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
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!
Roasted Asparagus & Hummus Gyros with Dill-Yogurt Sauce
Servings: 4 Start to Finish: 30 minutes
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
1 romaine heart, shredded and washed
1/2 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 flatbreads or pitas
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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**
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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
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
When I think of some of my favorite meals from my meat-eating days, classic Italian meatballs definitely top the list. Whether on a sub sandwich, over pasta or even on pizza (shout out to Dewey’s Pizza in STL), meatballs are the bomb.
Whenever my parents come to visit me in NYC, one of their go-to eateries is The Meatball Shop. It’s a favorite of mine as well, and I’ve been lucky enough to live within walking to two of their locations over the past five years. The concept of this trendy yet casual local chain of restaurants is actually really cool. Using dry erase markers, you choose what you want by “checking it off” on a laminated menu. You choose the type of ball (beef, pork etc) and the sauce (pesto, cream, tomato etc.) and then the preparation (hero, over pasta, alongside steamed spinach etc).
Whenever I say that I love The Meatball Shop, I’m undoubtedly asked how that is possible when I don’t eat meat. Easy answer. One of the ball options is a delicious veggie ball, and I like it best as either a hero sandwich or in “the kitchen sink” market plate form. No matter what preparation I choose, when choosing a sauce, I always go for the classic tomato sauce with a side of their silky parmesan cream sauce.
I think subconsciously the idea for a veggie ball hero with tomato cream sauce was inspired by my typical order at The Meatball Shop. And it was a delicious idea. I spent literally all of this past Sunday in the kitchen making my own veggie balls, vegan cashew cream and a homemade vodka sauce. I always love spending hours in the kitchen, but this particular meal turned out perfectly, so this was a long but particularly rewarding cooking sesh.
The recipe I’m sharing in this post is one of my favorite ways to make veggie balls, a Roasted Eggplant and White Bean Veggie Ball.
The inspiration for an eggplant-based veggie ball comes from Matt. A year or two ago, Matt made us a batch of roasted eggplant balls stuffed with fresh mozzarella, and they were so tasty. My variation uses the roasted eggplant and then I also added some white canellini beans for a protein boost and some hearty substance.
These meat-less meatballs are my favorite for a few reasons; they are super flavorful and yummy, they stay together and hold their shape, and they contain no eggs dairy making them vegan friendly.
But mostly I love them because of how delicious they are. The balls get their amazing flavor from sweet roasted eggplant, fresh basil, and lots of garlic. Other than all-natural whole wheat bread crumbs and some additional seasoning and a bit of olive oil, that’s all you need to create these fabulous balls. I recommend making a double batch and use them in different ways throughout the week. I should’ve made a double batch on Sunday because this batch was gone by Monday.
Italian Eggplant & White Bean Veggie Balls
Serves: 4 Start to Finish: 2 hours (20 min active time)
2 pounds Eggplant
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
1 can Canellini Beans, drained & rinsed
15 fresh Basil leaves
4 cloves Garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 cup Whole Wheat Bread Crumbs, divided (I like Whole Foods brand)
1 tablespoon Nutritional Yeast (optional)**
1/4 teaspoon Garlic Powder
1 teaspoon Olive Oil
Slice eggplant into 1″ discs. Cube each disc into 4-10 cubes, depending on disc size. Soak eggplant in a bowl of cold water for 45-90 minutes, tossing occasionally.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Rinse eggplant cubes and drain in colander. Use a clean towel to remove excess moisture. Toss eggplant cubes with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt. Bake at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes, tossing half way through cooking.
Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.
Allow eggplant to cool slightly. I put it in a the food processor with the top on for a few minutes to release some liquid. Combine eggplant, canellini beans, basil leaves, 4 cloves garlic and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Pulse until a smooth mixture begins to form, be sure to keep a little texture. Pour eggplant mixture into a bowl. Stir in 1/4 cup bread crumbs and 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup bread crumbs, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder and 1 teaspoon olive oil. Form eggplant mixture into balls (I used a 1/4 cup measure for each). Toss each ball in the breadcrumb & oil mixture. Place coated balls on a parchment lined baking sheet. I got 9 balls out of this batch.
Bake balls at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Turn heat up to 425 degrees and cook for another 25 minutes or until crisp and golden, flip half way through
*adjust salt according to personal taste
**if you choose not to use nutritional yeast, you may need to replace it with more bread crumbs
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”
I’ve said it before, much of my inspiration in the kitchen comes from my mom. Growing up, we had family dinners every weeknight, and my mom always managed to make delicious, creative, balanced and varied meals for us. Because my mom ran a successful non-profit and had three kids, two dogs and a husband to deal with, these meals also had to be fast, affordable and simple to get on the table. Continue reading “Quick & Simple: Vegan Sloppy Joe Sandwiches”