Lemon Pesto Rice with Portabello Mushrooms

Good morning, everyone! For the sake of those tired of Thanksgiving leftovers, I’ll be brief with my round-up of last week’s feast before proceeding onto today’s recipe. Two words: IT ROCKED. The end.


Seriously though, my family and I all agreed that our first vegan/low-sodium/Turkey-less Turkey Day was without exception, exceptional. None of us missed the meat – even my youngest, the die-hard bacon-ista, declared it our best holiday yet. The homemade Hickory Smoked Vegan Turkey (pics and recipe to come) made an outstanding addition to the other mostly-traditional sides, like Mashed Maple Sweet Potatoes, Orange Cranberry Sauce, and Savory Holiday Stuffing. But perhaps the biggest winner among all the dishes, especially with my two daughters, was the recipe I’m sharing today: Lemon Pesto Rice with Portabello Mushrooms.

I’ve made many iterations of this dish over the years, and there’s even a version in the new Everything DASH Diet Cookbook. But most pesto sauces (including the low-sodium version from my cookbook) contain Parmesan cheese – something strictly verboten on our vegan diet. So what’s a gal to do? Get crafty! Here that creamy-salty-something comes in the form of pureed almonds, lemon, mustard, olive oil, and a sprinkling of nutritional yeast flakes. If you’re thinking thanks but no thanks, don’t let the ingredients fool you. This pesto is SERIOUSLY GOOD STUFF. The sauce is a tweaked version of Dreena Burton’s “Lemony Cashew-Basil Pesto,” truly amazing in its own right, but (IMHO) even better with the complimentary tastes of sauteed onion, meaty mushrooms, and hearty brown rice. Oh yesssss.

I’ve talked about nutritional yeast flakes before. I will say it again. Worst. Name. Ever. Nutritional yeast is a form of inactive yeast with a mild nutty cheesy flavor. Completely vegan and super duper good for you, it’s a great source of B vitamins as well as a low-sodium dieter’s best friend. Add it to salt-free seasoning for a POW! right in the kisser. Sprinkle it on everything from salads to pasta to you-name-it. You will LOVE LOVE LOVE the amazing flavor it imparts to the most ordinary foods, and if you’re not already a fan I guarantee you will be. Nutritional yeast can be purchased online, from many health food stores, and with the rising popularity of plant-based diets, now even some supermarkets. It’s sold under a couple big brand names, Red Star and Bragg being the biggest. I like both. You can buy it in canisters for easy sprinkling and also in bulk. Do like I do and buy it in bulk – so much cheaper – you can store it in an old-timey glass sugar jar for easy pouring. Either way, it’s all good!

NOTE: This recipe also works wonderfully with cooked pasta, quinoa, and other grains, so if you’re not a huge rice fan, don’t let that dissuade you. If you’re out of almonds, feel free to substitute walnuts, cashews, or pine nuts. The important thing is to TRY THIS RECIPE. Seriously! It is SO GOOD. The level of salt-free flavor’s.. well, it’s out of this world. One taste and you’ll be hooked. So quit stalling! Get out life’s lemons and start squeezing.

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My First Vegan AND Low-Sodium Thanksgiving!

This morning I awoke from a deep sleep at 5:30 am. Groggy, but not wanting to lose the thoughts tumbling round in my mind, I grabbed the notebook I’ve kept on my nightstand since March, when I started work on The Everything DASH Diet Cookbook. I quietly slid open my nightstand drawer and fumbled for a pen – which I found, and once I’d flipped the notebook to a seemingly empty page (it was pitch dark), began to scribble. This is what greeted me when I woke up an hour and a half later:

Chicken scratch – in Highlighter! I didn’t even know I owned a highlighter, but apparently I do, and for some unknown reason thought it best to stow it in the least logical and most unhelpful place in my home. I can sort of make out the word “vegan” about half way down the page; as for the rest, forget it. So please bear with me today.

