Not my most polished photo, but it does capture the delicious gooeyness that is this lasagna
While lasagna is probably high on my list of favorite comfort foods, there is something very un-comforting about slaving away over the stove all night, especially after an 8+ hour workday. Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook and find it therapeutic in some ways, but the thought of multi-step preparation, several pots and pans and a sink full of dishes has often dissuaded me from preparing labor-intensive meals on weeknights, however comforting or satisfying those meals may turn out to be.
With that mindset, I set out to prepare a version of lasagna that I could feasibly prepare in under 30 minutes (with a little added baking time) — and one that would not sacrifice on flavor for it. I determined that my first step in executing such a plan would be to prepare a lasagna where the noodles do not need to be boiled first. Sure, there are recipes out there for no-boil lasagna…for vegan lasagna…for gluten-free lasagna…but how would this work with all three components in play? And on top of that, the only lasagna noodles I seem to regularly find in my area are Tinkyada noodles, which are not specifically no-boil. But guess what? It worked!
I think you will find this no-boil lasagna hearty and satisfying. The trick, I found, is to use a lot of sauce. The bottom noodles came out perfectly cooked — the top layer was slightly more chewy but still done throughout, though they did curl up a bit. To counteract the curling, I would suggest using a slightly smaller than 9×13″ pan — one that is no more than slightly longer than the noodles themselves. I found that the pan I used was significantly larger than the actual length of the noodles, causing the top layer of sauce to run off into the sides. While the noodles were still cooked through on top, and I actually liked the slightly chewier texture, I think a smaller dish would have probably relieved the slight problem. On the other hand, if you only have a 9×13″ dish, it is not the end of the world. The noodles still cooked through and a pizza cutter worked to cut everything without making a mess.
The choice of filling in this lasagna was also largely influenced by my effort to save time while still creating something that evoked “real” lasagna (I would argue that vegan lasagna is, of course, “real” lasagna, but you know what I mean…). Spinach lasagna, even in my pre-vegan days, has always been a favorite. This filling involved little more than opening a bag of frozen spinach and crumbling up some tofu. But it was delicious.
On a final note: the sauce I used for this recipe is a take on Chloe Coscarelli’s mac and cheese sauce from Chloe’s Kitchen, one of my favorite vegan cookbooks. I tweaked the original recipe by adding crushed tomatoes and oregano and playing with some of the other ingredient amounts to make it suited more to a lasagna than a mac and cheese. I also, of course, made it gluten-free. It turned out really delicious! You could definitely use this sauce for any type of baked pasta dish.
No-Boil Spinach Lasagna:
1 pkg. Tinkyada brown rice lasagna noodles (or other gluten-free lasagna) -totals 12 lasagna noodles
1 pkg. (about 8 oz.) firm tofu
10 oz. bag frozen cut spinach
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons Earth Balance Buttery Spread
1/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill Brown Rice Flour (another gluten-free all-purpose flour should also work)
3 cups soy or almond milk, plain, unsweetened
1 cup organic crushed tomatoes (preferably no salt added)
1 teaspoon sea salt (if used tomatoes with salt added, reduce sea salt and add in more to taste)
1/3 cup nutritional yeast flakes (plus more for top, if desired)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. For Filling: Place tofu and frozen spinach in a medium-sized glass or other mixing bowl. Set aside.
3. Prepare Sauce: In a large saucepan, melt buttery spread over medium heat. When butter is melted, add flour and whisk until a paste is formed. Add remaining ingredients and whisk. Simmer for approximately 10 minutes, or until sauce begins to thicken. Remove from heat.
4. Return to Filling: Using your hands, squeeze out excess water from tofu and spinach mixture over the sink, about 4-5 times.You may wish to do this over a colander in case you lose any tofu or spinach. Return the tofu and spinach to bowl and add cider vinegar and salt. Mix well.
5. Put it together: Spread 1/3 cup sauce on the bottom of a 7×11″ pan. Layer 4 dry lasagna noodles evenly over the sauce. Spread about 1/2 of the tofu-spinach mixture evenly over the noodles. You can gently press down with your hands to pack it on. Cover with 1 cup of the sauce. Add another layer of 4 lasagna noodles and cover with the remaining tofu-ricotta mixture. Cover with another cup of sauce. Add remaining layer of lasagna noodles and cover with remaining sauce. If desired, sprinkle top evenly with nutritional yeast (about 2 tablespoons).
6. Cover with foil and bake in preheated oven for about 35 to 40 minutes; sauce should be bubbling. Remove from oven and serve.
Like many great things in life, this recipe happened by accident. Well, at least the final product was an accident, as I had originally intended these to be a homemade answer to my Hilary’s Adzuki Bean Burger obsession (am I alone here?). While I wanted to mimic the original burger as much as possible, I also wanted to make this recipe easy and accessible. So, I decided to use only one of the two grains used in the Hilary’s burger. I decided on millet for its consistency when cooked. I also did not want to create anything that necessitated the use of a food processor — a great culinary tool, in my opinion, but one that can also incur unnecessary cleanup in many instances.
These tweaks probably led to a somewhat “looser” consistency than the original burger, one that was reminiscent of a savory cake rather than a burger. Not that I complained. As I shoved down two of these babies, I started wondering why I was ever looking for a veggie burger recipe in the first place, when there was a perfectly delicious version available in the frozen section of my local Whole Foods (ok, there were several reason I was doing so — money, trying to avoid processed foods, trying to cut down on the fat content of the original recipe — but those were soon forgotten). I also remembered that I had unsuccessfully gone through a string of attempts at a homemade bean cake recipe a while back. It seems I found the answer to whatever was plaguing my previous bean cake attempts — even if I had ended up forgetting the question.
I’m filing these cakes under “appetizer”, “side” or “main course” recipes, as I can see them as all three. Slightly cooled, they could top a dinner salad. Still warm, I imagine them over a heaping bed of steamed or sauteed greens — maybe kale or spinach — and maybe drizzled with some oil and vinegar. I also served them to Gennaro inside of a warm pita with greens, chipotle Vegenaise spread and hot sauce (unfortunately, the pita was not gluten-free, or I certainly would have tried this version). And while we’re labeling these, I have to admit they also make a great snack. I like them cold, right out of the refrigerator, for a protein-packed and healthy, non-processed snack.
Please note: You will likely have remaining millet left over. You can use it in salads or try it anywhere else you would use quinoa or — if you eat it — couscous. I also give it to my dog, Woodley, for a fun change-up to his usual nighttime snack, which was vet-recommended for gastrointestinal issues he was having — see, he is like his mom!
Yield: 6-8 cakes
3/4 cup uncooked dry millet
1 1/2 cups cooked adzuki beans (I used my pressure cooker to cook 1 cup dried beans according to the instructions found here. I had some leftover, which I ate over some cooked quinoa with spinach. Canned adzuki beans, drained, would also work)
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon coconut oil, plus more for cooking cakes
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
1 scallion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1. Add millet to a medium saucepan with 1 1/2 cups of water. Cook on medium heat until the water is just absorbed (watch carefully after about 10 minutes of boiling to see where it’s at). You can try stirring it to check on water content/consistency before removing from heat — the final consistency should be somewhat lumpy and not as “fork-fluffable” as quinoa is when cooked. You want this consistency for the cakes.
2. As millet cooks, heat 1 tablespoon of coconut oil in a separate skillet. Add red pepper and scallion and cook over medium heat for about 4 minutes. Add minced garlic and cook for another minute. Set aside.
3. Once millet has cooked (i.e. once the water is absorbed), add 1 1/2 cups of the warm millet, adzuki beans, chia, spices, salt and water together in a medium mixing bowl. Mix well, while mashing everything together with the back of your spoon. Add red peppers, scallion and garlic and mix well.
4. You can use the same saute pan as used for the red peppers (no need to wash). Heat additional teaspoon of coconut oil (if needed) in the pan. Meanwhile, measure out 1/3 cup amounts of adzuki-millet mixture and roll in the palm of your hands before pressing into patties. Add patties to hot saute pan and cook over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes per side, or until crispy and lightly browned on the outside. Repeat this step to cook the remaining patties.
In my last post, I discussed the power of food in healing. This post is centered around the healing power of spices, which have long been considered medical powerhouses in their own right. This soup utilizes several Indian spices, including the powerful Turmeric. Turmeric has been widely known for its anti-inflammatory properties — I have even taken its active ingredient, Curcumin, in capsule form to help deal with the muscle spasms and neck stiffness associated with Lyme. Similarly, Turmeric is also a good choice for those suffering from other inflammatory conditions and diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis. It is also believed to have anti-cancer and detoxifying effects.
Combine the power of turmeric with the antioxidant-heavy cumin and the cardiovascular (and other) benefits of cayenne, and you have one spicy, healing soup. I also happen to believe that the warming, comforting act of eating a bowl of spicy soup is healing in itself. One cannot eat a hot bowl of soup hurriedly. The necessary slowing down to sip and savor is food meditation at its core.
