Thursday, March 22, 2018

Szcechuan Sesame Noodles with Asparagus

“Szechuan Sesame Noodles with Asparagus” (page 238), is a perfect dish to welcome in Spring, when the first tender asparagus shoots begin showing up in the markets. A very simple dish that consists of noodles of your choice (I used Eden Foods Brown Rice Udon), cooked asparagus, sautéed onions and ginger, and a flavorful sauce made from sesame paste (tahini), chili paste, soy sauce, Chinese black vinegar, and sugar. This dish goes together rather quickly, and is indeed listed under the “F” for Fast category of recipes in this book, meaning the dish can be prepared in 30 minutes or less. If you are quite sure of the exact amount of time it takes to cook your noodles, feel free to follow the recipe instructions to add the asparagus to the last few minutes of pasta cooking time to lightly cook. I don’t have the confidence to estimate pasta cooking times accurately, and I’m most certain I would add the asparagus way too early and end up with it being very overcooked. For that reason, I just lightly steamed the asparagus separately, which theoretically could increase the preparation time.

 According to the recipe notes, Chinese sesame paste uses toasted sesame seeds, while tahini uses untoasted sesame seeds, so the Chinese sesame paste is recommended for a more intense flavor. I’ve never seen Chinese sesame paste, but I checked my jar of tahini and the ingredients were “Toasted Sesame Seeds”. There are many varieties of tahini available, so check the label to make sure you get what you are looking for.

I was not able to find any Chinese black vinegar, but found out that balsamic or brown rice vinegar are considered adequate substitutions. Since the recipe only called for one tablespoon of vinegar, I was comfortable substituting with high quality balsamic.

The noodles, asparagus, sauce, and sautéed veggies are tossed together, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds, and served warm. I enjoyed this dish very much, and can imagine myself making it quite often when I need to put together a quick and delicious meal – especially when fresh asparagus is abundant!

There are two places oil is used in this recipe. First, the cooked noodles and asparagus are supposed to be tossed in one tablespoon of sesame oil. Instead of that, I just rinsed the cooked noodles thoroughly to remove the starch, and set them aside until ready to use. Next, you are asked to use two tablespoons of canola oil to sauté the onion and ginger. I just used a little water instead. By not using these three tablespoons of oil, I omitted 42 grams of fat and 371 calories from the dish.

Fun fact - some of the recipes in this book use an ingredient in three different forms. For instance, this recipe uses sesame three ways – tahini, sesame oil, and sesame seeds. While I opted out of using the sesame oil, it still delighted me to see this trend in yet another recipe, a fun theme I enjoy looking for. 

Keeping it “McDougall Friendly” checklist:
  • Do not add sesame oil to the cooked noodles and asparagus. Instead, just rinse the noodles thoroughly to remove the starch so they won’t stick together.
  • Omit the canola oil when sautéing the veggies. Instead, use a nonstick pan and a little broth or sherry.      

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Spicy Sautéed Pea Vines

If you like sautéed or cooked greens in general, and spinach in particular, don’t worry if you can’t find pea vines to make this recipe. Pea vines are tender greens from the snow pea plant and are probably not widely available outside of a well-stocked Asian grocery store. While I have seen them once in such a market, and was also lucky enough to have them served to me at a Chinese restaurant once, when I made this recipe of “Spicy Sautéed  Pea Vines”, (page 373), I used spinach, an acceptable substitution per the recipe notes. You could also try watercress or Swiss chard as well.

This simple dish consists of sautéed pea vines seasoned with fresh garlic, crushed red pepper, and salt and pepper. The recipe includes 2 tablespoons of olive oil, but I left this completely out, with no need to substitute with any other liquid. Most fresh greens will release enough liquid as they are cooking with no need for additional oil or water. After eating a very low oil diet for so long, even small amounts of oil in a dish really stand out, but in my opinion, two tablespoon of oil in what ends up to be about a cup of cooked greens would be a lot! Try it without any oil, you’ll likely not miss it at all!

I love greens of any kind, cooked, raw, in soups, salads, smoothies, so I knew I would love this recipe too. The seasoning combination of garlic and red pepper flakes is a match made in heaven, and you can substitute the salt with a splash of soy sauce for a more complex flavor (like I did).

