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.

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