American favorites, vegan-style

When we sampled Yvonne Ardestani’s dishes, it was easy to forget that her recipes are vegan and gluten-free.

Vegan vanilla bean ‘cheese’ cake (photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
Vegan vanilla bean ‘cheese’ cake
(photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
Recently we had a hearty, kosher lunch of meatloaf, meatballs, salad and cheesecake.
However, these comfort foods were different from the classics.
The tasty meatloaf was made from mushrooms, walnuts and grains. And instead of being accompanied by mashed potatoes, it came with velvety cauliflower puree. Lastly, the creamy cheesecake was made with cashews instead of cheese...
The dishes were developed by wellness chef Yvonne Ardestani, the author of My Eclectic Kitchen. When we sampled Ardestani’s dishes, it was easy to forget that her recipes are vegan and gluten-free. They were simply delicious. No doubt this is due to her creativity, to her French culinary training and to her experience working at a top Los Angeles restaurant.
At her presentation at Melissa’s Produce, Ardestani told us that nourishing herself with a vegan, gluten-free diet makes her feel good. Until 4 p.m. she eats raw foods because they give her energy. She demonstrated how to prepare one of her favorite breakfast dishes, a green smoothie that includes a generous proportion of lettuce and spinach, as well as apple, pear, banana, cilantro and turmeric.
The key to making tasty meatless meatloaf and meatballs, said Ardestani, is to use a base of quinoa and oats and to add flavorful vegetables to it. For the meatloaf, she combines the quinoa with rolled oats, mushrooms and walnuts to make “a very high protein faux meat... When blended together in a food processor, it resembles ground meat.” To this mixture she adds sweet peppers, onions, almond milk, parsley and other flavorings. The meatballs have oat flour added to the cooked quinoa; they also contain spinach, sweet peppers, carrots and celery, and are flavored with garlic, cumin and hot peppers.
Ardestani also taught us how to make flax eggs, an egg substitute made from flax seeds – you mix flax meal with water and let the mixture sit for 10 to 15 minutes, until it thickens. She uses this technique in her meatloaf, her homemade pasta and her potato latkes.
In her cooking, Ardestani tries to minimize the use of oils. Often she dry-sautés vegetables or uses a tiny amount of oil – about ¼ teaspoon. In salads such as massaged kale salad, she often uses avocado instead of oilbased dressings. (See recipe.) Although preparing food that is healthy is a top priority for Ardestani, the pleasure of eating is very important to her. “I never deprive myself of foods that I crave and see every meal as a celebration,” she wrote. “I admire the beauty of my food and always chew slowly… appreciating and savoring every tasty morsel.”  ‘
Meat’ loaf
“I shock quite a few people when I tell them it is vegan,” wrote Yvonne Ardestani of this meatloaf. “Even meat-eaters think this meatloaf is delicious and that it contains meat.” Serve it with steamed broccoli or green beans and/or mashed potatoes.
If you don’t have vegan Worcestershire sauce, substitute additional tamari or soy sauce.
Serves 4-6
■ ½ cup quinoa, uncooked
■ 1 cup filtered water
■ 2 Tbsp. flax meal
■ 6 Tbsp. filtered water
■ 2 cups crimini (brown) mushrooms (or substitute portobello or porcini mushrooms), roughly chopped
■ 1 cup walnuts, chopped
■ ½ sweet red pepper, chopped
■ ½ sweet green pepper, chopped
■ ½ onion, chopped
■ 2 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley
■ ¼ cup almond milk
■ 1 cup gluten-free rolled oats
■ ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
■ ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
■ 2 tsp. garlic powder
■ 1 Tbsp. coconut aminos (can substitute tamari)
■ 1 Tbsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce
■ ¹⁄8 tsp. sea salt Glaze
■ 3 Tbsp. ketchup
■ 1½ Tbsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce
■ ¹⁄8 tsp. garlic powder
Rinse and drain quinoa. Place quinoa and 1 cup of water in a small saucepan and cover. Cook quinoa over medium heat. Once it has reached a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer.
The quinoa should be cooked in about 15 minutes, when all the water is absorbed.
Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn. Set aside to cool.
Preheat oven to 165°C (325°F). Line a loaf pan with parchment paper. First, cut two pieces of parchment paper – one piece for length of loaf pan, from rim to rim, and one piece for width of loaf pan, rim to rim. Spray loaf pan then place one parchment piece down.
Spray parchment again and lay other piece of parchment over crosswise, like an “x.” Spray parchment again.
Prepare flax egg: In a small bowl, combine flax meal with 6 Tbsp. of water, mix and set aside to thicken.
Prepare faux “meat”: Measure out ¾ cup cooked quinoa (store leftover quinoa in refrigerator for later). Place quinoa in a food processor with mushrooms and walnuts, and process until it comes together and resembles same texture as ground meat.
Place "meat" in a large mixing bowl and add remaining ingredients to bowl, including flax egg. With clean hands, toss all ingredients until fully combined.
Pour “meat” loaf mixture into loaf pan and pat down well, spreading evenly.
Flatten top. Place loaf pan in center of oven and bake for about 1½ hours.
Make glaze: Combine all of glaze ingredients and stir together with a spoon.
Ten minutes prior to removing loaf from oven, brush top of loaf with glaze, spreading it evenly to coat.
Allow loaf to cool for about 10 minutes prior to cutting.
Note: This can be made in advance and refrigerated overnight. To reheat, preheat oven to 150°C (300°F) and heat for about 25 minutes.
Garlicky cauliflower puree
Roasted garlic gives Ardestani’s cauliflower puree a wonderful flavor. It tastes so rich that we were surprised it didn’t contain cream or oil.
Serves 6-8
■ 1 large head of garlic
■ About 2¼ cups vegetable stock
■ 1 head of cauliflower
■ ½ tsp. sea salt
■Chopped chives (garnish)
Preheat oven to 205°C (400°F). Slice off top of a large head of garlic to expose cloves inside. Place head of garlic on a piece of foil, cut side up. Drizzle about 2-3 Tbsp. vegetable stock and wrap it tightly in the foil. Roast until cloves are lightly browned and tender, about 30-35 minutes.
Clean cauliflower, removing outer leaves and base. In a medium saucepan, add 2 cups of vegetable stock, ¼ tsp. sea salt, and cauliflower. Set pan over medium heat. Bring it to a boil, then down to a simmer. Cover and cook until tender, about 20-25 minutes.
Once garlic has roasted, let it rest for at least 5 minutes. Carefully open foil, pick up bulb, and push garlic cloves from skin, starting from bottom up, pushing roasted cloves out and into a blender.
Strain cauliflower and reserve vegetable stock. Transfer cauliflower to blender. Add remaining ¼ tsp. sea salt.
Add half of reserved liquid. Blend and adjust consistency. If cauliflower is too thick, add more stock. If it’s too thin, cook liquid out on stovetop.
Season to taste and top with chopped chives.
Vanilla bean ‘cheese’ cake
This delicious dessert gains its richness from cashews and coconut oil and has an almond-date crust.
“It is reminiscent of a New York-style cheesecake, looks sinfully delicious and, yet, there is nothing really sinful about it,” wrote Ardestani. “My version is vegan, gluten-free, and raw... Eating a slice of this is like eating a healthy handful of nuts and fruit.” Ardestani serves it with an easy-to-make berry compote.
Serves 8
■ ½ cup raw almonds
■ ½ cup soft Medjool dates
■ ¼ tsp. sea salt
■ 1½ cups cashews, soaked
■ 2 lemons, juiced
■ Seeds of 1 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp. vanilla extract)
■ ¹⁄3 cup coconut oil, melted
■ ¹⁄3 cup coconut nectar (or maple syrup) Mixed berry compote (optional)
■ 1½ cups frozen organic berries: blueberries, blackberries, raspberries
■ 2 Tbsp. coconut sugar
■ Stevia drops, to taste
Soak cashews in filtered water overnight in refrigerator. Drain and rinse.
Place nuts and dates in food processor with sea salt and pulse to chop until they are your desired texture. You will want a finer crust than a chunky one. Test crust by spooning out a small amount of mixture and rolling it in your hands. If ingredients hold together, your crust is perfect. If you do not feel it is holding together, try to mix ingredients with your hands until it comes together. Scoop out crust mixture into a 15-cm. (6-inch) spring-form pan (if you don't have a spring-form pan, use a 15-cm. cake round, lined with plastic wrap), and press firmly, making sure that edges are well packed and that base is relatively even throughout.
If coconut oil is solid, heat oil in a small saucepan on low heat until it liquefies.
Place all of filling ingredients in a blender and blend on high speed until very smooth (This may take a couple of minutes).
Pour filling onto crust and smooth with a spatula. Freeze until solid, about 3 hours.
To serve, remove from freezer 30 minutes prior to eating. Run a smooth, sharp knife under hot water and cut into slices. Serve on its own or with a berry compote. Store leftovers in freezer.
Compote If you want to enjoy compote raw, mix together sugar and berries. Allow berries to defrost. Sweeten with stevia or more sugar.
For a more syrupy compote, place frozen berries and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring it to a boil for about 5-7 minutes, stirring every minute until it thickens a bit. Remove from heat. Allow it to sit or pour compote into a bowl and cool in refrigerator for about 5 minutes. As it cools, it will thicken. Sweeten to taste with a little more sugar or stevia. When ready to serve, top “cheese” cake with a few spoonfuls of compote.
Simple massaged-kale salad
“This recipe is nutrient-dense and packed with protein and Omega-3's from the seeds, nuts and nutritional yeast,” wrote Ardestani. “When massaged with sea salt, avocado, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper, kale is amazing and the bitterness goes away.
Throw in some finely chopped onion, tomatoes, chopped dried cherries, seeds and nuts, and the flavor and texture combination is out of this world.”
Serves 2-4
■ 1 medium to large bunch of kale
■ ¹⁄8 tsp. plus a pinch fine sea salt
■ ¼ cup finely chopped sweet onion
■ 1 plum tomato, chopped
■ 2 Tbsp. dried cherries, chopped
■ 2 Tbsp. pumpkin seeds (or sunflower seeds)
■ 2 Tbsp. walnuts, roughly chopped
■ 1 Tbsp. hemp seeds (optional)
■ 1 lemon, juiced
■ 4-6 shakes cayenne pepper
■ 2 Tbsp. dulse flakes (optional)
■ 1 small cucumber, chopped (optional)
■ A handful dill, chopped (optional)
■ A handful broccoli sprouts or radish sprouts (optional)
■ 2-3 Tbsp. nutritional yeast (optional)
■ 1 medium ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
Wash well and spin kale leaves dry.
Strip kale leaves off each of stems by hand.
Place kale leaves in a large salad bowl and store stems in refrigerator or freezer to use later in smoothies; or, for easier digestion, finely chop stems and place leaves and stems into salad bowl.
Add sea salt to kale leaves and, with clean hands, tear leaves while rubbing salt into leaves. If you chopped leaves and stems, just toss sea salt in and massage salt into kale leaves.
Add remaining ingredients to bowl, adding avocado last.
Crush avocado with your hands, and massage it onto leaves. Toss and mix well with your hands. Taste and adjust sea salt and cayenne to taste.
Faye Levy is the author of Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home.