BodyGuruBlog

Health, Wellness, and My "Multi-Life"

PAN Vegan Pledge – Chef Lenka, Queen of Cashews

photo of lunch buffet

During our fourth Saturday meeting (at the end of week 3), we were treated to a second cooking demo, this time by vegan Chef Lenka Zivkovich. Pictured above are some of the wonderful treats she prepared for our lunch: veggie hummus wraps, bbq jackfruit sandwiches on mini bagels, and cumin-spiced carrot “meatballs” ringed with crostini. When we entered the kitchen, much of what you see above had already been prepped in the interest of time. One think that I found particularly wonderful about both Chef Lenka’s and Miss Rachel’s demos was that although both work as professionals in the cooking industry, they provided us with easy and low-cost options. Both of them passed around ingredients with which we might not be familiar (like canned jackfruit), but they also used items they had picked up at the local Trader Joe’s (like raw cashews and barbecue sauce).

Chef Lenka devoted most of her discussion to, you guessed it, cashews. And I just couldn’t resist, the photo above is of a cashew fruit – the stem-like growth on the underside of the fruit is the nut. Lenka first made a thick and creamy custard of cashews and water in a blender. She explained that the cashew to water ration could be altered to produce a variety of basic products. A 1:2 ratio yielded a creamy custard that could be flavored with a little vanilla and used as the “batter” for french toast. Since Chef Lenka offers a wildly popular vegan brunch at a local restaurant, you know this recipe is winner! If the water content is increased to a 1:3 ratio, the result is a vegan substitute for half and half. Lenka made us a quick smoothie with this creamy base, bananas, and spinach.

photo of lunch table

One of the amazing things about the pledge meetings is that there are always surprises. Local sponsors have donated wonderful items, such as the tempeh wraps above from Hip City Veg – and mentors have taken it upon themselves to make additional dishes like the gorgeous salad above or the tempting desserts below.

photo of dessert table

One of the biggest surprise treats came when our organizer mentioned that Chef Lenka had offered to create a late afternoon Happy Hour for our group at Plough and the Stars, where she works. Not only did I immediately sign up for the event, but I emailed some of my vegetarian and “veg-curious” friends to invite them.

photo of Chef Lenka

When we arrived, Chef Lenka welcomed us and explained what she had prepared. She had organized the dishes on a beautiful buffet table and portioned everything small so that we could try a bit of everything. The dishes included inventive items like a “crabcake” made of both artichoke and palm hearts and a savory grilled watermelon.

photo of buffet table

Some of my favorite items included (pictured below, clockwise from the left) a truffled mushroom bruschetta, the “double-heart crabcake,” a mini kebob with king mushroom, mock chicken, and fresh papaya, and a fried “shrimp” with a creamy sriracha sauce.

close up of small plate

Although the buffet was so bountiful, Lenka had one more surprise in store for us: her celebrated raw, vegan creme brulée. Not surprisingly, she used a cashew base. But the dessert also included hints of coconut and vanilla. She browned the raw sugar topping on site with a portable torch and brought the custards to us herself.

photo of creme brulee

The happy hour left us all completely sated, and we vowed to return to Plough and the Stars for one of Chef Lenka’s prix fix vegan dinners once she returns from a well earned summer vacation.

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PAN Vegan Pledge – Produce-Palooza!

Logo Farmers Market Week

In honor of National Farmers Market Week, I’m posting two recipes that spotlight vibrant, local summer produce.

First up we have an Arugula and Beet Salad Plate with Chick-Pea Tabbouleh that I made last Sunday. For the tabbouleh, I simply added diced fresh tomato (in this case 4 small Indigo Rose beauties that were red on one end and black on the other), about half a bunch of coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley, a cup of rinsed canned chick peas, the juice of 1/4 a lemon, and a generous tablespoon of olive oil to a box of Near East Tabouleh (this would work just fine with a cup of plain bulgur, you would just need to add salt to taste).

