Monday, December 27, 2010

Lemon Cookies for Laura

As promised, I will post recipes for the cookies pictured in my last entry.  Of course, the holidays being what they are, it is hard to find the time.  And so, I will share with you the recipe for Lemon Cranberry cookies that Laura loved, and hopefully get around to posting the other recipes soon.

I adapted this recipe from one of my many pre-vegan cook books: Cookies: a Cookie Lover's Collection. The choice to become a vegan does not mean we must abandon our favourite cookbooks, they become a source for inspiration and a test of our culinary creativity as we learn to adapt old favourites into new vegan favourites.

Lemon Cranberry Cookies
Makes 3 dozen cookies

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup icing sugar
1/2 cup vegan margarine
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 egg replacement (see the last post)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp lemon extract

2 cups flour
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp lemon zest
1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries


In a large bowl cream together sugars, margarine, shortening, egg replacement, vanilla and lemon extract.  Beat in flour, cream of tartar, zest and salt.  Cover bowl and chill for an hour or more.

Preheat oven to 350 and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  Either roll out dough on a floured surface and cut with cookie cutters, or roll into balls and flatten with the bottom of a glass. Bake for 10-13 minutes or until edges are light golden brown.

Cool, snack, gift, enjoy.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

C is for Cookie, that's good enough for me

Clearly the best part of the holiday season is baking, specifically, baking cookies.  Cookies are tiny bundles of love and goodness.  I also love wrapping presents, and what could be better than wrapping up a box of delicious homemade cookies to give to friends and family.
Clockwise from top: Pistachio Sugar Cookies, Chocolate Toffee Bites, Chocolate Crinkle Cookies, Lemon Cranberry Cookies, Molasses Crinkles
Best of all, cookies are possibly the easiest of all the baked goods to make vegan.  Maybe you're a vegan, maybe you're not. Maybe you have vegan friends or family members and want to do something special for them.  Or maybe you just ran out of eggs and don't want to run to the store.  Whatever the reason, it is easy to make your favourite childhood recipes dairy and egg free.


Easy vegan baking substitutions


Butter: This one seems like a no brainer: pick up some margarine and you're set, right? Not necessarily.  Only a few margarines are actually vegan.  A quick peek at the ingredients reveals that many margarines have whey, lactose or other dairy products.  The vegan stand-by is Earth Balance, but there are some others that are accidentally vegan (and therefore cheaper!).  Fleishmann's Kosher margarine is dairy free, as is Celeb calorie-reduced margarine (find in Loblaws family of stores), and Irresistibles calorie-reduced, lactose-free margarine (find this one in Metro family of stores).
**UPDATE**  I've just discovered that Becel makes a VEGAN margarine!  Best of all, they haven't taking advantage of this niche market by charging extra, it's the same price as their other products.

Eggs: In baking, eggs do double duty: binding and leavening, aka they help ingredients stick together and add extra puff.  This is an easy fix if you pick up a box of Egg Replacer powder.  It's actually a very simple mixture of starches (binding) and baking powder (leavening).  Can't find egg replacer?  I've been known to make my own by combining 1/2 tsp cornstarch, 1/2 tsp baking powder, and 2 tbsp water.

A batch of cookie dough usually only contains one egg (a low egg-to-flour ratio) an easy substitution.  Other baking, such as some kinds of cakes, that call for a high egg-to-flour ratio, and requires more creative solutions since the eggs are actually adding a lot of body to the recipe and cannot be replaced by water and starch.

For more great ideas on baking substitutions, check out these baking substitution guides from VegNews and VegKitchen.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Are you suggesting coconuts migrate?

Not at all!  They could be carried... in this case, by a transport truck to the grocery store.

While not overly fatty, the vast majority of the fat in coconut "meat" (and therefore also coconut milk) is saturated fat, and so sadly you probably don't want to eat large amounts of coconut regularly.  Coconuts do contain many healthy properties though, so our coconut indulgences are not all for naught.  One cup of coconut meat has 11% of your recommended daily intake of iron, and coconut water (the liquid from the middle of the coconut) has the highest natural source of electrolytes, making it nature's perfect sports drink. Coconut water can also be used intravenously to rehydrate people in desperate (usually remote) situations!  Find out more about coconuts here.


Factoid: the Coconut is a "drupe" and not truly a nut.

This winter I've been working at a diner that also has a bakery attached to it.  This means that those who come to dine have at their disposal a plethora of pies, cakes, and other goodies to eat for dessert.  One of the most popular desserts is coconut cream pie.  After weeks and weeks of bringing coconut cream pies to people, I was really really craving some coconut.  I'm devising a plan for making a vegan coconut cream pie, but I've been in a cupcake mood lately.  I decided to adapt the Golden Vanilla Cupcakes recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World cookbook (if you don't have this book, go buy it!  It is indispensable!).  I wanted to top them with some of my Coconut Whip, but my impatience made for unsettled coconut cream, and I resorted to a batch of Fluffy Buttercream Icing instead.  I have coconut milk settling in the fridge and I hope to rectify this situation tomorrow. Until then, on to the cupcakes!


Vegan Coconut Delight Cupcakes
Makes 12 cupcakes

1 cup coconut milk
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp cornstarch
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
     (or coconut extract if you can find it!)
1/2 and 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350.
Beat together coconut milk, oil, sugar and extracts.  In a separate bowl combine dry ingredients (except coconut).Combine wet and dry ingredients. Fold in 1/2 cup coconut.
Fill cupcake liners about 2/3-3/4 full and bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Transfer to a cooling rack.

Spread remaining 1/4 cup of shredded coconut out on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  Toast the coconut in the oven (still at 350).  Do not leave unattended!  Toasting only takes a minute or two.  Take them out when they turn a nice golden brown and transfer from cookie sheet to a bowl immediately (they can continue toasting on the sheet, coconut shreds are very sensitive it seems!).

When cupcakes have completely cooled, ice with coconut whip or fluffy buttercream icing and sprinkle the tops with toasted coconut.  Enjoy :)  If you do use coconut whip, I would ice on an as-needed basis, since coconut whip should be kept refrigerated and might make your cupcakes soggy :(

Seriously, seriously delicious cupcakes.

**UPDATE**

Today I successfully made a batch of coconut whip.  Patience is a virtue when it comes to baking, it would seem - you can't cut corners with this one, wait til the coconut milk has been in the fridge overnight!  And all I have to say is WOW!  Do yourself a favour and ice these with coconut whip - they are heavenly cupcake perfection!!

Yumm-o!!

