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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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.

Best of Basic: Pickled Red Onions

Best of Basic: Pickled Red Onions

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Oh my goodness! I can’t believe I haven’t posted in almost two weeks. Cray-town, I know. Although I’m not completely sure how long it’s been, these past few weeks feel like a blur. But anyway, lack of posting doesn’t mean I’ve taken a break from the kitchen. Quite the opposite actually. After completing all of my culinary school classes, I’ve moved on to the required 100-hour internship. I was lucky enough to score an awesome internship at a super cool cafe/market, with a health-conscious, hipster vibe, in downtown Manhattan. It’s only my second week and I’m already learning a ton. Somehow, I still have the energy to be cooking up a storm at home, which includes my normal experimentation plus tons of meal-prep practice.

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Now, you may be thinking, “you’ve been cooking up a storm for two weeks and all you have to show for it is pickled onions”? Good question, but not exactly. I have so many recipes to share, but before these full recipes can post, I need to get the accessory components posted. You see, these aren’t just random pickled red onions. This easy and healthy condiment elevates many of the dishes I make; salads, sandwiches, avocado toasts, you name it! Last week, these pickled red onions added the perfect sweet and tangy bite to some amazing falafel wraps. The week before that, a pizza topper. These pickled onions bring a flavor punch to any dish, but don’t be scared. The punch is not the punch of a raw red onion, it’s far more palatable than that. Not everyone likes raw red onion, but pretty much everyone can get behind the vinegar-y, sweet bite of a deliciously easy and healthy pickled red onion. And now, I have this easy recipe ready to go for any future post that requires pickled red onions.

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I have homemade pickled red onions sitting in the fridge almost always. They have a super long shelf life and work with pretty much every cuisine and type of food, except maybe dessert. I love the flavor, color and texture they add to my vegetable-centric cooking. It’s one of those secret ingredients (like my garlicky-roasted cherry tomatoes), that adds “umph” and “pow” to a dish, especially one that lacks the richness of meat or dairy. It’s one of those ingredients that foodies, especially meat-free foodies, should keep stocked at all times.

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Finally, to bring it all full circle here, this is also a coincidentally relevant recipe because the restaurant where I’m interning is a huge fan of not only pickled red onion, but lots of other pickled goodies too. As soon as I realized, I knew it was the right place for me (among many other reasons, like great coffee, a focus on quality ingredients and laid-back vibe). So there you have it, it’s officially a trick of the trade to elevated eats. Enjoy!

Pickled Red Onions
Yield: 1.5 to 2 cups

Ingredients

1 red onion
1/3 cup+ water, room temp or slightly warmer
1 teaspoon maple syrup (or other sweetener), optional
3/4 teaspoon sea salt, fine grain
1/3 cup+ red wine vinegar

To Make

In a glass mason jar (or any storage container large enough to hold 16 ounces), combine 1/3 cup water, sweetener (if using) and salt. Stir or shake (lid on), until salt is dissolved. Add 1/3 cup vinegar and mix once more. Set aside.

Cut onion into quarters by making two cuts top to bottom. Remove outer layer of each quarter, discard. Thinly slice onion quarters. It’s important to slice them as thinly as possible. Separate layers as you add onion slices to liquid-filled jar and push down until all onions are submerged. Add up to 2 tablespoons more of vinegar and water, in equal amounts, until onions are submerged. You’ll likely have to push the onion slices to fit into the jar, they can be tightly packed. Shake jar or stir once more to combine.

Allow onions to sit refrigerated for at least 1 hour. They really only need 20 minutes to add lots of flavor to dishes. But of course, the longer they sit, the deeper the flavor becomes and the brighter the pink hue becomes. A deep, deep pink develops after 2-4 days.

Once you’ve tried the basic recipe, customize by adding whole garlic cloves, more sweetener or chili flakes to the pickling liquid.

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

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.

Spicy Buffalo Brown Rice Bowls (Vegan Optional!)

Spicy Buffalo Brown Rice Bowls (Vegan Optional!)

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If you saw last week’s post, you knew this one was coming. Last week I posted my recipe for a booming food trend, Vegan Buffalo “Wings” made with cauliflower florets. I’ve been meaning to make these for quite some time now, and I seriously can’t believe it took me so long because they are absolutely amazing. The push I needed came last week when Matt’s brother and fiancée, in town for their engagement party, we’re coming over for week night dinner and I needed something fun, healthy and delicious to cook up for them. So I checked my list of recipe ideas, saw buffalo cauliflower wings, and got a genius idea…Buffalo Brown Rice Bowls. Casual yet creative, tasty yet nutritious. Perfect.

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The idea for a brown rice bowl topped with buffalo wings was inspired by a popular fast-casual restaurant in my hometown of St. Louis called Crazy Bowls and Wraps. CBW, as St. Louis-ans like to call it, has been around forever, even before healthy fast-casual joints became a thing. CBW offers customizable rice bowls, salads and wraps with all kinds of creative fillings and options. One of my absolute favorites is the buffalo fried tofu, so it wasn’t hard to come up with the idea for a buffalo cauliflower brown rice bowl.

I’ll admit, I was intimidated starting this dish. I’d never made baked cauliflower wings before and I was cooking for company. There are definitely times when my kitchen experiments fall short of my vision and expectations, but fortunately, this was not one of those times. The baked buffalo cauliflower wings turned out fabulously, and the bowls came together beautifully. Score!

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I love the idea of layered bowls when serving a crowd. It makes it easy for each person to get exactly what they want. Plus, bowls like this are easy to eat. But I don’t need company to make bowls like this. In fact, last night for dinner I made Mexican rice bowls with roasted potatoes and peppers, cabbage, shredded cheddar and marinated tomatoes. When it comes to “bowls”, the possibilities are endless. Whenever I don’t know what to make, I start with a starch like rice or orzo pasta and simply add toppings according to a theme (Mexican, Greek, Italian, Asian etc.). That’s actually a really good tip if you’re ever struggling with what to cook. I use it all them time.

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If you’re new to rice bowls, this is a great one to start with. The spicy, crispy cauliflower compliments the fresh veggies and creamy sauce perfectly. It feels so indulgent, but it’s really very balanced. And it’s also a lot easier than it sounds. These bowls are seriously so yummy and I highly recommend trying them out, STAT. I know I can’t wait to make them again.

Buffalo Brown Rice Bowls
Serves: 4   Start to Finish: 1 hour 15 min

Ingredients

1 batch Buffalo Cauliflower (get recipe here)
1 cup Brown Rice
Sea Salt
8-10 ounces chopped Romaine Lettuce (1, maybe 2 heads)
10 ounces Cherry Tomatoes
2 large Carrots, peeled and trimmed
1 cup Dressing (get my creamy blue cheese dressing here or use the vegan recipe below)

Creamy Vegan Dressing
1 cup Vegan Mayonnaise (I like Follow Your Heart brand)
2 teaspoons Red Wine Vinegar
2 tablespoons unsweetened non-dairy milk or water
3/4 teaspoon Garlic Powder
3/4 teaspoon Onion Powder
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Dried Parsley

To Make

Make rice. Add 1 cup brown rice, 2 1/4 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt into a medium sauce pan. Bring to boil, reduce heat to lower summer, cover with tight fitting lid. Simmer for 35-40 minutes. Remove from heat when finished, allow to sit covered until ready to assemble bowls.

While rice simmers, preheat oven to 450 degrees and get the Buffalo Cauliflower “Wings” started (get recipe here).

While cauliflower bakes, make dressing by combining all ingredients for vegan dressing (ingredients above) or make my yummy blue cheese dressing (get recipe here). Set aside in fridge.

Prep veggies. Chop lettuce. Cut cherry tomatoes in half. Prep carrots. I like making “carrot shavings” for salads. Use a vegetable peeler to peel off long strips of carrots, then run your knife through the strips to make shavings.

When cauliflower and rice are finished, assemble the bowls. Divide lettuce into 4 bowls. Top each bowl with rice, tomatoes, carrots, buffalo cauliflower “wings” and 2-4 tablespoons dressing.

Dig in!

 

Mediterranean Chickpea Salad Sandwiches with Feta & Peppers

Mediterranean Chickpea Salad Sandwiches with Feta & Peppers

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Greetings from Florida! I can’t even begin to express how nice it is to be totally checked out of reality for the week. No work, no hustle and bustle, no mass transit. It’s just sun, sand, and relaxation here in Boca Grande, Florida. I’ve been coming to Boca Grande since I was a tot. It’s so nice to be somewhere so familiar, yet so far from my normal day to day life. Continue reading “Mediterranean Chickpea Salad Sandwiches with Feta & Peppers”