When I was young, I was the only person in my home who kept the whole fast. My parents were ok with it as long as I didn't expect my mom to make special things for me. She cooked, and I was free to eat whatever I wanted, and skip whatever I didn't. So I began to cook for myself. The problem was, I didn't really have the skill set for vegan cooking at the time and I fell into the usual trap of eating mostly vegan convenience foods, and pasta....lots of rice and pasta. Pasta with tomatoes, pasta with basil, white rice and salsa, white flour, white pasta, white rice, white bread for every meal. It was easy. It was cheap. It was good. But then, about half way through the fast I would always begin to feel absolutely terrible. Although I ate less, I gained weight! I had zero energy. I felt awful, but chalked it up to the fasting experience. I was so wrong.
Now, when I speak to people about keeping the traditional Eastern Christian fast, the comment I hear most often is that they hate all the carbs. Then I ask them...who said you have to eat carbs? There are so many better choices, and so many great substitutions for the usual carb-laden, fast day fare that will lighten your favorite recipes and keep your fast day meal plans colorful and fresh. Let me show you a few of my favorites.
Looking for Rice?
You can use riced cauliflower almost anywhere you would usually use rice! As a base for your favorite sauce, curry, or stir-fry; in a tabbouleh salad; even in a sushi roll, with a few slight modifications. How do you make it? Like this.
Take half of a large cauliflower and break it into florets, put it into your blender and cover it with water. Pulse your blender until the cauliflower resembles rice, then strain it over the sink.
Place the drained cauliflower rice into a microwavable bowl with a lid, or cover with plastic wrap, and cook on high for 2-3 minutes, allow to stand covered for 5 more minutes, then unwrap and serve. I had made this particular dish for dinner this evening and it was delicious. I stir fried some vegetables in a bit of water, salt, pepper, garlic and a bit of ginger, then when the veggies looked perfectly cooked, but not too soggy, I used some of this great fast-friendly sauce I found at Trader Joes! I read the ingredient list and found it to be completely allowable, not to mention convenient. The cauliflower gave the impression of rice, but was so much lighter and digested so much better. I was surprised at how well it soaked up all the sauce and that it didn't leave me wanting more.
Need to find a substitute for mashed potatoes?
Again, it's cauliflower for the win! Mashed, it's so delicious, and warm...definitely a comfort food!
Take a small head of cauliflower, or half a large one, and break it into florets. Place it into a steamer basket or into a large pot with 1-2 inches of water and steam over medium-high heat until fork tender. Remove from heat and drain well, squeezing the florets in a dry tea towel to remove as much of the water as possible. Place hot, dried florets into the blender with 1/2 tsp salt, 1 Tbsp nutritional yeast, a dash of garlic powder, and 1-2 Tbsp unsweetened almond milk and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. What a velvety texture! You'll be pleasantly surprised.
(Variation: you can use half cauliflower and half celery root; or half cauliflower half carrot...very good!)
Get rid of the noodles, and make yourself some zoodles!
I got me a spiralizer for my birthday last year (wahoo! Thanks, kids!) and I love it! Before I had one, I would just use a box grater and make some long thin strips of squash. To improve the texture, I would grate it straight into a colander in the sink, lightly salt the squash and after about five minutes and squeeze some of the moisture out of it before adding it to the dressing or sauce. At first, you might think only of spiralizing zucchini and topping it with tomato sauce, but you can spiralize so many other things! And the sauces...tomato, pesto, peanut, cashew cheese, curry, mushroom....Note to self: I need to do another post just on sauces.
Almost any vegetable can be spiralized or shredded and turned into a noodle.
Yams are great with some chopped snow peas, thinly sliced red cabbage, mung bean sprouts and chopped peanuts in a ginger dressing...like a raw version of sesame noodles;
Beets are fantastic with some sections of grapefruit or orange, chopped scallions and walnuts.
Cucumber and carrot, mixed with some of that riced cauliflower we talked about earlier is a great "sushi"-style salad with avocado, toasted sesame seeds and rice vinegar.
Kids love a colorful Rainbow Salad of mixed, spiralized vegetables topped with any of the oil-free dressings we talked about (see the earlier post on salads!)
Believe it or not, I found this a great way to break what I would consider a carb addiction and I no longer feel compelled to resort to pasta when I have little time, patience, or energy. The craving is gone!
Sandwiches without Bread? Try Lettuce Wraps!
Ever just want a sandwich? There's just something about portability that makes food fun, but without bread? Yes. It can be done and it can be just as fun. We at our house have recently found some really large, artisan variety, lettuce leaves for sale at out local market. They can be green or red, but they are soft and very pliable and make excellent sandwich wraps for such things as hummus and grilled vegetables; or shredded carrot, sprouts and rice with ginger dressing and chopped mint; or tomato and basil with smashed white beans. How about stir fried, sliced portobello mushrooms with onions? Anything you could put on a sandwich can be rolled in a great big lettuce leaf.
Nori Hand Rolls
Nori isn't just for sushi, you know! You can roll your rice and veggies in it, with a little bit of wasabi if you like, and eat that roll like a sandwich too! Remember that I mentioned that you could substitute cauliflower rice for the sushi rice? You can! Just spread some mashed avocado onto your nori first, then press the cauli-rice into the avocado before laying down your other veggie strips like shredded carrot, radish, or cucumber; then sprinkle on a few toasted sesame seeds and roll! Serve with a little dish of soy sauce mixed with orange juice and some wasabi paste if you dare.
So, as you can see, fasting doesn't necessarily have to mean heavy food and inevitable weight gain and sluggishmess, especially during the summer fasts. Try these lower carb options and see if this doesn't lighten things up for you during the Dormition fast.
Once again, if you have any tips I haven't mentioned, please don't hesitate to comment below and let us in on them!