Mango Quinoa Salad

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This fresh salad gives you that yummy Thai mango salad flavour with more substance and protein, and less chopping. It’s win-win!

Makes about 5 cups of salad

*When prepping the mangos and veggies, try to make all your pieces around the same size (except the red onion, which should be smaller).*

  • 1 cup quinoa (dry measure), cooked and cooled
  • 2 small-medium mangos (see note), flesh removed from pit and diced
  • ½ English cucumber, diced
  • 1 small red pepper, diced
  • 3 green onions, green parts only, sliced
  • ½ small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 handful fresh cilantro, leaves and stems, chopped.
  • Lime wedges and cilantro leaves, to garnish.

Dressing:

  • Juice of 1.5-2 limes (if you’re reaming the limes, one and a half should be enough)
  • ½ teaspoon brown or turbinado sugar
  • ½ teaspoon soy sauce or tamari
  • 3 tablespoons oil (I used safflower, but any oil that doesn’t have a strong flavour would work)
  • 1 teaspoon chili flakes (or more, if you like it spicy)

Note on the mangos: I used ataulfo mangos that were moderately ripe. If you like your mango salad with firm green (unripe) mango flesh, by all means use green mangos. Try to avoid fully ripe ones, as they are difficult to cut and lose their cube-y shape.

Whisk together the dressing ingredients and adjust to taste.

Combine the cooled quinoa with all other salad ingredients. Pour the dressing over and toss well to combine. Allow to sit for about 15 minutes, then toss again just before serving. Garnish with lime wedges and cilantro leaves.

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A Vegan Trip To Argentina, Part 2: Mendoza

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During the drive from the Mendoza airport to our hotel in Luján de Cuyo, a rural division about twenty minutes outside the city, we saw that beautiful street art and murals were not limited to Buenos Aires; the industrial buildings and retaining walls along the highway were peppered with colourful scenes and strange creatures.  Dividing the twinned highway was a large canal.  Our driver explained that Mendoza is located in a natural desert, and complex irrigation of water from the Andes is required to support the trees (all planted during city planning and construction) and, of course, the wineries.

Arriving at Villa Mansa, which was more like a tiny, luxurious resort than a hotel, we were greeted by the owner Viviana and a pair of extremely friendly yellow Labradors.  Predictably, I became good friends with the mother-daughter doggie pair, both of whom were the type of dogs who want petting, lots of petting, don’t stop the petting.  They were trained never to enter the main hotel building or the guest rooms, and curiously, drank out of the pool.

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Our wine tour was booked for the next day.  We breakfasted at the hotel, and although, as is usual at breakfast, most of the offerings were not vegan-friendly, the presentation (including food arranged on large slabs of slate) and variety was impressive.  The strawberry and quince jams were delicious and the fruit salad fresh and plentiful; bowls of various dried fruits and nuts provided me with some breakfast protein.

Bodega Renacer winery was so breathtakingly gorgeous that I would have been perfectly happy to skip the wine tour and just wander around taking photos.  Far from being any kind of wine connoisseur, the truth is that I don’t even really like red wine much (but I’m working on it!).  Despite my unrefined palate, I enjoyed the tasting.   It started with a tasting and discussion of three pure component wines, then we were invited to combine the three according to our own tastes into a personal experimental blend.  After the do-it-yourself portion of the tasting, we were served some of Renacer’s commercial red blends and (yay!) a delightful Sauvignon Blanc.  The palate-cleansing snacks available included some golden grapes that were varied in size and colour, looked like pieces of amber, and were so delicious that I fear all of the raisins in my future will be lacking in comparison.

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The next winery we visited was Norton, a large-scale operation with wines familiar in Canada.  (Both Renacer and Norton wines are vegan-friendly.)  We were booked for a picnic lunch and tour.  Seated on a blanket under a tree, with a view of the vanishingly large vineyard and the Andes beyond, we unpacked the picnic basket: boards of meat and cheese, meat sandwiches, and fruit.  Not a vegetable in sight.  I asked about a vegan option, and was informed that I should have pre-ordered this.  (I actually had mentioned this to the company that booked us, but obviously there was some miscommunication.)  The tour guide said she would see what she could do for me, in a tone that did not inspire much hope.  However, as my family finished picking at the food (even the omnivores were overwhelmed by the heavy offerings), the guide returned with a meal for me: a board of grilled vegetables, an eggplant and red pepper sandwich, and a really nice little salad with walnuts.  I shared a few of the veggies with my covetous family and devoured the rest, which was delicious.  I felt both vaguely smug and a bit guilty that my vegan meal was obviously much better than the standard offering.

