Want to curate your cooking skills? Or make a weekday meal without sacrificing time and energy?
Well, this weekly series of blog and video posts shows you exactly how I create awesome meals without overcomplicating. Keeping things simple is my mantra and I want to give you the tips and techniques to create plant-based dishes that you’ll love but without worrying about the nitty-gritty details. This is going to be perfect if you want to eat more plants, but you’re not sure how to incorporate them or need some time saving inspiration. As always, these posts are designed to be a guide, so feel free to add your own flair! If you don’t have an ingredient, substitute and don’t be afraid of “failure.” Failures, especially in the kitchen are just experimental tests that can always be adjusted.
The last couple of weeks we looked at lentils and cabbage. This week’s food may be a little less common…nutritional yeast! Nutritional yeast is deactivated yeast sold in small flake form that has a distinctive nutty, cheesy-like flavor that adds depth and creaminess to dishes. It’s mostly used in plant-based cooking to create a cheesy vibe or as a condiment to increase the nutritional profile. Nutritional yeast has about three grams of protein and one gram of fiber per tablespoon serving making it exceptionally nutrient dense. Hence nutritional yeast. A lot of varieties on the market are fortified with B vitamins including vitamin B12. B12 is responsible for several brain and nerve functions in the body and is mostly found in animal products. Some animals absorb B12 made from bacteria in their guts while other animals consume it from the bacteria in the soil where they may be grazing. Humans cannot absorb the Vitamin B12 we produce because production occurs south of the absorption site (aka production happens in the colon versus absorption in the small intestine). Therefore, we must consume it through animals (animals store it in their muscle and liver and sometimes pass it into their milk and eggs) and through fortified foods. If you are vegetarian, vegan, or plant-based, you’ve likely heard about the importance of Vitamin B12 but even if you eat an omnivore diet, it’s an important vitamin as low levels can still happen (after working in hospitals, I actually think it happens more than we realize) and a B12 deficiency is NOT something you want to mess around with.
So how do we make sure we’re getting enough Vitamin B12? Well, a vitamin can be a great place but also consuming fortified foods like nutritional yeast is a great economical and tasty way. Before we get into the goods, let me tell you that nutritional yeast can be found in health food stores either in the bulk section (these ones aren’t always fortified) or on the product shelves under the Red Star, Bob’s Red Mill, or even now under the Trader Joe’s private label. Some grocery stores are starting to carry it especially if they have a “natural section.” This is true for some of the Publix and Coborn’s I’ve been to. It can also be found online (Amazon is my go-to) which is great if you don’t live near a store that carries it.
Ok, before I get carried away, let’s talk about how to incorporate more if it!
Not just nacho cheese but ALL things cheesy without the dairy…most notably, nutritional yeast is used in just about every plant-based cheesy dish. Just do a quick Google search and you’ll see what I mean. It can also be a bit overwhelming and I didn’t really start using nutritional yeast until about three or four years into being vegan. Now, I use it at least weekly. Cheesy recipes vary in time/length/skill but I want to share with you my favorite no recipe recipe for nacho cheese. Again, let me tell you there are A LOT of plant-based nacho cheeses out there, but I’ve adapted into this version when I’m short on time or ingredients (aka traveling the last year). Start by mashing ¼ cup cooked sweet potato with 1 cup plant based milk in a small bowl. Few notes – I am a planner, so I would save out a few scoops of a sweet potato from dinner on Monday to make this sauce on Tuesday. You could also reverse engineer it and make a sweet potato for the sauce on Monday and use the rest on Tuesday. Whatever works! Before traveling, I blended this recipe in my Vitamix but without the modern conveniences of a blender in some Airbnbs, I’ve found mashing/blending the crap out of it works pretty darn well too. So after we have our soupy looking sweet potato, stir in two spoonfuls of cornstarch, four to five spoonfuls of nutritional yeast, the juice of one lemon, and seasoning. Here is where you can play. If you have more to work with in your kitchen, add with a few dabs of garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, cayenne pepper (if you like spice), or even taco seasoning. One you have your sauce well mixed (or blended if you want), pour into a medium saucepan over medium heat until it boils – stirring regularly so it doesn’t clump together. Reduce heat to low until it thickens. From here, add a can of rotel green chilies (but not the liquid) OR three to four spoonfuls of salsa. If it’s too thick, add a dab more salsa or plant-based milk. Adjust seasonings and pour over tortilla chips, tacos, burritos (classic). I also enjoy this nacho cheese with roasted veggies, on baked potatoes, on stuffed peppers, over tofu scramble, and even on vegetable+protein+grain bowl. Endless options!
ALL the soups
Ok, maybe not all the soups, but I do find nutritional yeast easy to add into soups. It adds a bit of thickness and a bunch of umami flavor (that rich fullness factor). When starting out with nutritional yeast in soups, add it to a blended potato soup. Start by sautéing chopped carrots (minimum 3 large), chopped celery (at least 3 stalks plus the leaves, washed), and one chopped onion in a stockpot. Once vegetables mostly tender, add in 3 cloves of minced garlic and swirl around a few more minutes. Add in 6 cups of broth or vegetable bouillon + water equivalent and two to three large potatoes, chopped and washed (obviously). Leave the skin on or peel the potatoes for a creamier soup – your choice! Add in a bay leaf and a dash of thyme and rosemary if you’ve got it. Cook about 25 minutes until potatoes tender. If you like 100% creamy, blended soups, pour the soup into a blender or use an immersion blender. Otherwise, if you like some texture, ladle out about half of the soup to blend on high or use the immersion blender for less time. After blending, stir in at least four spoonfuls of nutritional yeast for a “cheesy” flavor that adds more depth to the soup. Taste test for more nutritional yeast, ground black pepper, salt, hot sauce, celery salt, you name it!
This is a non-recipe recipe that I’ve been into lately because I’ve just gotten tired of sautéed spinach and I’ve been through an exhaustive list of adding spinach into other dishes (crazy, right?!). If you love the ease and simplicity of sautéed spinach, but you want to add a bit more pizazz, try this. Start by making a roux. Heat a large skillet on medium and then add a dab or two of Earth Balance Plant-Based Margarine (or butter) and a tablespoon-ish of flour. Once it smells browned a bit, add seasonings like garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, or my all-time favorite seasoning, Herbamare. If using fresh garlic or onion, sauté before making the roux. Add a ton (at least one to two pounds) of baby spinach, baby chard, baby kale, or just one of the above to the large skillet. Buy your greens at Costco/Sams if able and save money plus you will end up with more deliciousness to eat! Once you’ve added your greens of choice, swirl them around for a few minutes until they begin to wilt. One note, if you like smaller greens, chop the spinach/kale/chard/combination before cooking. Once mostly wilted, stir in ½ cup to 1 cup plant based milk (depends on how many greens you’re using), 2 spoonfuls of nutritional yeast (you could use seasoned breadcrumbs or your favorite Parmesan too – or a combination!) About the plant-based milk, go with unsweetened soy or canned coconut milk to get it the creamiest and most decadent. Adjust seasonings as needed and enjoy!
There are SO many opportunities to add nutritional yeast that I just wanted to give you a few easy ways to start incorporating it now. This is going to be especially helpful if you are dabbling into plant-based cooking or have no desire to ditch the cheese but you would like to add in some nutrition. Even though nutritional yeast is frequently used in recipes, don’t discount it as a condiment. I enjoy it on English muffins, avocado toast, chili, soup, salads, casseroles, tacos, lasagna, roasted vegetables (melt coconut oil + nutritional yeast + seasoning = SO good on cauliflower), literally you name it…
Remember, recipes shouldn’t back us into a corner; they should give us framework and intention to move towards nourished eating. You are your greatest investment and your time is incredibly valuable. Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of your world and I hope you find inspiration through this series.
Be sure to check out the video on my Facebook Page, Morgan The Yogi Dietitian, tomorrow (1/19/18) when I demo one of these recipes! Look forward to seeing you guys there and in the meantime, I’d love to hear from you….have you used nutritional yeast? Tell me where you’re at with this food…
Simplify for an abundant life.
With hugs and gratitude,