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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Baked Tofu Teriyaki Skewers

tofu teriyaki skewersIt took me a long time to understand the purpose of skewering food if you weren’t going to end up eating it on the skewer. I mean, what’s the point? Eating food on the stick always seemed to be preferable to me to just cooking it on the stick, then taking it off to eat. It was a wonder to me that people would go through the trouble of putting a kebab together if they were not going to follow through with the whole stick thing when it came time to eating.

The kid in me still thinks it’s fun to eat things on sticks. Even more fun to me these days, though, is cooking things on sticks, which allows the flavors to meld together perfectly. Add a sweet and salty marinade, which is easily brushed on as a coating, and you have a whole lot of deliciousness married together. Cooked to perfection. On one stick.

Now that I’m older and presumably a bit wiser, I also like the idea of eating things on a stick (have I said “stick” enough yet?), but the key word here is idea. Logistically, it’s much, much easier — and yummier — to remove all the edible components upon eating, and to serve those components over a bed of fluffy quinoa with a side of raw fermented kimchi and just a drizzle of Sriracha. At least, that’s what I did. You do it your way. Heck, even eat this off of the stick if you really want to.

Ok, so I’ve met my quota for typing the word stick in one post. Now,  I can get to the more important issues at hand here. First is the fact that this is an easy, healthy meal that can be rounded out well with some simple sides. So, that’s always nice. But perhaps more important is that I did two tests of this recipe: one with oil, and one without. Gennaro and I both agreed that the oil made absolutely no difference — in fact, I actually preferred the version without oil. So, don’t feel compelled to add any. It isn’t necessary. Unless you’re trying to put weight on or add calories to your diet, I would recommend leaving any unnecessary fat out of the equation. Personally, I tend to feel better, lighter and healthier when I’m not cooking with any added oils. I prefer to save the calories for something really special….like the double chocolate chip cookies I made yesterday…to be shared later…

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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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Fat-Free Potato Salad

vegan, fat-free potato saladTo say I’m a carb-aholic does not entirely describe my problem. It’s potatoes that are my carb of choice. And I don’t care how you give them to me. Mashed, fried, boiled, baked, roasted or au gratin — I don’t discriminate and love ‘em all (as long as they’re all vegan versions, of course).

But as benign as the potato may seem on the scale of addictions, the danger in my affinity for spuds usually comes in their preparation, as it’s long been a tradition for the potato to be prepared with fat. Oil for frying and roasting. Buttery spreads for mashing and melting over baked. And boiled potatoes, if not soon to be mashed, are often on their way to becoming part of a salad filled with oily and fattening mayo or mayo replacements. I love it, don’t get me wrong. But does it love me back? Doctors Esselstyn and McDougall say “no”.

When I searched the internet for “fat-free potato salad”, I found little in the way of a solution. Many such recipes called for processed “fat-free” mayo blends, which use artificial ingredients and flavors, along with several preservatives. That was simply not an option for me.

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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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Easy, Fat-Free Green Bean Salad

fat free green bean saladSo, I realized that this past Thanksgiving was my 4th — 4th! — annual vegan Thanksgiving. And for the first time ever, as I mentioned, the entirety of my extended family joined along in the spirit of the vegan Thanksgiving and there was no turkey to be found.

At one time, I would have thought that a turkey-less, entirely vegan Thanksgiving would mean I’d feel lighter and not stuffed to my breaking point after eating. I was wrong. And I’m here to set the record straight. It is entirely possible to way overeat  and induce a food-coma even if all of the food you’re putting into your body came from plants.

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Summer Squash and Lentil Salad

summer lentil salad (low-fat, oil-free, grain-free)I’m not going to talk about the hot and humid weather. I am not going to talk about the hot and humid weather. I am not going to talk about the hot and humid weather. 

Ok, where were we? Oh, yes. Here’s a refreshing summer lentil salad that only requires minimal stovetop cooking and nothing in the oven. Why would you want to make something like that? Oh, I don’t know…maybe you’re not feeling like doing a lot of cooking one night due to situations out of your control (ahem, “outside conditions”). Maybe you’re feeling like something lite — not hot. I don’t know why you would be, but maybe you are.

Or, in all seriousness, maybe you’ve just braved the heat (oops, I did it) and walked to your local farmer’s market, where there was likely some lovely spinach and probably some colorful summer squash. And maybe you’ve had that squash sitting in your fridge and you’re wondering what to do with it.

summer squash and lentil salad (low-fat, oil-free, grain-free)

Or, maybe you’re in the mood for a salad. Not your typical, boring lettuce salad with only a few tomatoes and some dressing. But a substantial, satisfying, healthy, high-protein, all-in-one salad that incorporates lots of veggies. Simple. Unprocessed. No added oils or fats. Just refreshing, colorful, flavorful summer fare.

