Monday, August 6, 2012

The Holy Grail of Weight Loss and How It Is Totally Within Your Reach

Many of us want to lose weight at some point in our lives, whether it be 5 pounds or 50.  Many of us have tried diet after diet (Atkins, anyone??) that may or may not succeed, but always fail when we go back to our "regular" way of eating.  Now I know this is a vegan blog, and eating vegan food DOES help with weight loss (especially when you limit sugar and eliminate oil). I know many of you, however, love meat and dairy too much to give it up, and still want to lose weight.  I'm here to say, don't write off what I say here just because I don't eat the foods you love.  You can still lose the weight if you eat that stuff.  It will be easier if you eat a vegan diet, but it is totally DOABLE is you choose to eat non-vegan food too. 

 Full disclosure guys.  In the summer of 2006 I was between my first and second years in graduate school and I weighed 152 pounds.  This may surprise some of you who have only known me for the past few years.  For those of you who don't know me, I'm stand just slightly over 61 inches tall and currently weigh 120 pounds.  I was not athletic at all, (being a violinist and literally feeling chained to the practice room for 5+ hours a day didn't help) and chose poor foods, especially that first year in grad school. 


I went on Weight Watchers and quickly lost down to 130, but could not get below it.  I stayed there until 2009 when I got married and moved to AZ.  I started running soon after moving here.  That didn't help me lose more weight (more on that phenomenon later) but it helped me start to gain a base level of fitness.

June 2010 rolled around.  I read "Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease" and "The China Study" and decided that we were switching to a low-fat vegan diet.  I dropped down to 117 pounds within a month.  That was awesome.

In October 2010, my husband and I moved to Show Low, AZ and started to get more serious about our running as we started training for more races and setting ambitious goals.  This is where things got tricky.  As I started piling on the miles, I started to gain weight back.  I know that staying anywhere under 130 is still in the healthy range for me, but I am at my happiest around 120.  The more I ran, the hungrier I became, and the more I would eat.  Even while eating wonderful low-fat vegan foods!

After expressing my frustration to my husband, he said, "Why don't you just count calories?  It seems to be a very scientific way to see what you are expending and what you are taking in."  It made sense, but it seemed so overwhelming!  I sat down and looked up my calorie needs.  What I found out really surprised me....For my small frame, I only need about 1500 calories a day to maintain my weight, and I need just a LITTLE bit more on running days.

Here is a snapshot of my exercise.  My usual short runs are about 6 miles long, and long distance runs are in the 10-12 mile range.  Since my June marathon I have adopted this schedule because I have found I am the happiest with running these amounts.  Not overwhelming, but not easy either.  Don't make the mistake that since you put in an hour of any exercise a day you are entitled to a 6 taco lunch.  No, not even a 2 taco lunch.

put that taco down....

A 6 mile run for me only burns about 400 calories.  That's my body.  Everybody is slightly different, of course.

Here is a quote you can take to the bank.  It's by me.

"Everybody overestimates their calorie needs and exercise expenditures and underestimates their calorie intake."

Yes, I did just quote myself....

Another great quote?  

"Running makes me fat"
John McClung

The hard truth is, running is great for you.  It makes your heart and lungs stronger and everyone needs it.  But it makes you hungry.  If you eat what your brain tells you to eat while maintaining an intense exercise regimen, you will probably gain weight.  If you want running to make you lose weight, you have to count the calories of what you eat and compare it closely to what you need (maintenance needs + exercise needs).

No, I'm not good at math.  I'm famously terrible at it.  I seem to be missing the math gene....Surprising since everyone in my family has some niche of math they are good at besides me.  And my dad, well he's good at all of math.  He's just one of those folks.  

Here's me...
This could totally have been a test sheet of mine in high school.  My homeschooling mom was very patient with me!

The goods news is though, counting calorie intake and needs is not hard  math.  It's simply putting your information into a calculator and letting the software do the work for you.  It's easy to track and calculate for even the most right brained of folks.  (Me)

So, forget maintaining, say you want to lose some weight.  Here are the stats if I want to lose weight.  Your stats will be different, but can be computed using the resources that I will talk about later.

Say I want to lose 1 pound per week from my 120 pound, 61 inch tall frame.  I need 1251 calories a day, and on an exercise day when I run my usual 6 miles, I need no more than 1450.  That's a far cry from the 2000 calorie average we hear about all the time!  

Now that I had my needs figured out (and you can't skirt figuring them out, no matter how much you may hate math.  Calorie needs for your body are there whether you admit to them or not and your body will gain if you feed it more than it needs....) how did I go about tracking everything?  Enter my favorite calorie counting website.  I actually use it as an app on my Kindle Fire and I know some people who use it on their smart phones.  It is free, extensive, and sooo helpful!  You put in your foods, it calculates it for you, tells you what you have used and what you have left.  I try to underestimate my exercise though, because I know that this calculator tends to overestimate my exercise calories burned. 

I started counting calories around November of 2011, and I lost 10 pounds (down to 116) by the time our January cruise to Hawaii rolled around.  It's HARD to lose weight when you have less to lose, and this is the only way that works for me.

What does this have to do with being vegan you say?  If I eat my wonderful fresh and healthy vegan food, it is a piece of cake to stay within my calories.  Meat, cheese, mayo, butter and milk are very calorie dense.  Think about milk for example.  It's baby cow growth food!   It's meant to turn cute little wide-eyed wobbly kneed creatures into big 2 ton (still adorable) can-run-over-you-if-they-want-to walking packages of beef.  I would rather not turn into one of those.  On the other hand, 2 cups of romaine lettuce is 16 calories.  

Our menu for tonight?  No, it's not just lettuce. No, we aren't rabbits.
Pictured:  John and Me and what everybody seems to think our dinner consists entirely of....
Tonight we are having homemade pitas stuffed with hummus, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and lettuce.  All for under 400 calories.  Dessert:  A few squares of vegan dark chocolate.  Oh so tasty.

Losing weight is totally within your reach.  Stop the gimmick diets and face the plain truth of what your body needs, and what it doesn't.  Don't feed it 2000 calories a day if you only need 1500!  And if you only need 1500, feed it high quality food so you get all the vitamins and minerals you need from a spectacular, healthy, and reasonably portioned whole-foods diet.

If I can do it, anyone can.  It's not rocket science.

If it were, with my natural math skills,  I would be sooo out of luck.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Berbere, A Spicy Scavenger Hunt, and A Runner's Strong Desire to Eat Ethiopian Food

My husband John found out last September that he loves Ethiopian food.  On my birthday we were in Tucson for Shakespeare in the Park.  Before leaving John did some research on the best places to eat in Tucson and found Zemams on Broadway, not far at all from where we were going for the production of "The Merchant of Venice" afterwards.  Nice work, honey. 
You already knew you were the best, but here is an award anyways....

Ethiopian food is eaten without utensils.  Diners use Injera, a special bread made out of an ancient grain called teff to convey their food to their mouths.  It has the unmistakable taste of sourdough.  For this reason, I did not immediately love Zemams or Ethiopian food.  I'm not the hugest sourdough fan, and after enough bites, everything starts to taste like it.  

I WANTED to like it though.  Over half of the dishes on the menu were vegan friendly, consisting of slow-cooked bean and pea offerings, and other delights of turnips, potatoes, carrots and cabbage.  The spices are amazing, a combination of which I could NOT identify.  More on that later. 

The rolls are the Injera bread.  The food comes to the table all on one platter, family style.  Diners tear off a piece of bread and use it to pick their food off of the communal plate. 

Fast forward several months (during which John kept asking to go back to Zemams because he loved it so much, and I refused because I still had the taste of sourdough in my mouth), John and I went to Boulder, CO for a continuing education week for his work.  We did a lot of research on restaurants before going and John found Raskassas, and insisted that we give it a shot.  I did like the food better, and loved the atmosphere.  Both Zemams and Raskassas have a homey vibe.  The people who wait on you seem genuinely pleased to see you and treat you so comfortably.  I started to thaw a little towards Ethiopian cuisine if for no other reason than I really liked the experience of eating there with John.

John was hooked after Boulder.  We started going back to Zemams again in Tucson, and when we were not there, he talked a lot about Ethiopian food.  Two weeks ago, during a rare weekend we were home in Show Low (where there are hardly any restaurants), I believe he wistfully mentioned Ethiopian cuisine about 20 times.  Why was John so obsessed with Ethiopian all of a sudden?  It couldn't just be that he loves the taste of the food, because his main food obsession is sushi, but he doesn't mention it with a faraway expression in his eyes nearly as frequently as he has been mentioning Ethiopian.  

Here is my hypothesis.  My husband is an awesome runner.  He has run a few marathons, has three ultra-marathons (one of which is a 50 miler) coming up in the next 6 months, and has plans to run the Grand Canyon rim to rim in one day this weekend.  Since moving to AZ he has challenged himself physically to the point that he's whittled his 5'10" frame down to 147 pounds.  He's lithe, strong and athletic.  And he's been watching the Olympic marathoners prepare for the Olympics (which of course just started and seem to be in our brains 24/7) with uncharacteristic (for him) intensity. 

Yes, my husband wants to be a Kenyan or an Ethiopian runner deep down inside.  That's my theory anyways.  
During the week that his cravings for Ethiopian reached their most feverish of pitches, John also posted two blog entries about famed marathoner Abebe Bikila, who won the 1960 Rome Olympic Marathon (on cobblestones) running barefoot, and also finished first in the Tokyo Olympics four years later.  
 As my husband is a barefoot runner himself and writes an awesome barefoot running blog , Abebe Bikila, and Ethiopian and Kenyan runners in general hold a fascination for him.  
I'm pretty sure that is why he has been talking about the food so much.  That, and he really loves how the food tastes.  So in my effort to be an awesome wife and support my husband in his endeavors to be the best distance runner he can be, I started to research recipes for Ethiopian food.  The first thing I found out was that I didn't have the most important spice called Berbere.  Every recipe called for it!  I searched online and I couldn't find anything that looked good. I went to our local Safeway.  No luck there of course.  I told him he would have to wait until next time we visited Tucson where I could go to Penzey's Spices and do some fact-finding.  

This Friday, John said, "Let's go to Tucson!  We can get the spices we need and also eat at Zemams.  And I won't have to do my long run in the mud." (Our trails are now a thick mud thanks to the monsoon season.)  We packed our bags and Saturday morning we started what turned out to be a two-day scavenger hunt for spices.  Penzey's did not carry Berbere, but they did have a printout of the recipe that included about 10 spices!  Luckily many were very common (cinnamon and nutmeg) but there were a few we didn't have.  They suggested we try the african grocery store in town.  We headed there.  (Before leaving Penzey's we did buy Garam Masala, a required spice for these dishes.)  
On our way, we met John's parents at Zemams for lunch so John could load up on his favorite dishes.  Here are some of them.  
  Shiro Wat (chickpea stew)
Kik Wat (split pea stew)

Gomen Alicha (potatoes, carrots and cabbage)

and our favorite....
Yemisir Kay Wat (a spicy red lentil stew)

After gorging ourselves (I have now started using a fork at Zemams to eat instead of the bread - which makes for an entirely different dining experience), we headed off to the african market which was awesome!  We found one of the main spices that we needed, fenugreek, which was inexpensive and super fragrant.  We also found cheap yellow split peas and red lentils.  One last stop at Penzey's for sweet paprika and I had all the recipes for the elusive Berbere spice blend that I needed to finally cook these yummy dishes!  

I decided against using the Penzey's recipe for Berbere and elected to use the Happy Herbivore version.  

Here it is!

2 tbsp Cayenne Pepper
4 tbsp Sweet Paprika
1 tsp Fengreek
3/4 tsp ground Cardamom
1/2 tsp ground Coriander
1/2 tsp ground Cumin
1/2 tsp Nutmeg or Mace
1/2 tsp ground Ginger
1/4 tsp ground Cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground Allspice
1/4 tsp Turmeric
1/8 tsp ground Cloves
I love this blend!  It is amazing.  I used it in my recipe tonight for Yemisir Wat.  I'll post that recipe tomorrow.  It is AMAZING!  
Suffice to it say, I can now make Ethiopian food because I am in possession of the elusive Berbere, and I think it's going to make my runner and wanna-be-Ethiopian husband very very happy.  
And for that I humbly give myself the best wife ever award......
Check in tomorrow for the recipe for Yemisir Wat, hands-down our favorite Ethiopian dish.  Pure yumminess!


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Falafel, Baba Ganoush, and a Genetic Culinary Predisposition

When I was 15, my sister went to college in Pensacola, FL, a few hours drive from our home on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi.  (By the way, when you think of Mississippi, the first picture that comes to mind may not be the lovely place I grew up.  Here is a picture to give you a reference of the paradise I left when I moved to Arizona.)
This picture, taken literally a few blocks from where I was born and raised, makes me want to turn my face southwards and breathe in the healing, salty air. 

Sigh...ok, back to Pensacola.  The first weekend my family went there to drop my sister off for school, we found this incredibly sketchy looking Middle Eastern restaurant called "Aladdin's Cafe" owned by two Iranian men and one Syrian man.  It was an odd combo.  It reminded me a lot of the "Dream Cafe" from Seinfeld.  However, they made AMAZING food. I tried falafel there for the first time, and it rocked my world.  If you don't know what falafel is, it is a deep fried patty made out of chickpeas and/or fava beans and spices.  It can be stuffed into a pita and topped with hummus and veggies, or just devoured straight off the plate. 
My whole family, including my little brother who was 7 at the time, looked forward with deep longing each time we could go to Pensacola and eat more of this amazing food.

Ok, backing up a few years for a quick detour....  My mom Carol, spent her sophomore year of college at the Beirut College for Women in Lebanon, and during her time there grew to love the distinct flavors of the local cuisine.  She brought that affinity for this type of food home with her at the end of her year abroad and shared it with my dad when they were married just a few months later.  My dad James is a much-loved veterinarian by both owners and animals...
best picture kitten Ivy was shamelessly demanding his attention.... 
but is also, famously I might add, a lover of delicious and exotic food.  He enjoyed the Middle Eastern food we ate together as a family so much that he worked to recreate much of it at home in his own kitchen.  Two of the dishes I think he did an especially good job with were hummus and baba ganoush.  Pure yumminess.  Way to go dad.  

So, I come by my love for both falafel and baba ganoush honestly.  It was both inherited through my genes as well as inculcated through my diet from an early age.  At least that is what I tell myself when I devour mounds of the stuff.

While craving Middle Eastern food last weekend I happened upon this recipe for a baked sweet potato falafel (who could argue with that?!) and this one for a lighter version of baba ganoush (basically a low-tahini version that still tastes good) from Susan Voisin's Fat Free Vegan Kitchen.  A few quick notes on the recipes before getting down to business.

1.) You may need to add water (just a little) to the sweet potato dough to make it mix well.
2.) I used whole-wheat flour instead of besan in my falafels and they turned out great.  Besan will up to protein count though, so if you have it, use it!
3.) Go easy on the garlic and cayenne in the baba ganoush.  I almost killed John with the spiciness, and it was even a little intense for me.  (I love spice.)

Here they are!
from Susan's Voisin's Fat Free Vegan Kitchen
Sweet Potato Falafel
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground flax seeds + 2 tbsp hot water
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes (about 18 ounces, total)
  • 2-3 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1/8 – 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup minced parsley
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup chickpea flour or besan
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • sesame seeds (optional)


  1. Mix the flax seeds with two tablespoons hot water and set aside to thicken.
  2. Pierce sweet potatoes several times with a fork and place on paper towels in microwave. Microwave on high for 2 minutes, turn over, and then cook for another 2 minutes. Check for tenderness, and if not cooked all the way through, cook in increments of 30 seconds until tender. Set aside to cool until easy to handle; peel and place in a large bowl.
  3. Preheat oven to 400F. Mash sweet potatoes well with a masher or a fork. Add the flax mixture, seasonings (including parsley), and lemon juice and stir well. Mix the chickpea flour with the baking powder and add it a little at a time to the sweet potato mixture. Stir until well-combined. Batter should be stiff; if not, add chickpea flour a tablespoon at a time until batter is thick. (If the batter is too stiff to blend in all the flour, add water a tablespoon at a time.)
  4. Oil a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper or silicone baking mat. Use a cookie scoop or rounded tablespoon to make about 20-22 little mounds of dough on the baking sheet (dipping the scoop in water every now and then will help prevent the dough from sticking to it). Flatten the balls to about 1/2-inch thick and 1 1/2-inches wide. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired.
  5. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until bottoms are medium brown. These keep well and can be reheated briefly in the microwave.

Baba Ganoush
  • 1 large eggplant, about 1 1/2 pounds
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 2 cloves garlic (or to taste)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (or to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon tahini (or to taste)
  • ground cumin


  1. Preheat oven to 425 F (or better yet, do this on your barbecue grill!) With a fork, punch a bunch of holes in the eggplant and place it on a baking dish or sheet. Cook for about 45 minutes, until the eggplant is all sunken in. Remove from the heat and let it cool until you can peel it safely. Peel and put it in a food processor. Add the salt, garlic, lemon juice, and tahini, and process until it’s smooth. Serve sprinkled with cumin and surrounded by the vegetables of your choice.
I served both the falafel and the baba ganoush over a bed of greens, with chopped tomatoes and cucumbers.  They were divine!  I think next time I'll go easier on the spices, but we both agreed that this is a good dish for our regular rotation.  

I hope you fellow lovers of Middle Eastern or Mediterranean cuisine will give these recipes a shot!  Let me know how you like them.  Here is what ours looked like!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tamale Pie and Making Healthy Compromises in Your Marriage

I really like Mexican food.  I guess it's a good thing I live in AZ where amazing Mexican food is readily accessible!  When I went vegan I was happy to realize that I did not have to give up eating the Mexican delightful goodness that I loved so much. Not only that, but it would become a staple of my dinner rotation, in various forms.  Often on busy days, we will toast up some corn tortillas, spread them with vegetarian refried beans, and top them with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and cilantro, for a really quick and filling meal.  On other days, I like to explore new recipes and variations to spice things up.  Last night was one of those evenings.

One word before going on.  My husband really hates casseroles.  I am a little surprised he didn't ask to add a promise to never serve him casseroles into our marriage vows.  I think it might be the fact that in a casserole, all the foods are squished in there together.  He usually doesn't like his different foods all jumbled up.

 " I promise to love you forever and to never serve you a casserole."

Well, though I knew of his deep dislike for casseroles, I took a gamble.  I saw this recipe for Tamale Pie in my Happy Herbivore cookbook, and thought, "That isn't a casserole, it's a pie, which is totally different".  Also, John has a real thing for tamales.  He even made up his own green corn tamale recipe that contains NO oil, dairy, or lard!  That's quite a feat, as anyone would know who had even glanced at a recipe for green corn tamales.  In any event, I thought this recipe looked tasty, and I rationalized long enough that I decided that John would love it for dinner.  More on that later.

The best thing about this recipe is that the ingredients are probably all in your fridge or pantry.  Nothing fancy or crazy.  Yay!  It is a complete meal in and of itself, but Lindsey, the Happy Herbivore, notes that you can combine this with her vegan Mexican Chorizo and/or Spicy Greens.  I haven't sampled either recipe but will post the results here when I do!  

Now down to business....

Tamale Pie (from the Happy Herbivore)

1 cup chopped onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 cup mild salsa
1/2 cup frozen yellow corn
1/2 cup canned or cooked black beans
1/4 cup sliced black olives 
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1 recipe Cornbread Batter (see below), not cooked
hot sauce

Cornbread Batter (note: I halved this recipe)
1 cup corn meal
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup non-dairy milk
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 tbsp raw sugar (optional) - I left this out

Directions for the Tamale Pie
1.) Preheat the oven to 400
2.) Combine onion, garlic, and bell pepper in 1/4 cup of water in a saucepan over medium heat.
3.) Cook until water has mostly or completely evaporated and onions are translucent.
4.) Combine all ingredients except Cornbread Batter in a medium bowl and mix well.
5.) Spoon mixture in a greased casserole or pie dish.
6.) Pat down firmly with a spatula.
7.) Top with Cornbread Batter in a thin layer.  (Do not put full recipe of Cornbread Batter on this.  Only the half recipe).
8.) Bake for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
9.) Serve with hot sauce and room-temperature salsa.

I served it with a big salad and we had cookies for dessert.  

Our verdict?  I loved it.  It was basically cornbread on top with a Mexican stew-like concotion underneath.  It was hearty, smoky flavored, and really filling.  

John?  Well, he didn't like it as much.  It DID look a lot like a casserole, and though he gamely gave it his best shot, he wasn't the biggest fan.  I'm not sure it was the flavors he objected to as much as the casserole-y-ness of the dish.  Everybody has their non-favorite food item.  Mine is celery.  John - well, it's casseroles.  

The long and short of it is, I would make it again for myself in a heartbeat.  I won't make it for John probably though, because I love to cook food he loves.  And just as he won't subject me to the horrors of celery....

