Pallet Herb Garden

If you’re on Pinterest, you’ve probably seen a pallet garden before. A pallet garden is exactly what it sounds like: a garden growing out of a shipping pallet. I’ve been wanting to make a pallet garden for a year now, but the only thing stopping me was my inability to procure a pallet. These things are surprisingly hard to come by, especially when you’re looking for one! Last year I asked people at several hardware and grocery stores, but no one was willing to part with their precious pallets.

About a month ago, I went to Lowe’s to buy my herbs, intending to plant them in traditional planters, having given up hope of ever procuring a pallet. I asked one of the associates in the garden department if they happened to have pallets, fully expecting to her to look at me like I had 3 heads and tell me no, as usual. To my surprise (and delight!) she gave me 2 free pallets! So if you’re having similar issues finding pallets, try asking the nice people at Lowe’s.

In addition to a pallet, you’ll need the following:

– A LOT of potting soil. I used four (4) 17-qt bags of Miracle-Gro Expand n’ Grow.

landscape fabric or plywood cut to fit the back of the pallet. I used the plywood, but I recommend the fabric if you plan to turn your pallet upright instead of keeping it flat on the ground.

– heavy duty staples and staple gun

– herbs and/or flowers. Each section of the pallet fit 4 small pots of herbs, so you’ll need quite a few plants to fill up the whole thing. If you’re buying herbs that grow and spread easily, like cilantro, mint, and basil, you could probably get away with just 2 small plants in each section.

To make the garden:

1) Attach the landscaping fabric or plywood to the back and sides of the pallet with the staple gun. This tutorial has great step-by-step instructions for attaching the fabric. If you plant to leave your pallet garden flat on the ground, you only need to attach the fabric or wood to the back.

2)  If you plan to leave the pallet flat, choose its permanent location and begin working there, as the pallet will be difficult to move once it’s filled with dirt and plants. If you plan to flip it upright, work in an area where it would be easy to transition the pallet from the ground to against a wall.

3) Flip the pallet over, and fill it halfway with dirt. Water the dirt a little bit before you start planting.

4) Plant each herb or flower in the desired slot. Cover with more dirt, and pack in the plants until they are firmly secured. Water the entire pallet again.

4) Even if you plan to turn your pallet upright, leave it flat on the ground for at least a few weeks to allow the plants to develop roots and acclimate to the soil.

5) Make sure to water your pallet every day!

My pallet herb garden has worked out pretty well so far. All of my herbs are in one place, but the dividing boards prevent one herb from completely taking over the whole garden. I planted the herbs I use most often, so I no longer have to go to the grocery store to buy a tiny plastic packet of herbs, only to use 1 sprig while the rest goes bad in my fridge.

Have you started your herb garden this year?

Here is the pallet garden after I first planted it (May 1, 2013).

Here is the pallet garden after I first planted it (May 1, 2013).

 

And here it is a month later...look how everything has grown! Except the dill. I ate most of that :-/

And here it is a month later…look how everything has grown! Except the dill. I ate most of that :-/

 

Niçoise Salad Sandwich (aka “Ugly Sandwich”)

Vegan Nicoise Sandwich - conveganence blog

Ask anyone in my family the name of the ubiquitous dish that was present at every holiday gathering, and they will unanimously tell you about the Ugly Salad. The Ugly Salad was my Oma’s recipe, and as its name would indicate, it wasn’t the prettiest salad. But it was full of delicious stuff: cauliflower, olives, roasted red peppers, and artichoke hearts to name a few. (I’m not giving away the recipe on this blog–sorry!) Personally, I don’t think it was all that ugly, but perhaps it qualified as such in the 1980s when salads were supposed to be neon iceberg green and bright tomato red. However aesthetically objectionable it was, it was delicious and there were rarely leftovers.

So I guess I should explain why I’m talking about a salad when this blog post is supposed to be about a sandwich. To make a long story short, this sandwich reminded me of the Ugly Salad because it is not the most aesthetically pleasing sandwich in the world, but it is certainly pleasing to the palate!

This sandwich was inspired by a French dish, the salade niçoise. A real Niçoise salad has a lot of non-vegan things in it, like eggs, tuna, and anchovies. Obviously you won’t find any of those things in here. I based this recipe in part off of the popular Not Tuna Salad recipe, found on the Whole Foods website. Then I added a few ingredients to give it the rich, salty flavor of a Niçoise salad; like olives, dijon, capers, and vegan mayo. Spread it on a baguette, stuff it in a pita, or eat it on a bed of lettuce–and enjoy!

Niçoise Salad Sandwich

Serves 4

1 (15 ounce) can no-salt-added garbanzo beans, rinsed, drained and mashed

1/2 apple, cored and chopped

1/4 cup finely chopped celery

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

2 tablespoons dill relish

1 medium shallot, minced

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tbsp capers

2 tbsp Dijon mustard

3 tbsp vegan mayo

1/2 C kalamata olives, sliced or chopped

kosher salt and cracked pepper to taste

2 large tomatoes

4 small baguettes

Olive oil

Direction

Combine all ingredients except for the tomatoes, olive oil, and baguettes. Use a food processor to save time chopping and mashing. Season with salt, pepper, and extra lemon juice if needed.

Slice baguettes in half. Brush each side each side with olive oil (or you could use more mustard and vegan mayo). Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread garbanzo bean mixture evenly on baguettes. Top with tomato. Wrap baguettes in parchment paper if picnicking or otherwise transporting the sandwiches.

Vegan Nicoise Sandwich2 - conveganence blog

 

Cherry Vanilla Almond Smoothie

Are you in the mood for a breakfast that tastes like a dessert but won’t take up half your allotted calories for the day? If so, then give this smoothie a whirl! It’s got everything: protein, fiber, antioxidants, calcium, Omega-3s, and the triple-threat of all flavor combinations: cherry/vanilla/almond. (Edit: Did anyone else read that last sentence in Stefon’s voice, or have I just been watching too much SNL?)

I made this smoothie for breakfast yesterday, and I didn’t get around to eating lunch until 3pm, nor was I tempted to have a snack. Needless to say, this smoothie will become part of my regular breakfast repertoire.

Cherry Vanilla Almond Smoothie

Serves 1

Prep time: 10 minutes (plus 30+ minutes to soak chia seeds)

Ingredients

3/4 C plain or vanilla almond milk yogurt

1 C fresh cherries, pitted and stems removed (about 15 cherries)

1/3 C almond milk

2 tbsp chia seeds

1 tbsp almond butter

1/4 tsp vanilla extract (if you did not use vanilla flavored yogurt–otherwise, omit it)

1/4 tsp almond extract

1 scoop plain or vanilla plant-based protein powder (optional–I did not use any protein powder in this yesterday)

4-5 ice cubes

Directions

1) Soak chia seeds in almond milk the night before, or for at least 30 minutes prior to making the smoothie.

2) Pit the cherries. I recommend using a chopstick or a skewer to do this. Make sure to pit the cherries over a paper towel or plate, as it can get messy.

3) Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Salad

This weekend was the official opening of the farmer’s market in my town. It was a little anticlimactic because there weren’t many vendors yet, and most of the vendors didn’t have much in the way of offerings. Fortunately, I managed to score some beautiful ruby red rhubarb.

 

rhubarbconveganence blog - strawberry rhubarb salad

I was too lazy to go grocery shopping or look for recipes that use rhubarb, so I just combined it with some ingredients I happened to have around the house.

This salad is on the sweet side, and it’s perfect for the hot weather we’ve had lately. If you can wait a while before eating it, I recommend serving it chilled. I ate it warm (I’m impatient like that) but that didn’t stop me from wolfing this down.

Strawberry Rhubarb Salad

Serves 4

Preparation time: 25 minutes (plus chill time)

Ingredients:

For the Salad

1 C quinoa, cooked according to package instructions

2 large stalks rhubarb, diced (about 2 C)

2 tbsp vegan cane sugar

1 1/2 C strawberries, sliced

10 oz watercress or other green (spinach would work nicely here too)

optional: almond slivers (I didn’t use any but I thought it would go well with this salad)

For the Dressing

1 C  strawberries, stems removed

3 tbsp white balsamic vinegar

2 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

juice from 1 lemon

1/2 tsp agave nectar

1/2 tsp ground ginger (or 1″ grated fresh if you’ve got it)

cracked black pepper to taste (about 1/4 tsp)

Directions

1) Preheat oven to 450F. Toss diced rhubarb in a bowl with sugar until rhubarb is evenly coated. Let sit about 10 minutes. Arrange rhubarb in a single layer on a baking sheet, and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool before combining it with other salad ingredients.

2) Meanwhile, mix all dressing ingredients together in a food processor.

3) Toss watercress, sliced strawberries, rhubarb, and almonds, if using.

4) If you are chilling the salad, chill dressing, quinoa, and watercress mixture in separate containers for at least 1 hour. When ready to serve, place quinoa in a salad bowl or on a plate, and top with rhubarb mixture. Drizzle with dressing and cracked pepper. (You could also mix it all together if you want.)

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salad1conveganence blog - strawberry rhubarb salad

 

 

 

 

Savory Sunday Brunch

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Here in Chicago (and I assume most other urban areas in the Western world?) Sunday brunch is a pretty  big deal. When you’re young, brunch is key for soaking up all the booze (and stories!) from the night before. When you’re old, like me, brunch comes after hot yoga but before a trip to Home Depot. It’s the bright spot of Sunday, a cheerful crescendo before the ennui and dread of the workweek ahead team up to ruin the rest of your day.

Brunch can be challenging when you’re not eating animal products. The only vegan options at most brunch restaurants range from unappetizing to downright nauseating. Typically, vegans can choose from a selection of lumpy oatmeal, dry granola, a cup full of withered and flavorless fruits, tomato slices, and breakfast potatoes.

My husband and I, like most Chicagoans, have a relatively well-established tradition of brunching on Sundays. Eggs benedict (subbing spinach for the Canadian bacon) was my go-to dish. Pretty much every restaurant had it. After giving up eggs, I was a little worried whether I’d ever be able to brunch again. After suffering through a few brunches with a sad fruit cup and unlimited mimosas (it was the only vegan thing on the menu, I swear!) my husband finally agreed to give up his bacon and take me to a few vegetarian/vegan restaurants for brunch.

One of our favorite vegan friendly brunch places in Chicago is Handlebar, and my Simple Savory Scramble is inspired by one of their dishes (the Pepita Scramble). Mine’s a bit more basic than the Pepita Scramble (no pesto, no kale, no need to deep fry the onions), so it’s manageable to whip up on a weekend morning. To balance out the spice and heat from the scramble, I added a bright and colorful fruit cup. Then, I mixed up a refreshing Grapefruit and Blueberry Sparkler to wash it all down.

scramble

Simple Savory Scramble (serves 4)*

*to make this SUPER simple, use frozen, pre-chopped potatoes and bell peppers.You can get them at Trader Joe’s!

Ingredients:

1 package of extra firm organic tofu, drained and cut into 1″ cubes

1-2 lbs red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 2″ dice (or use frozen red potatoes)

2 tbsp fresh rosemary, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 small bell peppers, sliced: 1 red, 1 green, and 1 orange (or use frozen sliced bell peppers)

1/2 medium yellow onion sliced thin

1 jalapeno, seeded and diced

1 tsp turmeric

salt, pepper, red pepper flakes to taste

olive oil

Optional: fried onions to put on top

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 425F. Spray a baking sheet with olive oil, and arrange the potatoes on a single layer. Toss with  garlic and rosemary, plus a little more olive oil. Bake for 30-40 minutes, flipping potatoes halfway through.

2) Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the tofu and cook until tofu turns golden brown and crisp, flipping tofu every few minutes to cook evenly. Sprinkle the turmeric over the tofu and stir until coated (the tofu will turn yellow, like scrambled eggs). Lower heat to medium and add peppers, onion, and jalapeno. Cook for about 7 -10 minutes, until peppers and onions soften. Stir frequently so as not to overcook or burn tofu. Add salt, pepper and red pepper flakes as desired.

3) Top potatoes with tofu mixture, and top with fried onions if desired. (I left them out this time.) Add a bit of sriracha for more heat if you want.

fruitsalad

The fruit cup is self explanatory. Just take fresh papaya cubes and pineapple cubes and put them in a pretty dish. You could also add mint, berries, or whatever else you have on hand. I like to keep mine in the freezer while preparing the rest of the food, especially on a warm morning like today.

grapefruitspritzer

grapefruitspritzer2

Grapefruit Blueberry Sparkler:

Add some crushed iced to pre-chilled glasses. Add 3 parts freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, and 1 part Izze Blueberry Sparkling Juice. Garnish with a thyme sprig. I made these as mocktails, but you could also add sparkling wine if you want.

What are your favorite brunch dishes?

Breezy Buckwheat Berry Breakfast

Say that 5 times fast!

DSC_0423

I figured the first breakfast recipe I post on this blog should be the one I eat the most often. This breakfast rocks my world because there are so many different flavors (sweet, nutty, tangy) and textures (crunchy, creamy) that it’s impossible to get bored with it. Also, you can take the basic recipe and customize it a million different ways. The buckwheat and chia seeds are packed with fiber and will keep you full until lunch. Plus, this recipe is gluten and soy free. Breakfast doesn’t get much better than that!

This recipe was inspired by and adapted from one of my favorite vegan blogs, Oh She Glows. You can find the original here.

Ingredients:

(serves 1)

1/3 C buckwheat groats

1 C fresh or frozen berries, thawed

2 tbsp chia seeds

1/2 C non-dairy milk (I’ve tried almond, coconut, and brazil nut milk–all work great)

A few drops of vanilla extract or stevia extract

Toppings (all optional):

– almond butter

– nuts

– carob chips

– goji berries

– nondairy yogurt

– cinnamon

– anything else that strikes your fancy!

Directions:

1) Place buckwheat groats in a bowl and cover them with water. Place berries in a bowl with the milk, chia seeds, and sweetener. Place both bowls in the fridge to soak. You have two options here. Your first option is to soak them overnight before bed. Your other option is to start soaking them before you begin your morning routine. In any event, they must soak for at least 30 minutes (ideally at least an hour). I prefer the latter method, because I like when the buckwheat is a bit crunchier.

2) Place buckwheat in a strainer, rinse and drain out as much water as you can. Combine buckwheat with berry and chia seed mixture, and mix well.

3) Add desired toppings. The only topping I added today was almond butter. I got a little out of control with the almond butter (no surprise there) so you can see globs of it in the photo. Whoops.

DSC_0422

Israeli Couscous with Spinach and White Beans

I came across Israeli Couscous while perusing the aisles of World Market. It’s different from regular couscous in that the grains are slightly larger, and expand while cooking to resemble small pearls. I had noticed a few recipes on other vegan blogs raving about this ingredient, so I picked up a package. The couscous I bought is mixed with orzo and lentils, but it seemed to be about 95% couscous. Here’s a close-up:

DSC_0132Creating this recipe was super simple. I just threw together some ingredients I had in my kitchen, including a batch of spinach that was dangerously close to its prime, but turned out great when wilted. My husband and I both loved this dish and it took under 30 minutes to prepare (thanks to the mini processor I used to chop some of the ingredients).

The ingredients:

DSC_0129And here’s a photo of the dish in progress:

DSC_0133Ingredients

1 C Israeli Couscous (or you could sub quinoa or another favorite grain)

1 14-oz can white beans (either Cannelini or Great Northern)

2 C spinach, roughly chopped

1/2 medium yellow onion, minced (optional)

1 C sundried tomatoes, chopped

1/2 Kalamata olives, chopped

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

Juice from 2 lemons

3 tbsp nutritional yeast

vegetable or vegan chicken broth (optional)

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp garam masala

1/4 tsp ground ginger

salt and pepper to taste

olive oil

Directions

1) Cook couscous (or other grains) according to the package directions in either broth or water. The broth will give the couscous a heartier, meatier feel, but if you’re watching your salt intake, it might be a good idea to cook it in water.

2) Meanwhile, spray a large skillet with olive oil, and heat on medium-high. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute or until the garlic becomes fragrant. Then add the onion, and cook for about 5 minutes, or until onion begins to turn translucent.

3) Add the tomatoes, olives, and white beans, and spinach. Cook for about 7 more minutes, stirring frequently, until the spinach begins to wilt. Add the lemon juice, nutritional yeast, and spices, cook for another 3 more minutes.

4) Stir cooked couscous into the skillet mixture until thoroughly combined. Add extra lemon juice, salt, and pepper as desired. Serve.

DSC_0139I’m so glad we tried Israeli Couscous, as it has become part of our regular rotation. The other night we had it with artichoke hearts, asparagus, and chickpeas. Not only did it take just 15 minutes to make, but it was so filling and flavorful. Hope you enjoy!

PS: Please forgive my poor food photography skills. I’m still learning. 🙂

Vegan Kitchen Staples

vegan pantry staples (grains and spices)

Vegan Culinary Staples (oils and dressings)

In many plant-based recipes, you’ll see the same ingredients over and over again, many of which are featured in the collages above. While most vegans have a majority of those items in their kitchens at any given time, some of the ingredients may be new to people who have not yet experimented with a plant-based diet.

With the exception of the bulk grains, Vegenaise (vegan mayonnaise), and Earth Balance (vegan butter), most of the items can be found at traditional chain grocery stores. The bulk grains, Vegenaise, and Earth Balance can be found at Whole Foods or most other health food stores. If you don’t live near a Whole Foods or health food store, you can easily order the items online.

There are several other staples that I did not include in the collages (lentils, wild rice, flax, and chia seeds to name a few). If you subscribe to Conveganence, you’ll receive a list of staples each week that you need to stock up on. Once you’ve stocked up on all of these items, your future grocery lists will be relatively short and limited largely to fresh produce.

Vegan Chef Essentials

Vegan Chef Essentials

If you are new to vegan cooking, you might find that your preparation time runs a bit long. So much chopping, juicing, grating, and other work involved for fruits and veggies to taste their best. Luckily, there’s a lot of kitchen equipment available to help you out and significantly reduce your prep time. In addition to pots and pans and other basic kitchen items you probably already have, it is worth looking into purchasing the following:

Tofu Press: If you’ve ever tried to drain tofu before, you know that it can take up to an hour and about a million paper towels. A tofu press saves time (and trees!), giving you perfectly drained tofu in about 15 minutes.

Olive Oil Spritzer: One ubiquitous ingredient found in vegan cooking is olive oil. Instead of dumping a few tablespoons of olive oil in a pan or drizzling it straight from the bottle over veggies, use a spritzer to evenly coat your food or cooking surface with the desired amount of oil. This saves olive oil and calories!

Cutting Board: This one is a no-brainer. You need a large, sturdy surface to chop your veggies and herbs.

Combination Mandolin/Julienne Slicer: Many vegan recipes call for veggies sliced very thin, or sliced like sticks or noodles. Using a mandolin or Julienne slicer makes quick, easy work of an otherwise tedious process.

Citrus Juicer: Fresh lemon juice and lime juice are common ingredients in dressings, salsas, and other vegan recipes. A juicer helps you get the last bit of juice out of each piece of fruit. The one featured here even strains the seeds so they don’t end up in your food.

Microplane: A microplane is useful for zesting lemons and limes, as well as grating foods like garlic, ginger, and whole spices.

Veggie Peeler: Another no brainer. Peeling veggies with one of these is much easier and safer than using a paring knife. This particular peeler does double duty as a scrub brush.

Food Processor: If you hate chopping vegetables, then invest in a food processor if you don’t have one already. Vegan recipes involve a lot of chopping, but if you throw everything in the food processor instead of chopping it by hand, you can shave at least 15 minutes off your prep time. Also, these are great for making soups, salsas, tapenades, and dressings. The one I linked to is pretty pricey, so if you’re on a budget you can find one for much cheaper.

Quality Chef’s Knife: Again with the chopping. A good knife will make it easy to chop vegetables and herbs quickly and safely, thereby cutting down your prep time. In addition to a good knife, I recommend taking a knife skills class at your local cooking school, if you have one.

Mini Processor: The Magic Bullet is a life saver. This little guy makes smoothies, dressings, vegan “cheese” blends, and minces small items like garlic and herbs in just a few seconds. It’s very handy when you don’t feel like dragging out and cleaning up after the big food processor.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a good start. What are some of your favorite kitchen gadgets?