Super Simple Incan Quinoa

Incan QuinoaI think I’m ready.

If you hadn’t noticed, I took a little bit of a break. You may know that I’ve been dealing with fighting Lyme and other chronic Tick-borne infections in the last two years. After a year on antibiotics and steady improvement, I decided to return to blogging after a long hiatus. I blogged again for about a year before realizing I was, quite simply, exhausted. Physically — after coming home from long, stressful days at work — I was pushing myself to make multi-step meals to test for the blog in time to take photos while there was still daylight. Then I would spend the rest of the night editing said photos, then forcing myself to sit and write a meaningful and informative post — all while watching the clock in panic mode, hoping I could make it into bed to ensure my requisite eight hours of sleep were possible that night (otherwise, I might as well call off tomorrow on account of the inevitable brain fog and fatigue).

The weekends provided more opportunity for cooking, picture-taking and writing posts. But that turned out to be a problem as I found myself turning down plans or opportunities for much-needed rest and self-care in order to make sure I got my quota of decent posts lined up for the week ahead.

The pace was unsustainable, and I found myself getting more tired and, perhaps worse, becoming grumpier. So I got burnt out and quietly went away for awhile, hoping that the much-needed reset would help me return with a purpose and vigor like never before.

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Vegan Mexican Lasagna

Gluten-Free, Vegan Mexican LasagnaYes, I made this Mexican lasagna with Cinco de Mayo in mind. But truthfully, I really don’t need an excuse to bring Mexican food into my life. Rice, beans, tortillas and salsa all top out the list of foods I regularly enjoy in some capacity. And I think it’s fair to say by now that I am a huge fan of cashew cheese, including the cashew nacho cheese sauce that I used here.

While I was making this dish, it occurred to me that it would be really difficult to mess it up. I suppose you could. But there’s not much science that goes into layering things and baking them together for a casserole-like dish — and even less science when it comes to using tortillas rather than lasagna noodles because there’s less risk of overcooking the tortillas than the noodles. I tried to keep this recipe as simple as possible, but that doesn’t mean sauteed vegetables, black olives, veggie crumbles or any number of other ingredients won’t also work here.

Similarly, if you don’t have a blender or don’t feel like making the homemade cashew sauce, you could easily substitute a vegan cheese for the cashew cheese sauce. If you do that, I would suggest adding a little extra salsa to the middle layers.

For me, the best part of this lasagna — aside from the taste, of course! — was that you get to avoid the frustration of having to soften corn tortillas and roll them into enchiladas. If you’ve ever tried this before, you understand first-hand how nearly impossible it is to do this without breaking any tortillas. I sort of decided at some point that I wasn’t interested in dealing with that sort of annoyance in the kitchen anymore. Layering the tortillas solves that problem while keeping the flavor and spirit of enchiladas intact.

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Grain-Free, Vegan Layered Vegetable Lasagna

Grain-Free, Vegan Layered Vegetable Lasagna | Delectably FreeWhile I own a growing collection of vegan cookbooks — a collection that my tiny kitchen is increasingly struggling to contain — I admit that I rarely make recipes directly from any cookbooks. That’s because I usually find myself trying to think of new recipes rather than make someone else’s. I collect cookbooks because they give me inspiration and help me with the thinking part more than anything else.

That said, there are a few cookbook recipes that fall under my all-time favorites — ones that I will gladly make and share with others, with no shame in that it wasn’t my idea to begin with, because it’s just that good. Ok, maybe there’s a touch of shame that I couldn’t think of the idea myself. But I love these recipes so much, they’re among the rare meals I make without trying to change a thing.

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Beyond Chicken Vegan Jambalaya

Beyond Chicken Vegan Jambalaya | Delectably FreeBefore we get to our regularly-scheduled programming, I have a few housekeeping — er, should I say site-keeping — notes to share. First of all, you may notice that Delectably Free has a new look. My previous header and design was created by my lovely and talented friend Aubrey, but I needed an update to go with some of my other site changes, and wanted to once and for all clarify that we are not entirely “sugar” free, but rather refined sugar-free, lest anyone get too confused. With that, we now have a new header reflecting that clarification. You might also notice the new photo on the sidebar, courtesy of my other lovely and talented friends at Riggs Photography, who took long-awaited photos for this site, which can also be found on my About Me page and in my Coaching Program pages. A few weeks ago, I also added Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram links to my sidebar, for those interested in following my happenings on any of those sites as well. Finally — and this one came with great trepidation — I added mobile compatibility so that my site is easier to navigate via phone. This was was with trepidation because the character and feel of this site is largely lost through the mobile setup, but I felt I had to do it to make everything easier and more seamless. Please, please, please let me know what you think! I am always open to suggestions for improvement.

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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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Vegan Skillet Fajita Hash

skillet fajita hashI’m in love with the fajita recipe from The Vegan Table. It’s probably been one of my favorite vegan cookbook recipes, and it’s a super easy go-to for entertaining vegans and non-vegans alike. The problem is, while the recipe is easy, it’s requires a bit of advance preparation, which means that it’s not always the best option for weeknight meals when I’m hungry and cranky and will probably eat the entire contents of my pantry if I have to wait for something to marinate and then roast in the oven before eating.

Last week, I had a craving for fajitas and happened to have enough ingredients on-hand to make them happen. But the problem was, I was so hungry by the time I got home from walking Woodley after work that there was no way I was going to be able to wait long enough to make them. That’s where the idea for this fajita hash was born.

I wanted to stray a bit from the fajitas I’d been making from The Vegan Table. This recipe is oil-free and low-fat. Making it on the skillet makes it much easier to pull off the no-oil thing, as everything is sauteed rather than roasted, which usually requires oil. To make it a meal in itself, I added potatoes, which provide some additional caloric bulk. Oh, and did I mention I love potatoes? Cause I do. So, there’s that. Finally, the black beans round this out by adding protein — again, this could be a meal in itself.

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Jamaican Jerk Bowls & Creamy Cilantro Dressing

Jamaican Jerk Chickpea BowlsBowls. They’re more than just dinnerware; they’re like an entire subculture of vegan meals. In fact, I would rank bowls — again, not the dinnerware kind, but the stuff inside it — high on the list of things every new vegan should learn about fast. Along with nutritional yeast and cashew cream, bowls might be the single biggest staple in my diet. And the fun part of this staple is that it’s entirely customizable — maybe that’s why I’m so in love with them.

And yet, for a recipe blog highlighting some of my favorite vegan meals, bowls have been completely underrepresented, if not entirely forgotten, on this forum. I feel like a bit of a fraud, in fact, in that my weekday meals usually consist of at least one or two big bowls of beans, grains, tofu, veggies and some sort of sauce — yet very rarely have I shared those meals here. It is apparent to me that a good, hearty “bowl” recipe has been long overdue.

This Caribbean-inspired dish is a great excuse for me to break my habit of not sharing my kitchen sink bowls here, as it’s not quite kitchen sink, but still captures the spirit of what a meal bowl should be. It’s simple, but also just fancy enough to impress, should you need to. And even though I’m sharing the central components of this recipe here, the rest is —  again — entirely amenable to variation. For example, while I used steamed kale as a base in this dish, you might opt for a grain such as cooked quinoa, millet or rice. Or you could just turn this into a salad, using fresh salad greens as a base.

Jamaican Jerk Bowls

I’ve long been a fan of anything Jerk seasoned. In my pre-vegan days, that something was usually chicken. And it was usually dry and overcooked and would have been lackluster had it not been for the seasoning. So it didn’t quite come as a surprise to me when I first tried the Jerk-chickpea combo and loved it more than I ever loved Jerk chicken. In fact, I’m thinking this is going to be a staple in many meals to come. These chickpeas are the perfect salad-topper, high protein snack and, of course, addition to your Jamaican or Caribbean-themed bowls. The dressing is equally versatile. You can use it as a nice change-of-pace dressing, as I plan to do in the future. It also makes a nice alternative to ranch as a veggie dip. I used Brazil nuts for a healthy twist and selenium boost, though I am sure raw cashews would work as well.

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My Favorite Vegan Mac and Cheese

my favorite mac and cheeseI know I have, like, a bagillion mac and cheese recipes or variations of mac and cheese on this site. Actually, I only have 3 others. But in the food blogging world, that sort of seems to me like a bagillion.

At any rate, despite the fact that I don’t need to post yet another mac and cheese recipe here, it would feel disingenuous to go on with life knowing that there’s a go-to mac and cheese that I pretty much make exclusively these days that I haven’t shared here. It’s quickly become one of my favorite meals, and one that I make at least once every few weeks — especially during this cold winter, when I’ve been craving warm comfort food and carbs.

I know the internet, as well, has no shortage of vegan mac and cheese recipes using cashews as a base. That’s fine. What I like about this particular recipe is that there are very few ingredients, it’s very creamy, and the miso and smoked paprika are secret ingredients that sort of make this a perfect blend of delicious, umami, smoky and decadent goodness — without any oil or processed fat. I am willing to go out on a limb and say that, despite its lack of processed ingredients, this recipe will wow even the most ardent omnivore or self-proclaimed “cheese addict” you may be feeding.

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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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Lentil Tacos

lentil tacosThere are joys and frustrations that come with being one among many vegan food bloggers. The joy, of course, is witnessing a virtual food revolution — one in which so many amazing vegan home cooks have found a venue for sharing delicious and beautiful vegan recipes with the world — for free! As an advocate for animal welfare and for health, it has been wonderful to witness the explosion of vegan food blogging in recent years. I love that those curious about meatless meals, meat alternatives and healthy eating have such a rich array of options to choose from, and that they don’t have to buy loads of books or do tons of research to find answers.

The downside to this explosion is that at times I think I’ve come up with a killer and unique recipe, only to find that a quick Google search reveals dozens of other versions of the idea — an idea that seemingly every other food blogger already thought of before I did.

Such was the case with these tacos. For too long, I’d been dreaming of creating a lentil taco filling that was both hearty and healthy. I also wanted something that could serve a crowd and that was above all relatively easy to prepare. I Googled lentil tacos to see what sort of ideas were already swarming out there. There were quite a few, so I decided to lay off my idea for the time being.

But curiosity got the best of me, as I was still interested in how a lentil taco filling would compare to its more meaty counterparts. And I figured, if I’m going to make a recipe, I’d rather have it be something with my own twist. Lucky for me, whatever twists I added turned out to be delicious.

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