Coffee cake that is incredibly . . .

Delicious. Moist. Oil-free. Vegan. Easy. Ridiculously good.

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I don’t know where to begin.

The original creation of this vegan and aquafabulous coffee cake was completely inspired by the “Vegan Meringue – Hits and Misses” aquafaba group on Facebook. I’m using a modified vanilla cupcake recipe from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s book Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World and the oil-free streusel topping recipe that Linda Julien shared with us on Facebook (she’s part of the “Vegan Meringue…” group) from when she made her coffee cake.

This cake was so good that quickly I gave up cutting nice and pretty squares to serve on a plate and instead began eating directly out of the pan with a spoon. Brought some to work and our team loved it! They kept saying it tasted “impossibly sinful” and completely polished off the pan.

**Note for those outside of the USA: Coffee cake has no coffee in it. It’s named thus because it’s supposed to be eaten while drinking coffee. (Of course, you can easily enjoy it without coffee, too!)

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Coffee Cake, vegan and “aquafabulated”

Makes one 8″ x 8″ (or other equal square footage) sheet cake or 12 cupcakes

INGREDIENTS:

Streusel topping:

  • 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) chopped pecans, optional

Vanilla cake:

  • 1 cup plant milk
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons aquafaba (aka canned bean juice, usually from chickpeas)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract (or more vanilla)
  • 1/3 cup canola oil (can substitute completely with unsweetened applesauce for an oil-free recipe)
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (haven’t tried with more “wheat-y” flour but I bet it’ll work)
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Mix streusel topping and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 deg F and lightly spray pan with non-stick spray.

Add the plant milk and vinegar together in a measuring cup (I usually use a single 2-cup Pyrex cup), stir and let curdle for a few minutes. Add the vanilla and almond extracts to the milk mixture. Add the oil/applesauce to the milk mixture (careful, the 2-cup Pyrex will be full!).

In a medium-sized bowl, sift in the following: flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and granulated sugar. Whisk dry ingredients to combine. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the wet ingredients. Mix with a fork till well combined but don’t overmix; use a spatula to scrape the bottom of the bowl to make sure all the dry ingredients are incorporated.

Pour half the batter into the prepared pan and top with half of the streusel topping. Cover with the remaining batter and top with the remaining streusel topping.

Bake for approximately 25-35 minutes until the cake tests done with a toothpick (or skewer, or fork, or…). Remove from oven and, if you have the patience, let cool on counter/cooling rack for at least 5-10 minutes.

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Parmesan cheese, vegan.

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It’s just too easy. It surprisingly tastes like parmesan cheese. It sadly doesn’t melt, but it can be used as a topping and it also browns nicely when used under a broiler.

There are two versions I use. The first by Minimalist Baker uses cashews as the primary nut but you can easily replace some or all of it with toasted sesame seeds. The second one is from Oh She Glows and it looks “prettier” because of the hemp seeds. I’ve made slight adaptions in the latter recipe for doubling it and not using olive oil.

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Vegan Parmesan Cheese

Each version makes about 1 cup, from Dana of Minimalist Baker and Angela Liddon of Oh She Glows

Version 1 – INGREDIENTS:
  • 3/4 cup raw cashews (OR toasted sesame seeds)
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt, to taste
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon garlic powder, to taste

Version 2 – INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 cup raw cashews
  • 2 tablespoons raw OR toasted sesame seeds
  • 4 tablespoons hulled hemp seeds
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, to taste
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon garlic powder, to taste

If using cashews, put them in a food processor and process until finely chopped. Now add in the rest of the ingredients and pulse until the mixture is combined. Add more or less salt and garlic powder to taste.

Place it in an air tight container and store in the fridge. (I’ve found that ours keeps for months on end.)

Recipe Notes:

  • If you haven’t gathered this already, the cashews and sesame seeds are easily interchangeable. I wouldn’t replace everything with the hulled hemp seeds (besides, they’re spendy!) but you can use whatever ratios of the cashews and sesame seeds if you want to experiment.
  • What can you use vegan parmesan for?  On pizza, on pasta, a bread topping, put it in meat-less-balls, in salad.  Use your imagination!

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Oven roasted tomato sauce

This is what roughly 12 pounds (I’m guessing) of various kinds of garden grown tomatoes look like:

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(I have a little kitchen scale but obviously it couldn’t weight all this at once!)

Our garden has finally exploded with tomatoes! (By the way, I used to dislike tomatoes…until I actually had a home grown tomato. I’d been totally missing out all those years!) We knew couldn’t eat all of them fresh before they would spoil, so naturally I turned to the internet for inspiration.

Canned tomatoes? No, too much time. Roasted canned tomatoes. Well… Oh–! How about roasted tomato sauce that you can freeze or can?

YES.

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I didn’t manage to get any pictures of the prep work or what it looked like while in the oven or after, but I’ve come up with a fairly straightforward adaptation of this recipe that’s been slightly modified for working with a bunch of tomatoes and with minimal to no added oil.

The original recipe calls for ONLY 2 pounds of tomatoes. Meanwhile, remember, I had about 12 pounds. (TWELVE!) So I had to adapt the recipe to deal with unknowing flavors and liquid amounts.  No worries, though, it’s now applicable to whatever amounts of tomatoes you have!

