vegan strawberry rhubarb crisp

In an attempt to eat less sugar, I recently swore off baking. See how well that worked? But it’s strawberry rhubarb season, people! I did use coconut sugar, which is supposedly lower on the glycemic index…so slightly less bad than regular sugar. And I used olive oil rather than butter or “vegan butter” (which I really try to avoid, because of the palm oil and other questionable ingredients.)

But let’s get real – this crisp is a treat, not a health food. And what a treat it is. The fruit is just bursting with flavor, especially if you use super fresh strawberries and rhubarb. I got mine from a new farm-to-front door delivery service called Good Eggs. Pricey, but awesome produce and a major convenience.

The crisp topping is nice and nutty. I left it on the less-sweet side since the tart rhubarb requires quite a bit of sugar in the filling. I’m sure you could make the topping gluten-free by using more almond flour in place of the whole wheat flour.

Go ahead and make this indulgent dessert while the fruit’s in season. I hereby absolve you of any guilt you might feel!

Vegan Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

1 pound rhubarb, sliced (3-4 cups)
2 pints strawberries, hulled and quartered
¾ cup coconut sugar, divided
1 cup oats
½ cup almond meal
½ cup white whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup chopped pecans
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Good pinch of salt
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon cold water

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place the fruit in a large bowl. Add ½ cup coconut sugar and let sit for 20 minutes.

In another bowl, combine the oats, almond meal, flour, remaining 1/4 cup sugar, pecans, cinnamon and salt. Drizzle on the olive oil and mix with your hands. Add the water and pinch the mixture until crumbly.

Place the fruit in an 8-inch square baking dish. Cover with the topping.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, until bubbling and lightly browned. Cool to room temperature and serve.

I have been sadly negligent about taking advantage of the amazing produce of spring this year. So when I saw beautiful asparagus and fresh fava beans yesterday, I grabbed them. After all, spring is almost over.

A recipe for Lemon Garlic Fava Beans and Mushrooms was my starting point for this vegan and gluten-free vegetable stew. I added wine, vegetable broth, asparagus and leeks for a lighter, more veg-centric dish. You can serve it as is, but it’s also great with barley, polenta or a smallish pasta such as orecchiette (obviously not gluten-free if you serve on barley or pasta.)

Admittedly, preparing fresh fava beans is a bit of a pain, because you not only have to take them out of the large pods, you must then blanch them and remove each inner bean from its skin. But once you get the hang of it, it goes pretty fast. Think of it as meditation.

So if you’ve been walking straight past the fava beans at the farmer’s market, stop and reconsider. This delicious stew will make you feel spring-y all over.

Mushroom, Asparagus and Fava Bean Stew

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup thinly sliced leeks (white and light green parts only)
2 cloves garlic, sliced
10 ounces cremini mushrooms, quartered
3-4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
½ cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 cups vegetable broth (I recommend Imagine No-Chicken Broth)
2 to 2.5 pounds fresh fava beans, shelled, blanched and peeled
1 pound thin asparagus (woody ends broken off), cut into 1-inch pieces
Zest of 1 organic lemon
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil on medium heat in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add the leeks and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and mushrooms, raise the heat and cook for 5-7 minutes. Add the white wine and cook for 2 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Add the thyme, parsley, broth, asparagus and fava beans. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 8 minutes. Add lemon zest and juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper, plus more lemon if desired, and serve.

Serves four

Potato salad
OK, I bet I know your first question. What makes this potato salad “healthy-ish”? Three things:

• Leaving the skin on the potatoes for the fiber and nutrients.
• Using nonfat Greek yogurt in place of most of the mayonnaise.
• Adding egg whites for a bit of protein.

Having said that, potato salad is never going to be considered a nutrition star. Thus the “ish”. I consider this dish only somewhat guilt-inducing. Let’s call it a 3 on the Cathy guilt scale (with 1 being steamed kale and 10 being chicken-fried steak.)

The super-tangy herbed dressing is what makes this salad. The yogurt is tangy to begin with, then the cider vinegar, mustard and pickles take it to a whole new level of tang. If you’re really a pickle lover, throw in a couple tablespoons of pickle juice and you will be in pickle heaven. I got some great spicy pickle slices at Whole Foods, and chopped them up. One or two at first, then more as I tasted.

Rather than use only Greek yogurt, I mixed it with a touch of reduced-fat Vegenaise. I know, using a vegan mayo in a non-vegan recipe sounds odd. But I just like the stuff. You can, of course, substitute any other kind of mayonnaise, or go all Greek.

