Sunday, September 9, 2012

Vegan Eggplant Ricotta Spinach Casserole (Gluten- and Soy Free Variations too)

Everything's coming up eggplants! I had 4 huge eggplants ready at once in the garden, and I wanted to use them in different ways. Here's one of the recipes, a layered casserole with oven-fried eggplant, spinach, ricotta, and tomato sauce. It's sort of a take on eggplant parm, or maybe eggplant lasagna (sans the noodles).

I typically avoid multi-step recipes like this because I'm so busy, but there's something about crispy, breaded eggplant that is so irresistible. That said, I wanted to avoid the excess fat you get from frying (not to mention the mess), so I did a little low-fat trick that I'll share with you here.

Here's how you make this gluten- and soy-free: Use GF breadcrumbs in place of the pankos, and use cashew cream (consistency of yogurt to sour cream) for the dipping mixture. Omit the ricotta layer.

Eggplant Ricotta Spinach Casserole
  • 1 large eggplant
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 cup unsweetened plain soy yogurt
  • 1/2 cup soy mayo
  • 1/4 cup vegan sour cream
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 2 tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 tbsp vegan parmesan of your choice (optional)
  • 2 tsp seasoned salt
  • 10-oz box frozen spinach, thawed
  • 2 tbsp fresh chopped basil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 container Tofutti ricotta
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 jar tomato sauce or pasta sauce of your choice
  • 1/2 package Daiya mozz shreds

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Slice the eggplant into 1/4 inch slices. Stir together the yogurt, mayo, and sour cream (or use cashew cream; I would have used cashew cream but Ben is allergic). Blend together the bread crumbs, 2 Tbsp Italian seasoning, nutritional yeast, parma, and seasoned salt. Dip the eggplant in the creamy mixture (or brush it on) and shake off any excess. You want just enough to coat the breadcrumbs, not a thick coating. Dip eggplant into the panko mixture and place on a cookie sheet that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray (Pam now makes an organic canola variety, did you see it?). Place in the oven. Turn each piece after 15 minutes; bake another 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, blend spinach with the basil, salt, and lemon juice. Set aside. Squish the ricotta around the bowl well (the consistency will change from stiff to creamy eventually) and add the 2 tsp Italian seasoning.

In a 14x9 inch casserole dish, coat the bottom with a layer of tomato sauce. Add a layer of the eggplant (use half). Add the spinach layer (spread out evenly). Add the ricotta layer (spread out evenly). Add another eggplant layer. Add another sauce layer. Sprinkle the mozz on top evenly.

Bake, covered with foil, at 425 for about 20 minutes. Take foil off and bake another 20 minutes or so, or until cheese just starts to brown.

This is a pretty low-fat version of a usually very rich dish. The secret to a moist and flavorful eggplant is the yogurt mixture, which gets sealed in by the breadcrumb coating.

Here's what the oven-fried eggplant looks like:

This is a wonderful leftover. It's wonderful in a salad, sandwich, or wrap. I'm going to make Eggplant Rollatini!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Eating out of the summer garden

This is the kind of meal that screams "SUMMER"! Here are just of the few things we had for dinner tonight, and almost all of it came out of my veggie garden.

The best plate was definitely the eggplant-tomato-basil platter in the front. The Japanese eggplant plant only yielded one little eggplant this week, not enough to make a real eggplant dish. So I sliced it into thin rings and pan fried them in a little high-quality olive oil, and finished with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Japanese eggplant is so yummy -- you can eat the skins (they turn a lovely lavender color) and the flavor is nice and mild. I arranged the cooked eggplant on the plate, and surrounded it with plum tomato slices. I then sprinkled on coarsely chopped fresh basil, and drizzled a little balsamic glaze on top. We gobbled that up fast!

