March 24, 2016
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts
Just as I was beginning a healthier diet what should appear in my mailbox but two wonderful books from Lifelong Books, both dedicated to vegan cooking. How psychic is that? Terry Hope Romero, who has written a number of cookbooks on the subject, and was voted “Favorite Cookbook Author” by VegNews in 2011, has come out with Protein Ninja: Power Through Your Day with 100 Hearty Plant-Based Recipes that Pack a Protein Punch. It’s especially geared to vegans who feel they might not be getting enough protein in their diet. I take that to apply to those of us who work out a lot as well as those who are strictly vegan. Now I do not purport to be vegan, or even vegetarian (I can’t/won’t give up eggs or seafood), but there are some fantastic recipes in these pages that can benefit all of us.
You may already be familiar with Romero’s books Vegan Eats World, Salad Samurai and Viva Vegan!, but she was also co-author of Veganomicon, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and Vegan Pie in the Sky to name a few. In her latest cookbook she gives us recipes for every meal of the day. Gratefully they are quick and easy, as well as ethnically diverse. No bored palates. The collection offers plant-based protein dishes that are more sophisticated and creative. One might easily say, gourmet.
Though Romero is vegan for ethical reasons of kindness to animals, there is much current evidence that this philosophy is leaning towards another scientific proof – that eating vegan is a solution to climate change. Think about it. The less impact on the environment, the healthier the planet. Okay, enough science. Pretty soon I’ll need footnotes. In any case, it’s fact-based. Trust me. Google it.
In her book Romero offers tons of advice on how to easily up your protein intake. She also tells you what dishes can be frozen, which is tremendously helpful to those of us on the go. And though many of these recipes call for a myriad of different ingredients, mostly staples, there is enough symbiosis between recipes that you won’t feel as though you’re wasting food or money. Also helpful is the recipe icon guide that lets you know which dishes are gluten-free, soy-free, etc.
It was nearly impossible to choose one recipe from all these tempting vegan burgers and patty recipes (there are seven and she calls them “Burger Bowls” since they consist of a full meal) or her “Bakery Basket” (that includes amped up biscuits, waffles and the like). Dressings make up another group of recipes and they are super-creative, like the Dill Pickle Thousand Island Cashew Dressing. But here is Romero’s recipe for White Bean Cashew Ricotta Toast that can be made savory or sweet.
White Bean & Cashew Ricotta Toast
Makes about 2 cups spread in less than 30 minutes
I’m probably pushing the boundaries of what can be called a ricotta, but this satisfies my craving for a mellow, creamy spread without the usual help of tofu that plays well with fresh toppings, such as baby kale, arugula, and thinly sliced tomatoes or radishes or cucumber. Or go bold and use it as a base for sweet toast, too: sliced strawberries and chopped fresh mint, or a swirl of almond butter, chopped dates, and a dusting of cinnamon.
½ cup unroasted cashew pieces
1/2 cup hot tap water
1 (16-ounce) can cannellini beans or navy beans, well drained and rinsed
2 teaspoons mild flavored olive oil
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon agave nectar
½ teaspoon salt
Hot whole-grain or sourdough toast
Baby kale leaves
Diced cherry tomatoes
Ground sweet paprika
Freshly ground black pepper
Thinly sliced strawberries
Fresh mint leaves
Date syrup or pure maple syrup
Pink sea salt
- Make the spread: In a small bowl, combine the cashew pieces with hot water and soak for at least 20 minutes, or until the cashews are tender. Set aside 1 tablespoon of the soaking water and drain away the rest.
- In a food processor, blend the drained cashews and the reserved soaking water into a thick, slightly grainy paste. Add the beans, olive oil, lemon juice, agave nectar, and salt. Pulse into a thick mixture, occasionally stopping to scrape down the sides of the processor bowl. Don’t overblend; it’s preferable that this have a somewhat grainy texture. Taste and add a pinch more salt, sugar, or lemon juice, if desired.
- Use immediately, or chill for at least 30 minutes for the flavors to develop.
- Slather over hot toast and top with either the savory or sweet garnishes.
The path cookbook author Elina Fuhrman took to arrive at her passion has been a circuitous one to say the least. As a war correspondent and journalist for CNN, she’d fashioned a career writing about international conflict in far-flung hot spots. But nothing could have prepared her for the personal battle she faced when she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. In her search for health and wellness Fuhrman took on the challenge like the professional she is – researching, studying and interviewing doctors and nutritionists, from both Eastern and Western medicinal cultures. She calls her search her “healing pilgrimage”. The result is her debut cookbook. You might even call it a guide – Soupelina’s Soup Cleanse – Plant-Based Soups and Broths to Heal Your Body, Calm Your Mind and Transform Your Life. It has a little bit of schtick and a lot of tried and true recipes for the same freshly made soups she sells to her tony clientele in Los Angeles.
Fuhrman uses an artist’s palette of vegetables to inform her recipes – a nod to the “rainbow” concept of eating right. The first few dozen pages describe the application of Ayurvedic (from the Sanskrit “science of life”) principles to diet and lifestyle. She further delves into homeopathy, Chinese medicine and folk remedies, now commonly referred to as “alternative medicine”. Fuhrman makes a strong case for including these ancient theories and practices into her holistic regimen and offers 3- and 5-day detox cleanses, extreme for some, yet useful for those seeking a dramatic kickstart to their diet.
From quirkily named soups like “Easy Peas-y”, “Don’t Kvass Me Any More Questions”, a title derived from her Russian roots, and a cold soup called “Brave New Watermelon” that incorporates watermelon rinds (who knew?), it’s a book to teach as well as inspire. I particularly liked reading the prefaces to each recipe. They describe why it’s good for you, what symptoms it addresses, and what nutritional benefits it contains.
Here’s a recipe from the book that uses a delicious springtime ingredient – watercress. Though it calls for a Vitamix, you can just as easily use a blender.
GONE WITH THE WATERCRESS
I’ve been looking to bring watercress into my diet for a while, but for some reason, I shied away from its bitter, peppery flavor. Until I read studies that it has significant levels of glucosinolate compounds, which means major anticancer benefits. Having these compounds in your body appears to help inhibit breast, lung, colon, and prostate cancers. When I remembered the delicious roasted chickpeas and carrots dish I had in Capetown, spiced with the intense North African blend called ras el hanout, I decided to play with the flavors. The sweetness of chickpeas totally worked with the bitterness of watercress, and the flavors seriously transported me to another continent. Not to mention the soup’s health benefits: It’s an antidote to fatigue, and great for detoxifying your body, healing your respiratory and digestive systems, and protecting against free radicals.
+ Preheat the oven to 350°F.
+ Combine the carrots and cooked chickpeas with the ras el hanout and a sprinkle of olive oil, and arrange on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, until al dente. Reserve half of the spiced chickpeas and set aside.
+ Meanwhile, heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat, add the onion and ginger, and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add the nonreserved spiced chickpeas, watercress, salt, and boiling filtered water and simmer until the leaves wilt, about 3 minutes.
+ Transfer the mixture to a Vitamix and blend until smooth.
+ Taste and add salt to your liking.
+ Serve with the hot spiced carrots and reserved chickpeas.
- 3 carrots, diced into ¾-inch pieces
- 2 cups cooked chickpeas
- 2 tablespoons ras el hanout
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 (1-inch) knob fresh ginger, grated
- 1½ to 2 bunches watercress
- Himalayan pink salt
- 3 cups boiling filtered water