Veg-enriched tomato sauce with pasta

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It’s Spring in Canada and I’ve started picking from my garden. Mostly I’m getting asparagus but I’ve also got fresh herbs. I’ll do a post about asparagus soon but tonight I managed to sneak a new vegetable into my picky eater – and that’s always worth sharing!

Tomato sauce isn’t always a hit with my son. He doesn’t like it chunky or with too many herbs. He doesn’t like to see the onions but if they’re chopped small and we’re at a restaurant, he may just ignore them. That’s a huge step for him but he might be doing it just to get more white bread or gelato after his dinner. I still consider it a win.

At home, I usually chop the vegetables that he doesn’t like in big pieces so it’s easy for him to find them and pick them out. There have been times when an onion accidentally made it into his mouth and he wouldn’t eat any more dinner as a result. So I know with my family it is not a good idea to hide vegetables.

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Until tonight. I was making a tomato sauce and we had some nice mushrooms, peppers and the canned tomatoes were diced. I knew I’d have to puree them to make a sauce my son would eat so I decided to puree the whole lot together.

I will often puree red peppers in the tomato sauce – it makes for a really great, sweet sauce that the kids love. If you have picky kids, give it a try. Sweet peppers are a great source of Vitamin C and other nutrients and they make an excellent addition to a tomato sauce.

For this sauce, I fried up garlic in olive oil, added chopped red pepper and mushrooms. After a few minutes, I added the can of chopped tomatoes and pureed the mix. Then I let it simmer. I added a few sprigs of fresh rosemary from the garden for flavour.

I had a few asparagus from the garden so I chopped them small and added them to the sauce as it simmered. I didn’t want to puree them since we love asparagus. And that’s it. It made for a delicious sauce and I managed to get my son to eat mushrooms happily for the first time!

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The sauce is served on whole wheat pasta with chopped basil (from the garden) and a mix of hemp seeds, nutritional yeast and salt for a savoury topping. And as you can see, it was served with store-bought bread because I can’t always bake my own bread.

The protein question

I’ve recently been asked about protein. How do I get my protein if I don’t eat animals? Well, it’s not really something I worry about since I eat a good variety of whole foods. Protein is made up of amino acids. Whole proteins are made of all the amino acids our body’s can’t make themselves – essential amino acids. These are found in animal meat. But our bodies have to break them down to use them anyway so there is no advantage to getting our essential amino acids all together.

Vegetables are also full of amino acids but they don’t have them in same combination that we need. But as long as you’re eating a variety – and in this meal we have mushrooms, peppers, whole wheat, hemp seeds and other plant-based sources of amino acids – we’re getting everything we need.

And as I said above, since our bodies need to break them down anyway, there’s really no difference between getting them all in one place or getting them in a variety of places. If you’re getting your protein from a variety of vegetable sources, you’re also getting all the vitamins and minerals your body needs too.

So there you go – as long as you’re indulging in a variety of plant-based foods, you’ll get the protein you need.

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We finished this meal with homemade ice cream made from coconut milk and cashew cream. And that was another great source of protein. The vegan chocolate chips and marshmallows – those were just treats. The bananas just happen to be healthy treats.

Rotini, tofu parmesan and garlic bread

Pasta, tofu and garlic bread

I’ve been out of town most of this week – leaving my teacher husband with the kids, while it snowed repeatedly during the week report cards are due. So when I picked up the kids from school and got home (later than usual), there were dishes to do before starting dinner.  What I needed was something simple that the kids would eat.

Dinner tonight was rotini with leftover tomato sauce, garlic bread and tofu baked in garlic/tofu marinade smothered in tomato sauce and melted Daiya cheese.

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My son’s not a tomato sauce fan but he’ll tolerate some on his pasta if it’s topped with nutritional yeast. I didn’t bother putting any sauce on the tofu. If you have a picky eater, this meal is worth a try. It was gone before I could say, “eat with your fork!”

The garlic bread is whole wheat store-bought bread with vegan butter and the Daiya cheese melted under the broiler. My daughter likes powdered garlic granules but my son was hanging around when I mentioned them, he ran away and hid under the table. This is the drama that ensues when they’re overtired and hungry.

If I had had enough energy, I would have used real garlic for the adults but it didn’t happen tonight.

Here’s how I made the tofu.

Garlic/olive oil baked tofu in tomato sauce and cheese

Preheat the oven to 350.

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce (gives it some flavour)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 block tofu
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup vegan cheese

While the oven is preheating, mix the marinade in a wide dish. Slice the tofu into the thinest slices you can (I was able to make 6 slices). Rub each slice in the marinade and let it sit while the oven is heating.

When the oven is ready, bake the tofu for 20 minutes. When the  tofu is cooked, flip it and put a spoonful of tomato sauce on each slice. Sprinkle it with a bit of cheese and broil until melted.

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Serve with whole wheat pasta and whole wheat garlic bread and you’ve got an easy, nutritious meal that the kids will scarf down. Good luck!

Black bean and corn enchiladas with Mexican rice

vegan enchilada
The enchiladas are topped with a tofu sour cream.

Got home today to the spicy, tomato smell of dinner almost ready. My husband, who has been craving Mexican food since we went to see Coco over the Christmas holidays (we’ve had a few meals that just didn’t satisfy his craving apparently), made enchiladas from scratch with a side of Mexican rice. And I had to take pictures and share them since it was so good!

The enchiladas are stuffed with refried black beans, corn and vegan cheese. The enchilada sauce is made by blending my hot homemade salsa with diced tomatoes and onions into a smooth sauce. It’s poured over the enchiladas and baked, covered in foil for 40 minutes. It turned out delicious.

vegan enchilada without sauce
The enchilada sauce is a bit spicy for the kids so their version is plain but topped with vegan cheese.

The spanish rice was inspired by this recipe. It was (not surprisingly) not appreciated by my picky eater. He only eats his tomatoes as cherry tomatoes and whole. Tomato sauces don’t always make the cut but sometimes they do. I’ve tried to understand it but I don’t.

In the summer, we pick the sun-warmed, vine-ripened tomatoes from our garden and eat them like apples. If the seeds squirt and juice drips down our faces, we don’t mind. But this seems to be the very thing my son doesn’t like. If a tomato doesn’t fit in his mouth whole, he won’t touch it. There’s something about those slimy seeds that turns him off tomatoes.

The enchiladas are topped with my quick sour cream made from silken tofu. It doesn’t taste as good as a cashew sour cream but it’s the quickest way to get sour cream on the table and it’s delicious when combined with salsa and topped with vegan cheese melted under the broiler. I also use it as a base for a French onion dip.

Vegan sour cream

  • package of soft silken tofu
  • 2 Tbsp grape seed oil or other neutral oil
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt

Put it all in a blender and blend until smooth. That’s it!

Enjoy!

 

Spaghetti and not-meatballs

Vegan spaghetti and meatballs
Spaghetti and vegan meatballs for my daughter, as requested.

A few days ago, I asked my daughter to make a list of meals she’d like us to make and she came up with three things: gnocchi (with inventive spelling), spaghetti and veggie burgers. We had gnocchi last night (tomato sauce for the kids, freshly made pesto for the adults) and we had spaghetti tonight. I’m saving the veggie burgers for a school night.

This dinner gave me the opportunity to try a new recipe for vegan meatballs. I’ve tried a few in the past – none have been memorable. But I have a new cookbook, The Edgy Veg: 138 Carnivore-Approved Vegan Recipes, with a recipe for meatballs.

I didn’t have high hopes for the kids to eat them – the main ingredients are eggplant and mushrooms so I knew my picky eater wouldn’t touch them. But my daughter is more adventurous and a good eater so I skipped the red pepper flakes to give her a chance to enjoy them (she has no tolerance for heat). I also swapped spinach for the parsley since apparently parsley didn’t make it on the grocery list.

Vegan spaghetti and meatballs
One hopeful meatball on my picky eater’s plate.

These are the best vegan meatballs I’ve tried so far! The onions, garlic, eggplant and mushrooms are chopped into tiny pieces in the food processor and they make a good paste when the mushrooms release their juices. When mixed with the dry ingredients, they come together easily and stay together when baked.

It is a time consuming recipe and if I’m going to spend an hour making something like this, it’s nice to have extra for the freezer (we barely have enough leftovers for lunch). I’d need a bigger food processor if I wanted to double the recipe.

My picky eater took a big bite and swallowed it (without making a face) before declaring that he doesn’t like the meatballs very much. That’s a much better review than I expected from him. These balls were herby with dried oregano, thyme and some ground cumin. The spinach was chopped sloppily and not disguised at all (should have been a deal breaker) and if you looked closely, you could see pieces of onion. But none of those things deterred him! And he just didn’t like them very much! Eggplant, mushrooms and onions came as close as they’ve ever gotten to getting a green light by him!

My daughter gobbled them all down. The only question she asked was “what’s in these?” to which I answered, “lots of things…they’re just like veggie burgers.” It’s best to keep these ingredients a secret – which she understands because she is eight, after all and there’s inconspicuous green poking out of the balls. Her brother doesn’t eat green leaves. Unless it’s summer and he’s pretending to be a rabbit in my garden. Then watch out pea leaves!

I already have plans for the last four balls – everyone else can fend for themselves – I’m having a meatball sub for lunch!

Here’s a recipe for the tomato sauce. We also had fresh bread.

 

 

Greens with roasted chickpeas, salty seed mix and a tangy avocado dressing

Vegan salad with roasted chickpeas and avocado dressing
Lettuce topped with avocado dressing, roasted chickpeas and a salty seed mix.

People often tell me they couldn’t be vegan because they could never give up cheese. I don’t miss it at all. In fact, when I think of where cheese comes from and I remember the smell of the dairy farm I visited (that inspired me to give up dairy), it turns my stomach.

One food that I do miss, though, is caesar salad. In my early teenage years, I loved caesar salad dressing. I didn’t like that caesar salads don’t include much in the way of vegetables so I would order a garden salad with the dressing and cover it in fresh pepper.

I’ve tried every vegan caesar salad dressing I could find and I was always disappointed. This dressing on my salad above gets its creaminess from avocado and it hits the spot.

Full disclosure – it didn’t pass the kids’ taste test. It was too tangy for my daughter and my son wasn’t interested. They had spaghettini with tomato sauce and roasted vegetables without any salad.

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Spaghettini with tomato sauce and roasted vegetables.

I topped their tomato sauce with a salty seed mix.

Salty seed mix

  • 2 Tbsp hemp seeds
  • 2 Tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1 Tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp olive oil

Combine the seeds, nutritional yeast and salt in a little bowl. Drizzle them with olive oil and toss it well to mix. Use to top pasta and salads.

Roasted chickpeas

Very simple stuff. Preheat the oven to 350. Drain a can of chickpeas and dry them off with a towel. Toss them in olive oil, salt and garlic powder and bake for 20 minutes. Bake further if you want them crunchy.

Vegan spaghetti dinner with salad
Salad, spaghettini with tomato sauce and vegetables

I won’t call my salad caesar because it isn’t a match but it is a nice change if you’re looking for a nice creamy dressing. Here’s how I make it.

Creamy avocado dressing

  • 1 avocado
  • 1 clove of garlic (I roasted my this time but raw is more caesar-like)
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 cup water

Blend the ingredients together and serve.

To make the salad, I topped the lettuce with dressing to ensure ultimate coverage and topped it with the chickpeas and a sprinkling of the salty seed mix.

Find the recipe for the kid-friendly tomato sauce here. The roasted vegetables were chopped to bite-sized pieces and roasted at 425 for 30 minutes.

Bon appétit!

 

Focaccia with an eggplant spread and kid-friendly spaghetti

Eggplant spread
Provencal Eggplant Caviar

Dinner tonight is just for me and the kids so I’m making a classic that everyone loves with a little something extra for me.

I love eggplant. I haven’t always – I hadn’t even tasted it until I was a teenager. In high school, I became a vegetarian and started experimenting with recipes. The first time I tried eggplant, it was terrible. I made some kind of casserole that completely ruined eggplant for me.

It wasn’t until I lived in Japan where they would bake the eggplant in a miso sauce that I truly understood how delicious eggplant could be. I haven’t found a good recipe to replicate the eggplant I had there. Any ideas?

As for the kids, my daughter recently came around to liking eggplant but it’s still on my son’s yucky list. That’s okay – he’s still developing his taste!

I got my recipes today from The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen: Meat-Free, Egg-Free, Dairy-Free Dishes from the Healthiest Region Under the Sun. I find Donna Klein’s recipes to be excellent. The eggplant spread is her Provencal Eggplant Caviar (roasted eggplant and onion with olive oil, lemon juice, tomato paste and balsamic vinegar – I left out the raw garlic and cayenne pepper for the kids). And the focaccia is her recipe too (Classic Focaccia with Rosemary, Olive Oil and Coarse Salt).

Classic rosemary focaccia
Classic focaccia made with whole wheat flour, rosemary, olive oil and sea salt.

Kid-friendly spaghetti

The tomato sauce is my own. Recipe as follows:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 chopped orange bell pepper
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
Tomato sauce with bell pepper
The orange bell pepper adds a sweetness to the tomato sauce that makes it extra popular with the kids.

I fried the garlic and pepper in the oil until they were browned. I then added the balsamic vinegar to deglaze before adding the rest of the ingredients. I simmered for about 30 minutes. Once it had thickened, I pureed it with my immersion blender to make a smooth sauce – that’s how my kids prefer their tomato sauce.

Pureed tomato sauce
Tomato sauce pureed in the pot.

The kids might not like the eggplant spread but I know they’ll devour the focaccia and spaghetti with tomato sauce.