Vietnamese Tofu Lettuce Wraps

Vietnamese Tofu Lettuce Wraps

My favorite recipes are ones that are packed with tons of different flavors and textures, and don't take too long to cook! These Vietnamese tofu lettuce wraps meet all those criteria! Tofu gets stir fried with garlic, ginger, peanuts, fish sauce and lime juice and tons of fresh herbs, then served in a fresh, crispy lettuce wraps with rice noodles and dipping sauce! 

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Good Mood Food: Kimchi Noodle Salad

Kimchi noodle salad is a delicious way to sneak in mood boosting probiotics, and it takes less than 30 minutes to make. Vegan and gluten free too! 

Happy Friday! I'm excited to share the first post of my new series, Good Mood Food. As you know, I'm a firm believer that food can and should contribute to a healthy and happy life. In this series, I'll be highlighting foods that have a specific impact on brain health, and mood and using it in a tasty new recipe.

For my first post, I want to look in depth at a group of foods essential to mental health - fermented foods. Fermented foods have been preserved or produced by the action of microorganisms like bacteria and yeasts, which digest sugars, turning it into gasses, acids or alcohol...I know, I'm not really selling it. But trust me, fermented foods are much tastier than it sounds, and they've been an essential part of the human diet for thousands of years. And guess what? If you've had yogurt, sourdough bread, sour cream or soy sauce, you've already swallowed a nice little mouthful of bacteria.

Fermented food is important for health because it introduces and replenishes the supply of probiotic bacteria to our gut. Did you know we have more bacteria in our gut than cells in our body? In fact, our gut bacteria outnumbers our cells 10 to 1. So, I guess we kind of are what we eat!

Having a healthy intestinal flora is important for more than digestion. Studies have shown how changes to our intestinal bacteria can effect weight and have an impact on cardiovascular health and bone health. But what I find most notable and fascinating is how fermented foods improve mood.

You probably think of your brain as this intricate and complex organ and your gut as, well, a poop shoot. But you could argue that our gut has almost as much influence over our thoughts and mood as the brain. The gut is home to the enteric nervous system (ENS), the second greatest concentration of nervous system cells outside the brain. Many scientists refer to the gut as "the second brain." While the gut can't think, per se, it does influence thoughts and mood in other ways and one of those ways is through our gut bacteria.

Gut bacteria produces neurotransmitters, including 95% of the bodies serotonin and about half the bodies dopamine. Serotonin is often called the good mood hormone and dopamine is part of the reward system. Gut bacteria also protects against an endotoxin called lipopolysaccharide, which even small increases of can provoke depressive symptoms (and increase blood sugar). Fermented foods also decrease inflammation in the gut. Mild inflammation in the gut has been shown to increase anxiety and and lower levels of brain derived neurotropic factor, a neuropeptide that's known to be low in depression. If you'd like to read more about the science behind it, here's a fascinating journal article that looks into the science of mental health and fermented foods.

Kimchi might be my favorite fermented food. I'm slightly addicted. If you ever catch me hanging out in front of the refrigerator with the door wide open, it's probably because I'm eating kimchi out of the jar (or peanut butter, but that's another post). Kimchi, made by fermenting cabbage in chili paste, is essential to Korean cuisine. It's used to flavor soups, stews and in fried rice or is eaten as a side dish. I know fermented cabbage might not get you excited, but trust me, it's incredible! Think of it as spicy saurkraut!

This dish is a great way to enjoy kimchi in all of it's raw, probiotic filled glory. To make a full meal, add some type of protein. We tossed in pieces of grilled local chicken breast seasoned with 5-spice powder. Or for a vegan version, use edamame, cubes of baked tofu, or sprinkle it with extra peanuts or hemp hearts.

Kimchi Noodle Salad

Serves:

Serves 4

Toss in edamame, cooked chicken or baked tofu for additional protein.

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces whole grain noodles (I used black bean noodles) 
  • 1 cucumber, halved lengthwise and chopped into thin half moons
  • 1 cup kimchi, drained
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons sriracha or gochujang 
  • 1/2 cup toasted peanuts, roughly chopped

Instructions

  1. Cook noodles in a large pot of salted water according to package instructions. Drain. Drizzle in 1 tablespoon of sesame oil to prevent it from clumping. Set aside to cool.
  2. When noodles are room temperature, place cucumber, kimchi, scallions and cilantro in a large bowl. Add noodles and toss to combine. Drizzle remaining sesame oil and sriracha/gochujang over the top. Toss again to combine. Top with toasted peanuts.

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Buddha Bowl with Marinated Tofu

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Kimchi Fried Rice
Kimchi Fried Rice
Vegetarian Ramen Noodle Soup
Vegetarian Ramen Noodle Soup

Homemade Nut Butter, Three Ways

Homemade nut butter allows you to experiment with different flavor combinations. Try my recipes for vanilla almond sun butter, spicy cinnamon peanut butter and coconut macadamia butter. 

With homemade nut butter, the flavor combinations are endless. Pistachio butter? Why not. Superfood butter? You can do that too. Have an itching desire to make bacon peanut butter? Well, it's a thing. A weird thing, yes, but you can do it.

Other than a food processor, homemade nut butter doesn't take any special equipment. I'm sure a Vitamix would be nice (hint hint), but it's not necessary. Plus, it takes less than five minutes to make with ingredients you more than likely have on hand.

Best of all, you won't feel guilty after eating it by the spoonful because it cost $10 a jar.

Still feeling guilty for the calories? Don't. Despite the calories and fat, study after study has linked nuts to weight loss rather than weight gain. The combo of fat, fiber and protein keeps you satisfied, helping to prevent overeating. Other health benefits of nuts:

UNSATURATED FATS // The unsaturated fats found in nuts helps lower cholesterol, reducing your risk for heart disease.

PROTEIN // Nuts are a plant based source of protein. Swap an ounce of nuts for meat or cheese on a salad or one of these nut butters for deli meat on a sandwich.

VITAMIN E // Mostly known for it's cardiovascular benefits, vitamin E's antioxidant effect plays an important role in brain health

STRESS RELIEF // Crunchy foods have been shown to help relieve stress. Although these nut butters lack crunch, a handful of nuts would be preferable to a bag of chips as a way to deal with anxiety :)

PLANT STEROLS // Plant sterols are often added to foods like orange juice and margarine to help lower cholesterol. However nuts, especially peanuts, are a natural source.

Because I've got a serious case of indecision, I'm sharing not one, but three recipes for homemade nut butter. You are welcome! I love to have nut butter and fruit as a snack, but these also make a mean sandwich on sprouted grain bread with slices of apple or pear. Or, your know, grab a spoon and enjoy!

Vanilla Almond Sun Butter

Makes 1 1/2 cups

You could also roast the nuts first in a 300 degree oven for 12-14 minutes as the original recipe calls for. I skipped this step out of laziness but I'm sure it would enhance the flavor even more. Adapted from Edible Perspective.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup raw almonds
  • 1 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coconut sugar or muscovado sugar
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon melted coconut oil, avocado oil or other neutral flavored oil

Instructions

  1. Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.
  2. When smooth and spreadable, scrape into a plastic container or mason jar and refrigerate for 1-3 months.
Vanilla Almond Sun Butter
Vanilla Almond Sun Butter

Spicy Cinnamon Peanut Butter

Makes 1 1/2 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 cups unsalted, roasted peanuts
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil or avocado oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/8-1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Instructions

  1. Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth and spreadable.
  2. Scrape into a plastic container or mason jar and refrigerate 1-3 months.

Coconut-Macadamia Nut Butter

Makes 1 1/2 cups

This one is quite thin and drippy - in a good way!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut, toasted
  • 1 cup macadamia nuts
  • 1 tablespoon coconut sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  1. Place all ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth.
  2. Store in a plastic container or mason jar in the refrigerator 1-3 months.

Whole Grain Chex Mix

Whole Grain Chex Mix

This healthy whole grain snack mix is perfect for the holidays or entertaining! It's an addictive blend of cheese crackers, whole grain check, peanuts, and flaxseeds baked in a spicy mix until crispy. I love to give it as stocking stuffers in mason jars! Hopefully it becomes a holiday tradition in your family too! 

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