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Archive for March, 2010

Quinoa is a grain-like seed that is native to the Andean region of South America, and was considered a sacred crop by the Incas. In modern times, it’s often praised for it’s high protein content. Quinoa, unlike other grains, contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein on it’s own. It’s also rich in fiber, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron. Cooking quinoa is a similar process to cooking rice, but it needs to be soaked first to insure that all of the saponins (a coating that gives off a soap-like flavor) have been loosened.  Packaged quinoa – the kind that comes in box mixes with seasonings, for example, usually has the coating removed prior to packaging.  I get my quinoa in bulk from my co-op so I don’t know for sure and I always soak it just to be safe.  Taste-wise, quinoa has a mild nutty flavor and a texture similar to rice. This salad is a nice alternative to pasta salad and perfect for a light lunch or as a side dish.

Quinoa Salad (vegan)

Ingredients
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 small cucumber, diced
3-4 green onions, white and light green parts only, diced
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup black olives, chopped
2 large handfuls spinach (about 2 cups) chopped
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
splash of lemon or lime juice (about 2 teaspoons)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste

Directions
1. Soak the quinoa in a bowl covered with cool water for 15-30 minutes. Drain the quinoa in a wire strainer or fine colander, and rinse well. Place the quinoa in a small pot with 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat. Simmer for 15 minutes, then remove from heat and allow to steam (leave the lid on!) for 5-10 more minutes. Fluff the quinoa with a fork and let cool. At this point I usually get impatient and spread the cooked quinoa on a large plate or baking sheet, so it cools more quickly.
2. Add all the chopped veggies and the remaining ingredients to a medium-sized bowl. Toss them together and let the veggies marinate while the quinoa is cooling.
3. Once the quinoa is mostly cooled (it doesn’t have to be cold), add it to the bowl and mix it all up. At this point you can taste it and adjust your seasonings, but remember that the flavors will intensify as the salad sits. I like to keep the oil down for myself, but you could add more – up to 1/4 cup, if the vinegar is too overpowering for you, or start with less vinegar and adjust to your taste. Refrigerate before serving.

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If you’ve been following the news about the Health Care Bill, you’ve probably already heard about this.  Tucked away inside the bill is a regulation (added by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin!) forcing food service establishments with more than 20 locations to post calorie count information on the menu and/or menu board, and on drive-thru menus.  It also adds this requirement for vending machines.

Many restaurants already have nutrition information available – if you know where to look.  But this will make the information more obvious, and I definitely think that’s a good thing.  Some of the massive calorie counts of restaurant foods are obvious.  I don’t know anyone who doesn’t realize that a Double Whopper with Cheese and a Supersized order of fries packs a massive caloric (and fat, and sodium) punch, but how many people realize that a Chicken Ceasar Salad could have 1500 calories?  I also think the calorie counts will help people make better conscious choices.  If you see on a menu that Ranch dressing is 200 calories, and a vinaigrette dressing is 100 calories, that’s a small change that can make a big difference in the long run.

As I mentioned before in this post, I always take restaurant calorie counts with a grain of salt for a couple of reasons.  First, portion sizes are notoriously inconsistent, even with “standardized” things like food service scoops.  Secondly, a while ago I read this post, written by a woman (her blog is riotously funny and candid, and you should read it) who discovered a gross inaccuracy in the posted calorie count of a Starbucks pastry.  If you’ve read Fast Food Nation (if you haven’t, you should), you will surely remember the portion of the book where Schlosser sends various samples of fast food items away for lab testing and the resulting nutritional content comes out differently than their declared values.  So my advice is this:  Once those calorie counts start appearing on menus, use them as a rough guideline and as a tool to help you make better choices.

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Here are some things I’ve tried – and liked! – recently.

1.)  These Bahama Rice Burgers.


I first saw these at my co-op and decided to give them a try.  I like that they are a soy-free veggie burger, made with rice, lentils, and kidney beans (mostly).  They have a great flavor – I’ve tried the Original and Mediterranean flavors and I like them both.  The Mediterranean flavor has a little bit of spiciness.  Texture-wise, they are softer and have a higher moisture-content than other veggie burgers I’ve tried.  It doesn’t bother me, and it actually works pretty well for stuffing into a tortilla, which is how I usually eat mine.  The cooking instructions actually say you can bake or grill them for a crispier texture, but I haven’t tried that.  The texture does not closely mimic meat, but it’s not a problem for me personally.

2.) While I’m mentioning tortillas – Stacey’s Organic whole wheat tortillas are my favorite.  Grab a package of conventional tortillas and read the ingredients.  There’s some weird stuff in them!  And there are also a lot of ingredients that are sketchy for vegans (animal-derived enzymes, dough conditioners, and preservatives).  Check out the ingredients in Stacey’s whole wheat tortillas:  organic whole wheat and unbleached white flour, water, organic sunflower oil, aluminum-free baking powder, salt, citric acid.

3.)  Justin’s Maple Almond Butter.

There are no words to describe this stuff.  It is to die for.  I don’t even consider myself a big fan of almond butter and I can’t get enough of this stuff.  Justin makes all different kinds of great varieties of nut butters, and they are available in 100 calorie squeeze packs and larger squeeze packs (2 Tablespoons, calories vary by flavor).

4.)  Qbel 70% Double Dark Chocolate Wafer Bars.

These are like a sophisticated version of the Kit Kat.  They’re vegan and amazing.  Each wafer (there are 2 per pack) is 90 calories and very satisfying.  They’re the perfect chocolate-y dessert.

Let me know if you’ve tried any of these things and what you thought of them!

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I intended to post this lovely bright green guacamole yesterday, in honor of St. Patty’s Day, but I am battling spring allergies right now and have been down for the count most of this week.  Still, this guacamole would be good any time.  The peas cut down the fat and calories a little bit (though avocados are loaded with healthy fats and I’m not saying you should avoid them!), but their sweetness also contrasts nicely with the spiciness of the jalapeno and the spicy-sourness of the green chiles and lime.  You can use fresh peas if they are available, but I used frozen peas that I thawed in a colander under warm water.  You can change up the spiciness by adding more or less jalapeno, or by adding some hot sauce at the end.  The finished product can be used as a dip for chips or veggies, or as a topping for salads, tacos, sandwiches – you name it.

Green Pea Guacamole (vegan)

Ingredients
2 ripe avocados
1 cup fresh or frozen peas (thawed)
3 green onions, white and light green parts only
juice of 1 lime
1 small can green chiles
1 small fresh jalapeno pepper, de-seeded
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cilantro leaves

Directions
Put all ingredients except avocado, cilantro, and salt in the food processor and blitz until they are all chopped up and smooth.  In a small bowl, mash up the avocado flesh (you can make it smooth or chunky, whichever you prefer).  Stir in the pea mixture and the chopped cilantro, and season to taste.  Add salt, more lime juice, hot sauce, whatever you like.  This recipe makes about 2 1/2 cups, depending on the size of you avocados.

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The days are getting longer and the temps are getting warmer.  Besides a massive improvement in my mood, this also means I crave more fresh foods (as opposed to cooked foods and comfort foods).  Which also usually leads to a small improvement in my waistline, so it’s good news all around.  And yes, I really need to move closer to the equator.

This week I decided to incorporate some fresh veggies into my diet with lettuce wraps.  I chopped all my veggies when I got home from the store, so these came together quickly.  The sauce makes quite a bit, so I think next time I might cut it in half.  I’ve been using the leftover sauce as a dressing on salads, and I think it would also be good on noodles, either cold or warm.  I’ve seen a lot of variations on peanut sauce.  At The Bakery, we used to make one that had to be cooked – sauteed garlic and onions, etc. (it was from The Frog Commissary Cookbook).   I really just wanted something quick so I just threw some things in the food processor.

Peanut Sauce (vegan)

Ingredients
1/2 cup natural peanut butter (no sugar)
1 1/2 Tablespoons soy or tamari sauce
1 clove garlic
juice of 1/2 a lime
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon agave nectar
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
hot sauce, to taste
water or broth

Directions
Put all ingredients in a food processor or blender and blitz until smooth.  Add water gradually to thin to desired consistency.

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Tuesday evening I had the pleasure of attending a cooking demo by Madhu Gadia, the author of two books, New Indian Home Cooking and The Indian Vegan Kitchen:


The demo was at my co-op and she talked a little bit about Indian cuisine and prepared two dishes for the crowd, both from her newest book.

Chickpea Salad (Kabuli Chana Salad) from The Indian Vegan Kitchen

Some of the key points from her presentation:

–  Most Indians don’t even own curry powder!  Though this is what most people think of when they hear “Indian food,” most Indian cooks prefer to blend their own spices.

