Amazingly Healthy Festive Dessert

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December is typically a month of festive indulgence, but this year, why not make an amazingly healthy dessert that no one has to pass up? Nor will they want to! Start with a simple sugar-free tart shell, which can be baked or eaten raw by the way, and fill it with a creamy custard that has been sweetened using whole dates. There are no added refined sugars anywhere in this ensemble. Add a few of your favourite fresh fruits and you’ve got one heck of a festive dessert! Best of all, these tarts are so scrumptious that no one will even know they are eating healthy. I promise!

Both the shells and the filling can be prepared a few days ahead which is an even bigger reason to include them on your holiday menu. I love recipes that I can make ahead at this time of year because it means that I can spend less time in the kitchen and more time with family and friends on the big day!

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INGREDIENTS

For the Tart Shells 

This recipe makes enough to fill 8, 4 1/2-inch individual tartlet pans but the quantity of ingredients for both the crust and filling can easily be doubled to fill more tart pans to feed a larger crowd. Both the tart shells and the filling can be made ahead and refrigerated for a few days. The tart shells can also be frozen. (If you decide to freeze the shells or store them for a day or so in the refrigerator, keep them in their pans to maintain the shape and protect them from breakage. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight before filling). 

  • 1 cup pecans
  • 1 cup almonds
  • 1 cup dried coconut, shredded, raw and unsweetened
  • 8 Medjool dates, seeded, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. date syrup (homemade or store bought)
  • 2 tbsp. water
  • Seeds from a 4-inch vanilla bean, scraped
  • ¼ tsp. salt

Place nuts, coconut, salt, dates, water, date syrup and vanilla bean seeds in a food processor and process until quite fine and mixture is sticky. Divide between pans. use wet hands if you need to. At this point the tartlets can be refrigerated overnight but refrigerate for 30 minutes before baking, regardless.

Remove tart pans from refrigerator and poke a couple holes in the base with the tines of a fork to prevent the crusts form rising during baking. Bake the tartlets at 350°F for about 14-16 minutes or until crusts begin to darken around the edges and the base seems done. (In my oven, this is exactly 14 minutes). If your oven bakes a little unevenly or has hot spots, spin the baking sheet around halfway through total baking time. When done, remove from the oven and cool the shells in their pans on the baking sheet. Cover the shells in their pans with saran wrap and freeze or refrigerate. 

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For the Custard

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • ½ cup cashews or blanched almonds
  • 3 tbsp. cornstarch or arrowroot
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • Pinch salt
  • Selection of fresh fruits such as assorted berries, pomegranates, cherries, apricot, peach or peach slices, etc.
  • Pistachios or hazelnuts; roasted and coarsely chopped.

Process everything except the fruit and pistachios or hazelnuts (first 6 ingredients) in a high-powered blender until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened. This should only take a few minutes. Pour the thickened custard into a clean bowl and place saran wrap or sheet of parchment cut to size directly on the surface of the filling. Refrigerate until completely cool and set. 

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ASSEMBLY

When ready to serve, place one tart shell on each of 8 plates. (If you have made the custard ahead, you will need to whisk it again before using). Spoon or pipe some of the custard into each tart shell and decoratively arrange fruits and chopped nuts on top. Serve at once. (In the photos, the tarts are topped with fresh blackberries, a couple of satsuma orange wedges, pomegranate seeds and roasted chopped pistachios)

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Want in on a secret? This is a great “switch-up” dessert – just do away with the tart shells and layer the custard, fruits and nuts in a large wine glass and you’ve got a dessert parfait! 

It’s hard to believe that this year is almost over. I wish all of my readers the happiest of holidays and a big thank you for your support this year! I can’t wait to develop a fresh new batch of great, healthy recipes for you in 2017! 

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Souper Monday Vegetable Chowder

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Baby it’s cold outside!! It was souper-cold in Calgary last week and the forecast for this week is pretty darned cold too! Fortunately, my fridge is stocked with enough food for a couple more days because I really don’t feel like leaving the house to buy groceries! Here’s a really nourishing soup you can make with the vegetables you likely have on hand. This recipe is typical of the way I tend to cook these days. I simply check my fridge to see what needs to be used up and turn it onto a soup or some kind of sauté. I find this works well for me because I really don’t like wasting food and I do like one-pan meals!  

