Notes from a Virgin Vegan: part two

Now that I have declared myself a virgin vegan, I have heard from others in the community who are exploring healthier diets as well. There is something so exhilarating about making better choices about the way we live our lives. It prompts us to examine other areas as well. For example, I have also been ramping up my yoga practice (as much as possible with a toddler to care for) and examining my skincare products as a complement to my healthier food choices. 

My plan is to increase my fruit and vegetable intake by knowing how to prepare healthy, great-tasting meals. As you may recall from last week’s installment, I am working with master vegan chef and all-around fabulous woman Vicki Chelf. Vicki has been giving me cooking classes in her personal kitchen.

We started by laying the foundation. Vicki is a great motivator; while she swiftly and gracefully pulled together veggies from her refrigerator and quinoa from her cupboard and began preparing our first meal, she talked about the importance of eating local food and whole food, which has the greatest amount of nutritive value. In fact, the forward to her book, Vicki’s Vegan Kitchen:  Eating with Sanity, Compassion and Taste, was written by Dr. Neal Barnard, Founder and President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, in which he says, “foods from plant sources are better for health, for the animals, and for the environment.”

You have to examine what you have in your kitchen and figure out what you can use for daily food preparation. I mentioned the clutter of appliances in our kitchen, but Vicki said that it’s better to have easy access to things such as your rice cooker, blender and knives than to have them stored away to try to make things look nice. In other words, a lived-in kitchen is better than a spotless kitchen. Note to self: Finally break out that rice cooker from our wedding registry. (P.S. — don’t tell our lovely friends who generously gave us that gift!) 

We reviewed the basics, such as knife skills, for quick and easy preparation of staple foods. Vicki also highly recommended that I get a stainless steel pressure cooker (by Presto, if possible), so that I can prepare my vegetables quickly. I learned the hard way by trying to steam kale quickly in my steamer. It came out hard and tasteless, but I assumed if I cooked it too long it would lose its nutritional value. Not to worry, Vicki said: Cooking kale in a pressure cooker allows you to cook it more intensively, thus improving the taste without losing nutrients in the process. So, consider pulling that pressure cooker out of storage or borrow one from your mother for those slow-cooking but very nutritious veggies.

Finally, we talked about the most important part: taste. As I said last week, Vicki believes that no one can prepare your food for you better than you can yourself, because you can season it precisely to your taste through experimentation. She recommended some delicious sauces that you can put with a variety of staples in your diet (see below). Vicki agreed with and liked my analogy to fashion: With a few solid and reliable pieces of high quality, you can put together a stylish wardrobe. Similarly, you can mix and match the vegetables, sauces and staple carbohydrates (such as quinoa, pasta and brown rice) for unique and satisfying meals.

Here are a couple of great toppers to any vegan dish:

Easy Tahini Sauce
Yield:  About 1 cup

1/3 cup tahini*
1 clove garlic, pressed
3 to 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons tamari*
1/3 to 1/2 cup water or unsalted vegetable stock

1. Place all ingredients except the water in a small bowl and mix well.
2. While vigorously stirring the ingredients, slowly add the water until the desired consistency is reached.
3. Use immediately or refrigerate in a covered container for up to three days.

*Tahini is a thick paste made from ground sesame seeds, and tamari is a darker, richer and less salty kind of soy sauce. Both can be found in the ethnic food section of most grocery stores.

Favorite Flax Oil Dressing (Vicki put this over thickly grated cucumbers for a delectable salad!)
Yield:  About 1 cup

1/2 cup flaxseed oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup tamari  

1. Place the flaxseed oil, vinegar and tamari in a small jar. Cover the jar and shake well.
2. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to two weeks.

– Please stay tuned for next week’s installment to learn about the most amazing vegetable soup I have ever tasted, and get some tips for parents to encourage conscious eating for the younger set.

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