I come to you a challenged woman. In many ways, the past several weeks have been a trial by fire and one week from today will be yet another double hurdle to conquer. You’ve likely noticed my conspicuous absence from the internet. This has been in no small part due to the change of seasons. As many of you know, my family and I live in Maine, where winter digs in and holds fast to the land. These long and very cold winters require preparation, and when you live in a pre-revolutionary home heated strictly by wood, these cold winters require quite a bit MORE. If you’ve been wondering where the heck I’ve been, let me introduce you to:

That’s right; I’ve been getting intimately familiar with 6 cords of firewood. In addition, I’ve spent 3 solid weekends canning – Apple Chutney, Applesauce, and Wild Blueberry Jam – and the better part of two weeks specifically holding on to walls, thanks to the weather. Packed in and around all of this like styrofoam peanuts in a shipping box has been my daughters’ new tween and teen school, sporting, and social schedules, our second DIY chimney lining, and – along with all of the routine chores of life – a daily dose of 2+ hours of hand-washing dishes thanks to our (formerly working, now dead and making me want to puke) 2 year old Frigidaire Gallery dishwasher. To be honest, this year’s Thanksgiving holiday has only just appeared on my radar.

SO. In one week exactly, my family and I will be celebrating our very first Thanksgiving as…

SALT FREE VEGANS! Quite a mouthful, wouldn’t you say? As we all well know, living low sodium ain’t for sissies, but throw in the double complexity of veganism and it’s enough to make even the staunchest plant-eater blanch. Last weekend, I put together a list of recipes I thought would do the trick. My husband, thank God, is never an issue; my daughters are the challenge. The older one has embraced veganism – or at least vegetarianism, with gusto; the younger one is an active rebel who declares her love for meat at every opportunity. Knowing the significance of the holiday formerly known as TURKEY DAY, I knew I’d have to win the little one over big time. I did this simply, by buying her off with a sweet potato casserole topped with (oooh la la!) VEGAN MARSHMALLOWS! I’ve never met Sweet & Sara, but I can say I officially love them.

And thus, after gaining support, I proceeded onto side dishes – now known as platefuls. Green beans, check. Not just garlic mashed potatoes, but roasted ones too. Sweet and Savory Kale. Pesto Rice with Portabello Mushrooms. Brussels Sprouts. Homemade Rolls and Cornbread. PUMPKIN PIE. All approved. And since I won’t be cooking a turkey this year, I thought it might be nice to do something sort of “bigger” than just plain “sides.” I mentioned sauteed portabella mushroom caps. A “buttery” vegan quiche with leeks. Phyllo baked tarts filled with roasted vegetables. Well. You’d think I was trying to poison these kids by their PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD NOOOOOOOOOOO!!! responses! SHEESH. (My husband, on the other hand, was drooling all over the floor.)

SO.. that’s where I am right now. T-minus 6 days. I’ve got two pages of highlighter chicken scrawl and a tentative menu. Wish me luck.

Coconut Collards with Sweet Potatoes and Black Beans

My younger daughter returned to school last week just in time for me to prepare for her 9th birthday party. We celebrated this weekend with a sleepover, which left little time for regular cooking. I threw this dish together Friday and was so taken with the results that I made the same thing again the next night. My husband and I simply couldn’t get enough of the mix of flavors. Subtle sweetness from the light coconut milk, sweet potatoes, carrots and tomatoes bathes the collards and a light citrus kick from the lime juice and curry paste lends the perfect finish. The combination is so seriously stupendous, you won’t believe it’s low sodium!

If you like SPICE, take it up a notch by adding a fresh minced hot chile to the mix, a dash of cayenne, chili powder, or some dried red pepper flakes. My husband was liberally dousing his with Sriracha sauce, but for the love of my daughters, I left the fire out. It was my youngest’s birthday, after all. LOL

If you’ve never been a fan of collard greens, this dish will change (read: blow) your mind. And that’s truly a great thing. Because not only are collards high in fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and calcium, they’re also considered to be the very best of the cruciferous clan for naturally lowering blood pressure AND they also protect against cancer.

Love your body, love your collards! :)

A quick reminder about Thai Red Curry Paste. Although this product does contain salt, when used sparingly it lends tremendous depth of flavor while still keeping dishes low in sodium. I use Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste, which is readily sold in many supermarkets nationwide. It contains 390 mg sodium per tablespoon; the lowest I’ve found. Sue Tweeton of Please, DON’T Pass the Salt also recommends World Foods – Fusion of Flavors Red Curry Paste; unfortunately I’ve yet to find it locally. Know another brand? Let me know! Thanks!

