Thursday, April 28, 2011

Vegetable Dumplings

As some of you know, I love doughy pockets of deliciousness. That's why I couldn't resist pairing last night's hot and sour soup with some vegetable dumplings. I had never attempted them before but walking by some wonton wrappers at my favorite Asian market, Li Ming's, was all the encouragement I needed. Well, that and I wanted to try out some of those fun dumpling folding techniques I'd seen. Since I'm not very dexterous, I limited the number of folding styles I tried to two. I'm happy to report they didn't come out half bad, despite what I expected.

While I was doing some dumpling related research on the interwebs, I came across this Saveur article. It mentions using wonton wrappers to make one of my favorite foods of all time -- ravioli. Yes, yet another pocket of doughy goodness. So if you end up making these and have leftover wrappers you might want to give ravioli a shot. If you do, please let me know how it goes. In the meantime, I'm off to think of crafty filling possibilities (and, I'm not going to lie, watch Private Practice).

Vegetable Dumplings
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes about 25 dumplings
  • 4 oz / 113 g firm tofu, pressed
  • 1 cup napa cabbage, shredded then chopped into smaller pieces lengthwise (I used green cabbage but I think it a softer cabbage would have worked better)
  • 1/2 cup grated carrot, or about one medium carrot
  • 3 tablespoons scallions
  • 2 teaspoons grated or minced ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil 
  • 3 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1 cup vegetable stock or water
  • About 25 wonton wrappers
  • Optional: 1/2 teaspoon garlic chili sauce
  • 1 batch of dipping sauce 
1.  Preheat the oven to 200 F / 93 C. Toss all the ingredients except for the vegetable stock, wonton wrappers and dipping sauce in a mixing bowl until combined. Dip a finger in some water and use it to dampen the outer perimeter of a wonton wrapper. Place a heaped tablespoon of filling in the center and seal using the method of your choice. If you're using round wrappers and would like to make gyoza style dumplings you should check out the fantastic Epicurious video Deb at Smitten Kitchen suggested. I found it incredibly helpful. If you'd rather make round dumplings that look like Tibetan momos, this video shows you how to do so. I stuck to these two dumpling shapes. If you're using square dumplings you may want to pinch them together in a square pouch shape like this. You could always go rogue and make up your own dumpling shapes.
2.  Heat one teaspoon of the canola oil in a large, preferably non-stick, skillet over medium heat. Place about one third of the dumplings in the pan -- make sure they don't touch --  and cook uncovered for about 2 minutes. Turn the heat to low and add 1/3 cup of stock or water. Cover the skillet and let the dumplings steam for about 2-3 minutes. When they're done, use a spatula to carefully place them on a parchment paper lined baking sheet in the oven to keep them warm. Repeat the process with the remaining two thirds of the dumplings. Serve them with a side of dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce
Also adapted from Smitten Kitchen
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • Optional: 1/4 teaspoon garlic chili sauce
Whisk all the ingredients together. How easy is that?, as the Barefoot Contessa would say. If you know you're a big dipper (I am) you can make a double batch.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Vegan Hot and Sour Soup

I've had a thing for P.F. Chang's for some time now. When I was in college it would sometimes be the highlight of a trip into Boston. Are there better places to eat in Beantown? Hell yes, but I needed my fix. So sue me. In case you're wondering what fuels my devotion, it's those lettuce wraps with special sauce; I worship at their altar. I also have an ongoing love affair with their spicy eggplant. Those two dishes are exactly what I ordered last Friday for my birthday lunch.

While I happily ate my first meal as a 25 year-old, I watched my parents eat hot and sour soup. It's a menu item I've wanted to try for a while but haven't because it's usually made with chicken stock, not only at P.F.'s but elsewhere. It also sometimes has egg, which I'm not a fan of. I really wanted to figure out what was in this soup so I practically stuck my nose in my mother's bowl as she poked around with a spoon, both of us trying to figure out its exact composition. Since we couldn't identify all of the ingredients (we were missing the lily buds and the bamboo shoots) I consulted the Google Oracle.

The recipe I thought would best serve as a base for what I wanted was Food & Wine's, which was simultaneously listed as vegetarian and containing chicken stock. Really, Food & Wine? I obviously corrected this and made a few other modifications. The soup was exactly what I needed to put in a nail in my nasty virus' coffin. I rounded out the meal with some veggie dumplings, another first. If you want to check out that recipe you'll just have to stop by tomorrow.

Vegan Hot and Sour Soup
Adapted from Food & Wine 
Makes about 5 servings

Some of the ingredients in this recipe may be new to you (raise your hand if you've ever cooked a lily bud before!) and you may think they're hard to find. Asian market to the rescue! If you can't find the lily buds, omit them. The rest of the ingredients you should be able to find at a well stocked grocery store (or two).
  • 1 cup loosely packed dried lily buds 
  • 1 1/2 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil or other vegetable oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 teaspoons ginger, grated or minced
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup drained canned bamboo shoots, rinsed and julienned
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar 
  • 1 teaspoon garlic chili sauce or to taste
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch 
  • 4 tablespoons water
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 8-10 oz firm tofu, pressed and cut into 1/3 inch / 1 cm dice
  • 2 tablespoons scallions, thinly sliced
1.  Place the lily buds and dried shiitake mushrooms in two separate bowls and cover them with hot water until tender. The shiitakes I used were already sliced they only sat in the water for about 2 minutes. If you're using whole mushrooms you might have to soak them for longer. The lily buds were tender after about 30 minutes. Drain both the lily buds and the mushrooms. If you used whole shiitakes with stems, remove them before giving them a rough chop.
2.  In a large pot, heat the canola oil over medium heat. Toss in the garlic and the ginger and saute until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the vegetable tock, lily buds, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and salt. Cover the pot and bring the soup to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Pour in the vinegar and the garlic chili sauce and simmer for another 3 minutes.
3.  In a small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in 4 tablespoons of water. Stir cornstarch mixture, soy sauce, sesame oil and tofu into the soup and cook for about 2 minutes. Taste and adjust the balance of vinegar, garlic chili and soy sauce to your liking. Serve immediately, garnished with scallions.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Pasta with Mushroom Sauce

"I'll make you dinner." Who doesn't look forward to hearing those wonderful words when they're sick? I certainly thought it was the best thing Austin could have said to me last night, when I was feeling like I had the plague. When he asked me what he should make, I told him I was craving mushroom spaghetti. He responded he'd be happy to make it if I told him how. So, in between coughs and sneezes, with a tissue in my hand, I walked him through this mushroom pasta from the couch.

It wasn't the easiest process, especially since were weren't exactly on the same mushroom sauce page. "I'm throwing in a whole onion!" "Noooo, use only half *cough* *cough* *cough*, please." "Fiiiine". I don't want you to think I sniffled all of his contributions though. At one point he asked "Should I add some white wine to this?". I answered, "*Aaaaachoooo!* Wine sounds great, but make it red if we have any. It will go better with the mushrooms". And so it went. After about 40 minutes I had a delicious bowl of pasta in front of me. I quickly took a picture and dug in. Full of gratitude, I turned to Austin and said "Thanks, babe. I couldn't have done it better myself".

Pasta with Mushroom Sauce
Makes 3 servings
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 12 oz / 340 g cremini mushrooms, diced small
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 small onion, diced small
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 15 oz / 425 g can diced fire roasted tomatoes, including their liquid
  • 1/2 fresh tomato, seeded and diced small
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper 
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • About 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 13.25 oz / 375 g box of spaghetti or the same amount of another pasta
  • Optional: 1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes and almesan to garnish.
1.  In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Toss in the mushrooms and cook them stirring occasionally until they're brown, about 12-15 minutes. Add the garlic and onion, sauteing them for around 5 minutes or until softened. Deglaze the pan with the red wine and cook until it has reduced in volume by about half.
2.  Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water for as long as the package indicates. Meanwhile, add the canned tomatoes, fresh tomato, salt, oregano, black and red pepper, if using, to the sauce. Turn up the heat to medium high and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the sauce has reached your desired consistency, about 10 minutes in our case. Turn down the heat to low until your pasta is ready.
3.  When the pasta is cooked and drained, toss it into the sauce along with the parsley. Cook over medium heat until the pasta is heated through. Enjoy immediately, with an optional sprinkle of almesan.

Friday, April 22, 2011

No-Bake Strawberry Coconut Cream Pie

It all started when I saw this strawberry tart post on a food blog from the homeland I've been following for some time, El Comidista. "I wanted a strawberry tart of my own too!", I said as I threw my hands in the air and stomped my feet, "but I want a vegan one!". Once my temper tantrum subsided, the idea of a vegan strawberry tart retreated to the back of my mind, that is, until I saw some delicious looking strawberries at the Durham Farmer's Market. Beautiful berries in hand, I came up with a way to make a crust and but I was still unsure of how I'd give the filling the right texture. That's when I remembered an intimidating ingredient I'd read about in numerous vegan cookbooks -- agar-agar.

Agar-agar is a substance extracted from algae most commonly used as vegan replacement for gelatin, which is made from collagen found inside animal bones. The main reason I hadn't used it before was that I didn't know where to purchase it for a reasonable price. Thanks to the interwebs, I found out that you can buy it quite cheaply at Asian markets. So drove over to Li Ming's Global Mart, Durham's new and amazing Asian store, and found it in powdered form for about $1.50 per 28 grams. Score. As soon as I got back from Li Ming's I used my agar-agar to make jelly, but I'll save that for another post.

Thanks to the agar-agar, the pie filling had exactly the texture I'd hoped it would. As for it's flavor, it's not intensely sweet so if that's how you prefer your desserts you'll have to add a bit more maple syrup. The crust is so tasty I could eat it on its own, and maybe I will some day, formed into bars or rolled into balls. It also holds up to slicing, although as with any pie, the crust may crumble off the first slice. While this pie may look as decadent as the tart I was inspired by, it's not. However, having a relatively healthy pie on hand isn't so bad. I used it as an excuse to eat a slice for my birthday breakfast. Why? Because I'll only turn a quarter of a century once.

