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I love cream soups. Cream of broccoli, cream of mushroom, cream of leek, but my ultimate favorite has always been: cream of tomato.

When I went vegan several years ago, it wasn’t even a challenge to continue making cream soups without dairy or other animal products. Everything can be veganized, and in my opinion, because the dish is rendered cruelty-free, it becomes even more nourishing and delicious.

In my cookbook, Cooking With Amore, I share with you my “quinoa method” for making soups thick and creamy. Simply by adding a small amount of quinoa, usually 1/2 cup or less, to the vegetables while they are cooking, and then blending the soup, the result will be a creamy vegan masterpiece.

I created quite a few of these quinoa-cream soups and included many in Cooking With Amore, but for some reasons, I had not yet attempted my favorite one of all: cream of tomato (fear of failure, perhaps?) This week, I thought it was time to get to work on that. When I sat down for dinner with my newly-created vegan tomato soup, I was so glad I finally did it.

I ended up eating three bowls! It made me think that a grilled cheese sandwich was all that was missing to make this meal sheer perfection. Daiya makes such delicious vegan cheeses of all kinds – I love their sliced cheese for making my grill cheeses. They even offer an amazing Grilled Cheese Cookbook as a free download!

In addition to the quinoa, I used a couple more ingredients to create a creamy taste and texture for this soup: potato, black beans and soy milk. These extra ingredients served not only to increase the nutrition of the soup, but also to effectively counter the acidity of the tomatoes. This is one challenge we have with cream of tomato versus other cream soups: the acidity of the tomato. But much like with tomato sauces, this is an issue we can easily address and balance out.

Here’s my recipe for a big batch of delicious, nourishing vegan cream of tomato soup. You can freeze some for later. I hope you enjoy it!

Cream of Tomato Soup

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 large onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, chopped

4 small potatoes, peeled and chopped

2 1/2 cups of water (more if desired for less thickness)

12 small to medium ripe tomatoes

1 cup of cooked black beans

1/4 cup of quinoa

1 cup soy milk (optional, you can just add more water instead)

Himalayan salt and black pepper to taste

Optional garnish: chopped fresh cilantro, squirt of fresh lime

Method: 

1. In a large pot, heat coconut oil. Add chopped onion, garlic and potatoes. Add 1/2 cup of water and allow to simmer slowly.

2. In order to remove the peel from the tomatoes, bring a separate pot of water to a boil. Drop tomatoes into boiling water one by one. After 1 to 2 minutes, remove from heat, drain the water and allow to cool. Once tomatoes are cool, peel off the skin and discard. Chop tomatoes and add to the simmering vegetables. Sprinkle some Himalayan salt. Once the onion and potatoes appear to be getting soft, add the black beans and quinoa. Add remaining water and let simmer.

4. Once the quinoa appears cooked, add soy milk or additional water. Turn off heat, and allow to cool.

5. Once cool, place a small batch of soup at a time into a blender and puree until thick and creamy. If you want to thin out the soup, add more water at any time. Mix all pureed batches together and reheat the portion you are ready to eat. Taste test to see if more salt is desired. Store the rest in the refrigerator or freezer.

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“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.” ~Woodrow Wilson

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Many people have told me how much they love my popcorn, so I decided to share my method with all of you. I learned it from watching my mother prepare popcorn for us on our fun movie nights! Miss you, Mommy!

I make my popcorn in a big pot on the stove top. I prefer the flavor of the popcorn when I make them this way, rather than using an air popcorn machine, although this is another option you can try. When using the stove top method, believe it or not, the material that the pot is made of will influence the taste and texture of the popcorn. In my experience, it is best when the pot is steel with porcelain enamel or simply stainless steel.

The first step is to thinly coat the bottom of the pot with your choice of cooking oil. Depending on the size of the pot (I use a standard size pot typically used for cooking pasta), usually about two tablespoons of oil is plenty.

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Coconut oil is a good choice since it is an oil which doesn’t denature quickly at high temperatures, like olive oil does. That means that coconut oil retains its healthful properties even when we heat it, whereas olive oil does not. Another oil I enjoy cooking with is grapeseed oil, however, its healthfulness when heated is debatable.

I enjoy grapeseed oil because of its light taste and texture. Some people have written that it is stable at high temperatures, while others disagree. For popcorn, I prefer the outcome when I use grapeseed oil. The advantage with using the air popcorn machine is that no oil is necessary at all.

You then add the popcorn kernels, about a handful, to cover the bottom of the pot evenly, but not more than that, because then the popcorn won’t have enough room to expand. Cover the pot and turn on the burner to high, but not maximum. Start shaking the pot frequently, either by rubbing it directly on the burner, or lifting the pot slightly and shaking it. This will allow the heat to touch all the kernels evenly and within a couple of minutes you will hear that delicious sound: popcorn popping!

If you have dogs, or birds, and sometimes cats too, beware, they love popcorn as well! Continue shaking the pot often until the constant popping slows down, and before it stops completely, remove the pot from the heat. Lift the lid and there you have all your beautiful popcorn.

Now for the choice of toppings – this will make the popcorn extra yummy, and for me, I choose vegan toppings. I get the most compliments when I sprinkle garlic powder, Himalayan salt (or onion salt for added flavor) and nutritional yeast for a cheesy taste and aroma. With respect to the garlic, you can also mince garlic and add it to the oil and kernels, but the garlic inevitably burns by the time the popcorn is done so sprinkling garlic powder at the end may be preferred. The toppings are yours to experiment with!

Here in Los Cabos, Mexico, I get my organic popcorn kernels, nutritional yeast, and my coconut oil from a lovely little store in San Jose del Cabo called Green Goddess. I was thrilled to discover this place since it carries many of the organic and vegan ingredients I like to use in my recipes. They have a lovely selection of nut milks and butters, and many gluten-free pastas. I also get my quinoa and mung beans in bulk at the Green Goddess. They make phenomenal smoothies and cold-pressed juices!

The Green Goddess is a family-owned and operated business (they are originally from Alberta, Canada). Kristen Erickson, the family’s competitive runner, is usually there to greet you with a big smile and has a wealth of knowledge about healthful living to share. The next time you come to Los Cabos, be sure to check them out!

