Spicy, Creamy Vegan Chickpea Curry

Spicy, Creamy Vegan Chickpea Curry | Delectably FreeIt’s pretty clear to me by now that cashew cream is my newest kitchen trick that I can’t get enough of. At one time, I used to think it was daunting and time-consuming to make cream sauce from cashews. Little did I know that with the help of my Vitamix, making cashew cream is only slightly more daunting or time-consuming than opening a jar of cream sauce. I mean, opening certain jars can be a daunting task in itself…

But one need not have a fancy or high-powered blender to make cream sauce in minutes. Creamy, smooth and luscious sauce is attainable simply by soaking your cashews ahead of time, then draining and rinsing them before blending. This softens the cashews and puts them just minutes from being turned into a silky smooth sauce.

This curry was born out of a recent craving for the Thai-style restaurant cream sauces that I’ve been deprived of ever since going vegan. I think I might miss Thai curries more than anything — in fact, it might be the only thing I can truly say with much certainty that I actually miss from my former life. But I take solace in knowing that I don’t miss the headaches and stomach pains I used to get after ingesting such high salt, dairy and fat-ladden meals.

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Indian-Spiced Pressure Cooker Black Lentils

Indian-Spiced black lentilsI seem to have a tendency to make things harder on myself than they need to be. When I was a kid, I remember school teachers telling me I was “thinking too hard” about math or, well, more math problems that were giving me trouble. They could see it in the way I furrowed my brow — a sure sign I was hyper-analyzing each and every problem, thinking just a bit too hard about something that was probably, to them, quite simple.

In yoga classes, I’m often told by instructors that I make poses harder on myself than they need to be. While everyone else is doing a simple downward dog, I’m stressing over where each hand and foot is placed on the mat, how high my arch is, or where my shoulder blades are placed. And while it’s good to think about these things, somehow I manage to make them consume my practice. It can be problematic when you’re looking to yoga as a means of de-stressing and relaxation.

I do it in the kitchen, too. Countless times I’ve taken the hard way to get dinner on the table, ending up with loads of pots and pans — many of which were probably unnecessary — in the sink when it’s all over.

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Quinoa Vegetable Biryani Bake

quinoa biryani bakeSince I’m vegan and both of my parents are also vegan, many times people assume that I was raised that way. If anyone watches South Park, I imagine they think of us as that vegan family whose kids went to school every day in life preservers.

Actually, though, our foray into veganism and plant-based eating was actually much more recent, and as a kid, I remember very many non-vegan meals being part of our weeknight repertoire — roasted chicken, grilled flank steak, and baked macaroni and cheese come to mind.

But while my childhood diet memories are a far cry from what we’re eating today, I think it’s fair to say that what we were eating was nevertheless not the typical Standard American Diet of meat, processed foods and starches. My parents did a good job of introducing my palate to various cuisines at a young age and making sure vegetables were part of every meal. They still tell people the story of when I was asked in kindergarten what my favorite food was, and while other students named pizza or hot dogs, I proudly declared that my favorite food was “squid with black bean sauce”.  I also distinctly recall my mom making tofu stir-fry many nights before tofu was even “a thing” (and before Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods even existed in our state). And I can’t remember a time when my mom’s well-loved vegetarian Moosewood Cookbook was not tattered, worn and splattered with food; a favorite was the “enchanted broccoli forest”, which always drew stares of awe any time my brother or I had friends over. Recently, I went to a wedding of a childhood friend, who informed me that the first time he had ever seen asparagus was when he came over for dinner and my mom was making it.

baked quinoa biryani

Perhaps one of the most impressive and non-traditional dinners I recall as a child was my mom’s chicken biryani, which rivaled any restaurant version I’ve had. Hers was spicy and flavorful, speckled with cardamom pods and golden raisins. And, as is usually the case, I don’t think I will ever be able to make something that competes with her version. So I didn’t try.

