Mango Banana Smoothie

As a vegetarian, the question I am most frequently asked is undoubtedly, “Why?” A close second is, “But how do you get enough protein?” It is surprising to most people how much protein can be found in everything from beans to grains to vegetables. Being a veg does not have to mean eating an unbalanced diet. In fact, when you are more aware of the nutritional value of the stuff you put in your body, it can inspire you to eat healthier.

From time to time I get on a workout kick and find that I require a bit more protein than my regular diet provides. I’ve tried all sorts of bars, powders, and potions over the years and I have opinions on lots of different products. But recently, with guidance from the owner of my local nutrition supplement store, I’ve come up with a concoction that delivers some essential nutrients to support my increased activity that tastes great and is ready in a flash.

Though you can use any protein supplement you prefer, I recommend Pea Protein by Now Sports. Peas are a great source of easily-digested protein; each scoop of this product contains about 28 grams. Also, this supplement is free of common allergens and just about as natural as you can get. Add a shot of flaxseed oil for some healthy fats and you’ll be ready to tackle whatever your day throws at you.

10 ounces light vanilla soy milk
1 banana
1 cup frozen mango chunks
1 scoop (33 grams) protein powder
1 tablespoon flaxseed oil

Pour soy milk, banana, and frozen mango into blender. Pulse until combined.

Add 1 scoop protein powder. Blend until smooth.

Add flaxseed oil and blend for 30 seconds.

(Yields: 1 serving; Ready In: 5 minutes)


Shuckey Beans (aka Leather Britches)

Shuckey beans are one of my favorite foods of all time. These are dried green beans known regionally as “leather britches” for their tan color and coarse texture. For my part, I prefer “shuckey beans” over their alias as the term “leather britches” reminds me of a horror movie villain.

My grandmother would most often string plump green beans at the height of the summer season, but traditionally folks would use those beans that were the less than ideal products of a dry or blighted crop. My parents string a bushel of beans each summer and they insist that the most fulsome beans make the best shuckey beans.

Below I describe the process for making shuckey beans from stringing to cooking. These beans are a perfect addition to a fall meal when fresh green beans are hard to find, but there’s really no bad time to eat them. Once they’ve been dried you can keep them around for six months or so before cooking. Don’t be afraid if you’ve never tried preserving food; this is a totally easy process and I guarantee you you’ll be glad you “put up a mess of beans” when October rolls around.

2 ½ pounds green beans (half-runners, turkey craw varieties work best)
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon kosher salt

Remove the “strings” from the green beans. If you’ve never done this before, you basically pinch the tip of each bean where it once connected to the vine and pull the fibrous string that runs down the center of the bean. For most varieties, there is a string on the front and back of each bean, so make sure to remove both but keep the bean in tact. Don’t break or snap the beans into segments, however.

Use a standard needle to thread the beans together in two to three foot lengths. Hang the beans in a warm, dry place. Leave the beans to dry until they are brown, crinkled, and rough to the touch. At that time, remove the beans from the thread. Store them in a paper bag until ready to cook. Some people store the tightly-cinched bag in the freezer.

When ready to cook, break the beans into two or three smaller segments, making sure to remove any “strings” missed in the first round. Place the beans in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Allow the beans to soak for approximately 36 hours to rehydrate.

Remove the beans from their soak and transfer them to a large stock pot. Add 6 cups of fresh water, oil, butter, and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cover. Cook for six hours, checking the beans every hour. Add additional water, one cup at a time, as necessary. The beans will be tender and tan when done.

(Yields 8 servings; Ready in a pretty long time, but they are totally worth it)


Penne with Creamy Spinach Sauce

Jon’s mom, Teresa, passed along this recipe. It originally comes from Food Network personality Giada De Laurentiis. But as is the case with many of the recipes I work from, I found ways to bastardize this one. Perhaps most significantly, you’ll notice that I recommend brown rice pasta. I have nothing against whole wheat, multi-grain, or any other sort of pasta, I just like to limit my gluten intake and I’ve kind of grown to love the succulent texture of rice-based pasta.

This is a fantastic and easy recipe. It’s a great meal for a weekday evening or a summer lunch—but the clean up from the sauce preparation can be a bit of a downer.

½ pound brown-rice penne pasta
3 garlic cloves
3 ounces chevre (goat cheese)
1 ounce reduced fat cream cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¾ teaspoon black pepper
8 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves
2 tablespoons Parmesan, grated

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the penne and cook about 8-9 minutes (or according to package instructions) until the pasta is tender, but still al dente. Stir periodically.

