Thursday, March 31, 2011

Win Your Very Own Happy Herbivore!

Um, not the Happy Herbivore herself, of course, but her fabulous cookbook that I've been happily using for the past few weeks. BenBella books, the publisher of Happy Herbivore, has graciously offered to supply one of my readers with a free copy. Hooray for free stuff! Double hooray for free vegan stuff!

So here's the contest: In the spirit of the Happy Herbivore, send me a quick, easy, cheap vegan recipe -- something relatively simple that might be your go-to vegan meal. Please, no fancy equipment. (For example: a blender/food processor is okay, dehydrator or spiralizer is not.) Put your recipe in the comments and I'll pick the winner. The cookbook will be sent to you directly from the publisher, without even my chocolate-dusted fingerprints* to mar its new-book shine.

My latest experiment: H.H's black bean brownies. Next time I would add chocolate chips to the batter. But that's just me.

UPDATE 4/4: I'm going to pick the winner on Monday (4/11). If anyone is still thinking about posting a recipe, please post by this Friday (4/8).

Monday, March 28, 2011

Honey, I ate the... honey?

Many times I've been putting together my daily vegan meal, only to find out that a key component of it contained a hidden animal product: honey. I was inclined to ignore this -- after all, it comes from bugs, and it's not like they're hooked up to milking machines or confined in factory farms... or are they? Then again, I'm only eating vegan once a day (officially) and to slack off seemed a little too wimpy even for someone as, uh, wimpy as myself.

I've found honey in: bread, granola, granola bars, salad dressing, and crackers. Especially bread -- I've had to pass on plenty of yummy-looking organic loaves at Whole Foods because of their honey component. (I also found it in plenty of non-vegan foods, like yogurt.)

Now, I wonder if companies are using honey instead of sugar because sugar has become such a dirty word (for good reason -- Kris Carr, in her new book Crazy Sexy Diet, likens it to crack) and honey has a natural, almost good-for-you image (think Burt's Bee's) that can easily make us forget that, at the end of the day, it's just another form of sugar?

A quick research session in Google Library turned up plenty of good reasons (other than the obvious, it's not that great to eat sugar ones) not to eat honey, for both dietary and environmental reasons. Turns out, commercial honey farms are just as terrible for bees as factory farming is for cows, pigs and chickens. Should we really be surprised? And even if you don't care about whether or not bees feel pain, or suffer when they're fed corn syrup to replace the honey that's been harvested from them, it seems such a little thing to give up.

I'm curious how other people feel about this issue. Do you agree with Daniel Engber, who wrote in Slate that "to debate the question in public only makes the vegan movement seem silly and dogmatic," or does it make sense for us to try to combat the idea that it's a harmless and maybe even healthy product?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Red Lentil Dal

I've been happily cooking my way through the Happy Herbivore cookbook this week, beginning with these healthy blueberry oatmeal muffins. I made them with my toddler, Lil' Sprout, and was pleased to find they're that rare variety of homemade baked good that only requires you to dirty one mixing bowl. Sounds like a small bonus, but remember, I was baking with a two-year-old! Also, they were delicious.

Next I moved onto the red lentil dal, a recipe Lindsay Nixon has been kind enough to let me post here:

Red Lentil Dal

Serves 4. "Dals are essentially thick stews made with lentils and traditional Indian spices. On my website, this is one of my most popular recipes. It's been around the online block a few times, and for good reason. It's easy, delicious, and cheap. Make it once and it will never leave your regular rotation, I promise."


1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 TBSP ground ginger
1/2 c. dried red lentils
2 cups vegetable broth
1 chopped tomato with juices
3 oz. tomato paste (about 5 TBSP)
1 TBSP ground coriander
2 tsp garam masala
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
cayenne, to taste

1. Line a medium pot with 1/4 cup of water and cook onions and garlic until translucent.

2. Add turmeric, cumin, paprika, and ginger and cook for another 2 minutes, adding water if necessary to prevent any sticking or burning.

3. Add lentils, broth, tomato, tomato paste, and coriander, stirring to combine.

4. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes or until lentils are cooked and orange-ish.

5. Add garam masala, stirring to combine, and let rest 5 minutes. Add salt, pepper, and cayenne.

VOD notes: Never having cooked with dried lentils before, I didn't realize they had to soak for 8 hours -- so I actually had to make these a day later than I'd planned. (My fault for not reading the directions on the package!) Next time, I would add more fresh tomato, and would also have vegan raita on hand. The dish is very fragrant, and will make your house smell amazing! However, since RC and I don't usually eat this kind of flavorful Indian food (we're tikka masala wimps) I'm going to let my neighbor, Mudpie, weigh in:
"I think this dish is definitely for spice lovers like myself. I particularly liked the fresh ginger. I made a few adjustments to suit my personal preferences. There was a slight bitter note that balanced with a dash of salt and I added a little more cayenne to get the heat the way I like it. I will definitely make this dish for Mudhoney and I. He will love it."

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Happy Herbivore

I mentioned in my last post that I'd recently picked up The Happy Herbivore, a new vegan cookbook written by Lindsay S. Nixon. Well, come to find out that Lindsay is doing a blog book tour, and she's been kind enough to stop by my own fledgling blog (bloglet?) to answer a few questions.

Before I get to the Q & A, though, I have to confess that Lindsay is my new vegan crush. Her cookbook is beautiful -- full color pages for many of the recipes -- and geared towards vegans and non-vegans alike. (Symbols accompany each recipe highlighting features such as "fat-free," "gluten-free," "kid-friendly," and "omni-friendly"-- short for omnivore-friendly, of course). In addition to answering my questions, she's agreed to let me share one of her recipes with you, which I'll do in my next post along with mine & RC's rating.

VOD: I love that your recipes look relatively simple to make, and that most of them have easily recognizable ingredients (even for someone who's not a full time vegan). Was this a conscious choice on your part, in terms of recognizing an unfilled niche in the vegan cookbook-o-sphere, or is it more a reflection of your personal cooking style?

LN: Both; a big "goal" with my book was to show that eating vegan meals is easy, approachable, possible. So many vegan cookbooks call for exotic ingredients which I think intimidates people and turns them off. I think a lot of people feel you have to live in a big city or have a large budget to be vegan, which isn't true.

As for my style: I once went to 5 different stores to find pomegranate molasses, and when I found it, it was $7. I used it in the recipe--which was very good, but not something I could eat all the time, and then I couldn't find another way to use the stuff. I've since moved across the country twice, and took that damn molasses with me each time on principle. That really stuck we me, so I took care to never write recipes like that.

VOD: What's your culinary background? Are you entirely self-taught, or do you have any formal training. (I say this as an amateur cook who sometimes wonders if she should go take a knife skills class to learn to chop like the badasses on Iron Chef...)

LN: Self-taught, completely. I chop like the people on Iron Chef --- lots of practice!

VOD: My husband, the “Reluctant Carnivore” is usually skeptical when I tell him I'm going to make a vegan recipe, so it’s especially gratifying to find vegan dishes that he loves. Are there any recipes from your book, in particular, that you'd recommend I make for him?

LN: There is an "omni-friendly" icon, that's a good starting place... I think the portobello steaks are a good jumping off point.

VOD: When you went vegan did you change your eating habits all at once or use a more gradual approach? What did you find the hardest to give up?

LN: I was a vegetarian before I was vegan, but if I could do it all over, I'd go all in. Nothing was hard for me to give up; and I've never had cravings for animal products since--thankfully. I think once I wrapped my head around why I wasn't going to eat those foods anymore, it had a "mind over matter" effect.

The only "hard" part was giving up convenience. I was a law student at the time, so I missed being able to get a muffin at Starbucks or a slice of pizza -- but once I saw how much money I was saving by brown bagging it, any annoyance quickly disappeared.