The recipe calls for a total of 15 minutes cooking time. This seems like a lot to me. When I cook spinach and chard, I take no longer than the time it makes to toss it and wilt it over medium heat, usually 3-4 minutes at most. I haven’t actually cooked pea vines before, and they might be different, but 15 minutes just sounds like too long. 

Keeping it “McDougall Friendly” checklist:
  • Eliminate the olive oil altogether. Sauté in a non-stick skillet and no substitute liquid will be necessary. If not using non-stick, use as little water as possible to prevent sticking until the greens start to release their own liquid.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Salsa & Pinto Bean Spread

“Salsa & Pinto Bean Spread”, (page 16), is a quick and easy spread, or dip, that requires no adjustments to keep it “McDougall Friendly”. A few simple ingredients (beans, salsa, cilantro, lime juice, and spices) are combined in a food processor, and ready to eat in 10 minutes or less if you have cooked beans on hand. Depending on the salsa you use, this will be thicker (a spread), thinner (a dip), and either mild or spicy. You could also do this with another variety of bean, if you wanted, and use parsley instead of cilantro. Many possibilities!

I used my air fryer (see one here) to make oil-free tortilla chips from corn tortillas, a perfect accompaniment.
Keeping it “McDougall Friendly” checklist:
  • No changes necessary! J 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Baked Mac and Cheeze

Ask most people what their favorite comfort food is, and chances are they will say Macaroni and Cheese. Most of the vegan versions I've tried, while good in their own right, haven’t been able to rival this cherished dish of my childhood. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, or I won’t keep trying. So far I’ve resisted using commercial nondairy cheeses. While I have a feeling they would come very close to mimicking the original, I don’t feel it would be a step in the right direction, loaded as they are with oil, saturated fats, and additives. 1000 Vegan Recipes offers up a couple of vegan renditions of Mac-N-Cheese, and recently I tried the “Baked Mac and Cheeze”, (page 222).

The basis of the sauce is soy milk, flour and nutritional yeast, with flavor enhancements including soy sauce, miso, mustard, cayenne, and paprika, plus a touch of turmeric to give it a yellow, cheese-like hue. The sauce, which incorporates sautéed onion, is thickened on the stove top, after which a cup of broth mixed with cornstarch is added to the pot. (Adding additional liquid/thickener at this point seemed a little strange to me at first, and I’m still wondering about this methodology, but it seemed to all work out.) Finally, the sauce is combined with cooked elbow macaroni, topped with bread crumbs, and baked in the oven. I opted to top with fresh sliced tomatoes after it was done baking for added color and flavor.

My husband and I both enjoyed this latest rendition. The sauce provided a pleasing flavor, and although not really comparable to cheese, it was cheese-like, primarily due to the large amount of nutritional yeast. It was still a hot-out-of-the-oven satisfying pasta dish that always pleases at some level. It made a lot for two people, and the leftovers warmed up in the microwave nicely.

I made a slight departure from the recipe directions since I prepared this without the 3 tablespoons of olive oil used to make the roux for the sauce. Normally, when making a “white sauce”, oil is warmed in a saucepan, to which flour is added and mixed until you have a soft paste of oil and flour. The oil helps prevent the flour from lumping when you begin to slowly incorporate the milk with a whisk. Using this methodology isn’t very conducive to oil free cooking, it seems you just can’t prevent lumps without coating the flour in oil. To get around this dilemma, I’ve taken to mixing all the ingredients in a blender and processing until smooth, then thickening on the stove. Here are my revised instructions for Step #2, if you opt to make this without the oil:

  1. Sauté the onion by itself in a little broth or water; set aside.
  2. Put the remaining sauce ingredients (except the cornstarch and broth) into a blender and blend until smooth. If you want to add a small amount of natural oil and creaminess to the sauce, you can include 2 tablespoons of tahini to the sauce ingredients before blending. I did this, and was happy with the results.
  3. Transfer blended sauce to a large sauce pan and thicken over medium heat, whisking almost constantly.
  4. Add the sautéed onion to the thickened sauce.
  5. Proceed with the remainder of the recipe (Step #3 in the book).
Keeping it “McDougall Friendly” checklist:
  • Use a small amount of water or broth to sauté the onion.
  • Use wholegrain pasta of your choice.
  • Use wholegrain breadcrumbs.  

