How to Have a Healthy Holiday

CIMG3919

For most health nuts, the holidays are one of the few times of the year that it is okay to indulge. Faced with a month-long celebration of decorated cookies, seasonal coffee drinks, festive cocktails, and comfort food, most people just give in. Knowing that the New Year’s Resolution reset button is right around the corner, most of us will feast our way through December. Personally, I have always maintained my vegetarian diet through the holidays, but I have indulged in more gingerbread cookies, peppermint mochas, winter ales, and seasonal cocktails than I normally would.

CIMG3923

This year, I am hosting Christmas dinner at my house for the very first time. It is actually the first time I have spent Christmas in Virginia, and Kyle and I are very excited to spend our first Christmas morning in our new house. Because I get to plan the menu, I want to have plenty of healthy options and serve some really delicious food at the same time. My first Christmas dinner at home presents a few challenges though. I will have two vegetarians at the table, a few people who would prefer to see meat on their plates, and one guest who is following a very strict low-carb diet. I need to serve some meat, some high-protein vegetarian dishes, and several low-carb items. At first the task was a little daunting, but I am always up for a challenge. No, really. Like, always. Maybe to a fault.

CIMG3793

Since I love a good problem-solving session, I can honestly say I’ve had a blast working through a menu. I have a lot of ideas and I haven’t narrowed it down completely, so I thought I would share a few of my thoughts here with you. I am positive that some steamed vegetables will make an appearance, but I found the dishes listed below to offer something a little more special on the table. If you too are trying to build a health-conscious holiday menu, maybe some of these dishes will make your list.

As always, please note that I am no expert and if you have a restrictive diet for medical reasons, you should consult with a registered dietitian and your doctor before making any changes to your diet. Or else I might unwittingly lead you down a path paved with peppermint mochas and fried tofu, to possible digestive ruin.

The following recipe collection is very carbohydrate conscious. There are several options that I think would work for those who are watching their blood sugar. I hear that people on the paleo diet also watch their carbs, so some of these might work for them too.

If you are worried less about carbs and more about what to serve your herbivorous guests, check out my post on What to Serve Vegan and Vegetarian Party Guests or my Vegetarian Holiday Recipe Roundup.

Have ideas of your own that you would like to share? Please comment below with your favorite healthy holiday dishes!

Veggie Redux: Vegan BBQ with Cole Slaw

Resampled_2012-11-25_19-15-11_354

If you have seen any of my veggie redux posts before, you know that I love a good vegetarian remake of a classic meaty dish. In the past, I have tackled bangers and mash, shrimp and grits, caldo verde, chicken pot pie, and more. Recently I started experimenting with jackfruit for a vegetarian remake of pulled pork barbecue. I had seen barbecue jackfruit on the menus at Ipanema and Strange Matter, so this isn’t a completely original idea, but the recipe is the result of several hours of testing spice combinations in my own kitchen.

Resampled_2012-11-19_19-40-42_891

It all starts with young green jackfruit, a fruit that is indigenous to Southeast Asia. I found it canned at Tan-A, a large Asian supermarket in Richmond. This fruit works well because the texture is fibrous like pulled pork, and when unripe, it does not have a very strong taste. The young green jackfruit is a little tangy on its own but it is mainly a vehicle for the flavor of the barbecue sauce.

Resampled_2012-11-25_18-23-58_304

It is important to use either jackfruit in brine (rinsed) or jackfruit in water. Do not use jackfruit in syrup or else it will be very sweet. As the jackfruit cooks, it releases some liquid into the sauce and begins to pull apart. After some seasoning, simmering, and coaxing with forks, the jackfruit begins to resemble pulled pork barbecue.

Resampled_2012-11-25_19-16-27_67

When I had mastered my barbecue sauce recipe, I realized that I was on the way to not just a vegetarian barbecue sandwich, but a vegan one. I started working on a cole slaw recipe with that in mind. I grew up eating barbecue with creamy cole slaw, so I had to make sure I had some cool and crunchy cole slaw to balance my smoky and spicy barbecue jackfruit.

