When times are stressful I crave the cozy comfort that can only be brought by foods from childhood. In the earliest years of a vegan diet, these moments left me feeling deprived. Today I just lean into that “mostly vegan” practice and have a serving of homemade macaroni at the family gathering. Eventually I learned to make satisfying vegan versions of most things, especially veggies and dumplings, mashed potatoes and gravy, biscuits, stuffing/dressing and so much more. While happily scrolling through Instagram months ago I saw Timothy Pakron,aka Mississippi Vegan’s photo of his take on vegan Hamburger Helper. I can’t tell you the last time I thought about Hamburger Helper, but I was overcome with memories of the funny white glove (was it supposed to be an oven mit or something?) that was on the box of Hamburger Helper and other 1980s delicacies like Rice-a-Roni, both with enough salt to cause great concern for all of our cardiovascular health, I’m sure.
Anyway, I read the vegan Hamburger Helper recipe and I even though I personally don’t super love cooking with meat substitutes, the nostalgic cravings spurred on by a stressful week got the better of me.
Timothy Pakron’s version has a little spicier than my kids approve of, so I toned things down just a little. I also moved to a stove top only version because my dutch oven is on the smaller side. It makes 6-8 servings and makes great leftovers for lunch the next day.
With that, I introduce you to Mostly Vegan Mamas Vegan Hamburger Helper!
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 small head of garlic, finely chopped
1 package of your favorite ground meat substitute, I use Beyond Meat
1 25 oz can of fire roasted tomatoes
16 oz shells pasta
2-3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
optional handful of vegan (or not vegan) cheese, I use Violife Cheddar shreds
4-6 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon oregano
1 teaspoon sage
1 teaspoon thyme
1/2 -1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1 teaspoon sage
3-5 tablespoons soy sauce
1 shake of smokey paprika
optional: extra spices!! a shake or three of smokey paprika, one shake hot pepper, a few shakes garlic and onion powder
In a 8 quart pot, over medium heat saute onion, garlic with ground beef substitute, being sure to break apart the beef into a crumb size texture. If it doesn’t have a juicy quality about it, add a little extra olive oil.
Add all herbs and spices (except the optional extras!) and stir for until it smells amazing (1-3 minutes)
Add fire roasted tomatoes, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, cheese or cheese substitute
Stir in pasta
Add enough water to just cover the pasta
Stir well and let simmer. While the pasta cooks stir frequently (but not constantly) to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom. As the pasta cooks it will get thick and creamy. You may need to add a little extra water. When the pasta is done, check out the overall texture. If the pasta falls apart from the sauce easily you may need to add a little water. Scoop-able and creamy is the way to go.
Taste test! I like strong flavors, and I shake extra everything until there is a nice balance of salt and spice. I generally add extra of garlic and onion powder, a little extra olive oil and soy sauce and just enough chipotle chili to make the kids a tiny bit made at me.
My little trip last week was last minute. I didn’t meal plan, I made a scattered trip to the grocery store and left with only random, but I had blue corn chips and spicy fresh guacamole, so I was happy. My love of cooking is not eclipsed by my passion for chips and crackers of all kinds.
The cabin had a tiny, modest kitchen. The lighting was minimal and it fit my mood- I was not inspired. But I was determined to not eat some processed convenience food (again), and I set to work. Fried chickpeas make everything better. They are my favorite protein to add to a food bowl, and sometimes they are the star of the dinner, dressed with a yummy Chinese garlic sauce.
Note: I actuallyprefer this recipe with a simple white wine, lemon and olive oil sauce, but the kids aren’t fans.
This is an easy dinner that tastes and looks like it is much harder than it actually is. Don’t tell anyone though stay in the kitchen for an extra 20 minutes and enjoy a glass of wine before sitting down.
One 15 ounce can of chickpeas
Pasta of your choice (I used organic wheat linguine, because that’s all I had)
1 small yellow onion
4-6 ounces of kalamata olives, torn/chopped
1-2 pounds of fresh kale, off the stem and roughly chopped (a bag of chopped frozen kale works too!). I prefer LOTS of greens.
olive oil or vegan butter
ground red pepper of your choice
Drain and dry one 15 ounce can of chickpeas.
Fry the chickpeas over medium/medium-high heat in little canola oil until golden – about ten minutes. Set aside on a paper towel. If everyone can agree on a level of spiciness, go ahead and dust the chickpeas with your preferred ground pepper. A smokey hot pepper would be nice!
Saute chopped onion in olive oil with a little salt until fragrant translucent.
Add the chopped kale to the onions, remove from heat and set aside. I like to kale to keep a nice texture, so I only lightly cook it in this recipe. You can saute it in the onions longer if you prefer.
Cook the pasta as directed, drain.
To the pasta add a few tablespoons of olive oil or vegan butter of your choice, a little salt, garlic and plenty of oregano. Stir in onions, garlic, olives, and kale. The kale will continue to soften in the hot pasta.
Heap onto plates and add fried chickpeas to the top of each. Spritz with fresh lemon juice to brighten the kale, and dust with a little ground hot pepper of your choice, if you want some heat.
The other night I looked out the window to see my husband pruning two rows of bushy okra plants that aren’t setting fruit or growing in their usual tall habit. My current theory is stink bugs. I hate stink bugs, and I’m eager to blame for most late summer garden issues. He told me pruning okra is called “whipping” and encourages it to fruit – much like pinching flowers off tomato plants. It appears to be working and we finally have our first okra of the season in the fridge.
In the south fried okra reigns supreme, but to be honest I’m not great at frying things and in general I prefer not to eat fried food all that often. Besides, it makes a mess and who wants to deal with that when they are trying to make a quick dinner before the kids melt down?
It’s super easy to make and goes well with any late summer or early fall menu. Serve with a little salt or any of the following goodies: ground oregano and salt, garlic and soy sauce and sesame seeds (my personal favorite), a pile of thinly slice fried onions with garlic and maybe a shot of hot sauce sauce, or a dusting of your favorite spice mix – a Cajun blend is excellent on okra. I think this weekend I will try hot honey roasted okra with garlic kale on top grits. Stay tuned for a picture and recipe notes.
How to make it:
Pre-heat the oven to 450 for get crispy ends – 400 if your children believe anything brown is burned.
For four people I typically use one pound of okra. Avoid pieces that are more than 3 inches long – they will be not be as tender.
Trim the tops off the okra and cut it down the center. Toss it in a mixing bowl with 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and stir until the okra is evenly coated. Place one layer of okra cut-side down on the sheet pan.
Pop the plan the middle of the oven for 15-18 minutes. Scoot the okra around on the pan with a spatula or shake the pan at least one time while baking.
Just thinking about this recipe makes me want to light a candle in the kitchen when the sun has set early in the evening and dinner feels much later than it actually is. This recipe was shared with me from my mother-in-law approximately one million years ago – or more specifically just a few weeks after our first wedding anniversary as we prepared for Thanksgiving. I’m not sure if it’s origin, but I suspect it is from the Moosewood Inn cookbook, but has evolved over time in her kitchen and in mine. This recipe pairs well with couscous with vegetables and chickpeas, rice with dried apricots and pine nuts, rice and lentil stuffed bell peppers, spiced potatoes.
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs fresh spinach, stemmed, cooked, chopped, and squeezed dry (20 oz frozen, squeezed dry)
The summer heat is breaking this week with a full week of pleasant temperatures ahead, and I intend to spend at least one early afternoon sitting outside eating a chickpea of the sea salad. This recipe is an excellent example of how switching to a vegan diet can easily be accomplished with a simple substitution to an old favorite. (Just an aside, “chickpea of the sea” immediately makes me start singing the Billy Bragg song, Secret of the Sea, performed by Wilco)
The classic tuna salad consists of base recipe of mayo, celery, pickle chips or relish and… If you are jonsing for those familiar flavors, use your preferred vegan mayo (mine is Follow Your Heart) and a can of chickpeas instead of tuna. When you stir everything together use a potato masher or you hand to lightly smash or break apart about a quarter of the chickpeas or until it has achieved a texture you find most suitable. I know mine is ready when I can scoop a out a spoonful and it keeps its shape nicely.
Chickpea of the sea salad works for sandwich and wraps, and really shine in a pita stuffed with fresh crunchy lettuce. If you are not looking to add extra calories to your lunch, a bed of salad greens topped with a tidy scoop never disappoints. The basic recipe is kid friendly, but the flavors can easily be punched up. Lemon pepper? Pickled red onion? Chopped herbs? I enjoy diced red onion, fresh dill and one clove of minced garlic, but that flavor profile is a little too much for the kids, so I generally stick to the basics.
In a moment of severe stress many months ago, I ordered a pimento cheese sandwich from Black Mountain Bistro. It had a thick slice of tomato and lettuce on toasted wheat, and I felt so deeply guilty for the splurge, I ordered garlic green beans instead of the French fries I desperately wanted. The green beans were bright green, tender, salty and I could nearly see my reflection in all of the olive oil.
This summer our garden has provided dozens (and dozens!) of pounds of beautiful green beans. A second round were planted several weeks and once ahead we are swimming in them! This recipe is so popular with the kids that is the ONLY way I have prepared them all summer. Below you will see this recipe, served along side a vegan hotdog, coleslaw and boiled new potatoes.
1 pound of fresh green beans, with the ends trimmed
4 to 6 cloves of garlic, minced (you make sub garlic powder if you do not have fresh garlic available)
1 teaspoons of salt (or more or less to taste)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cups of water (at least)
Gently heat 4-6 table spoons of olive oil, minced garlic and salt until fragrant – do not brown the garlic
Add water and increase to a med-high heat and add the green beans
Cook the green beans until tender, stirring regularly (about ten minutes), add more water if the beans are not as tender as you’d like
When the water is nearly cooked out, add the rest of the olive and reduce to low-medium heat, be careful to not burn the garlic as the water begins to evaporate.
Allow the water to evaporate, and gently stir the green beans coating them in garlic infused olive oil – they will very tender, smell like heaven and shine like a mirror.
Summer treats us to bright colors, abundant gardens, and simple pleasures – like coleslaw. For most of my life I believed coleslaw to be the shredded cabbage with a mayo based dressing and slaw to the the familiar diced into fine confetti cabbage with an orange and pink vinegar based dressing. Coleslaw was a side a cookouts and potlucks, whereas slaw was found next to the fried okra on your barbecue plate, on top of your barbecue sandwich and a top a hotdog. I also nearly an adult when I realized barbecue wasn’t the monolith of Lexington-style barbecue – smoked, chopped pork that I believed it to be. Debating the merits of vinegar based against tomato or mustard based barbecue sauce is a conversation we Southerner’s will gladly take up, even vegan ones!
Traditional vinegar based slaw is vegan and deserves to share the spotlight with the more famous picnic style coleslaw. This recipe is Piedmont-style slaw I so fondly remember, especially from Stamey’s Barbecue in Greensboro, NC. Stamey’s published the recipe many years ago, and it’s enough to share with your neighbors. A reduced everything by half for a family cookout – reduction is noted in parenthesis.
6 (3) medium heads cabbage (about 12 1/2 pounds), finely chopped/diced — truly think of confetti!
2 3/4 ( 1 1/3) cup granulated sugar
3 1/2 (1 3/4) tablespoon salt
4 (2)teaspoons ground black pepper
1/2 (1/4)teaspoon ground red pepper
1 quart (2 cups) ketchup, such as Heinz
1 cup (1/2 cup) apple cider vinegar
Mix together the cabbage, sugar, salt, black pepper and red pepper.
Add the ketchup and vinegar and mix well.
Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.
If you’re not feeling spicy, the shredded mayo can be ready to go in no time. Always short on time, I reach for the organic slaw mix at the grocery store with purple and green cabbage and carrots.
1, 14 ounce package of organic coleslaw mix (purple and green cabbage)
1/2 cup vegan mayonnaise (I prefer to start with 1/4 of a cup, and see how I feel about it before going all in with the entire half cup)
1 tablespoons sugar (you can go to 2 tablespoons if you prefer!)
1 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
Thoroughly mix cabbage and carrot mix with all ingredients
Chill for at least two hours (and up to overnight) before serving