Holiday Dishes

So, Asian traditional medical diets turned out to be a bit more than I could handle, so that will be revisited.

In the meantime, Thanksgiving was a success. So here are a few holiday recipes to enjoy.

A fantastic resource is Zel Allen’s book Vegan for the Holidays. I adapted two recipes for the salad appetizer.


First Course: Soup and Salad

Triple P Salad Appetizer:

2 persimmon, peeled and diced

1 orange, peeled and diced

seeds of one pomegranate

1/2 C shelled, chopped pistachios

lime  or lemon juice

1/4 C thinly sliced green onion

salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, mixing well. Taste and adjust lime juice, salt and pepper to taste. I served a dollop in a Belgian endive leaf. It could also be used to top other salad greens, mixed with quinoa for a grain salad, or by itself.

Squash Soup

1 onion chopped

1 carrot chopped

1 stalk celery chopped

1/3 C yellow split peas

1/2 t ground turmeric

4 C veg stock

1 lb. chopped squash of choice (I used butternut)

1 pear peeled and chopped

1 green apple peeled and chopped

1 T each fresh mince turmeric and ginger


Saute the onion, garlic, carrot, and celery until onion softens. Add ground turmeric and cook a little longer. Add split peas, stir a bit to coat them. Add enough stock to cover, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until peas start to break down, adding more stock or water as needed, about 45 minutes. When the peas are breaking apart, add the remaining ingredients and cook until squash and fruit are well done. Puree, and add salt to taste.


Main Course

Tattoos and Neeps

I’ve enjoyed mixing potatoes and turnips in various dishes for awhile, so decided to mash them. Didn’t realize that made a traditional Scottish dish.

4 yukon gold potatoes peeled or not chunked

1 small turnip  peeled and chopped

1 clove garlic

1 t prepared horseradish

1/4 C nutritional yeast

liquid for mashing (broth, soy milk etc.)

salt and pepper

Throw the roots in a slow cooker and cook until done. They can finish early and sit there with no harm done for a long time. When ready to eat, add seasonings and enough liquid to mash to desired consistency.

Seitan Mushroom Loaf

I used Susan Voisin’s recipe. It was my first time making seitan myself, and it came out pretty good. A little dry, but that may have been due to some timing difficulties with carnie dishes resulting a little too much oven time.

I topped it with Mary McDougall’s Marsala Mushroom Sauce, but subbed Madeira.

With some steamed green beans and brussels sprouts and my niece’s cranberry sauce, it was awesome. I kept eating leftovers for every meal until they were gone.



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Start at the Center: Earth Element and the Spleen

TCM and Chinese philosophy in general seeks to maintain a proper balance. The best way to keep your balance is to stay close to the center and make small movements. Imagine a seesaw. Stand on teh fulcrum and you’re secure. But the further you move away, the harder it gets to stay balanced. In TCM, the center is the Earth element and its associated organ, the Spleen. (note that I’m following one of the conventions of writing about TCM by capitalizing and italicizing terms when used in a TCM, not Western, context)

The Earth element is our center, our nourishment, and the Spleen is our ability digest and assimilate that nourishment. Our ability to absorb Qi from our food is governed by our Spleen. In Western medicine, this is more closely related to the pancreas and digestive enzymes, but TCM refers to the whole process as governed by the Spleen.


So the first thing to do with food according to TCM is to make and keep the Spleen happy.

What does it like?

The Spleen likes to stay warm. It likes the sweet flavor. It likes mild, almost bland tastes. It does not like to get too cold. It does not like to get too Damp. It does not like to be rushed. It does not like extremes. In this context, sweet does not refer to sugar or concentrated sweeteners, but to the subtle sweetness found in whole food starches like rice or potatoes.

How to keep the Spleen Happy

Base meals on whole food starches. Rice is preferred, as it is neutral and helps keep balance, but that may be cultural preference. Add whatever vegetables help balance your condition and season. Keep seasonings and spices mellow. Most food should be cooked, with soups and stews preferred. The Spleen must take all food eaten and turn it into a 100 degree soup, and TCM visualizes the Stomach as a big soup pot. The closer food is to that state, the less work the Spleen must do. This goes against what raw food folks say, but even Western science agrees. Cooking begins digestion, frees up many nutrients, and deactivates some anti-nutrients.

