cilantro

protein & the vegan elephant in the room / soba noodle veggie bowl in coconut ginger broth

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“How do you get your protein?” says everyone I’ve spoken to about veganism, ever. Yes, it’s repetitive and sometimes I have to find my happy place (translation: sparkly cave with unicorns) before I can calmly reply without cursing the popular media, western doctors and nutritionists across the globe that have brainwashed our culture into equating veganism with kwashiorkor syndrome. “Wait, what is that?” asks those same people. Oh, never heard of it? I respond coyly. Hmm, maybe that’s because it’s the name for severe protein deficiency and it’s never been documented in this country. Hooray! If you’re vegan or vegetarian you will survive after all! I don’t mean to sound cynical, and at one time I asked the same question to my sister when she first went vegan. Unfortunately, It’s the result of repeated whisperings that blow into our innocent ears from social media, parents, doctors, pretend doctors, and friends that over time harden into an accepted truth without personal investigation. It’s the same reason you think that milk is good for your bones, that cane sugar is better than high fructose corn syrup, that meat is the richest protein & B12 source on the planet, and that all soy is bad for you and will cause breast cancer. In a nutshell, you can thank the meat & dairy industries for brainwashing you, little by little, through clever advertising that we don’t even realize is affecting our opinions. So instead of marketing propaganda, let’s turn to plain old common sense.

Take a look at our fellow plant-based animal friends: elephants, giraffes, gorillas, bison, and hippos. These are some of the largest and strongest mammals on the planet, but they don’t look like they’re having any problems with protein intake do they? Gorilla5

And it just so happens that vegetables and grains are chock full of protein: spinach, broccoli, nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh, lentils, oatmeal, whole grain breads, cacao, quinoa, seitan, beans, and artichokes to name a few! In fact, nearly all vegetables, grains, beans, seeds and nuts contain protein in them. Fruits, alcohol and sugars on the other hand, are low in protein so if you plan on being an alcoholic fruitarian, then yeah, you’ll risk becoming deficient in protein (and friends), but if you eat lots of vegetables and whole grains, nuts, beans, and seeds you’ll be a veggie-powered superhuman! So next time someone asks you where you get your protein, gently point out the literal vegan elephant in the room…

Now that you’re armed with confidence and gorilla strength about your protein intake, why not rub it in a little more and make a cozy, protein-filled soba noodle bowl in a coconut peanut broth! Peanut butter, chickpeas, broccoli and whole grain soba noodles are great sources of protein. This dish is perfect on a day like today – a freshly snowed, gray skied wintry heaven.
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Veggie Soba Noodle Bowl with Coconut-Peanut Sauce

1 package soba noodles (I recommend Eden)

1 T refined coconut oil

1 small yellow onion or 4 scallions, thinly sliced

1 inch knob of ginger root, peeled

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced

1 red pepper, thinly sliced

1 head of broccoli, chopped

1 T mirin

1 T tamari or shoyu

2 tsp brown rice vinegar

1 T maple syrup

1 can coconut milk 

1/4 cup creamy unsweetened peanut butter or almond butter

1 aseptic package or can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

Pinch of chili powder or cayenne pepper

Handful of fresh cilantro, chopped

Top with sriracha or favorite hot sauce (optional)

Cook soba noodles according to package directions in a large pot of salted, gently boiling water. Drain and rinse with cold water and set aside. In a deep saute pan, heat coconut oil on medium to high heat, and add onions or scallions. Cook for a few minutes, then add garlic and use a microplane grater to add ginger knob. Toss in broccoli, peppers, and carrot and continue to saute until veggies are bright and beginning to soften. Deglaze with mirin and use a wooden spoon to scrap up any pieces of food stuck to the bottom of the pan. Pour the coconut milk in and bring to a lively simmer, then reduce heat to low and add brown rice vinegar, tamari, maple syrup, peanut butter, chickpeas and chili powder. Simmer and stir occasionally until ingredients are well mixed and peanut butter has melted into the coconut broth. Remove from flame and toss mixture with soba noodles and cilantro. Drizzle with sriracha or hot sauce. Makes enough for 4 unicorns with shiny, flowing manes and rippling muscles from their protein fabulous vegan diets.

