Spring Forward Food

I’m all for being overexcited at the thought of spring and summer weather fast approaching, but I’ll also be the first to scoff at the pack of pre-teens wandering (and shivering) in short-shorts and sleeveless tops at the first sight of a melted snowbank. As much as I completely understand dressing for unseasonal spikes in temperatures like the ones we experienced two weeks ago, hitting patios on a surprisingly balmy day and even unfolding your packed away summer gear in anticipation of the coming months – I suppose that 23 years of living in Canada has taught me to keep one eye on Mother Nature, because she’s historically proven to be a sassy little firecracker who will pull a fast one (blizzard in April) on us when we’re least expecting.

Attire and false hopes aside, there’s one area that I start to beef tofu up on (for lack of a better phrase) around mid-March – and for this ever-hungry vegan, I can tell you that preparation for summer salad and potluck season is in full bloom.

Just like regular human beings, my dinners are quite well-rounded (contrary to popular belief), while lunches, snacks and appetizers are generally lighter. People often think that because vegans don’t eat meat or dairy, they eat salads around the clock, don’t get proper protein or load up on every carbohydrate in sight. This is certainly not the case for most vegans, although I can understand the misconception. There are plenty of other things – good carbs, grains, nuts and other sources of protein – as well as meat and dairy substitutes, that make up a vegan diet. But that being said, I think both the meat and non-meat eating nuts can agree that when backyard, bikini, buffet and overall busy summer times roll around – a healthy salad or appetizer using the season’s freshest and most nutritious produce can still be one of our best friends, without relying on a boring old head of lettuce and bottle of store-bought dressing. So, to kick off the warm weather season with two savoury, filling and nutrient-packed dishes – one which also includes a protein-packed snack that can be served separately—here are a few great seasonal recipes to get you springing into action.

They may look light, but when I’ve eaten both before exercising and can vouch for them really, really packing a punch. Enjoy!

Zucchini and Carrot Muffins (Amazing mid-afternoon/pre-workout snack or even buffet table item)
1. Preheat the oven to 210 degrees. Brush a 12-hold muffin tin with butter (or Earth Balance vegan butter). Grate 2 zucchinis and 2 carrots into a bowl. In a separate bowl, sift together 2 cups of Bob’s Red Mill whole grain flour (or all-purpose), 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg and a pinch of salt. Add the carrot and zucchini to the dry mix with 1/2 cup of chopped pecans.
2. Combine two eggs (I used flax eggs – 1 teaspoon water and 2 teaspoon ground flax = one “egg”), 1 cup almond or rice milk and 1/4 cup of melted vegan butter in a separate bowl and whisk.
3. Make a well in the middle of the flour bowl and add the wet egg mixture. Mix together, spoon into the muffin tin and bake for 25 minutes – checking regularly. Let cool and harden a little before serving.

Kale and Dill Crunch Salad with Salt ‘N Vinegar Roasted Chickpeas: This is a three-part meal (you can multi-task, right?) via a favourite vegan blog of mine. The best part is that whatever chickpeas you don’t toss into the salad, you can snack on during a movie instead of the go-to bag of chips. Super de-lish when served hot off the tray.

1. To make the salt ‘n vinegar chickpeas first: Preheat oven to 425 degrees and in a pot, bring 2 cups of white vinegar to a boil, adding a pinch of salt. Add in drained and rinsed chickpeas and bring to a boil for 1 minute before turning off the heat and leaving for half hour or so in the vinegar. Drain the chickpeas, light coat with a tiny bit of oil (optional) and some sea salt before placing on your baking sheet in the oven for about 30 minutes. Careful when you pull the tray out, anything roasted in vinegar is like an eclipse – don’t look directly at it, or else your eyes will sting!
2. Dill dressing: This is one of my favourite dressings.  In a mini chopper or food processor, mince 2 cloves of garlic. Then add in 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, 1/4 cup tahini, 2 tablespoons of water,1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and 1.5 tablespoons of nutritional yeast. Process that mixture before adding in 1.5 cups of chopped dill.
3. Salad: In a large bowl, combine 2 small bunches of kale (remove the hard stem from the leaves), 1 chopped English cucumber, 1 chopped tomato, 1/2 red onion, 2 chopped celery stocks and your tahini dressing. Add the chickpeas and voila! Bon appetite.

On The Menu: Did You Know?
Kale is one of the most nutritious leafy greens out there, with only one cup providing 100% of the daily value of vitamins A, K and C. As a part of the cabbage family, kale is packed with antioxidants, is believed to reduce risk of certain cancer and contains lutein – an organic pigment that assists with healthy eyesight.
Chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, are an excellent source of fiber, protein and iron – assisting in lowering cholesterol and stabilizing blood sugar levels. With 15g of protein per cooked cup, these little beans are a vegetarian’s dream.

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