Recipe: Cashew Broccoli Stirfry

I like meat, but sometimes I just don’t feel like I need or crave it in my meal.  And it seems from recent research that skipping meat a few times a week is fine, even healthier (psssst…Americans eat too much protein).

Asian cuisine is one of my favorites, and I’m always tempted by the cashew chicken or the chicken and broccoli dishes on IMG_1183 menus.  But what I really like is the combination of crunchy cashews and tender broccoli in a savory brown sauce.  And anyway I can never get the chicken into those thin slices while cooking at home like the restaurants do.  So I set out to make a go-to recipe with just cashews and broccoli as the main stars.  You can easily add chicken chunks to this recipe and I like to serve it over brown rice but it’s also great with noodles or just on its own.

Ingredients
  • 1 cup uncooked brown rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
  • 4 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tsp natural ketchup (such as Tessemae’s)
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger (fresh or jarred)
  • 2 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 cups cooked broccoli florets (steam and then run under cold water to stop cooking)
  • red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup cashews

 

For the rice:

Put the rice and 2 cups water in a small pot and stir together.  Bring to a boil, stir, and reduce to a simmer.  Cover and stir periodically until the water is absorbed.  Test the rice and add more water if needed until it is tender and cooked-through.

 

For the stirfry:

Heat the sesame oil on medium heat in a large pan. Add the sliced garlic and cooked until golden and fragrant.   With a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked garlic to a bowl.  In the same pan, combine the soy sauce, ketchup, brown sugar, minced ginger and rice vinegar.  Stir as the sauce simmers.  Combine the 1 cup of water and the cornstarch in a small pitcher until the cornstarch is dissolved.  Stirring constantly, slowly add the cornstarch mixture to the sauce in the pan.  Stir the sauce slowly as it simmers and thickens.  Add the cooked broccoli and cashews and coat with the sauce.  Remove the pan from the heat.  Serve the cashew-broccoli and sauce on a bed of the brown rice.

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Vegan Food Diary

I thought that going vegan one day a month during Lent would be a breeze because meat is not an everyday must for me.  But the sacrifice made me realize how much I rely on non-meat animal products for protein in my diet.  I often add cheese or hard boiled eggs to a salad, or make veggie quesadillas or pasta salads with cheese. Without being able to rely on those ingredients each Monday, I had to more thoughtfully plan my meals every week.  Here’s the lowdown on what I ate each Monday for 6 weeks:

Monday #1

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Breakfast – Ezekiel bread toasted with peanut butter and blood orange slices; Lunch – Roasted Brussels sprouts and lentil soup; Dinner – Roasted tomatoes and barley risotto with broccolini and mushrooms; Snack & Dessert – Tortilla chips with guacamole, salsa and black bean dip, white wine and vegan brownies

To prepare for these vegan Mondays, I pored over recipes for a few days and put together a list of foods I could eat over the next few weeks.  However, I quickly learned that choosing Mondays as my day of the week to eat vegan was an extra challenge because with my weekends being so busy, I often lacked the time on a Sunday evening to prepare the next day’s meal.  Case in point was the first Monday, when I did not have time to prepare a lunch, so I had to grab something from the deli near my office.  I guess I can’t be 100% sure that no animal products (like butter) were used in these, but I tried my absolute best.  After dinner, I went to my friend’s apartment to watch The Bachelor (don’t judge).  My kind friend knew about my Lenten goal and bought a bunch of vegan snacks for us.

Monday #2

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Breakfast – Breakfast “cookies” with jam and a peanut butter drizzle; Lunch – Quinoa tabbouleh; Dinner – Veggie burger, sweet potato fries, and kale salad with pecans, cranberries, & homemade vinaigrette dressing

I came across the recipe for these breakfast cookies on Pinterest and they are filling with just a few ingredients like banana, oats, flaxseed and jam.  The sweet and tart plum jam I used was perfect.  I also came across this refreshing tabbouleh recipe online — it was touted as Jennifer Aniston’s favorite.  No idea if it’s true, but if I can look like her in 15 years by eating this salad, bring it on!  For the veggie burger, I had to read the package carefully because some veggies burgers contain egg.  I give this one an unenthusiastic 5 out of 10.  Like most store-bought veggie burgers, it was underwhelming.  I’d like to make my own in the future especially because I could leave out the soy.

Monday #3

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Breakfast – Lemon-Blueberry oatmeal with almond milk and toasted pecans; Snack – Homemade chex mix, Lunch – Kale salad with apples, walnuts and homemade balsamic vinaigrette, and hummus with bell pepper strips; Dinner – Coconut curried lentils over brown rice; Dessert – Coconut milk ice cream

I was more prepared for the second week and prepared a delicious oatmeal recipe for breakfast.  The real recipe includes a dollop of mascarpone cheese which I left out on Monday but added the rest of the week.  I have to say the mascarpone made it bomb dot com, but I guess that’s what made my vegan Mondays a sacrifice.  Salads are easy for a lunch at the office and the walnuts added some protein.  The coconut curried lentils were delicious and creamy and didn’t really contain actual curry so check out the recipe even if you aren’t a curry person.  Coconut milk ice cream is a wonderful non-dairy alternative and the So Delicious brand has a wide flavor selection at most grocery stores.

 Monday #4

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Breakfast – Ezekiel toast with apricot jam, and apple slices with peanut butter; Snack – Pamela’s cranberry almond bar, Lunch – “Niçoise” salad with chickpeas, golden beets, olives, potatoes and green beans; Dinner – Udon noodle and veggie lo mein; Dessert – Apricot jam tart

Ezekiel bread is made from sprouted grains and is actually a great source of protein which you might not expect from bread.  It’s not the most delicious bread ever but I never eat naked bread anyway so once I spoon on the jam or nut butter it’s as good as regular wheat toast.  I love niçoise salads and the hard-boiled egg and the tuna/salmon is usually the best part.  but I got creative with chickpeas and veggies and it made a very hearty, filling salad.  Many noodles contain egg, but udon noodles are just wheat and water, while remaining a normal and delicious consistency, so the lo mein was yummy.  Here’s the recipe.  I made the rustic tart with a bit of dough leftover from a pie I’d made for Pi Day.  Throw any kind of jam into some pie dough and you have a delicious dessert.

Monday #5

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Breakfast – Ezekiel bread toast with avocados, tomatoes and balsamic reduction; Snacks – Cherry fruit leather; Lunch – Mixed greens salad with artichoke hearts and hummus with sliced cucumbers; Dinner – Cuban black beans and rice; Dessert – Coconut milk ice cream bar

Toast with avocados and tomatoes may not seam like breakfast food, but I’m all about savory food in the morning.  It was hearty and filling and the sprouted grain bread provided protein.  It was a busy day so lunch was basic.   For dinner, the beans and rice was delicious and also one of the cheapest and healthiest meals you can prepare.  Check out the recipe I used.  The brand So Delicious makes the ice cream bars and they are so good — they pretty much taste like the real thing you bought from the ice cream man as a kid.

Monday #6

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Breakfast – Handful of raisins and a banana; Lunch – Tabbouleh salad; Dinner – (not pictured) Salad of mixed lettuces and roasted tomatoes with vinaigrette dressing, tomato stuffed with quinoa and nuts; Dessert – Mandarin orange and peach confit with coconut shavings

This was a weird day for me because I was traveling for work.  Because I was nervous for work, some raisins and an airport banana were all I needed for breakfast.  Lunch was at a small bistro in Houston and to my delight, they had tabbouleh on the menu.  I double-checked with the cashier that it was vegan and after looking at me like I had two heads, he had to go in the back and check with the chef.  It was vegan and it was delicious.  Dinner was a catered event that I attended for work, so I couldn’t take pictures of my meal because it would be unprofessional and creepy.  The kitchen did a fairly good job with an alternative menu, although they added a chocolate straw to my dessert, making me question whether they knew the difference between vegan and vegetarian…

 

Overall, I was pretty happy with my vegan trial.  It made me aware of the amount of cheese, eggs, and butter I eat on a regular basis. And cheese is the #1 source of saturated fat in the American diet! (Read more here).  Echoing my original post on the subject, I am going to continue to make small sacrifices when I can to eliminate animal products in some meals.  I feel that it is doing my part to help with the environmental cost of raising livestock for food.  It also makes me more aware of the foods I do put into my body — not just the end-product meal but the ingredients that go into it.  The next time you reach for some cheese crumbles for your salad, consider nuts or beans instead.  It can help your body and your planet!

40 Days of Meatless Mondays

Fat Tuesday has come and gone, and now the season of Lent is here for the next 40 days.  As a product of many years of Catholic school, I was immersed in the tradition growing up and it has caught on in my adult years.  I like a healthy challenge and the idea of making a conscious effort over 6 weeks to make a personal sacrifice.  It’s like a new year’s resolution but a much shorter commitment and at the end you get Cadbury eggs and sweet religious greeting cards from elderly relatives.  This year, I’ve decided to do a version of Meatless Mondays during Lent.  Yes, it’s only one day a week over the forty days, but I’m going to eliminate all animal products on those days instead of just meat so I figure the extra sacrifice sort of evens out.  I thought that eating vegan would be a breeze for me, because I’m not a huge meat eater.  Don’t get me wrong, I could never be fully vegetarian in my real life — I love cheeseburgers and bacon and prosciutto too much. But I can easily eat more than half my meals in a week without meat without and not bat an eye by sticking to my normal routine of salads with nuts and cheese, soups and tacos with beans, and rice and pasta dishes with vegetables.  But committing to one day of complete vegan-eating each week makes me realize how many animal products I actually rely on  for my food: deviled eggs for a pre-workout snack, cheese on vegetarian tacos and on salads, yogurt for breakfast or in dressings and sauces, even some pasta is made with eggs and my half-Italian self will never give that up completely.  So while my vegan days won’t be impossible, they will certainly require a conscious effort.

People go vegan for many reasons ranging from issues with animal cruelty to lower-cholesterol diets to food allergies to Vegan Mondays pictextsustainability.  For me, it’s the sustainability factor that convinced me to give it a try.  Even if we aren’t eating huge slabs of meat for every meal, non-meat dairy products take a toll on the environment too.  Take cheese.  Seems completely harmless, right?  No animal had to die to make your brie en croute, true.  But the cow that produced the milk to make that cheese had to be fed, and was most likely given corn and soybean meal — most cows grown in the U.S. for milk are given this kind of feed rather than being grass-fed, as cows would do left to their own devices.  Well, that corn and soy had to be grown, probably on another farm which required a lot of land and water, and then had to be harvested and trucked over to the dairy cow farm.  The cows had to be given a lot of water (think hundreds of gallons) only to produce a relatively small amount of milk.  Then after the cow was milked, the milk had to be shipped in a refrigerated truck maybe as far as 7 states away.  If that doesn’t sound so bad, think of this process for every jug of milk, container of yogurt, slice of cheese, pint of ice cream all 320 million Americans eat in a week.

Livevegan.org suggests that “switching just two meals per week from animal products to vegan products reduces greenhouse gases more than buying all locally-sourced food.”  This speaks to the heart of my little test.  Will I give up all meat and dairy forever?  No.  But having just a couple more meals centered around whole grains, vegetables, beans or nuts rather than meat and eggs and cheese could make a small impact on the water usage, pollution and other problems that come with raising animals for food.

I’ll post at the end of my Vegan Monday Lenten journey, but I’m predicting a lot of whole grains and veggies in my future over the next month or so.  Stay tuned…

 

The end result: My Vegan Food Diary