Easy vegan basil pesto

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As promised, here is my pesto recipe post. This is quick and easy to make in the food processor, and is such a handy staple to have in your fridge or freezer.

Heavy, greasy store-bought pesto sauces served over pasta were never my thing. I tended to prefer pesto more as a condiment rather than in a starring recipe role for that reason. Now after figuring out how to make a simple pesto that tastes great without leaving me feeling gross, I will even enjoy it over pasta.

Traditionally, pesto is made with pine nuts, which tend to be pretty expensive. My cousin also recently enlightened me about a phenomenon known as “pine nut syndrome” in which eating pine nuts can cause a bitter or metallic taste to linger in your mouth for up to 2 weeks, making everything you eat taste awful (read more about it here). So I ditched the pine nuts in favor of my new culinary workhorse, raw cashew nuts. They impart a mild, nutty and creamy flavor that works perfectly with the basil, and won’t taint your palate. Give this a try!

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Roasted eggplant “stir fry” over brown rice

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Eggplant is such a misunderstood vegetable…. No, it’s not really a meat ‘substitute’…Yes, it can taste pretty heinous if undercooked or misprepared (think foamy plasticky texture with an astringent, bitter flavor)… But when eggplant is done right, boy is it delicious. And generally speaking, that means it needs to be cooked into submission. So here is what will  be the first of many odes to eggplant.  In this recipe I specifically recommend using Chinese eggplants, which are more slender and delicate than the more well known Italian ones.

Like I said, eggplant needs to be cooked well. My favorite way of doing just that is roasted in the oven. But why limit ourselves to the stereotypical Mediterranean preparations (which I love, don’t get me wrong)? My idea here was to channel an Asian stir fry, but let the oven do most of the work…even down to making the wonderful garlicky sauce! I will say no more, other than it’s easy and yummy, just have a look…

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Jicama-carrot slaw spring rolls

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Spring rolls: the perfect compact snack! Not to mention an attractive appetizer/hors d’ouevre. Once I realized that these aren’t hard to make at home, it opened up new worlds of possibility for me. These ones are filled with fresh raw veggies and Thai basil, and are pretty quick to put together (nothing to cook or marinate ahead of time!). Instead of having to make a peanut dipping sauce, I add cashews to the filling for a nice nutty flavor. You can dip them in Sriracha sauce for a fiery kick. By the way, this jicama-carrot slaw could easily be a nice side salad in itself if you don’t want to go all the way with the spring rolls! This recipe makes enough for about 10-12 rolls, which I think would serve 4-6 as an appetizer.

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Oatmeal to start your day happy

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Oatmeal is such a great workday breakfast: easy, comforting, super-healthy, and filling enough to prevent 10am hunger pangs. But I’ve also definitely had some bad versions: bland, mushy unappealing gruel that gets boring way too fast, or a pre-packaged pouch of something so sugary it negates all the health benefits of the oats. I have been troubleshooting my oatmeal for a long time, and finally hit on a version that seems to come out just right every time.

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Summery salad with strawberries, radishes, and heirloom tomatoes

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This salad is the taste of summer. Tender baby greens, sweet ripe strawberries, crunchy peppery radishes, perfect heirloom tomatoes, and a nice little bite of red onion and lemony dressing. The colors are also a feast for the eyes. This salad is loosely inspired by the delicious salad served at our wedding reception, almost two years ago. Eating it brings back very sweet happy memories! This makes enough for 4 servings as an appetizer or side salad.

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Heavenly roasted summer squash

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This recipe is super simple but oh so delicious. My absolute favorite way to eat zucchini, hands down. The key here is a really hot oven, so that the squash and onions caramelize and develop this otherworldly savory-sweetness and just melt in your mouth! You can easily do this with just zucchini, but it’s great to liven things up with fun shapes and colors like yellow pattypan and heirloom squash varieties. Makes enough for 3-4 servings as a side dish.

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Rustic brown rice and leek tart

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Have you ever wondered what rice pudding taste would like if it were savory? Well, I was pondering that very question this morning. And hence this hearty, satisfying dish was born. I have always loved leeks, so when I saw them at the farmer’s market I knew they were destined for this recipe. I also happened to have some pesto I’d made a few days earlier (I promise to post my pesto recipe sometime soon!) which adds a wonderful herby flavor. Sauteed bell peppers add both color and sweetness. This makes a wonderful light dinner entree (and is also easy to pack in your work lunchbox). This recipe makes enough for two tarts, which could easily feed 6-8 people depending what else you’re serving.  Continue reading