Game Changer: Fat-Free Onion Cream

One of the most difficult parts of transitioning to a low-fat whole-food plant-based diet is trying to figure out sauces and dressings that don’t involve oil. Tahini and hummus take on a much bigger role in salads than ever before. When I found this onion cream at Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen, I fell in love and  had to share it.

This recipe uses only three ingredients: onions, lemon juice and a little salt. I used plain old yellow onions, but I suppose it would work with other kinds. The process is simple too – all you need is an oven and a blender.  The end result is a savoury and bright cream sauce that you can use in countless ways: mix into soups or stews, stir into a risotto or pasta sauce, use as a base for oil-free salad dressings and dips, or use instead of hummus or mayo in wraps and sandwiches. I even top my baked potato with it. I could eat it from the jar with a spoon, I love it so much!

2 tablespoons contain approximately 22 calories.

The recipe makes enough to almost fill a 500 ml mason jar, which will keep in the fridge for at least a week. It won’t last that long. 

Recipe for Fat-Free Onion Cream may be found at Susan Voisin’s Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen. 

Crispy oil-free potato chips in 3-5 minutes

What do some of us miss when switching to a whole-food, plant-based diet with no processed food and no oil?

Potato Chips.

I was gob-smacked to discover that you can make crispy chips in the microwave in about 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how powerful the oven is and…it is the easiest thing ever.

THE POTATOES

I have been experimenting with Russets, Yukon Gold and red potatoes. While some people say Russets are the way to go, I found the Yukon Gold crunched up a lot better. I think your mileage may vary on this one depending on your oven and it’s probably best (and fun!) to test all varieties. I plan to try sweet potatoes next.

TECHNIQUE

The scrubbed potatoes do not need to be peeled, but they do need to be sliced very thinly. I use a mandolin (very carefully – these things are SHARP – use the safety holder). If you don’t have a mandolin, just use a sharp knife to slice your potatoes as thinly as possible. 

Place the cut slices in a bowl of cold water to rinse off the starch. 

Meanwhile put a sheet of parchment paper on a microwavable dinner plate 

Take out enough of the potato slices from the water to put on the plate.  Dry them  first between tea towels or paper towels.

Lay the potato slices on the parchment on the plate not touching one another. I did it this way, but found the slice in the very middle of the plate burns, so you may wish to leave that empty.

Microwave for 3 to 5 minutes, watching closely. Stop the microwave when they are lightly browned. It’s quick.  You have to pay attention – don’t walk away!

FLAVOURS

It’s best to toss the raw potato slices with spices after you dry them, but before you lay them on the plate. You can use the following or experiment with any flavour profile you like:

 

  • salt
  • paprika and garlic
  • chili powder
  • barbecue spices

Crunch and enjoy!

 

 

Tofu Scramble – Easiest way to mimic scrambled eggs in the plant-based diet

I was never a huge fan of tofu. Now that I’ve been preparing it in different and more varied recipes, I’ve come to respect its versatility and how it can transform itself from soup to stir-fry to dessert. 1 cup of firm tofu has only 94 calories, a whopping 10 g of protein, 227 mg of calcium, 1.82 mg of iron and only 5 g of fat.

Tofu has the starring role in this dish, the plant-based version of scrambled eggs.  It’s quick. It’s simple. The trick here is to use black Himalayan salt. Kala namak is a kiln-fired rock salt used in South Asia and its sulphurous, pungent-smell stands in quite nicely for eggs.  It’s available on Amazon if you don’t have an international grocer nearby. This is a simple “base” recipe, which may be modified by adding different flavour profiles as outlined below.

Basic Tofu Scramble

Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Total Time 25 mins
Course Breakfast
Servings 4
Calories 210 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 1 tbsp olive oil or vegan butter For oil-free version, sauté in water
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 block extra-firm tofu
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 3/4 tsp black Himalayan salt (Kala Namak Salt)
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 2 scallions, diced

Instructions
 

  • Heat a large skillet to medium-high
  • Add olive oil or butter to pan (or water by the tablespoon if omitting oil)
  • Start by sautéing onions and garlic until soft and translucent. Don't let the garlic get too brown or it will taste bitter.
  • Crumble the block of tofu into the skillet
  • Sprinkle with nutritional yeast, turmeric, salt and paprika
  • Gently mix the spices into the tofu using a wooden spoon until everything is blended and fragrant, approximately 5 minutes or so
  • Fold in the diced scallions in the last minute of cooking

Variations on a Theme – just add the following ingredients to the basic scramble for a whole new breakfast experience. Experiment! Have fun!

Italian scramble

Add 1 tsp oregano, 10 halved cherry tomatoes, diced small green pepper, 4 sliced mushrooms, sprinkle with freshly chopped basil

Tex-Mex scramble

Add 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp chili powder, 1/2 tsp coriander, 1 cup black beans, 1 diced red or green pepper, 2 large mushrooms, sliced, 1 finely diced jalapeño pepper. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro –  Serve with a little hot salsa. You can even wrap this into a tortilla for a breakfast burrito

Spanish scramble

Add 1 large cooked potato, diced to skillet with onions and garlic. Add 1 tsp oregano, 1/2 tsp smoked paprika, diced red pepper, 4 sliced mushrooms and a handful of baby spinach leaves. Sprinkle with parsley.

Caribbean scramble

Add 1 cooked sweet potato, diced, 1 cup very thinly-sliced collard greens (matchstick size) to skillet with onions and garlic. Add 1/4 tsp  allspice, 1/4 tsp cinnamon,  dash of hot sauce.

 

In honour of Veganuary, Collard Veggie Wraps

For those trying out plant-based eating for Veganuary, here’s a quick and easy whole-food plant-based lunch – no tortilla required! Loaded with fibre and phytonutrients to help prevent disease and promote good health.

The trick for healthy eating is to stock up on a variety of fruits and vegetables. When the urge strikes, you open your fridge and feel virtuous and inspired and have enough ingredients to make colourful and healthy meals and snacks.

1) Wash two large collard green leaves, dry and cut off the thickest part of the stem beneath the leafy part. Lay these flat.
2) Smooth about 1 tbsp hummus on the light green portion of each leaf as the base
3) Next layer a little arugula (or spring mix or chopped lettuce) on each leaf
4) Top with your favourite sliced vegetables. Here I’ve used red cabbage, red and orange grape tomatoes, green onion and sliced cucumber. Other options might be bell pepper strips, mushrooms, alfalfa sprouts or bean sprouts or slices of avocado.
5) If you enjoy them, sprinkle some fresh herbs such as parsley, basil or cilantro on top
6) Fold short edges, and roll up the leaves into a wrap. Then cut each roll in half and enjoy!

Note, if you overstuff your collard leaves and can’t roll them, just fold as best you can and eat taco-style…over a plate…with a few napkins handy. They can be messy, but delicious!

Creole Black-Eyed Peas with Collard Greens

From Texas Caviar to Hoppin’ John, black-eyed peas are the star of the show this time of year . It is said that eating these little beauties on New Year’s Day will bring much prosperity for the year ahead and if you add tomatoes, good health too.  Add collard greens (to represent the almighty dollar) and your financial future is set!

As superstitions go, this isn’t a bad one as black-eyed peas and collard greens are both nutrient-dense foods.

One cup of black-eyed peas has: 160 calories, 8.2 g of fibre, 5.2 g of protein and 263 mcg of folate, 53% of your daily required amount. All that fibre acts like a little toothbrush through the colon – most people don’t get enough.

One cup of cooked collard greens has only 49 calories, 5 g of fibre and 4 g of protein. It is extremely high in Vitamin K, Vitamin A and Vitamin C, plus a host of other nutrients. Collards are from the Brassica family, related to cabbage, Swiss chard, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts. These cruciferous veggies have sulfur-containing compounds known as glucosinolates which may reduce cancer risk.

Get all of that goodness inside of you with this spicy Creole-inspired dish. It’s a perfect food any day in January! 

Creole Black-Eyed Peas with Garlicky Collard Greens

A perfect New Year's Day dish, guaranteed to bring you good health and prosperity throughout the year! Black-eyed peas in a spicy tomato broth, served with collard greens lightly sautéed with garlic.
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 1 hr 30 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Creole

Ingredients
  

  • 2 onions diced
  • 1 green bell pepper seeded and diced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper seeded and diced
  • 2 stalks celery diced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 cups dried black-eyed peas rinsed and soaked overnight (8-10 hours)
  • 6 cups vegetable broth or water
  • 28 oz canned diced tomatoes fire-roasted preferred, but regular are fine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp salt or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper or to taste
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp Liquid Smoke
  • 1 tbsp Louisiana-style hot sauce optional

For the Collard Greens

  • 1 bunch collard greens
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes cut into halves
  • 1/4 cup water or vegetable broth
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 tbsp coconut aminos or soy sauce

Instructions
 

  • Heat a 5L/5QT pot to medium-high. Add a little water to the pot and sauté the onions, garlic, and celery until softened. Add the rest of the ingredients except the liquid smoke. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for approximately 1.5 hours or until the peas are soft. At that point add the liquid smoke, starting with 1/4 tsp (as it is pretty potent and can destroy the dish if too much is added). Cook an additional few minutes and serve, hot.

For the Collard Greens

  • Remove and discard stems and centre ribs of collard greens. Cut leaves into 1-inch pieces. 
  • Heat 12" skillet to Medium-High
  • Add 1 tbsp of water (or broth, if using) plus the garlic to the pan, stirring for just a few seconds. Add the chopped collards, cherry tomatoes and remaining water to pan, gently sautéing until greens are tender but not mushy . Sprinkle with coconut aminos or soy sauce to taste. Give a final stir and serve with the black-eyed peas over brown rice.

Notes

 
 
Keyword Oil-free, Vegan

Reversing Diabetes – Holiday Hurdles and Looking Ahead to a fresh New Year

  • Start Date of Whole Foods, Plant Based Diet, -SOS: Nov 17, 2019
  • Fasting Blood Sugar: 9.3 (originally 10.5)
    Blood Pressure 122/83
    Weight: -17 lbs

Hey everyone! I was hoping to do a week-by-week update (I DO have every last detail documented in my trusty bedside notebook) but the holidays were fast approaching and time just ran away. So instead of Week 3 in order — we jump ahead to the holidays and the end of the year.

I am not going to lie – it has been a challenge for me to eat whole-food plant-based salt-free, oil-free, sugar-free (SOS) and alcohol-free for Christmas for the first time. I have celebrated a vegan Christmas before, but it included processed vegan food (like tofurky) which now, no longer fits into my lifestyle. Temptation to eat anything and say “just for the holidays” is extremely high.

While sorting the stocking stuffers, I came face-to-face with Lindor chocolate balls (I’m sure just one won’t hurt). I had three. 

The cheese tray was another temptation. I spent a small fortune on the “good” artisanal vegan cheese, but even that is processed, as are the crackers, albeit whole grain.  

Sparkling wine. 

Cooking for my family didn’t help. As supportive as they are, they would feel 100% deprived if I didn’t roast a turkey or provide the traditional Christmas dinner they grew up with. Holiday meals are extremely emotional. Even though I know eating plant-based is the healthiest way, I can’t force my kids into it – I have to respect their choices and try to lead by example. So there was turkey and creamy mashed potatoes, gravy, roasted veggies sprinkled with parmesan and sweet cranberry sauce, followed by the traditional white chocolate cheesecake. 

In a nutshell, I tried my best, but was not 100 per cent compliant and my glucose levels show it. Before Christmas, I was on a steady (positive!) decline with blood glucose levels, moving from the first all-time high reading of 10.5 down through the 9’s, 8’s and was in the 7’s in the morning and much lower after exercising. Now, I’m back in the 9’s.

What would I do differently the next time?

1. Reframe my thoughts – I am not depriving myself. I am choosing to eat food in its most natural state to maximize my health. This is not drastic. What is drastic is going blind or losing a limb or having to go on dialysis from diabetes complications. Drastic is heart surgery to open clogged arteries, or worse a heart attack or stroke. Eating fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables is a gift and nature’s best medicine. 

2. Prepare more delicious WFPB options that avoid salt, sugar and oil for the “charcuterie board” and for the dinner table. This may takes a bit more planning, but I know that had I more options to select from, I would have chosen the healthier ones. The other part of this is to make healthier versions of the traditional holiday foods. Instead of potatoes mashed with butter and sour cream or buttermilk, make mashed potatoes with potatoes, steamed cauliflower and plant-milk. Use more herbs instead of salt. Take a super healthy option to pot-lucks.

3. Stock up on flavoured sparkling water (eg/ La Croix and others), herbal teas, assorted coffee and tea options to avoid sugary drinks and alcohol. Make interesting mocktails with real flavours from juicer (ginger, lemon, fruits). Throw a couple of raspberries or pomegranate seeds into your sparkling water to make it more festive.

4. Learn to make an amazing “main” like a “Mushroom wellington” such as this one from BOSH, which could eliminate the roast turkey, or at least offer another option:  https://www.bosh.tv/recipes/portobello-mushroom-wellington

4. Dessert – fruit, fruit and more fruit. Figs and dates. Good dark chocolate. A few nuts. 

5. Eat like our great-grandparents did.

I can’t beat myself up – it’s a learning process. The holidays are almost over with the new year and fresh start just over the hill. 

 

Reversing Diabetes – Week 2 – Salad is King

 Fasting Blood Sugar: 8.2 (originally 10.5)
Blood Pressure 122/84
Weight: -2 lbs. (Total -8)

Week 2 and my fasting blood sugar is down 2 points from last week!  Blood pressure is closer to a normal reading and there are a few days when it is even a little lower than normal (104/79; 110/85). Perhaps a happy side effect may be to reduce or even stop my blood pressure medication if this pattern keeps going.

Weight loss has slowed but it has been busy at work with days that I couldn’t get out for a walk, then got home late and was too tired to do anything but make dinner. It doesn’t help that it’s late fall and it gets dark outside by 5 pm and it’s cold. But these are excuses, yes? If this is to be a lifestyle then I have to do whatever it takes to be active every day, even if I just march on the spot while I’m cooking. Anything.

In terms of meals, this week was all about the giant salad. It doesn’t matter whether for lunch or dinner, but imperative at least once a day.  Leafy greens are at the top of the nutritional heap – low in calories but packed with vitamins, minerals and fibre. Any combination of the following greens work as the base for every salad: curly or lacinato kale, Swiss chard, Boston lettuce, leaf lettuce, Romaine lettuce, arugula, spring mix, baby spinach, watercress or microgreens plus parsley or cilantro or other fresh herbs. My fridge is bursting with greens.

To this base, I add the rainbow with as many colourful additions as possible in creative variations from day to day: avocado, cherry tomatoes, celery, chopped red cabbage, cucumber, thinly-sliced Brussels sprouts, red, green and yellow bell peppers, carrots, beets (grated or roasted), thin jalapeno slices, mushrooms, broccoli, zucchini, red or green onions, snow peas, sugar snap peas, kohlrabi, radishes.

While fruit in salad is a personal preference, I love it and mix things up by adding orange or mandarin segments, diced mango, diced apple, diced pears, kiwi, blueberries, strawberries or pomegranate arils. 

If I add fruit, I’ll also add nuts (walnuts or almonds usually), sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds or hemp seeds.

Dressings are tricky when not using oil. I’ve been experimenting with all sorts of seasoned vinegars, lime and lemon juice combinations and creamy dressings made with blended soaked cashews or tahini. Recipes to come! 

 

Reversing Diabetes – Week 1 – Focus on Breakfast

Fasting Blood Sugar: 10.2 (originally 10.5)
Blood Pressure 126/92
Weight: -6 lbs. (Total -6)

This first week has been more of an orientation than anything else. I am not following any one particular program, but crafting my own based on guidelines suggested by the plant-based medical advocates mentioned in my last post.  The underlying tenet is that I am eating a low fat, high-carb diet that is mostly fruits and vegetables, raw and cooked, some whole grains, plus a handful of nuts and seeds every day.  I am not counting calories and while aiming for selections with a lower glycemic-load, I am not excluding starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn or squash. I am avoiding all meat, dairy, processed food and oil. 

So far, so good — A week in, my blood sugar tests fractionally better.  At least it’s going down. Blood pressure is also marginally better than usual for me. The highlight is the six-pound weight loss this week.

So what does breakfast look like?

  • Steel-cut oatmeal with blueberries and walnuts
  • Bowl of mixed berries and a banana
  • Whole grain toast with avocado, cucumber and tomato slices
  • Green smoothies

Hail to the Green Smoothie as this has quickly become my go-to breakfast, especially when I’m rushing. It’s faster than juicing,  nutritious, easy to throw together and I can drink it in the car.  Because the whole food is blended, the fibre remains intact and for diabetics, fibre — particularly soluble fibre — slows the absorption of sugar and helps improve blood sugar levels. 

There are four main steps when layering up the ingredients into the high-speed blender, from bottom to top:

  1. Liquids (eg: unsweetened plant milk, coconut water, filtered water)
  2. Fresh Solids (eg: banana, kiwi, spinach, chard, kale)
  3. Frozen Layer: (eg: frozen berries, peaches, pineapple, mango)
  4. Super Food additions: (eg: ground flax seed, hemp seed, chia, moringa or amla powder, spirulina)

If I wake up with no appetite,  I just have water with lemon, then nothing until lunch. I’m trying to only eat when I’m hungry, and only until I’m satiated, not stuffed.

Finally, exercise — I have started walking every day and if I can’t walk, I jump on my Bellicon rebounder and try to close the three movement rings on my Apple watch. So far, I’ve been most successful on weekends when I have time to walk further or be more active throughout the day. Goal for next week: try to move more at work.

Reversing Type 2 Diabetes without drugs

The results are in.  As suspected, my  November 17, 2019 blood test results thrust me into diabetes range. My fasting glucose measured 10.8 (anything greater than 7.0 mmol/L after an 8-hour fast can be used as a provisional diagnosis of diabetes mellitus). My Hemoglobin A1C level was 9.2 (anything greater than 6.5 indicates diabetes).

Even though I knew the results would be higher than normal, I was hopeful that I’d remain “pre-diabetic”.  Now, there it was in black-and-white and I was gripped with the fear of possible complications: heart attack, kidney disease, dialysis, blindness, amputated limbs… How did this happen? More importantly, how to fix it?

A huge fan of health-and-lifestyle documentaries and literature, I have come to know those who are prominently involved in promoting nutrition as medicine: Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn (Preventing and Reversing Heart Disease). Dr. Colin Campbell (The China Study). Dr. Dean Ornish (Program for Reversing Heart Disease). Dr. Neil Barnard (Program for Reversing Diabetes without Drugs). Dr. Joel Fuhrman (Eat to Live; The End of Diabetes) and Dr. Michael Greger (NutritionFacts.org).  There’s also Robby Barbaro and Cyrus Khambatta co-founders of the Mastering Diabetes program. ALL of these pioneers advocate whole-food plant-based nutrition for optimal health.

The information they collectively provide points to study after study after study: a low-fat whole-food plant-based diet may prevent and even reverse certain health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. I know in my own heart that I have to try it.  The last thing I want is more medication – starting with the traditional metformin – as I am already taking an anti-coagulant and rate drug for atrial fibrillation, plus a heart pressure pill. My doctor has agreed to let me try nutrition and lifestyle changes first. I must monitor my blood glucose with a glucose meter at home. If the numbers rise consistently, I will have to take the drug. Otherwise, I will check in with another blood test in three months.

The plan, then, is to eat a low-fat, whole-food plant based diet. This means:

  • No animal products including eggs and dairy
  • No processed foods, even if they are vegan
  • No added sugar, salt or oil
  • No alcohol, fruit juice or caffeine

I think I can do all of these things except the caffeine. One cup should be OK. 

I also need to add exercise to my sedentary day, where it’s not impossible to sit 8 to 10 hours at my desk job.  My goal is a minimum of one hour of exercise every day, even if the best I can do is a brisk walk.

While it all may sound a bit daunting, I’m very motivated here at the start. Is this sustainable over time? Will this work at all? I will be tracking my efforts here on the blog.

 

 

 

Type 2 Diabetes?

I have a requisition in my hand for a blood test to see whether I have developed Type II diabetes. I’m pretty sure it will be positive. I was teetering very closely on the pre-diabetes/diabetes borderline just as I started a plant-based lifestyle a few years back. The numbers went down. I lost weight. Then I started planning a trip to the other side of the world, to see my daughter in New Zealand. I wanted to be able to eat everything and not limit myself.  Adventurous foodie won over the sick foodie. Unfortunately, I never went back to fully plant-based when I came home. I just continued to gain weight and lose energy and then gained even more weight. 

I am obese now.  Sluggish. Tired. Red-faced. Breathless. I look like I’m expecting twins and have no muscles, anywhere–classic signs of insulin resistance.  I’m feeling cramps in my legs at night. I can never close the rings on my iWatch. My toes are numb. My vision seems to blur at times, especially in the morning. 

I know I need to recommit to whole-food plant-based eating.  Will that be enough to reverse Type 2 Diabetes?