Meat Free Monday – Edamame and Orzo Salad

 

Recently, I’ve become a vegetarian. The last actual meat I ate was a little more than five weeks ago when I had a turkey burger when my mother-in-law came over for our weekly Sunday dinner.

Vegetarian Salad with Edamame and OrzoSince then, I have been meat-free and mostly dairy free as well, although I am unable to resist mozzarella cheese on my homemade vegetarian pizza.

There are lots of reasons for going vegetarian. Mine are for health purposes. I’ve been reading for years now that removing animal products from your diet can not only help prevent illness and give you more energy, but also can actually reverse chronic and potentially fatal diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and so on.

While I don’t have any life-threatening diseases (that I know of), I can tell you that since eliminating meat from my diet, I definitely have more energy throughout my day, feel healthier overall, and even seem to have a more positive outlook most of the time. While all of these could be psychosomatic, I really don’t think they are. I’m convinced they are related to my diet.

I’ve even started running again. Recent past efforts to return to running have all been cut short by injury or frustration, but now I’m running pain-free, look forward to my runs and am averaging about 15 to 20 miles/week.

I thought I would crave meat — and I probably did the first few days or so — but now the thought of eating meat sort of fills me with dread. Especially after reading about how animals are treated by food production. It’s truly horrible.

Another thing I worried about was that there wouldn’t be enough variety in a vegetarian diet to keep me interested in it. But that certainly hasn’t been the case. My wife and I have been eating a richer mix of foods than ever before. Where in the past we could get stuck in a rut — pasta/Mexican/pizza/grilled chicken/turkey burgers/repeat — in the past five weeks since I’ve started, we haven’t had the same meal twice.

If you would have told me a few years ago that I would be expounding on the benefits of vegetarianism or veganism, I would have called you crazy. In fact, like many people I looked upon vegetariKathy Frestonans with derision and a little suspicion. Yet here we are.

I’m working toward veganism and have cut out 95% of dairy from my diet. Milk and eggs are essentially gone and — other than pizza — cheese is pretty much out of my life as well. read a book by wellness expert Kathy Freston in which she describes herself as a “vegan-ist”, or someone who is leaning towards veganism but hasn’t quite made the leap entirely. I think that pretty well sums up my mindset right now.

Here’s a recipe for Edamame and Orzo Salad that I modified (stole) from veghotpot, one of the vegetarian bloggers I admire the most. Edamame is a type of soybean that is similar to peas. You usually can find it in the frozen food section. If you can’t, frozen peas or even lima beans will work just as well.

Edamame and Orzo Salad

For the dressing:

Juice of 1 Lime

Few drops of Toasted Sesame Oil

1 TBS Bragg’s Liquid Aminos or Reduced Sodium Soy Sauce

1 Seranno Pepper, ribs and seeds removed, small dice

1 inch Ginger, peeled and minced

1 Garlic Clove, crushed

For the Salad

1 cup Edamame Beans

1 large Carrot, small dice

1 Zucchini

1 Yellow Squash

1 head Boston Bibb Lettuce

1/2 cup Orzo pasta, dry

To make the dressing, squeeze the lime juice into a bowl and add the sesame oil and liquid aminos. Add the Seranno pepper, garlic and ginger and add to the liquid in the bowl. Put to one side.

Steam the edamame beans for 3-4 minutes or microwave for a minute or two. Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions then run under cold water and allow to cool down with the beans.

Chop the lettuce into bite-size pieces. Cut the yellow squash and zucchini into thin strips. Toss together with the dressing and serve.

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Meat Free Mondays – Szechuan Vegetables

It’s been said that if you have Chinese food in China, it bears no resemblance to the version sold here in the US.

The flavors are bolder, the ingredients are more diverse, and the dishes that are spicy would probably be banned in this country as a public health hazard.

Szechuan cooking in particular is known for its spiciness, as well as its liberal use of garlic and chili peppers. It originates in the Szechuan province, which is in the southwestern part of China, and frequently features the Szechuan pepper, also known as the “flower pepper”.

This pepper has a citrusy flavor, is intensely fragrant and very, very hot. So hot, in fact, that is causes a “tingly-numbing” sensation in the mouth.

I enjoy spicy foods and wanted to replicate the Chinese restaurant standard Szechuan Vegetables in my own kitchen. Sadly, I’ve never had the authentic dish, only the watered down version sold to Americans. Yet I enjoy the spicy combination of stir-fried vegetables, pungent garlic and ginger sauce, and of course the tiny peppers bring heat to the dish.

I usually don’t eat the peppers themselves — unless I accidentally slip one into my mouth — but just their presence in the dish brings the spicyness quotient up several degrees.

