Caramelising Onions Without any Oil or Fat – Method #2

If you are looking for a quick short recipe on a gold platter, wrong house, sorry. You can stay, please do by all mean, but I warn: I try more and more to empower people’s sense of self-determination: thinking, finding, deciding things for themselves. You might think “Yeah I love that!”, sure. What that also means is no more detailed “straight-to-the-point” recipes for you, because that falls under spoon-feeding. “Oh nooo! But…<>”.
A recipe is always the final result of some exploration. It’s the exploration I want to share, and want you to have, more than just telling what I found. The relationship I’m comfortable having with you is one where you allow me to respect your potential, intellect, curiosity and sense of self-determination.

There are two ways of solving problems creatively: incrementally, and with a leap.

Incrementally, to solve the problem of caramelising onions without oil, you’d replace oil by added water, or one increment further, with no water at all, and counting on the water in the onions or whatever veggie you are “stir-frying”.

It works, but an avid user of onions, this method gave me some challenges after doing a lot of it: it took too much active time for my liking, involved a lot of stirring and adding water. The result is amazing caramelised onions, but I wondered “Can we do better?”.

Also, I had been chatting with restaurant owners that simply explained to me that oil is used primarily for convenience more than taste. After all, oil is capable of heating up to about 200°C, and because it’s liquid, that “liquid pan” can get anywhere on and in the food and help cook it faster. Recipes talking about caramelising onions typically take about 5 to 10 minutes. So OK, cooks want to get meals ready fast for their hungry customers I totally get that. Now “Can I find something that gives them that convenience and taste, AND at the same time, does not use oil and therefore results in the low-fat foods that prevent the much unnecessary heart disease?

Thinking a bit less incrementally lead to method #2. Now we’re getting the same thing, not doing the same thing.

My strategy was the following, really just using common sense, and more importantly, acting on it, one action leading to a question, leading to an action, and so on until you find. It pays off almost every single time, not in one try, but overall.

Hypothesises:

  1. People like onions caramelised, We must give them onions caramelised.
  2. The method must not include added fat of any kind
  3. The process must be simple, convenient, easy.

Why do caramelised onions taste like caramelised onions?
Answer: Because they are caramelised?
What exactly does “caramelising” mean anyway?
When sugars (not just the extracted/processed ones, even those in whole foods) are exposed to certain temperatures, for certain amounts of time, eventually caramelisation happens. If changes the way the sugars naturally present in food taste.
Oh ok…so what are these temperatures then?
Well since it’s oil we’re trying to replace, how hot does the oil get when it touches the food we caramelise ~200°C (~400°F).

“How do I expose as much onion flesh as possible, to these high temperatures?
If you are a bit of baker and the oven is not a completely alien object in the house, this temperature of 200°C is not unfamiliar. Around 200°C is indeed a very accessible temperature range already in every kitchen, without any oil or fat. So I decided let’s try something I normally wouldn’t do.
Coming back from the local organic farmers market, I took a few onions straight of the reusable shopping bags and threw them straight into the oven! No peeling, no washing, just baking at 200°C for an hour.

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“Uh…baked onions already exist, aren’t you re-inventing the wheel?”
True. Baked onions exist. I found out only after, and actually I’m glad I didn’t know about them, it could have held me back, it’s easy not to transcend the things we know exist.
Blank sheet of paper, let’s go!
I worked towards something that already exists, putting onions in an oven, whole.
But is the point of doing that to enjoy whole cooked onions once in a blue moon, or to cut the oil in the onions people have daily? Do baked onions always come oil-free?
Similar result can be achieved coming from very different drives.
In fact, I am happy baked onions already exist! Because if the concept is known to people, I can use that to introduce “baked onions”, only oil-free + as an *ingredient* for anything that needs caramelised onions!
I’d care little even if someone “invented” that use before me (it must have!) what I do care about is that things like this *be used* to make people’s lives better. It doesn’t matter who invents what solution. There are more solutions available than people willing to stop complaining about the problem, take action to look for them, and eventually implement these existing solutions. So let’s focus our action, on fostering a culture of:
1) Thinking for ourselves
because many of the problems we create for ourselves result from the lack of this. If we want to come in the way of people being spoon fed problems, we can’t be providing solutions by spoon-feeding them either.
2) Taking action, which means implementing solutions,
regardless whether it’s our action that found them, or our action created them, or our action that shared them. What matters, you understand by now, is action 🙂 )
I intentionally take time to lay down in great detail one “textbook case” of the process and not the two-line recipe, because I care more about the readers learning to use fully their same brain as mine, in ways that find solutions to their problems. If I can do it, surely anyone can.

“But isn’t that a big waste of energy?
Well, relatively? Short answer is “No, far from it!”
A regular oven first comfortably one to two trays, at ~15 onions per tray. That’s roughly one to two hours (likely, cooking time increases with quantity) for 15 to 30 caramelised onions.
Prior to that I had spent 20 minutes, on medium heat. Slaving over that pot as well, so that was 20 minutes of *my time* too.
Do the maths. My guesstimation right now favours, a lower financial cost than with oil (medical costs included) and all oil-free methods compared: definitely less active human time, and quite possibly less processing energy (electricity, gas, etc). Any objections? Anyone got better? If you have either, please do share. I will be the first trying, using it, and telling people about it!

Low-fat Mayo, Aioli and Dips – Oil-free, Whole foods, Vegan

Traditionally mayos and aiolis rely heavily on loads of fat and animal protein.
A double punishment right from the start, only made worse by the fact that these dips serve to lubricate typically deep-fried “foods” like fries and wedges, a guaranteed stroke served on a golden platter.

Well…Good News! The experience of hot delicious, potato wedges dipped much generously in a delicious creamy aioli can be enjoyed not just in its vegan version, but also with hardly any fat at all – whether from oil, or from nuts!

GREEN BANANA AIOLI_610
So what’s the secret? Blend cooked starches! and I’ve been on a quest for good candidates in unexpected places!

Green bananas (as in unripe regular banana) are amazing bases for so many things. I used them for Ghanaian dishes as a plantain substitute for Kelewele and in Red-Red.
They’re quite bland, mildly sweet. Be reassured right away, they do not taste like banana at all. That’s precisely why they’re amazing. Both taste and texture are amazingly versatile.

This time around, I blended them, with a bit of roasted garlic flakes, some apple cider vinegar and a small amount of (optional) cashew nuts. Amazing low-fat aioli!

Make a good round of delicious, oil-free, nicely seasoned, potato wedges and enjoy!

Low-Fat Aioli – Oil-free, Whole Foods, Vegan
 
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LOW-FAT AIOLI, makes 1 half-cup ++, enough for two people to dip a large round of parboiled+oven-baked, oil-free, potato wedges!
Author:
Recipe type: low-fat, whole-food plant nutrition, vegan, oil-free, sugar-free, salt-free
Cuisine: Western
Serves: 1 half-cup, enough for 2 people on potato wedges.
Ingredients
  • 1 green banana (not yellow!), cooked "Samoan-style" that is boiled whole (in its skin) for 30 minutes, drained, cooled, and peeled. Batch boil in a big pot to use for other things.
  • 1~2 tbsp dehydrated garlic flakes (not the fried ones), dry-roasted in a pan on low until golden/brown.
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar or lime/lemon juice ( or better with its flesh, not peel, lime peel is super bitter!)
  • Just enough water to blend.
  • Optional: 1 tbsp cashew nuts (7g), soaked. Must be skipped if you're recovering from any cardiovascular disease.
Instructions
  1. Blend
  2. Indulge
Notes
Play around with other flavours to make other exciting dips, mayos, bechamel sauces, etc: onion flakes, mustard seeds, chilli, lemon peel, etc...whatever health-promoting food makes your taste buds happy 🙂 Let loose the wild creative animal that you are!

[Recipe] Youcef’s Moroccan Tagine – Vegan – Oil-free – Unprocessed

tagine
What’s more Moroccan than tagine? I do not know!

Traditionally tagine (the dish) is prepared in a tagine (the crock pot). Before the use of electricity and gas became mainstream, it was mostly cooked over charcoal/wood. Today in Morocco, many people still use the tagine crock pot but they cook on the stove instead, there are even electric nonstick fancy tagines made in China.

At home, my partner and I cook in batches, we cook in a standard 5L stainless steel pot. We  don’t actually own a tagine pot. Cooking in steel or clay pots, and over a stove or charcoal does change quite a few things, like textures, cooking temperatures, etc. Overall it’s about the same end result.

So here is my invitation. If you go to Morocco, do look for a place that will make you an oil-free and salt-free vegan tagine dish, in a real tagine crock pot (easy), and cooked over charcoal and wood (less common), it’s quite a unique charm. You can even do this at home if you buy a pot and set a fire. If you care to go to that extent, by all means do it, you won’t regret it! Food-wise, that will be the most authentic experience!
Meanwhile what I propose here is an experience of one tagine that is easy to make in the modern kitchen, with a just a standard “large” 5L pot, or even scale up to make in larger amounts.

Also, I say “one” tagine recipe because there are many tagine recipes. They cover various tastes and traditionally, unfortunately, many are centered on animal meat and fish.

My vegan implementation here is sweet and savoury. So I borrowed the prunes and cinnamon from the sweet (often meat-based) tagines, and invited those flavours and textures in the more root-based tagines; those filled with potatoes, carrots, etc.
Also, in terms of whole foods, to stay clear of salt, I replaced preserved lemons by fresh lemons peels. I also completely ditched the commonly used olives that Moroccans love so much. If salt-free olives (not low-sodium) are something you have sorted out please post it here.

I am very satisfied with this tagine, my bread-and-potato-loving partner regularly begs for it, so I’m guessing it’s good. I like it too. But try for yourself and let me know what you think.

You will need to eat this with Moroccan bread. For that, I have a whole-grain and salt-free recipe which I’ll post and link up whenever I can.

tagine ingredients

[Recipe] Youcef's Moroccan Tagine – Vegan – Oil-free – Unprocessed
 
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Author:
Recipe type: low-fat, whole-food plant nutrition, vegan, oil-free, sugar-free, salt-free
Cuisine: Moroccan
Serves: 8~10 meals, with bread
Ingredients
  • 7 large carrots
  • 7 medium potatoes (that may include some sweet potatoes)
  • 3 large onions
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 2 lemons, organic or spray-free.
  • 100g of dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
  • 100g of dried prunes (the hard kind, common in Europe and North Africa) or 200g of "California" prunes more common in Anglo-Saxon countries. If you're using a lot of sweet potatoes, you can reduce the prunes amount, to balance sweetness.
Spices (2 tbsp of Youcef's Tagine Spice Mix -will be posted later- or as below)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon (preferably Ceylon cinnamon and not Cassia, gentler on the stomach)
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground paprika
  • ¼ (one forth) tsp ground cayenne chili (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
Topping and decoration (optional but nice, skip if you have or are recovering any CVD)
  • 100g almonds
  • 100g raisins
  • ¼ (one forth) cup sesame seeds
Instructions
  1. Cut the onions in strings or rings, not diced.
  2. Cut the garlic the way you like to eat it (whole, sliced, finely chopped...)
  3. Water-fry the onions+garlic on medium heat (with no oil!) Just make sure to add water when it dries to prevent burning. This should take ~20 minutes cooking time. When they are brown add ~a cup of water (preferably hot) and the spices. Meanwhile:
  4. Peel the potatoes and the carrots, unless they're organic.
  5. Cut the potatoes (along the main length) into 4 or more large wedges . Set aside.
  6. Halve the carrots along the length, and again cut that in finger-sized bits. Set aside.
  7. Peel the lemon clean-cutting with a knife. Set aside the peel.
  8. Remember: When the onions are browned, add a cup of water, then the spices, and stir well.
  9. Add the cut potatoes first, then the lemon peels.
  10. If you use the rock-hard kind of dried prunes add them now.
  11. Add all the carrots, chickpeas, then everything else. California-style prunes are best added towards the end of cooking, because they are so soft and tend to decompose in cooking.
  12. Water amount: If cooking in a pot or deep slow-cooker, put just enough water to cover everything. If using a traditional tagine plate you may have to top with water as it's cooking so it will be good to check to make sure it doesn't dry out and burn.
  13. Cook for 1 hour to 1 hour 30 on medium heat for a standard pot. You know your tagine is ready when the potatoes and chickpeas are almost as soft as you like them.
  14. Oven-roasting the toppings:
  15. Meanwhile, oven-roast or pan roast the almonds and sesame seeds, stirring regularly to get even browning. I put them in an oven tray close to the grill at 120°C for ~20 min, then threw in the raisins just for 5~10 minutes. I can't give you precise timing for this, it depends on your oven, but it's easy: The sesame seeds should not be black and smoking but just gently browned/golden. The almonds should taste roasted but not get black or burned. The raisins should gently caramelize and become chewy/crunchy but not carbonize and get bitter/super-crunchy. This will need a bit of attention but it's completely worth it taste-wise!
Serving:
  1. In a hollow plate, serve alternate potatoes and carrots, put the onions and chickpeas in the center on top, and the prunes around the plate topped by roasted almonds, one per prune.
  2. Finish by pouring some sauce.
  3. For decoration, put the rest of almonds and raisins on top, and sprinkle sesame seeds.
  4. Serve with Moroccan bread.
How to eat tagine
  1. Use like a flat bread: Cut a piece of bread, pinch on a bit a bit of this and that, and eat!
Notes
If you're cruelly lacking time, make time 🙂 !
Or...just dump everything in the slow-cooker, and skip the roasted toppings.
It's not quite as good but it works too. Just make sure to stack things in a way when the hardest foods than need the most cooking are at the bottom and the softer less cooking-demanding ingredients on top.

 

 

[Recipe] Khadija’s Moroccan Couscous – Oil-free – Unprocessed – Vegan

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(Note: The couscous grain in this old photo is not yet whole-meal, it would be browner. I will update this photo when I can a chance to snap the wholemeal couscous we have now)

Click here to skip story and go straight to recipe

Before he left us prematurely to preventible chronic illness, my father always loved growing food. It was his favorite hobby and the acre or two he was taking care of kept him passionate and busy. You would need to have spent time growing food and look after plants to know how great this feels.
To top the fun of growing food, on Sundays he would go to the farmers market and sell his fresh produce. It was mostly to meet his friends there, chit-chat, make all sorts of dirty jokes in a subtly coded language I was far too young to decipher, had coffee and biscuits with his buddies…Typical, good old-fashioned Sunday morning in a quaint French farmer’s market.

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He always got very busy for that on Saturdays and would sit all day in the garage, washing greens, washing potatoes, making bunches of mint, parsley and coriander…Being my dad, he’d take any opportunity to ask us to help him out. After spending so much time alone with his veggies, he just wanted the company really. And anyone who knew my dad knows he was quite particular about the way he wanted things done exactly his way whenever someone joined in to help. Learning the fine art of making perfect coriander bunches or of washing spring onions without damaging them, wasn’t really the most exciting weekend activity for the kids we were.

So…haha…my younger brother and I perfected the skill of avoiding any opportunity that our father would see us without much to do while he’s preparing produce.  That is so funny now that I think about it. When leaving the house to join our friends on Saturday, we took every way possible except walk in front of the garage, where he was doing his thing.

We went sideways alongside our neighbours walls, used a weird backway, even went across our neighbour’s back garden (yes, we were brats). Any of that was worth avoiding our fun Saturday being buzzed by  “Where are you going? Why don’t you come and help me?”.
When we were teenagers, what was appealing to us was 1) time spent with the buddies 2) PlayStation 3) girls. Smelling of coriander and onions ranked very low in our list of priorities.

We did always make up for that though. When he came back from the market, exhausted from the day before and waking up at 4 a.m., there was a house tradition. We didn’t always do good at helping him prepare the produce I reckon, but we did a kick-ass job at giving him a break when he came back. He was our Sunday king, a rather sleepy one but we pampered him.

He honked when he arrived at home from the market. We took over and did irreproachably the last thing he’d want to do on tired Sunday. We emptied his car from all his heavy market gear, vacuumed it, turned that onion and mint-smelling farm truck into something presentable again, like a family car for instance! Occasionally I’d find accidentally sprouted coriander seeds in the most improbable corners either inside the car, or brace yourself…inside the side mirror. When I was done with all that, I took the unsold produce to distribute it to our neighbours. And when that was done, it was time for Sunday couscous!

Back in the day, we had a few bad habits around our meals, watching TV during meals was one. The other one was drinking processed fruit juices and sodas at family meals (unfortunately common in North-African cultures) besides of course the processed foods we didn’t even know were processed, and oil, salt and sugar…the bad habits in virtually every household at the time I’m writing this.

But back to TV, it must be emphasized that TV didn’t make people as silly and anxious then as it does today. We had McGyver back then 🙂 I never liked the TV being on during meals and thought it was distracting from talking to each other…well…unless what was on TV would be really good, you know, like McGyver! Tata-tata-tata-tata taaaaaa, taaa-taa-taaaaa….But it wasn’t quite McGyver that played in France every Sunday around 1 p.m.
What played every Sunday when my father came back from the market, was a show my dad found to be the best relief possible after so much work, along with a delicious  couscous…and that was…

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[Recipe] Tomato sauce for Pizza – Low-fat – Unprocessed

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As a kitchen-unskilled 20-year-old student on junk foods, I used to rely heavily on processed pasta sauces, I didn’t know any better.

The years passed, I slowly taught my way out of kitchen illiteracy. But one thing I kept wondering though is: “How on Earth do these  processed sauces get that wonderful Italian aroma of herbs?”. So I spied on the ingredients of tomato pastes I liked and always saw rosemary, oregano, thyme in the ingredients, among other things. But everytime I used these, I ended up with a tomato paste so very bitter it was borderline inedible. The mystery was on: How to get authentic strong and apettizing flavours and smell of aromatic in herbs in sauces. I soon found out by accident…

“How on Earth do these darn processed sauces get that wonderful Italian aroma of herbs?”

Why was it bitter instead of tasting/smelling of wonderful herbs?

Because oil! I figured that out only after ditching oil as part of going wholefood . It was the oil that completely ruined the Mediterannean taste of thyme, rosemary and oregano. Use those generously, and cook them in a water base,  and I promise that you will finally capture the essence of those delicious Italian smells and tastes.

 

[Recipe] Tomato sauce for Pizza – Low-fat – Unprocessed
 
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A sauce that has everything you want in a pizza base: it's thick, sweet, garlicky,
Author:
Recipe type: low-fat, whole foods, plant nutrition, vegan, no oil, no salt, no sugar
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4 pizzas
Ingredients
  • 1 jar 500g of single-ingredient minimally-processed tomato paste (For NZ/OZ: Homebrand @Countdown/Woolworth contains salt at only 21mg sodium /100g), or the equivalent in home-reduced whole tomatoes (1.5 to 2kgs tomatoes gives 500 grams of reduced tomato paste)
  • 2 onions diced
  • 3~4 cloves of garlic chopped finely
  • 1 tsp rosemary (dried)
  • 1 tsp oregano (dried)
  • 1 tsp thyme (dried, rubbed)
  • Optional to adjust sweetness: Dates. If instead of sweet ripe tomatoes you get excuses for tomatoes, the hard unripe and sour stuff, you will need to balance out the sweetness. Maybe use up to ~50g dates blended until smooth with as little water as possible. To taste.
  • Optional to adjust sourness: Tamarind or lemon. If you get a very sweet batch of tomatoes, or like sourness, maybe use up to 1 tbsp single-ingredient tamarind paste (sweet and sour). To taste.
Instructions
  1. Cook all ingredients (except tomato paste and dates) on low-fire with as little water as possible.
  2. You want to keep this as thick as possible so this is the trick that I use:
  3. When the ingredients above are soft, use the cooking water (cooled) to blend dates.
  4. Pour back in the blended dates, throw in the tomato paste and keep on the lowest setting with no cover for it to lose moisture and become thick.
Notes
Optional: If you have time, you can caramelise the onions + garlic first, by water-frying them (no oil) on slightly less than medium heat.

[Recipe] Whole-Wheat Pizza Dough – Oil-free – Unprocessed

pizza_610_WHOLEFOOD copyThis recipe was inspired from vegrecipesofindia‘s Whole Wheat Veg Pizza. I like that they used whole flour and baker’s yeast for a start. We adjusted it to remove/replace the processed ingredients (oil, sugar, salt) for improved health.

We have no issue with digesting wheat but some of our friends seriously do. So if you know a good gluten-free pizza dough that I could unprocess/wholefoodize I’m happy giving it a go => Comment or Contact.

[Recipe] Whole-grain Pizza Dough – Low-fat – Unprocessed
 
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Simple and easy recipe, lovely base for a low-fat whole-foods unprocessed pizza! This yields two oven-tray-sized pizzas. I like to understand what I'm doing instead of robotically follow recipes by the gram. So I infused a lot of rules and verifications methods in this recipe, so that people can pick up a different way of preparing food which uses your senses and intuition instead of scales and measurement spoons.
Author:
Recipe type: low-fat, whole foods, plant-based, vegan, oil-free, sugar-free, salt-free
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 2 oven-tray-sized pizzas
Ingredients
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour (360 g) because it's enough for two pizzas.
  • 1 to 1.25 cups water or add as required (230 mL to 290 mL)
  • 2 teaspoons of active dried yeast or (1.5 tsp instant yeast)
  • 2 tbsp prune paste (blend junk-free pitted prunes + just enough water for them to blend into a paste)
  • There are tricks to put up virtually any bread you want without needing a detailed recipe like this one, see the Notes.
Instructions
  1. Warm up ½ cup of water to hot bath temperature (40~45°C), add a bit of flour (1 tsp or so) and the yeast and stir (See Notes).
  2. While the yeast is busy making babies, get busy chopping your pizza toppings or preparing the sauce.
  3. After 10~15 minuts, yeast should start to bubble, it means...it's aliiiive! Stir generously.
  4. I put all the flour I am going to use on a flat clean kitchen top, make a whole in the middle, and pour the liquids progressively in the middle and incorporate more and more of the surrounding flour. Start with yeast of course, then progressively (in two or 3 rounds no more) incorporate more and more warm water and the prune paste until you fold in all the flour.
  5. Texture of the dough should be soft enoght that it doesn't crack or resist a lot to kneading, but not so watery that it will stick to your fingers and drive you mad. The dough shouldn't stick to your table.
  6. Knead for 5 to 10 minuts, no more (that's my favourite part!)
  7. Cover in an air-tight fashion in some recipient and let rise 1 to 2 hours in warm place if possible. If your oven has a warming drawer (~40°C) use it to save rising time.
  8. In the meantime, make sure tomato sauce and toppings are ready, because once the dough is ready and the oven pre-heated, it will be too late to start cutting stuff up.
  9. When dough has risen, set your oven at 200~220°C to pre-heat for about 10~15 minuts.
  10. Divide dough in two, on a baking sheet roll with a pin into whatever pizza shape you want (we make them square use all of the oven tray's surface).
  11. Using a fork, pick the surface of the dough to prevent bubbles.
  12. We like to pre-bake our dough for 15 minuts before topping them with sauce and veggies/fruit particularly if two pizzas go in oven at the same time in which case they will cook slowly. That prevents soggy uncooked dough.
  13. Bake in an minimally-disturbed oven at the same temp. (200~220°C) for 20~40 min or until your topping are all cooked and before the bottom of the pizza crust gets brown or tacky.
  14. Open to swap pizza positions in the oven if baking several at a time.
Notes
Activating the yeast
I like to sit my warm cups of activating yeast in a bowl of warm water (also hot bath temperature) so the yeast doesn't cool down. Leave 10 to 15 minuts, it should start.
I also like to use either spring water or pre-boiled tap water, to remove the chlorine, which may slow down the yeast.

I could summarize this recipe to one number, and that is "3", which is just how many cups of flour is needed. Everything else you can easily figure out and the basic process is always the same for all breads. For most breads, water content is almost always 60~70% of the weight of the flour, yeast content always about 5 tsp active dried yeast per kg flour.
Prune paste serves as a moisture-holder, one of many unprocessed moisture-holding alternatives to oil, along with date paste, applesauce. The precise amount doesn't seem to matter too much, it won't taste like prunes, so just make sure to have some.

[Recipe] Khadija’s Moroccan Lentils – Oil-free – Unprocessed – Vegan

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Khadija's Moroccan Lentils – Oil-free – Unprocessed – Vegan
 
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Author:
Recipe type: low-fat, whole-food, plant-based, vegan, no oil, no salt, no sugar
Cuisine: Moroccan
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 440g dry lentils, preferably Puy lentils / French lentils soaked overnight.
  • 6 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 20 g coriander (a few sprigs), chopped
  • 20 g parsley (a few sprigs), chopped
  • zest of half a lemon, sliced off with a knife (only the yellow part, not the white inside) and cut in small bits. Do not grate!
Spices
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground paprika
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp ground chilli
Instructions
  1. Water-fry the onions until caramelised/browned.
  2. If you want to save time, skip caramelisation, just put the onions in the pot.
  3. Immediately add tomatoes, enough water for the spices to be in generous amounts of water (about 1 cup or ~ 230mL should do)
  4. Add all the spices and lemon, stir well, cover, set on medium heat and let boil for 5~10 min.
  5. Add the lentils, stir well, and fill the pot with enough water to cover a few centimeters over the top of the lentil surface.
  6. Cover only until it starts to boil, then let cook on medium heat for until the lentils are soft.
  7. Check now and then if more water is needed. You want to end with creamy lentils like in the picture, not watery nor dry either.
  8. Turn off the heat and set aside.
  9. Add the chopped greens (coriander + parsley) and stir.
Notes
Feel free to play around with adding the following (to taste):
Some salt-free concentrated tomato paste that uses only tomatoes, or more tomatoes well reduced.
Carrots
Celery
Baked shiitake mushrooms (chopped) for a bit of a chew, or other mild-tasting mushrooms. If using shiitake mushrooms, make sure to bake them first, otherwise their taste would be overpowering and throw the flavours off-balance.

“Is this a whole food?” – A Guide to Whole-Food Alternatives to Common Processed Foods

If you are still wondering why on Earth it matters that foods should be whole foods, look into Whole foods FAQ. That article addresses the “Why?” part of the question. Why whole-foods? Why not processed foods? Why low-fat? Why no oil? Why no salt? Why no sugar? Basically explaining why there is a problem.

What about the solution?
Well, the present article is the “What?” part of question. What is a whole food? What is not? What to buy instead? What to do instead?


~ WHOLE-FOOD MENU ~

whole or not

INTRODUCTION
OILS/ADDED FATS
ALTERNATIVES TO OIL / ADDED FAT / HIGH-FAT FOODS
SWEETNESS AND SUGAR
ALTERNATIVES TO SUGAR TO SWEETEN FOOD
SALT
ALTERNATIVES TO SALT
RICE
LEGUMES, PULSES, BEANS, AND PEAS
PASTA
BREADS
DRESSINGS
LEAVENING / RISING DOUGHS / BAKING NEEDS
PICKLES, FERMENTED AND PRESERVED PLANT FOODS
HOW TO DO WHEN EATING OUT?
Do we really need restaurants and take-aways to “eat out”?
Restaurants, take-aways, cafés, and other food venues
COMMENTS? SUGGESTIONS?


INTRODUCTION

There are two ways I know to explain which foods are whole food, which are not, which are acceptable health-wise and which are not. Different people learn in different ways. Some prefer to learn by concepts, some prefer by examples.

If you learn with concepts, what to chose is easy, neat and concise:

“Eat nothing else but low-fat whole plant foods.
If it’s not entirely made of plants, don’t have it.
If it doesn’t look like a plant, make sure the low-fat whole plant food was used and nothing was discarded, nutritionally damaged, extracted nor added that is not a low-fat whole food plant itself.”

That’s it, done. I always prefer positive wording. Simple powerful concepts like this work really well for me. The whole-food concept is a like an alphabet. Once you get the new concept right, the pantry and fridge look more like it, and you then build upwards from that and can’t possibly go wrong. That approach can’t possibly be mistaken for something restrictive. There’s no right way to eat the wrong foods when it comes to health, so drop meals and products that contain processed foods altogether, don’t try to fix processed foods. That strange planet of delicious disease is already obsolete. Just focus on building a *whole* new edifice, that of delicious health, with solid whole-foods foundations.

Now, if you learn best through examples, it’s a bit different. There’s no other way for this than go through a “good/not good” list which may look like a long prohibitive list. But what is really prohibitive? Could it be the insane extent of our reliance on processed foods that is prohibitive to our health? Reading this, chances are that you leave animals alone and off the plate. So imagine making a list of all animal foods people should replace or stop having? It will inevitably be a long list, and will inevitably seem restrictive to some. But you would know better, you would know the reality of it from experience. You would know, that there is no restriction/prohibition when you actually eat far more nutrients, add more years to your life and more life to your years. You would know, it’s not about cutting/eliminating foods (or rather non-foods), it’s fundamentally about having the right foods and nothing else.

Particularly nowadays, and particularly in certain foods cultures, listing all the processed foods we should be weaning from or replacing to eat the right foods can be quite a mouthful!
But I braced myself today to put it all down so it can go to help whoever wants to go whole-food; starting from where many people are (processed foods from supermarkets, restaurants, cafés, take-aways) and moving to food compatible with health that you prepare yourself from whole plants.

Finally, I must insist on two points:

  • Of all processed foods or non-foods below, oil, salt, and sugar will be of particular concern due the particular health concern with these. Please do not use them and consider instead the easy alternatives offered below.
  • Every transition in life can take time to be operated painlessly and sustainably. This list should not scare you. It took us about a year from quitting sugar to being almost 100% whole-foods with no oil, salt, or sugar. With the advice below we could have done that much faster! If you can operate all these changes cold-tofu, do it, you have all the tools now! If you need time, do them one step at a time, just keep challenging yourself until you reach the destination. Pain should not be part of this journey. Do observe priorities: Start first with eliminating oil and high-fat foods. Meanwhile, reduce down to zero your use of sugar and salt gradually enough so it’s not a pain. Meanwhile also, replace the non-whole foods by whole foods. Start with those you eat most, what is it for you? pasta? bread? and rice? Then expand to other things. Expanding your whole-food repertoire can also be done adding whole foods you never had before. We’re learning for example how to prepare whole grain groats as a staple, or legumes. It’s not a very Anglo-saxon thing to do but if other cultures figured it out, and it’s whole foods, that’s more options for you!

OILS/ADDED FATS

In short: no oil *at all*, nothing that is high-fat. What does that mean? For an adult who is 100% oil-free low-fat whole-food nutrition (already a big pre-requisite) : no more than 1~2 tablespoons daily total of any combination of nuts/seeds/avocado. Coconut best avoided. Absolutely zero of all of these of recovering from cardiovascular disease.

Oils and fats are found naturally in all low-fat whole plant foods in sufficient amounts. By energy: kale: 12% (of calories are from fat); brown rice: 6%; potatoes : 1%, etc. Given enough diversity in a low-fat whole-food plant diet, *all* our fat nutritional needs are met, including omega-3. Yes, from just plants only. The addition of fat whether extracted from whole foods (i.e. oil) or even high-fat from whole foods (i.e. nuts and avocado) in large amounts  is not just unnecessary, but majorly harmful. It contributes greatly to cardiovascular and metabolic disease; ending in heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, higher incidence of cancer, and of a number of degenerative diseases. In short, the unforgiving price to pay for our by-default under-informed, over-optimistic illusion of “moderation”.


Not whole foods, because all oils are extracts, or TO NOT EAT:

Everything that is called “oil” when you buying it from a supermarket, an online store,  “health” store, organic shop, or even if you press it yourself from your uncle’s fair-trade organic locally-grown olives. It doesn’t matter. Do not have any oil, whether it’s:

  • Cold-pressed oils
  • Extra virgin oils
  • Extra virgin cold-pressed oils
  • Organic oils
  • High-end oils
  • High-quality oils
  • Vegetable oils
  • Coconut oils
  • Olive oil
  • <plant> oil
  • Minimally-processed oil
  • coconut cream
  • coconut milk
  • grated coconut
  • all chocolate (=> cocoa powder although not technically a whole food, is a high-fiber less-high-fat food, a far more acceptable alternative to chocolate if you’re going to use chocolate)

If you are recovering from any cardiovascular disease (from impotence all the way to  surviving a stroke or heart attack) the above was the #1 (plant) things you must start having  an absolute zero amount of, besides of course ditching absolutely everything of animal origin.


Whole foods, but use at most in very low amounts*:

* Very low amounts = ~1 teaspoon per person per meal, maximum. Absolute zero if recovering from cardiovascular disease.

  • nuts and seeds
  • cocoa beans
  • avocado

Whole foods, but best avoided or kept for occasional use*

* Occasional use = 1 tablespoon per person once a month at most maybe. Absolute zero if recovering from cardiovascular disease.

  • coconut flesh from fresh coconut (even then still among the worst possible whole-food fat there is, almost entirely saturated fat). At home we cut one yearly and freeze it for the whole year. That’s becoming how much coconut we have yearly for two people. Amazing taste, but not worth it as a staple.

ALTERNATIVES TO OIL / ADDED FAT / HIGH-FAT FOODS

Just skip the oil. Below is how to do that for common instances where most people use oil. I know it’s hard at first to think it’s even possible to prepare food without oil. But, trust me, let go of being anxious around this, everything below is based on 6 months of kitchen experience of home-cooking without any oil at all.

How to replace oil to heat up spices
If you need to develop the aroma of certain seeds like is done in Indian cooking, just dry roast on less-than-medium heat for a few minutes while stirring, then add wet foods (like chopped onions/garlic) first, then ground spices.

How to replace oils for stir-fries and caramelizing onions/garlic:

There are a few alternative options to oil-frying:

  • Water-frying on high heat with just enough water so it won’t stick nor burn. Add ground spices if needed only after the onions/garlic have softened and become transparent.
  • OR: Chop onions and garlic very finely and stir on less-than-medium heat in a pan on its own (no added water). Because it is chopped finely it will cook at similar temperatures as with oil, without burning because finely-cut onions/garlic give off their own water.
  • OR: If stir-frying or frying is important to give a certain taste to food: consider baking instead. It works for French fries, potato wedges, garlic, bell-pepper etc. If you ever find that it makes the foods too dry, then bake a combination of dry/hard foods along with moist/wet foods. You will end up with nice glossy foods that look and feel exactly as if they were stir-fried.

These may not always give exactly the same result as with oil of course, but close enough that  people will not even notice you changed something.

How to replace oil/added fat in baking:

Don’t be anxious, just skip the oil, it works in many cases for cakes, breads, etc.

In cakes and breads, oil serves the purpose of holding moisture, that can be done with prune paste. The amount of prune paste* is amount of oil needed divided by 3, there will not be a prune taste. Don’t worry your final food will not taste of prunes. Try for yourself, we did, as recommended in the China Study Cookbook.

*For Wellington, large bags of prunes can be found at reasonably low cost, in bulk, at Moore Wilsons. Store them in the freezer, and you’re good to go for ages.

Other ingredients help hold moisture as well: certain flours more than others, aquafaba, ground flaxseed, applesauce, and other whole-food vegan egg replacements. Also wet foods like applesauce, zucchini, beetroot, bananas, give great moisture-holding.

For dressings and dips:

See Section below “Dressings”.

To prevent sticking:

Use baking paper, non-stick pans, cast iron pans if you don’t like non-stick coatings, or even any regular stainless steel pot with lower heat.

SWEETNESS AND SUGAR

Most sugars even the “brown” ones are generally extracted saps from trees or flowers, roots or corn, etc. Them being brown or having some nutrients does not make thin either health promoting not whole-foods. They are of similar concern as white sugar.

The sugars naturally found and consumed in whole foods do not pose health problems.

Commercial sweeteners are absolutely not whole foods, they are not even foods. Do not use them.

Besides, some do pose health concerns (like stevia or aspartame) others are experimental (erythritol) and may well be the next aspartame or MSG scandal, a risk we don’t run with corn or dates natural sweetness. The only safe whole-food sweetener I know that is a powerful natural sweeteener called Luo Han Guo (more below)

Sweetening sources that are not whole foods – DO NOT USE

Anything that doesn’t look like a whole plant food, and with the word sugar, syrup, or molasses in it, to list only a few:

  • raw cane sugar (or Sucanat)
  • raw sugar
  • brown sugar
  • coconut sugar
  • palm sugar
  • blackstrap molasses
  • maple syrup
  • rice syrup
  • malt syrup

ALTERNATIVES TO SUGAR TO SWEETEN FOOD

The most powerful alternative to sugar is to let your taste buds have less sweet foods so that they can learn to become more sensitive to the natural sweet taste of food and beverages. That should allow you to enjoy beverages with no added sweetness of any kind, and to enjoy food at a lower sweetness level. This being said, there is nothing wrong with enjoying sweetness or sweet foods, as long as that comes from whole foods and not extracted sugars.
There are some very common whole-food sources of sweet flavour that you can use:

  • Apple sauce
  • Date paste
  • Date sugar, homemade only, when it’s made from dried pulverized dates = “date flour”, not the commercial “date sugar” which is often date-extracted sugar and therefore just as mertabolically hazardous as any other sugar.
  • Prune paste
  • Banana
  • Raisins, currants, sultanas and other dried fruits but read the ingredients: some come loaded with oil, sugar, preservatives which you can tell form the ingredients or the sodium content for preservatives.
  • Sweet potatoes like baked orange kumara
  • Jackfruit*
  • Sweet corn
  • Whole-food sweetener: Luo Han Guo*, found in the near tea in many Chinese Shops. Boiled in water it is a very potent natural sweetener with, a long history of usage and not a single known health concern to my best current knowledge after researching it. It might be pulverizable into a powder for use in cooking, baking etc.

* For NZ-Wellington: This can be found at Yan’s Supermarket off Webb Street, or in NZ Lower Hutt’s Davis Trading for Lo Han Guo, see tea section.

SALT

The issue with salt has little to do with whole-food or not. Salt is simply not a food, so the wholeness (process salt vs unprocessed sea salt) is secondary and does not matter at all. Added salt is used as a flavour enhancer, for people who have grown a habit for it and not yet weaned off.

Unfortunately it is the source of unnecessary stress/damage on cardiovascular health because it creates a state of hypertension to push the sodium out of the body.

Hypertension leads to serious health concerns, and is considered a cardiovascular disease, yet it is virtually entirely caused by eating a lot of salt or preserved/processed foods. The sodium naturally occuring in plants is more than we need.

There is no right way to eat the wrong foods so all the salts below are salts and should never be part of food:

DO NOT USE:

  • Himalayan pink salt
  • Sea salt
  • Kosher salt
  • Celtic salt
  • Guerande salt
  • black salt (also known as “kala namak”)
  • blue salt
  • soy sauce
  • or anything with the word “salt” in it or with outrageously high amounts/concentrations of salt or sodium in it.

If you buy partially processed products (like the jarred salt-free tomato paste we use off-season*) always read the ingredients and nutritional content. Sodium per 100g in  whole foods is rarely ever above a few dozens: 5 mg, 10mg, 20mg are numbers that shouldn’t worry you. Just make sure it’s mg (milligrams) not grams like I see sometimes. If you start seeing hundreds, something’s wrong, except for a tiny handful or expections that are naturally high-sodium inside them.

Be aware that salt and sodium also are virtually everywhere in processed foods, from canned foods to cookies, to even dried fruit! In restaurants you may order salt-free food but if they relied on processed foods like pasta, or sauces, etc, those also come generously loaded with sodium. As I said in introduction, do not waste your time trying to fix a broken system, build your own, without any of the otherwise inescapable nonsense.

ALTERNATIVES TO SALT

Quitting all salt, and processed foods, is the single best alternative to salt and sodium.
It can be done painlessly over 3 weeks to 3 months. After only 3 weeks most people start developing a dislike for salted foods and a preference for unsalted foods. Yes, your taste buds are magical, and you need to harness this power you already have.

Immortalizing the moment when we stopped using salt at home :)

Immortalizing the moment when we stopped using salt at home 🙂

What to do about flavour? Preparing food for people that are used to salt?

Simply use more of natural flavours!

We put more of the flavourful foods in our cooking: slightly more spices, more carrots, more celery, more onion, garlic, more whole-food sweetness to lift up the taste without salt, more sourness (from lemon or tamarind) or more whole-food sweetness from dates or other naturally sweet foods. If you hit the tongue right it won’t need a bang from salt, even the highly-demanding tongues and palates of people who have not yet weaned off salt.

People on low-sodium dietary lifestyles have used all sorts of spices instead of salt. They like to go by “salt alternatives” and “salt replacements”. I don’t like those phrasings because when you don’t need salt, you don’t need to replace salt.

I offer to transcend the idea of even replacing salt, and simply understanding that our tongue (and nose) is full of sensors for all sorts of things (for the tongue: sweetness, sourness, bitterness…) and your tongue likes a good whip to be happy. So whip up your tongue (wut-tish!) with everything you have that is an actual food, it will thank you for it.
When we quit salt, my first natural urge was to add sourness (lemon/lime) to everything, but that’s just me.
My tongue loves sour,  bitter, sweet but not too chilli-hot, I like pungent but not too garliquey. For my partner it’s completely different. My partner likes NOT sour, NOT bitter, NOT as sweet as I do. She likes VERY spicy, NOT pungent, but VERY garliquey. If food isn’t chili-hot, for her, it’s not food! For me it’s the same but with sour.
So each person’s tongue likes to be whiped its own way. Find your taste spot and give it what it needs!

How to do about salt-containing products? like canned chickpeas, dried fruits with high sodium, spice mixes, etc? Simple: dont’ use them. Find salt-free options if it’s trivial to find, or just save time and make your own.

If you have concerns about health:

  1. The sodium in whole plant foods is far more than sufficient to meet our body’s needs in sodium. Look around, how many land mammals and animals do you see walking around with salt shaker? Salt does not contribute to health.
  2. For iodine which is important, you don’t have to have get it from chronic hypertension (i.e. salt, iodized), just introduce unprocessed seaweeds *gradually* (for safety) and check their iodine content before using them. While you sort that out an iodine supplement is very encouraged. I wrote a guide to common New Zealand seaweeds you can forage, how to desalt them, and their iodine content.

RICE

Not whole-foods:

  • Any white rice, because it is “milled” = removing the nutrient-rich outer layer (rice bran), then polished after milling to make it look good again.

Whole-food alternatives to milled/polished white rice:

  • Brown rice
  • Red rice
  • Black rice
  • Brown Basmati rice
  • Brown Jasmine rice
  • Brown Thai rice

Note: There are different “whole” grades of the rices below. Some rices that look whole (with a bran on top) are actually partially milled (to remove bran partially) or partially polished. Producers undoubtedly derive extra profits from bran as a by-product, sold as animal feed, for rice bran oil, etc. Ideally you want a rice that is unmilled and unpolished. Visual examination might be enough, I’ll start paying attention and see if I notice differences.

LEGUMES, PULSES, BEANS, AND PEAS

Not whole foods:

  • Split peas
  • Split beans
  • Red lentils (they are what’s left when you remove the highly-nutritious brans)

Whole-food alternatives to split legumes:

  • The unsplit whole grains, i.e. your typical chickpeas or lentils or beans with their skin.

PASTA

Not whole-food:

  • Standard pasta. This is why:

Whole-food alternative to white pasta:

  • Wholemeal or whole grain pasta
  • Any pasta made at home from whole grains or whole grain semolina.

Note: Commercial use of the term “whole” can be abused in “wholemeal” pasta due to expectable partial amounts of whole semolina or recombined whole semolina made from refined semolina some extracted bran or fiber to give a whole “feel”.

BREADS

Not whole-food:

Most breads marketed as “whole meal” or “whole grain” use most often only a small amount of whole-meal flour 10% to 25% only typically. The rest is baker’s white flour, a highly- refined product. Besides whole-food aspects, baker’s flours or bread flours and the wheats they come from are generally under a lot of pressure to be high-protein, high-gluten, and have extremely specific characteristics all highly focused on one thing: to make their final processing standardized and idiot-proof. That requires both high selection of the wheat, and high processing, both of which make the job easy for bakers but has led to wheats that can nutritionally poor since nutrition never was the concern, unnecessarily high-protein, unnecessarily high-gluten, and which generally seem to cause more health issues than more traditional wheats, not specifically selected or refined for bread or bakers. Few people that are not bakers or cereal producers know this.

Commercial breads also come with high amounts of salt/sodium. About a gram of salt per 100g, and I know from personal experience it’s outstandingly easy to eat not just 100g of bread a day, but many hundred grams, which is utterly unnecessary hypertension on our blood vessels and the organs they supply.

Whole-food alternative to store-bought non whole-food breads:

I already wasted ample time looking for truly 100% whole and salt-free bread, let me save you some time. Like many quests to find healthy foods processed by industry, looking for a truly whole and salt-free bread in shops and bakeries was a quest for the Yeti, the Bigfoot, and the Unicorn combined. I would have made enough bread healthy bread for the year by actually not looking for one.

Solution? Make your own bread at home, with baker’s yeast or a sourdough culture, no salt, and if you want to flavour it maybe throw some fennel seeding in the dough. That’s what we’ve been doing.

If you are a breadoholic, invest 50~100$ into a kneading machine and visit op-shops for secondhand baking trays, rolling pins, whatever you may need.

We don’t often make bread anymore, maybe once or twice a month, about 2 kg, and it never lasts as long as we wish it did! At that pace, I actually love and very much enjoy the (minimal) kneading that is required. No machine or fancy equipment here. Home bread-making can be made very easy and very  time-efficient.

There are many recipes online to make bread from 100% whole flour from any grain or seeds that’s suitable to you.

DRESSINGS

Not wholefoods:

  • Pretty much all commercial dressings, primarily due to oil, sugar, salt and other refined ingredients.

Whole-food alternatives to dressings:

  • Find recipes for oil-free dressings, and remove salt, replace sugars by whole sweet foods, and high-fat foods by low-fat foods.
  • Create your own: Play with sweet whole foods (e.g. apples, raisins and dates), sour whole foods (like lemon or lime) and instead of fatty base like oil or cashews use a starchy base like blended and cooked pea, beans, or grains with enough water will make a nice and runny cream.

LEAVENING / RISING DOUGHS / BAKING NEEDS

Not whole-foods:

  • Baking powder (+ extra concern with sodium content as it is sodium bicarbonate)
  • Baking soda (+ extra concern with sodium content as it often contains sodium bicarbonate or other sodium salts)
  • Citric acid
  • Tartaric acid
  • Various essences, either natural or artificial flavours

Whole-food alternatives to baking needs:

  • Baking yeast
  • Sourdough cultures
  • Aromas: spices, spice-seeds (fennel, caraway, etc), herbs, real vanilla, grated lemon, dried fruit, orange peels, bananas, etc.

This will not rise instantly, the rising processes takes longer, but good news: you don’t have to sit and stare at breads and cakes leaven! Yeasts are shy and prefer making babies when no one is starring at them and desperately waiting for them to be done 😛 Set an alarm and go on about your life while it’s rising 🙂

PICKLES, FERMENTED AND PRESERVED PLANT FOODS

These are of particular concern to health not because of the whole-foods being pickled, but because of the ridiculous amounts of salt, oil, sugar and preservatives used to keep those.

I created a project group on Facebook especially for the purpose of pickling and fermenting foods without resorting to any salt, sugar or oil: sauerkraut, pickled lemon, etc.
Whole-food plant-based fermentation, no oil, no sugar, no salt

Salt-free purple cabbage sauerkraut culturing as I write

Salt-free purple cabbage sauerkraut culturing as I write

HOW TO DO WHEN EATING OUT?

It’s a very good question!
We all like to go out, have lunch and dinners with friends.
How do we do?

At this point of time, my partner and I eat about 90% of our meals from home-made food. It’s all low-fat, whole-food vegan, with no oil, no salt, no sugar.

We eat from restaurants and cafés about twice a week, that the 10%. The food we eat out is not always perfect, but we try, and it’s been worth trying so far, even if sometimes it’s a bit of a sport. Restaurants like all businesses care first and foremost about one thing, that is making profit. The health officer in that trade is you and you alone, so you get what you encourage and ask for. Restaurants follow what the people holding the money want, and these people need to express their needs.

Do we really need restaurants and take-aways to “eat out”?

Everything you didn’t make yourself from scratch using whole plant foods is eating out. If you got your act sorted out, that eating out remains the only possible source of unhealthy eating.
Before zooming on restaurants and take-ways, let’s talk about “eating out”.
First of all there are a number of reasons why people eat out. Convenience, hanging out with people, getting food inspiration, etc…A number of these needs can be met without having to go to a restaurant. Since it can be a bit of challenge getting truly healthy whole foods from restaurants, with the help of like-minded friends we have been federating a culture of healthy eating among our friends and communities. So we’re having more potlucks, more dinners and meals at each others house, etc. To some extent, so many restaurants could exist only on a base of lack of community bonds, lack of time spent in the kitchen, and lack of direct sharing in people’s life. This is easy to remedy: Share and make foods for yourself *and* your friends!

Picture-163_bis

That’s our growing whole-food gang, meeting for a lovely autumn picnic. We’re heading towards doing this at least twice a month.

There is also nothing wrong with bringing your own food to work, going to the company/school canteen with your boxes, and sitting at your friends table with your own food. The spotlight won’t be on you too long if you know why you’re doing it and how to articulate it. In fact you may get them to join you…who doesn’t want to spare themselves a heart attack? diabetes? hypertension and all the plagues of animal-based eating?

Restaurants, take-aways, cafés and other food venues

When eating out we skip everything that is deep-fried, or fried, expect stir-fries, more below on this. What’s left is either vegan or not, and to keep choices large, I include non-vegan options so I can explore if it can be veganized (in passing that encourages vegan options). If something is a stir-fry, I ask to water-fry as I ask for “vegan, no oil, no salt, no sugar”.

“No oil” is currently the most frightening new challenge for most restaurants. Oil is still very central to restaurant/café kitchens and it often seems unconceivable for them to not use oil, either for cooking convenience, time-saving, or for taste. It’s not rare that the person taking our order would go and check with the kitchen to see if they can do that.

Good news though: most often restaurants can remove oil, sugar or salt to some relevant amount, if not entirely. There is of course the odd one out where the waiter “vegan, no oil, no salt, no sugar” and the food comes either stir-fried with oil, or drizzed with it, or far too salty or sweet, it happened…but quite rarely. There is also the odd one out where a restaurant would insist “The chef doesnt’ want to do a stir-fry with no oil, he/she/it needs oil”. Other times, they would honestly say they wish but they can’t because the food is batch-prepared with oil, sugar, or salt. But most of the time they can remove something, if not all.

Where my face is not familiar yet, waiters taking my food order the first time often (unwittingly) patronizingly tell me that the food will not be very good. But that’s their worried untrained palate speaking, so it’s worth insisting that they shouldn’t worry about taste and that I eat like that everyday and like it a lot. They can get surprisingly insisting that your palate will not find it tasty basically, afraid perhaps to serve a customer a very unpalatable experience that may convert into bad business. But be “kindly firm” in those cases. And when you’re done with your meal and thank them before leaving, tell them what you thought about the food (it’s usually good!). It’s usually only the first time, it gets smooth and easy when you go regularly to the same food places. Once you develop relationships with them, if they’re open to it, they eventually get interested into your motivations to order in this unusual way for them.

A friend, Caitlin, also gave me the tip of ordering a few hours in advance, ahead of peak hours. Not sure why that works, but it works for her and for other people apparently.

We have had some really lovely restaurant experiences, some waiters, chefs or restaurants owners that would have dealt with disease themselves or through a close person. They’d know about why eating the way we do is vitally important, and they were accommodating. Such a breeze when that happens!

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Rangoli Restaurant, Kapiti, NZ. Highly recommended!

Such an accommodating place served us this, everything is no oil, no salt, no sugar. 3 out of 4 plates here are low-fat whole foods: Kachumber (Indian salad), wholemeal bread (Indian roti), and the best chana masala (Indian chickpea curry) I’ve had in my life. Only the rice on the top left is not a whole food, but white rice. Not bad at all overall relatively. The restaurant is Rangoli, in Kapiti, NZ. Great friendly/kind service, rather cosy, amazing food, some vegan wines too.

So far, I talked oil, salt, sugar, but that doesn’t make a tofu burger whole-food, does it?
No it doesn’t. At this point of time, most breads in restaurants are white breads (less so in Indian restaurants), pasta is still always refined white pasta, rice is not yet routinely brown rice or another whole rice, etc…We make do our best with what we have at hand. More and more, I do ask though about the wholeness of the pasta, rice, breads. I would know the answer in advance most of the time, so why do I keep asking? Because customers’ questions always act as subtle requests and they are! It can start very constructive educational conversations for the staff and restaurant, as well as for us in terms of the challenges that they encounter, which we may able to help with.

A restaurant we often go to even started to put on the menu that whole-food options are available with no oil, sugar or salt. The owner, it turns out, already had a preference for oil-free food and whole foods and just needed someone to request it to feel motivated to pursue that route.

Adulis Restaurant, Wellington, NZ. Highly recommended!

This restaurant is in Wellington NZ:  Adulis African restaurant, proposing currently essentially Ethiopian/Sudanese foods. Currently in the process of going using more whole foods and pro-actively encouraging options with no oil, salt, sugar. Wonderful! This is at long last the future that many of us have been waiting for, it’s amazing! And again, restaurant owner also very cheerful and friendly person, and so is staff generally. That’s becoming more and more one of regular healthy go-tos.

COMMENTS? SUGGESTIONS?

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Do you feel I forget something important in this list?
Is there something you want to suggest adding?
Do you have short videos (< 5 min) that show clearly the products we’re used to being processed from a whole food to an extracted, refined, nutritionally damaged product?
What struggles are you facing with going WFPN (whole-food plant nutrition)?
or with quitting salt, sugar, and oil?

Post you comments below!

Whole foods FAQ – Why whole-food plant-based? Why no oil, no salt or no sugar?

This is a list of frequently asked questions regarding whole-food plant nutrition and the health benefits that are associated. For each question/topic, a series of educational resources are provided, mostly in video format.

Contents:

  1. What are whole foods?!
  2. Why low-fat whole-food plant nutrition?
    (more commonly known as “whole-food plant-based” or WFPB)
  3. Why low-fat and no oil?
  4. Why no sugar?
  5. Why no salt?

1) What is a whole food and what is not?

As the name indicates, a food that is whole or integral.
Whole foods means edible foods in their whole, or natural, or recognizable form, that have not (or minimally) been refined, transformed, processed, or extracted.
Why the distinction is tremendously important from a health standpoint will be explained in later sections.

Examples:

  • A sunflower seed is a whole food, and sunflower oil pressed from the sunflower seeds and heavily refined is not a whole food. The high fat content is a concern too.
  • A beetroot is a whole food, and the sugar extracted and refined from beetroot is not a whole food.
  • Corn seeds from a corn cob are a whole food, but high-fructose corn syrup and corn starch are heavily processed extracts so those are not whole foods.
  • Whole-meal wheat flour directly obtained from grinding whole wheat grains is whole-food, but wheat bran or white flour because they use only part of the wheat seed are not whole foods.

Ok, now that you get it. Why is the distinction important? Excellent question! That’s all below. You will understand when you watch the fundamentals in Part 2.

2) Basic knowledge about low-fat whole food plant nutrition

Documentary Forks over Knives, sorry for this one I only have the trailer, you’ll have to check your Netflix, look for DVD at your library, or rent it on Amazon Prime or other Video-on-demand websites.
This an absolute must-watch.
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7ijukNzlUg

Documentary Planeat

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCresEvQ_jM

Documentary Plant-pure Nation
Full video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=llQ7V9Jv5a0

3) Why “no oil” in whole-food?

Make Yourself Heart Attack Proof – Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, MD
Full-video (ENG): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYTf0z_zVs0

http://nutritionstudies.org/essential-facts-fats/
http://nutritionstudies.org/fat-plant-based-diets/

4) Why “no sugar” in whole-food?

Documentary Sugar: The Bitter Truth
Full-video (ENG): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM

If Fructose is Bad, What About Fruit? (5-min video)
http://nutritionfacts.org/video/if-fructose-is-bad-what-about-fruit/

5) Why “no salt” in whole-food ?

High Blood Pressure May Be a Choice (5-min video)
http://nutritionfacts.org/video/high-blood-pressure-may-be-a-choice/

The Evidence That Salt Raises Blood Pressure (5-min video)
https://nutritionfacts.org/video/the-evidence-that-salt-raises-blood-pressure/

Manufactured controversy over Salt #1 (5-min video)
http://nutritionfacts.org/video/sprinkling-doubt-taking-sodium-skeptics-with-a-pinch-of-salt/

Manufactured controversy over Salt #2 (5-min video)
https://nutritionfacts.org/video/dietary-guidelines-with-a-grain-of-big-salt/

Cardiovascular damage caused by salt besides hypertension
http://nutritionfacts.org/video/sodium-and-arterial-function-a-salting-our-endothelium/

Amaranth Veglaze — Ditch the eggs, this vegan glaze is glossy and won’t stick

veglaze

Okay…Posting new recipes publicly is a new thing for me that took me some time to warm up to…

You see, as a researcher and advocate, I’d usually be busy sharing with people how to  proactively help preventing cancer far beyond “just” good nutrition and exercise, that is by regular fasting + some nutrient supplementation + chemoprevention (though essentially plants).
Otherwise, I’d be busy educating on how to avoid the other third of unnecessary suffering and premature death – cardiovascular disease – by relying on low-fat whole-foods plant-only nutrition, with no oil/no sugar/no salt. In short, by eating what healthy cultures call “food” as explained in detail in the fascinating Forks over Knives.
I’d normally be busy working towards the abolition of animal exploitation, by engaging with people on the many issues tied with eating/using animals and typically pointing to documentaries Earthlings, Gary Yourovsky’s speechCowspiracy or Forks over Knives for people to transform by-default cluelessness into conscious, educated choices.

I became a scientist/researcher to help people. What is the point of more research, when best practice was already researched, found, documented, but then ignored and unused? So I’ve been spending less time with facts and figures, more time directly with people, communities, always around food.

Food is where many decisions are taken daily on the relationship we want to have on the process of Life; a destructive self-dooming one, or one of universal thriving.

So today, my first publicly-shared recipe is also one my favorites because it’s been a fun challenge. I found a new use for nature’s magic, and made a Veglaze.

It’s short for vegan glaze, a glazing agent or egg wash substitute that leaves animals alone, and calls only for whole-food ingredients. The happening and lovely Wellington (NZ) Vegans voted to call it Veglaze!

It’s a small, fun, little thing, yet, I love it!

Q: “Why don’t you just use eggs, I don’t get it?”.
A: Fair question. This is why. I cannot possibly explain it any better.

THE PROBLEM WITH GLAZING VEGAN FOODS

Ever found yourself making burger buns, or some sort of vegan bread and wanted the top to look super-shiny? Obviously the last thing you want to use is an egg, or anything based on sugar, other processed foods, or anything leading to sticky fingers?

So let me guess…

You went online and looked for the name of that stuff we use to make burger buns and brioche breads shiny…what is it called…Oh yeah, it’s called an “egg wash” or a “glaze”, “glazing”. You found pinterest pictures with a dozen different options that leave animals alone, using soy milk, aquafaba, cornstarch, olive oil…and you tried it on your buns. All you truthfully get is this: your buns are browner, but still obviously dry-looking and nothing even remotely close to shiny, glossy, glazy…

I know your frustration, I grew up with brioche breads and burger buns as shiny as my lovely dad’s balding head. The brioches used eggs, we didn’t know any better back then. Nonetheless, there’s something strange about food that makes it very appealing when it’s shiny. Well, this is not a browning agent, I like to call a spade a spade, or “a cat a cat” as the French say, and this is the deal folks! A true Veglaze!

I hope you will feel the same satisfaction as we did with the shiny Hot Cross Buns we baked.

Walking in the footsteps of the amazing Aquafaba project, this will be the Veglaze project group on Facebook, focusing exclusively on veglazing, to replace the glossy effect obtained by eggs washes in baking, or by unhealthy/processed foods undesirable in a whole food pantry (sugar, oil, processed flours…).  This is a place for people to posts their own attempts, new uses, findings, fails, etc…A Veglaze is a concept, what plant the Veglaze uses can vary and hopefully will expand.

HOW TO MAKE VEGLAZE

This is is about Amaranth seed veglaze

20160322_152856

Start with ½ (one half) cup of amaranth seed.
This will yield us about 1 ~ 1 ½ cups of Veglaze by volume, 200~350g by weight.
Egg white equivalent: Not sure at this point, but I veglazed 3 batches of 12 large hot cross buns with it. So relax, this will make more than enough if you’re veglazing less than the size of a standard oven tray.

20160322_153038Add 4 cups of room temperature water. And set on the stove on medium for 30 min. No lid on.

20160322_155419It will start to boil after about 10 min.

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This will be what it will look like after 30 minutes of cooking. See that glossiness?
Beautiful!

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Pour in a strainer.

20160322_170651

Squeeze it a bit *gently* if needed. You want to strain it, not press the grains through the sieve. The pictures shows a thicker experimental version. But with 4 cups of water as per this recipe, it should strain even more easily.

20160324_152147

This is what you get from a first pass of sieving. Lots of a glossy Veglaze in the making, but still with lots of amaranth seed germs in it.

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Sieve that one more time.

Picture 89

Et voilà! A uniform, transparent clean veglaze.

20160324_160120_2

Egg white replacement: If you want to use it as a transparent veglaze, use it as it is.
Full egg or yolk-containing replacement: If you want the Veglaze to also have a browning shine (like for brioche, pain au chocolat, challah, etc.)  add tamarind paste, or turmeric for color and maybe a plant milk for a creamy aspect. In all cases, share your successes and fails in the project. Here (as per the picture above) I experimentally added a bit of soy milk. Another previous time, I had successfully tried before with tamarind paste and turmeric powder.

Q: When to veglaze?
A: Either before baking and/or  5~10 minutes before the end of baking.

WHAT RESULTS TO EXPECT?

I’ll count on you guys to upload more “WITH vs. WITHOUT” photos, I was busy making ALL the buns veglazed whenever I could, only our car or my hair I haven’t used this Veglaze on…yet! 😀 But I did take some photos.

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Above is WITHOUT VEGLAZE picture, where you can see the dull dry surface. Anything shiny? Oh hold on…
DSCF9015-copy_CROP
Ah okay…now we’re talking. WITH VEGLAZE.

Why do I love this stuff so much?

  • it leaves animals alone
  • it works, shines, and makes relevant foods look beautiful
  • it’s easy to make
  • tasteless, it won’t interfere with wonderful taste of the vegan whole-food treats you veglaze with it
  • stores in the fridge for days. Leftover can be used like vegetable stock or water
  • inexpensive: a small amount veglazes large surfaces
  • prevents madness: leaves clean fingers, doesn’t stick to fingers nor have a greasy feel.
  • suits whole-food kitchens as it does not include oil, sugar, or other processed products in order to live long happy healthy lives
  • can be made year-round
  • safe: no risk of food-poisoning typical to eggs
  • nothing goes to waste: the amounts of cooked amaranth grain it makes are very realistically sustainably edible.

WHAT’S THE SCIENCE BEHIND THIS?

The Aquafaba project might provide part of the answer. The glossy aspect here adds to the open mystery. I’m guessing proteins and saccharides have a lot to do with the shine and viscosity of the mucilage.
All I know from practice, is that the dry-food to water ratio to get separate grains of amaranth is close to 1:10 which is enormous. In fact pretty close to the dry to wet ratio of many seaweeds, which are excellent water binders. That is a rather high water binding capacity. This suggests that amaranth seed mucilage (or “glamAranth” like a friend calls it because it makes foods look glamourous) could likely be a highly-efficient egg-substitute not just for veglazing but all sorts of uses previously relying on eggs, and the many problems that inevitably come with using eggs.

HOW WAS VEGLAZE “DISCOVERED”?

How I found that amaranth could be used to make Veglaze is one of those little fun little quests I love to play with and try to solve.

I was making a first big step towards whole-foods, looking into buying/eating whole grains instead of the processed grains we were having as staple: pasta, polished white rice, couscous, etc. Amaranth was one of many whole grains in this book. Its small size fascinated me, so I bought it out of curiosity along with 20~30 other whole grains, seeds, pea and beans. With amaranth, the aim was to have something like couscous, separate grains, just “nano-sized”. Like everyone I cooked it, using a ratio I am comfortable with, that of brown rice to water (~1:2 ratio by volume).  And like everyone cooking amaranth for the first time, I got a sticky mess so impossible to sieve that I broke my sieve trying to get the gooeyness out! The tiny bits of gel I managed to squeeze out was very much reminding of egg whites. I took note of that but remained focused on the grains more than the Veglaze.

So I added a lot of water, enough to make the grains separate and I sieved that.
Wonderful, nano-sized couscous!
Now I was left with quite a lot of thick water and set on reducing that to see if it could glaze like eggs do. I put some of that thick water in an hollow oven tray for some time to dehydrate it. Put it in the warm oven, turned it off before going to sleep, then completely forgot about it! The days pass and I see the word “amaranth” somewhere and remember “Oh snap! The amaranth gel has been in the oven for days!!!” Ready to encounter a moldy stinky mess,  I rushed to the oven, held my breath and opened slowly in apprehension…But what I saw was quite different from the doom I had imagined!

The water had completely dried out. What was left behind was a blessing of serendipity!

The oven tray was clean and spotless, in fact so shiny I could see my ecstatic face in it! The water had dried, and that was a ~1 mm dry thick layer of shiny varnish. At that point, I definitely knew amaranth would make an excellent glazing for baking (and maybe other things). That mistake had conveniently saved me a few experimental steps.

Soon enough, I found excuses to bake various breads and cakes (100% whole-meal and whole-foods of course) and played around for a bit. Although it shined, it still needed more tries to find the right thickness or amaranth/water ratio. On the first attempts the gel was so thick, that the veglaze once cooked looked like those transparent slug trails in the garden…Not quite as appealing as I was aiming for!

So I kept playing with ratios and mixes and got to something pretty good now. I am still fine-tuning the ratios and making the recipe as easy and simple as possible. I’m sharing it already though so anyone can benefit from this as it is now. You can take on from here with your own uses, experiments, attempts. Whether they’re brilliant glows (successes) or whether you slip down some slippery slopes (opportunities to learn) share it anyways!

Join the Veglaze group on Facebook and share your experiments, trials, errors….

=> Facebook Veglaze Project – A community project with open discussion and sharing, trial and error etc. If you knew aquafaba, you will feel like at home!
Warning: The group *does* encourage healthful whole-food pantries. Remember to Read the pinned post.

Comments? => on the veglaze project group above 😉

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