Start Something Delicious

This blog post is sponsored by iHerb but as always, the opinions and experiences expressed in this post are my own.

The hardest part of any new endeavor, big or small, is just knowing where to start. That much is true for figuring out the opening sentence of a new blog post, building a cabinet from Ikea, or embarking on a different dietary path. Many people find the concept of veganism daunting simply because they don’t know where to begin. Seen as one complex tangle of ethics and guidelines, it’s nearly impossible to pick out one thread from that ball of yarn, let alone unsnarl it from that knotted mess. Setting yourself up for success means starting small. Personally, that brings me to the pantry, where all good meals take shape.

Having a solid supply of essential ingredients makes everything else possible, and I’m not just talking about the meals that are directly impacted by such delicious influence. Being properly fueled is the key to thriving, not just surviving, to power smarter decisions, more positive perspectives, and greater adventures at large. Food is where everything really begins, so my Ultimate Vegan Starter Kit focuses in on the staples that make up the foundation of my plant-based arsenal.

Starting strong also means knowing where to shop, which is why I always turn to iHerb. It’s one-stop shopping for all things vegan, compiled for easy reference in their new Vegan Specialty Store. Unlike other online grocers, iHerb takes the time to label and categorize all of their goods by dietary needs, so you can search specifically for items that are plant-based, gluten-free, soy-free, separately or all together if needed! Considering the fact that there are over 6,800 vegan products to chose from, that eliminates the typical search frustration of scrolling through blurry pictures of print labels, and gets right to the good stuff. Orders are shipped to over 150 countries straight from climate-controlled distribution centers, ensuring the quality of their products. You’ll never receive expired goods, in sharp contrast to the gamble you sometimes take when purchasing from massive, multichannel online retailers. If there are ever any concerns, you can email or chat online with a real person 24 hours a day 7 days a week, speaking 10 different languages, no less! From this one-stop shopping experience, I have a few essential recommendations for building your plant-based pantry with ease, and always in good taste.

Stocking a kitchen can sound like a daunting task, but it really isn’t too difficult to gather the essential ingredients that will serve you well through countless meals.

First, I always make sure to have legumes and pulses on hand. That means plenty of canned chickpeas and black beans for ease and convenience, and quick-cooking Arrowhead Mills red lentils. Everything from soul-satisfying soups to rich gravies are no more than 15 minutes away since lentils need no soaking to become meltingly tender. Tofu is like the Swiss army knife of vegan cuisine, effortlessly absorbing any sauce it’s dressed with to make an entirely new dish every time. For my money, Mori-Nu is one of the best candidates to keep around, since it’s completely shelf-stable until opened, and blends the most smoothly for completely silken desserts or smoothies.

Nuts and seeds of all varieties are welcome, although particular emphasis is placed on buttery yet neutral raw cashews, such as those from Bergin Fruit and Nut Company since they can be used to make everything from cheese to mousse. Smooth almond butter is another indispensable staple, and my favorite is Barney Butter since it has no added sugar or salt, making it perfect for any application sweet or savory. Although coconuts are technically fruits, I place them in the same category for the sake of cupboard organization. You could go crazy with all the different types of dried coconut options out there, but my go-to is the Edward & Sons, Let’s Do Organic, 100% Organic Unsweetened Coconut Flakes for their thick cut strips and fresh flavor.

When it comes to seasonings, my spice rack is about a mile long, but there are definitely some bottles that see a lot more use than others. Onion powder, such as that produced by Frontier was a bit of a sleeper hit at the beginning, since I hadn’t anticipated the uniquely savory essence it could contribute even in dishes that aren’t overtly onion-y. Plus, it’s fantastic in recipes that aren’t cooked, since it doesn’t have the sharp, harsh bite of a raw fresh onion. Salt is found in at least a dozen different formats across my stockpile, from coarse to fine, plain to seasoned, and each one has its own special purpose. Gustus Vitae smoked salt is the one I break out for extra fancy foods, since it delivers such a bold, earthy punch, no matter what. It’s a good substitute for liquid smoke as well, in case that’s a trickier item to hunt down. Staying on the salty side, tamari and soy sauce are both the traditional top dogs for instant umami gratification, but there should also be space on the shelf for Bragg’s Liquid Aminos. The differences are faint, but important. It has a lighter flavor that isn’t as overbearing on more delicate dishes, in my humble opinion. The spray bottle format is also quite convenient for spritzing on freshly popped popcorn or a steaming hot baked potato. In a related vein, white miso paste makes all sorts of savories sing, with far more nuance than plain old sodium. Eden Soy makes a variety of organic miso options, but you can also find chickpea miso in case soy is a concern.