Resampled_2012-12-08_13-16-38_671

I made the cole slaw creamy and vegan by making vegan cashew cream and then expanding upon that technique to create a dressing. It starts with ground cashews and water, then after the addition of oil, vinegar, mustard, dill, salt, pepper, and a touch of maple syrup, a sweet and tangy dressing comes together. It is so creamy that it’s hard to believe that it’s vegan.

Resampled_2012-12-08_13-04-43_271

Since finalizing my recipes for both components, I have experimented even more with jackfruit, by putting the barbecue jackfruit on buns, over polenta, and piled on tostadas. Later this week, we’ll try it in enchiladas. Kyle has requested in in banh mi soon. If you add a little chili powder to the barbecue recipe and let it cook a bit longer over higher heat, you get something that resembles barbacoa, which is delicious stuffed in tortillas with fresh sliced avocado and lime.

Resampled_2012-11-25_19-32-46_301

I think omnivores and herbivores alike would enjoy this very smoky, spicy barbecue. It’s not going to fool you into thinking you are eating pork. but the flavor and texture might be close enough to the real thing to satisfy a craving. Warning: if you like your barbecue sweeter, back off on the spice just a bit. This one has a good amount of heat.

BBQ Jackfruit (Vegan “Pulled Pork BBQ”)

Resampled_2012-11-25_19-15-21_509

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1- 20 oz. can young green jackfruit in water, drained (or in brine, drained and rinsed)
  • 3 Tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 Tablespoon molasses
  • 1/4 cup water

Preparation:

  1. Heat 2 Tbsp oil over medium heat. Saute onion and garlic for 1 minute.
  2. Add next six ingredients (cayenne through sea salt), stir, and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add jackfruit and stir to coat. Cook for 5 minutes.
  4. While jackfruit is cooking, mix together the remaining ingredients: ketchup, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, molasses and water. Add 1 tsp of vegetable oil. Stir to mix thoroughly and add to jackfruit. Bring to a simmer and cover.
  5. Cook over medium heat, covered, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.
  6. Use forks to partially pull apart the fruit into strands and bite size pieces. Reduce heat to low and keep covered until ready to serve.

Creamy Vegan Cole Slaw

Resampled_2012-12-08_13-16-57_715

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup dry, shelled, unsalted, raw cashews
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried dill
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse ground mustard
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup
  • 1- 12 oz. package of rainbow slaw
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. In a food processor, grind the cashews into a meal, as finely chopped as possible.
  2. To the cashews, add dill and mustard and pulse until incorporated.
  3. Add water, olive oil, vinegar and maple syrup to the food processor and process until all ingredients are incorporated and the mixture resembles a vinaigrette.
  4. Dump the rainbow slaw into a large bowl with the green onions and add dressing. Stir to coat all of the slaw with the dressing and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour and up to eight hours before serving.

Three Sisters Soup

Resampled_2012-10-02_20-17-10_119

I recently discovered the “three sisters” on a trip to Charlottesville. About two months ago, on one of many wedding-planning trips to the Blue Ridge Mountains, we stopped into Revolutionary Soup near the downtown mall. I had heard great things about Revolutionary Soup and I had been meaning to try it for years. On a gorgeous September day in Charlottesville with my parents and Kyle, I finally had the opportunity.

Resampled_2012-09-22_19-10-54_583

Revolutionary Soup has an extensive menu of sandwiches, soups, and salads. There are plenty of vegetarian and vegan options on the menu. There is also a great selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. I was impressed by the selection of local beers and ciders. Kyle had a matcha (green tea) flavored soda that he is still talking about, two months later. I think one of Kyle’s greatest regrets in life is not writing down the name of that soda.

Resampled_2012-09-22_19-07-45_788

One thing that really impressed me at Revolutionary Soup was this giant diagram that illustrated all of their local vendors on a map of Virginia. This is definitely a feature of my fantasy restaurant now.

