Easiest Ever Never-the-Same Potluck Salad

I don’t remember where I got the original recipe for this salad, but I remember making a version of it way back in the seventies, using instant white rice (yes- that was the grain of choice back then), and frozen peas (about the only vegetable we used, too).

I’ve revived and updated it this summer and I now have a new old recipe that has become one of my favourites. It is so versatile and easy that you can probably make it right now- the only thing is that I never make it exactly the same way twice. So, I will give you the rough recipe and show you the version I made for the last barbecue/potluck I went to.

1. Start with 4-8 cups of any pre-cooked grain you like (this is great for quinoa, couscous, freekeh, anything. I used an ancient grain mix and leftover rice the last time I made this).

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2. Add in 2-6 cups of chopped veggies. Again- whatever you have on hand will work. For the last salad I chopped and cooked one red pepper and one onion. Then I added those to one package of “Japanese style” frozen veggies (edamame, black beans, barley and broccoli). This made a salad filled with lightly cooked veggies, but I have made it with raw veggies at other times and it is just as good. (Green onion is good, as are different bean mixes, use your imagination or just clean out your fridge).

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3. Mix up the dressing:
-1/3 cup light oil (I used canola)
-1/3 cup lime juice (or mix lemon and lime)
-1/8 to 1/4 cup red wine vinegar (or another vinegar of choice)
-1 to 2 Tablespoons of worcestershire sauce (vegan is my choice)
-1 heaping Tablespoon of cumin
-1 teaspoon chili powder
-1/2 teaspoon onion powder
-1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
-1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper
-1/2 teaspoon hot spice mix (I use Cowichan Bay seafood spice or a hot BBQ mix, but try your own favourite mix).
-a pinch of salt and pepper to taste.

4. Blend the dressing up well. Taste and adjust spices to taste. Pour it over the salad. Stir.

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It tastes good right away but if you can hold yourself and your family back and let it sit in the fridge for a while, it will be even better. Sadly, it appears that we did not do this since I have no lovely staged pictures of the final salad in a pretty bowl. Just this picture from when I poured the dressing over and started mixing. I guess you’ll just have to make it yourself. You’ll see.

Summer Fun With Vegetarian Fast Food

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Summer is about barbecues and occasional food fests, so what is a vegan or vegetarian to do? Well, with so many new meat alternatives on the market, now we can join right in. I usually don’t buy processed meat alternatives so on my last shopping trip I was surprised to discover just how many new kinds there are out there. So many in fact, that I couldn’t decide.

I also discovered that stores now sell various new syles of buns. They tend to be the same whitebread junkfood that I so fondly remember from childhood, but sold in new formats (thinner ones, ones with pseudo “smart” grains hidden away, etc). I was irresistibly drawn to the tiny little ones- so-called slider buns, and mini hot dog buns.

The result- I bought the little elf buns, 2 kinds of veggie burgers, 2 kinds of veggie dogs, and added in my own homemade beet burgers and we had two days of “taste offs”. To taste my burgers, I cut them in quarters and ate them open-faced on the buns, while a half length of a hot dog fit nicely into the mini dog buns.

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With a side salad, fresh chili-lime sriracha corn, and garnishes, it was two days of summertime junkfood indulgence. The results were inconclusive (I’ll share the details below for what my family decided), but I did learn that there is no earthly excuse left for me to eat “real” processed meats. There are so many delicious options now that I can fill any wayward junkmeat craving that could ever arise.

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Burgers tested:
Yves “Veggie Burger Burgers”
Isadora’s “Go-Nuts Burger”, made with walnuts from nearby Saturna Island, BC.
My homemade veggie and beet pulp burger, made with pulp from my juicer.