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From Meat & Potatoes to Simply Potatoes: one 70 yr old’s decision to go vegan — A Year Later!!

In October I shared the story of my formerly “meat-a-tarian” father going vegan. Over the past year he’s accomplished more than any of us had imagined possible, and today I’m thrilled to share his first follow-up post detailing his progress. I hope you find his story as inspiring as I do. I love you, Daddy, and am SO VERY PROUD OF YOU!!

I am a 71-year-old cardiac patient who has been on a vegan diet for one year this month.

In 2005, I suffered a heart attack and received open heart triple bypass surgery. Following surgery I did cardiac rehab and followed the doctor’s recommended diet. While on the exercise and diet program, I lost approximately 50 pounds. Gradually, however, I began to cheat on the program, ultimately ceasing exercise and the diet as well. Over the course of the next five years, I regained all 50 pounds.

In 2011, I suffered a serious angina attack and was hospitalized. I received heart catheterization, which revealed that my bypass grafts were clear, as were the major arteries serving my heart. Unfortunately, the minor arteries were clogged. My cardiologist stated that these minor arteries were too small for either stent implants or balloon dilatations. He explained that there was nothing that could be done to arrest or reverse the damage and that I would likely experience death of roughly 10% of the cells in my heart. I was placed on additional medications, scheduled for office visits, and that was that.

One evening late last summer, former President Bill Clinton spoke on television discussing the changes he had made in his diet following his heart attack. He mentioned two books which detailed the medical research behind his decision, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr. and The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell. I purchased both and when I finished reading, I too made the decision to become a vegan. The truth revealed by the medical research presented in both books was life changing. I now knew what no physician during my entire 35-year career span as a hospital administrator and health care consultant had ever told me: that heart disease can be reversed. I was willing to wager all on this diet, knowing its potential for healing.

I made the change to a vegan diet in September 2011. Over the past year, my weight has gone from 273 pounds to 233, a loss of 40 pounds. I have gone from a size 2XL shirt to XL, and from size 46 waist pants to a size 40. Even my belts are on their last notches and will soon need to be replaced! My cardiologist visits have been cut in half, from four visits a year to just two, and the blood work from my most recent visit was all in the healthy, normal range, including a total cholesterol level of 122 mg/dL.

I truly am a vegan for life! Although it may sound difficult, giving up meat, dairy, and eggs is an easy choice when you think about the alternative. I chose life over death. I now eat to extend my life, not to continue shortening it. My focus was and is on the medicinal benefits of consuming a whole foods, plant-based diet – reversing my cardiac disease and doing all I possibly can to prevent any additional ailments. The research outlined by Drs. Campbell and Esselstyn presents each of us with the opportunity to improve our health, increase our energy, and enhance our lives. It is truly a gift that keeps on giving.

Since going vegan, I am pleased that my nuclear family, my wife (to an increasing degree), our two daughters, our two sons-in-law, and our two older granddaughters are now eating either vegetarian or vegan. Our third granddaughter is 6 months old and in the process of switching to vegetables and fruit from her “vegan fueled” mother’s milk. What a blessing for all three generations of our family to experience enhanced health and well being!

I want to thank my daughter, Christy, who has inspired and counseled me during this first year of our journey, and to the remaining members of our family who have each offered their support and encouragement. All nine of us shared a week-long beach vacation just a few weeks ago, being together, cooking, and eating vegan. It was a magnificent week; an experience we hope to repeat for years and years to come.

Best Low-Sodium Vegan Banana Bread!

My family and I love bananas. This summer we enjoyed them pretty much daily, and when we ran out of fresh I took to emptying the freezer of all the stockpiled “brown stragglers” I’d accumulated to make banana bread.

If you’re someone who scoffs at vegan baked goods, I implore you: MAKE THIS BREAD. Not only is it irresistibly moist, tender, and filled with banana flavor, it’s hands down the best banana bread I’ve ever baked. I know that sounds crazy, but I mean it. You do not need eggs, dairy, or salt to make exceptional baked goods.

It’s simple too. Seven ingredients, one bowl, and a loaf pan. 350 degrees and an hour & 15 minutes later you’ll be rewarded with a house that smells fan-freaking-tastic and a loaf of bread you won’t be able to keeps your hands off.

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Red, White, and Blue Potato Salad

In honor of Independence Day, this week’s Meatless Monday has been preempted in favor of Red, White, & Blue!

I bought a bag of specialty potatoes several weeks ago. They’re tiny little guys, sort of a cross between fingerlings and new potatoes, and came in the three colors above. I could almost hear the Star Spangled Banner playing in my head as I set to concoct a simple recipe that would showcase their beautiful colors. And here you have it. A low-sodium potato salad with such fabulous flavor you won’t believe it’s salt free! BONUS? Since it contains no mayonnaise, you can leave it outside on the picnic table and not worry about sending your friends and family to hospital with food poisoning! HOORAY!

If you can’t find smaller size multicolored potatoes, don’t worry. Just use what you have. Depending upon the size of the potatoes, you may need to steam them a bit longer. Keep watch and as the minutes pass, test them by piercing gently with a fork. You want the potatoes to be tender, yet not so soft they fall apart when tossed with the dressing. If you don’t have a fancy steamer, don’t sweat that either. A pasta pot with a colander type insert works perfectly. And if you’re exceptionally patriotic, feel free to stick little American flags all over the potatoes.

Happy Fourth of July, my friends!! Let the barbecuing begin!

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Whole Grain Strawberry Corn Muffins

Summer is officially here! My daughters are out of school, I’ve shed my fleece for a tee shirt and shorts, and this weekend marks the fourth annual Cape Farm Alliance Strawberry Festival!

There’s something magical about the feel of the hot sun on your back and the scent of ripe fruit filling the air. We’ve spent many lazy afternoons in strawberry fields, straw sticking to our sweaty kneecaps as we search beneath the green leaves for the choicest berries. When my daughters were little, they often ate as much as they picked, their clothes, mouths, and hands stained red with the juice. Thankfully they never got weighed at checkout!

Today I’d like to share a strawberry recipe I created especially for the upcoming Everything DASH Diet Cookbook. Whether you use hand-picked strawberries or store bought, you will absolutely LOVE these muffins! They’re vegan (oh yes) but you’d never know it. The taste and texture are identical to “regular” muffins – but better. They’re light and fluffy, subtly sweet, and flecked with soft, juicy bits of strawberry. I’m not embarrassed to say I’ve eaten 3 of them in the past hour. They’re just so good!

I’ve used white whole wheat flour, but they’ll also work well with oat flour, rice flour, or a gluten-free flour blend.

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Creamy Mac and Cheezeburger Bake

Cheeze has been part of the veggie lexicon since that first irrepressible dairy craving gave birth to fake cheese. In this recipe, cheeze is a combination of tofu, low-sodium vegetable broth, nondairy milk, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, salt-free mustard and seasonings. Like I said, cheeze.

The “burger” portion of the meal is actually crumbled and sauteed tempeh seasoned with a tablespoon of low-sodium soy sauce – in this case, Coconut Secret Raw Coconut Aminos.

Sue Tweeton of Please DON’T Pass the Salt wrote about it months ago and within days I’d nabbed a bottle myself. Coconut Aminos is 100% organic, vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, and GMO-free. It doesn’t taste exactly like soy sauce, but it’s close enough to pass muster — and at a mere 113 mg sodium per teaspoon, close enough is fine by me. Look for it online, at Whole Foods markets, and natural foods stores.

As for the recipe… YUM. Creamy, whole grain comfort food at its best. Like the coconut aminos, this mac and cheeze isn’t a shoo-in for the classic. But just because it’s different, doesn’t make it bad. Even my 8-year old loved it! The creaminess is all there, as well as the crunchy topping. Feel free to add veggies to the mix for a one-dish meal. Peas and broccoli work particularly well or expand it exponentially with chopped onion, garlic, bell pepper, corn, carrots, and more.

Adapted from Robin Robertson’s Quick-Fix Vegan.

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