Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Recipe: Pumpkin pudding

(Painting by Bierstadt Albert)

It's not technically the fall for a few more days, but if you live in Canada (and not on the balmy west coast) then you know that the real first day of fall is September 1st. This recipe is a celebration of the beginning of fall. It's like pumpkin pie filling, minus the crust and with some extra protein thrown in.

A few of my fellow grad students at my new campus invited me to join their "lunch club". I told them that I'd love to... but I'm vegan. To my surprise and great delight, they decided that we would have a vegan lunch club! On a rotating basis each of us will prepare lunch for everybody else in the lunch club. Today was my first day being the cook for our lunch club. I brought delicious thai-inspired sweet potato burgers and this pumpkin pudding. I think they were both a hit!

Recipe: Pumpkin pudding
Serves 8

1 can of pure pumpkin puree (796 ml)
1 package of soft tofu (350 g)
1/3 cup maple syrup, or to taste
1/4 cup coconut oil
3 tbs orange juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cardamom

1. Put the coconut oil in the microwave for a few seconds to melt it. Alternatively, you could make a hot water bath to melt the coconut oil.

2. Place all the ingredients in a blender. Blend until very smooth.

3. Serve immediately or allow to chill in the refrigerator before serving. The cooler its temperature, the thicker the pudding will be. Enjoy!

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Easy recipe: Grilled refried bean sandwich

Back when I was vegetarian instead of vegan, I used to love grilled cheese sandwiches. The oily crunchiness of the fried bread and the gooey cheese just provide so much satisfaction. I liked dipping my grilled cheese in ketchup, with the contrast of the hot salty sandwich and the cool sweet ketchup. There's a grilled cheese sandwich restaurant near my new place. That's right -- a restaurant that sells only grilled cheese sandwiches. I would say that it's cruelly taunting me, except that I know a secret. Shhhh, come close and I'll whisper it to you: you can make a grilled anything sandwich. It doesn't need to be cheese. There are plenty of other things that taste just as amazing in a grilled sandwich. And plenty of other things that don't. Trust me, I've done a lot of grilled sandwich experimenting. So far, I've hit on three different grilled sandwiches that I keep coming back to. (1) Avocado, (2) peanut butter, and (3) refried beans. The last one on that list is the one I want to tell you about today.

Grilled refried bean sandwiches are every bit as good, in my opinion, as grilled cheese sandwiches. They satisfy all the same needs, emotional, nutritional, and spiritual. They feature oily crunchy bread, soft satisfying insides, and are very dipable in ketchup. They would be served in every diner worth mentioning if we lived in a world where every diner was vegan.

Recipe: Grilled refried bean sandwich
Yields 1 sandwich -- multiply recipe as needed

 2 slices of bread
1/4 cup refried beans (homemade or from a can)
1 tbs salsa
1/2 tbs margarine or butter
1/2 tbs vegenaise or mayonaise (optional)

1. Butter one side of both slices of bread.

2. On the unbuttered side of one of the slices of bread, spread the mayonaise (if using). On top of this, spread the refried beans. Finally, spread the salsa on top of the beans.

3. Close the sandwich such that both buttered sides of the bread are facing outwards.

4. Fry the sandwich lightly, about 3 minutes on each side or until golden brown.

5. Enjoy served with ketchup or more salsa as well as a side of pickles!

Monday, 1 September 2014

Recipe: Salade Vincent

Here's a classic from the Turney Family Cookbook. My grandpa puts out a new addition every few years for the whole family to enjoy. A couple years ago I was touched when he produced a special vegan edition just for me: Shaun's Choice Edition. I use this cookbook more than any other cookbook in my collection. One of my favourite salads in the cookbook is Salade Vincent. It's a cucumber salad named after Vincent Van Gogh for macabre reasons -- the way the cucumbers are sliced makes them look like severed ears! Gross, but it tastes refreshing and delicious. My partner and I had a ridiculous amount of cucumbers in our fridge and I immediately knew what we should do with them. Here I've modified the recipe to better suit what I happened to have in my fridge, but I make note of how to make the original recipe.

That's a lot of cucumbers for two people!Thankfully, a triple batch of Salade Vincent used up half of them in a delicious way.

A perfect summer meal with some adorable little potatoes and a field roast veggie dog.

