I asked an old friend and new blogger Rachael Hartley, author of An Avocado A Day, to write a guest post for Meatless Monday. Her posts are always extremely informative, which makes sense considering she’s a licensed dietician, and she has some of the most amazing recipes (and pictures) on her blog. I love how she takes a humorous approach to nutrition and how she simplifies different theories on dietetics. Many, if not all, of her posts include recipes – and a lot of the time they are vegan or can be made vegan. I don’t know about you all, but I really wish I was in her kitchen when she made the dish featured in this post – it looks phenomenal! Now, let’s hear some of Rachael’s thoughts on Meatless Monday!
As a registered dietitian, I encourage each of my clients to move towards a more plant-centered diet. Whether it’s practicing Meatless Monday, giving up their morning bacon and eggs in favor of oatmeal or experimenting with vegan and vegetarian dishes, I believe every step towards a more meatless diet yields powerful health benefits. Considering my client base, mostly middle-aged Southern men, I’ve got my work cut out for me.
Most of my clients equate vegan to bland and boring. I can understand how they draw this conclusion. After all, the ingredients they commonly use for flavor, butter, fatback and cheese, aren’t exactly vegan friendly. But there are so many ways to add flavor to vegan dishes – citrus juice, vegetable broth, vinegars, nutritional yeast and my personal favorite, dry herbs and spices.
A quick glance into my kitchen and it’s pretty obvious I have a thing for spices and herbs. I just counted and there are exactly 67 jars tucked into every random drawer, ranging from Ottoman spice I brought back from Turkey to garlic powder from CVS. From a culinary standpoint, I love their ability to turn a simply prepared dish into something exotic. A sprinkle of cardamom and ginger turns stewed okra and tomatoes into a unique African side dish. Indian spices transform a simple soup of pureed vegetables into a memorable meal. Herbs and spices ability to enhance flavor is unrivaled – it’s no wonder Europeans used to travel thousands of miles over perilous terrain to import spices!
What I love most though about spices and herbs are their unique health benefits. In plants, the compounds that confer a pungent smell and flavor are powerful health promoting antioxidants and phytochemicals, so it makes sense that intensely flavored spices and herbs are especially rich in these compounds.
The jerk marinade in this recipe incorporates so many flavorful, health promoting ingredients, it kinda blows my mind! It is so delicious you could eat it with a spoon, which I totally didn’t do (*cough cough*). Read on to learn the health benefits of the herbs and spices used in this recipe.
Thyme: Thymol is the main antioxidant component in thyme. It seems to play a role in fat metabolism as supplementation with thymol increases the amount of healthy omega 3 fats in cell membranes. Thyme is also antimicrobial, so while the government shutdown has furloughed most of the food safety guys, maybe you’ll want to use a little extra thyme in your cooking!
Allspice: First things first, allspice is the dried berry of an evergreen shrub, not a mixture of all possible spices. I learned this one in an epic kitchen disaster while I was in college. Allspice is the pepto-bismol of spices, often used to treat nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach and diarrhea. The main active compound in allspice is eugenol, which has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties and prevents blood platelets from sticking.
Cayenne: Capsaicin is the substance in chilies that gives it heat. The spicier the chili, the more capsaicin it contains. If you’ve tasted cayenne pepper, then you would be correct in assuming it is a rich source of capsaicin, which has been well studied for a variety of conditions. Topical solutions of capsaicin can be used as a natural pain relief and has been studied for conditions including diabetic neuropathy, headaches and osteoporosis. Cayenne is a powerfully anti-inflammatory as it inhibits the production of an inflammatory neuropeptide. Watching your weight? Capsaicin also slightly increases metabolism for about 20 minutes after ingestion, although I wouldn’t recommend sprinkling it over chocolate cake in an attempt to undo damage. Another benefit, which will be especially helpful now that the weather is changing, cayenne is helpful for sinus congestion – I know my hot cocoa made with cocoa powder, almond milk and a dash of cayenne always does the trick for me!
Nutmeg: Brain food! In ancient times, Greeks and Romans used a nutmeg tonic to stimulate the brain, treat anxiety and depression and to increase concentration. Nutmeg is also reported to be an aphrodisiac. In fact, there was even a study conducted that found nutmeg increased “mounting activity” in mice.
Cinnamon: As a diabetes educator, cinnamon is one of my favorite spices because of it’s ability to naturally lower blood sugar. Studies show that cinnamon delays gastric emptying and stimulates insulin receptors. Even small amounts, ¼ teaspoon, can be beneficial. A perfect reason to start your day with a big bowl of cinnamon oatmeal! Cinnamon may also be protective against heart disease by preventing blood platelets from clumping and lowering cholesterol by binding to bile salts, the substance responsible for fat and cholesterol absorption.
Cumin: Cumin seems to be especially helpful for digestive health, as it increases the secretion of pancreatic digestive enzymes. It also seems to have incredibly powerful antioxidant properties and may even be helpful for cancer protection.
Jamaican Jerk Tofu Bowl
Adapted from Meatless Monday
For the tofu:
1 lb extra-firm tofu, drained
½ large sweet onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons fresh diced ginger
Juice of 2 limes
Zest of 1 lime
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons allspice
½ teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon cumin
2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and chopped
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoons coconut oil
For the bowl:
1 cup brown rice
1 large or 2 small bunches of collards, washed, stemmed and thinly sliced into ribbons
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1/8 teaspoon crushed chili flakes
1 avocado, sliced
The night before making this dish, wrap the tofu in a clean dish towel, place on a plate, top with a heavy can or skillet and refrigerate overnight.
The next morning, cut the tofu into 1-inch cubes and place in a large bowl. Place the onion and next 15 ingredients (up to the salt) in a blender and blend to a smooth purée. Pour the marinade over the tofu, toss lightly to ensure it’s covered, and marinade in the refrigerator for about 8 hours.
Bring 1 cup rice and 2 ¼ cup water to a boil in a medium pot. Cover, reduce to a simmer and cook for about 45 minutes until rice is tender and water is absorbed.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add the garlic and chili flakes and cook about 30 seconds. Add the collards, toss with the garlic oil. Saute, tossing every few minutes, until wilted and slightly tender, about 10 minutes.
Heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat in a medium skillet. Add the tofu, lightly shaking off extra marinade as you go, and sauté, flipping every few minutes, until browned and crispy, about 7-10 minutes.
Divide the brown rice among 4 bowls. Top with tofu, collards and sliced avocado.
Rachael Hartley is an outpatient dietitian and certified diabetes educator at a medical center in Columbia, SC. Rachael has a B.S. in Nutrition and Food Science and a B.A. in Psychology from Clemson University. After graduating, Rachael completed her dietetic internship at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, GA.
She loves all things food related – trying new restaurants, traveling and learning about other cultures through food, playing in the kitchen, obsessive-compulsively highlighting and dogearing recipes. Rachael blogs at An Avocado A Day.