Goodness. Three years of eating a “flexible vegan” diet are now under the bridge.
I enjoyed them. Being flegan expanded my culinary skills and leaned my body. The prodigious consumption of fresh produce virtually eliminated my seasonal allergies and longstanding arthritis pain in my bunions. I felt virtuous and strong.
Until I tried to get stronger.
Last March, a good friend got me started on bodybuilding. No, not the steroid-laced hoax whose ultimate goal is the perfect(ly grotesque) photo of a musclebound body that can’t perform real work.
I’m talking about real bodybuilding. Pushing, pulling, and lifting bodyweight and iron. Building functional strength that can drive a fence post, buck hay, run for miles, and ride an endurance horse as effortlessly through mile 45 as at the starting line.
For several months, all went well. I ate my usual flegan meals based on whole grains, legumes, and plenty of vegetables. My push-up count climbed. My sprint times fell. By June, I could see the beginnings of six-pack abs…but I could also feel the strain.
Slower recovery times, cottony muscles that performed hard workouts in the morning but wanted to nap by afternoon, and reduced sleep quality all had me looking for answers. I knew nutrition was almost certainly a major factor, but wasn’t I already offering my cells a glorious buffet of healthful, whole foods? What was going wrong?
Intuition, research, and discourse with my bodybuilding friend led me to one of the more obvious solutions: protein. Even the most protein-rich vegan foods, many of which are highly-processed soy products, don’t hold a candle to animal products.
I stopped selling my chickens‘ eggs and started eating them. Two a day. It helped. I kept reading, scouring the library and internet for ideas supported by published, independent, peer-reviewed research rather than the industry-financed, politically-motivated stuff of conventional wisdom.
Patterns emerged. Startling patterns that warred with my existing nutritional construct. Patterns backed by research. Patterns I couldn’t ignore. Protein, it transpired, was the tip of the iceberg.
Here’s what I learned:
- Whole grains are bad for you. Legumes aren’t much better.
- Carbohydrate reduction — not calorie reduction — is the key to fat loss and good health.
- Large quantities of natural dietary fats, including saturated fats, are beneficial.
- Animal products are important for thriving health.
Scores of articles, chapters, blog posts, and research papers passed under my review as I evaluated these ideas. Meanwhile, I added a daily serving of fish to my diet….and felt better. I took the huge step of eliminating all grains and legumes….and felt much better. Reluctantly, I reintroduced more meats while maintaining my usual, high rate of vegetable consumption…and felt better still.
But what did I eat? How does a person who has relied for calories predominantly on grains and legumes survive without them? By replacing them with natural, healthful fats and proteins, that’s how.
My daily diet shifted from this “flegan” menu:
Pre-workout: Green drink (smoothie made with bananas, pear, grapes, kale, and flaxseed)
Breakfast: More green drink and oatmeal with walnuts, dried fruit, and unsweetened soy milk
Lunch: Spinach salad with chickpeas, mixed raw vegetables, and olive oil vinaigrette
Snack: Natural peanut butter
Dinner: Barley pilaf with artichoke hearts
2,287 calories, 314 grams carbs, 100 grams fat, 74 grams protein
…to this “primal” menu:
Pre-workout: Banana with almond butter
Breakfast: Spinach salad with tuna, olives, sunflower seeds, mixed raw vegetables, and olive oil vinaigrette
Lunch: Hot vegetable curry topped with 2 hard boiled eggs
Dinner: Gazpacho with avocado and grilled chicken, mango, and jicama salad
Dessert: Blueberries with coconut milk
2,271 calories, 135 grams carbs, 147 grams fat, 137 grams protein
Same number of calories. Half the carbs. One and a half times the fats. Twice the protein. All the produce!
Since that shift, I’ve played around with the carbohydrates a bit and found that I do best on slightly more than your typical “primal” maintainance level, given my penchant for extreme(ish) fitness and extensive physical activity. I’ve leaned out, chiseled that six-pack, built and cut some serious muscle in my limbs and back, and banished the bloating and low-energy that had plagued my flegan self.
So. So long, fleganism. I loved ya, but it’s time to move on.
Needless to say, this shift from “ideal eating” (according to conventional wisdom and the vegan crowd) has caused quite a stir among my acquaintances, particularly those who shared a vegetarian bent. Several people have expressed downright alarm. Many have asked the same questions I did, questions no doubt raised by this post:
What on earth is wrong with whole grains and legumes?
Are you sure fat is healthful?
Animal products? Seriously?
So, you’re doing Atkins now? (Nope!)
What does “primal” mean?
I don’t claim to have all the answers — but I do have some, along with a lot of logic and research to back up my own, anecdotal experience. Instead of trying to regurgitate all of it here, allow me to refer those who are interested to a few resources, just for starters:
Mark’s Daily Apple (Primal nutrition and fitness)
Fitness Spotlight (Low-carb nutrition and fitness)
The Vegetarian Myth (book review by Dr. Michael Eades)
Cholesterol and Health (Fat and cholesterol research)
Food Renegade (Real food & related politics. Home of Fight Back Fridays!)
Good Calories, Bad Calories (Book regarding the science of low-carb eating by Gary Taubes)
Note: Most of the above links will take you to main pages; be sure to click around and read the sites more deeply. I’ll link directly to articles on particular topics in future posts.
And so, my friends, NightLife turns down the primal path. Shall we see where it leads?
There was a time in the not-too-distant past when a recipe with a name like this one has would have scared me off. Asian flavor profiles have never been my strong suit, and an ingredient list like this one takes some getting used to.
Tofu…miso…sambal oelek… Not everyone has purchased these items before. Don’t worry; they’re easy to find in any large grocery. Check the refrigerated produce section for tofu (often near other “specialty foods” like ginger root, fresh herbs, and bottled garlic) and the Asian foods section for everything else that sounds strange. Though the products may be unfamiliar, I guarantee you’ll recognize their aromas and flavors. They may even become new staples in your kitchen, as they have in mine.
Though it involves stir-frying, this recipe is more easily managed than many Asian dishes because it is intended to be served at room temperature. So, there’s not need for that sweaty rush from wok to table. Speaking of woks: If you don’t have one, a deep, heavy-bottomed skillet works fine. I prefer to use a Dutch oven to make tossing the ingredients easier.
Vegetable & Mung Bean Noodle Salad with Creamy Teriyaki Dressing
4 oz firm silken tofu
1/3 cup spicy miso teriyaki sauce
1 Tbs sambal oelek (ground fresh chili paste)
2 Tbs fresh ginger, grated
2 Tbs lemon juice
1Tbs sesame oil
Combine dressing ingredients in food processor and blend until creamy. If you prefer more heat, add additional sambal oelek to taste. Bear in mind that the dressing will taste milder once combined with the vegetables and noodles. For a saltier dressing, add a dash of soy sauce.
1 (6 oz) package saifun (mung bean noodles)
6 cups thinly sliced vegetables (I used carrots, broccoli, celery, and bell peppers. Sugar snap peas, mushrooms, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, and more would also be tasty.)
2 Tbs sesame oil
2 Tbs sesame seeds, toasted
3 scallions, chopped
Stir fry vegetables (except scallions) in sesame oil, over medium-high heat, until crisp-tender. Allow to cool. Meanwhile, cook saifun according to package directions (boil, don’t fry). Drain and rinse with cold water to cool.
Combine saifun, vegetables, and dressing in large bowl, stirring gently to combine. Serve topped with sesame seeds and scallions.
Makes 4 dinner servings.
Side dish suggestion: Mix hot, brown basmati rice with onion, garlic, and kale lightly sauteed in sesame oil and drizzled with soy sauce.
My mother isn’t fond of the spice that gives curries their name, so I wasn’t introduced to this marvelously flexible dish until I was well into my twenties. These days, they’re one of my favorites for quick, hearty, aromatic suppers. Curries adapt readily to whatever ingredients you have on hand; the fact that I had pasillas instead of sweet bell peppers led to this rather unusual, but surprisingly tasty, version. As an added benefit, the dish reheats beautifully for lunch the next day.
In this curry, which is named in honor of loyal reader who insisted that I get back here and post something already, I use red lentils for their attractive color. I located them in the bulk section of a large grocery, and any specialty foods store ought to carry them. If you can’t find them or don’t want to bother, regular brown lentils would work just fine. I opted for the richness of full-fact coconut milk (C’mon, have you ever heard of anyone getting obese off coconuts? Plant fats are good for you!), but the reduced fat version would also do the trick.
The recipe as written will deliver a flavorful but mild curry. If you want to turn up the heat, increase the red curry paste or add hot curry powder. You could also throw in a diced jalipeno, so long as we’re flirting with fusion!
Curried Coconut Coersion
1 medium onion, diced
1 pasilla (also known as a poblano), diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
2 Tbs red curry paste
1 (14.5 oz) can coconut milk
1 (14.5 oz) vegetable broth
1 (14.5 oz) can petite-diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups red lentils
1 tsp salt
4 green onions, chopped
Lime juice to taste
Saute onion and pasilla over low to medium heat for 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute one minute. Add red curry paste and saute one minute more. Add next five ingredients (coconut milk through salt) and simmer until lentils are done, about 25 minutes. Serve over brown basmati rice with a sprinkle of green onions and a squeeze of lime.
Still hungry? Try my November Lentil Curry
I’ll (almost) shamelessly admit that this recipe is based on Cooking Light’s Black Bean, Corn, and Zucchini Enchiladas. The original recipe struck me as a good way to use zucchini, but it looked a bit bland; also, it called for more cheese than I wanted to use.
I added several ingredients to liven up the enchilada filling and replaced the cheese with tofu mixed with cheesy-flavored nutritional yeast, plus a sprinkling of chives. (If you’re feeding picky eaters, don’t mention the tofu — chances are, they’ll assume it’s ricotta or cottage cheese.) Cooking Light’s sauce recipe is excellent, and I prepared the original version.
As you can see, I served the enchiladas with fresh tomato salad (diced garden tomatoes with fresh basil, cracked black pepper, a pinch of kosher salt, and a splash of rice vinegar.) If you want something heavier, Spanish rice would be a good choice.
2 tsp olive oil
1 cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
2 cups zucchini, diced
1 1/2 cups black beans, cooked
1 10-oz package frozen corn
1 12.3-oz package silken tofu
2 Tbs nutritional yeast
1/3 cup fresh oregano, chopped
8 whole wheat tortillas (8-inch)
1/3 cup fresh chives, chopped
Enchilada Sauce by Cooking Light
Saute onion, garlic, and zucchini in oil for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add beans and corn; heat just until corn thaws.
Meanwhile, stir together silken tofu, nutritional yeast, and oregano.
Spread 1 cup sauce in the bottom of a lightly greased, 13 x 9 inch baking dish.
Fill each tortilla with zucchini mixture and tofu mixture. Place rolled enchiladas in prepared pan and top with remaining sauce. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Sprinkle with chives immediately before serving.
The potato blossoms have faded, the leaves withered, and it is time for harvest. Travis dug the first row of Yukon Golds.
Ah, zucchini. It sounds wonderful in March when you tuck the slender, white seeds into wee beds of starting mix. It satisfies by germinating quickly, springing into robust seedings in a matter of days. It fills your June garden with glorious green. Bright blossoms unfurl, birthing the first fruits. You carry them triumphantly to the kitchen. Summer at last!
But they keep coming. No sooner do you pluck a squash than three more grow in its place. You grill them, stuff them, bake them in breads, grate and freeze them for winter soups, pile them by the sink, haul boxes of them to work to foist on your co-workers, and still they come. By mid-August, you’ve given up picking them, let weeds spring up around them, threatened the sprawling vines with rototiller and hoe…and still they come. What are you going to do?
Try this salad. Not only is it fast and easy, but it’s a great way to use up zucchini while reaping the nutritional benefit of eating the squash raw. The texture of raw zucchini is remarkably like that of hard-boiled eggs, especially if you peel the squash before dicing it (I don’t). You can use some eggs in the recipe (I do) or replace them with additional zucchini. This version reflects a bit of Italian influence, but feel free to experiment with more traditional egg salad ingredients instead, or branch out and create a zucchini potato salad instead.
Zucchini Egg Salad
6 hard-boiled eggs, diced
3 cups raw zucchini squash, diced
1/4 cup green olives, sliced
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, diced small
1/4 cup pickled pepperocini peppers, sliced
1/2 cup plain, full-fat yogurt
2 Tbs mayonaise
2 Tbs honey mustard
2 tsp white wine vinegar
1/4 – 1/2 tsp black pepper, coursely ground
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir gently. Serve as a side dish, or with spinach in tortillas or pitas for a light meal. Serves 6.
I’m not a big fan of meat substitutes. I figure that if I’m going to eat flegan, I should focus on vegetables and dishes that are easily built around them, rather than on manufacturing feeble substitutes for animal foods.
But, Travis found a great deal on a good grill (our last one took a flying leap off the south deck in a major windstorm), and I’ve discovered that an awful lot of vegan grilling recipes center around tofu. So I bought a package.
Now, I am a tofu virgin. We’ve kissed — I like silken tofu in berry smoothies for a filling snack or dessert — but extra firm, marinated and grilled? Never before.
I chose a Cooking Light recipe, “Grilled Lemon-Basil Tofu Burgers” to test the great white hunk-o-gunk.
I sliced and marinated.
I grilled…a process which took about five times longer than the recipe claimed it would. Did you know that charred asparagus marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, and red onion makes the most delicious vegetarian “fries?”
To be honest, I think my tofu burger would have been just as tasty without the tofu. I delighted in the dijon and the first basil of season. The yogurt-kalamata dressing was worth mopping up with strips of grilled zucchini. The fresh tomato and garden lettuce were crisp and flavorful.
But the tofu? It was a bit bland. Reasonably filling, I’ll grant you, but bland. And squishy.
I’ve plopped the leftovers on a bed of wild rice blend dressed with leftover marinade for tomorrow’s lunch. I hope it’s not too squishy.
I’ve settled on a Mediterranean menu for our Independence Day feast. We’ll have spiced lamb skewers (now there’s the flex in flegan!), grilled rosemary flatbreads, grilled vegetables with feta, melon kebabs with honey-lime drizzle and mint, and these stuffed fruit skewers.
I doubt there’s anything genuinely Mediterranean about this rich, but not overly sweet, dessert. However, it offers a bit more nutrition than your average slice of devil’s food, despite its use of cream cheese. (I don’t believe in that 3-a-day nonsense. A little research reveals that dairy is decidedly unhealthful.) Anyway, the skewers will suit the general theme of the meal.
I used almonds in the apricots and walnuts in the dates, but you could speed preparation by mixing the all nuts into the cream cheese before stuffing the fruit. I’ll use toothpicks as miniature skewers to combine one stuffed date and one stuffed apricot for each serving… Well, okay, I made enough for three mini-skewers per person. So sue me.
18 whole, dried apricots
18 whole, dried dates
3 oz cream cheese
1 Tbs fresh orange zest
1/8 cup chopped almonds, raw and unsalted
1/8 cup chopped walnuts, raw and unsalted
Carefully split dried fruits so they can be stuffed, but are not completely halved; set aside. Soften cream cheese in microwave for 30 seconds. Add orange zest and stir to combine. Stuff each fruit with a pinch of chopped nuts and approximately 1/2 teaspoon cream cheese mixture. Skewer two fruits on each of 18 toothpicks. Chill before serving. Makes 18 mini-skewers.
A favorite in the South, crowder peas (also known as cow peas, poor man’s peas, or China beans) aren’t just for Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Eve. They make a great foundation for vegetarian soups, salads, and burgers. This recipe features them in a light but filling salad that tastes of spring. I used black-eyed peas, but any variety of crowder peas would work beautifully.
By the way, you can avoid that “canned” taste and a lot of sodium — and save money — by using dried beans and peas from the bulk bins instead of canned varieties. Just cook the dried legumes in boiling water, drain, and freeze portions in airtight bags. I usually put about 3 cups of cooked legumes in each bag. To thaw, just soak a bag-o-beans in hot tap water for ten minutes. (Microwaving works too, but it kills the nutrients in the beans.)
Warm Crowder Pea Salad with Green Herb Dressing
Green Herb Dressing:
1/2 cup mixed fresh herbs (such as oregano, thyme, chives, and sage)
1/3 cup onion, diced
1/3 cup white rice vinegar
1/4 cup water
2 Tbs honey
1 Tbs olive oil
1/4 tsp black pepper
Combine ingredients in blender and puree. Set aside.
1 Tbs olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
3 cups cooked, drained crowder peas
6 cups mixed salad greens
Saute onion, celery, and carrot in olive oil over medium heat until slightly tender (about 5 minutes.) Gently stir in crowder peas and heat until warm. Gently stir in 1/2 of Green Herb Dressing.
Arrange salad greens on large plates; top with crowder pea mixture and remaining dressing. Makes 3 dinner-sized servings.
Even after fourteen hours of horse training and farm work, I’d rather create a healthful, tasty meal than break out a box of Hamburger Helper. Curries provide maximal flavor for minimal work, and whole grain-based dishes like this one are exceptionally satisfying. Toasting the spices in the nearly dry saute pan heightens their flavor.
Curried Oat Groats with Dried Fruit and Almonds
1 cup oat groats, uncooked
1 Tbs olive oil
1 medium onion, vertically sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup dried apricots, diced
1 Tbs curry powder, mild
1/4 tsp tumeric
3/4 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground coriander
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
1/3 cup green onions, chopped
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
Boil 2 cups water. Add oat groats, reduce heat and simmer, covered, until water is absorbed (about 40 minutes). Saute onion in olive oil until golden (7-10 minutes). Add garlic and saute 1 minute. Add spices and and heat until spices are fragrant (about 30 seconds). Stir in cooked groats, dried fruit, parsley, and green onions. Add salt and pepper to taste. Served topped with slivered almonds. Serves 4.