Serves 4

1 large english cucumber
1/4 fresh chopped mint (original recipe calls for dill, not mint)
1/2 cup sprouted lentils (optional -- see this post about sprouting for instructions)
4 leaves of bib lettuce

1/4 tsp salt
1bst Dijon mustard
2 tbsp wine vinegar
3/4 cup virgin olive oil

1. Peel the cucumber and slice it in half lengthwise. Scoop and scrape the seeds out with a spoon. Eat the seeds as you scoop them out if you're like me, or discard them if you're a normal person. Slice the halves into thin crosswise slices (the "ears").

2. Mix together the vinaigrette ingredients with a fork.

3. Assemble the salad: toss together the cucumber, sprouts, mint, and dressing. Serve on a bed of bib lettuce. Enjoy!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Cooking with Dr. Mom: Sweet and sour pineapple tofu

Mmmmmm.... this looks good. Thanks, mum!

*  *  *

This recipe was inspired by an Eating Well Pineapple Tofu stir-fry recipe.  This recipe lends itself to whatever assortment of veggies you have available. Perfect for the over supply of zucchinis and peppers this time of year. The recipe for the sauce makes enough to cover 4-6 cups of chopped veggies.  This would be good topped with roasted cashews or almond slivers.

Makes 4 servings

1 cup chopped fresh pineapple (or 1 tin pineapple tidbits drained - reserve the juice)
6 tbsp pineapple juice (or tropical juice blend if using fresh pineapple)
4 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp sirachi hot sauce
1 package extra firm tofu, cut into 1cm cubes
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tbsp Canola or sesame oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely minced
2 tbsp fresh lemon grass, finely minced
1 1/2 cups fresh snow peas
1 small zucchini, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 large sweet red pepper, chopped

Make the sauce by combining the juice, vinegar, soy sauce, ketchup, brown sugar and sirachi sauce.
Place the chopped tofu in a shallow container and toss with 1/4 cup of the sauce.  Allow the tofu to marinate for at least 15 minutes.
Add cornstarch to the remaining sauce and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large fry pan or wok.  Lift the tofu out of the marinade with a slotted spoon and fry in the hot oil. (Return any remaining marinade to the sauce you set aside) Cook the tofu, stirring occasionally, until the cubes are golden brown and a bit caramelized on most sides (about 10 minutes).  Transfer the tofu cubes to a plate.
If the fry pan is now too dry, add another 1-2 tsp of oil.  Add the garlic, ginger and lemongrass and fry until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add the veggies to the fry pan and stir fry until they are tender crisp.  Pour the sauce into the veggies and stir until thickened slightly, 30-60 seconds.  Add the pineapple chunks and tofu to the veggies and toss until heated through, 1-2 minutes.

Serve on a bed of rice or noodles.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Cooking with Dr. Mom: Wakame cucumber salad

Here's a simple and refreshing salad from my mom:

*  *  *

Wakame is a type of seaweed that can be purchased chopped and dried in Asian grocery stores.  It resembles loose leaf green tea when dry and it increases by about 8-10 times its size after being soaked in water for 20 min.  Wakame has a very subtle flavour, slightly salty, that pairs very well with cucumber.
This salad could be turned into a vegan salad meal by adding cubed tofu and cooked, cooled transparent vermicelli noodles (mung bean noodles).

This is dried wakame seaweed. It can be found in many Asian grocery stores.

 Check out these before and after photos of soaking the wakame! After only 20 minutes, the wakame completely absorbs the water.

Recipe: Cucumber and wakame salad

1 large field cucumber, peeled, seeded, chopped
1 sweet red pepper, chopped
1/2 cup dried chopped wakame

Japanese style dressing
1/4 cup soya sauce
2 tbsp sugar
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil

Toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Soak the dried wakame in 3 cups cold water for 20-30 minutes.  Drain the soaked wakame to remove any excess water.  Toss together the cucumbers, red pepper and wakame.

Mix together the dressing ingredients then pour over the cucumber mixture and toss. Allow to sit for 15-30 minutes before serving.  Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.

Serves 6 as a side dish.


Thursday, 21 August 2014

Recipe: Black bean and sweet potato tacos

I love the combination of black beans and sweet potatoes. I think their textures go great together. I made some black bean and sweet potato tacos that were really delicious and satisfyingly filling. I've been meaning to share this recipe for a while. This would be a great dish for a party or for picky eaters because everyone can just put whatever they like in their tortilla. Feel free to mix up the toppings however you like. I always have the problem that I put way too much stuff in my tortilla and then I make a mess. A delicious mess that I don't regret one bit.

As you can see, this tortilla is never going to close! I got over-excited about the toppings.

Me, excited to eat a taco.

About 6-8 tacos

-Two medium-sized sweet potatoes
-1 can of black beans, drained
-1 large onion, chopped
-2 cloves garlic
-2 tbs vegetable oil

-1 tbs chili powder
-1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
-1/4 tsp dried oregano
-1/4 tsp paprika
-1-1/2 tsp cumin
-1 tsp sea salt
-1 tsp black pepper

-2 avocados
-1/4 cup fresh lime juice

-8 flour or corn tortillas
-Toppings: salsa, diced tomatoes, shredded lettuce, diced sweet peppers, shredded cheese, sour cream, hot sauce, etc.

1. Wash and peel the sweet potatoes. Boil them until they are soft, about 10-15 minutes. Drain and mash the potatoes with a potato masher until smooth, although a few chunks can remain.

2. Heat the olive oil and add the chopped onion. Saute for 5 minutes. Add 1 clove of garlic, minced, along with the seasonings. Saute on low heat until the onion is translucent. Mix in the black beans with 1/4 cup of water. Continue to cook until the liquid is absorbed. Transfer the bean mixture to a bowl and mash with a potato masher until the bean mixture sticks to itself.

3. To prepare guacamole, cut the avocados in half and remove the pits. Scoop out the flesh into a bowl. Add 1 clove of grated garlic and the lime juice. Mash and mix the ingredients together with a fork, leaving a few chunks of avocado. Add salt to taste. 

4. Heat the tortillas briefly in the oven, if desired. To prepare the tacos, spread a layer of sweet potato, a layer of black bean mixture, and a layer of guacamole down the centre of the tortilla. On top of these, add any additional toppings, as desired. Fold or roll the tortilla and eat!

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Cooking with Dr. Mom: Soba noodles with eggplant and mango

Another delicious-sounding recipe from my awesome mom.

 * * *

Yotam Ottolenghi wrote the wonderful vegetarian cookbook "Plenty".  The recipes are inspired by his time spent living in both Europe and the Middle East. He credits this recipe to his mother. He describes it as her "ultimate cook-to-impress fare" and a favorite among the readers of his Guardian recipe column.  I followed his recipe except that I broiled the eggplant instead of deep frying it as he suggests and I added mushrooms.
The recipe is best if it is made a few hours before eating to allow time for the flavors to meld. It would be a good choice for a pot luck party.
If this is to be a main course, simply add cubed fried/grilled tofu to the salad.

Soba Noodles with eggplant and mango

1/2 cup rice vinegar
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
1/2 tsp sirachi hot sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
grated zest and juice of one lime

1 Italian eggplant or 3-4 Asian eggplants, cut into 2cm cubes and tossed with vegetable oil
8 oz soba noodles
1 large ripe mango, cut into 1cm cubes
1 1/2 cups Thai basil leaves, julienned
2 cups cilantro leaves, chopped
1/2 sweet (vidalia) onion, very thinly sliced
1 pkg sliced mushrooms (8 oz)

roasted sesame seeds for garnish

In a small pot, heat the rice vinegar, sugar and salt over moderate heat to dissolve  the sugar in the vinegar. Remove from heat and add the rest of the dressing ingredients to the pot.  Allow to cool before tossing on the salad.

Lay the eggplant in a single layer on a foil covered cookie sheet and broil about 3 inches from the element.  Turn to cook the other side once browned and sizzling.  The eggplant should be soft, cooked through, with darkened crispy skin.
Fry onions in 1 tsp oil until cooked.  Cool. 

Cook the soba noodles in lots of boiling lightly salted water until cooked al dente - about 6-8 minutes.  Drain well and rinse under cold running water.  Shake the water off and allow to drip dry or lay on a clean dish towel to thoroughly dry before tossing with dressing and salad ingredients.

In a large mixing bowl, toss the dressing, mango, mushrooms, eggplant, cooked cold soba noodles, half the basil and half the cilantro and the onion.  Allow to sit for 1-2 hours.  When ready to serve, add the other half of the basil and cilantro to the salad and toss well.

Serves 6.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Link: Tick Bite Might Turn You Into a Vegetarian

Probably many of you have already seen this bit of news, but it's pretty cool. According to some research, there's evidence that Lone Star tick bites can cause people to become allergic to meat! When the tick takes a bite it injects a sugar called alpha-gal into the human host's bloodstream. The human begins to produce an antibody to alpha-gal which is activated when they eat red meat, pork, or dairy products. The Lone Star tick is found in the southern United States, so meat-loving Canadians need not be too alarmed. Maybe this tick was genetically engineered by mad vegetarian scientists in order to force the world to become vegetarian? I think I'll try to catch some and sell their bites as "motivators" for people with low will power who want to become vegetarian.

