White Three-Bean Chili (vegan | gf)

White Three-Bean Chili (vegan | gf)

After about a month, I’m back in action here on radiatefoodvibes.com. Time flies even more than usual lately. As I continue the very early phases of building my own brand and my own business, in addition to learning everything and anything I can about professional cooking, my personal recipe development has slipped a bit. But now I’m back at it.

Today’s post is a veganized recipe of the white chicken chili I made for a client this week. I loved the creaminess and richness of this hearty chicken chili combined with the sweet crunch of the fresh corn kernels. All I needed to do was omit the chicken. I then decided to take it even further and omit the cream as well (aka veganize it). I’ve been going a little heavy on the dairy lately and a detox-friendly soup is exactly what my body is craving right now. So no cream in this one (although I have the option to add it in the recipe below). You may be wondering how I achieved the creaminess without adding dairy or gluten (yes, it’s also gluten-free). No brainer. I turned to my beloved coconut milk and it worked perfectly.

This White Three-Bean Chili is creamy, satisfying, filling and nourishing. I also consider this dish to be detox-friendly (you know, for when you’re trying to balance out an indulgent weekend or healthily shed a few pounds). This is because it’s packed with complete protein and fiber thanks to the beans and the corn.

Beans make up the bulk of this chili. I use three different types of beans in this recipe, all of which are great sources of gut-cleansing fiber and energizing protein. Corn is sometimes confused for a vegetable, but it’s actually a grain. Not only does corn add flavor and texture to this chili, but it also combines with the beans to form a complete protein. Complete proteins contain all nine essential amino acids required by the human body. Animal proteins (meat, dairy, eggs) are complete on their own, so when eating a plant-forward diet it’s essential (pun intended) to eat a variety of plant-based protein sources to ensure you’re getting all nine essential amino acids.

Although this recipe can be made year round using canned or frozen corn, I recommend cooking up a batch ASAP to fully take advantage of the fresh summer corn that’s in peak season right about now.

White Three-Bean Chili

Serves: 4-6 Start to Finish: 45 minutes

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, small diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 celery ribs, small diced
sea salt
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3-4 cups all-natural vegetable stock
1 4-oz can diced green chilies (I used mild)
1 14-oz cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 14-oz cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 14-oz cans garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
2 ears fresh corn, husked, kernels cut off (approx. 1.5 cups)
1/2 cup full-fat coconut milk (or use heavy cream if desired)
1 tablespoon arrow root powder or other starch of choice such as corn or potato (omit if using cream)
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice, plus lime wedges for serving
4 radishes for garnish, sliced or matchsticked (optional)

To Make

Heat oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add onion, garlic, celery and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Cook for 2-3 minutes until onions begin to release moisture. Stir occasionally.

Add chili powder, oregano, cumin, coriander and black pepper. Stir to combine. Cook for 3-4 minutes.

Add 3 cups vegetable stock, beans, corn kernels, green chilies and 1 teaspoon sea salt. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer for 15 minutes. Add up to 1 additional cup of vegetable stock to achieve desired liquid to solid ratio.

Turn off heat. Stir in coconut milk or heavy cream. Return to heat, bring to boil, reduce to simmer. Meanwhile, mix together 1 tablespoon arrow root powder (or other starch) with 2 tablespoons cool water. Mix well to form a “slurry”. Add slurry to soup. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Season with 1 teaspoon lime juice and sea salt to taste. I added another 1/2 teaspoon or so of sea salt.

If using heavy cream instead of coconut milk – be careful not to full-on boil the cream after adding to the chili, it could curdle (yuck). I recommend adding a tablespoon of the hot chili liquid into the cream to temper it before adding to the pot. You can omit the arrow root slurry if using cream instead of coconut milk. The soup should thicken with just the cream and a quick simmer session.

Summer Veggie Grain Bowls with Classic Lemon Hummus

Summer Veggie Grain Bowls with Classic Lemon Hummus

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Yep, this my third grain bowl post this month. Why? Two reasons. First is because I love nourishing bowls of goodness, packed with an array of nutrients, flavors and textures. It’s my favorite way to eat because it’s healthy, convenient, packable, stores well in the fridge and, most importantly, absolutely delish. If you want to make a crave worthy nourish-style bowl, it’s not quite as easy as piling veggies, grains and protein into a bowl. My kind of nourish bowl (aka Buddha Bowl or Grain Bowl) has depth, richness and variety. It takes advantage of seasonal produce, flavor-bombs like garlic and citrus, and requires a tasty sauce or spread to pull it all together. This takes a little bit of time and planning, but it’s worth it. And once all of the components are ready, they’re easy to throw together.

The second reason why I’m focusing on grain bowls is because they’re all the rage these days. Everywhere from fast casual restaurants to fine dining establishments are jumping on the nourish bowl bandwagon. It’s a trend for sure, and food trends, specifically health-supportive ones, are my jam.

So there you have it. One more inspirational nourish bowl to get your creative juices and health vibes flowing. And if you missed the last two, check them out below.