In my constant quest to come up with recipes that can double as lunches I can take to work, this is certainly going to become a regular in that rotation. I love bringing healthful fare that I don’t have to reheat, dress or otherwise prepare at the office. For me, coupled with some simple grains on the side, this is the perfect, light meal. Plus, it’s simple and not fussy — most of these ingredients are pantry staples or can be easily found at your local grocery store or farmer’s market.

This recipe can keep in the refrigerator for a few days.

Summer Squash and Lentil Salad: 

Serves: 3-4

Ingredients:

1 cup dry brown lentils

2 1/2 cups water

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 packet stevia*

1 yellow summer squash, halved lengthwise and then cut into thin slices

1 medium red bell pepper, diced

2 scallions, sliced

1 large handful baby spinach

Directions:

1. Place lentils and water in a medium to large pot and bring water to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium and simmer, covered, for 25-30 minutes, or until lentils are cooked through yet retain their shape.

2. Meanwhile, whisk together apple cider vinegar, garlic, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, salt and stevia in a small bowl and set aside.

3. Add squash, bell pepper and scallions to a large salad bowl. Once lentils have cooked, add warm lentils to bowl with dressing and spinach and toss until everything is coated. Serve immediately at room temerature, or chilled in the refrigerator prior to serving.

I used Sweetleaf brand stevia. The package indicates that 1 packet is equal in sweetness to two teaspoons of regular granulated sugar, just to give a frame of reference for those looking to substitute who don’t have stevia on hand. If using a different brand of stevia, add slowly, to taste, as brands vary significantly in sweetness. 

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Fat-Free Berry Oat Crisp

berry oat crisp (fat free)

As I mentioned, I am trying to significantly cut down oil in my diet. I thought it would be really difficult, but I’m surprised at how little it’s missed. Who knew that sweating onions in veggie broth or white wine would yield the same delicious base as fatty olive-oil does for soups? Who knew that you can make a delicious stir-fry with just some simple tamari and/or white wine? Makes me wonder why I was adding unnecessary fat and calories for so many years…

I went a step further with this delicious berry crisp and made it completely fat-free. It’s a healthy summer option that is both light and comforting. I brought this as a dessert to share at a party over the weekend, where there were multiple chocolate cakes, brownies and pies of the non-vegan, gluten-filled variety. I expected this crisp to perhaps get lost in the shuffle — or underwhelm in light of so many sugar-heavy, non-vegan, fat-filled sweet treats. Instead, I got compliments from those who knew I had brought it — and the ultimate compliment from someone who didn’t, as I overheard her telling everyone at her table that “the berry cobbler is out of this world”. Of course, I ran back to the dessert table to double-check that there were no other berry cobblers there. Thankfully, there weren’t, giving me the confidence I needed to share this recipe with all of you.

This recipe is truly simple to make. In fact, if I have some berries on hand, I might throw together a modified single-serving version to satisfy any lingering sweet tooth I may have after dinner. The lemon juice makes the filling slightly tart, so if you have an especially strong sweet tooth you may want to replace it with orange juice or water.

fresh berries

Fat-Free Berry Oat Crisp:

Yield: about 8- 10 servings

2 pints blueberries

1 pint raspberries

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 packets stevia

2 tablespoons arrowroot powder

2 cups gluten-free oats

1/2 cup coconut nectar

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Add berries, lemon juice, stevia and arrowroot to a 7×11″ baking dish (or 2 qt. baking dish of any diameter). Stir gently until berries are coated.

3. In a separate bowl, add remaining ingredients and stir until combined. Pour evenly over berries and spread gently with back of a spoon.

4. Bake crisp in preheated oven for 45-50 minutes, or until fruit is bubbling and top is golden-brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Oil-Free Protein-Packed Kale Salad

oil free protein kale salad

As you are all probably aware from my previous post, I had a blast at the Vegetarian Summerfest this year. And I learned SO MUCH about health and nutrition, even though I was already eating what I considered to be a very health vegan diet. One thing that really struck me on my trip was how many of the speakers we heard advised against using oil. Not only does oil have no nutritional value — making it completely empty in calories — but many presenters discussed its artery-clogging effects, links to cancer when cooked due to oxidation, and associations with vascular insufficiency and blood-clotting. But the thing that really made sense to me is that, when you think about it, oil is a pretty unnecessary food. It really provides no health benefits that can’t be obtained through whole, plant-based sources. This is why it’s best to get fats from nuts, seeds and avocados rather than from oil, which is a processed, stripped down version of real food.

When I came home, I wanted to start incorporating more oil-free meals into my life and in this blog (I am always a student and learning new and amazing things about nutrition — this blog is certainly a reflection of that). Unfortunately, I realized that many of my dishes in the past have contained oil — probably even in cases where it may not be entirely necessary. I will certainly try to limit its use in dishes where it is not needed from now on. I did create a tag for my oil free recipes, and I hope those will increase in volume as time goes on.