I found an enormous bag of dried chile de arbol at the local Mexican produce market for only $2.38, so I bought it so that I would have essentially a lifetime suppy of the lovely spicy peppers. Unfortunately, the tiny, red peppers I purchased had their ribs and seeds removed, rendering them substantially less hot.

Still, the combination of all the different vegetables in this dish combined with the sauce I whipped together made this Westernized version of Szechuan vegetables an easy and delicious mid-week treat, despite its lack of heat.

Szechuan Vegetables

2 TBS Canola Oil

1 handful Chiles de Arbol (or Szechuan peppers, if you can find them)

1/2 White Onion, sliced thin

1/2 Green Pepper, ribs and seeds removed, julienned

1 Yellow Bell Pepper, ribs and seeds removed, julienned

1 Jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, julienned

1 cup Savoy Cabbage, sliced thin

2 Garlic Cloves, crushed

1/2 cup Shittake Mushrooms, stems removed, rough chop

1 Large Carrot, peeled and sliced thin

2 cups Broccoli Crowns

3 Green Onions, rough chop

1 TBS Fresh Ginger, minced

2 TBS Soy Sauce

1 TBS Oyster Sauce

1 TBS Granulated Sugar

1/2 cup Water

1 TBS Corn Starch

Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add carrots and boil until soft, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add broccoli to the boiling water and cook until bright green, about 3 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, oyster sauce, ginger, sugar, water and corn starch. Set aside.

3. Put a wok or a large saute pan over a high flame. When hot, add oil. When smoking, add the peppers and fry them for a few seconds to release their heat, then add onions, peppers and cabbage and cook until soft, about 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add mushrooms and garlic and cook until mushrooms are wilted, about 2 minutes, then add carrots, broccoli and green onions and cook until heated through, about 1 minute. Add soy sauce mixture and cook until it thickens, about 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

4. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve over freshly steamed white rice.

Traditional Szechuan cuisine is composed of seven basic flavors: sour, pungent, hot, sweet, aromatic and salty. Hopefully, someday I will be able to travel to China and try all of them.

Meat Free Mondays – Two Vegan Soups

I’ve been running into veganism around every corner lately.

 

Corn chowder (left) and Vegan split pea (right)

Corn chowder (left) and Vegan split pea (right)

Veganism is like vegetarianism except even more restrictive because not only can you not eat meat, but you can’t eat dairy products either. The benefits are  supposed to be include better health, including not only prevention of disease but the reversal of many serious medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease and even cancer.

These benefits are explained in a documentary called “Forks Over Knives”, which was recommended by Somer, the excellent blogger who writes VedgedOut. She suffered from ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune condition that caused her considerable pain. The treatment resulted in substantial weight gain, severe acne and other health issues.

When she went on an entirely vegetable-based diet, however, not only did her symptoms go away, but her condition reversed itself. Now she’s a marathon runner and you can read her inspiring story here.

The film is available on Netflix and, while it’s not most professional-looking documentary I’ve ever seen, its message is powerful and effective. It documents a number of case studies in which people who faced serious, even fatal, health conditions literally had their lives saved by veganism.

Still, I struggle with the concept of being a vegan. I could probably live without meat if I had to — Sandi and I rarely eat anything other than chicken and ground turkey anyway — but it’s the dairy, especially cheese, that I would miss.

For example, I can’t imagine a life without pizza, which I could eat seven days per week (something I occasionally would do back when I was still single).

Still, the concept fascinates me, so much so that when we found ourselves Wicker Park — a hip, young neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side last week — we tried a vegan restaurant called Native Foods Cafe. It apparently is a small chain with a handful of stores in California, Chicago and a few other places.

I was not expecting the food to be as delicious as it was. The atmosphere was great, the people who worked there were gracious and seemed very happy, and the place was bustling.

When I returned home, I found a blog written by the amazing Becky at VegHotPot, who wrote a roundup of her best vegan recipes that she wrote about during vegan awareness month last month, all of which looked and sounded wonderful.

Then, a few days later, my older brother announced he was switching to a vegetable-based diet for health reasons. It’s like all the planets are aligning at the same time.

So while we’re not committing to 100% veganism, we’re going to try to incorporate more vegan dishes into our diet and see how it goes, starting with these two vegan soups.

Both were super easy to  make and very delicious, so much so that I didn’t even mind having soup for dinner two nights in a row.

So I’ve ordered a bunch of vegan ingredients that I couldn’t find at my local groceries from an online store and will be preparing a number of vegan dishes in the coming weeks, including a pizza made with vegan mozzarella “cheese”. Obviously, I will let you know how they turn out.

In the meantime, here are recipes for meat-free smoky split pea soup (which is adapted from one I found on Vedged Out’s blog) and a really great vegan corn chowder. Enjoy!

Smoky Vegan Split Pea Soup

1 Red Onion, small dice

4 Carrots, peeled and small dice

3 Garlic Cloves, crushed

1 Russet Potato, peeled and medium dice

1 tsp Dried Thyme

1 tsp Dried Oregano

8 cups Vegetable Stock

1 TBS Liquid Smoke

1 lb Green Split Peas

2 Bay Leaves

1 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 tsp Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

Dash Cayenne Pepper

1. Put a soup pot over a medium heat. When hot, add EVOO. When smoking, add onion, potato and carrot and sautee until onions are translucent, about 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 second.

2. Add the remaining ingrediets and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the peas absorb all of the liquid, about 40 minutes. Remove bay leaves and serve.

The split peas continue to absorb moisture, making the soup even thicker the next day. If you prefer a smoother soup, you can use an immersion blender or let the soup cool and blend in a food processor or blender. This soup also can be made in a crock pot. Just let it cook on low until the moisture is absorbed, about 4 to 6 hours.

Incidentally, Liquid Smoke is an all-natural product that is 100% vegan.

Chunky Vegan Corn Chowder

2 TBS EVOO

1 Onion, diced

1 Garlic Clove, crushed

2 cups Vegetable Stock

6 Red Potatoes, diced

1 cup Baby Carrots, chopped

2 15.25-oz cans Whole Kernel Corn

1-1/2 cups Soy Milk

1 TBS Garlic Powder

2 tsp Sea Salt

1/2 tsp Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

1/4 cup Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

1/2 cup Soy Milk

1. Place soup pot over a medium heat. When hot, add EVOO. When smoking, add onions, carrots and potatoes and cook until onions translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then add all remaining ingredients except 1/2 cup soy milk and flour. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until potatoes and carrots are tender, about 20 minutes.

2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour and the remaining soy milk. Increase heat so soup returns to a boil, then whisk flour mixture into the soup and cook until soup is thickened, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

So now I’m going to be on the lookout for great vegan recipes. If you have any, can you please share them with me? I’ll do the same. Thanks!

Meat Free Mondays — Apple Oatmeal Muffins

I swear I’m going ban myself from the blog How Sweet It Is. Everytime I read it, I find something I just have to steal make, such as these Apple Oatmeal Muffins

I am totally in awe of Jessica, the blog’s author. In addition to being a great cook, Jessica is also an amazing writer and one of the best food photographers I have ever seen. Everything she makes looks and sounds delicious, without exception. She inspires me on every level.

These Apple Oatmeal Muffins are only the latest recipe I’ve borrowed from her and used in my own blog. In recent weeks, it seems like every couple of days I’m ripping off from How Sweet It Is. Even my wife, Sandi, has subscribed to Jessica’s blog and I can barely get her to read mine!

This recipe turned out fine, but I took a few shortcuts  and made a couple of mistakes, so it could have been better. First, J’s recipe called for whole wheat pastry flour and I only had whole wheat flour an I was too lazy to drive to the store to buy the real deal.

Pastry flour is a finer grind than the whole wheat flour and results in a smaller crumb and fewer gluten strands. As a result, my muffins didn’t rise as well as they could have and were more dense.

Second, I didn’t have any apple cider — I haven’t seen any in the stores yet this year — so I used apple juice. They aren’t the same thing. Basically, cider has pulp and apple juice does not. While the flavor of the muffins was good, the muffins would have had a richer, smoother texture had I used the cider.

Finally, I didn’t have any cardamon so I left it out altogether, so the flavor wasn’t as complex as it could have been.

In short, Jessica doesn’t have anything to worry about. She’s still the best.

I only iced half the muffins because asked me to leave some plain so she could eat them without having to worry about the exra calories from the icing. What’s the fun of that?

Apple Cider Oatmeal Muffins

2 Honeycrisp Apples, small dice

3 TBS Apple Cider (or apple juice)

1-1/2 cups Whole What Pastry Flour

1/2 cup Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats

1 tsp Baking Soda

1/2 tsp Baking Powder

1/2 tsp Cinnamon

1/4 tsp Sea Salt

1/4 tsp Cardamon

1 pinch Nutmeg

1 large Egg

1/3 cup Brown Sugar, loosely packed

1-1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract

1/2 cup Unsweetened Applesauce

4 TBS  Brown Butter, melted and cooled

1/3 cup Apple Cider (or juice)

For the Apple Cider Brown Butter Glaze

4 TBS Brown Butter, melted and cooled

1-1/2 TBS Apple Cider

1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract

1/2 to 1/3 cup Powdered Sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Heat a small skilled over a medium-low heat, add diced apples and 3 TBS apple cider, a pinch of cinnamon and salt. Cook until apples are brown and soft, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. In a bowl, mix together flour, oats, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices. Set aside. Linea muffin tin with liners.

3. In a Kitchen Aid mixing bowl (or just a large bowl), whisk together the egg and brown sugar until creamed. Add vanilla extract, butter, apple juice and 1/3 cup apple cider and mix until smooth. Then gradually add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Don’t overmix or gluten strands will form and your muffins will be more like bread. Fold in the diced apples, then use an ice cream scoop to fill each muffin liner about 2/3 of the way full.

4. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until tops start to brown.

To make the glaze, mix together the brown butter, cider and vanilla, then mix in the powdered sugar until it reaches the proper consistency. Spread the cooled muffins with the glaze using a butter knife, or dip the muffins into the glaze and twist while pulling up.

By the way, brown butter is simply whole butter that you cook over a low heat until it begins to turn a golden brown, stirring constantly. It has a more caramel-like flavor than plain melted butter. But be careful to take it off the heat the minute it starts to brown. The difference between brown butter and burnt butter is about 30 seconds.

Meat Free Mondays – Butternut Squash Enchiladas

Enchiladas in our house is almost a weekly tradition, but these Butternut Squash Enchiladas took the whole concept and turned it on its head.

That’s because our enchiladas typically are stuffed with leftover chicken, pork or beef combined with beans, rice, cheese and a zesty red enchilada sauce. They are a great way to get a second day out of any leftover protein.

Butternut Squash Enchiladas

Butternut Squash Enchiladas

But this recipe for Butternut Squash Enchiladas comes from one of my favorite bloggers, Becky, over at Veghotpot, who was one of the first vegetarian writers I discovered after my daughter, Maggie Mae, announced she was becomine a vegetarian last year.

It contains, no meat, no cheese, no beans, no rice and no enchilada sauce. Are you sure that’s even an enchilada, Becky?

While it certainly is different from the enchiladas we are accustomed to, it was delicious and probably a lot healthier as well. Sandi described the flavor the best, noting that it was a nice balance between the sweetness of the butternut squash and the zestiness of the salsa and tomatoes.

The only problem I had was finding butternut squash. Being a hard squash, they usually are available year-round, but I had to visit three stores before I finally found one at Aldi’s. Earlier, I had panic-bought an acorn squash and planned to substitute before Sandi shot that idea down, noting that the flavor pairing would be off. As usual, she was right.

As it turns out, the recipe contains no cheese because Becky is apparently lactose intolerant. (She offers some amazing cheese substitute recipes in her blog today.) But I didn’t miss the cheese at all, especially after I topped my enchiladas with my homemade guacamole and some fat-free sour cream.

Butternut Squash EnchiladasLast week, Becky announced that for the second year in a row she would be participating in the Vegan MoFo Challenge, in which bloggers pledge to write at least 20 blogs featuring vegan recipes, ie. not only no meat, but no cheese, egg or other animal products whatsoever.

For a fleeting moment, I considered the idea, but in the end I love my meat and cheese too much to make that kind of commitment. Still, I will be carefully watching what she posts, especially when they are amazing recipes such as this one for Butternut Squash Enchiladas.

Butternut Squash Enchiladas

1 Butternut Squash, peeled, seeded cut into quarter-sized slices

1 White Onion, rough chop

3 Garlic Cloves, rough chop

1 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 TBS Cumin

1/2 TBS Chili Powder

Sea Salt

Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

1 cup Salsa

10 oz can Diced Tomatoes

4 or 5 Whole Wheat Tortillas

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Combine squash, onion, garlic, oil, cumin and chili powder in a mixing bowl, season with sal and pepper, toss and pour out into a baking pan. Bake until squash is soft and onion is carmelized, stirring once or twice, about 40 minutes. This can be done ahead of time.

2. Combine the salsa and tomato sauce in a mixing bowl.

3. Spray a 8-inch square baking pan with pan spray. One at a time, spread a generous amount of the squash mixture in a tortilla, top with the salsa mixture and roll into an enchilada. Place seam side down in the baking pan. Repeat until all the squash mixture has been used. Top with the remaining salsa mixture, cover with foil and bake at 375F for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking another 10 minutes so the top gets crispy.

Remove from oven and serve immediately with guacamole, extra salsa and fat-free sour cream on the side.