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these are a few of my favorite things / it’s time for the play-offs herbaceous falafel with tahini sauce

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DSC_0034 Now that it’s 2013 and you’ve actually gone to the gym, stopped eating dessert, and are feeling moody from a lack of alcohol, I thought it was time for a little support. And since you’re going to try to eat a plant-based diet this year (I hope!), you may be wondering what the hell you’re supposed to eat besides kale chips, soy products, and salads. Trust me, the vegan/vegetarian diet is overflowing with variety and deliciousness.

To help you on your way, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite vegan staples and a divinely spectacular recipe so you can start living your vegan dream! Side effects include: visions of unicorns, faeries and dragons, lightness in body and spirit, clearer skin, less inflammation, higher energy, less illness, a feeling of interconnectedness with all beings, and a bolt of good karma that will lead you to clairvoyance (translation: the unicorns tell me things).

A few of my favorite things (and yes, one of them is definitely The Sound of Music. Luckily, my mother is Julie Andrews, minus the voice and ability to play musical instruments). FYI, all of the items below should be organic because your health and happiness are the most important thing in this life, not to mention you’ll be supporting sustainable farming practices, eliminating pesticides and herbicides from your diet, and saving the environment. Hooray for money well spent!

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil – for 90% of my cooking, this is my oil. Rich in healthy, monounsaturated fats and absolutely delicious. Get rid of your canola, sunflower and safflower oils (which are oftentimes bleached, deodorized and overly processed) and embrace olive oil!
  • Coconut Oil – virgin & Refined. Not all saturated fats are bad people! Coconut oil is an amazing source of lauric acid, which has been shown to raise the good HDL cholesterol in the blood, in addition to being anti-viral and anti-inflammatory, good for the skin, and a blood sugar stabilizer to name a few! Refined coconut oil is perfect for higher heat cooking. Virgin coconut oil is great for raw desserts and granola.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar – my favorite vinegar. Tangy, fermented, full of probiotic goodness. Use in dishes that need a punch of flavor or drink it in the morning with water for some alkalinizing power!
  • Brown Rice Vinegar – another great vinegar, especially in stirfries with toasted sesame oil and tamari.
  • Tamari – naturally brewed wheat free soy sauce. Tamari is great in stirfries, soups, salad dressings, everything!
  • Miso – I adore miso and use it in soups, salad dressings and anytime I need a salty, umami flavor in a dish. Miso is a fermented soy condiment that contains all the essential amino acids (a complete protein), and restores your system with probiotics and antioxidants. I highly recommend South River Miso. Nothing else compares to this company!
  • Tempeh – yes, fermented whole soybeans look like brains, but they taste amazing in burritos and pasta sauce. And tempeh is super high in protein, essential fatty acids and probiotics. Yum!
  • Tofu – not all soy is bad…local & organic tofu is a great addition to your diet. Super high in protein and a total chameleon in dishes from ricotta to chicken to eggs! I highly recommend The Bridge (a local CT company!)
  • Quinoa – my favorite grain (but it’s actually a seed!) Rich in protein, calcium and iron…even better, it cooks in 15 minutes, and has a nutty delicious taste. Add to any veggie dish or as a topping for salads.
  • Nuts – specifically raw cashews, pecans, and almonds. I use cashews pretty much everyday whether it’s fermenting into a savory “cheese”, adding a creamy base to a soup, or creating the most decadent cream sauces you’ve ever tasted. Pecans and almonds are great in raw desserts or toasted and topped on salads. I could not live without nuts…and that’s good because they’re full of antioxidants and healthy fats!
