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Salad Rolls for the World

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Everyone who knows me knows I can’t go to a Asian establishment and not order salad rolls. They’re one of my absolute favorite foods — crispy, fresh, colorful, and fun to eat, all at once. I’ve tried hundreds and hundreds of salad rolls in my life (okay, probably not quite that many). But not until yesterday did I concoct a plan to make them myself. I don’t know what took me so long — I guess I just thought the labor and art of salad-roll making was out of my league. Newsflash: it is. They may look pretty in the picture, but I’m not going to judge anyone for making some jacked up salad rolls because this is hard!

As a dietitian (and a human being) I really identify with the the principles of flexibility and whimsy. Salad rolls are totally in line with these ideas because you can fill them with whatever strikes your fancy at the moment. There are so many flavors in the world, and ALL of them have the potential to fit into salad rolls! Ah, life is magical.

IMG_1637So there I was — I had all my ingredients prepped and in the assembly line (read: sitting in multiple bowl sizes haphazardly on my stove top), the big bowl of water ready to rehydrate my rice paper, and a supremely determined mindset. When I pulled the first paper out of the water and it immediately ripped and folded over on itself, I just laughed. Okay, take two!

The trick is to take the paper out of the water at about 15 seconds (not twenty) when it’s still got some stiffness in it and you can actually work with it. It’s like taking a cake out of the oven right before it’s actually cooked all the way through, because it’ll keep cooking (and the rice paper will keep absorbing the water as you’re filling it).

saladrolls2After you’ve readied your roll, simply tuck the sides in and roll it up like a tiny Asian burrito.

Yoga, Level: Cats -- "Now, take both legs and simply toss them around your neck . . . like a scarf."
No, I’m just kidding…it takes a little more finesse than that. But each roll I made was better-looking than the one before, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Just try to have fun with it! And remember — no matter what they look like, they’re going to taste insanely phenomenal. I could live off this stuff.

As for the sauce, experiment. We’re all different and I don’t expect you to like the same amount of spice or sweetness that I do. Much like every restaurant will serve their own version of a peanut sauce, all of ours will probably be tailored to our taste.

I really hope you do try to make these bad boys. Some recipes require a lot of repetition and help me to zone out in the kitchen, and this is one of them. It was a treat to spend my morning making these. And it was an even bigger treat to eat them.

And that, my friends….is a wrap. (ba dun dun.)

Peanut Sauce
* 1 tbsp peanut butter (I use natural crunchy)
* 1 tsp soy or tamari sauce (tamari for gluten-free folks)
* 1 tbsp thai chili paste (it’s not that spicy, but taste-check as needed)

Marinated Tofu
* 2 tbsp brown sugar
* 1 tbsp tamari/soy sauce
* 1 tbsp curry powder
* juice of a lime
* 1 tbsp minced garlic
* 1 tsp sesame oil

1. Mix all the ingredients together, and then throw in a package of tofu (16 oz).

2. Saute over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until most of the water has left the tofu. Take off the burner & set aside.

Pad Thai Noodles
1. Boil water. Insert noodles (a good handful). Boil for 8-10 minutes. Take out of water and set aside.

Salad Roll Recipe
* Pad thai noodles (or vermicelli, or thin rice noodles) – 1.5 cups
* Marinated tofu — 1.5 cups
* Raw red onion, sliced thinly (1/2 of one)
* Raw red pepper, sliced thinly (1/2 of one)
* Baby spinach (bunch)
* Raw avocado, sliced thinly (1/2 of one)
* Optional — cilantro or thai basil to taste (or both!)

Remember that this is YOUR food — sub in and sub out ingredients as you wish!

1. Insert rice paper into a bowl of water. Take it out (carefully) after about 15 seconds (it will be really thin and hard to work with). Lay it on a tea towel or a thick paper towel.
2. Arrange your filling as you want — I found it helpful to lay down the spinach/lettuce first, and then try to put the other ingredients on top of it.
3. Fold the sides over, and then either the bottom or top. Finagle. Roll into a tiny burrito.
4. Eat the delicious salad rolls.

