Monday, March 29, 2010

Sweet Curried Butternut Squash Rings (Vegan, Gluten Free)

Tonight is the start of Passover, and this year is the first year that I am not making the Seder in my home but am invited to friends. Of course, I am bringing a little something to my friends for dinner tonight as a little side dish. Actually I kind of have bring something, because both my husband and I are vegetarian and I want to make sure that there will be something for us to eat, since we are invited by our hosts that are meat eaters.

Here is a dish that can be eaten all year round and is not exclusive to Passover... Butternut Squash. It is always a satisfying meal, because it's so filling with it's creamy texture and nutty taste. This dish is always a big hit when I make it because it's that perfect combination of sweet and spicy with just the right amount of spice that adds a subtle hint of flavor.

I have to thank my sister in law Janine Solarsh from Johannesburg for sharing this with me enabling me to bring this across continents to share with you all.

2 large butternut squash (long thin ones), sliced into rings and unpeeled
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon powder

Serves 6-8

    1   Preheat oven to Roast at 425F
    2   Mix ingredients together in a mixing bowl coating butternut well with oil and spices.
    3   Place single layer on baking sheet. Roast until golden and crispy (your nostrils will know) for 40-50 minutes. Turn over half way through roasting to cook evenly.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Okra Bhaji (Okra Curry)

Photo Courtesy of

The okra vegetable is native to North Africa, however was propagated in India in the Thirteenth century. It a staple in Indian cuisine where the term Bhaji in Punjab means stir fry. This dish is a simple stir fry of okra with curry spices. To prepare okra in order to avoid the slimy you have to first wash your okras, wipe them dry, then air dry them for about 30 minutes. When cooked serve as with basmati rice and plain yoghurt.


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1 chili, sliced and deseeded
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 pound Okra (4 cups)

3 round tomatoes (2 cups)
1 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste

Serves 4-6


    1    Heat the oil under a medium high flame in a medium size saucepan and fry onions.                                                                         
    2    Stir in the cumin, coriander, turmeric and chili to the onions. Continue frying until onions become    translucent and fragrant.
    3   Add Okra and stir for a few minutes, and then add tomatoes.
    4   Add salt and pepper to taste.
    5   Bring to boil, then lower heat and simmer covered for 30 minutes.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Orange Spiced Tofu (Gluten Free, Vegan)

Tofu is one of those meat alternatives, made from the soy bean that is so versatile because it absorbs the flavors of anything it's marinated in. The trick with tofu is to buy the right one suitable for the dish you are preparing, press out the water and marinate it. Once you have all those three steps down, you are sure to make a fabulous tofu dish.

Cooking Tips to Make Tofu Taste Good

Tofu needs to be "pressed"
Tofu is packed in water, and it's a lot like a sponge – if you don't press out the old water you can't get any new flavors in. This is really easy – it just takes some advanced planning. Here's the break-down (this assumes the use of extra-firm, water-packed tofu, not the silken kind in the little boxes):
       1      Slice open the package and drain out the water. Cut the block into however many slices you want.
       2      Lay a dish towel on a cookie sheet or tray; place some paper towels on top of that.
       3      Spread the slices of tofu out in a single layer on top of the towels. Put more paper towels and another dish towel on top of that.
       4      Set some heavy objects on top, like this cookbook.
       5      Leave it alone for at least 30 minutes, but preferably a couple hours. You can leave it like this all day or night if you put it in the fridge. If you're really in a hurry, you can apply some "manual pressure" and cut back the time to 15 minutes, but it's not going to be quite as awesome.
       6      Uncover; leave as "tofu steaks" or cut into cubes, marinate & cook according to your recipe.
Some other things to keep in mind:
Tofu loves being marinated
If you don't marinate it, it will taste like nothing.
Tofu hates marinades containing oil
Tofu has a lot of water in it, even after you press it, and oil and water don't mix. Using oil in your marinade will actually create an oil slick on the tofu and the flavors will never sink in.
Don't forget about broiling, grilling & grill pans
Tofu is great on the grill, in a grill pan and under the broiler. Just marinate it, spray your grill or pan with a little canola oil spray to prevent sticking, and cook until you get nice grill marks or crispy edges (about 7 minutes per side – can be less on a scorching-hot grill).
and now for the recipe....
Orange Spiced Tofu                        

The citrusy flavor along with the spices creates a flavor that is both complex and exciting where East meets West. This dish is such a snap to prepare and can be eaten at room temperature.

