Award-Winning Vegetarian Chili Without a Recipe

Vegetarian ChiliLast year, on a whim, I entered a vegetarian chili cook-off at my alma mater. It was a festive evening, a great learning experience with my chili won a prize!  However, I can’t share the recipe with you, because I didn’t use one. But, read on and check out the guidelines I always use and customize each time -as you should as well.
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Turmeric Tofu Scramble is Breakfast Gold!

Tofu ScrambleTurmeric tofu scramble is a quick and savory option for any day. But, with its gorgeous sunshine yellow, this dish is also festive enough for guests. With about 8 grams of plant protein, it provides stable, yet light nourishment to start your day. Serve it with the suggested sides and toppings below, or bundle it up in a whole grain wrap and take it to go.

Not only quick and nutritious, this dish is also what I refer to as ‘a turmeric delivery mechanism’. That’s right, per serving, the scramble gives you a quarter teaspoon of turmeric, the anti-inflammatory ‘spice for life’. Further, it uses all   three ways to get the most from curcumin by using the whole turmeric spice and includes both fat and black pepper to maximize bioavailability.

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No-Recipe Spaghetti Squash Dishes

The stringy flesh of spaghetti squash resembles traditional pasta in appearance. But, does it taste like spaghetti? Does it have that unique ‘toothiness’ of an al dente pasta? Of course not. But, with about one-fourth the calories and carbohydrates of traditional wheat pasta, it can be a very satisfying, grain-free alternative —and a novel, creative way to enjoy a carotenoid and antioxidant-rich meal.  And, like regular ‘noodles’ the spaghetti squash pulp is like a naked canvas for flavorings. Almost anything goes. Check out these 4 tips for making delicious spaghetti squash dishes and 5 ideas to get you started!

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash

Just like preparing traditional pasta, the process can be as free-form and improvisational as you want. No recipes needed. In fact, think ‘Operation Fridge Clear Out’. Cooking spaghetti squash is as easy as making regular spaghetti noodles. But, you just need to allow for longer cooking time, about 40 minutes at 375° F, either whole or cut in two. (For step-by-step instructions, see above link.)

Spaghetti Squash with OilSpaghetti Squash Strands4 TIPS TO DELICIOUS SPAGHETTI SQUASH DISHES

  • Preparation: drain off excess water. For the best and most pasta-like  results, place the strands in a strainer and press out as much excess water as you can. This step is optional. But, it’s worth the effort, especially if you are cooking the squash ahead of time and/or are not using a fat-based sauce, such as a marinara.
  • Dressing: go fat! Due to the high water content of spaghetti squash, I prefer fat-based sauces. Healthy fats in moderation will help modulate the blood sugar response and increase satiety as will adding in some protein. Or, indulge with a little browned butter. Try these!
  • Seasoning: go bold! Like regular pasta noodles, spaghetti squash provides is a neutral vehicle for any variety of flavors. But, unlike regular pasta noodles, the spaghetti squash pulp won’t absorb the sauce and its flavors very well. And, these noodles don’t have much flavor of their own other than a slightly sweet earthiness. So, go a bit more bold with your seasoning than you might with regular pasta.
    Try these seasonings!

    • Basil, cilantro, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme
    • Black pepper, Cinnamon, chili flakes, nutmeg
    • Garlic, onions, scallions
    • Soy sauce or shoyu
    • Tomatoes (sun-dried or paste)
  • Add contrasting textures. Fold different textures into the strands and on top of the dish. These variations in texture gives makes the dish chewy similar to al dente pasta. Try these additions and toppings!
    • sautéed mushrooms
    • Toasted, chopped nuts, such as hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts
    • Bread crumbs or panko (regular or gluten-free).
    • Beans, such as adzuki, black, garbanzo or kidney
    • Cheese, such as mozzarella, parmesan or Gruyère

Cacio Y Pepe Spaghetti SquashCacio y Pepe-Inspired Spaghetti Squash

Base: Olive oil and garlic
Seasonings: A generous amount of fresh ground black pepper and sea salt
Additions: sautéed onions and shiitake mushrooms, roasted and shopped walnuts
Garnish: Italian parsley and basil

Spaghetti squash with mushrooms

Spaghetti Squash with Cinnamon-Nutmeg Vegan Cream Sauce and Nuts

Base: Cashew cream sauce
Seasonings: Cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper and sea salt
Additions: sautéed onions and shiitake mushrooms, toasted and chopped walnuts.
Garnish: Italian parsley

Spaghetti Squash with Indian Sauce

Indian-Inspired Spaghetti Squash

Base: Store-bought Indian simmer sauce (Maya Kaimal brand)
Additions: Garbanzo beans
Garnish: Cilantro or Thai Basil

Spaghetti Squash with Sun Dried Tomatoes

Southern Italy-Inspired Spaghetti Squash

Base: Olive oil, garlic and tomato paste
Seasonings: Red chili pepper flakes, black pepper and sea salt
Additions: sautéed onions, chopped or pureed sun-dried tomatoes
Garnish: Italian parsley or Basil

Spaghetti Squash with Pesto

Spaghetti Squash Tossed with Avocado Pesto and Kale

Base: Vegan avocado pesto
Seasonings: Lemon, garlic, black pepper and sea salt
Additions: Wilted kale
Garnish: Basil and roasted, chopped pecans

REFERENCES:

  • USDA National Nutrient Database
  • Page, Karen. The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York: Little Brown and Company, 2014.

How do you like to prepare spaghetti squash? Share a tip! Leave a comment below.

 

Pumpkin Curry Soup

Pumpkin Curry Soup The most festive and celebrated of gourds, pumpkins, enjoy a near celebrity-status in our apartment. By late September, the scouting begins, first for prospective jack-o-lanterns, then centerpieces and window adornments. Sadly, by early November, the carved ones have been decommissioned and the uncarved ones start giving hints that our time together is coming to a close. Their skin, once bright orange, leathery and taut, begins to dull and wrinkle. Their bodies soften, losing their denseness and familiar “thump” when tapped. Clearly, none of them will make it to Thanksgiving. Soup must be made. Continue reading

Black Bean Chipotle Bisque

Chipotle Bleack Bean Soup

It’s soup and sweater time! This soup, like one of my favorite sweaters, is warm, dark, and comforting —with a little sass. In this version, I added some coconut milk to make it even creamier and cozier. Rich in protein and fiber, it tastes like an indulgence, but it’s not. Bring on the cold. I’m ready.

The chipotle pepper really sets this recipe apart from other bean soups, providing a hint of heat and smokiness. The dried peppers can be found in the ethnic section of most larger grocery stores. You can create your own chipotle powder by simply grinding the dried peppers in a spice or coffee grinder. But, remove the seeds first if you want more smokiness than heat.

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Raw Avocado Green Soup

 

Blended Green Soup

I’ve never, not once, considered ordering a cold soup off a menu, much less making one at home. In a word, they seemed B-o-r-i-n-g. Note the capital ‘B’? How could a cold soup possibly be satisfying? Gazpacho gets a pass once a year. Otherwise, not part of my cooking / dining repertoire. Next! Continue reading

Paleo Cauliflower Pizza Crust with Sweet Potato

Grain-Free Cauliflower Sweet Potato CrustThis grain-free pizza crust recipe is cauliflower-based with some sweet potato, which lends a slight sweetness and softness to each bite. Almond meal replaces grain flour and flax-seed gel serves as a binder. The result is a delicious grain-free pizza with slices you can pick up without it falling into pieces…unlike several of the recipes I tried.

A crust without flour is simple, but requires a little more attention to detail. First, it is necessary to squeeze the excess water out of the steamed cauliflower to avoid a dreaded soggy crust. Cutting or breaking the florets into the smaller, bite-size pieces will ease this process. Only the cauliflower needs wringing, but if you find it easier to drop everything into the towel, including the sweet potato, that will work as well. Don’t worry about getting the last drop, but put a little muscle into it!

Next, if you want to eat the pizza by the slice -with your hands, instead of scraping it off the pan with a fork (this has happened) you will need to flip the pizza half-way through the cooking process. I thought this seemed like a bigger hassle than it really is. Simply make sure you have your second sheet of parchment paper and a cutting board (at least the size of the baking pan) ready to go. Pull the pan out of the oven, place the second piece of parchment over the crust, place the cutting board on the top, then flip it, slide the parchment and crust back to the pan and place it back in the oven. You’re good to go.

Finally, if you want your crust to be a perfect circle fitting perfectly on your baking sheet, one pound (before steaming) of combined vegetables seems to be about the right quantity. And, to eliminate the guess-work about crust size, I recommend placing your first piece of parchment paper into your baking sheet, then making crease marks at the edges to use as a guide when spreading the ‘dough’.

GRAIN-FREE CAULIFLOWER SWEET POTATO PIZZA CRUST

Inspired by Michelle Babb, MS, RD, CD
Yield: One 10-inch pizza (2-4 servings)

WHAT YOU WILL NEED:

  • Food processor or high-speed blender
  • Sauce pan and steamer basket
  • Baking sheet
  • Cutting board
  • 2 pieces of parchment paper, size of the baking sheet

Grain Free Vegan Cauliflower Sweet Potato Crust

 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 medium head cauliflower, broken into bite-size florets (up to 4 cups).
  • 1/2 medium sweet potato, unpeeled and diced into 1/4 inch pieces (about 1 cup)
  • 1/4 cup filtered water
  • 3 tablespoons whole flax seeds, freshly ground
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1 tablespoon dried italian herbs or oregano
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt, divided (some for the crust and some for the vegetables)
  • 3 tablespoon coconut or olive oil for greasing the baking sheet and sautéing vegetables
  • 1/2 medium red onion, sliced into thin rings
  • 1 cup thinly sliced shiitake (or cremini) mushrooms, 4-6
  • 1/3-1/2 pesto (regular or dairy-free)
  • 1/4 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes (optional)

CAULIFLOWER AND SWEET POTATO CRUST DIRECTIONS:

Flax Egg Mixture

  1. Preheat oven to 400º F.
  2. Place your baking sheet in the oven.
  3. Combine the water and ground flax-seed. Stir intermittently until it forms a gel, about the time it takes to steam the vegetables.
  4. Place a steamer basket inside of a saucepan or stock pot with a few inches of water.
  5. Place chopped sweet potato and cauliflower florets into the steamer.
  6. Steam vegetables until both are easily pierced with a fork, about 12 minutes.
  7. Wrap the cauliflower into a tea towel, twist it and press firmly to wring out as much of the excess water as you can.
  8. Transfer the steamed vegetables to a food processor or high-speed blender.
  9. Add the flax gel, almond meal, Italian herbs, 1/2 teaspoon of the olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Blend until smooth. The ‘dough’ will not be like regular pizza dough. It will be fairly wet.
  10. Lightly grease one piece of parchment paper. Transfer the cauliflower mixture to the center of the paper. Using a rubber spatula, spread the dough out from the center until it is evenly about 1/8th inch thick, but no less.
  11. Remove the baking pan from the oven.
  12. Transfer the crust and parchment paper to the baking pan.
  13. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
  14. While the crust bakes, sauté vegetables toppings (see Vegetable Directions below)
  15. After 20 minutes. remove the pan from the oven. Place the other piece of parchment paper on top of the crust. Placing a cutting board on top, flip the crust, then slide the crust back to the baking sheet.
  16. Bake for another 20 minutes, until the top appears dry and slightly toasted.
  17. Remove the pan from the oven. If possible, slide the crust and parchment paper to a cooling rack. Let the crust rest for at least 5 minutes to release steam.
  18. Assemble the pizza per below, or as desired.

Pizza Vegetables

VEGETABLE DIRECTIONS AND PIZZA ASSEMBLY:

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat.
  2. Add the onions and sprinkle lightly with some of the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
  3. Saute until softened, between 2-4 minutes.
  4. Remove the onions from pan and set aside.
  5. Add the remaining oil to the pan and allow it to heat up.
  6. Add mushrooms to the pan and sprinkle lightly with some of the remaining salt and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes until soft and slightly browned.
  7. Spread the pesto evenly over the pizza crust.
  8. Spread the sautéed onions, then the mushrooms and red chili peppers (optional) over the pizza crust.
  9. If topping the pizza with cheese, turn on the broiler and place the crust under the broiler for 2 minutes or until the cheese melts. Otherwise, place back into the 400º to rewarm for 5 minutes.
  10. Slice and serve!

Grain-Free Cauliflower Sweet Potato Slices

 

 

NUTRITION NOTE – GETTING THE MOST FROM YOUR CAULIFLOWER:

To get the full nutritional benefits of cauliflower, chop it up at least 40 minutes before cooking. This is enough time for the chemical reaction to take place which produces sulforophane, the compound most responsible for cauliflower’s health benefits. This reaction won’t happen if the cauliflower is heated immediately after being broken apart by hand or cut by knife.

More: How Get the Benefits of Raw Cruciferous Vegetables – When Cooked!

Have you tried cauliflower pizza crusts? Willing to try this one? Please leave a comment below!

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash

Spaghetti Squash with Pesto

I’m finally on board with the ‘vegetable pasta’ trend, especially spaghetti squash. Of course, spiralized or shredded vegetables are a very healthy dietary choice. However, calling them ‘pasta’ seems a bit of a stretch, prompting disappointment by all but the most hard-core veggie eaters. Let’s just call them shredded or spiralized vegetables —especially if it helps you eat more veggies overall. Here’s a few tricks to cook spaghetti squash.

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Broccoli “Cheddar” Soup

Broccoli "Cheddar" Soup

This recipe is, of course, a healthy make-over of the classic full dairy Broccoli Cheddar Soup. It is a perfect after work soup recipe; fast, easy and nutritious. Yet, you will find yourself thinking “I can’t believe it’s not cheddar!”

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Vegan Pesto with Avocado & Kale

Vegan Winter PestoPesto isn’t just for summer! Using avocado as the base, substituting greens for basil and nutritional yeast for parmesan cheese, this vegan recipe is flavorful, rich and can be enjoyed year-round. You won’t miss the cheese. Your body will love this heart-healthy, low-glycemic and fiber-rich ways to dress pasta.  Continue reading