Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Feel Good Pasta

Yum. What a delicious dinner! I’ve always had a weakness for pasta and scorn people who complain about carbs. I know pasta gets a bad rap, but this one is light, and loaded with veggies, legumes, and healthy fats, like olive oil and pine nuts, not to mention flavor! Even though this pasta looks deceptively decadent, it is really good for you. Which is why I give you this fettuccine with cranberry beans, green beans, and pesto. Adding some stock to the pesto gives it a creamy smoothness that adds body to the whole dish. This dish is also open to a lot of substitution: white or kidney beans for the cranberry beans; spinach or arugula for the basil in the pesto; linguini or spaghetti for the fettuccine. So feel free to use what you have. Unless you’re baking, there’s no reason you can’t ditch ingredients that don’t appeal to you, and add in ones that do. For instance, I love the combination of green beans and pesto, so I added them in. Also, my cranberry beans had been previously cooked with carrots and bell peppers, so they’re in there too. Pasta is a very forgiving canvas that leaves itself open to a lot of improvisation. This dish is just the perfect thing when you’re craving a big bowl of noodles. And because there is no cheese, and not very much oil, you don’t have to feel guilty (or weighed down) about this carb-fest! So enjoy this guilt-free indulgence. It will warm you from the inside, and leave you feeling sublime.

1 cup dried cranberry beans
1 carrot diced
1 bell pepper diced
1 ½ cups packed basil leaves
1 clove garlic
¼ cup pine nuts
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion diced
2 cups vegetable stock
3 cups green beans
1 pound whole wheat fettuccine
Salt and pepper

Rinse cranberry beans. Pour into a bowl and cover with water to an inch above the beans. Soak overnight. Drain the beans and put in a saucepan with water to two inches above the beans. Add carrot and pepper to the pot. Bring to a boil. Simmer 40 to 50 minutes, or until tender. Drain.

In a food processor, combine basil, pine nuts, garlic, salt and pepper and blend. While the processor is on, add two tablespoons olive oil. Taste for salt and pepper.

In a large sauté pan, add remaining two tablespoons olive oil and the onions. Cook until soft. Add the garlic and sauté for one minute. Add the stock, beans, and green beans, and bring to a boil. Simmer until liquid is reduced by one-fourth.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the fettuccine and cook as directed. Drain.

Add the pesto to the bean mixture, then add the pasta and toss to combine. Add some chopped basil to the top. Serve, and enjoy, immediately!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Persuasive Peach Cobbler

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might have noticed that I don’t talk about dessert very much. No, I’m not one of those oddities who truly prefer savory to sweet. This is more of a defense mechanism. I love dessert so much that I have entire friendships founded on a mutual love of cupcakes.  So, as a bona fide sugar addict, I have to periodically remove all sweets from my life, which is why you don’t see much of it on my blog. However, I have often found dessert to be my most powerful tool in wooing people to the vegan lifestyle. Once people taste my vegan chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cupcakes, or key lime pie, suddenly, accepting a plant based diet doesn’t seem quite so hard. So in the interest of a little persuasion, and inspired by this current heat wave we are enduring in California, I am supplying my last chance Peach Cobbler. 


5 peaches peeled (or 4 cups, if using frozen)
½ cup sugar
⅓ cup flour
¼ teaspoon cinnamon

Heat oven to 375º. The easiest way to peel peaches: bring a pot of water to a boil, dip the peaches in for 30 seconds and remove. The skin will peel right off. Slice each peach into wedges and remove the pit. Mix in a large bowl with sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Pour into a 9 x 9 baking dish. Cover with crumb topping and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the topping is golden, and the filling is bubbly. Serve warm with non-dairy vanilla ice cream (try soy, almond, or coconut milk).

Crumb Topping

¾ cup flour
½ cup brown sugar packed
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
⅓ cup non-dairy butter softened (I like Earth Balance)

In a medium bowl mix flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and margarine using a fork, until it forms pea sized crumbs. Distribute evenly over the top of the peaches.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Stir-Fry Proposition

The tofu, vegetable stir-fry is one of my staple dinners. The great thing about this meal is its versatility. For instance, today I had broccoli, carrots, black and maitake mushrooms. At other times, I’ve used bok choy, bell peppers, and onions. Or, spinach, sweet potatoes and snow peas. Really, whatever you have at hand will be delicious, so get creative! 
The next layer of flexibility comes with the tofu. Tofu is a fabulous replacement for meat in many dishes, and a great source of lean protein. As a bonus, it can be cooked a million different ways: baked, fried, braised, sautéed, you name it. The diverse ways of preparing tofu provide an entirely varied textural and taste experience. For this stir-fry, I pan fried my tofu, which gives it a beautiful, crispy exterior, leaving it soft and smooth inside. Each particular method will allow the tofu to absorb the flavorings in different ways and give you a wider variety of options in your cooking.

One of the most common fears about converting to a plant based diet is a dramatic decrease in variety. The prevailing misconception is that we eat the same thing all the time. Well, hopefully, if you’ve been following my blog for even a short time, you can see that’s not true. According to Jonathan Safran Foer, Americans eat less than one quarter of one percent of all edible foods. Still think an omnivorous diet is varied? In reality, transitioning to a vegan diet forced me to step outside my comfort zone and embrace dozens of foods I had never tried before. For example, in my former life, stir fry would have been served on white or brown rice. Now I play with tons of different grains like bulgur, cracked wheat berries, millet, quinoa, cornmeal, and those are just the grains I eat for breakfast! I now feel more playful toward my food, engaging in a creative experimentation with a wider range of ingredients, instead of substituting a different meat to achieve so-called variety. So, just because a stir-fry always contains tofu, veggies, and whole grains doesn’t mean it will ever taste remotely the same. The possibilities for your meal when you factor in sauce, tofu preparation, and possible vegetables, as well as choice of grains, become truly unlimited.

To that end, I am not providing a recipe for this dish. Instead, I am encouraging all of you to make your own vegan stir-fry. Send me a picture of it and I will put it up on my blog to share!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Last Day of Summer/First Day of Fall Risotto

This post is less of a recipe, and more of an adventure (although I will provide the recipe because it was a freaking delicious adventure). Yesterday afternoon I turned to my new Bon Appétit for dinner ideas. It is just starting to turn cool here in California, by which I mean a sunny 70 degrees. So I was longing for a dish that was cozy and warm, but something that would honor the last day of summer as well. A tall order for dinner. Fortunately, I happened to find it on page 20 of my magazine: Lemon Risotto with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes. Now, they recommend that you lay roasted lamb shanks over the top, but I didn’t feel that was necessary. 

To give it a little oomph (as well as some fiber), I decided to substitute brown rice. Let me say that I have never made risotto with brown rice before, but I’ve made it with Arborio rice dozens of times; how hard could it be? Famous last words. (Fear not, dear readers, this story ends very well) I followed all my standard practices, but I forgot to account for the fact that brown rice cooks much slower than the white variety. I was starting to get hungry, read: cranky, and losing patience with my risotto, when Technology came to the rescue in the form of a pressure cooker. Nine minutes later, and I had dinner. Unfortunately, this means that I cannot give you accurate timing for the brown rice version. My guess is that it will take about an hour to cook completely, meaning the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed. To complete this comedy of errors, I was so distracted by the culinary drama that I forgot a major ingredient, arugula. As you can see, the situation was rectified, and it made this spectacular dish even better. Make this immediately. Your mouth will thank you. 

Lemon Risotto with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

1 package cherry tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
5 cups vegetable broth
½ onion chopped
2 cups rice (Arborio or short grain brown)
2 garlic cloves minced
1 cup white wine
5 cups arugula
1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons parsley chopped
1 ½ teaspoons fresh thyme chopped
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary chopped
½ teaspoon lemon peel finely grated

Heat oven to 350º. Place tomatoes on a covered baking sheet. Cover with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt, and pepper, and make sure all tomatoes are coated. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until skins begin to pucker. Set aside until risotto is cooked.

Pour broth into a saucepan and bring to a simmer, then turn heat to low. Meanwhile, heat two tablespoons olive oil in a large pot on medium and sauté the onion until soft, 5 to 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook one minute more. Add rice and stir, coating with oil, for one minute. Add wine and continue stirring. When wine is almost absorbed, begin adding broth. Begin with 2 cups, then in 1 cup increments. Continue adding broth as it becomes absorbed, stirring frequently, until the rice is tender. This will take about 25 minutes for Arborio rice, and (presumably) 1 hour for brown rice. Add tomatoes, salt, pepper, arugula, lemon juice, parsley, thyme, rosemary, and lemon peel. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ode to a Falafel

If my posts were written in the order of my affection for particular foods, then this post would be long overdue. Since becoming vegan, falafel has become my favorite food. Don’t get me wrong; I have always enjoyed falafel, but I was inclined to mix it up with grilled chicken or lamb, spanakopita, or a gyro. Falafel was only one of the many kinds of Mediterranean food I enjoyed. But, since embracing a plant-based diet, the falafel has been elevated to a new status. I think this is because the falafel, more than other available foods, does not seem to be lacking for its vegan-ness. When attempting to find vegan options in restaurants, I frequently feel alienated and high-maintenance. Ordering nachos at my local Baja Fresh always throws the employees for a loop: “No meat, no cheese, no sour cream, no guacamole, thank you very much!” I usually end up with a plate of chips, and beans if I’m lucky. But, the falafel is already vegan! And so is hummus! And pita bread! Hooray! So, falafel has become its own food group in my eating life, and as such, I figured I should learn how to make it myself.

This recipe comes from Ellie Krieger, a healthy cooking host on the Food Network. I still enjoy her show, although she is far from vegan; her recipes are frequently adaptable, and healthier versions of things you already love (like her killer onion rings). Krieger bakes her falafel to boost the health quotient, but don’t worry, there is no loss in flavor. Of course, falafel aren’t a meal just in themselves, so I serve mine with homemade hummus, whole wheat pita bread, and tabbouleh salad. You can also wrap everything up in a whole wheat tortilla for an awesome and portable lunch the next day!

Baked Falafel

15 ounce can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
¼ cup onion minced
2 cloves garlic minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup cilantro
¼ cup parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil

Heat oven to 400º. Combine all ingredients save one tablespoon olive oil in food processor. Process until combined but still coarse, scraping down the edges as necessary. Form into 16 balls. Pay attention to the proportion; if they are too small, they will be dry; too large and the outside won’t be crispy. Place on baking sheet, and brush with remaining olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes, flip and bake twenty minutes more. Serve immediately!


This recipe comes from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and is my vegan bible. Whenever I find unusual greens or beans at the farmer’s market I always turn first to Bittman, and he has classically good versions of all vegetarian staples.

15 ounce can chickpeas drained and rinsed; reserve liquid
 ½ cup tahini (I’ve also used peanut butter or almond butter, if I don’t have any)
2 cloves garlic peeled
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and Pepper
1 tablespoon ground cumin

Place all ingredients in the food processor and blend until smooth. Add more salt, pepper, lemon, juice, or tahini as needed, and add chickpea liquid, or water if the mixture is too thick. Garnish with parsley, olive oil, paprika or cumin if desired. I like to freeze any leftover hummus in individual containers as they make an excellent lunch alongside raw vegetables and pita bread.


Also from Mark Bittman.

½ cup bulgur
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup lemon juice
Salt and Pepper
2 cups parsley chopped roughly
1 cup mint chopped roughly
4 medium tomatoes diced
½ cucumber diced

Soak bulgur in hot water until tender, 15 to 30 minutes. Drain very well, removing excess moisture. Toss with remaining ingredients. Serve immediately or refrigerate for later.

A side of raw veggies goes nicely with this meal, whether in the pita with the falafel for a little crunch, or just on the side dipped in hummus.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Godfather, Part I

This is embarrassing to admit as a twenty-five year old woman of Italian descent, but I have never seen The Godfather, until last night that is. For many years, it has been brought to my attention that this is one of my serious deficiencies as a human being. As time went on, I knew I would have to put on a real Godfather celebration to appease the classic film gods, and as an Italian, I know that celebration means food.  So, in order to make amends, I made the most quintessential Italian-American dish I could think of: spaghetti and meatballs.

Traditional spaghetti and meatballs are made with three kinds of meat, beef, pork, and veal, and parmesan cheese. Obviously, this does not gel with the vegan diet. When I first began my vegan experiment, I was introduced to Toni Fiore. Though not strictly vegan, she has spent a lot of time creating vegan and vegetarian versions of her favorite foods, one of which happens to be meatballs. I have been intrigued by her recipe for eggplant meatballs in her book Totally Vegetarian for some time, but I had pretty modest expectations. Faux meat products fall into two categories: “looks like,” and “tastes like.” Well, these meatballs hit the jackpot and accomplish both, all without sending me into my typical Italian food coma. This recipe is so good that it makes veganism an offer you can't refuse. To make it special, I also made my favorite tomato sauce, a recipe from the iconic Hamptons restaurant Nick and Toni’s. This sauce requires a little advance preparation, but it has a velvety texture, and a depth of flavor that heightens everything it touches.

To round out the meal, I served a red wine procured on my recent trip to Sonoma. My best friend Nisha and I stopped at the Mayo Family Winery, drawn in by the sign for a wine and food pairing menu. Unfortunately, the kitchen had closed ten minutes prior. Chef Max Porter-Elliot could probably sense our desperation and was kind enough to bring us a plate of bread, which I fell on blissfully. As it was our last stop of the day, we lingered for almost two hours, chatting with Max and later his girlfriend, trading restaurant recommendations with the other couple at the bar. Opening the bottle of 2005 Meritage brought back the pleasure of my experience at Mayo and added another level of enjoyment to the meal. 

So having had a fantastic experience with The Godfather, I’m contemplating whether I should watch the whole trilogy. Perhaps this post will become a three part homage to the films through food. Hopefully this will inspire you to have an Italian dinner and movie night of your own!

