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What is Tahini?

Tahini 16x9.jpg

Tahini is a thick paste made from hulled, ground sesame seeds. Sometimes the seed kernels have been lightly roasted, and sometimes they are left raw.

How tahini is made

Sesame seeds are soaked in water and then crushed to separate the outer skin from the kernels. The crushed mixture is then soaked in salt water, causing the outer skins to sink. The floating kernels are skimmed off the surface, toasted (or left raw), and ground to produce a paste. 

Because of tahini's high oil content, many manufacturers recommend refrigeration after opening to prevent it from spoiling.

Uses of tahini in plant-based cooking

Tahini is exceptionally versatile because it doesn’t have a domineering or cutting flavor, it blends well with many textures, and it lends creaminess to dishes. The best known food containing tahini is hummus, where cooked garbanzo beans are mashed with tahini, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and sometimes additional spices or ingredients. Babaganoush is another well-known dip that includes tahini, along with roasted, smoky mashed eggplant. 

Those of us who love falafel are very familiar with tahini sauce. It’s a mixture of tahini paste, lemon juice, garlic, and water. This sauce goes with many foods besides falafel: cooked vegetables, grains, and many kinds of savory fritters or burgers. 

Tahini serves well in the marinade for Baked Tofu, also as a binding ingredients in No-Oil Basil Pesto. For a no-oil approach to grilled sandwiches, you can spread a very thin layer of tahini on the bread instead of butter. 

Tahini can be the basis of delicious and creamy oil-free salad dressings, including Green Goddess Garlic Dressing, Gracious Vegan Mexican Salad with Creamy Lime-Cumin Dressing, Spinach Salad with Curry Dressing, and Gracious Vegan Oil-Free Tahini Dressing.

Nutritional Benefits 

Sesame seeds are very nutritious, providing dietary fiber, lignans, antioxidants, and Vitamin B1, among other things. Lignans have been shown to have a cholesterol-lowering effect in humans, as well as help prevent high blood pressure.

Raw or toasted?

I usually use the toasted kind of tahini, because it’s available more places, is less expensive, and tastes better to me. But some people swear by the raw stuff.

Where to find tahini

Tahini is available in many sizes, in glass or plastic containers, in most grocery stores, usually near the peanut butter or in the “ethnic food” aisle. There are many brands. It’s also available online. 

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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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Health Benefits of Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes get major points for nutrition (not to mention taste and ease of preparation). They are an excellent source of three major vitamins (Vitamins B6, C, and D) as well as iron, magnesium, and potassium. Their natural sugars release slowly rather than causing blood-sugar spikes. They’re also high in carotenoids like beta carotene, which are important for eye and skin health and associated with lower risk of cancer. (This is where they differ most with yams, which have lower levels of carotenoids.) The dietary fiber provided by one serving is approximately the same as oatmeal. Unless you slather them in marshmallows or too much brown sugar, the more sweet potatoes, the better. 

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Help! A Vegan is coming to Thanksgiving! 7 Easy Ways to Give Them Enough to Eat

When you agreed to let your son invite his girlfriend to Thanksgiving, who knew she was a vegan? Good thing you asked in time. Or maybe someone new is coming who has a dairy or egg allergy. Yeah, just about every traditional dish has eggs or dairy in it. Thanksgiving’s hard enough without having to make a bunch of separate dishes for the rabbit-food types.  

First, let’s level the playing field. If you aren’t sure what vegans eat and don’t eat, go to this site for a quick overview.

Second, let’s address the elephant in the room, or should I say the Tofurky in the room? I’ve been a vegetarian-then-vegan for 35 years and have never bought or eaten a TofurkyÒ Roast. It may be exactly right for some folks, but I prefer homemade fare, so don’t assume you have to go there.

Here are seven ways you can accommodate your vegan without spending a lot of extra hours on special dishes.

1.       Buy a pound of vegan butter (the most widely available brand is Earth Balance). Buy the four-bar pack instead of the spread, then you can use it in recipes (see suggestions below), and the vegan can use it like butter for spreading on rolls and melting on potatoes or other vegetables.  Earth Balance is available in most large grocery stores and it tastes better than you might imagine—don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

2.       Buy some non-dairy milk.  Most vegans like all varieties—soy, almond, rice, or cashew milk. Make sure it’s unsweetened so you can use it in recipes. Plus your guest can add it to coffee or tea over dessert.

 3.       Serve as many “accidentally vegan” foods as you can. Cranberry sauce is vegan, both the canned variety and homemade. Applesauce and green salad (with a non-dairy dressing) are vegan. Would you believe that Pillsbury Crescent Rolls are vegan? Yup. Homemade rolls usually contain eggs, butter and milk. You can either make a batch of Pillsbury rolls for your vegan or buy a nice baguette.

4.      Create vegan side dishes that everyone will likely enjoy. While some beloved Thanksgiving side dishes are not vegan, including Green Bean Casserole and Sweet Potato Casserole with Marshmallows, many excellent side dishes are vegan. Here are some suggestions for side dishes that are quick, easy, and have no “odd” ingredients. (In case you’re wondering, Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup contains milk, and marshmallows contain gelatin, which comes from animal skin and bones.)

  • Green Beans Almandine: just a fancy name for green beans topped with vegan margarine and sliced almonds.
  • Baked Sweet Potatoes: delicious with margarine, salt and pepper. Just wash, dry, and pierce the potatoes with a fork. Bake in a 375° oven for about 90 minutes, until soft.
  • Candied Yams: You can substitute vegan margarine for the butter and you’ll have vegan candied yams.
  • Roasted cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, or butternut squash: Roasting vegetables is easy. Wash and cut them into bite-size pieces, toss in olive oil (1 tablespoon per pound of vegetables) and salt, then bake at 425° for about 30 minutes. 
  • Other side dish recipes from the Gracious Vegan.

5.       Consider veganizing your mashed potatoes and/or bread stuffing. You can substitute vegan margarine and non-dairy milk for the butter and cow’s milk in your mashed potatoes recipe. These substitutes work really well, and I’d be surprised if any of the omnivores noticed the difference. If you cook your bread stuffing “in the bird,” the vegan can’t eat it. But it’s easy to make all or part of your stuffing in a baking dish. Just use vegan margarine instead of butter, and leave out the eggs if they’re called for (add a little extra liquid instead). If you want to go all-out, your vegan would love some gravy. High-end grocery stores might offer store-made mushroom gravy around Thanksgiving. There are also a number of dry mixes you can quickly whip up into decent vegan gravy, like Hain, Simply Organic, and Road’s End. You can order the packets online or find them in health food stores or organic sections.

6.       Don’t worry about a turkey substitute. If you provide your vegan with all or most of the foods mentioned so far, don’t worry that there’s no main dish for him or her. They won’t miss a turkey substitute, and, since they won’t experience the post-dinner turkey coma, the vegan can do the dishes for you.

7.       Make an easy vegan dessert. There are many vegan desserts that would be delicious, but if you need something fast, I recommend chocolate or fruit. You won’t believe how delicious silken tofu chocolate mousse is (here’s Nasoya’s Tofu Chocolate Mousse recipe). An easy fruit dessert is baked apples/pears or apple/pear crisp—just use vegan butter instead of dairy butter in your favorite recipe. Most grocery stores (Trader Joe's is great) sell one or more brands of vegan ice cream—for topping off the fruit dessert—just sayin’. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to veganize pumpkin pie.

Other desserts recommended by the Gracious Vegan.

If you accommodate your vegan in all or most of these ways, you will be making that person very happy. Despite the militant stereotype, most vegans are incredibly grateful for any and all accommodations at special meals. And the reward for you? You’ll have a great Thanksgiving story for future holidays: “The Year the Vegan Came to Dinner.”

 

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Printable Guide: "How the Dozen Largest Chain Restaurants Rate on Plant-Based Options"

As discussed in my earlier post, I've researched all twelve of the largest chain restaurants in the U.S. and identified their plant-based offerings. Most of them have very little to choose from and should be avoided if you want a satisfying meal. But you can be the judge.

Click here for the printable .pdf guide. 

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The Sad State of Plant-Based Eating at Big Chain Restaurants

Trying to eat meatless at travel plazas...good luck

I recently drove across the country to move from New Jersey to Oregon. My biggest worry was my cat, who, after making some valiant attempts at escape, resigned herself each day to a cramped, half-sleep mode in her carrier. But my major annoyance came from the food options on Interstate 80. Major chain restaurants dominate the travel plazas, often with abbreviated menus--not that it would have helped to have the entire menu when you're looking for plant-based foods. Let's just say that in some of the "I" states, I had to piece together uninspiring bread, limp chopped vegetables, and nasty bottled salad dressing to put something in my stomach. I was so happy to get to a kitchen in Oregon so I could cook for myself.

Marketing, food science and convenience conceal the dangers

The fast food industry offers very inexpensive food all hours of the day, ready within minutes of your order, and usually with a smile. The convenience is hard to resist. Their food scientists create alluring tastes, textures and aromas that mask the dangers lurking beneath. The millions of dollars the companies spend on marketing has help embed their brands in our psyches, to the point that in one study with preschoolers, most of the children liked foods more if they were told the foods were from McDonald’s. The companies may call their food "happy meals," but most of what they offer presents a major risk to the health of this country. For a summary of what, exactly, is in chicken nuggets, see here, and for what's in fast-food burgers, see here.

Top dozen chain restaurants's plant-based offerings are abysmal, except for two of them

After my drive across country, I switched into research mode and found out which chains were the largest and what each one offered. My first pass covered the twelve largest chain restaurants, starting with McDonalds, which took in over $35 billion over the last year, far ahead of the next highest, Starbucks, at $13 billion. The two places that came out best in the top-grossing dozen were Panera and Taco Bell. You can actually get a decent plant-based entree or two at these places, although they don't offer near the selection of plant-based options as they do for animal-product options. The other ten chains are pretty hopeless, with McDonald's earning a special badge of shame because they are so massive and offer such a pathetic choice of plant-based dishes. You really can't call them "dishes"--more like "accessory foods": oatmeal (no milk or cream), apple slices, a side salad, and a plain bagel.

Supply and demand--it's our choice

These restaurants will change only if people stop going to them and/or demand plant-based options (they all have ways to contact them from their websites). As author and professor Michael Pollan has said many times, "The wonderful thing about food is you get three votes a day." We all need to think carefully about our votes every day. 

For a copy of the short guide to the top dozen chain restaurants, see here

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Your Resolution to Eat Less Meat

After a long day of work, you’re famished. You walk into the kitchen.  Yes, you should have stocked the fridge with healthy snacks like you read about, but you didn’t, and now you’re stuffing your face with something that's bad for you.

What about dinner? You’re so hungry, you want to go with take-out, but you know too much of that gets expensive and unhealthy. You decide to cook. You’re trying to cut down on meat, but almost all the recipes you know start with chicken or beef as the main ingredient. What’s in the middle of the plate if you don’t eat meat?

You can do this. And it’s worth it, for your health and your family’s. Your instinct about cutting down on animal products is right. There’s more and more evidence that meat, eggs, and dairy are major contributors to chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and others. (For some reading materials on the health dangers of meat, eggs, and dairy, see here. For documentaries and videos, see here.)

It’s just going to take some planning, adjustment, and time for meatless cooking to become as second-nature as meat-centered cooking is now, but you can do it. Here are my top tips for making progress on taking the meat out of dinner.

Top Tips

Cut down gradually. Don’t revamp your dinners all at once. Try new recipes once or twice a week and treat them as experiments. This is a marathon, not a sprint. See my collection of recipes chosen carefully from hundreds of websites and tested to make sure they’re tasty and reasonably quick.

Be good humored if you meet resistance. Some family members may voice displeasure with the new dishes, or the idea of going meatless in the first place. I recommend avoiding arguments or long explanations about the benefits. Just be breezy about it, telling them you’re experimenting with new recipes that are healthier. If you think they’re willing, have them watch one or more of the documentaries or videos about the connections between diet and disease. Deep down most adults realize that meat and dairy aren’t very good for them, but they may not be ready to say that.

Don’t immediately use tofu, tempeh, seitan, or other meat substitutes. I’ve seen many family members turned off by these ingredients, especially at first. There are plenty of recipes (like the ones in my collection) that don’t call for these ingredients. On the other hand, some new products, like Beyond Meat, have become popular. They have several different beef and chicken varieties and might be worth a try if you can find them.

Supplement entrees with side dishes and salads. To avoid complaints that the new dishes aren’t filling enough, make one, maybe two, easy side dishes that will fill out a hearty meal.  

Please comment below, ask questions, or send me an email to let me know how it’s going. Keep up your spirits. If you’re like most of us, you grew up in a household where dinner centered on meat. You inherited family recipes whose main ingredient was meat. Websites and magazines churn out hundreds of new recipes every day featuring meat as the main ingredient. It isn’t easy to un-do all that. Don't give yourself a guilt trip, and do this gradually but consistently. Best of luck!

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Read! Best Websites and Books on Diet and Health

If you love to read--either books, articles, or websites--this is the essential list for you to choose from.

The case for giving up meat, eggs, and dairy is made in different ways and through different lenses in these books. Some of the doctors personally led cohorts of patients through plant-based regimens with incredible results. Others are voracious readers of medical journals and summarize the results of research studies, laying out the implications for food choices we all have to make. The book at the end of the book list, Skinny Bitch, is a bit lighter, using  a tongue-in-cheek self-help approach to deliver its message, but is still based in science. 

Books 

  • How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease by Dr. Michael Greger

    • An examination of the 15 top causes of premature death in the U.S. and how nutritional and lifestyle interventions can help and prevent them; based on peer-reviewed medical research articles but told in an accessible and lively way

  • The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted And the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, And Long-term Health by Dr. T. Colin Campbell

    • An informative summary of a 20-year research study that was one of the earliest to provide solid evidence about the link between diet and health.

  • Food for Life: How the New Four Food Groups Can Save Your Life by Dr. Neal Barnard

    • A case for how grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits can dramatically decrease the risk of cancer and heart disease

  • Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically-Proven, and Nutrition-Based Cure by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn

    • Chronicle of how a medical doctor helped his patients with a program of plant-based, oil-free foods that in many cases reversed the progression of heart disease

  • The McDougall Program for Maximum Weight Loss by Dr. John A. McDougall

    • Many people call this the best book for those who are looking to lose weight with a plant-based diet; Dr. McDougall is a rock star among plant-based advocates

    • You may also want to check out Doug Lisle and Alan Goldhamer's The Pleasure Trap, which offers a compelling argument for why humans are so susceptible to dietary and lifestyle excesses, and offers ways to re-set your body's expectations for foods that will keep you healthy

  • Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin

    • An advice book for women told in a hilarious style; it connects all the dots about a plant-based diet even as it entertains

Websites

  • The site Nutritionfacts.org, created and led by a medical doctor--Dr. Michael Greger, who wrote the book How Not to Die recommended above--this site offers free daily videos and articles summarizing the latest science-based nutrition research.

  • The site www.pcrm.org reflects the work of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and offers many excellent resources for people changing their diet toward less meat, eggs, and dairy; it has an especially helpful section on Type 2 diabetes.

  • Dr. Dean Ornish's site, ornishspectrum.com, provides many resources, research summaries, stories about patients who followed his program, recipes, and cooking demonstrations.

There are many other sites to choose from. I didn't include those that are sales-oriented, i.e., they withhold important information so that people will buy their book or sign up for their program. And I've focused on sites that base their work on research conducted by nutritional scientists and published in peer-reviewed journals. 

More 

If you want more information on additional books and websites, check out these recommendations.

http://susanpitcairn.com/blog/86542/why-and-how-to-go-vegan-best-videos-and-books

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Watch! Best Documentaries and Videos on Diet and Health

Humans are wired for visual stimulus. In John Medina’s book Brain Rules, his Rule #10 is “Vision trumps all other senses.” He reviews studies that have shown that vision is by far our most dominant sense (it takes up half our brain’s resources). We learn and recall best if we’ve seen an image about something, not read about or heard it.

Many people have told me that a documentary or video dramatically changed their thinking about what they ate and solidified their decision to decrease meat, egg, and dairy intake. My sister-in-law had this experience. After watching a few videos (all of which are on this list), she plunged into a decision she’d been contemplating for a while: to cook vegetarian for her husband and herself. For many people, watching a case being made is what finally flips the switch. New information—visually presented—is powerful.

There are a lot of documentaries and online videos that cover the importance of diet to a person’s health and how the standard American diet increases the risk and severity of many chronic diseases. The documentaries and videos recommended here all conclude, in their own way, that a plant-based diet is superior to others. If that is the direction you are leaning in your thinking about what you eat, these resources will be helpful to you.  

For documentaries, I've listed streaming services that carry each one. For online videos, I've embedded the link in the name of the video. 

I hope you find these resources as helpful as I have. 

Documentaries 

  • Forks Over Knives, Netflix

    • An excellent overview of the connection between chronic disease and the standard American diet

  • Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, and Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead 2, Netflix

    • One man's journey to regain his health through a drastic change in the way he ate--he tells the story while on a road trip across the U.S.

  • PlanEat, Amazon Prime

    • In-depth interviews with three experts who became convinced that a plant-based diet is superior to all alternatives: a professor of nutrition, an environmental scientist, and a gourmet chef

  • Vegucated, Netflix

    • An honest look at three average New Yorkers who were selected to try a plant-based diet; we see how they responded to the evidence, what they ate, the effects on their health, the social and familial complications, and whether they stuck to it (short- and long-term)

  • Food Matters, Netflix, Amazon Prime

    • An examination of how what we eat affects our health through interviews with a number of doctors, nutritionists, and other professionals

  • The Engine 2 Kitchen Rescue, Netflix

    • The story of two families that make the switch to a plant-based diet with the assistance of Rip Esselstyn, an expert in plants-based eating

Videos

Get a cup of coffee or tea and begin watching. There are some awesome choices online.

  • Nutritionfacts.org is a comprehensive site of thousands of short videos on hundreds of nutrition topics. Dr. Michael Greger has been summarizing and explaining nutritional science for years, and he's exceptionally good at it. If there's been a scientific study on a topic, you'll find it here. His videos are informative, entertaining, and succinct.

    • Dr. Greger's videos are also available on DVD's, sent free to anyone who donates $25 or more per month to the non-profit organization that supports the site (see here); or they can be bought separately (see here).

  • If you like TED talks, see some good choices here: Must-Watch TED Talks On The Power of Eating Plant-Based

  • Dr. Joel Fuhrman is a well-known nutritional expert and has guided many people to better health. In this YouTube video you'll get an overview of his system. Dr. Joel Fuhrman: 3 Steps To Incredible Health — Eating Healthy to Achieve a Great Vital Life

  • Dr. Neal Barnard is a leader among medical doctors who support plant-based eating for preventing and reversing chronic diseases. This YouTube video is a good overview of his outlook: Foods for Protecting the Body & Mind: Dr. Neal Barnard

More

If you want more information on more documentaries and videos, check out these recommendations.

http://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-food/10-best-food-and-health-documentaries/

http://essentialvegan.blogspot.com/p/films.html

http://susanpitcairn.com/blog/86542/why-and-how-to-go-vegan-best-videos-and-books

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First Week of Eating Vegan

You’ve decided to decrease your meat, eggs, and dairy. Great!  You’re in good company—with celebs Ellen DeGeneres, Christie Brinkley, Michelle Pfeiffer, and 3+ million other Americans—making a strong commitment to life, health and the environment.

So, um, what are you going to eat later today … and tomorrow… and the day after that?

I have a suggestion that will keep it simple for the first week (or two or three—whatever) as you more deeply explore meatless, egg-less, and dairy-free eating. 

Create a Go-To List

My suggestion is to create a go-to list of foods you already like that happen to be plant-based. You can use this list when you’re racking your brain over what to eat—when it seems like there’s nothing you can choose from. Meatless eating will become easy and second-nature after you get the hang of it, but a list can help at the beginning so you eat tasty, satisfying food when you start.

In my opinion the go-to list shouldn’t exceed about 20 items—any longer and it might become cumbersome.

I’ve provided some examples below. You’ll need to create a list that works for you. I recommend carrying the list with you on your phone or a piece of paper. It will come in handy.

Check out recipes and menus on this site for more ideas. I’ll be adding ideas for additional quick breakfasts, lunches and dinners. We don’t want to get too fancy the first week or two. Keep it simple, keep at it, and give it time to become your way of life.

Best of luck as you embark on your new path.  Please enter any questions you have in the Comments section and I will answer them. 

Breakfast

  • Oatmeal or cereal with non-dairy milk

  • Toast with jam and/or Earth Balance vegan margarine

  • Toast with hot baked beans (Heinz and others sell vegetarian versions)

  • Smoothie with non-dairy milk and silken tofu instead of milk and yogurt

  • Power bars: NuGo bars, Clif, Simply Protein, Go Macro Macrobar, ProBar Meal, Larabars

Lunch

  • Falafel

  • Hummus sandwich (add lettuce, tomato, onion, oil & vinegar; add roasted peppers or sun-dried tomatoes, etc.)

  • Peanut butter sandwich (add jelly; add vegan mayonnaise and pickle or tomato)

  • Tapenade (olive spread) sandwich (add roasted red pepper and basil; add marinated artichoke hearts and roasted sunflower seeds; add hummus and greens)

  • Minestrone soup

  • Black bean soup

  • Gazpacho

Dinner

  • Vegan chili

  • Bean & rice tacos, tostadas, or burritos with guacamole instead of cheese or sour cream

  • Pasta with marinara sauce (add eggplant)

  • Thai vegetable curries

  • Indian vegetable curries (ask them to use oil instead of ghee)

  • Chinese vegetable stir-fries, lo meins, moo shu, or fried rice (some restaurants add eggs, so be sure eggs are left out)

Snacks  

  • Carrots, apples, celery, hummus, fruit, nuts, trail mix, crackers, popcorn (no butter), rice cakes

Sweets

  • Fruit, sorbet, Oreos (yes!), Taco Bell Cinnamon Twists, dark chocolate, Nutter Butter Cookies

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