April 30, 2010

Crazy ranting | Cheribundi™! | Lentil-spinach soup | Test recipe

I’ve never felt particularly comfortable suggesting to others what they should eat. I’m strong in my opinions about what I eat, and what I believe constitutes a healthy and cruelty-free diet, but so is everyone else. If someone asks for my opinion or guidance, I’m there, but I don’t like trying to convert others to my way of thinking. Everyone has a different opinion about what foods make for a “healthy” diet. Some think a healthy diet consists of raw foods, and some think all food should be cooked. Some think a diet should contains lots of meat and dairy, and some abstain from all animal products. Some think fat and sugar in “moderation” is fine and others try to eliminate as much fat and sugar as possible. Some eat only white flour, some only whole wheat flour, and some eat no flour at all. I know people who think their SAD diet filled with Twinkies and burgers is healthy, and others who think brown rice and veggies is all that’s necessary for good health. Some believe no animals should be eaten, and some think animals exist for our gustatory pleasure. One big thing all these different eaters have in common is, based on what they are used to eating, they all have an opinion on what tastes good. Our taste buds are trained by what we eat. If you eat a lot of salt, less salty food tastes bland. Eat lots of sugar, and unsweetened foods taste boring. Eat lots of butter ... you get the picture.

I recently read a review that suggested vegan baked goods are all pretty much inferior to baked goods made with dairy. Maybe for someone used to traditional baked-goods, that’s true. (And, in fact, I often adjust my cooking if I am preparing food for people used to a meat-and-dairy-based diet.) But the point I want to make is, when you change your diet, your preferences tend to change, too. The thing is, I don’t really care if my chocolate chip cookie tastes like it’s made with a pound of butter. I don’t want it to taste that way because it won’t taste good to me; it will taste greasy. If food is too salty or sweet, I find it unpleasant to eat. My tastes have changed as a result of changing my diet, and I’m not trying to replicate animal tastes or flavors from the past; I’m not trying to make my bean burger taste like a cow. High-fat, high-salt food doesn’t really give me comfort, and I sometimes find myself less appreciative than others of restaurants or cookbooks that specialize in vegan comfort food. I love great-tasting food, but my idea of what tastes good doesn’t depend on replicating the flavors of a meat-and-dairy-based diet. When I first became a vegetarian, these kinds of foods were considered transitional — foods to bridge the gap between an animal-based and plant-based diet, or foods to serve omni friends. Lately, it’s starting to feel like these foods are a kind of new vegan diet — one that is the same as an omnivorous diet, only cruelty-free. The race is on to create new vegan cheeses and meat analogs that more closely replicate animal foods, often with long and scary ingredient lists.

The more people who find their way from a meat-based diet to a plant-based diet, the better, and if this is the root of the current emphasis on comfort foods, then I’m all in favor. I just hope we’re not losing sight of the connection between diet and health, the pleasure of eating simple foods, and learning to taste and appreciate the real flavors of the foods we eat.

Speaking of simple foods, my husband had oral surgery this week, and needed to eat soft foods for a few days. I made a simple lentil and rice soup that was both easy and delicious. (This soup would be even better if the cumin seeds were whole and toasted, but my husband couldn't have seeds.) If you use brown rice, it will need to cook about 15 minutes longer. The soup has no added fat.

Soft and simple lentil and rice soup with spinach
  • 1 cup dried red lentils, washed and drained
  • 1 cup short grain white rice, washed and drained
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 cup tomato purée
  • 2 cups vegetable broth (low sodium)
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 2 cups (approx.) frozen spinach
  • juice of 1 lemon
Place everything but the lemon juice, salt and spinach in a 5 quart soup pot. Bring to a boil then turn down heat to simmer. Simmer covered for 25-30 minutes until rice is tender and lentils are cooked. Add spinach, salt and lemon juice, and heat gently until spinach is defrosted and cooked. Adjust seasonings if necessary. Add more broth if soup is too thick.


When the makers of Cheribundi™ cherry juice asked if I'd be interested in sampling their juice, of course I said yes. I love tart cherries, and each eight-ounce bottle of Tru Cherry™ contains 50 cherries — two servings of fruit. The Cheribundi™ Web site says: "Our proprietary juicing process, which was developed with Cornell University, bottles all of the good nutrients of tart cherries rather than boil them away. The phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals in cheribundi™ will keep you feeling great and living life to the fullest." The cherry juice is not from concentrate.

The juice comes in three flavors, one of which contains whey. I received the two without whey, Tru Cherry™ which is lightly sweetened with apple juice concentrate, and Skinny Cherry™ which is sweetened with stevia, and is lower in calories. I sampled the Tru Cherry™ for breakfast this morning, and it tastes just like cherries! It really does. It's perfectly, deliciously tart. I can't wait to try the second flavor.

Full disclosure: This product was sent to me as a free sample with no requirement that I blog about it or make positive statements about it. All statements in this post are my honest opinion.


Recipe testing

I tested a recipe for Clem Chowdah for the amazingly creative and productive team of Celene Steen and Joni Marie Newman. Yum!


  1. Andrea, I really enjoy your blog and really, really liked this post! I don't think it's crazy or a rant. I think it's thoughtful, articulate and sensible. :-) Our own experience since becoming vegan 10 years ago has me in complete agreement with you about how our tastes and cravings change as we change how and what we eat, and focus on and appreciate the flavors and textures of healthy whole foods when we leave those more familiar-tasting but less-than-healthy vegan transition foods behind. It helped me to think of those foods as training wheels... helpful, but riding a bicycle without them is far more rewarding. :-)

    And your soup looks wonderful! Can't wait to try it!

    Thanks for a lovely blog, enjoy your weekend!

  2. I am not sure I agree though that the "new vegan" diet is just the omnivores diet without the cruelty. It is really impossible when you become a vegan to eat like you used to - eating out and fast food goes from 100 to 0 immediately and I really believe that once the body detoxes of meat and dairy that it actually desires and calls out for vegetables and grains. This is my personal experience anyway.

    In the end, like you said, the more people we can bring to the vegan side the better and if that path includes oreos (god forbid) then so be it - it's a start. The process of learning how to eat/cook again "properly" comes with time and to those willing to empower and educate themselves further about nutrition. In the meantime we should joyfully welcome all vegans with open arms and without judgment.

    BTW - love your blog and looking forward to trying this lentil soup. Yum!

  3. I couldn't agree more--who am I to tell others what to eat?!? I believe very strongly in what I eat and the way I eat, but I don't judge others for what they eat or tell them how to eat. People always are surprised by this, and expect me to comment on/criticize/judge what they eat since I do work in the nutrition field, but really, unless they ask me for help/guidance, I don't really think about what others are or are not eating. And even if they DO ask, I am not necessarily going to tell them to go vegan! I want them to do what will work best for them and what they will be successful with--small steps :-)

    That soup looks great! I love the mixture of coriander, cumin, lentils and spinach...SO good. I hope your husband is doing better and feeling okay! I am sure the soup helped him forget his pain :-)


  4. I secretly think meat eaters have a deep-down feeling of guilt that even they aren't aware of... that's why when they hear someone's vegan they instantly go on the offensive.

    That trucherry sounds awesome... but to be honest i'd rather eat 50 cherries ;)

  5. I'm with Trinity 100% re your rant. I don't talk about my diet either other than to say basic things like "I'm a vegan for ethical reasons," or (now) "Check my blog if you want to know what vegans eat," don't spout statistics or awful facts, and people still get upset and defensive. Funny that since I am so quiet about my reasons, they tend to come out with theirs: "Do you *like* being the odd one out at restaurants?"; "I love the taste of meat too much to give it up"; etc. Veganism can be scary!

    Andrea, your soup looks utterly divine. I came home from work today craving lentils and spinach, and though I'm doing something different with mine, my word, I need to try your recipe very soon, though I will undoubtedly add some fat ;-)

  6. Laloofa,
    Thank you so much for your encouraging response. I love the training wheel analogy!

    I agree with you 100%. I meant no disrespect for the way anyone chooses to eat. I think I sometimes I feel a little defensive when people are critical of a plant-based diet because of the inherent "deprivation" vegans are subjected to, and I don't feel deprived. I mean, even Oreos are vegan! :)

    Thanks for your support. Dietary choices are so personal. We all do what we believe is best.

    My husband is feeling better each day, but I think it was the drugs that helped him forget the pain. :)

    Maybe you're right. I just wish I didn't feel so defensive!

    I'd rather eat 50 cherries, too, and easily could. But the juice could come in handy, say, in a car or airport. :)

    Yes, I've had people verbally attack me even though I did nothing but not eat something because it wasn't vegan. I actually had someone tell me it was better to wear leather shoes because leather is natural, and that I was harming the environment by wearing man-made materials. Never mind the environmental damage caused by raising animals for food. Sheesh.

    BTW, it was totally coincidental that I didn't add fat. When I realized it I noted it for those who prefer fat-free cooking! Truthfully, I didn't miss the fat at all.

  7. This was an awesome post! I sometimes get emails by people who ask me how to make vegan cakes taste exactly like omni cakes and how to get the texture right. I sometimes try to explain that it's not that important to me if a thing tastes exactly like another thing. And that vegan foods can and sometimes should be different. That maybe one should focus on one's own recipes and creativity instead of creating substitutes.

    I hope your husband is feeling better soon!

  8. Hey I think I finally figured this comment thing out! The spinach soup looks amazing!

  9. Thay was a very thoughtful post Andrea and the soup, well that is my kind of soup. Yum!

  10. Mihl,
    Thanks for your comments! I know what you mean about trying to make one thing taste exactly like another — sometimes you can and sometimes you can't. And sometimes you have to wonder ... why bother?

    We really loved the soup, though it may have been a bit too lemony for Mr. easy vegan. :)

    Thank you. There's nothing like a big pot of soup to cheer up the kitchen. (Except maybe blueberry muffins. :)

  11. You are so right that our taste buds change according to what we eat. My hubs still eats the SAD, and everything he eats tastes way too salty. When you get rid of the processed and animal foods, the body begins to crave more healthful offerings:)
    Your soup looks like real comfort food to me!

  12. Thanks for the rant! My husband works with someone who thinks she's cooking healthier food for her family because she's using Splenda! Ugh!

    That soup looks awesome and I will make it.

    Love to Mr Easy Vegan :) and I hope he feels better soon.

  13. Simple food is my favorite food! And lentils and greens are tops on my list. This looks exceptionally delicious, and what lovely photos!

  14. @Trinity:
    You kidding me - WE LOVE fresh cherries (and eat WAY more than 50 in a sitting - tummies of iron here)... Our juices are the answer to the other 50 weeks of the year when they are not in season!

  15. Janet,
    I remember once on a long-ago camping trip my body must have gotten confused, and was desperately craving Fritos to munch around the campfire! I hadn't had those in ages, and when I finally got my hands on some I was stunned at how salty they were. I WANTED them but they burned my tongue, and I couldn't eat more than a few.

    If you make the soup, you should let me know what you think. My idea of comfort food might be someone else's idea of boring. :) .

    I think I could live on lentils, chickpeas and kale. (At least for a short while, anyway.) :)

    I'm looking forward to cherry season here in Washington State. I LOVE cherries! In Wisconsin we had fresh cherry cider made from Door County cherries, but it was perishable, and couldn't be stored. The Cheribundi juice is great!

  16. I totally agree with you on this one--I also don't often tell others what I think about what they eat (unless they ask). And I also don't really see the point in highly processed and chemical-filled vegan alternatives that taste like animal products. Your soup, on the other hand, looks great. :)

  17. Tell it, girl!

    To follow up on Mihl's comment about not feeling the need to make vegan cakes taste like non-vegan cakes: I can't tell the difference, and I don't think anyone else can, either. My husband's very omni coworkers never know I bake without eggs and milk. People just like to get attention by saying "eew" when they find out something is different from what they're used to.

    But I also think there is a psychological difference between omitting an ingredient because you CHOOSE to and omitting an ingredient because you HAVE to. This is what I'm struggling with in gluten-free baking. At some point I will have to come to terms with the fact that my baked goods will never taste like the baked goods I grew up with, and at some point my taste buds will change so that I think chickpea flour cupcakes taste good, while gluten-eating people find them disgusting. I just feel frustrated because I didn't choose to change my cooking or my tastes. It is frustrating to not be able to replicate foods I used to love. If it were the result of an informed decision about the health or ethics of an ingredient, I could live with the consequences, but at this point I still feel like baking was taken away from me and I didn't get a say. There are some definite control issues with celiac and food allergies that I am just uncovering.

    Just my two cents.

  18. Thanks for the lentil soup idea. It looks wonderful.

  19. Ricki,
    Thanks for your support. I'm always impressed with the variety and complexity (in a good way) of the ACD foods you come up with.

    I hear what you're saying about choice — about the frustration of being forced to make a choice rather than making that choice yourself. But I believe you will eventually come to accept and appreciate your "choice." It's hard to get around the desire for favorite foods no matter what dietary changes one has made, but in the case of a forced change as wide-sweeping as gluten-free cooking, it would be especially challenging.

    I, as a gluten-eater, don't find all gluten-free baked goods disgusting. But I also don't want to replicate the baked goods I grew up with, because I didn't like them. My taste buds have been "corrupted" by years of eating healthier foods.

    On a positive note, you are able to directly impact your health by giving up gluten. My niece recently was diagnosed with celiac, and she's thrilled that "all" she has to do is change her diet, and she'll feel well again.

    You're welcome!


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