Friday, 26 April 2013

The Superhero

Swiss chard is a bit of an unsung superhero in the vegetable world, but it's a star in my books.

For starters, it's a nutritional dynamo - just look at these Daily Nutritional Value (DRV) percentages found in 175 grams:

vitamin K = 716%
vitamin A = 214%
vitamin C = 53%

There aren't many vegetables that can make those claims. Plus, Swiss chard comes in a rainbow variety of colours - red, yellow, orange, white, even pink!

Unfortunately, Swiss chard has a few things working against it.

First of all, the stalks are sometimes enormous and unwieldy. Young, small chard leaves can be eaten whole, but the stems of larger chard can be tough so I prefer to separate them from the leaves before eating.

Also, Swiss chard is slightly bitter compared to milder greens like spinach. Some people are turned off by the taste of raw chard in salads, and most recipes use chard as a cooking green.

I prefer to buck the trend. I used raw Swiss chard in this smoothie to show that even stronger flavoured greens can be delicious when mixed with the right combination of ingredients.

The Superhero is aptly named not only because of the Swiss chard, but also because of the mega energy boost you'll feel after drinking one.

Almond milk, peanut butter, banana, maple syrup and rolled oats, plus the goodness of chard will keep you feeling fueled and satiated for hours.

What's not to love?

The Superhero

Prep time: 5 minutes

Makes 1 large (14 oz) smoothie or two small (7 oz) smoothies


3/4 c. almond milk
1/4 c. rolled oats
1 tsp. maple syrup
1 Tbsp. peanut butter
1 frozen banana
3 ice cubes
1 c. Swiss chard leaves (approx. 3 stalks)


1. Add all ingredients to a blender and mix.

The Superhero will prevail!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

I'm still relatively new to the world of cooking, and am constantly working on feeling more comfortable in the kitchen.

Some days are glorious: I have all of the ingredients in my house, the recipe comes together well and tastes fantastic.

Other days are just horrific: my poor husband Dave is sent out to the grocery store (again!) because I forgot yet another ingredient, the recipe completely falls apart and tastes terrible.

Yesterday was a glorious day.

First I did a final test of my spiced red lentil stew and it tasted wonderful. I asked Dave to give it a taste, and he proclaimed it "Amazing." Great start!

I've also been toying with another green smoothie over the last week. After a couple of unfortunate mishaps, I had the idea of making a tropical fruit smoothie - something to celebrate the first few (and long overdue) hints of spring. It was a beautiful, sunny day with clear blue skies, so thoughts of warm summer afternoons no longer seemed so far-fetched!

I combined frozen banana, mango and a healthy dose of orange juice. This alone could make a really nice fruit smoothie, but I added a giant handful of spinach and some chia seeds to really bump up the nutritional value.

As I mentioned in my post about iron, combining high iron foods with high vitamin C foods increases iron absorption. Plus, chia seeds are high in omega-3, omega-6, vitamin B, fiber and protein. Superfoods indeed!

Spinach, orange juice, mango and chia all compliment each other so nicely and make this smoothie a nutritional powerhouse.

I called this sneaky smoothie The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing because it's bright green and chock-full of spinach, but tastes like a tropical fruit explosion!

So which is the wolf - the spinach or the fruit? I'm not sure, but it's deceptively delicious.

The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

Prep time: 5 minutes

Makes 1 large smoothie (16 oz) or two small smoothies (8 oz)


1 1/4 cup orange juice
1 frozen banana
1/2 cup frozen mango chunks
1 Tbsp. chia seeds
1 cup spinach


1. Add everything to a blender and process until smooth.*

*This smoothie is less like sorbet and more like really cold, mildly frozen juice. You can add ice cubes and/or freeze it for a thicker consistency.*

Sunny days...

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Quick & Easy Spiced Red Lentil Stew

Last week I featured an overview of my six favorite beans: chickpeas, red kidney beans, white kidney beans, turtle beans, green lentils and red lentils. I'm now past the half-way point for the matching recipes - three down, three to go!

The bean recipe box now includes healthy baked falafel, an herbed lentil salad and my all-time favourite white bean dip. Yumm-o!

Next up: an incredibly simple and flavourful red lentil stew.

