Meatless Monday – Baked Falafel

We eat a lot of salads. Many days we have two, one for lunch and another for dinner, and if you consider green smoothies a pureed salad, then that would make three. Teen prefers a salad in his lunch over the more traditional PBJ or bagel school lunch. And I still remember with pride the time Tween’s preschool buddy’s mom remarked that she could not believe that Tween asked for and ate a salad during a playdate at her house. I know my schedule is out of whack when I ‘forget’ to have a salad for a few days–usually it means stress has me craving something less healthy.

And so we constantly look for ways to jazz up our salads, switching up lettuces and toppings. One of my new fav things to make at home: falafel. The recipe makes a bunch, and it’s easy to boot. Most of the ingredients are staples in our house, so the only “extras” I need at the store are the fresh herbs, both parsley and cilantro.

The last time I made them I also tried a spicy green sauce which worked as a salad dressing and a taco sauce, slathered on dry pan toasted corn tortillas. While a basic vinaigrette works perfectly for the salad, this green sauce took the falafel taco to a whole new level that makes the extra step worthwhile.

Baked Falafel
Makes approx. 30 falafel

2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 medium yellow onion, rough chopped
6 cloves garlic
½ c fresh parsley
½ c fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp arrowroot or corn starch
2 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute
Fresh squeezed lemon juice or water, as needed to blend ingredients

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line baking sheets with Silpat or parchment paper.

Combine all ingredients except juice/water in a food processor and process. Add lemon juice or water as necessary to keep ingredients moving, just don’t get them too wet. Leave a little texture to the beans.

Shape the mixture into balls; a small cookie scoop makes this easy peasy. Space them evenly on baking sheets, and bake for 25 minutes. Check the falafel. If you can, turn them over (I have never succeeded in doing so). If not, swap the trays to bake all falafel evenly. Bake for another 15-25 minutes, checking occasionally. The edges will darken though the middles will still be soft.

Because these are baked and not deep fried, they will be soft and not as crunchy. The last time Guy and I hit up a Greek restaurant, I ordered a falafel wrap–and was surprised that I now prefer the baked version!

(Based on a recipe from Forks Over Knives website)

Green Tahini Sauce

3 garlic cloves
1/2 c fresh cilantro
1/2 c fresh parsley
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute
1/2 c tahini
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (add more to taste)
water to blend

In a food processor, pulse first five ingredients to form a pesto. Add tahini and lemon juice and pulse. Slowly drizzle in more water (or juice) to form a thick salad dressing consistency.

Unless you use it as a party dip, this recipe may make more than you can use on one occasion. To freshen up leftovers, stir in a little more lemon juice.

(Based on a recipe from Epicurious)

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Meatless Monday – Quinoa Two Ways

Summertime is all about salad–cold, make-ahead, no fuss food. Which is why quinoa has become one of my fav’s. Quinoa is a grain and contains protein, making it crazy healthy. And it’s so versatile that it can be a side dish, a salad base, a salad topping, or an ingredient in another dish altogether. The first few times I tried it, it hurt my tummy; and then I discovered that rinsing it in cold water before boiling makes it easier to digest.

My favorite brand, of course, comes from Trader Joe’s. The three colors don’t change the flavor but they do make it more visually interesting.quinoa brand

Friends shared both of these recipes with me, and they have quickly become go-to happy family recipes that I am pleased to share with you!

First, prepare the quinoa. In a fine-mesh strainer, rinse 1 cup quinoa in cold water. Add to pot with 2 cups boiling water. Cover and reduce heat, then simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until the quinoa develops ‘tails’–you’ll know ’em when you see ’em. Drain any excess water and rinse quinoa again to cool. Set aside.

Can you see the 'tails'?

Can you see the ‘tails’?

Lemon-Mint Quinoa Salad

1 c quinoa, prepared according to package directions

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute (or other no-salt herb mix)
3 green onions, diced
3 Tbsp fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 c almonds, chopped (optional)

While quinoa cooks, whisk oil, lemon juice, garlic and 21 Gun in a large bowl. Add other ingredients, including cooked quinoa. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

Note: I made a little more vinaigrette and lightly dressed some arugula, then served quinoa on top. I can also imagine this would be fantastic in whole wheat pita bread with hummus (Trader Joe’s Mediterranean hummus is our go-to).quinoa salad

Quinoa & Black Bean Salad

1 cup quinoa, prepared according to package directions

3 Tbsp olive oil
1/3 c fresh lime juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 c cilantro, chopped
1/4 tsp cumin
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 c corn, fresh or frozen
1 red bell pepper, chopped
4 green onions

While quinoa cooks, whisk oil, lime juice, garlic and spices in a large bowl. Add other ingredients, including cooked quinoa. Chill for at least 30 minutes.quinoa

Meatless Monday – Salad Days

It’s hot, hot, hot this NorCal August and no one wants to cook – oven, stovetop, or BBQ, all Too Much Heat.

Good thing we love salad!

Last week we took a picnic to our small town’s Thursday night summer concert series. A gorgeous salad, a chilled bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, a fun and quirky 80’s band, and good friends – what’s not to love?southwest salad

The salad tasted even better than it looked. I ate next-day leftovers for brunch, and then again for a late lunch, until it was all gone. I kept the dressing separate and still had a little leftover. This week I’m doubling the recipe and making it again for an end-of-summer Moms-and-Kids overnight camp out.

Southwestern Chopped Salad (from the Change Your Health for Life Facebook page)
Large head of Romaine
1 can of black beans, rinsed and drained
1 large orange bell pepper
1 pint cherry tomatoes
2 cups corn (fresh or frozen, thawed)
5 green onions
Optional: avocado

Dressing:
1 cup loosely packed cilantro, stems removed and roughly chopped
1/2 avocado (in a pinch, sub 1/2 cup plain vegan yogurt or Greek yogurt)
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice (about 1/2 lime), more to taste
1-2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. white wine vinegar
1/8 tsp. salt

Make the dressing in a food processor or blender. Toss to combine or serve dressing on the side (unless serving a large group, I generally leave dressing on the side).

And a bonus recipe: Asian-inspired Salad Dressing

2 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp garlic-chili paste
1 tsp sesame oil
Note: you can add heat by using more garlic-chili paste or subbing sriracha, and you can decrease by using pressed garlic and a dash of dried red pepper flakes (or omit).

Double or triple ingredients as needed. Combine in a jar and shake.

I started with a bag of prepared super food salad (brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, kale). I added some Napa cabbage, shredded carrots, and cucumber, and topped with a sprinkle of sesame seeds and dressing.

So good, so fresh, so quick, no need to cook. Yay for summer!

Leaning In to a Plant-Based Lifestyle

I’ve had two conversations just this week with women who want to eat healthier, one a stay-at-home mom and the other a college student. While they couldn’t be more different, both have recognized that their eating habits have not been optimal and they admit they don’t know where to start in changing their habits.

Guy became a vegetarian while we were in college, convinced by a professor that humans were created to be good stewards of the planet, and animals raised for slaughter were not receiving ethical treatment. Since then, of course, there’s been a movement toward better animal care, grass-fed beef and free-range chickens, and that’s great. However, we’re also slowly recognizing that raising animals for food takes a big toll on our planet.

ppl v cow

And that’s not to mention methane emissions (animal farts!), or the vehicle emissions involved with shipping animals to slaughter and then meat to stores and restaurants.

I became a vegetarian by accident when, two years after we married, I ate a Cornish game hen at an event and felt sick to my stomach for days. I remember we’d been married two years because I couldn’t eat out on our second anniversary. I slowly lived into my new reality and eventually started reading and learning to cook, and now I “lean vegan,” cooking exclusively vegan and eating vegan out as much as possible.

However in those early years I was much like my confused friends, maybe worse because I didn’t realize how unhealthy our diet truly was. We thought eating veggie meant pasta and Caesar salad. Maybe veggie soup. Wash dishes and repeat. We had no idea…

Now we do, though, and I put effort into cooking and serving healthy, tasty meals to my family (both boys are great advertisements for a veggie lifestyle).

So where to start?

Focus on what you can have and not what you can’t.
It’s a mindset. You get to eat delicious plants, what a treat! Okay, at first this can be really hard (most change is hard, right?). You may not even like veggies, or at least you might not think you do. I didn’t. I laughed when people assumed I loved veggies.

You’ve probably been served, or cooked, bad veggies. Overcooked, bland, mushy, bleh. Who wants that? And you may very well be addicted to sugar and dairy (no kidding, both have addictive qualities. Doesn’t that bear out in your experience?).

The good news? You can kick your addictions and change your taste buds! One of the best pieces of advice I got from a pediatrician: it takes seventeen tastes over time to like a food that initially doesn’t taste good to you. Our younger son hated beans. We served him one bite regularly, until one day he griped at me that I hadn’t put enough beans on his serving of taco salad. He responded to my expression of surprise in equal measure: “What? I love beans!” And promptly helped himself to more.

None of my guys liked whole wheat pasta the first time we tried it so I started cutting in a small ratio of whole wheat to regular pasta each time I made it, gradually adding more whole wheat over time. We don’t even eat pasta all that often anymore (our veggie repertoire has vastly increased) but when we do, it’s all whole wheat and no one balks.

Same goes for me. I didn’t like sweet potatoes and now I do; they’re still a little sweet for me so I emphasize savory when I cook them, roasting them and serving them with Dijon mustard, for example. I wanted to cut dairy out of my coffee; at first I switched to almond milk and then, over time, I added less and less non-dairy milk to the cup and now I drink it black, no problem.

Make a plan.
Weekly menu planning may be the smartest way to go but I’m not that organized or disciplined. However, it might be exactly what you need to get started.

Because dairy and sugar are addictive, experts recommend going cold-turkey. Yes, you may experience unpleasant detox symptoms for a while – a week to a month – but you’ll be better off. But maybe no meat seems too daunting. So try Meatless Mondays. Or meatless before dinner. Or choose two to three easy meals you can repeat over a week. For example:

Oatmeal (even unsweetened quick oats will do) + chopped fruit and nuts with a little cinnamon; I’ve been known to throw in a little healthy trail mix. Depending on the add-ins, this meal can be different every time.

Smoothie two ways: coconut water and water + a handful of spinach + a couple of peels from fresh ginger + frozen mixed berries OR mango and pineapple. You can use just water if coconut water seems too hippy-dippy for you, and you can add more or less spinach as you acclimate your palate. If you really want to go nuts, add a squeeze of citrus and maybe even a dash of ground cayenne pepper to spice it up.

And there you go, three easy breakfasts or lunches that require only a few minutes in the kitchen and are oh-so-healthy.

Start lunch and dinner with a salad.
How to build a salad: greens (Romaine, spinach, kale, arugula, mixed greens), other veggies (tomatoes, shredded carrots, celery, cucumber, bell peppers, artichoke hearts, olives), fruits (maybe not on the same salad topped with extra veggies, but apples, peaches, nectarines, plums, watermelon are all great), legumes (beans and nuts), and grains (brown rice, quinoa, couscous, farro).

Garden salad: Greens + tomatoes, carrots, cuke, bell peppers, green beans + citrus vinaigrette

Taco salad: Greens + bell peppers, jicama, avocado + pinto, black and kidney beans + salsa as dressing

Mediterranean salad: Greens + bell pepper, red onion, olives, artichoke hearts, tomatoes + garbanzo or cannellini beans + red wine vinaigrette

The combinations are thankfully endless. It’s even better if you make your own salad dressing, but I understand if that feels like too much to start. For heaven’s sake, these days you can even buy a ready-to-go salad mix in a bag, complete with dressing and toppings. No excuses.

Make friends with beans.
My kitchen/pantry overflow with beans: cans of garbanzo, black, pinto, kidney, refried black or pinto, and cannellini beans; frozen edamame and green beans; dried lentils and bean blends. Beans taste good, satisfy, and are oh-so-versatile. You change the salad simply by changing the bean, or better yet, adding a combination.

Or chop some onion, carrots, and celery and sautee in a large soup pan; add veggie broth and beans; season to taste, and you’ve got a scrumptious veggie soup. Add some cooked whole wheat pasta and a dash of red wine and you’ve got minestrone.

Keep healthy snacks ready to go.
One of the biggest complaints I hear about eating plant-based is that it requires so much cooking. True confession: I have felt that way from time to time. On the other hand, I snack way less than I used to because the veggie meals I eat satisfy more than the processed foods I used to eat.

A couple of easy snack solutions. First, eat fruit. Seriously, in-season fruit makes for the easiest snacks. Secondly, cook in larger quantities so you have leftovers. I almost always make twice as much salad for dinner so we can quickly grab leftover salad for lunch at work. Finally, don’t forget to plan for snacks when you shop. Buy some hummus and veggies, pre-cut if that makes it more likely you’ll eat them. Whole wheat flat bread with hummus and sliced cucumber is delish, as is whole wheat toast with natural nut butter and sliced banana. Trail mix (without candy), a handful of nuts, you might even find a granola bar that works for you (although even the healthiest pre-packaged bars taste too sweet for me these days).

Find support.
A friend or family member to support you in your desire to form healthy habits can make a big difference. I also follow healthy eating blogs and Facebook pages which give me new recipe ideas and encouragement to keep going. Some of my favorites: Oh She Glows (great recipes); and Forks Over Knives (if you can, watch the documentary) and UCDavis Integrative Medicine, both of which provide solid nutritional research from the medical community.

Be patient.
Healthy eating isn’t a diet, it’s a change of lifestyle. It will take time and you will be tempted to give up. I say I “lean vegan” because I don’t do it perfectly. I am a total sucker for good pizza (however, you can find vegan pizza if you look, and it can be pretty amazing). Take a baby step, and then another. Live into it at your own pace and watch your health improve.

Meatless Monday – Lettuce Wraps

I remember my first bite of tofu, round-about late 1970’s. The gelatinous cube looked like a small brick of ice cream suspended in water; it sat for days on the top shelf of the fridge, confusing me each time I came looking for a snack. Finally my dad, world traveler and epicurean, decided it was time to give me a taste test.

Why did no one tell him that tofu needs at least a little something? My dad could BBQ a mean burger, but tofu was clearly beyond him. He stabbed off a corner and made me try it just like that, still dripping water from its container.

Blech!

Suffice it to say I felt no eagerness to try tofu again even after becoming a vegetarian. And, to be honest, when we first went veggie we had no idea how to eat healthy; we thought vegetarian simply meant no meat so we ate salads with our pasta. Eventually we tried a few processed soy products, veggie burgers and what not. And only many years later, once I realized that being a healthy vegetarian means actually eating veggies and got serious about diversifying our diet, did I once again try tofu.

In my experience, tofu freaks people out. Maybe they simply don’t know what to do with it, or they’ve heard about estrogen concerns, or they use estrogen concerns as an excuse because they don’t know what to do with it, or they simply don’t want anything to do with it. Or, like me, they had a bad experience with it, likely caused by someone who (see above) didn’t know what to do with it.

I don’t eat a lot of tofu. I get protein through veggies, beans, and nuts, and occasionally tofu. So I don’t worry about the estrogen thing because tofu isn’t a diet staple. Besides, it is processed and I try to eat/serve mostly clean foods.

But, believe me, tofu can be delicious. The following recipe(s) belongs in that category – a few steps but not difficult and so, so tasty. And when you put this meal on the table, eating becomes family-friendly fun!

Note: if the tofu scares you off, try the dressing on salads or veggies and then come back for the tofu when you feel a little braver. I promise, it’s good. For the kids, maybe just don’t tell them it’s tofu until they’ve tried it. My kids adore eating salad with their hands.

Filling
1 medium onion, diced (1 1/2 c)
1 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp)
1 lb. extra-firm tofu, drained, pressed and chopped*
1 8-oz can water chestnuts, drained and diced
4 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
4 Tbsp hoisin sauce
1-2 tsp chile sauce, such as sriracha
1 head of iceberg lettuce, cored and sliced in half to form cups

*Tofu: Drain liquid from container. Wrap tofu block in a clean kitchen towel, or several layers of paper towel, and put on a plate; cover with another plate and put a small weight on top, something like 3 cans of beans. Let sit for at least 10 minutes while you chop garnish ingredients. While the onion cooks, chop the tofu before adding to the pan.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often. After 3-4 minutes, add ginger and garlic. As you begin to see brown bits sticking to the pan, add hot water by the teaspoonful and stir – you don’t want to boil the veggies but you do want to catch the released sugars from the onion; cook another 3-4 minutes, adding teaspoons of water as needed. Add tofu and water chestnuts, breaking tofu into small crumbles with a wooden spoon or potato masher; cook 4 minutes. Stir in soy, hoisin, and chile sauces. Transfer to serving bowl.

Garnishes (all suggestions):
shredded carrot
chopped green onions
chopped bell peppers
toasted shredded coconut
chopped fresh mint
chopped fresh cilantro
chopped fresh ginger
chopped peanuts
bean sprouts
sliced lime

Dressing:
In a bowl, whisk together the following:
1/4 c store-bought plum sauce
2 Tbsp hoisin
1 tsp sesame oil
pinch crushed red peper
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp orange juice
1 green onion, sliced

Place lettuce leaves on platter and set out garnishes and sauce in small serving bowls. Invite guests to wrap tofu in lettuce leaves and top with their choice of garnishes and a drizzle of dressing.

lettuce wraps 1

While the cooking is fun, this is where the real fun begins. You’ve set a beautiful table, because what’s not to like about the fresh diversity of color and flavor on this table? And as Tween says, from here everyone “styles” their own!

lettuce wraps 2You betcha, there is some tofu under those toppings…

Personally, I can forgo the lettuce cup as I chop a whole buncha lettuce into my bowl and top freely from there. My guys seriously dig the lettuce cups – as they should.

Leftover toppings make for easy salad toppings the next day; you could also stir them into a soup or stir fry. Since I always seem to wish there were more, next time I might just dice and chop and shred more of everything in advance. Enjoy!