No-Bake Strawberry Coconut Cream Pie
Inspired by El Comidista's Tarta Sin Horno de Fresas, Crema, y Queso (No Oven Strawberry, Cream and Cheese Tart)  
Makes 1 pie

For the crust
  • 1 1/2  cups almonds or other nut of choice
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 4 large pitted dates
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup dried unsweetened coconut
  • 3/4 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
For the filling
  • About 15 medium strawberries, or as many as you need to top the pie, stems removed and halved lengthwise
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons maple syrup or to taste
  • 1 lb 4 oz / 567 g silken tofu
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened plain almond milk
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons agar-agar powder or 2 1/2 tablespoons of agar-agar flakes
  • Optional: 1-2 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut for garnish
1.  Toss the almonds and the shredded coconut in the food processor and whiz until the almonds have been reduced to very small pieces. Add the rest of the crust ingredients and process until a uniform mixture has formed. Transfer into a 9 inch pie pan and press into a uniform layer along the bottom and sides of the dish using damp hands. Let the crust chill in the fridge until the filling is ready for it.
2.   Combine the strawberries, lemon juice and 2 teaspoons maple syrup in a bowl, stirring to make sure the strawberries are evenly coated. Set aside.
3.  After rinsing out your food processor, toss in the tofu, lemon zest, vanilla, salt, 1/4 cup maple syrup and coconut oil and process until creamy. Bring the almond milk to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat to a simmer and mix in the agar agar. Cook whisking continuously for 3 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat, add in the tofu mixture and continue to whisk for another 3 minutes. Pour the mixture into the crust.
4.  Drain the strawberries and arrange artfully (or not) them on the top of the pie. Optionally, sprinkle the top with some shredded coconut. Cover the pie and place it in the fridge for at least 1 hour before enjoying it.

    Wednesday, April 20, 2011

    Patatas Bravas (Potatoes with Spicy Tomato Sauce)

    Whenever I go back home are several places I always visit: my dental hygenist, my favorite hair dresser, my family and friends' homes, and La Luna. La Luna is a small restaurant and bar in my hometown of Majadahonda, Madrid which I've been frequenting since I was about sixteen. They used to market themselves as a crêperie, although they recently changed ownership so I'm not sure what their specialty is these days. However, I think they stand out thanks to their rendition of patatas bravas*, a Spanish classic.

    My love for their patatas bravas, or fried potatoes with spicy tomato sauce, has become a joke amongst my friends. When my arrival in the homeland draws near, they tell me they've instructed Andreita (our favorite waitress) to start mass production in preparation for a bravas-deprived Sara. In spite of this generous lead time, the potatoes always take too long to come out of the kitchen. In their defense, I fell like any length of time is too long when I've been waiting months. When the patatas bravas finally make an appearance at our table, with an accompanying bread basket, our forks are ready to attack. We dig in, washing down the spiciness with some cold beer and, in between bites, raise our glasses to great friends who always watch your back and your stomach.

    Why it's taken me this long to bring this little taste of home to my kitchen dumbfounds me. A couple weeks ago I decided I needed to make my own version of this tapa and I started looking into how other people do so. I should have known that, this being such a traditional appetizer, there'd be about a million ways to make patatas bravas. Most of them require boiling and then frying the potatoes. I baked them instead because, as some of you know, I hate cleaning the mess that comes with frying. Baking also has the added bonus of making them a bit healthier. As for the sauce, I've seen recipes of varying complexity. I opted to keep it really simple and I'm happy to report the result was still delicious.

    What are some food stops you absolutely must make when you're close to home?

    Patatas Bravas (Potatoes with Spicy Tomato Sauce)
    Makes about 4 servings of potatoes and about 1 3/4 cups of sauce
    • 2 lbs / 907 g yellow-fleshed potatoes (I used Yukon Gold), cut into about 3/4 inch / 2 cm die (my potatoes are more like semi-die, as you can see in the picture)
    • 3 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
    • 1 15 oz / 425 g can crushed tomatoes
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons paprika
    • 1/2-1 1/2 teaspoons ground cayenne pepper or hot sauce
    1. Preheat the oven to 350 F / 175 C.  Put the potatoes on a baking pan, drizzle them with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Bake for about 30-35 minutes, flipping them about half way through, or until brown on some sides and tender on the inside.
    2.  Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium pan over medium heat. Add the paprika and the cayenne and toast for a minute or so. Pour in the tomatoes and the salt, stirring to combine. Let the sauce bubble for about 5-10 minutes or until heated through. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
    3.  Once the potatoes are done, take them out of the oven and pour a generous quantity of sauce over them. Enjoy with a cold beverage and have some bread handy to sop up any extra sauce.

    Tuesday, April 19, 2011

    Sun Dried Tomato and Garlic Spaghetti

    As I was cooking tonight I said to myself "how have you not blogged about sun dried tomato and garlic spaghetti yet?". It's my favorite way to eat pasta. Ever. I was first introduced to it when my mom started whipping it up for my parents during a childhood phase when I refused to eat pasta covered in anything that wasn't my mother's red sauce (I would immediately dismiss any other sauce as inferior).  Once that bratty stage was over, I tried and fell in love with this deliciously garlicky pasta. It became one of my staple meals in college, for good reason. It's super quick, spicy and comforting -- three fantastic qualities in almost any dish.

    Sun Dried Tomato and Garlic Spaghetti
    Makes 3 large servings
    • 1 13.25 oz / 375 g box spaghetti or other long pasta
    • 3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 7 garlic cloves, minced
    • 1 heaping cup julienned sun dried tomatoes (I used the kind packed in oil)
    • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
    • 1/2-1 teaspoon red pepper flakes or to taste
    • Optional: A generous sprinkling of almesan 
    1.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a couple teaspoons of salt. Toss in the pasta and cook per the packages directions until al dente.
    2.  When the pasta is about 5 minutes from being done, heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for about 3 minutes. Toss in the sun dried tomatoes, oregano and red pepper flakes and cook for another 3 minutes.
    3.  Drain the pasta well and add it to the saute pan with the rest of the ingredients, stirring to coat each spaghetti strand in the garlicky, tomatoey goodness. After about 5 minutes, or once the pasta is piping hot, transfer to three plates and serve with a sprinkle of almesan.

    Adapted from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terri Hope Romero's Veganomicon
    Makes about 3/4 cup
    • 2 tablespoons raw or toasted sesame seeds
    • 1/2 cup raw almonds
    • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
    • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
    1.  If your sesame seeds are toasted, skip this step. If they're raw, as mine were, toast them in a dry pan over medium heat until they're light brown and fragrant, which should only take about 5 minutes.
    2.  Combine all the ingredients into a blender (or in my case, a Magic Bullet -- the shaker lids are so perfect for this!) and whiz until completely pulverized. Sprinkle over pasta, pizza, salad or whatever else your little heart desires.

    Sunday, April 17, 2011

    Vegan Chocolate Banana Bread

    When I was growing up we had fruit for dessert after every meal. For a while I got to choose what kind of fruit I wanted and I almost always picked bananas, my favorite. After a few years my father decided that I was eating too many bananas and he cut me off, forcing me to choose other fruits. He now denies ever instituting such a ridiculous prohibition but my mother and I know the truth. Since my mother continued to buy almost as many bananas as she used to, but I was rarely allowed to go near them, I had to watch sadly as they turned spotted, then brown and finally completely black. In an effort to use up this surplus of overripe my mother started making banana bread.

    From the beginning of her banana bread making days until now my mother has used the same recipe --- the one found in The Joy of Cooking. I became well acquainted with the recipe myself as soon as I was old enough to bake on my own. Heck, even my banana-hating father would bake a loaf every now and then. The recipe is practically an institution in my parents' home. Now, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with a classic recipe (after all, I am the girl who ate exclusively French vanilla ice cream for the first twelve years of her life) but I thought I could jazz up, and veganize, an old favorite. My parents and I agree this new version is as good, if not better, than the original.

    Vegan Chocolate Banana Bread
    Veganized and otherwise adapted from The Joy of Cooking's Quick Banana Bread recipe
    Makes 1 loaf
    • 1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
    • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
    • 2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1 cup of very ripe banana pulp or about 2 medium brown-skinned bananas
    • 1/3 cup Earth Balance or other non-hydrogenated non-dairy butter, at room temperature
    • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
    • 1/2 cup lite or regular silken tofu
    • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    • 3/4 teaspoon lemon rind
    1.  Preheat the oven to 350 F / 175 C. Grease, and optionally lightly flour, a loaf pan.
    2.  Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt together into a large bowl and set aside. Put the rest of the ingredients in the food processor and whiz them until they're smooth. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Mix using a spatula until just combined. Transfer the dough into the loaf pan, smoothing the top with your spatula.
    3.  Bake for 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the bread comes out clean. Once baked, let the bread sit in the pan for 5 minutes. Run a knife along the edges of the pan to loosen the loaf and then carefully flip it onto a plate.

    Saturday, April 16, 2011

    Tortilla Soup

    Every summer my parents and I would fly from Madrid to Boston, where my uncle would pick us up and drive us to our family's lake house in Philipston, MA. My grandmother would be anxiously waiting with lots of hugs, kisses and what I can only describe as a buffet. As ridiculous as the spread was, it was our idea of heaven after a long plane ride and several crappy meals. That's why I decided it would be only fair for me to have a comforting meal waiting for my parents when they arrived from Madrid last night.

    Now I'm not, nor do I think I'll ever be, the queen hostess that my grandma Ollie was. My style is a bit more understated (read: I'm not that intense) so I didn't provide my parents with a smorgasbord of goodies. Instead, I decided to make something that's good for the soul,  and therefore perfect after a long trip -- tortilla soup. This soup comes together in under 25 minutes, which makes it a perfect not just for starving parents but also for anyone who needs a little TLC and doesn't want to work hard for it.

    Tortilla Soup
    Adapted from Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Appetite for Reduction
    Makes 4-5 servings
    • 2 teaspoons olive oil
    • 1 medium red onion, diced
    • 2 jalapeños, seeded if you don't like heat, and minced
    • 1 orange or other bell pepper, diced
    • 4 garlic cloves, minced
    • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
    • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
    • 1 28 oz / 794 g can whole tomatoes, broken up into chunks with your fingers (it's fun!)
    • 28 oz (or one tomato can full) vegetable broth
    • 2 cups crushed baked tortilla chips plus extra for garnish (I made my own by crumbling 8 tostadas like the ones used in this recipe)
    • 1 15 oz / 425 g kidney beans, drained and rinsed
    • 1 cup frozen corn
    • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
    • Juice of 1 lime or 1/2 large lemon
    • Optional: 1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper or red pepper flakes (if you want extra heat) and diced avocado for garnish
    1.  In a large pot with a lid, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and saute for 2-3 minutes. Toss in the jalapeños, bell pepper, and garlic, cooking them for another 3 minutes or so. Sprinkle in the cumin and chipotle or red pepper (if using), toasting the spices for about another minute.
    2.  Deglaze the pan by adding the tomatoes, broth, and tortilla chips. Cover the pot and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, add the beans and the corn and cook for about 5 minutes.
    3.  Take the pot off the heat, stir in the lime juice and the cilantro and let the soup sit covered for about 5 minutes to let the flavors marry. Enjoy garnished with some extra chips, cilantro and some avocado.

