I am honored to have been featured in the Fall 2013 issue of Chickpea Magazine.
I wrote the story of my transition to a vegan lifestyle and included 4 recipes. Full text below!
Zucchini Dill Pancakes
Tofu with Cabbage & Corn Slaw topped with Avocado Salad
Vanilla Caramel Ice Cream
Buy a digital or print copy here!
My Vegan Story
I grew up on Long Island, New York in a typical American household. My mother cooked almost all of our meals and we ate standards like spaghetti and meatballs, steak, tuna croquettes, and macaroni and cheese. Chicken was served in infinite combinations with everything from pineapples to artichokes to wine to Campbell’s mushroom soup.
Looking back, I was always a little turned off by poultry, because it looked too much like the bird it had been. Fish too. It smelled like it should still be in the water. When I was a teenager, I found out that baby calves are taken from their mothers, confined to a small stall, and then within months, killed for veal. I was so shocked that I successfully got it banned it from our house.
When I went away to college in Los Angeles, I tasted my first avocado – the richness, the buttery-ness, the indescribable bliss – and encountered a lot of delicious food I had never heard of like arugula, butternut squash, sourdough bread, and fajitas. Since I had control over my food choices, I began to eat less meat, poultry and fish.
Fourteen years ago, I found yoga. What started as physical practice soon took on deeper dimensions of learning about life, the human mind, and our role on this planet. One year on a yoga retreat in Montana, I met a guy who suggested I read Diet for A New America by John Robbins. He had been watching the way I ate and asked me if I was vegan. Up to that point, my concept of vegan had been very vague. It was based on meeting one – this sort of angry guy who was wearing “textile” shoes and loudly denouncing everyone else’s food choices. Although I did hear what he was saying, I was not exactly inspired to follow him.
I read John Robbins’ book, though, and it changed my life. I have since learned that this book is the tipping point for many veg-curious people. Robbins does an incredible job outlining exactly how animals are raised for food – the debeaking of chicks and tail docking of piglets without anesthesia, the antibiotics and hormones necessary to keep the animals somewhat healthy, as well as the horrible conditions in the slaughterhouses for the human workers.
A light bulb went on in my head. There is too much cruelty and sickness in the food system and I no longer wanted to be a part of it. But for my whole life, I had been conditioned to eat a certain way and I was at a loss. What do you eat if there is no animal protein on the plate? No eggs? No cheese?
I set about re-educating myself by reading everything I could get my hands on. From Dominion by Matthew Scully to Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease to The World Peace Diet by Will Tuttle, Ph. D. to Farm Sanctuary by Gene Baur, I discovered a new and different way of thinking that made sense to me. I felt relieved, free, and totally inspired to commit myself to a vegan lifestyle which was further reinforced by my 2008 training and subsequent teaching of the Jivamukti Yoga method. But, I still didn’t know what to eat.
I started going to vegan restaurants in New York City like Candle Cafe and Angelica’s Kitchen. They offered creative, interesting dishes along with veganized stand-bys like Reuben sandwiches and macaroni and cheese. I started to think that it might not be that hard to cook this way and checked out some vegan cookbooks. Quite frankly, I was intimidated. The staples of the vegan kitchen were enough to throw me over the edge: millet, quinoa, tofu, tempeh, kale, tahini, beans, and lentils? I’d had lentil soup before, but, seriously, what else could you possible do with them?
I finally worked up the courage and attempted broccoli-millet croquettes from Veganomicon by Isa Moskowitz. I never cooked millet before – I had never even eaten it – but I had made croquettes with my mother so I thought, how hard could this be? It was a total failure. I had big pot full of broccoli and millet that would not form into croquettes. It was so frustrating and I didn’t have a clue as to how to salvage the wreckage. I stopped trying to cook for a while.
Then, while watching a cooking show one day, it dawned on me. Why not substitute vegan ingredients like tofu for chicken or fish, beans for meat, oil for butter, and vegetable stock for chicken stock? I started experimenting and, through many kitchen disasters, I taught myself to cook. I veganized my mother’s staples, Googled recipes for marinades and side dishes, and slowly but surely built a repertoire of meals like baked ziti with cashew ricotta, lentil meatballs and spaghetti, and tofu served in infinite combinations with everything from pineapples to teriyaki sauce to scampi style to grilled with fresh herbs. I was so proud I even started a blog called Lisa’s Project: Vegan to document the progress I was making and to publish my new recipes.
Last year, I completed a Certificate in Plant Based Nutrition through eCornell, an online program that was created by Dr. T. Colin Campbell, the author of The China Study and one of the stars of the film Forks over Knives. The course teaches a holistic view of plant-based nutrition and its relationship to health and disease. There were sections on the role diet plays in such diseases as diabetes, obesity, heart disease and certain cancers and how they can be prevented and reversed through diet. We were taught the fundamentals of nutrition, and exactly what protein is, how much of it we really need, and that plants offer plenty of it. I am now even more confident in my dietary choices and the best part is that I have the education to back it up when people ask, how do you get your protein?
I have learned through this journey that cooking is a skill that, like anything else, needs to be learned. Now, I’m married with a four-year-old boy and we are a happy vegan family. I cook almost every meal at home and do so in about a half hour. I have fully embraced the vegan way of life and I know that our choices are contributing to our health, the health and welfare of the animals, and that of the planet.
Zucchini Dill Pancakes
These pancakes are great anytime – as a savory breakfast, a side dish, a snack or on a buffet. Zucchinis are packed with Vitamin C and fiber. Chickpea flour is gluten free and adds a nutty flavor. Whip them up and serve them right out of the skillet or room temperature.
Makes about a dozen pancakes.
1 large zucchini
1 teaspoon + 1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped red onion or green scallions
1 flax egg (1 tablespoon ground flax + 3 tablespoons of water)
1/4 cup chickpea (garbanzo bean) flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons fresh dill
Grate the zucchini with a box grater. Place in a strainer over a bowl and sprinkle 1 teaspoon of salt on top. Mix with a fork then let it sit for at least 20 minutes to bring out the water. Important: don’t skip this step or else the pancakes will be watery and will not stay together!
In a small bowl, make the flax egg by combining the ground flax and water. Whisk together. It will thicken up in a few minutes.
Using the back of a fork, press the zucchini against the strainer to press out any remaining water.
In a new bowl, combine the zucchini, onions, flax egg, chickpea flour, baking powder, dill and a 1/4 teaspoon of salt, mixing until thoroughly combined.
Heat up 1 tablespoon of sunflower oil in a non-stock skillet. Using a tablespoon measure, scoop up the pancake mixture and drop into the pan, 6 at a time or as many as you can fit into your skillet.
When the edges start to brown, flip them over and flatten them with the back of a spatula. Brown the other side.
Add another tablespoon of oil to the skillet for the second round.
Drain the pancakes on paper towels.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
I love making big bowls full of vegetables, beans and grains. I always have cooked quinoa and chickpeas in the house because they are both great sources of protein and fiber. Cooking ahead of time makes putting this stew, or any meal, together on a busy weeknight very easy. I also like to add pasta, so that it is hearty and filling. Use alphabet pastas or small pasta such as ditalinis or macaronis.
Makes 6 servings
2 cloves of garlic
3 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup uncooked pasta (makes 1 cup cooked pasta)
2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 cup cooked quinoa 1 cup frozen green peas Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Cook the quinoa and chickpeas ahead of time.
Chop the onion into a small dice. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a soup pot and sauté the onions until translucent.
Mince the garlic and add to the onions and mix.
Peel and slice the carrots into small dice and add them to the pot. Mix and cook for a minute.
Season the vegetables with a dash of salt.
Add the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for as long as it takes to make the pasta, about 10 minutes.
Cook the pasta separately.
Add the quinoa, chickpeas, and green peas to the soup and bring it up to heat. Add the pasta and stir to combine. Serve in big bowls warm or at room temperature.
Grilled Tofu with Cabbage & Corn Slaw with Avocado Mash
Tofu is a great main dish ingredient. It is packed with protein, iron, and takes on the flavors of whatever it is marinated in and served with. Always look for organic, non-GMO tofu.
Makes 4 entrées
1 15.5 oz. package of extra firm tofu
2 cups thinly sliced onions
2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
2 cups of fresh (2 cobs) or frozen corn
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 ripe avocados
1 small cucumber
The juice of 1 lime
Olive oil, for grilling
Salt and pepper
Press the tofu using a tofu press or line a plate with paper towels, place the tofu on the paper towels, top with paper towels, and then place a heavy pot filled with cans on top. Press for at least 30 minutes.
Thinly slice the onions and red cabbage.
>Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet and add the onions. Toss around and cook on a medium flame until the onions are translucent.
Turn the flame down and add the cabbage. Cook until it is wilted, but still bright red.
If using fresh corn, cut the kernels off the cob and add to the onions and cabbage. Toss around and cook for a few minutes. If using frozen corn, cook until the corn is thawed. Either way, it will take only a few minutes. Season with salt.
Cut the avocados in half and remove the pit. Scoop out the avocado meat into a bowl and gently mash it. Peel and deseed the cucumber and cut into a small dice. Combine the avocado and cucumbers together and season with the lime juice and a pinch of salt. Mix well.
Heat an indoor grill pan and brush with olive oil.
Cut the tofu into 4 squares. Brush the top side with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Place the tofu, seasoned side down, onto the grill and do not move it for a few minutes. Lift up the tofu and check for grill marks. Rotate the tofu a half turn on the same side to get crosshatch grill marks. Grill for a few minutes.
Brush the top side with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Flip and cook the other side, turning halfway to get the crosshatch grill marks on the second side.
Serve the tofu with the cabbage and corn slaw and a top with a big serving of avocado mash.
Vanilla Caramel Ice Cream
Vegan desserts are the best and who doesn’t love ice cream? The coconut milk serves as a base for an infinite number of flavor combinations using fresh fruit like strawberries and mango or herbs like mint and lemon verbena.
For this recipe, I used dates and superfoods to create a nutrient-packed caramel sauce reminiscent of Dulce de Leche. Lucuma powder s a good source of antioxidants, fiber, and vitamins like beta-carotene and minerals like calcium and iron. Maca powder is a good source of plant protein and vitamins like B1, B2, B, C, D, E and minerals like potassium.
Makes 1 quart
2 cans organic coconut milk
3/4 cup vegan cane sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup Medjool dates
1 cup water
1 teaspoon lucuma powder
1 teaspoon maca powder
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
Combine the coconut milk, sugar and vanilla extract in a bowl and whisk together. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Pit the dates. Place the dates, water, lucuma and maca powders, and salt in the Vitamix or blender until it forms a thick sauce.
Pour the coconut milk mixture into an ice cream maker and churn for 10 minutes, or according to the machine’s instructions.
Pour the caramel sauce into the ice cream maker and churn for 2 more minutes or until combined.
Pour the ice cream into a freezer safe container and freeze overnight to set.
Serve in cold bowls.