I strongly believe in the idea that food has the power to heal you. Certain meals have the ability to transform your mood, move you to a happier place, and / or create a little change in you. For me, the dish that has cured me the most is pad thai tofu.
If you follow me on instagram, you may have noticed that I have made references several times to my PTSD and the healing by which I work. I cannot discuss the details of my recent trauma here, but suffice it to say that something very painful has happened and has completely turned my world upside down. I try to keep things real in this space and allow myself to be vulnerable here and speak honestly about my mental illness and emotional struggles in the hope that it will allow others who are struggling to know that They are not alone. Those of you who have had or are suffering from PTSD know the sudden outbursts of fear, anxiety and hyper-vigilance, the inability to concentrate and constant forgetfulness, nightmares, pounding heart. rush and the sudden inability to do even daily acts. survival like sleeping and eating.
After the event, I completely lost my appetite. The next morning my friends took me to breakfast and I ordered something that I normally would have liked. But just a bite, I wanted to throw up. During those first few weeks, I was lucky if I drank a few toast or a bowl of cheerios in one day. I slowly started adding more bland foods (the only thing I could digest) here and there, and eventually I was able to work up to a big, solid meal a day, but lost over 10 pounds in a month.
One evening after about 8 weeks my friends and I were going to hang out and they suggested getting some Thai food at a vegan Thai place nearby. I accepted because in all honesty I didn't think I could eat anything. I ordered the pad thai thinking that I would probably bring the mostly uneaten box home to put in my fridge until it deteriorated. I had no idea this carton of tofu pad thai was going to change my life.
Now let me just say that there have been many elements in my healing process. I found an amazing therapist and great weekly support group, reconnected with journaling, started meditating, added weekly yoga to my life, and most importantly, surrounded myself with a strong, fierce and loving group of friends (and family) who support me when I am unable to do so. Healing is an ongoing process and I have been doing it almost full time for the past few months. But this to-go tofu pad thai bowl woke my appetite from the 2 month hibernation it had slipped into. The tasty and sticky noodles, perfectly braised tofu, and crumbled peanut filling reminded my tongue how delicious food can be and it reminded my stomach how good it felt to be filled. I came home that night with something moving in me. My body had become so used to eating on the blandest minimum that it took me a while to realize what the fuss was all about. It was the beginning of a desire.
Thai take-out has become a staple, whether it's our favorite vegan Thai restaurant in Santa Monica or the little store closest to my office in the Valley. I ate pad thai tofu at least once (but usually twice) a week. It soon became clear that if I wanted to keep this habit, I had to start doing it at home for myself. So the acceptance test began.
And that's how, my friend, we ended up here, chatting over the most magnificent bowl of pad thai to come out of my (and now your) kitchen. The sauce is tangy and tangy with a subtle sweetness to balance it out. The noodles are sticky but obnoxiously. I like to use wrapped pre-cooked tofu, slice it thinly and cook it in the airfryer for 10 minutes before adding it to the pan with the vegetables. This gives it a crisp which I like a lot, but since it is already cooked you can skip this step and add it to the pan along with the carrots. I also like to slice the red pepper into thin strips using a mandolin so you don't have to bite into large chunks of the pepper, but if you like that, cut the pepper into large chunks. I also prefer, instead of cooking the pasta in the traditional way in a pot of boiling water, fill a bowl with hot water and add the noodles to the bowl (lay out the strands so as not to have large lumps of pasta stuck together ) and let them soak for 10 to 15 minutes, until it's time to add them to the pot. The noodles continue to cook when you add them to the pot along with the vegetables, tofu, and gravy, so it's best not to overcook them first. You can of course cook pasta the traditional way, but just be careful not to overcook it. The result is a succulent bowl of tofu pad thai that will make you want more.
- 1 8-ounce package of Thai rice noodles
- 1 6-ounce package of cooked tofu, sliced into thin strips
- coconut or canola oil spray, optional
- 2 tablespoons of sesame oil
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 5-inch lemongrass stems, thinly sliced
- 2 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced on the bias
- 1 large red pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 cups mung bean sprouts, plus more for serving
- 3-4 green onions, sliced (green and white parts)
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, plus more for serving
- 1/2 cup chopped peanuts
- lime wedges, for serving
- 3 tablespoons low sodium vegetable broth
- 3 tablespoons of tamari
- 3 tablespoons of maple syrup
- 1 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon of tamarind paste
- 1 tablespoon of sriracha sauce, optional
- Fill a large bowl with hot water. Spread the pasta in the bowl, submerged in water, and let stand 10 to 15 minutes until almost al dente. I like to do this before I start to prepare the rest of the ingredients.
- Combine the ingredients for the sauce in a mug and whisk until well blended. Put aside.
- Optional step: For crispy tofu, spray the inner tray of your air fryer with the oil spray. Place the tofu in the pan and spray a little more oil. Bake in air fryer at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, turning / shaking pieces after 10 minutes. Otherwise, you can fry the slices in a pan. You can also skip this step if you don't want the crispy tofu.
- Heat the sesame oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and lemongrass and cook, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes or until the garlic sizzles and the garlic turns golden. Add the carrots (and tofu, if you skip the frying step above) and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the carrots are tender. Add the red pepper and cook for another 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Once the pasta is soft, filter the water and rinse with cold water. Add the pasta and sauce to the pan and stir until combined. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has reduced and the pasta is just starting to stick to the bottom of the pot, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the sprouts, stir and cook for about 1 minute, then remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the green onions and cilantro.
- Serve immediately, garnished with a little more sprouts, cilantro, chopped peanuts and a few lime wedges. Enjoy!
What foods have helped you heal?
Photograph by Kristy Turner
It’s easy to be cynical about the idea of New Year’s resolutions, but there is a lot of undeniable and powerful energy surrounding the idea of change at this time of year. For many of us, that change starts in the kitchen.
Maybe it means resolving to cook at home more often, to keep a well-stocked freezer and pantry, to waste less, or to make slightly more wholesome choices. Maybe, for you, this is the year in which you’d like to give veganism ( or vegetarianism ) a try.
Whether you’re trying to dip your toes slowly into the world of plant-based eating, or you’re ready to make a total shift, it can be helpful to keep a few things in mind.
Some people go vegan overnight, and they never look back. But for many others, a slow transition is more sustainable ( and pleasurable ) than a 180-degree turn. If the idea of going vegan feels daunting, start with a couple of small steps, like a Meatless Monday challenge at home, or switching one of your daily meals to a meatless and dairy-free option. ( You’d be surprised at how easy it is to trade your turkey sandwich for hummus, tempeh bacon, and avocado ).
I’m quick to say that vegan food is just food. While there are a couple of secret weapon ingredients to have on your radar ( nutritional yeast, I’m lookin’ at you ), for the most part a saine appetite for céréales, beans, and produce is all you really need to get started. With that said, any dietary shift can be tricky, and veganism is no exception. So, before you get started, take just a little time to go over the basics of plant-based alimentation. Find a useful, all-in-one resource, like Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina’s Becoming Vegan, or Ginny Messina and Jack Norris’ Vegan For Life. At some point, someone will ask you where you get your protein ( or your iron, or your calcium ), and while you could laugh the question off, it’s a lot more powerful to supply a quick, confident answer.
Going vegan expanded my palate dramatically : I learned about all sorts of global cuisines, warmed up to my spice rack, and tried ingredients I’d never considered before. But my culinary repertoire was pretty meager when I made the switch. If you already have some culinary experience, don’t assume that you’ll need to acquire an entirely new bag of tricks to eat vegan or vegetarian.
In fact, one really useful place to start is by looking at some of your favorite dinner recipes and thinking about how you might adapt them to be meatless and/or dairy-free. It may be as simple as removing some cheese ( or replacing it with cashew cheese ). It may mean trading the central protein for beans, soy foods, or even a hearty vegetable, like mushrooms.
Until I went vegan, I had never tried tempeh, soba noodles, kimchi, kabocha squash, nutritional yeast, millet, mulberries, or buckwheat…and the list goes on. Becoming vegan encouraged me to explore new ingredients, and it also introduced me to more global dishes.
A great many dietary traditions around the world are already plant-based, which means that végétaliens and vegetarians have many rich, exciting culinary folklores to draw upon. If you’re new to plant-based cooking, explore meatless dishes and recipes from other parts of the world ( Indian, Ethiopian, and Middle Eastern dishes are some of my personal favorites ). Dust off your spice rack and add new flavors to your food. Use your transition to plant-based eating as an excuse to try new céréales, legumes, and vegetables.
A lot of folks assume that adapting a recipe to be vegan means replacing the meat or poultry with a faux meat, a block of tofu, or tempeh. That’s cool, but it can also be fun to think creatively and imaginatively about how to capture the essence of a traditional recipe without animal protein. No, lentil Bolognese isn’t really Bolognese, but it does capture the heartiness of the original; cashew banana yogurt is a far cry from dairy, but it does evoke the same, sweet creaminess.
Many people are surprised by how easy it is to go meatless. Cheese, on the other hand, is a different story. I myself used to utter the same words I hear constantly from readers, friends, and alimentation clients : ' I’d love to go vegan, but I can’t give up cheese. '
While I won’t pretend that giving up dairy is easy—it’s not, especially because it’s so ubiquitous in restaurant dishes—I will say that I had a much easier time living without it when I learned to make my own substitutes. Store-bought soy and almond cheeses weren’t cutting it ( especially nine years ago, when the options were limited ), and soy creamers and yogurts left me feeling equally flat. Making my first batch of cashew cheese—which authentically captured the tanginess and matière of goat cheese—was a revelation. Homemade nut milk let me create creamy porridge and muesli far more authentically than did store-bought, non-dairy milk.
Over time, I’ve experimented with tofu paneer, tofu feta, and cashew yogurt, and the list is growing. Homemade dairy substitutes are creative, fun, and cost-effective, and I think they’re a big step up from what you can find in the store.
While I’m the first to point out that vegan proteins extend far beyond soy foods—encompassing tonalités of different céréales, legumes, nuts, and seeds—you really can’t beat tofu and tempeh for ' meaty ' matière and complete protein in meatless dishes. Both ingredients can be either memorable or mundane, depending on how you prepare them. I definitely recommend pressing tofu if you’re not already in the habit; it’ll create a firmer, more toothsome matière that most people prefer.
When preparing tempeh, be sure to use a boldly flavored marinade or sauce to help balance tempeh’s earthy taste, and if you find it bitter, you can steam it before marinating, too.
For the most part, I try to feature whole foods and homemade ingredients in my cooking. But in spite of the fact that I love to create my own dairy substitutes and I’d usually rather eat a scoop of lentils than a block of faux meat, I don’t eschew vegan products, and I think that keeping an open mind about them can really enrich the authenticity of your food.
This is especially important when you’re transitioning and vegan cooking still feels like a brave new world. Nine times out of ten, I’ll opt to use cashew cheese in a recipe rather than Daiya ( a melty, commercial vegan cheese ) ; coconut oil in place of Earth Balance ( vegan butter ) ; or grilled tofu in place of Beyond Chicken ( grilled strips of soy and pea protein that taste shockingly like chicken ).
But when I’m aiming for totally authentic, precise results, vegan substitute products can go a long way, and it’s comforting to know that they’re an option if I feel like taking a shortcut.
Over time, I learned to create vegan food with greater sensitivity to others’ tastes and folklores. I love a lot of really crunchy fare, from the aforementioned raw kale salad to tofu, sprouts, and grain bowls. And I know a lot of other folks who love these dishes, too. But sometimes being an ambassador of vegan food means knowing how to create dishes that feel familiar and appeal to a wide array of more conservative palates, like vegan lasagna, shepherd’s pie, or sloppy Joes.
And, if you’re trying to dispel the idea that all végétaliens eat is salad and prove that vegan food can be filling and hearty, then it’s all the more important to create dishes that evoke a sense of comfort.
Change feels a lot less daunting when you have company. If your family and friends aren’t exploring veganism along with you, then find community in other ways. Explore a vegan meetup or potluck in your community. Become a regular commenter on vegan food blogs. If you do have a friend who’s interested in plant-based cooking, invite him or her over for some recipe testing.
Studies show that failure to stick with a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle is often attributed to feeling ' different ' or isolated. Food is all about community and sharing, so do your best to share this lifestyle with people you care about—even if they’re not making the change along with you.