fennel

the unhealthy vegan? / smoky cream of fennel soup

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DSC_0239There are a lot of unhealthy vegans out there. Wait, what? you ask in bewilderment. I thought vegans were plant eating hippie health nuts who eat bark and berries? Well, yeah, in the good ol’ days, but as veganism has become more mainstream, so has the food industry’s development of meat and dairy replacements. According to a recent study, there are over 7 million vegetarians in the US, and of that group, about 1 million are vegan. This means that there are over 7 million people spending their money on plant-based foods, and that number is steadily on the rise. As a result, there’s been a major influx of meat and dairy replacement “convenience” foods, and shopping for vegan and vegetarian food has never been more accessible. Sounds great, right? In theory, yes, and if you’re considering a plant based diet, the transition couldn’t be easier. But the problem is, we plant eaters have become brainwashed by the same marketing propaganda that our meat eating comrades often experience. Grocery stores now market highly processed vegetarian foods, glittering with magical phrases like “all natural meat alternative” (translation: processed soy isolate crap with cane sugar, “natural” i.e. we-don’t-want-to-tell-you flavorings, cornstarch, and maybe some good old MSG (no, not Madison Square Garden…Monosodium Glutamate, otherwise known as the devil’s (sugar’s) right hand man.)

But are these foods really better than the animal products they’re replacing? From an ethical standpoint, yes, but from a nutritional standpoint…I don’t think so. A vegan or vegetarian that consumes a diet high in processed soy meat alternatives and other convenience foods made from refined flours and sugars is in danger of becoming just as unhealthy as someone who follows a standard American diet. The bottom line is, processed foods, whether vegetarian or not, are high in sodium and sugars and low in nutrient density. Over time, eating nutrient poor foods can lead to deficiencies and chronic degenerative diseases. Solution? Eat a mostly WHOLE foods plant-based diet, rich in sprouted whole grains, legumes, and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Don’t just go veg for ethical reasons, go veg for your health!

Now that I’ve ruined your sugar-laden soy latte and fake sausage breakfast, why not try something more WHOLEsome? Sweet tasting fennel, creamy cashews, smoked sea salt and the refreshing zip of licorice come together in this easy, dreamy, creamy fennel soup.

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DSC_0243Smoky Cream of Fennel Soup

1 T cold pressed extra virgin olive oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 bulb of fennel, green fronds and bulb root removed, then chopped

3 large carrots or 5-6 small carrots, peeled and chopped

3 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped

3 cups stock

1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked for at least an hour or up to overnight + 1/2 cup fresh water

1 T unfiltered apple cider vinegar

1/2 tsp fennel seeds, ground with a mortar & pestle

1/2 tsp smoked sea salt (I recommend alder smoked sea salt)

Fresh black pepper and sea salt to taste

IN a soup pot, heat oil over a medium flame and add onion. Sweat for a few minutes until onion begins to soften, then pour in fennel, carrots, and garlic. Stir to combine. Allow to cook for several minutes, then add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce flame to low and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a high speed blender, add soaked (and rinsed) cashews and water. Blend on high until mixture resembles a thick cream. Pour cashew cream into simmering soup and stir. Continue to simmer for another 10 minutes, or until vegetables are very tender. Turn off flame and add vinegar. Pour soup into blender and puree until smooth. Transfer pureed soup back to pot and season with salt and pepper. To serve, ladle soup into bowls and garnish with crushed fennel seed and smoked sea salt. Makes enough soup for 4-6 recovering junk food addict vegan unicorns.

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everyone’s still talking about the election and I’m like “hey, I made fennel & spinach salad with poppy seed dressing!”

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Since the election is over, I thought I’d talk politics. Ha! Just kidding. I’m so burned out from all the political mumbo-jumbo that I’m seriously considering living in a hut in the woods somewhere. Except just writing those words conjures images of Cabin Fever and Misery type horror movies. So I’ll stay and tell you something of vital importance: Obama has very large ears and a great smile. Romney always looks like has to pee, but is charming in that smug businessman type of way. There, I said it. Okay fine, do you really want to know my thoughts in a nutshell? Focus on the economy and leave the social issues out of it. Let Americans love and marry who they want, smoke marijuana if they want, speak their minds if they want, wear unitards and walk backwards if they want. I’m vegan and I love you, but don’t tell me what to do. I’ll cook you yummy food and be your friend, but only if you hug unicorns, believe in faeries, and laugh and dance. Name me that party and I’m so in.

And speaking of parties, last night I joined forces with Kathryn from The Inner Space pilates and yoga studio and Kim, owner of The New England Pasta Company for a holiday cooking demo led by yours truly. My good friend Kathryn led an informative discussion on mindful eating during the holiday season and Kim offered up her beautiful kitchen for the demo. The menu was 100% vegan and free of gluten, sugar, and night shades! Hooray!

getting ready to demo my vegan holiday menu!
garnishing the baked apples with micro parsley and cranberry sauce
baked apples with savory herbed tofu stuffing & micro parsley!

In addition to the baked apples, I prepared a simple but decadent warm fennel & spinach salad with toasted hazelnuts and rich poppy seed dressing. Cashews and a Vita-Mix play the lead roles in creating a creamy, I-can’t-believe-this-doesn’t-have-dairy-in-it masterpiece dressing.

rockin’ some cooked fennel for my salad
toasted hazelnuts coming out of the oven
warm fennel, pear & spinach salad with toasted hazelnuts and creamy poppy seed dressing!

Warm Fennel & Pear Salad with Toasted Hazelnuts and Creamy Poppy Seed Dressing

for the salad:

6 big handfuls of baby spinach leaves

2 pears, cored and thinly sliced

1 cup raw hazelnuts, toasted in the oven at 350 for 10 minutes or until fragrant and lightly browned

1-2 bulbs of fennel (depending on size), tops discarded and thinly sliced

Pinch of black pepper

for the dressing: 

Combine the following ingredients in a high-speed blender…

3/4 cup raw cashews, soaked if preferred

1/2 cup water

3 T extra virgin olive oil

juice of 1 lemon

1 T coconut nectar

2 tsp red wine vinegar

1/2 tsp sea salt

Once dressing is creamy and emulsified, remove from blender and pour into a large bowl. Now stir in 2 teaspoons of poppy seeds and toss with the spinach leaves. Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, add a splash of olive oil and turn the flame to medium heat. Once hot (look for striations in the oil), add sliced fennel. Cook for a few minutes without stirring until it begins to brown. Add a pinch of sea salt, flip, and cook the other side. When the fennel is crispy and brown, turn off flame and allow fennel to cool slightly. To arrange salad, place four or five slices of pear on each salad plate and top with dressed spinach, hazelnuts and warm fennel. Serves 4-6 unicorns who wish they could’ve voted for a vegan president.

thank you Kathryn & Kim for organizing and contributing to a great demo!