BLOSSOMING INTO SPRING WITH HEARTY VEGAN DISHES
As we shake off the cold wet shackles of winter and step into the spring it is a great time to focus our meals on some really healthy options that satisfy both the palate and the body. What better time than spring to explore some wonderful vegan options for some tasty food that makes use of seasonal offerings and plant based protein?! I live in Montana which tends to have more carnivores and omnivores than vegans, so I reached out to a friend from California for advice on vegan recipes that are not only delicious, but pack a good plant based protein punch. I also wanted recipes that contain ingredients accessible even in some of the more remote areas of the U.S. My friend Ronda, a runner, soccer player and decade’s long raw vegan, put me in touch with Susan Powers who is certified in Plant-Based Nutrition and Professional Plant Based-Cooking. She is also a professional food photographer and author who provided me with some amazing recipe options from her cookbooks and website www.rawmazing.com. After searching through Susan’s treasure trove of recipes I chose“VeganPesto Stuffed Mushrooms” and “SweetPotato Chickpea Wraps with Mango Avocado Salsa”. When I asked Susan how she comes up with her recipes she replied, “My recipe inspiration often arises from what I have on hand…..It’s fun to build an entire dish from one ingredient when you know what that ingredient loves to be paired with. The ’FlavorBible’ is a great resource for that.” I also asked her to respond to the argument that vegan diets lack protein. “What isn’t understood is that plants have lots of good available protein. And from what we know about disease, plant protein is said to be healthier for us in many circumstances. Great sources of protein for a vegan diet are beans, nuts, seeds and even spinach.” With this in mind and my recipes on hand, I was ready to plan my evening of cooking in community with a vegan menu. Cast of Characters: Jennifer: Foodie, busy working mother, sous chef for the evening and provider of the venue Hollis: 4 year old, taste tester, and amazing helper Darien: Coordinator and cook for the evening Tools needed: Food Processor or Blender Measuring cups and spoons Cutting board Knives for slicing and spoons for stirring Mixing bowls Baking sheet Parchment paper Oven The Prep: In order to make things simple, I baked the sweet potato the night prior and then tackled the“VeganPesto” filling and“SweetPotato Chickpea” mixture 1 hour prior to going to my friends house. The process took a total of 20 minutes (includingclean-up and storage). If you plan to do this I recommend putting the vegan pesto in an air tight container with some plastic wrap tightly on top of the mixture prior to putting the lid on to prevent the avocado from browning. The Mango Salsa can also be made in advance - adding the avocado just prior to serving. The Assembly: Once at Jen’s house we were able to set out the ingredients for assembly and get to work. Hollis offered to assist me in scraping the gills out of the mushrooms then happily held them still for Jen and I as we stuffed them with the delicious filling. One of the joys of cooking in community is being able to get the children involved in the process - it helps entertain them, teach them a bit about cooking, where their food comes from, and creates a vested interest in the outcome (i.ekids are often more willing to try a new food if they have had a hand in making it). Assembling the sweet potato chickpea patties was easy, although the mixture was a bit stickier than I had anticipated. I found that wetting my finger-tips helped me give the edges a nice smooth shape to the patties. I was pleased to find that parchment paper alone worked perfectly without any sticking when baked. Total bake time for the mushrooms was 15 minutes and for the patties 20. Once both items were out, we quickly assembled the lettuce wraps and topped with the mango salsa. I provided extra cilantro and some lime wedges as well. The Verdict: The Vegan Pesto Stuffed Mushrooms were the belles of this ball. Jen’s first remark aside from“mmmmmm” was“it is so rich and delicious” – she was also pleasantly surprised that the avocado pesto mixture really held its shape and consistency when baked. “The pecans really make it tasty, and I would never have thought of that," she added. I was pleasantly surprised to find that these really sated me, without the need for cheese on them (and I am a self-confessed cheese fanatic). The greatest testament to this filling was the fact that Hollis not only tried it, but asked for seconds! The combination of the mushrooms with the filling was decadently rich and tasty. Jen and I discussed how the filling could really make a great topping, filling or dip to be served in a multitude of ways. The Sweet Potato Chickpea wraps were next up and while Hollis wasn’t quite as adventurous, Jen and I found them really tasty and satisfying. The sweetness and acidity of the Mango Avocado Salsa, combined with the richness of the sweet potato chickpea patties created a really well balanced dish that was both refreshing and filling at the same time. Jen noted that“the additional squeeze of lime wedge really livened up the dish” so our recommendation would be to have some extra lime wedges on hand when serving. The patties baked up really nicely. I feared they would lose their shape or be really heavy, but in fact they were the perfect texture inside and out. They can also be refrigerated for leftovers which is always a big plus in my book. I brought them to work the next day for lunch and was very pleased that they were just as tasty the second day. Would these dishes convert hardcore carnivores? That would be hard to say. They did go above and beyond expectations for our group of omnivores, so much so that these recipes will definitely remain in my arsenal of dishes to share with friends and family, and Jen asked for copies of the recipes as well. When the meal was done, we were all quite happily full and sated! Lesson Learned: Be open to plant based proteins and don’t fall for the misconception that they cannot be as satisfying as meat – it is sometimes just a matter of finding the right recipes. While this experience hasn’t made either of us ready to fully commit to a vegan diet, we are both definitely more open and excited about adding vegan recipes to our regular meal options.