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WFPB Cooking in an Oil-Free Kitchen

We’ve mentioned a few times in previous posts to leave out the oil that many recipes call for. That’s because we follow a whole foods, plant-based lifestyle (WFPB, for short), which means we do not consume any overly processed foods. The food we eat is as close to its natural state as possible.

There are many reasons not to consume oil. If you want to find out more, here are just a few links explaining why we don’t eat oil: one of Michael Greger’s many videos on oils, John McDougall’s articles on extracted oilsone of Engine2’s discussions on oil, and lastly an article from UC Davis Integrative Medicine.

Simmering Tempeh Triangles

Tempeh simmering on the stovetop in a mixture of soy sauce, veggie broth, and sriracha sauce. No oil needed!

When we first decided to switch to a whole foods, plant-based lifestyle, we weren’t quite sure how we were going to cook without oil. We worried about taste, texture, and everything sticking to the pan. After giving it a try, we realized how easy it was and even found that leaving it out actually improved the flavor of our meals! Suddenly sautéd vegetables tasted like vegetables rather than vegetable-flavored oil.

Now that we have been cooking without oil for a while, we have established a few methods that work really well. The next time you find yourself reaching for your bottle of extra virgin olive oil, consider tossing it out and trying one of these tips instead!

Oil-Free Cooking Tips

  • Bake instead of fry: We still love eating things like (plant-based) burgers and fries. Not to mention things like latkes, falafel, and crispy tofu. But we never fry these. Instead we bake them on parchment paper or silicone baking sheets. They are just as flavorful out of the oven as they are fried on the stovetop.
  • Try a dry sauté, water, or veggie broth: If you are cooking veggies on the stovetop, they emit so much water content that some don’t need any added liquid. Onions and mushrooms, for example, release so much water that you can deglaze without adding anything. If you need to, though, water or veggie broth are good to use.
  • There are lots of oil-free recipe resources! Forks Over Knives, The Engine 2 Diet, and T. Colin Campbell’s Center for Nutrition Studies are just a few of the sites we visit for completely oil-free recipes. The China Study Cookbook and PlantPure Nation Cookbook are only a couple of the many oil-free cookbooks available.
  • You don’t need oil to make healthy, delicious salad dressings. We use things like mustard, tahini, or avocado as the base of our dressings and add vinegar and spices to finish it off. Do a Google search for oil-free dressings and you’ll see that the possibilities are endless!
  • There are always substitutions. This is especially important when it comes to following recipes for baked goods.  The oil is usually added as a binder or to keep the finished product moist. The same effect can be achieved by adding applesauce, ripened bananas, or a flax “egg” to the recipe. Follow this link for a definitive list of oil substitutions.

Until you’ve tasted food without oil, you just don’t know what you’re missing. There is so much flavor under the oil that you can’t appreciate until you leave it out. We tried it once and have been hooked ever since. Save the oil for your car!

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!

Dining Out, Lifestyle

Finding Plant-Based Street Food in Summer

We spent the afternoon looking for plant-based street food at Open Streets Minneapolis Lake Street.

Looking east on Lake Street during Open Streets Minneapolis festival.

People often think you can’t find plant-based street food options at summer festivals.

Just last year I mentioned to a coworker that I was going to the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. She asked why I’d even bother, since I wouldn’t eat anything there anyway. It got me thinking: Too often people just assume that events like these aren’t going to be fun for you if you’re not eating the food. For us that simply isn’t the case. We are there to enjoy the experience, surroundings, and people, not the food. To paraphrase Joel Fuhrman (who himself is paraphrasing multiple historic figures) we would rather eat to live than live to eat.

Thankfully, we are finding that over time there are more and more food options available for plant-based eaters at local and regional festivals. Although the selection can be limited, it’s heartening to see the improvements.

Take for example Minneapolis Open Streets on Lake Street this past Sunday. We went up and down the entire length of the festival at least twice and managed to find multiple vendors offering foods friendly to plant-based eaters. While it may not seem like much, it’s a big improvement over previous years.

Minneapolis Hydration Station

The City of Minneapolis sets up portable drinking fountains with bottle-filling attachments to keep thirsty revelers hydrated.

Plant-Based Street Food Highlights from Sunday

  • Free organic sweet corn courtesy of the Midtown Farmers Market.
  • Free fruit-infused water courtesy of the Minneapolis Health Department.
  • Multiple vendors selling fresh fruits, including mangoes, pineapple and watermelon.
  • Plain grilled corn with nothing added.
  • Fruit-based ice lollies from Frio Frio that are plant-based friendly.
Grabbing a quick mango is a great plant-based street food option in summer.

In Minnesota it’s not real street food until you put it on a stick!

Besides the plant-based food, there was live music, dancing, free bike tune-ups, art and artists working in real time, and just the excitement of being able to use a normally busy thoroughfare as a pedestrian zone. This is the only time I would ever consider riding my bike down Lake Street.

In addition to scoping out food at the festival, we also packed a snack just in case we weren’t able to find anything. Generally speaking this is a really good idea, because you just never know what to expect. We’re looking forward to the next Open Streets event to see what other plant-based offerings we might find.

What do you do to get through summer festival season and maintain your plant-based diet? Let us know in the comments!

Books, Budget-friendly, Lifestyle, Shopping

Plant-Based Meal Plans Save You Time and Money

Plant-Based Meal Plan

This is one of our first meal plans after transitioning to a whole-food, plant-based lifestyle.

Plant-based meal plans are an effective way to control your schedule and food budget.  Never a big planner myself, I have learned to embrace this practice more recently.  Planning your meals in advance can help give structure to your week and ensure that you go through all of your produce before it goes to waste. When you plan ahead, it’s easy to make meals that might otherwise have seemed too time consuming or complicated.

Our Best Plant-Based Meal Plan Tips

  • Be flexible.  Once you make a menu, you don’t need to rigidly adhere to it every night of the week.  Stuff happens; you just need to have a general idea of what you’ll be making.
  • Start small.  Just plan a few days ahead.  The most I ever plan for in advance is one week.
  • Inventory your fridge and pantry as you write your list.  Use what you have so you don’t need to make any special shopping trips.  Keep in mind what you need to go through before it goes bad.
  • Plan for a leftover night. Or two!  It’s like giving yourself a night off from the kitchen!
  • Make it fun!  Josh and I like to write our meal plans on Sunday nights before we start a new week.  Believe it or not, it is actually a really nice way to wind down at the end of the day and bond.  Since cooking is one of our favorite things to do together, we keep our menus interesting with some old standards and a few new ones to try for the first time.
  • Always shop with a list.  Without one, it’s really east to end up with too much — or too little — of what you need.

Our Plant-Based Meal Plan From This Week

DayMealFoods to go through
SundayRoot Vegetable Buddha Bowlbeets, sweet potatoes, sugar snap peas, carrots
MondaySwiss Chard Pastaswiss chard, lemons
TuesdayCaribbean Quinoa Bowlkale, mango, avocado
WednesdayJosh's Five Minute Saladavocado, tomatoes, green onions, mixed greens
ThursdayCollard-ritoscollard greens, avocado, tomatoes, cilantro
FridayCold Soba Noodle Saladcucumber, red bell pepper, mango, avocado
SaturdayBuddha Bowlzucchini (yellow and green), green onions, carrots, left-over rice
Plant-based meal plans make everyday life so much easier!

This was Sunday’s dinner, a root vegetable Buddha Bowl with sugar snap peas, beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, peppers and corn, topped with fresh basil and balsamic vinegar.

If you’re in need of meal-planning ideas, a great resource is The China Study Quick & Easy Cookbook by Del Sroufe.  A plant-based cookbook with several sample meal plans and shopping lists, it also gives you instructions on making a week’s worth of food at once to enjoy throughout the week!

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!