Category Archives: Healthy Tips

Happy Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day, Earthlings!

Happy Earth Day
image found on http://suvannamacchapilates.com/

 

We only have one planet to live on (at least for now) and we’ve got to do a better job taking care of it.

For me, everyday is Earth Day in the choices I make and the actions I take:

  • consuming a plant-based diet
  • shopping for locally grown produce
  • reusing bags when I go to the store
  • filling up my reusable water bottle
  • shutting off the water while brushing my teeth or doing dishes
  • recycling more than I throw away

and so much more!

There’s always more I could be doing, but I like to think that I’m making great efforts to do my small part.

I pulled together some great resources for you to learn more about Earth Day, discover ways in which you can help the planet, and encourage you to consider going vegan, if not for your health and for the animals, then for the Earth.

Drought has been a hot topic here in California as of late, as the state is in its fourth year of consistent severe drought. It’s not just the state of California experiencing problems, however, as nearly half the country is experiencing some form of drought, or abnormal dryness. California’s legislature is urging people on the local level to reduce the amount of water consumption, but we must also look to a larger scale; particularly, consider the effects of animal farming. Many of the resources I list below, show how eating a plant-based/vegan/vegetarian diet, even just one or two days a week, can make a huge impact on our environment.

http://www.cowspiracy.com/ – download and watch the groundbreaking environmental documentary, Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret for just $1

http://bit.ly/1J6z7m2 – MSNBC video asking you to Consider Going Vegan

http://time.com/3772160/earth-day/ – Time magazine: Meet the organizers of very first earth day

http://www.onegreenplanet.org/eatfortheplanet – What’s on your plate? Join the social media campaign #eatfortheplanet

http://www.chooseveg.com/environment – Choosing veg is a better option for the planet

meateatersguide

 

What efforts are you making to help create a more sustainable future?

Guest Post: Artichoke Spinach Lasagna and Cookbook Giveaway

Today I am thrilled to have Stephanie Dreyer aka VeegMama as a guest contributor. Even though I don’t have kids of my own yet, her blog is an inspiration for maintaining a fun filled vegan lifestyle, and shows how easy it can be to eat healthy.  The best part about her guest post, is that she is giving away a free copy of her awesome new ebook VeegMama’s Guide to Going Vegan to one lucky winner.  In the book, Stephanie shares tips and provides information on how to transition easily and joyfully to a plant-based lifestyle, with lots of yummy recipes included.

An Italian girl after my own heart, Stephanie shares her recipe for Artichoke and Spinach lasagna, a gluten free and soy free version of one of my childhood favorites.

Enter to win at the bottom of this post!  Giveaway ends Monday, March 16.

Guest Post: VeegMama’s Spinach and Artichoke Lasagna

I am very excited to be on Veggie Fixation today! As a vegan mom of three, I am always looking for new, healthy recipes to delight my family. When I adopted a vegan diet almost 5 years ago, there was a steep learning curve to build a new repertoire of recipes and familiarize myself with vegan products. In my new ebook, VeegMama’s Guide To Going Vegan, I share how to transition to a vegan diet and lifestyle simply and easily, and provide lots of delicious recipes. This one is a nod to my Italian roots, where pasta is a mainstay. This recipe uses De Bole’s Rice Lasagna noodles to make it gluten-free. It also uses a delicious non-dairy, non-soy cheese by Daiya. Both products are available at Whole Foods. I hope you and your family enjoy it!

 

Spinach and Artichoke Lasagna

Vegan and Gluten-free Artichoke and Spinach Lasagna

Ingredients

1 box gluten-free lasagna noodles

12 oz fresh baby spinach

2 cans of artichokes hearts (in water), drained and coarsely chopped

2 Tablespoons olive oil

3-4 cloves of garlic, minced

16 oz Daiya cheese

2 25 oz jars of marinara sauce

2 14.5 oz cans of chopped tomatoes, drained

Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add lasagna noodles and cook according to the package directions (if using De Bole’s, you don’t have to boil them). Drain and set aside.

Heat olive oil in a pan and add garlic. Saute until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes.

Add artichoke hearts to pan and cook 3-4 minutes.

Add spinach to pan in batches. Using tongs, fold in the spinach until slightly wilted, adding more spinach until it is all combined in the pan. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon a ½ cup of marinara sauce on the bottom of a lasagna pan.

Add a layer of noodles across the bottom. Spread ½ of the artichoke and spinach mixture over the noodles. Pour the rest of the first jar of sauce over the noodles.

Top with 1 can of the drained tomatoes. Sprinkle half of cheese over the veggies. Repeat with the remaining ingredients for one more layer, ending with cheese on the very top.

Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes, or until done.

Let sit 5-10 minutes before serving.

About Stephanie Dreyer:

Stephanie Dreyer, is the founder of VeegMama, a lifestyle blog sharing new approaches to healthy living and eating.  She encourages her readers to live their best life every day through food, wellness, and personal fulfillment.  She is also a children’s book writer and mom of three.  Stephanie was most recently featured on KCAL 9 in Los Angeles and Chickpea Magazine.  She is a contributing author in the #1 Amazon Bestselling Book, Sexy Fit and Fab Sirens.

Her new ebook, VeegMama’s Guide To Going Vegan is now available. You can visit her at veegmama.com and can connect with her at veegmama@gmail.com, facebook.com/Veegmamatwitter.com/Veegmamainstagram.com/Veegmama and pinterest.com/veegmama.

**UPDATE: Giveaway now closed.  Congrats to Tanay Colon!

veegmama a Rafflecopter giveaway


Easy Weeknight Meals: Flatbread Pizza

slice-of-pizza

Pizza is one of my favorite foods. Growing up in New York, it was probably one of the first solid foods I ate. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if “pizza” was my first word. Okay, I might be exaggerating here, but I certainly do love pizza. When I first went vegan, it was at the top of my list of foods that I miss eating the most.

Then I realized that all I had to do was redefine a little bit what pizza means to me. It doesn’t have to be a chewy, doughy piece of bread smothered in marinara sauce and cholesterol laden, greasy cheese. In fact, cheese is not really necessary at all to make a pizza delicious. It’s really just about having a good sauce spread over a tasty crust and topped with lots of veggies.

The best part, it doesn’t have to be difficult to make or time consuming. Once I realized that a simple pizza can be incredibly satisfying, it became one of my go to easy weeknight meals.  It’s even something that I teach to clients who want to eat healthy but not feel like they are eating healthy. Recently, I received an email from a client who is transitioning to a vegan diet telling me that he’d recreated the pizza we made during a cooking lesson. I was so proud of him because during our cooking lesson, he made it very clear that he generally does not cook for himself. If my client who doesn’t cook and doesn’t have time to cook can make this pizza, you can too!

Flatbread Pizza

Ingredients

The crust

I recommend flatbread, lavash, pita or wrap size (burrito style) tortillas. Or, if you want to get really unfancy, opt for pizza English Muffins like my mama used to make us as kids!

flatbread

The sauce

Select your favorite marinara, store bought pesto (or make a quick one yourself with basil, garlic, olive oil and walnuts or pine nuts), or, get a little out of the box and use hummus.

crust-with-spinach

The toppings

Following the tips laid out in the first post for my Easy Weeknight Meals series, feel free to utilize your favorite pre-prepped veggies. It’s up to you if you want to add vegan cheese, but if you load up on veggies, it’s really not necessary. If you want a cheesy taste without the added fat and processing of vegan cheese, sprinkle your pizza with nutritional yeast after baking.

flatbread-pizza
Flatbread pizza with cheese

Recommendations

2 whole-wheat tortillas or flatbread

1 small ripe tomato, sliced

1/2 onion,finely sliced

handful sliced mushrooms

small handful spinach leaves, or basil (or both)

2 Tablespoons hummus, pesto or marinara

1 Tablespoon chopped olives

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place tortillas on baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes. Remove from oven. Spread sauce smoothly over the tortilla and arrange veggies on top. Bake for 10 minutes, or until tortilla is crisp. Top with fresh basil, if using.

Easy Vegan meals
Flatbread pizza without cheese

Upcoming giveaway

In March, Stephanie of veegmama.com will be guest posting and sharing a recipe for one of her favorite easy week night meals. You won’t want to miss that post because I’ll be doing a giveaway of her new ebook, which offers tips for transitioning to a vegan diet and lifestyle, along with lots of yummy recipes. Be sure to subscribe to my blog and newsletter for updates.

Easy Weeknight Meals: Curry Bowl

At lunch the other day, I was having a discussion with Jacques and his coworker about eating vegan and eating healthy.

As he put down his fork, the coworker said very eagerly “if I could eat like this at home all the time, it would be so much easier to maintain a healthy vegan diet.”  We were eating at Native Foods and he had just finished his Bangkok Curry bowl – “Seared tofu steak atop steamed veggies, kale, brown rice, with lemongrass-ginger-infused coconut milk curry. Topped with toasted sesame seeds and cilantro.”

Of course, I jumped immediately into educator mode and assured him “you can eat like this all the time! It’s really easy. All that bowl is when you break it down is steamed vegetables, brown rice and sauce.”

He thought for a second, then admitted that, yes, this was true, but he and his wife are terrible about actually taking the time to pre-plan their meals, or cook in bulk for the week.

Does this sound familiar?

While I am a big fan of recommending that people batch cook, I acknowledge that in reality this may not be possible for most people.  If you don’t LOOOOOVE cooking, the idea of hanging in the kitchen for half a day so that you don’t have to do it every night of the week, may not sound very appealing. Even if you do love cooking, trying to set aside an entire afternoon to do it, often just isn’t going to happen when the rest of life gets in the way.  Something tells me not everyone is as focused as I am on what they are going to eat at their next meal immediately after they just finished their last one.

In an effort to help you discover ways to easily prepare healthy meals at home, I’m beginning a series of posts entitled “Easy Weeknight Meals” where I’ll feature different simple recipes you can throw together in a matter of minutes.

How will you prepare delicious, easy and healthy meals in a matter of minutes you ask?

The answer is to take advantage of all the prep work that has already been done for you.  One of the best resources for prepped veggies is Trader Joe’s, especially since their produce section is ever expanding to offer a wider variety of vegetables, and more organic options as well.  The broccoli and cauliflower are already in florets, the kale is already chopped, the onions are diced, and the carrots are wee babies.  Nothing needs to be washed, de-stemmed or peeled. They even have pre-cooked rice and quinoa, and rice that has been parboiled to cut down cooking time. All the time consuming prep work has already been taken care of so all you have to do is steam and choose a sauce.

I use Trader Joe’s as an example, but just about every grocery store, including Costco, have recognized our growing desire to eat fewer pre-packaged meals and more freshly prepared ones, with the same convenience factor, and are now offering pre-cut vegetables.  You can also find some great “done for you” sauces, or whip up a favorite on your own.

Lately, I have been on a curry making kick, which is probably why I got so excited about coworker enjoying his Bangkok Bowl.  While I do take extra steps when I make my curries, you can just as easily recreate a simple version in 15 minutes on a busy work night. I present to you the first recipe in the Easy Weeknight Meals series.

Quick and Easy Weeknight Curry Bowl

What you Need:

Pre-made curry sauce, or curry paste, soy sauce or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, and a can of coconut milk (do not shake!)

coconut-milk

Pre-chopped vegetables of choice (I recommend broccoli, carrots, zucchini, kale and cauliflower)

chopped-veggies

Brown rice or quinoa (this can be a frozen package, or something you pre-cooked)

bowl-of-rice

Marinated tofu or seitan, optional

Sesame seeds and cilantro, optional for garnish

What you Do:

Fill a pot with a couple of inches of water. Place your vegetables in a steamer basket and put steamer basket in the pot, making sure the vegetables are not submerged in water. If they are, dump out some of the water. Turn on heat to medium, cover and steam for 5-8 minutes until vegetables have reached your desired tenderness.

steamed-veggies

Cook or re-heat rice or quinoa according to package directions.

Heat or make your sauce.  If you are using curry paste, add a couple tablespoons to a small pot over medium heat and cook for a minute or two, until it is very fragrant.  (I like to sauté a little garlic, ginger and onion with my curry paste, but we’re keeping it simple right now. Save that for a night when you have more time to cook.) Scoop out just the white part of the coconut milk and whisk into the pot, along with a teaspoon of soy sauce/Bragg’s/tamari. Simmer over low heat until it is warm.  Taste and adjust for seasoning, adding more curry paste or soy sauce as needed.

Get out a big bowl. Scoop half cup to a cup of rice/quinoa into the bowl, top with a cup or two of steamed vegetables, pour about a quarter cup of sauce over everything, top with seitan or tofu, if using.  Devour!  Save the leftovers for lunch or dinner tomorrow.

veggie-bowl-with-sauce

Food for Life

In all the heart of wedding planning and running from kitchen to kitchen to teach or cook, my time to sit down in front of the computer to do some writing has been limited in the last couple weeks. I also haven’t had much time in my own kitchen to create new recipes.  A lot of my non-client cooking time has been dedicated to run throughs of Food for Life recipes.

Have I told you about Food for Life yet?  If you don’t subscribe to my newsletter, you may not have heard much about the new and exciting certification I’ve recently received through the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine.

The Physician’s Committee was founded as a nonprofit organization of doctors and laypersons working together for compassionate and effective medical practice, research, and health promotion. It promotes preventive medicine through innovative programs and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.

I am a huge fan of Dr. Neal Barnard’s work as a pioneer researcher of the beneficial effects of a plant-based diet for health. He is the creator of the 21 Day Vegan Kickstart that I’ve shared with you in the past. It is an honor to be accepted into this highly competitive program and I am looking forward teaching his renowned curriculum.

Power Plate by PCRM.org

 

The Food for Life nutrition and cooking program is meant to equip individuals, their friends, and family members with practical cooking skills and tips that turn every meal into a delicious dose of healthful nutrition.

The program was launched in 2001 to help cancer survivors and those interested in cancer prevention, take advantage of the healing power of foods. Since then, it has expanded to include a curriculum on diabetes prevention and treatment as well as one focused on general health and weight management, and another on children’s health, The program is currently taught in more than 150 cities across the country.

With that being said, I’d like to share with you one of my favorite simple recipes from the Food for Life Program. I’ve been so hooked on making quick and easy veggie wraps because they are great for throwing together whatever leftover veggies you have in the fridge, or for a healthy meal or snack to grab on the go for yourself or the kids.

veggie wrap by Christine Oppenheim

Veggies in a Blanket

Ingredients:

1 cup hummus or bean dip

8 whole-wheat tortillas

4 carrots, grated

1 cup baby spinach

Option: thinly sliced cucumber or red bell pepper

Directions:

1. Shred carrots, or use pre-shredded carrots. Spread hummus or bean spread thinly on tortillas, and then add carrots and lettuce, spinach, or sprouts.

2. Roll up each tortilla, secure with 5 evenly placed toothpicks, and slice into 5 individual rolls per tortilla (one toothpick per roll) if serving snacks. For a meal, cut each tortilla in half.

 

If you think your company or community organization may be interested in presentations on the life saving effects of healthful eating, please contact me to discuss how we can work together.

 

Easy Chia Pudding

After hitting 3 weeks with no sugar/dessert, my wedding tasting day came up, which, of course, included cake. While it was a little weird for both me and Jacques to stick our forks into decadent rounds of chocolate and carrot cake, we were relieved to find that the cake was not too sweet for our sugarless pallets.  One more reason to be in love with our wedding venue –  fruit juice sweetened cake. It was so good!

I’m not just saying this from the perspective of two people who haven’t had a lavish dessert in three weeks and a year, respectively. Our best man and best woman agreed that they were delicious!

See how much fun we had! (Maybe more to do with the wine than the cake.)
See how much fun we had! (Maybe more to do with the wine than the cake.)

Why do I bring this up? Well, I mention it because many people feel intimidated by the idea of changing their diets or removing sweet treats from their dining tables, ignoring the fact that their are alternatives to processed and refined sugars. Plus, the right healthy alternatives are often more satisfying and satiating than the quick buzz you get from eating a bar of chocolate.

One of my favorite fulfilling treats is Easy Chia Pudding. I try to throw this one into cooking demonstrations as often as I can because people are always wowed by the simplicity of preparation and how gratifying it is to eat.  I am not exaggerating. This pudding is always a huge hit; people go crazy for it.

Chia pudding is an especially great dessert for summer because it’s incredibly hydrating, due to the water absorbing power of chia. While sweetener adds a little extra, it’s not necessary at all because the texture is so interesting and the seeds are tasty on their own. Since chia does have a tendency to make you feel fuller, people often find themselves eating less, which can be a great weight loss tool. It also works well for breakfast.

So, aside from the subject of a catchy early 90s television commercial for an inanimate pet that you can watch grow – “cha cha cha chia” – what exactly is chia?

chia pudding
Chia seeds getting ready to soak

Chia is an edible seed that dates back as far as ancient Mayan and Aztec times. “Chia” translates to strength and is said to have been used as an energy food. Tiny as the seeds may be, they are nutritional powerhouses, chock full of protein, fiber, antioxidants and omega 3. One ounce of chia seeds (about 2 tablespoons) contains 139 calories, 4 grams of protein, 9 grams fat, 12 grams carbohydrates and 11 grams of fiber, plus vitamins and minerals and can be absorbed by the body as a whole seed, especially when soaked.  Conveniently, chia also helps to regulate blood sugar levels, slowing the absorption of sugar in the body.

Sources:
http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/truth-about-chia
http://www.rawreform.com/content/view/345/127/

Sure all those health benefits are great, but what’s really special about Chia Seed Pudding is its versatility. Use your favorite non dairy milk, juice or even coconut water for a unique twist; top it with any of your favorite fruits; play around with extract flavors and spices. The possibilities go as far as your imagination.

Chia Seed Pudding with Blueberries
Makes one serving.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1/2 cup non-dairy milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
splash of almond extract
dash of cinnamon
a pinch of salt
1/2 maple syrup, optional
2 Tablespoons blueberries

Directions

In a small bowl or jar combine the first four ingredients. Give it a good stir and refrigerate for at least one hour. After the first thirty minutes give the mixture a stir, so it doesn’t clump together. Once you’re ready to eat, stir in sweetener (if using, but I highly recommend trying it without!) and top with your favorite fruit or chopped nuts.

Chia Pudding with Blueberry
Chia Pudding with Blueberry

My Sugar Cleanse

I love dessert.  I never really thought of myself as having a sugar addiction though, until I realized just how deep the passion went.  Sure, I’ve written articles about controlling cravings.  I’ve admitted to my love of dessert many times, but never thought I had a real “problem.”

It wasn’t until I recently did a series of blood work and lab tests that I started to think differently. (These labs were more extensive than the normal tests given by my doctor. They were intended to see how I was doing nutrient wise, since I have a history of malabsorption because of my Crohn’s Disease.)

My nutrient levels are generally okay. Surprisingly so, actually, considering. There are just a few supplements I need to take for a while to replenish my storage because I’m not physically able to retain all I need from food sources.  What was alarming, is that despite taking a probiotic dose of 900 billion live cultures twice daily, my gut is in a state of mild dysbiosis (the bad bacteria take over and don’t allow the good ones to grow).  One of the main causes of dysbiosis is a high sugar diet; which I’m sure you can guess means one of the main symptoms is sugar cravings.

It was this eye opening revelation that made me realize that my theory of “I don’t eat all that much sugar” was actually me just fooling myself. Are you with me here? Do you have areas in your life or diet where you tell yourself what you want to believe?

While by general standards I do not eat as many sugary sweets and desserts as the average American, I certainly have more desserts than I should be having for my health. I’d permit myself with the excuse that they were healthier desserts without refined sugar.

Another revelation came prior to these blood tests when I started to feel guilty when I ate or made dessert. Jacques has been consciously sugar free (with the exception of fruit) for a little over a year, and I started to think that I should be joining him in solidarity.  Instead, I would make sweet treats and then break his heart when I informed him that he couldn’t/shouldn’t have any because it had organic cane juice, or maple syrup, or coconut sugar, or molasses… you get the point.  It also broke my heart because he used to have a bigger sweet tooth than me. I felt like a total hypocrite.

Sticky Bun from Sticky Fingers Bakery in DC
Sticky Bun from Sticky Fingers Bakery in DC

Long story short, these two major revelations came at the same time my friend, Christy Morgan, posted that she was inviting people to join her on a 10 day sugar cleanse. I finally decided that enough was enough. I was going to rally and do this cleanse too. Of course, I had just one last excuse that I was traveling to DC and needed to try something at Sticky Fingers Bakery.  As soon as I returned though, it was on like Donkey Kong.

It’s now been two weeks and I have managed to stave off all cravings for sweets. This isn’t to say I haven’t had the cravings, I’ve just found alternatives to eating half a chocolate bar, or engorging myself on a piece of strawberry cake. Instead, I’ve opted for fresh strawberries, or even a green juice, and I’m eating 100% dark chocolate. Yeah, I’m now that hard core that I can handle 100% bitter chocolate!

drinking green juice
Enjoying a green juice on a warm day

I’d be lying to say that I haven’t had any sugar at all and never will again.  There have been times that I’ve eaten out and not asked about ingredients, or tasted something that I’ve made for a client using a little sweetener, or did a recipe test for the panna cotta I’m teaching in my Vegan Italiano cooking class.

The achievement for me is not seeking out dessert just because I feel bored, or tired, or have a craving come on. I’ll enjoy an occasional dessert in the future, but I am no longer making dessert an important part of my day or even my week. I urge you as well to really give deep consideration before giving in to a craving. If you have a more severe dysbiosis issue, or full blown candida, I recommend avoiding fruit sugars as well until your body can heal itself.

I can definitely tell my taste buds react differently to sweet tastes now, and I’m hoping that by not constantly feeding the bad bacteria, I’ll see permanent relief to my dysbiosis as well.  Honestly, my gut has been feeling better already, which is part of the reason I’m sticking with it.

As for dessert, I still enjoy it. I just continue to find alternatives that Jacques and I can enjoy together.  One of our favorites is banana chocolate soft serve.

Banana Chocolate Soft Serve

Ingredients
2 ripe bananas, peeled and frozen
2 Tablespoons almond butter, optional
2 Tablespoons raw cacao powder, or more to taste
1/4 Cup unsweetened non dairy milk, as needed for consistency

Directions
Add everything except milk to a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth and creamy, adding milk a little at a time, if needed, until desired consistency is reached.

 

 Were you inspired by this post? Leave a comment below.

Tips for Cooking Grains

In all my time teaching cooking lessons, I’ve learned that it is surprisingly fairly common for people to be intimidated by cooking grains. People have claimed that they don’t like quinoa, that they have no idea how to cook rice and that they wouldn’t know what to do with a seed of millet except for feed it to a bird.

Grains are probably one of the first things I ever learned to cook, and whole grains remain one of my favorite food groups.

With a wide variety of grains available, offering seemingly endless possibilities of flavor and texture, I believe everyone can find a grain type, or even a grain mix, that they will come to love.

Knowing the ins and outs of cooking and storing grains is really key to embracing them for all their glory.

Jade Rice by Christine Oppenheim

Tips for cooking grains:

● One cup of dry uncooked grains is generally enough for 2 large or 4 small servings.

● Add salt after cooking your grains to avoid mushiness.

● Keep grains in a cool, dry place in a closed container away from heat and

light. Properly stored grains will keep for 6 months. If they smell musty or

taste bitter, get rid of them.

grains and beans

● Rinse grains in cold water until water runs clear. Strain them and examine for

dirt, stones or debris. Soaking overnight or for 8 hours makes them easier to digest.

● Start in cold liquid or bring to boil then add grain and return to boil.

● Cover pot, reduce the heat and simmer until grains are soft. Do not lift the lid

and look at the grains, letting steam escape will prolong cooking time.

● Grains create different flavors and textures. Some separate (quinoa, brown

rice), others will be porridge like (amaranth, millet, oat flakes).

● Pre-roasting will enhance flavor. Spread in a skillet with ½ tsp of olive oil.

Heat over medium until golden and begins to pop. Then add boiling liquid to

continue cooking.

quinoa soaking by Christine Oppenheim

The Perfect Veggie Burger

Somehow I blinked and fourth of July is right around the corner. Seriously, how is this year going by so fast? I need it to slow down just a little bit so I can have more time for wedding planning!

That aside, this is a great time for cookouts. And cookouts mean burgers. Tomorrow I’m teaching a class at The Gourmandise School in Santa Monica on how to make the perfect veggie burger, so burgers are very heavily on my mind at the moment.  I’m sure you’ve been thinking about them a lot too. (This class is sold out, but there’s another on August 13.)

Sure, you could buy any number of store bought frozen burgers, but you’ll save yourself a lot of money and label reading if you just make them yourself.  If you’ve never forayed into the land of veggie burger making, you’re in for a treat. Once you’ve started making your own veggie burgers, it’s hard to go back.  Why restrict yourself to what’s available in stores when the options for homemade are endless?

In preparing for my class, I put together some tips based off my own experience and information I found scouring the internet on the topic of How to Make the Perfect Veggie Burger.  I’m pleased to share this information with you.

Tips for Making Perfect Burger

1. Sauté your veggies

Cooking your vegetables first, especially onions, peppers and mushrooms, adds moisture and flavor. Allowing your onions to get caramelized adds an extra sweetness and depth of flavor. Alternately, roasting is another good option, especially for high moisture vegetables like eggplant or mushrooms.

2. Don’t be shy with seasoning

Play around with different spice mixes; grains and beans absorb lots of seasoning so feel generous enough to add up to a tablespoon of your favorite herbs and spices. Seasoning also gives you the option to take the same burger base and turn it into something different. Want a Latin American inspired burger? Use cumin, coriander, and chili powder. In the mood for something more Mediterranean? Opt for basil, oregano, sage and thyme.

Flavorful liquid ingredients are also great additions. They add moisture to your burgers and liven them up, many adding an important savory/umami taste that is helpful for a “meatier” tasting vegan burger. Some good liquids are Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, tamari, coconut aminos, ketchup, bbq sauce, and chili sauce.

lentil burgers
Lentil Sausage Patties

3. Use a variety of ingredients

There are endless possibilities for beans, grains, and veggies that can make up a good hearty burger. Don’t feel like you need to use just one type of bean or grain for each burger you make. Try lentils for a more savory burger, chickpeas or white beans for a milder one. Incorporate vegetables for textural contrast, or use things like mushroom, eggplant, or zucchini as a more primary ingredient. Carrots, peppers, corn, nuts and seeds add a bit of a crunch element. Spinach is a great way to add moisture and contrast.

vegan crab cakes
Hearts of Palm Crabby Cakes

4. Be mindful of extra moisture

Spinach, fresh herbs, zucchini, and onion, for example, all release moisture, especially when cooked.  Using liquid seasonings as previously mentioned may increase moisture even more. It’s a good idea in many cases to pat vegetables dry before adding to the burger mix to reduce moisture.

5. Don’t follow recipe exactly

It sounds odd to say this, but small changes can affect the overall recipe.  When adding dry ingredients like grains or flours, use your judgment and add in stages. You may find that you need more or less than the recipe calls for. Play with the burger mixture to get a feel for the consistency. Try to form it into a patty. If it’s too wet, add more dry ingredients until it comes together to be firm and moist, but not sticky.

quinoa black bean burgers
Quinoa Black Bean Burgers

6. Measure your burgers for perfect patties

Use a cookie scooper, measuring cup or cookie cutter to shape your burgers. This allows them to all be the same size and thickness. They’ll cook more evenly and uniformity also means no fighting over who gets the biggest one!

ginger beet burgers
Hearty Ginger Beet Burgers

7. Choose your binder

Starch helps to bind in place of egg, things like breadcrumbs, oats, ground flax mixed with water, mashed potato, ground nuts or seeds are just some of the options that help to bind, add texture and flavor. Always incorporate your flours at the last minute so they don’t soak up too much moisture.  If left in the fridge, they will become more moist, making the burgers mushy, especially at the center.

Lastly, a quick note about grilling. When grilling, vegan burgers tend to fall apart or stick because there is not enough fat to survive being cooked directly on the grill. When I grill my homemade veggie burgers, I lay a piece of foil under them so that they maintain their shape.

For more tips and ideas, check out One Green Planet, The Savvy Vegetarian, and Serious Eats.

 

Did I leave anything out that you think is important when making your own veggie burgers?

 

What are some of your favorite burger ingredients, herbs or spices?

Share in the comments below.

How To Cook Beans

On Sunday, I had the pleasure of taking part in the Green Tent at the Mar Vista Farmers’ Market. I love hanging out at this farmers market because it has such a great community vibe. There’s always live music, local artisans selling food and goods, and activities for kids to enjoy.

The green tent is run by the Mar Vista Community Council and they invite guests to present on various topics pertaining to creating a more green community. Of course, I chose to bring light to the environmental benefits of eating a locally grown, plant based, whole foods diet.

environmental impact of beef industry

 

To show that there are many alternative options to animal protein, I created a display of various beans and grains. The display caught the attention of many passersby who stopped by and took a moment to play my “name that bean” game. I was impressed by how well most people did in naming the beans and grains, especially the children who stopped by!

 

beans and grains by Christine Oppenheim

 

Despite recognizing the beans, most people had no idea how to prepare beans properly. One of the most common questions asked was “how do I keep beans from making me so gassy?”

An excellent question indeed. In short, beans cause gas because they contain a particular sugar, oligosaccharide, that the human body can not break down.

To make them cause less gas, there are steps you can take in preparing beans to help break down these sugars and make them more digestible.

Here is my guide to cooking beans:

1. Wash beans carefully.

Run under water and sift through beans to discard any that are discolored or badly formed. Check for debris, like small rocks or twigs.

2. Always soak your beans before cooking.

Traditional Soak method (preferred) 
Soak in 3 inches of water for 8 hours or overnight for quicker cooking time and easier digestion. Discard soaking water and cook in fresh water.

Quick Soak method (for times you forgot to soak overnight) 

After washing, place in a stock pot and cover with 3 inches of water. Boil for 10 minutes to remove toxins. Cover and soak for 1 hour. Discard soak water, add fresh water, and cook until tender.

soaking adzuki beans by Christine Oppenheim

3. Simmer beans slowly and cook thoroughly.

Add beans to a large pot and cover with at least 2 inches of water. Bring water to boil. Lower heat, cover with lid slightly ajar and simmer until soft (cooking times vary depending on bean; check at 45 minutes for tenderness, some will be done).

Lentils do not require soaking (although it is still recommended), and have the shortest cooking time.

Add salt and seasoning during last few minutes. Adding early will slow down cooking and prevent beans from cooking completely.

Bean cooking guide

4. Add herbs or a piece of seaweed.

Cooking beans with bay leaf, cumin, fresh epazote, or kombu (a Japanese sea vegetable) will help break down the sugar enzymes and make the beans more digestible. Kombu adds beneficial minerals and a bit of a salty flavor. This is my favorite thing to cook beans with.

5. Use digestive spices with your meal.

Indian tradition is to chew fennel seeds or drink a cup of fennel tea after legume meals to aid digestion.

6. Chew your beans thoroughly.

This rule goes for anything you eat. The more you chew, the less work your digestive system has to do to break down the food and the easier it will be to digest.

7. Make a big batch of beans.

Beans take time and you don’t always have it to spare. I like to cook beans in big batches and freeze until I’m ready to use them. If you do this, you’ll always have beans ready to go for dinner after a long day, and batch cooking is cheaper and healthier than buying beans in a can.