Sunday, December 21, 2014

Here Comes the Sun (Winter Solstice Celebration)

Sunday, December 21st is the shortest day and longest night of the year.  The Winter Solstice marks the shift toward days getting longer and is traditionally celebrated by yogis through Sun Salutations -- Surya Namaskar.

At community gatherings all over town, yogis are coming together to do 108 rounds of this yoga sequence.  This celebration offers an opportunity to express gratitude toward the sun through a moving meditation on energy and light.  Plants also respond to the longer cycles of light by shifting from storing sugars to increasing photosynthesis which will eventually lead to the greening Spring Blossom.  Like the plants I find I also begin to increase activity in the Winter, perhaps as an attempt to burn a bit of the extra sugar consumed during the sweet Winter Celebrations.
I've never had a huge sugar-tooth, so my indulgence in sweets is usually tempered by making them with whole food sweeteners like fruit pastes and purees.  This simple date paste is a staple in my fridge through the holidays.  For some, unprocessed sugars can be a bit underwhelming.  Perhaps this is because they don't spike dopamine production like regular sugar. Neuroscience of the sugar-brain response suggests that other stimuli, like music, produces similar reward feelings without the negative effects of over-stimulation.  So could eating whole food treats be enhanced by the music we listen to while we consume it?
This recent study suggests that what we hear does affect what we taste.

"You can then start creating experiences where you play particular kinds of music or soundscape to diners or to drinkers while they're tasting," Charles Spence [the author of the study] says. "We're able to show that we can change the experience in [the] mouth by about 5 or 10 percent."
As you celebrate today, enjoy your whole food plant based sweets with a happy soundtrack to make your Winter Solstice celebration even sweeter.  I'll be making these sunbutter truffles, which make the perfect post-sun salutation recovery snack, and listening to the Beatles.

More of my favorite happy tunes on Spotify

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Tofu-Mushroom Neatballs

Last week I was inspired to make Jason Wrobel's "neatball" recipe so that I could bring a warm dish to a potluck but I didn't have a lot of time to prepare.  This recipe is very simple to make since most ingredients are processed together quickly and then formed into balls and baked.  Here is the original video and recipe from JWro and my modified take below.  I did not have any prepared seitan on hand, so I used pressed tofu and mushrooms to give a meaty yet soft juicy texture.

Tofu-Mushroom Neatballs:

Ingredients: (makes about 24 balls)
1 package extra firm tofu - pressed and drained
1 cup mushrooms, finely chopped
3/4 cup white onion, diced
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (fine)
1/3 cup parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup red wine
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
1-2 tbsp ground flax seed
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp fine black pepper
1 tsp fresh thyme
1/2 tsp cayenne chili powder or chipotle powder
1/4 cup nutritional yeast (or more bread crumbs)
1 Tbsp veg brother (or oil) for saute

Preheat oven to 425F.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the tofu, breadcrumbs, parsly, chili powder, flax seed and nutritional yeast.  In a saucepan, dry saute (or use oil) the onions until they soften a bit and then add the garlic and thyme, salt and pepper.  Add the mushrooms and saute for about 5-minutes deglazing with the red wine.  When your onion mushroom mixture has released most of its water and well-carmelized, do a final deglaze with the remaining wine and then add to the bowl with the tofu mixture.  Mix with wet hands, form into balls and arrange on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silicone baking pad.  Bake for about 15-minutes at 425 and finish warming in a marinara sauce or 20-minutes for a firmer, drier texture.

These go great with JWro's mushroom gravy or a nice cheezy sauce and a side of mash and steamed greens.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Recipe: Super Socca

Socca is a fantastic gluten-free bread to make when you're short on time and want something warm and bread-like in a flash.  You can make socca, or chickpea crepe bread in about 15 minutes.  The base recipe is very simple. It's basically ground up chickpeas and water.

1-cup chickpea flour
1-cup of water*
pinch of himalayan salt
minced herbs of choice (Rosemary, Thyme and Chives are agreat)
(optional) high-heat baking oil


  1. Place a seasoned* pizza stone or a large cast iron skillet upside-down in the top rack of your oven.       *If your stone or skillet is not well-seasoned you may want to rub some coconut oil to prevent sticking.
  2. Preheat your oven to 500deg F with the pizza stone in it.
  3. Make your socca batter by combining the ingredients except for the water in a large mixing bowl, gradually adding just enough water to make a pancake-like batter.  More water will make a thinner, lighter dough.  Less water will be firmer.
  4. At this point you can add your favorite herbs.
  5. Let batter rest for about 10 minutes.
  6. Carefully (use high-heat oven mits!) take the pizza stone out of the oven and slowly pour the batter in the center.  If your pizza stone is small, you may need to do this in two batches.  Only pour enough batter so that it does not run over the edge.
  7. Let bake for about 3-5 minutes.  It should start to puff up a bit as air pockets escape.
  8. Carefully remove the pizza stone from the oven and use a flat spatula to lift up the edges.  If it starts to fall apart, you may need to cook another minute until you can lift up the dough and flip it.
  9. Cook for another 1-min on the other side.
  10. Remove from oven and enjoy!  I like to use traditional pizza toppings like tomato and pesto and roll it up like a slice of Brooklyn tomato pie.

Super Socca Pizza Wrap:
Prepared socca, homemade pesto, fresh tomato slices and chives.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Recipe: Pumpkin Pie Kale Chips

The changing color of the leaves never fails to delight and surprise us.  As days get shorter and shorter, the trees and plants prepare for cooler weather by slowing down photosynthesis so they can store up energy for Winter.  The array of colors we see were in the leaves all along, just covered by the constant greening from photosynthesis.  This is a wonderful reminder that we too have within us a pallet of untapped energy, colors that make us shine if we remove barriers of bad habits and use our energy efficiently.
Another way plants respond to cooler temps is to store up their sugars.  This is why carrots and leafy greens like kale get especially sweet around Autumn.  Like the plants and trees, people benefit from storing energy and choosing foods that keep us nourished and warm in the fall.  I love making soups, stews and chili throughout the cooler months.  They can be comforting and also highly nutritious because you preserve more of the nutrients by consuming the broth that cooks them.  Until it gets very cold, I still try to get a fair amount of raw (especially calciferous) vegetables which have their living enzymes in tact.  However this gets more challenging in the Winter.  It takes a lot of energy to digest raw foods.  So one way that I ensure I still get my raw veggies in the cooler months is to make dehydrated crucifers.
Kale chips are easy to make and strike a good balance between raw nutrition and comforting taste.  A lot of kale chips have nuts in them, for example this wonderful cashew cheese sriracha version.  So if you are looking for a lighter snack, I like to make them with alternatives.  I've been playing around with winter squash and cooked sweet potato as another way to get creamy texture and sweet flavors. Recently I stumbled upon a Pumpkin kale recipe that I had to try.  The original recipe can be found over at Fragrant Vanilla Cake.  I made a few modifications but for the most part this is Amy's creation that I've borrowed from liberally.

No Oil Pumpkin Pie Kale Chips


2-bunches of kale
2-cups of pumpkin puree
4-ripe organic pears*, seeds removed
2-inches of ginger
1-tbsp pumpkin pie spice
2-tsp vanilla
filtered water as need

(*optional ingredients, if using nuts, omit the pears above)
2-tbsp maple syrup
3/4 cups soaked cashews


  1. Gather your mise-en-place.  Once you get going, your hands are going to get sticky :-)
  2. Wash and dry your kale.
  3. Break kale into bit size pieces but don't worry about massaging yet, that comes later. Put into a LARGE mixing bowl.
  4. Set up either 2 to 4 dehydrator trays with parchment paper or 2 to 4 large cookie trays with parchment if using an oven*.
  5. *(If using the oven method) set your oven to the lowest temperature possible, 150-200 deg Fahrenheit will work best.
  6. Create the "pie dressing" by putting all remaining ingredients in a high powered blender.
  7. Blend, adding only as little water as you need to help get things moving.You want a creamy thick sauce without any visible chunks.
  8. Pour dressing over kale.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Rise Power Plant Based Yogi Snacks

Today I had the pleasure of sharing post-yoga snacks at the grand opening of Rise Power Yoga in Princeton.  The owner of the studio, Annie, invited me to provide treats for hungry yogis after a two hour special class.  I'd never catered an event like this on my own but I was inspired to rise to the occasion ;-)  It was a special celebration and I am overjoyed to be a part of it.  Most of the yoga teachers that have gone on to start their own studios in the area have roots in the space that Rise occupies.  Today Annie shared how she first taught in Princeton years ago at this space that was Yoga Above and when it closed had a vision to breath new life and energy in this already vibrant community.

When I was asked to provide snacks after a yoga class, I thought I would make a trio of treats that provide quick nourishment and satisfy sweet, savory and salty cravings after a long-sweat in class:

I played around with the recipes but here are the inspirations:

I made two batches, one with added melted dark chocolate vanilla and chia seeds, the other with maca roots and vanilla sun warrior protein.

  • Raw Vegan Cookie Dough made into Truffles with Coconut, Cacao, Goji, and Traditional Chocolate Chip, inspired by Oh She Glow.
Using four batches as the base, I made four different kinds by rolling them in different toppings.  My favorite was a crumble I made from organic goji berries, muldenberries, golden berries and raw cacao, although I ran out of the vanilla coconut balls so that may have been an audience favorite.

  • Two kinds of kale chps.  One double batch of Pumpkin Spice Kale from the awesome Fragrant Vanilla Cake blog and  a double batch of my own standby super-yummy raw kale mixed with cashew cheez and sriracha.

I'll post the full recipes and process for each this week.  Thank you to all who came, hope you enjoyed the snacks and enjoyed yoga today :D

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Traditional Style Plant-Based (Vegan) Brisket for Rosh Hashana

I am so grateful to celebrate Rosh Hashana this year with my family and friends, near and far, past and present -- like one big family...Jewish or not. It is a time for union, celebration, nourishing food and life affirmation.
In Jewish mysticism, there is a notion that every person is considered an "olam katan” – a little world. This notion is similar to one of the meanings of the sanskrit word used in yoga, "Namaste" – the word that teachers and students offer to each other at the end of a yoga class – one translation being “I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwell."
In my family we honor this tradition by celebrating with friends and family for a plant-based feast.  Many our guests we invited are not Jewish, nor vegan so we thought about ways we could respect their needs and honor our plant-based tradition.  To this end, we decided to serve a veganized traditional Jewish brisket made from seitan and roasted root vegetables.

Vegan traditional bbq "brisket" with roasted root vegetables
(Makes one large brisket to feed 12 hungry people)
3  cups vita wheat gluten flour
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
2 tbsp onion granules
1 1/2 tbsp garlic granules
1/4 cup dried shiitake mushroom powder (dried mushrooms ground in a spice grinder)
2 tsp chipotle powder
1 cup tomato paste
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 cup marsala wine
2 tsp vegan worcestershire sauce
1 tsp liquid smoke
2 1/2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup tamari
4 cups vegetable stock
4 cups root vegetables (I use parsnips, carrots, sweet potatoes), cut into bite sized pieces

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Prepare the Seitan Base by mixing the wheat gluten flour, nutritional yeast, onion granules, garlic granules, mushroom powder and chipotle powder in a large mixing bowl.
  3. In a blender, add all remaining ingredients and blend.  This will be the braising liquid for the roast.
  4. Make well in the seitan mix by hollowing out an area in the center of the bowl (it should look like an inverse volcano).
  5. Slowly pour in about half of the braising liquid while mixing to combine. You want to use just enough liquid to make a wet dough that you can kneed without feeling sticky or loose.
  6. Dust a bit of flour on a cutting board,
  7. Form the mixture into a dough and transfer to the cutting board or surface where you can kneed the dough. Kneed until it feels firm and shape into a roast.
  8. Place the roast into a roasting pan big enough to hold the dough and vegetables.
  9. Pour braising liquid over the roast until it is mostly covered.
  10. Add your vegetables around the roast, they should also be mostly submerged so add more liquid if needed.
  11. Bake in the oven for 30-45 min until the dough feels firm to touch and starts to form a glaze.
  12. Flip the roast over and bake another 15-minutes.  Use a spoon to pour some of the braising liquid on top of the roast each time you flip.  Add more braising liquid if it starts to run low.
  13. Continue to flip over and then bake for another 15-minutes per side until the braising liquid is reduced to a thick sauce. It may take up to two hours.
  14. When done, remove from oven and let cool.
  15. Slice into thin strips to resemble traditional brisket, pour remaining liquid/glaze and vegetables over the sliced roast.

Happy New Year!

Monday, September 22, 2014

To Soak or Not to Soak

Beans have become a mainstay of my plant-based diet.  Every Sunday I make a big batch that I can use as a base recipe all week long.  Black beans, chickpeas, adzuki, cannelloni, fava...I have no favorite, I love them all.  Beans are nutritional powerhouses, rich in protein and vitamins and flavor but I used to think they were a nuisance to make.  It wasn't until I got my InstantPot, a combo pressure cooker, that I started making beans in batches.  Cooking beans without pressure seemed to take forever, or I would just resort to canned beans.  I tried presoaking beans overnight or quick-soaking, which does reduce cooking time but only by about 25%.  With pressure, however, it takes the cooking time of your average bean from 1-2 hours down to 20-30 minutes.
Recently I began to wonder...if pressure cooking is so efficient at cooking beans, is soaking is really necessary at all?  Searching the interwebs, I see there are many debates on this topic, and the science does not seem settled (whether it's healthier to soak or not, nutritionally) either.
On the pro-soak-side, soaking is thought to remove water soluble starch sugars that can block digestion. Some argue that these compounds called phytates are also what cause flatulence.  So it would seem this is a good thing.
"The soaking of black beans in water has always found fairly widespread support in food science research as a way of improving overall black bean benefits."
That is according to the site, World Healthiest Foods, which seems to provide a fairly reliable source of nutrition information.  So removing phytates, which block digestion of other nutrients is good.  But I found other evidence on the other side discussing how we are leaching more nutrients by soaking. Food science writer Harold S. McGee wrote in a book called On Food and Cooking:
"...during soaking many nutrients leach out of the beans. Apparently heat breaks down cell membranes within the beans, and increases the solubility of water-soluble nutrients, such as calcium, magnesium, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin. As a result, soaking tends to leach somewhat more of the nutrients out of the beans than do slow soaking methods."
pre-soaked pressure cooked black beans
So we should keep the soaking the liquid if we want to maximize all the nutrients. Ok, but I thought we should discard the soaking liquid because it has those digestion blocking phytates.  Hmph.  The more I looked for answers, the more questions they seemed to raise.  Then there is the all important question: which tastes better?

not soaked pressure cooked black beans
On this one, I can say I think I found a winner.  I used to always pre-soak my beans overnight.  Now I don't bother if I'm going to pressure cook them.  I use a small piece of kombu to help neutralize the phytates, a pinch of salt for flavor and I also found that they definitely taste a lot better.  I was amazed at the difference and I was skeptical even after reading this thorough taste test.  In my own kitchen experiment, I concur that the texture and flavor of the non-soaked black beans is superior to that of soaked.
Do you soak your beans?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Paleo Pffft... Real Warriors Eat Potatoes (and Other Starches)

Dr. John McDougal joins the long list of food critics, ethnologists and plant-based doctors who think the Paleo Diet phenomenon is completely misguided.  He appeared on the Plant Based Dietician's show to talk about the diet that we know warrior civilizations actually ate.  It turns out, counter to what the paleolithic purveyors claim, we don't really know a lot about what actual paleolithic ancestors ate -- in part because their diets would have had to vary by region. However we do know a
image courtesy of PlantBasedGuerilla 
lot about the diets of civilizations that have survived. And real warriors definitely eat potatoes, rice, corn and other starches.

