Kitchen Spotlight: Tips on Cooking Spaghetti Squash

Based on personal experience, here are some tips for cooking and using spaghetti squash. While you can microwave or bake the spaghetti squash, I’ve found that it is easiest to boil it before removing its strand-like interior. Here is how I would recommend boiling spaghetti squash:

  1. Use a knife to make a few small holes or cut marks through the skin of the spaghetti squash.
  2. Fill a large pot with water and heat the water until boiling. Once boiling, put the squash in to cook (ease it slowly into the water to prevent burns!), turning it occasionally with a wooden spoon. The squash will likely float in the water but that is fine. After about 15-20 minutes (about 20-30 minutes for a large sized spaghetti squash), use a knife to insert into the spaghetti squash. If it goes through easily, then it is cooked through. Take out the spaghetti squash immediately and let it cool in a colander (excess water from within may also drain out).
  3. Don’t worry if the squash skin cracks open slightly. When cooled cut the squash in half and then remove the seeds with a spoon. Then use a fork to scrape out the noodle like strands into a bowl.

That’s it! If you would like to see a variety of ways to cook this delectable vegetable, check out this post I found listing 50 ways to cook spaghetti squash: http://aggieskitchen.com/50-ways-to-cook-spaghetti-squash/. Like other hard shelled squashes, you can bake it, grill it, roast it, stuff it, and even throw it in the slow cooker. Have fun experimenting!

(Source: Aggies Kitchen. 50 Ways to Cook Spaghetti Squash. http://aggieskitchen.com/50-ways-to-cook-spaghetti-squash/. October 8, 2014. Accessed October 16, 2017.)

Advertisements

Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 5

STEP #5: TRY NEW PLANT-BASED FOODS & RECIPES!

Friends, this is where the real exciting adventure begins! Personally, I find this to be the most fun part of the journey. I think my family would agree, because they get to taste test lots of new plant-based breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas…not to mention baked and no-baked goodies! Think of yourself as a connoisseur or budding foodie on the trail of plant-based goodness, searching for delectable recipes to

incorporate into your family’s cooking repertoire. Your explorations will lead you to discover new tastes, colors and methods of cooking that you previously had not envisioned. Don’t be afraid to experiment! At worst, you just end up with a result that doesn’t taste great, but then just modify the recipe or try a different recipe.

New Tastes & Textures! – Dietitianmom.com

For myself, I never thought there would be such easy substitutions for eggs in baked goods (you could make a flaxmeal egg replacer or a chia seed egg replacer easily), or learn to appreciate the flavors within an Indian dish and even make a few Indian dishes myself! I am now using new spices like coriander, cumin and garam masala in my kitchen and have even made a vegan pumpkin pie using tofu as a base!

You might find some tastes and recipes that the family likes and some that they don’t like. But regardless, you will be awestruck at the wide array of existing and newly emerging whole foods plant-based recipes on the horizon through sources like the Internet, cookbooks, magazines, library resources, friends and acquaintances. For those with a ‘sweet tooth’ out there, you might be glad to find that there are actually a lot of plant-based foods out there that are naturally sweet, and fruits like dried figs and dates can be used to sweeten baked goods easily. Call them ‘Nature’s Candy’ if you will. There are also many easy vegan baked and no-bake treats that can be found through recipe sites on the internet, which don’t require fancy ingredients or a lot of time.

Here is another piece of good news. Currently, there is an abundance of plant-based alternatives on the market with new products continually emerging – you just need to be on the lookout for them in the grocery store, health food stores, ethnic food stores and online. Examples include soy based mozzarella or cheddar ‘cheeses’, dairy and soy free shredded ‘cheeses’, nutritional yeast fortified with vitamin B12, non-hydrogenated vegetable margarine, tofu dogs, tofu with different levels of firmness, veggie bologna, hemp hearts, ready-to-use nut and seed butters, ground flaxmeal, tempeh and a variety of calcium and vitamin D fortified plant-based milk alternatives. These commercial options make it much easier nowadays to maintain a plant-based diet, especially since you do not need to spend time processing or making some of these from scratch if you don’t have time (like making seed butters, tempeh or tofu!), though of course it is important to still choose whole foods where possible. It also helps tremendously that the world we live in now is a global market and foods from different countries are often imported into the nation. So take advantage of this!

