Salad Samurai

I’ve been enjoying a new cookbook hot off the presses – Salad Samurai – by Terry Hope SaladRomero that my sister gave me because she knows my family isn’t big on just eating salad for dinner, even when loaded with lots of good toppings.  Salad Samurai is definitely helping me convert them into salad lovers!

Terry Hope Romero and Isa Chandra Moskowitz wrote Veganomicon, The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook (and it is!!), and in more recent years both have had lots of success writing cookbooks solo.  Veganomicon was my first go to cookbook – the vegan holy book perhaps – and was the basis of a few of my favorite blog recipes like Cheez (modified from Cashew Ricotta in Veganomicon) and Sloppy Lennies (modified from Snobby Joes in Veganomicon).  If I could have taken a year off work to cook through a cookbook, this would have been the first on my list.

Our favorite Salad Samurai dish so far has been the Bacon Kale Tomato Bowl, which we adapted as the BLTA (bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado) Bowl with Romero’s fabulous Back at the Ranch dressing.  The Tempeh Bacon Bites needed little adaptation, so I only removed the oil from the marinade, though you may need some oil spray for the cast iron pan.  Back at the Ranch dressing also contained a small amount of oil, but I found replacing it with ground flax seed worked beautifully.  If you don’t have ground flax seed on hand, just halve the amount of water in the recipe and  after blending all ingredients add it gradually if needed.

Tempeh Bacon 

8 oz organic tempeh

2 T maple syrup

2 T organic tamari

1 T ketchup (without high fructose corn syrup!)

1/4 t liquid smoke

Slice the tempeh into 1/4 inch strips and then into ~1 inch long pieces (bite-sized).  Whisk remaining ingredients in a small bowl and marinate tempeh in the refrigerator overnight or at least for 10 minutes.  Preheat a cast iron pan over medium heat and lightly spray with oil if needed.  Reserve the marinade and cook tempeh pieces for 2-3 minutes on each side or until lightly browned.  Add marinade and simmer until it has absorbed.  Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Back at the Ranch Dressing

1/2 c raw cashew pieces

1/2 to 3/4 c water

2 T fresh lemon juice

1 T ground flax seeds

1 clove garlic or 1 t crushed garlic

2 t organic white miso

2 t Dijon mustard

1 t garlic powder

1 t onion powder

up to 3 T chopped fresh herbs such as dill, basil, or tarragon

Put all the ingredients in a high powered blender and blend until smooth.  (Without a high powered blender, you’ll need to soak the cashew pieces in water for 30 min or nuke in water for 15 seconds then drain and add to blender.)  The dressing thickens with refrigeration but if you don’t have much time to chill it, start with 1/2 c water and add more later if needed.  If you don’t have ground flax seeds, you’ll miss out on omega-3 fatty acids and selenium, but you can still make a thinner dressing starting with just 1/4 c water and adding more later if needed.  My plain Jane family doesn’t care for dill, so we’ve been eating this dressing without the fresh herbs, and it works fine.  I’m sure it will serve as a great base for other recipes too.

BLTA Salad

Shredded greens (lettuce, kale, spinach, etc)

Tempeh Bacon

Tomatoes, diced

Avocado, diced

Back at the Ranch dressing

I also adapted Romero’s BBQ Tempeh ‘N’ Dilly Slaw Bowl to fit my needs (which are almost always fewer ingredients and less time).  Romero’s inspiration of serving BBQ tempeh on a bed of slaw (and the BBQ potato chips) fits right at home here in NC.  When you’re designing your next salad, remember that cabbage is a great base with many health benefits- not just vitamins C and E, selenium, and fiber.

Cabbage is an easily forgotten member of the cruciferous family, same as broccoli.  Because people who eat generous amounts of cruciferous vegetables have remarkably low cancer rates, researchers have tried to isolate the compounds responsible for the anti-cancer effects.  One way cruciferous vegetables impact hormone dependent cancers is to change the way estrogens are broken down and eliminated.  Normally, estradiol (which is a potent estrogen) is metabolized to 16 alpha-hydroxyestrone, which encourages cancer cell growth in test tubes.  However the presence of a cruciferous vegetable extract (indole-3-carbinol) causes the body to convert more of the estradiol to 2-hydroxyestrone, which has anticancer activity. (Bell et al 2000; Barnard and Reilly 2008)

So make the BBQ Slaw Bowl below or use cabbage in your next delicious salad, and kudos to Terry on another fabulous book!

BBQ Slaw Bowl

Organic tempeh

All natural barbecue sauce

Shredded cabbage and carrots

Optional: thinly sliced onion

Back at the Ranch dressing

Optional: BBQ potato chips, pickles

Toss the cabbage, carrots, and onion (if using) with the Ranch dressing.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Slice the tempeh into 1/4 inch strips or triangles and marinate in the barbecue sauce for at least 10 minutes or overnight in the refrigerator.  In a preheated cast iron skillet over medium high heat, cook the tempeh for 2-3 minutes on each side or until lightly browned.