Resampled_2012-09-22_19-07-18_445

I chose a tofu wrap and a small Three Sisters Soup, which was one of the seasonal specials they offered that day. I had never heard of “three sisters” before, but I learned that the term refers to the trio of squash, beans and corn. Native Americans grew the three crops together, using a technique called companion planting, because each one benefits from the other two. Not only are they a great combination in the garden, but they also taste wonderful together. The soup was a total knockout and I knew I would have to replicate it at home.

Resampled_2012-09-23_18-15-15_211

While I was picking up a few things at the grocery store later that week, I saw a giant bin of fall and winter squash. I couldn’t resist taking home this Turks Turban squash. I had never seen a squash like this before, and although I knew nothing about how to prepare it or how it tasted, I decided this would be the squash for my Three Sisters soup. Cutting and seeding it was really difficult due to its odd shape.

Resampled_2012-09-23_18-37-21_968

When peeled, chunked, and roasted, the Turks Turban squash is sweet, with a smooth, dense texture. It was fun to use just for the experience and for the look on the grocery store cashier’s face when the odd-shaped squash came gliding down the belt and to her scanner. When I looked up the Turks Turban, I was disappointed to find that it didn’t have great reviews for taste. I tried it anyway and thought it tasted like a cross between a butternut squash and a pumpkin. I thought it was great and had no complaints regarding taste. However, due to the weird shape, the peeling and seeding process was so labor intensive that it wasn’t really worth it. In the future, I think I’ll just use butternut squash instead.

Anyway, enough about the squash. This recipe is all about the soup. I have made three sisters soup three times now, with a different type of squash every time. It is delicious no matter what type of fall or winter squash you include. This soup is hearty enough to stand alone in a big bowl as a main dish, or you could serve a smaller portion with bread and a salad. It would be a nice starter to your Thanksgiving meal. A large pot of it simmered on a Sunday provides an alternative to chili for watching football, or plenty of lunches to reheat throughout the week.

Three Sisters Soup

Resampled_2012-10-02_20-18-27_72

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 2 cups cubed, roasted winter squash
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1- 15 oz. can pinto beans
  • 2 cups frozen corn kernels
  • 5 cups water or vegetable broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Sauté onion, pepper, celery and garlic until onion is translucent.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot and bring to a boil.
  4. Cover and simmer over medium heat for 45 minutes. Remove bay leaf before serving.

Hummus Lab

Lately I have been experimenting with hummus quite a bit. Ever since I learned how to make it at home last year, store bought hummus just isn’t enough for me. Granted, when I want the type of super smooth an creamy hummus that can only come from individually peeling every chickpea, I go to the store. Similarly, if I’m in a hurry to get somewhere, I pick up my hummus on the run. But I have found that since I learned how to mix up my own fresh flavors, the variety of hummus sold at the store is downright boring. Garlic? Been there. Roasted red pepper? Done that.

During this long experimentation phase, I have dubbed my chickpea processing time “Hummus Lab,” which delights me and confuses my friends. Did you ever watch that cartoon Sealab 2020? It’s kind of like that, except more delicious. I have successfully created several tasty flavors of hummus to dip my pita triangles, carrot sticks, cucumber slices and naked fingers into. Kyle is in hummus heaven. Isabelle wants to know when I’ll quit dropping chickpeas on the floor and start dropping kale again (girl loves her greens). I won’t have another boring BYOBB lunch for weeks.

Against my better judgment, I am sharing four of my favorite hummus recipes with you. I say this because I think I could probably make some money off these concoctions, but because my business plan writing days are over (for now at least), I’m just giving them away for free! Our favorites so far are the cilantro jalapeno and the dill pickle hummus, but all four are extremely tasty and far more interesting than what is on the grocery store shelves. All of them use chickpeas, although experimentation with other beans is already underway. Hummus Lab sequel? Maybe!

Enjoy!

The directions for all hummus recipes are as follows: add all ingredients to food processor and blend until incorporated and hummus is smooth.

