Lemon Tahini Based Sauces and Dressings

two bowls one with lemon tahini sauce and one with golden lion tahini sauce and one small jar with basic tahini sauce
Tahini Sauces: Basic Tahini, Lemon Tahini and Golden Lion

In plant-based cooking, I have come to believe that it is all about the sauce!  Previously, the idea of preparing a meal with a sauce would not have been entertained.  For one thing, I was haunted with flashbacks from school days and the intricacies involved in making items like a lump-free roux sauce! The whole idea of cooking a sauce from scratch seemed too time consuming and required more energy than I had.  However, store bought sauces and dressings can be expensive and, more importantly, there is no control over the ingredients.

When making your own sauces, you decide exactly what goes into it and this was a big motivation when I moved to whole-foods, plant-based eating. Sauces have quickly become a big part of my food preparation and it turns out it does not have to be an ordeal.  There are many quick and easy recipes that can be made ahead of time and I now keep a few batches on hand. A sauce can transform any dish from ordinary to extraordinary and with the great variety of seasonings available, the possibilities are endless for preparing new and different creations.

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Tahini as a Plant-Based Staple

two brighly coloured bowls one with homemade tahini in and the other with store bought tahini
Home-made Tahini (Top Left) and store-bought Tahini (Bottom Right)

Since moving to plant-based cooking, Tahini has become one of my staple ingredients. Previously, my only experience of Tahini had been many years ago when I tried it as a spread on toast. At the time, I found the taste extremely unappealing and did not go near it again until recently.  Little did I know back then, but it turns out that Tahini is highly nutritious and highly versatile in cooking adding a nutty flavour and creamy texture. Although I still don’t care for the taste as a spread, I now use it regularly for hummus, as a base for dressings and sauces and have even found it a tasty addition in granola.  

Not only has Tahini proved extremely useful today, I was surprised to learn of its rich history and the fact that references can be found as far back as the 13th century regarding its uses as a food dish, medicine, and currency. Although it has been a staple in many cuisines, especially in North Africa, Turkey, Greece and the Middle East for thousand of years, it did not make its first appearance in the USA until around 1940 and then only in health food stores. Now it is widely available in most supermarkets.

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Is it harder to lose weight today than it was 30 years ago?

image of slim female
Losing weight in 2020 [Photo Credit: Tumisu from Pixabay]

I recently found myself watching an episode of Highway to Heaven, a series originally released in the 1980’s. There were several things that stood out. The first was the fashions of the day, which I recall only too well, including “big hair”, leg warmers and over-sized tops with shoulder pads. Cellular phones were not commonplace and some of the “political correctness” was lagging behind today’s standards. However, what struck me most of all was just how thin everyone was.

Around the same time, I came across an article in The Atlantic by Olga Khasan referring to a study published in 2016 in the journal, Obesity Research & Clinical Practice, that asserted that “it’s harder for adults today to maintain the same weight as those 20 to 30 years ago did, even at the same levels of food intake and exercise”.

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Eat or Drink a Rainbow!

five glasses of juice in different colours - yellow, orange, purple, green and pink
Eat a Rainbow Juices [Photo Credit: silviarita from Pixabay]

I personally respond to colour and so it makes sense to me that colour therapy is based on the idea that colours create an electrical impulse in our brain, which stimulates hormonal and biochemical processes in our body. These processes either stimulate or calm us. There can be as many colours in colour therapy sessions as there are colours in the rainbow.

Why are fruits and vegetables so many different colors?

Fruits and vegetables gain their distinctive colours due to the presence of various phytochemicals. Although I had never thought of food colour being related to nutrition before, it comes as no surprise that each of the colors in fruits and vegetables are indicative of various nutrients.  As a result, not only do they look appealing in presentation but by eating a diversity of these colourful foods, your body can obtain a range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals that it needs to heal and thrive.

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Dessert with Benefits: Chocolate Avocado Mousse

two dishes of chocolate avocado mouse topped with chocolate chips almonds
Chocolate (Cacao) Avocado Mousse with slivered almonds and mini chocolate chips [Photo Credit: Joanne/Blair @ thedragonspicnic.com]

A dessert with nutritional benefits may seem too good to be true! However, there is no catch and just by including fruits and vegetables in desserts and selecting choice sweetening agents, this can be a reality. Chocolate (Cacao) Avocado Mousse is a creamy, rich mousse made with avocado and is dairy, gluten and refined-sugar free.  Super simple to make, it tastes decadent and is packed with nutritional value and health benefits!

When I was quite young, one of my first memories of the concept of vegetables in dessert happened shortly after I arrived in Canada when someone in a coffee shop ordered a carrot cake.  Of course, carrot cake is commonplace now but up until that moment, I had never heard of such a thing. I recall staring at the customer in wide-eyed amazement as my my mind reeled with an array of very unappetizing images of what a “carrot cake” might be.

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Chocolate and the Differences Between Cacao and Cocoa

three bowls containing cacao butter, cacao powder and cacao nibs and plate of brownies
Bottom Left to Right: cacao butter, cacao powder and cacao nibs (Photo Credit: Blair/Joanne @ TheDragonsPicnic.com)

Considered by many as food of the Gods, the world’s love affair with chocolate is thought to have began approximately 5,300 years ago in the rainforests of Ecuador. It is believed that ancient civilizations used cacao to produce drinks for festivals, feasts and medicinal purposes. Also, contrary to the old adage that money doesn’t grown on trees, they also used cacao seeds as currency!

I concur with this global consensus and have coveted and feasted on chocolate in all its glorious forms since childhood. However, I only discovered the use cacao powder, cacao butter (oils of the bean) and cacao nibs (the dried and fermented pieces of cacao beans) since exploring whole foods, plant-based (WFPB) eating.  Cacao appears regularly in WFPB recipes as it is considered raw and is minimally processed with no additives.

What is the difference between cacao and cocoa?

Cacao and cocoa both start out as beans from the cacao plant and the difference comes in the way they are processed. Both are fermented for a few days to develop a flavour and then they are dried.

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Healthy Chewy No-Bake Granola Bars

healthy no bake chewy granola bars piled on a board and one bar on a plate
Quick and Easy No-Bake Healthy Chewy Granola Bars (Photo Credit: Joanne/Blair @TheDragonsPicnic.com)

The versatility of a recipe is a high priority for me when cooking or baking and I tend to gravitate towards dishes that can withstand a degree of creativity and tolerate substitutions to whatever might be at hand. These chewy granola bars fit this bill.

I have always preferred chewy granola bars compared with their crunchy counterparts and marvelled at their gooey consistency. The chewy texture always seemed a bit magical considering they were usually loaded with crunchy nuts and seeds. When I first made this recipe, even though the mystery of the chewiness was revealed, I am pleased to say they still taste just as good!

The main dry ingredients include:

  • 1½ cups (150g) rolled oats
  • ¾ cup (25g) rice crisp cereal

Mix and Match Ingredients:

Use about 1½ cups in total of any of the following combinations:

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“The Clever Guts”

The Clever Guts @ dragonspicnic.com [Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst]

“Your gut is astonishingly clever. It contains millions of neurons – as many as you would find in the head of a cat. It is also home to the microbiome, trillions of microbes that influence your mood, weight and immune system.”  Words of Dr. Michael Mosley from his book, “The Clever Guts Diet”. This book was my first introduction to the concept that our guts may play an important role in many aspects of our overall health.

What is “Microbiome”?

The microbiome consists of trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes that live mainly in our large intestine or colon and it is believed that the foods we eat can help feed and reinforce the army of microbes that live in our guts.

Dr. Mosley refers to research over the last few years which has shown the value of having the right mix of “good” bacteria in our gut and describes it as “a bit like rainforests being vital for the overall health of the planet.” He suggests that junk food and overuse of antibiotics have wiped out many good gut bacteria leading to a rise in allergies, food intolerances, and weight issues.

Benefits of a Healthy Gut

There are multiple benefits to having a healthy, happy gut. These include obvious ones, such as “being regular” (constipation and diarrhea). It can also reduce inflammation in the gut which may lead to an increase in the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity.

The less obvious benefits include improved mood, better sleep, control over cravings, reduced bloating, and weight loss. The gut and our brains are intimately connected by the vagus nerve and gut bacteria can produce a range of chemicals that influence our brain including “feel good” hormones like serotonin and hunger hormones that influence how hungry we get and what we eat.

What can you do?

The good news is that we can influence the health of our gut by the foods we eat. One of the best way to create and maintain a healthy and diverse microbiota is to eat a wide range of whole grains, and fresh foods mainly from plant sources like fruits, veggies, legumes, and beans. Some other suggestions include :

  • Eat fermented foods including natural plain yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha since they can benefit the microbiota by enhancing its function and reducing the abundance of disease-causing bacteria in the intestines.
  • Limit artificial sweeteners since they may negatively affect the gut microbiota.
  • Eat foods rich in pholyphenols such as cocoa and dark chocolate, red wine, grape skins, green tea, almonds, onions, blueberries and broccoli. Polyphenols are plant compounds that have many health benefits, including reductions in blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol levels and oxidative stress.
  • Take a probiotic supplement although probiotics do not significantly alter the composition of the microbiota in healthy people, they may improve microbiota function and help restore the microbiota to good health.

As the full significance of the relationship of our guts to our overall health is a concept that had never occurred to me before, I found the idea a lot to digest. However, it has caused me to rethink the way I approach eating and now when I am unsure of what to eat, I am more inclined to listen to my gut!

Check out the full Healthline article 10 Ways to Improve Your Gut Bacteria, Based on Science by Ruairi Robertson, books by Dr. Michael Mosley and more WFPB sites on the Resources page.