...neither will I in the future knowingly force him to eat a casserole.  Marriage, it's all about compromise.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Slight Variation of Baingan Bharta - The Best Food Ever Invented - Ever

There are simply not enough words to describe the depth of my love for eggplant.  Its creaminess when cooked right makes me happy all the way to my toes.  It's a beautiful vegetable (well, it is actually a fruit) to look at, is low in calories, is fat free, and contains a healthy dose of potassium, magnesium, folic acid and B vitamins.  It's like a yummier more veggie-tastic version of a Flinstone gummy vitamin.  And they come in such an array of adorable varieties!

I want to keep them for pets.

I used to be at a loss for cooking eggplant.  I would usually just turn it into a quick cheese-free Eggplant Parmesan.  Totally delicious, and nothing to sneeze at, but I wanted more.  

A few months ago my husband and I were in Tucson and he mentioned that he wanted to try a new restaurant as we always seem to go to the same places.  He did some research while I was in an appointment and he happily told me he had found what seemed to be universally acknowledged as the "best Indian restaurant in town".  Now, I LOVE Indian food.  Curry, coconut milk, and basmati rice?  I'd take a bath in it if I could.  But John, unfortunately, does not share that passion.  (One of the few points where we disagree.)  I was pleasantly surprised that he was not only willing to go to this Indian place, but that it was his idea.  

We went to the awesome restaurant, (not terribly deterred by the slightly sketchy outside) and loved it.  The inside was pleasant, quiet, staffed with friendly people and smelled delicious.  I decided to try something I had never tried before, Baingan Bharta.  It came to me rich, piping hot, eggplanty, and full of spices, all served in a warm oval dish.  I loved it so much, I could hardly stop eating long enough to take a breath.  

An accurate depiction of me eating my dinner that night.

Basically Baingan Bharta is eggplant cooked into a soft stew-like concoction full of Indian spices, herbs and vegetables.  It's heavenly.  I didn't need the rice, I just ate the entire bowl and poked my husband's hand with my fork whenever he came near to get a taste.  (He liked mine better than his Tandoori Chicken.  No surprise there.)

Since that experience, I've been looking for an accessible Baingan Bharta recipe.  They all have such odd spices, and we don't live in a town with a Penzey's Spices, a Whole Foods or a Trader Joes, so I needed something with simpler, everyday ingredients.

Enter Susan Voisin (again) at the Fat Free Vegan Kitchen.  She describes her dish as being very close to a Baingan Bharta.  The ingredients were pretty easily found at our Safeway (Minus the Garam Masala. That would have to be purchased in a bigger city.) and I was able to pull it together pretty quickly.  

Here is Susan's picture (she called it Eggplant Chickpea Curry) for your drooling delight.

*nom nom*

A few notes before the recipe.  1.) You don't really HAVE to use chickpeas, as those are not an ingredient in the original Baingan Bharta.  They don't hurt the dish one bit though and they add a dose of protein.  Next time though, I may run them through the food processor on a rough chop to get more of a textural affect rather than having the whole beans in the dish.  2.) You don't really need to serve this over rice.  I did not and we were as happy as clams.  I did serve it with a side of Susan's Red Cabbage and Peas with Cumin and Mustard Seeds, which was delectable and paired nicely with the eggplant.  3.)  It's hard to prick eggplant hard enough to really make holes.  Get in there and use some of those arm muscles but please don't stab yourself.  =)

Here is the link to the recipe on Susan's site.   Below is the recipe as found there. 

Eggplant and Chickpea Curry


  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 red bell pepper seeded and diced
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/8 teaspoon asafetida (or 1 clove garlic, pressed)
  • 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes (fire-roasted preferred)
  • 2 teaspoons ginger paste or minced ginger root
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne or other hot red pepper (less or more, to taste)
  • 1 15-ounce can (or 1 1/2 cups) cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup minced parsley or cilantro
  • 1/4 teaspoon garam masala (start with less and add more to taste)


  1. Preheat oven to 400F. Prick eggplant with a fork several times and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until eggplant is sunken and soft all the way through. Remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle. Peel and chop the eggplant flesh.
  2. Heat a non-stick skillet and then spray it lightly with vegetable oil. Add the onion and cook until it begins to turn golden. Add the bell pepper and cook for a few more minutes. Clear a spot in the center of the skillet and sprinkle the cumin seeds directly on the hot surface. Stir and toast them for about a minute, until they become fragrant. Stir them into the onions and peppers and add the coriander, turmeric, asafetida (or garlic), tomatoes, ginger paste, and red pepper. Add the eggplant and cook over medium heat, pressing eggplant with the back of a spoon to break up large pieces, for about 10 minutes. Add the chickpeas and enough water or chickpea cooking liquid to keep the mixture moist, cover tightly, and turn heat to low. Cook for at least 15 minutes, stirring periodically, until sauce has thickened and flavors have blended. (You can hold this dish on low for up to 45 minutes while you prepare the rest of your meal, but add additional liquid as needed and don’t forget to stir, scraping the bottom.)
  3. Just before serving, add parsley (or cilantro), garam masala, and salt to taste. Serve with rice or Indian bread.
Here is how ours turned out.

Our verdict?  It was a great dish, but not exactly like the Baingan Bharta I know and love.  John thought the seasoning called for in the recipe was too light, and that it needed more spice and salt.  All that said, I do like it because it gives me another use for one of my favorite vegetables and blends that perfect eggplantish texture with warm spices, nutty chickpeas and bright herbs.

Also, the Red Cabbage and Peas with Cumin and Mustard Seeds were quite possibly our favorite part of dinner.  Soooooo good!  Do yourself a big favor and make this dish.  You will love it.  It's delicious, colorful, beautiful, filling, and full of fiber and vitamins.

One last note, as it IS Farmer's Market season, please get out there and support your local growers by buying their eggplant!  The varieties that can be found at these markets is astounding, and well-worth the trip.  It is also much cheaper than buying hothouse grown stuff at the supermarket.

Here is one last flat-out adorable eggplant photo for your viewing pleasure. 

 Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Lentil, Spinach, Mushroom Shepherd's Pie

Here in the mountains of AZ we have finally arrived at the blessed monsoon season.  For those of us who have lost our heat tolerance by living at over 6,000 feet above sea level, any weather over 70 degrees (especially when exercising outside!) feels like a furnace.  Call me a pansy all you want.  It would be true.  When the monsoons arrived a few weeks ago though, bringing with them late afternoon torrential downpours and much cooler temperatures, it was heavenly.

 Driving home through a monsoon season thunderstorm on I40 East.

Last Thursday while watching one of these beautiful mountain storms roll in, I suddenly found myself craving comfort-food.  I wanted something warm, rich, and substantial.  Something I would eat in the winter!  And while looking through some websites, I came across this piece of loveliness originally found in Nava Atlas' cookbook Vegan Holiday Kitchen and then re-made and photographed by Susan Voisin at the Fat Free Vegan Kitchen.  This photograph is Susan's and I think it is lovely.

Looking at it makes me suddenly feel as if I am starving.

A few notes before moving on to the recipe.  It was a little more labor intensive than most of the other recipes I love, but it was worth the extra effort.  It was warm, full of flavor, and kept me totally full all night.  I especially loved the addition of spinach for color, vitamins and yumminess.  In the future, I'll probably put in more spinach and more mushrooms (John's request), but keep everything else the same.  Susan  notes that you can leave out the olive oil and margarine for a healthier dish (I did, I didn't miss them).  Also, this is a gluten-free meal if you use both gluten-free soy sauce and breadcrumbs.  Good news for my many gluten-sensitive friends!  Here is the recipe, as taken from Susan's website.

Hearty Lentil and Mushroom Shepherd’s Pie

  • 8 large or 10 medium potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons nonhydrogenated margarine*
  • 1/2 cup rice milk
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil*
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 ounces cremini or baby bella mushrooms
  • Two 15-ounce cans lentils, lightly drained but not rinsed (or about 3 1/2 cups cooked lentils with a little of their cooking liquid)
  • 2 tablespoons dry red wine, optional
  • 1 to 2 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce or Bragg’s liquid aminos*
  • 2 teaspoons seasoning blend (such as Spike or Mrs. Dash)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch or arrowroot
  • 8 to 10 ounces baby spinach or arugula leaves
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs or panko bread crumbs (gluten-free if needed)