All large populations of trim, healthy people, throughout verifiable human history, have obtained the bulk of their calories from starch. Examples of once-thriving people include Japanese, Chinese, and other Asians eating sweet potatoes, buckwheat, and/or rice; Incas in South America eating potatoes; Mayans and Aztecs in Central America eating corn; and Egyptians in the Middle East eating wheat.  (excerpt from McDougal's paper on Paleo)

McDougal does a thorough job skewing some of the claims of Paleo, because he thinks it perpetuates the low-carb craze that has been shown time and again to be unhealthy.  I do agree with him, but I also think there's a lot to like about Paleo.  If Paleo to you means eating less packaged foods, sugar and overly processed foodlike substances, that's fantastic.  My hope is to get away from labels like vegan, low-card, paelo and focus on what we (and science) can all agree on.  Eating more whole plant foods should not be a diet, it should be a lifestyle for healthy civilizations.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Coconut Oil: Miracle Food or Marketing Magic

Superfood is a term that I hear tossed around a lot these days.  Wander anywhere near the snack or supplement aisle of your local heath food store and you're guaranteed to see this word plastered all over the place. But what exactly is a superfood?
The word "superfood" dates all the way back to 1915 when it first appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary defined as "a food considered to be especially nutritious or otherwise beneficial to health and well-being."  The meaning hasn't changed much since then, although I've seen superfood used to describe any nutrient-rich food that promotes health and wellbeing.  I tend to think of superfoods as rare or more unusual whole-foods like acai, maca and mulberries or even chia and quinoa which have become more common (but only recently).  I would argue that foods don't need to be exotic to match the definition of superfood.  There are plenty of everyday superfoods like kale, beets, hemp, garlic, broccoli and just about every kind of berry. Generally, however, the term superfood conveys more than just nutrient-rich foods, especially when it's used in food marketing.
Julie Morris, author of Superfood Kitchen, writes about the problematic use of superfoods:
With such a catchy name--super (yay!) plus food (yum!)-- and currently no official boundaries on verbiage claims, it's easy to see how such a term would become exploited as a flashy selling point, with food companies and marketing professionals attempting to make their products seem more beneficial (i.e. sugary with superfoods!). In Europe, the problem of this misleading hype became so prevalent, the European Union banned using the term "superfood" on products that do not clearly provide some kind of credible scientific documentation to back up the claim.
Unfortunately in America, there are no restrictions on using the word superfood, and its original meaning has been hijacked.  If you look at the vast majority of packaged and heavily marketed superfoods, you could easily replace the word "superfood" with "miracle food" to match the hyperbole of the claims listed on the labels.  There are exceptions of course, as in many of the nutrient rich whole plant foods with only one ingredient listed on the label.  I have no issue with companies selling us whole or minimally processed superfoods which actually stick to the original definition.  I do, however, have a beef with processed (not whole) foods that put a stake in the ground of the superfood isle.
One of the greatest misappropriations of the word superfood I've seen is when it's applied to oil.  In the case of olive oil, usually the term people see is "heart-healthy," which is really a stretch (I'll get into that in another post). To put it simply, olive oil is one of the most heavily processed or extracted foods. It doesn't matter if it's extra-virgin, cold-pressed, organic or still takes almost 400 olives to make a single gallon if olive oil. The whole food is stripped away, and you're left with the pure extracted oil, or fat. How on earth could that be considered a healthy whole food?
The other culprit that has miraculously perpetuated nutrition myths is coconut oil.  It was only around 2004 that coconut oil suddenly became all the rage.  Coconut oil is now thought of a "superfood" among many foodies and health aficionados, but not among plant-based nutritionists.  The science simply does not support the claims made by the coconut oil industry.  If you're skeptical because you've heard some of the marketing claims, I urge you to read Jeff Novick's article summarizing the science vs. the claims made by the industry: The Real Coconut Oil Miracle. We should always be skeptical of any food that has to market its supposed health benefits.  Note that coconuts, nor olives themselves have any claims on their packaging.  Once you introduce a process that extracts a whole food into a processed packaged food, you've stripped away the healthy context. The real miracle about nutrition that scientists are beginning to understand is that whole foods work like a symphony. If we try to extract what we thought was beneficial from a whole food, we're left with an unnatural abstraction that the body does not know how to deal with.
Dr. Gregor also has a few videos looking that the best science available on coconut oil.
So if you're shopping for superfoods, remember that the biggest superfood section of your grocery store is the isle that has fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole nutrient rich nuts and grains, seeds and legumes.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Wanderlust Brooklyn's Yoga Triathlon

This past weekend, Wanderlust held its first Yoga in the City event in Brooklyn.  The festival combined a 5k run, an inspirational meditation and a massive outdoor yoga class -- a yogic triathlon.  Although the skies were gray, our collective sun salutations kept the rain clouds at bay and it turned into a glorious day.
Leading the pre-run stretch was Kristin McGee, who is one of my first yoga instructors when I moved to the city after college.  I was overjoyed to catch up with Mrs. McGee who is now one of the most renowned teachers on the East Coast.  She has contagious sense of humor, which is a good thing when you're about to run a race.
I had flashbacks to races I ran regularly as a cross country running in high school which quickly faded as we left the starting gate.  Once the hard core runners left the pack, I settled into stride with my yoga peeps.  This was not a race against other runners, it was a race against the barriers to mindfulness that are constant in the city.  After the cars, trains and crowds I endured to get all the way down to Prospect Park, time seemed to stand still.
Often when I run I'm listening to music or taking in the surroundings if I'm outside.  I let my mind wander and make a conscious effort to think about anything other than exactly what I'm doing. The monotony of putting one foot in front of the other, over long distances, is usually not something I like to think about.  Running with a bunch of yogis, I was able to find the joy in the stride. The space between strides seemed to lengthen.  I observed the air between my feet and the ground and the inertia of the pack. If at any point a running seemed to fatigue, they were swept up in the wave of positive energy, cheers and encouragement.
I've never enjoyed running in a race as much as I did this weekend.  So much gratitude goes out to all who participated and helped organize Wanderlust Brooklyn.  I hope they do this again next year!
Kristin McGee and Wanderlust Brooklyn Organizers

Friday, September 12, 2014

How Healthy is a Raw Diet?

