October Unprocessed Made Easy: It’s the Little Things

How’s your October Unprocessed challenge going? This is my second year going clean for the month of October, and I see why this is really a lifestyle change instead of a simple diet or weight loss challenge. The more you employ small changes into your daily routines and everyday meals, the more an Unprocessed challenge won’t feel like such a challenge.

Obviously, living unprocessed is harder than it looks. It’s a great month-long challenge simply because it’s kind of hard to stick with. But making really small changes every day can help you eat clean the other 11 months of the year.

Here are a few small things that have worked for me, year-round:

Homemade condiments

Often, condiments and sauces are some of the first things people ask me about when I tell them about the Unprocessed challenge, but those sauces are some of the easiest things to make from scratch — and to leave out all of the mono-whatdjacallit sodium-hydrox-o-OMG. Seriously, read the label of the bottles in your fridge sometime. Most of them start with simple ingredients (salt, vinegar, tomatoes, etc.), and them all of a sudden, it goes off the rails with additives and stuff you can’t pronounce.

The solution is simple: Give up the labels and make your own. It’s very simple to make fresher, tastier, healthier versions of most of the condiments in your refrigerator right now. For the cost of a bottle of BBQ sauce laden with corn syrup, or mass-produced sriracha, or preservative- and dye-packed ketchup, or fake mustard, you can make a far better, healthier, tastier, cleaner version at home.

Here are my favorite condiments to make at home:


– salad dressings (usually I use a few tablespoons of homemade mustard or homemade jam, and put it in a mason jar with a bit of vinegar, some fresh herbs and olive oil, then shake it up)

sriracha (also kraut and kimchi)

curry ketchup and roasted corn relish

– roasted habanero salsa (and also a really awesome tomatillo salsa, but it’s not my recipe)

This week, I finished up a batch of homemade sriracha by draining the liquid from my fermented peppers …

fermented red peppers for hot sauce

then as I pureed the peppers for the sriracha,

homemade sriracha

… I used the liquid to soak a bunch of mustard seeds for a spicy homemade mustard.

spicy mustard


And have you ever tried store-bought sauerkraut? If you have, you probably hate kraut now, just on principle. Grab a jar or a nice chemical-free crock, and try making your own probiotics for a great project and a delicious and healthy nosh.


Replace pasta with vegetables.

Lots of paleo recipe sites like this one have great ideas for replacing pasta with “zoodles,” or zucchini noodles. They’re easy to make and lots of fun, particularly if you have kids and need help getting them to eat properly.

Personally, I am a huge fan of spaghetti squash. It’s very simple to prepare; you can steam it my stabbing it with a few holes and either microwaving it (for about 2-3 minutes per pound) or slow-cooking it (4-6 hours on low setting, covered halfway with water), then using a fork to pull off all of the stringy bits, then mix it with your favorite sauce or pasta topping.

spaghetti squash

You can also cut it in half when it’s raw (you’ll need a wicked sharp knife) and roast it for the same effect. No matter how you prepare it, a medium-sized squash will give up enough stringy strands for at least 3-4 servings.

Replace meat with vegetables, or with better (aka cleaner) meat

Do you Portobello?

I love to replace hamburger patties with the big, hearty mushrooms, or just grill them with a little oil-and-vinegar salad dressing and serve as a side dish or vegetarian entrée option. No one will miss the meat when you grill up these babies. Eating Rules also has a great Portobello recipe this month.

cookout 019
Homemade bacon is beyond compare.

It’s stupid easy to make, and the homemade version is far better than any store-bought, nitrate-packed, pink slime. I take a nicely trimmed pork belly (my local Korean grocer does it perfectly and doesn’t look at you curiously when you request pork bellies), put it in a freezer bag with 2:1 ratio of kosher salt and brown sugar, then let it sit refrigerated for 3-4 days. When the meat is tough to the touch, it’s ready.

Rinse the meat, leave it in the fridge overnight without a cover, and smoke it for 3-6 hours, or until the internal temp is 160. That’s it. It’s unprocessed. It’s nitrate-free, it’s super-easy to make, and it’s f***ing delicious.

homemade bacon
Make your own cleaner version of everyday foods

Speaking of things that are easy to make, and the homemade versions far surpass the store-bought … my yogurt make is one of the best purchases I’ve made this year. You only need a bit of yogurt starter and some good milk, and the machine does the rest. I just make plain yogurt, then add organic honey or homemade jam. Bonus if you add some of this chow-chow from Friend in Cheeses Jam Company … it’s amazing! It’s all delicious and organic, and still unprocessed.

homemade yogurtAnd don’t forget, the idea is to control the ingredients. Think about other every day meals you can make from scratch instead of purchasing processed.

Fresh is best 

I have a subscription to a local farm network, so I get a weekly delivery of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. (I use Farm Fresh to You and I love it, but there are literally thousands of services out there, depEnding on your location.)

Cooking seasonally and locally usually means you’re eating the best, and no matter what you get in your weekly delivery, a recipe for it is only a Google search away. And when in doubt … CURRY. This is my favorite recipe for pumpkin curry, but you can literally replace the vegetables with anything. I did the same recipe with cauliflower. Yum.

Lastly, don’t forget to use all of your gadgets! If you’re concerned about added fats, oils, and greases, you can’t go wrong with the clean taste of outdoor cooking and smoking. I used my outdoor smoker to pretty quickly (less than an hour) smoke a couple of pieces of salmon, plus some yams, fingerling potatoes and sliced delicata squash. A little olive oil, a few herbs, and you have a delicious unprocessed dinner in no time.




October Unprocessed: Day 2 – Tastes like Fall

Ok, so this recipe wasn’t entirely a success. I had been looking at recipes all day, and lots of people on the October Unprocessed 2013 Facebook page (check it out if you haven’t yet) were posting photos of cauliflower crust pizzas that looked really good.

But first, I had to pick up my CSA box from the farmer’s market. Look at all of these goodies … it practically screams “fall,” doesn’t it? That’s a big bunch of kale, green beans, melon, summer squash, sunflower greens sprouts, tomatoes and red kuri squash.

October 2 CSA box

(Not pictured: two sweet potatoes and my  mind, spinning with recipes.)

I had a banana and some granola for breakfast, and baby carrots and hummus for lunch. I was gearing up to make a big supper. My plan was for a cauliflower-crust pizza, but my crust didn’t get crispy enough, so it was more like a big, spicy Autumn casserole. It was pureed cauliflower mixed with an egg and a bit of oil (spread it in a pan and bake it by itself until its crispy — I just jumped the gun and added all of the toppings before it was time).

Autumn Veggie Casserole with Cauliflower Crust

I used homemade chimichurri as a sauce, and roasted some sliced sweet potato, Brussels sprouts and mushrooms. I also added sliced fresh tomatoes from my CSA box, plus homemade mozzarella cheese. Again, it wasn’t like a pizza, but it was darn tasty.



October Unprocessed: Day 1. I got this.

So far, October Unprocessed has been a breeze. I picked up an acai bowl on my way to the office this morning, ate some baby carrots and hummus (at my desk, life of a working girl) for lunch, and for dinner, I made a stir-fry of the fresh vegetables left in my fridge. I need to make room for the CSA box I am picking up on my way home tomorrow.

My pops calls this a “kitchen sink” dish … that is, you use “everything but the kitchen sink.” Tonight my skillet contained thinly sliced red onion, carrot, and mushroom from the fridge, added to yellow squash, zucchini and sunflower greens left from last week’s CSA box, a Japanese eggplant from my neighbor’s garden, and finally, some cold brown rice I made a couple of days ago, and of course, a scrambled egg.

"Kitchen Sink" stir fry

I would recommend that you don’t cheat yourself out of that scrambled egg. You’d be surprised how it brings the whole dish together. I like to get my vegetables almost cooked, then drop in a pile of cold, pre-cooked rice, and crack and egg right on top.

veggie stir-fry ... almost done

Then, just scramble the egg and rice and vegetables all together, and let it crisp up a little. I added my homemade sriracha, and although they’re both pretty processed, I allowed myself a dash each of sesame oil and soy sauce. Season with pepper, ginger and a little fresh basil, and it’s perfect!

Also I think I will have to amend the menu I posted last night … I was hoping for a nice pork tenderloin to roast on my grill, but couldn’t find one. Instead I think I will do a cauliflower crust pizza with mushrooms and Brussels sprouts. I also found some great pork bellies that are going to be cured in salt and sugar, then smoked –i.e., made into bacon — on Saturday.

Stay tuned!