  • Avocado – literally my favorite food on earth. Rich, creamy taste, full of folate, vitamin E and good fats for a healthy heart and delicious in just about everything: salads, dressings – and great in my raw key lime tart dessert!
  • Kale – my other favorite food. This superfood is a great source of fiber, iron, calcium and vitamins A, C, and K. It will also turn you into an elven warrior princess or prince. I like it raw in salads, sauteed in stirfries, added to soups, and baked into cheesy kale chips. I eat kale pretty much everyday, and yes – I am an elven warrior princess.
  • Mushrooms – I’m growing them on my windowsill right now! I love every kind of mushroom, especially maitake and shiitake, for their earthy deliciousness and anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and immune boosting qualities.
  • Ginger – oh, how I love thee. Buy a hunk of ginger root, peel it, and use a microplane grater to add this anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, and anti-bacterial nutritional powerhouse to soups, dressings, stirfries, tea, and more!
  • Garlic – ginger’s good friend, and also anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. Use them together in a soup for an immune-boosting and flavorful punch to a winter’s day.
  • Onions – we have a saying in our house that we’re always “cookin’ onions”. And there’s a good reason too: onions are the most comforting vegetable I know. I put them in all of my soups and stirfries, or raw in salads. Not to mention, they’re full of antioxidant flavonoids, vitamin C, fiber, and sulfur (good for your liver!) In fact, I can’t think of anything I don’t put them in, except maybe my coconut milk ice cream…
  • Fresh herbs – dried herbs and spices are great, but fresh is always the best. My favorites are cilantro, basil, and thyme. They take any dish to the next level of flavor! Try cilantro in my tempeh burritos or in an asian stirfry!
  • Sprouted whole grain breads – ditch the white flour in favor of sprouted whole grain breads. Sprouting whole wheat grains improves digestibility, and eating complex carbohydrates won’t spike your blood sugar as much as white bread, will digest more slowly, and will be more satiating = you’ll need less of it to feel satisfied.
  • Tahini – nutty, creamy puree of sesame seeds that is commonly used as the base for a kick-ass hummus recipe. I use it in my Miso Hungry salad dressing, which is tangy and creamy like a healthy blue cheese!
  • Nut milks – I prefer Edensoy Original Extra soy milk, which is organic, cane sugar-free, fortified with vitamins, and oh so creamy. There’s also almond, hemp, rice, coconut, and many others. Whichever one you prefer is great, just make sure you read the ingredient labels and avoid milks containing refined sugars!
  • Spreads – if you’re craving butter, please don’t eat margarine! Instead, grab some Earth Balance Organic Buttery Spread. It tastes just like butter, and although a processed product, it is non-GMO and organic so in moderation a great alternative to butter. You can also use almond butter or fermented cashew cheese as a delicious spread alternative to butter!

DSC_0015Now that your pantry is packed full of plant-powered goodness, why not make some tasty & herbaceous falafel! Falafel is one of my favorite chickpea creations, but it is usually deep-fried and not super healthy. My version is pan-fried in a small amount of oil so you still get a satisfying crunch without the greasiness. Top with tahini, lettuce and cucumber and your body will look like Gisele’s or Tom Brady’s (depending on your preference) and you’ll be ready for the play-offs…Go Patriots!

DSC_0017DSC_0022Herbaceous Falafel with Tahini Sauce

for the falafel:

  1. 1 aseptic package (Fig Foods or 365 Organic) or can (Eden) of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  2. 1/2 small red onion, finely diced
  3. 3 T fresh parsley, chopped
  4. 3 T fresh cilantro, chopped
  5. Juice of 1/2 lemon
  6. 3 T garbanzo bean (chickpea) flour (Bob’s Red Mill)
  7. 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  8. 1 tsp ground coriander
  9. 1 tsp ground cumin
  10. 1 tsp arrowroot powder (find at Whole Foods in spice section – a healthy alternative to cornstarch)
  11. Pinch of paprika & sea salt
  12. Fresh black pepper

for the tahini sauce:

  1. 1/2 cup sesame tahini (Once Again Organics)
  2. Juice of 1 lemon
  3. 1/2 cup fresh water
  4. 1 clove garlic, chopped
  5. Pinch of paprika

In a food processor, combine all falafel ingredients and pulse about 20 times, or until mixture comes together but is still chunky. Form into 10-12 flattened discs. Heat 3 T refined coconut oil on medium heat in a large saute pan, then add patties and cook for about 4 minutes per side, or until nicely browned. In a high speed blender (VitaMix!) add tahini ingredients, then blend until emulsified and creamy. To plate, place 3 falafel patties on a bed of crisp romaine lettuce with chopped cucumbers and tomatoes, and drizzle with tahini sauce. Or steam collard greens (remove stems) in a small amount of salted, boiling water, then fill with falafel, veggies and sauce. Serves 2-4 unicorns with ripped Patriots jerseys and deflated footballs (translation: unicorns are football fans, not players).

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malls / quinoa black bean salad with mango

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So I’m not really a mall person. I like clothes and everything, but I’d rather buy online or go to a single store with a single mission. Because malls are time warps. Every time I go into one I find myself burning through hours as easily as if I were stalking people on Facebook. The exits are strategically placed at the ends of dark corridors or in the corners of department stores behind frilly necked nightgowns and granny panties so you can’t find your way out without a struggle. And they’re filled with strange people. Translation: oversized underdressed Americans who like to spend their cash on tube tops and frappucinos. When I enter, it smells like chocolate chip cookies and perfume. I’m made instantly aware of the neon lights buzzing overhead, the clip clop of heels over shiny oatmeal floors, the nauseating bubblegum pop of Katy Perry, and my inner chorus of “What did I come here for again?”

I aimlessly wander through the makeup aisle in Nordstroms. A woman with fake eyelashes and a makeup explosion offers me a sample of Britney Spear’s new perfume. I politely decline, but she sprays me anyway. My unicorn friend sneezes and nudges me towards a Starbuck’s. We both get a hot tea since we’re freezing, then wander into a store. The other shoppers we pass generally fall into two categories: the stressed out I-will-silently-push-into-anyone-looking-through-the-same-sale-rack-as-me nutsos or the salted pretzel eating the-mall-is-my-social-hub tube toppers. There are also the elderly, who treat the mall like a park and stroll about in big white sneakers and sweatsuits with no intention of buying anything.

 Inside the store, folded shirts and the smell of cotton flash me back to my short-lived retail days (see Adventures in Hawaiian Employment ), and I smile apologetically at the salesperson, knowing the torture she is enduring. Translation: an endless day of shirt folding and daydreaming in a windowless white box with bad music and worse pay. My unicorn friend takes some clothes into the fitting room, while I mindlessly slide through hanger after hanger of a sale rack. I pick out a few beaten up looking shirts that have been touched, tried on, and re-folded a thousand times and try them on. The lighting in the fitting room is a dimmish yellow and shines over your body in that flattering way that makes you look a hundred times heavier with dark circles under your eyes. And because it’s a three way mirror I get to see my hot self from the front, side and back all at once. Disgruntled, I put my clothes back on. I momentarily debate whether I should hang the clothes back on their hangers (since that’s what my mom does and I feel like a bad person if I don’t), but instead I channel my inner dad and reassure myself that the salesperson has nothing better to do. Meanwhile, my unicorn friend has been hemming and hawing over whether he should buy a shirt he likes. I can hear my mother asking: “Will you wear it?” or “Do you need another shirt?”, and I suddenly feel exhausted. Mall exhausted. In the end, my unicorn friend puts the shirt on hold, which we all know means I’m not going to buy it.

Now that you’re drained from a trip to the mall, why not refresh yourself with a delicious black bean and quinoa salad? Cumin, mangos and bright crisp veggies play supporting roles in this protein packed summer dish. It’s a cinch to make and keeps well in the fridge too. Hooray for easy summer dishes!

