Mouthwatering (No-Oil) Kale Chips

I didn’t always love kale chips. Or kale. Or really anything green. In fact, I grew up like so many other American kids who only ate green peas or green beans out of a can, with butter on them. And even that was begrudgingly.

So, I do understand why so many people make that face when I say kale chips. But alas, after some time eating plant-based, our tastes changed. Foods that I used to eat taste like chemicals. And foods I never would’ve touched before taste fresh and healthy and amazing and I’ve actually come to crave them. Like anything, it’s a work in progress.

Somewhere along the way, we discovered kale chips AND discovered we actually like them. We love the kale chips at our favorite vegan restaurant in Madison, and we eat those the handful of times a year that we get there. And we found some bagged ones that are quite good that our daughter Lincoln is totally addicted to. But the bags are small and expensive. But we had lots of kale from our garden and CSA this year so we thoughts we’d try our hands at making it.

I will admit that at first it did not go well. Not for quite a few tries. I’m actually surprised we didn’t give up.

At first they were soggy/chewy. Yuck. Bad kale chips.

Then they were crispy but didn’t taste very good. Bland waste of effort kale chips.

Then we gave up consuming all oil and had no clue how we could make kale chips without oil.

But with a bounty of kale at our disposal, a little creativity and a stubborn woman who wanted her own damn kale chips (aka me!), we found our way. And we found the missing link we needed. It turned out to be tahini. 🤷‍♀️

Tahini, for any of you who don’t know, is just ground sesame seeds. Similar to it’s distant cousin sesame oil, but leaving all the fiber and nutrients in the final product. Its still high in fat, but in moderation, it’s fine. And a million times better for your heart and your A1C and your whole damn body than any kind of traditional oil.

And this is how our amazing kale chips were born.

I am going to warm you all right now that they shrink down and make less than you would imagine. And then they are so good and crispy and melty in your mouth that you may just stand at the stove and eat a whole pan. This is totally acceptable. And then the rest of them that do make it to the container may just get eaten the next day while your husband is as work. Less acceptable.

I recommend making at least 2-3 pans (I cook them all at once, alternating which is on top and which is on the bottom when I turn them). Doubling the batter and kale and making 4-6 pans is even better. Then you will have enough to share with your husband. And kids. And they will like that. It isn’t nice to eat all the kale chips yourself. Or so I’ve been told.

We use curly kale. It holds the batter in best and curls up so nicely when baked.

KALE CHIPS: 

(makes 2-3 cookie sheets of kale chips)

One big bunch of curly kale (about a dozen stalks of kale)

Batter:

1/4 cup tahini

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/8 cup water

1 TBS nutritional yeast

1 TBS garlic powder

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. You don’t really want to bake the kale chips exactly. This more accurately sucks the moisture out and dehydrates them.

Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper. This keeps them from sticking.

Wash and dry kale and tear into little pieces. Not too little but not huge. Quarter to half dollar size. They will shrink down during the baking process.

Dip kale pieces into the batter. I like to use my fingers and take two or three pieces of kale at a time and partially dip one into the batter, then use my fingers to coat the front and back of all the pieces until they are covered. You don’t want them dripping, just coated nicely. The batter should be thin enough be drippy, the consistency of pancake batter, or salad dressing. If its too thick, add a little water until you get it thin enough. Some of this depends of the consistency of the tahini. If you just opened the jar, it’s thinner. If you are towards the bottom, it is thicker and you’ll need more water.

Coat each piece in batter and lay flat on parchment paper. Fill the pan with pieces close to each other but not touching. Again, there will be shrinkage.

Once pans are prepared, I sprinkle each piece with a little pepper, garlic powder and a bit of nutritional yeast. This make them prettier, taste cheesier and we happen to love garlic. But you do you.

Place in oven for one hour.

After an hour, take out pans and flip chips over, rotating which pan is on top and which is on the bottom. In my reliable, heat-heavy old oven, the bottom pan cooks faster. After switching them out, that pan is moved to the top and may be ready in another half an hour. I start checking them 30 minutes after I rotate/flip them over.

They are done when they are papery dry, crumble easily and melt in your mouth. If they are at all chewy or wet, they need more time. You can take the ones that are completely done out to cool and put the rest back into the oven to finish.

Kale chips are a test of patience. This is good for you. Just like kale chips are good for you. Both will be worth the wait.

I store my kale chips (once cool) on my counter in a glass dish with a lid. They will start to get chewy-ish in 4-5 days but mine rarely last that long. We all like them too much to let them just sit there.

Let us know what you think!