Tomato Sauce

This recipe was introduced to me on Ina Garten’s show The Barefoot Contessa when she hosted the executive chef of Nick and Toni’s on her show.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion chopped
3 cloves garlic minced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 ½ teaspoons fresh or dried oregano
1 cup vodka
2 28 ounce cans whole tomatoes
Salt and Pepper
2 tablespoons fresh oregano

Heat oven to 375º. Add olive oil to an oven proof pan and turn stove to medium. Add the onions and garlic and sauté for 5 to 10 minutes. Add red pepper flakes and 1 ½ teaspoons oregano and sauté for another minute. Add the vodka and cook until the liquid is reduced by half. Drain the tomatoes and add them to the pan, crushing them in your fingers. Add salt and pepper. Cover with a lid and cook in the oven for 1 ½ hours. Then remove from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Pour mixture in a blender and purée. Return to the pan, add the remaining fresh oregano and simmer briefly. Add your favorite pasta and enjoy!

Eggplant Meatballs

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion diced
1 medium eggplant unpeeled, diced in ¼ to ½ inch cubes
1 ½ cups walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups dried bread crumbs
½ cup firm tofu, puréed
3 cloves garlic minced
Zest of 1 lemon
¼ cup fresh parsley chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh oregano chopped
½ cup basil chopped

Preheat oven to 375º. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet and sauté onion for five minutes. Add eggplant and salt and continue cooking for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the eggplant is tender. If eggplant sticks to the pan add more olive oil. Meanwhile, toast walnuts in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes and chop roughly. Add eggplant mixture and walnuts to a large bowl. Add a heaping cup of the mixture to the food processor and purée until smooth. Return the purée to the bowl and combine. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil, bread crumbs, tofu, garlic, lemon zest, parsley, oregano, and basil and mix well. Coat hands with a little olive oil and form mixture into balls roughly the size of a golf ball. Place on a greased cookie sheet, and spray lightly with a little oil. Place in the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until they develop a dark brown crust on the outside. Remove from the oven, cover with foil, and allow to steam for five minutes. Add to the top of your pasta and sauce.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Best. Tacos. Ever.

As many of you know, I have not always been vegan. This is a relatively new change, and as such, I am continually bumping up against the walls of my old eating habits. Mexican food has long been a favorite of mine. I would wax poetic about El Patio’s chicken enchiladas to anyone who would listen. While living in Rome, I was blissfully happy on a diet of pasta twice a day, every day, with the single exception of Mexican food. I forced my family to take me to an exorbitant Mexican restaurant in Florence where the tacos were made with mozzarella cheese. It was totally worth it. On my first day back in the United States, I ate dinner at Chipotlé. This is all just a way of demonstrating my devotion to Mexican food. However, Mexican cuisine is dominated by its meats and cheeses: carne asada, barbacoa, carnitas, flame grilled pollo, queso fresco, jack, cheddar, cotija; what is a vegan girl to do?

So, one of my missions on this adventure has been to reclaim Mexican food for the vegans. One of the masters of Mexican cooking is Rick Bayliss, so it seemed only natural that I should turn to him for guidance in this endeavor. It was on his television show, “Mexico, One Plate at a Time” that I found real inspiration. He was demonstrating sauces, particularly a fire roasted tomato salsa, but the real genius came at the end. While he was puréeing the tomatoes, chiles, garlic and cilantro, he added a handful of peanuts. What was bright and fresh became rich and round. It is a kind of Mexican satay sauce. Bayliss recommended spooning it over cooked vegetables, so I took it one step further and made roasted vegetable tacos with fire roasted tomato peanut salsa. What makes these even more special are the home made tortillas. I know they sound daunting, but I promise it is as easy as making a batch of pancakes. 

From Scratch Corn Tortillas (These will change your life!)

2 cups Maseca (an instant corn masa flour)
1 ¼ cups water
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon vegetable shortening

With electric beaters, or preferably a stand mixer, combine the flour and shortening in a large bowl and beat until mixed. Slowly begin to add the water. This quantity of water is just a guideline as the individual characteristics of your home, city, and time of year will impact the consistency of your dough. Dough should be smooth to the touch, not sticky. If it’s sticky add more flour. If it crumbles in your hand, more water.

Heat a griddle or frying pan on your stove. Roll spoonfuls of dough into balls. I have a tortilla press, but you can also flatten them with your standard rolling pin. When the pan is hot, toss on the dough. Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side. They may begin to brown and puff up, or not. These are all fine. Serve immediately, or keep warm in an oven set to 200º. They’re also good the next day, heated up in the oven, or on the griddle again.

Taco Filling

Use any kind of vegetables you want! I use carrots, bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, eggplant, zucchini, sweet potatoes. It changes every time I make them!
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper
Ground Cumin
Mexican Oregano
(Quantities will vary depending on how many vegetables you’re roasting; go for a pinch of each in each pan. You can always add more later)

Heat oven to 425º. Slice vegetables into desired size and shape. I find long, thin slices works best for the tacos. Place in one layer in a pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Add salt, pepper, cumin, and Mexican oregano. Toss until all pieces are coated with olive oil and seasoning. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

Fire Roasted Tomato Peanut Salsa

6 to 8 medium tomatoes (Alternatively you can use the canned fire roasted tomatoes)
2 jalapenos or 4 serranos
3 cloves garlic unpeeled
¼ cup white onion finely chopped
⅓ cup cilantro chopped
¼ cup roasted peanuts
The juice of 1 lime

Turn oven broiler on high. Place tomatoes on a covered sheet pan as close to the broiler as possible. Cook 5-6 minutes, or until they begin to blacken. Flip over and do the same on the other side. Meanwhile, cook chiles and garlic in a dry pan on medium high heat for about 15 minutes. Turn the chiles as they begin to blacken. When the tomatoes are done, remove the blackened skin and the cores. Add to the blender or food processor. When garlic is done, peel and add to the food processor. When the chiles are done, roughly chop them and add them to the processor. Blend until mostly smooth. Add the cilantro and peanuts and purée until smooth. Taste for salt. The required amount will vary depending on the peanuts. Add the lime juice and blend. Add the onions and mix briefly to retain some of the texture.

Finishing your tacos is entirely up to you. I added refried black beans and chopped fresh tomatoes. You can also try pinto beans, black beans or top them with a lime dressed shredded cabbage. The fun is in the flexibility, so make them your own!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Vegan Salad Cliché

The word vegan elicits a lot of connotations, not just about who we are (freaks), but what we eat. When you take away not only all meat, but eggs, cheese, milk, etc., people wonder, “What is left?” The most common assumption is that all vegans eat is salad. Well, I hate salad. I don’t understand it; it typically has no nutrition, and generally serves only as a vehicle for a dressing that defeats the purpose of vegetables. So, until now, I never really ate it. I do, however, love cooking shows. PBS, Food Network, the Cooking Channel, you name it. I grew up with Saturday mornings of the Frugal Gourmet, Jacques Pépin, and Yan Can Cook. But, my favorite cooking shows are not very vegan friendly, except, of course, for the salad. One person who does this exceptionally well is the Food Network’s newest host Aarti Sequeira. Her show, “Aarti Party” (Sundays at noon), is all about injecting American favorites with Indian flair. She makes such beautifully unusual salads that she has converted me to the side of mixed greens. I have two of her recipes below, the Cabbage Apple Slaw and the Massaged Kale Salad. I’m also including my very favorite summer salad (make it now before it’s too late!), Tomato Nectarine Salad. The latter was brought to me by my friend Jessica, who has cooked dinner for me more times than I can count, and continued to invite me over even after I became vegan. It might seem counterintuitive to end a post about the erroneous stereotype that “vegans only eat salad” with three salad recipes, but if that were true, these salads would make being vegan worthwhile!

Tomato Nectarine Salad

4 medium sized tomatoes
4 nectarines (white or yellow)
½ red onion, sliced
½ cup cilantro, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon or lime
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
Dice tomatoes and nectarines into approximately the same size, 1” cubes. Add to a large bowl. You can add the onion raw, however, I like to sauté them lightly to take out a little of the bite. Add onions, cilantro, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to the fruit and toss. Serve immediately, or refrigerate for later. 

Cabbage Apple Slaw

½ head of green cabbage, shredded
2 Granny Smith apples, sliced into matchsticks
½ cup roasted cashews, chopped
4 teaspoons honey
2 limes or lemons
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon ground cumin
⅛ teaspoon Garam Masala
Salt and Pepper

Add cabbage, apples and cashews to a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together honey, lime juice, ground cumin, Garam Masala, salt, and pepper. Slowly add olive oil while whisking to emulsify. Pour over the salad mixture and toss. Serve immediately or refrigerate for later

Massaged Kale Salad (not as lewd as it sounds)

1 bunch kale, removed from stems, rough chopped
2 pieces of fruit (anything that’s in season: mangoes, nectarines, oranges, pears, whatever!)
½ cup pepitas or sunflower seeds
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Add kale to a large bowl. Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour half the vinaigrette over the kale. Massage for two to three minutes. It will start to break down and give off a banana smell. Add the nectarines and seeds and the rest of the vinaigrette. Toss and serve. This gets better and better so set some aside for the next day too!

Monday, September 13, 2010


I’m sure that by looking at this picture, you think I have an extremely well-behaved and adoring dog. Neither of these things is true. Olive does not know the meaning of the word "no," and would run off with the first family to carelessly pat his head at the dog park. No, the reason he is gazing at me with such evident and rapt affection is because, just out of reach, I am holding a bag of sugar snap peas.  The moral of this story is that if Olive the dog can embrace an increase in vegetables in his diet, so can you. Also, I wanted to show off how cute my dog is.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


 In moving toward a plant based diet, I have encountered a lot of people’s stories. Some I have already mentioned, like Alicia Silverstone and Christina Pirello. But my absolute favorite was Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. As a language nerd, I was immediately delighted by the title; is the present participle being used as a verb, or an adjective, or both? Sorry…back to what I was saying. But I was overwhelmingly inspired by Foer’s story. When his first son was born, Foer was troubled with serious concerns about what we put in our mouths, what it does, where it comes from, and what are the most responsible choices we can make. It is one thing to make choices for our own bodies, but another thing entirely when your child faces the consequences. Like many others who have embarked on this investigative project, Foer came out the other side a vegan. What resonated with me so deeply about Eating Animals was Foer’s honest and forthcoming depiction of his vacillation between vegetarian, and not. So, taking a page from Mr. Foer, I feel it my responsibility to share my own waverings along this path as well.

I am not a 100% vegan. After some negative experiences during my Lenten experiment, I have gone no longer than six days being entirely vegan. I typically eat one or two meals a week that have some dairy in them. As of two weeks ago, I have given up fish, my last remaining form of animal flesh. Now, I try to be vegetarian all the time, and vegan most of the time. I am 100% vegan in my home.

The reason I share this with you is because eating this way is a choice I make every day, not once a few days, weeks, or months ago. Jonathan Safran Foer explained it best for me in his section on Sentimentality: “We call vegetarians sentimental, but what’s sentimental about wanting a hamburger and calmly choosing not to eat it?” I got my new Bon Appetit this month and there was the most delicious looking cheeseburger gracing its cover. I wanted that cheeseburger. But, I also know where that cheeseburger comes from, and what it does to our environment, not to mention to my body. So, once again, I decided not to eat a cheeseburger. Just as on Tuesday night, when out to dinner, I chose not to eat the highly recommended shrimp enchiladas. However, I did choose to eat pasta with a pesto cream sauce. So I hope that this serving of candidness has relieved some of the pressure for you. I did not write this blog to pressure people, but to inspire them. I do not expect everyone who reads it to give up all animal products today (although that would be awesome). I hope that each of you will try just one of these recipes. I hope that what you read here debunks some of the scary myths about vegans and veganism. And know that no matter what, every meal you eat is an opportunity. An opportunity to relieve, even a little, the swift march of global warming, the suffering of animals, and the stress on our bodies.

Life is all about balance, so it is important to find a proportion that works for you, whether that is every other month, once a day, or everyday before 7:00 pm. One of the things people ask me a lot is, “Are you allowed to eat that?” and I reply, “I am allowed to eat anything I want.” Veganism is not a sentence, or a mandate. There are no vegan police. The only person who can make you feel guilty for your food choices is you. When I embarked on this adventure, I felt like an “accidental vegan.” I didn’t want to be vegan forever; I love tagliatelle Bolognese, and chicken enchiladas, and eggs Benedict. Yet, I didn’t know how to unlearn what I know now. But, my friend Megan, who has been vegan for several years now, put me at ease when she told me that being vegan is about creating your own definitions. The goal is to feel like the best possible version of yourself. For me that means giving up tagliatelle Bolognese and chicken enchiladas (for now), but, it still includes eggs Benedict when I know the eggs come from chickens living happy lives. I hope this will give you a little push to think about your own eating identity, and what the best possible version of yourself might look like.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day

Sometimes, eating a vegan diet makes me feel nostalgic for my former life. One of those times is the summer barbecue. The smell of food cooking on the grill, friends spending time outside drinking cold beverages, there is nothing more quintessential to the season. And yet, it doesn’t feel quite the same when you’re grazing from the veggie platter sans dip and eating side salad for dinner. I was initially embarrassed about sharing this particular meal as it can be considered neither elegant nor cooking. But, then I realized that this meal has a place in the vegan diet, and may actually be useful for people transitioning into a plant based diet. 

There are a lot of different faux meat products out there, and I have been slowly working my way through them. I will admit, I’m a little scared of them. But I just remind myself that soybeans are a lot less scary than whatever is in a real hot dog. In this dish, I used Tofurky brand Italian Sausages. I also like Smart brand Hot Dogs. Sadly, I do not recommend putting these on the grill as they tend to stick. But, with a mere two minute detour to the microwave, you can participate in the rest of the barbecue fun. The key with “soy-sages” is the toppings. Inevitably, meatless sausages are not going to have the exact same texture as a pork sausage, but with a little attention to the top of your dog, the difference is hardly discernible. Aside from the standard hot dog toppings of ketchup, mustard, and relish, you can take this as another opportunity to incorporate vegetables into your diet. Sautéed onions and peppers make another classic combination with sausages, and chopped tomatoes add a layer of texture and flavor as well as freshness. Served on a warm toasted whole wheat bun beside another American classic, tater tots, you won’t feel deprived by your vegan diet at the next barbecue. I also added a side of sautéed collard greens with raisins and pine nuts to assuage my guilt over my other, less than “whole” side dish. Luckily, a lot of other barbecue staples are already vegan: fruit salad, potato chips, tortilla chips and salsa, sweet potato fries, green salad. I promise if you fill your plate with a generously topped “soy-sage” and all these other assorted trimmings, you will feel satisfied. Events like these are also a great time to introduce your friends and family to the joys of vegan eating, so if you’re feeling bold, bring a vegan peach cobbler with coconut milk ice cream, or a tomato and nectarine salad to encourage and share with the people in your life! 

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Pie, Me Oh My!

One of the most important things you should know about me is my serious affection for pie. I love to talk about pie, I especially love to sing about pie, but mostly, I love to eat pie. I hold an equal opportunity devotion for all pie-like items regardless of shape, crust, or filling. So, to kick off what is sure to be the first of many pie-themed posts, I give you Cornbread Chili Pie.

This recipe was inspired by Christina Pirello’s Black Soybean Stuffed Cornbread, from her book Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Whole Foods But Were Afraid to Ask. Christina’s story is a true vegan miracle, and a testament to the benefits of eating well. At age 26, she was diagnosed with leukemia, and given little hope for recovery. After she met her now husband, Robert Pirello, he introduced her to a vegan diet based on greens, beans, and vegetables. After just fourteen months, her cancer was gone, and she has spent the last 27 years living, and teaching the lessons she learned.

The chili recipe is my own, cobbled together from whatever sounds good to me that day, so feel free to make changes. The cornbread is adapted from Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s The Joy of Vegan Baking.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion diced
1 carrot diced
1 red bell pepper diced
1 ear corn, kernels cut off the cob
1 garlic clove minced
½ teaspoon ground ancho chile pepper
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cans black beans drained and rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can vegetable stock (I recommend Swanson’s; many other brands are inedible)
Salt and Pepper to taste

1½ cups non-dairy milk
1½ tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons canola oil
Optional: ½ to 1 cup corn kernels or green chilies, or 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

Heat olive oil in a large pot and add the onions, carrots, bell pepper, and corn kernels. Sauté until the vegetables are softened. Add the garlic and the spices to the pot and sauté for one minute. Add the beans, tomatoes (with liquid) and vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook on the stove for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper.

While the chili is simmering, prepare the cornbread. Preheat the oven to 375 º. Pour the milk and vinegar into a small bowl, and whisk to combine. In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Add the oil and the milk mixture to the dry ingredients, and whisk until blended. Add any optional ingredients at this time.

Pour half of the cornbread batter into a greased 9” pie dish, brownie pan, casserole dish, etc. Spoon 3 to 4 cups of the chili over the cornbread. Pour the rest of the batter over the top of the chili. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Ladle extra chili over individual pieces of pie and enjoy immediately!

For extra enjoyment, here are my favorite songs about pie:
"The Pie Song" - Andie MacDowell, from the movie Michael
"Baby Don't You Cry (The Pie Song)" - Quincy Coleman
"The Worst Pies in London" - from Sweeney Todd

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Lunch, Part Deux

My next lunch option is the salad pizza. This also makes a great, quick dinner, or even dinner party appetizer. Pizza crust is obviously a time consuming commitment, but there are shortcuts around this. When I made homemade pizza for my mom’s birthday, I cooked off the remaining dough into two medium pizza crusts and then froze them. Ten minutes in the oven, and these whole wheat crusts are ready to enjoy. Alternatively, I like to use Trader Joe’s whole wheat pizza dough. They do all the work for you! All you have to do is stretch it, and toss it if you’re feeling bold, and throw it in the oven. Again, ten minutes and you’re ready for lunch. While the dough is baking, I defrost another one of my frozen pestos, and prepare the salad. In a medium bowl, mix as much arugula as you can fit, chopped tomatoes, a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper, and a good squeeze of lemon juice. The salad should be bright beside the roundness of the pesto, and the warmth of the pizza crust. Once the pizza crust comes out of the oven, I like to cut it in pieces, smear it with pesto and top it with as much arugula as it can handle, the more, the better. This is also a lunch that lends itself to adaptation. If I have cooked vegetables in the fridge, I’ll add them to the pizza crust. Roasted red peppers are a delightful addition as well. Once again, you can have a phenomenal meal that will leave you feeling light and energetic and ready to take on your afternoon, in the time it would take you to heat up a Lean Cuisine!

Lunch, Part Une

One of the concerns people most often bring up, when I tell them about how I eat, is time. This seems to connect more specifically with lunch. So today, I am offering two delicious, beautiful, sustaining meals that make an amazing lunch, and don’t take very much time. I’m not going to lie; eating this well takes forethought and a little planning, but it’s nothing you can’t handle. 

For my first offering, I present the leftover lunch. When you start eating a diet based primarily on vegetables and whole grains, chances are you will always have leftovers of these two ingredients in your fridge. Sometimes I have as many as three or four different grains in my refrigerator and as many types of greens. Start by making a big pile of greens on your plate. Spinach, arugula, kale, whatever you have. This is the foundation of your lunch and your diet. I try to eat greens twice a day. My heroes, Alicia Silverstone and Christina Pirello, even eat greens with breakfast! Seriously, these leaves will change your life. Scoop a pile of grains onto your greens. If you don’t have any leftover grains, whole wheat couscous cooks in five minutes, and quinoa cooks in fifteen, so there are no excuses. On top of the grains goes my secret weapon, Trader Joe’s Black Beluga Lentils. They’re fully cooked! All you have to do is microwave them for two minutes. If you don’t have access to a Trader Joe’s (my condolences), or you already ate your delicious lentils, you can open a can of beans, garbanzo, kidney, black beans, etc. Just rinse them and toss them on top; you can even heat them if you like. The beauty of this meal is that it works with whatever you already have. Then, I like a dollop of pesto. I make pesto practically weekly, so there is always something in the freezer. Pesto is another great source of greens, and you can make it with almost anything. I have experimented with spinach, arugula, parsley, basil, and cilantro. I hear sorrel makes a beautiful sauce as well. Finally finish it off with whatever you see: roasted vegetables, chopped tomatoes, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, anything within reach. In this example, I used fresh tomatoes (from the garden, thank you very much), sunflower seeds, and maitake mushrooms. And voilà! You have a lunch rich in fiber, omega-3s, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats, everything you need to help you power through the rest of your day.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Pasta For All Seasons

I just finished a meal so incredible that I felt the need to share it immediately. My latest issue of Bon Appétit magazine was waiting for me when I arrived home from my weekend in Sonoma, and ever since then, I have been impatient to make this recipe. Bon Appétit has been a ubiquitous culinary influence throughout my life. It was treated as a kind of bible and an inspiration. Every Thanksgiving menu of my childhood was culled from back issues of this magazine, and I knew who Barbara Fairchild was before I ever cared about cooking. But, when I decided to go vegan, I resigned myself to gazing longingly at recipes I would never get to make each month. So, imagine my delight when I found a totally vegan recipe (save the superfluous parmesan cheese topping) in the middle of my magazine: Perciatelli with Roasted Tomato and Almond Pesto. I had to take this as a sign of Bon Appétit’s increasing awareness and acceptance of vegan cooking. Hooray! 

The beauty of this recipe is its seasonal flexibility. Making it in the summer gives you an opportunity to lovingly use the season’s best fruit: tomatoes. But, as I was eating it, I was looking forward to a cozy bowl of pasta on a drizzly winter night. It reminded me of a vegan version of tomato cream sauce, something I have always relished. However, without the cream, the sauce maintains the brightness of tomato and its smoky almond flavor. In my effort to eat greens twice a day, I paired this dish with kale sautéed simply with garlic and olive oil and a final splash of lemon juice. I’m including the pasta recipe below with my adjustments. It seems only appropriate to end by saying, Bon Appétit!

2 ¾ pounds tomatoes cored, halved, seeded (whatever is in season, even if it’s canned)
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 ½ tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
2 unpeeled garlic cloves
¾ cup whole raw almonds
1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1 pound perciatelli, bucatini (or spaghetti, if you must)

Preheat oven to 375º. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Make sure to cover the corners (I spent 20 minutes scraping the juices off my pan). In a large bowl, combine tomato halves, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 ½ tablespoons oregano, and a pinch of salt. Stir. Place tomato halves, cut side down on the parchment and cover with any remnant juices. Add garlic cloves to the pan. Bake for roughly 30 minutes, or until garlic is soft. Remove garlic. Flip tomatoes over and continue baking until they are browned, but not burned. This will take a variable amount of time depending on the size of your tomatoes; 10-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool.

While the tomatoes are in the oven, place almonds in a small oven proof dish and bake 10-15 minutes, until dark gold. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool.

 In a food processor, combine ⅔ of the tomatoes, ½ cup of the almonds, the garlic, peeled, and crushed red pepper. Pulse until the mixture is puréed. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil (or as much as you need) and combine. Taste for salt and pepper.

Boil a large pot of salted water for the pasta. When the pasta is close to done, mix the pesto with ½ cup of the pasta water in a large sauté pan and add the remaining roasted tomatoes. Stir until the sauce is smooth. When the pasta is cooked, add it to the sauté pan and toss to combine. Serve immediately with the remaining almonds and oregano sprinkled on top.