photo of a bowl of tabbouleh

For the salad I boiled some gorgeous and strikingly pale chioggia beets, peeled and sliced them into eighths, and arranged them over a bed of arugula. About a week ago I had bought Kite Hill’s Truffle, Dill, and Chive almond-based “cheese”; this salad provided the perfect setting for it. Although the texture reminded me a bit of silken tofu, it crumbled well and had a mouthfeel reminiscent of fresh goat cheese. Coarsely chopped pistachios added salty, crunchy goodness – and seemed more interesting than the usual almonds. Because the plate already contained so many flavors and textures, the salad needed nothing more than some olive oil, a bit of aged balsamic vinegar, and freshly cracked black pepper for dressing.

photo of salad plate

Fast forward to later in the week when I was home alone (my boyfriend flew off to visit his family) and feeling hungry and lazy! For some, the mouse surely plays while the cat is away – but this little rodent’s idea of “play” usually entails eating her way through as many perishable odds and ends as possible, cleaning out the refrigerator, and maybe indulging in a night of Netflix and take-out on a Friday night. Although I was tempted to call out for Thai food, two small but gorgeous eggplant sat waiting in my refrigerator. So I put down the laptop, picked up my knife, and put together a simple meal of Soy and Citrus-Glazed Eggplant With Baked Marinated Tempeh.

photo, eggplants

Because this striped variety of eggplant tends to be less bitter than the more common dark purple variety, I simply sliced them crosswise, placed them on a lightly oiled cookie sheet, and put them under the broiler for a few minutes (turning once after about five minutes) with the oven set to 400 degrees. For the tempeh, I placed thin slices in a baking dish and poured about about a tablespoon of soy sauce and a teaspoon of liquid smoke over the them. The tempeh baked uncovered while the eggplant broiled below.

photo: broiled eggplant and baked tempeh

In the meantime I made a simple glaze of a tablespoon each of soy sauce and mirin (Japanese rice wine, but you can use cooking sherry), squeezed in a bit of orange juice (about a tablespoon), and added brown sugar to taste. This lent the eggplant both sweetness and sheen. Blanched baby kale and brown rice rounded out the plate. And that dollop of spicy goodness you see? That would be my new favorite condiment, Trader Joe’s Sambal Matah. After I finished my first jar back in March or April it disappeared from the shelves, and I panicked. When it miraculously reappeared in June I bought 3 jars. If you enjoy chile and lemongrass and live anywhere near me, you might consider doing the same!

photo, dinner plate

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Date Night During the PAN Vegan Pledge

photo of hearts

So what do you do for date night when one partner has joined the Vegan Pledge and the other has not? Interestingly enough, topics like this were covered at one of our Weekly Meetings. A panel of long-term vegans answered questions like, “Do you only date vegans?” One young panelist answered something along the lines of, “If I did, I’d be single for the rest of my life!” Another panelist noted that, while she doesn’t date vegans exclusively, a prospective date’s response to her lifestyle can be a good litmus test. In other words, if you potential date says, “I hope you like ketchup and fries, because we’re going for burgers!” you might want to pass. In other words, regardless of the issue, a red flag is a red flag. Lucky for me, my steady date isn’t a very picky eater and is usually game for any new food experience.

Photo of Mama Palma's

So last week we decided to pay a long overdue visit to Mama Palma’s Gourmet Pizza, an intimate brick-oven pizzeria with an extensive and eclectic menu that offers everything from Peking duck to cajun shrimp to smoked asparagus tips on a pizza. Mama Palma’s also happens to be owned by the family of one of my most energetic and enthusiastic Sunday 9 am fitness participants (her mama is the Mama). And since Brunella’s photo stream suggests that she has enough energy to work out all day (that’s us in the photo below) and then work all night (she’s their hostess), you know there must be magic in those carbs.

photo of Brunella

Like many small restaurants in Philadelphia, Mama Palma’s allows patrons to bring their own wine (they also have an extensive beer list). In keeping with the spirit of the Pledge, I decided to bring a bottle of Vegan Vine Cabernet Sauvignon to accompany our meal. Vegan Vine wines are produced by Clos LaChance Winery, a family-owned and certified sustainable operation in Northern California. Right now they seem to be producing 2 varieties of 100% vegan wine: Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. This Cabernet was more fruit-forward, less tannic, and overall less complex than that varietal is capable of producing. I’d place it in the “easy drinking” category with plenty of bright fruit on the palate but not much in terms of a finish. In all honesty, I had wanted to bring a Brunello di Montalcino or even an old-vine Zinfandel, but I had a horrible time cross-referencing Barnivore’s list with what was available and appealing via the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s product search page.

