Best of Basic: Loaded Italian Pasta Salad

Best of Basic: Loaded Italian Pasta Salad

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Is it possible that June is already coming to an end? Fine by me, because I’ll be spending the first days of July on vacation. A glorious 10 day vaca in a remote area of Lake Huron in Ontario, Canada, it’s pretty much my favorite place on earth. You see, my extended family owns a modest island, smack dab in the middle of the wilderness, and it can only be described as rustic, comfortable, and totally epic. We sleep in sleeping bags and spend 80% of the day without electricity. We spend our days on the lake and evenings by the fire. And the breeze coming off the water at night, while falling asleep in the open air cabins, is pure magic.

This year, I’ll be heading up a bit earlier than usual and spending the first week of July on the island with my parents. But that means, I’ll be missing America’s birthday. I first want to say that I’m not trying to make a political statement here. Although I’d be lying if I said moving out of Trump country hasn’t crossed my mind. But I love the States, and because I’ll be missing one of the best celebrations of summer, I wanted to share a perfect (and easy) recipe for a BBQ-must-have… Loaded Italian Pasta Salad.

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I actually developed this recipe a couple weekends ago when I was visiting my hometown, St. Louis. While everyone else enjoyed this delish pasta salad alongside turkey burgers, I instead, topped it with a medley of grilled veggies, making it a scrumptious main dish for a meat-free eater. Added bonus, this salad can be made gluten-free (using a gluten-free pasta) or made vegan (by omitting the fresh mozzarella balls). Finicky foodies rejoice!

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Other than being diet-restriction friendly, this “best of basic” pasta salad is amazing for two reasons. Firstly because it’s a cinch to make. In the time it takes to cook the pasta, the remainder of the ingredients are ready to go. Then all that’s left is a chill session in the fridge to bring everything together. The second reason is because this pasta salad is packed with fresh flavor from basil leaves and cherry tomatoes, texture from al dente pasta, beans and artichokes, and health supportive because of protein, fiber, vitamins and healthy fats. Finally, the simple vinaigrette, flavored with oregano, dry mustard and garlic powder, brings it all home by adding even more flavor and richness. This pasta salad is seriously perfect. So if you’re looking for a clean, balanced and crowd-pleasing pasta salad to be your go-to summer side dish, look no further. This is it.

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loads of roasted veggies + pasta salad side dish = delish main meal

Best of Basic: Loaded Italian Pasta Salad
Serves: 8 (large side dish portion)   Start to Finish: 30 min + chilling time

Ingredients

1 lb (16 ounces) pasta of choice* (see below for notes)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1.5 teaspoons sea salt, fine grain
1.5 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried mustard
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (or granulated garlic)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon maple syrup, or sweetener of choice, optional**
1 12-oz can white beans, drained and rinsed
1 12-oz can artichoke hearts, quartered
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered (depending on size)
1 5-oz can sliced black olives
1 5-oz can pimentos
25 medium basil leaves, about 1 small package, chopped or cut into chiffonade
8-oz fresh mozzarella, I prefer the mini balls (if using a large ball, cut into small pieces)

To Make

Bring 5 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and pasta. Cook until al dente. I usually drain the pasta about 1-3 minutes earlier than package instructions say to cook. The best way to know? Try 2-3 noodles. When some noodles are cooked and some noodles seem under-cooked, they’re ready. After the pasta sits in the dressing, the underdone noodles will finish cooking. Avoid over cooking noodles, they will far apart after marinading.

While water boils and pasta cooks. Prepare dressing. In a blender, or using a hand blender, combine ingredients olive oil through maple syrup. Blend until fully emulsified. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine ingredients white beans through pimentos.  Toss with cooked/drained pasta (still hot) and prepped vinaigrette. Allow to cool down to room temp (about 10 minutes). Toss mozzarella and basil with pasta salad. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until fully chilled. However, the longer it sits, the better it gets. Make 1 day ahead if possible.

