Monday, 2 September 2013

Quickie pasta sauce

It's Monday (groan) - perfect for a quickie recipe. Quickies are so useful for those rushed evenings when you have only a little time to cook, and you've already eaten through the leftovers. And for those lovely summer evenings when you want to be outdoors, not slaving over the stove. 

This recipe uses canned beans and tomatoes. I usually don't use tinned food but they're handy for when you want a quick and healthy meal. This recipe takes about five minutes to get together.

You'll need:
A sliced onion
A cup of sliced mushrooms
1-2 cups of chopped broccoli
Half a cup of sliced capsicum
A 400g can of diced tomatoes
A 400g can of mixed beans
Chilli flakes (to taste)
Dried oregano (one teaspoon or to taste)
Minced garlic (optional - only coz I don't like garlic)
Leftover cooked pasta or rice, or instant rice/vermicelli noodles.

Heat a large frying pan on the stove. You can use oil to coat the pan but it's really not necessary. While this is heating, slice the onions and throw them into the pan.

Let the onions cook for a few minutes, until they start to brown, then add in the chilli flakes and garlic (if using). 

During this time you can chop the broccoli, mushrooms, and capsicum (keep stirring the onions so they don't burn). If you're using instant rice/vermicelli noodles, put them in a bowl with boiling water.

Put the broccoli into the pan along with a third of the tinned tomatoes. The tomatoes will help stop the onions and broccoli from sticking to the pan. Cook for one minute, then add the mushrooms, capsicum, oregano, and the rest of the tomatoes, and stir. Cook for one minute and then add the drained beans, and stir. By now the vegetables should have softened and the broccoli should be turning a vibrant green colour. Serve immediately on top of leftover cooked rice or pasta, or onto your drained noodles. 

You could use this as a dip for corn chips, or as a topping for a baked potato. Or, add two teaspoons of ground cumin and use as a filling for taco shells or burrito wraps. 

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Choco-chai shake

It's the first day of spring! And the start of vegan MoFo, in which I'm very excited to be participating!

I seriously love spring. Because it means the hot weather is right around the corner. Late sunsets. Lunch breaks in the sun. Lazy weekends at the beach. Warm nights. And of course....mangos. Hooray.

While we wait for mango season, it's time to stuff ourselves with as much winter fruit as we can. Mandarins, grapes, pears, oranges, kiwis, and apples. And of course the humble banana.

I heart bananas. I could eat them every day. Actually, I do eat them every day in various forms - smoothies, "ice cream", fruit pudding, or just straight out of the peel.

I'm going to kick start vegan MoFo with my kickstart for the day - a chocolate chai shake. It's sweet, spicy, and creamy. Kind of a cross between a chai latte and a chocolate milkshake. I used to be seriously addicted to chai lattes, but that little habit can get expensive. And some places use those chai mixes, which are probably not healthy anyway. With this shake, I can get my chocolate and chai fix using basic ingredients from home. 

You'll need:
4 bananas
A heaping tablespoon of carob powder
A teaspoon of ground cinnamon
A teaspoon of ground cardamom*
Vanilla (optional)

* you can grind your own cardamom or you can buy it pre-ground. If you have a high speed blender, you can throw the whole seeds in without grinding  (DO NOT throw the pods in, make sure you open the pods and extract the seeds). Please don't omit the cardamom because it really punches up the flavour of this drink.

Put the bananas and spices into a blender, and then add water. Use enough water so that around half the bananas/spices are submerged. Blend until smooth and any whole spices are ground. Add vanilla (if using) and give a quick blend to combine.

The consistency should be somewhere between thick and thin. Whatever you prefer, really.

This recipe made one litre of shake. Perfect for a snack, or if you want a meal-sized shake you can double or triple the amounts. 

Throw in some whole ice cubes, if you like. And head outside with a hat and a good book, and dream of summer!

Happy Father's Day to all dads!!

Saturday, 24 August 2013


Sprouts are the best. They're the lazy man's greens and there's so many varieties to get you through the year.

I'll backtrack. We all know that vegetables are super important in any diet. Particularly raw vegetables. Particularly raw, green, leafy vegetables. But it's not always easy to eat enough of them, especially in winter. Who wants big leafy salads loaded with cooling produce (like lettuce and cucumbers) when it's freezing outside?

This is why sprouts save the day. Did you know that one cup of lentil sprouts contains 2.5mg of iron? And almost 7 grams of protein? You'd have to eat about 7 cups of raw spinach to get that much nutrition.

And, sprouts are easy to make, even for the black-thumbed gardeners out there. Soak some seeds for 8-12 hours or overnight, and drain and rinse a couple of times a day until little tails have formed. There's plenty of step by step sprouting guides on the internets so I won't go into detail here. No fancy equipment necessary. Just a jar, seeds, water, and TLC.

Here's a terrible photo of some sprouts I made today. 

The tails are about the same length as the seed, and that's when I like to eat them. Here we have a lentil sprout and a mung bean sprout - but of course you can sprout anything, like chickpeas, wheat, almonds, sunflower seeds... Any whole seed, bean, or grain.

Then what? Well, you can cook them but that will lead to some nutrient losses. Also I personally think they taste better raw. Just throw a hefty handful on top of any dish - soup, salad, stew, or mixed through rice or quinoa. As long as your food isn't piping hot when you mix the sprouts through, you'll retain the nutrients.

You can also create a side dish using the sprouts. They taste great with a sprinkle of cumin and a squeeze of lemon juice. Or, you can try my version of raw chili. You'll need:
1 cup of sprouts (I like mung bean sprouts for this)
A half cup of corn (optional, not everyone handles raw corn well)
2 large or 3 medium tomatoes 
Half a red capsicum
A big handful of fresh herbs like parsley and oregano (dried is ok too)
A few squeezes of lemon
A chilli pepper (optional).

Set aside sprouts and corn in a bowl. Put the tomato, capsicum, herbs, lemon, and chilli into a food processor. This will be the sauce, so make it as smooth or as chunky as you like. Pour the sauce over the sprouts and corn, and stir through. 

You can eat it just like this, or spoon it into cos lettuce leaves to make "boats". It also tastes good as a topping for a baked potato. 

You could add cumin and use coriander leaves as the herb, and then put this chili in a burrito or atop nachos. 

If you're so inclined, you could dice celery and capsicum into this chili and make it even more like its cooked counterpart. 

Leftovers keep pretty well, although the liquid from the sauce may separate and need to be stirred through. 

If you're like me and feeling a bit stodgy from all the winter comfort food, try adding some sprouts to your meals. I'm pretty excited about sprouts, and with their help I think I may just make it through another Melbourne winter :)

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Why instinctive eating doesn't work

Our body is intelligent. Intelligent beyond our control or knowledge. And some people claim that our bodies "know" exactly what conditions are necessary for optimum functioning and well being.

I personally agree with all of this. I agree that our body wants to heal, and that healing happens by the body without any external inputs. 

The problem, however, is that we cannot always recognise the signals from our body. Sometimes the message gets distorted or overridden - by our mind, our subconscious, or our ego. Sometimes, we hear the message but we misinterpret its meaning.

On a purely physical level, our modem environment makes it difficult for us to understand the message. When we spend years ignoring our natural instincts, is it surprising that we might have lost touch with our true self and our true needs? We rob ourselves of sleep, night after night, and use food or drugs or stimulating activities (like caffeine and sugar and television) to prop ourselves awake, without repaying our sleep debt. We sit all day in dehydrating office environments, ingest dehydrating substances (like salt and caffeine and alcohol), without ever properly replenishing our fluids. We use food or drugs to numb ourselves from the realities of our life. 

So while it seems simple and beautiful to just "listen to our bodies", unfortunately the message we receive is often far from the truth. 

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Vegan and gluten-free hearty minestrone soup

It's still cold and windy here in Melbourne, and soup is calling more than ever. 

What's not to love about minestrone soup? Well, if you're trying to avoid gluten and/or animal products, it's pretty tricky to get a decent minestrone soup unless you make it yourself. Most of them contain wheat pasta (sometimes egg-based) and have hidden nasties like milk powder and palm oil. 

There are gluten-free pastas available, but usually they don't hold up well in a soup. And, since I like to eat whole foods wherever possible, pastas are a bit too processed for my liking.

So here's a recipe for a satisfying vegan and gluten-free minestrone - without pasta. 

1 onion, diced (optional. I also have used a leek, if onions are too strong)
2 medium or 1 large carrot, diced
1 large stalk of celery, diced
Half to 1 cup cabbage, chopped
3 large potatoes, diced
5 large tomatoes, diced (or one 400gram tin of tomatoes)
A tsp dried basil
2 tsp dried oregano
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
1 chilli, minced (optional)
1-2 cups hot water

In a large soup pot, sauté onions (or leeks), celery, carrots, potato, and chilli and garlic (if using) until the onions are translucent. You can sauté in a teaspoon of oil, but I find that water sautéing works just fine. 

Add tomatoes and dried herbs, and add 1-2 cups of water until all vegetables are covered. You may need more water if you have a really big soup pot.

Simmer until potatoes are almost soft, and then add chopped cabbage. I like to add the cabbage towards the end of cooking so that it still has a little texture, but it can always be added in the first step with the other vegetables.

Salt isn't necessary with this soup, because the tomatoes add quite a lot of salty flavour. If you do add salt, be cautious because it is really easily to over-salt.

To serve: Add a few sprigs of parsley and a bit of cracked black pepper right before eating. 

Saturday, 6 July 2013

30 day gratitude challenge

I love 30 day challenges! And I don't do them often enough. (I've mentioned them previously here)

This month, I have decided to to a 30 day gratitude challenge. It's pretty simple - for 30 days, I spend a few minutes focusing and writing on things I appreciate and for which I am grateful.

It takes only a couple of minutes every day.

For example, this morning I am grateful for:
waking up early to do a yoga class
lazy weekends
banana-carob smoothies (I swear they taste like a decadent chocolate milkshake)

Why a gratitude challenge? Quite simply, to improve my quality of life. My mood lowers slightly this time of year, because of the cold weather and short days. For a few years, I took antidepressant medication during the winter. I know I'm not alone - many people experience a shift in their mood during winter. Sometimes, if severe. it's labeled Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Psychologically, I am in far better shape now than I was a few years ago (thanks in part to a low fat raw vegan diet). I am vulnerable to shifts in my mood, which is why during the winter I have to be extra careful to look after my physical and mental health. Maintaining a positive focus is a big part of that. This challenge is actually a segue into 30 days complaint-free, which I have set as a challenge for August.

I'm not sure what to expect after 30 days. I do notice that after I think about or write my appreciations, I feel uplifted. Even if I was already feeling happy, there's a definite shift in my mood. And somehow, life just feels easier when we're in a good mood!

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Why I eat a low fat raw vegan diet

For those unfamiliar with the lingo, a low fat raw vegan diet is a fruit-based diet. Almost all calories are derived from fruit, plus vegetables as a concentrated mineral source. Fruit for breakfast, lunch, dinner - plus salad. 

Most people, when they observe my eating habits, are shocked and skeptical that anyone could tolerate such a "boring" diet, let alone thrive on it.

Five years ago, I was not a vegan. I scoffed at vegan "hippies". I believed that humans were designed to eat meat, that too much fruit would make you fat, and that protein was the secret to health and well being. My diet consisted of oats, tuna fish, cottage cheese, yoghurt, tofu, chicken, shellfish, green vegetables like broccoli and spinach, and the occasional egg. I was working at a gym at the time, and I was thoroughly brainwashed by the high protein propaganda. I avoided potatoes, bananas, and rice, believing that they would make me fat and unhealthy. 

I was eating ridiculous amounts of canned tuna fish, and others' comments about mercury poisoning and heavy metal toxicity sparked my curiosity about the health of my diet. I started gravitating away from seafood, eating more chicken. Red meat was only an occasional menu item, as the rest of my household did not eat it.

I wasn't a huge fan of chicken, and I gradually began eliminating it. Before I knew it, I was eating a mostly vegetarian diet. I had gone off milk several years ago due to lactose sensitivity, but I was still eating large quantities of yogurt, cheese, and eggs (particularly egg whites). I wondered whether a vegetarian diet was actually healthy, and so I started reading in earnest. Then, I came across a documentary called "Earthlings" that ended up changing my life. From that day, I knew that I wouldn't in good conscience ingest another animal product or exploit another being in order to fulfill my needs. 

