August 29, 2011

Iron, and Spinach Salad

I have an appointment to donate blood platelets this weekend. I've donated blood numerous times but one time I tried to donate platelets and my iron wasn't high enough, so I had to give regular blood instead. The NY Blood Center sent me an e-mail last week offering a $25 gift certificate for a platelet donation, so I want to make sure my iron is good and high this time so I can give the platelets and treat myself to something nice. In order to increase my blood iron, I've been putting a lot of effort into eating more beans and leafy greens.

Here is a spinach salad with heirloom grape tomatoes, avocado, dill, cilantro, fresh lemon juice and olive oil. Vitamin C (which is in the tomatoes and lemon juice) are supposed to help the iron get absorbed.

I hope all of this works. But if not, at least I've found some tasty ways to eat healthier!

Have you ever had to increase your blood iron? What works for you?

Vegan on a Shoestring

August 27, 2011

Farm Sanctuary - Walk for Farm Animals

I am participating in Farm Sanctuary's "Walk for Farm Animals" this fall. Please support the life-saving protection of abused farm animals by donating on my page. All donations go directly to Farm Sanctuary. It only takes pennies a day to keep an animal safe and happy, so whether you are able to donate $1, $10, $20, or more, an animal at the sanctuary will feel your generosity every new peaceful day he/she lives.

If you donate $10 by midnight on Friday 9/2 I'll hand-draw you a 4x6 picture of your favorite animal. I'm no artist, but I promise to imbue the drawing with love and good wishes! When you make your donation, please let your e-mail address be visible to me, and I will e-mail you and ask for your mailing address and an animal of your choice.

Don't have any cash to donate? Take one day next week and skip the take-out for lunch. Make a PB& J instead, take the $5-$10 you saved, and donate it. I have lots of other money-saving tips on my donation page. 

I also want to stress this: I strongly believe that no matter what lifestyle you're currently choosing to live, donating to Farm Sanctuary (or any other animal welfare organization) does not make you a hypocrite. I don't care if you eat meat and cheese every day, supporting the cause is a generous gesture and a big help to protect animals. You would be raising awareness and actively doing something to help, and that is more than other people will do.

Thank you for your generosity.

Vegan on a Shoestring

August 26, 2011

Lettuce Rollups with Hummus

My gas is still off. I hope I don't get a Con-Ed bill this month because this is ridiculous. The super gave me an electric hot plate but it takes foreeever to heat things up. I've been eating a lot of salads, smoothies, and fruits.

I took romaine leaves and topped them with hummus, sprouts, and a beautiful heirloom tomato. The tomato was $3.99 per pound so for the huge tomato it was about $3-4 but it was so worth the splurge. It was the most flavorful, sweet tomato I'd ever had. Heirloom tomatoes and heirloom grape tomatoes have been on sale every week at Whole Foods so I've been indulging. They are so tasty and make my meals a lot more special. 

Do you ever use dips on lettuce instead of bread, or on sliced veggies instead of chips? What is your favorite combination? 

Vegan on a Shoestring

August 22, 2011

Jerk Tempeh Spread/Salad/Filling

This idea was spawned from a previous super yummy tempeh sandwich I made. I wanted something spicy and different, a sandwich that took me on a little vacation.

Jerk Tempeh Spread/Salad/Filling
  • 4 ounces (half a package) tempeh, steamed (or, microwaved in a bowl of water for a few minutes) 
  • 3 Tablespoons mayonnaise (I used original Vegenaise)
  • 2 teaspoons jerk seasoning, or to taste (I used Grace brand hot seasoning, from the jar)
  • 1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce (you can use Annie's brand)
  • salt to taste (I didn't add any because the jerk and worcestershire were salty enough)
Combine all the ingredients and mash together until well-combined and has a consistency like tuna or chicken salad.

I used the spread on multigrain bread with avocado, green tomato, and chopped onion. It was good the first time, but much much better the second time after the spread had been chilling overnight and the flavors had developed.

