• by Lisa Rice, HC

Elevate Your Plate


One of the biggest misconceptions for people thinking about transitioning to a whole food plant-based diet is the fear of their meals being bland and boring, or giving up nostalgic, comforting and cultural flavors. There’s a strong emotional component to the foods we choose to eat. For many people food is like music, in that a flavor or aroma can invoke a memory or experience. Eating a sweet juicy peach may remind you of summers at Grandma’s or sipping spiced cider may take you back to Thanksgiving at home.

Our taste buds experience the flavors sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami - and the great news is that all these flavors can be found in whole unprocessed plant foods.

If you are not accustomed to eating simply prepared plant foods like vegetables, leafy greens, grains and beans, then the natural flavors of these foods may seem bland to you at first, until your taste buds adjust. This is called neuro-adaptation, like when you walk into a dark movie theater and your eyes take a few minutes to adapt. Trust that your taste buds will indeed adjust, and over time you will begin to crave these foods. You’ll probably even develop an aversion to some of the unhealthier foods you used to eat, as they may seem too salty, greasy, or artificially flavored.

In the meantime, you can elevate your simple meals of greens, vegetables, grains and beans with sauces and condiments. And the good news is you don’t have to train as a professional chef or spend hours in the kitchen to do this! With a few simple ingredients on hand, you can whip up some flavor boosters to keep in your fridge for your week of dining pleasure. Fresh and dried herbs and spices, vinegars, healthy fats (like nuts, seeds, and avocado), miso, tamari, nutritional yeast, and citrus are just some of the staples used to enhance sauces, dressings and gravies to create those nostalgic flavors your taste buds pine for.

People eliminating animal proteins from their diets almost always say that cheese and dairy is the toughest one to avoid, the food they crave the most. This makes sense because milk protein, called casein, was designed that way. Babies need to be addicted to their mother’s milk to survive and thrive, and it’s also worth noting that mother’s milk is the one true flavor we come into the world craving! All the other flavors are learned over time - so they can be re-learned as well.

Below are some favorite recipes and tips for creating creamy, cheesy dishes without the dairy and that are made with the humble potato. Potatoes are fiber-filled and low in calorie density and very versatile. But the poor spuds get a bad rap because we often eat them in the form of french fries, potato chips, or loaded baked potatoes with sour cream, bacon bits, and cheese. In these forms, they are loaded with bad fats and salt no longer maintain their healthy integrity. Once you learn to enjoy these wonderful tubers with flavorful plant-strong enhancements, you will wonder why you haven’t been enjoying them every single day!

If you’ve ever been assigned to make the mashed potatoes for your Thanksgiving potluck then you may have learned that using a blender or food processor is a big no-no because they turn into a gummy mess. However, this once frowned upon culinary faux pas is actually one of the secrets to our sauce! It’s the technique that gives our cheese sauce that ooey-gooey goodness. Add soaked cashews for a little healthy fat, some nutritional yeast and yellow miso for some umami and savoriness, a little mustard or vinegar for a little tang and you’ve got yourself a delicious queso, mac n cheese sauce or fondue! This sauce is what we call a no-fail because you can play with the ingredients and create your own wildly creative version.

SAY CHEEZE SAUCE - Cheeze & Potato Recipe Variations

Ingredients:

  • 2 or more baked Russet potatoes (depending on size), halved and carefully scooped keeping skins somewhat intact (save skins!) and set aside - see “how to bake your potatoes” below

  • 1 baked yam (jewel or garnet), scooped and skins discarded (or eaten!) OR a whole roasted red pepper OR a cup of steamed or roasted carrots

  • 2 cups (plus more) unsweetened almond, soy or plant milk of choice (as needed to

obtain smooth consistency)

  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast 1 tsp sea salt or 1 T Chickpea miso

  • 1 tsp granulated garlic powder

  • 1 tsp granulated onion powder

  • ½ tsp turmeric powder

  • 1 – 2 tsp prepared mustard (can also use a squeeze of lemon or lime or splash of apple cider vinegar instead)

  • Optional but recommended: ½ cup raw or pasteurized cashews or cashew pieces, soaked and drained (Soak them for 1 hour or overnight if you don’t have a high-speed blender), can also soak in hot boiled water for 20 minutes

Optional (good for queso):

  • 1 teaspoon cumin

  • 1 tsp chili powder blend

  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika

Instructions:

Pour plant milk in blender first followed by remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Add more liquid as needed for texture. Taste as you go along and adjust as needed. Does it need more tang? If so add more mustard or lemon or vinegar. Does it need to be smoother? Add more liquid. Does it need more spice? Add more garlic, onion, etc. Make this your own!

This makes a large batch and can be refrigerated and reheated on stove or in microwave.

How to bake your potatoes: Preheat oven to 425. Poke potatoes and yams a few times with a fork. Bake for about 50 minutes. Sweet potatoes and yams will be perfect, Russet potatoes may take 5-10 minutes more (check by squeezing with a mitt on or inserting butter knife which should go in smoothly when potato is perfectly done). Using hot mitts, carefully cut potatoes lengthwise and carefully scoop into a bowl keeping skins intact.

For stuffed potato skins: Place skins on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle skins with salt, pepper, garlic powder. Bake in oven at 425 for 15 minutes or until crispy.

While skins are cooking make your sauce (optional: steam broccoli florets/vegetables until bright green and crisp to stuff the skins).

Assemble: Place 2 or 3 florets (or veggies) into potato skin and drizzle skins with cheese sauce. For extra kick garnish with hot sauce or pickled jalapenos.

To make Mac N Cheeze: Boil your favorite whole grain pasta (we like Tinkyada brown rice elbows). Remove ½ cup of pasta water and set aside. During last minute of cooking add 1 head broccoli florets cut into bite size pieces or 1 bag frozen. Drain and rinse. Add back to pot and mix in cheese sauce and a little of the pasta water. Eat as is or bake (see below).

For baked Mac N Cheeze: Preheat oven to 375. Spoon mac n cheese mixture into baking dish and spread evenly. Sprinkle top with seasoned bread crumbs or nut/seed parmesan. Cover with foil and bake until heated through, about 20 minutes. Remove foil and broil until golden on top (careful not to burn!)

NUT/SEED PARMESAN TOPPING

Ingredients:

  • 1 - 2 cups raw: walnut halves or pieces, almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, or pine nuts or any combo

  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast

  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Instructions:

Pulse everything in food processor, Magic/Nutri Bullet or blender until crumbly like parmesan cheese. Store refrigerated in an air tight container.

Seeds work great too: try half sunflower, half pumpkin. Can also use hemp hearts in combo with any of the above


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