Switching to veganism prompted more research and a radical shift in diet. Eliminating dairy products was difficult, which I later learned was due to the addictive properties of dairy (particularly cheese). What was more challenging were the hidden animal ingredients in almost every mainstream processed food product. Pasta sauce, crackers, seasoning packets, candy - even veggie burgers. I did make mistakes, where I unknowingly consumed animal products, but I learned from each experience. And quickly learned that a diet based on whole plant based food like beans, grains, and vegetables, was far easier on my sanity (not to mention healthier). I was still a little carb-phobic, so my diet consisted of oats for breakfast, with salads and beans for lunch and dinner, and low sugar fruits like apples and oranges for snacks. 

After about six months on a vegan diet, I started reading about a "raw food" diet - which I immediately dismissed as impossible. Within a few months, however, I decided to give it a try. I started drinking green smoothies for breakfast, which consisted of half a banana, a teaspoon of flax seeds, and a few handfuls of spinach. A woefully inadequate breakfast of barely 100 calories. Lunch was a small salad of lettuce, tomato, and cucumber, and an apple and an orange for snacks. Around this time I also eliminated coffee. Dinner was another small salad. After dinner, I would snack on nuts. And by snack, I mean several large handfuls. It's no wonder - I was barely eating 400 calories during the day.

I didn't realize it at the time, but my under eating during the day was the reason for my gorging on nuts in the evening. I was inadvertently eating a very high fat diet - which led to a few extra pounds on my frame and skin breakouts.

In late 2009, I stumbled upon a website called 30 bananas a day, which promoted a calorie-abundant, high carbohydrate, low fat raw vegan diet. It sounded bizarre to me, but seeing as a high fat raw diet was causing some unwanted side effects, I decided to try it. Or so I thought. My carbohydrate phobia was still in full force, and initially I could only stand to eat around 4 pieces of fruit a day. My half banana in the pitiful green smoothie (now minus flax seeds) along with a few apples and oranges. Gradually I added a couple of bananas to my daily intake. Then five. Then ten. Clearly, I didn't quite understand the concept of carbohydrate abundance to promote health, athletic recovery, strength, and weight loss. I was still under the illusion of "calories in versus calories out" as being the key to health, that thin = healthy.

Eventually, I learned that our bodies are designed to live on carbohydrates. That under eating leads to cravings for undesirable foods that are high in salt, high in fat, or processed. That inadequate hydration leads to mixed body signals and cravings. That under consumption of greens leads to cravings for salt. 

Most importantly, I learned that health isn't all about diet. Health must include enough movement, rest, hydration, sunshine, and positive relationships - and more. 

I will never have the "perfect" diet, because I no longer believe there is such a thing. I do my best, though. I buy from markets when I can. I eat organic greens most of the time. I grow some of my own food. I eat a plant based, whole-food diet. I avoid certain things not because of dogma or because I'm trying to attain some level of "purity" - rather, I avoid things because I don't desire them and/or because I don't like the way they make me feel. 

Once upon a time I wanted to identify as a "raw foodist" and I went to great lengths to sustain this diet. Even if it meant eating a fatty raw food dish over, say, a plate of rice and vegetables. I avoided EVERYTHING that wasn't raw, including minute amounts of dried herbs.

These days, I'm less concerned about labels and "fitting" into a particular group. It's about doing and being the best I can be. 

We might be lured into thinking that diet is everything, if the raw food/vegan Internet community is anything to go by. There's a lot of in-fighting between people who actually have more similarities than differences. Even the "Paleo" and "vegan" crowds agree on a number of points. And each is convinced that their diet is the right diet.

I have more to say on the principles of health and a vegan vs non/vegan diet, which I will do another time. For now, I'll conclude with the idea that there is no perfection in life, and that we are all striving to better ourselves in all areas. Don't put all your focus on one aspect of health at the expense of others - your health can only be as good as your weakest link. I've lived the unbalanced life, and I can safely say that if you're mood is dictated by a number on the scale, or if you feel guilt for eating a possibly non-raw item, or if you repeatedly beg off social events to exercise, or you refuse to associate with people based on their diet .... You need to take a look at your priorities.