Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Cheesy Onion Quesadillas, Mexican Rice, Spicy Black Beans and Tacos

Yes, I said it. Ooey, gooey, yummy cheese! But, wait.  Isn't this supposed to be vegan?  Isn't vegan food just carrot sticks and lettuce? Well, can you give me a "Hell No!!"
Vegan food is amazing and the options are as varied as any other cuisine.  Therefore, let me take you on a tour of two of my favorite Mexican dishes.

First, we have the Quesadilla.  There are, of course, a million different ways to cook a tortilla and I love me some beans and rice to go on the side of this puppy.  I know that time is always in shortage so, if you don't have time, buy premade corn tortillas.  I suggest buying organic and natural.  If you do have time, then check out my recipe for making tortillas from scratch (easier than you think!).

Cheesy Onion Quesadilla, Mexican Rice and Spicy Beans

For the Quesadilla filling:

1/2 white onion (sliced)
2 cloves garlic (minced)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 ear corn
1 cup cheese (make sure that your vegan cheese is casein free)

Boil water enough to submerge the ear of corn.  Cook the corn until tender then use a knife to scrape the kernels from the cob.  In a pan heat olive oil over medium high heat, add onions and saute for 5 minutes.  Lower the heat to medium, add garlic, corn and chili powder.  Saute for an additional 5 minutes.  In the meantime, in a frying pan heat a small amount of olive oil on low heat.  Place you tortilla's in the pan for a few minutes on each side.  Add the filling and the cheese and fold over your tortilla.  Leave on heat until your cheese is melted.

Mexican Rice
1 cup organic brown rice
2 cloves garlic (minced)
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 cup of tomato juice (sodium free)
1/4 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup corn (use frozen corn or use some corn from the cob in the above recipe)
1/4 cup chopped carrot

Cook your rice according to the instructions on the package.  For me, a fail safe is to bring two cups of water to a boil.  Add once cup of rice, cover and reduce heat to simmer.  Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the rice is soft.  In the meantime, in a saucepan, saute the garlic and carrot over medium heat for ten minutes.  Keep a careful eye on your garlic, if it starts to brown, reduce your heat.  Add the peas and corn and saute for an addition two minutes.  Then add your tomato juice and spices.  Stir.  Carefully, spoon in your rice and mix in until the tomato juice is absorbed.

Spicy Black Beans

Don't get me wrong, I love easy premade black beans but I hate that they come in a can.  There have been countless arguments over raw versus living foods and food from a can is not living.  Therefore, I recommend that you make your beans from scratch.  To do this, take your dry beans and soak them overnight.  In the morning, rinse you beans and put them in a slow cooker.  Cover adequately with water and cook for four hours on high heat.  Add 2 bunches (that's right, two bunches) of roughly chopped garlic, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 tablespoon pepper and two chopped peppers. Stir in your spices and cook until soft, stirring occasionally.  This will usually be an additional two to three hours.  Then your beans will be ready, homemade, (free of aluminum deposits), fresh and delicious!!! Plus, your house will smell amazing.  At this point, you can pour yourself a margarita and continue.

Take you beans with their liquid and transfer to a glass bowl.  To them, add a finely chopped jalapeno pepper, salt to taste and fresh cilantro.  If you like, garnish with a small amount of vegan cheese.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

My Love Affair With Peanut Butter

Ah, the creamy deliciousness that is peanut butter.  I love the satisfying and indulgent flavor of peanut butter along with its versatility.  From the heavenly combination of peanut butter and chocolate, to my all time favorite peanut butter cookies and peanut thai salad, this stuff goes with many different dishes.  Plus, it's full of protein and really fixes my cravings. Today's dish is inspired by pad thai, which I love, but it's a raw pasta salad version.  Here you go:

Peanut Dressing Recipe

1/2 cup no salt added peanut butter (creamy works best)
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce or Braggs Amino Acids
1 tbsp raw organic agave nectar
4 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cayenne powder
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 cloves of garlic, minced finely

whisk all ingredients together in a bowl.  I like my peanut dressing to be spicy so I add chopped jalapeno pepper if I have it on hand.  For the salad itself, this is a raw dish so the vegetables will be a mock pasta.

1 zucchini, julienne cut
5 cups of julienne cut broccoli and carrot (I like to buy the pre-cut organic Trader Joes bag)
1 bunch of cherry tomatos (you can also use roma tomato's but my garden vine tomatoes are cherry and very ripe today)
1/2 white onion, finely chopped
1 bunch cilantro to taste
3 cups shredded organic spinach

I try to always use all organic produce.  For foods like spinach and the vegetables we are using, buying organic is important.  They have no peel and the outer skin of zucchini is very thin, so these foods are quite susceptible to pesticides.  Put all of your ingredients into a bowl and toss them in the peanut dressing.  I like to garnish with fresh cilantro and chopped peanuts (but I didn't have them today) to add extra flavor.  Since I'm eating this dish for lunch, I added a top of shredded carrot in lemon juice so that it's extra light and fresh and springy tasting.  Here is the finished product:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

What’s a Vegan?

Sounds simple enough, right? I guess not so much. It brings to mind that scene in “Everything is Illuminated” where Elijah Wood’s character tries to explain that he’s vegetarian so all he gets for dinner is a plain potato. People ask me all the time what exactly it means to be vegan and what the difference is between a vegan and a vegetarian. Most amusing of all, people ask me, “So, what do you eat then?” For someone who has already been through the transition, this is immensely entertaining as I once pondered these same questions myself. To keep it simple, a vegetarian is stage 1 and a vegan is stage 2. Vegetarians eat eggs, milk and cheese. Although I disagree with this, some people call themselves vegetarians even if they eat fish. I guess it’s easy for me to say this isn’t accurate because I never liked fish. But hey, a move to cut out meat is a good one and if they want to say they are vegetarian (but sometimes eat fish) then that’s fine with me. When you hear about “ovo-lacto” vegetarians, those are regular vegetarians. They eat eggs (ovo) and dairy (lacto).

I call vegans stage 2 because they take another step and eliminate all animal protein. That means no meat, no fish, no eggs, no diary, no cheese and no animal proteins. We find these sneaky animal proteins in things like chicken/fish broth, fake cheeses that have casein, and a whole slew of foods that have animal stuff in them. For instance, kimchi is made with shrimp, soups that have cream, caesar salad that is made with anchovies/anchovy paste, meat substitutes that have egg whites in them and then the ultimate sneak: Asian sauces. I was eating veggie tempura rolls at my favorite Japanese restaurant in Koreatown (yeah, I know but there is Japanese food all over LA, in Little Tokyo too) and they told me that the sauce on my sushi was eel sauce!! So, sometimes it’s hard to find out just what you are eating. When eating out at a restaurant, you can feel like a huge pain when asking the waiter, “is there chicken stock in that? You don’t know? Um, yes, please ask the chef.” However, some places here in LA – especially in West Hollywood, are used to that. My waiter gets an extra tip if they are cool with my vegan requests.

If you’re starting to feel like being vegan is just too much of a pain, then let me say, just take it one step at a time. Start by cutting down on the red meat and chicken. When you start to cut back on meat and open your appetite to eating more veggie based dishes, then you start to realize how many there are. People have this misconception that vegans and vegetarians are limited in what they eat. Well, in response I have two things to say: 1. Don’t you get tired of endless hamburgers? 2. Whatever you can do with a meat dish, you can do with a vegan dish. So, give it a try. Have a vegetarian dish or if you are feeling especially giddy, try an extra special vegan dish. I really love restaurants that cater to us Veg Heads. If you’re in LA, then everyone knows about Real Food Daily – all vegan and all organic. I LOVE Japanese food and the restaurant in Little Tokyo – Shojin – is all vegan, all organic, and 100% amazing! If you’re making dinner yourself, buy veggie patties for your burgers or buy veggies for you pizza instead of meat. I guarantee that you’ll love the taste and you’ll be able to skip that heartburn medication. So, go ahead and veg out!

Greetings from the Venturing Vegan

I know what you’re thinking. “What makes you think that reading your little vegan blog is going to make me stop eating meat?” So, let me answer that for everyone right now. It won’t. That’s not my intention. I’m not the door to door white collar and tie missionary of the vegan world. I’m more like the menu option with the little green leaf next to it saying, “hey, this is a choice that is healthy but you can also order the steak on the second page.” I’m here to offer something new and it’s up to you if you want it or not. Venturing Vegan is my honest, homegrown and sometimes adventurous venture into the vegan world.

A little back-story: When I was 9 years old, I became a vegetarian. That is, I stopped eating meat (red meat, chicken and fish). A bit of a picky eater, I never liked fish so eliminating it from my diet wasn’t difficult. Strangely enough, eliminating meat was not difficult at all. I feel that our society really mislabels meat products and in the eyes of a child “meat” doesn’t necessarily equate dead animal flesh. When I discovered that my beloved chicken nuggets, hamburger and bacon were actually animals, I was a really pissed off little kid. I was angry at my parents for feeding me these poor dead animals and calling it by another name. No Juliet, this rose is not as sweet by any other name. Of course, what started it all was that infamous moment in a child’s life when they bite into a piece of chicken and see a wormy blue vein sticking out from where they just took a huge bite. Everyone I know, child and adult alike, thinks this is gross, because it is. But as a child, I was beyond grossed out. I was pissed that a piece of chicken had actually been a living breathing animal. Now, it was now dead and fried on my plate just so that I could eat it. It was at that moment I realized I didn’t want to eat meat and that I would never again be responsible for an animal dying just so that I could eat it.

Thanks to the internet, I soon realized that it wasn’t just the responsibility of death that deterred me from eating meat. PETA opened my eyes to factory farming, circus animal abuse and slaughterhouses. Suddenly the personification of animals in Orwell’s “Animal Farm” took on a much deeper meaning. I had suddenly realized that being vegetarian was much more than a preference in taste. It was a lifestyle change that resulted in the improvement of my life alongside that of animals. Luckily, my mother (the forever friendly, spiritually-chic, permahippie) was totally supportive of my newfound vegetarianism. My sister became a vegetarian too. My father however, a steak eating Texan, would only understand the benefits of this lifestyle choice some 15 years later.

The move to veganism (no animal proteins at all) came only 18 months ago. My shift to veganism was two parts. The first part was due strictly to a need to find some change. I had just been dumped, on Christmas Eve, by my boyfriend of two years that I thought could actually have been the love of my life. But no, I, like so many other people who have felt the loss of love and the strangling sense of rejection, realized that I had been wrong. So, out with the old and in with the new. Good motto. The end of the year, might I add, is a great time to be dumped. Why? Because it is a time when we naturally look to clean out the clutter, redefine ourselves and our lives. My New Years Resolution that year was to focus on me and me alone. I outlined an exercise regime (which, proudly, I still stick to two years later) and I started reading more for pleasure. One of the first books I read, a Christmas gift from my mother, was written by Christina Pirello and called, “This Crazy Vegan Life.” By the time I had finished reading it, I was convinced that cheese and all dairy had to go. I had been blissfully consuming copious amounts of cheese and dairy as a vegetarian. Of course, when you shift from eating meat to eating veggies, sometimes you feel the need for something with substance. This, I found could be provided by cheese. The ooey, gooey, stringy deliciousness that is cheese was something I ate everyday. However, I was getting fat!! I also didn’t know the evil that is this conventional substance we call cheese. I always thought that vegan were crazy extremists who pushed this diet thing a little too far. How in the world could anyone live without cheese? Without pizza? Without ice cream?!? Well, 18 months later, all I can say, is how did I ever live with it?

What I will attempt to do with this blog is to open a dialogue about the stigma, prejudice and misconceptions placed on a vegan diet. Further, I hope to answer some questions about veganism, health and maybe even life in general. For anyone who is interested in what they eat, how to eat healthier, and the how buts and whys surrounding veganism, this blog is for you.