Healthy Eating Hacks for the Whole Family

Black Bean Salad

Black Bean Mango Salad (missing the Avocado Lime Date dressing)

Sometimes healthy seems unattainable. There are so many competing demands for our time, budget, and attention, that it seems easier to take the path of least resistance. For single folks with money to spare, grab and go healthy meals prepared by others are great. But if you have a family or a tighter budget, it’s hard to avoid grocery shopping, meal planning, and the best part of it all, cooking.

Our diet has evolved a lot over the last twelve years. We started out with a high-soy, low-vegetable, low-fruit, very starchy vegan diet and have slowly evolved into a low-to-no soy, high-vegetable, high-fruit, more plant-based, whole foods diet. Our experiences living and traveling abroad have humbled our palates significantly. We’ve lived in parts of the Middle East and North Africa where vegan options were so few that meal planning became a bit boring and redundant. However, there’s a spiritual discipline in being content with what you have, eating simply and avoiding indulgent foods; all of which have benefited us greatly.

Raggamuslims

Stewed Red Beans, Roasted Cauliflower, Curried Lentils, Avocado, and Stewed Plantains

Having little vegans to feed now also challenges us to be consistent in our health principles but varied in our meals. It’s a balancing act making sure our children don’t feel left out of the dining experiences others are having, but it’s also empowering to give them information about foods that will guide their own choices in our absence. So if you’re trying to make some dietary changes in your own home, here are some tips that we’ve picked up along the way.

Raggamuslims

Amaranth, Cashew Sauce, and Stewed Egpplant

Start Where You Are

Depending on what your current diet is like, the road to healthy may vary. Take a critical look at your food choices and consider what your priorities are. If you currently eat the Standard American Diet, pick three food categories to eliminate from your diet like processed foods, white sugar/flour/rice, and soda/coffee/caffeine, for example. Once you start eliminating the excess, you can more quickly get to the core of what you want your diet to be based on.

Some transition ideas might include:

White rice –> Brown rice –> Red/Black Rice, Quinoa, Amaranth, Millet

White sugar –> Cane sugar –>  Date syrup or sugar, Coconut sugar, Maple Syrup

Canned fruit/vegetables –> Frozen fruit/vegetables –> Fresh fruit/vegetables

Soy milk –> Packaged Nut/Coconut milk –> Homemade nut/seed/coconut milks

Processed soy foods –> Organic, whole soy foods –> Alternatives to soy

White flour –> Whole Grain flour (Buckwheat, oat, spelt) –> Low/No Gluten Flours (Kamut/Chickpea/Teff/Coconut)

Sweetened beverages –> 100 % Fruit Juices –> Fresh-pressed juices, herbal teas, lemon/lime water

Raggamuslims

Red Quinoa Salad on a Roasted Nori Seaweed Sheet

Buy the good stuff on sale and stretch it

Sometimes you have to shop around or shop online to find the best foods that your budget can afford. Once you find them, find ways to make it last. For example, red and black quinoa are really nutritious but pricey. Instead of preparing them as a direct substitute to rice, consider making a salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh herbs, etc. My children like Southern grits every now and again, so I’ll prepare seven-grain cereal as grits or mix regular grits with quinoa flakes or amaranth. Similar to baking, mixing flours in a muffin or pancake batter are a great way to stretch the more high-end grains. And if you like granola, try adding quinoa or amaranth puffs, sunflower seeds, or more nuts to make it last longer and give it more nutritional density.

Raggamuslims

Granola, Sunflower Seeds, and Amaranth Puffs

Prioritize Organics, Peel the Rest

Eating totally organic is our ideal, but we’re just not there yet. Instead, we prioritize conventional tropical produce or produce that can be peeled and save our organic budget for foods that tend to accumulate a lot of pesticides like leafy greens, tomatoes, apples, peaches/nectarines, berries, etc. If you have access to a good, local farmer’s market, that’s also an affordable way to get pesticide-free produce that may or may not be certified organic. Even if buying organic means eating less fresh produce, the nutrient availability is greater than conventional produce and you won’t be introducing unnecessary toxins to your body as a result.

Raggamuslims

Pizza with Kamut Crust and Cashew Sauce

Pair favorites with not-so-favorites

In our household, some meals have prerequisites like a salad or green smoothie that we all must complete before getting to the more desirable dishes like pasta or pizza. Some whine, gripe, or complain, but hey, food is food, and we try to model that we can’t always eat our favorite dishes. Furthermore, gratitude is the key prerequisite to every meal regardless of how basic or elaborate it may be.

Savory Chickpea Pancake

Chickpea Omelets

Know when to blend

Sometimes a good blender is a great ally. Raw garlic in hummus, steamed veggies in sauces, and supplements in smoothies. We don’t believe in lying to or deceiving kids. We do selectively withhold information but that’s another topic. Fact remains that we don’t expect more from our children than we expect from ourselves. So, if something is not so palatable but is beneficial, we find ways of making it easier to swallow for all of us.

What are some of the healthy eating hacks that work for your family?

Advertisements

Spelt Dumplings (Johnny Cakes)

Alkaline Spelt Dumplings

I gave up on making dumplings years ago. Mostly because I stopped buying white flour which produces the crispy and fluffy deliciousness that I grew up enjoying with my Jamaican family. Whole wheat flour doesn’t do it well and in life, sometimes you just have to let go. But recently a shift took place that brought dumplings to mind again.

Urbndervish was assigned to teach evenings this semester and if you’ve been with us a while, you might recall that he only eats one meal a day. It’s no average meal by any means and after all these years, he has stuck with it. So with his work day now starting at 1pm, we’ve shifted our family meal to brunch, as opposed to dinner, and there’s just something about brunch that merits a starchy addition like toast, boiled green bananas, chickpea flour omelets, or my new favorite, Spelt Dumplings.

Vegan Jamaican Meal

On a whim one morning, I whipped out some spelt flour and was wholly impressed. Not only were the dumplings crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, they also comply with the Electric/Alkaline Food List of Chef Ahki. Spelt does have some gluten, but less than common wheat flour and even better, spelt isn’t genetically modified or likely to be sprayed with pesticides. Another bonus I noticed when using spelt flour was that the dumplings didn’t absorb a lot of oil. Even though I used virgin coconut oil, it was great that I didn’t need to keep replenishing my cast iron skillet.

Ingredients

2 cups of wholemeal spelt flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

½ teaspoon of Himalayan pink salt

1 cup of ice cold water (yes, the water must be cold because Grandma says so)

Virgin coconut oil

Directions

1. Combine dry ingredients

2. Add the ice cold water and form a large sticky ball of dough

3. Add enough coconut oil to a heated skillet for pan frying, not deep frying

Alkaline Spelt Dumplings

4. Form small balls from one heaping tablespoon of dough and flatten before placing in heated oil

Spelt Johnny Cakes

5. Pan fry the dumplings until brown on all sides

Alkaline Spelt Dumplings

 

Let us know how your dumplings turned out and feel free to post a pic on our Facebook page.

Review: Farmacy Vegan Kitchen and Bakery

Farmacy Review

We’re approaching the last ten days of Ramadan, so it’s not the ideal time to talk about food but #veganramadan is real.  I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the growing number of Muslims who are happily hashtagging and Instagramming plant-based platters for their pre-fasting and post-fasting meals.  Some are only going veg for the month, but we still applaud the effort.  Of course, the highlight of the month is spiritual sustenance, but knowing where to get wholesome and healthy vegan meals certainly helps.

Farmacy Review

Last month, a much-needed vegan spot has surfaced in Tampa.  Located inside of Duckweed Urban Grocery downtown, Farmacy Vegan Kitchen and Bakery has tucked in and turned heads.  Three passionate entrepreneurs have combined culinary talent, business acumen, and vegan baking alchemy to create a refreshing addition to the dining scene.  A streamlined menu of smoothies, fresh juices, overnight oats, acai bowls, salads, soups, wraps, and hot entrees sit in wait for health-conscious customers, while appetizing baked goods entice any and everyone.

Farmacy Review

We tried a Spinach and Cashew Cream Cheese wrap, Orange Blossom muffin, and Cashew Mac and Cheese.

Farmacy Review

Their low-soy menu is noticeable and timely.  I’ve been weaning off of the superbean myself and didn’t have to risk temptation by tantalizing mock meats.  Most other vegan options in the city are heavily soy-based Pan-Asian cuisines, with the exception of Middle Eastern, Ethiopian, Italian, and Indian, so Farmacy’s lively and light menu is really refreshing and welcomed.

Farmacy Review

The strong sustainability focus of Farmacy really appealed to me. I swooned at the sight of compostable and biodegradable takeaway materials and the sparing use of recyclable plastics.  Duckweed Urban Grocery also has some energy-saving and recycling practices in place, so it seems that that two are a match made in Tampa.

Farmacy Review

 

 

Review: Fuel Jar in Muscat

 

Fuel Jar Muscat

Though two years have passed since we first left Oman, we’re still the only vegans we currently know in Muscat. We’re looking high and low, searching the web, but only finding…ourselves. Thankfully, vegan options are becoming more accessible and affordable, so we can sustain our own engine until the veggie trains pulls in to Muscat. In our pursuit, we have found a few local businesses who understand what vegan food entails and that– in it of itself– is an accomplishment.

Fuel Jar Muscat

One local business that understands and sells vegan products is Fuel Jar. The owner, Zahraa Ali, is a professional lawyer who discovered overnight oats and chia pudding when she needed her own morning fuel to get through the work day. When curious co-workers gave her breakfast jars a try, they encouraged her to go into business.  After a few nudges, Zahraa took their advice and now her evenings are filled with concocting tasty grab-and-go jars that customers can pick up or have delivered every evening.

Fuel Jar Muscat

On the surface, one might ask who in the world can’t make their own overnight oats or chia pudding, but Fuel Jar takes the experience to a whole ‘nother level. Zahraa uses organic non-dairy milks, pure nut butters, and fresh fruit spreads made by her very own hands. The time, attention, and quality of her product exceeds any homemade chia pudding I’ve tasted to date.  I had the opportunity to taste her top-selling trio: Peanut Butter and Jam, Raspberry Pomegranate, and Banana Chocolate chia puddings. To pick a favorite was a challenge and to save them for breakfast was even harder. Each jar was naturally sweet, rich, and filling in its own right. Fuel Jar definitely gives you a reason to look forward to breakfast.

Fuel Jar Muscat

For orders, contact Zahraa via Whatsapp or Instagram.

With many thanks to Fuel Jar for our complimentary samples.

Banana Chickpea Pancakes

Chickpea Pancakes

A few years ago, chickpea or gram flour was all the rave in the vegan community and rightfully so!  A gluten-free, protein-packed, affordable, versatile flour is a game-changer.  A flood of recipes unrolled for pancakes, omelets, desserts, and breads galore, all starring the famed chickpea flour.  But, I had one hang up–that chickpea flour taste.  No matter how good it all smells and looks, there’s a taste that’s hard to mask.  It’s not offensive, but it is unique and instead of trying to flavor it away, I’m learning to embrace it and use syrup and sauces when needed.

This is my most tolerable pancake recipe.  It’s nutritious enough to make for a weekday breakfast but tasty enough to be enjoyed with little to no syrup.

Ingredients

1 cup of chickpea (or gram) flour

2 small, ripe bananas

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. sea salt

1 tsp. vanilla powder

1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar

1 cup of non-dairy milk

virgin coconut oil to grease pan

Directions

Blend all ingredients except chickpea flour and coconut oil in a blender.

Add blended mixture to chickpea flour.

Cook on lightly greased skillet or frying pan.

Top with your favorite vegan butter, date or maple syrup, or fruit spread. Best eaten while hot!

20161219_1039471

 

Review: Detox Market in Ankara

Detox Market 2

Healthy eating options are popping up all over Ankara. New restaurants, businesses, and kiosks are catering to the gluten-free, dairy-free, and healthy eating crowd like never before. Our latest discovery was found while running errands at Bilkent Center. In both Turkish and English, I recognized the words “healthy”, “cold-pressed juices”, and “flourless”. When I stopped to inquire about the then ten-day old business, I met Selin, the lovely owner from Konya, who decided to bring the L.A. health trend she witnessed in America over to Turkey. Wasting no time, she bought high-quality, cold-press juicers, hired staff for a production facility, and set up shop just outside of a popular hypermarket chain called REAL.

Detox Market 3

Aptly named Detox Market, Selin’s business focuses on prepared cold-pressed juices that keep the body alkaline and energized. Juicing is a part of her personal lifestyle and she recommends that others exclusively consume raw juices at least two days a week. Her juices have catchy names like “Ctrl Alt Delete”, “Skinny Jeans”, and “Green Gold”. Each of the green juices have spinach, with some adding parsley, cucumbers, ginger, or carrots. I personally love how Ctrl Alt Delete pairs tropical pineapple with fennel and cilantro. Green Gold is definitely the greenest option, while Green Beauty adds cucumber pulp to the mix.

Detox Market 5

Other juices include a beet-based Skinny Jeans, a pleasant Fruity Blast that novice juice-drinkers and children would love, and a coconut water and cinnamon combination called Feel Better. Additionally, there are a number of creative snacks like gluten-free bread with spinach and beets, sesame and chia seed crackers, and, my personal favorite, chia cocoa cookies. Vegans should note that some of the other products contain organic eggs and/or honey, so be sure to inquire before making your purchase.

Detox Market 4

With many thanks to Detox Market for sharing samples for this review. All opinions are our own.

Review: Vegan İşleri in Ankara

Though we’re not foodies, we know good food when we eat it. On most days, we’re content with simple, plant-based meals but every once in a while, we go out to eat for some variety. Now, instead of going out, we have another option for delicious vegan dining that we can enjoy right at home. Vegan İşleri is a catering service in Ankara that delivers healthy, plant-based meals with an international flare. The owners, Pınar and Gülen, are cultured, professional women. Their cosmopolitan and global exposure is evident in a menu which draws influence from Greek, Arab, Indian, and Far Eastern flavors while staying true to their Turkish roots.

Summer Spinach Salad

Pınar and Gülen handpicked a special menu for our little family and though the foods sounded familiar, the tastes were exceptionally refreshing. Our spinach salad was accented with sliced strawberries, tropical mango chunks, and fresh avocado. The black bean patties were full of surprises—sweet potatoes, walnuts, black rice, and just enough spice to invoke thoughts of Latin and Central America.

Black bean and sweet potato burgers

We’ve tasted tabbouleh a ton of times, but this time the taste was smooth like Moroccan couscous and enriched by a sprinkle of ground walnuts. A new food for us was skordalia, a Greek dish of pureed potatoes with tahini and garlic. We were puzzled by this pasty dish, wondering what it was, but it soon became our favorite.

Skordalia

I would have never thought of combining these dishes into a singular menu, but the flavors blended well and complimented each other to become one of the most creative and innovative meals I’ve had in a long time. I will keep watching their Instagram page for inspiring new foods and look forward to enjoying their next masterpiece meal.

With many thanks to Vegan İşleri for providing samples for this review. All opinions are our own.

 

Review: Padam Coffee Shop in Ankara

Padam Coffee Shop1

Vegans in Ankara need a hangout spot. Not a pub or a living room but an inviting, neutral space where you can meet friends for tea, have stimulating conversations, and take a break from the city hustle. I recently found such an oasis at the newly opened Padam Coffee Shop near Kuğulu Park, right next to Dost Bookstore.  Entering downtown Ankara has been completely eliminated from my weekly routine, but now I have a reason to return. The nexus of nature, books, and vegan treats is enough to lure me to a side of Atatürk Boulevard I’ve never seen– away from the congested transportation hubs of Kızılay and Güvenpark. I’m glad to finally have a place to bring friends and congregate after playdates.

Padam Coffee Shop2

Padam’s owner, Hande, is a sweet soul with a love for java. Having trained under Sam Çeviköz, owner and founder of Istanbul’s Federal Coffee Company and founder of Ministry of Coffee-Istanbul, Hande has rallied her family around the business she’s always dreamed of. From her homemade desserts, her mother’s homemade jams and her brother and sister-in-law’s helping hands behind the counter, I feel like an extended member of the family when I visit. Fresh orchids greet me as I climb the winding staircase to a cozy upper lounge with cushioned seats, curated art, and a wooden antique record player and radio that has been in her family for almost 100 years. I can feel Hande’s heartbeat—padam, padam—pulsing around me.

For non-coffee lovers, like myself, there are herbal fruit and flower teas to choose from. Paired with a tasty selection of savory, stuffed börek pastries and vegan cakes made by Ev Yapımı Vegan Lezzetler, I can enjoy a satisfying afternoon snack that is both sweet and savory, then tackle the rest of my day’s tasks. Stocked with almond milk, I look forward to chilled smoothies in the summer and hot cocoa in the winter, because I’m confident that Padam will be around to brave all of Ankara’s seasons.

Padam Coffee Shop4

With special thanks to Padam Coffee Shop for hosting my visit. All opinions are my own.

Review: Ev Yapımı Vegan Lezzetler in Ankara

Vegan Food in Ankara

Since coming to Turkey, we’ve been inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit here. You want to start a business? Come up with a name, open a Facebook or Instagram account, and get to work. We aspire to be self-employed one day and meeting small business owners here in Ankara is teaching us a lot about the grit and dedication that it takes way before registering your company, building a website, or obtaining a business license. The most recent entrepreneur we had the pleasure of meeting is Çisem Çolak, sole chef and owner of Ev Yapımı Vegan Lezzetler, a home-based vegan cooking service.

Vegan Mantı in Ankara

For the last five years, Çisem has taken the task of vegan cooking into her own hands. Many traditional foods she grew up enjoying no longer suited her animal-free diet, so she began to adapt them. Her most popular dish, mantı, is tiny dumplings that are usually stuffed with spiced meat. Çisem, like many other vegans, missed this homemade comfort food but unlike her peers, she fashioned a vegan version for herself and made a business out of it for the last nine months. I’m amazed at how each piece is cut, folded, and stuffed with flavorful fillings like sweet potatoes, lentils, spinach and potatoes. Topped with a robust tomato sauce and oil dressing with ground herbs and sumac, we devour each bite in an instant, guiltily knowing that the painstaking process of preparing it is exponentially longer.

Vegan, Turkish sausage

Çisem’s other specialty is sucuk, a seitan version of Turkish spiced sausage. Like her mantı, she freezes and ships it to eager customers from Istanbul to Izmir and even as far as Antalya. Fortunate for Ankara’s residents, Ev Yapımı offers a broader menu for pick-up and home delivery. Cooked daily meals, desserts, and stuffed breads like börek and gözleme can all be enjoyed in the comfort of your home but, one day, I look forward to visiting Ev Yapımı when it becomes more than a home-based business but a café and restaurant all on its own.

VeganTortellini in Ankara

Complimentary samples were offered for this review.  All opinions are our own.

Review: Ege Günlüğü in Ankara

Olive oil cooking

Aegean cuisine has a reputation for being one of Turkey’s most vegan-friendly regions. Along the fertile coast, a plethora of beans and vegetables grow abundantly and are traditionally slow-cooked with cold-pressed olive oil, fresh herbs and seasonings. Red lentils and bulgur wheat are combined to make mercimek kofte, the vegan version of a ground meat burger. We have yet to visit Turkey’s Northwestern coast, but thankfully Aegean food has come to us by way of Ege Günlüğü.

Ege Cuisine in Ankara

In Armada Mall, an imposing shopping center, Ege Günlüğü is a welcomed oasis. The open dining hall sits at the end of a busy corridor with white, painted wooden furniture and soothing pastel pillows and cushions. The aqua and blue hues invoke a calmness that I don’t usually find in a packed mall. When I asked one of the managers, Maliha, about her recommendations for vegan diners, she instinctively directs me to their cold food bar where out of more than a dozen dishes, only several include yogurt and none of them include meat. Being able to see all of the entrees makes it easy to pick and point at the dishes I want to fill my platter. With the option of a büyük large plate or a küçük small plate, the choice is obvious. I want to taste as many dishes as they can fit on my plate, centered around my absent dish of yogurt.

Vegan Meal at Ege Gunlugu

Most of the dishes are Aegean versions of familiar ingredients: black-eyed peas, brown lentils, and green beans but the flavors are unique. I recognize the taste of dill, leeks, and olive oil, of course, but the others are harder to distinguish. Regardless, everything tastes fresh and wholesome. When Maliha tells me that they don’t use any frozen vegetables, I’m not surprised. As soon as their produce arrives, it must be washed, chopped, and prepped. Some of the unfamiliar dishes are a variety of green leafy dishes that I couldn’t identify, celery root, stuffed dried eggplant, and artichokes. My favorite dishes were stewed sundried tomatoes with walnuts and mercimek kofte. To complement the mostly gluten-free entrees, a bread basket full of sourdough olive oil and walnut bread rounds out the meal perfectly. The small rolls are not airy and fluffy but rather filling and mildly dense. Even though all of the zeytinyağlı (with olive oil) dishes are served cold, the hospitality was warm and satisfying.

Fresh, Aegean cuisine in Ankara

Ege Günlüğü is most popular during lunch hour, when health-conscious professionals seek out a meal that leaves them more fueled than full. With the cold bar ready and stocked every day from 10am to 10pm, anyone can grab a meal without having to wait or order hot foods from the menu if time allows.  And, with the prices so reasonable, you can easily make eating here a healthy habit.

Vegan Oasis in Armada Mall

With special thanks to Ege Günlüğü for hosting our visit.  All opinions are our own.