No Need To Trade In Tasty For Healthy – A Lunch Idea To Prove It

No Need To Trade In Tasty For Healthy – A Lunch Idea To Prove It

As a professionally trained chef and certified holistic health coach specializing in a vegan diet, I’m particularly passionate about showcasing how it’s possible to keep both a nutritious and delicious healthy eating habit. I will admit, there was a point in my life when I competed in bodybuilding shows, that I was crazy enough to carry around tupperware containers of bland, cold, grey chicken or fish (yuck! Sorry chickens and fish!), sweet potatoes and cold green beans and think I was doing my body and spirit a favor.  On the outside I may have screamed “health! fit!” but seriously, nobody enjoys eating like that for a longer period of time. The outside has to reflect the inside, both when it comes to being physically and mentally fit.

Luckily, I quickly snapped out of that insanity, and got back to my roots… I’m a cook with an insatiable curiosity for flavors and different cuisines.  I love experimenting in the kitchen with whole foods, spices, herbs and ingredients. I want to entice my taste buds on a daily basis. That is what makes me happy. Life is too short to eat on autopilot, to consume boring, bland food and “punish” your body so you can look the way you think you should look.  I try to challenge myself regularly to come up with different dishes, and other times I get inspired by researching and coming across existing blogs and recipes that excite me.

The other day I decided to peruse Susan Voisin’s blog, Fat Free Vegan Kitchen, as I am in the process of trying to shed a few additional pounds I gained over the winter (not obsessing, no- just keeping it real), and would like to avoid cooking with a lot of ingredients high in fat, particularly oils. Susan is a master in coming up with delicious recipes that require very little to no oil, by just adding water to a pan when sauteing, and spices for additional flavor.  When I read her recipe for her Indian Samosa wraps, I knew I had to try them.  I am currently at home with a minor knee injury in the middle of the week, so particularly happy to be able to cook a delectable lunch for myself (sorry pups, too spicy for you – the only other companions I have during the day) and wanted to share the results with you!

If I could have added or changed something to this recipe, is perhaps a couple of handful of spinach or other dark, leafy green to make the wrap even more nutritious and colorful.  Regardless, this wrap lived up to all my expectations and left me satisfied throughout the afternoon and happy to be a vegan 🙂

samosawrap1

Samosa Wrap

1 pound Yukon  gold potatoes (about 2 medium)
1 pack extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed
1 medium Vidalia onion, minced
1 cup (236 ml) frozen green peas
1 medium tomato, diced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely diced (include some seeds for added heat)
1/2 – 3/4 cup water
salt to taste
1 tbsp curry powder
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
Freshly squeezed lemon juice from 1 lemon
6 whole-grain tortillas  (I used the Ezekiel brand)

samosawrapingredients

Cook the potatoes, unpeeled, in salted, boiling water until they’re tender (pierce easily with a fork). Remove from water and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, peel and cut into 1/4-inch pieces.

Cut tofu into 1/4-inch cubes.

Heat a deep non-stick skillet and add the onion. Cook on medium-high until onion begins to brown. Add peas, tomato, ginger, jalapeno pepper, and 2 tablespoons water. Cook, stirring, until peas thaw.

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Add potatoes and tofu to skillet along with 1/2 cup water, salt, curry powder, coriander, cumin, cayenne, and lemon juice.

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Simmer for about 10 minutes, until filling is firm and water has evaporated.  Season for more salt, pepper and lemon juice if needed.

Warm tortillas on an open flame stove to char them nicely on both sides.  Place 1/6 of filling in center of wrap, fold bottom edge up, and fold sides over filling.

 

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Cut in half and serve.  Delicious and nutritious!! No more take out- ever!!

samosawrap4

 

samosawrap2

Food Variety Key To Keep You on Track

Food Variety Key To Keep You on Track

I caught myself this week feeling a bit tired of my tried and true go-to lunches I typically prepare at home to bring to work. For those who know me, might find this incredible – as I always love to experiment with foods and pride myself on making at least two new dishes every week and add to my repertoire. But when days and weeks get hectic and time is of the essence, my creativity suffers and I end up with something lack-luster on my plate and not looking forward to eating. This is a common problem among many, whether you choose to make your own food or resort to buying prepared foods.

