Seitan Kofta

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I know a recipe is a winner when Curtis tells me he likes it more than once. Ever-efficient, the man is simply not one to waste breath on repetition, so when something gets a second round of praise, I know it’s going into our regular rotation.

Truth be told, I don’t even think I’ve ever had a “real” kofta, the little Middle Eastern meatball spiced with ingredients like cinnamon and nutmeg, but the urge to make a batch had gripped me suddenly on Saturday afternoon, a craving that demanded attention. I had to consult my copy of Jerusalem, drawing some inspiration from Sami and Yotam. They used a lot of ingredients that I don’t have on hand – pine nuts, chiles, and…you know, meat – but it allowed me wrap my brain around the prospective flavor. These are anything but authentic, so consider them more “inspired” by the traditional dish.

Don’t let the spice combination deter you from making these. This was my first use of cinnamon and nutmeg in a savory application, but it certainly won’t be the last. The addition of the spices make the whole dish feel delightfully exotic, even enjoyed from my West Philadelphia kitchen. They probably won’t win any beauty contests, but they are delicious for sure.

Curtis and I ate our kofta for lunch in our favorite summertime application – a huge, refreshing salad. This one included crisp romaine, sliced cucumbers, herbed zucchini rice, roasted red peppers, toasted sunflower seeds, and was covered in tahini dressing – all perfect accompaniments to the subtly sweet kofta.

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Seitan Kofta
makes 48 neatballs

12 cups water or vegetable broth
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 cups vital wheat gluten
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground paprika
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cups cold vegetable broth
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup cold water
3 tablespoons mild-tasting oil
3 cloves garlic, minced

1. Bring 12 cups water/broth and 1/4 cup soy sauce to a boil. Reduce to a gentle simmer.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine wheat gluten, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, pepper, paprika, and red pepper flakes. In a small measuring cup, combine cold broth, water, soy sauce, oil, and garlic. Add to dry ingredients and mix with hands or a spoon until the moisture is absorbed. The dough will feel pretty dry at this point – don’t worry! Turn the dough out and knead as best you can for 1-2 minutes.

3. Divide the dough into 48 even pieces and use your hands to shape into balls, torpedo-shapes, or just leave them as cubes. Drop the kofta into the broth and simmer for one hour, being careful not to let the broth come to a boil (nobody likes a spongy neatball). You’ll know they’re done when they poof up and bob to the surface. Remove from broth and let cool. Pat dry and fry in oil, or store simmered pieces in the fridge.

4. To serve, fry the kofta in a small amount of mild-tasting oil until brown on all sides. Tuck into a pita or place atop coarsely chopped greens. Drizzle with tahini if desired.

Nutrition per Kofta: 45 calories, 2g carbs, 0g fiber, 1g fat, 7g protein

Put Your Faith in Julia

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Doubt stays my hand there in the supermarket, balancing on my tiptoes, fingers curled around a can of jumbo pitted black olives.

You’re going to regret this, the little voice informs me. I shift my basket in the crook of my arm, rolling back on my heels to read the label on the can.

You don’t even like olives.

After a particularly stressful day, I find myself where I usually do on the tail end of stressful days – our local grocery store. Having voraciously watched episode after episode of The French Chef over the past week or so, I’ve found one recipe has stuck out in my mind – Julia’s main course on Spaghetti Dinner Flambe: Spaghetti Marco Polo.

According to historical distaste for briny and salty, I should be somewhat repulsed by the components of the bright, chopped “sauce” that tops the pasta – nuts, fancy pimento, and a generous portion of chopped black olives. Strangely enough though, I’ve been so fascinated by the unique, tomato-free nature of the dish that I’ve watched the episode three times, ensuring I’ve gotten all the details down pat.

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But as I stroll the linoleum tiles of the canned foods aisle, I’m having second thoughts. Certainly it would be easier to fix something more familiar, something more to my taste – perhaps a stir fry with peanut sauce, or a South-of-the-border bowl with plenty of cumin and lime juice?

No, the other little voice says. Put your faith in Julia.

The can of olives finds a place in the basket next to the zucchini.

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    After thoroughly mixing the Marco Polo sauce, I take a tentative bite from the end of the spoon. The harsh brininess I was expecting is nonexistant, replaced by a pleasant creamy saltiness complemented by mild, sweet pimento and bright parsley. Oh Julia, I should never have doubted you.

  I’ve made a few changes to Julia’s dish in order to meet my needs: while she used chopped walnuts, I happened to have dry roasted sunflower seeds on hand (though I’m sure that any finely chopped nut would do very nicely). Also, I’ve given the whole thing a slightly modern twist by serving it over my favorite julienned zucchini (“zoodles”) rather than spaghetti.

Zoodles Marco Polo
inspired by The French Chef
serves 2-3

3 medium zucchini
1/2 cup pitted black olives, chopped
1/2 cup pimento packed in water, chopped
1/3 cup fresh flat parsley, chopped
1/4 cup dry roasted, unsalted sunflower seeds
salt & pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons walnut oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1. Trim the ends from the zucchinis and julienne them. Place the strands in a large colander and sprinkle well with salt – this will draw out the excess moisture. Let them drain in the sink or over a bowl for 10-20 minutes.

2. Mix the chopped pimento, black olives, sunflower seeds, and parsley together. Add salt and pepper to taste.

3. Rinse the salt from the zoodles and dry very well.

4. Heat the oil and garlic in a large pan over medium-high heat. Cook your garlic until just about done – you’ll only add the zoodles long enough to heat them through. Add the zoodles to the pan and stir well to coat with the garlic and oil. Allow the zoodles to just heat through and transfer them to a large serving platter or bowl.

5. Pour the Marco Polo sauce on top of the zoodles and sprinkle with nutritional yeast, if you like. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Nutrition per Serving: 301 calories, 18g carbohydrates, 7g fiber, 21g fat, 9g protein.

Seitan Salad with Creamy Dressing

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In my sophomore year of high school, I got my first job at a restaurant across town from my house. I spent most of my Friday and Saturday nights in a tie, making flavored cappuccinos and trying to come up with creative chocolate sauce designs on dessert plates. It wasn’t a bad place to work as a teen, but my hands-down-favorite aspect of the gig was free meal I’d get at the start of every shift.

I ate a lot of burgers and french dip sandwiches with thick-cut fries, but on hot summer afternoons, I’d go for my favorite meal on the menu – the grilled steak salad. It was a thing of beauty, a delicious mix of flavors and textures, sweet and savory, piled high on a big white plate. I liked it so much, I ordered it even on the occasions when I’d go to the restaurant with family or friends. I haven’t had it in years, but I found myself unable to think of anything else all day long – I couldn’t wait to get home and veganize it. I’m so glad I did!

Just as I did back in high school, as the weather creeps up into the 90s, I find myself turning to easy-to-throw-together meals that don’t involve spending too much time in front of the stove. Hearty salads like this one meet that need while making for a filling, satisfying meal that won’t leave you feeling bloated up. This salad fills your bowl chock full of flavors, textures, and nutrients.

I should note that this makes two serious salads – our IKEA salad bowls were overflowing, but Curtis and I really love to eat. If you have a slightly “daintier” appetite, this might be fine divided into 3-4 meals.

Seitan “Steak” Salad
makes 2 huge salads

1/2 pound seitan, homemade or packaged, sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz. button or crimini mushrooms, sliced thinly
2 tsp coconut oil
1 head romaine lettuce, chopped
2 oz. roasted red peppers, sliced
1 cucumber, unpeeled and sliced thinly into half-moons
1 red, ripe tomato, sliced into half-moons
1/4 cup dry-roasted sunflower seeds
1/4 cup Vegenaise or other vegan mayo
2 tbsp plain, unsweetened almond milk
2 tsp whole-grain mustard (the grainier the better!)
1 tbsp white vinegar
pinch of sweetener (I used Splenda)
s&p to taste

1. In a large frying pan, heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and seitan and leave undisturbed for a few minutes to get it nice and crispy. Stir, and add mushrooms. Cook until mushrooms are soft.

2. While mushrooms and seitan cook, add lettuce, roasted peppers, tomato, and sunflower seeds to a large mixing bowl. Add your seitan-mushroom mixture, mix everything well, and set aside.

3. To make the dressing, combine Vegenaise, almond milk, mustard, vinegar, sweetener, and salt & pepper in a small bowl and whisk until smooth and creamy. Pour over the salad and mix with tongs until the salad is well-coated. Separate into bowls and serve.

Nutrition with Dressing: 596 calories, 32g carbohydrates, 12g fiber, 33g fat, 46g protein.

Raw Rainbow Noodles with Tofu and Peanut Sauce

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It’s a little after midnight. I’ve been in bed for a few hours, but Curtis has just gotten into bed, and I love to chit chat with him in the dark before my lids get heavy again and I slip gently back into deep sleep.

“The 140’s,” he says, pulling me close and burying his face into the back of my neck. Our window is open, and the cool night air tumbles into our bedroom, tangled with laughter from the sidewalk, far-off sirens, and all the summertime sounds of the city. “I’m so proud of you, baby.”

It’s been a big day in the life and times of Melissa Hartz – this morning, for the first time in my adult life, I stepped on the scale and was greeted with a weight that began with “14”. 149.6 pounds, to be exact. I won’t lie – I’m proud too. I don’t think I weighed less than 150 pounds when I was twelve years old.

Pulling the sheets up closer to my chin, I think about how much things – how much I – have changed since I began actively trying to lose weight following my college graduation. What I’ve lost in body weight (nearly a third of the woman Curtis fell in love with years ago), I’ve gained in so much more – confidence, passion for fitness and nutrition, and the knowledge and satisfaction of knowing that I can attain whatever goals I set for myself. It’s a good feeling – and makes me think that maybe less truly is more.

I’ve noticed a huge shift, for the better, in my mental state during the past few weeks. In something that feels what I imagine a spiritual awakening, I feel a comforting sense of peace and contentedness in my existence. I am thankful for the small things in my life and have a vague vision of what the path ahead looks like concerning my studies, my career, and my upcoming marriage. Though my lantern burns only bright enough to light the few steps ahead of me, I am unafraid to continue forward.

It helps to have a hand to hold along the way, too.

This afternoon, I am still reveling in our gorgeous Saturday spent at the Morris Arboretum here in Philadelphia. My brother was in town, so we decided to spend the day taking in the sights, smells, and sounds at the grounds. In addition to the beautiful trees, plants, and sculptures, we also saw plenty of wildlife including skittish chipmunks, baby bunnies, and an entire family of chubby groundhogs. It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon with two people I care about.

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Now that the weather is finally [suddenly?] warming up, I’ve found myself drawn to mostly-raw foods – cleansing, hydrating, and cooling foods that keep my mouth happy and my belly full.

I made this big bowl of rainbow noodles and tofu with the ingredients we had on hand, but you should feel free to make adjustments according to your own taste – shelled edamame, crunchy carrots, or creamy avocado would fit right into this quick, healthy meal.

Raw Rainbow Noodles with Tofu and Peanut Sauce
Serves 1 Hungry Person

1 cucumber, julienned
1/4 small head of red cabbage, sliced very thinly
sprinkle of salt

5 oz. firm tofu, pressed, cubed, and patted dry
1 tsp coconut oil
sprinkle of chinese fivespice

2 green onions, sliced
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

2 tbsp organic creamy peanut butter (or nut butter of your choice)
1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp rice vinegar
sprinkle of garlic salt
sprinkle of curry powder
1/2 packet Splenda

1. Add julienned cucumber and red cabbage to a collandar and sprinkle generously with salt. Set in the sink to drain excess water.

2. Heat coconut oil in a large nonstick frying pan or wok and add cubed tofu. Sprinkle with fivespice powder and cook until crispy on all sides. Set aside.

3. Rinse cucumber and cabbage and pat dry VERY WELL – you may even want to take them on a trip through the salad spinner to ensure they are completely dry. Excess moisture will make your noodles soggy and water down your sauce, so make sure you don’t skip this step.

4. Add “noodles” to a large bowl and stir in green onions, cilantro, and tofu. Drizzle with peanut sauce and mix well to ensure everything is coated. Let rest for a few minutes to marinate. Munch.

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Nutritional Information: 472 calories, 26g net carbs, 28g fat, 25g protein.

Sausage, Peppers and Onions over Spaghetti

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  As a lover of nostalgia and a compulsive list-maker, New Year’s Eve is right up there in my most favorite days of the year. I love and appreciate the opportunity to reflect on the past twelve months and look ahead to the next.

  2013 was a heck of a year for firsts. I got my first ‘real’ job with health insurance and business cards, made my first big move away from home and settled into my first apartment. On my summer vacation to Long Beach Island, I ran in my first race longer than a 5k, and in November, I welcomed my very first roommate – my wonderful boyfriend.

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  I’ve always been a lover of the little things, because that’s what life is – a compilation of “little things” that makes up our day-to-day. I have adored all the little moments that 2013 has offered me – the first taste of fat heirloom tomatoes, drinking coffee together on our big L-shaped couch on Sunday mornings and the many, many, many meals I have cooked in our sunny eat-in kitchen with the natural wood table and the mismatched chairs.

  I have savored them all.

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Sausage, Peppers and Onions over Spaghetti
serves 1-2

2 oz. whole wheat spaghetti
1 Simple Sausage*, or Italian Tofurky Sausage
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 raw white onion, sliced into half-moons
1 green bell pepper, sliced
1 tablespoon apple cider or balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic, grated on a microplane or chopped teeny-tiny
1/2 cup vegetable broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
s & p

1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Drop in spaghetti and cook to al dente. Drain very well  – no wet noodles here! – and set aside.