Vegan catnip, AKA nutritional yeast, is perhaps the single most important yet misunderstood ingredient when transitioning away from dairy. In small doses, it contributes a subtly buttery taste, and can develop into a full cheesy extravaganza when added with gusto. It can be bought in bulk, but quality varies greatly. To those who think they don’t like it, I would implore you to examine the source before turning up your nose. I’ve used KAL since my earliest days of veganism almost two decades ago, and wouldn’t consider anything else at this point. It has substantial flakes and while some brands can smell like funky gym socks, this one is pure umami bliss.

A house is not a home without pasta, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be plain old white wheat noodles. I love instantly injecting a quick meal with some extra nutrition by using legume-based pasta, such as Seapoint Farms edamame fettuccine. It, along with chickpea, lentil, or black bean noodles have the added benefit of being gluten-free, but I love them for the extra dose of protein they contribute, to say nothing of the distinctive textures and tastes. All you really need to do is toss the colorful strands with some melted buttery coconut oil for some simple, satisfying comfort food.

So, how do all these seemingly discordant components come together to make a delicious meatless meal? I’m glad you asked! There are certain homemade staples I always have on hand as well, essential components that help make a feel more complete, ready and waiting to dispense at will.

Everything is better with bacon, right? As long as it’s meatless bacon, I would have to agree! That impossibly savory, smoky flavor is shockingly easy to replicate on a wide range of plant-based platforms, utilizing everything from eggplant to mushrooms and even banana peels. Reaching into my pantry for the most accessible option, crispy coconut chips form the foundation of my favorite cured pork facsimile.

Invariably, when confronted with the choice of going vegan or staying stuck, the most common refrain from anyone considering the plunge is that they would miss cheese too much. Granted, this was a real concern a decade ago, when I ate my fair share of naked pizzas and waxy grilled cheese sandwiches, there are superlative alternatives now on the market for every type of funky, gooey, or sharp craving any dairy addict may crave. In a pinch, you can even whip up an incredibly authentic Parmesan doppelganger from little more than ground nuts in a pinch of salt! This is one of those recipes that sounds way too good to be true, until you try it.

Egg replacers have long gotten the lion’s share of attention for their essential role in baking, but only recently has the spotlight turned to their place on the table as a stand-alone protein. My goal for this substitute isn’t to make airy sponge cakes or dense, custard-based ice creams, but scramble up a better breakfast entrée. Now you can make your own liquid egg mix, made to JUST pour and go, if you catch my drift…

The grand finale for all this delicious meal prep culminates in the easiest, creamiest, richest vegan carbonara you’ve ever twirled around a fork. Stunningly high in protein and fiber, devoid of even a single drop of dairy, beyond the pull of pork, and without ever breaking an egg, this is the ultimate vegan dinner, made from the ultimate vegan starter kit. After one bite of such a comforting, instantly gratifying dinner, you’ll wonder what was ever stopping you from making the plunge.

Continue reading “Start Something Delicious”

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Hot Take on Hot Lunch

Living in the moment is best way to experience life, unencumbered by past regrets and future concerns, but it certainly has its pitfalls, too. Wrapped up in summertime revelry, I didn’t even realize that we’re fast approaching doomsday for every child and young adult under the age of 18: The first day of school. Creeping earlier and earlier across the calendar every year, I feel a bit blindsided to learn that local school will be back in session as early as next week. What kind of cruel joke is that, to pull children out of the sun’s golden glow, away from the beckoning beaches and parks, stuffing them into stiffing locked rooms without windows, without joy, without apologies? Hopefully the transition isn’t as harsh as memory suggests, but it’s still a hard sacrifice to make for anyone yearning to squeeze the very last drops of sweetness out of this fleeting season.

If there was anything that could inspire any enthusiasm for this kind of sacrifice, it would have to be the promise of good food. Of course, that’s pretty much the opposite of what you can expect from any institutional cafeteria menu, which is why a properly packed lunch is essential. Though the dark days of school lunches are well behind me, the memories of soggy PB + J sandwiches and stale granola bars are indelibly seared into my memory. No one should have to endure such hardship, especially if they hope to put any positive energy into their education after noon.

Ages ago, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was still in high school, I developed a compact little e-book entitled Lunchbox Bites, filled with all the sweet and savory morsels that got me from homeroom to sixth period. No longer available for sale, it’s been languishing among all the forgotten recipes gathering dust in my digital archive. It seems such a shame to waste this potentially helpful resource, as new generations of young vegans grow up with the same hunger for quality nutrition as I once did.

