Sunday, January 06, 2013

New Year's Black-Eyed Pea Quinoa Salad

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you had a lovely holiday season. I know that I did - it was really nice to relax and see friends and family. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and it's time to head back to school tomorrow. 

I went shopping at the Whole Foods at Cambie and 8th in Vancouver this past week - always a treat since it's so expensive there! My favourite part of that store is the bulk foods area - they always have really different and interesting grains and legumes. I make a point of getting at least one or two new types that I haven't tried each time I go there. The nice thing about buying bulk, dry grains and legumes is that even though Whole Foods is expensive, stuff like that is still pretty reasonable in price. Way cheaper than buying meat, that's for sure!

This time around I thought I'd buy black quinoa and black-eyed peas, neither of which I have ever tried. Both just looked interesting. Later on when looking for inspiration on what to do with the black-eyed peas, I also found out that in the Southern US, eating black-eyed peas on New Years Day helps give prosperity throughout the new year. I'm a few days late, but I figure it can't hurt!

This recipe was inspired by Laura McAllister's Szechuan Black-Eyed Pea Salad recipe, but I decided I needed more grain in the salad to make it a complete meal and not just a side. I also didn't have a few of the ingredients she used, so I substituted and improvised. The result was a very tasty "salad" that can be served warm or cold.

Black-Eyed Pea Quinoa Salad
Yield: 4 meal-sized servings

1 cup (250 ml) black quinoa (or any other variety)
2 cups (500 ml) water
2 cups (500 ml) cooked black–eyed peas
1 medium green bell pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp (15 ml) Earth Balance margarine
2 avocados, cubed
2 Tbsp (30 ml) lemon juice
3 Tbsp (45 ml) olive oil
3 Tbsp (45 ml) white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp (30 ml) gluten-free tamari (or soy sauce)
2 tsp (10 ml) sugar
1/8 tsp (0.5 ml) cayenne pepper


1) Rinse quinoa and put into a pot with 2 cups of water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, let sit for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

2) Saute garlic and green pepper in margarine for a few minutes, until slightly softened. (You could skip this step if you'd prefer raw garlic and pepper.)

3) Toss cubed avocado with the lemon juice.

4) Combine cooked quinoa, cooked black-eyed peas, green pepper, garlic, and avocado in a large bowl.

5) Using the same bowl that you stirred the avocado and lemon juice in (that's now empty), whisk together olive oil, white wine vinegar, tamari, sugar, and cayenne.

6) Pour dressing over the salad and toss to combine.

7) Serve immediately for a warm salad, or refrigerate and serve cold.

This was quite tasty! Just a slight hint of spiciness from the cayenne, which you could adjust to your preference. The textures were nice and varied - the avocados and peas providing a luxurious creaminess, while the quinoa and bell pepper gave it a bit of a crunch too. If you use the gluten-free tamari rather than traditional soy sauce, then this is also a gluten-free dish!

Happy New Year, and good luck with back-to-school for all the teachers and students out there!

Monday, November 26, 2012

A triumphant return!

So tonight marks the first "real" dinner that I've made since becoming pregnant and not being able to think about food. I was inspired this afternoon.. and boy was the hubby happy to have someone else make dinner for once! I've got a pretty big sweet tooth this pregnancy (not so much with my first one), so I wanted something that had a sweetness to it, but was still full of good stuff. This stew was my answer... feel free to customize as you see fit - don't have any purple yams? Just add in sweet potatoes, or even regular potatoes... with stews, it all works!

Butternut Squash Stew
Yield: 12 ladle-sized scoops (about 6 servings)

1 L vegan butternut squash pre-made soup*
1 small purple yam
1 large orange yam
1 very long carrot, or two regular sized ones
1 cup (250 ml) red lentils
1.5 cups (375 ml) water
1 cup (250 ml) frozen corn

*I used Pacific Foods brand - it's vegan and fairly tasty on its own.

1) Chop up the yams and carrots into small, bite-size pieces. Isn't that purple yam pretty? I'd planned on using more of it, but the other ones rotted. So sad! Interestingly, they smelled like guava when they began to rot. Note to self: do not store yams in a plastic bag in a cupboard near the dishwasher!

2) Put the soup, chopped veggies, red lentils, and water into a large pot.

3) Stir, cover, and bring to a boil.

4) Uncover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 35 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5) Add the frozen corn, then simmer for another 5 minutes.

6) Serve hot! I had some Persian bread on the side, which was very tasty.

The stew was not only appetizing to my still somewhat-nauseous tummy, but hubby liked it too. You could also try spicing it up a bit with some paprika! Or add a bit of curry powder for another flavour dimension. Soups and stews are a lot of fun since you can really add anything you want. Happy cooking!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Vegan Miracle!