Serve the BBQ tempeh warm or at room temperature atop the slaw.  Sprinkle with BBQ  potato chips if using or serve with a pickle spear or slices.



Bell MC, Crowley-Nowick R, Bradlow HL et al. Placebo-controlled trial of indole-3-carbinol in the treatment of CIN. Gynecol Oncol 2000; 78:123-129.

Barnard ND, Reilly JK. The Cancer Survivor’s Guide. 2008

Perhaps It’s the Why

As you are making or enforcing your new year’s resolutions, consider the why.  Why are you resolving to lose weight, exercise more, or eat healthier?  If the why isn’t strong enough, you’ll struggle with the resolve needed to make the right decisions multiple times each day, day after day to meet your goal.  So dig deeper.  If last year’s goal to lose 10 lbs or cut out fried foods didn’t work, reconsider why this goal is so important to you.  If the why is there, if it is truly important to you, then you can do it- you can do hard things.  And the benefits will be greater than you think.  Making a lifestyle change provides energy to make other changes, to change other habits, to spend less time couch sitting and more time having fun.

Once you’ve figured out the why, plan out exactly how you’re going to keep your resolution.  Leo Babauta has great advice on sticking to a habit .  Perhaps you need to always have fresh fruits and veggies with you (at home AND at work) to snack on when cravings erupt or only order salads when you eat out.  Perhaps you need to find a workout buddy or pay your kid to exercise with you, which has a bonus of getting extra one on one time with your offspring.  Read this post  for tips on meal planning and prep for the week. 

Start now- while you’re thinking about it and energized to make a change- list out a few whole food plant based meals for the next week.  Plan to make at least 3 meals you are familiar with (spaghetti with marinara sauce, salad and baked potatoes, refried bean quesadillas, vegetable soup, etc) so you have no more than 3 new recipes to try and one night of leftovers.  Then gather the recipes and make a grocery list of the ingredients you don’t already have. 

After grocery shopping, immediately wash all of your produce.  Lastly, set aside 2 hours to prep the week’s meals, some in entirety but definitely any sauces or steps that take more than 30 minutes.

As an example, this is what we’re eating over the next week and how I’ll prep the meals:

Black Eyed Pea Salad over shredded lettuce with a side of brown rice

  • In advance
    • Cook the black eyed peas or use canned/frozen
    • Make the black eyed pea salad and brown rice in advance for a 5 minute meal
  • Evening of
    • Make the black eyed pea salad and brown rice if you haven’t already
    • Reheat the brown rice if you made it in advance

Stuffed Squash with green beans

  • In advance
    • Cook the acorn squash (tips here) and the wild rice
  • Evening of
    • Stuff the squash and reheat in the oven or microwave
    • Steam or microwave green beans

Chicken-like Seitan Cutlets and Lentil Gravy with mashed sweet potatoes and sautéed greens

  • In advance
    • Make the Chicken-like Seitan
    • Cook the sweet potatoes and peel once they have cooled
    • Make the lentils and caramelize the onions for the gravy
  • Evening of
    • Slice seitan into cutlets and grill or sauté; try Chicken Baked Fake Steak if you have more time
    • Make the gravy and mash the sweet potatoes
    • Sauté the greens with minced garlic (add small amounts of water and cover to steam, adding a splash of lemon juice at the end) or like this with raisins and pine nuts

Irish Stew (Slow Cooker)

  • In advance
    • Chop the veggies either the night before or in the morning as you’re starting the slow cooker
  • Evening of
    • Add leftover veggies at end of cooking, such as green beans or acorn squash

Baked Ziti

  • In advance
  • Evening of
    • After making the penne, pour the cashew cheese and tomatoes into the pot over medium low heat until warmed through (feel free to cover and bake if time is not an issue)

Baked Bean Chili (Slow Cooker)

  • Morning of
    • Add ingredients to slow cooker, stir, and turn on low


Black Eyed Pea Salad

32 oz drained and rinsed or 3 c cooked black eyed peas

1 red bell pepper, diced

¼ c red onion, diced

2 T pepper or jalapeno jelly

1 T red wine vinegar

½ t salt

¼ t freshly ground pepper

2 avocados, diced

Mix the black eyed peas, red bell pepper, and onion in a medium lidded container.  In a small bowl, mix the jelly, vinegar, salt, and pepper.  Add the jelly mixture to the black eyed pea mixture and stir to incorporate.  Cover and refrigerate.  Just before serving, add diced avocados and stir.


Baked Ziti

1 batch of Cashew Ricotta

16 oz whole grain penne pasta (wheat, rice, quinoa etc)

28 oz fire roasted diced tomatoes

Tomato sauce or additional tomatoes, optional

Cook the pasta according to the package directions and drain.  Return the pasta to the pot over low heat and add the cashew ricotta and tomatoes.  Stir well and cover until warmed through.