Dice as many or as few vegetables as you have, throw them all into a pot with water, a few staple spices and seasonings and voila! You don’t even need stock for this, although a nice vegetable stock would certainly nudge the flavour up a notch if you do use it. Either way, you’ll end up with a delicious and filling soup in short order! You aren’t limited to the list of ingredients below –  I constantly adapt the recipe to whatever is in my fridge on any particular day, which means that the chowder turns out different every time! Outside of the potatoes, which I would say are a must, feel free to add as many or as few of your own favourites instead. The potatoes help to thicken the soup and give it the creamy consistency of chowder.

No less tasty and satisfying than chowders containing cream or milk, this is a lusciously  thick soup – just healthier and lower in calories. And there’s nothing wrong with that, is there?

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Fresh herbs make this soup pop with flavour, so if you have them, don’t be afraid to use them. Fresh basil would be a nice addition if you have it, as would fresh a little fresh thyme. Dried spices will work too but I use fresh herbs in just about everything so I tend to  have a variety of different ones in my refrigerator at all times. Add the herbs right before serving to maximize the flavours and aromas.

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INGREDIENTS

  • 1½ cups diced potatoes
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 medium stalk celery, thinly sliced
  • 3 cups frozen corn
  • 1 cup chopped cauliflower
  • 1/3 cup fennel, thinly sliced or diced
  • ½ medium red pepper, diced
  • ½ small purple topped turnip, diced
  • ½ cup red onion, diced
  • ½ small leek, diced
  • 5-6 oil-free sundried tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 2 medium-large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. chilli powder
  • 1 tsp. blackstrap molasses (could substitute maple syrup)
  • 2 ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. chipotle chilli powder
  • ½ tsp. smoked paprika
  • ¼ cup each: fresh parsley, fresh dill, fresh cilantro
  • 6 cups water

DIRECTIONS

Bring everything except fresh parsley, dill and cilantro to a boil in a large pot. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 25-30 minutes. Remove about a cup of the mixture to a blender (vegetables and liquid) and puree. Return puree to the soup pot and stir to blend.

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Alternatively, you can use an immersion blender to puree a little of the soup right in the pot. This is my preferred method so that I don’t dirty another dish or tool. Admittedly, it is a bit harder to gage the amount of soup you are pureeing this way, but if you are careful and puree the soup in small increments, blending the puree into the rest of the soup in between each go with the immersion blender, you should be able to reach the “chowder” consistency without any trouble. Ultimately, you want a soup that is fairly thick but still contains plenty of the whole vegetables for texture and visual appeal.

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Adjust seasonings and salt, garnish with fresh herbs and serve.

Notes: This chowder is quite rich and creamy as it but you can whiten the colour and make it even more rich by adding pureed cashews. Simply blend 1/4 cup of cashews with 1/4 cup of water in a high-speed blender until completely smooth. Stir into the soup at the end of cooking.  

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Mixed Greens with Grapefruit, Beets, Roasted Pistachios and Sumac

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Brilliantly vibrant with colour and taste, this salad is as refreshing and nourishing as it is beautiful! You may have to purchase sumac from a Middle eastern grocer but it can often be found with other ethnic spices in the aisles of a big box grocer such as Superstore.

You can’t go wrong with this salad. Tossed in a delicate, oil-free vinaigrette (recipe below), and sprinkled with a nut-based Parmesan,  it is loaded with wonderful contrasting textures and bold flavours! It is sophisticated enough to impress the most demanding foodie you know and simple enough to be enjoyed on busy week nights with family. 

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This recipe was inspired by a salad I tried at Planta in Toronto a few weeks ago when I was there visiting family and friends. I knew I wanted to replicate something similar when I got home and this recipe is the result of my efforts, though there are a few differences. The salad at Planta was adorned with a few dried cranberries and a smidgeon of nut-based krema. My version omits the cranberries and is finished off with a dusting of almond-based grated Parmesan. Both salads are delicious! 

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INGREDIENTS

  • Selection of mixed greens, enough for 4 servings
  • 2 small-medium sized cooked beets, one red one golden*
  • 1 pink grapefruit
  • ¼ cup shelled pistachios, oven roasted
  • 1 tsp. sumac

DIRECTIONS

Wash and spin-dry the salad greens and place in a large bowl.

Remove the peel, seeds and pith from the grapefruit and slice the flesh into bite-size pieces.

Slice the beets, separately into bite-sized pieces.