Hot Dogs tested:
Yves Veggie Dogs
Field Roast Frankfurters

Results:
My daughter and I both liked the Yves burgers the best. They are also the cheapest for me to buy since a local store carries them and frequently puts them on sale. They are the most like real meat burgers in taste. My son and I also really liked the Go-Nuts burger, which was not much like a meat burger, but we thought it tasted pretty delicious. We liked the texture of the crunchewy nuts, but my daughter was put off by it. Bonus that it was local, but (likely because they are a small, newer company) it was the most expensive, even on sale. My son’s favourite was my homemade burger (yay me!). I also love its taste, but I cannot get past its deep red color. With white in it also from the chopped onions and oatmeal it just looks eerily like raw hamburger meat to me. No matter how much I tried to cook that color out, I still needed a blindfold to eat it.

My son was lukewarm about both of the hot dogs, but he has never been a hot dog lover, even when we ate meat. My daughter liked the Yves dog best. I am able to cook it so that it has a good texture and juiciness like real hot dogs (see my older post here for tips on cooking veggie burgers- I do hot dogs in a similar way), but to me it still didn’t quite have that real hot dog taste I remember. The Field Roast, however, was phenomenally close to a real frankfurter in taste. It was my favourite, although it was also phenomenally expensive, and extremely salty.

The final verdict: All of these had good and bad points to weigh out, and nutritionally nothing beats homemade, but it was a lot of fun and I could occasionally see doing something like this again. We laughed and chatted and learned new things about each other as we compared and tasted our way through all the different combos.

Just Wonderin’

The most shared headline, #1 on today’s NYDaily News online: Packaged Salad Mix Named as Source of Severe Stomach Virus. It seems that 21 people have been hospitalized over 11 states due to eating prepackaged salad contaminated with cyclospora virus. Cyclospora causes “traveller’s diarrhea” that can last up to 6 weeks and relapse later if untreated. As with any illness like this, it can be dangerous for the immunocompromised population (source), but generally it does not lead to serious complications.

Way down at #5 on the same list is the headline that 50,000 pounds of ground beef has been recalled due to E.coli bacteria. E.coli is known to kill 3-5 percent of people affected by it. Possible lifelong complications include blindness, kidney failure, or paralysis. Within the beef article it also notes that last month, 23,000 pounds of E.coli tainted beef was recalled, and within the salad article is a link to information that “Consumer Reports tested 257 samples of ground turkey from 21 states and found 90 percent were contaminated with germs such as E.coli and staph, as well as fecal bacteria” (link).

Which one do you think is the bigger story?

Random Thoughts About Going Vegan(ish)

My cousin is visiting from England and yesterday we went on a hike and took her to a nice restaurant in Genoa Bay. Naturally, their menu is seafood-based. Knowing this ahead of time, I was prepared to break my usual vegan diet. I will occasionally do that and eat seafood, eggs, or dairy, but I am less and less comfortable with those exceptions. It made me think about how my change in diet has forced other lifestyle changes. Most of them I see as a bonus, but they can definitely remind me how convenience-oriented our society has become.

So, if you decide to move to a vegan or plant-based lifestyle, be prepared to:

-Immediately recycle all the fast food sale flyers that come in your mailbox or newspaper. DO NOT look at them first! They will tell you where you can buy pounds and pounds of already cooked meats and side dishes for a few pennies. You will start to believe you can feed your family with no effort all week for the price it takes to create one plant-based meal. On a Wednesday when you have worked overtime all week and still face two more long days, you will feel even worse.

-Forget about going to fast-food chains. All you can get there are the fries, if they are not cooked in beef tallow. Salads are always vastly overpriced, and you usually you have to ask them to leave off the meat and cheese that gives them a hint of taste. You will be left with a tiny $6.00 plastic bowl of limp iceberg lettuce and a sad oil and vinegar dressing. As a bonus you get to watch and smell everyone around you nomming down on fatty animal carcasses among mounds of greasy paper wrappers. In the 60’s, my Dad used to drive us to the dump to watch coyotes and bears pick through the trash (yeah, fun times, hey?). I was reminded of it the last time I went to a fast food place.

