“Your choice of diet can influence your long-term health prospects more than any other action you might take.” — Former Surgeon General C. Everett Coop

“We should all be eating fruits and vegetables as if our lives depend on it — because they do.” — Michael Greger, MD

Recently, my husband, John, after watching the documentary, “The Game Changers,” has made the choice to increase plant foods in his diet and drastically reduce the meat he consumes. As someone who has been a plant-based eater for years, I whole-heartedly embraced his decision.

However, before carnivorous readers stop reading, please do not assume I am writing to proclaim, “The gospel of how you should eat,” according to Steph. How you choose to eat, Dear Reader, is a highly personal choice, and only you know what type of diet works best for you.

With that being said, I think most readers can agree that increasing one’s intake of whole foods, with emphasis on increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables, while reducing processed foods, is an overall healthy practice.

Trust me, John has not completely abandoned meat, but he is now choosing to consume it as a rare treat, rather than an everyday occurrence. This change in John’s dietary habits has certainly made it easier on me with regards to how I cook for us. Now, instead of cooking one meat-based recipe for him, and a vegetable-based variation for myself, I only have to plan for one recipe (although I often prepare myself something different only because I am either experimenting with a new recipe or making a variation for myself that is gluten free).

Furthermore, I am a big believer in food prep on the weekend. John and I live busy and active lives. We are up by 5 a.m. each work day and typically unable to sit down for dinner until 7 p.m. or later. Thus, I do not have much time to cook during the workweek. Therefore, I purchase, clean, and prep all of our vegetables for the week on the weekend. I also typically prepare all of my work lunches on the weekends; and I generally cook up large batch recipes for dinner that can easily be warmed and supplemented with a quickly thrown together salad.

This past month, John and I have enjoyed a week’s worth of black bean soup, meatless chili, or big bowls of chopped salad overflowing with prepared greens, veggies, fruit, beans, nuts and/or seeds. Of course, it helps that we love eating leftovers. Perhaps, it goes back to our childhood as both of our families regularly made leftovers part of the weekly family dinner experience. However, it seems to us that certain foods get magically better with each reheating, especially soups, chili, and pasta sauces.

This month’s recipe is no exception. I actually made it on a Saturday afternoon, but immediately cooled it, transferred it to a Crockpot, and then stowed it away in the fridge for a six-hour simmer on Sunday. Then Sunday afternoon, I prepped all my salad veggies for a week, so they were ready to be thrown together quickly each work evening. Additionally, I made up a large batch of gluten free pasta, which happened to be a type made out of beans that is high in protein, and mixed it up with spiralized zucchini. I buy the prepared zucchini found in the freezer section. When I see it go on sale at my local market, I buy up several bags at a time for future dinners. Finally, I also ensured we had both cauliflower pizza crusts and a few portabella caps on hand as an alternative sauce-carrier to the pasta.

When making this sauce, you will notice my emphasis on finely chopped vegetables. This is because John and I have an agreement. As long as he can’t see chunks of certain vegetables he would not normally eat (i.e. carrots, celery, onion, and peppers), and they do not crunch, he will quite happily dine on the sauce, especially if seasoned just right.

Furthermore, meatless crumbles, or meatless meatballs, can be added into this sauce if desired.

Give this versatile vegetable-chocked recipe a try. You can use it as a traditional pasta sauce, but also as a sauce for pizza, pizza bread, calzones, and baked pasta dishes such as lasagna. As earlier hinted, I’ve even made a low-carb variation in which I filled portobello caps with this sauce, added a few basil leaves, and other favorite pizza toppings, then baked it all up in a 375 degree oven for about 10 minutes — delicious!

From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, and homemade meals.

Very Veggie Marinara

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil or for no-oil alternative, choose ½ -1 cup low sodium vegetable broth or stock

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 cup finely chopped onion

1 cup finely chopped green pepper, or another color of pepper if preferred

1 small zucchini, finely chopped or grated

1 cup finely chopped or grated carrots

1 cup celery, finely chopped or grated

1 cup mushrooms, finely chopped (I use baby portabella, but any type will do.)

28 to 32 ounces no-salt tomato sauce

1 6-ounce can tomato paste (preferably no-salt if you can find it)

1 14.5-ounce can no salt added, diced tomatoes

1 14.5-ounce can no salt added, crushed tomatoes

(Optional: 1 package no meat crumbles or meatballs; or you could add your choice of ground meat — it is just no longer marinara!)

2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

‘1 teaspoons fennel seed

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar or other equivalent sweetener, i.e. Stevia, maple syrup, agave, etc

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon ground red pepper

1 large bay leaf

Directions:

In large saucepan, preheat pan over medium heat. Once warm, (a small spoonful of water will skitter across bottom of pan) add oil or stock.

Add in garlic to pan.

Meanwhile, finely chop onion and green pepper; then add to garlic in pan.

Next, chop and grate all veggies as finely as possible. If using a food processor, do not pulse for too long or veggies will become mush.

Add vegetables as each is chopped, stirring in each addition.

Note that, if using stock to sauté vegetables, continuously ensure there is enough broth or stock to prevent vegetables from sticking to pan. Add in liquid as needed.

Once all vegetables are added, continue to sauté until all vegetables are soft and onions are translucent.

When vegetables are properly softened, begin to add canned ingredients, pausing to gently stir in each addition.

Next, add in seasonings.

Bring all ingredients to a low boil.

As soon as the sauce begins to boil, reduce heat and continue to simmer for at least 20 minutes.

Serve over pasta, vegetable noodles, or spoon into portabella mushroom caps, pizza crusts, or pitas.

Sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to five days; or kept in the freezer for up to three months.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and a teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School in Huntington. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at hill992@zoominternet.net. Or you can check out her website, stephsimply.com.

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