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Ahimsa

Practicing Non-Harming Toward Yourself and the World

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cooking

Feeling Fall, Kimchi rice, and Brussels Sprouts

It’s fall here in Asheville, and I couldn’t be happier. I spend the whole year looking forward to October/November. I start surrounding myself with oranges and reds, cooking with cinnamon and nutmeg, and eating every imaginable pumpkin-flavored food. 

A couple days ago I purchased my first table. Buying furniture makes me feel like such an adult. I love it. To celebrate, I put together a beautiful fall-inspired centerpiece.

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Later that night, I cooked a delicious dinner for a date, although I was having such a good time I forgot to take a picture. I made pumpkin risotto (which I plan on making again next week, and I will definitely share the recipe), which I served inside of a roasted pie pumpkin and topped with a few thin strips of romano cheese. I served a Caesar salad alongside of it, and for dessert served up some pumpkin cheesecake from Trader Joe’s. 

Tonight was a more subtly awesome dinner. I bought some Kimchi rice from Trader Joe’s, and then made miso-roasted Brussels sprouts to go with it, along with a (rather ugly) fried egg. I added sliced red bell pepper to the Brussels sprouts, which was a great addition. The whole meal was really fancy, and much healthier than takeout. 

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My goal for this coming week is to be mindful of portion control. It’s my largest nutritional problem. Even healthy meals can become unhealthy when you eat too much of it at once. Wish me luck!

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Saag Paneer and Roasted Chickpeas

Today is the first lazy day at home I’ve had in a while, so I decided to take the time to make a delicious lunch. I had some tofu and frozen spinach, so Saag Paneer seemed an obvious choice. I used the recipe from the Elizavegan blog, and it turned out great, despite my not having basic spices like turmeric and coriander (although now I have an excuse to go grocery shopping tomorrow). It was so creamy and flavorful, and filled the house with the aromatic scent of an Indian kitchen. This recipe makes so much food; I’ll be able to eat off this for a couple of days.

Saag paneer is also known as palak paneer, and is a traditional dish of India and Pakistan. Saag simply refers to greens, although spinach seems to be the most popular choice. Next time I make this dish, I’m going to try using kale. Although paneer is cheese, firm tofu makes a great substitution.  This dish is typically eaten with roti or rice, but I chose to serve it with quinoa, mainly for its health benefits (protein, calcium, iron, and fiber, to name just a few) and because I’d been craving it lately.

If you search the internet, you’ll find thousands of slightly different variations of this dish, including hundreds of specifically vegan recipes. I’m sure many of them are delicious, but I do recommend the Elizavegan recipe, mainly because the curry and nutritional yeast-crusted fried tofu is a delicious addition and goes so well with the spinach and coconut milk.

I also made one of my favorite snacks: roasted chickpeas. I like my snacks to be savory and salty rather than sweet, and chickpeas are much healthier than the potato chips or bread I would otherwise reach for. Versatility is the best part of snacking on roasted chickpeas – you can literally season them in hundreds of different ways. The recipe I’m sharing for you today is my favorite.

Savory Mushroomy Chickpea Snacks

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp mushroom seasoning (I used Lunds & Byerlys, which I couldn’t find online, but FungusAmongUs is great too)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Pinch of paprika
1/4-1/2 tsp salt (Truffle salt would be great here
1 tsp white truffle oil, plus more to finish

Preheat oven to 425. Line a pizza pan or baking dish with parchment.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and toss until the chickpeas are coated thoroughly. Spread in a single layer on the parchment. Bake for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.

When chickpeas are nice and golden, and slightly crisp, remove from oven and allow to cool a bit. Add truffle oil to taste.

And try not to eat them all at once! 😉

Other than cooking, today has been  a very calm day. My boyfriend has recently gotten me into video games and lent me his PSP to play Final Fantasy Tactics, so my goal for today is to play games and eat delicious food. Sounds like a great time, right?

Gluten-Free Pizza, & How to Make Balsamic Glaze

I’ve long been interested in gluten-free cooking, but gluten-free baking almost scares me. I don’t want to have to run out and buy a bunch of crazy bean or nut flours, new starches, etc. When I move back to Asheville I’ll stock up on all of those things if I find them cheap at Amazing Savings, but for now I want to keep my gluten-free cooking simple.

When I saw this recipe for a chickpea flour based gluten-free crust from Meghan Telpner, I got excited. I love the flavor of chickpea flour, so it’s the one non-all-purpose flour I buy regularly. Although the dough seemed way too wet after mixing the ingredients, after baking it transformed into an awesomely crispy thin pizza crust. And the best part was that there is absolutely no rising time! I made the entire pizza in half an hour. As I continue to eat healthier and consume less wheat and sugar, this will undoubtedly be my go-to pizza crust.

I topped the pizza with homemade pesto (fresh basil, chives, spinach, cashews, oil, salt, garlic, and lemon), sun-dried tomatoes, broccoli, and balsamic glaze. I love balsamic glaze on pizza, and I know a lot of other people do too. I’ve been out with so many people who get super excited when a pizza place offers it. Luckily, it’s super easy to make.

Balsamic Glaze

1 cup balsamic vinegar

In a small saucepan over high heat, bring the balsamic vinegar to a boil. Once boiling, lower heat and simmer 15-20 minutes. The liquid will reduce in volume and become syrupy. You’ll end up with 1/4 cup or so.

That’s it! Now you can make it at home and drizzle it over everything like I do. 🙂 It keeps for a ridiculously long time in the fridge, but I usually finish it off fairly quickly because it tastes so damn good.

Sassy Sandwich Bread

I will never buy another loaf of bread.

Right now, my apartment smells incredible – just like freshly baked, homemade vegan bread.

While this wasn’t my first attempt at bread, it was my first time making a loaf of bread. All I wanted was something I could make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with, which for some reason I’ve been craving for days.

Also, why don’t I use Sarah Kramer’s La Dolce Vegan more often? I usually skip it for one of my “fancier” or newer vegan cookbooks, but then I cook from it and the food is great.

For the bread I used Kramer’s Sassy Sandwich Bread. The ingredients are basic, which is great for someone with a very limited pantry. For the flour I used half whole-wheat and half all-purpose.

Besides the smell, it tastes delicious. It was a little soggy along the sides, but I think I greased the loaf pan with a bit too much oil.

In other news, my birthday is this Friday!  Yay!

Oops – Something went wrong with the pie crust

In the past when I’ve written about problems I’ve had with recipes, I’ve been lucky enough to receive helpful comments about what might have gone wrong. That’s pretty much what I’m looking for with this post.

Friday night my boyfriend and I couldn’t figure out what we wanted to eat. Finally he decided he wanted a pot pie, and I thought it might be fun to make one since I’ve never done it before.

For the filling we just went with really simple, basic ingredients we already had. We chopped up some baby red potatoes and organic carrots, and tossed in some thawed peas and corn. We used Vegan Brunch‘s Mushroom Gravy (with only 1 Tbs of flour so it would be thinner), and the pie crust from January 2010’s Vegetarian Times recipe for Indian Samosa Casserole.

I had made the samosa casserole a little over a month ago, and the crust was easy and nicely flaky. You can’t get more basic – just equal parts all-purpose and whole wheat pastry flour, salt, oil and water. I had zero trouble the first time I made it, but this time it wouldn’t hold together at all. I thought I did everything in exactly the same way. The only difference I could think of was that maybe the whole wheat pastry flour was too cold. I had decided to store it in the refrigerator while I was away for winter break.

Piecing the crust together

We ended up having to take little bits of it and piecing it together over the vegetables. It almost seemed like it was too wet, but I think I used less water than the first time I made it.

It ended up tasting fine, but I wish I knew what went wrong so I can avoid the trouble in the future.

The Case for Cooking

There’s a really insightful post at Change.org’s Sustainable Food blog about the “new era in American food.” The author, Katherine Gustafson, writes about how fast food chains such as McDonald’s are using new ideas to get their customers to stay longer at their stores, and how this shows a fundamental change in our eating habits. It’s a great article and I urge you to read it.

There’s one particular line that influenced me to write my own thoughts about this topic:

This food is by and large what the American population likes to eat, and we have come to accept the speed as normal.

It’s been years since I’ve eaten at a burger joint, but I can speak for my family and friends that they don’t see places like Burger King and McDonald’s as just something convenient – it’s a legitimate choice for their next meal.  This shows that my family and friends, and I assume a majority of Americans, honestly do not care about how their food is processed, how much they enjoy it, or how it tastes. It all comes down to how cheap and fast it is.

I take a lot of joy in cooking. It’s without a doubt my favorite hobby, and it is a sure way to relieve stress. On the rare occasions where I eat out or order delivery, I end up feeling that I’m missing out by not cooking myself. I have a lot of respect for home-cooked meals not only because are they undoubtedly more nutritious, but because they also taste better. A big part of my love of eating comes from concern for how my meal was cooked and whether quality ingredients were used, something restaurants rarely care about. When you eat out, whether it’s fast food or  a sit-down place, your meal is a product of speed, cost, and efficiency. Taste can be compromised to some degree.

(A simple note – there are certainly restaurants that really do care about the quality of their ingredients and finished meals. I’m writing primarily about popular chain restaurants.)

The majority of people I know hate cooking. To them, it is a chore. So they stock their pantries and freezers with cheap frozen meals and ridiculously processed foods. I feel like such people are missing out, and that they are also passing on an opportunity to easily create for themselves a healthier lifestyle.

I used to live on frozen Amy’s meals and canned veggies. It was by no means an exciting culinary life – and even though I knew that at the time, I figured there was no way I could cook. There were plenty of excuses – I don’t know how, it takes too long, I’m too busy, by the time I get off work I’m too tired, etc., etc.. But then I fundamentally changed the way I ate, and in the process changed my life. Simply by cooking all my meals myself, I shed sixty pounds in less than a year, and I feel amazing. I also discovered I had a love for cooking that will probably last the rest of my life, as well as appreciation and respect for every bite I take.

The misconception that cooking takes too long or that it’s too hard is keeping so many people back. There are plenty of people who hold down full lives and jobs and still find time to cook healthy, home-made meals for themselves and their families.

So here’s a challenge: tonight for dinner, why not skip the dodgy, plastic-wrapped frozen veg patty and whip up a delicious meal yourself? Do you need inspiration? Here’s 10 ideas for healthy, speedy, and delicious meals.

  1. Pizza – whether you use a home-made or good quality whole-wheat pre-made crust, you can any toppings you wish. A few of my favorite ingredients are fresh tomatoes and herbs, olives, mushrooms and broccoli.
  2. Smokey Miso Tofu
  3. Taco salad – just through together tortilla chips, beans, taco seasoning, tomatoes, lettuce, and salsa.
  4. Polenta and Tofu Skillet. This is one of my favorites.
  5. Oven-roasted vegetables. Make a tin-foil packet of healthy veggies, a bit of extra-virgin olive oil, and roast in the oven until fragrant. I promise you’ll love it.
  6. Soup! There are thousands of variations and you can use anything you happen to have in the kitchen.
  7. A huge salad. Ideas for ingredients include a variety of greens, seeds and nuts, avocado, raisins, oranges, any vegetable you can think of, and a simple lemon-olive oil-balsamic dressing.
  8. Stir-fry. This is my signature I’m-too-tired-to-cook meal. I use whatever I have, add my favorite spices, a little soy sauce, and serve over rice.
  9. A super-easy and yummy tempeh salad that you can stuff into whole-wheat pitas or serve over a bowl of greens.
  10. And finally, if you absolutely refuse to cook when you get of work, for example, why not cook up a few extra meals on your day off and then freeze them. Then, when you’re too tired to cook, just heat them up! It’s as simple as that!

An Almost Authentic Egg Salad

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In August I moved into my first apartment after transferring to a new university, after spending two previous years living in a dorm at my old school. Dorm-living isn’t very vegan friendly, especially when you don’t have a kitchen in the building and your campus isn’t particularly concerned with providing nutritious vegan meals. I ended up eating a lot of tofu “mock” salads, styled after the chicken, egg, and tuna salads of my pre-veggie days. I rarely used a recipe, since I had grown up watching my mother whip all three salads together. When I make them I simply add vegan equivalents of her ingredients.

You can certainly argue that vegan mock chicken and egg salads are pretty much the same thing. However, I recently bought some black salt from Cosmo’s, and I was dying to use it. I’d heard that black salt provided an “eggy” flavor to tofu scrambles, but I’d never tasted it before. As soon as I pulled it out of the box, I opened the little bag and was amazed at the egg smell I encountered. After I tried a little on my finger, I was stunned. It tasted and smelled like real egg!