EDIT (courtesy of Sarah): The lone star tick is actually found throughout the eastern United States and has even been reported in Quebec! I stand corrected; Canadian meat-lovers should be alarmed. 

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Recipe: Easy vegan pesto

I love fresh herbs! They make any recipe taste fresh and flavourful. One of my favourite herbs is basil. Basil in bruschetta, basil in thai curry, basil with balsamic vinegar on tomatoes... basil tastes like summer! Here's a simple way to make a vegan basil pesto. I tossed this with cold pasta and vegetables for a delicious pasta salad, but it would also be good in a veggie burger, or in a sandwich, or with hot pasta, or in a potato salad.

Yields about 1.5 cups

-2 cups loose fresh basil leaves
-1 cup walnuts (traditionally pine nuts are used in pesto, but they're pricey and walnuts taste just as good)
-1/2 cup olive oil
-2 garlic cloves
-3 tbs nutritional yeast (optional)
-salt and pepper, to taste

Blend all ingredients together in a blender until smooth. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Recipe recommendation: Queen Elizabeth cake

My lovely girlfriend, Julie, offered to make me a cake for my birthday so I asked her to bake me a Queen Elizabeth cake. It's been my favourite type of cake for as long I can remember. It's a dense, moist date cake with a sweet, rich coconut icing. Why is it called a Queen Elizabeth cake? According to a Maclean's article the story is either that it was invented for Queen Elizabeth's coronation in 1953 or for the coronation of the preceding Queen Elizabeth (the Queen mother) in 1937. Either way, it's a classic and it's delicious.

Julie followed a recipe from the blog Hungry in Halifax. It's very similar to more traditional (but non-vegan) Queen Elizabeth cake recipes. It's very good! I give it three thumbs up and urge you to give it a try next time your sweet tooth acts up.

What a nice birthday cake! Thanks, Julie!

Doesn't that look tasty?

Cooking with Dr. Mom: Spicy lemongrass tofu

I can vouch that this tofu is really really tasty. I recommend you give it a try!

*  *  *

Each time I have cooked this recipe, people have asked for the recipe - even some people who say they don't like tofu!  Leftovers are also delicious, so feel free to make more than you need. 
Note that the recipe calls for 1/4 cup of chopped lemon grass.  For convenience, I use already prepared fresh chopped lemongrass sold in tubes in the fresh produce refrigerator section of most large grocery stores. It is very handy to have in the fridge to add to any asian style recipe.  If you use fresh lemon grass for this recipe,  peel off the hard, dried outer leaves and finely mince the lemongrass soft inner core.

Spicy lemongrass tofu  (Adapted from original recipe by Mai Pham on

1/4 cup finely minced lemongrass 
1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 - 1 tsp sirachi sauce (to desired heat level)
1/2 tsp dried chili flakes (to desired heat level)
1 tsp ground tumeric (optional - it gives a pleasant yellow colour to the cooked dish but is not vital to the flavor)
1 tbsp white sugar
1 package firm or extra firm tofu (350g), cut into ~1.5cm cubes

Stir fry:
3-4 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 medium sweet (vidalia) onion, cut into 5mm slices
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 red sweet pepper, cut into 1-2cm cubes
1/4 cup roasted peanuts, chopped 
1/2 - 2/3 cup asian basil leaves, juliened if large

Combine the marinade ingredients in a shallow container and toss with the tofu cubes.  The marinade is quite thick.  Allow to marinate at least 30min, but it can sit for a full day (or 2!) before cooking.

Heat a heavy fry pan with 2 tbsp oil over high heat.  When the oil is very  hot, add the marinated tofu.  (If there is left over marinade in the bowl, save to add to the veggie stirfry part of this recipe.) Allow the tofu to sit in the hot oil fry pan in a single layer without moving for about 3 minutes - the idea is to let the sugar carmelize on the tofu to form a delicious crust on each cube - if the tofu is moved too much while frying then the crust doesn't develop. To prevent the tofu from burning give the fry pan a gentle shake every ~30-60 seconds.  Keep checking the bottom of the tofu cubes for crispy doneness, and then use a spatula to flip the cubes over with the goal of getting at least 2 sides of each cube cooked to crispy brown perfection. It takes about 8-10minutes to achieve this.  When the tofu is cooked lower the temp to very low and do NOT cover the fry pan - if you cover it then the crispy coating turns soggy.

In another fry pan or wok heat 1-2tbsp of oil over moderate heat.  Cook the onion and garlic until soft and fragrant,  about 3 minutes. If there was marinade left in the tofu bowl, add it to the fry pan now. Add the chopped red pepper until lightly cooked, about 2 minutes. Just before serving toss the cooked tofu cubes, peanuts and basil together with the onion pepper mixture and serve on a bed of steamed rice.

Serves 4-6 as a main course.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Link: Almond milk isn't as great as you think

There are so many choices of milks out there: cow milk, goat milk, soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, hemp milk, coconut milk. How's a person to choose? My personal favourite non-dairy milk is soy because it has a lot of protein and is supplemented with calcium. I think it tastes pretty good, but a lot of people find that it has a strange aftertaste. My brother argues that anything that's not from a mammary gland shouldn't really be called milk, but I say if it's a white, creamy drink then it's milk. My mom sent me a link about almond milk that points out its drawbacks. If you do want to make your own almond milk like the article suggests, here's a recipe from Oh She Glows!

Almond Milk Isn’t As Great As You Think

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Plant intelligence?

WARNING: This post is long and has nothing to do with veganism or food!

To be honest, most of the time I find plants kind of boring. As a biologist, I’m much more interested in studying animals. They move around and do stuff, while plants just kind of sit there. Except I know that’s not true. There are plenty of biologists out there who are fascinated by plants. I first began to understand why when I watched the time-lapse opening sequence of the Plants episode of BBC’s Life a few years ago. I was captivated. The plants stretched out their leaves and opened their flowers. They seemed to taste the air with their tendrils and explore the soil with their roots. They seemed purposeful and alive in a way that I previously thought only animals could. It suddenly struck me that plants seem boring and inert only because animals and plants live on different time scales. Suddenly I could see that plants do move around and do stuff, just really slowly.

This is the time-lapse sequence that blew my mind.

Another really cool time-lapse clip.

Studying plants is like studying alien organisms. Animals and plants last shared a common ancestor about 1.5 billion years ago. Considering that life on earth is about four billion years old, 1.5 billion years is a long time for plants and animals to be following separate evolutionary paths. If you ever read science fiction, you must be familiar with the idea that we need to expect the unexpected when it comes to alien biology. Maybe these same cautionary tales can be applied to plants. Animals and plants may be distantly related, but we have evolved to adapt to some similar challenges. It’s possible we have even come up with analogous solutions to some of these challenges. When unrelated groups of organisms evolve similar solutions to a similar problem, this is known as convergent evolution. The wings of insects and birds or the fins of sharks and dolphins are two examples of convergent evolution. These adaptations are analogous solutions which evolved independently. Could it be that plants and animals have convergently evolved analogous behavioural or sensory mechanisms? Could plants be said to have anything analogous to intelligence, or pain, or memory? Maybe we’re thrown off by their form and their slow lifestyle, so alien to our own, so we have trouble recognizing when our functions converge.

Convergent evolution of Marsupial and Eutherian mammals. They may look and act similarly, but they got that way through convergent evolution, not through being related.

It’s less of an “out there” idea than you might think. In fact, “plant neurobiology” is a real, albeit contentious, field of study with real conferences and journals and labs. Plant neurobiologists recognize that plants don’t have neurons, but they argue that plants have systems analogous to animal neurology. Plants use electric signals to communicate between cells. Plants can be “knocked-out” by the same drugs as are used to anaesthetize humans. Plants can “smell” and “taste” chemical signals from other plants. They can “see” light to grow towards it. They can “feel” if their roots hit a rock or a pipe. They may even be able to “hear”. A recent study found that plants can be primed to produce defence chemicals only by being exposed to the sound of a caterpillar munching leaves. There’s some evidence that plants have memory and can learn. They even have neurotransmitters including serotonin and dopamine, although it’s not yet clear what their purpose is.  

An interesting (but hyperbolically titled) video about electrical signaling and anesthetics in plants.

These findings are all very interesting, but they’ll probably never tell us in any definitive way whether plants are intelligent or can feel pain, or at least the plant version of those things. Then again, we don’t even know for sure if animals are intelligent or feel pain. Indeed, a few hundred years ago, most scientists believed that animals had no capacity to suffer and that their cries were simple physiological cause-and-effect. We now know that animal brains react analogously to human brains to painful stimulus and similar stress hormones are produced, and so we infer that they feel pain. We take a more sophisticated view on animal intelligence and awareness than we did in the early days of biology. Many agree with Peter Singer’s argument that there’s no black and white of “intelligent” and “unintelligent” or “aware” and “unaware”. Instead there are gradients along which every animal individual falls.  
            We can never know what it’s like to be another animal, even another human, and so we can’t know if it’s aware or if it feels pain. Instead, we assume that if it acts as though it is aware or as if it’s feeling pain, we make the assumption that it is. For all you know, every other living creature on this Earth could be a philosophical zombie, a biological automaton with no more inner life than a rock. The Turing test has gotten some coverage in the media lately, and it operates on the same principle. Alan Turing argued that if we can’t tell a computer from a human when we interact (talk) with it, then we should apply the same logic to computers as we do to humans, we should assume that the computer is self-aware and intelligent. We just can’t access the inner life (be it existent or non-existent) of another being, so we’re forced to infer based on the behaviour and physiology we observe. 

            What can we infer from the behaviour and physiology of plants? Certainly it would be absurd to argue that they have the same intelligence or capacity to experience pain or memory as a human. But cognitive traits exist on spectrums. Plants are “aware” of the world to some degree in that they have at least as many senses as animals. Plants have “intelligence” to some degree in that they are phenotypically plastic – individuals can response appropriately to changes in their environment. They can “make decisions” to some degree in that individuals need to “choose” between, say, growing a root towards the left or the right. Plants have chemical “languages” they use to communicate between individuals. Plants respond to damaging stimulus in a way that’s loosely analogous to animal pain response by producing chemicals and sending electrical signals.

You might argue that it’s semantics and that plants are so unintelligent that it’s silly to even call it “intelligence”, even with quotation marks. Or to say they are “aware” or “make decisions”. But I think there’s an important point to be made here: the difference between human beings and all other living things is one of degree, not of kind. We once thought that only humans have intelligence; only humans can suffer; only humans have a whole host of traits. If you go back in time enough in the certain areas of the world, you could even replace “human” with “white human”. But every generation our understanding of the pervasiveness of traits we once thought were the sole domain of humankind grows. Maybe as science continues to progress we’ll come to realise that plants too have the capacity for certain traits we now believe only animals can possess.

            I’ll admit that this post is only (very) tangentially related to veganism. Let me try to connect it back as best I can. I was just thinking about whether the animal rights argument for vegetarianism or veganism makes sense. If animals have the capacity to suffer then we shouldn’t eat them, is the argument. Then I was thinking about how we can’t know if any living being suffers or doesn’t suffer. We need to make assumptions. I wondered the science that’s out there about plant pain, and whether it could exist. I spend all morning reading about it because I thought it was fascinating! Don’t get me wrong; even if plants could be said to be “intelligent” or “suffer” I don’t think we should be launching some sort of plant rights campaign. I think we need to deal with the serious amount of human suffering on this planet before we even think of starting any questionable new project. Instead, it’s an interesting thought experiment and a possibly fruitful avenue of research.

Want to read more?

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Is soy bad for you?

The humble soybean plant, Glycine max

If you're like me, maybe you feel vaguely suspicious of soy. You've heard rumours that maybe there's something dangerous about it or that you shouldn't eat a lot of it. Maybe you've heard that it's linked to breast cancer. If you're like me, you keep meaning to look up why soy could be unhealthy, but you never get around to it, so you eat soy and wonder in the back of your mind if it's completely safe.

Well. Today is the day, I decided, that I stop being vaguely suspicious and actually look up the cold, hard facts. Is there any evidence that soy is unhealthy? Is it linked to breast cancer or any other cancer? Is soy good for you?

Dangerous? Or just delicious?

It turns out that the evidence is in favour of soy being good for your health and not dangerous. It's full of protein, low in sugars, and cholesterol-free. Soy is especially healthy when you compare it to another source of protein: meat. You won't find any growth-hormones, cholesterol, trans fats, or antibiotics in soy. If you think about it, it's not surprising that soy is healthy; many Asian cultures have been eating soy products for millennia with no obvious ill-effects.

The main reason soy has come under suspicion health-wise is due to its isoflavones, which are weak phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogrens can mimic the activity of estrogen in animals, although they are much less potent than actual estrogen. Some breast cancers, called hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers, are triggered by estrogen. Could phytoestrogens from soy trigger these breast cancers? The weight of the evidence changes depending on whether you look at animal studies or human studies. Some, but not all, animal studies find that animals fed high doses of soy protein isolate or isoflavins have greater growth rates of breast tumours. Studies of humans, on the other hand, have found either no association of soy with breast cancer or a protective effect (!) of soy.

A ball-and-stick model of an estrogen molecule.
 A ball-and-stick model of an isoflavone molecule. As you can see, it bears some similarity to the estrogen molecule.

The difference between the findings of the animal and the human studies could be for a couple of reasons. First, maybe the study animals (usually rats) and humans metabolize soy differently. What's good for one animal maybe be poison for another. Think how chocolate is poisonous for dogs, for example. Another reason may be that the animals were fed high doses of soy protein isolate or isoflavones while humans often eat soy in less processed contexts. It could be that soy protein isolate (often found highly processed soy protein supplements or soy "meats") is associated with breast cancer while more traditional forms of soy are not.

It may be better to stick to traditional soy foods and avoid highly processed soy foods.

Sticking to non-processed soy has other benefits as well. You'll avoid the high salt, fat, and sugar levels often added to processed food. Traditional ways of processing soy also remove lectins, protease inhibitors, and phytates, which are all substances found in soy that have raised the concerns of some researchers. Some time-tested healthy and delicious soy foods include tofu, miso, soy sauce, tempeh, and soymilk. Research about the health effects of soy protein isolate is not yet definitive and until more evidence is available, it may be prudent to avoid highly processed soy food. But as with most things, if soy veggie dogs are your weakness, a bit of processed soy foods probably won't do much harm. As for traditional soy foods, it looks like there's no need for suspicion after all!

To learn more about the health effects of soy, check out these links:

-The American Cancer Society quashes cancer alarm about soy
-Scientific American worries about the effect of excessive soy on babies
-The American Nutritional Association reviews a book that is critical of soy
-The New York Times explains that soy doesn't increase risk of cancer

Monday, 14 July 2014

Recipe: Vegan Anything-Goes muffins

Here's a flexible muffin recipe that can fit whatever flavour of muffin you're craving or the ingredients you have on hand. It's based on Canadian Living's Anything-Goes Blueberry muffins recipe.  It's one of those recipes that's really really hard to mess up. My favourite version is carrot muffins because the carrots make them deliciously moist.

You can tell how often I make this by the terrible shape the paper is in!

Recipe: Vegan Anything-Goes muffins
Makes 1 dozen muffins

2 cups whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
Optional: nutmeg, cardamom, orange rind, almond extract, grated ginger
1/4 tsp salt
1 mashed banana
1 cup non-dairy milk (almond, soy, coconut, etc)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 cups anything*

*Some ideas for your "anything" (any combination of the following): chocolate chips, grated carrots, grated zucchini, chopped pecans, chopped walnuts, chopped almonds, raisins, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, chopped dates, more banana, chopped apple

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

2. Mix together the wheat, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon (plus any other dry spices) in a large bowl.

3. Mix together remaining ingredients (expect for your "anything") in a separate bowl.

4. Pour the wet ingredients slowly into the dry ingredients and mix gradually. Don't overmix; there should still be a few streaks of dry flour.

5. Fold your "anything" into the batter and separate the batter into muffin tins.

6. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the muffins are domed and golden. Allow to cool before eating.


Sunday, 13 July 2014

Simple recipe: Almond and date energy balls

Here's a quick recipe that's so simple it shouldn't even be called a recipe: almond and date energy balls. It's perfect for a snack or a healthy dessert. I made them tonight because my girlfriend has night shifts this week and I thought it would be good for keeping her energized through the night. It has fruit sugars from the dates for an immediate fix of energy as well as almonds to give some longer-lasting energy. It also has cocoa to give these energy balls a delicious fudgy taste, reminiscent of brownies. They aren't the most attractive-looking snacks (my dad, who introduced me to this recipe, likes to call them "poo balls"), but I've tried to make them a little prettier by rolling them in shredded coconut.

2 cups dates
2 cups raw almonds
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1-2 tbs peanut butter, if required

1. Place the dates, almonds, cocoa powder, and vanilla extract in the blender. Blend until smooth. Depending on the strength of your blender, this may take a couple minutes.

2. Try to roll a bit of the mixture into a ball. If it doesn't stick together add a bit of peanut butter and blend it again until the mixture becomes just sticky enough to roll into balls. 

3. Roll the mixture into balls. They can be any size you like, but I like mine about the size of a timbit (a "doughnut hole", for any non-Canadians). Roll the balls in the shredded coconut.


Cooking with Dr. Mom: Vegan Mofongo (Puerto Rican mashed plantains)

Another installment of Cooking with Dr. Mom!


I had not heard of Mofongo before Shaun's trip to Puerto Rico but wanted to try it after hearing how much he enjoyed it.  I made a few tweaks to a recipe for a low fat vegan version of Mofongo by Eddie McNamara that I found on the website  This was different and delicious.  Unfortunately the photo does not do the dish justice.  Perhaps a few sprigs of parsley garnish would make a prettier presentation.

Plantains are now easy to find in the local grocery store. Typically stored beside the bananas. For this recipe you want to use ripe plantains ( the skin should be completely black). If you can't find smoked tofu then I suggest substituting plain firm tofu and using smoked paprika in the recipe.

The garlic and plantains roasting in the oven

This is one brand of smoked tofu which we like.

Mmmm... roasted smoked tofu with paprika.

Vegan Puerto Rican Mofongo
3-4 ripe plantains.  Peeled and cut into 1/2" chunks
6 cloves garlic
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 package smoke firm tofu (8 oz)
1 tsp chili powder (or to suit your "heat" preference)
2 tsp paprika
3 limes
2 tbsp sweet onion, finely chopped
2-3 tomatoes diced
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped

Preheat oven to 400F

Toss the plantain chunks and whole garlic cloves with 1 tbsp olive oil.  Spread out on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake in oven for 15-20min then flip the garlic and plantain over to brown the other side. Bake for another 15-20 min until the plantain is nicely browned and caramelized on both sides and the inside is soft.

While the plantain is roasting, cut the tofu into 1/2" cubes.  Toss with chili powder and paprika then fry in nonstick fry pan in 1 tbsp oil until all the sides are crispy and browned, about 15min.

Make the salsa by juicing 2 limes and tossing with diced tomatoes, onion and cilantro.

When the plantains and tofu are cooked, put the roasted garlic in the food processor with the juise of 1 lime and pulse until completely puréed.  Add the roasted plantain and pulse until just mashed (about 3 sec). Toss in half the tofu cubes and pulse until just incorporated into the mashed plantain.  The goal is to have a plantain mash that still has some soft chunks of plantain and small chunks of crispy tofu scattered through the textured mash.

Place a large mound of plantain mash on a plate with a generous serving of fresh salsa and a spoonful of the fried tofu cubes on the side.  Garnish with a lime wedge.

Delicious served with beer!

Monday, 23 June 2014

Recipe: Simple Soba

Lately I've been spending most of my free time packing so it's distracted me from this blog. Today I cooked a really simple and delicious meal and I knew I had to post it here. It's cool for the hot summer days (it's finally officially summer!) and it's very healthy. And it's a simple recipe, which is good since most of my kitchen things are packed already! Get ready to see a new kitchen in the background of my photos of food, because I'm moving in only one week.

This recipe involves soba noodles, also known as buckwheat noodles. You may or may not be able to find them in your local grocery store, but if not they can be found in almost any Asian supermarket. If you want you could sub out soba noodles for spaghetti noodles, but I urge you not too. Then you'd be missing out on the tastiness and healthiness of this delicious Japanese noodle. Soba noodles are high in protein, fibre, and manganese. They don't contain gluten so they're a perfect noodle option for people who can't eat gluten.

Soba noodles aren't just healthy, they're delicious. Like, really delicious. About four years ago I went through a period of time where I was obsessed with soba noodles. I ate them twice a week, at least. I ate them for lunch and dinner, sometimes on the same day. I ate them so much that after about a year I became tired of them. For four years I didn't eat any soba noodles. A couple weeks ago I saw them on the shelf in a grocery store and decided to buy them. One large and delicious bowl later and I'm hooked again. I just need to remember to pace myself this time!

Feel free to experiment with your toppings! 

Delicious soba noodles!

Recipe: Simple Soba
Serves 4

-4 servings of soba noodles (The same amount as what you would cook for 4 servings of spaghetti. One good rule of thumb is that a bundle with the diameter of a quarter is about one serving.)
-1 avocado, cubed
-1 cup soft tofu, cubed
-2 green onions, sliced
-1 large carrot, grated
-4 tbs toasted sesame seeds

-1/4 cup soy sauce
-2 tbs of sugar, or to taste
-1 tsp sesame oil
-1 clove garlic, minced
-1 tsp ginger, minced
-Juice of 2 limes

1. Boil water. Once the water is boiling, add the soba noodles. Allow the noodles to cook until al dente, about ten minutes. Drain the noodles and rinse them in cold water.

2. Whisk together all the sauce ingredients. Add more sugar if desired, depending how sweet you want the sauce to be. Traditionally, cold soba noodles are dipped into sauce with chopsticks. You can do this if you want, but I just mixed the sauce in with the noodles.

3. Serve the noodles in individual bowls topped with avocado, soft tofu, green onions, grated carrots, and toasted sesame seeds. Feel free to omit or add other toppings such as cucumber, edamame, fried mushrooms, or seaweed.