  1. Peel and dice the potatoes. Place in a large saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to a simmer, then cover and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and transfer to a small mixing bowl.
  2. Stir the margarine into the potatoes until melted, then add the rice milk and mash until fluffy. Cover and set aside until needed. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  3. While the potatoes are cooking, heat the oil in a medium skillet. Add the onion and sauté over medium heat until translucent. Add the garlic and mushrooms and continue to sauté until the onion is golden.
  4. Add the lentils and their liquid and bring to a gentle simmer. Stir in the optional wine, soy sauce, seasoning blend, thyme, and pepper. Cook gently for 5 minutes. Combine the cornstarch with just enough water to dissolve in a small container. Stir into the lentil mixture.
  5. Add the spinach, a little at a time, cooking just until it’s all wilted down. Remove from the heat; taste to adjust seasonings to your liking.
  6. Lightly oil a 2-quart (preferably round) casserole dish, or two deep-dish pie plates. Scatter the breadcrumbs evenly over the bottom. Pour in the lentil mixture, then spread the potatoes evenly over the top. If using two pie plates, divide each mixture evenly between them.
  7. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the potatoes begin to turn golden and slightly crusty. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes, then cut into wedges to serve.

We both loved it!  John took it to work for his lunches for the rest of the week and I ate the leftovers as well.  When we got back from the Grand Canyon late on Sunday afternoon, we remembered there was enough still in the fridge for us to have for dinner, and that made us very happy.  Here is our finished product!


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Whole Fruit Popsicles

We have had a very busy week!  We spent this past weekend running and hiking in the Grand Canyon, doing 33 miles in 40 hours.  Needless to say, we are sore, exhausted, and I haven't had much time for blogging.  For non food-related eye candy however, here is one picture of our amazing trip.

About one mile down the South Kaibab Trail

It was perfect weather for such a grueling weekend.  Slightly overcast, and much cooler than the canyon usually is in the middle of July! 

Though it was cool and pleasant in the Grand Canyon this past weekend, it was pretty warm the week before in Arizona, even up here in the mountains where we live.  As we usually do a long run of 10 miles or more on Saturdays, we have been learning to adjust to heavy exercise in weather over 75 degrees.

One of John's favorite pre-run tricks to beat the heat is to eat a popsicle or drink a glass of water that has frozen blueberries tossed in.  I was looking through Pinterest a couple of weeks ago (while thinking about our Saturday long run coming up!) and I saw these posted by Skinnytaste and thought, "What a nice combination of John's favorite things!"

Doesn't your brain think yummy sounds by just looking at these?

I had a few mangoes that needed using up, and the raspberries and kiwis were on sale at our local supermarket.  When I got started making them, I realized I had some frozen blueberries that John would love if I put in there, since he's such a fan.  I have linked to the recipe here and I have also put it below.  

Quick notes before you get started.  1.)  You probably will not need the extra sweetener unless you already feel the need to sugar your fruit.  I used a tiny bit of maple syrup and John said next time he'd be just as happy if I left it out.  2.)  The blueberries were a success.  In fact, they were John's favorite part.   3.)  If you don't have popsicle sticks, you can use a plastic spoon, but don't use a plastic fork like I did.  John almost swallowed a tine that he bit off....

Frozen Mango, Kiwi, Raspberry Pops

9 tbsp water
2 tbsp sugar
5 oz kiwi, peeled
6 oz mango, peeled
6 oz fresh raspberries
(Emily's addition: 6 oz. blueberries)

1.) Make a simple syrup by combining water and sugar in a small pot and bring to a boil; boil for about 4-5 minutes on medium heat. Set aside.
(Emily's note:  I left out this step and used maple syrup.  Like I said before, the extra sweetener was probably not necessary for our taste.)
2.)  Puree fruit separately in the blender. Set aside in 3 small bowls.
3.) Divide the simple syrup between the fruit purees and mix in.
4.) Equally fill four small 5 oz cups with the kiwi puree and place in the freezer; freeze one hour.
5.) Add mango puree and freeze 20 minutes. 
6.) Insert sticks and freeze at least 2 hours.  
7.) Add raspberry puree and freeze overnight.

Here is what ours looked like!

The verdict?  I made four of them.  John had polished them off within 2 days and has been asking for more since then.  He loved them. He ate each one before a run and said he thought they really helped keep him cool throughout his exercising by lowering his core temperature.  

A yummy fruit treat and a trick to make exercising more pleasant?  That sounds like two birds with one stone to me.  I'll take that any day.