VOD: On the flip side, what were your greatest discoveries after deciding to forgo animal products?

LN: I am continually surprised at how much better and healthier I feel. I saw huge improvements in my energy levels, my skin cleared, my migraines are pretty much gone, I lost weight, I reversed some digestive issues... but there have been some other really "nasty" discoveries... like when I picked up "omega-3 peanut butter" and noticed it had fish guts in it... or that sprinkles are made from melted beetles... ick.

VOD: Any dishes in particular that you might never have tried as an omnivore?

LN: I eat a much wider diet now than I ever did as an omnivore. I was a horribly picky eater as an omnivore, constantly frustrated that nothing sounded appetizing, and that's the exact opposite now. I am in love with Ethiopian and Indian food -- which I'd have never tried as a meat eater.

VOD: I saw that you have a new cookbook in the works. Where do you get the inspiration for new recipes?

LN: It's definitely more challenging this time around, particularly because I'm living on an island where I don't have as much variety, it's really hot (not conducive to wanting to cook) and I don't feel as inspired as I did in NYC walking around at the Farmer's market... but I just sort of take an ingredient, like say, cauliflower, then start tinkering with it until a recipe appears... kind of like a writer just putting pen to paper and seeing where it goes.

VOD: What does it take to become an official recipe tester for the Happy Herbivore (hint, hint)?

LN: I hand pick all of my testers. I look for people who tweet and blog about my recipes, have made a lot of my recipes, are really familiar with my style and are just generally fans of what I'm trying to do... why are you interested ;-)

Um…. Hell, yeah!

Lindsay S. Nixon is a rising star in the culinary world, praised for her ability to use everyday ingredients to create healthy, low fat recipes that taste just as delicious as they are nutritious. Lindsay's recipes have been featured in Vegetarian Times, Women's Health Magazine and on The Huffington Post. Lindsay is also a consulting chef at La Samanna, a luxury resort and four-star restaurant in the French West Indies. You can learn more about Lindsay and sample some of her recipes at

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

They Said it Couldn't Be Done

And by "they" I mean the Reluctant Carnivore, and by "it" I mean vegan cheesecake. RC's point was that there are certain foods that rely on animal products as their main ingredient and to take, for example, the actual cheese out of a cheesecake could only result in an inferior product, if not an outright disaster. But I was undeterred! I'd been wanting to make a vegan cheesecake for awhile, for a few different reasons:

1) Cheesecake is my absolute, all-time favorite dessert, but I hate how guilty I feel after eating it.

2) RC usually can't share in my (pretty rare) indulgences because the lactose bothers him.

and, finally,

3) See above title!

Although I was dying to try the recipe in my new Happy Herbivore cookbook, I decided to go with one from Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's The Joy of Vegan Baking. The recipe in the HH cookbook is low-fat, and while I'm happy to forgo the cheese, lowering the fat content leaves even me skeptical. (Don't worry -- I'll try that one next and report back!)

The recipe I finally used was an adaptation of Patrick-Goudreau's lemon cheesecake, with a homemade graham cracker crust. I used Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese as the vegan cream cheese and Red Mill egg replacer. The crust was made from Trader Joe's graham crackers, Earth Balance and good ol' granulated sugar.

The result? Well, consider RC converted! He rated it ***** Meatilicious! The cake was slightly lighter in texture than the regular version, but other than that it had a similar mouthfeel and taste. I added more lemon juice than the recipe called for (after squeezing 2 organic lemons I didn't want to toss any) and the result was delightfully tangy. Also, the graham cracker crust carmelized nicely during baking so that it had an almost candylike flavor. Yum, yum!

P.S. Thanks to my running buddies Leslie and Cathy, and my intrepid neighbor Mudpie, for also being willing guinea-pig taste testers! Either you're all lying to me, or this is one good cheesecake!