Add the golden beet, grapefruit and 1/2 the sumac to the bowl with the salad leaves and toss with a little dressing.

In a separate bowl toss the red beet with a little of the dressing and carefully add to the salad. Toss the whole salad very gently – just once or twice, to distribute the red beets. Add the roasted pistachios and serve the salad at once, sprinkled with the grated AlmondParmesan. Sprinkle the remaining sumac on top of the salad and the perimeter of the plate for effect. 

Oil-free Vinaigrette

  • ½ cup water
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/8 cup (2 tbsp.) golden (sultana) raisins
  • 1 large clove of garlic, peeled
  • 2 teaspoons ground flax or Chia seeds*
  • 1 teaspoon chickpea miso paste* (or salt to taste)
  • Fresh basil, 2 or 3 large leaves

Combine all ingredients in a blender and process on high speed until emulsified. I used a VitaMix to get the dressing completely smooth. Pour dressing into a bottle and refrigerate. Dressing will thicken a little more on standing. Shake well before using. (You won’t need all of the dressing for this amount of salad so save the rest for other salads). 

*I buy Chickpea miso paste, whole flax seeds and chia seeds at my local health food store. Using a coffee grinder, I pulse flax seeds and chia seeds individually until they reach a powdery texture. Any extra ground seeds can be stored separately, in the refrigerator in tightly sealed containers if they can be used within a few weeks. (Alternatively, they can be frozen, as can the whole seeds,  until ready to use – this helps to prolong their freshness). 

This dressing can be made with different vinegars, such as balsamic, red or white wine, and it can be sweetened with currants or dark raisins instead of sultanas. Be aware though, that using darker coloured vinegars and raisins will result in a darker dressing. You can also increase or decrease the amount of raisins for a sweeter or less sweet vinaigrette and you can use different herbs, such as fresh dill, oregano or cilantro instead of basil. There are many ways you can play around with this basic recipe to make it your own. 

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Almond Parmesan

  • ¼ cup almond meal
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. lemon juice

Place everything in a small nut grinder and pulse a few times until the mixture is well blended. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Notes

*To cook the beets, preheat the oven to 350°F. Wash the beets and place them in an oven-proof dish, and bake them, covered for about an hour, or until cooked. Remove the dish from the oven and allow the beets to cool for a 5-10 minutes, still covered. When cool enough to handle, remove the skins from the beets, top and tail, and store separately. I wear nitrile gloves for this. The skins should slip off easily as long as you do this while they are still fairly hot. If they cool for too long, the skins will be more difficult to remove. The beets need to be stored separately or or the colour from the red beet will bleed into the golden beet.

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Tuscan Style Kale, Bean and Tomato Soup

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I love this soup! I could live on it – especially in the winter. Chalk full of beans, fresh vegetables and grains, this soup embodies the very essence of a rustic Italian zuppe! I love that it is hearty enough to be a meal on its own and that I can make the whole thing in about 30 minutes – if my beans are cooked.  

I used dark red kidney beans in this recipe but you can use Cannellini beans if you prefer. Cannellini beans are simply white kidney beans and are often the bean of choice in Italian dishes.  You could also use great northern or navy beans, chickpeas or a combination of various beans. There are no hard rules here! When I was preparing the recipe for this post, I had a small amount of chickpeas in my refrigerator left over from something else so I added them to the soup. I tend to do things like that where I can, in an effort not to waste food. 

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Buckwheat groats are essentially ready to eat after soaking overnight. You’ll notice in the photo below that soaking doesn’t significantly increase the size of the groats; they simple go from hard little triangular kernels to soft plump kernels that you can squeeze between your fingers quite easily. The soaking water becomes slightly gelatinous – just rinse the groats thoroughly and set them aside until you need them. Buckwheat groats are gluten-free. Despite their name, they contain no wheat, nor are they part of the wheat family. If you do not have a gluten-intolerance, you could substitute barley, bulgar, freekeh or even pasta for the buckwheat groats. However, note that the cooking times for those grains will likely be longer.  

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Nourishing and delicious, If you have a big enough pot, I suggest making a large quantity of this soup and reheating as needed. It will last for several days in the refrigerator which makes it a perfect recipe for our busy lives. 

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup dried kidney beans, soaked over night and cooked (or use 1 can, rinsed)
  • 1/3 cup buckwheat groats, soaked at least an hour, or overnight
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup cooked chickpeas (optional)
  • 3 – 4 cloves garlic, peeled (mince all but one clove)
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 large sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 bunch of dark green curly kale (you could also use Lacinata kale)
  • 1 tsp. pink Himalayan salt
  • 1/2 tsp. Herbs de Provence (use pinch of dried thyme if you don’t have it)
  • Handful of fresh basil, torn

Grated ‘Parmesan” Cheese

  • 1/4 cup almond meal
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

Combine everything in a small nut grinder or coffee grinder and pulse until crumbly and well blended. Be careful not to over process. This can be made several days ahead and stored in the refrigerator in a sealed container. 

DIRECTIONS

If you are using canned beans, skip past the next paragraph. Just rinse and drain the beans and set aside.

Soak the dried kidney beans and buckwheat separately in plenty of cold water overnight. Drain the soaked beans and place them with the bay leaf and one clove of garlic in a saucepan large enough to hold at least 3 or 4 times the volume of water. Fill the pot with 6-8 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the beans for 40-45 minutes. (Maintain a gentle, steady boil).  Add 1 teaspoon of salt to the water after 20 minutes or so. At 40 minutes, the beans should be almost done. If they seem a little  undercooked, give them another 5 minutes but you do not want to overcook them. I find that if the beans have been soaked overnight, 40 minutes of cooking is perfect. After 40 minutes, the beans will be soft but still have a bit of a bite to them. Removing the pot from the heat right at 40 minutes and allowing the beans to cool completely in the cooking water results perfectly cooked beans. Once the beans have cooled completely, you can strain the cooking water, reserving the bay leaf and the clove of garlic. Place the reserved bay leaf and cooked garlic clove in a large soup pot and mash the garlic clove. (If you haven’t been able to soak the beans overnight, they will take longer to cook – you’ll have to check them for doneness every now and again after the 40 minute mark).

To a large pot, add the vegetable stock, crushed tomatoes, chopped carrots, celery and onion, remaining minced garlic, cooked beans and thoroughly rinsed buckwheat groats. Bring everything to a boil. While the stock is heating up, prepare the kale. Separate the leaves from the stems and cut the stems into half-inch pieces. Coarsely tear the leaves. Add the stems to the soup pot. When the soup reaches a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Simmer gently for 15-20 minutes or until vegetables are just tender.  Add the kale leaves to the pot all at once and push them down with a wooden spoon to submerge them in the broth. Simmer the soup for about 5 minutes. Lastly, stir in the fresh basil. 

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The soup is now ready to eat. Slice or cut chunks of the most rustic bread you can find and lightly grill on both sides. There is a local bakery in my area that makes wonderful rustic sourdough breads and although they are not gluten free the flavour of the sourdough complements the broth extremely well. Place a piece/slice of grilled bread in the bottom of each soup bowl and ladle the soup around and over the bread. Sprinkle with the grated Parmesan cheese. Alternatively, ladle the soup into the bowls and place a slice of grilled bread on top, pushing it into the broth so that it is partially submerged. Sprinkle cheese over the bread and the broth and serve. I like serving this soup in shallow wide bowls for visual appeal.

 Serves 5 to 6 generously.

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Easy Two-Bean Chilli with Sweet Potatoes

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This chili is scrumptious! Chilli is the ultimate cold weather comfort food and this recipe  contains no meat, dairy, oil or sugar! Hearty and satisfying, this chilli is loaded with healthy vegetables –  sweet potatoes, black beans, kidney beans, tomatoes, and just the right amount of warming spices to pack in plenty of flavour. The whole thing can be prepared in one pot and if you use canned beans, or pre-cooked dried beans, your chilli will be ready in about an hour. No long simmering required here! Although, like many dishes of this type, they often taste flavour the next day!  

Try cooking dried beans in large batches ahead of time. You can portion them into ziplock bags and store them in your freezer until needed. Dried beans work out to be much cheaper than canned beans and it can save considerable time to have them cooked in advance. 

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One of the great things about this chilli is that it can be made 3-4 days ahead and stored in the refrigerator, or frozen for a month and eaten later.  Another great thing is that meat-eaters love this too!

Serve with a light green salad and any variety of gluten-free bread, corn tortilla chips, cornbread or a rustic sourdough. Top with vegan sour cream for a truly delightful finish! 

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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped 
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder 
  • 1 tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chile (see Note)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes
  • 1 cup water (start with 1 cup, only add more if necessary)
  • 1 15-oz. can black beans, thoroughly rinsed and 
  • 1 15-oz. can dark red kidney beans, thoroughly rinsed
  • 1 medium-large sweet potato, peeled and diced into 2-inch chunks
  • 1 tbsp. lime juice
  • large handful fresh cilantro, chopped 

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DIRECTIONS

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat and add chopped onions, stirring occasionally and adding a tablespoon or so of water to prevent scorching. As the onions cook, add a pinch of the salt to release the juices from them. Sometimes I cover the pot for a few minutes at this point just to allow the onions to sweat and soften in their own juices. Remove the lid and continue sautéing the onions, stirring occasionally until translucent and beginning to brown.

Add beans, minced garlic, chilli powder, cumin, chipotle and remaining salt. Stir to distribute the seasonings evenly. Then str in the tomatoes and their juices and the water.  Bring the chilli to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the tomatoes soften and begin to naturally break apart. Add chopped sweet potato. Bring the chilli back to a simmer, cover and cook until the sweet potato is tender, another 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the lime juice and adjust the seasoning. The mount of chilli called for in the recipe is adapted to the level of heat I like – feel free to increase the amount if you like  a bit more heat! 

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At this point the chilli can be refrigerated for 3-4 days or frozen for a month or so. Garnish  the chilli with vegan sour creamcoarsely chopped cilantro and avocado slices, if you have them, just before serving.

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This recipe makes 4 generous servings, and could easily feed more if served over rice or pasta.

Lentil and Grape Salad

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It’s World Vegan Month!  Did you know?

This delightfully yummy salad made with French green lentils is one that you can enjoy all year round. The essential flavour in it is mint. Lovely, fresh spearmint. Fresh spearmint is one of my 4 favourite  herbs. I consider it a staple and I plant it every spring (the other 3 staple herbs are basil, cilantro and flat-leaf parsley).  Spearmint tastes great and it smells fantastic – crumple the leaves in the palm of your hand to release the aroma and inhale – aaaaah! Pure heaven.  If you’ve never grown your own spearmint before you should. Just be sure to contain it as it grows like mad and will overtake your garden if you allow it! 

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Inspired by a similar recipe in the book  Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Ann Crile Esselstyn and Jane Esselstyn, this lentil salad is sweetness and lightness combined. The celery adds crunch and texture, and the the walnuts add an earthiness which pairs really well with the sweetness of the grapes to create perfect balance of flavours. 

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This salad is great served on its own or you can serve it on a bed of greens, such as spinach, mixed lettuces or arugula. I have also made this salad using sprouted green lentils to keep it ‘raw.’ I hesitate to label this as a completely raw salad though because balsamic vinegar is not raw. You could however, make this salad using all apple cider vinegar instead, which would make it raw.  Use any type of lentil you want except red lentils as red lentils do not hold their shape after cooking. You could also use beans or peas – try it with cooked white navy beans or fresh peas in the summer time. The recipe is made exactly the same regardless of the type of legume you use.  

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Raw Sprouted Green Lentils

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Lentil and Grape Salad using raw sprouted green French lentilsimg_9230

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups cooked or sprouted green lentils
  • 2 cups red seedless grapes, halved
  • 1 small celery stalk, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp. minced red onion
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4  cup chopped walnuts*
  • 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • Pinch salt 
  • Freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS

Cook the lentils in 3 times their volume of water for 15-20 minutes. Strain and rinse with cold water to cool them down and then dump them in a large bowl with the remaining ingredients. Toss everything together gently to blend the ingredients and flavours. 

If you are sprouting the lentils, follow the directions for sprouting your own lentils before proceeding with the rest of the recipe.

Cover and refrigerate the salad for up to 3 days. 

Yield: 4 generous servings

NOTES

*If you are making this salad ahead, place everything except the walnuts in a large bowl and toss. Add walnuts just before serving. 

Oatmeal Coconut Raisin Cookies

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Old fashioned oatmeal raisin cookies never seem to grab the same kind of attention that chocolate chip cookies do but I think they deserve a place on the blog. I admit, when I crave a cookie, oatmeal raisin isn’t my first choice but that’s because I gravitate towards anything and everything chocolate. I can’t help it – that’s just me! But everyone I know has a fond childhood memory of an aunt or a grandma making these cookies for them and  I just don’t see them disappearing from our consciousness any time soon!

Getting the texture of oatmeal raisin cookies right can be tricky. I have definitely had my fair share of oatmeal raisin cookies that were a little too heavy and/or dense and some that were too dry or too chewy. And some are simply too sweet. This recipe produces cookies are the complete opposite of all that. In spite of doing away with butter or shortening and refined sugars, we have created an oatmeal raisin cookie that is light, soft and slightly chewy and has just enough sweetness to let you know you’re eating a cookie! Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS

Dry

  • 1-cup gluten free flour – I used Bob’s Red Mill
  • 1 cup GF rolled oats, ground until crumbly – not to an oat flour
  • ½ cup unsweetened finely shredded coconut
  • ¼ cup buckwheat flour
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ½ chopped walnuts

Wet

  • 2 snack-size containers unsweetened applesauce
  • ½ cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

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DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350°F (176°C).

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Combine the wet ingredients in a smaller bowl and then add to the dry. Mix well with a fork.

Scoop about 2 tablespoons of cookie dough into balls and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Flatten each ball with a spatula. Wet the spatula between flattening each cookie, as the mixture will be sticky.

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Bake in the oven for about 14 minutes (you can bake them longer if you want a crunchier cookie, but I always find its best to undercook gluten free cookies). Allow cookies to cool on the tray for a minute and then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

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Yield: 2-dozen cookies

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Brown Rice Risotto with Mushrooms And Asparagus

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Risottos have never really been my thing. All that butter and cream is just too rich for my system these days and I feel full uncomfortable and lethargic after eating it, however small the portion. If I were going out to dinner, risotto would never be something I would choose from the menu. I don’t like cooking it either. I find the whole process of making risotto tedious and time-consuming, so, as you might guess, I am not usually all that excited about anything risotto related.  But when I accidentally stumbled upon a baked brown rice risotto recipe at Cookie and Kate and a vegan version of risotto at Forks Over Knives, I knew that I could simplify the method and come up with a healthier dairy-free, soy-free, gluten-free risotto for the thousands upon thousands of risotto lovers out there! I ended up making a convert of myself and I am so glad I did!

Gone is the cheese and butter but what remains is that creamy consistency that makes risotto the great love of so many of you!  Almost in spite of  my previous experiences with risotto, this version has become a fast family favourite. In this recipe I used mushrooms and asparagus to blend into the rice and I actually prepped a larger ratio of vegetables to rice than you typically see in risottos, but that’s the way I like it. You can certainly decrease the amount of vegetables called for if you prefer. You can also substitute different vegetables. This is sooo good! And, if I didn’t tell you that this risotto recipe was vegan, you most definitely wouldn’t guess! 

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Baking the rice is a great time-saver – it means you don’t have to stand by the stove and stir the entire time! You can bake any type of rice, but different rices require different baking times so adjust your baking times accordingly if you decide to use another type of rice. If you are using long-grain brown basmati rice, as I have here, the timing below should work without any alterations.  

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 ½ cups vegetable broth
  • ½ cup dry white wine**
  • ½ cup almond milk, unsweetened
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp. Dry Sherry**
  • 2 tsp. Naked Coconuts (optional)*
  • 1 cups organic brown basmati rice
  • 8 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 bunch fresh asparagus
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS

Soak rice in double the amount of water and a tsp. vinegar for 30 minutes. Rinse and strain.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Heat the vegetable stock and wine in an ovenproof saucepan until simmering. Keep on a very low simmer so that broth stays hot. (I make my own vegetable stock without salt, so use a low-salt or no-salt variety if your stock is store-bought).

Heat a medium non-stick pan over medium heat. Add rice and onion and stir to toast the rice for 2 minutes. Add a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 more minutes and then add the minced garlic. Cook, stirring for another minute until the garlic is fragrant. Add a ladle of stock to loosen the rice and onions from the pan and then transfer everything to the oven dish with the simmering stock. (I use my le Creuset).

Cover, and bring everything to a boil. Place the pot in the preheated oven and bake until rice is tender and cooked through and the liquid is completely absorbed, about 50-60 minutes. In my oven it takes exactly 60 minutes but I always check it at 50 minutes to be sure. It’s a safe-guard – I’d rather give it a few more minutes if it needs more time than have it burn.

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While the rice is cooking in the oven, prepare the asparagus and sauté the mushrooms.

For the mushrooms, place a non-stick pan over medium heat. Add a tablespoon of water and when it sizzles, add the sliced mushrooms. Stir for 5-6 minutes, adding a tablespoon of water as it evaporates to keep the mushrooms from sticking. Season with a little salt towards the end – adding salt helps to draw more moisture from the mushrooms. When mushrooms have browned and reduced in size, remove to a small bowl and set aside.

To prepare the asparagus, remove bottom third of the spears by snapping them off. Discard. Chop the remaining asparagus into 1-inch pieces. Blanch the asparagus in boing water until just tender and bright green (about a minute). Set aside with the mushrooms.

When the rice is fully cooked, remove the dish from the oven. Pour in the almond milk, lemon juice and dry sherry. Stir thoroughly for 2 to 3 minutes, until the rice is creamy. Stir in the mushrooms and asparagus.

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Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately. Leftovers keep well in the refrigerator, covered, for a few days.

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Yield: 3 to 4 servings

Notes

*Naked Coconuts is gluten and soy free seasoning that can be used in place of traditional soy sauce in recipes. However, it’s an optional ingredient.

**If you do not want any alcohol in the recipe, you could substitute stock for the wine or even the same amount of water cut with a few tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar. A good non-alcoholic substitute for sherry would be unfiltered apple cider. Removing the wine and sherry from the recipe won’t result the same depth of flavour, but the suggested substitutes will add sufficient acid and fruity enhancing notes to the risotto.

Sprouted Lentil Soup

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This sprouted lentil soup recipe was inspired by a similar one in ‘Raw Living: The Uncook Book’, by Juliano. It has become one of my favourite non-dairy cream-base soups. Apart from being delicious, I love that it can be eaten in its raw state or heated up, which satisfies my occasional raw-food whims. I almost always sprout my own lentils (scroll down for the method) but you can save time by picking up some lentil sprouts from your local grocery store. I think any type of sprouts or sprout-combo pack will work. You could also adapt the recipe and substitute chopped fresh asparagus spears or fresh or thawed frozen peas for the sprouts. 

If you decide to sprout your own lentils, you will want to start them 2 or 3 days before you  make the soup. 

Yield: 4 generous servings

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 ½ cups sprouted lentils, (recipe follows)
  • 600 ml (2½ -3 cups) nut milk (recipe follows)
  • 200 grams (or about 2/3 cup chopped fresh tomato)
  • ¼ cup chopped onion
  • ½ red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
  • 1 small avocado, or ½ a large avocado
  • 2 tbsp. fresh dill, reserve half for garnish
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled
  • ½ tsp. Celtic or pink Himalayan salt
  • 1 small red chili, sliced in thin rings, optional
  • Dash paprika

DIRECTIONS

Set half of the sprouted lentils aside and put the other half in a high-speed blender. Place the remaining ingredients except the chilli and reserved fresh dill (1 tablespoon) in the blender and puree. (Does not have to be completely smooth.) Divide the remaining sprouted lentils between 4 bowls and pour equal amounts of soup over each. Garnish with fresh dill and sliced chili or finely chopped red pepper.

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Nut Milk

  • 250 grams (1 cup) raw, unsalted cashews (or almonds)
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 750 ml water

Soak cashews in water for at least 4 hours. Rinse and drain. Place soaked nuts in a high-speed blender with enough water to cover (about 1 cup). Turn the blender on and blend until water and nuts have emulsified somewhat. Add 2 more cups water and blend until milk starts to look frothy, about a minute. Strain the nut mixture through a cheesecloth or nut milk bag into a clean pitcher. Use your hands to squeeze the pulp to release as much nut milk possible. Discard the pulp. 

Sprouted Lentils

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I like to use organic, regular green lentils, French lentils  or “lentilles du Puy” but any  lentils that hold their shape will work.  The photo above shows the lentils after 3-4 days of sprouting. You can see that the tails are at least an inch long or longer but that isn’t a necessity. They don’t need to be that long for this soup. When the lentil has softened enough for you to bite into it or dig you fingernail easily through the legume, they’re ready.  

  • 1/3 cup dry lentils
  • Water

Rinse lentils in cold filtered water until the water runs clear. Fill a clean bowl or jar with fresh water and soak the lentils for 8-16 hours. Then, strain the soaked lentils through a fine mesh sieve or double layer of cheesecloth. Cover with the cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band. Set the bowl or jar on the counter. Rinse and strain lentils twice a day for 24-72 hours or until lentils start sprouting little tails. When tail are ¼ – ½ -inch in length, lentils are ready to be eaten. Sprouted lentils should be refrigerated at this stage to slow the sprouting process.  

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Notes:

Nut Milk bags are available at health food stores but a double or triple layer of cheesecloth works just as well.

You do not need a Vita Mix to make the nut milk or for this soup recipe. The soup does not have to be completely smooth and I actually prefer it that way. I enjoy the colour and texture from small unprocessed bits of red pepper, tomato and dill. 

Incredible No-Cook Curry Sauce

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The VitaMix makes light work of sauces. All kinds. This sauce contains a number of hard vegetables, including raw yams and carrots, and it easily blends them to a silky smooth consistency. I adore my VitaMix and I cannot imagine being without it. Of all my small kitchen appliances, my VitaMix is the one that gets the most use. Really. I use it for everything – sauces and smoothies, nut milks and nut butters, mayonnaise, hummus, and many of the things you might normally make in a food processor. 

This recipe is a breeze in a VitaMix – it is my take on a fast and easy yellow curry sauce that pairs well with raw or cooked vegetables to make a delightful meal. It was created with busy people in mind. On hot summer days, I pour the sauce over a bunch of raw vegetables, carefully chopped into bite-sized pieces and eat that as an entirely raw meal on it’s own. A unique variation on a salad, if you will. In winter, I gently warm up the sauce, steam the vegetables (just long enough to soften them slightly) and serve them over a bowl of steaming cooked brown rice. It’s excellent both ways. 

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This is by no means an authentic Indian or Thai curry sauce. It is not spicy at all, although you could certainly add a bit of fresh chilli if you wanted. The colour of the sauce is dazzling, is it not? I blended the ingredients to a velvety smooth texture but you can make the texture as smooth or chunky as you like by adjusting the length of time you blend the ingredients. Either way your sauce will be ready to eat in minutes! 

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A delicate blend of spices completely packs this sauce with flavour. One of my personal favourite spices is cardamom. I love, love, love cardamom! Cardamom imparts a bit of sweetness in this recipe and creates a blissfully fresh and fragrant aroma. 

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To make this dish, start by making the sauce. Then chop your veggies and stir them together. This dish keeps well for up to 3 days in the fridge, covered.

SAUCE INGREDIENTS

  • 2 medium Roma tomatoes
  • 1 medium orange-flesh yam, peeled (about 1 ½ cups chopped)
  • 1 small carrot
  • ½ soft, ripe avocado, pit removed
  • ¼ small red onion
  • 1 large clove garlic, peeled
  • ¼ tsp. cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. cardamom seeds, scrape seeds from 2 pods
  • ¼ tsp. chili flakes/powder
  • ¼ tsp. coriander seeds
  • ¼ tsp. paprika
  • ¼ tsp. pink Himalayan salt
  • 3/4 cup water

DIRECTIONS

Coarsely chop all of the vegetables and add to blender with the 1/2 cup of water. Puree to the desired consistency. If necessary, add more water to keep the mixture moving.

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TO MAKE THE MEAL 

  • 1 ½ cups diced or sliced zucchini
  • 1 cup broccoli, stems too
  • ½ yellow bell pepper
  • ½ red pepper
  • ½ cup frozen corn, thawed
  • ½ cup frozen peas, thawed
  • ½ stalk celery, finely sliced on the diagonal
  • 1 Roma tomato
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro
  • ¼ cup fresh flat leaf parsley
  • Optional steamed vegetables to add: 1 cup chopped cauliflower; 1/2 cup fresh peas or green beans

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DIRECTIONS: 

Coarsely chop the vegetables and set aside in a large bowl until your sauce is blended. Use my list of vegetables as a guideline, substituting your favourites as you like. I am particularly fond of lightly steamed cauliflower and red/yellow bell peppers. 

Pour sauce over prepared chopped vegetables and eat straight away. Alternatively, gently warm the sauce and vegetables over a low heat and serve with cooked brown rice.

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Notes:

The comments I made about VitaMix in this post are my own. I am not paid to advertise for VitaMix, nor am I  affiliated with VitaMix or any of the other manufacturers of the brands or products I mention on this blog.