Food Neophobia? Yes, It’s a Thing

When you’re trying to get loved ones to eat your meatless dishes, we all know you have to meet them partway. If one or more of them is a food neophobe, you’ll have to be even more careful and strategic. Food neophobes may decide they don’t like a dish even before they taste it, because they’re automatically averse to any unfamiliar food. But many food neophobes want to eat less meat. If you can find the narrow path to lead him or her to new meatless favorites, you will both have reason to be proud. 

Are You or Someone You Know a Food Neophobe?

Mikey.jpg

If you’re old enough, you might remember Mikey from the Life cereal commercial of 1972. His brother says, “I’m not gonna try it. Let’s get Mikey. Yeah, he won’t eat it. He hates everything!” (Watch the ad). Perhaps you’re not as bad as Mikey, but you like what you like, and you don’t appreciate other people pushing you to try things you’re not interested in.  Or are you on the opposite end with Anthony Bourdain? He’s the Food Network personality who travels the world in quest of culinary adventure, eating ant eggs, sheep testicles, and cobra hearts. Maybe you’re not the ant-egg-eating type, but you like trying a new dish on the menu, you jump at the chance to visit a new restaurant, or you lose hours on the internet picking new recipes to put on your stack.

If you or someone you know is more like Mikey, it may be a case of food neophobia. It’s a real thing, validated by years of research.

For people who are reluctant to try new foods, it’s not just at the moment of tasting that the dislike occurs. Hearing an unfamiliar dish name, reading about unusual ingredients, skimming a description of an untried food, or just looking at a new dish can all elicit a prediction of dislike. (My husband, Doug—a confirmed food neophobe—once said about a soup, “If I ate with a blindfold on, this would be better.”)  It’s often hard to tell whether a food neophobe’s dislike of a dish is because of the taste, or whether it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, a conscious or sub-conscious justification of the pre-tasting judgment. Fortunately, there are things you can do to successfully introduce new ingredients to a food neophobe, and I have some tips below.

Find out if you or someone you know is a food neophobe.

Take the test here (it requires only a few minutes).

Can Food Neophobia be Changed?

Food neophobia appears to be hard-wired in a similar way to personality traits. In one study of female twins, the results suggested that food neophobia is highly heritable: around 67% may be due to genes.  Like personality traits (extraversion, conscientiousness, etc.), food neophobia can be changed, but only to a degree. Increased exposure to new foods can lower the level of one’s food neophobia. But more experience with unfamiliar foods doesn’t completely counterbalance an innate and instinctive aversion to new foods, no more than learning to speak in public turns an introvert into an extravert.

Cooking for a Food Neophobe

If you are someone who is trying to introduce more meatless dishes to your spouse, partner, and/or children, you might have an increased challenge if there’s a food neophobe under your roof. I’ve found the following six strategies to be helpful in planning and serving plant-based dishes to my husband and other family members who fall on the neophobic end of the scale.

Introduce a new food in the context of a familiar dish

For a food neophobe, if there’s anything worse than an unfamiliar ingredient in a meal or dish, it’s an unfamiliar ingredient in an unfamiliar meal or dish. I learned this the hard way with my husband. For example, I first tried Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) in a new recipe: Mexican Pasta Skillet. After Doug roundly rejected it, I thought TVP would never work. But another time I tried TVP as the basis for a “meat” sauce to go on spaghetti, and he gobbled it up. The same thing happened with TVP tacos—no problem. Duh, he already loved spaghetti sauce and tacos, and he’d never had anything like a Mexican pasta dish.

Introduce only one new ingredient at a time

I’ve found the most success when Doug only has to confront one new ingredient at a time. Early on during our vegan dinner experiments, I thought I’d have an easy winner with vegan nachos. I made a “cheesy” vegan sauce from scratch and a taco-beef-like mixture made from meat crumbles. I piled the tortilla chips high and buried them in the taco mixture and cheesy sauce. Doug wanted to like them but couldn’t eat more than a few—too much change at one time for a food neophobe.

Make new food more enticing by serving it with a favorite side dish or sauce

Never underestimate how a favorite condiment or side dish can help a new dish go down. Doug loves mango chutney, sweet chili sauce, and ketchup, so I make sure to highlight the condiment when serving a not-yet-loved dish. Doug’s favorite side dishes work the same way. Roasted asparagus, baked French fries, fresh corn on the cob, and semi-homemade baked beans have all done their part to increase the acceptance of new ventures.

Give choices

Everyone tends to like a dish better if they’ve had a voice in choosing it. When possible, let them decide on broccoli or cauliflower, green or fruit salad, lentil or split pea soup, these leftovers or those tonight? There is a subtle shift of ownership to the person making the decision, and he or she is likely to be more pleased by the meal than otherwise.

Repeat dishes that were acceptable so that they become favorites

I made the mistake early on of trying one new dish after another, without repeating any of the new dishes for months. Sometimes when we had a new dish a second time many months later, Doug rejected it. I eventually figured out that I needed to repeat any new dish that he liked within a month in order to lock it into his memory as safe and tasty.

Don’t say too much about the dish beforehand, and don’t be defensive or preachy

I recommend saying as little as possible about what’s in the new dish unless specifically asked—give it a nickname (“Dad’s New Enchilada Casserole”) instead of a clinical name (“Tofu-Quinoa-Poblano Enchilada Casserole”). You can cite someone’s praise about the taste of dish, or lightly talk about its healthiness, but don’t come on too strong. Perhaps the hardest rule of thumb is accepting the rejection of new dishes by your resident neophobe. It’s so tempting to whine, “But you love peanut butter! This sauce is mostly peanut butter; it’s on top of broccoli and rice, and you like those too!” Reasonable argument, but the neophobe is not responding to food on the basis of reason. I’ve found that no amount of arguing changes my husband’s mind once he’s decided. And the debating can make meal time more fraught with anxiety in the future. Better to calmly note the dislike and move on. Use your energy on figuring out how to win your neophobe over to the next dish.

Keep at it

The keys are persistence, baby steps, and understanding. If you’re cooking for a food neophobe, remember that somewhere deep in their brain is a strong distrust of new food—it’s part of their survival instinct. You can coax them to like new meatless dishes, and when you do, the accomplishment will be all the sweeter.

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Cooking Methods: Indian and Thai Curries

In another post I described the main differences between Indian and Thai curries. In this one, I'm sharing the differences between the preparation methods for each. Thai curries have fewer steps and cook up in less than 30 minutes, including prep. Indian curries, with dried spices instead of fresh herbs and often with more ingredients than Thai curries, usually require simmering time for the spices to reach peak effect and the flavors to blend. 

These preparation methods are not set in stone. You can find many variations. But having perused hundreds of recipes, studied descriptions, and watched videos, I drafted and revised these many times to come up with the clearest and most straightforward approaches I could. I know these work because I've used them a lot. 

Top Efficiency Tips

Here are additional tips that facilitate efficient and successful curry cooking. 

  • Line up your ingredients in the order they’ll be used in the recipe
  • Dried spices
    • For any recipe you’ll repeat a lot, create a large mixture of the dried spices to use now and later
    • Use uniform-size, alphabetized spice containers to avoid going crazy looking for spices
  • Freezing
    • Freeze extra curry, kaffir lime, and thai basil leaves
    • Freeze chopped onion, minced ginger, and minced garlic
    • If you make Thai curry paste from scratch, make extra and freeze
    • Make a curry sauce (e.g., Jamie Oliver’s Cracking Curry Sauce), use what you need with vegetables for a meal or two, then freeze the rest of the sauce for later
  • Use canned tomatoes and chopped frozen spinach instead of fresh unless you have the time and inclination to use fresh

Thai Curry Cooking Method

  1. Prep:  If using baked tofu, cut into cubes or strips. Get other ingredients ready. Create coconut milk sauce by mixing coconut milk with vegetable stock, soy sauce, sugar. Stir until sugar dissolved.
  2. Heat some coconut cream in pan:  take a few Tablespoons of cream from the top of a can of coconut milk and melt it in a large skillet or Dutch oven on medium heat.
  3. Sauté the Thai curry paste: cook about 3 minutes; the paste should start to separate from the oil and sit on top of it.
  4. Add and sauté chopped onion, minced garlic, and ginger until the onion is transparent (5 minutes).
  5. Add in the coconut milk sauce: bring to a boil and simmer for about 5 minutes
  6. Add vegetables, tofu, kaffir lime leaves and Thai basil leaves, cover and cook until just tender (about 8-10 minutes).
  7. Add slivers of red chili pepper, if using.  Boil the mixture one more time (about 2 minutes). 
  8. Remove kaffir lime leaves and serve with jasmine rice with a garnish of fresh cilantro.