-In regular family-style restaurants, find a dish you can always ask them to make specially for you. But get used to paying full price for meals without meat. I have found virtually every place will make you a BLT sandwich without the bacon or mayo. However, I have never had them offer to take any money off. Similarly, you will find that all of the salad selections come with sliced chicken or salmon. They will happily leave these off if you ask, but they will not reduce the price for doing so.

-You will be surprised at how few meatless (never mind vegan) meals are offered in regular restaurants. You will learn to find the vegan-friendly restaurants in any town you go to. There is usually at least one, and it can be so nice to look at a menu and see some good creative dishes.

-If you watch reality TV, realize that you could never participate on any of the shows yourself. None of the cooks on the shows can cook a meatless meal. (Which brings up the question for me- if they are supposed to be so good, why cant they cook decent meals without meat as a flavour crutch?) And, if you were on any of the amazing race or dare-type shows, you would have to eat some extra nasty kind of offal meat as a challenge.

You will discover some good things, though:

-If you read grocery flyers, you really only have to look at the front and back pages, since the rest of the flyer is filled with meat, dairy, and processed foods. It certainly speeds up the weekly grocery shop planning.

-At the checkout counter, it is always fun to go behind someone who clearly buys from every page of the flyer, and compare their grocery bill with yours.

What unexpected things have you discovered about changing your lifestyle?

Greek Potato Salad Double Duty Dinner, Part 2. Falafel Pitas

So, part 2 of this double-duty dinner is a cinch. In fact, I’d classify it as a fast-food meal really. All you do is pick up some pita bread, make some falafel (you could even buy them ready-made from the deli counter, but remember the store-bought ones are usually deep fried and don’t taste as good as homemade. If you make them at home, you can virtually dry fry them in a good cast-iron pan), and add some extra greens as filler with yesterday’s Greek(ish) Potato Salad (if there is any left after the family keeps sneaking back for more).

That’s it- you then have a delicious and fast faux Greek falafel. Since this was the easiest recipe post ever, I’ll spend the rest of the post showing how to assemble the falafel and wrap it for lunch the next day so that it looks like you picked it up at one of those fancy fast food pita bars:

Step one:
Cut the pita halfway round and gently pull the sides of the pita apart to make a pocket. Fold the top flap halfway back.  100_5055

Step two:
Fill the pocket- first add some greens (I used baby kale), then pack in the Greek potato salad, add the falafel, and finally top with some black olives.

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Step three:
Lift the pita up and gently shake all the contents down until they are right down filling the whole pocket and (here`s the trick) take the (front) flap that is folded backwards, and roll it forwards over and behind the contents so you have a nice firm roll.

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Step four:
Finally, roll the back flap forward over the whole thing, and wrap it all a piece of parchment paper. Fold the bottom of the paper under to protect against any leaks (I just used plain, but if you want to get fancy you can get the checkered stuff like the restaurants have).

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The paper isn’t really necessary but it makes a nice cone to eat from (especially fun for kids). Make a few extra for lunches the next day, and wrap them in a layer of tin foil. The paper helps to keep them from becoming soggy and the foil seals them.100_5066

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Yum! More, please.

Greek(ish) Potato Salad- Fast and Easy Double Duty Meal

100_5030Here is a super easy recipe that is versatile and easy to adjust depending on how much time you have. Because I just throw it together, all measurements are approximate. Tonight we made up a huge batch and had it as a side with a summer weekend BBQ vegan sausage sandwich. Tomorrow I will be using the rest of it in a different way to make a double-duty meal.

Greek-Style Potato Salad

Ingredients (approximate measures)
100_4961-1 or 2 potatoes (I used new red-skinned gems)
-1 or 2 sweet potatoes or yams
-1 or 2 peppers (I like to use red and green or yellow for color)
-1 onion (I used purple for color and sweetness)
-1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes

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-3-5 cloves of garlic (don’t skimp- you really want the heat of the garlic here)
-1/2 to 1 cup feta cheese or vegan feta replacement
-1/2 to 1 cup tzatziki or creamy cucumber dressing.
-Salt and pepper to taste.

