Chickpea-Collard Wraps

In my view, the world can be divided up into 3 kinds of people: those who love tuna salad, those who hate it, and those who used to love it before going vegan. I am in that last category — the kind of tuna salad lover who enjoyed it hot, cold, in casseroles and all of the other gross-sounding yet nostalgic concoctions one could imagine. Tuna melts made me swoon with pleasure, while I could have eaten cold tuna salad over crackers, salad, bread — you name it!*

* Incidentally, I have a theory that there is a direct correlation between tuna lovers and mayo lovers, as I happened to love mayo as well (and still consider Vegenaise a staple in my diet). My dad, on the other hand, always found both of these food items gag-worthy — and I can say with all of the confidence in the world that the thing he misses the LEAST since going vegan is ever having to worry about someone trying to serve him tuna salad with mayo ever again.

Anyways, not only does the whole idea of tuna salad not comport in any way ethically with my diet now, but it’s pretty nasty when one thinks about the health implications of what I was eating. Mercury is the first, and obvious, health pitfall to come to mind. But even when one thinks about the canning process and amount of other toxins in fish in general, tuna was probably the least healthy choice when it came to creatures of the sea. Then there was the white bread it was usually served with, and the gobs of cheese if that tuna was made into a melt. Ick!

packaged collard wraps

This refreshing salad-collard combo was designed to satisfy my nostalgia for tuna salads while not making me feel too full or giving me that “ick” factor that comes with eating fatty and unhealthy meals, however satisfying they may be in the moment. This one is satisfying, yet will allow you to go on with your day without needing a post-meal digestion nap (i.e. food coma). It is a great lunch idea, as these can easily be wrapped in cling wrap or foil or packed in tupperware, as they hold together nicely and do not risk getting soggy like bread or a normal wrap would. In fact, collard wraps of a various nature are my go-to lunch source (I also love collard hummus wraps with veggies).

While this chickpea salad is not exactly like tuna, that’s the point! It’s supposed to taste fresh and healthy, while still satisfying those lingering cravings for all you former tuna salad lovers out there who have either given up animal products, or those of you who are trying something much more healthy, low-carb or lighter in general. I love that collards are one of nature’s foods that are “accidentally” gluten-free. So often we’re spending time or money trying to make or buy gluten-free foods with all sorts of ingredients, while collards are so easy and simple. It’s easy to forget about them!

Note: for a more burrito-like wrap, add more filling and fold one side first, then fold the leafy end in, and roll. There’s really no wrong way to roll a collard. OK, maybe there is. But depending on the amount of filling I’m using, and the size and texture of my collards, I go between a more “flat” wrap, a burrito wrap, or more of an open-faced lettuce wrap type concoction. You can also add additions like as sprouts, spinach, avocado other other veggies of choice.

rolled wraps

Burrito-style wrap with more dulse added to taste. Tomato omitted.

Chickpea-Collard Wraps:

A few notes: I am not sure how many this would typically serve, as it probably depends on how much filling you use and what else you’re eating with these. Using large collards, the filling, divided among 4 wraps, makes wraps the size of the top picture. Also, I designed this recipe to be light on the salt content, as the dulse, scallion and aminos add a salty flavor without tons of sodium. However, if you wish to add more salt, adjust to taste. You can also easily add more dulse to taste, as I did in the last picture. 

4 collard greens, thick stems on end removed

sliced tomato

Filling:

1 15-oz. can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed

3 tablespoons reduced-fat Vegenaise (or soy-free Vegenaise to make this soy-free)

1 teaspoon Bragg’s Liquid Amino’s

1 teaspoon dulse flakes (found in sea vegetable section of most health food stores)

2 scallions, finely chopped

1/4 cup pickle, drained and minced (I always use Bubbie’s brand, which is raw fermented)

sea salt to taste (optional)

Directions:

1. Divide filling among 4 collard wraps and spread around the rib of the collard. Place 3 tomato slices over filling of each wrap.

2. Fold leaves of collard over the rib, and then fold over leafy end, leaving other end open. Place fold down on plate to serve.

