Spotlight

Answering the Protein Question with Curried Mango Quinoa Salad

Curried Mango Quinoa Salad Deliciousness

When cow-gobblers hear about Operation Carnivore Conversion, they always ask me (and always in shock): “Oh, but where do you get your protein?!” Apparently they assume that twigs and rocks aren’t very protein-rich. 😉  Below, I’m going to give you a super tasty, protein-packed 15-minute vegan meal – Curried Mango Quinoa Salad – that I often feed to meat-eaters to help turn their doubt into interest. In fact, I served this just last weekend to 25 carnivores at a friend’s baby shower and it was the surprise hit dish of the whole luncheon!

Most times, carnivores tell me: “I just couldn’t get enough protein without meat!”

“Really?” I ask, innocently as I narrow my eyes and go in for the kill. “Is that because you require so much more protein to maintain your epic typing-related muscles than the vegan NBA and NFL players, body builders, triathletes and Olympians like Carl Lewis?” (This usually earns me a punch in the arm). “Plus,” I tell them, “when you turn vegan, you won’t have cadaver-breath anymore, which is a bonus!” (That usually earns me a second punch).

Here’s the answer to the protein question, which is challenging for the T-Rexs to digest: It’s easy to get all the protein you need on a vegan diet. Maybe it’s difficult for people to accept because they have no idea how much protein they actually need. According to the CDC, most women need about 46 grams of protein per day, men about 56. It varies person to person, so to find your exact needs, try this handy protein calculator: http://www.globalrph.com/protein-calculator.cgi

Most carnivores (especially American ones) don’t realize they’re likely consuming exponentially more protein than needed. For example, here’s how much meat- and dairy-based protein my husband used to eat on a typical day before Operation Carnivore Conversion:

Large latte = 15 grams
Grilled chicken sandwich = 45 grams
Turkey tacos = 46 grams
Total = 106 grams of protein

That’s nearly twice what he needs!  Now let’s look at some easy vegan alternatives:

Large latte with soy milk = 14 grams
Tofurkey sandwich (which, much to his surprise, he loves) = 15 grams
Handful of almonds = 21 grams
1 big helping of curried mango quinoa salad = 20 grams
Total = 70  grams of protein

See how easy it is to get all the protein you need with a vegan diet? If you’re new to the vegetarian or vegan thing and you’re worried about getting enough, here are a few protein-rich foods to add to your meals and snacks:

Tempeh, 1 cup = 31 grams
Edamame, 1 cup = 22 grams
Almonds (a big handful) = 21 grams
Lentils, 1 cup = 18 grams
Baked beans, 1 cup = 18 grams
Pumpkin seeds, ½ cup = 16 grams
Quinoa, 1 cup = 8 grams
Peanut butter, 2 tbsp = 8 grams
Hummus, 1 serving = 7 grams
Oatmeal, 1 serving = 7 grams
2 tbsp chia seeds= 4 grams

Okay, now onto our protein star: quinoa. This recipe is great for converting carnivores since it’s got lots of protein, it’s bursting with big, yummy flavors and it gives you that satisfying full-belly feeling. Mango chutney gives it a zesty kick, cucumbers add a lovely crunch, fresh mangos provide a hint of earthy sweetness, while the quinoa and spinach round out the dish to make it a delicious meal. I think you’ll enjoy it!

Curried Mango Quinoa Salad

Curried Mango Quinoa Salad

Serves: 2 as a main course, 4 as a side dish
From fridge to table: 15 minutes

Ingredients:

1 cup quinoa
1 cup peeled fresh mango, finely chopped
1 cup Persian, Japanese, English or pickling cucumber, finely chopped (skin on)
5 tbsp green onion, chopped
3 cups fresh baby spinach

Dressing:
½ cup olive oil
½ cup white balsamic vinegar
¼ cup mango chutney, minced
2 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp dry mustard
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp smoked sea salt
½ tsp freshly ground pepper

In a medium pot, add 2 cups water, the quinoa and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until all the water is absorbed – about 12-15 minutes. Once the quinoa is done, fluff it to cool off the grains.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix together all the dressing ingredients and set aside. Then chop the cucumber, green onion and mango. By the way, the easiest way to chop a mango is to slice the flat-sides lengthwise as close to the seed as possible. Then into each half of fruit, carve a grid pattern into the flesh. Use your fingers to invert the pad of fruit, like this, then slice off the squares of mango flesh:

How to chop mango

(All this talk of mango “flesh” is getting the carnivores excited, isn’t it?)

Once the quinoa is ready, add the cucumber, mango, green onion and about ¼ of the dressing, then stir well. Add more dressing to taste. Arrange a bed of spinach on plates, and if you want to add an extra pop of color, then maybe a few red lettuce leaves as well. Heap big scoops of the mango quinoa concoction on top. Drizzle dressing on the spinach and a little more on the quinoa, then serve and enjoy!

* Giving credit where credit is due, the inspiration for this recipe came from one I found on Epicurious.com and modified.

Foods That Fight Stress

Moist and delicious oatmeal blueberry cashew vegan cookies

It’s a natural tendency to reach for a cookie when we’re feeling stressed out. In addition to providing a little respite, they also make great projectiles. But these tasty Vegan Spiced Oatmeal-Cashew-Blueberry Cookies (recipe below) aren’t like most comfort foods that provide only a fleeting moment of emotional anesthesia. These cookies are actually packed with incredible ingredients that alter your brain chemistry to reduce stress hormones and increase the production of chemicals that will elevate your mood.

Can you believe that something as simple as eating the right foods can decrease anxiety, depression and stress? It’s pretty amazing! It’s all chemistry, really. Every time we feel tension, our brains produce the stress hormone cortisol, which elevates blood pressure, impairs the immune system, makes our shoulders reside near our ears, and inspires some of us to throw objects at the heads of annoying people.  Here’s why I’ve felt a bit stressed lately:

Our stress-inducing apocalypse-style patio

Yes, it’s loads of fun trying to write articles with the pleasant sound of the jackhammer just inches away! Stress is a killer – literally. John knows four people who have dropped dead at his workplace in the past year. Yikes!  So when I started seeing his brain-vein pounding more prominently in recent weeks, and when my legs began jackhammering at my desk (even when the demo guys were taking a break), I decided to do a little research about ways to combat our tension with food.

Check this out:

Oatmeal makes your brain produce the “feel good” brain chemical serotonin. It modulates mood, helps us combat stress and makes us feel happier.

Blueberries are high in vitamin C, which researchers have found reduces the psychological and physical effects of stress by curbing the secretion of cortisol. It has also been shown to help people bounce back from stressful situations more quickly. And bonus: blueberries are rich with anthocyanin, which improves cognitive function and memory. They’re also a source of potassium, which lowers blood pressure.

Cashews are rich with zinc, which has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression. (By the way, did you know that our bodies can’t store zinc? Unless we consume some every day it can lead to zinc deficiency, which causes a host of other nasty problems like hair loss, mental lethargy and sexual health issues. So unless you want to be an impotent, balding slug, eat your cashews!)

So I figured: why not combine all these stress-busting, anti-anxiety foods into a delicious and healthy snack? Give these easy-to-make Spiced Oatmeal-Cashew-Blueberry cookies a try – they’re moist, delicious, addictive, and they’ll even help you suppress your urge to use one as a projectile. They’re so good that even carnivores who are fearful of anything vegan will love them.  And since they’re packed with complex carbs (verses the empty simple carbs found in most cookies) and are super good for you, there won’t be any guilt-related stress if you happen to gobble up, say, all 25 of them in one sitting. Enjoy!

Vegan spiced oatmeal-blueberry-cashew cookies. YUM!

Stress-Busting Spiced Oatmeal-Cashew-Blueberry Cookies

Time: 30 minutes
Makes: 25 cookies

Ingredients:

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour*
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/8 tsp nutmeg
a pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/3 cup agave nectar**
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 olive oil
2 cups old fashioned oats (uncooked)
1/2 cup dried blueberries, rehydrated (soak in hot water for 5 minutes. Be sure to pat them dry)
1/2 cup toasted and unsalted cashews, chopped

* Whole wheat pastry flour is a little lighter and yummier for baking, but you can use regular flour if you can’t find the pastry flour, but if you do, just use a tiny bit less than ½ cup since regular flour is denser.

** If you prefer, you can use 2/3 cup brown rice syrup in place of the agave nectar. But cut back on the salt to 1/8 tsp. The cookies turn out even chewier this way, and with slightly crispier tops. 

Preheat oven to 350. Prepare cookie sheets with parchment paper or a light spray of olive oil.

In a small bowl, stir together flour, salt, baking soda and all the spices. In a larger bowl, mix the applesauce, agave nectar, vanilla and oil until blended. Then add in the flour/spice mixture and stir well. Add the oats, blueberries and cashews and mix until blended. Now let the mixture sit for 10 minutes – this will soften up the oats and make the cookies chewylicious.

Using your cookie scooper or a spoon, create 25 little cookie mounds on your baking sheets and bake for 12-13 minutes, until the cookies are golden brown. Now here comes the hard part: wait at least 10 minutes before wolfing down the cookies. They hold together better after they’ve had a chance to rest. Plus, waiting will help you keep the flesh on the roof of your mouth!

Go MSG-free: Tasty Thai Yellow Curry with Sweet Potato and Chickpeas

Thai yellow curry with chickpeas and sweet potato over millet - YUM!

“Stop goldfishing*,” I tell my husband as he plows through a bag of Doritos that’s roughly the size of a bathtub. “I can’t. They’re addictive!” he pleads as I pry them from his bright orange hands.

(*Goldfishing – [gohld-fish-ing]. Noun. 1. The act of a person who eats non-stop with blatant disregard for the physical limitations of his/her stomach. 2. Stuffing oneself to the point of spontaneous gastric explosion, like a goldfish.)

Really, he can’t stop? C’mon, like an invisible hand is shoving Doritos in his face. Well, after some research, I’ve found that actually, that’s pretty much what’s happening. The makers of the florescent nacho-flavored triangles of doom use a secret ingredient to turn consumers into goldfish: MSG.

MSG-fed lab rat

No, this rat has not swallowed a beach ball. Poor little guy has been fed MSG to make him obese.

Did you know that scientists actually use MSG to induce obesity in lab rats and mice (ironically, so they can test products to ‘cure’ obesity in humans)? In fact, scientists found that when they give MSG to mice, it increases their appetite as much as 40%. When people eat it, it turns us into mindless eating machines. But that’s not its only harmful side effect. There are all kinds of other nasty ailments associated with MSG, including asthma attacks, mood swings, fuzzy thinking, diarrhea, chest pains and headaches. Some scientists are even speculating that it may cause – and exacerbate – autism.

MSG is used as a flavor enhancer and it’s in lots of packaged foods, from chips to salad dressings, sauces to microwave meals. If you spotted MSG on a label, you probably wouldn’t buy the product, right? So those sneaky manufacturers hide MSG behind different names like “autolyzed yeast,” “soy protein isolate,” and “hydrolyzed protein.” For example, Annie Chun’s Soup Bowls contain maltodextrin and yeast extract – both of which are forms of manufactured glutamic acid, the ingredient in MSG (and yet they have the balls to advertise that they’re MSG-free. Campbells does the same. Bastards!) As for Doritos? They don’t even bother hiding it on the label, and the chips are basking in MSG – no wonder John can’t put down the bag! It’s not just in packaged foods, either. Tests found that most chicken, sausage and even parmesan served in restaurants is flavored with MSG. (Yet another great reason for carnivores to convert into vegetarians or vegans!)

The good news is that the antidote is simple: cook healthy foods from scratch to eliminate MSG from your diet (and from that of those you love, especially those who sometimes have goldfish-like tendencies). There are lots of other ways to add flavor than with MSG. One of my favorites is by making meals in the pressure cooker. Cooking under pressure retains the nutrition of food while also amplifying the flavor naturally. And bonus –  you can cook an entire meal from scratch in 15 minutes using the ultra fast pressure cookers, even soups and stews that normally take hours!

Today’s recipe is my take on an incredibly flavor-packed and super healthy Thai-style yellow curry with chickpeas and sweet potatoes. (Special thanks to Lorna Sass and her fabulous “Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure” cookbook – I’ve altered one of her recipes to give it my own twist). If using a pressure cooker, the gorgeous sweet potato flavor enhanced with yellow curry will be utterly infused into every molecule of coconut milk. It is divine! This has become one of our favorite meals, and it’s quite nutritious. So I don’t really mind if John goldfishes on it. 🙂

I’ve also created a non-pressure cooker version of this recipe for those who don’t have one (but I highly recommend you get a pressure cooker – they are phenomenal and it will become your go-to kitchen tool). Here’s the one I use, which I adore (click on the text and it will take you to Amazon where you can buy it): Fagor Splendid 4-quart Pressure Cooker.

Yummy Thai yellow curry with sweet potato and chickpeas over rice

Yummy Thai yellow curry with sweet potato and chickpeas

Serves: 6
From fridge to table: 20 minutes (if using pressure cooker)

1.5 cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight (if using pressure cooker. For non-pressure cooker method, see notes below)
2 cans coconut milk
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1” cubes (if using pressure cooker. For non-pressure cooker method, see notes below)
1.5 cup tomatoes, chopped
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp yellow curry paste* (it’s hard to find in stores, so click here to buy a really yummy one)
½ cup cilantro, minced
½ cup fresh basil, minced
2 tbsp MSG-free tamari soy sauce
a handful of roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped
Cooked rice or millet

For the pressure cooker method:

Drain and rinse chickpeas. In your pressure cooker pan, combine all the ingredients except the basil, tamari, peanuts and rice/millet. Lock lid, then bring to high pressure over high heat. Lower the heat just enough to maintain high pressure and cook for 18 minutes. Use the quick-release method (by running cold water over the locked pressure cooker until the pressure comes down all the way). Remove lid, tilting it away from your face to let steam escape. Add the basil and tamari and mix well. Serve atop rice or millet and sprinkle with chopped peanuts.

For the non-pressure cooker method:

Take the unpeeled sweet potato, prick with a fork and microwave until it’s slightly soft, about 5 minutes. Cool a bit, then peel and chop into 1” cubes.

Also, you’ll need to used cooked chickpeas – 3 cups (or roughly 2 cans) will work perfectly well.

In a large, deep sauté pan, sauté garlic and ginger in 1 tbsp of oil over medium heat. Cook until the garlic starts to turn golden, about 3 minutes. Add curry paste, tomatoes, cilantro, coconut milk and chickpeas. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add potatoes, then return to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook at a low-boil for 12 minutes. To thicken the sauce and infuse more of the sweet potato flavor, break up some of the sweet potato chunks with the back of a fork. Then blend in the basil and tamari, serve over rice or millet and sprinkle with chopped peanuts. Enjoy!

Tasty Thai Tacos in Ten Minutes

Yummy - Thai Soft Tacos!

Have you ever had one of those days (or months) when you’re so flipping busy that you wonder when the heck you’re going to have time to eat, and you can’t even think about cooking? That’s what life has been like ever since we got back from a long trip to Maui and Oahu (and speaking of that, sorry for my delay in posting!) Rather than eating a bowl of popcorn for dinner (as one of my cooking-impaired friends suggested, and for whom I’m now watching for signs of scurvy), or ordering take-out (as my converting carnivore has offered – he usually manages to slip in an order of something meat-based which he always thinks will go undetected, but never does), I developed a super tasty vegan dish that takes only 10 minutes to make: Thai Soft Tacos.

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The rich flavor of peanut satay sauce, the crunch of the fake chicken tenders and the lovely tang of Thai sweet chili sauce pair beautifully together. And the secret ingredient – finely chopped fresh lime, including little bits of the peel – adds just the right amount of sharpness, acidity and a hint of bitterness to make the flavors burst to life on your tongue. Every bite offers an intriguingly complex mix of textures and tastes. When I have time, I prefer to make meals from scratch, but when that can’t happen, this is my go-to dish.

John likes these Thai Tacos so much that now he asks for them a couple times per week, and he gives it his highest veg praise ever: “Oh my God, this is so good that it doesn’t even need meat!” (And cue Cimeron’s eyes lighting up with glee.) That testimonial, coupled with the incredibly low “f*$&ck with it factor” has earned this dish a permanent place on our rotation. Give it a try! After your first crunchy, flavor-packed bite, you’ll probably want to make these tacos every night this week, even if you have time to cook something more elaborate. Enjoy!

And while we’re taking the trip to VeganVille, you’ve got to check out this hysterical Saturday Night Live skit with Justin Timberlake extolling the virtues of the vegan diet to a sausage-waving carnivore – priceless! www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YDA9OI56y4

Cimeron’s 10-Minute Thai Soft Tacos

Serves: 4
From fridge to table: 10 minutes
“f*$&ck with it factor” (on a scale of 1-10): 2

8 soft taco tortillas
1 package Gardein Crisp Tenders (found in the veggie frozen food section of most grocery stores)
2 cups thinly sliced lettuce (I prefer butter lettuce in this dish since it has such a velvety texture with a bit of crunch)
4-6 tbsp peanut satay sauce
4-6 tbsp Thai sweet chili sauce
1/2 chopped cilantro
1/2 lime, (butt-end discarded) and super finely chopped (including the peel)
1/2 cup fresh tomatoes, chopped

Heat oven to 450. Microwave the Gardein Crisp Tenders for 45 seconds. Then place them on a baking dish, spray with olive oil and bake for 10 minutes. (Or if you’re super tight on time, nuke them for 1.5 minutes, spray them with oil and broil them for a couple minutes per side until crispy.) When ready, slice them lengthwise into 3 pieces.

Meanwhile, chop up all the fixins and prepare the assembly line. Spread a spoonful of the peanut satay sauce down the middle of the tortilla. Lay down 2-3 of the sliced pieces of Crisp Tenders, then top with some lettuce, tomato and cilantro. Evenly sprinkle with bits of the lime. Then drizzle on some Thai sweet chili sauce to taste. Then prepare your taste buds to be very happy!

Thai Soft Tacos

Vegan Valentine’s: Delicious Chocolate Strawberry Cupcakes

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“Wait, that’s vegan? They don’t look vegan. Are you sure they are?” asked my chocoholic friend as he stared wide-eyed at the vegan chocolate strawberry cupcakes I made for him. When he bit into one of the moist, melt-in-your-mouth cupcakes, his face lit up with pleasure, but then he squinted his eyes and asked again: “Are you sure these are vegan?! They’re really, really good!” I laughed and said: “Yep, I made them myself and I swear they are! Your wife doesn’t want you to die from clogged arteries, and neither do I, so these are made without any animal fat. They’re much better for you.” I still don’t think he completely believed me though! 🙂

That got me to thinking: what do carnivores think vegan baked goods look like?  I took a poll among my meat-eating friends and found that this is what they visualize when they think of baked vegan treats:

That used to be the case for my carnivore, but I’ve been working hard to change his mind.  He’s finally realizing that vegan cupcakes aren’t dry, dirt-encrusted bricks wrapped in hemp leaves. Top bakers and chefs all over the world are recognizing the health benefits of desserts free of animal products and we’re seeing more and more incredibly tasty and inventive recipes from them. This vegan chocolate strawberry cupcake recipe is by chef Chloe Corscarelli, who used these yummy and pretty little cakes to win the Cupcake Wars competition. Most impressive: she was competing against people using whipping cream, butter, and every other animal fat you can imagine, and these amazing cupcakes kicked all of their booties. Score another point for Team Veg!

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, give these beautiful cupcakes a try and see if you can convert a carnivore or two yourself!

vegan chocolate strawberry cupcakes

Vegan Chocolate Strawberry Cupcakes

Serves: 12
From fridge to table: 1.5 hours

1.5 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tbsp distilled white vinegar
2 tsp vanilla extract

Frosting and finishing:
2/3 cup nonhydrogenated vegetable shortening
2 2/3 cups plus 1 tbsp sifted powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp soy milk (or rice or almond milk)
1.5 cups sliced strawberries

Preheat oven to 350. Line 12-cup muffin pan.

To make cupcakes: In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together 1 cup water, the oil, vinegar and vanilla. Pour wet mixture into dry mixture and whisk until just combined. Divide batter among cupcake cups. Bake until toothpick comes out clean, about 15-20 minutes. Let them cool completely in pan.

To  make frosting: Using an electric mixer, beat shortening, 2 2/3 cup powdered sugar and the vanilla to mix. Beat in nondairy milk, 1 tbsp at a time, and beat until frosting is smooth and fluffy.

Cut tops off of cooled cupcakes and set aside. Smooth about 1 tbsp of frosting onto each decapitated cupcake and cover with a few strawberries. Replace top and then add a dollop of frosting and few slices of strawberries. Dust cupcakes with a little powdered sugar. Then enjoy!

Hearty Tomatoey Butter Bean Pot

Tomatoey Butter Bean Pot

Two years ago, John and I got the chance to experience a really special Outstanding in the Field event held on a private beach in Santa Cruz. The 100-person table was set up on the sand and wrapped around a huge beach bonfire. It wasn’t so bad watching whales spout in the background while sifting sand through our toes and sipping wine with our good friends! You’d think that would be the most memorable part of the evening, but no – since I’m an insufferable foodie douche weenie, the most mind-blowing thing about the whole dinner was being introduced to my new favorite food: the Italian butter bean.  The beans, which are large white limas, are creamy, tender and slightly nutty tasting – they’re unlike anything I’ve ever tried! They are as tasty as they are filling, making them great for entrees and side dishes alike.

The Outstanding in the Field organizers paired up local organic farmers with two top Bay Area chefs, one of which was Richard Reddington of Napa Valley’s acclaimed restaurant, Redd.  Chef Reddington created an incredible tomatoey Italian butter bean dish that left all of our jaws on the table. After dinner, Chef Reddington was kind enough to sit with me at the bonfire and give me some of his secrets for his incredibly flavorful butter bean dish. Unfortunately, I had sampled quite a few glasses of delicious local wine by then and had killed far too many brain cells to remember all the details he shared with me, but thankfully, enough key pieces of intel stayed with me so that I could create my own version of his delightful dish. I’m calling mine the Tomatoey Butter Bean Pot, which features a thick, rich sauce and deep, earthy flavors. Whenever I make this dish, it instantly transports us back to the beach and that spectacularly special evening, which might be why John and our friends request the bean pot so often. Well, it might have more to do with the fact that this dish totally rocks and the butter beans are to die for! And since it’s super easy to make, nutrient-rich and loaded with protein, it has become a staple in our house. I bet you will love it, too.

Note the wine glass in my hand: this is why I couldn't remember Chef Reddington's exact recipe!

Note the wine glass in my hand: this is why I couldn’t remember Chef Reddington’s exact recipe! But don’t worry, my version of his dish will still knock your socks off.

Cimeron’s Tomatoey Butter Bean Pot
Serves: 15 people as a side dish, or 6 as a main course
From fridge to table: about 3 hours (plus overnight soaking of the beans)
(Don’t worry – it’s one of those “let it sit on the stove for hours” kind of recipes, so it won’t require much of your time at all)

1 pound dried Italian butter beans*
1 extra humongous yellow onion, finely chopped
15 cloves garlic, chopped
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded, stemmed and finely chopped
1.5 tbsp fresh oregano leaves, chopped
Smoked sea salt and pepper, to taste

First, soak the beans in water overnight. To de-gas the beans, soak them with a piece of kombu (a dried seaweed you can find at Whole Foods), or change the water often within the first few hours.

Drain the soaked beans, put them in a large pot and fill with fresh water until the beans are just covered. Add all the other ingredients EXCEPT the salt and pepper. (Salt stops beans from cooking, so don’t add the salt yet). Bring to a boil and cook for 30 minutes, uncovered. Then reduce heat to simmer (on my range, I set it to 3), and cook, uncovered, for about 2 – 2 1/2 hours until the beans are tender and the cooking liquid and veggies become a thick, rich sauce. Be sure to stir every now and then to prevent scorching. If the sauce thickens but the beans aren’t soft enough yet, add some water (1/2 – 1 cup at a time) and continue cooking the beans. Once the beans are tender and creamy, add smoked sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste. Serve hot as a side dish or as an entree. Enjoy!

*I get dried Italian butter beans from Iacopi Farms at our local farmer’s market. Mr. Iacopi’s father immigrated to the Bay Area from Italy and brought his family’s famous butter beans with him.  If you can’t find them where you are, you can buy canned Italian butter beans in most high-end grocery stores, or buy the dried beans online. You could also substitute another large white bean, but if you can, try to find the butter beans since they are simply divine.IMG_0146

You didn't believe me when I said I am a foodie douche weenie, did you? Well, this might prove my point. Who else but a food groupie would get her photo taken with a chef-idol? Chef Reddington and his butter beans rock!

You didn’t believe me when I said I am a foodie douche weenie, did you? Well, this might prove my point. Who else but a food groupie would get her photo taken with a chef-idol? Chef Reddington and his butter beans rock!

If you have a chance, I highly recommend going to an Outstanding in the Field event. They travel around the US all spring and summer and they're quite amazing.

If you have a chance, I highly recommend going to an Outstanding in the Field event. They travel around the US all spring and summer and they’re super fun.

San Francisco Treat: Artichoke with Lemony Mint-Caper Dip

Artichoke with tangy, lemony mint-caper dip

In honor of our 49ers who are on their way to the Superbowl, here’s a truly San Francisco treat: Artichoke with Lemony Mint-Caper Dip. This is a really tasty and very healthy appetizer, perfect for say…oh, I don’t know…a Superbowl party! 😉

Since my carnivore’s idea of football-watching snacks are nachos or Philly cheese-steaks, my vegan alternative has to be seriously delicious or there will be much whining (and if you heard the whining, you’d know that it is to be avoided at all costs). Luckily, this unique creation has complex flavors that keep the palate happy and interested bite after bite, and the awesome artichoke – grown right here on the Northern California coast – is the perfect way to celebrate the best of the Bay Area.

I realize that capers, mint, lemon and artichoke sounds like a weird combo, but trust me on this one – it’s pretty amazing! Fresh mint compliments the briny, tangy caper , and together with a light hint of acidity from lemon and white balsamic, it brings out the creamy, mellow loveliness of artichoke in a really surprising way. So surprising, in fact, that it kept my carnivore (as well as our other carnivore friends) reaching for one artichoke leaf after another while watching the 49ers win the division. (It also turned out to be a great substitute for biting nails during tense moments in the playoffs.)

By the way, did you know that there are tons of benefits of artichokes, as well as watching football? Our leafy, thorny friends are full of antioxidants, they actually *regenerate* the liver (making them a spectacular hangover treatment), they help the digestive system and they prevent cancer. As for watching football, there’s a big benefit…at least for me.  I get a foot massage whenever John is watching a game. Score!!

So whether you’re a football fan or not, you can still celebrate the flavor of the Bay Area with this tasty appetizer. GO 9ers!

Artichoke with Lemony Mint-Caper Dip

Serves: 6
From fridge to table: 45 minutes

2 large fresh artichokes, stems trimmed
1 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
2 tsp capers, drained and finely chopped
1 tbsp white lemon balsamic vinegar (or a plain white balsamic vinegar combined with 1 tsp grated lemon zest)
3 tbsp meyer lemon olive oil (or plain olive oil combined with 1 tsp fresh lemon juice)
a pinch of salt

Cook artichoke any way you prefer: steamed or boiled. Personally, I just drop artichokes into a large pot of boiling water and cook until the flesh on the leaves is soft, creamy and easily scraped off by your teeth, about 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together the rest of the ingredients and place in a serving bowl. Once the artichokes are ready, drain and serve them warm with the dipping sauce. Or, you can drizzle the dipping sauce all over the artichoke leaves – your choice. Then go cheer for the 49ers!

“Cleansing” Chipotle Black Bean Chili

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One single day. That’s how long I had to wait after New Year’s before I heard a friend declare: “Oh man, I need to do a cleanse!” That’s a new record – last year it took three whole days to hear that proclamation. “Cleansing” has become an annual tradition among guilty gorgers who’ve spent the past month consuming their body’s weight in butter, chocolate cake and grandma’s rum-balls. Yeah, as if drinking cayenne pepper-laced hot water and eating tree bark for a week is actually going to roto-rooter their arteries, scrape down their intestines and magically make the 952 brownies they ate disappear.  (Well, perhaps if the last one they ate was a special “Dr. Chocopotomus’ cosmic brownie,” something like that might seem downright feasible, just like tap-dancing neon salamanders wearing Viking hats. But I digress…)

I don’t mock my friends too mercilessly for wanting to do these bizarre cleanses. Because at the root of it all is the desire to be healthier, and that’s awesome! For those who have had one too many cookies, I like to suggest a solution that’s much tastier and less likely to singe your eyeballs or leave twigs in your teeth: try eating delicious vegan meals for a week.

In honor of my friends who, like clockwork, are about to ask me for some quick, easy, appetizing and “cleansing” vegan dishes, here’s one of my favorites: chipotle black bean chili. This recipe takes all of 15 minutes to make, it’s filling, and it’s scrumptious in all of its smoky, hearty glory.

Research has shown that cleanses – like the cayenne lemon-water fad or the popular juice ‘detox’ – don’t actually do our bodies any favors. In fact, in addition to making people exceedingly cranky (which dramatically increases the risk of being smacked upside the head), they can also be very damaging due to the inherent nutritional imbalances of the cleanses. But nutritious high fiber foods – like black beans – are like a pipe cleaner for your intestines. (Sorry – that was a rather unpleasant visual). The key is to eat beans year-round, not just until the holiday guilt has worn off. And lucky for all of us, this yummy chili will make you want to eat beans every day of the week. Especially when it’s followed by magic brownies. (Kidding!)

Happy New Year!

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Cleansing Chipotle Black Bean Chili
Serves: 4
From fridge to table: 15 minutes

Olive oil for sautéing
1 onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3 14.5 oz cans organic black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (14.5 oz) organic crushed tomatoes (preferably fire-roasted)
1 ½ tsp ground cumin
a handful of fresh tomatoes, chopped
½ cup water
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tbsp canned *chipotle puree *
1 tbsp rice vinegar (seasoned or unseasoned)
Smoked sea salt
Tortilla chips (for those who aren’t ‘cleansing’)

*Note – to make the chipotle puree: buy a can of “chipotle chilies in adobo sauce,” which you will find in the Hispanic food section of the grocery store. Put the entire contents of the can, including sauce, in a blender and whirl until smooth. Scrape into an ice cube tray and freeze it. Take out a cube whenever you need it.

To make chili:

Heat a soup pot over medium-high heat, add some olive oil and cook the onions and garlic until the onion is translucent and starting to brown. Add beans, tomatoes and their juices, cumin and ½ cup water; bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, to blend flavors, about 10 minutes. Stir in cilantro, chipotle puree and rice vinegar. Add smoked sea salt to taste. Serve in big bowls and crumble some tortilla chips on top if you’re feeling frisky. Enjoy!

(By the way, credit for this recipe goes to a magazine I read in my dentist’s office about 10 years ago. Unfortunately I can’t remember the magazine, nor can I remember how much of the original recipe I used, but I’d still like to say thanks to that magazine for combining black beans and chipotle, which is a brilliant combo!)

Curried Coconut Carrot Soup Dupes Carnivore Into Eating Root Vegetables!

Are these carrots or "orange death twigs?"

By now you know that I am perfectly comfortable tricking my carnivore husband into eating incredibly healthy vegetarian and vegan meals. How else am I going to get him to try things he’d normally declare are strictly for “tye-dye wearing bark-eaters?” You know, like foods that are really “out there,” such as carrots.  Yeah, I said carrots. Or as John likes the call them: orange twigs of death. “But they’re so good for you! They prevent cancer and heart disease, reduce the risk of stroke and they’re great for your skin,”  I say, trying to reason with him as he picks the orange flecks out of his salad while shaking his head. Well, I’ve finally figured out a way to get him to eat carrots: Curried Coconut Carrot Soup.

In this super simple little recipe, carrots are disguised in this rich, creamy soup. The beguiling, exotic flavors of garam masala curry and coconut milk are the primary flavors you taste in this delicious soup, and maybe you’ll even pick up a hint of fresh ginger. But the taste of carrots? Nope! Even though they’re the main ingredient, you wouldn’t know it since they simply provide a platform for the other flavors. But you still get the awesome health benefits of the mighty carrot, so it’s the best of both worlds! John loves this soup and if it has the power to convert a carrot-hating carnivore into adoring it, I have a feeling you’ll like it too!

By the way, I have yet to confess to John about the fact that this is a carrot soup. Whenever he asks what it is, I mumble, “Oh it’s a curried coconut cwagha blah blah mubah soup…here, have a beer!” (Note: distraction is a perfect complement to trickery).

Curried Carrot Soup with Coconut Milk

Curried Coconut Carrot Soup

Serves: 4
From fridge to table: about 40 minutes

3/4 cup yellow onion, chopped
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated/microplaned
3/4 cup green onions, chopped
1 tbsp garam masala (or regular curry powder)
4 cups carrots, thinly sliced
2 1/4 cups vegetable broth
1 can coconut  milk
1 1/4 tbsp fresh lime juice

In a soup pot, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Saute onion, ginger, green onions and garam masala until the onion is translucent. Add carrots and broth, stir well and bring to a boil. With your heat still at medium, cover the pot and cook until the carrots are soft, about 25-30 minutes. Remove from heat and add coconut milk and lime juice. Using a stick blender, puree the soup until creamy and smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste, and add more lime juice to taste as well (but be careful – too much lime juice can make the soup a bit astringent). Enjoy!

Giving Thanks for Hearty Autumn Wild Rice Pilaf

Every Thanksgiving, it’s the same story. I have to look into the smirky face of a friend and respond: “No, I will not be carving a Tofurkey for the holidays.” Now why would I want to gnaw on a fake bird when there are so many awesome harvest dishes with which to stuff my face?

If you’re like me, or the approximately 95,456 other frantic people who were shopping at Whole Foods alongside me today, you’d probably appreciate an easy, delicious, healthy and full-flavored side dish recipe that can feed an army while pleasing both veggies and carnivores alike.  Yes? Never fear my friends, because the Hearty Autumn Wild Rice Pilaf is here! I created this recipe a couple Thanksgivings ago and it’s become one of my favorite fall dishes since it’s got a beautiful blend of flavors: the nutty taste of wild rice, festive bits of fresh apple and dried cranberry, a hint of pomegranate balsamic vinegar to add a feisty little kick, and walnuts (or toasted pecans) to add a bit of protein. And best yet, you can make this dish the day before your big gathering to help easy your stress. (I can practically hear you now: “Cut the foodie chitchat Cimeron and gimme that recipe right now before I throw giblets at you!”)  (By the way, what the hell are giblets?)  (Never mind, I don’t think I want to know!)

Have a great Thanksgiving, my friends! 🙂

Hearty Autumn Wild Rice Pilaf

Serves: 10 as a side dish
From fridge to table: 5 minutes (plus refrigeration time if serving cold)

3 cups cooked wild rice (about 1 cup dry rice makes approximately 3 cups cooked)
1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped
1/2 cup granny smith apple, finely diced
3 green onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup walnuts or toasted pecans, chopped
A splash of pomegranate balsamic vinegar (I like 11 Olives’ balsamic since it’s thick, rich and has a gorgeous flavor)
A splash of rosemary olive oil (I use 11 Olives’ olive oil because it’s divine)

In a large mixing bowl, toss together all the ingredients. Add just enough rosemary olive oil to coat the rice, and add pomegranate balsamic to taste. Season with salt and pepper. You can serve it hot, chilled or at room temp – it’s fantastic no matter the temperature at which you serve it. Enjoy stuffing your face with this lovely dish!