Vegan 101: A Newbie’s Guide to Seasonal Eating and Cooking

by JL Fields on April 14, 2011

It’s spring! What a perfect time to freshen up the blog! I hope you like the changes — and will pardon a few hiccups along the way. I have some broken links to fix (actually, a lot!)  and I’m doing a major recipe page overhaul (thanks to Recipage).

Spring is also a perfect time to freshen up our vegetables and fruit choices. With just over a year of vegan eating and cooking under my belt, I’m slowly understanding the significance of seasonal changes and how to adapt my diet.  Spring is a perfect time to introduce seasonal eating and cooking to the Vegan 101 Series.

Who better to inform us than the fabulous Christy Morgan, who you may know as The Blissful Chef.  I met Christy online after following her blog and consider her a wonderful friend. (Last fall I purchased her cookbook  Cooking With The Seasons – Fall/Winter Edition and which I reviewed as part of Vegan MoFo.)  I admire Christy for many reasons, most recently for her decision to pack up her life to move in with her father and help him battle cancer with a healthy diet.  She writes about this experience openly and honestly on her blog.

Before I introduce you to Christy, let me mention that she recently invited me to create a spring recipe for her blog, which I was delighted to do! Check out my  Gingered Asparagus and Leeks recipe, which can be enjoyed roasted or raw.

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Christy Morgan, known as The Blissful Chef, has been tantalizing tastebuds for years as a private chef and cooking instructor in Los Angeles, California. Now she’s in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area to care for her father and help Texans get healthy. She wants you to feel and look your best, by eating blissful meals that are fun, delicious, and nutrition-packed. You’ll find her recipe contributions in the Skinny Bitch Ultimate Cookbook by Kim Barnouin and articles written for various platforms across the web. Check out The Blissful Chef site for more tips, recipes, and resources.

Hello blissful beings! JL and I have been online friends for a while and when she asked me to contribute to the Vegan 101 series I was thrilled to share my knowledge with her readers! We were brainstorming on what I could write about and she thought I should write a post on how to create a recipe, since cooking and writing recipes is what I do professionally. I figured that most vegan newbies are exploring vegan foods and recipes for the first time, which means they are most likely following recipes from a cookbook. Creating your own recipe can take practice and may seem daunting if you have little experience with tofu, tempeh, and other vegan foods. So I suggested that I write a post on how to create a complete meal for spring using seasonal produce and the importance of eating local, organic, seasonal foods.

For me, being vegan isn’t just about saving the animals (though that is the most important piece to the puzzle). When I make food choices, I consider the global impact and how it’s going to affect my mind, body, and spirit. Some of you may be thinking, “Oh you daft hippy, shall we sit around the fire and sing Kumbaya?” But, seriously. The way we eat affects everything in our life. It’s literally the answer to all our problems physically, psychologically, environmentally and spiritually. I feel this bigger picture is neglected if we simply care that the food we eat not contain animal ingredients. If we take our diets a few simple steps further then we can reduce our impact on the planet even more than we already do being vegan. Every step we take in our lives makes an impact and it also sets examples for others.

Eating Locally & Seasonally

When we talk about “eating seasonally”, what exactly does that mean? It’s unfortunate that the grocery stores of today are seasonless. You wander through the produce aisle and you’ll find apples from New Zealand, bananas from Ecuador, and coconuts from Thailand. These things that are not local travel thousands of miles to get to your plate using precious resources and polluting the environment. Not only that, the food isn’t as fresh as something you can buy that was just picked nearby. So eating locally and seasonally goes hand in hand.

If you are eating local foods you are by default eating seasonally. If something is grown within 100-300 miles it’s considered “local” in my book. If it’s produced within the next few states away from you that’s pretty good too.  The best way to figure out what is growing in your area is to visit a local farmer’s market or go to a farm near you. Maybe your area has a CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture. If you join a CSA, you pay upfront a certain amount that will guarantee you a box of produce when the harvest season starts. If you don’t have access to farmer’s markets or CSA’s, your grocery store will either label where the produce comes from or you can ask the employees for the info.

Eating For Spring

We know that the traditional four seasons include spring, summer, autumn, and winter. During each of these seasons certain fruits and vegetables grow abundantly, while others may not thrive. In my macrobiotic and Chinese medicine studies along with my master gardening classes I learned what things grow in each season and how those foods affect our organ systems, energy, feelings and emotions. A great book that explains this in more depth if you are interested is Staying Healthy With The Seasons by Elson M. Hass. Your body becomes in tune with your surrounding environment, the soil and the water system. Haas explains that the closer we are in balance with our environment and the earth, the healthiest we can be.