Here are some key tips to assist you on your plant-based food journey:

* Don’t be afraid to try new recipes (or create your own!) and new ways of cooking (e.g., stir-fries, casserole dishes, salads, soups). If you have time, read the some reviews on a recipe before trying it. This will tell you if you need to modify the recipe, if you can use certain substitutions or whether the recipe is even worth trying! If you are just starting out in this plant-based realm, pick recipes that require 10 ingredients or less and don’t need exotic ingredients that are hard to source. There are many great plant-based vegetarian recipe websites on the Internet, with just some examples being www.chocolatecoveredkatie.com, www.plantplate.com and www.emmaslittlekitchen.com.

*Use your slow cooker! As mentioned in previous posts, the slow cooker is my new best friend, especially for recipes using legumes such as beans, split peas, and chickpeas. See below for some links to great recipes I’ve tried and tested already.

*Experiment with different nuts and seeds, including using flaxmeal in your cold and hot dishes.

*Experiment with making a variety of salads and using different toppings and dressings.

*Try different milk alternatives such as calcium and vitamin D fortified almond milk, soy milk, cashew nut milk and coconut milk. Some stores may also carry rice milk, pea milk and hemp milk. But be careful to choose the calcium and vitamin D fortified versions, as many organic and non-organic versions of milk alternatives are not calcium and vitamin D fortified. Due to the possible contamination of arsenic in rice milks, in the United Kingdom children under the age of 5 are not recommended to drink rice milk (read more about arsenic in foods here)

* Try new foods such as quinoa, chia and buckwheat

*Experiment making your own protein bars/snack bars (non-baking options and baked options available). These then become great snack options for you and your family.

* Try modifying existing recipes. For example, does a recipe call for butter in the graham cracker crust? Substitute with some vegetable oil, and it works pretty much just as well! Need an egg in a recipe? Try using an egg replacer like a ‘flax egg’ or a ‘chia egg’. Need to use cow’s milk in the recipe? Substitute with a fortified plant-based milk alternative like almond milk, soy milk or coconut milk.

Here is just a small sampling of the recipes available from the Internet. I’ve made these recipes and found them easy and delicious. My family agrees!
Slow Cooker Black Bean Pumpkin Chili
Lazy Lentil Burger
One Pot Vegan Mushroom Pasta
Slow Cooker Butter Chickpeas
Kung Pao Eggplant

Want more information? See my previous posts on this topic:
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Introduction
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 1 (Halve the Meat & Double the Veggies)
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 2 (Switch to Whole-Grain Options)
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 3 (Choose Smart Snacks)
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 4 (Increase Beans & Other Legumes)

Sesame-Cashew Snaps

My husband has a love (…ok craving…) for sesame snaps and frequently buys them at grocery stores. It looks deceptively healthy…after all it’s packed with sesame seeds, which are nutritious right? However, a look at the ingredient labels reveals that the snack is basically made up of sugar. For example, of the four ingredients in a Sezme brand sesame snap, three of the ingredients are sugar based. Here is the entire ingredients list: Sesame seeds, glucose syrup, sugar, honey.

I was determined to make a healthier version. But I was disappointed to see that most of the recipes out there on the Internet for homemade sesame snaps or sesame bars use quite a lot of sugar or sweeteners as the main ingredient as well. I really wanted a healthier, lower sugar version. So when I stumbled across this recipe (see source) from bon appetit for Sesame-Peanut Bars Recipe by Molly Mitchell, I was ecstatic!! I tried it out right away, making some modifications and a winner was born! I absolutely love the fact that it only calls for ¼ cup of honey. Try it yourself!

Sesame-Cashew Snaps

Recipe by: Dietitianmom
Makes about 16 snaps

Ingredients

  • 1¼ cups raw or toasted sesame seeds
  • ¾ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • ¼ cup unsalted, roasted cashews (chopped).
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower seed butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed meal (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon chia seeds (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 9 x 13 inch glass bakeware pan with parchment paper, with sufficient overhang on all sides.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the wet ingredients (sesame seeds, coconut, chopped cashew nuts, salt and optional ingredients like the flaxseed meal and chia seeds if desired).
  3. In a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients (honey, sunflower seed butter, and vanilla)
  4. Add the wet ingredients mixture to the dry sesame seed mixture and mix well.
  5. Scrape mixture into prepared baking dish, and then press firmly into an even layer, as thinly as you can!
  6. Bake in the oven until golden brown around the edges (at least 20–25 minutes, depending on how thick the mixture layer is).
  7. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool until firm (this will take at least 30–40 minutes). Lift the entire parchment piece with the baked layer out of the bakeware (if it starts to crumble, let cool longer) and let it cool fully. Then cut into rectangular snaps.

This is a very easy and versatile recipe, and quick to throw together when the snack craving hits. Use whatever you have in the kitchen, be it toasted or raw sesame seeds, sweetened or unsweetened coconut flakes or coconut shreds. I’m sure it will work fine with other nuts too such as chopped pecans, hazelnuts or walnuts! Feel free to experiment! You can also make these bars a few days ahead of time and store them in an airtight jar or container. However, if you don’t intend to eat all of this right away, the best method I’ve found to maintain the crispiness of the sesame-cashew snaps is to freeze them in an airtight container. Then take some snaps out to thaw for about 10 minutes before consuming.

The problem? Now I’m addicted!

(Source: Sesame-Peanut Bars. Bon Appétit. http://www.bonappetit.com.

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/sesame-peanut-bars. Published September 2015. Accessed June 20, 2017.)

 

Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 4

In this post, I would like to touch on Step 4: Increasing Beans/Legumes in one’s diet.

STEP #4: INCREASE THE BEANS/LEGUMES

If you are already using legumes like black beans, navy beans, kidney beans, garbanzo/chickpeas, split peas, lentils, soy beans and/or peanuts in your diet, then this step is easy. You can simply increase the amount and how regularly you eat of this nutrient dense category in your diet.

However, if you have not really cooked with these before, then this can be a whole new territory! You may be wondering, “What exactly are legumes?” (to learn more about legumes click here) and “How do I cook them?” Some of you may also be wondering if eating legumes will cause you to have more gas or affect your digestive system in other unpleasant ways. Well, I did! Don’t worry! There are lots of ways to deal with these to help you successfully incorporate beans/legumes regularly into your diet. That’s another advantage of a slower gradual transition to a plant-based diet, as it will help your body gradually adjust to having a higher fiber and legumes diet. Today, let’s look more closely at a few different types of legumes.

Beans & Chickpeas

For those new to using beans and chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans), the easiest way is to start with canned versions. Simply pop open a can, drain the liquid and then rinse the beans well before using. Some worry about the salt content in canned beans but it is really easy to remove much of the salt by properly rinsing and draining the beans. I usually open a can of beans into a colander, placing a plastic mixing bowl underneath. Then I fill up the colander with cold water, stir the beans a few times in the water, and then drain this liquid off by simply lifting the colander. I repeat this process a few times before using the beans in stir-fries, soups, making bean dips like hummus, slow cooker meals and other dishes. If you like, you can also let the beans sit in the cold water for a longer period before draining the liquid, to potentially help remove more salt content from the beans. Yes, it’s that easy! The benefits of using canned beans are that it is quick and easy, and also avoids the potential for toxic poisoning from phytohaemagglutinin. What is phytohaemagglutinin? Read on.

In plants, animals and humans, there exist certain naturally occurring proteins called lectins which have important functions. However, phytohaemagglutinin is a type of lectin that is found in many species of beans and can reach high levels in some plants, particularly in red kidney beans, and have toxic effects. As little as 4-5 raw beans can trigger symptoms such as nausea and vomiting a few hours after ingestion.  Slow cookers present a risk as the internal temperature of the food being cooked may not reach a high enough sufficient temperature to cook red kidney beans. Hence it may be best to use the canned versions of beans (especially red kidney beans) when making a slow cooker recipe.

To use dry beans in slow cooker recipes, take steps to ensure beans are cooked well before using and also by the end of the cooking process. According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, it is recommended to soak dry beans in water for at least 5 hours, then boil the beans in fresh water for at least 30 minutes, before discarding this water and using the beans (for more information, see the Sources section below). If you are really worried, you can use canned red kidney beans instead of dry ones when you make a bean-based slow cooker recipe, or substitute the red kidneys beans in the recipe with a different type of beans.

In practice when I work with dry beans, I tend to soak the quantity I want to use in a large pot of cold water overnight. Then the next day, I would drain the water and boil them in fresh water on the stove for at least 30 minutes before using. This helps to reduce the overall cooking time tremendously (in the actual recipe used) and also ensures that the beans are cooked before I discard the water and throw the beans in the slow cooker.

