It’s Still Summer. Make an Eggplant Salad!

The days are getting shorter, kids are back in school, Labor Day just passed… but, hey! It’s still summer! And we still have fresh veggies from the backyard so I made a refreshing roasted eggplant salad to accompany dinner the other night.

eggplant salad

This is so easy to make (once you’ve roasted the eggplant) and goes with just about anything as a nice side dish.

Roasted Eggplant Salad

1 eggplant, roasted, cooled and chopped (use the skinny eggplants, not the fat ones)
1 large or 2 medium tomatoes, diced
1/2 small onion, diced
1 tbsp bit of fresh lemon juice1 tbsp olive oil
salt & pepper, to taste


You’ll need to roast the eggplant first and then let it cool. There are a few methods for toasting eggplants — grilling, carefully roasting over an open flame, or broiling in the oven (which is my personal preference).

eggplant salad

Put all your ingredients into a bowl and then mix it up. Easy as pie! Mmmm… pie…

I’m happy to say that I am back in the cooking spirit. Maybe it’s because the weather is starting to cool. Maybe it’s because I’ve been inspired. I’m just glad to start getting busy in the kitchen again!


Naf Naf Grill: Delicious and Vegan-Friendly!

Naf Naf Falafel Salad

Did you just lick your monitor or tablet or phone screen? I don’t blame you. I mean, look at the deliciousness in front of your eyes! It truly is as delicious as it looks, and you can get your very own at Naf Naf Grill.

I have loved Naf Naf from the moment they opened one of their O.G. locations in Niles. And now I’m going to get really fat and spoiled because they opened a location right by work a few months ago. Naf Naf Grill will please vegans and meat-eaters alike with a selection that includes chicken shwarma, steak shwarma and falafel.

It’s a super simple concept — think of it as a Middle Eastern Chipotle. You pick your meat/protein, then decide whether you want it in a pita, with rice, with salad, or with hummus, choose garnishes and then finish with sauces. The garnishes include a chopped salad of tomato and cucumber, cabbage and cilantro; purple cabbage salad; sumac onions; and pickles. THEY ARE ALL GOOD. GET ALL OF THEM! Sauces include tahini, garlic sauce (unfortunately NOT vegan), and hot sauce (the location by me has green and red options).

That’s not all! You can also get a side of fries (which are more like potato chips), lentil soup, or rice. I’m impressed whenever I see someone with a side because the standard Naf Naf serving is plenty of food.

I love this place. They’re fast and the food is fresh. The pita bread is nice and light, the falafel has a great, almost fluffy texture, and is tasty in its own right. SO good! And the best part is that they are super clear about their vegan options. I could get used to eating like this…

If you live in or find yourself in the Chicagoland area, be sure to check out Naf Naf Grill!-Melissa

A Restful Weekend with Bonus Fruit Salad

I know it’s been awhile, y’all, but don’t worry:


Life has felt busy lately and not the exaggerated “I’m soooo busy (marathoning television shows)” kind of busy but the kind that involves having a ton to do at work, traveling a lot for work, and having a lot of family and friend stuff going on. It’s the “I haven’t done laundry in like three weeks” kind of busy. Gross.

Anyway, this weekend is finally a quiet one where I have zero plans other than catching up on my life, vegging out, and doing laundry. I can’t complain too much: I did go on one non-obligatory, 100% for myself vacation last month and visited Jen, my sister from another mister.

smarterrestSide story: I had to sneak into Jen’s place in the middle of the night and scared the crap out of her since she was asleep on the couch. (Don’t worry about why I had to sneak in. I just did. MYOB!) Along with screaming very loudly, Jen threw her eye mask at me. I’m so grateful it was just that and not a lethal weapon. Maybe things would have gone better if she had the Sleep Mask Eye Mask By Smarter Rest, which I had the opportunity to try out. This mask blocks out the light better than any other eye mask I’ve used AND it comes with ear plugs AND comes with its own storage bag. It’s also adjustable so it’ll fit no matter how giant or tiny your head is.

One of the highlights of the weekend was making a Filipino dinner for my friends and that included this easy throwback for dessert:


Yum… lychees! Again, this super simple fruit salad consists of canned lychees, a can of fruit cocktail and almond jello. You can add a can of lychee juice if you want it to be more soupy, or ice cubes to keep it cold. Such good stuff! You should be able to find all the ingredients at any Asian grocery store. If you’re in the Charleston area, we picked up our stuff at the H&L Asian Supermarket. BTW–Jen froze, blended and used it to make a refreshing cocktail after I had already gone home. Sounds freaking delicious!

That’s all for now. I hope everyone is having a wonderful summer!


Coconut Oil: Product Review

A vegan lifestyle isn’t just about what you eat, it’s also about the products that you wear or use. When it comes to body and beauty products like lotions, makeup, soap and even deodorant, serious vegans should be mindful about the ingredients along with whether or not the product was tested on animals.


I recently had the opportunity to review Fractionated Coconut Oil by goPURE Naturals. This product is 100% pure coconut oil and is for topical use only — so it’s not meant to be used in the kitchen. The process of fractioning the oil makes it extremely stable, so it has an indefinite shelf life and remains in liquid form. Here’s a comparison between goPURE and cold pressed coconut oil:

coconut oil

Coconut oil isn’t new to me at all. My family uses it a lot as a moisturizer or for massaging. I remember having to wait for the oil to melt before using it. I love that I don’t have to do that with the fractionated version. I’m able to use it right away – and I did just that by rubbing the oil on my hands. I am very happy to report that the oil absorbs quickly, is non-greasy and is totally aroma-free. It definitely left my hands feeling softer.

I also tried using the coconut oil as a shaving oil. While it can be easy to make a bit of a mess of it in the shower, it worked well and didn’t clump up on my razor or in the drain, which is a huge plus for me!

There are lots of other topical uses for coconut oil! Just check out Pinterest for ideas. I for one am thinking about trying it on my hair or as an ingredient to make homemade lotions or creams. The fact that it is unscented makes it a great partner with your favorite fragrance.

Do you use coconut oil for non-cooking purposes? Let me know how in the comments!

Goodness Graze-ness

It’s 4pm as I type this and I just snuck a cookie into my mouth. A delicious, dark chocolate-covered cookie. Aren’t snacks the greatest?! I love snacks. They can be sweet or savory, crispy or gooey, eaten with a spoon or your fingers.


Now you can call me the laziest person ever, but I’m a snack subscriber. Literally. A friend gave me a hard time about this (HI, SARAH!), but I have to say that I have been loving my experience with graze, which is a service that sends snacks right to your mailbox weekly, every other week, or monthly.

Calm down – this isn’t a sponsored post. I just like graze that much and it would be unfair for me to talk about snacks without mentioning them! And if you’re curious, then click on any of the graze links in this post to get your 1st and 5th box free. No commitment required at all so you can cancel after you get your 1st box.

I love graze because I get four different snacks in every box, each is the perfect portion, and you can specify dietary restrictions, including vegan (which I haven’t opted into just yet… let’s be real… but I do declare myself a vegetarian). I have found that it’s different from other snack subscription services because each snack is the perfect portion for one sitting and they travel well – which is a huge plus for me since I’m often jetting off somewhere and pack snacks as if I will end up on a deserted island with zero food.


Here’s my latest box. Three out of the four snacks are 100% vegan. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but the package itself is smaller than a sheet of paper (approx 6 1/2 x 9 inches) and about one inch thick. It fits right into most mailboxes or PO boxes and can easily be mistaken for non-food.

This box’s snacks were:

  • Smoky chipotle dip with rosemary breadsticks – interesting
  • Berries and cream gelato – yum! but not vegan
  • Lightly salted popcorn – who doesn’t love popcorn?
  • Salt & vinegar nut selection – perfect right before that time of the month, ya hear me, ladies?

So, okay. Popcorn and nuts are things I can easily buy and that in the long run cost me less than getting this box. But I’m the type of person who has no self control when it comes to delicious snacks, so I need the measured-out portions. I can also be very fickle so I end up with half a bag of uneaten nuts that I end up throwing away. I also can’t say enough about the variety. This is my 4th or 5th box and I haven’t had any duplicate snacks. Things like the dippers and fruity mixes are always really fresh and not necessarily easy to get in your local grocery store. I love graze for these reasons.

I did recently switch my subscription from every other week to monthly. I have found myself doing a better job of buying “fresh” snacks like hummus and raw fruits and veggies and not-so-healthy-but-yummy cookies so monthly seems more reasonable. It’s great to have the option to change the timing. You can also choose 8-snack variety boxes or opt to get only savory or only sweet. Top it all off with being able to rate your snacks and graze is a great user-friendly service!

Other things worth mentioning:

  • nutrition facts and full ingredient list is included with every box
  • a fun little tip sheet is also included
  • the web site itself is easy to use and mobile-friendly, but I wish they had an app. Get on that, graze!



Let’s “vegan” again

Hi. My name is Melissa. I am a chicken wing-aholic. And I’m not talking about vegan “chicken” wings. I’m talking CHICKEN WINGS.


We’re talking full-on Cookie Monster-style eating of chicken wings. I’m not proud of it.

The holidays have come and gone since I last posted and I have to confess that I have gone down a dark path leading back to an onmivore lifestyle. I can offer perfectly somewhat rational explanations for it, but the gist is this: I was hungry and there was a tray of Korean fried chicken wings in front of me. I went for it and didn’t barf or blow up so I just kept right on eating the chicken… and the burger… and the turkey… and the beef egg roll… and the prime rib…

And boom – here I am now, about three months after that first chicken wing, feeling gross and heavy and literally five pounds heavier.

Here’s the thing: I was pretty good for I’d say about six months or so, but I have yet to figure out how to completely eliminate eggs, seafood, and cheese from my diet. And now I am faced with the horrible thought of never eating a chicken wing ever again. So I may never be 100% vegan. I won’t beat myself up about it. But I can definitely take conscious steps toward making better food choices again. Will I die if I eat a chicken wing? Only if I choke on it or someone laces it with poison. Will I die if I eat a carrot or apple? Nope… unless I choke on it or someone laces it with poison.

This month on Turning Veganese, I’ll be reminding myself and all of you awesome readers that being vegan or even just making better food choices doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. I’ll tell you about some great products and recipes I have discovered that help make healthy cooking and eating more fun and worthwhile. And I’ll be open about my real diet and share recipes that may include dairy or eggs or seafood — with explanations of why I add them and how the recipe is still great without it or by substituting something else.

In retrospect, I think I was spot-on in naming the blog “Turning Veganese” because it’s a continuous journey for me. I hope you’ll all stick around for the ride!



Purple Yam Fries

Purple Yams

Purple yams: WTF?! They are actually very commonly used in Filipino desserts. We call it ube (pronounced ooh-beh, but if you say “oob” we’ll still know what you’re talking about) and we put this stuff in cake and ice cream and a bunch of other stuff! This post on Jun-blog sums up how it’s used in Filipino cuisine and it’s worth the read!

Anyway, I’m not here today to talk about dessert. I am here to talk about an easy and slightly savory way to enjoy this fantastic freak of nature! And it truly is fantastic: In addition to being boldly colored, purple yams have important antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They’re also a great source of vitamin A and, on a smaller scale, potassium and calcium.

Purple Yam Fries

Ube (Purple Yam) Fries

1 purple yam
2-3 tsp safflower or canola oil
salt and any other spices you desire, to taste

1. Set your oven to 425 degrees.

2. Bake the yam, whole, for 45-60 minutes, until tender.

3. Let it cool.

You can eat the yams now if you want, just take off the skin (which should come off easily, or the yam should slide right out of it easily) and chow down! Or, you can move on to the next step to make the fries.

4. With skin removed, slice the potato into strips or whatever shape you desire. They might give off a weird odor: this is normal!

5. Gently coat the pieces in the oil and spices. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet, and bake again for another 15-25 minutes, until crispy. Check on them halfway through and flip over the pieces.

6. Serve hot!

I enjoyed these guys plain: the natural sweetness and starchiness of purple yams require no embellishment aside from a sprinkle of salt. If you’re into dipping stuff, I would recommend vegan mayo or vegan mayo with Sriracha for a nice kick.

This was the first time I really cooked and enjoyed purple yams as a non-dessert. They’re so much fun. I’d love to make purple mashed potatoes, purple potato chips, and of course, vegan ube desserts.

I love versatile foods!


Bosc Pears Are My Comfort Food

I had a moment recently when I felt hopeless and horrified and needed something to help me cope. No one died, it wasn’t any major, life-changing event. But I definitely needed something, I just wasn’t sure what that was yet. So I drove to the grocery store, thinking some cake would offer some temporary (if unhealthy) comfort. Then, it hit me… what I really needed was a Bosc pear! I just love these guys and that first bite immediately made me feel better. (For the record, I also bought cake. It made me feel gross.)

Bosc pear

Bosc pears are my ultimate comfort food. They are a true favorite of mine. I know this because these pears are something that I just happened to like as a little kid. It wasn’t something assigned to me because I ate it that one time and liked it. You know how it goes… you eat something and say it’s yummy and all of a sudden you’re known for liking that thing. I never sought it out, but I was always happy to eat it when we had some. They’re so sweet and juicy! And it has to be a Bosc pear. Other pears are merely weird-shaped apples to me.

Pears aren’t just delicious: they have health benefits, too! They’re a great source of antioxidants and phytonutrients, which are a good thing. They’re also a good source of carbs and dietary fiber. I prefer to eats pears in their natural state, but there are plenty of ways to enjoy them:

  • Add them to salads
  • Make tarts or pies
  • Bake or poach them
  • Add them to cocktails (yum)
  • Give them kisses because they’re so good

Bosc pear

I would love to go a Bosc pear farm (orchard?), pick pears right from the tree and eat them. Add that to my bucket list!

Easy Quinoa With Mushrooms and Spinach

Quinoa. Mushrooms. Spinach. What could go wrong? Nothing! It’s a great dish for vegans and non-vegans and it’s very easy to make, especially if you have a rice cooker.

Let me take a step back for a minute: I haven’t been the best vegan lately. I can rattle off all the usual lame excuses and legitimate reasons but it really boils down to this: I haven’t been eating well, whether I’m being a good vegan or breaking down and eating a block of cheese with a side of yogurt. I’ve also been exercising a lot more which is great, but I can definitely feel that it’s bordering on unhealthy because I’m not getting proper nutrition.

I’m trying to get back to healthy eating – meaning that I’m trying to ensure that I’m getting all the nutrients I need. This easy quinoa dish is a step in the right direction. It makes a great side dish with tofu or other protein of your choice and is totally versatile. Add some walnuts or sweet peppers or squash! Yum.

Quinoa with mushrooms and spinach

Easy Quinoa with Mushrooms and Spinach

(adapted from Damn Delicious)

1 cup quinoa
1 lb mushrooms, sliced (I used baby bellas)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 cup spinach
1 tbsp canola or safflower oil
salt and pepper to taste

1. Rinse and cook quinoa according to the package instructions. I use a rice cooker and it is perfection!

2. Heat up the oil in a pan. Toss in the garlic. After it starts getting fragrant, toss in the mushrooms, salt and pepper, and saute until cooked, about 3-4 minutes.

3. Lower the heat or remove from heat altogether and toss in the spinach – it all depends on whether you want the spinach fully cooked or just wilted.

4. Stir in the quinoa until well combined.

I ate this by itself, but I encouraged the fam to eat it as a side dish with fish or chicken. Feel free to throw in other spices or veggies! I myself sprinkled some crushed red pepper on this and that added a great kick.

As far as nutrition goes, I felt really good about eating this since:

  • Quinoa is a good protein source AND has a perfect balance of important amino acids AND also has a good amount of fiber and iron
  • Baby bellas are a great source of selenium, niacin, copper and pantothenic acid – all good things
  • Spinach is just awesome. Do I really have to explain why? There’s a reason that Popeye wolfed down a can of it to power up!


Easy Vegan Fudge from Decadent Gluten-Free Vegan Baking

Fork and Beans by Cara Reed is easily one of the best vegan cooking blogs out there. Cara finally published her first book Decadent Gluten-Free Vegan Baking in August and I was lucky enough to get my hands on it! Being the lazy vegan that I am, I gravitated toward her recipe for Easy Vegan Fudge. I mean, it’s got “easy” in the title and requires no actual baking!

I made these treats for a fall potluck hosted by What’s Cookin, Chicago and Bears in the Kitchen. If you’re in the Chicago area, check out these guys for upcoming food blogger events! Definitely check them out if you like food (and you know you do).

Vegan Fudge

Click here to see the recipe and much more vegan goodness on Fork and Beans


  • 2 c non-dairy chocolate chips – I used dark chocolate morsels (about 1 1/2 packages) by Enjoy Life
  • 1/2 c. coconut cream – see below for my notes on coconut cream!!
  • 1/2 c. non dairy milk – I used almond milk
  • Dash salt – um, I totally forgot to add salt and nothing imploded
  • 1 c. chopped nuts, optional (or more!) – I skipped the nuts for the batch above, but I love me some walnuts!
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract


  1. In heavy saucepan, over low heat, melt chips with coconut cream, non-dairy milk, and salt.  Remove from heat.
  2. Stir in nuts if desired and vanilla.  Spread evenly into wax paper lined small square pan — or stick them into cute little cupcake thingys like I did.  Place more chopped nuts on top if desired.
  3. Chill 2 hours or until firm.
  4. Turn fudge onto cutting board, peel off paper and cut into squares.  Store covered in fridge.

Here’s what you need to know about coconut cream: They’re not all made the same or equally. This recipe requires something that actually says “coconut cream” on the label. Cream of coconut won’t cut it! But it will result in a heavy chocolate pudding-like treat. Coconut cream from Trader Joe’s is what works!!

Chocolate: I really like products from Enjoy Life because they are exactly like real chocolate chips and are not only dairy-free but also soy-free. They aren’t messing around with their dark chocolate, either! So grab their “milk” chocolate chips if you like something sweeter.

Don’t forget to visit Fork and Beans and pick up Cara’s book if you like what you see!