no-bake chocolate tart

No-Bake Chocolate Tart

Hello there! Today I share with you something completely improvised – no references of any kind were used – that worked out wonderfully.

Meet my vegan No-bake Chocolate Tart:

no-bake chocolate tart

No ovens were used, which means I had to create a flourless base. As you may know, a tart base needs to have texture, to hold itself together and to be moderately sweet.

So, I decided to use peanuts, walnuts, and dried coconut as solid ingredients – no particular reason for any of them, it’s just what I had available. For sweetening, I used golden syrup. Sugar is great for baked crusts, but in this case, the grains wouldn’t dissolve due to the lack of cooking. Finally, to bind everything my choice went to coconut oil – it’s plant-based and requires no melting (at least in our Mediterranean summer climate).

no-bake chocolate tart

And look at that fudgy filling! Without the usual butter and cream to enrich the chocolate, I’ve opted to use coconut again –  this time, in the form of both cream and oil.

no-bake chocolate tart

I must tell you this is probably the best dessert I’ve ever made (the peanut butter cookies are a close second). Don’t let the fact that you need to wait a few hours before eating the tart stop you from trying this recipe – it’s totally worth the wait!

No-Bake Chocolate Tart
Prep Time
20 mins
Cooling time
4 hrs
Total Time
20 mins
 

A delicious vegan tart that doesn’t require an oven. With a simple nutty base and a decadent chocolate filling.

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Vegan
Servings: 12 slices approx.
Calories (per serving): 384 kcal
Author: João Caseiro
Ingredients
Base
  • 1/4 cup golden syrup
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 125 g peanuts
  • 125 g walnuts
  • 50 g dried coconut
Filling
  • 200 ml coconut cream
  • 200 g dark chocolate
  • 1/4 cup golden syrup
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
Instructions
Base
  1. Blitz peanuts and walnuts in a food processor until finely ground. Add dried coconut, coconut oil and golden syrup, and blitz until it forms a shapeable paste.

  2. Press the mixture into a 20cm/8″ tart tin, previously covered with baking paper. Use your fingertips to gently press the dough so it covers the entire tin.

Filling
  1. On a saucepan, melt chocolate with golden syrup and coconut oil. Then, add coconut cream slowly, whisking constantly.

  2. Allow the mixture to cool for a few minutes, then pour into onto the base.

  3. Chill for at least 4 hours before serving. Enjoy!

beetroot burgers

Beetroot Burgers

By now, my love for veggie burgers is probably well-known. The ones I bring you today are made with beetroot – yeah, not at all a common burger ingredient.

beetroot burgers

I must say I’m not the greatest fan of this purple veggie, although I appreciate eating it raw and grated in salads, just like we do sometimes with carrots.

Prepared in a similar fashion, here beetroot helps sustain the shape of the burger patties. It also adds a punch of vibrant, reddish-pink colour – surely a “wow factor” if you cook this for your friends!

We’ve added cooked quinoa as well, and an assortment of seeds (sesame and sunflower, but feel free to add your favourite), for a more filling dish.


If you haven’t done it already, check out our meat-free shopping list for tips on what ingredients to buy and their nutritional properties.

beetroot burgers

The bread you see in these pictures will soon have its own article. The sweet potato “french fries” were actually made in the oven. Just cut the potatoes into strips, spread them on a tray with olive oil, paprika, garlic powder and black pepper and roast them for 35 minutes at 190ºC.

We’ve chosen to cook these beetroot burgers in the oven, so they retain more moisture. However, if you plan on serving them without bread, you can toast them quickly on a pan afterwards, for an added crunch. Either way, they taste great.

Enjoy!

Beetroot Burgers
Prep Time
25 mins
Cook Time
30 mins
Total Time
55 mins
 
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Vegan
Servings: 8 burgers
Calories (per serving): 199 kcal
Author: João Caseiro
Ingredients
  • 200 g raw beetroot
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1/2 cup sesame seeds
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
Instructions
  1. Using a mesh strainer, rinse the quinoa thoroughly under tap water (I don’t do this always, but it helps remove its natural bitterness).

  2. Add the quinoa, two cups of water and a pinch of salt to a small saucepan. Cook under medium heat for about 20 minutes.

  3. Grate the beetroot finely to a bowl. Add the sunflower and sesame seeds. Finely chop the onion and garlic and add them as well.

  4. Drain the quinoa and add it to the bowl. Mix thoroughly.

  5. Using your hands, shape the mixture into burgers. You should be able to make between 6 to 8 of them.

  6. Heat the oven at 180ºC.  Line up a tray with a baking sheet and place the burgers on it. Bake for 15 minutes, then flip them over and bake for another 15 minutes.

what to eat on a plat-based diet

What to Eat on a Plant-Based Diet

This article is for all of you who have committed to stop eating meat, or want to learn more about vegetarianism or veganism before jumping right in.

On a meat-free (vegetarian) diet, the only thing you can’t eat is meat. It’s not that simple, though. Did you know most gelatin, bubblegum and other jelly candies are made with cartilage, extracted from skin, bones, and connective tissues of animals? Did you know some cheese producers still use enzymes found in the stomach of ruminants in the coagulation process?

Likewise, there’s more to veganism than ditching eggs, milk, yoghurt and cheese. A number of food additives are derived from animals and used in more store-bought food items than you can imagine. Most non-dark chocolate isn’t vegan, and most cookies as well, for example.

Click here for a comprehensive list on what to look out for when shopping. The list contains also information regarding clothing, because more than a diet, being vegetarian or vegan should be a conscious, ethical lifestyle, that encompasses compassion for animals, healthy eating, and environmental sustainability.

Notes about what “healthy” means

Oreo cookies are vegan. But should you eat them? No, they are full of crap. Potato chips are vegan. Should you accompany every meal with them? No, they have too much fat and salt. Starbucks now has vegan drinks. Are they good for you? No, they have enormous amounts of sugar. Getting drunk every weekend is a “vegan activity”. Should you do it? No.

You may know where I’m going with this, and I dare say it –  to be “officially” called vegetarian or vegan, you don’t need to eat healthy or have a healthy lifestyle, but you should.

I can’t praise someone who doesn’t eat meat “for the animals” but is a smoker, for example. Millions of discarded cigarette butts end up in the oceans, killing the very same animals that person swore to protect. It’s hypocritical.

If you are committed to make a change in your diet for the better, use that momentum to improve in all areas of your lifestyle. This blog is called Critical Eating, the emphasis being on the “critical” part. Every choice you make in your life has an impact on you, on others, and on the planet as a whole. Choose to be a conscious, healthy person. I’m here to help you with that.

fruits and veggies

A Meat-free Shopping List

To cook healthy meals, you need to have the right selection of ingredients. And you need to be able to buy them without breaking your budget.

Acquiring natural ingredients – vegetable staples such as leafy greens, grains and seeds – isn’t costly. You should base your diet around these foods. However, buying “fake meat”, “fake dairy” and ready-made meals is way more expensive (and artificial). Buy them sparingly, or avoid them altogether.

Bottom line – this is more expensive than a meat-based diet:

fake meat and dairy - critical eating

While this is cheaper:

plant-based diet

But what to buy? Should you just go to a store, fill your cart with random veggies and call it a day? Well, it’s not that simple. We need a whole array of macro and micronutrients, and different foods have different nutritional composition. To help you, I’ve divided what I usually buy in several categories, according to its place in my diet.

Protein Sources

Let’s say you usually eat a steak with potatoes and a simple tomato and lettuce salad. The “vegetarian version” of that dish cannot be just potatoes and salad – it lacks protein and other key nutrients you would find on meat.

But fear not, as there are hundreds of plant-based protein sources. Most of them are members of the Fabaceae family, such as lentils or chickpeas. But there’s also nuts and cereals.

Here’s the ones you’re likely to find on the majority of stores or markets:

  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Quinoa
  • Kidney, pinto, black and black-eyed beans
  • Fava beans
  • Soybeans, tofu and tempeh
  • Wheat and seitan
  • Walnuts and pecans
  • Cashews
  • Peanuts
  • Chia, flax and hemp seeds
  • Sesame and pumpkin seeds
  • Oats and barley

Now, there’s a catch. Our body breaks down the protein it eats into its smaller components, amino acids. There are 22 of them, of which 9 are classified as essential to humans as our body cannot synthesize them “from scratch”.

If you eat only one or two elements of the above bullet list each week, your body won’t get all of the essential amino acids it needs. A well-balanced plant-based diet requires the combination of various protein sources. So, I recommend you buy at least 6 items from the list each week. Also, buy different ones every time you go shopping – variety is key!

For a vegetarian diet, you can also count on eggs (always buy free-range) and cheese.

Healthy Fats

Since ancient times, humans have used both animal and plant-based fats. Up to today, there’s been much debate about the pros and cons of each type of fat. The scientific community agrees that trans fats, present in hydrogenated products such as margarine, and used in many heavily processed sweets, are highly harmful. There’s also a consensus that animal fats raise our cholesterol levels, leading to heart disease.

So, my recommendation goes into eating a variety of nonhydrogenated plant-based fats, such as:

  • Olive oil (preferably extra-virgin)
  • Coconut oil (preferably extra-virgin)
  • Peanut butter
  • Sunflower oil (preferably “high-oleic”)
  • Avocados

These are the ones you’re likely to find everywhere. The less refined an oil is, the better it is for your health, as it is extracted using no heat (high temperatures change the chemical structure of fats) or solvents. These kinds of oils are known as “extra-virgin”, so always pay attention to the package.

As I’ve said before regarding peanut butter, go for varieties without added palm oil.

It’s important to say that the nuts I’ve mentioned in the “protein sources” section are also full of healthy fats. Keep that in mind to avoid eating fat in excess!

Veggies of All Shapes and Sizes

Composed of more than 90% water, don’t expect your preferred veggies to be a significant source of carbs, protein or fat. Instead, they are full of vitamins and minerals, which you need in different amounts for your body to work properly. Here’s a selection of my favourites:

  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes
  • Bell peppers
  • Onion
  • Cabbages
  • Garlic
  • Eggplant
  • Zucchini
  • Leeks
  • Carrots
  • Asparagus
  • Mushrooms*

There are many more, and all are welcome in your diet. Specialists recommend that you eat at least 2 1/2 cups of vegetables daily, which you can surely achieve by having half of the space in your lunch and dinner plates filled with food from this group.

Here, just like in the protein section, variety is key. If you eat only dark leafy greens, you are getting a lot of Vitamin C but not enough lycopene, only found in red and orange vegetables and fruits. So, make sure to buy at least 6 elements of the list each week. Mix and match different kinds of veggies frequently!

*Mushrooms are fungi, not plants. But I had nowhere else to put them – and they taste great!

Fruits… again, of all shapes and sizes

Like veggies, fruits are also full of micronutrients. Depending on where you live, you’ll have a different selection available, that also varies with the seasons. Here are the ones I find regularly in Portugal:

  • Bananas
  • Oranges, lemons and limes
  • Apples and pears
  • Strawberries and raspberries
  • Blackberries and blueberries
  • Pineapples
  • Mango and papaya
  • Plums and figs
  • Kiwifruit
  • Peaches and apricots
  • Grapes

The same rule for the rest of the plant world applies here – you should always vary the fruits you eat, and you’ll get all the nutrients you need. In terms of quantity, you should have a minimum of 2 cups of fruit a day. If you eat fruit after lunch and dinner, that should be enough, but feel free to mix fruits with your breakfast or in desserts!

Keep in mind that fruits have lots of sugar, so don’t go overboard with them. However, it’s always preferable to eat them instead of refined sugars.

I generally buy 3 or 4 different kinds of fruit each week.

Other Carbohydrate Sources

Many items on the “protein sources” list have a fine amount of carbs. Also, fruits have carbs as well, specifically sugars. However, there are other plant-based carbohydrate sources that I commonly eat and have yet to mention.

  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Bread
  • Potatoes and sweet potatoes
  • Wheat flour – all-purpose, self-raising and whole wheat

Sure, most pasta and bread are made of flour, most flour is made of wheat, and I’ve mentioned wheat before. However, most commercially-available flour has had the germ and bran of the wheat plant removed, and as such is lower in protein than the plant itself. Whole wheat flour, like the name says, uses the whole wheat, so it has more fibres and protein.

I prefer making my own bread rather than buying it, as store-bought bread may contain a huge amount of additives and excess salt. Always read the ingredient labels to be sure.

Culinary Herbs and Spices

Harnessing the true power of herbs and spices is something not all cooks master. There’s many who leave them out of their diet altogether. While I do promise to write an article about the subject, for the time being, here is what you can find on my pantry (and fridge):

  • Cinnamon
  • Paprika
  • Garlic powder
  • Garam Masala powder
  • Cummin
  • Pepper
  • Nutmeg
  • Mustard
  • Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Basil
  • Spring onions

One day I hope to have my own “indoor garden” of plants. For now, I mostly turn to dried herbs, as they last way longer. However, I always use fresh basil – the dried one tastes and smells like tea.

Sweet Bonuses

We’re almost done, but before we finish I would like to leave you with a few other plant-based ingredients that belong in my diet:

  • Dark chocolate
  • Brown sugar
  • Agar powder
  • Maple syrup
  • Coconut milk and yoghurt

Like I said before, gelatin isn’t even vegetarian. The widely used plant-based alternative is agar powder, or “agar-agar”, a substance extracted from red algae that behaves just like jelly.

Now for the maple syrup – it’s an alternative to white cane sugar, certainly less processed. The same goes for brown sugar.

And what’s not to love about dark chocolate? My favorite kind, and the healthier, and the most likely to contain no added milk, making it suitable for vegans.

I finish with a few words about plant milk. The most common alternative to animal milk is soy milk, however, all the ones I’ve tasted so far were too sweet, full of additives and with no distinctive, pleasant flavour. So, my choice goes to coconut milk and yoghurt. It’s not “100% coconut”, of course, but the Alpro ones are not too sweet, making them perfect to add your favourite granola or berries.


A Plant-Based Goodbye

That’s it for today, and I really hope you’ve enjoyed this “lecture” on what to buy. I’ve not delved into what makes a good product – whether it’s organic or biological, fair-trade or locally sourced, for example. I also didn’t talk about supplementation – vegans don’t get B12 from their diet. Those will be subjects of future articles.

As always, leave us a word in the comments if you have any questions, and don’t forget to follow our Instagram!

date energy bites

Date Energy Bites

The first time I’ve made these date energy bites was over a year ago. I was trying to replicate the consistency and taste of those raw fruit bars that started popping up in all major supermarkets here in Portugal.

So, I looked up their ingredients – they were mainly made of dates, with an assortment of nuts. I was quite surprised that such a minimalist combination could result in a firm bar, packed with flavour.

date energy bites

Intrigued, I bought dates and walnuts and went into the kitchen for a quick experiment. My main concern was whether our domestic-grade food processor would be powerful enough to form a shapeable paste with two relatively dry ingredients.

But it was, and everything turned out great in our first try!

With only two ingredients, virtually nothing can go wrong. What are you waiting to try these energy bites?

You can use this recipe as a starting point for many variations of your choosing. For example, feel free to add other nuts, such as pecans, almonds, pine nuts, dried coconut, etc. Keep a ratio of 250g dates to 125g nuts. The chocolate lovers out there can also add two tablespoons of cocoa/cacao powder.

Date Energy Bites
Prep Time
10 mins
Total Time
10 mins
 

Raw vegan energy bites with just two ingredients – dates and walnuts! Give them a blitz, shape them into balls, pop them into the fridge for a few hours, and… that’s it!

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Vegan
Servings: 16 balls
Calories (per serving): 92 kcal
Author: João Caseiro
Ingredients
  • 250g dates, without pits
  • 125g walnuts
Instructions
  1. Blitz the dates in a food processor for a few seconds, until they break down into small bits.

  2. Add the walnuts and blitz again, until they form a malleable paste.

  3. Shape the paste into small balls, using your hands. Place them on a tray and store in your fridge for at least 2 hours. Enjoy!


Check our other recipes and articles in the index! If you decide to try one of them, tag us on Instagram or use the #criticaleating hashtag, and we’ll feature it in our stories!

vegan noodle soup

Vegan Noodle Soup

I’ve always loved the contrast between European and Asian soups. While ours are generally made by pureeing vegetables in a variable amount of water, theirs are usually clear broths with a number of solid ingredients such as mushrooms, noodles, rice, chicken, pork and tofu.

In many traditional recipes, the broth is made by cooking bones with water for several hours, or by mixing dried fish shavings and seaweed.

These preparations confer the soup a characteristic umami flavour, one of the five “basic tastes” alongside sweet, sour, bitter and salty. You may have not heard of it, but you sure taste it on a daily basis, as it is present in a wide array of foods such as tomatoes, mushrooms, cheese, yeast or soy sauce, and added artificially to snacks like potato chips or “low-sodium” products in the form of the controversial monosodium glutamate. Check out this 2-minute video for more information on umami.

Today, I present you an entirely animal-free soup, suitable for vegans, where the main flavouring is miso, a fermented soybean paste – and a source of umami flavour.

vegan mushroom soup
Continue reading “Vegan Noodle Soup”
peanut butter cookies

Peanut Butter Cookies

There are, in my opinion, four key plant-based fats that should form an important backbone of any vegan diet.

They are: olive oil, already widely used for cooking savory dishes; coconut oil, the perfect butter substitute when cooking desserts, almost neutral in flavor depending in its degree of refinement; avocados, a source of healthy fats, to be eaten as any other vegetable or as a structural component of smoothies and mousses; and peanut butter, with its strong nutty flavor, protagonist of an enormous amount of desserts, like the one I bring you today.

These peanut butter cookies are as any cookie should be – with a crunchy crust and a soft, almost creamy core.

peanut butter cookies
Continue reading “Peanut Butter Cookies”
aquafaba brownies

Aquafaba Brownies

Every time I opened a can of chickpeas, I wondered: couldn’t we do something with the brine? But time and time again it went down the drain.

Then, a few months ago, I came to know it actually had a name – aquafaba – and a passionate community of people using it in sweet and savoury dishes. Its appeal comes from the fact that it contains a very specific cocktail of carbohydrates and proteins giving it similar properties to egg whites. Yes, you can actually stop using eggs if you only rely on them for emulsifying (mayonnaise), binding (cakes and cookies) or structuring (meringues, mousses).

For those who think there can’t be any more innovation in cooking, behold – the properties of aquafaba were only discovered in 2014, by the French Joël Roessel, who was experimenting with making foam using vegetable ingredients! His findings were published on his blog back then.

If you’re doubting the special powers of aquafaba, this is how it becomes after a few minutes of whisking:

whisked aquafaba
Continue reading “Aquafaba Brownies”