Lentils & Split Peas

There are many different types of lentils, coming in a range of sizes and colors such as yellow, red-orange, green, brown, and black. However, you will usually find red lentils most commonly at the local grocery store, followed by green or brown lentils. Lentils are a powerhouse of nutrients: just a small quarter cup of raw red lentils provides 10 grams of protein, and a quarter cup of green lentils provides 12 grams of protein! In my opinion red lentils are the easiest to cook, and one that I recommend starting out with initially. First, sort through the quantity of lentils to be used to remove small stones or other debris, before rinsing it in cold water (again I usually use my colander and mixing bowl combo) and draining the liquid. Then simply cook 1 cup dried red lentils to 3-4 cups of water, bringing the water to a gentle boil and then simmering on the stove for about 15-20 minutes (or until tender).  Remove the lentils and drain out the excess cooked water before using the lentils in the dish of choice. I like to season cooked red lentils with garlic powder, cumin and possibly a dash of onion powder. Brown and green lentils are firmer and hold their shape better with cooking. For faster cooking, soak the green/brown lentils overnight. Using canned lentils is also an option – just rinse and drain well first to remove as much of the salt content as possible.

Split peas come in green and yellow varieties. Dried split peas usually need a lot of soaking in order to be able to reduce cooking times. I find it helps to soak a batch overnight, even if I plan to put it in the slow cooker or on the stove the next day.

(Sources:

  1. Food and Drug Administration. Bad Bug Book, Foodborne Pathogenic Microorganisms and Natural Toxins. Second Edition. [Foodborne Pathogenic Microorganisms and Natural Toxins, pp. 254]. 2012. https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/UCM297627.pdf. Accessed March 15, 2017.
  2. Allen K, Proctor D. Killer Kidney Beans? http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/factsheet/FN_FQE_2014-01pr.pdf. October 2014. Accessed March 15, 2017.)

Want more information? See my previous posts on this topic:
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Introduction
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 1 (Halve the Meat & Double the Veggies)
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 2 (Switch to Whole-Grain Options)
Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 3 (Choose Smart Snacks)

Coconut Corn Mini-Breads (Dairy & Egg-Free!)

I knew there was a reason I bought this recipe book. Many years ago, I decided to buy a book titled ‘Quick Breads’ by Howard Early and Glenda Morris. I am a novice bread baker, so the idea of being able to make breads rapidly without much dough kneading or rising time was very appealing. However, I never made more than 2-3 recipes from this book over the past decade. This past weekend, we had company over and I decided to have another look at this dusty book on the shelves, to find something to complement the vegan lasagna I had made (we had forgotten to get dinner rolls at the store). To my surprise I found an easy recipe called Coconut Corn Bread using ingredients I already had at home, so I decided to modify the ingredients and give it a try. It was an intriguing combination: coconut and corn? I had made cornbread before but had never mixed both ingredients together before. The result? Our family and guests enjoyed it so much I wanted to share this simple modified dairy-free and egg-free recipe with you!

Ingredients

Dry Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unbleached flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Wet Ingredients:

  • 1 cup coconut milk (I used the fortified Silk brand original flavor coconut milk)
  • 1/3 cup of oil
  • 1 flax egg (see directions below)
  • 1/3 cup shredded sweetened coconut
  • 1/2 tablespoon of honey (or maple syrup for those who do not want to use honey)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease a 9 inch cake or loaf pan (I used silicon muffin cups instead).
  2. Make the flax egg: Mix 1 tablespoon of flaxmeal combined with 3 tablespoons of water together with a whisk or fork, then let sit for 10-15 minutes. Before using, use the whisk and give it a good mix for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients together.
  4. Mix wet ingredients together.
  5. Gently combine the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.
  6. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes (or when toothpick inserted comes out clean). Optional: at about 5-10 minutes before the baking time was up, I sprinkled some shredded coconut flakes on the tops of the cornbread muffins for an extra flair!
  7. Serve warm or let cool for 5-10 minutes then remove from pan.

You may adjust the ‘sweetness’ factor depending on your preference, by adding more or less honey or maple syrup. Serve warm to complement a meal, or add a little bit of vegan butter, jam or a drizzle of honey or maple syrup on top. Th

is is such a simple recipe that you can also enlist your little helper at home to help out with measuring and mixing the ingredients together!

Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 3

Getting hungry? -Dietitianmom.com


Hello there! Previously, I had provided an overview of a whole foods plant-based diet and discussed the first 2 steps of transitioning to such a diet. These were “Step 1: Halve the Meat & Double the Veggies” and “Step 2: Switch to Whole-Grain Options” (see posts Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Introduction, Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 1, and Transitioning to a Whole Foods Plant-Based Diet – Step 2). In this post, I would like to touch on Step 3: Choosing Smart Snacks.