I got the idea for this soup from this recipe on Food 52, which is equally delicious, albeit much more subtly flavored (i.e. no spice mix — just cauliflower, olive oil, onions, water and salt). When Gennaro’s cousin made the original version for a family Christmas Eve dinner, I lapped up several helpings (hey, benefits of being vegan – we can do stuff like that) and begged for the recipe. Over time, that soup evolved into this one as I worked on creating ways to incorporate more healing spices into my diet. This soup is spicy, indeed, so be sure to adjust to taste if you’re spice-adverse. In our house, we’re spice lovers, so I actually add several dashes of cayenne to the finished product for a spicy finish.
Indian-Spiced Cauliflower Soup:
Adapted from Food 52
Yield: 4-6 Servings
Note: you will need an immersion blender for this dish. If you do not have an immersion blender, you may try to blend small batches in a regular blender, but be very careful not to blend too much at a time using this method and try to let the soup cool first.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
1 tsp minced fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, sliced
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 medium head cauliflower, chopped
5 cups water, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1 dash cayenne pepper, or to taste
1. Add olive oil and onions to a large soup pot/Dutch Oven and saute over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Saute for about 10 minutes, or until browned and very soft. In the last couple minutes of cooking, add the garlic and ginger and saute with the onions.
2. Once onions have softened, add spice mixture and sea salt. Stir to coat. Add cauliflower and 1 cup water and mix well. Cover. Reduce heat to medium-low and stew cauliflower and onions for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is beginning to fall apart.
3. Add remaining 4 cups water. Stir. Increase to medium heat and heat until water just begins to simmer. Reduce heat and puree soup in an immersion blender until smooth. Heat on low for another five minutes, or until soup reaches desired consistency (it will thicken the longer it cooks. If the soup becomes too thick, you may add another 1/2 cup of water).
4. Serve soup as is, or with a drizzle of olive oil and cracked black pepper or sprinkle of cayenne pepper on top.
Let me tell you, nothing quite awakens your health and consciousness like going through a year of Lyme disease treatment. At least, that’s what it did to me. I could now scoff at what I once considered (and what many would still consider) a “healthy” breakfast of soy yogurt and granola. These days, going two days without a green smoothie for breakfast (a lapse I endured while traveling over the weekend) is a long time for me. And a dinner without kale salad to start is almost unheard of.
I won’t rehash the details of my last post (nearly a year ago!), which went into the health issues I’d been having leading up to my Lyme diagnosis. Nor will I go into quite as much detail about how my treatment has been since. But suffice it to say that a year-long course of antibiotics and Malaria fighting drugs for Lyme’s common co-infections can wreak havoc on one’s system — while also proving essential in the overall treatment of the disease.
As a result of this, I have taken a profound interest in how food can play a key role in healing and health. After all, at the time I was diagnosed, I strongly attributed my already gluten-free, vegan and refined sugar-free diet to my relatively high level of functioning given the number of tick-borne infections I had been carrying for several years. If these changes could have had an effect on my immunity, as my doctor also surmised, wouldn’t additional dietary changes prove even more beneficial?
In the last year, I’ve shifted a lot of my diet toward a cleaner way of eating. I have always considered my diet to be on the healthy end of the spectrum, but my research suggested that there was much more room for improvement. While I am not one to ever be extreme — I still enjoy gluten-free pasta, organic tofu and tortilla chips and salsa — I have moved away from processed foods significantly and begun adding more raw, green meals into my diet than ever before. I studied the principles of Kimberly Snyder’s The Beauty Detox Solution and adopted many into my own practices. I now eat raw fermented sauerkraut with many meals and kale salad before nearly every dinner, as I alluded to before. I also make it a practice to drink a detoxing green smoothie similar to this one almost every morning, sometimes adding lemon juice, parsley or romaine or substituting pears or strawberries.
While there is probably no way of measuring the exact impact my diet has had during the last year of treatment, I do know that what I eat makes a difference in how I feel overall. There is also a lot of research indicating that anti-inflammatory foods and detoxing is very important in overall healing, and I have made sure to incorporate these types of foods into my daily intake. Of course, I do have to supplement more than the average person, vegan or otherwise. Lyme tends to deplete vital nutrients and minerals, so even with a balanced and healthy vegan diet, I do supplement with high doses of magnesium, B12 and folate daily, among other vitamins and medications in my regimen (including lots of chlorella and lemon juice for detox).
Now that kale salad has become a staple of my diet, I certainly have discovered a few favorites, and this is on the top of that list. I rarely make this recipe the same way twice. In fact, the first time I actually measured any ingredients was when I was making the version for this post. I encourage you to play around with amounts and different ingredients, and to come up with your own favorite version of this salad.
Raw Kale Salad:
Yield: 2-4 servings
Note: this salad can keep in the refrigerator for about a day. It is best served fresh, but kale is quite sturdy and will stand up to dressing and refrigeration, even if the texture of the salad may change somewhat as it sits.
1 bunch lacinato or curly kale, thick stems removed and torn into small pieces
1/8 teaspoon sea salt (1 small pinch)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 head raddichio, shredded (or 1/2 cup of shredded red cabbage)
1 scallion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon raw cider vinegar (or other raw vinegar of choice)
3 tablespoons raw sauerkraut juice*
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
dash of cayenne pepper to taste (optional)
1. Make sure kale pieces are washed/rinsed and fairly dry. Add to salad bowl. Add sea salt and olive oil and massage well. I like to rub handfuls of kale between both palms to really break it down and soften it.
2. Once kale has been massaged, add raddichio and scallions. Add lemon juice, vinegar and sauerkraut juice and toss. Add nutritional yeast and cayenne pepper and toss until kale is well-coated. You may wish to add additional lemon juice/vinegar/sauerkraut juice/nutritional yeast or even salt to taste depending on saltiness of your sauerkraut. Once seasoning is adjusted, serve.
*This is my secret ingredient for this salad. It makes the flavors pop. You can buy raw sauerkraut usually in the refrigerated section of your health food store and in some supermarkets. I like to use a local brand from Michigan, but Bubbies raw sauerkraut is a good choice as well.
Hello there! Long time no talk. When I last posted, there was still snow on the ground. It’s 81 degrees in Michigan today. So, you get the point.
Since my last post, a lot has happened. Gennaro and I finally found a house and moved out of my parents’ house. We searched, we found, we went into contract. And then about a month later, the house was ours. That’s the good news.
Then, there’s the other part of the story. The part I debated about posting for fear of, I don’t know…calling too much attention to myself? Being whiny? Making too big of a deal out of something that might seem like nothing to a lot of people?
Those thoughts all ran through my head. But then there was another side of me. The side that thought maybe someone could benefit from my story. So, here it is:
If you’ve been following me for awhile, you may remember me posting a few times about chronic muscle spasms and stiff necks. It’s something I’ve been dealing with for the last few years, and something I had carelessly attributed to stress from law school, as it was certainly a new and unwelcome phenomenon for me. Not that I didn’t deal with it in every way I thought I could — yoga, heat therapy, massages, acupuncture, muscle rubs, countless chiropractic visits and even the occasional muscle relaxer were just a few of my go-to remedies. These have been a staple in my life for the last three years.
If you’ve been following my blog, you may also know that early last year, I left New York to move back to Michigan for work. Between then and our recent move into a new home, Gennaro and I were living with my parents. While being in your late twenties and moving back in with your parents is certainly not always an ideal situation, in my case, it had its benefits. For one thing, my mom noticed that I seemed fatigued and “out of it” a lot, and insisted that I see a doctor about it. She also insisted that my neck pain and muscle spasms were somehow related. Of course, my natural inclination as a child was to ignore her and insist I was fine. But that only lasted for so long before the idea of finally getting to the bottom of whatever was going on with me became too enticing. So I began seeing a wonderful doctor in Michigan who specializes in chronic disease.
Initial testing revealed less-than-surprising results: chronic candidiasis (I had known this was an issue for me), Epstein Barr, HV6, etc. If you’ve suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia in your lifetime, you’ve probably tested positive for some of these as well. But then my doctor asked me if I had tested positive for Lyme before, because there was a Western Blot strain that came back positive.
In fact, I had. Same Western Blot, about two years ago in New York. My primary care doctor there had ordered it because of complaints of fatigue back then, too. But when they told me I had an “equivocal” (i.e. “maybe positive”) test, I was told it was really nothing to worry about for the time being and that I should just wait to see how I feel. I was told, instead, that I might just be “depressed.” No follow-up testing was ordered. Naturally, I was suspicious and concerned. So I followed-up with an infectious disease specialist, who basically told me, in as nice of a way as you can say this, that I was wasting his time and he had really sick patients to deal with (alright, he didn’t sue those exact words, but his were surprisingly close). He appeased me, though, by ordering a follow-up test, which came back negative (I now know that this was a much less sensitive test and can often yield negative results even when someone is infected with Lyme). Plus, even though I had been in areas where Ticks were present, I did not develop the typical “bullseye rash” (which I now know is not always present), so I had nothing to worry about. OK, I thought. And I went on with my life without giving it a second thought.
Until it happened again. This time, I thought, it can’t be just a coincidence, right? So my doctor recommended that in addition to testing for other tick-borne diseases, that I send out my lab work to California to a facility for an IGENEX test and (hopefully) definitive results. That test came back clearly positive.
