Monday, April 23, 2012

The Caviar of Legumes: Black Lentils!

Image from the Earthy Delights Blog:

Black lentils are beautiful, glossy, iron-rich, mild in flavor and hold their shape well when cooked. For this reason, they're often referred to as the "caviar of legumes!" I like black lentils for salads because they hold their shape and soak up whatever flavors you throw at them. I also like them because a single serving contains 20% of your RDV of iron, 13 grams of protein, and 9 grams of fiber while only costing you 170 calories. In Ayurvedic medicine, black lentils are said to be especially good for athletes, women who've recently given birth, and others who need a boost of nutritional energy. Because of their high iron and fiber content, black lentils move slowly through the digestive system and have some detoxifying properties. All more reasons to add this beautiful lentil to your legume rotation.

With a big glass jar of black lentils smiling in my pantry, many heavy bags of produce from the farmer's market, and a busy, busy week ahead I put together a bright dressing of fresh orange, lemon, mint and tarragon to toss with the lentils, shaved fennel, tart apple, and thinly sliced Persian cucumbers. This salad is a great, high-protein component of a multi-salad lunch-- light enough to avoid the mid-afternoon urge to snack and nap and filling enough to keep you going until dinner. Plus, each one-cup serving clocks in under 200 calories!

Black Lentil Salad with Fennel, Mint, and Fresh Herbs

1 cup organic black lentils, picked over and rinsed
1" piece organic kombu (optional)

1 small bulb fennel
1 medium tart apple
2 small Persian cucumbers
1 small young sweet onion (Like you find at the market, about 1.5- 2" in diameter, and sugar sweet, not spicy. Red onion will work in a pinch, but change the flavor a bit.)

1 fresh organic navel orange, juiced and zested
1 fresh organic lemon, juiced and zested
2 T organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
~ 15- 20 leaves fresh mint
1/3 cup fresh tarragon

sea salt and pepper to taste

Box grater with mandoline
Sharp knife
fine colander
mixing bowl
3 Qt. Pot

Simmer the lentils and kombu in 4 cups filtered water for 20- 25 minutes, or until tender. Drain and place the colander over a large mixing bowl. Place the lentils, in the colander, in the freezer to cool.

Either use a small food processor to combine the orange and lemon juice with the olive oil and fresh herbs, or chop the herbs very fine and toss with the liquid ingredients and set aside. Reserve 1 T of orange zest.

Using the box grater, grate the apple, and shave the fennel bulb, cucumbers, and sweet onion on the mandoline. You can also use a very sharp knife to slice the veggies into thin pieces.

When the lentils are cool, toss with the veggies, dressing, and zest. Let the salad sit and chill for at least one hour before tasting for salt and pepper and serving.

Today I had this salad paired with deep purple kale massaged with a variation on Gena's (From Choosing Raw) "Outstanding Miso Dressing," where I replaced the agave with maple syrup, doubled the ginger, and added a hefty squeeze of lime to finish it off! The kale salad just gets better with the addition of grated beets and sunrise carrots and a handful of chopped scallions. The flavors are very different, but to me, it was a perfect lunch worthy not just of my fancy stainless steel to-go ware, but also of a party platter.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Ok, even though my goal was only to post once a week with something really super delicious, notable, and seasonal, and this will be my third post this week, it's meant as a rejoinder to yesterday's encouragement to RISE!

I think cooking every meal for yourself, especially when single, is a huge challenge. I am responsible for all the buying, prepping, cooking, and cleaning... And, while it's one of my great loves, sometimes I. Just. Don't. Have. Time. / I. Just. Don't. Wanna! Rather than go for vegan pho every time this mood strikes, I have an arsenal of very quick and easy recipes that satisfy my craving for nutrition, color, and tastiness. (Including a Pho recipe in the works! Dudes, I am addicted.) So, tonight I give you a simple plate of Caribbean Tofu with Greens, Yams, and Quick and Dirty Mango Salsa!

When I cook, I usually make enough for 2- 4 people... Just in case and out of habit. Leftovers are nice, and with a meal like this one, they're also flexible-- tomorrow the tempeh may make a salad, or tacos... Mmmm, breakfast tacos! (A favorite solution to high-protein leftovers!) This meal actually took me 25 minutes prep to plate, but let's say your less of an efficiency goddess (i.e. control freak) than yours truly, it will take you 30- 35. Not too shabby!

So let's start with some pointers for quick cooking:

1- Prep yourself to multi-task. This means setting out all of your ingredients so they're at hand, ditto the necessary tools and a bowl or a produce bag that can no longer be re-used to gather your garbage in.

2- A stove-top timer helps! Once you actually start cooking, set it for the time you know the meal will take, in this case 30 minutes. It will help you time your steps and stay on track without over / under cooking.

3- Clean as you go. It makes cooking more rewarding when the meal time isn't extended by another 30-minutes spent cleaning. Keep it rinsed, washed, and contained.

Now for the recipe!

Caribbean Tempeh with Greens, Yams, and Quick and Dirty Mango Salsa!

Sharp Knife
Small food processor
1/4 teaspoon measuring spoon
1 teaspoon measuring spoon
sealable glass container for marinating tempeh
Large pot and steam basket (I have a stock pot with a steamer that fits inside, I use it more than any other cooking vessel!)
Tongs (optional, but they're helpful for getting things out of the steam basket!)

Caribbean Tempeh
1 jalepeno
1 large clove garlic
1.5" piece ginger, peeled
2 Tablespoons fresh, raw coconut (optional! I have some lying around from a coconut kefir experiment, but this is totally not necessary, just adds a nice sweet dimension and some extra calories.)
1 teaspoon maple syrup
4 teaspoons nama shoyu
juice of one navel orange (about 4 oz)
juice of one lime (about 2 oz)
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon tumeric

1 package tempeh, cut into 8 triangles (Half it, half it again and then half those slices so they're thinner, not smaller)

For the sides
1 medium sweet potato, washed, and cut into 1" cubes. Don't peel it!
1 bunch collard greens or other green of your choice, washed and sliced into ribbons (different greens will need more or less steam time.) Only prep enough greens for the number of people eating. For just me 6 or so medium-sized collard leaves will do.

Quick and Dirty Mango Salsa
1/2 cup fresh mango, diced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1- 2 scallions
juice from 1/2 lime
1/4 teaspoon ancho chile powder
pinch sea salt

Optional Garnishes
Sliced avocado
raw coconut butter or oil
smoked paprika

With your timer set to 30 minutes, set your steamer on the stove. While the water heats up, slice the tempeh. Steam the tempeh for 10 minutes.

While the tempeh is steaming, make the marinade by pulsing first the solid, then the wet ingredients in a small food processor to combine.

You should have at least 5 minutes left to make your quick and dirty mango salsa and chop the sweet potato before you remove the tempeh from the steamer.

To make the salsa, peel and dice 1/2 cup mango, 1/2 cup cilantro, and 1- 2 scallions. Toss with lime juice, ancho chile powder, and salt. Set aside so the flavors can marry.

When you remove the tempeh from the steamer, place it in your sealable glass container and cover it evenly with the marinade.

Add the sweet potato / yam to the steamer. Note the time, it will need to steam for 10- 12 minutes.

Wash and chop your greens. Clean up your station and start with your dishes.

When the sweet potatoes have steamed for 6 minutes, add the greens and steam for 6 minutes more.

Slice an avocado if you'd like and grab some coconut butter or raw coconut oil to top your greens and sweet potato...I also like a little sprinkle of smoked paprika!

Ok... Your kitchen is more or less clean, your veggies are steamed and your tempeh is marinating and you still have a couple minutes left on the clock! What to do now...?

You can either plate your food as is, or quickly fry your tempeh in a well-seasoned cast-iron pan with a little coconut oil. About 1 minute / side should do it. I usually skip this step to avoid the extra fat, but it is a nice touch!

Plate your salsa, greens, sweet potatoes, and avocado (if using). Drizzle the entirety with a little extra marinade and top your veggies with a little kiss of coconut oil / butter and smoked paprika if so desired. Take more time eating than you spent cooking, and if you can, share with someone you love. Cats count, even if they're eating kibble and not spicy tempeh. (Please don't feed this to your animal companions!)

What's your favorite quick weeknight meal?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

If everyone you knew jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?

I've been thinking a lot about intentionality lately. This comes hand in hand with trying to find balance, stay positive, and balancing upside down on my hands! But, my focus on setting an intention has really come from a desire to move lightly in the world, to not be weighed down by the oppressive impulse to "succeed" because I have defined my own success as being true, light, and open, not a home owner (though I do so desire), the girl with the most amazing career, etc. When I wake up in the morning I try to set the intention to rise through the day -- to levitate through my tasks, both those that I chose to take on, and those that I take on out of necessity, with good humour, appreciation for the details, and no sense that any action constitutes a failure. To do my best in this moment, on this day, even if I have done better before and will do better in the future, is enough. This moment is where I am, and I rise to it with all the lightness I have at my disposal. Some days the ratio of light to heavy is better than others, but I try to respond to the emergence of heaviness with a light and loving and compassionate heart - Why so heavy today? What happened? Did you not sleep? Or, not eat? Were you rushed? Where can you find lightness now, in this moment, to alleviate this heaviness -- Is the sun out, the air warm, someone laughing nearby, plants blooming? People say life is short, but it is also long, mindful levity that allows me to rise above the bullshit is key. Which is why articles like this one compel me to speak; in speaking my truth, I can rise above the bullshit that the NYT and NPR and many other publications continue to insist on posting about vegan diets, compassionate living, and sustainable consumer choices.

First of all, I believe in accepting challenges. Challenges give me the opportunity to rise, to cultivate my lightness, to accept the possibility of having to start many times in order to find the right path to where I want to go, and enjoy the journey while laughing at and learning from it's pitfalls. I respectfully take issue with the entire conceit of Tara Parker-Pope's article as a vegan, who lives on less than $300 / week to cover all of my expenses (rent, car, utilities, food, etc.) in an expensive city, with a family who often sneers and snickers at my ripe farmer's market plates of snap peas and squash, jewel like legumes, and whole grains sparkling with fresh, vivifying herbs. T P-P, you are a lovely writer, and writing is always a challenge, so I know that you know what it is to intend to rise, which is why I find the following thesis so disappointing.

As countless aspiring vegans are discovering, the switch from omnivore to herbivore is fraught with physical, social and economic challenges — at least, for those who don’t have a personal chef. The struggle to give up favorite foods like cheese and butter can be made all the harder by harsh words and eye-rolling from unsympathetic friends and family members. Substitutes like almond milk and rice milk can shock the taste buds, and vegan specialty and convenience foods can cost two to three times what their meat and dairy equivalents do. And new vegans quickly discover that many foods in grocery stores and on restaurant menus have hidden animal ingredients.

I'll come right out and say that, yes, if you expect rice or almond milk to taste like dairy, you will be disappointed, and yes, if you rely on processed, prepared, or take-out food for the majority of your meals (vegan or not!) you will find that you are spending an arm and a leg and then some to feed yourself. And, yes, I know, cooking takes time. I work 6 days / week on my feet and often spend a couple hours on the 7th cooking beans and grains and prepping veggies for the week ahead. Most of this cooking time is down time, curled on the porch or the sofa near the kitchen with a book or a movie, periodically rising to check water levels and bean tenderness as my tiny home fills with the sweet, warm steam of whole foods cooking. Friends, strangers, family, unless I am throwing a dinner party it never, ever takes me more than 1 hour to make dinner. Breakfast is nearly instant as it's either prepped the night before (holla overnight oats, aka Muesli!) or quickly steamed on the stove (breakfast porridge) or pulled from the toaster (old standards- almond butter or avocado toast, and lunch, lunch is a matter of minutes -- toss a salad in a container, throw some trail mix in a bag, and grab a piece of fruit... Even easier, take a single portion of last night's dinner and savor it all over again. A little mindfulness, or planning, and being vegan (or just eating healthier and cheaper by cooking for yourself) is cheap, easy, not time consuming, and maybe even a fun, safe, fortifying space to be creative! Be positive and rise to challenge of creating the best, healthiest, happiest life for yourself.

As for Megan Salisbury who says,

Megan Salisbury, 33, a social work student in Phoenix, says she prefers plant-based eating but can manage it only about 75 percent of the time. The vegan options at the campus cafeteria are limited and often expensive, and she has to drive 20 miles to find stores with vegan specialty foods for cooking.
You don't really need specialty foods. Sure raw tahini and miso paste are among my favorite ingredients, but they can be ordered if you don't live near a health food store and feel that you need or want them. However, these things are expensive and indulgent treats like raw, organic cheese. What you need are organic fruits and veggies, grains, beans, some fresh herbs, simple spices, nuts if you eat them, and maybe a fortified non-dairy milk. These simple ingredients, with a little ingenuity, can be used to make wholesome, fully nutritious, affordable and easy to prepare meals that will satisfy and keep you enjoying that healthy body / mind connection that comes from living, eating, and shopping in line with your principles of compassion and sustainability.

As for this:

Frustrating, too, is the lack of social support.

I was raised vegetarian and my parents think I'm insane. The person I'm dating, who I've been friends with for years, scoffs at the idea of applying ethics to your diet (despite being supportive, lovely, and an enthusiastic consumer, all of which I feel more or less cancel out the disappointment of our lack of shared ethics), my friends ask me to shut up about farming, slaughterhouses, the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet, and just let them do what they want... But, they eat the cookies, they make me vegan food, and we still have fun and extend love toward one another. Why? Because, yes these things are "challenges," but challenges are opportunities to rise, to learn new ways to speak and share your truth, to get creative at the grocery store, to share what you love about doing your best to make the most ethical, joyful choice all the time. What a pleasant and heart-warming challenge to encourage me and you and everyone else to be mindful, intentional, and light in their words and actions.

If you're looking for someone to show you how to eat vegan on a food-stamp budget, I highly recommend this blog. And, as a challenge to myself, I'll be doing a little tracking on how much it costs to prepare certain things and trying to share than info as well. If I do anything in my life, I hope that it is to spread the light that I cultivate through sharing the things I love and am passionate about-- art, gardening, literature, food, mountains, love-- So anything I can do to rise with you, I will do.

After this little rant, I wonder, what's your intention everyday?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Two Spring Green Recipes and Some Thoughts

A lot has changed in my life since my last update-- But, I'd rather focus on the change of the season. Spring has never been my favorite time of year, I'm just not a fan of rain! But, being back in Southern California makes springtime seem like a time of year worth reveling in... 75 degree days, sunshine, Sunday hikes, the Hollywood Farmer's Market, long walks in the magic, radiant green of my neighborhood, buds on all my plants... I cannot get enough! What's more, my first Fall in LA left me in need of that freshly scrubbed with sunshine feeling that only dry California spring days can bring. After having a long winter of heartbreak and struggle with the eating disorder that has defined so much of my adulthood, spring also finds me hungry for healthy, fresh, savory meals that meet my nutritional needs without making me feel weighty or anxious over the proposition of three square meals a day.

One of the reasons I started this blog in the first place is that throughout grad school being vegan became this joyful home that I could occupy, a way to manifest my positive outlook and share my heart with people, a source of confidence in my ability to think critically about the world, and respond in a positive active manner to change the things I can. It also allowed me to place compassion for myself, others, and the animals at the fore of my thoughts and encouraged a safe space for creative action. Working mindfully to lead with compassion, patience and recognition of things that I can and cannot change has allowed me to emerge into this Spring stronger, wiser, and happier. For that I am very thankful.

The one thing I have always loved about the Spring time is that it is GREENS TIME! Particularly bitter greens, like my perennial favorite, dandelion! Nothing is better on a hot sunny day with a chilly breeze than a big bowl of salad, a cup of soup, and a hunk of bread and that pretty much sums up how I've been eating lately.

The thing about a bitter green is that it's best tempered with a little sweetness- The balance of bitter and sweet that comes from combining Spring greens with berries and fruit is one of my favorite flavor combos, and I think the balance is a nice reminder of the balance I am always trying to build in my life.

With that said, my favorite salad lately has been a toss of romaine, arugula, and dandelion with sweet 100's, cucumber, bell peppers, raw zucchini, shredded apples and carrots, avocado and toasted pepitas tossed with a fresh strawberry dressing. This dressing is a little savory, a little sweet, and a lot creamy. Try it on your favorite mix of bitter greens and fresh Spring veggies!

Creamy Strawberry and Spring Green Herb Salad Dressing (Makes about 1.5 cups)

1/2 pint very ripe strawberries
1/2 c fresh dill
1/3 c fresh morrocan mint
2 cloves garlic
3 T raw tahini (I like this one!)
1.5 T local raw honey (try an equivalent amount of agave or date syrup if you refrain from honey for ethical reasons)
2 oz fresh lime juice
1- 2 T warm water
sea salt to taste

In a food processor or blender finely chop the garlic and herbs. Add the strawberries and purée until liquefied. At this point add the tahini, sweetener of your choice, lime juice and 1 T of warm water. Blend for about three minutes until the dressing is totally emulsified. It should be thick and creamy, but definitively a dressing and not a spread, so depending on how juicy your berries were, you may need to add another T of warm water. Season with sea salt to taste and drizzle heartily over your salad! If you find that it needs a little something because your berries aren't quite red all the way through, try adding a little extra lime and a shake of mirin!

It hasn't been all warm sunny days this Spring so far, so I've also been making a far amount of soup. A recent favorite adds a beautiful yolk-y yellow (Vegans don't need eggs to enjoy a sunny ochre!) to the color palette of berry pink and Spring green that has dominated this post. I've been trying to pack in the winter squash as long as I can and the recent acquisition of a perfect, nasturtium orange red kuri squash coupled with several cold rainy days conjured images of fresh coconut and savory curry so I decided to make a higher protein, more savory version of my standard squash soup that would sustain me through long, long days of waiting tables. The result is a rich and complex creamy soup that satisfies at all times of day... Believe me, I've been having it for breakfast with a slice of avocado or banana toast!

Curried Red Kuri with Fresh Young Coconut

1 T raw coconut oil, divided
3 cups red kuri squash flesh, cubed (About 1 med squash)
1 sweet onion
1 large shallot, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 c red lentils
4 c vegetable stock (I use Imagine Organics No-Chicken Broth)
1 Thai coconut or 1 can light or regular coconut milk
1.5- 2 T Curry Powder (I used Muchi Curry from Whole Foods)
1/2 t cinnamon
1/8 t cayenne
1/2 t red pepper flakes
1/4 t ground cardamom
1+ t Nama Shoyu
1+ t mirin

Chopped cilantro, lime, and dried unsweetened coconut to garnish

Preheat the oven to 375. Peel and chop the squash and yellow onion into 1" chunks. Melt the coconut oil in your soup pot and brush the squash and onions lightly and then arrange the chunks in a roasting pan with a small glug of your vegetable stock. There should be enough melted coconut oil left in your pot to caramelize the shallot. Roast the squash for 45 minutes.

While the squash is roasting, open the coconut and blend the coconut water and flesh in your blender until smooth to make a fresh coconut milk. You can also use canned with great results (lite, to my mind is as good as the full fat.) You will need about 2 cups of coconut milk.

In the soup pan, caramelize the shallot over low heat in the remaining coconut oil. When the squash is done, add the garlicand red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant. Add the squash and lentils to the pot and cover with all of the vegetable stock. Simmer with the lid on until the lentils are cooked, about 30- 45 minutes. When the lentils are done, add the coconut milk and remove the pot from the heat.

In a cast iron skillet, gently toast the curry and other spices until fragrant. Shake the pan gently to avoid sticking and burning. Add the toasted curry to the soup pot and blend until silky smooth with an immersion blender, or in batches in your traditional blender. Season with shoyu and mirin to balance the flavors. Serve with a lime wedge, a sprinkle of coconut and a generous garnish of cilantro.