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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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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Blueberry-Mango-Carrot Smoothies

blueberry mango carrot smoothie

As many of you know by now from either following me on Instagram or reading this blog, my main go-to morning smoothie is a detoxifying green smoothie, made using greens, fruits, lemon and water. I may add chlorella or flax seed from time to time, but generally try to keep these smoothies to whole plant foods. However, I occasionally try to vary my morning smoothie from time-to-time, and when I do, I like to opt for a creamier option — usually with dairy-free milk and berries, and many times with avocado for added creaminess. Gennaro likes to refer to these as the “fun smoothies” (can you guess which he prefers?)

But as much as I love a “fun smoothie”, meals sometimes seem like a waste to me if I’m not making sure it’s providing ample health benefits as well. I designed this recipe to provide loads of vitamins, antioxidants and “healthy fats” in the form of avocado, while still tasting “fun” and fruity. Here’s a breakdown of the health benefits of the various ingredients (sourced from a number of web resources):

  • Blueberry: Many people know about blueberries as a high antioxidant berry (I’ve seen sources rank them as the highest antioxidant fruit). They also contain fiber and Vitamin C.
  • Mango: Mangoes also contain antioxidants and have high levels of vitamin C. They help balance pH in the body, and of course, contain fiber.
  • Carrots: Most people know that carrots contain high amounts of Vitamin A and are also a great source of beta-carotene, an antioxidant. They can also purify the blood and aid in liver detoxification.
  • Avocado: This sneaky ingredient not only adds creaminess to your smoothie, but are also high in healthy fats which can lower bad cholesterol and nourish the skin. They are also high in fiber, making this smoothie one that should help to keep you full throughout the morning. Avocado also contains other vitamins to help maintain optimum health.

I think the advent of the Vitamix made smoothie aficionados of all of us, myself most definitely included. While I certainly made smoothies in the past, the Vitamix made it an everyday thing. Unfortunately, as far as kitchen equipment goes, it is not cheap. And I would most certainly not have been able to afford one had I not gotten married and had very generous in-laws gift us with one. However, if you’re using a regular blender, I have a few suggestions for this recipe: increase the amount of liquid slightly and decrease the amount of frozen fruits. I am not sure how well the carrot pulverizes in a blender, but you could try adding it in slowly and see what happens. While I love and am completely devoted to my Vitamix, I am certainly not living under some Gwyneth Paltrow-esque rock, thinking everyone can afford a luxury like this (heck, I’m an attorney and I couldn’t even afford one if it hadn’t been gifted to me. I guess that’s a downfall of going into an area of the law where you’re “helping people”, rewarding as it may be). I made many a smoothie using my regular ol’ Cuisinart blender during my law school days without much of a problem — just a bit more coaxing with an old fashioned spoon.

Yield: 2 large or 3 smaller smoothies (halve portions if making a single-serving)

Ingredients:

3 cups cold, unsweetened dairy-free milk (I alternate between soy and almond; use non-soy dairy-free milk for soy-free option)

1 heaping cup frozen blueberries

1 cup frozen mango chunks

1/2 cup carrot, roughly chopped

1/2 large or one small avocado, skin and pit removed

1-2 packets stevia, or sweetener to taste

Directions:

1. Add dairy-free milk, blueberries, mango chunks and carrot to a high-powered blender such as Vitamix. Blend until smooth.

2. Add 1/2 avocado and blend. For more creaminess, add remaining avocado. Add sweetener to taste. Blend until smooth.

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Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread

chocolate chunk banana bread top viewI consider chef Chloe Coscarelli to be a culinary genius. I’ve posted before about my love of her first cookbook (all vegan!), Chloe’s Kitchen, which is quickly becoming one of those beloved cookbooks of mine — joining the ranks of the other tattered, torn and food-splattered but frequently used books in my collection. I love her recipes because she has a knack for not only making things taste amazing, but making them super simple and un-daunting, which is a daunting task in itself! And while many (but certainly not all) of her recipes call for gluten-containing ingredients, they can easily be adapted to be gluten-free. In fact, she has a section in the front of her book all about gluten-free substitutions. Personally, I’ve made many of her recipes substituting gluten-free ingredients, including her baked macaroni (which I made with quinoa and corn mini shell noodles and brown rice flour for the roux), with stellar results.

But Chloe is perhaps most famous for her dessert recipes (she won Cupcake Wars on Food Network, and was the first all-vegan chef to do so), many of which I have sadly not had the chance to make because of the sugar factor (she indicates in her book that many of her dessert recipes can be made with gluten-free flours). I’ve found that it’s one thing to substitute gluten-free flours, but things get really tricky when you start messing with the sugar.

As many of you may know if you’ve been following this site for awhile, I avoid refined sugars due to a history of candida albicans and health problems which can be exacerbated by sugar intake. In fact, I believe that consuming refined sugars, while probably OK in moderation, can wreak havoc on anyone’s health when done to excess. With candida, I must be even more careful, especially after being on antibiotics for over a year. I went through a period of not eating any fruit or sugar, then slowly adding back non-refined, low glycemic sweeteners on occasion. Otherwise, I use stevia if I need a sweetener. I have also been advised to avoid fructose due to Lyme, which is why you will notice that agave nectar, while a staple of my baking in the past, is no longer used in my recipes. I tend to have the same attitude toward agave as I do toward regular sugar — fine in moderation, but problematic in excess, or even if consumed daily. However, these sweeteners can be especially problematic for people with health issues such as candida or Lyme, and should therefore be avoided.

For these reasons, Chloe’s desserts have both tempted and haunted me since I’ve had her book. Not to mention the fact that she has a new dessert book out, Chloe’s Vegan Desserts, which I have purposely not bought knowing it will just taunt me to no end.

chocolate chunk banana bread side view

Don’t worry – no one took a bite out of that second piece. I just made the age-old mistake of cutting too soon and that piece crumbled off as a result.

This weekend, I finally succumbed to my temptations and decided to tackle and modify a Chloe dessert recipe using a gluten-free flour and a sugar substitute. While I don’t even bake with unrefined sugar substitutes much anymore, I figured if I was going to bake something, it might as well be very, very good. In the end, I went with her Chocolate Chip Banana Cake recipe, which is on her website. Now, if any of you are also vegan, gluten-free and trying to avoid refined sugars, you’ll know that finding chocolate chips that meet your dietary requirements is completely impossible. They just don’t exist. So I usually try to avoid recipes calling for them, or use something else such as nuts or dried fruit — which sometimes (OK, probably most of the time) just doesn’t hit the spot in the way gooey chocolate does.

The reason I decided to go with a recipe calling for chocolate chips, however, is that I recently discovered what I imagine is a somewhat new product from the brand Coconut Secret, their Peruvian Crunch chocolate bar. It is simply dark chocolate, coconut and organic coconut crystals (dried coconut nectar). And it is TO. DIE. FOR. I almost felt like it was a waste of such an amazing chocolate bar to chop it up and mix it with other things. In fact, few recipes would actually justify such an act. But I felt that chocolate chunk banana bread had to be one of those recipes. And it was totally worth it.

photo (4)

Originally posted to my Instagram feed, @bversical

I made some other changes to Chloe’s original recipe in addition to my flour and sugar substitutions. Many of the changes were based on what I had on hand. I used olive oil instead of canola oil (I don’t ever have the latter on hand) and unsweetened almond milk in place of canned coconut milk (same thing — I always have almond milk on hand, almost never canned coconut milk). I also decreased the amount of chocolate chunks because I wanted to keep it to only one bar — otherwise, it could start getting ridiculously pricey just to make banana bread. I also omitted the salt, just to experiment for those trying to watch their salt intake whether it would make a difference. It was still amazingly tasty and flavorful. Though it would be interesting if someone did a taste-test to compare the salted and non-salted versions side-by-side. Finally, I had run out of ground ginger so omitted that from the recipe, and it was still extremely flavorful and well-spiced. I could also easily see this recipe being good with shredded coconut (it’s already in the chocolate bar, so it adds a nice flavor punch), chopped walnuts, or even some orange zest if you’re feeling super adventurous.

Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread:
Adapted from the amazing Chloe Coscarelli’s recipe for Chocolate Chip Banana Cake at Chefchloe.com

2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour

1 teaspoon xanthan gum

1 cup coconut crystals/coconut palm sugar

1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground clove

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup mashed very ripe banana (about 2 large bananas)

1 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk (almond or coconut milk to be soy-free, soy or rice milk will make it nut-free)

1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil, plus more for greasing pan

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (original recipe calls for 1 tablespoon, I had just run out)

1 chocolate bar such as Coconut Secret Peruvian Crunch, chopped (yields about 1/2 cup)

Directions:

1. Lightly grease a 5×10″ loaf pan with olive oil. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients: flour, xanthan gum, coconut sugar, baking powder, baking soda and spices.