For the love of food, for the good of the community, I’m now making Lunchbox Bites completely free to download. Bringing back old favorites like Coffee Buzz Energy Bars and Root Beer Pudding, there’s plenty for students of all ages to enjoy. Even if you’re just a student of life, there’s never a bad time to enjoy a big batch of Hummus Crackers, too.

Forgive me, if you would, for the antiquated terminology and terrible photography. Consider it an heirloom, a relic of a bygone era. “Margarine” should be read as “vegan butter,” “soymilk” simply as “non-dairy milk” (any variety will do), and canola oil, while fine, would be better if replaced by a light olive oil, avocado oil, or rice bran oil. There’s still a whole lot of good to reap from these basic concepts, and I must admit, it’s somewhat charming to take in the full glory of this throwback to a simpler time.

Prepare yourself properly for a brand new school year; don’t show up hungry, and if you’re feeling particularly generous, make sure you bring enough to share with the class. Cafeteria food doesn’t hold a candle to anything homemade.

 

 

 

The Mother Lode

She a teacher, a cleaner, a party planner, and a cheerleader. She’s your biggest fan and most honest critic. She drove you around town after school while driving you crazy at the same time. She’s your mom, through good and bad, and while she deserves more than just a day for a lifetime of love, this coming Sunday is at least a good opportunity to say thanks. Naturally, I’m most inclined to express my appreciation through food.

Fixing a fresh brunch spread for your beloved mother is really a gift for everyone, including yourself. Who wouldn’t want to settle into a leisurely midday meal, ideally taken al fresco, surrounded by friends and family? I’ve shared some ideas for a crowd-pleasing menu in the past, but I’ve hit upon so many new winners since them. Freshen up your own maternal celebration with something different this year.

Let mom wake up slowly with a chilled Cloud Macchiato in bed. If she’s late to rise anyway and ready to party before her feet hit the floor, consider adding a little splash of coffee liqueur for an extra little indulgence.

While she’s busy greeting guests, surprise them with an early appetizer of crackers or crudite served with Pea Leaf Cazuela. If you’re contending with unseasonably hot spring weather, prepare it in advance and serve cold. You’ll save yourself the hassle of last-minute cooking in the morning, too.

Kick off the main event with small bowls of punchy Chive Pesto Soup. Though unassuming on paper, the verdant green blend comes together in a matter of minutes and pays off in surprisingly complex layers of flavor.

I can only speak for myself, but if I was a mom, I would all but demand that avocados show up at my party in some form. Avocado Grapefruit Salad features my favorite fruit with a zippy citrus dressing that will satisfy any cravings.

When it comes to the entree, don’t hold back. This is an event worthy of this show-stopping, unconventional, unforgettable Green Cauliflower Cake. A savory torte reminiscent of a thick frittata stuffed with tender florets, you’ll do your mother proud by finally eating your vegetables with aplomb.

When it comes to dessert, you know your own mom best, but it’s hard to go wrong with chocolate. My own happens to have a soft spot for cheesecake, so this Marbled Chocolate Chip Cheesecake would be an easy win on my table.

To all the strong women leading the way (deliberately or not) for future generations, Happy Mother’s Day!

Instant Pot Gratification

Stay cool under pressure. Temperatures are climbing quickly as warmer spring weather settles in again, even across the typically mild-mannered bay area. Thankfully, with it comes the season’s peak produce, which is best with very little further modification. Coaxing out existing flavors, rather than smothering them in complex sauces or heavy spices, is the only to way celebrate such delicate ingredients. Especially with the right tools, tender green vegetables and vibrant fresh herbs practically cook themselves.

Instant Pots have been the “it” kitchen gadget for at least three years running, and they don’t seem to be losing any steam. I may not have the name brand model but that doesn’t mean my electric pressure cooker gets any less love around here, especially in the heat of midday meal prep. Despite nearly constant use since day one, I didn’t even realize that my pressure cooker could be set to “zero” minutes until I got my hands on Barb Musick’s new book, The Complete Vegan Instant Pot Cookbook. This little tidbit is just the appetizer in a wide-ranging compendium of everyday recipes, smart tips and shortcuts, and delicious inspiration, complete with luscious photos, of course.

I’ve been a big fan of Barb’s blog, That Was Vegan, for many years, so I really should have expected no less from such a brilliant culinary creator. Rather than preheating the oven and turning my whole apartment into a blazing inferno for a single side dish, the verdant, grassy, and even subtly sweet flavors of asparagus really come alive with just a flash steam bath. Adding just a kiss of citrus and ginger, Barb skips all the fuss and fanfare to simply let these tender young stalks shine. Living up to the name of the popular appliance, this easy recipe really is ready to eat in an instant.

Though the book won’t officially be released until May 14th, I’m delighted to share not only a little sneak peek to whet your appetite, but a GIVEAWAY leading up to the full launch! If you want a copy of this indispensable collection of recipes (and yes, of course you do,) use the Gleam form below to log your details and earn bonus entries. Don’t forget to comment on this post to tell me about what recipe will be the first one going into your Instant Pot if you win!

The Complete Instant Pot Vegan Cookbook Giveaway

Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. I have experience with all of these companies and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links.

May Flowers

Long before it became associated with the labor movement and civil unrest, the 1st of May was a Celtic festival celebrating fertility, the renewal of springtime, and the coming summer crops. Marked more by flowers and bonfires than any food or drink, it’s not exactly high on the list for modern revelry. That said, there’s no reason why we can’t have our bouquets and eat them, too.

Nasturtium are some of my favorite edible flowers for their shockingly vibrant red, orange, and yellow tones, but most importantly when we’re talking about food, the spicy bite they conceal in those bold petals. Peppery, like a spicy mustard in flavor, they’re reminiscent of watercress and go a long way to add a bright punch in any fresh dish. The leaves, seed pods and flowers are all edible although of course, the blossoms have the most brilliant visual impact. Beyond that eye candy factor, they’re quite the little nutritional powerhouses, high in vitamin A, C, and D.

For the super thrifty, buds and seeds can be pickled and used as a substitute for capers. Used in concert with the flowers, you’re well on your way to a unique seasonal treat.

Another approach to preserving your harvest is to turn the greens into pesto. Use right away or freeze in cubes for long term storage. Simply pop out a cube or two and thaw directly in hot pasta to enjoy the fruits (and veggies) of your labor all year round.

Make the leaves into a Greek-inspired meal by using them to prepare dolma, instead of the traditional preserved grape or fig leaves. Chose larger leaves to accommodate a greater volume of filling and steam lightly to make them a bit more pliable before rolling.

Anywhere you might use tender greens like spinach or arugula, nasturtium leaves can fill in the gaps, too! Shred them into thin ribbons and incorporate into quick stir fries, soups, and of course both raw and lightly wilted salads.

Consider stuffing the blossoms with cashew cheese and serving them chilled or flash-fried like you would with baby squash blossoms. Since I find it almost impossible to track down the latter at any reasonable price, the allure of a readily available, completely free, foraged alternative is too much to resist. They’re brilliant served all by their lonesome, or used to top crackers, sliced cucumbers, or toast.

Speaking of toast… As you can see from the photo above, one of my favorite ways of highlighting the bright flavors and bold colors of the nasturtium is to simply use it as a toast topper. Instantly elevate the mundane, everyday slice of bread to something Instagram-worthy, and awaken your taste buds with the surprising peppery pops of flavor they conceal. Once you have these potent and beautiful blossoms in hand, there’s truly no way to go wrong.

Unholy Guacamole

Don’t judge a book by its cover, a person by their clothing, or a dip by its color. The comparison is inevitable so I’ll go ahead and say it: The following recipe, no matter how brilliantly described or lovingly plated, will always and forever look like a glorious mountain of cow plop, steaming away on a hot summer’s afternoon.

Just avert your eyes and dig in. The smoky, spicy, earthy flavor of cocoa mole awaits your taste buds if you can suspend disbelief. Presenting a bold alternative to the ubiquitous green guacamole filling bowls across the country for Super Bowl festivities, it won’t score any points for presentation, but may just win the snacking game.

Yield: 2 Cups

GuacaMole

GuacaMole

When guacamole meets mole, the results may not be pretty, but the flavor is out of this word. This creamy, smoky, spicy, and earthy mashup will tempt you to double (or triple) dip.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • 1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
  • 1 Teaspoon Chipotle Powder
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Ground White pepper
  • 2 Avocados
  • 2 Tablespoons Lime Juice
  • 1 Small Heirloom or Medium Roma Tomato, Chopped
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
  • 2 Tbsp Fresh Cilantro, Minced
  • 2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced

Instructions

  1. Combine the cocoa, spices, and salt in a medium bowl and mix well.
  2. Pit, dice and scoop the avocado flesh out, adding it to the bowl along with the lime juice. Very roughly mash with a fork, incorporating all of the dry ingredients but keeping the texture rather chunky.
  3. Mix in the tomato, garlic, cilantro, and scallions last, stirring until the vegetables and herbs are equally distributed throughout the dip.
  4. Serve with chips or cut vegetable crudites.

Notes

Enjoy right away or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two days.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

8

Serving Size:

1/4 cup

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 68 Total Fat: 6g Saturated Fat: 1g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 4g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 71mg Carbohydrates: 5g Fiber: 3g Sugar: 0g Protein: 1g