Vegan

Green Tomatillo Salsa (with Avocado “Crema” Variation)

Tomatillo Salsa

My mom has a friend named Maria Garcia. She’s adorable for so many reasons, and not just because her name rhymes. She’s always dressed in cheery, colorful clothing. She’s never without a broad smile and the room is perpetually filled with her lyrical laughter. My favorite thing about her though?

She usually has a shot of tequila in her hand.

That, and she makes a killer tomatillo salsa. I’ve known Maria for most of my life and lucky for me, her signature salsa makes an appearance at most of our gift-giving occasions.

I love tomatillo salsa. Give me a choice between salsa verde and just about every other condiment known to man, and the green variety is going to win 9 times out of 10. But Maria’s is something special. She doesn’t use any onion, which I like because I’ve had too many salsas where the onion dominated the flavor.

And she doesn’t shy away from the spice–another key to my heart. In truth, I ask chefs to make dishes “spicy like you hate me,” and yet I have never, not ever, used the number of jalapeños Maria suggests in her recipe. She is far more bad-ass than I.

jalapenos

She also boils her jalapeños and tomatillos, which I like as artistic license. I’ve had salsa verde made from fresh ingredients blended in a food processor, and while delicious, that version of tomatillo salsa tastes much “greener” in flavor and less seasoned or intense. Furthermore, the addition of lime juice becomes essential, otherwise there is hardly any tang. When you boil your veggies, the spice becomes spicier and the tang comes out of the tomatillos naturally.

boiling peppersWhich brings me to tomatillos, the funny little things. They tend to be quite hard when you purchase them and enclosed in a little husk. Although I wasn’t able to find any documented reason why, I’m told the husk can be boiled with nopales (cactus) to remove the slime that nopales–and similar plants like aloe–are notorious for. Which makes me wonder if it can be used when cooking okra…And also whether this is just an old esposa’s tale…

But I digress.

Ironically, tomatillos also have a lot of pectin in them. I say ironic because the husks reportedly remove goo, whereas the fruit itself can cause your salsa to get thick and well, goo-ey, once refrigerated. If this happens to you, it simply means that not enough liquid was added to the recipe. Just stir in a tablespoon at a time of warm water until you reach the desired consistency.

tomatillos

The only thing I do differently from Maria when I make tomatillo salsa–aside from using fewer than 10 jalepenos–is to add lime zest. As stated above, I don’t really feel that lime juice is a necessary addition, but part of me was yearning for a nod to that flavor. Zest to the rescue! I looooove citrus zest–it’s just got such zing to it! Apparently I also love four letter nouns that start with “z!”

So if you’re down with the zest, go for it. But know that it’s totally optional. I assure you the results are delicious either way!

zesting limes

Oh and one last thing. This is delicious on fish tacos, where it can comingle with a little lime-crema. But if dairy is no bueno in your universe, try my Avocado Crema variation. Just blend half a ripe avocado with a cupish of green salsa in your food processor until the avocado is completely blended and the mixture is creamy. Add more or less salsa depending on how pourable you’d like your sauce to be. I’ll sometimes make it on the thicker side and dip cold, crunchy crudite into it. Yum!

Green Tomatillo Salsa (with Avocado “Crema” variation)
  • 8-10 tomatillos, husks removed
  • 1-3 jalapeños, depending on your spice tolerance
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 tsp salt, to taste
  • zest of one lime, optional
  • 1/4 c water
  • small bunch cilantro leaves, torn from stems
  • tomatoes, optional
  • half a ripe avocado, peeled and seeded (for Avocado “Crema” variation)
  1. Put tomatillos and jalapeños in a saucepan with cool water. Bring to a boil and simmer 8 minutes until tomatillos are soft.
  2. Remove from water and allow to cool to the touch.
  3. Remove fibrous stems from tomatillos and peppers (retaining seeds and pulp) and place in food processor with garlic, salt and lime zest, if using. Process until combined. Add water, beginning with 1/4 c until salsa is slightly thinner than the perfect consistency. It will thicken in the fridge.
  4. Add cilantro leaves and pulse until just combined.
  5. Taste. If your salsa is too spicy, you can add whole fresh tomatoes. Just add one at a time until you reach your desired spice level. Or you can make the crema variation that follows, since the fat in the avocado also cuts down on the spice quotient.
  6. For Avocado Crema: Pour salsa into a bowl or beaker, preferably one with a pour spout. No need to clean the food processor.
  7. Process avocado until smooth and creamy. Pour in 3/4 to 1 cup of salsa and process until combined.
  8. Enjoy!

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Better Stuffed Peppers (Gluten- & Dairy-Free, Vegan)

Stuffed Peppers with Quinoa, Mushrooms, and Black Beans

I’ve never liked stuffed peppers.

I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the notion of eating spaghetti sauce as a meal. Maybe it’s because it’s usually spaghetti sauce mixed with rice and topped with melted cheddar, which is not a flavor combination that really sings to me, you know? Or it could be the sagging, wrinkly pepper that serves as a receptacle for these weirdly blended filling ingredients.

Either way, when a client asked for stuffed peppers, I groaned on the inside.

Of course I’ll feed a client whatever they want, but it means that I have to taste that uninspired dish along the way and ultimately serve something I couldn’t be convinced to eat myself. It’s the artistic equivalent of paint-by-numbers. And nobody respects a hack.

So needless to say I was intrigued when she sent me a recipe she’d found—a version using ingredients I’d never heard of in a stuffed pepper recipe—and utilizing spices that made it more southwestern than pseudo-Italian. And it didn’t have meat or cheese, making the already gluten-free dinner option vegan to boot, so possibly…useful for me to have in my arsenal?

I was still skeptical, however. For starters, when has taking the cheese out of a recipe ever made it better? And secondly, at that time in my life, I generally ate things in spite of them being vegan, and not because of it.

But I bit the bullet and tried the new fandangled spin on the old classic. And discovered I was wrong. Deliciously so.

Turns out I DO like stuffed peppers. Damn, I love a happy accident!

Over time, I’ve made the recipe mine; adding spices, subtracting toppings. I’ve tried multiple variations—the addition of potato, for instance—great for when you’re trying to bulk the recipe up from six servings to eight. I’ve boiled the peppers for two minutes all the way up to ten. Turns out I prefer them not boiled at all. I like the tiny bit of crunch they retain after just the single bake.

mini peppers

Then I discovered what a great appetizer these make when you stuff them in tiny sweet peppers, like these.

These babies are a perfect one- or two-bite snack and are delicate enough that they don’t need to be baked at all. Serve them at room temperature or while the filling is still warm.

And since I wholeheartedly believe that food exists to be a vessel for sauce, I just couldn’t leave well enough alone. As delicious as these are topped with the traditional tomato sauce, by far my favorite flavor combo is made by drizzling these little poppers with my vegan avocado “crema.” The cilantro, lime and tomatillo marry perfectly with the cumin, chili powder and black beans in the stuffing.

Simply divine. I’ll never look at a stuffed pepper the same way again. And hopefully, neither will you.

Better Stuffed Peppers (Gluten- & Dairy-free, Vegan)
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups mushrooms, finely chopped (I like to pulse them ever so briefly in the food processor)
  • 1 T chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp fresh cracked pepper
  • 1/2-15 oz can tomato sauce, other half reserved for optional garnish
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 6 large red bell peppers, ribs and seeds removed
  • 1-15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tsp pure maple syrup
  • small handful cilantro, chopped, for garnish (optional)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup avocado “crema,” for garnish (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350º F.
  2. In a saucepan over medium heat, sauté the onions in olive oil for 3 to 5 minutes, until onions are translucent.
  3. Add garlic and mushrooms; sauté until the mushrooms have released their moisture and the mixture begins to look dry, about 5-8 minutes.
  4. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper. Sauté until fragrant.
  5. Add the quinoa, water, and 1/2 can of tomato sauce, reserving the rest. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until quinoa is cooked.
  6. For softer peppers, submerge in boiling water for 5 minutes. For tender-crisp peppers, skip this step.
  7. When quinoa is finished simmering, add the beans and maple syrup. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
  8. Stuff each pepper with the filling, and place in a baking dish. If using tomato sauce, pour the remaining over the peppers.
  9. Bake for 15 minutes.
  10. Garnish as desired.

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It’s National Chocolate Mousse Day! How About a Healthy, Vegan Version?

rp_Vegan-Chocolate-Mousse-1024x1024.jpgApril 3rd is a noteworthy day for a few reasons. For one, it is the birthday of the woman who created the food-obsessed individual who is writing these words (love you, Mom).

But April 3rd is also remarkable because it is National Chocolate Mousse Day.

Yep, that’s a thing.

So I guuuuueeess we’ve gotta eat some!

With two cups of heavy cream, traditional chocolate mousse is obviously not something to indulge in on the regular. But what if we waved our wellness wand at the recipe and gave our mousse a makeover? Filled it with heart-healthy fats and ditched the refined sugar? How about if we made it dairy- and egg-free too for our food-sensitive friends? Then we all could eat it often.

Every day, even.

Maybe it won’t come as a surprise that avocado is the base for this rich rendition of the classic. Avocado is used in a lot of healthy desserts because it’s so creamy and its mild flavor goes virtually undetected. I’ve made this for clients whose minds were blown when I told them what they were eating. And the ultimate test: kids! My favorite “little” had just finished devouring a bowl when I told her what it was made out of.

“But I hate avocado,” she insisted.

“Not anymore,” I replied, tap dancing just a little.

Score one for the grown ups.

Vegan Chocolate Mousse (Dairy/Egg/Refined Sugar-Free)
This luscious dessert is so rich, no one will ever guess it’s healthy. Serve small portions (1/3 to 1/2 cup) at room temperature for maximum fluffiness, and garnish with unsweetened, whipped coconut cream and fresh berries.
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 4 ounces dark chocolate ***check that it’s dairy free for vegan
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla bean paste
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 can coconut cream, chilled
  1. Using a heat-proof bowl over a pot of boiling water, melt the chocolate and coconut milk. Stir until smooth.
  2. Place avocado, vanilla paste, maple syrup and salt in the bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth.
  3. Add chocolate mixture. Process until combined.
  4. Open coconut cream. Spoon thick cream cream off the top and reserve the coconut water for making smoothies. With a handheld mixer, beat the coconut cream on med-high until creamy.
  5. Gently fold chocolate mixture into whipped coconut cream.
  6. Spoon into dessert dishes and garnish as desired.

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Now that you know, I hope you’ll use them to make something delicious!

 

Fruit Tart with Lemon Cream and Spiced Almond Crust (Vegan, Dairy- and Gluten-Free)

 

fruit-tartI love ANYTHING that has that many words in parentheses and still tastes as good as this does. I’ve got some stubborn eaters in my extended family, and this stunning dessert satisfied them all. If I hadn’t already made it for her this season, I would shape the crust like a heart and serve it to mom for Mother’s Day brunch. Awww…

