Saturday, September 3, 2011

Back to Basics...

picture and original recipe courtesy of Peas and Thank You
When I first met Husband almost 9 years ago, I was a relative vegetarian.  I say 'relative' because I wavered on things like fish or seafood (and eggs), but I didn't eat any red or white meat in any way, shape or form.  Husband, on the other hand, was a super-carnivore. To him, vegetables were merely decoration and took up valuable space that could be occupied by meat. And fish was something you kept in an aquarium - not on your plate.

Over the past "almost-decade", I taught Husband to embrace vegetables, love seafood and even eat tofu. He taught me to eat steak.  We found a happy medium of herbivore and carnivore. And it worked for quite a while.  But somewhere along the way, that changed.  Little Miss joined our family, and it made us stand up and take notice of our lifestyle - and eating habits.  Suddenly words like 'organic' and 'natural' were part of our everyday vernacular - and our grocery list.  A few years ago, you'd be hard pressed to find fresh fruit or vegetbales of any kind in our kitchen; now our fridge and countertops are overflowing with bright colored, sweet fruits and veggies of all kind.  We stopped buying meat from the grocery store and sought out an organic butcher.  Dairy and egg products had to be organic and antibiotic free.  We strived to feed Little Miss only homemade food - with very little additives or processed ingredients - and for the most part, we've been successful. She's definitely a "picky eater", but she's always chosen homemade over processed. (I think I've borne the only child on the planet that HATES Kraft Dinner.)

Husband and I however, weren't as diligent about our own diets as we were with hers. Until now.  Ok - I'll admit, I'm still not as diligent as I should be. I give in to temptation quite easily.  I'm a professional baker - it kind of goes with the territory.  But Husband has adopted a new clean lifestyle - which no longer includes meat.  Or dairy. Or Bread. Or anything processed. Yes, you read that right.  Nothing processed.  Only whole or raw plant-based foods.

Switching away from meat has never been a big deal for me. I've always been 'take it or leave it' about meat.  Whole food cooking however, was a completely foreign concept, and challenged everything I know (and love) about cooking.  No oils, no dressings, no premade or processed sauces, condiments or ingredients of any kind.  Over the years, I've accumulated quite the pantry full of exotic oils, condiments and other funky (and totally processed) ingredients.  Those brightly colored bottles and boxes have been replaced with bags of all natural granola, organic vegetable broth, goji berries, raw cacao and tetra packs of almond milk. This is so NOT my pantry.

Admittedly, I haven't embraced this change easily - or willingly. I'll be honest, I pretty much do all the grocery shopping and cooking around here. So a change like this is huge.  It was as if my entire world was turned upside down.  Meals suddenly required extreme planning. Take out was no longer an option. Labels needed to be scrutinized.  Cooking became a nuisance rather than a joy.  Simple acts like sauteing onions in a bit of oil, or buttering toast were monumental challenges to overcome.  It annoyed me.  And for quite a while, I resisted it at every turn. Until one day I stopped to think about what I was resisting: a husband who loves his family enough to change his lifestyle so drastically so that he can live a long, healthy life.  I must be out of my mind.

It just so happened that this drastic change - and epiphany on my end - coincided with the release of an amazing book called "Peas and Thank You" - a cookbook written by a mom who chose to raise her family (which includes two small children) vegan, and it's full of amazing recipes.  This cookbook has changed my perspective on vegan cooking. Dishes don't have to be laden with fats, or dairy products or meat to be delicious.  And there are many wonderful - and easy ways to substitute those elements and still create a wonderful meal. 

What was - as recently as a couple of weeks ago - a huge upset and inconvenience, has become a challenge that I'm a little more willing to accept:  to find new ways to cook delicious food in a whole-food-healthy way.  And I'm putting my culinary skills to the test.  For example, I figured out the other day that avocado is an excellent substitute for butter. It's rich, creamy, melts easily and's a fat! (A healthy fat to boot.)  This little trick came in very handy in the recipe I'm sharing below.  The mashed potato topping wouldn't be mashed potato without a little "milk and butter".

Little Miss and I are not completely following Husband's diet. She's only two and still requires certain foods that he won't eat. But we've modified our eating habits quite a bit. She's never cared for meat anyway, and we're doing our best to ensure she gets all the protein, iron and other nutrients she needs from other sources.  And while I still cook with oil or butter at times for me - I'm much more conscious about how much I'm using - and how often.

It's been 3 months since Husband started this quest. In that time, he's lost over 60 lbs, is in great shape and looks and feels way better than he has in a very long time.  And I'm extremely proud of him.  So proud that I made him a modified version of Peas and Thank You's Indian Shepherd's Pie.  It's definitely a "Sunday Supper" kind of meal. It took multiple pots and multiple appliances to make. But the look of utter satisfaction and delight on his face when he tasted it was worth it.  And it really didn't take that much modfiying to make it a "whole food" recipe. Oh - and honestly, you won't even miss the meat!


Indian Shepherd's Pie
This is my version of the recipe - I've adapted it from Peas and Thank You: simple meatless meals the whole family will love.

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed in 1-inch pieces
1 pound butternut squash, peeled and cubed in 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon very ripe avocado
2 tablespoons non-dairy milk (I used almond milk)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/3 cups water
2 cups cooked lentils (I used green lentils but any kind would work)
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup vegetable broth
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tbsp coriander (ground)
1 cup organic spinach, choppped
1/2 cup dried cranberries


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add sweet potatoes and butternut squash.  Cover, reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. When potatoes and squash are fork-tender, drain and add to a large bowl.

3. Using an electric or stand mixer, add avocado and non-dairy milk and cinnamon and whip until fluffy and lump-free.

4. In a smaller pot, cook lentils according to package instructions.

5. In a large skillet, saute onion, carrots and chick peas in 2 tablespoons of vegetable broth until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute for one minute.  Add remaining broth, curry, coriander and simmer.  Add lentils to pot when ready and cook for another 3-5 minutes to allow sauce to thicken. Add spinach and dried cranberries and stir until combined.

6. Grease a 2 quart baking/casserole dish with avocado and add vegetable mixture.  Top with mashed squash and sweet potato topping and spread evenly to cover filling.  Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes.

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