Sweet and Tangy Barbecue Sauce

I love barbecue. I realize that seems awkward, coming from a mostly vegan. What use could I possibly have for BBQ sauce if I’m not slathering it on ribs or chicken? While I think that BBQ sauce has many applications, it is one of my favorite pizza sauces. Back in my meat-eating days, BBQ chicken pizza was one of my favs. Now, I sub tofu for chicken and forgo the cheese and am still completely satisfied…

…especially now that I’ve developed my own sauce! Store-bought BBQ sauces certainly promise flavor, but they are overloaded with sugar and salt. My version includes very little added sweetener and is so robust, doesn’t even need much salt.

The key to creating a sauce that outdoes the premade versions is using fresh ingredients. My BBQ sauce comes together with whole plump tomatoes and sweet golden pineapple. That’s right: pineapple is my not-so-secret-anymore ingredient. I’ve seen it used for natural sweetness in teriyaki, so I thought I’d give it a try in another sauce. Depending on how sweet, tangy, and/or spicy you like your BBQ sauce, you may not even need any added sweetener after the addition of the pineapple. Taste as you go!

(SIDE NOTE: If you don’t have one of these handy kitchen scales, I would highly recommend buying one.)

So, I realize that some of you are, in fact, going to use this deliciousness to coat an animal carcass. I’m happy to get you one step closer to living a healthier life by forgoing that bottle in the grocery store. No matter what, do, absolutely, use this sauce to make my pizza some time. 🙂 Enjoy!

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FORMULA BASE: BARBECUE SAUCE

  • 1 pound tomatoes –> I’m using romas.
  • ½ pound ripe pineapple
  • ½ of a small onion –> I’m using yellow.
  • 2-3 cloves garlic –> I’m using 2.
  • ¼ cup acid (citrus juice, vinegar, mustard, etc.) –> I’m using whole grain mustard.
  • ¼ cup + 1/8 cup sweetener –> I’m using ¼ cup unsulfured molasses and 1/8 cup agave syrup.
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • Salt and pepper to taste –> I’m using 4 grounds of fresh black pepper and a pinch of pink Himalayan sea salt.
  • Cayenne pepper or hot sauce to taste (optional) –> Definitely not for this wimp. 🙂

Coarsely chop your tomatoes, pineapple, and onion into large chunks. Place in a blender with your garlic cloves (peeled and whole). Puree until smooth.

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Pour into a sauce pan and add all other ingredients. Simmer on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes or until sauce has reached desired consistency. Use immediately or store in the fridge.

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Update: Our Backyard Garden

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Here in Phoenix, temperatures will be over 100 degrees by the end of this week. This means the beginning of some summer crops, but the end of most, with temperatures eventually reaching the teens. Since I last updated you on our DIY backyard garden, we’ve had a few changes and one surprise.

As previously mentioned, growing your own garden allows you to control the quality (i.e. organic, for example) and saves you money on purchasing pre-grown produce. Unless you’re an expert and/or have a ton of available land with extremely fertile soil and/or live in a region with perfect gardening weather year-round, you probably can’t grow everything that your veggie heart desires, but there may be a few items with which you can find success.

Other than our extensive herb collection—which, unfortunately, is starting to take a beating from the heat—our biggest success by far is tomatoes. We have at least four different varieties (that we’re aware of) growing in our garden, including these gorgeous beefsteaks (pictured above). Our plants are holding strong as summer approaches and we have 40-50 fit-sized tomatoes near maturity, including some sweet yellows and black rim.

We have a few baby yellow summer squashes and leeks, too. We received leaks in our Bountiful Basket one week and thought we’d try planting it; months later, it’s going strong.

DSC_2045 DSC_2043Other successes (not pictured) include continued growth of our pomegranate trees, shrub-sized rosemary and lavender, and lemongrass that’s been going for well over a year. We have about five ears of corn with a couple of kernels each and green onions that we planted over two years ago that just keep on giving.

Our oleanders are in bloom, as well as a few different flower varieties. The mini-red roses below came from a “house plant” given to us nearly two years ago. It was near death living inside, so we took a chance and planted it outside and it has been in bloom since. Blooming flowers = birds and bees = new growth cropping up unexpectedly…

DSC_2051Surprise: We have wonderberries! It took us a while to research and name the mystery plant that has taken root in our yard, but we finally did it. Wonderberries, sometimes referred to as sunberries, look similar to blueberries. When they are green, they are poisonous. Once they turn black, they are edible. When the skin goes from shiny to dull, they are at their best, but never quite as sweet as other berries. They are commonly made into pies or jams where extra sugar can be added. I’ll let you know when we harvest ours and make something out of them.

DSC_2041Still feeling daunted? Again, start with windowsill herbs and work your way up to planting bigger crops. 🙂 Your organic palate and fuller wallet will thank you in the end!

New Fresh Formula: Totally Vegan Chili

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A few days ago, a friend posted an inquiry on Facebook seeking crock pot recipes. I instantly thought of my totally vegan chili recipe, which I always simmer for hours in my crock pot. I thought about what I typically put in the chili and concluded that it’s the tomatoes and spices that make it chili; the beans and vegetables could really be anything. Thus, a new fresh formula—now housed under Square Meals—was born.

This formula is inspired by the spice blend in my mother’s meat chili, a dish I absolutely loved growing up. She now makes her chili vegan, too, often getting creative with her vegetables. She used sweet potatoes in her last batch, which I happened to be in Michigan to taste. Boy was it yummy!

Making this formula work for you will depend on how spicy or sweet (or both) you like your chili, so you’ll see some flexibility in how you prepare it. Consider beans and/or lentils that are on sale, that work well together, and of course, that you enjoy. Call on vegetables that are in season and whenever possible, organic.

A well-stocked spice cabinet should ensure that you’re ready to make this chili at any time. By “any time,” I mean just before you go to bed or leave for work, as it cooks slowly over many hours. It is quite often my go-to dinner when I’m craving something warm and filling and I’m low on veggies, since beans are really the star here.

A note about canned tomatoes: I recently read that canned tomatoes are among one of the most dangerous foods that one can purchase. The high acid level in the tomatoes causes them to eat away at the can’s interior, exposing them to dangerous BPA. As always, starting with fresh is a little more work, but better for you.

Canned beans, on the other hand, I’m okay with, so long as the can contains beans ONLY…no added sodium, spices, or fats.

Finally, rather than cheese or sour cream, I sometimes top this chili with crumbled homemade vegan cornbread, broken tortilla chips, cilantro, green onions, or a squeeze of lime juice… or, I just eat it plain – it’s that good. It also makes for a delicious addition to a burrito or other Latin or southwestern dish. Enjoy!

FORMULA BASE: CHILI

Serves 6

  • 6 cups cooked beans and/or lentils –>  I’m using 2 cups each of black, kidney, and pinto beans.
  • 1-1 ¼ lbs tomatoes  –>  I’m using 6 roma tomatoes.
  • Approximately 4-4 ½ cups vegetables  –>  I’m using one green bell pepper, one yellow onion, and ½ cup frozen corn.
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tbsp dried minced onions
  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp dried cilantro
  • Pink Himalayan sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste  –>  I’m using ½ tsp salt and no ground pepper.
  • Sweetener to taste (optional)  –>  I’m using 2 tbsp agave syrup. I like a little sweetness to balance out the spices and acidity of the tomatoes.
  • Cayenne pepper to taste (optional) –>  Not for me – I’m a wimp.  🙂

Set your crock pot to low. Coarsely chunk your tomatoes and place in a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth and pour into crock pot. It will look orange/pinkish and frothy right now, but will cook down and deepen in color with time and spices.

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Dice and add all veggies. Mince and add garlic.

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Add all spices, seasonings, and sweeteners, if using.

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Drain and rinse beans/lentils (if necessary) and add to the crock pot.

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Fill any remaining space in the crock pot with water to your thickness preference*. I fill my crock pot almost to the top, knowing that it will reduce a bit.

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I keep the crock pot lid slightly ajar to allow for slow evaporation and ultimately, a thicker chili, but keep the crock pot completely covered for a soupier dish. Simmer for 8-10 hours, depending on the power of your crock pot.

*ALTERNATIVE IDEA: Add only enough additional water to cook your veggies through and create a super thick warm bean dip rather than a chili. A new party favorite with tortilla chips!