Monday, October 17, 2011

Why Vegan?

If I only had a nickel every time someone asked me "Why Vegan?"  In 4 minutes this video says in photos and just a few words, what would probably take me more than 1000 words to try to explain. The video was put together by Evolve Campaigns. Thanks to my brother Michael for e-mailing me the link.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Autumn "Locavore"

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a locavore is someone who eats food grown locally whenever possible.

I was getting a little depressed by the coming of autumn as I would have to say good-bye to fresh locally grown peaches, watermelon, cherries, apricots, etc., but it was all for naught as nature's bounty didn't fail to to impress when I went food shopping this morning at my local farmer's market. The photo above is the produce I bought. This food should feed my husband and I for the next week. There was so much to choose from that is not included here. There were at least 5 varieties of apples available. Most of this food was grown within 5-10 miles of my home in northeast Pennsylvania. Shown here is Swiss chard, Buttercup squash, baby Italian eggplant, cucumbers, Concord grapes, raspberries, Italian chestnuts, Honeycrisp apples, bosc pears, prunes, Asian pears, cauliflower, hot cherry peppers, and tomatoes. The cost for the above produce was approximately $30. The grapes and raspberries were the most expensive items totaling about $10.

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven,
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted"
From "Turn, Turn, Turn" by Pete Seeger 
Vegan Kitty? No, not yet.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Vegan Roman Holiday

Pappardelle con  PorciniPachino

It's been a while since my last post, as I've been quite busy with work, but I did go to Rome and Sicily with my mother in May and I'm happy to report that veganism is quite easy and tasty in Italy. It was the first time I had been to Rome with my mother. Our family immigrated to the United States from Italy in the early 1970s and I visited Rome about 20 years ago, but my mother had never been there before. I'm glad I got to spend Mother's Day back in Italy with my mother. 

We stayed in the heart of Rome and we were surrounded by many restaurants geared to tourists (lots of pizza, although pizza is a Neapolitan specialty, not Roman). Eventually we found a more traditional Roman restaurant close to the Pantheon aptly named "Antica Trattoria da Pietro al Pantheon." Many restaurants along the street had baskets of fresh produce from the Roman countryside out front. This one had huge porcini mushrooms, artichokes, asparagus, puntarelle (chicory sprouts), wild berries, quail eggs and goose eggs on display. I had never seen fresh porcini mushrooms before and I was shocked to learn that they were so big -  7-9 inches tall! In the US I've only been able to find dried porcini mushrooms. 

Spring signals the start of a vegetable lovers paradise in Italy. Italians love their vegetables and the Romans are no exception. I was impressed with their thorn-less Roman artichokes.  Every part of the Roman artichoke can be eaten as it has no thorns and no prickly center "choke." This trattoria's Carciofi alla Giudia (Jewish style artichokes) were to die for! The whole artichoke (no trimming, no batter, no breading) was deep fried and simply seasoned with lemon juice and mint. Our waitress, Sara, instructed us to just tear the leaves off and eat them as if they were potato chips. We were shocked by how tender and crispy the outer whole leaves were. If you've ever prepared artichokes you know that you cannot eat the tips of the outer leaves since they are thorny and tough. My mother and I were equally impressed with their presentation, too - they were flattened so that they resembled sunflowers. We ate every bit of these artichokes - stems and all.

Carciofi alla Giudia

For my main course I had the "pappardelle con porcini e pachino" Pappardelle are a wide- ribboned pasta (not gluten-free at this restaurant) and "pachino" are small, round Sicilian tomatoes. Of course it was delicious! You can see a photo at the top of the page. Sara told us that all the pastas at this trattoria are made fresh every morning by Stefano's mother. Stefano is the gracious and multilingual gentleman that runs the restaurant. Most pastas, just in case you don't know, are vegan - just flour and water. Below is a little display of the pastas that were available the day we dined there.

Display of pastas made by Stefano's mother. The gnocchi here are
vegan as they are made of flour and potatoes. Some gnocchi,
especially in Northern Italy are made with eggs and milk.
 The stuffed pastas (tortellini, ravioli) are usually not vegan.

 Fresh Roman artichokes, lettuce, and asparagus. Note that the artichokes
 are purple and thorn-less.

Porcini mushrooms - first time I had ever seen them fresh.