photo of vegetable plate

As we browsed the menu and sipped our wine, Brunella sent over one of the evening’s specials: an overflowing plate of fresh asparagus, mushrooms, zucchini, broccoli, tomatoes, and olives all sautéed over the oven flames and accented with garlic and fresh basil. I could easily have made a meal out of the vegetables, but I had spent so much time ogling Brunella’s food photos on Facebook that I couldn’t not order pizza. Since Mama Palma’s offers pizzas in three sizes, my boyfriend and I decided we’d each order an 8″ pie. I went with the Grilled Eggplant Parmesan and simply asked them to replace the mozzarella with non-dairy cheese and hold the grated parmesan. My boyfriend ordered the Nonna, also a red-sauced pie, topped with grilled eggplant, grilled chicken, capers, homemade fresh buffalo mozzarella, and garnished with basil.

photo of roasted eggplant pizza

We had strategically used the appetizer’s cornucopia of vegetables as an excuse to order pizzas that featured grilled eggplant, which we both love. As you can see from the photo, the crust was thin and temptingly charred and the eggplant beautifully browned. Ladling the sauce on top kept the crust crisp and the eggplant moist.

As we bicycled home full and happy, we started listing the pizzas we wanted to try during future visits. “I want to try that one with the lemon and wine roasted garlic.” “The polenta bread, people keep raving about the polenta bread online!” “Did you see that guy’s salad?” “Did you see the piece of vegan cake at home in the refrigerator? I got it for us to share.” “I’m too full to eat dessert.” “Me too.”

photo of happy pears

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PAN Vegan Pledge – Halfway There!

I can’t believe I already passed the halfway point of the PAN Vegan Pledge. For this post I thought I would share some of the questions and problems voiced by my fellow pledges, as well as some very helpful resources that I’ve recently discovered.

As early as the 2nd Meeting (the end of the first week), some pledges were feeling frustrated. As you might expect, hunger and boredom were the two biggest complaints. Access to specialty items was highly dependent upon where people lived. And people with very full or “awkward” schedules found it more challenging to prepare meals in advance. Some pledges confessed to eating the same thing all week long; others admitted to eating out more. Most of us probably should have simply remembered to carry simple snacks like nuts or dried fruit. Maybe our organizers are psychic, because at that meeting they gave us a portable Veg Dining Guide.

flyer for vegan cheesesteak

Although the guide is specific to the greater Philadelphia area, it shows how many non-vegan restaurants offer an array of vegan-friendly options. These restaurants also span cuisines from the more familiar Mediterranean (think pasta aglio e olio) to the slightly more exotic Middle Eastern (crisp falafel, creamy hummus, smokey baba ganoush) to the wonderful flavors of South, Southeast, and East Asia. And while you might not fancy dining out several nights a week, browsing the guide can provide you with inspiration to break out of your go-to recipes.

In addition to the dining guide, PAN also has an online Vegan Lifestyle and Recipe Guide. The online guide combines meal plans, nutritional information, as well as simple recipes all on one handy website. But with the growing interest in plant-based diets, more and more resources have become available online. The Vegan Society – based in the U.K. – was founded in 1944 and became a registered charity in 1979. Their website is quite vast, but it includes a very clear breakdown of vegan nutrition by two registered dietitians. Click on the plate for a link to their page, which includes a helpful chart.

veganplate2

The Vegetarian Resource Group (you’ve probably seen their Vegetarian Journal at the checkout counter of the grocery store) has compiled a wealth of nutritional information, like a guide to Protein in the Vegan Diet. Helpful tip: Miss Rachel told us last week that a serving of tempeh contains as much protein as a serving of porterhouse steak – minus all that saturated fat and cholesterol! Finally, Vegan Health offers an even more detailed breakdown – including specific information about key nutrients such as Vitamin B12 and Omega-3s as well as information for specific populations such as diabetics.