Serves 4-6

1 (16 ounce) package of firm tofu (sliced into 16 pieces and prepared according to above directions on pressing)
Non- Stick cooking spray
3 tablespoons of Duck sauce
5 tablespoons of orange juice
¼ teaspoon each of salt, cumin, garlic powder, turmeric, ginger powder & paprika, combined for seasoning mixture
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

                        1      In a separate bowl , mix duck sauce with orange juice and seasonings.
                        2      Place tofu in a medium size rectangular dish. Pour marinade over tofu and refrigerate for at least an hour.
                        3      In a large frying pan over medium high flame, spray non-stick cooking spray.
                       4      Remove tofu with a flat slotted spoon from marinade and sear tofu slices for 4 minutes on each side. There should be slight browning.
                        5      In a separate small pot under a medium flame, bring reserved marinade to boil. Once boiling pour remaining marinade over the tofu slices and serve with sprinkled toasted sesame seeds.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Personal Experience with a Special Needs Diet and My Newfound Health

You probably noticed that all the dishes I have been posting have a tag next to the recipe indicating whether it's Gluten Free, Wheat Free, Dairy Free and Vegan. More and more people have been developing food intolerances, including me, which is why I wanted to share these recipes with you that cater to your dietary needs.

 I am here to seduce your palate with unique ethnic cuisine that will not only make you feel better, but you'll discover a whole new perspective on food.  I initially did not seek out a special needs diet, but was forced into an allergy elimination diet in my early twenty's when I became chronically ill. This is my plight from a sickly individual to a healthy vibrant cook:

In my early twenties I was traveling frequently to many different countries with New York City as my home base. The single lifestyle in the city and the constant allure to socialize with friends in restaurants or cafes was not conducive for home cooking. This all caught up with me when I became chronically ill, debilitated from a painful ulcer which compelled me to explore a new frame of food; a wheat free, sugar free and dairy free diet. Prior to my new way of eating, I went to see conventional gastroenterologists who vaguely guided my diet, suggesting I eat bland foods, like dairy and toast, and then pumped me up with tons of meds. Interestingly none of these MD's bothered to investigate whether I had any food sensitivities, which as it turns out I did.

Since I was not feeling any better eating “bland foods” with a side order of prescription pills, I sought out a holistic nutritionist, thinking this is my one last shot to health or else I will resign myself to the chronic pangs of my ulcer. Through months of investigating my health issues, diet, and lifestyle, my nutritionist suggested that I eliminate all wheat, dairy and sugar from my diet. He believed that these three ingredients were wrecking havoc on my immune system because my body was taxed from years of over consumption. No doubt, since I rarely ate home cooked foods, and was constantly on the run with a donut in hand and a cup of coffee. The thought of those days makes me cringe.... I could never eat a fried donut today. What was I thinking?? The point was that I was not thinking, I just wanted to fill myself with some fast acting energy and go.

I wandered what I would eat if I did not have wheat, sugar or dairy. After all it's in everything we eat so what's left? Since I was at the end of my rope, I was desperate to try anything, so complied with my nutritionists' suggestion to eliminate those foods. Interesting enough, I quickly felt better and was enthused by my body’s response to the elimination of these foods and my newfound health, that it propelled me to go back to school and get a Naturopathic degree in order to help others with health issues.

I opened up practice as a Naturopath in 1994 where I helped numerous patients with chronic health issues, many of which were related to food sensitivities. Many of my patients asked, “Well if I have to radically change my diet, then what’s left to eat?” That is when the idea was brewing for writing and collecting recipes aimed at eating tasty ethnic savory foods catered to the special diets of those that are Vegans, Gluten Free, Wheat Free and Dairy Free foodies. In the next few blogs, I will tell you a little about my cultural background to put into perspective the onset of these recipes.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Sweet Savory Chick Pea Curry (Gluten Free, Vegan)

This is an unusual twist on the classic curry dish, which has a sweet kick to it with fennel undertones. The raisins and carrots add a rich color and delightful taste that will satiate your palate. This dish comes from my mother in law, Shirley in South Africa where many African dishes have an Indian influence because they descended in the 19th century as indentured workers transported to work on the sugar plantations of Natal. The result is a fusion Indo-African dish, which is best served over basmati rice.

Serves 6


4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 yellow onions, diced
1-inch ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon each of cinnamon, cumin, fennel seeds
2 apples, finely diced
2 carrots, sliced and cubed
2 tomatoes, diced
1- 15 ounce can of cooked Chick Peas (Garbanzo Beans), drained and rinsed
½ cup vegetable stock
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup raisins
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped (to garnish)

      1                 1      Heat oil in a large pot over a medium high flame, add onions and stir for a few minutes. Add garlic, and ginger stirring to make sure mixture does not stick.
                              2      Once onions are translucent, add all the spices including salt. Stir for an additional 3 minutes.
                              3      Stir in apples for a minute, then add carrots and stir for another minute and then stir the tomatoes in.  Let cook for a few minutes.
                             4      Stir in the garbanzo beans and vegetable stock, bringing mixture to a boil.
                             5      Once boiling, lower heat and simmer covered for 20 minutes. Add lemon juice and raisins and simmer for another 10 minutes.
                            6      When done, serve garnished with parsley.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Pumpkin Soup (Gluten Free)

On a cold wintery day this is a superb soup to warm up your bones with ginger and cinnamon undertones. The original recipe for this soup was made famous by the Jerusalem Ramada Renaissance Hotel, however I added more depth to this by adding some warming ingredients like cinnamon so that it would be more suitable for a cold winter climate.

Serves 10

2 large yellow onions, diced
1 inch fresh ginger, grated
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
7 cups water
1 ½ pounds pumpkin, cubed or 1 ½ 15- ounce cans of pumpkins
1 medium white potato, peeled and cubed
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
½ cup apple sauce
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon vegetable soup mix (Gluten Free)
1 tablespoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
½ cup half &half creamer
pine nuts for garnish, optional


.     1. In a stainless steel pot under medium high flame, sauté onions in oil until golden.   Then stir in ginger.

2    2. Add the water, pumpkin, potato, applesauce and sweet potatoes. Bring to a boil. Cover, lower heat, and simmer for about 35 minutes. Let it cool.

3.  With a hand blender, puree vegetables until smooth.

4.  Add soup mix, salt, cinnamon, pepper and maple syrup and continue simmering for an additional ten minutes.

5.  Stir in creamer and remove from heat. Serve sprinkled with pine nuts. 

Monday, March 8, 2010

How my Dog turned me into a Vegetarian

Over three years ago, I adopted my little rescue dog... a gorgeous red and white cocker spaniel and named him Flynn, befitting his Irish looks. Growing up, the most contact I came with a dog was when my brothers' girlfriend would ask us to babysit her dog, Noggy. To be frank, he needed no baby sitting... he was the meanest dog and would constantly growl at me and scared the living daylights out of me, especially when he tried to snap at me several times. Yikes!! I did not realize at the time, that he was not a bad dog, but had bad training.

My husband grew up with dogs all his life and always loved animals in the home. In fact, he never bought an animal, but rescued them... like really, from the street. My husband, Mervin has some kind of calling for animals, because they would just gravitate to him and show up in his room. He had large bay windows with no blinds, and so birds would regularly fly in and out and he would care for them. Cats and dogs would just wander into his house and would find a safe haven in Mervins' room. So when my son suggested that we get him a dog, being that my husband was so hands on with dogs, I obliged.

My 13 yr. old son is an only child who has no perspective on living with siblings, nor the responsibility to siblings. like friendships, fights, loyalty and so on. So to balance out the house, I decided to go for "dog therapy."

