Review: Vegan Recipes in 8 Ingredients or Less — Say Hello to The Vegan 8 Cookbook!

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There are so many plant-based and vegan cookbooks coming out now! It’s exciting, because it means more people are taking an interest in the benefits and possibilities of this way of eating, but it can also be overwhelming. I stopped trying to keep up a long time ago, and I’m sure I’ve missed some good ones that I’ll need to hunt down. But when I heard Brandi Doming of The Vegan 8 was coming out with her own book, I know that was one I had to get my hands on.

The publisher was kind enough to send me a copy to review, which was perhaps not necessarily a good thing for my bookshelves, where books are already sitting two deep in places, but it was certainly a good thing for my kitchen. I’m in a life stage right now where my budget is limited, my schedule is crazy and, as much as I love seeking out new ingredients, it’s generally easier to cook with whatever I already have on hand.

Sound familiar? Then The Vegan 8 is for you.

Vegan Cooking for Everyonevegan 8 cookbook review cover

Brandi Doming started The Vegan 8 in 2013 after being fully vegan for about a year. The transition from an upbringing steeped in traditional Texas fare was sparked by her husband’s struggle with gout — and the change was dramatic. Already a fan of creating recipes, Brandi stepped into the role of vegan blogger and inadvertently created one of the most popular vegan recipe repositories on the web.

The Vegan 8 was written with the same premise as the blog: easy, delicious recipes using eight ingredients or less (salt, pepper and water excluded). We all have time for eight ingredients, right? With recipes that short and to the point, anyone can have dinner on the table in the same amount of time as calling for takeout, waiting for it to be ready and going to pick it up if it can’t be delivered. And the end result is, of course, much healthier.

With 100 recipes (10 from the blog and 90 brand new) for meals, snacks, desserts, sides, appetizers, dips, sauces and more, this cookbook can easily become a dog-eared favorite smeared with the delicious fruits of your labor. Because you know it’s absolutely necessary to christen a cookbook by spilling something on it while you’re cooking. Or is that just me? Anyway…

Straightforward, Simple and Tasty

Since every recipe has only 8 ingredients, it’s pretty easy to find everything you need to make Doming’s tasty creations. The book begins with a typical “here’s what’s in my vegan kitchen” list, which functions as a quick way to check how much you already have and what you might need to buy. There are only a few ingredients I wouldn’t consider typical or everyday, but nothing you have to go out of your way to find.

Two items I don’t keep in my kitchen but that make repeated appearances are cashew butter (and raw cashews) and lite coconut milk. Both function to add creaminess to the recipes, so they’re worth investing in. If the thought of buying prepared cashew butter makes your bank account scream, you can hunt down low-priced cashews in bulk and make your own using the recipe in the “Staples” section near the back of the book. (Also included there are incredibly easy DIY versions of things like pizza/pasta sauce, barbecue sauce and spice blends!)

By using a collection of recognizable ingredients, Doming has created a book with appeal for plant-based foodies, beginners and their non-vegan friends and family. It has just about everything you’d expect in a vegan cookbook, including:

  • Pancakes (even chocolate ones!)
  • Muffins
  • Baked oatmeal
  • Loaded potato skins
  • Breakfast hash
  • Energy balls
  • Granola
  • Alfredo
  • Beanballs
  • Bowls

Sprinkled in here and there are unique and inventive offerings, including a recipe for vegan caramel (Stop drooling in your keyboard! I see you!), “leveled-up” versions of staples like pasta with red sauce and new spins on favorite party dips. If you’re into dessert but not so into gluten, most of Doming’s desserts either are gluten free or have gluten-free options.

Usually when I write reviews, this is the place where I talk about the recipes that really stood out to me and that I’d like to make ASAP. One problem (totally in favor of this book): There are so many amazing ones, I can’t pick just a few. Simply flipping through the book makes my brain start to spin with happy anticipation, especially with the holiday baking season coming.

This is also the place where I post pictures of what I’ve already tried. And I have to be honest, I can’t. I blame my taste buds. I did put together the quick and absolutely fabulous “honey” mustard from the sauce section, but it was so good I didn’t get a picture before eating the majority of it as a dressing for my daily salad. That in and of itself should be an indication of how amazing this book is.

Here’s Why Your Stomach (and the Rest of You) Should Love the Vegan 8 Cookbook

With its simple premise, beautiful pictures, accessible ingredient lists and unique recipes sure to please both vegans and omnis, it’s hard to come up with a reason not to like The Vegan 8. But for those of you who prefer lists for comparison, here are my favorite things about the book:

  • The chapter breakdowns. Doming divides the book into chapters dedicated to meals and types of dishes yet manages to avoid falling into a predictable pattern of recipes. The result is a creative, refreshing presentation with a lot of surprises.
  • Distinctive recipes. No tofu scramble here! And the 8-ingredient blueprint gives other common dishes, like mac and “cheese,”  a makeover to be more approachable.
  • Oil-free. Most, if not all, of the recipes use plant-based fats from sources other than extracted oils without sacrificing rich or creamy textures.
  • The “Staples” chapter. I’m a sucker for a good sauce and am always a bit annoyed when I want to whip something up only to find the recipe just for the sauce is going to take all day. I’m also wary of pre-prepared sauces because they usually have sugar, oil or too much salt. Eight ingredients to the rescue!
  • The desserts. I’m not much of a dessert person. (Ask me about the Christmas cookies still in my freezer from last year.) But I’m always on the lookout for something delicious to make and bring to the monthly potluck at my church. I have a feeling I’ll be cooking a lot from this chapter in the coming months!

My verdict on The Vegan 8 is it’s a refreshing contribution to the growing library of vegan cookbooks available. If you’ve been looking for a book to help you get started with simple vegan meals or a collection of recipes you can make any time even if your schedule is absolutely insane, go grab yourself a copy.

In case you need more convincing, here’s one of those amazing dessert recipes, which I should probably run off and make before I eat my laptop in anticipation…

Follow Brandi Doming on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest for more! (Warning: Her IG account is dangerous…in a delicious, delicious way…)

Chocolate–Peanut Butter Candy Bites

By Brandi Doming, from The Vegan 8

Photographer: Jennifer Causey, Prop Stylist: Christine Keely, Food Stylist: Anna Hampton

My favorite candy bar growing up was Butterfinger. I swear, I could eat those back to back. These bites have the same flavors of the classic candy bar but are so much better. Instead of the outside being the chocolate coating with the crunchy sweet interior, I reversed them and also made them into bites. Man, they are delicious and a favorite among my taste testers! If you can’t find salted peanuts, then add a pinch of salt.

Prep: 20 minutes

chill: 20 minutes

Yields: 8 balls

  • 1⁄2 cup (128g) smooth peanut butter
  • 3 tablespoons (18g) unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons (60g) pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon (5g) vanilla extract
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon (2g) fine salt
  • 1⁄2 cup (80g) roasted, salted peanuts
  • 1⁄4 cup (40g) coconut sugar
  • 3.5 ounces (100g) 70 to 72% dark chocolate chips or bar, finely chopped
  1. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. Add the peanut butter, cocoa powder, maple syrup, vanilla, and sea salt to a bowl, and stir until it comes together into a thick batter and is completely smooth. Roll about a heaping tablespoon of the dough into small balls, creating 8 balls total. Place the balls on the prepared pan.
  3. To prepare the coating, add the roasted peanuts and coconut sugar to a food processor, and process until the mixture is in very small pieces but not as superfine as a flour consistency. Add this mixture to a wide, shallow bowl. Set aside.
  4. Add the chopped chocolate to another small microwave-safe bowl. Melt in the microwave on HIGH for 30 seconds or in a double boiler. If microwaving, stir, and then heat in 10- to 15-second intervals until the chocolate is almost all melted. Be careful not to let it burn. Stir the chocolate until it is completely melted and smooth.
  5. Place 1 ball into the melted chocolate and use a fork to rotate and coat it completely. Tap the fork gently on the side of the bowl, letting the excess chocolate drip off. Immediately place the ball into the peanut coating mixture and rotate it multiple times with the fork until coated well. Place the ball back on the pan and repeat with the remaining balls.
  6. Place the pan in the fridge to set for about 20 minutes. Store the balls in the fridge to retain their shape. They can be set out at room temperature after they’re fully set for parties, but they will become softer and less crispy as time passes

Nutrition per ball: 260 calories | 23.2g fat | 8.7g fat | 26.3g carbs | 4g fiber | 19g sugar | 209mg sodium


Be sure to use a peanut butter without added oil or sugar. To make these nut free, sub the peanut butter with sunflower seed butter, if you don’t mind having that as a strong taste in these bites. With this sub, the batter may be a tad more wet and may need to chill in the fridge for 15 minutes before adding the chocolate.


Remixing it Up: A RAD New Way to Clean Your Clothes!

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Meet my workout clothes.stinky gym clothes need to be RAD

They stink.

I mean, they really, REALLY stink. It would be embarrassing if I didn’t live alone. Heavy strength training along with frequent HIIT, pyramid and circuit workouts will do that to a (home) gym outfit.

“Wait a minute,” you’re thinking. “The post title promised I’d read about something RAD. Why the heck do I care about your smelly workout clothes?”

Because there’s something else I’d like you to meet. It’s called Remix, and it’s a brand new product from the ever-innovative RAD Soap Company.

Remixing Your Laundry Day

Remix comes in three scents: House Mix, One Hit Wonder and Grateful Threads. I was recently introduced to all three at the RAD Remix party, held at the RAD Soap store in Stuyvesant Plaza in Guilderland, NY. RAD opened their first retail store last November and has been turning out fun new products at a rapid pace ever since. Remix is the latest in a series of releases that include Voodoo body wash, Bath Juice bath soaks, Tub Tabs and rollerball scents.remix rad soap laundry soap

The buzz about Remix started several weeks before it made its debut at the party, which was a full-on dance party complete with entertaining dance tunes spun by none other than Zak the Soap Bro, a mini-buffet full of snacks (fruit included!) and a beer tasting. Remix was clearly the star of the show, and balloons added a final festive touch. RADsters popped in and out, stayed a while, shopped and talked, enjoying the welcoming and laid-back atmosphere.

Of course, I had to hit up the party to see all my RAD friends and finally try this new product I’d heard so much about.

What really piqued my interest about Remix was the promise that, unlike other detergents I’ve tried, RAD’s blend could banish the stench of gym clothes. Because, I’ll admit, there is nothing I’ve ever been able to do to get that workout ensemble to freshen up and STAY fresh. Another locally-made detergent had a nice scent but wasn’t powerful enough. Unscented natural detergent got the smell out initially, but it came right back after the first workout of the week.

After the party, I took my little sample bag of House Mix scent back to the apartment and used it in my usual Saturday laundry load. Upon opening it, I discovered a nondescript white powder with larger soapy “notes” in it, all sending up a very light “cashmere” scent. How did it stack up to all the previous detergents I’ve tried?

Does Remix Pass the Laundry Test?

The gym clothes, once again, serve as the best example. No smell. First workout, pure cardio? Sweaty, but still “cashmere”-scented. Even later in the week, after several HIIT and strength training sessions, the smell of the detergent lingered. I could walk into my bathroom without being bowled over by my workout clothes hanging on the door.

RAD sap remix house mix laundry

The rest of the laundry fared just as well. I’ll admit to occasionally smelling my own sleeve the first day or two simply to enjoy the pleasant scent of the detergent, and because it was so hard to believe the smell stayed without being overpowering. It’s especially nice if you wash bedding with it. Then you get to climb under the covers and stick your face into a fresh pillowcase full of RAD scent.

You also get to enjoy the softest clothes ever. EVER. I’ve tried a lot of detergents in the past, from the big names to the too-expensive types meant to keep dark clothes from fading to other locally-produced powder detergents. They all had their perks, but none performed anywhere close to Remix in terms of softness. Regardless of fabric type, every single thing came out of the dryer soft as could be. Even the towels, although these are always aided somewhat by the dryer ball I toss in with every load.

My only qualm about this detergent blend is some of the soap “notes” didn’t dissolve all the way and dropped out of the clothes when I was transferring them from the washer to the dryer. This may have been because the small bag didn’t come with a scoop, and I might have used a bit too much for that first load. Other than that, no issues at all. Two thumbs way up for the RAD family again!

Get Your RAD On

Remix is currently available in five-pound bags at the RAD store for $18.99. That’s 50 full loads! Think about it. If you do laundry once a week like I do, that’s almost a year’s worth of laundry. One year of soft, amazing-smelling laundry.

And no stinky gym clothes. (If you’re not in the Albany, NY area, small bags will be available online in the future.)

You can follow the RAD Soap story on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And, of course, check back here for more RAD chatter in the future.

Read More About RAD!

FULL DISCLOSURE: I was offered a free large bag of Remix in exchange for writing a review. All attendees of the Remix party received free samples.




Introducing Sari Foods: A New Approach to Superfoods — With an Energizing Recipe!

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(Disclosure note: Sari Foods provided products in exchange for an honest review and compensation for original recipe development.)

Type “define superfood” into Google, and you get this straightforward answer:

a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being.

Although the label seems to get slapped on whatever food is the darling of the mainstream media at the moment, some foods actually deserve their “super” reputations. Sari Foods has captured several of them in their unique product line.

Sari Foods declares their philosophy to be “to bring you the essence of food.” All of their products are 100 percent whole-food-based and contain no artificial or synthetic ingredients. Unlike many supposed “superfood” concoctions and supplements, the nutrients in Sari Foods’ products are highly bioavailable and easily assimilated by your body. Scientific food babble aside, what this actually means is that these products can have real benefits for your health. (Plus, they taste awesome. But I’ll get to that in a minute.)

Here’s a run-down of what Sari Foods has to offer:

Nutritional Yeast

What’s a plant-based diet without a little “cheese” sauce once and a while? And, let’s face it, healthy cheese is largely an oxymoron, even in the world of vegan cheese. With nutritional yeast, though, that dream becomes a reality. Two tablespoons of the nootch from Sari foods provides:

  • 8g protein
  • 4g dietary fiber
  • Multiple B vitamins
  • Zinc
  • Selenium

and more, but these are the most notable. This combination is what qualifies it as a superfood. You get a blast of antioxidants, energy and thyroid support, an immune boost and a way to make a grilled cheese sandwich that definitively counts as healthy.

sari foods nutritional yeast

Image courtesy of Sari Foods

When you open the bag, you’re greeted by small, pale yellow flakes that lack the vibrancy of other nutritional yeasts but make up for it with an amazingly clean flavor. I’m not exaggerating when I say that you can taste the difference so much that I blew through my sample bag and have already ordered three more. It’s smooth, delicious and just right for everything from cheese sauce to savory oats to salad dressings.

Acerola Cherry Powder

I’m sure I’m not the only one who reaches for a bottle of vitamin C supplements after being exposed to illness. Unfortunately, most of those pills have little, if any, beneficial effects due to the fact that the vitamin C is in an isolated, unnatural form. The vitamin C powder from Sari Foods, on the other hand, is made from acerola cherries, which happen to be the single best food source of vitamin C!

Each teaspoon of this organic powder contains 500mg of vitamin C, the equivalent of about 260g of actual acerola cherries.(1) Since it’s actually a whole food powder and not an extracted nutrient, it contains the full complex of the vitamin C family, including the naturally occurring bioflavanoids that enhance its effects. In addition to boosting immunity, vitamin C is also supports healthy collagen production, aids in detoxification and acts as a protective antioxidant.(2)

sari foods acerola cherry powder

Image courtesy of Sari Foods

The unassuming tan powder has a tart cherry flavor, but does contain some organic maltodextrin, a fact that I’m not terribly thrilled about since I try to avoid added sweeteners. However, it does provide just a touch of extra sweetness that makes for a pretty delicious addition to your favorite beverage. Update & correction! The maltodextrin is used to help create the fine texture of the cherry powder, not to sweeten, and is used in small amounts. (Therefore, it’s still worlds better than commercial water flavorings like Crystal Light, which contains not only non-organic maltodextrin but also aspartame and artificial colors.)

I like to mix the acerola powder with the diluted apple cider vinegar drink I have every morning, but it would also be tasty just in water or blended into a smoothie. You can even sprinkle it in your oatmeal!


If concerns over spirulina contamination have led you to avoid this beneficial green superfood, I recommend trying the one from Sari Foods. Harvested from freshwater lakes, this spirulina powder is organic and contains (per tablespoon):

  • 7g protein
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin K
  • A balance of omega 3, 6 and 9 fats, including GLA
  • Multiple B vitamins
  • High levels of chlorophyll

I do want to note that the package lists B12 as one of the B complex vitamins found in spirulina, and while this is technically correct, scientific evidence seems to show that the forms of B12 found in this and other foods aren’t usable by the human body. The rest of the nutrients, however, do everything from help fix calcium in your bones to combat inflammation. GLA in particular is hard to get from other sources, appearing mainly in things like borage and evening primrose oils. Overall, there may be more than 100 nutrients working together in spirulina!(3)

sari foods spirulina

Image courtesy of Sari Foods

Contrary to popular belief, spirulina isn’t actually algae. It’s a cyanobacteria, a type of bacterium that derives its energy from the sun, hence the chlorophyll content. Interestingly enough, the chlorophyll molecule bears a striking resemblance to the heme part of human hemoglobin and works to stimulate the production of red blood cells.(1) Its antioxidant properties provide strong protection from DNA damage,(3) and it may even hang around in your body after you eat it, contributing to the regeneration of CoQ10 when combined with sunlight.(4) So in a way, you can derive some energy from the sun!

Like the nutritional yeast, Sari Foods’ spirulina has a very clean flavor that mirrors its deep blue-green color. This is another good one for adding to smoothies, although I prefer to mix it in with my chopped salads to add a little something to the taste. Believe it or not, the whole salad tastes pretty amazing when combined with a citrus-based dressing and garnished with sauerkraut.

The Verdict

I’m pretty much in love with the products from Sari Foods, and the nutritional yeast in particular. I can’t imagine switching back to any other kind! On a more objective note, here’s what all the products have going for them:
  • Made from actual food, not extracts or synthetic nutrients
  • Vibrant packaging in generous sizes (1lb. for spirulina, 8oz. for nutritional yeast, 6oz. for the acerola cherry powder)
  • Clean, fresh taste with no strange overtones, undertones or aftertastes

The only thing I didn’t like is that the reseal strips on the tops of the bags don’t seem to work very well. I folded the bags down and secured them with rubber bands to get around that problem. And I can’t really count that as a “con” since it has no bearing on the quality of the products themselves!

Sari Foods gets two thumbs up in my book–their products do indeed deserve the “superfood” title! If you want to try them out for yourself, they’re having a new customer promotion with the code “WELCOME25” at the moment.

Bring on the Recipe!

Of course, I can’t babble on about how much I love a product without using it in a recipe! I’ve incorporated both the spirulina and the acerola cherry powder into these Chocolate Superfood Truffle Balls, plus I added some nuts, seeds and dark cocoa powder for an even bigger “super” boost. The result is a nutrient-packed healthy snack with a nutty, light chocolate flavor.

Chocolate Superfood Truffle Balls
Recipe Type: Snack
Author: Sam
Prep time:
Total time:
Serves: 25-30 truffles
Looking for a “super” snack? Try these nutty, chocolatey little bites that pack a hidden nutrient punch!
  • 1 1/2 cup medjool dates, pitted
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup raw walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup raw pecans, chopped
  • 1/4 cup nut or seed butter of choice
  • 2Tbsp dark cocoa powder or raw cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbsp Sari Foods spirulina
  • 1 Tbsp Sari Foods acerola cherry powder
  1. Place the dates and nuts in the bowl of a food processor and process until crumbly.
  2. Add the oats and nut butter, and process again until well combined.
  3. Add the cocoa powder, spirulina and acerola cherry powder. Process again until everything is mixed well.
  4. Test the “dough” to see if it holds together when pinched. If not, add more dates, two at a time, until the dough can be shaped without falling apart.
  5. Roll the dough into balls to form truffles. Place the truffles on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

sari foods vegan chocolate superfood truffles

Additional references
1) Murray, M., Pizzorno, J., Pizzorno, L. (2005). The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York: Simon and Schuster
2) Bauman, E. NC106.5 Micronutrients: The water-soluble vitamins: Vitamin C family, B complex [PowerPoint Slides]. Retrieved from Bauman College:
3) Bauman, E., Friedlander, J. (2013). Foundations of Nutrition. Penngrove, CA: Bauman College
4) Greger, M., Stone, G. (2015). How Not to Die. New York, NY: Flatiron Books

Review & Recipe: Smart Beer, Organic Vegan Beer from NY!

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(Note: This post contains affiliate links. The product reviewed was provided by a local company.)

I want to preface this post by pointing out that I don’t drink. The most alcohol I take in at any one time is about half of the tiny sample cups that vendors give out at farmers markets and festivals or a sip to taste something that someone else is drinking. I am, however, not adverse to using alcohol in cooking. In fact, some recipes I’ve seen (like the apple sauerkraut rolls in Whole Grain Vegan Baking) make me downright fascinated.

That’s why I couldn’t say no when Smart Beer, a brand-new organic beer producer in Saratoga Springs, NY, approached me asking if I would review their vegan-friendly brew.

Smart Beer launched in October of this year and was created with the premise of balancing “celebrating and living well.” It’s made using certified organic ingredients including barley, wheat, hops, orange peel and licorice root. The company prides itself on being “New York’s first organic beer company” and is dedicated to “brewing the purest organic beers on the market.” They believe that people deserve a beer that can be enjoyed without compromising a healthy diet and lifestyle.

smart beer organic beer from new york

Image courtesy of Smart Beer

When three bottles of Smart Beer arrived on my doorstep, the hardest part was deciding what to make with them. Welsh Rarebit? Irish Stew? Some kind of baked good?

In the end, I settled on Lentil Chili. With beer.

vegan smart beer chili pot

Oddly enough, the recipe was inspired by a decidedly not vegan chili posted on a blog called A Spicy Perspective. Out of all the beer-based chili recipes I perused, this one seemed to hold the most promise for Smart Beer. To give the dish a vegan makeover, I replaced the meat with lentils while keeping the overall flavor profile the same.

vegan smart beer chili bowl

Of course, before I cooked with Smart Beer, I had to take a sip to find out what it tasted like on its own. Popping the top–which requires a bottle opener–released a deep, yeasty smell similar to other craft beers I’ve tasted, but the flavor was unique. Like the smell, it was deep and thick, but the orange peel and licorice give it bright overtones that were pleasant enough that I took another sip.

I should probably also note that I hate beer. Out of the small spectrum of alcoholic beverages I’ve tasted, beer has been the hardest to warm up to. So for me, two sips is like two thumbs up–a complete rarity that gives a beer the QV seal of approval. In fact, given the appropriate circumstances, I might even go for a whole bottle. (How many thumbs up is that?)

vegan smart beer chili served

Preparation here is fairly standard as far as chili recipes go. The only unusual step is to cook the lentils in Smart Beer instead of in a base of water, vegetable broth or tomatoes. Of course, tomatoes do make an appearance, along with onions, peppers, carrots and a hearty dose of beans. Everything gets seasoned with a traditional blend of chili spices and just a bit of Sucanat (or maple syrup, if that’s your thing) for sweetness. There’s even a little cornmeal thrown in, a touch from the original recipe that I decided to keep because it struck me as rather unique. The earthy flavor of the beer adds depth to the taste of the chili powder, and the overall combination creates a nicely spicy finish. Top it with salsa and vegan sour cream, slices of avocado or a sprinkle of nutritional yeast.

If you do decide to try Smart Beer, please remember to enjoy it responsibly! Craft beer does have some associated health benefits, but it is still an alcoholic beverage and is by no means a health food. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy your beer chili (or a beer with your chili), of course! Make it an occasional treat, and you’ll relish it all the more, especially if it’s organic and brewed with quality in mind.

Lentil Chili with Smart Beer
Recipe Type: Entree
Cuisine: Mexican
Author: Sam
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4-6 servings
The deep, earthy notes of organic Smart Beer gives this chili a flavor that’s robust and satisfying. (Adapted from A Spicy Perspective)
  • 1 1/2 cups onion, chopped
  • 1 cup red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3/4 cup carrots, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
  • 3/4 cup dry brown lentils
  • 1 12oz bottle of Smart Beer
  • water as needed
  • 1 28oz can no-salt-added crushed tomatoes (about 3 cups)
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked or 1 15.5oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed if canned
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked or 1 15.5oz can black beans, drained and rinsed if canned
  • 3 Tbsp cornmeal
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup or Sucanat
  1. Place the onions, peppers and carrots in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  2. Pour in the beer and add the lentils. Stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Check occasionally and add more water if the lentils seem dry.
  3. Stir in the tomatoes, beans, cornmeal, spices and sweetener. Return the mixture to a simmer and simmer, covered, until the lentils are completely tender, 10-20 minutes. Serve hot with your choice of garnishes.

What’s your favorite dish to make with beer?

Connect with Smart Beer on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to keep up with all the latest news!


Review & Recipe: Nom Yourself by Mary Mattern

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What do you reach for when you want a vegan cookbook that’s different but still easy to follow?

nom yourself cover avery books

Image courtesy of Avery Books

Nom Yourself: Simple Vegan Cooking by Mary Mattern is the latest offering that fits the bill. A collection of recipes from the mind behind the popular website and Instagram feed, this compact cookbook includes a collection of recipes that range from veganized comfort food to unusual new offerings that keep daily meals interesting without requiring a lot of special ingredients.

When Avery Books offered to send me a copy of Nom Yourself to look at (and, of course, cook from), I accepted. I must admit that I wasn’t familiar with Mattern’s blog or recipes at the time, but looking through the book gave me a good overview. It starts out simply with categories that are included in pretty much every cookbook ever: breakfast, soup, pasta, entrees…that sort of thing.

It’s the recipes in each category that make Nom Yourself different. Accompanied by full-color photos on most pages, Mattern’s dishes include gems like a sweet potato waffle sandwich with tempeh bacon and vegan Hollandaise sauce, coconut mushroom gravy, drunken potatoes and buffalo cauliflower kale salad. There are also some standard recipes like apple pie, dinner rolls and Southwestern tofu scramble. I was happy to discover a section full of “staples” because these simple ingredients are absent from so many vegan cookbooks. And true to the form of the rest of the book, Mattern includes some unique ideas like coconut “sour cream.”

Out of all of this, the recipe for Chipotle BBQ Quinoa Chili made its way to my table first. I’ve been a fan of quinoa chili since the first time I had it and will try pretty much anything with “chipotle” in the title. Although the recipe has a boatload of ingredients, I wasn’t deterred — in fact, it made me want to try the chili even more since the combination included sweet potatoes, two types of beans, zucchini and fresh tomatoes instead of canned.

nom yourself vegan chipotle bbq chili

Interestingly enough, chipotle chiles and BBQ sauce are entirely absent from the litany of tasty components. Instead, there’s some smoked paprika and a bunch of other interesting seasonings like liquid smoke and — wait for it — coffee! I’ve had chocolate in chili before, but never coffee. It turns out that I was really missing something because, in my opinion, the coffee is what brings the dish together. With a dash of Siracha for extra spice (because I didn’t have chili sauce), it was a truly unique experience.

nom yourself vegan chipotle bbq chili bowl side

I also like how Mattern includes fresh grated carrot on top of the finished dish. She also suggests chopped sage. I couldn’t imagine that together with the other flavors, so I used vegan yogurt and some pumpkin seeds instead. It’s not a particularly thick chili and could benefit from the addition of some crushed tomatoes or tomato paste to round out the sauce. It is, however, incredibly hearty thanks to the laundry list of amazing vegetables it contains.

nom yourself vegan chipotle bbq chili bowl
I added some extra beans and potatoes, and as a result the chili took longer than 20 minutes to cook. On the one hand, that kind of thing drives me crazy because I’m so schedule-oriented, but on the other, it probably gave the flavors more time to mingle. A worthy trade-off, I’d say!

I also tried whipping up a batch of the cream cheese from the dips and spreads section, but I found it to be on the bland side. (I’m used to making the cultured stuff from Artisan Vegan Cheese.) The cider vinegar and lemon juice in Mattern’s recipe doesn’t do enough to make the cashews taste truly “cheesy.” The end result does, however, make a decent sour cream substitute or a stand-in for mayo if you thin it out. It’s especially good if you mix it with hot sauce or pair it with hot pepper jelly!

One thing that I haven’t had a chance to try yet–but really want to–is the recipe for Cauliflower Ricotta Stuffed Shells. I love innovative approaches to vegan cheese substitutes, and stuffed shells speak to the part of me that remembers being little and scarfing down my mom’s delicious baked pasta concoctions. If you’d like to give this particular vegan comfort food a shot, I’ve included the recipe below. It is, after all, prime time for cauliflower, so go for it! And let me know how it turns out.

There are a few other recipes sprinkled throughout Nom Yourself that I still want to make, and I applaud Mattern for adding her personal approach to the vegan food landscape. It may not be as unique of a book as I was expecting, but it does hold promise if you’re looking for something a bit different, like a waffle sandwich with sweet potatoes…mmm, sweet potatoes…

Cauliflower Ricotta Stuffed Shells

Reprinted from Nom Yourself by arrangement with Avery Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © 2015, Mary Mattern

vegan caulilflower ricotta stuffed shells nom yourself

Photo courtesy of Avery Books

Cauliflower has to be one of the most versatile vegetables out there. You can fry it, blend it, bake it, sauté it, boil it (if you want your whole house to smell like cauliflower), and I’m sure there are some preparations I’m leaving out. Cauliflower also makes one hell of a ricotta-like filling for baked stuffed pasta shells. If you’re not a huge stuffed-shells fan, just replace this pasta with some ziti and make some baked ziti instead. Remember, this is your kitchen. I’m just living on the shelf in it.

Makes about 20 medium shells

1 large head of cauliflower, chopped

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

¼ cup nutritional yeast

½ cup unsweetened almond milk

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

2 pinches of sea salt

1 (12-ounce) jar tomato sauce, or 1½ cups homemade tomato sauce

1 (12-ounce) package jumbo shells, cooked to al dente and drained (QV Note: I recommend whole wheat or another whole-grain pasta such as brown rice!)


1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

2. In the bowl of a blender, blend the cauliflower, olive oil, nutritional yeast, almond milk, garlic powder, onion powder, parsley, and sea salt. Don’t overblend. You want to eliminate big chunks of cauliflower, but you still want a coarse consistency.

3. Spread the tomato sauce on the bottom of an 8 x 8-inch glass baking dish.

4. Stuff the shells with the cauliflower mixture, arrange them in the baking dish, and pour the remaining sauce on top of the shells.

5. Bake for 15 minutes.

Add some fresh basil and vegan Parmesan cheese on top if you have it! If you don’t have shells, you can also use manicotti, or use the cauliflower ricotta for lasagna.


Upton’s Naturals Brand New Jackfruit in Two Tasty Vegan Flavors! Review & Recipe

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jackfruits by abcdz2000


It’s one of those things you hear about in vegan circles, sometimes called the “pulled pork” of the vegan world. (What’s the huge deal with pulled pork, anyway?) Google “vegan jackfruit” and you’re rewarded with enough recipes to make you want to run out and buy as many of these enormous, odd-looking fruits as you can.

Thanks to Upton’s Naturals, it’s my turn to add to the crazy collection of vegan jackfruit creations. Say hello to their brand-new product:

uptons bbq jackfruit closeup
In fact, this is just one of two jackfruit products that Upton’s is offering–the other being Chili Lime Carnitas. Each 300-gram package contains shredded jackfruit and a seasoned sauce packed inside a plastic pouch and ready for use in recipes. Upton’s has had my undying adoration since I discovered that they make seitan without oil, so I was more than a little excited when given the opportunity to review both jackfruit flavors.

Now, you might be wondering, with all the other vegan meat replacements and substitutes out there, why would one choose jackfruit in particular? First off, you can get a whole lot of food from one jackfruit. According to Wikipedia, it’s the largest fruit that grows on a tree. Some grow as big as 35 inches long and can weigh up to 80 pounds! They’re so big that Googling “jackfruit” pops up articles that dub it a “miracle food” or a food “to feed the world.” It grows mainly in South and Southeast Asia on a tree that’s in the same family as mulberry and fig, though it may have originated in India.

People around the world were getting creative with jackfruit long before vegans were making pulled jackfruit sandwiches. In many different cultures, jackfruit is eaten fresh or dried, fried into chips, as an addition to desserts, cooked in curries and, of course, as a meat substitute.

Eating 100 grams of jackfruit provides:

  • About 95 calories
  • No fat and almost no sodium
  • 2 grams of fiber
  • A decent amount of vitamin C
  • A range of B vitamins
  • A good dose of potassium

Logically, it follows that the Jackfruit creations from Upton’s Naturals are similarly low in calories–45 for a serving of the BBQ and 35 for the chili lime–but the sauce changes the salt and sugar content quite a bit. In fact, that’s the only thing I didn’t like about the product: the sauce in both varieties is too high in sodium for my tastes and contains evaporated cane juice. For me, that means this particular jackfruit is a treat, not a staple.

But what a treat it is!

uptons bbq jackfruit

As you can see, it looks distressingly like meat inside the package. The cooking instructions suggest mixing up the jackfruit and the sauce prior to using it, but I was feeling a bit lazy so I just smushed everything around inside the package before taking out a serving for my meal. There are two ways to cook Upton’s jackfruit: pan “frying” and boiling. I didn’t try the second option since it involves cooking the jackfruit inside the package, and I can’t comfortably recommend heating anything up while it’s wrapped in plastic.

I cooked the BBQ variety up with some onions, mushrooms, kale and chickpeas, which turned into the recipe for BBQ Jackfruit Kale Saute that I’ve posted here. I also tried it with lentils and kale. Both combinations were extremely good. The sauce has an authentic “BBQ” smell and taste, and even though the servings work out to a scant half cup, there’s enough of it to flavor an entire dish.

vegan bbq jackfruit saute

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I liked the jackfruit at first. There were more chunks in the package than shreds, and something about the taste seemed a bit “off.” However, after using it in a few more dishes, both the flavor and the texture grew on me and I decided that it was a winner!

Jackfruit doesn’t really taste meaty, though, which is fine since things that are too close to actual meat in texture gross me out. Instead, the texture is more soft and chewy, and the jackfruit itself has a very light taste that allows the spiciness of the sauce to take center stage.

The chili lime variety is also quite spicy and smells predominantly of lime when you open the package. To try that out, I started with a similar saute with pinto beans instead of chickpeas. My favorite, though, was a conglomeration of black beans, kale and sweet potatoes that convinced me you could use the jackfruit in a black bean burger or a burrito with amazing results.

Of course, I ate it all, so I’ll have to pick up more if I want to try that. I haven’t found it in my area yet, but the local co-op already carries Upton’s seitan and is pretty open to requests. I know what I’m going to tack up on the suggestion board when I’m there this week! Needless to say, I understand the obsession with jackfruit now and will be trying one of those famed vegan “pulled pork” sandwiches in the near future.

vegan bbq jackfruit saute closeup

Just a quick note on the recipe: Unlike other vegan meat alternatives, jackfruit is fairly low in protein. Protein myths aside, I do like to have something a bit heartier with my meals, which is why I routinely added beans to the various dishes I made. For the BBQ Jackfruit Kale Saute, you can use chickpeas like I did, or cook up some lentils. Or just leave the beans out and enjoy the jackfruit straight up! It’s tasty served over roasted potatoes or your favorite cooked grain.

BBQ Jackfruit Kale Saute
Recipe Type: Entree
Author: Sam
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 3-4 servings
BBQ jackfruit lends a spicy flavor to this simple saute.
  • 1 cup lentils, rinsed
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
  • 1 cup red pepper, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 large bunch kale, including stems, chopped
  • 1 package Upton’s Naturals BBQ Jackfruit
  • roasted potatoes or rice, for serving
  1. Place the lentils and water in a medium saucepan over high heat. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. Check them periodically, adding more water if necessary. When they’re done, drain them and set them aside.
  2. Place the onions in a large skillet over medium heat. Cover and cook until softened, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add small splashes of water to the pan if the onions start to stick. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.
  3. Add the peppers and mushrooms, cover and cook for about 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally, until the peppers are soft and the mushrooms start to release their juices. Toss in the kale and cook until it starts to wilt, 3-5 minutes more.
  4. Add the lentils and jackfruit to the pan, being sure to get all of the sauce out of the package. (This is important–the sauce is the main flavoring for the dish!) Cook until heated through, about 2 more minutes. Serve hot over cooked rice or roasted potatoes.

Are you a jackfruit fan? Tell me about your favorite dish in the comments!


Review & Recipe: The Complete Guide to Even More Vegan Food Substitutions

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Ever wish you had a way to magically veganize any recipe? Somewhere to turn when you find that perfect dinner dish and all your hopes come crashing down when you scroll through the ingredient list only to discover meat or dairy hiding at the end?

Joni Marie Newman and Celine Steen have you covered with The Complete Guide to Even More Vegan Food Substitutions.

complete substitution guide cover

Image courtesy of Quarto Publishing Group USA

I’ll admit that I never paid much attention to the original Complete Guide book simply because I thought I didn’t need it. A bit arrogant of me, perhaps, thinking that I already knew everything I needed to know about making standard recipes vegan, because once you’ve seen one cheese sauce recipe, you’ve seen them all, right?

Oh, how wrong I was. The minute I got my hands on a review copy of this book, I realized that there was so much more to vegan substitutions than I ever could have imagined. The contents are divided into four sections:

  • Dairy (milk and cheese)
  • Eggs (for savory dishes and baking)
  • Protein (chicken and beef, seafood, bacon and non-meaty meat “replacements”)
  • Kitchen Success (comprehensive substitution charts)

Throughout the book, Newman and Steen include notations to show which recipes are gluten-free, nut-free and soy-free. You’ll also find no-added-sugar recipes, oil-free options and “quick and easy” recipes that come together in a flash. This lets you tell at a glance if a recipe fits your dietary needs and whether or not you can whip it up when your mother-in-law spontaneously announces she’s coming over for dinner.

Before delving into the recipes, you can look over a glossary of some of the possibly unfamiliar ingredients that are used. Most are pretty recognizable, but some others, such as black salt, may be new to you. (I haven’t had the pleasure of trying that one yet!) When you’re ready to head to a specific section, you’ll find a chart of substitutions specific to that part of the book along with an example recipe shown in its original and veganized formats. It really couldn’t be any simpler than that.

Just what kinds of recipes are there, you ask? A better question would be what isn’t there? Of course, there are recipes for the substitutions themselves, such as vegan butter, yogurt and cheese slices, but there are also recipes that use these substitutions. Here’s just a small sampling to give you an idea:

  • Mexican Cobb Salad (complete with tofu “egg whites” and “yolks”)
  • “Fish” Tacos
  • Strawberry Clafoutis
  • Linguine in Tomato Garlic Cream Sauce
  • Breakfast Rice with Plums
  • Summery Spelt Salad
  • Bahn Mi Scramble

As you can see, Newman and Steen cover the whole spectrum from salads to desserts with main dishes for every meal in between. They even include an entire subsection full of meat replacements that don’t try to imitate meat; rather, these recipes can stand in for meat when you’re looking for a protein option without a meaty flavor. By the time you hit the substitution charts at the end, you’ll be armed with an arsenal of vegan recipes for just about any substitution you could want, plus a bunch of brand-new dishes to try. The charts provide both homemade and store-bought suggestions for replacing non-vegan ingredients with page references to recipes within the book.

This is more than a guide; it’s practically an encyclopedia. With this as part of your kitchen arsenal, you’ll be armed and ready to veganize literally any recipe that comes your way, even those crazy bacon concoctions that keep popping up. (Link contains pictures of actual bacon, but all the recipes can be made vegan!) Because yes, there’s even a recipe for Seitan Slab O’ Bacon.

Now, you might be saying to yourself, “This all sounds great, but I can just go out and buy vegan yogurt/cheese/chicken/seafood/bacon…” Sure you can, but how many of these products contain the same kinds of highly processed ingredients that are making so many people on the standard American diet sick? The second goal that Newman and Steen have with this book is to provide recipes that use as many natural, whole-food ingredients as possible and avoid the junk that, while tasty and convenient, can undermine the health benefits of a vegan diet.

So go ahead, make that sausage and cheese breakfast sandwich you’ve been thinking about. Dip your veggies in ranch dressing. Serve your omni guests tuna sandwiches or spaghetti with “meatballs.” It’s all been veganized, and it’s right at your fingertips in The Complete Guide to Even More Vegan Food Substitutions. If I had three thumbs like Zaphod Beeblebrox, I’d be putting them all up for this book!

Thanks to the folks at Quarto Publishing Group for letting me have a look at the book and for passing along a great recipe for me to share with you. True to form for me, the recipe that really smacked me between the eyes was perhaps the least quick and easy of them all. I haven’t had a chance to make it yet, but I can practically hear it calling to me every time I pick up the book. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Dinner Plate Bowl. Chock full of goodness, it has everything you could want in a meal from the bed of kale on the bottom to the “special sauce” drizzled over the top. The best part? You can make a bunch when you have time and pop one in your lunch bag to enjoy a hearty plant-based meal at work any time during the week.

Trust me, your colleagues will be jealous. Even the guy who makes fun of you for eating so much kale.

Dinner Plate Bowl

* No Added Sugar * Nut-Free

There is something about putting your whole meal into a bowl that just makes it, well, taste better. And this one is no exception. We call it the Dinner Plate Bowl because inside is all the components of a traditional dinner plate. We like to make all of the components ahead of time, and assemble the bowl and reheat as needed for a quick-and-easy lunch or dinner. In fact, Joni has been known to make huge batches of these ingredients just for the purpose of “bowling” all week long.

For the potatoes:Potatoes (4799817714)

  • 2 pounds (908 g) baby red potatoes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon (9 g) minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary or 1 tablespoon (2 g) fresh
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

For the balsamic onions:

  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) neutral-flavored oil
  • 1 large red onion, cut into thin rings
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

For the special sauce:

  • 1 cup (225 g) vegan mayonnaise, store-bought or homemade
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon (17 g) ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried dill, or 11/2 teaspoons fresh
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

For the tofu:

  • 1 block (10 ounces, or 284 g) extra or super firm tofu, drained and pressed
  • 1 tablespoon (8 g) nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 teaspooon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) neutral-flavored oil
  • Salt, to taste

For the bowl:

  • 1 bunch (about 10 ounces, or 284 g) Dino Lacinto kale, julienne cut
  • 4 cups (632 g) cooked white or (780 g) brown jasmine rice, warm
  • 1 cup (134 g) green peas, heated (fresh, frozen, or canned is fine)
  • 2 stalks scallion, small chop on the bias

Red_onion_rings_closeup by Sebastian Wallroth (Public Domain)To make the potatoes: Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C, or gas mark 6). In a medium bowl, toss the halved potatoes with oil, garlic, and rosemary to coat. Arrange in a single layer on baking sheet, and bake for 30 to 45 minutes, or until tender and edges are browned. When done, remove from oven, and add salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm until ready to serve. (QV Note: You can roast potatoes without oil if you prefer–simply use parchment paper or a silicon mat on the baking sheet!)

To prepare the balsamic onions: Heat the oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until soft. About 5 minutes, tossing regularly. Add the balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and continue to cook down until onions are very soft and caramelized, 7 to 10 minutes.

To make the special sauce: Whisk together all the ingredients in a small bowl until well combined. Set aside, or refrigerate until ready to serve.

kale by Ayla87


To make the tofu: Add all the ingredients, except oil and salt, to a small bowl and toss to coat. Preheat oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the tofu mixture and saute for about 5 minutes or until golden brown. Add salt to taste.

To assemble the bowl: Layer the ingredients in the following order: Kale on bottom, rice over the kale, potatoes over the rice, tofu over the potatoes, peas over the tofu, balsamic onions all over the top, drizzle liberally with sauce, then garnish with chopped scallion. Serve immediately, or package for easy-to-reheat lunches and dinners throughout the week.

Yield: 4 bowls


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