They’re a perfect fall dessert, and healthy too! These doughnuts are made with all natural vegan ingredients – red kidney beans, unsweetened soy milk, vanilla extract, coconut sugar, cocoa powder, flour and baking powder – and you wouldn’t believe how good they taste.
The glaze is super easy to make too – made in my KitchenAid Stainless Steel sauce pan with fresh pumpkin puree, coconut cream and coconut sugar and pumpkin pie spice all cooked into a gooey luscious caramel sauce then topped with flaky sea salt – it’s the most lovely combination of Fall flavors in one tiny bite!
ooh…aren’t they lovely and delicious? Oh, and they’re vegan and gluten-free too! Isn’t that wonderful.
I recently did a food styling project for Morningstar Farms to promote some of their new products to local food editors in NYC, and one of them I got to sample and loved was their Spicy Indian Veggie Burger. I’m not normally a fan of frozen food products and I’m definitely not a Vegan, but I was really impressed with the flavor and texture of these, and decided to make a delicious Curry Cilantro Slaw to go with it along with a Peanut Satay Yogurt Sauce for topping served with some Grilled Pita.
The Indian Veggie burgers have organic red lentils, chickpeas, carrots, potatoes, peas, bell peppers, coconut cream and curry seasonings in them, and are 100% vegan. They are super easy to cook too – I just cooked them for about 10 minutes in a sauté pan, but they could also be grilled or microwaved. The best part is they are only 130 calories and have lots of protein in them so they’re healthy and a great vegan/vegetarian option when you’re seeking lighter fare.
My Curry Cilantro Slaw is super delicious as a topping and side salad with grilled pita bread (or you could stuff it all into the pita, or Naan bread if you wish). The slaw has purple and white cabbage, carrots, celery, honey, olive oil, cilantro, golden balsamic vinegar, and some indian spices such as black sesame seed, cumin seed, curry powder, and indian red pepper to give it a little kick, then topped with toasted crushed peanuts for some extra crunch.
The best part? My Peanut Satay Yogurt Sauce – made with Greek yogurt, satay seasoning, and some peanut butter with a little dash of Indian red pepper. The creamy sauce goes perfect on the burgers and cools the heat and has a delicious peanut-y savory taste. You can find satay seasoning online at Penzey’s (the brand I use) or on Amazon – it has a gorgeous blend of spices such as salt, brown sugar, garlic, onion, coriander, shallots, ginger, turmeric, paprika, galangal, cayenne and lemongrass..so good! And of course you could substitute any nut butter you wish for the sauce – cashew, sunflower, or almond butter would be great too.
And of course if you are feeling adventurous and have the time to make your own Indian burgers from scratch, I found a great recipe from Whole Foods which would be great with the Curry Slaw and Satay Yogurt Sauce as well. You could also serve this with some curry chicken, spiced beef or lamb burgers, or even spicy grilled fish and it would be equally delicious!
Also, just a heads up – this recipe feeds a crowd (about 6-8 people). If you’re only serving a few, just cut the recipe in half (or quarter it if you’re dining solo!) Enjoy.
Indian Burgers with Curry Cilantro Slaw & Peanut Satay Yogurt Sauce
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Serving Size: 1-2 burgers with 1 piece of pita, 1/2 cup of slaw,
Spicy Indian veggie burgers, served with a Curry Cilantro Slaw and Peanut Satay Yogurt sauce served on grilled pita bread.
Curry Cilantro Slaw:
2 tablespoons golden balsamic vinegar
Juice from 1/2 fresh lime (about 2 tablespoons)
4 tablespoons honey or agave nectar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon Indian black sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon indian red pepper
1 tablespoon sea salt
1/2 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper
8 cups shredded coleslaw (cabbage and carrots)
1 cup diced celery
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup peanuts, toasted and crushed
Peanut Satay Yogurt Sauce:
1-17.6 ounce container Greek yogurt
4-5 tablespoons Peanut Butter (or Almond, Cashew or Sunflower butter)
2 tablespoons Satay seasoning
1/4 teaspoon Indian red pepper
Spicy Indian Burgers:
8 frozen Spicy Indian Burgers (2 packages) (Morningstar farms)
8 slices pita bread or naan bread
Curry Cilantro Slaw:
In a large bowl, mix together the vinegar, lime juice, honey, olive oil and seasonings.
Add coleslaw mix, celery and cilantro and mix together well.
Heat a small saute pan over medium heat and toast the peanuts until lightly browned.
Remove from heat and let cool, crush into small pieces and add to the coleslaw, reserving a small amount for topping the burgers.
Cover and place in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to let flavors meld.
Peanut Satay Yogurt Sauce:
Place all the ingredients in a small mixing bowl and stir together.
Cover and set aside in the refrigerator while preparing Indian burgers and grilled pita.
Spicy Indian Burgers:
Heat a large saute pan over medium heat.
Spray cooking oil on each side of the burgers and cook for about 10 minutes, turning half way through until golden brown.
Cook burgers in batches and set aside.
Spray a little more oil on the pita or naan bread and cook until lightly browned, for about 2-3 minutes, turning to cook both sides.
Serve the burgers hot with grilled pita bread topped with Peanut Satay sauce, and Curry Cilantro slaw on top or on the side as a salad (or stuff it all inside the pita or naan bread).
- You can also substitute any nut butter (cashew, almond, sunflower seed) for the Satay Yogurt sauce.
- The slaw and yogurt sauce would also be equally delicious on grilled spicy chicken, beef or lamb burgers or spicy grilled fish.
- If you're serving only 2-4 people, cut the recipe in half.
Last week I had the fantastic opportunity to cook and do food styling for a special healthy food segment on the “Joy Behar: Say Anything!” TV Show featuring Dr. Neal D. Barnard, M.D., founder and president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). Dr. Barnard sits down with guest host Marilu Henner to discuss how saturated fat makes you sluggish and which colored foods are good for your brain and improve memory. Barnard says, “Greens, foliage — that contributes folate, which is a B vitamin which protects the brain.” He adds, “So when you see the greens, you know that’s good for the brain.” He also goes into discussing what foods to avoid such as heavy carb and fat-laden foods that make us tired and lack energy.
I was asked to cook and style four of Dr. Barnard’s recipes from his new book “Power Foods for the Brain: An Effective 3-Step Plan to Protect Your Mind and Strengthen Your Memory” to display during the TV interview food segment. The recipes were all colorful and healthy and made with Power Foods and all-natural ingredients: Summer Salad made with Rainbow Chard, tomatoes, corn, onions and garlic and pecans, Minted Fruit Kebabs made with a Citrus Lime and Mint light dressing, Marinated Grilled Veggie Kabobs marinated in a balsamic and herb dressing, and Super Raspberry Protein Brownies made with black beans, raspberry jam, cocoa powder and figs.
Could that glass of milk affect your memory? Is that aluminum can increasing your risk for Alzheimer’s disease? Can a banana be a brain booster? Everyone knows that good nutrition supports your overall health, but did you know that certain foods can protect your brain and optimize its function?
In POWER FOODS FOR THE BRAIN, Dr. Neal Barnard has gathered the most important research and studies to deliver a program that can boost brain health, reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, and other less serious malfunctions, including low energy, poor sleep patterns, irritability, and lack of focus. The plan includes information on:
The best foods to increase cognitive function and boost folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12
The dangers dairy products and meats may have on memory
The role alcohol plays in Alzheimer’s risk
The latest research on certain toxic metals, like aluminums found in cookware, soda cans, and common antacids
Plus, 50-75 recipes and timesaving kitchen tips.
Here are the recipes I made and styled for the show. Enjoy!
Summer Salad – The more naturally colorful your meal is, the more likely it is to have an abundance of immune-boosting antioxidants and phytochemicals. The same foods that are good for your heart are good for your brain.
Chard’s slight bitterness is beautifully balanced by the sweetness of the corn and grapes, resulting in a surprising depth of flavor.
½ small white onion
3 cloves garlic
Leaves from 1 bunch chard
4 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 ½ cups fresh corn kernels
¼ cup pecan halves
1 cup seedless black grapes
Pinch of sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Mince the onion and garlic, then smash them together a couple times with the back of a knife or with a mortar and pestle.
Wash the Swiss chard thoroughly, as it tends to be gritty, then slice it into ribbons by tightly bunching the leaves together and slicing them with a sharp, heavy knife. Place the chard in a salad bowl, add the remaining ingredients, and toss.
Marinated Grilled Veggie Kebabs – these are super easy to make and super colorful, and healthy. Marinated in a dressing made with balsamic vinegar, orange juice, honey, mustard and maple syrup with Italian season before grilling, they are super tasty too.
Serve these savory kebabs over a brown rice pilaf for a satisfying and easy meal.
16 cherry tomatoes
2 red onions, each cut into 8 bite-size chunks
2 green or red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into 8 pieces each
16 button mushrooms
1 small yellow summer squash, cut into 8 pieces
1 small zucchini, cut into 8 pieces
½ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup orange juice
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
8 metal skewers, or bamboo skewers soaked in water for 30 minutes
Place the cherry tomatoes, red onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, squash, and zucchini in a large bowl.
In a small bowl, combine the marinade ingredients and whisk well. Pour the marinade over the vegetables and stir to coat. Marinate for 15 minutes.
Heat a charcoal or gas grill or your oven’s broiler. Onto one skewer, thread the ingredients in the following manner: 1 tomato, 1 red onion chunk, 1 pepper piece, 1 mushroom, 1 yellow summer squash slice, 1 tomato, 1 zucchini slice, 1 red onion chunk, 1 pepper, and 1 mushroom. Repeat with remaining ingredients and skewers. Place the kebabs on the hot grill or a broiler pan and brush with the marinade. Grill for 7 minutes, or until desired tenderness, turning the kebabs a few times. Serve immediately.
Minted Fruit Kebabs – Power up with blueberries and grapes. These “brain berries” get their deep colors from anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants shown to improve learning and recall in studies at the University of Cincinnati.
Fresh fruit makes a striking appearance in these antioxidant-rich kebabs. Enjoy them for a refreshing, light dessert!
8 red or green grapes
4 large strawberries
4 1-inch-square cantaloupe chunks
4 1-inch-square honeydew chunks
4 1/2-inch-thick slices peeled kiwi
4 1-inch-square watermelon chunks
1/4 cup orange juice
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 10-inch bamboo skewers
Thread 1 grape, 1 strawberry, 1 cantaloupe chunk, 1 honeydew chunk, 1 slice kiwi, 1 watermelon chunk, and 1 more grape onto a skewer. Repeat with the remaining fruit and skewers. Place the finished skewers in a shallow container.
In a small bowl, whisk together the orange juice, lime juice, mint, and vanilla. Pour the marinade over the fruit kebabs, cover, and chill for at least 30 minutes (or up to 3 hours) in the refrigerator before serving.
Super Raspberry Protein Brownies – A brownie made with black beans? You bet! Beans are high in fiber, calcium, and protein, making them a nutrition powerhouse. Beans are free from saturated and trans fats. Researchers find people consuming the most saturated fat in their diets have more than triple the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
A brownie made with black beans? You bet! Beans are high in fiber, calcium, and protein, making them a nutrition powerhouse.
Beans are free from saturated and trans fats. Researchers find people consuming the most saturated fat in their diets have more than triple the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
1/4 teaspoon safflower oil
2 15-ounce cans low sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup pitted dates
1 cup all-fruit raspberry jam
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease an 8x8-inch baking pan with the oil.
Combine the black beans, dates, jam, and vanilla in a food processor and process until smooth. Add the flour, cocoa powder, and salt and process again.
Pour into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake for 30 minutes or until the top looks set. Remove from the oven and cool completely, then cut into 16 squares. The brownies will keep, refrigerated in a covered container, for up to 1 week.
On a recent visit to BeyondSushi, a Japanese Vegan Sushi restaurant in the East Village in NYC, I had the opportunity to meet the Founder and Chef (and Hell’s Kitchen Finalist!) Guy Vaknin, to discuss his innovative and artful approach to traditional Sushi. Chef Guy came up with the idea for his vegan Sushi concept while he was the Executive Chef of Esprit Events, a Catering company in New York. Focusing on Kosher, healthy vegan and vegetarian food, they opened a Vegan Sushi station, and the idea grew from there when Chef Guy saw the potential and demand for healthy vegan food in the New York market. Two years later, BeyondSushi (The Green Roll) was born.
The Sushi is not only artfully crafted and colorful, but super healthy,fresh and totally vegan, while keeping the Asian flavors true to traditional Sushi by using natural ingredients such as sliced nori, red, black and six-grain rice, toasted sesame, chili flakes, and gourmet imported sea salts to punch up and balance the flavors and textures of their Sushi.
They have a variety of delicious and creative sushi rolls, sushi pieces, as well as Vegan wraps and salads, and they make all of their own custom sauces such as Carrot Ginger, Sweet Soy Mirin, Shiitake Teriyaki, White Miso, and more, using grapeseed oil and all natural, dairy free ingredients.
They take a variety of colorful, seasonal ingredients and combine them into gorgeous works of art – and the best part is, they really do taste like traditional sushi, but are pure Vegan. Crunch ‘n Munch, Pickle Me, La Fiesta, Green Machine and Mighty Mushroom are just a few of their catchy roll names – all made with tasty, healthy vegetables, rice and seasonings. They also do a custom roll of the month, which Chef Guy creates based on whatever he feels like dreaming up that day, using local produce from vendors at the Union Square Farmers Market.
Their Pastry Chef, Tiffany Louie, has created a new line of Vegan pastries and baked goods available in the store – Parsnip Cakes with Orange Almond Creme, Seed and Dried Fruit Almond Bars, and Carrot Bars are a few of their sweet healthy treats. Their juices are squeezed fresh each day and made in house.
I sampled the Nutty Buddy wrap, made with Buckwheat noodles, crushed peanuts, cilantro, jalapeno, peanut butter, avocado, sesame oil, carrots, baked tofu and romaine – a delicious combination and explosion of Asian flavors!
For a sushi sampling, I devoured the Spicy Mang Roll, made with Black Rice, Avocado, Mango, Cucumber and spicy veggies with a delicious Toasted Cayenne sauce. I also had the Pickle Me, made with Six Grain rice, Gobo, Carrot, Pickled Daikon and Avocado with a Carrot Ginger Sauce. YUM!
Their space is casual, cozy and inviting, and in a great location on 14th Street near Union Square. Their prices are reasonable too, ranging from $5.00 to $8.50 for Rice Paper Wraps and Salads to $6.50 for an 8-piece roll, or $7.50 to $13 for a combination plate of rolls. They also do custom catering for private events, weddings and parties with a variety of sushi rolls, salads and wrap platters.
They’ve been written up by Oprah and the NY Times and have plans to open up a second location in the near future, so stay tuned for more. There definitely isn’t any other restaurant around like it, so kudos to Chef Guy for pioneering this healthy, delicious concept. With Vegan Sushi this good – who needs the fish?!
I recently had an opportunity to meet an amazing author/chef/blogger/photographer at a recent book launch party at Candle 79, Michael Natkin. If you haven’t checked out Michael’s award-winning vegetarian blog, Herbivoracious, then you absolutely must. His creative vegetarian dishes are colorful, fresh and vibrant, and he recently published his first cookbook named after his blog. I had the opportunity to meet Michael at the party and get a signed copy of his cookbook which I absolutely adore (even though I am not a vegetarian) and loved the recipes so much that I wanted to share a few with you and offer a chance for you to enter to win a copy of the amazing cookbook yourself, giveaway courtesy of Harvard Common Press.
The cookbook is full of 150 recipes and global dishes that he has created based on inspiration from his travels around the world: Mediterranean, Middle East and Asia are some of the main areas of influence on his cooking, which has led to his unique dishes full of taste, texture, aroma and gorgeous presentation. Appetizers and Small Plates, Soups and Salads, Sandwiches and Tacos, Pasta and Noodle DIshes, Side Veggie Dishes and Desserts are all colorfully presented in this beautiful cookbook.
Whether you are an omnivore, herbivore, vegan, vegetarian or pescatarian (or just love fresh veggies, salads and healthy recipes) – I know you’ll love this cookbook as much as I do! Michael has also graciously given me two recipes from his cookbook to share with you: Over The Top Eggplant Parmesan and a cool and refreshing Watermelon, Radish and Watercress Salad (see recipes following). Enjoy!
***THIS GIVEAWAY HAS ENDED! CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR WINNER, SHEA ROSS OF ATLANTA GA! STAY TUNED FOR FUTURE COOKBOOK GIVEAWAYS 🙂
Here’s how to enter to win a copy of the cookbook (open to US/Canadian residents only):
Comment on this post: Tell me what is your favorite vegetable or vegetarian dish, or simply why you would like to win the cookbook to receive one (1) entry;
Share this post on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr or Pinterest with your followers & get an additional entry for each post;
*** VERY IMPORTANT! ***Leave a separate comment for EACH of your entries or only one entry will be counted.For example, leave your first comment about your favorite vegetable or vegetarian dish and why you want to win the cookbook, then add another comment to say “I follow you on Twitter”, another to say “I follow you on Pinterest”, etc. If you already follow me on Twitter, Pinterest and/or Facebook let me know as well, since this counts as an entry.
*NOTE: Please make sure to provide your current email address (which won’t be visible) so I can reach you if you win.
I will randomly draw one lucky winner on Sunday, June 10 at 11 pm EST. Good Luck and enjoy the recipes from Michael’s book below!
Over-the-Top Eggplant Parmigiana
SERVES 6 1 HOUR (40 MINUTES ACTIVE)
For this no-holds-barred eggplant parmigiana, the eggplant is breaded with panko and pan-fried, layered with fresh mozzarella and homemade tomato sauce, finished in the oven, and then topped with a dice of fresh heirloom tomatoes. It makes a satisfying entrée, and you need only add a green salad to make a celebratory dinner.
I don’t salt and drain eggplant for most uses, but it is worthwhile in this recipe. Extracting some of the liquid makes the eggplant fry up firm yet fork-tender. You don’t want any mush factor in your parmigiana.
Here’s a great tip for breading. Use one hand to put the eggplant in the flour, egg, and bread crumbs. Use the other hand to toss the eggplant in the bread crumbs and into the skillet. By keeping one hand for the wet stuff and the other for the dry, you avoid getting your hands breaded along with the eggplant!
The finest canned tomatoes for Italian dishes come from the area of San Marzano; look for that name on the can.
3 large or 5 smaller globe eggplants (about 4 pounds total)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups panko bread crumbs
4 large eggs, beaten
Vegetable oil, for pan-frying
12 ounces mozzarella, thinly sliced
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 handfuls fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1 1⁄2 cups diced vine-ripened tomatoes (only truly good, ripe tomatoes will do here; don’t use those supermarket ones ripened with ethylene gas)
1 handful fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
Peel the eggplants and slice lengthwise into planks a scant 1⁄2 inch thick. Layer in a colander with a heavy sprinkling of kosher salt between each layer, top with a plate, and weight with some cans. Set aside on a plate to drain for at least 30 minutes. Wipe off excess salt with a paper towel.
Heat the olive oil in a medium-size saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the crushed tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, while you make the rest of the recipe. Don’t add salt, because the eggplant will still have residual salt from the draining process.
Set up a rack or baking sheet covered with paper towels for draining the fried eggplant. Butter a 9 x 13-inch baking dish and preheat the oven to 400°F.
Set up for dredging, with plates for the flour and bread crumbs and a shallow bowl for the eggs. Heat a good 1⁄4 inch of vegetable oil in your biggest skillet over high heat. Working with two slices of eggplant at a time, pat them in the flour until they have a dry coating, then drag through the egg, and finally press both sides in the bread crumbs, covering thoroughly. Place them in the skillet, where they should start sizzling immediately. Don’t pack them in too tightly in the skillet; leave yourself some room to work. Flip when brown, about 2 minutes, then brown on the other side. They should be fork-tender at this point (the oven time is just to melt the cheese, not cook the eggplant). Transfer the eggplant to the rack to drain. Repeat with the remaining eggplant, adding more vegetable oil as necessary.
To assemble, set down your first layer of eggplant in the prepared baking dish, and top each slice with a couple tablespoons of tomato sauce, a piece of mozzarella, a bit of Parmigiano, and a bit of basil. Build up three layers, finishing with cheese.
Bake until the cheese is thoroughly melted, about 20 minutes.
To serve: Toss the diced tomatoes with the basil and a pinch of salt. Put an eggplant stack on each plate, and top with 1⁄4 cup of the tomato salad and a grind of fresh black pepper.
Watermelon Radish and Watercress Salad
This delicious salad is driven purely by its beautiful ingredients; all you have to do is take a little care to arrange them nicely.
Watermelon radishes are green on the outside, but when sliced you see that they are intensely red in the middle, looking much like tiny watermelons. If you have a mandoline, use it here: It is excellent for slicing them thinly and evenly.
If you have difficulty finding watercress, check the refrigerated produce section of upscale markets. They often carry hydroponic watercress, making this peppery green, once strictly seasonal, available year-round. Look for bright, fresh leaves with no signs of wilting. The tart cress makes a great foil for the sweet figs and pomegranate seeds (or more technically, arils).
1 large watermelon radish, very thinly sliced
Extra-virgin olive oil
4 handfuls watercress, rinsed and dried
4 ripe fresh figs, halved
1⁄4 cup pomegranate seeds
16 shavings Parmigiano-Reggiano or other hard aged cheese
12 toasted walnut halves
Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)
Arrange a circle of watermelon radish slices on each of four chilled plates. Drizzle with a little olive oil.
Toss the watercress with a bit of the olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. Place a fluffy handful on each plate. This is the critical step to making the salad look nice—aim to make a tall, high mound in the center, and don’t let it spread out.
Add 2 fig halves, 1 tablespoon pomegranate seeds, 4 cheese shavings, and 3 toasted walnut halves to each plate. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and serve immediately.
Herbivoracious is also available in an enhanced e-book edition, with 25 videos featuring Natkin touring ethnic markets, introducing ingredients and showing how to choose them, and preparing recipes from the book. The e-book will also offer social media functionality for sharing recipes, photos, and video on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs.
I love Italian food. I mean reallyloooove Italian food.. And who doesn’t? But especially authentic, homemade Italian – cooked with fresh ingredients and simple, healthy recipes that are downright divine. I recently took a cooking class at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City with Chef and Culinary Instructor Pia Vallone, who teaches the Techniques of Italian Cooking course. It was a 5-week intensive class 6 hours long. Lots to learn in a short amount of time. Chef Pia, a native of Italy and graduate of ICE, taught us a a variety of recipes from different regions of Italy spanning the basic recipes and techniques.
We made fresh pasta and risottos, hearty ragus and fresh and creamy sauces, roasted and braised meats, seafood dishes, soups and stews,
roasted and braised vegetables (my favorites were the Roasted Tomatoes and Stuffed Wine-braised Artichokes), desserts such as Classic Tiramisu, Mascarpone Mousse and Rustic Italian Apple Crostata,
and healthy, fresh Italian salads and small plates.
We always had red and white Italian wine and fresh Italian bread to accompany, and learned the customs of eating the way the Italians do – start with an “antipasti” (appetizer), next order a “primo” (first course usually consisting of pasta, risotto, minestrone or other soups), then pick your main “secondi” (second course usually a meat or fish dish), have a small bit of “formaggi” (cheese) after your main, then on to “dolci” (sweets/desserts such as cheese, fruit, sweet wine, and coffee/cappucino).
We made some of the most amazing Italian food during this class and learned classic authentic cooking techniques that I was able to bring home with me to prepare my own delicious Italian food. In fact, I was so impressed with Pia’s class that I had to interview her to share her culinary background and story along with a recipe with all of you! Enjoy.
Can you tell me a little bit about your culinary training and professional background? What was your first job as a Chef and what was that like?
My first and only hands-on restaurant experience was in an Italian restaurant in London (cannot remember the name of the restaurant), near Victoria Station, in the summer of 1978. A friend of mine who worked as an executive chef there, offered me a job as a sous chef. After a month of hard work, I had to leave the restaurant, because my visa was about to expire and soon after, I returned to Italy. The second experience related to food, was working for several years as a bookkeeper for a restaurant and corporate catering. There I learned so much about food and was exposed to new ingredients and flavor profiles, although I worked in the establishment’s office. As for training, I graduated from The Institute of Culinary Education in NYC and hold a Culinary Arts diploma and a Pastry and Baking Arts diploma. I currently work at ICE as a Manager of Kitchen Assistants and as a Recreational Chef Instructor, though I have worked in different areas in the company, within the past 10 years.
When did you realize you wanted to be a Chef? Who inspired you most as a young cook and what did you learn from them?
I always loved cooking and eating, but I began to spend time experimenting with recipes from various kinds of cuisines in my home kitchen, cooking for friends when I arrived to New York in 1980. Wanting to get involved with food and becoming a chef was a second career change for me, which began in 2001.
My greatest inspiration was my father, who was a gourmand and a terrific cook. I spent many hours in the kitchen with him during my childhood, helping out, observing him and absorbing all the knowledge I could. From my father, I learned passion, love and appreciation of good food and the importance of using fresh ingredients.
Can you tell us a little bit about your culinary style and what makes your menus and recipes unique?
My style is mainly rustic. I like rustic food for its simplicity and because it is nourishes the body and soul. My menus and recipes are unique, because the ingredients I use are accessible and inexpensive.
Is there a difference in the recipes you create/the food you eat in Italy versus the Italian food here in the United States and what are the main differences?
The difference between food in Italy and food here…? Food in Italy is extremely fresh, mostly organic and seasonal. Its flavor(s) cannot be replicated in dishes cooked outside of the Country. Food in Italy is also quite simple. In fact, most of the best food I have ever eaten there was prepared with just a few ingredients. On the contrary, Italian American food is the result of ‘imported’ traditions and transformations, mostly due the immigrant’s longing for the ‘Old Country’. Immigrants, who arrived here tried to capture flavors and freeze memories, by utilizing similar ingredients grown in a different terroir. Nowadays though, great Italian chefs live here in the States, so the differences between Italian food in Italy and the US is narrowing down.
In your opinion, what are the most important elements when creating a recipe from scratch?
The most important elements are: fresh ingredients, simplicity and focus, Make sure to tastes the food while cooking it.
What is your signature dish or your favorite recipe?
My favorite dish is ‘Roman Style Tripe’, a dish that brings back childhood memories.
What is your favorite spice or ingredient to cook with and why?
I love black pepper, which I use in all savory recipes. Besides liking its pungent flavor, I add it to dishes because it helps improve digestion.
What is your favorite cooking gadget or kitchen item you can’t live without and why?
I own many gadgets and often buy the new ones that are the latest invention in the market, but always tend to use the familiar ones over and over. A gadget I cannot live without is a hand held grater, because it is efficient and does not use too much space in the kitchen.
Do you have any advice for aspiring chefs and home cooks?
Start by cooking a simple recipe, one with 4 or 5 ingredients. Learn basic skills and techniques at first and then move on to a larger repertoire. Patience, practice and repetition are important to achieve success with cooking, as with other things in life.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself?
Yes. I am always looking to inspire others to cook. It is a pleasure to see that people are interested in cooking and familiarizing themselves with ingredients. Sharing passion for food and cooking with people is an all-around relaxing experience for me.
Spring Vegetable Soup
Yield: serves 6
2 small carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 small zucchini, diced
1 small butternut squash, diced
1 bunch escarole, chopped
½ cup peas, frozen
1 tablespoon basil leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
¼ cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for bread and for drizzling on soup
4 quarts chicken stock
1 small ciabatta bread
Sea salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Sauté carrots, celery and onions in a large stock pot over medium heat, for approximately 5 minutes, making sure that you stir the vegetables while they cook.
Add chicken stock to the pan. Increase the heat to high, cover the pan, bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for 10-15 minutes.
Slice bread into 1” thick slices. Brush slices with the additional olive oil on both sides and place in a sauté pan over low heat. Turn bread slices once and cook until they are golden brown. Place bread in a tray and lightly sprinkle with sea salt. Set aside.
Add butternut squash to the stockpot and cook for 3 minutes.
Add zucchini and peas to the stockpot and cook for 3 more minutes.
Add escarole, basil, parsley, salt and pepper and cook for 4 additional minutes.
Remove two ladles of soup from the stockpot and puree in a blender, then return the pureed soup to the pot (the puree will thicken the soup). Stir and cook for 1 minute, then turn off the heat.
Add some grated cheese into the soup and stir. Ladle soup in individual bowls, drizzle oil and sprinkle additional cheese.
Kathy Freston is is a bestselling author with a focus on healthy living and conscious eating, a health activist, vegan fashion lover, and person obsessed with living and eating well consciously. I had the opportunity to interview Kathy on her healthy living strategies for cooking and eating right, and find out more about her background, bestselling books and favorite recipes.
In Kathy’s new book, Veganist: Lose Weight, Get Healthy, Change the World, she discusses how she made the switch from classic, meat and fat-laden comfort foods to plant-based substitutes to create the same dishes, not only healthier for her well-being, but also better for the ecosystem and reversing and preventing disease.
Veganist was an instant New York Times bestseller, as were two of her previous books – Quantum Wellness and The One. She has appeared frequently on national television, including The Oprah Winfrey Show, Ellen, The Dr. Oz Show, Good Morning America, The View, and Extra. She is a regular contributor to the The Huffington Post, and her work is consistently featured in many national publications.
Kathy is also offering a limited number of signed copies of her bookThe Lean! –a 30-day plan for achievable, healthy, long lasting weight loss. The philosophy behind the book is about making choices to eat foods that are delicious, filling, and supportive of your weight loss goals. Each day of her 30-day plan, she asks you to make one simple change – from drinking more water, to swapping nondairy for cow’s milk, to exercising for a few minutes each day. Little by little, these changes will help you gain momentum and propel you towards your goals.
“Leaning in’ is a positive, sustainable way to lose weight and transform your health. It’s all about setting an intention for what you want, and then nudging yourself ever so gently in that direction.”
For more of Kathy’s tips and suggestions for cooking, eating right and healthy living, visit her shop on OpenSky.com — the premiere social network for shopping where you can connect with experts in health, food, design and style for exclusive information, advice and insider product recommendations.
***Now for the exclusive interview with Kathy where she discusses about her background, healthy living strategies and cooking tips in more detail.
1. Can you tell me a little bit about your nutrition / culinary training and professional background?
I am just your average food obsessed gal with no culinary training, which is why I enlisted the help of Chef Dayna Mcleod to come up with some super easy and delicious recipes to accompany the weight loss plan!
And on the nutritional front, I’m a researcher rather than a dietician, so I track down the best and most definitive peer reviewed studies on how food affects our health and weight; I try to pull it all together so that the science is easy to understand and applicable to anyone’s daily life.
I’m lucky to know and work with some of the nutrition science rock stars of our time, like Drs. Dean Ornish, Andrew Weil, Caldwell Esselstyn of the Cleveland Clinic, T. Colin Campbell, Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University, and Neal Barnard, professor of medicine at George Washington University. I use their work and expertise to substantiate the medical soundness of The Lean plan.
2. When did you realize you wanted to be a nutrition and healthy living expert? Who in your career has inspired you most? What did you learn from them?
My interest in health was first born out of vanity! I wanted to lose weight, have clear skin, and look attractive… all things that had eluded me until I started changing the way I approached food. But vanity was soon taken over when I learned that nutrition could add years (many years) to my life by preventing and reversing disease. THAT’S empowering!
I’ve been inspired most by the people who have lost weight – whether it was 30, 100, or 200 pounds – and turned their health around. They are the best story tellers and motivators because when they share the steps they took and tell how they felt along the way, you can feel in your bones that you can do it too. I love those people; they are game changers – not only for themselves, but for their families and communities, too!
3. Can you tell us a little bit about your healthy living strategies and what makes your menus and healthy eating plans unique?
Here’s my belief: life is meant to be enjoyed, and food is a big part of that. So much of our comfort and joy is connected to enjoying traditional favorites with our friends and family. I’m a big fan of continuing to enjoy the traditional foods we grew up loving, but just upgrading them a bit so that they are healthier. I love pasta with sausage, for instance; so I’ll opt for pasta made from brown rice (you cannot tell the difference between it and white flour pasta) and veggie sausage instead of the fatty stuff from animals. I love tostadas and burritos; but I’ll have them with black beans rather than beef or chicken with all the fixins (nondairy sour cream rather than dairy, though). I love all things creamy, but I make them with cashew cream so that it’s easier on the body. No white-knuckle, hard core discipline – just healthier versions of the things we already love!
4. Can you tell me a little more about your book and eating plan The Lean, and some of the basics key points and advantages behind it?
The Lean is about getting lean in the body, but it’s also about “leaning in” to the process easily and gradually. You have one new task to do each of the 30 days of the plan, and what you do on Day 1, you will also be doing on Day 2, Day 3, etc; so by the end of the 30 days, you will have 30 wonderful new habits that will have crowded out some old bad habits!
5. Can you give us some quick tips and strategies on weight loss and nutrition?
Here are 3 little things you can do right away that will help you begin leaning:
1. Eat an apple a day. The fiber fills you up and keeps your blood sugar steady. The pectin from apples is actually twice as good as other fiber, because it leaves your stomach twice as slowly so you feel fuller longer. Eat one before a meal and you’ll eat far less calories!
2. Drink 8 glasses of water, 8 times a day. This keeps your metabolism (and every other system in your body) running optimally. In regards to weight loss, it’s called pre-loading: people who drink 2 cups of water before meals in a study lost 5 pounds of fat more than people who didn’t drink water in a 12 week period. Easy peasy!
3. Add 2 Tbs ground flax seeds to your food every day (in a smoothie or soup, for instance, or mixed in with oatmeal); the fiber adds volume to your food and fills you up so you are satisfied for hours. And flax has a powerful antioxidant in it called lignans, which are cancer preventative.
Notice how weight loss and health go hand in hand?!
6. What is your signature dish or your favorite recipe, and would you be willing to share it?
Well, there are many (I can say that since I didn’t write the recipes!). I love, love the recipe for cashew cream that I borrowed from Chef Tal Ronnen for the book. All you do is soak raw cashews in water overnight, and then blend them (at a very high speed) with fresh water the next day to get delicious cream that you can use as a sauce, a base for soup, or anything you would have used heavy cream for! It’s way less fattening than dairy, and has zero cholesterol! I also love this Soy Milk Maker because you can make fresh soy milk, almond milk, and cashew milk instantly! Its also great because you can use it to make porridges and pureed soups for a healthier meal option.
7. What are your favorite ingredients to cook with and why?
I really like adding fruits to meals because they make the dishes sweet and textured. I love mango salsa on black bean cakes (recipe in The Lean), sliced pears in salad, or a sprinkling of goji berries into a soup for an extra dash of health.
8. When cooking at home, what do you like to prepare for yourself?
I could live quite easily on soups and salads. I get all my nutrition – protein, complex carbs, and veggies – from them, and they are super hearty and fulfilling. And did I mention easy? Also, when I make a soup or chili, I make at least double what I need and freeze half of it for a later date when I may not have time to cook.
9. What are your favorite cookbooks/books that you recommend (besides yours!) to help readers eat healthier and more nutritiously?