All foods have a particular energetic quality. For example, if you live in a tropical environment you would want to eat foods grown in that environment because they will most likely benefit you, like cooling you off. If you live in a cold place and were to eat tropical foods all day, then you would cause an overly cold condition in your body, which would lower your immunity and throw you out of balance. I’m not saying never eat tropical foods, just understand how powerful food can be.

The Foods of Spring

Different foods grow in different areas but in general you can find these things growing in the warmer warms of March, April and May. Visit this link to find state-specific seasonal produce guides.

  • Grains: barley, wheat, oats, rye
  • Vegetables: Leafy green vegetables: broccoli, parsley, lettuce, kale, collard greens, cabbage
  • Other greens: alfalfa, green peas, green beans, zucchini, celery, asparagus, sugar snap peas/snow peas, fennel
  • Roots and other: carrot, beet, onion, potatoes, shiitake mushrooms, artichokes, summer squash
  • Beans and Pulses: green lentils, split peas, black-eye peas, mung, lima, fava
  • Fruits: limes, lemons, grapefruit, Granny Smith apple, apricots, plums, pomegranates, cucumber

Cooking for Spring

Spring is the time of new growth, rebirth, starting fresh, moving upward and everything around is sprouting and blooming. You may feel new energy or motivation pushing you forward. It’s always a good time to go through the closet, throw out the old and make space for the new.

You will also notice the weather getting warmer. Warm soups and stews are not sounding so good. Salads, vegetables and fruits are playing a bigger role in your meals. Juices and smoothies are making a big splash and water dense vegetables are filling your plates. It’s only natural that when the weather gets warm we start to crave foods that will cool us off. Lighter cooking methods like steaming, blanching, and raw foods are more appropriate for spring weather. Instead of oil sauté, try sautéing in water or broth. This will help you feel lighter and more energized.

Planning a Meal for Spring

Now that you know what veggies are growing in the spring you can create a complete meal keeping the seasons in mind. Let’s say I’m making dinner for friends. The basic elements of the meal would be a soup or appetizer, the entrée which I would include a grain, a vegetable, a protein dish with an optional salad, then dessert.

My favorite cookbook is Clean Food by Terry Walters, because each chapter is divided by season, which takes the work out of for me (and the food is clean and delicious). But to add variety and use different cookbooks I’ll pull out 4 of my favorite cookbooks off my bookshelf and devise my meal from those.

You can do this one of two ways; head to the farmer’s market and buy what looks good to you, then plan the meal from that. Or the easier and most likely faster thing to do would be to plan the meal first, then make the grocery list and head to the store to buy everything. Here’s a video I did explaining my process.

Hopefully that is helpful in showing you how to plan a meal for spring. I think this process makes cooking more fun. And you reduce your carbon footprint and save money at the same time.

***

Thank you, Christy!   I am inspired to do my part to eat right for the earth…and me!  Be sure to follow Christy on Twitter and Facebook!

Readers, do you have questions for Christy?

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  • http://profiles.google.com/sinead.dragon sinead collins

    Eating locally is a great idea when it involves supporting local farmers, but keep in mind that most of the carbon footprint from groceries comes from everyone driving to the store or, in the case of farmers markets, each individual farmer driving to each individual market separately – economies of scale come in on the actual transport of the food. Second to that is the energy expended in the grocery stores themselves (high ceilings, open freezers, bright spotlights on produce that require the produce to be continually cooled so that the lighting that makes it look so fabulous doesn’t cook it…). Plus, it is often actually more efficient to grow food in the proper climate and transport it rather than expend lots of extra energy to grow food outside of it’s preferred climate. Don’t get me wrong – there are a lot of reasons to eat locally, but saving energy isn’t one of them.

    • http://twitter.com/TheBlissfulChef Christy Morgan

      Those are very good points. I totally forgot to mention that if you can grow it in your own backyard that’s the best! No driving or marked up prices involved :)

      If you have a vegan diet already then you are saving energy in the biggest way possible whether you shop local, grow your own food, or drive to the store. This has already been proven. So if you don’t eat vegan if you take steps to eat local and seasonal, then you are saving some energy by not buying things that traveled thousands of miles. And I’m talking about food that grows well locally in your climate. It’s not really cost efficient for farmers to grow things that don’t belong or grow well in their surrounding climate, so that really isn’t an issue.