Antica Trattoria da Pietro al Pantheon is not a vegan or vegetarian restaurant per se, but they do offer many traditional, typical, plant-based Roman dishes. So all you have to do in most cases is ask them to hold the grated cheese or anchovy paste in order to make them vegan. They have great pastas and seasonal vegetables. Rome is known for it's puntarelle (chicory sprouts) during this time of the year. My mother, who is not a vegan, had the puntarelle salad with a hint of anchovy paste. For her main course she had the gnocchi with asparagus, truffles, truffle oil and a grated cheese (probably a Romano cheese). I found that most Italians are quite knowledgeable about what's in their food, especially the waitstaff at restaurants, and they can easily modify whatever you are ordering or make suggestions. Of course it also helps if you speak Italian, as my mother and I do. But it appears that most waitstaff speaks some English.

Puntarelle salad. The puntarelle, which literally means "the little tips,"
tastes a bit like Belgain endive.

The address for Antica Trattoria da Pietro al Pantheon is Via dei Pastini, 131, Roma, Italy ( need to verify this address)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sicilian Style Vegan Broccoli Rappi

Broccoli Rappi has gotten quite popular in the past 15 years in the United States. Before that it was relegated to the side dish section of the menu at Italian restaurants. Most of the time it's prepared by simply sauteing in garlic and oil. When I was growing up in Sicily, broccoli rappi was not cultivated there, that is because its wild cousin,  cavuliscieddiflourished (and still flourishes) throughout the countryside with minimal help from man. Cavuliscieddi literally means "little cabbages" in Sicilian.  I imagine this is because it has a pungent and bitter taste similar to that of cabbage.  Cavuliscieddi is actually more bitter and tastier than broccoli rappi, but it is unavailable in the US as far I know unless you smuggle some seeds out of Sicily and plant them in your yard. So broccoli rappi is the next best thing to cavuliscieddi in the states. One of my favorite ways to prepare broccoli rappi is with a little anchovy, but since I became vegan I had to come up with another way to get the same great taste. I replaced the anchovy with dulse (a sea vegetable) and a nutritional yeast sauce. I have to admit this came out pretty good. I almost want to say it's better than with anchovy! If you're going to serve with pasta, cut up broccoli  rappi into 1-1/2" pieces (as instructed below). If you're going to eat as a main dish or side dish you can leave it full length or just cut in half after trimming.

1 lb bunch of broccoli rappi, washed, trimmed and cut into 1-1/2 pieces
10 ounces peeled canned tomatoes, chopped
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dulse flakes
hot pepper flakes to taste
sea salt and pepper to taste

nutritional yeast sauce
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
2/3 cup water

I like to use a large stir fry pan or wok for preparing veggies like broccoli rappi as these pans are quite large and their shape really focuses the heat, so that you can cover them with a lid after sauteing and allow the tougher stems to cook through. Otherwise you may have to pre-cook the broccoli rappi prior to sauteing if the stems are particularly thick or tough. Start out by making the nutritional yeast sauce in a small frying pan. Mix nutritional yeast and water and heat through on low heat. The sauce will thicken and take on the consistency of a cheese sauce.  Meanwhile heat olive oil in a stir fry or saute pan and add garlic. Brown garlic, add broccoli rappi and quickly toss to coat with oil on high heat. After about 3 minutes the broccoli rappi should be crisp tender and you can add the tomatoes. Heat on medium flame for about 5 minutes, covering if necessary to cook through the stems. Add dulse flakes, and the hot and black peppers to taste. You may not need to add sea salt since the dulse flakes provide a salty taste (without the high sodium). Turn off heat and mix in the nutritional yeast sauce. Toss with pasta, like penne, or serve as main or side dish.

I mentioned the whole cavuliscieddi story above to show that we forget how people really ate in the "old country." I honestly thought we ate broccoli rappi in Sicily, but my mother reminded me that it was in fact cavuliscieddi. We equate foods like meatballs, veal and chicken parmigiana, prosciutto, sausage, pizza etc. with being Italian (and they are!), but up until recently these foods were sparingly consumed by Italians living in Italy. The Italian diet was plant-based relying on vegetables, fruit, legumes and semolina wheat (and polenta and rice if you were from the north). I once asked my dad how much red meat he consumed when he was growing up in Sicily (he is now in his late 60s) and he said they only had it for special occasions, perhaps three times a year.

BTW - my husband cleaned his plate and went back for seconds when I made this the other night. He would have had more if I made more.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Chocolate Quinoa Cereal

One of my favorite homemade hot breakfast cereals. I usually make this with leftover quinoa or brown rice. A very nutritious alternative to junky, commercially produced cereals. High in iron, protein, essential omega-3 fatty acids and a bit decadent from the dark chocolate. The brown rice version almost tastes like chocolate rice pudding. And obviously, both versions of this cereal are gluten free.