*Pasta Options
– I chose an organic, white flour variety for a classic pasta salad
– Use whole wheat for additional fiber, a chewier texture and a nuttier flavor
– Use a gluten-free pasta if desired, I love Banza brand
– As for shape, penne, fusilli and bowtie are my top choices – I used penne here

**I think a bit of sweetener (just 1 tbs for 8 servings) makes the dressing more palatable and makes the salad more of a crowd-pleaser. Feel free to omit the sweetener or add less

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Grain-Free Cauliflower Fried “Rice”

Grain-Free Cauliflower Fried “Rice”

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As I practice more and more with healthful, diet-restriction-friendly recipes (you know – vegan, gluten free, paleo, etc.), I find more and more ways to use cauliflower. From cauliflower “steaks” to cauliflower “rice,” the possibilities are seriously endless. A healthy, grain-free version of fried rice is one of my latest projects. Grated cauliflower, diced carrots, yellow onions and chopped red bell peppers make up the bulk of this dish. Then I add flavor with organic, cage-free eggs, a simple tamari-based sauce and a garnish of fresh scallions. For a genuine paleo/whole30 version, simply use coconut aminos instead of tamari. But for me, an organic soy-based tamari does the job perfectly.

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When I think about it, many of the recipes I make are inspired by takeout and delivery classics, and this dish is the perfect example.  Making your own “takeout” at home is much healthier than ordering out, and cheaper too. But for people who have dietary restrictions, it’s sometimes the only option to be able to enjoy favorite foods and cuisines. A grain-free/gluten-free lifestyle is the driving force behind this dish, but it also qualifies as vegetarian, dairy-free and, if using coconut aminos instead of tamari, paleo-friendly. Serve with a selection of proteins like grilled chicken, vegetables, tofu or steak, and you’ve got a meal that’s customizable enough (and delicious enough) to please a crowd.

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Now, let’s go over a couple of my favorite health-supportive benefits of this recipe’s star, cauliflower.

Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable, and one of my all-time favorite vegetables, mostly because it’s super versatile. Cruciferous vegetables (like cauliflower, broccoli, turnips, kale and arugula) contain glucosinolates, a chemical that contains sulfur. When broken down during digestion, glucosinolates turn into compounds associated with anti-cancer effects. Cauliflower is also a great source of fiber, aiding in digestion, and also a great source of Vitamins K & C. Cauliflower is high in several powerful antioxidants, which are essential in providing adequate defense to your cells, which is believed to help your body in fighting off illnesses such as cancer.

Enjoy!

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Grain-Free Cauliflower Fried “Rice”
Serves: 2 (main) or 4 (side dish)   Start to Finish: 25 minutes

Ingredients

1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons canola or coconut oil (organic preferred), divided
4 cups raw cauliflower rice*
1 teaspoon dried ginger
1.5 teaspoons sea salt, fine grain, divided
2 tablespoons tamari (use coconut aminos instead for paleo/whole30 version)
2 eggs (cage-free, organic preferred)
chopped scallions, garnish (1-2 scallions is enough)

To Make

Note: You may want to use a non-stick skillet or wok for this recipe. My stainless steel pan worked well for this recipe with no sticking/burning issues, but a non-stick skillet will be more fool-proof.

Prep carrots, peppers, onion and garlic. Using a box grater or food processor, grate large cauliflower florets into cauliflower “rice.” Use the stem portion of the florets too.

Crack eggs into a bowl and scramble with a fork. Set aside.

Heat 1.5 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add carrots, peppers, onions, garlic and 1 teaspoon sea salt to pan. Cook for 5-6 minutes, until vegetables have softened and released liquid. Add grated cauliflower and ginger to pan. Cook for another 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until moisture from cauliflower is released and evaporated.

Add tamari (or coconut aminos) to pan, toss to coat, and cook for about 2 minutes, until excess moisture is removed. Push cauliflower aside and add remaining oil to open space in pan. Add scrambled eggs to oil. Frequently use a spoon to cut through liquified eggs in order to rotate uncooked eggs into the heat. Just as the egg solidifies (after about a minute), mix the cauliflower mixture into the eggs. Season with sea salt to taste (I added an additional 1/2 teaspoon) and cook for 1-2 minutes, until excess moisture is gone.

Garnish with scallions, serve immediately.

*1 head of caulifower is plenty for this recipe. You can also purchase pre-riced cauliflower in the freezer and/or produce section of many supermarkets.

Sources
Benefits of Cauliflower

Vegetarian Sweet Potato Nachos with Cheddar-Jalapeño Sauce

Vegetarian Sweet Potato Nachos with Cheddar-Jalapeño Sauce

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Being a University of Wisconsin alum, I’m obviously beyond ecstatic that the Badgers beat defending champ, Villanova, and made it to the Sweet Sixteen round of March Madness. If you know me at all, you’d know that watching sports isn’t really my thing. That is unless it involves my beloved St. Louis Cardinals, the STL Blues or anything relating to UW-Madison. There’s one other exception, March Madness. Maybe it’s because I grew up glued to the TV during March Madness, thanks to my dad. Or maybe because I actually played A LOT of basketball in my early years, so I’m able to better relate to the games. No matter the reason, I love this classic tournament, especially when my alma mater surprises the nation and beats the #1 team in the second round.

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So, to go along with an amazing game and lots of excitement to come, I thought I’d share a healthy-ish twist on a classic sports bar appetizer – nachos. Instead of traditional tortilla chips, I’m using roasted rounds of sweet potato. Through roasting, the sweet potatoes become sturdy enough to hold all of the amazing toppings that get piled on. What toppings, you may be wondering? Well, there’s a decadent homemade cheese sauce spiked with fresh jalapeño, crisp romaine lettuce, refreshing yogurt and, last but not least, creamy guacamole. Doesn’t this all sound simply amazing?

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Yes, these nachos are still rich and indulgent. But, like everything else, I make all of my recipes as clean and health-supportive as possible, even if it’s a dish that’s not supposed be light or healthy. That’s why I call this version of nachos “healthy-ish”. Because I’ve made them as healthy as possible while still maintaining the crowd-pleasing, addictive, satisfying element. There are several health-supportive ingredients in this recipe. Check them out below. Then head down to the recipe, just in time for game day. Go Badgers!

Sweet Potatoes are a power house of nutrition. By replacing fried corn chips with sweet potatoes, this recipe gets a hefty dose of vitamin A, potassium and fiber, plus some vitamin B-6 and protein. Sweet potatoes are also a filling food, making these nachos substantial enough to become a satisfying and nourishing main dish.

Romaine Lettuce, like other lettuces, fills you up without adding extra calories or fat. Adding fresh lettuce to any dish increases vitamins and assists the body in flushing out toxins. Lettuce also adds freshness and balance to this rich dish.

Grass-Fed Plain Yogurt (full-fat) is my new favorite ingredient. Not only can I trust that grass-fed cows live a healthier and happier lifestyle (grain-fed cows live extremely bloated, confined and uncomfortable lives), but grass-fed cows produce dairy containing high-quality fats. These fats are then transformed into conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) through the process of making yogurt with lactic acid. Grass-fed dairy, like grass-fed beef, contains a higher concentration of CLA’s. Research has linked CLA consumption with decreased risk of heart attack, bone-mass loss and inflammation. Additionally, live cultures in yogurt aid in digestion, immunity, weight-loss and regular bowel movement. Yogurt is also naturally high in calcium and protein. Whoa! Go grass-fed yogurt go!

Avocados, like in my guacamole, are known for providing the body with “good fats” such as mono- and polyunsaturated fats which can reduce levels of bad cholesterol in the blood and the risk of heart disease. Avocados are rich in potassium, vitamin E, B-vitamins, folic acid and other essential nutrients. Avocados are also amazing because they add guilt-free richness, flavor and decadence to just about any dish, which is especially important for vegetarians and vegans.

Sweet Potato Nachos with Homemade Cheddar-Jalapeño Sauce & Fresh Guacamole
Serves: 2-3 (entree), 6 (appetizer)   Start to Finish: 1 hour

Ingredients

2 sweet potatoes, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
1 tablespoon olive oil
sea salt, fine grain
1 avocado, very ripe
2 tablespoons minced red onion
3 teaspoons minced jalapeño, approx. 1/2 of a medium jalapeño, divided
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
hot sauce, to taste, if desired
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
2/3 to 1 cup whole milk
2 ounces shredded white cheddar cheese
1.5 cups shredded romaine lettuce (1 heart of romaine will be more than enough)
1/4 cup plain yogurt (full-fat, grass-fed preferred)

To Make

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Make potato rounds. Prep potatoes, brush with oil, season with a pinch of salt on each side of each round, and place potato rounds in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until color begins to brown and the rounds are sturdy.

Make guacamole. Combine 1 smashed avocado with with 2 tablespoons minced red onion, 2 teaspoons minced jalapeño, 1 tablespoon lime juice, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt and 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro. Add a couple dashes hot sauce if desired and season with salt if needed. Refrigerate until needed.

Make cheddar sauce. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a small saucepan over medium-heat. Add 1 minced garlic clove and 1 teaspoon minced jalapeño. Cook for 1 minute. Whisk in 1 tablespoon of flour until smooth. Allow flour/butter mixture to cook for 1-2 minutes, whisking occasionally. Slowly whisk in 2/3 cup whole milk until smooth and creamy. Allow mixture to gently simmer until thickened, 3-4 minutes. Whisk in 2 ounces shredded cheddar cheese and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Set aside. If queso sauce gets to thick, add a bit more milk until desired consistency is reached. Gently reheat on stove top when needed.

Assemble. When potato slices are finished roasting, lay out on a platter or large plate. It’s okay to overlap but make sure a good section of each slice is visible. Pour queso sauce over top of potatoes. Top with shredded iceberg lettuce, plain yogurt and a cilantro garnish, if desired. Serve with guacamole (and some fresh corn chips maybe?).

Nutrition Information References:

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=124

https://www.symptomfind.com/nutrition-supplements/probiotic-bacteria/

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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.

 

Best of Basic: Easy Chickpea Falafel Patties

Best of Basic: Easy Chickpea Falafel Patties

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Looking back at the last 6 months, it’s hard to express just how much I’ve learned. I spent the last half-year studying the techniques and methods necessary to be a professional chef, as well as the ideas and science behind health-focused, sustainable and clean cooking. No surprise there, I was at a health-focused culinary school after all. But in addition to this, I’ve also learned a great deal about myself and the career/life path I’ve recently chosen, and I owe a great deal of that to my ten classmates who shared this experience with me, my ten classmates of CTP 267 (aka the 267th chefs-in-training class at NGI).

It’s kind of awesome actually – that some of the most significant lessons I learned throughout this experience did not come from a teacher, but rather from my fellow students. And this lesson is that I am not alone. I’ve honestly never been in an environment (other than my own home) where I felt so at home, where I felt like I truly shared the same values, goals and ideals as everyone around me. Yes, my classmates and I, we all love food and cooking and we want to make a career of sorts out of it. But, you see, it’s much deeper than that for us. I’ve spent the last leg of my life realizing that while food is incredibly important to me, my passion in this field goes far beyond just cooking. For me, and for my classmates, it’s about being healthy and balanced, it’s about treating the environment with respect, and it’s about having compassion for all living things. Because of my deep-seeded beliefs when it comes to food and health, I decided to switch up my life to be focused on these values. A huge move, a risky move, a scary move. But the comfort-zone I found at school, this like-minded culinary family I quickly grew to love, is what motivates me and gives me the confidence I need to move forward in this career. So I’d like to give a little shout-out and huge thank you to CTP 267. I can’t wait to see the inevitable marks they leave on this world.

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So that was quite the speech I just gave, huh? I really didn’t mean for that at all, I meant for a short intro to a technique for falafel I learned from one of my classmates. Oh well, sometimes I just can’t help but be a total sap. Anyway, during our very first improv cooking class at school, I was grouped with 3 classmates and given a list of ingredients. As soon as I saw ‘soaked chickpeas’ on the list, I knew falafel was the way to go. The group agreed and we got to work. I was about to cook the chickpeas when Carol, my very skilled Brazilian/vegan classmate, mentioned that food processing soaked chickpeas with a healthy dose of olive oil makes for a quicker falafel. I had never heard of this or seen this before, but I trusted her and went ahead without cooking the chickpeas first. No surprise, the little patties turned out to be super easy and super delicious.

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Being as I love falafel, I wasted no time in trying this version of falafel again at home. Just like in improv class, the quick mixture of soaked chickpeas, olive oil, garlic, onion, fresh parsley and spices was very wet, but firmed up nicely when browned on an oiled cast iron skillet. Then just a few minutes in the oven and the falafels are ready for eating. The pic above shows one way of eating these guys. That’s another (future) blog post, but I will say that it features homemade pita bread encasing hot falafel, fresh romaine, quick pickled red onions and sweet roasted beets served with a side of lemon-tahini dressing. So yummy. You could also eat the falafel patties over rice, on a salad, or just with your fingers, they are actually pretty sturdy even though they aren’t deep fried. I mean, I’m not going to say they’re the same as deep fried, because they just aren’t. Deep fried falafel balls are beyond amazing, and it’s definitely the classic preparation in my eyes. But these baked falafels are less stress and less mess, not to mention a smidgen more figure friendly. Plus you get the same flavor profile and versatility as a deep fried ball. Easier, cleaner, healthier and still totally delicious. Done and done.

So with that, I hope everyone’s Valentine’s Day is filled with lots and lots of love, in any of its forms (self-love, romantic-love, bestie-love, puppy-love etc).

xoxoxo

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Best of Basic: Easy Falafel Patties

Serves: 4     Start to Finish: 30 minutes (not including bean-soaking)

Ingredients

1 cup dry garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas), soaked overnight or up to 24-hours
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup olive oil (+ more for pan frying)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander (optional)
1/4 teaspoon paprika (optional)
1 tbs tightly packed parsley leaves, chopped

To Make

Preheat oven  to 375 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment.

Drain and rinse soaked beans. Add all ingredients to a food processor and process until a smooth mixture is formed (it should still have a visibly grainy texture). Form the batter into 12 patties. The batter will be very wet, but should still form into patties easily.

On a griddle pan or in a frying pan (cast iron recommended), heat a thin layer of olive oil over medium-low heat. Fry patties for 5 minutes per side, or until golden and crisp. Cook patties in batches if needed, replacing oil between batches. Finish by cooking patties in the oven for 10 minutes at 375 degrees, covered in foil.

If refrigerating patties for later, skip baking step, bake just before serving, until cooked through. If freezing, skip initial baking step. Defrost completely before reheating in oven, covered in foil.

Side note, I often eat these patties cold anyway, so reheating after the fridge is definitely not necessary.

Vegetarian Buffalo Cauliflower Sandwiches

Vegetarian Buffalo Cauliflower Sandwiches

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A couple posts ago I  became a spokeswoman for cauliflower steaks (check out my cauliflower reuben sandwiches here). I love them. These seasoned and baked slabs of cauliflower can pretty much be turned into anything, including the spicy buffalo sandwiches I’m sharing today. Classically, the cauliflower in this sandwich would be a deep fried chicken breast tossed in buttery buffalo sauce and topped with a heavy blue cheese dressing, however that’s not my style. I found a way around this though. You see, one of my go-to orders at a local sports bar back home in St. Louis is their build-your-own-burger option with a veggie patty, veggies, buffalo sauce and ranch dressing. I get everything I used to love about buffalo chicken sandwiches, just without the chicken. So I blended this concept with my new obsession for cauliflower steaks and came up with this out-of-bounds buffalo cauliflower sandwich recipe.

