Welcome to our second feature of Bright Rx: Favorite Warm Breakfasts, this is a good one. Nisha Vora, vegan chef, cookbook author, and food blogger/photographer, shares her Apple Cinnamon French Toast Casserole with us and we are so grateful.
After graduating from Harvard Law School and working as a lawyer for four years, Nisha exchanged her casebooks for cookbooks and launched a career in her dream world of food by creating Rainbow Plant Life, a popular vegan Instagram account, blog, and Youtube channel. She is a Californian at heart but has lived in Brooklyn for the last 5 years.
Q&A With Nisha Vora
Brightland: What do you like to keep out on your kitchen countertop or "kitchen shelfie"?
Nisha: My Instant Pot because I use it nearly every day for batch cooking - beans, lentils, grains, veggies. And my electric tea kettle because I love tea (I have too much energy to drink coffee)! And of course extra virgin olive oil. Also kosher salt for everything, apple cider vinegar for warm water first thing in the morning, and a vegan furikake blend that I put on nearly every savory food.
Brightland: What does living in a golden state meant to you?
Nisha: Starting my morning with 30 minutes of meditation, gratitude, and affirmations. It sets the tone for the entire day and makes me feel truly golden.
Brightland: If you had to eat one food for the rest of your life (but receive all the nutritional benefits + look fabulous), what would you choose?
Nisha: Dark chocolate (cliche, I know).
Brightland: What was your favorite thing that your mom/dad/grandparent cooked for you when you were little?
Nisha: Whenever I was sick, my mom used to make khichdi/kitchari, which I can only describe as a Indian lentil and rice porridge (but not a breakfast porridge). It was cozy and comforting but also really nourishing. I don’t think I loved the taste as much as I loved the ritual and what it communicated (my mother’s endless love).
Brightland: As a master of vegan eating, what are 3 tips you would give people trying to venture into veganism?
1. Keep an open mind! Vegan food isn’t just for vegan people. You probably already eat a ton of naturally vegan food and don’t even realize it!
2. Find the umami. When people eat meat, what they are enjoying is the taste of umami, not the taste of animals. Find plant-based ways to incorporate umami into your recipes. Some of my favorites are miso paste, tamari, and nutritional yeast.
3. Don’t hate on tofu! You probably just haven’t had good tofu yet. If you’re sautéing/frying/baking it, buy extra firm tofu and press the **** out of it! I mean, press all the excess water out of it by placing a heavy cutting board or cookbook on top of it for 30 minutes. If you have extra time, freeze the pressed tofu - it makes it so chewy! And season generously! Tofu is a sponge, it likes lots of flavor.
Brightland: What are your favorite vegan-friendly ways to use olive oil?
Nisha: Drizzling over root veggies with whole garlic, salt, and pepper and roasting in the oven. Paired with local summer tomatoes, peaches, fresh basil, and flaky sea salt. And in cakes! Cakes baked with olive oil are so much lighter and more tender than cakes baked with butter.
Brightland: As a vegan, what role does olive oil play in your diet?
Nisha: Olive oil is my go-to oil, and has been since I started cooking as a teenager. I do occasionally use other oils for specific purposes (e.g., high heat frying), but olive oil is my ride or die. I try to eat a big salad or what I call “grains and greens” (a mashup of a salad and grain bowl) at least 4-5 times a week and I pack it with plant proteins (lentils/chickpeas, hemp seeds, sunflower/pumpkin seeds), and a good olive oil really takes it over the top!
Apple Cinnamon French Toast Casserole
- 1 tablespoon Brightland's AWAKE
- 4 medium apples, sliced (choose a crisp variety, such as Fuji or Gala)
- 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 large loaf French bread, sliced (not too thick or thin) (about 16 ounces)
- 2 cups oat milk
- 8 ounces silken soft tofu
- 1 tablespoon
- Brightland's AWAKE
- 2/3 cup coconut sugar or brown sugar
- 4 teaspoons pumpkin spice
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
- 1 tablespoon arrowroot powder (or cornstarch)
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 2 tablespoons coconut sugar or brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons
- Brightland's AWAKE
Tip from Nisha: Cakes baked with olive oil are so much lighter and more tender than cakes baked with butter.
- Make the Apple Filling. Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet over medium low. Add the apple slices, maple syrup, and cinnamon, and mix to evenly coat. Cook for 10 minutes, until apples are soft but not falling apart.
- Grease a large rectangular baking pan with Brightland's AWAKE.
- Make the French Toast. Arrange the slices of French bread in the baking dish so the tops are facing up.
- In a blender, combine the oat milk, tofu, coconut sugar, pumpkin spice, salt, baking powder, and arrowroot powder (or cornstarch). Blend on high speed until the mixture is completely smooth and no lumps remain.
- Pour the oat milk mixture evenly over the bread, making sure to moisten each piece completely. Pour the apple filling on top of the soaked bread or layer the apples between the slices of bread.
- Make the Crisp Topping. Mix all ingredients well using a spatula or your fingertips. Sprinkle evenly over the French Toast in the baking dish.
- Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Remove the baking dish from the refrigerator and bake, covered, for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake another 20-30 minutes, until the crisp topping is golden browned and the casserole is completely cooked through.