Awesome Energy Bars with DIY Vegan Cookbook's Lisa Pitman

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Jan 25, 2016 / 0 comments

Did you have a New Year’s resolution to start eating healthier and making more dishes from scratch in 2016? Cookbook authors Nicole Axworthy and Lisa Pitman, both contributing photography and food editors for VegNews magazine, understand. The Toronto pair recently published DIY vegan: More Than 100 Easy Recipes to Create an Awesome Plant-Based Pantry (St. Martin’s Press, 2015) to help guide readers toward making more food at home. They walk you through how to stock your pantry with vegan staples like millet, puffed brown rice, almond meal, agave, dried fruit, puffed quinoa, and other ingredients that make turning breakfast, snacks, and dinner quick and easy.

Awesome Energy Bars with DIY Vegan Cookbook's Lisa Pitman

The cookbook doesn’t shy away from recipes that seemingly involve dairy. They offer tasty alternatives like coconut milk as a base for chocolate ice cream or cashews soaked, blended, and strained to create everything from cheeseballs, cheddar cheese, and buffalo mozzarella to fashion into a caprese salad.

Our family was inspired after flipping through the cookbook to make up our own simple, vegan version of Pecan Pie Balls.
Below, Lisa Pitman, co-author of DIY vegan offers her thoughts on vegan cooking. She also shares her recipe for Awesome Energy Bars.

Awesome Energy Bars with DIY Vegan Cookbook's Lisa Pitman

First off, why did you decide to write DIY vegan—and is this cookbook intended for all audiences (not just vegans)?
We wrote DIY Vegan to provide convenient pantry solutions that were more healthful and delicious than what you could find in a package on a store shelf. The cookbook is intended for anyone looking to eat well, and enjoy it. Although every recipe is vegan we also wanted to eliminate other common allergens such as gluten to ensure the recipes provided healthy options for everyone.
Of all the benefits of a vegan diet you list in your book including saving time, feeling better, enjoying food more, which one do you think most readers will be surprised by?
The benefits you list are actually for why we D.I.Y.
Most people interested in adopting a vegan diet do it for one of three reasons - health, the environment or compassion for animals. One surprising benefit may be that the vegan diet can help families to save money. Focusing meals around inexpensive staples such as beans, grains and legumes are common in the vegan diet and incredibly satisfying.  
For families who’d like to try incorporating vegan meals into their diets, what are some suggestions you have as a starting place?
Many family favourites may be vegan already or easily made vegan. Swapping out cow's milk for almond, soy, rice or oat milk makes breakfasts of cereal, granola or muesli a great vegan option to start the day (we share some of our favourite cereal recipes in DIY Vegan). Most kids I know love to graze at lunch, hummus and nut butters provide great proteins to build sandwiches or a tray of veggies, crackers and dip around. At dinner, easy options like pasta with tomato sauce or a veggie-packed stir-fry are both vegan already. You can add a parmesan-like sprinkle to the pasta and some toasted cashews to the stir-fry to bump up the protein and keep everyone satiated. Fresh fruits and nuts make for wonderful snacks.   
A lot of families find cooking homemade meals becomes difficult with busy kids’ schedules, etc. Any tips for making a DIY food lifestyle more doable?
Making DIY a part of your regular routine will make it fast and easy, even with busy schedules. Many of the recipes take only a couple of minutes of hands-on time and provide food that will last for weeks. Blending almond milk every Sunday night for two minutes will keep you in the creamy goodness for cereals all week long. Nut butters for sandwiches can be made in no time and will last for many weeks in the fridge. The most important tip is to plan ahead. If you have the ingredients on hand and a few minutes set aside, you can easily keep your pantry packed. Since many of the recipes call for food processors or blenders to do the work, little kids can help with pouring in ingredients and pushing the right buttons.  
What are the top 5 vegan staples readers may want to consider stocking in their pantry?
1&2. Almonds and oats are two favourites as they can be transformed into milks and flours and used in a multitude recipes. You will see these superstars often used in DIY Vegan
3. Nuts and seeds can be transformed into butters and flours and can add richness to creams and sauces. But are also great as simple and nutritious snacks. 
4. Frozen bananas, peeled and prepped are great to have on hand. They can be easily blended into a rich base for smoothies or a perfect warm-weather treat as a soft-serve ice cream (we've got a great recipe in the book).
5. Dates are a great sweet solution. They are wonderful for making quick energy or granola bars and can easily satisfy a craving on their own (or with a little cashew butter spread in the centre).
What is your all-time favorite vegan meal?
A huge kale salad with a hearty topping of coconut bacon bits, tahini dressing and a superfood salad booster full of seeds.  Or a pile of blueberry pancakes, or pot of bubbling Thai Green Curry. This is the hardest question!
Are there any myths about vegan cooking you’d care to clear up for readers?
I think that many people may have heard that vegan cooking is difficult, boring or full of strange ingredients. The reality is that many of the dishes people eat already are vegan, and just not labeled as such. For instance: peanut butter and jam sandwiches, lentil soup, chickpea curry, pasta and tomato sauce, etc. Vegan food is incredibly varied and can be as difficult or as easy as you'd like.
Anything else that you’d like to add for families looking to focus on healthier eating habits in 2016? 
Regardless of your diet, adding more plants is a bonus. Getting kids familiar with fruits and vegetables will benefit them throughout their lives. Hopefully DIY Vegan will provide simply ways to get more plants on your plates. 
What kind of success have you had teaching your child to be a healthy eater?  
I just gave birth to my daughter in September, so she's not on solid foods yet. However, I have eight nieces and nephews who I have been cooking with for a decade. My biggest successes have come from getting the kids involved in the kitchen. They love being involved and serving up what they've made for their families. I also believe that kids like foods that are familiar to them, so the more healthy options you have around the house, the more likely they are to form the core of your children's diet. Have fun with food. Enjoy it and they will too. 


Awesome Energy Bars

Makes 12 Bars
These bars have been my most-requested recipe by all of the obliging taste-testers in my life (family, friends, neighbors, colleagues…anyone I could find who was still hungry).  I feel like I’ve made them a million times and a million different ways.  When the request for another batch comes in on a busy night, I just mix in the carob or chocolate chips rather than taking the extra time to cool the bars and spread on a smooth carob/chocolate layer.  Either way, these are a winner. —L.P. [editor's note: photo of the bars is on the book cover, bottom left - wrapped in parchment paper]
½ cup raw sunflower seeds
½ cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup raw almonds
1/3 cup almond butter
¼ cup pure maple syrup
¼ cup brown rice syrup
1/3 cup brown sesame seeds
1/3 cup raw hemp hearts
2 tablespoons flax meal
½ cup carob chips
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Line an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper.
2. In a food processor, combine the sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and almonds and pulse into a chunky meal.
3. In a medium bowl, stir together the almond butter, maple syrup, and brown rice syrup.
4. Fold in the nut-and-seed meal, sesame seeds, hemp hearts, and flax meal.  Stir until well combined.
5. Press the batter into the prepared pan.  Bake for 20 minutes.  Let cool to room temperature.
6. Melt the carob chips in a double boiler.  Pour the carob over the bars and quickly spread it into an even layer with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon.  Let cool in the fridge or on the counter until firm, about 20 minutes.
7. Once firm, cut into 12 bars.  Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or in the freeze for 2 to 3 months.
·       These bars are a bit sticky, so use a small piece of parchment paper to press them evenly into the pan with covering your hands in sticky, tasty bar batter
·       The best thing about these bars is you can easily adapt them with your own favorite ingredients.  Try them with pecans or pistachios instead of almonds, replace with brown sesame seeds with toasted black sesame seeds, and switch out the carob for chocolate.



Kristen J. Gough is the Global Cuisines & Kids Editor for Wandering Educators. She shares her family's adventurous food experiences--and recipes--at