Gluten-free Vietnamese Garlic Noodles

I was making dinner the other week, when my friend Wendy (if you’re ever in West Annapolis, stop on by her chic women’s boutique, wrabyn) popped on by for pre-dinner drinks.

“What are you making?” she asked.

“I’m sorry, it’s a very gluten-full meal,” I said apologetically. Years back, when I was still living in California, my cousin graduated from pharmacy school at UCSF, and my family drove up north to attend her graduation. Afterwards, she took us to this Vietnamese restaurant, Thanh Long. All I remembered from that meal were those garlic noodles! Seriously addicting. For dinner that night Wendy stopped by, I was making a copycat recipe of that famous dish. But oh, I felt bad for my dear friend, who has gluten intolerance issues and has to avoid all things wheat – and this included the noodles, Maggi soy sauce, and oyster sauce in the recipe – basically everything I was cooking with.

“Send me the recipe!” she said.

I gave her a look and replied, “Yeah, right, you can’t even have most of the things in there!”

So this week, I made Wendy a gluten-free batch, to make up for the other dinner. I used gluten-free ingredients, like brown rice pasta, tamari (which is a wheat-free soy sauce), along with butter, Parmesan, and lots of garlic. And I totally succeeded. I love cooking for my friends and family, so making up these recipes for restricted diets is like solving a riddle, which I LOVE! (Nerd alert). Just don’t expect me to make a meal when the room full of guests wants vegan+gluten-free+fat-free+salt=free+sugar-free. I just might lose it.

Wendy, this is for you!

Gluten-Free Vietnamese Garlic Noodles
serves about 6

1 lb brown rice spaghetti (or linguine) pasta, boiled and drained according to package directions
1/3 cup unsalted butter
8 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup tamari
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup freshly chopped mixed herbs (I use green onion and cilantro)

optional, to garnish: additional Parmesan cheese, herbs, and black pepper

In a large saute pan over medium-low heat, add the butter and heat until melted. Add the garlic for about 1 minute, stirring until the garlic is fragrant. Add the pasta; toss to combine. Mix together the tamari, black pepper, and sugar in a small bowl; add the mixture in to the spaghetti noodles. Turn off heat, and toss in Parmesan and herbs. Garnish as desired, and serve.

Posted in grains, main entree, vegetarian | Leave a comment

Coconut Chocolate Earl Grey Tea

The other day, my bestie from CreamCraft goods, posted a picture of her tea time – an Earl Grey tea bag flavored with chocolate! I don’t have the luxury of being in the same state with her anymore, but she introduced me to tea time when we went to England together once. It was fabulous – we even dragged my hubby to one in London, and even if he denies it, he really did love it!

This recipe is for you, bestie! I made my Earl Grey tea extra luxurious by adding a tiny bit of cocoa powder and full-fat coconut milk (you can use light if you want, but this was what was in my fridge at the time, and I prefer the full body of regular coconut milk in this drink). Be sure not to add too much cocoa powder and coconut milk, because too much of one will overpower the bergamot flavor of the Earl Grey tea, which I love! Cheers to high tea!

Coconut Chocolate Earl Grey Tea
makes 1 serving

1/4 teaspoon cocoa powder (I used a dark chocolate cocoa powder)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 bag Earl Grey tea
1 1/4 cup hot water
1 tablespoon coconut milk

Mix the cocoa powder and sugar in a mug. Add the tea bag, and pour hot water over it. Allow to steep about 3 minutes, then stir in coconut milk.

Posted in beverages, vegan, vegetarian | Leave a comment

Plant-Based Diets and Nutrient Concerns

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” – Michael Pollan

Whether you’re vegan (no meat, eggs, dairy), vegetarian, pescatarian, semi-vegetarian or flexitarian (small amounts of meat every once in awhile), your way of eating affects your way of life. Not only are you decreasing your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, and obesity, you are impacting the environment. It takes a WHOLE LOT of pesticide, fuel, and water for meat production, and that generates greenhouse gases, which contaminate our direct environment. This is how your eating choices affect you: if your four-person family eats vegan for just one day a week (Meatless Mondays, anyone?), that’s equivalent to taking your car off the road for 5 weeks!

Ever since we’ve been more flexitarian/semi-vegetarian in our eating ways, we now get the question, “Well, how do you get your protein and calcium?” This has been quite easy for us (being a Registered Dietitian and knowing about food and nutrition doesn’t hurt either). Here are a few nutrients of concern for those eating a more plant-based diet and how to fill in the gaps:


Meat is normally what people think of when the word “protein” is mentioned. Protein serves as the structural component of your cells and muscles, repairs skin and muscles, and has many other functions in the body. Proteins are made up of 20 amino acids – nonessential (your body makes them) and essential (you need to eat them). Meat, eggs, and dairy are generally considered “complete” proteins, with all of the amino acids needed by the body.

But most people don’t know that protein is also abundant in beans and legumes, tofu and soy products, nut/seeds and nut butters, whole grains, and some vegetables. Though many plant foods contain incomplete proteins, simple combinations of plant-based foods (such as beans and rice, or hummus and pita) provide all of the amino acids needed. You don’t have to consume these foods in one meal; it can be throughout the day. There are also some vegetarian sources of complete proteins, like quinoa, soy products, and buckwheat.

Plant-based diet eaters can easily meet their protein recommendations with a VARIETY of plant-based foods to adequately consume all of the essential amino acids needed. You just need to explore new fun recipes and food options!


Calcium is not just found in dairy products. You can find it in fortified non-dairy milks (check the nutrition label, and shake the carton before you pour out the milk because the calcium settles on the bottom), fortified orange juice, dark leafy greens, and calcium-set tofu and tempeh. Recommendations are at least two servings of fortified milk/orange juice/tofu and one serving of dark green leafy vegetables a day. Oxalates and phytates in certain dark green leafies may interfere with absorption of calcium, but the calcium in kale is more absorbable than the calcium in broccoli, for example. You may need a calcium supplement if you don’t consume enough of these foods.

Vitamin D:

Vitamin D is found in some animal products, like salmon, eggs, and milk, but you can also absorb Vitamin D through sunlight. About ten minutes a day should be sufficient, according to Sharon Palmer, author of The Plant-Powered Diet. . When you choose plant-based milks or orange juice, buy the ones fortified with Vitamin D. Mushrooms exposed to sunlight also generate Vitamin D.

Vitamin B12:

This can be hard to get because it’s only found in animal products. You have to look for fortified products, such as soymilk and cereal. However, you can also make lots of things out of nutritional yeast, which is full of Vitamin B12, and imparts a “cheesy” flavor when used for vegan mac ‘n cheese or pesto. I make an awesome pesto pasta with it (which my hubby and daughter scarf down), courtesy of Isa Chandra. If you’re vegan, you may consider a Vitamin B12 supplement.

Omega-3 fatty acids:

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish (EPA and DHA) and some plant products, such as walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds, and canola oil. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are found in marine life and fish, while alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found in plants. ALA will, to a small extent, convert to EPA and DHA in the body. Vegetarians and vegans who do not consume any fish and cannot take fish oil supplements can look for supplements with microalgae which does have DHA and EPA. Generally, if you’re consuming a plant-based diet, try to consume rich sources of monounsaturated fats and alpha-linolenic fatty acids to ensure a good fatty acid balance.

Variety is key with any diet. Just as you’ll get nutrient deficiencies surviving on chicken nuggets alone, you’ll get some type of deficiency if you just depend on a few vegetarian products. Do your research before embarking on a more plant-based journey, and I assure you, you’ll be totally satisfied with the variety of food out there!


Environmental Working Group
Article in Today’s Dietitian “Vegetarian’s Challenge: Optimizing Essential Fatty Acid Status,” by Brenda David, RD. Feb 2010.
Sharon Palmer

Posted in health and nutrition tips, vegan, vegetarian | Leave a comment

Soft Tofu Pudding with Coconut Milk & Caramelized Sugar/Ginger Syrup

In Vietnam, desserts are not heavy, calorie-laden affairs. This soft tofu pudding can be found in some Asian grocery stores, still warm. It’s such a part of normal, everyday life in Vietnam, that one of my favorite memories visiting Vietnam was of an old lady selling hot bowls of this at a temple we visited. She was just sitting on the temple steps, scooping out bowls of this Đậu Hủ Nước Đường Gừng, from a big steaming pot, and then ladling over some sweet ginger syrup over the tofu.

I fancied this humble dish up a little bit, adding in star anise and a cinnamon stick to the sweet ginger syrup, drizzling in some full-fat coconut milk at the end, and sprinkling some black sesame seeds on top. You can eat this hot or cold – I oftentimes just make the syrup and stick it in a mason jar in the fridge, where it keeps for a few weeks, and the thinly sliced ginger becomes soft and candy-like in the syrup, which I love.

Soft Tofu Pudding with Coconut Milk and Caramelized Ginger Syrup

serves 4-6

1 block silken soft tofu, scooped into 4-6 small rice bowls
1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1 cup hot water
1 whole star anise pod, optional
1 3-inch cinnamon stick, optional
1 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced thinly
2/3 cup coconut milk

optional: black sesame seeds, for garnish


For a hot pudding, microwave the tofu in their separate bowls for about 40 seconds to a minute, until hot. Set aside.

Over medium-low heat in a nonstick saucepan, heat the 1/3 cup granulated sugar. It will start to liquefy and turn a caramel color in about 5-7 minutes. Quickly take off the heat when the sugar turns a caramel color so that it doesn’t burn.

Let the caramel rest for about 15 seconds, and away from your face, slowly pour a little water in – it will bubble, so be careful! After about ½ cup water is poured and stops bubbling, pour the rest in. Return the saucepan to the heat, set at medium. Stir and scrape the solidified sugar until it all becomes liquid again. Add the star anise, cinnamon stick, and ginger. Stir in another 1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste. Turn off heat and set aside.

In a separate saucepan, heat the 2/3 cup coconut milk with 1 tablespoon sugar until simmering. Set aside.

To serve: Scoop soft tofu in each small bowl (can be hot or cold). Ladle the ginger syrup equally into each of the bowls, and top it off with 1-2 tablespoons coconut milk mixture. Top off the dessert with one slice of the ginger steeped in syrup, and some black sesame seeds, if desired.

Posted in desserts, vegan, vegetarian | Leave a comment

Poor tofu.

Tofu has been around for centuries, and lately, it’s gotten a lot of flack. Poor tofu. I’ve been running into lots of people who are scared of tofu because it’s a soy product. Soy has been hotly debated in its relation to cancer risk, among other things.

I was at a party one day, and this lady (whom I just met), asked me what my usual diet was.

“Mostly plant-based, maybe some poultry or fish on the weekends,” I said.

She looked shocked, then said, “Then how do you get enough protein?! Surely not tofu – DON’T FEED YOUR HUSBAND SOY! HE’LL GROW MAN BOOBS!”

I didn’t miss a beat. “So you’re telling me, that in Asia, where they’ve eaten tofu for five thousand years, they all have man boobs?”

Silence. (Niiiiiice!!!)

Anyways, after poring through tons of reading material on tofu and other soy products, I’ve come to a few conclusions. There’s so much information out there regarding soy, so I’ll do my best to break it down:

- Just stick to the least processed soy products, like tofu, tempeh, miso, soy milk, and edamame. Stay away from highly processed soy foods, like veggie burgers that contain “soy protein isolates,” or “texturized soy protein,” and products with a million ingredients in which you have no idea what they are. I stay way from aseptically packaged soy milk because the expiration date is always in a year – meaning it’s highly processed! If you’re in an Asian market and see fresh soy milk in the refrigerated aisle, I’d rather you drink that instead. And no, it won’t be “vanilla” or “chocolate” flavored. Less food additives = better food product.

- A serving of soy is about 1/2 cup tofu, tempeh, or soybeans (edamame), or 1 cup soymilk. If you stick to 1 to 2 servings daily, you should be fine. Don’t worry about getting man boobs or being impotent – there have only been a couple case studies related to extremely high intakes in men (read: TWELVE OR MORE SERVINGS!). That’s a boatload of tofu! Besides, you should practice moderation, whatever diet you’re on. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, try other sources of protein, like quinoa, beans, legumes, and seitan. Don’t restrict your diet just because you can’t eat meat. Explore – there’s a whole world of new foods to try!

- Soy foods have actually been shown to be safe in normal consumption patterns for women who have had breast cancer. Not only that, soy consumption in China and Japan are linked to lower rates of heart disease and cancer than the Western world. Soy consumption, in moderation, can be protective against heart disease and certain cancers.

Update 9/16/14: Soy foods contain compounds called isoflavones, which are phytoestrogens (plant estrogens), which exhibit estrogen-like activity. Because of their properties, they were thought to increase risk of hormone-dependent cancers, like breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers, because of their ability to attach to estrogen receptor sites and influence activity. But the evidence has been inconclusive. The AICR (link below) comments, “human studies show soy foods do not increase risk and in some cases, research suggests they may lower it.”

- Soy intake can lead to lowered cholesterol. Not to brag (okay, I totally am), I lowered my husband’s total cholesterol and LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) by FIFTY POINTS in three months, by implementing a mostly plant-based diet that included whole soy foods. No medication needed, and his doctor can’t believe that he did it without meds.

- In people with hypothyroidism, the debate on whether they can eat soy or not is a tricky one. Soy can interfere with medication in some people, so it’s best to ask your doctor about soy foods and your thyroid. You doctor will provide more advice on how soy foods can interact with your medications.

- I usually don’t recommend supplementation, and the same goes for soy supplements. I think you can have a balanced diet, inclusive of whole soy products, but I would not take a soy supplement. Those are highly concentrated, processed forms of soy.

- Here’s a question that I can never find the answer to: If there’s so much talk about how soy contributes phytoestrogens, what about the ANIMAL estrogens found in meats and dairy products, especially those who are guzzling down cow’s milk? I know that the research being done regarding plant-based diets compared to standard American diets find that plant-based diets result in lowered risk of cancer, heart disease, and more. How do animal estrogens affect these diseases?

With all the information out there regarding soy, you have to get a little used to dissecting the things you find – is it a credible source? Is it just a sensationalist piece of propoganda paid for by a certain group? Was the research that was done indicative of a large population, or just a case study of one or two extreme stories?

I hope I helped a little to break down the information regarding soy foods. Now I can look forward to posting my next recipe – a soft tofu pudding – without feeling that no one will eat it because they’re scared to! Ha! Watch out for it in a week – it’s delicious!

*No, I was not paid by any soy proponents for writing this article*

References, and more reading for you:

Dr. Weil’s take on soy foods here

American Institute for Cancer Research: Update on foods that fight cancer (soy information)

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine – Soy fact sheet

Soy and thyroid advice from the Mayo Clinic

Today’s Dietitian article on Soy

Posted in health and nutrition tips, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment