Dr. Greger Fan Questions Supplementing with EPA and DHA

Let me guess, you’re either plant-based or vegan, you follow Dr. Greger’s videos, and you’ve been taking (or considered taking) an DHA + EPA supplement, because Dr. Greger said so.

I have the greatest respect for the folks at NutritionFacts.org. Also, in good scientific spirit, this is my question to you: Have you looked more deeply into the studies Dr. Greger relies on for this specific recommendation? I have, and based on looking more closely, EPA+DHA supplements still have unproven necessity and safety. Let me develop.


Table of contents
Some Basics
What’s wrong with Dr. Greger’s recommendation to take an EPA + DHA supplement?
Less is more – Understanding Omega-6 vs. Omega-3 metabolic pathways
But do these simple dietary modifications provide enough EPA and DHA?
Conclusions
APPENDIX: Admiration, even well-deserved, can cloud critical thinking


Some Basics

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for health. The parent form of it, alpha-linolenic acid, (ALA) is an essential fatty acid, we must get that one from our food. The human body, depending on lifestyle and other factors, converts ALA more or less efficiently into other omega-3s: EPA, then DHA.

The omega you don’t need more of is omega-6. The parent form, linoleic acid (LA), is also essential but widely excessively consumed, and is found typically in high-fat plant foods (oils, nuts and seeds, etc…). Both ALA and LA are found in every unprocessed plant food, in various amounts and ratios.


What’s wrong with Dr. Greger’s recommendation to take an EPA + DHA supplement?

Dr. Greger’s argument in favour of DHA for all vegans relies on one interventional study linking EPA+DHA intake with health benefits: slight improvement at a cognitive test + what’s interpreted as physically improved brain structure and lower grey matter loss. The supplement was fish oil (EPA + DHA), in high doses (per day: 1320 mg EPA + 880 mg DHA).

Any major flaws? Yes, many. The study published in 2013 was done on:

  • Healthy people? Unfortunately, no. Intentionally selected overweight people 25<BMI<30 with – not surprisingly – blood work that’s really not great (hypertension, borderline high cholesterol by the overly-lenient current official standards, etc.).
  • The general public? No. Seniors only (age 50-75).
  • People eating a healthy plant-based diet? No, people who often eat fish.
  • Identical groups? No, the experimental group (the ones taking the supplement) exercised more.
  • Was their diet well-controlled to ensure both groups ate the exact same food, and that the benefit comes only from the supplement? Again, no. The fish intake was measured only 3 one-off times in 26 weeks. Fish intake is also reported by frequency instead of by quantities of EPA/DHA content.
  • Was the intake of plant-based omega-3 from food recorded? No.

So yes, it is a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, and also serves a perfect example of how this “gold standard” can be far from enough. The design of the study matters as well. Here it is rather poor. More importantly this study really says nothing about vegans and people eating a low-fat whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet.

Moreover, and ironically: While the study uses 880 mg DHA per day, Dr. Greger himself reports that a similar dose (800 mg DHA) is dangerous, based on a study showing that in pregnant (omnivorous) women this DHA dose leads to having children with learning difficulties.

“In a study in which women were given a whopping 800 mg of DHA a day during pregnancy, infant girls exposed to the higher-dose DHA in the womb had lower language scores and were more likely to have delayed language development than girls from women in the control group.”

I am aware that Dr. Greger recommends much less than that toxic dose (250 mg of mixed EPA and DHA), but why is he resting his case on a study so poorly designed and using a toxic dose? Mystery.

Part of that mystery was unveiled since. That study actually isn’t the source of inspiration of his recommendation, although it may seem like it is. Dr. Greger’s recommendation for EPA or DHA precedes this 2013 study. Back in 2008 he was already advocating for DHA,  based on pregnancy/child cognition/child vision studies on omnivores. I looked into them, they display generally poorly controlled/documented diets and outcomes of questionable relevance.

His observation in another 2008 video, that “people who don’t eat animals (…) have very low levels of long-chain omega 3s”, and subsequent recommendation to supplement, is based on a study on high-fat vegans. Their diet was comprised of ~33% fat by % of total calories, in short a very high-fat and high-omega-6 diet, not a healthy low-fat, whole-food plant based one. In the section that follows I’ll explain why a low fat content in the diet matters to synthesize EPA and DHA from ALA.

Again, I have great respect for Dr. Greger and the NutritionFacts.org team of researchers.  Simply, at this point in time, the evidence to support necessity and safety of this supplementation regime is weak, and irrelevant to vegans or people on low-fat whole food plant-based (WFPB) nutrition.


Less is more – Understanding Omega-6 vs. Omega-3 metabolic pathways

Modern diets contain an excess of omega-6, typically from vegetable oils and excessive consumption of high-fat plant foods (nuts, avocados, etc…), and animal products. This interferes with our ability to convert ALA into EPA and DHA. Why? Because omega-6 conversions “steal” the enzymes that omega-3s need to convert ALA into EPA and DHA, and also the enzymes for the latter to be utilised.

Some enzymes in this process have a preference for converting omega-3s, but overwhelmed by a crowd of omega-6s (like in the average vegan or non-vegan diet) they process omega-6s. Also, the omega-3 conversions take more steps, which gives omega-3 an extra handicap in the competition against omega-6. Finally, these enzymes have nutrient “co-factors”, meaning that they need all sorts of nutrients to function well. Hence the importance of unprocessed diets, which are more nutrient-dense and less prone to nutrient deficiencies and the subsequent enzyme dysfunctions.

Cutting down our fat consumption, starting with oils and processed foods, and eating more of a low-fat, whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet does a number of good things with omega-3s:

  • reduces drastically omega-6s intake => omega-3s have less competition => more omega-3 converted and used
  • increases the intake of omega-3s (healthy fats like omega-3s, just like protein, are everywhere in low-fat, unprocessed plant foods)
  • increases the nutrient intake => the enzymes rely on those nutrients (co-factors) to convert ALA omega-3s into EPA and DHA.
  • For reasons unrelated to omega-3s, you’ll feel energetic, loose the extra pounds, and prevent or reverse illness. You wouldn’t read this article and wouldn’t have an interest in supplements if you didn’t to some extent value you health, would you?

Do these simple dietary modifications provide enough EPA and DHA?

This has already been discussed here by rockstar nutritionist Jeff Novick in this article, and by spot-on nutritionist Angela Saunders and her team in this paper. Read them, these articles are among the best regarding omega-3 in plant-based diets.

Long story short, two scenarios:

A) If you eat a whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet:

  • We’re assuming your diet is low in fat (~10% of total calories), oil-free, varied, and you’re generally healthy and seldom drink alcohol (yep, that too affects omega-3 metabolism).
  • You should be fine and achieve similar excellent overall and brain health as the many WFPB populations documented throughout the world.
  • This diet (assuming good planning, see Jeff Novick’s article above) should provide enough ALA.
  • Enough DHA and EPA should be formed by conversion of ALA under those ideal conditions (low-fat, high-nutrient diet).
  • The studies saying humans poorly convert ALA, or finding low serum levels in vegans are based on people eating unhealthy diets. There is a case for omega-3 studies done on people eating a WFPB diet, to reveal conversion rates, and perhaps point to optimal levels of ALA in the diet by looking at health outcomes of various intakes. We won’t see that anytime soon…
  • To be on the extra-safe side, you can have (if you deem necessary) 1 or 2 Tbsp (tablespoons) of ground flaxseed daily.
    Note: Time, heat, and exposure to air make these healthy fats oxidise and turn into harmful fats. It can’t harm to blend a new batch as frequently as conveniently possible (we do weekly) and keep it in a closed container in the fridge. Although walnuts and chia seeds are also high in omega-3, I stick to using and advocating flaxseed because:

    • Walnuts are most often bought unshelled, prone to oxidation (going rancid), easily overeaten (healthwise counter-productive), and more expensive.
    • Chia seeds are most often eaten whole (they should be ground for any omega-3 benefit), and are more expensive.
    • Flaxseed conveniently has a thick shell that prevents oxidation until you grind on demand, has the highest content of omega-3, comes with other health benefits (high fiber content, plays a role in preventing/reversing prostate cancer with lignans, reduces blood pressure, etc.), and is the cheapest. Who wins? Flaxseed of course!

B) If you’re currently eating more of a “junk food” type of vegan/plant-based diet (processed foods, using oil/margarines, high-fat, etc) and/or consume alcohol frequently:

  • The odds are your diet is deficient in omega-3s, all of them.
  • Even if you were to have ground flaxseeds (high in ALA) or an omega-3 supplement (ALA, not EPA+DHA), you’d likely very poorly convert it to EPA and DHA because high-fat, processed, alcohol.
  • You might benefit from some sort of EPA+DHA omega-3 supplementation. Everybody agrees that evidence on benefits and risks is still not clear at this point.
  • An EPA+DHA supplement will, at best, only limit in a minor way the damage of this lifestyle.
  • Consider going at least oil-free/low-fat, and preferably also whole food plant-based.

Conclusions

While the West is pondering about EPA and DHA supplementation or not for vegans, in a short-sighted manner and based on reductionist studies, epidemiology has long demonstrated that quasi-fully plant-based societies that refrain from aquatic animals (fish, etc) have thrived, i.e. unmatched excellent health at all stages of life + long healthspan. This should be the reference, not fish-eaters with fish fat running in their blood. The low-fat WFPB societies achieved unmatched health with zero effort put into omega-3 supplementation, and without foods high in omega-3s like ground flaxseed, walnuts or ground chia seeds.

Additionally, before considering a supplement, it must in my view tick ALL these boxes:

  1. proven necessary (confers health benefits, prevents illness, essential nutrient not found in our diet)
  2. proven safe for long-term use
  3. proven irreplaceable: the active ingredient cannot realistically/practically be obtained in sufficient/safe amounts by dietary means within a plant-based diet.

At this point, nothing suggests EPA and DHA pass those tests.

A low-fat WFPB diet is what vegans should consider as a first line of action if they are concerned with their omega-3 status and the consequences it might have on overall health (including neurological/mental/cognitive).

The omega-3 talk among healthy “whole foodies” is at best one of fine-tuning and optimisation, not a matter or life, death or illness – at all. If you are consuming a low-fat, WFPB diet, with ground flaxseed, the precious time of a healthy person is best spent spreading health and helping other people know about WFPB, rather than worrying about any other nutrients than B12, and the nutrients deficient/unavailable in whatever soil your food grows.

This article was focused on assessing the grounds of Dr. Greger’s recommendation and offering an alternative. If you want to find out more details/debate about the relevance or not of EPA/DHA in a vegan or whole-food plant-based diet, Dietician Dominic Marro has written an excellent article below. It notably compiles the positions of notorious WFPB advocates and plant-based doctors:
Do You Need to Supplement With EPA and DHA If You Follow a Whole Food Plant-Based Lifestyle?

Disclaimer: There may be health conditions where omega-3s are poorly absorbed or poorly converted. In those cases the position shared here might not apply, but only concerns healthy individuals.


APPENDIX: Admiration, even well-deserved, can cloud critical thinking

It’s no surprise to anyone that Dr. Greger from Nutritionfacts.org is looked up to in the vegan and plant-based communities; Dr. Greger (learn the spelling folks, “reger” is symmetrical if that helps 😉 ) and his team of ~19 researchers, whom I would like to salute and acknowledge for a change). The NutritionFacts.org team has compiled countless highly educational videos on various aspects of health and nutrition. So it’s no wonder people having learned so much from them hold Dr. Greger and his team in high regard, he’s become a bit of a nutrition research God.

Like with all veneration, the downside of such admiration is that it clouds reason, and leads to something I jokingly coin as:

Gregerscepticopenia: The lack of healthy scepticism, commonly found in a Dr. Greger admirer, towards a view or position held by Dr. Greger.

Dr. Greger is a media. A media literally means an inter-media-ry, in this case between followers and the published science, itself a media between us readers and (when done honestly) a reality scientists observed through experiments they carried out and documented. Thankfully, in good scientific spirit, the website shares the sources so everybody can look into them. And if you do look into them, sometimes, especially when the supporting evidence is weak or preliminary, you’ll have good reasons to disagree with Dr. Greger’s positions, assumptions, interpretations, conclusions, practical advice.

Even true heroes have their flaws. Even the most genuinely truth-oriented people deserve some healthy scepticism, because humans are humans. Such scepticism is good because it would spot unwitting mistakes and get them corrected, raise the standards of scientific practice, and also because you might not agree with someone’s conclusions/convictions when looking at the same raw data.

Let’s all try to break out from the culture of “following” people, and instead be actors of truth seeking. Let’s try to make a habit to question things even from our heroes, by going to the source of information and judging for ourselves.

Oil-free Plant Milks in New Zealand

Last updated: 18 April 2017


This list includes plants milk that:

  • contain no oil
  • Additionally: contain no coconut products (because typically from extracted high-fat cream) and no lecithin (which is a pure extracted fat).
  • are suitable for vegans (no ingredients of animal origin)
    Note: I’ve only formally checked the suitability for vegans for Vitasoy so far, only (too) quickly the other brands. Double-check in doubt.

It is relevant for people following a low-fat (incl. oil-free) whole-food plant-based diet.


Table of contents
PART 1 – Oil-free vegan plant milks (soy, oat, almond, rice, macademia)
PART 2 – List of Confirmed Non-Suitable Plant Milks
TODO


PART 1 – Oil-free vegan plant milks

OIL-FREE SOY MILKS

OIL-FREE OAT MILKS

OIL-FREE ALMOND MILKS

OIL-FREE RICE MILK

None at the moment.

OIL-FREE MACADEMIA MILK

PART 2 – List of Confirmed Non-Suitable Plant Milks

Vitasoy Soy Milk Original: contains oil
Vitasoy Almond Milk Original: contains lecithin
Vitasoy Almond Milk Unsweetened: contains lecithin.
Vitasoy Rice Milk Long Life: Contains oil.
Vitasoy Rice Milk High Protein Long Life: Contains oil.

Macro Organic Soy Milk: contains oil
Macro Organic Rice Milk: contains oil

Signature Range Rice Milk Organic: contains oil
Signature Range Organic Soy Milk: contains oil

 

Pure Harvest Soy Unsweetened Malt-Free: contains oil
Pure Harvest Soy No Added Cane Sugar Original : contains oil
Pure Harvest Soy Unsweetened: contains oil
Pure Harvest Oat Unsweetened: contains oil
Pure Harvest Rice Unsweetened: contains oil

Sanitarium So Good Soymilk Unsweetened: contains oil
Sanitarium So Good Soymilk Regular: contains oil
Sanitarium So Good Soymilk Lite: contains oil + mono and di-glycerides (471)
Sanitarium So Good Essential Enriched Soy Milk: contains oil + mono and di-glycerides (471)
Sanitarium So Good Soy Milk Vanilla Bliss: contains oil
Sanitarium So Good Almond Milk Unsweetened: Contains lecithin.
Sanitarium So Good Almond Milk Original: contains lecithin
Sanitarium So Good Almond Milk Vanilla: contains lecithin

Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Original: contains lecithin
Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Chocolate: contains lecithin
Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Barista: contains oil and lecithin
Blue Diamond Almond Breeze (Unsweetened) : contains lecithin
Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Unsweetened Cashew: contains lecithin
Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Unsweetened Vanilla: contains lecithin

Pam’s Regular Soy Milk: contains oil
Pam’s Regular Soy Milk Lite: contains oil
Pam’s Almond Milk Original: contains lecithin (322)
Pam’s Almond Milk Unsweetened: contains lecithin (322)

Australia’s Own Organic Soy Milk: contains oil
Australia’s Own Organic Rice Milk: contains oil
Australia’s Own Organic Almond Milk: contains oil

Imagine Rice Dream Rice Milk Original Enriched: contains oil

Freedom Foods Original Whole Bean Soy Milk: contains oil.
Freedom Foods Extra Milky Soy Milk: contains oil.
Freedom Foods Rice Milk: contains oil.

TODO (plant milks to be checked)

  • Vitasoy Café for Barista Almonds (waiting for reply from Vitasoy)

What milks have I forgotten? => Please share in comments.

Vegan Buttermilk Couscous (Moroccan Saykouk)

Saykook is a very simple and satisfying Moroccan dish. Traditionally it is made with fermented milk (leben) which is basically a plain liquid yogurt. Here I propose a plant-based version of this dish I’ve always loved. I like it even more now 🙂

Note: I do care to post only WFPB recipes. The yogurt here is not a whole food. So I’m posting this exceptional deviation from a conservative WFPB line-up of recipes. I will be looking forward to making a whole-food yogurt and update this recipe 🙂

Vegan Saykouk (Moroccan Yogurt Couscous)
 
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Saykouk is a popular summer dish served in Moroccan cuisine. Here is at last and at least, a vegan version while I work to upgrade this to a low-fat whole-food plant-based version.
Author:
Recipe type: low-fat, whole-food, plant-based, sos-free
Cuisine: Moroccan
Serves: 2 large meals
Ingredients
  • 6 cups of steamed wholemeal couscous (For now, check online how to properly steam couscous, I may post a recipe at some point)
  • 500 mL unsweetened plain soy yogurt (I’m yet to try tempeh yogurt for a more whole-food version)
  • 200 mL water
  • Sourness to taste: 2 Tbsp to 8 tsp lemon juice juice or blended whole lemon equivalent (I like sour so for me it’s 8).
Instructions
  1. Blend the soy yogurt with water and lemon, this is to make the yogurt smooth because it tends to clot.
  2. In a container, pour the steamed couscous. If it is still very hot let it cool first.
  3. Add the soy yogurt/water blend, the lime juice, and mix thoroughly until uniform.
  4. Cover and save in the fridge.
  5. Serve cold. Ideal lunch soon a hot day.
Notes
Because the couscous will absorb a lot of the soy yogurt, feel free to pour more soy yogurt just before serving if you like your dishes to be more saucy.
If you don't want to lemon taste in it, trying leaving the covered dish at room temperature for a while, the lactic fermentation should make the dish more sour, as it is supposed to be.

 

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Burgers Buns and Dinner Rolls – Vegan – Unprocessed

Multi purpose 100% wholemeal breads

Summary

The problem with commercial breads
The solution and what you need to know about the recipe
The recipe
A perfect vegan glaze for your buns

The problem with commercial breads

  • Did you know that the terms “wholemeal” and “whole grain” are not defined by law in most countries?
  • Did you know that a lot of commercial breads that claim to be “wholemeal” have only about 10~25% of wholemeal flour? (the rest being refined white flour)
  • Did you know that it’s common among processed bread makers to use coloring to make bread look browner so they can sell it as wholemeal bread?
  • Did you notice that most “wholemeal” recipes rarely go above 50% of wholemeal flour? (the rest being refined white flour).
  • Did you know what makes the flour white is that only a small part of the wheat grain is extracted, instead of the *whole* grain which far more nutrient dense?
  • Did you know most commercial bread have about 400mg of sodium per 100g (1g salt)? Eating what most people consider “a small amount of bread” means that with bread alone, people would  50% or more of the official warning for the daily upper limits of sodium intake.
  • Did you know that wholemeal flours used commercially are sometimes recomposed wholemeal flours created by combining processed white flour, with extracted pure bran?
  • Have you noticed how commercial breads have more and more unhealthy ingredients in them like dairy, sugar, oil, salt and additives?

Well. Screw aaaaaall of that 🙂 Check my buns:

20160408_184703

Whole foods including whole-grain/wholemeal breads, help prevent, stop, and reverse cardiovascular disease and diabetes and generally have a positive health effect on the 98~99% of people whom are not physically sensitive, or allergic to gluten and grains. Unfortunately, the illusion that food is whole, the illusion that the bread is a wholemeal bread or that it is health-promoting do not improve health, they damage it. There is no placebo effect with bread, unfortunately, otherwise many people would be healthier than they are with all the fake and processed wholemeal bread they eat everywhere.

Looking for best brand to buy? Been looking everywhere? Spare yourself, it’s the bread you make at home, from true wholemeal flour or whole grains which you will grind yourself.

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One solution I propose

This bread has 100% wholemeal flour, yeast and water, and that already works. For extra flavour, texture, and presentation, it calls for 6 whole other plants in it (a few more if you care to count the topping grains and seeds or the glaze).

This recipe (below) used the same base as for the Scrumptious Hot Cross Buns, except it skips all the spices and dried fruit and keeps everything else that makes a bread extra good.

Rising here relies purely on yeast (remember, baking powders are additives, not unlike an unnecessary supplement in powder form), and a 100% pure wholemeal flour is used. This may work with wholemeal spelt flour too.

I am very happy with these buns, they do rise, they’re nice and bouncy. Heads-up to whose new to whole foods: They’re high-density in every way, nutrients and also by weight.

If you are used to breads made of pure refined white flours that are made fluffy and light using mineral chemicals like baking powders and what not, you will definitely find this relatively “heavier” in every way.

It is absolutely normal for true wholemeal breads to be denser.

You might want to make slightly smaller burgers buns than people usually have because they’re quite filling.

I came across so many people, books and blogs (from top bakers sometimes!) saying “bread *needs* salt” (otherwise black hole), “yeast breads *must* have some salt”, “you *can’t* make a bread with pure wholemeal flour”

Nonsense. Look at this. These breads exist, so it must be possible, and I’m certainly not the first person to prove the dogmas wrong.
Just plants, water, yeast. Drops the mic and leaves! (to eat some bread).

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Recipe for Burger Buns & Dinner Rolls

Burgers Buns and Dinner Rolls – Vegan – Unprocessed
 
Prep time
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Against popular (and expert) belief, it is possible to make bread with 100% of wholemeal flour. Even better, it bread can be done without salt too and taste good. All it takes a different process which I've managed to figure out with a fair deal or trial and error. It's all about rising time and flavour. Wheat flour has a strong wheaty taste so it helps to mask it with the help of fruit and maybe a hint of fennel. Fruit in bread? Oh yes, try and see for yourself!
Author:
Recipe type: low-fat, whole foods, plant-based, no oil, no salt, no sugar
Cuisine: International
Serves: ~1kg of bread
Ingredients
Flours and yeast
  • 625 g wholemeal wheat flour (spelt should work too)
  • 5 tsp active dried yeast
Liquids
  • 60ml (1/4 cup) warm water for the yeast
  • 180ml (3/4 cup) warm soy milk (or other non-dairy) milk (might work with water or other truly unprocessed food)
Fruits
  • 125 g of sugar-free applesauce
  • Oil replacement to hold moisture: 3 Tbsp of {date or prune} paste . To make that paste: 1 cup of {dates or prunes} + ½ cup of water and blend
  • 2 blended oranges* (remove seeds first)
  • Binding: 3 egg replacers (3 Tbsp of flaxseed, mixed with 6 Tbsp of water. Mix and let sit for 2 minutes to absorb)
Instructions
  1. Combine yeast with the 60 ml of lukewarm water and let stand for 15 minutes to allow yeast to activate. It will will form small bubbles and begin to rise.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine this wet mixture: warm milk, apple purée, {date or prune} paste.
  3. In separate bowl, pour the flour, and if you want, some fennel seeds for flavour.
  4. Pour the yeast in the flour, mix, add the liquids and mix a few minutes until no flour is dry.
  5. Add egg replacer.
  6. Knead mixture (hand or dough hook) for 10 minutes or until springy to touch, whichever comes first.
  7. Transfer to a large bowl, cover with cling wrap and leave to rise for about 1 hour.
  8. After rising, pour on a bench and roll like a baguette to cut even-sized buns. Divide into 12-16 pieces for small bread rolls, or in ~9 to make burger buns. Roll to form each piece into a smooth ball. Place on lined baking tray.
  9. Cover with damp cloth and leave in warm place (like a warming drawer) for a further 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 170 degrees C (340 degrees F) for 15 minutes before baking.
  10. Bake for 25~30 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool on wire rack.
  11. If you would like a shiny effect on your breads to eventually stick some grains and seeds on top, check out the Veglaze (amaranth-based vegan perfect substitute for egg-wash).
Notes
Note 1: Instead of a bowl, I like to spread a layer of prune/date paste on a baking sheet, line a large pot with it, and put in my dough to rise, prevents sticking.

Note 2: I find that some extra lemon or lime juice really help with flavour in salt-free breads. It whips the tongue with a sour tang that reminds of sourdough and makes the tongue alive and happy enough to not need salt.

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A perfect vegan “egg wash” for perfect burger buns and breads

In a previous article, I explain my fruitful quest to find a perfect vegan replacement for egg-wash. You can now make burger buns that look exactly like we imagine them: shiny and golden with seeds on top!

Here’s what it does on breads:

veglaze before after

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Scrumptious Hot Cross Buns – Vegan – Unprocessed

 

DSCF9015-copy_CROP12596151_10153642445302950_1784675785_n(1)hbc_610

I had committed to make Hot Cross Buns last Easter with a friend, but really struggled to find a clean recipe Every recipe out there used: refined white flour, sugar, oil, eggs, dairy and other nutrient-depleted and health-damaging ingredients.

Thankfully, I was lucky to find Sonia Drake’s recipe as a good base using only wholemeal flour and mostly yeast (Thank you Sonia!). That was a good place to start. All I had to do was to wholefoodise it even further, and experiment batch after batch gradually to improve on the recipe.

I’m very happy with the result, so are virtually every single person of 20~30 people I gave them to. Tested and approved!

Here are some highlights of the improvements I’ve made on the original recipe, the recipe below includes them:

  • Nutmeg/mace is not used because of its toxicity, hence no mixed spice.
  • Spice mix made from single ingredients easy to source anywhere.
  • The spices are not the standard blend, so when giving it away, people will enjoy something that won’t taste like the other 500 Hot Cross Buns they had around Easter which all tasted exactly the same.
  • Rising agent is yeast only. Baking powder and salt is not used because unnecessary,processed and/or sodium content.
  • There are a few different barks sold as “cinnamon”. Ceylon cinnamon is used here because more gentle on the stomach than the regular cinnamon (which is Cassia cinnamon).
  • Whole vanilla bean was preferred to liquid vanilla extract. At 1$ extra for 12~16 buns, it was totally worth it!

Hot Cross Buns – Vegan – Unprocessed
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
1 hour total of preparation and active work. 1 hour 30 of rising in total. 35~40 minutes of baking. Beginning to end: 3 to 4 hours to be on the safe side.
Author:
Recipe type: low-fat, whole foods, vegan, plant nutrition, no oil, no salt, no sugar
Cuisine: Anglo-Saxon / Christian
Serves: 12~16 buns
Ingredients
The items preceded by ** mean: Prepare ahead of time, for instance the day before baking to keep the baking part fun.
Flours and yeast
  • 625 g wholemeal wheat flour
  • ** 50 g ground whole-grain rolled oats or whole oat flour (for the crosses)
  • 5 tsp active dried yeast (or 4 tsp instant yeast)
Liquids
  • 60ml (1/4 cup) warm water for the yeast
  • 180ml (3/4 cup) warm soy milk (or other non-dairy) milk
Fruits
  • ** 125 g apple puree or sauce (unsweetened)
  • ** Oil replacement to hold moisture: 3 tbsp of {date or prune} paste .
  • To make that paste: 1 cup of {dates or prunes} + ½ cup of water and blend
  • 150 g raisins, roughly chopped
  • 75 g currants (or other favourite of dried fruit)
  • **Grated zest of 1 {spray-free or organic} {orange or lemon}
  • **2 blended oranges (remove seeds first)
Spices (depending on how strong you want the flavour)
  • 1 inch of scraped vanilla bean (eq. of 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
  • 2 tsp or 2 tbsp ground Ceylon cinnamon (or 1~2 tsp Cassia/regular cinnamon)
  • 2 tsp or 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger root (eq. of ~1 tsp ginger powder)
  • ¼ or ½ tsp ground clove
  • ¼ or ½ tsp ground cardamom
  • ** Soak raisins, currants and {orange or lemon} zest in orange juice at least 2 hours or overnight.
  • ¼ or ½ tsp black pepper
  • ¼ or ½ tsp ground coriander seeds
  • Binding
  • ** 3 egg replacers (3 tbsp of ground flaxseed, mixed with 6 tbsp of water. Mix and sit for 2 minutes to absorb)
Instructions
  1. Combine yeast with the 60 ml of warm water and let stand for 15 minutes to allow yeast to activate. This yeast mixture will form small bubbles and begin to rise.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the following wet mixture: warm milk, wet spices (vanilla, grated ginger if used), apple puree, {date or prune} paste.
  3. In separate bowl, combine the following dry mixture: flour and dry spices.
  4. Stir yeast mixture + dry mixture into the wet mixture above. Combine for a couple of minutes until the dry ingredients are wet.
  5. Add egg replacer and lastly mix the soaked fruit.
  6. Knead mixture (hand or dough hook) for 10 minutes or until springy to touch, whichever comes first.
  7. Transfer to a very large bowl or large cooking pot: First lay a film of baking paper with a very thin {date or prune} paste layer spread on it with your hand so the dough later comes off easily. Cover with cling wrap or lid and leave to rise for about 1 hour, it should double in size.
  8. After this rising, roll gently the dough into a uniform cylinder (baguette shape). Divide mixture into 12-16 pieces (depending on how big you want the buns) and, roll to form each piece into a smooth ball. Place on lined baking tray, touching each other.
  9. Cover with damp cloth and leave in warm place (like a warming drawer) for a further 30 minutes to rise again. Preheat oven to 170 degrees C (340 degrees F) for 15 minutes before baking.
  10. Mix oat flour with enough water to a thick pancake batter consistency. Put in a piping bag or ziplock with a small cut hole in the corner. Use to draw the crosses just before putting the buns in the oven.
  11. Bake Hot Cross Buns for 25~30 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool on wire rack.
Notes
Serve warm. If not had right out of the oven, always warm up well on the grill before serving.
Lovely and Happy Easter to you!

 

Note 1: To get a shiny glaze on top. I used veglaze (amaranth cooking liquid).

Note 2: For sensitive stomachs, reduce or substitute clove by, for instance, any combination of ground aniseed, ground fennel seed, paprika (non-smoked), ground caraway; all of which regularly appear on various commercial preparations of mixed spices and allspice.

[Recipe] Pacific Spread – Moroccan-style Jackfruit Tuna with Spicy Tomato Sauce – WFPB

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What you’ll end up with

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How it looked before making it taste interesting

When I visited Morocco on family holidays as a child, I spent a fair deal of my pocket money on that no-frills snack: khobz b’sardine. It is Moroccan for a sandwich made of a flat thick whole-meal bread, filled with sardine/mackarel and harissa. Back in the 1990s, it was commonly made on the spot in these charming Arab-style convenience shops called hanout. Is it still? I do not know. What I know is while most canned fish tasted rather gross on its own, that canned fish came in a tomato sauce, and the shop owners (mul hanout) would often add harissa to give it some fire. As a kid, I loved the taste of that stuff.
It was the blissful ignorance of a child that doesn’t know any better just yet.

After a couple of (mostly non-vegan) decades of not having any fish sandwich, I recently got to rediscover the taste and experience of this delicious spread from the oceans, but with a major blissful upgrade. I can now enjoy this as much as I want, without the acidosis, osteoporosis, kidney stones, parasites, salmonella, industrial pollutant poisoning, heavy metal poisoning, obesity, higher cancer and cardiovascular disease risk, without trapping, asphyxiating and killing any fish nor damaging seabeds and biodiversity, nor depleting oceans…in short…this bliss comes without worrying about what eating fish does on human health, and without worrying about what fishing does in general.

It is always only the taste and food experience that people want and crave. Nobody truly wants the immense harm it took to make their favourite food experience possible.

So to bring a bit of positive in a world that could use more, this is the taste and experience, but without the harm. This recipe is indeed low-fat, oil-free, whole-foods and plant-based. For me it’s just a delicious spread, but I designed it to also be fully compatible with a successful process of recovery from heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and other life-threatening conditions. For tips to make this even lower in sodium, see note at the bottom of the page.

You can enjoy this Pacific Spread as you want: in a salad, in a sandwich (Tuna Sammies), on crackers, of even as a face mask if that makes you happy 🙂 Enjoy!

Ok, more seriously now, if you want to make a version of this “tuna” that uses mayonnaise (as is commonly done in Western cultures: sammies, etc.) but without compromising on health, check out my low-fat whole-food mayo.

I would like you to play with this recipe, and tell me (most honestly, in the comments below) what you thought, the personal twist you gave it, or what you came up with, etc. I hope you will enjoy making (and eating) it as much as I did!

[Recipe] Pacific Spread – Vegan Tuna with Spicy Tomato Sauce
 
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An visually realistic, home-made, healthy whole-food version of "Vegan Toona" with a delicious tomato sauce, a zest of lemoney Morocco and with a bit of fire to it.
Author:
Recipe type: low-fat, whole-food, plant-based, vegan
Cuisine: International, Moroccan
Serves: ~1 to 1.5 kgs
Ingredients
  • Ahead of time: Soak the sundried tomatoes as described
  • 1 can (~2 cups) of unripe (also called "green") jackfruit, or the equivalent in frozen unripe jackfruit
  • 2 cups of cooked chickpeas (~1 to 2 cans)
  • 1 cup of low-sodium sun-dried tomatoes
  • 10g of nori sheets (about 5 sheets sushi sheets roughly). I insist, nori. DO NOT USE KELP POWDER BECAUSE IT IS DANGEROUSLY HIGH IN IODINE, LIKE MOST RANDOM SEAWEED PRODUCTS.
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp fresh lime juice (or lemon juice, we much prefer lime)
  • 2 lemons (for zest only, preferably organic)
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper (or more if you like hotter than mild spicy)
  • freshly ground mixed pepper
Instructions
  1. Ahead of time: Soak the sun-dried tomatoes in boiling water for at least about 30 min to 1 hour. Overnight in cold water also works.
  2. Chop onions and garlic finely. Put in a pot with a bit of water, cover, and cook until soft on medium (~5 minutes)
  3. Meanwhile zest the lemons, and juice your lime
  4. When the onions and garlic are soft, add vinegar, chilli and cook for 5 more minutes.
  5. Meanwhile chop the (now softened) sun-dried tomatoes and the large chunks of jackfruit then add them in the pot and put just enough water for it to not be too dry and burn, cover, let cook 30 minutes with regular stirring and water additions if needed. Taste and adjust flavours if needed.
  6. Meanwhile, wet the seaweed with cold water until soft, blend it with ½ cup of water.
  7. When the pot is done cooking, set aside let cool.
  8. In a processor with a soft blade (the plastic blade often) the mixture in the pot, the chickpeas, the blended seaweed, the zested lemon, fresh lime juice, and a few turns of ground mixed pepper (to taste). Add water as needed for it to blend.
Notes
To keep the natural stringy texture of jackfruit, do not overblend.
Optimization: You can cut the preparation time down to ~30 minutes by dumping everything in a pressure cooker for 15 minutes, letting cool, then mixing.

 

Want a very low-sodium version?

  1. Substitute the canned unripe jackfruit with frozen unripe (or “green”) jackfruit (generally found in Asian stores). The last we bought actually looked golden yellow while being the unripe form. A less optimal option (higher in salt than frozen) is to soak the raw unripe canned jackfruit in hot water multiple times.
  2. Substituting the generic sun-dried tomatoes by organic, salt-free sun-dried tomatoes or any sun-dried tomatoes you can make at home using sun/dehydrator.
  3. Seaweed can also be desalted greatly by soaking it with multiple cold water changes. This works even better and faster when the seaweed is soaked in fresh water (not salty) right after foraging it yourself.

Caramelising Onions Without any Oil or Fat – Method #2

If you are looking for a quick short but detailed recipe on a gold platter, wrong house, sorry. You can stay, please do by all means, 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. Okay…maybe I will still write recipes, but that’s not what I want to do here.

This article will display one instance of the process of problem solving. Although you will find cues to make it yourself if you search or try, my point here is to write an article about food innovation, problem solving and advocacy.

A recipe is always the final result of some exploration. It’s the exploration I want to share, and want you to experience for yourself, more than just telling what I found. In other words, life is sculpting, not the sculpture. 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. One increment further, you would try with no water at all and count 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 leads to a question, that question leads to another action, and so on until you find a way. It pays off almost every single time, not in one try, but overall.

This is how I posed the problem of solving bulk onion caramelizing.

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.

Some question were inescapable:

“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 takes place. It 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? I ask you, I know the answer. Do search it you will need it to solve a puzzle later.

Now that you have this number in mind, be ready for an epiphany:  solving this puzzle. should give you a wonderful idea.

The result of that idea is this :

_20160724_160711_-CARAMELIZED-ONIONS_-610

CARAMELIZED-ONION_610
“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. Sure…

The novelty here, if any, is not to use this process not to make an oil-free version of baked onions, but as a means to mass produce oil-free caramelized onion. That’s relevant.

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 (wouldn’t be surprised + don’t care). What I do care about is that things like this *be used* to make people’s lives better. It does not matter who invents what solution. There are more solutions already available than people willing to search and implement them. In order to do some good justice to these solutions, we can’t tell people “just do this, trust me, it will solve your problem”. if a solution was found by thinking for ourselves, that’s the spirit that needs to be spread, not just the solution itself. A lot of the problems we seek to help others solve exist primarily because people are used to spoon-feeding in the first place. Spoon-feeding is what allowed for instance the meat and dairy industry to shove their hazardous products in people’s mouths along with the beliefs that it’s good for us.
The same way you don’t solve violence with violence, you don’t solve the ill-intended spoon-feeding with well-meaning spoon-feeding. Spoon-feeding in itself, is the root problem.
Also, it’s not enough to generate solutions and be critical enough to be able to discriminate the good from the bad ones, we need to individually research solutions, create solutions and most importantly share solutions.

As you can see I intentionally take time to lay down in great detail one “textbook case” of the process that led me to this way of mass-producing caramelized onions and therefore solving an important problem I was facing.

I did not give you 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.

“Isn’t oven-caramelising onions a big waste of electric energy?
Well, relatively? Short answer is “No, far from it!”
A regular oven first comfortably one to two trays, at ~15 medium 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!

“I am not much of a reader, and I just realised I had to go through all of this article when you could have just said – Whole onions in oven caramelize – 5 words, boom!”
Again, wrong address, sorry. If it takes a slow reader 15 minutes to read this, I had to go through many, many hours of caramelizing small amounts of onions with sub-optimal, slave-over-the-pot, non-scalable methods, until I got to this. The best possible solutions to complex problems are virtually always of a humiliatingly simple nature. In hindsight it’s always trivial. But this is the truth: complicated incremental solutions can already be difficult to find and require some creativity. Finding simple solutions is actually far more difficult, you will see when you try if you haven’t tried already. And what’s even more difficult than this, is teaching that kind of problem solving, instead of teaching the solutions.

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!

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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] 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 every time 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 appetising 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 whole-food plant-based. It was the oil that completely ruined the Mediterranean 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.
These herbs are also a lot more forgiving in terms of taste when you put too much provided it’s in a water base.

[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 and tomatoey
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)
  • Hot chilli: to taste.
  • 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, lemon, or apple cider vinegar. 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: When the ingredients above are soft, use the cooking water (cooled) to blend dates.
  3. Pour the blended dates back in the pot, 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] 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. If you want to save time, skip caramelisation, just put the onions in the pot.
  2. Immediately add tomatoes, enough water for the spices to be in generous amounts of water (about 1 cup or ~ 230mL should do)
  3. Add all the spices and lemon, stir well, cover, set on medium heat and let boil for 5~10 min.
  4. Add the lentils, stir well, and fill the pot with enough water to cover a few centimetres over the top of the lentil surface.
  5. Cover only until it starts to boil, then let cook on medium heat for until the lentils are soft.
  6. 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.
  7. Turn off the heat and set aside.
  8. 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.