My friend Pamela says she doesn’t like potato salads that are “all gross and eggy”, but I think she’d love it made with eggs whites only, as they add a nice light touch rather than making it overly thick and rich, as whole eggs do. But if you’re hopelessly anti-egg, the salad is great without them, too.

In the end, this is a pretty traditional potato salad with a nice bold flavor, a light but creamy texture and less fat and calories. What more could you want?

(Thanks to Chris and the aforementioned Pamela for photo selection help. This 7am iPhone shot is not half bad!)

Healthy-ish Potato Salad

2 pounds red potatoes, scrubbed and diced
¼ cup + 1 tablespoon cider vinegar, divided
1/3 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons reduced fat Vegenaise
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon sugar
3 hard boiled egg whites, chopped
½ cup finely chopped sweet (Vidalia) onion
½ cup diced celery
3-4 tablespoons chopped spicy or sweet pickles
2 teaspoons chopped celery leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill, or more to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives, optional
1 ½ teaspoons salt, divided
Plenty of freshly ground black pepper

Place the potatoes in a large saucepan, cover well with cold water and stir in 1 tablespoon of vinegar and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until nicely tender but not mushy. This will take anywhere from 7-15 minutes – some potato varieties cook faster than others, so test often. Drain well, and immediately pour remaining vinegar over the potatoes. Let cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, Vegenaise, olive oil, Dijon mustard and sugar. Stir in the remaining ingredients, adding salt and pepper to taste. Add potatoes to the bowl and gently mix. Serve at room temperature.

Serves 10

When my friend Francine raved to me about Smitten Kitchen’s Crackly Banana Bread, I know I had to try and make a vegan version. It turned out to be an easy challenge, because the recipe didn’t contain butter. So I just substituted a “flax egg” for the real one, and it worked like a charm. A few other changes: I added chopped walnuts for extra flavor and texture, and went easy on the sugar. I also used spelt flour, which I’ve been really liking in baked goods lately.

While the crunchy millet is great, I thought the bread seemed just a tad too millet-y – so I’m specifying a “scant” quarter cup here. And here’s a tip: my banana bread-obsessed friend discovered that you can substitute a quarter cup of millet flour for an equally delicious but non-crackly version. (She also completely forgot to add the oil and still loved it!)

Vegan Banana Bread with Walnuts and Millet

3 large over-ripe bananas
1 “flax egg” (see note below)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil or high-oleic safflower oil
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
1 1/2 cups spelt flour
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
Scant 1/4 cup uncooked millet

Note: for this egg substitute, combine 1 tablespoon ground flax seeds with 3 tablespoons water. Whisk vigorously, then refrigerate for 15 minutes, or in a microwave for 45 seconds.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 9×5-inch loaf pan.

Mash bananas with a potato masher in a large bowl until smooth. Whisk in the flax egg, then oil, brown sugar, maple syrup and vanilla.

In another bowl, mix the baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, flour, walnuts and millet. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet, and mix just until combined.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake 50 to 60 minutes, until a knife or tester comes out clean. Let cool completely before slicing.

When I have leftovers to use up, I tend to throw things together a little randomly. Some of those experiments are very sad. Others, like this one, are a revelation. Yeah, this chickpea, barley and kale salad is that good!

Faced with big bowls of leftover chickpeas and barley, I recalled a simple chickpea, farro and kale recipe from Nice, but a tad boring. So I to give it a sweet-and-sour twist, along with some crunch. For the sweetness I could have reached for dried cranberries, but that’s so expected. Pickled red onions and pomegranate molasses add a much more interesting dimension. A generous amount of lemon juice and zest provided the sour notes, and roasted nuts the crunch. One taste was all it took to make me swoon.

Chickpea, Barley and Kale Salad with Pickled Onions

For pickled onions:
1 medium-large red onion, thinly sliced, then slices quartered
¾ cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch salt

For salad:
1 medium bunch of lacinato kale, stems removed, chopped well
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Zest and juice of one large organic lemon
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses (or substitute balsamic vinegar plus a touch of honey)
3 cups cooked chickpeas
1½ cups cooked barley or farro (see note below)
½ cup roasted, salted cashews, roughly chopped (or substitute chopped tamari almonds)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Bring the vinegar, sugar and salt to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the onions and simmer for 30 to 45 seconds. Let cool completely, then drain.

In a large bowl, combine the kale, olive oil, lemon zest and juice, and pomegranate molasses. Massage with your hands for several minutes.

Add chickpeas, barley or farro, cashews and pickled onions. Season to taste with salt and pepper – but go very easy on the salt, because the nuts are salted.

Note: You can use leftover grains here, but if cooking the barley or farro specifically for this recipe, cook less than the suggested time, to achieve a very chewy, al dente texture. Drain and rinse in cold water before adding to salad.

Serves 4-6

A friend recently confessed to me that he uses four sticks of butter in preparing his Thanksgiving meal. Actually, I have nothing against a splurge, if you eat very well the rest of the year, which he does. So this is not a sermon – I’m adamantly opposed to sacrificing one ounce of flavor for this, my favorite holiday. But I just know you can have a mind-blowing feast without all the butter, cream, bacon and sausage.

So I’ve searched and searched for Thanksgiving recipes that will wow vegetarians and omnivores alike, while not clogging their arteries. I think even my butter-loving compadre will find that a lot to love here!  In a departure from tradition for this blog, I have included turkey and turkey gravy recipes here. I want as many people as possible to have a heart-healthy holiday, so I’m going the inclusive route. And I’ve noted whether recipes are vegan and/or gluten-free to make it easy to find what you’re looking for.

Use this as your mix & match menu planner. Pick an app, a vegetarian entree or turkey, a few sides, potatoes, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, a dessert and you’re done.  Well, you still have to cook it all, but hopefully this will get you started.

The key to planning your menu is choosing carefully. For instance, make sure every dish doesn’t contain fruit and nuts (a common Thanksgiving pitfall.) Balance savory with sweet, with a few really bold or unexpected flavors, and you’ll have the perfect meal.

Killer Vegan Appetizers

Porcini and Pecan Pâté from Food and Wine. With pecans and dried porcinis, this pâté is an earthy way to start your feast. Serve with toasted whole grain baguette slices. (Vegan, Gluten-free without the bread)

Curried Spaghetti Squash and Chickpea Toasts from Food & Wine. Such an interesting mix of flavors in this app, it’s sure to have people talking – with their mouths full. (Vegan)

Beet Muhummara from The Blooming Platter. Just the color alone gives this intriguing spread a wow factor. And the fact that you can make it in a few minutes doesn’t hurt, either. (Vegan)

Sriracha-Stuffed ‘Shrooms – This recipe is from the awesome new Veggie Lover’s Sriracha Cookbook. I mean, Sriracha-laced cashew cheese stuffed in mushrooms, how can you go wrong? (Vegan, Gluten-free)

Olive Oil-Rubbed Turkey 

Roast Turkey with Rosemary and Lemon from Martha Stewart.  A great, simple recipe, with a generous amount of olive oil standing in for the butter. (Gluten-free)

Oranges and Herbs Roast Turkey from A Beautiful Mess. Wow, just look at this picture! The shock of orange will look great on your table, and once again, olive oil only. (Gluten-free)

Fresh Herb and Salt Roasted Turkey from Fine Cooking. This dry-brined turkey is a great argument for simplicity. (Gluten-free)

Vegan Thanksgiving Entrées

Glazed Lentil Apple Walnut Loaf from Oh She Glows. When I served this to some friends a while back, they remarked, “This tastes like Thanksgiving.” ‘Nuff said. (Vegan)

Seitan Roast Stuffed with Shiitakes and Leeks from Post Punk Kitchen. I’m all for giving vegetarians a hearty dose of protein on Thanksgiving. This recipe fits the bill and is sure to impress. (Vegan)

Maple-Grilled Tempeh from 101 Cookbooks. A simple, flavorful protein to complement all the Thanksgiving sides. And it’s just calling out for gravy. (Vegan, Gluten-free)

Gravy You’ll Feel Good About

My Vegan Thanksgiving Gravy. This stuff always gets raves from the vegans and the meat-eaters, too. (Vegan)

Apple Cider Turkey Gravy from Eating Well.  The sweetness of the cider with the tang of cider vinegar is perfect.

Pomegranate-Rutabaga Low Fat Turkey Gravy from Clean Cuisine and More. OK, this one is just so strange that I had to include it. Let me know if you try it!

The Best Vegetarian Gravy from Umami Girl. I love how Carolyn writes about gravy here. She provides both a butter and an olive oil option. (Vegan)

Side Dishes Without Butter, Cream or Bacon

Arugula, Orange, Olive and Fennel Salad from Rebecca Gray via The Kitchn. I love the idea of the olives, what a contrast they will provide. (Vegan, Gluten-free)

Green Beans Amandine with Leek Chips from Mollie Katzen. Leek chips – yum. Just leave out the small amount of butter, it will be fine without it. (Vegan without the butter, Gluten-free)

Butternut Squash with Red Onion, Oregano and Mint from Mario Batali, via Food & Wine. This one has the added benefit of being fine served at room temperature, so you can make it ahead. (Vegan, Gluten-free)

My Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Maple-Mustard Glaze. I had to include my Brussels sprouts, because it’s the recipe most likely to convert brussels sprout haters! (Vegan, Gluten-free)

Healthy Green Bean Casserole from Vegan Yum Yum. Trudy developed this recipe for my Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge two years ago and it’s amazing. (Vegan, Gluten-free)

Roasted Rutabaga with Apple Cider Vinegar from Food Network. This sounds so good, I can’t wait to try it on my rutabaga-loving father-in-law. (Vegan, gluten-free)

Pureed Squash and Yams with Citrus from Martha Rose Shulman in The New York Times. I made this last year, and couldn’t believe how easy, yet vibrant, it was. (Vegan, gluten-free)

Healthier Stuffing

Rustic Bread Stuffing With Dried Cranberries, Hazelnuts and Oyster Mushrooms. This might be my pick for this Thanksgiving. I will substitute olive oil for the butter, and use a rustic whole grain bread. (Vegan without the butter)

Marcus Samuelsson’s Thanksgiving Stuffing. This is truly unusual, with pumpkin, quince and…peanuts. With this much interesting stuff going on, no one will notice it’s vegan. I’d probably use a whole wheat bread here rather than white. (Vegan with a vegetable stock substitution)

Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprout and Bread Stuffing with Apples from Food52. This thing has it all. Obviously, if you make this, choose sides other than butternut squash and Brussels sprouts. (Vegan, Gluten-free with a GF bread substitution)

Gluten-Free Apple Pecan Cornbread Stuffing from Sylvana Nardone via the New York Times. I’d substitute fresh sage and thyme for the Italian seasoning, but otherwise this looks awesome. (Gluten-free)

Mashed Potatoes, Only Virtuous

Rosemary Garlic Mashed Potatoes from Big Girls, Small Kitchen. Simply olive oil, rosemary – oh, and an entire head of garlic! (Vegan, Gluten-free)

Mashed Potatoes with Greek Yogurt from Tangy and lemony, these are a delicious departure from ordinary mashed potatoes. Made with nonfat Greek yogurt, of course. (Gluten-free)

Creamy Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Cauliflower from Jeanette’s Healthy Living. With both garlic and Greek yogurt, this recipe is like a mash-up (pardon the pun) of the two recipes above. Using cauliflower along with potatoes cuts down the carbs quite a bit. (Gluten-free)

Less-sweet Cranberry Sauces 

Spiced Ginger, Cranberry and Pear Sauce from Pitchfork Diaries. I love, love, love this tart, complex cranberry sauce. (Vegan, gluten-free)

Spiced Cranberry Chutney with Apricots, Cherries and Pecans from Simply Healthy Family. What’s interesting about this one is that it’s sweetened only with fruit and fruit juice. (Vegan, gluten-free)

Cranberry Orange Relish from Eating Well. With only 1/4 cup of sugar, this is about the least sweetened cranberry recipe you’ll find. The ginger is a nice touch. (Vegan, gluten-free)

Hibiscus Cranberry Sauce from Love and Olive Oil. I was so excited to find this recipe, because hibiscus is one of my favorite things. Plus it’s got lime juice and very little sugar. Yippee! (Vegan, gluten-free)

Traditional Desserts Made Healthy

You Won’t Believe It’s Vegan Pumpkin Pie from Food52. Wow, this recipe looks so much better than the vegan pumpkin pie recipes with tofu. Cashews are a great idea. (Vegan)

Chocolate Tofu Pudding from Vegetarian Times. Chocolate, on Thanksgiving? Hell, yeah!  I like that this recipe includes dark chocolate rather than just cocoa powder – that gives it a nice richness. (Vegan, Gluten-free)

Cranberry Upside Down Cake from This Can’t Be Vegan. While pie is more traditional, no one’s going to turn down this delicious, fruity cake. (Vegan)

My Apple Raspberry Pie. Raspberries are an unexpected touch for Thanksgiving, but the apples hold up the traditional end. Plus, the crust is so good, no one will believe there’s no butter or shortening in it. (Vegan)

Cranberry and Pear Tart from My New Roots. I’ve already made the oat and pecan crust from this recipe, to great accolades. Next time I’ll make the whole thing (although I will find a substitute for brown rice syrup, as it has been shown to be high in arsenic.) (Vegan, Gluten-free)

Happy Thanksgiving and happy eating,