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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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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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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Hot Tamale Pie

Going vegan, like going low-sodium, is a challenge. Out the window goes convenience; in its place goes planning. But having spent the past 8 years reading box labels, scanning aisles for products I can enjoy, and cooking pretty much every meal at home, I can honestly say being plant-based is no different than living life without salt. As HARD as it seem (all caps) it really hasn’t been hard. Going vegan sounds like it would be crippling in its limitation, but in truth it’s the most freeing way of looking at food imaginable. Without meat on the menu, our plates have broadened to include a far more diverse array of foods and in far greater quantities than before. We’re loving it!

And frankly, with food like this, what’s not to love?! I’ve seen many versions of Tamale Pie in cookbooks and the internet, but I like this one the best. A hearty southwestern filling of pinto beans, onion, garlic, sweet pepper and corn, baked beneath a blanketing crust of cornbread. It’s absolutely delicious, not to mention cheap, easy, and healthy. I’ll be serving mine with sauteed collard greens and sliced watermelon for a fully balanced meal.

Adapted from Eden Foods.

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Meaty Portabella Burgers and Fries (Fat Free, Low Sodium and Vegan too!)

With Father’s Day fast approaching (it’s Sunday my friends, be sure to get those cards in the mail!) I wanted this week’s Meatless Monday to showcase an all-American favorite. BURGERS! Nothing satisfies a manly hunger better than burgers and fries. And today’s recipe proves you don’t need meat to make the best burgers of your life.

Portabella mushrooms are nature’s veggie burgers. Thick and perfect, patty-shaped, they’re even brown, for pete’s sake! When grilled, these large mushroom caps take on a great barbeque flavor and their meaty heft becomes tender and indescribably juicy. Sandwiched in a bun with all your favorite toppings, you won’t miss the meat. Besides their fabulous taste, portabella mushrooms are incredibly low in sodium, averaging a mere 10 milligrams or less per cap. Grill time will vary depending upon the size of the mushrooms; for jumbo mushrooms you may need to grill 10 minutes per side, whereas smaller caps may cook in half that time. Use common sense. You want the caps to release some of their juice, soften and tenderize – you don’t want them falling apart or charred beyond recognition!

Oven-baked fries are every bit as satisfying and delicious as those deep fried in oil, but they’re even better, because they’re also FAT FREE! Which means you can eat as many of them as you want and not gain a pound. Your skin will glow like a scrubbed potato. And you won’t need help getting out of your chair after dinner. If you’re a real fry junkie, add a couple extra potatoes to the mix. I used red bliss because I’ve been on a red potato kick lately, but truly any potatoes work well here. If your dad’s a real patriot, might I’d suggest the full-out all-American meal? Meaty Portabella Burgers with Red, White, and Blue Fries!

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Spicy Chickpea Tacos with Arugula

For my first post on Salt Free Vegan, I wanted to share a recipe I created especially for my upcoming Everything DASH Diet Cookbook (release date: November 18, 2012).

These truly are the tastiest tacos ever! A thick and spicy sauce dotted with meaty garbanzos, the peppery cool of arugula, and crunchy bite of corn. Spoon extra filling over cooked brown rice or salt-free tortilla chips if you run short of packaged shells. Adjust the pepper and pepper flakes to suit your taste; less if you prefer milder tacos, more if you like them spicy. I opted to use garlic and onion powders to make these table ready in 10 minutes, but you can of course substitute finely chopped fresh onion and garlic if you prefer.

Canned no-salt-added garbanzo beans are a great choice for busy lives, but if you find yourself eating beans multiple times a week, consider investing in a pressure cooker. You’ll more than make up the purchase price in savings. Some canned no-salt-added beans can cost upwards of $4 per can (!!) whereas dry beans typically run a couple dollars at most per pound. I bought a pressure cooker some time ago and use it to make beans once or twice a week. If you’re wondering which one to buy, I have a 6-quart stainless steel model from Fagor and can’t recommend it enough.

Whole Foods sells organic sodium-free taco shells in both yellow and blue corn. They’re very tasty and a super good deal at only $2.79 a package. Bearitos also makes great low-sodium taco shells; they’re sold in many supermarkets, health food stores, and online.

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