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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Wontons to the Rescue!

If you’re a fruit and vegetable junkie like me, and/or you subscribe to a service like Bountiful Baskets where you are surprised with a random assortment of produce at each pickup, your fridge is likely stocked with a variety of items that may not seem to go together. I am typically pretty creative when it comes to combining unlikely pairs (check out my bean salad, for instance), but when I stared into my fridge last night faced with romanesco, green bell pepper, baby carrots, and red onion, I wanted to push myself to try something new.

A few weeks back in our BB, we ordered wonton wrappers (vegan – no egg) in bulk and have been putting off doing something with them simply because prep and assembly of these adorable appetizers can be a bit laborious. I decided to take the chance and somehow incorporate my random assortment of veggies into a yummy filling that would finally use up the wrappers.

Before I get to the process, you may be unfamiliar with romanesco. Its unusual appearance resembles that of cauliflower and broccoli combined, although to me, it tastes just like cauliflower in both flavor and texture. It is similar to cauliflower in its vitamin and mineral content and is notably a low-calorie source of potassium. I generally prefer bananas myself, but romanesco/cauliflower is another healthy and delicious potassium option.

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Ok, back to the wontons. First of all, how do you flavor them? You could keep it simple with a little soy sauce or inject some deeper flavors with another sauce or marinade. I’m using the same sauce that I use in my lettuce wraps. The concept of flavorful, finely chopped veggies is the same in both applications; it’s simply the vessel that is different.

Secondly, should the filling be cooked or raw? This is a matter of personal preference. Since I aim for a solid 70%+ raw plant foods daily and happen to prefer the crunch and freshness of raw vegetables, I am leaving my veggies raw. I found that even after cooking the whole wontons, the veggies inside remained raw and crunchy since the cook time was so short. If you’d prefer your vegetables on the softer side, you can sauté your filling prior to assembling the wontons.

Thirdly, how do you cook them? Your healthiest option is to steam the wontons. Your least healthy option is to deep fry them. I love the texture of a crunchy-bottom wonton (often referred to as a pot sticker), so I’m going to lightly sauté and then steam. Keep in mind that if you deep fry and have leftovers that they aren’t likely to be as crispy the next day. Should you opt for a bubbling wonton oil bath, I would recommend peanut oil.

Lastly, how do you serve them? I see wontons typically served as an appetizer, but when you’re following a vegan or vegetarian diet, the traditional expectations for what constitutes a first course, main course, or side dish seem to go out the window. What is a meat-eater’s side dish, for instance, might be my main event. With that said, I make a MEAL out of these wontons, dipping them in leftover marinade.

Once covered in my lettuce wrap sauce, the seemingly atypical combination of pepper, romanesco, carrot, and onion tasted like those veggies were meant to be together, making for a delicious evening meal. If you want to get fancy in sealing up your wontons, these would certainly make for a pretty party dish, too. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: WONTONS

Yields approximately 10-12 large wontons or 16-18 small

  • 10-12 large vegan wonton wrappers or 16-18 small* –> I’m using large.
  • 3 cups of finely chopped raw vegetables –> I’m using 1 small head of romanesco, 1 green bell pepper, ¼ of a red onion, and 10 baby carrots.
  • 1 ½ cups sauce or marinade of choice –> I’m using my lettuce wrap marinade.
  • Oil as needed for frying/sautéing –> I’m using peanut.

*Read the ingredient label on your wonton wrappers. Some doughs are made with egg.

Prepare your sauce/marinade.

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Finely chop your vegetables.

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Mix together and sauté lightly (if you wish) or leave raw. Pour approximately half of your sauce/marinade over the veggies and stir to coat. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for roughly 30 minutes.

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While you’re waiting for the flavors of your filling to develop, decide on a cooking method. If you are steaming, prepare a double boiler. If you are deep-frying, assemble your deep fryer according to manufacturer’s instructions. I will be executing a sauté-then-steam method, with directions provided below.

Have a skillet with a lid ready on the stovetop with your oil of choice sitting beside it. Lay out your wonton wrappers, open, ready to receive filling. Have a small dish with water (for sealing the wrappers) nearby. After the 30-minute marinade period as passed, begin spooning filling into each wonton wrapper. I am using large wrappers, which can hold roughly two heaping tablespoons worth of filling apiece. Make sure there is a large enough border around the filling that the wonton can eventually be closed.

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Closing the wonton wrapper can be as fancy—or not—as you’d like. I often see them in a sack/purse shape like this.

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Simply grab the corners of the wonton wrapper, bring them into the middle, and twist them shut. You may or may not need to lightly glaze different sections with water in order for the wrapper to remain sealed. No matter the closure technique or style, the wonton should be completely sealed so that filling does not leak out.

Put approximately 2 tbsps of oil in your skillet over medium high heat. When the oil is nice and hot, place your wontons in for 2-3 minutes, or until the bottoms are browned. Then, turn the heat down to medium low and add a few tablespoons of water. Cover the skillet with a lid and allow the wontons to steam for 2-3 minutes. Most—if not all—of the water should be absorbed. **BE CAREFUL OF ANY SPUTTERING THAT MIGHT OCCUR WHEN ADDING THE WATER INTO THE HOT OIL.**

Remove the cooked wontons and continue the cooking process for as many batches as you need or want. Serve with remaining sauce/marinade as a dip, or simply with soy sauce. Travis said that the wontons were actually tastier the next day, which I did not at all expect! 🙂

My First Fresh Formula Request: Lettuce Wraps

WARNING:  There will not be leftovers.  🙂

These lettuce wraps—really made amazing by the marinade I developed—are hands down, one of the best dishes I’ve ever made, including the animal-based dishes of my past.  Lettuce wraps are easy, nutritious, and great for entertaining or just dinner.

I was so excited to receive my first reader request a couple of weeks ago.  An old friend of mine, who recently started experimenting in the kitchen, contacted me for a recipe for chicken lettuce wraps.  I told her that I would create a formula that allowed her sub in chicken if she wanted, but that my version, of course, would be vegan.

I’d like to start by describing some of the ingredients I’m using in today’s rendition.  For my wraps, I’m using butter lettuce.  The leaves make for perfectly cup-shaped vessels that can easily be folded up.  (An alternative would be using endive to make lettuce “boats.”)  Butter lettuce is low in calories (for those counting) and rich in vitamin A and phosphorous.

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Next up, mini-sweet peppers.  These are fantastic for snacking—you can dip them right into hummus or munch by themselves—and taste just like bell peppers.  They happen to be cheaper than bells at my grocer and I love the color variety for food presentation.  They are loaded with vitamins A, C, and E, as well as beta-carotene.  They are delicious and very palatable raw.

DSC_2162The “meat” of today’s lettuce wraps takes the form of mini-portobello mushrooms.  Like meat, these fungi are a source of protein, as well as an even richer source of copper, selenium, and vitamin B6.  They are also among one of the only natural sources of vitamin D, although in small amounts.  Portobello mushrooms are an ideal meat substitute for those still trying to kick the stuff.  (PS:  The large caps make for excellent burgers!  PPS:  That’s a crockpot of my three-bean chili in the background, which would also be delicious with mushrooms!)  You can certainly eat the stems, but I remove them and save them for homemade veggie stock.

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Finally, a word about green onions.  As I mentioned in my bean salad formula, you want to try and power through with consuming some raw onions in your plant-based diet.  They are great for skin elasticity and pack a lot of flavor.  The green onions you see here were purchased years ago.  I’m sorry…what?  YEARS ago?  That’s right.  We bought a bunch of green onions a couple of years ago and continue to regrow them.  You can place them in a cup like this in your window sill until they become large and then transfer them to a pot of dirt or garden.  Once they are even larger, harvest, consume, and continue the cycle.

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My absolute favorite part about this formula is that my lettuce wraps can be consumed completed raw or mostly raw.  As you know, most fruits and vegetables are at their optimal nutrition level in a raw state, so I try to cook as little as possible.  Mushrooms, in particular, do not need to be cooked, but should you consider another protein sources for these wraps, such as beans, there will be necessary cooking involved.

Today, I will be lightly cooking my portobello mushrooms just to reinforce their meaty texture and reduce the marinade.  Everything else will be raw.

