Friday, January 20, 2012

Leafy Green Veggies Cut Diabetes Risk

According to a recent study published in British Medical Journal, which reviewed several studies that explored the link between fruit and vegetable consumption and Type 2 diabetes, eating one and a half extra servings of green leafy vegetables cut the risk of diabetes by 14 percent. As if we needed another reason to eat more leafy greens! Calorie for calorie, no other food packs in more nutrition than leafy greens. Which means you can eat and eat, get very few calories (many of which come from protein, by the way) yet a ton of protective phytonutrients and antioxidants that fight disease.

It's easy being green! Read on for some ways to incorporate more leafy greens into your diet.

* Toss a couple of handfuls of baby spinach into the blender next time you make a frozen fruit smoothie. Try this: in a drink blender, combine a pre-peeled and frozen banana with a cup of frozen berries and/or cherries, a few chunks of melon or peeled peach or nectarine, and about a cup of almond milk with 1/2 bag of baby spinach. It'll look a little funky but you won't taste the greens.

* Add shredded lettuce to sandwiches and wraps.

* Add frozen or fresh chopped kale or collards to homemade soup.

* Whip up greens Italian style: Lightly steam chopped up cooking greens. Heat olive oil in a large pan and add a couple of cloves of sliced garlic. Saute until fragrant. Add the greens and saute until tender. Add salt and pepper to taste. For a final touch, add a splash of fresh lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. (For a heartier dish, add a can of rinsed white beans to the greens and toss well.)

* Add sauteed spinach to pasta, omelets, rice dishes, and sauces.

* Serve your next meal over a bed of steamed greens. They're good with just about any sauce or gravy.

* Start with a bag of mixed baby greens. Add toasted walnuts, thinly sliced apple, a bit of crumbled tofu, and your favorite no-sugar-added dressing for a gourmet first course before dinner.

* Pile sauteed or steamed greens on homemade pizza.

* Choose a large green like collards, and make burritos and wraps using the leaves as the wrappers.

How to pick: Look for fresh, bright, firm leafy green veggies, free of foul odor and a limp appearance. Try broccoli, mustard greens, Chinese greens (not just bok choy-- visit an Asian grocer if you have one, and check out the variety!), kale, collards, arugula, chard, and spinach. If you have a budding green thumb, try growing some in your garden.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Crispy Kale and Jerked Tofu

Here was dinner last night: Jerked Tofu, Crispy Kale, and Seasoned Quinoa (I got "Quinoa AGAIN?" from Ben, which I found rather humorous).

The tofu was really easy to make; I just took my favorite Jerk spice rub, Busha Browne's, which is a thick sauce, almost a paste, and tossed about 1 tablepoon with 1 lb cubed tofu, and pan fried in a little oil. Next time I'm going to slice the tofu in thin slices, because it took longer than I would have liked to turn the tofu cubes to get them evenly cooked. This particular brand of jerk seasoning is bold and balanced, with the perfect combination of tangy and spicy, without an overpowering "hot spice" load. I highly recommend it.

The kale was more of an accident -- I left it in the oven a bit too long and it got crispy. It was delicious. I make oven-roasted kale a lot, and I vary the seasonings. Last night I used lemon pepper, cumin, garlic powder, and salt. The kale was completely dry (I used a pre-washed variety) so I think that's why it crisped up so fast (usually I give it a rinse before roasting).

I've been getting a lot of questions about leafy greens lately, so stay tuned for a new post on leafy greens.

The quinoa was made with water and a sprinkle of onion soup mix (my new secret ingredient) and was awesome.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Falafel Makeover

Not to sound like a broken record, but I again have to send a boatload of thanks to Trader Joes for tasty, high quality, mostly nutritious vegan convenience food. One of my favorites is their frozen falafel. It's better than some that I've had in restaurants. And it's ready in one minute in the microwave.

I'd been enjoying falafel sandwiches (on either whole wheat pita or wraps) with chopped raw veggies and tahini sauce, while also trying to drop this stubborn baby weight (which, since I've hit 40, is doubly hard to shed), and I realized I'm not going to get very far if I continue: for only three balls of falafel, I'm getting 320 calories and 19 grams of fat. And sometimes I eat 4! Add a large pita (about 200 calories) and a couple tablespoons tahini sauce (another 100 or so calories), and (we won't count the veggie calories) that equals over 600 calories. For lunch! And I'd often have a piece of fruit an hour after.

