I wish my childhood friends could see me now.
I was the kid who lived on sugar and potato chips, the one who held hours-long dinner-table standoffs with my parents over anything green on my plate. I didn’t even touch a salad until I was 19 years old. And today I write about the pleasures of a vegetable-centric diet and teach others how to create tasty, plant-powered meals based on whole foods.
How on earth did this happen?
When you eat poorly for a long time, your body will eventually wave the white flag — and that’s what happened to me. As a child, I constantly battled strep throat, colds, and digestive problems. But my lousy diet really caught up with me in my 20s, when mysterious stomach pains and nausea sent me to a long line of medical specialists, none of whom could figure out exactly what was wrong with me.
Eventually I got motivated to take my well-being into my own hands and, with the help of health-conscious friends, I educated myself on how the inflammation-based maladies I suffered might be reversed by switching to a better diet. You know the punch line here: I needed to eat a lot more veggies.
Pea by pea, step by step, I made friends with the foods vital to healing my body. I learned to make veggies and other healthy grub more approachable by turning them into comfort food. Eventually, my palate changed and now I love the foods that love me back.
This is just a small sampling of some plant-powered recipes I’ve designed to coax even a veggie-phobe into becoming a veggie lover.
Buckwheat-Noodle Pad Thai
This is a veggie-powered, peanut-free, gluten-free version of the popular stir-fried Thai noodle dish. Buckwheat noodles have more nutrients and a higher protein content than the noodles usually used in pad thai. You can also experiment with black-bean noodles, mung-bean noodles, or even veggie noodles.
Makes four servings
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
For the Stir-fry
• 1 8-oz. package buckwheat noodles
• 1 to 2 tsp. coconut oil
• 1 red onion, diced
• 4 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 tsp. gingerroot, minced
• 1 zucchini, diced
• 1 yellow squash, diced
• Cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
• 2 tbs. sesame seeds, toasted
For the Sauce
• 2 tbs. coconut aminos
• 3 tbs. lime juice
• 2 tbs. raw almond butter
• 1 tsp. sriracha sauce
• 3 tbs. unrefined whole cane sugar (such as Sucanat)
• 2 tbs. toasted sesame oil
• 2 green onions, sliced thinly (plus extra for garnish)
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and prepare noodles according to the package instructions.
In a small bowl, whisk together the sauce ingredients.
Heat a skillet or wok to medium-high heat, and add coconut oil and onion. Sauté for five minutes, then add garlic and gingerroot and stir for three minutes.
Toss cooked, rinsed, and drained noodles, zucchini, yellow squash, and the sauce into the skillet. Fold together, but allow the noodles to sear a bit. Remove from heat after three to five minutes and serve warm topped with cilantro, toasted sesame seeds, and extra green onion.
For variety, you can also make this hearty soup with lentils, chickpeas, or different types of beans.
Makes four servings
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes
• 1 tbs. coconut oil
• 2 red bell peppers, seeds and ribs removed, diced
• 1 yellow onion, diced
• 6 cloves garlic, minced
• 3 tbs. lime juice
• 2 tbs. ground cumin
• 2 tsp. ground coriander
• ½ tsp. ground chipotle pepper
• 2 tsp. fine sea salt
• ¼ cup cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish
• 4 cups water
• 6 cups cooked black beans (2 cups dry); use canned if short on time
• Ground black pepper to taste
Heat a large stockpot over medium heat; add coconut oil, red bell pepper, and onion, and sauté for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic, lime juice, spices, salt, and cilantro, and stir together for three minutes.
Add water and cooked beans; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Purée half of the soup in a blender. Fold back into remaining soup mixture.
Season with pepper to taste, garnish with cilantro, and serve hot.
Creamy Millet and Kale Salad
As excited as I am about kale, I gotta say, it’s the rich and “cheesy” nondairy sauce that makes this dish. Don’t have kale around? Try spinach or chard instead. If you want, swap out the millet for 1½ cups of cooked quinoa, brown rice, chickpeas, or gluten-free noodles.
Makes two to four servings
Prep time: 10 minutes, plus soaking time for cashews
Cook time: 30 minutes
• 1½ cups water
• ½ cup uncooked millet
• Dash of fine sea salt
• 5 to 7 kale leaves
For the sauce
• ½ cup cashews, soaked (see instruction, below)
• 1 tbs. fresh lemon juice
• 1 clove garlic
• 1 cup water
• 1 tbs. coconut oil
• 3 tbs. nutritional yeast
• 1 to 2 tsp. fine sea salt, or to taste
• 1 tbs. tahini
Bring the water, millet, and salt to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat to medium, cover saucepan, and cook until all water is absorbed into the grain, about 20 to 25 minutes. Don’t peek! You want to keep all that heat and steam inside to make fluffy millet.
While the millet is cooking, remove the stems from the kale leaves and wash the leaves well. Roll and slice them into 1-inch strips.
In a blender, combine sauce ingredients; pour mixture into a large pot and heat on medium.
Fold millet and kale into the sauce. Stir for three to five minutes, just long enough for kale to wilt. Serve warm.
Almond-Cardamom Chia Pudding
This recipe is a staple in my kitchen, since it’s easy to prepare and full of beneficial nutrients, and it can be adapted with all sorts of fresh fruits, nuts, seeds, and other goodies. Don’t care for the tapioca-like texture? Blend the finished pudding for a smoother consistency. You can also make the pudding with 2 cups of Thai coconut milk (pictured here), instead of the almond mixture, for a rich, unsweetened version.
Makes two servings
Prep time: 25 minutes
• ½ cup chia seeds
• 2 cups water
• 1 tbs. almond butter
• 8 Deglet Noor dates or 5 Medjool dates, pitted
• ¼ tsp. vanilla extract
• ½ tsp. ground cardamom
• Pinch of sea salt
• 1 cup of your favorite berries
• Shredded coconut, toasted
• Place chia seeds in a large glass bowl.
In a blender, combine water, almond butter, dates, vanilla, cardamom, and salt, and blend until smooth. Pour blended ingredients over chia seeds and stir well.
Cover chia mixture with a clean towel or lid, and allow to rest for 15 minutes. You can also chill the mixture in the fridge. The chia seeds will plump into a pudding-like texture.
Once pudding is set, stir and spoon into individual bowls. Top with fresh berries and coconut.
Soak’em: Beans, Nuts and Seeds
Ever suffer from gas or bloating after eating beans? That’s a plant’s survival mechanism doing its job. Plants don’t have jaws or a stinger or the ability to run, but they do have anti-nutrients — compounds that interfere with nutrient absorption — to protect them from foragers (like us) by making them difficult and uncomfortable to digest.
Soaking seeds, legumes, nuts, grains, and -pseudograins (such as flaxseeds and chia seeds) minimizes or eliminates anti-nutrient substances, such as enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid, and lets you reap more of their nutritional benefits.
How to Soak
- Rinse your “soakables” well, and drain. Remove any debris, like chaff or tiny stones.
- Place the soakables in a glass container or bowl (use separate bowls for each type of ingredient you’re soaking), and cover with filtered water. Allow about 4 inches of water above your ingredients, because they will expand as they soak.
- Add a teaspoon of lemon juice or apple-cider vinegar to neutralize phytic acid without overpowering the ingredient’s flavor.
- Soaking times vary: The cashews, millet, and quinoa in the recipes here should soak for about four hours. Chia seeds can soak for as little as five minutes. Most other seeds, beans, and nuts should soak for eight hours or more.
- Drain the water and rinse well. Refrigerate or freeze for future cooking, or dehydrate or toast to store in your pantry.
Training Wheels Green Smoothie
By Heather Crosby, founder, YumUniverse
If you’re afraid of greens or new to veggies in general, there’s no better way to get beneficial phytonutrients than to drink them down in a delicious smoothie. For a frostier smoothie, use a frozen banana. Feel free to improvise: Add strawberries, blueberries, some ground flaxseeds, hemp seeds, pineapple, fresh almond milk. Have fun!
Makes one serving
Prep time: 5 minutes
- 1 to 2 packed cups spinach or mixed salad greens
- 2 cups water (for extra flavor and natural sweetness, use coconut water)
- 1/2 ripe banana
- 2 tsp. almond butter
- 1 to 2 tsp. honey or maple syrup
Put everything in a blender and mix until smooth. Add 1 cup ice cubes if you want it colder.