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Southwestern Potato Salad

Southwestern Potato Salad

Andy Douglas


  • 8 medium-sized red potatoes

  • 2 red bell peppers, cut into strips

  • 2 Anaheim or Poblano peppers, sliced (I prefer the taste of poblanos)

  • ¾ cup black olives, drained

  • 1½ cups corn, either fresh, frozen or canned (fresh always tastes better)

  • ½ cup cilantro (or parsley)

  • 1 tsp. salt or to taste

  • 2 tsp. pepper

  • 2 tsp. cumin

  • 2 tsp. coriander

  • Juice of 1 lemon

  • ¾ cup olive oil


Steam the potatoes with their skin on until they’re soft. Cool; cut them into half-inch cubes.

Roast the peppers under a broiler. (Alternately, you can sauté them in a little olive oil.)

In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, peppers, olives and corn.

In a blender, combine the cilantro, seasonings, lemon juice and olive oil.

Mix everything together, making sure the "sauce" covers the other ingredients. Adjust the seasonings, if desired. Enjoy.

More from the Author:

Exploring the spiritual roots of veganism, plus a cherished potato salad recipe

For the past six months, the Press-Citizen has been printing columns by members of the Vegan Community of Eastern Iowa. I’ve been impressed with the variety and appeal of these offerings and the range of reasons people offer for embracing a plant-based diet.

You may be familiar with some of these: the deleterious effect of the meat industry on the environment, the welfare of animals, better health, and more sensible agriculture. I support all of these.

But I’m going to take the conversation in a slightly different direction and talk about the link between veganism and spirituality. I’ll reward your patience by sharing one of my favorite recipes at the end, a Southwestern Potato Salad.

Spirituality has many definitions, but in general it’s the embrace of something greater than oneself, something beyond material reality, a recognition of our connectedness to a greater web of life. It often involves an expansion of awareness or consciousness, an opening of the heart, and a commitment to ethics. It may or may not be tied to religious belief.

I became a vegetarian around 1983. At that time, just out of college, I was beginning to explore my budding spiritual life. I read contemplatives like Thomas Merton, Rumi, and Meister Eckhart; I learned meditation and yoga.

These practices eventually became foundational for me, a way of living consciously, in alignment with my values and in touch with something deeper than the physical world. I’ve engaged in a spiritual practice every day for the past 38 years.

Combined with mindful, slow and grateful eating habits, a veg diet can be good for one’s spiritual life. Why? To begin with, it’s lighter, easier to digest, and makes it easier to concentrate your mind.

Ever feel heavy and bogged down after a meal? This may be because the food you’re eating has less "vital energy."

In Sanskrit, this energy is known as "prana" and in Chinese "chi." The animating force of the universe, it nourishes us when we breathe and when we eat.

The world is alive with this vital energy, and certain foods have more of it than others — particularly fresh fruits, and vegetables. We can partake more deeply of the vitality of nature through our dietary choices.

This is not simply an Eastern idea. Biblical injunctions (Genesis 1:29) and certain Christian and Jewish sects have encouraged a plant-based diet as well.

We know that what we take into our bodies has an effect on our physiology. Science demonstrates that the physical molecules of food are utilized by the body to supply energy and build, repair and regulate the various tissues and functions.

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But what spiritual thinkers have long said is that food affects not only our bodies but the quality of our minds as well. They note that certain foods (like meat) may stimulate our lower propensities, like anger, greed or lust. Many people have experienced the world around them in a different, more positive way as a result of changes in their diet.

Leo Tolstoy once held a dinner party in which all but one of his guests was vegetarian, like the writer himself. When the one meat-eating guest arrived, expecting a carnivorous feast, she found a live chicken tied to her chair.

Tolstoy said: “My conscience does not allow me to kill animals. Since you are the only guest eating meat, I would be greatly obliged if you would undertake the killing first.”

Such direct confrontation with the reality of where our food comes from can lead to new awareness about the sacredness of all of life. Other great thinkers have also advocated a plant-based diet based on conscience and morality.

Albert Einstein opined that the vegetarian diet would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind. Pythagoras noted: “Only living, fresh foods can enable humans to apprehend the truth.”

As Tolstoy hinted, dietary preference can revolve around the question of taking life. Anyone who has ever had a pet knows that animals love their lives just as humans do.

Animals feel affection for their young, are often intelligent, and feel pain. What right do we have to end these lives simply to satisfy carnal desires?

An Eastern perspective might say that such killing creates negative karma. Put another way, supporting the massive mistreatment and slaughter of other living creatures can be a heavy burden to bear.

What about taking a plant’s life? If a plant is also a living being, isn’t it problematic to take plant life?

Here’s the thing. We do have to eat. Contemplatives say it’s better to take food from among lesser-developed creatures. Since plants don’t have a developed nervous system or mobility, they possess a somewhat lesser-developed consciousness than animals.

True, humans have long eaten meat. But we don’t need to do everything our ancestors or forebears did. It could be argued that as our species shifts from a past of physical labor and hardship toward one in which mental and spiritual energies assume more importance, a shift in our diet is happening, too.

It’s all food for thought.

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