plant-based food love

plant-based, healthy foods + flavor = LOVE!

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Easy Larb-inspired Tofu

Larb-inspired TofuI love, love, love Thai flavors, and I enjoy making this easy approximation of tofu larb (pronounced lob) between visits to my favorite local Thai restaurant, Lum Ka Naad, on Reseda Blvd. in the San Fernando Valley. The bright tastes of sauteed tofu and herbs wrapped in the deep crunch of lettuce or cabbage are a just-right combo in my book!

This recipe is an approximation because I’m improvising in a way that evokes the dish and suits my cooking style. It serves two as a meal or more on small plates.


1 lb. extra firm tofu, cubed
Crisp head of lettuce or cabbage, or both
Fresh bunches of cilantro, scallion, basil, and mint
Fresh lime to taste
Soy sauce, tamari, or Braggs Aminos to taste
Chili oil, chili paste or Sriracha to taste, optional
A garlic clove or two, minced, optional

If you’re using garlic, heat it in a little oil (olive, peanut, sesame, etc.) for a couple of minutes, then add the tofu cubes and let them sizzle and brown a bit on one side before turning them. At Lum Ka Naad the tofu is cut in big chunks with a serrated blade so each piece has its own textured shape and little pockets for herbs to hang out in. The last time I made it at home I miraculously found just the right blade in my kitchen drawer!

While the tofu is sizzling, chop a big handful of each of the herbs, reveling in the mix of their amazing aromas. Place another handful of the uncut herb of your choice on each plate along with a big cut slab of lettuce and/or cabbage.

Drizzle a lime or two over the tofu, to your taste, along with a swirl of soy, tamari, or Braggs Aminos to taste, delivering acid and saltiness. Lastly, stir in the herbs, turn off the burner, and let the dish rest for a bit while all the flavors marry. Plate the tofu mix and bring “heat” to the table for individual use. (I put some Sriracha right on the plate above while cooking away from home with what’s available. I usually add a beautiful swirl of chili oil or stir in a teaspoon or more of chili paste. Yep, I like it hot.)

Then I use my fingers and a fork to put together little flavor packets of the tofu mixture in the lettuce or cabbage leaves.  Thus begins a tasty, healthy crunch-fest. Mmmmmmmmm. Oh, and the lunchtime cocktail above is organic grapefruit juice and sparkling water. At Lum Ka Naad a Thai beer is my go-to. ENJOY!


An impromptu Saturday night feastlet

5-24-14.1I’m inspired to learn that my friends Ricardo and Linda have begun their own virgin exploration of plant-based eating. Time to share a bit of my mostly plant-based process of the moment.

On Saturday afternoons, I often want to forego my kitchen and get “cheap eats” out someplace. But yesterday, after some ritual thrift store shopping during which I enjoyably envisioned summer adventures that suddenly seem rather imminent, I stopped in at my neighborhood seafood and produce market, wandered a bit, and ultimately snagged sardines, baby arugula, and lemons. My goal was to “putter”, as I call it, in my kitchen, listening to cantadora Clarissa Pinkola Estes while preparing a supper using those ingredients and whatever else we had on hand. This improvisational approach to assembling a meal falls into the categories of fun and relaxation for me.


5-24-14.6We soon dined al fresco on what I call these days Julia Child’s bruschetta, a garlic- and basil-stoked tomato chop over slices of Italian bread pan-fried in olive oil, with an arugula salad of thin-sliced Persian cuces and kalamata olives, a handful of chopped raddichio and shredded iceberg lettuce for crunch, kicked up wickedly with a few shavings of very, very good Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a dressing of EVOO, red wine vinegar, and a “kiss” of Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, a salty favorite of mine that I usually reserve for Asian-inspired meals. We rounded out the meal with hummus swirled with olive oil and fresh lemon juice and a dish of sardines gently tossed with EVOO, capers, torn basil leaves and sliced red onion with another splash of fresh lemon juice. Mmmmmmmmm.

5-24-14.4We’ve been watching Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown lately and are new fans of the show’s sensibility, especially its deeply poetic visual POV. I recommend the episode on Israel, the West Bank and Gaza for an inspired, inspiring exploration of plant-based cuisine. Meanwhile, all this meal needed was a beautiful assortment of olives to feel like a rather complete Mediterranean vignette. This is the way I love to eat these days, using—in a couple of meals per week—just a little “animal protein” (the sardines and cheese shavings this time) that become succulent treats that we could have also skipped entirely.

Now it’s the wee hours of Sunday morning and I’m puttering here while nibbling leftover, still-crunchy arugula salad. I realize in this moment that it would have been kicked up a notch by the inclusion of torn mint leaves and sliced peperoncini. Yum!

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An Easter feast for all the palates at our table…

Signs of spring: roses and strawberries

Signs of spring: roses and strawberries

Whatever the details of the various venerable traditions of renewal, most of us have one, right? Friends and family around our table yesterday reflected on their family traditions and childhood experiences of Easter, in the deep American south, in New England, in mid-century SoCal and in faraway Wales, from religious to non-religious households. And at the center, always food, glorious food!

And in my health-conscious quest for plant-based deliciousness, another holiday meal provides me with another pleasurable chance to create a festive food experience tailored to the eaters around our table. It’s 100% fun for me, especially with my plant-based food explorations still less than a year old. With a couple of vegans in attendance along with several meat-lovers, and given my “primary food values” of simplicity, balance, and layers of flavor, I settled on the following menu, a mix of beloved faves and experiments. Why not, right?

Mama’s Salsa with Chips
Fresh Lemonade

Grilled Tri-tip and Roasted Quinoa-Stuffed Portobellos
Spring Linguini with Basil
Julie’s Creamy Deviled Eggs
Tomato Salad with Garlic Toast
Baby Greens with Green Goddess Dressing

Brownies with Lemon and Blood Orange Sorbet and Strawberries


My sons love my salsa, so that’s an easy “gnosh” for them when they breeze in from their busy lives to hang out with us during final food prep. The stuffed portobellos were the grand experiment of the day that I daydreamed about for a week, intent on incorporating color, texture, flavor, and succulence. I settled on red quinoa and spinach simmered in a base of onion, garlic, celery and carrot, with chopped avocado and cilantro folded in at the end. (I completely forgot the chopped walnuts that I was envisioning in the mix.)

A leftovers vignette

A leftovers vignette

I wanted fresh peas for my fresh linguini but settled for thin asparagus spears and baby broccoli that I chopped and threw into the salted pot with the linguini before folding in extra virgin olive oil when I piled it all into a big bowl. And I tossed big shavings of parmigiano-reggiano–to be easily spotted and bypassed by choice–and chopped basil onto the heaping bowl as I brought it to the table, an example of my plant-based approach that doesn’t completely exclude animal products but rather uses them very sparingly, like exotic condiments.

My tomato salad with toast is a chunky take on bruschetta. It’s a fail-proof fave, while the green goddess dressing was another enjoyable “animal-free” experiment. After browsing and tinkering, I settled on a base of tahini to which I added fresh garlic, cilantro, parsley, scallions and chives along with fresh squeezed lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, a couple of splashes of ponzu sauce, and salt to taste. Succulent, creamy, bright, and satisfying. Makes me happy!

"Care plate" for a friend

“Care plate” for a friend

And, interestingly, in my heart the highlight of the day had nothing to do with food, as my musical younger two of three wild, wonderful sons had a rare jam session with me afterward, before they chilled in front of the TV with their lovely ladies for the brownies-and-hockey-game phase of the afternoon. Very comforting for this mom in perpetual are they really gone from the nest? mode. Kevin and I relaxed with dear Julie and John as Julie schooled us on planning our wedding before a good catch-up call from my eldest in the midst of a New England Easter experience with his lovely lady. (Ahhhhh, life. Ah, Spring!)

And so welcome, Spring! Welcome, new beginnings and continuing 21st Century explorations of food, family, friendship, and authentic seasonal celebrations around our table. Beautiful!

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Heat for a winter cold, anyone? Try tomato tea!

Tomato TeaThere’s an old adage about starving a cold, but there’s another tried-and-true method about applying heat to it, and I’m swearing by it more and more these days. Instead of getting a hopeless, helpless feeling at the onset of cold symptoms, I make “tomato tea”, with tomato or vegetable juice and as much of my heat of choice — Sriracha, thinly sliced hot peppers, jalapeno or other pepper brine, horseradish, Tabasco, etc. — as I can stand, plus the juice of a lime and anything else that intrigues me at the moment. Grated fresh ginger, maybe? A stalk of celery to crunch and munch? Think wintery virgin Bloody Mary.

Heat up the concoction and sip away or simmer it on the stove for 20 minutes first for extra kick. Repeat often. It will jumpstart your immuno-response toward feeling good again. That’s a delicious development. And here’s my version with a few more ingredients, Teresa’s Immuno-Turbo Tomato Tea, from last spring’s cold season. Here’s to vibrant winter health!


My Bright-Bite Chili with TVP

ChiliwithwhiteborderTruth told, I’m rather floored to come into relationship with Textured Vegetable Protein. It’s a BIG DAY whenever a new ingredient enters my kitchen–and my cooking repertoire–that I know will be with me for the long haul. (Thank you, Chef Kayla Roche of MUSE School CA!)

I bought a big bag of TVP at Follow Your Heart Market and Cafe in Canoga Park, CA last week. They sell it in bulk, too, which I’ll choose next time now that I know how endlessly useful it is. I’ve already made a killer marinara with it in addition to this beautiful chili. The chili had me more unexpectedly jazzed when I threw it together December 24th while puttering in the kitchen than did my big holiday dinner that came after!

1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
1 large bell pepper, chopped, or a yellow or orange pepper if you prefer
2 16-oz cans organic dark red kidney beans
2 16-oz cans organic black beans
1-1/2 to 2 28-oz cans organic crushed tomatoes
1 cup Textured Vegetable Protein
juice of 1 to 2 limes
Dry chili powder and cumin to taste
Chopped fresh organic cilantro and green onion to taste
Sea salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste
Heat in some form to taste, optional

Saute the onion in a soup pot with a little olive oil, sweating the onion with a little sea salt, and add the chopped pepper after a few minutes, while draining and rinsing all the beans in a colander. Add the beans, more salt, fresh ground black pepper, about a tablespoon each of chili powder and cumin, and stir it all up to coat and begin flavoring the beans.

Add a can to a can and a half of crushed tomatoes, an equal amount of water, the juice of one lime, and the TVP. Bring everything up to a simmer, lower the heat, cover the pot, and let the TVP hydrate and the flavors marry for 30 minutes or more. Check the pot periodically to adjust the liquid ratio with additional crushed tomatoes and water. Taste along the way for seasoning and “plumpness” of the TVP, and adjust or continue simmering accordingly.

To serve, add plenty of just-chopped cilantro and green onion, including the crunchy whites, more lime if you want the extra acid, and your choice of heat to taste. (I always make heat optional so my cooking is as inclusive as possible.) And serve a generous bowl of crunchy organic corn tortilla chips alongside. Wow! This yummy, healthy concoction will wake up your palette!

The “revolutionary” secret good-health weapon, TVP, lends body and a mouth-feel that evokes ground beef’s comforting place in many of our childhood kitchens. And you could always include a bowl of just-made guacamole for topping your “bright bites” of chips topped with chili. Mmmmmmmm. DELICIOUS. Enjoy!

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Simple, delicious self-care: lentils and kale

Lentils and kaleOh, how I love this simple soup! Now whenever I see a big spray of gorgeous, textured green kale–at the farmers’ market, in the grocery store produce section, or in the kitchen at inspiring MUSE School CA–I get an instant sense of comfort and a zing of desire. YUM!

I make this soup for myself on Sunday afternoons now as I prepare for the week, hanging out in my kitchen cooking and planning upcoming MUSE-ical endeavors. Feels like beautifully balanced living to me!

1 to 3 garlic cloves, per your preference, minced
1 to 2 carrots, chopped
1 white or yellow onion, chopped
1 bunch fresh organic kale
dry white wine, optional
8 oz organic dried lentils, rinsed
16 oz organic canned plum tomatoes and their juices, or fresh chopped tomatoes, etc.
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Saute garlic in a little olive oil with a little sea salt for a couple of minutes, then add the onion, then the carrots if you’re using them. As that yummy mixture fills the kitchen with its inviting aroma, remove kale leaves from their stems, chop the stems coarsely, and add them to the saute pan.

After a little more saute time, add a splash to a half cup or so of white wine if you want that layer of flavor. (I do!) After it has reduced down a bit, add the lentils, saute them briefly, then add about eight cups of filtered water and bring it to a boil while you chop the kale coarsely and then add it. Reduce the heat to a simmer, add salt and freshly ground black pepper, cover the pot, and let it all come together deliciously for about twenty minutes.

Then I usually add tomato in some form. Often that’s a few big dollops of my homemade salsa. I’ll share that recipe soon.

Once the soup has simmered a little longer, I’ll have a first big bowl with some toasted baguette slices drizzled with olive oil and rubbed with a freshly halved garlic clove. Mmmmmmmm. Then into the fridge the pot goes, there for my enjoyment all week. At the table I’ll add a little more salt and pepper, a splash of red wine vinegar, and heat in some form, either my chili oil or green Tabasco. And voila! Super-healthy comfort food!

Enjoy, my dears! Add your own personal touches, and share them with me, yes? Bon appetit!

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A holiday menu for my guests AND me… with love!

We had a beautiful Thanksgiving day, feasting twice. I was having such fun with food prep that I didn’t even take any pictures. Different for me lately!

Kevin wanted turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry relish, a speciality of his that’s a quick saute of fresh cranberries with a squeeze of honey and a splash of orange juice. Yummy, huh?

He jammed on the turkey early in the day and made the potatoes the way he likes them. I helped him with the dressing and gravy (I’m a Southerner, after all), and obsessed pleasurably on these dishes to satisfy my appetite for super-fresh, plant-based flavors:

  • A hearty lentil, carrot and kale stew that I’ll share here soon
  • Crimini and white button mushrooms sauteed in olive oil with onion and garlic, splashed with balsamic, and finished with a handful of chopped cilantro
  • Italian chunked-tomato salad, using the last of this year’s glorious local summer tomatoes, with garlic-rubbed toast
  • Local wild arugula with toasted pumpkin seeds, sliced green olives and green onion, barely dressed with great olive oil and a spritz of Meyer lemon juice

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

We finished our second feast with pumpkin pie and fresh whipped cream, another speciality of Kevin’s, and blood orange sorbet for me. (I’m addicted to its super-bright flavor this season. Mmmmmmm!)

Ah, such delights to offer to my visiting sons and their ladies! This kind of compromise – featuring traditional American holiday feast foods accompanied by plant-based dishes designed to gradually seduce with deliciousness! — makes me very, very happy.


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