Black Bean Tacos, Two Ways

Comfort food. What does this phrase mean to you? To many people, it conjures images of macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and chicken noodle soup. To me, though, there’s nothing inherently comforting about foods like these. My idea of comfort is peace of mind, and I feel peaceful when I’m enjoying a meal that you can feel good about before, during, and after the meal itself: the meal should be made out of ingredients that come from a good place (i.e., no unhappy animals), should be delicious, and should go down easily and not make me want to die thirty minutes afterward.

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, here’s a recipe for tacos! Tacos are a really excellent option for a mixed-diet household because they consist of several discrete ingredients combined atop an edible vehicle, usually a tortilla. Because the ingredients are all kept separate until serving time, it’s really easy to make sure everyone gets his or her version of comforting food.


When I was making the raw, marinated veggies for these tacos, Reese referred to it as a salsa. There is a lesson here, friends: lots of people who look with scorn upon food that claims to be healthy will happily tuck into generous helpings of chips and salsa. Guess what? Salsa is just raw, marinated veggies and herbs. The lesson? If you want to trick your friends into eating veggies, try chopping the veg up really small and calling them a salsa, then heaping them on your guests’ plates! I’ve titled the recipe Veggie Confetti because it’s colorful and cheerful and, just like confetti, you’re not quite sure if they’re an accessory to celebration or a cause for celebration in and of itself.

Black Bean Tacos, Two Ways
Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 4 cabbage leaves, 4 taco-sized tortillas, or a combination
  • ½ cup cooked black beans, drained
  • ½ cup Veggie Confetti (see recipe below)
  • ½ cup cooked quinoa
  • 4 Tbsp cashew crema al limòn (see recipe below)
  • Shredded pepper jack cheese for omnis
  • Sunflower sprouts for garnish

Directions
Top each cabbage leaf or tortilla with about 2 Tbsp each black beans, Veggie Confetti, and quinoa, and shredded pepper jack, if using. Drizzle on cashew crema and garnish with sprouts.
Serve with salsa.

Veggie Confetti

  • 1 cup corn kernels, thawed if frozen
  • 1 small orange bell pepper, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 2 small or 1 medium zucchini, diced (about 1 cup)
  • ½ medium tomato, chopped
  • ½ tsp dried Mexican oregano
  • 1 medium clove garlic, minced
  • Juice of 1 lime (about 1 ½ Tbsp)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 dried red chiles

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. When you add the red chiles, just let them sit in the bowl with the other veggies. The idea is just to let them impart some flavor as a part of the marinating process.

Cashew Crema al Limòn

  • 1 cup raw cashews, soaked 8 hours
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
  • Juice + zest of one lime

Combine all ingredients in a high-speed blender or food processor. Blend until smooth.
*Note: this will make some leftovers, but it’s a great thing to have around. You can use it as a salad dressing, turn it into kale chip sauce – the possibilities are endless!

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Slow-Roasted Artichokes

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There are dinners, and there are dinners. Some evenings you want to indulge, and the evenings after those evenings, sometimes a large meal seems borderline intimidating.

Even on the nights where I don’t want to feast, though, I still like to sit down and feed my brain with the ritual of dinner, even when my belly isn’t up for anything elaborate. (My poor brain gets confused if I try to skip meals; to it, every meal is like a celebration.)

One of the best possible things in the world to eat on nights like this is an artichoke. They are filling, thanks to enormous quantities of fiber, and must be eaten with at least some degree of ceremony. This begins with setting the table: since you eat them artichokes your bare claws, you need extra napkins (or else very large napkins) on hand, plus you have to set a large, empty bowl on the table for the discarded artichoke bits.

When you sit down to eat your artichokes, the act of eating them is more ceremonious yet: you peel off the tiny, tough outer leaves, then dig into the dense, rich meat on each petal, dipping each one in a sauce or dressing, by scraping the meat off each petal with your lower teeth. Then once you’ve eaten all the thick leaves, you’re left with the translucent, spiny ones; you pull those off, then scrape out the purple and green chope, and, finally, enter a state of complete bliss when consuming the meltingly creamy, complex heart.

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Artichokes are customizable in two important ways: first, in ritual. The above is my preferred method, but to each her own. My pal Alex uses her top row of teeth to eat artichokes, and when I tried it, it totally didn’t work for me. Who knew something so small could make such an immense difference?

The second monogrammable moment in artichoke consumption is the dipping sauce. For me, always and forever, the primary artichoke dip is lemon juice and zest accompanied by a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of salt, and a grind of black pepper. I also like garlicky tomato sauce as a condiment with these. Reese likes mayonnaise with his; he usually dolls it up with an extra squeeze of lemon or some chopped herbs. However you enjoy them, artichokes satisfy the part of your brain that needs to take its meals seriously while accommodating a modest appetite.

Slow-Roasted Artichokes

Ingredients

  • 2 medium artichokes
  • Olive oil
  • ½ lemon
  • Salt + pepper


Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 300º. Locate your aluminum foil and a small baking sheet.
  2. Slice the tops and bottoms off your artichokes. If you like, you can also slice the ends off any ominously pointy-looking leaves.
  3. Tear off two pieces of aluminum foil, each big enough to wrap one artichoke in about an 8” width should be fine if you’re using normal-width aluminum foil.
  4. Place one artichoke on the shiny side of the foil. Bathe it in the juice of ¼ lemon, then add a drizzle of olive oil (about ½ tsp per artichoke is fine, but if you’re in an oily mood, you can certainly add more), then add salt and pepper. Repeat with the other choke.
  5. Wrap up each artichoke, then place both stem side up on the baking sheet. You shouldn’t see the stems, because they should be wrapped in foil, but they should be balancing on the cut off side of the artichoke flower.
  6. Roast for about an hour and forty-five minutes, until they are tender all the way through. You can raise the heat and lower the baking time if you’re short on time, but if you’re able to let these roast for a long time, you will not be sorry.
  7. Unwrap and savor.

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How to Survive and Thrive at an Omni BBQ

As I mentioned in an earlier post this week, Sunday was Reese’s birthday. To celebrate, we drove down Santa Cruz with a few of our close friends and had a barbecue in Reese’s folks’ backyard. It was the perfect day for a barbecue – 80 degrees and sunny, with the birds singing and the flowers blooming.

Barbecues hosted by even the most sensitive of omnivores, though, can be a bit tricky for vegans, and we are coming up on the time of year when they will be ubiquitous. They’re a wonderful way to spend time with friends and family, obviously, and they almost always involve guacamole, which is a definite plus. But it’s easy to run into some difficulty with the actual grilling: after all, it’s the culinary focus of the event, and naturally you’ll want to share in the excitement, but at the same time, the grill itself is likely to be covered in meat before, during, and after the event.

Here are my all-time top 5 tips for being good to yourself and good to your omnivore BBQ host:

1. Bring a dish to share.

I made a huge green salad topped with apple, walnuts, and scallions, and my sister-in-law Amanda made her fabulous avocado kale salad. My baked beans would also be a great option here. This does two things: first, it ensures that you will have something to eat. Second, it allows the omnivores to enjoy your delicious vegan home cooking, which we all know endears vegans to everyone! Plus, when you get as excited about salad as I clearly am, it’s hard not for your energy to be contagious.

2. Bring a cutting board, a knife, and a bowl. 

If you live in an old city like I do, many of your friends will have adorably petite kitchens that function best while housing one or two busy chefs. Everyone hangs out in the kitchen at parties, so trying to find these invaluable items in someone else’s kitchen while navigating around ten people who are looking for more beer can spell trouble. If you have to prep your dish on site, plan ahead and you’ll be in a better mood.

3. Aluminum foil.

(Hint: no, you don’t have to wear it!)

In addition to the salad, I brought some spicy Field Roast sausages to grill, but of course I didn’t want them to share grill space with the animal sausages and burger patties. What to do? I wrapped them in aluminum foil before grilling them. What you lose in cute grill lines, you regain in the maintenance of your principles. A note to my omnivore friends: if you want to bring meat over to a vegetarian barbecue, ask your friends if they’re comfortable having you wrap your sausages in foil to avoid meating the grill. If you ask politely, I bet they will say sure!

4. Smile.

Be nice. Grillmasters are often proud of their skills, which can sometimes come across as their being or possessive of their purview. Be respectful of the fact that they take their grilling seriously, and ask them politely (but firmly) to accommodate you. Hopefully they will be hospitable – I’ve never had someone deny my requests, but I live in California, so my sample might be skewed. If your host won’t budge on grill real estate, you can always eat your emergency Clif bar.

5. Listen to this song and get pumped! Do the watusi!

On the level: staying vegan at a meat-centric event can be done… by you. You can do it! And remember, after all the meat has been eaten and the mayonnaise has been put away, you’ll be sitting around a fire with your friends and family, so engaged in conversation that you’ll all forget that your iPhones even exist. Or at least, that’s what happened at Reese’s birthday party!*

The next morning, you can go out to breakfast with the whole gang and talk about the memories you’ve just created.

Let me know how your barbecues go! All the love!

_________________________

*…By the way, should you find yourself in this happy, technology-less situation, I’d recommend not mentioning it. Once you remind people that their phones exist, they might remember a text they’d been meaning to send, and you’ll distance yourself from the very situation you were just enjoying.

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Portobello mushrooms stuffed with eggplant-tomato sauce

From what I hear, there are a lot of people out there in the world who would prefer to go vegan, but feel they have to stay omnivorous for the benefit of their spouses or partners, friends, and families. I can sympathize: I felt strongly that opting out of animal products was the right choice for me, but before I made the decision to transition to a fully plant-based lifestyle, I hesitated to do so because I feared the change would inconvenience those around me.

So, how did I resolve the issue? Basically the same way I solve all my problems: through conversation. I talked with a few people close to me, and in particular my partner, the reasons why I felt it was important for me to go vegan. Those conversations gave them the opportunity to support me through the transition, and I was overwhelmed by how kind and understanding they were. Note: I was also considerate of them. This is key for those vegans among us without the luxury of a lot of like-minded friends. Doctors’ vow is, “First, do no harm.” As a vegan, mine is, “First, do not proselytize.”

Additionally, I learned to start cooking dishes that were delicious and complete without the use of animal foods. I think soy-based meat substitutions can be great when you’re transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle, but because I no longer miss meat, I no longer really feel the urge to purchase or eat other foods that attempt to approximate it. The trick to eating a fully plant-based diet is not to substitute mock meats and cheeses for the animal-based versions; rather, the goal is to make meals so satisfying without the use of animal products that it doesn’t occur to you that anything is missing from the meal. 

These stuffed portobellos are a fantastic example of a dish that has a deeply meaty umami-ness, a well-rounded flavor profile, and a deceptive level of fanciness (they’re quite easy but seem impressive on the plate). I hope you enjoy them as much as we did.

Portobello mushrooms stuffed with eggplant-tomato sauce

Serves 2 with leftover sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 portobello mushrooms, de-stemmed and marinated for about 2 hours. (Reese marinated them in a barbecue sauce-based mixture; if you want to see my general philosophy on how to marinate something, see this post.)
  • 1 medium eggplant
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 1/4 cups jarred tomato sauce
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 sprigs rosemary

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place eggplant on a roasting pan and place in the oven. Yes, I’m serious. Roast the whole eggplant for 1 hour. (This step can be done a day or two in advance.)
  3. Allow the eggplant to cool to room temperature, then quarter lengthwise and chop into 1/2 inch pieces or so.
  4. While you are waiting for the eggplant to peel, halve the tomato (imagine the place where the stem was is the North Pole and cut through the equator) and scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon. Cut the remaining halves into slivers and place in a large bowl.
  5. To the bowl, add the sundried tomatoes, tomato sauce, and balsamic; then add the eggplant and basil and stir to combine. Taste and season. Allow to marinate while you work on preparing the mushrooms.
  6. Drain the marinade off the mushrooms, and prepare a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Place the mushrooms on the sheet, gill-side up.
  7. Fill each mushroom with the tomato-basil-eggplant mixture. I didn’t measure how much I used, but I’d guess it was about 1/4 to 1/3 cup per mushroom. Top each with a sprig of rosemary.
  8. Bake the stuffed mushrooms at 400 degrees for about 35 minutes, basting with pan juices occasionally, until they’re roasted all the way through.
  9. Serve on a bed of greens. I paired ours with a bean-and-rice salad with a tahini dressing and lots of parsley.

In other news, today is Reese’s birthday! Many happy returns to the kindest, most generous, and most genuine person I’ve ever met.

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Noodles with creamy tomato sauce + kale

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An equally accurate title for this recipe would be kale with noodles and tomato sauce: it all depends on your point of view. I’ve always liked a little pasta with my sauce, rather than the other way around, and the same principle applies even when I’m enjoying noodles that are much less calorie-dense than traditional pasta, like these shirataki noodles. Plus, we all know kale is the secret to life.

When I was growing up, it seems like my family ate pasta for dinner at least twice a week – it was an easy way for my parents to accommodate my vegetarian diet while also eating meat themselves (my dad left marinara sauce on the side for me while the rest of the family had bolognese). Later, when I was in college and my friends and I were learning to cook on our own, we’d often make pasta because a) our parents made it a lot, so it reminded us of home-cooked meals, b) it was quick and easy, c) there weren’t too many pans to clean afterward, and d) it was cheap. All these are good reasons for college students to eat pasta, but it left me feeling about spaghetti the same way I feel about Bob Marley: sure, it’s great, but I’ve had enough to last me a lifetime.

These days I rarely feel the urge to ring my macaroni chimes, but at the same time, I find noodles really fun to eat, and also a great vehicle for sauces, which make life worth living. I paired these neutral-flavored noodles with nutritionally packed kale and this silky, fluffy tomato sauce. The noodles soaked up the flavor of the sauce, while the kale relaxed under the acid of the tomatoes and the fat of the avocado. I added some velvety white beans for protein, and had a great dinner in front of me in less time than it takes to watch a rerun of Seinfeld.

Noodles with creamy tomato sauce + kale

Serves 1 very generously or 2 modestly

Ingredients

  • 1/2 bunch curly kale, stemmed, washed, and chopped
  • 1 7 oz package shirataki noodles, drained
  • 1/2 cup canellini beans
  • 1 heaping cup whole + 1/2 cup halvedcherry tomatoes, divided
  • 1 large clove garlic, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 2 heaping Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp miso
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 smallish avocado
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • A few leaves fresh basil, sliced
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Start by boiling a pot of water. Note: in general, this is a pretty good place to begin any time you’re cooking dinner. I don’t know what you’ll use it for every time, but you’ll often find a use for it. When the water is boiling, blanch the shirataki noodles in it for about 3 minutes, then re-drain and allow to cool slightly.
  2. Prepare your tomato sauce: Place a heaping cup of cherry tomatoes in your food processor along with the garlic, nooch, balsamic, tomato paste, avocado, and herbs, and puree until it’s well blended but still a little textured. I wanted the texture, which is why I used my food processor instead of my blender, but if you’d prefer a smoother sauce, you can use a blender.
  3. Place your kale in a large bowl and pour the sauce over it, then add the noodles and toss to combine. I used my hands, which is why I recommend letting your noodles cool a bit first! Don’t want to burn ourselves, now, do we? Once the noodles and kale are tossed evenly with the sauce, add the halved cherry tomatoes.
  4. Top each serving with a ladle or two of beans and some basil, and enjoy.

Want more things to make with shirataki? Try this one!

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Sweet Potato Lentil Wraps

My immune system has a pretty good fighting spirit, but it does occasionally fall prey to the trials and tribulations of public transportation and office doorknobs. One of the things I do to stay healthy is get regular acupuncture treatments, which seem to make a significant difference in bolstering my overall health. I volunteer at a community acupuncture clinic* one day a week and receive free treatments as trade for my labor (score!) which makes the arrangement very wallet-friendly– or, more accurately, wallet-free.

I went in for a treatment this week and my acupuncturist could tell my system was up against something. After the treatment, she prescribed some herbs, advised me to stay warm and skip the booze, and to eat warm, clean foods (i.e., no fried stuff).

It can be pretty tough to pry me away from my raw veggies, but I was determined to give hot food a shot, especially if it meant a shorter cold duration. After my treatment I put together this warming, easy wrap, which I think fits the bill, and is flavorful enough to cut through the unresponsive sense of smell that so often accompanies new colds. I served it alongside some steamed Swiss chard for a complete meal.

Sweet Potato Lentil Wraps

Serves 1 with leftovers

Ingredients

  • 1 medium sweet potato
  •  tsp garam masala
  • Coconut oil spray (or other vegetable oil)
  • 1 cup split red lentils
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 1 medium stalk celery, diced
  • 1/2 medium red bell pepper, de-seeded, de-veined, and diced
  • 2 handfuls fresh baby spinach
  • 1 tsp shredded coconut
  • 1 whole grain tortilla or wrap

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash the sweet potato and cut into 1/2-1 inch cubes. Lightly oil a small baking sheet with the coconut oil spray, then put the sweet potatoes on it. Sprinkle the garam masala over the sweet potato cubes and shake the pan to coat. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and put in the oven to roast. Let them roast, covered, for 20 minutes.
  2. Add the lentils to a medium saucepan with 2 cups water. Bring to a boil uncovered, then add the diced veggies, cover, and simmer until the lentils are tender, about 15 minutes, adding more water as needed. When tender, add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. When both sweet potatoes and lentils are cooked, assemble your wrap: Put the spinach on the tortilla, then top with about 1/2 cup cooked lentils (use a slotted spoon to avoid excess liquid) , 1/2 the sweet potatoes, and a sprinkle of coconut.

The coconut is optional but does bring out the flavors and help them meld. The hot lentils will warm and partly cook the baby spinach – good if you’re following the advice of your acupuncturist.

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Amanda’s Avocado and Kale Salad

This weekend, my fabulous sister-in-law, Amanda, came up from Santa Cruz to visit Reese and me. The two of them were thrilled to see each other, of course:

Amanda and Reese! What a dynamic duo.

But I was pretty amped to see Amanda, too. I’m stoked I got her as part of the deal with Reese – talk about a twofer! We had a lovely weekend that included hiking up the steps to Coit tower, visiting Dolores Park on Easter Sunday, and lots catching up.

We actually are having a really good time, we're just taking a break from the steps up to Coit Tower!

Not surprisingly, our time together began and ended with the three of us sharing and enjoying food. Dinner on Saturday night consisted of a veggie burger recipe we tried from the newspaper, sweet potato oven fries, and a generous kale salad.

While we were cooking dinner together, Amanda taught me a new way to prepare one of my favorite dishes: kale salad. I love raw kale, and I always like to massage it with a little fat and acid in order to increase both its deliciousness and its compatibility with my digestive tract. I usually top my kale salads with a few slices of ripe avocado, but it had never occurred to me to use avocado as the fat in the dressing and skip the oil. Luckily for me, I had a kale spirit guide to show me the way.

In addition to being delicious and nutritious in its own right, this recipe gives me an excellent opportunity to put in a plug to you to cook with your friends and family members. I believe that preparing and eating meals can, and sometimes should, be deeply meaningful ways to connect with the people around you. Food is a powerful emotional and social locus, and this is never more personally palpable to me than when I am privileged to learn a new way to prepare ingredients I know from a person I love. Of course, we all find ourselves eating lunch at our desks or dinner in front of our crossword puzzles from time to time, but cooking with Amanda was a reminder of why it’s important to remember that dinner isn’t just physical fuel, it’s also soul food.

Amanda’s Avocado and Kale Salad

Serves 3 kale lovers

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch kale (we used the curly purple kind)
  • 1 medium avocado (or cut it down to 1/2 id you prefer)
  • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • Salt to taste
  • a handful of cherry tomatoes, halved

Directions

  1. Wash your hands; it’s especially important for this salad.
  2. Wash, dry, de-stem, and chop or tear your kale into bite-size pieces. The best way to de-stem kale is to hold the stem in your dominant hand, firmly grasp the leaf with your other hand, and them quickly pull your hands apart. The leaf will remain in your nondominant hand. Compost the stems or save them for juice.
  3. Sprinkle the vinegar over the kale and toss with your hands to combine.
  4. Halve, pit, and cube the avocado, then spoon the flesh out on top of the kale. Massage the avocado into the kale until each leaf is coated and the avocado looks like dressing (no cubes should remain).
  5. Salt to taste and then garnish with cherry tomatoes.

Best kale salad ever, and I should know.

Thanks again for the visit, Amanda!

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