Uzbek plov (pilaf)

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When I was a kid growing up in Russia plov was one of my favorite comfort foods. My mom makes it so delicious. Plov is a traditional dish of Uzbekistan that is made with lamb meat. I decided to veganize this dish and it was a success. It came out with the right consistency, not sticky and slightly chewy, and so aromatic. Another reason why I wanted to make plov is to use my brand new cast iron Dutch oven. I wanted one for so long and finally got it. It make me so happy because I absolutely adore anything made of cast iron (including building columns in Soho in NYC). It just has so much history in it.

Without further ado, here is the recipe.

Serving: 6-8

Ingredients:

3 cups of short or long grain rice (I used organic short grain brown rice), rinsed and drained

2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped

3 medium carrots, julienne cut

1/4 cup vegetable oil (canola, sunflower, avocado, grapeseed. Do not use extra virgin olive oil)

2 cans chickpeas, drained (or 1 cup dry chickpeas, soaked over night)

6 cups water

2 heads of garlic

2 tsp cumin seeds (or ground – 1 tsp)

2 tsp coriander seeds (or 1 tsp ground)

1-2 whole red chilly peppers

2 tbsp dried barberries, Sadaf Zereshk (or use goji berries instead)

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Salt to taste

Parsley for garnish

On a medium heat saute onions in all of the vegetable oil – couple minutes. Add carrots and cook for another couple minutes. Add all the spices, chilies and barberries. Mix and cook for another couple of minutes.

If you are using dry and soaked chickpeas then throw them in now, and add 2 cups of water. Bring it to boil.

*** If you are using canned chickpeas, then skip the step above – you would add them about 10 minutes before plov is done cooking.

Gently pour all the rice over cooked veggies and spices – DO NOT MIX! Add water and salt. Gently bury garlic heads inside the mixture. They should be fully submerged.

Reduce heat to simmer, cover dutch oven with a lid and let it cook. How fast it is going to cook depends on your rice type. I would check it half way and see if rice needs more water, you don’t want it to stick too much to the bottom/burn. Add canned chickpeas (if using).

Once rice is cooked, and all liquid is evaporated, turn off the heat and mix plov. Garnish with parsley. That’s it, folks. Your plov is ready! Enjoy the buttery creamy garlic inside your delicious plov. Xoxo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 things I do every morning to jump start my day

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Hi guys! Jenya is here. How is your week going so far? How are your energy levels? Do you ever feel like you don’t have a lot of energy in the morning? Hate your alarm? Feeling dreadful before you have a cup of coffee in hand? I hear ya! I had many of those mornings myself. But since then I learned a few tricks and I want to share them with you. These 3 simple things that I do every morning (with an exception here and there) help me to awaken body, mind and spirit, and set my day is a positive direction. Yes, I know, we are all so busy, trying to do a million things in the morning. But check out this simple secret that I discovered: by creating a space for myself in the morning (usually 20-30 minutes) I have more mental space and clarity during my day. Magic? No. Just science!

Here is a morning tool kit that can help you to jump start your day in a nurturing way:

  1. Have a warm apple cider/lemon drink first (It awakens your body on a molecular level). To make it add 1 tbsp of raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar or squeeze half a lemon into a tall glass of warm water. Easy! Why? Because while we sleep our bodies work hard to clean themselves up from the inside. As a result when we wake up our pH level is acidic. Raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar (I love Bragg brand) or lemon water are great and cheap alkalizing tools. Another benefit that comes with the package? An easy #2 bathroom visit!
  2. Have a moment to sit in quiet and meditate/set intentions for the day. This has been extremely transformative for me. I like to set a goal for the day first, and then do a little meditation. Intentions could be very simple, like to have a peaceful and calm day or more concrete and complex, like to have xyz done by x o’clock. Focus on whatever it is important for you in that moment/day! And then follow with a simple meditation. It could be a brief meditation of simply observing your breath for 5 minutes (set an alarm) while having your eyes closed, or perhaps, adding a mental scan of where your body stands this very moment, observing any tensions, discomforts without judging them. Note any underlying mood qualities. And then gently go into observing your breath. Simple and gentle.
  3. Move and stretch your body! This is a fun part. After you alkalize your body, set your intentions and create a peaceful mental state, you can activate your body through movement. I usually do a few rounds of cat/cow yoga stretch. It is flexing between these two poses:

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Inhale, dip the spine, open the chest. Exhale, round the spine. Do a few rounds like that. Feel the energy moving in you. I would then follow with a downward dog pose, and while in it I would pedal my feet and flex my hamstrings. It also helps to bend your knees to have an easier stretch through the spine.

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Add a few other movements that you like. Maybe do some jumps? Who cares! Do what feels good to you. Be creative 🙂

That’s it guys! See what works for you and notice how your body feels and how your mood changes. And most importantly have fun with it!

P.S. What healthy morning rituals do you have? How do you start your day? Share your  story in the comments below. Xo

Matthew Kenney Culinary

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Tree nut cheese plate.

OK so I have not wrote a post in a few weeks now… because I’ve been super busy! With Matthew Kenney Culinary School! I’m currently enrolled in Level 1: Fundamentals of Raw Cuisine course. It is a 4 week intensive and innovative program where students learn all the amazing secrets and gain the necessarily practical skills to prepare gourmet raw dishes. It is mind blowing, fascinating and super inspiring course. Here is a little pre-story.

I’ve always been a creative spirit. I went through an art school when I was a teenager. After that I completed a 4 year Interior design program, and then I went to NYC and earned my degree in Architecture. During the last several years of living in the big city I became aware of healthy eating, yoga and meditation. I gave up eating meat about 3 years ago. But once I went 100% plant-based different things started falling into place. Suddenly, my life began to rearrange itself. Opportunities started to present themselves and I knew that I’m moving in the right direction. I discovered such a sense of joy in preparing food and sharing it with others. I started doing research to learn more about benefits of plant-based diet. Fast forward, I got a scholarship to go to Matthew Kenney Culinary school in Belfast, Maine. And here I am, so grateful to be a part of such an amazing learning experience. This school encourages growth and individuality yet gives strong guidance and framework. I had an honor to spend time with Matthew Kenney and Scott Winegard who are a big inspiration for me. I feel very supported and cherished by my colleagues and our instructor Sean Murray. He is extremely knowledgeable and has an amazing sense of humor. My class is an incredible bunch, we made friends and have so much fun here together, working on recipes, exploring Belfast, dining at local restaurants, going for hikes and more. Maine has great produce, and we are very lucky to work with local organic farms that supply all our produce needs. Visiting Ararat farm was such a great experience! It is a bio-dynamic farm. People that run it really love with they do, they treat the land with such respect. Kale tastes better when grown with love! The air is so clean there, and that plays a significant role in growing high quality organic vegetables. 

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Having an all organic COOP just steps away from the school is another great benefit that students have available. Belfast COOP supports local farmers and local businesses, and sells produce of highness quality.

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Raw vegan lasagna that I made on the 2nd day of the program.

Jenya lasagna

More details to come after I complete the program. Check out my Instagram for daily updates @PlantsAndMagic. Xo

 

NYC Veg Food Festival 2016

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This weekend there is a pretty big vegan event happening in town – NYC Veg Food Fest. This was my first time at the festival and I volunteered as a photographer. The amount of people that showed up was very impressive – thousands of curios minds. I was happy to see people supporting the cause – vegans and non-vegans alike. There were so many vendors, and many amazing speakers that were sharing the message about the beauty and benefits of living a vegan lifestyle. It was incredible! There were so many amazing products, from cosmetics and shoes to kombuchas and macaroons. Vegan awareness grows pretty fast in large cities like New York. Our goal is to expand beyond big cities and inspire people around the world! We can unite people through compassion. It may sound Utopian right now but I’m sure soon the time will come when it becomes reality!

At the festival I had a chance to talk to random people and answer some questions about food and vegan lifestyle. It felt so empowering to share my perspective and knowledge!

My lovely Catskill Animal Sanctuary representatives were there, and I was so happy to see them! Guys, if you have not visited this farm animals sanctuary – do it. The weather is finally getting warm and, I promise you, this trip will change your life! With every dollar of a donation or membership we save lives. The rewards are incredible.

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The superstar of medical world that promotes vegan lifestyle – Dr. Michael Greger was there too with a presentation. I absolutely adore his work and his tremendous efforts in educating people about what they eat and how does it affect their bodies. Lifestyle diseases can be reversed with a plant-based diet. I highly recommend to you his new book “How not to die” (here is a link to buy it on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/How-Not-Die-Discover-Scientifically). It is a New York Times bestseller, and is ranking #1 seller on Amazon. The knowledge that Dr. Greger shares is priceless. Do yourself a favor and pick the book.

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My absolute favorite local vegan cheese shop Riverdel was at the festival. Their cheeses are beyond delicious. I bought a new truffle flavor, and it is so good!!! Best snack ever!! There was a huge line at their stand.

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Upton Naturals seitan people were there with cooking samples. I love Upton. I think it is the best seitan on the market as of now. The texture is incredible, and the spiced versions are out of this world. My favorite is Chorizo flavor.

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Follow Your Heart is another company I love. I tried their smoked Gouda and Pepper Jack cheeses and they were amazing. Would be great on pizza or tacos. Still have not tried their vegan egg.

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There were many new vendors that I has so much fin discovering. Sweet Maresa’s was one of them. Vegan macaroons?! Yes please!!! There were the sweetest girls at their stand too. The company’s name speaks for itself. 🙂

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Innovative kombucha flavors are so fun to try. There were a few brands at the festival selling this delicious fermented drink. Pilot was one of my favorites with such creative flavors and fun packaging colors. I really like Juniper berry and Turmeric aloe flavors.

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Yeah Dawg rocked this year with a line for these tasty home-made gluten-free, soy-free vegan hot dogs out of the door. Marina Benedetto, the founder, was serving people herself. I had a Viva Dawg and it was fantastic. I especially loved the toppings: coconut “bacon”, chipotle mayo and pickled pineapple. Photo below is of Cali Kush Dawg.

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This shining lady was selling a healing tea – Tea of Life made out of chenopodium ambrosioides, also known as Mexican tea, American wormseed, Jerusalem oak. The taste was interesting and the health benefits are huge. Would definitely give it a try!

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This drink by Sapp was very special. It is birch tree water which is very popular on Russia, and, I believe, all Eastern Europe. Just like we tap maple trees here in United States, birch trees could be tapped too. The water is very rich in minerals and has a lot of health benefits. They had 3 flavors: regular, and two infusions – nettle leaf and rosehip. I highly recommend!

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For me, the most inspiring thing at the festival was the warm thought of how many people are vegan in New York, and how many are curious about going vegan. People were kind and talkative. People smiled a lot. People were open to learn new things. That it a blessing! And it is all it takes to start a new life.

 

 

Egyptian lentil soup (vegan)

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Lentil soup. I love red lentils. I find them particularly tasty. And I adore the vibrant golden color that they have. Lentils came a long way along with humans. The first mentioning of us eating lentils dates back 13,000 – 9,500 years ago. Paleolithic and Mesolithic caves in Greece, then Syria, Palestine, Turkey, and the many other sites in the Middle and Near East. Aristophanes said “You, who dare insult lentil soup, sweetest of delicacies.” (Source: www.cliffordawright.com). Lentils been used to make soups, porridge, breads. It is such a versatile food that is also loaded with protein, fiber and micro nutrients. It tastes even better when heated the next day!

In this recipe I use Egyptian spice called dukkah. It is a mixture of toasted nuts, sesame seeds, herbs and salt. It is also great to just add it to olive oil and dip fresh bread in it. But today we are going to use it to make soup.

Yield: 4- 6 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups red lentils (rinsed)
  • 1 medium yellow onion (chopped)
  • 1 large carrot (diced in small cubes)
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 4 cups veggie broth
  • 4 cups filtered water
  • 2-3 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves (minced)
  • salt & black pepper to taste

Spice:

  • 2 tbsp Dukkah (oven roasted hazelnuts, almonds, coriander, cumin, sesame seeds, salt)

Recipe how to make this aromatic spice could be found here.

Heat up olive oil in a large pot. Saute onions until golden and soft. Add garlic, carrots and all the spices. Cook for 5 minutes. Now add tomato sauce. Cook for another 5 minutes. Add broth, water and lentils. Bring to boil. Reduce the heat let let simmer for about 25-30 minutes. While cooking you may need to add more water to reach the desired consistency. Add lemon juice at the very end. That’s pretty much it. Garnish with micro greens, cilantro and sesame seeds. Enjoy!

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Vegan bechamel sauce (white cream sauce)

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Today I’m going to share with you my love for Italian food. Oh it is so comforting and hearty! Most of dishes are made out of simple ingredients with a nuanced play of flavors. What is not no love?! What I realized for myself is that Italian food is about balancing the flavors, using the right proportions, and most importantly, extra fresh, high quality ingredients. That is my success formula. Many of you know that bechamel sauce is a base for various Italian dishes. Well, we don’t have to refuse ourselves of making an Italian dish that uses a white cream sauce because now we know how to make it vegan without compromising the flavors. And that is the key! Pastas, pizzas, lasagnas, vegetables, you name it. It makes any dish more tastier and creamier. And healthier, of course, since there is no dairy involved.

Here is how I make it.

Ingredients:

  • 4 tbsp vegan butter (or sub vegetable oil)
  • 4 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 2 cups unsweetened almond milk (homemade preferably)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • freshly grated nutmeg to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a saucepan on a medium heat melt vegan butter. Start adding flour one spoon at the time, mixing it in with a wooden spoon. The mixture will be bubbly. When flour and butter combine well take the saucepan off the heat. Whisk in 1/2 cup of almond milk, mix well and return to the heat. Slowly start adding the rest of milk while still mixing. Keep on whisking for about 4-5 minutes until the sauce becomes thick and creamy with a silky gloss. Add salt, black pepper and nutmeg. Turn off the heat. Your bechamel sauce is ready!

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My bechamel.

Soon I will share a delicious spinach lasagna recipe that uses this bechamel sauce.

But don’t wait for that! Experiment with your favorite pasta dish and use this great white cream sauce. Or smother it on top of roasted vegetables, asparagus or broccoli rabe. Let me know the results 🙂

 

 

Traditional Chinese Medicine spring detox

 

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Photo: Biegun Wschodni

Oh Spring! I’ve been waiting for you for months. This winter has been strange in NYC. Some days were extremely cold, and others unusually warm. Last week I went to my acupuncturist, and after the session we had a conversation about detoxing. I instantly connected to the idea of a seasonal detox (according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)). This approach feels more gentle, and is a more balanced way to go. It is connected the the seasons and to what’s happening around us. I’ve never done a Western-type of detox that everyone is talking about because I don’t feel comfortable about just stripping away things from my body, bad and good at once. TCM detox, on the other hands, feels more natural and organic to the body.

TCM is one of the oldest continuously practiced medicines in the world. It recognizes the nature and, most importantly, Qi [ch’i] energy that is the underlying force of all that exists in the world. TCM understands how the energy flows inside our human bodies and our environment, and therefore knows how to balance those energies when we feel sluggish, stuck, or sick. By staying deeply connected to nature we can cure our bodies through that alignment.

When we are talking about detoxifying our bodies we are talking about Liver. Let’s look at how TCM helps liver to be more in alignment and more healthy.

It is important to know that TCM is based on the Theory of 5 elements:

  • Wood
  • Fire
  • Earth
  • Metal
  • Water.

Each element is associated with a season, climate, stage of growth, an internal organ, body tissue, sense, taste, emotion, color, sound, foods and more.

Our liver is associate with Wood element and spring season. Spring is the perfect time to enhance and balance liver function (physical and energetic). From TCM perspective, liver, in order to be strong, needs warm energy, and the flow. By clearing the energy of liver in the spring we set a tone for the whole year. I also believe that by “cleaning our house” in the spring we make space for the good to enter our lives. We are preparing the soil for the bright new greens to emerge. We are part of this world, the nature, and so the same principles that take place in the nature happen within our human bodies as well.

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I was cleaning my garden today, preparing for planting soon, and saw this tiny little sprout. Without the clearing I would not even notice it.

Here I’m going to share with you which foods help to promote the warmth and the flow in the body:

  • bamboo shoots
  • broccoli rabe
  • eggplant
  • dandelions greens
  • scallions
  • fennel
  • garlic, ginger and lemon – warming essence.

Liver is also associated with sour taste, so adding a warm apple cider vinegar drink to the daily morning routine would be a huge benefit.

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Image by The hearty soul.

It is very interesting that recently I particularly been enjoying eggplant and bamboo shoots without knowing the Theory of 5 elements yet. It all makes sense now.

This simple recipe that I’ve learned making is Chinese eggplant. I grill it with ginger, garlic, scallions, sesame oil and soy sauce. Serve with brown rice. Try it! I did not have a chance to take a photo of this dish, but here is a good image from the net to give you an idea.

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Image by Taste Spotting.

Spring is the time of change and transformation. By incorporating these simple foods into our diet we can help our bodies to be stronger and more balanced at this time of the year. By doing so we are preparing the base for the rich and lush energy to emerge. I do believe that detox is not about taking something away, but rather balancing what we have. When we are in balance, whatever our body does not need will naturally depart.

Share with me how you are feeling. Does it feel nourishing to incorporate these Wood element foods into your diet?