Now would be a good time to point out that there is a rift in the medical community about which tests should be used and whether the IGENEX testing (or any testing, for that matter) is reliable. I’m also aware that a lot of people who are suspicious that they have Lyme get an eye-roll from conventional medical doctors, and are instead offered a possible alternative cause of their symptoms. Like, for example, my “depression,” for which I was prescribed Wellbutrin (which I never took because I knew I was not depressed). A great documentary called Under Our Skin really exposes this controversy and casts a much-needed light on such practices.
Anyways, in addition to the positive IGENEX test, I also tested positive for a number of other tick-borne diseases — Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesia and Rickettsia, to name a few.
Suddenly, with all of this new information, things started making sense to me. Like why, two years ago, I felt like I was on my death bed with what turned out to be a nasty parasite called Cryptosporidiosis. My research on this parasite revealed that individuals with healthy immune systems can contract it and fight it off fairly easily, while others with HIV or AIDS (or Lyme, it turns out!) will have symptoms. And symptoms I had. Like, worst case of food poisoning you could ever imagine symptoms. Like, 94 degree temperature shortly followed by 102 degree temperature symptoms (that is not a joke). So, yeah. Apparently my immune system was not the healthiest.
I promise I am trying to get to the point here. But I also think it’s important that I be somewhat vocal about the fact that I went to countless doctors with my symptoms and was, basically, shrugged off. And even though I had classic Lyme symptoms (stiff necks, muscle pain, fatigue) and an equivocal test, I was told I was just depressed. So imagine my relief when I found a doctor who not only believed me and aggressively tested me, but who also is willing to aggressively treat me for what is actually wrong.
Unfortunately, the problem with aggressive treatment is the fact that it can be long and hard on your body. Since beginning antibiotics, I’ve experienced waves of nausea, chills, vomiting, fatigue and an increase in my muscle pains. This, I’m told, is the reaction to the toxins dying off and being released into your system. I’m not a fan. But it’s worth it because I know I need to get better. And while I try to get better, I need to remind myself to take it easy and not feel guilty about not responding to emails, comments, voicemails, etc. (I still feel guilty, but I’m working on it). I need to remind myself that even though there are still boxes piled up in our new home, there’s no timeline for getting everything done. I need to remind myself to leave work early when I need to, because otherwise I will just make myself worse.
Finally, I need to remind myself that even though I haven’t posted in three months, it’s not the end of the world! The blog can wait, as much as I love it so. Hopefully, it won’t have to wait too long.
But in the meantime, I did manage to make a dessert for our family Easter gathering last weekend. This avocado-lime pie turned out to be quite the hit. No one even guessed it was made with avocado. Plus, the lemon and lime juice kept it from discoloring, even though I made this two days ahead of time. The kiwi is optional, but I think it made for a nice presentation. You can make this in a traditional tart pan or in a springform pan as I did. Or if you’re looking to cut down on calories, carbs and sugar, simply make the filling and eat it as a pudding. It is very good on its own as well! I hope you enjoy as much as I did.
1 cup brown rice flour
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup raw coconut crystals
2/3 cup soy-free Earth Balance buttery spread
½ teaspoon sea salt
2 ripe hass avocados (room temperature)
1 ½ cups raw cashews, soaked for 2 hours, drained and rinsed
½ cup fresh lime juice
zest of one lime
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon NuNaturals liquid stevia
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 medium kiwis, thinly sliced and patted dry with a paper towel to remove excess water
1. For crust: combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until loose crumbles form. Press into a 9″ springform pan or tart pan, using the bottom of a measuring cup to even out the bottom. If using a tart pan, use fingers to push crust to edges and to even out the edges as well. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 25 minutes, or until crust is golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack.
2. For filling: combine all ingredients in a high-powered blender (I used the Vitamix) and blend on high until very smooth.
3. Transfer filling to completely cooled crust. Let chill in refrigerator for a few hours. If desired, top with sliced kiwi. This recipe can chill for up to two days in the refrigerator if covered directly with cling wrap.
Thanks to everyone who participated in the Vegucated giveaway contest! The winners were lucky commenters #7 and 8, which were chosen at random, funnily enough. I hope Melanie and Ashley enjoy Vegucated as much as I did and share their newfound knowledge with many others.
I also so much appreciated everyone’s comments. I considered responding to a few individually, but decided to hold off and address a multitude of your thoughts, stories and concerns in this post.