If we eat the same thing over and over (like I did for instance when I was on a traditional bodybuilding diet prepping for a show), our bodies will resist as we are depriving it of nutrients, and cravings kick in.  This is when we “fall off the wagon” and end up buried in a sea of Doritos, chocolate, tubs of ice cream or bottles of wine, whatever your “drug” of choice is.  So what can we do to avoid this?  Go to the grocery store and pick out at least one or two items you have never cooked with (or maybe never even heard of) before, and research how to prepare it.  This could be an exotic vegetable or fruit, or some type of ancient grain, spice or condiment that looks interesting.  Build your meal around it, and you’ll be surprised at how happy your taste buds will get! Your body will thank you, and you will discover you need to eat less to feel more satisfied. It’s a win win, and you’ll learn something new in the process.

foodvariety

Today I went through my cabinets, determined to cook something different, and I found a bag of teff which I had forgotten all about. Now, I’ve cooked with it before, but it has been a while, so I happily cut it open and started to create a meal.  Teff is a nutritious and versatile African cereal native to Ethiopia, about the size of a poppy seed, and come in a variety of colors.  It has been named by many the “new quinoa”, as it is rich in protein (26 grams per 1 cup uncooked),  calcium, thiamin and iron.   The iron from teff is easily absorbed by the body and is also very high in fiber, thought to benefit diabetics, as it helps to stabilize blood sugar.  Teff is also gluten free, hence a great choice for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities.  Due to is energy enhancing properties and rich nutritional profile, it is also popular among athletes.

So how is teff used? It’s known as the main ingredient in the Ehtiopian sourdough flatbread “injera”, but can also be used as a thickener in soups, gravies and stews.  I also like to make a porridge out of it and eat it for breakfast, in place of the old favorite, oatmeal.

Today I chose to make a stew out of teff, and I largely used the recipe on the package, with a few additions.  Can’t wait to bring it with me to work and have it for lunch!

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I’ve included the recipe below – it’s highly satisfying, high in protein, nutrients and low in fat – just like I enjoy my meals. I hope you will try it, and as always – if you have any questions or need help with coming up with ideas for plant based recipes to include in your diet, please let me know in the comment section!

TEFF STEW  (vegan and gluten free)

1 tbsp olive oil

1 Vidalia onion, chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 orange bell pepper, chopped

1 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp ground allspice

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp berbere

salt and pepper to taste

4 cups vegetable stock

1 cup teff

2 cups cauliflower florets, chopped up

2 cups broccoli florets, chopped up

1 x 15 oz canned tomatoes, chopped up

2 cups canned (or pre-cooked) black beans (or chickpeas)

1 cup frozen peas, thawed

1 cup organic frozen corn, thawed

juice from one lemon

handful fresh cilantro and mint, chopped up

In a large pan, heat up the olive oil over medium-high heat and add onion, pepper and garlic and a drizzle of kosher salt,  saute for about 5 minutes until onion mixture starts to soften up.  Add spices and lower heat, cook for about 1 minute, then add teff and cook for another 2 minutes until spices are soaked up into the teff. Add the vegetable stock, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook for 15 minutes.

Add the broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes and cook for another 10-15 minutes.  Add the beans, peas, corn, cilantro, mint and lemon juice, stir until combined and heated through.   Taste to with salt and pepper and serve.

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A Falafel To Beat Any Burgers Out There!

A Falafel To Beat Any Burgers Out There!

Being born in Norway in the 70s, luckily I was never raised on hamburgers or fast food, so never really acquired a taste for them.  That does not mean I wasn’t guilty of ordering high fat, sloppy burgers when I arrived to this country and before I turned vegan. But I remember really looking more forward to the French fries than the actual burger…. guess I’ve always been a closeted vegan!

Now that my diet is free of animal products, I’m always in search for hearty meals that does not have to come with artery clogging, saturated fat, or loaded with sugar and salt, but rather are packed with flavor and has a great texture.  A true “cheat meal” without leaving me feeling stuffed and awful afterwards. Enter the falafel….. When I order them at restaurants, I always ask if they make them with eggs (you’d be surprised how many people think you “need” eggs in recipes, not so!) just to make sure they are 100% plant based.   Check this awesome chart for great ideas to what you can use in place of chicken periods… I mean, eggs:

egg_replacements

More times than not, however, I get disappointed when I bite in to falafels when eating out, as they are either flavorless or have a mushy texture (I’m all about texture in food).  A recent trip to my neighborhood pub, however, left me really positively surprised, as they had a ton of flavorful spices and were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. This inspired me to come up with a home made version that I can make whenever I want, and am happy to report I found a wonderful recipe that I tweaked a little to make it my own.  The wonderful thing about falafels is that you can save them for days afterwards, make a big batch, and crumble them into stews, salads, in a variety of sandwiches and wraps or as a topping in soups. These are low in fat, as they are baked but give you soooo much satisfaction on the lips!  Hope you will try them out this weekend!

As always, please comment below if you are looking for help with transitioning to a plant based diet, I’m here to help with any questions and guidance and am happy to show you how healthy, tasty and exciting this lifestyle is!