Friday, December 10, 2010

"Food is not about impressing people. It's about making them feel comfortable." - Ina Garten

I came across this risotto recipe a few years ago via the "20-minute supper club" from Wish.ca. I obviously have omitted the cheese. Although it isn't a vegan site, they do occasionally post easily veganizable recipes.

Risotto is frequently thought of as a cream-based dish.  While many risotto recipes call for cheese, it is actually the rice itself that produces the characteristic creamy consistency.  A starchy rice is used, typically arborio rice, and broth is added slowly as it cooks, stirring constantly.  This releases the starches from the rice, and voila: dairy-free creaminess is the result.

If it were up to me, I wouldn't have called this recipe a risotto.  It is atypical in that it uses short grain brown rice instead of arborio or similar rice.  It also cheats a little by adding all the stock at once instead of gradually over the cooking process.  The end product is still creamy, but slightly healthier variation on the old standby.  It is certainly not traditional, but a highly recommended comfort food for cool days.



Veganized Brown Rice Pumpkin Risotto


1 bulb roasted garlic
1 cup finely chopped leeks*
2 cups short grain brown rice
2 cups peeled, diced pumpkin or squash
1/2 cup orange juice
4-5 cups vegetable broth
3 cups baby spinach (maybe try kale or other greens!)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

*Tip: leeks tend to have a lot of dirt between the layers, so chop first then rinse really really well in a colander to get all the grit out.

Roasting Garlic:
Preheat oven to 400.  Trim top of garlic bulb so the tips of each clove are snipped slightly.  Drizzle olive oil over bulb (skin and all) and wrap in foil.  Bake in the oven until soft (about 40 min).  Don't worry, you won't need the garlic til the end of the risotto, so you can start roasting the garlic when you start preparing the risotto.  When the garlic is done (and cool enough to handle), squeeze the bulb so that the cloves come out, discard skin.

Risotto:
Saute leeks over medium heat in olive oil til soft. Add the rice and stir til it is coated in oil and slightly translucent.  Stir in pumpkin and juice, increase heat to high.  When juice is nearly evaporated, add stock, bring to a boil, reduce and simmer for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add spinach leaves, roasted garlic and nutmeg.  If you're using kale or other greens that are a bit tougher than baby spinach you may wish to add them a little earlier on in the cooking process (5 minutes sooner).  Top with chopped walnuts and enjoy :)

Friday, November 5, 2010

I scream! You scream! We all scream for Poutine!

Like any real Canadian, before I was a vegan, poutine was one of my favourite foods. For any of you readers who are not from Canada and have not heard of it, poutine is fries covered in fresh cheese curds and gravy. A heart attack waiting to happen? Possibly. But it would be the most delicious of heart attacks.

Sadly, one of the downfalls of veganism is a distinct lack of adequate poutine replacements. Last week, when I was in Kingston, we walked by a place called "the Poutine Place" at 343 Princess Street. Its sign boasts of organic burgers and smoothies. I looked at the menu, searching for a veggie burger and was shocked to see that there was a vegan poutine on the menu!! With veggie gravy and soy curds, there was nothing that would have kept me from ordering one of these wonders. I had heard rumours of vegan poutine in Montreal before, but I've also heard rumours of ghosts, fairies, and easter bunnies. But here it was. And I have to say, it was pretty good. Did it taste like real Canadian poutine? Meh. Was it fries smothered in gravy, a cheese-like substance, and decidedly unhealthy? Absolutely. Win. The thing the cheese like substance was lacking was the melty, stringy, get stuck to your chin gooeyness that usually accompanies poutine.

Enter Daiya.

Glorious, glorious Daiya. I was in Tara Natural Foods in Kingston a few months ago, chatting with the sales clerk, when he asked me if I had ever tried Daiya cheese. He, like me, had all but given up on vegan cheese, but informed me that vegans everywhere were going bananas for this stuff. I excitedly bought some, brought it home, and made the best vegan pizza I had ever eaten. I was in love.

So after my vegan poutine experience, I have decided to have a go at making my own for the first time in over 3 years. I found this gravy recipe a few years ago which I absolutely love (I use a little gravy browner when I make it). The first time I tasted it I immediately thought of poutine sauce (a particular kind of canned gravy you can find in Canadian supermarkets). Salty, tangy, and oh so good on potatoes, this gravy recipe has become a stand-by for holiday feasts. Pair it with some mozza style daiya shreds and some hand-cut homefries, and you've got yourself the perfect vegan poutine.  Seriously, seriously tasty.  This poutine was as close to perfect as vegan can deliver.  Make it.  Love it.

Best Ever Vegan Poutine!



Thursday, November 4, 2010

Squash-travaganza!

Let's talk about squash.  I love squash.  All kinds of squash, even the sport!  Squash squash squash!
Sweet dumpling and acorn squash
Squashes belong to the family Cucurbitaceae which includes such wonderful fruits as melons, gourds and cucumbers.  There is a huge variety of squashes, including pumpkin, zucchini, butternut, acorn, hubbard, cushaw, buttercup, sweet dumpling, celebration, cream of the crop, sweet mama, turban, spaghetti, delicata, heart of gold.... and still more that I haven't heard of yet.

Celebration, Cream of the Crop, and Heart of Gold squash
Although there are so many varieties, they belong to only four species:  Cucurbita maxima (hubbard squashes), C. mixta (cushaw), C. moshata (butternut squash), and C. pepo (pumpkins, zucchini, acorn squash).
Butternut squash and pie pumpkin
Squash were domesticated in Mexico eight to ten thousand years ago [1].  They were an important food staple in central and north america.  Native Americans know squash as one of the "Three Sisters", along with corn and beans.  The three crops were planted together - the corn stalk was used to support the bean vine, and the large squash leaves trapped moisture in the ground for the growing plants and inhibits the growth of weeds.  Incidentally, combined together, squash, beans and corn make an excellent "Three Sisters soup".
Oven-roasted Sweet Dumpling squash with Sweet & Savory Quinoa
There are many ways that I like to use squash.  Have a sweet tooth?  Try these totally awesome chewy pumpkin oatmeal cookies.  They're my all time favourite cookie and I have yet to meet someone who doesn't love them.  Zucchini is awesome sliced, seasoned, and roasted in the oven or grilled on the barbecue (or campfire!).  Acorn squashes and their kin are perfect cut in half, roasted in the oven, with a little margarine and brown sugar sprinkled inside.  Butternut squash is my favourite for making fantastic (and filling) soups.
Butternut squash soup with maple syrup drizzle (and my cat Skrabble!)
Basic Butternut Squash Soup

1 onion, diced
1-2 tbsp margerine
1 Butternut squash, peeled & cubed
Water
vegetable bouillon cubes
Nutmeg, cinnamon & allspice, a few good dashes of each
Maple syrup for drizzle (optional, but awesome)

Saute onion in margarine until caramelized.  Toss in the squash and add enough water to just cover the squash. *Tip: measure your water as you're pouring it in so you know how many bouillon cubes to add!* Add your bouillon cubes and spices, and bring to a boil.  Let it simmer until the squash cubes are soft.  Puree the soup with a hand blender. If you're using a regular blender, make sure you vent the lid and cover it with a cloth so it doesn't create a pressure build-up and burst hot steam/soup in your face.  Nobody wants to be burned by squash.  At this point the soup could be pretty darn thick, so add some water, a little at a time.  I like to be conservative with my water during cooking because you can always add more but it's so much harder to take it away if you've added too much!  When you get the soup to the desired consistency, ladle some in a bowl and swirl a drizzle of real maple syrup on top, perhaps grate a little nutmeg on there.  Not only does it taste delish, it makes it look extra snazzy!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Going green

This summer, while living in Kingston, I regularly frequented their fantastic farmer's market. While at one of the booths I overheard one of the farmers describing tomatillos.  As the name would suggest, they belong to the tomato family, and are closely related to ground cherries.  Like ground cherries, they're wrapped in a beautiful papery husk that remind me of paper lanterns.   They taste a bit like tomatoes, but a little more tart and I found them a bit sweeter.  I love experimenting with new ingredients, but to be honest, I bought these because they're so darn pretty.

Tomatillos are a staple in Mexican cooking, particularly in Salsa verde, so naturally, that's what we made with them!  In fact, we had a whole mexi night, and made fajitas with homemade whole wheat flour tortillas!  I don't remember which website I got the tortilla recipe from, but they're all more or less the same. The rolling of the tortillas was a bit time consuming, but otherwise, it was really easy!  A quick cook in a hot, dry pan, and bam!  Fresh, homemade tortillas!


The salsa verde was a sweet, fresh and tangy alternative to my usual homemade salsa.  I made this a long time ago so I can't tell you how much I used of what, but just wing it!  That's what I did!

Salsa Verde

-Tomatillos
-Onion
-Jalapenos
-Fresh cilantro (don't be shy!)
-Fresh lime juice
-Sugar
-Garlic






Combine ingredients in a food processor (or chop the heck out of it!) so that everything is chopped finely but still has enough chunkiness to give the salsa some body.  That's how I like it at least.  

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bean Burgers and Blogrolls

While some of you may be celebrating the month of November by growing a hideous creature on your upper lip (aka the Movember Mustache), vegans are celebrating by blogging about delicious food. This year marks the fourth annual Vegan Month of Food, affectionately known as Vegan MoFo. Over 500 vegan bloggers have signed up this year to share their love of food with the world. Heck, with numbers like those, there are probably vegan bloggers who are growing
mustaches. I would have been one of them (blogging, not growing a mustache), but I missed the sign-up deadline by a matter of hours. Bummer. I will still be posting delicious recipes this month in honour of Vegan MoFo, and I encourage you to check out the blogroll and marvel at the plethora of vegan wonders that will present themselves to you daily.

Tonight for dinner I made some homemade bean burgers that were so good, easy, and versatile, I can't see myself spending money on store-bought veggie burgers ever again. I've made other forms of veggie burgers before, and they always fall apart and are never quite as good as my old standby, the Lick's Nature Burgers. These actually held together! Our BBQ is packed away for the season, so I didn't try them out on the grill, but if that's how you want to roll, I would try freezing them first so they don't get lost between the grills.

I'll give you the basic recipe, and you can jazz it up however you like. The possibilities truly are endless people!

Honey garlic style bean burgers with sweet potato homefries

Basic Bean Burgers
Makes about 6 normal sized patties

1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 tbsp ground flax seeds
1/3 cup water
1/2 onion
2-3 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp sauce*
Spices*
3/4 cup bread crumbs

In a wee dish, combine the water and flax seeds and let them sit and goop up while you work.
In a large bowl, mash up the kidney beans to form a paste.
Mince onion and garlic in a food processor and add to bean mixture, along with oil, sauce, and spices. Add the now gelled up flax seeds.
Add the bread crumbs a little at a time, mixing well, until you get a stiff mixture, about the consistency of cookie dough.
Shape into 6 patties (or 4 if you like your burgers really thick!). Bake in the oven at 350-375ish for about 15 minutes, then flip, brush with sauce (optional, but why wouldn't you?!) and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes. Put it on a bun, top it however you like it, and enjoy!

* Some thoughts on sauces and spices.
This is where you get to have fun with your burgers! The possibilities are endless here for different burger combinations. In the burger pictured above I kept it simple, using honey garlic BBQ sauce, and a few dashes of plain old salt and pepper as my spices. You can use all kinds of things for your sauces such as traditional BBQ sauce, chili sauce, salsa, stir-fry sauces, spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce. If it's a sauce, chances are there's a way to incorporate it into a burger.

Below you'll find a few ideas that you could use to jazz up your bean burgers:

Mexi burger: sauce= salsa; spices = cilantro, chili powder and cumin; top with some avocado and peppers
Thai burger: sauce= thai peanut sauce; spices= cilantro and chilis; top with mango
Teriyaki burger: sauce = teriyaki sauce; spices=ginger, extra garlic; top with bean sprouts and peppers
Pizza burger: sauce = pizza sauce; spices = basil, oregano, parsley; top with Daiya vegan cheese and your favourite pizza toppings

I also think that these bean burgers would easily transition to "meat"balls. With tomato paste and Italian seasonings, bean burger balls would add a delicious protein boost to spaghetti.



Sunday, October 3, 2010

Hey, remember me?

It has not escaped my attention that I have not posted since May. Nor has it escaped my attention that I was in the middle of a 52 week challenge that I abandoned outright. I also seem to recall vowing never to let another blog fall victim to my forgetfulness, busyness and general laziness when it comes to my hobbies. And yet here I am, in October, over 4 months later, returning to you, dear reader.

In my absence I have not abandoned cooking. On the contrary, I met a rather wonderful man who shares my undying love and dedication to food. The two of us have concocted many wonderful meals that we pat ourselves on the back for. I have often thought about how I should blog about those meals, and I have actually photographed many of them with that purpose in mind, but somehow life, laziness, and World of Warcraft always seems to get in the way. Well no more! I vow (again) to make an effort to be more dedicated. I will not, however, take up any more 52 week challenges, that force my creativity in a direction it is not always inclined. Blogging had become a chore, and it should not be that way. It should be a celebration of delicious. An adventure into new and exciting realms of taste. An exploration of world cuisine, tradition, and comfort.

I am a stubborn person, however, and therefore I intend to complete the 52 week challenge. I will make 52 salads. They simply won't be made in 52 consecutive weeks.

But this is not why I come to you today. I come to you with tidings of fall delights and easy-peasy awesomeness that will fill your belly with the joy and love that only the fall harvest can bestow. I am speaking, of course, of that most American of fruits - the apple. True, the apple is not native to North America, though neither are most of us. In this context, the apple is very much like we are. It didn't come from here, but it's adaptability allowed it to survive and thrive in our climate, our landscape, so much so that the apples we grow today bear little resemblance to its ancestors in Western Asia. They are Canadian. They are American. The apples of North America have a rich and interesting history that I cannot do justice to. For an engaging and eye-opening read, I strongly recommend "The Botany of Desire" by Michael Pollan (and no, the irony of the author's name has not escaped me).

Factoid: Apple trees in orchards are all clones! The seeds from an apple are so genetically diverse that they will never produce the same tree twice, so to grow a new apple tree that produces the same variety of apple it must be grafted.

Rick and I were on our way back to Kingston one sunny September afternoon. I occasionally like to heed the signs on the side of the road that would direct me to some local gem, seeking out an adventure, discovering what the side roads have in store for me. On this day I decided I would stop at that orchard that I had driven by several times on the drive between the Arnprior and Kingston. Perched high atop Rick's shoulders, I collected some of the most delectable and tempting of apples. The picking was so good and so easy, that I filled my reusable shopping bag. A shockingly small cost later, I had arrived home with an entire crisper drawer full of apples. What on earth would I do with all those apples? After all, I usually only like apples raw, I've never been crazy about apple pie or apple crisp.

One of the things I always have liked is hot apple cider. Sweet, a little tart, with the hint of cinnamon, hot apple cider is just the thing when you come in from a day of dreary fall rain. How hard could it be? As it turns out, not hard at all! I searched the internet for a short while and came across this recipe. It was so easy, and so perfect. I only wished I had a bigger pot, I would have made more! It's all kinds of easy, more kinds of delicious, though it does take some forethought and time. I made it while doing some homework. It filled the house with the sweet smell of apples, and when I was done my homework, this warm brew was my reward.

Absurdly Easy Hot Apple Cider

8-10 apples
1/2 cup sugar (optional)
4 tbsp each cinnamon and allspice (I don't think I used this much of each)
water
large pot (I had a 4.5 liter pot)
cheesecloth & string

Cut the apples in quarters. Don't bother coring or peeling. Place spices in some doubled up cheesecloth and bundle it up. Put apples, sugar and spices in a large pot and fill with water. Boil for about an hour, then reduce to low and simmer for another 2 hours.
Take off heat, pull out spice bundle, and mash the apples. Pour through a strainer lined with cheesecloth into a large bowl. Let it sit there and drip for a good long while. After it has dripped and cooled for a while, gather up the edges of the cheese cloth and give it a squeeze to get out any additional juice.

Voila! You've got yourself some fantastic apple cider! I added the 1/2 cup of sugar but I don't think it would need it. The apples were sweet enough, and if anyone disagrees, they can add a teaspoon or two to their own glass of cider.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Beans are Neither Musical, nor Fruit.

But they do make a damn fine salad! Nothing quite says bbq season like bean salad! Ok, things you actually barbecue probably say it better, but still, you need to have something to serve with your grilled veggie burgers, don't you? In my family, this is one (often two or three) of the following 4 salads: coleslaw, potato salad, macaroni salad, and bean salad. Of these, only bean salad comes pre-veganized. It just so happens to be my favourite of these summer staples.

Here in Canada, last weekend was the Victoria Day weekend, which means we got Monday off! This year I spent my long weekend visiting family. My mom and I went to my brother's place for a bbq, and since he has a month old baby (as of tomorrow!) we brought all the food. Naturally, we made bean salad. Despite the extra day off this weekend, I somehow haven't managed to find the time to blog about it until today!

The original recipe calls for white vinegar, but I have updated it slightly by using cider vinegar instead. I also find the recipe quite sweet, and would normally only add half the sugar this recipe calls for, but my mom and brother like it that way. You be the judge! We usually make it with canned beans (for ease), but I'm sure it would be delicious if you cooked them up yourself.

Classic Bean Salad
Makes a lot! Great for pot-lucks, or a week's worth of bean salad!

1 can each: Red kidney beans, Chick Peas, Cut Yellow Beans, Cut Green Beans
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
2/3 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup oil
3/4 cup sugar (see what I mean? a lot right?)

Rinse and combine beans. Toss in veggies. In a separate dish, whisk together vinegar, oil and sugar. Pour over beans, mix well. Refrigerate and let marinate several hours or overnight.

Would you believe, with all that salad, that I forgot to take a picture of it? I'm sure you can imagine what it looks like, colourful and delicious.

Salad Challenge Countdown
Salads made: 20 Salads left: 32

Monday, May 17, 2010

"The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution." - Paul Cezanne

Maybe I'm not starting a revolution here, but I'd like to think that I might inspire someone to observe a carrot freshly.

The carrot, Daucus carota, is the same species as the common wild flower Queen Anne's Lace. It was domesticated in its homeland of Europe to make it sweeter and less woody than it's wild ancestor. It now also dons a delightful orange hue, and like most orange vegetables, it is high in beta carotene. If you look back to my Hot Cure for the Cold soup, you'll see all the goodness that beta-carotene can provide.

Beta-carotene is metabolized into vitamin A, which your eyes need to maintain vision. This is why your mother always told you to eat your carrots to make your eyes stronger. Unfortunately for me, all the carrots in the world won't reverse near-sightedness.

Factoid: Did you know that 'baby carrots' are not actually smaller, younger carrots, but regular carrots that have been peeled and shaped into these bite-sized snack favourites. Save some money (and some chemical preservatives) and peel and chop your own!

This Salad of the Week recipe I actually did make last week, I just didn't get around to blogging about it til now. This is a different take on coleslaw. I've done away with the gross mayonnaise-laden dressing, and gone for something a little lighter and fresher.


Gingery Carrot Slaw
Makes 2 servings

2 carrots, grated
1/4 cup grated red onion
1 tsp grated ginger
2 tsp rice vinegar
2 tsp oil
1 tsp agave/honey

Mix, chill for a while, and enjoy!

Salad Challenge Countdown
Salads made: 19 Salads left: 33

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Frappy Joy Joy

Those of you who know me personally, know of my deep, unwavering love of Starbucks. I love that a 16 ounce cup of indulgent deliciousness can bring me immeasurable amounts of joy. I love that I can order a decaf grande cinnamon dolce soy no-whip latte, and not feel like a complete jackass. Mostly, I love that I can get my lattes however I want them, because, after all, that's Starbucks' specialty.

Well folks, just when I thought I couldn't love Starbucks any more, they came out with however-you-want-it frappuccinos. That's right, fellow vegans and lactose-intolerants! You can now get your frappuccinos in soy! And for those of you who still consume the dairy but don't want all the calories, you can now get it with non-fat milk. Yes, we can now order frapps the way we've been ordering our lattes!
Soy Strawberries & Creme Frappuccino in a To-Go Cold Cup Tumbler

Do you want to know the best part? To celebrate our new-found icy blended expressions of personal choice, Starbucks is selling their frappuccinos for half price between 3 and 5 pm until May 16th!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

For whom the Bhel tolls

Back in November I visited Burnaby, B.C. (that's British Columbia, not Before Christ for any Americans who may be reading this). While I was there I ate at a terrific Indian restaurant, the Bombay Bhel. I've had Indian food many times before, but this time I had something I'd never tried before. It's an appetizer called "bhel poori" (or bhel puri as it's sometimes written). Not technically a salad, but a "chaat". A chaat is a savoury snack usually consisting of crunchy bits, chutneys and cilantro. There are many variations on this theme, as I've come to learn. Bhel poori is essentially puffed rice, sev (crunchy noodle shaped bits made of chickpea flour), onion, tomato, cilantro, and tamarind chutney. A quick internet search reveals that no two recipes are exactly the same but those basic ingredients seem to be the standards that define this dish.


As I've said, bhel poori is a chaat, not a salad. But what is a salad, really? We cannot define it based on its ingredients, since a caesar salad, bean salad, and potato salad hardly share any of the same ingredients, and yet, we all know them to be salad. The word salad comes from the Latin word salata meaning "salty". Merriam-Webster defines a salad as:

1 : any of various usually cold dishes: as a : raw greens (as lettuce) often combined with other vegetables and toppings and served especially with dressing b : small pieces of food (as pasta, meat, fruit, or vegetables) usually mixed with a dressing (as mayonnaise) or set in gelatin

This definition, particularly part b, suits my concept of salad quite nicely. Let's think back to bhel poori: Usually cold? check. Small pieces of food? check. Mixed with a dressing? Hmmm... what constitutes a dressing? Merriam-Webster tells me that a dressing is "a sauce for adding to a dish". Well, I'd say that chutney counts as a sauce for adding to a dish. Thus, I deem that bhel poori meets the criteria qualifying it to be a salad, and thus, a valid entry in the Salad Challenge!

The recipe I more or less followed is found (ironically) at No Recipes. Funny that one should find recipes on a blog entitled No Recipes, but I'm not one to judge. It's actually an excellent blog with beautiful photography, I suggest you give it a browse.

The unfortunate thing about bhel poori is that proper ingredients are not always easy to find. The local superstore only carried mango chutney, and I couldn't find any sev. I did find a snack mix called "Jaffna mix" at the local bulk barn, and it did list the main ingredient as chick pea flour, so one can only assume that the little noodle-like sticks in this snack mix is indeed sev. I did come across the occasional bhel poori recipe that called for mango, so I thought the mango chutney would suffice, especially given the loose definition the dish has to begin with. With that, I give you my very own take on bhel poori.

Ash's Bhel Poori
Serves 1

1 small potato, cooked & coarsely mashed
1/2 roma tomato, chopped
2 tbsp red onion, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup puffed rice
1/4 cup Jaffna mix
2 tbsp mango chutney (or enough to coat all the ingredients)

Mix all ingredients together and serve immediately. This recipe won't keep (the rice & sev will go all soggy). I really liked this recipe, it was quick and easy, but I would really like to try it again with tamarind chutney (this seems to be pretty important and I get the feeling that without it I'm sort of missing the mark a bit). Maybe I'll try to hunt some down in Ottawa sometime, cause I doubt I'll find it anywhere in Brockville.

Salad Challenge Countdown
Salads made: 18 Salads left: 34

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Exploring Cilantrophobia

As I mentioned in my last post, there are people out there who have an aversion to cilantro. Maybe you know one of these poor unfortunate souls. Maybe you are one. Those who dislike it do so with fervor (there is even an "I Hate Cilantro" fanpage). The interesting thing is it appears that there is a genetic explanation for cilantro hating. In fact, they're not even experiencing the same taste - to them, this otherwise delightful herb, tastes like someone spilled soap in the food.

The New York Times ran a great article exploring cilantro aversions entitled: "Cilantro haters, it's not your fault." According to this article, the specific mechanism by which cilantrophobes taste this horrible soapiness is not yet known. There seems to be some unconfirmed speculation about the web that people of European descent are more likely to be cilantro haters. A quick search of recipes from the world would seem to confirm this fact, as most recipes containing cilantro seem to be from Asia, the Mediterranean & middle-east, and South & Central America.

Factoid: When Julia Child was asked if she would ever order a dish with cilantro she replied: "Never. I would pick it out if I saw it and throw it on the floor."

Fortunately for me I am not a cilantrophobe, and it appears, as promised, in tonight's salad recipe as well. This recipe is also a re-creation of a recipe I had whilst away in Bracebridge. During the course our lunches were provided. One day after a bizarre miscommunication with the caterers, lunch for the group consisted of pizza. For myself and a celiac in the group, a local health food store, the Muskoka Natural Food Market, was charged with the task of handling our special dietary needs. One of the things they brought us was a delightful rice & cashew salad. I have done my best to duplicate it here, and I think I've hit the nail on the head. I hope you like it as much as I do.


Sesame Cashew Rice Salad
Serves 2-3

2 cups cooked brown rice
1/2 cup cashews
1/4 cup dried currents
2 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup (loosely packed) chopped cilantro
1 tbsp sesame oil
1-2 tsp fresh lemon juice
salt & pepper


Salad Challenge Countdown
Salads made: 17 Salads left: 35

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Love at First Bite

It is now the 18th week of the year, and yet I have only blogged about 15 salads. That means that this week I will attempt to make 3 posts containing 3 new and delicious salads. I could make excuses, but I won't. That's not what this 52 week challenge is all about.

Last week I went away on an OBBN training course. The OBBN is the Ontario Benthos Biomonitoring Network, and they are a network of researchers who collaborate, collecting and sharing data on the invertebrates that inhabit the bottom of freshwater bodies (streams, lakes, wetlands), for the purposes of assessing the health of freshwater systems throughout Ontario.

Ok, ok.... back to food. Whilst away for this course, inspiration was not in short supply. On the last day as we made our way home from Bracebridge, we stopped in Whitby for dinner. I had a hankering for sushi, but after parking and waiting to cross the street, we noticed a delightful looking Thai restaurant called i-Thai. I have to say, if you are ever in or near Whitby, you need to check out this place. We left that restaurant with full bellies, and smiles on our faces. Sometimes food really can bring immeasurable amounts of joy, and this place delivered. We started our meal with their mango salad, and it was love at first bite. I knew I had to go home and recreate it.

The key to this dish is using fresh herbs. This salad has both cilantro and mint, giving it a fresh bright taste. If you're one of those people who has an aversion to cilantro, I apologize, as it will appear in all three of this week's salads. It's not my fault really... if the grocery store would sell them in more reasonably sized bunches I wouldn't have this problem.

Mint belongs to a very prestigious
family- Lamiaceae. The mint family contains many delicious herbs including rosemary, oregano, lavender, sage, savory, thyme, oregano, marjoram, and catnip. There are many mints that are native to Ontario as well such as wild basil (Clinopodium vulgare), wild bergamot aka bee-balm (Monarda fistulosa) and a hat full of mountain mints (Pycnanthemum spp.). Mints have so many good things going for them. Mints aid in digestion, soothing the stomach and settling indigestion (ever wonder why Pepto-bismol and the like are always minty?). Mints are beneficial for asthmatics in two ways: first, rosmarinic acid blocks production of inflammatory compounds, and encourages the production of prostacyclins that keep the airways open. It's anti-inflammatory action also makes it a good choice for cold & flu season. And to top it off, they have a healthy dose of antimicrobial properties, suppressing the growth of bacteria (hence its presence in toothpaste).

Factoid: In Greek mythology, a nymph named Minthe was turned into a sweet smelling plant by Persephone

Enough rambling, and onto the salad!


Thai Mango Salad
Makes 2 servings

1 unripe mango
1 smallish carrot
1/4 red bell pepper
1 tbsp red onion
1 tbsp crushed peanuts
1 tbsp crushed cashews
5 or 6 fresh mint leaves
~2 tbsp fresh cilantro
juice of 1 lime
1-2 tsp agave nectar (or other sweetener)

Peel your mango and cut it into thin strips. Slice carrot, pepper, and onion as thinly as possible into thin matchsticks. Chop up herbs (Tip: an easy way to cut flat-leaf herbs like mint & basil - stack them on top of each other, roll them up along the long side, and slice thinly for even thin strips of herbs). In a small dish/cup, combine lime juice with agave nectar (or other sweetener). The amount of sweetener you'll need will depend on the tartness of the mango (less ripe = more tart), and your personal preference. Adjust as necessary. Toss all ingredients together. Allow the salad to rest for several minutes, allowing the flavours to get to know each other. Garnish with fresh mint leaves if you're feeling fancypants.

Salad Challenge Countdown
Salads made: 16 Salads left: 36

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Double Whammy

I'm blogging to you now from
Brockville, Ontario, my new home base for the next 6 months. In case you were wondering why I dropped the ball again and missed yet another week of my salad challenge, I will use the excuses of moving to a new city, and starting a new job (which means adjusting to a new sleep schedule). So this post will be a 2 for 1 deal of salad fabulousness.

Earlier this week I decided to try my hand at veganizing the Caesar salad. Perhaps one of the most popular salads around, and decidedly not vegan, this dressing traditionally contains egg, anchovies, and parmesan cheese. Needless to say, making this salad animal-product free is no easy task. I started by searching what else was out there on the internet. I came across several variations, but the one I decided to go with was found on Recipezaar. I chose this recipe since conveniently the recipes on this site are rated by those who have tried them, and this one was given a nearly perfect score.

Vegan Caesar I: Julius

Greenery of choice (romaine is traditional, but all I had was spinach)
croutons
Veggie Bacon - fried and crumbled

This salad was definitely tasty, and the dressing had some zing (and Caesar style garlic breath) but I'm going to have to classify this as a food fail because it really tasted nothing like a real Caesar salad. It didn't even look like Caesar dressing on account of the soy sauce. On the up side, it tasted really good on roasted potatoes!

Tonight's salad was anything but traditional. I'm not sure why, but I started thinking of how I could incorporate chocolate into a salad. I remembered that Susan over at FatFree Vegan Kitchen has made balsamic chocolate cookies before. She explained that balsamic vinegar actually enhances chocolate flavour, and so I figured that a chocolate balsamic vinaigrette would have to be delicious. When I was in the grocery store I spotted raspberry flavoured balsamic vinegar, and I was sold. I'm sure that you could make this recipe with regular balsamic vinegar, but I highly recommend this raspberry flavoured vinegar if you can find it.

Strawberry Salad with Chocolate Vinaigrette
Serves 1

4 or 5 strawberries, sliced
2 tbsp sliced almonds
greenery (I recommend baby spinach)

Dressing
1 tsp cocoa
1 tsp raspberry balsamic vinegar
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp honey/agave nectar

This salad was seriously decadent. Seriously. Go out and make it.

Salad Challenge Countdown
Salads made: 15 Salads left: 37

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Turmeric and Coriander and Cumin, Oh My!

Last night I attempted to introduce my cat, Skrabble, to my friend Brett's cat, Lily, in a hope that they would become the best of friends and have an outrageously adorable play date. This didn't occur. They generally just growled at each other and avoided each other for the majority of the evening, punctuated with the occasional screaming encounter.

You may be asking yourself, what does this have to do with food? Be patient, all will be revealed to you at the proper time. Lucky for you, that time is now. While over at Brett's place for kitty party (aka kitty growl-fest) I made a curry and onion bahjis for us for dinner. I decided to use this as inspiration for this week's Salad Challenge. The onion bhajis got me thinking about these battered fried onion bits that they put on the veggie burgers over at Darcy McGee's, a chain of pubs in the Ottawa area. Not only are these the best veggie burgers I've ever had, but atop their already fantastic burger, they put a grilled portobello cap and onions that have been battered in a curry-spiced batter, then deep fried. SO GOOD. Seriously, if you're in Ottawa you HAVE to go to one of these pubs and get their veggie burger. They also have some very good beer on tap - I recommend Erdinger.

Ok, I'm getting off topic again. The point is, I was thinking to myself that these crispy onions would make a super tasty salad topping. And so the idea for Bahji salad was born! These crispy fried onions would be an excellent topping for salads of all kinds, veggie burgers, sandwiches, portobello or tofu steaks. They're basically just delicious.

Crispy Bahji Bits

1 onion, cut in half, then thinly sliced
1 tbsp water
2 tsp cornstarch
3 tbsp chickpea flour
1/2 tsp each turmeric, coriander, cumin and chili powder
cayenne pepper to taste
olive oil

Mix cornstarch and water together. Add onions and toss to coat. In a tupperware container mix chickpea flour and spices. Add the onions to the container, put the lid on, and shake to coat.

Heat about a half centimeter of oil in a pan or pot over medium heat (I like pots cause they contain the oil splatter better). Put in only as many onions as the pot/pan will hold in a single layer. Fry until onions are crispy, turning once so that both sides are browned. Remove with slotted spoon and place on paper towel to absorb excess oil.

Bahji's are often served with Cucumber Raita for dipping. Raita is usually made with yogurt, but I replaced yogurt with soft silken tofu, and it turned out pretty well, but I think it still needs improvement. I used the raita I made as a salad dressing, and constructed my salad with baby spinach, grated carrot, sliced cucumber, raita, and of course, topped it all with a generous helping of bahji bits!
I rounded out dinner tonight with this Rice & Lentil Pilaf which was SO delicious (I used kale in place of dandelion greens), and Sweet Potato Falafel from my favourite vegan food blog, FatFree Vegan Kitchen. Also, totally delish. All in all, this was a kickass meal, even if I do say so myself!
Salad Challenge Countdown
Salads made: 13 Salads left: 39

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Eat Your Sunshine!

It's been a dreary, cold, blustery week here in Eastern Ontario, which is particularly disappointing after we had an unseasonably warm spell a few weeks ago. So this kind of weather usually makes me want to make soup (which I did), but for this second of this week's two salad challenges, I decided to bring summer into the kitchen by making my friend Laura's Sunshine Salad. Made with spring greens and fresh fruit, this recipe is sure to fool your tummy into thinking that the sun really has returned. This week strawberries and blackberries were on sale, so those are the berries I've opted for. The last time Laura made this for me she used strawberries, blueberries and grapes. Any berries will do. She topped it with raspberry vinaigrette. We always have frozen raspberries in the freezer (stored from the previous berry season) so I made my own dressing, but one from the store will work just as well.


Sunshine Salad
Spring greens or baby spinach
Berries of choice
Oranges, supremed
Red onion, thinly sliced
Sunflower Seeds

Fresh Raspberry Vinaigrette
Makes about 1/4 cup

1/4 cup raspberries (fresh or frozen)
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp raspberry or red wine vinegar
2 tsp honey (or to taste)
1 tsp orange juice

Mash raspberries with a fork. Add the oil and blend until smooth. Add remaining ingredients, adding more orange juice if you want a thinner dressing.

Salad Challenge Countdown
Salads made: 12 Salads left: 40


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Dropped the Salad Ball Again

Why did I think I could do this 52 week challenge again? It's amazing how quickly a week can fly by without you noticing. Particularly if that week is filled with a lot of driving and apartment hunting. Lucky for my blog, I found an apartment. Next up, however, I must buy a car. How on earth will I manage car shopping, a Sens game, AND 2 salad blogs in one week? Yes, 2 salad blogs, since I must make up for last week's fail. After all, if I make 52 salads in a year, it all evens out in the end, right? That's the theory I'm going with anyway.

The first of this week's salads features quinoa (pronounced "keen-wah"). This illustrious little seed hails from the Andes in South America. It is in fact a seed, though it is used as you would a grain. It was considered a sacred food by the Incas, which is actually why it is little known today. Despite its supreme nutritional content, the Spanish explorers shunned quinoa because of its association with Incan religious ceremonies (read: non-Christian), and instead brought back the potato as their prize from the new world. Far be it from me to say anything negative about potatoes, but they can't hold a candle to quinoa as far as nutrition goes, and the Spaniards clearly made the wrong choice.

Quinoa is unique in that is one of a noble few plant-based foods that are a "complete" protein source. Complete, for anyone who is unsure, means that it contains all the amino acids that humans need to obtain from diet. This is often cited as the reason why animal products are a superior protein source. It is also why soy, which is also a complete protein, has become so dominant in the world of veg cooking. A cup of cooked quinoa contains 8g protein, 5 g fiber, and 15% of your recommended daily intake of iron.

So what does it taste like and how do you use it? Well, let me put it this way - if rice and couscous had a lovechild, I think it would turn out to be something like quinoa. Use it as you would rice. In fact, you'd be better off eliminating rice altogether and eating only quinoa. It has twice the protein content of brown rice (for the same number of calories), and cooks in 1/4 of the time. In this fresh and healthy salad, I've used quinoa as I might use couscous.


Quinoa and Black Bean Salad
Makes about 5 cups

2 cups cooked quinoa
1 cup cooked black beans
3 green onions, sliced
3/4 cup red pepper, chopped
3/4 cup cucumber, sliced & quartered
1 plum tomato, slimy middle stuff removed, chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp cumin
a few dashes of cayenne, to taste (optional)

Mix all the ingredients together. Refrigerate a little while, serve cold.

One of the things I have come to dread as a vegan is potlucks. Usually full of things I can't eat. I of course bring something that I can eat, but it is important to bring something that everyone likes, and offers a complete meal in one so I don't feel like I'm sacrificing my nutrition. This would be the perfect pot-luck dish that would feel quite at home at a barbecue as well.


Salad Challenge Countdown
Salads made: 11 Salads left: 41

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Blue Days Salad

I'm sure it's not surprising that this week's Salad Challenge recipe is based on my last entry on the Blue Days Diet. As a review the blue day diet includes: tryptophan (to boost serotonin), spiciness (to release endorphins), B vitamins (increase energy & elevate mood), carbohydrates (increase tryptophan uptake), and chocolate (cause it's awesome).

Ok, so this salad doesn't have chocolate. I couldn't come up with a way to do that, so i'll just have to make some hot cocoa later. Since I was eating this salad with a stir-fry that I served over quinoa, I figured that satisfied the carb requirement, and really, when are we ever lacking in opportunities to incorporate more carbs in our diet? So lets focus on the other three, tryptophan, B vitamins, and heat.

As I already mentioned, I was making a stir fry for dinner, so I decided to go with an asian influence in this salad. This salad features crimini mushrooms, which have nearly all of the different B vitamins as well as being an excellent source of tryptophan; cucumber, miso, sesame seeds and the baby greens are all sources of tryptophan as well. The dressing contains a good dose of cayenne pepper which will warm your tongue and get those endorphins flowing.


Crimini Mushroom Salad with Spicy Miso Dressing
Makes 1 salad

Dark leafy greens
4 or 5 crimini mushrooms, sliced
soy sauce
cucumber, sliced
sesame seeds

Dressing:
1 tsp miso paste
1 tsp oil (use sesame oil if you have it)
1 tsp rice vinegar
1/2 tsp fresh grated ginger
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1/2 tsp water

Saute mushrooms with a bit of soy sauce until well cooked. Set aside.
Whisk together dressing recipes. If you're not partial to spicy food start with a little and add more until it suits your tastes. You may want to add more or less water depending on how thick you want the dressing to be.
Drizzle dressing on top of greenery, cucumbers, and mushrooms, and top with sesame seeds.

Salad Challenge Countdown
Salads made: 10 Salads left: 42

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Blue Days Diet

The Brothers Gibb once asked "How can you mend a broken heart?". I don't have the answer to this age-old, disco question, but I have been told that time heals all wounds. The problem with that is that you're probably going to feel pretty darn miserable in the meantime. The good news is that food can help take the edge off. Think of it like nature's morphine.

You're stressed, had a rough week at work, or just had your heart broken, and what do you do? You reach for a bar of chocolate or your favourite starch-filled comfort food. Why do we do this?, you might ask. Well you're in luck, because I'm about to tell you!

Many people are emotional eaters, and there's good reason for it. Foods have the power to elevate your mood by releasing endorphines, and increasing serotonin, among other methods. Deficiencies in certain nutrients can also cause depression symptoms. Here is a breakdown of important mood foods.

Tryptophan
Tryptophan is an amino acid that our body uses to synthesize serotonin. When serotonin levels are low, we become depressed, lose focus, and disrupted sleep patterns. Many anti-depressants act on serotonin levels, such as the ever-popular SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) such as Prozak. But you don't need drugs to increase your serotonin, all you need is more dietary tryptophan. Many of you know that turkey is high in tryptophan, but there are many excellent sources as well.

Vegan sources of tryptophan (for a complete list go here):
  • Mushrooms
  • Dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, mustard greens, swiss chard)
  • Soy (beans, tofu, tamari, miso)
  • Lentils & Beans (Kidney, black, pinto, navy etc)
  • Cauliflower, cucumber, celery, peppers, eggplant
  • Seeds (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower) and Nuts (walnuts, cashews, almonds)
  • Whole grains (oats, buckwheat, rye, bulgur)

Endorphins
The word "endorphine" comes from the words endogenous morphine, suggesting that it is a morphine-like substance that is produced by the body. They are natural pain relievers that are released when we experience pain and danger, but they are also released by good things such as exercise and orgasms, which is why people tend to feel so great after exercising (the so-called "runner's high"). Essentially, they are released when we experience excitement, good or bad. Eating spicy food is also known to cause the release of endorphins. Who needs morphine when all you need is a hot pepper?

B vitamins
There are 8 B vitamins (oddly named 1,2,3,5,6,7,9,12) but are frequently known by other names: thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), and folic acid (B9). Many of them are known to have effects on mood, energy levels and cognitive function. They are also important for supporting metabolism. Unlike many nutrients, B vitamins can be harder to obtain in a vegan diet. Good sources of B vitamins include:
  • Bananas
  • Lentils & beans
  • Chili peppers
  • Potatoes
Vitamin B12 is the only one that can not be found in plant based foods. Nutritional Yeast is a good vegan source of B12, can be easily added to soups and sauces, and is easy to find (locate it at Bulk Barn in the spices section).

Chocolate
Perhaps the best known go-to mood enhancer is chocolate. It's not just that it makes us feel better by virtue of it's luscious deliciousness, it boasts a laundry list of natural mood boosting chemicals. Chocolate contains tryptophan, theobromine (a stimulant similar to caffeine), anandamide (a cannabinoid- aka similar effects as cannabis), and phenylethlyamine (a neurotransmitter that is a precursor to amphetamine). It's no wonder chocolate makes us feel better.

Carbs
Think about our favourite comfort foods - bread, pasta, potatoes - all carb heavy foods. Why is that? It's because carbs affect our tryptophan and serotonin. When we eat sugar and carbs, blood sugar rises, triggering the release of insulin, which lowers blood levels of all amino acids except tryptophan. When tryptophan outnumbers the other amino acids, it enters the brain more quickly, where it is converted to serotonin, and ultimately making us feel better (for more details check out this site). When we binge, we're self-medicating. Try to self-medicate with healthy carbs such as fruits, whole grains, and potatoes.

Sunlight
Ok, so sunlight isn't a food, I know, but it can still play an important role in our mood. I'm sure you're all familiar with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) aka the winter blues. Those of us who live in the snowy north have probably felt its effects as the days grow shorter and we spend more time indoors. Tanning releases endorphins, which is why it feels so good to lay out in the sun, or why people become addicted to tanning booths, causing us to engage in these cancer-causing activities against our better judgement. Sun exposure also affects our melatonin and serotonin levels, causing us to sleep better and feel happier. Best of all, sunshine is free and totally vegan. So when the weather permits, get out and enjoy the sunshine, but be smart about it, and wear sunscreen.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

You can't have-a-da Mango!

Actually, you can, and should have-a-da Mango. Just as long as you don't steal mine! I absolutely love mangoes, but I don't buy them as often as I should. I was in the grocery store the other day picking up some bananas when I spied a basket of mangoes, and inspiration hit. Mango salad. Mmmm.... what a delicious idea. I grabbed the least cement-like mango, not having any idea what kind of dressing I would make to compliment the fresh fruity flavour.
Factoid: Mangoes are often used as a symbol of fertility in Indian culture, and it's no wonder - mango trees can live for over 300 years and still bear fruit [1]. They're also a symbol of love, so next valentines day, ditch the chocolates and buy your sweetie a basket of mangoes for a sensual and healthy treat.

One of my pre-vegan favourites was the Mango Lassi. For those of you who are not familiar, it is essentially a mango-yogurt smoothie found in Indian restaurants, and not surprisingly, India, which is the mangoes home and native land. It's tangy, gently sweet, creamy and luscious. So I set out to create a gently sweet, tangy, creamy dressing. I've also brought in a little extra south Asian inspiration by incorporating coconut and curry. I had some coconut whip in the fridge and just used a spoonful of that, but feel free to use coconut milk, or add a drop of coconut extract to soy milk.

Mango Salad with Creamy Coconut Curry Dressing
Makes 2 salads

1 Mango, peeled and sliced
1/3 red bell pepper, slivered
1 green onion, sliced
Salad greens

Dressing:
2 tbsp soft silken tofu
1/2 tsp coconut milk
1/4 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
soy milk

Whisk together all of the ingredients until the tofu is blended smooth, adding soy milk a little at a time to reach desired consistency.

If I hadn't added the green onion and pepper to this salad I might have confused it with desert, it was so good. It has a bright, clean, fresh taste, and the perfect accompaniment to the warm and spicy chickpea curry I had for dinner.

Salad Challenge Countdown
Salads made: 9 Salads left: 43