Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Water Cress-White Bean Soup with Toasted Pine Nuts

I never get tired of soup. The variations and possibilities are endless, limited only by what’s in season, what's in your pantry, and your own imagination. Soup can start a meal, or be the meal. My favorite meals consist of a bowl of soup, a plate of salad, and a nice hunk of sourdough bread. I never tire of the ever changing combinations found with this type of meal.

The “Watercress-White Bean Soup with Toasted Pine Nuts”, (page 177), can be puréed, or not, like the recipe notes suggest. I opted to purée, which I agreed, yielded a more elegant presentation. The flavors are subtle, yet elementally satisfying, comprised from a few simple ingredients: shallots, watercress, white beans, and broth, with a small amount of soy milk to give it extra body. The toasted pine nuts are used as garnish, but add a nice little crunch to the first few bites. Leaving the oil completely out is easy in this recipe, and I’m quite sure nobody will miss it.

Note: This soup can end up quite thin, and it is important to simmer uncovered so it will thicken up. Otherwise, you can blend 2-4 tablespoons of flour with a cup of water, and stir into the bubbling soup to help thicken it up.

Keeping it “McDougall Friendly” checklist:
  • Use water instead of oil when sautéing the shallots and watercress.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Arugula & Apple Salad with Creamy Mustard Dressing

 The “Arugula & Apple Salad with Creamy Mustard Dressing” (page 50) is a bright and delicious blend of greens and fruit, dressed with a tangy mustard dressing, as the name suggests. Very quickly assembled, this salad makes a great starter to any meal, and is open to variation – different greens, different varieties of apples, mixing up the choice of fresh herbs.

The dressing calls for a lot of olive oil, 1/3 cup to be exact, which packs 630 calories and 71 grams of fat. Not to worry, though! It is easy to make this dressing fat free, without sacrificing any of the flavor. The secret is guar gum (see guar gum here). An emulsifier and thickener, a little goes a long way, and if you can find it in bulk, likely ½ cup will last you all year. In this recipe, I substituted 1/3 cup water for the oil, mixed it with the rest of the dressing ingredients (white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, and parsley), and added just ¼ teaspoon of guar gum. Mix thoroughly, then let it sit for about 15-30 minutes, and the dressing will thicken up perfectly! I liked this dressing so much, I plan to make it in the future for other salads as well.

Keeping it “McDougall Friendly” checklist:
  • Use water instead of oil when making the dressing, adding ¼ teaspoon of guar gum to emulsify and thicken. 

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.