition winner. Watch this spot for my take on cabbage wraps (no mushrooms or salted duck eggs, though).

Jing roll dish will soon be featured on menus at 25 Waldorf Astoria hotels around the globe. For more information about the competition, contestants and winner, click here.

The Year of the Veg

Here’s something that caught my eye:

“Move over, meat, this is the year of the veg. An interesting trend in a few small restaurants in California seems to have gained worldwide attention – they serve vegetables in various forms as the main dish and you’re able to order a small side portion of protein if you wish. With the cost of meat – both on the wallet and the earth – I predict this food trend gaining some serious traction in the future.”

Ra ra to the world for finally coming their senses 🙂 This trend-watch was featured in this month’s issue of  The Ridge Magazine. Other predictions included a focus on artisanal ice creams, eastern condiments and breads made with ancient grains like amaranth, millet, spelt and teff.

Let’s hope this sees the start of an upsurge of veggie-friendly options on South African restaurant menus.

And just for drawing attention to it, let’s give a shout out to food contributor Paul Sheppard (support him by celebrating the news with lunch at his bistro Marco Paulo in Mt Edgecombe).

 

Cauli greens

Do not throw away cauliflower leaves! They’re full of vitamins and flavour. Chop them up – including the thick spiny bits – and follow me to Yum Land with this easy application:

Sauté 1 chopped onion with 3 cloves of crushed garlic until soft. Add washed, chopped cauliflower leaves and cook for about 5-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

Serve with anything (we had lemon-and-parsley butter beans and boiled baby potatoes)

Sautéed cauli greens

Seriously. You never knew this could taste so good. And to think you’ve been throwing out this wholesome, delicious packaging for years!

 * save money * add variety to your 5-a-day * reduce your garbage                * eat healthy * high yum factor *

The Veggie Tots Seven Species Salad

At the end of this month, six chefs from the international hotel chain the Waldorf Astoria – famous for inventing the Waldorf salad, eggs benedict and red velvet cake – will compete in New York to create a new signature dish. Chef Itzik Barak of the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem is submitting a salad dish inspired by the seven sacred species of the bible: the wheat, barley, vines, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:8.

Waldorf Astoria chef Itzik Barak’s The Seven Species

As a vegetarian, this idea tickled my taste buds, but it bothered me ever so slightly that Barak chose to make fish a centerpiece of the dish (view the recipe here). I felt it somewhat superfluous, and that it detracts from the spirit of the biblical verse. Plus, Barak’s dish features just three out of the seven species (four if you count olive oil as showcasing olives).

My (vegetarian) version includes all seven species: barley salad with dates and pomegranates, olive tapenade on crostini (wheat), and figs and grapes poached in red wine (repetition of the vine imagery there). The saltiness of the olives complements the sweetness of the figs and grapes, and the crunch of the crostini offsets the softness of the same.

Veggietot Mom’s Seven Species Salad

I kept Barak’s base of tahini (though I altered the quantities as I found his recipe didn’t “smear” as his instructions direct) and I added thyme to the tapenade in a nod to his flavour profiling.

This is untypically Veggie Tot-tish in that it really is quite complicated and time-consuming to make, but it was loads of fun and very very yummy, so I encourage you to give it a try! (If you’re Jewish, this is a great one to file away for the harvest festivals of Shavuot or Sukkot as it celebrates the produce of Eretz Yisrael in all its glory.)

The Veggie Tots Seven Species Salad

(6-8 servings)

INGREDIENTS

Tahini

  • 40 grams tahini
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • Pinch of salt for taste
  • Pinch of pepper for taste
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup ice water

Barley salad

  • 200 grams dried pearl barley
  • 1 pomegranate (or one small carton pomegranate rubies)
  • 4 dates (or 8 dried, which are smaller), finely chopped
  • 40 grams pumpkin, finely chopped
  • 4 pears, finely chopped
  • One thumb-size piece of ginger, peeled and grated
  • 20 grams parsley, chopped
  • 20 grams mint, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon lime
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1 small red chili, deseeded and finely chopped
  • Pinch of salt to taste
  • Pinch of pepper to taste
  • 1 cup olive oil

