Mediterranean Pasta

Some friends took me out to lunch for my birthday earlier this week and I had a fantastic Mediterranean Pasta dish. It had all my favorite ingredients: spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, artichokes and pine nuts! I was determined to try to make it for my husband.

Tonight I looked up the menu description online and decided to take my best stab at replicating the recipe. I also had help from another Mediterranean Pasta recipe I found on Wellplated.com. I made some modifications and swapped out a few ingredients. My husband loved it and rated it 5 stars – even without the feta cheese! It only took about 25 minutes to prepare and serves up to 4 people. This is so easy and the savory flavor would go well with a nice sweet wine.

Mediterranean Pasta

Ingredients:

  • 6 oz (or half a box) of penne pasta (a little more if serving 4)
  • 4 cloves of garlic – minced (about 2 tsp)
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil (or 1/4 cup water if avoiding oil)
  • 2 cups grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes – cut in half
  • 1 can or (14 oz) jar quartered artichoke hearts (I use water-packed)
  • 1 can whole pitted black olives (6 oz) – drained and sliced (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • A pinch (about 1/8 tsp) of red pepper flakes
  • 8 oz of sliced of baby bella mushrooms (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 cups of baby spinach (stems removed)
  • 1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes – chopped (optional)
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
  • 1/4 cup feta or parmesan cheese (omit if vegan)
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley – or fresh basil (chopped)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts

Instructions

  1. Bring large pot of water to a boil and add 1 tsp. of salt (opt.). Cook the pasta until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water, then drain.
  2. While water boils and pasta cooks, prep vegetables and remaining ingredients: mince garlic, cut cherry tomatoes in half, drain and roughly chop the artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes.
  3. In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil (or 1/4 cup water if not using oil) over medium high heat. Add the cherry tomatoes, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, the 1/2 tsp salt, pepper and crushed red pepper flakes (if using). Sauté, stirring frequently unit the garlic is fragrant and the tomatoes begin to break down and release some juices into the oil, 1 to 2 minutes.
  4. Add the pasta to the skillet and toss to coat. Add the artichokes, olives if using, and spinach. Dried the lemon juice over the pasta. Continue tossing and cook for 1 to 2 minutes until the spinach is wilted and the mixture is warmed through. If pasta seems too dry, add a splash of the reserved pasta water to loosen it. Taste and adjust the salt and pepper as desired. Remove from heat and sprinkle with feta (or grated Parmesan), pine nuts and parsley or basil.

Creative left-overs in a flash!

I don’t know about you – but most weekends we try to clean out our fridge before going to the store to restock. Although veggies tend to last longer in the fridge than meat – they can still go bad if not used within the week. Here are a couple of go-to recipes for using up those left over veggies.

Stir Fry Veggies and Tomatoes:

This week I had to find a use for left over spaghetti and spaghetti squash, zucchini squash, mushrooms, a yellow pepper and half an onion. After a busy week, dinner was basically on the table in about 20 minutes or less. It serves 2 – 4 people depending on amount of veggies and pasta.

Ingredients:

  1. 3 cups of cup up veggies (zucchini, colored peppers, mushrooms, onion – or whatever sounds good to you).
  2. 1 Tbsp olive oil
  3. 1 tsp. of Italian seasoning
  4. Salt and pepper to taste
  5. 1 – 14.5 oz can of tomatoes, undrained (optional: Diced tomatoes with onions and garlic)
  6. 2 cups of cooked spaghetti or other pasta (or cooked rice)
Veggie and Tomato Stir Fry

Instructions:

  1. Sautés the veggies in a tablespoon of olive oil for about 5 minutes (add 1 tsp. of minced garlic during last minute)
  2. Stir in 14.5 oz can of undrained diced tomatoes with garlic and onions. Add 1+ tsp. of Italian seasoning.
  3. Let mixture simmer for about 10 minutes.
  4. Check to make sure the veggies are tender and then add a little salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Serve over the warmed spaghetti noodles, spaghetti squash or rice.
  6. Optional: top with Nutritional yeast or vegan parmesan (ground up almonds and Nutritional yeast).
Veggie and Tomato Stir Fry over spaghetti squash

Sweet Potato & Bean Quesadillas

Another favorite quick and recipe using left-overs is Sweet Potato and Black Bean Quesadillas. These are easy to make for 2 – 4 people or more depending on how many sweet potatoes and tortillas you have on hand. If you are not vegan you may choose to add the cheese. If you are vegan – it tastes fine without cheese. I found this recipe in the Feb/March 2014 issue Taste of Home magazine. This takes 30 minutes or less to make.