HERBED FALAFELS (vegan and gluten free)

  • 2 1/2 cups chickpeas (canned is fine, just rinse them well) plus 1/2 cup chickpeas, divided
  • 4 large garlic cloves
  • 3/4 cup sweet onion, roughly chopped
  • fresh lemon juice from one lemon
  • 2 tbsp tahini
  • 1 1/2 tbsp brown rice flour
  • 1/4 cup packed fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 cup packed fresh dill
  • 1/4 cup packed fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup ground flax
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder or cayenne, optional
  • 1-2 tsp sea or kosher salt or to taste
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Add  the 2 1/2 cups of chickpeas, garlic, onion, fresh lemon juice, tahini and fresh herbs in a food processor. Process until just combined, being careful not to over-process. You want to leave texture.

Scoop the mixture into a large bowl. Stir in the ground flax, rice flour, cumin, coriander. optional chili powder/cayenne, reserved 1/2 cup of chickpeas, and salt and pepper to taste. Shape into patties, about 1/4 cup each and really pack the dough in tightly so it holds together.  Place the sesame seed on a plate and roll the falafel patties in the sesame seeds and place them on a greased / dressed baking sheet (You can use parchment or foil), and bake in oven for about 30 minutes until golden on top (turn them half way through).

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Serve with whole wheat pita bread (optional if you’re watching your carb intake) and a salad of chopped tomato, red onion, cucumbers, falafel, and  Lemon Tahini Dressing (recipe below).

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herbedfalafel

Lemon Tahini Dressing

  • 1/4 cup Tahini
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • juice from two large lemons
  • 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp kosher salt + freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
  • 3 tbsp water, or as needed

Combine everything in a food processor and process until smooth.

Add Some Spice To Your Life… and Food!

Add Some Spice To Your Life… and Food!

One of my secret weapons in creating tasty, plant based recipes is using heaps of fresh, exotic spices. I was telling my husband the other day while we were cooking (and who is also a chef), I’m always surprised at how underutilized spices are in most people’s cooking. I’m not talking about onion powder, dried thyme and garlic – these are fine, but it seems as if people limit themselves to the ‘tried and true’ sometimes, and don’t dare to go outside their comfort zones with spices and herbs they have not heard of or previously tried.  A stir fry of broccoli, onion and carrots can all of a sudden turn into a star dish by just throwing in some new flavors. I encourage you all to experiment with a spice you think sound exciting in your next meal!

spices

My favorite outing in Manhattan is Kalustyan’s – the (not so little anymore) spice store in Murray Hill where they carry every spice, condiment and international food you can think of.  I was first introduced to this store when I was a culinary student at the Institute for Culinary Education in New York, and had to make trips over there as a stage (a work-study student) to help fill our pantry for the chefs and classrooms.  I always loved the smell of curries from the neighboring restaurants and walking through the streets always took me somewhere else and encouraged my creativity when cooking.

kalustyans

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Curries are some of my favorite dishes to make, they are easy but can be so different in flavor, texture and heat that I feel I could spend a lifetime just experimenting with this particular dish. The other night I made a wonderful chickpea and sweet potato curry that I had to share with you all… Invest in the spices and produce listed, as they make all the difference.  The best thing about spices and flavorful dishes such as this is that minimal amounts of fat are needed, so are not heavy to digest but rather give you energy and a burst of happiness with every bite!

CHICKPEA AND SWEET POTATO CURRY (vegan, gluten free)

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 3 tbsp Thai yellow curry paste (vegetarian)
  • 2 sweet (Vidalia) onions, finely chopped
  • 3 large stalks lemongrass, bashed with the back of a knife
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 1 tbsp mustard seed
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed into 1 inch cubes
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1x 15 oz can reduced-fat coconut milk
  • 1 large can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 limes
  • large handful mint and cilantro leaves
  • 1 cup brown basmati rice, cooked
  • naan bread, to serve (optional)
  1. Heat the oil in a sauté pan, then gently fry the curry paste with the onions, lemongrass, cardamom and mustard seed for 2-3 mins until fragrant. Stir the sweet potatoes into the pan and coat in the paste, then pour in the stock and coconut milk. Bring everything to a simmer, add the chickpeas, then cook for about 10 mins until the sweet potatoes are tender. (The curry can now be cooled and frozen for up to 1 month).
  2. Squeeze the juice of one lime into the curry, then cut the other lime into wedges to serve alongside. Just before serving, scoop some rice into a serving bowl, pour over the curry and tear over mint and cilantro leaves, then bring to the table with the lime wedges and warm naan breads.

Currychickpea

Protein on a Vegan Diet

The amount of protein you need in your diet depends a lot on your body weight and what activities you do.  More protein is not necessarily better. Americans in general eat far more protein than we need each day.The RDA for protein is .8 grams per kilogram of body weight. So, if you weigh 140 pounds, you’d need 51 grams of protein per day (140 pounds = 63.5 kg, and 63.5 X .8 = 50.8).
This might be higher if you are incorporating a vigorous weightlifting routine into your schedule, but regardless, it is not only possible, but easy to get enough protein on a daily basis while following a vegan (or plant based) diet!

Gorillaprotein

Protein is made up of amino acids, often described as its building blocks. We actually have a biological requirement for amino acids, not for protein. Humans cannot make nine of the twenty common amino acids, so these amino acids are considered to be essential. In other words, we must get these amino acids from our diets. We need all nine of these amino acids for our body to make protein.  Eating a variety of unrefined grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, and vegetables throughout the day will make sure we get everything we need, so if one food is low in a particular essential amino acid, another food will make up this deficit.  A strict protein combination is not necessary, it is more important to eat a varied diet throughout the day, and it is here that many, who have attempted a vegan diet, have failed, and often come to their own conclusion that they got “tired or anemic” or experienced some other type of deficiency when trying to adopt a plant based diet.

veganfoodpyramid

Nearly all vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds contain some, and often a lot, of protein. Fruits, sugars, fats, and alcohol however,  do not provide much protein (or nutrients for that matter) at all, so a diet based only on these foods would have a good chance of deficient in protein (Hence, there are a lot of “unhealthy” vegans out there who live on candy, beer and bread alone… not a good idea). Vegans eating a varied diet containing vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds rarely have any difficulty getting enough protein as long as their diet contains enough energy (calories) to maintain weight.  (source: The Vegetarian Resource Group). Most plant based foods are in general less calorie dense so eating enough is very important. Luckily I don’t have a problem in that area, as I generally have a huge appetite, which follows my active lifestyle.

So how do we combine a meal to ensure we get enough protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals? Here’s is a recipe that will get you well on your way.  This Moroccan vegetable stew, when served with quinoa, is packed full of full of protein. For example 100 grams of quinoa contains 14 grams of protein. Add to that the chickpeas (19 grams of protein in 100 grams of chickpeas) and this is a perfect dish after a tough workout, for example – when you need to fill up on carbs.  Who’s lacking protein now??

FLAVOR- PACKED MOROCCAN VEGETABLE STEW

Adapted from joyofyum.com

Serves 4
Time : 1½ hours

1 medium onion, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 small carrots, peeled and chopped into ½” pieces
3 small potatoes, chopped into ½” pieces
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped into ½” pieces
1 small eggplant, chopped into ½” pieces, seasoned generously with salt and let sit for 30 minutes to let water out
1 can (14½ oz) diced tomatoes, or more /to taste
3 cups water
3 veggie stock cubes
1 can (14½ oz) chickpeas
½ cup dried apricots, cut into quarters
Salt and pepper
2 handfuls fresh cilantro, washed and roughly chopped

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water

Directions

1. Place the onions and garlic in a large saucepan with a little good quality olive oil over medium heat and saute until translucent.

2. Add the spices and cook, stirring frequently until fragrant. Add a little water if the mixture is too dry.

3. Add the apricots, carrots, sweet potatoes, eggplant and potatoes to the pot and cook for 5 minutes. Stir now and again.

4. Crumble the stock cubes into the pot and then add the water and the can of tomatoes. The vegetables should be covered by the liquid.

5. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 50 minutes to one hour.

6. Rinse the chickpeas and add them to the pan. Heat the Moroccan vegetable stew until the chickpeas are warmed through.

7. While the Moroccan vegetable stew is cooking rinse the quinoa in a sieve under cold running water. Place in a pan and cover with 2 cups of water. Bring to the boil and then simmer gently until all the water is absorbed. It is just fine to let the quinoa stand, covered, in the pan for up to 15 minutes. Fluff it up with a fork before serving.

8. Serve with the quinoa and sprinkle with chopped cilantro (fresh coriander) and dukkah.

moroccanvegetablestew

Dukkah Spice Mix

Dukkah is an Egyptian spice mix, that typically consists of toasted spices, nuts, seeds and sometimes fresh herbs. You cn sprinkle this on most any dishes like salads, soups, stews, tofu, tempeh for a flavor packed meal.  This makes a batch you can use for many meals. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

Ingredients

½ cup coriander seeds
¼ cup cumin seeds
½ cup sesame seeds
½ cup pistachios or hazelnuts
½ teaspoon salt
Good grind or two of black pepper

What to do

1. Place the coriander, cumin and sesame seeds into a heavy bottomed skillet (frying pan) and set over a high heat. Keep moving the seeds around in the pan to prevent burning. When a delicious fragrance floats up from the pan, tip the seeds onto a plate to cool.

2. Add the pistachios to the pan and toast them over the high heat.

3. Now put all the ingredients into the goblet of a blender (Vitamix) or food processor and whizz for a few seconds. This is just to combine and chop the nuts and seeds a little. Take care not to pulverize the ingredients.

4. Store in an airtight glass jar.

Dukkaspicemix2

 

dukkahspicemix1

Oil Or No Oil? That Is The Question. Plus Two Delicious Salad Dressing Recipes.

Tired of the same old balsamic dressing or just a drizzle of lemon juice on your greens? Me too!  I am constantly looking for variety in my dressings, but most recipes I’ve seen include a ton of oil, and I don’t want to add a lot of oils to my salad. It sort of defeats the purpose of a healthy meal and doesn’t taste as fresh as I want it to.  Simultaneously, I want my salads or buddha bowls to taste flavorful and satisfying every time I make one. My favorite thing is to just throw a lot of vegetables, tofu or tempeh I have in my fridge, and/or add some grains, beans or lentils from my pantry in to a bowl and make a delicious dressing to drizzle over it, and my meal is complete. It’s cheap, quick and very satisfying. I will spend a few hours on Sunday afternoon/evening cooking a bunch of ingredients for the week so they can quickly be combined in tupperware containers to go.

So do I use any oil at all in my diet? Yes and no. Vegetable oils, particularly, I stay clear of (which are not made from “vegetables” at all).  I am referring to processed seed oils like soybean oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, safflower oil and a few others. They typically contain a large amount of trans fats, and can contribute to inflammation and cardiovascular disease. I will go more into detail of the negative aspects of vegetable oil in a later blog post.

oil

I am not saying that all oil is bad.  Really high quality extra virgin olive oil can be great, as is coconut oil, and I use these sparingly in my food.  Coconut oil has in fact proved to be quite good for health.  Medium chained fats, like those found in coconut oils, are promoted for their ability to increase energy expenditure and to improve appetite satisfaction—resulting in weight loss. That being said, with everything else I eat that sometimes also contain fat, I try to monitor my intake on a regular basis.   If you want to read more about oils you should definitely avoid, check out Food Babe’s great article here.

Back to my dressings! Yesterday morning before heading into work, I made a carrot-ginger-cumin dressing which has a Moroccan spice accent, as well as a creamy avocado-lemon-parsley dressing. I love the bright colors, but most of all I loved how they came out! Oil was not missed at all.  Flavor packed and SO fresh – any bottled dressing don’t stand a chance next to these, I guarantee it!  Both were inspired by several amazing vegan websites I follow, and I added a personal touch to them. You can play around with what you put in, but hopefully this will give you some great ideas for your next salad.

You can add a little less water to these dressings and use them as dips – both options taste awesome!

North African Oil Free Dressing

Adapted from Dreena Burton’s Plant Powered Kitchen

1 cup raw carrot, cut in discs or small chunks (roughly 4 – 4 1/2 oz.)

1/3 cup raw cashews

2 – 2 ½ tsp apple cider vinegar or coconut vinegar

1 small clove garlic (or ½ medium clove)

½ – 1 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

1/8 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp ground coriander

¼ tsp ground fennel

kosher salt and black pepper to taste

About 1 cup water

Using a high powered blender, puree all the ingredients  Taste and add extra vinegar if you wish, and season with additional salt and pepper, if desired. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.

Avocado-Lemon-Parsley Dressing

Adapted from mindbodygreen.com

  • 1 large avocado ripened (skin and pit removed)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 small clove fresh garlic
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp  agave or maple syrup
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Place all ingredients except  water in the bowl of a food processor or a high-speed blender. With the blade running, slowly add the water. Puree until smooth.  If you don’t mind oil, you can also include either extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil in here (about 1 tbsp) for an ever thicker and creamier version, but it really does not need it!

oilfreedressings

Meal Planning: The Key to a Happy and Fit Tummy

Being an avid gym goer in small, local gym, I naturally come across the same people over and over again day in and day out. Some people seem like they are working so hard, and they diligently show up every single day, yet their bodies stay the same. Some stay overweight, while others don’t seem to be changing their body composition at all.  What could be the reason? Certainly not their commitment to exercise. So what else is left in the equation? Diet of course.  What goes on in the kitchen and what you put into your body is vital for any progress you want to make.

Eating a delicious salad or a nutritious, warming soup tastes good to most people, it’s not like everyone is craving fries every single day, but the problem is most people fail to prepare for eating healthy. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail, as the saying goes. When you are in the middle of your day and hunger sets in, either at work, or running around doing errands, picking up kids, doing laundry, or traveling for business – and you don’t have anything in front of you to eat, chances are most of us will just pick the nearest and easiest option, which more often than not is not an ideal choice.

The solution? Pick a time during the week when you have one or two hours free (yes, you can find it- no excuses! We all spend a little too much time on social media and in front of the TV) and spend it preparing meals for the next 3 days or so.  When you’re running out the door in the morning on your way to work or a meeting, all you have to do is reach into the fridge and pick a pre-prepared meal, drop it in your bag and go. A delicious lunch waits for you later in the day, that YOU have prepared, you know which ingredients are in it, and you can better track what you are eating.  The work will be worth it – and your body will thank you for it later.

