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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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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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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Ultimate Vegan Nachos

ultimate vegan nachosMy first foray into Super Bowl entertainment was in 2007. I remember it because I was a senior in college and decided that I wanted to be the designated caterer for our house’s Super Bowl party. Apparently, though, I didn’t get the memo about Super Bowl parties typically being centered around beer and wings and low-key fare. Instead, the menu ended up being something like paninis and pasta and other comparatively fancy options — a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by my housemates, who commented about whether or not we should be serving wine instead of beer (Liz, if you’re reading this, I think it was you who asked that).

Well, I haven’t catered a Super Bowl party since then — and mostly because things like law school and full-time work have gotten in the way of any sort of Sunday night social life. But that’s not to say I haven’t thought a lot since about what, exactly, I would serve if I were to explore the world of Super Bowl entertaining once again.

The answer, every time, has decidedly been nachos. I love nachos. And I can say that because even though I’m now vegan and gluten-free, nachos are still so doable. After all, there are a plethora of vegan cheese products now on the market, and pure corn tortilla chips, by definition, are gluten-free (though you still have to read labels because, as we all know, hiding gluten in seemingly gluten-free products seems to be a popular food industry pastime).

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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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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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Vegan Chorizo Chili and Giveaway

* Scroll down to see giveaway info.

By now I’m sure it’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Marisa Miller Wolfson and everything she does for the vegan (and non-vegan, and animal, and environmentalist) community. I first heard of Marisa when she a guest speaker at my law school for my animal law course (a life-changing class, indeed). My peers and I were honored with the privilege of being able to watch clips of her new documentary, Vegucated, years (OK, a year and half, to be sort of exact) prior to its initial release. As militant as I may have become over the course of my own “vegucation” (and inherent transformation), it’s always refreshing to see a film or read a book that is informative without being preachy; disturbingly real while still providing comic relief. Vegucated is just that and more.*

Well, it’s been over a year and a half since I watched my first clips from Vegucated, and since then I’ve gone vegan and gotten my parents on board as well (they saw Vegucated at the Vegetarian Summerfest in July and were big fans). I am noting all of this because today marks the official launch of the Vegucated DVD. Whoo!

In honor of its launch, I’m doing a giveaway with two prizes. One will be a copy of the DVD, of course. The other will be an amazing “Get Vegucated” t-shirt**, as I was so proud to model after getting one myself (my newly vegucated parents couldn’t resist the Vegfest souvenir).

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Tempeh Tacos

Despite my absurb amount of recipe trials and experimentation, there remains the rare gluten-free or vegan ingredient that continues to confuse and peplex. Tempeh is one of those ingredients.

Given that I follow a gluten-free, vegan diet, you’d think tempeh would be a staple. Even if not, you’d think I could include the rare, gratuitious tempeh recipe for those who do enjoy the stuff. Until now, this was in fact nearly impossible for me to do without jeopardizing my credibility and testing my conscience. Why? Because, until now, I simply hated tempeh. Every time I made it, I’d suffer through the eating part —  if only because the only thing I hated more than the tempeh I just made was the concept of wasting food.

Here’s an interesting tidbit of information: while most recipes I’ve seen for tempeh call for boiling it or marinating it first to get rid of its strong flavor, I have yet to find a package of tempeh that mentions this seemingly “necessary” step. This is strange to me, since I am now convinced that most people who, like myself, think they don’t like tempeh would reconsider if they knew about this key step in its preparation. And while I could easily find this tip in any number of other places, because I’ve never seen it on a package, I considered it an extra hassle (why boil something for an extra 10 minutes if you don’t have to?) that I didn’t really feel like going through. My bad.

So maybe it’s not necessary, but it’s a very, very good idea — especially if you’re a tempeh skeptic like myself. I’m excited that I have another gluten-free, vegan protein option to experiement with, now that I have the inside knowledge that a tiny step can make all the difference.

It’s no secret in our house (apartment) that taco night is Gennaro’s favorite. I feared after going vegan that he would not appreciate the drastic changes that overtook one of his favorite meals. Out were fish tacos and chipotle slaw. In were chickpeas and tofu. I’m not really a believer that good vegan food necessarily has to mimic meat. Still, there is the occassional exception — especially when you’re trying to convince the non-vegans in your life that vegan food can be just as satisfying as meat-laden faves. This dish is a great way to prove your point.

Tempeh Taco Filling:

1 package soy tempeh (double check to make sure it’s gluten-free), cut into strips

1 tablespoon wheat-free tamari soy sauce (or regular soy sauce if you’re not gluten-free)

1 tablespoon agave nectar or yacon syrup

2 tabespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup no salt added tomato paste

2 tablespoons chile powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

salt to taste

2 tablespoons water

Other Possible Ingredients:

gluten-free corn tortillas (I used sprouted corn)

lettuce (I like the crunch of iceberg in tacos — yes, I know it has no nutritional value)

tomatoes (I used halved grape tomatoes)

guacamole

salsa

vegan sour cream

vegan cheese (I like Daiya cheddar-style shreds with tacos)

anything else you normally like on your tacos

Directions:

1. Prepare filling: bring a medium-sized pot of water to a boil. Add tempeh and boil for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium-sized bowl, whisk together tamari sauce, agave, olive oil, cider vinegar, tomato paste, chile powder, garlic powder, cumin and cayenne. When you are finished boiling the tempeh, drain and toss with sauce, gently breaking up tempeh with your fork. Add tempeh filling to a large skillet, along with 2 tablespoons of water. Heat on high for about 4-5 minutes, or until filling is heated through.

