zucchini noodles

Oh, zucchini noodles, where have you been all my life? Yes, despite the fact that “zoodles” are all over the Internet, I have somehow missed out on them until now. I thought they were only a raw food trend and that didn’t interest me much – but turns out you can have your zucchini noodles cooked, too.

To make zucchini noodles, you really should buy a julienne peeler or vegetable spiralizer. With either one, you get perfect spaghetti-shaped zucchini in no time. Of course, zucchini noodles aren’t pasta – but the shape that does evoke the experience of eating a plate of spaghetti. Perfect if you’re gluten-free – reducing your carb intake, as I am right now.

I based this dish on an old favorite recipe from an old cookbook called The Vegan Gourmet. I think the original had pasta tossed with a sauté of thinly sliced zucchini, onions and roasted red peppers, with white wine and some toasted pine nuts, mint and lemon added at the end.

This time, of course, the zucchini itself stood in for the pasta. I went with almonds instead of pine nuts, cherry tomatoes instead of roasted red peppers, and basil instead of mint. And I used Meyer lemon for its subtle tang.

I’ve gotta say, my expectations weren’t sky-high for this dish, but it’s easily my favorite recipe of the year so far. There’s something about the crunch of the almonds with the sweetness of the tomatoes and the slightly sour lemon … it’s just fantastic.

If you want to cut down the carbohydrates further, use the roasted red peppers in place of the tomatoes. I’m sure it would be equally delicious that way – but sungold tomatoes are growing in my back yard, and I find them irresistible.

If you’re a calorie or carb counter, this dish has 255 calories and 27 grams of carbs per serving. I enjoyed every last bite without guilt, and I urge you to do the same. Happy end-of-summer!

Zucchini Noodles with Tomatoes, Almonds and Basil

4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1½ cups small cherry tomatoes (the fresher and sweeter the better)
2 medium zucchini, julienned (see note above)
1 medium yellow onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons basil chiffonade
2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice
2 tablespoons slivered (not sliced) almonds, toasted
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Toss the cherry tomatoes with 1 teaspoon olive oil and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the tomatoes start to break down a little. Remove to a small bowl and set aside.

Cut the zucchini with a julienne peeler or a spiralizer.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and sauté over low heat for 8 minutes, or until starting to brown. Add the garlic and cook a minute more. Raise the heat to medium, add the zucchini and cook for about 5 minutes, gently stirring, until just it’s just tender. Turn off the heat and stir in the lemon juice, basil and almonds. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, topping with the roasted cherry tomatoes.

Serves 2

cauliflower soup

The Creamy Cauliflower Soup With Greens from Martha Stewart Living has turned out to be a recipe I go back and play with over and over. My last experiment with it was to add white beans, which makes it a heartier soup. This time I wanted to keep it light but add a little variety. So I added squash to the cauliflower and greens, and some Meyer lemon juice to brighten up the flavor at the end.

Besides being pure vegetable deliciousness in a bowl, this soup is a godsend for me right now, because I’m on a serious weight loss mission, and there are only about 60 calories in each cup. I find that it’s perfect for lunch at work, along with some kind of protein (I’m trying to eat lots of protein at every meal and in between!)

Note that I’ve made this with both kale and collard greens, and I’m now coming down on the side of collards. Especially when combined with the squash, they lend a nice sweetness to the soup.

The soup seemed to require a good amount of salt – add it gradually and see what you think. I would normally top this soup with homemade whole wheat croutons and a drizzle of olive oil. But right now, I’m just throwing on a few crunchy roasted chickpeas (for store-bought, I like the Pulse and Chic-a-Peas brands). They add fiber and protein – and of course, a few extra calories, but the crunchy goodness is worth it.

This recipe makes a very large batch of soup, because it’s something you’ll want to have around, or freeze. And you can have a ton of it, guilt-free. Yay.

Cauliflower, Squash and Collard Green Soup

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 leeks, white and light green parts cleaned and chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 medium-large zucchini, roughly chopped
1 medium-large yellow squash, roughly chopped
Two medium heads cauliflower, cut into florets (8-10 cups)
2 bunches collard greens, stems removed, leaves chopped (about 10-12 cups)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
¼ cup chopped fresh dill
4 cups vegetable broth (I recommend Imagine’s No Chicken Broth)
5 cups water
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, preferably Meyer lemon juice
Roasted chickpeas, for garnish (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a very large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add leeks, onions and garlic, and sauté for 5-7 minutes, until starting to get soft.

Add the zucchini and yellow squash, and sauté for 5 minutes longer. Add the cauliflower, greens, herbs, vegetable broth, water, ½ teaspoon salt and a generous amount of pepper.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for 25 minutes or until the vegetables are quite soft. Season to taste with additional salt, then stir in lemon juice.

Puree with an immersion blender (or a food processor). Reheat as necessary and serve.

Serves 8 (with 2-cup servings)

vegetarian chili

Pardon me, I just can’t stop! I already have so many good vegetarian chili recipes (like this one and this one) but really, can there ever be too many? Today I wanted to make a chili that balanced fast and delicious, so I used fire-roasted tomatoes for smokiness, vegetarian chipotle sausages for texture, canned beans for convenience, and cilantro for extra flavor. And I’ve gotta say, this is a great addition to my chili collection.

It might seem odd to include molasses in chili. But the fire-roasted tomatoes can be quite tart and acidic, so it really helps balance things out.

To ensure that your chili is as healthful as possible, be sure to use organic bell peppers and celery (known to be some of the vegetables highest in pesticide residues) and BPA-free canned beans.

That’s it. Over & out, short & sweet!

Another Vegetarian Chili

4 cloves garlic
1 large handful cilantro (leaves and stems ok)
1 cup beer, any kind
2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
3 fresh jalapeño peppers, minced
3 Field Roast chipotle sausages, crumbled
3 tablespoons ancho chili powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (omit if you want a milder chili)
2 28-ounce cans fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
2 teaspoons molasses
2 cans pinto beans, drained
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Toppings (optional): shredded cheese, avocado, nonfat or soy yogurt, chopped onions

Place the garlic, cilantro, beer and oregano in a food processor and process until smooth.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a heavy pot or Dutch oven. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the onions, bell pepper, jalapeños and sausages. Sauté for 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until vegetables are soft and starting to brown.

Reduce the heat and add the chili powder, cumin and cayenne, cooking for 2 minutes longer, stirring constantly.

Add the tomatoes, molasses, beans, salt, pepper and pureed mixture. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Adjust seasoning to taste and serve with your toppings of choice.

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