Spicy peanut noodles with carrots and kale (4-5 servings)

One of the many things I like about both Whole Foods and the more local Durham Co-Op Market is the variety of ready-made salads, meals, and side dishes they both offer. A few summers ago, I had a cold noodle salad at Whole Foods and was inspired to play around with a couple recipes I found online to make my own version. I think I’ve finally perfected it! Unless you count boiling noodles as cooking, it’s a no-cook recipe, and it keeps well in the fridge for a couple days. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we do!

Click here for a printable recipe.

You will need:

Noodles & friends

  • ~10 oz dried rice noodles

  • ~2 cups torn curly kale leaves, washed and rinsed and dried lightly (Use a towel or salad spinner)

  • 2 medium carrots

  • Canola, vegetable, or sesame oil

  • Chopped roasted peanut or cashews (optional)

Sauce

  • 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce (Use coconut aminos to make it gluten-free)

  • 3 Tbsp smooth peanut butter (Almond butter would probably work well too)

  • 1/2 Tbsp maple syrup or agave

  • 1-2 tsp Sriracha, depending on spice preference

  • 2 Tbsp lime juice

Steps:

  1. Cook the rice noodles according to package directions. While the water boils, you can chop (or tear) and wash the kale if you haven’t done so already. Peel the carrots into strips or use a food processor to shred them. Place the kale and carrots in a large serving bowl and set aside.

  2. When the noodles are cooked, drain them in a colander and then toss them with a thin drizzle of oil to keep them from sticking together as they cool.

  3. While the noodles cool, make the sauce. Add the sauce ingredients to a mason jar and shake to combine, or mix them together in a bowl with a fork. (If it’s cool where you are — ha! — you might need to zap the peanut butter in the microwave for a couple seconds to thin it out.)

  4. Once the noodles are cool, add them to the serving bowl with the kale and carrots. (It helps to cut the noodles into smaller pieces and spread them out as you add them to the bowl.) Pour over the sauce and toss with tongs to combine. Serve cold or at room temperature, garnished with chopped peanuts, lime slices, and extra Sriracha if you like!

Smoky tempeh chili (4-5 servings)

I love smoky flavors. The deep, toasty scent and aroma of smoked foods transport me to chilly evenings when the breeze is heavy with the scent of woodsmoke and fallen leaves. Last week’s heat wave in Durham could be the reason I’ve found myself craving smoky dishes lately!

Today’s chili recipe, which is very loosely based on this one from Connisseurus Veg, is a snap to put together. If you’ve been curious about tempeh but haven’t taken the plunge yet, this is a great starting point. This chili is dairy-free and can be made gluten-free if you buy wheat-free tempeh and make sure your broth doesn’t contain gluten.

If you want the recipe only slightly smoky, use the first version of each ingredient listed. If you want a deeper smoky flavor, use some or all of the ingredient versions in parentheses below.

Click here for a printable recipe.

You will need:

  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil

  • 1 8-oz package tempeh, cut or crumbled into chunks [I used Lightlife three-grain tempeh]

  • 4 garlic cloves, minced

  • 1 16-oz jar salsa (use chipotle salsa for smokiness)

  • 1 tsp onion powder (toasted onion powder)

  • 1 14-oz can diced tomatoes (fire-roasted)

  • 1 15-oz can pinto, kidney, or black beans, drained [I used a mixed can of all three types]

  • 3 sun-dried tomatoes, minced

  • 1/2 Tbsp chili powder

  • 1 tsp smoked paprika

  • 3/4 cup corn kernels (roasted corn)

  • 1 cup water or vegetable broth

Steps:

  1. Add vegetable oil to a stockpot and turn heat to medium. Once the oil is hot, add the tempeh pieces and saute for about 5 minutes, trying to brown it on all sides.

  2. Add the minced garlic and saute for another minute.

  3. Stir in all the remaining ingredients (If your corn is frozen, don’t bother to thaw it first) and increase the heat to medium-high. Once the mixture boils, lower the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the chili is nice and thick.

  4. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with your favorite chili toppings: Cheese (vegan or not), avocado, cilantro, scallions, or crushed tortilla chips!

This chili is very filling, and it freezes well too!

Oven frittata (6 servings) plus a personal update

Hi, friendly readers! This is my first post since March. That was MARCH, as in four months ago. For the last nine years, this blog has been a fun way to motivate myself to try new recipes and share the results. But over the past few months, food has become a touchy subject as I learned to deal with new digestive symptoms and a handful of new food intolerances. Cooking and eating became a lot less fun, so blogging seemed pointless for a time.

But before I get into symptoms and newly-discovered intolerances, I want to share a lovely frittata recipe I've made a couple of times lately. And if you found your way to this post because you've got your own food intolerances and are looking for some sympathy and advice, go ahead and continue reading after the recipe.

Think of this frittata as a versatile, protein-packed crustless quiche. It can be made on a lazy Sunday morning and reheated throughout the week for breakfast. It makes a fancy-yet-simple lunch or even dinner entrée. It can be eaten cold, as quiches sometimes are (although my preference is warm). It's an excellent (egg-cellent?) recipe for using up whatever grilled, roasted, steamed, sautéed, or canned veggies you have, and the results can be frozen and reheated on a later date. Really, there isn't much else I can say other than this is a recipe to keep on hand for all sorts of occasions! And LOOK at it! It's a culinary topographical wonder with its craggy protrusions and crispy, oven-scorched patches. Gorgeous!

You will need:

  • 8 eggs
  • 3 Tbsp half and half (You can use water if you'd prefer)
  • About a cup of chopped, cooked leftover veggies or prepared canned or jarred vegetables (I used sun-dried tomatoes, jarred grilled artichokes, and sliced Kalamata olives for the one shown here; I've since made a second one with grilled asparagus, cherry tomatoes, and sautéed mushrooms.)
  • A handful or two of salad greens, chopped roughly (I used a mixture of baby spinach and arugula for both iterations.)
  • A tablespoon or so of your favorite fresh herbs, or half a tablespoon of dried herbs
  • Half a cup of shredded or crumbled cheese (I used feta the first time and a pizza blend the second time.)
  • Salt and pepper

Steps:

  1. First, preheat the oven to 400° F. Spritz some non-stick spray on a deep pie dish or swipe a little cooking oil on the bottom and inside. Set pie dish aside.
  2. Next, crack the eggs into a large bowl and pour in the half and half. Use a whisk or fork to beat the eggs and incorporate the half and half. Fold in the vegetables, salad greens, herbs, cheese, and a dash of salt and pepper. (If you use a salty cheese like feta, you'll want a smaller amount of salt.
  3. Gently pour the egg mixture into the pie dish. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the eggs are set. You can test for done-ness by inserting a thin knife and making sure it comes out clean and by shaking the dish a bit to make sure the eggs aren't still liquid.
  4. Once the eggs are set, remove the dish from the oven and allow it to cool for 5-10 minutes. Cut the frittata into six slices. Serve immediately or once cooled.

You can also wrap individual slices with plastic wrap and stick the slices in a gallon freezer bag to freeze until later. I unwrap and defrost one slice for about 40 seconds in the microwave and then put it in the toaster oven at 350° for about ten minutes. By the time I've brewed and poured my morning coffee, I've got a healthy breakfast ready for me!


If you were here just for the recipe, go ahead and get on with your day!

From a very young age, I've had a variety of digestive troubles -- some painful and disruptive and some just confusing and bothersome -- that I put down to a mixture of genetics and bad luck. I've archived a shockingly extensive backlog of embarrassing tales, turned entertaining by time, involving crowded public places and desperate dashes to find a bathroom. (Everybody's got at least one of those stories, right?) I've missed school and work days and social functions and gone through days-long periods where all I could keep down were plain foods like applesauce and saltine crackers. Finally, in college, I was diagnosed with IBS and over the years, I've treated it with traditional prescriptions and alternative therapies (massage, peppermint pills, Reiki) alike. I kept extensive food diaries that finally helped me identify some triggers, which ranged from the predictable and scientifically-supported (artificial sweeteners, onions) to the bizarre and surprising (Iceberg and Romaine lettuce, tequila but no other liquors). Hot and humid weather made my symptoms worse; if I was already stressed, foods that wouldn't normally bother me suddenly became intolerable. Years of digestive distress made me hyper-aware of my body and my cycles, and I grew to think of my large intestine like a reclusive but crazy neighbor: I never actually saw him in person, but every once in a while, he'd do something impulsive and destructive in the darkness of the early morning to make me late for work (always on a day when my class was being observed or I had a parent meeting, of course).

But I learned to live with my symptoms. I could usually laugh off the lateness or sudden disappearances during meetings with a vague-yet-socially-acceptable excuse. ("Belly troubles again! Sorry!") But about a year ago, my symptoms started changing, and none of the treatments I'd used for years were working any longer. Planning meals became more difficult as my reactions became more unpredictable. I found my way to a holistic doctor who taught me, first of all, that there are no "normal" levels of symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation. Almost any time the body reacts with one of those symptoms, it's a sign that something is wrong. She also helped me understand that the IBS I was viewing as the cause was only a symptom of a deeper problem. The IBS had been triggered by food poisoning I had experienced as a child, causing the healthy levels of bacteria in my gut to get all out of whack. Without rebalancing those bacteria, she explained, my IBS symptoms would never go away. My real issue was SIBO, small intestinal bacteria overgrowth. In effect, this meant that processes that were supposed to happen exclusively in the small intestine were also occurring in the large intestine, creating byproducts the large intestine wasn't equipped to eliminate, leading to a number of other digestive problems.

Thus began a months-long period of trial and error involving a weird assortment of herbal supplements, malodorous teas, electrical nerve stimulation, and a hell of a lot of bloodwork, all in an attempt to kick the disruptive, drunken guests out of the pool party and sneakily invite only the polite guests back in. And for a while, I was starting to feel better. An errant onion in a stir fry didn't leave me groaning on the floor for hours! I was bloated only two days each week instead of five!

But then, a few months into my crunchy granola-sprinkled journey down the holistic path, I suddenly felt worse -- more lethargic, bloated, discouraged and in more pain than I had felt in at least a decade. A blood test revealed hidden food intolerances that added to my growing mental list of Foods I Cannot Have. On one hand, I was grateful to know what had been bothering me, but at the same time, I was intimidated by starting a new elimination diet. My food intolerance blood test results fit into three columns: green for foods I could easily tolerate, yellow for things that might trigger me, and red for things I should never eat again. My three "reds" were sesame, buckwheat, and yeast. Here is a quick list of the things I've learned in dealing with my new intolerances:

  1. There are three types of yeast struggles: Yeast allergy, yeast overgrowth, and yeast intolerance. Thank goodness I don't have a true allergy. This isn't anything life-threatening that will lead to anaphylactic shock.
  2. I didn't have a chance to talk to my doctor about a diet plan right after learning about my yeast intolerance (long story) so at first, I had to figure out what to avoid on my own. Most of the resources I found online were about eating for a yeast overgrowth, which means avoiding anything that contains yeast OR feeds the yeast already living in the body. That meant nothing fermented (no alcohol, mushrooms, soy sauce, tempeh, seitan, vinegar or anything containing vinegar like pickles) and nothing with sugar (no dairy, desserts, no added sugars in store-bought products, and hardly any fruit or refined carbs) and no yeast of any type, of course. I followed this diet for a few weeks until I could meet with my doctor, only to learn I had been too strict and could add some things back in. I certainly was grateful!
  3. At first, my doctor advised I completely cut out all the "reds" plus my ten or so "yellows," which included dairy, soy, wheat, rice, oats, and a few easy-to-avoid foods like instant coffee. I made a list of my yellows and reds, plus the triggers I'd discovered from personal experience over the years and suddenly had a long and frustrating list of things to avoid. I choose to be vegetarian, which can be challenging enough in itself, but adding another long list of no-go's made shopping, cooking, going out, and socializing very stressful. Faced with that long list (and again, I was unknowingly operating under the too-strict yeast-free diet in the beginning), I had the first anxiety attack I'd had in several years. At that point, I decided I could focus only on the reds before I took on anything else.
  4. Even after I learned I'd been too strict, I found out yeast is a tough thing to avoid. It's used to make breads, baked goods like croissants, some pancakes and waffles, and some snacks and boxed cereals. Yeast extract is used as flavoring in a ton of products, from salad dressing to crackers. (Sometimes, much to my fiery frustration, "natural flavoring" contains yeast, but packages rarely disclose that information.) Nutritional yeast is a go-to ingredient in many vegan recipes. Brewer's yeast, as far as I can tell, is used to make all alcoholic products except tequila (which I can't have anyway), gin, and vodka. However, flavored versions of these products might contain yeast. Unfiltered vinegars contain yeast, and raspberries go bad quickly enough that they should be avoided if you've got a yeast intolerance.
  5. There is a LOT of confusing and conflicting information online in the few resources that address yeast intolerance. For example, some sources say nuts should be avoided, some say only certain types of nuts are safe, and some don't mention nuts at all. A medical professional can help you sift through what's really important.
  6. Yeast-free and vegetarian is a difficult combination, especially when it comes to protein replacements. Almost every soy chicken patty, grain sausage, or veggie burger in the grocery store has yeast extract in it for flavoring. In some restaurants, the only vegetarian option is a sandwich, but I can't have any bread (gluten-free or otherwise) or most wraps (unless I can scrutinize the package's ingredients).
  7. If you're learning to cope with a new food intolerance, keep a running list of photos of items that are safe for you. In some cases, only one variety of one product might be safe for you. In that case, it's helpful to have a visual collection you can easily refer to.
  8. It's also difficult to shop and cook around multiple food intolerances. A product that's safe for one intolerance might not work for another. For example, I've been eating one brand of crisp breads as a toast/bread substitute because they don't contain yeast. However, one flavor contains buckwheat and another contains sesame!
  9. Reading headlines on grocery checkout magazines made me believe that identifying and eliminating my hidden intolerances would lead to increased energy, glowing skin, and immediate weight loss. Apparently, some people's bodies do react this way. However, I'm apparently one of the people whose energy goes toward healing the internal damage that's been done for years. I've avoided my reds for about three months now and have yet to lose any weight.
  10. Dealing with a food intolerance can be lonely and frustrating. Especially when it's new, it feels overwhelming. For some people, food is just fuel, but cooking and eating are a deep aspect of my identity, and changing the way I viewed food was harder than I anticipated. I realized I took for granted being able to find something to eat at a catered work function or being able to grab a snack out of a vending machine. The only way to cope, especially in the beginning, is to plan the hell out of your day. You have to plan for every meal, snack, and beverage. Keeping a stash of safe snacks in your car, purse, or office is useful. Don't count on restaurant servers being able to identify the presence of something as granular as yeast in a finished dish. After enough time, you'll learn which cuisines are safest for you. (Chinese is tough with yeast intolerance; Indian is safer.) Travelling and visiting family gets trickier with new intolerances, especially if you're the type who hates putting people out and being the center of attention.
  11. If you've been feeling terrible for a long time, don't give up. If you're able, look into alternative therapies and doctors non-Western training. In some cases, a prescription pill is exactly what a person needs. But in other cases, that pill can either mask symptoms without actually solving the problem or cause new side effects. Holistic treatments can be weird (Ask me about my TENS unit sometime!) but my thinking, especially about the traditional herbal therapies, is that if there was NO utility in them, their use would have ended a long time ago. Don't be afraid to ask around and read new books and talk to a variety of professionals, all while keeping your health and a healthy sense of skepticism in the foreground, of course.

All in all, I'm grateful for the new knowledge and I'm mindful of the fact that things could be worse. This isn't a dangerous autoimmune disorder, and it's not a terminal disease. I'm not in constant invisible pain, and I'm not missing enough work that my job security is at risk. I'm lucky I have access to a holistic doctor and that I can afford to pay her fees out of pocket since our insurance doesn't cover her services. I'm thankful I live in an area with a ridiculous number of grocery stores so that when one is out of that single flavor of frozen waffles I can handle, I can check another store. I can't even imagine the thousands (hundreds of thousands? millions?) of people worldwide who have food intolerances they'll never know about either because they don't have access to the medical professionals who can identify them or they can't get to the food they'll need. I'm very aware of the privileged position I'm in, and I'm thankful things aren't worse. It's a new phase of my culinary life, but if it makes me feel better in the long run, it's a road I'm willing to continue down, slowly but surely.

Mixed citrus salad with feta and mint (~4 servings)

I know I've said this before, but every damn smittenkitchen recipe I make is fabulous. Deb is some sort of culinary sorceress; each recipe comes out perfectly seasoned and intensely flavorful. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I've never been let down by any of her creations. Now if only I could replicate her photography skills...

Here in Durham, the last two days' weather has been the meteorological equivalent of a cold, soggy sponge abandoned in the kitchen sink by an inconsiderate roommate. Days like this beg for happy, invigorating recipes like this one. Its vivid colors and succulent flavors are like optimism on a fork. They'll have you longing for sunnier days, warmer temperatures, and carefree afternoons with friends.

Then, perhaps, you'll remember pollen allergies. And mosquitoes. And sunburns. And stifling Carolina humidity. And sweaty thighs singed by car vinyl. And sinus headaches just ahead of summer thunderstorms.

You decide that maybe, for now, you're content with summery recipes and can wait on the other junk.

You will need:

  • 2 scallions
  • 4 pieces of citrus (I used a ruby red grapefruit, one blood orange, a navel orange, and a tangelo)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp smooth Dijon mustard (Read the label carefully if you're going for gluten-free)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • ~3 Tbsp crumbled feta cheese
  • a handful of fresh mint leaves, chopped or slivered

Steps:

  1. Thinly slice the green parts of the scallions into the bottom of a tall bowl. (I used my herb scissors for this step and for slivering the mint later on. Thanks, Mom!) Place a strainer or colander over the bowl.
  2. Next, you want to cut the peel off each piece of fruit and then slice it horizontally into 1/4"-thick wheels. The goal is to cut the white pith off (Oh, you pith off!) to avoid any bitterness. (Honestly, the best way to explain the cutting method is to provide this video, which illustrates the process beautifully. Pluck out any seeds as you go.)
  3. Place the slices of fruit in the strainer, which is now resting over the scallion bowl. The acidity from the juice will mellow the scallions. Allow them to drain a few minutes while you clean up your cutting board and find a shallow serving dish.
  4. Spread the citrus wheels out on the dish, overlapping the pieces as necessary. Use a fork or slotted spoon to fish the scallion slices out of the bowl; scatter them on top of the fruit, leaving the citrus juice behind in the bowl.
  5. Add the lemon juice, Dijon, and olive oil to the citrus juice in the bowl. Add a bit of salt and pepper. Whisk well.
  6. Drizzle the dressing over the fruit, then sprinkle with crumbled feta and chopped mint. Serve chilled.

This is a true appetizer: one that whets the palate without weighing it down with anything fried, bloomed, or stuffed. (Not that there's anything wrong with fried, bloomed, or stuffed, but there's a time and place for everything, you know.)

Smoky-spicy bar mix (~3.5 cups)

I don't know about all of you, but if I'm ever going to be caught off guard by a social event or expectation, it's going to happen in November or December. Between thoughts of, "That party is this week?" and, "I thought you were getting the hostess gift," I find myself scrambling at least once a week from now until after New Year's.

And yes, I do recognize the irony of working part-time as an executive functioning coach while I struggle with time management and organization myself.

But anyway, whether you're fumbling to figure out what to serve as an appetizer for Thanksgiving, bring to a friend's holiday housewarming, give to your coworker for a Secret Santa gift, or present to that tough-to-shop-for relative, I've got the solution: A jar of crunchy, salty, smoky, spicy nuts and seeds from Oh She Glows. The recipe is dairy-free and vegan, and it can be made gluten-free by swapping out the soy sauce for coconut aminos. And it takes almost no time to put together!

Click here for a printable recipe.

You will need:

  • 1 1/4 cups raw unsalted cashews
  • 1 1/4 cups raw unsalted almonds
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes or chips (Something like this -- not traditional sweetened, shredded coconut)
  • 2 Tbsp sesame seeds
  • 2 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
  • 1/2 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp liquid smoke
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp smoked sweet paprika
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper or hot sauce (I used chipotle-flavored hot sauce)

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325° F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with non-stick foil or parchment paper.
  2. Mix the cashews, almonds, coconut, and sesame seeds in a medium bowl and set aside.
  3. In a small bowl (or even a mug), mix the remaining ingredients with a fork or small whisk.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients over the nuts mixture and toss to coat evenly.
  5. Spread the mixture out on the baking sheet in a thin layer.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes; stir, and then bake for another 10 minutes, or until the coconut flakes are golden brown.
  7. Allow to cool; store in an airtight container (if it makes it that far).

I made a few tiny changes to the original recipe; I increased the cashews and almonds and decreased the liquid smoke slightly. The original author recommended running the range fan and opening a window, so that made me a little leery of using the full liquid smoke amount. Even with the smaller amount, it was still pleasantly smoky, especially since I used chipotle hot sauce in addition to the smoked paprika.

By the way, if you're on the fence about the coconut, don't skip it! Yes, it's unusual, but in the oven, it becomes crispy and golden, and it lends a beautiful flavor without being too assertive. I wouldn't say it tastes coconut-y at all, really!