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.

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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.