When I was a college student, one of the most despised items served in the campus cafeteria was lentil stew. I can’t even remember the flavor now, but I remember that nobody really liked it so there was always plenty of it left over. So, every time I would run late from a class to lunch, I would end up with a bowl of lentil stew!
Things have, of course, changed quite dramatically since my college days, and I now make lentils almost every week and really enjoy them as a healthy, cheap and tasty ingredient. They are a great source of protein and they are versatile. Once cooked, they can be made into soups, burgers, or delicious Shepherd’s Pie, which I recommend you make and serve to everyone questioning your plant-based (vegan) diet and lamenting that they would never be able to give up meat!
Because of their texture and size, they are often used as a substitute for minced meat. That’s why they work really well in this simple Lentil Bolognese sauce. I hope you enjoy it and share with friends and family, neighbors and the world!!!
Basic Lentil Bolognese
What you’ll need:
200 g brown lentils, cooked
4 carrots, grated
1 yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 can (14.5 oz; 411 g) diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/4 cup fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Salt to taste (optional)
Regular or gluten-free pasta to serve, cooked according to the instructions on the packaging
What you’ll do:
Wash the lentils and check them for any non-lentil bits – sometimes little stones and bits can end up in the lentil bag so it is always a good idea to check. Place lentils into a pressure cooker, cover with water, and cook for 10-25 minutes once the pot is fully pressurized. Please note that the time may vary depending on your pressure cooker and you actually can cook your lentils in a pot and skip the pressure cooker all together. You are aiming for lentils that are soft but not mushy.
Place a large pot over medium high heat, add oil, grated carrots, diced onions, and sliced garlic and cook for 5-8 minutes, mixing frequently. Next add the cooked lentils, basil and oregano, and finally diced tomatoes. Lower the heat down to low and let the sauce simmer for 15 minutes or so.
Turn the heat off, then mix in fresh parsley, freshly ground pepper and salt to taste. Serve over pasta or over mashed potatoes!
What can be better than spaghetti tossed with a simple tomato sauce, and sprinkled with some parmesan cheese, olive oil and fresh basil? For me, pasta, and especially spaghetti, have been a huge go to food because they are (a) easy, quick and cheap to make, and (b) absolutely delicious!
Marinara sauce for all seasons
In my view, simple marinara sauce is the best sauce for dressing the spaghetti. Yes, sure, bolognese is also pretty good, especially this amazing lentil and mushroom bolognese sauce, or this ragù made with lentils and walnuts. Marinara sauce is the type of simplicity that can only be described as pure genius. The sauce is tomato based and usually includes only a couple of additional ingredients, like olive oil, garlic, onions, and herbs, like oregano and basil.
Homemade marinara sauce to the rescue
Although I have been known to reach for a jar of store-bought marinara sauce from time to time, I do prefer to make this sauce myself. It’s actually one of the easiest things to make as all you need is some olive oil, garlic, tomato sauce, and dried oregano and/or basil. The sauce is done in less than 15 minutes, which is probably less time than it will take you to boil the spaghetti given that getting a large pot of water to boil does take forever, and your dinner will be ready and on the table in a blink of an eye.
From quick pasta to baked pasta
However, if you do have a bit more time and don’t have to rush I recommend that you give the recipe below a try. It is essentially the same recipe, just elevated to a bit more gourmet experience. The sauce is made with fresh and canned tomatoes, and includes nutritional yeast that boosts the “cheesy” flavors. The spaghetti and sauce are mixed together then baked to create a nice balance of smooth, soft, and just slightly crunchy. Given some gluten sensitivity, my recipe here was made using gluten-free pasta, but you can use any spaghetti you like. I recommend that you cook spaghetti only 80% through as they will continue to cook in the sauce as they bake. I also recommend that you use an ovenproof pot, such as a Dutch oven I used below, in order to go from the stove top directly into the oven.
Don’t forget fresh basil
Finally, don’t forget to top your pasta with some fresh basil. We all know what that will do of you, so let’s not belabor the point. Trust me, this Baked Spaghetti Marinara will quickly become your favorite!
Baked Spaghetti Marinara, via Eat the Vegan Rainbow
Baked Spaghetti Marinara
What you’ll need:
1 lbs (454 g) box spaghetti (regular or gluten free), cooked al dente
4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 pint (10 oz, about 300 g) cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 28 oz (794 g) can of chunky crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 tablespoons olive oil
A pinch of salt
What you’ll do:
Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C).
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a pinch of salt, then place spaghetti gently into the boiling water until fully submerged. Cook about 1 minute less than what the instructions on the box suggest. The spaghetti should be al dente, meaning still a bit underdone.
Simultaneously with making the spaghetti, start working on your sauce. Add the oil to a large, ovenproof pot. I used my Dutch oven for this one, and it worked well. Place the pot over the medium heat, and add the sliced garlic. Let the garlic brown for 1-2 minutes.
Once the garlic starts to release its aroma, add the halved cherry (or grape) tomatoes, and sauté until tomatoes are softened. This will take about 5 minutes.
Add the nutritional yeast and let it brown for only a minute.
Next, add the crushed tomatoes and mix well. When the sauce starts to bubble, add dried herbs, cover with a lid and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.
Turn the heat off, and add the cooked spaghetti to the sauce. Mix well until spaghetti are evenly distributed and fully covered. Place the pot into the oven and bake for 20 minutes or so, until the edges and the top are nicely browned.
A sunny day in late November is a real treat. It sends strong reminders of the summer that’s gone, and that, as well as too much root vegetables on the plate over the Thanksgiving holiday, made me reach out for summer squash.
Summer squash is not something I routinely make. I prefer zucchini and Italian squash, but this time around it was the summer squash that looked the freshest so that’s what I got. I used my spiralizer to make some summer squash noodles – if you don’t know what spiralizer is, it’s a kitchen gadget that you’d think you can totally live without but in reality you really can’t.
Joking aside, spiralizer is a gadget that makes long, amazing noodles from all sorts of vegetables and fruit. Initially, I thought I can get by with a mandoline slicer – and that worked fine couple of times. But, after buying spiral cut zucchini from the store few times – and paying through the roof for it – I finally broke down and bought an actual spiralizer. The gadget paid off for itself already, and I’ve enjoyed spiralizing zucchini, summer squash, sweet potatoes, apples and beets.
I paired summer squash with a simple oil-free pumpkin seed pesto, which has four ingredients only: raw pumpkin seeds, roasted garlic, fresh parsley and nutritional yeast. The pesto comes together in a food processor in less than two minutes and it’s ready to use immediately. Plus, the pesto uses pumpkin seeds so in a way builds on all the pumpkin craziness of the season, which I kicked off with my Pumpkin Truffles.
You can make this dish completely oil free, but I did use some cooking spray to oil the baking dish. It helps brown the pesto and the squash, and it does help with cleaning up. This baked summer squash “pasta” goes well with a side of chopped roasted red peppers, some shredded vegan cheese, ripe avocado slices, or a squeeze of lemon. It’s easily customizable, but it’s also a meal on its own.
Note: this same recipe would work with spiralized zucchini or spiralized Italian squash!!!
Baked Summer Squash Noodles with Pumpkin Seed Pesto
What you’ll need:
5 pieces of summer squash, spiralized
2 cups pumpkin seeds, raw
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley
3 cloves garlic, roasted
2 tablespoon nutritional yeast
What you’ll do:
Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C).
Spray the bottom and sides of a large and deep baking dish with cooking spray.
Place your spiralized summer squash in a large mixing bowl.
In a food processor combine pumpkin seeds, roasted garlic, fresh parsley and nutritional yeast. Pulse until a fine pesto forms.
Pour the pumpkin seed pesto over the summer squash noodles and toss to combine.
Pour everything into the baking dish and bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes.
Cover the baking dish with foil and bake covered for another 15 minutes or so. Serve hot, or cold as a salad with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar!!!
Ever since I’ve decided to transition into 100% plant-based eating, I’ve been going easy on pasta mostly because it is yummy and enjoyable, yet not really all that great for you given the calories and starch. I’ve tried some replacements, like spaghetti squash, which made a great Pad Thai, and black bean pasta, which made an awful base for my “Clam” Sauce.
Of all the things I’ve tried, zucchini noodles are simply the best! They work really well with meatballs or even lighter veggie toppings that I’m thinking of ditching spaghetti all together.
But, there are some dishes that are hard to imagine without pasta, like a very simple yet incredibly delicious pasta salad I made at the height of summer season, and these stuffed jumbo shells right here.
The shells are stuffed with cauliflower “ricotta” and spinach mirroring a very traditional ricotta cheese and spinach stuffed shell recipe. The shells I use here are the “jumbo” kind, and their name is well-deserved. Two or three of these makes a solid serving size, so the recipe below ought to serve four people easy.
The main departure I took from the traditional recipe, which is vegetarian, is to skip the tomato sauce, usually a simple marinara, and to use my own creation, a cauliflower “ricotta” cheese, which makes this recipe dairy-free, vegan, and plant-based.
The cauliflower “ricotta” is inspired by cashew ricotta that I’ve made in the past. I was very curious about whether cauliflower can help the basic cashew ricotta recipe (some great examples here and here), and retain all the creaminess while cutting down the cost (frozen cauliflower is cheaper than raw cashews), and the calories and fat (cauliflower has far less calories than cashews and no fat!).
The cauliflower “ricotta” works well here, and it’s a useful cheese alternative to have for other pasta dishes, or a lasagna. Amazingly, what puts this entire dish over the edge is actually a tiny bit of nutmeg. Just a pinch goes a long way, so be careful not to overdo it.