While the pasta is cooking, mince the garlic in a food processor. Add chevre, cream cheese, salt, pepper, and about half of the spinach leaves. Blend until the mixture is creamy and smooth.

With the remaining spinach leaves, arrange a fist-sized bed of greens in each serving plate.

Drain the pasta and then toss it with the spinach cream sauce, until the penne is thoroughly and evenly coated. Spoon servings of pasta onto each bed of spinach leaves. Sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan and serve warm.

(Yields: 4 servings; Ready In: 15 minutes)


The Return of Collard Green: Basic Vegetable Stock

That’s right. Collard Green is back. Thank you to everyone who has continued to support this blog in my absence. Your comments and feedback are fantastic! The last year has been very busy for me professionally—which is a great thing, but I’ve definitely scaled back on both cooking and blogging about it. But that ends today.

This summer I will be reading for my comprehensive exams to advance toward my PhD. Reading books that I’ve always wanted to read sounds like fun right now, but come closer to the test date in October, I imagine that I will 180% crazier.

I’ve always found that the best way to control for stress is to find equilibrium among the disparate aspects of my life. When I was an undergrad at UVA, there was a giant Thomas Jefferson quote above the entrance to the Aquatic Fitness Center that read, “Give about two hours every day to exercise; for health must not be sacrificed to learning. A strong body makes the mind strong.” Oh, TJ, how inspiring. Unless, you know, you’re a slave. And of course I researched this quote (because I’m an unflagging nerd) and found that it continues past the eloquent lines etched into UVA’s flagship gym. TJ says, “A strong body makes the mind strong. As for the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind” (August 19, 1785). Whoopsie.

So, the point is, that until my 30th birthday next cinco de mayo I’m going to do my dead level best to strike a balance between consuming and producing texts, eating and cooking great vegetarian food, and exercising and loafing.

To start off this enterprise, yesterday I made some basic vegetable stock. So many types of cuisine use stock in the cooking process and like almost everything else in the kitchen, if you make it from scratch it will taste better in your final product. Of course, we don’t always have the luxury of time or resources to make everything from scratch, but stock is something you can make when you DO have time and keep it in the freezer until you need it. The vegetable stock I outline below can be kept in a covered container for about 3-4 days in the refrigerator and 3 months in the freezer.

And of course, there are all sorts of alternatives if you just never have the time for making stock. There are some boxed and canned varieties that are quite good as well as some condensed options. My advice for prepared stock is to try to find the lowest sodium variety that you can. This will give you much more leeway in seasoning whatever dish you are making to your own taste—and it’s better for your heart.

1 red onion, peeled and quartered
1 yellow onion, peeled and quartered
2 medium sweet potatoes, sliced
4 garlic cloves, diced
1 large carrot, rough chopped
2 large white potatoes, sliced
3 celery stalks, rough chopped
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
10 chive leaves
1 bay leaf
8 peppercorns
1 teaspoon kosher salt
10 cups water

Combine all ingredients in a large soup pot. As long as you scrub all of your vegetables thoroughly, there is no need for peeling.

For easy removal, use a short length of cooking twine to make a bouquet garni with your thyme, chives, and bay leaf. This may sound difficult, but it is as easy as tying your shoelaces. Simply lay your herbs across the twine making a “T” shape. Wrap the twine tightly around the herbs and tie the ends securely. The purpose of the bouquet garni is to infuse a dish with the flavor of fresh herbs without the risk of your dinner guests chomping on a bay leaf during your first course. Because we will be straining the stock, some folks might think this step is superfluous bit since it takes about 10 seconds to complete, I think you are better safe than sorry.

With all of your ingredients in the pot, bring everything to a boil, lower the heat, cover, and simmer for about 50 minutes.

Remove the pot from heat and strain the stock through a fine sieve or colander. You can use a potato masher to squeeze out as much liquid as possible but you may have to re-strain your stock as the mashing process can push small chunks of vegetable through the holes of your sieve.

Once you have separated the liquid from the solids, dispose of the latter. Lots of folks like to save the solids for rich composting material…if you’re into that sort of thing.

Remember that you can store your stock in a covered container in the fridge for 3-4 days and in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Also feel free to make substitutions based on seasonal availability or what you have in the crisper. Avoid using broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, cabbage, and asparagus, however. These don’t play well in stock.

(Yields: 2 quarts; Ready In: 90 minutes)


Pumpkin Butter Squares

It’s no secret that I love pumpkin most any way it is prepared. However, I’m much more fastidious when it comes to sweet pumpkin confections. So when I was introduced to this recipe I was, at first, a bit skeptical. It sounded suspiciously like the kind of bar you’d find at any high school bake sale. However, this fall treat has become one of my favorite baked goods. Ever. These things are that good.

And recently I decided to up the stakes and move this treat to the formal dessert menu. I served these pumpkin squares at a dinner party paired with a cinnamon ice cream that Jon made. The combination was a total hit. Until the leftovers are gone, I don’t think a meal will go by when I’m not tempted to finish it off with this homey fall dessert.

1 box yellow cake mix, 1 cup reserved
8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and diced
3 extra large eggs
1 10 or 13.5 ounce jar of pumpkin butter
2 Tablespoons milk
1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

Combine the cake mix (except for the reserved cup), melted butter, and 1 egg. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan.

Combine pumpkin butter, 2 eggs, and milk. Pour this mixture over the cake batter mixture in the pan.

In the bowl of a blender, combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, and the reserved cup of cake mix. Add the 4 Tablespoons of cold, diced butter. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients until pea-sized crumbs form and the mixture clumps together. Crumble this topping over the pumpkin butter mixture in the pan.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until golden.

(Yields: 15-18 servings; Ready In: 50 minutes)


Cole Slaw

Cole slaw is one of my all-time favorite side dishes, but the thing about it is that everyone seems to have his or her own opinion about what constitutes the best slaw. My mom’s slaw—which I’ve long considered the top of the line—uses a dressing that is mildly acidic, but pungently sweet. I know some folks prefer a stronger vinegar flavor, some like a smooth and creamy dressing, and others prefer a sweet and sour combination. For literally years now I’ve experimented with various recipes and techniques to arrive at what I consider my trademark cole slaw recipe. This is a dish that tries to please everyone with its rich, sweet, and tangy dressing. I also finally decided that my mom’s been right all of these years—the best way to get the crunchy texture and delicate presentation is with an old-fashioned box grater.

1 small cabbage, grated on largest face (about 4 cups grated cabbage)
2 large carrots, grated on largest face (about ¾ - 1 cup grated carrots)
1/3 cup champagne vinegar
½ cup sugar
1 egg white
½ tablespoon butter, melted
½ cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
paprika for garnish (optional)

Using the largest face of a box grater, grate the cabbage and carrots into a medium mixing bowl. It is okay if the vegetables are not all the same size—in fact this is desirable so as to give the slaw textural diversity.

In a small bowl, combine remaining ingredients (except paprika) and mix well with a fork. When the dressing is combined pour it over the grated vegetables and toss to coat evenly. Cover and refrigerate immediately for at least 2 hours before serving.

Top with a light dusting of paprika and serve chilled.

(Serves: 6; Ready In: 20 minutes [not counting chilling time])


Mediterranean Pasta

This is one of my favorite dishes of all time. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not always thrilled about pasta— mainly because I find myself forced to order some sort of pasta situation when eating at a particularly non-veg-friendly joint. But this one is a showstopper. I don’t even remember where I first got this recipe now, but I’ve tweaked it a bit over time to arrive at this incarnation. I’ve served this pasta at dinner parties and I’ve also made it at the beginning of the week and feasted on leftovers until Thursday. The bold flavors are perfect for any time of year and any occasion.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup red onion, diced
1 cup yellow bell pepper, diced
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, including juice
2/3 cup Kalamata olives, pitted
½ cup golden raisins
½ cup dry white wine
2 ½ tablespoons basil, chopped
¼ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
8 ounces bow tie pasta (farfalle)
½ cup chevre, crumbled

In a large sauce pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Saute onion and bell pepper 9 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add tomatoes, olives, raisins, wine, basil, and red pepper flakes. Simmer for 10 to 12 minutes until the mixture begins to thicken. Add salt and pepper and reduce to a very low heat.

Cook the pasta according to package instructions in a large pot of salted, boiling water until al dente. Drain and toss the pasta with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil.

Stir the chevre into the warm sauce so that some crumbles remain, but some of the cheese melts into the sauce, making it rich and creamy. Toss the pasta with the sauce and serve.