Before we get on with it, let me be clear here: homemade tomato sauce using garden-fresh tomatoes beats any store-bought canned version by a bazillion miles!

Now that that’s out of my system…

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Roasted Tomato Sauce

Makes roughly 2/3rd quart of sauce

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 pounds large tomatoes (approximately 4 very large tomatoes)
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, skinned and whole
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian herb seasoning
  • Olive oil spray (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 400 deg F. Clean tomatoes, slice in half, and lay face-up on parchment lined roasting pans (metal or glass, I used both). Tuck the garlic cloves in around the tomatoes. Lightly spray the tomatoes with olive oil then evenly sprinkle the herbs all over.

Roast for about 30-40 minutes. (For 12 pounds of tomatoes, I stuffed the oven with multiple pans and roasted everything for about 1.5 hours while rotating the pans every 30 minutes.) There may be a lot of liquid in the bottom of the pans but that’s okay, you’ll pour it off later.

When the tomatoes have appeared to have broken down and shriveled some, remove pans from the open. Using tongs, carefully transfer the tomatoes and garlic that had been topped with herbs into a blender and whizz them up into the consistency you prefer (i.e. chunky versus super smooth). When done, pour the tomatoes into a sauce pan or pot. (You can dump the extra liquid in the roasting pans.)

Add the sugar, salt, and pepper to the sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer, taste test, and add more seasoning as needed. If you like the consistency, then you’re all done! Otherwise, you can let it further simmer another 5-15 minutes to let it reduce and reach a consistency you want. (It took about 30 minutes for my super large batch to get where I wanted it to be.)

Use right away as marinara on pasta, pizza sauce, as a dip for breadsticks, or in whatever manner you can dream up.

Recipe Notes:

  • You can use ANY kind of tomato, it truly does not matter. Although, sure, clean off the stems and any weird looking parts, but don’t even worry about skinning them or removing the seeds. (I’m all for less prep work.) This is all going into a blender so it’s okay!
  • I used a bunch of different seasonings for my huge batch. Since I was making 12 pounds (versus the original recipe of only 2 lbs), I used a total of 6 teaspoons of various Italian-like seasonings: sweet basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and even an ambiguous Italian blend. Use whatever you have! It’ll taste perfectly fine.
  • When adding the sugar, salt, and pepper to the sauce, I also threw in some crushed red pepper. If you like a little heat, this is a fantastic addition at this step or even earlier (i.e. when you put the tomatoes into the blender, or even before roasting).
  • I have some white wine I keep on hand for cooking and decided to throw a few glugs into my very large pot filled with almost 4 quarts of sauce. The alcohol is burned off when reducing the sauce but an added dimension to the flavor remains.
  • My roughly 12 pounds of tomatoes ended up being almost 4 quarts of sauce. I filled two jars and put them in the fridge to be used in the next week or two. As for the other two quarts, I put them in separate gallon Ziploc bags and froze them flat on a baking sheet for easy freezer storage.

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Want pizza with homemade dough in 40 minutes? Done.

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I’m not even kidding. This is the quickest and easiest pizza dough recipe I’ve ever made: hardly any waiting, no proofing, none of this you-must-plan-hours-in-advance business. It takes about 20 minutes or less for the dough to be ready for the oven!  You don’t even need a fancy mixer to knead this but you can use one if you want. (Though you’ll only use it for a few minutes at most!)

There is some aquafaba involved and you can leave it out altogether if you want the usual pizza crust result. On the other hand, use it if you want guaranteed light and fluffy dough!

I made my own tomato sauce a couple of weeks ago since we have an overloaded garden. THE BEST SAUCE EVER. But you can be lazy and use any ol’ marinara sauce or plain tomato sauce that you’ve spiced up with some herbs.

While I approve of the flavor and texture of Daiya vegan cheese, it’s spendy and not convenient here. We’re happy to eat cheese-less pizza (surprisingly, you really don’t miss it) but I usually have a homemade stash of vegan parmesan in the fridge and use it when we’re feeling like free spirits. You can make a really basic version by following the recipe here from Minimalist Baker (cashews are the primary nut used, though you can sub this with toasted sesame seeds) or you can use a slightly fancied up version by following the recipe here from Oh She Glows (scroll down to see it; this one uses cashews, toasted sesame seeds, and hemp seeds). I usually double the latter recipe to make as much as the former.

As for toppings, choose what you wish! Most recently, I’ve used some combo of the following: chickpeas, olives, mushrooms, crookneck squash, kale, onions, fresh green onions on top.

Okay, let’s get right to it.

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Quick and Easy Pizza Crust

Makes one crust, adapted from Chef Rider’s recipe on allrecipes.com

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 package or 2 1/4 teaspoons of active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 teaspoon salt (see notes for more flavor additions)
  • 3 to 6 tablespoons of aquafaba (i.e. canned bean liquid, liquid from chickpeas are typically used most as aquafaba but just about any bean liquid will do)
  • 1 rough tablespoon of olive oil
  • 2 1/2 to 3 cups bread flour (can use all-purpose [AP] flour, haven’t tried whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour yet)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat open to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C). In a medium bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water. Let stand until frothy (or bubbly or creamy, your choice of descriptive words), about 10 minutes.

Stir in salt, aquafaba, olive oil, and flour until it’s a shaggy-looking kneaded mess. (I’d recommend using a wooden spoon.) Let rest for 5 minutes.

If the dough is still too sticky and hard to handle by hand after the resting period, add more flour 1 tablespoon at a time and lightly knead until it’s easy enough to work with. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat or roll into a round (roughly a 12″ pizza). Gently transfer your dough onto a pizza pan lightly dusted with cornmeal (see notes). Bake in pre-heated oven for 5 minutes.

Remove dough from oven, spread with desired toppings, and bake again for 15-20 minutes (I have an oven thermometer and have been happy with 15 minutes) or until the crust is starting to turn golden brown. Let pizza cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Recipe Notes:

  • You can make personal mini pizza servings if you want! This recipe is easy to double, too.
  • Sometimes, I’ve thrown in 1/2 to 1 teaspoon each of dried sweet basil, dried oregano, and garlic powder into the dough for more flavor. You can add whatever Italian-like seasoning that you want. The dough is plain without any additions but the it’s still wonderfully soft and irresistible when you use AF.
  • I’ve only used granulated sugar. Yes, I know some (not all) granulated sugar is sometimes processed with animal bone char but I personally don’t let this keep me up at night. If this isn’t for you, I’m thinking you can totally get away with a different form of sugar: maple syrup, agave nectar, etc. (Why not?)
  • Warm water: you don’t want it too cold, you don’t want it too hot.  Too cold means the yeast doesn’t activate, too hot means you might kill the yeast. I usually run our faucet until the water is definitely warm but not yet uncomfortable to the touch. (No wasting water here, I fill our electric kettle at the same time.)
  • The first time, I used 6 tablespoons of aquafaba (AF) to the originally listed flour amount of 2 1/2 cups – I had to add a lot more flour (didn’t measure it) to make the dough easier to handle (it was so sticky and loose).  Hence I’m suggesting a range of 3 to 6 tablespoons of AF and the flour amount is now a range of 2 1/2 to 3 cups.
  • The original recipe called for 2 tablespoons of olive oil. I try to use little to no added oil when possible. Thus said, I quickly pour a little swirl in but haven’t measured it. I’m thinking it’s closer to a 1/2 tablespoon. The minimal oil I used definitely doesn’t affect the dough’s overall “goodness”, in my opinion.
  • The original recipe calls for bread flour “if you want a treat”, though it says AP flour can be used successfully. I’m betting any kind of typical flour can be used with success…as long as you use the aquafaba! If you don’t want to use aquafaba, then stick to bread or AP flour for now.
  • If you don’t have a pizza pan or pizza stone, you can use the usual metal roasting pan or baking sheet. You’re welcome to “grease” it, or you can make clean up a snap (and less fatty!) if you line it with parchment paper. If you have cornmeal, throw a light layer on the pan/sheet/parchment paper, too.

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The best vegan Caesar salad EVER

I’ve never really been a fan of the limp and plain garden salad.  Because of this, in pre-vegan/pre-WFPB days, I would usually order a caesar salad if it were an option: more flavor, more cheese, more texture.

Since changing to a whole-food, plant-based (WFPB) diet, I’ve only strayed a few times to have a wee bit of caesar salad once in a while for the sake of nostalgia.  It’s one of those things my husband and I have missed in regards to salads…but didn’t really think much of until I finally ran into Angela Liddon’s recipe on Oh She Glows.
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I saw it, the hubs and I started salivating, I happened to have all the ingredients on hand, so I instantly set out making it.

It was kind of late in the evening to be eating and there was a bit of prep work and cooking time (roasting chickpeas!), but we did it anyway.  And it was so worth it.

caesar2hcaesar3h caesar4hThe dressing that Angela came up with is inspired.  The thought of getting lactino kale mixed into the greens means increased nutrition. Using roasted chickpeas as croutons is an ingenious idea. The parmesan cheese? You really don’t miss it.

This salad is a must! Even though it was close to 10 o’clock at night, we could not stop eating it. We’ve served it to omnivores who go back for seconds. And thirds.

SO GOOD.
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Crowd-Pleasing Vegan Caesar Salad

By Angela Liddon. Serves 5-6 people as a side, slight adaptations on original recipe

INGREDIENTS:

Roasted chickpea croutons:

  • 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas (or 1.5-2 cups cooked)
  • 1/2 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil, optional
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Sprinkle of cayenne, optional (if you like it spicy)

Dressing (makes 3/4 to 1 cup):

  • 1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked overnight (soaking unnecessary with a high speed blender like Vitamix or Blentec)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • Less fat option #1 = 1 tbsp evoo + 1 tbsp water
    • Even less fat option #2 = 2 tbsp water + a couple dashes of guar/xanthan gum + 1/4 tsp ground flax seed
  • 1 small garlic clove (you can add another if you like it super potent)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tablespoon vegan Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons capers
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt and pepper, or to taste

Nut and seed parmesan cheese (makes 1/2 cup):

  • 1/4 cup raw cashews
  • 1 tablespoon raw sesame seeds (*if you don’t have this, you can sub with more cashews)
  • 2 tablespoons hulled hemp seeds (*if you don’t have this, you can sub with more cashews)
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Fine grain sea salt, to taste

Lettuce:

  • 1 small/medium bunch Lacinato kale, destemmed (5 cups chopped)
  • 2 small heads romaine lettuce (10 cups chopped)

DIRECTIONS:

Soak cashews in a bowl of water overnight, or for at least a few hours; drain and rinse.

Roast chickpea croutons: Preheat oven to 400 deg F. Drain (keep that aquafaba!) and rinse chickpeas. Place chickpeas in a tea towel and rub them dry. Place onto parchment paper lined (or similar) large rimmed baking sheet. If using, drizzle on oil (or lightly spray with olive oil) and roll around to coat. Sprinkle on the garlic powder and salt and toss to coat. Roast for 20 minutes at 400 degrees F, then gently roll the chickpeas around in the baking sheet, then roast for another 10-15 minutes, until lightly golden. They will firm up as they cool.

Prepare the dressing: Add the cashews and all other dressing ingredients (except salt) into a high speed blender, and blend on high until the dressing is super smooth. You can add a splash of water if necessary to get it blending. Add salt to taste and adjust other seasonings, if desired. Set aside.

Prepare the parmesan cheese: Add cashews into a food processor and process until finely chopped. Now add in the rest of the ingredients and pulse until the mixture is combined. Salt to taste.

Prepare the lettuce: De-stem the kale and then finely chop the leaves. Wash and dry in a salad spinner. Place into extra large bowl. Chop up the romaine into bite-sized pieces. Rinse and then spin dry. Place into bowl along with kale. You should have roughly 5 cups chopped kale and 10 cups chopped romaine.

Assemble: Add dressing onto lettuce and toss until fully coated. Now sprinkle on the roasted chickpeas and the Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Recipe Notes:

  • I would caution against using highly uniform packs of romaine lettuce – you know, like that bulk pack you can get at Costco. The conventionally grown kind & mass produced kind doesn’t seem to stay very crisp and turns quite soggy after a single night in the refrigerator. (If it’s romaine from your own garden, that’s different!)
  • If I decide to use olive oil when roasting the chickpeas, it involved merely a light spray. Usually I omit it and don’t miss it at all.
  • Don’t have a salad spinner? I’ve heard of people using a net laundry bag or large towel to put the greens in, grab the ends tightly, and whirl it around real fast (think: lasso, yo-yo). Might want to do it outside in case something slips or you don’t want water drops to fly everywhere!
  • If you don’t manage to eat everything the first day, yes, it does get slightly soggy after a night in the fridge but the taste is so good that you highly likely won’t care.

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Easy Spanish Rice

Over a decade ago when I was working as an x-ray technologist at a large hospital in southern California, a co-worker told me how she made Spanish rice.  I have always remembered the simple ratios for the recipe’s backbone that she told me: approximately 1 can of tomato sauce, 2 cups of rice, 4 cups of broth.

Another co-worker made Spanish rice that I tasted and I remember thinking it was *the best* I’d ever tasted before – and this is from someone who grew up in southern California and was quite familiar with the tastes of authentic Hispanic flavors.  Her particular secret?  Using chicken broth instead of water. spanishrice1h With these pieces of recipe advice in mind, I tried making Spanish rice for the first time ever myself back then.  Naturally, it took a few batches to be satisfied with the final result.  During the process, I learned:

  • You really need to brown the rice, not just think it’s a little brown
  • It’s okay to make something without exact measurements
  • I finally figured out how to not burn the bottom of the rice on the stove

Since becoming vegan at home and deciding to cook without oil or with as little as possible, my original recipe for Spanish rice has morphed a bit to accommodate our eating habits.  I used to use a lot of olive oil during the browning of the rice; now I use none at all or just the teeniest drizzle.  I used to use a vegetarian broth mix (McKay’s Chicken Seasoning) but after learning it’s not vegan (darn that milk whey), I’ve switched over to using a combination of mushroom seasoning and vegetable broth seasoning. spanishrice2vmaybe spanishrice3h Unfortunately, red is a notoriously hard color to photograph, hence these pictures don’t look that nice.  Considering that I don’t have exact measurements for the spices here, it may take a couple of tries to get the flavor to your taste.  But heck, when you do get it right, it’s an easy meal made when you also open up a can of black beans, cut up some lettuce, and eat it all mishmashed together with salsa and chips. spanishrice4h

Easy Spanish Rice

Serves 6-8 as a side dish

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups of jasmine rice (see notes)
  • Oil, optional
  • 1 medium sized onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced (OR 1/2 to 1 teaspoon garlic powder)
  • Ground cumin
  • Cayenne
  • Broth powder/seasoning
  • 1 8-ounce can of tomato sauce
  • 1 4-ounce can of mild or hot diced chilies, drained (optional)
  • 4 cups of vegetable broth (OR vegan chicken-flavored broth)

DIRECTIONS:

Using a wide pan or skillet on medium high-high heat, place the rice inside (and a small drizzle of oil, if wanted) and keep moving it around every 20-30 seconds or so until it’s uncomfortably browned.  Add in the onion, garlic; stir it into the rice so it starts the sautéing process.  Add a few light shakes of cumin, even less of cayenne, and a decent amount of extra broth powder (this is completely eyeballed) to the rice as it’s further browning the onions and garlic.  Keep stirring until the onion and garlic is sautéed. Add the tomato sauce, chilies if using, and broth to pan and mix.  Cover the pan and bring to a simmer for 20-25 minutes.

At the end of that time, peek under the lid and check if the rice appears to be done; if not, replace lid and leave on low for another 5 minutes.  After that, turn the heat off and let the pan sit covered for an additional 5 minutes before taking the lid off and fluffing the rice.  If the rice seems still a little wet, keep the lid off and leave the heat on low for another 5 minutes.  I know this is a lot of “5 minutes” but it works, promise!

Recipe Notes:

  • I grew up on jasmine rice and so I always use jasmine rice for anything that calls for “white rice.”  I’m sure you can use another white rice, as long as it’s not a “quick cooking” type (i.e. Uncle Ben’s brand).
  • I tend to only use red onions these days for the amount of antioxidants they have versus what can be found in white or yellow onions.  In my opinion, it doesn’t seem to affect the taste.
  • I’ve found that using actual liquid broth (i.e. canned or boxed vegetable broth) results in the best final flavor.  If I only have powdered broth that needs to be mixed myself, I add water in the amount of liquid called for and then also stir in broth powder that’s needed for that amount of liquid.
  • When browning the rice, keep a close eye on it – it can burn quick!  It’ll take a while for the pan to get up to the right heat, but once it does, keep moving things around until the rice is (in your opinion) uncomfortably brown.  At that point you’ll add in the spices and onions and it’ll brown even more.  Don’t be afraid of browning the rice too much – that’s where all the nutty good flavor comes from.  Of course, there is a distinct difference between browning rice and burning it altogether!

Lentils & Brown Rice, a staple dish

So, I have no photos of this dish.  It’s not exactly pretty looking on it’s own either.  It’s so good that we inhale it before we even think about taking a picture!

This is a simple dish and, though far removed from the original Lebanese staple of lentils and rice that it’s based on, it’s hearty and filling and guilt-free.

When we’re in a hurry, we eat it on tortilla chips and top with blended pickled jalapeños that I keep in a squeeze bottle and/or my creamy tomatillo dressing.  If we have more time, we add even more toppings, such as: lettuce, a sprinkle of lime juice, cilantro, olives, onions, tomatoes, salsa, avocados, etc.  If you’re really in a hurry, throw some in a bowl and scoop up with tortilla chips!

Simplified Mjeddrah (Lentils & Rice)

Serves 6 hungry people

  • 1 1/2 cup dry brown or green lentils
  • 3/4 cup brown rice
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (optional)
  • 1/2 tablespoon mushroom seasoning OR salt
  • 1 tablespoon vegan chicken OR vegetable seasoning/broth powder (use 2 tbsp if not using salt)
  • 2-3 tablespoons Braggs Liquid Aminos

Put all ingredients into crockpot and cook for 4-5 hours on high.  Add water as needed.

Recipe Notes:

  • This recipe makes a lot for a single person, even for just two people.  You can easily halve it if wanted.  You could also cook it as-is and freeze the extras in single portions for a quick meal later.  Also, if you’re starting this before you leave for work, I’d recommend cooking it on low and adding an additional half cup of water.
  • You don’t have to cook this only in a crockpot – you can use any large enough pot on the stove.  You’ll just need to add water throughout the process.
  • What’s the difference between brown and green lentils other than their color?  Green lentils fall apart less when cooked, brown ones have a tendency to become a bit more mushy.
  • I’m sure purists will say that this dish needs a specific type of onion.  We decided to simplify our life and only use red onions from now on because of their higher antioxidant content when compared to any other kind of onion! (We all need to eat more antioxidants at every meal anyway.)
  • I usually don’t use chicken or vegetable broth powder.  I tend to season this with only mushroom seasoning and Braggs – it always turns out great.

Roasted root vegetables on Israeli couscous

After getting married in southern California, my husband and I decided to grow a few tomato plants.  Even though the heat and sun majorly sucks down there during the spring-summer-fall singular-like season, you can get just about anything to grow down there.  Just throw something into the ground with enough water and, voila, it grows!

Enter our move to Montana.  This is our second year of planting a summer garden and, unfortunately, the environment isn’t as forgiving as southern California — we’re still getting the hang of things.  (Maybe third time’s the charm?)  While we were able to harvest more this year, we have yet to get the timing right for quite a few of our plants.  For example, our poor tomatoes: we only managed to harvest about six of them this summer!

On the other hand, if there is one thing that is easy to grow up here, it would be root vegetables.

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Hello, beets.

Yes, I used to be one of those professed beet haters (from a can, they totally taste like dirt) until someone gave me a home grown bunch and instructed me to oven roast them.

I haven’t turned back since.

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The following weekend after getting sick, I was still coughing and recuperating while my husband was off in South Dakota for a mountain biking race.  I was hungry and looking for inspiration for a antioxidant- and phytonutrient-rich meal to help me get better faster.  As I slowly walked around our property with the pups, I decided to go into our garden and harvest a few beets, carrots, and some parsley.

Now what to do?  Roast them, of course.  But what should I eat them with?  Some sort of starch.  Looking through the cabinets, my eyes settled on some Israeli couscous I bought recently to try.  How to flavor it?  Maybe with some garlic, parsley, oregano, vegetable broth.

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I had some leftover ground “beef” for chili I made earlier this week and decided to use it.

The result?  A beautiful dish of roasted vegetables on a bed of Italian-flavored Israeli couscous with beef crumbles.

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Roasted Root Vegetables

Serves as much as you possibly have to roast

INGREDIENTS:

  • Beets, peeled
  • Carrots, lightly peeled with edge of knife blade and tops trimmed
  • Radishes
  • Yams, peeled
  • Sweet potatoes, peeled
  • And/or any other kind of root vegetable you want!

DIRECTIONS:

Set oven temperature to 425 deg F.

Prepare your vegetables; if anything is close to the size of softball, they will roast better if cut in half.  If you prefer to cook with little to no oil, line the bottom of a roasting pan with parchment paper.  Lightly spray vegetables with olive oil, lightly season with sea salt, and top with fresh herbs if wanted (this whole sentence is optional; I used flat leaf parsley here).  Cover tightly with aluminum foil and cook for 1 hour.  When done, uncover and let the vegetables cool enough to eat.

Recipe Notes:

  • Another option for roasting is to wrap the vegetables in aluminum foil and crimp along the top.  If I have a couple of small beets, I’d put them together; if it’s a single really large beet, I would slice it in half but leave them in the same pouch.  For the three small carrots that are in the photos, I would’ve placed them in a single pouch.
  • I can’t really call recipe (or the next one) a true recipe.  They’re more like guidelines for roasting large vegetables and how to flavor pasta!

— — —

Italian Seasoned Israeli Couscous

Serves 2 as a side dish

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 1/4 cup water OR broth
  • 1 cup Israeli couscous, uncooked
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot OR about the same amount of red onion, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry Italian seasoning OR oregano/basil combo
  • Salt, to taste
  • Fresh herbs, minced (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

Place the water (or broth) into a pot and bring to a boil.  Add the rest of the ingredients, stir, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook till all the liquid is absorbed, about 8-10 minutes.  Fluff up gently with a utensil, further season with salt as needed.

Recipe Notes:

  • You can toast the couscous for more flavor.  Place the couscous in a pot on medium high heat and move often until the couscous has a lightly toasted color.
  • Israeli couscous is sometimes (usually?) cooked like pasta: boiled till al dente, then drained.  I strayed from that method and cooked everything together.  Next time, I may try cooking the couscous with the water/broth first, drain it, lightly spray with olive oil so they couscous doesn’t clump as much, then mix in everything else.
  • If you aren’t averse to oil to prevent clumping, you can try adding the oil to the boiling water or spray it on the cooked product like I just mentioned.
  • When the couscous is al dente or cooked to your preference, you can drain the excess water if some still exists at this point.
  • I’ve been wanting to make this recipe with barley!  Other than the cooking time being different, the rest of it should be the same.

Comfort Food: Chili Beans with Vegan Ground Beef

Since I was raised on a mostly vegetarian diet, I grew up having Worthington Vegetarian Chili once in while.  For example, one time when my older brother and I were quite young, my mom had stepped out of the house for a few minutes and my sibling and I had a conversation of what we wanted for dinner.  After firmly deciding on (Worthington) chili and rice, we used up a whole stack of sticky notes writing “chili and rice” on each one and plastered them all over the kitchen while giggling like, well, children the whole time.  (Needless to say, my mom wasn’t thrilled when she came back.)

What further solidified my love for Worthington Chili is when a friend and I went to Romania as student missionaries to help out at a children’s home.  Every couple of months, family and friends would send us care packages.  While they were all so very much appreciated, it was always extra special when a box included a can or two of Worthington Chili.

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Now times have changed.  Even though we still eat low/no fat whole foods vegan at home, we occasionally dive into a can of Worthington chili for familiarity’s sake (and for those times when we get home past 7:30 pm and are dead tired).  When these weak moments occur, I do my best to add things to increase the health factor — chopped spinach, onions, green onions, fresh bell peppers — because, let me tell you, Worthington Chili isn’t really what one would call health food with it being highly processed and its significant fat and salt content.

A month ago, we went on a trip to some classes in a more eastern time zone.  Since I had been eating super clean for the previous few weeks, I thought it would be reasonable to let a few things lightly slide since it’s difficult to eat purely low-fat vegan while traveling.  In hindsight, I realized that I hardly consumed as many antioxidants as I usually do and that every meal I ate on this trip actually contained some sort of animal product — a little bit of butter, cheese, milk, eggs, I even caved and had a small piece of salmon — and, while being low-fat to the average American, everything was still much more oil-laden than what I’m used to eating.

We got back from our trip, I slept poorly due to the time change, and then — BAM — in two days, I had a fever, horribly stuffed sinus, and a productive cough.

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It’s been a while since I’ve been sick so it was extra miserable.  As I lay around the house for a couple of days in a stupor where I hardly ate anything, I realized I should eat something and, compared to what I ate on our trip, it should be something starchy with no added fat.  Oh, and it should be comfort food!  I really wanted Worthington Chili but I knew that wouldn’t be good for my sickness, so I turned back to an old chili beans recipe that I’ve made before that’s a little reminiscent of the Worthington brand but much healthier.

The only catch: what should I use for the “ground beef”?  My husband is slightly more lax about his vegan-ness and would’ve caved in to using Worthington Vegetarian Burger but I didn’t want to go that route for my tired body.  I saw a few recipes online that used cauliflower and nuts to make “ground beef” but, not having that vegetable, I substituted with portobello mushrooms and it worked wonderfully.

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It worked so well and smelled amazing to boot.  I was quite pleased with my efforts and felt slightly more revived after finally eating a proper meal.

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Vegan Ground Beef

Slightly adapted from One Green Planet, makes about 3 cups

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed and washed, broken into florets (about 1 pound after trimming) OR approximately 16-20 ounces of mushrooms
  • 2 cups raw walnut halves
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried sage OR thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika OR regular paprika
  • 1/2-3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 2 tablespoons Bragg’s liquid aminos OR soy sauce

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 deg F.  Line a large rimmed cookie sheet or rectangular pan with parchment paper.

In a food processor, blend the cauliflower OR mushrooms to a fine meal, place into a large mixing bowl.  Repeat with the nuts.  Depending on how grainy you like your “meat,” it can be more or less fine; I made mine like a coarse cornmeal.  Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl.  Using a mixing spoon, mix everything together thoroughly until the grounds are uniformly coated.

Turn the mixture into the pan and spread out evenly.  Bake for 45 minutes and up to 1 hour 15 minutes (it will depend on the size of the pan and how thick the mixture is when you first begin to bake it), stirring after 30 minutes and then every 15 minutes after that, until the meat is dry and brown.  The grounds will begin to separate and intensify in color as they roast.

Once the meat is cooked, you can cool, package, and freeze it for later use, or use it right away.  Keep up to 3 days covered in the refrigerator.  May be frozen.

Recipe Notes:

  • I used almost the whole pack of baby portobello mushrooms that you can get at Costco.  Just about any mushroom should work, I’m thinking.
  • I’ve made this with mushrooms and then another time with cauliflower. Both versions had different flavoring but turned out great. (Heck, I’m sure it’ll turn out fine if you used both cauliflower and mushrooms at the same time!)  I’ve even seen a version where bulgur wheat (it’s very coarse) is used in place of the cauliflower/mushrooms.
  • I know smoked paprika can bit strong to some people.  I’m wary about using it in most recipes but using the full amount of smoked paprika actually worked out quite nice here.  If you don’t have smoked, then regular paprika should work just fine.
  • When cooking with no oil, parchment paper is your friend!  Such a life saver.  I always have a couple of rolls in my kitchen in case one runs out.
  • The first time I made this, I baked it until it was completely dry (but not burnt) so that my ground “beef” ended up more like dried, tasty crumbles that were fantastic as a topping and worked really well in the chili (they rehydrated some with the beans, thus making the ground “beef” on the dry side for chili is more ideal).  The other time I made this, baked it till it was crumbly and dry but still moist enough to have the texture of ground beef.  The latter was fantastic on nachos.
  • When I made this so I ended up with dry crumbles, it lasted in a ziploc bag in the fridge for 1-2 weeks easily.  If you want to make it so it’s more moist like taco meat, then it probably will only last in the fridge for about 3 days or so.

 

— — —

Simple Chili Beans

Adapted from Elise at Simply Recipes, serves 4-5 with rice

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups pinto beans, uncooked
  • 1 medium-sized onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1 can of tomatoes (14 oz)
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, minced
  • 1 teaspoon and 1 teaspoon of salt, separated
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1.5-2 cups vegan ground beef (see recipe above)
  • 1/2 cup of fresh cilantro leaves

DIRECTIONS:

Put the dry beans into a large pot and cover with at least 3 inches of water. Bring to a boil and lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer, covered, for about 2 1/2 hours or until the beans are tender.

In a large skillet, sauté onions and garlic with a little water (keep adding water as needed) until translucent on medium high heat. Add chili powder to the onions and garlic, stir to coat; add more as needed to taste. Add chopped parsley, can of tomatoes, minced jalapeño pepper, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1 teaspoon of sugar.  Mix and set aside until the cooked beans are ready to be added.

Once the beans are cooked, drain them. Add the beans and another 1 teaspoon of salt to onion mixture.  Add vegan ground beef, mix.  Let simmer for 5-10 minutes, tasting and adding more salt as needed. Stir in cilantro leaves right before serving, or sprinkle on top.

Serve over rice or with warm corn tortillas.

Recipe Notes:

  • If you don’t have dry beans or want to take the time to cook some, you can use canned.  Generally speaking, beans double in size (usually a little more) after cooking: 2 cups dry beans = 4+ cups cooked beans.
  • It must depend on your chili powder, but I’ve found I hardly put in much more than the first tablespoon that the recipe calls for.
  • I like things warm so I don’t bother de-seeding my jalapeño.  If you prefer things more mild, then you should take out part or all of the seeds before mincing.
  • Sometimes I don’t have fresh parsley.  Sometimes I don’t have fresh cilantro.  If I had to choose between the two, I personally would want to make sure I have the cilantro.  If you don’t have either, I promise, the it will still taste good.  Maybe just top it with some chopped green onions.
  • I don’t like big chunks of tomatoes in my chili so I ended up using a stick blender to quickly whizz it up to a less chunky consistency.
  • I actually didn’t measure the amount of vegan ground beef I added to the recipe so the amount above is a guesstimation.  You can certainly add more or less to the chili beans, if you’d like.

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Same Simple Chili Beans recipe although with “beef” crumbles made from bulgur wheat — very good!

 

My (low-fat vegan) fast food wish comes true

One of the guilty little pleasures that I used to indulge in once or twice a year was a large order of Jack-In-The-Box seasoned curly fries and their buttermilk ranch dressing to dip it in.  While it still sounds (mostly) good to me, I do remember afterward having to continually clear my throat due to all the phlegm that I’d get from eating so much oil at once.

Now that I finally figured out how to make satisfactory crispy and fat free oven fries, I decided to take on those seasoned Jack-In-The-Box fries I used to have and see if it can also be made just as delicious and crispy without any of the fat.

Guess what?  It can be done.  Oh so deliciously done.

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I promise, you can make french fries in the oven without any oil that are just as crispy as fried ones.  Bonus: no continual clearing of your throat because there’s no fat involved.

I like to leave the skins on my potatoes unless they’re looking pretty gross.  (If that’s the case, the whole potato probably is bad.)  I finally gave in to buying a little vegetable scrubber which, in my opinion, is somewhat superfluous to have, but when you like to leave the skin on, you won’t find me complaining about it’s price and the minimal amount of space it takes up!photo 1photo 3One trick I’ve learned to getting fries crispy when baking is to get rid of some of the starch in the potatoes.  The particular method I found that works well for me is to let the potatoes sit in water that was/is boiling for two minutes.  (I’ve seen others who make hot water and let potatoes soak in it for 15+ minutes.)  If you want to skip this step, at least rinse the potatoes really well after cutting to remove that superficial layer of starch that turns the potatoes brown (and not in the crispy way you like them brown).

photo 4While crispy, fat-free oven baked fries are easy enough to do, the biggest draw back is the amount of space you need if you want to get them done right.  Ideally you want the fries to be completely spaced out and not touching each other when going into the oven – this will ensure a prompt cooking time and crispy fries.  If you don’t space them out, they’ll cook (though likely still won’t stick to one another) but it’s going to take a while to get them all done.  So if you have multiple baking sheets and a big enough oven, simply make this process easier on yourself and just utilize all the surface area you can!photo 5

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Seasoned Crispy French Fries

Makes two large baking sheets of fries that aren’t touching, good for 3 people as a side dish or just barely enough for 2 hungry people as the main dish

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 medium-sized russet potatoes, scrubbed
  • 1 vegan “egg”, paste-like (i.e. Ener-G Egg Replacer egg = 1.5 tbsp powder + 2 tbsp water OR ground flax seed egg = 1 tbsp flax + 2 tbsp water) OR 2 tablespoons aquafaba
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • Scant 1/2 tsp cayenne

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 450 deg F.  Place a pot of water on high heat to start warming the water, you want enough water so that the potatoes will be submerged.  Cut potatoes into french fry-sized pieces.  Once the pot of water has reached a rolling boil, place the potatoes in the water for 2 minutes then immediately drain and dry with paper towels or a kitchen towel.  (As soon as you put the potatoes in the boiling water, the boiling may temporarily stop, but that’s okay – still only let them sit in the pot for 2 minutes.)

If using a vegan “egg”, mix it in a large bowl then add in the remaining ingredients and mix until it reaches a paste-like consistency that slowly runs when you tip the bowl on its side.  (Add only a tiny splash of water at a time and mix until the consistency is right.)  If using aquafaba, add it and the seasonings in a large bowl and mix till combined.  Put the potatoes in the bowl and toss to coat.

Place the coated potatoes on two parchment paper-lined baking sheets without letting them touch.  Bake for 10 minutes, rotate the sheet, bake another 8-10 minutes, flip and turn the fries, and bake in 3-5 minute increments until done (see notes regarding baking time).  You know they’re done when the fries look a bit puffy and deformed from their originally flat-sided shape.  Remove from the oven and enjoy on their own, with ketchup, or vegan ranch dressing!

 Recipe Notes:

  • Okay, I confess: I personally haven’t tried making this with the ground flax seed “egg” yet.  But with my experience using flax seed as an egg replacement, my brain says it should work!
  • Have you heard of aquafaba? It hit the vegan work with a bang in the spring of this year (2015). It can be used mostly as a egg/egg white replacer! Why I say “mostly” is because it works in most instances, but not all (no one has perfected angel food cake with it as of today, 10/16/15). On the other hand, it’s being used for all sorts of foods, like: meringue, macarons, macaroons (yes, there’s a difference), mayo, ice cream, egg wash, binder in quick breads and cookies, emulsifier in dressings, etc.
  • If you want to make less or more than 3 medium-sized potatoes, you can!  Just use enough baking sheets so that the potatoes are spaced out and not touching.  The total baking time depends on your oven, baking sheet, how thick you cut the fries, and if the fries are touching or not.  Long story short?  Keep an eye on the oven so you don’t get burned fries!  Also cutting them as evenly as possible is helpful.  And I mentioned this above, but you know the fries are done when the sides start to puff out.
  • I’ve found out that not all baking sheets are created equal and one of my sheets will completely burn a few fries at the 20 minute mark while the other doesn’t quite get there after 24 minutes.
  • Once I tried boiling the potatoes for 3-4 min and though they were still good, they didn’t have that ideal separate crispy exterior with a soft interior like they did when I boiled them for two minutes exactly.  I surprisingly had to bake them a lot longer than 20-25 min total to be happy with them, though this is likely because I crowded 4 cut potatoes onto one baking sheet.