Lentil Gravy (adapted from Isa Chandra Moskowitz)

1 yellow onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

Pinch of salt

½ T dried thyme

½ t ground sage

½ t freshly ground pepper

1 ½ c cooked brown lentils

2 T white miso

1 ½ c vegetable broth

1 ½ T tapioca flour or arrowroot, optional

Saute the onion til lightly browned, using small amounts of water to prevent sticking.  Add the minced garlic and salt and continue cooking until onions are caramelized.  Stir in the thyme, sage, and freshly ground pepper.  Add lentils, miso, and vegetable broth and stir well.  Transfer to a blender and puree for ~2 minutes until gravy is smooth.  Return gravy to pot over low heat.  If gravy is too thick, add broth or water.  If gravy is too thin, make a slurry of tapioca flour or arrowroot with broth or water, then stir into gravy. 


Chicken Baked Fake Steak

1 c non-dairy milk

1 T apple cider vinegar

1 batch of Chicken-like Seitan

½ c bread crumbs

1 t poultry seasoning

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Make buttermilk by adding the vinegar to the non-dairy milk and letting it sit for 5 minutes to curdle.  Mix the poultry seasoning, salt, and pepper into the breadcrumbs.  Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly spray.  Slice the Chicken-like Seitan and dip into buttermilk then coat with breadcrumbs.  Bake at 350˚ for 15 to 20 minutes or until breadcrumbs are crispy.  Serve with Lentil Gravy.

Everyone’s Favorite Fruity Veggie

When the question of whether tomatoes are fruits or vegetables comes up at your next cocktail party, refer to the US Supreme Court case of Nix v. Hedden (1893).  In this case, the Court unanimously decided that rather than the botanical classification of tomato as a fruit (because it is seed-bearing and grows from the flowering part of a plant), the tomato should be classified under customs regulations as a vegetable, based on the ways in which it was used.  At the time, imported vegetables were taxed, but not fruits.

Regardless of the botanical or legal classification, tomatoes and tomato products (in addition to watermelon, guavas, papaya, and pink grapefruit) contain lycopene.  Lycopene is a carotenoid and is a much more powerful antioxidant than its chemical relative, beta-carotene.  It’s not just raw tomatoes that contain the powerful antioxidant- cooking tomatoes releases the lycopene from the plant’s cells, which increases our ability to absorb the lycopene.

To confirm previous findings that frequent tomato or lycopene intake was associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer, Giovannucci at al (2002) evaluated data from 47,365 participants in the prospective Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.  Consumption of tomato sauce, which contains a whopping 20 mg of lycopene per ½ cup, Barnard and Reilly 2008 was associated with an even greater reduction in prostate cancer risk.  Two servings of tomato sauce per week provided a 23% reduction in prostate cancer risk compared with those who rarely eat tomato products.  Men who consumed 10 or more servings of tomato products each week had a 35% reduction in prostate cancer risk.

If consuming 10 or more servings of tomatoes each week to significantly reduce your prostate cancer risk seems daunting, consider this:

  • Even pizza sauce and ketchup (in addition to spaghetti sauce) count as lycopene-rich tomoto products.

When planning meals this week, try out the Tomato Pie, Pasta Fagioli, and Panzanella recipes below, check out Shortcut Gazpacho with 23 mg lycopene per 1 cup tomato juice, and enjoy a snack of watermelon for 14 mg lycopene per 280 gram slice.

Please note, though, that tomatoes can be a common trigger for migraines, arthritis, and digestive problems.  To learn more about an elimination diet to determine what food may be triggering your poor circulation, inflammatory pain, hormone-related conditions, or metabolic and immune problems, check out Dr. Barnard’s book Foods That Fight Pain.  He recommends an elimination diet based on simple foods that are free of all common pain triggers.  Once your symptoms are gone or at least diminished, you slowly and systematically add other foods back into your diet.  Dr. Barnard provides tips on how to identify trigger foods and plenty of recipes with only foods included in the safe list.


Tomato Pie

2 to 2 ¼ lbs heirloom tomatoes, thinly sliced

½ to 1 t salt

1 sweet onion, diced and sautéed

1 c Cashew Ricotta pureed with ¾ c (½ can) white beans

¼ to ½ c fresh herbs (I used parsley and basil)

Freshly ground pepper

1 pie crust (prepared vegan pie crust such as Pillsbury or refer to Vegan Pie in the Sky for delicious pie crust recipes)

½ c whole wheat bread crumbs (use 1 c bread crumbs if not finely ground)

Spread the thinly sliced tomatoes on paper towels or a dish towel and sprinkle with salt.  After 10 minutes, use more paper towels or another dish towel to blot the salt and excess moisture from the tomato slices.

In the unbaked pie crust, layer the tomatoes, onions, herbs, and cashew ricotta bean mixture.  Sprinkle each layer with freshly ground pepper and top with breadcrumbs.  Bake at 350˚F for 30 minutes, shielding the pie crust if needed.  Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.


Pasta Fagioli

My mother-in-law, through her Italian heritage, handed this recipe down to us, though I think we may have abbreviated it over time.  The key that made this dish such a hit with my kids is that everything is pureed except the ditalini.  I did not grow up with real Italian food, so it reminds me of a fancy spaghetti-oes, which you likely loved unless you had authentic Italian food growing up like my husband.

1 large sweet onion, diced

6 cloves garlic, minced


2 28oz cans of Italian style stewed tomatoes

½ c fresh Italian parsley

2t dried basil

½ t freshly ground pepper

6c vegetable broth (low sodium preferred)

30 oz white beans

16 oz ditalini pasta (or another type of small pasta)

In a soup pot, sauté the onion and garlic in EVOO at least until tender, longer if you have time.  Add the tomatoes and herbs, reducing heat to medium low.  Stir frequently until fragrant, then add the broth and white beans.  Cover and cook at least 20 minutes but ideally for an hour or two to allow the flavors to fully develop.  Puree the soup in batches, using a dish towel to cover the blender, allowing steam to safely escape.  In a separate pot, boil the pasta, and only add the pasta to what is being served.

My family loves the leftovers of pasta fagioli too, because we combine the soup and the pasta.  When you do this, the pasta absorbs the liquid in the soup, and the pasta swells up significantly.  It’s like getting two for one because the meals look so different.

Once you’ve made the recipe, you can comment below about how to pronounce ‘fagioli’.  It is most often pronounced ‘fa-zool’ in the US (maybe because of “That’s Amore” but depending on the region in Italy, can be pronounced ‘fa-joe-lee’, ‘fah-djoh-lee’, or ‘fa-sool’.



16 oz whole wheat French or Italian bread or whole wheat bagels, cut into small cubes

1 seedless cucumber or 2 cucumbers seeds removed, peeled and diced

2 lbs heirloom or organic tomatoes, coarsely chopped

¼ red onion, thinly sliced

1/3 to ½ c fresh basil, torn

3 cloves garlic, minced

2T to ½ c Fat Free Balsamic Vinaigrette, homemade or bottled (or you can substitute high quality balsamic vinegar)

Optional ingredients to consider

¼ c kalamata olives, pitted and cut into quarters

1 avocado, pitted and diced

1 c fresh organic corn, removed from the cob

Mix the vegetables, herbs, and dressing in advance and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.  The bread cubes may be toasted in a 300˚F oven for 15 minutes to dry them out (this may not be needed if you are using day or two old bread).   After the bread cubes have cooled, toss them with vegetable mixture and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as needed.  Let sit 15 to 30 minutes before serving.

Most panzanella recipes contain ½ to 1 cup of olive oil, which in my mind totally opposes the point of eating fresh, raw summer veggies.  The volume of dressing needed will depend on how juicy your tomatoes are.  With really ripe tomatoes, I use very little dressing.  In the latest batch I made, I used about 2 T of high quality balsamic vinegar instead of dressing, and it was fabulous- tasted like bruschetta with a fork.  If you aren’t eating the panzanella all at one sitting, reserve some of the bread cubes to add the next time.


Fat Free Balsamic Vinaigrette (adapted from The Starch Solution)

Makes 1 cup

Use a ½ c measuring cup and add approximately equal amounts of balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, and unseasoned rice wine vinegar.  The higher quality vinegars you use, the better the flavor of the end result.  Adjust the proportions and vinegars to suit your liking.

2 cloves garlic

1/8 c ketchup

½ T Dijon mustard

½ to 1 T agave nectar

½ c water

¼ t powdered agar (Telephone brand powdered agar is available in small packets at Asian markets) or arrowroot

Add all ingredients except the agar/arrowroot to the blender, and blend until smooth.  While the blender is running, add the agar/arrowroot.  Continue to blend until the powder has been incorporated and dressing has thickened a bit (it will thicken more with refrigeration).  Taste and add more agave if needed.



Barnard, Neal. Foods That Fight Pain. 1998

Barnard ND, Reilly JK. The Cancer Survivor’s Guide. 2008

Giovannucci E, Rimm EB, Liu Y, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC. A prospective study of tomato products, lycopene, and prostate cancer risk. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2002 Mar 6;94(5):391-8.

McDougall, John and McDougall, Mary. The Starch Solution: Eat the Foods You Love, Regain Your Health, and Lose the Weight for Good. 2012


Photo Credit: Tomatoes

The Return to Reality

The return to reality after a week of vacation is no fun, but healthy meals will help everyone feel better through the transition back to the reality of  jobs and school.  Especially when our lives are busy, it’s critical to have meal planning habits to rely on to help us avoid the temptations and the OIBexpenses (both financial and health-related) of eating processed foods.  If you do not have a meal planning habit, now is the best time to start.

A day or two before I do my big grocery store run, I start planning the next week’s meals.  Never go to the store without a specific list of the meals planned for the week.  I also like to include a few lunches in the plan, though leftovers are usually the default for adult lunches.  Start the meal planning by checking your fridge, freezer, and pantry for ingredients that you already have on hand.  If you’re unsure how to use an ingredient or would like to try something new, set a timer so you don’t get carried away and search online for recipes using that ingredient.

TrafficDuring the meal planning stage, I also consult the family calendars to see which nights I’ll have less time to prep dinner.  I plan exactly which dinner will be on each night, to ensure the freshest ingredients get used up early in the week and to prevent waste.  I usually leave Fridays for leftovers (to clean out the fridge) or MYO (make your own) night where the kids will have sandwiches, breakfast for dinner, or Fork Free Fridays – something a little out of the ordinary.

Once you know the meals for the week, create the grocery list based on the ingredients that you don’t already have.  I like to create my grocery listswith the layout of the store in mind so I don’t have to read through my entire list on each aisle.  The NutritionMD recipe site will create a grocery list based on the recipes you chose- for free!

As soon as I return from the grocery store, we wash and start prepping produce.  Because I already know the recipes for the week, I know how each item needs to be prepared.  This is a hugely important point and will prevent lots of fabulous produce from passing its peak while hidden in your produce drawer.

On an ideal weekend, I’ll take the meal prep a step further and actually make a few of the meals (or meal components) for the week.  This is critical for meals with significant prep or cooking time or for weeks where I’ll be out of town or in the office later than usual.  Conversely, if I know that I won’t have time for significant meal prep on the weekend, I take that into account and plan simpler meals for the week ahead.  This coming week is such a week where we’ll eat simple meals that are easily made in less than 30 minutes.

I also make a mid to end of the week grocery run to pick up fresh greens, bananas, bread-  whatever else we need to finish out the week, making sure I’ve accounted for the weekend meals that will take place before the next week’s meal planning.

The most recent addition to my meal planning habit was to make a standard shopping list for each of the stores that I routinely visit.  By looking at the standard list before I visit that store, it jogs my memory about items that we may have run out of in the past two weeks that I didn’t note on the shopping list.

Use this week to start or improve your meal prep habit.  You’ll notice a difference in time and cost savings, which may allow you the freedom to be more creative in the kitchen- trying a new recipe each week or freeing up time to do something else for your health.


Shortcut Gazpacho

Tomato-based vegetable juice blend

Freshly prepared salsa (store bought or homemade), drained of any liquid

Cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced

Garlic, minced


Salt and pepper to taste

Italian herbs, dried

Fresh lemon juice, optional

Diced avocado, optional (use as a garnish)

Mix all ingredients tasting often until desire flavor combination is achieved.  Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Gazpacho is a light and refreshing meal, perfect for a hot summer day.  If serving it for dinner, you may want to serve it alongside something hearty, like baked potatoes or brown rice.  To encourage children to eat gazpacho, consider making Oven Baked Tortilla Chips so they can scoop the soup as if it were salsa, or cut the tortillas into thin strips before baking and serve atop the soup.


Mac and Trees

Box of whole wheat macaroni pasta

Cashew ricotta (you won’t need the full batch)

Broccoli florets, frozen or steamed

Begin cooking the pasta as directed and add the broccoli florets to the pasta water half-way through the cooking time.  A couple of minutes of additional cooking time will be needed as the broccoli will reduce the temperature of the boiling water.  Drain the pasta and broccoli and return to the pot.  Pour the cashew ricotta over the pasta and broccoli, stirring to mix.  Serve warm.

To increase the heartiness of this one-pot meal, add a can of drained and rinsed white beans.  Another option is to puree the white beans into the cashew ricotta, adding water as needed to thin the sauce.


Easy Pasta Salad

Box of whole wheat fusilli pasta or orzo, cooked and drained

2 to 3 cups of assorted diced and shredded vegetables [This is a great way to use up little bits of leftover raw veggies]

Your favorite oil-free dressing [Or whisk a tablespoon of hummus with juice from 2-3 lemons and minced garlic]

To make this easy pasta salad a one-pot meal, add a can of rinsed and drained beans to complement the other flavors in your salad.



Photo Credit (traffic):

Practice Vegetarian

Recently my daughter’s friend asked about how to become a vegetarian.  She was concerned about lack of support from her family and that she would essentially end up only eating the sides that accompany dinner.  I recommended that she become a “practice” vegetarian as a Practicesegue from her current diet to one relying on plants.  As a practice vegetarian, she would slowly increase her consumption of vegetables, by eating more servings of the vegetables she already likes and committing to eat a few bites of all disliked vegetables.  This strategy serves her well immediately and would make the transition to vegetarianism fairly seamless down the road.

Although this tween may not routinely be involved in meal planning, she could suggest the family gradually shifts to whole grains instead of refined grains.  The easiest way to do so is to start with rice, by incorporating 25% brown rice into white rice, then increase to 50%, etc until eating only brown rice.  When cooking from dry rice, cook the brown rice for 5 minutes before adding the white rice to the same pot.  Boil in bag or microwave packages of instant rice are even easier- just combine after cooking.  The same concept works for shifting to whole grain pasta.

Perhaps the trickier adaptation for the practice vegetarian is increasing the consumption of beans and legumes.  This is where canned beans come in really handy.  Even non-cooks can whip up the bean salads below, which are perfect to have around when you are famished and about to reach for something less desirable.  Bean salads are also very portable and ideal for taking to picnics and potlucks- particularly when you aren’t sure how much other healthy food will be available.

Other great ways to increase legume consumption are to use beans and lentils as salad toppings, add to pasta and rice dishes, or puree and incorporate into sauces, like marinara for spaghetti.

Having that comfortably full feeling is key for a successful dietary transition, and beans are the secret ingredient for feeling satiated.

NY Times food writer Mark Bittman coined the concept of ‘vegan before dinnertime’ a few years ago, and more recently, VB6, the title of his book on the topic.  Due to health issues, a doctor suggested Bittman adopt a vegan diet, but at the time he felt becoming a full-time vegan was unrealistic for him.  After a few months of eating vegan until dinner, Bittman had lost 35 pounds and his medical issues had resolved.

Both the practice vegetarian and VB6 concepts may work quite well for ‘moderators’, people Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project describes as those who do better when they avoid absolutes and strict rules.  According to Rubin, the ‘abstainers’ find it far easier to give something up altogether than to indulge moderately.

According to Rubin:

You’re a moderator if you… – find that occasional indulgence heightens your pleasure–and   strengthens your resolve
– get panicky at the thought of “never” getting or doing something
You’re an abstainer if you… – have trouble stopping something once you’ve started
– aren’t tempted by things that you’ve decided are off-limits


Starting a whole foods, plant-based diet cold turkey (ha ha) may work better for someone who identifies as an abstainer.  I have trouble indulging in moderation and am less tempted by things that I’ve decided are off-limits, so I’m an abstainer.  Discovering this and then years later reading The Willpower Instinct have been instrumental for me in adhering to a whole food, plant-based diet.

Regardless of your strategy, each step you take in improving your diet will pay off.  It’s up to you which path you chose and how quickly you get there.


Three Bean Salad

3 cans of different beans (ex, garbanzo beans, great northern beans, kidney beans, black beans), rinsed well and drained

2 stalks of celery, diced

½ red onion, diced

½ c fresh parsley

1T fresh rosemary

1/3 c apple cider vinegar

1/6 c – 1/3 c sugar

¼ c EVOO (or ½ avocado pureed with a splash of orange juice)

1 – 1.5 t salt

¼ t pepper

Mix the vinegar, sugar, and olive oil or avocado in a small bowl and pour over rest of ingredients in a medium bowl.  Stir and refrigerate to let flavors develop.  Stir again before serving chilled or at room temperature.

This bean salad is extremely versatile.  Use black and kidney beans with tomatoes, avocados, and organic corn for a South of the Border twist.  Use white beans and garbanzos with sundried tomatoes, artichokes, and roasted red peppers with lemon juice instead of vinegar for a Mediterranean twist.  Be creative!!


Black-Eyed Pea Salad

2 cans black-eyed peas, rinsed well and drained

1.5 c diced red/orange/yellow bell pepper

½ c diced red onion

¼ c red pepper jelly

¼ c red wine vinegar


¼ c cilantro

¾ t salt

¼ t pepper

Just before serving, add:

2 avocados (diced) or 2 large fresh peaches (diced)

Optional: 1 jalepeno, seeded and minced (or substitute jalepeno jelly for the red pepper jelly)


Mix the jelly, vinegar and EVOO in a small bowl and pour over rest of the ingredients in a medium bowl.  Stir and refrigerate to let flavors develop.  Stir again before serving and add avocado or peaches.  Serve chilled or at room temperature, on its own or over fresh greens.


Other no-cook bean salads you may want to check out include:

Taco Salad

Black Bean Mango Salsa

Massaged Kale Salad



McGonigal, Kelly. The Willpower Instinct : How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. 2012

Photo Credit:


Cinco de Mayo, A Few Days Late

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.  Though this battle was not a major strategic win, the win at Puebla was a symbolic victory and strengthened the resistance against France, who ultimately withdrew 5 years later.  Though it’s a relatively minor holiday in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo has evolved in the US to be a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage.  For me, the celebration of Mexican culture and heritage isn’t complete without celebrating the underappreciated black bean.

Before we go into the benefits of beans, though, I refer to Dr. Michael Greger’s informative and entertaining article to clear the air about beans and gas.  Dr. Greger uses data from a famed flatologist and even NASA to explain the normal incidence of intestinal gas, the main sources of gas, and strategies for reducing gas.

Despite this information, if you still feel that beans do not work well with your digestive system, start with small servings and smaller beans (lentils, black beans, black-eyed peas), believed to be easier to digest.  Gradually increase your serving size over a few weeks and work your way up to larger beans (pinto, kidney, fava).  Also, drain and rinse canned beans really well.  If cooking dried beans, first soak the beans for 8-12 h in cold water, changing the water a couple of times if possible.  While cooking the beans, change the cooking water once or twice to further reduce gassiness.

Beans are a fiber superstar with 7 grams per ½ c serving.  Fiber, or plant roughage, has a critical role in ridding our bodies of toxins, cholesterol, medications, and excess hormones.  As it filters the blood, the liver removes these undesirable chemicals, which are then sent to the bile duct and to the intestinal tract.  It is in the intestinal tract that fiber soaks up the undesirable chemicals and carries them out as waste.  However, if there’s no fiber circulating in the bloodstream, the undesirables end up being reabsorbed back into the bloodstream and the whole process starts over again as enterohepatic circulation.  Without regular fiber in one’s diet, enterohepatic circulation keeps hormones, toxins, and cholesterol circulating for longer than they should.Barnard and Reilly

If the idea of toxins and excess hormones hitting their targets over and over isn’t enough to increase your daily fiber intake, T. Colin Campbell’s findings from The China Study provide evidence that high fiber intake was consistently associated with lower rates of rectum and colon cancers.Campbell and Campbell

The Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine influences advancements in medicine StrikeOut_PCRM  and science and advocates for preventative medicine, especially good nutrition, in the form of a whole food, plant-based diet.  PCRM gained attention last summer by informing fans at Major League Baseball’s All Star game in Kansas City that hot dogs can strike you out
for good, referring to the link between consumption of processed meats and increased risk of colorectal cancer.EPIC                                                                                     Buns_PCRM

So save your buns by increasing your daily consumption of both soluble and insoluble
fiber.  The most fiber rich foods are beans and vegetables, followed by fruits and whole
grains. Soluble fiber dissolves in water (example, oatmeal) and is known for its ability to 
control cholesterol levels.  Insoluble fiber is found in vegetables, fruit, wheat, rice, and other grains.  Both types of fiber are needed for prevention of cancer, and if you’re diet is rich in beans, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, then you’ll get plenty of each type –  realizing that the average American only gets 10-15 grams of fiber per day, compared with the ideal of 40 g/d.

This week’s recipes highlight the black bean.  If you’re using dried beans, make a big batch and freeze what you won’t eat this week to use in recipes over the next few weeks.


Taco Salad

Greens, torn into bite-sized piecesTaco_Salad

(Not only can you get a lot more greens in a small area if they’re in small pieces, but it’s also much easier to eat a salad if you don’t have to bother with cutting everything up first- really helpful in encouraging kids to eat more greens.)

Top with: black beans, diced tomato, diced avocado, peppers, organic corn (fresh or frozen, raw or briefly cooked), etc

Go naked or dress with: salsa or avocado dressing (1 avocado pureed with ¼ c orange or lime juice plus garlic powder or mustard if it is too sweet)


Oven Baked Tortilla Chips

Whole wheat tortillas

Spray EVOO


For chips, cut the tortillas in half (2 at a time), then cut into triangles.  Arrange on a lightly EVOO sprayed baking sheet.  Spray the tortillas with EVOO and sprinkle with salt.

For scoops, cut the tortillas in half (2 at a time), then cut more like 2”x2” squares.  Spray the cut tortillas with EVOO and place each tortilla oil side down into a mini muffin pan.  Spray the tortillas with EVOO and sprinkle with salt.

For salad shells, take each tortilla and drap over a small oven proof casserole dish or bowl, gently pushing the sides down to form an inverted bowl.  Spray with EVOO.

Bake at 350’ for 5 min then watch carefully for edges to brown.  The chips/scoops/salad shells are done when lightly browned and firm.  They will crisp up more as they cool.

To kick it up a notch, sprinkle with lime juice or seasonings, or use flavored tortillas.  Lime habanera tortillas were used in the taco salad above- delish!


Easy Black Bean Dip

1 can (1.5c) black beans, rinsed well

½ c fresh salsa, drained

In a blender or food processor, puree the beans and salsa.  Add liquid from the salsa if needed to thin consistency.

Add-ins: cumin, garlic, jalapeno, habanera, etc.


Black Bean Mango Salsa

2 cans of black beans (or 3c), rinsed well

2-3 mangoes, diced

Juice from 1 lime

½ t salt or to taste

Cilantro, optional

Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl.  Ideally refrigerate 12 to 24h before serving for flavors to develop.  Adjust lime, salt, and cilantro to taste before serving and add any of the suggested add-ins if desired.

Add-ins: diced pineapple, avocado, or tomatoes



Barnard ND, Reilly JK. The Cancer Survivor’s Guide. 2008

Campbell TC, Campbell TM. The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health. 2006

European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study


Spring Cleaning

If warmer weather has roused your desire to spring clean or declutter, turn some of that energy to your diet.  Not needing to be warmed by food as the temperature increases, I find it easier in spring and summer to increase my consumption of raw veggies and salads.  My favorite approach is to focus on what I should be eating instead of what I should not be eating.  It turns out that this is one of the recommended approaches in Kelly McGonigal’s book The Willpower Instinct.  The ability to turn your “I won’t” into an “I will” diverts your focus from prohibiting your bad habit by replacing it with a new, healthier habit.

