My sweet daughter is a new vegan … well … “mostly a vegan” she says, because she doesn’t often cook for herself, vegan cooking is new to me, and I don’t always have the ingredients, time, or desire to cook vegan dishes, especially after a long day at work, and double-especially since my carnivore son won’t touch a vegetable that doesn’t come in French-fry form. I don’t make my daughter eat meat but I do like to make life easy on myself, using the same pot of rice to make easy, separate meals for them. It’s not hard to do: I throw veg in the steamer for her, and dump a can of black beans in a pot to warm; and for him I broil a piece of chicken or beef, make a little milk gravy, and voila! Meals! And let’s get real: sometimes the day was so long and I am so tired, all I want to do is make eggs or quiche. An hour and a half one-way commute can take a lot out of a person. (Yeah, my college major wasn’t the most marketable so let that be a lesson to you.)
But a family cannot live on easy meals alone. The flavors get boring. So I have to cook now and then. Really cook. It was a lot easier, or so I thought until becoming more aware of different ingredients and different methods, to cook with meat and dairy. There are lots more things to do with them to adjust flavors and textures, and it was WAY easier to make quick meals with them. But what can you do when the most kind-hearted daughter in the world decides to be a vegan after learning more about how food animals are treated? I tell you what you can do: learn a new way of preparing meals. Before I agreed to this lifestyle change, however, I looked up dietary requirements for teenage girls and was pleasantly surprised how easy it is to get plant-based protein and calcium.
A few months and a lot of tempeh, quinoa, and beans into this change, the book Oh She Glows showed up in my Amazon feed. The cover was gorgeous so I investigated it because sometimes I do judge a book by its cover, especially recipe books. Until getting my hands on this book, vegan cooking (to me) left a lot to be desired. As one of my neighbors so aptly put it, “Vegan meals equal nasty.” Not so with Angela Liddon’s book! We (ok, I) made lots of these recipes and haven’t yet found a stinker in any of them. With words like “creamy” and “cheesy” and “smooth” Angela Liddon transformed my thoughts about vegan cooking into thoughts about how easy it would be to create my own vegan recipes. This recipe is a direct result of Angela Liddon’s inspirational book.
2 ripe avocados
2 c. packed fresh spinach
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar (or ½ Tbsp any other kind of vinegar and ½ Tbsp water); can increase to 2 Tbsp of vinegar or vinegar-plus-water if you like the taste
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, pressed or chopped fine (or up to 1 tsp garlic powder)
½ tsp fine grain sea salt (Thank you, Angela Liddon, for alerting me to the existence of this stuff!), optional
Several twists of fresh-milled pepper (or ¼ tsp black pepper), optional
½ sweet onion, rustic chopped (or hell, chop it how you like it)
3 c. fresh broccoli crowns
5 – 6 medium sized carrots, peeled and chopped into 1 inch-ish pieces, the fatter ends chopped into 1 inch-ish pieces and then sliced in half length-wise
Asparagus stalks (I used about 10), woody ends trimmed, the rest chopped into 1 inch-ish pieces (some were longer, some were shorter – I’m not a neat cook)
1 c. mushroom slices (whatever kind you prefer)
½ red bell pepper, chopped into ½ – ¼ inch-ish pieces, set aside in fridge
No-salt seasoning, optional
Whatever you like, enough for 2 – 4 people. You already know how to cook it.
- Split the avocados, seed, and squeeze them into your food processor. If you squeeze them in while the peel is still on, it keeps your hands from getting overly messy. Discard the peel.
- Process the avocados until they are kind of mashed up in there. Then add the spinach and the balsamic vinegar. Process a little bit, open the processor, stir the spinach and mash it down into the avocado, so that it all gets chopped up.
- Once the avocado, spinach, and vinegar mixture is smooth, open the processor again and add the salt, pepper, and garlic. Process this for 30 seconds or so, or until you feel the flavors are evenly distributed.
- With the processor running, slowly drizzle the olive oil in from the “chimney” thingie on the food processor. Once all the olive oil is in, process 20 – 30 seconds more so that the oil is distributed.
- Set aside.
- Put the carrots and broccoli on to boil. Add only enough water to semi-cover the vegetables. You don’t want to drown them (unless you want mushy veg, and if you do, cool. Cover and boil the hell out of them). Boil for about 4 minutes to have them crunchy but not hard / not soft. Drain and set aside.
- While boiling the carrots and broccoli, pour a tablespoon of your favorite oil in a frying pan. Throw in the chopped onions, and mushrooms, and cook for about two minutes, then add the asparagus pieces. Of course you’re going to have to stir these things every now and then to avoid burning, but I usually don’t add that step to recipes. Maybe I should. Here it is.
- Chop the broccoli crowns until they are in bite-size pieces (or don’t) and add the broccoli and carrots to the frying pan. Cook until everything is warmed through. Stir, stir, stir. I added a liberal amount of no-salt seasoning and stirred that around really well. It made a big difference in taste.
- While the other stuff is happening, or afterward if you don’t like juggling lots of kitchen activities, boil some pasta. I used whole wheat but discovered that my daughter is really put off by the texture, so next time I’ll use a spinach fettuccine or something. Use what you have or what you like best. This will really be no good if you don’t like the noodles.
- Once the noodles are done, drain them.
Now for the assembly. I prefer my sauces rather thick but if you find that you would prefer this sauce to be thinner, add some water to the avocado spinach verde sauce and process until it’s distributed. I’d use ¼ c. of liquid at first, and then maybe just little splashes until it’s as thin as you want it. If you do add more liquid, don’t forget to taste and season the sauce. Then again, maybe you prefer bland. If so, never mind me.
Put good layer of pasta in the bottom of your bowl. Scoop on some sauce, and if you leave the sauce thick, use a spoon to mash it across the width of your spaghetti heap. Add another layer of pasta, another layer of sauce, and then add the cooked veg. My bowls only had enough room for these two layers but you can do as many as you want.
To finish off the dish and to make it look all pretty I sprinkled on some of the red bell pepper that was set aside in the fridge and then a made a cute little dollop of avocado spinach verde sauce on the top. If you thin out your sauce you’re not going to be able to dollop unless you set a dollopable portion aside! If you want to go vegetarian instead of vegan, blop on a big fat spoonful of sour cream.
And there you have it. And the best thing is that you can add, remove, or totally change this recipe to your taste. All these ingredients are optional. If you don’t like broccoli, substitute something else. Same goes for any / all of it. Don’t like vinegar? Use lemon juice (or some other acidic liquid to keep your avocado sauce from turning brown too quickly). Play with it! Make it your own!
This recipe makes two generous, three smaller, or four very small portions. You will probably have avocado sauce left over, you lucky devil, so use that savory yumminess in a thrown-together veggie roll-up for lunch the next day. And really, you could just as easily convert this recipe into a veg burrito. Just omit the pasta step. Or don’t. I bet pasta is a pretty dang good substitute for rice.