I would first like to say that in reading many of the comments, I recognized so many of my own thoughts when I was first considering a vegan diet — words like “scary,” “life changing” and “restrictive” floated around in my head on a constant basis. For awhile it was all I thought about. I would jealously ogle meat-eating restaurant patrons as I gazed into crowded restaurant dining rooms, street after street. I imagined I would never get to be “one of them” again. I watched Top Chef on repeat just to get it “out of my system” (or is that just because Bravo happened to always run Top Chef marathons when there was never anything else on?) I passed the cheese section at Whole Foods for weeks on end, guiltily taking whiffs of the delicious Parmesano-Reggiano air. If I told people I was going vegan, there was no turning back, I thought. I would get called out for simply being found in the cheese section, let alone eating the stuff. I would be crucified if one night I “slipped” and caved to my seemingly endless sushi cravings. If I go vegan, I thought, it’s all or nothing.
So when I finally did “go vegan,” I did something I never thought to do the countless times I’d considered a vegetarian/vegan diet before. I didn’t tell anyone. Sure, I might have made some passing comments to the effect of “I’m eating less meat these days.” And I maybe told my husband there wouldn’t be many more chicken taco nights for awhile (to his dismay). But essentially, I didn’t make a grand announcement. I didn’t even fully admit to myself that this was what I was doing. I just slowly stepped into it — an innocent flirtation that turned into a monogamous, long-time affair. That way, I didn’t have to come to terms with giving up so many things I loved in one fell swoop. Because I wasn’t. If I want fish, I’ll eat it, I told myself. If I get sick of tofu, I’ll go back to ordering chicken. For those first few months, occasionally I did. And as I lived that way for awhile — not telling anyone what I was doing, not really fully committing 100% — I continued to educate myself. I did that for a number of months — well past my honeymoon, even, where I did eat cheese and fish. Then one day, months later, I found I didn’t want cheese anymore. I didn’t want fish. Maybe I was realizing how much better I felt. Maybe I had “educated” myself enough to fully dissuade myself from ever wanting to eat another animal again. Maybe my taste buds had just forgotten what meat and cheese tasted like. But whatever the reason, one day it just kinda clicked. Since then, I haven’t looked back (aside from eating one mussel recently because I was ravenous, which my husband was quick to call me out on. This, of course, confirmed all of my previous fears that once you go vegan, you have to be perfect in public or you’ll hear about it).
Anyways, the moral of the story is that if you see any of yourself in my abbreviated story, rest assured that you are not alone. Through my own experience, I’ve become convinced that the absolute worst way to make any diet change is to do it overnight (unless, of course, there are dire health concerns at stake — then you should probably get working on that diet overhaul ASAP).
I know that different approaches may work for different people. I am only one story. But if I could pass on anything from my own experience, it would be the understanding that no one is grading you except yourself. You may get criticism from people on either side of the food spectrum, but ultimately, your own voice should matter most.
Start slowly, within your comfort zone. Maybe that means not eating meat for one day a week; maybe it means only eating meat once a week. And while you’re in that comfort zone, explore some things that don’t fall squarely within it. Educate yourself. Try new cuisines. Treat yourself to some new cookbooks. Make it a goal to eat at a new veg-friendly restaurant once a week. Don’t beat yourself up if you eat something “off limits.” Enjoy the process and think about this as expanding your food horizons rather than limiting them. I would have never discovered half of my favorite dishes and restaurants today had I not been forced to by virtue of not being able to eat half the things I ate before.
In short, if you’re considering going vegan, don’t sweat out the idea of making a drastic overnight change. Slowly incorporate new items into your diet, become more conscious of your food in general. Learn about the why of veganism, not just the how. Maybe one day you’ll forgo meat (and eggs and dairy) eventually, but don’t become obsessed with the end game. Enjoy the process. I certainly did.
Red Lentil Dahl:
I love Dahl (Indian lentils). This is a thicker, heartier version with a nice color thanks to the addition of fresh tomatoes and tomato paste. Serve with brown rice and an Indian-spiced vegetable side for a full and satisfying meal. I like my Dahl mildly spiced, but if you wish you may add turmeric or play around with more cayenne for additional heat.
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons ginger, freshly minced
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
2 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 cups red lentils
2 tomatoes, chopped
3 cups water
1 14 oz. can light coconut milk
1 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
cilantro, for garnish
1. In a large skillet or Dutch Oven, heat the onion, garlic, ginger and mustard seeds in oil. Cook over medium heat until the onion becomes translucent and the seeds begin to pop, about 4-5 minutes.
2. Add tomato paste. Add lentils and allow then to be coated with the onions, tomato paste and oil, stirring until combined. Add water and chopped tomatoes. Bring water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and simmer, covered, for about 10 minuted.
3. Add remaining ingredients. Do not boil but return to a simmer and simmer on low, covered, for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. You may add additional water to thin out if dahl becomes to thick. Additional cooking may be required if lentils are not fully cooked. Serve warm, over rice or by itself, topped with fresh cilantro to taste.
* Scroll down to see giveaway info.
By now I’m sure it’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Marisa Miller Wolfson and everything she does for the vegan (and non-vegan, and animal, and environmentalist) community. I first heard of Marisa when she a guest speaker at my law school for my animal law course (a life-changing class, indeed). My peers and I were honored with the privilege of being able to watch clips of her new documentary, Vegucated, years (OK, a year and half, to be sort of exact) prior to its initial release. As militant as I may have become over the course of my own “vegucation” (and inherent transformation), it’s always refreshing to see a film or read a book that is informative without being preachy; disturbingly real while still providing comic relief. Vegucated is just that and more.*
Well, it’s been over a year and a half since I watched my first clips from Vegucated, and since then I’ve gone vegan and gotten my parents on board as well (they saw Vegucated at the Vegetarian Summerfest in July and were big fans). I am noting all of this because today marks the official launch of the Vegucated DVD. Whoo!
In honor of its launch, I’m doing a giveaway with two prizes. One will be a copy of the DVD, of course. The other will be an amazing “Get Vegucated” t-shirt**, as I was so proud to model after getting one myself (my newly vegucated parents couldn’t resist the Vegfest souvenir).
To enter: simply leave a comment below. I’m sure fellow vegan commenters could share their thoughts on going vegan — ideas and inspiration on the topic are welcome. Of course, you can always just say hi, too. I will close the contest on Saturday January 14th, noon EST. Winners will be chosen at random. 1/10 Update: I’ve decided to give away 2 DVDs: the “1st prize” winner will get a DVD and t-shirt (mens or womens available) and the “2nd prize” winner will receive a copy of the DVD.
Speaking of going vegan…Since doing so, I’ve discovered something I may have never cared to glance at before: Trader Joe’s soy chorizo. Sure, it’s not the healthiest vegan option available. And sure, it’s “fake meat.” Both of which may make it a less appealing option for some. But can I just offer my two cents? This stuff is AWESOME. It’s versatile. It’s spicy. It’s flavorful. And if that’s not good enough for some of you skeptics, I’ll offer this: my brother, who is a trained cook and enrolling in culinary school, thought that it was meat. He was appalled that something so yummy could wear the vegan label.
Naturally, this chili gets much of its flavor from TJ’s chorizo. I also added some salsa for an extra flavor kick, along with lots of vegetables for health purposes (hey, I try). Bonus: you can get everything for this dish at Trader Joe’s. Bonus #2: it’s easy and fast! Bonus #3 (well, for some): Spicy!
* Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals should get an honorable mention in that department.
**Not only is this a cool shirt, but studies show that wearing Einstein shirts make you smarter, as well.
Vegan Chorizo Chili:
1 tablespoon oil
1 medium red onion, diced
1 medium green bell pepper, diced
1 cup carrots, finely chopped
7 cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 package Trader Joe’s soy chorizo, casing removed
1 jar Trader Joe’s double roasted salsa (or salsa of choice)
1/2 cup water
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 teaspoons chili powder
1. In a large pot, saute onion, pepper and carrot in oil, over medium heat, until onions become translucent (about 4-5 minutes). Add mushrooms and chorizo and saute another minute, breaking up chorizo with back of spoon.
2. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and simmer on low for approximately 5 minutes to heat through.
Oh, the holidays. For some reason, my mind (and body) can’t decide whether they’re a welcome escape from the everyday grind — a time to relax and enjoy the company of family and friends — or whether the holiday season is an energy-sapping grind in itself, leaving me longing to return to the monotony of my 9-5 (more like 9-7) routine. Whatever the verdict, there’s no denying that my body could use a return to something at least resembling monotony. Between the Christmas-in-California jet lag to the New Years Eve late night to the endless holiday parties, I can slowly feel the energy draining from my bodily cells. Tonight, with a few hours of unclaimed time available for relaxation, there are hopes of much-needed blogging catch-up and some quality reading, but I’ll be lucky to stay awake past 10 p.m. at the rate I’m going.
In a similar way, I am also eager to reset my eating habits to the pre-holiday status quo. As much as I got a little tired of the morning power smoothie routine, nothing is sounding better than a cleansing drink after weeks of breakfast randomness. My California vacation breakfasts consisted often of leftovers from the previous night’s carry out dinner, while just this morning I preceded yet another trip to the airport with a breakfast consisting of brownies and pizza (albeit gluten-free, vegan pizza, of course).
This smoothie has been a staple in my breakfast routine for the last several months, with slight tweaks along the way. Cilantro is a super cleansing leafy green that is known to support heavy metal detox, liver cleansing, and aid in digestion. It has numerous other health properties, but the main reason I created a smoothie centered around this polarizing leaf is really because my doctor suggested that it as a cleansing agent. With a healthy dose of vitamin-rich spinach, this smoothie is richly green. The fruits, however, add a tropical sweetness that belies its overly healthy-looking color. I haven’t tried this recipe with other leafy greens, but imagine kale or parsley might be an O.K. addition as well. After drinking this, you’ll feel refreshed and energized to tackle your day — whether you’re tackling the holiday party circuit, or returning to your workday routine, whatever that may be.
Green Detox Smoothie:
1 (smaller) bunch cilantro, with stems
3 handfuls baby spinach, washed
2 cups water, or more as needed
1 cup pineapple, chopped
2 small kiwi, peeled and roughly chopped
1 banana, peeled and broken into large chunks
1 packet stevia, or sweetener to taste
1. Add cilantro, spinach and water to a (preferably high-powered) blender and blend on high until smooth, adding more water if needed.
3. Add remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Taste for sweetness. Serve or chill in refrigerator for up to three hours before serving. Be sure to mix well before drinking if drink is separated.
I know I said I would lay off the brownie recipes for awhile. Well, I lied.
I am choosing this recipe to be my inaugural submission over at Ricki’s Blog Diet, Dessert and Dogs for her Wellness Weekend. I always get such amazing ideas and find new blogs though her Wellness Weekend but have not submitted anything of my own. Mostly because….I always forget! I am ending that trend today.
Yield: approximately 12 brownies
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup hot water
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup coconut nectar
1/4 cup coconut oil (liquefied)
2 packets stevia
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 medium banana (no brown spots)
1 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon instant coffee or coffee substitute
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons coconut flour
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. In a high-powered blender, blend together black beans, hot water, vanilla extract, coconut nectar, coconut oil, stevia and banana.
3. Add remaining ingredients and blend until just combined, stirring if necessary.Pour batter into a pre-greased 8×8″ pan. Bake in preheated oven for 35-40minutes, or until middle bounces back when pressed. Brownies will harden more as they cool. Allow to cool nearly completely before cutting.
Well, the 2nd annual gluten-free, vegan Thanksgiving was a success. Minus, of course, the Lions loss. Which is really nothing new for us Detroiters, except that this year, everyone was thinking (but not saying) that we actually had a chance. Turns out, we didn’t. And so, while the Lions’ defeats have been a constant in my recollection of recent Thanksgivings, my Thanksgiving plate has altogether done a 180 from the once dark meat and gravy-laden plates Thanksgivings in the past.
Ironically, I was the most stuffed this year than I have been in recent memory. I guess I have my willpower to thank for that. Or lack thereof…
There was also the problem of my menu planning. Two types of stuffing? Sure! Baked vegan mac and cheese? Why not? Cornbread and focaccia? Sounds good to me!
But I had absolutely nothing to do with my absolute favorite part of my meal. A wonderful Aloo Matar (Indian peas and potatoes) which was contributed by my aunt’s friend, an amazing Indian home cook. It was just too good, especially over mashed potatoes (who needs gravy when you can have Aloo Matar?).
So now you have the backstory to why, since Thanksgiving, I’ve been craving good Indian food. Sadly, there is little in the way of Indian restaurants in our neighborhood. As a result, I’m relegated to homemade Indian, which can be (and was) a tricky endeavor for the Indian cooking novice. I finally came up with something that satisfied by deepest cravings. I was a bit disappointed that the canned chick peas I used were weirdly “crunchy” — almost like they hadn’t been cooked enough before they were canned. But crunchy chickpeas aside, I was very happy with how this turned out. I would recommend it alongside some brown rice and topped with chopped cilantro to serve. Who knows, maybe I’ll even put it on next year’s Thanksgiving menu. It’s not like we’re saying no to anything in that department…
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 large vine tomatoes, chopped
1 cup water
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup light coconut milk*
cilantro (optional) for topping
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1. Heat oil in a large, deep pan or Dutch Oven. Add onion and garlic. Saute over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, or until onions just begin to brown. Add spice mix and toss to coat onions.
2. Add chickpeas, ginger, tomatoes and water. Bring to a simmer and simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, or until water thickens and sauce begins to reduce. Add coconut milk and salt and simmer to heat through.
* No, you’re not going crazy. I changed this from 1/2 cup to 1/4 cup on 12/6. The former was an unfortunate typo.