I’m back, with an epic post that has something for everyone. If you’re tired of answering “where do you get your protein?” you can officially defer to this post. If you’ve ever wondered where a vegan gets her protein, you’re in the right place. And if you simply want an easy recipe to start (or end!) your day with all the macro and micronutrients you need, this is also a good place to start.
This week I decided to switch my old cereal breakfast for a bigger bulk, higher protein (more specifically, higher lysine-keep reading!) higher fiber, higher phytochemical breakfast that would sustain me through the day.
For the longest time I had the same breakfast, it went something like this- in a big bowl: an apple or some kind of fruit chopped, Ezekiel cereal & low fat granola mix, flax seeds, about 1/4 cup hazelnuts, some raisins and goji berries in almond milk. Pretty healthful, but not really satisfying for very long. Often I’d be hungry directly after eating that cereal, but when I ordered a hearty tofu scramble at weekend brunch, I’d barely be hungry for dinner.
The original breakfast, still a good one but lacking in staying power.
Part of the inspiration for the new breakfast was last Sunday’s brunch. I finally made it over to Champs, a killer vegan diner in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. My fabulous brunch cohort Michelle had the obvious advantage as she’s eating for two! I was sort of jealous of her state on this particular trip, as it’s impossible to make a decision off their profuse menu.
Inside Champs. Excuse low-qual iPhone photos in this section!
Champs is a stellar establishment- you can get anything from a very imaginative tofu scramble to pancakes to biscuits and gravy to a pancake SANDWICH! They also have veggie burgers and inventive salads – definitely the most amazing kale salad dressing I’ve ever had. And that means a lot coming from someone who doesn’t love a kale salad. The atmosphere is also pretty groovy, and there’s a pretty neat scene too. For all this there’s obviously a wait on the weekend, but nothing is more worthwhile. Don’t forget the fact that they have unbelievable desserts. Which you’ll love if you have a modicum of room after brunch. (Probably not gonna happen.)
The lovely Michelle and I prepare for a brunch throwdown!
After much deliberation, I decided on the tofu scramble with potatoes, mushrooms, onions, and veg sausage. (you can choose your own scrambling ingredients- more tough decisions!) Now there are tofu scrambles and there are tofu scrambles. It doesn’t take much to put some tofu into a pan, but the spices and techniques involved play a major role in its success. In fact, the day before I ate at Blossom, who for $15 gives you about 2 tablespoons of mediocre, uninspired tofu scramble. I literally left hungry, and it wasn’t anywhere near as delectible as Champs. (for brunch at Blossom, order the breakfast burrito. You can’t lose there.)
A perfect tofu scramble and accompaniments
Champs selfie as Michelle orders a takeout cupcake for her man.
Getting back to this breakfast transition. My default upon awakening, as is the default for many, is to go straight for the sweeter, higher carbohydrate foods. But that’s just because my body is craving glucose, the building block of all body operations. Eating something with more bulk and protein is a good technique for longer sustained energy. Particularly if you’re heading out for some exercise- I need that energy for my long swims these days.
This tofu scramble recipe, served with smoky black beans and greens, (if you like, in a whole-grain tortilla like Ezekiel) gives you a heap of protein, and it’s very high in the amino acid Lysine. Lysine is an essential amino acid, one we must get from foods. It’s one of the more important building blocks our body uses to synthesize protein, and it’s also incredibly important for maintaining bone health. While it’s easy to get enough Lysine on a vegan diet, it does take a modicum of planning. However, when we get enough lysine, chances are we’re going to be set for protein for the day. So you cut two carrots with one knife.
Foods that are high in lysine include tofu, tempeh, soy meats, lentils, and seitan, next in line are other legumes. Decent sources include quinoa, pistachios, and pumpkin seeds. If you’re interested in learning your exact Lysine needs, consult the handy dandy table over at Jack Norris’ phenomenal site.
Energy for a busy day!
I decided to geek out and do a nutritional analysis of my original breakfast compared to my proposed long-term energy breakfast. And then for good measure, I threw in the average Standard American Diet (S.A.D) breakfast with a caloric equivalent to the tofu scramble breakfast. The SAD breakfast: 2 hard boiled eggs, 3 strips of bacon, 2 slices of white toast and 1 Tbsp of butter.
While my cereal had ample protein, calcium, fiber and a plenty of other micronutrients, calorie for calorie, it doesn’t supply much by way of antioxidants, lysine and a number of vitamins. On the other hand, weighing in at 150 calories less than my cereal, the scramble breakfast provides a whopping 86% of my protein requirements for the day, (take that protein skeptics!) a good deal of which is lysine. Close to all of the protein I need, half of the iron and more than half the calcium, plus vitamin and phytochemical levels that are off the charts. All at around 25% of the recommended calories for the day. That’s nutrient density people!
So let’s take a look at the SAD breakfast. Sure, there’s lots of protein, (but ahem, far less than the plant-powered breakfast!) but it’s animal protein which has been linked to a bevy of diseases, including cancer. Add that to the fact that the SAD breakfast is devoid of phytonutrients that protect us from cancer – (they are only found in plant foods) so we have cancer risk with no cancer protection. You also get some trans-fat, and even the most conservative government- sponsored USDA people can’t advise a tolerable upper limit for that substance. Talk about a recipe for disaster.
Along with that animal protein comes 68% of the day’s saturated fat (compared to 5% on the plant-based breakfast, but it’s apples and oranges since plant-based fat does not pose the same risk of animal fat) and 481 mg of cholesterol. Plant based foods have no cholesterol. I could compare so many other aspects of these two meals, but it would be more of a paper than a post. You can view the breakdown yourself below. Scroll below the comparison to get to the recipes.
So let’s cook! As always, I recommend using all organic ingredients. Particularly the onions, peppers and tomatoes- some of the highest in pesticides. And always organic soy so it’s non-gmo.
Tofu Scramble adapted from The Vegan Table by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau
Makes 4-6 portions
1 pkg Nasoya light firm tofu (or organic tofu of your choice)
1 Field Roast apple sage sausage, chopped into 1/4 inch rounds
1 tsp olive oil
1 pkg crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 tbsp Nutritional Yeast (or more for a cheesier taste)
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp Tumeric, for the yellow color. (I didn’t use it here, but for the photos sake I should have!)
salt & pepper
optional(well, mandatory really 🙂 Sriacha or other hot sauce for serving, extra Nutritional Yeast.
Before cooking, drain the tofu: Place tofu on a plate between two folded paper towels, then cover with a second plate. You can also place any sort of weight on top of the plate. Allow tofu to drain while you prepare the vegetables.
Heat oil in a sauté pan. Add onion and garlic and sauté for two minutes. Add mushrooms and pepper and sauté until the peppers and mushrooms are tender.
Meanwhile, using your hands, crumble the tofu in a bowl to create the consistency of course breadcrumbs.
Add to pan and stir to combine. And sausage, spices and nutritional yeast and sauté for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Cook (uncovered) until tofu and sausage are heated through.
For crispier sausage, sauté (can be dry sauté) in a frying pan and incorporate at just before serving.
Easy Smoky Beans *plus* how-to soak and cook dry beans.
Canned beans can also be used here, just buy them organic and in BPA-free cans.
1 cup dry black beans
2 chopped tomatoes (or about 10 oz canned)
1/4 tsp liquid smoke
dash of sea salt
optional: 1-2 Tbsp Nutritional Yeast sriacha or other Hot sauce
Note: These beans also taste great with some onion or garlic, but because they’re also in the scramble I don’t include aromatics here. If you serve them with something else, try either or both during the second half hour of cooking.
Prep the beans: Soak overnight. Discard water. Very important, unless you want to offend yourself and those around you with horrible gas!
Place soaked beans and fresh water in a pot. For every cup of soaked beans add 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer 10 minutes. Cover the beans and simmer on low for about an hour, or until beans are soft.
Add chopped tomato, liquid smoke and a pinch of salt. Cook until tomatoes are soft. If desired, add 1-2 Tbsps nutritional yeast for added depth. And hot sauce, always hot sauce!
Serve it all up with a heap of steamed kale or collard greens, and if you like, roll it into an Ezekiel tortilla. It’s really a perfect breakfast. Enjoy! Full breakfast nutrition info below. And if you’re here in New York City, visit Champs, you won’t be sorry.
The nutrition info below is for 1/5 of the scramble recipe, 1/3 cup black beans, 1 mini Ezekiel tortllla, and 2 cups Kale.