Cauliflower Ricotta and Spinach Stuffed Shells
What you’ll need:
16 jumbo shells, boiled
1 bag (1 lbs; 454 g) frozen chopped spinach
1 bag (1 lbs; 454 g) frozen cauliflower
1 cup cashews, soaked overnight
1 tablespoon white miso paste
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
What you’ll do:
Bring a large pot of water to boil, add the shells and let them boil for 8-10 minutes. Take the shells out, rinse with cold water, and place them aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C).
Cook the cauliflower and spinach according to the instructions on the bag. You can use a microwave or a stove top method and you don’t need to thaw the vegetables but I recommend that you squeeze the access water out before using. Keep the cauliflower and the spinach in separate bowls. Cauliflower should take about 10-15 minutes to cook, and spinach about 5 minutes.
Place the cooked cauliflower, soaked cashews, and the rest of the ingredients into a food processor and process until you reach the consistency of ricotta cheese.
Spray the bottom of 8 x 8 in (20 x 20 cm) with cooking spray and pour in 1/2 cup of cauliflower “ricotta” and spread around to cover the bottom.
Using a tablespoon, spoon some cauliflower cheese into a shell, then some spinach, and place into the baking dish. Continue with the rest of the ingredients until all the shells have been filled.
Spread any leftover spinach and/or cauliflower ricotta over the top, spray with a bit more cooking spray, cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake for 10-15 minutes more until the top is golden and sides are slightly browned.
Let the stuffed shells rest for 5 minutes before serving then enjoy!
Who ever invented a spiralizer deserves one of those Breakthrough Technology prizes – future generations of parents will not know the painful process of getting kids to eat zucchini or summer squash, or even beets because with this magical machine all kids will be diving into is spaghetti, and who doesn’t love that!!!
What I like about zucchini noodles is that they cook really fast, they have a lovely texture, and a bit of chew to them – very similar to a broader noodle pasta variety, like fettuccine. The recipe here combines only a handful of ingredients and, once you have your zucchini noodles ready, it only takes 15 minutes from start to finish. So, it is ideal for a quick lunch, or a healthy dinner after a very, very busy day. It looks very glamorous, it tastes crisp and delicious, and you will get all your recommended daily servings of vegetables in one plate – but, hey, who’s counting those, right?
The easiest way to get zucchini noodles, or many other kinds of noodles, is to buy them from a grocery stores. Almost all I go to carry those, so grab them and try them. If you like them, stop grabbing them from the store and buy yourself a spiralizer. The gadget is going to pay iteself off after 5-10 times of use, depending on how much you spend, because buying zucchini and doing the spiralizing yourself is much, much cheaper – I did the math and came up with the number 5. It will cost you five times more to buy pre-spiralized veggies than to do it yourself… Plus, once you have a spiralizer you can do all sorts of fun stuff with it, like these Spiralized Oven Fries.
Hope you give this recipe a try!
Zucchini Noodles with Cherry Tomatoes and Corn
What you’ll need:
4 pieces of zucchini, medium sized, spiralized
1 onion, finely diced
10 oz (275 g) cherry tomatoes, washed and halved
1 1/2 cup frozen corn
Fresh parsley, nutritional yeast, fresh or dry oregano, fresh or dry basil – these are all possible toppings for you to consider.
What you’ll do:
Spray the bottom of a large and deep frying pan, or even a wok, with cooking spray and put over the medium high heat.
Add the diced onions and brown for 3-4 minutes, until soft, slightly browned and translucent.
Add the tomatoes and let them sauté for 3-4 minutes.
Once the tomatoes are soft, add the corn and let it thaw as it cooks. No need to thaw it ahead of time. It will take about 5 minutes for corn to be ready for the next step.
Add the zucchini noodles, mix everything gently together, and sauté for another 5 minutes. Serve immediately with a dash of fresh basil or a sprinkle of nutritional yeast on top!
Let’s cut to the chase and be honest here – although we can pretend otherwise, we are all as obsessed with lasagnas as Garfield is! The layers of soft noodles, amazing sauce, fresh herbs, and most commonly lots and lots of ground meat and soft cheese. All this means that lasagnas are not the healthiest thing on the menu. Having said that, there is no reason to ban lasagnas from your plate; you just need to learn how to keep it healthy and plant-based, and I think I can help you to troubleshoot both of those problems.
Keeping lasagnas meat-free seems to be the problem many have tackled, usually by overloading lasagna with cheese, cheese and eggs, or cheese and a selection of vegetables, like mushrooms, and increasing the amount of tomato sauce and making it chunkier. But, really the most prominent ingredient in majority of meatless lasagna recipes is the cheese. When I was developing this lasagna recipe I did not want to give up on idea of “meat”, so what I came up with is a hearty, meaty, and flavorful walnut and brown lentil “meat” ragù base. My thinking was inspired by my previous, wildly successful Meatless Shepherd’s Pie, which I served for Easter this year as a substitute for a more traditional, lamb-based dish. In that recipe, lentils, mixed with ground mushrooms and cooked with rosemary and thyme, made for an amazing feast.
Here, I wanted to recreate the traditional meat ragù and went for a combination of chopped walnuts and dark lentils. The trick is too cook the lentils separately and add them to the rest of the ragù when they are fully cooked. Also, chop your walnuts into pieces that are about the size of what ground meat pieces may look like. I chopped the walnuts by hand, just by going over walnut pieces with a knife few times, back and forth. You can buy whole walnuts, or walnut halves in store and start from there, but for this a bag of walnut pieces will make your life easier and make the dish cheaper. Walnuts work really well in this lasagna, because they add some of their natural crunchy texture, protein, and a bit of fattiness to the otherwise very lean recipe. Worried about this extra fat? Walnuts are known for having a lot of unsaturated fat, which is the good kind, so don’t skip it! The meatiness of the ragù is further enhanced by a good amount of tomato paste and crushed tomatoes and letting the ragù simmer for a while.
The preparation of any lasagna happens in several stages and this one is no different. In order to make the process more efficient I recommend that you start roasting the zucchini at the same time you start making the ragù, and then start boiling the lasagna noodles when zucchini is just about done. In that way you don’t even need to turn the oven off, you can just lower the temperature from roasting to baking and be ready for lasagna to go in immediately. Please note that I don’t use zucchini as a complete lasagna noodle replacement. I suppose you could, but then you’ll end up in a more of a Zucchini Mousaka territory than lasagna paradise. If you are concerned about gluten, there are now many gluten-free lasagna noodle options for you to choose from and most of them work perfectly.
The final touch on this lasagna is the Béchamel sauce (besciamella), which is a white sauce traditionally made with milk, butter and flour. In this case, the quick white sauce I put together requires only a blender, some soft, silken tofu, a squeeze of a lemon, and a bit of nutritional yeast. It is very much the blend-and-pour type of sauce, so you can do it a in a blink of an eye. The sauce adds a nice, slightly cheesy flavor to this very rich lasagna, and makes for a nice, almost golden glaze.
Zucchini Lasagna with Walnut and Brown Lentil Ragù
What you’ll need (for 9 x 13 in (23 x 33 cm) baking dish):
8-10 lasagna noodles, gluten-free if preferred
1 lbs (450 g) brown lentils
3 zucchinis, cut lengthwise into long strips
2 large carrots, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1 cup raw walnut pieces, chopped
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 can (28 oz, 800 g) crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon crushed garlic
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
3 tablespoons fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley
1 lbs (450 g) silken tofu
2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
Cooking oil spray
What you’ll do:
Preheat oven to 425 F (220 C).
Prepare the lentils according to the instructions on the bag. Basically, bring 4 cups of water to boil and add the lentils that have been washed and picked over to remove any impurities that may have made their way to the lentils. Bring the lentils back to boil than lower the heat to a gentle simmer, and cook for 20 minutes or so, until lentils are completely cooked. Drain the lentils from excess water and set aside to cool.
While the oven is preheating, and lentils are cooking, prep your veggies. Peel, wash, and dice the onions and carrots, and wash and dice the celery. Wash the zucchini well, remove the ends, then cut into long, thin strips. You can use a mandolin slicer for this, but cutting by hand also works. The zucchini slices should be as close to the thickness of the lasagna noodles as possible, but you don’t need to go crazy here – just keep in mind that a bit thinner is better.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, place the zucchini slices on and spray with cooking spray. You may need to use two baking sheets, since you may discover that you can’t manage to have all your zucchini slices arranged in a single layer. Don’t pile the zucchini on top of each other and do roast in batches if needed. Place the zucchini “lasagna noodles” into the oven to roast. The roasting will take anywhere between 15 and 25 minutes and will depend on the thickness of your zucchini. Keep an eye on the oven and if you are roasting two pans of the zucchini at the same time do rotate the pans mid way through the roasting. You will know that the zucchini is done when the edges are slightly brown and the middle is golden. Once you take the zucchini out, decrease the oven temperature to 350 F (175 C).
While the zucchini is roasting, start your the ragù. Spray the bottom of a Dutch oven, or another type of heavy pan, with cooking spray and heat up over the medium to medium high heat. Add carrots, onions and celery and let them brown for 10 minutes. Add chopped walnuts and let them pan roast for about 2 to 3 minutes. Add garlic, oregano, and basil, and let the flavors develop for a minute. Next comes tomato paste – add it to the pan, mix well and let brown just slightly. This takes about 2 minutes or so. Add the cooked lentils and the crushed tomatoes, and mix well. Let the ragù simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Turn the heat off, add the fresh parsley and mix well to combine.
Once the ragù is simmering, it’s time to start cooking your lasagna noodles. Most varieties ask for a large pot of boiling water and about 10 minutes of boiling time. The noodles don’t need to be cooked all the way through as they will continue to cook in the oven but they do need to soften quite a bit, so 8 to 10 minutes should be enough to achieve that. Drain the noodles and use immediately.
Combine tofu, lemon juice and nutritional yeast in a blender and blend until smooth. Set the besciamella to the side.
Spray the bottom and sides of your 9 x 13 in (23 x 33 cm) pan with some cooking spray. Cover the bottom liberally with the ragù (use about a half of the amount you made), layer the first set of noodles (for me that came to about 5 noodles per layer), then layer the zucchini in a single layer, pour the rest of the ragù, and top with the remaining noodles. Pour the besciamella over and cover with foil.
Place the covered lasagna into the 350 F (175 C) oven and let bake for 30 minutes covered and then about 10 minutes uncovered. Let the lasagna sit for about 10 minutes before serving. I like to add some freshly ground black pepper or a mix of black pepper and red pepper flakes to my lasagna just before enjoying, but you can also sprinkle some fresh parsley, or fresh basil. Have fun!
Mushrooms come in many different shapes and sizes. They also range a lot in terms of their availability and price. The kind I find readily available in my local supermarket are white button mushrooms. They tend to be affordable and versatile, and use them in many of my recipes. Those with bigger caps are easy to stuff, and I’ve experimented with couple of different types of stuffing, like the mashed potatoes and corn tortilla, Mexican-flavor inspired stuffing. Small and imperfect mushrooms are great for chopping up, and using for recipes like a quiche or a stews. White button mushrooms are also a common ingredient in my burgers and my homemade ground beef substitute, where I grind them and add to the burgers for color, texture and flavor.
In many aspects, white button mushrooms and baby portobello (crimini) mushrooms are interchangeable, and I may use one or the other or both depending on which variety looked best at the store that day. Crimini mushrooms had a more woody, deep and rich flavor than white button mushrooms, but the differences are not major, so they tend to cook and taste about the same. They also cost about the same as well, and tend to be on sale at the same time!
Once in a while I lay my hands on really large portobello mushrooms, and those I like to grill and transform into portobello steaks. They look and taste amazing, and make for an easy and healthy dinner. The price tag on these is a bit larger, and you do have make more of them to feed the crowd, because one portobello steak is usually not enough. But, they are absolutely irreplaceable if you need to make a great grilled steak vegan style.
What makes mushrooms an essential staple of any vegetarian, vegan and plant-based kitchen is their flavor, and a large amount of umami, the flavor associated with perception of meatiness. The naturally occurring chemicals behind this umami flavor are glutamate and guanylate (plus couple of others), and mushrooms have large amounts of them, none more than shiitakes. Shiitakes are native to Southeast Asia and have been used in local cuisines for centuries, either fresh or dried. They are also now becoming more commonly available in US supermarkets, although they tend to be more expensive.
Luckily for me, I recently ran into a pile of loose shiitake mushrooms in my store that were plump, fresh, large and reasonably priced. I bought about a pound (half a kilo) of shiitake mushrooms and decided to try making a Shiitake Mushroom Stroganoff. I am sure this recipe would work with other types of sturdier mushrooms but shiitakes, becasue of their sweeper umami flavor, work exceptionally well.
I paired Shiitake Mushroom Stroganoff with some spaghetti for a satisfying dinner. You can make the dish gluten free if you need to by the right kind of pasta. Alternatively, you can serve with quinoa for a higher protein meal.
Shiitake Mushroom Stroganoff
What you’ll need:
1 lbs (454 g) shiitake mushrooms
5-6 cloves garlic
1 cup raw cashews, unsalted
3/4 cup almond milk, plain & unsweetened
2 tablespoons tapioca starch
1 tablespoon olive oil
freshly ground black pepper, to taste (optional)
fresh basil (for garnish, optional)
crushed red pepper (for garnish, optional)
1/2 pound spaghetti, cooked according to instruction on the box
What you’ll do:
Cover the cashews with water and let them soak for at least 30 minutes, best overnight.
The next day, rinse the cashews and place them into a blender. Add almond milk and tapioca starch, and blend until creamy. Set aside.
Clean the shiitake mushrooms to remove the stems and any signs of visible dirt. Rinse them with water, pat dry with some paper towel and slice the caps intro strips.
Peel the garlic cloves and slice them very thinly.
Place a large pan over the medium heat and add olive oil to it.
When the oil is hot, add mushrooms and garlic to the pan. Stirring frequently sauté the two for 5 to 10 minutes, until mushrooms have softened.
Mix in the freshly ground black pepper to taste, then add cashew cream sauce and fold everything together.
Simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the sauce is rich and thick.
Pour over your favorite pasta, quinoa or polenta, and enjoy with a sprinkle of crushed red peppers and fresh basil!
For me, pasta salad is a conceptually hard thing to swallow since I equate salads with (mostly) green leafy vegetables. Growing up, there was a clear separation between salads and pastas in my mother’s cooking and our family meals. But, after living in US for almost two decades, I’ve come around and appreciate that pasta salads have a place on my plate, especially if I am holding that plate during a large summer cookout or a potluck.
Having said that, I still think that many pasta salads leave a lot to be desired as they tend to be overloaded with mayonnaise, meat or even cheese. So, I decided to develop a pasta salad recipe that is simple and light, yet full of flavors and surprising textures.