So how am I faring? Sure, I too was hungry the first week, but I believe that was more due to the twenty odd fitness classes I taught (more than my usual) than any dietary shift. That said, I have found myself craving sweets. Why? Gone is the occasional Petite Vanilla Scone from Starbucks when I grab that Doppio! Off limits is that surprise Tastykake pie that my boyfriend would sometimes hand me when I returned from teaching a double class! Between the slight shift in diet and weather that makes me want to live on fruit, I also somehow lost a pound or two over the past few weeks. Although I’m sure it’s only temporary, I used this as an excuse to sample an array of vegan snacks.

photo of vegan snacks

Both the Complete Cookie and the Nugo Bar boast a healthy dose of vegan protein (8 and 9 grams per serving, respectively) – and taste great. The only qualm some people might have with the Complete Cookie is that one cookie is equivalent to two servings. So if you are counting calories, keep in mind that one cookie contains over 300 calories (but also packs 16 grams of protein and no sugar alcohols). So far I’ve tried the Lemon Poppy, Snickerdoodle, and Pumpkin cookies – all really delicious and super satisfying!

300 lb vegan

Finally, I’ve also discovered pro football player David Carter. You might know him as the 300 Pound Vegan. His website contains his blog and his “Stronger” recipes. While I don’t aspire to his level of physical fitness, just knowing that he can get through his day on a plant-based diet makes me feel confident that I can do it too!

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PAN Vegan Pledge – Cooking and Community


Photo of Cooking Demo

One of my favorite aspects of the PAN Vegan Pledge is the weekly meetings. Every Saturday, we meet for about 2 hours. The Peace Advocacy Network (PAN) provides us with plenty of tasty vegan food as well as helpful information. During the meetings, pledges can ask questions, share shopping tips, and generally just get to know one another. In addition to casual socializing, we also enjoy a weekly speaker or two. In all honesty, I was a little afraid that the lectures would be filled with horrifying photos of slaughtered animals. It turned out that the fellow who sat next to me last week had exactly the same fear. We bonded over this and laughed as we realized how counter-productive it would have been to make potential vegan-converts lose their appetites over lunch.

At the first meeting, Christopher McJetters shared why he sees veganism as more than a simple food or even lifestyle choice; for him it’s an issue of social justice. At the second meeting Dara Lovitz explained many of the environmental effects of animal agriculture. I plan to devote a separate post to “what I’ve learned,” so please hold on to your questions for a few weeks.

But not all of our speakers are lecturers. This past week we were treated to a cooking demonstration by Rachel Klein (pictured above), owner of Miss Rachel’s Pantry in Philadelphia. I had heard wonderful reports of Miss Rachel’s weekly Farmhouse Table Dinners, so I had been anticipating this meeting all week. Needless to say, she did not disappoint!

photo of food prep

Rachel made two dishes: a simple carrot ginger soup and a baked tempeh sandwich. As you can see, carrots and ginger were two of the primary ingredients in the soup. To this she also added potatoes (she recommended yukon golds or red-skinned potatoes over russets for a creamier texture). To make the soup even richer, she added coconut milk. Much of this was prepped in advance, because we couldn’t really devote the entire two-hour meeting to food prep. Instead Rachel focused on showing us how to make baked tempeh. First off, she recommended slicing the tempeh into thin strips for maximum flavor and a pleasing texture.

photo, marinating tempeh

She then poured soy sauce and liquid smoke over the sliced tempeh, all the while chatting with us and answering questions. “Where can I buy tempeh?” “Can I substitute Braggs Liquid Aminos?” It turns out that Rachel buys her tempeh from Hardena Resto Waroeng Surabaya, a little Indonesian restaurant that also makes their own tempeh, and yes! you can make substitutions (although one pledge pointed out that Braggs actually has a higher sodium content than soy sauce or tamari). As we were shuttled out of the kitchen for Dara’s lecture, Rachel baked the strips on well oiled baking sheets and then constructed the sandwiches. Everything was so fresh and so delicious! Whole grain baguettes were spread with homemade sun-dried tomato cashew “cheese,” layered with the savory tempeh, and topped with thickly sliced, ripe tomatoes and fresh basil.

