Cool as a Cucumber

Summer in northeast U.S.A. is the go-to season for healthful, colorful, and delicious fruits and vegetables and a time when families and friends tend to gather regularly for graduations, weddings, picnics, and backyard barbecues. What better way to celebrate being in the company of people you love and feeding yourself well than planning a party of your own?

Living Room Picnic

Creating a menu doesn’t have to be stressful or sinful when you dish out whole, fresh ingredients—served buffet-style—with homemade dressings and dips on the side. Not only will your plates be visually appealing and packed with high-quality nutrients, but you won’t have to break a sweat putting everything together.

Much like designing any healthful meal, the same rules apply: more variety and colors mean more vitamins and nutrients. Include a mix of animal- and/or plant-based proteins (skinless chicken breast, tenderloin, lentils, black beans, and tofu are great options), carbohydrates (brown rice, corn, and quinoa are versatile grains; Swiss chard, beet greens, and eggplant are nutrient-rich vegetables), and healthy fats (think walnuts, ground flaxseed, and olive oil).

Avoid heavy sauces and let the natural goodness of your bounty speak for itself. To start, make a light, but flavorful, marinade or rub for your protein dishes from a complementary blend of dried and fresh herbs and spices like cumin-chili-cilantro or dill-mustard-yogurt. Next, toss up a simple salad of different colored veggies like thinly sliced summer squash and heirloom tomato over leafy greens. Whisk together a light dressing of lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. For dessert, consider macerated fruit like peaches and blueberries drizzled with honey and white balsamic vinegar. (Check out Foodily or Yummly for other great recipe ideas.) This entire combination of foods alone offers a beneficial dose of many vitamins and minerals—like manganese, vitamins C, K, and A, dietary fiber, iron, and antioxidants—to support your body systems.

Consider the following:

  • Plan and prepare accordingly by asking your guests or estimating of the number of vegetarians and non-vegetarians attending your party.
  • Serve ingredients separately to accommodate those who may have special diet requirements so they can build their own meals. Label each dish so guests don’t have to guess or ask, “What’s in this?”
  • Provide take-home items. Leftover containers will encourage your guests to continue eating healthfully after they’ve left your party. Stack printouts of your recipes on the buffet table so they can try their hands at creating their own versions at home or include recipe links in a thank-you e-mail a few days after the event.

When the party’s over, revel in the fact that, quite possibly for the first time for many of your guests, nothing was off-limits. Not only will you have enjoyed great company, but you will have served healthful fare to your grateful guests who may want to know when they can come back for more!

[Versions of this article were written for and published on YoffieLife.com on September 1, 2014 and DishWithDina.com on August 13, 2015.]

A Salad a Day

Eating healthfully does not have to be a difficult feat of strength and will. In fact, I encourage you to create a simple salad every day based solely on ingredients you have in your house or can easily grab at your local grocer and dump into a bowl.

I have been having so much fun with Mason jar salads lately. (Yes, food nerds like me think salads are fun.) Originally, my meal planning and prep work used to take up half a day every Sunday. I would divide all my ingredients into their own containers so I could mix and match and assemble a variety of veggie-friendly meals for myself during the week. But, lo and behold! I became a Mason jar salad convert.

Mason Jar Salad

My Mason jars are extra large (32 oz) and light green, but you could go for the clear, smaller version if you’re slowly working your way into the meal prep and veggie lifestyle. Assembly is easy, but requires some thought as you don’t want your fragile, leafy greens sitting in a puddle of dressing for three days. HurryTheFoodUp shows you how to properly structure your salad and TheMuse gives you lots of ideas about the kinds of foods you can integrate into your salads, so play around and experiment with different flavors each week. Try to always have a protein (chicken or chickpeas), a carb (sweet potatoes or carrots), and a fat (avocado or walnuts) in your combo. When you’re ready, you can simply shake up your salad and eat directly out of the jar or shake, dump everything into a bowl, and toss in a handful of croutons. Ta da!

Mason Jar Avocado

For more information and ideas about how to get lots of veggies and other yummy, good foods into your daily meals, check out my previous blog post “It’s Easy Being Green…” And please leave a comment below and share with us what’s been working for you or what you’re struggling with. We’re here to help make healthful eating as easy as possible!

