The Root of the Matter: Halfway There

We are already officially halfway through Chef Orky’s Plant-Based Eating challenge! Has it been easy? On some days it was really easy, on other days, not so much. I have learned quite a few things along the way, though. Below you will find a brief recap of the past few days and the changes I’ve noticed, some things I’ve learned to help myself stay on track and be successful, and some recipes that we can’t get enough of in our house:

The First 14 Days

Week One

I was traveling home from Thanksgiving and was worried about there being no food in my fridge for the week ahead. I ordered a Hungryroot box to help me get started. While this seemed like a good idea at the time, I found that I wasn’t overly thrilled by any of these meals. The black bean brownie batter and almond chickpea cookie dough were amazing, The other meals were just kind of eh, but they were helpful in the sense that they were something quick and easy for my husband to throw together for us while I was sick. I just wasn’t all that excited about them, personally, but maybe you'll find ones that work for you.

About halfway through week one, I received an Instant Pot in the mail from my parents for Christmas. I couldn’t wait to use it. I immediately jumped on Pinterest to find recipe ideas and found one for a quinoa bowl. I wanted to make something that would get my husband excited about eating a plant-based meal, so I came up with the idea to make it Mexican style and made some adjustments. If you’re one of the people who said you were worried about your significant other not being interested in eating plant-based meals, this meal is your solution.

This meal did not disappoint- both of us LOVED it. It was incredibly easy to make and was done in about 15 minutes. My husband actually suggested I just make 20 more batches to enjoy for the rest of our 30-day challenge. He even said that I could hide whatever “weird healthy stuff” I wanted in it and he would have no idea. I also shared bites of this with my coworkers the next day at lunch and everyone asked for the recipe, which you can find at the bottom of this post (and you don’t necessarily need an Instant Pot to make it either!).

 
Mexican Quinoa Bowl Photo credit: Alyssa DelSoldato

Mexican Quinoa Bowl
Photo credit: Alyssa DelSoldato

 

After making this meal, I came to a conclusion: If I’m going to be successful during this challenge, I need to be finding my own recipes that I’m excited to make. If I’m excited to try something, I’ll be more likely to stick with this plant-based diet. I felt really good eating this meal and was glad to move on from my Hungryroot boxes.

Week Two

Day 9

I’m miserable. I want all the cheese. I want to stuff my face with the chocolate cake that one of my coworkers brought to lunch. I want everything I can’t have. I am irritated by all of my students and don’t have any patience for their whining today. I feel terrible. I’m exhausted. I want to quit.

I decided to set myself up for success tomorrow by marinating some tofu in a sweet citrus marinade to put into chow mein for dinner.

Day 10

EVERYTHING has changed. I had plans to make Tofu Chow Mein so I stopped off at my local Asian grocery store to pick up some things like bok choy, snap peas, and soba noodles. While I was there I realized that so many Asian foods that I love to eat are actually vegan. I just needed to find replacements for my favorite Asian meat dishes— like for sesame chicken— and realized I could make sesame cauliflower (if you’ve never tried it, this is delicious!).

I found two freezers full of foods labeled “vegan.” They had a replacement for everything from tuna to buffalo chicken nuggets to stewed lamb (I kid you not, they had everything). I bought a few of these to keep on hand for those busy nights. I also found their frozen steamed bun collection and stocked up on red bean paste buns, sesame peanut butter buns, and plain buns that resemble mini fluffy tacos. With my new Instant Pot, I can make these steamed buns easily as a grab-and-go breakfast during the week. 

 
Red Bean Steamed Buns Photo credit: Alyssa DelSoldato

Red Bean Steamed Buns
Photo credit: Alyssa DelSoldato

 

I got home and I was all about cleaning, reading, organizing, writing, cooking, and doing whatever else was on a checklist that magically appeared in my brain. I was so energized that I’m unable to stop organizing whatever I come into contact with. I felt incredible. My brain was super focused and I was motivated to do everything I’d been putting off for the past forever. I felt like the complete opposite of the previous day.

I made Tofu Chow Mein for dinner and was really happy with the final product. The tofu that I marinated the night before was awesome and totally made the whole dish. I was surprised with myself because I never thought I would like tofu this much, but I was excited as I packed up leftovers to eat throughout the week for lunch, and I feel like I could eat this meal every day. You can find the recipe below for some of the best tofu and noodles you’ve had in a while… and yes, it’s better than takeout!