Cilantro Jalapeno Hummus

2012-08-12_18-58-46_948

Ingredients:

  • 1-15 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 jalapeno, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp fresh cilantro
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil

Sun-dried Tomato Basil Hummus

2012-08-18_17-07-08_284

Ingredients:

  • 1-15 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil

Indian Curry Hummus

2012-08-21_12-25-22_476

Ingredients:

  • 1-15 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • dash of ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil

Dill Pickle Hummus

2012-09-03_15-16-25_124

Ingredients:

  • 1-15 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup fresh dill
  • 3 dill pickle slices (round chips)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp white vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp ground mustard
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil

Side note on the dill pickle hummus: I could totally see this in a wrap as a vegan tuna salad substitute, or as a fun alternative filling for deviled eggs.

Curried Chickpea and Potato Cakes with Peach Salsa

Resampled_2012-07-22_09-16-29_700

This recipe was inspired by fresh peaches from the market. I considered calling the dish Chickpeachutney Cakes. So much fun to say. Try it.

Resampled_2012-07-21_11-50-41_75

We enjoyed this spicy, hearty, juicy, sweet dinner on a warm summer evening. I think it would taste best when the peaches are perfectly ripe and still warm from the market.

Resampled_2012-07-22_09-09-39_154

Peaches are a delicious taste of summer, while warm curry and potato are reminiscent of fall. If you are like me, you are already looking towards the fall and anticipating the familiarity of its warm and spicy flavors on cool, crisp nights. I expect to make this dish over the next two month “tweason” that ties summer to fall. As an added bonus for vegans, there are no eggs in these cakes; this dish is totally vegan!

Curried Chickpea and Potato Cakes with Peach Salsa

Resampled_2012-07-22_09-10-26_437

Curried Chickpea and Potato Cakes

Ingredients:

  • 1- 15 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 3 small potatoes, peeled and diced
  • small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large carrots, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp curry powder
  • 2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 Tbsp vegetable oil, divided

Preparation:

  1. Cook the potatoes in a large pot of boiled water until tender. Drain and mash.
  2. While the potatoes are cooking, mash the chickpeas with a fork into a paste.
  3. In a medium pan, heat 1 Tbsp vegetable oil over medium heat. Sauté the onion until fragrant, then add carrots and garlic and sauté until tender.
  4. Add the cumin to the pan with the onions, carrots and garlic. Cook for 1 more minute, then remove from heat.
  5. In a large bowl, mix the potatoes, chickpeas, and onion-carrot mixture with lemon juice, curry powder, cilantro, salt and pepper.
  6. Heat 2 Tbsp vegetable oil over medium-high heat.
  7. Divide chickpea potato mixture into 6 parts and form into patties. Fry in oil, 3-5 minutes on each side. Serve over lettuce or on buns.

Peach Salsa

Ingredients:

  • 2 fresh peaches, peeled and chopped
  • 1 Tbsp chopped sweet onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped cucumber
  • 1 jalapeno, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp finely chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp honey
  • pinch of ground cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and chill until ready to serve. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Mediterranean Tempeh and Spinach Stuffed Zucchini Boats

2012-06-19_20-36-00_937

Zucchini and yellow squash are two of the flavors that always remind me of summer. Just like fresh corn kernels, juicy tomato slices and tangy barbecue sauce, summer squash momentarily transports me to the backyard of my childhood home. I remember chasing fireflies after dinner, while the adults picked crabs and sipped cold beers on the back deck, and the smells of Old Bay, dewy green grass, pool chlorine, and charcoal grills filled the air.

2012-06-16_13-24-16_589 zukes

I remember eating zucchini and squash in one of two ways: grilled on kabobs or sautéed with Vidalia onions, bread crumbs, and grated parmesan cheese. Every once in awhile, I still make squash the second way for company. Each time, without fail, one of our guests tells me their Mom used to make it the same way.  Although the results are delicious, the method of tossing vegetables in butter, breadcrumbs and cheese is not the most nutritious way to prepare fresh produce. For a protein and veggie packed preparation, I turn to stuffed zucchini boats.

