Monthly Archives: October 2016

Build a Better Taco Step 1: Yogurt Sour “Cream”

Sour "Cream"

Sour “Cream”

When I build a taco, it’s done from the bottom up: taco shell, taco filling, taco sauce, sour “cream”, tomatoes and lettuce. To get ready for Tacos I start from the top down to prep some of the toppings. I have two non-dairy alternatives for sour “cream”. The simplest version is a super thick soy or almond milk yogurt. A slightly less-simple version (yet still easy) is to mix the yogurt with an equal amount of cashew cream and some lemon juice. Since I haven’t had much luck finding a decent unsweetened non-dairy yogurt where I live, I make my own in an Instant Pot. At first my results were “hit-or-miss”, but I have the technique down to be confident enough to share it with you. The basic technique is to heat milk to180F to kill any bad bacteria, then cool it to 110F. This is very important since temperatures over 110F will kill the yogurt cultures. When the yogurt has achieved the thickness and sour taste you like you can refrigerate it as is. If you wish to use it as sour “cream”, you will need to strain it through butter muslin to get rid of the whey. It may seem like a daunting task to make your own yogurt, but once you’ve done it a few times it just becomes routine. Of course, you can always opt to purchase commercially-made non-dairy sour “cream”. In either case, stay tuned. I will be sharing my recipes for no-salt added Taco Seasoning, Taco Sauce and Mushroom Tacos. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Here’s a list of things you need to make the yogurt:

  • An Instant Pot with the yogurt function. If you don’t already own an Instant Pot, it’s worth looking into. It’s an electric pressure cooker and slow cooker all in one. If you’re thinking about getting one, I suggest you go all out and get the one with the yogurt function as it will maintain the temperature of the milk consistently at 110F.
  • Soy milk or Almond Milk. I found out the hard way that the key to making yogurt is that the milk has to be made with filtered water and no additives. If you use tap water, the chlorine will kill all that good bacteria in the yogurt culture and it will not thicken and get that sour taste. Sometimes I make my own almond milk with filtered water. Other times I buy Westsoy Organic Plain Soy milk. I will give instructions on making your own almond milk below.
  • Vegan Yogurt Culture. I’ve had success using Belle & Bella Yogurt starter, so I won’t recommend any other brand.
  • Nut milk bag, usually made from butter muslin, to strain the almond milk.

To Make Homemade Almond Milk

Measure 1 quart of filtered or bottled water into blender container. Add 7-1/2 oz. of raw, blanched almonds. Process on high until the almonds are very fine. Depending on your blender it might take two to three minutes.  Hold a nut milk bag over a large container. Pour milk into the bag and squeeze out the liquid. You should have one quart of milk.

To Make Homemade Almond or Soy Milk Yogurt

You can use home made almond or soy milk that’s been made with filtered or bottled water. You can also use 1 quart of Westsoy Organic Unsweetened Soy Milk.

  • 1 quart soy or almond milk
  • 1 packet of Belle & Bella Yogurt Starter
  1. Pour one quart of milk into a two-quart glass Pyrex measuring cup. Heat in the microwave until the temperature of the milk reaches 180F. Pour into the Instant Pot insert and let the milk cool to 110F.
  2. Add yogurt starter (this is called “pitching”) and whisk just enough to dissolve. Cover the Instant Pot, leaving the vent to “open”. Press the yogurt button and adjust the timer to 12 hours. You can check the yogurt after 8 hours to see if it’s thick and tangy. The longer you leave it, the thicker and tangier it will get.
  3. If there is a lot of liquid (whey), you can strain it by lining a colander with a piece of butter muslin or cheese cloth and allowing the yogurt to drain. Spoon into covered containers and refrigerate. This yogurt lasts for about one week.

There is conflicting information about using your home made yogurt as the starter for subsequent batches. Some say that you must use a fresh packet of culture, meaning that you have to keep buying the commercial starter. I’ve had consistent success using 2 tablespoons of my existing batch of yogurt per quart of milk.

To Make Non-Dairy Yogurt and Cashew Sour “Cream”

Mix equal amounts of thick cashew cream and non-dairy yogurt.

Drained Yogurt & Whey

Drained Yogurt & Whey




31 Oct 2016

Cooking Class: Vegetable Paella

img_4279Before adopting this plant-based style of living, I considered myself a pretty good cook. I never had any formal chef’s training, but I didn’t let that get in the way of a culinary challenge. I always got great pleasure from sharing a meal with family and friends. Most times, the meals were just wholesome, everyday dishes handed down from my mom and grandmother. And once in a while, the meals were “epic”. Lately, I’ve been in the mood for something delicious and different. An image of Paella must have crossed my laptop because this is what I’ve been dwelling on. I recall making a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated magazine many years ago that falls under the “epic” category. I made this one time when my parents came to visit and I still get a warm feeling remembering how much they enjoyed it. I decided to borrow the Cook’s Illustrated technique and added a few tricks of my own. The basic preparation is to make a “sofrito” of onions, garlic, and tomatoes; add rice, stock, wine, red bell peppers and other vegetables. The sofrito is cooked on the stove, then the rest of the ingredients are added and cooked in the oven. I chose to use artichoke hearts, cremini mushrooms and peas as my add-ins. What’s nice about this recipe is that it is versatile. You can keep it simple by just making rice, bell peppers and peas; or you can experiment with different vegetables.  A popular version of paella is made with seafood, so I might use oyster mushrooms or king oyster mushrooms and add some nori seaweed dust for a little taste of the sea. Chickpeas or fava beans would make a nice addition as well. Whether you consider yourself a novice or an accomplished cook, this recipe for Vegetable Paella is within your reach. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Paella Vegetables

Paella Vegetables

Vegi-curious Paella

Olive oil, as needed (optional – see note)
1 can whole artichoke heart
Smoked paprika
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into ½” slices
8 oz. white button or cremini mushrooms, cut in half
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 can diced tomatoes, drained and minced
2 cups medium grain rice (Valencia, Goya, Canilla)
½ teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
3 cups light vegetable broth (or Better Than Bouillon No-Chicken stock)
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 dried bay leaf
½ cup frozen peas, thawed
Salt to taste
Fresh parsley for garnish

Preheat oven to 350F.

Drain artichoke hearts and cut into halves or quarters. Place on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with smoked paprika and set aside.

Lightly coat a Dutch oven with oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add pepper strips and cook, stirring occasionally until skin begins to get charred (about 3 to 4 minutes).Transfer to baking sheet along with artichokes.

Re-coat Dutch oven with oil if desired and add the mushrooms. Cook on medium-high, stirring often. You want to cook just long enough to brown the exterior of the mushrooms but not cook them completely (about 3 minutes).Transfer to baking sheet along with artichokes and peppers.

Re-coat Dutch oven with oil if desired and add onions. Cook over medium-high heat until softened; add garlic and cook another minute. Stir in tomatoes and continue cooking until tomatoes start to darken and thicken, about 3 minutes. Add rice and stir until grains are well coated. Add broth, wine, bay leaf and salt and bring to boil. Cover Dutch oven and place on rack in the lower third of the oven. Cook until the rice absorbs almost all of the liquid, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Scatter peas on top of rice; then arrange pepper strips, artichoke hearts and mushrooms on top of peas. Cover and return to oven for another 10 minutes.

*Note: you can omit the oil and cook the vegetables using water, about 2 tablespoons at a time.

If “soccarat”, the browned rice on the bottom of the pan, is desired, place Dutch oven, uncovered, over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, rotating the pot for even browning. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for about 5 minutes. Garnish with parsley.

25 Oct 2016

Make Every Meal Count: Glorious Morning Oatmeal Bake

Glorious Oatmeal Bake

Glorious Oatmeal Bake

There is a popular belief that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I’m of the belief that every meal is the most important meal of the day. Since adopting a plant-based diet, breakfast has become the least favorite meal for me. I used to do a rotation of egg and cheese sandwiches, bagels with cream cheese or ricotta on toast. I rarely ate cold cereal and my oatmeal consumption was in the form of cookies. Since I don’t like to play favorites, I wanted to find a way to enjoy breakfast and give it the same priority as lunch or dinner. It’s no secret that I am a sweet lover and have spent much of my time in the kitchen making desserts of all kinds. If there’s any way that food will win me over, it’s sure to be in that arena. This recipe started out with oats, carrots, apples, almond milk, raisins, walnuts and maple syrup then evolved with the addition of dates and an orange. I topped it off by sweetening some almond milk yogurt (from The Gentle Chef’s Nuts About Almonds recipe collection) with maple syrup. The final version was slightly sweet, chewy, moist, crunchy around the edges and oh, so satisfying. What’s nice about this recipe is that it can easily be adapted to your taste. You can eliminate the orange, add more milk, bake it more or less, use different nuts or none at all, or use any spices you like. You can prep it the night before and bake it the next morning. The leftovers taste great at room temperature or re-heated in the microwave, making it easy to take to work if you’re running late. And it’s perfect for a big crowd if you’re expecting overnight guests for the holidays. Make your breakfast count by starting your day with a Glorious Morning Oatmeal Bake and thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Glorious Morning Oatmeal Bake