    Writing this post made me think of the movie Tortilla Soup. It's an entertaining chick flick available for instant streaming on Netflix (so yes, you can watch it now!). The movie has a lot of food AND Hector Elizondo in it. What's there not to love?

    Thursday, April 14, 2011

    Red Lentil and Tomato Daal

    Knowing of our love for Indian food, Austin's sister Brisbane gave us Cooking School Indian for Christmas a couple years ago. The recipes in it sounded great and looked even better, yet the book just sat on our shelf, not a well-loved food stain on it. The main reason I pretended not to hear the books desperate cries for some action was that I was intimidated. The recipes called for ingredients like like red lentils, sev noodles, and several exotic spices, none of which I could find at the well stocked grocery store closest to us. Had I opened my eyes a bit wider I would've realized that we lived less than two minutes away from a store called Little India and another one called -- wait for it-- Spice Bazaar. It actually took several of my friend Rayn's enthusiastic recommendations for me to actually visit these establishments, which he became a patron of within a couple months of moving to Durham. Rayn 1, Sara 0.

    Spices and other exotic ingredients in hand, I started cooking up an Indian storm. Austin and I even decided to cook up an Indian Feast for Valentines Day instead of going out. A daal similar to the one we had for dinner tonight was the star of that meal. While it was good, I thought it could use a couple tweaks so I modified it before sharing it with you. The result rivals some of the tastiest daals I've eaten at restaurants and was a lot cheaper. Yes, it takes about an hour to cook, but most of that time you can spend doing something else, since the daal only needs to be tended to occasionally. It also contains ingredients that you probably don't have in your pantry but the all-knowing Google can probably lead you to a place where you can procure them. While you're at it, why not purchase some other exotic food to experiment with? Who knows, wonderful things could happen.

    Red Lentil and Tomato Daal
    Adapted from Cooking School Indian's Tarka Daal
    Makes 4 servings
    • 1 cup red lentils (actually they're more orange than red), rinsed until the water runs clear
    • 3 1/2 cups vegetable broth
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
    • 2 jalapeños or Indian green chiles, minced
    • 1 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
    • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
    • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
    • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
    • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
    • 1 28 oz / 794 g can diced tomatoes, drained
    • 1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro
    1.  Put the lentils and the broth in a medium pot that has a cover. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered for 10 minutes. Using a big spoon or a ladle, skim off the froth that forms on the surface of the lentil cooking liquid. Cover the pot and cook for another 40-45 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the lentils are tender.
    2.  While the lentils are cooking, heat the oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the mustard and cumin seeds and saute for about a minute. Toss in the onion and chile, cooking for another 5 minutes over medium low heat. Sprinkle in the turmeric and ground cumin and cook for another minute or so. Deglaze the pan by pouring in the tomatoes. Cook for another 5 minutes, then set the mixture aside.
    3.  Once the lentils are done, stir in the tomato mixture and the cilantro. Take the pot off the heat and let it rest covered for 5 minutes to let the flavors mingle. Serve hot over rice (about 1/3 cup, measured before cooking, per person), maybe with a side of naan.

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011

    Simple Guacamole

    Last night Austin and I were cooking up some tacos when he said, "why don't you make some guacamole?". He also suggested I share the recipe with you all. At first I felt that it was almost insulting to write a whole post for something as simple as guacamole. Then I thought to myself, hey, extremely easy recipes deserve some bloggin' lovin' too! This guacamole is orders of magnitude better than plain avocado. Not only is it more delicious than some avocado slices but it also spreads more easily and uniformly in your taco, wrap or sandwich.

    The recipe for the tacos we garnished with this guacamole is extremely similar to the Chipotle Pinto Bean Tostadas I wrote about last week; there are just a few differences. First, I sauteed half of a red onion, chopped, before adding the beans, which were black instead of pinto. Also, instead of crisping up the tortillas in the oven to make tostadas we warmed them in the microwave for 20-30 seconds so that they remained nice and soft.

    The plus side of this meal? We thought it was so delicious that we ate it all up. The down side? We had no leftovers for lunch the next day. Do you have recipes for quick meals that you just can't get enough of?


    Simple Guacamole
    Makes about 1 1/2 cup
    • 1 1/2 medium ripe avocados, cut into chunks
    • 1 garlic clove, minced
    • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
    • 2-4 teaspoons lime or lemon juice
    • Optional: 1 small diced tomato, minced jalapeño, cilantro to taste (I only add the tomato)
    Paste the garlic with the salt by sprinkling the salt over the garlic and dragging it across your cutting board with your knife until the garlic has broken down. Add it to a bowl along with the rest of the ingredients. Using a potato masher or a fork, mash the avocado until you reach your desired consistency. I like my guacamole a bit chunky but I know people who prefer it smooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings. It really doesn't get much easier than this.

    Monday, April 11, 2011

    Fire Roasted Tomato Couscous with Chickpeas

    Some nights I really don't feel like going all out and spending three hours in the kitchen, slaving over some involved dish. I want something quick, delicious, nutritious and comforting. Years ago, those were the nights I opened a jar of sauce, threw it over some pasta and called it a night. While there's nothing wrong with that, it's possible to make something way more interesting in the same amount of time. The recipe I bring you today uses mostly pantry fare (let's hear it for less chopping on lazy days!), a few fresh ingredients and comes together in under 20 minutes.  The best part is that this couscous tastes and looks much more time consuming than it is. So please, go forth and fool your dinner guests.

    Fire Roasted Tomato Couscous with Chickpeas
    Makes 4 servings
    • 1 28 oz / 795 g can fire roasted diced tomatoes, drained and liquid reserved
    • 1 15 oz / 425 g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
    • 2 leeks, white and light green parts, cut into strips lengthwise then sliced widthwise
    • 2 garlic cloves, minced
    • 3 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 1/2 cups couscous
    • 1/2-1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
    • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
    • 1/3 cup chopped parsley
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
    • Optional: Nutritional yeast for garnish
    1.  Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook until they start to brown, about 3-4 minutes. Toss in the garlic and cook for another 3 minutes.
    2.  Pour 1 1/2 cup of the tomato liquid (if you forgot to reserve the liquid from the tomatoes you could use broth or water) into a small pot with a lid. Bring it to a boil then add the couscous, 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Give it all a quick stir, remove the pot from the heat and let it sit covered for 4-5 minutes or as long as the couscous package indicates.
    3.  Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/3 teaspoon of black pepper and red pepper flakes to the leek mixture and cook for 5-7 minutes or until everything is warmed through. Fluff up the couscous with a fork and add it to skillet along with the parsley, tossing to evenly distribute all the ingredients. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Serve hot or at room temperature, with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast if you'd like.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011

    Vegetable Sushi (with How-To Videos!)

    Before Austin moved to Durham he visited a lot. One of those visits fell around my birthday so, being the great boyfriend that he is, he decided to surprise me. I came home from work to find a beautifully set table, complete with new wine glasses, roses and a tempura and sushi dinner. Where the heck did he learn to make sushi? The University of YouTube, of course. Austin was even nice enough to leave a couple rolls unmade so he pass on his newly acquired skills.

    That night he taught me how to make two different types of rolls, which I've tried to teach you in the videos below. The first kind is what I call the standard sushi roll. It's assembled with the nori (seaweed wrapper) on the outside of the rice and the filling. The other type is the roll with rice on the outside. For this roll, the nori is on the inside of the rice, wrapping the filling. When making rolls with rice on the outside, I learned that you can layer some thinly sliced avocado on top (as you can see in the video, my slices weren't that thin, but oh well) for a fancier effect. I'm sure if you consult an actual sushi chef they'll be able to give you the technical terms for these different rolls and the methods used to make them but for now my pet names and descriptions will have to do.

    Making sushi at home is not as much of a production as it sounds like, really. With a little bit of practice and not too many ingredients you'll be able to throw together a sushi dinner pretty quickly and for a fraction of the cost of going out. Also, if you're more dexterous than I am (highly likely) you'll be able to produce pretty good looking rolls with which you can impress your family, friends and even yourself.

    Vegetable Sushi
    Makes about 3 standard rolls and two rice-on-the-outside rolls or 4 standard rolls
    • 1 recipe for Sushi Rice (see below)
    • Nori sheets, one per standard roll and 1/2 per rice-on-the-outside roll
    • Veggies for filling sliced into thin strips. I used the following, and had some leftover veggies:
      • 1 cucumber, peeled
      • 1 sweet potato, baked or steamed after slicing
      • 1 leek
      • 1 avocado
    • Soy sauce, as much as you need for dipping
    • Wasabi, more or less depending on your love for spice
    • Optional: Pickled ginger. I love it, others always leave it on the plate.
    For the assembly, please check out these two videos I made. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth... well, lots of words.

    Sushi Rice
    Adapted from Alton Brown's recipe
    Makes about 4 cups of cooked rice
    • 2 cups sushi rice (you can probably find it in most well stocked grocery stores or at your local Asian market)
    • 2 cups water
    • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
    • 2 tablespoons sugar
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    1.  Using a colander with small holes, rinse the rice until the water runs clear. Add it and the water to a medium pot with a lid. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook covered for 15 minutes. Take the pot off the heat and let the rice rest, with the cover still on, for another 10 minutes. Transfer the rice to a mixing bowl.
    2.  Heat the rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt in the microwave for about 30 seconds or until the sugar and salt have dissolved a bit. Pour the liquid over the rice, stirring it with a fork to make sure its evenly coated. Let the rice come to room temperature before making your sushi; stirring it every now and then helps it get there a bit quicker.

    Pssst! One last thing. If you like what you see here please show some comment love, follow Veggies for Real and/or add it to your reader using the gadgets on the right sidebar. Thanks!

    Wednesday, April 6, 2011

    Black Bean and Sweet Potato Burgers

    A couple weeks ago my friend Ken sent me this New York Times article about veggie burgers with the following message: "Apparently veggie burgers are tasty now. I'm skeptical". It discusses how nasty commercial veggie burgers can be and how they're usually eaten because they are the only meat alternative available at say a barbecue, not because anyone really likes them (my friend Jill, a meat eater with a love for Boca burgers, may be the exception). The article brings up a point I've been trying to make for years: if a veggie burger is made right, bearing no resemblance to those hard, previously frozen disks that look and kind of taste like a hockey puck, it becomes something both vegetarians and omnivores actually want to eat. The take home message is think of a veggie burger not as a substitute for its meaty counterpart but as a potentially delicious food in its own right.

    The first veggie burgers I ever made were the Black Bean Burgers from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terri Hope Romero's Veganomicon. They have a Mexican flare to them, which I usually heighten by adding chipotles in adobo. Perhaps their flavor profile is why I associate all homemade veggie burgers with Southwestern flavors. Inspired by the article, I set off to create a new veggie burger recipe that strayed from my usual. I incorporated Mediterranean flavors such as olives, sun dried tomatoes, and parsley. I know sweet potatoes aren't exactly the first ingredient that comes to mind when you think of the Mediterranean, but I had a surplus so I threw some in too. Also, I honestly can't stop myself from putting avocado on my burgers, unless I'm out of them. After all, they are nature's butter.

    You might be asking yourself how these veggie burgers hold together. Well, the magic is in the chia or flax seeds. When combined with moisture they form a gelatinous paste that can be used as a binder in baking or, in this case, in a veggie burger. The burgers in Veganomicon are held together by vital wheat gluten, which you can find in most supermarkets these days, hanging out by the flour. If you'd like to use that instead, add 1/3 to 1/2 cup of it instead of the chia or flax seeds. 

    Now get cooking and embrace veggie burgers!

    Black Bean and Sweet Potato Burgers
    Makes 6 burgers
    • 1/2 medium sweet potato, baked or steamed, and mashed
    • 1 15 oz / 435 g can black beans, rinsed and drained
    • 1/2 medium red onion, diced
    • 2 garlic cloves, minced 
    • 1/3 cup sun dried tomatoes (I used the kind packed in oil)
    • 1/4 cup olives (I used kalamata)
    • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
    • 2 tablespoons of chia seeds or ground flax seeds
    • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
    • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt (err on the side of caution since the olives will add some extra salt)
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
    • 1 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil (I used the oil my tomatoes came packed in) or olive oil cooking spray
    1.  Preheat the oven to 350 F / 175 C. Pour the salt over the garlic and drag the garlic across the cutting board using your knife until the garlic has formed a paste. This will release the garlic oils and prevent anyone from biting into a big ol' chunk of it. Toss the garlic and the onion into a medium mixing bowl. Add the beans, olives and sun dried tomatoes. Using a potato masher, one with small holes will work best, or a fork, mash mixture until no whole beans remain; having some half beans is fine. Add the rest of the ingredients, except for the oil, and mix --I find that using my hands works best -- until all the ingredients are uniformly distributed. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasonings. Let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes to let the flax or chia do their binding thing.
    2.  Divide the burger dough into six equal parts, roll each into a ball and flatten into a patty. Place the patties on a greased or parchment lined baking sheet. Brush both sides of each burger with olive oil or spray them with cooking spray. Bake for about 30-40 minutes, flipping half way, or until the burgers have browned on both sides. For a quicker cooking method, heat the oil in a skillet over medium to medium high heat and cook each burger for about 4 minutes on each side or until browned.

    Tuesday, April 5, 2011

    Baked Sweet Potato and Green Pea Samosas with Mango Chutney

    Who doesn't love doughy pockets of goodness? You can choose from empanadas, turnovers, spanakopita, pierogi, gyozas, and, my favorites, samosas. Samosas are normally deep fried but that's not how I cook them since I don't deep fry anything. Don't get me wrong, I love deep fried goodies but they're not exactly healthy and they make a mess out of my kitchen. So it's really laziness that keeps me from making samosas the traditional way. The filling in these is not exactly traditional either, but I throw authenticity out the window any day if I can sneak sweet potatoes in a dish. That's why when I saw Robin Robertson's recipe for baked samosas, with sweet potatoes no less!, in Vegan Planet a few years ago I knew they'd become regulars at my dinner table.

    Per the recipe's directions, I started off making my samosas really small which meant I had to spend a long time stuffing them. I used to ask Austin for help but it always took a little coaxing.

    Me: Do you think you could help me fill the samosas?
    Austin: Meh, I don't really feel like it.
    Me: Pleeeeeease. You know mine come out kind of sloppy; I'm not very dexterous.
    Austin: Fine. Let me show you how it's done.

    Tired of having to enlist help, I decided to make my samosas much larger (it only took me making them oh, ten times, to realize this), which had the added benefit of giving me a higher filling to dough ratio. I am now a much happier samosa maker.

    I like these best with mango chutney. We usually buy the Trader Joe's kind but I saw a couple bags of frozen mangoes in the freezer and decided to make my own. It does take some time but the process is pretty darn simple. This homemade chutney is just as good as the store bought stuff and it is definitely cheaper. You can also make a big batch and freeze whatever is left over in anticipation of future samosa nights.

    One last thing. I tagged these as an appetizer but I must confess that we make a meal out of them, partly because making them is a bit of a process and partly because they're so delicious. Hey, we all have the right to indulge a bit every now and then.