Resampled_2012-06-19_20-32-06_218

I love this one recipe from Eating Bird Food for Overstuffed Vegetarian Zucchini Boats. One night this week, armed with a package of tempeh and a bag of market fresh spinach, I decided to put my own spin on Brittany’s recipe. My version features a filling made with browned tempeh, sauteed onions and garlic, fresh spinach, chopped olives, tomato sauce, herbs and feta cheese. The hollowed out zucchini and squash boats are stuffed, topped with more cheese (or not, if you’re being super healthy) and baked until bubbly.

2012-06-19_20-35-49_984

I am finding that as I experiment with more local ingredients, I create my own signature seasonal dishes that will hopefully become new food memories and comforting associations. Stuffed zucchini is quickly becoming a summer standby for me.

Mediterranean Tempeh and Spinach Stuffed Zucchini Boats

(serves 4)

Resampled_2012-06-19_20-35-05_734

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium zucchini or other summer squash
  • 4 Tbsp oil, divided
  • 1 – 8 oz. package of tempeh
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 cups fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning or mixture of basil and oregano
  • 1-1/2 cups pasta sauce
  • 1 – 4 oz. can of chopped olives, drained
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
  • 4 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese (optional)

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the squash lengthwise into halves. Scoop out the insides and leave about a 1/4-inch thick wall of flesh on the inside of each half.
  2. Place the squash in a baking dish, skin side down. Brush the squash with about 1 Tbsp of oil. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes.
  3. Grate the tempeh over a bowl with a large cheese grater. Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add the tempeh and sauté, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 8-10 minutes. Remove the tempeh to a large mixing bowl.
  4. Take the squash innards that you scooped out in step one, and measure about 1 cup of squash. Save the remaining squash for zucchini bread or cookies. Chop the 1 cup of squash into a small dice.
  5. Add 2 Tbsp oil to the small pan and add onions and garlic. Sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Then add squash to pan and sauté the mixture until tender, about 5 minutes.
  6. To the mixing bowl, add: squash/onion/garlic mixture, spinach, crushed red pepper, seasoning/herbs, pasta sauce, and olives. Add salt and pepper to taste. At this step you can stir in the crumbled feta. For a vegan version, omit the cheese.
  7. When the squash halves are removed from the oven, stuff each “boat” with the filling and top with shredded mozzarella cheese if desired.
  8. Bake the stuffed zucchini at 350 degrees F, uncovered, for about 10 minutes or until filling is bubbly and cheese is melted.

Happy Summer Solstice!

Curried Pearl Couscous Salad

2012-06-13_18-51-51_367

Recently, a very fortunate set of circumstances resulted in the creation of my new favorite summer salad dish.

  • I wanted to make something at the beginning of the week to pack for lunches for the rest of the week.
  • I needed to make sure I had protein, veggies and some carbs in my lunches.
  • I had made my dinner plan for the week and I had an abundance of fresh vegetables leftover, with no plan for how to use them.

The veggies in question were half of a head of orange cauliflower from Pleitez Produce, and a bunch of green beans from Walnut Hill Farm. The lunch setting: lunchtime in the break room. The weather: outside, warm all week with a slight chance of thunderstorms; inside, temperature could range from “balmy” to “beginning of the next ice age.” The goal: build a lunch that fills me up but doesn’t make me feel like I’m reversing all the health karma points I have racked up this week in my workouts.

Based on the temperature, I knew I wanted a cold dish, but with a little kick to keep me warm just in case my office felt like a meat locker this week. I decided to combine my old favorite, Whole Foods’ cracklin’ cauliflower, with a pasta salad to give it a little more oomph. I chose pearl couscous (or Israeli couscous) because I love the texture, but you could substitute the grain or pasta of your choice. Quinoa would be my second choice for its superfood nutrition benefits. I used roasted cauliflower, blanched green beans, fresh tomatoes and roasted chickpeas for the mix-ins, then dressed it all in a curry vinaigrette. You could throw in whatever veggies you have on hand.

I have definitely found my new favorite pasta salad! I can’t get enough of this stuff. I think the dressing is what really makes this salad special. The roasted chickpeas don’t hurt. Mmmm. And (bonus!) this is vegetarian and vegan friendly. Just in time for summer barbecue season.

Scroll past the recipe for a Gardenology update!

Curried Pearl Couscous Salad (serves 4-6 as a meal, 8-10 as a side dish)

2012-06-13_18-51-30_238

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of pearl couscous (uncooked)
  • 1 Tbsp oil (olive, coconut, or vegetable)
  • 1 small head of cauliflower, or half of a large one, cut into florets
  • 1 15-oz. can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 handfuls of green beans, snapped and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup of grape tomatoes, sliced into halves
  • 1 Tbsp curry powder
  • 3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Preparation:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Toss the cauliflower and chickpeas together with the 1 Tbsp of oil, spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and roast at 400 degrees for 25 minutes. Let cool.
  3. Cook the couscous according to package instructions. I added my 1 cup of couscous to 2-1/4 cups of boiling water, then reduced heat, covered, and cooked for 10-12 minutes. Pour out of pan and into a large bowl. Let cool.
  4. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add green beans and cook for 2 minutes. Then remove green beans from hot water and plunge them into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.
  5. While everything cools, prepare the vinaigrette. Whisk together curry powder, red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, and olive oil until combined.
  6. To the large bowl of couscous, add cauliflower, chickpeas, and green beans. Toss with the dressing. Add halved tomatoes and stir until combined.
  7. Add salt and pepper to taste. Chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

 

In other news, I have some green beans in my garden! Here are some gardenology progress photos:

2012-06-13_18-55-10_320

2012-06-13_18-55-26_975

The first harvest was nine green beans. If I don’t get another thing out of this garden all summer, at least I can be proud of the nine green beans I grew from seeds. Never mind that that achievement probably requires the skill of a third grader. I am a remedial gardening student, okay?! It’s the little things.

For more BYOBB (bring your own brown bag) lunch ideas, type BYOBB into the search bar.

Radish Salsa

I mentioned before that Kyle has been on a radish kick lately. I don’t know what got into him, but he has been all about the radishes for the last few weeks. He never used to touch them, until about a year ago when I threw some diced radishes on top of Cuban black beans and rice. Then he was hooked. Ever since he saw them at the farmers’ market 4 weeks ago, he has asked for them every week. I am running out of ideas for preparation, which can only mean one thing in my house. Desperation breeds creativity in the vegology kitchen. Having tossed them in salads and sandwiches for the last few weeks, I am ready to move on to something more challenging.

Not only do these root vegetables add color to the plate, but they also pack a good dose of nutrition for your body. Radishes are considered by many to be a superfood due to their high concentration of nutrients relative to calories. Radishes contain Vitamin C, zinc, folic acid, B-complex vitamins, and anthocyanins. They contain nutrients that help rebuild tissues and blood vessels, they have cancer-fighting properties and they can help decrease inflammation. Radishes are a natural diuretic, which can aid in fighting certain infections. They also have a good amount of fiber, which can improve digestion. Who could deny a loved one his radishes, after finding out how great they are for his health?

While brainstorming this weekend, I thought about our first positive experience with radishes. Diced and served fresh over spicy black beans and tender rice, radishes were a refreshing component of the meal. When paired with tender, sweet baby greens, radishes offer a pleasantly bitter complement to a salad that would otherwise be lacking a much needed edge. However, when paired with soft and spicy beans, the crisp radish seems milder in flavor, and it adds a refreshing crunch to the dish. Having recently had great success with black bean tacos and mango salsa, I decided to give the spring radish a new stage on which to shine. A corn tortilla, topped with spicy black beans and fresh mango with tiny flecks of minced jalapeño thrown in for good measure.

