Meatless Monday: Orecchiette with Vegan Cheezy Cream Sauce

"Vegan cheese" and "vegan cream sauce" are two phrases that strike terror in the hearts of most omnivores I know. They understand how tofu and tempeh and beans can sorta-kinda stand in for their familiar protein sources. When I talk about making vegan cream sauces, however, it's all too often that I'm greeted with something akin to "Why do you bother?" After all, vegan cheese and vegan cream sauces could never be as smooth, as satisfying, as familiar and as heart-warming as the "real thing," right?

Ehhhh, wrong.

My Vegan Cheezy Cream Sauce is all those things and, I argue, even more. This ain't alfredo, but it doesn't need to be. Yes, it's creamy and cheezy and, yes, it contains quite a bit of garlic. But alfredo it just isn't. Dare I say, this vegan cheezy cream sauce is far better than alfredo. (Even your mom's!)

The secret here is plain non-dairy yogurt. Yogurt gives us the creamy consistency we're looking for in a pasta sauce as well as the tang of cheese. A little nutritional yeast ups the cheezy ante and helps boost the texture as well. In this pasta dish, you'd never know you were eating yogurt, let alone that it's a dairy-free dish. Unless you made the recipe yourself. Which you totally should.

Orecchiette with Vegan Cheezy Cream Sauce, Mushrooms, Chickpeas and Green Beans
Yield: 2-3 servings

4 oz whole wheat orecchiette (or other small shape pasta)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 lb crimini mushrooms, sliced
3/4 cup cooked chickpeas
3/4 cup cut green beans (I used frozen)
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
3/4 cup (6oz) plain non-dairy yogurt (I use soy)
1/4 tsp salt
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp chopped parsley
1 Tbsp chopped basil
1 Tbsp chopped toasted walnuts
  1. Cook pasta according to package instructions. About 2 minutes before pasta is done cooking, add frozen green beans to the pasta water and then drain them together. 
  2. While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Stir shallot and garlic in oil until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes, but do not allow them to brown.
  3. Add mushrooms and chickpeas, stir, cook 4-5 minutes until mushrooms are mostly cooked.
  4. Add nutritional yeast, salt and pepper and stir to combine.
  5. Remove from heat and whisk in yogurt.  
  6. Add drained pasta and green beans to cream sauce and stir to combine.
  7. Serve hot topped with parsley, basil and walnuts. 
Now, what else can you do with a sauce like this?

Omit the veggies for a plain cream sauce, or substitute your favorites. Broccoli and peas would be great in this sauce!
  • Toss it with plain pasta for a mac-and-cheese type dish. 
  • Try mixing the sauce with your grits or polenta for a savory breakfast. 
  • Pour it over steamed broccoli or cauliflower.
  • Use it as a spread for garlic toast. 
  • Stir a fat spoonful into tomato soup or potato chowder. 

What other uses can you think of for this vegan cheezy cream sauce?

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Purple Power Superfood Slushie with Blueberry and Pomegranate

We may be wondering how August managed to sneak up on us already, but here it is! And with August comes some of the hottest temperatures of the summer in most places, often accompanied by record humidity levels.

Nothing (aside from ice cream, perhaps!) will cool you on a hot, humid day like a fruit slushie. Many icy treats are full of sugar, artificial flavors and artificial colorings but it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, you can make your own slushie treat that is healthy and packed with antioxidant superfoods that is delicious, refreshing and contains no additional sweeteners.

This slushie actually stars three superfoods: blueberries, pomegranate and goji berries.

Blueberries are easy to find year-round in your grocery’s freezer section. Blueberries are picked in season and frozen fresh, so they offer maximum benefits at a relatively low cost. I keep frozen blueberries on hand all the time for smoothies, to toss in breakfast granola, and for muffins in the winter time.

Pomegranate is an amazing superfood that is available fresh in the fall. However, since pomegranate juice gained mainstream popularity a few years ago, most markets have pomegranate juice available as well. Pomegranate juice is very strong so it doesn’t take much to impart its unique tart flavor to a dish, whether it’s a smoothie or a salad dressing.

Goji berries, also called wolfberries, are typically found dried and contain high levels of Vitamin C. They’re a rich source of antioxidants and can be incorporated into your diet in small quantities, as in this slushie.

If you're interested in other ways to pack superfoods into your diet, check out my no-bake Joyful Almond Superfood Squares for a great delicious snack that's also good for you!

Purple Power Superfood Slushie
Yield: 1 serving

1 cup frozen organic blueberries
1/4 cup pomegranate juice
2 Tbsp goji berries soaked in 1/2 cup water
juice of one orange (about 1/4 cup)
1/2 - 1 cup ice cubes
  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender and pulse until frothy.
  2. Pour into a cold glass. Drink up! 
Note: If you can't find goji berries, substitute 1/2 cup acai juice instead.

This recipe was originally published as a guest blog on The Silver Lining. Derek recommends adding some of "grandpa's cough medicine" to this slushie for the adults at your party. Thanks, Derek!

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Counting down to Vida Vegan Con!

Just a few short weeks remain until I head to Portland (aka vegan mecca) for the first-ever vegan blogger conference, Vida Vegan Con. I'm all registered, my flight is booked, business cards are on the way... so it's all I can do NOT to start packing now. I'll try to hold off at least another week for that.

So, why do you care? A vegan blogger convention might not be that exciting if you're not a vegan blogger, and I know that most of you aren't. That's ok. I'm excited about the conference not only because I'll get to meet tons of my vegan-bloggery-brethren but also because of the discussion panels and workshops that will give me some food for thought and, I hope, make me a better blogger.

I'm also stoked to take advantage of my time in Portland and stuff my face with yummy vegan eats. Portland's one of my favorite eating towns, with a long list of vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants. Plus, the conference organizers are hooking the attendees up with a goodie bag, so I'm looking forward to getting introduced to some great products that I haven't had an opportunity to try. You can be certain you'll be hearing about some of those!

Vida Vegan Con is a great opportunity to bring the vegan blogging community closer together and to share information, but my trip to Portland will also be a chance to reconnect with some old friends. A number of close, long-time friends live in Portland and I'm tickled to be able to sneak in some quality friend-time on what is ostensibly a business trip. I even convinced my blogger and hiker pal Sarah to come down from Washington to attend the conference, and I'm excited to get to see her for the first time in nearly a year! 

Are you attending Vida Vegan Con?


Basil-Lime Vinaigrette

Making the most of your summer basil? My basil plant has been trying to flower for about a week now, which signals the beginning of the end of basil season. It's a bittersweet time of year. I love to look back over the summer to all the basil-icious dishes I've enjoyed -- from pesto to tomato salads to sandwiches to, heck, just straight up chewing on a few fresh basil leaves from time to time. Yes, I'm that girl.

As my basil harvest dwindles, I look to applications where basil is an important element but not necessarily the starring attraction. One of my favorites is this simple, versatile Basil Lime Vinaigrette. The lime kicks up the basil's already bright, fresh flavors and together, they will perk up any boring salad. It's great with light, crunchy greens like romaine as well as corn-black bean mixes. It also makes a fantastic breakfast when drizzled over big slices of avocado on a toasted bagel, for the record.  

Basil-Lime Vinaigrette
Yield: 2 servings

1 lime, juiced
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 tsp ground cumin
3 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
fresh ground black pepper
  1. Combine lime juice, balsamic vinegar, basil and cumin in a bowl and whisk together.
  2. Drizzle in olive oil a little at a time while whisking. 
  3. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Note: Use immediately as a dressing (as in this simple salad of romaine hearts, chickpeas and red bell pepper) or use as a marinade for up to 12 hours.

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