Plant-Powered Sloppy Joes

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When I was in elementary school I ate in the cafeteria. It was the “cool” thing to do after all, since homemade brown bag lunches were sooo kindergarten. At the time, I thought that the highly processed offerings behind the sneeze guard were a dream come true: pizza, burgers, chicken fingers, fish sticks, mac n’ cheese. But the very best thing of all in my first-grader opinion? Sloppy Joes.

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about (ahem, mostly everyone outside North America), a Sloppy Joe is like a stew-y, wet hamburger. I’ve also heard it been called a “loose meat sandwich”. Stay with me, people – I realize how riduclously unappetizing this sounds. As a kid, eating a Sloppy Joe was like getting permission to make a mess – a rare, sanctioned moment to smear sauce all over your face, drip on your plate, and have your whole meal basically deteriorate into a pile of savoury, saucy, deliciousness that you were allowed to eat with your hands?! Isn’t this every kid’s dream? Because eating a Sloppy Joe is just that: it’s sloppy. And that is why it’s awesome.

Sloppy Joes are definitely not on top of the “sophisticated food” list, but that does not mean that they should be discriminated against. When made with plant-based, whole food ingredients, they are in fact quite the respectable meal. Perfect for chilly autumn and winter nights when all you want to do is tuck into something super cozy and comforting, Sloppy Joes are a one-way ticket to the land of savoury satisfaction. Since the temperatures have dropped here in Copenhagen, I’ve been craving this kind of meal like crazy, so I’m more than happy to have a healthy solution at hand, and of course to share it with you.

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The classic Sloppy Joe recipe includes ground beef cooked with onions and garlic, crushed tomatoes, ketchup, sugar and some spices. Sometimes there are some token carrots and celery tossed in, sometimes vinegar, mustard, or chilies, but the basic idea is a moist mixture that you pile on top of a bun. But! In my vegan Plant-Powered version, I’ve replace the ground beef with black lentils and mushrooms. I suggest using this type of lentil for this recipe since they are very small, and they maintain their shape and texture while cooking. And if you care about appearances, or perhaps “fooling” someone, they look the most like ground beef. Just sayin’.

The flavouring elements of the Plant-Powered Sloppy Joe mix are diverse and potentially strange-sounding, but trust me, altogether just right. Balsamic for a sweet hit of acidity, Sriracha for a little heat, and cumin and paprika add smoky complexity. I also tossed in some walnuts because I am a firm believer in texture, and all that mushiness needed buffering! I toasted them lightly before giving them a rough chop and a stir through the thick lentil mixture. I love how their nuttiness comes through the rich sauce and adds even more deliciousness. I also made a simple slaw from red cabbage to add more crunch and freshness, plus some token sprouts. These items are optional, but I really love the bright contrast they provide against the rich lentil filling.

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Fill up on Folate
Lentils are one of the yummiest sources of folate. Just one cup of cooked lentils provides you with almost 90% of your daily recommended intake! And why is folate so important? You’ve probably heard about this vital B-vitamin in regards to pregnancy, as it is critical in the prevention of birth defects, but folate also functions to support red blood cell production and help prevent anemia, allows nerves to function properly, helps prevent osteoporosis-related bone fractures, and helps prevent dementias including Alzheimer’s disease.

Folate received its name from the Latin word folium, meaning “foliage”, so it’s not wonder that other excellent sources of folate are dark leafy greens (yum, your favorite!) – kale, romaine lettuce, spinach, asparagus, turnip greens, beet greens, mustard greens, parsley, and collards to name a few. This may explain why North American diets seem to be on the deficient end of things when it comes to this B-vitamin, as folate is available from fresh, unprocessed food. The good news is it is easily absorbed, used, and stored by the body. Folate is also manufactured by intestinal bacteria (remember those probiotics?), so if colon flora is healthy, we have another good source of this important vitamin.

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Find the most high-vibe buns or bread you can get your hands on for this recipe. I used wholegrain sourdough buns from my local organic bakery, then toasted them lightly before drowning them in vegan sloppy goodness. You can also eat these open-faced if you’d like to cut back on the bread. Or pull an alt-bread move and wrap it in socca, a cabbage leaf, or use it to top a crispbread (although, let’s be honest: the bun rules).

I should also mention that the sloppy joe filling was totally delicious on its own as a stew, and thinned with a little water to make soup! Bonus.

Show me your Sloppy Joes on Instagram: #MNRsloppyjoes

Pumpkin Miso Broth with Soba

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Danes are not big pumpkin eaters. Carrots, sure. Cabbage, indeed. Potatoes, definitely. But even though they seem to have caught on to the Halloween jack-o-lantern carving thing, actually consuming pumpkins is not high on their list. Just last week I was at the grocery store and saw a display of huge spaghetti squash on clearance, being promoted as “autumn decorations”.  Pfff, what?! I scooped up as many as I could (I mean, they were less than two bucks a pop) and I excitedly starting telling the cashier about the wild and crazy deal in the produce aisle, all the amazing things you could do with this gourd, and how it turns into freakin’ noodles. She raised an eyebrow, but was largely unimpressed. Maintaining conviction, I awkwardly carried my bushel of spaghetti squash to my bike, but not before telling two random customers on the way out as well. Just trying to spread the word, people!

So aside from decorative (and reminder: totally edible) spaghetti squash, there is really only one proper pumpkin here in Denmark, and that is the Hokkaido. These spherical, bright orange beauties are available at most grocery stores, and for good reason: they are a very delicious and super versatile variety. They are yummy roasted, stuffed, baked, blended into dips, or in soups and stews. I dig them because you can eat the skin, which gives a serious boost of carotenes and fibre. Hokkaido pumpkins can also be called “Kuri” squash, and similar varieties include red Kabocha, Hubbard and Ambercup. As a PSA to Denmark, I would love to suggest growing these or other varieties of pumpkin since every single type has something special to offer, besides a being a decoration that is.

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Anyway, on to the recipe!

As soon as the one-and-only pumpkin hit the stores a couple weeks back, I made this soup. Craving something creamy and soothing to combat autumn drizzle, I blended the steamed pumpkin with ginger and miso for the most luscious of broths, made even more satisfying with the addition of soba noodles. A few nights later I made it again and added even more goodies: spring onion, seaweed, toasted sesame and sautéed shiitake mushrooms. So. Good. I am obsessed with the combination of the sweet pumpkin and savoury miso, especially with the spicy warmth of the ginger to bring it all together. I also love the consistency of the soup, which is thinner than most of the purées I make. It’s really more broth-like, and coats the soba in the perfect way. Unbelievably comforting on a chilly fall night, this dish will be on heavy rotation here this season, and I hope in your home as well.

Pumpkin Miso Broth with Soba comes together in under 30 minutes, so it’s the perfect weeknight dinner. Plus, it is made mostly with pantry staples, so all you need to pick up at the store is a pumpkin! If you want to make this meal even faster, you can skip the toppings altogether, as the soup on its own is totally delicious, and can be made in under 20 minutes. It also freezes well, so make a double batch and store half in the freezer for your next there-is-nothing-to-eat emergency. You can thank me later.

Miso delicious!
Most people are familiar with miso from Japanese restaurants where miso soup is served, but beyond that I think Westerners greatly under utilize this miraculous umami gift from the gods! It is a consistent condiment in my kitchen repertoire and most times when I use it in something I’ve served to guests, they often ask why the dish tastes so special. The answer is miso.

Miso is a Japanese word meaning “fermented beans”. Traditionally, miso is made from soybeans and is found in the form of a thick paste. The process of making miso involves soaking cooking, and mashing soybeans, then finally inoculating the mix with koji (a specific mold spore) and salt. This mixture is transferred to a crock or barrel where it is left to ferment for months or years.

Miso comes in various colours, depending on whether or not other legumes or grains were used in the fermentation process, and the length of fermentation. White, yellow, red, brown and dark brown miso are some of the shades you’ll see in the store. In general, lighter miso tends to be sweeter and milder, while darker miso leans towards the saltier and pungent. I generally keep two kinds in my fridge, since they taste so incredibly different. This recipe calls for light miso, and I really stress using this variety since a dark miso would be far too rich and overwhelming. I prefer to use dark miso in things like gravies and sauces. Either way though, miso is an explosive umami bomb that will add tons of complex, satisfying flavour to many of your favourite foods. Because of this “six taste”, miso gives plant-based foods that umph that it can be lacking.

When buying miso, look for an organic or non-GMO product that is raw / unpasteurized. Unpasteurized miso will always come in the form of a paste, whereas the “instant miso soup” that you can find on the dry goods shelf is likely pasteurized and therefore not as health-promoting. If your miso comes packaged in plastic, transfer it to an airtight clean glass jar or ceramic crock when you get home, and store it in the fridge for up to a year.

Unpasteurized miso is full of live cultures and for that reason it should never be boiled. If you read this recipe through, you’ll see that I only add the miso at the end when the soup is in the blender. This is to ensure that we preserve all of those delicate nutrients and precious enzymes that would be destroyed with high heat. If you are going to reheat this soup, make sure to do so gently and stir constantly to avoid scorching.

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Some notes on the recipe ingredients: if you absolutely cannot find light miso, a simple vegetable stock or bullion can be used in its place. But it’s worth tracking down.

Soba noodles can be found at Asian supermarkets, health food stores, and gourmet foods shops. Make sure to look for noodles that are 100% buckwheat flour, as many brands of soba will add wheat flour to act as a binder, and keep in mind that these will not be gluten-free. Some people also find the taste of pure soba noodles off-putting since buckwheat can taste very strong, but I love it! Finicky kids (and adults) may prefer the milder-flavour of brown rice noodles, or even whole grain pasta.

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This soup is wildly tasty and saisfying, and will probably make you look forward to cooler temperatures and nights spent in. I hope you all are having a lovely fall so far. Sending big love and cozy moments to you all,
Sarah B.

Show me your soups on Instagram: #MNRpumpkinmisobroth

Sourdough Salad Pizza

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Along with ice cream, chocolate, and burgers, pizza was definitely on my hit list when I started eating healthier. But like every single one of those foods, I have come up with a way of making them not only not bad for me, but actually good for me. If you live in the “pizza is junk food” world, this is the post for you, as I will single-handedly convince you that this universally loved indulgence can in fact, be nutritious.

It starts with the crust.

The pizza you’ll get at your local restaurant, in the freezer section of your grocery store, or out of the backseat of a teenage kid’s delivery car, is typically made with white flour. It also likely contains commercial yeast, the magical ingredient that makes dough rise quickly and predictably. There are of course other ways of making dough or crust, but these ingredients and methods can be more expensive and take more time. Most places stick to the quick and cheap, which almost always compromises our health. How do we make a healthier crust? The answer is fermentation!

Sourdough: what’s the big deal?
Sourdough is essentially fermented flour. And if you’re familiar with fermented foods, you’ll know that they are easier to digest, and contain far more nutrients than the original ingredients themselves. Sourdough bread is made by combining flour and water together with the natural yeasts that live on everything – our hands, our food, swirling around in the air – and after letting it hang out for a few days, you’ll have what’s called a “starter”.  This starter is added to a basic combination of more flour, water and salt, essentially inoculating it with all of the good bacteria and friendly yeasts. These organisms create lactic acid, which neutralize phytates, making nutrients more easily absorbed by the body. Lactic acid slows down the entrance of glucose into the blood stream, preventing the infamous glycemic index roller coaster. But my favourite of all, is that lactic acid helps break down the complex structure of gluten, making it far easier to digest. That means that people who have a sensitivity to gluten (except celiacs) can potentially eat sourdough bread without digestive upset, as the protein has been changed into a simpler arrangement that is easier to break down in the body.

Three cheers for that, eh?

Down below I’ve included the recipe for both sourdough starter and making pizza from that starter. I think sourdough pizza is a great place to begin because it is far easier to pull off than bread, in my experience. No matter if your dough gets a solid rise or not, you’ll still end up with a gloriously crisp, chewy crust that will your body will also thank you for.

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Toppings: not just a pretty face
The toppings on a pizza will make or break the overall flavour, but also the potential health benefits. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that gobs of cheese and pepperoni are not the most health-supportive choices. So, see topping your pie as an opportunity to get creative, while sneaking in all of those veggies!

The best advice I can give you on this front, is to remember to prepare the toppings – meaning that they should be in the state that you’d enjoy eating them before putting them on the pizza. Since this style of pizza is cooked very quickly, things like garlic, onions, mushrooms, and greens are not going to change all that much in the oven. If you wouldn’t mow down on a bunch of raw Swiss chard, take those leaves on a tour of a hot skillet first. Mushrooms should be marinated or cooked beforehand (unless you like them raw), and onions, in my opinion should be caramelized. Things like olives, zucchini, tomatoes, capers, and bell peppers can be added raw since they are delicious eaten that way.

Sauce is optional, especially if you’re going to use juicy toppings, but if you are using it, keep it sparse and don’t let it sit on the dough too long, otherwise it will get soggy and sad. Pesto is a great alternative to traditional sauce, as is tapenade, roast veggie puree, romesco, chimichurri, and harissa.

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And while we’re on the subject of health, did you know that pizza is THE perfect vehicle for salad? I discovered this a couple years ago when trying to make my healthy pizza even healthier. Instead of putting salad on the side, I thought, why not pile it on top? This delivers a fantastic textural contrast, while delivering that much-needed hit of freshness and bright acidity to cut the richness of the pizza. How is this not a thing?  I posted a shot on Instagram some time ago and it received a lot of positive feedback, so it seems like many of you are down with the salad pizza idea. It’s two of the world’s best foods combined, and that equals true tummy happiness.

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Every summer I go to my friends’ cottage, just down the river from my own in the Thousand Islands. They are enthusiastic foodies and love to cook and eat good food as much as I do. They are also passionate about a plant-based diet, fermentation, pickling, and sourdough – all things healthy and delicious! Needless to say, this weekend has become the culinary highlight of my summer.

The only difference between this year and previous ones, is that this time I was able to talk myself into snapping a few pics during this process and waiting to eat! Not an easy feat for me, you must know, but well worth it if it inspires any of you to try this recipe.

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Creating the sourdough starter
Although it may seem daunting, creating a sourdough starter, culture, or “mother” is far easier than you may think, and only requires three simple ingredients: water, flour, and a little patience. A starter takes about five days to develop, but perhaps more or less depending on temperature, humidity, and the type of flour you’re using. Nevertheless, it’s NOT complicated, and a very gratifying way to connect more to your food.

Here’s what you need:
4oz. / 115ml filtered water (un-chlorinated)
4oz. / 115g flour (choose whichever kind of grain-based flour you’d like – 100% rye and spelt are great choices)
a medium-sized glass container

Method:
1. Stir the flour and water together for about 30 seconds until it is a consistent batter. Cover the container with a tea towel, secure with a rubber band and set in a warm place.
2. After 24 hours, feed the starter with the same amount of flour and water. Stir to combine.
3. After another 24 hours, repeat with the feeding. By this time, you should see bubbles forming and smell something slightly sour. This is a good sign, and means that the wild yeasts are active. If there are no bubbles or sour aroma, keep feeding the starter and looking for signs of life.
4. After 24 hours, repeat with the feeding. By this time, you should see many bubbles of varying sizes and the aroma should be pleasantly strong.
5. Around day five, the starter should have doubled in size from day four, and is ready to use. If the starter has not risen, continue with the feeding program until it has. This process can take a few extra days if you’re in a colder environment. Don’t give up!

Storing your Sourdough Starter
If you would like to use the starter daily, then I recommend feeding it daily. Keep it at room temperature on your counter top so that you’ll remember to do so, and remove half of the starter each time so that there is always room for the fresh flour and water. If you would however like to store your sourdough for occasional use, keep it in the fridge where the fermentation process will slow down and will only require a feeding once a week.

To use again, simply remove the starter from the fridge about 12 hours prior to baking. Feed the starter to “wake it up” from hibernation. After about 12 hours from the last feeding, and once the starter is bubbly and smelling sour, it’s ready to go again!

Resources and Troubleshooting
There are so many resources for sourdough making out there, I’ll leave you with a few that I really like in case you run into any issues.
Cultures for Health
Nourished Kitchen
The Kitchn

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I hope that this post puts you in touch with your inner baker, and that you commit to starting your sourdough culture TODAY. Through this miraculous process, you’ll be joining centuries of tradition, ritual, and connection. Not to mention that your pizza will suddenly be good for you. And that is the most important thing of all, amiright?

Happy fermenting, friends!
xo, Sarah B

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In other THRILLING news, I’m co-hosting a retreat in Bali this coming January! Wild Heart, High Spirit is a 7-day revitalizing retreat for women, aimed to restore balance, cultivate inner peace, and nourish the body from inside out. Learn to take care of yourself on a deep level, and feel empowered moving forward in your life beyond our week together. Join Mikkala Marilyn Kissi of Living Yolates and I for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity on the enchanted island of Bali to connect with your wild heart and your high spirit! Click here to find out more.