Sorry for being rather absent from the blogosphere for the last few months... I've been so nauseous that I could barely think about food let alone write about it! Yes, folks, I'm pregnant! But there's a whole lot more behind that statement....

To really understand why I believe my pregnancy to be a "vegan miracle," you need to know a little more about my history. When I was a teenager, I never had regular cycles. I remember going through entire summers without seeing good ole Aunt Flo, which really, was awesome back then. I mean, who really wants to get a period every month, especially during bathing suit season? Every 3-4 months, that's way easier! Unfortunately, what was excellent as a teen and young woman became a bit of a liability when my hubby and I decided it was time to start a family. After trying for six frustrating months and only experiencing one period during that time, we decided to see our family doctor. He looked at my history and decided to refer me to a fertility specialist. 

I didn't quite know what to expect when we made our first appointment with Pacific Centre for Reproductive Medicine, but was very pleasantly surprised when we walked in the door - the office was gorgeous! All beautiful wood and calming greens and whites. Really pretty. And luckily, the doctor and the rest of the staff were pretty nice too. He looked at my history, decided to send me for some blood work, and also did an ultrasound of my ovaries. Turned out that not only was my thyroid very off - I was barely producing any thyroid stimulating hormone (that explained the tiredness and joint pains I'd been experiencing), but my ovaries also looked like I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). With PCOS, basically my ovaries do not ovulate normally - they create lots of little "cysts" with immature eggs inside of them, which is normal, but normally at least one of those eggs will mature and burst out of the cyst... which is when ovulation occurs. My eggs never matured so I was just left with a bunch of little cysts - not painful and not cause for concern, but they did get in the way of trying to conceive naturally! We corrected the thyroid issue with medication that I'll be on for the rest of my life, but the PCOS was a little more difficult to deal with. There really is no "cure" for PCOS, so the doctor decided to try me out on the first step in combating infertility caused by "lack of menses." This first step is called clomid, and it's basically just a pill that you take for a few days at a certain time of the month that gives your ovaries a kick-start to ovulate. After a couple of tries with getting the dosage right, it finally started making me ovulate and a couple of months later, I was pregnant with my son. Awesome.

When my son was one year old, we decided to start trying right away for a second since we'd had a hard time getting pregnant that first time. Everyone had always told me that likely I would have no problem getting pregnant a second time since my body "knew what to do now." Boy were they wrong. We tried for a couple of months on our own, but I still wasn't getting a period (and I'd stopped breastfeeding), so we went back to clomid. After raising the dosage on the clomid repeatedly over several months, we finally faced the reality that it had stopped working for me. Apparently, this is not uncommon, but it was sure inconvenient!

After that, we went on to try Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) - which is basically artificial insemination - our own eggs and sperm, but no fun part. We tried a few rounds of this, none of which had any success either because I only produced one egg or produced five or more - apparently my ovaries were "fragile" and very sensitive to changes in the medication dosage. This did lead my doctor to believe that I would be a good candidate for in vitro insemination (IVF) since apparently my ovaries were good at producing multiple eggs with higher dosages of the medication. So, we tried that as well - I made 17 eggs, 11 of which were fertilized. First round, we transferred two fresh embryos. I did get pregnant, but miscarried very soon after. So we tried again with some "kidsicles" as we liked to call them. We transferred another two and again I got pregnant and miscarried very early. Well at this point we were understandably rather depressed about the whole situation, so we took a break for a few months. Eventually we decided to try one last frozen embryo transfer but this time with three embryos for a better chance... and nothing took at all in that last one! We were out of embryos (some didn't survive the thawing process), and my body was a mess. IVF involves some pretty heavy dosages of hormones and I decided I needed a real break to get my body healthy. We weren't sure where we were heading with still trying to have a child (we never gave up hope that it would happen someday for us!), but I knew it would be a while before I would feel ready to face the prospect of more infertility treatments, which seemed to be the only possible course of action for us.

So this brings us to this past year in the spring. Have a look at this post for my story about why I became vegan... and the other back story is that I just really wanted to do some good things for my body. So after a couple of months of eating exclusively plant-based, I had a near-normal cycle - just 32 days. This was entirely unheard of for me, so I said to the hubby, "maybe it will be normal next month too - why don't we just try and see what happens?" Well, famous last words... it happened! Just one month of "trying" completely naturally and I was pregnant. We were shocked, to say the least!