Fruit Tart with Lemon Cream and Spiced Almond Crust (Vegan, Dairy- and Gluten-Free)
Author: The Wellness Chef
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 1-9″ tart
Ingredients
  • 1 can coconut milk (without guar gum)
  • 1 1/2 cups almond meal or flour
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 T coconut oil
  • 1 T maple syrup
  • 1 T water
  • 1/2 cups 100% all fruit apricot preserves
  • 2 T water
  • 1/2 cup agave nectar
  • 1/4 cup arrowroot starch
  • Generous pinch of sea salt
  • Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
  • Juice of 5 lemons (about 1 cup)
  • 2 T coconut oil
  • 1-2 T organic powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp Madagascar Vanilla Bean Paste
  • Mango, peeled and sliced thin
  • Pineapple, peeled and sliced thin
  • Kiwi, peeled and sliced thin
  • Clementines, peeled and separated
  • Assorted berries
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. To prep the whipped coconut cream, pour coconut milk into a bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour.
  3. To make the crust, stir together the almond flour, sea salt, baking soda and cinnamon in a small mixing bowl.
  4. In another bowl, stir together the vanilla, oil, maple syrup and 1 T water. Add the oil mix to the flour and combine well.
  5. Turn the dough onto a 9-inch pie plate or tart pan. Flatten the dough slightly with your fingers or a rubber spatula to spread it towards the edges of the pan, making sure to press it all the way up the sides of the pan. Try to make the dough a uniform thickness across the bottom and edges.
  6. Place the tart on a sheet pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the crust is an even golden brown. Don’t overbake!
  7. While the crust is baking, make the glaze by heating the preserves and 2 T water to boiling in small sauce pan.
  8. Strain through a sieve to remove lumps.
  9. Remove the tart shell from the oven and let it cool completely to room temperature before brushing with glaze.
  10. In the meantime, make the lemon curd. Heat agave nectar, arrowroot, salt, lemon zest and lemon juice In a small saucepan over medium heat.
  11. Cook, whisking constantly, until thickened to a pudding consistency.
  12. Whisk in coconut oil.
  13. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Curd will get very thick the longer it sits. Still tastes great spread on toast though!
  14. Once crust is cool, use a pastry brush to lightly brush interior of tart shell with thinned preserves. Let “dry” for 15 minutes.
  15. In the meantime, make whipped coconut cream. Drain off liquid (should look like thin coconut milk) and reserve for another use.
  16. Whip cream with a mixer on high until thick and frothy.
  17. Fold 1/2 c coconut cream into chilled lemon curd.
  18. To remaining whipped cream, add 1 tsp vanilla bean paste and organic powdered sugar, to taste. I like mine not too sweet. Reserve to use as garnish.
  19. Fill crust with lemon cream, spreading in an even layer.
  20. Channel your inner artist and layer slices of fruit and berries in whatever pattern makes you happiest.
  21. With remaining apricot glaze, brush fruit lightly until evenly coated and shiny. This will keep your tart looking beautiful for days—not that it will last that long!
  22. Serve with big spoonfuls of whipped coconut cream.

 

Now that’s the definition of doing something delicious!

 

Cranberry-Jalapeño Relish

cran-relishFor those who crave the cranberry tang on their holiday table but loathe the jiggle of Ocean Spray, this recipe is for you. It’s nice to have some healthy crunch in a sea of roasted, mashed, steamed and smashed, and spoonfuls of this on top of gooey slathers of baked Brie just might bring tears to your eyes. I often find myself sitting down with the leftovers and eating straight out of the Tupperware, something I heartily encourage you try!

As much as I’d like to lay claim to this cranberry-jalapeno relish, my dear friend Teri brought this recipe into the fold, so I get to call “mine” only because I make it every time I see fresh cranberries at the market (and sometimes dream about it at night).

Cranberry-jalapeno relish ingredients

Add some fresh and zingy to your meal a’plenty

Cranberry-Jalapeño Relish
  • 2 cups fresh or thawed frozen cranberries (fresh are simply marvelous!)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped sweet onion
  • 1 large fresh jalapeño chile, seeded and finely chopped (don’t remove the seeds if you like it spicy)
  • Zest of 2 oranges
  • 2 blood or navel oranges, peel and pith removed, flesh separated into segments, juice reserved
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • 3 tsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup, plus 1 Tbsp. maple sugar (maple syrup works too)
  • 2 celery stalks, cut into 1/4 inch dice
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
  1. Pulse cranberries in a food processor until coarsely chopped.
  2. Transfer to a bowl.
  3. Stir in zest, onion, jalapeño, orange sections and juice, lime juice, ginger, maple sugar or syrup, and celery.
  4. Refrigerate 1 hour (up to 2 days).
  5. Before serving, stir in mint, cilantro and pecans.
  6. Enjoy a flavor circus in your mouth!

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For the most delicious holiday ever, what foods have to be a part of the spread at your house ?