The recipe below really blew me away! It’s super simple, uses only six ingredients, it takes less than twenty minutes to make, and it is a perfect pasta salad for big get togethers because it is super inexpensive.
The recipe is very simple and self-explanatory. Few tips here are: don’t cook your pasta for too long, drain it well but don’t rinse; mix the pasta with the rest of ingredients while it’s still hot, and then let it cool while the flavors are developing and merging; and if using kalamata olives in oil, scale back on the amount of olive oil you actually add – otherwise you’ll end up with something that’s too oily, which will be too bad!
And speaking of olives – kalamata olives that I get come with a nice level of acidity so I don’t feel like I need to use extra vinegar when I’m using them. This means that my recipe below does not include vinegar. Now, if you like a bit more tang, feel free to add some lemon juice or a dash of red wine vinegar to adjust the acidity level in this salad to your personal taste.
Finally, if you don’t have a box of penne rigate on hand, don’t worry. You can use any spoon friendly pasta for this – meaning not long pasta. Why do I recommend NOT using long pasta? Well, if you are thinking of this salad as picnic, pot luck, sharing-with-friends-and-family friendly, then help your friends and family help themselves by not having to wrestle with long pasta. I also think that tubular pastas work better for this recipe than flat ones – think penne, ditalini, macaroni as better, and farfalle as perhaps less suitable for this recipe – as tubular pastas have a bit more surface area to absorb the subtle flavors. And among the tubular pastas, those with ridges will work just slightly better because of the same surface area availability principle I mentioned. Having said all this, and having dragged you through likely totally unnecessary details on how to choose just the right pasta for this recipe, I’d like to stress again – just grab a box of pasta you have on hand and it will be just fine!
STOP: I just remembered – I would not recommend black bean pasta for this. I did not like the flavor of that one when I paired it with my Clams-free “Clam” Sauce and can’t recommend it for this application either. 😦
Simple Summer Pasta Salad
What you’ll need:
12 oz (340 g) penne rigate pasta
1 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup olive oil, extra virgin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
3 tablespoons fresh basil
What you’ll do:
Cook the pasta following the instructions on the box. Don’t overcook it – the pasta will be ready when it is slightly chewy to the bite.
While pasta is cooking, chop the olives and the fresh basil leaves. Put to the side.
Drain the pasta well and place in a large mixing bowl. Add oil, chopped kalamata olives, garlic powder, and mix well.
Toast the almonds in a toaster oven or on the stove top in a heavy skillet. Watch the almonds constantly as they do burn quickly.
Add the toasted almonds to the rest of the pasta salad, mix well and leave for an hour or so.
Add fresh basil just before serving, toss everything together and enjoy. The result is fragrant, complex in flavors and textures, yet simple and cheap to make, perfect summer pasta salad.
Can gluten-free, vegan cooking be budget friendly, healthy, feed the whole family, and yet leave everyone feeling they are getting away with something? The answer is yes, and this recipe is my evidence. I use no fancy ingredients, and no fancy techniques.
How did I end up here? Well, as they say “Necessity is the mother of invention”. What happened is that I found myself facing a large bag of frozen vegetable mix, which I have cooked with many times before never to any great success. This is a classic item you can find in any grocery store – a bag that includes unspecified amounts of frozen peas, corn, green beans, carrots, and lima beans. The price on these is usually too hard to resist, and they keep really well if kept frozen so I usually have a couple in my freezer in case of an emergency where all other options dry up.
So one of those emergency situations came up and this time around, perhaps because of all this blogging I’ve been doing recently, I had a real brain wave. I decided to transform the relatively amorphous tasting vegetable mix into really incredible vegan meatballs, or should I say veggie balls?
There are couple of simple tips that when put together make this recipe work. First of all, thaw your vegetables don’t cook them! Depending on the amount of veggies you use this may take 5-10 minutes in the microwave on high. Once the veggies are thawed and soft all through, use a stick (immersion) blender, or a food processor to make a thick paste out of it all. This will be a base for your “meatballs”.
Another thing that you will need to do is add flavor to the mix. Although each one of these veggies is lovely on their own and when fresh, put all together and after freezing and thawing they do lose some of their flavor. My secret ingredient in this recipe is definitely a dash of Trader Joe’s Chile Lime Seasoning Bland. If you don’t live in the area with a handy Trader Joe’s store near by, you can use regular chili powder and add some lime or lemon zest – that will do the trick!
You will have to be a bit patient with this recipe as it does take a bit of time. First of all, I use oats to help the meatballs stick together. I did not leave the oats whole, rather I blended them all into the veggie mix using a stick blender, added the spices, and left the mix to sit for about 15 minutes. That gives oats some time to absorb the liquid and make the mix stick together better, which helps for the next step – forming the “meatballs” and browning them. I recommend using a Dutch oven to brown the “meatballs”, as well as simmering the rich tomato sauce.
One word of advice is not to overcrowd your Dutch oven, and keep some room in between the “meatballs”. This helps them cook, and helps you maneuver them around. Once the “meatballs” are nicely browned set them aside and use the same Dutch oven for putting your tomato sauce together. I kept my recipe simple and my cost down by using canned crushed tomatoes and using some crushed garlic, dried oregano and dried basil to flavor the sauce. The sauce does not need to cook for long, and once it starts to simmer nicely and gently you can add the “meatballs” back.
Don’t forget to lower the heat , bring the post to a very gentle simmer, and put the lid on! Without the lid you will soon end up with tomato sauce all over the stove top and the floor as this sauce does erupt in tiny little tomato sauce geysers.
To keep the recipe ultra healthy and gluten-free, I paired the meatballs with simple Zucchini Spaghetti.
Place the frozen vegetable into a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5-10 minutes to thaw the vegetables and slightly heat them through.
Place the vegetables into a large mixing bowl. Use the stick blender to grind the vegetables into a relatively fine paste.
Add oats and blend again.
Add tomato paste, soy sauce, as well as onion, garlic, chili and lime chili powder. Mix well and let stand for 15 minutes or so.
Spray the bottom of a large Dutch oven with cooking spray and bring to medium high heat. Use 1/4 cup or the ice cream scoop to scoop out the “meatball” mix and form the balls. Place them into the hot Dutch oven and let brown for 2-3 minutes. Turn the “meatballs” over and brown on the other side. Take them out of the Dutch oven and set aside. Spray with more cooking spray if needed and add another batch of “meatballs”. Continue until all your “meatballs” have been browned.
Bring the heat up to high, add more cooking spray, and add crushed garlic and dried oregano and basil. Let it bloom, develop & release the aroma for 1-2 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes. Depending how much tomato sauce you’d like to have you may need to adjust the amount of crushed tomatoes you add. Bring the tomato sauce to a simmer and let it simmer for 5-10 minutes.
Turn the heat way down and add back the “meatballs”. You will likely have two layers of meatballs which is fine, but it’s a good idea to keep in mind that they are relatively soft so treat them gently! Make sure they are nicely snuggled and covered by the sauce. Put the lid on and let the “meatballs” and sauce simmer for 15 – 20 minutes.
When you are ready to serve, start with a generous amount of Zucchini Spaghetti, add couple of vegan meatballs, spread some sauce, and top with fresh basil. Enjoy!
Update: Few days ago I used the same “meatball” mix and made a “meatloaf” out of it. It worked really well!!! Here are couple of pictures to show you what it all looks like. One tip: bake the “meatloaf” on 375 F (190 C) for 25-30 minutes first, before putting on the tomato paste, then bake for 15 minutes more. Let the “meatloaf” stand for 15 minutes before cutting – the loaf will be soft when it comes out of the oven but it will firm up!
Friday night is pizza night, and making this gluten-free version has become part of regular easing into the weekend and unwinding ritual. Quite honestly, developing the perfect gluten-free pizza crust has not been easy. I tried many different recipes, from scratch and store-bought baking mixes, and many different techniques and none really worked. I would end up with a pizza crust that was either too thick or too soggy or too different from a nice thin and crunchy pizza crust that I prefer.
But, all this trial and error has not been a waste, since it led me slowly but steadily to my current recipe that is incredibly simple and works like a charm. Result is a thin and crispy pizza crust that is as close to the real thing as I think I can get. I start from three ingredients: rice flour, baking soda and baking powder. I mix rice flour and water in same amounts (1 cup rice flour to 1 cup water) and the dough I get is nice and smooth, yet slightly sticky. I let the dough sit for 20 to 30 minutes which is just enough time to get my roasted vegetable topping done, and other toppings and sauce organized, and I use a special technique to spread the dough as thin as I like it.
What I do to transform this sticky dough into a pizza crust that will bake well and hold the filling is to place a piece of parchment paper on the pizza peel, add enough dough to form one pizza pie, cover the dough with another piece of parchment paper and use fingers to spread the dough out by pressing over the parchment paper. This really help and if you are to try to do this without the second piece of parchment paper you would end up with sticky fingers and mess – trust me on this, I’ve been there! Once the dough is as thin as needed, peel off the top parchment paper, spray the top with cooking spray and the pie is ready for the oven.
There are also two tricks to baking the perfect gluten-free pizza. Trick number one is to give the dough a chance to bake on its own for 10-15 minutes at 425 F (220 C) on a pizza stone. Technically you can use any baking pan or cookie sheet but if you are into making lots of pizza getting a pizza stone is a wise investment – they are pretty much indestructible and one will last you forever! This will help both your top and the bottom get nice and crunchy, browned and caramelized.
The second trick is to pre-cook your toppings. My Gluten-free Vegan Pizza Supreme uses roasted red onions and roasted red peppers, which I slice and roast at 425 F (220 C) for 15-20 minutes while my dough is resting, and couple of other toppings that don’t require pre-cooking like sliced black olives, vegan ground beef substitute, and vegan shredded cheese. Why pre-cook? The assembled pizza will not stay in the oven long enough for toppings like peppers and onions to really brown and soften, and I do prefer them slightly charred. But if you like your veggies on a raw side you can skip this step.
The rest is really a breeze. Cover your half-baked pizza crust with good amount of sauce – on this occasion I used nothing fancier than marinara sauce from a jar – and top with roasted red peppers and red onions, sliced black olives, vegan ground beef substitute, homemade cashew ricotta, store-bought shredded vegan “mozzarella” cheese, or both, sprinkle with dry or fresh basil and oregano, and return to oven for another 12-15 minutes. Take out of the oven and let it rest for 2-3 minutes… or not!
Happy pizza time!!!
Gluten-free Vegan Pizza Supreme
What you’ll need (for 2 x 12 inch (30 cm) thin-crust pizzas):
Preheat oven to 425 F (220 F) with your pizza stone (if using) inside.
In a large mixing bowl, mix rice flour, baking powder, baking soda and add water. Mix everything well until the dough forms. The dough will be soft and relatively sticky, but should still hold its shape. Let stand for 15-20 minutes.
Slice the red pepper and red onion thinly, spread on the cookie sheet covered with aluminum foil, spray with cooking spray and put in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, to brown, caramelize and slightly soften.
Place parchment paper on your pizza peel (if not using pizza peel and pizza stone, you would place the parchment paper on your cookie sheet or other baking pan you will be using), put half of your dough in the middle, cover with another piece of the parchment paper and use your fingers to spread the dough out to the size and thickness that you like. Peel the top parchment paper off with care – the dough may stick but the top parchment paper should come off relatively easily. Spray the top of your pizza dough with cooking spray and put in the oven for 12-15 minutes.
Take your pizza crust out of the oven. The top should be slightly golden and the edges should have gotten slightly browned. Spread the tomato sauce and all the toppings you like, and put the assembled pizza pie back in the oven for another 10-15 minutes. Enjoy!
Few years ago when I was first trying to minimize the amount of gluten in my diet, I discovered that corn tortillas work very well as a substitute for lasagna noodles. Corn tortillas as lasagna noodles have quite a few advantages over the regular kind. First of all, they are ready to go and don’t need any preparation. Having said that, I did initially experiment with toasting them just slightly before use, and this did enhance their flavor but at the end the taste benefit was not sufficient to going through the toasting process.
To me the second advantage is the flavor. The regular lasagna noodles are more of a bystanders without adding any specific flavor to the dish, while corn tortillas are in the midst of flavors. As I started using them in lasagnas, I also transitioned away from using Italian ingredients and flavors and to using types of things that you would find in burritos or fajitas.
This Vegan Mexican Lasagna with Soy Chorizo recipe uses the same strategy. I combine two types of peppers and two kinds of onions, which when nicely browned add a hint of fajitas to this lasagna. On this occasion I gave them a pretty fine dice, but you can definitely cut them lengthwise if you are into getting even closer to that fajita style.
This recipe uses Trader Joe’s Soy Chorizo and because of the intense flavors that this soy chorizo brings to table you will not need to add much, if any, additional spices. Additionally, this soy chorizo is fairly oily so I start with the soy chorizo, let it brown just slightly and release the oil, and then I add peppers and onions and let them cook until veggies are gently caramelized.
Once the stuffing mix is done, it is time to assemble the lasagna and, about 25-30 minutes later, enjoy this dish rich in flavor!
Vegan Mexican Lasagna with Soy Chorizo
What you’ll need:
1/2 Trader Joe’s Soy Chorizo
1 red pepper, diced
1 orange pepper, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
8 corn tortillas
1/4 cup shredded cheese, vegan
8 x 8 in (20 x 20 cm) baking dish
What you’ll do:
Preheat oven to 375F (190C).
Put Soy Chorizo into a non-stick pan and turn the heat on to medium high. Please note that Trader Joe’s Soy Chorizo comes in a inedible casing that you will have to remove and discard. Use your mixing spoon to break it apart. Let it brown and release its oil for 3-5 minutes.
Add diced peppers and onions to the pan, and let them gently brown and caramelize for 5-10 minutes. The exact time depends on whether you prefer your peppers and onions a bit more on the crunchy side or a bit more on a soft side.
Spray the bottom and the sides of your 8 x 8 in (20 x 20 cm) baking dish with the cooking spray. Place 4 tortillas on the bottom. Add your filling and spread over tortillas evenly. Top with 4 tortillas. Spray the top lightly with cooking spray. Sprinkle the cheese, and cover the dish with foil.
Put the Mexican lasagna into the oven and bake for 20 minutes covered, and the last 5 minutes uncovered so your cheese topping gets nice and melted.
Note: Just before serving Vegan Mexican Lasagna with Soy Chorizo you can sprinkle the top with fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lime. And while we are packing on some good Mexican flavors, why not add some fresh simple salsa, guacamole, or pickled jalapeños on the side?