1 cup cooked quinoa or brown rice
1/2-3/4 cup homemade hemp milk* (you can use store bought hemp milk or your favorite
    non-dairy beverage)
1 tablespoon 100% cacao powder (i.e unsweetened cocoa powder)
1/2 banana sliced
1 large date chopped
1 tablespoon chopped almonds
1 tablespoon ground flax seed
1/4 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
optional 1 teaspoon agave nectar or other sweetener

In small sauce pan mix the cacao powder with two tablespoons of  hemp milk until chocolate mixture is smooth. Add remaining 1/2 cup hemp milk and stir over heat until warm (not boiling). Add remaining ingredients and mix and heat through. Add more hemp milk if you like your cereal thinner. I find that this cereal is sweet enough with the date and banana and usually don't add agave nectar. If you aren't adding the banana or date you will need to add the sweetener- unless you like the taste of unsweetened chocolate (and I kinda do!). Sometimes I don't heat the chocolate mixture and I have the cereal cold. The only drawback is that the chocolate powder will be lumpy.

makes 1 large serving

The other day my husband asked me if I was having Cocoa Puffs when I was eating this - almost, since I am cuckoo for cacao powder!

* recipe for homemade hemp milk (which is more nutritious than store bought hemp milk)
3/4 cup shelled hemp seeds
3-1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon agave nectar

Mix all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Store in refrigerator for up to a week. I usually store it in a mason jar.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sicilian Bean and Swiss Chard with Pasta

Growing up in Sicily in the early 1970s this was one of my favorite dishes. Lovingly made by my mom and grandmother, I remember asking for seconds and thirds of this particular dish, stuffing my little 5 year old body to the gunnels. The Swiss chard adds texture and makes this dish, which would otherwise be pasta fagioli,  a bit sweeter. It may seem odd to Americans that a child's favorite dish involved vegetables, but  I think food preferences really are based on what one is brought up eating - that and Sicilians really know what they're doing when it comes to preparing vegetables!

1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil.
20 oz canned tomatoes chopped (include juice)
1- 15 oz can cannellini (white kidney beans), rinsed and drained
1 lb bunch Swiss chard, washed, trimmed and cut into 1-1/2" pieces (I used red Swiss
    chard here)
1/2lb to 3/4 lb multi grain gluten free penne (I used Schar Gluten-Free pasta.  I
    recommend De Cecco or Barilla pasta if you don't have a wheat gluten allergy)
dried oregano to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in large saute pan. Add garlic, onion, carrot and celery and cook until soft. Add tomatoes and cook about 15 minutes. Add beans and cook until heated through for about 5 minutes. Add oregano, salt and pepper to taste. While sauce is cooking prepare pasta according to package directions (make sure you cook the pasta in the amount of water specified or the pasta will come out sticky if you don't use enough water). During the last three minutes of pasta cooking time add the Swiss chard to the pasta and cook until the Swiss chard is tender. Drain pasta and Swiss chard reserving about one cup of the cooking liquid. Toss the pasta with the swiss chard, sauce and the reserved cooking liquid.

Makes 2-4 servings.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Real Food Pyramid

How I try to eat everyday minus the meat, chicken, fish, dairy, eggs....(click image to enlarge - learn more at

Monday, March 28, 2011

Community Supported Agriculture

The background image for this blog is a photo I took of produce delivered to our home one day late last summer. My husband's nephew Jonathan is an organic farmer and we bought a share in his CSA  (Community Supported Agriculture) last year. All summer long we received weekly deliveries of fabulous produce grown less than 7 miles away from our home. I can't wait for the new season! 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Vegan Pancakes (GF)

I love making pancakes on a Saturday morning and these gluten-free chocolate chocolate-chip pancakes hit the spot when you got the jones for something rich and chocolaty after you've been eating healthfully all week long. I always test my recipes on my unapologetic carnivore husband to see if they pass muster. I mean "unapologetic" in the best sense of the word since he has Celiac Disease and he is quite limited in what he can eat in the standard, readily available American diet. A lot of times when we eat out all he can eat are the animal products since almost everything thing else is laced with some form of wheat product. Anyway, enough about him, since this is a blog about veganism and lately I feel like he's eating more meat products around me as if  to rebel against my dietary changes.