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Quesadillas

Ingredients:

  1. 2 medium sweet potatoes
  2. 4 whole wheat tortillas (8 inch)
  3. 3/4 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
  4. 1/2 cup shredded pepper jack cheese (omit if you are dairy-free)
  5. 3/4 cup salsa
  6. Vegan sour cream (optional)
  7. Diced Avocado (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Scrub sweet potatoes: pierce several times with a fork. Place on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high for 7 – 9 minutes or until tender, turning once.
  2. When cool enough to handle, cut each potato lengthwise in half. Scoop out pulp and spread onto one half of each tortilla. Top with beans and cheese (optional). Fold other half of tortilla over filling.
  3. Heat a griddle or a skillet over medium heat. Cook for 2 -3 minutes on each side or until golden brown and cheese is melted. Serve with salsa, vegan sour cream and/or avocado chunks (or guacamole).

Another quick and easy recipe to use left over veggies is the “Everything Minestrone” recipe that I shared in a previous post entitled “Soup in a Hurry”.

Show your heart some love!

I thought Valentine’s Day would be the perfect time to talk about something very near and dear to each of us. In fact, none of us could live without it! It is your heart!

On this day we see hearts everywhere, but we rarely think about our own heart and how important it is to us (or to those we love). You may already know this, but Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S. and also the leading cause of death worldwide.* That’s right – not cancer, not drugs, not suicide – but something that in most cases is preventable.

My Dad’s list of 12 medications

This hits close to home for many of us with aging parents. It was just a year ago this week that my family gathered to mourn the death of my father. He died of a massive stroke at the age of 85 after having surgery to restore circulation to his foot (which had a bad ulcer). He had high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and was taking 12 medications just to stay alive (I found this list in his personal calendar). Like many men his age, he was overweight, rarely ever exercised and had a love for food (which I do as well). He was a veteran of the Korean War, faithfully loved his wife for 64 years, provided for us 4 kids – but he didn’t make his health a priority. Now my Mom is living alone in an assisted living facility and dealing with dementia.

As we get older, we look at our parents to see what we could become (both good and bad). Some of us have the genetics hardwired toward certain diseases and we just accept the fact that we will probably have to deal with the same illnesses. When I stated in this blog, I mentioned how genetic testing showed that I have a higher chance of getting several diseases that my parents and grandparents dealt with (and are still dealing with). There is good news, though! Science is starting to show the impact of healthy lifestyle choices in preventing and even reversing many of these same diseases!

One of the websites that lead to my husband and I cutting out meat, fish and dairy from our diet was NutritionFacts.org. Michael Greger M.D. FACLM also had seen firsthand what heart disease did to his own family and it lead to his becoming a medical doctor. Today many doctors ignore diet as a means to prevent or treat disease and instead just prescribe more medicine with terrible side affects. Even as far back as the ancient Greeks, the physician, Hippocrates knew the importance of good nutrition to counteract disease. He is quoted as saying “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

OK – I’ll get off my soapbox for now and give you a heart-healthy recipe to cook up for your favorite Valentine. But remember, the biggest gift you can give any of your loved ones is a healthy heart. Lord willing, you will be sticking around for them as long as possible!

Black bean and sweet potato chili

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili

This is one of our favorite soups for cold nights. I love the colors, flavors and textures – and it has been a hit with company who come to visit and are not into the vegan thing. Another bonus is the ingredients are inexpensive and easy to find at your local Aldi or grocery store. I found this recipe in One Dish Vegan by Robin Robertson. It serves 4 – 6 and takes about 1 hour to prepare (depending on help with chopping).

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil or 1/4 cup of water
  • 1 large onion, chopped (I like sweet yellow onions)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced (1 1/2 tsp.)
  • 1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 2 chipotle chiles in adobo, minced (optional: we leave this out because it’s too spicy for us wimps)
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth, plus more if needed (I use low sodium if available)
  • 1 1/2 – 3 Tbsp chili powder (according to taste)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 cups cooked black beans or 2 (15.5 oz) cans black beans, rinsed drained
  1. Heat the oil or water in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, cover and cook, stirring occasionally until softened (about 10 minutes).
  2. Add the sweet potatoes, chipotles (if using), diced tomatoes with their juices, crushed tomatoes, broth, chili powder, cumin, coriander, oregano, salt, and beans. Stir to combine, then bring to boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are tender (about 45 minutes).
  3. Add more broth if the chili is too thick for your taste. If you prefer a thicker chili, cook uncovered for 15 minutes to thicken. Serve hot. We like to serve this with vegan cornbread muffins.

*According to the article, “The top 10 leading causes of death in the United States” posted by Medical News Today. Last updated 23 February 2017 By Hannah NicholsReviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, CRNP

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.

Avocados for Breakfast?

Yes, you heard me right. Not only are avocados a healthy alternative to eggs – they are also full of many nutrients and will stay with you all morning long! While I was preparing this simple avocado toast, I noticed that gold medal olympic skater, Tara Lapinsky, included it as a healthy breakfast option during her “ways to stay healthy” segment on the Today show! Here is the video giving her health and fitness tips!

Avocados are packed with great nutrition!
Avocados are packed with great nutrition!

According to CaliforniaAvocado.com a single serving (about 1/3 of a medium sized avocado) contains 80 calories and 8 grams of fat. “They contribute nearly 20 vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, making it a heart-healthy choice to help meet nutrient needs.”  Below is a list of other benefits listed on their website:


NUTRITION FACTS:

  1. Avocados Are a Heart-Healthy, Nutrient-Dense Superfood: Nutrient-dense foods are those that provide substantial amounts of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients with relatively few calories. One-third of a medium avocado (50 g) has 80 calories and contributes nearly 20 vitamins and minerals, making it a great nutrient-dense food choice.
  2. Contains Good Fats: The avocado is virtually the only fruit that contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fat – good fat!
  3. Naturally Sodium-, Sugar- and Cholesterol-Free: California Avocados are naturally sodium-, sugar- and cholesterol-free.
  4. A Unique Fruit: Avocados can act as a “nutrient booster” by helping increase the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamins A, D, K and E.
  5. Great for Babies and Kids:The avocado’s creamy consistency makes it one of the first fresh foods a baby can enjoy.

I was looking for a quick breakfast option that would stay with me all morning and not make me crave sweets all day (like some sweet breakfast cereals do). I tend toward being hypoglycemic so it is important that I start my day with some plant-based protein and fat.

Avocado Toast:

Ingredients: One slice of whole grain bread, one ripe* avocado, lime juice (optional), garlic salt (optional), and nutritional yeast (optional).

  1. Slice a medium sized avocado in half and scoop out the green flesh (cut out and discard any brown areas). In a small bowl, use a fork to mash the avocado into a spread.
  2. If desired, add one squirt (about a 1 tsp.) of lime juice. This amplifies the taste and gives it a nice zing. Add a few shakes of garlic salt or sea salt if desired. Stir together to blend flavors.
  3. Spread the mix onto freshly toasted whole grain bread.
  4. If desired add sliced tomatoes and sprinkle with nutritional yeast** or “Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend” from Trader Joes (you can make your own using this recipe from the food network).

Tips: *You can tell an avocado is ripe when the skin starts turning black – but it is still firm. For extra nutrition I use **Bragg Nutritional Yeast Seasoning available at Kroger and other grocery stores in the health food or specialty aisle. It is used by vegetarians and vegans to get essential vitamins like B-12 that are hard to get in just plants. It tastes good as a substitute for parmesan cheese. Here are the nutrients in it:

Iron2%
Thiamine (B1)180%
Riboflavin (B2)160%
Niacin (B3)70%
Pyridoxine (B6)140%
Folic Acid40%
Vitamin B1240%
Pantothenic Acid30%
Zinc6%
Selenium10%

Soup in a Hurry

We all have those nights when dinner has to be prepared quickly because family members need to eat and a leave for evening activities. Tonight was one of those nights. I pulled out my “go to” quick recipe for when I don’t have time to shop and want to use up veggies in the fridge before they go bad.

This recipe was actually taken from the The China Study All-Star Collection by Leanne Campbell, PhD (Whole Food, Plant-Based Recipes From Hour Favorite Vegan Chefs).

Everything Minestrone
(
with white beans, carrots, yellow squash, & zucchini)

Everything Minestrone

Makes 8 servings. Recipe by Lindsay Nixon. Gluten free without pasta.

Ingredients:

  • 1 small onion diced (or half large onion)
  • 4 garlic cloves minced (2 tsp)
  • pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 3 cups sliced or chopped vegetables (such as carrots, yellow squash, zucchini, etc.)
  • 2 cups low sodium vegetable stock
  • 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar (or reg vinegar)
  • 1 8-oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 14-oz can of diced tomatoes (fire roasted – optional)
  • 1 15-oz can of white beans or garbanzo beans (drained and rinsed)
  • Cooked rice or small shaped pasta like Ditalini (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Line a large pot with a thin layer of water and sauté onion, garlic and a pinch of crushed red pepper (if using ) for about 1 – 3 minutes.
  2. Add Italian seasoning and continue to cook until fragrant (about 1 minute). Add all remaining ingredients, including choice vegetables (except beans), salt, and pepper and stir to combine.
  3. Bring to a boil then cover, decrease heat to low, and let simmer until vegetables are tender, about 10 – 20 minutes.
  4. Add beans and cooked rice or pasta (if using) and continue to cook until thoroughly warm.
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.
Everything Minestrone
(
with garbanzo beans, carrots, yellow pepper, zucchini and celery)

Tips: Fire-roasted or tomatoes with onion and garlic can be used for more flavor. Feel free to use leftover cooked pasta or rice for the optional beans (or use all three). You may need to add a cup or more of the vegetable stock if the soup is too thick. You can use any vegetables you have on hand. For extra nutrition – I like to throw spinach at the very end.

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.

My First Attempt at Plant-Based Cooking

Penne & Veggies
Penne with Veggies 'N' Black Beans
Penne with Veggies ‘N’ Black Beans

When we decided to cut meat and dairy out of our diet I had to search through my existing cookbooks to find recipes. This one, Penne with Veggies ‘n’ Black Beans came from Taste of Homes’ Healthy Cooking Annual Recipes (2015). Since we had just become “empty nesters” I turned to the ‘Table for Two’ section and found a photo of a meal that looked appetizing and super simple to make.

Since it was June – all of the ingredients were in season and it did not require any special ingredients that were hard to find (except maybe the Nutritional Yeast – which is used as a substitute for the parmesan cheese).

Recipe for: Penne with Veggies ’n’ Black Beans

Estimated time to prepare: 25 minutes. Makes: 2 servings (double for 4)

Quick tip: use a bag of your favorite pre-cut frozen veggies if you are in a hurry.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup of uncooked penne pasta (substitute with a bean pasta if gluten free)
  • 1/3 cup of sliced zucchini (about one medium)
  • 1/3 cup of sliced carrot (about 2)
  • 4 medium mushrooms sliced
  • 1/2 small green pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 yellow or red pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 onion thinly sliced
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced (I used minced garlic from a jar)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of each: dried basil, oregano & thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained (15 oz can is ok)
  • 1/4 cup chopped seeded tomato (canned and drained is ok)
  • 2 Tablespoons shredded Parmesan (substitute with Nutritional Yeast)
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley
  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, sauté all the vegetables, garlic and seasonings in 1+ teaspoon of oil until tender-crisp. Stir in the beans.
  1. Drain pasta; add to vegetable mixture. Add tomato and remaining olive oil; toss gently. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese (or Nutritional Yeast) and parsley.

Nutritional Info. Per serving:

  • 300 calories
  • 7 grams fat (2 g sat. Fat)
  • 4 mg cholesterol
  • 643 mg sodium
  • 47 g carb
  • 8 g fiber
  • Diabetic Exchanges: 2/12 starch, 1 lean meat, 1 vegetable, 1 fat

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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