Now I'm sure there are some naysayers and skeptics out there who won't believe that going vegan is what made it possible for me to get pregnant naturally. Well, here is a list of why going vegan is EXACTLY what helped me get pregnant...

  1. Skeptic: you'd stopped trying and it always happens when you're not really trying. Fact: we hadn't stopped trying - we'd never given up hope and were actively trying the month that I did get pregnant. 
  2. Skeptic: you must have lost weight on your new vegan diet and losing weight helps you get pregnant. Fact: while I did end up losing about 10 pounds before becoming pregnant, when my cycle originally normalized I had lost no more than five pounds, and probably less. Five pounds is so little that it would have no effect on my fertility. 
  3. Skeptic: you weren't so stressed when you were trying naturally as you must have been when you were doing infertility treatments. Fact: we conceived during the first week back for a new school year. If that's not a stressful time, I don't know what is!! 
  4. Skeptic: you weren't eating much processed food and that was probably impacting your fertility. Fact: while I might have eaten marginally more processed food as a non-vegan, really it was just marginal. I was never a huge processed food eater. 
  5. Skeptic: you were exercising a lot more with boot camp three days a week. Fact: while I was definitely exercising more around the time I got pregnant, I don't think this was what helped. When I got that first near-normal cycle of 32 days, I hadn't yet started boot camp. I'm sure the exercise helped because really, how could it not, but it wasn't the only thing that helped. 

Convinced yet? I could probably go on and refute anything the skeptics could come up with, but the fact remains that at least for me, cutting meat and dairy out of my diet helped my own natural hormones to work properly. Makes you wonder what is in our meat and dairy, eh? I've found at least one other blogger who had a similar experience to me... you can read her story here. We'd spent over $10,000 on trying to get pregnant, but all it took was changing what I ate. Go figure!

So, suffice it to say that I am thrilled with the unforeseen side effect of my plant-based diet, and still in a state of shock. I think it might become more "real" once I start feeling those first little flutters of movement. I'm due around June 4, 2013, so as of this posting I am at 12 weeks, just about to start in on my second trimester. The nausea is starting to dissipate slowly, so hopefully I can get back to cooking and posting here soon! I'm trying to remain as vegan as possible during the pregnancy, but have definitely been tested by this "all-day" sickness since NOTHING has looked good to eat and my body apparently isn't able to currently digest beans and legumes (I tried them - it wasn't pretty). I have indulged in real cheese and several Filet o'Fish (oh the shame!), but my hope is once my body becomes more receptive to food in general that I can get back to full-time veganism. I bought a book called The Everything Vegan Pregnancy Book by Reed Mangels which has been very informative. She also includes lots of recipes, so I plan to start trying some of those out soon!

And now I think I'll leave you to let this all sink in... there's a bowl of vanilla soy frozen dessert calling my name! 

Monday, October 01, 2012

No-Chop Lentil Pilaf

As a vegan, you tend to eat a lot of vegetables. And consequently, you tend to chop a lot of vegetables. You get to be very intimate with your cutting board and knife! Tonight, I wanted a break from all that chopping, but I still wanted our meal to be nutritious and as whole-food as possible. I came across this recipe that used Beluga Lentils, and I just happened to have a bag of pre-cooked ones in the freezer. Plus, the recipe could be made to be chop-free, which was perfect! So here is my adapted version of Cookgirl's Black Beluga Lentil Pilaf recipe.

No-Chop Lentil Pilaf
Yield: 5-6 meal-sized servings

2 cups (500 ml) sprouted brown rice (or a rice of your choice)
3 cups (750 ml) water
1 clove garlic, minced (I got around the chopping for this part by using pre-minced garlic!)
1 tsp (5 ml) cumin
1 cup (250 ml) raisins
2 cups (500 ml) pre-cooked beluga lentils (or another lentil of your choice)
1 cup (250 ml) frozen green peas
Salt and pepper, to taste

1) Rinse rice and place in a large pot. Add water, minced garlic, and cumin. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and let simmer for 25 minutes.

2) If raisins are getting a little old and crusty, which mine were, put them in a bowl and cover with water to let them "plump." Leave them in the water while the rice cooks, and don't forget to discard the water before you use the plumped raisins.

3) Once the rice is done, mix the lentils, raisins, and frozen peas into the pot. Let sit for about five minutes with the lid on, until the peas have thawed and everything is warmed through.

4) Season with salt and pepper as desired.

