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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Going to the Dogs

If you build it, they will come. If you shake the treat bag within earshot, they will come with tails wagging and tongues panting, too.

The push for alternative proteins isn’t limited to just the human diet; behind the scenes, toiling away in laboratories and kitchens, the race is on to develop a more sustainable, ethical, and wholesome way to nourish man’s best friend. Wild Earth is growing their blend, and their business, from the ground up with koji, a type of fungus used in soy sauce and miso.

Higher in protein content than steak (24 percent protein by weight), these cultured mushrooms contain over 45 percent protein by contrast. Though the nutritional numbers are impressive, to say the least, what matters the most to my guy is the fact that these healthy spores impart a unique umami flavor to the treats.

Luka and I were early adopters of this innovative concept, well before the Berkeley-based company revamped their packages, added different flavors, and made a big splash on Shark Tank last week. Now pet parents nationwide can’t stop buzzing about the brand, which successfully secured a $550,000 investment on the show.

Treats are truly just the appetizer to kick things off. Coming soon, proper dog food will be made of the very same savory stuff, providing a completely vegan, fully vetted (AAFCO-compliant) main meal.  That may come as a surprise to those still wedded to the notion that dogs are obligate carnivores, but with more research supporting the possibility of raising healthy, happy canines without the need for meat, Wild Earth is making it not only feasible, but enjoyable for the pups in question.

The Meat of the Matter

Order a veggie burger at any restaurant and steel yourself for a surprise- Whether or not it’s a good one. What might arrive at your table could be anything from a verdant green mash of chickpeas and spinach, or a “bloody” meat-facsimile so authentic that some carnivores wouldn’t know the difference. The humble vegetarian staple has undergone a stunning evolution in a very short amount of time, thanks to the spread of veganism, but also increased health and environmental concerns. Not everyone wants to eat legume patties when they’re craving beef, which is what makes this latest round of plant-based innovations particularly encouraging. I’ve long said that you don’t need to be vegan to eat vegan, and these more accessible, familiar options make the concept considerably more feasible. I’ve already covered the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger here, but they’re far from the only players in this game.

Tofurky, proud meatless proponents for over 2 decades, has managed to maintain their space in this competitive market while winning over new fans. Their copious and diverse offerings are a testament to that, providing something for everyone. Now, that includes the staunch meat-eaters among us, thanks to their newly launched line of Do-It-Yourself grinds, approximating the look, texture, and of course, flavor of traditional ground beef and/or pork, depending on your seasoned kit of choice. Today, with grilling season right around the corner, I’m talking burgers.

Molding easily into patties, no additional binders are necessary for sound, solid construction. They hold together beautifully through the entire cooking process, never once threatening to crumble under pressure. Before long, a distinctly meaty aroma will fill the air, but the scent also has a also wheaty aspect, like good old glutenous seitan.

Cooking quickly, it takes only 3 – 5 minutes per side to achieve a nice sear; a satisfying transformation that creates a crisp crust and seals in a juicy, tender interior. Hearty, satisfying, but not fatty nor greasy, this is the midway point between old school and new tech. Beefy without the overwhelming sensation of sinew, it’s an ideal savory, neutral foundation to build upon. You can truly make it your own with herbs and spices, or keep it simple for the classic backyard BBQ experience. It’s not a perfect dupe for the animal it was made to imitate, but I believe it comes close enough to quell a craving, without turning away those repulsed by the reminder of the flesh inspiration.

Best of all, the DIY format allows you to depart from the typical patty path and forge your own culinary adventure. Crumble the grind and cook it with a healthy dose of spice, load it into a crunchy corn tortilla, and taco night will never be the same again. That’s just the tip of the meatless iceberg, as they (might?) say. Think meatloaf, bolognese sauce, stuffed pasta and casseroles galore. Pick out any recipe your stomach desires and simply substitute this plant-based protein in a 1-to-1 ratio for ground beef. Anything meat can do, Tofurky can do better.

[Not Quite] Silent Sunday: Dal-icious

Dal Puri Roti with Tamarind Sauce

By Chef Philip Gelb of Sound & Savor

“I do not exaggerate when  I say this is one of my favorite breads in the world! It’s obviously of Indian origin, but this version is a Trinidad specialty. It works well on it’s own, but if you roll it out thin enough you can then stuff it with various curries and roll it up like a burrito for some Trini heaven.

Culantro is a related to cilantro and similar, yet different enough to seek out. If you have Latin markets in your area, you may be able to find it. It’s also called chado beni in Trinidad.

A tawa is a cast-iron or stainless steel griddle that fits on top of your stove burner (gas or electric.) These are inexpensive, usually made in India, and easily found at Indian or Caribbean markets or online.”

Tamarind Sauce:

1 Tablespoon Coconut Oil
4 Green Onions, Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Tablespoons Fresh Cilantro
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon African Bird Pepper or Cayenne Pepper
1/4 Cup Palm Sugar
1 Cup Water
1/3 Cup Tamarind Concentrate

In a skillet, add the coconut oil, green onion, and garlic. Sauté for three minutes, until aromatic. Transfer to a mortar and pestle and pulverize along with the cilantro. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

Dal Puri Roti

Filling:

1 14-Ounce Cans Garbanzo Beans
1 Habanero Pepper, Seeded and Minced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1 Bunch Fresh Cilantro
1 Bunch Fresh Culantro

Roti:

3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Active Dry Yeast
1 Teaspoon Salt
About 1 1/2 Cups Water­­­
Coconut Oil, to Cook

Place all of the ingredients for the filling into a food processor and grind into a rough mash. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, yeast, and salt. Add water and mix together with a spoon until the dough becomes too thick to stir. Use your hands to finish combining the ingredients. Use just enough water to form a ball and knead gently for a few minutes, until smooth. Cover dough with a clean kitchen towel and let rest for at least 1 hour.