Indian Curry Cooking Method

  1. Prep:  Precook main-ingredient vegetables, if needed. Get other ingredients ready.
  2. Heat oil in pan:  warm a Tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven on medium heat. 
  3. Toss in any aromatic seeds, like coriander, cumin, or mustard, until they begin to crackle (1 minute).
  4. Add chopped onion and cook until transparent (5 minutes).
  5. Add minced garlic and ginger and stir for 1-2 minutes.
  6. Add ground spices and stir for 1-2 minutes.
  7. Add any fresh chilies and stir for 1-2 minutes.
  8. Add liquid and your main-ingredient vegetables, proteins, and/or red lentils. Bring to boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook for 20 minutes (depends on recipe).
  9. Add your thickening agent, if using. Add and cook for another 10 minutes or until curry reaches your desired thickness.
  10. Serve with rice and/or Indian bread with a garnish of coriander, crushed nuts, and/or lemon juice. 
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Differences between Indian and Thai Curries

Viva la difference

Many of us love curries of all kinds. But when you stop and focus on the differences between Indian and Thai curries, you realize they're quite different, but in a good way. Some of the differences can influence your meal planning--e.g., Thai curries can be made more quickly than Indian, meaning they might be better when you don't have much time. 

Learn to make both

In another post, I outline the traditional methods for preparing Indian and Thai curry. The methods may feel complicated at first, but once you do them a couple of times, they feel easy and natural. 

Indian curries

  • Dry spices (coriander, turmeric, cumin, cardamom, black mustard, dried chilies, etc.)
  • More like a stew than a soup
  • Simmered longer
  • Served with basmati rice

 

Thai curries

  • Fresh herbs and chilies (lemongrass, galangal, garlic, shallot, kaffir lime leaves, cilantro stems, etc.)
  • More like a soup than a stew (coconut milk)
  • Shorter cooking time
  • Served with jasmine rice

Make some!

Here are two classic curries, Indian Eggplant, Chickpea, and Spinach Curry and Gracious Vegan Green or Red Thai Curry. Enjoy!

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The Food Neophobia Scale

Please see my blog "Yup, Food Neophobia is a Thing" for an introduction to food neophobia and the implications for home cooks trying to get loved ones to eat more meatless meals. 

The Food Neophobia Scale (FNS) was first published with its background and validation evidence in 1992. Since that time it has been used as the standard measure of food neophobia in hundreds of studies. (Pliner, Patricia, and Karen Hobden. "Development of a scale to measure the trait of food neophobia in humans." Appetite 19.2 (1992): 105-120.)

It can be taken and scored in a few minutes. Circle your answer, then add up the corresponding points. (See what your results mean at the bottom of this post.)

1.       I am constantly sampling new and different foods

5  Disagree strongly

4  Disagree moderately

3  Neither agree nor disagree

2  Agree moderately

1  Agree strongly

2.       I don’t trust new foods.

1  Disagree strongly

2  Disagree moderately

3  Neither agree nor disagree

4  Agree moderately

5  Agree strongly

3.       If I don’t know what is in a food, I won’t try it.

1  Disagree strongly

2  Disagree moderately

3  Neither agree nor disagree

4  Agree moderately

5  Agree strongly

4.       I like foods from different countries

5  Disagree strongly

4  Disagree moderately

3  Neither agree nor disagree

2  Agree moderately

1  Agree strongly

5.       Ethnic food looks too weird to eat.

1  Disagree strongly

2  Disagree moderately

3  Neither agree nor disagree

4  Agree moderately

5  Agree strongly

6.       At dinner parties, I will try a new food

5  Disagree strongly

4  Disagree moderately

3  Neither agree nor disagree

2  Agree moderately

1  Agree strongly

7.       I am afraid to eat things I have never had before

1  Disagree strongly

2  Disagree moderately

3  Neither agree nor disagree

4  Agree moderately

5  Agree strongly

8.       I am very particular about the foods I will eat

1  Disagree strongly

2  Disagree moderately

3  Neither agree nor disagree

4  Agree moderately

5  Agree strongly

9.       I will eat almost anything

5  Disagree strongly

4  Disagree moderately

3  Neither agree nor disagree

2  Agree moderately

1  Agree strongly

10.   I like to try new ethnic restaurants.

5  Disagree strongly

4  Disagree moderately

3  Neither agree nor disagree

2  Agree moderately

1  Agree strongly

Your total = _________

More than 20 points means that you are a food neophobe.

20 or fewer points mean you are in the food neophile category.

 

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Amla Powder, Antioxidant Powerhouse

Amla (Indian gooseberry) powder benefits

In a recent test of 3,000 different foods, Indian gooseberries emerged as the number-one antioxidant-rich food -- ahead of goji berries, raisins, acai berries, and anything else you can think of that might be at the top of the rankings. Check out this video for the details.

Anti-inflammatory too

Amla is also anti-inflammatory and, in one study, it reduced and reversed cancer cell growth in vitro. It can help normalize blood sugar levels in diabetes patients, and it’s high in vitamin C. 

Inexpensive and easy to use

And did I mention it’s cheap? I bought a 12-ounce bag of amla powder a month ago for $13 on Amazon, and we use 1 teaspoon a day in smoothies. It has a slightly bitter taste, but that gets counteracted in smoothies or sweet baked dishes like custards or pumpkin pies. For a smoothie with more antioxidants in one serving than most people get in a week, try my "How Not to Die" Pumpkin Smoothie.

You can also buy amla powder in capsule form. 

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7 Things That Happen When You Stop Eating Meat

Benefits of Reducing Your Meat Intake

The research is piling up about the benefits of eating plant-based dishes instead of meat. 

This article by a board-certified physician and assistant professor of medicine at New York University says it all. Here are the seven things that happen.

  • You’ll reduce inflammation in your body.
  • Your blood cholesterol levels will plummet.
  • You’ll give your microbiome a makeover.
  • You’ll change how your genes work.
  • You’ll dramatically reduce your chances of getting type 2 diabetes.
  • You’ll get the right amount—and the right type—of protein.
  • You’ll make a huge impact on the health of our planet and its inhabitants.

See full article with links to the journal articles that support these findings. 

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Best Way to Cook Broccoli

Hack and Hold Technique

Photo by Russ Walker on flickr

Photo by Russ Walker on flickr

It’s pretty common knowledge that broccoli is incredibly good for you (immune system, brain, eyes, cancer-prevention and treatment). But I didn’t know till now that if you cut up your broccoli then immediately cook it, you destroy an enzyme that enables the powerful nutrient sulforaphane to do its work. Best to “hack and hold” if possible—cut it up at least 40 minutes before cooking. More by Dr. Greger of Nutritionfacts.org here.

Recipes with Broccoli

Entrees

Sides

Soups

 

 

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Myths about Protein Combining

About 40 years ago, someone came up with the theory that plant-based proteins were incomplete and that vegetarians had to eat “complementary proteins” during the same meal, for example, rice and beans, or tofu and sesame seeds. This fallacy was refuted decades ago, but the myth persists.

It turns out our body maintains pools of free amino acids that it can use to do all the complementing for us. Some 90 grams of protein are dumped into the digestive tract every day from our own body to get broken back down and reassembled, and so our body can mix and match amino acids to whatever proportions we need.

Plant-based eaters do not need to be concerned about amino acid imbalances from plant proteins. For more information, see this video on Nutritionfacts.org.

 

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Clean Eating

Recommit to good food

The new year is when we make up for the indulgences of November and December. Even vegans can overdo it, with so many tempting plant-based ice creams, chocolate bars, and cheeses. A new commitment to whole-food, unprocessed dishes seems in order. But a person can’t live on raw broccoli and hummus alone.

Whole-food unprocessed ingredients

As part of my tagging system, I categorize all recipes on my site by nutritional profile. Below, I’ve listed the recipes that get full marks for using only whole-food, unprocessed ingredients, including no oil. I’m particularly proud of having tested many no-oil salad dressings, although I only found two that I consider worth of posting—tahini and green goddess.

Not even olive oil

For about a year now I’ve decreased the amount of oil I use in recipes, doing away with it altogether if possible. Some recipes call for oil to sauté chopped onions or other aromatics when starting the dish. When I use these recipes, I either water-sauté or microwave the aromatics with a little water. I don’t notice the difference in taste, and I know it’s better for me. All oil, even olive oil, is 100% fat calories, can raise your cholesterol, and can cause arterial damage. For expert conclusions about oil, see here.  

Whole-food unprocessed dishes can be incredibly delicious. I hope you’ll try some of these recipes!

Appetizers

Breakfast

Entrees

Salads

Sandwiches

Soups

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Invaluable Vegan Food: Hummus

Is Hummus Good for You?

This simple Middle Eastern dip of chickpeas, tahini (ground sesame seeds), olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and salt is super-good for you as well as filling and tasty. The chickpeas and tahini offer protein and fiber that are essential for optimum health (a 1/4 cup serving gives you about 1/10th of daily protein requirements and 1/8th of daily fiber requirements).

Hummus Ideas

Hummus is a great substitute for cream cheese on a bagel, for mayonnaise on a sandwich, with cut-up vegetables in the middle of the day when a craving sets in, or with Spiced Tortilla Crisps for an appetizer.

Gracious Vegan Brunch Tater Tot Casserole

Quinoa Veggie Wraps

Skinny Vegan Lasagna

Hummus Recipes

You can buy hummus anywhere, but I love homemade. My favorite recipe is from the New York Times and takes some time (though mostly waiting time); a quicker and very good recipe comes from Inspired Taste

 

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Bad for Me, Why? Fish Contain Metals and Toxins

Industrial pollutants in seawater accumulate in fish, and those elements are passed along to humans who eat them. Eating fish means ingesting chemicals and metals such as mercury, dioxins, neurotoxins, arsenic, DDT, putrescine, AGE’s, PCB’s, PDBE’s, alkylphenol endocrine disruptors, and even prescription drugs that end up in rivers and streams. Eating organic fish may not significantly lower one’s exposure. For more information, see the article on fish on Nutritionfacts.org. 

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Invaluable Vegan Ingredient: Cashews

Cashews as Substitute for Cream and Cream Cheese

If you haven’t tried using cashews as a substitute for cream, you’re missing out on a healthy, tasty substitute. “Cashew cream” took the plant-based cooking world by storm about a decade ago and is still a fantastic way to please the palate while foregoing unhealthy dairy fat. Cashews can also substitute for cream cheese in dishes like Chili Rellenos, artichoke-spinach dip, and even cheesecake.

Cashew Cream Recipes

Here are some of the cashew-based recipes or links available on the site:

Gracious Vegan Creamy Tomato Sauce

Creamy Roasted Tomato Vodka Sauce

Creamy Artichoke Spinach Dip

Cashew Cheese Chili Rellenos

Vegan Penne Pasta Casserole

7 Ingredient Vegan Cheesecake

Cashew milk (Silk brand) is also a great substitute for cow's milk—it’s what got my husband off dairy. It’s thicker than most non-dairy milks. “Original” Silk cashew milk has only 25 calories a cup. We like So Delicious brand: 40 calories a cup and thicker.

 

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Myths about the Expense of Plant-Based Diets

Fake meats get a lot of headlines (like the beet burger that “bleeds”), and some people depend on meat substitutes to stick to a plant-based diet. Then there are the expensive health foods like wheatgrass, goji berries, and chlorella. They'll always be there for those who can afford them.

But you don’t have to rely on meat substitutes or exotic fancy foods. To get all the benefits of vegetarianism and veganism, you can stick with inexpensive whole foods like rice, lentils, beans, pasta, nuts, fruits, and vegetables, with occasional use of more expensive things like quinoa, tempeh, and seitan. You’ll feel better and actually save money over a diet based on animal products. 

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Invaluable Vegan Ingredient: Lentils

Lentils are one of the fastest cooking legumes (they’re tender in 20-25 minutes), they go well with lots of other foods, and they're super-healthy. Lentils are an excellent source of fiber, protein, iron, zinc, antioxidants, and folate. A diet rich in lentils and other legumes may help reduce cholesterol, hypertension, and the risk of prediabetes.

Check out these recipe recommendations for delicious lentil recipes.

 

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Myths about Heart Disease

In his video Eliminating 90% of Heart Disease Risk, Dr. Michael Greger summarizes a major study on heart disease that once and for all breaks through the myths—myths that heart disease is a common consequence of aging, or that many people are genetically disposed to conditions that lead to heart disease. Including old and young subjects in all areas of the world, the study demonstrated that nine potentially modifiable factors like diet, exercise and smoking accounted for over 90% of the proportion of the risk of having a heart attack. 

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Invaluable Vegan Ingredient: Flaxseed Meal

Flaxseed meal is more of a silent partner than a big bold star in vegan cooking. It’s one of the most commonly recommended vegan egg substitutes in baking, because if you mix flaxseed meal (1 Tablespoon) and water (3 Tablespoons) and let it sit a few minutes, the mixture takes on the viscous consistency of an egg. You can also add a tablespoon of flaxseed meal to smoothies or oatmeal, or more than that to soups. Flaxseed meal occasionally takes a leading role: have a look at these Flax Peanut Butter Crispy Bars

The reason to find ways to eat flaxseed meal is that it’s so nutritious. This WebMD article tells you more. The fiber, antioxidants, and Omega-3 fatty acids are just some of the great nutrients in flaxseed meal. 

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Bad for Me, Why? Chicken Contributes to Weight Gain

In several recent studies, different groups ate the same foods except for the amounts of meat. Even controlling for equal calories, the more meat a person ate, the more weight they gained. Those who ate 1.5 servings or more of meat a day crossed the threshold of a BMI of 25 to become officially classified as overweight. 

A new study found that chicken consumption in particular was most associated with weight gain in both men and women. Even those who ate the equivalent of a single chicken breast once every two weeks (compared to those who didn’t eat any chicken at all), had a significantly greater increase in their body mass index. That’s around one chicken nugget per day. See more on Poultry and Weight Gain here

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Invaluable Vegan Ingredient: Tahini

Tahini is a thick sauce made from toasted, hulled, ground sesame seeds. Sesame seeds are very nutritious, providing phytonutrients such as omega-6 fatty acids, flavonoid phenolic anti-oxidants, vitamins, and dietary fiber.

  • Those of us who love falafel know “tahini sauce”; it’s a mixture of tahini paste, lemon juice, garlic, and water. 
  • My favorite oil-free salad dressing is Gracious Vegan Oil-Free Tahini Dressing, where the tahini provides a creaminess that’s similar to ranch dressing.
  • Tahini is also a star in many dips, such as Real Simple's Red Pepper, Walnut, and Tahini Dip

 

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Menu Ideas: Pesto in Main Dishes and Sandwiches

I gave a workshop on vegan pesto for NW Veg recently and made suggestions for ways to use pesto various dishes, especially appetizers, side dishes, sandwiches, and main dishes. I shared my recipes for Gracious Vegan Basil Pesto and Gracious Vegan Kale Pesto as well as two others that I will post to the site soon. Here are my suggestions for using pesto in sandwiches and main dishes.

  • Spread pesto on bread as part of a sandwich (mix with mayo, optional)
  • Use pesto as sauce for pizza
  • Toss pesto with hot pasta
  • Toss pesto with zoodles (spiralized zucchini, lightly cooked in a skillet with a little oil or water)
  • Spread pesto on broiled tofu
  • Swirl pesto into soups (like minestrone, white bean, or potato)
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Invaluable Vegan Ingredient: Vegetable Broth Powder

I cook a lot of soups—I love homemade soups. But I don’t have time to make homemade vegetable broth. The prices of canned and packaged broth put me off, because I use so much. What works for me is powdered broth. I use Seitenbacher’s Vegetable Broth and Seasoning, which is easy to buy on Amazon (I recently bought a six-pack). It seems expensive when you first buy it (over $4 for a 5-ounce can), but, at one teaspoon per cup for making broth, it lasts a long time. 

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