March 13, 2016

Recipe: Shepherd's Pie (All-Vegan All-Star!)

Vegan shepherd's pie

One essential part of managing my stomach issues is managing my stress!  One big relief is not worrying about "what to eat" after a long busy work-day.  I also worry about good nutrition -- eating "right" takes time.  

(Even for the most efficient of us, right?  When your day is full of work stuff, commuting, household chores, family commitments, and trying to exercise/breathe -- it can be exhausting to squeeze in home-cooking, even with meal plans, organized buying, and quick kitchen hands.)

Casseroles are my go-to for quick and good home-made meals!  A few months ago, I decided I was going to master a vegan Shepherd's Pie.  I love the idea of mashed potatoes topping -- and all those greenmarket roots look so happy under there together.   After studying several recipes in my book collection (Moosewood, Veganomicon and others) and online (including the Minimalist Baker's pie), I ended up with my take on it.  

And, as an easy to digest meal for cranky guts -- this one is so comforting and easy to tolerate for me. 



Amounts can and may vary depending on what you have available.  Generally, this is my favorite ratio:

Vegetable filling:
2 large or 3 medium parsnips, chopped 
3 medium carrots, chopped 
1 large leek, thinly sliced 
2 medium sweet potatoes (yellow or white), chopped 
3 cloves garlic, minced/pressed 

Optional:  Celeriac (that knobby thing in the photo) really adds flavor and texture to the dish.  I've made this with and without and prefer the celeriac.  I also have added celeriac to the boiling potatoes and mash it along for the topping.

Middle layer:
2/3 C. - 1 C. coarsely chopped walnuts 
1 16 ounce can kidney beans, rinsed (or 2 cans if you want more "middle layer").  I like the Brad's Organic beans shown here or any BPA-free can (or dried beans if you have time to prep them!)

Potato topping:
4-6 potatoes for the mashed topping, or enough to cover your pan of choice.

I usually use 4-6 potatoes.  Yukon or other white potatoes look the most "professional," but I have experimented with adding red and/or purple potatoes as well -- though the result looks not so appealing for guests.  :)   You can peel the potatoes for a more polished look but I always leave the nutritious and tasty skin on my mashed potatoes.  


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

1. Prep the vegetables:  peel and chop the parsnips, carrots, leeks and sweets, and celeriac if using.  A uniform size is key, on the smaller side is ideal.  But you don't have to use a ruler or worry too much about it -- just get everything about the same size!

2. In a large skillet (cast iron is exceptional for this), add a few spoonfuls of water and the leeks.   Cover with lid.  Cook for a minute and add the rest of the vegetables and garlic.  Cover with lid to "steam sauce" until softened.  Stir occasionally, adding more water as needed.

Vegetables soften up during the steam-saute.  Don't forget to cover with lid. 
3.  While this cooks down, make the mashed potatoes.  I literally mean "mashed potatoes."  I boil them, drain the water, and mash them.  No salt, no vegan butter or oil of any kind, no soy milk or other liquid.  Just mash 'em.  I leave the skin on because I like the taste and "all the vitamins are in the skin," as we learned years ago.  I also like how rustic it makes the dish look.  

4. Make the middle layer/filling:  take rinsed can of kidney beans and combine with nuts.  Blend very well so beans get smooshed with the nuts.  I have found the best technique is to just knead this together with your hands.   I usually start with less nuts and taste as I blend to get the right flavor.    

5.  In an 8x8 or 9x11 pan, spread the softened vegetable mixture.

6.  Spread the bean-nut mixture on top of this.  I have used one can and it doesn't fully cover the vegetables, but you can use 2 cans for a more thorough cover.  Whatever you prefer!    You will see it doesn't look pretty while you are putting this together...
This will transform and look much better after it is cooked!

7. Toss the mashed potato on top.   Do not press down -- you want this to be "thrown" together so the potatoes are not flattened.  (You could use a fork to make interesting patterns, and help with browning, but I had a great result by just literally "globbing" on the potatoes. 

8. Put in oven, uncovered, and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.   Check to see if "browned" and cooked through to your liking.  (You could eat the whole thing already, without baking, but the oven gets the potatoes pleasantly dried out on top and makes the nut-bean filling "come together.")

BONUS:  This dish is even better the next day when ingredients have mingled.  AND it freezes very well! 

I like serving with roasted squash (yes, MORE vegetables!) or just eat on its own.  A complete meal in one!

February 28, 2016

Happy Tummy: Found and Lost (or, Remembering to Slow Down)

Storefront, Metro Drugs (Upper East Side, NYC)

Something has happened over the past few months to re-ignite my GERD symptoms:  the clenched throat, nausea, fullness and regurgitation episodes.   Since I've mostly had this under control the past year (!) this is surprising and frustrating.  "Oh no, not AGAIN."  


  • Have I been eating too fast lately?   (Yes.  For some reason, I'm inhaling my meals.)
  • Eating too late? (Definitely.  Late hours at work.)
  • Eating too much?  (Calorically, I think I'm okay, but I do think I'm eating too much bulk-wise.  Because I'm eating too quickly.)
  • Eating too much chocolate?  (Most likely.)
  • Not enough Tai Chi or breathing exercises?  (Blame the hectic work schedule and falling out of the habit.  I've recently returned to this wonderful stress reliever.)
  • Too much black tea?  (I bought some high quality Darjeeling and other black tea, which I've been enjoying alongside the usual oolongs and puehr -- have I overestimated my ability to easily tolerate this again?)  
  • Not enough vegetables lately?  (My hectic schedule the past 4-5 months has definitely impacted my capability and desire for home-cooking, especially my greenmarket produce.)
  • Not enough sleep?  (If I'm being honest, yes.  See all of the above.)
  • A compromised immune system (Due to not enough vegetables or sleep?  I just got over a 2-week cold -- my first in years.)   
  • Too stressed out (leading to a compromised immune system, leading to the return of my GERD/gastroparesis) (See above, again, most likely yes yes yes?!!??!)


Just around this time, I noticed this elaborate chalk drawing in a storefront in Manhattan promoting probiotics for a "happy tummy."  

Maybe I'm easily impressionable, but this drawing reminded me to take a step back -- take ten steps back -- and BREATHE and put my body first.   More and more studies are showing the strong connection between gut health and overall health, especially the immune system.  (I have some new links to share, stay tuned, future post!)


I was excited to come across a link for the Gut Microbiota for Health World Congress meeting taking place March 5-6, 2016 in Miami, Florida with panels such as Gut Microbiota as Therapeutics, Life Events that Alter Gut Microbiota, and other timely titles.   See the whole program here.

The meeting site includes a link to this excellent academic site for gut microbiome news:

June 28, 2015

Recipe: Pinto Beans and Greens Tacos (with or without salsa)

Pinto and chard tortilla

Another successful experiment with "stuff laying around the refrigerator!"   I wanted something easy on my stomach after too many late dinners, and meals out.  So, some chard, a can of pintos, and frozen tortillas came together for this gut-friendly combo.  

A note on beans and other legumes:  Many of my meals involve legumes, a food often experienced by others as very non-gut friendly.  I've been eating this powerhouse food for decades -- peas, lentils and beans are a staple of my veg diet: I often eat legumes twice a day, and usually daily.    My guts don't seem to be bothered by most beans, except occasionally chickpeas or lentils can give me a gassy aftermath.    My thought is, as long as my guts are doing okay on legumes, load them up -- they are healthy, they are vegetarian :-) , and they are yummy!     For tips on reducing "bean issues" see this article on "respecting the bean" and Choosing Raw's guide to bean digestion.


Swiss Chard, kale, spinach, or whatever other "greens" you have on hand.  Mix and match!
**Pinto beans or whatever other beans you want to use
Fresh herbs (sage, oregano, thyme…)
Garlic (or garlic scapes, garlic greens, no rules here)
Tiny bit of olive oil for flavor and cooking assistance

1. In large pan (cast iron preferred), saute garlic in the small amount of oil until softened and aromatic.
2. Separate stems from leaves of the greens.  If using chard, chop stems and add to the softening garlic.
3. Cut leaves into strips.   Add to pan, and gently "fold" into the garlic/stems.
4. Chop/tear herbs into small bits and add to pan, stirring in.
5. Add water to just cover bottom of pan.
6. Cover the pan and slow-braise the greens until very soft, about 15 minutes.  Keep adding water, stirring/folding.  Braise longer if needed.  The longer the better!
7. Meanwhile, heat beans in a separate pan (or pot).
8. When beans and greens are done, heat tortillas on the stovetop.
9.  Place tortilla on plate.  Cover with spoonfuls of beans and then greens.
10. Fold and eat and enjoy!

Salsa:  Optional.

* My greenmarket sells Hot Bread Kitchen's corn tortillas, and they've become a welcome regular in MY kitchen!   They've inspired me to create all sorts of "bean and greens" combos for quick dinners and lunches. 

**I prefer to make my own beans "from scratch" but after not being able to find my beloved Cayuga Beans and a few busy weeks with no time to cook, I discovered Brad's Organic beans (in BPA-free cans!).  They're "good enough" and even pretty delicious, especially the kidney beans, pintos, and garbanzos.  There's even a fun "chili mix!"  Rinse the beans well to wash away excess sodium.