World’s Best Plant-Based Pizza

I think pizza is one of the top five things that people say “I could never give that up…” when we tell them that we’re plant based. But we actually haven’t given it up. I mean, we did, for a while. But then we started putting together our own recipes and we realized we could totally make a plant-based pizza and it would be amazing. (For the record, we didn’t know it would be amazing at all. We were totally scared to even try it at first. Plant-based life is a lesson in flexibility and learning).

But as it turned out, our first pizza was pretty good. With some tweaking, we’ve turned it from okay to phenomenal aka the worlds best plant- based pizza. Don’t believe me? Come over for a slice! Or, make your own! And if you have something better that’s also WFPBNO, please enlighten us because we’re always up for new ideas.

The Crust:

In our house, we don’t do gluten. I physically cannot and everyone else is along for the ride by default. They are good sports about it because it makes me so sick. So we came up with a crust made from Besan, aka ground chick peas.We bought a huge bag on Amazon and it’s the perfect consistency for pizza crust. You can pick the pizza slices up and eat them in your hands no problem. This is my favorite gluten-free crust that I’ve found. If you don’t have gluten issues, you have a lot more options available to you.

CRUST RECIPE:

1 cup Besan aka chickpea flour

1 cup arrowroot flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon garlic powder

½ cup unsweetened almond milk

Combine dry ingredients together. Warm milk in microwave for 20 seconds or leave on counter for 30-45 minutes prior to starting so it’s room temperature.

Pour milk into dry mix and blend with wooden spoon.

Form into a ball of sticky dough, adding more milk a tablespoon at a time until ball is formed.

Lightly flour a large piece of parchment paper and your rolling pin. (I use millet flour because of not being buddies with gluten)

Roll dough until a thin (1/8 inch or thinner) crust is formed.

Shake off excess flour and carefully transfer crust off of parchment paper and onto a pizza stone.

I would assume this would work fine on a cookie sheet but I am going to tell you right now that I’ve never tried it that way. I’m actually going to buy another pizza stone because every time I make this pizza, it’s GONE right away and I want leftovers. And pizza stones really are that magical so I’d suggest you just invest in one with the money you won’t be spending on delivery pizzas…

The Sauce:

We tend to use our own red sauce that we make quite simply from our garden tomatoes. Recipe HERE is you are interested. Otherwise, any store bought compliant spaghetti sauce will work. We love the Aldi’s Organic spaghetti sauce because it’s all veggies and no oil. But read your labels and you should find sauce that works for you.

The “Cheese”:

In our house, we don’t really do bagged vegan cheeses because they are mostly oil and fillers and non-food, aka things we are trying to avoid. We’ve found about a million different “cheese” recipes on the web, made out of everything from potatoes, coconut milk, nutritional yeast and cashews or hemp seeds. This recipe is our standard favorite and it works perfectly for pizza. We also love it as a topping for oven roasted potatoes.

Cashew “Cheese” Sauce Recipe:

½ cup raw cashews (soaked for 2 hours to overnight)

1 cup unsweetened almond milk

3 TBS tapioca flour

3 TBS nutritional yeast

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

½ teaspoon salt

Mix in blender until smooth and creamy.

Pour mix into skillet on medium heat

Stir with spatula continuously just until it starts to thicken. As soon as it begins to thicken, takeoff heat and continue to stir until it’s a consistent creamy mixture that stretches and will spread easily.

(Do NOT over cook or it will be too thick to spread onto the pizza. Much better to take it off the heat too early than too late.)

After putting your crust on the pizza stone, spreading your sauce and then your cashew cheese sauce, finish it off by loading up on your favorite toppings.

Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until cheese and crust just begin to get golden brown.

We keep pizza simple and add some sliced mushrooms, lightly sautéed in a little water and garlic, some banana peppers (from a jar or fresh) and some walnut/sun dried tomato “chorizo.” But add olives, peppers, onions, artichokes, pineapple or whatever you like. Our kids like just the spaghetti and cheese sauces and that’s cool too.

“Bounty of Tomatoes” Red Sauce

Almost everyone with a garden in the Midwest will eventually go out to that garden one day and return into their kitchen with a recycled grocery bag (or three) full of tomatoes. At this point, you either have to pull out all the canning gear and get to work for the rest of the day or you need to make a big batch of sauce. It all depends on how much time – and tomatoes- you have on your hands, I suppose.

Last week, we did both. We canned on a Tuesday night until midnight -when we could can no more- and then on Wednesday I made a sauce out of the tomatoes sill residing on my kitchen counter and filling my crisper bin in the fridge. Tomatoes are a hurry-up-and-wait then do it all again kind of love affair.

I had about 12 pounds of tomatoes when I made this sauce but you can make this sauce with whatever you have. Just adjust your cooking pot size according. I filled mine to the brim but the sauce cooks down.

I also added one small can of tomato paste and one 15 oz can of tomato sauce because it makes for a thicker sauce, closer to a traditional spaghetti sauce. Totally up to the cooks discretion though. If you’re making a smaller batch, I’d skip the can of tomato sauce and just use the tomato paste.

INGREDIENTS:

12-ish pounds fresh garden tomatoes (or a fridge drawer full. Or plastic bag full. Whatever you got that will fit in the pot)

1-15 ounce can tomato sauce

1 8 ounce can tomato paste

1 TBS minced garlic

2TBS minced fresh parsley

1TBS minced fresh basil

Wash tomatoes, parsley and basil. Core tomatoes, cutting off and discarding any cracked, rotten or brown spots, and quarter before throwing into cooking pot. Add minced parsley, basil and garlic. Feel free to adjust amounts if you like more or less of something. Short of burning it, I don’t think you CAN screw up this sauce. But please don’t take this as a challenge.

I don’t bother removing seeds or skins from tomatoes. I cook everything on medium-high heat at a nice simmer, stirring occasionally, for about an hour. The sauce will get frothy and tomatoes will fall apart. As it cooks, I remove some skins with a fork as they rise to the surface while I’m stirring. Once the tomatoes are all soft and the sauce is done, I use an immersion blender for just 30 secondary or so. Just to get the sauce to come together and annihilate all the skins. I mostly do this because my little kids are picky and getting nutrients into them involves a bit of extra effort/sneakiness.

For the record, my kids are WAY more excited/willing try or eat foods that they had some involved and investment in. Our kids love planting, picking food from our garden, prepping and washing produce and being part of the cooking process. It always helps them be more willing to try new foods.

This sauce can be used immediately on noodles, rice, zucchini or butternut squash noodles or even pizza. It will still be thinner than a traditional spaghetti sauce because it doesn’t have additives and oils and fillers. This sauce can also stand alone as a tomato sauce in stews, chili’s or other sauces. We keep a container in the fridge to eat for up to 5 days and we immediately freeze the rest once it cools. We put some in small containers to pull out for meals/sauces. We also put some in one-ounce silicone ice cube trays, which we store in freezer bags once they are frozen solid. That way we can pull out 5 cubes (perfect for a pizza crust) or 2 cubes (perfect for a bowl of noodles) whenever we need them.

Got tomatoes? Make some sauce.

Got questions? Give me a holler.

I just realized that I never got a picture of the final product. So here’s another of my cute kids…

A Year of Plant-Based Life

A year ago yesterday, my husband and I embarked on a new and exciting adventure with food. We dropped meat and dairy from our diets in an attempt to become as healthy as we could.

Saying it like this makes it sound like it was some big leap of a decision that we made overnight. But for a year before that, we were already dropping foods from our diets and researching how to eat healthy. Because despite there being a thousand weight loss and exercise programs out there, it seems to me that very very few of us really know what it takes to truly be healthy.

I struggled with my weight and my health for most of my life. I would always claim “I eat pretty healthy,” or admit that I just needed to exercise more. By even when I did “eat healthy,” I didn’t see real results. And I sure as heck didn’t feel great. I mostly lost weight from extremely stressful times when I could barely eat anything at all. Or from illness. Even the year of my life that I ran 20-25 miles a week didn’t help me get the results I was looking for. Weight loss and “being healthy” always seemed to be some big secret that I wasn’t privy to.

My husband struggled with obesity most of his life as well. After becoming ill and finding out he had diabetes, he lost a lot of weight thanks to a strict regime of egg white omelettes, white meat chicken, very low calorie counts and grueling daily workouts with a trainer. His diabetes became at least decent and his blood pressure became manageable. He still required cholesterol meds. But a bland diet of only a handful of foods and a strict, intensive exercise program rarely lasts long for even the most strong-willed among us. And once kids and family commitments came along, exercising for hours each day became impossible. And eating habits reverted back to foods that were quick and readily available. Of course, the weight came back on.

This was where we were about two years ago. At the same time, I was unable to lose the weight I’d gained being pregnant and nursing our daughter, Lincoln. I was having lots of stomach problems, allergy problems, hormonal imbalances, sleeping problems, breathing issues, joint and muscle pain and mood swings. My husband needed to go back on all his meds and was having his own fair share of medical scares. We both had parents who got seriously ill and died young, and we knew we were heading in the same direction. But where do you even start? Especially if you’ve already tried it all.

This is why I often say that this has been a journey. It wasn’t one big change but a series of them. For us, it started with eliminating red meat, and then trying to get rid of more processed foods. Then it became clear that my body couldn’t handle gluten so we dropped that. We food journaled. We researched. We whittled away at our diets, trying to eliminate all foods that didn’t serve us. The true goal was not to be thin. The goal was health and wellness. The goal was to NOT die young.

We saw some successes that year. We improved but also knew there was more work to do and that we needed help. So we started to watch documentaries and read books, keeping an open mind and enlisting critical thinking and logic. We specifically wanted to know how the healthiest people on earth eat.

This is when Forks Over Knives and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn came in and changed our lives. This is when we found the answers we’d been seeking forever. And this is when we made the most difficult jump and stopped looking back. One year ago. I’m so very very thankful for that day.

Without ever being hungry, we both lost weight and immediately began to feel so much better. Without having to eat bland boring diets (or dangerous fad diets) we both got thinner than we’ve ever been. And unlike all the other times in our lives that we’d lost weight, we did all of this without exercise. And without ever feeling deprived or bored or hungry, because we eat a huge variety of nutrient-rich and filling foods. Real foods. Fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils. Whole foods.

Unlike so many fad diets out there, this way of eating and living drastically improved not just how we look but also how we feel. And most importantly, it improved our actual health. Our cholesterol and blood pressure numbers are better than your average 10 year old. Better than either or us have ever been on record in our lives. This is quite the accomplishment at 44 and 49 years old. Without meds or anything except plants as fuel, we have turned back the clocks in our arteries and our immune systems. Like some magical fountain of youth, made out of bananas and lentil soups.

The most common comment I get is, “But I could never eat that way! I couldn’t give up cheese/burgers/pizza/donuts.” But I am not some superhero and neither is my husband. We have no magical powers. We ate the standard American diet for most of our lives and we were just as addicted to it as the rest of America. We feel no superiority or self-righteousness because we’ve had all the same struggles and battles with food as most people do.

We wouldn’t be able to eat this way (for a whole year now, without exception) if it wasn’t satisfying and incredibly tasty. The biggest challenge was some patience with the learning curve of looking at food in a new way. It took a willingness to give it a little time, as well as an open mind to the possibility of a better life.

I often say that I wouldn’t go back to the standard American diet if you paid me millions. And I mean it. My allergies are gone. My stomach problems are gone. My joint pain and muscle aches and stiffness are gone. My body feels better than it did in childhood. And more than anything, the fear and dread of dying young like our parents has left the forefront of our worries.

We can’t protect ourselves against all of the pitfalls in this fragile life, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look both ways and learn to cross the street safely. That doesn’t mean we don’t buckle up when we get into our minivans. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn to eat for our health.

My mom had a heart attack just before she turned 54. It almost killed her, and I watched her (and cared for her) through another dozen years of health crisis after crisis. I think of this whenever I’m told my diet is “crazy.” As well as this quote from a doctor I’ve come to think of as a mentor.

“Some people think a plant-based diet, whole foods diet is extreme. Half a million people a year will have their chests opened up and a vein taken from their leg and sewn onto their coronary artery. Some people would call that extreme.”

-Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn

What I know most certainly of all is that if my husband and I can navigate and learn this lifestyle, so can you.

Bloomin’ Onion — Plant-based Style

We took our kids to the county fair last night, where there isn’t a lot of food options for plant-based eaters. But as it turned end out, after a lifetime of county fairs being all about food, we didn’t even want any of that stuff. Well, except for a bloomin’ onion. Both my husband and I wanted a bloomin’ onion. But neither of us was willing to risk that kind of jolt to our no-oil systems.

So today, we made our own bloomin’ onion, plant-based style. And gluten-free. We served ours with peanut sauce. And by served, I mean we stood by the stove and ate the whole thing as lunch. It was heavenly!

Recipe:

Batter:

1/4 cup tahini

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 TBS nutritional yeast

Flour mix:

1/4 cup millet flour

1 teaspoon each: garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika

Cut onion (we found a how-to video online) then roll onion completely in batter. Dip/shake flour mix over onion until covered.

Place onion on parchment paper on baking tray. Bake at 400 degrees. For the first 10 minutes, bake covered with a glass bowl to steam the onion. Then take bowl off and bake for 25-30 minutes! And enjoy with your favorite dipping sauce!