Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Real Smoothie

What? A blog post about smoothies? What’s the big deal about smoothies?

1. Throw fruit and liquid in a blender.

2. Turn on blender.

Isn’t that all there is to it? NO!

Several important questions need to be answered before you begin with step 1.

First and foremost, is this smoothie going to be creamy?

If so, you need to choose a special ingredient to make it so. My favorites are:

  • non-dairy milk (soy, almond, coconut, etc.);
  • non-dairy yogurt;
  • non-dairy ice cream;
  • silken tofu; or
  • banana.

For me this is almost always a yes, and I generally start with soy or almond milk and use one of the others, usually a banana.

If creaminess is not part of your smoothie, some of the alternatives to use as your base can include:

  • water;
  • juice;
  • watermelon;
  • grapes;
  • orange; or
  • carbonated water/soda/diet soda (betcha never thought of making a smoothie with 7-Up or Cherry Fresca before, did ya?).

Water adds hydration, but nothing nutritionally and it can dilute your smoothie so I’d only recommend it if your blender needs it.

Watermelon produces more liquid than any other fruit so that alone can work wonders. Grapes will tend to make a thicker, pulpy (pulpy is the smoothie opposite of creamy) smoothie and a peeled orange is somewhere in between.

My next question is whether you want protein to be part of the smoothie. If you are using this as a meal replacement, it really should be added.

Some of the best protein enhancers include:

  • protein powder;
  • non-dairy milk;
  • non-dairy yogurt; or
  • silken tofu.

I make my own soy yogurt, so tofu is clearly the most expensive alternative for me. As I said, I generally start with a milk and add something else if I want the protein boost. Usually, it’s protein powder.

Moving right along, we come to temperature. Do you want this to be a semi-frozen concoction, or just plain liquid?

If it’s going to be semi-frozen, you’ll need either frozen fruit/veggies or ice cubes. I prefer frozen fruit because too many ice cubes can dilute the smoothie, especially when the ice particles melt - providing it lasts that long, that is.

In other words, don’t use water as the liquid base if you’re going to add ice cubes.

The next question to decide is if this will be a “green” smoothie. By green, I don’t mean it has to have that as a final color, but it does require a green (the most nutritionally dense), leafy vegetable.

If so, you’ll want to consider:

  • spinach, raw or frozen;
  • kale;
  • collard/mustard/turnip greens; or
  • romaine lettuce.

Kale is the most nutritionally dense, but imparts a strong flavor. Spinach is less harsh while almost as nutritious as kale, but I don’t like to use raw spinach because it a) is expensive, and b) can inhibit the absorption of calcium.

A 10-ounce block of frozen spinach has already been blanched to neutralize the calcium inhibiting action, is very cheap, and is much more densely packed (5 ounces frozen = 1 cup raw spinach).

When I make a green smoothie with spinach, I simply put in a giant spoonful (or two) of the thawed out frozen stuff. If keeping raw, I prefer kale or romaine lettuce, which also has the benefit of being the green, leafy veggie with the least intrusive flavor.

Another great vegetable to consider is canned pumpkin. Use plain pumpkin if you want to avoid the added sugar in pumpkin pie filling.

What if you’re thinking about the healthiest possible smoothie? I already mentioned kale as the healthiest veggie, but there are some especially healthy fruits as well.

If health benefits are your number one concern, try to include one or more of these:

  • blueberries;
  • citrus;
  • papaya (best at aiding digestion, along with pineapple);
  • mango;
  • kiwi; or
  • red or black seedless grapes.

As with frozen spinach, bagged frozen fruit is very cost-effective especially if you buy it at the bulk/club stores.

My final options for smoothies are simply miscellaneous additions. Some you may consider include:

  • chocolate syrup / cocoa powder;
  • espresso / coffee / ground coffee / instant coffee;
  • extract (e.g. vanilla, almond, mint, coconut, etc.);
  • peanut butter or other nut butter;
  • spices like nutmeg, cloves, or cinnamon.
  • ground flax seed (or whole with the proper blender);
  • tea (especially green or herb);
  • wheat germ / wheat bran / oat bran / oatmeal;
  • maple syrup;
  • molasses;
  • sugar / sugar-substitute;
  • powdered non-dairy milk;
  • non-dairy creamer;
  • thickener (e.g. carageenan / xanthan gum / pectin);
  • agave nectar / brown rice syrup; or, oh what the hell...
  • rum / vodka / you name it.

I’ll be posting several of my all-time favorite smoothie recipes soon, but here’s my #1 favorite as pictured above:


1 c chocolate soy milk (or regular soy milk with chocolate syrup)

1 small frozen banana (or 3/4 medium banana, or 2/3 giant-size)

2 handfuls frozen sliced strawberries (about 6 large whole)

How simple is that?


  1. Wow! This is great information! What type of blender do you use?

  2. Funny you should mention that, Abbie. That's my next blog post, and I think it may be one of my most useful ones yet.

    Sorry for the tease, but look for it Sunday evening.

  3. awesome post!now i am off to make a smoothie.....

  4. this post is THE BEST! i had no idea so much awesomeness could go into making a rock'n smoothie! i usually just do spinach, banana, cashews, rice milk, and a date - but i've gotta branch out! i never thought to add in something fizzy - and you make your own soy yogurt?!?!?! i've always wanted to do that - although i wonder if i can make it with rice milk or oat or coconut milk too? i've gotta look into this. and i can't wait for more of your favorite smoothie recipes! totally printing out your post for ideas! thank you!

  5. Wow- that is some throrough smoothie education!!!

  6. I'm definitely crazy for Green Smoothies (vegan, of course!).


  7. Thanks for checking in, Kristen. It's always an honor to have a professional chef and author commenting on my blog!