What kind of flavors do you like in a sandwich? Smoky, spicy, sour, salty, sweet...?

Vegan on a Shoestring

August 19, 2011

Vegan Cheese Showdown

In my omni days (and much more so during my attempts as a vegetarian) I was a big cheese-eater. Deli slices, blues, bries, hard cheeses, even the stinky washed name it, I loved it. There are many vegan cheeses on the market and most of them are priced comparably to conventional cheeses (but are just as high in fat, so beware!), but what of their taste? Here are the results of my quest for good cheese.

FYH Mozzarella style cheese, cold and by itself, has a mild flavor and tastes like oil or vegan butter. The texture is oily, softer than mozzarella, and of course it isn't stringy like its namesake, but it's sliceable. When I used it on a pizza, it melted and bubbled like conventional cheese and it looked nice. Upon eating it, the first thing I noticed was that the melted cheese left a film on the roof of my mouth. The second thing I noticed was that my pizza tasted like I had topped it with a sturdier, melty version of Earth Balance. Overall, FYH Mozzarella was a decent solution to a craving for melty, creamy cheese, but I never bought it again. (Tip: this cheese takes a while to melt and can burn all of a sudden, so you have to keep an eye on it.)

Sheese Smoked Cheddar style cheese, cold and by itself, had a weird aftertaste that was so hard for me to get past that I didn't even try to eat it melted. The Bute Islands website touts it as a cheese that can be enjoyed alone, but I couldn't. The texture of the cheese was almost spot-on for a hard cheese such as cheddar. But the me it tasted like chemicals or something and just tasted really artificial. Maybe I need to try other flavors. Has anyone else tried Sheese? What did you think?

Daiya cheddar style shreds, cold and by itself, has a similar taste to the Follow Your Heart cheese, that vegan butter flavor, but leans more toward a mild cheese. I've also tried the Pepper Jack flavor and it also has the vegan butter flavor underlying the peppers. Daiya is supposed to melt and stretch like conventional cheese, and it really does. I've used it in grilled cheese sandwiches with great success, flavor-wise and texture-wise. On pizza it has a slight vegan butter flavor but the texture is much better than FYH. I used the Pepper Jack flavor in a vegan quiche and it was omni-approved by someone who is a major meat/cheese-alternative-phobe. (Tip: this cheese also takes a while to melt and can burn all of a sudden, so you have to keep an eye on it.)

Several months before I became vegan, I tried Dr. Cow Aged Tree Nut Cheese at an academic gathering because it was brought by a vegan student. As an omni I was really surprised by the cheese and liked it very much. The cheese definitely left an impression on me and planted a little seed: "If stuff like this exists, I guess it can't be so bad to be vegan!" I sought out Dr. Cow and bought it at least a few times before even becoming vegan. The Aged Tree Nut cheese comes in several varieties, most of which I have tried. All the aged cheeses have a texture almost as firm as cheddar so you can slice it when it's cold, but unlike cheddar you can spread it at room temperature. All the varieties have the same base flavor: a rich, barely nutty flavor with the tang of an actual aged cheese (which is because it actually is aged). Dr. Cow aged tree nut cheeses are definitely cheeses that stand on their own two feet and can be enjoyed alone, with wine, on plain crackers, or with fruits or nuts. I have never tried this cheese melted and suppose that it's really meant to be eaten alone, not melted into other foods, and I doubt that it melts like a conventional cheese anyway. The only downside about this cheese is the price. A very small 2.3 ounce wheel (about 2 inches in diameter and 2 inches high) goes for about $8.50, so this cheese is a really big splurge at about 6-8 times the unit price of the other vegan cheeses. This is a special occasion cheese for me. I tried to make this cheese at home and totally failed, but I'm not giving up. Stay tuned for posts on homemade nut cheeses.

Verdict: My favorite vegan cheese to eat on its own is Dr. Cow Aged Tree Nut Cheese (which is not only vegan, but raw), and my favorite vegan cheese for cooking is Daiya.

Here is the last Dr. Cow aged tree nut cheese I had. It was the blue algae flavor (hence the color).

Have you tried any storebought vegan cheese? What did you think of it?

Vegan on a Shoestring

August 16, 2011

Spicy Tempeh, Another Way

I took my leftover spicy tempeh filling and used it in a sandwich with shredded carrots, diced celery, and sliced avocado on multigrain bread. It was so yummy and satisfying and I would almost say it was better this way than in the sushi roll!

What leftovers do you throw into sandwiches?

Vegan on a Shoestring

August 11, 2011

Lunch in a Flash

I made lunch this morning before running out the door: between two slices of nutty multigrain bread I spread two tablespoons of peanut butter and laid down 3 leaves of romaine lettuce. Fast, yummy, and minimal clean-up.

Do you have any lunches that you throw together in a flash?

Vegan on a Shoestring

August 5, 2011


I love sushi. It's nice to look at, it tastes good, and it involves nutritious sea vegetables (iodine, anyone?). Unfortunately, it's also really pricy.

The first time I ever made sushi on my own, I was shocked at how little food actually went into making each maki roll (a sheet of nori, a handful of rice, and some thin strips of fillings). I regretted that I had ever paid $3.50 and up for each roll. I was also surprised at how easy it was to make and swore to never to buy sushi again.

I use Alton Brown's sushi rice recipe. It is important to stick with the short grain rice (also called sushi rice). Be careful not to get short-grain sweet rice by mistake (like I once did). I have tried substituting the sushi rice with medium-grain white rice and with long-grain brown rice, and both came out terribly. For the rice, you've got to stick with short-grain. There is also short-grain brown rice but I haven't tried it yet.

You will need one bamboo mat to roll the sushi. You can get one for $2-3 at an Asian market, or online for a couple dollars more. You will need to wrap the mat in plastic wrap so food doesn't get all up in the mat.

For my sushi today I made a spicy tempeh filling, inspired by The Post Punk Kitchen's recipe.

Spicy Tempeh Sushi (makes 4 rolls)
  • 4 ounces tempeh (half a package), steamed. (Or, in my case, microwaved in a bowl of water for a few minutes because my building's gas is still off.)
  • 2 Tablespoons mayo (I used original Vegenaise)
  • chili sauce to taste (I used 3 teaspoons of Sriracha)
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 4 cups prepared sushi rice, a la Alton Brown
  • 4 sheets nori (unless you absolutely must have your nori raw or organic, I strongly suggest you get it from an Asian market where it is much much cheaper)
  • desired veggies, chopped finely or cut into long, thin strips
  • Mash the tempeh, mayo, chili sauce and sesame oil together until well combined and resembles tuna salad.
  • Take a nori sheet and lay it on your plastic-wrap-covered bamboo mat, shiny side down.
  • Spread a thin layer of sushi rice over the lower 3/4 of the sheet, leaving some nori exposed on the upper edge which you should wet lightly with your fingers so the roll seals properly (like an envelope). You will need about a cup of rice. The rice will be sticky so you'll need to work with wet hands and keep wetting them as needed.
  • In the center of the rice, lay strips of your ingredients.
  • Using the bamboo mat, fold the lower part of the roll over to tightly enclose the rice and fillings then finish rolling, up to the wet seal. It's really hard to explain and I don't know if I did it justice, so here is a link to a video.
I made one roll with the spicy tempeh (upper line) with shredded carrots and diced celery (lower line) with toasted sesame seeds sprinkled over all.

The other roll had the spicy tempeh (upper line) with avocado (lower line) with toasted sesame seeds sprinkled over all.

Yummy with pickled ginger on the side.

I get tempeh for $1.69 at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods. A $1.69 block of tempeh is enough to make 8 rolls, which would feed 3-4 people. So that's only like $5-7, tops, (including the other ingredients) to feed sushi to a few people (but much cheaper if you avoid pricier fillings like avocado and tempeh). Nuts, I tell you!

Do you like sushi? What are some of your favorite fillings?

Vegan on a Shoestring

August 4, 2011

Easy Microwave Besan Ladoo

Indian sweets are the bane of my vegan existence. While they are extremely rich and decadent, they are mostly based on cow's milk or ghee. I have just veganized a favorite of mine: besan ladoo. The ladoos came out very flavorful and decadent.

The easiness and speed of this recipe is purely circumstantial. I decided to roast the besan in the microwave because the gas in my building was shut off and I was beasting too badly to wait it out.

Besan Ladoo

  • 1/2 cup butter, melted (I used original Earth Balance)
  • 1 1/2 cups chickpea flour (besan)
  • 2/3 cup sugar, regular or powdered
  • 1/3 cup almonds or pistachios, sliced or coarsely ground to preference
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom (about 4-5 pods)
  • Combine butter and chickpea flour in a large microwaveable bowl and microwave on high for 5-8 minutes. Every minute, remove from microwave and stir. Stop microwaving when the flour darkens in color to an amber/reddish brown and smells roasted and fragrant, about 5-8 minutes depending on microwave strength. (If you taste a tiny lump and it tastes kind of acrid or sour, it's still raw. I know this because after 5 minutes it smelled super fragrant and I thought it was done but when I tasted it it tasted nasty, but after 2 more minutes or so, roasted loveliness!)
  • Add sugar, nuts and cardamom and combine thoroughly. Let sit to cool until still warm but not too hot to handle, about 10 minutes.
  • Put 2-3 Tablespoons into the palm of your hand and press tightly, into a ball shape. The texture will be crumbly - you won't be able to roll it between your palms like fudge, you will have to press it tightly and round it out by pressing with your fingertips. If the texture is so dry that it won't even be pressed together, add more melted butter a little at a time until it can be pressed. When you squeeze it with your hand, it should be able to stick together in a lump.
I got 14 ping-pong sized ladoo out of this recipe. Much cheaper and more convenient than buying it at an Indian sweet shop. For the sake of my waistline, I hope I can refrain from making this regularly.

Have you ever made candy/sweets using the microwave? 

Vegan on a Shoestring

August 2, 2011

Cooking Comfort Zone

I've always loved Indian food. It's full of interesting, complex, rich flavor and it's so filling and satisfying. While I'm great at eating and enjoying Indian food, I don't have a good track record at making Indian food. I don't know if it was me or the recipes I used, but I always turned out flavorless or strange-tasting dishes. After several failed attempts I resigned myself to buying Indian food if I wanted it. Indian food became a weak spot for me because it was something I loved so much but I had come to the conclusion that I could never make it for myself. It was far outside of my cooking comfort zone. Even since becoming vegan and cooking so many new foods, it still hadn't occurred to me to try again.

I started craving Indian food a couple of weeks ago. I bought a big load of samosas one day and worked on them for a couple of days. Then I bought some curry for lunch another day, and again a couple of days later. Then I was like, "Why don't I try to make this again?" 

Since finding Manjula's Kitchen and making her recipes, I definitely feel more competent at it. I have made several Indian dishes during the past week or two, with great success. Not only have my curries come out very tasty, they have not been difficult to make. I am on a serious Indian kick right now, spurred by cravings for it, and maintained by finally being able to produce it at home.

Of all the positive effects of veganism, I'm currently very grateful for opening myself up to experimenting more in the kitchen. I used to have a repertoire of recipes and cooking techniques to which I clung firmly. Since becoming vegan I appreciate food a lot more and trust it a lot more, and that has led me to push my old limits on what I'm willing to try. I make new foods all the time now. With every new dish I make, I am not only reaching outside of my cooking comfort zone, I am expanding it. It's good for me because I get to try new things and keep learning, and it's good for my loved ones because they also get to reap the pleasures and benefits of new, yummy, cholesterol-free, animal-free foods.

Do you have a cooking comfort zone? What dishes or cuisines are difficult for you to make?

Vegan on a Shoestring