Summertime…and the Eating Is Easy

There’s always a great reason to be in the company of friends, but summer is the go-to season for healthful, colorful, and delicious fruits and vegetables, so why not plan a party to celebrate both?

Living Room Picnic

Creating a menu doesn’t have to be stressful or sinful when you dish out whole, fresh ingredients—served buffet-style—with homemade dressings and dips on the side. Not only will your plates be visually appealing and packed with high-quality nutrients, but you won’t even have to break a sweat putting everything together.

Much like designing any healthful meal, the same rules apply here. Be sure your party menu includes a good mix of proteins (skinless chicken breast, tenderloin, lentils, black beans, and tofu are great options), carbohydrates (brown rice, corn, and quinoa are versatile grains; Swiss chard, beet greens, and eggplant are nutrient-rich vegetables), and healthy fats (think walnuts, ground flaxseed, and olive oil). More colors mean more vitamins and nutrients.

To start, make a marinade or rub for your protein dishes from a complementary blend of dried and fresh herbs and spices like cumin-chili-cilantro or dill-mustard-yogurt. No heavy sauces here. Next, toss up a simple salad of different colored veggies like thinly sliced summer squash and heirloom tomato over leafy greens. Whisk together a light dressing of freshly squeezed lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. For dessert, consider macerated fruit like peaches and blueberries drizzled with honey and white balsamic vinegar. This entire combination of foods alone offers a beneficial dose of so many vitamins and minerals—like manganese, vitamins C, K, and A, dietary fiber, iron, and antioxidants—to support many of your body systems. (Check out Foodily for some other great recipe ideas.)

Consider the following:

  • Plan and prepare accordingly by asking your guests or estimating of the number of vegetarians and non-vegetarians attending your party.
  • Serve ingredients separately to accommodate those who may have special diet requirements so they can build their own meals. Label each dish so guests don’t have to guess or ask, “What’s in this?”
  • Provide take-home items. Leftover containers will encourage your guests to continue eating healthfully after they’ve left your party. Stack printouts of your recipes on the buffet table so they can try their hands at creating their own versions at home or include recipe links in a thank-you e-mail a few days after the event.

When the party’s over, revel in the fact that, quite possibly for the first time for many of your guests, nothing was off-limits. Not only will you have enjoyed great company, but you will have served healthful fare to your grateful guests who may want to know when they can come back for more!

[A version of this article was written for, and first appeared in, YoffieLife.com on September 1, 2014.]

Fishing for compliments

For the second year in a row, I shared kitchen duties with my mom for our family’s Christmas Eve dinner. My mom handled all the fish dishes (I’ve written about our Italian fish tradition previously here) and I was in charge of the rest, which included a variety of nutrient-dense, fancifully flavored, plant-based recipes. This year’s menu, like last year’s, combined old-world tradition with some new fusion fare:

  • Shrimp Cocktail (à la Costco)
  • Chard & White Bean Soup (I substituted sweet potatoes for new potatoes)
  • Wilted Greens Salad (I used plain, ol’ mesclun instead of mustard greens, but added Dijon to the dressing as a nod; I also threw in some chopped walnuts to add texture and offset the sweetness of the dressing)
  • Shrimp Scampi; Calamari en Brodo; Broiled Cod; and Linguine with King Crab legs (all recipes in Mom’s head)
  • Braised Kale and Carrot Stew (loosely inspired by this recipe)
  • Citrus Pound Cake w/Warm Citrus Salad (from the Dec ’14 issue of The Oprah Magazine)
  • Winter Warmer Cocktail (I don’t drink alcohol, but got everyone else nice and drunk on this)

I fare best when I eat vegetarian, but I don’t feel the need to make a show of it; I just like providing solidly healthful foods for people I love, especially when I know some of the day will include indulgences and sweets. Plus, it ensures that I’ll be getting my own fill of fruits and veggies…a true win-win.

What kind of foods do you eat and traditions do you follow for the holidays? Do you like to cook or share the cooking responsibilities with anyone in your family during special occasions? Feel free to post your comments below. I look forward to reading them!

Freshly washed.

Every year—or, sometimes, multiple times a year—I give my body a little break from processed foods, sugar-laden treats, and general overindulgences. My favorite recipes to follow for the past few years have come from the 21-day “Whole Living Action Plan.”

Being a vegetarian, I don’t find these changes too disruptive to my life since I already try to eat cleanly and follow a mostly whole-foods diet; but, like anyone else, I give in quite a bit to the junk dished out during the holidays and I have a raging sweet tooth to boot, so it’s nice to scale back to the basics right around when the time changes and I’m ready to begin my spring cleaning ritual, both inside and out.

Sweet Potato Before

Last night, I made a “clean” version of this roasted sweet potato soup recipe—no peppers, sherry, or yogurt. It was so silky smooth and delicious (thanks to my NutriBullet, which has officially replaced my blender at this point, btw). Having a rich, creamy soup like this felt so much more decadent than having to only down green juice after lemon tonic, which so many other “cleanses” seem to tout throughout their regimens.

Sweet Potato After

I am way more a fan of the Whole Living-type of diet adjustment than the liquid-only ones since it’s varied, nutrient-rich, and I never feel hungry. In fact, snacking is encouraged! To celebrate this, I made some hummus to keep on hand for the occasion. (If you’ve never made hummus before, it couldn’t be easier. It requires a few more ingredients than homemade almond butter, but it’s well worth it knowing that it came from your own heart and kitchen. Here’s a super simple recipe for you to try out.)

Let me know what kind of ritual you follow when your body needs a boost or if you’ve tried out the Whole Living Action Plan and how it’s worked for you. I look forward to your thoughts and comments. In the meantime, happy clean living!

Quasi-recipe: Aw, sugar, sugar.

For a reason that is of no business to you, yesterday, I had a major craving for a chocolate-layered hunk of chocolate sprinkled with chocolate-covered chocolate.  So, naturally, I plugged in my panini press and made this:

S'mores Panini

If you would like to make one of these, but don’t have a panini press, you can use a pan/grill pan instead. Just make sure it’s very hot and well-coated in oil or butter.  You only need to leave the sandwich on the pan for a few minutes (until everything melts and makes a disastrous, but oh-so-yummy mess), pressing down lightly on it with a large spatula, and turning it over once to crisp both sides.  When done, wait until the pan cools down before trying to lift it to your face to lick the mess off.

Here’s how I made my “S’mores Panini,” but, as always, you can use whatever ingredients work best for you:

I took 2 slices of whole wheat sourdough bread and brushed the “outside” of each slice lightly with grapeseed oil. Then, I smeared 1 Tbsp of my awesome, homemade almond butter on the “inside” of one slice, topped that with 1/2 of a Vivani dark chocolate bar broken into bits, then placed 4 marshmallows on top of the bar, then placed the second bread slice on top of the whole thing—oiled side up—and jammed it into my panini press (that’s what she said) for about 6 minutes.

It’s a very decadent dessert (or, in this case, lunch…who am I kidding?), topping out at about 600 calories and 30-plus grams of sugar.  I normally try to limit my daily intake of all sugars to 5% of my total calories, so this little treat definitely put me over, but it doesn’t happen often and it’s better than me punching a hole in a wall, which is what I was about to do before deciding to eat this instead.

Just writing about this is making me want to go make another one, but I’m too tired to burn off the calories, so enjoy yours without me and let me know how you liked it.

Recipe: Simply Seitan-ical

I ate my meal so quickly the other night that I didn’t stop to photograph it, so you’ll just have to use your imagination while you read (or look at it yourself when you make your own version).

When I got my first apartment back in 1994, one of my favorite meals to make for myself and when I invited friends over was honey-mustard chicken with two side dishes: (1) glazed onions and carrots and (2) egg noodles with butter.  It would take no time at all to cook up and it was super yummy served immediately or as leftovers.

I’ve moved into a more vegetarian way of eating these days and was craving that meal recently, so I thought I’d make a decent substitute with the ingredients below (serves about 2-3), replacing the chicken with seitan and the buttered noodles with vegan mac & cheese.  If you want to make the original, I’ve included that information here as well.  Either way, if you whip up this easy dish, please let me know how you like it.

Part 1

1 pkg cubed seitan1
1 Tbsp olive, canola, or grapeseed oil
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/8 tsp ground kosher or sea salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Part 2

8 oz short/small pasta, like farfalle, penne, egg noodles or elbow macaroni
1 tsp olive, canola, or grapeseed oil
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp vegan shredded cheddar, like Daiya2
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast2

Part 3

1 12-16 oz pkg peeled baby carrots, washed
1/2 c yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 Tbsp olive, canola, or grapeseed oil
1 Tbsp “buttery” spread, like Earth Balance or Smart Balance3
1 Tbsp maple syrup4

1if you’re using chicken, go for 2 skinless breasts sliced into strips
2if you’d prefer to use dairy cheese, then substitute these ingredients with a flavorful cheese of your choice instead, like shredded cheddar and grated parmesan; or, skip the cheese entirely and just toss pasta with about 2 Tbsp of olive oil, butter, or margarine
3feel free to substitute regular butter or margarine here
4if you ever even think of using some kind of “pancake syrup” made of corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup, I will find out and be very angry with you; invest in a bottle of locally tapped maple syrup and toss out that other crap immediately…I cannot stress this enough

Toss all “Part 1” ingredients together in a bowl. Cover and place bowl in refrigerator for about an hour, tossing mixture again every 15 minutes. After an hour, remove from fridge, and cook mixture in a medium-hot pan for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly. (No need to add extra oil in pan since seitan has already been coated with plenty of it.)

Cook up the pasta from “Part 2” according to directions on package.  Drain, reserving about 1/3 cup of cooking liquid. Toss pasta and liquid well with remaining “Part 2 ingredients.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Fill a medium pot with water (leave about one inch from top) and a sprinkling of salt; cover and bring to boil over high heat. Uncover, lower to medium-high heat and cook carrots (“Part 3”) until soft, about 10 minutes. Simultaneously, cook the sliced onion from “Part 3” in a pan with the 1/2 Tbsp oil over extremely low heat, stirring often, until very soft and translucent. Add carrots to pan with onions when done cooking and mix in buttery spread and syrup until everything is coated nicely with the butter-syrup glaze. Salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, you could place all three parts separately on a plate or spoon the honey-mustard seitan over the mac & cheese.

Recipe Remix: Chili-stuffed Sweet Potatoes

Remember this chili recipe? Well, here’s a super simple way to rejigger it: make it, but omit the sweet potato/carrot in the mix. Instead, while the chili’s cooking, roast a sweet potato1 in the oven, then stuff each half of the potato with the chili and sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese2 when ready to serve.

Stuffed Potato

Added bonus: sweet potatoes are an excellent source of Vitamin A, which gives us healthy skin, teeth, and bones.

1using one well-scrubbed sweet potato for every two servings, slice the potato lengthwise, pierce the outside of it well all over with a fork, wrap it in aluminum foil (halves together) and place in oven at 400 degrees for an hour or until the inside is soft and tender; I don’t use a microwave, so you’ll have to research the comparable nuking time yourself
2I used Daiya dairy-free in the pic here

Recipe: Open-faced BBQ Tempeh Sandwich & Sides

This photo does no justice to tonight’s meal [note to self: learn how to take better photos of food] which was a vegan feast of barbecue-style tempeh, potato salad*, and the usual string bean side dish.  In the world of processed vegan protein foods, the bf and I prefer seitan over tempeh, but I like mixing it up and tempeh won the coin toss this time.

Everything here is pretty filling, so the recipe below can serve about 4.  I also try to be as efficient as possible in the kitchen, so you’ll see that I’m using the same pans—and even the same boiled water—in this recipe’s steps.

Part 1

1 8 oz pkg tempeh, sliced lengthwise, then into quarters (so you get 8 flat rectangles)
4 Tbsp ketchup
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp olive, canola, or grapeseed oil
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp soy or tamari sauce
Dash chipotle or Tabasco sauce
1/4 tsp garlic powder

Part 2

1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
1 Tbsp olive, canola, or grapeseed oil
1/8 tsp Kosher or sea salt

Part 3

4 slices sourdough bread (this is my favorite)

Part 4

4 small purple or red potatoes, washed and cut into large slices**
2 Tbsp vegan mayo (like Vegenaise)
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp horseradish
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Part 5

1 lb string beans
1/2 Tbsp olive, canola, or grapeseed oil
1/4 tsp Kosher or sea salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder

*the potato salad looks horrible in this picture, but, I swear, it was very tasty
**I always leave the skin on my potatoes, but feel free to peel them if you wish

From “Part 1,” mix all the ingredients except the tempeh in a flat-bottomed bowl. Layer the tempeh slices in the bowl, spooning the mixture on top and around each layer so that all pieces are coated evenly. Cover and place bowl in refrigerator for about an hour.

In a frying pan over very low heat, sauté the onion over the oil (“Part 2”), stirring often, until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the salt and stir again, cooking another 4 minutes. Remove onions from pan and toast the bread (“Part 3”) in the same pan, about 2 minutes each side. Remove bread. In same pan, cook marinated tempeh slices from “Part 1” over low heat (add a little more oil if pan is too dry at this point), about 4 minutes each side.

Fill a large pot with water (leave about one inch from top) and a sprinkling of salt; cover and bring to boil over high heat. Uncover, lower to medium-high heat and cook potatoes (“Part 4”) until soft, about 7 minutes. Remove potatoes from pot and place in bowl; dress with remaining ingredients from Part 4.

In same pot with same water, bring back up to boil, then add “Part 5” string beans.  Cook until tender, about 7 minutes.  Drain and toss with remaining “Part 5” ingredients.

To serve, place one slice of bread on each plate; top with sautéed onions and 2 tempeh slices each (I used 3 slices in the photo above).  Add a scoop of potato salad and string beans to each dish.

Recipe: Leftovers Salad

The East Village is not exactly known for its spacious apartments. As a matter of fact, my building, much like many of the surrounding ones, is a renovated tenement, which once contained large, shared areas, often housing hundreds of residents at a time from the late 1860s through the early 1900s.

When the buildings were renovated, some of the new apartments inside couldn’t hold “normal”-sized items like stoves, refrigerators, and bathtubs, so, in ours, for example, we have a slim stove, an under-cabinet refrigerator and a stall shower.

All of this to say that, when we make a meal at home or order dinner in, we’d better eat everything right quick; otherwise, there’s not much room for us to store leftovers (our freezer is slightly larger than a shoebox). Unfortunately, sometimes we do end up with extras, but they don’t stay in the fridge for very long. When this happens, I clean out whatever leftovers have accumulated and incorporate them in some way into a second meal, usually in a salad, so I’ve named this post’s recipe “Leftovers Salad.”

For today’s salad (served 2), I had some leftover mujadara and string beans that I had made earlier in the week; you can use whatever dinner leftovers you have on hand, be it grilled chicken, shrimp, or even pasta salad.

Part 1

2 c Romaine lettuce, washed* and chopped
2 c kale, washed and chopped

Part 2

Leftovers

Part 3**

2 Tbsp sunflower seeds
1 tomato (plum/Roma, beefsteak, or whatever’s in season or your favorite), chopped
1/3 c pitted olives, any kind, drained, rinsed & chopped

Part 4***

juice of 1/2 lime (acid)
1 tsp Dijon mustard (emulsifier)
1 Tbsp olive oil (oil)
Salt & pepper to taste

Part 5

2 thick slices sourdough bread, grilled or toasted (a whole wheat baguette would work well, too)
4 Tbsp plain hummus

*the best way to wash lettuce/leafy greens is to peel the leaves from the bunch and drop them into a large bowl while running cold water on them, shaking them around and letting dirt fall to the bottom; then, lift out the leaves and place on a dry towel or paper towels
**the sprinkly part can be substituted by whatever goes best with your leftovers; for example, if you were using grilled chicken, you might want to use chopped walnuts and dried cranberries instead of the tomato and olives
***traditionally, a vinaigrette is made of one part acid, three parts oil, and an emulsifier like mustard, garlic, or egg yolk; so, if you’d rather use red wine vinegar instead of the lime juice or canola instead of olive oil, go right ahead

Toss together ingredients from Parts 1 and 2 in a large bowl; sprinkle with ingredients from Part 3.

For the dressing (Part 4), whisk the lime juice and mustard together in a small bowl, while you slowly drizzle in the oil until everything is emulsified (mixed well with no separation). Add salt & pepper to taste and whisk some more. Drizzle lightly over salad mixture. Serve salad up with the grilled bread, each slice topped with 2 Tbsp hummus (Part 5).