Red Lentil Taco “Meat”

TacoMeat TacosTacos are the world’s best food.  That’s how we feel in my house, anyway.  Tacos are just so versatile and easy.  You can put practically anything in a tortilla and call it a taco! We use all sorts of different things like mushrooms, squash, potatoes, veggies, and all different types of beans.  This one, using red lentils, is a staple for us.  It’s super easy and is reminiscent of ground taco meat, like the kind we used to have back when we ate like crap and fried our tortillas (did I just say that?).

Of course, you can make tacos with the fake taco meat sold in stores, but that stuff is highly processed and has a ton of fat and oil.  I’d much rather use healthy, fiber-rich filling and save my fat for avocado and Sour Un-Cream.  I use my own, homemade taco seasoning but you can use store-bought if you’d like.  For me, most of them are too spicy, salty and many have MSG. See below for my recipe.  Also, see in Recipe Notes for slow cooker directions.

2 TBS chili powder, 2 TBS cumin, 1 TBS smoked paprika, 1 TBS sea salt, 1/2 TBS onion powder, 1/2 TBS garlic powder, 1 tsp oregano, 1 tsp sugar, 1/2 tsp pepper, 1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne.  Shake everything up in a small jar and use whenever you make Taco “Meat”.

Now have at it!

Top 5 Reasons to Use a Pressure Cooker + Butternut Squash Risotto Recipe (vegan/gluten-free)

If you’re anything like I used to be, you equate pressure cookers with the 1950’s and a fear of getting hit in the face with scalding steam and a hot lid.  I hear it all the time; “I have a pressure cooker, but I’m scared to death to use it.”  Fear not, my friends! Nowadays pressure cookers have been built with safety features to assure ease of use without scalding, or sky-rocketing lids.  There is definitely a learning curve as it’s a different way of cooking, but once you experiment and get a feel for it, you’ll wonder how you ever went without!


Electric pressure cooker

Stove-top pressure cooker

Stove-top pressure cooker

For those who don’t know, pressure cooking is a method which uses water to create steam that does not escape the vessel while the food is being cooked.  A fraction of the water is used compared to other methods.  Since there is less water to heat, it takes less time for the water/food to reach cooking temperature.  As well, due to the intense pressure and heat, items cook faster than simply steaming, boiling or braising.  And they are easy to use – put your food in the pan, lock the lid in place, turn on the heat, wait until it comes up to pressure, turn down heat and wait.  The units are available in electric and stove top versions, and while some steps differ slightly between the two, the concept is the same. Some dishes such, as green veggies, require you to let the steam out manually, which simply means pressing the valve and allowing steam to flow.  Others, like beans and grains, call for natural pressure release, which means you don’t do anything but wait until all the steam has slowly escaped on it’s own.  If you aren’t yet sold on the beauty of a pressure cooker, let me share some other benefits with you:


  • Time savings – “I don’t have time” is the most common reason I hear for why people don’t prepare more of their own meals at home.  Well, a pressure cooker can help!  Example: brown rice would normally take about 40-45 minutes when boiled.  Using a pressure cooker it will cook in half the time.  Garbanzo beans take 14 minutes of cook time (not excluding the time it takes to come up to pressure, and release naturally).
  • Nutrient retention – Since the food is exposed to heat for a shorter period of time, fewer nutrients are lost in cooking.  As well, vitamins and minerals are not whisked away by water since there is so much less of it.
  • Energy savings – Thanks to shorter cooking times, the fire and/or electricity are used less.
  • No stirring required – If you’ve ever made risotto you know what a drag it can be, stirring and stirring and stirring.  You can make arborio rice risotto in the pressure cooker, at 5 minutes high pressure, without having ever lifted a spoon.  How cool is that?
  • Less water – water is a precious resource that is not as abundant as it once was, especially here in Southern California.  The less water we can use in every aspect of life, the better.

Some typical dishes for which I use my pressure cooker:

Steel cut oats
Beans, chilis and stews
Whole grains such as rice and quinoa
Sweet and white potatoes
Kale and other greens

So basically, pressure cookers are awesome.  They can be used for anything you’d boil, steam or braise.  The tricky part is converting a recipe and figuring out how much liquid to use.  It just takes some experimenting.  In the meantime I wanted to share this yummy recipe with you for Butternut Squash Risotto using brown rice.  Easy and so delicious, without the constant stirring typical risotto calls for.  Also, a wonderful cookbook for pressure cooking is The New Fast Food by Jill Nussinow.  Invaluable, really.  Have fun cooking under pressure, and I hope you enjoy this dish!

Chickpea Curry Lettuce Wraps with Tamari-Lime Sliced Almonds

If you’ve ever made my Mock Chicken Salad you’ll already have an idea of how this dish is made – it’s the same process.  I set out to make the Mock Chicken Salad but I was feeling creative and wanted to change it up significantly.  I absolutely LOVE what I ended up with. SO delicious.  And, it’s really easy to make!! No cooking required for the filling.  Though, if you would like it warm and/or find raw celery and onion too crunchy or strong, feel free to sauté those first.  I made these for lunch on a fairly warm day but I think the warm/cooked filling would be nice on a chilly day or at dinner.  It’s up to you! Experiment….I did!

Feel free to use this filling for a sandwich instead of lettuce wraps.

They are only a garnish, so a small amount is used, but the Tamari-Lime Sliced Almonds are AMAZING here.

Spicy Butternut Squash Soup

Spicy Butternut Squash Soup with Lemon-Maple Brussels Sprouts

Most butternut squash soups are a little sweet for me. Honestly, I’ve got a major sweet tooth but some things, like my soups, I want to be more on the savory side.  So, this soup is still sweet of course, but the jalapeño and cooking sherry (or white wine) create some interesting flavors that help offset the sweetness.  And, while I don’t generally cook with oil, I added a tiny drizzle of truffle oil before serving – YUM.  Since I was a little heavy-handed with the jalapeño (by my definition – remember, I’m a spice wimp), I dumped my Lemon-Maple Brussels Sprouts in the soup to offset the heat.  Delicious!  In the future I will leave the seeds out of the jalapeño – this time I used half of the seeds and the soup was really spicy.

My Recipe Chosen as the Grand Prize Winner!! Stuffed Portobellos w/Hummus Gravy

A few weeks ago Engine 2 (Rip Esselstyn’s baby) announced they would be conducting a recipe contest.  The entries had to include at least one ingredient from the Engine 2 line of foods (available at Whole Foods – try them if you haven’t!), be plant-based (duh), oil-free, low-fat and low-sodium.  I was familiar with the line of foods they offered and immediately got the idea for a recipe to enter into the contest.  It was announced today that my recipe was chosen as the Grand Prize Winner!!  So fun and exciting!

The folks at E2 will be sharing this recipe with their readers, and I am sharing it now with you.  It’s very easy, and delicious! Enjoy!


Maple Mustard Taters (vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, oil-free)

Who doesn’t love potatoes?  Poor little guys sure get a bad rap.  If any of you have read Dr. John McDougall’s The Starch Solution, you know they don’t deserve such abuse.  Potatoes are a satiating, healthy food, chock full of fiber and nutrients.  As Dr. McDougall says, it’s the company they often keep that turns them into a bad food (butter, cheese, oil, etc).  Potatoes, without all the bad stuff, should be part of the regular diet, and they definitely are in our house.  Yukon, red, gold, butter, russet, fingerling, sweet….if it’s a potato we eat it.  My sister Julie loves potatoes so much her nickname(s) lovingly given to her by my husband is “tot” or “tater”.  Since she is the one who came up with this recipe, I’m referring to them as taters, in her honor.

These are delicious and super easy to make.  This makes a sizable batch since we had them as our entree, along with steamed broccoli – perfect meal!  The amounts listed are estimates so be sure to taste test and adjust before cooking, if necessary.  It’s hard to mess this one up so not to worry!

Zesty Potato-Corn Chowder

Fresh corn would have made this thick, chunky chowder even better but I was unable to find organic.  Corn is one of those items I always buy organic due to the possibility of GMO’s.  A very small portion of domestic sweet corn in the produce section is actually GMO, but since it’s not the law for it to be labeled (lame), it’s better to err on the side of caution.  Most of the GMO corn is used in processed foods (aka JUNK) and animal feed – just another reason to stay away from that crap and eat WHOLE plant foods!

Anyway, I digress.  This soup is delicious….and even better the next day.  For more intense and “zesty” flavor, add more cumin and chili powder, and use medium or hot green chiles – I used mild.  Jalapeños would be good here too, but as I’ve said before, I’m a spice wimp.  I used 2 teaspoons of chili powder and found it to be a bit too spicy, though the fam disagreed (told ya…wimp).  One of the two teaspoons was chipotle chili powder since I love that smoky flavor.  In one of the pictures below you will see something green in the chowder.  I stirred in some steamed kale and it was super yummy.

Update 9/26/13: I made this without the cashews (accidentally) and it was every bit as creamy and delicious.  So, I’ve changed the ingredient above to OPTIONAL.  

Maple-Dijon Green Bean and Sweet Potato Salad (vegan, low-fat, gluten-free)

It was lunch time.  I opened the fridge and saw fresh green beans I’d gotten from the farmer’s market, and a Japanese sweet potato.  Those are the kind with purple/burgundy skin but are white inside.  Delicious.  Anyway, I thought to myself “what can I do with both those items to make an entree?”  This salad, which I ate warm, is what I came up with.  Very tasty.

I used my amazing pressure cooker for the sweet potato (cooked 2 mins), and the green beans (cooked 1 minute), but however you want to cook them is fine.   This dish is really quick and easy.

Red Lentil Curry || vegan + oil-free + low-fat + gluten-free

I needed something to eat for lunch and the red lentils in the pantry got my attention.  I literally threw these ingredients together without a plan, and was SO happy with the result. It’s hard to believe something this easy could be so flavorful.  It was so good in fact that I included the dish in an Indian themed feast I cooked this past weekend.   It was a big hit along with the Indian Spiced Cabbage, Roasted Aloo (potatoes), brown basmati rice and whole wheat flat bread. 

Red lentils are great because in addition to being extremely healthy and low-fat, they are quick-cooking.  They can be used in sauces to add fiber and protein, or as the main ingredient along with a few others such as the recipe here.  Unlike brown/green lentils they break down easily, blending in with whatever else is in the dish.  They also end up being more yellow in color, even though they are called red and start out more of an orange color.  At 140 calories per cup (dry), 0 grams of fat, 7 grams of fiber and 11 grams of protein, red lentils are a great addition to the diet.

In this dish I used two different types of curry powder, but you don’t have to.  Regular curry is the yellow/orange version you see in most stores.  Different brands can taste different from each other, with some more mild than others.  Madras curry is another type that is similar to regular but with more spice.  Berbere curry is an Ethiopian version, that has a smokier scent/flavor and is much spicier than the others.  Feel free to use whatever variety you have on hand, or a combination like I’ve done here.  The measurements I used result in a mild dish.  As I’ve said before, I’m a spice wimp.