Travis and I polished off the entire batch of these lettuce wraps in one sitting; I imagine you will do the same.  🙂  Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE:  LETTUCE WRAPS

Makes approximately 10 wraps/cups/boats

For the marinade/sauce:

  • ½ cup room temperature seed or nut butter (seeds/nuts only) –> I’m using peanut.
  • ¼ cup soy sauce or liquid amino acids* –> I’m using liquid amino acids.
  • ¼ cup acid (citrus juice, vinegar, mustard, etc.) –> I’m using ¼ cup rice wine vinegar + an additional tbsp of whole grain mustard.
  • ¼ cup liquid sweetener (agave syrup, maple syrup, etc.) –> I’m using light agave.
  • 1 clove minced raw garlic
  • 1 tbsp herbs and/or spices (optional) –> I’m using freshly grated ginger.
  • 2+ dashes of hot sauce (optional) –> I’m using the minimum. 🙂

*See my profile of Sage Kitchen’s walnut sausage recipe for an explanation.

For the filling:

  • 4-5 cups finely chopped protein (beans, lentils, mushrooms, tofu, tempeh, etc.) –> I’m using mini-portobello mushrooms.
  • 2 cups finely chopped raw vegetables –> I’m using about a 1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions and 1 ½ cups tri-color mini-sweet peppers.
  • ½ cup finely chopped “crunch” (raw seeds, nuts, etc.) –> I’m using unsalted blanched peanuts.

Make your marinade by mixing all ingredients with a small whisk.  Set aside.

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Precook your protein if necessary (beans/lentils).  Finely chop your protein and mix with approximately ½ of your marinade.  Cover and place in the fridge for an hour.

DSC_2155During the hour that your protein is marinating, prepare your wraps/cups/boats, vegetables, and crunch element.  When the hour is nearly up, heat a sauté pan over medium high heat, if you are planning to cook or heat your protein source.

DSC_2165If you are not cooking your protein, assemble your wraps according to taste preferences and add additional sauce if necessary.  If you are cooking your protein, sauté it over medium high heat just long enough to reduce/thicken the marinade.  Stir often to prevent sticking.

Let your protein cool for a few minutes in order to prevent wilting the lettuce.  Assemble wraps accordingly.  Save any leftover sauce to marinade other vegetables or use as a flavorful salad dressing.

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New Formula: Pesto

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Pesto is easy to make and super flavorful. While it is quite commonly a sauce for pasta dishes, it can also be used as a spread for sandwiches and wraps or a dip or marinade for vegetables. Depending on the application, pesto may be best used immediately as it will change in consistency once it goes into the fridge. This is a result of the oil within solidifying. If you’re looking for the pesto to be “pourable,” use it right away. Otherwise, it can easily keep in the fridge for up to a week.

There are endless combinations that make pesto delicious and versatile. The flavor depends largely on the herbs selected. Thus, I believe that pesto follows a basic formula and although often made with cheese, I’ve found a way to make it “cheesy” and vegan at the same time.

DSC_1806 The “cheesiness” comes from a couple of places. First of all, some nuts have flavors that mimic the nutty quality of cheeses like parmesan. My favorite parm substitute is cashews, which I grind finely and sprinkle on top of pasta often. The other cheesy element to this pesto is nutritional yeast, also known as “nooch.”

DSC_1808 Ummm…what is nooch (pictured above)?! Originally named “nutritional yeast,” it is a member of the fungi family and not the same as say, brewer’s yeast or baking yeast. This strain of yeast has a cheesy, nutty taste and adds a lot of flavor to dishes in small amounts. Most importantly, it is called nutritional yeast for a reason. Nooch is loaded with B-vitamins, protein, zinc, folic acid, and selenium. To sweeten the deal, some brands specifically contain the highly sought out vitamin B12.

Be creative in experimenting with my pesto formula. You could make a cilantro version to spread inside burritos or tacos, a basil version for Italian cooking, or even a mint version to use with falafel. The possibilities are endless. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: PESTO

Makes about 1 ¾ cups 

  • 1 ½ cups fresh herbs –> I’m using 1 cup parsley and ½ cup basil.
  • 1 cup raw nuts –> I’m using cashews
  • 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
  • 5 cloves raw garlic
  • ½ cup citrus juice –> I’m using the juice of two lemons.
  • Additional spices (optional) –> I’m using 1 tsp onion powder.
  • Water/oil as needed for smoothness –> I’m going for a thicker dip/spread, so I won’t need any extra liquid today.

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth, adding water and/or oil as needed. The less oil used, the lower in fat the end product will be. 🙂 So flavorful, this pesto doesn’t even need salt!

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