When I first moved to LA in 2009, a friend of mine told me to keep my eye out for a new “fake meat” called Beyond Meat that was soon to make a debut at Whole Foods. I searched and found it in the prepared foods section. Whole Foods created a tasty curried “chicken” salad with currants and almonds. I was hooked and started to buy all their products once they were available and created my own dishes: everything from chicken tacos to gyros to burgers to meatless lasagna and more. So when my husband, a climate scientist, told me that Beyond Meat had contacted him to give a talk on climate and his research, I asked him to tell them how much I love them and share my blog. Apparently they were inspired and invited me to create a meal to taste for them. Me! Cooking a meal I created for the people at Beyond Meat! My creative juices flowed and I wanted to fill a white space. They have many delectable recipes on their site, but no Indian dishes. After eating Indian food focused on potato, rice, bread, and yogurt with veggies scattered as an after thought, I was determined to make a North Indian dish my way – full of veggies, vegan, grain-free and flavor-forward using the Beyond Meat chicken strips. In the honor of Beyond Meat, I created a vegan chicken tikka masala with a grain-free cauliflower rice pulao. Bold, layers of flavor, tender meat. I am so glad I inserted myself into this climate talk – I was able to craft an amazing recipe steeped in my love and knowledge of the company products and meet the intelligent, engaged and passionate people behind these animal and planet friendly foods.
On January first, I was asked by a friend to join a month long vegan challenge. I have been fascinated by his journey of healthy eating, that began with eating meat but clean food and eventually led him to veganism based on his love of animals. I have been vegetarian for nearly 20 years but have thought a lot about factory farming and the horrible conditions animals must endure for us to eat butter, cheese, eggs, etc. I try to buy from small farms with humane practices at farmers market, but many times buy from the grocery store, and even the most humane farms when moving to grocery store sized production levels are not as good as we’d like to believe. So I agreed to his challenge. If you have been reading this blog, you know that create plant based recipes that are vegan, but every so often I used ghee or eggs. I love a challenge – especially one that requires me to come up with a whole food plant based ingredient that replaces an animal product. Last year, as part of my food as protest movement and blog, I created a cauliflower steak (vegan), nut gremolata (vegan) but it was served over a cauliflower puree that was made with heavy cream and butter and lentils made with ghee. So I recreated my own dish to make it vegan. You may have had a cauliflower steak but this one is twice cooked to add a deeper and richer level of flavor. The lentils were the protein in the dish. The pistachio gremolata adds acid and color. The cauliflower puree is the creamy mashed potato of the dish without the starch. Filling. Nutritious. Taaaaasty.
I was feeling nostalgic about the Northeast and that conjured up thoughts of chowder and bisques with coastal seafood. Growing up in an Indian household, we did not eat these classic New England cuisines but they so closely tied to the east coast that it came up in my mind with nostalgia. Cauliflower is a versatile food. I often make cauliflower mash, so I thought about a cauliflower chowder. I included some Indian spices to merge it with my heritage and give it more complexity. And since it is spring, chanterelles have shown up at the market. The earthy but mild peppery taste works well with Indian spices. The result was creamy, flavorful and satisfying.
On a cold rainy day I crave warm tasty comfort food. The first thing that comes to mind is a grilled cheese and tomato soup. Oh yeah. And while my taste buds crave the bread and cheese, my digestive system does not. So I decided to soup up my tomato soup so it can stand as a hearty meal on its own. This vegan soup is made with tomatoes, carrots, cauliflower, celery, leeks, coconut milk and my kale beet green almond walnut pesto. Creamy. Nutritious. Warm. Rich. Satisfying.
I need pizza. I really do. But the Whole30 means no pizza for mama on our Friday night pizza night (even though we make the best, fresh from scratch, whole wheat or gluten free home made pizza). What really defines pizza is the crust and the cheese, so really I am SOOL while on Whole30, but I can make something that is compliant and kinda like pizza. Now if you are looking for something that truly tastes like pizza, made from whole ingredients without some fancy machinery and lots of time, please tell me the secret because in my opinion, you can replace the crust or replace the cheese but not both at the same time. When I am giving myself a break from Whole30 and eating dairy or gluten every so often, I place the faux cheese on a real crust or real cheese on faux crust, and voila, healthier pizza that tastes like pizza. This is a very tasty Whole30 compliant oooey gooey dairy-free faux mozz on a flourless, gluten-free, dairy-free cauliflower crust. It is tasty and satisfying and hits the spot on Friday night pizza night.
One of the most important aspects of diet I try to teach my little one is that everyone is different – Diet and what we chose to eat is up to an individual. At home we are vegetarian and at times Whole30-challenged vegetarians. I don’t eat meat but outside of the house, I feed her meat and fish, as long as it is good quality, preferably locally sourced. When she grows up, she can make conscious decisions about her diet, all I can do and lay a foundation, offer her choice and teach her that diets are personal and as a result she may eat differently depending on where she is. I also know that if we are too strict with our diets then we lose interest in food or eat that which is not good for us. As a vegetarian, the Whole30-like diet without legumes and quinoa can be a bit daunting. I have learned a lot about myself and my tendencies with regards to consuming these foods, but that does not mean I buy into Whole30/paleo mantra against it, just like I don’t believe that the amount of meat the diet suggests is environmentally or physiologically (if not sourced well) sustainable in the long-term. Nothing is wholly good and nothing is wholly bad. Everything – even water and oxygen – must be consumed in moderation. I have not eaten quinoa or legumes in months and I thought it was time to offer up a choice when making stuffed peppers – quinoa or riced cauliflower, because, well, why not. Both were tasty – so I suggest both varieties. The choice is yours.
I like cooking classes because they are a great way to connect with people who love food and to learn tips, tricks and techniques. I am lucky to have more than one cooking school within walking distance from my house. I took a class on vegetarian cuisine at the New School of Cooking which encourages a love of crafting food in novice and experienced cooks alike. We made several dishes, including a vegetarian paella – but all that rice made me feel heavy. So of course I modified it to meet my current dietary needs (and taste buds) – crispy cauliflower “rice” with vegetables, seeds, and spices. As the cooking instructor said, “make the recipe yours.”
Saint Patricks’s day was earlier this week. To tell you the truth, I don’t know much about it other than it is an Irish tradition, you wear green and eat and drink a lot. So I put on a green skirt, cracked open a beer and made a classic Irish dish my way – a gluten-free, dairy-free, meatless, legume-free Shepherd’s pie with veggies, mashed cauliflower and shiitake bacon.
Food is a source of comfort and memory for me. Certain foods provide me with more than sustenance. They almost feel like a constant – something to return to when I need comfort. Though the biology is still being investigated, smell has been linked to past memory. I often fry spices for many of my dishes and that smell invokes memories of my family and my childhood.
Three of these things belong together
Three of these things are kind of the same
Can you guess which one of these doesn’t belong here?
Now it’s time to play our game (time to play our game).