Joel Fuhrman must have been aware of this strategy when he issued his holiday challenge for 2012, encouraging participants to each day eat:

  • At least one large salad
  • Generous amounts of cooked green vegetables, beans, onions, and mushrooms
  • At least 3 fresh fruits, especially berries, to satisfy your sweet tooth
  • 1-2 ounces of raw nuts and seeds

For me, this checklist mentality works well as a reminder of what foods to focus on and is also helpful as a meal and snack planner.  Don’t know what to shop for?  Look at the list and fill your fridge and pantry with Fuhrman’s G-BOMBS (greens, beans, onions, mushrooms, berries, and seeds), an acronym to remember the most nutrient-dense, health-promoting foods.  We’ll focus on the G for greens today, and more specifically on kale.

Back to the checklist mentality for a second – if I’ve hit the ‘required’ foods and am still hungry, I can incorporate something less desirable.  When I haven’t eaten through the checklist, I try to plan better for the next day- all the while my taste buds have adjusted to another day without white flour, sugars and sweeteners, excess oil, and animal products.

Kale is quite the sexy health food, having gained popularity recently as a super food.  In each 1 cup cooked serving, kale contains 111 mg absorbable calcium, which is equivalent to that in 1 cup of calcium-fortified orange juice and more than the absorbable calcium contained in 1 cup of milk.  Kale also contains significant amounts of beta-carotene, Kaleselenium, and vitamins C and E.  In addition to being an outstanding antioxidant, kale is part of the family of cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, and collard greens.  People who eat generous amounts of cruciferous vegetables have remarkably low cancer rates.Barnard and Reilly

Cruciferous vegetables affect the hormones that influence the progression of hormone-dependent cancers by changing the way estrogens are broken down and eliminated.  Normally, estradiol (a potent estrogen in women) is converted to 16 α-hydroxyestrone, a hormone that encourages the growth of cancer cells.  However the cruciferous extract indole-3-carbinol causes the body to convert more estrogen to a different estrogen called 2-hydroxyestrone, which has anticancer actions.Bell et al

Two common types of kale that you should be able to find at your farmers’ market or grocery store are lacinato or dino kale, which has flat firmer leaves, and curly kale.  Most kale recipes can be used with either type, I usually choose based on availability and desired texture.  To strip or destem the kale, hold a leaf by the stem upside down in your hand.  Cup the thumb and index finger of your opposite hand at the top of the stem and pull downward in a quick, smooth motion.


Monster Green Smoothie

½ c pineapple chunks, frozen

1 c seedless grapes or sliced apple

1 banana, sliced and frozen

2-4 leaves of destemmed kale, depending on size

1 c water

Blend all ingredients together, adding more water if needed to thin consistency.  Serve immediately.  Makes 2 one cup servings.

This is a very sweet smoothie, which is great for green smoothie novices.  Spinach has a more neutral taste and can be substituted for the kale.  This recipe is very versatile and should be played with to find your favorite combinations, eventually increasing the ratio of greens to fruit.

Kale Chips

Once kale has been washed, dried, and destemmed, tear the leaves into chip-sized pieces.

Oven:  Preheat oven to 300’.  Arrange kale on wire rack in a baking sheet, on parchment paper, or directly on a lightly sprayed baking sheet.  Spray the kale with EVOO and sprinkle with salt.  Bake for 15-20 min, turning the chips over once, until the chips are crispy.  Remove from oven and let cool as the chips will continue to crisp.

Dehydrator:  Arrange kale on trays.  Spray the leaves with EVOO and sprinkle with salt.  Dehydrate at 145’ for 2-3 hours, rotating the trays at least once and turning the chips over if necessary, until chips are crispy.

There are many variations of kale chips, so like the smoothie recipe, this one is very versatile.  Add in ideas: nutritional yeast, BBQ seasoning, chipotle, oil and vinegar, garlic, chili and lime.


Massaged Kale Salad

1 bunch of kale, destemmed and torn into pieces

1 lemon, juiced

1 can of beans, rinsed and drained (white beans or garbanzos recommended)

1 clove garlic, minced

1 avocado, diced

1 tomato, diced

Salt to taste

In a medium bowl, add half of the lemon juice to the kale and massage it with your hands until the kale has reduced in size by half.  Add rest of ingredients.  Can be eaten immediately or refrigerated to allow flavors to further develop.


Sauteed Kale with Raisins and Pine Nuts

1 bunch kale, destemmed and torn into bite sized pieces

1 can of white beans or garbanzos

¼ c pine nuts

4 cloves garlic, minced

¼ c golden raisins

1T olive oil

Heat olive oil in large sauté pan over medium heat with pine nuts and garlic.  As they begin to brown, add kale and raisins, stirring often.  Once kale has wilted (5 min or so), add beans.  If additional liquid is needed, add ¼ c water or dry white wine.  Once kale is desired texture, remove from heat and serve.



McGonigal, Kelly. The Willpower Instinct : How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. 2012

Barnard ND, Reilly JK. The Cancer Survivor’s Guide. 2008

Bell MC, Crowley-Nowick P, Bradlow HL, et al. Placebo-controlled trial of indole-3-carbinol in the treatment of CIN.  Gynecol Oncol. 2000; 78:123-129.

Kale Picture: