Thursday, March 31, 2011

Vegan Eggplant Rollatini with Macadamia "Ricotta"

I'll admit I'd never heard of eggplant rollatini until this weekend (am I alone in this?). I saw it on the menu of a restaurant in Austin's hometown and thought it sounded genius. It's pretty simple really; it's just eggplant wrapped around ricotta with tomato sauce on top or, to put it differently, a lasagna roll made with eggplant instead of pasta. What's there not to love? If you're Austin, the eggplant. He tries to avoid eggplant at all costs (I think he just doesn't like the idea of it) so I knew that the true test of this dish would be whether he would like it. Well, not only did he say it was delicious, he even had seconds.

Austin was initially skeptical about nut "cheese", as I'm sure some of you are. As I've said to him, no, it doesn't taste exactly like dairy cheese but I think it has similar texture and hits the same flavor notes: slightly fatty (but with far less of the saturated stuff), tangy, salty and acidic. Some of you may also think you don't have at least 12 hours to soak nuts. Yes you do, it just takes some planning ahead. Throw them in a big bowl with water the night before you want to make "cheese". The next day all you have to do is drain them, put them in the food processor and voilà, homemade nut "cheese" in minutes!

While your going all homemade, why not try to whip up some tomato sauce? The recipe below is extremely simple and really tasty. Yes, it needs to simmer for one hour but you don't have to tend to it so you can use that time to cook the eggplant, make the "cheese", assemble the rollatini, pay bills, feed your pet or whatever else it is you need to do. Heck, you could even go crazy, make a double batch and freeze it. Yes, your jarred sauces will miss you but I promise they will recover.

Vegan Eggplant Rollatini with Macadamia "Ricotta" 
Loosely Inspired by Giada di Laurentiis' Eggplant Rollatini
Makes 4 to 5 servings
  • 3 medium eggplants, washed, peeled if you're skin averse (I'm not) and cut lengthwise into about 1/2 in / 1.5 cm slices
  • 1 recipe of Macadamia "Ricotta"
  • 4-5 cups of your favorite jarred tomato sauce or Basic Tomato Sauce 
  • Olive oil for greasing
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • Optional: A couple handfuls of chopped parsley for garnish
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1.  Preheat your oven to 400 F / 204 C. Generously brush the eggplant slices with olive oil, season them with salt and pepper and arrange them on two baking sheets. Cook them in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until they start to brown and are slightly soft. If you're baking both sheets of eggplant at the same time, swap their placement on your two oven shelves half way through the cooking process.

2.  Reduce the oven heat to 375 F / 190 C. Grease a 9 by 13 inch (or any other size you have handy really, although the tighter the rollatini fit in the pan the better) casserole dish or baking pan with some olive oil. Place a heaping tablespoon of "ricotta" at one end of each eggplant slice and roll it up tightly. Place the rollatini seam side down on the greased baking pan. Repeat the process until you've filled all the eggplant slices.

3. Pour about 4-5 cups of the tomato sauce, depending how much you love sauciness, over the rollatini. If you'd like, mix any extra "ricotta" with a handful of chopped parsley and crumble it over the top. You can also sprinkle the top of the casserole with a tablespoon of nutritional yeast. Bake for 20 minutes or until the "ricotta" starts to brown. Garnish with some extra chopped parsley and serve immediately.

Macadamia "Ricotta"
Makes about 3 cups

  • 2 1/2 cups macademia nuts (cashews would be great too), soaked in water for at least 12 hours and drained
  • 2 teaspoons miso 
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 cup water
Put all the in ingredients except the water into the food processor and whiz the mixture until it a uniform paste is formed. This may take a few minutes and require scrapping down the sides of the bowl a few times. With the processor running, add the water slowly through the feeding tube until the "cheese" has a ricotta-like texture. If you're not using this for the rollatini, you can spread it on sandwiches, crackers, dip veggies into it, put it on veggie burgers... you get the idea.

Basic Tomato Sauce
Makes about 6 1/2 cups
  • 2 28 oz / 795 g cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 celery rib, minced
  • 2 medium carrots, grated
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Optional: 1/3 cup sun dried tomatoes (I used the kind packed in oil)
1.  In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and the onions and saute until the garlic is fragrant and the onions start to soften, about 5 minutes. Toss in the celery and cook for another 3 minutes. Add the carrots and the sun dried tomatoes and saute for approximately 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, bay leaves and other spices and cook for about a minute.
2.  Pour in the tomatoes. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for about 1 hour. Taste and adjust the seasonings. If you're making the rollatini with this sauce you'll have some leftovers which you can refrigerate or freeze.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Asian Pasta Salad with Avocado Dressing

Pasta salad is a picnic and potluck favorite. The thing us, the mayo-coated stuff isn't really that safe to eat after it's been sitting out of the fridge for a while. That, and my aversion to mayonnaise, is why I prefer pasta salads dressed with oil and vinegar. The first type of pasta salad that I ever had was, surprise surprise, my mom's. She makes a killer Mediterranean-style one that is so loved by our family friends that she gets tasked with making at almost every potluck. I guess eating her version for so long made me think of any pasta salad that differed from it as exotic. Not using penne or rotini? Wild! Tossing it with a peanut butter based dressing? Crazy! Using veggies other than tomatoes, celery, peppers and onions? Insane! I've come around though and now I embrace, and then devour, all vegan pasta salads equally.

The salad I made last night reminds me of a vermicelli salad I used to have at Dalat, in Worcester, MA, and of the Thai noodle salad at Chai's, here in Durham. The dressing however, sets it apart from those other salads. It is light on the oil thanks to it's avocado base, and has plenty of acidity from the vinegar. The recipe I've provided for it is, of course, just at template. I chose to include more Asian flavors --ginger, sesame, garlic, rice wine vinegar-- but you can vary the seasonings to suit your taste. For example, if you like to make a Mexican version, you might want to check out Gena's avocado fiesta dressing over at Choosing Raw. I'll bet that giving this a try will convince you to step outside the oil and vinegar box more often.

Do you already make all sorts of crazy pasta salads and dressings? If so, please share your favorites with me.


Asian Pasta Salad with Avocado Dressing

For the salad
Makes 5 large serving
  • 4 1/2 oz / 130 g vermicelli or angel hair pasta, cooked until al dente per the package directions
  • 6 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
  • 3 medium carrots, coarsely grated
  • 1/2 head red cabbage, cored and cut into thin strips
  • 1 green bell pepper, sliced lengthwise into thin strips
  • 1 loosely packed cup of chopped cilantro (less if you're not obsessed with the stuff)
  • 1 cup of dry roasted peanuts
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Chopping up the pasta roughly into thirds (by putting a bunch of it on a cutting board and making two cuts, no fancy work here) helps it mix better with the rest of the ingredients. Toss the salad with the avocado dressing below (I used all of it), or another dressing of your choice, and enjoy.

I suspect this salad will get even better as it sits in the fridge. Guess I'll have to wait until lunch to find out.

For the dressing
Makes approximately 2 cups 
  • 1 medium to large avocado, chopped
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar, other vinegar or lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon miso (I used red miso)
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 3/4 cups water, more if you'd like it thinner or less if you'd like it thicker
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, chopped
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce or Sriracha sauce
Put all the ingredients into the food processor or high speed blender and whiz until smooth. Toss with your favorite salad. You could also use make this recipe as a dip for some raw veggies; just use less water.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Vegan Polenta with Kidney Beans, Peppers and Tomatoes

Being able to hop on a plane and spend the weekend with Austin's family is great. However, there is usually one (rather insignificant) downside: coming home to an empty fridge. It's nights like this one that force me to get creative in the kitchen, making what I can with what we have in the pantry and fridge odds and ends. I call it Sara does Chopped*. Tonight, when I saw the cornmeal staring at me longingly I knew whatever we ate would be served on a bed of polenta... creamy, buttery, savory polenta. If you've never made it don't be intimidated by the myth that you have to whisk it incessantly. As Mark Bittman says, you don't actually have to stir it constantly, just every once in a while. While scavenging for polenta toppings in our fridge, I found some wilting arugula, a lonely green pepper and an almost overripe tomato. Pair that with some of our pantry staples, sun dried tomatoes and olives, and you have yourself a relatively quick, pretty healthy, mighty tasty and comforting meal.

Vegan Polenta with Kidney Beans, Peppers and Tomatoes
Makes 4 servings
  • 1 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup plain unsweetened almond or other non-dairy milk
  • 1/4 cup Earth Balance or other non-hydrogenated non-dairy butter
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1-1 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 green bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 15 oz / 425 g can / 1 1/2 cups cooked pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/3 cup kalamata olives, chopped small
  • 1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped small (I used the kind packed in oil)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 packed cups arugula
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil plus extra for drizzling
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes 
1.  In a medium pot, whisk together the cornmeal and 1 1/2 cup of vegetable broth. Heat the mixture over medium-high heat until it bubbles and then reduce it to a simmer, whisking every few minutes. When most of the liquid is absorbed and the polenta looks ready to eat, add whisk in another cup of broth and stir every few minutes to avoid clumping. Repeat until you use up all of the broth. In the last stage, add the milk, basil, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and simmer until the cornmeal tastes cooked and the polenta is thick and creamy (I like mine to spread when I plate it). Stir in the butter and the nutritional yeast and cook for another couple minutes. The whole process should take about 30-40 minutes.
2.  While the polenta is cooking, cook the toppings. In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the bell peppers and cook until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until it's fragrant and starting to brown, about another 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan by adding the fresh tomato, sun dried tomatoes, olives, red pepper, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and thyme. Cook for about 7 minutes or until the tomato starts to break down. Add the beans and cook for about 5 minutes or until they're heated through. Taste and gradually add as much salt as you think the dish needs (be careful though; the olives will provide quite a bit of salt).
3.  Ladle the polenta onto a plate, top with about 1/2 cup of the arugula (which will wilt beautifully from the heat of the rest of the ingredients) and about 1/4 of the pepper, bean and tomato mixture. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and serve immediately.

*For those of you who don't watch Food Network religiously or don't have access to it, Chopped is a TV show in which contestants have to create dishes using all the crazy ingredients they're given in the mystery basket.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Vegan Oatmeal Scones with Strawberries

When I saw this scone recipe on Smitten Kitchen yesterday I new I would have to make my own version immediately. You see, I really love scones. I like that I can't get them everywhere, unlike, say, a muffin, which makes them seem like a special treat. I also appreciate subtle sweetness, and their typically fruity flavors. I especially enjoy slightly warm, slathered with some non-dairy butter which is exactly how I'm eating them as I type this. I decided that since I usually put butter on my scones I'd better use a bit less butter in them so I substituted part of it for applesauce. After all, bikini season is drawing near, but that doesn't mean you have to go without baked goods; no bathing suit is worth that kind of a sacrifice. Instead of buttermilk, I used almond milk with some vinegar. I also added some lemon zest for brightness, some vanilla because I just can't help myself, and a dusting of sugar for decoration. The result is a moist, fruity and hearty treat that you should definitely try your hand at this weekend. 

Vegan Oatmeal Scones with Strawberries
Veganized and otherwise adapted from Smitten Kitchen's Oatmeal and Maple Syrup Scones 
Makes 8 scones
  • 2 cups / 8 6/7 oz / 250 g of all purpose flour plus extra for dusting
  • 1/2 cup / 2 1/4 oz / 64 g of rolled quick cooking or instant oats
  • 1/2 cup / 2 3/4 oz / 80 grams of whole wheat flour
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons confectioners sugar plus extra for dusting 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 / 5 1/2 oz / 160 g cup cold unsalted, non-hydrogenated non-dairy butter (I used Earth Balance)
  • 1/2 cup / 60 ml unsweetened apple sauce
  • 1/4 cup / 60 ml maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons of almond or other non-dairy milk
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider or other vinegar
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Optional: 3/4 cup fresh strawberries or other fresh or dried fruit
1.  Preheat the oven to 400 F / 204 C. In a medium bowl, whisk together the almond milk and the vinegar. Let stand for 5-10 minutes or until the mixture has thickened slightly.  Add the maple syrup, vanilla, lemon zest and applesauce, whisking to combine.
2.  In a large mixing bowl, mix the flours, oats, baking powder, sugar and salt. Incorporate the butter into the mixture using your hands. By the time you're done doing so, you should have small pea-sized pieces of butter uniformly distributed throughout the dry ingredients.
3.  Form a well in the dry ingredients and add the wet ingredients, using a spatula to combine. A few strokes before the dough has come together, fold in the strawberries. Turn the dough onto a floured surface, dusting it with some flour if it's too sticky to handle, and form it into a square about 1 1/4 inch / 3 cm high. Cut the square into 4 smaller ones and then cut each of those diagonally into two triangles.
4.  Place the scones onto a greased or parchment paper lined baking sheet and cook for 17-20 minutes or until they're golden brown on top. Serve smeared with butter and jam with your favorite tea or breakfast beverage.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Caramelized Onion Tofu Frittata with Gazpacho

During the summer, it seems like my mother always has a large jug of gazpacho in the fridge. Having a cold soup on hand at all times seems reasonable, seeing as is usually upwards of 90 F / 32 C most summer days in Madrid. My mother is not the only person I know with a deep, undying love for gazpacho though. My friend Julian started suffering gazpacho withdrawals a few months into his stay in the US. With a crazy look in his eyes, he would say to me "Mi reino por un gazpacho" ("I'd give my kingdom for some gazpacho"). During his time of need, we went to a Latin American festival in Worcester where we met a fellow Spaniard. Not knowing of Julian's craving, the guy said to him "Have you seen the stand over there where they're selling gazpacho?". When the guy confessed he was kidding, Julian looked like a kid who'd just been told Santa doesn't exist. Fortunately for him, my parents visited town a couple weeks later and my mother made Julian some of her delicious gazpacho, and let him keep his kingdom.

As delicious as gazpacho is, it's usually not filling enough to be a meal unto itself.  In order to add some heft and protein to our dinner, I decided to pair it with a veggie-loaded frittata. Traditional frittata is a thick egg omelette, made with cheese, veggies and, in some cases, meat. In this version, the egg is replaced with tofu, the nutritional yeast provides a cheesy undertone, and the caramelized onions, sun dried tomatoes and arugula provide sweetness, tang and peppery flavor. The result is lighter and much healthier than the egg-centric version. So go ahead and make your own frittata, and serve it with some gazpacho to bring a taste of summer to your March.

Makes about 5 1/2 cups (about 3 servings in our house)
  • 2 lb 4 oz / 1 kg / about 8 medium ripe red tomatoes
  • 5 1/2 oz / 150 g / about 1/2 medium cucumber peeled 
  • 1/2 large green bell pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 generous tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 liberal tablespoons vinegar
Chop the tomatoes, cuke, bell pepper and garlic roughly and toss them in the blender along with the rest of the ingredients. Blend until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking. If you'd like to get rid of the tomato seeds and other small bits of veggies you can pass the soup through a food mill. I skipped this step since I like my gazpacho on the rustic side. Lastly, garnish with chopped tomatoes, cukes and pepper if you'd like.

Caramelized Onion Tofu Frittata
Makes about 6 servings
  • 1 lb extra firm tofu, broken into pieces
  • 3 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup packed arugula, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped sun dried tomatoes (I used the kind packed in oil, but you could use rehydrated dried ones instead)
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 2-3 tablespoons water
1.  In a medium to large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, stir them to make sure they're coated in olive oil, and lower the heat to medium-low. Cook the onions until they're a beautiful caramel color, which should take 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. If you don't leave the onions alone to do their thing for at least 5-10 minutes at a time they won't caramelize. You've been warned. This does seem like a lot of work to go through for just some onions but your frittata won't be the same without their sweetness. Use the down time to make some gazpacho or another side dish.
2.  Preheat your oven to 350 F / 175 C. In a food processor, combine the tofu, cornstarch, salt, spices and nutritional yeast. Whiz it until it forms a uniform paste. With the processor running, add the water a little at a time through the feeding tube until the mixture is smooth and has a consistency similar to store-bought hummus (the version I make at home is a bit thicker). Transfer the mixture into a bowl and fold in the onions, arugula, and the sun dried tomatoes. Pour the contents of the bowl into an oiled 9-inch pie dish, evening out the top, and bake for 30-35 minutes or until the top has browned and the frittata is firm to the touch. Let it set out of the oven for a few minutes before cutting it. Serve it warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Vietnamese Summer Rolls

When I lived in Worcester, MA, I frequented a Vietnamese restaurant called Dalat. My absolute favorite thing on their menu were the fried tofu rolls with peanut dipping sauce. Contrary to what it might sound like, it's just the tofu that's fried; the roll itself is made with a rice wrapper. As good as these summer rolls are, it's the sauce that makes them fantastic. Many have tried to replicate Dalat's sauce, with little success. Its composition may be like Atlantis, not meant to be discovered.

The recipe below is my second attempt at recreating this condiment and, while the resulting sauce is delicious in it's own right, it lacks the magical fairy dust (or maybe the MSG or the fish sauce) in Dalat's original version. Hopefully these rolls with almond butter sauce (we rarely have peanut butter on hand) will satisfy your Dalat cravings until you can make your way back to the Woo. To those of you that can still get the real deal, I probably speak for all the Dalat lovers who have left town when I say "please eat enough for the rest of us".

Vietnamese Summer Rolls with Almond Butter Dipping Sauce
Makes about 12 rolls and about 1 1/4 cup of dipping sauce

For the rolls 
  • 12 rice paper wrappers, plus some extras in case you break a few
  • 2 oz thin rice vermicelli, cooked according to the package's directions.
  • 1 16 oz / 455 block of tofu, cut width-wise into 8 slices and crisped up in the oven using this method
  • 2 oz / 55 g shiitake mushrooms, wiped clean, stemmed and sliced into strips.
  • About 24 mint leaves 
  • About 24 basil leaves
  • About 36 cilantro leaves
1.  Cut each of the eight slices of tofu into three strips.
2.  Soak a rice paper wrapper in water until it looses its rigidity, about 45 seconds. Place it on a smooth surface and put about 1/4 cup of cooked vermicelli in the middle of the lower third of the wrapper. Top the vermicelli with 2 tofu strips, about 1/8 cup of cabbage, 3-4 mushroom slices, 2 mint leaves, 2 basil leaves and 3 cilantro leaves. Fold the lower portion of the wrapper over the filling, then fold in the sides. Carefully pinch the filling and roll it upward, making sure the filling is tightly wrapped but being careful not to tear the wrapper. Seeing someone actually do this is helpful, so you might want to check out this video (the guy isn't super entertaining but he is instructive). Repeat the process to assemble the rest of the rolls. If you'd like to store the rolls, put them in a tupperware lined with a damp paper towel and then cover them with another damp paper towel.

For the dipping sauce
  • 1/2 cup almond butter
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 teaspoon miso
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger or 1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1-2 teaspoons Sriracha sauce, depending on your desired level of spiciness
Put all the ingredients in a a blender (my little Magic Bullet is especially useful for this) and run it until the mixture is smooth. Taste and adjust the soy sauce, spiciness and thickness to your liking.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mediterranean Red Quinoa

Although white quinoa (pronounced keen-nwa) may look like couscous, it's actually a grain (or a pseudocereal if you want to get technical). Quinoa has become popular in the US during the last few years but it's actually been around for a long time, and for good reasons. Pre-Columbian civilizations heavily relied on the nutritional punch this little grain packs. It's composed of 12-18 % complete protein, which means its amino acids don't need to be combined with others to form the type of protein humans need. And it's not just foodies that are consuming it these days. According to this NYTimes article, NASA considers it an ideal food for long space missions. Not only is it a nutritional powerhouse, but it's a great blank canvas for all sorts of dishes.

You can use quinoa most anywhere you would normally use couscous if you have a few extra minutes to spare, because it does take longer to cook. To bring quinoa's nutty flavor, toasting it or roasting before you cook it will do the trick. That's actually what I did to prepare this simple Mediterranean Red Quinoa. The artichokes make it tangy, the thyme supplies some lemony flavor and the smooth chickpeas add extra protein. If you haven't cooked quinoa yet, this just might be a great way to start.

Mediterranean Red Quinoa
Makes about 3 servings
  • 1 cup red quinoa
  • 1 orange bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 celery rib, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 14 oz / 395 g can artichokes, drained and quartered
  • 1 15 oz / 425 g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
1.  Heat the olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Toss in the bell pepper and the garlic and cook until the pepper has softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the celery and cook for another 4 minutes, or until it's tender.
2.  Add the quinoa, toasting it for about 5 minutes. Add the thyme and cook for about one minute or until fragrant. Pour in the broth and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook covered for 15 minutes.
3. Toss in the chickpeas and the artichokes. Cook for another 10 minutes or until all the liquid has been absorbed. Serve hot.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Vegan Twice Baked Potatoes

I've always loved baked potatoes. Growing up, I ate them dressed only with salt, so as to not ruin their perfection. When I got older, I realized a drizzle of olive oil or a smear of margarine took them to new heights. Then, few years ago I discovered the twice baked potato. How I hadn't heard of such deliciousness before amazes me. They became somewhat of an obsession, to the point where my coworkers would say "What's for lunch, Sara? Let me guess... twice baked potatoes!" (they were exaggerating... a little bit). If, like me, you live under a rock and have never had twice baked potatoes you might not want to try them. Why, you ask, should you deprive yourself of something so wonderful? Well, twice baked potatoes will probably ruin conventional baked potatoes for you. They are so much better, you probably won't be able to get enough. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Vegan Twice Baked Potatoes
Makes 6 servings or 12 potato halves
  • 6 medium or about 3 lbs / 1.4 kg  russet potatoes, scrubbed, dried and pierced in a few places with a fork
  • 1 small to medium onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup Earth Balance or other non-hydrogenated non-dairy butter
  • 1/4 cup almond or other non-dairy milk
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 2-3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • Paprika for sprinkling on top
1. Preheat oven to 400 F / 205 C. Bake the potatoes directly on the oven rack for about 1 hour or until they're soft to the touch.
2. While the potatoes are baking, heat he olive oil over low to medium heat in a small pan. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it's soft, sweet and has started to brown, which should take about 10-15 minutes. Put the onions into a large mixing bowl along with the garlic and the parsley.
3. When the potatoes are cooked, slice them in half lengthwise and scoop out the flesh, reserving the skins. Since you want to do this while they're hot, it might help to use an oven mitt lined with a paper towel, to prevent potato from getting on your mitt and getting crusty, to hold the hot potatoes. Add the potato insides to the bowl holding the onions, parsley and garlic. Blend in the Earth Balance, salt, and pepper using a fork or a potato masher.Pour in the almond milk and mash it in. The  resulting mixture should be a bit chunkier than mashed potatoes. Taste and adjust the seasonings, Earth Balance and almond milk to your liking.
4.  Using a spoon, refill the empty potato skins. Dust the potatoes with paprika and bake them at 375 F / 190 C for another 20 minutes or until they start to brown. Serve right out of the oven. If you have leftovers, these are also fantastic reheated in the microwave.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Around the World in Four Courses

Last night Austin and I had our downstairs neighbors, Sidarth and Vatsala, over for dinner. Instead of creating a cohesive menu around one type of cuisine, I decided to draw each course from a different culture keeping veggies (or fruit) as the star. First we started with some French inspired toasts. Austin is obsessed with leeks and I really love mushrooms so I decided to marry both ingredients, doused in wine, to make a savory, saucy and delicious topping to some hearty toasts. Next, we tasted the Mexican flavors of a sweet potato salad that has become a staple in our house and will blow the socks off that mayo-covered white stuff people serve at picnics. Try it if you don't believe me.  We then briefly visited Italy thanks to Sidarth and Vatsala's amazing veggie lasagna, which I've been meaning to make a version of. Lastly, we had an American dessert with a Caribbean twist. Who new coconut and rum could give another life to a simple crisp? All this good, honest food and even better company made for a wonderful evening.

Mushroom and Leek Toast
Makes about 6 large toasts
  • 6 thick slices of hearty bread, rubbed with garlic, toasted and drizzled with olive oil (I made this with some sun dried tomato and olive bread. I'll share the recipe soon)
  • 4 oz / 115 g each of fresh shiitake and cremini mushrooms (or you can substitute other varieties), wiped with a damp cloth, stemmed and sliced
  • 3 leeks, white and light green parts, cut into quarters lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 tablespoon non-dairy butter (I used Earth Balance)
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1.   Heat the butter and the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until they start to soften, about 2 minutes.
2.  Toss in the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to brown or about 5-7 minutes.
3. Add the garlic, leeks, thyme, salt and pepper and cook until the leeks have softened and the garlic is fragrant, about another 5 minutes.
4. Pour the wine in and turn up the heat to medium-high. Cook until the liquid has reduced by about half, which should take 5-7 minutes. Mix in the parsley. Taste, adjust the seasonings and serve warm on top of toasted bread.

Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Black Beans and Chili Dressing
Adapted from a recipe Mark Bittman wrote for the New York Times
Serves 6 as a side, 3 as main course
  • 1 lb / 455 g sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into about 3/4 inch dice
  • 1 large red onion, chopped into pieces a bit smaller than the potatoes
  • 1 yellow or red bell pepper, chopped into about 1/2 inch squares
  • 1 15 oz / 425 g can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 jalapeño, roughly chopped and seeded if you don't like heat
  • 1/8 cup lime juice, approximately the juice of 3 limes
  • 3/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1.  Preheat the oven to 375 F. Arrange the sweet potatoes and onions on a sheet pan, drizzle them with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon  ground black pepper. Roast 30-40 minutes or until the potatoes are tender and the onions are brown in some spots.
2.  While the vegetables are cooking, process or blend the oil, lime juice, jalapeño, garlic, remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper until the dressing is smooth.
4. Once the vegetables are roasted, put them in large bowl, pour the dressing over them, add the beans, pepper and cilantro and mix until all the ingredients are coated in the dressing. Taste and adjust the oil, lime juice and seasonings to taste. Chill for a couple hours (although I have eaten this salad warm and it's just as delicious) and serve.

Banana-Berry Caribbean Crisp
Inspired by Banana Crumble in Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's "The Joy of Vegan Baking"
Makes 4-5 servings
  • 2 bananas, cut into about 1/4 inch slices
  • 2 1/2 cups mixed berries, fresh or frozen (I used a frozen mix of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries from Trader Joe's)
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 3 tablespoons dark rum
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup quick oats
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup dry unsweetened coconut
  • 1/3 cup non-dairy butter (I used Earth Balance)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1.  Preheat your oven to 350 F / 175 C Grease a 9-inch pie dish and add the fruit (if using frozen, there's no need to thaw it), lime juice, rum and maple syrup, stirring to evenly mix.
2.  Mix the oats, flour, sugar, coconut, non-dairy butter and spices using your hands until the the butter is evenly distributed and all the ingredients are evenly combined.
3.  Cover the fruit with the topping. Press down on the topping with your hands to compact it and even it out. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Serve warm with some creamy tofu topping. 

Creamy Tofu Topping
Adapted from Whipped Tofu Topping in Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's "The Joy of Vegan Baking"
Makes about 3 cups
  • 1 1 lb / 455 g package of lite silken tofu
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened almond or other non-dairy milk
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • A pinch of salt
Combine all ingredients in the food processor and process until smooth. Refrigerate for at least a couple hours. Enjoy on top of your favorite pie, cobbler, crisp, cake or granola. This would also make a delicious dip for almost any fruit.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Artichoke and Chickpea Soup

This is kind of embarrassing to admit: the only soup I ate willingly before college was my mother's vegetable soup.  It's possible this was because the only other soups I was exposed to were the tasteless, greasy and nasty ones I had as a kid at school (which, in retrospect, were orders of magnitude better than most US school lunches but that's a topic for another post). When I got to college I was faced with limited vegetarian options and forced to expand my horizons. That's when I discovered the existence of all different kinds of soups that were -- gasp! -- as good as my mother's.

Years after this revelation, I've become a soup fiend. While I'm an unconditional fan of all types of soups --(non-dairy) creamy, earthy, brothy, hearty-- I especially adore those that are a meal unto themselves. The soup I made tonight, a version of the Marjoram-Scented Artichoke and Chickpea Stew in Robin Robertson's "Vegan Planet", definitely fits that bill. The potatoes and chickpeas give it some heft, the wine and marjoram make its broth incredibly flavorful and the tender artichokes give it some tang. I decided to add a lonely sweet potato I had in my cupboard and its sweetness gave the soup another layer of flavor. I present to you a delicious meal that sticks to your ribs, warms you up from the inside and can be made in a single pot. 

Artichoke and Chickpea Soup
Adapted from Robin Robertson's "Vegan Planet"
Makes about 4-5 whole meal servings
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large orange or red bell pepper (although the world will not end if you use a green one), chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 celery rib, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 3/4 lb / 340 g / 2 medium red or white potatoes, diced into bite size pieces
  • 1/4 lb / 110 g / 1 medium sweet potato
  • 1 14 oz / 400 g can of artichokes, drained (which should yield about 8.5 oz / 240 g) and quartered
  • 1 15 oz / 425 g can chickpeas
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Optional: 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper 
1.  In a large pot, heat the oil over medium high heat. Toss in the onion and saute for 3 minutes, until it starts to soften. Add the garlic, celery and bell pepper and continue to cook until the vegetables are tender, about another 5-7 minutes.
2. Stir in the marjoram or oregano, bay leaf, wine and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and add the red or white potatoes. After 5 minutes, add the sweet potatoes and cook for another 10 minutes.
3. Mix in the artichokes and the chickpeas and cook for 5 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Serve hot, maybe with a nice glass of white wine and a hearty piece of toasted bread.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pesto Pasta with Spiralized Zucchini and Carrots

Every summer our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box includes lots of zucchini and squash. Searching for new things to do with them, I learned about spiralizers. These nifty tools allow you to make noodles out of different kinds of vegetables. The one I have sells for at about $30 and comes with three different attachments that produce thick noodles, thinner noodles and ribbon cuts. Unlike flimsier models, it's sturdy enough to cut through harder veggies such as carrots, sweet potatoes (you could make your own curly fries!), and beets. Not ready to commit to a spiralizer just yet? Well, fear not; you can use a vegetable peeler to cut thin strips summer squash or carrots. While the results won't be quite the same, you'll at least get an idea of what's possible with vegetable noodles. 

When summer squash are in season, we use our spiralizer to make heaping plates of veggie noodles. Tossed in raw marinara or pesto they make for wonderful light dinner Since it's not that time of year yet and we're still craving warm and heartier food, we sometimes bulk up conventional pasta with an equal volume of veggie noodles. This is a great way to sneak in some vegetables while also cutting the calories of a heaping bowl of spaghetti almost in half. If your sauce is flavorful enough you probably will barely notice that half of your dish is made up of vegetables. I mean, just look at the picture below and try to identify the zucchini noodles. Pretty hard, huh?