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Eggplant Paprikash

Hello, and thank you to any of my faithful followers checking in, and likely wondering if I was ever coming back. I’ve not given up on the blog, there has just been a lot of living life and shifting priorities. I do plan to keep working through the book, one recipe at a time, and hopefully I’ll pick up the pace a bit! I couldn’t have been more pleased with my come-back selection of “Eggplant Paprikash”, (page 321). I admit to not always being a fan of eggplant, but over time I have come to enjoy it more, finding particular recipes where this humble vegetable really shines. This recipe is definitely one of those. According to the headnotes, this Hungarian dish is traditionally made with chicken, sour cream, and bacon drippings. In this rendition, the eggplant stands in for the chicken, vegan sour cream easily replaces the dairy version, and liquid smoke provides the bacon flavor. I have actually been making my own soy-based yogurt using the yogurt setting on my Instant Pot (see one here) and a vegan starter from Cultures For Health (find them here), which stands in perfectly for sour cream, and is free from additives and oils. Today there are several vegan sour cream and yogurt products commercially available as well, so you shouldn’t have any problem finding that.

If you’re like me, you might have thought the only way to make eggplant palatable was to drown it in oil, but this dish definitely proves that isn’t the case. Even though the recipe calls for two tablespoons of olive oil for sautéing the veggies, I just used a little extra broth instead and had excellent results. The dish consists of sautéed onion, garlic, eggplant, and bell pepper, simmered in a mixture of vegetable broth, paprika, and canned diced tomatoes, until the eggplant is tender. The sour cream and liquid smoke are added at the end, just before serving. If you like your food a bit more garlicky, as I do, you can add the garlic towards the end of the cooking time to preserve the flavor.

The end result was delectable!  I thought that the combination of such basic ingredients would be more pedestrian, but the complexity of textures and flavors definitely elevate this to a cut above the ordinary. I served it with a simple couscous pilaf and steamed kale.

Keeping it “McDougall Friendly” checklist:
Replace the 2 tablespoons of olive oil with a small amount of broth. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Vegan Pound Cake

The traditional recipe for pound cake includes a pound each of flour, butter, eggs, and sugar. The way to make this  “Vegan Pound Cake” (page 448), while still a rich and satisfying treat, is much lighter. And, when you replace the oil with applesauce, like I did, the health profile improves a bit more. The recipe is very simple, using flour, sugar, baking powder, non-dairy milk and tofu for the batter, flavored with vanilla extract. Initially I was concerned that leaving out the oil would cause the cake to be dry and crumbly, so I opted to stay with the all-purpose (white) flour instead of substituting whole wheat  or whole wheat pastry flour. I also used a scant ½ cup of applesauce to replace the ¼ cup of oil. This is the amount of applesauce found in the snack size containers sold under many different labels (look for the no-sugar added varieties). Happily, the final result was a delicious cake both moist and delicious.  

Slices of this cake are perfect for topping with sliced fresh fruit, vegan whipped cream, or dessert sauces, but is equally delicious with no additions at all. I made this treat for a 4th of July gathering, and topped each slice with strawberries, whipped cream, and blueberries for a red, white and blue theme. This was a fun and festive presentation that was met with rave reviews!

Keeping it “McDougall Friendly” checklist:
  • Replace the ¼ cup of oil with a scant ½ cup of unsweetened applesauce.
  • Although I didn’t try this myself, to make this even healthier, substitute whole wheat pastry flour for the all-purpose (white) flour.  

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Tempeh & Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pie

My husband and I recently returned from a trip to Ireland, a place I have wanted to visit for a very long time, and my first European adventure. Traveling is often a challenge to healthy eating, especially when you add the word “vegan” to the criteria. Ireland was no exception, and in fact, we really had to go out of our way to find the healthiest options available during our time in Dublin, Cork, Killarney and Galway. Shepherd’s Pie seems to be a mainstay in this part of the world, but we weren’t lucky enough to see any vegan versions of this almost completely plant based dish on any of the menus in any of the restaurants we dined in. By the time we got home, I was really craving a Shepherd’s Pie, so I decided to try this version of “Tempeh and Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie” (page 304). While even a further departure from traditional Shepherd’s Pie, with sweet potatoes used as the topping, it was very delicious and really satisfied my craving.

This dish can take some time to prepare, so plan ahead, and as the recipe notes suggest, everything can be assembled ahead of time at your leisure, then popped in the oven to bake when you are ready to eat. The recipe also suggests using seitan, veggie burgers, or vegetarian burger crumbles instead of the tempeh if you want, and depending on which option you use, there will be a degree of preparation time needed for that. I opted for seitan this time around, using the recipe from this book (see my review here). You will also need to prepare the Mushroom Sauce from this book (see my review for that here.) Then of course, the sweet potatoes have to be cooked and mashed. I spent a leisurely afternoon putting everything together and rather enjoyed being back in my kitchen after a couple of weeks away. I found the effort well worth it!

Onions, carrots, peas, and corn round out the rest of the pie filling, and with the bright orange topping of sweet potatoes, this makes a bright, beautiful, and colorful dish, not to mention delicious! I took my picture prior to baking it in order to show a “cut away” revealing all the pretty colors.

It is quite easy to omit the oil called for in this dish – see my notes below.

Keeping it “McDougall Friendly” checklist:

  • Omit the margarine when mashing the sweet potatoes. I just used the soymilk called for, adding a little more as needed to achieve the correct level of moistness.
  • Omit the oil when sautéing the vegetables and tempeh; for the veggies, use a nonstick skillet with a little water, sherry, or broth instead. If you are using tempeh, you can bake it or “dry fry” it in a skillet to crisp it up. You will not get the browning you would with oil, but as an ingredient inside a mix of moist ingredients, this becomes less of a standout. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Seitan with Ancho-Chipotle Sauce

If you like cooking with seitan, and if you like a well-seasoned sauce with a pop of smoke and spice, you will no doubt enjoy the “Seitan with Ancho-Chipotle Sauce” (page 310) as much as I did. Making seitan from scratch is super easy, and there are an abundance of recipes available if you want to try, including from this book (see my review here). You can also purchase seitan in most well stocked groceries and natural foods stores if you are so inclined. Either way, once the seitan is ready, the rest of the work is in the sauce, which consists of onion, carrot, garlic, fire-roasted tomatoes, and three dried chilies (ancho and chipotle). I substituted 1 tablespoon of chipotle powder for the chile, since I didn’t have one on hand, with no problem. The sauce is simmered for nearly an hour to thicken it up, and then everything is blended smooth in a blender.

Slices of seitan are dipped in seasoned cornmeal and, according to the recipe, should be pan-fried in 2 tablespoons of oil. Your options for reducing or eliminating the oil include baking the seitan on a parchment paper lined pan in a moderate oven for 30-minutes, turning halfway through; or, using a very fine mist of spray oil in your skillet; or, using a very high quality nonstick skillet without any oil (this will tend to stick to any but the best of non-stick cookware). Whichever method you choose, you can get by with much less than 2 tablespoons of oil, if not eliminating it altogether.

The final step is topping the browned seitan with the warmed sauce. With the very first bite, I think you will agree, the flavors are indescribably satisfying and delicious!

Keeping it “McDougall Friendly” checklist:

  • Omit the oil when sautéing the vegetables; used a nonstick skillet with a little water, sherry, or broth instead.
  • Instead of pan-frying the seitan in 2-tablespoons of oil, you can bake it on a parchment paper lined pan in a moderate oven for 30-minutes, turning halfway through; or, use a very fine mist of spray oil in your skillet; or, use a very high quality nonstick skillet without any oil (seitan will tend to stick to any but the best of non-stick cookware).