We figured that having a dog in the house would be good for my son. He would walk the dog, clean up after him and feed him, all the while cultivating a responsibility of having a little animal brother to look after. WRONG assumption! What happened was that this little godly creature with his human face, particularly his expressive eyes screamed to me, "Take me, Love me, Hug me!" Flynn became my baby. I thought that Flynn would be another sibling for my son, when in fact Flynn became my toddler  who needed all my attention and who would reciprocate with hugs and kisses continuously. That's a better deal that my teenage "I don't want to be seen with you Mom" son.

Flynn and I developed a very special relationship.... more to me than anyone else in our home. He was such a skittish and scared animal due to being neglected and abused before being found by Manhattan Rescue. We would take very long walks in the park, and at home he would follow me like a shadow. When I sat down, he would hop on me and just want to snuggle. No matter what kind of day I was having... Flynn was only too happy to be there with me with his tail wagging and happy disposition.

Then it was about two years ago, that my husband and I were sitting around the Sabbath table for dinner with a  free range roasted chicken that I had an epiphany. Looking at this chicken in its full form with the legs and everything.... made me think of Flynn. How can I eat an animal and live with an animal??? Suddenly eating this chicken became extremely unappetizing, and I just could not eat it.

I turned to my husband and said to him, "How can we eat this chicken and live with an animal?" My conscience raced with questions: Why is acceptable to eat this chicken and take the life of an animal for our consumption, especially when we have so many vegetarian choices?? Further discussing this with my husband and flooding us both with the moral and ethical Jewish views of meat consumption.... like is it really a blessing to eat meat for the Sabbath meal? We even went over the many vegetarian options available to us. You see, as it stood already, during the week we only ate vegetarian meals, it was only for the Sabbath where I cooked a flesh meal.

I happened to be a creative cook, so why not harness that creativity to make hearty, fulfilling and spicy vegetarian dishes. And so, my husband and I agreed that we did not need to eat meat anymore and it was that turning point... that Sabbath, the day where everything is supposed come to a halt so we can think about the things that are really important that we made the decision together to become vegetarian.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Cauliflower & Mushroom in Scallion Ginger Broth (Vegan, Gluten Free)

This dish is essentially a marriage of centuries-old Eastern and Western influences harmoniously combined into something of a Thai curry which always has chili and ginger. Chilies were introduced to Thai cooking during the late 1600s by Portuguese missionaries who had acquired a taste for them while serving in South America. The overpowering chili spice is toned down in this dish with yoghurt and enhanced with fresh ginger and scallions.

Serves 4-6

2 cauliflower florets, divided into small florets
1 bunch scallions, trimmed
4 cloves garlic
2 inch piece fresh root ginger
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound large button mushrooms, sliced
1 small chili (seeds removed)
¼ cup tomato puree
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons cilantro (coriander)
½ teaspoon salt
12 ounces of plain yogurt
2 tablespoons mango chutney (or any other of your choice)
1 tablespoon of chopped fresh cilantro, to garnish

              1.  In a large stock pot, simmer cauliflower after reaching a boil in lightly salted water for 5 minutes.         Drain and set aside. 
             2.  In food processor, puree scallions, ginger and garlic with 2 tablespoons of water.

             3.  Heat half of the oil in a frying pan and toss mushrooms and pureed mixture to sauté for 5 minutes or until browned.

             4.  Remove from pan, pour remaining oil and add tomato puree, ground coriander, salt, chili, chili powder and fry for a few minutes.

             5.  Add yogurt and stir well, bringing to a simmer. Once simmering add the chutney and whisk to blend and emulsify the ingredients together.
6           6.  After 5 minutes, add cauliflower and mushrooms and gently simmer 10 minutes more. When done, garnish with cilantro and serve.

Maple Roasted Parsnips (Gluten Free, Dairy Free)

The parsnip is a root vegetable that is a relative to the carrot, although much paler they do resemble each other. Typically parsnips are part of the main ingredient in a soup base or roasted for a richer flavor. For this dish the parsnips are roasted into a caramelized deliciously sticky texture, which makes them so moreish. You will not be able to resist them.


2 pounds parsnips, peeled and sliced

5 tablespoons olive oil

6 tablespoons maple syrup

2 tablespoons wholegrain mustard

Salt to taste

Serves 4

1 Preheat oven to Roast at 375F

2 Parboil parsnips in a stockpot under a medium high flame for 4 minutes.

3 Drain, then put in an ovenproof dish, and toss with olive oil and salt. Roast 45 minutes.

4 In a bowl, mix maple syrup and mustard together, and pour over parsnips when done. Roast for another 5 minutes more to set the taste.

Carrot Cake (Gluten Free, Vegan)

The key ingredients to this cake are the cinnamon and ginger, which add a warm welcoming spicy flavor. Especially delightful when served with vanilla ice cream, yoghurt or crème fraiche. This recipe is excerpted from Bob’s Red Mill Baking Book by John Ettinger and Bob’s Red Mill Family, 2007 and adapted into a gluten free and vegan version. The result is taste without compromise.

2/3 cup buckwheat flour
2/3 cup brown rice flour
¾ cup brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup vegetable oil
3 tablespoons unsalted vegan butter, softened
3 eggs, room temperature
2 cups carrots, grated
¼ cup crystallized ginger, minced
½ cup crushed walnuts, optional
Serves 10
     1 Make sure all your ingredients are at room temperature. Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 baking dish,
     2 In a large bowl, sift the flours, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt.
     3 With a whisk, lightly beat together the oil and butter, then beat in the eggs. Pour this mixture into the flour mixture and blend. Stir in the carrots, ginger and walnuts (optional).
     4 Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Bake for 45 minutes, check if not done, bake at 5 minute intervals until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes, invert onto a rack and cool.

Puerto Rican Plantain Lasagana AKA Pastelon (Gluten Free)

When my friend Melisa who is from Puerto Rico told me about Pastelon, which I never heard of, I was only too eager to try it.
Who ever heard of a lasagna made from plantains?? Just a couple of weeks ago, Melisa came over to my place and we spent the next few hours preparing this dish. What is most time consuming is baking the plantains because you end up doing it in batches.

Typically the plantains are fried and is made with layers of beef Bolognese, however I created a healthier version by instead baking the plantains and using “Trader Joe’s Soy Chorizo” for the sauce. Most latin countries have their version of chorizo, which is a type of sausage, this one is a Mexican chorizo that has the consistency of ground beef, though drier, due to a higher chile and spice content. It’s important to use ripe plantains for this dish, because when ripened they are sweeter and softer. This dish is amazing with a sweet and spicy savory flavor that blends together into a culinary bliss.

Peeling plantains

The outer layer of a plantain is tough and thick. To peel, start by slicing off both ends. Make an incision lengthwise down the "back" of the plantain with a sharp knife. Be careful not to cut into the fruit. Once the incision is made, open the peel and cut into the plantain lengthwise at 1/2 inch slices.

Serves 8-10


10 plantains, (blackened or black spots) peeled and sliced lengthwise into ½ inch slices
1 teaspoon salt
1 package Soy Chorizo
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, minced
1 green pepper, minced
1 ¼ cup tomato sauce
3 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
2 cups white shredded cheese (Monterrey Jack or Cheddar)

1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
2. Coat a nonstick cookie sheet with cooking spray.
3. Arrange cut plantain in single layer and coat tops with cooking spray and salt to bring out the full flavor.
4. Bake, turning once for 10-15 minutes, until plantains are golden brown and very tender.

5. Once done, set aside on a plate as they will be used to layer the lasagna.
6. Lower the oven temperature to 350°F.
7. In a large frying pan, under medium high heat fry the onion in oil. After a few minutes, when the onions are softening, add the pepper and stir for another few minutes.
8. Add the Soy Chorizo and 1 cup tomato sauce to the mixture and stir well. Reduce heat to a medium flame and cook covered for another 5-7 minutes.
9. To assemble pastelon: Take your prepared rectangular pan and spread out ¼ cup tomato sauce.
10. Then a layer of plantains, then chorizo mixture, then a fistful of cheese, repeat.

11. You want to finish with cheese and plantains. Most likely you will get three layers.
12. Beat eggs with milk and pour over the pastelón. Let it sit for a minute allowing the egg to soak in. Top off with just a bit more cheese.
13. Bake in oven for 20 minutes.
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