The Spleen does not like much cold food, raw food, or concentrated foods. Refined sweeteners, refined oil, refined flour, juice, and the like overwhelm the Spleen and create Dampness, a pathological condition. Foods in their whole state with most of their fiber intact keep the Spleen on an even keel, balanced, centered and happy. Note that this reflects traditional diets around the world through history. Starches, such as whole grains and legumes, with some vegetables and a little fruit, just as Dr. McDougall has been teaching for years. Also note that this reflects what Western science knows about insulin metabolism.

Seasonally, the Spleen occupies a 5th season that TCM places at late summer, before autumn. We can think of it as “Indian Summer” or harvest time. TCM also like people to focus on Spleen health for a week or two whenever the seasons change, at the solstices and equinoxes.

Next up:

Caring for the Spleen with classic Chinese Jook/Congee

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TCM and the Five Elements

How to sum up thousands of years of Chinese medicine and the integral five elements model in a blog post? Probably not worth attempting, but that is the point of the first phase of this year’s MOFO.


Chinese medicine looks at relationships. Western science is in contrast reductionist in nature. It always looks for smaller pices of the machine to analyze. TCM looks for relationships, functions and patterns. What happens in external nature is also what happens within our bodies, and possibly our minds as well. It is also metaphorical, so when TCM talks about Blood, it means more than the liquid coursing through the vessels, but all the functions of blood, which is to distribute nourishment. Same with Fluids. Same with the primary organs, the Kidneys, Liver, Spleen, Heart , and Lungs.


So the metaphor of the Five Elements is used to illustrate these functions and relationships. Those elements are:


Each element is then realted to a specific organ system, season, emotion, etc. People also tend to fall into one or two elements as their dominant constitution.

So, if you had a health issue and went to see a doctor of Oriental Medicine (OMD) instead of specific symptoms being addressed, one would look for patterns. So two patients with similar symptoms might get different diagnoses, and therefore different treatments. One patient might being presenting dysfunction in the Water element, someone else, Fire, even though they seem the same.

But this is Vegan MOFO, what does this have to with food?

In TCM, these elements are affected by many things, such as the environment, the climate, the season, and the food we eat. A condition can be worsened by eating the wrong foods, and consequently, foods can hep nudge the body back into balance. Tastes are assigned to each element, and the general goal is to balance those those five flavors. By tilting the balance a little, overall health can be affected.

The Five Flavors:

Earth: Sweet
Metal: Pungent (spicy)
Water: Salty
Wood: Sour
Fire: Bitter

In general, one tries to balance the flavors, favoring the sweet flavor a bit, and tilting it as needed.

For November, the season is fall, and the associated element is Metal. The flavor is pungent, and the organ system is the Lung. So one might tilt the flavors a little toward pungent and spicy, using a little more garlic, onion, and ginger. Certain foods such as radishes, turnips, and pears are said to help balance Metal, so they can be emphasized.

The balance of the Five Elements is used for other types of TCM diagnoses and therapies, such as acupuncture and herbs.

In addition, TCM looks at the thermal nature, or temperature of foods. Like everything else, it takes a little imagination, but a little reflection can show that some foods warm you up, and others cool you down. This does not refer to actual physical temperature of the food itself, but its effect when digested. It’s like how lemons taste acidic, but actually have an alkalyzing effect. Foods are classified as cold, cool, neutral, warm or hot. Again, one’s individual constitution and environment is considered when choosing foods. A person who suffers from Cold should avoid cooling salads and favor well cooked foods that include some warmer spices, such as ginger, garlic, and onion. Someone who runs warm, like myself, does better with neutral and cooling foods. While I like hot, spicy food, I’ve found cutting down on the amount of spice and frequency feels a bit better, especially in summer.

Some examples:

Cold: tomatoes, watermelon, tofu, sea vegetables
Cool: mung beans, cucumber, spinach, most fruit
Neutral: rice, carrots, cabbage
Warm: most meats, black beans, garlic, onion
Hot: ground ginger, cloves, chili

Generally, fruits are cool, veggies are cool to neutral, meats are warm, and spices are warm to hot.

Preparation also influences temperature. Raw is the coolest, while roasting is the warmest, and steaming, sautéing, and simmering in the middle. So foods can be altered a bit, warm or hot foods can be brought down a little, and cold foods can be warmed up a bit. This is useful for seasonal extremes like summer and winter. Most people can relate to how cooling composed salads feel good on a hot day, not so much in winter. And the converse for a garlicky soup.

