The lightness of dark, leafy greens
It’s recently come to my attention that I need more iron in my life. Not the kind you pump, the kind that keeps your body flowing. I was feeling sluggish and realized I needed to step up my intake, so I created a week’s worth of iron-heavy meals to get my health back on track. Turns out, I can’t survive of non-quesa-dillas and carob chip cookies alone.
Iron and B12 are perhaps the biggest nutrients naturally lacking from a vegan’s diet (save for vitamins, which I take daily). Doctors have expounded to me in the past, before learning of my veganism, on the importance of eating more salmon, tuna, or poultry to avoid anemia. Of course, these are foods of which I’ll never partake, so I’ve had to carve out my own iron-rich path, full of dark green veggies, lentils, and soy.
It’s absolutely possible to up your iron intake without eating animals — it also can be quite delicious. After careful research (read: scouring the web), I reignited my original vegan path of healthy choices, which I fear is too often veered from with processed replacement foods these days.
My veggie peers and I are so fortunate to live in a world that, while not always acquiescing to our meal plan, at least understands what the word vegan means. The understanding has shifted, even in the past five years. At small bodegas and big box chains, plenty of non-chain restaurants and certainly street food vendors, there are often meatless, dairy-less items now available for consumption. The problem, I’ve found, can be the nutrition factor — the foods are often over-processed or full of sugar. The original plan, set out by this the eager vegan at least, was a healthier, and truly easier, mission: Eat foods straight from the earth.
On Monday I grilled dark green Chinese spinach and baby bok choy with tangy sesame oil and tossed it with whole wheat Shanghai noodles. The sesame oil added flavor but also, sweetly, assists with iron absorption. The wok was filled to the brim with noodles, so much so that I could eat the leftovers for Tuesday’s lunch, reinvigorated with fresh ground pepper and a splash of hot sauce. That evening I grilled and lightly beat blocks of extra-firm tofu into a scramble with spicy Sambal and cooked asparagus sticks, lightly brushed with olive oil.
On Wednesday I light soy sauce stir-fried large trees of broccoli, kale, and even more baby bok choy from my local produce market. I feel like bok choy is the oft overlooked vegetable in the U.S., but it’s full of nutrients and adds a satisfying crunch to meals.
Thursday evening I cooked a large brick of Indonesian tempeh, fermented soybeans, and placed it over sticky rice, covered in a sweet coconut curry. Tempeh is full of iron and a nice variation from tofu, which is my consistent protein love.
By Friday, it was time to get out of the house and visit a local food purveyor. Still on an up-my-iron mission, I went to my favorite local Middle Eastern restaurant and splurged on both a large lentil soup (yummy and full of iron) along with a mazza of spicy appetizers — hummus, baba ganoush, tabouli, and fava bean foul.
I feel I’ve made some significant advances in Operation: Healthy Vegan, but that’s not to say I’ll be completely avoiding those tasty multi-ingrediant faux meats, sweets, and cheeses. It’ll just have to be a balancing act, for now. Maybe one day my kitchen will be full of dark greens but in the meantime, I’ll have a butterless cookie on hand for the sweet cravings.