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eHow Video: Taco Salad (and some words on craving the familiar)

My mother is an excellent cook and one of my favorite dishes of all time was her taco salad. It was colorful and fun, and so delicious that I always had countless servings each time we had it for dinner. Her recipe called for ground chicken, so it’s been quite a while since I’ve had it. For a long time, I avoided attempting to make vegan versions of non-vegan dishes I loved because I knew I would always prefer the original. This isn’t because the original actually tastes better; it’s simply because it’s familiar. We humans are designed to be weary and skeptical of difference and change. There is no risk in sticking to the familiar; it’s safer and more comfortable.

BUT, if we give change a chance, if we can get out of our comfort zone just a little bit and give ourselves time to readjust, what was once unfamiliar will eventually become familiar. This applies to all aspects of life, not just food, so keep it in mind next time you find yourself making comparisons between the known and the unknown or feeling hesitant about trying something new.

Anyway, since it has been quite a while since I’ve had my mom’s taco salad and I knew I wouldn’t have the attachment to its familiarity that I would have had years ago, I decided to give a vegan version of this recipe a go. Instead of ground chicken, I used ground tempeh, and I added corn in lieu of the shredded cheddar cheese she would sometimes add. Everything else was the exact same.

Well, I was totally impressed with how it turned out! I’ll just be blunt: it was spectacular. The ground tempeh was absolutely delicious. Which makes sense because, after all, I applied the exact same seasonings as she would with ground chicken. And as I always say, humans don’t crave the taste of plain flesh; we crave the seasonings, and those seasonings are plant-based! I really liked the corn, too. I had added it mostly for color but it provided pops of delicious sweetness that went really well with all the lime juice and the salsa. I probably make this once a week because now it is so tasty. And just like before, my stomach seems to hold serving after serving after serving. Thank goodness!

(Serves 4–unless you are an extremely big eater–ahem–in which case it would serve 2-3)
Ingredients:
1 package tempeh, grated
1 large onion, chopped
2 1/2 cups of black beans (1-15 oz can + 1 cup)
1-2 tablespoons taco seasoning (I prefer 2 tablespoons)
2 heads of romaine lettuce, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro
1 cup of halved baby tomatoes
1 cup of sweet corn
1 cup of salsa
Lots and lots of limes!

Instructions:
1. Saute the onions and tempeh with a tablespoon of water until brown, about 10 minutes.
2. Add 1 can of black beans and the taco seasoning, and saute for another 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool until room temperature.
3. Place the romaine, cilantro and baby tomatoes into a large salad bowl. Add 1 cup of black beans, the corn, salsa, and tempeh mixture and toss. Serve with lots of lime wedges to squeeze just before serving.
Autumn, Calcium Sources, Entrees, Gluten-Free, Oil-Free, Plant Proteins, Soups & Stews, Vegetables, Videos
 

eHow video: Cream of Tomato & Navy Bean Soup

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Cream of tomato soup typically calls for a lot of butter and heavy cream. Many people assume that is what is needed to achieve a thick, smooth and creamy consistency. But unless one is looking to add saturated fat, cholesterol, and casein, then the dairy products simply aren’t necessary.

To achieve the soup’s creamy consistency in my recipe, I use… you guessed it, beans! Navy beans, or any other white or light-colored beans, are great to use in lieu of dairy in creamy soups. And depending on how much creaminess you like, you can always add more or less beans.

Navy beans are rich in protein (1 cup has 15 grams), and a great source of iron, folate, manganese, and calcium. And like all beans, navy beans add fiber to any meal (dairy has no fiber whatsoever), making this soup more filling and satisfying, as well as healthier for your heart. So next time you come across a soup recipe that calls for heavy cream, just remember there are so many reasons to use beans instead.

Here’s an interesting tidbit: The first time I tested this soup, I served it as an appetizer and it totally overshadowed the entree. It was also pretty filling for an appetizer so I have since served it as an entree with a big green salad and that hits the spot just right. I have never been a huge tomato soup lover, but I adore this soup. During the filming of this series, we were experiencing record-breaking low temperatures in Boston and the kitchen is the coldest part of our house. I didn’t want to be in a huge puffy coat on camera but I was really freezing so as soon as we finished shooting this recipe, I just ate the entire batch by myself. I didn’t even put it in a bowl; I just held the bottom of the pot with my oven-mittened hand and ate it straight from the ladle.  (It’s really a miracle I didn’t spill on my green shirt.) I’m sure the camera man thought I was crazy but I felt so much better. Like I said, this soup really hits the spot.