Burrito Nourish Bowls with Roasted Peppers & Tomatillo Sauce

Cauliflower Satay Nourish Bowl

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Roasted Summer Veggie Nourish Bowl with Classic Hummus
Serves: 4    Start to Finish: 1 hour    Active Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

For Veggies & Rice

1.5 cups dry brown rice
sea salt, fine grain
2 large zucchinis, cut into a large dice
olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, minced (2 for zucchini, 1 for hummus)
1 pint cherry tomatoes
2 orange bell peppers (red and yellow bell peppers work too)

For Hummus (use storebought if desired)
1 14-oz can chickpeas
3 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 teaspoons sea salt, fine grain
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

For Assembly

4 cups lightly packed greens (I used red leaf lettuce)
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar (lemon juice works too)
1 red onion, quartered and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted

To Make

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cook 1.5 cups brown rice to package instructions – it goes something like this – rinse rice in colander, add to small sauce pan with 3/4 teaspoon sea salt and 3 cups water. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer, cover with lid. Allow to cook for 35-40 minutes, until water is mostly absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to steam, covered, for 10 minutes.

Toss zucchini cubes with 3/4 teaspoons salt, 2 cloves chopped garlic and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet in a single layer. Toss tomatoes with 2 teaspoons olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Transfer to baking sheet with zucchini. Cook cherry tomatoes for 20 minutes. Cook zucchini for 30-35 minutes, flipping once through.

Roast the bell peppers. I like to do this over the open flames on my burner, which takes about 8 minutes and another 10 minutes in a sealed paper paper bag or covered bowl. This allows the peppers to steam and makes the charred skins easily peel off. Once charred skin is removed, discard stem and seeds, cut into a large dice. You can also roast the peppers in the over with the other veggies. To do this, remove stem and seeds, dice bell peppers, toss with a little oil and roast for about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, make hummus. Combine all hummus ingredients plus 5-6 tablespoons water in a food processor or in a hand blender vessel. Use the water to achieve your desired consistency.

To assemble nourish bowls – toss greens with vinegar, sliced red onions and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt. Divide evenly between 4 dishes. Top each bowl with 3/4 cup cooked rice, 1/4 of all roasted vegetables and 3-4 tablespoons hummus. Garnish each serving with 2 teaspoons toasted pine nuts.

Vegan Burrito Nourish Bowls with Roasted Peppers & Tomatillo Sauce

Vegan Burrito Nourish Bowls with Roasted Peppers & Tomatillo Sauce

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As I was saying in my last post, my focus these days is making healthy and clean eating easy for everyone. Whether trying to lose weight or just wanting to take advantage of the amazing health benefits that come with clean eating, the transition simply won’t happen unless it’s both convenient and delicious. This is where meal prep comes in. Having prepped ingredients in your fridge/pantry and knowing what to do with them will make your new clean eating lifestyle effortless.

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Last week I used my Cauliflower Satay Nourish Bowl as the perfect example of this concept. Cooked quinoa, roasted cauliflower, simple pickled red onions, avocado and peanut sauce come together to make a plant-based, satisfying and tasty meal. It’s packable for lunch on-the-go. Or easy to throw together for a quick dinner, as long as the components were easy-to-prep or pre-prepped. As promised, I’m sharing another recipe that uses a few of the same ingredients. This is meant to show you how versatile these basic components are to transform into completely new meals, keeping things fresh and interesting.

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For this super yummy (and vegan) burrito bowl, I’m using quinoa, pickled onions and avocado, just like in the Satay Nourish Bowl. But this time, I’m using roasted peppers instead of cauliflower, some canned black beans and my easy roasted tomatillo sauce to make a totally new and super delish meal. The key to plant-based, dairy-free and meat-free cooking is including multiple flavors and textures. Creamy avocado, refreshing tomatillo sauce, acidic pickled red onions, flavorful peppers and hearty black beans keep your tastebuds satisfied while providing your body with protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

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Now, for today’s health and nutrition lesson focusing on a toxic compound known as BPA and how to avoid it…

Black Beans are a great source of meat-free protein, fiber, copper, folate, manganese and phosphorus. I love beans because they make reaching protein intake goals easy, even when not consuming animal products. Plus, adding the starchy texture of black beans makes meals texturally satisfying. When using beans from a can, which I do almost exclusively, I recommend choosing an organic variety. Additionally, when choosing any canned products, be sure the lining is made without BPA (Bisphenol A). Why? Because BPA is a synthetic compound that has been shown to disrupt the human endocrine system (aka the system of ALL human glands and the hormones these glands produce). Sadly, BPA is everywhere these days (even in cash register receipts). It’s virtually impossible to avoid completely, but because BPA builds up in your system and can last for generations, it’s important to avoid it as much as possible. Intake of BPA through eating and drinking is likely the biggest culprit, and cooking for yourself using BPA-free products is a great way to reduce your risk of side effects. Yet another reason why cooking for yourself is so beneficial.

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Burrito Nourish Bowl with Roasted Peppers & Tomatillo Sauce
Serves: 4   Start to Finish: 50 minutes

Ingredients

1 small-medium red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1/3+ cup red wine vinegar
1 cup dry quinoa
3-4 peppers, I like 4 poblano for spice or 3 red bell peppers for sweet or mixed
sea salt, fine grain
olive oil
1 lb tomatillos
1 large clove garlic, peeled
2 packed tablespoons cilantro leaves (plus more for garnish, optional)
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed (organic preferred)
1-2 teaspoons hot sauce
2 avocados, diced or sliced

To Make

**If you don’t have the time or the desire to make your own tomatillo sauce, no problem! Use a store bought Salsa Verde. Check the ingredient list to make sure all ingredients sound whole and appetizing. Even better? Go for organic.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Make pickled red onion (get the full recipe here). In a small bowl, combine 1 thinly sliced red onion, 1/3 cup vinegar, 1/3 cup water and 3/4 teaspoons sea salt. Mix until salt is dissolved. Add 1 thinly sliced red onion. Toss to coat. Add additional vinegar and water, in equal amounts, to cover onions (you shouldn’t need much). Allow to sit for at least 20 minutes. Or make ahead…I always have pickled red onion ready to go in the fridge. The longer they sit, the better they get.