Here is my recipe for egg salad. The trick to a good mock egg (or chicken) salad is to measure everything to taste – I adore dill pickles, so I always add twice as much as normal people would. Use this recipe more as a guideline, and measure ingredients as you see fit. Just be careful not to add too much black salt – I have a feeling that too much would overpower any other tastes.

Not easy to get a good picture...
Not easy to get a good picture...

Almost-Authentic Egg Salad (serves 1-2)
1/2 package extra-firm tofu, crumbled
1/4 cup vegan mayonnaise (I used fat-free Nayonaise)
2 tsp Dijon or spicy brown mustard
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 dill pickle, chopped, or pickle relish to taste
2 Tbs yellow onion, minced
1/2 tsp turmeric
Dash black salt (about 1/8 tsp)
1/8 tsp paprika
Black pepper, to taste

Mix all ingredients together – season to taste. Great on a sandwich or in a pita, over a bed of greens, or just by itself! I had mine between two slices of really good whole-wheat bread, with baby spinach and a thin slice of Follow Your Heart Mozzarella cheese.

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Of balsamic vinegar, tailgate markets, and leeks

Every Saturday morning, my campus is host to a tailgate farmer’s market, with about twenty venders selling everything from fresh bread (though unvegan!), local sauerkraut and kombucha, all the veggies you could imagine, flowers, and meats. All local,  much of it is organic, and the people and vendors are incredibly nice. I wake up Saturday mornings to walk the mile or so down there and pick up a bag of fruits and veggies. Here’s my bounty for this week:

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Raspberries, eggplant, peppers, squash, leeks, bok choy, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, and potatoes. And it only cost $20! Whenever I go I try to find something new to experiment with, and this week it was leeks. As sad as it is, I’ve never cooked with them, usually just opting for onions when a recipe calls for them. Let’s just say, I sad I never bought them before! I love their mellow flavor, and I’ve been slicing them up to put in everything.

For dinner tonight, I was craving some balsamic roasted potatoes. Last week a friend and I made balsamic roasted root veggies – beets, potatoes, and turnips – and the balsamic and olive oil coated them nicely. Since I didn’t feel like messing with beets and turnips, I just chunked up some potatoes, drizzled them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar (they were drenched in balsamic – I can never get enough), threw them on a baking sheet, and cooked them for 45 minutes. While that was cooking, I sauted my bok choy with leeks, garlic, ginger, olive oil, and bragg’s. Yummers 🙂

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I’ve come to the conclusion that balsamic vinegar tastes good on practically everything. What’s your favorite way to use it?

Vegan Eats

The only thing worse than being vegan on my campus is being a vegan without a car on my campus. My university is decently big, around 9,000 students, but we have no public transportation, no grocery stores within walking distance, and nothing really for a vegan to eat. Granted, we do have three great restaurants on campus but that aren’t actually part of campus so we have to pay out of pocket instead of with a meal plan.

So when I do get off campus, like I did last week when my roommate took me to pick up a prescription, I stock up. My mom had given me some Ziplock Steambags before I left for school, and I’ve finally got a chance to use them. I also made vegan tacos for my non-vegan roommate and I, which was a success. I used Yves Taco Meat, and it was great (although I LOVE cumin and still added some of my own).

The Vegan Taco Meat
The Vegan Taco Meat

The next day we ate super healthy. I wanted to use the steambags my mother had given me, so I bought a couple of yellow squash and zucchini, threw in some dried onion, and microwaved on high for 4 and a half minutes.

Squash!
Squash!

I think I might have stuffed the bag too full, so it took a little longer than it was supposed to for it to cook all the way through, but when it finally did get done, it was so good! I’ve worked at a vegetable stand for the last five summers, which has definitely spoiled me. I love squash, and this supermarket squash had a surprisingly good flavor. We also heated up some garlic bread and used extra-virgin olive oil as our dipping sauce.

Our picnic
Our picnic

Overall, it was a great opportunity to eat something other than rice and couscous. If you’re a student, I highly recommend sharing your vegan meals with your friends. It’s a fantastic way to show everyone that veganism isn’t boring, but can be really, really tasty!

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