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Josh

Budget-friendly, Recipes

Recipe Review: Chinese Noodles in Ginger Garlic Sauce

Last night we made this recipe from Forks Over Knives: Chinese Noodles in Ginger Garlic Sauce. It’s an excellent recipe on its own, but we made some modifications to make it a little better. This recipe will be included in the forthcoming book Forks Over Knives Family: Every Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy Kids on a Whole-Food, Plant-Based DietThe book is set to be released in September 2016 and is available for pre-order at Amazon now.

Chinese Noodles in Ginger Garlic Sauce

We substituted cabbage for the bok choy. It tasted great, but the cabbage doesn’t stand out against the noodles as much as bright green bok choy does.

As I’ve said before, our introduction to plant-based living came from the frugal living community. Ever since then, we have consistently tried to make our meals as inexpensive as possible while maintaining maximum nutrition and taste. This is the same approach we took with this recipe. Here are our thoughts:

banh pho noodles

Banh pho noodles are available at most Asian markets. They tasted great in the Chinese Noodles in Ginger Garlic Sauce and can easily be cooked to a chewier consistency than other types of rice noodles.

Banh pho noodles

Banh pho noodles add a much different texture from the one you get with standard brown rice noodles. We find they have a much greater margin of palatable chewiness, which we reached by testing a noodle every minute or so. Once you have the texture you want, shock them with cold water.

To cook these banh pho noodles, we put the whole package in a covered pot. Separately, we boiled enough water to cover all the noodles. We poured the boiling water over the noodles, covered it, and let it sit for about 5 minutes. Then we drained the noodles, shocked them with cold water, and let them sit until reheating them in the main dish at the end.

Carrots

We used three medium heirloom carrots from the farmers market: one purple, one yellow and one white. The white carrot helped to offset the sweetness of the others, giving it a subtle earthy, turnip-like taste.

Cashews

Cashews are a nice touch, but they are expensive when you buy them oil-free and raw (unroasted), which is what we prefer. We save them for special occasions, like when we make a big lasagna or pizza. Next time we make the Chinese Noodles in Ginger Garlic Sauce we will use peanuts instead, which I think would be just as good in this dish, maybe better. The cashews add a certain flavor you may not get with peanuts, but buying oil-free cashews costs significantly more than peanuts.

Cilantro

Cilantro is especially flavorful at certain times of year, like summer, so you may not need to use too much for added flavor. We left ours whole out of habit. Because it is summer and cilantro is at peak flavor, it would have been more appropriate to give it a light chop to distribute the flavor more evenly, instead of getting big shots of flavor here and there. Chopped is the direction in the recipe, and we didn’t follow it. Next time, we will!

Cabbage instead of bok choy

We replaced the bok choy with cabbage, which is cheaper, and also because we had it in the refrigerator anyway. Cabbage is a fantastic, frugal substitute for bok choy. While bok choy is a good and worthy ingredient, for us it’s not always worth the added expense. This recipe calls for baby bok choy, which, depending on where you live, can be difficult to find and more expensive than normal bok choy. For us, the only real issue is one of appearance: bok choy is a much brighter green and stands out better against the noodles. Pound for pound, though, cabbage will nearly always be one of the cheapest vegetables you can buy, and you can reliably get it at most farmers markets.

The sauce

The sauce is good, and the proportion of thickener to liquids is perfect. Overall, though, the ginger and garlic flavors in this dish were somewhat weak. We even used three times the amount of ginger called for, and while it was still detectable, it was far too subtle. The problem is that it is added at the beginning of cooking, which guarantees that the flavor will diminish significantly by the end. When we cook with ginger and garlic (which we often do!) we try to add them as late as possible to preserve as much flavor as we can. Even though it’s only ten minutes total, that’s still long enough to neutralize flavors like garlic and ginger, especially since they’re not sitting in a stew or soup. Next time we will add the garlic and ginger instead to the sauce, let the flavors marry, and then add the sauce at the very end. For us the sauce thickened very quickly, so it probably doesn’t even need to cook for the full 5 minutes.

Final thoughts

We would recommend this recipe without hesitation, but don’t be afraid to make alterations or substitutions. In fact, that’s our advice for every recipe. When you do make changes, be sure to write them down. Keeping a food journal in the kitchen is the best way to keep track of it all.

How do you approach new recipes? Do you cook them as written or make changes the first time? Let us know in the comments!

Books, Budget-friendly, Lifestyle, Produce Picks

Farmers Markets Make Plant-Based Eating Cheaper

$21 worth of whole, plant-based food from the local farmers market.

Farmers markets make plant-based eating even more affordable. This is what $21 worth of food looks like from our farmers market.

A whole-food, plant-based diet is already the cheapest way to eat. During farmers market season, it’s even cheaper.

Our introduction to the whole-food, plant-based lifestyle came from an unlikely source. Some years ago we became more serious about saving money, so we started participating in online finance forums. We found that quite a few of the most frugal members ate a plant-based diet. At first they started with a plant-based lifestyle because it saved them so much money, but in the end they kept it up because it made them feel so good and energetic.

A quick look at the numbers

Of course this was old news for those who had been plant-based before us. John McDougall has been plant-based for 40 years and specifically addressed the money-saving benefits of the lifestyle in his classic best-seller, The Starch Solution. He also put together a striking comparison between the costs of conventional diets versus plant-based eating, where he explained that you can enjoy a plant-based diet on just $3 per day. Following up more recently on his comparison, Rosane Oliveira wrote an article entitled “Cheap or Expensive? The REAL Truth About Plant-Based Diets.” She showed that the cost of an omnivorous meal is roughly three times higher than that of a similar plant-based alternative. Michael Greger, author of How Not to Die, has also addressed the topic on numerous occasions, both in his book (briefly) and in videos posted on his website. In these three videos he specifically talks about how the cheapest foods can represent the best long-term investment.

$14 worth of plant-based food from Midtown Farmers Market.

This haul cost only $14. It’s amazing to think that you can eat so many delicious plant-based foods at such low prices.

Farmers markets make cheap food even cheaper

Simply having access to fresh, delicious fruits, vegetables and other plant-based foods is fantastic on its own. Thanks to farmers markets, they are also at their lowest prices of the year right now. It’s the middle of summer, we are enjoying the life-giving bounty of the best the earth has to offer, and yet somehow we are spending the least amount of money on food that we will spend all year. Cucumbers are 50 cents per pound, bell peppers are 63 cents each or even less, potatoes can be cheaper than 25 cents per pound, collard greens cost six times less than grocery stores or coops (see below), beets with their greens average less than $1 per pound, and so on.

We are fortunate to live near what I believe is the most reasonably priced farmers market in all of Minneapolis. The Midtown Farmers Market is active throughout the season, but this is the time of year when prices start to drop the most, since yields and competition keep increasing from now until the end of October. Competition is best on the main market day, however, so if your market meets more than once per week, be sure to go on the primary market day. For us that’s Saturday. It also meets on Tuesday, but there tend to be far fewer vendors and customers. Because of this, they don’t always discount their food as much as when the market is full. There is little incentive to offer discounts when both merchants and buyers are scarce.

Purple cauliflower from the Midtown Farmers Market.

Be sure to look out for exotic produce at your local farmers market. Purple cauliflower is a lot like regular cauliflower but with an earthy taste.

Farmers markets let you buy more “exotic” foods

Although kohlrabi is not really exotic at all, it is prohibitively expensive in grocery stores near us. Buying it at the farmers market, however, makes it affordable, since it costs about five times less. Other farmers market foods like heirloom carrots, purple cauliflower and purple potatoes are generally priced about the same as their traditional counterparts, so rather than spending more for the exotic color of purple potatoes, for example, you simply pay the traditional potato price. In grocery stores this is rarely the case, so you’ll find yourself paying a premium for the added color.

While they are also not exotic per se, hearty greens are so inexpensive during farmers market season that we eat them nearly every day. Kale, Swiss chard and collard greens cost $1 per bunch at our farmers market, compared to up to $3.50 per bunch in a grocery store or co-op. Not only are the grocery store bunches more than three times as expensive, they are also usually about half the size. Collard greens are currently my favorite vegetable, and I love being able to eat them more often during farmers market season.

Try a different farmers market if yours is overpriced or low in quality

It’s true that some farmers markets in the Minneapolis metro area are significantly more expensive and also offer produce whose freshness and quality seem pretty dubious. If your farmers market doesn’t offer low enough prices or fresh enough produce, try a different one. The main farmers market in downtown Minneapolis is the biggest and is generally as cheap and as fresh as Midtown.

Also, don’t be afraid to touch and even pick up the produce to get an idea of its quality and freshness. I do this all the time, and while I occasionally get confused looks from sellers, they are never rude about it. If I am spending money on something, I am definitely going to guarantee its quality first. If there is a stack of kale on the table, there is no reason not to go through all of it to find a bunch with the fewest blemishes. I find it’s especially important to double check cucumbers and bell peppers as the season goes on, since they easily develop soft spots. I’m always bewildered by buyers who simply ask for produce by name and don’t personally inspect what is clearly laid out before them.

Seize the kale!

Saving money year-round is a nice bonus to the plant-based lifestyle in general, but the biggest opportunity is happening right now during farmers market season. Don’t miss out!

What are your favorite ways to save money on plant-based foods? Let us know in the comments!

Budget-friendly, Lifestyle, Produce Picks

Much Ado About Plant-Based BBQ

Grilled squash is a perfect addition to any plant-based BBQ.

Grill your squash in foil, flesh-side down, but watch for temperature fluctuations! Squash is not as resilient as potatoes. This one still tasted good.

BBQ season is well underway. There is a common misconception that you can’t participate in a barbecue if you eat a plant-based diet, but it’s simply untrue. It’s easy to turn any party into a plant-based BBQ!

First there are the usual sides you find at any typical barbecue: plenty of fresh vegetables, fruit and refreshments. If you’re going to be loading up on fresh fruits and veggies, though, do your host a favor and bring some of your own to share. Just because you maintain healthy stores of fresh fruits and vegetables at home doesn’t mean other people do. In fact, I’ve found that hosts often underestimate by a pretty wide margin how many fresh foods to have on hand for entertaining, especially when it comes to vegetables (think broccoli, carrots, celery, tomatoes [I know: it’s a fruit] and so on).

Now for the main course.

Our top plant-based BBQ picks

  • Portabella mushroom caps (stems removed, no added oil)
  • Corn on the cob (in foil, no butter or oil)
  • Potatoes (russet, in foil)
  • Sweet potatoes (in foil)
  • Squash (in foil and in season! grill flesh-side down)
  • Peaches
  • Pineapple
  • Pizza (with oil-free crust)
  • Vegetable kebabs
  • Asparagus

Potent potatoes

My favorite foods for a plant-based BBQ are potatoes and sweet potatoes, simply due to their ease of preparation. Yes, they still take about an hour to cook, but how many barbecues have you been to where the grill was on for less than an hour?

Grilled potatoes are a hearty addition to any plant-based BBQ!

Hot potato fresh off the grill. Careful: they’re hot!

We were invited to two barbecues in as many days. On the second day, I completely forgot our grilling potatoes at home. We had to stop at a gas station to get some more, but at $0.38/lb I was definitely not complaining about the price.

Gas stations are a great place to buy cheap potatoes for your plant-based BBQ!

Affordable produce is showing up everywhere. We picked up our grilling potatoes at Kwik Trip in Plymouth. As you can see, even the avocados are very reasonable.

A winter squash in summer?

Once we arrived there was also a huge spaghetti squash on the counter that we cut in half and put on the grill. Even though it wasn’t in season, it still tasted pretty good and added some nice variety to our plant-based BBQ. As you can see in the picture above, it did not stand up as well to the heat fluctuations as the potatoes did.

Winter squash is trickier, mostly because you should really only eat it at the very end of barbecue season. The char gave it an interesting flavor, though, and in the end none went to waste.

What are your favorite plant-based BBQ hacks?

Also, if you’re from the South, and you’re cringing at our use of the word “barbecue” to refer to the northern practice of “grilling,” please accept our apologies. And let us know what plant-based foods you grill down there!

Budget-friendly, Recipes

Farmers Market Stir-Fry with Sugar Snap Peas

Shredded cabbage gives this dish an extra bit of freshness and crunch.

Shredded cabbage gives this dish an extra bit of freshness and crunch.

This stir-fry was an absolute joy to make. Nearly everything in it came from a farmers market visit earlier in the week.

The real star here is the sugar snap peas. Be sure to strip off the stem and string from the sugar snap peas before you begin! Our sugar snap peas were very large and firm so we steamed them a bit first before adding the softer ingredients. This works best in a high-sided, covered sauté pan, but it would work equally well in a wok.

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp vegetable broth or water
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1 lb. sugar snap peas, stems removed and strings stripped
  • 2 summer squash, medium, cut into coins and then quartered (we used light green and yellow)
  • ½ lb. broccoli, chopped
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, stems removed, sliced
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • One package tofu, crumbled
  • 1 tbsp powdered turmeric
  • 1 thumb of ginger, minced
  • 3-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • Green onions, chopped, for serving
  • Green cabbage, raw, shredded, for serving
  • Soy sauce, for serving
  • Sriracha sauce, for serving
  • Miso paste, for serving (optional)

The tofu scramble adds an egg-like texture just like a traditional stir-fry.

Method

Drain tofu by gently squeezing between paper towels. After most of the water is drained, crumble it by hand into a medium-sized bowl. Add the turmeric. Mix with your hands until incorporated. The tofu will turn bright yellow.

In a large, high-sided sauté pan, cook the onion over medium-high heat in a small amount of vegetable broth or water for five minutes. If it sticks, add a little more vegetable broth or water and deglaze with a wooden spoon.

Add the sugar snap peas and stir well. Make sure there is still some water or vegetable broth on the bottom of the pan and cover it. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes to soften the sugar snap peas. If your sugar snap peas are not too thick or firm, you may omit this step.

Add the summer squash, broccoli, red pepper, and mushrooms. Continue to cook over high heat, stirring occasionally but not too much. They will release a lot of water. Cook most of it off, which should take about 7-10 minutes.

Add garlic and ginger and incorporate well. Continue to cook on high until especially fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add tofu scramble and continue to cook until the tofu is hot, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Serving

To serve, put a layer of rice on a plate. Cover the rice with a layer of shredded cabbage, then add the stir-fry. Top with green onions, and season with sriracha and/or soy sauce.

Alternatively, you can mix miso paste into your rice first. When I use miso, I don’t add soy sauce or sriracha. I prefer miso, while Theresa typically uses soy sauce or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos.

What do you like to do with your farmers market produce? Let us know in the comments!

Breakfast, Budget-friendly, Recipes

A Quick Alternative to Cooked Oatmeal: Cold Oats

When I was a little kid, I thought I loved oatmeal cookies. It turns out I actually loved oats.

My dad would make oatmeal cookies every weekend over the winter. One night while he had his head turned, mixing the dough, I stealthily abstracted a handful of raw oats. That moment was nothing short of revelatory. Until then I thought oats could only be eaten cooked. To my surprise I liked them more plain than boiled or even in cookies.

I’ve loved raw oats ever since.

In fact, that’s what I still eat almost every morning. The recipe is simple:

1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup Uncle Sam cereal
1/2 cup soy milk (unsweetened, unflavored – I prefer Trader Joe’s brand)
1/2 cup strawberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup  blueberries, fresh or frozen
1 small banana, fresh, sliced very thinly

Cold oats - Oatmeal

I love the smell of cold oats in the morning!

I don’t like adding sweetener, but if you do, maple syrup would probably work best.

If you’re using frozen fruit, either let it thaw on the counter for about 30 minutes or microwave briefly. One cup of frozen fruit takes 90 seconds in our microwave.

Alternatively, you can just eat a few handfuls of rolled oats raw for an even quicker breakfast! I sometimes do this, and it’s still satisfying. Food doesn’t always need embellishment.

If you are interested in something more elaborate, Rip Esselstyn has an excellent alternative at his Engine 2 website here. There is more prep time required for this one, though. I like mine because I can have it ready in just a few minutes, which is great for those busy mornings.

Are there any foods you prefer raw over cooked? Let us know in the comments!