Roast peppers. Remove stem and seeds from peppers and cut into strips. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Roast at 400 degrees for about 20-30 minutes, tossing once. You could also roast whole peppers over an open flame, steam in sealed paper bag for 10 minutes. Remove charred skin, seeds and stem, and then cut into strips.

Also roast whole tomatillos at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, toss, roast for another 15-20.
Blend with 3/4 teaspoons salt, 1 clove garlic and 2 packed tablespoons of cilantro (2 handfuls). Add additional salt to taste.

Meanwhile, cook quinoa. Add 1 cup dry quinoa, 2 cups water and 3/4 teaspoons salt to a medium sauce pan. Bring to boil, uncovered. Once boiling, reduce heat to simmer and cover with lid. Simmer for 14-15 minutes, until excess water is mostly absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to sit, still covered, for 10-15 minutes.

Combine black beans with 3/4 teaspoon salt and hot sauce to taste (I used about 2 teaspoons for 2 cans). Heat on stove top or in microwave I f desired.

To make each bowl, layer 1/4 of cooked quinoa (about 2/3 cup), 2/3 to 1 cup of black beans, 1/4 of the roasted peppers, 3-4 tablespoons pickled red onions (plus pickling liquid to taste), 1/2 of a sliced/diced avocado and 3 tablespoons tomatillo sauce.

BPA References

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad with Super Green Tahini Sauce

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad with Super Green Tahini Sauce

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In my opinion, the best way to cleanse and detox the body is with plant-based (vegan) meals filled to the brim with fresh produce, whole grains, fiber and protein. This quinoa salad fits the bill, not to mention being outrageously delicious. The layers of flavors and textures in this salad will leave you feeling full, satisfied and energized. This salad is also mason jar friendly, making it a perfectly portable meal too!

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My Mediterranean Quinoa Salad is packed with all things good and healthy. Protein-rich quinoa, fiber-filled chickpeas, quick pickled red onions, nutty asparagus and refreshing cucumber make up the bulk of the meal. The thick and creamy tahini sauce gets its bright green color from loads of kale and is flavored simply with garlic and lemon juice. This sauce is a flavor power house, but also also adds moisture and a nice creamy texture to the dish. Whenever I cook, I try to hit as many flavor and texture profiles as possible. That’s the secret to elevating healthy meals from blah to bravo!

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Pretty much every single ingredient in this recipe is considered health supportive. Get to know some of them below before checking out the recipe. After all, understanding why something is healthy and beneficial is important to sustaining and loving a clean eating lifestyle.

Quinoa is an all-star in my mind because it’s one of a few grains considered to be a “complete protein.” This just means that quinoa (and other complete proteins) contains all nine essential amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Essential amino acids (EAA) are those that the body cannot produce on its own, and therefor must be ingested. Vegetarians and vegans can get all nine EAA’s by combining grains and produce, or by eating complete protein sources like quinoa.

Chickpeas are one of my favorite legume varieties. They are very versatile and fit into a variety of different cuisines. Chickpeas are rich in protein, fiber and other nutrients such as manganese. Protein is important because it’s the building block of muscles and organs in the body (including the brain and liver), and allows for a physically strong and fit body. Protein is also essential for important bodily functions such as metabolism, fighting off infections, and the creation of enzymes and hormones. Additionally, protein is also needed for proper brain function and clear thinking.

Lacinato Kale, my fave variety of kale, is a true superfood. While many people eat it these days because it’s become oh so trendy, kale is a staple in my diet and for good reason. Along with containing fiber and protein, kale contains generous amounts many nutrients including vitamins A, C & K, calcium, potassium, iron, copper and manganese. But my number one reason to love kale is due to its inflammatory properties. Excessive inflammation has been linked to a multitude of illnesses including some types of cancer. A diet rich in anti-inflammatories, like kale, can potentially reduce the risk of developing these illnesses. Antioxidants in kale also aid in protecting against illness. Kale is particularly rich in two important antioxidants, carotenoids and flavonoids. Both of which are associated with fighting illness and certain types of cancer.  That’s pretty powerful stuff, right?

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Mediterranean Quinoa Salad with Super Green Tahini Sauce
Servings: 4     Start to Finish: 30 minutes

Ingredients

For Salad
1 cup dry quinoa (I used a white variety)
1 red onion
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
sea salt, fine grain
1 cucumber
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (organic preferred)
1 bunch asparagus spears
1.5 teaspoons dried dill

For Super Green Tahini Sauce
1 bunch lacinato kale, woody stems discarded, leave roughly chopped
1 small clove garlic
1/2 cup tahini
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
3/4 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain (plus more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Garnish
1/4 cup pine nuts, gently toasted (optional)

To Make

Cook quinoa according to package instructions. It should take about 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop red onion into a very small dice. Transfer to a small bowl. Add 1/4 cup red wine vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt. Allow to sit in fridge for about 15 minutes.

Peel the cucumber if desired. Cut in half length-wise. Scoop out seeds using a spoon. Chop cucumber into small-medium dice. Transfer to large mixing bowl. Add chickpeas to cucumbers.

Trim the ends of the asparagus spears. Cut each spear into 3-4 pieces. Set aside.

Make green tahini sauce. Add kale leaves to a food processor and process until broken down. Add all remaining sauce ingredients and process until smooth and creamy. Add more salt to taste (I added an extra 1/4 teaspoon).

When quinoa is finished cooking, remove from heat. Add asparagus to top of hot quinoa. Cover and steam for about 3 minutes. Transfer quinoa and asparagus to mixing bowl with cucumber and chickpeas. Add red onion and vinegar mixture. Add 1 teaspoons sea salt and dried dill. Stir to combine.

Serve quinoa with green tahini sauce. Garnish with pine nuts, if desired.

Quick & Easy: Roasted Asparagus & Hummus Gyros

Quick & Easy: Roasted Asparagus & Hummus Gyros

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More and more these days, Matt and I find ourselves playing the fridge-clean-out-game when deciding what to do for dinner. We do about one main grocery shop per week at which point we buy tons of produce, a little bit of meat or poultry for matt and restock our grains, beans and dairy arsenal. I may plan for a couple specific meals, but other than that, dinners are improvisational. The benefits? Playing the clean-out-game a few nights a week minimizes waste, saves money, avoids getting takeout, and it’s actually a pretty fun game. The hard part? Knowing what to have on hand to be able to successfully improv a delicious, balanced and satisfying meal. There’s no exact formula for this, and it really depends on your diet and food preferences. In any case, I’ve come up with a vegetarian-friendly list of staple categories to stock up on, and a few of my fave examples of each…

lettuce/dark leafy greens – hearts of romaine, lacinato kale, arugala
citrus – lemons, limes, blood oranges
flavor boosters – garlic, red onions, yellow onions, jalapenos, avocados
other produce – broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, red bell peppers, eggplant, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, apples, grapes etc.
whole grains (uncooked) – short grain brown rice, quinoa, lentils
breads/pasta – whole wheat penne pasta, whole wheat pita/flatbread
dairy – cheddar cheese, mozzarella cheese, grass-fed plain yogurt, whole milk
canned foods (organic only) – black beans, chickpeas, lentils, diced tomatoes, coconut milk
oils – olive, organic canola, virgin coconut, toasted sesame
vinegars – red wine, champagne, apple cider
pantry/fridge staples – sea salt, hot sauce, tamari, tahini, dijon mustard, yellow miso, ketchup, raw cashews, maple syrup, agave, all purpose flour, corn meal, yeast
herbs/spices (dried) – black pepper, oregano, dill, parsley, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, cumin, coriander, cardamon, cinnamon

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So now let’s put this list to work. A perfect example of an amazing fridge-clean-out meal using my handy-dandy staples list? You got it – these healthy and delicious Asparagus & Hummus Gyros. I threw these wraps together without much effort, and, you guessed it, each item I used is on my staples list. I made hummus from canned chickpeas, garlic, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and salt. I did a simple roast of the asparagus spears, which I had purchased without a purpose. To make it a balanced and substantial meal, I added shredded romaine, leftover minced red onion and a stupid-easy dill-yogurt sauce that utilized the last 1/3 cup of yogurt left from my family-size tub. Then I wrapped it all up in basic pita flatbreads. So yummy and so easy. This dinner ended up taking less than 30 minutes to prepare, and Matt and I were both blown away by how tasty it was. Balance it out with some crispy red grapes or apple slices and you’ve got yourself a full meal.

Anyway, I’d love to know your go-to tips and tricks for stocking the pantry and playing the kitchen improv game. Or, even better, any successful improvs you’d like to share. Let’s hear it!

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Roasted Asparagus & Hummus Gyros with Dill-Yogurt Sauce

Servings: 4    Start to Finish: 30 minutes

Ingredients

for roasted asparagus
16 asparagus spears, trimmed
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
for hummus (you could also use 1 cup store-bought hummus)
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 tablespoons tahini
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup water (+ more for texture)
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
hot sauce, to taste (optional)
for dill-yogurt sauce
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
for assembly
1 romaine heart, shredded and washed
1/2 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 flatbreads or pitas

To Make

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F).

Toss trimmed asparagus spears with 2 teaspoons olive oil and salt. Transfer to parchment lined baking sheet. Roast in oven for about 20 minutes, checking spears and flipping them every 5-10 minutes. When finished, the tips of the spears should be brown and the flesh a rich olive green.

Combine all hummus ingredients in a food processor. Blend until smooth, adding more water if needed, a tablespoon or 2 at a time. Transfer to bowl, season to taste. I use 3 dashes hot sauce and an extra tablespoon or 2 of water.

In a small bowl, stir together yogurt-dill sauce ingredients. Season with salt and lemon juice, to taste.

Prep veggies. Warm pitas, if desired, in microwave (wrapped in a clean towel) or in the oven, wrapped in aluminum foil.

When all components are complete, build the gyros. Spread 3-4 tablespoons of hummus across each pita. Top with 4 asparagus spears, shredded lettuce, chopped onions and about 2 tablespoons dill-yogurt sauce.

 

Roasted Apple & Brie Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette

Roasted Apple & Brie Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette

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There are salads, and then there are SALADS. I’m talking super yummy, satisfying and healthful salads, filled to the brim with flavor, texture, and nourishment. A salad like this answers the body’s desire for fresh, clean, and nutrient-rich meals, to offset all of the richer and more indulgent meals we (I mean, “I”) enjoy eating. Salads like this are definitely a staple in my diet, and this one is a particular favorite of mine. There’s sweetness from the roasted apples, depth from the caramelized onion, freshness from the greens, richness from the cheese, and a punch of flavor from the delish sherry vinaigrette (my new basic dressing for everything and anything). Trust me when I say, this salad won’t disappoint.

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When creating a super satisfying “big salad” (Seinfeld reference), there are a few elements that I almost always include. There’s always something a bit sweet, there’s always something (or a few things) that adds richness and complexity, there’s always a balanced dressing, and there’s always an abundance of protein and fiber. But protein is the focus of this post.

I’ve decided to focus on meat-free protein sources for a few reasons. The first reason is that I get this question a lot, how do you get enough protein as a vegetarian or a vegan? Short answer, easily (sometimes I even eat too much protein by accident). The second reason why I’m focusing on protein today is because my class recently started our nutrition-specific lectures at school (Natural Gourmet Institute), and I’d like to pass on the basics of protein to all my lovely readers. And thirdly because this particular salad highlights almost all of the meat-free protein source categories, so it only makes sense to use it as a reason to talk about meat-free protein. So here we go!

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The first question I want to answer is, what does protein do for us? Protein is one of three essential macronutrients required for life and function (the other two are carbs and fat). Protein, as most know, is a building block of muscles and organs in the body (including the brain and liver), and allows for a physically strong and fit body. But protein is also essential for important bodily functions such as metabolism, fighting off infections, and the creation of enzymes and hormones. Additionally, protein is also needed for proper brain function and clear thinking. So basically, protein is super-duper important. But what is protein?

Protein is a source of amino acids for our body. Our bodies require 22 different types amino acids in order to function. 13 of these required amino acids are naturally produced in the body. But 9 of them are not produced by the body, which means these 9 ‘essential amino acids’ (EAA) need to be given to the body through ingestion (aka eating and drinking). Complete protein foods, like meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy, include all 9 EAA’s in sufficient quantities (easy enough).Point is, if you eat meat and dairy, it’s simple to get all those essential amino acids. And there are a handful of vegan complete protein options, including quinoa, chia seeds and buckwheat. However, most vegetarian- and vegan-friendly protein sources do not include all 9 EAA’s. We call these ‘incomplete proteins’.

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The issue is, as a vegetarian, I can’t eat quinoa all-day-every-day. Don’t get me wrong, I love quinoa, especially in this salad. But variety is the spice of life! No worries though. The cool thing here, is that you can combine incomplete protein sources to create complete proteins. All plants contain protein, therefor all contain amino acids. To get complete proteins, simply combine multiple protein sources. For instance, black beans + brown rice or whole grain bread + almond butter or whole grain pasta + kale & pine nut pesto or millet pilaf with pecans and baby spinach. Basically, grains are combined with veggies and legumes (nuts, seeds, beans), creating whole and complete protein sources.

For this particular salad, I used quinoa, so other ingredients weren’t necessary to create complete protein. But I added beans anyway for texture, additional protein and fiber. Then I added even more protein with fresh baby spinach and brie cheese. See? So much protein! All of which are vegetarian, most of which are vegan.

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So there you go, a brief summary of protein. To recap, protein is absolutely essential for a healthy and strong body and mind. Meat, fish, poultry, dairy and eggs are complete proteins, providing all essential amino acids in one swoop. Multiple incomplete proteins (most grains, vegetables and legumes) should be combined to create complete proteins. And veggie-friendly protein sources are countless, you just have to know when and how to combine them. And if you’re still wondering where meat-freers get protein, just take a look at this salad. Gang’s all there!

Roasted Apple & Brie Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette Dressing
Serves: 3 mains or 6 sides    Start to Finish: 1 hr

Ingredients

For salad
3/4 cup dry quinoa
Sea salt, fine grain
1 large yellow onion, peeled and sliced into 1/4″ slices
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large apples (like gala or honey crisp)
1 can organic kidney beans (1.5 to 2 cups cooked beans)
3 ounces Brie cheese, thinly sliced
1 large romaine heart, washed and chopped
10 ounces fresh baby spinach, washed
Sherry Vinaigrette Dressing (recipe follows)

For dressing
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons organic maple syrup
1 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped (1 teaspoon chopped garlic)
1.5 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teasooon sea salt, fine grain
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

To Make

Add quinoa, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1.5 cups water to a small saucepan. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer, cover. Cook until quinoa is tender, about 13 minutes. Set aside, still covered, for 5-10 minutes. Transfer to bowl to cool.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat in sauté pan. Add onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir frequently to prevent burning. Cook until onions are caramelized, about 45 minutes. Add water to the pan when it gets dry, 3-4 tablespoons at a time. When onions are caramelized and the pan is at a dry phase, remove from heat. Transfer to container for cooling.

While onions cook, remove core and cut apples into big bite-size chunks. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and spread onto parchment lined baking sheet. Roast apples in oven until tender, 25-30 minutes, tossing once during cooking.

Drain and rinse beans. Wash and prep lettuces.

Make dressing. In a blender or using and immersion blender, blend all dressing ingredients until smooth and creamy. Season with sea salt to taste.

This can be a tossed salad or a composed salad. When all components are ready (quinoa, caramelized onions, roasted apples, beans, Brie cheese and dressing), divide among portions of romaine/spinach and drizzle with dressing to taste. Or toss all components together just before serving. Go easy on the dressing at first, you can always add more or serve more on the side for those who like lots of dressing.

*the components to this salad should be at room temp or chilled before tossing with lettuces.

**double recipe to feed a crowd or to keep around for future dinners and lunches in a pinch.

***sherry vinaigrette, caramelized onions, roasted apples and quinoa can all be made up to 3-4 days in advance. Store each component separately in tightly sealed containers and refrigerate.

Roasted Beet Hummus

Roasted Beet Hummus

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Growing up, my mom took every opportunity to make the ordinary into the extraordinary. From something as small as the icing monograms on our toaster strudels before school, to something as meaningful as Christmas morning, she always did (and still does) know how to make things special. So it’s no wonder why I turned out the exact same way, and why I find that holidays are the most perfect opportunity to get creative, make some memories, and have some festive (and often times, delicious) fun.

Halloween is a particularly fun holiday on which to get into the spirit. So last week, on All Hallow’s Eve, I planned a relaxed and laid back date night with Matt…spooky-style. Since he’s never seen Hocus Pocus (I know, sinful), I thought a “Netflix and chill” theme for the evening was a no-brainer. Can’t you just picture it? Tasty noshes, a couple libations, candle light, pumpkin-print napkins, and a good ole classic flick. Doesn’t that sounds simply delightful? Only one question remained. What to cook?

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I finally settled on a three course, couch-friendly, vegan meal plan. The mains? A Leek and Carrot Brown Rice Risotto and a Perfectly Poached Pear with a Coconut-Caramel Reduction Sauce. Both of these dishes are easy to keep on the counter or stove until a commercial break gives just enough time to finish and plate the dishes. But today’s featured recipe is actually not for the risotto or the pear, but rather, for the appetizer portion of the meal, the premiere dish, the opener, if you will; Roasted Beet Hummus.

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Roasted Beet Hummus is not much different than my classic Hummus recipe, except of course, for the subtly sweet addition of roasted beets, which add not only flavor and nutritional power, but also change the color of the hummus to a bright, rich red-pink color. Beautiful! I served the hummus with blanched veggies and pita wedges. But then, I ate it the next day as a veggie burger topping, and it was phenomenal. I can also see myself creating a layered veggie sandwich with this spread, and maybe using it as a vegan pizza base. Only time will tell all the ways this super-food hummus will be used in my kitchen.

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I think this hummus was the perfect addition to our festive Halloween feast because, not only is it visually appealing and vibrant, but it’s also something you don’t see every day, making it special enough for a celebration like this one. But there’s one more reason why this spread is a winner – this hummus also happens to be super healthy and nourishing, always something to think about when making for for myself and to others. Beets are seriously a health and wellness all-star, so before I get to the recipe, I want to end by going over these health-supportive qualities of beets. Beets are a good source of protein and fiber. They contain immune-boosting vitamin-C, potassium, bone- and liver-strengthening manganese, and b-vitamin folate. Basically, beets are a fantastic way to nourish and cleanse the body and the mind, making this Roasted Beet Hummus a must-try for  whole-foodie type like me. Ok, now on to the recipe.

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Roasted Beet Hummus
Yield: 2 1/4 cups

Ingredients

2 medium-size fresh beets, trimmed, peeled and cut into bite size pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
3/4 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
1 14-oz can chickpeas, liquid reserved, drained, rinsed (equivalent to 1 1/3 cups cooked Chickpeas)
1 large clove garlic
3 tablespoons tahini
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
6 tablespoons water or reserved chickpea liquid (or combo)

To Make

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prep beets, and toss with 1 tablespoon oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Spread out onto a parchment lined baking sheet and roast until super tender (poke with a knife, no resistance), 45-65 minutes.

When beets are finished roasting, allow to cool for 10-20 minutes. In a food processor combine beets, chickpeas, water or chickpea liquid, garlic, tahini and lemon juice. Add salt to taste (1/4 teaspoon salt is a good place to start). Add additional liquid or water until desired consistency is reached.

Serve with crudités and pita chips. This also makes a great topping for veggie burgers and a yummy spread on a veggie sandwich.

Caprese Bowls with Pesto-Rice & Peaches

Caprese Bowls with Pesto-Rice & Peaches

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Hello readers! I’m just going to jump right in because I’m so excited for this post. I don’t say this often because I’m cooking literally all the time, but this recipe tops the charts for me. One of my favorite dishes I’ve ever come up with. While this dish is really simple, there’s a lot going on, so let’s break it down a little.

Last week I made a batch of classic basil pesto. I first used it for a simple pesto fusilli pasta with sun dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, zucchini and roasted red peppers. Yummy no doubt, but pretty standard. So for the remainder of the pesto, I wanted to come up with something new and original. While at a restaurant a couple weeks ago, I had a delish Caprese salad layered with pesto instead of fresh basil and it was just divine. Additionally, Chop’t (my go-to fast-casual restaurant for inventive and fresh salads) recently added a summer seasonal salad plate that combines the classic Caprese flavors with sweet peaches. A Caprese-style dish with basil pesto and peaches was obviously the direction I needed to go. But the question was, how to make it a meal? Why not toss the pesto with nutty brown rice and make it a rice bowl!? Perfect.

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When I put this dish together last night, Matt was definitely skeptical. I have tried peaches in savory dishes a handful of times, so I wasn’t quite as worried as him. But still, I was eager to see if my recipe came together as deliciously as I had imagined. Short answer, it did. Matt and I both absolutely loved it. The ripe and juicy peaches with the savory basil pesto worked together in perfect harmony. And who doesn’t love mini balls of fresh mozzarella and sweet cherry tomatoes? The last touch was to add mixed greens tossed in balsamic vinaigrette. Ugh, so good. I’m totally obsessed. It’s summer in a bowl!

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I love this dish too because not only are the flavors out of control, but it’s also a balanced and light meal that I don’t feel even the slightest bit guilty eating. It’s naturally gluten-free due to the brown rice and packed with fresh produce (aka tons of vitamins and nutrients). Because of this, I definitely consider it to be a “detox meal”. Yes, it has cheese. But that doesn’t stop me from calling something healthy. No way.

Warning, I’m about to go on a mini rant.

I got a comment on my Instagram one time because I had hash-tagged “healthy” on a simple cage-free-vegetarian-fed-egg and cheese sandwich on a sprouted grain English muffin. Side note: I love commentary, especially commentary that sparks healthy debate so know I’m not lashing out because of a controversial comment. Anyway, the commentor simply said “cheese isn’t healthy”. Since then, the whole “cheese is not healthy” issue is something that really bothers me. Not only because I love cheese and find that it can make many meat-free meals more satisfying, but also because it’s such a  ridiculous notion. Processed cheese in excessive quantities, not good. Anything high in fat and sodium in excessive quantities, not good. Natural, calcium- and protein-rich cheese in moderation? Go for it. The word “healthy” is subjective and can be defined in countless ways. To label cheese as unhealthy is a major generalization that doesn’t take a lot of factors into consideration. Net net, please do not generalize all cheeses and place them automatically in the category of “unhealthy”. At least not to me.

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Anyway, I think I’m getting a little bit hangry here, and I have leftovers from last night’s Caprese Bowls calling my name. Screaming my name actually. Gotta go!

Caprese Bowls with Pesto Rice & Ripe Peaches
Serves: 4   Start to Finish: 20-50 min (depending on rice cooking method)

Ingredients

1 cup dry Brown Rice or 2 cups cooked Brown Rice
Sea Salt
1/3 cup Basil Pesto (get my recipe here or use store bought)
Mixed Greens
1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar
2 ripe Peaches, pits removed, cut into bite size pieces
1 pint Cherry Tomatoes, halved or quartered
8 ounces Fresh Mozzarella (I used Bocconcini, or bite size mozzarella, each ball halved)

To Make

Cook rice according to package instructions. Cooking dry rice takes about 45 minutes, frozen cooked rice or pre-cooked rice works too. If cooking dry rice, use 1 cup rice with 2-1/4 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Meanwhile, prepare pesto (if making from scratch, store bought works too). Cut peaches, tomatoes and mozzarella. Toss greens with vinegar. Divide dressed lettuce between 4 bowls or plates. Evenly distribute peaches, tomatoes and mozzarella over greens.

When rice is finished cooking, add pesto to rice and stir until well combine. Scoop about 1/2 cup pesto-rice onto each bowl. Serve with a fresh basil garnish if desired.

Herb Goat Cheese Toasts with Roasted Tomatoes & Red Onion

Herb Goat Cheese Toasts with Roasted Tomatoes & Red Onion

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It’s been about 10 days since my last blog post and I couldn’t be happier to get back in the groove. Since coming back to NYC after a fabulous vaca in my hometown of St. Louis, life has seemed a bit crazier than normal. Maybe it was a few days without cooking gas and hot water (long story), maybe it was the inevitable homesickness that comes after going back home and spending time with my parents, or maybe it was an abnormal amount of items on my to do list last week. Most likely, it was a combination of all three and I was in need of a recharge. You see, I’m a creature of habit and routine makes me feel in control. So because routine is hard to come by as an adult, if I’m feeling a bit out of control, I need to center myself by refocusing on the things in my life that are routine. Thank goodness for Saturday, it was just what the doc ordered.

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Matt spent most of the day playing golf this past Saturday which gave me the day to gain some control. Morning yoga, lots of iced coffee, a trip to the farmers market and quality time in the kitchen. Amazing. But the most amazing part? The simply scrumptious goat cheese and veggie topped toasts I made for lunch using fresh and local bread from the farmers market. The flavors in these toasts are out of control. Tangy goat cheese, sweet basil, bright roasted cherry tomatoes and slow cooked red onion come together to create a total masterpiece. And so simple too!

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I’ve been thinking a lot about simplicity lately. I actually think about simplifying my life quite often. Whether my apartment or my wardrobe, it’s definitely a work in progress but I try to take steps toward decluttering and cleansing whenever possible. But recently I’ve been thinking a lot about simplifying my food and recipes. Don’t get me wrong, I love a complicated recipe that takes hours of time and loads of energy. After all, the kitchen is my happy place. But I really want to come up with delicious and wholesome meals that require less ingredients and less work. I can see my future and it’s going to be busier than ever, so I really have no choice but to start now to come up with lots of easy go-to dishes that allow me a little time in the kitchen to decompress while also getting healthy, clean food on the table quickly and seamlessly.

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Making a toast (aka an open face sandwich) is the perfect base for a simple dish. You can really top a good quality slice of bread with any combination of flavors. It’s kind of like a pizza, kind of like a sandwich, so what’s not to love? This recipe for Herb Goat Cheese Toasts with Roasted Tomatoes and Red Onion is the first of many toast recipes and the perfect dish to kick off my effort to create delicious and simple recipes for when life gets crazy.

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Herb Goat Cheese Toasts with Roasted Tomato & Red Onion
Servings: 4   Start to Finish: 45 minutes

Ingredients

1 pint Cherry Tomatoes
2 cloves Garlic, peeled & minced
Olive Oil
Sea Salt
1 large Red Onion
8 ounces Plain Goat Cheese
1/3 cup fresh Basil Leaves
4 thick Slices Fresh Bread (I love the whole wheat Peasant Round Loaf from Baker’s Bounty)

To Make

Remove goat cheese from fridge to soften.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut tomatoes in half. In a bowl, toss tomatoes with chopped garlic, 1 teaspoon olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Spread tomatoes out onto baking sheet in a single, closely packed layer. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven, toss, and bake again for another 30-35 minutes.

When the tomatoes go in the oven, start caramelizing the onion. Slice onion into half moon slices (1/4″ to 1/2″). Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat in a medium skillet. Add onions, toss to coat with oil and to separate the layers. Cook for about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low or medium-low. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons water to onion. Cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and sweet. Add a tablespoon or two of water if the onions are getting too dry.

While tomatoes and onions cook, mix goat cheese with chopped basil leaves. Set aside. When tomatoes and onions are cooked, remove from heat to cool. Drizzle one side of each bread slice with 1/2 teaspoon oil and a pinch of salt. Toast in toaster oven or under broiler until lightly golden and crisp.

To assemble toasts, spread each slice of bread with 1/4 of the herbed goat cheese mixture. Divide tomatoes and onions evenly over toasts. Serve cold, warm or at room temp. Garnish with more fresh basil.

Roasted Tomato & Creamy White Bean Pita Sandwiches

Roasted Tomato & Creamy White Bean Pita Sandwiches

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It’s Day 3 of my “debloat and recharge detox” and I’m feeling good and staying motivated. My detoxes are easy in that I’m not seriously reducing calories or only eating cabbage soup. It’s more about portion controlling, loading up on veggies and fruits (even more than usual) and reducing excess fat, sugar and carbs. Because I pretty much always stick to high quality and whole ingredients, it’s mostly about portion controlling and some calorie counting.

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I’m not big on calorie counting for a couple reasons. First is because I’ve spent so much time calorie counting throughout the years that I have a pretty good sense of roughly how many calories are in most foods, allowing me to be unconsciously aware of how much I’m eating. I also don’t like counting calories because I think it can take the fun out of eating a cooking. And lastly, I don’t like counting calories because I find it to be misleading in terms of choosing an unhealthy food over a healthy food just because they are equal in calories. With that said, when trying to trim down and debloat, I’ve found that it happens much faster if you’re staying within a low-to-moderate calorie range. So when detoxing I stay within a 1,500-1,900 calorie range, typically shooting for around 1,600. Obviously this varies by person, but I’ve found this to be a sustainable, satisfying and effective range for myself.

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So the question is, what kinds of delicious and healthy foods do I eat during my detox regimens. Today I’m sharing my recipe for a super tasty pita pocket sandwich that clocks in at about 445 calories. I made these for both Matt and I to bring to work on Monday, and I kid you not, Matt actually called this sandwich one of the best things he’s ever eaten. Matt is the ultimate meat-eater-man so for him to say something so light and healthy is also super yummy means a lot.

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These pita sandwiches are a super simple combination of homemade white bean spread, oven-roasted cherry tomatoes and fresh baby spinach, all stuffed into a Demascus Bakery Whole Wheat Pita Pocket. I buy these pitas at Whole Foods and I like them because they are all-natural, made with only pronounceable ingredients, and cost just $1.50 for a pack of four. When I discovered these pitas, my commitment to a whole-foodie life got so much easier.

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For the white bean spread, I use my Lemony White Bean Dip recipe which is a must-try (it’s what Matt liked best about these sandwiches). But, for simplicity’s sake, an all-natural store-bough bean dip or hummus will work too. My Garlicky Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and some fresh spinach finish off the sandwich, adding depth, flavor and nutrients. And there you have it, a detox lunch that is transportable, satisfying, and one of the best things you’ll ever eat (according to Matt, that is).

Roasted Tomato and Lemony White Bean Spread Pita Sandwiches
Serves: 2    Start to Finish: 45 minutes   Calories: 450 per serving

Ingredients

1/2 batch Roasted Cherry Tomatoes (get my recipe here)
1 14-ounce can Organic Canellini Beans
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Lemon
2 cloves Garlic, crushed, peeled and roughly chopped
4-6 fresh Basil Leaves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons pure Tahini (ground sesame seeds)
1/2 teaspoon Dried Basil
1/2-1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
10-15 fresh Baby Spinach Leaves (I like using Organic Girl brand greens)
2 all-natural Whole Wheat Pita Pockets (I like Damascus Bakery brand, available at Whole Foods)

To Make

First, get the cherry tomatoes in the oven (get my recipe here). While the tomatoes roast, make the white bean spread.

For the white bean spread, reserve a 1/4 cup of the white bean liquid, then drain and rinse the beans in a colander. Set aside.

Using a vegetable peeler, peel 3-4 pieces of zest from the lemon (about 1/2 the lemon). Roughly chop them up. Add oil, garlic and lemon peel to a small skillet (the smallest you have). Turn on heat to medium-low. After 2-3 minutes, add basil leaves. Cook for 2 minutes.

Into a food processor, add beans, infused oil mixture (including zest garlic and basil), tahini, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, dried basil, and reserved bean liquid. Pulse until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste (I added 1/2 tsp pepper and 3/4 tsp salt). Pulse until smooth.

When tomatoes are finished, allow to cool. Assemble sandwiches by cutting each pita in half and gently pulling open the pocket of each half. Spread 1/4 cup of white bean spread into each half. Evenly divided cherry tomatoes and spinach leave between pockets.

*if using store bough bean spread or hummus, you’ll need 1 cup for 2 sandwiches (4 half sandwiches)

**if possible, make tomatoes and bean spread in advance and refrigerate. This allows the flavors to fully incorporate and develop.