One thing Rachel noted was that while vegan cooking doesn’t need to be expensive, prepared vegan food can be pricey due to the amount of prep work involved. As an example, she pointed to the lunch she made for us. Carrots, potatoes, coconut milk, tempeh … none of these are high-priced luxury items. But making a cultured cashew cheese requires significant time, labor, and knowledge. Buying what’s organic and in season and producing quality food in small batches also adds to the cost. For me this was a real “lightbulb moment.” Factory farming is heavily subsidized; small family-owned farms that sell at farmers’ markets or direct to restaurants and caterers are not. Now that I know this, and especially because I’ve sampled Miss Rachel’s cooking, you can bet she’ll be seeing me at one of her dinners in the very near future!

photo of produce from farmers market

Duly inspired by the fresh flavors in Rachel’s cooking, I went straight from the meeting to the Rittenhouse Farmers’ Market. Peaches, cherry tomatoes, and “fairy tale” eggplant are only some of the wonderful items that I purchased. As I biked home with both my belly and my backpack full, I started planning a Sunday dinner that would highlight fresh summer produce but also leave us with some leftovers for a busy Monday.

photo of tofu and asparagus

Sunday was a real scorcher, but luckily my boyfriend loves to grill. We marinated the eggplant in a mixture of balsamic vinegar and soy sauce. Squares of pressed firm tofu were slathered with a simple mix of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and basil. And the asparagus was drizzled with olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and sea salt. As the my boyfriend set the coals to fire, I started on a pot of quinoa.

photo of dinner

Once everything was ready, I drizzled a bit of vegan pesto onto the tofu to accentuate its flavor.

photo of leftovers as a salad

On Monday I turned the leftovers into a gorgeous salad for a super easy but equally delicious dinner.

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PAN Vegan Pledge – Week 1

vegan word cloud

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I recently registered for the PAN 30 Day Vegan Pledge. Now some of you might be wondering, “But weren’t you already vegan?” In a word, “No.” I cut out meat and what I called “big dairy” two summers ago as an experiment prior to a Yoga Workshop Weekend. What I mean by “big dairy” is that I cut out foods like pizza, but I wasn’t so picky that I wouldn’t eat an almond croissant (my favorite pastry) or chocolate bar. I was still, however, eating fish and seafood. As a fitness instructor, I was a bit concerned about attempting a sudden, radical overhaul of my diet, but I also didn’t want to cause problems for my family on holidays (my Mom often orders a sushi platter as part of our holiday dinners).

Two things happened to make me think harder about eating fish and seafood. This past December, my boyfriend and I were walking through a market while traveling in Thailand. All of a sudden a fish leapt out of a bucket and hit me on the leg. I screamed, the ladies in the market laughed, and my boyfriend wished he had been filming. I just thought, “Yeah, I don’t think I need to eat that.”

photo of Thai market

But months prior to that episode I had caught an advanced screening of Cowspiracy, an extraordinarily well researched and well presented documentary on the un-sustainability of animal agriculture. As a result, I had already drastically cut back on my fish and seafood consumption even before being hit by that flying fish.

Cowspiracy Image

I went into the Pledge knowing that all I really needed to eliminate was pastries and … wine. I know what you’re thinking, because I had the same thought, “How can fermented grape juice not be vegan?” It turns out that most wines undergo a process called “fining” to remove sediments and other unwanted particles. And wine makers have long used animal proteins, in particular egg whites, gelatin, casein – which is derived from milk, and isinglass – obtained from the swim bladder of fish, as fining agents. Fortunately, there are vegan wines out there. In fact, I made sure to ask Tria, my favorite wine bar, which of their current selections were vegan. Lucky for me, this season’s favorite summer sipper, Txakolina Arabako, Xarmant, ‘14, is vegan. Fellow wine connoisseurs also put me on to Barnivore, a website and app that allows you to search their massive database to find out whether or not your favorite wine, beer, or liquor is vegan.

