Caesar-ish vegan orzo

The other day, I stumbled across a recipe from Minimalist Baker for vegan Parmesan cheese. What?! I had all the ingredients on hand, and made it the same day I saw the recipe. So easy and simple, requiring just four things – raw cashews, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, and sea salt.

Even if you’re not vegan, I urge you to make this, because you can sprinkle some nutritional yumminess onto roasted vegetables, pasta, or salad. I sprinkled this on to the veggie pizza I made yesterday, and put a whole bunch of it into some orzo salad that went alongside it for dinner. It provides the right amount of savoriness that Parmesan cheese provides, but also a nice little crunch to add to your dishes. Why the name Caesar-ish orzo? It’s kind of like orzo with Caesar dressing, with lemon juice and olive oil, but the Parmesan is vegan, and there are no anchovies in there. Still a totally satisfying side dish!

Caesar-ish vegan orzo
serves about 4-6

1 1/2 cups orzo, boiled and drained, according to package directions
1 cup finely chopped, flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Juice from 1 lemon (throw in some zest for more lemony flavor, if you like)
1/4 cup vegan Parmesan, recipe from Minimalist Baker
1 tomato, seeded and chopped
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon finely cracked black pepper

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Stir to incorporate and season to taste. That’s it!

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Lemon-Garlic Orzo Soup with Tofu

I have soup monsters in my family (my husband and kid), so whenever I make a batch, it’s usually gone the next day. This included!

This soup really takes minimal effort. It was just something I made because it was raining and didn’t feel like going to the store, so I used whatever was in my kitchen at the time. And it turned out fantastic! I love the lemony, garlicky flavor of this soup, and the texture that orzo gives to it (shoutout to my friend Carrie, for reminding me to use this ingredient more!).

Lemon-Garlic Orzo Soup with Tofu
serves 4-6

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 celery hearts, diced
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
32 oz chicken broth
16 oz water
2/3 cup orzo
zest and juice from 1 – 1 1/2 lemon
1/2 of a 15-oz block of extra-firm tofu, cut in very small cubes (about 1/4-inch cubes)
few handfuls of baby spinach

In a 5-quart French oven (or other large soup pot) over medium-low heat, add the olive oil. When oil is hot, add the garlic and onions, sauteeing until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the carrots and celery, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, dried thyme, dried oregano, and black pepper. Saute for another 4-5 minutes. Add the chicken broth, water, and orzo. Turn the heat to med-high, and bring soup to simmer. Once simmering, turn the heat to low, adding in lemon zest and juice, then tofu cubes. Continue to cook for 15-20 minutes; season to taste and make sure orzo is cooked through. Stir in a few handfuls of baby spinach and allow to wilt; serve immediately.

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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.

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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.

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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

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