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Thursday, January 16, 2014

"Cheesy" Brown Rice & Roasted Butternut Squash (Vegan, Gluten-Free, Soy-Free)

This entree is up there with my spaghetti recipe I shared on the blog a few weeks back. They are my two favorites. My pride and joy. There. I said it. I play favorites. Now what?

In this recipe, the contrast of the Daiya cheddar "cheese" and sweet roasted butternut squash is heaven to the taste buds. Add in the various spices, vegetables and toppings, and you will experience pure bliss when chowing down. I can't get enough of this stuff. My dad, a.k.a taste tester extraordinaire, told me to make double next time. He was licking the spoon afterwards. That's a first. It takes a bit longer to make because of the prep time - chopping the vegetables, roasting the squash, cooking the brown rice - but if you chop the vegetables ahead of time, maybe on a Sunday, and even cook the brown rice ahead of time (extra bonus points for you), it will be a breeze to whip up on the day you put it all together.

While transitioning to full-fledged veganism, I held on to cheese for awhile before making the full commitment because I loved the taste and grew up eating it on a daily basis. But alas, I let it go from my grasp forever because I wasn't going to allow my own unimportant selfish desires to take precedence over the cruel, unethical treatment of cows (and all other animals) on factory farms. Turning a blind eye wasn't an option for me. There are plenty of other animal-free (thus, cruelty-free) tasty food options out there, much healthier, too. With my new knowledge and awareness, I refused to further contribute to their suffering and to industries abusing and killing animals for profit. Non-human animals deserve and desire to live happily with their families just like humans do. So, enter the superhero by the name of Daiya, that comes in to save vegans with its orange cape and a "V" on its chest and "cruelty-free" plastered across the back... Woosh! Cheesy? I know. (Pun intended, by the way.) But seriously, Daiya "cheese" tastes delicious. Sure, it doesn't taste like real cheese, but it's not supposed to. It certainly melts and stretches like real cheese, though, and has great flavor.

Since we're on the topic of cheese, I want to provide some insight into what goes into producing cheese. Yes, there are different methods to making cheese. It's true, organic raw cheese that has not been pasteurized and comes from the milk of grass-fed animals without the use of hormones or antibiotics is ideal for someone who eats animal products. Unfortunately, 90% of cheese in standard grocery stores come from the milk of cows raised in CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). CAFOs are agricultural operations where animals are raised in crowded, filthy, and abusive conditions with no access to their natural pasture and are typically grain-fed and soy-fed. And though organic raw cheese is produced with a"kinder method" it doesn't change the fact that the male calves are taken away from their mothers at birth, placed in confinement for the rest of their lives, often abused, and then slaughtered to be used for veal and that the female cow will eventually be slaughtered as well after she is thought to be useless.

Once the female cow has given all the milk she can give over 3-4 years, she is oftentimes abused to "keep production moving" (for profit) as she heads to the slaughterhouse to be made into ground beef. For the purpose of mass production, female cows produce about 10 times the amount of milk, with the help of hormones and production technologies, that they would otherwise produce naturally.

The treatment of animals in factory farms and slaughterhouses is the most horrendous, heart-wrenching truth I have ever witnessed. Mercy for Animals conducted an undercover investigation in 2013 at a dairy factory farm in Wisconsin and this is what they found: "Workers viciously kicking, beating and whipping cows in the face and body, sick and injured cows suffering from open wounds and infections, and workers dragging cows by their fragile legs and necks using chains attached to a tractor—these are just some of the routine abuses documented by an MFA investigator at a DiGiorno cheese supplier in Wisconsin." I can only say so much, though. Watching the actual act happen is more life-changing than any words could ever be. I recommend the powerful documentary called Earthlings that brings the truth to light. It is narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, which I think is pretty cool.

We're in the midst of a major transformation. You're part of it. I'm part of it. We're experiencing an awakening, a return to consciousness. I sincerely hope you'll participate in this change and consider cutting back on or cutting out animal products. Even having one meal a week without dairy products would save approximately 1 billion cows. Contrary to popular belief, it is much more fun, easier, healthier (if eating a well-balanced nutrient-dense vegan diet), and kinder to eat an animal-free plant-based diet. Doris Lin said something so striking: "It may seem counterintuitive that milk, which is so connected to birth and life, is also so connected to slaughter and death. However, the animal agriculture industry is not in the business of feeding and housing animals who are not profitable."

I'll end this on a positive note. A few days ago, I tweeted a link to this video that shows 25 cows being released into their natural pasture after almost being slaughtered. It'll make your day.

"Cheesy" Brown Rice & Roasted Butternut Squash
Adapted from this recipe

YIELD: 4 servings

• 1 cup uncooked short-grain brown rice (yields 3 cups cooked), soaked overnight or for 2 hours (optional but recommended)
• 2 1/2 cups water
• 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, cubed and roasted (approx. 4-5 cups)
• 2-3 tsp extra virgin olive oil, grapeseed oil or water (to water sauté w/o any oil)
• 2 cups sweet onion, chopped
• 3 garlic cloves, minced
• 2 red bell peppers, chopped
• 1 Tbs cumin
• 2 tsp fine sea salt
• 1/2 tsp chili powder
• 1 1/4 cups Daiya cheddar cheese
• A few pinches of cayenne pepper, or to taste
• A few pinches of smoked paprika, or to taste (optional)
• Top with: cilantro, olives (kalmatta, black or green), and 1/2 avocado per serving


1. Roast the butternut squash. See here for step-by-step directions with pictures on how to peel, chop and roast the squash.
2. In a strainer, rinse off the soak water from the brown rice until the water runs clear. In a large pot, combine the water and brown rice and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, add a few pinches of sea salt, cover, and let simmer for 40-50 minutes. Check it at the 30 minute mark, stir and make sure it isn't sticking to the bottom of the pan. If so, add more water. It's done when tender and all water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork and set aside.
3. In a large sauté pan over medium-low heat, add oil or water, onion and minced garlic. Sauté for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent. Now, add in the sea salt, cumin, chili powder, and smoked paprika (if using) and mix well.
4. Mix in the cooked brown rice and red bell pepper and cook for another 10 minutes on low heat.
5. Once the butternut squash is done and slightly cooled, add to the pan and mash up some of the squash pieces. Mix in the Daiya cheese and cook for another few minutes until melted.
6. Serve and top with chopped cilantro, chopped olives and avocado. Store leftovers in an airtight container.

“May our daily choices be a reflection of our deepest values, and may we use our voices to speak for those who need us most, those who have no voice, those who have no choice.” Colleen Patrick-Goudreau


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