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I have to say a few words about the food at our hotel, Villa Mansa.  We ate quite a few meals in their cozy restaurant, and I was very excited to discover when we sat down to dinner on our first evening that the chef was both vegan-savvy and extremely accommodating.  While the menu did not list many vegan options aside from the daily chef’s salad, she came out to speak with me that first evening and offered to prepare me an off-menu vegan risotto with beans from the garden.  Between the rich risotto, studded with large green beans that I could not identify, and the warm-from-the oven bread served with spicy local olive oil and balsamic vinegar, I was in carb heaven.  The chef and staff were wonderfully friendly, and after my first evening I was always served a vegan alternative to the daily amuse-bouche without having to remind anyone of my diet.

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I ordered the daily salad to start every evening.  Each one was based on amazingly fresh and diverse greens.  Other ingredients on various nights included possibly the best tomato I’ve ever tasted (seriously), corn, green onions, edible flowers, vegan croutons, roasted beets, marinated eggplant…. I could go on.  I could also eat one of those salads every day for the rest of my life, quite happily.  For main courses, I enjoyed accidentally-vegan corn humita empanadas with pico de gallo, more wonderful risotto (which my family also started ordering), and crispy-fried polenta topped with grilled veggies.  It was all fantastic.  If you eat a plant-based diet and are planning a trip to Mendoza, you will definitely be well-fed and very happy at the Villa Mansa.

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For our last day in Argentina, we took a guided day trip into Mendoza.  Despite being home to a million people, the city felt small and almost intimate, with trees and plants everywhere and a seriously massive park occupying the west end of the city.  The canals were omnipresent, and even the sidewalks were bordered with three-foot-deep troughs, threatening to cause serious injury to any careless or inebriated tourists.  Like in Buenos Aires, we were inundated with murals, flowering purple trees, mosaic art, statues, and lovely parks.  As we said goodbye to my sister, who was to stay in Mendoza for a month-long nursing internship, I was jealous that she would have the chance to really get to know this beautiful city.

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Our ten days in Argentina were so, so wonderful.  Learning a bit about the history and social structure of the country, we commented more than once that Argentina reminded us of Canada; friendly people and lots of socialized public services.  I can definitely say this: don’t let a plant-based diet deter you from visiting Argentina.  It’s entirely possible to eat well with only a bit of planning and a few key words in Spanish.  In both Buenos Aires and Mendoza, one feels immersed in art and beauty.  I certainly hope to return again sometime for more days of grilled vegetables, surreal murals, and Argentinian hospitality.

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A Vegan Trip to Argentina, Part 1: Buenos Aires

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“A family trip to Argentina.”  Words that strike fear into the vegan heart, even while promising an exciting foray into an exquisitely beautiful country with friendly people and fascinating culture.  I packed up my vegan protein bars and boarded the 11-hour flight along with my sister, mother, and stepfather.

(Before we arrive in Argentina: a word on Air Canada.  I chose “Strict vegetarian / non-dairy” for my meal option when booking the trip.  Air Canada provides meals for intercontinental flights, and when you’ve chosen a non-standard one, it’s kind of fun because the attendants bring you your meal before everyone else with a little tag with your name on it.

Of the four meals I had (two flying down and two back), three of them were surprisingly edible.  The green curry with tofu was yucky, but the quinoa with spiced sweet potato, pasta with roasted veggies, and spinach crepe with asparagus were all perfectly edible.  The sides, including marinated veggie salads, bread with non-dairy margarine, and even a soy yogurt (!) were ok too.  Overall, I have to give Air Canada a thumbs-up for their vegan meals.)

Argentina is the land of beef; there is no way around it.  I read a lot online about the challenges for vegetarians visiting (or living) there; for vegans it seemed like an almost impossible place to navigate.  I resigned myself to ten days of bread, olive oil, and perhaps the odd green salad.  We had booked a private guide for a couple of days in Buenos Aires, and in an email exchange prior to the trip he told me that there is a vegetarian restaurant very close to our hotel.  A glimmer of hope.

After the grueling overnight travel from Toronto, through Santiago, to our boutique hotel in downtown Buenos Aires, we stumbled foggily to the restaurant-lined square a couple of blocks away.  Regrettably, I did not get the name of the restaurant on the corner of Costa Rica and Malabia that we piled into, ordering a round of local Imperial beers, which were light and very refreshing.  I steeled myself, looked down at the menu… and was delighted to see a little carrot symbol next to a number of choices.  While these vegetarian options were (unsurprisingly) mostly cheese-centric, one caught my eye: a grain burger with ‘grilled tofu cheese,’ rice, greens, and sprouts.  I had tailored my tiny Spanish vocabulary for just such an occasion, and I pointed to the menu and asked the server, “Sin queso, sin huevos, sin productos de leche?”  He went back to the kitchen and reappeared looking pleased.  I couldn’t believe it.  A full vegan-friendly meal at our first, randomly-chosen restaurant.  And it was delicious.

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It’s safe to say I got a bit lucky on that first day, but equally true that it was not as difficult as I had feared to find food in Buenos Aires that I could not only eat, but enjoy.  Our wonderful private tour guide, Pablo Piera, was very helpful in this regard.  Whenever it was time to eat, Pablo spoke to our servers in order to assure my meals would be vegan-friendly, and several times managed to order off-menu concoctions for me in places that otherwise would have presented real difficulty.  When he brought us to a beautiful café famous for pastries and sweets, he got the kitchen to make me up a pita-vegetable sandwich so that I would have something to nibble while the family sampled the desserts.  Pablo was an all-around fantastic guide, tailoring our time in Buenos Aires to suit our interests (heavy on the art!), and possessed of a seemingly-unlimited wealth of knowledge about the history and culture of Argentina.  If you are ever planning a trip to Buenos Aires, I cannot recommend him highly enough.

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The vegetarian restaurant near our hotel was called Krishna.  Starving after a long day sightseeing, my sister and I arrived promptly at 8pm, the opening time stated on the website, to locked doors (classic Canadians, coping poorly with European-style dinner times).  Thirty-five long minutes later, the doors opened into a small but beautifully decorated dining room, with Indian- and Buddhism-inspired details.  The English-translation menu featured pakoras, salads, and several seitan-based dishes, among others.  When I asked the server about vegan options, she left and returned with the chef, who smiled knowingly as he told me that he is vegan as well.  After he explained which dishes would be appropriate, I ordered sautéed setian and vegetables with rice and a large salad.  Both were delicious; the salad was enormous and fresh, and the seitan was cut into small pieces and mixed in a savoury sauce with lots of chopped veggies.  My sister said that the tomato sauce served with her vegetable balls was possibly the freshest-tasting she has ever had.  The only disappointment of the evening was that my camera battery died after snapping one blurry photo of the dimly-lit dining room.

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For our last night in Buenos Aires, Pablo had booked us tickets to La Esquina de Carlos Gardel for dinner and a tango show.  Once we were seated in a comfortable booth in the beautiful theatre, I checked the prix-fixe menu.   No appetizers or desserts that could potentially be modified to vegan; one pasta entrée that seemed like a contender if ordered without cheese.  When our stern-looking server arrived, I explained as nicely as I could about my diet and asked if there was any way a green salad could be ordered for an appetizer (there was nothing of the sort on the menu).  To my surprise, she assured me that I could get a vegan-friendly salad, and suggested the pasta as an entrée.  The salad arrived shortly afterward, consisting of mixed bitter greens atop thinly-sliced tomatoes in a vinaigrette; I was delighted.

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Unfortunately, my entrée appeared with a small mound of melted cheese on top of the pasta.  Watching our server rush around topping up wine for the tables in her section, I decided not to say anything and just scooped the cheese and affected pasta off the top (luckily, it was self-contained and had not spread around the dish).  The pasta was fine after this, and to my surprise, was followed by a lovely fruit plate for dessert.  (My family was jealous!)  The tango show started during dessert, and I can honestly say it was one of the most mesmerizing live performances I have ever seen. Despite the misstep with the pasta, I would definitely recommend La Esquina de Carlos Gardel for any vegans hoping to see an amazing tango show in Buenos Aires.

The next morning, we ate breakfast in the hotel.  I ate the same breakfast I’ve had virtually every day I’ve spent outside of North America: toast and jam, fruit, and black coffee.  We left for the domestic airport and departed for the second and final stop on our trip: Mendoza.  I wondered how I would fare in a more rural setting, as we were booked at a wine hotel in the desert about 20 minutes outside Mendoza… and I marveled at the fact that I was halfway through my Argentina vacation and had not touched the protein bars at the bottom of my carry-on bag.

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Wheatberry Salad with Cranberries and Parsley

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This is my go-to salad to bring to potlucks and barbeques.  It always gets the same response from people, gradually moving from “What is this?” to “This is so weird….” to “I love it!”

This salad is really intended to be a vehicle to showcase wheatberries, which are my current grain obsession.  All of the listed quantities are suggestions and can vary a lot depending on your preference.

If you aren’t familiar with wheatberries, beyond whatever google says, they are kinda like extra-chewy bulgar. At No Frills they are inexplicably located in the baking aisle, in bags, labeled ‘soft wheat.’ I cook them like pasta – boil them in lots of salted water for about 15 mins, then start checking until the texture is firm and chewy but without a hard centre.  No need to pre-soak!

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Makes about 3-4 cups

  • 1 cup (uncooked measure) soft wheatberries – cooked and cooled
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries (variation: dried currants)
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds (or whatever seeds)
  • 3-5 green onions, sliced
  • A large handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  • Juice of 1 lemon (maybe one and a half)
  • Olive oil – a big glug
  • Salt and pepper

Mix it all up and add more of whatever.  This salad keeps well for a couple of days in the fridge.

Variation: Sometimes I add diced English cucumber if I know the whole salad will be eaten at once; it won’t keep as long in fridge if you include the cucumber.

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Super Sandwich

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I’ve called this the Super Sandwich because it’s super easy, super healthy, and SUPER delicious.  And if your kitchen is anything like mine, you’ll pretty much always have the ingredients on hand.  The raw garlic (either rubbed or added in) is key to elevating this above a plain tomato/avocado sandwich.

This sandwich has been a staple of my diet my years.  I eat one of these for lunch several times a week, and I’m still not the tiniest bit tired of them.  It uses ingredients I always have on hand and takes only a few minutes to prepare. Virtually everyone who spends much time at my home has eaten one of these, and the reviews are invariably glowing.  It seems like (and is!) a very simple sandwich…. Just make one.  Then you’ll understand.

Per Sandwich:

  • 2 slices whole-grain bread (or bread of choice)
  • Drizzle of olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced in half lengthwise
  • ½ avocado, sliced
  • 1 smallish tomato, sliced (or some slices of a big one)
  • Handful of baby spinach leaves

1. Pop the bread in the toaster.  If you’re using something thick like ciabatta that won’t fit in a toaster, put the slices in the oven at 300 (no need to preheat) for a couple of minutes until warm and slightly browned.

2. Drizzle olive oil on one slice of bread.  Rub it in using the cut side of the garlic.  (If, like me, you are a garlic fiend, chop both halves of the garlic clove after this step.)

3. On the other slice of bread, arrange the avocado slices and mash them in a bit.  Don’t get too vigorous, or you’ll crush the bread.  (Garlic Fiend optional step: sprinkle the chopped garlic over the avocado.)

4. Layer the tomato and spinach on top of the avocado.

5. Close the sandwich and cut in half.

I usually serve this with baby carrots and olives.

Endless variations!  You can add just about anything to this sandwich.  Two of my favorite add-ins are artichokes and arugula.

Best-Ever Vegan Caesar Salad

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My stepfather is known for making amazing from-scratch caesar salad dressing, and despite his omnivorous diet, he’s very open to trying vegan recipes and vegan alternatives to his own recipes.  He and I brainstormed a veganized caesar dressing a while back that used vegan mayo.  I’ve been adjusting it since then to get it down to more whole-food ingredients.  This dressing has a pinky-eggplant colour due to the kalamatas.

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When I have it on hand, I like to add some vegan parmesan to this dressing.  Galaxy brand makes a soy-based parmesan that smells and tastes amazingly like the real thing and is a nice addition to the dressing, or you can sprinkle it over the plated salad.  However!  This dressing is fantastic and complete without the parmesan, so don’t worry if you don’t have any around.

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Yields 6-8 servings (or 2-4 if you LOVE caesar salad!)

  • 1 large head romaine lettuce, washed and torn into large pieces
  • 1 large ciabatta roll (or focaccia, ficelle, part of a baguette, etc)
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • Caesar Dressing:
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 4-5 cloves garlic (more if they’re small)
  • 1/2 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 8-10 kalamata olives, pitted
  • Optional – 1-2 teaspoons of vegan parmesan

Preheat oven to 300.  Cut ciabatta into large cubes (about 1.5 inch). Place in large mixing bowl and sprinkle with rosemary, salt, and pepper, then drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. Spread onto a cookie sheet and bake at about 300 for about 5 minutes until toasted – keep an eye on them.

Blend all dressing ingredients together (I prefer using an immersion blender and blender cup but a food processor works too).  Taste and adjust to your liking: add lemon to make it brighter and more zesty, olives or dijon to add richness, or olive oil to tone the whole thing down a bit.

Place the lettuce in a large bowl, pour dressing over, and toss well to coat.  Add croutons and give it a couple more tosses to combine.  Serve immediately.

Note:  If you’re not sure you’ll eat the whole salad right away, I suggest only combining a portion of the ingredients.  That way, you can keep the prepped lettuce, croutons, and dressing separate in the fridge and have a fresh perfect caesar again the next day!

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