Poached fruit

  • 4-8 figs (depending on size, preferably fresh), quartered
  • Small bunch grapes
  • 2 cups red wine (I used sacramental Kiddush wine to underpin the scriptural roots of the dish)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks

Olive tapenade

  • 1 cup olives (black, green, or a mix), pitted
  • 4-5 sprigs fresh thyme (or ½ teaspoon dried)
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (optional)

Crostini

  • 8 slices artisanal bread (I used challah because I liked the spiritual connotation to sacred bread)
  • ½ cup olive oil for brushing

Garnish

  • 1 radish
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • Drizzle lime juice
  • Pinch of salt to taste
  • Pinch of pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil 

RECIPE

Heads-up: This is fiddly dish, but all but one of the recipe steps can be done a day or two in advance, so pace yourself. Mix the salad (step 7) on the day you’ll be eating it, and plate immediately before serving.

1  Make tachina sauce by combining tahini, lemon juice, salt, pepper, olive oil and ice water in a medium size mixing bowl and whisking until smooth. Refrigerate.

2  Cook barley according to packet instructions (or bring to boil and seal in a Wonderbag for about 40 minutes). Drain, cool and refrigerate.

3  Make olive tapenade by combining all the ingredients with a handheld blender, small food processor or mortar and pestle. Refrigerate. (PS licking the tapenade bowl is to grownups what licking the cake batter bowl is to kids!)

4  Poach the figs and grapes by combining all the ingredients in an ovenproof dish, covered with a lid or tin foil, and cooking for approx. 20 minutes at 180°C. Cool, then refrigerate. Feed surplus figs to your Veggie Tot 🙂

5  While the oven is on, spank it up to “grill” and toast crostini by brushing the bread with olive oil and cooking for about 2 minutes (watch it – it burns fast!) Cool completely and store in an airtight container.

6  Use a veggie peeler to peel garnish vegetables lengthwise into long, thin slivers (rotate the radish as you peel). Marinate in the fridge in the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.

7  To make the salad, sauté the pumpkin with thyme leaves, salt, pepper and oil for 3 minutes until golden brown. When cool, combine with the rest of the salad ingredients and toss well in a large mixing bowl.

PLATING

1  Smear tahini in a line on the plate.

2  Place barley salad directly on top.

3  Spread olive tapenade on the crostini (cut into elegant pieces if your bread slices are large) and place on top of the barley salad.

4  Dot with the poached figs and grapes.

5  Roll pieces of pickled garnish vegetable and place throughout the plate, on top of the croutons or in the barley salad. Add leaves (I used chives and baby rocket) and extra pomegranate rubies.

6  If you’re feeling fancy, you can reduce some of the poaching liquid in a small pan to create a red wine jus and use this to decorate the rim of the plate. It’s quite yummy too.

Thanks to Wendy, Peter and Warren for being my willing, patient (and, I might add, satisfied) guinea pigs!

 

Yes we can-apé!

Move over, pigs in blankets and sausage rolls. The new, healthy vegetarian canapés are coming through!

Clockwise from top left: melon and feta kebabs, cucumber hors d’oeuvres with cream cheese and sprouts, tomato and halloumi polenta bites, falafel balls with tachina (crudité behind), healthy date balls, mini crustless quiches, caprese morsels, DIY papaya lettuce wraps with ginger dipping sauce.

I’ve listed the recipes in the order that you should prepare them so you can pace yourself (some keep well for a few days and others are best made fresh).

Note: If you’re going to grow your own sprouts (click here if you’re not sure how), start several days before.

 

FALAFEL BALLS WITH TACHINA

You can make these weeks in advance because they freeze well.

Soak 500 g dried chickpeas with 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda overnight (don’t use canned chickpeas for this – the falafel may fall apart). Rinse. Blitz in a food processor with 3 cloves garlic, 3 Tbs chopped fresh parsley, juice of 1 lemon, 2 tsp salt, 2 tsp cumin seeds (whole), 2 tsp ground coriander, 1 tsp cayenne pepper, and 2 tsp baking powder (not traditional but makes them light and fluffy). It should be coarsely ground, not a fine paste. You can leave this mixture in the fridge for a day or two – in fact standing improves the flavours.

Use wet hands to shape small falafel balls and deep-fry in vegetable oil in batches, stirring periodically, until golden brown. Drain on paper towel or a clean dishcloth. Once cool, store falafel balls in the freezer; remove an hour or two before serving and they should be just right!

To make the tachina sauce, blend ½ cup tahini (ground sesame paste) with 3 cloves crushed garlic and ¼ tsp salt, then add the juice of half a lemon and 2-3 Tbs olive oil. Thin with warm water to desired consistency. Tachina also freezes well but allow a good few hours for thawing. Otherwise, store tachina in fridge for several days and decant up to an hour before serving.

TIP: Serve crudités for scooping up the extra tachina. The fresh crunch couples the soft falafel beautifully. (Cut crudités on the day of serving.)

 

DATE BALLS

It’s nice to offer a sweet option, and this one’s great as there’s no added sugar.

Melt 1 cup chopped dates in 2 Tbs coconut oil until soft and gooey (can take a while with dried dates). Remove from heat, then add ½ cup desiccated coconut and ½ cup chopped nuts (peanuts, almonds, pistachios or a mix work well). When cool enough to handle, mould into dainty balls and roll in extra desiccated coconut. Store in an airtight container for several days.

 

TOMATO AND HALLOUMI POLENTA BITES

This is great because you can prepare the various elements in advance at your leisure, and then look like a domestic goddess when you quickly “throw it all together” at the end!

Fill a roasting dish with roughly chopped tomatoes, onions, garlic cloves and oregano. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, and a pinch of sugar. Roast at 200°C until liquids have reduced and the ends are starting to char.

Combine ½ cup polenta and 2 cups water. Bring to the boil and stir frequently for about 10 minutes. Pour into a greased baking tray. (If you’ve got the oven on at this point, drizzle the polenta with olive oil and bake for 10-15 minutes to add colour.) Allow to cool, then cut into canapé-sized squares or wedges.

Store tomato ragout, polenta squares and sliced halloumi in separate containers in fridge. Compile and garnish with fresh basil leaves up to an hour before serving.

TIP: Can’t find polenta? Use regular mieliemeal instead. A pinch of turmeric even gives it a yellow hue.

 

MINI CRUSTLESS QUICHES

Beat 3 eggs and 1 cup fat free yoghurt. Season with salt and pepper. Half-fill greased mini muffin pans with this mixture (pan sizes may vary; this quantity did 6 of mine, in a few batches). Top variously with sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions, grated cheddar or chunks of brie. Gently press the toppings into the mixture, so it oozes up the sides, forming a shell. Bake at 180°C for 20-30 minutes until set and golden brown.

Store in airtight container in fridge.

TIP: Remove half an hour before serving to bring to room temperature. Arrange on a pretty platter and garnish with chopped chives.

 

MELON AND FETA KEBABS

Spear cubes of melon (spanspek, sweet melon or watermelon work well), chunks of feta, mint leaves and pitted olives onto wooden skewers. Store in an airtight container in the fridge (you can make these several hours before serving).

TIP: Remember you can wash and reuse the kebab sticks!

CAPRESE MORSELS

Halve cherry tomatoes and top each with a sliver of mozzarella cheese. (At this point you can store them in the fridge for several hours.) Just before serving, spoon a dollop of basil pesto onto each morsel.

TIP: To avoid wonky canapés that wobble all over the plate as you carry it, use this trick: Place each cherry tomato down whole before you cut it. That will show you where it’s steady base is. Slice parallel to this point, and both halves should balance fairly well.

 

CUCUMBER HORS D’OEUVRES WITH CREAM CHEESE AND SPROUTS

Lay round slices of cucumber on a serving plate. Top each with a teaspoonful of cream cheese (fat free cottage cheese works fine too), a drizzle of sweet chilli sauce and a pile of sprouts. Just before serving, sprinkle with black and white sesame seeds.

TIP: Alfalfa sprouts are so pretty for this, but lentil sprouts works too. Bean and chickpea sprouts are a bit large and unwieldy.

 

DIY PAPAYA LETTUCE WRAPS WITH GINGER DIPPING SAUCE.

The crunch of tart cos lettuce and the sweet softness of pawpaw pair beautifully with this ginger sauce, and guests enjoy wrapping and dipping their own.

To make the dipping sauce, combine tamari (or soy sauce if you can’t find it) with grated fresh ginger, crushed garlic, ground cumin, finely chopped coriander and a little chopped chilli.

Arrange piles of cos lettuce leaves and slices of papaya or pawpaw on a platter with a ramekin of dipping sauce.

TIP: You can make the dipping sauce several days ahead, and use any leftovers to coat your next stir-fry.

Drooly and Droolier: Veg Medley

Protein, carb, plus the sweetness and betacarotene of the carrots makes this a light but balanced meal. My baby loves it followed by a spot of pureed apples for dessert – or mixed together with the dessert and eaten all at once!

Veg Medley OR corn, carrots, peas ‘n beans

Ingredients:

500g corn kernels (sweetcorn is best if your baby’s got a sweet tooth)

500g carrots

500g peas

500g green beans

Method:

1. Steam or lightly boil all the ingredients. It helps if you chop up the carrots and beans around the same size as the peas and corn, as they will cook evenly. You can also ‘cheat’ and just buy a bag of frozen mixed veg.

2. Puree the ingredients, thinning to desired consistency with the steaming/boiling liquid (or some sodium-free stock if you prefer).

Makes approx. 2.2 litres.

General Notes:

Output quantities are given in litres, not servings, as each baby eats a different quantity per meal, and this of course changes as the baby grows. You can calculate how many servings the recipes make by dividing the output quantity by the average number of ml’s your baby eats per meal. Output quantity will also be affected by how much liquid you add (this depends if your baby prefers runny or firm food, and this will probably also change with time. Note: firmer food is harder for baby to chew but easier/neater to feed! Your call.)

Of course all quantities can also be halved/doubled/etc, and all recipes can be altered according to your baby’s taste or what you have in the fridge!

For more exciting vegetarian baby food recipes, search for ‘Drooly and Droolier’ in the search bar on the top right of the page, or visit the ‘Recipes’ tab under Categories. 

 

Note: The corn cobs also make great teethers!

The Corner Café is going meat free for COP17

image courtesy elledecoration.co.za

One of my favourite little cafés is going all out to raise green awareness around the COP17 conference that’ll be taking place in Durban later this month.

 

Firstly, they’ll be leaving meat off their menus for the duration of the conference. As the Café’s quirky proprietor Juddy Poo points out, leaving meat off your plate is one of the best things you can do to prevent global warming and world hunger.

 

They’ll also be selling trees at cost price to help customers offset their carbon footprints, plus they’ll throw in a free coffee. You can take the tree home to plant in your own garden, or sponsor it to be planted around the city. The fact that all the trees will be christened “Juddy Poo” is a little odd, but then even odd-balls do their best to help the planet. For more info check out his blog.

 

What is COP17?

 

COP17 is the 17th Conference Of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It’s also the 7thconference serving as the meeting of the parties (CMP7) to discuss the Kyoto Protocol (KP). They sure like their acronyms (TSLTA’s).

 

This year they’ll be converging on Durban’s sunny shores, starting 28 November. For more information, check out their website.

 

What are you going to do to make a green difference over COP17?

 

Do you have plans to make a special difference over this period of heightened environmental awareness? Or is this a bit like an ecological Valentine’s Day, where too much emphasis is placed on a single day when we should be show our love for the environment every day?

Eating Veg in the Zulu Kingdom

Anne Stevens I’m not, but I spend a fair amount of time eating out. Durban has a fair amount to offer the vegetarian diner, from a couple of dedicated vegetarian restaurants to plenty of places that are “vegetarian-friendly” (for tips on how to eat in non-vegetarian restaurants, click here).

Here are my TOP TEN personal favourites.

Of course this list is by no means exhaustive – there are plenty of wonderful eateries that didn’t make it onto this list at this point. Time- (and budget-) willing, I’d love to expand the list. And I’d love to know your favourite places so please leave a comment!

 

These are in no particular order:

1. Earthmother Organic  

106 Bulwer Road, Glenwood (031) 202 1527

This unique café-cum-health-shop-cum-alternative-massage-therapist-cum-local-designers-emporium-cum-farm-stall is totally vegetarian and organic. It’s kiddie-friendly too. Try the “full of beans” toasted sandwich with a freshly squeezed fruit and veggie juice. And the brownies – oh, the brownies!

2. Vrushiks Vegetarian Foods 

Mangrove Beach Centre, Somtseu Road, North Beach (031 368 7443)

This ancient hole-in-the-wall produces fresh karma free food daily, from breyani and traditional curry dishes to more modern menus with vegetarian “mince” and “prawns”. The only drawback is their use of polystyrene dishes, even for eat-in customers. But if enough people ask for it, we may get them to use real plates!

3. The Arts Café

166 Bulwer Road, Glenwood (031) 201 9969

Their lentil burger is something special (enough to share if you’re looking to graze), and they have a great veggie-friendly kiddies menu. I love meeting fellow mommy friends for a snack and catching up while the little ones play on the jungle gym.

4. Nino’s

Cowey Park Centre, Cowey Road, Berea (031 207 8516). Also all over Durban.

The Nino’s franchise has earned a space on my Top Ten simply for its efforts to vegetarianize traditional café fare. Nino’s now have a special focus on vegetarian meals (click here for more info) and they offer Fry’s vegetarian substitutes for nearly every meat wrap, sandwich and omelette. I mean, at what other mainstream joint can a vegetarian order pasta Bolognese or a cheese burger? Ra, Nino’s.

5. Plaka

Palm Boulevard, Umhlanga (031) 566 7456 

This elegant establishment epitomizes perfect customer service. I have neverhad a bad experience there. Plus, they offer more than 20 vegetarian dips, mezze items and meals (but their vegetarian mezze platter is enough for a main meal for two and is a veritable explosion of colour and flavour). Dolmades are to die for.

6. Indian Connection

485 Windermere Road, Morningside (031 312 1440)

Their vegetarian menu is almost as long as their non-vegetarian one! This poses a huge problem for me, as I’m used to having to choose from one or two (at a push four or five) items. We frequently have to order extra beer and poppadoms to sustain us while I decide on my order…

7. China Plate

Park Boulevard Centre, Browns Drift Road, Riverside (031 564 6437)

My non-vegetarian husband and I always order the exact same selection to share: sizzling tofu, stir-fried bok choy, and deep-fried walnuts. You haven’t LIVED until you’ve tried these walnuts!

8. Mamma Lucianos

48 Florida Road, Morningside (031 303 8350) Also in Glenashley.

It’s hard to go wrong with a decent pizza or pasta, and this place does both. I also love the romance of the red-checked table cloths out on the pavement, and their good selection of local wines. My personal favourite is their gnocchi.

9. Butcher Boys

170 Florida Road, Morningside (031 312 8248) Also in Umhlanga, Hillcrest, Pietermaritzburg.

Don’t laugh – they do the best butternut bake in town! I must admit that I could live without the crime scene in the glass case, but their wide array of veggies are all excellently cooked, well flavoured, and presented with flair. Stings a little that I can only order off the “side dishes”, but I thought I’d just put it out there…

10. Corner Café

Corner Brand/Cromwell Roads, Glenwood (031 201 0219)

Whilst the Café isn’t 100% vegetarian, there is an emphasis on healthy, ethical living (and all eggs/meats are free range). They also support Meat Free Mondays. Their slogan, “saving the planet, one cappuccino at a time”, sums up their green approach, which is followed through with a “no plastics” policy, linen napkins (and eco-detergents), and a wormery which feeds their own herb garden. I like.

11. Café 1999

Silvervause Centre, Corner Silverton/Vause Roads, Berea (031 202 3406)

Yes, yes, I know I said Top Ten but this one’s worth its own posting. For fine dining and individualized service, this place is hard to beat. The chef is creative and accommodating, and while there are always one or two cordon bleu veggie options on their menu, they are also more than happy to put together something to suit your diet and taste.

 

Perhaps one day when I’ve become rich and famous off my blog I will take on Mrs Stevens with a purely vegetarian Eating Out in the Zulu Kingdom. Until that day, however, you’ll have to keep logging onto Veggietots to get your fix:-)

There’s also a listing of veggie- and vegan-friendly eateries, shops and accommodation on the Vegan SA website:

The veganism directory for South Africa

I’d love to know of exciting places to eat in other cities. What are your favourites?

How to eat in non-vegetarian restaurants

Photo courtesy http://lancebreger.blogspot.com/2007_10_01_archive.html

 

There was a time when vegetarians dining out were restricted to the salad bar, or the ubiquitous token “vegetarian platter”. Today many establishments provide exciting vegetarian options or even whole vegetarian menus (click here for some great spots in Durban), but even those that don’t are usually accommodating to all their diners’ needs.

 

Try the following tried and tested tips to make the most of your dining out experience:

 

Research: There is an increasing number of vegetarian (or vegetarian-friendly) restaurants. Google prospective eateries and see if they display their menu online – many do.

 

Call ahead: Most chefs want their customers to be happy. Given a day or two’s notice, any chef worth his salt can whip up something to suit your dietary requirements (this trick also works for diabetics, allergics and even just-downright-fussy eaters).

 

Replace: Adapt existing menu items by replacing bacon with mushrooms, chicken with cashews, cheese with avo – anything according to your taste. Scan the menu. If beetroot is offered in a salad, for example, it can be used to replace a beef patty.

 

Pick and choose: Say the restaurant serves lamb with herbed mash, fish with a lentil compote, and chicken with roasted veggies. Mash, lentils and veg – sounds like dinner to me! Play around with the items that appeal to you and ask the chef to make you a platter.  

 

Ask: Be an informed consumer. Check whether the soup of the day contains chicken stock; enquire if the eggs are free range. Even certain after-dinner mints contain bovine gelatine (that’s cow’s feet), so reading the label will equip you with the facts to make an educated choice.

 

Speak up: Let the restaurant know your preferences – they might consider this feedback when they review their menu. Better still, take a business card and write to the manager telling him of your experience, praising where deserved and making suggestions where necessary.

 

Share: If you’re enjoying your meal, offer your non-veggie friends a taste. They may just order it in future, and the more popular vegetarian food becomes, the more prevalent it will become on menus.

 

Salad: Sometimes dining out is more about the company than the food. If someone else has chosen the restaurant and the vegetarian pickings are really slim, there is always the trusty salad. It’s healthy, can be really tasty, and it’s far better, say, than ruining a friend’s birthday dinner by kicking up a fuss about the catering.

look out! it’s a sabre-toothed vegetarian!

Vicious killer or cuddly-wuddly plant muncher?

New discovery turns long established assumptions on their (strangely shaped) heads

Picture courtesy of http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2011/03/25/odd-ancient-beast-saber-toothed-vegetarian/#

The local paper yesterday ran an interesting article which has been picked up by several news sites about the recent discovery of an ancient sabre-toothed vegetarian animal, the tiarajudens eccentricus.

Its fangs, rather than indicating a flesh-tearing diet, are pegged to have been used to defend themselves and their territory against predators. The article goes on to give modern examples of the musk deer and water deer who have similar jaw structures for this purpose.

This raises interesting questions about the assumptions we make – about animals and ourselves. I’ve often heard the argument (usually made by someone holding a burger and a beer) that, since humans have incisors and canines, we are clearly meant to eat meat. The mass of molars behind them and the distinct wussiness of our pitiful “claws” (which I daresay seem more suited to picking fruit than ripping flesh) are left behind in this argument. But then I’m not a scientist.

But now real scientists seem to have begun to reconcile this conundrum. The rest of the tiarajudens eccentricus’s jaw indicates a diet of plant chewing and the fossil has been categorised as an anomodant, a group of plant eaters.

When dinosaur fossils were first discovered, the general reaction was disbelief. Similarly there is sure to be incredulous backlash to this finding. But who knows – perhaps this is the start of a totally new understanding of history, diet, and social interaction.

I’m watching this space.

Read more about the tiarajudens eccentricus here

Picture courtesy http://www.sify.com/news/archaeologists-discover-saber-toothed-vegetarian-news-environment+and+nature-ld2batffjgi.html