Vegan Week, Day 4

Day 4: Breakfast

Fat free vegan apple banana muffins

I had been trying to make everything so far without turning on my oven, because it’s summer and I didn’t have air conditioning, and in a tiny studio apartment you’ll basically bake yourself to death using the oven. However, on Tuesday when the temperature outside hit 98 degrees and humid, and the temperature INSIDE my apartment hit 95 even with three fans going, I broke down and ran out to buy an AC. So now I can use the oven! Time to experiment with vegan muffins for breakfast. I chose an apple banana muffin recipe because the ingredients were super simple. Preheat the oven to 325 and lightly grease muffin pans. Combine 2 cups flour, 4 tsp baking powder, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1/2 tsp cinnamon and mix (I also added a dash of nutmeg and cloves). In a separate bowl, mash two ripe bananas and combine with 1 1/2 cups of apple juice and a diced apple. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix just until blended. Fill each muffin cup about 2/3 of the way and bake for about 35 minutes or until brown on top. They didn’t rise very much, but I think they were pretty good for being fat free AND vegan!

Day 4: Lunch

Tempeh "chicken" salad sandwich

You can’t go vegan without trying to cook with tempeh and seitan, so today I went for a tempeh recipe: Tempeh “chicken” salad. When I got to the store, I realized there are many different flavors of tempeh – soy, flax, garden veggie, three grain, wild rice, or smoky strips (fakin’ bacon). I chose three grain; it sounded like the best option to me for fake chicken salad. I followed this recipe but used a little cilantro instead of parsley, added more celery, and reduced the amount of vegenaise. Served with baby arugula on a whole wheat pita. It was good, but didn’t taste a thing like chicken. Also, I would leave out the pickle next time.

Day 4: Dinner
It’s Thursday night Brooklyn Bridge Park free movie night (Ghostbusters!) so tonight’s dinner was a picnic with a group of six friends. My contribution was homemade hummus and pita chips and “tabouleh boats,” a quick appertizer idea I got from my friend Erika (it’s just boat-shaped endive leaves filled with tabouleh – a middle eastern salad of bulgur, parsley, tomato, onion, mint, lemon, and olive oil). I’ve made hummus before, but I wanted to see if there was a recipe that didn’t require tahini. It’s annoying having leftover tahini around, because the only thing I can think to do with it is, well, make more hummus. So of course, Heidi Swanson to the rescue – she has a recipe that uses ground toasted walnuts instead of tahini. Put 3/4 cup toasted walnuts (just toast chopped walnuts in a pan for a few minutes until they start to get that toasty smell) in a food processor and pulse it a few times. Add two cups of cooked drained garbanzo beans, a clove of garlic (or more if you like – I do!), 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil and the juice of half a lemon. Process until smooth and then add about 1/2 cup of hot water slowly until the hummus is creamy. Add more lemon and salt to taste. Serve with pita chips (I baked whole wheat pita in the oven for 15 minutes at 350 with olive oil, salt, and pepper) or veggies. Garnish with paprika, some extra garbanzo beans, a drizzle of olive oil, pine nuts, or any combination of those. I do think I like the taste of tahini hummus better, but the walnut version was cool to try.

Tabouleh boats and homemade hummus with baked pita

Vegan Week, Day 3

Day 3: Breakfast

Blueberry banana almond milk smoothie

I needed something quick and easy today, as I was rushing to catch a train to the beach with my friend. I threw a banana, blueberries, and some almond milk with ice in a blender, and voila! Vegan smoothie. I’ve been wanting to recreate one of my favorite smoothies from a shop down the street – banana, almond milk, and spirulina, but I’ve been to three stores and can’t find spirulina powder anywhere. I’ll have to visit the health food store back in my old neighborhood, which has everything!
Day 3: Lunch

Panzanella salad

I wanted to throw together something simple, cool, and refreshing for the beach today. And every time I opened my fridge, that last chunk of farmer’s market sourdough (already used in Monday’s portobello sandwich and yesterday’s french toast) stared me in the face. It’s fairly stale by now, but I hate wasting things so I found a way to use it. Panzanella salad is popular in the summer in Florence and other parts of central Italy. It includes chunks of soaked stale bread and tomatoes, sometimes onions and basil, dressed with olive oil and vinegar. I’d seen a few recipes online, but I decided to just go with what was in my fridge. I chopped up the last of the bread into bite size pieces, and added chopped cucumber, sweet vidalia onion, vine tomatoes, a few kalamata olives, and a large handful of fresh basil. I dressed it with olive oil, a mixture of balsamic and red wine vinegar, minced garlic, and salt and pepper. My friend and I ate it at the beach with a pile of fresh mango, cherries, and grapes. Tastewise, the panzanella was good, but I think I should have toasted the bread first – it needed a little less stale and a little more crunch.
Day 3: Dinner

Spanish-Italian gazpacho

Dinner was lunch… in a blender. Ok, let me explain. I was saying earlier that all this cooking has been fun, but I have so many leftovers. My friend Molly (who is an amazing professional chef) suggested that I throw the panzanella salad into a food processor and add a few ingredients to make it gazpacho. So that’s exactly what I did. It occurred to me that it would be sort of an Italian flavored gazpacho, given the bread and basil, but I made it work. I dumped all the leftover panzanella in the Cuisinart and added one more tomato, some tomato juice, a scallion, two large handfuls of cilantro, two jalapenos I found in the bottom veggie drawer, a dash of cumin and worcestershire sauce, and the juice from half a lime. I ate my gazpacho with a nice slice of avocado and some of last night’s leftover soba noodles and summer rolls. Hey, while I’m mixing Italian and Spanish in one soup, I might as well throw in Asian on the side!

Vegan Week, Day 2

Day 2: Breakfast

Vegan french toast with peaches, bananas, and maple syrup

While I usually don’t cook a big breakfast except on weekends for brunch, you can’t have yogurt every day if you’re trying to experiment with new foods. I found several recipes for vegan french toast, but since I now have almond milk around, I decided to go with soaking whole wheat sourdough bread (same as the bread from yesterday’s portobello mushroom sandwich) in a simple mixture of almond milk, cinnamon, and nutmeg for about 15 minutes. I cooked it with a light spritz of canola oil, and topped it with peaches, bananas, and organic maple syrup. The nutty flavor of the almond milk works well with french toast, but you might need more oil than expected – I burned my pan a little! Almond milk does not react the same way as eggs in a pan, that’s for sure.
Day 2: Lunch

Avocado brown rice sushi

I’ve been reading The Story of Sushi by Trevor Corson , which I’ve found is torturous for me during Vegan Week, because after every chapter I just want to run out and have a few slices of sashimi. So for lunch today, I figured vegetable sushi was about as close as I was going to get to satisfy my cravings. Luckily the little Korean market across the street from me has about every Asian food product you can imagine, so I picked up some sheets of nori, some short grain Lundberg brown rice (my favorite) and an avocado. I cooked the rice with extra water to make it stickier, like sushi rice. When the rice was cooked and chilled, I mixed it with about 1/4 cup of rice vinegar and spread it evenly across the nori. I added slices of avocado, rolled and sliced it to the best of my ability, and ate the rolls with a dash of wasabi and a dipping sauce of soy and mirin. The rolls tasted delicious (I will definitely be doing this again, with more adventurous fillings when I have time), but the rolls fell apart a little when I dipped them. I have definitely not perfected my sushi chef skills yet.
Day 2: Dinner

Black Sesame Otsu

The ultimate challenge: cooking vegan food for my meat-eating (but veggie loving) boyfriend and his equally carnivorous best friend as they alternated between watching wilderness survival shows and “extreme” elimination game shows (not kidding). I went with veggie summer rolls with peanut dipping sauce, a recipe from, and a Heidi Swanson’s Black Sesame Otsu recipe. The summer rolls were fun to make and the peanut sauce was completely addictive. The soba noodles worried me at first, as the black sesame paste looked a little unusual but the dish was super tasty and a few drops of sriracha on top added a nice touch of heat. And the reaction from┬áthe meat-loving men? They devoured it! And I quote: “I can’t decide which one I like better.” Success!

Veggie summer rolls with spicy peanut dipping sauce

Vegan Week, Day 1

For the next seven days, I will do something I’ve never done before: eat like a vegan! I’m doing this for a few reasons. 1. If I’m going to be providing nutritional counseling in a few years, I want some first-hand experience under my belt. Not that I’m about to try to give myself diabetes so I can better understand what it’s like to eat in a way that manages it, but I think it would be helpful to know what it’s like to cook like a vegetarian or vegan, even briefly. 2. It’s summer, I have extra time on my hands, and I need something to challenge me to experiment with new recipes. And why vegan? Well, vegetarian’s just too easy for me. My diet isn’t very meat-heavy as it is, so it wouldn’t be a true challenge. So last night I opened my fridge, told my organic 1% milk, my feta cheese, and my free-range eggs to please not go bad, because I’d be back for them soon. And I headed off to the grocery store to equip myself for the next day.
Day 1: Breakfast
My go-to breakfast, especially on weekdays when I’m taking it to work, is greek yogurt with some variety of fruit and sometimes granola, wheat germ, oats, or cereal on top. So for my first morning I went for the vegan version: O’Soy vanilla yogurt with blueberries and sliced bananas, and an iced coffee with organic almond milk. I tried soy yogurt once a few years ago, when I lived with a lactose-intolerant roommate, and as far as I can remember I was not a fan. But Vegan Week is about experimentation, challenge, and giving things a second chance, so I was ready to try it again – although my expectations were not high for this breakfast.

O’Soy vanilla yogurt with blueberries & bananas

I also had a choice to make regarding milk for my coffee: soy, almond, or rice? Rice milk I thought would be too watery for coffee; I use 1% milk in my coffee, not whole or half and half, but I still like a hint of creaminess, and rice milk just doesn’t have it at all. I like soy milk, and the protein content is comparable to cow milk, but I used to be mildly allergic to it, and since I was already getting soy yogurt for breakfast, I figured I shouldn’t overdo it on the soy. Almond milk is lower in protein than soy, but it’s a great source of vitamins and minerals and I love the taste, so I went with Pacific organic unsweetened almond milk. The results? I was pleasantly surprised with the yogurt. It wasn’t the chalky gelatinous goo I remembered from years ago. It definitely didn’t taste like greek yogurt though, which is what I’m used to. It was very sweet and, to me, needed that tart element. I found some lime in the fridge and gave the yogurt a good squeeze of juice. Amazing! Now it tasted like key lime pie. I could eat this again. The almond milk formed a few strange lumps when it hit the coffee, and if I let it sit it would collect at the bottom, but it tasted fine. Not as creamy as 1% milk, but I like the subtle nutty flavor with the coffee.

Day 1: Lunch

Portobello mushroom burger

For lunch I made a grilled portobello mushroom “burger” with red peppers and arugula on farmer’s market whole wheat sourdough. I marinated the mushroom in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dried oregano and basil, whole grain mustard, and black pepper, and then grilled it in a cast iron grill pan for about 8 minutes on each side. I quickly realized an open-faced sandwich with a knife and fork was the way to go with this one, considering the size of the mushroom. After putting the portobello on top of lightly toasted bread and topping it with the peppers and arugula, I drizzled the rest of the balsamic marinade over it. It was great, although I couldn’t help thinking it would have been truly fantastic with some goat cheese… hmm, is there a vegan goat cheese substitute?

Day 1: Dinner
Now here’s the catch: I knew going into this that I had dinner plans with my friend tonight, and the place we always go is Momofuku. It almost made me start Vegan Week tomorrow, but I knew that would be cheating because the whole point is to live my “normal” life while eating like a vegan. This friend is pescatarian (vegetarian but eats fish) though, so when I go there with her it’s not like we’re sharing giant slabs of pork belly anyway. So I survived not putting pork broth on my ginger scallion noodles, and I assumed (like a very, very bad vegan) that the shiitake buns do not contain animal products. The hard part was resisting special appetizers like charred octopus with fennel, yogurt, and grapefruit, or the carrot-ginger/cheesecake soft serve ice cream! But I did it. At least sake is vegan.

Momofuku shiitake bun and ginger scallion noodles