3. Serve in warmed gluten-free tortillas with desired toppings. My favorite way to warm corn tortillas is to heat both sides over a skillet until softened. Then I wrap in aluminum foil and let warm in a 200 degree oven until I’m ready to serve.

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Mole Black Bean Tostadas

mole black bean tostadasI make black beans often. They make a great, cheap dinner and are quite versatile. I recently saw a recipe for black bean tostasas in Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking. The recipe looked quite intriguing, but it called for beer. I decided to make a version of it tonight, and in the spirit of a true budget-conscious meal, I decided to use what I had on hand rather than go out and buy ingredients for the recipe. While a recipe that calls for chocolate, peanut butter, black beans, green chiles and wine might sound a little strange  — scary, even — it all comes together quite nicely for this robust, mole-inspired bean dish.

One of my favorite bloggers, Karina Allrich, has a great page on her site about going gluten free. In it, she talks about gluten-free wines. It might be a good reference point for those concerned about buying wine that is safe for their diet.

The green sauce on top of the tostadas is my aunt’s  jalapeno salsa, which I’ve been making incessantly ever since she shared the recipe with me. It is the perfect, fresh accompaniment to the more earthy beans. In keeping with the healthiness of the beans, I used sprouted corn tortillas and baked them in the oven. They still get nice and crisp. You can also slice the tortillas and use the same method for making homemade, baked tortilla chips. I do this often and they are great. Just sprinkle with a little pinch of salt right when they come out of the oven.

I’m watching the Oscars as I write this. Is it just me, or are they dragging a bit this year? Maybe it’s just because while last year I made a point to see all the nominated films, I was a little too busy (and broke) to make my rounds this year. I guess I am just out of the loop. And, as a former musical theatre geek, I don’t think anything will top Hugh Jackman’s opening number from last year’s show — for me, at least.

Mole Black Beans:

1 lb. dry black beans

8 cups water, divided plus more for quick soaking

1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1 medium yellow onion, diced

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons dry white wine

1 4-oz. can mild green chiles

1 plum tomato, finely diced

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1 tablespoon chile powder

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2 tablespoons creamy, roasted peanut butter

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

Baked, Crisp Tortillas:

6-8 corn tortillas

2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

1. To quick soak black beans: in a large soup pot or Dutch Oven, cover black beans completely with water and bring to a rolling boil. Turn off heat and let sit, covered for an hour and a half to two hours. Drain and rinse.

2. Add black beans back to pot, along with 5 cups water, 1 teaspoon salt, onion and garlic. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer, covered, until beans absorb water, about 30-40 minutes, stirring occassionally. When water has been absorbed, add another 2 cups water, and 1/2 cup wine. Cover and simmer until the beans absorb the water again, stirring occassionally (about 20 minutes).

3. Taste beans to make sure they’re soft. If they need to be cooked a little more, add a bit more water and cook, covered, for 10-15 more minutes, watching to make sure they don’t burn to the bottom of the pot. When beans are soft, removed from heat. While still hot, add green chiles, tomato, cumin, chile powder, peanut butter, unsweetened cocoa, smoked paprika and 2 tablespoons white wine. Adjust salt to taste.

4. Serve beans over toasted tortillas: preheat oven to 400. Brush a large, flat baking sheet with olive oil. Lay tortillas flat on baking sheet and brush the tops of each tortilla. Bake in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, rotating baking sheet once, until edges are golden brown. Let cool slightly on a wire rack that’s covered in paper towel to absorb extra oil.

5. To serve, top crisp tortillas with about 1/4 cup black beans, jalapeno salsa, and whatever else you think you might enjoy: chopped tomato, avocado, lettuce, olives or peppers.

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Chimichurri

This dish is an homage to my new knife — a beautiful 14 cm Wusthof Cook’s knife with a granton edge. I’ve been coveting this one for awhile, and Gennaro was nice enough to pick up on it (thanks, G!). The thing about a really good knife is that you don’t realize how much you need one until you actually have it. I’ve found myself wondering in recent weeks how I was ever able to chop onions, mince parsley, or smash garlic before. The Wusthof website calls it “an extension of your hand.” While they would be the ones to say this, given that they are trying to sell their product, I’ve found that today, my knife has been such an extension (given that I haven’t been able to put it down). You see, it was my first free day in awhile and I decided to dedicate it to a full day of cooking. I made Cuban beans and rice with chopped garlic, onion, bell peppers and jalapenos. I made kale salad. I made this chimicchuri.

Chimichurri is traditionally served with skirt steak, but I think you’ll like it over grilled Wildwood “super firm” tofu. I could also imagine this being a great marinade. Though not really traditional, I added mint to my recipe and swapped lemon juice for red wine vinegar. I also used a jalapeno for some heat (it’s my new favorite ingredient). I think this particular recipe has a nice, fresh taste. If you don’t have a wonderful “extension of our hand” knife to work with here (don’t feel bad; I didn’t until a few weeks ago), you could very easily make this sauce in your food processor.

Chimichurri:

1/3 cup Italian flat-leaf parsely, minced

12 fresh mint (spearmint) leaves, minced

1 garlic clove, minced or pressed

1 jalapeno, minced

1/3 cup good extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and marinate in refrigerator for 2 hours.

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