Usually, I need to force myself to stay up past 9:30 p.m., but that night I was up past 1 a.m. planning things and organizing and felt like I could stay up all night. At this rate was only going to get about 5 hours of sleep, and I was a little concerned. I forced myself to go to sleep, but it wasn’t easy.

Day 11

Have you ever seen the commercial for Nutrigrain Bars where the guy goes around his office telling people he feels great? That was me. My first alarm went off and I felt alert and ready to start my day. Usually, I’m going back to sleep on and off for an additional 30 minutes after that first alarm. Today, I didn’t get up right away, but my brain was going and I laid in bed thinking about everything I wanted to accomplish. When I finally got up, I set my Instant Pot up with my steamed red bean buns and jumped in the shower.

I was the most patient person ever at work, and my mood was steady all day. It was Wednesday, which meant I had my most challenging classes today and would most likely go home frustrated, cranky, and tired. Instead, I found that I had a very successful day. My classes ran smoother, and I could tolerate all of the things that would usually drive me nuts. I was motivated, energized and super focused again. I felt like I was unstoppable and could do anything I put my mind to— it felt great.

My sister is following a different 30-day eating plan and told me I’m at the “Tiger Blood stage” (a Charlie Sheen reference). Apparently, this is where after about 10-15 days, people experience high energy, focus, and a very stable mood. I am excited to hear that this is totally normal for some people and that I had not taken Adderall by accident.

Day 12

I’ve been sleeping less but feeling better, and I woke up energized and ready. My work day went great, and after work, I was motivated to do some serious organizing with my office and my science kits for school. I got so carried away that I accidentally planned lesson ideas for the next few months for each grade. (It’s not as crazy as it sounds, I only need one lesson per grade per week and I teach 4 grades, but still.) I spent hours thinking of new experiments and fun hands-on activities I want to try.

My husband made a vegan Green Chef meal and I was really impressed. I decided that if we can make meals like this all the time and I can feel like this every day, then I am in for eating this way permanently.

Days 13-14

My mood, motivation, focus, and energy stayed consistent. I am loving this.


Go-To Recipes

 
Tofu Chow Mein Photo credit: Alyssa DelSoldato

Tofu Chow Mein
Photo credit: Alyssa DelSoldato

 

Instant Pot Quinoa Bowls

I used my Instant Pot to make the Quinoa Bowl recipe after finding a different quinoa recipe. The great thing about this is that you can easily change the ingredients and still have a great dish. You can add different beans, different veggies, even a different style sauce if you want. If you don’t like spice, use tomato paste instead of the chipotle sauce. If you don’t have an Instant Pot, you can easily make this on the stovetop by sautéing the veggies, seasoning, adding quinoa and the other veggies and canned items and cook on low for a bit until the quinoa is cooked.

Disclaimer: If you are using an Instant Pot, be VERY careful using your pressure release valve— you can easily burn yourself if you aren’t careful. Read the directions carefully and thoroughly, and use the appliance at your own risk.

Ingredients for Sauce

2 tbsp vegan mayonnaise
1 clove garlic
Juice from 1 lime
1 tsp lime zest
A handful of cilantro
2-4 pickled jalapeno slices (adjust the spice to your personal preference)
Salt & pepper to taste

Ingredients for Quinoa Bowl

1 cup quinoa, rinsed (any color is fine)
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups frozen (or fresh!) pepper strips
1 can diced tomatoes with chilies, drained
1 small can chipotle sauce
1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp oregano
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup water

Additional Toppings (optional)

Cilantro
Red onion, diced
Avocado
Dairy-free cheese

Directions

1. Press the Sauté button on your Instant Pot and spray the instant pot with cooking spray. 

2. Sauté the onions, peppers, and garlic together for about 5 minutes (your sauté feature should say “Normal-30 min.,” though).

3. Mix in the seasonings and add the rinsed quinoa, peas, and canned ingredients (you can add 1/8-1/4 cup water for moisture depending on how wet the mixture looks). 

4. Put the lid on the pot and lock into place. Make sure the pressure release valve is set to “Sealing.” Press the rice button, which should automatically set it for 12 minutes.

5. When the timer goes off, press the “Cancel” button, then VERY CAREFULLY use the manual pressure release. Cover your hand with an oven mitt or kitchen towel and carefully move the pressure release over so the steam comes out. DO NOT PUT YOUR FACE OR ANY SKIN OVER THE PRESSURE RELEASE VALVE. Allow the steam to release straight upwards without covering it with anything. Once it stops steaming, you can safely unlock and open the lid. 

6. While the quinoa cooks, make the sauce by mixing all of the ingredients in a blender.

7. Taste and add salt and pepper, or more jalapenos, or cilantro as needed. At this time, you can also prep anything you want to use as a topping.

8. Scoop the quinoa mixture into bowls. Top with avocado, cilantro sauce, chopped cilantro, and scallions— or whatever else you would like. If the meal still looks too wet, you can turn the pot onto the sauté feature and leave the lid off. This will help some of the liquid to evaporate.

Tofu Chow Mein (serves 5-6)

Ingredients for Chow Mein

1 box whole wheat thin spaghetti (or similar pasta)
1 1/2 cups snap peas, free from stringy ends
1 bunch of bok choy tips, ends removed and roughly chopped
About 1 cup of frozen pepper strips
1/4 cup reduced sodium soy sauce or coconut aminos
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tbsp chili garlic paste
A drizzle of sesame oil
Scallions, to taste

Ingredients for Spicy Citrus Tofu Marinade
(Inspired by Thug Kitchen’s Sweet Citrus Marinade)

1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup reduced sodium soy sauce or coconut aminos
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp chili garlic paste
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 block of extra firm tofu

Directions

1. Drain the tofu and wrap in paper towels or a clean kitchen towel. Place it on a dish and place another dish on top. Stack some heavy books on top. This will help get all of the excess water out of the block of tofu.

2. Make the marinade by mixing all of the ingredients together in a shallow bowl so everything will sit in the marinade (if you don’t have a bowl like this, you can use a plastic container with a lid and turn the container upside down after 2 hours to make sure everything is covered).

3. Cut the tofu into strips about 1/4 inch thick.

4. Put the slices into the marinade and make sure they’re covered. It will need to soak for at least 2 hours (I make my marinade at night and flip my container in the morning so it’s well-soaked by the time dinner hits).

5. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, and bring water to a boil in a large pot.

6. Cover a sheet pan with foil and spray with oil. Place the tofu on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, flip the tofu and bake for another 10 minutes. SAVE THE LEFTOVER MARINADE. While baking the tofu, cook the pasta according to the directions on the packaging.

7. While the tofu is still cooking (the pasta should be finished first), drain the pasta and set aside.

8. Spray a wok or large pan with oil and heat, then add in all of the chow mein veggies to cook. After a few minutes, add about 1/4 cup of water.

9. Once the vegetables are looking soft, add the pasta. Mix the other ingredients, reserving some scallions for garnishing. Make sure the vegetables are well mixed with the pasta. Add the reserved marinade and mix. Remove from heat.

10. At this point, your tofu should be done! You can serve these slices on top of your chow mein as it is, or you can cut them into smaller pieces like I did. I personally like the smaller pieces because it ensures I have a taste of awesome in every single bite!
 

Things That Can Help You Stay on Track

Make Exciting Recipes

Find recipes that you’re excited to make. Plan ahead for the week and pick a few exciting new recipes. If you’re excited about what you’re eating, you’ll be more likely to stay on track. Check out my Pinterest board for our challenge to see some of the things I’m making!

Visit the Asian grocery store

Asian grocery stores typically have a ton of vegan options. They also have a ton of different pasta options that are portioned out in their packages, which I think is pretty cool. Actually, most of their food is vegan as long as you avoid adding meat, and they have really cheap and interesting produce to experiment with. The steamed buns are one of the best things that have ever happened to me.

Energy

If there has ever been a motivation to stay on track, it’s this. The “Tiger Blood” feeling is so good that when you achieve it, you won’t want it to go away. I’ve felt unstoppable to the point where I couldn’t turn my organizing mode off. It’s almost scary, but in a good way; I feel so energized and accomplished, and I want for everyone I know to find a way to achieve this feeling for themselves.

Be sure to share your favorite plant-based recipes with us and follow our challenge on Facebook! 

Whatismyhealth © 2017

*Disclaimer: It is recommended that you consult a doctor or health care professional before making changes to your diet.