Healthy Apple Tarts

healthy apple pie tarts

Healthy eating should be intuitive. Mind you, I said should. Nowadays, we’re bombarded with competing health information. Carbs are good. Then carbs are bad. Fat is good. Then fat is bad. Miracle weight loss diets come and go. So, while healthy eating should be intuitive, that’s much easier to say than it is in practice.

I, too, fall victim to the confusion that is “health” these days. But unfortunately, when you pay attention to what you put in your body, you inevitably end up hearing some pretty weird and oftentimes conflicting information. For example, while I’ve regularly praised the wisdom of nutritionist Kimberly Snyder — whose books have influenced me for the better in many ways — I somehow can’t fully get behind the idea of “food combining”, which she heavily endorses. Under this principle, even beans — beans! — are an “imperfect” food in that they contain both protein and carbs. Yet beans and legumes have long been consumed by some of our longest-living and healthiest populations, so intuitively, it’s difficult for me to wrap my mind around beans being an unhealthy food — and to the larger point, around the notion of food combining in general. Other diets point to fruit as the “enemy”.  I don’t know much about these theories except that they are somehow based on the natural sugar content in fruit. But again, when I think about how many vitamins, antioxidants and enzymes are packed into whole fruits, it’s hard for me to imagine that fruits are in some way bad for us — unless, of course, someone is suffering from a particular allergy or condition that is helped by reduced overall sugar intake.

healthy apple tarts

So what is the answer, then, when we’re bombarded with so much conflicting, confusing and overwhelming information? Well, I don’t claim to know, and I don’t necessarily think there is one answer. But I do think Michael Pollan was onto something when he wrote “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”. Simple, right? Well, the complexity, I think, comes from the fact that what we now think of as food is so far removed from what food should be. Food is not something that was chemically manufactured in a lab, made to taste so good that we become chemically addicted. This is how most of our processed foods are made these days. And sadly, the typical American diet consists of many processed foods (and is also heavy on unhealthy animal products such as meat and dairy).

uncooked tart shells

This recipe was designed to be as stripped down and unprocessed as possible. The crust is sweetened naturally from dates, and is just made from a few simple ingredients: dates, nuts, cinnamon, oats and just a little bit of coconut oil. The filling was created with a similar mindset. I tried to keep everything as simple as possible, so the filling is just fruit, a little lemon juice, a touch (just a touch!) of sweetener and some spices. I also tried to keep this recipe from becoming too fussy — which is why the apples are sort of just piled into the crusts without too much thought toward arrangement. It’s “rustic”, if you will — evoking the feeling that you’re eating real food and not something that looks too manufactured or perfect.

I gave these tarts to a few taste testers and even though they’re healthy, unprocessed, vegan and gluten free, I was told that they’re still delicious…as whole, plant foods so often are! If only more people knew that little secret, we’d all be a bit better off overall…

Healthy Apple Tarts:

Yield: 4 mini tarts

Crust Ingredients:

1 cup whole oats

1/2 cup raw walnuts

6 medjool dates, pitted

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon raw coconut oil

Filling Ingredients:

3 apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons natural sweetener (such as coconut crystals, coconut nectar or agave)*

a dash or two of nutmeg

a dash or two of cinnamon

* Note: overall sweetness may vary depending on sweetener used. Liquid sweeteners will cause the apples to break down quicker than the coconut crystals. If using stevia or a more concentrated sweetener, be sure to adjust proportions to account for this. 

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Add walnuts and oats to a food processor fitted with a sharp steel blade. Process until medium to fine crumbles form, with some oat pieces still visible. Add remaining ingredients and process until larger clumps begin to form.

3. Divide crust mixture into quarters and evenly distribute to 4 mini tart tins, as shown in photo. Non-stick tins are preferable here. Press down using fingers into crust shell, making sure crust is evenly distributed.

4. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes and remove immediately.

5. Meanwhile, toss filling ingredients in a bowl. After crusts have been removed, transfer filling in equal parts to the 4 tart shells. You do not have to arrange apples in any particular way.

6. Reduce oven heat to 325 and return tarts to oven. Heat for 15 minutes. Remove again and cover tart tray tightly with foil (I like to line my foil with parchment paper to create a buffer so as not to inadvertently contaminate my food with aluminum). Return to oven and bake for a final 15 minutes, or until apples are softened but retain their shape. Let cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before removing tarts and serving.

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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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Tailgating: Crispy Treats & Caramel Corn Remix

caramel corn - sugar free and vegan

Well, while the weather is still warm it’s pretty hard to deny that fall has arrived. Network TV shows are slowly making their way back into the primetime lineup, the days are getting just a bit shorter, and there is a noticeable chill in the air at night.  But what the arrival of fall really means to me is that football season has arrived, and my weekends will consumed with football for the foreseeable future.

Since moving back to Michigan, Gennaro and I have had season tickets for football at the Big House. We met and fell in love as students at Michigan (albeit a few years apart grade-wise) and got married in Ann Arbor. So heading back there has a special significance outside of the fact that we’re returning to our alma matter. And for these reasons and many more, Michigan football Saturdays and all of their surrounding traditions have carved out a special place in my heart.

caramel corn remix

Since we normally spend our time before games as guests at other people’s tailgates, I thought that for this past weekend’s game against Notre Dame — which had an 8 p.m. kickoff and thus a long day of tailgating prior — I would actually contribute something of my own making, rather than just buying pre-packaged food or drinks to share. Not to mention I love an opportunity to make and share vegan-friendly tailgating treats.

I decided to make some well-loved sweets that have been popular among varying taste buds in the past: caramel corn and coconut-almond rice crispy treats. However, I made some (successful) changes to both recipes that I wanted to share here.

While I usually get lots of compliments whenever I bring my rice crispy treats anywhere, the one problem with them is that they do tend to fall apart a bit when left unrefrigerated for long periods of time. Keeping in mind that this recipe would have to survive a day of tailgating in warm weather, I made the following changes to adapt to a tailgating setting (as well as some other minor new touches). Here’s my Rice Crispy Treat Remix (original recipe here):

  • I used a full cup of almond butter instead of half a cup, just to help things stick together a bit more
  • I used a tip from my mom and used Eastwind no salt creamy almond butter, which just seems to have a really nice, sticky texture for making these stay together really well.
  • I toasted the coconut in a dry skillet until golden and fragrant before adding to the mixture, for added flavor.
  • I tasted for sweetness and added just a tiny bit more coconut nectar to balance out the almond butter.

vegan, sugar-free, gluten free rice crispies

As far as the caramel corn goes, when I originally made the recipe it was intended to be an anti-candida diet friendly sweet, as it is sweetened with very low glycemic yacon syrup and zero calorie stevia. However, I’ve found that yacon can be difficult to find, even at many health food stores, and is quite expensive for a small bottle. Stevia, on the other hand, varies in taste and sweetness between brands, making it imperative that only one brand be used in my recipe, as any others would render it way too sweet.

My mom (again — ah, what would I do without my mother?) told me that she likes to use my original recipe and substitute coconut nectar for the yacon syrup and forego any stevia. I decided to follow her lead, while making some other changes as well. Here’s my Caramel Corn Remix (see previous recipe for reference): 

  • I used coconut nectar instead of yacon in my updated recipe, but basically doubled the coconut nectar to about 1 1/4 cups (versus much less yacon syrup previously) and spread it out over about 10 cups of popcorn (as opposed to about 16 cups in the original recipe). You can add more coconut nectar to taste for a sweeter, well-coated mixture.
  • I opted out of using any stevia.
  • I used about 1/3 cup of buttery spread, which was a bit more than in the original recipe (especially considering I spread it over less popped popcorn).
  • I used whole raw almonds in place of the pecan pieces (though any nut, including cashews or walnuts could be used).
  • I baked the caramel corn at 275 degrees instead of 250, as my mom did say that it took her longer to get the recipe crunchy using the coconut nectar. Just watch it carefully and toss it often to make sure nothing gets too browned.
  • After the caramel corn had cooled slightly after cooking, I added fruit sweetened dried cranberries for a tart and sweet finish.
  • I made sure the caramel corn was completely cool before packaging up for the tailgate (just an added tip).

So, how did everything turn out? Well, unfortunately my efforts proved superfluous and there was SO MUCH food to be had at every tailgate. However, those who did try my contributions gave thumbs-up! And Gennaro ate the entirety of the leftover caramel corn at about 2:30 in the morning, which was when we actually returned home from Ann Arbor following Saturday’s night game. As I told one of my fellow Wolverine friends the next day: next year, I’m going to wear a t-shirt I saw someone else sporting that says “I’m too old for night games”, because that’s how I felt after Saturday. But something tells by next year I’ll be just as excited to spend a day in Ann Arbor, tailgating with old friends and snacking on vegan treats (contrary to popular belief, the two are not mutually exclusive!). Go Blue!

tailgating

No, those aren’t overalls. It’s an apron I was temporarily wearing while pretending to know how to mix drinks. Thankfully, no one asked for one, or they may have been sorely disappointed. And yes, I am wearing shorts underneath! The scene was much less scandalous than this looks…

 

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Gingerbread Peach Muffins

peachy gingerbread muffins (gluten free, vegan)

I’ve never really been able to say with any amount of conviction that I have a favorite fruit. My preferences seem to go something like this: In the fall, I really love crisp apples and fresh plums. During the spring, I get excited for the beginning of fresh strawberry season. When fresh citrus is being grown down in Florida during the winter, I love juicy oranges and grapefruit. Throughout the summer, I can’t get enough blueberries, raspberries and cherries. And later in the summer, my kitchen counter is overloaded with fresh peaches and nectarines.

Fruit can be an amazing and perplexing thing. I’ve marveled at how much better an apple can taste when in season — crisp and sweet, versus mealy and flavorless in the off-season. Blueberries can be plump and flavorful during their peak, while most of the year they are small and sour. And then there are peaches. You rarely notice them year-round, as they tend to be an overpriced luxury that is not quite worth the expense. They never have that distinct, sweet and juicy peach flavor….until late summer, when they certainly do.

I’ve been obsessing a bit over peaches and nectarines lately. With prices low and abundance high, I can’t help but stock up on amounts that are probably excessive given that there are only two people (and one dog who does not like peaches — one of the few fruits he eschews!) living in our house. Nevertheless, I somehow seem to manage our haul by enjoying peaches and nectarines in every capacity — on oatmeal, in smoothies, as a snack, and in baked goods.

gingerbread peach muffins (gluten free, vegan)

I’m not sure what gave me the idea to combine the sweetness of peaches with the spiciness of gingerbread. Perhaps because I know that ginger and peaches tend to work well together, I thought, why not add some more spices into the equation? I also find that, while delicious, peaches also tend to have a more mild flavor that can balance nicely with something spicier on the palate.

With these muffins, I find that the peach keeps these muffins moist and flavorful, while balancing the spiciness of the gingerbread base. They make a great breakfast muffin or even dessert option and can be kept at room temperature, covered, for a few days. I imagine they would also freeze fairly well, and then can be re-heated to eat. I tested this recipe on Gennaro and my parents and these muffins were met with all-positive reviews. My mom actually claimed that these were “one of the best muffins I’ve ever had!” though I would take this endorsement for what it’s worth — my mom says the same thing about pretty much everything she really likes. At any rate, I hope you enjoy these as much as my family and I did!

Final note: while I did use oil in this recipe — even though I have drastically cut back on oil in my cooking and baking — the entire recipe calls for only two tablespoons. This adds up to about 1/2 teaspoon oil per muffin, or about 20 added fat calories per muffin from oil — making these a relatively low-fat option.

Gingerbread-Peach Muffins:

Yield: 12 Muffins

Ingredients:

Dry Ingredients:
2 cups oat flour, loosely packed*
2 tablespoons arrowroot powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground clove
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup raw coconut crystals (or coconut palm sugar)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Wet Ingredients:
1 cup unsweetened dairy-free milk*
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing muffin tins

Plus: 1 heaping cup diced fresh peaches (about 1 large peach)

*Note: I used Arrowhead Mills Oat Flour. However, this brand is not certified gluten-free. If you’re highly sensitive, have Celiac disease, or are worried about cross-contamination with gluten, please look for certified gluten-free oat flour, such as this one from Bob’s Red Mill

**I tagged these as soy-free and nut-free, but obviously the use of soy or nut milk will negate either of these tags. That said, I used unsweetened soy milk, though almost any dairy-free milk could work, including coconut, almond or hemp milk. Play around and see which you like best. 

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Either gently grease 12 muffin tins with olive oil, using your hands or a paper towel,  or line each muffin tin with baking cups.

2. Whisk together dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

3. Add wet ingredients to a separate bowl and whisk. Slowly add to dry ingredients and whisk together until combined.

4. Fold in peaches until well-distributed.

5. Pour about 1/3 cup of batter into each pre-greased/lined muffin tin. Place on the middle rack of your pre-heated oven. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until muffins are browned on top and bounce back when pressed.

6. Let cool for about 10-15 mintues before gently removing each muffin. I like to use a butter knife to go around the edges and make sure nothing is sticking to the sides, then I’ll gently loosen the bottom and  lift the muffin from the top. Let cool on a wire rack until ready to eat.

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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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Raw Broccoli Salad

cleansing raw broccoli salad

Cleansing. It’s a word that you hear a lot these days. Depending on who you’re talking to, cleanses are a beneficial — even necessary — component of health maintenance, needed for removing toxins and restoring our inner health. Others might say that cleanses are unnecessary at best, and at times even dangerous.

I don’t necessarily subscribe to either way of thinking. On the one hand, I believe that we put a lot of crap (for lack of a better word) into our bodies — especially when eating the Standard American Diet of meat, cheese and processed foods. Add the environmental toxins that are in some ways unavoidable these days, and we’re not really doing our inner systems any favors. Then again, I don’t necessarily feel that the only answer is an extreme cleanse. To be fair, I know that juice cleanses and even the master cleanse have had mental and physical benefits for many people. And as much as I’ve been tempted at times to experiment myself, it’s just not realistic when I consider that a typical day for me requires meeting with clients, arguing cases in front of judges, responding to phone calls and emails, and then coming home to walk Woodley and tend to a variety of household chores that, unfortunately, can’t always wait.  From what I understand, the process of cleansing and detoxing necessitates a certain level of removal from daily life before the benefits begin to kick in (similar to a drug or alcohol detox). This is simply not a viable option for many people.

Instead, I try to take a more pragmatic approach to the idea of cleansing. I view it as an ongoing process that I try to fit into my daily life, without risking starvation, social alienation or physical and mental anguish. Here are some of the ways I try to incorporate aspects of cleansing into my daily routine:

  • Every morning, I start of my day with either a large class of water with raw, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar, or a mug of hot water with lemon juice and cayenne pepper. Both lemon juice and apple cider vinegar boast numerous health benefits, and have long been revered for their cleansing properties. Nutritionist Kimberly Snyder, CN, writes in her book The Beauty Detox Foods that raw apple cider vinegar is a strong digestive aid that also has antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties. It is also known to alkalize the body — keeping ones body pH from becoming too acidic, which is important for maintaining optimum health. Lemon juice, on the other hand, is also a strong detox aid and has been said to have amazing benefits for the skin. It is also great as a liver detox aid and blood purifier. Like raw apple cider vinegar, lemon is also alkaline-forming in the body. Cayenne pepper is also said to help speed up the metabolism and aid in cleansing.
  • I also drink a green smoothie almost every morning. I often add lemon juice to my smoothie for additional cleansing properties, and use raw leafy greens and fresh fruits which are alkaline-forming and easy to digest. Often, I throw in cilantro or parsley for additional cleansing properties. When I first told my doctor about suffering from Lyme detox symptoms (what happens when you start antibiotic treatment and Lyme spirochetes begin to “die off” in the body, releasing lots of toxins), she suggested that I add cilantro to my green smoothies, as cilantro is an excellent detox aid. It is also great for heavy metal detox — something to consider if you use aluminum deodorant or eat lots of fish.
  • I try to eat several raw salads a day, including my favorite kale salad. I also top my salads with raw fermented sauerkraut or kimchi. Sometimes I make my own sauerkraut according to the method from The Beauty Detox Foods, but often, I just buy a locally-produced brand called The Brinery which is sold throughout the metro Detroit area. Raw fermented sauerkraut and kimchi contain many beneficial enzymes and probiotics which help to aid in cleansing and keep gut flora in check.
  • I have recently cut out processed foods from my everyday diet. Not that I was going crazy on processed foods before, but I would periodically have daiya cheese or organic tortilla chips and other more processed vegan foods. Now, I try to snack on whole foods like nuts, fruits and vegetables rather than processed options. I try not to be too extreme or rigid with this approach, but I do save processed foods and snacks for emergencies or very special occasions.
  • I have to admit that I do still drink coffee. It’s something that I gave up for awhile, but then added back in to my diet when I was becoming extremely tired and suffering from the “die-off” Lyme symptoms I described above. Now, though, I try to never go over 2 cups a day, and I try to take breaks periodically from coffee drinking to give my body some rest. I also ONLY drink organic coffee, as non-organic can contain many pesticides and toxins. Because coffee is acidic, I make sure to only drink it after I’ve had my apple cider vinegar or lemon water and my green smoothie — so that I am balancing the acidity with more alkaline foods.
  • Finally, I try to add other cleansing regimens into my routine as much as possible. Massages and chiropractic treatments can help removed trapped toxins (which is why you’re always told to drink lots of water after a massage). I have also done Far Infrared Saunas, which help you sweat out a lot of toxins. I also recently discovered Zeoforce from Healthforce Nutritionals, which is a brand I really like. This product is a great cleansing aid, as it binds to toxins and heavy metals and removes them from the system. I will admit, the taste is a little like you’re drinking clay — but to me it’s a better alternative than not eating for a week!

This raw broccoli salad is one example of the raw salads I try to enjoy daily as part of my ongoing “cleansing” process. This is actually based on a recipe my mom has been making for a few years, so I have to give her the credit here. I made a few changes — including adding raw red cabbage for further nutritional benefits. My mom likes to use organic dried, unsweetened cherries instead of raisins, which is also very good. Broccoli is an amazing food that contains so many health and cleansing benefits. Yet often, we’re eating it in its cooked form and removing some beneficial properties. When it is raw, I’ve usually seen it in some sort of salad laden with mayonnaise or oil, or in a veggie tray with a fatty ranch dip. This salad is a healthy alternative to those raw broccoli options. Raw cabbage, celery, almonds, cider vinegar and lemon juice add to the numerous health properties of this salad.

Raw Broccoli Salad:

Serves: 3-4 as a side

Ingredients:

3 cups broccoli florets

1 cup chopped red cabbage

1/2 cup finely chopped celery

1/3 cup minced red onion

1/2 cup chopped raw almonds

1/4 cup raisins

2 tablespoons Bragg’s Liquid Aminos*

2 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar

juice of 1 lemon

* Note: for a completely raw salad, raw coconut aminos may be used in place of the liquid aminos. Coconut aminos are also soy free. A pinch of sea salt may be added for taste, as the coconut aminos are less salty than liquid aminos.  

Directions:

1. Toss all ingredients in a medium-large glass salad bowl until well combined.

2. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Toss again before serving to distribute dressing. Salad can be chilled in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.

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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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Sweet Potato-Chocolate Pudding

sweet potato chocolate puddingThis pudding reminds me of a mix between a chocolate pudding and the filling of a sweet potato pie. If that sounds strange to you, let me assure you that it’s surprisingly delicious in some inexplicable way. I first got the idea to do a sweet potato pudding at a seminar I went to at the NAVS Vegetarian Summerfest. I can’t remember how that version was prepared, or whether or not chocolate was added. But over the weekend, I had two large sweet potatoes/yams sitting on my counter and was antsy to get creative. This delicious sweet potato-chocolate fusion pudding was the result.

Since it’s made with really healthy ingredients — whole, plant-based foods with no added oils — this pudding makes not only a guilt-free dessert, but can also be eaten as a healthy snack or even as part of your breakfast. Since I still have to take a number of pills and supplements as part of my ongoing Lyme-related treatment, I do need to eat something in addition to my morning green smoothie that is a bit more substantial to coat my stomach. On the other hand, I try to keep my breakfasts very clean and plant-based, and try to avoid processed or heavy breakfasts that are going to make me feel sluggish in the morning. A sweet potato-based pudding like this one makes a perfect compromise between getting enough substance while still eating very clean.

Not to mention you’re filling your body with amazing vitamins, antioxidants and nutrients while getting your chocolate fix! This pudding will keep you full and fueled while keeping you from craving more processed and unhealthy sweets.

A few notes on this recipe:

  • This is one of those recipes that would be best in a high powered blender such as Vitamix. However, if using a standard blender or even food processor, I think this could work if the chia seeds were replaced with ground chia powder. I have not used this product but have been seeing it recently in stores and imagine it would have the same “thickening” properties as whole chia seeds. So, if anyone wants to experiment with that option, please leave a comment and let me know how it works out!
  • I used stevia in this recipe to keep the sugar content down, but since there is no baking science involved here, I imagine one could play around with different sweeteners. Though more liquid-y sweeteners might make this less “pudding” textured.
  • This recipe refrigerates very well — in fact, the flavors get better after about a day.
  • To cook my sweet potatoes, I used two large yams/sweet potatoes (I can never remember the difference) and placed them on a foil-line baking sheet. I baked for about 45-50 minutes in a 400 degree oven, turning once and piercing with a fork after about 30 minutes. Once they cooled a bit, I removed the skins and mashed in a large glass bowl. This yielded almost exactly 3 cups of cooked sweet potato once mashed (plus a tiny bit extra for Woodley). I would definitely recommend fresh sweet potato over canned for this recipe.
  • Shaved chocolate pieces on top (as seen in the photo) are entirely optional but very delicious.
  • I designate the brand of stevia used in this recipe because, with stevia in particular, I find that different brands yield drastically different levels of sweetness. Plus, I find NuNaturals to be not as bitter as other liquid stevias. Again, I am sure a variety of sweeteners would work well here, but I would use caution in terms of how much you add just to be safe.

Sweet Potato-Chocolate Pudding:

Serves: about 4

Ingredients:

3 cups cooked mashed sweet potato (skins removed)

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk

2 tablespoons chia seeds

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon NuNaturals clear liquid stevia (plus 5-10 more drops to taste)

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground clove

Directions:

1. Add all ingredients to a high-powered blender such as Vitamix and blend well, until very smooth. Taste for sweetness and add more stevia  to liking.

2. Scrape out ingredients into a glass bowl and refrigerate until chilled, about 2-3 hours, before serving.

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Chocolate Coconut Clusters

chocolate coconut clusters (vegan, gluten-free, oil free)

This recipe was derived out of a total craving-meets-empty fridge situation. What do you do when you want an after dinner sweet, but when the sweetest thing in your cupboard is a bag of freeze dried raspberries? Well, you raid the freezer, cupboards and pantry, throw something together that resembles something “normal” people would call dessert, and hope it works.

And, thankfully, it did!

Since making these last Saturday, I’ve been snacking on them throughout the week. They’re like a somewhat healthy marriage between a coconut macaroon and a chocolate truffle. They’re just sweet enough — not too sweet. Just crunchy enough from the coconut. Just soft enough with the addition of some chopped dates. And in keeping with my recent trend on this blog, they’re oil-free.

I frequently receive questions about substitutions and omissions — especially in dessert recipes. While I can’t usually speak to most of them unless I’ve tried it myself, I will say that I STRONGLY feel that the dates, in this recipe, are non-negotiable. No, these won’t fall apart or cook weird without them. So as far as baking goes, they’re not essential. But taste and texture-wise, for me, they make this recipe really special. The dates make these both chewy and sweet — I don’t think these would have been nearly as good without them. On the other hand, I ran out of vanilla extract so I didn’t use any here. But I’m sure a teaspoon or two would work well mixed in with the wet ingredients.

Finally, I found these to be great slightly cooled out of the oven, but they also kept at room temperature for about 24 hours and I refrigerated the remaining ones for 3-4 days and they kept fine, if a bit different texturally from the room temperature ones.

Hope you enjoy as much as I did — and don’t forget the dates!!

Chocolate Coconut Clusters:

Yield: 17-18 Clusters

Ingredients:

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/3 cup brown rice flour

1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

2 tablespoons chia seeds

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/3 cup coconut nectar

1 tablespoon sesame tahini

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup chopped dates (I used Deglet Noor)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Add dry ingredients (cocoa powder through salt) to a large mixing bowl and whisk together. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk together wet ingredients (applesauce through tahini) and add to dry ingredients. Mix until combined. Fold in chopped dates and nuts until well distributed throughout.

3. Roll pieces of “dough” (will be slightly more wet than a typical cookie dough) into golf-ball sized pieces (about 2 tablespoons each) and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes, or until bottoms are just browned. Remove and let cool slightly before eating.

 

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Oil-Free Avocado Pesto

avocado pesto

Is there anything that screams “summer” more than pesto? Ok, some may argue barbecues, boating or ice cream scream “summer” a little louder. But in that argument, I’ll be holding strong with pesto.

Last weekend at the Farmer’s market, I bought some beautiful bunches of pesto basil at my favorite organic stand. While I do have some favorite go-to vegan pesto recipes, most call for oil. Those that don’t use oil call for tofu to get a creamy texture. And while I’m not soy-free, I do try to provide as many soy-free recipes for my readers as I can, for those who are. So I wanted to make a pesto without oil and without soy. And since most vegan pesto recipes call for nutritional yeast as well, I thought I would leave that out, too, to create something a little off the beaten pesto track. With these parameters in mind, I decided to make my first foray into the world of avocado pesto — a creamy confluence of buttery avocado and aromatic basil.

This pesto sauce recipe makes enough sauce to liberally cover about a pound of spaghetti pasta. Should you want your sauce on the lighter side, add slowly to the pasta and use the leftover sauce as a dressing or dip — it is delicious in either form. Or, for those true pesto lovers out there, feel free to go all-out and add it all.

avocado pesto

The one thing about this recipe is that, like many avocado dishes, it does tend to “turn” in color the longer it is kept. Therefore, I would suggest making this one “to-order” — though I have to admit I did eat some less flattering-colored leftovers of this and didn’t die.

Apparently, I am a big pesto lover. Here are some other pesto recipes I’ve posted on this site over the years:

Avocado Pesto: 

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

1 lb. gluten-free pasta

2 ripe avocados

1 bunch fresh basil, washed

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup water

1 tablespoon organic unpasteurized miso paste (use chickpea miso to keep soy-free)

2 tablespoons raw sesame tahini

2 small cloves garlic (or 1 large clove)

1 teaspoon sea salt

Directions:

1. Cook pasta according to package directions and set aside.

2. Combine remaining ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth and no avocado chunks remain.

3. Pour sauce over cooked pasta and toss to combine. Serve immediately for best presentation.

 

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