It’s pretty clear by now that I am quite the fan of kale. That certainly did not change on my trip. This dish was created to provide a nutritionally-dense, high-protein salad. Gratuitous oil use is perhaps most common in salad dishes — especially in those that soak up a lot of liquids like quinoa. I tried to find other ways to add intrigue to the salad and dressing — and flavor throughout. This salad makes a great, intriguing side dish, or can be eaten in larger portions for a one-bowl lunch or dinner. I find that the flavors work best when warm, but it can certainly be served as a cold salad as well.

The following are a few of my favorite books providing additional information as to why processed oils should be avoided or eliminated from one’s diet:

oil-free protein-packed kale salad

Oil-Free Protein-Packed Kale Salad:

Serves: 4-6

Ingredients:

4 cups finely chopped curly kale (about 1/2 bunch)

1 cup uncooked quinoa, well rinsed (I used 1/2 red and 1/2 white)

2 cups sweet potato, peeled, diced and steamed or boiled until soft (about 10 minutes)

1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed), roughly chopped (more may be added to taste)

1 cup plus 3 tablespoons low-sodium vegetable broth

1 cup water

1 can organic chickpeas, drained and well rinsed

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

sea salt to taste

Directions:

1. Add quinoa to a small pot with 1 cup of the vegetable broth and 1 cup water. Cook according to package directions, or until water is absorbed and quinoa is fluffy.

2. Meanwhile, cook or steam sweet potatoes if you haven’t already.

3. Whisk together dressing ingredients: remaining vegetable broth, cider vinegar, cumin and coriander.

4. Add kale, sun-dried tomato, sweet potato and chickpeas to a large salad bowl. Once quinoa is cooked, add warm quinoa and dressing to bowl and toss. Add salt to taste. Serve warm, room-temperature or chilled.

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Miso-Ginger Stir-Fry

I have a confession: I actually made this recipe months ago. I wanted to post it then. But it was hot out. I mean, really hot. And I kept thinking that no one in their right mind would want to make stir-fry in the middle of July. At a time when other bloggers were posting salads and grilled vegetables, I was making stir-fry. And so, as much as I was in love with this dish, I decided to sit on it and wait for a time when this recipe was a bit more suited to the weather.

You’ll notice that for a stir-fry, this recipe uses very little oil. Again, it was July when I made this. My parents had just returned from the vegetarian summerfest and were influenced by the many doctors and health experts singing the praises of a low-fat vegan diet. I learned that wine is a great cooking tool for braising or making sauces, as it adds a lot of flavor without added fat. For me, this is especially true in stir-fries. My mom took a Chinese cooking class when I was younger at an amazing Chinese restaurant my family still frequents. One of the revelations from that experience was that almost every stir-fry sauce at that restaurant utilized white cooking wine, lots of garlic and very little if any soy sauce. True Hong Kong style Chinese sauces are light and clear, not thick and brown, as is so common in Americanized Chinese places would have us believe. (For those interested in eating at the best Chinese Restaurant, in my opinion, in North America: Harvey Lo’s Yummy House in Windsor Ontario. It’s divine).

Of course, with the addition of miso, this is more of a Japanese-Chinese fusion dish. I love miso for flavor in dressings and sauces. It makes a really great stir-fry here — tangy, almost sweet and salty combination of flavors. And finally, it’s that time of year where I can make this without losing 5 pounds of sweat in the process. Hooray for fall!

Serves: 3-4 with rice

Low Fat Miso-Ginger Stir Fry:

My new secret to a good stir-fry is to bake the tofu before adding it to the rest of the dish. It tends to get crispy on the outside, but remains intact, rather than crumbling like tofu so often does when its cooked in a skillet or wok.

2 tablespoons refrigerated white miso OR 3 tablespoons white shiro miso (not refrigerated)

¼ cup white wine

2 tablespoons wheat-free tamari

¼ teaspoon sesame oil

2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons arrowroot + 2 tablespoons water, whisked together

2 tablespoons vegetable broth

1 head broccoli florets, chopped

1 red bell pepper, julienned

4 shiitake caps, sliced

½ yellow onion, sliced

Baked Tofu:

¼ teaspoon sesame oil (omit oil and use some veggie broth for an oil-free baked tofu option)

2 tablespoons wheat-free tamari

1 block firm or extra firm tofu, drained and patted dry. Sliced or cubed.

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375. Whisk together sesame oil and tamari in a shallow bowl. Dip slices of tofu into mixture and and then lay flat on non-stick or silpat-lined baking sheet. Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together miso, wine, tamari, sesame oil, ginger and garlic. Set aside.

3. In a very hot wok, add broccoli, bell pepper, onion and vegetable broth. Stir over high heat until broth evaporates and vegetables begin to soften. Add in shiitakes and pre-made sauce. Stir until sauce reduces by about 1/2 and vegetables are softened but still crisp. Add in arrowroot and water mixture and pre-baked tofu. Stir until sauce is thickened. Serve immediately.

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