But back to the Pledge itself … as part of the pledge, we meet every Saturday for 5 weeks. The meetings include lunch and some kind of informational session, like a lecture and/or cooking demo. At the first meeting we received Goodie Bags full of coupons, a strategically chosen issue of Vegetarian Journal, cruelty-free products for our home and our bodies, and snacks. The Vegan Pledge is free, so everything in the bag was donated by this year’s sponsors.

contents of the pledge goodie bag

At the meeting we were also paired with our mentors, experienced vegans to whom we can turn when we have questions or for moral support if we can’t stop dreaming about summer barbecues. I had just come from teaching an intense hour of Spinning, so I had a hard time not eating everything in my bag. Luckily, Philly’s amazing Blackbird Pizza paid us a surprise visit. I wish I had had the foresight to take photos of all the food, but I was so busy piling my plate with crackers, spreads, salads, nachos, and cookies (the pizza arrived fashionably late) that my hands were full. But I promise to take some action shots of the cooking demos in the following weeks.

All in all it’s been remarkably easy to stick to the plan this week. At times I’ve been exceptionally hungry – which lead me to wonder just how many calories I’ve been consuming in pastries and wine – but then I realized that it’s also been an exceptionally intense week in terms of fitness instruction. By Friday I was dead tired and starving, so I put together a quick dinner of pasta tossed with sautéed mushrooms and vegan pesto with some broiled zucchini on the side – which I ate before I could photograph.

photo of vegan pesto

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Kicking Off 30 Days of Vegan with Sloppy “Jacks”

20150712_192259

Guess who’s back? After two trips to Thailand – December and May – to volunteer with Elephant Nature Park (I know, I should devote a post or two to that) I fell off the blogging wagon. But I recently signed up to join a 30 Day Vegan Pledge and decided that it would be an experience worth sharing.

Now you might be wondering, “What is the PAN Vegan Pledge, and how it is different from just, well, going vegan?” The PAN Vegan Pledge is organized by the Peace Advocacy Network, and it’s quite a comprehensive program. The program coordinators have paired each of us “pledges” with a vegan mentor and put together a series of 5 weekly group meetings that include lunch, lectures, and a few exciting cooking demos! I’ll be blogging about those meetings and my experiences with the pledge as the weeks pass, but I wanted to kick things off by sharing a recipe.

For at least a year or two, I’ve been hearing a lot about using jackfruit as a meat substitute, especially for some form of barbecue. Since it was fairly close to 4th of July, I thought I’d give it a shot. I decided to aim for something that resembled the vinegar-based sauces of Southern pulled pork but with some of the additional textures and flavors of an old favorite, sloppy joes.

Serves around 8:

  • 2 20 oz cans of jackfruit in brine or water
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 1 red onion
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, minced
  • 1-2 tablespoons cider vinegar*
  • 1 tablespoon grainy mustard
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar (more to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons blackstrap molasses
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika

* For a sweeter flavor, use only 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar and double the brown sugar

photo of canned jackfruit

Some recipes will specify jackfruit in water and not brine. I checked the sodium contents on a variety of brands and found that they varied wildly. I chose the brand with the lowest sodium content per serving, and it turned out to be packed in brine and not water. Just make sure that the jackfruit is “young” or “green” and not packed in syrup. Open the cans – then drain, rinse, and chop the jackfruit. It will look like this.

photo of jackfruit after it has been rinsed, drained, and chopped

Smash and mince the garlic, and chop or dice the pepper and onion according to your preference. In a large, heavy pot, heat 1-2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Throw in the garlic, paprika, onion, and pepper. Sauté everything to mix and soften the vegetables.

photo os chopped green peppers and onions

After a few minutes, add your jackfruit and sun-dried tomatoes. Full disclosure: I originally wanted to make this more like a saucy sloppy joe, but I didn’t have any tomato paste lying around. Then I remembered that bag of sun-dried tomatoes! They are optional, but they do add a wonderful flavor, color, and texture to the recipe.

photo inside cooking pot

Add the cider vinegar, mustard, brown sugar, and molasses. Give everything a stir, lower the heat to medium, and cover. If the mixture is dry and everything is sticking to the pot, then add 2-4 tablespoons of water before covering. Let everything simmer until the vegetables are tender and the flavors have melded, about 20 min. I served this on sandwich flats topped with a bit of bbq sauce and a quick and easy slaw made of napa cabbage and a store-bought lemon tahini dressing.

photo of open-faced sandwich

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Chia Paradise Pudding

Majorelle Garden in Marrakesh

Majorelle Garden in Marrakesh

For years now, I’ve had this idea that Morocco would be the perfect place to spend Christmas. Years ago I’d been fixated on Paul Bowles’s novel The Sheltering Sky. And while I have no interest in wandering lost in the desert, the prospect of spice markets, sandstone walls, maybe a holiday hammam has always seemed alluring. More recently, the double helping of Yves St Laurent biopics out this year (the photo above is of the Majorelle Garden, which St Laurent and Pierre Bergé purchased in 1980) – has reanimated my fantasies of tented banquets in desert oases.

We’ve all heard the old saying, “Those who can’t do, teach.” I say, “Those who can’t go, cook.” So sometimes I find myself taking a basic idea – like a standard soup – and flavoring it with daydreams. As the weather turned from summer to fall, and the semester hit me like … a desert sandstorm?

Taliouine Saffron

I had holiday plans … plans to study machete fencing in Haiti, aspirations of returning to Thailand – this time to volunteer at Elephant Nature Park … and the old dream, Christmas in Morocco. There is a lovely spot in Philadelphia called Down Dog Cafe. They serve an elixir, although they do not call it that. It’s a kind of smoothie: almonds, dates, saffron, almond milk, a touch of spice. It’s both cool and frothy, light yet nourishing.

The idea: Morocco, Down Dog’s almond date smoothie, breakfast …

Chia Paradise Pudding

  1. Take 2 tbsp of chia seeds and soak them in a cup of coconut milk (almond, cashew, they all work and impart their own subtle flavors)
  2. Throw in a pinch or two of saffron (saffron needs to be stewed or soaked), a dash of cinnamon, maybe 1/4 tsp of vanilla, something sweet like date sugar or jaggery if you wish
  3. After 15 or so minutes, add a few drops of orange flower or rose water (be sparing, 1/8 tsp could overwhelm it)
  4. Shake and refrigerate overnight
  5. In the morning serve over fruit – I used raspberries, but consider dates and sliced oranges for the full effect

chia pudding

More soon …

Related Links

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A Backlog of Recipes 1 – “taco” stuffed peppers

Wow! has it really been so many months since my last blog post? Although the Spring Semester and all that crazy weather really took a toll on my blogging, I somehow managed to photograph several meals and remember how I made them. This particular photo generated recipe inquiries when I posted it on Facebook. Hopefully it arrives better late than never!

heeSunday Supper - Vegan Taco Stuffed Peppers

Vegan Taco Stuffed Peppers

Way back in April I was determined to use up a bunch of odds and ends cluttering my kitchen. Whole Foods had featured gorgeous bell peppers and avocados on sale; our CSA had included two onions – one very small; we had one or two scallions, a bunch of cilantro on its last legs, a package of vegan “ground beef,” and an almost empty jar of salsa in our refrigerator. Because the weather was warming up, my mind turned to warm-weather foods. Taco stuffed peppers seemed a terrific way of satisfying both my desires.

Ingredients (feeds 2):

  • 2 bell peppers
  • 1 package vegetarian ground beef
  • 1 small onion
  • spice mix (I used a tsp of cumin and a pinch of ground chili)
  • optional – frozen or canned corn
  • cilantro
  • 1 cup quinoa (I used three-color quinoa)
  • 1 scallion
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 lime

This is super easy. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a baking pan. Split the peppers in half and remove seeds and any white membrane. Arrange the pepper halves in the pan so that they lie flat and support one another.

Dice the small onion and slice the scallion – put them in separate piles. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat and grease lightly. Sauté the onion until it softens. Crumble in the vegetarian ground beef, add the corn if using, sprinkle with spices, and stir to blend. Once everything is combined and warm, taste and adjust. Remove from heat. Spoon the filling into the peppers. Cover and bake for approximately 20 minutes (more or less depending upon how firm you like your peppers).

Meanwhile … rinse the quinoa and cook according to directions. Once the quinoa has absorbed all the water, quickly stir in the scallions, cover the quinoa again, and let steam for 5-10 minutes).

When you are ready to plate, scoop the avocado flesh into a small bowl, squeeze the juice of 1/4 lime over it, and roughly mash with a fork. Plate everything and garnish with fresh cilantro, salsa, and more lime.

NOTE: vegetarian “meats” are often salted, and conventional taco seasoning (which you can use to season the filling) often contains a significant amount of salt.

Ready for Plating

Ready for Plating

What to do with leftovers? Taco salad! I used spring mix, blue corn chips, diced avocado, leftover quinoa and taco filling, and salsa. Even better the next day – and a better photo too!

photo of taco salad

Taco Salad

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Black-Eyed Pea Chili

photo of dried peas

Back in February I planned to work on two vegan items: a baked pasta and black-eyed pea chili. Baked pasta had been on my mind because I just love noodles. Thick vs. thin; short vs. long; rice vs. wheat … pasta offers so many delicious choices! In all honesty, despite the fact that Asian noodle bowls have become my default quick meal, I would be hard pressed to choose between a steaming bowl of Chinese-style, dumpling noodle soup and a plate of penne all’arrabbiata.

My desire to create a black-eyed pea-based chili, on the other hand, is owed to chef Matthew Gansert. A local gastropub had been featuring his vegan black-eyed pea chili. It was a perfect winter dish: wonderfully rich, spicy, and served with homemade tortilla chips, which formed the perfect scoop. (Don’t even get me started about his vibrant millet salad!) But earlier this year the gastropub changed “concept,” Matthew headed to Brooklyn, and with him went the chili.

Never one to sit and sulk I thought, “Well I’ll just make my own chili.” But there was a slight problem: since it had never occurred to me that I might someday need to make it myself, I never paid his chili the “right” sort of attention. That is, I simply savored it–never noting various vegetables, never peeling back its layers of flavor. So instead of trying to recreate it from memory, I decided to start from scratch. My chili certainly isn’t that chili, but it suits the eclectic weather we’ve been experiencing: hearty enough to chase away lingering snows, but bright with a spring-like mixture of fresh herbs added just before serving.

photo of chili in pot

Ingredients:

  • 1-1 1/4 cups of dried black-eyed peas
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 1 medium onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2-3/4 tsp smoked bittersweet paprika
  • 1/4 tsp chili pepper (more or less, I used marash, go easy if using cayenne)
  • olive or other cooking oil
  • can or pack of diced, stewed, whole, and/or fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1 cup unsalted vegetable broth
  • salt to taste
  • generous handful of chopped herbs (I used scallions, fresh oregano, parsley, and cilantro)

photo of fresh herbs

Directions:

  • soak the peas overnight in plenty of water, drain and rinse when ready to cook
  • dice the pepper and onion (your choice, I went big enough that they wouldn’t fall apart during cooking)
  • smash and mince the garlic
  • heat oil in a big pot over medium heat (enough oil so that the bottom is lightly covered)
  • sauté the onion until it starts to soften, add the pepper and garlic and stir
  • add the spices and stir until fragrant (this happens quickly)
  • add the soaked and drained beans, tomatoes (with their juice), and vegetable broth, stir
  • bring the pot to a boil, adding water if need
  • cover and simmer on low until beans are tender (mine took little over an hour)
  • check your chili, if it’s a bit watery, open the lid and let some of the excess liquid boil off
  • just before serving mince one or two scallions and coarsely chop herbs, stir in just before serving or sprinkle on individual servings

bowl of chili

NOTE: I ended up not adding any additional salt because the tomatoes contained enough to for the entire pot. That said, I think I could have doubled the tomatoes and turned up the heat by doubling the chili pepper.

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