Divide the dough into 10 equal pieces. Form each piece into a ball and then roll into a small circle. Add about 1/10th of the garbanzo mixture and wrap the dough around it, much like you would for a dumpling. Pinch the dough closed, cover once more, and let rest for another hour.

Place a griddle or large skillet over medium heat and brush liberally with coconut oil. Roll each ball into a flat, thin circle. Place the dough on the skillet and brush the top with more coconut oil. Cook for 1 minute before flipping. Cook for another minute, flip again, and cook for 1 minute longer. Repeat with all the remaining dough.

Makes 10 Dal Puri Roti

Printable Recipe

Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peas

Some may find it crude. Some may be downright offended. I’ve simply decided to fully embrace all the pea-ness that this fleeting spring harvest has to offer. Really, there’s no way of going back at this point. I’ve already pea’d on my pizza. I even pea’d on my toast– At work, no less! Dining alfreso has been a true joy as the weather continues to improve, allowing me to pea outside with Luka, too. It’s safe to say that I’m going to keep on pea-ing everywhere until this stream of inspiration runs dry.

Did you really think I could resist sharing another pea-s of my mind before the short growing season passed us by? Girl, peas.

Hungry but tired after a full day of work, I seriously had to pea by the time dinner rolled around. Riffling through the fridge and pantry yielded a few delectable treasures to create an instant, effortless peas de résistance. Spinach and ricotta ravioli, quickly sauteed in garlic and butter, needs no further culinary intervention to shine, but a light sprinkle of coarse black pepper and crunchy veggie bacon certainly didn’t hurt.

Still, for all that fancy frippery, the real focal point of this meal was still those glorious green orbs; the overall combination easily a-peas’d my appetite.

Yes, Peas

“Congratulations San Francisco, you’ve ruined pizza!”

Harsh words for an innocent little slice. The catalyst for this outburst was a pie topped with verdant green broccoli florets. A perfectly reasonable addition, in my opinion, but far from the kid-approved standard menu that one might expect. If you too find unconventional vegetables adorning the typical thin-crust construction wholly offensive, I’d suggest you shield your eyes. Click away, don’t scroll any further, and let’s pretend like this never happened.

Are you still with me? Good! I knew we were friends for a reason.

Pea-zza, a springy seasonal variant on the classic, is lavished with tender sweet peas, of course, as well as crisp raw snap peas. Delicately nuanced and herbaceous cashew spread joins the party, rather than a gooey mozzarella that might otherwise smother such subtle flavors. If we’re going to put peas on pizza, we might as well change the whole game, right? Elevated to the status of gourmet fare with that simple substitution, you could easily serve this to the most discerning gourmet without batting an eyelash.

That’s not the final twist, though. Creamy coconut yogurt, flecked with lemon zest, lends brightness, lightening the whole affair in ways that defy its underlying richness. All yogurt is not created equal, and I have to admit, the stuff that Cultured Kitchen makes was largely the inspiration for this whole culinary experiment. Thicker than sour cream, completely unsweetened, just a tiny dab will satisfy. I found myself using it more like a whipped topping to accompany fresh berries than anything else.

It tortures me that it has such a limited release! There’s not even information about it online, and it’s unlikely I’ll encounter such a treat in regular grocery stores. If you’re in the same boat, all is not lost. In the case of this fresh flatbread, simply opt for a non-dairy yogurt without any added sugar or flavor, and omit the lemon juice, doubling down on the zest instead to prevent the drizzle from becoming too watery.

Please, give peas a chance. If it helps you wrap your mind around this crazy combination, think of it more as a seasonal flatbread, piled high with the best that nature has to offer. Your average onions, mushrooms, and olives can wait; this limited edition novelty is one to savor right away, while those lush green peas are still perfectly plump.

Pea-zza

1 Pound Prepared Pizza Dough
All-Purpose Flour
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
3 Tablespoons Minced Garlic
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast (Optional)

1/2 Cup Cultured Kitchen Herbs & Chives Cashew Reserve
1 Cup Fresh Peas, Blanched or Frozen Peas, Thawed
1/2 Cup Sugar Snap Peas, Sliced into 1/2-Inch Lengths
2 Tablespoons Toasted Pistachios
2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
Flaky Sea Salt
Ground Black Pepper

Lemon Yogurt Drizzle:

1/3 Cup Cultured Kitchen Live Coconut Yogurt (Unsweetened)
1 – 2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees and lightly grease a large baking sheet or pizza stone.

Press the pizza dough out roughly into a flat round, lightly dusting both sides with flour. Pull and toss by hand or use a rolling pin to stretch it out to approximately 10 inches in diameter. Brush the entire surface with olive oil and sprinkle evenly with the garlic and nutritional yeast, if desired.

Bake for 5 to 7 minutes, until dough is thoroughly browned all over.

While it’s in the oven, prepare the yogurt drizzle by simply mixing up all the ingredients in a bowl. Set aside for the moment.

When you crust is hot and ready, slather it generously with the cashew spread and top with the peas, snap peas, pistachios, and scallions. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with the yogurt sauce, slice, and serve immediately.

Makes 1 pizza; 3 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe