Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecake Squares


Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecake Squares

Happy autumn “equinox!” To get you inspired for the season ahead, I wanted to share something a little more lush and indulgent.

Vegan cheesecake?  I know.  For those of you who are new to the vegan scene, you may think this is far too incongruous to be true.  You are right; there is no cheese what-so-ever in this epicurean wonder.  There are, however, some crafty ingredients which create the luscious, rich, bite we are accustomed to.

I have nothing against regular cheesecake, as long as it is enjoyed in moderation (though I think everyone should make a conscious effort to reduce their white sugar consumption).  Personally, I actually like the taste of the vegan version better.  Those of you who are familiar with vegan cheesecake, you know what I’m talking about.  I do want to put a note in here- just because something is vegan or gluten-free does NOT mean it is always healthier, righteous, and magical. Don’t worry though, this recipe is quite nourishing.

While this pumpkin cheesecake is lighter than the original, it should still be enjoyed sensibly.  Don’t eat the whole thing, I’m warning you!  Lots of healthy fats and other goodies but too much of a good thing….. yada yada.  The creamy base consists of soaked, blended cashews, and the crust includes walnuts and macadamia nuts.  I chose deez nuts for a variety of reasons.  I have to be careful with nuts (you don’t say?).   My body doesn’t tolerate them very well, especially almonds for some reason.  Even if I soak my nuts (heh), I still feel ill.  That doesn’t mean you can’t experiment with almonds, pecans, pistachios etc.  Just make sure you get them raw and unsalted ;) 

I also wanted to keep the glycemic index (GI) impact fairly low so I used more dried apricots than dates in the crust (dried apricots have a lower GI).  I won’t go into much detail now but foods that are high on the GI will cause your blood sugar to spike, and then crash, thus making you feel like crap.   Fruits and vegetables that score higher on the GI are actually still great because the fiber content essentially slows the release of sugar into your blood.  Really, it’s the white bread, white rice, and other processed foods we need to watch out for.  I will be dedicating a whole nutritional post about the glycemic index in the future.

This recipe is dairy-free, vegan, and free of refined sugar and flour.  To make it soy free, just omit the lecithin (it’s there mainly for texture).   Oh, and it’s gluten free!

Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecake Squares

Yield: 16

Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecake Squares

Ingredients

Crust:
1/4 cup coconut flour or almond meal
1/4 cup oat flour (grind oats in blender)
1 cup raw walnuts
1/2 cup raw macadamia nuts
2 Tablespoons organic coconut palm sugar
3 Tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon coconut manna (coconut butter)
7-10 dried apricots
7-10 dried dates
squeeze of lemon juice
Filling:
1 3/4 cups raw cashews, soaked overnight
1 cup organic boxed pumpkin
1 cup carrot juice
1/4-1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoons lecithin
pinch of salt
Scrapings of one vanilla bean or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup soft coconut manna (coconut butter)
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon, cardamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves)

Instructions

Place all of the crust ingredients into a food processor or blender and pulse until incorporated and crumbly.

In an 8x8 round or square springform pan, press the crust ingredients into an even layer on the bottom.

Place all of the filling ingredients in a blender and blend until completely smooth. Pour into springform pan and shake to remove any air bubbles.

If you are inpatient, like me, you can place this in the freezer for 1-2 hours to allow it to firm up enough to slice. Then transfer to the fridge. Otherwise, place in the fridge overnight. You can freeze the left overs and simply thaw them in the fridge before eating!

Notes

//You could make this entirely raw by using raw pumpkin, kabocha squash, or sweet potato. The pumpkin I used was pre-cooked.

//Always taste the filling before letting it set; adjust the seasonings and add more sweeter if needed.

//Omit lecithin if avoiding soy. You could try sunflower lecithin, though I have never tried it.

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(I’m not sure why my recipe and instructions are centered but I am trying to fix it!)

I wish you a healthy and joyous autumn season! Full of sugar and spice and all things nice….

Renee


Foods you aren’t eating but should: Part II


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You can find part 1 of this nifty list here.  Without further ado, here are more foods (and spices) that you aren’t eating but should.

Beet greens

The beet root itself is a bulb of nutrient bounty but it’s the greens we need to praise.  It has been suggested that the greens have even more nutrients than the root!

Beet greens beat out their turnip and mustard green opponents when it comes to calcium, magnesium, and iron.  The carotenoids lutein and beta-carotene are found in super high amounts in these leafy wonders. Beet greens are also packed with vitamins K, A, and C, copper, potassium, manganese, magnesium, and vitamin B12 (hello vegans!)  In fact, beet greens have been said to provide “unusually comprehensive nourishment” by the folks over at whfoods.com

When washing the greens, do not soak them in cold water because this will leech certain nutrients.  That being said, it IS suggested to boil them because the hot water will draw out any harsh acids that may upset your insides.   

I’m working on a few recipes that feature beet greens so be sure to subscribe in the side bar!

Turmeric

This powerful golden dust from the heavens is amazing stuff.  Its peppery, orange, fragrant flavor makes it an essential curry player.   I add it to so many things; eggs, smoothies, salad dressings, hummus, on smashed sweet potatoes, and on kale chips.  Many people use it simply for the color but there are a lot of benefits behind its curcumin content, which is responsible for that yellowy-orange hue.

Coming from the Curcuma root and hailing from Southeast India, turmeric has been used for centuries for both culinary and medicinal applications.   Turmeric is unique in that it is a significant source of manganese and iron.  There is a volatile oil in turmeric that is shown to act as a powerful anti-inflammatory.  The combination of this oil and the curcumin (the pigment) places turmeric along aside pharmaceuticals used to treat inflammation (Motrin, for example). 

Symptoms of gastrointestinal conditions and rheumatoid arthritis have both been successfully treated with daily turmeric intake, with NO side effects.   Turmeric also keeps your liver happy, may prevent several types of cancers (especially when paired with onions or cauliflower), can help reduce cholesterol, protect your heart, and may even ward off Alzheimer’s!  Curcumin is able to cross the blood brain barrier and may protect against some of the oxidative stress that contributes to Alzheimer’s risk.

My favorite supplier of turmeric, and many other spices and essential oils, is Mountain Rose Herbs (affiliate link!).  

Dates

Not the blind kind… These dates are amazing, come in several varieties, and they might remind you of your grandpa (how sweet).  The date, while it resembles a prune-and keeps you regular- tastes even better and has loads of health benefits.

First of all, dates have a wonderfully sweet caramel taste.  They are pretty ugly but their versatility is limitless.  I eat them on their own and call them candy.  Just be sure to remove the pits first!  To me, the perfect snack is a raw walnut squished together with a gooey medjool date.  Now that’s a pairing I can get down with.

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All varieties of dates are flush with fiber, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, folate, iron, calcium, vitamins A & K….and more!  They are a fantastic pre and post workout snack because they provide you with energy (glucose) before you get your game on and they help replenish glycogen stores to help you recover.  I always add them to smoothies after my sweat sessions. 

Some other benefits of dates include improved heart health, bone health and strength, anemia, and they can even help you nurse the brown bottle flu.

Bok choy

This entire vegetable is edible.  Just steam it lightly, season with some sea salt, lemon juice, (and turmeric!) and you have a side dish.  Done and done.

Bok choy is in the cruciferous family, along with kale, cabbage, and broccoli.  This veg boasts significant amounts of zinc, vitamins K, C, and A, potassium, and folate.  Interestingly, bok choy also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which we must obtain through diet.  All of these nutrients contribute to its ability to act as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.   The sulfur compounds, while they may not help you make any friends, do protect against certain cancers.

 

It seems readers dig this sort of thing so I plan having this series stick around for a while.  Maybe every other week or so.

Get creative!  Search for recipes that use these things, see how many you can use in a week!

Like I said before, these aren’t wacky, exotic ingredients.  You should be able to find them at your local commercial market.  I would love to see what you make with them so let me know in the comments!

 

Renee

Mountain Rose Herbs. A Herbs, Health & Harmony Com


Foods you aren’t eating, but should: part I


 lentils

As years go by, food fads come and go.  Two years ago, acai was touted as the wonder berry, this year kale is king.  It is not that we haven’t known these foods to be beneficial; it just wasn’t until mass media told us so that we decided to try them.   Many of the most beneficial foods go way back to ancient times when humans knew certain foods were good for them but they just weren’t sure why. 

Nature has designed our bodies to thrive and seek nourishment.   It’s our minds that get in the way.   As humans, we have the ability to make connections between food and pleasure; taste and satisfaction.  This is both a blessing and a curse; sometimes our minds override our bodies, leading us astray down the Oreo isle. 

I don’t advocate “diets.”  I am a believer in making healthy eating a lifestyle, while still enjoying the naughty things in moderation.   A lifestyle change begins in small steps.  Below I have listed foods that are often cast aside in favor of the latest “gluten-free cupcake” or “dairy-free, sugar-free, fat-free, snickerdoodle.”  

The foods I have included in this list are nothing new, yet their humble existence is often ignored.  If you experiment and incorporate just a few, even one, of these foods into your arsenal of noms, your body will thank you.

Sauerkraut

Raw, living, fermented foods are your gut’s best friend.  Loaded with healthy microbes and bacteria, foods like sauerkraut help maintain the flora of you inner plumbing.  If kraut isn’t your thing, try kimchi, or even kombucha (just watch the sugar content).

Pumpkin seeds

The raw, shelled variety is commonly known as the pepita.  These little green seeds are loaded with zinc, several forms of vitamin E, phenolic acids, lignans, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, and protein.  Phew.  Need I saw more?

Lentils

Lentils need to be a staple in every kitchen of the budget-conscious.  These are, by far, the most economical sources of nutrition out there (goodbye ramen).  

Lentils are rich in molybdenum (an essential trace mineral that acts as an enzyme catalyst), folate, fiber, copper, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, protein, and more.  Lentils are particularly good for maintaining normal blood sugar levels and lowering bad cholesterol.  They are an excellent source of protein for those who shy away from meat.  With so many varieties (red, green, French, brown, dal), there are limitless ways to prepare these little pebbles of goodness.

TOMS Shoes

Red Cabbage

Green cabbage is fine but red provides a more robust flavor with added health benefits.  It is also another one of the most affordable vegetables, often costing less than a dollar for an entire head.

Raw, steamed, in a healthy slaw (i.e. yogurt based), on sandwiches, fermented (kraut!), as borscht (no way to make that sound sexy), or simply in salad, red cabbage deserves a place in your crisper drawer.  The red variety is loaded with vitamins K, C, and B6, fiber and potassium.  Honestly, there are lots of good things in this vegetable.  The combined properties of all cabbage’s constituents provide antioxidant, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory effects.  

Make sure you slice, chop, or shred your cabbage first and then let it sit for a few minutes. This activates the myrosinase enzymes, which help convert glucosinolates to  isothiocyanates, aka cancer fighters.

Maitake mushrooms

Also known as the “hen-of-the-wood,” this specific variety of mushroom has been shown to not only enhance immunity; it may also inhibit the spread of tumors.  The main component responsible for these benefits is beta-glucan.  According to the American Cancer Society, evidence looks promising that dietary beta-glucan is a cancer-fighting minion.

Maitake shrooms are especially useful in winter when our vitamin D levels tend to decline.  Just 1 cup of diced maitake provides nearly 200% of your daily recommendation!

Swiss chard

This dark leafy green is known for regulating blood sugar.  Swiss chard contains a flavonoid that basically inhibits the enzymatic breakdown of certain carbohydrates into simple sugars, therefore preventing a spike in blood sugar.

Chard stalks come in a variety of colors, each with unique phytonutrients (don’t toss the stalks!).  We all know dark leafy greens are good for us, so why don’t you swap out your spinach and kale for some red or rainbow chard?

Popcorn

Note-I am NOT talking about microwave bag popcorn.  That stuff is…..just….no.  I mean the pop-on-the-stove-in-a-giant-pot method or with the 1980’s air popper, if you prefer.

For a long time, we thought plain old popcorn was just empty carbohydrates and a pointless snack.  Now, researchers have discovered that plain popcorn has MORE concentrated antioxidants than almost any other fruit or vegetable.  The reason is most fruits and vegetables have a high water content, which essentially dilutes the polyphenols and decreases their potency.  Popcorn, on the other hand, has no moisture, thus allowing a higher concentration of polyphenols (especially in the hulls that stick in your teeth!)  Also, popcorn is an excellent source of fiber.

My favorite way to make popcorn is with a teaspoon or two of coconut oil in a large soup pot.  Melt the oil and then pour in enough popcorn kernels to make a single layer on the bottom of the pan.  Over medium heat, put a lid off-center on the pan to allow steam to escape.  Shake periodically until there are 3 seconds between pops.  Done!  Add cinnamon or nutritional yeast with sea salt. Low calorie, nutrient dense, brainless snacking.  Yes.

superfoods

That’s it!  For now.  I will be posting part II soon with more underrated foods so stay tuned!

 

Renee

JuiceBeauty.com

 


Summer Squash and Zucchini au “gratin”


summer squash

As summer comes to an end in the Northern hemisphere, we may find ourselves scavenging for recipes that will use up the rest of summer’s bounty. Especially zucchini.  Anyone who has a garden knows that zucchini is a greedy thing and wants to take over the entire patch.  When it comes to figuring out what to do with the surplus squash, we often think of zucchini bread, stir fries, fritters, giving it to the neighbors….

 I do not have a garden currently but I did manage to easily acquire a few of the bulbous courgettes and decided to try something a little different.  To my delight, it came out surprisingly good and was well received by those in my household.  I made zucchini au gratin.  While the term “gratin” usually eludes to some sort of cheese, egg, and butter custard, I managed to make a vegan version (though I do love cheese).

Now, I’m sure we have all had one of those boxed scalloped potato/potato au gratin casseroles at some holiday.  I don’t know about you but the wallpaper paste consistency and bland flavor left me jaded and swearing off the mush for eternity.  BUT if you have had a real, made-from-scratch-by-a-Frenchman potato au gratin, then you can appreciate the culinary genius of such a homely looking dish.

Oddly enough, it was in Seoul where I was re-introduced to the casserole of Christmas past.  It was at a little gastropub called Brew 3.14 in the Jongno district of the city. It was a 2-man-band kind of place; only having a chef (who was French), and a boss of sorts. We got to watch the chef make the gratin from scratch as we sipped on the first quality beers we had encountered in Korea. It was such a funny little place and so. damn. good.

Inspired by our new French friend, I decided to commit a culinary sacrilege by making a lighter and healthier version of potatoes au gratin.  Possible?  I didn’t think so but this little creation left me pleasantly surprised.

Unlike the traditional sliced white potatoes used in a gratin (or scalloped potatoes) squash has a very low glycemic index, meaning it won’t spike your blood sugar.  It can be sliced in a similar way making for easy assembly.  The real star, though, is the béchamel. The rich, white, creamy , cheesy, buttery goodness of a classic béchamel is hard to replicate but I think I got pretty close.

vegan summer squash gratin

Summer Squash and Zucchini au “gratin”

Preheat oven to 375°F

2-3 medium zucchini and/or summer squash, sliced into rounds (organic!)

¼ cup finely sliced red onion

Béchamel

1.5 cups raw cashews, soaked overnight

1 cups unsweetened, plain flax/almond/etc. milk (or cow’s, if it does not matter to you)

1 bay leaf (optional)

3 fresh parsley sprigs

3 fresh thyme sprigs

1 smashed garlic clove

Sea salt and white pepper (or black pepper)

Fresh nutmeg

1/5 teaspoon curry powder (optional but really rounds out the flavor)

Yield: 6-8 servings or one 8×8 baking dish

Wash and thinly slice squash and red onion.  I used a mandolin.

Blend the soaked cashews in a blender with a little of the soaking water until it becomes creamy.

Stack the bay leaf, parsley, and thyme sprigs together to make a bundle and tie with a bit of butchers twine.

In a small sauce pan over medium heat, heat the milk with the garlic and herb aromatics (the bundle).

Allow to gently warm for about 5 minutes.  Then add the blended cashew cream*.

Stirring occasionally, allow to barely simmer for 15 minutes.

Remove the aromatics and season with salt, white pepper, ground nutmeg, and curry powder (if using).

Assembly

In an empty 8×8 ungreased baking dish, add a few tablespoons of the béchamel.

Create a layer of squash rounds with a bit of onion.  Add about 1/3 cup of béchamel. Continue alternating squash with the béchamel until you reach the top of the dish.  Make sure you have enough béchamel left to cover the top!

Bake on the middle rack for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the top becomes a nice golden brown.

Remove and let cool.

*You can make the sauce thicker with more blended cashews or thinner with more milk.

vegan summer squash gratin

Pair with a delicate side salad and you have the perfect lunch!

The lighting was a little -eh- that day so my photos aren’t the greatest but I didn’t want to wait and posted them anyway.

Renee

100 Percent Pure


Late Summer Tomato Soup


tomato soup

 

I wish I could take soul credit for this brilliant soup but the credit goes to  Deborah Madison, chef and author of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.   This is one of those recipes that is ridiculously easy to throw together while still having a wonderfully acidic, yet balanced, flavor.  

I used some gorgeous heirloom tomatoes that came from a local co-op (I cleaned them out), but any juice, ripe, and fragrant tomatoes will work.  I don’t suggest roma or plum tomatoes, ironically, because they are a bit too “dry.” Prep time is a breeze; just be sure to chop everything to a similar size.  It all gets pureed in the end so who cares what it looks like at first.

The resulting silky soup is so creamy, it’s hard to believe that it is technically vegan! Cooking down the tomatoes not only develops killer flavor, it also makes the phyto-nutrients more available for our bodies to digest.  Most notably, the carotenoid pigment lycopene and vitamin C.  I’ll spare you the nitty gritty about all the benefits of tomatoes.  Just trust me on this one.

Late Summer Tomato Soup

3 Tablespoons olive oil

 1 cup shallots, cubed (3 large or 8-12 tiny)

5 pounds red, juicy tomatoes, rinsed and in chunks (de-seed if you like)

Himalayan salt and fresh pepper

Yield:  about 4-5

Heat olive oil over low heat in a medium sized soup pot. Add shallots and prep tomatoes as they cook.

Add tomato chunks to shallots with 1 teaspoon Himalayan salt and 1/3 to 1/2 cup water. Over medium to low heat, cover and let cook 4 hours.  Don’t rush it!  Stir every now and then.

After 4 hours, remove from heat and carefully blend the soup in two batches in a blender.  Make it creamy. Season with pepper and more salt if necessary.

That’s it!  Top with ribbons of basil and a drizzle of olive oil. Or serve with a dollop of plain yogurt and avocado.

 

tomatoes

 

The key to this recipe is finding good tomatoes.  If you grow your own, great!  Finding juicy, ripe tomatoes at the supermarket can be a challenge but this time of year, your local farmer’s market or co-op should have some beauties. They should be a little soft, fragrant, and feel like they have a thin skin.

I hope you like it as much as I did!

 

Renee