I like the colour the bright green peas give to the dish, and I also like to add something green in whenever possible. Green = good for you! The sweetness of the peas and raisins is a nice counterpart to the more savoury rice and lentils. I did find the dish to be a bit dry, so if that bothers you, you could mix in a bit of vegan margarine. We served it with a bun on the side, which was very tasty. This was also a really nice fast dish that makes a lot - perfect for freezing or leftovers!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Bandidas Taqueria: A Restaurant Review

So normally I do recipes. But last night we went out for dinner for my birthday and had such a perfect experience that I had to share. Bandidas Taqueria is located near Commercial Drive and 12th Ave in Vancouver. Their food is Mexican-inspired, all vegetarian, and they easily veganize everything too. They even make their own vegan sour cream, which was very yummy, and try to purchase local ingredients as much as possible! The atmosphere is excellent - high ceilings, neat art from kids at 4 Cats Art Studio,  and good music. They are family-friendly as well - didn't bat an eye when I ordered something slightly modified from their kids menu for my son who is incredibly picky. My husband thought he spied some games for kids to play too, on his way to the bathroom. Luckily, my son was perfectly behaved so those weren't needed (and that in and of itself would have been birthday present enough for me! We've had a few less-than-stellar restaurant experiences lately with him).

It's a small place and quite popular, so we had to wait about 10 minutes to get a table on a Friday night. Not too bad really. There is very little inside waiting space, though, so it might have been more of an issue if it had been poring rain or really cold. It's not the best area of the city - expect to see a number of homeless people. But the restaurant makes the trip well worth it! You can park on the side streets near the restaurant in free 2-hour parking, but watch for the "Resident Parking Only" signs!

The service was excellent. Being on Commercial Drive, you'd expect the servers to have a certain funky look to them, and they did, but I find in a lot of places on Commercial that their cool look translates to poor service (that kind of "I don't care" attitude). At Bandidas, however, they were very attentive and super friendly.

Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of what we ate because I was so ravenous and ate everything before the idea of taking pictures of it dawned on me! Everything was beautifully presented - it looked like art on a plate! But here's what we ate:

Son: a plain flour tortilla folded over with cheese in the middle to make a quesadilla - exactly how he likes it!

Hubby: Connie's Baked Burrito with walnuts ground, apple salsa , cheese, roasted red pepper sauce, purple cabbage and pinto beans, baked with enchilada sauce and cheese - hubby said it was very tasty and was so big he almost couldn't finish it!

Me: Four tacos (although next time I'll just get three - they were very filling). They allow you to mix-and-match the tacos, so I tried one of each of these:

  • CONNIE’S: Walnuts ground, apple salsa, Daiya cheese & roasted red pepper sauce.
  • LEONA GAYLE: Smoky-sweet chipotle tofu (organic), pinto beans, Daiya cheese, roasted red salsa, romaine lettuce & vegan sour cream.
  • STELLA: Kale, butternut squash, roasted salsa, pinto beans, Daiya cheese, & vegan sour cream.
  • RONNY RUSSELL: Roasted yams and onions, fresh guacamole, black beans, green salsa, purple cabbage & toasted pumpkin seeds.

My favourite was the Ronny Russell. The others were very tasty, but this one blew my mind! I will likely just order three of that one next time and call it quits. I'm not a big fan of Daiya cheese, either, so I probably would order without it next time too if I chose one that included it. I don't think not having it would take away from the flavour of any of the tacos because the other ingredients are already incredibly flavourful! All of the tacos were served on their made-in-house corn tortillas which were delicious.

We finished off the meal with a vegan chocolate chip coconut cake. It was fluffy, sweet and delicious. Even my son who doesn't normally like coconutty things loved this. It was also really nice to have the option of ordering a vegan dessert that didn't have Indian spices in it. Don't get me wrong - I enjoy Indian spices from time to time. But it seems like 90% of the vegan desserts out there are flavoured with Indian spices. It just gets very repetitive. 

So, overall, I would give this restaurant a ten out of five if I could... but since there's no such thing as over 100%, I'll go with a five out of five. Definitely give it a try - you won't regret it! And now, I'll get back to my dreams about going back there for their breakfast menu, which also looks amazing. They substitute eggs with butternut squash and tofu for vegans. Heavenly!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Nacho Nacho Vegan!

Tonight was nacho night. We haven't had nachos in forever, and not at all since we've gone vegan. The one thing I hear the most from people when we talk about going vegan is, "I don't think I could do it. I could never give up cheese." Well, I have to admit, it was difficult to give up that ooey gooey deliciousness that is cheese. But, becoming lactose intolerant this past year did help! Not so much fun to eat something that doesn't make you feel well. Actually, that's how I feel in general about non-vegan food - it doesn't make you feel well, whether you realize it or not. Just try going vegan and see how much better you feel! For me, that was a big indicator that the food I had been eating was not good for my body. (Keep in mind, I was on the "healthier" end of the non-vegan spectrum - it's not like I ate tons of junk and processed stuff all the time. I was eating chicken breast, steamed veggies, skim milk, etc. - all that supposedly "healthy" food.)