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Method:
-Cube the potatoes and sweet potatoes and put in a pot to boil for 5-8 minutes (don’t overcook or they will be mush). When cooked but still holding together, drain and dunk into cold water to cool them and stop them cooking further.
-As the potatoes cook, chop all the other veggies and the feta into cubes (halve or quarter the cherry tomatoes).
-Dump the cheese and veggies in a big bowl.100_5014
-Crush the garlic into the dressing/tzatziki and stir well. Pour the dressing into the veggie bowl and stir them up until well mixed and coated.
-Add in the cooled potatoes and mix until coated.
-Sprinkle with pepper and salt to taste, chill to let flavours mix.

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With all the veggies and a sub of sweet potatoes, this is a much healthier version of potato salad. If you use fat-free dressing or make a vegan tzatziki and feta (using tofu), it is totally guilt-free, too. Served on a bed of kale, it can be a filling meal salad, and a sprinkle of sunflower seeds or a handful of black olive slices make a fine garnish. Creamy and pretty enough to serve to guests, it can be whipped up in 20 minutes. And my kids like it even better the next day after the flavours have really melded. Yum.

Updates

Well, stuff happens and I’m sorry that I’ve had a bit of a break in my posts, but I’m back now. I had a few health struggles at the same time as some large changes at my daytime workplace and it was really all I could cope with. I was very fortunate because in the end it was just a good scare and a warning to keep working on my health. Someday I may write a post about it, but for now I am just happy to get back to some regular blogging.

I’m working on a few small changes to the blog, including getting a proper recipe finder installed to make it easier to plan for meals. Also, because I lost track of where I am with my mileage counter for the “2013 in 2013” challenge, I will be suspending that challenge for now. However, I will still be fundraising for West Coast Assistance Teams throughout this year, so please check them out. More to come soon!

Happy Year of the Snake! Recipes #4. Fat-Free Vegan Chicken “Firecracker” Spicy Rolls

100_4880Here is where the fat-free vegan Chinese theme and my experiments with green jackfruit intersect. Really, I wanted to see what would happen if I baked eggroll wrappers with no fat. I discovered that they are delicious and crispy, and the resulting rolls make excellent appies or lunchbox nibbles.
Continue reading

Happy Year of the Snake! Recipes #3. Fat-free Vegan Chicken Balls

100_4599So here was the challenge: chicken balls as good as the old deep fried ones I used to eat, but- they had to be vegan and fat-free. I planned to use jackfruit as the chicken, so it seemed an easy task- simply find a good batter. And, of course, a way to fry them with no fat- which was where I got stuck. Until I suddenly thought of … Continue reading

Happy Year of the Snake! Recipes #2 Bean Sprout and Baby Bok Choy Salad

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Here is a quick and easy salad we had with our 100_4489Chinese New year meal. I used home sprouted mung beans for the freshest flavour, and then I looked for what was freshest at the market. You could do the same thing with any fresh vegetables for an extremely fast Chinese-style side dish.
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Bean Sprout and Baby Bok Choy Salad
  • 4 baby bok choy, washed and chopped
  • 4-5 cups bean sprouts, rinsed
  • 1 bunch enoki mushrooms, cleaned, roots removed
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1/8 cup soy sauce

Directions:
1) Pour boiling water over bok choy in colander. Rinse immediately with cold water. Drain thoroughly and place in medium serving bowl. repeat process with bean sprouts and place in same bowl. This will brighten the greens and slightly soften the vegetables, allowing them to soak up the flavours.
2) Mix agave, vinegar, soy sauce. Pour over salad and toss to combine.
3) Garnish with the mushrooms.
4) Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.

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