Versatile Vegetable Marinade

Although the cellular structure of many fruits and vegetables is more difficult to penetrate than that of meat, it is still possible to marinate produce.  As with marinating meat, typically, the longer the better so that the produce can absorb as much flavor as possible. My marinade formula could certainly be used for meat, but of course, I prefer it on virtually any vegetable and some fruits.

In American cooking, marinating usually leads to grilling (or roasting), and today’s asparagus dish is no exception!  While I prefer to eat the majority of my produce raw, there are some items that are simply unpalatable in a raw state.  For me, asparagus is one of those, in most preparations.  I have had thin shavings of raw asparagus atop a salad before, but there’s quite a bit of work that goes into such a preparation and with the two littles always eat my feet, there isn’t always the time.  🙂

Thus, I’m using asparagus as the vehicle for my pre-grilling vegetable marinade.  When prepared al dente, asparagus—which comes in green, white and purple—is just delightful.  Too mushy and too raw = no bueno.  This fibrous vegetable is high in vitamin K and most notably, folic acid, which may ring a bell if you’ve ever taken prenatal vitamins.  Asparagus is a true super food!

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Hands down the best part of this marinade is that it need not be tossed once your veggies hit the grill.  Marinating meat leaves you with contaminated leftovers; marinating veggies leaves you with a delicious salad dressing.  Waste not, want not.

Lastly, while I use this marinade primarily on vegetables, you could also soak hearty fruits like pineapple to add a little sweetness to your kabobs.   Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE:  VEGETABLE MARINADE

Yields 1 cup marinade

  • 2 pounds raw vegetables (or fruit) –>  I’m using green asparagus.
  • ½ cup acid (i.e. freshly squeezed citrus juice, vinegar, mustard, etc.) –>  I’m using the juice of three lemons and one heaping tablespoon of whole grain mustard.
  • ¼ cup oil* –>  I’m using extra virgin olive.
  • ¼ cup liquid sweetener (i.e. agave syrup, maple syrup, etc.) –>  I’m using pure maple syrup.
  • ¼ fresh herbs** –>  I’m using rosemary.
  • Salt, pepper, spices, and/or dried herbs to taste –>  I’m using several grinds of black pepper and ½ tsp each garlic powder, onion powder, and pink Himalayan sea salt.

*When it comes to heating, not all oils are created equal.  Ideally, when grilling (or sautéing, frying, or roasting), you want to use an oil with a higher smoke point.  This allows you to optimally maintain nutrients and flavor when the oil is subjected to heat.  In addition, it is safer to cook with oils that contain primarily monounsaturated fats, although occasionally cooking with those primarily composed of polyunsaturated won’t hurt.  Today is one of those days for me as olive oil is not preferred for grilling, but it has the deeper flavor that I want.  Nine times out of ten, I use refined coconut or avocado oil.

**If you don’t plan to save excess marinade, it doesn’t really matter how finely your herbs are chopped.  (The bulk of my rosemary fell away in the grilling process and any excess leaves in the leftover marinade were easy to pick out.  Rosemary, in my opinion, does not have an enjoyable texture, even when finely chopped.)  If you do want to save the excess, however, finely chop your herbs so that you’ve got a more texturally appealing salad dressing when all is said and done.

Prepare your vegetables (peel, chop, etc.) and line them up in a 9 x 13 baking dish.  You can toss them right in or skewer them.

Mix together all marinade ingredients, starting with the wet.  I like to layer the ingredients in a single measuring up so that I don’t have to dirty multiple measuring cups.

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Pour the marinade over your veggies and let them soak for several hours, turning occasionally.  Once your vegetables are on the grill, drain any excess marinade and save in the fridge for salads.

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New Formula: Super Creamy Dressing, Hold the Cream!

DSC_1647A few nights ago, my sister sent me a recipe for spiced chickpeas that she said I just had to try, and she was right. If you’ve never heard of Thug Kitchen, you NEED to check out these uber-talented and funny vegan chefs! What the thugs figured out that I couldn’t put my finger on until I completed their recipe (sorry guys, it’s not on their website, but it is in their cookbook, which I am now ordering ASAP) is that seed and nut butters make for the ultimate rich and creamy dressing for salads, wraps, sandwiches, and fruit and veggie dipping.

Really, this has made sense for longer than I realized. I love to eat tahini (made from sesame seeds) on sandwiches and peanut butter on apple slices. So, I’ve been using seed and nut butters in a dressing and dip capacity for quite a while, and you probably have, too. When it comes to more delicate applications like salads, however, a thick peanut butter alone just won’t cut it in the dressing department.

Prior to becoming an honorary thug, I attempted to make creamy salad dressing in a number of ways, from thickening plant milk with chia seeds to puréeing silken tofu. While these methods have afforded me some success, the resulting dressings were no match for the tahini-based dressing in the thugs’ spiced chickpea recipe. As I do with just about any recipe I come across, I played around and made the dressing my own and thus, a new Basic Formula was born.

Yikes, seed and nut butters are fattening! Yes, but remember, fat is ok in moderation…and if it doesn’t come from animals. If you are going to opt for ranch dressing, for instance, think of it this way: You are also opting for cholesterol and potentially, hormones from the animal products. Seeds and nuts are cholesterol-free fats that do not contain hormones and do contain tons of protein and other nutrients. Also, when I shared my chocolate peanut butter banana smoothie recipe with you, I explained that seeds are nuts are one of the only sources of fat in my diet, so a little here and there is not going to hurt me (or you).

Don’t forget to purchase, whenever possible, seed and nut butters than contain ONLY seeds and nuts. Many jarred butters contain unnecessary added salts, oils, and sugars. If I deem them necessary, I would rather add these ingredients to a homemade dressing so that I can control the quality and quantity.

Finally, I consider mustard an acid, even though it is technically derived from seeds and processed with acid (vinegar). The acidic, sometimes bitter taste reminds me of the sensation of consuming a purer acid like citrus juice or straight vinegar. If you include mustard in your dressing, seek out a stone ground or whole grain variety. Mustard seeds are an excellent source of selenium (just like brown rice…see my whole grain salad recipe) and Omega-3 fatty acids.

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Below is my new formula and an application inspired by the tahini dressing that gave way to my latest culinary brainchild. Satisfy your craving for a rich, creamy dressing or dip by turning to seeds and nuts rather than cows and goats. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: Creamy Dressing

Dresses 3-4 salads

  • ¼ cup seed or nut butter –> I’m using tahini.
  • 2 ½ tbsp acid (citrus juice, vinegar, mustard, or a combination) –> I’m using 1 tbsp stone ground mustard and 1 ½ tbsp lemon juice.
  • Thinning liquid as needed, depending on whether you’re going for a dressing or thick dip (ideas: veggie stock, water, or more acid) –> I’m using 3 tbsp water.
  • Up to 2 tbsp raw garlic and/or fresh/dried herbs and/or spices (optional) –> I’m using one small clove minced raw garlic and I tsp finely chopped fresh sweet mint.
  • ½-1 tsp sweetener (optional) –> I’m using ½ tsp 100% pure maple syrup.
  • Salt and pepper to taste –> I’m using a pinch of pink Himalayan sea salt.

Combine all ingredients with a small whisk. Add thinning liquid as needed to achieve desired consistency. Still not creamy enough for you? Run the whole mixture through a food processor or blender (I enjoy the texture of the mustard seeds, so I am leaving my dressing as is after whisking). Drizzle over salad, spread on bread, pita, or wrap, or use for dipping. You are seriously going to LOVE this dressing! Ranch…what’s that?!

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Simple and Delicious Kale Crunch Salad

DSC_1604On a recent trip to Portland, Oregon to visit friends, I was surrounded by restaurants boasting the plant-based cuisine I love to eat. My friend, Danielle, told my husband, Travis, and I that kale was literally everywhere, including sitting on the pavement outside of her car one night! She said that nearly every restaurant offered a kale salad of some kind and that got me thinking about a kale salad recipe that I really enjoyed back in Arizona.

Another friend, Lissa, introduced me to a yummy kale salad recipe that she obtained from a colleague. The salad was simple, with the only vegetable being the kale itself. It was dressed in a mix of lemon juice and olive oil and topped with finely grated parmesan cheese. This recipe inspired my Green Salad Formula, which is a healthier, plant-based version of the greens.

When I make a green salad, I like for the only vegetable to be greens so that I’m consuming a large quantity of them. Kale, in particular, is high in fiber, iron, and calcium and packed with antioxidants. A true super food! This mix boasts a variety of organic baby kale leaves that are more palatable in a salad than their adult counterparts.

DSC_1581I add a little protein and crunch to my kale salad with the addition of raw sunflower seeds, almonds, and cashews. Cashews mimic the flavor of parmesan cheese, so I use them as a cholesterol-free substitute.

DSC_1585Finally, I make a lemon vinaigrette dressing for this salad that is fat free. The aforementioned kale with parmesan salad includes a dressing that is largely oil and in my opinion, too fattening when paired with cheese, or in this case, nuts. I add a hint of agave syrup to balance the tartness of the lemon juice and no oil whatsoever. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: GREEN SALAD

Serves 1 as a meal or 2 as a side

  • 4 cups fresh greens –> I’m using a mix of baby kale leaves.
  • ¼ cup raw seeds and chopped nuts –> I’m using 1 tbsp sunflower seeds, 1 tbsp almonds, and ¼ cup cashews
  • 2 tbsp dressing of choice –> I’m using a homemade lemon vinaigrette.
  • DRESSING:
    • Juice of ½ of a lemon
    • 1 tsp agave syrup
    • ¼ tsp onion powder
    • ¼ tsp garlic powder
    • One grind fresh black pepper
    • Pinch of pink Himalayan sea salt

Mix the salad dressing with a small whisk and set aside.

DSC_1591Put the nuts through a nut grinder or chopper, or finely chop by hand.

DSC_1588Toss the kale in the lemon vinaigrette and top with the sunflower seeds and chopped nuts.

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