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.

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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.

Sunday Scramble

Last week, I was lucky enough to spend a few days in beautiful San Francisco for a work event. In the less-than-48 hours that I was able to spend in the city, I explored (and ate) as much as humanly possible. I couldn’t help but feel completely at home in a city where single-use plastic bags are outlawed and the soy milk flows freely.

Aside from backpacks full of organic vegan donuts, the best meal I ate during my short time in SF was a big tofu scramble from The Plant Cafe. Every aspect of the tofu was on point down to the side of fresh watermelon (in December, who thought!), but the most memorable aspect – and the inspiration for today’s recipe – was the texture of the tofu. Instead of being crumbled, The Plant Cafe had shredded their tofu to resemble Daiya mozzarella shreds. At first bite, I knew I had to recreate it once I was back in Philadelphia.

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A salted caramel donut from Pepples Donuts.

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My hotel supplied this fabulous leopard-print robe.

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These shoes saw a lot of the Embarcadero.

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The view from our work event!

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  Sundays are usually my long run days. After Curtis leaves for disc golf, I lace up and head outside for anywhere from 6 to 9 miles along the Schuykill River. When I get back home, I love to take a long shower, make a big cup of coconut coffee and fix myself a huge plate of scramble. Today, I decided to take a page out of The Plant Cafe’s book and run my tofu through the box grater.

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  I’ll admit it, I don’t think I’ll ever crumble my tofu for scramble again. Not only do the little soy shreds create a fantastic texture, but in a way, I like that this scramble doesn’t even try to give the appearance of eggs – and it’s not even sorry about it.

  I used collard greens, mushrooms and grape tomatoes in this scramble, but you should use whatever veggies you have on hand. The Plant Cafe used a light and fresh basil pesto on their scramble, but with basil around $3.00 a bunch at my local supermarket, I did without.

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  I may have only had a few short days in sunny San Francisco, but I have a feeling that every time I make this scramble, I’ll be transported back to bayside dining.

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Sunday Tofu Scramble
Serves 1

1/2 package of organic super-firm tofu (you can use extra firm, but
anything softer just ain’t gonna cut it for this scramble)
2 cups collard greens, cut into thin ribbons
5 button mushrooms, thinly sliced
5 grape tomatoes, quartered
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp olive oil
sprinkle of himalayan pink salt (optional, for “eggyness”)
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dried thyme, crushed
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

1. Wrap your tofu in a tea towel and place it beneath a few heavy books to drain for about 30 minutes. The drier the tofu, the better. Run the pressed tofu through your box grater or food processor attachment to create shreds reminiscent of Daiya.

2. Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the tofu shreds. Add himalayan salt, cumin, garlic powder and dried thyme and cook until shreds are slightly golden.

3. Add the collards, mushrooms and grape tomatoes. Cook until collards are very wilted and mushrooms are soft.

4. Add nutritional yeast and cook for 3-5 minutes. Serve hot with a side fruit, toast or breakfast potatoes – or all three!

Nutrition per Serving: 216 calories, 29g carbohydrates, 11g fat, 18g protein