In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day today, I am cooking a plant-based meal for dinner. With shelter-in-place, we have more meals together as a family so our food is central to our conversation at mealtime. This presents a great opportunity to talk to our kids about how our food choices impact the environment.
Working with the ingredients I have in my pantry during this COVID-19 pandemic has created opportunities to be creative! I know most people are stocked up with dried goods such as pasta, rice and canned beans because these items are as depleted in the grocery stores as toilet paper. Just because we are using these staples day after day, it doesn’t mean our diet has to be boring. Whether you are new to eating meatless or just looking for a fresh vegan recipe, I hope you will enjoy this tasty and nutritious bean dish made with one of my favorite spices from a well-loved spice shop in Oakland, California.
Braised White Beans and Greens with Harissa
1 white or yellow onion, diced 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 teaspoon flake salt ¼ cup olive oil 3 tablespoons Harissa Paste or 1 tablespoon Harissa Powder ½ cup dry white wine 3 cups cooked white beans (such as cannellini), or 2 cans of white beans 2 cups vegetable stock 4 cups chopped greens, such as mustard greens, baby kale or spinach Juice of half a lemon
Heat oil over medium heat. When hot, add onion. Sauté until golden brown, about 7 or 8 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary to avoid burning. Add Harissa, salt and garlic; cook for an additional 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly, until fragrant.
Add wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add beans, stock and a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer and cook on low, covered, until the beans are becoming soft and creamy, about 20-30 minutes. If you like more of a stew consistency, smash some of the beans with the back of your spoon. Add greens and simmer until tender, about 5-10 minutes depending on the heartiness of the greens you use.
Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Serve with crusty bread.
I get excited about delicious vegan baked goods for many of the same reasons you do – healthy, environmentally friendly, and ethical. But the biggest personal reason is that my kids are seriously allergic to eggs. Yes, both my kids have the same allergies. The biggest challenge with an egg-free diet is avoiding hidden egg sources. Whether it’s buying a muffin or a bagel at a bakery, I always have to ask if it contains egg. Sometimes the bakery person will answer back “no, there’s no dairy”. Okay, there’s no milk products, but is there egg? It is very disappointing after much questioning about the ingredients and then have to walk away empty-handed. But with the tsunami of vegan bakeries appearing in recent years, it has changed this shopping scenario and boosted my grownup children’s happy meter.
Thinking back about 20 years ago with my first born, finding anything vegan was almost impossible except in a “natural food” store, if you were lucky enough to have one in your neighborhood. Over the years, I had to be quite creative in baking without eggs and finding various egg replacements. The recipe I am sharing with you is vegan, high in fiber and rich in monounsaturated fat. As you know, when you buy vegan baked goods, it doesn’t always mean they are healthy so I still like to do much of my own baking. Hope you enjoy these super moist and nutritious muffins!
Vegan Blueberry Lemon Muffins
1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
1 cup plant-based milk
1 Tbsp vinegar + 1 tsp baking soda (egg replacement)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup molasses
1 cup natural bran
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp grated lemon rind
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
In bowl, stir lemon juice into plant-based milk; let stand for 1 minute to sour. Stir together 1 tablespoon of vinegar and 1 teaspoon of baking soda to make the egg replacement and add to bowl. Stir in oil and molasses.
In a larger bowl, combine bran, whole wheat and unbleached flours, sugar, lemon rind, baking powder and baking soda. Add milk mixture and blueberries; mix just until combined.
Spoon into nonstick or paper-lined muffin tins. Bake in 375F oven for 20-25 minutes or until firm to touch.
Finding good vegan food while traveling in developing countries appears to be a bit easier than ever before! With growing interest in veganism, more restaurants are advertising vegan options to attract travelers. Although meat is often used sparingly in many Southeast Asian cuisine and vegetable dishes are abundant, there’s no guarantee that you can find vegan suitable meals when you step into a Cambodian restaurant. If you are a pure vegan, don’t forget fish sauce and shrimp paste are wildly used in many vegetable dishes in Southeast Asia.
During my last 3 days in Cambodia, I ate in 3 very different styles of vegan restaurants that were all fantastic. The first and most notable one was Chamkar Vegetarian Restaurant in Siem Reap. The food, the setting and the hospitality were all fabulous. Since this is not a TripAdvisor review, I will only focus on the great food that I discovered. Once I learned that the owner/chef, Nicolas, is French it became clear that French cooking techniques were infused into his dishes. The attention to detail that I love in French cuisine was on full display with the presentation of food as well. They claimed to use locally sourced fresh ingredients such as fresh coconut and I could truly taste the difference. The authenticity of the Khmer cooking with a French twist would be my best description of the food at Chamkar. We had several dishes: Ratana’s spring rolls, Wedding day dip, Mad Eggplant Lovers (Grilled eggplant and loofah in coconut milk sauce and holy basil), Rediscovering Tofu (Stuffed tofu), and Chocolate cake with ice cream, drizzled with dark chocolate sauce. It’s impossible to pick one favorite dish but the one I would cook at home is the classic Cambodia dish, Mad Eggplant Lovers, which is so fitting for my daughter and me. Nicolas was kind enough to share his recipe (see below) with me when I asked so I hope you will enjoy it too.
The second restaurant was Masala Dosa Street Kitchen, in Phnom Penh, serving a variety of nutritious dosa. Mmm….Indian street food in Cambodia, how odd, right? Surprisingly, this was a hit! The menu offers many international fusion flavors, such as Szechuan Dosa and Tom Yum Dosa. I chose to try the Eryngii mushroom & coconut cream dosa and it did not disappoint. Dosas are made with lentils & rice, naturally fermented, so no starch, no gluten, high protein and low fat. According to the owner, with roots in India, his mission is to create the healthiest food possible based on Ayurvedic principles. I highly recommend trying this restaurant for an extremely heathy and inexpensive meal.
The third restaurant was Vibe Cafe, serving high caliber vegan food that you might find in California. It is definitely not a cultural experience but a welcome treat if you’ve been away from home for an extended period of time. For a brief moment, I forgot I was in Phnom Penh until I looked out the widow and saw the poverty on the back streets of the cafe. The food and drinks are all freshly crafted creatively and super yummy but be prepared to open your wallet just a tiny bit wilder. I had the Nourish Sandwich there because I was really missing some wholemeal bread after eating white rice and rice noodles daily for the past couple weeks. The sandwich had a beetroot hummus spread, filled with roasted pumpkin and almond feta, which created a tasty combination of flavors that made me wonder why anyone would need meat or cheese in their sandwich. If you want to try some of the recipes, you can find Vibe Cafe’s cookbook on Amazon.com.
I was truly inspired by the food I had in these 3 restaurants and can’t wait to expand my vegan cooking repertoire when I get home in a couple weeks.
Grilled Eggplant and loofah in coconut milk sauce and holy Basil
Ingredients for 1 serving
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp Chili paste
1 tsp Palm sugar 1
Salt to taste
1/2 Tbsp Soy sauce
100 ml Coconut milk
50 g Loofah (may substitute with zucchini)
1 handful Bean sprout
1 handful Holy Basil leaf
1 handful Long parsley
1 Tbsp Fried Shallot
1 Tbsp Toasted Coconut
First toast the dried coconut in a pan on low heat. Stir it constantly in order to prevent burning. Stop fire when the color is getting golden brown.
Put the eggplant on the grill ( BBQ or gas) for 5 min turn over after 2 min. Remove from fire when the skin is slightly burned. Cool down for a while.
Meanwhile prepare the other vegetables. Chop onion finely. Peel the loofah and cut in slice.
Heat vegetable oil in a pan then fry onion for 1 min. Add loofah, chilli paste, palm sugar and stir again, then add coconut milk and salt. Peel the eggplant and cut into bite size then add eggplant, bean sprout and stir 30 seconds (add little water if too thick). At the end, stir in Holy basil for few second
Remove the pan from the heat, transfer to a plate and serve immediately topped with deep fried shallot, shredded long parsley and toasted coconut.
There are many reasons why cauliflower rice is so popular. It is super easy and fast to cook, and most of all, super nutritious! What better than a substitute for starch, either as a rice or a pizza crust, that you can eat guilt-free because it is ultra low cal and low carb. At the same time, you are banking your daily servings of vegetables without even trying.
In most dishes that use rice, you should be able to substitute with cauliflower rice. Just be aware that cauliflower will not have the starchy texture and mouth-feel that you get with white rice. without the starch, you will notice that cauliflower rice doesn’t absorb sauces as well and nor does it give a creamy texture, as in the case of risotto. That said, I was very excited with how my cauliflower risotto turned out last night and I think you will like it too!
Mushroom Cauliflower Rice Risotto
1 small head of cauliflower (2 cups riced cauliflower)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 chopped onion
1 chopped Portobello mushroom cap
1/4 cup vegetable broth or white wine
Salt and pepper
Use a cheese grater or a food processor to grate the head of cauliflower. You can also buy riced cauliflower in most large supermarkets.
In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
Sauté onion in olive oil.
Add mushroom to pan and cook until tender.
Stir in riced cauliflower and vegetable broth or wine, and cook for 10 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper. Option to add Parmesan cheese if you are not a vegan.
Turmeric really doesn’t need much introduction these days. For those who don’t do much cooking, it is a bright yellow spice commonly used in Indian cooking. If you are wondering what business turmeric has in finding its way into our lattes, it is because of its super food status in culinary medicine. Turmeric has potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory effects which can potentially prevent and treat arthritis, cancer, heart disease and diabetes. As a food enthusiast, I am no stranger to cooking with turmeric but I am curious whether drinking a cup of turmeric tea latte per day (a.k.a Golden Milk) will keep my knee pain away.
The medicinal effect of turmeric is attributed to its active compound, curcumin. It has been used to help prevent ailments for generations in Asia. Research indicates that you need to get 500 to 1,000 milligrams of curcumin per day for an anti-inflammatory effect. The average Indian diet provides around 60-100 milligrams of curcumin (2,000-2,500 milligrams of turmeric) per day. In other words, you would need to consume more than 10 times the amount of turmeric than what’s in a typical Indian diet. The truth is that it is not easy to get a therapeutic dose of curcumin without some supplementation. However, if you decide to take on the challenge with eating real food for your curcumin, keep in mind that you will need to add at least 2 1/2 Tablespoons (17 grams) of turmeric a day in your diet to get 500 milligrams of curcumin. Also, curcumin is not easily absorbed and it needs to be combined with fat and black pepper to enhance its absorption. I am sharing my recipe of the Oven Roasted Turmeric Cauliflower that is super easy and delicious with an abundant amount of turmeric. Cauliflower is naturally high in antioxidant so this packs an extra anti-inflammatory punch.
Along with boosting curcumin in your diet to flight inflammation, it is beneficial to avoid inflammation inducing foods – sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial trans fats, refined carbohydrates, processed meats, and alcohol – at the same time. This is a good way to double down on the battle against inflammation!
Oven Roasted Turmeric Cauliflower
1 large head of cauliflower
1/4 cup Olive oil
2 Tbsp turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Preheat oven to 425F.
Cut cauliflower into florets and put on a rimmed baking sheet.
whisk olive oil, turmeric, salt and pepper in a bowl and drizzle over cauliflower to coat pieces.
Roast cauliflower in oven until tender and slightly brown for 15-25 minutes, turning halfway.
I love Southeast Asian food for its intense flavors! Fish sauce, made of anchovies and salt, is what creates that bold taste in Vietnamese, Thai and Cambodian cuisine. it is used in salads, soups, stir-fry and dipping sauces. Many chefs and home cooks have taken fish sauce beyond Asian dishes to deliver the umami flavor to some unexpected dishes. Try a few sprinkle on the ever so popular roasted Brussels sprouts and you’ll know what I mean!
With the increasing popularity of Southeast Asian food, fish sauce is much more available in the grocery store than ever before. If you don’t find it in your local grocery store, you can always have it delivered to your door by Amazon. Just don’t expect to get a good price on it – even on Amazon Prime Day!
I usually get my Red Boat Fish sauce at Trader Joe’s until they were unable to restock it from their supplier in the last several months. When I saw Red Boat Fish sauce at Sur La Table selling for $8.95 (8.45 fl. oz.), it was all the motivation I needed to make a trip to the Asian market for the authentic stuff for cheap. Of course, when I got there I was confronted with an array of choices except the Red Boat brand I was looking for. How do I decide which one to buy? Not sure it matters if it’s from Thailand or Vietnam. Price is not the deciding factor since they are all inexpensive so it boils down to their ingredients. Surprisingly, some of them contain fillers other than anchovies and salt. For example, Three Crabs brand (popular with some chefs) contains anchovy extract, water, salt, fructose (a form of sugar) and hydrolysed vegetable protein (a form of MSG) and yet it makes the claim “no MSG added” on its label. Really! Imported foods don’t always meet the same regulation on label claims so read the ingredient list to verify their claims. My final choice was the “Top” brand containing anchovies fish extract, water and salt for $1.25 (23 fl. oz.).
Fish sauce is an extremely tasty fat-free condiment. It is very high in salt so you may need to adjust the amount of added salt in the dish when using fish sauce. Be adventurous and go beyond borders when cooking with it! If you are a novice, start with the dipping sauce below for salads, noodles and grilled meats. It is a family recipe from Mai Pham, author of “The Best of Vietnamese and Thai Cooking.” It has been my go-to for over 20 years.
Classic Vietnamese Dipping sauce (Nuoc Cham)
2 small garlic cloves, sliced
1-2 tsp. ground chile paste
1-2 Thai bird peppers, or any other chiles, chopped
1/4 cup good quality fish sauce
2//3 hot water
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice with pulp
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. shredded carrots for garnish
Place the garlic, chile paste and fresh chiles in a mortar. With a pestle, pound into a paste. If you do not have a mortar and pestle, mince by hand.
Combine the garlic mixture with the remaining ingredients (except carrots) in a small mixing bowl. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Ladle the sauce into small ramekins and float the carrot slivers on top. Makes 1 1/2 cups. Keeps in refrigerator for one month.
As I was cleaning out my stash of food magazines, I came across the 2017 issues of Food & Wine. Many of its recipes I have not tried as I was on overdrive with work during that time. The February issue was entitled “Eat Smarter Live Longer” which grabbed my attention. It is comforting to know the plant-based food trend hasn’t changed much in the last couple years and I am still on the right track as a smart eater. In hopes of influencing my meat-eating husband in the right direction, I made the Chickpeas and Kale in Spicy Pomodoro Sauce from the magazine. When I served it at lunch today, he said “I thought some bacon would be great in this until I tasted it and realized it doesn’t need it at all.” This is a recipe for 4 and just the two of us polished it off. I think this says it all!
This recipe was created by Chef Missy Robbins of Brooklyn’s award-winning Lilia restaurant who took an age old Italian classic, pasta al pomodoro, and made it gluten-free by replacing pasta with chickpeas. Then she added kale, one of the healthiest greens of the 21t century to pump up the nutritional quotient. No wonder Food & Wine named this recipe one of their top 40. Below is the recipe from the February issue of Food & Wine magazine. For more healthy food ideas, check out my Instagram @healthydigz.
Chickpeas and Kale in Spicy Pomodoro Sauce
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
One 28-ounce can whole peeled Italian tomatoes, crushed by hand
1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
One 8-ounce bunch of Tuscan kale, stemmed and chopped
Two 15-ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
Torn basil and marjoram leaves, for garnish
Finely grated Pecorino Romano, for serving
How to Make It
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until very fragrant but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, fennel seeds, crushed red pepper and a generous pinch of salt. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down and the sauce is thickened, about 25 minutes.
Stir the kale into the sauce and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Stir in the chickpeas and cook until heated through, about 3 minutes. Season with salt. Spoon into bowls and garnish with torn basil and marjoram leaves. Top with finely grated pecorino and serve hot.
My recent trip to Spain has broadened my knowledge of Paella. Not only did I not know Paella is a specialty of Valencia, but there are many versions of Paella. The Valencian Paella contains chicken and rabbit. The Seafood Paella features their fresh giant prawns with head and tail. The Black Paella (Arros Negre) contains squid ink. The postcard I picked up in Denia, a town on Costa Blanca shows more versions of Paella than I ever imagined. My takeaway on Paella is that the coastal region of Spain offers exotic rice dishes and they are easier to make than you think. I made my own version recently on a weeknight and enjoyed it tremendously.
2 cups short grained rice
1/4 cup olive oil
4 cups water
5-6 chicken drumsticks
1 cup green peas
1 ripe tomato, peeled and chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 tablespoon of paprika
Salt to taste
Lemon wedges to garnish
Salt the chicken.
Heat the oil in a paella dish or large shallow frying pan.
Brown chicken pieces on all sides in pan for 5 mins.
Add the garlic, paprika and tomato.
Add water and bring to a boil for 10 mins.
Add the saffron, rice, salt and stir in evenly over the surface of the pan. Boil on a high heat for 5 mins.
Arrange chicken pieces as desired.
Simmer until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed. Add more water if necessary to prevent rice from drying out.
I found a Paella seasoning packets in a market in Valencia which made cooking this dish even easier. It contains saffron and paprika. I used one packet (2 grams) for this dish where paprika is normally added in the above recipe. You might be able to find this seasoning in a Spanish specialty store.