Basil-Miso-Walnut Pesto & Panini

basil-miso-walnut pesto (oil-free)I know it’s been some time since I last posted. I’ve really been making an effort to not push myself too much, since every time I do, I seem to suffer some sort of health setback. I was feeling pretty good, though, until I started a new medication to hopefully wipe out what’s left of my Lyme. I was told by many people that this med (Flagyl), when used for Lyme, is no joke and that I would definitely be feeling its effects. So I was pleasantly surprised when I started taking it and felt fine for a few weeks. I guess that was the honeymoon period, though, because ever since then I’ve been noticing a huge increase in my symptoms — constant stiff necks, night sweats, fatigue and word retrieval problems, to name a few.  Supposedly, this is all good, as it means the medicine is doing its job. But it’s not good for me in terms of living an active life, let alone keeping up the pace of this blog while trying not to be a deadbeat employee at work! Eek.

For the above reasons, this recipe has been sitting in my archives, patiently awaiting some sort of post to go along with it. I swear, when I first made this, basil was actually in season and abundant. But if you live near a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, you should be able to still find fresh basil to make this recipe. This pesto has been a staple in my diet recently. Something about the nuts, miso and nutritional yeast combo make this taste so — dare I say? — cheesy that my mind at one point was wondering whether I’d somehow accidentally added Parmesan to my Vitamix. Of course, that would be highly unlikely given that I haven’t bought cheese in several years and never have any in the house. But who knows with these new meds I’m taking….crazy things could happen.

I like to make this pesto thick — almost like the consistency of a chunky hummus– so that I can use it as a dip, spread it on sandwiches, or, of course, serve it on pasta. I find that it sticks much better to pasta, too, the thicker it is. In my experience, it will “melt” a bit into a warm pasta enough to coat everything.

roasted vegetable and pesto panini

Here’s a non-recipe recipe for the roasted veggie and pesto panini I’ve been making with this pesto, followed by the actual pesto recipe, which can be used in so many different ways:

Non-Recipe Pesto Paninis:

You’ll need:

  • Two slices gluten-free bread per sandwich
  • Miso-Basil-Walnut-pesto (recipe below)
  • Eggplant, zucchini and red peppers plus some veggie broth for cooking
  • Vegan cheese (I used Trader Joe’s vegan shreds)
  • A tiny bit of oil to spray on non-stick skillet
  • Another skillet to weigh down the sandwich, or a panini press

What to do:

  • First, you will need to roast the veggies. Since I tried to minimize the added oils in this dish, I roasted the veggies in vegetable broth. I sliced one zucchini and one smaller eggplant very thin and julienned a bell pepper. I tossed it in about 1/3 cup of veggie broth in a large baking dish (so veggies could lay flat) and baked at 350 until the veggies were soft (about 30-40 min). I know this is not technically “roasted”, but the veggies got soft enough to use as a nice panini filling.
  • Spread some pesto onto one side of both bread slices (I am pretty liberal in my pesto usage for these)
  • Top each pesto side with a bit of vegan cheese and then a thin layer of veggies.
  • Carefully put both sides together and place on a nice and hot (pre-heated) skillet that’s been sprayed with a little oil.
  • To make these more “panini”-like, I placed a clean, cast-iron skillet on top of the sandwich and pressed down firmly. I let the cast iron sit on the panini while it cooked on one side for about 4-5 minutes over medium to high heat. Then I flipped the sandwich and did the same with the other side, or until it was golden brown on both sides (or slightly browner than golden-brown, as you can see from the picture…)

Basil-Miso-Walnut Pesto:

Ingredients:

1 bunch basil

2 tablespoons chickpea miso

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup nutritional yeast

1/2 cup raw walnuts

about 1 tablespoon water (plus more as needed)

Directions:

1. Add all ingredients to a high-powered blender (such as Vitamix) and blend on low-medium intensity until pesto is smooth but still has some green specks.

2. Add more water if necessary until desired consistency is reached (I like mine to be thicker). You can keep this in the refrigerator for a couple days if it’s well covered (I like to use cling wrap and press into the pesto so that it keeps its nice green color).

 

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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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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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No Recipe Summer Pasta Toss

summer pasta tossI don’t know about everyone else, but I haven’t felt like cooking a whole lot lately. Not that it’s been very hot this summer. But summer’s still summer, and it has that effect of making you not want to cook. Then again, I’m still, well…me. So, when I don’t feel like cooking, I still somehow end up cooking something. But this non-recipe recipe was less about cooking and more about tossing some fresh ingredients together: heirlooom tomatoes, zucchini, corn, onion, pine nuts.

I remember when I was little, my mom found a “fresh tomato sauce” recipe in the Detroit Free Press that called for diced tomatoes and raw corn. At the time, I thought it was so fun and different when she made it. Little did I know that, years later, I’d be a raw food loving vegan and a recipe like raw pasta sauce would become far from unusual in my diet. Nevertheless, that recipe was one of my first memories of my mom making a high-raw vegan meal. This non-recipe recipe was inspired by that one, with the addition of some other things I had on-hand, including red onion, zucchini and toasted pine nuts. As simple as it was, it turned out so tasty! No wonder they say you can make amazing food with just a few fresh ingredients.

I decided to share this as a loose recipe because this is one of those ideas that is amenable to so many different variations, and can be easily adjusted based on taste and based on what you have on hand. I could easily see basil or fresh greens being tossed into the mix.

To make this pasta toss, I did the following:

  • Chopped up two large, very ripe heirloom tomatoes. One was red and the other was yellow. 
  • Diced one fresh zucchini
  • Minced up about 1/4 cup of red onion
  • Added some thawed, frozen organic corn (though fresh could easily be used)
  • Toasted up a small handful of pine nuts in a dry skillet until golden brown
  • Tossed it all together with some warm gluten-free spaghetti
  • Tossed in a good pinch of sea salt to taste

What variations would you make to this one? What are some of your favorite no-recipe summer recipes?

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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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Tempeh Hash

tempeh hash (oil-free, vegan, gluten-free)

Since it’s cooled off just a bit (around where I live, at least), and it’s the weekend, I thought I would share a great, hearty breakfast or brunch dish. While I usually go with a green smoothie and something else light for breakfast, I like to branch out on weekends and go the brunch route from time-to-time. I made this tempeh hash last Saturday and it was delicious. It kept me full to get all of my errands and workouts in before my next meal.

I’m a huge “hash” fan. No, not that kind of hash (though I did go to college in Ann Arbor, where there’s a “hash bash” every April of the other variety… that’s a whole different story). I’m the kind of hash fan, rather, that gets giddy over a skillet filled with a vegan something-or-other and potatoes. There was a time when my brunch days included some type of meat with those potatoes — but who needs meat when there’s such a thing as tempeh?

As I’ve mentioned before, I was never a huge fan of tempeh until I learned to cook it properly. Now, it’s a regular in our rotation, as it provides high amounts of protein and is naturally fermented and much less processed than traditional tofu. I learned through Veganomicon that an easy way to steam tempeh — steaming removes much of its bitterness — is to do it in a covered skillet with flavorful things such as veggie broth and tamari, which is the way I prepared it here.

Once again, I am going oil-free in most of my cooking, and this recipe is another example of how unnecessary oil is with the right preparation and flavoring. The steamed tempeh cooks well in the skillet with some additional veggie broth. A non-stick or cast-iron skillet will keep things from clinging to the bottom of the pan without oil.

As a serving suggestion, I would recommend topping this hash with some salsa or avocado, and wrapping in corn tortillas for an amazing, savory breakfast or brunch option.

tempeh hash with corn tortilla, salsa and avocado

Tempeh Hash:

Yield: 3-4 servings

Ingredients:

1 8-oz. pkg. tempeh, cut into cubes

3/4 cup plus 3-4 tablespoons low sodium vegetable broth

1 tablespoon low sodium tamari

1/2 large onion, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1 heaping cup boiled new or fingerling potatoes, diced (I used Trader Joe’s “teeny tiny potatoes”)

2 large handfuls kale

salt to taste

salsa and/or avocado for topping (optional, but good)

Directions:

1. Add tempeh, tamari and 3/4 cup vegetable broth to a medium-sized skillet. Cover and and heat over medium-high heat until simmering. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, covered, until liquid is absorbed, about 7-10 minutes.

2. Uncover and break up tempeh with back of spoon. Add another 2 tablespoons veggie broth, onion, pepper and spices and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring, until onion and pepper are soft. Add potatoes and kale and cook again until kale is wilted. You may add 1-2 tablespoons more of veggie broth, as needed, if dry. Add salt to taste. Serve warm with desired toppings.

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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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