Makes 3 to 4 servings

Non-dairy yogurt and maple syrup for serving

2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 carrot, grated
1 small apple, grated with skin
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1 cup non-dairy milk
1 orange, zested, peeled and separated into segments
½ cup dates
1 Tablespoon flax meal
nutmeg to taste
½ cup water (or more milk)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Stir together non-dairy yogurt and maple syrup in a small bowl and set aside.

In an 8″ square baking pan stir together oats, carrots, apple, raisins and nuts. Place milk, orange zest and segments, dates, flax meal and nutmeg in blender and process on high for about 1 minute. Add water and pulse to combine. (You can prep to this point ahead of time and place the baking dish and blender container in the fridge overnight.) Pour over oats and stir to combine, adding more water if necessary.  Bake for 20 to 30 minutes and remove from oven. Spoon into serving bowls and add a dollop of maple-sweetened yogurt.

*Note: if you want to double the recipe, use a 9″x11″ baking pan.

22 Oct 2016

Up Your Game: Crispy Curry Cauliflower Bites

Crispy Curry Cauliflower Bites

Crispy Curry Cauliflower Bites

We belong to a CSA and usually get one box every week. Well, this week there was a smaller box in addition to the regular one. I opened the small box and what to my wondering eyes did I see? One. Huge. Cauliflower. Great. Cauliflower is one of my least favorite vegetables. It’s rather bland, and since our game plan includes eliminating sodium and oil from our lives, cauliflower is not at the top of my shopping list. Much of my creative thinking is done while I’m alone in my car. Determined to conquer the curse of the cauliflower I had to come up with a new game plan.  Here in the states, football season is in full swing. Chicken wings have been benched and the second-string cauliflower is now in the game. I’ve been seeing cauliflower bite recipes on the internet lately that look very tempting, but they usually contain high-sodium sauces and/or oil in them. And I thought about that huge cauliflower in the small box and how I could make these bites crispy and full of flavor. I thought that if I use coconut milk as the binding agent it might have enough fat in it to allow the bread crumbs to crisp up in the oven and stick to the florets. I decided to steam the florets before letting them soak in a marinade of coconut milk and my no-salt curry paste. The steaming allowed the flavors to infuse into the florets. After rolling them around in bread crumbs, I placed the florets on parchment paper and baked them for 20 minutes. Success! The cauliflower bites were flavorful, spicy and crispy. They taste great on their own, but I added a sweet and spicy dipping sauce just for fun. (If you want to make your own no-salt soy-ish sauce, check out this recipe. I’ve modified it to my preferences, but I suggest you try it first as written.) You can experiment with different types of curry paste, seasonings and dipping sauces. We had these as an accompaniment to corn chowder, but they would also make for tasty finger food for a cocktail party or on game day. Up your game with these Crispy Curry Cauliflower Bites. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Thai Curry Cauliflower Bites

1 lb. cauliflower, cut into florets

1/2 cup  light coconut milk
1 Tablespoon (or more) Thai curry paste (red, green or yellow)
Bread crumbs

Pre-heat oven to 500F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place cauliflower florets in steamer and steam for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove and rinse under cool water and strain.

Whisk together coconut milk and curry paste in shallow bowl. Place cauliflower in bowl, stir to coat and let sit for as long as possible. Place bread crumbs in a shallow bowl. Shake off the excess coconut milk from the florets before rolling in the bread crumbs. Place on baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes on the second lowest rack, turning about half-way through baking. When cauliflower is brown, remove from oven and serve immediately.

Dipping Sauce

1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 Tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce
3 x 3” piece of seaweed (optional)

Place all ingredients in a small pot and bring to boil, then simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until slightly thickened. Cool and pour into dipping bowl.

16 Oct 2016

One Bad Apple: Apple-Pear Green Smoothie

Apple-Pear Green Smoothie

Apple-Pear Green Smoothie

You may be familiar with the old saying, “one bad apple won’t spoil the whole bunch.” Well, that thought came to mind when I put together this recipe. But in this case, it was a bad pear and another story is about to unfold. Sometimes I refer to myself as an “accidental gardener” when in fact I just might be a haphazard one. A few years ago we decided to plant two pear trees. Our property really isn’t situated for growing fruit trees, but we planted them anyway. We never sprayed the trees and are practically clueless when it comes to pruning them. I call this haphazard gardening because life has gotten in the way of my having the time to put the effort into figuring out how to care for fruit trees and then putting that knowledge into action. Despite a minimal amount of effort, the bartlet pears were absolutely gorgeous  last year — large, golden, free from bugs and blemishes and perfectly ripened. This year they were falling off the tree before they were ready and had a lot of worm damage. The pears were hard in some places and rotten in others. Why is that? Well, I hope to catch up on my reading over the winter. The pears that we kept were tasty, but a little hard. So now comes the smoothie. I had a few pears that I was about to get rid of and decided to disguise them as a smoothie. I used equal amounts of apples and pears, then added some sorrel and a few dried figs. (Everything was from our yard, except the apples.) Wow! This tasted really nice. The lemony flavor from the sorrel is a nice complement to the sweet apples, pears and figs. You can omit the figs if your fruit is exceptionally sweet and use spinach in place of the sorrel. This is a great way to enjoy apples and pears that have gotten lost at the bottom of your fruit bin and are approaching the point of no return. The next time life gives you one bad apple or pear, make this smoothie instead. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

`Apple-Pear Green Smoothie

Makes one large smoothie or two small, share-able drinks

1 large apple, any variety, cored and cut into chunks
1 large pear, any variety, cored and cut into chunks
1 handful of sorrel or spinach
¼ cup dried figs (about 3 to 4)
Crushed ice or cold water

Place all ingredients in blender and process until smooth. Add ice or water to achieve desired level of sweetness and consistency. Best if enjoyed immediately, but it can be stored in your refrigerator overnight.

13 Oct 2016

Power of Pretty: Portabello-Pepper “Steak”

Portabella-Pepper Steak

Portabello-Pepper Steak

Presentation is a key ingredient in my recipes. It doesn’t matter how tasty or nourishing a dish is, if it doesn’t look appetizing I might not want to eat it. It’s what I call the “power of pretty.” I’ve been getting a few bell peppers in our CSA share just about every week. Our produce overflow goes into a fridge in the basement, which can become somewhat of a black hole. (I didn’t realize the value of a second refrigerator until I started my plant-based style of living. A few bags of kale and a bushel of apples from an apple-picking adventure sure do take up a lot of real estate.) So I unearthed a supply of red, green and yellow peppers today and thought I’d try my hand at making Pepper “Steak”. Since I’m not a fan of seitan I resorted to my trusty friend, the mighty, meaty portabello mushroom. The thing about cooking mushrooms is that they can hold a lot of water which can lead the rest of the ingredients down a path of murkiness. My solution for this recipe was to grill the mushrooms and stir them in during the last minute of cooking. The portabello strips had a nice bite to them and allowed the other ingredients to show their colors (and flavors). Pretty as a picture, almost too pretty to eat . . . almost. Pick up some portabellos and peppers and experience the power of pretty with this Portabello-Pepper “Steak”. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Portabello Strips

Portabello Strips


Grilled Portabello Strips

Grilled Portabello Strips

Portabello Pepper “Steak”

2 portabello caps, thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup vegetable broth
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon corn starch

2 garlic cloves, sliced
3 large bell peppers (red, green and yellow), thinly sliced
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced

Rice for serving

Heat a large non-stick skillet or electric griddle on high. Place portobello slices (one layer at a time so as not to overlap the slices) in skillet and brown on both sides. Remove from skillet and place on a plate. Repeat with remaining portabello slices.

Measure vegetable broth in a one cup liquid measuring cup. Add soy sauce and corn starch and whisk thoroughly. Set aside.

Lightly coat non-stick skillet with oil and heat on medium-high heat. (Alternately, you can heat 2 tablespoons of water in skillet to eliminate the oil.) Add garlic and saute until lightly browned. Remove from skillet and set aside. Add peppers and onions and stir fry until browned and crisp –tender, adding water one tablespoon at a time to prevent sticking. Return garlic to skillet and vegetable broth mixture and stir to coat. Cook on medium heat until sauce thickens. You can add part or all of the broth depending on how much sauce you prefer. Add more soy sauce to taste. Add portabello slices and lightly stir. Remove from heat and serve over rice.


09 Oct 2016

Growing on Me: Red Lentil, Swiss Chard & Sweet Potato Stew

Red Lentil, Swiss Chard & Sweet Potato Stew

Red Lentil, Swiss Chard & Sweet Potato Stew

Sometimes I wonder why I do the things I do. For instance, I planted a row of Swiss chard again this year. As much as I want to love eating greens, I’ve never been a big fan unless they were swimming in a sea of olive oil. I guess I keep planting them in the hopes that they’ll start to grow on me, OR, that I’ll find a way to prepare them that will make me love them. I’ve been adding a handful of spinach to my Thai Curry Red Lentils. It’s been a nice addition, so I figured I’d try some chard with it. Since I have lots of chard, I gave it a bigger presence in the stew. I usually serve this stew over rice, but I wanted to introduce a different starch to the dish and added some potatoes. I replaced the Thai curry paste with cumin, chili powder, turmeric and cinnamon for more of an Indian influence. I can’t say enough about this stew. It’s colorful, creamy, savory, spicy and exotic. It’s hearty enough to eat on it’s own, but feel free to serve it with some rice so you can spread the love even further. If you like to garden, try planting this perpetual Swiss chard. It’s resistant to bolting so you can enjoy it all summer long and even into late fall. Even if you don’t grow your own Swiss chard, this stew is bound to grow on you. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Perpetual Swiss Chard

Perpetual Swiss Chard

Red Lentil, Swiss Chard & Sweet Potato Stew

1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons turmeric
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup dried red lentils
3 small sweet potatoes cut into 1″ chunks (about 4 cups)
12 oz. Swiss chard, stems removed and leaves cut crosswise into strips
1 cup lite coconut milk
Salt to taste
Cilantro for garnish
Cooked rice (optional)

Heat 2 tablespoons of water in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened and beginning to color. Stir in ginger, garlic and seasonings. Cook one minute, stirring constantly. Add broth, curry paste, lentils and potatoes. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Cover and simmer about 20 minutes until potatoes are cooked through and lentils are soft. Add chard and coconut milk and cook another five minutes. Serve over rice if desired.

03 Oct 2016

We Have No Bananas: Baked Plantains

Baked Plantains for Almond Milk Yogurt

Baked Plantains for Almond Milk Yogurt

Plantain — is it a fruit or a vegetable? Technically, it’s part of the genus Musa, which also contains bananas. However, plantains are starchier than bananas and not as sweet. A staple in Central and South America and the Caribbean, a popular way to serve plantains is as side dish of fried tostones or maduras. I’ve had them prepared this way once or twice. It’s basically a sponge for oil. Plantains have several health benefits as they are high in fiber and contain potassium; vitamins A, C, B and the minerals iron, magnesium, and phosphorous. Why ruin a good thing by cooking them in oil? Well, you don’t have to. Bruce learned about this method of baking plantains from Chef Ramses Bravo at the True North Health Center. It’s as easy as:

One: Buy a few plantains and let them ripen until the skin is completely black. You can start off with whatever shade is available — green (least ripe); yellow (almost ripe); black (ripe and ready).

Two: Place on a rimmed baking sheet or a piece of aluminum foil with it’s edges turned up. (You’ll want to catch every gooey drop of plantain syrup that oozes from the plantain.) Bake at 350F until the skin splits open (see picture below), about 15 minutes.

Three: When the skin splits and the contents start to bust out, remove the plantains from the oven and enjoy as is.

Baked Plantain

Baked Plantain

If  you’re looking to “complicate” your meal prep, you can top off your baked plantain with some non-dairy yogurt and granola as a breakfast treat; enjoy it as a dessert with chia pudding; or serve it alongside your favorite bean burger.

So healthy, so sweet and so simple. You have no bananas? Then try baking some plantains today. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

02 Oct 2016

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