Better-Than-Your-Average Potato Salad

I live for summer. For a few blissful months, I’m enveloped in the warmth of our personal star, tilting my head to the sky every time I’m outside. It’s the one time of year I don’t have to deal with my perpetual coldness. (Don’t even talk to me about air conditioned buildings!) I love the heat!

I also love typical summer foods: corn on the cob, salads with garden-fresh veggies, grilled everything. And, now that I’m vegan, potato salad. I stand firmly by the belief that vegan potato salads are orders of magnitude better than those gloppy, mayonnaise-y, sad non-vegan versions that are ubiquitous at summer barbecues. This version is an update on the potato salad I made five (!) years ago, and it’s full of crunchy veggies to counter the fork-tender potatoes. Dijon mustard gives this salad a kick, and a touch of vegan mayo adds just enough creaminess to keep everything together. I love this potato salad, and I hope you will, too!

Better-Than-Your-Average Potato Salad

Better-Than-Your-Average Potato Salad
Serves 3-4 as a side dish

1 1/2 lbs red potatoes, skin still on, chopped into bite-size pieces (about 3/4″)
1/2 small red onion, diced finely
3 stalks celery, diced finely
A handful green beans, chopped into 1″ pieces
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, separated
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 tablespoon vegan mayo
1/2 tablespoon agave nectar
1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon salt
A few dashes freshly ground black pepper

Put a medium-sized pot of water on high heat while you prepare the potatoes and other veggies. Just before the water boils, add the potatoes to the pot and boil for 7-10 minutes or until the potatoes are just fork-tender. Remove from heat and strain in a colander. Rinse briefly with cold water and let sit while you finish chopping the veggies.

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar and one tablespoon of the Dijon mustard. Transfer the potatoes to a large bowl and slowly pour the vinegar-Dijon mixture over the potatoes, stirring to distribute it evenly. Let the potatoes sit while you mix the mayo, agave nectar, salt, black pepper, and remaining tablespoon of mustard in the small bowl. Add the chopped onion, celery, and green beans to the potatoes, and then pour the mayo mixture over everything. Stir to coat evenly.

Refrigerate the potato salad until cold. If you’re serving it the next day, you might want to add an additional tablespoon of Dijon — the flavors lose intensity over time.

Better-Than-Your-Average Potato Salad

Enjoy outdoors on a sunny day! Be sure to double (or even triple) the recipe if you’re serving to a large crowd.

On Visiting New Zealand

NZ: Waiheke

A beach on Waiheke island

Y’all. New Zealand. I have no words.

Well, obviously that’s a lie — I could gush on and on about my trip, but nobody wants to hear unfiltered gushing. So I’ll wrap up my experience in a few paragraphs interspersed with some photos. (I’ll save the vegan-in-New Zealand stuff for later!)

New Zealand is, by far, the most beautiful country I’ve ever visited. It has everything: snow-capped mountains; gorgeous, rugged coastlines; sandy beaches; stunning blue-green water; lush, tropical greenery; and temperate forests. And that’s just what I saw! There are plenty of sites I didn’t get to visit, like the Franz Josef glacier or Milford Sound or the west coast of the North Island. (Those are on my list for my next trip.) I spent so much time hiking and just reveling in nature; it was absolutely glorious. And it reaffirmed my commitment to environmentalism, to protecting nature and trying to leave as light a mark as I can.

NZ: Rangitoto

The view from Rangitoto

On a personal level, this trip was especially meaningful. Although I spent most of my time with my friend who’s living in Auckland, I did a little solo adventuring too. And those days were, perhaps, the most significant for me. The truth is, although I try to project an image of independence and self-confidence, it’s all too easy for me to get mired in self-doubt and anxiety. As much as I love traveling and think it’s one of the best ways to broaden one’s mind and expand one’s perspective, it does make me anxious. Thanks to my OCD*, I have some [wholly irrational!] issues, like sleeping in unfamiliar beds (especially if the sheets are white) and showering in unfamiliar showers (especially if I’m using someone else’s towel). And the very act of traveling worries me. What if I miss a bus and I’m stranded in an unfamiliar town and I can’t find wireless to contact someone and then I miss a flight?! What if I get lost and can’t find my hostel and I’m stuck outside in the middle of the night?! What if I’m stuck in an awkward conversation with a stranger and I don’t have a travel partner to turn to for rescue?!? (Only partially joking there!)

NZ: The Shire

It’s a dangerous business, stepping out your front door.

But despite all my worries, I travel anyway, fighting through the anxiety because I believe travel is worth it. On this trip, I faced many of my fears head-on. And, finally, I felt in charge of myself and my anxieties. They were certainly present, but I made sure they didn’t rule my actions; I pushed through them. I faced my fear of getting lost by, well, getting lost. I wandered around and then found my way back on my own or by asking for directions. And never once did I miss a bus or a flight or find myself trapped outside all night long. Instead, I found myself in places I might not have discovered otherwise, and I found myself getting acquainted with places I might otherwise have known on only a very surface, cursory level. I felt, truly, self-reliant. And I found myself talking to people I might not have talked with otherwise, had I had a travel partner there. I asked folks to take my photo, and I chatted with them about their travels. So even though I was alone, I found myself talking to locals and other travelers who I might have otherwise ignored.

NZ: Akaroa

Boats by the shores of Akaroa

I know how absolutely trite this will sound, but — traveling alone is truly liberating. Doing everything on my own terms made for such a great experience. I loved being able to spend time doing exactly what I wanted for exactly how long I wanted to do it without worrying about anybody else’s happiness or comfort.

So. New Zealand? More than worth the expensive, super-long flight, both for the views and for the opportunity it gave me for self-reflection and self-growth.

I’ll be back, someday.

NZ: Fur Seals

A New Zealand fur seal colony

Now, after getting all heavy on you, let’s wrap up with a little levity. Let it be known that traveling with virtually no hair is freaking amazing. Showers are quick, you don’t have to worry about wet hair before bed/in the morning, and your toiletry bag is lightened. I’m such a fan!

~~~

* I mean real OCD, not like, “OMG I’m sooooo OCD because I like things to be neat!!1!”

Strawberry-Coconut Granola

I’ve got a pretty robust travel tag going, and for good reason: I love, love, love to travel. And I love talking about traveling! Besides daydreaming about my next trip, planning a detailed itinerary, and overthinking my suitcase strategy, every trip I take involves lots of pre-departure food research. This New Zealand trip has been no exception! And one very important part of my food planning is deciding what travel snacks to bring.

My strategy hasn’t deviated much from the one I employed when I went to Italy a few years ago. It’s all about nutritious, protein-rich snacks to keep my tummy full. I made a Wegmans and Trader Joe’s run to stock up on pre-made snacks, and I also whipped up a batch of granola for munching. Since I knew I’d mostly be eating this by the handful (not in yogurt or with plant milk), I needed to make sure this granola had lots and lots of big ol’ clumps. I’ve seen oil-free granola recipes that use applesauce for moisture, so I decided to try something similar. But I wanted to experiment with a different, bolder pureed fruit, one that would add flavor as well as moisture. Strawberries seemed like the perfect choice, and they worked wonderfully, especially when paired with coconut. Mmm.

Strawberry-Coconut Granola

Strawberry-Coconut Granola

  • 1 cup fresh or frozen strawberries
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup ground flax seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup mix-ins of choice (I used chopped almonds and chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 350˚ and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or spread liberally with coconut oil.

In a food processor, blend the strawberries until they’re nearly pureed. (If you’re using frozen strawberries, they should be the texture of a slushie.) Set aside.

In a small saucepan, add the coconut oil, maple syrup, and vanilla extract. Stir to combine, heating over low so that the oil melts. Once all three ingredients are well mixed, stir in the dried coconut. Let sit for a minute, then turn off the heat. Add the pureed strawberries and stir to combine, then set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the oats, ground flax, and salt together, then pour in the wet ingredients. Stir to combine, then fold in any mix-ins you’re using.

Pour the granola onto the prepared baking sheet and spread into a thin layer. Bake for 35-40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so, then remove from oven and let cool completely before eating.

Kale, Sweet Potato, & Quinoa Bowl with Ginger-Peanut Sauce (and, I’m going to New Zealand!)

If it’s not clear yet, I’m all about bowls. Gimme a grain + a green + a delicious sauce and I’m a happy camper. One of my favorite veggie combos is kale and sweet potatoes — they make such a great pair, both flavor-wise and texture-wise. Today’s bowl gives kale + sweet potatoes the chance to team up with quinoa and a gingery peanut sauce for a nutritious, flavorful meal. A drizzle of fresh lime juice is the perfect finishing touch!

Kale, Sweet Potato, & Quinoa Bowl

Sorry for the subpar photo!

Kale, Sweet Potato, & Quinoa Bowl with Ginger-Peanut Sauce
Serves 3-4

For the Bowl

  • 3 cups cooked quinoa
  • 1.5 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 large bunch kale, roughly chopped (I used lacinato kale, but curly kale would be great too)
  • 1/2 lime for serving
  • Chopped peanuts or hemp seeds for serving (optional)

For the Sauce

  • 1/4 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • Scant 1/4 cup coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
  • 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon sambal oelek
  • Water to thin the sauce

Using your favorite steaming method, steam the sweet potatoes for about 10 minutes or until they’re fork-tender. While they’re steaming, you can chop the kale or prepare the sauce. To make the sauce, whisk together all the ingredients and add enough water to emulsify the mixture. You can add more or less water depending on how thin or thick you like your sauce. Set the prepared sauce aside.

When the sweet potatoes are fork-tender, remove them from the steamer and set them aside. Add the chopped kale and steam it for about 5 minutes or until it’s tender enough for your tastes. (I leave the stems on, so I like to make sure they’re tender too.)

To assemble the bowls, add the quinoa, top with kale, and then top with sweet potatoes. Add the sauce and a squeeze of fresh lime juice and toppings, if using. Enjoy!

~~~

In news that’s tangentially related to food, I’m going to New Zealand! I’m leaving this Thursday and staying with a friend who’s working there currently. She’s based in Auckland, but we have lots of adventures planned on both islands. I’ve been researching lots of tasty Auckland dining options, but let me know if you have recommendations! I’ll also be in the Bay of Islands, Rotorua, Christchurch, and somewhere else on the South Island yet to be determined (probably near Arthur’s Pass).

Finally, as promised… I shaved my head! I raised nearly $700 for childhood cancer research thanks to the generosity of my friends, family, and coworkers. And you know what? Having a shaved head is awesome. I feel so bad-ass! (Not to mention that my showers are now so, so quick!) I’m excited to explore New Zealand with my new look. :)

Kelly After

Tahini-Maple Cookies (and, I’m shaving my head!)

While scrolling through my recent blog posts a few days ago, I realized with not a small amount of shock that I haven’t shared a dessert recipe in quite a while. What’s more, my recipe page has a quickly growing collection of savory foods. Time to get back to the sweet stuff starting today, with a cookie recipe I really love. Tahini-Maple Cookies But first, a request. This Saturday, I’m shaving my head. I’m doing it as a fundraiser for children’s cancer research, as part of a St. Baldrick’s event in Baltimore. As someone whose naturally curly hair has elicited hundreds of compliments throughout my life, I’m not sure what it’ll be like to get rid of one of my most defining physical characteristics. But it’s so, so worth it. My extended family has been hit by childhood cancer more than once, and the effects are — needless to say — brutal. So I’m shaving my head in memory of the kids who didn’t have a choice about going bald, and to help fund crucial research. Before looking into St. Baldrick’s, I had no idea that cancer affects children and adults very differently, and that research and treatments are not the same for both groups. Yet, tragically, childhood cancer research is appallingly underfunded. I want to help. I’ve already surpassed my $350 fundraising goal thanks to my wonderfully generous friends, coworkers, and family. And now I’m thinking, maybe I can double it! Even a $5 donation will help. If you can spare it, please donate to my page. Thank you! <3 Okay, request over!

Now to the cookies. I dreamed up these tahini-maple cookies while trying to fall asleep a few nights ago. I wasn’t sure how well the tahini flavor would play in a dessert. Would it be overpowering? Not at all noticeable? Unpleasant?! I shouldn’t have worried: it’s both pronounced and pleasant, any hint of a bitter edge tempered by the caramel-y maple syrup. Tahini lends such a nuanced flavor, deeper than that of other nut butters. These are great grown-up cookies indeed, perfect for a special occasion. (Because, let’s be real, tahini and pure maple syrup aren’t exactly cheap!) They’re also lovely dipped in your afternoon coffee. If you’re feeling especially decadent, go ahead and add some chocolate chips. I prefer them without the chocolate (gasp), but the combination is great. Tahini-Maple Cookies Tahini-Maple Cookies Makes a baker’s doze (13)

  • 1/3 cup tahini
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons sunflower or canola oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons almond milk
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon black sesame seeds
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350˚ and oil a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the tahini, maple syrup, oil, 1 tablespoon almond milk, and the vanilla extract. Once the wet ingredients are combined, sift in the dry ingredients (except for the sesame seeds). Using a plastic spatula or wooden spoon, stir to combine all the ingredients. If the dough is still crumbly (i.e. if it doesn’t stick together in a single ball), add the additional tablespoon of almond milk. Fold in the sesame seeds (and chocolate chips, if you’re using them). Once the dough is combined, scoop heaping tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheet and flatten slightly. Bake for 11 minutes, remove from oven, and let cool for at least 5 minutes before eating.

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Note: If you want a lower-fat option, you can replace the oil with 1/4 cup applesauce. Do not add any almond milk until you’ve combined all the other ingredients; the dough will be wetter and might not need it. Bake for 15 minutes instead of 11. These cookies will be puffier and a bit less rich, but still yummy!

Spicy Collards & White Beans

There’s really nothing like a big ol’ plate of beans ‘n greens to fill you up and make you feel super-duper healthy. Although I never ate collards growing up, I’m so glad to have discovered them as an adult. Packed full of calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C, they make a great nutrient-dense side dish.

For meat-eaters, the classic pot of stewed collards features ham or bacon — ugh. I’m skipping right over the typical salty, smoky flavors in favor of something lighter and a little more heart-healthy: a brothy, spicy pot of collards and beans. Steven and I chowed down on our collards with dry-fried tofu in a miso-maple sauce; they’d also be great with grilled tempeh or even some seitan sausages.

Spicy Collards & White Beans

Spicy Collards & White Beans
Serves two

  • 1 bunch collards, de-stemmed, rolled, and cut into ribbons
  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 large yellow onion (about 7 oz), diced very finely
  •  2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon vegan Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon pure maple syrup
  • 2 cups no- or low-sodium vegetable broth (I use a salt-free homemade broth)
  • Crushed red pepper flakes to taste
  • 8 oz cannellini beans (about half a can)

In a large saucepan or small stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the onions and garlic. Let cook for about 5 minutes, or until the onions are starting to get translucent. (You can prepare the collards during this time.) Add the vegan Worcestershire sauce and maple syrup and stir to coat the onions and garlic. Cook for another 3 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Sprinkle in the red pepper flakes, then add the collards and broth to the pot. Bring the greens to a boil and then reduce the heat.

Let the greens simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, checking them occasionally to make sure the liquid hasn’t boiled away. (If it’s getting low, add a few tablespoons more broth or water.) After 30 minutes, the liquid should be much lower, but the pot should not be dry at all. Add the beans to the pot, stir, and cook for another 5 minutes. Taste and add more red pepper flakes if it’s not spicy enough for you. Eat!

Note: If you’re using canned beans, feel free to throw the whole can in there — you’ll just have a higher bean-to-green ratio. Not that that’s a bad thing…!

Spicy Potato Casserole with Tofu “Chorizo”

One of my favorite workday lunches (and quick weeknight dinners) is a baked potato smothered in baked beans, chili, or broccoli and a cheezy sauce. Keeping a few baked potatoes ready in the fridge or freezer is a great form of insurance against going lunch-less or having to go out and grab something. Cover that tater with last night’s chili or that can of baked beans you stashed in the pantry, and you’re good to go with a filling, hearty meal.

Last time I had a baked potato, I enjoyed it with Trader Joe’s veggie chili. As I ate, I began to wonder why potatoes and chili don’t meet more often. The flavor combination is perfect! I started picturing a dish that would take advantage of the flavors of chili but rely on potatoes for bulk. This casserole is the result, with layers of thinly sliced potatoes doused in a spicy tomato-based sauce. Adding black beans and tofu “chorizo” increases the protein content and gives lots of texture to a saucy dish. Cooking the potatoes right in the spicy sauce really infuses them with the spicy flavors, but it also adds substantial baking time. If you’re in a rush, feel free to boil or steam the sliced potatoes ahead of time and then bake the assembled casserole for 15-20 minutes.

Spicy Potato Casserole with Tofu Chorizo

I opted for a smoky, back-burner type spiciness, but if you love big, bold spices, go wild with adding more chili powder or red pepper flakes! The sauce is customizable to your tastes.

Spicy Potato Casserole with Tofu “Chorizo”
Serves 5-6

For the Tofu Chorizo

  • One block (14 oz) extra-firm tofu, pressed
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Cholula (or your favorite hot sauce)
  • 1/2 teaspoon achiote powder or chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • A few dashes liquid smoke
  • A dash cinnamon

For the Casserole

  • 1 tablespoon sunflower or canola oil
  • 1/2 large yellow onion (about 7 oz), diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1.5 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1 28-oz can tomato puree
  • 1 15-oz can black beans

First, prepare the tofu chorizo. In a container with a watertight lid, mix together all chorizo ingredients (except the tofu) and whisk to combine. Using your hands, crumble the tofu into the spice mixture. The tofu crumbles should be small but not fine; it’s okay if they’re not uniform. Put the lid on the container and shake until all the tofu is coated with the mixture. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 425˚ F.

In a large saucepan, heat the oil on medium. Add the diced onions and cook for about 4 minutes, then add the minced garlic and the tofu chorizo. Cook for another 5-7 minutes, or until the onions are translucent, stirring periodically. While this mixture is cooking, prepare the potatoes. Leave the skins on and slice them lengthwise into about 1/4″ slices. It’s okay if some of them are larger. Once you’ve prepared the potatoes, set them aside.

By now, the onions, garlic, and tofu should be cooked. Turn the heat down to low and add two cups of the tomato puree and all the black beans. Stir to combine and let sit for a minute while you prepare a 9″ x 13″ casserole dish. Spray or lightly brush the dish with a little oil, then pour the remaining plain tomato puree into the dish so it covers the bottom.

Taste the chorizo-tomato mixture and add additional seasonings to taste (chili powder, salt, etc.). Turn the stove off.

Place roughly 1/3 of the sliced potatoes into the prepared baking dish, right on top of the tomato puree. Create a single layer; it’s okay if there are some open spaces, but don’t overlap the potatoes. Using a ladle, spoon 1/3 of the chorizo-tomato mixture over the potatoes and spread to cover them. Repeat with another 1/3 potatoes and 1/3 chorizo-tomato mixture two more times, until everything is used.

Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for an hour. Remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender. If you’re feeling fancy, top with your favorite vegan cheese shreds or cheezy sauce and broil the dish for another 3-5 minutes.

Enjoy!

***

(A note about the tofu chorizo: I based the spice blend on Vegicano‘s Lentil Chorizo. That chorizo de lenteja is out-of-this world delicious! I highly recommend making it and serving it with corn tortillas, pico de gallo, guac, and a simple cabbage slaw. HEAVEN.)