Hearty Vegetable Marinara

hearty vegetable marinaraSimple need not be boring. That’s the slogan I would use if I were to bottle this stuff and sell it.

I’ve long had a visceral aversion to boring foods. And by boring, I’m thinking those measly garden salads that are on every average restaurant menu in America. I’m thinking plain white bread. I’m thinking marinara sauce — not every marinara sauce, but the ubiquitous kind that’s plopped out of a jar and poured over spaghetti and called dinner. As long as I’ve been cooking, and as many short-cuts as I like to take at times, I’ve never brought myself to accept a jar of sauce and some noodles as dinner. This may explain why, even when faced with little time and a jar of sauce, I do my best to jazz it up, like I did with this spicy chorizo sauce from a few years ago.

It’s not that I am being a food snob (OK, maybe I am), but that I really just LOVE food so much that I can’t imagine wasting a meal on something that doesn’t really excite me. I guess that’s the difference between someone like me and someone who “forgets” to eat lunch (we all know those people, and no, I don’t understand them one bit).

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Chickpea Paprikash over Penne

vegan chickpea paprikash over penneIf you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably figured out by now that I’m a pretty huge fan of The Voice. In fact, I’m actually a Voice expert. I know, for example, that getting assigned a Whitney Houston song is widely considered the kiss of death for many artists. And even though the coaches know this, they will still assign Whitney songs season in and season out — probably because the producers know it makes for interesting television — which predictably fall short of the original.

This season, it was Tessanne Chin who had the dubious honor of being tasked with a Whitney classic: I Have Nothing. Now, Tessanne is an amazing singer. She is one of the best on the show. Still, as we’ve learned after 5 seasons of this show, as good as anyone is, there is only one Whitney (Voice fans know that the same can be said of Adele). But Tessanne was smart. Before taking the stage, she strategically noted that she was not trying to emulate the original. She was not going to try to be Whitney. She was going to be Tessanne, and she was going to make her version a tribute, rather than a knock-off. And with that in mind, I think everyone (including myself), enjoyed the performance for what it was — not “Whitney”, but something unique and amazing in its own right (and for the record, I did think Tessanne was amazing).

If Whitney is the standard for vocal greatness, my great-grandmother was like the Whitney Houston of home cooking. After immigrating from Hungary as a teenager, she worked hard all of her life in the auto factories of Detroit. She carried her hard-working, blue collar mentality into the kitchen, where she was often sweating over the stove for hours on weekends to serve authentic Hungarian meals to grateful family members — something that brought her much joy. It was at her home that I saw my first whole chicken foot poking out of a boiling pot of water (something that would scar me for years to come), where I learned that lard was probably the most important cooking ingredient, and that cooking directions were as easy as telling someone “just thing it” (duh?).

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Low-Fat Lentil-Quinoa Chili

Lentil-Quinoa chiliI feel like I’ve just recently discovered lentils. Not that I didn’t know what they were. Of course I did. It’s just that, until recently, I’ve had a bag of bulk lentils sitting in my pantry for what seems like forever, almost quite literally collecting dust. In my mind, they were probably destined to one day become part of some boring lentil soup. And I could always think of something just a little bit more exciting than lentil soup to make for dinner on any given night. So they sat there. Unused. Unwanted.

That all changed when I decided, once again, to try and tackle an old nemesis and vegan classic: The Lentil Loaf. After a few tries and a successful Thanksgiving entree on my hands, the bag of lentils that sat reliably in my pantry for months on end was gone. And I suddenly felt an emptiness without them there. So I bought some more, this time purchasing a few varieties. And just to give them the respect they deserve, I reorganized my pantry so that now my lentils — and all grains, nuts and legumes, for that matter — are proudly displayed in clear cannisters, beckoning me to put them to use.

Then, my purchase of Isa Does It solidified lentil’s place in my long-term dinner plans. Like, for life. Dear Lentil, I will never forget about your possibilities again. Isa uses lentils in tacos, pasta sauces and even blended into a gravy. Not to mention in the lentil-quinoa stew which inspired this dish. Isa’s stew is sort of a take on traditional lentil soup, except with the addition of quinoa (plus lots of kale), which I found ingenious.

My take on Isa’s stew became a chili, because the only person who loves bold flavors, spice and heat more than myself is my husband. And I think the two of us would agree that chili-spiked anything trumps non-chili-spiked anything ten out of ten times in our house. And so, this chili was born.

I did not add any other beans in this dish. I wanted to lentil and quinoa to be the stars. But that doesn’t mean that other items couldn’t easily be added into the mix. I think corn and black beans would be particularly good in this, as would other veggies such as zucchini, carrot or celery. Of course, a thick slice of cornbread or gluten-free toast is a must, while a nice big salad would round out the meal nicely. I used small brown lentils for this dish (they’re called different things depending on where you find them). Aside from some initial chopping and sporadic stovetop monitoring, this chili requires surprisingly little effort.

Update: I entered this Chili into Ricki Heller’s Wellness Weekend, where you can find other amazing vegan, sugar-free and whole foods recipes.

Lentil-Quinoa Chili:

Yield: 4-6 servings, depending on size

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups yellow onion, diced (about 1 small to medium onion)

5 3/4 cups vegetable broth (divided)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium red bell pepper, diced

1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed well (I used red quinoa for this recipe and like the texture it provides)

1 cup small brown lentils (uncooked)

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (plus more to taste)

1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes in juice

1 4-0z. can fire-roasted green chilis

salt to taste

hot sauce for serving (optional)

Directions:

1. Add onions and 1/4 cup of the vegetable broth to a large soup pot or Dutch Oven and saute over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, or until onions start to become translucent. Add garlic and saute another minute.

2. Add lentils, quinoa, red pepper, chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper and 3 cups of the vegetable broth to pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed.

3. Add remaining ingredients, including remaining 2 cups vegetable broth to pot. Stir well. Return to a simmer and simmer, covered, for another 15 minutes, or until lentils are tender. Add salt or more cayenne pepper to taste. Serve with hot sauce if desired.

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Cran-Apple Lentil Loaf

lentil loaf

Lentil loaf is one of those ubiquitous vegan dishes that seems to pop up on every blog and website around the holidays. I’m joining in the lentil loaf fun. For years, I’ve wanted to create a decent lentil loaf to post on this site. I’d tried my hand at it a few times and wasn’t too happy with the results. So I gave up. But I figured, what better time than “Thanksgiving season” (if you’re a blogger, you know that Thanksgiving is, indeed, a full “season”) than to tackle this dish once again?

Thankfully, I came up with not one but two versions of lentil loaf that I liked. I could not decide which I liked better, though, so I left that to my chief taste-tester, Gennaro. Truth be told, Gennaro is a pretty horrible taste-tester, as he is very reluctant to give me criticism (great husband, not great taste-tester). But over the years, I’ve developed enough insight into his body language to know when he really loves something, and when he’s just telling me what he thinks I want to hear. In this case, his body language pointed clearly to loaf #1. So that’s the one I’m sharing here.

lentil loaf

This lentil loaf is texturally not exactly like meatloaf, so don’t think you’ll be getting a perfect replica. But it’s a delicious centerpiece to a meal nonetheless, and will definitely go well with all of the typical meatloaf accompaniments. In fact, it works best when surrounded by a supporting cast of mashed potatoes and gravy. The topping is also essential, as it adds a sweetness and flavor to the dish. This is also delicious cold the next day (in my opinion). I ate three slices straight out of the refrigerator for breakfast and lunch and not only did it still taste great but it kept me full throughout the day!

I adapted my recipe from this one at Oh She Glows. I loved the idea of using grated apple in the loaf (I personally think it keeps the filling from becoming too dry). I also liked the idea of processing the lentils (I processed 1/2 instead of 75%) in order to keep the loaf from falling apart. This one holds together remarkably well. The cranberries rounded everything out with a tart-sweetness that added flavor and festiveness to the dish.

I will be bringing this for our vegan family Thanksgiving feast. This is the first year that our entire extended family dinner will be meat-free! It’s funny because in years past, as more and more of us were giving up meat, the family turkey got smaller and smaller as more vegan dishes began to spring up in our lineup. I’m so exited that this year, there will be no turkey at all! This dish will fill in just perfectly.

Note: this recipe is somewhat more labor intensive than what I usually like to make for a weeknight meal. Altogether, it took me about 40 minutes of active prep and then about 45 minutes of baking (during which I cleaned my dirty kitchen!). It’s definitely not the most labor intensive meal I’ve ever made, but I thought I’d give fair warning to those looking to tackle this one in a hurry, as there are a few different cooking components at play here. Also note that for best results, you should have parchment paper on hand to line your loaf dish for easy removal. 

Cran-Apple Lentil Loaf:

Adapted from Oh She Glows’ Ultimate Vegan Lentil Walnut Loaf; Yield: about 8 thick slices

Loaf Ingredients: 

1 cup uncooked green/brown lentils

3 cups water

1 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup raw walnuts

1 cup onion, very finely chopped

1 cup celery, very finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/3 cup vegetable broth

2 tablespoons ground flax seeds

1/2 cup grated apple, tightly packed

2 tablespoons Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (use coconut aminos to make this soy free)

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/3 cup fruit-sweetened dried cranberries

Glaze:

2 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 1/2 tablespoons coconut nectar (can also substitute agave or maple syrup)

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon ground mustard

Directions:

1. Add lentils to a small pot with 3 cups water and a pinch of salt. Cover and bring to a boil. Then reduce to a simmer and simmer lentils, covered, for about 35 minutes, or until most of the liquid is gone but lentils remain firm. Drain remainder of the liquid. Set aside.

2. In a food processor fitted with a sharp steel blade, process oats together with walnuts for about 30 seconds, until a coarse flour forms (almost like a coarsely ground cornmeal). Pour processed walnuts and oats unto a large mixing bowl and set aside.

3. Add 1 cup of lentils to food processor with same steel blade (no need to wash first) and process until mixture begins to clump together. Set aside.

4. In a non-stick saute pan, saute onion, garlic and celery in vegetable broth over medium-high heat until soft and vegetable broth is gone, about 5 minutes. Add cooked onion, celery and garlic to mixing bowl with the oats and walnuts. Add pureed lentils and roughly mix. Add another cup of the whole lentils, then remaining loaf ingredients and mix well. I actually like to use my hands to mix everything together and make sure all of the ingredients are well-distributed. I don’t bother much to add things in a certain order, as using your hands will kind of help to distribute things well.

5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. While oven preheats, pour lentil loaf mixture into a 9x5x2″ (or similar-sized) loaf pan and press firmly into pan, using hands. Top should be smooth. Then mix together topping ingredients in a small bowl and pour over top, spreading evenly with a spoon or spatula until well-distributed.

6. Bake loaf in preheated oven, uncovered, for about 45 minutes on a middle rack. Remove from oven and let cool for a couple minutes before lifting loaf out of pan with the sides of the parchment. For easy transfer to a serving platter, I gently lifted the bottom of the loaf from the parchment with a long spatula and then pulled the parchment out from underneath. Slice and serve with desired accompaniments.

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Tempeh Shepherd’s Pot Pie

tempeh shepherd's pieI adapted this Shepherd’s pie recipe from one of my favorite all-time cookbooks, Veganomicon. Last year I made the Veganomicon Moussaka for our family’s vegan Thanksgiving main dish. It was a huge hit with everyone. This year, I’m tackling our family’s main dish again. I am contemplating making this, as it’s quite delicious. Though I would love to hear suggestions from everyone else as to your favorite gluten-free, vegan main courses for the holidays.

Of course, this dish need not be limited to just holiday meals. It’s wonderful comfort food that can be served throughout the winter. In fact, the filling actually reminds me more of a pot pie (also a comfort food favorite for many), which is why I am calling this a Shepherd’s Pot Pie. It’s comfort food fusion!

tempeh shepherd's pie

I made several changes to the original Veganomicon recipe. Not because the original is not delicious — I’m sure it is — but because I’m a food creativity junkie and have trouble sticking to exact recipes. I decided to make the topping with a mixture of cauliflower and potatoes rather than just potatoes in order to lighten it up a bit. I’m also a fan of sneaking as many healthy veggies into dishes as I can. I used coconut oil in the topping (instead of grapeseed oil, which was called for in the original), which I feel is a nice substitute for butter, and reduced the amount of oil overall. As far as the filling goes, I omitted the use of oil entirely, didn’t use any corn (mostly because I didn’t have any, so I doubled the amount of peas used) and used some white wine in the cooking process. Instead of flour, I thickened the filling with arrowroot powder. And I used Bragg’s Liquid Aminos instead of Tamari, though Tamari could certainly be used here as well. Finally, I reduced the amount of liquid in the filling, as I wanted the filling a bit on the thicker side.

While my pictures here probably don’t do this dish justice (I was photographing on a super rainy and dreary day), I hope that doesn’t deter everyone from giving this dish a try. I really think it would be a wonderful addition to anyone’s vegan comfort food repertoire.

Tip: The topping can be served alone as a delicious “whipped potato” side dish. Simply follow directions for prepping it and serve after pureeing in food processor (don’t bake). The potatoes turn out light and fluffy and totally amazing — I was licking my spatula!

Tempeh Shepherd’s Pot Pie:

Adapted from the Tempeh Shepherdess Pie recipe in Veganomicon

Serves: 6-8

Filling Ingredients:

2 8-oz. packages tempeh

2 cups water

3 tablespoons Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, divided

1 1/4 cup onions (about 1 large onion), diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/3 cups vegetable broth, divided

1/3 cup white wine

10 oz. cremini mushrooms (about 1 pkg.), sliced

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon ground coriander

2 cups frozen peas

2 tablespoons arrowroot starch

Topping Ingredients:

1 pound russet potatoes (about 8 small potatoes), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

4 cups chopped cauliflower florets (about 1 small head cauliflower)

3 tablespoons coconut oil

3 tablespooons unsweetened soy or almond milk

1 teaspoon sea salt

Directions:

1. In a large skillet, crumble tempeh into small pieces. Add water and 1 tablespooon liquid aminos. Cover and let boil for 10 minutes (start on step 2 while tempeh cooks). After 10 minutes, remove lid and cook tempeh until remaining liquid has evaporated.

2. Add potatoes to a large soup pot and cover with water. Add cauliflower to a separate steamer basket and steam until fork tender, or boil in a separate small pot until fork tender. Drain cauliflower and set aside. Meanwhile, bring potatoes to a boil and boil for about 20 minutes, or until potatoes are also fork tender. Add potatoes, cauliflower and remaining topping ingredients to a food processor and process until smooth. You may need to stir contents a few times to ensure proper distribution. Set aside.

3. Once tempeh liquid has evaporated, remove tempeh to a plate. You do not need to clean skillet. Add onion, garlic and 1/3 cup vegetable broth to skillet and saute over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Add tempeh, mushrooms, thyme, coriander, 2 tablespoons liquid aminos and white wine to skillet and saute for another 10 minutes, or until mushrooms are softened and juicy.

4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

5. Add peas to filling mixture and saute for another minute. Meanwhile, whisk together 1 cup vegetable broth and arrowroot in a separate bowl and add to filling ingredients. Heat through, for about another minute.

6. Add filling ingredients to a large, 9×13″ casserole dish (for the picture, I separated my ingredients into smaller dishes). Top with whipped potatoes and cauliflower and spread evenly over filling. Bake uncovered in preheated oven for about 20 minutes. The Veganomicon girls recommend that if your topping isn’t getting browned by then, simply place under broiler for a couple minutes to brown. Serve warm.

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Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese with Kale

butternut squash macand cheeseI love mac and cheese. Or should I say, I love gluten-free mini shells with healthy butternut squash sauce made from plant-based whole foods and a healthy addition of leafy greens? Mac and cheese is just easier to say.

The last time I posted a vegan mac and cheese recipe on this blog, I was still in the throes of my vegan transition and was utilizing loads of processed cheese and dairy replacements in my cooking. Not that it wasn’t a superb mac and cheese. It was. But to argue that it was much healthier than its dairy counterpart would be misleading. Such recipes are the perfect example of how vegan foods are not inherently healthier alternatives in every case.

I think my experience is common. I’ve spoken with other vegans who’ve undergone similar transitions — especially for those who go vegan for environmental or ethical reasons over health concerns. Meat and dairy meals are slowly replaced with meat and dairy replacements — processed alternatives made with high-fat oils, wheat gluten and other unnatural products. I will say, I do credit some of these alternatives (minus the wheat gluten, of course) for really helping me kick my cheese habit back in the day (sound familiar, anyone?). And I still occasionally purchase vegan cheese shreds or a cream cheese alternative to use in moderation, and mostly only for special occasions.  But by and large, I’ve come to realize that such products, while instrumental in helping me transition into a vegan lifestyle, are by no stretch of the imagination healthy foods just because they’re vegan.

butternut squash mac and cheese side

With this in mind, I sought to create a mac and cheese recipe that would satisfy all comfort food cravings without having to resort to processed cheese alternatives or oils to get the job done. While there is added fat to this dish from the cashews, they add a monounsaturated fat, which lowers bad cholesterol and does not contribute to heart disease as saturated fat and unhealthy processed oils do. Compare with the saturated fats found in meat and dairy products — along with plant-based products such as palm oils, which are prevalent in dairy-free cheese and cream cheese alternatives — that contribute to an increase in bad cholesterol, raising the risk of heart disease. I’ll take the unsaturated option, please!

But I couldn’t just stop at cashews. To make this dish ultra healthy, I used creamy, delicious butternut squash as a base for the sauce. Not only does it add a beautiful orange color, but it adds additional creaminess to the dish with no added fats, while contributing tons of nutrients and antioxidants, including carotenoids, which are said to protect against heart disease.

And then, just for fun, I added kale. Because why not? I love finding new ways to add leafy greens into my meals, and kale adds a pretty burst of color and textural contrast to the creaminess of the rest of the dish.

butternut squash mac

So, whether you’re transitioning into a vegan diet or going all-in for health reasons, this mac and cheese is sure to satisfy the strongest comfort food cravings without the addition of processed oils and fats that contribute to many health problems. Not to mention that simply removing processed oils and products containing oil is an easy way to keep off the extra pounds without sacrificing flavor.

Just a note: I think this is best when served immediately, but if reheating a pre-made batch, you may want to add a little bit of extra almond milk while reheating and heat over low heat until creamy consistency is reached and the pasta is warmed through.

Possible adjustments, additions & other notes:

  • I used Tinkyada brown rice mini shells instead of elbow macaroni in this dish. I prefer mini shells in mac and cheese recipes because I find that they really trap in a lot of the sauce, making each bite extra creamy and delicious.
  • If not using a high-powered blender such as a Vitamix, soak cashews for 1/2 hour to an hour and then drain before using. This was a trick I used many times with my old, crappy blender and it worked pretty well.
  • This sauce is on the thicker side, almost like a very creamy Alfredo sauce. For a thinner consistency, I would recommend increasing the almond milk to about 1 cup.
  • Instead of kale, use steamed broccoli as an added veggie.
  • This sauce is versatile: pour over steamed veggies or baked potato (or both!). Try adding salsa for a Mexican twist, then pour over baked potatoes stuffed with black beans and fajita vegetables.
  • This dish is great with hot sauce!

Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese with Kale:

Serves: 3-4 (serves 4 if served alongside a large salad and maybe another veggie side for a complete meal)

Ingredients:

3 cups (about 8 oz.) dry gluten-free macaroni or mini shells

1 cup raw cashews

3/4 cup unsweetened plain almond milk

1 cup cooked butternut squash, tightly packed (see note*)

1/3 cup nutritional yeast

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (plus more for sprinkling)

2 teaspoons lemon juice

dash cayenne pepper (optional, to taste)

2 heaping cups chopped kale

To cook butternut squash: halve squash lengthwise using a sharp knife. Scoop out seeds and stringy stuff in the middle. Lay squash flat, skin-up, on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 30-35 minutes, or until squash is soft and skin is browned. Remove skin before using in this recipe. 

Directions:

1. Boil pasta according to package directions until just al dente (do not overcook). Drain and set aside.

2. While pasta cooks, combine all remaining ingredients except kale in a high-powered blender such as Vitamix and blend on medium intensity until completely smooth (I blended for almost a minute). You may need to stir a few times to properly distribute ingredients.

3. After pasta has been drained, return to pot and add butternut squash sauce and chopped kale. Heat over low-medium heat for another minute or so, until kale is wilted and pasta is warmed through. Sprinkle with a little bit of smoked paprika (optional) and serve immediately.

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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

Ingredients:

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)

Directions:

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.

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Pineapple-Cashew Quinoa Salad

quinoa-cashew-pineapple saladI recently became obsessed with preparing a modified version of a Veganomicon recipe for pineapple-cashew quinoa stir fry. It’s basically a quinoa fried rice with a hot and sweet flavor and distinct crunch from the addition of cashews. If any of you are familiar with the Veganomicon cookbook, you might imagine that while the ingredient list is long and the directions somewhat time-consuming, the end result is this amazingly flavorful and impressive stir-fry.

While I certainly love the hot version of this dish, I also (on more than one occasion) have craved its flavors, but not wanted to mess up a bunch of cooking dishes to make one meal. I also typically like to pack dinner leftovers into lunch the next day, and prefer not to use a microwave to heat food at work (or ever, if I can help it!). That’s when I started thinking about how I could re-imagine this dish as a salad. Why not? After all, fresh pineapple is as good as cooked — and quinoa works great in salad preparations. After playing around with some additional ingredients and modifications, suddenly, a lunchtime (picnic, summer dinner, etc.) version of one of my favorite Veganomicon dishes was born.

pineapple quinoa cashew salad

I think this is the kind of recipe that could definitely be a crowd-pleaser at your next vegan or non-vegan gathering. Since it’s designed as a salad, it stores and travels well. It also tastes great at room temperature, or even slightly on the warm side if you’re adding freshly-cooked quinoa. I like to use red quinoa, as it tends to not clump together like its white counterpart, and has a distinctly nutty flavor that is great in salad preparations. You can buy all of the ingredients for this recipe at Trader Joe’s (except, perhaps, the Tamari — though they do sell a regular, wheat-based soy sauce there), which makes it a one-stop shopping kind of meal. I love when gluten-free, vegan fare doesn’t require trips to every health food store and Whole Foods in town.

Pineapple-Cashew Quinoa Salad:

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

1 cup uncooked red quinoa, well rinsed and drained

1/2 cup chopped carrot

1/2 cup chopped ripe tomato

1 cup diced pineapple

4 scallions, chopped

3/4 cup cashews, lightly toasted

1/2 cup minced cilantro

1/3 cup  fresh squeezed orange juice

2 1/2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Directions:

1. Rinse and drain quinoa well. Add quinoa to a small to medium pot with 2 cups of water. Cover and simmer over medium heat until water is mostly absorbed, about 15-20 minutes. Turn off heat and fluff with a fork. Leave covered until ready to use.

2. If toasting cashews, add to a dry skillet and heat over medium-high heat until cashews are aromatic and turning golden brown. Remove from heat.

3. While preparing quinoa, add chopped carrot, tomato, scallions and pineapple to a large salad bowl. Once quinoa has cooked, add to bowl. Mix well. Add in cashews, chopped cilantro, orange juice, tamari and sesame oil and toss well. Serve immediately or let cool and chill in refrigerator until ready to use. You may top with additional toasted cashews, if desired.

 

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Fajita Bowls with Pineapple Pico de Gallo

vegan fajita bowls with pineapple pico de gallo

Like many vegans, I presume, I often get asked what foods I miss the most since going vegan. And the truth is, I really don’t “miss” much of anything. My mind and taste buds shifted so much during my vegan transition that I no longer view my old favorites such as cheese and roasted chicken as enticing whatsoever.

What I do miss, though, is having dining options in almost any scenario. While I am lucky enough to live in an area in Michigan that boasts a decent amount of vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants, I do have to do a lot more menu planning and calling ahead when I’m eating out with a group and don’t really have a say in where we’re eating. Sometimes, it works out well for me — and usually I am able to get creative even when ordering off less vegan-friendly menus (sometimes choosing an array of side dishes, for example, that draw the envy of those I’m dining with).

What’s more difficult are those times when I’m truly in a bind — when my blood sugar begins dropping to levels that make me less-than-pleasant to be around, I’ve forgotten to pack an emergency snack, and when nearby options are few. In those situations, I always, ALWAYS, look for a Qdoba or Chipotle, as the best “fast food” option for me is usually some type of burrito bowl. I can remember more than one situation where a Qdoba veggie bowl brought me back from the edge of hunger oblivion.

But as much as I rely on burrito or veggie bowls as an emergency option when eating out, I’ve rarely made them at home. Sure, a bowl of brown rice and black beans has served as a homemade meal on more than one occasion. But I’m talking about burrito bowls with all the fixins — rice, beans, fajita veggies, salsa. Why is this not more of a staple in my everyday meal planning?

fajita bowls with pineapple pico de gallo

Over the weekend, I decided to make my take on a burrito bowl, though I did make an effort to keep these extremely healthy and light as well. No oil, no added fats and lots of fresh veggies keep this bowl guilt-free. I did not even salt the veggies or pico de gallo very much, trying to keep the sodium content to a minimum as well. My parents noticed that the sweetness of the pineapple really brought complexity and flavor to the dish, making a lot of salt unnecessary. The result is no bloating, and feeling just full enough. You can really play around with these bowls by adding guacamole, using jarred salsa instead of pico de gallo, or topping with some vegan cheese. We served ours with a delicious side salad that my mom brought over, but you could easily make this into a true one-dish meal and put your shredded lettuce or salad greens right on top.

Fajita Bowls with Pineapple Pico de Gallo: 

Serves: 4

Ingredients: 

3 cups cooked brown rice

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

Pico de Gallo:

2 cups ripe tomatoes, finely chopped

1 cup pineapple, finely chopped

1/2 cup red onion, minced

2 jalapenos, seeds removed, minced (add back seeds, to taste, for more heat)

salt to taste

Fajita Vegetables: 

1 large zucchini, chopped

2/3 cup red onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1/3 cup vegetable broth

1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 pinch sea salt (plus more to taste)

Directions:

1. To prepare pico de gallo: mix all ingredients together in a medium-sized glass bowl. Add salt to taste and then set aside. This recipe can also be made ahead and chilled in the refrigerator for a day or two.

2. To prepare fajita vegetables: stir together all ingredients in a medium-sized glass bowl and let sit for 5 minutes. Add to a non-stick skillet and cook over medium-high for about 10 minutes, until vegetables are soft and most of the liquid has evaporated. Taste for salt and add more to taste.

3. To put together bowls: divide rice and beans evenly in 4 individual serving bowls. Top with 4 equal servings of black beans. Divide up fajita vegetables and add them to each bowl on top of black beans. Finally, top each bowl with a large spoonful of pineapple pico de gallo and serve.

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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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