“hedgehogging” the mango
quinoa cooling on a half sheet pan
summer black bean & quinoa salad with mango!

Quinoa & Black Bean Salad with Mango

1 mango, peeled and diced *see my note below on the best way to dice a mango

1 red pepper, seeded and diced

1/4 cup red onion, diced OR 1 cup scallions, sliced thin

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

2 cups quinoa, cooled

1 can or 1 1/2 cups black beans, rinsed and drained

3 T red wine vinegar

2 T extra virgin olive oil

1 T tamari or shoyu (naturally brewed soy sauce)

2 tsp cumin

juice of 1 lime

fresh black pepper to taste

optional additions include: diced cucumber, diced avocado, crumbled blue corn chips, and hot sauce

Cook quinoa according to package directions. Allow to cool fully on a half sheet pan or cookie sheet. Then combine the cooled quinoa with all of the other ingredients in a large bowl. Serve immediately or chill in the fridge for later. I like to plate my salad over a few lettuce leaves and top with blue chips (Garden of Eatin’s Red Hot Blues are my favorite!) Serves 4 unicorns with post-frappucino caffeine jitters.

*A note on mangos…they are impossibly sticky and have an absurdly large pit in the middle. For a long time, I found them too annoying to eat, until I learned how to “hedgehog” one. Stand your mango up on a cutting board and slice one side from the top to the bottom as close to the pit as your knife can get. Repeat with the other side. Using a paring knife, slice through the two pieces lengthwise and widthwise without piercing the skin. Then invert each piece and gently slice off the mango cubes. See picture above for what your mango should look like!

adventures in hawaiian employment / spicy tempeh burritos, guacamole, and mango salsa

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I really am a vegan chef. I studied at the Natural Gourmet Institute in NYC after a two year hiatus in Hawaii where I intimately observed the lives of beach bums…so intimately in fact, that I became one. Yes, I had a job; I had many jobs. The longest one lasted 4 months, the shortest one, about 3 weeks. Let’s start at the beginning…
My title? Community Marketing Agent (translation: asshole in aloha shirt who stands on street corners with orchids and pretends to be giving you directions and a free flower, but really intends to sign you up for a tour of a timeshare condo in Waikiki). The effectiveness of this job was entirely based on how good you were at lying, manipulating, and faking a smile. I quit after I realized how good I was at it. My husband was quickly demoted to a “greeter”, which is the idiot holding the flowers who stands next to the CMA. This was, of course, a complement because it meant that he was a decent human being. Our roommate Evan was also a CMA, but instead of signing clueless tourists up for timeshare tours, he signed up clueless girls with his number. They were typically blond and their names almost always started with the letter “A”.
Where was I going with this?
Oh right, next job. Waitress. Let’s just say that I might have been the worst waitress of all time. The fast pace of a restaurant instantly made me feel sluggish, as though my heinous, black work shoes were covered in tar and stuck to the floor. The idea of “turning my tables” quickly was not particularly appealing, even though it meant more tips. I found myself content with making the least amount of tips, while leisurely enjoying my tables and encouraging them to stick around. My boss eventually gave me the small outside section (which overlooks the ocean and was notorious for slow tables). I really enjoyed this until we all had to start sharing the “sushi bar” section. This stressed me out: all single customers, lined up in a row. They want their sushi fast and their drinks faster. This is about the time I started my involuntarily eye roll. Everybody does this, right? Sure, but not like me. When I roll my eyes it’s horribly obvious and I have no control over it. Needless to say, a few forgotten beers later, an impatient customer got the full wrath of my eyes. My boss was unhappy with me, and there were a few other incidences too (example: kid asked me for milk. “Um, it’s a Japanese restaurant buddy, we don’t have milk”. I asked my boss what to do. He told me to go to the restaurant next door and borrow some. You’re joking, right? I had a better idea: coffee creamer mixed with fresh tap water. Perfect; the kid freaking loved it, and asked for more).
So I moved on to retail: slower pace, encouraged to partake in my favorite activity (staring off into space and succumbing to wildly entertaining daydreams), and I didn’t smell like dead fish anymore. Nope, instead I smelled like hand sanitizer and cotton, and my daydreaming became so invasive that when a customer actually addressed me, I looked at them as though they were in the dreamworld and my reality was Neverland. That was the job that lasted 3 weeks. Then we moved back to the mainland, and I realized that I wanted to become a chef. Do you see how my story perfectly sets up that connection? Don’t over think it.

taking in the view at Makapu’u lighthouse

Onward to the recipes!

It’s muggy and hot outside, so even though it’s fall I don’t feel inclined to make a batch of cozy “let’s make a fire” autumn stew. Instead, I’m sweating and fending off a mass of nearly dead mosquitos with nothing left to lose. Solution? Spicy burritos made with a wondrously healthy and scrumptious food called tempeh. Tempeh is my favorite soy miracle, made from whole soybeans and fermented into a scary looking (think brains) but delicious and protein packed package of love. This recipe takes about 30 minutes to make from start to finish so it’s a great meal to have when you don’t feel like cooking.

*Note: all of the ingredients below can be purchased at Whole Foods or another natural foods store.  Yes, I know, “Whole Paycheck” is expensive, but remember this: what is the one thing you do three times a day (maybe more, hopefully not less) for your entire life? Yup, you guessed it…eat! Your body is counting on you to fill it up with yummy and healthy food, a little bit everyday. So do yourself a favor and spend a few extra bucks on organic, minimally processed food. It will make you happy and you will start seeing unicorns everywhere.

Tempeh Burritos

1 package Tempeh, crumbled (I use SoyBoy brand)
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 green pepper, sliced
1 T mexican seasoning blend (I love Penzey’s Adobo blend, but any mexican blend will work…or you can just use a mixture of cumin, cayenne, and garlic)
3/4 jar prepared salsa (I use 365 organic mild or medium salsa, but you can use any kind)
1 T shoyu or tamari (shoyu is naturally brewed soy sauce without the preservatives and oftentimes corn syrup (gasp!) in conventional brands. Tamari is brewed without wheat = gluten free)
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro, chopped

1/2 bunch collard greens, stems removed

In a large saute pan, turn flame on high, add oil and heat. Add onions (this is about the time when you will grab a wooden spoon and feel the urge to vigorously stir the onions. Do not give in to this temptation. When you stir, it produces steam, and all your crispy veggies will turn to mush. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t stir at all, just don’t go crazy). Now add the crumbled tempeh and saute until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add peppers, tamari/shoyu, and seasoning and continue to cook. Pour in salsa and turn down flame. Using your wooden spoon, deglaze the crispy bits on the bottom of the pan with the salsa. Turn off flame and toss with cilantro. Lightly steam collards in a pot fitted with a steamer basket for 5 minutes or just lay collards over the burrito filling towards the end of cooking to soften. Serve with guacamole, salsa, romaine lettuce, and hot sauce. Makes about 4 burritos or enough for 4 corona sipping unicorns.

Homemade guacamole and salsa are so easy to make and taste so much better than the stuff from the store. Grab a mixing bowl for each, add ingredients, mix & serve!

Guacamole

3 avocados, pitted & scooped out of skins
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
juice of 1 lime
1 small tomato, seeded and diced
1/4 red onion, diced
small handful cilantro, finely chopped
1 T jalapeno pepper, deveined, seeded & minced (wear rubber gloves if you’re sensitive to heat)
sea salt to taste
Mango Salsa

1 mango, peeled, pitted & diced
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded & diced
1 T jalapeno, seeded & diced
1/3 cup red onion, diced
1 T lime juice
1/3 cup cilantro, finely chopped
sea salt & black pepper to taste