Thursday, March 4, 2010

African Peanut stew & a little soap box....

As is so often the case in life my professional and personal lives overlapped in tonight's dinner. My students are currently learning about the music from the continent of Africa. Dinner to night was an African Peanut Stew. Both of these things, dinner and music class illustrate a key problem we have in public perception. Africa is a CONTINENT full of many different countries and cultures. So to call something African is about as definitive as to call something European.... it doesn't really define the culture that it is from nor (since Africa is so large) does it really even pinpoint a region. Is it from Egypt? Ethiopia? South Africa? Nigeria??

Before you assume that I am going ballistic over something as simple as the name of a stew, please understand that I see this as symptomatic of a larger problem. We (and I am including myself in this) simply lack knowledge about the vast continent of Africa. Perhaps this is due to the way Africa is portrayed in the media, educational bias, or lack of exposure. However, once we are aware of such a vast hole in our knowledge; the appropriate thing to do (in my humble opinion) is not to sit back and be content in our ignorance but to work to correct it. So I am learning new information about Africa along with my students this month.

And I hope to share some of that (the food stuff) with you! So for your information and possible enlightenment, here we go! Nearly every vegan cookbook worth it's salt has a version of an African Peanut Stew which is made with veggies (such as Yams) and peanuts.

Yams (often replaced with sweet potatoes) are common throughout West and Central Africa. In Nigeria (according to one of my kiddie books) they are commonly served fried as a snack.

Peanuts are also common throughout Western Africa and are the main crop of Senegal. In fact though, it seems peanuts were not native to Africa or North America. The versatile peanut was first brought to Africa by Portuguese Travelers from South America.

(FYI: If you want more information about African food crops, this website is incredibly informational!)

Where did the "African" stew actually originate though? Is there really such a thing? Or is it a North American creation based on African ingredients? Well.... that's an interesting question. It seems that many of the West African Countries have some sort of Peanut Stew tradition: Senegal, Nigeria & Ghana just to name a few. My recipe seems to be most similar to the Senegalese version. So I think that the name could be more specifically West African Peanut Stew OR Senegalese Peanut Stew. Take your pick. (If I am wrong and you know differently, I am happy to hear about your experiences.)

This was a lot of talking, when you probably just wanted a recipe.... So I will now put away my soapbox and pull out my oven mitts!

West African/ Senegalese Peanut Stew


1TBS oil

1 Large onion, chopped

5 garlic cloves, minced

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 inch of ginger, finely chopped

1 heaping tsp cinnamon

2 heaping tsp cumin

1 tsp tsp coriander

hot chillies (minced to taste** see note)

1 can chick peas

28 ounces canned diced tomatoes


2 bouillon cubes, veggie or not-chicken flavored

4 sweet potatoes or yams

1/2 cup natural peanut butter

1 cup frozen spinach

corn starch, if necessary


  1. In oil saute onion until translucent then add red and hot peppers. Saute 2-3 more minutes.

  2. Stir in garlic, oil, and spices. Saute one minute (be careful not to burn garlic!!) then add tomatoes and bring to a boil.

  3. Add bouillon cubes, sweet potatoes, and beans. Add enough water to cover and bring to a boil.

  4. "Dissolve" the peanut butter into a small amount of the boiling liquid and add to stew.

  5. Cook until sweet potatoes are done.

  6. Stir in spinach, heat through.

  7. Thicken with corn starch, if necessary.

(** Note, I cheated on the hot peppers and used a very hot pepper puree that I had already prepared. The flavor was still great and prep time was reduced.)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Just in case you were curious what I had been eating while I wasn't blogging last month....

Here are two stand outs:

Pasta Puttanesca
(whole wheat pasta, tomato sauce seasoned heavily with garlic, onions, capers, olives and red peppers with mushrooms and spinach tossed in for good measure)

This would be an "incomplete plate" but check out the Scalloped Potatoes!!!
(Potatoes, a vegan roux made from flour and a pinch of Earth Balance, almond milk, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, Daiya cheese...this is not health food)

If I find any other pics that never got posted, I will try to share them as well!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Check it out!!! Vegan cookies at starbucks!!!

So I had read that Starbucks was going to carry a line of Vegan & gluten- free cookies. I had assumed it would be a west coast only thing.... Yet here I am in Maryland, on the EAST coast with a soy latte AND vegan cookies!!!!! They weren't terribly expensive either. A package of 4 smallish cookies set me back $1.50, which in the realm of GF & Vegan is not too bad. Plus when I turned the package over I saw that they were manufactured in Norfolk, Virginia; mere minutes from my hometown!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A full day's worth of yum!

Today was a busy day as I had both an audition and a rehearsal. Plus they were nowhere near each other, so I decided it was a good time to try out a new convenience food I picked up: Trader Joe's Vegetable Masala Burgers.

When you take them out, they resemble round frozen hash browns!! The box says "fully cooked, just heat and eat" but then directs you to brush them with ghee or oil prior to cooking them. Well thanks to the excellent influences of the vegans over at Fat Free Vegan, I have been trying to avoid as much unnecessary added fat as possible. Well I am very glad I did because check out how much oil "oozed" out of the burger while it was sitting on the plate:

I decided to fix it in a pita with a avocado sandwich spread that I whipped up the other day. It was basically the flesh of a VERY ripe avocado, garlic and onion powder, almond milk to thin the mixture and lime juice to help prevent browning. It is pretty good on sandwiches as a mayonnaise alternative. Here's the finished sandwich:

After my audition, I whipped out my trusty lunch box and ate my burger. It was lukewarm and very tasty, BUT with 8 grams of fat, only 2 grams of protein and only 1 gram of fiber (wasn't this thing supposed to be ALL vegetables?) it won't be replacing my regular lunches very often.

Dinner was much better. For one thing, it wasn't room temperature! And I didn't eat it in my car! Learning about the benefits of Allium veggies (onions, garlic, leeks etc...) during yesterday's health videos gave me even more reasons to load up on the garlic. So I made my FAVORITE Brussels's sprouts, which are simply broiled with salt, pepper and tons of garlic until they are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. I used to hate the sprout until I had it this way, now...Yum!

(Seriously, I was the only one home for dinner and this pan had been full!)

To go with it I made Seitan stew. I had no set recipe, instead I sort of "winged it" as I went along.

I sauteed onion, celery, carrot, red pepper, mushrooms and garlic. Then I added chopped seitan and seasoned liberally with thyme, rosemary, red pepper, black pepper and a pinch of salt and sage.

Next I stirred in about a cup of white wine and boiled for a few minutes to cook out the alcohol. Then I added 2 cups of water and bouillon cubes to match the volume of water (I chose to use a vegan chicken flavor).

After letting this cook for a while, I added about a cup of almond milk, returned everything to a boil and then thickened it with cornstarch.

For a quick, spur of the moment dinner it turned out tasty and filling!

On a separate note, please send me happy, warm thoughts for tomorrow as I am singing on a benefit for Haiti. It would be nice to not only provide a good concert but also to help earn a decent amount of money to send to our charity, Save the Children. We got a write up in the paper if you want more information: .

Friday, February 26, 2010

Health videos that are PRO-VEGAN!

First of all, I wanted to share with everyone something I saw for the first time at Trader Joe's yesterday. I was walking down the freezer aisle grabbing bags of veggies and fruit when suddenly a new small bag seemed to glint in the fluorescent light. The Trader Joe's near my house now carries frozen pomegranate seeds! (If you have already seen these and they are not a big deal to you... feel free to skip ahead with my apologies....) I had read that they had existed but I hadn't yet had the opportunity to buy them at any of my local stores. They are already cleaned, separated and ready to use. I threw some in my salad today and it was wonderful, tasty and hassle free! Tomorrow I think I am going to try some in my soy yogurt.

Now the real reason for my post is this: Recently someone emailed me the link to a series of the most interesting you-tube videos ever. These are a summary of many of the year's medical and nutritional findings. They are actually very interesting AND pro-vegan. I won't post EVERY video, just a few. If you want to watch the entire series, please check them all out on youtube.

Here is the first one just so you can get the set up:

Skipping ahead, it seems vegans are healthier than the average American:

Also it seems veganism can prevent and improve diabetes!

I am not going to post the entire series but I encourage you to check it out! To me this was pretty exciting news since these studies were from recognized groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the AMA. It is always nice to have some real data stashed away for when people tell me that soy will cause memory loss or that I will get diabetes from all of the carbs in a vegan diet!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

these are a few of my favorite things!

I am such a bad blogger, bad face-booker and emailer too.... It seems I get so busy living life, that I forget to check in with my "virtual" life tools. As a result it has been a month since my last post!

The key lesson I seem to be working on right now is balance! Just like we should balance our diets, we have to balance our lives... and it's that balancing act that can often push people over the edge. So while I realize that my new year's resolution was to be a better blogger, I hope everyone will understand that that is a resolution in progress.

Moving on, here are a few of the things that I am most in love with right now (in no particular order).

Baltimore Vegan Drinks- I know I have mentioned this group/ activity before and there is another event coming up on March 5th! The guys at Dionysus have come up with a great vegan food AND drink menu, so if you are free check it out. Last time I totally fell in love with their organic tomato vodka cocktail. Yum!

Larabars- Recently I picked up one of these little bars, after reading about them on several blogs and even in an old copy of veg news. I honestly didn't believe that they would be so awesome but... they were! The ingredients are all real food, they are 100% vegan, 100% raw and tasty. Man are they tasty, as in ADDICTIVE!!! Plus the one I picked up was very helpful in one of those "emergency" situations we vegans sometimes find ourselves in. You know the one where the non-vegan carefully plans a vegan meal for you (as a guest). They kindly and carefully omit all animal ingredients, but you are left with about 75 calories worth of salad/ steamed veggies. They really meant well and most likely don't realize their gaff. Without some sort of snack I am left hungry AND exceedingly cranky in those situations... with it I am able to remember my social graces.

Chia Seeds- As an alternative to flax seed, these little crunch seeds provided much needed omega 3's and delightful in almost anything associated with breakfast, including smoothies, soy yogurts, and even oatmeal. I have even eaten some straight out of a teaspoon a few times!

and finally I am loathe to admit that I have begun drinking the most fluorescent concoction on earth,
GATORADE on all of my runs that last more than 30 minutes. Although I don't exactly love the taste, eight ounces mixed 50/50 with water seems to help with both hydration and fatigue for the next day. And before you swear that its all in my head, you should know that I swore by watered down juice for years on hikes and during hot yoga. But there is something about the makeup of Gatorade that seems to work better when I am running. Better than the juice, better than the various homemade concoctions that are on the net, better than everything except well... Gatorade. Do I like it? NO Is it cheap? NO Is it natural/organic? CERTAINLY NOT.... SO if anyone has a tried and true organic alternative let me know but until then, I guess I am drinking the stuff.

Oh and then some good foods! First from Iowa Girl Eats, I veganized her recipe for Crockpot Baked Potato Soup by 1) replacing broth with "not chicken" and reducing to two cups 2) replacing the milk with 6 ounces of almond milk 3) omitting the bacon and butter (it was already rich enough) 4) substituting DAIYA cheese It was unbelievably tasty! And although not vegan, she has many great tips and recipes which can be modified. She is a great blogger AND much more consistent than me!

And then, I found a recipe for veggie lomein in an old newspaper clipping. It took some revisions to veganize and make it taste good, but here is what I ended up with. This makes two generous servings, quickly!

Vegan Veggie Lomein

4 ounces dry somen noodles

1/4 cup vegetable broth (or use "not chicken" if you prefer)
2 tbs red wine or sherry
1 tbs oyster sauce ( I found a vegetarian one at a local asian mart)
1 tbs cornstarch
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp 5 spice powder
3 tsp sesame oil (divided)

3/4 cup onion
1/2 cup carrot
1/2 cup celery
4 tbs garlic
1 tbs ginger
4 ounces pea pods
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 cup frozen spinach
1 cup frozen chopped broccoli


  1. Prepare all vegetables by chopping into equal sized pieces (mince garlic and ginger)

  2. Put a pot of water onto boil.

  3. While waiting on water combine sauce ingredients in a small container and stir or shake well.
  4. Add noodles to boiling water, after 3 minutes turn off heat and drain.

  5. Heat a large wok or non-stick skillet and add 2 TBS of the oil. Stir fry the veggies in this order: Onions, carrots & celery, frozen broccoli, pea pods & bell pepper, garlic and ginger and finally the frozen spinach.

  6. Add the strained noodles and stir to combine.

  7. Pour in the sauce and combine everything, stirring for 2-3 minutes.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ways to sneak extra nutrition into your diet

If you read any magazine or newspaper today you are likely to come across the idea of "superfoods", i.e. foods so nutritious that their addition will suddenly improve your entire diet, even if you eat McDonald's for the other meals of your day. It seems like new lists are coming out every day but the vegan lists typically include vegetables, fruits, a source of omega 3's and a specific whole grain.

I am not sure that I buy into the whole idea that you must eat these exact foods (in prescribed "doses") daily or else your arm will fall off but I do believe that little changes in your eating habits can reap big nutritional rewards. Based on this idea I am always looking for little nutritional tweaks to improve my meals and increase my actual nourishment from many of my favorite foods. Here are a few easy "tweaks".

  • Oatmeal: This is one of the healthiest breakfasts you can eat IF you don't pack it full of sugar... So skip the liberal doses of sugar and go for a bowl of traditional (PLAIN) oatmeal jazzed up with really fresh fruit, some walnuts and a sprinkle of cinnamon. If you must have some sweetner opt for a less processed natural sweetener like maple syrup or agave syrup and then use it sparingly! I have found that when I use truly fresh fruit (think like nearly brown bananas) I don't need sugar at all. Besides helping to drastically cutting back on processed sugar, the fruit provides additional fiber, vitamins and antioxidants. The walnuts also provide Omega 3's and more antioxidants than even blueberries.

  • Toast: A breakfast staple, make sure that it is whole grain. I mean truly whole grain. The first ingredient should be "Whole wheat (or spelt or rye....) flour" anything else (enriched wheat flour etc...) and it isn't any better for you than a muffin that has been tinted brown. Next top it with something that ups your nutritional content like a natural (non-hydrogenated) peanut butter, hummus or even smashed avocados. While these savory toppings may have a nearly as many calories as your vegan margarine, they also provide fiber, healthy fats, protein and lots of other good things!

  • Smoothie: A good homemade smoothie can be a great breakfast. Some fruit, some water and a blender and you are good to go. To increase the goodness consider making it a green smoothie by adding spinach or collard leaves or throwing in a tablespoon of ground flax seeds, a valuable source of Omega 3 fatty acids!

  • Coffee: I love coffee as much as nearly anyone... To improve my morning cup of joe, I always have it lightened with a little fortified soy milk. By choosing my coffee this way, I am making sure that I am getting extra vitamins and minerals (especially the much needed B12!!!) as well as a little protein boost in the morning, which can help me feel full until lunch.

  • Sandwiches: Always make them on whole grain bread! Also I tend to eat a salad on top of my sandwhich. This is one of the few things that I think subway got right... A sandwich is great with red peppers, cucumber and even thin carrot slices in addition to that lettuce.

  • Pastas: If possible, I substitute whole grain pasta. Also you can sneak baby spinach in while the pasta is draining. The heat from the pasta wilts it a bit before you add the sauce and you hardly notice it... but your body WILL notice the nutritional kick!

  • Soups & Salads: These are my best frieds at lunch! I always overload them with fresh veggies and then fill up!

  • Dessert: If you want something sweet during the day, go for fruit. It is both delicious and nutritious! Many varieties such as persimmons, clementines and bananas are naturally sweet and can satisfy any sweet tooth!

  • Snack time: Eat a small handful (like 1/8 cup) of raisins or nuts. Although these foods are higher in calories they also provide helthy fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals!

How do you sneak extra nutrition into your diet?