This little gem makes a warm, filling lunch or dinner. I love a bowl with a hunk of crusty bread and a green salad. Quick, easy meal perfection!

Quick & Easy Spiced Red Lentil Stew

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes

Serves 4


1 cup dried red lentils, rinsed
1 cup onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
1 tsp. safflower oil
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. cumin
2 cups low-salt vegetable stock
1 cup water
2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled & diced


1. Heat safflower oil in a large soup pot on medium-high
2. Cook onion for 3 minutes, then garlic for one minute
3. Add ginger and spices and stir for one minute
4. Toss in tomatoes, carrots, lentils, stock and water and bring to a boil
5. Lower heat to medium and simmer, partially covered, for 35 minutes*
6. Remove pot from heat; blend 1/2 cup of soup in a food processor for 30 seconds
7. Mix soup puree back into pot, then serve and enjoy!

*My previous post about beans listed the simmer time for red lentils at 15 minutes. The time has been extended in this recipe to give the tomatoes enough time to break down. Since red lentils lose their shape while cooking the extra time here won't affect the taste or texture.*

Inspiration: Soup

Monday, 22 April 2013

Warm Spiced Cashew Lentil Salad

Oh lentils, you are incredible. You're super-filling, delicious and oh-so-healthy - one cooked cup provides 18 grams of protein, 16 grams of fiber and 37% of my daily iron requirement. You're also amazingly versatile - you pair effortlessly with different vegetables, grains and sauces without either overpowering or disappearing among other tastes and textures. not-so-secret love.

This recipe is based on one I ripped out of a Vegetarian Times from 2012 featuring Yotam Ottolenghi, an Israeli-born British chef and restauranteur. The picture was of a beautiful platter full of lentils, cashews and greens topped with copious amounts of fresh herbs. Unfortunately (as per most of my scavenged recipes), I put it into my giant binder and promptly forgot about it for about eight months.

My version of this salad incorporates way more greens and a much lighter dressing. I've drastically reduced the amount of oil but kept all the fresh herbs and subbed in maple syrup for a touch of vegan sweetness.

This salad has such a wonderful, unexpected combination of flavours. Dill, parsley, basil, maple syrup, red pepper flakes and turmeric are not ingredients I'd normally consider pairing, but somehow it works. It may look complicated, but it comes together beautifully and is worth any extra effort.

I've divided the recipe into two parts: the spiced cashews and the lentil salad. The spiced cashews may seem a little frou-frou, but they add a great little crunch and the spicy red pepper flakes really round out the dish.

Warm Spiced Cashew Lentil Salad

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes

Serves 4-5

Spiced Cashew Ingredients:

1/2 cup unsalted, dry-roasted cashews (whole or pieces)
1 1/2 Tbsp. maple syrup
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp. salt
1-2 tsp. water

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees
2. Combine maple syrup, pepper flakes, turmeric and salt in a small bowl
3. Add enough water to make a slightly runny sauce
4. Toss cashews in mixture & coat evenly
5. Spread cashews and sauce on a baking sheet with a silicone mat
6. Bake for 20 minutes, then allow cashew coating to cool on top of the stove

Lentil Salad Ingredients:

2 1/2-3 cups cooked green lentils*
1 cup spinach, chopped
1/2 cup swiss chard, chopped
1/2 cup fresh curly parsley, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 tsp. maple syrup

*One cup dried lentils = approximately 3 cups cooked lentils*


1. Combine spinach, chard, parsley, basil and dill in a large serving bowl
2. Mix together olive oil, vinegar and maple syrup in a small glass
3. Add warm lentils and vinaigrette to serving bowl and toss to coat
4. Allow lentils to soften the greens for a few minutes, turning occasionally
5. Add cashews and toss one last time before serving*

*Don't add cashews too early; they will absorb the vinaigrette and lose their crunch. Alternatively, add cashews to individual servings and refrigerate leftover salad without nuts.*

Inspiration: April/May 2012

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Baked Falafel with Cucumber-Dill Sauce

Last weekend I put together a Middle Eastern dinner for a few of my girlfriends - falafel, hummus, tabbouleh, pitas, the whole nine yards. While chowing down, we got to talking about where falafel comes from. My first thought was "the Middle East!" with vague ideas about connections to Morocco or Turkey. Well, I was close...

Falafel, the deliciously seasoned chickpea patty found in Middle Eastern restaurants everywhere, actually has a fairly murky history. Theories put its origins in Egypt or possibly the area historically known as Levant, which includes modern-day Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Cyprus, parts of southern Turkey and western Iraq. Falafel are enjoyed by Muslims during Ramadan, Coptic Christians during Lent, and also by the masses in sandwiches, pitas and salads.

Falafel are wildly popular in Arabic countries and around the world because they are easy to make, filling and oh-so-tasty. My only beef (ha!) with falafel is that they are traditionally deep-fried in oil. Here I've found a way to make falafel almost oil-free without compromising the taste or texture.

This recipe can be adapted to make large or small falafel patties (my husband thought the small ones looked like cookies, so he dubbed them 'falookies'). I prefer the small patties - they are thinner and easier to bake, and they maintain a nice, creamy texture in the middle.

Baked Falafel

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes

Makes 12-14 small patties


1 cup onion, chopped
5-6 garlic cloves, cut in half
1 cup parsley, roughly chopped
2 cups cooked chickpeas
1/2 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour*
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. salt
Cracked black pepper, to taste

*I tried making these with chickpea flour, but they were super dry. Definitely not recommended!*


1. Chop onion, garlic and parsley in a food processor for 10-15 seconds
2. Add all other ingredients and process into a thick, cookie batter-like mixture
3. Refrigerate until ready to use (10 minutes or longer)
4. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
5. Brush 1 tsp. safflower oil onto a baking sheet with a silicone mat
6. Using a tablespoon, scoop cookie-sized balls of falafel onto mat
7. Bake 15 minutes, then flip and press falafel down and bake another 10 minutes

Cucumber-Dill Sauce

Prep time: 5 minutes

Makes about 1/2 cup


1/3 cup silken tofu
1/2 cup cucumber, sliced
1 Tbsp. fresh dill, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt

1. Mix all ingredients in a food processor until smooth and creamy

Enjoy both falafel and sauce with a salad of mixed greens or stuffed into a pita with lettuce and tomato. Simple and amazing!

Inspiration: Big Vegan

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Sriracha White Bean Dip

So let's imagine you've read through my previous post about cooking dried beans (I hope you have!) and you went ahead and made a big ol' pot of white kidney beans.

Now you're looking at it and wondering "What am I going to do with all these beans?".

Well, funny you should ask...

This is a fantastic five minute bean dip that pairs perfectly with raw vegetables, pitas, crackers, tortilla chips and burgers. It's supremely flavourful thanks to sriracha sauce, sesame, garlic and lime.

For anyone unfamiliar with sriracha, it is a low to medium spicy chili sauce used primarily in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. Its Scoville ranking is between 1,000 and 2,500, which puts sriracha sauce somewhere spicier than a banana pepper but not as spicy as a jalapeno pepper. The most popular North American variety is made by a Chinese-Vietnamese company called Huy Fong. You may recognize it by its distinctively large squeeze bottle and green cap, and is also known as rooster sauce based on the company logo.

I love sriracha sauce, and I'm obviously not alone. It is an unwritten rule in my house to double or triple this recipe, and even with such a huge quantity the dip never lasts very long. I've often found myself digging right in with a spoon, and whenever I cook white beans my husband's eyes light up and he asks, "Are you making the spicy bean dip?!"

That's a pretty clear indication of a winning recipe.

Sriracha White Bean Dip

Prep time: 5 minutes

Makes about 2 cups


2 cups white kidney beans
1-2 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. soy sauce (Bragg's Liquid Aminos)
2 Tbsp. hot sauce (Sriracha)
1/2 tsp. curry powder
1 Tbsp. lime juice


1. Add everything into a food processor and blend until smooth

This is really amazing stuff.

P.S. A quickie post about home-made sriracha will be available soon!

Inspiration: White on Rice Couple

Monday, 15 April 2013

How to Cook...Beans!

I recently wrote that I prefer to cook my beans from dry, so I thought I'd give a little overview of my favourites: chickpeas, red and white kidney beans, turtle beans, plus red and green lentils. These six legumes are definitely huge staples in my diet. At least one is present in most of my dinners - they're filling and delicious, plus they refrigerate and freeze well.

I've mentioned before that I stay away from canned beans because of Bisphenol-A (BPA) - a chemical used to make more durable plastics (water bottles) and epoxy resins (can linings). The long-term effects of BPA on the human body are largely unknown, but governments and regulatory bodies are obviously concerned.

The European Union, Canada and the U.S. have now banned BPA in baby bottles, and the FDA has labeled it a hazard to unborn and young children. In 2010, Canada became the first country to declare BPA a toxic substance, but then flip-flopped in 2012, saying "it is not expected to pose a health risk to the general population".

BPA has become such a ubiquitous part of our lives. In addition to bottles and cans, it's also in cash register receipts, CDs and DVDs, and sports equipment. Studies from the CDC have shown that, in representative samples of American people, 93% have detectable levels of BPA in their urine.

Until there is more concrete information about exactly how BPA is affecting my body, future children and the environment, I'm going to cut out as much exposure as possible.

Anyway, let's get back to beans. Dried beans are awesome, but I think a lot of people avoid them because they're unsure of how to cook them.

All of these legumes can be cooked in plain old water. If you're looking to add a little more flavour, try using vegetable stock as a cooking liquid, or throw a bay leaf, minced garlic, cumin, chili powder, paprika or a thinly sliced hot pepper into the mix.

Let's start with the chickpeas, kidney and turtle beans.

~Rinse 1 cup and soak overnight in a stock pot with 4 cups cold water
~Drain and rinse, then add back to the pot with cooking liquid
~Boil then simmer (partially covered), keeping cooking liquid above beans
~Stir occasionally and check for consistency
~Drain and rinse, then cool and enjoy!


A.K.A.: garbanzo beans, ceci beans or chana
Cooking liquid: 4 cups
Simmer: 90 minutes
Consistency: slightly soft with skins intact
Yield: 3 cups

Kidney beans, red

A.K.A.: kidney beans or red beans
Cooking liquid: 3 cups
Simmer: 65-70 minutes
Consistency: slightly soft with skins intact
Yield: 2.75 cups

Kidney beans, white

A.K.A.: cannelli beans or white beans*
Cooking liquid: 3 cups
Simmer: 45-50 minutes
Consistency: slightly soft with skins intact
Yield: 2.75 cups

*White kidney beans are not the same as navy beans and Great Northern beans, but they cook similarly and are relatively interchangeable.*

Turtle beans

A.K.A.: black beans or black turtle beans
Cooking liquid: 3 cups
Simmer: 90 minutes
Consistency: slightly soft with skins intact
Yield: 3 cups

Lentils are a little different than other beans. They don't need to soak, and cook much more quickly.

~Rinse 1 cup then add to a medium sauce pan with cooking liquid
~Boil then simmer (partially covered), keeping cooking liquid above lentils
~Stir occasionally and check for consistency
~Drain and rinse, then cool and enjoy! (green lentils only)

Lentils, green

A.K.A.: Indian lentils, German lentils or brown lentils*
Cooking liquid: 2 cups
Simmer: 20-25 minutes
Consistency: slightly firm but not hard or crunchy
Yield: 3 cups

*That's not a typo - these army-green coloured lentils can be labelled as green or brown lentils, depending on where you buy them.*

Lentils, red*

A.K.A.: masoor dal or Red Chief lentils
Cooking liquid: 2 cups
Simmer: 15 minutes
Consistency: soft and mushy
Yield: 3 cups

*Red lentils break down into a fantastic soupy mash when cooked, so draining and rinsing are definitely off the table.*

References: Home Grown Organic Foods & The Cook's Thesaurus

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

The Bewildered Lemon

Well, to be honest, I've been racking my brain all afternoon trying to figure out how to describe this smoothie.

It's delicious, never fear, but in a way I'm having trouble putting into words.

For starters, the ingredient list is a little...different. I asked my husband to pick up some organic lemons at the grocery store a few days ago, and lo and behold, the organic ones are only sold in bags of six. I had absolutely no use for the five remaining lemons, so I started wondering about the possibilities of a lemon smoothie.

I often use banana and almond milk as the base of my smoothies, but I thought they might clash with the lemon. I instead opted to get the creaminess from an avocado mixed with water and a bit of ice.

The complimentary fruit is mango. There's nothing strange about mango. I'd eat mangoes every day for the rest of my life and be very, very happy.

I added a bit of maple syrup to balance the acidic, lemony goodness and also some cold-pressed flax oil for an omega boost.

The combination of tastes sounds weird, but trust me - it's really, really good.

The smoothie gets its lovely light green colour from a punch of mixed greens, but there is absolutely no traditional green smoothie taste. I've found some green smoothies waver between fantastic and "I'm drinking liquefied spinach" but this one has zero roughage aftertaste.

The Bewildered Lemon

Prep time: 5 minutes

Makes 1 large-ish smoothie (10 oz) or 2 wee smoothies (5 oz)


1/2 lemon, peeled
2 cups mixed greens (Earthbound Farms Organic Baby Lettuces)
1 cup frozen mango chunks
1/2 avocado, peeled
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 Tbsp. cold-pressed flax oil (Emile Noel Organic Flax Oil)
1/2 cup cold water
3 ice cubes


1. Add everything to your blender and blend, blend, blend!

I'm thinking this one is a little addictive...

Vegan + Meat-Eater = True Love?

My husband Dave is a very typical North American male. He's a huge fan of all things meat and fried, and loves nothing more than chicken wings, chocolate milk, pizza and bacon.

He and I have long had different opinions about food, but we do our best to be supportive. He fully encouraged my transition to veganism and never questions my food choices. I, on the other hand, sometimes walk a fine line between encouraging him to go meat-free and arguing the ethical implications of chicken fingers. Okay, maybe he's a little more accepting that I am...

During a recent visit with my best friend and her husband, she pointed out that their eating habits were changing - they were eating more plant-based meals, and they'd stretched one whole chicken into enough meals for a month. Amazing!

It then dawned on me that Dave had been doing something very similar in our own home, but I hadn't picked up on it.

Dave used to eat some form of meat at every single dinner - chicken, pork, turkey or beef always had a starring role. Over the last few months, however, he had almost completely stopped purchasing meat from the grocery store. He would occasionally pick up a chicken breast or wings from a butcher at the local farmers' market, but he'd ration it out over several meals rather than consume the whole thing at once.

The man who prided himself on eating chicken wings as often as possible was now going months without doing so!

I think if I'd told the old Dave that he'd be eating and loving things like lentils, spinach, chickpeas and seitan he wouldn't believe you. Dave has proved that even the most adamant meat eater can adjust to a more plant-centric diet without any withdrawal or sacrifice.

Best of all, Dave has taken a genuine interest in what goes into his body. He reads labels before putting anything in our grocery cart, he's well-informed about factory farming and Big Ag, and gladly chooses faux meats over the real deal. True love, indeed!

This is one of the first vegan recipes Dave really went ga-ga for - it's a simple, easy-to-prepare chili that's spicy, meaty and satisfying.

It has more packaged and processed ingredients than I'd like, but it's a great dish for transitioning vegans or those new to meat-free eating. You can throw this together at the last minute and it will give you enough freezable leftovers for several more delicious dinners.

"This Is Vegan?!" Chili

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes

Serves 8-9


1 tsp. safflower oil
1 Tbsp. chili powder*
1 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. cayenne powder
1 pkg. meatless crumbles (Yves Original Ground Round)
3 tomatoes, cut into chunks
3/4 cup yellow onion, diced
1 green pepper, thinly sliced
2 carrots, sliced into half-moons
2-3 stalks celery, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Thai chili pepper, thinly sliced
1 cup low salt vegetable stock
2 cups low salt tomato sauce (Irresistibles Spicy Chili Pepper)
1.5 cups black beans**
1.5 cups red kidney beans

*DYI chili powder! 1 tsp. paprika, 2 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. cayenne pepper, 1 tsp. oregano & 2 tsp. garlic powder. Combine and store in a tightly-sealed jar.

**I prefer not to buy canned beans (or any food in aluminum cans) until there's more concrete evidence about BPA, so I cook them from dry. A post about cooking dried beans is on deck!


1. Heat oil on medium-high heat in a large soup pot

2. Add onions and saute for about 4-5 minutes or until soft

3. Add green pepper, garlic & Thai chili pepper and cook for another 1-2 minutes

4. Toss everything else into the pot, and raise the temperature to high

5. Bring the mixture to a quick boil, then reduce heat to medium-low

6. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally


I had this for dinner last night and it was amazing!

Monday, 8 April 2013

Building the Vegan Pantry

The Essential Vegan is just a little more than two weeks old - really only a baby by blogging standards. I'm still working through basic logistics of blogging (and social media-ing!), and I thought it would be a good opportunity to take stock of what's happened so far, get some feedback and decide how to move forward.

My friend Annette (see her spectacular photography here) comes over for lunch regularly and has become a bit of a touching stone for my blog. She visited last Friday and commented on my recent Garam Masala Tofu & Lentils recipe. "It's a great recipe", she said, "but there were a few things on the ingredient list that I didn't have at home."

I was initially a little surprised by her comment, but I thought about it and it makes total sense.

My initial goal was to post recipes that everyone would be able to cook, regardless of skill level or experience, but I'd forgotten to take into account the necessity of having a properly stocked kitchen before jumping into cooking.

So Annette suggested providing some guidelines for vegan staples - things that are used on a consistent basis, but may not be found in the average kitchen. Fantastic idea!

It's taken me quite a while to build up my cooking arsenal. I have a lot of things in my cupboards that I wouldn't have had a clue what to do with only a few years ago. The great news is that the majority of these items can now be found in chain grocery stores (this is great for availability, not necessarily for sustainability...but that's another issue), and most are fairly affordable.

In addition to maximizing your local farmers' market for fresh produce, there are two key places to pick up non-perishables:

1. Bulk Barn

Bulk stores are fantastic. They offer an amazing selection of food, a growing number of organic non-perishables, and (best of all) the prices are generally substantially lower than grocery stores. By removing the unnecessary plastic and cardboard packaging and also corporate branding, bulk stores can offer basically the same quality products without the additional mark-ups.

One of my all-time favourite places to visit is my local Bulk Barn. I'm like a kid in a candy store, except  instead of ju-jubes or sour keys my basket is full of spices, grains, flours, nuts and legumes.

2. Goodness Me!

In addition to a bulk store, I highly recommend a good quality health food store - not necessarily Whole Foods (I don't agree with their rampant price-gouging, or the CEO's politics, but again, those are other issues), but some place that provides a good balance of reasonably priced, high quality packaged foods.

In my city there is a fantastic smaller grocery chain called Goodness Me!, which is my mecca for oils, vinegars, sweeteners, organic condiments, and other goodies.

Let's take a walk through some of my pantry basics:


Apple cider

Bay leaf
Black peppercorn
Cayenne pepper
Kosher salt
Mustard seed
Nutritional yeast
Red pepper flakes

*Spice blends like chili powder and curry can be bought in store or made at home*

Pepitas (pumpkin seeds)


*Keep nuts in the freezer to maintain freshness*

Dried fruit*:

*I also dry my own apple slices using my food dehydrator!*

Bragg's Liquid Aminos (soy sauce)
Curry paste (red, green & yellow)
Earth Balance Buttery Spread
Frank's Red Hot
Maple syrup
Tahini paste

Barley (pearl & pot)
Oats (steel-cut & rolled)

*I prefer Thai rice because it's generally lower in arsenic*

Lentils (red & green)
Navy beans
Black beans

*I buy all legumes in bulk to cut down my exposure to BPA in canned goods*

Plant milks:

Unbleached all-purpose
Whole wheat pastry
Vital wheat gluten

Brown sugar
Blackstrap molasses
Baking powder
Baking soda
Brown rice syrup
Cocoa powder
Nut butters (peanut, almond, cashew)
Sugar (cane/stevia/xylitol)
Vanilla extract

This list is huge, I know, but the idea isn't to go out and buy absolutely everything at once. Build slowly and work with what you have, and check online for easy substitutions of you're missing something.

The majority of the items on this list are really quite reasonable as long as you buy them in bulk. If you bought every spice I've listed here it would still cost less than $15. Nuts and oils are going to be expensive regardless, but it's worth the splurge and they will last a while if used judiciously.

I'd estimate that keeping these items in your pantry will give you free reign over about 85% of available vegan/vegetarian recipes.

Happy shopping!

P.S. Post a comment below if I've missed one of your favourite pantry essentials!

Thursday, 4 April 2013

The Purple People Eater

I have a confession to make.

I love smoothies.

I know, I know - smoothies are everywhere. People wax poetic about all the amazing benefits of smoothies while non-believers roll their eyes and think, "Yeah, yeah, we go again about the smoothies.".

But you know what? The trendy hipsters are right. Smoothies are awesome.

I'll also confess that I'm not a huge fan of salads. "Hello, my name is Lisa. I'm a vegan who doesn't eat a lot of salads."

I know all the individual elements of a salad are delicious, and they have all that great healthy stuff my body needs, but I usually find a big plate of raw greens and vegetables fairly dull. I've tried zesty dressings, spices, creative vegetable and green combinations, but it still doesn't pique my interest.

Especially at lunch.

I'm a very no-nonsense eater at lunchtime. I don't want to take the time to wash, chop and prepare a salad. I want something I can put together in a few minutes, enjoy, then get on with my day.

Enter the smoothie.

Smoothies are the fastest, easiest way to pack a ton of vegetables, fruit, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals into one delicious, drinkable meal.

There are endless combinations to suit every diet, taste and style - just open the refrigerator and freezer, see what you have and go for it!

I have a smoothie almost every day for lunch. It satisfies a huge portion of my daily nutritional requirements, plus it keeps me feeling full for hours.

I'm always messing around with new smoothie concoctions, so I'll post more recipes as they develop.

Here is the smoothie I made today. It has an extra-special ingredient - PURPLE KALE!

The Purple People Eater

Prep time: 5 minutes

Makes 1 large (16oz) or 2 medium (8oz) smoothies


1 cup almond milk
1 frozen banana
2/3 cup frozen blueberries
1/4 cup rolled oats
1 Tbsp. hemp seeds
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. agave (or maple syrup)
4 large purple kale leaves, washed and broken into large pieces


1. Add all ingredients to a blender and pulse until smooth.

That's it! So. Good.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Garam Masala Tofu & Lentils

Garam masala ("hot spices") is a fantastic Northern Indian spice blend with about a million variations, but it generally includes peppercorns, cinnamon, cumin, cloves, star anise, nutmeg and cardamom.

It releases a warm, spicy aroma when heated and pairs perfectly with many hearty Indian dishes.

This one-pot meal comes together with very little prep and can be on the table within an hour.

My husband likes to add some mashed potatoes with a little Frank's Red Hot on top, and he eats this up like nobody's business.

I prefer mine just as is. It's delicious!

Garam Masala Tofu & Lentils

Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 35 mins

Serves 4-5


1/2 block extra-firm tofu, pressed & sliced into 1" cubes*
1 yellow onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled & sliced into half moons
1 cup spinach, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp. ginger, grated
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Thai chili pepper, thinly sliced
1 cup red lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 tsp. safflower oil (or other high-heat oil)
1 Tbsp. garam masala (prepared blend or make your own)
1 cup low-salt vegetable stock
1.5 cups water

*To press tofu - remove from the package and slice tofu lengthwise, then place slices between two tea towels. Add heavy cans or bowls on top of tea towels and leave for around an hour. For even firmer tofu, freeze the slices after pressing, then thaw again before adding to a recipe.*


1. Heat a large, dry skillet over medium-high heat

2. Toast garam masala for one minute, stirring constantly

3. Add oil and tofu, stir to coat and cook for about five minutes or until tofu is lightly browned on all sides

4. Remove tofu from the skillet, add onion and cook for five minutes or until slightly translucent

5. Add hot pepper and garlic, cook for one minute, then add ginger and cook for another minute

6. Add lentils, carrot, water and stock; bring to a boil, then lower to medium-low heat

7. Toss in tofu and simmer for about 15 minutes

8. Add the spinach, stir and cook for an additional five minutes

This has to be one of the easiest dinner recipes I've ever made.

It's simple, quick and tasty, and the leftovers are fantastic.