The TJ’s Salad

As a parent, I really struggle with dietary labels. The other day I filled out a work conference form and was requested to list my dietary needs. In the past, I have written “Vegetarian” and was always disappointed with the limp vegetables smothered in cream sauce that arrived at my table and which prompted burdensome questions from other guests. Then I switched to “Pescetarian” because at least I can indulge in a rare piece of fish while showing my table neighbors that it’s acceptable to talk to me because we are all consuming a form of meat together.

But lately, I’ve also cut most cheese and eggs from my diet, which is confusing because it’s more than just Pescetarian, and I recently learned that dairy doesn’t include eggs because eggs aren’t dairy. Just cheese and milk is dairy. News to me! But I do still use a dab of cream in my tea every morning, which isn’t a problem until someone says I’m a “Vegan” and then I feel like an imposter. Because I  don’t consider myself a vegan either. And I mean, Oreos are vegan and there are fat vegans out there so what does that label even mean to me at this point in my life? Labels just seem to make people confrontational and a little bit angry. It’s like people think I’m showing up with protest signs or have starved myself for days with this radical diet before I come over for dinner. And to complicate matters more, I also stopped drinking coffee a few months ago because I never much liked the taste and frequently had indigestion, so now people think I don’t do caffeine – which I do. I drink endless cups of highly caffeinated tea every single day.

Then I observe endless variety of creative and socially acceptable response cards on tables from “Meatless Friday” (during Lent), “Meatless Monday” (I guess that’ s a label now?), and of course the obligatory allergy needs “No Nuts”. My younger son is allergic to walnuts and pecans – a very clear and easy label – and risk of death is definitely an exception to my plight and that never provokes a response. I recently joined a Facebook group called “80% WFPD (whole food plant based) which when I tried to describe it to a friend just sounded comical. Why can’t I just say “feed me something that isn’t bad, and is digestible with vegetables and some healthy plant-based protein to get me through the next few hours”??

So lately I have begun to identify myself as a Nutritarian. This term was developed and mass marketed by Dr. Joel Fuhrman in his popular book “Eat to Live”. It refers to a nutrient-dense, plant-rich diet supporting impressive long-term health benefits which is backed by science. So basically if you’re going to eat 100 calories, you want to eat 100 calories of food that makes you feel fuller for longer with more energy and is packed with vital vitamins and minerals. And if you really wanted to get into an ethical debate, you could talk about the biology of human evolution and what we now know about early human diets, or you could talk about how the archaic food pyramid was updated to My Plate in 2011 which is more inclusive of plant-based nutrition, and you could  debate the impact of global farming on our planet and climate change. BUUUUUT I won’t do that today. The recent documentary “The Gamechangers” does a great job explaining all this, so just watch that instead.

What I do really like about this label of Nutritarian is that it moves away from the morality of what I eat and focuses more on the science. It’s also a term that seems less scary to others and maybe a bit more progressive in terms of the food pyramid. I still eat bread and pasta every day, but sprouted grain bread and whole wheat pasta. In fact, I literally eat ALL THE TIME. I am aware of high level protein sources now that I never thought of beyond beans and tofu before like quinoa, oatmeal, peas, and seeds. I eat more calcium from one plate of greens than I would have gotten from a glass of milk. I sleep better and I’m slightly more motivated to move my body, but that may be because I’m also drinking in moderation these days — like, not EVERY DAY. Just when it’s been a shit day or I want to date my husband every now and then. And as a parent, I strive to educate my kids on what they put into their bodies and how it effects them, now how other people label them or whether they should feel shame about eating a turkey sandwich every now and then at school. Which they do.

Anyway, with the recent fall weather quickly transitioning to snow, I was craving a hearty green and grain salad this week and stopped by Trader Joe’s to pick up a few of my favorites. Trader Joe’s has a nice variety of precooked, prepackaged items that really make a great dish when you’re in a pinch, either for one or served on a large platter for a holiday crowd. This time I used their Cruciferous Crunch Salad as a base with a selection of cooked beets, kalamata olives, Persian cucumbers, chickpeas, cherry tomatoes, farro and a giant bag of fresh haricot green beans which I blanched for 5 min but could also be eaten raw. Other variations I love from their refrigerated section include the precooked brown lentils and the fingerling potatoes. In place of farro you could also throw in some quinoa or rice. I topped it off with some lightly pan fried Lightlife bacon for more of a cobb salad flavor. I typically use balsamic vinegar for dressing, but tahini mixed with lemon juice is pretty amazing if you don’t want anything dairy-based. I also grabbed a little ginger lemon kambucha back tea for $2.99 – mwuah! Love it. So no real recipe today folks, just some tidbits on great plant-based food options in a one-stop shop that I enjoyed this week.

Vegetarian Kibbeh

Last week my friend Or’Shaundra and I took our 8-year-old sons to my local library for movie night featuring “Ant-Man and the Wasp”. When we arrived, the librarian was visibly perplexed and shaken by our appearance, especially as our two young boys took front row seats grabbing bags of candy and chips, munching happily away. Nowhere in their marketing materials did they say the PG-13 movie was restricted to “teens”. Our boys had already seen the film but she made it clear the night was reserved for young adults, and I felt both annoyed and ashamed. Are we bad moms?! The movie was set to begin in 5 minutes and, not wanting conflict, she quietly promised that if the older hoards didn’t turn out then we could stay, but only if the other young adults approved. Well, the neighborhood was deserted for spring break and as suspected only two other kids showed up so the librarian begrudgingly took their pizza orders and my friend and I were promptly kicked out. Because NO PARENTS ALLOWED.

Long story short, we spent a glorious two hours browsing the recipe book section and sitting by a fire where I came across a delightful new Palestinian cookbook “Zaitoun” by Yasmin Khan. As a crossroads of multiple countries, the Middle East is a region rich with grain and vegetable harvests, with meats like fish, chicken and lamb reserved more for select meals rather than daily consumption, so the local cuisine can be seen as inherently vegetarian. Kibbeh is a simple yet staple dish traditionally made as a hearty pie with meat and a crunchy grain crust, and is fragrant with spicy cinnamon, sweet onions, pine nuts, and fresh chopped parsley. For this dish, I used textured soy proteins and lentils to replace minced lamb and it paired beautifully with an acidic diced Jerusalem salad.

 

Ingredients

For the Crust

  • 1 3/4 cups fine bulgur wheat
  • 1/3 cup Lightlight smart ground meatless meat crumbles
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • chopped parsley, to serve

For the Filling

  • 1 1/2 cup steamed lentils
  • 2/3 cup Lightlight smart ground meatless meat crumbles
  • 1/3 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 3 TB olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 3 garlic cloves, diced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place the bulgur wheat in a large bowl and pour over enough boiled water to cover, then set aside to soak for 30 minutes. Heat 2 TB olive oil in a large pan and fry up the onion for the filling just until translucent. Add the spices and garlic for the filling,then fold in the lentils and meatless meat crumbles and stir in the vegetable broth and let simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.  In a separate pan, toast the pine nuts on low heat for 3-4 minutes then set aside. In a small food processor or bowl using a hand blender, add the chopped onion for the crust along with the crust spices and meatless meat crumbles and blend until you have a smooth paste. Add this to the bulgar once the water has been soaked up and mix together. In large 12×10 baking dish, press half the crust mixture into the base. Top with the cooked filling and pine nuts, then finish the remaining crush mixture. Score the surface diagonally in a cross-hatch fashion with a knife, then bake for 45 minutes. Once baked, serve with fresh chopped parsley.

I also had the opportunity to spend a few days in San Diego for a work conference this week and enjoyed some beautiful ocean views.

Asian Quinoa Salad

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Today’s recipe is one of the BEST things I have eaten in a long time. I found it on the popular blog www.twopeasandtheirpod.com and thought it tied in nicely with this months Real Simple magazine feature about “health bowls” – combining fresh salad ingredients with unexpected flavors and grains. This Asian Quinoa Salad features some of my favorite ingredients, the only thing missing is potato chips. Because potato chips are amazing. I diverted from the original recipe and added some roasted unsalted peanuts for some extra crunch, and used my nifty food processor on the grater setting for the cabbage and carrots instead of chopping by hand. This delightful recipe tastes amazing for several days in the fridge and would be a popular potluck dish. And need I say VEGAN. And that is worth celebrating!

ASIAN QUINOA SALAD
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup shredder red cabbage
1 cup shelled and cooked edamame
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1 diced cucumber
1/2 cup roasted unsalted peanuts

DRESSING
1/4 cup lite soy sauce or tamari sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped green onion
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1/4 teaspoon grated ginger
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Boil 2 cups of water then add 1 cup quinoa, cover and turn down to simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Place the quinoa in a large bowl and add the cabbage, edamame, red pepper, peanuts, carrots, and cucumber. Set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, green onions, cilantro, sesame seeds, ginger, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Pour the dressing over the quinoa salad and stir to combine.

Red Cabbage Slaw Taco Salad

Being a child of the 80’s, I was reminded last night of O’Boises Potato Chips. This memory also conjured up thoughts of a plethora of other food substances completely toxic to our bodies including Squeeze-It, Ecto Cooler, bubble gum cigarettes, and Big League Chew. Asher has recently become obsessed with Dum Dums, you know the lollipops with the mystery flavor that you get for free at the bank. It’s unbelievable the amount of processed foods with zero nutrition that we have unlimited access to at such a young age.

saladWhile I am not vegan, I do constantly get questioned about my vegetarianism and raising my kids vegetarian, which is particularly baffling to people living in the Midwest. So I have made it my mission to share with the world as many vegan recipes as I can come up so I don’t have to hear “What do you eat? Pasta???” There is a world of flavorful and indulgent ethnic foods which embrace vegan ingredients, including Thai, Indian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Central American, all of which I love to cook. Which naturally leads me to my recipe of the day, Red Cabbage Slaw Taco Salad! This is a very clean, refreshing, and filling dish that can be eaten as a side salad or taco stuffing, and still taste good four days later (I’m eating it right now!)

RED CABBAGE SLAW TACO SALAD
1/2 head of red cabbage, chopped into long slivers
1 jicama, peeled and julienned
1 bunch of cilantro, roughly chopped
1 bunch of green onions, trimmed and chopped
1 can of black beans, drained
1 package of meatless ground beef
1 onion, diced
Juice of 5 limes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pan, fry onions in olive oil on medium heat about 4-5 minutes, until translucent. Add meatless ground beef and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper and stir until combined, then stir in the drained black beans. Turn off the heat and let cool. In a large salad bowl, add the chopped red cabbage, cilantro, jicama, and green onions. Toss well, then pour the lime juice over the slaw and top with salt and pepper then toss again. Warning: the lime juice causes the red coloring from the cabbage to turn the jicama pink after a day in the fridge as you can see from the photo, but it makes a great first impression when preparing it fresh!

Vegan Spring Rolls, for Type-A Personalities

haircutTwo things happened this week. It snowed. And Asher had his first haircut. Both were unpleasant experiences, but mercifully short-lived and the results were admittedly delightful!

spring roll As a result of the cold weather, I decided to make a Thai coconut soup with fresh spring rolls for dinner and was blown away at how EASY the spring rolls were to make. Seriously. They had a lovely freshness from the mint and basil, balanced with the crunchy colorful vegetables and the flavorful dipping sauces.

I just stocked up on chili garlic sauce ($2), plum sauce ($2), rice paper rolls ($2), extra firm tofu ($1.50) and some crunchy fresh veggies totalling my cost at under $10 for several night’s worth of spring rolls. My only gripe is the prep work in julienning and dicing, but it was a one-time task while Asher and Everett played in their toy kitchen and now my little Virgo heart is singing at all the organized containers in the fridge for the week!

THAI VEGETABLE SPRING ROLLS
Rice paper rolls
Bean sprouts
English Cucumber, julienned with skin on
Romain lettuce, thickly shredded
1 bag carrots, peeled and julienned
1 bunch cilantro, washed dried and coarsely chopped
1 bunch mint, washed dried and coarsely chopped
1 bunch fresh Thai basil (or regular basil), washed dried and coarsely chopped
1 container of Extra Firm Tofu (prepared as per my earlier post Roasted Tofu Special Treat)

Lay out a clean dish dowl on the counter. Soak once rice paper roll in a bowl with warm water for 30 seconds, then remove and lay falt on the dish towel to rest for 30 seconds. Evenly distribute a medium pinch of lettuce, mint, basil, and cilantro in the middle of the square. Top with carrot, cucumber, bean sprouts and tofu – but don’t overfill! Make sure the ingredients are evenly distributed from one end to the other leaving a 1-inch border. Fold the left and right sides inward like a burrito, then fold bottom over and complete rolling the remaining half. I found that the rice paper rolls tend to stick to counter tops, so it was helpful to peel them off the dish towel and try to get a tighter roll. These can also be made a day ahead, just wrap in fridge and cover with a wet paper towel to keep moist overnight.

Also, for those that are following Weight Watchers these are only 2 points each. Can I get an “Oh yeah”

Roasted Tofu Special Treat

tofuMy spirited two a half year old Asher has a Vaudevillian sense of humor – he wears a top hat naked after bath time, turns anything into a drumstick, and falls over giggling when he hears the word “scotch tape.” Asher also constantly asks us for “special treats”.  But then the other day, just like that, he literally BEGGED me for raw tofu.

We’ve been eating roasted tofu for years, but when he saw me pull the extra firm tofu container out of the refrigerator he dropped his Stars Wars action figures and begged for some on a plate. Reverse physhology only made the experience more enjoyable. “No, Asher. You can’t have tofu.” “But I NEEEEEEEED tofu!” “Ok, you can have tofu. Just this once.” While I too enjoy the texture and flavor of raw tofu, most people in their right minds don’t. So here is a cheap, healthy, easy way to add flavor and protein to any dish. Tofu is usually on sale for $1.50 at our local grocery store so you can stick to your weekly food budget.

2 packages of extra firm tofu
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 tablespoon sriracha sauce (if you like a bit of a kick)
Juice from 1 lime

Remove tofu from packaging and gently squeeze the brick with your hands over the sink to immediatly get rid of some of its juices. Slice the tofu into 1/2 ” cubes. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum and spray with nonstick spray. Spread out the tofu on the baking sheet. Turn on the broiler and place the oven rack in the middle. In a small bowl, mix the remaining ingredients and then pour over tofu. Use your hands to ensure everything is mixed. Place baking sheet in oven and leave for 15 minutes, turning every 5 minutes. The extra water for the tofu will start to steam off during the process. For a crunchier tofu, leave in for an additional 5 minutes but keep your eye on it because it will burn!