Cran-Apple Cornbread

Balance. I think it’s something we all strive for in our diets, though doing so can require constant work and attention. It’s not always easy to monitor our sugar intake while diversifying the color of our vegetables, or the types of protein we’re eating. After cutting animal products from my diet earlier this year, I’ve sometimes found myself over-doing it on the tofu, or eating too many grains. It’s not that a gluten-free, vegan diet is necessarily difficult for me, it’s just that it’s easy to fall victim to the allure of continuity and convenience. To me, being healthy means putting in the extra effort to diversify, to remain flexible. To be balanced. 

Perhaps more difficult to maintain than a healthy gluten-free, vegan diet has been my adherence to the Anti-Candida Diet. For those fortunate enough to not know about Candida overgrowth, you can read about it here. For those familiar with candida, its manifestations and its treatment, you know that treating an overgrowth can be a painstakingly long process requiring patience, perserverance, and even a little faith. One problem I’ve had with following the Anti-Candida Diet is that it’s so damn strict. No fruit (except lemon and lime). No grains. No sugar. No alcohol. No mushrooms. Nothing fermented. No caffeine. In addition to that, the diet can also be confusing. Depending on who you listen to, fruits are O.K. in moderation (wait, I though they weren’t?), whole grains are O.K., low glycemic sweeteners are O.K. sometimes. Are we following this?

Perhaps in part due to the confusion, in part due to sheer rebellion, I’ve been a less-than-stellar pupil of the Anti-Candida Diet. I’ve continued to drink coffee. I haven’t given up all fruits. I eat carbs. I drink wine on occassion. I spent a good year sweetening everything with agave (true, it’s preferable to sugar for these purposes, but it’s not necessarily ideal). While my diet has changed for the better since my blood results, it’s still far from perfect. Still, every time I try to commit 100% to the diet, I can’t help but think that by pressuring myself to be perfect, I’m sort of setting myself up for failure.

Balance. It’s the only way I think I can maintain a long-term adherence to this diet. I’m just trying to do the best I can. If I eat a carb-laden lunch, I’ll enjoy a light salad for dinner. If I eat something agave sweetened, I’ll limit my fruit intake for the day. And if I decide to make something with fruit these days, I try to make stevia my sweetener of choice (a good choice for anti-candida purposes). I’m taking this thing one day at a time, trying to make my health a priority (law school didn’t exactly make the latter very easy).

Trying to put my approach toward balance into practice, I developed this cornbread while craving something carby but not too sweet. It’s stevia-sweetened, speckled with lower glycemic green apples and fruit-sweetened dried cranberries. I found this combination unique and surprising, while the overall flavor was still reminiscent of a traditional cornbread. Best of all, it is easy, easy, easy to make this. One bowl. One skillet. No electric mixers. No gums or starches.

Any candida suffers out there want to share their successes, opinions or approach? I can only assume I’m not the only one who has struggled to be perfect, while falling short of that ideal.

Cran-Apple Cornbread:

1 1/4 cups Bob’s Red Mill Corn Flour (not cornmeal)

3/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill Brown Rice Flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoons sea salt

1/4 cup grapeseed oil

1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 1/2 cups light coconut milk (shaken)

2 droppers (about 1/2 teaspoon) NuNaturals Liquid Vanilla Stevia

1 cup green apple, peeled and diced

1/3 cup fruit-sweetened dried cranberry

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder and salt. Add oil, coconut milk, applesauce and stevia and whisk until smooth. Fold in apples and cranberries until evenly distributed through batter.

3. Pour batter into pre-greased 9″ skillet. Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes, or until cake is firm to the touch and golden brown on top. Let cool on a wire rack for 25-30 minutes before slicing.

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Gluten-Free, Vegan Eggplant Parmesan

My love affair with eggplant Parmesan began years ago, back when I was a precociously adventurous eater. Not that eggplant Parmesan is necessarily adventurous. But when you’re a kid and claim eggplant to be one of your favorite foods while others your age cite hot dogs and pizza, you tend to earn the title over time.  Telling someone that your all-time favorite food is “squid with black bean sauce” when you’re in kindergarten doesn’t hurt, either.

