Seasonal Cherry & Apricot Nut Crumble With Vanilla Almond Cream [with raw option!]

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Early summer produce is finally here so it's the perfect time for cherries and apricots here in the Pacific Northwest. This week our CSA box was full of the most delicious fresh local fruits and we found ourselves with a dozen apricots and six pounds of beautiful fresh local cherries. 

It didn't take long before most of the cherries were devoured and since the remaining cherries and apricots were starting to soften a bit, I decided I'd use the rest of them to make a warm cherry and apricot compote filling with a raw nut & date crumble topping. 

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With all of this fruit in season lately, I've been loving the combination of fresh fruit with different kinds of chopped raw nuts and whipped nut creams. When the fruit had first arrived, I was enjoying the fruit on it's own as well as with almond cream and nut crumbles on top, inspired by this recipe, by Laura of The First Mess. But as the fruit I was using became a little more soft and overripe, I decided to make warm, delicately cooked, bowls of syrupy cherries and apricots, while still keeping the date and nut crumble and the almond cream fully raw.

I mainly chose to keep the nuts raw to avoid the formation of a compound called acrylamide.

In looking at research on nuts, they have been shown to form the compound acrylamide when baked at high temperatures (above 265 degrees F) which causes oxidative stress leading to cellular apoptosis, which can age us and raise disease risk. The length of baking time doesn't seem to be a factor, but keeping the temperature low is what's most important.

Just to avoid this process all together I like to keep the nuts completely raw, but if you prefer a warm nut topping, you can bake these for about 40 minutes at 250 degrees F, and avoid too much damage to the nuts. 

Raw nuts and seeds are actually some of the healthiest whole foods we can eat.

Nuts and seeds contain: LDL cholesterol-lowering phytosterols, circulation-promoting arginine (an amino acid), minerals, including potassium, calcium, magnesium, and selenium, and antioxidants, including flavonoids, resveratrol, tocopherols (vitamin E), and carotenoids.

Nuts and seeds also promote heart health. Eating five or more servings of nuts per week is estimated to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by 35 percent. 

While it's important not to go overboard, even with raw nuts, adding them to fresh fruit and greens in small amounts helps to boost absorption of nutrients, making them healthier together than when enjoyed on their own.

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Making the Vanilla Almond Cream:

The first step is to make the raw vanilla almond cream. You'll need to soak your almonds overnight or for at least 8 hours, before draining, rinsing, and then blending them with the water, vanilla, maple syrup, and pinch of salt. Scoop the cream into a jar or container and store it in the fridge until cooled. 

If you don't like seeing little brown specks in your almond cream, you can blanch the almonds first and then run them under cold water to remove the skins, but I find it doesn't make any difference in the taste or texture of the cream and I don't mind seeing some specks. 

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There are a couple of different ways you can make this crumble. If your fruit is very fresh and at perfect ripeness, you can keep this dish completely raw, like in the original recipe, but if your fruit is overripe and a little soft, I'd recommend the cooked option.

In the cooked option I keep the nuts completely raw and add them on at the very end along with the pre-made chilled vanilla almond cream. Or if you want the nut topping a little warm, it can be baked with the crumbles on at a very low temperature (250°F). 

Raw Option:

Filling: Slice in half the cherries and apricots and remove the pits, then slice the apricots into thin wedges. Place the raw fresh fruit in a bowl and refrigerate while you make the crumble topping.  

Raw nut crumble: In a food processor, combine the walnuts, almonds, pecans, dates, vanilla, salt, and cinnamon, until broken into large crumbs and with the dates evenly dispersed and finely chopped. 

Assembly: Scoop the sliced fruit into individual bowls and top with the nut and date crumble and a dollop of cold vanilla almond cream. 

Cooked Option:

Filling: Slice in half the cherries and apricots and remove the pits, then slice the apricots into thin wedges. Place fruit in a bowl and add in the lemon juice and coconut sugar. Stir together your starch slurry in a small bowl. Heat a saucepan over medium heat and once the pan is warm add in the fruit mixture. Bring to a gentle boil then reduce heat to a simmer and add in the starch slurry, stirring as it thickens. Simmer on low heat for 3-4 minutes, when the fruit softens but before it starts to go too mushy. 

Raw nut crumble: In a food processor, combine the walnuts, almonds, pecans, dates, vanilla, salt, and cinnamon, until broken into large crumbs and with the dates evenly dispersed and finely chopped. 

Assembly: Scoop the cooked fruit filling into individual bowls if serving right away, or into an 8x8 baking dish to serve it later. Top with the raw nut and date crumble and serve with a dollop of the chilled vanilla almond cream. If you choose the baking dish option you can make the crumble ahead of time and then refrigerate it before baking it with the nut topping on for 40 minutes at 250°F, or 20 minutes at 350°F, but make sure to leave the raw nut crumble off and add it on after it's done baking. Add the chilled cream just before serving.

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Complete Guide to Cooking Without Oil

Coronary angiograms of the distal left anterior descending artery before (left) and after (right) 32 months of a plant-based diet without cholesterol-lowering medication, showing profound improvement. ( source )

Coronary angiograms of the distal left anterior descending artery before (left) and after (right) 32 months of a plant-based diet without cholesterol-lowering medication, showing profound improvement. (source)

Oils, like any other food, aren't either good for you or bad for you, they're simply better or worse for you when compared to other foods. Oils shouldn't be avoided because they're a "bad foodand it's true that certain oils like extra virgin olive oil are certainly less bad for you than than other oils like coconut, corn, and palm. Even so, it's important to keep in mind that less damage is still damage.

From a health perspective, there's no reason to include oil in our diets. Most of us have about 2200-2500 calories in our calorie bank for the day, so it doesn't make sense to eat a highly refined, calorically dense food product, when instead we could be spending those calories on whole, unprocessed plant foods, which provide necessary fiber and nutrients. 

For the most part, I don't use any oil in my home cooking, and ever since learning to use the right substitutions and methods I don't find myself missing it at all. Lately, I rarely seek out specifically oil-free recipes since it's become easy enough to make any recipe I find without any oil. 

A few reasons to avoid oil:

  • Within hours of ingesting any kind of oil arteries stiffen and their ability to dilate is impaired.

  • The Mediterranean Diet is healthy in spite of olive oil- not because of it. The lowered heart attack risk on this diet is due to the high consumption of whole plant foods rather than the addition of olive oil.

  • The plaque that builds up in our arteries causing arterial lesions and blockages can only be cleared up by reducing total fat intake, not by choosing different "better" kinds of fats.

  • By age 10, almost all kids have fatty streaks in their arteries which is the first sign of atherosclerosis, the leading cause of death in the United States. So most of us should be eating for the purpose of reversing the heart disease that we likely already have.


How to cook without oil on the stovetop:

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  • Use nontoxic, nonstick cookware made of stainless steel, enamel-coated cast iron, or ceramic titanium.

  • Instead of frying vegetables in oil, use small amounts of vegetable broth, water, vinegar, or tamari/coconut aminos to keep things from sticking to the pan.

  • The key to this method is to add whichever liquid you're choosing a few teaspoons at a time. Just enough to release some steam and keep things from getting stuck to the pan, but not so much that the vegetables are sitting in a puddle. The pan should be hot enough that the liquid you add boils away somewhat quickly, but never turn the heat higher than medium-high to protect your pan from heat damage. Once it boils away completely, add another very small splash of liquid and stir things around to free them up again. Repeat this process until your food is fully cooked.

  • Note that things won't always brown as much when using this method vs. when using oil. If want to something to brown or char slightly, let all of the liquid evaporate from the pan, or don't use any liquid in the first place, then let the food cook in the dry pan while watching carefully to see when it browns. Once it browns, you can add a very small amount liquid to the pan stop it from overcooking and burning or remove it from the pan entirely depending on the recipe.

  • Consider the temperature of the pan. Too much liquid added in during cooking time will cool down the pan and greatly slow down the cooking speed, so be sure to add as little as possible. Or if you accidentally add too much, adjust the temperature so it can boil again and evaporate away.


How to bake without oil:

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  • For baking, I like to use silicone cookware. It's nontoxic and the flexibility of it allows baked goods to just pop right out, no greasing the pan needed. Silicone bakeware will require that you increase the baking time, usually about by 3-6 minutes, depending on the recipe.

  • Some baked dessert recipes call for cups full of oil. When this happens there are many options for replacements: nut butters, dairy-free yogurts, applesauce, sweet potato or squash puree, pureed prunes or dates, or mashed banana.

  • When choosing an oil replacement in baking, take into consideration the recipe you're making and try to discern what the oil is being used for in that specific case (to add moisture, to add structure, etc.) . Be sure to also choose a replacement with a flavor or texture that would best suit that particular recipe.

  • This sometimes takes a bit of trial and error, but after a few attempts you'll find what works best for any given recipe.


How to roast without oil: 

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  • Instead of greasing the baking sheet, use a silpat or parchment paper to keep the pan lean and the veggies from sticking

  • Use another liquid to get the spices to stick to what you're roasting such as water, vegetable broth, tamari, maple syrup, mustard, vinegar, etc. depending on the recipe (full list down below).

  • If you have a spray bottle, it can really help to use that to mist water or liquid of choice on to the vegetables you're roasting, then toss to coat with seasonings.

  • Oil-free roasted veggies can dry out, but to avoid this as much as possible roast them low and slow

  • To achieve a shiny glaze on the surface of the vegetable without any oil, brush on some aquafaba, the cooking broth leftover from cooking beans.

  • Give them some room to breathe and don't overcrowd the pan- this should help them to get more brown and crispy.

  • Another trick to get your veggies to brown more is to use a glass baking dish with no parchment paper at all, just place the chopped veggies right on the glass. This will help them to get slightly more brown than if you used parchment paper.

  • Make sure to chop everything you plan to bake in chunks that are pretty much the same exact size to prevent uneven cooking.

  • Stir the roasted vegetables around a bit after about 10 minutes of cooking to ensure they don't get stuck to the pan if you're not using parchment paper or other non-stick surface. This will also help them to cook evenly.


Deep Frying Alternatives

My favorite kitchen appliance by far is my Air Fryer

It makes any whole plant food I put in there turn into the most crunchy and evenly crispy treat, all with no oil needed! 

It's very easy to use and clean, and the best part about it is you don't have to wait for it to preheat.

This device has greatly cut down on the amount of time I spend in the kitchen and it makes the best crispy tofu I've ever had.

While it's not necessary to have an air fryer to eat an oil-free diet, it certainly makes it a lot easier!  

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What to Use Instead of Oil

I mentioned previously that I like to use a glass spray bottle to evenly spritz my roasted veggies with liquid. While this isn't necessary, I find that it makes it much easier to lightly coat the veggies with a liquid instead of using oil. 

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While these liquid oil-substitutes wont prevent stuff from sticking to the pan (that's what parchment paper is for!) and they will evaporate over the cooking time, they still add in a bit of moisture to help prevent things from drying out while roasting and impart a really nice flavor.

It's also been nice to have a reason to save my cooking broth rather than pour it down the drain, especially when I make a nice salty broth and use lots of flavorful fresh herbs. These cooking liquids are so much more flavorful than most oils. 

Here are some of my favorite oil-alternatives for roasting veggies:

  • Tamari (low-sodium)

  • Coconut aminos

  • Vegetable broth

  • Leftover cooking broth, the one I'm using now is leftover from cooking white beans and thyme

  • Vinegar, such as apple cider vinegar or balsamic

  • Leftover liquid from steaming vegetables, a.k.a. pot liquor such as from steamed beets, potatoes, greens, etc.

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Those are all of my best tips for cooking without oil! Hopefully you've found these tips helpful and can start to cook oil-free with confidence. 

It will definitely take some time and experimentation to get it right the first few times you try this but after a while it will become much more intuitive. Expect a little trial and error in the learning process. Cooking without oil isn't the easiest thing- my partner calls it cooking on hard-mode, and that's exactly what it feels like initially, but once you get the hang of it you'll have a valuable skill that could actually improve the quality of your life and your long-term overall health. 

Notice: This blog post contains affiliate links, which simply means that I earn a commission if you purchase through those links, but your price remains the same. Thank you for your continued support! 

Sweet Potato Mac and Cheese with Mushroom Bacon (Nut-Free, Vegan, Oil-Free, Gluten-Free)

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Since going vegan two years ago, I've spent a lot of time trying out all sorts of different mac and cheese recipes. I've tried cashew cheese, almond cheese, butternut squash cheese, and just about every type of sweet potato, or potato and carrot cheese sauce there is, but I keep coming back to this version. 

This recipe is inspired by the sweet potato mac at one of my favorite NYC restaurants, By Chloe. I've made this version nut-free (depending on which plant milk you use), flour-free, oil-free, and it can also be gluten free depending on the pasta you choose. It gets a tangy cheddar-like bite from the tahini and lemon juice and a classic cheesy flavor from the nutritional yeast. 

The smoky mushroom bacon is really the star of this recipe. For a while I never really sought out vegan versions of bacon because having been a vegetarian for most of my life, it wasn't something that I needed a replacement for, but after trying all different sorts of vegan bacon made from whole plants I've really grown fond of mushroom bacon in particular. It's smoky, salty, and just the perfect texture to add into mac and cheese. 

If you're looking for the most comforting vegan recipe that's still healthy and packed full of nutrients, this is it! For a truly nourishing whole food meal, use whole wheat or gluten-free pasta of choice and add in a handful of spinach. 

If you try this recipe, let me know what you think by leaving a like or a comment down below. I hope you enjoy this indulgent yet guilt-free mac and cheese recipe as much as I do!

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Cheezy Potato Quesadillas [Vegan, Oil-Free]

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These potato quesadillas are exactly the healthy quesadilla replacement I've been searching for all these years since giving up the cow cheese. They are deceptively cheezy, and would make a great replacement for cheese lovers looking to make healthier food choices. The potatoes are boiled and then mashed with a rich hollandaise sauce made from cashews that is easily whipped up in the blender. 

This is another quick recipe that takes only 20 minutes! All you have to do is chop and boil potatoes, blend up a sauce, and mash the sauce into the potatoes and you have your quesadilla spread ready to go! Spread the mixture between two small tortillas (or a big tortilla folded in half) and bake for 10 minutes until lightly crispy. 

Potato quesadillas are the perfect addition to packed lunches as they store well tupperware containers and can be enjoyed warm or cold. 

I like to enjoy them with either vegan sour cream or hot sauce, but these would also go really well with salsa or other tomato based sauces. 

If you make these I'd love to hear what you think. Leave a comment down below if you try it out!

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Pumpkin Leek Risotto + Leftover Risotto Balls!


Is it pumpkin season yet? I may have jumped the gun on this one, but I've been obsessed with this pumpkin leek risotto lately. It has a delicate creamy flavor with a light herb seasoning and just the right amount of pumpkin flavor. 

You could spend an hour roasting a whole pumpkin or squash, and that would definitely be delicious, but for the sake of time I usually make this with canned pumpkin. That helps keeps the time on this recipe under 30 minutes, which makes it a viable option for a weeknight dinner or quick lunch. 

Since I tend to make risotto in large batches, I've started turning the leftovers into little crunchy risotto balls. Simply cool the risotto in the fridge for a few hours or overnight to firm up the mixture, then scoop out spoonfuls and hand shape into spheres. Roll the spheres in a bowl of breadcrumbs, bake in the oven, and serve with marinara sauce. 

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These risotto balls make a wonderful appetizer to bring to fall parties (Labor day already?!) or to introduce people to vegan food who may not have considered before just how tasty plant-based foods can be. 

Here's what you'll need:

Not shown: Vegetable broth, Salt

Not shown: Vegetable broth, Salt

The first time I made risotto, I was very intimidated and worried about ending up with a mushy mess stuck to the bottom of the pan. The key to avoiding this is to keep the heat no higher than medium and to stir constantly. This dish cooks quickly, but needs your attention and stirring for most of the cooking time (~15 minutes)

We add the vegetable broth in one cup at a time. Once the leeks are cooked, the rice has been added, and the vinegar has been absorbed by the rice, it's time to add our first cup of broth.

When the rice has absorbed most of the broth, as shown in the photo below, then you can add another cup of broth and repeat until rice is cooked and fluffy. 

The rice has absorbed our first cup of broth so now we can add the second cup. 

The rice has absorbed our first cup of broth so now we can add the second cup. 

When all of the broth has been added and absorbed, it will look like the photo below. The rice will have become more translucent and it will be creamy and soft. 

Now we'll lower the heat to a simmer and add our herbs, pumpkin puree, and cashew parmesan. 

Let the dish rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. Top with additional cooked leeks for garnish.

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At this point, you could serve it as it is, or allow the dish to cool and then place in the fridge overnight. Once mixture has cooled, hand roll into balls, and then coat with a breadcrumb mixture. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat, and bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees. 

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Peanut Butter & Jelly Bread [Oil-Free, Refined-Sugar Free]


This peanut butter bread loaf is refined sugar free, sweetened with maple syrup and coconut sugar, and it contains no oil. While it's not a health food, it's a really fun and easy recipe, it travels well, and makes a great treat to share with others. 

Peanut butter and jelly bread has been getting us through some strenuous days of manual labor out on our new property clearing a few invasive blackberry bushes. After six months of searching for land to purchase and build our first home, we finally closed on a 7 acre parcel of forest here in Washington state. It's a beautiful property covered with ferns and pine trees and we think it will be just the right place to build our small cabin and learn how to grow our own food. 

For now, we've been practicing with a few potted plants around our Airstream and seeing what we can learn about the process. We mostly have flowers and succulents along with a tomato plant that has five green tomatoes ripening currently. 

taken during the eclipse here in Seattle (92% coverage) 

taken during the eclipse here in Seattle (92% coverage) 

This peanut butter and jelly bread is so easy to make, all you need is two bowls and a 9 x 9 inch baking pan or loaf pan. Most of the ingredients are common household items and require very little preparation other than mixing and dumping into a pan. If you make this now, in less than an hour you'll have a delicious fresh sliced bread to enjoy all week!

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The addition of the dried blueberries adds a fruity jelly flavor, but feel free to omit for plain peanut butter bread. For other variations, try adding chopped nuts, raisins, or vegan chocolate chips. Dial down on the coconut sugar for sandwich bread or add more coconut sugar for a sweeter loaf. Slice and store in the fridge covered for up to one week. 

 

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