Today on the Leonard Lopate show there was a good discussion of popular raw food diets.  The two guests, Dr. David Katz, founding director of Yale University's Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, and Dr. Rui Hai Liu. professor in the Department of Food Science at Cornell University, do a great job explaining the science behind raw vs. cooked foods.  The science does support significant benefits to eating raw living foods like sprouts, leafy greens, nuts and fruits.  Cooking certain vegetables can diminish the nutrients, but not all foods and it often depends on the method.  Some of the nutrients in foods, like lycopene in tomatoes, actually become more bioavailable after cooking.   I wholeheartedly agree with the guests that the bottom line is that we should not worry so much whether we're getting enough raw vs. cooked, because foods are only good for us if we actually eat them.  We should choose the method that's going to get us to eat enough healthy whole foods, vegetables and fruits.

Listen to the discussion here:

Some of my favorite dinners combine both cooked and raw foods.  If I'm going to make a large salad for dinner, I like to start with a base of raw leafy greens, crunchy sweet peppers and cucumbers and then layer additional cooked foods like sweet potatoes, beets and squash or gains like quinoa and brown rice.  This is simply because I like the taste of sweet potatoes and similar foods much better when they are cooked.  I also find that the combination of cooked and raw makes me feel more satiated, perhaps because it frees me to use virtually any kind of vegetable I like best.  If I'm making  a large salad, I find this yin-yang approach to mixing methods produces terrific results.

Sweet Potato Quinoa Salad with Raw Mixed Vegetables and Sticky Pecans

Raw Ingredients:
Mixed greens, torn or rough chopped
Mixed sprouts
Mixed color sweet peppers
Red cabbage, shredded or diced
Cucumber, diced
Tomato, diced
Basil, thyme or other fresh herbs and spices

Cooked ingredients:
Quinoa, cooked with diced sweet onions
Sweet potato, baked or steamed and diced
Squash (butternut or kabocha are great), baked and diced

To make the pecans:
1 pear
1/2 cup pecans
Dash of Cayenne pepper
Dash of salt

Puree the pear with the pepper and salt to make a mixture.  In a small bowl coat the pecans thoroughly with the puree and pour into a small parchment lined baking dish.  Back for 10-15 minutes at 325F checking periodically to make sure it does not burn.  The pecans should turn golden and get very sticky but you don't want them charred or they will taste rancid.

Combine all ingredients with your favorite dressing of choice and enjoy!
Sweet Potato Quinoa Salad with Raw Mixed Vegetables and Sticky Pecans

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Cooking Can Change Your Life

The single most determinant decision in a healthy diet is not has nothing to do with how much we eat, the kinds of foods we eat, or ratios of carbs, protein and fats. Simply cooking your own food, can transform your life.  Watch Michael Pollan explain the power of cooking in this animated RSA short:

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Anna Yoga - An Introduction to the Yoga of Nourishment

Proper diet and nutrition plays an essential role in yoga.  The ancient yogis were well aware of the effects of food on our mind and body, and in fact, dedicated a whole branch of yoga to it.  The yoga of food is called Anna Yoga, after the Sanskrit word for nourishment.  Some say its origins related to the Hindu Goddess, Annapurna who is said to nourish the whole universe with spiritual and physical food.  Anna Yoga is not just about keeping a healthy diet, it is about the connection of consciousness to nourishment, and the experience of food.
I've always thought of my own experience and knowledge of food much like music; it's an endless exploration that can take you all the way around the world.  The more I learned, the more I realized I did not yet know.  Like music, nothing can substitute for the direct experience.  No two people will listen or taste art in the same way, yet there are universal principles and qualities that are well understood.  When I start to think about it, the parallels between yoga, food and music are endless in the context of a journey of self-knowledge through experiences.
I wrote recently about being conscious of the energy, effort and attitude while cooking, as it affects the taste of our food.  Taking this a step further, when we create or provide food for someone with love, we nourish them with that love.  It is not just some ungraspable energy of love that someone makes the food taste better.  There is a science to it.  When we cook with love, we are most conscious of the ingredients and care we put into our food.  We use the best ingredients.  We handle the food with care and ensure the food is cooked properly.
Does this mean that a busy parents trying to nourish their children but feel they don't have the time to cook perfect meals are any less giving of love?  Of course not. Just as in yoga, the effort and intentions behind our actions carry great manifestations.  Anyone can create nourishing meals, with as much or as little time as they have.  I believe this is where knowledge and tradition play a role.  Most Americans today spend far less time in the kitchen (both cooking and eating) than at any point in our history, and far less than other cultures in the world.  I'm hopeful that this trend will reverse.  Meals do not have to be elaborate to be healthy, especially when you consider that most whole plant-foods are already in their perfect state -- often the less you do to process them will retain the most nutrients.  Many foods can be prepared quickly in advance or cooked in batches with a bit of planning.  When we collaborate on food and cook together, not just as a family but as a community we can make nourishing food even easier to create.  This is the idea behind the "Slow Food" movement.  I love this quote by the great food writer Michael Pollan:
"Cooking connects, It connects you to plants and animals and fungi, to nature and your community—but it especially connects you to other people."
Could our connection to cooking be one of the most grounding foundations of our lives?  Pollan thinks so, and I tend to agree with him.  The more I think about about the nature of food, the more I realize how it is connected to our greatest challenges.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Slaying the Plant Protein Myth

If I could summarize all my thoughts on the nutrition myths surrounding protein, they could not be better stated than in Rich Roll's latest blog, "Slaying the Protein Myth."

Recently, a fan also made
this excellent video version with images that exemplify the plant-based warrior and destroy the myth that plant-based athletes struggle to get enough protein.  What I find most interesting is that most of these athletes overcame tremendous challenges not in spite of being plant-based, but usually as a result of being plant-based.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Watermelon Basil Superfood Smoothie

Juicy red watermelon is a wonderful refreshing summer treat. It has very high water content (92%!!!) while retaining a subtle crunchy texture. The water drenched sweetness makes it one my go-to fruits to re-hydrate and replenish depleted muscle glycogen after a hard workout.  Watermelon is an unusual fruit source of lycopene and a rich source of phenolic antioxidants. Most people think of tomatoes as a high lycopene fruit, so it may be surprising that watermelon, especially the deep red fleshed variety, can have higher lycopene content.
Watermelon also contains cucurbitacin E, a triterpene anti-inflammatory phytonutrient, and unusual amounts of the amino acid citrulline. It is a great source of vitamin C and a good source of pantothenic acid, copper, biotin, potassium, vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids), vitamin B1, vitamin B6, and magnesium.
The watermelons from my local CSA are often humongous and arrive consistently.  They can be a challenge to use up!  Fortunately they are easy to freeze.  Frozen watermelon makes a great treat on its own, and it's also the fruit in my favorite superfood smoothie. The only trick to freezing watermelon is to set individual pieces on parchment paper or a cookie sheet to keep them from sticking together.  Once the pieces are frozen they can be transferred to a container and stored all summer.
To make this smoothie, you just need a cup or two of frozen watermelon, a dark leafy green, nut milk and your favorite herb.  I enjoy frozen watermelon smoothies with mint, cardamon or basil, which I like best.  I also found that beet greens work really well since they retain some of the red color, although generally the smoothie will turn brown in the milk if you use a lot, like I do.

Watermelon Basil Superfood Smoothie


1 1/2-cups frozen watermelon slices
1/2 cup almond milk
1/2 cup dark leafy greens
2-3 leafs of basil
1 tbsp hemp seeds, chia or flax
1 tbsp dired goji berries


  1. Throw all ingredients except for the goji berries in the blender.
  2. Blend on low until well combined, gradually turning speed to high until very smooth.
  3. Pour into a glass and garnish with goji berries and extra basil.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Instant Way to Boost Your Happiness With Gratitude

In Princeton today we're celebrating "Happiness Day" by bringing together members of our community and local organizations to learn about service opportunities and practice yoga.  I'm overflowing with gratitude after four-hours of yoga, mindfulness and community sharing! Thank you YogaStreamYogaSoulRise Power YogaGratitude YogaRomy Yoga & Personal TrainingEd TsengFamily Guidance Center CorporationPalmer Square - Princeton NJlululemon athletica Princeton and all the amazing people who came together to share happiness with each other.
Here's a short video by Brian Johnson of Philosopher's Notes and Entheos Academy on gratitude and the idea of "Grateful Flow"

Friday, September 5, 2014

Bangin' Bharta with Ginger, Miso and Black Garlic

eggplant twins!
Baingan bharta is a traditional vegetarian charred eggplant dish found in Indian and Pakistani cuisines.  The word "bharta" refers to ingredients that are roughly mashed and can be made from a variety of vegetables.  I'm not sure if eggplant, or baingan bharta is the most popular variety, but I love ordering it at my local Indian restaurant.  Perhaps just because I love saying the name :-)

I bought a beautiful basket of organic Asian eggplants at a local farmer's market and wanted to try making INDIAN BAIGAN BHARTA - CHAR ROASTED EGGPLANT DIP, I developed my own variation using fermented black garlic.
The smooth smokiness of fire-roasted eggplant made me think that some sweet sticky black garlic would pair nicely.  This was actually the first time I've used black garlic at home.  When I opened up the cloves I was struck by its heavenly caramelized smell and molasses like texture.  It reminded me of red miso paste, so I thought why not combine these three rich savory foods into one bangin' dish.
Top: black garlic, Bottom: red miso
Here's the result:
Bangin' Bharta with Ginger, Miso and Black Garlic


12-baby Asian eggplants
2-ripe tomatoes
1-medium shallot
4-cloves of black garlic
2-tsp red or mellow miso
1"-finger of ginger
1-green chili
2-tsp whole cumin seed
1-tsp smoked paprika
1-bunch cilantro
1 to 2 tsp lime juice or apple cider vinegar
Salt to taste


  1. Preheat oven or grill to 450F.
  2. Cut eggplants in half lengthwise and arrange the halves on a baking sheet skin-side down.
  3. Sprinkle salt over the eggplant and let rest while preparing the other ingredients.
  4. Core and deseed the tomatoes.
  5. Peel the skins off the garlic.
  6. Finely mince the chilli and shallot.
  7. Add the tomato, garlic, miso, ginger, and lime juice to a high speed blender (I use a NutriBullet, which
    I find is works better for small sauces than trying to scrape out of a Vitamix) and blend into a smooth paste.  Add a dash of water if necessary to get nice and smooth.
  8. After 15-20 minutes your eggplants should release some water, pat them dry with a clean towel and arrange on a baking sheet cut-side down if baking.
  9. Bake or grill your eggplants for 15-20 minutes until the skins begins to crinkle and char.
  10. When done the inside of eggplant should be easy to scoop out.  Separate the inside from the skin using a spoon into a large bowl, reserving the skins.
  11. (Optional) Finely chop the skins if you want to use them and add to the bowl.
  12. Crush the cumin seed in a mortal and pestle or process in a spice grinder.
  13. Roughly chop the cilantro, reserving a bit for garnish.
  14. Add all remaining ingredients except the paprika to the bowl.
  15. Pour the tomato mixture into the bowl.
  16. Mash and mix together with a fork until well combine.
  17. Sprinkle the top with paprika and garnish with cilantro.
Enjoy with homemade nan or brown rice crackers.

Bangin' Bharta served with homemade brown rice crisps

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Food is the Foundation Upon Which We Build Our LIves

Christina Pirello of "the fantastic plant-based PBS cooking show "Christina Cooks" is one of the chefs I admire most (and she's a yogi too).  I had the pleasure of meeting Christina at my local WFs and quickly understood how she became so successful.  She's a master of culinary arts and nutrition, deeply passionate, hard working and she has a huge personality.  What I enjoyed most about seeing her in person was to taste her personality in her cooking.  In other words, the food she creates tastes positively full of passion and personality -- which you could see in how she moved in the kitchen.
As she was cooking she was smiling, laughing and talking to the audience.  She told jokes and shared personal stories, some serious and some light.  She moved through steps of her recipe effortlessly (though not without effort) like sequences in a beautiful vinyasa flow. And like a yoga instructor, her explanations guided us perfectly through the experience.  I'll never forget what she said about cooking stress:
The way that you feel affects the food you cook.  If you are stressed-out, rushing, or constantly searching for things, your food is not going to taste as good.
I took away so much from the class, even though I'd made the recipe she showcased before.  The art of cooking is a union of mind and body.  It's not just how we feel when we cook, but the consciousness and the decisions we make.  We choose with each meal we eat whether we are fighting disease or promoting it.  Christina has a wonderfully sensual way of writing about the art of cooking over at HuffPo where she describes this:
When we cook for ourselves, we decide how we'll feel every day. We decide how we'll behave, how we'll handle stress, how we'll interact with our families and friends. The kind of food we choose and prepare is the fuel that operates us. Think about it. We put superior petrol in our cars so they'll run smoothly. But we think we can subsist on drive-thru. Make sense? Not to me.
I highly recommend reading this piece.  It is such a beautiful piece of writing.  And definitely check her shows on PBS too. She has a remarkable story about how she cured herself from leukemia by changing her diet dramatically.  If you like what you see and want to learn more, she offers classes through her website.  Thank you, Christina, for sharing your art, wisdom and passion for cooking with the world.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Profondo Roso - Base Recipe for Red Sauce

Semi-dried heirloom tomatoes
The first step in making a great base tomato sauce is to prep your tomatoes.  Always start with high quality tomatoes (organic preferred) at peak ripeness.  Removing the skin is easy and will make it them easier to digest and easier to chop.  Just score an x on the bottom of each tomato, boil a large pot of water, prepare an ice bath and blanch them for about 20-30 seconds.  The skins will easily peel off.  There is some debate among chefs whether we should remove the seeds.  I've found that different varieties of local tomatoes have very different tasting seeds, and many are quite bitter.  So I usually remove them, but others tell me they don't notice the difference.  Finally, dice your tomatoes to your desired chunkiness.  Now you're ready to prepare your mise-en-place.

Profondo Rosso Sauce (takes about 1 hr: 20-min prep, 40 min cook time)

  • 6-8 cups peeled, seeded, diced tomatoes
  • 1-2 cups basil leaves
  • 1-cup diced sweet onion or 1/2-red onion and 1/2-sweet
  • 1.5-2 cups strained tomatoes or 1-cup tomato paste
  • 5-6 cloves of finely diced garlic
  • 1-tbsp dried thyme or 2-tbsp fresh
  • 2-tsp dried oregano or 1-tbsp fresh
  • Sea salt to taste


  1. Dry saute the onions for a minute or two until they become translucent but not browned. If they begin to brown or stick, add a tbsp of water or two and use a wooden spatula to keep them from sticking.
  2. Add a pinch or two of salt to taste
  3. Turn down the heat to medium low and add the garlic, thyme and oregano.
  4. Add a bit more water as necessary to sweat the ingredients without browning them, for about 5 minutes until they become very soft and release their sugars.
  5. Add the diced tomatoes and strained tomatoes and stir until well combined.
  6. Turn down the heat until you achieve a low simmer and cook for another 20-30 minutes until the sauce is reduced by about 1/3 or until you reach your desired consistency.  Taste the sauce periodically during cooking and add additional seasoning if desired.
  7. Chiffonade the basil and turn off the heat.
  8. Add the basil to the sauce and stir.
Creamy Tomato Sauce over Veg Noodles and Quinoa

Now you have a fantastic base recipe to build on.  Here are my a few of my favorite variations:

  • Creamy tomato pasta sauce:  Blend 3/4 cup of cashews with the zest and juice of one lemon and add to the base
  • Marsala mushroom wine sauce: Add 1/2 cup of marasala wine + 1 cup of porcini mushrooms
  • Canneloni Beet Greens and Tomato stew: Saute an onion, 1-cup cannelloni beans and add 2 cups of the base sauce, turn off heat and add 3-4 heaping cups of beet greens, mix together to wilt greens.
  • Easy Gaszpatcho: chill the base sauce, add diced cucumber, diced red pepper, juice of a lime and ground pepper and cumin.
  • Pizza sauce: soak 5-6 dates in water, drain and then blend dates with some of the base sauce. Combine the mixture to the rest of the base and add 1/2 cup nutritional yeast and 1-2 tbsp red pepper flakes.  Optionally add shaved hazelnuts for a parmesan consistency.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Philosophy of Working from the Base

Yoga is a practice that helps us feel grounded, physically and mentally. Even if we practice just one of the asanas, with some consistency, we would feel this benefit -- the act of slowing down, focusing on our breath, increasing our awareness and our sense of self.  It is easy to lose our sense of self in our daily routines, and in the constantly changing hyper-connected world.  Taking a little time out of our busy schedules each day to stop and meditate is the key to cultivating a strong foundation in yoga.  Everything starts from a solid base, in yoga, cooking and life.

When we start with a strong base, we are free to explore (and sometimes soar).  Because even if we fall down, we can always come back to the base to feel rooted and try again.  Depending on the posture, the physical base will change.  Whether we're standing on our feet or our hands, the foundation begins with our breath.

In cooking school, we are also taught the importance of working from the base.  Whether the dish is a canape, a pasta or a dessert -- a recipe is built from a foundation.  For ingredients to taste good together, they have to be balanced on a base.  A slice of raw chocolate pie would not be as satisfying without a sweet, salty, textured crust.  The finest olives in the world would not make a savory putenesca out of rancid tomato sauce.

Building from the base is one of my favorite lessons from yoga and cooking.  In a recent class I learned how to take a basic red sauce and turn it into ten completely different dishes.  This is known as a base sauce.  In Chinese cuisine, for example, it commonly calls for a brown sauce.  If you search for a recipe for Chinese brown sauce, you'll find a thousand different variations.  Some use oyster sauce, others tamari, or liquid aminos, but the thing that they all have in common is their essence.  All brown sauces are rooted with certain properties like color, taste profile, consistency and sweetness that may vary from recipe to recipe, but if they are authentic, they can be identified as brown sauce.  They retain their essence, much like how in yoga we start with our breath until we feel grounded and connected with our self.

The beautiful thing about a base recipe is that it can be transformed into something completely new.  This is called a "mother recipe" because it spawns "children."  The offspring of the always retain some qualities from the base, but they can take on unique identities.  A great example of a mother recipe is a plain hummus:

  • chickpeas
  • tahini
  • lemon juice
  • garlic
  • salt

These five ingredients make a quick and easy base to build all sorts of offspring recipes.  Here are a few favorites:

  • add a roasted red pepper and smoked paprika to make red pepper hummus
  • add minced cilantro and jalapeno to make a spicy cool hummus
  • add dill and lemon zest to make a zesty spring hummus
  • blend with apple cider vinegar and chopped dates to make a tahini dressing
  • mix with chopped sun-dried tomatoes and basil for a mediterranean dip
  • add pre-soaked raisins and dates and a scoop of peanut butter to make a sweet savory pbj spread

In my next post, I'll share one of my favorite base recipes -- the mother of recipe of all mothers when it comes to building a base from beautiful New Jersey tomatoes.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Welcome to the plant-based party

Welcome to my new blog, The Plant-Based Yogi, where I'll be sharing experiences about yoga and plant-based living.  While I've been vegan for the past three years, last month I completed a Plant-Based Professional Cooking and Nutrition certification from Rouxbe.  It was an incredible experience that deepened my appreciation of healthy food and increased the pleasure I get from cooking and sharing recipes with friends.  My goal with starting this blog is to give back to the amazing community of plant-based bloggers, yogis and writers that inspire me.

The timing of this first post also coincides with the start of the Vegan Month of Food, or veganmofo for short.  VeganMoFo's idea is simple:  write as much as you can all month, about vegan food.  I missed the deadline to be included this year but that doesn't mean I can't join in on the fun.  So here it goes!

These are a few pictures from the final task in my Rouxbe class: plant-based party foods.  We had to create canapes, or small dishes that focused on delivering satiating flavors with just a bite or two.

1) Southern Style BBQ Seitan, Shitake Negamaki with Chive Biscuits
Bbq seitan thinly sliced over a chive almond-milk drop biscuit, topped with roasted shitake gravy.

2) Beet Caviar in Belgian Endive Boats
Finely minced beets mixed with lemon juice, topped with cashew creme and orange zest, served in endive over candy cane beet slices.

3) Aged Nut Cheese Skewers with Semi-dried Heirloom Tomato, Basil and Raspberry sauce
Two kinds of nut cheese: a cashew boursin— cashews, probiotic powder, nutritional yeast, mellow miso, crushed garlic, onion powder, and dried basil and thyme. I also experimented with a smokey hazelnut cheese made from hazelnuts, probiotics, smoked paprika, mustard powder, applecider vinegar, apple puree, salt and pepper. The cheese took the most effort in terms of preperation, since I had to let the cheese ferment and then dry in the dehydrator.
Each cheese was robust on their own so I wanted to select simple complimentary flavors, but they had to be as bold as the cheese or they would just get overpowered. Fresh bright basil leaves, seemed to be an obvious choice, and the acid and sweet of semi-dried heirloom cherry tomatoes also worked to make the classic basil, tomato, cheese pairing. But when I tried it, I still thought I was missing something. It had bitter, sweet, sour, acid, umami, creaminess and texture but it was almost too bitter — so what would brighten this? Simple reduced raspberry sauce. Fresh raspberries reduced with water and bit of lemon juice. This and a tiny hit of mustard made a flavor bomb. So complex, intense. My guests went nuts for this. I made larger skewers with yellow heirloom tomatoes, so I used a few quarter slices to garnish along with the whole grain mustard.

These canapes were fun to make and easy to consume!  I'll be hosting a housewarming party in a few weeks and I'll definitely be making these again.  What made this assignment so much fun is learning how we eat with our eyes first. When you present food in a beautiful appealing way, it actually makes the food taste better.

If you have a favorite plant-based party dish, please share!