Scrambled tofu I was never much of a tofu eater – I know all about the health concerns surrounding soy – but since I’ve gone vegan (OK, 99% vegan), I’ve let it sneak back into my diet once a week. Now, instead of our old Sunday morning egg ritual, we now have scrambled tofu. I figure eating tofu once a week can’t be too harmful – and I’ve really grown to love this dish.

Mind you, I’ve had a lot of really bad scrambled tofu in my day, especially dishes that are just cubes of tofu with vegetables and no hint of “scrambling.”  So it took me a while to come up with a combination that I liked. My secret ingredient is za’atar, a traditional Middle Eastern spice blend with cumin, sumac, sesame seeds and other spices. It gives the tofu a nice savory bite and nicely offsets the onions, peppers and tomatoes I use.

You can buy Za’atar at Whole Foods and elsewhere, but you can also make your own. The quality of the tofu you use makes a big difference, so choose carefully. If you can find a locally made brand, great. I use Woodstock Farms extra-firm tofu.

I hope you’ll make this for your next Sunday breakfast. You can try switching up the vegetables – I’ve been known to add sauteed kale or zucchini. If you come up with a great variation of your own, please leave a comment!

Scrambled Tofu with Za’atar

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil or high-oleic safflower oil

1 small onion, or half a medium onion, minced

½ medium red bell pepper, diced small

1 medium tomato, diced

14-16 ounces extra-firm tofu (organic and non-GMO), well drained

1 tablespoon low-sodium tamari

3 tablespoons nutritional yeast

1/2 cup water

1 teaspoon za’atar

¾ teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon sweet paprika

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Saute the onion and pepper over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the tomato and cook a couple minutes longer, until the tomato starts to break down. Add the tofu by squeezing the blocks through your fingers into the pan. Add the remaining ingredients except cilantro, raise the heat bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the liquid has evaporated. Stir in cilantro and serve.

Serves 2

Quinoa Salad with chickpeas

If I have one more quinoa salad that has nuts and dried fruit, or black beans and corn, just shoot me (and yes, I’m sure I have some of those on this very blog!). I just feel like I always know exactly what those salads are going to taste like before I try them. Plus they can be pretty carb-heavy when quinoa is the main ingredient.

I’ve been trying to pack more vegetables into every meal, so today I flipped the usual quinoa salad equation: this one is mostly vegetables; the quinoa plays more of a supporting role. For the vegetables, I went with radicchio, carrots, roasted red peppers and scallions. With protein in the form of chickpeas and pine nuts, plus olives and a tangy lemon-mustard vinaigrette, this dish is both nutritious and unexpected. My faith in quinoa salads has been restored!

P.S. This makes a large batch, so it’s a perfect dish for a party, or for lunches all week. Feel free to add more quinoa to stretch it even further – it’s good that way, too.

Quinoa Salad with Vegetables and Chickpeas

2 cups cooked quinoa
1 can organic chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 large head radicchio, cored and thinly sliced
3 scallions, sliced
6-8 large pitted green or black olives, sliced
2 carrots, thinly sliced, preferably with a mandoline
1 stalk celery, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
3 large roasted red peppers, chopped (homemade better but jarred ok, too)
2-3 tablespoons roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted (can substitute chopped toasted almonds)

1 tablespoons Dijon mustard
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
zest of one organic lemon
¼ teaspoon salt, or more to taste
Generous amount of freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Place the salad ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk together the mustard, lemon juice, zest, salt and pepper, then slowly whisk in the olive oil. Pour the dressing over the salad and mix well. Serve at room temperature.

Serves 8-12 as a side dish

Lentil Kale Sweet Potato Soup 2

Today’s delicious vegan soup recipe came about as a result of feedback from some of my readers. Dozens of people have written to me regarding Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn’s work, which you may be familiar with through his book Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, his son Rip’s book, The Engine 2 Diet, or the documentary film Forks Over Knives. Dr. Esselstyn advocates a totally plant-based, vegan diet, with no oil whatsoever. The claim is that with this diet, the damage to arteries due to heart disease can be undone. It sounds amazing and the evidence is compelling in many ways – but keep in mind that there are skeptics, like this one:

The readers who’ve contacted me ask why in the world I continue to use oil in my recipes when you can reverse heart disease through an oil-free, vegan diet. When I hear someone say they’d rather eat bacon even if it means they’ll live a shorter life, I’m infuriated. But here I am, saying I’m not sure I want to live olive oil-free, even if I kick the bucket sooner than I otherwise would (hopefully it will just be the difference between age 97 and 98!)

Besides the fact that I love olive oil, one of the big hurdles is travel. I can’t imagine going to Italy, Spain or Greece and having to avoid oil – since eating in Italy is about my favorite thing in the world. Even in cities where vegan food is plentiful, like San Francisco or Portland, enjoying restaurants is difficult, if not impossible. If I do ever decide to adopt this diet, I will most certainly ditch it when traveling.

I feel good about the fact that I eat tons of leafy greens, beans and whole grains, I avoid red meat and processed foods of all kinds, and I consume very little dairy. Just maintaining this diet is challenging enough – having to be “plant perfect” would probably send me over the edge. I’m about 90% of the way there … and that’s ok with me.

Having said all that, some dishes can be made oil-free with no sacrifice in flavor – so I figure why not cut out a little where you can. Which brings me to today’s soup. I think of this as my late winter detox soup: it’s full of nothing but vegetables and legumes. It’s delicious, and doesn’t contain a drop of oil!

Lentil, Kale and Sweet Potato Soup

1 medium onion, diced
1 large or 2 small carrots, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 1/2 cups brown lentils
4 cups vegetable broth
4 cups water
15-oz can petite-diced fire roasted tomatoes
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed (I used a white-fleshed variety)
handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme (or dried)
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 cups chopped curly kale (stems removed)

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat (do not use a nonstick pan!). Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook, stirring, for 5-7 minutes, until vegetables soften and start to brown. Add the rest of the ingredients except kale. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 35-40 minutes, until sweet potatoes and lentils are tender. If the soup is too thick, add a little more broth or water. Season with salt to taste (if you used a salted broth, it should not need any more.) Add kale and cook another 5 minutes. Remove bay leaf and serve.

Serves 4

Here’s an update of a post from 2010 – I wanted to share it again because I’ve improved on the recipe (but not the slightly crappy old photo, sadly!) I’ve reduced the amount of sugar a bit, and switched to coconut sugar. I also used a mix of walnuts and pecans this time, and added some orange juice. The changes made a nice difference.

“Lightened” versions of old favorites rarely live up to expectations. No, I’m not talking about Paul Anka singing Nirvana—I’m talking about banana bread.  I’ve been searching for a great low fat, whole grain version for years. One that’s not rubbery, dry or overly dense. I had almost given up, when I saw a recipe that suggested combining yogurt and bananas with baking soda. I think the reaction between the soda and yogurt improves the rising and the texture. After a lot of experimentation with that concept, I hit on the magic formula.

This bread is sweet, moist and banana-y, with a nice crumb. No one would ever guess it was made with whole wheat flour and very little oil. In fact, I think it’s as good as ones made with a whole stick of butter. Of course, I loaded it up with walnuts which add extra fat – but nuts are good for your heart. So I pronounce this to be heart-healthy banana bread that doesn’t taste like a compromise. My quest is over!

Two tips: Don’t use anything but extremely ripe bananas here (black skin!). And this bread is best the day it’s baked or the following day. So eat it up. Something tells me you won’t have a problem with that.

Ultimate Healthy Banana Bread

1 1/2 cups well-mashed very ripe bananas (about 3 large)
1/2 cup nonfat yogurt – if using Greek yogurt, use a bit less and thin with milk
1 tsp baking soda
2 egg whites
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
2/3 cup coconut sugar
1/4 cup organic high-oleic, expeller-pressed safflower oil
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½  teaspoon salt
2/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup chopped pecans

Mix the bananas, yogurt and baking soda in a small bowl and let sit for five minutes. Add the egg whites, orange juice, sugar, oil and vanilla and mix very well. In another bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Add to the wet ingredients, stirring just until blended. Fold in the nuts.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a 9 x 5” loaf pan with oil, and fill with the batter. Bake for 55-60 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.


Vegan beef stew 3

This frigid week somehow shook me out of my lazy-blogger mode! The cold, and my resulting cravings, led me to create this deeply flavorful stew, which will warm the cockles of even the biggest meat-heads.

Vegans may hate me for saying it, but this really is reminiscent of beef stew. I used the same basic method, coating the seitan in flour and browning it, which later thickens the stew. I just had to add a lot more ingredients to create an equivalent gravy. I threw in the kitchen sink here – red wine, tamari, orange zest, cloves, paprika, rosemary and thyme. It’s the perfect backdrop for the root vegetables, mushrooms and seitan. And of course you’ve gotta have peas in a stew like this.

This is some serious comfort food. I can’t think of any better dinner to eat on the couch while I settle in for another TV binge-watching marathon.

Seitan, Porcini and Root Vegetable Stew

4 tablespoons organic high-oleic safflower oil, divided
1 large onion, halved lengthwise then thinly sliced
8 oz. fresh porcini mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
2 8-oz. packages seitan, drained and cut into bite-size chunks
½ cup flour (I used white whole wheat flour)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 cup dry red wine, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons low-sodium tamari (or half tamari, half Worcestershire if you aren’t vegan)
4 cups vegetable broth, plus more if needed
1½ pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (about 3 medium-large), cut into large-ish chunks
2 stalks celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 small turnips, peeled and cubed (or substitute parsnips)
3-4 large carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces (halve lengthwise if the carrots are very fat)
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
½ teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
3 1-inch strips orange zest
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup frozen peas
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium high heat in a large dutch oven. Add the onions and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Raise the heat slightly, add the mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes, until golden brown. Add the garlic and cook for one minute longer. Remove to a bowl.

Place the flour and pepper on a plate. Add seitan and mix to coat.

Heat the remaining oil over medium-high heat. Add the setian, discarding any excess flour. Cook for 5 minutes, until seitan is nicely browned all over, stirring occasionally with a metal spatula, scraping the bottom of the pan each time. Remove to a bowl.

Add the wine to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes or until it has reduced by about half. Add remaining ingredients except peas, vinegar and seitan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Taste for salt and add as needed, and pour in more wine or broth if the potatoes aren’t covered enough by the liquid. Add the seitan and simmer another 20 minutes, or until potatoes and carrots are tender. If the stew gets too thick, add more liquid as necessary. Add peas and vinegar, cook for two minutes, then remove bay leaf and serve.

As you may have noticed, I’ve been a very bad blogger lately. Meaning, I haven’t been doing it at all. (Hopefully just a phase, friends.) But while I don’t have anything new to share today, I wanted to remind you about my five favorite heart-healthy holiday cookie recipes. All of these are equally as delicious as the usual buttery classics. In fact, I’m currently trying to organize an office cookie bake-off to prove this fact, but all of my co-workers are whining about being “bad bakers.” How you can have a problem baking something as simple as cookies, I’ll never understand. In any case, I might be competing against myself!

Linzer Macaroon Sandwich Cookies. These are my absolute favorite. Gluten-free, too.

Vegan Molasses Ginger Cookies.  My friend David is obsessed with these cookies. In fact, I don’t think he ever makes any other cookie recipe. I’m sure he’s making them right now.

Vegan Chocolate Mint Cookies. If you like Girl Scout thin mints but don’t care for the trans fats, these are for you. Warning, they are addictive.

Vegan Thumpbrint Cookies. These are rich with walnuts and almond butter. Definitely not a low-calorie treat, but worth the splurge.

Vegan Cranberry Walnut Cookies. The are straight from Eating Well magazine. They’re super sweet but the cranberries add a nice tang.

Happy Holidays, and happy cookie eating.