Pesto Pasta with Spiralized Zucchini and Carrots
Makes 2 servings
  • 1/2-3/4 cup of vegan pesto (recipe below)
  • 4 oz linguini, spaghetti or other long pasta
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 medium zucchini, spiralized into thin noodles (you can use a vegetable peeler for the noodles if you don't have a spiralizer)
  • 1 large carrot, spiralized into thin noodles
1.  Make one batch of vegan pesto. Depending on what type of pasta you're using, you could do this while the pasta is cooking.
2.  In a medium pot, bring water to a boil. Salt it, add your pasta, and cook per the package's directions until al dente. Drain the pasta.
3.  Heat the pesto in a pan over medium heat for about 3-4 minutes. Add the pasta, the spiralized zucchini and carrots. Toss until the pesto is evenly distributed and the pasta, zucchini and carrots are hot.

Vegan Pesto
Makes about 1 1/3 cups
  • 3 cups packed basil, washed and dried
  • 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 cup almonds, raw or toasted
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3/4 cup canola, light olive oil, or other light-tasting vegetable oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
1.  Put all the ingredients except the oil in the food processor and run it until they're all very finely chopped. This will take a few minutes and you'll probably have to scrape down the food processor with a spatula a couple times.
2.  Through the small opening on top of the food processor, slowly stream in the olive oil while the food processor is running. Keep processing the mixture until you have a smooth sauce. Taste and adjust the seasonings or the amount of oil until you reach your desired consistency.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Kidney Bean Burgers and Spiced Garlic Roasted Potatoes

Want a healthier version of the standard burger and fries? This might be just what you're looking for. If you make the burgers while the potatoes are cooking you could have this meal on the table in under 45 minutes. When you can make your own veggie burgers so quickly, why would you ever buy the packaged processed stuff ever again? I realize that using vital wheat gluten may sound a little scary to some but it's nothing to be afraid of. It's just the little protein found in wheat generally used to make seitan or add chewiness to bread. These days you can find it in most well stocked grocery stores. It does a great job of holding the burgers together and gives them great texture.

While you will want to stick to the recipe for the burgers to achieve the right texture, the recipe for the potatoes is more of a template than anything else. I added seasonings that were similar to those in the burgers but you can vary them according to whatever you're pairing the potatoes with. For example, try adding thyme and rosemary in addition to oil, garlic, salt and pepper for a more Mediterranean side dish. However you choose to cook these spuds, please use garlic. The roasting process makes it so sweet and nutty that coming across a piece of it may just be the highlight of your evening. I could easily eat these potatoes every day, and maybe I do for all you know.

Kidney Bean Burgers
Makes 6 large burgers or 8 smaller ones
  • 1 15 oz / 425 g can kidney bean, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 medium onion, coarsely grated
  • 1 medium carrot, coarsely grated
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced 
  • 1 medium celery rib, minced
  • 1/2 cup vital wheat gluten
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1-1 1/2 tablespoon chopped chipotle in adobo
  • 1/2 cup packed chopped cilantro
  • 1/8-1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil for frying
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1.  Sprinkle the salt over the minced garlic and paste it by dragging the garlic along the cutting board with the knife while pressing down on it. Keep repeating this process until the garlic and salt have formed a uniform paste. Add the paste, beans and onion to a large mixing bowl. Using a fork or a potato masher, break up the beans until there are no whole beans left, just halves or quarters.
2.  Add the rest of the ingredients, except for the water, to the bowl and mix until the ingredients are combined. Incorporate the water in small increments until you are able to easily form patties that stay together.
3.  Roll the mixture into 6-8 balls and then flatten them to form patties. Optionally, refrigerate the patties for 30 minutes to 1 hour. This will help them stay together during the frying process. If you want to cook them straight away go right ahead, just be a little gentler with your patties.
4.  Heat 1/2 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat. Fry the patties 2-3 at a time for about 5 minutes on each side or until they're brown. Repeat until all the patties are fried.
5.  Serve as you would your favorite burger: in a bun, over greens, with avocado, tomato, cashew "cheese", or any other condiments.

Spiced Garlic Roasted Potatoes
Makes 4 servings
  • 1 lb / 455 g young red potatoes, washed, scrubbed,  quartered lengthwise then cut into 1/2-inch thick pieces
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/8-1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle or cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons oil
Preheat your oven to 375 F / 190 C. Combine all the ingredients in a baking dish large enough for the potatoes to form a single layer. Toss until the potatoes are evenly coated with all the spices and garlic. Bake for 25-35 minutes, scrapping the potatoes off the bottom and flipping them half way through, or until the potatoes are golden brown some sides and tender on the inside. Serve as a side dish with your favorite veggie burger or other entree.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Crispy Tofu Asian Salad

When people tell me they don't like tofu, I always say the same thing: "It probably wasn't cooked right". Tofu is like a neutral-flavored sponge so if you don't like the taste of tofu it's more than likely the marinade or sauce it was cooked in that is to blame. The texture of tofu can also make the difference between disgusting and delectable.  Most dishes tend to be best when prepared with tofu of a certain firmness: silken tofu is best for soups, frosting and baking while extra-firm or firm is holds up to grilling, scrambling and cooking in sauces for longer periods of time.

Before cooking, these last two types of tofu need to undergo some extra prep: some of the moisture needs to be pressed out so that your favorite sauce or marinade can seep in. To do this, take the tofu out of the package and wrap it in a clean dish towel or some paper towels. Set it on a plate and put another plate on top of it. You then need to add some weight to the top plate, either by using more plates, canned goods, a few textbooks or any other heavy object. If you don't enjoy piling stuff on top of your food (who doesn't?), you can buy a tofu press, which I still haven't found necessary.  For best results, press your tofu for 30 minutes to a couple hours. If you've had textural issues with tofu I promise that going through this extra step will help, perhaps even tremendously.

The tofu I put in our salads tonight started off under a stack of plates. It then spent some time in the oven until it was perfectly crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, like a much healthier version of deep fried tofu. I piled the tofu atop some spinach, tomatoes, sugar snap peas, red bell pepper, carrots and onion. I added some almonds and sesame seeds for some extra crunch, protein and calcium and drizzled the salad in an amazingly tasty miso dressing. The result was the perfect antidote to a weekend of excess.  

Crispy Baked Tofu
Adapted from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian"
Makes 9 slices
  • One 1 lb / 455 g block (or one package) extra firm tofu, pressed and cut widthwise into 9 slices
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1. Preheat your oven to 350 F / 175 C. Brush the bottom of a baking pan with olive oil. Place tofu slices in a single layer in the pan. Brush each slice with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, flip the slices and repeat the process on the other side.
2. Bake for about 1 hour in the oven without bothering to flip it. The tofu is done when it's golden brown and crispy on the outside but soft on the inside. Blot the tofu with a paper towel to absorb any excess oil. Serve it as is, sliced into strips, in a salad or a sandwich, with a dipping sauce, or any other way you'd like.

Miso Sesame Dressing
Makes a little less than 1/2 cup 
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 cup apple cider vinegar (another mild flavored vinegar would also work)
  • 1 teaspoon red miso (another type of miso would taste just as delicious)
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Salt or soy sauce to taste (I didn't add any since the miso I used was salty enough)
Mix all the ingredients together (I did this right in my measuring cup). Mix with a fork or whisk until the dressing is emulsified and the miso has disolved. Taste and adjust the oil to vinegar ratio or the seasonings. Pour over your favorite salad.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Chocolate-Zucchini Muffins

Yes, I made muffins again this week. To be fair, I didn't get to enjoy most of the ones I made for the contest. I decided to make these to use up a couple small zucchini I had lying around in the fridge and so I could bring some to my friend Kyle. Nothing says "thank you for always being nice enough to let me hitch a ride to work while my car is the shop" better than some chocolaty goodness.

I'd had my eye on these muffins ever since I got "The Happy Herbivore Cookbook" this Christmas. I love that they're made with zucchini, banana and applesauce (that's two fruits and one veggie!, in case you weren't counting) instead of added fat. Trust me when I say that these swaps don't noticeably affect the taste and texture of the muffins: they're fluffy, moist, chocolaty and delicious. So do yourself a favor and bake a batch of these. Enjoy them guilt free because veggie infused muffins don't count as a treat, right?

Chocolate-Zucchini Muffins
Published from "The Happy Herbivore Cookbook" with permission from author Lindsay S. Nixon
Serves 12

  • 1 1/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour (I used conventional whole-wheat flour)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 ripe babna, mashed
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 to 1 cup raw sugar (I used 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar)
  • 1/4 cup non-dairy milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup shredded zucchini (I grated it using the largest holes on my box grater)
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips (optional) (I didn't use any)
1.  Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C). Grease or spray a muffin tin or paper liners, if using.
2.  In a medium bowl, whisk flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon together.
3.  In a large bowl, cream mashed banana with applesauce and sugar then add non-dairy milk, vanilla, zucchini and chips, if using, stirring to combine.
4.  Add the dry mixture into the wet mixture in 3 to 4 batches, stirring until just combined.
5.  Spoon into muffin cups 3/4 full.
6. Bake for 18-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
7. Transfer to a wire cooling rack.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Noodle, Shiitake and Miso Soup

The first time I made miso soup it was a disaster of epic proportions. My first mistake was adding too much wakame, the seaweed traditionally used in the soup. It doesn't look like much of anything when it's dry but after a good soak it increases it's volume at least six fold. In moderation it's slightly sweet and tasty but when eaten by the mouthful it tastes just like seaweed on the beach smells. I also dissolved the miso into the soup itself, or at least I thought I did. I kept tasting the soup, thinking it was bland and mixing in more miso without realizing that I was just adding to the miso deposits at the bottom of my pot. Eating miso by the spoonful is not my idea of delicious. My last blunder was using extra-firm, instead of silken, tofu. As anybody who's eaten practically raw firm tofu knows, it's not a pleasant experience. Unless you're my father, who likes to eat toast topped with raw tofu drizzled in olive oil (it makes me shudder too). Thankfully, I've learned from my mistakes and the soup I bring you tonight hasn't suffered any of these wrongdoings.

This soup makes a pretty nutritionally complete light dinner or lunch. The tofu provides protein, the 'shrooms and the onions help you get your veg on, the wakame brings calcium and iodine to the table and the miso delivers some healthy bacteria. All of these ingredient can be found for very reasonable prices at your local Asian market. There are two within driving distance of my apartment and only relatively recently did I get up the nerve to go. Like some other people I know, I was overwhelmed by all the exotic offerings at first but, with a little guidance from some friends (thanks Alicia and Rayn!), I got over my paralyzing fear. I now strut into markets of any ethnicity with my head held high, and leave with a fuller wallet than if I'd bought the same ingredients at Whole Foods.

Noodle, Shiitake and Miso Soup 
Inspired by Udon with Shiitake Mushrooms and Kale in Miso Broth from Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terri Hope Romero
Makes about 6 servings
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 3 cups dried or fresh shiitake mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup dried wakame
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated ginger
  • 4 oz / 115 g rice noodles
  • 8 oz / 115 g silken tofu (I used lite)
  • 3 1/3 tablespoons red miso (any other miso will do just fine)
  • 5 cups vegetable broth or soaking liquid from mushrooms and/or wakame
  • 2 teaspoons of soy sauce or more to taste.
  • 1 teaspoon canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1.  While you prep your ingredients, cook the rice noodles in a large of boiling water for about 3 minutes less than the package suggests. They will cook more once in the soup.
2.  While the noodles are cooking, cover your mushrooms (if using dry ones) in water and soak them until they're soft. Since my dried shiitakes were already sliced I only soaked them for about 2 minutes. In a separate bowl, soak the wakame in at least 4 cups of water until it's soft, about 4 minutes. Drain both the mushrooms and the wakame, reserving the soaking liquid for the if you're not using veggie broth. Set the wakame aside. If you're mushrooms aren't already sliced, slice them and set them aside.
3.  Once the noodles are cooked, drain them and rinse them in cold water.
4.  Wipe the pot you used to cook the noodles dry. Heat the oils in it over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until they start to soften, around 3 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another 2-3 minutes or until fragrant. Squeeze some of the liquid out of the mushrooms and add them to the pot. Cook them until they're warmed through and slightly soft, about 3-5 minutes.
5.  Add the broth or the reserved soaking liquid, bring the soup to a boil and then reduce it to a simmer. Put about 1 cup of the hot broth in a bowl or cup and dissolve the miso in it. Pour the liquid back into the pot with the soy sauce.
6.  Add the tofu, wakame, and noodles. Stir to distribute all the ingredients evenly and simmer for another 2 minutes. Taste, adjust seasonings and serve.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Nutty Sweet Potato and Kale Stew

Picture this. It's 1 am and you've been at the bar for several hours. In walks a beautiful woman carrying a tray of vegan rosewater pistachio, chocolate mouse, or cappuccino cupcakes. She proceeds to distribute them amongst those present and you all devour them like only people who have the buzzed munchies can. No, this isn't fiction. This scene actually repeated itself pretty frequently at the Sahara, a bar in Worcester, MA where you were pretty certain to find me a few years ago. And who was the cupcake goddess?, you ask. My friend Jenna.

With such a vegan maven in the mix, the food talk was common. I remember one particular night when Jenna kept smiling, looking out into space starry eyed. Was she in love? Yes, yes she was ... with a stew. She just couldn't stop thinking about the wonderful African Sweet Potato and Peanut Stew she'd made and had for dinner. When I finally left Worcester, she let me in on the secret: she gave me the book she'd gotten the recipe from -- "Vegan Planet" by Robin Robertson.

The book has since become a favorite of mine. I love the stew of Jenna's dreams. It's got a little sweetness from the potatoes, heat from the pepper, a bit of acidity from the tomatoes and some creaminess from the nut butter.  I've changed a few things from the original recipe: I used more tomatoes, a bit more broth and garlic, changed the spice quantities and substituted almond butter for the peanut butter. Inspired by a similar recipe in "The Happy Herbivore Cookbook", I also decided to add a bunch of kale, since you can never really eat too many greens. The result is just perfect for a night like this one, when I need something comforting after getting my ass kicked in Muscle Pump.

Nutty Sweet Potato and Kale Stew
Adapted from African Sweet Potato and Peanut Stew in Robin Robertson's "Vegan Planet"
Makes about 6 servings 
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 medium bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle or cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 lbs or 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into about 1-inch cubes
  • 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 15 oz can kidney beans, rinsed 
  • 2 tablespoons almond or other nut butter
  • 1 bunch of kale, stemmed and coarsely chopped 
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds or other nut
1. Add the oil to a pot over medium heat. When the oil is ready, add the onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.
2. Throw in the garlic and bell pepper, cooking until the pepper softens, about another 5 minutes.
3. Stir in the ginger, salt and spices, cooking until fragrant or about 1 minute. Toss in the potatoes and stir them to coat. Deglaze the pan with the tomatoes, their juice, and the broth. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for about 15-20 minutes, or until the potatoes are about 10 minutes from being done.
4. Mix in the beans and the kale. Cook for about 5-10 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender.
5. Remove about 1/2 cup of the broth from the pot and mix it with the peanut butter. Stir the mixture back into the pot.
6. Serve garnished with the chopped nuts.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Chocolate Frosted Orange Muffins

I found out from one of the million Duke email lists I'm on, and don't remember signing up for, that Duke's Nutrition Services was having a healthy dessert contest called Smart Sweets. Someone suggested that I enter so I went home, threw a bunch of stuff together and voilá, these muffins were born. (Ok, maybe it wasn't that easy, but you get the picture.) I know they look more like a cupcake, but texture wise they're more of a muffin. Whatever you want to call them, I thought they were really tasty and considered my opinion confirmed when Austin had several of them. You see, he usually ignores my alluring baked goods so I just end up bringing treats in to my lab.

In the first phase of the contest, the recipes were judged only by the description, which I've included below (it's a bit over the top but, what can I say, I was selling it hard), and the ingredient list. Since I made it though the first phase to the semifinals, I got to participate in a bake-off yesterday. Each dessert faced off against the other desserts in their category (luxury, fruit inclusive or vegan) for a chance to be in the finals. One finalist from each category have their dessert prepared by Duke Dinning Services in mass quantities to serve at the Great Hall on March 28th for students to choose the overall winner. So... guess who won the vegan category? That'd be me! I'll keep you posted on the results of the final bake-off but in the mean time, have yourselves some muffins.  

Chocolate Frosted Orange Muffins
Makes 10-11 muffins

These aren't your mama's muffins. That is, unless your mother was a baking ninja that could make delicious treats using tofu, avocado, oranges and chocolate. The muffin is so moist you won't miss the artery-clogging butter and using the whole orange (yes, peel and all) makes the muffin taste especially bright. The frosting is thick, creamy and ... made with avocado! Say whaaaat?! Yes, avocado. Trust its goodness. It's also chocoholic approved, since it has almost a full bar of 100 % cacao baking chocolate in it. Check (most of) your guilt at the door though. Each muffin has more protein than an egg, 25% of your daily dose of calcium, over 50% of the manganese you need in a day, and about 20% of your daily fiber. Too good to be true? I think not!*


For the muffins
  • 1 whole medium orange, washed
  • 1/3 cup of vegetable oil (canola, sunflower, light-tasting olive oil, or other heart healthy oil)
  • 3/4 cup firm tofu
  • 1 and 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar (white sugar would work as well)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
For the frosting
  • 1 medium ripe avocado
  • 2 oz / 86 g / 1/4 cup silken tofu  (must be silken for the frosting to be smooth)
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 3 oz / 85 g 100% cocoa baking chocolate bar (Ghiradelli makes a good one)
  • 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 
1. Preheat your oven to 350 F / 175 C.
            2. Break the chocolate up into pieces and put it in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave it for 30 seconds, stir and repeat until all the chocolate has melted. Set the chocolate aside to cool.
            3. Let’s put those sweet knife skills to use. Carefully cut off the orange peel, trying to get as little pith (the bitter white stuff) as possible. Next, cut off the pith of the orange until all you have left is juicy orange goodness. Cut the orange up into chunks and toss into the food processor along with the orange part of the peel. If your orange has very thin skin (or little to no pith), you can avoid all this hassle and just cut up the whole orange.
           4. Put the brown sugar, oil and vanilla into the food processor along with the orange. Blend until smooth, using a spatula to scrape down the sides if necessary.
           5. In a large bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder and baking soda.
           6. Mix the wet and dry ingredients until just combined.
           7. Grease a muffin tin with some vegetable oil or cooking spray. Alternatively, use cupcake liners. Fill the cups until they’re almost full.
           8. Bake the muffins for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.
           9. While the muffins are baking, make the frosting.  Put all the frosting ingredients into the food processor and blend until smooth. This will take at least a couple minutes .
     10. When muffins are done, cool in the muffin pan for about 5 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack.
     11. Once muffins are room temperature, top them with the frosting. If you want to get fancy, you can put the frosting into a plastic bag, snip off a corner of it and use it as a piping bag. If not, you can always use a spoon to plop some of the frosting on each muffin, then use a knife or spatula smooth it out.

*Nutrition facts calculated using this website. Daily values based on a 2000 calorie diet.