2. Heat olive oil in a large frying pan and brown sausage on all sides. Slice into thick diagonal rounds and set aside.

3. Add peppers and onions to the hot pan. Lower the heat to medium and cook until peppers are very soft. Add garlic and saute 1-2 minutes longer.

4. Add sausage rounds, vegetable broth and tomato paste to the pan. Cook until the sauce has cooked down and thickened slightly. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot over whole wheat spaghetti.

Nutrition per Recipe: 478 calories, 74g carbohydrates, 8g fat, 35g protein.

*Note: Using the recipe from The Post Punk Kitchen, I made six sausages instead of four for a total of 166 calories per link. If you use 1/4 of Isa Chandra’s recipe, or use Tofurky Italian Sausages to create this dish, be sure to adjust your calorie counts accordingly.

Mushroom Barley Soup

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  This holiday season, for the first time in my young life, I have a full week off from work that I still get paid for. So imagine my delight when I woke up yesterday morning with a sinus cold. It was gonna be a soup kind of day.

Soup and I go way back – in fact, almost every one of my childhood memories revolves around a bowl of the stuff. Every holiday at grandma’s started with a bowl of clear soup with tiny square noodles, snow days ended with a big mug of hearty chicken and rice. Like a subtly-placed, recurring prop in the movie of my life, soup is always there – never taking center stage, never demanding the attention it deserves, but always adding a little comfort and a lot of love to any situation.

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  There’s a real earthiness to the combination of mushrooms and crushed thyme – like Mother Nature just came to give you a great big bear hug. I like to use chewy, savory baby bella mushrooms in this soup, but any regular white mushroom will do very nicely.

  Make this the next time you or a loved one are feeling under the weather – or next time you need a little mushroom hug.

Mushroom Barley Soup
serves 6

1 cup pearled barley, uncooked
2 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 white onions, diced
2 large stalks celery, diced
3 carrots, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1-2 teaspoons dried thyme, crushed between your fingers
1 teaspoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 can diced tomatoes in juice
4 cups vegetable stock
2 cups kale, chopped

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1. Cook barley in 2 1/2 cups water until water is absorbed and barley is tender.

2. In your soup pot, cook onion, celery, carrot and garlic in olive oil until onions are just translucent. Add sliced mushrooms, thyme and garlic powder and cook for about five more minutes.

3. Add soy sauce, vinegar, tomatoes and vegetable stock. Add the cooked barley and stir well. Cook for about 20 minutes until soup has cooked down a bit. Add chopped kale and cook until greens are wilted. Serve hot with a piece of really crusty bread.

Nutrition per Serving: 181 calories, 37g carbohydrates, 2g fat, 7g protein

Curried Lentil and Yam Stew

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It doesn’t take long for me to start complaining about the cold. Once it’s too chilly to leave my windows open, I enter a state of perpetual grumpiness until everything thaws out in the spring.

Winter’s only redeeming quality is its food. Roasted tubers, deep ceramic dishes filled with baked pasta, flavorful roasts – winter food is all about warmth and comfort, which are two things I need extra helpings of when the sun is already setting in the afternoon.

For the third time this week, Philadelphia is expecting a few inches of snow tonight. For me, nothing cures the Saturday snowfall blues quite like a huge pot of something hot that I can eat over a big bowl of grains.

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One of my favorite aspects of this dish is its adaptability – the recipe is more of a suggestion than one you should follow very closely. I used kale in this batch, but any hardy winter greens such as chard or collard greens would work. I would stay away from more tender greens like spinach in this dish, as they’ll get too soft.

The substitution list goes on – winter squash for the yams, a can of chickpeas instead of lentils, a few fresh tomatoes instead of the canned ones. If it sounds good, it’ll probably taste good.

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Curried Lentil and Yam Stew
Serves 6

1 cup dry brown lentils
3 cups water
1 very large onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp olive oil (or your favorite neutral-tasting oil)
1 large bunch kale, torn into bite-sized pieces
2-3 tbsp garam masala
2 small yams, cut into bite-sized cubes
1 15 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes with green chiles
1/2 cup golden raisins
Salt to taste

1. In a small saucepan, bring lentils and water to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, and cook until lentils are soft and water is absorbed.

2. Cook onions and garlic in oil until just translucent. Add chopped kale and cook until greens are bright green and slightly wilted. Add garam masala (I used three tablespoons, but you should start with two and adjust to taste) and stir well.

3. Add cooked lentils, yams, tomatoes and raisins to the pot. Add salt to taste. Stir well, cover and cook for 25 minutes or until yams are soft. Serve steaming hot with millet, brown rice or quinoa.

Nutrition per Serving: 196 calories, 47g carbohydrates, 1g fat, 9g protein

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