This quinoa biryani bake is not quite “traditional”, but it evokes the flavors of a biryani while providing a well-rounded, easy two-pot meal. I love the idea of baking quinoa with other ingredients — it comes out so pretty and all you have to do is fluff it up and serve.

This is the kind of meal my family eats now. Whole grains. Lots of veggies. No animal proteins. No oil. Now all I need is a good vegan, savory yogurt — “raita” —  recipe to serve with this. How good would that be?

Quinoa Vegetable Biryani Bake:

Serves: 4


1 cup white quinoa, uncooked, well rinsed and drained

2 cups chopped cauliflower florets

1/2 cup onion, diced

1 cup carrot, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1/3 cup plus 2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, divided

1 cup fresh tomato, diced

1 teaspoon sea salt (if using regular vegetable broth, reduce salt to taste)

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

dash of cayenne pepper (optional, to taste)

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup frozen peas

1/2 cup raisins (regular or golden)

1 cup toasted cashews (toast on a dry skillet for about 7 minutes over medium-high heat until fragrant and browned)

Chopped cilantro for serving (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Add cauliflower, onion, carrot, garlic, ginger and 1/3 cup vegetable broth to a large saute pan or Dutch Oven and saute over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes, or until onion becomes translucent. Add quinoa, remaining vegetable broth, tomato, curry powder, cumin, cinnamon and salt. Stir together. Heat everything over medium-high heat for another minute.

3. Turn off heat and carefully pour quinoa mixture into a large, preferably 9×13″ baking dish. Cover. Bake at 350 degrees, covered, for about 35-40 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed.

4. Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients except cilantro. Cover and let sit for another 5 minutes before serving. Serve topped with chopped cilantro, if desired.


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


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.


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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Chana Masala

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?).

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Indian-Spiced Potatoes

Recently I noticed that Indian recipes are curiously absent from this sight. I say “curiously” because, as my husband will attest, we are big Indian food fans around here. When I met Gennaro, he didn’t think he liked Indian food. The few times we brought him out to try it, we paraded the naan breads and simple tandoori dishes in front of him, hoping to lure him into more adventurous fare eventually. I’m not sure when, exactly, it happened, but there came a point when my husband starting opting for Indian take-out on his own accord, without being dragged by his wife or members of her immediate family. If there were ever any doubts that he was the one, they all subsided when I learned that I had snagged a guy who could hold his own in the Indian department.

My mom just bought me a copy of The Vegan Indian Kitchen, and let me just say: this cookbook is awesome. We’ve sampled a handful of recipes from the book, from Indian okra to the spicy, stewed aduki beans, and every recipe is truly amazing. There has not been a shortage of Indian fare in our kitchen lately. Thankfully, my husband came around to liking Indian food when he did, or he would have been in biiig trouble now that I’m armed with my very own vegan Indian recipe book.

The other day, I was looking to cook up something quick, and didn’t feel like pulling out any cookbooks or following any recipes. I chopped up some potato, onion and pepper and threw in some spices, inspired by by newfound Indian cooking knowledge. As it turned out, I had come up with a pretty darn good Indian-style dish of my own. It reminds me of the Hugarian paprika potatoes my grandma used to make, with an Indian twist.

Serves: 5-6 as a side

Indian-Spiced Potatoes:
Inspired by: The Vegan Indian Kitchen

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 small russet potatoes, washed and chopped (about 2 large potatoes)

1 large onion, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2 cups water, divided

Spice Mix:

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon garam masala

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper


1. Heat oil in a large, deep skillet and add potatoes, onion, bell pepper and salt. Saute for 2-3 minutes, until juices begin to release. Add 1 cup water, cover and let simmer for about 5 minutes, or until water reduces by half. Uncover and let simmer until water is almost all evaporated.

2. Meanwhile, mix spices in a small bowl and add to potatoes after step 1 is complete. Add remaining water and continue to simmer, uncovered, until liquid is gone and potatoes are soft. Add salt to taste and serve.