    Baked Sweet Potato and Green Pea Samosas
    Adapted from Robin Robertson's Vegan Planet
    Makes 18 samosas

    For the dough
    • 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
    • 1 cup whole wheat flour
    • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
    • 3 tablespoons canola or olive oil
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    For the filling
    • 1 1/2 medium sweet potatoes, baked or steamed and cubed
    • 3/4 cup green peas, fresh or frozen 
    • 1/2 medium red onion, diced
    • 2 garlic cloves, minced
    • 1 tablespoon red curry powder (you could use yellow curry powder for a more mild taste)
    • 1/8-1/2 teaspoon cayenne, depending on your desired spice level
    • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
    • 2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
    • Olive oil cooking spray or an extra couple tablespoons of oil for brushing
    1.  In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the flours and the salt. Form a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add the water and the oil. Mix with a spatula until combined and then knead with your hands until the dough is smooth.  Drizzle the dough with a bit of oil and set it aside to rest while you prepare the rest of the ingredients, for about 30 minutes.
    2. Preheat the oven to 375 F / 190 C. In a large saute pan, heat the 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Toss in the onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, for about another 3 minutes. Season with the spices and the salt, cooking while stirring for another minute. Add the peas (if they're frozen they'll thaw, don't worry) and the sweet potato, stirring to coat in the rest of the ingredients, and saute for about 5-7 minutes or until heated through. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cilantro.
    3.  Divide the dough into two pieces. On a floured surface, roll the dough into a 1/8 inch / 1/3 cm thick square. Cut into thirds in each direction, which should leave you with 9 samosa wrappers. Put a heaping tablespoon of filling in the center of a wrapper. Fold over one corner to meet the opposite one. Before you close the the samosa, dampen the inside rim with some water to seal it shut. If you'd like, you can crimp the edges with a fork, but that's more for flare than functionality. Repeat the process with the rest of the wrappers and the other half of the dough.
    4.  Place the samosas on an oiled or parchment lined baking sheet. Spray them with some cooking spray, or brush them with oil, on both sides. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Enjoy them warm with some mango chutney.

    Mango Chutney
    Inspired by Alton Brown's recipe
    • 2 lbs / 900 grams fresh or frozen peeled and seeded mangoes, cubed (I used Trader Joe's frozen mangoes)
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1/2 medium red onion
    • 1/8-1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
    • 2 teaspoons dried ginger or 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
    • 1 tablespoon red curry powder (or yellow curry powder if you'd like a more mild chutney)
    • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
    • 1 cup unsweetened pineapple juice
    • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
    • Salt to taste
    1.  In a medium pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, which should take about 5 minutes. Season with the red pepper flakes, curry powder, and ground ginger, if using, and toast for about a minute. If using fresh ginger, add it and cook for about 3-5 minutes. Add the mango, stir to coat it in the other ingredients and cook for a couple minutes. Pour in the juice, vinegar and sugar, whisking to dissolve the sugar.
    2.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30-45 minutes or until the mixture has the consistency of preserves. If you'd like to cool it down fast, put the pot over and ice bath and stir the chutney frequently until it's about room temperature. Serve with samosas, over rice, baked tofu or whatever else you'd like.

    Sunday, April 3, 2011

    Chipotle Pinto Bean Tostadas

    On those nights when I come home exhausted and really don't feel like slaving over a hot stove I sometimes go back to an old favorite -- tacos. Made with beans and veggies, they're pretty healthy and tasty. The ones I make are also very spicy, which automatically puts them on Austin's favorites list (when asked what his favorite food is he's likely to respond-- only half jokingly-- "salty and spicy"). This past Friday I used up all my energy getting my butt off the couch and to the gym so when I got home I wanted dinner to instantly appear on my plate (it didn't, what a shocker). I was also craving Mexican food but I didn't want tacos. In order to satisfy all my needs I decided to switch things up by -- orginality gasp!-- crisping up the tortillas and mashing the beans a bit to make tostadas. Not exactly revolutionary, I know, but it really did feel like a completely different meal. We enjoyed these so much that they'll definitely become another one of our go-to I-need-food-now dishes. Tacos can't always be the answer.

    Chipotle Pinto Bean Tostadas
    Makes 8 tostadas, about 2 dinner servings
    • 8 small corn tortillas
    • 1 15 oz / 425 g can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
    • 2 garlic cloves, minced
    • 3 chipotle peppers in adobo, seeded if you don't like heat and chopped
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil 
    • Olive oil cooking spray or an extra 1 tablespoon of olive oil
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
    • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
    • 1 teaspoon chili powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
    • 2 tomatoes, diced
    • 1/2 heart of romaine lettuce, cut into thin strips
    • 1 avocado, thinly sliced or cubed
    • About 1 cup of your favorite salsa (I used Trader Joe's green salsa)
    • Optional: Lime wedges for garnish
    1.  Preheat the oven to 375 F / 190 C. Spray both sides of the tortillas with olive oil cooking spray or brush with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle the tortillas with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and spread them out on a baking sheet. Don't worry if they overlap a little bit. Bake them for 8-10 minutes or until crispy and golden brown. If you have extra tortillas lying around you can cook them this way to make homemade low fat tortilla chips.
    2.  In a medium pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin and chili powder, cooking for another minute. Stir in the beans, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and the chipotle peppers and cook for another 10 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking. Add in 2 tablespoons of your favorite salsa. Mash the beans using a fork until you have no whole beans. Remove the bean mixture from the heat.
    3.  Assemble your tostadas. Spread an eighth of the bean mixture on each crispy tortilla, top with lettuce, tomato, avocado and some salsa. Optionally, squeeze a bit of lime juice over the top.