Tahini Raisin & Flaxmeal Crackers – Dietitianmom.com

STEP #3: CHOOSE SMART SNACKS
Need something to tide you over until lunch or dinner? Children tend to need to eat more frequently than adults, so would often benefit from snacks between meals. There are a few key reasons why. Children, especially younger children, tend to have high energy levels and smaller stomach capacities. In general, a whole foods plant-based diet tends to consist of foods that have a higher fiber but lower caloric content. Hence, due to the higher fiber content of these foods consumed, it is possible that in some cases a child could feel full easily at meals with their smaller stomachs, but receive inadequate calories for overall optimal growth.

 

 

Fruit Wedges with Seed Butter & Walnut Dotted Banana Coins – Dietitianmom.com

For adults, you may also feel the need to have snacks in between meals, especially if you find you are becoming more active, and if your metabolism revs up with the switch to a whole foods plant-based diet. That’s the best part of a whole foods plant-based diet – on such a ‘diet’, you actually don’t need to watch your caloric intake or restrict yourself unnecessarily in terms of how many times a day you eat, AS LONG as the foods you choose to consume are ALL whole foods plant-based foods. So this does not mean you can snack endlessly on cookies, candies, cakes, biscuits and other processed high refined sugar and high fat commercial foods since they are ‘vegetarian’. As mentioned before, being a ‘junk food vegetarian’ will negatively impact your health and reduce your intake of phytochemical nutrient-rich health boosting foods which you could be eating instead.

So it’s alright to have snacks frequently on a whole foods plant-based diet, but choose your snacks wisely! Try these tasty more nutrient dense options:

*A handful of nuts and/or seeds (e.g., pumpkin seeds, sunflower, pine nuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios, peanuts, walnuts, hazelnuts)
* A piece of whole fresh fruit (kiwi, apples, grapes, melon slices, oranges, grapefruit, pears…you name it! These also work great as dessert after meals!)
* Dried fruit (e.g., dried apricots, figs, dates, raisins)
* Vegetable or fresh fruit slices with spreads or dips (e.g., bell pepper slices, carrot sticks, celery sticks)
* Soy spreads, seed butters  (such as tahini, pumpkin seed and sunflower seed butters) and nut butters (examples include almond,  cashew nut, and peanut butters)
*Vegetable and/or bean based dips such as hummus and guacamole
*Fruit/vegetable combination smoothies
*Fruit salads
*Vegetable salads
*Whole-wheat bread/pitas/tortillas for dipping into hummus or spread with nut butters for quick easy sandwiches or burritos
*High calcium and/or high iron cereal
*Bean-based or vegetable soups with whole-wheat pasta
*Soy-based or other vegan cheese slices and whole wheat crackers

 

Banana Sunflower Seed Butter Sandwiches – Yum! Dietitianmom.com

You can mix and match the above to create lots of tasty combinations! My current favorite is a sunflower seed butter sandwich with sliced banana wedges! Other ideas are a bowl of a bean-based vegetable soup with whole-wheat pasta, or some soy-based/vegan cheese slices with whole wheat crackers. Or you could have a quick bowl of calcium and iron fortified cereal with fortified almond/soy/coconut milk (and sprinkled with nuts or dried/fresh fruit on top!). Don’t forget about home-made vegetarian baked and no-bake treats which also make great snack options! Many such easy recipe ideas can be found on the internet, which don’t require fancy ingredients or a lot of time. The possibilities are really endless!

 

Qn of the Month: Are Legumes & Pulses Just Different Terms for the Same Thing?

 

A: What exactly are legumes and are they the same as pulses? The terms ‘legumes’, ‘pulses’ and ‘beans’ can certainly all be very confusing. A helpful way to keep these straight is to remember that ‘legumes’ is the overall umbrella name, just like ‘fruits’ is the umbrella name for a huge category of different types and varieties of fruits. Legumes simply refer to all plants whose fruit is enclosed in a pod. However, pulses only refer to the dried seed itself. So under legumes are 3 main subcategories: soybeans and peanuts, pulses and fresh beans/peas. I like this graphic from Pulse Canada which illustrates these categories aptly (see source citation for more details):

 

Pulses include dried beans, dried peas, lentils and chickpeas. Pulses are cheap, nutrient dense, low in fat, available throughout the year, and are high in protein and fiber. Soybeans and peanuts are separated out into their own separate subcategory due to their higher fat content. Legumes are also super versatile, as they can be cooked to the age appropriate texture in a variety of forms (e.g., pureed, mashed, or whole/halved but in soft cooked forms) for infants, toddlers and children of varying ages depending on their stage of oral motor development.

 

(Source: Pulse Canada. http://www.pulsecanada.com/about-us/what-is-a-pulse. Accessed March 15, 2017.)