Ziti with Sicilian-style tomato sauce

This is one of our favorite Italian dishes. It is filling, quick and easy to make, and serves 4-6 depending on how much pasta you use. With two of us cutting up the veggies it took about 35-40 minutes total to prepare. This recipe is taken from the book One dish Vegan, by Robin Robertson (page 136).

Ziti with Sicilian-style tomato sauce

Ingredients:

  1. 1 Tbsp olive oil
  2. 2 vegan sausage links, chopped (optional)
  3. 1 small yellow (sweet) onion, chopped
  4. 1 small eggplant, cut into 1/4 inch dice
  5. 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/4 inch dice
  6. 5 garlic cloves, minced (about 2 1/2 tsp)
  7. 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  8. 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  9. 1/2 tsp dried basil
  10. 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  11. 1/2 tsp natural sugar (I use Sugar in the Raw)
  12. 1 (28 oz) can of diced tomatoes, undrained
  13. 1 Tbsp capers, drained
  14. Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  15. 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil or 2 tsp. dried basil (optional)
  16. 8 to 12 oz of uncooked ridged ziti or penne pasta

Directions:

  1. If using the vegan sausage, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook until browned. Transfer the sausage to a plate and reserve.
  2. Return the skillet to the stove over medium heat. Add the onion, eggplant, and bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic and a little water if needed so the vegetables do not burn. Cook for 1 minute longer.
  3. Stir in the tomato paste, oregano, 1/2 tsp dried basil, red pepper flakes, sugar, diced tomatoes and their juices, capers, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring just to a boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer until the sauce has thickened and the flavors have blended, about 15 minutes.
  4. In the mean time, cook the ziti (or penne pasta) in a large pot of salted boiling water, stirring occasional until it is al dente (about 9 minutes). Drain well and return to the pot.
  5. Add the fresh basil and the reserved sausage, if using, to the sauce. Taste and adjust the seasonings if needed. Keep warm over low heat.
  6. Add the cooked and drained pasta to the sauce and toss gently to combine. Serve hot, garnished with parsley if desired.

I like to top this dish with “faux parmesan” (a mixture of Nutritional Yeast and ground almonds) and serve with crusty whole grain bread and vegan butter. The leftovers can be refrigerated or frozen for another delicious meal.

Quick Burrito Bowls

Who doesn’t like to get a quick bite at Chipotle for some yummy Mexican? I was looking for more ways to use my 49 cent avocados from Aldi and I thought – how about a burrito bowl? We really enjoy their burrito bowls with beans, rice, lettuce and chorizo (plant-based protein). I’ve run across a few recipes that are really delicious and quick to make when we are craving Mexican. Our new favorite is the vegan burrito bowl, taken from Forks over Knives. I’ve added some of our customizations in italics.

Vegan Burrito Bowl

Vegan Burrito Bowl

By Heather McDougall. Serves 2 – 4 Ready in 30 minutes or less (depending on the use of pre-cooked beans, grains and chips).

Ingredients:

  • Baked tortilla chips (see notes)
  • 2 – 4 cups of cooked grains (see notes)
  • 2 – 4 cups chopped romain lettuce or steamed kale
  • 2 – 4 chopped tomatoes
  • 1 – 2 chopped green onions (opt.)
  • 1 – 2 cups corn kernels (see notes)
  • 1 avocado, chopped
  • Fresh salsa (our favorite is Newman’s Own Peach Salsa)
  • Vegan sour cream (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Break a handful of the chips into pieces in the bottom of each serving bowl.
  2. Spoon some of the cooked grains over the chips followed by some of beans, then layer on the rest of the toppings: lettuce or kale, tomatoes, onions (if using), corn, and avocado. Top with the salsa and a spoon full of vegan sour cream if desired.

Notes:

Chips: Read labels carefully to find baked chips without added fat, or make your own chips from soft corn tortillas: Cut them into wedges, spritz with water, and bake at 300 degrees until crisp.

We found some great healthy chips like these Veggie and Flaxseed Corn Tortilla chips from Aldi (right). We also really like the organic blue corn chips from Meijer. You can find a variety of options in the health health food aisle of your local grocery store. Make sure to check the nutrition label for added sodium and fat.

Grains: If you have leftover cooked grains and beans in your refrigerator, this can be a really fast meal. We like to use the Simply Nature Seven Grain pre-cooked blend from Aldi or the Birdseye Protein Blends Southwest Style (does contain a small amount of skim milk – see packages ingredients below).

Beans: You can slow-cook your own beans, cook them in a pressure cooker in a fraction of the time, or use canned beans (we like organic black beans from Aldi).

Chorizo: We found this Loma Linda Chorizo (plant based protein) at our local grocery store and gave it a try (see below). It isn’t bad – but it was saltier and not as light as Chipotle. Give a try if you want the feel of meat in your burrito bowl.

Burrito Bowl with Chorizo

Corn: I usually use frozen organic corn kernels thawed under cold running water until tender and then drained well.

Vegan Sour Cream: We found that we liked Tofutti vegan sour cream as a toping (pictured below) – available from Whole Food and some other food stores.

This recipe is very flexible and may be different every time you make it depending on the ingredients you have on hand. Enjoy experimenting with it and let your kids pick and choose what they want in their burrito bowl.

Super Lentil Soups

Winter is a great time to cook soups – and last week’s record-breaking cold snap (23 below with wind chill in Cincy) made us even more hungry for a good, hot soup. I cooked up this yummy Vegan Lentil Soup to bring to a good friend who had recently given birth to twins. She had actually made it for us when my father passed away last winter and we loved it.

Vegan Lentil Soup
Vegan Lentil Soup

I exchanged the kale (which can sometimes taste bitter) for spinach to give this new mom some extra needed nutrients like carotenoids, vitamin C, vitamin K, folic acid, iron and calcium. It is super easy to make and the ingredients are flavorful, filling and very inexpensive. My husband and I gave this 5 stars!

Vegan Lentil Soup

Author: Cookie & Kate

Prep Time: 10 mins. Cook Time: 45 mins (55 min. total). Serves 4.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (can be substituted with veg broth)
  • 1 medium yellow or white onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, pressed and minced (or 2 tsp. minced garlic)
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 large 28 oz can of diced tomatoes (undrained)
  • 1 cup brown or green lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 3/4 cups water
  • 1 tsp. salt, more to taste
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup chopped fresh kale, collard greens, or spinach (stems or ribs removed)
  • Juice of 1/2 to 1 medium lemon (to taste) – about 2 Tbsp.

Instructions

  1. Warm the olive oil (or veg. broth) in a large Dutch or pot over medium heat. One-fourth cup olive oil may seem like a lot, but it adds a heartiness to this nutritious soup. If you are cooking oil free, you can substitute the oil with 1/4 cup of vegetable broth.
  2. Once the oil (or broth) is shimmering, add the chopped onion and carrot and cook, stirring often, until the onion has softened and is turning translucent (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic, cumin, curry powder and thyme. Cook until fragrant while stirring constantly (about 30 seconds). Pour in the diced tomatoes and cook for a few more minutes, stirring often, in order to enhance their flavor.
  3. Pour in the lentils, broth and water. Add 1 tsp. salt and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Season generously with freshly group black pepper. Raise the heat and bring the mixture to a boil, then partially cover the pot and reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook for 30 minutes or until the lentils are tender but still hold their shape.
  4. Transfer 2 cups of the soup to a blender. Protect your hand from steam with a tea towel placed over the lid and puree the soup until smooth. Pour the pureed soup back into the pot and add the chopped greens. Cook for 5 more minutes or until the greens have soften to your liking.
  5. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in lemon juice (about 3 tbsp). Taste and season with more salt, pepper and/or lemon juice until the flavors are too your liking. Serve immediately. I like to serve this soup with warm vegan cornbread muffins. Leftovers keep well for about 4 days in the refrigerator (or can be frozen for several months).

Recipe from Cookie and Kate: https://cookieandkate.com/2019/best-lentil-soup-recipe/

Let me know how you like the soup – or if you tried any variations that worked well.

Moroccan Lentil Soup

Moroccan Lentil Soup
Moroccan Lentil Soup

Here is another easy to make soup from Forks Over Knives that is very close to the previous recipe – but uses no oil, no greens and includes more exotic Moroccan spices. We gave rated this 4 and half stars.

Moroccan Lentil Soup

By Somer McCowan of “The Abundance Diet” Makes 6 servings. Total Prep/Cooking Time: 45 min.

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups vegetable broth (I try to find a low-sodium broth with 500 mg or less)
  • 2 cups chopped onions, cut into 1/4 inch dice
  • 2 medium carrots, chided into 1/4 inch rounds
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed (or 1 tsp. minced)
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 heaped tsp. ground cumin
  • 3/4 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 3/4 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 large (28 oz.) can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups slip dry red or brown lentils (I used the Lentil Trio from Aldi)
  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/3 cup chopped cilantro (opt).
  • Juice of 1 large lemon (about 2 Tbsp)
  • 1 tsp. seat salt or to taste
  • 1/3 tsp. ground black pepper or to taste

Instructions:

  1. Heat 1/4 cup of the vegetable broth in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot, and garlic and sauce, adding additional broth as necessary to keep the vegetables from burning. Cook until the onions are softened and translucent, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric, smoked paprika, cinnamon, and ground ginger. Sauté for 1 to 2 minutes to allow the flavors to bloom. Add the remaining vegetable broth, crushed tomatoes, and lentils and bring to ta boil.
  3. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes or until the lentils are fully cooked.
  4. Add the parsley, cilantro, and lemon juice and stir to combine. Season to taste with the salt and pepper.

Notes: For texture variation, pulse the soup a few times with an immersion blender. For extra brightness, squeeze an additional slice of lemon over each bowl.

You don’t eat no meat?

How many of you remember that hilarious line from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”? And then her immediate reply – “That’s OK – I’ll make lamb.”  My husband and I have had that same question posed to us – maybe not as dramatically. In fact, I have asked many other vegetarian and vegan friends. Why would you want to cut meat out of your diet – and dairy too? That is just too extreme!

My reply may surprise most people. We just don’t want to die . . . prematurely that is. In June of 2017 my Physical Therapist husband said he wanted to share a video with me – that was sent as a link by his Physical Therapy Association. It was the introductory video by Dr. Greger on “How Not to Die” – showing studies of how diet can affect and even prevent certain diseases.

“How Not to Die” – written by Dr. Michael Greger, MD, FACLM 

A Wake Up Call

This was a wake-up call for both of us, because both sets of our parents had passed or where in the processes of dying from one of 4 major killers: diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and Alzheimers disease. I had just had my DNA tested and it showed that I was at higher risk for two of these diseases! We were in our mid to late 50’s and ready to take action to slow down or maybe even prevent some of these diseases.

Where do we start?

The next question most people ask us is “Isn’t it hard to find and cook food that has no meat or dairy in it?” At first I would have said, yes! It took us a few months to get used to the new plant-based diet. In fact the first night we were “all in” we went out to celebrate our 25th anniversary with a dinner out. The waiter was nice enough to describe the special for the day: Prime Rib!! After such wonderful, mouth watering description we had to confess that we were vegan (which was not easy). Neither was finding vegan entrees as we traveled for a weekend get-away to a quaint little town in southern Indiana.

That same night we decided to check out Whole Foods and pick up a list of foods I had never heard of – taken from a newly purchased vegan cookbook for beginners (“But I Could Never Go Vegan!”). They nearly jumped up and down when we told them we were going vegan – and were more than happy to show us where to find the tofu, plant-based milk, miso, tahini and coconut oil (half of the stuff I rarely if ever used). I tried my best to prepare several of the entrees from the cookbook – but it was very difficult. Some of the stuff I had never heard of – and some of it was downright unappetizing.

I was determined not to give up, however. That Christmas I was given several vegan cookbooks and settled into using one more than any other, “The One Dish Vegan” by Robin Robertson. The ingredients were easy to find, they were not expensive and most dishes took only 30 – 40 minutes to cook. Every time we tried a new recipe we would rate it with 1 – 5 stars and then take a photo of it to reference later (her book did not have photos in it). This process made cooking so much easier and satisfying. In fact, my husband volunteered to do the cutting up of the veggies and I did the actual cooking – which made dinner prep so much more fun. We actually started to enjoy cooking together – which is a big deal for someone who used to hate cooking with a passion (me!).

One Dish Vegan by Robin Robertson

Changes for the Better

Within weeks were feeling more energy than we had felt in years, were more regular then we had ever been and had several other unexpected side affects including less gas and constipation, less tarter on our teeth, improved eye-site (my prescription changed), far fewer hot-flashes for me, and we spent less on our food budget!  The most encouraging news, however, was that my bad cholesterol (LDL) numbers went down 28 points (from 106 to 78), and my total cholesterol dropped by 38 points (198 to 160)! I also lost about 5 pounds – but I am still working on increasing my physical activity (exercising 3 – 5 times a week). My husband actually lost 7 – 10 pounds too (is at the same weight he was in high school)!

That is why I decided to write this blog. I want to encourage others out there who are committed to improving their health and preventing disease through a healthier lifestyle including eating a plant-based diet. If your partner or family is not on board yet – I encourage you to start with just one vegan meal a week and don’t make a big deal about the meatless thing. Your family may be surprised by how delicious and satisfying these meals are.

I called this blog the “Practical Vegan” because I am very practical and I want meals that don’t take hours to cook, cost a lot, or include hard-to-find ingredients. I also may include a non-vegan ingredient occasionally like feta or greek yogurt – but those can be easily be substituted. I will only post recipes that I have actually made and will include photos. If you have questions or want me to try out a new recipe – please let me know. I would love to hear from you!

Let food be thy Medicine and medicine by thy food. – Hippocrates, 460 B.C.

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