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Superfood Sweet Potato Cookies

I don’t tend to use the term “superfood” loosely. In fact, I don’t tend to use the term often, as I feel that most fresh plant-based foods could be considered “superfoods” depending on the context. However, its use in this particular description is mainly to alert readers to the intent of this recipe, which was not to create the most “like a real cookie” recipe possible, but rather to make something sweet and satisfying while also supplying loads of health benefits.

I know I’ve mentioned quite often at this point that I’m very loyal to nutritionist Kimberly Snyder, whose latest book, Beauty Detox Foods, has inspired me to incorporate even more “beauty foods” into my diet, particularly healthy fats such as chia and walnuts (which I had eaten and used, but which were not necessarily a staple until I discovered Ms. Snyder’s books).* I also added, of course, the very versatile sweet potato. I have used sweet potato in scones and muffins on this site previously, but have never used it to create a intentionally nutritionally dense dessert as I did here.

*Side note: I swear I am not paid to promote this woman, but with all the promotion I do to family and friends, I am hoping she will just gratuitously send me a check soon…

As you can probably see, these cookies are loaded with whole grains, nuts and seeds. They’re therefore filling and make a great snack, not just a dessert. I also find that they’re best warm out of the oven, though they can be eaten at room temperature or even chilled. If you’re looking for a more traditional oatmeal-like cookie, I would suggest my Quinoa Cookies, which are always a huge hit even with non-vegan, gluten-eating folk.* These, however, are not necessarily your “traditional” cookie, but tasty and worthy of a try nonetheless — especially if you’re looking to give yourself some health benefits while eating your cookie, too. Or something like that.

*And for more gluten-free dessert ideas, check out my blogging buddy Shirley’s site, All Gluten-Free Desserts. Shirley is an amazing resource for all you Celiacs and gluten-intolerant out there. She features an array of recipes on her dessert site, including many that are vegan. She featured my avocado-lime tart about a month ago. I will definitely be visiting her site often  when looking for some dessert inspiration and ideas. 

Yield: About 18 cookies

Superfood Sweet Potato Cookies:

Like I said, I found these cookies to be best when eaten warm  out of the oven, or within a few hours of making. That said, I made them for a long weekend in Northern Michigan and my family enjoyed them over several days, and ate them without complaint!

1 1/2 cups rolled oats

2/3 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour

2/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1 teaspoon Cinnamon

2 tablespoons chia seeds

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

2 tablespoons coconut oil, plus more for greasing baking sheet

a pinch of sea salt (about 1/4 teaspoon)

1/2 cup coconut nectar

1 cup of cooked sweet potato, skins removed, mashed (about one medium sweet potato)

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

2 packets of Sweetleaf Stevia*

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a large baking sheet with coconut oil.

2. Mix dry ingredients: oats, flour, coconut, chia seeds, walnuts, cinnamon and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add coconut oil and mix in until crumbles form.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients. Pour into dry mixture and stir until everything is mixed well.

4. Scoop out heaping tablespoons of dough, roll with palms, and place on baking sheet, a few inches apart. Flatten dough individually with palms.

5. Bake in preheated oven for about 12 minutes, or until cookies are golden brown on the bottom (may need to check). Repeat from step 4 if necessary with remaining dough.

* Another brand may yield different results in sweetness, so be sure to adjust accordingly

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What I’m Eating These Days

Quick veggie fried rice with raw kimchi

Since becoming what I like to call a “real person” and working full-time (ugh, not to mention beginning a course of extensive Lyme disease treatment), it’s been somewhat difficult to keep up with blogging as much as I’d like. I honestly do NOT understand how so many bloggers that I read and admire have other jobs — not to mention kids! — and yet can post on a regular, sometimes daily, basis. Whew. I got tired just thinking about that.

But as much as I haven’t been able to blog consistently lately, my blogging gene is still in full-force. Which is to say, I can’t stop taking pictures of my food! Eating for me these days is more quick and less recipe-based (i.e. I’m throwing together what I have in the fridge), but I still try and create things that are healthy, colorful, and most importantly, exciting to eat! So I thought I would share with you some of the iPhone photos I’ve been taking of my “thrown together” meals (those that haven’t already been instagram-ed, that is). These represent in large part what I have been eating lately when I’m not trying to create recipes. Hopefully they will provide some inspiration to my readers. Oh, and please excuse the photo quality as, like I said, most of these were taken on my phone!

Boiled baby potatoes, green beans, hummus and raw sauerkraut

As you can see, my quick meals still involve lots of greens, whole grains, and of course, raw sauerkraut, which has become a staple in my diet. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve become a huge fan of nutritionist Kimberly Snyder, whose new book Beauty Detox Foods has inspired even more of my go-to meals. However, as you can see, I still do eat organic tofu (which is an apparent Beauty Detox no-no), and other things such as white potatoes on occasion. I feel that the key to good health is to vary your diet enough so that lots of fresh and colorful vegetables are incorporated, and to minimize processed foods and animals products (duh!) as much as possible.

Stuffed peppers with sweet potato salad and mixed baby greens

Here are some of my go-to, healthy meals (no recipe necessary):

  • Quick veggie fried rice with raw kimchi: Saute tofu, garlic, ginger and veggies of choice in olive oil or vegetable broth. Add cooked rice (I sometimes even just use Trader Joe’s pre-cooked frozen brown rice for a super quick meal), wheat-free tamari sauce or Bragg’s liquid aminos to taste, and frozen peas. I also add some crushed red pepper to taste. Serve hot topped with raw fermented kimchi on the side.
  • Stuffed Peppers: I make stuffed peppers a lot, usually mixing in different grains with sauteed veggies, then baking in the oven, covered, until peppers are soft. This particular photo had short grain brown rice, corn, sauteed zucchini, garlic and baby portobellos. I added cumin, coriander, apple cider vinegar, nutritional yeast and sea salt for flavor. The only reason you don’t see them topped with salsa in this picture is because I had run out! I love Mexican flavored stuffed peppers topped with salsa and avocado. I either bake them in the salsa or add it after.
  • Sweet potato salad: I like to boil sweet potatoes until tender (with skins!) and toss with cider vinegar, cilantro, sea salt (to taste) and reduced fat Vegenaise. I got the inspiration for this recipe from Dr. Barnard’s book Power Foods for the Brain, which is also amazing and another frequent healthy eating reference for me.
  • Mixed Greens Salad: Toss pre-packaged mixed greens with your choice of a combination of lemon juice, olive oil, Bragg’s Liquid Amino’s (just a dash or two), apple cider vinegar, sea salt and nutritional yeast. So healthy and easy — a great way to get your greens!
  • Potato-hummus-kraut plate: Topping baked or boiled potatoes with hummus is one of my new favorite things, and something that my mom definitely got me hooked on. The plate shown in the above photo was taken on a day when I was tempted to order out because I had “nothing” in my fridge. Just goes to show you what can be made from “nothing”! I boiled Trader Joe’s “teeny tiny” potatoes (one of my guilty pleasures) until tender, then added green beans during the last minute. Drained. Added some nutritional yeast (totally optional), a healthy dollop of hummus (ok, I may have gone back after this photo to add more) and just a tiny pinch of salt. Then I topped with a heaping pile (as you can see) of raw sauerkraut (yum!). This was one of my favorite creations from my fridge full of “nothing”.
  • Sauteed beans, grains and greens (below): To prepare for busy weeks, I like to cook up a big pot of beans in my pressure cooker (aduki is a new favorite for me), and a big pot of grains such as millet or quinoa. Then, during the week, I can simply saute everything together and add some greens or other veggies, seasoning, and enjoy a meal without having to do a lot of prep. The photo below was millet and aduki/black beans, packaged baby spinach, sliced baby bell peppers (I forget what they’re called…), cumin, olive oil, cider vinegar, coriander, chili powder and some cayenne for heat. It was delicious!

Black and aduki beans, millet and greens

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Lentil-Sweet Potato-Kale Enchiladas

As I write this, I am nurturing severe jet-lag and sleep-deprivation after a four-day wedding weekend in Chicago, for one of Gennaro’s best friend’s weddings. Not only was the weekend jam-packed with activities, but we spent all day yesterday in the car and lost an hour coming back to EST. Not to mention the fact that, although I ate very well all weekend — visiting such famous vegan joints such as Chicago Diner, Karyn’s and Native Foods —  I still did not have the benefit of my usual green smoothies, kale salads or probiotic-filled raw sauerkraut to keep my immunity high.

