Butternut Squash and Leek Soup

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Soup immediately comes to mind on a cold day; and given the forecast they’re predicting this year, I’m going to be making a lot of it!

This butternut squash and leek soup is just delicious. I love both vegetables and thought they would pair together perfectly – and the result did not disappoint. Give this recipe a go and enjoy the warmth this coming winter season!

This post is especially dedicated to one of my instagram followers, Haley, who had expressed she wanted to try this soup out. For you girl! Enjoy :)

Butternut Squash and Leek Soup     Yields: 8-10 servings

3Tbsp olive oil

1/2 leek, washed well and roughly chopped

1 onion, roughly chopped

1 medium-sized butternut squash, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped

5C stalk (chicken is preferred but vegetable or even water works well too)

1/2Tsp cinnamon

1/4Tsp nutmeg

1/2Tsp cumin

3/4C coconut milk

Salt and pepper to taste

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Start by sautéing chopped onion and leek in oil until nice and caramelized – this step adds great flavour to your soups.

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Once onion and leek are nicely wilted, add butternut squash. Toss from time to time to ensure proper cooking and browning, about 5 or so minutes.

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Next, add choice of stalk. Bring to a boil, then cook vegetables in stalk on medium heat, until squash can be pierced easily with a fork, approximately 20 minutes.

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Tip:

1. I freeze chicken broth. This way, it’s available to me should I choose to use it in my soups or other meals.

2. Chicken broth adds a depth of flavour to soups in general, but by caramelizing the vegetables before adding the liquid, it gives you a great rich flavour – which works out well for those who are vegan and/or vegetarian or if you simply don’t have broth available at your disposal.

Add coconut milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cumin. Then, using a hand blender, purée the soup until deliciously creamy and smooth.

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Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Wish you could smell this…

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Garnish with fresh chives (optional) and enjoy warm or hot as a side dish or a main course.

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Perfection.

Bon appétit! xo

Vegan Chocolate Mousse

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So simple to make and tastes even better than it looks; this chocolate mousse is spectacular on its own, in a parfait, or as a filling for a cake. With a few simple ingredients, you can be serving this decadence for dessert tonight!

Vegan Chocolate Mousse     Yields: ~2 Cups

2C Enjoy Life Mega Chunks

3/4C Silken Tofu, or half of the box it comes in.

1C Coconut milk

1Tbsp pure maple syrup

———————

In a double-boiler (small amount of water {~1in} in a pot with a tempered glass or metal bowl on top as shown), allow the chocolate to melt over medium-high heat.

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When you notice the chocolate softening, stir using a spatula to aid in the melting process.

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Once perfectly melted, turn stove off and remove from heat.

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In a blender, add milk, tofu, and maple syrup and blend on high until fully combined.

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Lower speed and slowly add the melted chocolate as shown. Then, cover with lid and increase speed back up to high for about 30 seconds or so until fully incorporated.

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Your mousse is done! Pour into desired serving dishes or a lidded container and refrigerate so it firms up – about an hour.

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Garnish with fruit or eat as is! Bon appétit. xo

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Product Highlight: Nutritional Yeast

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Don’t let the name deter you from buying this super food. Nutritional yeast is as its name states – nutritious. It should be a staple in everyone’s diet, but is particularly beneficial for those who have dairy and egg allergies and/or are vegan or vegetarian and therefore lack the food resources which provide such benefits.

It contains all 18 essential amino acids our bodies need to function healthily and is therefore a complete source of protein (meaning your body absorbs 100% of the nutrients from the yeast). It also contains all of the amazing B-complex vitamins and arguably the most important, B12 vitamin* – responsible for a myriad of things including: converting the carbs from food to energy, decreasing lethargy, insomnia, irritability, depression, and increasing appetite and the health of your skin, hair, nails, and memory function.

Nutritional Yeast is also high in fibre and is a great source of folic acid. It’s 100% vegan: free of dairy, egg, soy, gluten, wheat, animal product and byproduct, and sugar. And this yeast will not cause or worsen Candida because it isn’t active. It’s grown on cane and/or beet molasses and then deactivated (hence why you can’t use it as a leavening agent in baked goods). I can literally go on listing all the benefits that come from these yellow flakes but my post would turn into an essay!

It has a cheese-y nutty flavour, and is delicious as a substitute for recipes calling for parmesan cheese and other cheeses. I use it on pizza, in pasta dishes, and sometimes over salads. We don’t eat corn or popcorn because of Munsur’s colitis, but it’s been pointed out to me that it’s widely used by vegans on popcorn as well. You’re free to use as little or as much as you want, but all you need is a small amount (about a tablespoon or two) to get the benefit.

Available very inexpensively at natural health stores, or your local supermarket in the natural health food aisle. Go out and get this amazing product and reap the benefits and the delicious taste it has to offer!

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Notes: Different brands may or may not have been fortified with the B12 vitamin so do check before purchasing.

 

Vegan Caramel Sauce

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This caramel sauce is deadly! It tastes great on just about anything – ice cream, muffins, cupcakes, cakes, as a filling…you name it, it can be done with this sauce. It’s simple to make and takes minutes out of your time. Well worth the minimal effort so hope you give this a try!

Vegan Caramel Sauce     Yields: ~ 1 Cup

1C coconut milk

1 1/2C packed brown sugar

1/2C water

2tbsp Earth Balance vegan spread

Juice of half a lemon (~1 tbsp lemon juice)

1tsp cornstarch dissolved in 1tbsp cold water

1tsp vanilla extract

———————-

In a small pot, heat coconut milk on high until it reaches boiling point. Then turn off and set aside.

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In a dutch oven or medium-sized pot on high heat, add sugar and water and let boil.  Leave untouched and let sugar completely melt and combine with the water.

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Continue to watch over the sugar/water mix undisturbed for about 4-5 minutes, until you notice the colour turning into a nice dark amber. Once colour is achieved, reduce heat to medium.

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Next, and being careful, add the hot coconut milk, whisking continuously. It will foam and rise so don’t stop whisking until caramel has calmed down.

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Now add the lemon juice, vegan spread, and vanilla. Whisk to combine.

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Next, add the prepared cornstarch and whisk to combine and feel it thicken up a bit, about 2 minutes.

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Serve immediately or pour into a glass bowl/container, cover, and let cool in the fridge.

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Before serving, place bowl or container in warm to hot water to thin the caramel sauce and allow for easy use. Deliciously healthy(-ish)!

Should keep in the fridge for at least a week (if it lasts that long at all) ;)

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Bon appétit! xo

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Yalangi (Stuffed Grape Leaves in Oil)

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What can I say about this meal except that it might be one of my all-time favourite things to eat. Ever. And what’s not to love? It practically melts in your mouth and the taste is out of this world! It’s so good I can’t begin to tell you (or did I just attempt to?)

Making this at home is not only simple, but quite satisfying knowing you’ve made Yalangi when most people go out and buy theirs ;)

This post is especially dedicated to one of my Instagram followers Mrs. Simard who had asked me to put the recipe on the blog. Enjoy beautiful!

 

Yalangi     Yields: serves up to 8 comfortably

2C short grain or sushi rice*, rinsed and drained

2 large tomatoes, peeled and finely diced

3 green onions, finely chopped

1/2 bunch parsley (about a good handful), finely chopped

1tsp dried mint (optional) — heightens the taste therefore recommended but if you don’t have on hand then it’s optional, it’ll still taste great.

2 heaping tbsp pomegranate molasses

Juice of 1 lemon (about 2tbsp lemon juice)

2 1/2tsp Iodized sea salt**

1/2tsp ground pepper

3 large carrots, peeled and chopped

1/4C lemon juice (juice of 2 lemons)

1/4C extra virgin olive oil

2C water

1 1/2tsp Iodized Sea Salt**

1/8tsp ground pepper

1 jar grape leaves

——————-

Begin by emptying the jar of grape leaves and place them in a pot with enough water to cover the leaves. Wash slightly with hand to loosen and rid of the juice the leaves have been sitting in.

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Dump the water, refill pot and place on the stove on high until it reaches boil – at which point you’ll want to turn off and let cool slightly while you prepare the stuffing.

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In a medium bowl, combine rice, tomatoes, onion, parsley, mint, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, 1 1/2tsp salt, and pepper. Taste the juice mix to make sure the salt is ok, and if you feel it needs more salt, add the other 1tsp.

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Being careful not to burn your face from the steam, dump the water and place cold water over the leaves to cool them further and allow you to handle them.

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Taking each leaf at a time, cut the stem off and discard. You should have something like this.

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Place about a teaspoon (eyeball it – you don’t need to be exact) just on top of the removed stem. Roll and fold as follows:

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Ensure you make a tight roll without ripping the leaf. Your finished roll should look like this.

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One-handed roll..not bad at all (patting myself on the back at the moment)!

Now, you’ll more than likely come across leaves that are half cut, or maybe you ripped one by accident when separating. Don’t despair and don’t discard! Use them just as shown.

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You’ll also come across some leaves that are larger in size, in which case you’ll want to add a bit more of the rice mix. Trust me, once you make a few, you’ll get the hang of it. But on average, you’ll want to place about a teaspoon per leaf.

And something else to mention, make sure you’re placing the rice mix on the inside part of the leaf as shown in the pic below. (So you’ll want the smooth part on the outside)

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Once you’ve rolled the leaves, you may place them in a Tupperware in the fridge for a few days, until ready to cook.

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Tip: You may also end up (depending on how many leaves came in the jar) with a bit more rice mix than leaves, in which case you can stuff peppers with it, or if you don’t have such vegetables, use coffee paper or a cheese cloth and place the rest of the rice mix in there to cook with the leaves.

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You’re now ready to cook!

Place the chopped carrots at the bottom of the pot in a somewhat uniformed fashion. season with a dash of salt and pepper.

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Then do the same with the grape leaves. Ensure leaves are snug so as to not have them unwrap and ruin your hard work! Also, make sure that you place the stuffed leaves where the end of the roll is tucked at the bottom.

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When you’ve finished with your first layer, season with some salt and pepper and repeat with another layer of the leaves. repeat steps until all leaves are placed snuggly against each other in the pot.

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Next, take a plate and place upside down on top of the leaves to secure them in place. Place something with weight gently on top of the plate to further weigh down the leaves so they don’t move. I fill my kettle with water and place it on top of the plate.

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In a small bowl, combine water, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Taste to ensure it’s to your liking. Then slowly pour over the leaves. You’ll want enough water to just cover the edge of the plate (about 1/2 an inch over the leaves).

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Slowly pour the liquid into the pot. Notice how the water is just peaking over the plate. That’s about all the water that you’ll want to show.

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Turn the heat on high and allow water to boil. Once it boils, turn to lowest low and wait until water is no longer boiling (bubbling), then carefully remove the weight but leave the plate where it is!

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Cover the pot with lid and allow to cook gently for approximately 2 1/2 hours.

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Tip: Alternatively, if you have to work or need to leave the house, you may wish to make the Yalangi in your slow cooker/crock pot. Same process applies except you’ll want to set your temperature on high and once you notice a rolling boil, turn dial to low and cook for approximately 6 hours. And you also wouldn’t need a weight on top of the plate because you’re not boiling the water.  Update: to err on the side of caution – Do put a weight on top of the plate (same method as on the stove) and remove once you notice the water has heated up (small rolling boil) at which point you’d remove the weight, keep the plate, and close the lid. Let cook for the recommended time above.

Remove lid, remove plate, and enjoy the fruits of your labour. Or in this particular case, the stuffed grape leaves of your labour… (I really need to work on my comedy).

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Perfection.

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You’ll want to be careful for this next step, or have someone help you if you can. You need to flip the pot over the serving plate as shown. I had Jaafer help me because my pot is way too heavy! If you can’t flip it or are uncomfortable doing so, then you can take the grape leaves one by one and place them in your serving dish (the flip is just much quicker).

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Oh. My. Goodness!

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Enjoy as a main dish with hummus. My family (Syrians) considers Yalangi a side dish and enjoy it cold. Whereas my husband’s side (Lebanese) treat it as a main meal and serve it warm. Tomato tomato – in the end, the important thing is it gets eaten!

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Bon appétit! xo

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Notes:

* I use organic rice. Actually almost every ingredient I post that I personally purchase and use is organic and if not then locally produced. I know it’s expensive so don’t feel you need to buy organic all the time. But I saw an episode on Dr. Oz where he talked about how much arsenic is in rice. So that’s why if you can at least try to buy your rice organic whenever possible. The same goes for your apples and berries (pesticides). I sometimes wait for them to go on sale and buy in bulk. Everything else, if it has a thick skin, then you should be ok with buying non-organic.

**I strictly use Iodized Sea Salt by Kalas in my cooking and baking. Iodine is very important in our diet but table salt is very high in sodium and that’s why I choose not to use it. Sea salt has less sodium so it tastes “less salty” even if you were to put more in your meal. That’s why, whenever you see me actually have measurement for salt, be mindful that it isn’t regular table salt I’m using. So start out with half of what I have written and increase as needed.

 

 

 

Vegan Chocolate Pudding

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For a chocolate fix that’s very healthy for you, try this delicious vegan pudding.  It has all the taste and creaminess you expect in a decadent chocolate dessert without the added guilt (not to mention the waistline :/ )! I’ve been playing around with the ingredients for a while now, and can happily say that I’ve found the right mix to satisfy one’s sweet tooth!

If you find a couple of ripened avocados in the back of the fridge and are unsure what to do with them – make pudding!

 Vegan Chocolate Pudding     Yields: ~ 2 Cups or 4 servings

2 very ripened avocados

1/2C cocoa powder

1/2C Organic sugar/honey/agave nectar

1tsp vanilla extract

1/4C Yoso Vanilla Yogurt (the best one i’ve had thus far and is completely allergen-free and organic)

Shredded coconut for garnish

Raspberries or any citrusy fruit like orange segments (very recommended!) for garnish

————————–

Drop all the ingredients except for the coconut and the fruit into a blender. Blend on high for approximately 2 minutes, ensuring all the ingredients are nicely blended together (you may need to scrape the bowl down a couple of times).

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The final product should look like this – decadent and silky smooth.

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Pour into pretty bowls and garnish with coconut and fruit. I do highly recommend raspberries or segmented oranges to go on top as well. The tartness would complement the rich chocolate flavor very well. I didn’t have any on hand last night but I will definitely be doing that myself :)

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Happy diving and bon appétit! xo

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Pizza Sauce

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Forget about all those pre-made sauces you get at the grocery store; often times they’re loaded with unnecessary ingredients and way too much salt. This pizza sauce is very simple to prepare and is perfect on any pizza you wish to make.

Pizza Sauce     Yields: enough for two large pizza dough recipes

1 can tomato paste (I use organic tomato paste)

1/3C water

2-3Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2tsp dried Oregano

1/2tsp salt

————————-

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and set aside for when you’re ready to use on your pizza dough. May be refrigerated in an air-tight lidded Tupperware up to 1 week (it might still be good after a week, but to be safe check the smell and for any mould.  If it’s still good then keep using it)!

Spanakopita

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I was at a loss the other day about what to make for dinner (I’m like this pretty much every day let’s be honest)! I decided I’d go to the grocery store and get inspired. Then I passed by the frozen aisle and saw the Phyllo pastry staring at me and it came to me: spanakopita!

Spanakopita is delicious, but it’s obviously very dairy and egg laden.  But don’t despair. My interpretation is much healthier, completely vegan, and it passed the taste test with flying colors ;) Next time you’re stuck not knowing what to make for dinner, give this super recipe a go!

Spanakopita     Yields: serves 6-8 comfortably

2-3Tbsp Extra virgin olive oil

1 Onion, chopped

1 bag frozen spinach (or about 2 C fresh spinach if available), roughly chopped

1 Leek stalk, rinsed well and chopped

1/2 C Chives and Onion Daiya Cream Cheese

1/4C Cheddar Style Daiya Cheese shreds

Salt and pepper to taste

12 Sheets Phyllo dough, thawed (I purchase the PC brand because I’ve called and confirmed that it’s dairy free)

1tbsp+- coconut oil (for the phyllo sheets)

————————–

Preheat oven to 385°F.

Start with your filling. Finely chop the onion and add to pot with the olive oil, on medium high heat. Stir from time to time until onion is nicely wilted.

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Add spinach and stir. Reduce heat to medium and stir occasionally for approximately 3-5 minutes, until spinach is also slightly wilted.

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Add chopped leeks and stir continuously for a few minutes more.

Note:  Feel free to add the leeks with the onion, I just decided last minute I wanted leeks in my spanakopita so that’s why it was added at this stage :)

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Next, add your cream cheese first and stir until melted into the spinach mix. Then add the cheddar shreds and stir until fully melted and incorporated.

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Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Your filling should look similar to this. Let cool in the pot while you prepare the dough.

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Working with the dough on parchment paper, lay a sheet at a time and use a bit of coconut oil on your hand and spread it on the dough, ensuring you get the edges and any areas that look dry.

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Place a second sheet on top and repeat with the coconut oil. Continue this step until you’ve layered 4 sheets on top of each other.

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Now, spread an even thin layer of the spinach mix covering the dough’s surface.

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Roll the dough as tightly as you can, being careful not to rip it. Be as gentle as possible when handling this dough.

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When you get to the end, wipe a bit of coconut oil on the edge of the dough to help seal it together.

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Your dough should look like this once rolled.

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Gently twist the dough in a circular fashion so it looks like this.

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Repeat with the second set of sheets.

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When your second roll is complete, wrap it around the first roll so that you end up with something similar to this. Repeat the steps a third and last time.

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Place on baking sheet and into the preheated oven for 35 minutes, until the dough is a beautiful golden brown in color.

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Absolutely delicious and takes minutes to prepare. The filling is soft and gooey while the dough’s crust is crispy and airy-light.

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Bon appétit! xo

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Freekeh

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Just when you thought you mastered all of your grain knowledge, enters this gem. Freekeh (pronounced freak-eh) is Arabic for cracked green wheat.  Although it’s a well-known grain and is widely used in the Middle East, it’s fairly new to North America. It’s chock-full of benefits and its flavour is amazing! When cooked properly, it has a smokey taste to it. Absolutely delicious. It is a favourite in my family and hope that it will become yours too!

Freekeh is simple to make, and packed with so many nutrients. You can find it at your local Costco or any supermarket in your area.

Freekeh     Yields: 6-8 servings

2-3 Tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 C Freekeh

3 1/2 C Chicken broth, vegetable stalk, and/or water

~1 C pulled chicken pieces (you can get this from a previously roasted or boiled chicken, or chicken breast etc. If you’ve had a meal with chicken, freeze/store some and use in this dish! Therefore only optional if you don’t have any on hand or are vegan!)

Salt and pepper to taste

——————-

Begin by sautéing the chopped onion in a dutch oven (pot) on medium high heat until onion is wilted and slightly caramelized (golden-brown in colour).

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Add the freekeh. This step is crucial: ensure that you keep stirring the freekeh constantly so as to not burn it. And this is going to sound contradictory (because it kind of is), but although you don’t want the freekeh to burn, you do want to toast it to the point where it smells like it’s burning….hope that made sense!

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I’ll try to explain further. Because you’re not adding water at this stage, you’ll want to maintain stirring so as to not have the freekeh burn and stick to the pot. You want to make sure that it’s toasting and therefore smoking properly before you add your liquid.

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Ok. Hope that helped and if not, let me know in the comments and I’ll answer any questions you may have ;)

You’ll want to stir this for approximately 7-10 minutes, until you smell a smokey flavour emanating from the pot. Let me tell you how amazing that smell is! It’ll come but you’ll have to be patient..good things come to those who wait :)

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You’ll know your meal is almost ready when you start to notice that the colour is changing slightly to a more green-brown.

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Once the 10 minutes are up (give or take), add your broth of choice. Traditionally, freekeh is made with chicken broth and chicken pieces. However again, for those who are vegan, feel free to use vegetable stalk or even water to make this meal. It obviously won’t have the same taste but that doesn’t mean it won’t be equally as delicious and healthy :)

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It will smoke so be careful not to have your face too close to the pot…unless you’re in need of a facial (hehe – lame I know). Anyway, add about a cup at a time and stir. when you see the liquid is almost all absorbed into the freekeh, add the second cup, and so on.

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Finally, with the last bit of liquid added, add your chicken pieces at this point. Stir. Stir. Stir!

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when all is said and done, you should end up with something similar to this:

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Using your spoon, or a fork, stir the freekeh around to loosen the grains.

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You’re all set! It sounds complicated but it really isn’t! All you need to remember is: Stir! Be patient. Stir some more. You’re good to go ;)

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Serve with salad, and pickles if you’d like – the citrusy taste compliments the bold smokey flavour of the freekeh well.

Bon appétit! xo

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Panko-Crusted Chicken Breast

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The words fried and healthy normally don’t go together. But in this case, they absolutely do! Reason: because you’re thinning the chicken, cooking time is slashed considerably. On top of that, we’re using coconut oil to ‘fry’ the chicken breast. Coconut oil has so many benefits and unlike its oil counterpart, this one’s actually good for you! And because we’re using a minimal amount (definitely nothing that would constitute deep frying) and for little time, you get best of both worlds!

The result is juicy, tender chicken breast on the inside, and a crispy, mouth-watering crunch on the outside. And it only takes minutes to prepare! When stuck not knowing what to make for dinner, give this recipe a go!

I buy my chicken breast with skin on and bone in. It’s cheaper and I like the flexibility it gives me. But do feel free to buy whatever suites your fancy. If you get skinless and boneless, you’ll be able to get more pieces out of it. Completely up to you :)

Panko-Crusted Chicken Breast

4 Chicken breast

2 Heaping tbsp Veganaise (Vegan mayonnaise – it’s delicious, much healthier, and has no egg!)

~2 C Panko bread crumbs (Japanese bread crumbs)*

1 1/2-2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black ground pepper

2 tsp dried oregano (optional)

3-4 tbsp coconut oil (for pan frying)

—————————-

Mix panko with the salt and pepper (and optional herbs) and set aside.

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Do the same with your Veganaise and set aside.

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Taking a chicken breast at a time, make thin cuts using a knife and repeat with the rest of the chicken.

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Next, using a large Ziploc bag, place the sliced breast, one at a time, and using a mallet/meat tenderizer, pound the chicken until almost paper thin. flip bag and lightly pound the other side. This process ensures that the meat cooks quickly and if there are any ligaments or fibres, it will break those and allow for a tender piece of meat.

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Next, using your hand, spread some Veganaise onto each breast and coat both sides.

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Drop into the seasoned panko and ensure chicken breast is evenly covered.

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Once you’ve finished breading the chicken pieces, turn the heat onto medium high and drop the coconut oil into the pan. When hot, add 2 to 3 pieces at a time, depending on the size of your skillet (excuse the shape my skillet’s in – it’s dedicated to pan frying ;))

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After about a minute or so, flip the chicken pieces over to the other side and allow it to cook for approximately 2 minutes more, until breading is a nice golden brown in colour.

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Tip: To keep the cooked chicken hot while finishing the rest of the pieces, place them onto an oven safe plate, into the oven, at 300°F, until you’ve finished frying the rest of the pieces.

And that’s it! Didn’t I promise it would be so easy?! Not to mention much healthier than the traditional cooking method. No egg, no mess, no fuss, no nothing! Just pure pleasure and no guilt!

Serve alongside salad and/or roasted potatoes.

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Bon appétit! xo

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Note: * When Munsur was younger and we had to stay away from many things, including wheat, I used to make this meal using almond meal/flour. So if you’re intolerant or allergic to wheat and/or gluten, then use almond meal instead and it will yield equally delicious results :)

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