The mango isn’t local, but who could resist these tender juicy mangoes that are currently in season in Chiapas, Mexico? Perhaps a locavore purist could, but when I saw this new-to-me variety in the grocery store, I had to give it a try. The Champagne mango is very tender, deliciously fleshy, and super sweet. It’s basically my spirit animal, if spirit animals could actually be fruits. I read that these Mexican mangoes are more closely related to Indian mangoes than the more popular Tommy Atkins mango. I bet these would be a good weapon to have in your arsenal if you planned on tackling a mango chutney.

We added a little cheese to our tacos, but you could leave it out to make them vegan. We enjoyed these on a warm night on our back porch. The sounds of kids playing and dogs barking in the distance mingled with the natural chorus of wildlife in the woods right behind our house. The sun went down as we laughed and talked and wiped mango juice from our chins, as diced radish and cucumbers and tender black beans tumbled out of their soft taco shells and littered our plates. We had the awe-inspiring experience of watching a baby blue jay learn how to fly as we dined. We saw many crash landings and a few promising vertical flutters, before its parents swooped in at dusk and (I assume) vowed to try again tomorrow. We experienced the best of spring in one night during that meal, and I was really thankful that Kyle had convinced me (again) to pick up some radishes at the market. What is this season for, if not for trying new things?

Radish Salsa

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup diced radish
  • 1/2 cup peeled, diced cucumber
  • 2 large scallions (or 3-4 small), thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper (less if you can’t take the heat)
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Stir to mix thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Store covered in refrigerator and serve cold.
  3. Serve with chips, on black bean tacos, or on a salad or sandwich.

Spicy Cauliflower Tacos with Sunchoke Hash

I recently discovered sunchokes in the produce section of Ellwood Thompson’s on Manager’s Special, which meant they were half off. I have wanted to experiment with sunchokes for awhile, but they are a little expensive to risk screwing up. But at 50% the normal price, you would have bought them too, right?

Their name sounds like artichokes, they look like ginger, but they taste like potatoes. Except they taste better than potatoes, nutty and a little sweet, like Yukon Golds with personality. Not sweet like sweet potatoes, just a little sweet. This may sound a little confusing, but try to stay with me. It gets better but only after it gets a little worse.

Sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem Artichokes, are native to North America, not Jerusalem. Also confusing, I know. They are related to the sunflower plant, and the edible part of the sunchoke is the knobby little tuber that grows below the flowering plant. So that clears up the name a little. But why the misleading alias “Jerusalem Artichoke?”. I suppose aliases, by nature, are misleading. . . but that is neither here nor there. There are a few different theories out there, but this one is my favorite. In Spanish, the word for sunflower is girasol. In Italian, girasole. See where this is going yet? Presumably, Italian settlers in North American called the plant “girasole,” a name which, like a lot of words with confusing etymologies, was butchered over time and ended up “Jerusalem.”

Who knows how? Not me. I was more interested in the taste anyhow.

I found a lot of recipes for sunchokes in soups and purees online, and several people recommended that you simply roast the sunchokes. This is one of my favorite ways to prepare any new vegetable, as roasting has never failed me in the past. However I had a new cast iron skillet that I was obsessed with so I wanted desperately to saute them. In others’ recipes they were paired with cauliflower a lot, for some unknown reason, so I decided to go with it. And that is how I came up with spicy cauliflower tacos with sunchoke hash.

Did you hear me?

A new vegan taco “meat”!

And nutty, earthy, spicy-sweet sunchoke hash!

The tacos worked. So much that I will probably pay full price for the sunchokes next time. And so much that I want to share the recipe with you. If you don’t eat meat (or even if you do), I think you should have this cauliflower taco “meat” in your repertoire.

I simply diced the sunchokes and threw them in the skillet with some oil and diced peppers and onions over medium heat. I stirred occasionally and the skillet did the rest. Then into tortillas they go, with cauliflower taco “meat,” shredded cheese, and a dollop of sour cream. For vegan tacos, use vegan cheese and tofutti sour cream, or top with tomato salsa and mashed avocado with lime.

Spicy Vegan Cauliflower Taco “Meat”

Ingredients:

  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 pinches ground cayenne pepper
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Break the cauliflower into pieces and either grate into a large bowl or crumble with your fingers for a more rustic feel. Break or grate into small crumbles.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  3. Add cauliflower crumbles to skillet and, while stirring constantly, saute until golden brown.
  4. Add chili powder to the skillet and stir to combine. Cook for one minute then add remaining spices and tomato paste. Stir to combine, turn heat to low-medium and cover. Cook for a few more minutes, until cauliflower is tender and heated throughout.

Chocolate Orange Cupcakes with Dark Chocolate Ganache

As promised, I have a sweet new cupcake recipe for you. This winter citrus is insanely fresh and delicious right now. After enjoying fresh oranges for a few weeks, I decided to feature that nice zesty seasonal flavor in a sweet treat. I could pretend and say I was saving this recipe for Valentine’s Day, but I’m not much of a Valentine’s Day person so my close friends wouldn’t let that fly. The truth is I have been super busy and just haven’t gotten around to writing the post.

I went on a citrus kick a few weeks ago and made lemon cream cupcakes (from allrecipes) and these chocolate orange cupcakes ( my original recipe to follow) one weekend. It is amazing what a difference fresh ingredients can make! The subtle sweet orange flavor that is baked into these chocolate cupcakes is so fresh tasting, with this slight tang from the orange zest. The orange plays really well with the rich cocoa flavor.

I have mentioned before that I am not a natural baker, so when a confection turns out for me, I am genuinely surprised and delighted. Lately I have been experimenting a bit more with baking, and I am starting to get comfortable enough to make up my own recipes. Those work out for me even less frequently so it’s really nice when I come up with something tasty.

I am not even going to lie – this recipe is the second attempt. The first attempt did not work out so well. I am still learning about the delicate chemistry of baked goods. I did not realize that putting finely diced fresh orange in a cupcake would result in the batter soaking up all the orange juice, leaving chunks of stringy pulp behind. Because I believe that cupcake eating should not require post-dessert toothpicks and floss, I tried again. This time with juice.

The first batch never made it to the office. I choked down one or two cupcakes then threw them away. They just weren’t right. I brought the final batch into work and my coworkers approved. Success! I think they were pretty surprised to find out that the cake is vegan. The frosting, however, is not. I couldn’t resist topping these with dark chocolate ganache. I had never made ganache before and I was really surprised at how easy it is! If you want to go the vegan route though, you could use any vegan icing that your little heart desires and I am sure they would still be delightful.

Chocolate Orange Cupcakes (makes about a dozen)

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh grated orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Sift flour and combine with other dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well.
  3. Combine wet ingredients in a small bowl. Add to dry ingredients and stir. Mix with a stand/hand mixer until well combined.
  4. Coat a muffin tin with non-stick spray or line with baking cups. Pour batter into cups until each cup is two-thirds full.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven and let cool in pan for a a few minutes, then remove to wire racks to continue cooling.

Dark Chocolate Ganache

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 5 ounces dark chocolate chips
  • Patience

Preparation:

  1. Pour the chocolate chips into a medium sized mixing bowl.
  2. In a small saucepan, heat cream over medium heat. Bring to a boil then remove from heat.
  3. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate chips and stir to combine. Continuing stirring until chocolate is melted, then whisk until smooth.
  4. Let cool completely. Pop the bowl in the fridge for an hour or overnight if you have a lot of patience.
  5. Bring the frosting back to around room temperature then whip with a whisk until light and fluffy.
  6. If you’re fancy, use a pastry bag or a cake decorating gadget to top your cupcakes. If you’re like me and have a ton of gadgets that you always forget to use, don’t bother dusting off the cookie press / cake decorator gadget, and just use an old fashioned knife to spread the frosting on to the cupcakes.

Hope you dig them as much as I do!