The Ocean’s Super Food

Since I spent this summer in South Korea I couldn’t miss the opportunity to talk about a superfood that’s present in virtually every dish there. The star of this post is very common in Asian countries but it has made its way into the hearts of many people from all over the world in the form of sushi. Yes, I’m talking about seaweed. Although located at the bottom of the ocean’s food chain, this weird looking plant is mighty powerful. Seaweeds can be found throughout the world’s oceans and seas and none is known to be poisonous1. A member of the algae family, edible seaweed typically comes in three varieties: brown, red, and green. The most commonly eaten are the brown varieties such as kelp and wakame, followed by red seaweed, which includes nori 2. While you’re thinking why nori sounds so familiar it’s because this is the kind used for making sushi. You’re welcome.😉

Seaweeds are filled with antioxidants, calcium and a broad range of vitamins; however, serving sizes are often not large enough to get a decent boost in these nutrient levels 3. Normally in restaurants serving Asian Cuisine you can find it wrapped around rice in sushi form, in miso soup form or even in kelp salad form called kombu (昆布) in Japanese.

Fun Fact: While seaweed-based cuisine has a proud history in many Asian countries, Japan has made it into an art form, employing over twenty different species in their fare.

Seaweed’s most popular attribute is containing a great amount of an indispensable nutrient called iodine. Having healthy levels of iodine in your body is very important for your thyroid amongst other things. Before you look on WebMD what this means I can help you a little bit. The thyroid is a gland located in the front of your neck. This gland releases hormones that influence your metabolism, body temperature and growth and development4. Sounds pretty important, right? Well, a malfunctioning thyroid can cause symptoms such as fatigue, muscle weakness and high cholesterol (to name a few). In severe or untreated cases, it can lead to serious medical conditions like goiters (a swelling of the thyroid gland), heart palpitations and impaired memory2. That escalated quickly. Without going any further, I’m not here to talk about the problem but rather talk about the solution. Where was I? Right! Iodine. It’s good for you.

Still not convinced about trying seaweed? What if I told you they’re packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which may prevent sudden heart attacks and strokes?5

Seaweed is also full of minerals such as:

Calcium & Magnesium: improves bone mineral density.

Iron: helps transport oxygen through your blood.

Zinc: helps hormone production which improves athletic performance.

Potassium: lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

And again,

Iodine: body tissues of your brain, skin and stomach need it for proper functioning.

As always, too much of anything can have its drawbacks. Some types of seaweed can have ridiculously high amounts of potassium and/or iodine. It was found in a study that 10 grams (roughly two tablespoons) of dulse, a type of red seaweed, has 34 times the amount of potassium in an equally sized serving of banana; a high enough dosage to cause heart palpitations among people with kidney problems2. Also consuming large amounts of iodine can also have its own side effects. Moderation is key. Nonetheless, nori is one of the lowest in iodine content which means you can eat a few rolls of sushi a week. That’s what I call a happy ending.

While I was in South Korea, a really good friend of mine introduced me to my new guilty pleasure for life: Kimmari (김말이 튀김). It’s a really simple but all the more delicious fried food. Simply put is: seasoned glass noodles wrapped in seaweed, dipped in tempura and fried (*heavy breathing*). At first glance it looks like a type of sausage but it’s completely vegan. You can find a different version of this RECIPE at Icookfirst; so you can also try this guilty pleasure once in a while at home.

~Oh-so-delicious Kimmari! (김말이 튀김)

Who knew eating seaweed could have so many benefits? Now that you know just a little bit of the many things this superfood has to offer, will you include it in your meals more often? Don’t knock it until you try it. If this post motivated you to try seaweed for the first time let me know in the comment section. Also if it made you fall even more in love with seaweed share your love commenting which is your favorite recipe or dish that has seaweed. Have a great day!🙂

Vegan Baking Hacks 101

Baking without eggs or milk by-products sounds crazy. Like, skydiving-without-a-parachute crazy. But, is it really? Every time I offer a vegan dessert, especially cake, and I say it has no milk nor eggs people start losing it. “Really? No way! How?”-is an instant response to my egg-free offerings. Then I start to explain the supposedly complex science experiment of cooking without eggs. Heads start to nod, “ooh’s” and “aah’s” arise and this crazy suggestion begins to feel more tangible. That’s why I would like to share with you 9 Easy Vegan Baking Hacks that will substitute eggs, milk and its by-products. This way you can impress your friends cooking a beautifully risen cake without eggs and more.

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vegan buttermilk 1. Vegan Buttermilk You can also use instead of the lemon juice apple cider vinegar, white vinegar or lime juice. This recipe can also be used with regular cow’s milk.

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2. Vegan Whipped Cream You can put a can of coconut milk in the freezer overnight and it will solidify. With a dash of vanilla, this creamy goodness can be turned into a vegan whipped cream. You can also add cocoa powder and powdered sugar to make a chocolate flavored alternative.

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3. Milk Alternatives There are too many to name them all. Remember to match the flavor profile of the non-dairy milk to the final product. Texture, aroma and flavor are very different depending of the source of the milk. Soy and nut based milks have a strong flavor while rice and oat milk are more subtle and sweet.

P.S.: Most non-dairy milks are easy to make at home. You basically boil rice, almonds, cashews, or any other ingredient with vanilla, blend and voila! From All Sorts of PrettyHERE is a way to do almond milk and almond flour at the same time, saving food, money and time. Super awesome!

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~And now for the egg substitutes~

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4. Baking Soda / Baking Powder The most common and commercially used alternative is the chemical leavening agent, alias Baking Soda and Baking Powder. Most recipes use this alternative even if it’s not vegan so it’s pretty easy to make the switch. I prefer baking soda because it doesn’t leave a tart, bitter aftertaste. It’s really subtle but I can detect it on the first bite… or is it just me? Correct me if I’m wrong in the comments. Now, the never-ending question: “What’s the difference between baking soda and baking powder?” Essentially they’re both the same. They only differ slightly in taste and how they rise. Baking soda expands to the sides while baking powder expands upwards.

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5. Egg Replacer (Ener-G) This is not a paid advertisement, I REALLY LOVE this product. Made from potato and tapioca starch this substitute is free of: gluten, wheat, casein, dairy, yeast, egg, soy, nut and it’s also low in sodium. It’s a powder that you mix with water and beat until foamy and it’s super versatile, doesn’t have a strong flavor and it’s pretty cheap.

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6. Flax Seeds These tiny seeds have HUGE benefits. Flaxseeds (also called linseeds) are a rich source of micronutrients, dietary fiber, manganese, vitamin B1, and the essential fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid, better known as omega-3. Flaxseed is a source of healthy fat, antioxidants, and fiber; modern research has found evidence to suggest that flaxseed can also help lower the risk of diabetescancer, and heart disease.

Combine 1 tbsp of ground flaxseed (referred to as flax meal) with 2 tbsp of water, mix and let it sit for 1 minute and you have your 1 egg substitute. Although the seed is ground it’s still pretty coarse, especially the skin or shell which is dark in color. This makes for this substitute a bit selective, you decide depending on your final result if you want to use it or not. I don’t recommend it for light, delicate cakes but I do love it in banana cake or muffins.

*Fun Fact: King Charlemagne, also known as Charles the Great, of the Kingdom of the Franks in the 8th century believed so strongly in the health benefits of flaxseeds that he demanded his loyal subjects to eat the seeds and passed laws to make sure of it.

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7. Apple Sauce This one is like the “jack of all trades” because it can substitute butter, eggs and sugar. You can also use apple butter but this one is a bit more difficult to find even though it’s pretty inexpensive. Most of the times you can substitute on a 1:1 ratio but it depends on how much it is. For example, when substituting for butter, the applesauce (or apple butter) won’t give that much structure as butter does. So it can substitute butter in cakes and other loose mixtures but I don’t recommend it for cookies. Applesauce provides moisture, sweetness (even if it is unsweetened) and it also helps as a leavening agent as most fruit purees do. Did you know that apples can give you a brighter, healthier smile? Eating apples regularly also helps protect your body against neurological diseases.1

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8. Pumpkin Oh! Sweet luscious pumpkin! One of my favorite vegetables. Pureed can act as a leavening agent and it also provides moisture to the final product. When using pumpkin it adds color to your mixture and it’s a bit heavy, so I don’t recommend it for light and fluffy cakes. It goes really well for quick breads and muffins. It’s very delicious flan flavor… even though flan is… not that healthy… *COUGH* just eat it on the weekends and on special occasions*COUGH*. A cool fact about pumpkins is that one cup of cubed pumpkin contains twice the amount of the Vitamin A that you need daily.2

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9. Chia seeds No, it’s not the small green leaf that grows in strange pots called Chia Pets(~Ch-ch-chia!~♩ ♪ ♫ ♬). I’m talking about these powerful, awesome and insanely nutritional seeds. Pulse some seeds(about 2 tbsp) in the food processor or blender/mixer with a bit of water(aprox 6 tbsp) and then let it rest it for 1-3 minutes. The mixture will turn into a consistency similar to that of an egg white and with this you can substitute 2 eggs. I discovered a vegan brownie recipe from Peachy Palate that uses chia seeds instead of eggs and it’s out of this world. It’s made with almond butter, coconut oil, dates and plenty more goodness. If you want to try it HERE IT IS. You’re welcome. Something new I discovered is that ch-ch-chia seeds (oh dear, I can’t get that infomercial out my head), they’re being studied as a potential natural treatment for type 2 diabetes. Because of its ability to slow down digestion and prevent sugar spikes.3 One ounce of seeds is packed with 4 grams of protein. Talk about powerful.4

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10. BONUS Bananas are VERY  versatile. You can use 1/2 banana, mashed to substitute 1 egg. Another cool trick that even kids will love is this: freeze a banana and put in the food processor or mixer. To change the flavor you can add coconut milk, frozen pineapple chunks, peanut butter or even chocolate syrup. The options are endless. You will end up with a soft serve-like delicious vegan ice cream. Enjoy!

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After all these easy tricks to level up your vegan baked goods, who wants to go to the kitchen? I know I do. Soon you’ll see some of these tricks in action. Would you like to see a video tutorial on a vegan recipe? Leave a comment and include what would you like to see in the tutorial. Thanks for your time and until next post.

The Swap Squad

Watch out meat, because this squad has it all. I’m talking about the Swap Squad; delicious and healthy alternatives for meat and dairy. Today I will focus on where you can get a good source of protein and other necessary vitamins and minerals leaving out the meat. The biggest concern for most people when trying or practicing a vegan diet is to get the proper amount of the needed protein and iron. To maintain a healthy level of these in your body and diet, when changing from meat to plant based source, you must substitute the same amount you would eat of meat, fish or dairy products to those plant based. Here is a list of many options that provide all the protein you need without missing the meat one bit.

Eggs & Dairy Substitutes:


Milk

  • Rice
  • Almond
  • Soy
  • Potato (normally in powder form)
  • Hazelnut

These alternatives contain almost as much protein as dairy milk, less fat, no cholesterol and can be used anywhere you would use regular milk: baking, sauces, cold/hot cereals, etc.


Cheese
Alternatives from cashew, rice and soy can fool anyone. Here is a recipe from Epicurian Vegan of a hard cashew cheese. Click HERE for an easy recipe to make creamy cashew cheese.


Ice Cream
You can find ready-made vegan ice cream made with rice or soy milk and even made with tofu. Here is a cool recipe for a delicious vegan gluten-free chocolate ice cream from Elena’s Pantry.


Eggs
As a baker I though that it was going to be really difficult to replace eggs in recipes. But it turns out that there are many ways to swap eggs in different recipes.

  • Commercial Egg Replacer(powder): best for baking.
  • Tofu: best for quiche, fritata, egg salad (texture similar to hard boiled egg).
  • Bananas and Applesauce: perfect for baking, also used as an alternative for fat (substitute the same amount when replacing oil).
  • Silken tofu: appropriate for baked goods when blended with liquid ingredients(1/4 cup make 1 egg).


Butter
You can substitute butter when cooking with any vegetable oil; like sunflower seed, grape seed, canola, etc. And the most common swap for butter is her oil-based cousin: margarine.

Meat Substitues:


Tofu
Grilled, pan-fried, stewed, anyway you want it tastes delicious. This meaty substitute contains 7g of protein per ½ cup. The way you season it is key. It comes in hard, medium or soft/silk depending on the use you give it. For grilled or pan-fried hard is better. For sauces or baked goods soft/silk. For everything else there’s mastercard. (This is not a paid advertisement. Sorry, had to do it XD).


Falafel
Look again because these are not meatballs. Falafel is made out of chickpeas and other deliciousness. HERE is a recipe if you want to try it out. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Foods Rich in Protein:

Quinoa stuffed peppers. Yum.
  • Peas
  • Sun dried tomatoes
  • Tofu (7g per ½ cup)
  • Non-dairy milk
  • All kinds of beans: chickpeas, lentils(9g per ½ cup), black, white, red kidney(7.5g per ½ cup) and more.
  • Quinoa (4g per ½ cup)
  • Dark leafy greens: spinach, kale(4g per cup), collards, broccoli(2g per cup).
  • Seitan (also called gluten)
  • All nuts: hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, peanuts, macadamia, walnuts, and much more.
  • Edamame
  • Seeds: hemp, sesame, sunflower, flax, pumpkin, chia

Here is a summary for iron rich foods:

I hope that sharing this information will give you a new perspective of a vegan diet. Remember that if you want to try this special diet consult your nutritionist or doctor. I’m no expert, just a nutrition fanatic.🙂
Remember to share, like and comment. Have a great day!

References from: 1, 2, 3, 4

Wholly Guacamole!

The first thing that comes to your mind when you hear avocado is guacamole, right? But thankfully avocado is much more than just salsa. This superfoods has numerous health benefits and is so versatile it will make you beg for more. Of course, everything must be eaten in moderation, even if it’s good. An interesting fact is that the avocado tree belongs to the same family as the cinnamon and bay leaf tree. And an even more interesting fact is that the avocado is a giant berry with a single seed.

It’s smooth texture is used in both, sweet and savory dishes, mostly used raw because if cooked too much it becomes bitter. Caution should be used when cooking with untested cultivars; the flesh of some avocados may be rendered inedible by heat.(1) Maybe we should just eat it raw to prevent unwanted death… just kidding. But seriously, be careful. There are so many recipes, especially vegan and vegetarians, in which the star is this awesome berry. From milkshakes to salads, to ice cream and pasta.

This fatty fruit will make anything pop.

Now, let’s go to the good stuff. Not only is it delicious, it is also nutritious. It’s not called a superfood for nothing. The most common myth that everyone says is that it has too much fat and that it’s not good for certain types of diets. Yes, the avocado does contain a high level of fat, but good fat.

Monounsaturated fat is considered to be a “good fat” which reduces levels of bad cholesterol in your blood and lowers your risk of stroke and heart disease. Compared to other fruits it has a really low content of sugar (only 0.2 g). They’re also a great source of potassium (containing more per weight than bananas)(2) which helps in controlling blood pressure levels.(3)

Looks down-right delicious!

Get this! A medium sized avocado contains 11 grams of fiber, which is close to half of the daily recommended minimum intake.2 They also contain a considerable amount of vitamins and minerals including vitamins K, B6, E & C. Avocados promote a healthy weight, BMI (body mass index) and waist circumference. This colorful fruit will brighten any plate and one of my favorite ways to eat it is in sushi. Another way to eat it is in a sandwich, a vegan one might I add. I saw this video a while ago and made me want it real bad. This guy, Byron Talbott, made a sandwich so good that you won’t even miss the meat. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2PtM5INJU8o Avocados have proven to be a worthy superfood. From providing healthy fats that we need to lowering the bad cholesterol. This superfood is standing proud in the hall of fame. Do you like avocados? If not, will you start eating them now? Comment in the section below.

Metabolic syndrome is name for a group of symptoms that increase the risk of diabetes, stroke, and coronary artery disease. One study, published in the Nutrition Journal assessed the link between avocado consumption and metabolic syndrome. The scientists concluded that avocado consumption is associated with improved overall diet quality, nutrient intake, and reduced risk of metabolic syndrome.(3, 4)

References: (1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avocado (2) http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/270406.php (3) http://www.undergroundhealth.com/15-amazing-health-benefits-of-eating-avocados/ (4) http://www.nutritionj.com/content/12/1/1

Beet That!

            Beets are definitely not our first option in vegetables. But, why not? Beets have a beautiful, dark, rich maroon color (I’m not referring to the music band) that can instantly highlight any plate and, on top of that, they’re full of antioxidants. Uh, give me some please! I prefer to eat them raw and grated. If you decide to cook them, try to keep the cooking time under 15 minutes if it’s boiled (otherwise water soluble vitamins will be lost) and under 1 hour if baked. Like almost all fruit and vegetables if you cook them for too long they will lose most of its nutrients. An interesting fact is that you can alter the color of the beets when cooking. If you any acid, like vinegar or lemon juice, it will brighten the color, just like red onions. If you add any alkaline substances, like baking soda, it will darken the color and salt will blunt the color. It grows in the cold seasons and it’s commonly found in northern countries. Being in Finland I’ve seen enough beets for the rest of my life; they are served almost every day in the university’s cafeteria.

This vegetable ruby has precious health benefits and is related to longevity. The pigments that give them their yellow or dark red color are called betalains, which is a powerful-all-natural anti-inflammatory with no known side effects. A funny fact is that not everyone can process betalains properly. In the United States, only 10-15% of adults are estimated to be “betalain responders”. A “betalain responder” is a person who has the capacity to absorb and metabolize enough betalains from beets (and other foods) to gain full antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cellular detoxification benefits#2. Additional benefits from betalains:

  • Reduces the risk of blood clots
  • Reduces bad cholesterol
  • Protects cells from toxins known to trigger tumors.
  • Protects your liver from toxins.

Am I the only one getting hungry for beets? This is vegetable royalty right here. It has a beautiful color, can be prepared in many ways and has so many benefits. Any type of inflammation, be it internal or external, can be relieved with a nice beet smoothie, like any of these. And for those days of the month ladies, this will taste like heaven for those cramps and bloating.

For this superfood’s recipes I have many options, all from this awesome beet lovers site. There are sandwiches, salads, casseroles, drinks, desserts and so much more, starring this superfood.

               But there is a recipe that I have to share with everyone: Red Velvet Cake. This no ordinary red velvet cake; this is red velvet cake on steroids. It is vegan and has no food coloring, by now you can guess what gives it the particular red color. This recipe is by Chef Christina from Christina Cooks, a friend of mine introduced me to her, and he is also a food lover and future Chef: this is his blog. I’ve tried many ways to make this cake and this is -hands down- the best one. If you have time check Christina’s site, she has many delicious vegan recipes.

Okay, beets definitely deserve a place in my superfoods hall of fame.
#beetlove

**I will make a dish with this superfood in the winning category and post it next week. So the poll will be open until 17.03.2014**

References: #1#2#3

Going Bananas!

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I can count with one hand the number of people that have told me “I don’t like bananas”. It is a pretty popular fruit among people of all ages and nationalities. There are different types of bananas and the flavor depends of the color. There is even a cooking banana that is called plantain that it’s used generally for savory dishes. It is bigger in size and harder, it is used when it’s still green and also when it turns yellow(ripens), it acquires a sweet flavor. But I’m going to emphasize on the regular raw banana we all know and love.

Maybe the most common myth about bananas is that it must be avoided if you want to lose weight. Are bananas really fattening? Bananas do provide carbs, but our metabolism uses fat and carbohydrates as fuel to do any kind of action. It is commonly consumed before physical activity providing a stable source of energy, making you feel more active and helps you perform at a higher intensity than if you had lower energy levels. Since carbs are basically sugar chains if not used or burned as energy it will accumulate as fat in your love-handle area.

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Another myth about bananas is that it has numerous health benefits including: soothing an upset stomach, providing immediate relief from hangovers and premenstrual syndrome. The tryptophan in bananas is also credited with promoting sleep. It is not proven that eating bananas will cure all the diseases or situations. What is proven is that including bananas in a balanced diet can help prevent or soothe those diseases. In the end it all comes down to watching what you eat; bananas do provide many necessary nutrients, but not all of them.

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Here are the mayor nutrients that are present in bananas and how they help us:

Nutrients/Vitamins/Minerals

It Helps…
Potassium Lower blood preassure; reduce stroke risks
Vitamin B6(pyridoxine) Brain function; metabolism process; reduce swelling
Fiber Constipation, diarrhea; better digestion
Copper Conecctive tissues; repare skin; process iron

Tryptophan

Improve mood; relieve stress

Here and here are more facts, detailed, about bananas and the health benefits we can receive.

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Remember: Bananas contain high levels of sugar and carbs, eat the proper amount depending on the degree of physical activity or work to be done and the rest of the food you consume. You’re not going to eat only bananas, right? Here are some easy and healthy ways to eat bananas, but don’t turn into a monkey now.

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Click here for a drink
Click here for a dessert
Click here for a classic
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*Do you know any other myth or fact about bananas? Share it with us in the comment section below.*

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