But, you do get to missing some non-vegan food. And cheese is definitely one of those foods. There are vegan "cheeses" out there, like Daiya, but I don't particularly like them. They seem to try too hard to be cheese, when all they really are is mostly chemicals that melt into a sticky gooey mess (and not gooey in a good way). I came across yet another amazing recipe from Oh She Glows! for "Cheeze" sauce and decided that it might be a good thing to try with nachos. I made the recipe exactly as printed, but I would add less salt next time as I found it a little too salty. I'm pretty sensitive to saltiness, so others might find it to be okay. I might also add a little less dijon mustard as it was pretty tangy, but not necessarily in a bad way. Overall, it was a pretty good substitute for cheese sauce. I made a double recipe so we'd have lots:

Looks pretty "cheezy," doesn't it? I assembled the nachos using organic blue corn tortilla chips with flax, one diced red pepper, one diced green pepper, about 1 cup/250 ml cooked black beans, and a bunch of frozen corn. I broiled the nachos with toppings on in the oven for about 10 minutes or so - keep a watch on them so they don't burn. Then, I poured the hot "Cheeze" sauce over top. I have to say, it was pretty yummy. The hubby and I basically finished off this entire tray:

I don't feel too bad about eating so many nachos since they were mostly bean-veggie topping with not too many chips. But I was wondering about that cheeze sauce - how did it stack up for calorie and fat content compared to real cheese sauce (using this basic recipe). Using the recipe analyzer at, I discovered that it is actually really similar to real cheese sauce in terms of calories, protein, and fat content (the recipe I used for real cheese sauce was supposed to be a lower-fat version of the more processed types). But, in terms of good points, the real cheese sauce only has three: high in calcium, phosphorus and riboflavin, plus two bad points: high in saturated fat and sugar. Meanwhile the cheeze sauce has many good points: no cholesterol, very low in sugar, high in dietary fiber, high in iron, very high in niacin, very high in pantothenic acid, very high in phosphorus, high in potassium, very high in riboflavin, very high in thiamin, high in vitamin B6, high in vitamin E, and NO bad points. In my mind, this makes the cheeze sauce a much more worthwhile use of my calories. So, perhaps not our most low-calorie dinner, but we seriously don't plan on eating it very often. Not sure if you could go vegan 'cause you'd miss the cheese? Give this sauce a try - but be openminded (it won't taste exactly like cheese because it isn't cheese!) and remember that you are putting good things into your body when you eat whole-food plant-based. Be kind to your body - it's the only one you've got!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ode to my Sister-in-Law

A few weeks ago we had dinner at my culinarily-talented sister-in-law's place. She made us this yummy concoction with kale, sesame oil, and millet that I've been thinking about for a while now. Since I don't have her on call as our personal chef, I decided to try making something similar on my own. It ended up being a pretty quick four-ingredient dinner (five if you count the water), and was almost as good as hers. She really is quite the pro in the kitchen!

Sesame Kale with Millet
Yield: about 3 servings

1 large bunch kale
1 cup (250 ml) millet
2.5 cups (625 ml) water
1 Tbsp (15 ml) sesame oil
Pinch salt

1) Rinse the millet with running water. Put millet and 2.5 cups of water into a pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.

2) Wash the kale well. Watch out for bugs! Found a few aphids on mine. Not sure if I missed some, but hey, extra protein! 

3) Chop the kale into small pieces. I find the easiest way to chop the kale is to first place it spine-up on the cutting board:

Then, run your knife along the spine on each side. This should easily separate the leaves from the spine. The spine is tough so it's not great for eating - discard it.

Once your kale is chopped, it should look like this:

4) Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the kale and cook it, stirring constantly, for a couple of minutes. It's done when the kale looks tender and shiny green.

5) By this time, your millet should be done. Fluff it with a fork.

6) Toss kale with sesame oil. Using just 1 Tbsp makes it very lightly oiled and gives it a light sesame flavour. Use more if you prefer a stronger sesame flavour.

7) Assemble the dish by first laying down a bed of the sesame kale. Then add millet on top. Sprinkle with sea salt to taste.

Millet is a yummy grain. It's quite soft and has a pleasant flavour. It's not that popular in Canada, but is the grain of choice in much of Africa. It's got about as much protein in it as wheat, but is gluten free. I was a little hungry a couple of hours after eating this meal, so I might add something with more protein in it on the side next time.