– One of the most popular spices in Indian cooking is cumin, and again, most Indian cooks prefer to roast the whole cumin seed then grind them, instead of buying cumin powder.  She passed around examples of regular store-bought ground cumin, whole cumin seeds, and toasted cumin, and there was a huge difference in the aroma.

– Another misconception about Indian food is that it is all hot (spicy).  Another reason to blend your own spices is that you can control the heat without increasing all the other flavors as well.  Two spices are used to make Indian food hot – cayenne pepper and black pepper.  More spice is not always better, and remember that you can always add but can’t take away.

– Turmeric is used mostly for color, aroma, and its health benefits.  It is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties, and also to fight infection.

– Lastly, Gadia talked a little bit about garam masala.  Again, most Indian cooks prefer to make their own by combining seven different spices: cumin seed, large black cardamon, black pepper, cinnamon, whole cloves, bay leaves, and dried ginger.  Gadia has a recipe for her particular blend in both of her cookbooks, but each cook in India will have their own variation.  Garam literally means “hot” and masala means “blend of spices.”  The hot refers not to mouth-heat, but the creation of heat in the body.

Black Eyed Peas Dip from The Indian Vegan Kitchen

Overall the class was very informative and interesting, and we got to try some delicious food.  You can check out Madhu Gadia’s website:  www.cuisineofindia.com for more information about her and her cookbooks.  You can also sign up for her eRecipe list if you’d like to receive her newsletter.

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I’ve had the idea for this Shepherd’s Pie in my head for a while.  It always seemed like a good thing to serve to non-veg people without them missing the meat.  I had intentions to make a version just with veggies, or possibly with lentils, but I happened across this faux meat product:

at Whole Foods and I thought I would give it a try in this recipe.  It is by Upton’s Naturals, and is a seitan product (made from vital wheat gluten).  They have a store directory on their website, but if you can’t find it you could use any style of vegan or vegetarian ground beef substitute.  See my brief review of this product at the bottom of this post.

Shepherd’s Pie with Sweet Potato Topping (vegan)

Ingredients
1 package Upton’s Naturals Flavored Seitan, ground beef style
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bag frozen mixed vegetables (about 3 cups)
3 cups chopped lacinto kale (optional)
1 8oz. can tomato sauce
1/2 cup vegetable broth
2 teaspoons Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (or tamari or soy sauce)
2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
hot sauce to taste
salt and pepper to taste

For topping:
1 large sweet potato, roasted until soft, then peeled
2 Tablespoons soy (or other non-dairy) milk
1 Tablespoon nutritional yeast
1 Tablespoon Earth Balance margarine

Directions
Saute the onion and garlic in a bit of oil (1-2 teaspoons) until the onion starts to turn translucent.  Add the seitan and break it into small pieces with the back of a wooden or sturdy spoon or spatula.  Let it cook for a few minutes, then add vegetables, tomato sauce, and broth.  Stir in the kale.  Let the sauce simmer for a few minutes and coat everything, then add the Bragg’s, nutritional yeast, oregano, and basil.  Taste the mixture and season to your taste.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly.  Pour into a 9×13 glass or ceramic baking dish and preheat the oven to 375F.

For the potato topping, mash the peeled baked sweet potato (alternatively you could peel then boil the sweet potato, but I really like roasted) in a medium-sized bowl.  If the potato is still warm you can just add the rest of the ingredients.  If it is cool, warm the margarine and soy milk together in the microwave and then add to the potato with the rest of the ingredients.  Mix it up well.  Spread the potato mixture over the top of the vegetable/seitan mixture.  I found it worked best to make several dollops all over the pan and then smooth them together – otherwise you just kind of push everything around.

Bake at 375F for 15-20 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the top of the sweet potato mixture just starts to brown.

What did I think of Upton’s Naturals Ground-beef Style Seitan? I really liked it.  I thought the texture was more like a ground sausage.  It was difficult to break into small pieces, but it might have worked better to break it up before adding it to the pan for cooking.  I was also pretty impressed with the nutrition.  There are 4 2-oz. servings per package, with 100 calories and 1.5 grams of fat and 15 grams of protein per serving.  As a comparison, 93% lean ground beef has about 100 calories per 2-oz. serving as well, but 4 grams of fat and only 11 grams of protein.  I would definitely buy it again.  It was $3.99, but using it in this recipe stretched the servings a little bit – we got 6 servings from the Shepherd’s Pie.

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