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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Spaghetti with Lentils & Walnuts + Cashew Parmesan "Cheese" (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Soy-Free)

As promised, today's blog post features my most favorite entree I've made yet! Once I perfected it, I was so eager to share it with all of you. Spaghetti was a weekly meal in my house growing up. As far as I'm concerned, my mom made the best spaghetti in the world! It was the most flavorful dish she made and it easily beat out all of the spaghetti dishes I tried at Italian restaurants. The trick was adding water to the sauce and letting it simmer for up to an hour. She explained to me that as the water evaporates over time, the flavors from the ingredients become more potent. Boy was she on to something! You know when people say that leftovers taste better because the flavors were able to mingle and marinate together overnight? It's true for so many dishes, especially one like spaghetti.

I realize, though, that most of us just simply do not have time to wait on a meal for that long so the spaghetti recipe I am sharing today does not require a long simmer time, but if you have the time, by all means, simmer away!

As an added bonus, I've also included a cashew Parmesan "cheese" recipe for you that comes from one of my favorite bloggers. The spaghetti can hold its own without any toppings but some faux Parmesan never hurt anyone. It is actually quite tasty and gives a nice added flavor to the dish. And with only 3 ingredients, it's a cinch to make, not to mention much healthier than its counterpart. It lasts a long time, too.

It was a no-brainer for me to come up with a healthier, vegan & gluten-free alternative to one of my favorite meals. And yes, it passed the "dad test." He raved and raved about the sauce. It is very filling thanks to the lentils, walnuts and brown rice pasta. No one's spaghetti will ever live up to my mom's but this comes mighty close. ;-)

Today's ingredient spotlight goes to...

Lentils - I just recently tried lentils for the first time and was so happy to find that I really liked them. You can put them in everything from soups to salads to sauces to veggie burgers. They're even delicious on their own sprinkled with some Celtic sea salt. Lentils have a pretty plain, nutty flavor on their own. I cook them with a bay leaf and mix in some sea salt after they're done cooking to enhance the flavor. Luckily, they do not have to be soaked before cooking so they're hassle-free, too.

Enough about how lentils taste. What kind of nutritional profile are they workin' with? Lentils are considered a heart-healthy food because they are packed with soluble fiber, which helps to lower cholesterol and prevent clogged arteries, reducing the risk for heart disease and stroke. The soluble fiber also helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and provides us with steady, slow-burning energy. The insoluble fiber contained in lentils helps to support digestive health, prevent constipation and sweep toxins out of the body. The folate found in lentils helps to lower homocysteine levels, a risk factor for heart disease. This legume is also rich in magnesium, which helps to lower blood pressure and also regulates muscle and nerve function. Low levels of magnesium have been linked to heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis.

1 cup supplies us with a whopping 18 grams of protein, 16-18% of our daily value of magnesium, zinc, potassium, and vitamin B6 and has only 230 calories. To recap, lentils are high in fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals, are low in calories and contain hardly any fat, yet they keep us full, satisfied and well-nourished. So, yes, they can also help with weight loss. [source]

It would be wrong of me not to mention that lentils are not a complete protein. Protein is made up of amino acids. There are 9 amino acids out of 20 that the human body cannot make so we have to get them from the food we eat. That's why they're called the 9 essential amino acids. If a food has all 9 essential amino acids, it is called a complete protein. Lentils lack a sufficient amount of 2 essential amino acids: methionine and cysteine. However, they do contain lysine, which is the most important amino acid for vegans and vegetarians to have in their diets. There is no need to "combine proteins" to ensure you're provided with an adequate amount of protein so long as your diet contains a variety of plant-based foods (vegetables, fruits, beans/legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains) and you're taking in enough calories (energy) daily.

Spaghetti with Lentils & Walnuts + Cashew Parmesan "Cheese"
Spaghetti inspired by this recipe
Cashew Parmesan "Cheese" original recipe

YIELD: 3 servings of spaghetti, approx. 3/4 cup of Parmesan "cheese"


For the spaghetti:
• 8 oz. brown rice spaghetti pasta or other gluten-free pasta *See note
• 1 1/4 cup garlic marinara pasta sauce
• 3/4 cup green or brown lentils, cooked (how to cook lentils here)
• 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
• 1/4 cup nutritional yeast *See note
• 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
• 3 Tbs ketchup
• 1 tsp basil (dried or fresh)
• 1 tsp oregano
• 1 tsp garlic powder
• 3/4 tsp sea salt
• 1/4 tsp black pepper
• 1/4 cup red bell pepper, chopped (optional)

For the cashew Parmesan "cheese":
• 1 cup raw cashews
• 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
• 1 tsp sea salt


For the spaghetti:
1. First, cook the lentils. Then, cook the pasta according to package directions.
2. Meanwhile, heat a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Dry toast the walnuts for a few minutes in the pot, being careful not to burn them.
3. Add in the rest of the ingredients, except for the lentils and red bell pepper, and stir well. Let the sauce simmer over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes. Add in the lentils and red bell pepper a few minutes before time's up and stir well. Adjust seasonings to taste.
4. Rinse and drain the cooked pasta in a colander and serve desired amount on a plate. Top with the sauce and cashew parmesan "cheese", if desired.

For the cashew Parmesan "cheese":
1. Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor and mix until a fine crumb forms resembling Parmesan cheese. Adjust seasonings to taste. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 3 months or freeze up to a year.

You can find the brown rice spaghetti pasta brand that I linked at Whole Foods, Sprouts or other health food stores in individual packages. I found that this brand has a longer cooking time than what is given on the package. Jovial organic brown rice spaghetti is also delicious and cooks quicker but it is more expensive.
• You can buy nutritional yeast online or in bulk at a health food store, which is what I do to save money. It is not an active yeast, don't worry! It won't disturb the healthy bacteria in your gut. It is actually really nutritious as it contains vitamin B12, which all of us, vegans and omnivores alike, need, but especially vegans and vegetarians. Many vegans love it for its cheese-like flavor.
• Every product I link you can buy in store. I buy most everything at Whole Foods or Sprouts. I just link them for you so you can see what the product looks like, the ingredients, price, and so forth. I buy all nuts, seeds, legumes (such as lentils), and whole grains in the bulk aisle of Whole Foods.

Much love to you all! <3

"Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder." Rumi

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Grain-Free, Soy-Free)

Before I get into what this post is really about, it would be rude of me to leave you hanging on how my vegan gluten-free Thanksgiving went down. I am happy to report that it went off without a hitch! Hallelujah! Sure, I had a lot of explaining to do, but I didn't mind it because any way I can bring consciousness to a healthy, compassionate way of living I will gladly do it. Thanks, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, for doing this in such a major way. I know that it is my purpose here on this earth to spread the knowledge of true health, wellness and healing so that people can live their fullest, healthiest, most authentic lives, so that the environment can thrive and so that animals can live peacefully and happily for as long as they are meant to.

In other news, I love a good cookie. So, when I transitioned to a healthy, mostly plant-based diet, I thought I'd have to give them up or sacrifice taste. Luckily, I avoided having to do either of those because I found a healthier alternative that tastes just as good and more importantly, doesn't bring about a rapid sugar high or a heavy feeling afterwards. I've talked extensively about the dangers of refined sugar on these two blog posts if you'd like to read more: brownies & chocolate cupcakes.

Back to the cookies. They passed "the dad test." That's all that needs to be said, really. He LOVED them, so much so that he actually asked me if I could make more of them because he knew they disappear so quickly. As I've mentioned in past posts, him approving of a vegan, gluten-free, healthy anything is a huge deal. He is the perfect guinea pig, lemme tell ya, because the words "vegan" and "gluten-free" were so foreign to him until I changed my way of eating. My dad tells me the truth and I can just tell if he really likes something or doesn't. 

These cookies are fantastic because they are so super easy to make and they're just so darn tasty without all of the refined sugars and heavy dairy products. Even though there is pumpkin puree in these cookies, you can't really taste the pumpkin, only the very subtle pumpkin pie spice. Even still, pumpkin is really good for you. It contains vitamins A, C & E, the minerals iron & potassium, antioxidants like carotenoids, and fiber. Check out more on the impressive health benefits of pumpkin in this post and you might as well try out the pumpkin spice steel-cut oatmeal while you're at it! It's the perfect breakfast on a cold morning. All of pumpkin's health-boosting properties are wonderful and all but I also needed a reason to use up all of the pumpkin puree lying around. Does anyone else have that problem? It's a good one to have.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
YIELD: 28 cookies

• 3/4 cup raw almond butter
• 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
• 1/3 cup vegan chocolate chunks (you can also cut up your favorite dark chocolate into chunks - this kind is my very favorite)
• 1/4 cup + 2 Tbs raw coconut nectar (you can also use pure maple syrup if that's all you have)
• 2 tsp vanilla extract
• 1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon
• 1 tsp baking soda
• 1/4 tsp sea salt

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or a Silpat.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients, except for the chocolate chunks, and mix well. Fold in the chocolate chunks last. Add more sweetener if desired.

3. Using the tablespoon measuring spoon, scoop the cookie mixture onto the baking sheets and bake for 15 minutes for softer cookies or 18 minutes for firmer cookies. (I like them best after 18 minutes in the oven - the center is still soft and the outside is crispy!)

I hope your holiday season has been stress-free so far! I've been doing most of my shopping online since Dallas weather decided to have an insane ice storm this week. The roads were so icy and slick that we had to stay in all weekend and many schools have been closed or have had delayed starts for 3 or 4 days. We're just not prepared for this type of weather, especially considering it was in the 70s last week and dropped into the teens this week. Hopefully I can venture out this weekend and get more shopping done. 

Stay warm and cozy, my friends, and enjoy this time with your loved ones. One of my favorite things to do this time of year is to reflect back on the year and acknowledge my accomplishments and areas for improvement as well as goal-setting and action plans for the new year. I also try to disconnect from technology more often during the holidays to really stay in the present moment of real life.

If you're feeling stressed, like most people are during this time of year, I suggest doing some yoga or your favorite type of exercise, light a candle or incense and meditate, read, watch a movie, cuddle up with your pets and/or your significant other, or anything that relaxes and rejuvenates you, and think of all of the things you're grateful for instead of focusing on what's troubling you. You can't always control your circumstances but you can always control how you feel about them. Stay tuned for my most favorite entree I've ever made coming next week... another one that passed "the dad test" with flying colors. ;-)

"Nourishment extends beyond our diet. Truthfully, we are nourishing whatever we give our time and attention to. Positive or negative. Take a bit of time to observe your life in totality. What are you nourishing?" @Vegnspiration (Instagram)
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