• Sally Miller, B. S., N. E.

Conscious Cravings

Substitute 3 common unhealthy ingredients in tailgating recipes

Sugar, salt and oil seem to be what our taste buds crave in every dish. Does it need more salt? Is it sweet enough? Is it fried or roasted in oil for that crispy mouth feel we all love?

These three ingredients have been altered in such a manner in the food we eat that they are causing health problems in the United States. The presence of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity has exploded in the last 20 years as we have adapted to the packaged foods available in grocery stores.

These great tailgating recipes offer healthier alternatives: Cauliflower Pizza Bites, Veggie-Loaded Sweet Potato Nachos and Fat-Free Baked Fries with Spicy Ketchup. This is perfect timing, as the first preseason football games air.

No salt, no sugar and no oil.

Your first reaction may be to add some salt. However, if you wait a few seconds and let your palate get use to the flavors, you will realize you actually taste food, not salt, sugar and oil. Over time, you will not crave these in excess.

Consider the following substitutes in your plant-based cooking:


Mashed pumpkin: When you want a very subtle sweetness, this may be the best choice. Perfect for pie and other baked goods.

Fruit juice: An easy option is to replace the water, broth or milk with juice (fresh is best).

Dried fruit: The water’s removed, so it’s extra concentrated in sweetness and calories. (Soaking helps remove some of the sugar).

Fruit spread: Make it from scratch or find one sweetened with fruit juice. Great in sauces, dressings, baked goods, etc.

Apple sauce: It’s easy to buy without sugar, but it’s more rich when made at home.

Date paste or syrup: This sweet fruit makes it an excellent substitute for sugar.

Banana or banana puree: Be careful with baked goods. They will add a lot of moisture.

Frozen fruit: The next best thing to fresh fruit is frozen. Water and fiber included, and the nutrients preserved.

Fresh fruit: Let it ripen before using. Choose local, seasonal fruit for top-notch flavor.

Mashed sweet potato: Sweet, creamy and moist, sweet potatoes are great in baked goods.

Sweet vegetables: Bell peppers, carrots and beets are even sweeter when they are roasted. They are perfect in salad dressings and sauces.

Replacing the oil

In a saute: Swap for water, veggie broth, juice, vinegar, tamari or wine. A dry saute will allow more caramelization. Sweating the vegetables, releases the juices ­— just cover to retain the moisture and stir to prevent burning.

When roasting: Oil-free roasting is easy with parchment paper and non-stick pans. Toss them in water or broth first for extra moisture, or add a little liquid to the baking tray.

For baking: Beans add a fudginess to brownies. Applesauce helps keep cakes and cupcakes lighter. Mashed banana, sweet potato or pumpkin adds sweetness, but makes batter denser. Shredded zucchini locks in the moisture in breads and muffins. If you desire a chewy, crispier texture in baked goods, add fat through silken tofu, nut butters, avocado or nondairy yogurt. Add three-fourths the amount of oil called for. Add a little fruit puree or liquid such as nondairy milk or juice to thin.

In dressings and sauces: Pureed fruit, bell pepper, zucchini and carrot add low-fat creaminess. When nuts are called for, try white beans instead. Nuts are a perfect food for creaminess. Cashews are ideal because they are mild and light in color, but any nut, seed or butter will work. To thicken, try chia or flaxseed. For fatty creaminess, try avocado.


Herbs and spices: Fresh or dried, they are the easiest way to kick up flavor.

Lemon and lime: Brighten a dish with a squeeze of juice.

Other citrus and zest: Orange and grapefruit are remarkably tasty.

Onion and garlic: Raw or cooked, alone or together, this pair complements nearly every savory dish.

Mushrooms and seaweed: Use these foods for umami flavor.

Chili peppers: Kick up the heat with these choices.

Salt-free seasonings: The simplest swap.

Variety of vinegars: If a dish tastes flat, add a splash of one of many vinegars, avoiding those with added oil and sugar.

Flavored extracts: It is often not salt that is needed, but just more flavor. Use extracts when it’s not desirable to add the whole food, such as coconut.

Fresh salsa and chutney: Whether it is spiced or sweet, add character to the dish with one of these.

Nutritional yeast: There is no faster way to add a cheese flavor than a dash of nutritional yeast.

Wine or beer: If you can have alcohol, wine and beer add deep flavor to sauces, stews, soups and braised dishes.

Veggie-loaded Sweet Potato Nachos

Makes 2-4 servings. Ready in 30 minutes. Stores 2 days in fridge (longer unassembled).

2-4 sweet potatoes

Nacho “cheese”

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 ½ cups cooked cannellini beans (15-ounce can, drained and rinsed)

¼ cup nutritional yeast flakes

½ cup cashews

½ -1 cup water

1 lime, juiced

1 tablespoon tahini (sesame seed butter)

1 tablespoon stoneground mustard

½ tablespoon chipotle powder or other chili powder

1 teaspoon garlic granules

Nacho toppings

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 jalapeño pepper, diced

½ red onion, diced

¼ cup fresh cilantro or parsley, diced

2 limes, wedged


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cut the sweet potatoes into 1/8 inch slices using a mandolin or slicing blade in a food processor. If you don’t have the equipment, carefully cut the sweet potatoes cross-sectionally into thin slices.

Spread the slices in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and flip each slice.

Bake for 8 to 10 more minutes until the slices are tender in the middle and crispy on the edges. Oven temperatures can vary, so pay attention so they don’t burn.

Serve warm.

Add all ingredients to a food processor for the “cheese.”

Blend until it has a creamy consistency.

Add a little water or nondairy milk to thin the sauce to the consistency you want. The cashews can be eliminated if you have a nut allergy.

Pile cooked sweet potatoes onto a plate.

Drizzle the cheese sauce across the chips and sprinkle with peppers, onion and cilantro.

Serve with lime wedges and, if you’d like, salsa on the side.

Note: If you are storing the sweet potato chips after baking, they will become soft in the refrigerator. Crisp in the oven before serving.

Fat-Free Baked Fries

Makes about 1 serving per potato. Ready in 25 minutes. Stores 1 week in fridge

3-4 potatoes


Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise, and slice them lengthwise into ¼- to ½-inch strips. You can leave them wide so they look like steak fries, or slice them into thinner pieces. Thicker fries will need to cook a little bit longer.

Place the sliced potatoes on prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

Flip them and bake for 10 to 12 more minutes. They will be light browned and starting to puff.

Make sure that the thickest ones are fully cooked, otherwise, let them cook for a few more minutes.

Let them cool slightly and then serve immediately.

Note: Top with Nutritional yeast for “cheesy” fries. Add garlic granules for “garlic” fries.

Spicy Ketchup

Makes 2 ½ cups. Ready in 15 minutes. Stores 2 weeks in fridge.

½ yellow onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

15-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, no salt added

½ cup tomato paste, no salt added

4 Medjool dates, pitted and halved

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

½ teaspoon salt (optional)

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

pinch of ground cloves


Add all of the ingredients to a sauce pan over medium heat and bring to a boil.

Lower the heat to low and let it simmer for 10 minutes.

Transfer the sauce to a blender and blend to a smooth, even consistency.

Transfer to an air-tight container and store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Cauliflower Pizza Bites

Makes 2 dozen pieces. Ready in 45 minutes. Stores 5 days in fridge.

¼ cup ground flax seed

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons water

1 pound cauliflower, chopped into florets (1 small head)

4 ounces yellow onion, chopped (1 small)

½ cup cashews

½ cup nutritional yeast

¼ cup quinoa, ground

1 ½ tablespoons dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried thyme

½ tablespoon garlic granules

½-1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

4 ounces red bell pepper, chopped (1 medium)

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley


Combine ground flax seed, lemon juice and water in a small bowl.

Set aside to let the flax gel.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place cauliflower in a large food processor.

Pulse until the cauliflower is chopped into small pieces. Then add the onion, cashews, nutritional yeast, quinoa, oregano, thyme, garlic granules, red pepper flakes and the flax-lemon mixture.

Pulse until the cauliflower is processed into very fine pieces. This can take a couple of minutes.

Now add the chopped bell pepper and cilantro or parsley.

Pulse until the mixture has a fine, even consistency.

Remove the S-blade or transfer the mix to a separate bowl to keep your hands safe.

Take a very small handful of the mix (about ¼ cup), and roll it into a short log, about 1 inch wider by 1-½ inches long.

Place the bite-size piece on the prepared baking sheet and repeat with the rest of the mix. (These can also be made into balls.) The batter will be moist, so be gentle with it.

Bake for 15 minutes on the center rack of the oven. Then move the pan to the top shelf and bake for 15 more minutes. (These should be crispy on the outside and soft on the inside).

Note: If not serving immediately, you will have to re-crisp the bites after refrigeration.

Garlic and Chives Sour ‘Cream’

Makes 2 cups. Ready in 15 minutes. Stores 10 days in fridge.

½ yellow onion, chopped

2 ribs celery, chopped

4 garlic cloves, chopped

¼-½ cup water

1 cup basic cashew “cream cheese” (below)

½ tablespoon apple cider vinegar or lemon juice

2 tablespoons diced fresh chives


Add the onions, celery and garlic to a saute pan over medium heat.

Cover with lid and cook for a few minutes, until the onions are translucent.

Stir frequently to prevent the veggies from browning.

While the vegetables cook add water, cashew cheese and apple cider vinegar to a blender.

Blend until smooth.

Add the sauteed veggies to a blender.

Blend until the “cream” has your desired consistency.

Transfer the “cream” to a small glass bowl and stir in the chives.

Basic Cashew ‘Cream Cheese’

Makes 2 ½ cups. Stores for 2 weeks in the fridge. Ready in 10 minutes, not including fermentation time.

1 tablespoon light miso or 1 tablespoon nondairy yogurt

2 cups cashews, soaked for 2-8 hours, and strained

½ cup water

pinch of salt (only necessary with nondairy yogurt)

Add the culturing agent (miso), water and soaked cashews to a high-powered blender.

Blend on high for about 1 minute until the cream has a smooth consistency.

Transfer mix to a glass container and cover with plastic wrap or an airtight lid.

Let the “cheese” age by setting out on the countertop for 12 to 36 hours. The longer it sits, the sharper the flavor will be. The “cheese” will thicken and develop air pockets as it cultures.

The culturing process will be faster in warmer environments.

When it has the flavor you desire, move it to the fridge to stop the culturing process. The “cheese” will continue to thicken, but the fermentation process will halt.

Note: This is a base “cheese” that can be used for various “cheese”-based recipes. Make sure the “cheese” is blended to a smooth consistency.

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