Stressed out during her last term of graduate school when she was counseling clients 30 hours a week, Ashley Melillo returned to her love of cooking, combining it with creating healthy plant-based recipes and creating Blissful Basil, a blog to share her experiences of cooking plant-based meals.
“I was taking my work home with me,” says Melillo who works as a school psychologist in the Chicago area. “So cooking and blogging became self-caring.”
Now Melillo’s blog has morphed into her new cookbook, Blissful Basil: Over 100 Plant-Powered Recipes to Unearth Vibrancy, Health & Happiness (BenBella 2016; $21.95).
“I developed a love of cooking when I was young,” says Melillo who also earned a certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. “In the kitchen there’s so much sensory going on—touch, smells, textures, tastes. It’s relaxing after a long week of work. Once I am doing it, it becomes very therapeutic.”
Cooking plant-based or vegan foods are healthy not only physically but emotionally says Melillo. But it isn’t easy to incorporate both exercise and a wide variety of plant-based foods into our life-style.
Indeed, one wholesome smoothie such as her Energizing Carrot Cake Smoothie, Get Glowing Strawberry Mango Chia Pudding or her Cheesy Herb or the Sun-Dried Tomato Good Morning Biscuits, won’t turn our lives upside down health-wise. But it’s all a step in the right direction to achieving physical, mental and emotional well-being. It’s all part of shaping good habits by making good choices every day.
Of course, as a psychologist, Melillo recognizes that it’s most difficult to make these at the very time when we most need to do so.
“It’s when some of these emotions are most at their peak and when you feel almost too overwhelmed to try taking the steps to move forward, that’s when it’s the hardest,” she says. “But it’s the hardest things that push up forward and end up being the best things for us. But it’s important to make ourselves do so–to start chipping away at our anxiety or stress or depression. By taking that one step, often we can go on and take another and another and ultimately alleviate some of those overwhelming feelings.”
Such a cooking style doesn’t have to be severe. Have a sugar craving? Instead indulge in a vegan dessert such as her Snickerdoodle Cookie Bars, Enlivening Lemon Bars, Peanut Butter Cookies and Cosmically Fudgy Cacao Tahini Brownies. Don’t go out for pizza. Try one of Melillo’s pizzas like her White Pizza with Garlic Herb Oil, Mozzarella and Puffy Potato Crust.
For those who aren’t ready to go full-force plant-based or Vegan or know much it at all, Blissful Basil covers a glossary of terms, recipes for pantry items to keep on hand and contains helpful symbols– colored circle noting which recipes are free of gluten, grain, soy, nut, oil, refined sugar and/or they’re raw.
Melillo asked meat lovers to taste test the recipes in her book because she wanted them to be appealing not only for those already committed to a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle but to all those who pick up her cookbook or read her blog.
“I really want everyone to love the recipes in this book,” she says.
Swift Sweet Potato Curry
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
pinch of cayenne (optional)
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced (about 1 cup)
1 cup filtered water, divided
14-ounces full fat coconut milk
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
2 green onions, trimmed and thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, stemmed and finely chopped
4 cups cooked brown basmati rice, for serving
1 lime for spritzing
In a large pot over medium heat, toast the spices for 30 seconds while stirring constantly. Add the onion and 1/3 cup of the water then cook for 5 minutes, until translucent.
Whisk in the coconut milk and the remaining 2/3 cup water, and bring to a boil.
Add the sweet potatoes, decrease the heat to medium-low, cover and rapidly simmer for 15 minutes, until potatoes are fork tender. Stir occasionally while cooking.
Spoon the curry into bowls with warm basmati rice. Top with a squeeze of lime juice, scallions and cilantro. Serve warm with whole grain naan and enjoy!