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.

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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!

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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!

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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.