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.

Pizza quinoa bowls (5-6 servings)

Every home cook should have a handful of go-to recipes that are quick and easy to put together on a busy night. Some of my reliable favorites include rice and beans, crispy tofu wraps, black bean and toasted corn tacos, mini pizzas, and, more recently, pizza quinoa from GirlMakesFood. Cheesy, tangy, and hearty, it's comforting in its simplicity and powerful in its nutritional content. Plus, it all comes together in about 30 minutes! I first started making this recipe about three years ago, but I've recently tweaked it to fit the bowl format that's oh so trendy right now. You can easily customize it to include your favorite pizza toppings. I want to try it with vegetarian sausage and roasted garlic next time! And if I can fix this the night before school starts when my teacher brain is in a million places simultaneously, you can have it on your table this week for sure!

Click here for a printable recipe.

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 cups dry quinoa
  • 3 cups water or broth
  • 2 cups spaghetti, marinara, or pizza sauce 
  • 1/2 cup shredded or crumbled cheese cheese (I used crumbled goat cheese)
  • your favorite pizza toppings (We used chopped cherry tomatoes and bell pepper, sautéed mushrooms and asparagus, and jarred grilled artichokes)
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan
  • Italian herb blend 

Steps:

  1. Once the quinoa has been rinsed and rubbed to remove its bitter coating, add it to a medium stockpot, along with the water or broth. Bring the quinoa to a boil, reduce to low, and simmer with the lid on for 15-20 minutes, or until the water has been absorbed.
  2. Fold in the sauce and cheese. If you used water to cook the quinoa, you might need to add a little salt to give it some flavor, but keep in mind that your toppings might be salty, so don't overload it. Spoon the quinoa into bowls.
  3. Load up each bowl with your toppings of choice. Sprinkle with parmesan and Italian herbs and serve.

I'd love to try this with leftover roasted vegetables folded in with the quinoa. This recipe is a great excuse to use up ingredients from your fridge or garden!

Apple pie granola (~8 half-cup servings)

This coming Monday night, I'm incredibly excited to be attending my very first food swap! If you're in the Triangle, come on down to Ponysaurus at 7:00 for this event, hosted by Bull City Food Swap. I've been wanting to participate in a community food swap for years now, so naturally, I was thrilled to learn about this local event.

If I care about you in any way, shape, or form, you've probably been given my granola at some point in the last couple years. Granola is one of my favorite things to make, mainly because the recipe is so flexible. I make so many different varieties, from peanut butter and Almond Joy to cranberry-almond and strawberry-walnut. On Monday, I'll be giving away bags of mocha almond granola and apple pie granola. I'm particularly proud of the apple pie variety, so I decided to share the recipe here!

Click here for a printable version.

You will need:

  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup (Tip: It mixes in easier if it's at room temperature.)
  • a splash of vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp apple pie spice (My homemade version contains cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and cardamom.)
  • a pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried apples

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325° F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with non-stick foil or spritz it with non-stick spray and set aside.
  2. Pour the oats and pecans into a large mixing bowl. Pour the maple syrup and vanilla extract  over the oats and nuts; mix with a rubber scraper or wooden spoon. Once the oats and pecans are evenly coated, sprinkle the apple pie spice and salt into the bowl and mix once again.
  3. Spread the granola mixture out on the baking sheet, making sure it's in a nice even layer. Bake for 25-30 minutes, stirring once or twice. You'll know it's done when your kitchen smells toasty-cozy and the oats are golden.
  4. Once the granola has cooled, toss it with the raisins and apples. Store the granola in an airtight container for up to two weeks. Serve with milk, on top of yogurt (pictured above), on top of ice cream, or just as a crunchy snack.

Using maple syrup instead of corn syrup or maple-flavored table syrup makes this recipe more expensive, yes, but I can't emphasize how much of a difference the real stuff makes. I love that this recipe doesn't use any oil and doesn't add sugar besides the syrup and fruit. I hope this granola will make me some new local food friends on Monday night!

Savory slow-cooked beans (8+ servings)

Happy Easter, readers! I've risen from obscurity to bring you another delicious vegetarian recipe.

If you have a slow cooker, you know it's a magical thing. You just load in the ingredients, set the time and temperature, and go about your day, returning to find a delicious, flavorful meal hours later. Although I tend to immediately think of soups and chilis when I want to use my slow cooker, I've found that beans are another easy go-to option for my Crockpot. This recipe can be customized in infinite ways, and the tender, savory beans can then be used in many different recipes or served as is. These beans freeze beautifully and reheat nicely, too.

You will need:

Basic requirements

  • 1 lb dry black beans, pinto beans, or other similarly-sized beans, picked through for debris
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 jar (15-16 oz) salsa, any variety
  • 1 tsp salt

Optional flavor boosters:

  • 1 bay leaf
  • a palmful of dried herbs and/or spices: oregano, cumin, chili powder, cinnamon, cocoa powder, chipotle powder, paprika, etc.
  • liquid smoke
  • hot sauce
  • chopped onion, carrot, celery, and/or potato
  • minced garlic
  • halved olives
  • tomato paste
  • olive oil

Secret final ingredient (after beans are cooked):

  • a splash of lime juice

Steps:

  1. Place the four basic ingredients in the bowl of a slow cooker.
  2. Add in as many ingredients as you like from the "optional flavor boosters" above, customizing add-ins to your own taste. (I love smoky beans, so I almost always add smoked paprika and liquid smoke. I love the richness a glug of olive oil adds, and if I use an onion, I usually keep it in big pieces to avoid overpowering the beans' flavor.)
  3. Give everything a stir and set the slow cooker for 9 hours on low.
  4. At the end of the cooking time, add in the lime juice. If you want to add a handful of chopped fresh herbs (cilantro is especially nice), do that now, too.
  5. Serve the beans in any way you like! (See some options below.) If you're serving them as-is, you might want to add some more salt. If you're using the beans as part of another recipe, you probably don't need more salt.

These beans can be used in a huge variety of ways. Here are some suggestions:

  • Make burrito bowls (as in the last picture above) by serving the beans on top of brown rice with roasted corn, chopped avocado, and any toppings you like (sour cream, cheese, green onions, cilantro, etc.).
  • Serve them alongside scrambled eggs, more salsa, and tortillas for a savory breakfast or brunch dish.
  • Blend them into soup for a light and quick meal.
  • Fold them into enchiladas.
  • Add them to your favorite chili recipe.
  • Use them in a potluck salad.
  • Make a spicy casserole.
  • Turn them into tacos.

If you don't like spicy heat, you could make these with a mild salsa or even substitute a can of crushed tomatoes for the salsa. At less than $1.00 a serving, you can't beat the ease and convenience of this recipe.