  • Herapolos

    Thank you.. really helpful!

  • http://dietdessertndogs.com Ricki

    Wonderful advice! Thanks for inviting Christy. I think she’s great and have loved her recipes (I also reviewed her first 2 ebooks). It is tough to rely on local produce exclusively here in Toronto, but now that spring has finally arrived, it will get much easier!

    Great new look to the blog, too. Congrats! :)

    • http://www.jlgoesvegan.com JL goes Vegan

      I’m so happy Christy contributed. I’m a big fan of her recipes, too! Oh, and thanks re: the blog, Ricki!

  • Elizabeth @ RunWithSneakers

    Hi JL! I love your new blog look! I also loved this guest post. Lots of great information that I will put to good use. I also loved your recipe for Gingered Asparagus and Leeks recipe. I’ve bookmarked it and will be trying it out after I get to the grocery store. I see you’re using Coconut Secret products. I checked into that company before buying their coconut nectar product. It’s a company I feel good supporting and knowing that their products are produced responsibly. I will pick up the coconut aminos next time I’m at the store.

    • JLgoesVegan

      Thank you, Elizabeth! I’m loving the coconut aminos. I started using them because they are a “raw” alternative to soy sauce, Bragg’s etc. Turns out, also delicious!

  • http://155vegan.blogspot.com Mrs. K.

    I have entered Nirvana. Love you!! LOL!! Thanks for this post…

  • http://www.thedomesticvegan.com Jess – The Domestic Vegan

    Lookin’ good, JL! I love the makeover! :) I tried to comment the other day but I think comments were shut off, so I’m happy to see them back up!!

    Wonderful post!!! I love the “Clean Food” cookbook, too. The sequel, “Clean Start” is fab, as well!

    • JLgoesVegan

      Thank you, Jess! Yes, sadly, the comments on my old posts didn’t transfer over :( Fingers crossed that we can remedy that because there was a terrific exchange of ideas.

    • http://twitter.com/TheBlissfulChef Christy Morgan

      I haven’t bought Clean Start yet but it’s on my list! Honestly I don’t use cookbooks anymore, but I like to support others and have a well stocked bookshelf in case a new vegan friend needs inspiration :)

    • http://www.jlgoesvegan.com JL goes Vegan

      Thank you, Jess! Yes, sadly, the comments on my old posts didn’t transfer over :( Fingers crossed that we can remedy that because there was a terrific exchange of ideas.

  • http://www.thrive-style.com Lisakthrives

    Great post! This was really interesting :)

  • http://www.love-life-project.com Stephanie

    I love this article! Eating seasonally and locally is important to me ethically, and yet the reality is that I’m very impulsive at the grocery store. This year I’m really trying to align my values with my actions, in the hopes of feeling more at peace with my choices.

    The year that I felt healthiest and most at peace with my food was when I lived on the west coast and joined a CSA. A box of local organic fruits and veggies found its way to my doorstep every week. It was like Christmas every Wednesday when I opened that box and saw those colours and textures! Plus, it was delivered by bicycle…how awesome is that?

    Thanks for the guest post!

    • http://twitter.com/TheBlissfulChef Christy Morgan

      Exactly Steph! Eating in this way does amazing things for body and state of mind. CSA’s rock!!

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  • tanya lewis

    JL..I love the new look..it’s so fresh.Christy no questions. Just a thank you for the lovely post.I am trying to think more about where my foods come from and eating more seasonally.so this came at the perfect time and i will be checking out your blog after this.So thanks lovely ladies!!!

    • JLgoesVegan

      Thank you, Tanya!

    • http://www.jlgoesvegan.com JL goes Vegan

      Thank you, Tanya!

    • http://twitter.com/TheBlissfulChef Christy Morgan

      Thanks Tanya! It kind of makes shopping more fun. I like investigating where the food comes from the grocery store and grilling the people that work in the produce department. LOL! Maybe I’m just weird like that ;)

  • http://www.garden-lighting-outlet.co.uk Garden Lighting

    hi,
    Thanks for sharing such a nice, useful and informative post. I really liked the video as well and I highly appreciate your efforts for putting this up and making people understand the importance of right kind of eating habits. :)

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