Un-Boring Summer Salad Ideas

Recently, I took a little road trip up to Toronto to see my dearest friend Lana. I spent a few days with her, her partner Nathaniel, and eleven-teen healthy and delicious summer salads. During my visit, the temperatures soared to near-record heights and the humidity drenched us daily. Without air conditioning, we sought refuge in cool wading pools, shady parks and in chilled piles of veggies mixed with herbs and spices.

Although I didn't photograph all the foods we ate over the weekend, I did snap some shots of this quad-salad dinner we had one night when we dined al fresco in their garden. With four distinctly different salads, I had no trouble scarfing down a huge plate, even though the heat was definitely putting a damper on my appetite.

The real kicker? I didn't make these salads. They were prepared on the fly by Nathaniel, with some prep assistance from Lana, and I stayed out of the kitchen for once. Yes, it felt weird. But I'm glad I did it and Nathaniel's dishes were amazing.

Clockwise from upper left:

Tabouleh salad made with quinoa, heirloom tomatoes, parsley, and chopped chickpeas. This salad is an updates twist on the classic bulgur tabouleh and the variety of textures really adds to the appeal. This type of salad would make a fantastic stuffing for breakfast burritos, especially when paired with tofu scramble. And talk about your protein power pack. Just sayin'.

Potato salad made with new potatoes, sweet corn and red bell pepper. The pepper is a welcome surprise that lends a bright acid tone to an otherwise dense salad. This was also my favorite the day after, when the flavors had melded together even further.

Chunky Southwestern salad stars chickpeas, black beans and sweet corn. It gets a little heat from chipotle peppers, a little creaminess from avocado chunks, and some crunch from raw sunflower seeds. Lime juice is an obvious must to complete the dish (and I believe there is no such thing as too much lime juice in one's life).

Green apple, walnut and parsley salad is simply cool and refreshing. My friends aren't vegan and they topped it with salty feta. I didn't miss the salty element and enjoyed the combination of sweet and nutty flavors. Apple and walnut might be a classic pairing, but this salad is anything but boring and traditional.

Next time you're looking for a lazy summer dinner or side dish, think about one of these light-yet-filling healthy salads. If you believe all salads must have leaves, serve any of these dishes on a bed of chopped romaine hearts or mixed baby greens. 

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What's Fresh: Eggplant is up your alley

Many people know eggplant only as something to be breaded and fried, smothered with cheese, and drenched in marinara.

In my opinion, this is perhaps the worst treatment an eggplant can receive. A preparation like this mutilates the eggplant's subtle textures and its mild earthy flavors. Breading, cheese and sauce only serve to overpower the eggplant, whereas the best thing about eggplant dishes in my book is actually tasting the eggplant.

Eggplant is high in fiber and low in calories, like most vegetables. It has a spongey texture, great for soaking up other flavors, and becomes soft and smooth after cooking.

Eggplant has slightly bitter taste that requires a bit of pre-cooking treatment. This can be done up to 24 hours before cooking, but only 30 minutes is needed.

To treat your eggplant: 
  1. Place cut or sliced eggplant in a single layer on a baking sheet.
  2. Salt liberally. 
  3. Layer with a second baking sheet and weight it down with cans or a pot of water, similar to pressing tofu. 
  4. After 30 minutes, lightly rinse your eggplant and discard any brown liquid that has collected in the baking sheet.

Whether you're new to eggplant or you're old pals, try these recipes:

Roasted Eggplant and Quinoa Caviar

Eggplant-Beet Fried Rice

Tomato Sauce with Eggplant and Tempeh  (pictured below)

Eggplant-Tomato Lasagna (pictured below)

Trying to find out what's in season in your area? Epicurious's Peak-Season Map allows you to select the month and your home state to find out what's in harvest. Check it out!

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Raw Vegan Chocolate Peanut Butter Pudding

It's no secret. What is a raw vegan's best friend? The avocado.

Rich, creamy and loaded with healthy fats and nutrients, the avocado is the perfect foil for vegan sauces and condiments that would typically be made with milk or cream. Pudding is one dish where avocado really shines and raw vegan avocado pudding is not new. I happen to think that chocolate pudding is a little boring, though, so I've upped the ante and added peanut butter to make this dish a little more exciting to the ol' tastebuds.

A few tips about avocados:
  • When picking out an avocado, avoid any with soft spots and look for fruit that seems heavy for its size.
  • If avocados are too expensive at your neighborhood megamart, check your area for a Hispanic grocery. I've found avocados for about half the cost as big chain stores. 
  • Store avocados in your refrigerator to increase their lifespan.

    Raw Chocolate Peanut Butter Pudding
    Yield: 4 servings

    1 large Fuerte avocado or about 3 Hass avocados
    3-4 Tbsp natural peanut butter
    3 Tbsp maple syrup (or more, if you have a real sweet tooth)
    1/4 cup cocoa powder
    3/4 tsp vanilla extract
    pinch salt
    1. Combine all ingredients in a food process and blend til smooth.
    2. Refrigerate in an airtight container for at least an hour or until desired thickness is achieved.
    3. Consume within 3 days. 

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    Meatless Monday: Ultimate Pad Thai

    I call it "ultimate" but you might also call it "the works." This is not a pad thai shortcut. It's got an ingredient list longer than my arm and each one plays a part that is essential to the dish.

    This recipe is a labor of love, compiled from many traditional and veganized recipes. Traditional pad thai contains egg that is scrambled into the noodle mix and although a lot of vegans use silken tofu as a replacement, I think it's actually best in this dish to leave it out. I also jam-pack my pad thai with veggies that bring a lot of flavor to the table, like bell peppers and red onions. This adds even more dimension to an already-complex flavor profile. In non-food-nerd speak? It's super YUM!

    This recipe might seem like a lot of trouble, but it's not the painful kind of trouble. You'll spend more time getting your ingredients out of your pantry and fridge than you will standing in front of a hot stove. Promise. Doesn't that sound good right about now? Besides, this recipe makes kind of a ton of food so this dish is great for leftovers or feeding a crowd of friends.

    Tofu skins or tofu knots. Made from thin layers of tofu (similar to the tofu sheets I've showed you in the past) but tied into cute little knots. They come frozen solid, so they do require a little advance prep before use, but the tofu knots have such a nice, chewy texture that can't be achieved with regular tofu so if you can get them, I highly recommend it. Check your local Asian market's freezer case and you might find these, as well as a plethora of vegan-meat-substitute options!

    And, in case you're wondering, yes-- it was in fact Vegan Black Metal Chef who reminded me how much I love pad thai and what a time-consuming effort it can be. But so worth it.

    Ultimate Pad Thai 
    Yield: 3-4 servings

    2 cups tofu skin knots
    100g flat rice noodles

    For the sauce:
    1/4 cup peanuts (roasted, unsalted)
    2 Tbsp light brown sugar
    2 Tbsp tamarind concentrate
    3 Tbsp soy sauce
    3 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
    3 Tbsp Sriracha or other chili sauce
    2 tsp garlic powder
    1 tsp cayenne
    1 tsp salt
    1 handful cilantro, chopped
    1 cup water
    2 Tbsp peanut butter

    For the veggies: 
    1 Tbsp olive oil 
    1/4 medium red onion, cut into thin wedges
    2 green onions, chopped
    1/2 each green and red bell peppers, cut into thin strips
    1 cup mung bean sprouts

    1. At least 1 hour and up to one day in advance: Soak tofu knots in a mixture of 2 tsp soy sauce or liquid aminos and just enough water to cover them in a small bowl.
    2. At least 30 minutes in advance: Soak rice noodles in cold water.
    3. Mix the sauce. Peanuts, brown sugar, tamarind, soy sauce, vinegar, chili sauce, garlic powder, cayenne, salt, cilantro, water. Once all other sauce ingredients are combined, add peanut butter and stir well, breaking up the peanut butter as much as possible. Set aside.
    4. In a nonstick skillet large enough to hold all your ingredients, heat oil over medium heat and fry tofu knots until they pick up some color. Add the remaining vegetables and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. 
    5. Drain rice noodles and add to the veggie mixture along with your pad thai sauce. Stir together, cover, and cook until rice noodles are soft.  
    6. Garnish with grape tomatoes, fresh cilantro, chopped green onions, a few peanuts and lime wedges.

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    Joyful Almond Superfood Squares (No Bake Recipe!)

    Summertime in the Midwest USA feels nearly as hot as the surface of the sun. Or at least that’s how it feels. But sunshine and hot weather don’t eliminate my desire for decadent, sweet treats. The heat does discourage me from turning on my oven, though, so I decided it was time to put my mind to dreaming up a new “no bake” dessert/snack item that would fulfill my personal cravings.

    When I first saw these No Bake Peanut Butter Chocolate Crispies on Oh She Glows, I thought they looked pretty darn good. I bookmarked the recipe and then forgot about them entirely until now. When I revisited Angela's recipe, I realized that I'd want to make a few big changes to satisfy my personal cravings. The trio of almonds, dark chocolate and coconut is my absolute favorite flavor combination. In fact, I think there’s something quite magical about the medley. Since I wouldn’t dare wrap my lips around an Almond Joy, I decided to make a sweet treat with a healthy spin.

    In an effort to “health up” my summertime treat, I turned to my pantry and sought out a few handy superfoods to help me along. I grabbed two of my favorite staples: raw cocoa powder and chia seeds. (Well, the cocoa powder was in the pantry. I store my chia seeds in the freezer.)

    Raw cocoa powder is a powerful antioxidant that promotes cardiovascular health. It also boosts neurotransmitters in the brain, like serotonin and endorphins, which act as a natural anti-depressant and just plain make you feel good.

    Chia seeds are a smart choice, especially for treats, because they help you feel fuller, longer. Chia also boosts your energy without jittery side effects and is an abundant source of Omega 3 and fiber. Win, win, win.

    Joyful Almond Superfood Squares (inspired by Oh She Glows)
    Yield: 16

    1/2 cup almond butter
    1/2 cup agave syrup
    2 tsp vanilla extract
    1/4 cup unsweetened plain almond milk
    1/2 cup sifted raw cocoa powder (like Navitas Naturals)
    1/2 tsp salt
    3 cups puffed millet (or any puffed grain)
    1/4 cup chopped almonds
    1 Tbsp chia seeds
    1/3 cup chopped vegan dark chocolate (I like 80-85%)
    1/2 cup shredded coconut
    1. Line an 8x8 or 9x7 baking dish with two sheets of parchment, one running in each direction and up the sides of the dish.
    2. In a medium saucepan on low heat, melt together the almond butter, agave, vanilla and almond milk. You may need to use a whisk to break up the almond butter.
    3. Stir in sifted cocoa powder and salt until just combined. The mixture will look thick, black and dense.
    4. Remove from heat and fold in puffed millet using a spatula. 
    5. Fold in almonds, chia seeds and chocolate pieces.
    6. Press the mixture into the baking dish as evenly as possible. 
    7. Sprinkle coconut on top and press down slightly with your hands. 
    8. Cover and freeze for about 45 minutes. Cut into squares and store in the fridge or freezer.

    My recipe was originally published as a guest blog on The Silver Lining. Thanks, Derek!

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    Meatless Monday: Quick Summer Bean Thinger

    My best friend Lana makes dishes that she calls "bean thingers." A "thinger" is basically any dish that is thrown together in a pot and cooked quickly, and is typically comprised of beans and random veggies. It's a great approach to simple week-night dinners, or whenever you're short on time and motivation.

    For this Meatless Monday, I've got a super quick Italian-style bean thinger for you. The addition of dried spices and balsamic vinegar push this simple dish into the realm of gourmet flavor. Don't let this humble thinger fool you. It's still healthy and totally tasty.

    Quick Summer Bean Thinger
    Yield: About 6 cups (3-4 servings)

    1 28-oz can chopped tomatoes (I used a garlic & herb variety)
    2 cups cooked beans, any type (I used pinto)
    1/2 cup rice or quinoa
    1/2 cup TVP (textured vegetable protein)
    2 cups water
    1-1/2 to 2 cups chopped vegetables (whatever's on hand. I used frozen mixed veggies for this.)
    1 Tbsp chopped garlic
    2 tsp ground cumin
    2 tsp onion powder
    2 tsp sweet paprika
    2 tsp smoked paprika
    1 Tbsp soy sauce
    1 Tbsp liquid aminos (optional)
    2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar (plus additional to finish)
    1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
    2 tsp salt
    1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
    Handful of basil leaves, chopped (for garnish)
    1. In a medium pot, combine all ingredients except basil over medium-low heat. 
    2. Cover and simmer until rice/quinoa is fully cooked, about 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. 
    3. If the mixture starts to look dry, add more water 1/2 cup at a time.
    4. Remove from heat and serve warm, with a splash of balsamic vinegar and topped with fresh basil.
    5. Leftovers can be frozen in individual portions for quick lunches or dinners throughout the week.

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    Another Green Glass: Green Tea Bananarama Smoothie

    Something in the back of my brain must be seeing green, because I'm addicted to green smoothies this week. Yesterday, I shared my Kale-Pineapple Smoothie and today I'm back with another pale green beauty. When people were guessing the ingredients in my last green concoction on Facebook, someone guessed it was a green tea smoothie. That got me thinking that it had been a while since I used the matcha powder (green tea powder) in my pantry and that it would lend a perfect shade of mint green to my next blenderized beverage.

    If you don't like or don't have matcha powder, you can leave it out. This smoothie would be pretty spectacular with cocoa powder instead, but I'd up the amount to 1 Tbsp.

    Green Tea Bananarama Smoothie
    Yield: 1 serving

    1 frozen banana
    1/2 cup pineapple chunks
    2 Tbsp pineapple juice
    1 cup plain soy (or other non-dairy) yogurt
    1 1/2 tsp matcha powder
    1 tsp maca powder (optional)
    1 Tbsp agave or brown rice syrup (optional)
    1. Combine all ingredients in a blender. (I find it helps to use the order listed.) 
    2. Pulse a few times to break up the frozen banana.
    3. Puree until smooth and drink up!

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    Going for the Greens: Kale-Pineapple Smoothie

    If you follow me on Facebook (and you should), you may have seen this photo the other day. I asked people to guess what this green concoction was. Some of the responses were pretty funny to me!

    - Pea soup?
    - Green tea smoothie?
    - Cucumber ginger limeade? (Boy, that sounds good!) 

    Well, nobody guessed the right answer but that just confirmed what I already suspected. Nobody would ever guess what was in this pale green concoction. I'm betting that, if you tasted it, you probably still couldn't guess that it the main ingredient is kale.

    Yep, kale.

    You see, in the summertime, my mid-afternoon slump hits pretty hard. When the sun is high in the sky and I'm cowering in the shade, I reach for foods that will not only cool me down but also give me the energy I need to brave the remainder of the day. That's when I turn to smoothies like this one, that combine the healthy benefits of dark greens with the natural sweetness of fruit. Try it, you'll like it!

    Kale-Pineapple Smoothie
    Yield: 1 serving

    1 frozen banana
    2-3 big handfuls of kale leaves (stalks discarded)
    1/2 cup pineapple chunks
    2-3 Tbsp pineapple juice
    1 cup unsweetened almond milk
    1. Combine all ingredients in a blender. (I find it helps to use the order listed.) 
    2. Pulse a few times to break up the frozen banana.
    3. Puree until smooth and drink up!

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    Happy 4th of July! (And a vegan overnight oat parfait!)

    Last week, I finally got around to experimenting with raw vegan overnight oats a la Angela at Oh She Glows. I was inspired by her beautiful layered parfaits. I mean, look at them. Aren't they gorgeous and tasty looking?

    So, I made a basic version of her overnight oats and, in the morning, layered them in a pretty glass with sliced strawberries, fresh blueberries, and frozen banana slices. Once I stepped back to admire my creation, I realized it was rather patriotic! My strawberries, bananas and blueberries became the ubiquitous red, white and blue. Although I doubt that raw chia and oat slurry is destined to become America's next national breakfast dish, I had to laugh anyway.

    These things can only happen by accident in my world.

    My first attempt at overnight oats was okay, but the texture of soaked chia seeds is something I definitely need to get used to. It wasn't bad, though, so I decided to share my version of the recipe in case you'd like to try it.

    Vegan Overnight Oats (adapted from Oh She Glows)
    Yield: 1 serving

    1/3 cup rolled oats
    2 Tbsp chia seeds
    1 cup unsweetened plain almond milk
    1 1/2 Tbsp raw cocoa powder
    2 tsp maple syrup (or more, to taste)
    1 small banana, sliced
    Fresh fruit of your choice
    1. Stir together in a bowl and refrigerate overnight. 
    2. Place banana in a small container and freeze overnight.
    3. In the morning, stir and layer with fruit of your choice. (The frozen banana really makes it!) 

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