Raw Vegan Japchae

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Japchae, jabchae, chapchae, chop chae, or chap chae is a Korean dish traditionally made with sweet potato noodles aka dangmyeon (Korean: 당면) stir-fried in sesame oil with very thinly sliced aka julienne-cut carrots mixed with fresh spinach and thinly sliced shitake mushrooms and onion…topped with toasted sesame seeds and garnished with hot chili flakes. Served hot or cold depending on the season, japchae is vitamin-rich and considered medicine in a number of cultures within Korean society. The flavor profile of japchae is important, so I adapted it to the best of my ability to suit the diet(s) of raw foodists and the paleo inclined.

Developing this recipe proved less challenging than I’d expected, since shirataki noodles easily replicate sweet potato noodles* or vermicelli** (bean thread) in all recipes. The noodles I used for this particular recipe do not contain certain additives present in commercial brands of shiratakI. The type I buy fresh costs approx. $1.25 USD per 8oz package fresh–so for this recipe, if you choose to use fresh as opposed to dry shirataki you will spend $5 on noodles if cooking for 4-6 people. Obviously, all ingredients are vegan.

*The nearly carb-free noodles used in this recipe are made from Konjac yams as opposed to conventional yams or sweet potatoes–and often at Korean or Vietnamese grocery stores the labels do not provide translations in other languages. For this reason, I have provided the following images to assist you:

clear-shirataki-noodle clear-shirataki-noodle1 konjac-yam

**Also called bean thread noodle, vermicelli is as high in calories as sweet potato noodle but looks the same and tastes the same. For those with an aversion [regarding flavor] or lack of availability [to purchase] shirataki noodles I recommend kelp noodles as an alternative.

Now that we’ve established* that…let’s get on with it, shall we?

*Ask in the comments or shoot me an email if certain things don’t make sense.

Raw Vegan Japchae Recipe

Makes 4-6 servings


8 ounces dried shirataki noodles or
8oz pkg fresh or reconstituted shirataki noodles
4 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup tamari or soy sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 Tbsp chili garlic sauce
1/4 tsp stevia powdered extract or 6 to 9 drops liquid extract
4oz fresh or reconstituted shiitake mushroom, stems trimmed, thinly sliced
1/3 cup sweet onion, thinly sliced
1/3 cup fresh raw carrot, very thinly sliced (julienne-cut)
1/2 cup baby spinach or chopped spinach leaves
1/2 cup scallion or green onion, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp toasted sesame seeds

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Step 1: reconstitute and/or marinade:

*To reconstitute dried shiitake mushrooms: Cover 1 ounce dried whole shiitake mushrooms with warm tap water. Let sit until softened, at least 6 hours or overnight.

**To reconstitute dried shirataki noodles: See above.

In a small bowl, combine the tamari/soy sauce with the stevia powder or extract, lemon juice, and chili garlic-sauce. Consult the stevia conversion chart. If using powder or granules, stir until dissolved.

Soak the sliced onion, carrot, scallion, fresh shiitake mushrooms, and baby spinach with the tamari/stevia blend for 2 hours or overnight. If using reconstituted shiitake mushrooms, you can do this step overnight at the same time. Just add the mushrooms to the mix after they hydrate.

Step 2: Drain shirataki noodles and return to bowl. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil. Drain excess stevia/soy sauce marinade from vegetables and toss with noodles. Top with scallions and toasted sesame seeds.

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Vegetable Broth + Paleo Vegan Pho

National Blog Posting Month, Nov 10 prompt: What knowledge do you have that others don’t? Write a “how to” post about anything you’ve got skills for, small or large.vegetable-broth-101Sure, you can buy it by the carton. It’s less of a hassle than running around the produce department, gathering carrots, parsnips, celery, etc., only to return home and realize you’ve forgotten the onions or another key ingredient. We’ve all been there with some recipe or another. However, store-bought vegetable broth contains too much salt in my opinion–while the low-sodium kind lacks flavor. With a bit of planning and mere minutes of prep time, it’s easy to make your own. I guarantee you’ll notice an improvement in the flavor and body of soups and stews. More elaborate recipes might have ingredients you don’t recognize (which won’t be the case at the end of this tutorial. More on that later). We’ll start with a basic, unintimidating recipe that utilizes everyday ingredients for use as a prototype for more complex broths and stocks in the future. When I’m short on time, this is my go-to recipe:

Basic Vegetable Broth

Makes approximately 2 quarts
Tip: Don’t peel anything or discard the scraps. Things like the tops of carrots or celery, stems, etc. contribute to the flavor and nutritional value of the broth/stock. Obviously, discard any spoiled or rotten parts.


1 gallon water
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup onion, minced
1 cup carrot, chopped
2 cups tomato, quartered
1 medium bell pepper, cut
2 cups parsnip, chopped
6 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
2 whole peppercorn
1 tsp red pepper flakes (like the kind they give you at pizza restaurants)
1 bunch cilantro, chopped

Add all ingredients to a large stock pot. Bring to a full boil and reduce to simmer. Lower the heat to medium-low to continue cooking (covered, to maintain the flavors and vitamin content of the vegetables) until the liquid is reduced by half.

Pour broth through a filter/sieve/colander, with a bowl or pot underneath it that is larger than the circumference of the filter (to avoid wasting any broth).

Asian-Style Vegetable Broth

Using the basic vegetable broth recipe as a base, you only need a few more ingredients to emulate the flavors of a Chinese-style noodle soup or traditional Vietnamese pho. You can experiment with combinations of different ingredients, so the following are merely suggestions or guidelines. I recommend using ginger in all combinations if you can. As with any broth recipe–you don’t need to peel the root since you’ll remove it before serving/adding the noodles and toppings.


1 x 4″ piece ginger root, unpeeled, sliced
5 star anise pods
1 cinnamon stick
4 cups vegetable stock (see above recipe)
2 cups water


Simmer 20 minutes on medium heat

Paleo Vegan Pho



6 cups Asian-style vegetable broth (see above recipe)
2 x 8oz package fettuccine-style shirataki noodles.


4 scallions or green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
3 jalapeno peppers, thinly sliced. Remove the seeds for less heat.
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
4 Tbsp vegetarian “fish sauce”, found in Asian markets, natural food stores, some conventional grocery stores, and online. *However, many of these brands contain preservatives and food coloring/caramel color, and even the natural brands contain sugar. Vegetarian “fish sauce” is very easy to make with all natural ingredients & no added sugar:

Combine 1/4 Tbsp pure powdered stevia extract OR 12-18 drops Stevia Liquid Concentrate (for more info, see the Stevia Conversion Chart) with 1 cup warm water + 1/4 cup canned pineapple juice (if you use fresh, I’m totally impressed) and 1 cup 2 Tbsp low-sodium tamari or 1 Tbsp regular tamari. You can also use conventional soy sauce like Kikoman brand if you’re not worried about the additives. When I’m traveling or living abroad it tends to be the only thing available, anyway :)

fresh cilantro, shredded
fresh Thai basil leaves
lime wedges
chili garlic sauce


In a large pot over medium heat, add the ginger, star anise and cinnamon sticks to 4 cups vegetable broth (diluted with 2 cups water) and simmer about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare shirataki noodles according to package instructions.

Reduce heat to low and remove the ginger, star anise, and cinnamon. Stir in 4 Tbsp vegetarian fish sauce and let simmer on low for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Drain shirataki noodles and divide among 4 bowls. Top with broth, scallions, cilantro, basil leaves, jalapeno, red onion, and bean sprouts. Serve with chili garlic sauce and lime wedges.

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DIY Spa Day facial, part 2

…continued from yesterday’s post
lavender toner

3. Toner

Commonly used before and after a facial, toner refreshes the skin and removes impurities.

Witch Hazel

Perhaps the quintessential toner and natural alternative to rubbing alcohol, witch hazel is an astringent extracted from the leaves and bark of the plant Hamamelis virginiana. Reportedly effective as a treatment for bruises, insect bites, sores, and for cleaning wounds, it was used medicinally by American Indians. Today it is used as a natural remedy for eczema, acne, oily skin, dry skin, redness, and other skin conditions. The active ingredient in many commercial healthcare products, witch hazel is perfectly effective on its own without all the fillers and parabens.

I’ve used many different brands, including the premium brand, Thayer’s (but mostly for the aesthetic appeal). Thayer’s manufactures several types of witch hazel blends including lemon, cucumber, rose petal, aloe, and peach. These are more expensive; a 12-oz bottle is $10 on the website and ranges between $6 and $9 in stores and online. Despite the novelty of Thayer’s “Since 1847” label, I’ll let you in on a secret. Plain witch hazel works just as well, at a fraction of the cost. You can buy it at most stores with a drugstore section. I once bought a 16oz bottle at Walmart for under $4. Other big-box stores market it under their own brand name. However I recently discovered a brand with a mid 19th century style label similar to Thayer’s called Humphrey’s priced at $8 per 16oz bottle.

Fancy labels aside, I recommend buying a bottle of generic witch hazel to use as a base for making your own rosewater, aloe, lavender, or lemon-infused toner. You might want to try one or all variations, depending on your skin type. To apply, use cotton cosmetic pads without fragrances or other ingredients. Saturate the cotton pad with toner and sweep across the face and neck, avoiding the eyes. To store the toner(s), any small bottle will work. At natural foods stores in the beauty and body care department you can typically find small glass bottles and spray bottles. I recommend going that route if you can. Otherwise, beauty supply stores sell small plastic bottles of various sizes–and most drugstores have a travel section stocked with 2oz plastic bottles.

Lavender Toner

Recommended for all skin types
Add 20 drops lavender essential oil to 4 oz of water. Lavender works well for dry, normal, oily, and combination skin. Its main benefit is its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties. In the past three years, lavender has been the subject of clinical trials for its potential use as a treatment for anxiety and depression. The FDA has not approved it as a treatment for either condition. However, reports from client surveys and subsequent research have only determined lavender to relieve stress, uplift the mood, and result in an overall sense of well being.

Rosewater Toner

Recommended for normal to dry skin
Combine 1 part rose water with one part water in a glass or plastic bottle. Shake gently. Tip: for daily use, Dilute 1 part rosewater with 3 parts water and pour into a spray bottle. Spray on your face and neck whenever you need a boost. Rose petal extract is used in aromatherapy for its rejuvenating and uplifting properties. Some consider it the best of both worlds; it calms anxiety and relieves tension while increasing mental alertness and uplifting the mood. According to traditional medicinal practices of other cultures, essence of rose petal is an antiseptic, astringent, antibacterial, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, and antidepressant. You can buy rosewater at natural foods stores, most drugstores, and online for roughly $1 per ounce.

Lemon Toner

Recommended for oily and acne-prone skin
Juice 1 lemon or lime and mix with 1 tbsp witch hazel. The natural astringency of the citrus reduces the amount of witch hazel needed. If your skin is not oily or prone to breakouts, use this occasionally but not daily. If your skin is prone to dryness, avoid toners containing citrus.

Aloe Toner

Recommended for sensitive skin, suitable for all skin types
Mix 1 part pure aloe vera juice* with one part witch hazel. Bottle for use as a toner and/or a spritzer (no need to dilute, as this is most likely the gentlest toner invented). *Note: NOT the recently-popularized aloe vera beverages containing sugar. You can either juice your own from an aloe plant, or buy it. I’ve tried a few different brands but Lily of the Valley seems to be the most commonly sold in stores. It feels redundant to elaborate on the healing properties of aloe since it is nature’s gift to people who don’t wear sunblock (guilty) or for those who do but still burn like lobsters no matter how high the SPF.

4. Facial Steam

Steams are effective on their own or as part of a complete facial treatment. Aromatic steams sooth and hydrate the skin while gently removing impurities from the pores. At a spa, essential oils such as lavender, eucalyptus, and lemon are common. Aromatherapists tend to administer specific essential oils on a per-case basis. I am not qualified speak authoritatively regarding what type of essential oil to use for those that have inquiries or concerns about anything besides basic skincare. That said, as a teenager I worked with an aromatherapist and acupuncturist to deal with severe acne that resulted in poor self esteem. It was expensive but remarkably effective. After three years of salicylic acid, benzyl peroxide, clindamycin, tetracycline, doxycycline, topical retinoids, and hours spent popping zits while staring into a magnifying mirror–I tried the holistic route and it actually worked. In fact, sometime during high school the embarrassing breakouts ceased and nearly a decade later I haven’t experienced more than the occasional blemish. Part of the treatment involved steams with tea tree oil which I administered myself after I stopped seeing the specialist. This was never painful, and resulted in the side benefit of clear nasal passages and avoiding the flu. However, in some instances tea tree is reported to be abrasive and not effective as a treatment for acne. Despite its effectiveness in my case, the following is not advice but shared information. Instructions for administering the steam follow the descriptions of each essential oil and its properties.

Tea Tree

Reportedly effective as a treatment for acne. For sensitive skin that is acne-prone, eucalyptus oil is a milder alternative. In the past 5 years, tea tree became established as the forerunner for natural acne treatments. Example: Desert Essence. Recent studies have also brought about evidence of its efficacy.


According to Jean Valnet MD, it takes 3,000 lemons to produce one kilo of oil. This makes it more expensive than other essential oils. Instead, use lemons or limes (which I prefer, and tend to also be cheaper). In place of the essential oil, add 2 lemons or limes, sliced.

aromatherapeutic Steam – Method

Boil 3 cups water. Remove from heat. Add the ingredient from your chosen recipe. Steep for 10 minutes or until the temperature of the water has reduced to 140 degrees. Transfer water to a large bowl. Carefully, position your face over the bowl with a towel draped over your head. You can stay there for 5-15 minutes. Relax and enjoy!

To be continued…Next post: Facial masks

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DIY Spa Day

Do you need time to relax and unwind from the stresses of everyday life? Does your hair feel lifeless or brittle, no matter how many brands of conditioner you try? Does your skin feel too dry? Too oily? Is stress causing breakouts or inflammation? Do your nails feel brittle?  Tired of giving yourself a manicure only to watch the polish chip off the day after? Are you fed up with the split ends in your hair? Breakage? Damage from flat irons or curlers? Recovering from a perm or straightening treatment? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might benefit from a spa day.

Unfortunately, that will likely cost upwards of $200. Not to mention the $50+ in products you’ll be encouraged to buy. I’ve nothing against going to the spa in theory. I’ve done it. I once spent $150 for a semi-permanent hair straightening treatment (which I don’t recommend, by the way. At the end of this post I’ll explain why). In a nutshell, going to the spa or salon is a) expensive, b) potentially damaging to your hair, skin, and nails, and c) even when natural and organic, many contain at least 10 ingredients you can’t pronounce and often contain unidentified fragrances and parabens (chemical preservatives used by the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries). Just because the label says 100% vegan (not tested on animals) doesn’t mean it’s safe.

*Disclaimer: the point of this post is NOT to suggest that stylists, estheticians, or other spa and salon industry professionals aren’t skilled, or that going to the salon or spa is inherently bad.

On that note, let’s begin.

1. Spa Water

DIY Spa Day waterOne of the novelties of going to the spa is the cucumber & lemon-infused “spa water”.


1 standard cucumber or 3 lemon cucumbers
1 lemon or 2 limes
1 apple or orange, optional

*Note: You can also use fresh mint leaves, grapefruit, strawberries, ginger root, or even lemongrass for variety. Strawberry and mint make a good combination. If using ginger root you can omit the lemon in the original recipe.


Peel and slice the cucumber. Slice the lemon or lime. Add to a large pitcher filled with water. Chill in the fridge for at least two hours OR ice the water first if you’re short on time, strain out the ice, and then add the cucumber+lemon and other ingredients if applicable. Keep it chilled throughout your spa treatment. You can refill the pitcher several times throughout the day; discard after 24 hours.

2. Exfoliate

Many commercial scrubs contain fillers, parabens, and artificial dyes. Even those of the natural variety often contain ingredients that I’d rather not exfoliate my face with. Certainly, paraben-free and dye-free facial scrubs exist…on the shelves at Sephora and in boutique spas. I don’t want to deter anyone from purchasing a 4oz bottle of ground adzuki beans for $34, but I will give you the recipe to make it yourself for $2 in under 10 minutes.

First, let’s talk about the adzuki bean. It pains me to read about or see adverts for everyday items posing as ‘new breakthrough technologies in face cream!’ when it’s really just a handful of new chemical compounds combined with shea butter, with the upper body of Gwyneth Paltrow photoshopped onto a backdrop of some glamorous cityscape. Edit: I respect Gwyneth Paltrow and admire her career. This isn’t about her or any other actor. It’s about the illusions mirrors we gaze into when we look at the ads or stare at the model on the box of haircolor before we open it, put on the gloves, and proceed to subject ourselves to pungent chemicals masked with artificial floral fragrances. I don’t mean to refer to body image or self esteem, because that would require its own article. It’s the facade I’m concerned with. Take for example, adzuki beans. They sound exotic, right? Like something you would need to cross the seven seas (or embark on a very lengthy plane ride) to obtain. The cosmetics industry (even the natural sector) cashes in on this. In the midst of writing this article I took a break and walked to the market down the street to buy black beans and cabbage. Right next to the bags of black beans, pinto beans, white beans, and habas/fava beans, I saw red beans. They were not kidney beans. The store clerk described them as “small red beans”. Intrigued, I bought them instead of the black beans. I haven’t cooked them yet (they are soaking as I write this) but judging from their appearance they are adzuki beans. After a few minutes on pubmed and wikipedia, it is confirmed. Adzuki beans are small red beans. They are simply two different names for Vigna angularis. In the midst of finding this out I came across a pop-up ad for small red beans at Lucky (grocery store chain in California) on sale for $1.79 per pound. The point is, $34 4oz bottles of adzuki bean scrub are flying off the shelves at upscale retail stores labeled with alluring copy and eye-catching graphic design, while the prototype for the same thing is sold at generic grocery stores for under $2.

To DIY you will need a coffee grinder, a food processor, or high powered blender. I have tried this with a NutriBullet, a Cuisinart blender, an 1980s Oster coffee grinder from a garage sale, and a cheap Hamilton Beach coffee grinder I bought 3 years ago at Target. The Oster coffee grinder worked best. I don’t recommend buying one new, since the 1980s model is stronger and more efficient. I’ve seen them on Ebay for $10.

Adzuki Bean Exfoliant

Suitable for all skin types, especially acne-prone skin.
Ingredients: adzuki beans aka small red beans. Start with 2 Tbsp dry beans, to test out your coffee grinder/blender/food processor. Ideally, the ground beans should resemble the consistency of coffee grounds for a french press (a course grind). Once the desired consistency is achieved, use immediately or store for later use. To apply, mix a heaping tablespoon of ground beans with 1 Tbsp water. This recipe is great to exfoliate the body as well.

…To be continued. Next post: Facial Toner

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