Needless to say, I am TIRED. And in times like these, the last thing I want to do is cook a complicated meal when I come home from work, or do many dishes. Yet I am equally not into the idea of ordering out yet again after a weekend of eating out. I want home-cooked, healthy and easy. Yet these things don’t always go hand-in-hand.

I developed this recipe several weeks back when trying to address what I find to be one of the most difficult things about working full-time and trying to eat well at home – time! This recipe is also very cheap to make – especially if you’re buying and cooking your lentils in bulk and shopping local for your kale (or any other greens you may want to use here). You could easily top with a vegan cheese of choice, but since Gennaro does not like vegan cheese, I just sprinkled a bit of nutritional yeast over the top and it was not lacking in flavor. I hope you enjoy not only this dish, but whatever you’ll be doing during the free time you save from not having to be in the kitchen all night!

Ingredients:

Please note: this recipe does not require an exact science, so feel free to play around with the ingredients and amounts to your liking.

1 large sweet potato, unpeeled, diced

1/2 cup water, or more as needed

2 cups cooked lentils (either canned or cooked at home)

2 large handfuls curly kale, chopped (about 1/2 a bunch of kale)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

salt to taste

1 jar salsa of choice (I used Trader Joe’s organic Tomatillo and Roasted Yellow Chili Salsa), divided

1 package corn tortillas (I used organic sprouted corn tortillas)

vegan cheese or nutritional yeast for sprinking (optional)

Directions:

1. In a large skillet, add sweet potato and water. Cover and heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sweet potato is soft (about 10-15 minutes). Add additional water (about 1/4 cup) if water is absorbed before sweet potato is fully cooked.

2. Once sweet potato is soft, add lentils, kale, 3 tablespoons salsa and cumin. Stir together, cooking over medium heat until kale is just wilted and everything warmed through, about 4-5 minutes. Add salt to taste (I just added a pinch because I used salt to cook my lentils).

3. If desired to soften, heat tortillas over separate skillet, wrapped in foil in the oven, or in the microwave until soft and pliable. Add about 1/4 cup filling to each warm tortilla and roll, placing in a 9×13″ baking dish seam-down across dish. You may have additional filling left over. Cover tortillas with remaining salsa, using a spoon to spread evenly over enchiladas. Sprinkle with desired amount of vegan cheese or nutritional yeast (optional).

4. Bake enchiladas covered in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes, or until salsa is bubbling and enchiladas are heated through. Serve topped with lettuce, tomato, avocado or onion and alongside your favorite Mexican sides.

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No-Boil Gluten-Free, Vegan Spinach Lasagna

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:

Note: while the bottom layer of noodles cooks perfectly, the top noodles layer may be a little chewier in this recipe because of the no-boil factor. To combat this, you can either split up the filling into 3 parts and spread some more on top along with the sauce (so there would be no noodles on top), or simply boil the noodles if you really don’t want to deal with it. However, I have made this recipe a few times and feel that the noodles cook perfectly when underneath something, so I think splitting the filling and adding more on top is the best solution. Of course, I have also made this several times with a chewier top layer, which I am fine with. I use a pizza cutter to make sure everything slices easily. 

Serves: 5-7

Ingredients:

1 pkg. Tinkyada brown rice lasagna noodles (or other gluten-free lasagna) -totals 12 lasagna noodles

Filling:

1 pkg. (about 8 oz.) firm tofu

10 oz. bag frozen cut spinach

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Sauce:

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

Directions:

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.

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Adzuki-Millet Cakes

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.

Adzuki-Millet Cakes:

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

Ingredients:

3/4 cup uncooked dry millet

1 1/2 cups well 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

Directions:

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.

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Indian-Spiced Cauliflower Soup

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

Spice Mix:

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

Directions:

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.

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My Favorite Kale Salad

new kale saladLet 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)

Directions:

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.

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Avocado-Lime Tart and Updates

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.

Avocado-Lime Tart:

Crust:

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

Filling:

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

Optional:

2 medium kiwis, thinly sliced and patted dry with a paper towel to remove excess water

Directions:

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.

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Red Lentil Dahl

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.

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