Sunday, June 22, 2014

Category Of: So You're Almost Broke and You're a Vegan/Vegetarian in Little Rock

Money.  I love it, you love it.  But lots of days, you may just not have enough of it, right?  Back in college, in my pre-veghead days, when I was short on cash, it was pretty simple.  Ramen noodles, Beefaroni, mom's house.  Now, when it's the day before payday and I've only got five or so bucks to spend on a meal, what can I do??  I'm a vegetarian/sometimes vegan, and I live in the buckle of the Bible belt.  Well, luckily, I'm in Little Rock--and Dogtown has plenty of options for the near-penniless veghead, if one looks hard enough! So, without further ado, here is my list of best vegetarian/vegan meals on a dime here in the Rock.  Some options are vegan/some vegetarian.  Some are local; some are national chains.  Gimme a break.  You've only got a few bucks.  Sometimes you just do what you can to get by!

 1.  The Muffaletta Cheese Bread at Mellow Mushroom.  

This starter is plenty filling for a meal for one person, and it is crusty french bread loaded with an olive/roasted pepper spread and topped with cheese, served with a fantastic marinara.  The really great thing?  You can put Daiya vegan cheese on ANYTHING at Mellow Mushroom instead of dairy cheese.  I crave this almost constantly.

2.  Veggie Tacos at Mex-to-Go

These tacos are off the hook.  They have black beans, lettuce, tomato, and cheese on them.  When I'm fighting the vegan battle, I order it with guacamole instead of cheese.  Or sometimes both.  With a side of their delicious salsa, these are pretty much the cheapest option in town that still tastes fresh.  One taco is $1.19, and the guacamole only adds a little bit to the price.  I eat two and am satisfied; my husband eats three; my teenager eats four.

3.  Spring Rolls/Edamame at Pei Wei

You can get two of these crunchy spring rolls filled with cabbage, carrots, celery, black mushrooms, and glass noodles, along with a side of edamame, for $6.  Yum.  What's that you say?  You're two dollars short?  No prob--just order the kid's meal to go--I get the Kid's Teriyaki with Tofu and veggies and brown rice.  Plenty of food, for just four bucks!  

4.  Split a Pizza at Za-Za's

(picture courtesy of their website)

They have one pizza--the "Marinara"--that is already vegan.  I like to add capers and arugula to it.  It is cheese-less, but you won't miss it.  They also have a pizza called "Green-and-White," which is perhaps my favorite, and one called the "Forager," which is packed with fresh and often local veggies.  They both have cheese, but the Forager is great without it.  Ask for a side of pizza sauce with their pizza--they don't usually charge for it, and it is fantastic, made with San Marzano tomatoes.  Splitting a pizza will cost each person about six bucks.  

5. Hummus or Baba Ghanoush at Layla's with Mediterranean Salad

Or the tabbouleh.  Or the lentil soup.  Or a couple of dolmas.  Or the falafel sandwich.  This place wins at the tastiest, cheapest local veg-friendly Mediterranean food.  Five or six bucks can get you an amazing meal here.  If you have someone to share with, you can get hummus AND tabbouleh, salad AND lentil soup and still barely spend $12!  As the Target lady says, SCORE!

6.  Veggie Burger at Purple Cow

Lots of veggie burgers are super-yummy in this town--I'm sure I'll do a comparison post in the future--but this one is the best deal for the price.  For under six bucks, you can even have it with sauteed mushrooms on it.  If you have a friend with you, they make milkshakes with soy ice cream and milk.  You can get a huge portion--plenty for two people--for five bucks.  Split a burger, split a shake, and congratulate yourselves on just how utterly American you are.  

7.  "Chicken" Pesto Flatbread Sandwich at Tropical Smoothie

You can get this sandwich made with vegan "Beyond Meat" chicken.  It's under $5, and is super yummy.  No, it's not local, and it's kinda fast food, but you do your best 90% of the time.  I won't blame you.  Oh--and you can also get the Thai "chicken" wrap for the same price, and it's vegan!

8.  Taco Bell

Don't hate.  You have three dollars in your pocket.  You have to eat.  You have 10 minutes.  You forgot to bring your healthy lunch from home.  Don't worry--Taco Bell has got your back.  Get a black bean burrito.  Get a seven-layer burrito, minus a few layers.  Get tacos with beans instead of meat.  It will fill you up and you can eat a kale smoothie made from your own garden when you get home.