3. In a separate bowl, gently whisk together mashed banana, oil, milk, vinegar and vanilla extract. Slowly add to dry ingredients and whisk until just combined, being careful not to overmix.

4. Fold in chocolate chunks. Pour batter into pre-greased load pan and bake in preheated oven for 55-60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean (no wet batter). Remove from oven an let sit for about 1/2 hour. Then remove from loaf pan and let cool completely on a wire rack before cutting.

 

 

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Superfood Sweet Potato Cookies

I don’t tend to use the term “superfood” loosely. In fact, I don’t tend to use the term often, as I feel that most fresh plant-based foods could be considered “superfoods” depending on the context. However, its use in this particular description is mainly to alert readers to the intent of this recipe, which was not to create the most “like a real cookie” recipe possible, but rather to make something sweet and satisfying while also supplying loads of health benefits.

I know I’ve mentioned quite often at this point that I’m very loyal to nutritionist Kimberly Snyder, whose latest book, Beauty Detox Foods, has inspired me to incorporate even more “beauty foods” into my diet, particularly healthy fats such as chia and walnuts (which I had eaten and used, but which were not necessarily a staple until I discovered Ms. Snyder’s books).* I also added, of course, the very versatile sweet potato. I have used sweet potato in scones and muffins on this site previously, but have never used it to create a intentionally nutritionally dense dessert as I did here.

*Side note: I swear I am not paid to promote this woman, but with all the promotion I do to family and friends, I am hoping she will just gratuitously send me a check soon…

As you can probably see, these cookies are loaded with whole grains, nuts and seeds. They’re therefore filling and make a great snack, not just a dessert. I also find that they’re best warm out of the oven, though they can be eaten at room temperature or even chilled. If you’re looking for a more traditional oatmeal-like cookie, I would suggest my Quinoa Cookies, which are always a huge hit even with non-vegan, gluten-eating folk.* These, however, are not necessarily your “traditional” cookie, but tasty and worthy of a try nonetheless — especially if you’re looking to give yourself some health benefits while eating your cookie, too. Or something like that.

*And for more gluten-free dessert ideas, check out my blogging buddy Shirley’s site, All Gluten-Free Desserts. Shirley is an amazing resource for all you Celiacs and gluten-intolerant out there. She features an array of recipes on her dessert site, including many that are vegan. She featured my avocado-lime tart about a month ago. I will definitely be visiting her site often  when looking for some dessert inspiration and ideas. 

Yield: About 18 cookies

Superfood Sweet Potato Cookies:

Like I said, I found these cookies to be best when eaten warm  out of the oven, or within a few hours of making. That said, I made them for a long weekend in Northern Michigan and my family enjoyed them over several days, and ate them without complaint!

1 1/2 cups rolled oats

2/3 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour

2/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1 teaspoon Cinnamon

2 tablespoons chia seeds

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

2 tablespoons coconut oil, plus more for greasing baking sheet

a pinch of sea salt (about 1/4 teaspoon)

1/2 cup coconut nectar

1 cup of cooked sweet potato, skins removed, mashed (about one medium sweet potato)

1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

2 packets of Sweetleaf Stevia*

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a large baking sheet with coconut oil.

2. Mix dry ingredients: oats, flour, coconut, chia seeds, walnuts, cinnamon and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add coconut oil and mix in until crumbles form.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients. Pour into dry mixture and stir until everything is mixed well.

4. Scoop out heaping tablespoons of dough, roll with palms, and place on baking sheet, a few inches apart. Flatten dough individually with palms.

5. Bake in preheated oven for about 12 minutes, or until cookies are golden brown on the bottom (may need to check). Repeat from step 4 if necessary with remaining dough.

* Another brand may yield different results in sweetness, so be sure to adjust accordingly

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Lentil-Sweet Potato-Kale Enchiladas

As I write this, I am nurturing severe jet-lag and sleep-deprivation after a four-day wedding weekend in Chicago, for one of Gennaro’s best friend’s weddings. Not only was the weekend jam-packed with activities, but we spent all day yesterday in the car and lost an hour coming back to EST. Not to mention the fact that, although I ate very well all weekend — visiting such famous vegan joints such as Chicago Diner, Karyn’s and Native Foods —  I still did not have the benefit of my usual green smoothies, kale salads or probiotic-filled raw sauerkraut to keep my immunity high.

Needless to say, I am TIRED. And in times like these, the last thing I want to do is cook a complicated meal when I come home from work, or do many dishes. Yet I am equally not into the idea of ordering out yet again after a weekend of eating out. I want home-cooked, healthy and easy. Yet these things don’t always go hand-in-hand.

I developed this recipe several weeks back when trying to address what I find to be one of the most difficult things about working full-time and trying to eat well at home – time! This recipe is also very cheap to make – especially if you’re buying and cooking your lentils in bulk and shopping local for your kale (or any other greens you may want to use here). You could easily top with a vegan cheese of choice, but since Gennaro does not like vegan cheese, I just sprinkled a bit of nutritional yeast over the top and it was not lacking in flavor. I hope you enjoy not only this dish, but whatever you’ll be doing during the free time you save from not having to be in the kitchen all night!

Ingredients:

Please note: this recipe does not require an exact science, so feel free to play around with the ingredients and amounts to your liking.

1 large sweet potato, unpeeled, diced

1/2 cup water, or more as needed

2 cups cooked lentils (either canned or cooked at home)

2 large handfuls curly kale, chopped (about 1/2 a bunch of kale)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

salt to taste

1 jar salsa of choice (I used Trader Joe’s organic Tomatillo and Roasted Yellow Chili Salsa), divided

1 package corn tortillas (I used organic sprouted corn tortillas)

vegan cheese or nutritional yeast for sprinking (optional)

Directions:

1. In a large skillet, add sweet potato and water. Cover and heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sweet potato is soft (about 10-15 minutes). Add additional water (about 1/4 cup) if water is absorbed before sweet potato is fully cooked.

2. Once sweet potato is soft, add lentils, kale, 3 tablespoons salsa and cumin. Stir together, cooking over medium heat until kale is just wilted and everything warmed through, about 4-5 minutes. Add salt to taste (I just added a pinch because I used salt to cook my lentils).

3. If desired to soften, heat tortillas over separate skillet, wrapped in foil in the oven, or in the microwave until soft and pliable. Add about 1/4 cup filling to each warm tortilla and roll, placing in a 9×13″ baking dish seam-down across dish. You may have additional filling left over. Cover tortillas with remaining salsa, using a spoon to spread evenly over enchiladas. Sprinkle with desired amount of vegan cheese or nutritional yeast (optional).

4. Bake enchiladas covered in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes, or until salsa is bubbling and enchiladas are heated through. Serve topped with lettuce, tomato, avocado or onion and alongside your favorite Mexican sides.

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Adzuki-Millet Cakes

Like many great things in life, this recipe happened by accident. Well, at least the final product was an accident, as I had originally intended these to be a homemade answer to my Hilary’s Adzuki Bean Burger obsession (am I alone here?). While I wanted to mimic the original burger as much as possible, I also wanted to make this recipe easy and accessible. So, I decided to use only one of the two grains used in the Hilary’s burger. I decided on millet for its consistency when cooked. I also did not want to create anything that necessitated the use of a food processor — a great culinary tool, in my opinion, but one that can also incur unnecessary cleanup in many instances.

These tweaks probably led to a somewhat “looser” consistency than the original burger, one that was reminiscent of a savory cake rather than a burger. Not that I complained. As I shoved down two of these babies, I started wondering why I was ever looking for a veggie burger recipe in the first place, when there was a perfectly delicious version available in the frozen section of my local Whole Foods (ok, there were several reason I was doing so — money, trying to avoid processed foods, trying to cut down on the fat content of the original recipe — but those were soon forgotten). I also remembered that I had unsuccessfully gone through a string of attempts at a homemade bean cake recipe a while back. It seems I found the answer to whatever was plaguing my previous bean cake attempts — even if I had ended up forgetting the question.

I’m filing these cakes under “appetizer”, “side” or “main course” recipes, as I can see them as all three. Slightly cooled, they could top a dinner salad. Still warm, I imagine them over a heaping bed of steamed or sauteed greens — maybe kale or spinach — and  maybe drizzled with some oil and vinegar. I also served them to Gennaro inside of a warm pita with greens, chipotle Vegenaise spread and hot sauce (unfortunately, the pita was not gluten-free, or I certainly would have tried this version). And while we’re labeling these, I have to admit they also make a great snack. I like them cold, right out of the refrigerator, for a protein-packed and healthy, non-processed snack.

Adzuki-Millet Cakes:

Please note: You will likely have remaining millet left over. You can use it in salads or try it anywhere else you would use quinoa or — if you eat it — couscous. I also give it to my dog, Woodley, for a fun change-up to his usual nighttime snack, which was vet-recommended for gastrointestinal issues he was having — see, he is like his mom!

Yield: 6-8 cakes

Ingredients:

3/4 cup uncooked dry millet

1 1/2 cups well cooked adzuki beans (I used my pressure cooker to cook 1 cup dried beans according to the instructions found here. I had some leftover, which I ate over some cooked quinoa with spinach. Canned adzuki beans, drained, would also work)

1 tablespoon chia seeds

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon coconut oil, plus more for cooking cakes

1 medium red bell pepper, diced

1 scallion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

3/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

Directions:

1. Add millet to a medium saucepan with 1 1/2 cups of water. Cook on medium heat until the water is just absorbed (watch carefully after about 10 minutes of boiling to see where it’s at). You can try stirring it to check on water content/consistency before removing from heat — the final consistency should be somewhat lumpy and not as “fork-fluffable” as quinoa is when cooked. You want this consistency for the cakes.

2. As millet cooks, heat 1 tablespoon of coconut oil in a separate skillet. Add red pepper and scallion and cook over medium heat for about 4 minutes.  Add minced garlic and cook for another minute. Set aside.

3. Once millet has cooked (i.e. once the water is absorbed), add 1 1/2 cups of the warm millet, adzuki beans, chia, spices, salt and water together in a medium mixing bowl. Mix well, while mashing everything together with the back of your spoon. Add red peppers, scallion and garlic and mix well.

4. You can use the same saute pan as used for the red peppers (no need to wash). Heat additional teaspoon of coconut oil (if needed) in the pan. Meanwhile, measure out 1/3 cup amounts of adzuki-millet mixture and roll in the palm of your hands before pressing into patties. Add patties to hot saute pan and cook over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes per side, or until crispy and lightly browned on the outside. Repeat this step to cook the remaining patties.

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Indian-Spiced Cauliflower Soup

In my last post, I discussed the power of food in healing. This post is centered around the healing power of spices, which have long been considered medical powerhouses in their own right. This soup utilizes several Indian spices, including the powerful Turmeric. Turmeric has been widely known for its anti-inflammatory properties — I have even taken its active ingredient, Curcumin, in capsule form to help deal with the muscle spasms and neck stiffness associated with Lyme. Similarly, Turmeric is also a good choice for those suffering from other inflammatory conditions and diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis. It is also believed to have anti-cancer and detoxifying effects.

Combine the power of turmeric with the antioxidant-heavy cumin and the cardiovascular (and other) benefits of cayenne, and you have one spicy, healing soup. I also happen to believe that the warming, comforting act of eating a bowl of spicy soup is healing in itself. One cannot eat a hot bowl of soup hurriedly. The necessary slowing down to sip and savor is food meditation at its core.

I got the idea for this soup from this recipe on Food 52, which is equally delicious, albeit much more subtly flavored (i.e. no spice mix — just cauliflower, olive oil, onions, water and salt). When Gennaro’s cousin made the original version for a family Christmas Eve dinner, I lapped up several helpings (hey, benefits of being vegan – we can do stuff like that) and begged for the recipe. Over time, that soup evolved into this one as I worked on creating ways to incorporate more healing spices into my diet. This soup is spicy, indeed, so be sure to adjust to taste if you’re spice-adverse. In our house, we’re spice lovers, so I actually add several dashes of cayenne to the finished product for a spicy finish.

Indian-Spiced Cauliflower Soup:
Adapted from Food 52

Yield: 4-6 Servings

Note: you will need an immersion blender for this dish. If you do not have an immersion blender, you may try to blend small batches in a regular blender, but be very careful not to blend too much at a time using this method and try to let the soup cool first.

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, sliced

1 tsp minced fresh ginger

1 garlic clove, sliced

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 medium head cauliflower, chopped

5 cups water, divided

Spice Mix:

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

1 dash cayenne pepper, or to taste

Directions:

1. Add olive oil and onions to a large soup pot/Dutch Oven and saute over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Saute for about 10 minutes, or until browned and very soft. In the last couple minutes of cooking, add the garlic and ginger and saute with the onions.

2. Once onions have softened, add spice mixture and sea salt. Stir to coat. Add cauliflower and 1 cup water and mix well. Cover. Reduce heat to medium-low and stew cauliflower and onions for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is beginning to fall apart.

3. Add remaining 4 cups water. Stir. Increase to medium heat and heat until water just begins to simmer. Reduce heat and puree soup in an immersion blender until smooth. Heat on low for another five minutes, or until soup reaches desired consistency (it will thicken the longer it cooks. If the soup becomes too thick, you may add another 1/2 cup of water).

4. Serve soup as is, or with a drizzle of olive oil and cracked black pepper or sprinkle of cayenne pepper on top.

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My Favorite Kale Salad

new kale saladLet me tell you, nothing quite awakens your health and consciousness like going through a year of Lyme disease treatment. At least, that’s what it did to me. I could now scoff at what I once considered (and what many would still consider) a “healthy” breakfast of soy yogurt and granola. These days, going two days without a green smoothie for breakfast (a lapse I endured while traveling over the weekend) is a long time for me. And a dinner without kale salad to start is almost unheard of.

I won’t rehash the details of my last post (nearly a year ago!), which went into the health issues I’d been having leading up to my Lyme diagnosis. Nor will I go into quite as much detail about how my treatment has been since. But suffice it to say that a year-long course of antibiotics and Malaria fighting drugs for Lyme’s common co-infections can wreak havoc on one’s system — while also proving essential in the overall treatment of the disease.

As a result of this, I have taken a profound interest in how food can play a key role in healing and health. After all, at the time I was diagnosed, I strongly attributed my already gluten-free, vegan and refined sugar-free diet to my relatively high level of functioning given the number of tick-borne infections I had been carrying for several years. If these changes could have had an effect on my immunity, as my doctor also surmised, wouldn’t additional dietary changes prove even more beneficial?

In the last year, I’ve shifted a lot of my diet toward a cleaner way of eating. I have always considered my diet to be on the healthy end of the spectrum, but my research suggested that there was much more room for improvement. While I am not one to ever be extreme — I still enjoy gluten-free pasta, organic tofu and tortilla chips and salsa — I have moved away from processed foods significantly and begun adding more raw, green meals into my diet than ever before. I studied the principles of Kimberly Snyder’s The Beauty Detox Solution and adopted many into my own practices. I now eat raw fermented sauerkraut with many meals and kale salad before nearly every dinner, as I alluded to before. I also make it a practice to drink a detoxing green smoothie similar to this one almost every morning, sometimes adding lemon juice, parsley or romaine or substituting pears or strawberries.

While there is probably no way of measuring the exact impact my diet has had during the last year of treatment, I do know that what I eat makes a difference in how I feel overall. There is also a lot of research indicating that anti-inflammatory foods and detoxing is very important in overall healing, and I have made sure to incorporate these types of foods into my daily intake. Of course, I do have to supplement more than the average person, vegan or otherwise. Lyme tends to deplete vital nutrients and minerals, so even with a balanced and healthy vegan diet, I do supplement with high doses of magnesium, B12 and folate daily, among other vitamins and medications in my regimen (including lots of chlorella and lemon juice for detox).

Now that kale salad has become a staple of my diet, I certainly have discovered a few favorites, and this is on the top of that list. I rarely make this recipe the same way twice. In fact, the first time I actually measured any ingredients was when I was making the version for this post. I encourage you to play around with amounts and different ingredients, and to come up with your own favorite version of this salad.

Raw Kale Salad:

Yield: 2-4 servings

Note: this salad can keep in the refrigerator for about a day. It is best served fresh, but kale is quite sturdy and will stand up to dressing and refrigeration, even if the texture of the salad may change somewhat as it sits.

1 bunch lacinato or curly kale, thick stems removed and torn into small pieces

1/8 teaspoon sea salt (1 small pinch)

1 teaspoon olive oil

1/2 head raddichio, shredded (or 1/2 cup of shredded red cabbage)

1 scallion, finely chopped

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon raw cider vinegar (or other raw vinegar of choice)

3 tablespoons raw sauerkraut juice*

3 tablespoons nutritional yeast

dash of cayenne pepper to taste (optional)

Directions:

1. Make sure kale pieces are washed/rinsed and fairly dry. Add to salad bowl. Add sea salt and olive oil and massage well. I like to rub handfuls of kale between both palms to really break it down and soften it.

2. Once kale has been massaged, add raddichio and scallions. Add lemon juice, vinegar and sauerkraut juice and toss. Add nutritional yeast and cayenne pepper and toss until kale is well-coated. You may wish to add additional lemon juice/vinegar/sauerkraut juice/nutritional yeast or even salt to taste depending on saltiness of your sauerkraut. Once seasoning is adjusted, serve.

*This is my secret ingredient for this salad. It makes the flavors pop. You can buy raw sauerkraut usually in the refrigerated section of your health food store and in some supermarkets. I like to use a local brand from Michigan, but Bubbies raw sauerkraut is a good choice as well.

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