Friday, April 7, 2017

Strawberry Parfaits with Cashew Crème

“Strawberry Parfaits with Cashew Crème” (page 478) is the perfect recipe for those times you want to indulge, but without all the guilt. While this isn’t a fat free dessert, with ½ cup cashews in the mix, it is split between four servings (if you can be that disciplined!),which comes out to just two tablespoons per serving. The Cashew Crème is made by blending cashews, sugar, soy milk, and tofu into a rich and creamy mixture that is refrigerated for at least 30 minutes. I would recommend even longer, though, as I think the flavor improves both by letting the ingredients blend for a longer period of time, and by being thoroughly chilled. Once the crème is ready, it is just a matter of layering the strawberries and crème in parfait glasses. An easy, yet elegant dessert and wonderful this time of year when strawberries are coming into season.

Hint: I recommend soaking the cashews in 2 cups of water for a couple of hours (or longer) before making this for improved blending and increased smoothness. Drain and discard soaking water before proceeding

Keeping it “McDougall Friendly” checklist:
No changes necessary! J

Monday, April 3, 2017

Macaroni Salad

One of the really great things about switching to a plant based diet has been exploring the plethora of new recipes, foods, approaches, flavors, tastes, and textures. I’ve always been very experimental when it comes to food and my vegan adventure has been one of great joy and discovery. But, there are some dishes so dear to me that the thought of altering them too far from my concept of the original recipe just doesn’t appeal to me. I’ve been able to veganize just about all my favorites over the years, but sometimes just making that tiny change is as much as I want to do, because I want to keep the dish as intact as possible. Such is the case with macaroni salad. I am rather attached to my veganized version of this childhood favorite, and when I looked at the recipe for this “Macaroni Salad” (page 92), I wasn’t sure how I would react to it. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, and I finally took the plunge.

This is really a very simple recipe, and I must admit, I was more than pleased with the outcome. Since I had penne pasta available, I used that instead of elbow macaroni, which I think was probably equally as good. However, if you are a purist, you will likely want to keep with the elbow variety. Cooked pasta is combined with celery, red bell pepper, pickle relish, and red onion. The dressing consists of vegan mayonnaise (homemade or store bought), Dijon mustard, soy milk, cider vinegar (which might be the secret ingredient, it really gave the salad a nice little tang), and a bit of sugar and salt. The fat content in this recipe can add up fast if using a commercial mayonnaise, even of a vegan variety, so this is the area that needed to be addressed. Making vegan mayonnaise from silken tofu (see my review of this book's recipe here) drastically reduces the calories, and there are oil free brands on the market as well, though not nearly as tasty. 

I had no trouble bonding with this new version of Macaroni Salad and will definitely make it again!

Fast facts
¾ cup commercial vegan mayonnaise = 504 calories, 48 grams of fat (12 of which are saturated fat)
¾ cup commercial brand silken tofu (which can be used to make homemade vegan mayonnaise) = 168 calories, 7 grams of fat (0 gram of saturated fat)

Keeping it “McDougall Friendly” checklist:
  • Use a whole grain pasta of your choice.
  • Use an oil free mayonnaise, either purchased or homemade

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Coconut-Peanut Chickpeas & Vegetables

“Coconut-Peanut Chickpeas & Vegetables” (page 259) has the combinations of ingredients and flavors I find immensely appealing. Chickpeas are one of my favorite legumes, and the blending of peanut butter, coconut milk, garlic and tomatoes (plus throw in a little heat – a lot, in my case) is just irresistible to my palate. This is a very quick and easy dish to put together, as long as you have cooked chickpeas on hand. Sautéed onion, bell pepper and garlic are combined with a touch of curry, and added to the chickpeas. Coconut milk and peanut butter provide a smooth richness, but as I always do, I substituted soymilk flavored with ½ teaspoon of coconut extract for the coconut milk to omit the highly saturated fat that comes with it. I have come to prefer this to coconut milk, which seems overly thick and rich to me anymore. You still get the wonderful flavor of coconut, and I never feel like anything is missing.

Fast facts

14 ounces of full fat canned coconut milk = 700 calories, 70 grams of fat (60 of those are saturated fat)

14 ounces of full fat soy milk = 141 calories, 8 grams of fat (1 gram of saturated fat)

At the very last minute, fresh baby spinach is added to the skillet and cooked just long enough to wilt. A lovely, colorful, and delicious addition, really making this a one pot meal if you so desire. I ended up serving it over rice for a heartier presentation, and to collect the delicious sauce. Crushed peanuts for the garnish are the crowning touch.

Keeping it “McDougall Friendly” checklist:
  • Omit the oil when sautéing the vegetables; used a nonstick skillet with a little water, sherry, or broth instead.
  • Substitute the coconut milk with 14 ounces of soymilk flavored with ½ teaspoon coconut extract.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

White Bean & Artichoke Spread

Another selection from the Appetizers and Snacks chapter, “White Bean & Artichoke Spread” (page 18) is very easy to make oil free and healthy without sacrificing an ounce of flavor. This is a simple yet satisfying blend of artichoke hearts, white beans, parsley, and lemon juice with just a pinch of cayenne to liven things up. The recipe is not written to be oil free. It calls for marinated artichoke hearts, and a tablespoon of olive oil. I opted for canned artichoke hearts packed in water because I couldn’t find them frozen in my local market (I think frozen artichoke hearts are superior to canned), and I simply omitted the olive oil altogether. The blended spread is topped with a small sprinkle of chopped kalamata olives (which I forgot to do before taking this picture), and is wonderful on crackers, toast, sourdough bread, or as a dip for raw veggies.

Keeping it “McDougall Friendly” checklist:
  • Omit the olive oil all together.
  • Use frozen artichoke hearts, or canned, packed in water instead of marinated. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Black & Green Olive Tapenade

“Black & Green Olive Tapenade” (page 9) is an easy appetizer that can be whipped up in just a few minutes, and is especially good if you have access to a fresh olive bar in your local grocery or natural foods stores. I learned that the word “tapenade” actually means capers, one of the ingredients in this spread, and if you leave them out, you’ll still have a delicious olive spread, it just won’t be authentically tapenade.

It can’t get much easier than this – combine the capers, olives, lemon juice, thyme, and black pepper in a food processor and process until finely chopped. At this point the recipe calls for the addition of olive oil, ¼ cup to be exact, to be added to the chopped olives and blended until the mixture is a smooth paste. But I wasn’t at all worried about omitting the oil altogether, after all olives are the source of olive oil, and chopping them up in a food processor will release a measure of oil into the mix. (A quarter cup of olive oil contains 477 calories and 54 grams of fat, so it’s no small thing deciding to leave this out.) By contrast, 1 cup of black olives only contains about 15 grams of fat, and ½ cup green olives about 8 (these are the amounts called for in the recipe). This of course, if you purchase olives not cured in oil. If you do, be sure to rinse them thoroughly first. You may want to add a bit of water to the food processor while it’s running, in place of the oil, a tablespoon at a time, to reach the desired consistency.

This spread is very rich, and a little definitely goes a long way. It is excellent on fat-free crackers, toasted bread, or stuffed into mushroom caps.

Keeping it “McDougall Friendly” checklist:
  • Omit the olive oil all together. Add water, one tablespoon at a time, to the food processor while it’s running if necessary to reach desired consistency.
  • If your olives are cured in oil, be sure to rinse them thoroughly before using. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Ginger-Peanut Tempeh

Browning tempeh oil-free can definitely be a challenge, and if you’re like me, you may have to decide you’re going to end up with something a little different from the original recipe intent. Such was the case with “Ginger-Peanut Tempeh”, (page 301), which called for browning previously steamed diced tempeh in a skillet using two tablespoons of oil. In all likelihood, this would have kept the tempeh cubes intact, as intended, but what I ended up with was more of a tempeh scramble, especially since the addition of each new ingredient required more tossing and stirring in the skillet. Not a bad thing, necessarily, at least I didn’t think so. This dish was quite flavorful with red bell pepper, garlic, green onions, fresh ginger, peanuts, and cilantro, all seasoned with a combination of soy sauce, sugar, and crushed red pepper. I ended up serving it over brown rice, and thought it would also have gone well with mashed potatoes, or grilled yams.  Bright steamed greens on the side made for a complete meal.

Keeping it “McDougall Friendly” checklist:
  • Instead of frying the tempeh in oil, use a very good quality nonstick skillet and “dry-fry” it.
  • Use the same nonstick skillet and a little broth, sherry, or water to sauté the veggies.