How To Be Conscious, Gluten-Free, and Thrive

30 04 2011

Scrambled Tofu, Corn and Collards

I’ve always had a soft spot for whole foods cooking. Not the packaged, half white, trying to be conventional food kind of whole foods, but the old school way. The kind of cooking that involves a pot of whole grains and a pile of chopped veggies, and maybe some tofu, or beans that you actually soaked and cooked yourself.

I recently connected with a kindred spirit, Leslie Cerier, the author of Gluten-Free Recipes for the Conscious Cook, A Seasonal Vegetarian Cookbook (New Harbinger Publications, $17.95.) Cerier has the crazy idea that basing a gluten free diet on whole grains can be really diverse and good for you, and good for the planet.

Says Cerier: “Eat as much local, seasonal and organic food as possible, and cook for health, vitality and pleasure.”

Cerier has packed the book with plenty of gluten free recipes, as well as recipe templates that allow you to improvise with what’s in season. Both celebrate whole grains that don’t contain gluten. “Four of the gluten free grains, quinoa, teff, amaranth and oats are complete proteins and very quick-cooking. They make a great meal, and you can mix and match, and try different methods of cooking them, for infinite variety.”

To show you how, she has cooking charts and measures for cooking grains, and several recipe templates, and suggestions for varying and subsituting. “If you take a creative approach to what’s in season you can have great variety. If you are cooking like an artist, and your plate is really colorful, you have great nutrition on the plate. A meal of brown rice, tofu, and cauliflower is not as exciting as a plate of black rice with red lentil curry, which is full of antioxidants.”

Cerier prefers to teach people in her classes and books, to make foods their own. “It’s really fun when people who take my classes come back and say they used my recipe as a jumping off point. Then I know I have done my job.”

Don’t expect recipes for breads just like the wheat flour ones you grew up with. “Alot of gluten free books use xanthan gum and potato starch and make refined products that are gluten free. These are foods that I eat for energy and vitality. They are nutrient dense.”

Using all real food, Cerier gives you tasty recipes for breakfasts, mains, sides, sauces and dressings, and desserts. If you have ever wanted a good recipe to try teff, definitely check out this book, even if you are not gluten-free. In fact, Cerier has no gluten intolerances herself.

“I eat gluten free because it expands my choices, and the nutrients are just off the charts. I’m a whole food vegetarian, so I’m not looking for ways to make gluten free hot dog buns or pizza, because I don’t eat those things.”

So if you love whole foods and eating seasonally, this is a good book for you, and if you need to avoid gluten, give these whole foods vegetarian recipes a try. You can shrink your carbon footprint and reap the benefits of ancient grains. You will feel so much better when you eat real food!

Veggies sizzling in the pan

Scrambled Tofu with Sweet Corn and Collard Greens

I admit that I was drawn to this dish by a rush of nostalgia for the many tofu scrambles I have prepared and eaten in now-defunct vegetarian restaurants. That and my obsession with eating leafy greens. Turmeric is a brilliant anti-inflammatory, and nutritional yeast is loaded with B12 that vegetarians may need.

Serves 3 or 4

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 cups chopped collard greens

1 cup green beans, cut in 1 inch pieces

1 cup coarsely chopped scallions

2/3 cups fresh corn kernels, steamed

1 teaspoon turmeric

14-16 ounces soft tofu, 1/2 inch cubes

1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro

1/4 cup nutritional yeast

1 tablespoon tamari

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the collard greens, green beans, scallions, corn and turmeric and stir. Saute for 3-5 minutes, until the veggies brighten in color and become fragrant. Gently stir in the tofu and cook for about 3 minutes, until the tofu takes on the golden hue of the turmeric. Stir in the cliantro and cook for a minute more. Take off the heat and stir in the nutritional yeast and tamari. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. (Variations below)

Stirring in the Tofu


Substitute other greens, like spinach, tatsoi, chard or even broccoli, whatever is freshest and most vibrant.

Substitute mushrooms, summer squash, zucchini, or asparagus for the greens and green beans.

To take the flavor in a different direction, add a few cloves of chopped garlic when you saute the vegetables, and substitute basil for cilantro.

Cerier has a website, where you can see what she is up to:

Here is a gluten free vegetarian recipe for amaranth (not by Cerier):

Amaranth and Roast Veggie Salad


Radishes, The Rodney Dangerfield of Veggies

25 04 2011

Not just for salads anymore!

The lowly radish is easy to overlook. Unless you garden, you probably see a few thin rounds scattered in the cheapest of house salads, or maybe a few on the standard relish tray. Mmm, with Ranch Dip, how could you be less excited about radishes?

Well, right now, the only seeds that are sprouting in the Northern garden are radishes, and that means it won’t be long now. And I promise you, it won’t just be some iceberg lettuce salad that sees these spicy roots. Radishes belong in exciting dishes, like springrolls and salsas, as well as simply enjoyed with salt and pepper.

The idea of radishes as a cheap, throwaway veggie is a relatively new one. Since Ancient Greek times, they have been associated with drinking- back then they were thought to keep you from getting too drunk. In early American history, radishes were served with beer in taverns. Whether this actually works is up to you to decide.

What I think we overlook about the radish family is the fact that it is a brassica, with alot of the great nutrition that broccoli, cabbage, and other brassicas. Just belonging to this club means that the radish is a cancer-fighting veggie. So if you are getting a little tired of loading up on broccoli, take a spring detour into the radish zone.

Radishes are also traditionally used for liver cleansing and stimulating digestion. Their high potassium levels make them a good food for folks with high blood pressure, as well.

If you have snacked and sipped your way through a bag or two and are getting bored, think outside the crudite tray. A miso soup, or other Asian inspired soup, is a great place to try cooked radishes. The bite of your little red or white gems will mellow considerably with a little cooking. They also roast up quite wonderfully, and in a mix with baby turnips and beets they provide a little zing.

Raw, the radish is more than just a spot of red in a green salad. If you are making potato salad or pasta salad, why not dice in some radishes? A Banh Mie Sandwich is complete with a topping of daikon and carrots marinated in rice vinegar and sugar- why not make the banh mie salad into a regular addition to other sandwiches? Any Asian Noodle salad, like a sesame dressed noodle, or a simple cold Soba would be a good spot for some thinly sliced radishes.

Of course, the French way is to slather a crusty slice of bread with sweet butter, plaster it with sliced radishes, and top with coarse salt and pepper. I suppose that might help keep you from getting too drunk, if you have it with a beer!

Or another beer-friendly food is chips and salsa. This recipe has served me well, it was a Rick Bayless recipe that had habaneros in it originally. This version has easy to find jalapenos, and you can find your own heat level.

So celebrate the radish, and give your tastebuds a spring wake up, all while taking care of your body in the most delightful way.

Radish Salsa

Adapted from Rick Bayless

1 medium red onion, minced
1/4 cup lime juice, fresh
8 medium roma tomato
12 small radishes
4 red or green jalapeno chile, to taste
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon salt

Mince the onion, then rinse in cold water, drain well. Place in a bowl and add the lime juice. Halve, core and seed the tomatoes, slice in thin strips and dice. Thinly slice the radishes and dice them finely. Seed and chop the chiles. Chop cilantro and combine all. Serve over tacos, burritos, Mexican Tofu or egg Scrambles, or with nachos.

Here is an interesting Indian Recipe to get you started.

Mullangi Gojju(Mullangi=radish)

The Upside of a Sad Meal, A Recipe

16 04 2011

A Balm for The Soul

It was a spectacularly bad day.

A close friend died unexpectedly, leaving me alternating between feeling fine and being hit with the realization that I would never see him again. Lightning bolts of grief kept punching a hole in the thin veil of normalcy that came from going through the motions. Life would seem like the day before as I worked along, and then, boom. Never again.

Casting about for some appropriate thing to do at a time like this, we opted to have dinner at a restaurant where we once shared a happy time with him. He was Italian and loved Italian food. He would have urged me to have wine, but honestly, I didn’t feel up to it yet.

Feeling somewhat lost, I looked at the menu boards and just couldn’t think. Just had pizza, too much pizza, something else. I latched onto a pasta al aglio. With a side of salad, it would be comforting, simple. It might just make me feel better.

I should have had the wine.

My pasta came, and I dug in. White spaghetti, drenched in bland oil, barely garlicky to my morose palate. I wanted fruity extra virgin, sweet roasted garlic, or even bitingly fresh crushed garlic to slap me in the mouth.  Sassy, like his humor. Maybe my taste buds were too sad to care, but I just couldn’t taste the things I was hoping for. A few limp basil leaves, some chips of nondescript cheese, and a deep slick of pale oil. Just looking at it I knew it was the canola cut with cheap olive oil that the restaurant supply place used to swear that nobody would detect. Slices of un-toasted white baguette flanked the bowl, offering me a carb-oblivion.

Of course, I ate it all. Every lame bite. My stomach ached for hours after, just from stuffing it so full.Of course, I was eating for comfort, overeating to make myself feel better. And the pang in my belly just reminded me of my folly.

If he had been there, we would have been chatting and laughing, I would hardly have cared about the pasta. I might have gotten something else. Mostly, he would have been there.

Instead of that greasy bowl of noodles.

So there it was, hard reality like a rock in my stomach. I really should have had the wine, then I could have lamented trying to drink my troubles away the next day instead.

I’ll never have the dinner I wanted, because he is gone.

But I did have some time to think about why I as so mad at that damn bowl of pasta. As much as I go out to eat to be inspired, and to taste things I want to make at home, sometimes I have something that makes me want to go home and make the dish I thought I was going to get. Maybe my critique of the pasta was a sign, a sign that I might still be me.

I’m still waiting for something good to emerge from this loss. In my life, I have found that in hindsight, something almost always does. Love is lost, new love comes, a door closes another opens. Of course, it takes time, and hindsight. Right now its just senseless and stupid.

So to make it just a little better, I’ll make the pasta I wish I had had that night. I might have been just as unhappy with it, I might have felt just as sick after stuffing it in. But at least this one has some garlic.

He would have wanted it that way.

Pasta al Aglio for John

John was not vegetarian, but he ate and enjoyed veg food at my house. This is plenty cheesey, vegans can sub 2 tablespoons of toasted and chopped hazelnuts tossed with a few tablespoons of toasted breadcrumbs and a pinch of salt for the cheese.

Serves 4 as a side, 3 for a main course

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 bulb garlic, peeled but whole
1 large carrot, julienned
1 cup snap peas
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or more if needed
8 ounces angelhair pasta, whole wheat
3 ounces tangy, aged local cheese or asiago, finely shredded
1/2 cup fresh basil, torn
1/2 teaspoon salt
coarsely cracked black pepper

Put on a pot of water for the pasta, salt it liberally, and preheat the oven to 400 F. Place the whole peeled garlic cloves in a small metal bowl or a piece of oil and drizzle with one tbs of olive oil. Cover or wrap and bake for 15-20 minutes, shaking occasionally and testing by piercing the cloves with a paring knife. When they are butter-soft and tender they are done, cool. In a large saute pan, heat 2 Tbs of the remaining olive oil and add the carrots, saute for a minute, then add the peas, pepper flakes and lemon zest and heat. Cook the pasta one minute less than the package says and drain, saving half a cup of pasta water.

In a bowl, mash the garlic with the salt and lemon juice, then add to the saute pan. Toss the hot pasta with the garlic, the saute in the pan, and 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water, cooking over medium high heat until the sauce has coated the pasta, then add half of the cheese and the basil. Crack pepper and sprinkle with salt, to taste. Serve topped with the remaining shredded cheese.


Win Free Peanut Butter For A Year, or $200!

8 04 2011


Mmmmm, creamy pb bliss

Vegetarians and peanut butter are a great and timeless love story. We met as little kids, played together, hung out at lunch, and gradually it blossomed into a lifelong relationship. Sure, along the way we might have briefly dated almond butter or flirted with hummus, but when we really needed someone in our corner, it was good old peanut butter.

It’s beautiful, isn’t it?

Peanut butter is marriage material, really. Easy to own, low maintenance, and of course, affordable, peanut butter has a permanent place in 70% of American homes. What other high-protein food is so easy to keep on the shelf, and so easy to eat?

Peanut butter is always perfect for a sandwich, and you probably made your first pbj as soon as you could be trusted with a butter knife. But peanut butter is way more versatile than that. It’s long been a solid staple in places like Africa, where peanut, or “groundnut” stew is a lifesaver for hungry people. Peanuts abound in delicious Asian cuisines, like the spicy peanut sauces of Thai cooking, or Creamy tangy Chinese noodles. Mexican moles often toss in some peanuts, as well, blending the sweet, rich butter with spices for a deliciously complex sauce.

Well, if your mouth waters thinking of peanut butter sauce slathered spring rolls or peanutty mole over rice, you are in luck. The Southern Peanut Growers are running a recipe contest, and the top ten recipes will get you free peanut butter for a year.

Yes, that’s right, you come up with a savory main course, one with fewer than 10 ingredients that takes less than an hour to make, and enter it in the contest. For every recipe entered, they give a jar of peanut butter to someone less fortunate. The people at will select the top ten recipes, and the top three recipes will be prepared, photographed, then rated on facebook, so other peanut lovers will do the voting. If your recipe is in the top 10, you score 12 jars of peanut butter heaven, delivered to your doorstep. If you win, you get a $200 gift card.

Peanut butter is so much more than just sandwiches or cookies. Strut your stuff in the kitchen and help some hungry people get some healthy food, and maybe you will be a winner!

Here are the links to the contest:

A Link to a previous blog on peanut butter with a Thai Peanut Sauce Recipe and lots of health info:

A recipe for a simple Indonesian Peanut Sauce:

Gado-Gado Sauce

Chain Restaurants Mainstream The Veg Option

3 04 2011

Home of the Balsamic Tomato Bruschetta

Veggie Diners have always had challenges in getting a good meal in a restaurant, especially a mainstream chain restaurant. Things got markedly better when salad bars became popular, if you can remember back that far. My meatless life used to mean choosing between fries or a shake, back in the late 70’s in a small town. Even now, a social event at a chain restaurant may mean politely noshing on a few onion rings or a side salad just to enjoy the company.

But according to Restaurant News, casual dining chains are making the bold move of offering a vegetarian option. Places like the Hard Rock Cafe, Stonefire Grill and California Pizza Kitchen are now putting a few meatless dishes on their menus, in response to customer requests.

We can thank the Meatless Mondays campaign, which has given flexitarian dining a hook.

Many of the chain restaurants cite the Meatless Mondays campaign, and are now offering more meat free dishes for customers who want to have that flexitarian choice. Customers have also made their voices heard by requesting gluten free and lower fat options as well.

It’s high time. Those of us who live in metropolitan areas may forget how hard it is to eat healthfully in the chains and small town restaurants that the other half of America has to choose from. These changes didn’t come about to serve 1% of the population that call themselves vegetarian. These menu items are for the crossover crowd.

It marks a shift in thinking, which has been a hard one to achieve. The idea of going out and not eating meat is really hard to get people to accept. Even people who might not eat it every single meal at home see a trip to a restaurant as a splurge. Triple-stacked burgers with all kinds of bacon, cheese and mayo are way more than most people would make at home, and that is their appeal.

So what are the new menu items, designed to tempt the flexitarians on Mondays? Don’t expect anything less mainstream than the rest of the menu, with veggie burgers, grilled veggies, veggie pizzas and lasagnas and simple tomato bruschetta. Pasta is always easy to make veg friendly. Vegan, well, there is another story. You might be able to get some of these with no cheese, no mayo and see what happens.

Still, it’s a good step in the right direction. Maybe if these things keep selling, we will see some more creative, more vegan-friendly choices in casual dining. And don’t forget, these changes come about because customers ask for them. Ask for whole grains, and meatless options, and who knows, the menu may change for the better.

A Link to the Restaurant News Article: