Part of my self care regimen on the tenure track is scheduling time to cook healthy, nutrutious vegan meals on Sundays. During the week, I regularly work between 9-12 hours a day on research and writing projects, which means I have very little energy left over to cook .. and getting takeout every night isn’t an option unless I want to gain a million pounds.
So…. Here’s one of two delicious meals I made today:
Take a yam. Peel it. Chop it up and boil it.
Meanwhile: bring 1 cup of rainbow quinoa to boil in 2 cups of water. I toss in a cube of vegetable buillion. Reduce to simmer for 20 minutes. Set aside.
When the yam is tender, strain and set aside. In a small saucepan, combine 1 tablespoon of EVOO with 1/4 cup of almond milk. Stir in yams, drizzle with agave and sprinkle with nutmeg and cinnamon. Stir in 3 large handfuls of spinach and a dash of salt. Optional: sautee the spinach with fresh garlic before adding to the yams.
Spoon the yam/spinach mixture over the quinoa. Savor.
I’ve never thought of myself as a soup person, but my veganish experiment has afforded me ample opportunities to step up my soup game and find combinations of flavors that tickle my fancy. Sadly, I don’t remember exactly how I made this masterpiece, but it was amazing. What I know for sure is that it involved cooking up some split peas the old fashioned way — in a pot — then blending it down in the Vitamix with cilantro and some liquid (maybe almond milk? water? I have no idea). Next, I poured the mixture back into a pot and stirred in black beans, marinated tomatoes, apple cider vinegar and an assortment of spices. Grilled a spelt tortilla in EVOO and nutritional yeast, then sprinkled with herbes de provence.
I’ve never been a huge fan of salads – unless it was a Caesar salad with lots of dressing. And if we’re really being truthful here, the the only reason I ate Caesar salads to begin with was to eat Caesar dressing. In the past, I would buy Romaine lettuce or baby spinach because I knew I “should” eat salad. But because I hated salad, the lettuce would inevitably go bad.
Since I began my veganish journey, I made a conscious decision to embrace all of my food preferences. Instead of trying to force myself to like things I did not like, I simply paid attention to what my body craved. I turned walking through the produce section into a spiritual and sensual experience. I would literally stand in front of the piles of fruits and vegetables and practice conscious breathing until it became evident what I wanted to get. I listened to my soul’s urge as I gazed intently at mangoes and rainbow chard. I noticed that there were certain things I’d never tried before – some vegetables I didn’t even know the names of. I paid attention to what I felt attracted as I mindfully touched and smelled cabbages, baby bok choy, tomatoes and radishes. I looked at other people’s vegan recipes and asked my Twitter followers for grocery shopping advice. When they mentioned items that piqued my curiosity, I’d try them. If something didn’t resonate, I didn’t bother.
With regard to salads, I began to notice that I was not against all salads per se – I was against most of the salads I had made – and eaten – in the past. I was dismayed with unimaginative salads, salads where the vegetables were not cut up into bite-sized appetizing portions, salads that were bland. But as I became more conscious about my eating, I began to notice that there were often salads that looked and tasted quite delicious to me at restaurants or friend’s homes. What made them so good? Well, the house salad at my favorite Thai place incorporated delicious dressings with ingredients I love (like ginger) along with tiny bits of tofu. Why did I like the tofu? Well, it added a bit of dimension and texture to the dish. Thinking about texture is particularly important for a plant based diet. When you give up meat, you have to think more carefully about getting various degrees of crunch and chewiness into your food. I began to see that many of my favorite vegetarian and vegan dishes in restaurants and recipes added texture with fried tofu, nuts, crunchy bits like chia seeds, peppers and so on.
So little, by little, I began to find a path toward salads that I could not only live with, but deeply enjoy. Being a Condiment Queen means I must have sauces, spices, herbs, dressings and tiny bits on hand that I enjoy. I realized that I really love salad leaves (cooked or raw) when they are drizzled with lemon juice. A sprinkle of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper also makes me my mouth happy. I also began to notice that the reason I hated most salads is because most of them are cold. I tend to like my vegetables a bit warm. I’m not sure why, it’s just the way I am. So in the spirit of giving myself what I want, I whipped up this half-cold, half-hot Serenity Salad, made with raw avocado and tomatoes layered over grilled kale and polenta.
Ingredients (2 servings)
2 baby Roma tomatoes
2-3 cloves of garlic
3-4 handfuls of kale
Extra virgin olive oil
1) Marinate organic Roma tomatoes in apple cider vinegar, freshly squeezed lemon juice, along with sea salt and black pepper. Chop up one avocado. Set aside.
2) In a large skillet, grill four handfuls of chopped kale in EVOO with fresh garlic over low to medium heat. Stir frequently to avoid burning the leaves. Season to taste and set aside.
3) Slice up two servings of polenta, grill in EVOO. Sprinkle with black pepper and a touch of sea salt. After about 5 minutes, add in the kale and cook on low heat for another 3-4 minutes.
4) In a bowl, layer the kale and polenta with the tomatoes and avocado. Drizzle with dressing. I used my homemade mango-berry vinaigrette. Devour.
One of my lifelong favorite dishes is cheese fries. Not fancy cheese fries. I’m talking about regular old fries smothered in cheese whiz (not even real cheese) and doused with hot sauce, ketchup, black pepper and salt. I’m definitely a Condiment Queen.
Anyway, my current lifestyle isn’t really compatible with cheese whiz fries. So instead, I chowed down on this wholesome version. Chopped and fried some organic red potatoes in EVOO along with shallots, onions and garlic. Dropped in a handful of organic spinach, a a touch of habanero sauce and a sprinkle of Daiya cheddar. Indulgent, decadent and delicious.
I’m getting in the habit of repurposing food as the spirit moves me. The other night I made a delectable cappellini dish in cashew cheese alfredo with grilled mushrooms. Not wanting to eat the same thing two nights in a row, I decided to experiment with using the leftover pasta as a base for something altogether different. I noticed some romaine lettuce in the fridge that needed to be eaten, so I used this as an excuse to grill it up. The sauce began with the remnants of a raspberry/blackberry/avocado smoothie I’d made that morning. Instead of washing out the Vitamix, I used the repurposed the remaining smoothie by adding a tomato, balsamic vinegar, garlic, a little Worcestershire sauce and whatever else I could find that would yummify it. The fact that the noodles were bathed in cashew cheese and nutmeg meant that the dish was quite rich and savory.
One thing that I’m learning is that I actually enjoy tofu better when it’s chopped nice and small. I noticed this while eating out at a Thai restaurant last week. There were these tiny bits of something or other in my salad – they tasted so good but I didn’t know what they were. When the server told me it was tofu, I resolved to cut mine up as small as possible the next time I cooked it up at home. I think smaller pieces are more enjoyable because they maximize taste. Being the Condiment Queen I am, I need my tofu to serve as the most efficient delivery system for my sauce as possible.
One of my Twitter followers recently humble-bragged about making her own peanut sauce from scratch. I was mystified, but she made it sound easy. So, without looking up a recipe, I decided to try my hand at something similar and even more exotic — almond butter sauce.
I’ve never been a huge fan of peanut butter, but I fell in love with almond butter when I began my veganish journey three months ago. Not only is it packed full of protein, but it also has a lovely, mild taste. Anyway, this was the first time I used it in a cooked dish — usually I add it to my lettuce wraps.
This dish – which, if I say so myself, belongs in the pantheon of vegan masterpieces – turned out to be absolutely divine. Right up there with the amazing mushroom risotto in cashew/dijon cream sauce, sprinkled with sweet potatoes and leeks that I had at Blossom yesterday. I had a lot of fun making it and even more fun eating it.
So, here’s the low down:
*note, these measurements and directions are approximations. I generally do not follow recipies when I cook.. I simply intuit – and taste – as I go along. So use this as a template but do your own thing.
1 baby bok choy
1 package of Trader Joe’s “Beefless” strips (seitan)
1 package of Trader Joe’s Brown Rice, Red Rice & Black Barley Medley
3 cloves of garlic
1/4 handful of cilantro
1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup of water
1/2 red onion
2-3 table spoons of almond butter
1/4 cup cocnut milk
Chop up the garlic and toss it into a large sauce pan primed with 3 tablespoons of EVOO over medium heat. Chop the red onion and cilantro and add both to the garlic. When that gets going, throw in the seitan and spray the whole lot with copious amounts of Braggs aminos. Sprinkle in some sea salt. Stir frequently and add more EVOO as neccessary.
When the seitan is cooked thoroughly, add the almond butter,coconut milk, apple cider vinegar and 1/4 cup of the water. Stir and reduce to a low heat. While that’s simmering, chop of the baby bok choy and grill it separately in EVOO over medium heat. Squeeze the lemon over the bok choy and spice with sea salt. I like my bok choy nicely grilled, so I let it go for about 10 minutes. Stir frequently. Add the remaining water to the almond butter sauce and reduce to low heat.
Microwave the rice medley according to the box instructions. Layer it with the sauce, seitan and bok choy. Savor. And thank me later.