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I actually had intended on making this post a few days ago, but it took me until today because of the crazy week I’ve had. This past week was not only my last full week of classes at culinary school, but it was also the week of our final project. As a final, me and five of my classmates took over the school’s weekly Friday Night Dinner even, where we planned and executed a three-course, gourmet vegan dinner for 100 people. For this project, we are responsible for concept, recipes, execution, prepping, cooking, plating and table settings. It’s a lot of work, but in the end, it was a super success. The food was perfect and the tables looked beautiful. But while it’s a sweet feeling to be over and done with it, it’s also a bitter feeling because I don’t want school to end. This has been one of the best experiences of my life, and it was so amazing to have all my friends and family there on Friday to celebrate this monumental time in my life.

Then, the morning after, my mom, oldest sister, and I participated in the NYC Women’s March. To say the least, it was a truly major experience. The signage alone was enough to keep me fully entertained, but it was the positive, united and hopeful energy coming from the masses of people marching that really made it an event to remember. I am so proud to say that I participated in such a significant event in history.

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So at the close of these two epic events (and before I have to start my homework), I at last have a minute to share this almost-as-epic recipe. I’ve hit all the classic flavor-packed elements of a traditional buffalo chicken sandwich here, except I keep them lighter and meat-free with my flavorful roasted cauliflower, a vegan buffalo sauce, and a rich blue cheese dressing made with plain, grass-fed yogurt. I also used one of my favorite techniques when it comes to topping sandwiches and wraps with veggies, which in this case is to toss the typical buffalo side kicks (shredded lettuce, celery and carrots) with the blue cheese dressing before adding to the sandwich. This way, every bite gets some blue-cheese-veggie action and also helps to keep the sandwiches together.

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When it comes to the blue cheese dressing, I’m using a recipe that utilizes only full fat plain yogurt (my go-to is an organic, grass-fed variety StonyField from Whole Foods). In case you’re interested, I prefer grass-fed milk and yogurt because grass-fed cows are far happier than grain- or meat-fed cows, and because my go-to brand, Stonyfield, is also organic, I can trust that it’s a non-gmo product that doesn’t contain hormones or antibiotics. Awesome. However, regular plain yogurt of any variety is still an excellent nutritional choice, and much easier to find, so I sometimes use conventional yogurt over grass-fed/organic. But, if you really can’t have blue cheese dressing without mayo, check out my slightly more indulgent recipe here, it uses a mixture of yogurt and mayo. Now, the last but certainly not least element of this sandwich is, of course, the bun. You can use a conventional store-bought brand for this obviously. But I find that a bakery fresh version is always better because not only does it support a local and small business, but bakery-fresh versions will likely contain nothing artificial or excessive. In fact, this brings up a good point. Everything about this sandwich is a good example of small adjustments that make a big difference. Yogurt instead of mayo, baked cauliflower instead of fried chicken, and a bakery-fresh bun instead of a conventional grocery store brand are all examples of simple changes that have changed my life for the better. I mean, how else could I enjoy eating as much and as often as I do while continuing to feel my best? This is how.

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So there you have it – an epic sandwich recipe to end a totally epic week. Bring it on, Monday!

Vegetarian Buffalo Cauliflower Sandwich Recipe
Serves: 4     Start to finish: 40 minutes

Ingredients
For Buffalo Cauliflower Steaks
1 large head cauliflower
1.5 tablespoons olive oil (plus for for griddle)
3/4 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
3/4 teaspoon granulated garlic (or garlic powder)
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
For Vegan Buffalo Sauce
3 tablespoons coconut oil
3 tablespoons hot sauce
1/4 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
1/4 teaspoons granulated garlic (or garlic powder)
For Blue Cheese Sauce
1.5 cups plain yogurt*
1.5 teaspoons sea salt, fine grain
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon granulated garlic (or garlic powder)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup crumbled blue cheese
2 teaspoons olive oil
For Assembly
1 heart of romaine, finely chopped or shredded, washed
3 stalks celery, cleaned and trimmed
2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced or shredded
4 sandwich buns**

To Make
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prep a baking sheet with parchment paper, set aside.

Cut cauliflower into steaks by slicing the cauliflower right down the middle, vertically. Then, moving out from the center cut, to slice the cauliflower vertically into 1/4-1/2″ slabs. Be mindful that as the cuts move further from the original center cut, the slabs will begin to fall apart and transform into florets. Two large slabs is enough for 4 portions in this recipe, but I like to roast some of the florets to fill in gaps in the sandwich.

Heat a cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Combine ingredients for cauliflower steaks, olive oil through cayenne pepper. Brush cauliflower with spice mixture. Add a thin layer of oil to pan, just to coat. Add cauliflower to pan and cook for 1-2 minutes per side, until browned. Transfer to baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, until super tender, flipping half way through cooking.

While cauliflower bakes, combine all ingredients for blue cheese dressing. Prep lettuce, celery and carrots. Toss together in a bowl with 1/3-1/2 cup blue cheese dressing. Set aside.

Combine buffalo sauce ingredients in a small saucepan. Heat over low heat until for 3-5 minutes. When cauliflower steaks are finished cooking, remove from oven and brush with buffalo sauce, reserving some for pouring over sandwiches. Cut each steak into 2 equal portions.

Now assemble the sandwiches. Spread 2-4 tablespoons of blue cheese dressing onto the bottom half of each bun. Top each with a cauliflower steak half, then some of the tossed salad mixture. Drizzle remaining buffalo sauce and blue cheese over each sandwich as desired. Finish with top bun.

*my recipe uses all yogurt to keep it a bit leaner, but feel free to use your favorite blue cheese dressing – get my slightly more indulgent recipe here – it uses a mixture of yogurt and mayonnaise

**bakery fresh bread is a better choice than conventional grocery-store varieties because fresh bread likely contains nothing artificial or excessive – I got mine from Northside Bakery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Recipe by Mary Louis

Vegetarian Cauliflower Reuben Sandwiches

Vegetarian Cauliflower Reuben Sandwiches

cauliflower reuben sandwiches

2017 is the year of the Cauliflower Steak. I’m literally obsessed. If you haven’t yet heard of the concept, it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like – a slab (or steak, if you will) of cauliflower, roasted or grilled until rich in flavor and tender in texture. Eat this tasty “steak” on it’s own, or use it as a clean, whole, nutrient-rich and satisfying substitute, wherever slices of animal protein are traditionally used. Yesterday, during my improvisation class at culinary school, my partner and I layered slabs of roasted cauliflower with a delicious mock-bolognese sauce made with tempeh. It was divine. But this obsession actually started while home for the holidays, when I used cauliflower steaks as a replacement for the burgers everyone else was eating on bbq night.

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Also on bbq night, is when I came up with the idea for a Cauliflower “Reuben” Sandwich using the slabs of cauliflower. I asked my mom to add the traditional reuben toppings to the burger bar, and the result was delicious. So when I returned to NYC last week, I was obviously craving another cauliflower reuben sandwich…stat.

A traditional reuben sandwich consists of sauerkraut, swiss cheese, a sweet Russian dressing and some rye bread. Well, pastrami is also an important component, but that’s not happening in my kitchen. So what’s my version? Perfectly cooked cauliflower steaks, seasoned with traditional pastrami spices (corriander, garlic, onion, paprika, black pepper), fresh rye bread from the local bakery, nutty swiss cheese, sauerkraut and a “lightened up” yogurt-based Russian dressing. Yum, right? I don’t know about you, but I’m not missing the pastrami one bit.

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Making cauliflower steaks is easy. Simply slice the cauliflower right down the middle, vertically. Then, moving out from the center cut, slice the cauliflower vertically into 1/4-1/2″ slabs. Be mindful that as the cuts move further from the original center cut, the slabs will begin to fall apart and transform into florets. So basically, you can only count on 2-4 solid slabs that will hold together. But no matter, there are countless uses for the leftover florets. I add them to soups and stirfries, use them as a simple side dish, or food-process them into low-carb “rice.” For slabs that are mostly staying together, with just a couple florets starting to peel off, I keep them together as best as possible while cooking so it still looks like a slab. Easy enough, yeah?

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Now that the cauliflower is covered, all that’s left to talk about is the accessories. I picked up some fresh rye bread from Northside Bakery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Why? Grocery store-bought bread has too many additives. Bakery-fresh bread on the other hand, is pure. Not to mention it supports small, local businesses. Next is the swiss cheese. Not much to say about this. It’s cheese and it’s delicious. Next up, sauerkraut. Sauerkraut, if you don’t know, is pickled or fermented cabbage. You can find pickled sauerkraut in jars or cans at the market. It has a sour flavor and is a perfect compliment to the richness of the cheese and sauce on this sandwich. While most store-bought sauerkrauts are heated during processing, there are also uncooked, unpasturized varieties of sauerkraut, which are filled-to-the-brim with gut-healthy bacteria and Vitamins B, C & K. To find a store-bought version like this, that includes the digestion-healthy probiotics and live cultures/bacteria, look for jars of organic sauerkraut in the refrigerated section of the market. Both versions, pickled and fermented, work for this recipe. The choice is yours.

Finally, that sauce. Traditional russian dressing is a rich and creamy mixture of mayonnaise and ketchup, with some other ingredients, depending on the recipe. I made my sauce as simple as possible and used grass-fed, full-fat plain yogurt instead of mayonnaise. In my opinion, once the sauce is paired with all the other flavorful ingredients on this sandwich, I don’t think a mayo-based sauce is necessary. So I lightened it up for a health kick. Again, the choice is yours.

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So there you have it. A classic Reuben Sandwich, reinvented to cater to the health-conscious, meat-free crowd. But honestly, meat-eaters and meat-freers alike can benefit from veggie-centric, lightened up recipes like this one. Stay tuned for more recipes using my new best friend, Cauliflower Steak. Maybe buffalo style next time? If you have any suggestions, for sure let me know!

Cauliflower Reuben-Style Sandwich
Serves: 4    Start to Finish: 30 minutes

Ingredients
1 large head cauliflower
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon coriander
sea salt, fine grain
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 ounces swiss cheese, sliced
1 cup organic sauerkraut
3/4 cup full-fat, plain yogurt, grass-fed preferred (or use mayo)
3 tablespoons all-natural ketchup
1 tablespoon grated onion, white or yellow
2 teaspoons maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
8 slices rye bread

To Make
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Cut cauliflower into steaks by slicing the cauliflower right down the middle, vertically. Then, moving out from the center cut, to slice the cauliflower vertically into 1/4-1/2″ slabs. Be mindful that as the cuts move further from the original center cut, the slabs will begin to fall apart and transform into florets. Two large slabs is enough for 4 portions in this recipe. Save the florets for another recipe.

Heat cast iron pan or griddle over medium-high heat. Combine spices, black pepper through coriander, in a small bowl with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Brush both sides of cauliflower slabs with 1/2 tablespoon oil and season both sides of slabs with seasoning blend. Add remaining 1/2 tablespoon olive oil to pan. Brown cauliflower slabs in pan until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in oven for 20 minutes, until the core of the cauliflower is soft and tender.*

While cauliflower cooks, make sauce by combining ingredients yogurt through garlic powder, plus 3/4 teaspoon salt. Add more salt to taste. Set aside in fridge.

When cauliflower is finished, remove from oven and cut each slab into 2 equal-sized pieces (four total). Season the top of each slice with a pinch of salt. Evenly distribute cheese slices over cauliflower. Return slabs to oven for 3-5 minutes, until cheese is melted.

Make sandwiches by layering ingredients as follows… 1 slice rye bread, 1-2 tablespoons sauce, one cheese-covered cauliflower steak, 1/4 cup sauerkraut, 1-2 tablespoons sauce, 2nd slice of rye bread. Repeat to make 4 sandwiches.

*cauliflower slabs can also be grilled, without needing to brown in on cast iron first
**i like to gently squeeze excess liquid from the sauerkraut before adding to sandwich, it’s less messy when eating