Cold Soba Noodle Salad with Miso Glazed Tofu

I have been OBSESSED with anything sesame-soy-miso-ginger this summer. They all come together in this Cold Soba Noodle Salad. The nutritionist in me thinks it’s because these flavors are satiating. Even though they are most often served cold, they tend to satisfy your appetite, due to the high salt content.  And it has been HOT in Columbus – salad suppers are a must.

This whole obsession started with my most recent purchase of miso. I use miso in a lot of recipes, just to add a little more depth. Miso is salty and sometimes sweet, tangy even, but it gets it’s fame from it’s umami characteristics.  I refuse to buy the little containers of nutritional yeast, so I only buy it when a store has it in bulk containers, leaving me without most of the time (vegan sacrilege, I know). Because of it’s umami, nuttiness and slight tang, miso is a really good substitute for nutritional yeast.

Cold Soba Noodle Salad with Miso Glazed Tofu - Vegan

Since it’s a fermented product, miso lasts for a long time. For some reason when I bought this container of it, I promised myself to use it quickly. I do this sometimes, and I don’t know why, but really delicious recipes are born because of it.

Soba noodles are made out of buckwheat. You can find some gluten free brands, but most are cut with whole wheat flour. I think they are the easiest of the Asian noodle varieties to work with. I love rice noodles, but they always clump up on me. Soba noodles cook like Italian pasta, in boiling water. They take 4 minutes, and then I drain them and rush them with cold water. You can make them ahead of time and store them covered in cold water. Soba noodles are more delicate than Italian pasta, so they are great served cold in a salad on a hot summer day.

Cold Soba Noodle Salad with Miso Glazed Tofu - Vegan

Cold Soba Noodle Salad with Miso Glazed Tofu - Vegan

The rest of this recipe is two insanely easy sauces/dressings, some easy marinated tofu and fresh chopped veggies.

Cold Soba Noodle Salad with Miso Glazed Tofu

  • Servings: 4 sides, 2 entrees
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

I know this looks like a lot…but it’s really not. The long prep time is mainly to marinate the tofu. Read through the recipe instructions first so you understand the flow, and it’ll all come together quickly!

Marinated Tofu

  • 1 pound extra firm tofu, drained and patted dry
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke

Miso Glaze

  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon yellow miso
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

Sesame Ginger Dressing

  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
  • 1 clove garlic

Cold Soba Salad

  • 1/3 package of soba noodles (they come already separated in thirds)
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced (or, use your peeler to make ribbons, as pictured)
  • 2 radishes, halved and sliced thin
  • 2 cups fresh kale, chopped
  1. Marinate the tofu: Combine the soy sauce, vinegar, oil, red pepper flakes and liquid smoke in an oven safe dish. Slice the tofu into eight 1/4″ thick slices. Add the tofu to the marinade, so each piece is coated completely. Let marinate for 1 hour, flipping each slice halfway through.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350F. Bake the tofu for 20 minutes, flipping halfway through.
  3. Heat a small pot of water with a big pinch of salt. When it boils, add the soba noodles. Boil for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain and immediately rinse in cold water. If you are making them ahead of time, keep them submerged in cold water until ready to use.
  4. Make the Miso Glaze: Use a whisk to combine the water, miso, ginger and agave in small bowl. Heat a heavy skillet, like a cast iron pan. Brush each piece of tofu with the glaze. Place the tofu in the pan with the glazed side down. Add the glaze to the other side. Flip the tofu after about 3 minutes, reglaze the first side. After about 3 minutes the tofu should be done – each side should have a nice caramelized sear from the glaze.
  5. Combine the soba noodles, red pepper, carrot, radish and kale in a large bowl. Measure and combine the sesame, vinegar, water, soy sauce, garlic and ginger in a blender*. Blend on high for about 1 minute and pour directly over the soba mixture. Use your hands or tongs to toss.
  6. Serve the salad cold and top with the glazed tofu.

*Blenders aren’t necessary, but they help to emulsify the dressing. If you skip the blender and opt for a good old fashioned whisk, you’ll want to grate your garlic so it’s super fine, or sub it out for 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder.

Breakfast Burritos with BFree Gluten Free Wraps

I was first introduced to gluten free bread products when I worked at an organic cafe in North Carolina.  I dreaded when tickets would come into the kitchen with gluten free in that red type that signifies a modification to a menu item. If you work in a kitchen, you know exactly what that means – the more red, the more dread.  The gluten free wraps we used back then would just crumble. If you were lucky, you could get it wrapped up and on a plate, but you know it crumbled the second the hungry customer put a finger on it.

Since I have no health conditions that lead me eat a gluten free diet, I have just stayed away from these products.  That is until BFree Foods delivered a HUGE box of gluten free breads, rolls, wraps, pitas and bagels to my doorstep.  Their products are gluten free, but also vegan, which is rare for gluten free breads, which typically contain eggs to replace the protein lost by omitting gluten. Some of the products, like the wraps featured in this recipe, are loaded with extra nutrients from chia seeds, quinoa and teff.

Unlike those first gluten free wraps, these are easy to handle and don’t crumble. The superfood wraps used in this breakfast burrito recipe have an earthy taste to them, likely from the teff and other grains used to put the “super” in superfood. Other BFree Foods products, like the bagels and rolls don’t have any of that earthy aftertaste – everything slices, toasts and holds foods just like a traditional pitas, bagels, wraps and sandwich breads.

This recipe is like a compilation of my time in North Carolina. After the organic cafe closed, I went to work for a different cafe and bakery called Mad Hatter’s Cafe and Bakeshop.  The cafe was a popular brunch spot, located across the street from Duke University. Our best seller was, you guessed it, a breakfast burrito.

This cafe holds a special place in my heart because that’s where Josh and I met. He likes to tell people we met in jail, but I’m a terribly awkward liar, so that story always falls flat. We’ve been away for 5 years now, and I would love to make a trip back there, someday, for the nostalgic rush it will give me.

Until then, I’ll stick with replicating the breakfast burrito. The recipe made three. You can squeeze it into four, since three is a rando quantity. I ate one, wrapped the other two in foil and popped them in the freezer. I don’t have a microwave, so I reheat them in the oven. It takes about 5-10 minutes and works really well!

Breakfast Burrito - Vegan/GFBreakfast Burrito - Vegan/GF

Breakfast Burrito - Vegan/GFBreakfast Burrito - Vegan/GFBreakfast Burrito - Vegan/GF

Gluten Free Breakfast Burrito

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

I used this recipe as an opportunity to explore Follow Your Heart’s new product, Vegan Egg. The consistency is exactly like a scrambled egg, but the taste is pretty bland.  I still add spices, like I would to a tofu scramble, so if you want to sub out the Vegan Egg for your favorite tofu scramble, be my guest.

Beans:

  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flake
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 2-4 tablespoons water

Vegan Egg:

  • 1 cup chopped veggies (onion, peppers, mushroom and garlic)
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon curry powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 Vegan Eggs (follow package instructions for water/powder ratio)

Assembly:

  • 3-4 BFree Foods Gluten Free Wraps
  • Avocado, salsa, cilantro and scallions to garnish, optional
  1. Add the black beans, soy sauce, liquid smoke, cumin, crushed red pepper flake and paprika to a small sauce pan. Heat over medium-low heat. Add a couple of tablespoons of water to create a slightly saucy consistency with the spices. Let cook on low to heat through the beans while you prepare the Vegan Egg.
  2. Heat a sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the vegetables. Add a splash of water to prevent them from sticking. Avoid using oil, as the Vegan Egg doesn’t absorb it, so using oil just makes your whole dish slimy and oily (aka gross). If you feel like pieces are sticking to the pan, add a splash of water or even a tiny bit of vinegar or lemon juice and stir.
  3. After about 5 minutes, add the chili powder, curry powder, salt and pepper. Toss to combine and add your Vegan Egg mixture. Use a spatula to stir and cook as you would scrambled eggs. Continue to cook like this until the Vegan Egg has solidified, about 5-7 minutes.
  4. Nuke your wraps in the microwave for 15 seconds, so they are warm and pliable. Add a big scoop of beans to the center and top with the Vegan Egg. Fold the left and right sides in, tuck in the bottom corners. Fold the bottom up and roll the rest, so you have a completely closed burrito. Repeat until all wraps are now filled breakfast burritos.
  5. Return the burritos to a pan to slightly toast the wrap. This step is optional, but adds a nice crunch and will help the wrap stand up to salsa.
  6. Top the burritos with salsa, avocado, cilantro and scallions (or whatever you fancy) and devour!

Banana Bread French Toast with Cashew Cream

Summer is supposed to be about salads, forgetting about the oven for a while, and lots of ice cream. I get that. I’m eating a salad right now actually. An Asian Cabbage Salad with Miso Dressing, which I am currently addicted to. But that’s for another day.

Today we celebrate the wonder that is Banana Bread. As far as comfort food goes, banana bread is the most underrated of them all. Today I’m sharing a classic recipe, since we’re spicing it up with french toast and cashew cream, but if you’re feeling adventurous, or revisiting this post for a future Banana Bread Baking Session (BBBS), add some chocolate chips and crystallized ginger.

Banana Bread French Toast with Cashew Cream - V

Banana Bread French Toast with Cashew Cream - V

This Banana Bread French Toast with Cashew Cream starts with the bananas. They must be overripe – if you’re thinking that your bananas are questionably edible, they’re perfect. They should be mushy, brown and oozing sugary goodness. Typically, banana bread recipes will have you mash and mash until there’s not a single chunk resembling a banana. I, on the other hand, purposefully leave big chunks of banana to stud my bread.

Next is the cashew cream. To get a super smooth, velvety texture out of the cashews, you’ll want to soak them in water for at least 2 hours at room temperature. If you use cashews in recipes for a cream base or thickener, you probably already have some soaking in the on-deck circle. Cashew cream is like a hybrid of cream cheese and room temperature butter. It’s thick, but soft. It has a creamy, melt in your mouth texture. It’s sweet with just a hint of tanginess from fresh lemon juice.

Finally the french toast batter. I get a lot of questions about how to make french toast vegan, since it’s typically an egg-based batter. Using a plant milk-based batter that’s thickened slightly with flour, flavored with cinnamon and adding nutritional yeast to give it that malty flavor, creates a french toast that is indistinguishable from the eggy variety.

Banana Bread French Toast with Cashew Cream - V

Banana Bread French Toast with Cashew Cream - V

Banana Bread French Toast with Cashew Cream - V

My dad didn’t cook much for us growing up, but he did make us french toast.  He would bring home those long loaves of Texas toast and make the entire package into french toast. Although he never made Banana Bread French Toast, I can guarantee he’d gobble this up.

Banana Bread French Toast with Cashew Cream

  • Servings: 4-5
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

This recipe is divided into three parts, so it looks daunting. I always make the banana bread the night before (or earlier) and let my cashews soak overnight. Then I’ll whip up the cashew cream, pop it in the fridge and make french toast!

Banana Bread:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 over ripe bananas
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350F and spray or line a loaf pan.
  2. Combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a large bowl. Use a whisk to mix everything up. Set aside.
  3. Peel the bananas into a medium bowl. Use a fork to mash them against the sides of the bowl. Add the sugar, oil and vanilla to the bananas and mix well.
  4. Add the banana mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just combined.
  5. Pour into the loaf pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick poked into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool to room temperature before removing the bread and slicing.

Cashew Cream:

  • 1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked for 2 hours in water
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup date puree, or 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • pinch of salt
  • ~1/4 cup of water
  1. Drain the cashews and place them in a blender or food processor with the vanilla, date puree, lemon juice and salt. Start blending.
  2. Add the water by the tablespoon. You only want to add enough water to get a smooth and creamy texture, so take it slow. Keep blending, occasionally stopping to scrape the sides and check the texture by rubbing a pea-sized amount between your fingers – you shouldn’t feel any grit.
  3. Transfer to a tupperware container and place in the fridge until ready to use.

French Toast:

  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 Tablespoons date puree, or 1 Tablespoon maple syrup
  • 3/4 cup almond milk
  1. Mix the flour, nutritional yeast, cinnamon and nutmeg in a shallow dish. Add the date puree and the almond milk. Mix well.
  2. Heat a nonstick pan or griddle with a touch of oil.  Slice the banana bread and dip each piece in the french toast batter, making sure it’s completely coated before transferring it to the pan.
  3. Cook for about 3-5 minutes on each side. Wait until you see the runoff batter turn brown before you flip each piece. This will ensure you get an even crust on the slice.

Assembly: Plate on slice of french toast and smother it with the cashew cream. Add another slice on top. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and drizzle with maple syrup.

 

 

Twice Baked Sweet Potato with White Bean Gravy

When was the last time your dinner surprised you? This recipe for a Twice Baked Sweet Potato with White Bean Gravy will do just that. It looks and tastes like an indulgent, forget-about-your-workout type of dinner. But it’s packed with nutrition – protein, vitamin A, iron and fiber – to name a few, and it’s a fat free recipe.

I initially came up with this recipe for a meal plan, a customized dietary guide for a client who is trying to increase his energy levels through a plant-based diet. The goal for this set of meal plans is to create recipes that can be made ahead of time, boost appetite, and cut out processed foods and added sugars.

Sweet Potato Chickpea Salad - V GF

If you have a day or a few hours, when you park yourself in the kitchen and bust out some prep to make weeknight dinners easier, this recipe is a must. The sweet potatoes are twice baked, so the first bake – when they are cooked through – can be done in advance. This cuts about 40 minutes off of the cook time and helps you get a healthy dinner on the table in no time flat!

Twice Baked Sweet Potato with White Bean Gravy - V/GF

Twice Baked Sweet Potato with White Bean Gravy - V/GF

Here’s why I am obsessed with this recipe for Twice Baked Sweet Potato with White Bean Gravy:

  • 8 ingredients, enough said
  • I can prep it ahead of time
  • It’s indulgent and healthy
  • I usually have all the ingredients at home, they’re my pantry staples
  • All of the ingredients are super cheap

Before I jump into the recipe, we need to talk about this gravy.  Normally gravy is laden with fat (typically from an animal), cooked into a roux with flour and thinned out with broth.  The white beans give this recipe a fatty, velvety texture that you would expect from a gravy, but with none of the fat! And, there’s no flour, so it’s naturally gluten free.

Twice Baked Sweet Potato with White Bean Gravy - V/GF

Twice Baked Sweet Potato with White Bean Gravy

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 4 large sweet potatoes
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 15-ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 425F. Wash the sweet potatoes and cut them in half lengthwise (pole to pole). Lay on a lined baking sheet, cut side down. Poke each half with a fork a few times. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Flip and bake for 15 more minutes, or until tender.
  2. Sauté the onion in a very small amount of oil. Cook for 3-5 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the minced garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the vinegar and stir until it is almost completely evaporated/absorbed.
  3. Add the white beans and seasoning. Use your spoon to mash some of the beans and mix with the onions and garlic.
  4. Add the broth, bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir and continue mashing some of the beans. Cook until thickened, about 10 minutes.
  5. Turn on the broiler in your oven, or if you don’t have a broiler, heat your oven to 500F.  With the peel side of the sweet potato down, use a fork to sort of open up the sweet potato, but still keeping the shell in tact, as a sort of boat or vessel. Broil for 5-6 minutes, until heated up and slightly crispy on the edges.
  6. Plate the sweet potato (one serving is equal to a whole potato) and smother with gravy.

Tip: If you make the gravy ahead of time, you can add it to the potato before you broil it, so you heat everything up together. Just use a dish that will be able to collect any gravy that runs over the edge of the potato!

 

 

Cookbook Review: The China Study Family Cookbook

*Head over to Instagram for some more pictures of recipes I tried from The China Study Family Cookbook & enter to win a copy of the book. Winner will be picked randomly on Saturday, June 10th at 9 am EST.*

The China Study Family Cookbook is the latest book under the China Study umbrella that aims to bring healthy recipes and tips that the whole family will enjoy at a plant-based dinner table. The recipes guide parents to safely engage their children in the kitchen with fun flavors to distract from eating healthy and provides age appropriate cooking tasks to foster a love for cooking early on.  The China Study Family Cookbook delivers whole food recipes that make cooking enjoyable for the entire family.

Kids or not, this book is great for anyone eating a plant-based diet for health reasons, as all of the recipes include nutritional information, and shy away from added sugars and highly processed ingredients.

I especially like the fact that the book has a special focus on “blended” families, where some members eat plant-based and some don’t, since that’s how my house is.  By weaving stories from similar families into recipes and cooking tips, the China Study Family Cookbook creates a sense of empowerment around eating plant-based, regardless of how or if you prescribe to this lifestyle. For parents, these tips are great for getting your children to try new foods and give them a hands-on experience with food, which is integral in creating a positive mindset around eating healthy.

Some of the recipes include:

  • Carrot Cake Baked Oatmeal (recipe below!)
  • Sweet Potato Hummus
  • Ode to Pimento Spread Sandwiches
  • Twice-Baked Samosa Potatoes (recipe below!)
  • Blondies
  • and 95 more!

The only caveat here is that some of the recipes take a decent amount of time. Use the resources at the beginning of the book to help you plan your meals out, and pay attention to what you might be able to do ahead of time, to make weeknight meals a little less time consuming, but still nutritious and delicious!

The China Study Family Cookbook - Carrot Cake Baked Oatmeal

  • Servings: 6 to 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Think soft granola bars. This comes together like a giant bowl of oatmeal that you’ll bake and then cut into bars. I froze leftover bars to pull out as I need them for a nutritious snack or breakfast on the run.

  • 2 cups regular rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans (see Note; optional)
  • 2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 1/2 cups unsweetened plant milk
  • 1 1/2 cups grated carrots
  • 1 cup Date Puree (see below)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the rolled oats, toasted pecans (if using), baking powder, cinnamon, allspice, and sea salt. Mix well and set aside.
  3. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the plant milk, carrots, date puree and vanilla. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and stir until combined. Let the mixture sit for 20 minutes.
  4. Pour the batter into a nonstick 9×13 baking dish. Bake until lightly browned on top, 35-40 minutes.
  5. Let cool for about 10 minutes, then slice and serve.

Note: You can toast nuts in the oven or on the stovetop. Oven: preheat to 350F. Coarsely chop the nuts and spread them out on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake the nuts until fragrant and lightly browned, about 7-8 minutes. Stovetop: coarsely chop the nuts and toast them in a skillet over medium-low heat, shaking the pan frequently, until fragrant and lightly browned, about 4-5 minutes.

Date Puree (makes about 3 cups):  This is used in a lot of recipes in the cookbook to replace processed sugars. It’s not as sweet and gives a more caramel-like flavor, natural sweetness to baked goods.

  • 2 cups pitted dates
  • 2 cups water
  1. Combine the dates and water in a small saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat until the dates are tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and reserve the cooking water.
  2. Puree the dates in a blender, adding just enough water to make a smooth, creamy consistency (don’t add too much water because it’ll mess with the recipes you use it in!). Let cool to room temperature, then store in an airtight container for up to a week.

The China Study Family Cookbook - Twice-Baked Samosa Potatoes

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

This recipe turns the traditional East Indian Samosa appetizer inside out.  Potatoes, tofu and fresh veggies come together to deliver a nutritional punch that’ll put a baked potato on the center of the dinner plate.

  • 4 large russet potatoes
  • 1 (12-ounce) package extra-firm silken tofu
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced small
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 teaspoons black mustard seeds, toasted
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 cup green peas
  • Sea salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Scrub the potatoes well and pierce each a few times with a fork. Place them on a baking sheet and bake until tender, about 1 hour.
  3. While the potatoes bake, puree the silken tofu in a blender until smooth. Set aside.
  4. Sauté the onion in a large saucepan over medium heat until it turns translucent and starts to brown, about 8 minutes. Add water 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time to keep the onion from sticking. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the jalapeño, ginger, cilantro, mustard seeds, garam masala, coriander, and cumin. Cook for 4 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat. Add the peas and pureed silken tofu. Season with sea salt to taste and mix well.
  5. When the potatoes are tender, let them cool until they are easily handled. Cut each potato in half lengthwise and scoop out all but a 1/2-inch wall of the flesh. Add the scooped potato flesh to the pan with the tofu mixture and mix well.
  6. Spoon the filling into each of the baked potato halves and place them back on the baking sheet. Bake until the tops of the potatoes are browned, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve.

Whether you’re trying to increase the whole foods in your life – and I’m talking fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and minimally prepared foods, not the grocery store – this book is for you. It was created to be a resource for parents, but it delivers helpful tips and nutritionally sound recipes for any cook.

 

Food & Environment

It’s no secret that our lifestyle choices impact our environment. From the cars we drive, the energy we use and the farmers we support, our daily actions affect our footprint. ‘Environment’ is a broad term, used to describe surroundings on micro and macro levels, so just for clarification, we are talking mega-macro – our planet.

I’m sure you’ve heard that eating less meat and dairy can reduce your ecological footprint (i.e. how many greenhouse gases your choices emit and ultimately are trapped in the atmosphere for a long time). It’s the single most influential thing you can do positively impact our planet’s environmental health.

FOOD & ENVIRONMENT

Our current food system is highly industrialized and seems to be continuing in that direction despite grassroots and social justice efforts to scale down industrial agriculture.  Agriculture accounts for 70% of total water use and 93% of extracted water. Plants use considerably less water in production than animals, one reason for the recommendation to shift diets to include more plant-based foods. Thinking in a more social context, there is a direct relationship between the availability of water and the ability to meet nutritional needs. So, if water is scarce, food is scarce.

*Shocking fact: It takes 1,000 kg of water to produce 1 kg of grain. I know, grain is the foundation of a plant-based diet. BUT, over 50% of grain produced in the United States goes to feeding animals, plus more is used to generate agri-fuel (biofuels) for industrial agriculture (inefficient fuel, despite the friendly moniker ‘biofuel’) (source: USDA).

The economics of agriculture due to the industrialized food system have led to huge consolidation of farms and businesses. We have fewer farms, and the farms we do have are growing in size. Consolidation comes with specialization (again, such a nice sounding word), meaning these huge agricultural enterprises are producing single products, or monocultures.  This severely reduces biodiversity and resilience, leaving the farms and land without protection from extreme weather, like heavy winds and rain. Cases of soil erosion and nutrient depletion in soil are increasing, and although they may sound like temporary problems, they’re not. Our planet is losing soil at a much faster rate than it’s producing soil.  The amount of arable soil left on the planet is dwindling, and it’s concentrated in extreme northern climates not suitable for growing foods.

The industrialized food system was created to make food production more efficient, require less labor, increase resiliency of crops and animals (GMOs) and reduce waste. None of those outcomes are a reality. The energy balance of food production is negative, meaning it takes more energy to produce our food than the food itself provides (in kilocalories). This is true for plants as well as animals, however the equation is slightly more favorable for plant-based foods.

It’s a frustrating system, controlled by few who have no regard for the welfare of the people or planet. There are small changes we can all actively make, to make a large collective difference.

  • Eat less meat and dairy. The Lancet published a study suggesting that the climate change recommendation is a 64% reduction in current meat consumption (from 8.8 ounces to 3.2 ounces per day).
  • Eat with the seasons. This also includes eating local and supporting local, small farms. See what’s in season near you.
  • Reduce packaging. Buy products in bulk, using reusable containers to transport. If you buy something with packaging, try to buy recyclable packaging.
  • Reduce food waste. Be conscious about food preparation and buying habits to reduce the amount you waste. Give food to neighbors and friends if you can’t use it. Start composting. In Columbus, there’s an organization that provides empty buckets for people living where they can’t have their own compost piles. You fill up the bucket and exchange it for an empty one!

A food system is like an octopus, it has a complex set of factors. Tugging at one seems isolated, but the rest of the tentacles experience the consequences. The relationship between food and environment is very much the same. Your individual efforts may feel small and inconsequential, but wouldn’t you rather make a teeny difference than be part of the problem? Share your tips in the comments.

Not Your Average Green Smoothie

I am a green smoothie lover. If I make a smoothie, I’m throwing spinach or kale in it. Why? Because it’s the easiest way to boost nutrition. Dark, leafy greens, like spinach and kale, have so much iron and protein.  Balanced out with frozen fruit, creamy banana and a hint of lemon – you won’t even taste the earthy goodness. But today’s recipe is not your average green smoothie recipe.

We’re getting a little tropical. Coconut milk. Pineapple. Banana. Spirulina. I know what you’re thinking, but hang tight.  You won’t taste that bitter, earth and sea flavor. Promise.

Not Your Average Green Smoothie - Vegan | Gluten Free

What is spirulina? I’m glad you asked. Spirulina is a type of algae, that is commonly bought in a powdered form.  It’s a deep bluish green color and smells a bit like grass and dirt. Why would you eat it then? Spirulina is packed with nutrients, like vitamins B and E, iron, magnesium, omega fatty acids and even protein. It boosts your immune system, promotes liver health and can help with allergies. Where do you buy it? You can buy it on amazon, in any health food store,  or Whole Foods Market. I found mine at TJ Maxx, but that’s hit or miss.

Spirulina is the secret ingredient in my Not Your Average Green Smoothie recipe. You’re probably asking what it actually tastes like, since I’m promising that it doesn’t taste like grass. It tastes like a piña colada sans rum. But we both know how to fix that.

Not Your Average Green Smoothie

  • Servings: One, 16-ounces
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

This tropical smoothie gets its green color from spirulina powder – packed with iron, protein and tons of vitamins and minerals. Want an extra boost? Increase the spirulina powder to 1 tablespoon.

  • 1 cup coconut milk (I recommend the carton variety, canned has a lot of fat, but if it’s all you have do 1/2 cup canned milk with 1/2 cup water)
  • 1 banana
  • 1/4 cup frozen pineapple
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen apple
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons spirulina powder
  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend on high for 2-3 minutes.

Looking for some other not-so-average green smoothies? Try this Anti-Inflammatory Green Chia Gel.

 

 

 

Next-Level Pasta Salad

It has already started. It’s how-to-cook-dinner-without-the-stove season. Get-up-before-the-sun-to-bake weather. Eat-breakfast-in-your-underwear hot. Just to be clear, I’m not complaining. The hot weather makes me think outside the box, get creative and whip up some innovative dishes – like this Next-Level Pasta Salad.

Pasta Salad is pretty near and dear to my heart.  It was a staple in the fridge when warm weather hit. My brothers and I would pull the big yellow bowl out of the fridge on summer days and grab forkfuls here and there. My mom used the pour-a-bottle-of-Italian-dressing-on-it recipe. It got us to eat veggies, took only minutes to prepare and she had three wild kids to wrangle. I still love that simple recipe and use it for pot lucks when you just need a crowd pleaser.

Next-Level Pasta Salad - Vegan

Today’s recipe for this Next-Level Pasta Salad is a #gamechanger. Here’s a collection of reasons you might make this recipe (aka when you’re trying to stand out):

  • You just got a new job (wishful thinking, right?) and you’re invited to a co-worker’s Memorial Day BBQ.
  • You’re meeting your partner’s family for the first time.
  • You need a dish to pass for your 10-year class reunion (no one will even remember that awful hair cut).
  • Monday dinner. Yes, your tastebuds are enough of a reason. #treatyoself

You might be asking yourself, “what exactly puts the ‘Next-Level’ in this Pasta Salad?”. I’ve got a three part answer: (1) homemade lemon-garlic vinaigrette, (2) fresh spinach and tomato, and (3) spiced and roasted chickpeas.  This Next-Level Pasta Salad also calls for Israeli Couscous, which might sound a little Bougie, but I chose it because I think it’s less of a hassle to cook. You just heat up a little broth, throw in the couscous, cover and turn off the heat. No stirring, timing or draining necessary.

Next-Level Pasta Salad

  • Servings: 4 entree, 6-8 sides
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Get out your sundress. It’s time to impress. This show-stopping pasta salad will be the hit of the barbecue!

Spiced, Roasted Chickpeas

  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 small zucchini, diced

Couscous

  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 1/3 cup Israeli Couscous
  • 1 cup raw spinach
  • 3/4 cup grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced

Lemon Garlic Vinaigrette

  • Juice of 2 lemons (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons agave nectar (or maple syrup)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Toss the chickpeas with the spices, olive oil and vinegar. Transfer to a sheet tray and bake for 10 minutes.
  3. In the meantime, bring the vegetable broth to a boil. Add the couscous and cover. Turn off the heat and let sit.
  4. When the chickpea timer goes off, add the diced zucchini to the sheet tray. Toss and bake for another 10 minutes.
  5. Now, make the vinaigrette. Combine the lemon juice, garlic, mustard, agave and salt in a blender. Blend on high until smooth. While the blender is running, drizzle in the olive oil.  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
  6. Allow the chickpeas to cool for 5-10 minutes at room temperature.
  7. Check the couscous. After about 8-10 minutes the pearls should have absorbed all of the broth and be al dente.  Add the done couscous to the chickpeas, just pouring it over the top and allowing them to cool slightly.
  8. Finally, add everything to a large bowl: the chickpea and zucchini mixture, the couscous, tomatoes, spinach and onion. Pour the vinaigrette over the top (all of it!). Toss to combine. You can serve this warm, but it’ll hold up best in the fridge and can be served cold like a traditional pasta salad.

 

 

 

 

Combatting Food Insecurity through Collaboration

This is a piece I wrote as part of a job application and wanted to share. P.S. sign up for my new monthly newsletter on the right side bar – first email goes out in early May and is all about food justice. 

Despite such a seemingly straightforward name, food security is a complex global issue. For many it refers to a state of adequate healthful food intake, for others it refers to food that is safe to consume. In developing nations, projects promoting food security focus on survival – providing support for farmers and building infrastructure to distribute food and water safely.  In the United States, food security initiatives face the challenge of addressing hunger and obesity simultaneously.  Processed foods with the lowest nutritional value are the cheapest and most accessible foods in the United States, contributing to this paradox. Policy efforts in the United States combat this through limiting advertising, setting specific nutrition standards for children, the SNAP program, the National School Lunch program and more.

living life with purpose

There is no ‘Department of Food’, people who work on food-related issues are researchers, scientists, farmers, growers, producers, distributors, educators and eaters. Cross-sector thinking is needed to make sustainable and impactful changes in the food environment. Built environment decisions such as the location of sidewalks, crossing signals, bus routes and bike paths influence food security.  Integration of nutritional resources in healthcare can impact the reach of programs and services available to the food insecure population. The undeniable correlation between those living in poverty and those who are hungry means an opportunity to connect them with jobs and professional development to improve health status.

The most notable collaborative effort for food insecure children and teens in the United States is the extensive programming offered through public and non-profit school systems. The integration of healthful food education in schools teaches our youth what healthy food is, where it comes from, how to grow it and how to prepare it. Children spend one-third of their day in school, half of their waking hours, making it the ideal setting to promote healthful eating and provide positive feeding experiences. The logic behind targeting children with this type of programming in school is that these experiences are shared with parents and siblings at home, expanding programmatic reach. Schools have faced a lot of nutritional policy initiatives over the last few years, banning sugar-sweetened beverages, regulating food brought in for celebrations and stricter standards for school lunches.

Challenges to creating a collaborative solution to food insecurity through education include the lack of funding and time for non-core programming and restrictions on funding use. Programs and initiatives have a duty to fulfill objectives set forth in a funding agreement and this may make collaboration difficult. Food is a priority, but healthful food and related education is not, resulting in sparse resources. Current efforts to provide free or reduced price breakfast and lunch show positive impact for elementary-aged students, however, uptake is extremely low among older students.  Initiatives need to develop ways to engage teenagers in programming and provide solutions for weekends, holiday breaks and summer vacations.  Many of the nutritional policies put in place in schools happen at the local level when there is potential for national impact.

Schools have the potential to be community hubs, full of resources for the entire families, not just students. Food security is an issue of hunger, health, geography, economic status, and education. Solutions need to bring these industries together.

Avocado Chickpea Salad

I am so excited to announce that I am officially graduating with my Master’s in Public Health in just 4 (!) short weeks. I passed my defense and submitted all documents relating to my thesis, so I only have two small assignments left before graduation. It’s surreal.

I’m not really stressed about upcoming life changes. I think that working two jobs and going to school full time has prepared me to open a lifestyle change with open arms. The worst part is having clear career goals and no real path to slaying them. My mom keeps telling me to visualize my goals and let them happen (you thought I was the hippie?) – so I have this image of myself, a food champion, wearing kale as a cape and wielding a carrot wand, imparting and gathering knowledge that actually makes a difference. So, if you have insider knowledge about a community-based research position focusing on food insecurity, please let me know…

Avocado Chickpea Salad - Vegan Heartbeats

Avocado Chickpea Salad - Vegan Heartbeats

Avocado Chickpea Salad - Vegan Heartbeats

In the meantime I’ll just continue making variations of chickpea salad and sharing the deliciousness with y’all.

Avocado Chickpea Salad

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Chickpea salad has got to be my favorite warm weather lunch. It’s quick to throw together, requiring no cooking at all. It tastes good solo, thrown on a salad or as the star of a sandwich. Plus, it’s naturally gluten-free. This version is a hybrid between a classic chickpea salad and guacamole. Olé!

  • 1 avocado
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro (sub parsley if you’re like my mom and absolutely hate cilantro)
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 bell pepper, diced (I used red to add color)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions
  1. Cut the avocado in half, remove the pit, and scoop the flesh into a medium sized bowl. Add the spices, cilantro and lime juice. Mash everything together with a fork, until well combined.
  2. In a separate bowl or food processor, mash the chickpeas. I like my chickpeas to still have some texture, so I pulse them. The food processor is the fastest, but if you don’t want to have to clean it, just use your hands.
  3. Add the chickpeas, bell pepper, garlic and scallions to the avocado and mix until combined.
  4. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed.

*Want more chickpea salad inspo? Check this post for a Sweet Potato Chickpea Salad.