a Thanksgiving Menu, Roasted Vegetables with Autumn Roots + Mushrooms, and Persimmon + Grains with Moroccan Seasoning

If you’re online at all these days, you’ll notice October ended and we’re straight on to the holiday season. For many, this is a time of year that is especially difficult whether it be because of the dark and cold days, the pressure of the season, or the extra challenges of navigating all the holiday gatherings.

Historically, Thanksgiving was one of my favorite holidays – until my food intolerances got in the way and it became much more difficult to enjoy the meal without anxiety, asking lots of questions, educating the host, and planning to bring more of my own foods so as to be able to enjoy it. I grew up in the kitchen and whether it’s in my own house or that of anyone else, I feel most comfortable in any gathering when in the kitchen with my hands in the food. So it’s a given that I absolutely love the idea of Thanksgiving, which is essentially a celebration of food.

For the past few years, I’ve gotten better at navigating this big holiday feast and partly because I’ve been better prepared, more comfortable as I’ve aged into this lifestyle of navigating food intolerances, and because I’ve been better at informing and educating the person(s) I share space with.

In light of that, I’m sharing a couple of my favorite recipes for the season, first, a platter of simple and delicious roasted vegetables that pleases just about everyone, and second a Moroccan-inspired seasonal millet, quinoa, and persimmon creation that fits most food intolerances and special diets.

If you have food restrictions that makes joining others for big meals a challenge, are hosting persons with food restrictions, or are just looking for some delicious seasonal whole food dishes for your holiday feasting, look no further. Though our Thanksgivings are always spent traveling to large family gatherings and only have marginal representation from the recipes below, this is the Thanksgiving meal that is my ideal — with a couple special additions per my loved one’s request and some savory recipes that have been big hits in the past. 😊

Savory //
Roasted Vegetables with Autumn Roots + Mushrooms (Recipe Below)
Persimmon + Grains with Moroccan Seasoning (Recipe Below)
For the Joy Salad
Celery Root + Potato Mash
Wild Rice Stuffing Balls
Celebratory Turkey (the best you can find, brined and rubbed with thyme)
Slow-Cooked Creamy Beans with Thyme, Sage + Oregano
Black Olives and homemade mini-dill pickles, as obligatory (and delicious) table accompaniments

Other savory ideas:
Apple, Fennel + Pomegranate Quinoa Salad
Moroccan Butternut Squash + Wild Rice with Garbanzos
Pumpkin, Sage + Rosemary Baked Risotto
Delicata Squash, Rosemary + Cranberry Flatbread
Simple Vegan Cornbread Stuffing (make with gf cornbread)

Sweet //
Apple Pie with a Fabulous Gluten + Dairy-Free Pastry
Pumpkin Pie
Blackberry Pie

Notes about the Menu:
– If you eat turkey and are highly sensitive to gluten, you may need to make sure your turkey has been processed without any gluten-additives. My first recommendation is always to purchase a turkey from a local farmer, if available, but I know that can be asking a lot, especially if you’re not hosting the meal. Otherwise, here is an excellent list of available brands that don’t process with gluten.
– For dairy-free / vegan mashed potatoes, we tend to skip the russet varieties and opt for German Butterball, red potatoes, or Yukon Gold varieties. They have more flavor and moisture, and work well by mashing without butter, and just a bit of non-dairy milk, seasoning, and a splash of olive oil, if desired.
– Most traditional stuffing recipes can be adapted to be gluten-free by using gluten-free bread or cornbread. Use vegetable broth and olive oil or a vegan butter to eliminate animal products.


Roasted Vegetables with Autumn Roots + Mushrooms
– I find roasted vegetables to be pleasing to just about everyone, including picky young eaters and those that ‘don’t like vegetables.’ Just about any vegetable tastes great when roasted correctly, which means that it is deeply golden brown, a little crispy and caramelized around the edges, and soft all the way through.
– I add a bit of herbs and spices to round out the flavors and help support adequate digestion, a needed component with these heavy-feasting meals. Use equal parts of all vegetables or what you have, in an amount to fill your roasting pan or to feed your number of guests.

Small red, striped or golden beets
Parsnips
Carrots
Red or yellow onions
Mushrooms, any type you prefer
a tablespoon or so of coconut oil per baking sheet to provide moisture and flavor
dry thyme seasoning
Balancing Spice blend (see below)
salt and pepper

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Scrub clean and dice the vegetables and mushrooms until they are medium in size and roughly uniform. Combine them on a large roasting pan and mix in about 1 tablespoon each dried thyme leaves and the Balancing Spice Blend, along with salt and pepper to taste, and just enough coconut oil to provide moisture and flavor (about 1 tablespoon for a large pan).
  • Roast in the oven for about 40-60 minutes, until all vegetables are completely soft all the way through. Since the mushrooms will take less time than the rest, you can add them in about half-way through if you’d like them less well-cooked.
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Balancing Digestive Spice Blend (makes about 1/4 cup)
1 Tbs. coriander seeds
1 Tbs. cumin seeds
1 tsp. fennel seeds
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 Tbs. ground turmeric
a dash of black pepper

  • Toast the coriander, cumin and fennel seeds in a frying pan over medium heat. Stir constantly for approximately 3-5 minutes, until you can just smell them.
  • Cool and then grind the seeds together with the rest of the spices until it reaches a uniform powder.

Persimmon + Grains with Moroccan Seasoning, serves 4-6 as a side-dish
Ras El Hanout is a Moroccan spice blend, somewhat similar to a garam masala. The name actually means “Top of the Shop” and each spice house will usually have their own blend which features their best spices. I made my own (see below), but there are several good ones available to purchase, or improvise with the Balancing Digestive Spice Blend above, or curry powder, knowing it won’t provide quite the same flavor profile.
Use any gluten-free whole grain such as quinoa, millet, rice, wild rice, buckwheat, etc. I love the combination of millet and quinoa here, but choosing just one also works well.

1/2 cup each of millet and quinoa
1 small onion or 2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. Ras El Hanout
2 Tbs. tahini
1 1/2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 clove garlic, smashed and minced
2-4 Tbs. water, as needed
salt and pepper, to taste
a large handful of cilantro, finely minced
1 large persimmon, sliced thin into half-moons
a handful of toasted and chopped hazelnuts or sunflower seeds, as desired for flavor / texture

  • If you have the time, cover the grains with a few inches of water in a pot and soak for at least 8 hours. Drain and rinse. If you don’t have time for this step, it’s okay!
  • In a pot, heat a splash of olive oil on medium and soften the onion and garlic until tender. Add 1 teaspoon of the ras el hanout and sauté until fragrant. Add the grains and stir well to let the flavors infuse for a few minutes. Stir in a big pinch of salt and 2 cups of water, cover, and simmer on low heat until the grains are cooked through, about 25 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  • Whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, remaining clove of garlic and season to taste. Thin as necessary with water.
  • Tip the cooked grains into a serving bowl and then toss with the cilantro, tahini dressing, and sliced persimmon. Add the nuts or seeds as desired, stir, and taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.

Ras el Hanout seasoning
Blend this up by weight or by teaspoons.

4 parts cumin
4 parts ginger
4 parts turmeric
3 parts black pepper
2 parts coriander
2 parts cinnamon
2 parts cayenne
1 part cloves
1 part allspice
1 part cardamom
1 part rose petal powder

Beet + Seed Loaf Cake

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I had an instance last weekend that after some consideration, seemed like a metaphor for life right now. I had been planning a creative cake project for William’s birthday and in retrospect I planned the more creative aspects of it, but not so much the logistics of size and weight, how many layers can actually stack before it’s too much. That sort of thing.

After a few hours of baking, as assembly got underway, the cake began breaking apart before me, each layer collapsing in to the next as their weight was too much. In panic, I *tossed* the whole thing in the freezer, hoping it would chill quickly enough to stop the destruction.

 

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And then like the cake, I completely melted down. William who really didn’t care whether he had cake or not, tried to reassure me, but the damn cake falling apart was in that moment an abject failure on my part after toiling away for hours and planning and looking forward to it for weeks.

So I took a break, made some tea and ate a snack because sometimes a blood sugar boost and tea actually is the best remedy before going on.

A little more resolve in my system, and I found a way to salvage two of the four layers, effectively putting the cake back in adequate proportion territory, and still plenty enough for a birthday.

 

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For the artistic frosting finale, I realized the downsizing really put a hamper on how the color scheme / paint-like effect of the frosting was going to end up and at the end, William laughed at the looks of my finished result, although ‘it doesn’t look bad, really‘ were the words that came from him, and ‘just different than what you were going for.’

 

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Different than what I was going for are probably words that describe most things for me. There’s that river again, which I cannot push. Trust and go with the flow. Again.

And maybe believe in yourself and know that you / I / we can make good come from every challenge.

 

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Back to the birthday cake and it turned out tasting, if not looking, perfect. Almond poppy seed layers from this base recipe, cream cheese frosting, and a few splashes of color from mostly natural food dyes, which was part of the project.

What all that has to do with today’s recipe, I’m not entirely sure. Other than we like poppy seeds in this house. And raisins. And cake, in various forms. Occasionally.

Fittingly though, I first made this beet + seed loaf cake, a major spin-off from Nigel Slater’s popular original, for a Mad Hatter Tea Party at work last spring. The party was for our volunteers and since most of them are retired master gardeners who also love earthy flavors and garden-inspired things, the cake was quickly gobbled up with approval. The tweaks I gave the original involve substantially less sugar and some more wholesome flours and it’s safe to say this is more of a breakfast or snack loaf, rather than a sugar rush in a slice.

 

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Beet + Seed Loaf Cake, makes 1 9×5 or 8×4-inch loaf
The flours can be changed here, depending on what’s on hand. Instead of chickpea, sorghum or millet are great substitutes. I used ground flax seeds here instead of eggs, but an earlier version of this made with 2 eggs instead also resulted well. 

2 Tbs. ground flax seeds
6 Tbs. water

100 grams / 1 cup chickpea flour
70 grams  / a scant 1/2 cup brown rice flour
25 grams / ¼ cup arrowroot flour
½ tsp baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract

¼ cup coconut oil
½ cup applesauce
70 grams / 3 Tbs. brown rice syrup
150-170g / 5-6 oz. raw beet, shredded coarsely
juice of half a lemon
½ cup raisins
½ cup mixed seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, etc.)
4 tsp. poppy seeds, divided

  • Preheat the oven to 350F / 180C. Line a loaf pan with baking parchment. A 9×5 will yield a larger, more compact loaf, and a slightly smaller pan will yield slices that are taller.
  • In a small bowl, combine the flax and water and then set aside for a few minutes.
  • Stir together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, mix the vanilla, coconut oil, applesauce, and brown rice syrup. Stir in the flax meal.
  • Grate the beetroot coarsely and fold into the mixture, then add the lemon juice, raisins, mixed seeds, and 2 teaspoons of poppy seeds. Then stir in the flour mixture.
  • Pour the mixture into the cake pan, smooth the top, and then sprinkle over the remaining 2 teaspoons of poppy seeds. Bake for 50-55 minutes and test with a toothpick to see if done. The cake should be moist inside but not sticky.
  • Leave the loaf to cool for a good 20 minutes before turning out of its pan on to a  cooling rack.

Meeting Your Protein Needs as a Vegan Athlete – and a quick socca recipe

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Over the years as I increased my athletic activity load and gradually began eating in a way that was more vegetable and plant heavy and included even less animal protein than before, I was curiously never asked the question that so often comes up when one stops eating meat. No one ever asked me Where do you get your protein?, the stereotypical question that so often comes up about plant-based diets. Knowing the basics of nutrition, and always adding a small protein source to my meals, I wasn’t at all worried about not getting enough. And interestingly, amongst many of the athletic women in my community who choose predominately vegan meals, it’s common that no one else is worried about protein either, with many active individuals like myself commonly eating plenty of whole grains and plant-heavy dishes that seem incredibly nutrient dense–yet they’re still left wondering over time why their health is in decline. I know I’ve for sure been in this scenario.

It wasn’t until I saw a nutritionist near the beginning of graduate school that I began to realize I too fell into dietary imbalance. My nutritionist mentor pointed out, You’re REALLY active. And for your activity level and because you tend to avoid meat, you need A LOT more protein. For quite a few months before I learned the particulars of what protein’s amino acids are doing in the body, and the higher needs of plant-based athletes, I really struggled with her suggestions to increase my intake.

Now before we get into the particulars, I’ll add a caveat that I do tend to eat some animal protein, usually in the form of monthly-ish wild-caught fish, a handful of eggs per month, and every once in a while, a bit of other meat. This blog post is not about the why’s of how I eat, or to encourage or discourage anyone from adopting a plant-based or vegan diet, it’s simply to support what the nutritional science currently knows about protein and our needs based on activity level and dietary choices.

 

As we all learned in grade school science, protein is made up of amino acids. Certain amino acids are essential to eat because the body, though incredibly wise, cannot make them out of other amino acids, as it otherwise can do.

Protein at its most basic understanding, builds muscle. We all learned that in elementary school and the idea is popularized in the cross-fit / weightlifting community. Beyond that role, amino acids from protein are used for bone health, enzyme formation to catalyze and carry out essential metabolic reactions, energy creation, to bind together skin and tendons, blood vessels, in the digestive system, and more. Nearly every one of the body’s 100 trillion or so cells is composed of various proteins, so our bodies require amino acids to function optimally. We don’t necessarily need “a lot” of protein in the diet, but we do need enough to meet our individual body’s needs.

 

Where vegetarian and vegans differ from meat-eating individuals is that they actually require a bit more protein as a percentage of body weight. Athletes of all types who train more than about 30 minutes 3x / week require more too than the non-athletic community. And vegetarian and vegan athletes require just a bit more. So compared to their meat-eating counterparts, a vegan marathon or ultrarunner for example, needs quite a bit more protein than an individual who fuels with meat, and that protein can be more difficult to come by—especially when or if further dietary limitations come into play, such as when soy, legume, or nut allergies also limit food choices.

 

When I work with individuals, I don’t tend to give amounts or percentages of protein because we all eat food and food contains many different macro and micronutrients. In fact, even a plate of plain vegetables can offer a little boost of protein. I also never encourage anyone to get caught up in tracking meals rigidly to reach a certain number of either calories or nutrient values. That practice breeds its own problems.

But for the sake of being more precise, our current research suggests that vegan athletes need from 1.3-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight in the diet per day (1, 2, 3), with that intake being closer to the high end when there is a lot of high intensity or big-mileage pursuits in the regular training plan. For a 130-ish pound female athlete, that’s roughly 120 grams of protein per day, which is more easily achieved with two servings of fish or meat in the meal plan for a day, but maybe not so much with beans, quinoa, and lots of fresh vegetables. In other words, active vegan athletes training for challenging events are going to have to work to get the necessary protein in to meet the body’s needs and repair itself adequately. That’s where and why a good-quality protein powder might come in handy, as well as adding in little extras throughout the day and diet to help.

One other thing to note is that our currently data suggest that a good amount of protein per meal is from 20 to 30 grams, and this is enough to help the body begin to recover post-exercise and throughout the day. More than 30 grams in a single meal is not necessarily beneficial, i.e. the body metabolizes protein best when it’s eaten throughout the day in meals that contain that 20-30 gram amount. Weightlifters slamming 50+ grams post-workout aren’t necessarily doing their body any favors. And neither is the person that eats one large meal that contains a burger and bacon, or a surf and turf steak and seafood meal, or a meat-lovers pizza.

 

Beyond just needing more protein if you’re a vegan athlete, those with active inflammation, such as when healing from an injury, getting over a long illness, or dealing with an autoimmune disorder likely need more protein as well, since more (of all nutrients) are going to be used in the body’s process to repair itself.

 

For a lot of individuals who know or suspect their protein intake is low for their needs, I generally suggest making small changes that start to add up. Adding more nuts and seeds of all types to morning porridge, swapping the amounts of beans and rice for dinner (more beans / less rice), rotating in tofu and tempeh more often, and adding in chickpea or other bean flours where previously grain-based flour was used are examples I often employ in my own meal patterns.

When choosing to eat whole grains, there are also certain choices that are higher in protein than others, such as wild rice (6.6g / cup), spelt berries (6.6g / cup), quinoa (6.4g / cup), amaranth (6.4g / cup), buckwheat (6g / cup), oats (5.9g / cup), and barley (5.6g / cup) (4).

Another idea is to start being more creative with beans such as using a chickpea flour to make delicious socca, a French pancake or crepe-like flatbread that’s simple, quick, and tasty. Socca is one of my favorite ways to add a little extra protein boost in a meal when I’d otherwise reach for a more-carbohydrate-rich food, like bread, flatbread, or a cooked grain.

 

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If this topic interests you, below are a couple follow-up articles that give more meal ideas and delve deeper into one of the amino acids that frequently falls short in a vegan diet (leucine). They are all great short reads.
Thinking about becoming a vegan athlete? (with information about meeting leucine requirements)
No Meat Athlete Protein Bowl with 30 grams protein
The Full Helping’s protein meals combinations (not specific to athletes / contains some lower protein examples)

 

 

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Socca, makes 2
1 cup chickpea flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt and dash or two of black pepper
1 tsp. turmeric
1 cup water
oil, just enough to coat the pan

  • In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper, turmeric, and then water. Whisk until you have a smooth batter. Set aside while you heat a large skillet over medium heat.
  • When the pan is hot, lightly brush the bottom with oil. Pour in half the socca batter (about 3/4 cup) and tilt the pan to distribute it evenly. Cook for about four minutes, until the bottom is browned and comes away easily from the pan, and then flip to do the same on the other side. Repeat with the remaining socca batter.
  • Remove the socca to a plate, and serve alongside or as a base for whatever other ingredients you prefer.

References:

  1. Kerksick, C.M. and Kulovitz, M. (2013). Requirements of Energy, Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fat for Athletes. Nutrition and Enhanced Sports Performance. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-396454-0.00036-9.
  2. Zhou, J., Li, J., and Campbell, W.W. (2013). Vegetarian Athletes. Nutrition and Enhanced Sports Performance. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-396454-0.00036-9.
  3. Witard, O.C., Garthe, I., and Phillips, S.M. (2019). Dietary Protein for Training Adaptation and Body Composition Manipulation in Track and Field Athletes. International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 29(2), 165-174. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.2018-0267.
  4. Whole Grains Council. (2014). Whole Grain Protein Power! Retrieved from: https://wholegrainscouncil.org/blog/2014/02/whole-grain-protein-power.