Dragon Fruit, Arugula, and Avocado Salad

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This salad is a delicious combination of tastes and textures: fresh and creamy, bright and peppery.  It’s super easy and quick to make, with just a few ingredients!  Plus, it looks impressive and is perfect for serving guests; dragonfruit has a mild taste (I find it similar to kiwi) and shouldn’t scare off those who haven’t tried it before.

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Yield: 2 large or 4 side servings

  • 1 large dragon fruit
  • 1 package baby arugula
  • 2 avocados, peeled and diced
  • Juice of 1 lemon (or more, if you prefer)
  • ¼ cup olive oil (or less, if you prefer)
  • 2 teaspoons agave nectar

To prepare the dragon fruit, first cut it in half lengthwise.  Using a large spoon, separate the flesh from the rind.  Cut the flesh into 1-inch cubes.

Combine the arugula, dragon fruit, and diced avocado.

Whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil and agave nectar.  Taste and adjust with more lemon juice if desired.  Pour the dressing over the salad, gently toss to coat, and serve immediately.  *If you aren’t ready to serve the salad, hold off on adding the dressing until just before serving.*  Enjoy!

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Favourite Recipes: Vegan Mac and Cheese

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This recipe from Fine Tune Pilates is touted as the best ever, and I have to agree.  I tried four or five different vegan mac and cheese recipes before finding this one, and it is by far the best I’ve had.  Plus it’s easy to make, and uses sweet potato as the sauce base, allowing you to sneak an extra veggie into this yummy pasta dish.  I make this dish regularly; R and I both love it.

I do make a couple of modifications from the original recipe.  First, I do not add whole sunflower seeds (though I do use them in the sauce).  Also, I use more kale than the recipe calls for; about twice as much.

More significantly, after preparing the recipe as written, I pour the whole thing into a casserole dish, top it with panko or breadcrumbs, top the crumbs with lots of tiny dots of vegan margarine, and bake it for about 25 minutes.  The crumbs add nice texture to the finished dish.  I like to eat it with ketchup (much to R’s chagrin), but it’s also great with just some fresh ground pepper, or even hot sauce.  Delicious!

Mushroom Risotto

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Before I had ever tried making risotto, I had an idea that it was very challenging and only for experienced cooks.  I don’t know where I got that idea, but it was wrong.  Making rich, flavourful risotto is actually very easy; all it takes is some patience and a willingness to babysit the pan for a while.  It’s a great dish to prepare while working on something on the counter, like making a big salad.  You stir the risotto, you chop some veggies, stir, chop, stir, chop, etc.

If you haven’t made risotto before, try this recipe.  It’s easy and so delicious, you’ll be hooked.  I can practically guarantee you’ll start making it (and trying variations) regularly.

Important:  You need to get Arborio rice in order to make risotto.  Don’t bother trying it with any other type of rice; it’ll end in heartache!

Yield: About 4-5 cups of risotto; 4-6 servings

  • 4 cups vegetable stock (you’ll end up using between 3 and 4 cups)
  • 5 large portobello mushrooms, chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 1.5 cups finely chopped onion
  • 1 cup Arborio rice (it won’t work with other types of rice!)
  • ½ cup red wine (or you can use white)
  • 1 tablespoon vegan parmesan (optional)

Heat some oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add mushrooms.  While the mushrooms are cooking, put the vegetable stock in a pot over high heat.  Just before it boils, turn off the heat but leave the pot on the hot burner to keep the stock very warm.  Cook the mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until they are done: tender and juicy.  Remove from pan and set aside.

Add a bit more oil to the pan if necessary and then add the onions.  Stir and cook until they are translucent.  Reduce heat to just below medium and add the dry rice.  Brown the rice a bit, being sure to keep scraping the pan to prevent it from sticking.  Add the wine, and stir the rice until the wine is absorbed (this will happen pretty quickly).

Begin adding the warm broth to the rice, one ladle at a time.  Stir frequently, and as soon as the rice starts to stick, add another ladle of broth.  Continue this process until the rice is cooked al dente.  (Probably between 15 and 25 minutes).

Add the mushrooms to the rice and mix well to incorporate.  If you have any vegan parmesan on hand, add some of that too.  Serve warm with a salad for a hearty and delicious dinner.

Note: You could substitute lots of other veggies for the mushrooms.  Try asparagus! Gently steam it until just done, and add it back to the risotto at the end.

Baked Panko-Beer Onion Rings

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Onion rings! So delicious, but depending on how they’re prepared, they may also be so greasy, unhealthy, and regret-inducing.  These crispy rings are the perfect solution: oil-free, baked, and with a light coating that gives a great crunch while allowing the sweet, delicious onion flavour to shine through.  And despite the various bowls and possible minor mess involved, they are actually pretty quick to prepare.

When I was a kid, I hated onions.  The first time I encountered onion rings was at Harvey’s when I was around ten, and they smelled so good.  My ingenious solution to this yummy-smelling but oniony dilemma was to break each ring in half, pull out the tiny string of onion and cast it aside, and eat just the batter shell.  Wow, eh?  I’ve come a long way since then.

These rings would make a great appetizer or side for a veggie burger, or you can just eat a whole bunch of them for dinner (like I did).  You’ll feel great; no pangs of regret!

  • 2 Tablespoons ground flax
  • 5 Tablespoons warm water
  • 1/3 cup beer (or nondairy milk of choice)
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups panko
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • 1 large Vidalia/sweet onion (about the size of a baseball)

Preheat oven to 450 and cover two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine the ground flax and water and stir well, then let it sit for a few minutes to gel (this is about 2 flax eggs).

Combine the flour, salt and pepper, and place in a shallow bowl.   Combine the panko, garlic powder and paprika and place in another shallow bowl. Once the flax eggs have gelled, add the beer (or milk) and stir, and place in yet another shallow bowl.

Set up the assembly line: flour bowl, flax/beer bowl, panko bowl, baking sheets.

Now you can cut your onion crosswise into very thick slices – mine were about an inch thick.  Pop the rings apart.

(I suggest cutting the onion after getting everything else is ready to minimize onion-related eyeball suffering.  You might want to light a couple of tealights or other unscented candles on the counter to help burn off the onion fumes.  You can also cover the cut onion with a towel to contain the fumes and just reach under to grab rings as you go.)

Make the rings: dredge a ring in flour, dip in flax/beer mixture, then dredge in panko.  Place on baking sheet.  Repeat with remaining onion rings.  To save space on the sheets, you can place teeny little nubby rings inside big ones.

Bake for about 20-24 minutes, turning the rings over gently about halfway through.  They should be browned along the edges and soft on the inside.

Serve with leafy celery sticks and dip of choice!  I suggest ketchup, hot sauce, or fancy mustard.  Mega yum.

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Carrot Sweet Potato Soup with Ginger & Coconut

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Am I overdoing it on the soups?  Is that possible?

This soup is both aesthetically and gastronomically pleasing… looking as beautiful in the bowl as it tastes in your mouth!  An undercurrent of rich coconut adds depth to the delicious combination of carrot, sweet potato, and ginger.

After making a huge pot of veggie broth yesterday, I realized that my freezer is a little too full to accommodate a bunch of cup-sized frozen broth cubes.  As I was mulling over the broth-y possibilities, R. pulled out the giant bags of carrots and sweet potatoes we bought on a rare trip to Costco, and pointed out the half-bar of creamed coconut that’s been waiting forlornly for a purpose for an indefinite period of time.  He asked if I could make these things into a soup.  Yes, yes I could.

(Note: I wanted a very subtle coconut flavour to complement the ginger, so I used only a quarter-bar of creamed coconut.  If you really like coconut though, I think you could add up to half a bar for a stronger coconut flavour.)

Yield: Lots…. probably a good 8 servings.  (Or, dinner + seconds + leftovers to freeze!)

  • 5 very large carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • Olive oil
  • 2 yellow onions, finely chopped
  • Cooking oil (I use canola)
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 2 inches of ginger, minced
  • 2 smallish sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 4 cups vegetable broth (more or less)
  • ¼ bar of creamed coconut (the full bar is 170g), roughly chopped
  • ¾ cup milk of choice (I used soy)
  • Fresh ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 400.  Toss the carrots in olive oil and spread onto a baking sheet, then roast until softened through, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat some cooking oil over medium in a large stockpot.  Add the onion, celery, and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes until softened.  Add about 3 cups of broth and the diced potatoes and turn heat to high.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are soft.  At some point during the simmer, the carrots will probably be done and can be added to the soup.

Once the potatoes are very soft, turn off the heat.  Stir in the milk and the creamed coconut and let the soup cool until it’s no longer hot enough to burn you if it splatters during pureeing.

Add fresh ground black pepper.  Using an immersion blender (or a food processor, but you’ll have to do it in batches), puree the soup.  Add more broth to reach your preferred consistency.  I tasted the soup before adding salt and discovered it was perfect, so I didn’t end up adding any at all!

Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil to serve.

Favourite Recipes: Cheesy-Squashy Stuffed Pasta Shells

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This recipe from Luminous Vegans is one of my favourites of all time.  These pasta shells are stuffed with a mixture of cashew cheese, roasted squash, and fresh herbs, and will completely blow your mind.  They are that good.  I’ve made them to rave reviews for a few different family members.  Everyone says they can’t believe there’s no “real” cheese in them.  They are so creamy and rich…. Seriously.  Make them.

I follow the recipe for the cashew cheese exactly, but I put about ¾ of the batch into the shell filing, rather than the ½ cup suggested.  I bet you could put it all in and it would be great too, I just like to keep a little bit to put on sandwiches so I hold some back.  I use jarred roasted garlic pasta sauce on top.

This recipe is a keeper!

Portobello Mushroom and Caramelized Onion Soup

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This thick, satisfying, autumn-flavoured soup tastes just like a bowl of juicy roasted Portobello mushrooms.  Actually, that’s exactly what it is.  How can you say no?

Years ago, after my undergrad, I had a part-time job in a psychology lab.  It wasn’t enough to pay the bills, so I decided to take a few shifts a week at a newly-opened takeout soup place in Halifax.  Suffice it to say, I only made it through two shifts.  During my brief time however, I tasted heaven in the form of a pureed Portobello mushroom soup.  The interesting thing was that back then, I hated mushrooms.  I don’t know how I even ended up trying it out, but that soup was so delicious that it stayed in my mind for years afterward.  I finally decided this week to try my hand at making a similar one.  Too much time has passed for me to say if this soup is really all that close to the one from years ago, but it’s so yummy that it doesn’t really matter.

Yield: A lot of soup… about 8 servings.

  • 10 large Portobello mushrooms, stems separated and caps cut into quarters
  • Olive oil
  • 3 yellow onions, diced
  • Canola oil (or other cooking oil)
  • 3 ribs celery, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium white potatoes, diced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups milk of choice (I used unsweetened soy)
  • ½ cup red wine
  • Salt to taste

Heat the oven to 400.  Toss the cut mushrooms in a bit of olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and spread in a single layer onto two parchment-lined baking sheets.  Roast for about 30 minutes, until soft and juicy.  Remove when done and put aside.

While the mushrooms are roasting, heat a frying pan over low-medium heat (about 4), and add some canola oil and the onions.  The key to caramelizing them nicely is cooking them at this low-ish heat for a while, about 30-40 minutes.  Stir them every few minutes.

When the onions are very soft and have begun to turn golden, add the celery and garlic and continue cooking for another 5 minutes or so, until the onions look perfectly golden brown and gooey.  Add the broth, potatoes, and bay leaves and turn heat to high.  When the soup boils, reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are very soft.  Carefully remove bay leaves.

Now stir in the mushrooms, milk, red wine, and salt (about ¾ teaspoon, or to taste).  This should cool the soup down sufficiently to allow you to safely puree it, using an immersion blender on the stovetop.  (Be sure to check that it’s not hot before you puree though.)  If you don’t have an immersion blender, you’ll probably have to do it in a few batches in a food processor.

Puree to a nice smooth consistency, then adjust seasoning as desired.  Gently heat the soup back up on the stovetop at medium heat, and garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and some fresh parsley to serve.

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