I based this on a recipe I got from Isa Chandra Moscowitz's book, Vegan Brunch, which I highly recommend but I thought her recipe was not healthy or tasty enough. So I've modified this over the past two months to present you with this delicious gooey melt-in your mouth chocolaty recipe. I'm sure people can debate why I think this is more healthy. I took out the flax seed, soy milk, quinoa, maple syrup, canola oil and substituted coconut oil, almond milk and agave nectar, and I added the cocoa powder and chocolate chips. I eat plenty of  frigging flax seed and quinoa during the week so I think I can splurge one day out the week on CHOCOLATE CHIPS! (And by the way, cocoa powder has protein). This recipe uses four flours that you probably won't have around the house unless you keep a gluten free kitchen. You can feel free to just use all buckwheat flour, but make sure to use the tapioca flour (or cornstarch or arrowroot)  or you won't get a creamy starchy taste. These pancakes will also have a slight German chocolate cake taste to them because of the coconut oil.

1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/4 cup sorghum flour
1/4 cup white rice flour
2 tablespoons tapioca flour (or cornstarch or arrowroot)
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cocoa powder (100% cacao like Scharfen Berger)*
1/2 cup almond milk (or rice, soy or hemp mik)
1/2 -3/4 cup of water
1 tablespoon agave nectar
2 tablespoons coconut oil ( melted since it's usually a solid at room temperature)
1/2 cup milk free chocolate chips ( I used Sunspire Fair Trade Organic 42% Cacao Chips)*
Cooking spray ( I use grapeseed oil)

* FYI both of these products are manufactured on equipment that also processes milk - so they may contain traces of milk.

Mix the flours, baking powder and cocoa in a bowl. Melt the coconut oil and have it cool slightly. Add the melted coconut oil, water, almond milk and agave nectar. Mix with a metal spoon until well blended. Gently stir in the chocolate chips. If you melt the coconut oil in the same large frying pan that you will cook the pancakes in (like I do) you will probably not need to use the cooking spray for the first couple of pancakes. But the cooking spray is a little easier to work with than the coconut oil so you might want to wipe the coconut oil out with a paper towel when the pan is cool if you're new to pancake making or are having problems with stickiness. When the pan is hot drop 1/4-1/2 cup fulls of batter into frying pan. I get approximately eight, 3" diameter pancakes. Serve with fresh fruit and maple syrup or agave nectar.

And I really dig fresh fruit. In the photo at the top of my post I used starfruit, blueberries, strawberries and banana. Stuff I usually had on hand even before I went vegan.

I hope Isa Chandra Moskowitz doesn't sue me for not getting permission to base my recipe on hers (not sure if  that's really an issue). I recently noticed that she has a book called Veganomicon and it almost looks like I ripped her off some more since my blogger name is veganomica. She seems like a nice person and she probably won't sue me. It's not like I'm making money off of this blog.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

"Meaty" Vegan Tacos

I call these tacos "meaty" since this is how my husband, a committed carnivore, described them. After a hectic day of running around I wanted something quick, easy and satisfying for dinner. These took just under a half-hour to prepare and cook. The "meaty" taste comes from the rich textures and the strong "umami" (savory) taste of the caramelized sweet red peppers and smoked jalapenos (chipotles).  Using chipotles in adobo sauce cuts down on prep time since they pack a lot of flavor and you don't need to use other spices or cook the taco fillings long in order for the flavors to intensify.

2 sweet red peppers - sliced thin
1 small red onion- sliced
1 can 15.5 oz black beans - rinsed, drained
2 chipotles in adobo sauce* (you can use more if you're feeling adventurous),
      chopped, divided
2 cloves garlic - minced, divided
3-4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 avocado, peeled, chopped
5 or 6  6" corn tortillas  (you can use regular flour tortillas, but I use corn
        tortillas since my husband has Celiac Disease)
salt and pepper to taste

Makes two servings of 2-3 tacos each.

optional: lime juice, chopped cilantro, fresh tomato salsa (all tasty if you have them on hand, but not necessary)
* You can usually find chipotles in adobo sauce in the Mexican or Latin food section of the supermarket.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in frying pan. Add onion and sweet red pepper. Saute until soft and lightly browned (caramelized) about 15 minutes.  Add 1 minced garlic clove and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add 1 chopped chipotle pepper. Stir and cook about 2-3 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

While peppers are caramelizing, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in separate sauce pan, add 1 clove minced garlic and cook until lightly browned. Add black beans and 1 chopped chipotle. Cook until heated through for about 3-4 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Warm up tortillas. Spoon beans onto tortillas, then add the sweet bell pepper mixture and top with chopped avocado. Add a squeeze of lime juice and you're done!

You can make these "your own". In the past I've made them with leftover lentil chili, black eyed peas, chopped green onion, guacamole, caramelized mushrooms and carrot, etc. You don't have to go crazy looking for items. Choose items that look fresh at your local supermarket. You can use tempeh or tofu, but I try not to rely on soy products too much.  It's good to stock the pantry with items like the chipotles in adobo sauce. They give you instant South of the Border flavor with minimal effort. Also, in order to get a nice "umami" taste from your caramelized veggies, make sure you use a large frying pan and don't crowd or cover  the veggies, otherwise they will be steamed veggies and won't taste very savory.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Vegetable Pakoras (Indian Vegetable Fritters)

So this is my first blog about my new vegan "lifestyle" and I was trying to think of something to write about. So many things were going through my head like - why not write about why I went vegan?, or why I've been a vegan for 4 months and have tried to hide it from my parents?, or the trials and tribulations of veganism which include feeling like an outcast when eating out with friends. But instead I decided to start with what it's really all about and what I love - FOOD!

One of my favorite appetizers in Indian restaurants is vegetable pakoras. It's a fritter made with garbanzo bean flour batter and vegetables like peas, cauliflower, potato and onion. I decided to make a garbanzo bean-based batter because my husband has Celiac Disease and can't have most batters since they are wheat flour-based. You can imagine what it's like when me and my husband eat out - the typical American diet is thrown out the window when you're not eating wheat products, milk, eggs, beef, chicken and fish. (My husband's not a vegan and I think he felt I had somehow betrayed him when I told him about my dietary changes - but, more on that in later posts). Generally I've found it's easier and tastier to eat at ethnic restaurants (Indian, Thai, Italian - not sure if Italian is still considered ethnic) when trying to eat vegan. Even though my husband loves Indian and Asian food he's afraid to venture out from things that haven't made him sick in the past, so he'll order the same things all the time in order to play it safe. One would think he could just ask the wait staff at these ethnic restaurants if there's wheat in the food, but most of the time the wait staff speaks broken English and there's no guarantee that there won't be cross-contamination from other wheat containing food in the kitchen. When I looked up pakoras recipes on the internet, most had a garbanzo bean flour base, but many had some all-purpose flour in the  recipe (yes! all-purpose flour is made from wheat - it may seem odd that I'm pointing this out, but many people don't seem to know this). At this point it may appear strange that this is a post about veganism, yet I'm focusing on Celiac Disease. Well, I do most of the cooking in the household, and I think my husband married me for my cooking, so I keep him in mind when cooking. (There was something in our wedding vows about in sickness and in health and veganism and Celiac Disease fall somewhere in there - Celiac Disease is definitely a sickness, I'm not sure about veganism).

 I had a hard time finding a pakoras recipe on the internet that made sense (bad English, wrong quantities, no instructions- I think India doesn't want to give away it's cooking trade secrets, can't blame them, I guess) or it seemed nothing like what I had at one of my favorite restaurants. Many of the places I usually search for recipes like were unhelpful. Following is what I cobbled together from the various recipes, based on what I wanted it to look and taste like from what I had had at my favorite Indian restaurant.

2-1/2  cups garbanzo bean flour (I used Bob's Red Mill brand)
1-1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon ground cumin seed
1 teaspoon Indian chili powder (or more to taste - you can also use cayenne or
         whatever hot pepper you have on hand)
salt to taste
1 medium potato about 4" long- boiled - cubed -1/4"
1 medium onion chopped (about 1-1/2 cups)
2 lbs cauliflower - cut into about 3/4" florets.
1 cup chopped spinach - I used frozen spinach leaves

frying oil - like canola (I used peanut oil since that's what I had on hand)

Mix first 6 ingredients in a bowl. I mixed in a blender for a few minutes to whip in some air and let sit for about 1/2 hour. I made it about the consistency of a thin pancake batter - adjust the amount of water if you need to or add more garbanzo bean flour).

Mix the remaining 4 ingredients in a bowl gently and add the batter and mix. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary (i.e add more cumin, salt or hot pepper to taste).

Put 1-1/2" of oil in a frying pan and heat until lightly smoking. Gently drop the batter into the oil by the tablespoon. The batter should just spread out a little (like thin cookie dough batter). If the mix is too thick you can add more water, too thin add more garbanzo bean flour. Fry until golden on bottom and flip over to cook on other side. Drain on paper towels. Makes about 30 pakoras (I'm not sure what the plural form of pakoras is).

Even though pakoras are an appetizer, they are quite filling and I served them as a main dish with jasmine rice and a mixed green salad. For dipping sauces I made coriander chutney and opened up a jar of store bought mango chutney. We had a Pinot Grigio with it, but the brand we had did not hold-up too well to the intense flavor. A sweeter, more food friendly Pinot Grigio would have been better, but I'm sure a Gewurztraminer  Reserve would have been best.