Get ready to party like it’s 2009.
One of my main reasons for starting this blog, back in that ancient day, was to share plant-based recipes that I found fit for athletes. And for several years I did just that, but soon I started to enjoy writing other types of posts. Recipes, I figured, were best left to cooking blogs (like my current favorite, Oh She Glows).
But I miss those days of kitchen experimentation, so starting with this post, I plan to share new recipes now and then, whenever I find one that’s especially delicious, healthy, and easy to make.
First, an announcement …
… and it’s a big one. Susan, Doug, and I — along with Wendy, the newest member of the NMA team — have been working hard on building something special for the past few months.
That something special is a No Meat Athlete community site. With not just forums and other ways for members to connect (both online and in person, if they wish), but also a place where we’ll feature interviews and stories of No Meat Athletes kicking ass in the world — sometimes pros and elites, but often regular, everyday people from our amazing community. And all with the friendly, welcoming vibe that’s too often lacking in other approaches to sharing this message.
The new site isn’t quite ready yet — right now we’re incorporating feedback from over 1,400 people who gave us their input — but should be within the next two weeks, and you can be sure I’ll let you know.
(And by the way, we’re trying to come up with a name for the community blog — if you’ve got an idea, submit it in the comments section of this post. If we choose yours, you’ll win a No Meat Athlete shirt and book!)
Ok, enough with the teaser. Recipe time!
Isa Does It
If pressed to name just one, go-to cookbook that my wife and I use at home (when not in Eat to Live mode — see the postscript below), it would be Appetite for Reduction, written by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, with nutritional input from No Meat Athlete co-author Matt Ruscigno.
Appetite for Reduction is Isa’s healthy, low-fat cookbook, though quite honestly, that only just occurred to me — I figured the name was just a meaningless Guns ‘n’ Roses reference. And if you think about it, there’s no higher praise for a low-fat cookbook than not realizing it’s low-fat!
So when Isa asked if I wanted to check out her latest, Isa Does It, of course I said yes. It didn’t hurt that I scored major points at home when the book showed up on our doorstep while I was away on my book tour — and my wife, Erin, has been cooking her way through the book ever since.
Isa Does It, while of course vegan, isn’t specifically about healthy cooking, the way Appetite for Reduction so clearly is (at least for those who get puns). And when just a few minutes ago I asked my wife what she thought was premise of Isa Does It, I realized that yet more wordplay had gone over my head.
Isa Does It is supposed to be easy and fast. “Amazingly Easy, Wildly Delicious Vegan Recipes for Every Day of the Week,” according to the subtitle. (I should start reading those.)
And it is. As much as Isa’s Veganomicon is revered as the bible of vegan cooking, and as delicious as the recipes within it are, I’ve always found it to be too involved for everyday cooking. Appetite for Reduction is simpler, and Isa Does It is the easiest and fastest of all. But while the recipes are simple, the book is big (150 recipes in 300 pages), beautiful (full color, with lots of photos and a fun design), and clearly a project that Isa poured her heart and soul into.
Which is all to say that it’s great. And even though it’s not ostensibly a health-food cookbook, I’ve noticed that oil and even salt quantities are lower than I’m used to seeing in other books (and easy to reduce even further).
Isa said it would be okay if I shared a few recipes here, so here’s the first: Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Penne with Broccoli! I just made it this weekend, and it’s a great introduction to using blended raw cashews to create a cream sauce if you’ve never done that before. And — like most everything else in the book — it’s delicious, quick, and easy (just don’t forget to soak your cashews two hours ahead of time).
Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Penne with Broccoli
Recipe re-printed (with permission, of course) from Isa Does It, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, published by Little, Brown and Company, 2013
- 8 ounces penne [Matt’s note: I used 100% whole wheat]
For the Sun-Dried Tomato Cream:
- 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (not the oil-packed kind)
- 3/4 cup cashews, soaked for at least 2 hours
- 1.5 cups vegetable or mushroom broth [Matt’s note: I used a no-salt-added variety]
For everything else:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium red onion, quartered and thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus a pinch
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 sun-dried tomatoes (not the oil-packed kind), thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup vegetable broth [Matt’s note: I used a no-salt-added variety]
- 1/3 cup dry red wine
- Several pinches of freshly ground black pepper
- 4 cups broccoli florets and julienned stems
- 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil (about 15 leaves)
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta. When it comes to a full boil, cook the pasta according to the package directions and drain. Set aside, keeping warm.
Prepare the tomato cream:
Pulse the sun-dried tomatoes in a blender just to get them chopped up. Then drain the cashews and add them to the blender, along with the broth. Blend until very smooth. This could take anywhere from 1 to 5 minutes depending on the strength of your machine. Scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula now and again to make sure you get everything. Set aside.
Prepare everything else:
Preheat a 4-quart pot over medium heat and add the oil. Saute the onion in the oil with a pinch of salt for about 3 minutes, until translucent. Add the minced garlic and saute for 30 seconds or so.
Add the sun-dried tomatoes, broth, wine, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper, cover the pot, and turn the heat up to bring to a boil. As soon as it starts to boil, add the broccoli and cover the pot. Cook for about 5 minutes. No need to stir; you’re just braising the broccoli so that it cooks through but is still bright and crisp.
Once the broccoli is cooked, pour in the cashew mixture and stir in the basil. Let thicken for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. You may want to thin the sauce a little bit depending on how much of it reduced, so you can add up to 1 cup of water depending on how thick you like it. Taste for seasoning. Add the penne and toss to coat, making sure that plenty of sauce fills the pasta tubes. Serve right away!
The ‘Eat to Live’ Followup
All in all, my Eat to Live challenge (from December) went really well. In the three weeks that I strictly followed the plan, I got used to not using oil in my cooking, and got at least partially used to not adding any salt to my food. Erin stayed on for the full six weeks, and lost a good amount of weight, which was her goal.
My problem was that I lost weight too, which I had hoped to avoid. Dr. Fuhrman suggests in the book that thin, active people add calories — usually in the form of nuts — to the standard plan. Seeing that I was already 10 pounds below my “ideal” weight (according to a chart in the book), I made this modification. I also snacked between meals — another no-no on the weight loss plan — but still couldn’t keep weight on, even without intense training (I’m only running about half an hour a day right now, several times a week).
So I’ve backed off the Eat to Live plan a bit, but I’m really glad to have done the challenge. Now, without fail, every time I reach for the olive oil or the salt, I’m mindful that I’m doing so. I use less oil than ever, a teaspoon here or there, but never like I used to. I’ve realized that I can buy low-sodium or no-salt-added versions of just about any food I buy in a can, jar, or bottle — whole peeled tomatoes, beans, vegetables stock, tamari, peanut butter — and I almost don’t even notice. I’ve learned that salt added at the table has a much bigger impact on flavor than salt added during cooking, so I generally add it only at the end, after tasting the food (I admit I used to be one of those people who added salt without even tasting).
And so my Eat to Live challenge did exactly what I had hoped, moving me further along the line towards what I currently view as a dietary ideal. I’m not ready to go all the way yet, but my eyes have been opened — and that’s really what challenges like this are for.
The Kickstart Plan includes:
- A 7-day meal plan, built around the foods worth eating every single day
- 14 of our favorite recipes that pack in the nutrition, taste great, and are easy to make
- Focused on simplicity and speed, to minimize stress and time commitment