I still find this dish at the top of my list of comfort foods. It’s creamy and gooey and rich and cheesy — all recognizable comfort food attributes. It took some time to figure out a way to make this dish gluten-free and vegan, however. So when I came up with this recipe a few weeks back, I was so excited that I made it several times, even though it turned out just fine after the first attempt.

This is a relatively easy dish to pull-off, as it lends itself nicely to liberties and variations. I could imagine some shaved zucchini or roasted red pepper making an appearance in here. There’s also the possibility of using various types of pasta sauces. I would recommend, however, a relatively light pasta sauce here, as the almonds tend to let out some oil as this dish bakes. An oily pasta sauce would make this dish a bit on the heavy side. And while this recipe could comfortably feed four people, don’t hesitate to make this if you’re only feeding one or two — you’ll find the flavors even more developed the next day.

Gluten-Free, Vegan Eggplant Parmesan:

I would recommend a chunkier pasta sauce here. If you use a thinner sauce, try adjusting the amount used so the end product is not too runny. Most importantly, use a sauce you would eat alone on pasta, as the sauce really makes a difference in the dish.

15 eggplant slices, between 1/4″  and 1/3″ thick (from 1 medium eggplant)

2 tablespoons flax seed meal

1/2 cup water

1/3 cup Bob’s Red Mill Almond Flour

1/3 cup nutritional yeast flakes

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

3-4 teaspoons soy-free Earth Balance buttery spread, divided

1 cup jarred pasta sauce, divided

3/4 cup Daiya vegan mozzarella, divided

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a blender or immersion blender, add flax seed meal and water and blend until frothy. Pour mixture into a shallow dish.

3. In a separate shallow dish, mix together almond flour, nutritional yeast and salt. Individually dip eggplant slices into the flax-water mixture, turning to cover both sides. Transfer slices to the almond flour-nutritional yeast dish and press into the mixture, turning to coat both sides. Shake off any excess coating.

4. Heat 1 teaspoon buttery spread (or more as needed) over a non-stick skillet on medium-high until melted. Add eggplant slices — about 4 at a time — to the pan and fry on each side for 2-3 minutes, or until outsides are golden brown. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate. Repeat as necessary with remaining slices.

5. Layer a 1-qt. baking dish or 9″ cast iron skillet with 5 eggplant slices. Top slices with 1/3 cup sauce, then 1/4 cup cheese. Repeat 2x. Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until pasta sauce is bubbly and eggplant is soft.

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Falafel

First things first. Mom.  I know no one else who gives more of herself and asks so little in return, is able to laugh at the small things, and care deeply about the big things. The only reason I was able to turn my food allergy “lemons” into delectably free lemonade was because I had you to look up to, never complaining. Plus, without you, Gennaro and I would be eloping for lack of any idea how to plan our wedding. And you know it. I love you. Happy Mother’s Day.

Ok…on to the falafel. Not even my Trust and Estates exam could stop me from attempting to fulfill this craving by hand. The restaurant stuff, good as it may be, tends to make me sick from time to time. Given said exam, I didn’t want to risk it. But, because of my exam, this post is going to be short and sweet. It’s 2:30 a.m. and I have a long day of studying ahead of me tomorrow (today! eek).

Makes about 8-10 falafels (can double the recipe if needed)

Falafel:
Adapted from Susan O’brien’s recipe in Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Cooking

1 15-oz. can chickpeas, drained

2 gloves garlic

1 shallot or 1/2 small onion

3 tablespoons sesame tahini

1/4 cup cilantro, roughly chopped

1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

1/4 cup quinoa flour, plus more if needed

1 tsp sea salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for frying

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375.

2. In a food processor, combine all of the ingredients except for the olive oil reserved for frying. Process until smooth and there are no large pieces remaining. Using hands, take golf-ball (or ping-pong) sized pieces and roll with hands. If mixture is too dry you may add a bit more oil; if it seems a bit wet, you may add a bit more (about a tablespoon) quinoa flour. Slightly flatten between palms. Set aside.

3. In a non-stick skillet (if not non-stick, may need a bit more oil — about 1/4 inch), heat a few tablespoons of olive oil (or enough to just cover bottom of pan) over high heat for a few minutes. Add falafels and cook until just slightly browned, about 1-2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towel.

4. Arrange falafel on a baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 7-10 minutes, turn, and bake for another 5-10 minutes, or until both sides are browned (as pictured — may vary depending on oven temp. and falafel size).

You can serve this falafel however you like. I enjoyed it as pictured, over romaine and topped with tahini dressing. For a quick dressing, combine equal parts tahini, lemon juice and water. Add 2 cloves of grated raw garlic, a pinch of salt, and a few dashes of hot sauce. Shake in a jar, whisk or blend. Add in more tahini as needed until you reach desired thickness.

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Crispy Roasted Chickpeas over Quinoa

This recipe was a bit of an accident, as I had not planned on making anything to post tonight, but was looking, rather, to make a quick dinner out of a few pantry items. I had chickpeas on hand for making Happy Herbivore’s chickpea tacos, which I tried last week and was craving again. But not feeling like dirtying up any dishes to make guacamole (which is a must with tacos in my book), I thought I’d just whip up some quinoa and throw the crispy, roasted chickpeas over that. If you’re looking for a quick and inexpensive gluten-free, vegan recipe, be sure to give this one a try (or try out Happy Herbivore’s tacos).

Tonight I also discovered a new way to prepare quinoa. That discovery happened by accident as well. Actually, it was also the result of my not wanting to dirty any additional dishes (see, laziness can pay off sometimes), so instead of cooking the quinoa in a separate saucepan before transferring it to another pan to saute, I simply sauteed a cup of rinsed quinoa on high in equal parts olive and sesame oil (about a teaspoon each, plus more as needed) until it was no longer wet in a large saute pan. Then I added a cup and a half of water, covered, and cooked until the water was absorbed (about 5 minutes). Then I grated in a large clove of garlic and added a drizzle of wheat-free tamari (I’d guess anywhere from a few teaspoons to a tablespoon). I sauteed until the quinoa was dry and crispy. Then I added a handful of baby spinach, stirred, and removed from the heat. The quinoa was crisp and light and flavorful. With the addition of crispy chickpeas, it was almost the perfect dish (and almost — just almost – as good as Charlie’s stir-fried quinoa creation).

Below is my version of the roasted chickpeas inspired by the recipe from Happy Herbivore, which is a new favorite site thanks to Twitter, which I recently joined and not sure what I did without. I used to think Twitter was the reincarnation of 8th grade AIM updates about one’s daily routine. Going to the store. Eating dinner now. So excited it’s Friday. Well, it’s that in part, but so much more. I’ve discovered so many great new food bloggers just through twittering, and it’s a great resource for a constant stream of information updates. I must admit, that after much reluctance, I’m now hooked.

Crispy Roasted Chickpeas:

1 14-oz. can chickpeas, drained, rinsed and patted dry

2 teaspoons wheat-free tamari

1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon coriander

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 425.

2. Whisk together all ingredients except chickpeas in a medium-sized bowl. Add chickpeas and toss until coated. Turn out onto a flat baking sheet and bake in preheated oven until browned and slightly crisp, about 25-30 minutes, tossing once halfway through.

3. Serve chickpeas over quinoa (see above), rice or inside a crispy corn tortilla with lettuce and guacamole. Or simply let cool and eat as a snack.Yum!

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Black Bean Brownies

I’ve been working on perfecting a recipe for black bean brownies for about a week now. At first, I wasn’t even going to create a recipe, as Ricki Heller’s looked so good that I was just planning on making hers (sometimes I just want someone to take the guess work out of it for me, ok?). But when I went to make them, I realized that the recipe called for Baker’s chocolate, and all I had was cocoa powder. So I tried to see if I could compensate by changing around some other ingredients in the recipe. The first round of tweaking didn’t go so well (my fault, and nothing to do with the original recipe, as I had NO idea how to go about substituting cocoa powder for solid chocolate) but I saw potential. At that point I wanted to try and get it right, so I had to put Ricki’s recipe off for another day, and I tried again. A little closer that time, but just a little “wet.” The next time a bit dry. Then just right. The one problem was that they didn’t really seem to me like brownies. Gennaro certainly didn’t recognize them as brownies when he texted me one night (I was at class): “I really like those chocolate bar things in the fridge.” Whether or not they’re brownies or “chocolate bar things,” he liked them, which was a good sign.

This month, I am honored to be a part of 30 Days to a Food Revolution, a blogging event organized by Diane over at The W.H.O.L.E. Gang, which was inspired by Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. Now, Jamie Oliver has received some backlash for his show (in addition to the loads of support), which has struck me as a bit odd. I understand that it’s a network show and that cynicism is inevitable when the guy starting the revolution is rich, famous and good-looking. But with diabetes and heart disease on the rise and obesity a growing problem (and increasingly among our younger generations), I wonder why there is such resistance to making some changes.

At the same time, I understand that food, like religion and politics, is personal. People don’t want to be told what to eat or what they shouldn’t be eating. I get this. I also get that people have come to view eating healthfully as somewhat of an elitist thing. As a law student (soon to be graduated law student looking for a job as a lawyer…in a bad economy) I’m well aware of the painfully high prices of organic foods, fresh produce, and specialty ingredients. But I also think that the assumption that a “food revolution” necessitates  an all-organic Whole Foods-esque lifestyle somewhat misses the point. From what I gather, Jamie Oliver’s goal is to reconnect people with what they are putting in their bodies. And it’s nearly impossible to connect with something when it’s passed to you through the window at a drive-through, or thrown into the microwave for a few minutes before it’s hurriedly eaten in your car.

My great-grandmother worked in the Detroit auto factories for most of her life. She wasn’t rich by any means. But she cooked real food. Whole foods. Cucumbers and tomatoes from her garden. Chicken paprikash and noodles and cabbage and goulash and fresh crepes. Some of my greatest childhood memories were at her house, and they revolved around her food. I’m not advocating that we all morph into Alice Waters overnight here. I’m just saying: home-cooked meals and family dinners and fresh dinners don’t have to be — and shouldn’t be — a privilege. My great-grandmother could tell you that. That’s why I think it’s great that Diane is trying to make healthy, whole food recipes accessbile for those who are interested in making a change, but don’t know where to start. Today’s my guest post, and I did my best to contribute a recipe that could be made from scratch, but was still healthy and cheap.

But there is one thing that I AM going to force on all of you. Today also happens to be Oprah’s “No Phone Zone” day, which means to make your car a no phone zone: DON’T TEXT AND DRIVE. It’s stupid. Really. If you agree, you should sign the pledge. Anyone who knows me well knows that I cry at the drop of the hat. Literally, you could probably drop your hat and I might cry about it. But all kidding aside, I REALLY don’t want to have to cry over any more Oprah episodes about people who’ve lost their lives because of texting and driving. THANK YOU.

Ok, back to the fun stuff: the brownies. You have to let these cool substantially before cutting into them. Better yet, cool them in the refrigerator a bit. Considering these brownies are grain-free, vegan, high in fiber, very low in sugar and a fairly decent source of protein and good fats, they’re also pretty darn good. But like I said, they’re not your typical brownie. A bit fudgey and gooey on the inside, but not very sweet, these treats are best referred to as “healthy brownie bars” so as not to confuse anyone looking for a classic brownie here. But for those looking for a much healthier option, these are a great alternative to the classic.

Brownie Bars:
Inspired by a recipe from Diet, Dessert and Dogs

1 15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup canned pumpkin puree

1/2 cup coconut oil (liquified first)

1/4 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk

1/4 cup brewed coffee

1/2 cup flax seed meal

1 teaspoon vanilla stevia*

2 tablespoons agave nectar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder**

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup unsweetened carob powder

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a blender, on high speed, blend all ingredients except cocoa powder and carob. You may need to coax the mixture a bit with a spoon, but it will eventually get to a smooth consistency, which is where you want it. Pour mixture into a large mixing bowl and fold in cocoa powder and carob powder until incorporated.

3. Pour batter into a pre-greased 9×9 inch baking dish or brownie pan. Spread with a spatula or spoon to smooth. Bake in preheated oven for about 40 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. I would suggest waiting at least a few hours for brownies to cool before slicing and, better yet, letting chill in the refrigerator first.

* I used NuNaturals

** traditional baking powder is not technically grain-free, but for a grain-free baking powder recipe, check out Kelly’s over at the Spunky Coconut.

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Zucchini Pasta

Unless you have the knife skills of a Top Chef Master, you will probably have to get a vegetable spiralizer for this recipe. I got the idea to do zucchini “noodles” from Lexie’s Kitchen, one of my favoite blogs. Of course, this meant adding yet another contraption to our jam-packed tiny kitchen, but it was worth it. I did make sure to get the smallest spiralizer I could find, even though it happened to be the most expensive (ugh). I have to say, though, that so far it’s been worth the purchase, as I’ve made this zucchini pasta every day for a week, in different variations. I’d say something like this is essential for raw, grain-free, and low carb diets.  

I have to confess, I’m not a huge zucchini lover. There’s something about its sliminess when it’s overcooked or its starchiness when it’s slightly under or raw. So I wasn’t expecting to actually enjoy raw zucchini pasta, but I figured it was something I could force down every once in awhile when I was craving pasta. You know, for the sake of my health. And my waistline. And my anti-candida diet maintenance — something I haven’t always been diligent about, though I know I should be. But I was pleasantly surprised — shocked, really — to actually enjoy zucchini this way. Which is nice, since zucchini is rich in potassium, which can lower blood pressure and decrease anxiety. You probably won’t fool yourself into thinking it’s actually pasta, but I have to admit, I came close. At the very least, I fooled myself into thinking that my zucchini wasn’t zucchini. The “parmesan cheese” might have helped.

Which brings me to another topic: vegan parmesan cheese. I have a confession. I use it now (this is a recent development in my life). I actually, um, kind of like it. Foodies everywhere should have me blacklisted from the club. At any rate, I’ll own it. If you don’t have a problem with yeast, I’ve heard great things about parma!, which is soy-free and kosher. Since I’m starting to feel like nutritional yeast doesn’t always agree with me, I’ve been using Galaxy vegan topping, which I broke down and bought after three years of doing that thing where I picked it up and put it back on the shelf, not ready to commit to it yet. Of course, if you’re not dairy-free or vegan, you could always go ahead and buy regular parmesan cheese.

Zucchini Pasta Toss:

3 zucchini, stems topped off, put through a spiralizer (I used the medium-sized spiral blade)

1/3 cup kalamata olives, drained and patted dry, halved

1/3 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained, patted dry and julienned (if tomatoes are not packed in oil, you can julienne regular sun-dried tomatoes and add some oil to the final dish — about a teaspoon, maybe)

3/4 cup fresh vine tomatoes, chopped, or quartered grape tomatoes

1/4 cup parmesan or parmesan substitute

1/3 cup flat-leaf parsely, finely chopped

salt to taste

Directions:

Toss all ingredients in a bowl. Add salt to taste and maybe a little extra drizzle of oil if needed.

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Carob Muffins

Since starting this blog, I’ve tried to make an effort to provide something for everyone. I think I’ve said this before, but I don’t think food allergies/sensitivities come in a vacuum. I’ve tried to make a point to provide some soy-free recipes here, some nut-free recipes, some grain-free, corn-free….you get the point. I like to diversify my flours, in case some people can’t tolerate a certain type. Believe me, I know as much as anyone that food intolerances can go beyond the typical and verge on the obscure. I’m allergic to pineapple, for example. Everytime I see a good recipe calling for pineapple, my heart sinks a bit.

But one area where I think I could improve on in the diversification department would be sugar substitutes. I know I’ve used Truvia on here occassionally, but for the most part I’ve been an agave monogomist — rarely straying from this recently controversial sweetener. While I’ll leave the agave bashing (or myth debunking) to the experts, I will say that too much of a good (or bad) thing is probably never good. And too much of one sweetener can’t be good, either.

So, I’ve been doing some experimenting. In my recent transfer to a (more) vegan diet, I’ve sort of eliminated the possibility of raw honey — or honey — as a sweetener. Even if vegans seem to differ on whether honey is acceptable, I’d rather not alienate anyone on a strict vegan diet. It’s also perhaps a bit higher on the glycemic index than I’d prefer, as is maple syrup. Xylitol scares me. I have a dog that eats anything and everything he can get his hands on, and while I make things with chocolate, from what I’ve heard, xylitol can be a lot worse. That leaves a few options, but the most popular, natural alternative would probably be stevia. While I mentioned that I’ve been using Truvia for a few recipes here and there, 1) I found out that bee pollen is used in the processing of erythtritol, which is used in Truvia, which makes it technically not vegan, 2) there is currently no bulk Truvia baking product, which can make things tricky sometimes, and 3) like I said, I like to diversify. So, back to stevia. It’s pretty popular these days. I’ve even received a few requests for some recipes using liquid stevia. But the truth is, my tastebuds, in general, have been rather intolerant of the stuff, so I’ve usually given up on it after a few baking attempts. But after my mom sent me a recent (I’m not sure entirely unbiased or accurate — but still pretty powerful) article about some of the “dangers” of agave nectar, I thought it couldn’t hurt to revisit liquid stevia.

A few of my favorite bloggers provided some inspiration here. These apple pumpkin crumble bars from the blog Diet, Dessert and Dogs look absolutely amazing (just be sure to look for certified gluten-free oats in the recipe — and to make sure you can tolerate oats in the first place!), as do these egg-free, grain-free brownies from Kelly over at The Spunky Coconut.

For my inaugural post utilizing liquid stevia, I went with carob muffins. These not-too-sweet muffins are simple, one-bowl operation. Like I said, they are not too sweet, so you may add in a few extra drops of stevia or a few tablespoons of your favorite liquid sweetener here. Or, alternately, you might try really ripe mashed bananas in place of the applesauce. I was going for a not-so-high-sugar fruit as bananas here, but if you want to use bananas I’ve tried carob muffins with banana before and think it’s the perfect combination.

Yield: 9 muffins

Stevia-Sweetned Carob Muffins:

1/2 cup sorghum flour

1/2 cup potato starch

1/4 cup flax seed meal

1/4 cup unsweetened carob powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

3/4 cup applesauce or mashed, ripe banana

2/3 cup almond milk or other dairy-free milk

1/4 cup grapeseed oil

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon + 3 drops liquid stevia, or more to taste

chopped, raw pecans for sprinkling

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together sorghum flour, potato starch, flax, carob, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.

3. In a smaller mixing bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Whisk wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix together until incorporated.

4. Drop batter by heaping 1/4 cups into a pre-greased muffin tin. Sprinkle tops with a few pecan pieces. Bake in preheated oven for about 25 minutes, or until tops bounce back when pressed down upon. Let cool in tin for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Quinoa, Part II

quinoa risottoQuinoa week continues here with a risotto recipe from my friend Liz. Now, I was initially a little nervous about making this recipe, as Liz’s specific request was not only that I try it but that I improve on the one she’s been making. This was daunting because Liz comes from a large Italian family that knows how to cook. She used to come back to college (I lived no more than a hallway-down from her for 4 years of college, from the dorms to our very “college” off-campus housing) from weekends at home with tuperware containers-full of homemade Italian food, so I know this first-hand. I know this because I’ve been schooled by Liz (many years ago, so perhaps she doesn’t remember) on the proper pronunciation of gnocci. I also trust Liz’s palate because she introduced me to one of my favorite restaurants here in the city, Cafe Habana. So it’s one thing to try and improve on the recipe of an amateur, and quite another to improve on risotto for an Italian girl that has good cooks in the family and a great palate. Talk about pressure!

I tried my best. I think my new motto is: when in doubt, do what Ina (Garten — do we really need a last name here, though?) would do. Actually, that might have always been my motto. No, I didn’t add butter. I added lemon zest, which Ina claims to be the secret ingredient in her risotto. I also tried something I’ve never tried before: fake parmesan cheese. Sorry, Liz! I’m not sure your family would disown you if you ever bought such a thing, so I’ll give you a pass and let you use the real stuff here if you wish. But for the rest of you vegans, dairy-free or just plain adventurous folk, I’m somewhat relieved to report that it wasn’t half bad! Actually, I sort of shamefully enjoyed it. This might render me completely blacklisted from the foodie world, but I’m gonna own it anyways. Vegan parmesan is not as scary as you might think. Parma is a tasty option with only three ingredients: walnuts, nutritional yeast and celtic sea salt. I learned about that one from another one of my Vegan at Heart missions (well, with food tips nearly daily, it’s really hard not to learn a thing or two that I can pass on to all of you).

I also used wine in this recipe, which, in my opinion, is a bit obligatory in the risotto department. Wine is one of those things I innocently assumed was just grapes + a little fermentation + a bottle = wine. Like many things in life, it’s actually a bit more complicated than that. For example, yeast is used in the fermentation process. Sometimes animal products are used as well. Add barrels that might be made of oak and sealed with wheat paste. Luckily, a simple Google search informed me that most of the strains of yeast are killed off by the time wine gets to your glass — or in your risotto. I don’t know what this means if you’re sensitive to brewer’s yeast (which I am), but I find that I can tolerate wine and not beer (even the wheat-free kind, so it’s not the wheat), so I’d suggest  you let your body or your doctor be your guide on that one. I have no idea whether nutritional yeast falls under the brewer’s yeast sensitivity, either, and no Google search seems to turn up a definitive answer, unfortunately. I think I’ll stick to the “let your body be your guide” test for that, as imprecise as that test can sometimes be (i.e. I don’t necessarily recommend it for everyone. This might be where the “I am not a doctor” disclaimer might come in handy. I’m not; I was an English major in college who barely scraped by in biology). A Google search did turn up this list of vegan wine and this one for gluten-free wines.

Oh, and I lied. I said I was going to make this with asparagus, but I saw baby arugula at the market and tried that instead. I loved it, so baby arugula it is.

Serves: 2 if you live with my fiance; 3-4, I’m guessing, in any other home

Quinoa Risotto:

1 1/2 cups uncooked quinoa, well rinsed and drained

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 yellow onion, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup dry white wine

3 cups vegetable broth

3 shiitake mushrooms, sliced

zest of one lemon

1/3 cup Italian flat-leaf parsley, minced

2 tablespoons parmesan substitute or nutritional yeast

2 teaspoons wheat-free tamari or 1 teaspoon Bragg’s liquid aminos

1 cup baby arugula

Directions:

1. In a small saucepan, bring vegetable broth to a simmer over medium heat.

2. In a large pan or Dutch Oven, saute onion and garlic in oil over medium-high until soft and transluscent, about 3 minutes. Add in quinoa and stir to coat with oil. Add wine and simmer until mostly absorbed, stirring occassionally.

3. In 1/2 cup increments, add warm vegetable broth to quinoa and simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed, stirring occassionally. Repeat. After you have added 2 cups of broth, stir in shiitakes. After you have added 2 1/2 cups of broth, remove quinoa from heat and stir in remaining ingredients, including the last 1/2 cup of broth. Quinoa will absorb some of the liquid still, so stir and let absorb until desired consistency is reached. Taste for flavor and add a few more drops tamari, liquid aminos or a bit more parmesan substitute if desired.

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Quinoa, Part I

Last week, my good friend Liz (and by good friend, I mean she’s standing up in my wedding) asked me to improve on a quinoa risotto recipe that she had at a restaurant and has been trying to recreate at home. The recipe sounded intriguing; quinoa given the risotto treatment. A very cool idea, indeed. So I bought quinoa in bulk — large, Costo-esque packages. I made the risotto last week. Then I made it again on Sunday. And I’m going to make it one more time before posting it, next time perhaps with asparagus, since I’ve been thinking that would be a nice touch for spring.

Then Charlie, a good family friend (and by good family friend, I mean he and his wife are singing in my wedding) shared with me his “fried quinoa” creation — a quinoa dish that’s essentially given the fried rice treatment. He uses red quinoa, which I imagine would work quite nicely here, and adds it cooked to fried chickpeas and mushrooms until it’s crisped up a bit. So when I came home from class last night tired, hungry and lacking in the fresh produce department, I grabbed the quinoa I had left over from my risotto, a can of chickpeas, some mushrooms from the fridge, and some fresh basil I happened to have on hand for a pasta dish I knew wasn’t going to happen. Within minutes — maybe 15 or so — I had a delicious dinner. Charlie, you came through big for me with this one. I hope I did your dish justice here.

Then there was yesterday’s Vegan at Heart mission: to read about quinoa (see, these missions are really painlessly easy). The final send-off? “Impress someone with your knowledge of quinoa this week.” Well, I don’t know if I’m going to impress you folks with my knowledge this week, though I’m thinking I might have a chance at impressing you with Liz and Charlie’s quite impressive quinoa dishes.

Has the universe been telling me to post some quinoa recipes, or what?

This one’s simple and easy, but thouroughly delicious. Try red quinoa, as Charlie uses, a variety of mushrooms, or other vegetables. I used basil, since I had it on hand, but I imagine other herbs and spices might be just as nice — or you could use none at all. I have a feeling this is one of those dishes that could be great with a million and one variations.

Tip: cook quinoa in vegetable broth instead of water.

Fried Quinoa:

1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed and cooked according to package directions

1 can chickpeas, drained, rinsed and patted dry

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 teaspoon cumin

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

3 shiitake mushrooms, sliced thin

1 bunch fresh basil, sliced into thin ribbons

Salt to taste

Directions:

1. Toss chickpeas with olive oil and cumin and add to a hot skillet or stir-fry pan. Toss for a few minutes (2-3) over high heat, or until browned on the outside. Add mushrooms and garlic and cook until most of the oil is absorbed and mushrooms are slightly soft.

2. Add cooked quinoa and toss with the other ingredients until quinoa is dry and begins to get crisp as it comes off the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat and toss in fresh basil, plus enough salt to taste (I used about 1/4 teaspoon).

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Asparagus Pesto

Apparently, it’s spring, though you wouldn’t know it from the 90 degree heat these past few days. I don’t know if this heat wave is a nationwide thing, but here in New York, it’s sweltering. It’s sweaty. And uncomfortable. So it’s a bit disorienting to go to the market and see asparagus, not tomatoes or zucchini at the stands. But it is still spring, and this is one very spring-inspired dish.

This pesto is so creamy and rich, but so good. You can use it as a pasta sauce, or as a spread or dip. I was inspired by Mark Bittman’s Asparagus Pesto Recipe, and this is a vegan take on his recipe. I like to toss it with 1 part gluten-free pasta and 1 part zucchini noodles.

Asparagus Pesto:

1 bunch asparagus, sauteed for ~10 minutes, chopped

1/4 cup toasted almonds

1/4 cup nutritional yeast

2-3 tablespoons good olive oil

juice of 1 lemon

1/4 teaspoon lemon zest

salt to taste

Directions:

Puree in a food processor until creamy and smooth. Add olive oil to reach desired consistency and salt to taste.

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