I wanted to include more local places, but honestly, most of them can't quite compete on price with the chains.  $6--before tax--was my limit for this particular list. If you must be local, you can get the sweet potato fries from The Root Cafe, but you'll be hungry a couple hours later.  They were a little too pricey for sandwiches and salads.  I love their food, and recommend it on any day you have 8 or more dollars.  The Veg, LLC in the River Market is the same way, as is Star of India.  All great local places, but not right for this cheapskate list.   OK!  That's my list!  What did I miss?? 


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Vegetarian and Vegan Sandwiches in Little Rock

Ah, the sandwich.  Pillowy ciabatta bread or crusty french loaves, filled with roasted yummy things or crunchy salty things, all seeming to fit together just perfectly.  Arkansas is certainly brimming with the ubiquitous BBQ sandwiches and artisanal burgers, but where does one go for the absolute best vegan or vegetarian sandwich in Little Rock?  They're not always easy to spot for the untrained eye.  And there are certainly spots that just won't have anything at all for you, if you're a veghead--believe me, I've tried in vain to find something to eat at Whole Hog Cafe three or four times, staring at the board, trying to will a BBQ Seitan or Tofu sandwich into being. 

One of my biggest pet peeves as a vegetarian/sometimes vegan is the "veggie" sandwich some places serve, thinking it's actually what we might like.  It usually consists of nothing but raw veggies, usually tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, and raw peppers and onions.  Sometimes with matchstick carrots.  Blech.  That sounds like what I would eat if I were trying to lose five pounds in a hurry.  It also sounds like it should just be a salad.  

A sandwich is only as good as its ingredients.  Generally, a sandwich needs some heft, some fluff, some crunch, and some punch.  Though I have by no means tasted every vegetarian sandwich in Little Rock, here are some of my favorites this month:

The roasted veggie gyro at Taziki's!  It's fairly new to their menu, and can easily be made vegan by taking off the feta cheese and the aoili, and subbing their yummy hummus--I sometimes get it that way.  It's pita bread, filled with roasted squash, zucchini, and red peppers, with caramelized red onions, tomatoes,  feta cheese, and pesto aioli.  When I'm feeling the need for extra lusciousness, I ask for tzatziki sauce on the side. Yummers.  Don't confuse this with their village veggie gyro--it's mostly raw veggies and is mediocre at best.

Another decadent favorite is the egg salad sandwich at the Root, followed closely by the egg salad sandwich at Apple Spice Junction. What makes the Root's version so good is the delicious, soft bun and the just terrific flavor of the salad.  It's a winner.  They also have a great tofu Bahn Mi, but I'm not a huge Sriracha fan.  Their Shitake mushroom sandwich is also fab.  Basically, the Root is probably the #1 place for variety in veghead sandwiches in Little Rock.  I often have them make me a Shitake Reuben by adding their house-made sauerkraut and pickles, swiss cheese, and mustard to the shitake burger.  It's not on the menu, but they will make it!

ASJ's version of egg salad is good, too, if a bit more in the "packed lunch" camp.  What I like about it is the sliced avocado and swiss cheese they add.  I usually ask for it with tomatoes as well.  Neither of these sandwiches would win any dietary awards, but sometimes you just need to indulge. Picture of the Root sandwich below courtesy of Foodspotter Dianne Hocut.

Boulevard Bread's Vegan Hummus Sandwich is next in the line-up.  They do the raw veggie, healthy sandwich right, with their house-made hummus and kalamata olive-peppadew spread the flavorful stars of the show.  Served on whole grain bread, with organic field greens, tomato, avocado, and onions, it's a winner.  I don't care for raw onions, so I usually nix them and add cucumbers.  Served with a fruit or a couple of their dolmas on the side, this is a healthy vegan delight!

Possibly my favorite sandwich is the Curried Falafel and Lentil burger at Big Orange.  It's so unlike a burger that I'm just gonna call it and say it's not one.  What this sandwich is=delicious.  The patty is perfect--highly flavored, firm but tender--eggs are in the patty mix, so it can't be made vegan, sadly.  It's accompanied by cucumber, avocado, tomato, cilantro, tzatziki sauce, and sriracha.  I don't like spicy things too much, so I ask for it without the sriracha.  This sandwich gets it right--just the right amount of heft, fluff, crunch, and punch.  Another bonus is that all their starters and sides are vegetarian and many are vegan.  

Friends tell me the vegetarian options at Community Bakery are also lovely, but I have to admit I have been underwhelmed with them the two times I've been.  Maybe I should try again.  The Avocado Melt sounds promising.  Of course, there's always the "famous" veggie sandwich at Jimmy's Serious Sandwiches, but it's not a favorite of mine.  Needs more crunch and more punch.  And there are some national chains like Panera that do good jobs with veg sandwiches, but I'm trying to stick to local or at least regional restaurants for the most part.  

So, what have I left out??  What else should I try?    

Friday, January 31, 2014

Vegan Super Bowl Menu!

OK, so I have no idea who is even playing in the Super Bowl this year-I have zero interest in football--but I have always loved cooking for game day.  My Dad always asked for a special meal when it was game day back when I was a teen falling in love with cooking.  The menu changed every year, but it was always hearty, casual, warming, and fun--and dip of some kind was nearly always involved.  Nowadays, I'm cooking a lot differently than I did in those early years.  Fresh vegetables are my favorites now.  Most days, I'd sooner have Quinoa-Lentil Patties with cucumber-dill sauce and a side of steamed greens than the meaty chili and meatball subs of those early Super Bowl party days. 

Still, though, just like I can't seem to escape the need for something vaguely turkey-ish on Thanksgiving, I also can't escape the desire for something hearty and casual for game day.  Our connections to our culinary past don't disappear when we change our diets.  Becoming vegetarian/vegan doesn't mean we have to give up our favorite food rituals. It can simply become a re-working and re-thinking of what we crave alongside what we believe to be the best way to eat.  We can remain connected to the fried chicken of our youth with making chicken-fried seitan a couple times a year.  We can remember Grandma by making a tofu-based version of her chocolate pie.  Becoming a plant-based eater doesn't mean we sever those ties.  In fact, we honor them by bringing our twist to them; the connection continues, and the culinary line remains unbroken.  With that in mind, I present this year's Veghead Super Bowl Menu, and the recipe for the Spinach-Artichoke Dip, with love, in honor of Dad.  The other two savory recipes are in my vegan family cookbook, Vegan Kids Unite.


Decadent Vegan Spinach Artichoke Dip
Black Bean, Corn, Avocado, and Tomato Salad
Philly Cheese-Seitan Hoagies
Blood Orange Slices and Pomegranate seeds with Key-lime Coconut Milk Ice Cream

Spinach Artichoke Dip


This was my first dish to veganize, years ago for a vegan friend.  I had been a vegetarian for a decade at the time, but he was coming over for a dinner and I had to come up with something yummy that he could eat.  This was the outcome, and I’ve been making it this way ever since.  There are basically two different ways to make vegan spinach artichoke dip:  you can either make it with super “crunchy granola” healthy things like pureed white beans or raw soaked cashews, or you can make it super indulgent and use all the vegan dairy products you love to make it cheesy and gooey.  I’ve had both, and I like both, but this time around, we’re going indulgent.  It’s still way healthier than the dairy version, and the upside is that you can serve this to omnivores and vegetarians and vegans alike and they will all love it.  Serve it warm with baked pita or tortilla chips and vegetable crudit├ęs.


8 oz. vegan cream cheese (Daiya or Tofutti both work well)

½ cup vegan mayonnaise, preferably the Vegenaise grapeseed oil variety

1-10 oz.package frozen CHOPPED (not cut leaf) spinach

1-14 oz. can quartered artichoke hearts (not marinated)

1/3 cup vegan parmesan cheese or ¼ cup nutritional yeast

2/3 cup vegan shredded mozzarella-style cheese

1 tsp. dried basil or 2 Tbsp. fresh chopped basil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp. Greek seasoning (lemon pepper seasoning also works)

Salt and pepper to taste

½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil



1. Blend room temperature cream cheese and vegan mayonnaise with an electric blender until smooth. 

2. Add thawed spinach and drained chopped artichoke hearts.  Blend until everything is evenly distributed. 

3. Add the remaining ingredients and blend again.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

4. Chop the sun-dried tomatoes into small pieces and stir into the dip.

5. Put the mixture in a greased oven dish and bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees.

6. Serve with warm pita bread, tortilla chips, or fresh vegetables.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Top Ten Vegan Products that Can Help You Transition to Veganism

I really don't know what I'd do without the items in this list.  Yes, we all want to *mostly* eat just fresh veggies and fruits, whole grains, and legumes.  And that is what comprises the majority of a vegan's diet.  I love those foods, and it's part of why I eat the way I do.  But let's get real. Most of us grew up eating the Standard American Diet (SAD).  I was raised a Southern meat-and-potatoes girl.  I sometimes need products that remind me of my childhood.  Some days I just really want something decadent, even if it's a teensy bit processed.  I know we all get tired of hearing the old question about protein:

But the truth is, when we're making the switch, we may crave meatiness at first.  I crave it around my period, every month.  When the KFC sign on the road actually looks good to me, I know Aunt Flo will be here the next day!  It's a good idea to have a plan in place for those times when the cravings hit.

Making the transition from being an all-out American omnivore to a hard-core vegan can be hard.  These products make it better.  I've been a vegan or vegetarian for nearly fifteen years, and I've tested most of the products out there.  These are the ones I believe to be the best.  None of these grocery store items have artificial colors, preservatives, or sweeteners.  Some of them are quite healthy; some not so much.  Some are barely processed things that I can make at home, and some are works of amazing modern nutritional science.  Please note, this is not a sales pitch for these products.  This is nothing more than my opinion, and I'm hoping it might help some folks make the change.

So, without further ado, here is my list of the aspiring vegan's MVP list, in no particular order:

10.  Seitan.  This has saved me from many meaty cravings.  It's loaded with protein, and there are several brands on the market.  I prefer making mine at home, though, and there's a good explanation of how to make it in my family cookbook, found here for the Kindle and in paperback:

Vegan Kids Unite

And here, for the Nook:

Vegan Kids Unite

9.  Vegenaise's Grapeseed Oil mayonnaise.  It's the only vegan mayo to buy, in my book, and makes everything taste a little better.  My spinach-artichoke dip wouldn't be the same without it!

8.  Tempeh.  In all fairness, I didn't try this one until I had already been a vegetarian for a couple of years.  Once I did, though, I was in love.  It's nutty and mushroom-y, and has the added bonus of being a fermented food, which provides good bacteria for intestinal health.  I love to steam it and turn it into a "chicken salad" or "tuna salad" kind of thing.  I also love it pan-fried, with smoky flavors, and used to make a yummy BLT, or in this case, TLT. 

7.  Agave nectar, brown rice syrup, and maple syrup.  These three can satisfy any sweet craving you get, and the rice crispy treats made from brown rice syrup are killer! 

6.  Tofurkey brand sausages and deli-style lunch meat.  I think this company gets it right, where meat analogs are concerned.  I've served it to numerous meat-eaters and they love it.  I'm a big fan of the bratwurst sausage, the smoked tofurkey slices, and the chicken-apple sausage variety.  I serve that one with a side of sauerkraut, potato salad, and some good mustard.  SO good.

5.  Quorn products.  OK, this stuff isn't vegan--it does have egg whites--but for those of you who are just aiming for vegetarianism, this one is a good one.  The ingredient list isn't long, and the stuff tastes scarily like the real thing.  If you have only just stopped eating meat, this one can really help you make the transition.  I'm ashamed to admit I'm a particular fan of their hot dogs.  The stuffed "chicken" breasts are also yummy. 

6.  Gardein products.  It's hard to find anything this company makes that isn't tasty.  The food was created by a famous chef who went vegetarian, and you can tell it by the taste.  I really like the BBQ shreds, the "chicken" cutlets, and pretty much everything they make.  I don't buy these much, just because they are a little more processed, and they are kind of pricey.  But when I do, my mouth is happy.

5.  Daiya cheese.  No other vegan cheese is worth your money, IMO.  Daiya tastes great and actually melts.  Changed my life.  Note:  I have heard about some new vegan cheeses that aren't processed at all, but are made in the old-fashioned artisan way dairy cheese is made.  I haven't found any yet, but I have high hopes that they might be yummy. 

4.  Tofutti's Better 'N Sour Cream.  I like this stuff way better than dairy sour cream.  It's got a cleaner taste, and it works just like the cow version. 
3.  Silk's French vanilla and hazelnut creamer.  Makes coffee happy again!  I prefer almond milk for my regular milk needs.

2.  Fantastic Foods' boxed mixes.  These are only an occasional treat I use when I don't want to do things from scratch.  The Tabouli mix is great, the Falafel mix is lovely, and the taco filling mix is a life-saver.  I use it in my nacho cheese dip and in my chili. 

1.  Earth Balance.  Say goodbye to butter and traditional margarine--this stuff is the bomb!  It is made with no hydrogenation, no dairy, and it has a ton of essential fatty acids that every body needs.  I recommend this even if you aren't a vegetarian!

So, there you have it!  Those are my favorites today, though I know there are plenty of others I could've listed.  I didn't include many desserts or sweets, because vegan dark chocolate is everywhere and baking vegan is the easiest thing ever.  Most days, I'm eating brown rice with tofu and kale and yummy things like that.  Every now and then, though, the items in the list above save me.  Give them a try if you are wanting to make the transition to veganism or vegetarianism!

Friday, January 10, 2014

8 Reasons Why I'm a Vegan and/or Vegetarian (And 5 Reasons Why I Sometimes Fail)

Truth:  I'm "mostly" a vegan.  At home, we don't do dairy at all.  In the world outside of our home, we make a vegan choice when we can.  We live in the South, so that sometimes means we have to bend just a tiny bit.  We also do have chickens, so I eat their eggs at home.  I have a hard time seeing a problem with eggs gotten from happy, loved, free-range chickens.  They all have names, and they are pets.  I don't eat eggs out in the world if I can help it.

So, am I a vegan? I try.  It is certainly my intention.  I would love to live in a town where it's easier to get vegan meals on the fly.  I would love to have the time and energy to make every single bite my family eats.  But right now, I don't.  I'm a vegan, but sometimes, I mess up a little bit.  And that's OK.

Vegans and vegetarians like to sometimes cast the stink-eye on others trying to follow a similar path, especially when they don't do it quite the same way.  I have been known to look down my nose on pescetarians who call themselves vegetarians.  I'm not proud, but there it is.

It can get especially snarky between hard-core, all-natural vegans and everybody else.  You mean you allow your child to drink soda every now and then?  Gasp!  You actually purchase those chemical veggie burgers in the freezer section?  Horrors!  You don't do green smoothies every day??  You DO know that quinoa isn't an ethical thing to eat, right?  Haven't you heard about what it does to Bolivia?!  For shame!

I have done versions of this over the past decade or so since I've been a vegetarian/vegan.  I had one non-cooking vegetarian friend who never asked what soups were made with.  I told her that she was probably slurping up a lot of chicken broth, but she said that she does her best and she wasn't going to ask for the recipe every time she was served soup. She was probably right.

I have come to some new conclusions lately.  If you're on any part of the vegetarian scale, from pescetarian all the way to raw vegan, you're not part of the problem.  You're probably doing the best you feel you can do right now.  You're possibly right.  Casting the stink-eye (an old term from my grandma) on someone because you see their kid eating a cupcake with real sugar in it or because they don't ask for the gravy on the side isn't helping the problem.

I know a lot of moms who feed their kids in a healthier way than the typical Standard American Diet (SAD for short).  Vegan moms, raw moms, gluten-free moms, no-sugar moms, vegetarian moms, all-natural organic moms, etc.  They are all doing their best and following their gut.  They aren't the problem.

The problem is when we don't stop to think when we make a meal.  The problem is when we look the other way when our kids are downing their fourth glass of Sunny D or eating meat at every single meal.  The problem is when we buy grocery-store meat even when we can afford local and organic.  Most people reading this are probably not part of the problem.   If you think about it at all, and make an effort to eat less meat, less sugar, less processed food, and less non-organic and inhumanely sourced eggs and dairy, then you are part of the solution.  And if you don't think much about it yet, no judgment.  Shoot me an email and I can send you to some resources to get started!

If you are trying to make certain your kids eat more veggies and fruits and whole grains and beans, you are part of the solution.  Even if you've just begun the simple step of going meatless on Mondays, you are part of the solution.  Maybe it's time for everyone, myself included, to remember the goal:  less animal cruelty, more locally-sourced foods, healthier meals, healthier kids, and a healthier planet.  Anyone working toward that goal is part of the solution.  (I may still give you the stink-eye if you think Sunny D is good for you, though!)

So, as promised, here are the ten reasons why I'm a vegetarian/vegan:

1.  The animals.  I believe that farm animals are no less inherently worthy than our pets or animals in the zoo.  If we can live happily and healthfully without EATING them, shouldn't we?
2.  My family history is riddled with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart issues.  I HAVE to be a vegetarian.  I became a veghead at 27.  At that time, my cholesterol was 260.  I was 40 pounds heavier than I am now.  My cholesterol since then holds at about 180, without medication.
3.   I love veggies!  Always have.  Any diet that makes me eat even more of them is a good thing.
4.  I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome when I was a meat-eater, usually at least once a week.  Now, it almost never happens.  Problem fixed.
5.  I care deeply about hunger around the planet.  If everyone in America would cut their meat and dairy consumption by just a fourth, we could put those fields of feed grain to use as feed for the hungry children of the world.  The solution is more complex than that, of course, but our consumption rates in America are shameful and PART OF THE PROBLEM.  One in every five children in America is food-insecure.  How can that be when some people are eating meat three times a day?  Something is broken within the system, and it needs to be fixed.
6. I care deeply about the state of the SAD diet, especially for our children.  We are a nation that is simultaneously overfed and under-nourished.  Higher rates of diabetes, obesity, cancer, etc. are the outcomes of this.
7.  I like going against the grain, being just outside of the norm.  Not the most noble reason for being a vegan, perhaps, but it's the truth.
8.  And finally, I just like the food better.  I'm always amazed when I go to conventions or wedding receptions and compare my plate to the "regular" plate.  It looks so much better!  The meat-eaters look over at my food as they cut their gristly roast beef or their dry chicken breast and they tell me they should've ordered the vegetarian option!  A world of flavors open up once you go veg!

And now, keeping it real, the 5 reasons I sometimes fail:

1.  Parties where the host has put out seriously, deeply good cheese.  I know it's wrong.  I know it's not good for me.  I'm sorry for the cow or goat or sheep.  But I usually have a few bites anyhow.  Luckily, I don't go to many parties!
2.  I'm at my grandma's house.  (Or my aunt's, my mom's, my mother-in-law's, etc.)  God bless 'em..  They do their best.  They found our being vegetarian hard enough.  If they serve me mashed potatoes with butter and sour cream but remembered to make the gravy without beef broth or bacon drippings, I am gonna eat those taters!  Love for my people will always trump my need to be 100% perfect with my diet.
3.  Crab rangoon.  *hangs head in shame*

4.  Sugar.  I know that there's something wrong with most sugar that makes it not vegan.  Something about bone-char processing, right?  But I just can't do it.  I can't check each and every sweet thing that comes in my path and I can't search the aisles for the cruelty-free sugar.  Everybody has their line in the sand, and I guess that's mine.  Ain't nobody got time for that!  I'm not a big dessert eater anyhow.
5.  Living in the south and being a busy mom.  Maybe someone more type A, more organized, with less need for sleep or with more money could do it.  That ain't me.  It's hard to be vegan here in the land of BBQ and fried catfish and lard.  I'm just doing my best, looking for the most ethical food choice that feels doable.  Some days, that's a Burger King veggie burger.  Keepin' it real, vegheads.

I'd love to hear your thoughts!  Agree?  Disagree?  What does YOUR best look like?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

"Vegan Kids Unite!" available now on Amazon for Kindle!

After much hair-pulling and a great deal of time spent in the formatting vortex of evil, at last my new cookbook is available on the Kindle! It should be up on the Nook within another day or so--the formatting is a little different for it, so I must return to the vortex. And I'll be setting up a way to buy a hard copy soon, too. Here's the link to purchase or view the book:

It's not a very grand book. It's not earth-shattering. But it's mine, and I think it's pretty good in its unassuming little way. If you have a family and you are either vegan, vegetarian, or just wanting to eat meatless a little more often, this book will provide you with some good ideas. It has more than *just* recipes--it also has ideas for new ways to think about making meals, such as what I call the "Bowl" method. Growing up, my mom always made a main dish, two composed side dishes, and perhaps a salad and bread. It wears me out just thinking about that!

I like having just one dish that provides protein, starch, and veggies. Fruit is usually eaten at meals other than dinner at our house. The Bowl way of doing things is simple--make a starch, a protein or two, and a couple of complementary veggies. Appropriate sauces and condiments on the side. Everyone makes their own bowl just the way they like it--I've done a Pan-Asian Bowl, a Tex-Mex Bowl, a Pizza Pasta Bowl, etc. These aren't really recipes in the Bowl section--just an explanation of a technique. Here's an example--the Southern Roots Bowl:

Grain: Garlic grits, baby!

Protein: Pick one or more--
Black-eyed peas
"Blackened" tempeh (pan-seared on high heat in olive oil with blackening seasoning mix)
Sliced vegan sausages, sauteed or grilled

Veggies: Pick one or more--
Sauteed garlicky mixed greens (sauteed with olive oil and garlic)            
Roasted cubed sweet potatoes (roasted on high heat in the oven)
Caramelized onions

Sauces and Condiments: Pick as many or as few as you choose--
Vegan gravy (there's a recipe in the book)
Hot sauce
Pickled peppers (not my favorite, but my grandparents had these with every meal)

This one is super fast with instant grits! It's not fancy, but it's so good and quite healthy.  I just make the grits, heat up and season a can of black-eyed peas, and make the accompaniments. Let's say that I decide to use the vegan sausage and the greens. I often make them in the same pan, one right after the other--it only takes a few minutes each. I keep all the components warm on the stove until everything is done. The gravy is the only thing that takes more than a few minutes, but I can have it ready in 10. And the gravy is magic--pure southern comfort food, just a little bit healthier than we grew up with! Everybody over age 7 makes their own bowl. Nothing ever leaves the stove; no serving platters to wash. Those people who like their food compartmentalized can make their plate the way they want it, and those of us who like saucy combined foods can make that happen, too! I like everything on top, one right after the other, with gravy blanketing it all! Aaaannnd now I'm hungry. Is 11 too early for lunch?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Vegan Greek Feast!

A few months ago, we were visiting my parents in Missouri and I decided to really make a great dinner. I love cooking while I'm there, because my parents are the people who were around when I first started cooking. They endured my first "homemade" meal, which was a hamburger/green bean/tomato soup casserole that I shudder to think of now. They laughed at me as I tried fancy French dishes as a teenager and they were amazed when I was the head cook for a popular restaurant by the time I was 21. Cooking for them now, as a vegan/whole-food eating adult, is fun and a challenge. They are always open to new things and rarely seem to miss the animal products. I decided to go Greek for the dinner a few months ago, and it was a giant hit. My mom talked about that dinner for weeks afterward. This week, she begged me to replicate the meal. I couldn't help but be flattered--she had so enjoyed that Greek feast, she wanted to go back to the Monica restaurant and order it again! The menu?
A Mediterranean dish called "Mujadara," which is a lovely rice and lentils pairing with lots of onion and spiced with cinnamon and cumin.
Gyro-style seitan on the side, seasoned with plenty of garlic and fresh lemon juice. Hummus and pita.
A plate of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives. A vegan tzaziki sauce made with soy yogurt and Tofutti sour cream and lots of cucumbers, garlic, dill, and lemon juice. And for dessert, soy vanilla yogurt with dried fruit that was stewed with spices and agave nectar and topped with slivered alonds.

Omigoodness this meal is just such a winner. It's high in sensory impact and very hands-on, with everyone making little pita wedges and piling them high with just the right toppings for their own personal taste. I'm not even sure they would've known it was vegan if they didn't already know it beforehand. And the kids love this meal! They get to arrange everything just to their liking and it's just FUN. Definitely a crowd-pleaser. Here's how I make the mujadara:

Stuff You Need:

Olive oil

Lentils for the amount of people you have.

About a 1/4 cup dried lentils per person.

Basmati rice for the amount of people you have.

1 cup uncooked rice feeds 4 people.

Vegetable broth to cook the rice and lentils in

1 large onion for every 6 people

4 oz. thin vermicelli, preferably whole wheat 2 or more cloves garlic Cumin,

1 teaspoon (for 6 people)

Cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon (for 6 people)

Greek seasoning to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

What You Do: Very basically, you start by cooking the lentils in broth until they are soft and the broth is absorbed. Takes about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, heat some olive oil in a BIG pan and cook the chopped onions. Add the vermicelli, broken into tiny 1 inch pieces. Cook until the vermicelli starts to brown. Add the garlic and more oil, if needed. Add the rice and the amount of broth needed to cook the rice. (Read the rice package--different brands recommend differing methods and amounts.) Add in the seasonings and bring to a boil. Immediately turn down to low and cover. Cook until the rice is done and the broth is absorbed. Mix with the lentils and serve with plenty of lemon wedges. This is especially magical with tzaziki sauce as a condiment.