(Serves: 8; Ready In: 30 minutes)


Vegan Jambalaya

In an effort to stretch every dollar as far as possible, Jon and I have been planning each week before we head to the grocery. Our strategy is simple: we know the staples that we always buy, but in addition to those we plan three or four dinners to get us through the week. So far this game plan has worked out really well. And in addition to saving money and simplifying the nightly decision about what to eat, this new course of action has inspired me to flip through some of my favorite, if oft neglected, cookbooks.

That’s how I became reacquainted with Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s fantastic Veganomicon. I’ve found some of my favorite recipes of all time in this book, and if you’re a vegan, well there’s a reason it is subtitled “The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook.” Because I can’t leave well enough alone, I decided that I’d use the Veganomicon’s “Seitanic Red and White Bean Jambalaya” as a starting point for a jambalaya of my own. But on the night we’d decided to make jambalaya, I worked a little late, so Jon took on the task of giving this recipe a unique twist. He did a fantastic job! Address your fan mail to him regarding the great dish that follows. And don’t be afraid of the large portion this recipe makes; the leftovers will spice up your lunch for days.

6 tablespoons olive oil
1 14-ounce package of Tofurky Italian Sausage
1 orange bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup cooking sherry
2 cups long-grain white rice (uncooked)
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 15-ounce can navy beans
1 15-ounce can black beans
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon dried paprika
½ teaspoon celery seed
¼ teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon ground red pepper
3 cups vegetable broth
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in large oven-ready saucepan over medium heat. Slice the Tofurky sausages into ½ inch medallions and sauté for 5 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove the sausage from the pot and allow to drain on paper towels.

Add the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil to the pot and stir in onion, peppers, and garlic. Sauté for 12-15 minutes, until the vegetables are very soft. Stir the tomato paste into the vegetables and cook, stirring often, for 4 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Stir in the cooking sherry to deglaze the vegetables. Cook the mixture for 30 seconds, then add rice. Stir the rice for 4-5 minutes, then stir in diced tomatoes, Tofurky sausage, beans, thyme, marjoram, paprika, celery seed, chili powder, and ground red pepper. Bring the mixture to a simmer, add vegetable broth and water, and return to a simmer. Add salt and pepper.

Cover the oven-ready saucepan with aluminum foil and place it in the preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes, until the rice is tender.

Remove from oven, stir, then cover and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes before serving.

(Serves: 8; Ready In: 90 minutes)


Hash Brown Haystacks

I love the challenge of coming up with a fast and easy meal using only the random items I have in the pantry. Last night, while cooking veg chili and hotdogs, I realized that I needed a side dish. Rifling through the freezer, I came across a bag of hash browns and riffing on a recipe on the back of the package, I came up with this dish. It was a total hit and the perfect complement to the dinner menu. The Maury results are in: necessity is the mother of invention.

1 20 oz. bag of frozen hash browns
1 extra large egg
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
pinch of red pepper
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Spray a muffin pay with non-stick cooking spray.

Lightly beat the egg. In a large bowl combine hash browns, egg, salt, black pepper, and red pepper. Stir until potatoes are evenly coated with the egg mixture and any frozen chunks have been separated.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin pan filling each cup about ¾ full. Place on the top rack of the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Return to oven for 2 minutes.

Serve warm. May be garnished with a small dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of fresh chives.

(Serves: 6; Ready In: 25 minutes)


A Peach of a Meal

To me, nothing signifies the arrival of summer like the appearance of fresh, local peaches. My friend Jenn was visiting South Carolina last week and picked up a whole bunch of peaches at the Columbia farmers’ market. When she graciously offered to give us a dozen or so, I began to think about ways to use them before they spoiled. Like every rational person I decided that I should cook an Iron Chef-style meal with peaches as the key ingredient.

So, Jenn, Robin, Harry, Joe, Jon, and I sat down to dinner last night and somehow miraculously escaped developing type two diabetes over the course of the meal. After testing recipes, I was pleasantly surprised how versatile peaches can be. From a spicy glaze for your favorite protein to a crisp, refreshing summer beverage, this culinary experiment proves that layering flavors is a great way to draw out less obvious notes of common ingredients.


First Course:
Chilled Peach Soup (from the Blue Fox Guild)

Main Course:
Spicy Peach Glazed Baked Tofu
Savory Stuffed Peaches
Sweet Potato Peach Casserole

Vegan Peach Ice Cream
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