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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Wonderberries Turned Homemade Triple-Berry Jam

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When I updated you on the progress of our garden, I shared a photo of the wonderberries (AKA sunberries) that had mysteriously begun growing there.  By the time we returned from Michigan on Sunday, they were ready to harvest.  Not naturally very sweet, we knew we were going to use them to make jam.

DSC_2065As you know, I’ve been craving peanut butter and jelly this pregnancy.  Between my PB&J smoothie, PB&J atop rice cakes and graham crackers, and good old PB&J sandwiches, I’ve got my cravings covered!  The downside to many jellies and jams, however, is that they are loaded with sugar.  Today, I’m making a triple-berry jam—inspired by our wonderberry harvest—that is low in added sweetener.

First, a few definitions that will help us along the way:

PECTIN:  A natural gelling agent found in the cell walls of plants.  You can purchase pectin in powdered form to make vegan jelly, jam, or jello.  (Gelatin, which is not vegan, comes from animals, and is found in such items as gummy bears and marshmallows.)  This pectin brand is available at Whole Foods.

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JELLY:  A smooth pectin-based mixture that contains fruit juice (or, unfortunately, artificial flavors that mimic real fruit) and no chunks of actual fruit.

JAM:  A less smooth pectin-based mixture that contains mashed, pureed, or whole fruits.

Of course, I am making jam.  As mentioned in a previous post, I try to keep my consumption of juice to a minimum; whole fruits contain more fiber, which aids in preventing the conversion of sugar to fat.  For my sweetener, I’m using light agave syrup, which I first introduced to you with my coleslaw formula.  Compared to many (if not most) store-bought jams, mine contains very little added sugar and no artificial sweeteners of any kind.

I must warn you, despite containing few ingredients, making jam does contain quite of few steps, including several rounds of boiling.  Having a helper in the kitchen makes a big difference, and you can make jam in bulk to save time later on.  🙂  This jam keeps at room temperature for one year, but should be refrigerated and consumed in three weeks once a jar is opened.  Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE:  JAM

Makes 2 small jars or 1 large*

  • 2 cups raw or precooked fruit**  –>  I’m using ½ cup wonderberries, ½ cup raspberries, and 1 cup blackberries.
  • 2 tbsps sweetener  –>  I’m using agave syrup.
  • 1 tsp pectin
  • 1 tsp calcium water (prepare according to package directions)

*You can find mason jars at many retailers including dollar or 99 cent stores.

**A hard fruit like apples will be easier to mash or puree if it has been precooked, but a softer fruit like raspberries will mash easily in a raw state.

Fill a pot with water enough to completely cover your mason jars in standing position and bring to a boil.  Add both the jars and their lids.  After the jars have boiled for a few minutes, turn the heat on low and keep the jars in the hot water.

Next, peel and precook your fruit, if necessary.  Place your raw and/or cooked fruit in a bowl and mash, or, puree in a blender or food processor.

DSC_2072Combine your mashed fruit and calcium water in a pot and bring to a boil.  While you are awaiting the boil, combine your pectin and sweetener in a separate dish.

DSC_2073Add the mixture to the boiling fruit and stir an additional 1-2 minutes, until the pectin is dissolved.  Remove from the heat.

Using tongs, remove your hot jars from the other pot and bring the water to a boil again.  While you are waiting for yet another boil, pour the jam into the jars, approximately ¼ of an inch from the top.  Wipe the rims clean and seal.  Once the water is boiling, submerge the jars in an upright position and boil for 10 minutes.

Use tongs to remove the hot jars and place on the countertop to cool.  Refrigerate once opened.

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I’m Pregnant, and I want PB&J!

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If you haven’t heard via one of my social media accounts (follow me on Twitter and Instagram @jackiewitzke or on Tumblr, TheFreshFormula), I am pregnant with baby #2! We have lovingly named our mini-us Baby Dos, since we aren’t finding out the sex until birth. I’m happy to report that I’ve been feeling well overall, especially now that the exhaustion of the first trimester has passed.

When I was pregnant with Nolan, I craved macaroni and cheese, which doesn’t exactly bode well for my plant-based lifestyle. This pregnancy, I’m thankful to be craving something animal-free: good ‘ole peanut butter and jelly! So long as jelly doesn’t contain gelatin, it is naturally vegan. I buy nut butters containing only nuts, so they’re as natural as you can get, too. And as you know, I also make my own bread, so PB&J is generally a pretty healthy snack for me…

…except for the excess of sugar found in some jelly brands. I’ve handled this a couple of ways. If I purchase premade jelly, I look for all-natural varieties that do not contain high fructose corn syrup. Travis and I have also made our own jellies and jams in the past, allowing us to control the amount and quality of sweetener that goes in.

Regardless of how well I shop or prepare homemade jellies and jams, sugar is sugar. Not only does the average person need to avoid consuming an excess, but certainly a pregnant woman should. I have solved this problem by turning to an old standby: my dessert smoothie formula.

Yes, it’s here: the no-sugar-added PB&J smoothie! I derive all of the sweetness in this treat from raw fruit and medjool dates (as needed). But wait, doesn’t fruit contain sugar? Yes – thankfully, it is coupled with fiber to slow the body’s absorption and prevent the conversion to fat. A dietician that I follow (as mentioned in this previous post) eats primarily raw fruit in her vegan diet and claims that you cannot consume too much of natural sugar in this form (juice, of course, is another story, which I wrote about in the same post). So, not to worry PB&J lovers!

My favorite jelly is that of raspberries, which I’m including in today’s formula adaptation. Raspberries (as with many other berries) happen to be low in sugar, for those concerned, and contain more fiber than any other fruit. Pretty awesome, huh?!  These pictured below are frozen, not moldy.  🙂

DSC_2033Like my chocolate peanut butter banana smoothie, you can enjoy this one for dessert, but it would make for a well-balanced breakfast or snack, too. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: DESSERT SMOOTHIE

Serves 2-3

  • 2 frozen bananas (or fresh bananas and ice)
  • ½-1 cup specialty ingredients –> I’m using ¾ cup frozen raspberries and ¼ cup peanut butter.*
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 tbsp ground flax seeds
  • 1 tbsp hulled hemp seeds
  • ¼-½ tsp extract of choice (optional, and amount depends on flavor intensity) –> I’m not using any.
  • Pitted medjool dates as needed for sweetness –> I’m not using any.
  • Juice or plant milk until desired consistency (start with 4 oz) –> I’m using almond.

*You could use any combination of berries and nut/seed butter.  🙂

Place all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth, adjusting specialty ingredients as necessary.

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Dessert for Breakfast? Yes, Please!

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Today, I made my favorite dessert smoothie for breakfast. Above, you can see the finished product, ready for consumption by one busy mommy and on-the-go toddler.  While you’ll love this sweet treat in a traditional post-meal capacity, it can serve as a decadent start to your day, too. Jam-packed with protein and calcium, it puts many other breakfast options to shame.

A few words about some of the ingredients (pictured below) in this chocolate peanut butter banana concoction…

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First, we have cocoa power. To keep the sugar content low, it is imperative that it be unsweetened. Cocoa powder, which contains powerful antioxidants, has numerous health benefits, so it may be tempting to add a lot, but its flavor is quite intense. Start with a tablespoon and slowly add more if you want your smoothie extra chocolaty.

Secondly, seek out a peanuts-only peanut butter. Many peanut butters contain added sugar, oil, and salt, which may result in you initially finding a simpler peanut butter bland. The purer taste, however, will grow on you over time; I now find myself off-put by peanut butter with unnecessary additives.

Lastly, because the cocoa power, peanut butter, and almond milk in this recipe are all unsweetened, you have only the bananas to rely on to give this smoothie a dessert-like quality. Riper bananas will be sweeter, but if even that is not enough for you, add medjool dates–which are rich in fiber and vitamins–for a little something extra. As you can see in the photo, they do contain pits, which can be easily removed by splitting the dates in half with your thumbs. Medjool dates are very soft, easy to work with, and blend well, if you have a high quality blender.

That leads me to my blender: the Ninja, which includes pitchers in two different sizes. The most basic model will run you about $100, where the more advanced models with more equipment will be over $300. While I would love someday to own one of the hailed Vitamix or Blendtec processors, for a little less coin, I’m happy with the Ninja for now. If you do not own a blender with advanced capabilities and fear that the less-than-perfect puree of the dates would result in an unappealing texture, you could substitute another sweetener of your choice.

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Overall, this smoothie blends up nicely, with the exception of the chia seeds, which I’m not sure would completely puree in any blender. Their texture reminds me of the tiny seeds on strawberries or in kiwis and does not bother me, but you can eliminate them if you so choose. I have chia seeds in many of my formulas/recipes, as they are a super food loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, fiber, and protein.

But the seeds and peanut butter are fattening, right? Yes, they are. I’m happy to report, however, that seeds and nuts contain cholesterol-free fats. If you’re following a fairly strict plant-based diet, seeds and nuts are among the only sources of fat that you will ingest. Think about that squishy, white-ish edge of a pork chop or the grease that floats on top of a cheesy pizza and you will celebrate the addition, in moderation, of a different kind of fat to your diet. Also, this smoothie need not be your everyday breakfast (I make it once or twice a week) – check out my fruit and veggie smoothie formula, too.

With that said, on to dessert!

FORMULA BASE:  DESSERT SMOOTHIE

  • 2 frozen bananas (or fresh bananas and ice)
  • ½-1 cup specialty ingredients –>  I’m using ½ cup peanut butter and 1 heaping tbsp of unsweetened cocoa powder.
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 tbsp ground flax seeds
  • ¼-½ tsp extract of choice (optional, and amount depends on flavor intensity) –>  I’m using no extract in this recipe.
  • Pitted medjool dates as needed for sweetness  –>  I’m using 2.
  • Juice or plant milk until desired consistency (start with 4 oz)  –>  I’m using unsweetened almond milk.

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Combine all ingredients in a blender. Taste and adjust specialty ingredients as necessary.  Enjoy!