Like Western medicine, diagnosing in TCM is probably best left to the professionals. But if you can avoid internet generated hypochondria, it is possible to see the basic patterns in yourself, and use food to help rather than exacerbate issues. When in doubt, aim for the center, as that will always help balance.

And the topic of the next post

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Vegan MOFO 2016

I like the PPK idea to move MOFO around the calendar a bit to get a different seasonal take on things, but it putting it in November makes it tough for those of us who also like to try our hands at Nanowrimo. But amateur noveling aside, November is a good month. There is an abundance of fresh produce available, some of it spannng both the warm and cold seasons. And Thanksgiving provides a great oppurtunity for creative and fun cooking.

But I’m taking a diffeent tack.

Not celebrations, not plant based athletics, but a three pronged experiment in traditional Asian healing and medicinal cooking traditions.

Part 1: Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
Part 2: Macrobiotics
Part 3: Ayurveda

All three use food and cooking as an impotant part of therapy for an individual condition, as well as including more general instructions for maintaining health. I’ve long enjoyed some macro recipes, particularly the traditional Japanese style recipes. I can remember when most people’s perceptions of “health food” were based in Macrobiotics instead of Paleo. I’ve practiced Yoga off and on for years, and Ayurveda is the sister for developing and regaining health, so it will be interesting to see what similarities there are in the practices. Lastly, is TCM. I learned some acupressure as a kid, and got a brief and confusing intro to the philosophy. But in the last couple of years, I’ve had great success treating some injuries with acupuncture. I’ve also learned some Tai Chi and Qigong. I’ve studied some books recommended by an acupuncturist, and experimented with some TCM guidelines with success.

So MOFO will consist of dividing the month up into three equal parts to try following the guidelines for cooking and eating as best as I can for this season to see what happens. As well as studying each particular approach to nutrition, I will also practice their particular approach to exercise, and even meditation, if I can discover it via my limited research.

But wait, this is VEGAN Mofo, are these approaches compatible?

I believe they are. While some like to argue that a vegan diet is unnatural because there are no truly vegan traditional diets, these three philosophies are definitely plant based, with a very low animal product intake and are very critical of the animal based Western diet. In the case of Ayurveda, a veetarian diet is encouraged as that is part of the Hindu ideal of ahimsa. But they do like their dairy, which I believe can be easily omitted. TCM simply catalogues the powers and properties of different foods, animal included. One’s actual diet varies by individual constitution, and that can certainly be vegan. Historically, Chinese Buddhist monastics, such as the famous Shaolin, should have been vegan. Finally, Macrobiotics is often practiced as a vegan diet, though historically small amounts of animal food, usually fish, were allowed on occasion. It seems to me that most Macro folk these days are macro-vegan.

At the end of each period I’ll reflect on what I learned or noticed while trying each philosophy, and again at month’s end in total. Do these traditional approached have some wisdom that Western science and medicine hasn’t caught up to? Or is it a bunch of culturally biased habits with no scientific grounding?

We’ll see.

First up, cooking with Traitional Chinese Medicine

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Breakfast Burrito Casserole

Into my inbox from Forks Over Knives came this interesting recipe originally posted months ago. Take the traditional breakfast burrito elements, and sandwich them between layers of potatoes. The top layer uses shredded potatoes seasoned with nutrtiional yeast to get a “cheezy” appearance and taste. My family likes potato casseroles around the holidays, but unhealthy high fat ones. I liked the idea as a healthy alternative, so I tried it a couple times, modifying it as I went. I used cubed potatoes for the bottom layer, as that’s what I like. The first time I didn’t like the greens, so I used a different green, and not so much. I would like to try a layer of tofu scramble in there, but haven’t yet.

Here’s the current version:

Breakfast Burrito Casserole:

1 bag cubed frozen hash brown potatoes
1 C frozen, shredded hash browns
1 can black beans
1 each red and green pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 can fire roasted tomatoes
1 C kale or other green, chopped
1 C chopped zucchini
1 C frozen corn (fire roasted is best)
juice of one lime
2 t chili powder
1 t cumin
1/2 t each onion and garlic powder
2 T nutritional yeast
Optional garnishes: cilantro, sliced balack olives, sliced green onions, sliced jalapeños, salsa, hot sauce.

Preheat oven to 350. Saute peppers and onions until onion softens. Add zucchini and cook a couple minutes more. Add tomatoes, beans, seasonings, and heat through.

Meanwhile, make a layer of the cubed potatoes in a casserole dish. Briefly steam (microwave works) the shredded potatoes in a small bowl. Add the nutritonal yeast and season with salt and pepper.

Add the veggie saute on top of the cubed potatoes. Spread the shredded potatoes on top, like a cheese layer. Bake 30-60 minutes, depending on whether the potatoes were frozen or thawed. Add optional garnishes and serve.

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Vegan Mofo Day 9: Retro Dish Spinach Pasta Casserole

I think I may really be getting the hang of this retro casserole thing. For me, casseroles are comfort food. I have fond memories of steaming hot casseroles emerging from the oven in all their tasty glory. They made great leftovers the next day, tasting just as good reheated. When I got back into cooking, a big casserole cookbook was my favorite.

There was only one problem: Most casseroles are a health nightmare. They are generally made with meat, oil, butter, eggs, and cheese in truly shocking amounts. Even when I was a less health conscious vegetarian, my casseroles built arterial plaque I’m sure I am still trying to dissolve. So I gave up. But thanks to Vegan Mofo this year and the Retro Saturday challenge, I dusted off some of those old family recipes, did a little research, and entered the lab (kitchen) to try and resurrect my childhood. I have met some success.

This week’s effort comes as a remake of Mary McDougall’s Baked Penne Florentine. I guess everyone in Florence, Italy puts spinach in everything, hence the name. I suppose they put it in their morning espresso, but I digress. I wanted to change up the sauce a little by intensifying the flavors, and adding some more veggies. Mary made it such that young children would enjoy it, but then added hot sauce to her plate! Of course, hot sauce rocks on just about everything.

Here is my version:

Spinach Pasta Casserole:


8 oz whole wheat, small shape pasta, like penne or ziti

1 10 oz package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

3/4 C raw cashews

1 can white beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 head cauliflower, cooked

2 C water

1 T soy sauce

2 t lemon juice

1 t onion powder

1/2 t garlic powder

1 t mustard powder

1 T miso

dash Tabasco


salt, pepper, lemon juice, parsley, hot sauce for garnish


Put on a large pot of water to boil. Preheat oven to 350.

Cook pasta, and drain.

While pasta cooks, make sauce:

In a high speed blender or food processor, grind cashews to a fine powder. Add 1 C water and blend again until smooth. Add another cup of water and the remaining ingredients and blend until very smooth. Taste. Adjust seasoning as needed. If too thick, add a little more water and blend again.

When pasta is cooked and drained, place in a large mixing bowl. Add spinach and mix thoroughly. Spread pasta mixture into a casserole dish. Pour sauce over pasta and mix well. Dust with paprika. Cover tightly and bake for about 45 minutes. Let rest a few minutes before serving. Top each serving with any combination of parsley, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Enjoy!


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Cuban Potatoes Picadillo

So a question came up, what do you do with red potatoes? The questioner had only previously bought Yukon gold potatoes and russet, but a sale prompted the new purchase. The ensuing discussion provided some favorite recipes, including this one for “Cuban Potaotes” from one of my favorite cookbooks, Mary McDougall’s Quick and Easy Cookbook.

I’m not sure exactly what picadillo refers to, but in the recipes I have seen, it seems to be a Spanish dish that has definite North African influences. Variations exist throughout Latin America, and it probably has some origin in a meat dish that I don’t care about. The commonality appears to be using some dried fruit, usually raisins, green olives, and some vinegar or wine to get a sweet and sour and salty flavor. These are Old World ingredients that were brought to the Americas.

This dish uses those elements to flavor potatoes in a yummy casserole.

The linked recipe is here.

While the blog used the recipe as a “lesson” in carbs, it was really a lesson in nutritional ignorance. Starches do not turn to fat, they need never be feared, and they are never to be lowered. Unless you want to make your food less satisfying. Ranting aside, while the blog’s suggestion to add beans is done for no real nutritional reason, black beans make a nice addition, so I added them. For fun, not because the potatoes need “improving.” They don’t. Potatoes are entirely adequate all by themselves.

So I modified the dish somewhat. I used two cans of tomatoes instead of three because that’s all I had, and one can had chopped green chilies in it for a little heat. I went heavy on the green olives and raisins for flavor. I added about a TB of cider vinegar to get that sweet and sour taste. I should have added some capers too. Did I add a pinch of red pepper flakes? Probably, it would be a good idea. And maybe a dash of smoked paprika just because.

I’ve been hungry for Cuban Black Beans and rice, but for now, these will have to do.

And they do nicely.

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