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Sweet Potato & Apple Pancakes

Fall has arrived once again in the Pacific Northwest. Due to our unusually hot and long summer (RIP), the fall colors are in full force. I almost feel like I’m back east. This means that, in addition to cooking up some delectable fall-inspired recipes, I don’t feel too embarrassed about getting my foo-foo lattes every once in a while (I’m usually a plain Americano type-person, for all of you who may want to bring me coffee in the future).

We have an abundance of pumpkins, squash, apples, and sweet potatoes at the local markets, and I was remembering my good friend and former roommate who used to cook some potato latkes to die for. And with that, I give you these pancakes.

 

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Make sure you don’t skimp on the (vegan) butter when you’re frying up these guys — you’ll need the savory notes to balance out the sweetness of the apple. If you don’t have a huge sweet tooth, I’d recommend going for a 2:1 ratio of potato to apple. I didn’t even put any syrup on these because they were flavorful enough on their own.

And don’t worry about peeling the potato or apple before you grate them. Keeping the skins on will preserve the rich fiber and you won’t even notice it once it’s all cooked.

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Combined with the flour, the pancakes formed patties well and stuck together without a problem. Easy for flipping!

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Best of all, a small potato and apple made three pancakes! Talk about an economical breakfast — invite your friends and make it into brunch! Did someone order a pumpkin spice latte?

Zucchini Tian with Vegan Parmesan Cheese

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I recently acquired a humongous zucchini. This zucchini could not be controlled.

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(Side note: apparently huge zucchinis aren’t all that uncommon, at least according to my gardening friends. But this east coast girl still hasn’t got a handle on how most foods grow, so bear with me.)

I made it into tian, at the advice of my regular chef of a mom. Tian is French dish made by chopping various vegetables and cooking them au gratin in an oven. By using breadcrumbs, butter, cheese, or eggs (nearly all of which can be plant-based!), you can achieve a nicely browned effect when all is said and done.

Behold.

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This dish is fun because you can arrange the vegetables in any way you choose. I like the spiral look, so that’s what I did. It took a lot time because I’m not very creative. But here’s what it looked like before I popped it in the oven.

 

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Remember to be creative and make this dish your own — if you don’t love zucchini, how about summer squash or sweet potato?

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I didn’t make a recipe card for the vegan parmesan because it’s so easy: simply take about a cup of raw cashews and mix in with 1/4 cup of nutritional yeast. Put this in a food proccesser/blender and give it a few pulses. It won’t take long at all to blend up. You can sprinkle this on nearly everything, because cheese.

 

And in case you were wondering…I still have about half of that zucchini left.

 

 

Watermelon Agua Fresca

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As a dietitian, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I sometimes have a hard time staying hydrated. In fact, some days I drink more coffee than water! I know I’m not the only one, and that’s why I’m excited about this ridiculously easy way to boost your hydration status during the hot summer months.

An agua fresca is a refreshing drink made by blending a fruit or any edible flower or seed with fresh water, sugar, and ice to make a thirst-quenching summer beverage. I didn’t think the watermelon needed any added sugar, so I simply blended one mini seedless watermelon with about 12 ice cubes, and served it immediately. I also added about a tablespoon of lime juice for some extra kick.  It’s so easy, I can barely call it a recipe.

You can do this with almost any fruit — melons and strawberries would  be easily blended. But I was excited to use watermelon: in addition to being 90% water and rich in potassium and vitamins A and C, it has some surprising benefits. It is rich in lycopene, which is a potent antioxidant. Watermelon is also a fantastic source of L-citrulline, an amino acid that aids in improving circulation and reducing muscle soreness. I drank some of this juice before working out yesterday, and I can (anecdotally) agree with that research today! I felt more energized during my work out, and today have minimal muscle soreness. L-citrulline supplements are sold over the counter, but research indicates that cells absorb it better from its natural source.

So there you have it — in addition to being a tasty way to hydrate and a fantastic source of nutrition, watermelon is of particular benefit to athletes. Give it a try!

Sautéed Avocado & Nectarine Salsa

Sweet, savory, which to choose? With this salsa, you don’t have to. It’s got the tangy sweetness of the nectarines, coupled with a healthy dose of garlic and the incomparable mouth feel of the avocado. Throw it all together with a little salt and pepper and sauté in vegan butter, and you’ve got yourself a sweet and savory flavor bomb that goes well on a variety of dishes. I roasted a sweet potato for this salsa’s accompaniment, but it would go well on a rice pilaf or over tofu.

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If you need some spice in your life, how about adding some cayenne pepper to the mix?

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I love this salsa because sautéeing it allows for crunchy texture to form on the nectarines and avocado. Don’t be afraid to turn the heat up under the saucepan to allow that texture to form. (But don’t, you know, burn the butter.)

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Serve immediately! 🙂

 

“Summer is Coming” Salad Medley

Don’t be discouraged by Game of Thrones. Summer is coming, folks. And I have a feeling it’s going to be a good one.

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What’s better for a summer lunch than a hearty and protein-packed salad full of fruits, veggies, and the most underestimated nutritional powerhouse combo, rice and beans? The citrus in this dish keeps it light and fresh, and the rainbow of colors means you’re reaping the benefits of vitamins and minerals across the board. Baking the asparagus and beets beforehand means you’ll get a nice crunch in there, too.

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This is great dish to prepare ahead of time if you like to pack your lunch, or if you plan to delight your friends at a potluck. It’s also completely flexible. Don’t like kidney beans? That’s fine, you’re dead to me. I mean, *cough* throw in chickpeas or fava beans! And for the citrus addicts here, you can add some pineapple or strawberry to boost that flavor profile. Mmm, vitamin C!

Fair warning, though: your hands will look like Carrie when you’re done with the beets.

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Rice and beans are one of nature’s best combination foods, and serve as a complete protein source — that is, the two of them together provide all the essential amino acids your body needs to survive. And because it’s rice and beans, your stomach won’t be growling for afternoon munchies.

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Garnish with your choice: cilantro was a no-brainer for me. And summer…come quickly!

Cashew Cream: Never miss a parfait again

I enjoyed a truly delectable vegan parfait the other morning, and I went home to replicate it right afterwards so I could  share it here! The life of a dietitian, folks. Now, there’s an ever-growing number of vegan yogurts on the market, including Nancy’s, So Delicious, Almond Dream, and the Trader Joe’s brand (ps, check out their list of vegan foods from the link!). I’ve tried a few, liked a few, and found some that have left a pretty icky taste in my mouth. So if you’re looking for a simple creamy yogurt substitute that you can make in minutes to go with granola or fruit (or both!) look no further than a simple cashew cream.

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Nuts are finally getting their due recognition for protecting heart health, brain health, and staving off weight gain and even cancer. Yes, nuts are largely composed of fats, but the kind of fats found in nuts like walnuts, cashews, pistachios, almonds, etc. are not something I would ever counsel someone to avoid. Nuts are high in fiber, which promotes gut health and lowers cholesterol and triglycerides. Choose nuts that are unsalted, though, to avoid excess sodium consumption.

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Nuts are a super filling snack, which makes a cashew cream parfait likely to stick with you up until lunch (or even past it). When I get hungry at work, I always reach for almonds or mixed nuts, because I know just a handful will do the trick.

You can use a couple dollops of this delicious treat, or mix it with a non-dairy milk for a thinner consistency to make it more of a “yogurt.” I made a simple parfait consisting of low-fat/low-sugar granola found at Whole Paycheck (the berry kind in the bulk section), cashew cream, frozen pineapple and raspberries, cinnamon, and some chia seeds, and then poured unsweetened soy milk over it all. What a light and refreshing way to start the day.

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What’s your favorite parfait combination?

The Facts about Worldwide Hunger, and How YOU Can Help

Let’s talk about hunger.

No, I’m not talking about what you might feel when you wake up in the morning and can’t make a bowl of oatmeal fast enough. I’m talking about hunger that kills. As a dietitian, worldwide hunger and nutritional deficiency hit close to home. And as a dietitian, I know that there is more than enough food to feed every single person in the world, and feed them well.

While on a trip back home to Virginia, I had the pleasure of lending my help to an an anti-hunger campaign called Stop Hunger Now, which was hosting a meal-packaging event in my town. I hopped onto the assembly line and made sure meal packets were the right weight and consistency to be shipped off to over 65 countries worldwide. Within two hours we had packaged 25,000 meals. That’s right — 25,000 meals! Each of those packets will feed six children and boasts rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables, and 21 vitamins and minerals.

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Children are hit hard by malnutrition and the diseases that arise from (or are amplified by) not having enough food. Measles, malaria, diarrhea, and pneumonia are some of the leading causes of childhood death. And malnutrition can start before kids are even born, if their moms aren’t taking in enough nutrition. Read more about the effects of malnutrition here.

The meals that we packaged were exclusively vegan. Now, depending on what country they are sent to, various meats may or may not be added per the local culture. But the meals cost just 25 cents because they are plant-based.

“Stop Hunger Now created its meal packaging program, in 2005. The program perfected the assembly process that combines rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables and a flavoring mix including 21 essential vitamins and minerals into small meal packets. Each meal costs only 25 cents. The food stores easily, has a shelf-life of two years and transports quickly. Stop Hunger Now works with international partners that ship and distribute the meals in-country.”

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(c) Stop Hunger Now

So if we have enough food to feed everyone in the world, why does one person every three seconds die of hunger or hunger-related illness? I’ll briefly summarize some of the key reasons. I don’t pretend to be an expert in this matter, but I have learned quite a lot through my studies and my travels to food-insecure countries such as Tanzania and the Dominican Republic.

1. Poverty and a Reliance on Meat as a Protein Source

Farmers and families living on $1 or less a day simply cannot afford to buy or trade their food. And farmers trying to make a living off of their own land are often not supported by their governments. As the renowned Marion Nestle writes,

“Governments must support food systems that provide farmers and workers with a reasonable standard of living, replenish soil nutrients, conserve natural resources, and minimize pollution and greenhouse gases—and promote health.” Part of minimizing pollution and greenhouse gases naturally involves growing more plants, and less meat. When the focus is on growing crops to feed animals, an opportunity arises to feed more people instead of fueling a meat-driven system that just isn’t working. 

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2. Climate Change (read the 2009 World Food Programme’s climate report here)

You don’t have to believe in human-accelerated climate change — it’s happening, and it’s been happening, for a long time. Due in part to increased heat and decreased water availability, farmers all over the world will suffer a decrease in agricultural production (mostly wheat, rice, and maize). This will cause an increase in food prices worldwide, but mostly in Africa, South Asia, and Central America. Extreme natural disasters as a result of climate change will  continue to wreak havoc. By 2050, we expect an increase of 10-20% of people at risk of hunger worldwide.

3. Lack of nutrition education.

During my time in Tanzania, I sampled probably twenty kinds of root vegetables, dark leafy greens, and native fruits. Unfortunately, many of them were underutilized by the local population and sometimes even treated as throwaway foods. But these foods were rich in vitamins and minerals, protein, and valuable starch. It takes dedicated professionals to provide nutrition and cooking education to teach people how to rely on the food that their own soil can produce.

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In America, 48 million people are hungry and rely on government initiatives like SNAP. I encourage you to read about the $1 a day challenge — this is something I was tasked to try for one day in college, and it was hard. But over a billion people worldwide have to do for their whole lives. And remember:

“It’s not due to laziness that someone is poor. It’s not due to a lack of ambition or lack of intelligence. It’s because they lack the things that we take advantage of every day.” — Living on One Dollar

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So how can YOU get involved? I’ve compiled a list of Portland-specific organizations that need help. Oregon is the fifth-hungriest state in America.

1. Have a garden, or participate in a community garden? The “Plant a Row” program with the Oregon Food Bank allows you to donate home-grown food to the needy.

2. Want to get involved long-term? Growing Gardens offers programs to help schools start gardens and provide cooking classes. In the summer, weekly garden parties will involve a local Portland chef who can teach people how to cook what they grow. They even have an internship, which will focus on fundraising, building gardens, and hosting garden summer camps.

3. Reduce your own food waste. With so many hungry in the world, it’s a damn shame to throw so much food away. And Americans waste 40% of the food they buy. The Kitchn has a great article on ways to get the most out of the food you buy. And remember to compost your food scraps if you can, as decomposing food in landfills contributes methane to the environment.

4. If you like gardening a whole lot, get involved with the Produce for People Program. Last year they grew and donated 20,3337 lbs of produce to needy families.

5. More of a day-to-day volunteer? The Oregon Food Bank (and any food bank, no matter where you live) needs help. Here’s an easy way to get involved.

6. Host a meal-packaging event with Stop Hunger Now. This would a fantastic event for an organization or club to host. With 40 people, you could package 10,000 meals in two hours, at just 25 cents a meal.

7. Make your dollar count. Support local farmers, and local produce. Alleviate your carbon footprint by reducing your meat intake.

There’s so much more to be said about hunger, and so many experts out there who can say it better than I can. I hope this post left you with the knowledge that hunger and the disease that occur with it can be stopped. What do you know about hunger?

 

Mini Breakfast Tofu Frittatas

“Frittata” is a very strange word to both spell and say, as I’ve learned from writing this post. Nevertheless, I give you the breakfast tofu frittata (bonus: they’re mini).

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A traditional frittata is an egg-based dish of Italian heritage, similar to a crust-less quiche. But you can enjoy this savory meal sans egg, and start your day off with a hearty dose of protein to boot. What can I say? Some of us are just savory breakfast people.

tofufrittatarecipecardYou can eat these bad boys on their own or make a breakfast sandwich. These frittatas go just right with some salsa and spinach on top an English muffin. And remember, make it yours! If you don’t like broccoli, how about some red pepper, or zucchini?

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You may have noticed that I like to cook with tofu quite a bit. Aside from being a neutral-tasting and versatile meat substitute that goes well in breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert dishes, tofu serves as a functional food in many ways.

The isoflavones found in soy products are well-known antioxidants that absorb free radicals within our bodies to prevent premature cell aging and cell death. Soy isoflavones improve blood vessel linings, and may contribute to bone health. In general, replacing meat with soy products reduces overall fat and cholesterol intake, therefore improving heart health. Some soy products are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, as well.

Unfortunately, many people believe that eating soy products increases the risk of breast cancer. While it is true that isoflavones can act like estrogens, which influence our hormone production over time and may contribute to cancer risk, soy isoflavones can also hinder the effect of actual estrogens on our tissue, thus decreasing this risk (whew, that was a mouthful!). There’s been quite a lot of research on this subject since it’s so controversial. But just recently, The American Cancer Society’s Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Survivors , released in 2012, notes that soy consumption offers “no harmful effects to breast cancer survivors.” 

If you’d like more information, peruse this comprehensive analysis of research pertaining to soy foods. Additionally, Ginny Messina (TheVeganRD) notes that soybean isoflavones “are different from estrogen” and  may reduce breast cancer risk if consumed early in life, and may reduce recurrence of breast cancer

Soy offers a host of health benefits that outweigh its reputation. Overall, “The vast majority of the evidence is that soy is either neutral or protective against breast cancer, including for women previously diagnosed with estrogen receptor positive breast cancer (tumors stimulated by estrogen contact).” So go ahead and enjoy the benefits of soy foods!

You choose: for the road, or here at home. I myself chose one for a late night snack. 😀

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Vegan Brownie in a Mug. You’re welcome.

It’s late at night. You’re watching Lord of the Rings. Things are getting emotional. You need chocolate.

Enter…the mug brownie.

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Now, I know this recipe is nothing new. But I had no idea what I was missing until, by some stroke of genius the other night, I remembered that I had all the ingredients necessary to make myself a brownie in a mug in under five minutes. That’s right — there’s no waiting around for the oven to preheat with this recipe. You don’t even need measuring cups! With some basic ingredients and a microwave, you can get back to your movie in no time.

Short and sweet, just like this post.

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So go ahead and treat yourself tonight. And stay tuned for my next post; a spotlight on Portland’s own Nike Run Club!  I’m really excited to get the word out about this fantastic group.