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! 🙂

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Progress Report and How to Build a Salad

The results are in: I’m down another three pounds and just one pound shy of my pre-pregnancy weight! My one-week raw food challenge yielded exactly the results I expected. Honestly, despite all of the raw produce I eat on a regular basis (and my success this past week), going 90% raw was more difficult than I anticipated. It wasn’t until a few days in that I really got into a groove with snacks and small meals that kept me satisfied.

I found myself eating roughly 40% each raw fruits and veggies, 10% raw nuts, seeds, and butters, and 10% “other” (cooked items, oils/vinegars to dress salads, etc.). I experienced increased energy levels, which is essential these days with a newborn waking several times throughout the night. I found it easy to lose a little bit more weight even though working out did not go as planned.

In my last post, I was beaming about our new B.O.B. jogging stroller and getting back to running again. Well, I tried, and let’s just say I experienced some healing setbacks that I didn’t expect. I thought I was ready for a low-impact jog, but my mind and body had different plans. I did, however, keep with regular outdoor walks, began doing arm exercises with two-pound hand weights, and even got down on the floor for some good ‘ole ab toning. I’m feeling really great and look forward to trying jogging again soon.

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So, how did I consume all of that raw produce in order to feel satiated and energized and achieve the results I was looking for? Mostly, salad! No, we are not talking iceberg lettuce with shredded carrots…I mean big, hearty, versatile salads with flavorful low-sodium/fat/sugar homemade dressings.

Here’s how I build the perfect salad:

Start with a nutrient-rich leafy green base. While there is certainly nothing wrong with iceberg or romaine lettuces, you’ll get more out of a salad with kale or spinach. Leafier greens tend to be more fibrous, so chop them small and/or massage your dressing onto the leaves to make them more palatable. Also, consider greens that you may not have realized you could eat. Travis and I consume the tops of beets and carrots, for instance, either in salads or smoothies.

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Mix a variety of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and veggies pair well together, allowing you to balance sweetness and freshness. I prefer hard, crunchy fruits like apples or pears in my salads, but there’s obviously no limit to the combinations. This salad—surprisingly, from Chili’s—includes pineapple. Berries make for a delicious addition, too. As for veggies? Really anything goes. I prefer veggies that are palatable in a raw state, but you could even prepare a butternut squash and slice it thinly. Play around with combinations that maximize flavor and nutrition.

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Kick it up with a crunch. Raw nuts and seeds do the job nicely. Whenever possible, opt for those without added oil, salt, or sugar, of course. Even nuts that aren’t necessarily tasty raw—walnuts, in my opinion—take on a whole new life when paired with the right produce and dressing. I will eat a whole bowl full of kale with just nuts/seeds and am totally satisfied.

Make your own dressing. ALWAYS. There are many a tasty option out there in the world of premade dressings, but an abundance of them contain animal products, preservatives, and/or an excess of oil, salt, or sugar. It is simple and fast to make your own dressing. A vinaigrette comes together by mixing acid (mustard, citrus juice, vinegar, etc.) and a touch of oil and/or sweetener, plus salt, pepper, herbs, and spices to taste. Love ranch? Caesar? You can still have creamy dressings using a nut or seed butter as the base. This extra effort is worth it for a healthier salad. Ranch might make veggies tastier, but it takes over whatever health benefits you were gleaning from them without it…

Add cooked elements to make it extra filling. Lastly, your salad will keep you fuller longer if you add cooked beans, lentils, tofu, or whole grains. I especially love to do this when I’m making a burrito bowl. 🙂 Remember, though, that cooked items contain more calories than raw, if you’re trying to watch your weight. Point is, if you’re aiming to eat more raw produce, that is what should be the star. (You can’t go wrong, however, with my multi-grain salad, bean salad, or potato salad for a filling fix that is highly nutritious!)

Salad with beans

During my one-week raw food challenge, I was comfortable eating a lot of salad. In my ordinary plant-based life (60-70% raw produce), I typically eat at least one salad a day, either on its own or in a wrap. If the thought daunts you but you’re trying to eat more produce, start small: carrot sticks and dip (homemade, of course!), apples and peanut butter, etc. Once you find yourself having more energy, you’ll be chowing down on fresh fruits and veggies on the regular in no time!

One-Week Raw Food Challenge

As expected, this week, I plateaued on my weight loss journey. After I gave birth to Nolan, the last four pounds were the toughest to lose and it looks like that is going to be the case again. While I didn’t gain any weight over the past week—plant-based eating works wonders for maintaining a healthy weight, regardless of the intensity or amount of exercise—I didn’t lose any either and I’m not seeing any differences in my appearance.

So, it’s time to take it up a notch. As of Sunday, it’s been four weeks since Oliver was born and I feel mostly healed from childbirth. I’m ready to make my daily walk at least a partial jog. My in-laws hooked us up with a brand new B.O.B. jogging stroller that can hold a child up to seventy pounds, so Oliver—or Nolan even—will be accompanying me for my runs for years to come.

While exercise is important and essential for heart health and weight loss, it is my belief that diet is even more so. As you know, I follow a mostly vegan plant-based lifestyle composed of 60-70% raw plants and 30-40% cooked. Since I have reached a plateau, to accompany gradual changes in exercise, I’m doing a one-week raw foods challenge where I’ll be upping my raw plant intake to 90%.

Eating raw plants is extremely healthy and in many cases, preferred to cooked plants. Most raw plants contain more nutrients than if they were cooked and cooked plants also contain more calories than raw. What?! I’m not a scientist, but in simple terms, according to what I’ve read, when a plant is cooked, it is injected with energy (heat). Since calories = energy, increasing the “energy” in a food is also increasing its calories. Point being, while I don’t count my energy molecules, I don’t need as many of them if I’m trying to lose weight. 🙂 All the more reason to go raw.

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Because I am used to eating mostly raw plants anyway, I am not concerned about feeling satisfied by even more of the raw stuff and less of the cooked. I don’t think I could sustain a 90% raw diet in the long-term because there are so many cooked plant foods that I can’t live without (potatoes, beans, whole grains, etc.), but I know I can do it for a week and expect to see a few more pounds drop as a result.

What are you going to eat? Where do you get your protein?

Some of you are thinking it, so here are the answers:

I’m going to consume a variety of raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, nut/seed butters, and plant milks as they are or in easy-to-combine dishes like smoothies or salads. I’ll incorporate grains by putting them dry and uncooked into the Vitamix and turning them into flour. I can use this flour in power balls or bars, for instance, and obtain the nutrients in fewer calories.

There is some level of protein in virtually all plants, but especially high levels in nuts and seeds. I’m not worried about getting enough protein—I never am—and I’m not a bodybuilder, so I just need to make sure to eat an adequate amount for my body type and physical activity level. Protein is nothing to stress about, despite getting this question often. A dietician I follow has written numerous times about how most Americans (even vegans!) eat way too much protein…I’m not a nutritionist, so I’ll leave it at that.

Part of staying full and satiated, for me, anyway, is grazing. The pics in this post exhibit snacks I eat all day long in lieu of three traditionally large meals. Just an idea if you’re not sure how you could make this work. 🙂 Check in next week to see how my raw food challenge went!

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Cereal Bowl Veggie Wraps

While vegetarian/vegan eating is certainly becoming more popular, the majority of restaurants in America cater to an herbivorous diet. As a result, the few vegetarian/vegan dishes offered at a restaurant that doesn’t specialize in plant-based cuisine often miss the mark, in my opinion. When I’m at an establishment with a mostly-meaty menu and spy a veggie wrap or sandwich, I typically order it (or a salad), only to be disappointed by the texture and interpretation.

You’ve seen this offering and may even have had it: grilled veggie wrap. This typically comes stuffed with overcooked, mushy portobello mushrooms, red peppers, and zucchini. The contents are often drenched in oil, mayo, cheese, or some other greasy substance that really takes away from the nutritional value of the veggies themselves. This wrap experience just doesn’t do it for me.

As I’ve mentioned before, most plant foods are more nutritious in their raw state, so I really try to limit my cooking of produce. Obviously something like a sweet potato needs to be cooked, but raw zucchini, for instance, is actually delicious, if you’ve never tried it. For me, texture is everything, and I prefer the crunch and freshness of raw vegetables over cooked any day.

The method here is simple: For one twelve-inch tortilla, you need almost a full cereal bowl of fresh veggies/fruits to adequately fill the wrap. Of course, if you can adjust the amount to make a traditional sandwich instead. Enjoy!

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FORMULA BASE: VEGGIE WRAP

Makes 1 wrap

  • 1 12-inch tortilla –> I’m using spinach.
  • Enough raw chopped/diced/sliced fruit/veggies to fill ¾ of a cereal bowl –> I’m using a combination of kale, spinach, cucumber, roma tomato, green onion, button mushrooms, and green apple.
  • 1-2 tablespoons homemade dressing of choice –> I’m using a lemon vinaigrette (or, consider my creamy dressing).
  • 1 tablespoon “crunch” (e.g. raw nuts, seeds, etc.) or unsweetened dried fruit (optional, for additional texture) –> I’m not using any this time.

Peel (if necessary) and chop, dice, or slice your fruit/veggies. Combine with dressing in cereal bowl. Assemble wrap and consume immediately.

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Plant-Based Living On the Go

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I’m back!  Travis, Nolan, and I just returned from a ten-day trip to Michigan, where I’m originally from and grew up.  Our vacation was jam-packed with weddings, places to go, and people to visit, but despite the hectic pace, I managed to stick to my values when it comes to plant-based living.

As you’ve read in my bio, I consider myself a mostly-vegan:  I follow a strict vegan lifestyle at home, allowing only the occasional animal product splurge when out and about.  My vacation was no exception.  If you think about it, fresh fruits and vegetables are really the original fast food.

That’s right:  fast food, which need not carry a negative connotation.  Whether you’re looking for a quick snack, need to pack a lunch for work, are meal planning for the week ahead, or are about to embark on a vacation, you will most likely have nature’s fast food available somehow, somewhere.

A dietician I follow (whose research and knowledge I’ve mentioned previously) once posted that if you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, you’re not really hungry.  I couldn’t agree with this more.  It is ultimately quicker to rinse and bite right into an apple than it is to deep fry and season potatoes or plop a frozen beef patty on the grill.  If you wouldn’t be willing to grab the fresher, faster option, how hungry are you?

I try to keep this as my mantra when I travel.  It is easy to get caught up in all of the treats, especially at occasions like weddings.  Don’t get me wrong – I did a little bit of splurging, but I know my limits and stick to them for the sake of my health and energy level.  I have a two-year-old and I’m pregnant, remember?  🙂

Today, I’m sharing with you the ways that I was able to remain mostly-vegan on vacation.  First, pictured above, I ordered the vegetarian dish at the first of two weddings I attended.  Quite frankly, when I sit down to dinner at banquet hall, I’ve come to expect a bland pasta or lifeless salad of iceberg lettuce and shredded carrots.  Imagine my surprise when this filo dough purse, filled with vegetables and sitting atop polenta, arrived!  The meat entrée recipients at my table were definitely impressed.  “What is that?!  Looks amazing!”  While I don’t think it was vegan—I imagine the dough involved butter at some stage or another and there was a creamy sauce on the plate that probably contained dairy or mayo—and it certainly wasn’t raw, which is generally my preference, it was easily the best vegetarian banquet hall fare I’ve tasted.

Next, we have a veggie burger from Rainforest Café.  Again, I’m not sure it was vegan, as an egg was may have been used in binding the chickpea patty, but I could tell that it was handmade and not frozen.  There was no dairy or mayo on top; just raw veggies and guacamole – yum!  I opted for a side of seasonal vegetables, which I picked at, trying to prioritize the protein of the veggie burger.  While, as a rule, I try not to waste food, I discarded most of the bun.

IMG_4851On to a completely raw vegan salad from Dublin Square, an Irish pub in East Lansing, home of my alma mater, Michigan State University.  Go Green!  While I wish the salad’s base was a heartier green like spinach or kale rather than romaine lettuce, this salad was fresh, filling, and delicious.  The cherry vinaigrette (Michigan is known for its cherries) didn’t hurt!

IMG_4850Finally, oatmeal topped with raw fruit at the bed and breakfast where Trav and I stayed for the night, the Wild Goose Inn, also in East Lansing.  The innkeeper presented us with a small menu that had four choices, following a fruit salad and muffin course.  Three out of the four dishes included eggs, so of course we selected the oatmeal, which contained dried Michigan cherries, almonds, and the raw fruit you see here.  Sweetener—namely brown sugar or honey—was offered on the side; we didn’t even need it!

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The rest of my eating took place in my parents’ home or in the homes of friends and family where we bounced around.  Again, I allowed myself the occasional splurge – what was I supposed to do when my mom baked homemade red velvet cupcakes?!  🙂  At each place we stayed, I tried to make smart choices:  a bagel with peanut butter instead of cream cheese or super food smoothies for breakfast, and I got into the kitchen for some of my old standbys for lunch and dinner:  multi-grain salad with strawberries, bean salad, and more.

I’ll never be perfect at plant-based living, but I work really hard—even on vacation—to meet a high standard for my health and well-being.  You can, too!  Happy eating!

The Answer to a Popular Question: What Do You Eat?

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If you’re a vegetarian or even more “extreme,” a vegan, you’ve probably had omnivores ask you questions like these: If you don’t eat meat or cheese, what do you eat? Wait, no eggs either? What’s left to eat? Before I knew what I know about plant-based living, I may have behaved just as incredulously. So, I think it would be helpful to spend a day in the life of a mostly-vegan to see exactly what I eat…and it’s a lot!

As you know, I very occasionally splurge on an item of my former omnivorous diet, be it a bowl of macaroni and cheese (of COURSE that’s what I craved when I was pregnant!) or baklava dripping with honey. On the regular, however, thanks to my getting-better-everyday discipline, these splurges don’t occur. Travis and I pretty strictly refrain from purchasing any animal products for our kitchen. At home, we eat totally vegan, 99% of the time. As I explained in my bio, animal products typically only make their way into our lifestyle when we are out and about, if then.

Parents may also be wondering what my two-year-old eats on a day-to-day basis. As you learned in my post about his second birthday party, he basically eats like we do, although is a little less adventurous with raw vegetables at this stage of the game. Here’s a sample of what I eat in a given day (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Breakfast: unsweetened green tea* and raw fruit:
  • Snacks (2-3 daily): more unsweetened green tea with one or more of the following:
    • raw nuts or seeds
    • dried or raw fruit/veggies
    • homemade trail mix
    • dark chocolate
    • popcorn –> popped on the stove from bulk seeds
    • rice cake with or without nut butter
    • homemade graham crackers
    • homemade hummus with raw veggies, pita bread, etc.
    • super food muffin
  • Lunch: more unsweetened green tea with salad, as is, wrapped in a tortilla, or sandwiched between slices of homemade bread:
  • Dinner: another salad or a cooked or partially cooked plant-based meal:
    • veggie curry
    • chili
    • soup/stew
    • veggie burgers
    • pasta
    • homemade cheese-less pizza
    • veggie stir fry
    • roasted vegetables
  • **Dessert: raw fruit, dark chocolate, or homemade vegan dessert (e.g. cookies, brownies, etc.)

*I drink 3-4 cups of unsweetened green tea daily. I’m sure you’ve heard greatness about this superfood, but just in case you haven’t, you should know that it is jam-packed with antioxidants, has healing properties, and can even help you to lose weight.

**On a regular basis, I don’t eat a traditional dessert like cookies or brownies…not because I don’t like them, just because I can’t always make a dessert as healthy I can a square meal or snack. If I do have a craving for something sweet, I make it myself and you guessed it: it’s vegan and made with smart substitutes (i.e. whole wheat flour and flax seeds for white flour, maple syrup for white granulated sugar, etc.). I will very often, however, have more raw fruit and/or dark chocolate near the end of the day.

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This typical menu may look like a lot or a little bit of food to you. As I’ve mentioned before, because I am eating mostly raw fruits and veggies and whole grains, I can basically eat as much as I want. When I eat a salad, for example, it is often the size of a large mixing bowl, just to give you an idea. The energy level I maintain is such that I am hungry more often and am burning a lot of calories, even when not exercising very intensely. As a result, I eat when I want to eat and as much as I want to, depending on what I plan to consume, of course.

DSC_1764 Here’s a day in Nolan’s life, which you will notice is not much unlike my own:

  • Breakfast: super food muffin and raw fruit and/or togurt (so far, he will eat any fruit in any capacity and the muffins are a great way to hide vegetables that he isn’t willing to try yet)
  • Snacks (2-3 daily): see above (finely chopped/small pieces)
  • Lunch: will sometimes eat the same salad that I make for myself or will munch on cubes of marinated tofu, baked veggie fries, or any one of the cooked meals above
  • Dinner: will sometimes eat another mostly vegetable or bean salad, but is typically always up for a salad made with grains (e.g. quinoa, wheat berries, etc.) or one of the above cooked meals
  • Dessert: raw fruit, every night before bed

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Lately, I’ve been trying to track what I eat so that I can give you the most realistic picture of my lifestyle possible. These are just rough estimates, and amounts certainly vary from day to day based on what is available at the store, what we have in stock, and what’s on our schedule, but here are more of my food stats:

  • I eat 60-70% raw plant-based foods in a day; the rest are partially or fully sautéed, steamed, boiled, or baked.
  • I eat 3-4 different whole grains daily (e.g. farro, quinoa, brown rice, wheat berries, cracked wheat, rolled oats, etc.).
  • I eat 7-10 different fruits daily, in varying amounts.
  • I eat 10-15 different vegetables daily, in varying amounts.
  • I eat 2-3 significant sources of protein daily (e.g. beans, seeds, nuts, etc.).
  • I eat 2-4 significant sources of calcium daily (e.g. plant milk, seeds, green vegetables, etc.).
  • I eat 6-7 times per day, be it snacks or meals.
  • I drink only water, tea, plant milk, or 100% juice with no sugar added (plus alcohol in reasonable amounts, although not daily).
  • I do not count calories, carbs, or fat grams, but do pay attention to amounts of protein, fiber, and iron, vitamins, calcium, etc. and thoroughly read the list of ingredients when I am considering eating something that is packaged.
  • I eat within an hour of waking up and within 90 minutes of going to bed.

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This certainly isn’t the entire picture and life circumstances can change any strong or poor diet at a moment’s notice, but I wanted you to see how fulfilling it can be to subsist primarily on plants. There are endless combinations and methods and I can assure you that there is, definitely, plenty to eat. 🙂

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