Winning The Battle Over Inflammation
It's been one week since I started the vegan, hypo-allergenic, anti-inflammatory cleanse I've been doing for my injured knee, and the results are already visible to the naked eye. Friends have been commenting on how my complexion looks brighter, but more importantly, the cleanse has miraculously brought the swelling down without the use of any potentially harmful drugs.
I admit, for a foodie like me it's not the most inviting concept to embark on a such a restrictive diet (completely vegan, plus gluten free, soy free, sugar free, dairy free, and caffeine free), but my desire to heal ultimately trumped any resistance. The additional benefits of better sleep and increased energy helped me stave off any cravings until my taste buds adapted. I'm sharing all this so you can try the cleanse yourself without the time involved in recipe experimentation.
In case you still need more evidence, the photo on the left is of my knees on day one of the cleanse. Notice how my right knee is at least four times bigger than the (good) left knee? The photo on the right is after just five days on the cleanse, and you can clearly see there is hardly any swelling left. Visual proof of how powerful healing naturally through diet can be.
The key once I finish detoxing, is to listen to my body and if I don't feel well after introducing a food back into my diet, I'll know it's not a great choice for me. I intend to stick with a more plant-based, whole grain, sugar free diet going forward for the anti-inflammatory health benefits, but I'll probably add back in the occasional seafood (line-caught), poultry, (organic, free range) and meat (organic, grass fed beef) options once or twice per week depending upon how my body responds.
The only way this foodie has been able to stick with the cleanse is by getting creative with recipes while remaining within the cleanse guidelines. Cooking for vegan clients has taught me many useful substitutions (ie. using cashew cream in place of dairy and ground flaxseed with water for eggs), while using flavorful ingredients abundantly rich in anti-inflammatory properties (ie. turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and cayenne etc.). My hope is that you find these equally satisfying.
Giving up all processed and fake sugars at first seemed daunting (sugar is the last bastion of my addictions) until I found mashing-up a ripe banana with cinnamon, then mixing that in with my hot whole grain cereal and sliced berries was a great breakfast hack to appease my sweet tooth. Likewise, try freezing berries, grapes, or bananas to satisfy any after meal dessert cravings.
Additionally, this Rosemary Cashew Focaccia recipe a friend sent me makes a great avocado toast option for breakfast, or a delicious snack or side dish to my vegan soups.
I'll usually have soup, hummus with raw veggies and brown rice cakes, or a lower carb version of my vegan "Alfredo Sauce" by serving it with Zoodles or Spaghetti Squash. Here are a couple vegan soup recipes to get you started:
CASHEW CREAM OF ASPARAGUS SOUP:
When my friend Mikki was visiting from Australia, and had a toothache, she couldn't eat anything solid for a few days. I whipped together this asparagus soup from what I had on hand in my fridge and pantry. Both of us were pleasantly surprised by the out come. Mik says “it’s the best soup ever”, so I hope you like it too.
2 tablespoons olive oil 3 stalks celery, chopped 2 leeks, white and green parts sliced 2 bay leaves 1 pound asparagus, tough stems removed and chopped 3 sprigs of fresh thyme 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth 1 cup cashew cream (see note below) 3 cups fresh spinach 1 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley Sea salt and pepper to taste
1). Heat oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the celery, leeks and bay leaves, and cook until softened, stirring occasionally, about 6-8 minutes. Add the asparagus, thyme, broth, salt and pepper and bring to boil, lower heat to medium-low and simmer covered for 20-25 minutes.
2). Add the cashew cream and spinach, bring back to a slow boil, and simmer another 10 minutes or until thickened. Discard the bay leaves and stems of the thyme. Stir in the parsley.
3). Working in batches, puree the soup, filling the blender no more than half full each time because heat expands, until the soup is a smooth, creamy consistency.
This soup can be served hot in winter, but it is delicious cold in the spring and summer too. Garnish with asparagus tips or Italian parsley. I'll often add a few finishing drops of white truffle oil for sheer decadence. Serve on its own or with Rosemary Cashew Focaccia.
I make a lot of cashew cream at once, and freeze what I don’t need right away in one cup containers, so I have it when I need it for other recipes. To make cashew cream: soak four cups of raw cashews, covered with water overnight. Drain, rinse, and add to a Vitamix or regular blender with enough water to cover by a half to one inch (depending on how thick you want your cream), then blend until smooth and creamy.
ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH & PEAR SOUP:
This is one of my favorite holiday first courses. This soup has great depth of flavor – making it a healthy, comforting, and elegant choice all rolled into one.
2 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and 1/2 inch dice
3 carrots, peeled and 1/2 inch dice
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 large leeks, sliced in half lengthwise, cleaned, and 1/2 inch dice
2 Bosc pears, peeled and 1/2 inch dice
1/2 cup dry white wine, optional
1/4 cup Brandy, optional
8 cups chicken or vegetable broth (for cleanse use vegetable broth)
3 fresh thyme sprigs, plus extra for garnish
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1). Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
2). In a large bowl, toss the butternut squash and carrots with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, then turn out onto a sheet pan in a single layer. Sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper to taste, and roast in the preheated oven for ten minutes.
3). In the same large bowl, toss the leeks and pears with remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Add to the sheet pan with the butternut squash and carrots, tossing everything gently, to brown evenly in a single layer, and roast for an additional 30 minutes, or until vegetables are fork tender and golden brown, tossing everything again midway.
4). Remove the vegetables from the oven, and transfer to a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Use the white wine to deglaze the sheet pan, and add the juices to the vegetables. Add Brandy, broth, thyme, bay leaf, and ginger, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for one hour.
5). Remove thyme and bay leaf, then puree the soup with an immersion blender, or carefully in a blender in batches. Add white pepper, and season with salt to taste.
Serve with Rosemary Cashew Focaccia on the side, and garnish with reserved thyme.
YELLOW SQUASH & ZUCCHINI “ANGEL HAIR” PESTO
This fast and easy recipe may require a mandolin and a food processor, but not only does it taste like summer – it’s a no cooking necessary recipe. Perfect for sweltering summer days and nights.
1 cup basil leaves, packed
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup raw almonds + ¼ cup raw almonds, coarsely chopped for texture and garnish
2 tablespoons yeast flakes
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 pinch red pepper flakes, optional
1 yellow squash
1). In a food processor, add garlic, 1/3 cup almonds, and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Pulse until
It comes together as a paste. Add the basil, yeast flakes and sea salt, then pulse until mixed. With the food processor running, slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream until it forms the consistency you would like.
2). Use the 7mm blade on your mandolin (or the shredding attachment on your food processor) to shred the zucchini and yellow squash.
3). In a large bowl, toss the veggies and pesto sauce together with the chopped almonds and red pepper flakes (if desired).
Eat cold; or I prefer to remove the dish from the refrigerator 30-45 minutes before serving to allow the pesto to come to room temperature. Serve with a mixed bean salad for added protein.
I'm usually hungriest in the evening, so I'll opt for more substantial whole grains with my plant-based proteins. The pasta you see below is gluten free made with quinoa instead of wheat I've also seen lentil and chickpea pasta options in the grocery store I have yet to try, but be sure to read the label for any offending ingredients (many gluten free pastas have corn flour and soy in them), and click here for my favorite vegan Parmesan recipe.
FAUX "ALFREDO SAUCE" WITH CANNELLINI BEANS & MUSHROOMS
Okay, so it is not the real thing, but it is creamy, tasty, vegan, cleanse legal and hits the spot for me at least! It does require forethought, and there will be a few pans to clean, but the good news is you can make a big batch and live off it for a few days. Just heat to eat individual servings.
1 cup cashew cream (see note in recipe for asparagus soup above)
1 small spaghetti squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
8 ounces of mushrooms (I used shiitake mushrooms for their meaty texture)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 cup cannellini beans, cooked, divided
1 tablespoon yeast flakes
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 cups vegetable broth
sea salt and pepper to taste
1). Heat oil in a large saute pan for one minute over medium heat. Add shallots and saute until softened, about five minutes. Add garlic and saute another minute before adding the mushrooms, rosemary, and thyme. Season to taste, and cook another five minutes or until mushrooms have browned, then turn heat down to low.
3). Meanwhile, add 1/2 cup of the cannellini beans, cup of cashew cream, turmeric, and yeast flakes to a blender. Puree until smooth and creamy, adjusting consistency with vegetable broth if needed (the beans can soak up a lot of liquid, thickening the sauce).
4). Add remaining broth to the pan, scraping up any gooey bits of flavor in the pan. Add the creamed and reserved cannellini beans, stirring gently until heated through. Stir in more vegetable broth if sauce thickens too much, seasoning to taste.
5). Pour sauce over the Spaghetti Squash or Gluten Free Pasta, toss and serve with vegan Parmesan cheese (see link to recipe above).
Serve with any steamed green vegetable of your choice, or at the risk of sounding like a broken record, my balsamic marinated vegetables for extra zing.
Add an extra boost of flavor and nutrients by pureeing steamed broccoli into the sauce, or some crunch with 1/4 cup toasted (shelled) sunflower seeds.
COCONUT CURRIED RED LENTILS, CAULIFLOWER, & KALE STEW
I came up with this recipe specifically for the cleanse, and if I say so myself, it is an exceptionally tasty, well balanced, and filling meal. Packed with 12 grams per serving of plant-based protein (lentils) plus ginger, turmeric, and, chili pepper for flavor and anti-inflammatory health benefits.
1 cup red lentils
6 cups cauliflower, cut into florets and divided
1 cups carrots, peeled and chopped
2 cups kale, stems removed and chopped
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric (the curry powder already has some in it as well)
5 cups vegetable broth
1 13.5 ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
Sea salt and pepper, to taste (go sparingly with the salt)
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped + more for garnish
1). Rinse lentils; set aside.
2). In a food processor, rice 3 cups of the cauliflower; set aside. Peel and chop carrots; set aside. Stem and chop kale; set aside.
3). In a large Dutch oven, melt the coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 6-8 minutes. Add minced garlic and ginger and cook, stirring frequently until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add curry powder, red pepper flakes, cumin, and turmeric, to toast the spices while stirring frequently until fragrant, about 1 minute.
4). Add the vegetable broth, coconut milk, rinsed lentils, cauliflower, carrots, and kale; season to taste and bring to boil, cooking for 30-35 minutes until lentils and veggies are cooked, stirring occasionally and adding more vegetable broth or water if necessary.
5). Adjust seasonings to taste, stir in 1/4 cup chopped cilantro.
Serve over Brown Basmati Rice and garnish with more cilantro as desired
To be honest, these recipes tend to balance my blood sugar well, keeping me satisfied so I do not snack much between meals, but if I am hungry I'll munch on fresh fruit, raw vegetables with hummus, cleanse-friendly nuts and seeds, celery or apple slices with almond or cashew butter, or I usually keep a huge bowl of balsamic marinated vegetables in the fridge to snack on.
ANTI-INFLAMMATORY BOOSTED HUMMUS
I'm so anxious to heal and get back to work that I'm kicking up the anti-inflammatory rich ingredients everywhere I possibly can. I've added turmeric, omega-3 rich flaxseed oil and ground flaxseed meal, plus cayenne to my usual hummus recipe for that very reason, and I was delighted by the result. Great for a light lunch with crudite and brown rice cakes or an anytime snack to keep on hand when cravings strike.
1 15.5 ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon flaxseed oil
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, optional
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup vegetable broth
In a food processor, add chickpeas, garlic, tahini, lemon juice, flaxseed oil, olive oil, lemon zest, cumin, turmeric, cayenne (if using), and sea salt. Pulse to roughly chop, then process while slowly adding the vegetable broth. Adjust consistency to taste by adding more olive oil or broth if you prefer a creamier texture.
Serve with raw veggies and/or brown rice cakes.
I also drink plenty of filtered water throughout the day to stay hydrated and help flush out any toxins. I know the cleanse and the physical therapy will have me back to work in no time. Meanwhile, I'll keep writing and testing recipes, but I hope this helps you get off to a great start too. Be sure to leave any questions, concerns, or comments below to let me know how you are doing!