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Make your week amazing and let me know how the popcorn works out for you!

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“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.”~Robert Fulghum

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As some of you know, one of the reasons I decided to move from Montreal, Canada to Mexico is, sure enough, the weather. I just couldn’t stand the thought of another long, freezing winter and way too many grey rainy days for my taste.

Neither could I accept the thought of waiting until retirement to make the move. I longed for sunshine and heat, all the time, all year round. And oh my did I find just that in Los Cabos, Baja California Sur, Mexico!

However with the year-round heat, sun and sea breeze also comes the hurricane season, which runs from June to October in Baja. This means that during those months, we can expect some rain and there is a risk of tropical storms and hurricanes of varying intensities.

I experienced my first one here last week, Hurricane Norbert, and it was scary and exciting at the same time. Locals tell me it wasn’t a bad one, but it was enough to knock out my telephone and Internet service for 7 days!

We are now expecting Hurricane Odile scheduled to greet us this Sunday. I am quickly uploading my recipe for you this week just in case the hurricane takes away my Internet again!

When the storm was just starting to brew, I stocked up on supplies and hit the kitchen to make a couple of soups – the ultimate comfort food for damp and windy rainy days. I created a coconut, spinach and mung bean concoction so soothing, creamy and delicious that I couldn’t wait to share it with all of you! To my surprise, the mouth-feel and taste reminded me of a luxurious clam chowder.

Before making this recipe, remember to soak your mung beans overnight, just like we do with other dry beans and chickpeas. I added just a little cumin, fresh ginger and basil for flavor – you may want to add more or less to suit your taste.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

 

Coconut Spinach Mung Soup

Ingredients:

Makes approximately 6 servings

3 tablespoons coconut oil

2 cloves of garlic, minced

6 green onions, chopped

1 potato, peeled and chopped

1 small chunk of ginger, about 2 inches, minced

2 cups mung beans, presoaked overnight and drained

2 cups spinach, frozen or fresh (chopped)

1 tablespoon fresh basil, minced

1 cup coconut milk

3 cups water

½ teaspoon cumin

Himalayan salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Place coconut oil, garlic, onions, potato and ginger in a large pot and sauté over medium heat for about 4 or 5 minutes.
  2. Add mung beans, stir and continue to sauté for 2 minutes.
  3. Add spinach, basil, coconut milk, water and cumin and slowly bring to a boil. Immediately lower heat and simmer for approximately 1 hour, or until mung beans and potato are very soft and soup is creamy.
  4. Add salt and black pepper as desired.

 

“Each one of us is here for a reason that is greater than the roles that are ascribed to us and that we ascribe to ourselves. We are alive, in this moment in time, going over material together for a reason. The reason is greater than your role as a parent, as a sibling, as a child, as a friend, or whatever you do in your career. It is greater than your relationships, your insecurities, your stresses, or your bodies. When we get blindsided by the temporary, by the daily routine and the stresses that rise up within it, we stay cloaked behind the veil of illusion that prevents us from seeing the truth. The truth is this: we are here to examine why we are here, who we are, and how we are connected to each other and to the earth that continues to sustain us. That truth also states that beneath this world of change and separation is a deeper world of unchanging existence, and it is from there that we all stem. From a place of permanence, of unchanging energy and consciousness.”

~Bram Levinson, The Examined Life 

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Zucchini Spaghetti

If my article last week convinced you of the benefits of introducing more raw vegan meals into your diet, now is definitely the time to do it! Summertime is the best time because of the abundance of fresh, organic produce. Also, most of us have a natural propensity towards light meals during the summer, and raw vegan dishes are just that, in addition to being highly nutrient-dense and low-calorie.

This week, I thought I’d share with you this delicious raw vegan meal idea: zucchini spaghetti with a raw tomato basil marinara sauce and chunks of avocado. Who knew you could have not only raw noodles, but also a raw tomato sauce?!

I must admit that although this is an exquisite recipe, and so are all raw pasta dishes, really, they aren’t pasta. It may have the look (slightly) of pasta and mouth-feel (somewhat) of pasta, it is not pasta. However, if you agree to keep an open mind and try this healthful, gluten-free, low-calorie dish, you may just appreciate it for its unique virtues! The best part is that you can enjoy a big heaping bowlful and not feel heavy and lethargic after your meal. This is one of the many advantages of raw vegan meals: you feel so energetic afterwards! Here we go!

Ingredients:
Makes about 2 servings

1 large zucchini, spiralized
1 large tomato, diced
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon Himalayan salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
2 tablespoons fresh basil, finely chopped (or more if you are a basil enthusiast like me!)
Pinch of black pepper and red chili flakes (if desired)

Garnish with shelled hemp seeds, fresh basil and chopped avocado

Method: 
1. Pass zucchini through Spiralizer.
2. Combine other ingredients in a large bowl to prepare Marinara sauce.
3. Pour sauce over zucchini. Garnish with hemp, avocado and fresh basil.

In order to create the zucchini spirals, you will need a spiralizer. I purchased mine online, but you can also check out your local health food store. This device is great for use with many other vegetables and fruits. For raw pasta, besides zucchini, you can try sweet potato, carrots or bell peppers.

spiralizer

 

Bliss out with this one and enjoy these wonderful sunny days of summer!

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What we do is less than a drop in the ocean, but if that drop were missing, the ocean would lack something. ~Mother Teresa

Granola Bars

A long, busy day ahead? A train, plane, bus or road trip coming up? Something to munch on between classes? A tasty, satisfying, healthful snack to bring along with you is always convenient. All it takes is a little planning ahead to pick up a few required ingredients, some time to put the recipe together, and in this case of my raw vegan granola bars: 12 hours total in the dehydrator.

A dehydrator is a fun, versatile and useful kitchen tool for preparing many raw vegan recipes, but if you don’t have one and are not interested in making the investment, you can bake these granola bars in the oven at 350°F for about 20 minutes.

In my opinion, however, there are certain advantages to choosing a dehydrator over an oven. A dehydrator uses a fan and much lower heat than an oven to remove the water content from foods without actually “cooking” them.

Heat can denature or transform foods and make them less nutritious. To get technical, a food can be considered raw so long as it is not heated above 118°F (or according to some, 120°F). According to raw food experts and proponents, such as Dr. Brian Clement and Dr. Gabriel Cousens, foods cooked above 120°F lose much of their nutritional value because most of their natural enzymes are destroyed by heat and may even create some toxins for the body.

A dehydrator can help create the taste and feel of our favorite cooked foods, while maintaining the nutrition of whole foods by keeping their enzymes and vitamins intact. Raw and organic whole foods can be very healing for people with certain diseases and can help rejuvenate the body. Dr. Cousens for example uses a raw vegan diet to help his patients reverse Type II Diabetes and other severe illnesses.

Although many raw foodists take an all or nothing approach and choose to maintain a fully raw diet, for some people this may sound impossible or simply undesirable. Going fully raw is definitely doable and may improve your health drastically, however, I believe we can all benefit from adding more raw foods to our diets thereby maximizing our nutrition without necessarily removing all cooked foods overnight. These delicious, nutritious, filling and easy to make granola bars are a lovely addition to anyone’s diet. Give them a try!

If, on the other hand, you are ready to transform your diet completely there are many resources out there to support you, including my beloved culinary institute, Living Light Culinary Institute, where I learned not only how to prepare scrumptious fully raw meals and desserts, but also the science behind it.

Raw Vegan Granola Bars

Ingredients:

Makes about 20 bars

1 ½ cup dates, pitted and chopped

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons agave nectar (or maple syrup)

1 ¼ cup raw almonds

1 cup rolled oats

1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds

1/3 cup raw pumpkin seeds

½ cup raisins

½ cup dried cranberries (or other dried fruit of your choice)

¾ cup shredded coconut

2 tablespoons brown rice syrup

¼ teaspoon Himalayan salt

Method:

  1. Place chopped dates, vanilla extract and agave nectar in a food processor and blend until mixture becomes a thick, chunky paste.
  2. With the help of a spatula, scoop date mixture into a large bowl and stir in all remaining ingredients.
  3. Place about 1/3 of the mixture at a time into the food processor and pulse 4 or 5 times. Mixture should be sticky with large chunks of fruit and nuts. Continue until all the granola has been processed.
  4. Place granola on a dehydrator tray lined with a paraflexx drying sheet. Form a square shape about 1-inch thick and score the granola into rectangular bars of desired size.
  5. Dehydrate for 6 hours at 110°F. Flip the granola onto another dehydrator tray without the drying sheet. Score again so that the bars are more defined. Dehydrate for another 6 hours. Bars will be firm but moist and chewy when ready.
  6. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

“All who have accomplished great things have had a great aim, have fixed their gaze on a goal which was high, one which sometimes seemed impossible.” ~Orison Swett Marden

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Corn on the cob

We all know that a squirt of lime improves the taste of almost everything, from a nice cold beer to a creamy guacamole. Not only are limes incredibly health-promoting, they have that unique ability to bring out the flavors in other foods.

I use lime juice to dress my salads and enhance many other dishes and drinks all the time. Here are my favorite ways to use lime, some of which may totally surprise you:

1. Corn on the Cob – I am so excited to share this simple, healthy, vegan option for topping your corn on the cob. I learned it from a Mexican friend here in Mexico and now I am hooked! It’s even better than butter I promise!

All you do is squeeze fresh lime juice on the corn, sprinkle some Himalayan salt and indulge!

Corn on the cob

2. Papaya and Coconut – Have you ever tried freshly squeezed lime over papaya? Oh, this is another one of my favorites I discovered in Mexico! The tangy citrus balances and contrasts the sweetness of the papaya so perfectly! Chopped up coconut meat, as the famous song suggests, also tastes delicious topped with lime juice and a dash of Himalayan salt.

Papaya with lime

3. Salads – Lime, coupled with olive or flaxseed oil and Himalayan salt, makes the most exquisite dressing for any type of salad. Here I used it to dress a mango, cucumber and tomato salad. Lime is great with all greens and my much loved cilantro salad, La Mexicana.

Mango Salad

4. Teas – I like to refrigerate teas in the summer; an iced tea of any variety is so refreshing! One of my favorite teas is fresh lime juice and mint. I add the mint leaves to boiling water and let them seep for a couple of hours while the water cools down slowly. I then remove the mint and add the lime juice. For those of us requiring a little more sweetness, a teaspoon of agave nectar does the trick very nicely.

Mint and lime tea

5. Soups – A squirt of lime enhances the flavors of almost any soup!

6. Alcoholic Beverages – We all know and love the classic lime margarita, but as with soups, many alcoholic beverages are enhanced with a little lime. Don’t even think of having a cranberry vodka without a squirt of lime – it just isn’t the same! Even a plain glass of water or carbonated water is greatly enhanced with a little fresh lime juice.

7. Brazilian Lemonade – This lemonade recipe actually uses lime, rather than lemon. Conventionally, people add condensed milk, but my vegan version uses coconut or almond cream. To sweeten it, I use agave nectar instead of sugar. To make 4 servings, chop up 2 limes (peel and all) and toss them in the blender with 2 cups of water, 1/2 cup of coconut or almond cream, several ice cubes, and a tablespoon of agave nectar. Blend briefly and then strain the liquid through a strainer or nut milk bag. Add a little more ice and serve immediately. Salud!

8. Kicking the habit – Did you know that lime juice may help you quit smoking? One medical study concluded that, “fresh lime can be used effectively as a smoking cessation aid.”

9. Key Lime Pie – Wow this one is a huge treat! Key Lime Pie you’ve surely heard about, but what about a raw vegan version? At the Living Light Culinary Institute, where I studied raw vegan cuisine and nutrition, we learned a recipe for a raw vegan key lime pie which was out of this world! I made it several times since then (below I made them as little tartlets), and this recipe has been a huge crowd-pleaser!

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10. Armpits – Yes, you read that correctly: armpits! Did you know that rubbing a piece of lime under your arms works better to control body odor than any deodorant on the market? You have to try it to believe it!

I hope I’ve inspired you to try lime in new and exciting ways! Enjoy!

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“Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark, professionals built the Titanic.”
~Unknown 

 

 

Maria's Vegan Gorditas

This week I bring you another delicious Mexican classic: gorditas! A gordita (literally translated into English as “little fatty”) is a type of flatbread made from cornmeal and then stuffed with pretty much anything you like, such as vegetables, meat, or even a sweet filling.

I always choose the vegan options, and was thrilled that a favorite gordita spot here in Mexico, Doña Tota, offers two fillings devoid of animal products: a refried beans option (without the cheese, which is a typical addition) and a potato filling.

Gordita Dona Tota

These two fillings at Doña Tota don’t have any meat, but how can I be absolutely sure that they don’t contain any animal products? I cannot, unless I make them myself at home.

I must admit, I was a bit intimidated to try this recipe on my own. Making gorditas is an art form, but then again, so are many other culinary creations such as pizza and lasagna! The difference is I did not grow up in a Mexican kitchen, so unlike Italian dishes, this wonderful and inspiring cuisine is all new to me. But, alas, I am a very eager student, and a lover of all things Mexican.

I mustered up some confidence, got myself masa harina, corn flour, and set out for a culinary adventure in my kitchen. I had to determine the flour to water ratio, so I experimented based on my experience with making pizza dough, adding water to the flour slowly and feeling my way through. I created a big loaf of soft dough and then pinched tangerine-sized balls of dough, patting then into flat cakes, about ½ inch thick.

Making Gorditas

I then heated a frying pan on medium to high heat (no oil) and placed the patties in the pan. I flipped them once they had some colour, after about four minutes on each side.

Gordita patties

Once they were done, I removed them from the heat and let them cool slightly. Some people deep fry them at this point, but I don’t think this is necessary since they are already wonderfully flavorful. Once they cooled, I used a serrated knife to slice them about ¾ through to create a pocket. The serrated knife is super important for this step so that the shell doesn’t stick to the knife or crumble.

Now your gordita is ready for you to fill with any filling you like. I made a sweet potato, corn and bean mixture and garnished it with chopped cilantro and onion. If you’d like to try the refried beans filling, like the ones from Doña Tota, I gave you my recipe last week.

Have fun and buen provecho!

Maria's Vegan Gorditas

 

Gordita Shell

Makes about 5 shells

Ingredients:

2 cups corn flour

1 2/3 cup water

Pinch of salt

Method:

  1. In a large bowl, add the flour and a pinch of salt. Add the water slowly, about 1/3 cup at a time.
  2. Knead the mixture into a large loaf.
  3. Pinch off tangerine-sized balls and pat into flat patties, about ½ inch thick.
  4. Heat frying pan (dry, no oil) on medium to high heat. Add patties and cook for about 4 minutes on each side, until they start to get a golden color.
  5. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
  6. Slice open (using a serrated knife) and fill with any stuffing and garnish you desire.

 

Sweet Potato, Bean and Corn Gordita Filling

Ingredients:

½ white onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, minced

3 small sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped

1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary

1 tablespoon grapeseed oil

½ cup frozen corn

1 cup cooked pinto beans

½ teaspoon onion powder

Himalayan salt and black pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Add onion, garlic, sweet potato, rosemary and oil to a frying pan and sauté until soft, about 5 or 6 minutes.
  2. Add corn, pinto beans, onion powder, salt and pepper and continue sautéing for another 1 to 2 minutes. Turn off heat and set aside until ready to fill your gordita shells.

 

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See you next week with another irresistible vegan recipe! 

Refried Beans

It’s been a while, my friends! I am so thrilled to be back here on Forget The Box, sharing my passion for vegan living with all of you!

Much has happened since you last read me about 10 months ago. Namely, my cookbook, Cooking With Amore, was finally published and launched at the Montreal SPCA Annexe (Emergency Shelter). I completed a program in gourmet raw vegan cuisine and raw food nutrition at Living Light Culinary Institute in northern California. And, to keep things exciting, I moved to Los Cabos in Mexico!

It has always been my dream to live in a beautiful, tropical location. I decided to take the leap and make it happen this past May, making the drive all the way from Montreal to San Jose del Cabo in Baja California Sur, Mexico. What an incredible adventure it has been so far!

I have so much to share with you, but let me start this week with the sheer deliciousness known as refried beans. It’s easy to come across this highly popular dish in Mexico, since it is served as a side dish with almost everything, including breakfast.

I love making bean dishes from scratch, soaking beans overnight and cooking them myself (rather than using the canned variety). I was super eager to make this dish at home, but not before reading up a little to find out its origins and history.

Refried beans are essentially cooked and mashed beans. The name “refried beans” is derived from the Spanish “frijoles refritos” which interestingly does not refer to the beans being refried (fried twice), but rather well-fried. In fact, one way of preparing these beans doesn’t involve frying at all. You can basically boil the beans and add all the other ingredients to the same pot until the mixture is thick and creamy. At that point, you can use a potato masher or put all or most of the mixture into a blender for a very brief blend.

When I make them, I do use the frying method because I always boil a big batch of beans and freeze some for other recipes.

Refried beans are very versatile. They can be served as a side dish, as a filling in a tortilla or gordita, as a dip for totopos or tostadas, as a layer for nachos – the possibilities are endless! I even add a large dollop to my salad for extra flavor and heartiness. Here’s my recipe. You can use any beans you like, but it seems that pinto or black beans are the most popular.

 

Maria’s Rendition of Refried Beans

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil, or any oil you prefer for cooking

1 white or red onion, chopped

3 or 4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 poblano or red bell pepper, chopped

1 jalapeño pepper, chopped

2 cups cooked pinto or black beans

2 cups water

¼ cup chopped cilantro, more for garnish if desired

Himalayan salt and black pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Add oil, chopped onion, garlic and peppers to a large frying pan and sauté until soft, about 10 minutes.
  2. Add the cooked beans and 1 cup of water to the frying pan and allow to simmer until most of the water has evaporated, about 15 minutes. Add second cup of water and repeat.
  3. Once most of the water has evaporated, and the bean mixture is very soft, stir in chopped cilantro and turn off heat.
  4. Use a potato masher or blender to create a thick purée. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with chopped cilantro if desired.

So full of flavor, I just love this recipe and hope you enjoy it as well. Read me next week as I share with you another vegan recipe and tale from Mexico!

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I had the good fortune of business meetings in Los Cabos, Mexico this week. The exquisite beauty of San Jose del Cabo captured my heart and soul.

I stayed at the lovely boutique hotel El Encanto Inn & Spa. Gorgeous gardens, beautiful rooms, comfortable bed and friendly staff made my stay pure paradise. I highly recommend it! This hotel also offers spa treatments and the opportunity to meet with excellent and renowned health professionals such as Isabelle Gagnon, holistic health coach extraordinaire, Dr. Allan Laird, chiropractor and massage therapist, and Wendy Rudell, naturopath and author of  The Raw Transformation (which I proudly came home with!)

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Maintaining a vegan lifestyle in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico this past week was easy and pleasurable with the abundance of fresh organic produce everywhere. As with my other trips, being vegan while traveling was not even an issue.

Dinner at Flora Farm was a culinary experience like no other! I’ve done quite a bit of traveling in my day, but this was by far the best meal I ever had. I ordered an unforgettable arugula and basil pizza with a thin, gluten-free crust. How can you compare the freshness and tastiness of food that is grown right on the land where the restaurant is located?

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Flora Farm is a brilliant concept of combining farm and restaurant in the same location. Ten acres of organic produce growing at the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna mountains in San Jose del Cabo, Mexcio makes for dishes that are unparalleled in flavor and freshness.

I had another excellent vegan meal at Cynthia Fresh. Take a look at this heavenly salad topped with black sesame encrusted chunks of tofu, cranberries and pine nuts. Scrumptious!

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Dinner at Salsitas was equally delicious and creative. A lovely vegetable taco dish, where the tacos were made from raw jicama! Not only was this delicious dinner totally vegan, it was also grain, soy and corn-free making it very accommodating to various dietary needs.

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Salsitas also offers excellent service, friendly staff and amazing margaritas and salsa!

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The town of San Jose del Cabo is charming, serene, pretty and artistic. The beaches are spectacular. I highly recommend you check it out! Upon my departure, I admit I shed a few tears, but I did not say good-bye; instead, I declared: “Hasta pronto San Jose del Cabo!”

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“Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true.” ~Leon J. Suenes

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pasta e fagioli

Pasta and beans is a tasty, traditional stew-like Italian dish. It is a hearty meal, which I love to make at this time of year when the garden is in full harvest mode. Using perfectly vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh crisp celery, aromatic basil, and of course lots of garlic – all from the garden – make this dish absolutely irresistible, healthy and nourishing.

For optimal flavor and nutrition, I use the ripest garden tomatoes I have available. The first step is bringing a large pot of water to a boil and dropping the tomatoes in the boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and allow time for the tomatoes to cool. At this point, the tomatoes can be peeled with ease. These are tastier and way healthier than any diced tomatoes you can get from can.

You don’t have to make the pasta noodles yourself. Any type of pasta you like will work fine in this dish, even rice pasta for those of you who prefer gluten-free. I have included my homemade pasta recipe, however, for those of you feeling adventurous. Also, I’d like you to see how easy it is to make homemade pasta! Tagiatelle are like fettucini, except a little shorter. I chose spelt flour for my pasta. You will need a pasta maker for this recipe. Have a blast!

Pasta e Fagioli

Ingredients:
Makes approximately 4 servings

6 ripe tomatoes
Pot of water for boiling
5 cloves of garlic, minced
6 fresh basil leaves
1 celery stalk or celery heart
1 ½ cups (375 ml) pinto or kidney beans, cooked
⅓ cup (80 ml) fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons (30 ml) grapeseed oil
2 teaspoons (10 ml) sea salt (or more to taste)
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) black pepper (or more to taste)
6 cups (1 ½ L) of water
Small pasta of your choice or homemade spelt tagliatelle (recipe below)

Method:
1. Bring the pot of water to a boil. Drop tomatoes into the boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes.
2. Remove pot from the stove and drain. Let tomatoes cool before peeling and dicing them.
3. In a large pot, heat grapeseed oil on medium heat and add minced garlic. Brown garlic slightly, about 1 to 2 minutes.
4. Add diced tomatoes, celery, basil, and a teaspoon of sea salt. Let simmer for about 20 minutes.
5. Remove celery and basil leaves and discard. Add chopped parsley, cooked beans and black pepper.
6. Add 6 cups of water and bring to a boil. Add your choice of pasta. Reduce heat and simmer until pasta is cooked. Most of the water will be absorbed by the pasta, but some excess liquid is desired, as with a stew. Taste test to see if more sea salt or pepper is desired. You can sprinkle some vegan parmesan over top if desired (see recipe below). Serve warm.

Spelt Tagliatelle

Ingredients:
3 cups (750 ml) spelt flour, extra flour on the side
¾ cup (180 ml) water
Sea salt

Method:
1. Pour flour onto work station in a well formation. Keep an extra amount of flour on the side for sprinkling over dough when it gets sticky.
2. Sprinkle small amount of sea salt over flour well (about ½ teaspoon, 2.5 ml).
3. Pour water slowly into well a bit at a time, working flour into the water gently with your fingers or a fork.
4. Once firm, knead dough for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle small amounts of flour onto work station and dough if it becomes too sticky.
5. Form a loaf and let loaf sit for 15 to 30 minutes.
6. Sprinkle small amount of flour over dough. With a rolling pin, flatten the dough. Cut small amounts and pass through the pasta maker at the setting which will further flatten the dough (No. 8 setting).
7. Lay pieces of flattened dough on flour-sprinkled work station to avoid sticking.
8. Pass all the pieces of dough, one by one, through the fettucini setting of the pasta maker. Lay pasta on flour-sprinkled work station. Once all the pasta is ready, add to your tomato and bean mixture to cook. If you would like to keep some pasta for another recipe, you can freeze the pasta. (Lay it flat, single file, on a cooking sheet and once it is completely frozen, transfer it to a freezer bag.)

Vegan Parmesan

Ingredients:

¼ cup (60 ml) raw cashews

¼ cup (60 ml) nutritional yeast

Method:

1. In a food processor, combine cashews and nutritional yeast. Blend until powdery. Sprinkle over any dish you like.

This is just one of the many recipes you will find in my soon to be released cookbook, Cooking With Amore: 100 Vegan Recipes for Health, Well-being and Spiritual Evolution. 

 

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“Let me share my vision with you: I see a world without sickness, sorrow or mental disturbance in which we are living in perfect balance with abundant health and harmony. Reconnect with nature and your body will take care of the rest. This is the beauty of self-healing.”  ~Dr. Ann Wigmore

Colorful vegetables and fruits

“Optimum nutrition is the medicine of tomorrow.” ~Dr. Linus Pauling

Sometimes quite a bit more expensive and usually harder to find in average grocery stores, one can’t help but wonder whether organic foods are really worth the extra money and effort.

What does organic mean exactly? The philosophy behind organic farming is based on a respect for biodiversity and its protection, reduction of pollution and chemicals in the environment, and the promotion of healthy soil. Generally, organic food is required to be free from genetic modification, synthetic pesticides, irradiation, synthetic processing agents or ingredients, synthetic veterinary drugs, cloning and nanotechnology.

The Mayo Clinic provides a comprehensive summary of organic versus conventional farming:

Conventional

Organic

Apply chemical fertilizers to promote plant growth. Apply natural fertilizers, such as manure or compost, to feed soil and plants.
Spray synthetic insecticides to reduce pests and disease. Spray pesticides from natural sources; use beneficial insects and birds, mating disruption or traps to reduce pests and disease.
Use synthetic herbicides to manage weeds. Use environmentally-generated plant-killing compounds; rotate crops, till, hand weed or mulch to manage weeds.
Give animals antibiotics, growth hormones and medications to prevent disease and spur growth. Give animals organic feed and allow them access to the outdoors. Use preventive measures — such as rotational grazing, a balanced diet and clean housing — to help minimize disease.

Here are 5 main reasons why I say: Yes, organic is better!

1. Organic foods reduce our exposure to pesticide residues.  Chemicals in agriculture are used extensively around the world to grow crops. According to the Natural Sources Defense Council, pesticides are believed to cause cancer, skeletal abnormalities, damage to the nervous system, reproductive and immune systems and many other problems and diseases. Insecticides are neurotoxins that affect brain development. Chronic exposure causes reproductive damage and reduced fertility. Research also indicates pesticide exposure to increased risk of Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and other life threatening disease.

2. The Natural Sources Defense Council also points out how chemicals used in agriculture are particularly dangerous for children. Case reports and epidemiological studies indicate an association between pesticide exposure and the development of certain cancers in children including leukemia, sarcomas, and brain tumors, and compromising of the immune system in infants and children. Evidence of the heavy toxin load in children can be seen in studies which have demonstrated how children who eat conventional food have higher levels of pesticides in their urine than those who eat organic.

3. Organic farming does not apply only to fruits and vegetable. Livestock are also adversely affected by many conventional farming methods, including the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Because farm animals are constantly given large amounts of antibiotics to fatten them up quickly and keep them somewhat disease-free in their often horrendous living conditions, the bacteria on these meats (which can be ingested by humans) are more resistant to multiple antibiotics causing a serious hazard to human health.

4. Organic foods contain more nutrients. Richer soil produces crops which have a higher level of their naturally occurring nutrients. Because they are more nutrient-rich, organic fruits and vegetables also taste better. I personally had the pleasure of diving, face first, into a perfectly ripe, organic watermelon a couple of times this summer. What ecstasy! The taste is definitely sweeter than those conventionally grown. Do a taste test and see for yourself!

5. Spending money is a matter of priorities. We need to ask ourselves this question: what’s more important: the best quality food money can buy or a pair of shoes, for example? If buying exclusively organic produce is not a priority for you, you may wish to buy organic only when the chemical agents used to grow those crops are particularly high. The Environment Working Group (EWC) produces a useful list called, “The Clean Fifteen Dirty Dozen: Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce”, which can be easily downloaded and used as a quick reference.

I encourage all of you to continue learning and researching where your food comes from and exactly how it is grown. With knowledge, we become empowered. With empowerment we can make the best choices.

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FINAL FRONT COVER

I am delighted and honored to announce that I submitted my cookbook to the publisher last week! After two years of dedicated and persistent hard work, my baby is finally on its way to being printed! In addition to a traditional book, an electronic version is also being made.

In about four weeks, Cooking With Amore: 100 Vegan Recipes for Health, Well-being and Spiritual Evolution will be available for purchase on sites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and in bookstores. I have a French and Spanish translation of my cookbook in the works; both will be ready in 2014.

I am also thrilled to announce that my official book launch in Montreal, Canada will be held at the SPCA Annexe on December 14, 2013. I will be making dishes from the cookbook for everyone to sample and donations will be accepted to help the animals at the SPCA.

I will be selling and signing books and proceeds from the sale of my books will also go to the SPCA. More details will follow as the date draws near. You are all invited to join me in celebrating this very special day! I will also be organizing book signing events in other cities around the world! I am going global with Cooking With Amore!

Cooking With Amore contains many of the recipes I share with you each week and more. Some of the recipes which I consider quite genius I have saved for the book itself, such as my vegan poutine and vegan tiramisu, for example, as well as this vegan piece of heaven I do with cacao nibs and garden tomatoes (yes tomatoes!).

My goal is simply to get vegan recipes out there. I want people to get excited about cooking delicious dishes, without the use of any animal products.

Why? Because it’s possible, it’s healthy and it’s kind. To those of you contemplating a vegan lifestyle, or maybe just adding more plant-based meals to your diet, in Cooking With Amore, I offer you 100 scrumptious, easy recipes!

Banner Cooking with Amore 2

Let’s cook with love! Are you ready?

My website has also been finished and is ready for launch in the coming days. In the meantime, you can continue to follow me daily on my Facebook page where I share vegan recipes and health-related tips every day!

 

“Now that I have made the connection, I do not eat animals for the same reason as I do not eat human beings. To me, there is no difference between humans and animals, for we are all souls, in different physical disguises. I know that non-human animals value their lives, their relationships, and their freedom to run and play as much as humans do. They feel a wide range of emotions just like we do. I want to create a better world for all animals and that, in turn, means a better world for everyone. ”

~Maria Amore, Cooking With Amore: 100 Vegan Recipes for Health, Well-being and Spiritual Evolution

Modified by CombineZP

Lentils and beans are light and savory in salad format for the summer. We can save the warm dishes for the winter since they tend to be filling and provide that much needed comfort in the cold months. Salads like this, just like our lentil stews and soups, store well in the refrigerator for 3 or 4 days, so make a big batch and enjoy it over the coming days.

While reading up on lentil nutrition this week in preparation for writing this article, I came across these interesting ten facts about lentils presented by Vanessa Perrone, R.D. Nutritionist. Did you know:

1. Canada is the world’s leading exporter of lentils.

2. Saskatchewan produces 97% of Canada’s lentils.

3. Lentils are a nitrogen-fixing crop.

4. Lentils can be bought whole, peeled or split, each step reducing cooking time: Whole 25-30 mins > Peeled 20-25 mins > Split 10-12 mins.

5. Lentils do not require any soaking! That’s right, just cook until tender and add to your favourite dish.

6. Because lentils are grown in rotation with durum wheat they may come into contact with wheat at harvest. But the meticulous processing at the facility makes for a completely gluten-free product.

7. Lentils are an excellent source of fibre with almost 16g per cup.

8. Lentils have a very low glycemic index, which means the rise in blood sugar after eating them will be moderate and steady.

9. 3/4 cup cooked lentils provides more potassium than a large banana along with 13g of protein.

10. Lentils provide more folate than any other plant food.

11. Bonus food fact: The word lens (as in contact lens) was actually inspired by the shape of the split lentil (Who knew?…).

Motivated to eat a healthy bowl of lentils? Here is a lentil salad I created, full of flavor and some lovely fresh ingredients from the garden like mint, parsley, onions and garlic. I find the cumin combined here with the mint and chili flakes gives it a distinct middle eastern flavor. The lemon juice and zest heighten the summer feel to this dish. Enjoy, in joy and in health!

Arabian Mint Lentil Salad

Ingredients:
Makes approximately 5 to 6 servings

2 cups (500 ml) green lentils
5 cups (1 ¼ L) water
2 tablespoons (30 ml) grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil
5 cloves of garlic, finely minced
½ white onion, thinly sliced
½ cup (125 ml) fresh parsley, chopped
¼ cup (60 ml) fresh mint, chopped
¼ cup (60 ml) lemon juice (1 or 2 lemons) and lemon zest from one lemon
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) chili flakes
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) cumin
Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Method:

1. Place lentils in a pot with water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and let simmer, partially covered, until lentils are soft, about 45 minutes to 1 hour (green lentils usually take a little longer to cook than other lentils). When lentils are soft, water will most likely have been fully absorbed. If not, drain excess water. Set lentils aside to cool.

2. In a frying pan, heat grapeseed oil and add garlic. Sauté until slightly golden, about 3 minutes. Turn off heat and set aside to cool.

3. In a blender, add lemon juice and zest, chili flakes, olive oil, cumin, cooled garlic and oil. Blend briefly.

4. Place cooled lentils in a large bowl. Pour dressing from the blender over lentils. Add chopped parsley, mint and onion. Mix well. Add sea salt and black pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature or chilled. Garnish with additional lemon zest and mint leaves, if desired.

“Revere the healing power of nature.” ~Hippocrates

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green tea ice cream

To continue celebrating the joy and beauty of summer in Montreal, I want to again this week, share with you a summery recipe. I know you loved last week’s cooling gazpacho because I was overwhelmed with positive feedback. Keep the comments coming! I really enjoy hearing from you.

Aside from gazpacho, what says “summer fun” more than ice cream? This week, let’s make some vegan ice cream!

Would you believe we can make absolutely delicious ice cream without any dairy at all? Oh yes we can! I created this vegan ice cream recipe using frozen bananas as the base. You just have to try it to believe how delicious it is! Thankfully, it’s super easy to make!

Not only is this recipe vegan, it’s also sugar free! The ripe bananas add all the sweetness we need.

Unlike other teas, Matcha green tea comes in a very fine powdered form, so it is perfect to add to ice creams or smoothies. A beautifully vibrant green color, Matcha tea is very flavorful and adds all the health benefits of a green tea to this non-dairy iced treat.

As a tea, Matcha is full of antioxidants and has many health benefits. It is said to be the healthiest of teas because the whole leaf of the Camellia sinensis plant is stone-ground into a powder, so we are actually drinking a green plant when we drink Matcha tea.

Matcha tea does contain caffeine, but the experience that comes with drinking tea is very different than with drinking coffee. People often describe getting “wired” with caffeinated coffee, whereas with green tea, the feeling is one of calm alertness.

Staying with the green theme and remembering the pistachio ice cream I used to enjoy as a child, I added pistachios for their delicious flavor. As you know, I like to use raw nuts in my recipes to make the most out of the health benefits we derive from nuts.

Nuts are actually easily denatured with heat due to their high oil content, so roasting them often destroys many of the nutrients. Also, nuts can become rancid quickly when sitting in a warmish cupboard or countertop, so I always store all my nuts in the freezer.

Give this dairy-free, sugar-free treat a try!

Maria’s Green Tea Pistachio Ice Cream

Ingredients:
Makes approximately 4 to 5 servings

4 bananas, very ripe, chopped into chunks and frozen
1 cup (250 ml) unsweetened almond milk (see my recipe for homemade almond milk)
¼ cup (60 ml) raw pistachios, more for topping
1 tablespoon (15 ml) Imperial Matcha Ceremonial Green Tea

Method:

1. Remove bananas from the freezer and blend all ingredients in a high-powdered blender.
2. Your mixture may be too soft and more like a smoothie at this point. If so, place your ice cream in a large glass container and put it in the freezer for at least 2 hours. Once firm, remove from the freezer. Use an ice cream scooper to scoop out ice cream and place it into your serving cups. Sprinkle a few pistachios over top, if desired. Serve immediately.

 

“Before you taste anything, recite a blessing.” ~Rabbi Akiva

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It was brought to my attention that I have never shared a cold soup recipe. Well, it’s about time I do that! Here is a vibrant, refreshing summer soup which I adore.

Gazpacho is the name given to a type of soup which is served cold. It has Spanish roots and was originally tomato-based. The other vegetables and herbs added to the soup are usually raw. Because of its refreshing quality, it is a soup which is served in the summer months.

My gazpacho is watermelon-based. Watermelons are abundant this time of year. If you can, get an organic one – they taste even sweeter! Nothing feels like a summer feast more than a huge, organic watermelon! The basil I use here is also organic since it is from my own garden. If you have a small leaf variety of basil, it works best in this soup since it has a subtle taste – much less bold than the larger leaf varieties of basil. Any type of basil you like will do, however. If you choose to go with the red onion, that will add to the sweetness of the soup, whereas the white onion will slightly contrast the sweetness with its sharp, pungent flavor and aroma.

My Watermelon Basil Gazpacho is a lovely dish to serve on a hot summer’s day not only because it’s cooling, but also the combination of flavors makes it fun to eat when we are not in the mood for anything heavy. Another great thing about this soup is that it is quick to prepare and requires only 4 ingredients! Enjoy!

Maria’s Watermelon Basil Gazpacho

Ingredients:

6 cups seeded watermelon, chopped

1 small white or red onion, finely chopped

1 seeded cucumber, diced

1 cup fresh basil, finely chopped

Method: 

1. Blend watermelon in a blender until liquefied.

2. Strain liquid through a strainer into a large bowl. Remove excess pulp and any stray seeds. (You can discard the pulp or eat it like a pudding.)

3. Add chopped onion, cucumber and basil to the bowl and stir. Chill in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes before serving.

4. Scoop up watermelon soup into serving bowls. Garnish with additional fresh basil. Serve.

“Your body is a Temple. You are what you eat. Do not eat processed food, junk foods, filth, or disease carrying food, animals, or rodents. Some people say of these foods, ‘well, it tastes good’. Most of the foods today that statically cause sickness, cancer, and disease ALL TASTE GOOD; it’s well seasoned and prepared poison. THIS IS WHY SO MANY PEOPLE ARE SICK; mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually; because of being hooked to the ‘taste’ of poison, instead of being hooked on the truth and to real foods that heal and provide you with good health and wellness. Respect and honor your Temple- and it will honor you.” 
~SupaNova Slom, The Remedy: The Five-Week Power Plan to Detox Your System, Combat the Fat, and Rebuild Your Mind and Body

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bigstock-green-vegetable-smoothie-22415942

I’m reading an interesting book at the moment: Green for Life by Victoria Boutenko. In this book, Boutenko explains how leafy greens are among the most overlooked, yet nutritious foods we can eat.

What I’m finding most fascinating so far is Boutenko’s discussion of the amino acids which form protein, and how, “if we maintain a variety of greens in our diet, we will cover all essential amino acids in abundance” (Boutenko, p.41). The essential amino acids required to form protein cannot be synthesized by our body and therefore must be absorbed through our diet.

Boutenko explains how it is simpler and more efficient for the body to take these individual amino acids (from ingesting greens) and create the protein we need, rather than breaking down the already formed protein in another species, such as in a chicken or cow for example, and extracting the amino acids to create human protein for our body. In fact, it is rather ironic how we eat a cow because we believe we need the protein, and yet the cow herself derived her protein, not by eating other cows, but by her natural herbivore diet of greens. (Of course, however, factory farmed cows are not actually fed their natural diet of greens, that would be way too expensive, rather they are fed unnatural GMO’d soy and corn, a lot of drugs, a variety of other garbage and often even animals.)

As Boutenko points out, a lot of people simply don’t like the taste of greens, so they are reluctant to add more to their diet. However, we can hide them amongst other tastes! We saw how easy it is to hide spinach in chocolate with the irresistible spinach brownie recipe I shared a while ago, but we can also do this with smoothies. In my experience, we can add between 2 and 4 cups of any greens to a smoothie and the bitterness will be completely camouflaged with a banana and about 4 fresh dates. Alternatively, ripe mango or pineapple can also successfully mask the greens.

Inspired to make green smoothies a part of my everyday routine, I created my Green Breakfast Smoothie, which I’ve been making every morning for several weeks now. Here is my recipe, which you can use as a model to build your own. I recommend to use organic ingredients, if possible. Also, use purified water if you can, instead of tap water, which contains many impurities.

If you don’t have sufficient fresh greens available or for an added green boost in addition to your fresh greens, you can include a scoop of powdered greens. There are many on the market for you to try and see which you like best. If you are in the mood for a little chocolate flavor, add a spoonful of raw cacao nibs.

Since I am using this smoothie as a meal replacement (breakfast), for added nutrition, I add a few raw nuts (and water). You can also make your own nut milk and use this instead. It’s easy to make nut milk and when you make it yourself, you avoid preservatives which are common in commercial brands.

Give it a try. Add or subtract ingredients to suit your individual needs and tastes.

Maria’s Green Breakfast Smoothie

Ingredients:

1 to 2 bananas

4 fresh dates, pitted

2 to 4 cups spinach or kale

1 cup blueberries

1/4 cup raw nuts of your choice (I use cashews, walnuts or almonds)

1 tablespoon ground flaxseed

1 tablespoon chia seeds

1 tablespoon shelled hemp seeds

1 tablespoon powdered greens

1/2 teaspoon matcha green tea

1 1/2 to 2 cups water

Method:

1. Place all ingredients in a high powered blender. Blend until creamy.

2. Pour into glass (with ice if desired, or you can blend ice into the smoothie). Sip through a straw and bliss out!

“The more I read about the nutritional content of greens, the more I became convinced that greens were the most important food for humans.” ~Victoria Boutenko, Green for Life

I created a new facebook page for those of you interested in learning more about juicing and smoothies. Also, join me on my vegan cooking page where I share vegan recipes and health-related information every day.