Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Do Over! Rigatoni with Roasted Broccoli and Chickpeas

Today I stumbled upon what sounded like the most delicious recipe: Rigatoni with Roasted Broccoli and Chickpeas. What could be healthier than whole wheat pasta tossed with a beautiful green, vitamin packed, cancer-fighting vegetable like broccoli and delightful, protein rich beans? Imagine my disappointment as I skimmed the recipe only to discover it calls for anchovies, chicken bouillon and Romano cheese. First of all, this is definitely not vegan so I won't even go there. Secondly, this dish, although it sounds very healthy, is loaded with sodium. A definite no-go as far as I am concerned.

I was still interested, however. I am always looking for alternatives to the traditional pasta with sauce I often serve. My son is a big pasta lover and he would eat it every night if he could. And thankfully, he likes broccoli, so he would be willing to try this. So what do I do?

I could just omit the bouillon, anchovies and the cheese but those particular ingredients provide most of the flavor. I can substitute vegetable bouillon for a little added flavor but I have a feeling it would still be less than spectacular. Porcini mushrooms would lend some richness but my son hates mushrooms so that's not an option. I could add tons of garlic to the dish but still, I don't think it will be memorable. So I went into the kitchen and began to experiment.

First, here's the original recipe. You can make it this way if you want and I am sure it will be delicious. Go ahead. However, if you want to cut back on fat, calories, sodium and animal products, you might want to try it my way.

Rigatoni with Roasted Broccoli and Chickpeas

Here's my variation:

I substituted the anchovies with brown miso paste. Miso paste will provide a bit of that salty richness that makes the original dish so tasty. I just don't want little fishies in my food or all that oil. You can buy miso paste in the refrigerated section of  most health food stores. If you are concerned about sodium, low-sodium varieties are available. That's what I use. I love miso paste and I always have it on hand. A little bit of miso is great for seasoning salad dressings and other dishes. I also use it to make home made miso soup.

Instead of using the chicken bouillon cubes (loaded with salt and fat), I used Vogue Cuisine Vegetarian Chicken Soup and Seasoning BaseThis product is vegan, non-GMO, low in sodium and does not contain any chicken. It's perfect for recipes that call for chicken broth or when plain vegetable broth just won't do.

Here's what I did. I sauteed the garlic in oil as the recipe dictates, but completely omitted the anchovies. I added the reserved chickpea liquid to the pan with the browned garlic and tossed in 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of the Vegetarian Chicken Soup and Seasoning Base and stirred until dissolved over the heat. I removed the pan from the stove and stirred in 1 tablespoon of the miso paste, stirring well until completely dissolved. I poured the mixture into a roasting pan, added the broccoli and the chickpeas and mixed it well to coat.

I followed the remaining directions of the original recipe. A generous sprinkling of grated vegan Parmesan cheese added the finishing touch right before serving.

This was delicious.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

What Can A Vegetarian Eat on St. Paddy's Day?

photo from www.squidoo.com

Years ago, when I was married, my husband's birthday was two days before St. Patrick's Day.  I invited the whole family over for dinner each year to celebrate. Thinking I could kill two birds with one stone, I always served the traditional St. Paddy's Day meal: corned beef, cabbage and potatoes.

It's a pretty simple meal to make. You basically put everything in one big pot on the stove and forget it.  Well, that's not all that's involved but you get the idea.  I wasn't about to eat the corned beef but I really didn't mind preparing it.  It was an act of love for my husband and also for my brother-in-law, a full-blooded Irishman.  He loved my corned beef and cabbage and I always sent him home with plenty of left-overs.

Year after year, I faithfully served corned beef, cabbage and potatoes for my husband's birthday dinner . One time in particular, we were gathered at the table, everyone oohing and aahing over the meal (I was enjoying a simple dish of boiled potatoes and cabbage I had cooked up separately). The corned beef was tender, the potatoes and cabbage were perfect. My attempt at homemade soda bread was a complete success and my brother-in-law said no one would ever guess I was not Irish. I glanced over at my husband for a nod of approval. He just glared at me and cleared his throat.

"You know, I really hate this meal," he said.

We all stared at him in horror.

"I hate it, " he continued. "I never liked corned beef and cabbage and I don't know why we have to have it every year on my birthday. Why can't you make a lasagna or something else Italian instead?"

No one said a word. I felt awful. I had never thought to ask my husband if he had any special requests in honor of his birthday.  I just assumed, because he'd never said a word otherwise (until now), that he loved my corned beef and cabbage as much as everyone else.

In the years that followed, we celebrated his birthday Italian Style.  I invited everyone over on a different day for my famous Irish meal.

Lesson learned: Never assume. Always ask.

All that leads me to this:

What can a vegetarian/vegan eat on St. Paddy's Day?

Hearty Kale, Cabbage and Potato Soup. It's hearty, satisfying, easy to prepare and as it simmers on the stove, the whole house smells amazing. Serve it up with Irish Soda Bread.

Here's the recipe: Hearty Kale, Cabbage and Potato Soup


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Thoughts on Vegan Alternative Foods (and a recipe for Cashew Cream)

I am often asked the following question:

"If I stop eating animal products like cheese or sour cream and try to avoid processed foods, what about the Vegan alternatives to those foods. Aren't those processed? "

Good question and a very valid one. Many people believe it's better to eat a hunk of natural raw cheese or add a dollop of real sour cream (from a cow) to their baked potatoe rather than use packaged vegan substitutes.  I personally would not eat products from cows (or goats or any other animal) but in some ways, those who choose to do so are probably right.  Kind of.  Their choices are often  more "natural".  The vegan alternatives we buy in the supermarket are processed and usually contain a few ingredients we really don't want or need.

I try not to make a habit of relying heavily on vegan alternative foods. I believe food in its most natural state is best.  Foods I can make myself are healthier and better than anything I buy at the store. But I have to be honest. Sometimes I want something rich and creamy. Or I want a piece of pizza covered with melted "cheese".  What if  I don't have time or feel like making my own from soy or nuts? That's when the so-called substitutes come in handy. 

My rule: use them sparingly and don't rely on them as a major source of protein or nutrition.

Pure is always best. Choose foods and condiments that are minimally processed. Try to make as much as you can at home, from scratch. Your body can absorb and use the nutrients more quickly from foods that are less processed. End result- you'll feel better - body, mind and spirit.

That being said, here's a wonderful recipe I found for Cashew Cream in this week's edition of Veg News.  Easy to make and a healthier alternative to sour cream and much better than any vegan variety you can buy in the store.  It might take a bit to adjust to different flavor (it's definitely not sour cream but it is deliciously unique)  but eventually, you will love it. Cashew cream is perfect served with veggie tacos and even on baked potatoes.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Best Lentil Almond Burgers Ever!

photo from Eatingwell.com

I must be honest and confess-- I  keep a package of veggie burgers in my freezer.  They're convenient to have on hand when I don't have time to cook.  In the summer, one of my friends is always having an impromtu BBQ so if I don't have a supply of homemade burgers,  I'll toss a couple of veggie burgers in my purse. I wrap them in foil to cook on the grill along with all the hamburgers and hotdogs. 

I am not a huge fan of the pre-packaged, frozen veggie burger, but it can be quite a life-saver on those days I just don't have time to prepare my own.  I prefer homemade burgers made from beans and grains. They're obviously healthier and they taste so much better.  

Here is my favorite burger recipe made from lentils and almonds. These are so delicious. I put them on whole grain hamburgers rolls and serve with all the regular fixings.

This recipe comes from Eatingwell.com.  I've adjusted it slightly to make it vegan.  These burgers are  delicate so flip them gently in the pan when you cook them. They will most likely fall apart if you grill them so my advice is not even try. You can wrap them in a bit of foil, however, and re-heat them on the BBQ, if desired.

Lentil and Almond Burgers
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 cup brown lentils or green French lentils (see Ingredient note)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, ,divided
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped carrot
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped shallots (about 2 medium)
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped celery (about 1 stalk) (about
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon Ener-G egg replacer mixed in 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

  • 1. Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan. Stir in lentils, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until very tender and beginning to break down, about 25 minutes for brown lentils or 30 minutes for green lentils. Drain in a fine-mesh sieve.

  • 2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add carrot, shallots and celery and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add almonds, thyme, salt and pepper; continue cooking until the almonds are lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a food processor; add 1 cup of the cooked lentils. Pulse several times, scraping down the sides once or twice, until the mixture is coarsely ground. Transfer to a large bowl; stir in the remaining lentils. Let cool for 10 minutes. Mix in egg replacer and lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour

  • 3. Form the lentil mixture into 5 patties. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet, preferably cast-iron, over medium-high heat. Add the patties and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Turn gently and continue to cook until lightly browned and heated through, 3 to 4 minutes more. Serve immediately.

  • Ingredient Note: French green lentils are smaller and firmer than brown lentils. They cook more quickly, too, about 20 minutes. They can be found in natural-foods stores and some larger supermarkets.
  • Sunday, March 4, 2012

    Mushroom Stroganoff- The Ultimate Comfort Food!

    If it's comfort food you want, you found it. Let me rephrase that.  I found it and I am sharing it with you.

    This is delicious, vegan comfort food at its best from Mouthwatering Vegan: Stroganoff Supreme. 

    I would serve this over cooked whole grain noodles or steamed brown rice.

    This meal is a bit of an indulgence because it gets its richness from cream. It's vegan cream (meaning no animal fat or animal products) but there is still some considerable fat in this dish.

    Here's my thinking on all that:

    If your daily diet is primarily lean protein, whole grains, and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, then it's perfectly fine to eat a meal thatis a bit rich now and then, even if you are trying to lose weight. Eating should be pleasurable, not boring; and never, ever about denial.   This is the key to success in weight loss and healthy living.

    Another note: this recipe calls for Ground Mixed Spice. Here's how to make it.

    Ground Mixed Spice