Vegan Meatball Pizza & Creamy Béchamel Cheese

Sometimes, no matter how committed you are to eating healthy and treating your body as the vegan temple that it is…and all that jazz, you just want pizza.

It took me awhile to rediscover my love of pizza because of my well documented love-hate relationship with vegan cheese and because, holy hell, do you have any idea how many calories are just in pizza dough? A lot, my friend.

A lot.

But when the mood for vegan pizza strikes, you ask yourself a few questions.

Do I deserve this?

Have my workouts been sufficiently grueling to warrant this meal?

Am I gonna have it no matter the answers to these questions?

And then you thaw out a couple Beyond Burgers and create the vegan pizza recipe that’s been swirling in your mind for days and days.

Because of the aforementioned calories in pizza dough, I keep the ingredient list pretty simple:

Pizza dough
Tomato sauce
Beyond burger
Onion
Garlic
Almond milk (no sugar added)
Tapioca starch
Turmeric
Nutritional yeast
Mushrooms

Take the burgers and put them in a bowl with grated garlic and diced onion, plus your favorite herbs & spices. Form into vegan meatballs and pop in the oven for about 10 to 12 minutes.

Saute mushrooms, onion & garlic until crisp.

Add oregano, basil and garlic powder to your tomato sauce and you’re good to go.

Mostly.

For the vegan bechamel: place nut milk in a small sauce pan over medium heat and let it warm while you add seasoning. Once it starts to steam add the turmeric and nutritional yeast, then add the tapioca starch. It will get thick and creamy and once it does, assemble your pizza.

I use a cornmeal & herb mixture to separate the pizza dough from the parchment paper, but use whatever you’re comfortable with, and then put everything together.

I prefer sauce-toppings-cheese order of assembly but that’s just me and this is your pizza. Go wild. Go crazy.

Cook for about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how crisp you want the dough and whether or not you pre-cooked it, which I always do for a few minutes.

Let it cool and then…enjoy!

I wasn’t going to post this vegan pizza recipe, which is why it’s a day late but I had to remind myself that not everything you eat will be pretty and, even if it is, it might not photograph well. Especially with my limited photography skills.

But it was a damn good pizza and we eat it so rarely, I had to share!

Ugly But Tasty Vegan Salami Pizza

It’s no secret that while I am a pretty good vegan cook, I am not the world’s most talented photographer. Or second most talented. Not even top fifty, just in case you were wondering. And I’m totally okay with that because on our worst days, our vegan meals are still pretty damn good…but sometimes they really don’t look like it.

Not all photos can be IG worthy, but I personally think you should even share the ugly photos because that is the nature of eating. Sometimes you eat for fuel, for comfort, or for pleasure and sometimes that’s enough. As long as you enjoy it, that’s what matters. Right?

Or maybe I’m just projecting because of my ugly vegan pizza!

The ingredient list on this ugly vegan pizza is pretty straightforward:

Pizza dough

Vegan cheddar

Vegan salami (smoky)

Spicy tomato sauce

Tomatoes

Onion

Cook the onions and half-cook the tomatoes so you don’t end up with tiny balls of fire when the vegan pizza is ready to eat.

Then, assemble your pizza: sauce on the dough, vegetables, salami and then vegan cheese. Bake 12 to 15 minutes and you have a homemade vegan pizza that costs way less than delivery, minus the animal cruelty.

It’s hard to make vegan pizza pretty if that’s your goal but I’d prefer it to be tasty, which this was. And it was big ol’ pizza just for me and the hubs which meant I got to pig out a little more than I should have.

#worthit

This was a quick and easy vegan meal, perfect for a lazy Friday night.

Not Another Buddha Bowl ~ Featuring Crispy Eggplant Frites

At this point I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all got the hang of Buddha Bowl’s, right? I mean you take your favorite 5 to 7 vegan ingredients and turn it into a yummy and nutritious bowl.

I know you’re probably wondering how in the hell did I get to another Buddha Bowl with our whole Midnight Tokyo Diner theme as of late? That’s a pretty easy answer and not a very interesting story, actually. The Hubs had one directive for his meal: eggplant. Again, this probably goes without saying but eggplant is not my favorite vegetable, in fact I would argue it is in my top 5 least favorites. Along with avocado and beets too!

So I decided to do something I could taste–eggplant fries–along with a bunch of ingredients we both LOVE.

So…another Buddha Bowl.

My secret for a perfectly seasoned and crispy piece of eggplant? Veggiegurt. Toss the eggplant in yogurt, salt, pepper, cumin, garlic and smoky paprika and set aside while you blend the crispy breading. For these fries I used a 70-30 blend of flour and cornmeal because I wanted the emphasis on the crunch. Pop in the oven for about 30 to 40 minutes and you have a delicious snack with your bestie.

The rest of the recipe is pretty straight forward: mashed sweet potatoes with butter and nutmeg. Steamed broccoli and a mixture of onion, bell peppers and TVP strips made this a perfectly healthy vegan meal, but one that feeds your inner fat girl.

If you’re feeling brave, feel free to add a quick cooling yogurt sauce, which is what I did. It was veggiegurt, basil and parsley along with a few other herbs & spices.

You don’t have to be a chef or even love to cook to whip up a healthy vegan Buddha bowl for you and your loved ones, all you need is a few vegetables, a nice spice rack and a willingness to learn.

Enjoy!

Spinach & Bean Pinwheels with Balsamic Raddichio

I am always on the lookout for new dishes to sample or vegan-ize, thinking that maybe now I’ll appreciate something that, as a meat eater, I didn’t appreciate. Like spinach. Sure, I could kill a bowl of spinach artichoke dip like nobody’s business but let’s be honest and admit that was mostly due to the gargantuan amounts of cheese in that particular dish. In general though, spinach was one of the few dark leafy greens I could do without or tolerate if I absolutely had to.

But over time my taste buds went from tolerance to a slow appreciate, that I can admit, is still totally situational. You won’t catch me eating steamed spinach with lemon and garlic anytime soon and you won’t find me replacing my beloved salad greens either.

Baby steps, people.

So when one of my Facebook friends shared a video of spinach & cream cheese pinwheels slathered with pig flesh, I thought to myself, “Hey I could totally vegan-ize this!” Since my husband loves spinach, I’ve been making an effort and this was one of the few unprompted spinach dishes I’d made.

Thus, the spinach dish was born.

As a good vegan, it might take you some time to find the a decent puff pastry that’s made with plant butter. This is key to keeping it vegan and here in Romania, it took some time to find one. Only one.

Just one.

But, I digress.

I used frozen spinach but only because we bought a kilogram package and I wanted to use it before freezer burn took over. So I set it in some cold water for a few hours and then let it drain while I prepped the rest of the meal.

Start with the white beans first. I used cannellini beans because they get really creamy in the food processor and they act as the “cheese” in this dish. Combined with some sun-dried tomatoes, grilled garlic and onions, I tossed it all into the processor until it was smooth. Then I made the mistake of folding the spinach in, which kind of lost the beans in the process. The flavor was AMAZING but I wanted the beans to be the star and they weren’t, so I’d recommend you layer it instead of combining it all.

Sprinkle some herbs down on the parchment paper and then lay the flat puff pastry onto a baking sheet. Slather the bean-spinach mixture until covered and then start to roll it up, the same way you would if you were making cinnamon rolls, only roll it a little tighter so it doesn’t spill over. Now you’re good to go! Pop it in the oven for 25-35 minutes until golden and flaky.

This is another bonus to vegan cooking, you don’t have to worry about overcooking everything else just to wait until the meat has cooked safely.

Now, while the pinwheels are baking in the oven, grab 2 heads of radicchio, chop it up with onions and garlic, saute it with a minimal amount of oil/fat until soft. I added lemon and balsamic vinegar but radicchio is new to me and it was far more bitter than I realized. (So if you have any tips on cooking radiccio, I am all ears!!!)

I added a few kalamata olives as garnish to the dish and swallowed it down with a few fingers of Jameson.

On the rocks.

Mushroom Pizza Pocket – Plant Based (and oil-free!!!)

One of the things that gives people pause about going vegan is they think it means eating healthy ALL THE TIME. Let me tell you that’s not true. It’s easy to eat crap while eating vegan…if you let it happen. But no matter how bad it is, it is always better than it’s animal-based alternatives. But that doesn’t mean you should shy away indulging your not-so-great urges, it means that you should be honest and understand that desire happens and ignoring it is a one way street back to Junk Food Junction.

Instead, make what you feel like–for example, pizza pockets–and make it as healthy as you possibly can.

What does that look like, exactly?

This recipe was pretty easy and it doesn’t require a lot of ingredients to get the job done. Let’s start with what’s on the inside:

Crimini mushrooms
Oyster mushrooms
Vidalia onion (1)
Garlic (5 or 6)
Bell pepper (1/2 red & 1/2 yellow)
Rosemary (fresh sprig if you have it lying around)
Thyme & Oregano
Salt & black pepper

Since I didn’t use oil, I cranked the fire up when the mushrooms & rosemary were first added to the skillet until there was a slight char on the edges, when the water begins to cook out of the mushrooms, add a pinch of salt and some soy or Worcestershire sauce but be warned, I’ve found it pretty difficult to get my hands on vegan Worcestershire. Add a little bit of liquid–as needed–to keep from sticking.

Once mushrooms have started to brown, add onion and bell peppers, cook for about 5 to 7 minutes and then add garlic and herbs.

For the pizza dough, I went the lazy route and bought a fresh one from the bakery because it turns out they use olive oil instead of butter so that was a win for me!

Lay out the dough, I did it straight on the parchment paper, and then fill it as you desire. I went with the big ol’ pizza pocket method because the kitchen was very warm and the dough was getting sticky. Lay it out, fill it and fold it up, sealing the edges with water and your fingers. I don’t think you need to brush the top with oil or butter, I just added some cayenne pepper and sea salt to the outside for color and flavor.

While the pizza pocket cooked in the oven, about 20-25 minutes with my oven, I whipped up a quick salad of tomatoes, cucumber, scallions, kalamata & green olives with a lemon mustard vinaigrette and I grabbed some murături from the fridge (okay, from my mother-in-law’s fridge) to finish off the meal.

Seems a little too simple, right?

I thought the same thing but with all the pizza dough, I figured we should go the fresh/raw route to complete the meal because you need that fresh, nutritious fiber in your life, plus all the benefits of eating fermented/pickled vegetables. If you’re curious, it’s cabbage, pickles and cucumber this time around.

If this all vegan mushroom pizza pocket is feeling a little too healthy for ya, I know the perfect way to fix that.

bon appétit!

Traveling While Vegan: Creativity & Compromise A Must

One of the things you might have guessed about me is that traveling is at the top of my favorite things to do list. Honestly, I’m not that picky. Okay, I do have an extensive list of places I would like see and the things I really want to do when I get there but what I mean is that I just like to go to new places. Whether it was going from Charleston to Carbondale when I was in college, a quick day trip to Salem when we lived in Massachusetts or a weekend in San Diego when we lived in California…I want to go to there.

We haven’t been too many places in the 18 months since making the change to a plant based diet but aside from a few memorable places in Germany, eating out has been kind of a drag. If you’re lucky then maybe you’ll find a vegan option or two, but what if you’re in the heart of carnivore country and the notion of a animal free meal is as likely as riding a unicorn to get there?

You get creative. You cobble together something resembling a meal with the side dishes. Some form of potatoes–usually fries because everything else has at least butter if not also cream or milk–and broccoli is my go to option but only if they don’t have a problem steaming new broccoli without butter for me. Sometimes you get something amazing like grilled asparagus or roasted Brussels sprouts but usually it’s nothing as glamorous as all that. So…you compromise. Usually I end up ordering a salad, the bigger the better, with French fries and then booze. I can get a little greedy and get a shot and a beer or maybe, if I’m feeling good, a couple cocktails.

But when I get home I have to fix something with some sustenance to it.

Which brings me to the most recent trip: Busteni

Busteni is a small mountain town in Prahova County, Romania with some amazing scenery and a gondola from which you can see it all. This place was gorgeous even though it was just a tad too late to get the full beauty of the autumn colors. And even though it was too windy to ride this particular gondola and even though I moaned and groaned about it, a ride on another gondola much later in the day proved the wisdom of their decision.

I took this shot on the sidewalk outside the train station!

Since this was an up and out the door early kind of day, we decided to grab a quick bite to eat before making the long-ish hike to the telecable building. As we passed eatery upon eatery where there was not one dish without either meat or cheese, though most had both meat and cheese, I saw French fries in my culinary future. And you know what was most annoying? That there was so much variety from traditional Romanian restaurants to Italian, Irish, Hungarian and even a Bulgarian place. But we finally found a place with a lentil soup that sounded like the perfect way to start a day of walking and climbing, but they didn’t have it. After it became clear that we didn’t have many options our waitress said the magic words, “We have a vegetable ciorba.” The hubs and I looked at each other, smiled and asked for two big bowls. Along with some crusty bread and two tall beers.

And then we were off.

 

The gondola took us up first to 1500 meters which was pretty cool and at about the halfway mark is when I began to understand why the other gondola, the one that went up about another 1,000 meters, was closed. There was wind, more than enough for this Chicago girl, but it was enough to ride safely up the mountain so I don’t want to imagine how windy the other was.

2k meters high!

We did a lot of walking and a lot of climbing and the old me would be so disgusted with the new me because, yeah, I had a good time. When the day started my light makeup looked good and my afro was mostly shaped and shiny. But that took no time at all to undo and I didn’t even care. I climb even higher than the 2,000 meters and I made it, something I couldn’t possibly have done 22 kilograms ago! Sure, I huffed and puffed a little but my lungs didn’t burn and none of my muscles gave out.

Yay, me!

We walked around the town and stopped at a few artisan tents to see what was on sale and I found a beautiful ring made of lapis lazuli that I haven’t stopped wearing since.

Then it was time to eat and we did the dance that all traveling vegans know all too well. We stopped at about six different places to look at menus and see if any eateries had vegan meals and if not, who had the best a la carte options to put a meal together. Ultimately we settled on an Indian style restaurant that was the only lowlight of the day.

The mushroom masala was…okay. It was seasoned nicely but nothing to write home about. Unfortunately.

We ordered pizza because nothing else was vegan. Nothing. Else. Here’s a little tip for you: If a place can’t make small adjustments to make a dish vegan, chances are good that all the food has been made ahead of time (at least) and not fresh to order.

The pizza was also lacking with no tomato sauce to speak of, barely cooked vegetables that slid off with every bite and a dough that left a lot to be desired. I wasn’t surprised but I was totally bummed because it was the worst cherry on top of a pretty good plant based sundae.

But it was a great day and that’s what matters…right?

Mediterranean Pizza

One of my favorite things about cooking is venturing outside of my comfort zone. There are foods that my tongue simply refuses to acknowledge as tasty such as eggplant and spinach. Luckily for my culinary skills my husband does like those foods, but this isn’t Iron Chef so I season and experiment but never taste. He seems happy about the flavors, which is about the best I can hope for, so I think I’ve done a decent job so far.

That brings me to one of my biggest culinary loves; pizza. I’m not talking about the crap that passes for pizza in the frozen section of the grocery store because let’s be honest, that is only acceptable after a long night of partying or for college students. Otherwise it is a disgrace. No, I’m talking about making your own dough, kneading it until your muscles burn and watching (okay squealing) with delight when the dough begins to rise. This is the kind of pizza that gets my mouth watering.

Double Onion & Garlic Pizza

I pride myself on being a fairly health-conscious eater, but being from Chicago the craving for pizza sometimes is just…unbearable. Rather than suffer the cardboard greasiness found in the big pizza giants, I always choose to do it myself. If I have yeast on hand I’ll even make my own dough using this recipe by Tyler Florence, but it’s a fairly time consuming process so sometimes I buy the already made dough.

onion and cheese pizza

The good news is that most bakeries—even those inside the grocery store—will sell you pizza dough for less than $2 so if you don’t really want to get it from the store hit up your local bakery. But make sure you don’t buy the bakery dough too many days in advance or it will dry out.