The salad in the back features my sugar-sweet cherry tomatoes (which Emily eats like grapes), some leftover chickpeas, cucumber, and fresh parsley. It was dressed simply with a squeeze of lemon, salt, and pepper. The salad on the right is a combination of arugula (I can't seem to have enough arugula!) and baby spinach, with cucumber, carrot, and yellow baby bell tomatoes (um yes that's THREE kinds of tomatoes in one meal!). I paired that salad with a bit of homemade hummus and edamame dip (on the left). The edamame dip comes from my friend Alma Schneider -- check out her recipe on her blog. Everyone LOVES this dip (especially Emily) -- I make it every week.

On another note... this is the kind of meal that I think of when carnivores ask, "What do vegans eat?" and they think vegan diets are so boring, or complicated. This is so flavorful, so delicious, and it's not even fancy cuisine. Just simple, whole, fresh plant foods.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Picky toddler? Just Chill.

My first child, Ben, ate pretty much everything I put in front of him. Everyone told me that I was lucky. I thought, no, this isn't about luck; this is about good parenting and my oodles of nutrition experience! Now, with my second, Emily, who's almost 2, I'm starting to change my tune. Not a lover of veggies, she's a stubborn little thing!

What to do? I stick with the advice I've given others over the years: Chill. Don't show a single iota of emotion when your child refuses to eat something. That is how the battle of the wills takes over. And slowly but surely, your child will start eating veggies.


Provide a veggie on the plate, every. single. day. Ideally both at lunch and dinner, but at LEAST one. Do raw (if child can chew it). Do cooked. Do dips. Do plain. Do sauced. Do steamed. It doesn't matter. Just put it there. The repeated exposure is very important for success in the long run.

Be matter-of-fact. "That's BOCKIE! I no like BOCKIE!" "Okay," says you. "No broccoli. So. How about those Yankees?" Refuse to engage in a battle. Then you have already won half of it!

Practice a little reverse psychology. Emily loves poking her nose in my food, saying, "Wanna taste it!" She does this with pretty much everything I eat, even salad. When I willingly share, she usually spits it out with an "I-don-like-it." So I say, "No, these are MY vegetables, you HAD your lunch," or something similar, and I hoard it with some serious drama. This gets her to really want what I'm eating, so after a few "No, this is mine"'s, eventually I'll give in, say, "Ok, ok, you win, you win!" and hand over something. And from this little technique I now have a little lover of red bell pepper (even raw!), cherry tomatoes, and tofu (which she endearingly calls "tofut" as in, "toe foot").

Do not force your child to eat. As frustrating as it is to see your delicious sauteed asparagus grow cold, wilted, and wrinkled on your child's place, let it go. When your child is done eating, take it away and move on. It's ok to eat it yourself, as in, "MMM Thank you! More for me!"

Be a role model. Eat your veggies. Enjoy them. Show your child that it's just what we do.

Dine out regularly, if it's within your budget. No matter how much I cook, my food will never come close to tasting as yummy as food at our local Asian joint. Order a few different things and put a little of everything on your child's plate. This is a powerful technique. It exposes children to new foods; it adds a bit of excitement to meals; it provides a sense of adventure around food. There's nothing cuter than watching a 1 1/2-year-old eating sweet potato tempura sushi. And speaking of dining out with little ones, can I please share a little pet peeve? What is with these children's menus? It's like a pro-child-obesity conspiracy! What, the only things kids are allowed to have are chicken nuggets, grilled cheese, and pizza? Drives me bonkers. (One time I tried to order Ben a vegan pizza off the kids menu; I asked them to substitute broccoli for the cheese and they wouldn't do it -- they would only do a huge one. Really!) So we just share what we order. An added benefit, this helps us (parents) with portion control.

It's ok to hide veggies. I'm not talking about a chunk of Brussels sprout in a pile of mashed potatoes. I'm talking about the Power of Purees. Here are a few ideas (veggies are to be cooked to soft stage and then pureed with a bit of water or plant-based milk until uniform):

  • Puree of carrot, beet, and/or squash in brownies or whole grain muffins
  • Puree of green beans and/or peas in bean burgers
  • Puree of pretty much anything in tomato sauce, served on pasta
  • Puree of cauliflower in creamy soups, mashed potatoes, even yogurt

The purpose isn't to pull the (faux) wool over your child's eyes; it's to get them gradually used to the subtle flavor of veggies so they'll better accept them as time goes on.

How about you? I'd love to hear your successful techniques to get kids to try (and like!) veggies!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Wheat Free Surprise Banana Oat Muffins

Happy Summer, folks! And thanks for hanging in there in spite of my absence. It's been an exciting summer; in June Dan and I had a much-needed vacation in Scotland, and almost as soon as we returned, I headed over to Summerfest, where I gave 3 lectures and got inspired by dozens of amazing fellow vegans.

For the first time, I have a garden -- organic, but unfortunately not veganic. I don't compost yet but it's on my list of goals for 2013. I started the garden back in May (I moved an entire bed of perennials at the side of my house out of a plot to other locations, and I started fresh there), and I've been harvesting some amazing lettuce, arugula, kale, spinach, cukes, eggplant, green beans, and tomatoes. The peas were sort of a disaster but I will try, try again. I've been busy learning about soil maintenance and tricks of the trade.

I've been cooking a lot with my fresh veggies, and will start sharing those recipes!

For today, I just had to break my MIA streak to share this recipe I concocted for banana muffins. I almost always have 2 or 3 aging bananas in the bowl, and I was getting tired of the white-flour banana muffin variety, so I stepped it up and made a more nutritious, wheat free, whole grain rendition.

Wheat-Free Surprise Banana Oat Muffins

You will need:

  • 1 1/4 cups oat flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 6 tbsp rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup coconut flakes
  • 1/4 cup ground flax seeds
  • 2 medium bananas
  • 1 cup dairy-free milk
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 100% fruit jam and/or vegan chocolate chips

Heat oven to 375 and prepare a 12-cup muffin tin with oil or oil spray.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, soda, salt, and cinnamon. Stir in the oats, coconut, and flax. In a separate bowl, mash the bananas and add in the remaining ingredients up to the vanilla.

Add wet to dry and stir until just mixed.

Divide the batter into the 12 cups (they might be almost full; that's ok). For the surprise, place either about 1/2 tsp jam or about 4 chocolate chips in the center. Bake for about 20 minutes; test for doneness.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Authentic Aloo Gobi

I LOVE Indian food. I might have mentioned, I'm slowly cooking my way through The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking. But I found myself with fresh potatoes and cauliflower from my local co-op, and there wasn't a recipe for aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower curry) in the book. So I set off to make up my own.

The results were dreamy! I guess the book's techniques are rubbing off on me because this recipe was outstanding. Easy too. I really think the secret to success here is the generous use of fresh cilantro, added early on in the cooking process. The veggies infused with the fresh herb, along with the Indian spices, are intoxicating.

Here's what you need:

  • 1 medium head cauliflower, leaves removed and cut into bite-sized florets
  • 3 medium potatoes (red skinned really nice), peeled and cut into bite-sized cubes
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 small bunch fresh cilantro, stems removed (about 1 cup chopped leaves, packed)
  • 1 Tbsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 14.5-oz can organic diced tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger
  • 1/4 cup or so of water
  • 2 tsp garam masala

Cut up the cauliflower and potatoes. You can do this in advance, keeping the cauliflower covered and the potatoes in cold water. It might be wise to de-leaf, wash, and chop the cilantro well in advance too, since this is really a time suck. (Doing fresh herbs in advance helps me greatly with time management!)

Heat canola oil and cumin seeds in a very large saucepan.

When the seeds start to sizzle, add the onion and saute for about 7-8 minutes over medium heat. You want to cook the onions to transluscent, not brown them.

Add cilantro, turmeric, and salt. Stir until well-combined.

Add tomatoes, juice and all, and the garlic and ginger. Stir well until heated through.

Add potatoes and cauliflower to the sauce plus water. Toss gently so that the veggies are coated with the sauce.

Cover pan and simmer for about 20 minutes. Test veggies to be sure they're tender.

Add the garam masala, stir again, and serve. I find that this tastes best if you let it sit in the pan (off the heat) for about 15 minutes, served warm rather than hot.

Serve with a whole grain and any Indian side dishes you like.

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.