December 10, 2010

Butternut rancheros from PPK | Israeli couscous | What is shellac?

Over my next few posts I'm going to highlight some of my youngest son's cooking. He's following in his older brothers' footsteps as a great vegan cook. Sometimes he uses a recipe (more or less) that I can link to, but usually he just cooks from the heart. Either way, eating his dinners is always a treat.

One of his recent dinners was Butternut rancheros from the PPK. He made pan grilled butternut squash and black beans in ranchero sauce. This was one of my favorite dinners ever — so flavorful that you just have to try it. I like squash a little, but I loved it in this recipe.


What to bring to the party

Last weekend we co-hosted a Hanukkah party with omnivore friends. Our hosts were uncertain what to make so I planned to bring half the food. I brought so much vegan food with me, I never thought it would get eaten, but I came home with very few leftovers. My friend made potato pancakes (w/eggs) a gorgeous green salad and a fruit salad. I bought hummus and eggplant/red pepper spread from Trader Joe's, and made Israeli couscous to go on a platter with carrots, olives, grape tomatoes and pita.

This was my first time making Israeli couscous. I was inspired to make some after seeing it on Zoa's blog, and wondering why I'd never cooked with it. I've had it in restaurants, but when I make tabooli at home, I usually use bulgur wheat or whole wheat couscous. (Couscous is a form of pasta.) The couscous was dressed with a variation of the green onion salsa from Viva Vegan that we had for Thanksgiving. It was made primarily from green onions, curly parsley, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil, and it worked perfectly. Dried cranberries and grated carrot also were added to create a beautiful pasta salad with tons of sparkling flavor.

In addition to the platter, I made a double batch of chickpea cakes, enhanced with corn, carrot, tamarind and parsley. I also made a big bowl of applesauce. The cut, cored unpeeled apples were cooked quickly in a pressure cooker with a small amount of apple juice, then puréed in the Vitamix. The applesauce was so smooth and silky, you would never know the skins were included. (Do I enjoy my Vitamix? Unhuh.)

The final item I made was a blueberry cake, but failed to photograph it.


What is shellac?
I recently read an article about shellac, and am including it here for anyone who might be interested in knowing more about certain food coatings that are made from this insect-derived product. The article came from The Vegetarian Resource Group December newsletter and is reprinted here, with permission.

Q: What is shellac?

A: Shellac is a coating or glaze derived from the hardened, resinous
material secreted by the lac insect, much like honey from a bee.
Shellac in its raw form, known as "lac resin," along with lac wax and
lac dye, is produced in Southeast Asia. India is the largest producer
in the world, yielding 18,000 metric tons of unrefined lac resin
annually. Approximately 85% of India's crop is exported, mostly to
European countries, Egypt, and the United States.

According to an article by Ramesh Singh, Department of Zoology at Udai
Pratap Autonomous College in India, 300,000 lac insects are killed for
every kilogram (2.2 lbs.) of lac resin produced. Approximately 25% of
all unrefined, harvested lac resin is composed of "insect debris" and
other impurities according to the Shellac Export Promotion Council.
The cost of shellac varies according to climatic effects on harvest.
An employee of a shellac company told us that due to 2010's crop
failures, the price of lac resin has doubled to approximately $15/kg.

Shellac has GRAS status by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
which means that it is generally recognized as safe in foods. If used
as a fruit or vegetable coating, it may be labeled as lac resin or as
shellac. It is also approved for use in products certified as organic
by The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Shellac, in one or more of its various forms, (e.g., bleached,
dewaxed, etc.), may be found in a wide variety of products including
furniture polish and varnish; aluminum foil coating; paper coating;
hairspray, shampoos, perfume, mascara and lipstick; printing inks and
paints; pharmaceutical tablets; and agricultural fertilizer
(slow-release coating for urea). Readers may note that all forms of
shellac, (even "orange shellac" or "lemon shellac" which may connote
non-animal origins), are derived from lac resin.

Confectioner's glaze, the name often used for shellac by candy makers,
is composed of approximately 35% shellac (purified lac resin). The
rest are volatile organic compounds which evaporate off during

In foods, shellac is most commonly used as a coating or glaze on
confections, chewing gum, fruit, and coffee beans. Lac dye, red like
carmine, (another insect product), may be used as a coloring in foods
and beverages.

Q: Which candies are coated with shellac?

A: As a general rule, any hard-coated, shiny candy contains a shellac
coating or glaze (M&Ms(tm) is one notable exception.) Shellac may
appear on the label under different names. The two most common ones in
use today are "resinous glaze" or "confectioner's glaze." In general,
all Easter candy (eggs and jelly beans) are coated. Halloween candy
(candy corn) is as well.

The VRG contacted many candy manufacturers about shellac. There are
many who use it, even on candies that you may not suspect to be coated
with it. Below is a partial list. Subscribe to our free email
newsletter [ ] updates on shellac and
other food ingredients. Coming soon: shellac alternatives.

For more information on ingredients, see
[ ]

Confections Containing Shellac

* Hershey's Whopper's Malted Milk Balls(tm)
* Hershey's Milk Duds(tm)
* Nestle's Raisinettes(tm)
* Nestle's Goober's(tm)
* Tootsie Roll Industry's Junior Mints(tm) (NOT Tootsie Rolls)
* Tootsie Roll Industry's Sugar Babies(tm)
* Jelly Belly(tm) jelly beans, mint cremes
* Godiva's(tm) Dark Chocolate Almond Bar; Dark Chocolate Cherries;
Milk Chocolate Cashews; White Chocolate Pearls; Milk Chocolate Pearls.
(This is a partial list; consult with Godiva about specific items.)
* Gertrude Hawk's(tm) chocolate-covered nuts and raisins; cupcake
sprinkles; decorative cake pieces
* Russell Stover's(tm) jelly beans; NOT in their chocolate-covered
cherries or mint patties


  1. I never peel my apples for apple sauce either...why bother? Plus, a lot of the fiber and nutrition is in the skin :-)

    What a treat to have your son cook for you--it looks like he is quite the chef!


  2. that platter you put together is beautiful!

  3. That platter does look delicious and thanks for the reminder about the butternut rancheros too. I have really been digging on Isa's recipes lately.

  4. It doesn't surprise me that your sons are wonderful cooks! Those rancheros look great, what a cool twist. And, that veggie/couscous platter is gorgeous! So beautifully put together. The green onion salsa sounds perfect for the couscous.

    Thanks for the info on the shellac; I had never heard of it and all that info is so useful. I will be sure to scan for it in items that may contains it. But, how is it used as a vegetable coating? You mean like the waxy preservative coating you see on some types of tubers (yucca, (i think) is one)?

  5. Courtney,
    I never peel my apples either (they're organic) but I've never before had applesauce this silky.

    Thank you. I like "assembling" food.

    The squash and the beans were both incredibly delicious.

    I guess all those years of my cooking for them paid off. I love the food they make for me!

    I found the shellac info interesting, too. I think it might be on apples — things that are shiny would be suspect. I'm not sure I'll change my shopping, though. Probably not.

  6. I never knew that about the glaze but it did seem suspicious. All the more reason to avoid junk food.

  7. Your Israeli couscous salad looks to die for. Isn't Israeli couscous pretty? And green onion salsa? I really need to get a copy of Viva Vegan, right now. How awesome of you to be highlighting your son's cooking. I got a Christmas card from my mom today, thanking me for being "such a good daughter and friend" and nearly cried. This is as good a forum as any for me to say, "I love my mom." Maybe I'll say it in many other forums as well :-) know those little cinnamon valentine hearts? They're practically all insect. But I did not know this about the chocolate bars, most of which are not vegan anyway, but still...

  8. Aimee,
    I didn't realize it was certified for use on organic products. And I didn't know about chewing gum. Or, dark chocolate.

    The Israeli couscous was excellent, if I do say so myself. And yes, it was really pretty. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Feel free to send love to your mom here as well as in person. I'm all in favor. I wish I could do the same for my mother. I think she would have enjoyed knowing I write this blog.

    I never liked those cinnamon hearts. But dark chocolate and chewing gum? I only chew gum when I fly because it helps my ears. What's a good substitute for gum?

  9. Oh, no, not Jelly Bellies! Those are (um, were) my favorites!!! (They're not made with gelatin.)

    I'm so proud of #3; all your guys have turned into awesome cooks! Must try the squash; we have some just waiting to be cooked right here in the kitchen. If I have all the ingredients, though... I may be snowed in this weekend!

  10. Ohh wow, so interesting. I never heard of schellac. Thanks for the info!

  11. Thanks for spreading the word about sneaky shellac/confectioner's glaze. Another one to look out for is "carmine" which is used to color things red and/or pink (ex. grapefruit juice) & is also derived from bugs. Vegan or not, this kind of stuff is simply gross.

  12. Claire,
    Uh oh. Doesn't seem fair to take non-gelatin jellies and coat them in insect juice. Bleh.

    Snowed in? I kind of miss the weather excitement of being snowed in. I know it's inconvenient and difficult and dangerous but it's so crazy. Here, I'm gloomed in. We're supposed to have heavy rain for the next few days. When I woke at 7 this morning it looked like the middle of the night.

    Thanks for your comment! Shellac used to be used extensively as a furniture finish before more modern finishes like polyurethane came along. Some people still prefer it, but it isn't as durable as newer finishes.

    I know about carmine, but I didn't realize shellac and confectioner's glaze were one and the same.

  13. Shellac- from woodshop to your table, blek! It's very regulated here, luckily, but still grosses me out!
    Your platter looks so yummy. I need to have bring food to my parties!

  14. Isn't Israeli couscous awesome! It may not be quite as quick-cooking as standard, but it's still so fast to whip up, and it has such a great bite to it. Never used it to make tabbouleh though. What a concept!

  15. Shellyfish,
    Shellac smells so deadly, who would think it was edible? Platters are fun to put together, especially when you can combine homemade and store bought items so it doesn't take all day.

    It does look awfully pretty combined with deep colors, and it sucks up flavors so beautifully. It was great with the salsa, but I saw it combined with dried fruit, and that looked wonderful, too.

  16. Wow those food colors pop, Andrea! Israeli couscous is one of my new faves! Shellac is not ;)

  17. Hi, Andrea, I should check with you on something I've been working on here before I stumble along and post it. A Jewish breakfast that one might have in Israel. I have an international cookbook, and it gave me some ideas, and we actually had a great breakfast once that I made, but I'm not sure how authentic it is. Anyways... So, that's great that all your sons are turning out to be such fantastic cooks. I hope my kids continue to take to the kitchen like that. And as for shellac, yuk.

  18. The butternut rancheros look amazing! That's so awesome that your sons are such great cooks! Thanks for the info about shellac. I kinda knew what it was before but I had no idea it was in so much candy. :-(

  19. Those butternut rancheros sound really good. I am glad Isa posted so many recipes lately. With such a mother as their model,your sons can be nothing but great cooks.

  20. GiGi,
    I guess I prefer Israeli couscous over shellac, too. It tastes and smells much better.

    I might not be of any help since I've never been to Israel. But I know lots of people who have been there and they'd probably remember the food.

    Your kids will probably all be good cooks because they'll want to keep eating good food like they had at home!

    Chow vegan,
    I highly recommend that recipe — it was so good.

    I knew what shellac was, too, but didn't realize it was so widely used in the food industry. I thought it was a furniture finish.

    I was pretty impressed by how delicious the butternut rancheros tasted, as well as by my son's cooking skills.

  21. I think I'm the only crazy person that always peels her apples. :o) There's something about the peeling that just weirds me out...I just can't eat it.

    That's awesome that you son likes t cook like that.

    Thanks for posting about the shellac...I had never heard of it until now.

  22. Wow, your son is quite the chef! I've never tried Israeli cous cous--though I suppose I won't, now--not GF). And thanks for the info on shellac. I had no idea (and am feeling kinda squirmy now).

  23. That bean dish looks like a fabulous combination.

    Your platter is so inspirational!

    Shellac - eww.

  24. Michelle,
    There's no getting away from certain food issues. I eat apple peels but don't let me get near anise or fennel — it makes me feel sick and crazy!

    I probably won't make a habit of eating Israeli couscous either — too refined. It's nice for special occasions, though. The shellac thing — all I can say is yuck.

    You should try the beans and squash — it was amazing. As for the shellac — yes, eww.


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