Serves 2-3
Ingredients:
1-15 oz can navy beans (or 1 1/2 cups)
1-15 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 large carrot
1 celery stalk
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 tablespoons dried basil
1 dash cayenne
1 cup tomato puree
1/2 tablespoon reduced-sodium tamari
1 date
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, as garnish (optional)

Instructions:
1. In a soup pot, combine the navy beans, 3 cups of water, crushed tomatoes and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, and cover and simmer.
2. Meanwhile, dice the carrot, celery and garlic. Add the garlic to a saute pan and cook for 2-3 minutes. Then add the celery and carrots, and saute for another 5 minutes.
3. Add the cumin, smoked paprika, basil and cayenne to the saute pan and stir for 2 minutes.
4. Add the tomato puree to the saute pan. Turn up the heat to medium-high, and cook for another 5 minutes.
5. Add the saute mixture to the soup pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
6. Remove the bayleaf. In a food processor or blender, add the tamari, date, tomato paste and soup (in batches if necessary). Blend to desired consistency. Serve with chopped fresh basil, if using.

Autumn, Calcium Sources, Entrees, Gluten-Free, Oil-Free, Plant Proteins, Soups & Stews, Videos, Whole Grains
 

eHow Video: Down-South Homemade Chili (a.k.a. Chili Jambalaya)

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What’s a series on beans without a chili recipe? Rather than sharing a more Western-style chili with black beans, tomatoes, and Mexican seasonings, I thought it would be a fun opportunity to move East and make something with more of a Southern vibe. The result is a mix between a chili and a jambalaya with ingredients found in traditional dishes all across the South, from Cajun spices to black-eyed peas to okra. I am proud of all the recipes in this series but I am especially proud of this one. I even had the chutzpa to make it for my Southern in-laws, knowing full well I was encroaching on dangerous territory (not being a Southerner myself and all), and it received excellent reviews.

This has truly become a favorite meal in our house. It’s also great leftover. I like making a big batch for dinner on Sunday night and then packing the rest for Mr. Goldhouse’s lunch for the next several days. And, of course, it’s incredibly healthful, as kidney beans and black-eyed are both excellent sources of protein, fiber, calcium and iron.

Ingredients:
Cajun spice blend:
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons thyme
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
…..
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bell pepper, diced
1 1/2 cups brown rice
1 package frozen okra, de-thawed
2-15 oz can kidney beans (3 cups)
1-15 oz can black-eyed peas (1 1/2 cups)
1-15 oz can corn (1 1/2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
3 cups vegetable broth

Instructions:
1. Prepare the Cajun spice blend and set aside. (Tip: I like to double this and store what I don’t use for this recipe in a plastic baggy. That way it’s all set to go next time I need it.)
2. In a soup pot, saute the onion, celery, garlic and pepper in a tablespoon of water for about 10 minutes, or until the onions are translucent.
3. Add the remaining ingredients and 1 1/2 tablespoons of the Cajun spice blend.
4. Turn the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, and then reduce to low and cover. Cook for about 40-45 minutes, or until the rice is done. Stir every 20 minutes and add more liquid if necessary.
5. Once the rice is ready, season with salt, pepper, and more Cajun seasoning as needed.
Calcium Sources, Essential Fats, For Beginners, Gluten-Free, Healthy Body, Oil-Free, Plant Proteins, Sauces & Dips, Sides, Videos
 

eHow Video: Dry Roasted Soybeans & Some Words on Soy Myths

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We all know that beans make a great dip or a great chili, but did you know they also make a great snack?

You really could us apply this recipe to any type of bean but I think soybeans are just the perfect size and, frankly, this recipe really  hits the spot so I’m not too inclined to mess with it.

Many roasted bean recipes will say olive oil is necessary to get the spices to stick onto the beans, but I find they spices stick just fine if the beans are wet, so I just add the spices right after I rinse the beans. This recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon salt, which, if you are snacking with others, is pretty moderate but you are certainly free to use less or omit it entirely if you are on a low-sodium diet.

Soybeans are incredibly nutritious. In fact, according to a recent research analysis, if Americans replaced their meat and dairy intake with soy, they would increase they intake of calcium, magnesium, iron, vitamin K, folate and fiber. But despite the plethora of scientific evidence about the health benefits of soy, there is still a lot of misinformation that continues to get passed around. I have heard some pretty extreme claims, everything from “I avoid soy because it causes dementia” to “Soy causes breast cancer” to “I don’t let my son have soy because it will turn him into a girl.” We’ve all heard claims like this, or perhaps we’ve even been the one doing the speaking. When we absorb or pass on these claims we are buying into and perpetuating a multimillion dollar anti-soy campaign sponsored by the meat and dairy industry.

So here are some important myths about soy I wanted to debunk right off the bat to put your mind at ease.

Myth: “Soy causes dementia.”
Reality: Soy does not cause dementia; in fact, it improves cognition. This myth seemed to originate from a study in which researchers found that tofu had harmful cognitive effects on people in Indonesia. However, the same was not true for tempeh, which is a more concentrated source of soy, so clearly soy itself was not the problem but something that was being added to the tofu. Well, guess what they use a preservative for tofu in Indonesia? Formaldedye! Yep, the same flammable human carcinogen that’s used to make home industrial products. So next time someone tells you soy causes dementia, set the record straight and say that formaldedye might but soy certainly does not.
More info:
http://nutritionfacts.org/video/does-tofu-cause-dementia/

Myth: “Soy causes breast cancer.”
Reality: This myth stems from the belief that soy has estrogen, and higher levels of estrogen have been linked to breast cancer. But soy doesn’t even have estrogen! It has something called phytoestrogen, but this is not estrogen. Estrogen is a sex hormone that is found in all animals (including humans). Soy, in fact, is actually protective against breast cancer. It has been shown to reduce both the recurrence of and the risk of death from breast cancer.
More info:
http://nutritionfacts.org/video/brca-breast-cancer-genes-and-soy/
http://nutritionfacts.org/video/breast-cancer-survival-and-soy/
http://nutritionfacts.org/video/soy-breast-cancer-3/

Myth: “Soy gives men “man boobs.”
Reality: Again, this probably stems from the confusion between estrogen and phytoestrogen. Soy has been shown to have no effect on a man’s testosterone levels or circulating estrogen levels whatsoever. Also, if you are concerned about getting too much estrogen from soy but are still drinking breast milk from a 1,500 lb cow, I think you are barking up the wrong tree. Cows, like humans, only produce breast milk after giving birth. The demand for dairy means that a cow is essentially always pregnant so that she will always be producing milk. So those who consume dairy are consuming the milk from pregnant cows, which have a whole lot of estrogen. In fact, people who consume meat and dairy have significantly higher levels of estrogen in their blood. Definitely check out this study which examined what happens to men’s hormone levels within in just one hour of consuming dairy (hint: their estrogen levels went up and their testosterone levels went down!).
More info:
http://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(10)00368-7

Myth: “All soy is GMO so it’s poison.” (I’ve actually heard this one verbatim.)
Reality: First of all, the largest consumer of GMO soy is farmed animals. In her article, “A Vegan Doctor Addresses Soy Myths and Misinformation”, Holly Wilson, M.D. explains that this GMO soy “does not just magically evaporate in the slaughterhouse or milk processing plant. It ends up on your plate.” Secondly, numerous brands of non-GMO tofu, tempeh, soy milk, and soy beans can be found in your grocery store labeled clearly on the package. These include Silk, Morinaga, and many others (see a comprehensive list here).

For more information debunking the misinformation about soy, read “Being Vegan and Eating Soy: Myths, Truths, and Everything In Between” by Christa Novelli M.P.H.

So please, let yourself relax about soy and enjoy this delicious and healthful snack without a worry in the world. These crunchy and crispy little beans are so much fun to pop into your mouth. Be warned: they are quite addictive!

Ingredients:
2 cans of soybeans, drained and rinsed.
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne

Instructions:
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, toss the spices with the soybeans until evenly coated.
2. Spread the soybeans in one layer onto a tinfoil-lined baking sheet.
3. Roast the soybeans for 45-60 minutes, stirring every 20 minutes so they cook evenly.

Autumn, Calcium Sources, Gluten-Free, Holiday, Oil-Free, Sides, Vegetables, Videos
 

eHow Video: “Southern-Style Mustard Greens”

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Mustard greens are so incredibly healthful, it was hard to decide which of their many benefits I ought to focus on in this post. Here are just three reasons why you’ll want to incorporate more of these luscious leafies into your diet:

Cardiovascular Benefits
Mustard greens support the cardiovascular system in three significant ways. First, they are anti-inflammatory. Inflammation narrows the arteries and increases the risk that they’ll become blocked, so these anti-inflammatory properties are obviously a huge benefit. Second, by binding with bile acids in the intestines, mustard greens help lower cholesterol levels. And third, because mustard greens are exceptionally high in the B-vitamin folate, they help prevent homocystein build-up. Homocystein is an amino acid found in the blood that is acquired mostly from eating animal products. High levels are related to the development of heart and blood vessel disease.

Cancer Prevention
Mustard greens are also powerful cancer-fighters because they are LOADED with a broad spectrum of antioxidants. Chronic oxidative stress is a major risk factor for the development of most cancer types and antioxidants lower our risk of oxidative stress on our cells (hence the name: anti- oxidants). For the record, plants have on average 64 times more antioxidant power than animal products. The few antioxidants that do happen to be found in animal products are only there because those animals were fed plants.

Bone Health
And lastly (though I truly could go on endlessly), mustard greens are an excellent source of calcium. While dairy products have long been touted as “good for your bones,” the countries with the highest consumption of dairy also have the highest rates of osteoporosis. This is because dairy, like all animal products, is highly acidic. The body needs to keep a very specific acid-alkaline balance in order to function, so whenever animal products are consumed, the body must find an alkaline source so it leaches the calcium from our bones (which is high in alkaline). So, in fact, consuming dairy products are quite harmful to our bones. Mustard greens, on the other hand, along with other greens like kale, collards, bok choy, broccoli, and okra, are not acidic and thus only contribute to the strength of our bones.

So while you enjoy this quick and tasty recipe, you can also feel good knowing that you are eating one of the most healthful foods on the planet!

Ingredients:
1 large bunch mustard greens, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
3-6 cloves garlic (depending on your garlic preferences), chopped
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup water
Instructions:
1. In a cast iron pot, saute the onion until soft.
2. Add the garlic, smoked paprika, salt and pepper. Cook for 1 more minute, stirring constantly.
3. Add the mustard greens, and stir until they are coated with the spices and just wilted.
4. Add 1/4 cup of water and let simmer, covered, for about 5 minutes. Remove cover and cook for another 1-2 minutes.

Resources:
http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=93
http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/calcium.php
http://www.pcrm.org/health/health-topics/calcium-and-strong-bones

Breakfast, Calcium Sources, Entrees, Essential Fats, For Beginners, Gluten-Free, Oil-Free, Plant Proteins, Vegetables, Videos
 

eHow video: “Coconut Milk Tofu Quiche with Onions and Mushrooms”

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People often complain that they don’t have time to make dinner every night. Well, guess what? I don’t make dinner every night! That’s right. And yet we never get take out, rarely dine out, and my husband always has a packed lunch to take to work.
How is this possible? Ladies and gentlemen, let me give you a life-saving tip: Make dishes in large enough portions that they will cover the next few days’ meals and/or can be frozen and eaten at another time. That, my friends, is how you can eat healthfully every night without having to spend all your time slaving away in the kitchen. It’s that simple!

Tofu-Quiche-1

This quiche is a perfect example of a dish that will last for multiple meals. Plus, it’s one of those special dishes that can be enjoyed at any time of day. I love preparing it for dinner and then enjoying it again the next day for breakfast and packing it up for my husband for lunch for the next few days. Because both the crust and the filling contain herbs, each bite is wonderfully aromatic and richly flavorful. Enjoy!

Crust Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups almond meal
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt

Filling Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 packages firm silken tofu
1/4 cup coconut milk (or any other nondairy milk)
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
3 teaspoons of your favorite herbs (i.e. basil, thyme, sage, oregano, etc.)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Crust Instructions:
1. Preheat the oven to 375. In a medium bowl, combine the almond meal, salt, and rosemary. Add the water and stir until fully combined.
2. Gently press the dough evenly against the bottom and sides of a pie pan. Bake for 10 minutes or until the crust looks dry and just toasted.

Filling Instructions:
1. Slice the tofu and wrap in a few layers of paper towels to drain out the excess moisture. Set aside.
2. Saute the onions and mushrooms in balsamic vinegar until the onions are caramelized, about 10 minutes.
3. In a food processor or blender, mix the tofu, nutritional yeast, nondairy milk, and herbs till smooth.
4. Combine the tofu mixture with the sauteed mushrooms and onions and stir till fully mixed.
5. Pour the filling into the pie crust and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Remove and let cool.

Calcium Sources, Casseroles & Lasagnas, Essential Fats, Gluten-Free, Oil-Free, Plant Proteins, Sauces & Dips, Vegetables, Videos
 

My eHow Video Series: Crescent Spinach Dip

Have you ever looked up the ingredients in traditional spinach dip? You’ll find things like butter, mayo, heavy cream, and dairy cheese. It’s not really fair to call it “spinach” dip. “Saturated fat” dip would be more accurate.
The really sad thing is that none of these unhealthful ingredients are necessary for making a fantastic dip. We just include them because we always have. But just because we always have done something doesn’t mean we always have to keep doing it. We need not be slaves to custom or tradition or habit. I think most people would agree that custom, tradition, or habit aren’t good enough reasons to continue causing harm to ourselves or others, ESPECIALLY when there are quick and easy alternatives out there.
My version of spinach dip takes the spinach seriously. And, in addition to using a whole package of thawed frozen spinach, I also use a whole head of kale. Like spinach, kale is loaded with vitamins A, C, K and folic acid, and it’s also a rich source of calcium and iron. Kale also contains carotenoids, which are potent antioxidants with natural inflammatory properties that help prevent some cancers.

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     I use cashews to add a rich creaminess that we too often mistakenly think we can only get from dairy products. Plus, cashews have numerous health benefits. They are high in copper which helps defend against iron deficiency anemia, ruptured blood vessels, osteoporosis, joint problems such as rheumatoid arthritis, elevated LDL cholesterol and reduced HDL cholesterol levels, and irregular heartbeat. Because of their high antioxidant levels, nuts like cashews have been linked to lower risks of cardiovascular and coronary heart disease. For additional creaminess, I use beans, which also adds protein and even more fiber to this already fiber-rich dip. (For more on the wonderful world of beans, see here.)
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     This is one of my favorite dishes in this whole series. I love this recipe because it demonstrates that you can eat in a way that reflects your deepest values of health and compassion AND feel like you’ve died and gone to heaven because it tastes so good. For me, the beauty of being vegan is that we can have both!

Ingredients:
16 oz. organic frozen spinach, thawed
1 bunch kale, chopped
1/2 cup raw parsley
1 cup raw cashews, soaked in warm water about 20 minutes
3 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp sea salt
5 Tbsp Nutritional Yeast Flakes
1-15 oz can white beans
(optional: Daiya cheese)

Instructions:
1. Add all your ingredients (except beans and cheese) to a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth.
2. Pulse in the beans.
3. Pour spinach dip into a heat-safe serving dish. Add the Daiya cheese on top if using and place in a 350 degree oven for 15 min.
4. Serve warm with veggie sticks, bread squares and rice crackers.

Calcium Sources, Essential Fats, Gluten-Free, Oil-Free, Sauces & Dips, Vegetables, Videos
 

My eHow Video Series: Dip for Sweet Peppers (Triple ‘S’ Dip)

This dip is a guaranteed hit at any social gathering; people just can’t seem to get enough of it! Eating it with sweet peppers is not only tasty, but also incredibly healthful since bell peppers are good for our hearts, our immune systems, our eyes, and our skin.

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As I mention in the video, I call this dip the “Triple ‘S’ Dip” because it’s salty, spicy, and sweet. Unfortunately, the part where I add the sweetness– 2 tablespoons of maple syrup– was mistakenly cut from the video. Be sure to add that in to get the full mouthwatering trifecta of flavor.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup almond butter (or peanut butter)
3 tablespoons tahini
1/4 cup tamari (or soy sauce)
2 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/3 cup water

Instructions:
1. Blend all the ingredients together and blend till smooth.
2. Serve with bell peppers.

Calcium Sources, Essential Fats, Gluten-Free, Oil-Free, Sauces & Dips, Sides, Vegetables, Videos
 

My eHow Video Series: Sesame Eggplant Dip Recipe

     In this video, I demonstrate my recipe for baba ghanouj, a Middle Eastern dish made with roasted eggplant and tahini. I am a huge eggplant fan, so baba ghanouj is naturally one of my favorite dishes in the world. If you like the flavor of hummus, you’ll most likely love baba ghanouj. It’s basically hummus’s more exotic and dramatic big sister. Like hummus, there’s lots of garlic, creaminess from tahini (sesame paste), earthy spices, and usually lots of olive oil.

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      In my recipe, I omit the olive oil and rely on the tahini alone to provide the fat and butteriness, and you’ll see it does the job just fine. I also leave the skin of the eggplant on, which is not typical of most baba ghanouj recipes, unfortunately. Eggplant skin is rich in nasunin, a potent antioxidant that protects cell membranes from damage.

     You can enjoy baba ghanouj with pita, veggies, spread on a sandwich or just by itself. Watch and I think you’ll find it becomes a favorite of yours, too.


Ingredients:
1 large eggplants (totaling 2 lbs)
2-3 tablespoons roasted tahini (sesame paste)
1-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and cayenne pepper to taste
1 tablespoons chopped parsley

Instructions:
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Poke the eggplants in several places with a fork. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise and place on a baking sheet, cut side down, and roast until very tender, about 35-40 minutes.
2. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes.
3. Remove the eggplant skin and scoop flesh into a large bowl and mash well with a fork.
4. Combine the eggplant, minced garlic, tahini, garlic, cumin, lemon juice, the salt, and a pinch of cayenne. Mash well. You want the mixture to be somewhat smooth but still retaining some of the eggplant’s texture.
5. Allow the baba ghanouj to cool to room temperature, then season to taste with additional lemon juice, salt, and cayenne. If you want, swirl a little olive oil on the top. Sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley. Serve with pita bread, crackers, toast, sliced baguette, celery, or cucumber slices.

Calcium Sources, Essential Fats, For Beginners, Healthy Body
 

Babies and Milk

    Some of my students express anxiety about becoming deficient in certain nutrients once they switch to a plant-based diet. All of us, of course, should always be concerned with getting sufficient nutrients, but it’s funny that these fears seem to appear only after a person has eliminated animal products. Those around us bolster these fears too. Tell someone you are vegan and the first thing you’ll be asked is where do you get your x, y or z. Tell someone you eat animals and no one is concerned (which is unfortunate because the vast majority of non-vegans do not consume nearly enough nutrients like fiber, phytochemicals, and antioxidants which, of course, can only be found in plants). The implication is that only when we go vegan do we need to be concerned with deficiency.
      This is just silly. We all need to remember that there is nothing magical about flesh or dairy. They don’t contain unique properties that cannot be found elsewhere. No one, at any stage of life, needs to consume them. Period. Human beings don’t require specific ingredients; we require specific nutrients. And again, neither flesh nor dairy contains required nutrients that cannot be found elsewhere.
     When kids enter the picture, this anxiety only grows both within us and from the world around us, including from doctors (which is particularly infuriating). I recently received the following inquiry from a friend: “I feel so ‘obligated’ to give my 1 year old whole milk because it’s so ingrained in my brain, but please let me know if you have any good  sources of information on feeding babies soy and/or almond milk. I asked my son’s doctor, and she said to stick with whole milk. Her reasoning wasn’t very convincing though (as much as I hate to second guess her judgement).”
      Stories like this make me want to pull my hair out. 
      First of all, I need to remind people that doctors receive almost no nutrition training in medical school. I know that sounds absurd, but unfortunately, it’s true. The advice you’ll get from most doctors isn’t worth that much more than the advice you would get from asking Joe Schmo on the street. Often times doctors will just tell their patients to do what they themselves have always done or what their parents always did. In other words, when it comes to nutrition, the advice doctors give is usually based on their own habits rather than on science. After all, doctors used to advocate smoking cigarettes to patients because they smoked cigarettes themselves!
      So, do toddlers need to consume cow’s milk? The answer is NO. 
      In previous posts, I’ve discussed why dairy is harmful, but here’s a quick recap: Recent scientific studies have suggested that dairy products may be linked to increased risk for prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and possibly for ovarian and breast cancers. And despite the widespread myth that dairy milk is good for your bones, it has actually been singled out as the biggest cause of osteoporosis. Dairy is also high in cholesterol and saturated fat, which leads to heart disease. And over 75% of people on this planet are genetically unable to digest dairy, yet we label this near universal human trait “lactose intolerance” as if it were some disease or deficiency. Here’s the reality: Human babies are born with an enzyme that allows us to digest our mother’s milk. Between the ages of two and five, the vast majority of humans lose this enzyme because we are supposed to be weaned by then. Our bodies simply weren’t designed to be consuming milk into adulthood (let alone the breast milk of another species!). This is why so many babies and toddlers who are fed cow’s milk suffer from digestive upset. Nothing is wrong with them; it’s what they are being fed!
      So why do so many pediatricians recommend feeding human babies whole cow’s milk? 
      Whole cow’s milk is a go-to for parents and pediatricians simply an easily accessible source of fat, calcium, and vitamin D that is readily available in supermarkets. That’s it. Again, there is nothing magical about cow’s milk for humans, whole or otherwise. 
     Fortunately, there are an increasing number of doctors who are starting to wake up to the nutrition science. In fact, in 2008 and 2011 the American Academy of Pediatrics published releases that discouraged the transition to whole cow’s milk because of the increased risk of cardiovascular disease. In “Disease-Proof Your Child” (which I highly recommend!), Dr. Joel Fuhrman advises against cow’s milk because it can create gastroesophageal reflux, iron deficiency, and calcium sodium excess in infants and toddlers. It also lacks DHA, a necessary ingredient for brain development. And Pediatrician Dr. Natasha Burgurt explains that “unlike the dietary needs of an infant, milk is no longer a source of complete nutrition after a child’s first birthday. Milk provides a convenient source of fat, protein, calcium, and vitamin D for growing bodes. But, in today’s average food lifestyle, these building blocks can be more than adequately supplied in other areas of a balanced diet.” In other words, toddlers can get their nutrients from food, rather than a beverage. In fact, Dr. Burgurt argues that this is preferable. “In a society that typically drinks too many unnecessary calories,” she says, “it is preferred that children develop a preference for low-fat, low-calorie, unsweetened beverages.” 
     The bottom line is that toddlers don’t need cow’s milk. What toddlers do need are specific nutrients. In “Becoming Vegan” (a must-have book on nutrition), Brenda Davis, RD and Vesanto Melina, MS, RD recommend breastfeeding a baby for a minimum of one year and preferably for a full two years or more. If you decide to stop breastfeeding (or using formula), “during the 12-24 month period, fortified soymilk is your best alternative. It should contain calcium, vitamin B12, and vitamin D.” They also recommend including plenty of higher-fat foods in a toddler’s diet. Some examples of foods that provide these important sources of fat include tofu, smooth nut butters, mashed avocado, soy yogurt, puddings, and moderate amounts of olive, canola, and flax oil. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in dark green leafy vegetables, seaweeds (which are the the original source for fish), selected seeds (flax, chia, hemp), nuts (walnuts, butternuts), and soybeans. Calcium-rich foods for toddlers include breast milk, commercial soy formula, or full-fat fortified soymilk. Food sources of vitamin B12 include nutritional yeast, fortified soy and grain milks (such as Edensoy Extra, Silk, Soy Dream, Rice Dream, So Nice, and Vitasoy Enriched), fortified breakfast cereals (such as Raisin Bran, Kelloggs Cornflakes, Grapenuts, Nutrigrain, and Total). Vitamin D–which does not exist naturally in cow’s milk; it’s only there because it has been fortified–can also be found in other fortified foods, including nondairy milks, or from sufficient sun exposure. 
     Reed Mangles, PhD, RD provides the following chart on the Vegetarian Resource Group (as well as in her nutrition book, Simply Vegan):

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       No one wants to give their child a beverage linked to so many health problems, and I believe that deep down we all care about the mothers and babies of other species and don’t want to cause them harm if we don’t have to. For all of you with a little one in your life, I hope this information gives you the confidence to feed your children healthfully and compassionately 🙂
 
Below are some links I found from vegan moms raising vegan toddlers that may be helpful: