Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Rice Bowls
I'm indebted to Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks for inspiring me to use grains, veggies, nuts and seeds to produce a bowl filled with satisfying sustenance. Over the years, the unique combinations of grain based meals that Heidi has posted have spurred me on to try combinations of my own. Some, certainly, more successful than others, but all good. A light lacing of sauce is key to providing an interesting element that ties the various ingredients together.
The top image combines sautéed mushrooms and spinach with mahogany rice. The sauce is hoisin based. Topping the bowl with slivered almonds adds crunch, flavor and more nutrition.

This second image adds freshly cooked yellow squash to the leftovers, creating another meal with a bit of a twist. The idea is to start with a nutritious grain—not white rice—add some steamed or stir fried veggies, drizzle with an interesting sauce, then top with nuts or seeds to complement the dish.

I love using different ethnic flavors in grain bowls: Asian, Italian, Mexican, Indian. By using different combinations of herbs, spices and condiments it's easy to come up with a variety of options.

Tip: cook extra when preparing grains. They freeze well or just tuck away in the fridge for a quick meal another day.

Simple dishes like these, easy to prepare, loaded with fresh vegetables, make meal time fast and fun. The secret to elevating them from a blah bowlful, is to drizzle with an interesting sauce.

Hoisin Sauce
recipe may be doubled - as it keeps well.
1/2 cup Hoisin sauce
2 TBS rice wine vinegar
1 TBS chili paste
3 TBS finely minced sweet onion

Place all ingredients in small bowl and whisk with fork until well combined. Store covered in fridge. (I store in small jars to save space.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Light Lunch
Quickly filling a plate with goodies from the fridge is one of the big benefits of having leftovers.
This luncheon plate features a big, ripe tomato surrounded by stuffed mushrooms, pickled beets, faux feta cheese, Kalamata olives and a few sprouts.

The beets were roasted off on a day when I had the oven on to bake whole wheat pita, then when they'd cooled off, sliced and sprinkled with apple cider vinegar and a bit of salt and pepper. Kept covered in the fridge, the beets are a healthy addition to any salad as well as a colorful, full-flavored component for a composed salad plate like the one shown.

The beets are super, too, tucked in a pita pocket with tomato, avocado and sprouts — another luncheon favorite.
Keeping a well stocked pantry and fridge is the best route to 'fast food' you can take.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Almond Milk, Cashew Cream & Faux Feta Cheese

Finding suitable substitutes for dairy products has been one of the biggest challenges I've had as I transitioned to a vegan lifestyle with mostly raw food. And from all the reading and research I've done, I realized that shedding my addiction to cheese was one of the most important steps I could take toward achieving vibrant health.

I've long been a fan of almond milk. I started making it back in the late '80's thanks to Harvey and Marilyn Diamond and their Fit For Life program. Switching to almond milk was easy. I rarely used cow's milk other than to pour over cereal occasionally, or as called for in baked goods.

Heavy cream usually made an appearance in my kitchen around holiday meals and special occasions. But in the summer time, with fresh berries in abundance, sweet, whipped cream is the perfect complement to juicy berries. Cashew cream has produced a fine substitute.

Recently, I've begun experimenting with finding cheese substitutes. After reading some interesting suggestions, my first attempt at faux feta, produced this zippy cheese-like spread that was a fine accompaniment to some ak-nak crackers and a crisp, cool glass of sauvignon blanc. The base for the cheese is the left-over pulp from making the almond milk, how convenient and frugal that turned out to be.

As adults, we should have been weaned ages ago. Mother's milk was intended to get us up and growing for the first couple of years after birth. Once we moved on to whole foods that should have been the end of our milk experience. Why we all switched to making animal body fluids part of our daily diet is a marketing masterpiece, isn't it? Kicking the addiction isn't easy, but it can be done, and finding substitutes or replacements can be not only interesting but lots of fun.

I'm eager to try my hand at cheese making again soon. Yet, much like the real thing, milk, cream and cheese substitutes are not low calorie items and should be treated as transition foods, used occasionally and sparingly.

There are many instructions available for making nut milks. The proportion of nuts to water, additions for flavor or sweetening, and methods of preparing the milk may vary a bit. This is what I've finally settled on for making an everyday almond milk that's quite versatile.

Almond Milk

Makes 3 cups - may be doubled easily.

Soak 1/2 cup raw almonds overnight.
Drain and then rinse thoroughly
Place almonds in blender container with 1 1/2 cups of filtered water.
If using a high-powered blender - blend until completely smooth.
If using a regular blender, purée until nuts are pulverized as small as possible.

Either way, I like to strain the nut milk through a nut milk bag (may be purchased online) or through a fine sieve or through layers of cheesecloth. Though puréeing is not necessary if using a high speed blender. Having the residue (almond pulp) is great for other uses: dehydrated cookies/crackers, pâtés or faux cheese.

Rinse out the blender container, put the strained nut milk back into the blender with another 1 1/2 cups of filtered water, a teaspoon of agave, 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla and a pinch of salt. Blend to mix well.
Pour into a covered container and refrigerate.
The milk keeps well for 3-5 days in a cold refrigerator. The saved pulp freezes well.

Cashew Cream
(adapted from The Conscious Cook)

1 cup raw whole cashews soaked overnight, then rinsed under cold water.

Drain the cashews, place in the blender with enough filtered cold water to just cover them.
Blend on high until very smooth. If you are not using a high speed blender, you may have to add a bit more water, and you'll want to strain the cashew cream through a fine sieve.
Save the water that drains out and add it to your almond milk for a rich creamy result.

To sweeten the cream for desserts add:
1/4 cup of light agave (or to taste)
1/2 tsp vanilla
Blend again to incorporate. Chill and serve as you would whipped heavy cream. This sets up even more if chilled for several hours.

Almond Feta Cheese
(adapted from Vegetarian Times - April 2009)

1 cup raw almonds, soaked overnight, drained and rinsed well.*
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 TBS olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 tsp salt

* If using almond pulp proceed from here.

Purée almonds, or almond pulp, with remaining ingredients in a food processor for 5 - 6 minutes, scraping down as necessary, until very smooth and creamy. Add a few drops of water if needed.

Place a strainer over a bowl and line with a triple layer of cheesecloth (unless you are fortunate to have a little gadget made to drain yogurt). Spoon the almond mixture into the cheesecloth. Bring corners and sides of cloth together, and twist around cheese, forming into a ball, squeezing gently to remove excess water. Secure with rubber band and chill overnight. Discard any drained liquid.

The cheese will be smooth and very spreadable . For a firmer result that is more crumbly and closer in texture to feta cheese, it may be baked for approximately 40 minutes at 200° in a conventional oven or for the raw food purist, placed in a dehydrator for 4 to 6 hours.

To dry out: Transfer from cheese cloth to a parchment lined baking sheet and flatten to a 6 inch disk about 3/4 inch thick.

To serve soft and creamy: Transfer from cheese cloth to a covered glass dish and refrigerate.

Either way, drizzling with a bit of olive oil and herbs when serving adds to the enjoyment.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Green Smoothie?
This could easily be dessert but it happens to be a 'green smoothie'. Rich and creamy, smooth and dreamy—don't neglect the magic of a frozen banana to give the mouth feel we have come to know and love in ice cream.

This smoothie is a combination of one frozen banana, half a fresh banana, a cup of diced mango, a handful of blackberries and two cups of baby spinach, all blended with a cup of almond milk. A great way to start the day. The blackberries mask the green color - who would know this is loaded with vitamins and nutrients?

For a thicker version to serve as dessert (similar to soft serve) use two frozen bananas and less almond milk - or for a richer version - use cashew milk. Substitute fruit and berries for some great flavor combos. Use the frozen bananas for the base and go wild!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lunch with an Asian Influence

Marinated baby portabella mushrooms filled with sunflower pâté.

I had an 8-ounce container of baby portabella mushrooms intended to be sliced and served in salads. But my taste buds were clamoring for some zingy sunflower seed pâté and what better vehicle to pair them with than marinated mushrooms. I first posted this combination last August and have since made the sunflower pâté many times. It's a wonderful item to have on hand for quick snacks, any raw vegetable is great with a schmear of pâté. Or use it as a base for leafy roll-ups or veggie sushi in nori rolls.

I stuffed the marinated mushrooms with a generous mounded teaspoon of the filling and included a few on my luncheon plate of summer rolls, rice wrappers filled rice vermicelli, shredded napa cabbage, slivered carrots, red bell pepper and cucumber. Not a completely raw meal, but mostly raw.

Summer rolls with peanut sauce.

I use almond butter in all recipes that call for peanut butter— choosing to avoid peanuts, which aren't really nuts, but legumes. I make several different versions of 'peanut sauce'. All are simple to make and great to have in the fridge for dipping or thinned out with water to make an interesting sauce for steamed vegetables and grains.

Peanut Dipping Sauce: 1/2 cup almond butter . 1 clove garlic, minced . juice of one lime . 2 TBS grated ginger . 2 Tbs agave nectar . 2 TBS tamari . 2 TBS water . 1/2 tsp salt . 1/8 - 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes. This can be mixed in a blender or food processor, but I find it just as easy to whisk all together in a good size bowl (to avoid splashing).

Sunflower Pâté: 1 cup sunflower seeds (soaked) . 1/2 cup walnuts (soaked) . 1/2 sweet onion . 1 cloves garlic . 1 heaping Tbs tahini . 2 Tbs lemon juice . 2 Tbs tamari . 1/2 tsp salt . dash of cayenne. Place all ingredients in food processor. Blend until well combined with a smooth consistency. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

The pâté and dipping sauce quickly become staples in vegan and raw food kitchens, offering protein, a myriad of nutrients, not to mention they're real palate pleasers.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

More Salad Ideas
A dinner salad is more than a side dish of lettuce with a slice of tomato and perhaps a few pieces of cucumber. A dinner salad that will hold you for the evening has to be filled with nutrient rich ingredients that will satisfy the body's needs. I've found when the body finds the nutrition it requires to operate, cravings disappear.
With a fridge filled with fresh fruit and vegetables, it doesn't take a lot of imagination to whip up a salad bowl that will please the palate, fill the stomach and satisfy our cellular needs. Key to eating well and keeping it simple, is to plan ahead, make shopping a priority and start experimenting.

Vary the greens from day to day. I include more than one type of dark leafy green in most salads. Not only will you be getting a better variety of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, but the different flavors and textures offer more appeal and eliminate any chance of boredom.

This salad includes: arugula, red leaf lettuce, sweet onion, sweet red bell pepper, cucumber, tomatoes, corn, cauliflower, chick peas, sunflower seeds and a few dried cranberries. It's dressed with olive oil and apple cider vinegar. And I just couldn't resist sprinkling the final presentation with a light coating of a new spice offering from Penzey's— a dynamite combination of black pepper and cayenne. Cayenne has super medicinal properties. Adding a bit to most savory meals will kick the foods up a notch (as Emeril would say) while adding hidden benefits for the body. Try it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Topping it off with Sea Vegetables

With sweet corn and succulent grape tomatoes in abundance at the market, this salad bowl was a no-brainer. To add a flavor boost, I added some chopped Kalamata olives and sprinkled the bowl with a generous shake or two of Mixed Sea Vegetables*.

As well as the corn and tomatoes, the salad also includes hearts of romaine, shredded white cabbage, slivers of Vidalia onion, olives, sunflower seeds and a few raisins.

This is another oil-less salad dressed with the juice of half a lemon and a sprinkle or two of raw apple cider vinegar. The fat from the olives and sunflower seeds is not only a healthier option but offers fewer calories as well. As long as you use a judicious helping of nuts and olives!

* Sea Vegetables: I use the triple blend flakes from Maine Coast (dulse, laver and sea lettuce).

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

All Those Greens

Spurred on by the memory of images of the contents of Tera Warner's fridge which she posted a while back, upon returning from a trip to the produce market, I shot a few frames of my refrigerator. Stuffing in all those greens is often a challenge.

More local items and more variety are some of the benefits of summer's arrival. Here in Florida the heat and humidity make eating a mostly raw foods diet very advantageous.
Simple salads, plates of sliced veggies with interesting dips, cold blender soups, big fruit salads and icy cold smoothies are all great ways to keep cool while eating our way to slim bodies filled with vibrant energy. Not to mention the added benefits of including all that fine nutrition.

No need to dirty pots and pans, just wash and prep the produce, find some interesting sauces and dressings and enjoy!
Here are a couple of quickies:

Easy Cucumber Salad
1. Peel and slice 2 cucumbers (deseed if needed).
2. In a large bowl, whisk together 2 TBS honey; 2 TBS rice wine vinegar; 1/2 tsp salt; a dash (or more to taste) of crushed red pepper (optional).
3. Toss the sliced cucumbers in the dressing, then transfer to a covered glass container and refrigerate until ready to use.
These are terrific as a side dish or drain and toss in a mixed salad.

Avocado and Lemon Dressing
1.Place washed mixed greens in a large salad bowl,
2.Dice half a ripe avocado, and if you aren't afraid to get your hands dirty, massage the avocado into and over the greens, leaving some hunks. A fork does the job, too.
3.Toss in other ingredients of choice (such as sliced onions, shaved carrots, sliced red pepper, slivered cauliflower, etc.) then toss all with 1 - 2 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice (or to taste). Adding a handful of nuts to your salads adds a flavorful punch as well as providing texture and more good fat. A generous sprinkling of mixed sea vegetables adds another layer of flavor and is a good source for minerals.
And for those still hung up on having enough protein, toss in some cooked beans. Black beans and fresh corn with tomatoes are great with avocado dressed greens.

Fill the fridge with fresh produce. Experiment, explore, enjoy!