This morning I prepared a ‘buddha bowl’ like salad with fresh vegetables I purchased over the weekend. I typically buy whatever looks good at the market, and I like to buy produce that’s in season; it’s when they taste the best and are cheapest.  Then I build my recipes around what I have in my fridge and pantry. Being a chef, I have learned to combine flavors and textures that excite the taste buds and it’s always fun to come up with a new dish.

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Today I pre-cooked some beautiful organic green lentils and quinoa and topped the salad with a 1/2 cup each , and gave it a sprinkling of some hemp seeds and pepita seeds, and boom – I had a tasty, colorful, protein-packed and super satisfying lunch that would kick any take-out to the curb, both nutritionally and flavor wise.  This gives me energy throughout the day, and doesn’t leave me uncomfortably full and drowsy like many store bought prepared meals typically do.

I’ve included the recipe for what I made below – you can choose the raw’nch dressing or make your own version.  A simple extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, fresh herbs, salt and pepper would probably taste really nice too, but I love the flavor of this dressing.  You can of course add any vegetable of your liking in the salad and top it with any nuts or seeds you have in your pantry at the moment. Use your imagination and start experimenting!

WEDNESDAY LUNCH IN A BOWL

1 head romain lettuce

2-3 cups baby spinach leaves

1/2 red bell pepper, sliced thin

1 carrot, peeled and sliced thin

1-2 celery stalks, diced thin

1/2 cup cucumbers, diced

1/2 cup roasted butternut squash in the oven (diced small, I sprinkled salt, smoked paprika and fresh rosemary on top and roasted it for about 25-30 minutes on 375F)

1/2 cup green lentils, cooked

1/2 cup quinoa, cooked

2 tbsp hemp seeds, hulled

2 tbsp pepita seeds

Mix all the greens and veggies in a large tupperware container and top with butternut squash, lentils, quinoa and sprinkle with hemp seeds and pepita seeds. Seal and go!

buddhabowljan15

RAW’NCH DRESSING

Adapted from “Let Them Eat Vegan” by Dreena Burton

To make it entirely raw, omit the Dijon mustard and replace the red wine vinegar with lemon juice or apple cider vinegar.)

½ cup raw cashews

2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 ½ tsp red wine vinegar (gives more flavor, but can use more lemon juice or apple cider vinegar for a raw version)

1 tbsp raw tahini

¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

2 tsp fresh chives, chopped

1/8 tsp garlic powder or to taste

1/8 tsp onion powder or to taste

¼ tsp Dijon mustard (omit for raw version)

1/2 tsp (scant) sea salt

1/8 tsp freshly black pepper to taste

1 tsp raw agave nectar or coconut nectar (adjust to taste)

1/2 cup water or non-dairy milk (or more to thin as desired)

Using a blender (I love my Vitamix) or an immersion blender and deep cup or jar, puree all the ingredients until very smooth (it will take a couple of minutes). If you want to thin the dressing more, add water to your preferred consistency. This dressing will thicken some after refrigeration. You can thin it out by stirring in a few teaspoons of water, or keep it thick and use it as a dip for raw veggies.  Makes about 1 ¼ cups.

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Subs and Adds: Try 2 tablespoons of fresh dill to replace some or all of the parsley.

Butternut Squash Soup: A Healthy Comfort Food

Just because I want to stay fit and healthy, doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy rich, creamy soups. I’ve got the perfect recipe for you that you can make quickly and easily and that is sure to make your taste buds dance! I’ve always been fond of root vegetables, growing up in Norway we had them in abundance because they were some of the few things that would thrive in a cold climate. From beets and potatoes to turnips and kohlrabi – I have fond memories of them all and so happy to have learned they also provide tons of nutritional benefits.   My body also loves carbohydrates and I find when eating these starchy vegetables, I thrive much better than when I eat bread, pasta or other more refined sources of carbs.

What we didn’t really have in Norway was butternut squash, so imagine my delight when I discovered that glorious orange food in my new adopted homeland of the United States…

butternut-squashButternut squash is one of the richest sources of plant based anti-inflammatory nutrients such as omega 3s and beta-carotene, which are important for a strong immune system to help protect against colds and flu.  It is also an important anti-oxidant and provides a good amount of vitamin C, dietary fiber, vitamin B6, manganese, and copper as well as a good source of potassium, vitamin B2, folate, vitamin K, pantothenic acid, magnesium, and niacin.

The seeds from butternut squash makes a great, nutritious snack as well, much like pumpkin seeds- just wash them and dry them, and roast in oven with a sprinkle of salt.  Sprinkle on oatmeal, salads or just eat them on their own… delicious!

While there are several ways to prepare butternut squash, one of my favorite ways is to make a silky, creamy soup. It warms me up during cold winter days and also fills me up with less calories. Try the below recipe for a nice twist on the traditional soup. Having a good blender is important in this process – I’m lucky to be the owner of a Vitamix and so the pureeing is done in no time. You can also use a stick blender. I chose to add some chickpeas for added protein to my soup, but you can use any beans or protein of your liking to the soup to make it more hearty.

This is a perfect soup to make in big batches on a Sunday afternoon and you can portion it out and bring to work as lunch or heat up for dinner during busy weekdays. The soup also freezes beautifully.

FLAVORFUL BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP

1 large butternut squash, divided in half lengthwise, seeds scooped out

2-3 stems of fresh rosemary, thyme or sage (or all of them)

extra virgin olive oil to taste

1 tbsp cooconut oil

1 medium Vidalia (Sweet) onion, peeled and diced

3-4 cloves of garlic, smashed and peel removed

1 x 2 inch know of fresh ginger, minced

1 x 15 oz can organic coconut milk

1 x 15 oz can organic chickpeas (or soak and cook your own dried beans – about 2 cups)

1 small bunch fresh cilantro

4 cups organic vegetable stock (or more/less depending on how thick you want your soup)

salt, pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400F.   Prepare a sheet tray with tin foil.  Place the fresh herbs in the cavity of the two butternut squash halves, sprinkle with extra virgin olive oil (I use about 1 tbsp), and season generously with Kosher salt. Place cut side down on the sheet tray and place in oven on middle rack and roast for about 1 hour or until soft to the touch.

Meanwhile, heat up vegetable stock in a pot and steep the fresh cilantro in the stock.

Heat the coconut oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat, add onions and garlic and season withs alt. Saute for about 10 minutes or until soft.  Set aside.

When butternut squash is ready, let cool for just a little bit until cool enough to handle.  Scoop the flesh out of the skin and chop up into big chunks, and discard herbs in cavity. Remove cilantro bunch from the vegetable stock and discard.  In a blender, in batches, add some butternut squash and the onion -garlic mix along with the fresh ginger and a couple of ladles of the vegetable stock and puree. Add the batches to a soup pot until all done.  Heat the butternut soup gently over medium-low heat and add the coconut milk and chickpeas and combine and mix well until heated through.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with fresh cilantro.

butternutchickpeasoup

Flavor In A Bowl

Once (or sometimes twice) a week I cook a meal for my husband and I where I pretty much make whatever I want and feel like. I don’t count calories, fat, carbs or protein – just a “cheat meal” if you will (although I sort of hate to call it that because I like to think I don’t really restrict my food), where we can both enjoy a nice, flavorful dish.  Life is to be enjoyed, and I certainly love good food, and I take pleasure in preparing and cooking my food as well.  I find cooking therapeutical, being in the kitchen on a Sunday afternoon, handling multiple bowls of food while sipping on a glass of wine, with my favorite cheesy TV show in the background, while the dogs are sleeping in the living room and my hubby doing other chores in the garden or around the house.

Mark (my husband) is not vegan but when I cook, he happily eats anything I make, which is great, otherwise he would go hungry! hahaha… I must brag, that a few times he has been really surprised at how tasty my dishes turn out, and has asked for the recipe, such as my cashew cheese and a bean dish I made for myself for lunch one day.  Maybe one day they will end up on the menu at the restaurant where he is the Chef de Cuisine. we can only hope 🙂

On Sunday I made a lovely Pad Thai packed with flavor, inspired by one of my favorite vegan blogs, Vegan Richa. Try it out – it may look like a lot of work, but once the veggies are chopped and everything is mise-en-place’d (French for “put in place”, or measured out and ready to be added to the pot) the dish comes together in 10 minutes!  This is guaranteed much lower in fat, sodium and sugar than the version you will order in from your local take-out …. Use any Asian noodles you may have, I like rice vermicelli, they are thin and light and not too filling.  The rest of the ingredients, such as tamarind and samba olek you can find in Asian grocery stores, online or even sometimes in your own regular super – or gourmet market.  Bon appetit!

Delicious Vegan Pad Thai

Serves 4

1/4 cup reduced-sodium tamari
fresh juice from one big lime
1 teaspoon tamarind paste mixed with 2 tablespoons water or 1 tbsp tamarind chutney
1/4 cup organic coconut sugar
8 ounces rice noodles
4 tablespoons grapeseed or sunflower oil, divided
1 pound soft or firm tofu, drained, patted dry, and crumbled
1 rounded tablespoon nutritional yeast
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
Salt to taste
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms,  cleaned and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 large carrot, shredded
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 tbsp Sambal Olek  (Thai red chili paste)
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch slices
3 cups tightly packed fresh spinach
2 cups fresh bean sprouts
1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts
Cilantro leaves and lime wedges, to garnish

Salt and more lime juice to taste

Directions:

1. In a small bowl, combine the tamari, lime juice, tamarind, and sugar. Mix well and set aside.
2. Cook the noodles in a large pot of boiling water until just al dente, about 3 minutes. Do not overcook, these babies cook fast! Drain the noodles, toss with 1 tablespoon of the oil, and set aside. (add more oil if the noodles stick together)
3. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in the tofu, nutritional yeast, and turmeric. Cook, stirring, until the tofu is dry, about 5-8 minutes. Transfer the tofu to a bowl, season to taste with salt, and set aside.
4. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in the same skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and carrots and cook, stirring, until the mushrooms begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, chili paste, and bell pepper, and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds.
5. Add the noodles, spinach, bean sprouts, peanuts, reserved sauce, and reserved tofu. Cook, stirring, until the noodles are tender but not overcooked, the sauce has been absorbed, and everything is heated through. Serve hot garnished with cilantro and lime wedges.

padthaivegan

Creative In The Kitchen

Many of my non-vegan weight lifting friends constantly ask me and show curiosity about what I eat now that I no longer include meat, fish, eggs or dairy in my diet. After all, what else is there right? (sic)  Most traditional bodybuilder’s diets consist of egg whites, tilapia (yuck), chicken and non fat cottage cheese and/or Greek Yogurt, and not much else. I’m not trying to make fun, I was once that person, and had 4-5 portions of the same exact, bland meal in my bag every day, trying to convince myself that this really was a diet worth keeping.  While it may have given me a six pack for a short while, I completely lost my creativity in the kitchen, and as a chef and food lover,  I found the lack of interest to be inventive to be quite depressing. Food was just something that needed to “happen”, every 2-3 hours, to keep the “metabolism going” (another unfortunate wives’ tale), a necessary evil, if you will. You hold your breath for 12 weeks or however long it takes you to get into stage shape, and then you celebrate post-show with any crappy, processed foods you could think of. What a nice cycle, right?

After I turned to a vegan diet, I realized there are no good or bad food groups – I have plenty to choose from in protein and carbohydrates and I even get to include fats in a variety of forms (oils, nuts, seeds and fruits)!  As a result of eating whole, unprocessed foods with a big emphasis on fresh vegetables, my taste buds have exploded and I find myself with less and less cravings of any particular foods, especially sweets.  Every meal is nutritious AND delicious, just like the commercial 🙂 The revelation that I don’t have to “suffer” to eat bland foods but I can spice it up, add new fruits and vegetables, grains and legumes I’ve not tried before, every single day without my waistline expanding – is amazing! Don’t get me wrong, I still calculate my  macro nutrients to make sure I stay within my range for what my goals are (and the diet will be different depending on what I’m trying to achieve) but the parameters seem much wider and more importantly: I have gotten the desire back to cook and experiment!

Vegans are perhaps some of the most creative cooks I’ve come across ever, I am constantly baffled by recipes and the depth of flavor I get from them when I try them out. I wanted to share a recipe for a protein packed, amazingly tasty Moroccan-spiced lentil and sweet potato stew that I made last night… I added some extra vegetables in for added nutrients…  Try this out and your tummy and entire body will thank you!

MOROCCAN-SPICED LENTIL AND SWEET POTATO STEW (Vegan, Gluten-Free)

2 tbsp coconut oil

3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into small cubes

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

1 cup dry green or red lentils, rinsed, and picked over

1 apple, peeled, cored and diced

3 garlic cloves, crushed and roughly chopped

1 Vidalia (sweet) onion, chopped finely

24 oz organic Vegetable Broth

1 tbsp sweet curry

1 tbsp ground coriander

1 tbsp ground cumin

2 tsp cinnamon

1 x 2 inch fresh ginger knob, peeled and minced

1 x 15 oz organic can chopped tomatoes

2 cups coconut milk

1 large bunch of kale, stems removed, shredded

2 tbsp sherry vinegar

Nutritional yeast (optional)

Directions:

In a large stock pot, heat the coconut oil over medium high heat and saute the onions, ginger and garlic for a few minutes, until softened.  Add the sweet potatoes and carrots along with the spices, stir well and cook for 1 minutes or so to allow for the spices to infuse.  Season with salt. Add the lentils to the pot, stir, then add the vegetable broth, chopped tomatoes and coconut milk. Bring to a light boil, quickly turn it down and let the stew simmer for about 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Add in the chopped kale and the sherry vinegar and cook for another 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and season with salt and nutritional yeast (optional).  Makes enough for several meals and you can also freeze this – enjoy!!

 

Moroccan-spiced Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup