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I'm Crystal Vaughn

a classically trained chef taking holistic plant-based nutrition on a grand adventure through North America. When I’m not creating in our traveling kitchen, you can usually find me on my yoga mat or a hiking trail.

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I have a confession to make, not once in my three months of living in Nice, France did I ever have their signature salad, the Niçoise.  I always looked at it on the menu and considered it but after thinking about the combination of tuna, hard-boiled eggs and the Niçoise olives (I can’t stand olives) I would always find something that looked more appealing. 

I did want to try one though.  I always said someday I would.  Today is that day but I’m doing it on my own terms.  This isn’t a true Niçoise salad since it is missing those essential small little Niçoise olives but you can feel free to add whatever olives you like in addition to the recipe below.  I decided to add capers to the dressing so you still have that salty bite but it doesn’t have the olive flavor. 

I love how this salad turned out.  Every bite you get a different flavor and texture and the way the tangy dressing pairs with each ingredient is so wonderful.  This is the perfect time of year to make this salad.  I picked up all the produce at the farmers market.  I swear fresh and local make it taste so much better.  This recipe is great for an end of the summer soirée!

Since I was removing some of the traditional ingredients I decided to add some baked tofu.  This was a great addition and I really recommend you give it a try.  But if you are not ready for tofu or don’t happen to have it on hand you can switch it out for crunchy baked chickpeas.  These are delicious as well and I have given you the instructions in the recipe below. 

I really hope you give this salad a try!  What are some of your favorite dishes from your travels or maybe something you never gave a chance but you wish you had?  Please share in the comments below.  I would love to hear from you!

Salad Niçoise with Dijon Caper Dressing
Serves 4


1 lb small red potatoes, cleaned

1/2 lb green beans, fresh, ends trimmed

1 package firm or extra-firm tofu (see note)

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp tamari

1/2 tsp black pepper

1 tsp Italian dried herbs

1 cup of cherry or grape tomatoes

1/4 red onion, in thin slices

1 head of Boston lettuce or favorite salad greens, cleaned and chopped


2 tbsp capers + splash of the caper liquid

1 tbsp dijon style mustard (coarse ground is my favorite)

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp water

1 clove garlic

pinch of black pepper


1. Drain tofu and wrap in a no lint towel or paper towels.  Press between two plates with a can on top for at least 10 minutes.

2. Once pressed, cut the tofu into 1 inch cubes. 

3.  In a bowl or shallow dish mix together the lemon juice, tamari, black pepper and dried herbs.  Toss the tofu to cover with marinade and let sit for 20 minutes.  Stirring occasionally.

4. Bring a medium to large pot of water to a boil and add potatoes.  Cook for about 20 minutes, until they can easily be pierced with a fork.  Remove potatoes from water.  Once cooled, cube the potatoes.

5. Bring the water back to a boil and add the green beans.  Cook for two minutes and drain.  Quickly add the beans to a bowl with ice and water to stop the cooking process.  After the beans have cooled strain and set aside.

6. Bake the tofu on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet at 375° for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until brown on the edges.

6. In a small blender add all of the dressing ingredients and blend.

7. Assemble the salad: layer the lettuce on the bottom of the platter or bowl, in sections arrange the potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, red onion and tofu and serve with the Dijon caper dressing.

*Note: If tofu is not your thing, you can replace it with chickpeas.  Rinse and strain chickpeas then toss with half of the marinade.  Bake for about 15 minutes or until crispy. 

*For a soy free version make the recipe above but replace the tofu with chickpeas (as suggested above) and omit the tamari.  Easy as that!

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Last week my lovely future mother-in-law, Lynn, asked me to make Mark (my future father-in-law) a nice meal for their anniversary since she couldn’t be here.   She suggested possibly a Mexican theme and so I got to thinking.  In the past the most excited he ever got about something I made was Polenta “Cakes” (kind of like cornbread) that I served with a veggie chili.  I decided to try to integrate this into something that would be easily reheated.


This is a great make-a-head meal.  It can be prepped and ready to go in the fridge for 2 to 3 days and then all you have to do is pop it in the oven and you’ve got dinner without a fuss in 30 minutes.  It could probably even be made in the crock pot if you are into that sort of thing.  

This is actually a pretty great template recipe.  Just switch up the beans, veggies and spices and you could have a completely different meal.  For instance, use red beans and some Cajun seasonings and you’ve got a great New Orleans inspired dish or cannellini beans with Italian seasonings can transport you to Northern Italy (well, not really but you get the point).  So many possibilities! 


Please let me know if you try this recipe out!  I would love to hear from you in the comments below.  As always, feel to contact me with suggestions or if you have a dish you would like me to vegify!

Happy cooking,

Crystal  xoxo

P.S.  A very happy 30th birthday to my wonderful fiancé, Dallas!!  


Mexican Black Bean & Cilantro Polenta Bake
Serves 4


1 onion, cut in thin slices

1 red bell pepper, sliced

1 jalapeno or serrano pepper (optional), diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp chili powder

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp paprika

1/4 tsp ground coriander

pinch of cinnamon

2 cans of black beans, no salt added and BPA-free can

1 cup of organic corn, fresh or frozen

3 cups of water

1 cup polenta

1/4 cup oat milk or non-dairy milk of choice

1/2 cup nutritional yeast (optional)

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

salt and pepper, to taste


1. Sauté the onion in 2 tbsp of water in a skillet over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes.

2. Once onions start to soften add the red bell pepper and jalapeno and sauté for another 3 to 5 minutes.  If the pan starts getting dry add a little more water.

3. Add minced garlic, chili powder, cumin, paprika, coriander,  cinnamon and salt and sauté for about 2 minutes.

4. Add black beans with the liquid (also known as pot liquor) and the corn.  Stir well to combine all the flavors and remove from heat.

5. In a medium sauce pan bring 3 cups of water to a boil.  Very slowly add the polenta to the water while whisking constantly.  Turn heat to low.

6. Whisk frequently for 5 minutes.  

7.  Remove from heat and stir in oat milk, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, salt and pepper.  Once everything is combined fold in cilantro.  

8.  In an oven proof casserole dish (either 9x9 or 9 inch round) pour the bean mixture into the dish.  Spread the polenta evenly over the beans.

9.  Bake in the oven at 400° for 15 to 20 minutes or until starting to brown on top.  

Note:  If you want to serve this as a make ahead meal follow steps 1-8 and then store in the refrigerator.  When you are ready to eat it cook in the oven at 400° for around 30 to 35 minutes.   

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This week you are getting two recipes for the price of one (a.k.a. free).  Both recipes spotlight some of my favorite summer ingredients: watermelon, lime and mint.

First, we have a deliciously refreshing twist on the traditional caprese salad.  A watermelon caprese with tofu mozzarella in a lime-mint vinaigrette.  This is summer on a plate.

I was recently dining at my favorite little farm-to-table restaurant in Pittsburgh and a friend of mine ordered the watermelon salad.  I was pleasantly surprised at the flavor combination of the watermelon and tomatoes.  I thought it would also work wonderfully in a caprese style salad.

This salad comes together very easy.  You just slice the tomatoes, cut the watermelon, cut and ‘brine’ the tofu and mix up the dressing. 

It could be served many different ways.  As a stacked salad (like what I have done here), or just chop everything up and toss together, you could also put it on skewers for a nice little hor d’oeuvre.

Don't forget to check out the granita recipe below!

Watermelon Caprese in a Lime-Mint Vinaigrette
Serves 3 to 6 (meal or appetizer)


1 package tofu

1 tbsp lemon juice

2-3 cups of watermelon

2 large tomatoes (I used one red and one golden)

1 tbsp fresh mint, minced

Zest of 1 lime

Juice of 2 limes

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Arugula or other greens for serving

Salt and pepper, to taste


1. Cut tofu into slices of desired shape.  Cover with lemon juice and a generous pinch of salt.  Set aside for about 30 minutes.

2. Cut tomatoes and watermelon into desired shapes and sizes.  I recommend cutting the tofu, watermelon and tomato into similar sizes.

3. In a small bowl mix together fresh mint, lime zest, lime juice, white wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.

4. Toss the arugula (or greens of choice) with about half of the vinaigrette and arrange at the bottom of the plate or bowl.

5. Next arrange the tofu, watermelon and tomatoes by either stacking them or tossing them all together.

6. Pour the remaining vinaigrette over the salad.  

The next recipe I want to share with you is kind of like a fresh snow cone.  Now do I have your attention?  It does take a little bit of time but the effort is minimal and it is totally worth it. 

This recipe uses some of the same ingredients highlighted in the caprese.  All you really need to do to make a granita is to blend all of your ingredients together (the watermelon, mint and lime juice), pour into a shallow dish and scrape with a fork every hour or so until frozen and a snow cone like texture is achieved.  Typically about 4 hours is enough.  Unless, you have added alcohol and then it takes a bit longer.  You may need to continue with the process for 5 or 6 hours.  I’ll save the cocktail recipes for a later date.  If you are interested in this version sooner rather than later please let me know in the comment section! 

I apologize if you received three different emails with the last newsletter.  I hope these two recipes make up for the Chantarelle Fricasée recipe stalking your inbox.

Watermelon Granita
Serves 4


6 or 7 cups of watermelon
1 lime
2 tbsp fresh mint, loosely packed


1. Zest the lime with a microplane or small grater.  Only zest the green part.  Then juice the lime.

2. In a blender, add watermelon, mint, lime juice and zest.  Blend until everything is very smooth and liquidy. 

3.  Pour into a shallow dish.  I used a 9x9 pyrex.  Cover with a lid or plastic wrap and put in the freezer.  

4. Check the granita at hour intervals (the first hour can be skipped because no a lot will happen that quickly).  Pull it out of the freezer, remove the cover and scrape with a fork.  Make sure you scrape all along the sides, since this is where it will freeze first.  

5. Return to freezer and repeat for about 4 hours or until there is no more liquid and it resembles a shaved ice.  

6. Serve in glasses or bowls with a sprig of mint on top.

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The information on this site is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any health condition or disease. It does not replace medical advice from a licensed professional.