But I don't want to give up my beloved falafel, which is delicious and not terribly unhealthy (a bit oily, true, but it's not an everyday indulgence). But I sure can give up the bread, and I can use less tahini.

My new take on a falafel lunch is pictured here: a huge bowl of chopped raw veggies, three balls of falafel (quartered), and watered-down tahini sauce. New calorie count: 400 (plus veggies, again, which we won't count). This is better not only for the calorie savings but because I now incorporate more raw veggies, which means more antioxidants and fiber, and I really do feel full until dinner. Plus who needs more wheat?

A vegan diet is a great way to control weight. But if you're like me, sometimes delicious prepared/convenience foods can sabotage our best efforts. And it's up to us to find ways to balance portions, satiety, flavor, and nutrition. It's a continuous learning process, even for the pros!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Best Vegan Creamy Salad Dressings

Trying to cut back on oils, processed soy, or both?

Most creamy salad dressings rely on concentrated fats (oils) and/or tofu (or tofu products, like tofu mayo/sour cream) to give the dressing that creamy texture. And that's fine, but if you're eating as much salad as you should be, you might feel the need to mix it up a little, and if (like me) you're always looking for ways to cut calories while maximizing nutrient density, here are a few ideas.

Watered Down Hummus

This sounded gross to me the first time I heard about it, but I tried it and now I'm an addict! I make my own hummus most of the time, but my all-time favorite hummus is Trader Joe's Edamame Hummus. I just put a big spoonful in a bowl, add about the same volume of warm water, stir, and pour on my salad. I find that strong-flavored hummus works best for this dressing.

Sesame Dressing

I LOVE LOVE LOVE this dressing for everything from falafel to a dip for raw veggies to a sauce for steamed greens. But it can be pretty high in calories, and the addictiveness of the flavor can make those calories add up quickly. So I make a regular tahini sauce and thin it out with water. It is super-delicious. All you do is start with a spoonful of tahini, slowly add water and lemon juice until at the desired consistency and flavor, and season with a bit of sea salt. Sometimes I use garlic but I've been enjoying the clean flavor of just the sesame and lemon. You can really thin this out a lot and retain the wonderful flavor.

Avocado Dressing (A.K.A. thinned out guac)

This stuff is decadent! Start with a ripe avocado in the food processor. Add lime juice, cumin, fresh parsley, salt, and water until at the desired consistency. Yum.

White Bean Dressing

This is a lot like hummus. Basically make a white bean hummus in the food processor with white beans, lemon juice, tahini (optional), white pepper, and salt. Add water until at the desired consistency.

Cashew Dressing

This can be done with most nuts and seeds. Soak raw cashews in enough water to cover for 1-2 hours. Blend both in a food processor until smooth and creamy. Add lemon juice OR a clear or light-colored flavored vinegar of your choice, garlic, and more water to desired consistency.

Ah the magic of water -- the more you add, the fewer calories end up on your salad. It's up to your taste buds to find the right balance between flavor and nutrition value. And certainly if you need to GAIN weight, keep it thick, as these dressings are chock full of health-supporting nutrients!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Vegan Shepherd's Pie

Still on a mission to use up the wonderful winter veggies I got from my co-op this week, I decided to make the ultimate comfort food: Shepherd's Pie. Now, my favorite recipe for shepherd's pie comes from friends Gene and Helen, who, in 1994 or thereabouts, for the holidays gave their friends a printed compilation of their favorite vegan recipes, bound by a plastic coil spine. The recipe calls for shredded frozen tofu (which has to be done in advance) and walnuts (which my son is allergic to) so to the web I went for a new recipe.

The one I ended up making is based loosely on this one from vegweb. (If you haven't tried vegweb, you have GOT to! It's saved me literally dozens of times when I've needed quick recipe inspiration.)

As you can see here (bad picture of Emily; she was in the process of blinking), everyone LOVED this dish. And if you cook for a family, you know how wonderful that feels. As it was a cold weekend day, comfort food was on the mind, so I also served this with a thick brown gravy and not-so-good-for-you-but-so-delicious store-bought dinner rolls, heated in the oven.

Here's my rendition, which used all organic white potatoes, yellow onions, broccoli, collard greens, and carrots. This is that awesome, forgiving sort of recipe that allows you to put in pretty much whatever vegetables you have lying around.

You will need:

For the potatoes:
  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • unsweetened almond milk (you can use any plant milk, to taste)
  • earth balance (you can use any vegan butter, to taste)
  • salt and pepper, to taste

For the veggies:
  • 1-2 tbsp broth (if you want this very low in fat) or olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped

(for the veggies here, you can use about 4-6 cups of chopped vegetables of your choice in place of what I used)
  • 2 cups chopped broccoli
  • 6 huge collard green leaves
  • 2 large carrots, shredded
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
And the rest:
  • 1 package Gardein beef skewers, chopped (you can use 8 or so ounces of any veggie meat substitute you like)
  • 1 tsp savory
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 2 tsp thyme leaves
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • ground pepper to taste
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (any plant milk will do)
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (don't do what I did, which was to sprinkle from the container only to discover that there was no sprinkle top. Oops.)
1. Boil potatoes. Drain and mash with the milk and butter, salt and pepper to taste.

2. Heat the broth oil in a large pan and saute the garlic and onion over medium heat until soft and translucent. Add the veggies and veggie meat and cook until veggies start to wilt. Stir in seasonings. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

3. Add the broth and 3/4 cup milk along with the cornstarch and flour. Let the mixture come to a boil, stirring frequently. Sauce will thicken up a bit. When all the vegetables are cooked, remove from heat.

4. Spoon the vegetable mixture onto the bottom. Cover with the potatoes and smooth them down. Sprinkle the top with nutritional yeast. Heat in oven for 20 minutes or so until top is slightly firm.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Roasted Butternut Squash, Black Beans, and Apples with Oniony, Kaley Quinoa

This colorful, hearty, family-friendly winter meal from tonight was inspired by the ticking clock, leftover kale, and a recent delivery of fresh baby butternut squash and apples from my co-op.

It's a great way to use winter squash when you don't have much time.

You will need:
  • 2 baby or 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, deseeded, and cubed
  • 1 large or 2 small apples, cubed
  • 2 tbsp Earth Balance, then melted
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • cinnamon
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed
Preheat oven to 425. Place squash and apple in a baking pan with 1/4 cup water. Toss.

Roast for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, stir together the margarine, syrup, and cinnamon. Remove pan from oven and add the sauce; toss to coat. Add the beans and toss again. Put back in the oven for another 10 or 15 minutes.

The quinoa (1 cup) was prepared with water (2 cups), a 1/2 packet of organic onion soup mix, and chopped up leftover kale.

Dinner on the table in about 40 minutes, and much of that time was spent not cooking!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Success from Vegan Geico

This is one of those success stories that makes you so happy to be a vegan. Check out this article: With Workplace Support, Co-Workers Slim Down on Vegan Diet. Three Geico employees took the vegan challenge, and "Not only were they able to give up meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products with what they described as surprising ease, but they also lost weight and improved their overall health." Great news!

I wasn't surprised to discover that this study is part of a PCRM research project. They're always doing wonderful things that really do a great job showing people how a plant-based diet can make a real, dramatic difference in their lives. These folks have lost weight, dropped their blood pressure, and are enjoying increased energy. One even had her first normal mammogram in years, another eliminated her gastric reflux, and another saw her rheumatoid arthritis symptoms disappear! They say the diet is filling and that they plan on sticking to it.

In this study, the employees get medical supervision, group support, education sessions led by dietitians, tips on menu planning, and vegan eats in their cafeteria. I have to wonder, when the study is complete, will they continue to follow the plan? Will it be more difficult? Will they have support?

I think this shows us how important it is to be ambassadors to the movement: gently encouraging those whose minds are open to going vegan: in our workplaces and communities, offering support, opening our homes for vegan potlucks, being open and positive about our own habits and lifestyles, posting vegan recipes others have enjoyed, and sharing vegan treats for celebrations. The more positive exposure folks get on vegan living, the more widely accepted it will become.