Thursday, June 30, 2011

Black Pepper Tempeh

I already gushed about how much I love Heidi Swanson's blog, 101 Cookbooks, and her new book, Super Natural Every Day, in this post so I'll spare you an encore. I will say that this though -- this recipe is every bit as great the mushroom, asparagus and tempeh sauté I wrote about a couple weeks ago. Actually, it may even be better.

Even though it's a quick, one-pan meal, it doesn't sacrifice healthfulness or flavor. The soy sauce and maple syrup provide the perfect --in my opinion-- balance of sweet and savory. The garlic (and there's a lot of it; garlic lovers rejoice!) and onions are a tad sweet and very tender, thanks to the slow cooking process. The cauliflower provides nice texture, adds some veggies to the mix and it serves as a perfect vessel for the sauce. Now, I'm usually not a huge cauliflower fan (unless it's mashed up with potatoes) but cooked this way I could eat it by the pound. The star of the dish is, of course, the tempeh. Nicely soaked in sauce, slightly caramelized, and a tad spicy, it's a such a tasty way to get your protein.

We've already made this twice and I'm sure it's going to become a staple, especially since Austin loved it too. We paired it with some delicious sweet corn from the farm (almost as good as New England corn, shocking!) and had ourselves a perfect summer meal.

What quick summer meals are you enjoying these days?

Black Pepper Tempeh
Adapted from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day
Makes 3-4 servings
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 15 (no, that's not a typo) garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup or cane sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 8 oz / 225 g tempeh, cut into pencil-thickness strips, then again into bite size pieces
  • 1/2 medium head cauliflower, finely chopped 
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • Optional: 2 loosely packed cups arugula
1.  In a large pan over low heat, combine the oil, onions, red pepper, garlic and ginger. Cook slowly until the garlic has cooked through, which should take about 15-20 minutes. While the garlic is cooking, mix the soy sauce, maple syrup or sugar and water in a small bowl.

2.  Once the garlic is cooked through, raise the heat to medium-high and add the tempeh. Cook for about 3 minutes, making sure the other ingredients don't burn, then add the soy sauce mixture. Cover the pan and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the cauliflower, cover again and cook for another 3 minutes. Remove the cover and continue to cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the tempeh and cauliflower start to brown, which should take another 3-5 minutes or so. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the black pepper. Serve immediately, on a bed of arugula if you'd like.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Low(er) Fat Three Bean and Potato Salad

There's a very simple reason why I have a tag just for potatoes: I love 'em. In the summer, especially in blazing hot NC, my favorite way to eat them is in a salad. About a month ago, I shared a variation of my go-to potato salad recipe (and another chapter of the anti-mayo chronicles). The salad is delicious, in no small part thanks to 1/3 cup of olive oil, or 1 1/4 tablespoon per each serving. I don't know about you, but that's honestly not enough fat to make me think twice. That's why I hadn't considered making a leaner dressing until about a week ago, when I came across a recipe on Fat Free Vegan Kitchen for a (not surprisingly) fat free potato salad. I thought I'd give it try because, after all, it is bikini season.

My version of the salad does have some oil (couldn't part with all of it, sorry!), but only 3 tablespoons, or 1/2 tablespoons per serving. That's less than half of the fat in the potato salad I mentioned earlier. So, what's the secret? How does one make a creamy dressing without the extra oil? Blended potatoes! When combined with a bit of oil, vinegar, some herbs, garlic, salt and spices they form a thick and tasty dressing. Is Susan Voisin a food magician or what? Using a potato-based dressing will obviously yield a lighter salad, but I'd say one that's just as enjoyable.

Low(er) Fat Three Bean and Potato Salad
Makes 6 servings
Adapted from Susan Voisin's Potato-Green Bean Salad
  • 1 3/4 lbs / 795 g new red potatoes (another variety will work too), scrubbed and cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 lb / 455 g green beans, ends trimmed and washed
  • 1 15 oz / 425 g can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 15 oz / 425 g can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced small
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 5 tablespoons apple cider (or other) vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon miso
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 heaping tablespoon parsley
1.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water generously and add the potatoes. Cook them for about 8-13 minutes or until a little under done. Add in the green beans and continue to cook for another 3 or so minutes. Drain the potatoes and the green beans by pouring the contents of the pot into a colander. Quickly rinse the vegetables in cold water and then plunge the colander into a big bowl filled with ice and water; this will stop the cooking process. Once the potatoes and green beans are cool, pull them out of the ice bath and let them drain.

2.  Combine the garbanzo and kidney beans, bell pepper, celery and onion in a large bowl. Add the potatoes and green beans. Take about 1/2 cup of potatoes and toss them in a small food processor along with the olive oil, garlic, vinegar, miso, salt, pepper and parsley. Process until smooth. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss. Take a few test bites and adjust the dressing to your taste. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Vegan Baked Chiles Rellenos (Stuffed Peppers)

How many green bell peppers or poblanos can you and your family go through in a week? Well, call me uninventive, but I think it's pretty hard to work more than a few of them into week's worth of meals without thinking "Enough!!". How did I find myself with a surplus of peppers, wondering such things?  My CSA, of course. One of the reasons I like being a part of it is that it challenges me think of new ways to prepare both strange and familiar vegetables, sometimes en masse. Case in point -- these chiles rellenos.

Ok, so I cheated. Again. In several ways. These stuffed peppers aren't battered and deep fried, like the real deal, nor did I serve them with a sauce (although you certainly could). Also, they're labeled "Mexican" not because they're authentic, but because of the concept and flavors they were inspired by. Lastly, they were supposed to have a cheese-like topping made with silken tofu but Whole Foods didn't have any (surprising, I know). They did, however, have Daiya -- a tapioca and arrowroot flour-based vegan cheese substitute (delicious sounding, huh?) -- in the same case as the tofu. Yes, Daiya is an ultra-processed fankenfood and therefore totally against the "For Real" part of this blog. It did taste suspiciously like the real deal though, and melted as promised, but I still won't be buying it regularly. So now that you've read all these caveats, I present to you these bastardized chiles rellenos. Enjoy!

Oh, and if you have any other ideas for how to get rid of tons of green peppers, please send them my way.   

Vegan Baked Chiles Rellenos (Stuffed Peppers)
Makes 2-3 servings
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 small tomatillo or red tomato, diced
  • 1 15 oz / 425 g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 3 chipotles in adobo sauce (you can find them canned in most Hispanic foods sections), seeded if you don't like heat
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons of your favorite salsa (I used Herdez's Salsa Casera)
  • 3/4 cup cheddar style Daiya or other cheese substitute
  • 4 smallish green bell or medium-large poblano peppers, halved lengthwise, seeded and deveined
  • 1/4 cup panko (or conventional) breadcrumbs
  • Optional: 1/8-1/4 teaspoon dried chipotle or cayenne pepper, a few leaves of cilantro for garnish
1.  Preheat your oven to 375 F / 190 C. In a medium pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Toss in the onions and let them soften for about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another couple minutes. Stir in the tomatillo or tomato and cook until it starts to release some of its liquid, which should take 4 minutes or so. Add the garbanzos, chipotle, spices and salt, and cook until the garbanzos are warmed through. Using a potato masher or a fork, mash the garbanzos until you're left with mostly quarter and half beans. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the salsa and 1/2 cup of Daiya.

2.  Stuff each pepper with 1/8 of the garbanzo mixture and place it cut side up on a foil lined or greased baking sheet.  Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of Daiya and the breadcrumbs on top of the peppers. Bake in the top third of your oven for 20-25 minutes or until the peppers have softened and the tops have browned. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Vegan Moussaka

Last week I had a serious craving for moussaka, one that needed to be satisfied immediately. While I've had the dish several times I'd never made it before so, full of hope, I consulted one of my first and favorite vegan cookbooks -- Veganomicon. For me, Veganomicon is to food what Zara is to clothing, a resource I can count on to never disappoint. Sure enough, I found a vegan moussaka recipe, one that promised deliciousness no less. And deliciousness is exactly what it delivered.

If you love eggplant, zucchini and potatoes as much as I do you absolutely have to (I put that in italics, people, which I save only for special occasions) give this moussaka a try. The preparation is a bit laborious (bear with me) but please don't be instantly put off. I promise it's not as bad as it initially seems if you make some components of the dish while others are cooking largely unattended. Also, I know the idea of having the oven on for over an hour at this time of year makes some of you break out in hives, but just trust that this is worth cranking up the AC for or just wiping the sweat of your brow.

Vegan Moussaka with Macadamia Nut Cream
Adapted from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terri Hope Romero's Veganomicon
Makes about 6 servings

Vegetable Layers 
  • 1 lb / 455 g eggplant
  • 1 lb / 455 g zucchini
  • 1 3/4 lbs / 795 g russet potatoes (another variety will do too)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
Tomato Sauce
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 large shallots, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup vegetable broth or red wine
  • 1 28 oz / 795 g can diced or crushed tomatoes and their juice
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Macadamia Nut Cream
  • 1/2 cup macadamia nuts, preferably soaked for at least 8 hours (the original recipe called for pine nuts, which are much more expensive, but you can use those, without soaking, if you'd like)
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 lb / 455 g lite silken tofu (regular silken tofu is fine)
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch or arrowroot powder
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1.  Preheat the oven to 400 F / 205 C. Either wash and scrub your eggplant, zucchini and potatoes or peel them (I decided to leave the skins on). Cut the vegetables lengthwise into 1/4 inch / 3/4 cm slices. Place each vegetable on a separate baking sheet with as little overlap as possible, drizzle them with the olive oil and sprinkle them with the salt. Bake the eggplant and the zucchini for 15 minutes or until tender, and the potatoes for 20 minutes or until brown around the edges. If you don't have three baking sheets, or three racks in your oven (I have two of each) bake the vegetables in batches. I baked the zucchini and the eggplant first, then the potatoes. Once the zucchini are cool enough to handle, grab a bunch of slices and gently squeeze out as much of their moisture as possible. This will prevent your moussaka from being too watery.

2.  While the vegetables are roasting, make your sauce. Heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and shallots, sautéing for about 4-5 minutes or until the shallots are tender and the garlic is fragrant. Pour in the vegetable broth or wine and cook until reduced by about half, which should take about another 5-7 minutes. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients and simmer partially covered for about 10 minutes. Take the cover off and simmer for another 5 minutes.

3.  While your sauce is cooking, make the macadamia nut cream. Toss the macadamia nuts and the lemon juice into the food processor and pulse repeatedly, scrapping down the edges if necessary, until pulverized. Add the rest of the ingredients and process until completely smooth.

4.  To assemble the casserole, first place about 1/2 cup sauce in the bottom of a 9 by 13 inch / 23 by 33 cm pan. Arrange a layer of eggplant on top of the sauce, then a layer of potatoes, followed by a layer sauce and half of the breadcrumbs. Place all the zucchini on top of the breadcrumbs in a single layer and follow with single layers of eggplant, potatoes, sauce and bread crumbs. Pour the macadamia nut cream on top of the moussaka and smooth it out using a spatula. Bake the casserole in for 35 to 40 minutes or until the top starts to brown and crack. Let sit for about 10 minutes before slicing. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa (Salsa Verde)

I became somewhat obsessed with tomatillo salsa my junior year in college. I'd never had such green, tangy, spicy delicious stuff until then, and I definitely wasn't going to go without it while back in Spain for the summer. My mother and I scoured my home town in search of tomatillos, the green tomatoes with sticky husks that are the base for the salsa. Not even my mother's veggie and fruit guy, Luis, could get them for us. That's when we resorted to El Corte Inglés, because as my friend Ana says "Lo que no tenga El Corte Inglés no existe en España" ("If El Corte Inglés doesn't have it, it doesn't exist in Spain").

Well, El Corte Inglés might sell everything from houses to toothpaste, as well as most specialty groceries but it didn't have tomatillos. I realized the difficulty we had finding these suckers was probably the reason I hadn't tried green salsa until I moved to the US. So with a heavy heart and a pouty face I prepared myself for a salsa verde-less summer; red salsa would have to cut it. Fortunately, if you live in the US you will probably be able to find these funny looking nightshades in almost any well-stocked supermarket. If you live elsewhere, you may have to go on a scavenger hunt, which will hopefully have a happier ending than mine. Once you have a big bowl of homemade salsa in front of you, though, I promise whatever tomatillo-finding expedition you went on will seem worthwhile

I got my tomatillos in my weekly CSA box: it doesn't get much easier than that. Instead of boiling them, I stuck them under the broiler, along with some jalapeños and garlic, until they were charred, for a salsa with more depth of flavor. After blending it all together, and stirring in a few more ingredients I had a lot of salsa. So I did the only reasonable thing- I ate lots of it. I put tons on my black bean tacos, served it to my girlfriends with some tortilla chips, spooned some into a wrap... You get the point. In spite of my best salsa-eating efforts, I still have some left in the fridge but I can guarantee it won't survive the weekend.

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa (Salsa Verde)
Makes about 2 1/2 to 3 cups
  • 2 lbs / 910 g tomatillos, husks removed, washed, dried and halved
  • 2-3 jalapeños, seeded if you'd like
  • 4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 small red onion, diced small
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro, finely chopped
  • Optional: 1 small avocado, diced
1. Preheat your broiler, with your oven tray set about 4 inches or so away from it. On a greased sheet pan, arrange the tomatillos (cut side down), the jalapeños and the garlic. Drizzle with the olive oil and rub it in to make sure it coats all the ingredients. Place under the broiler until partially charred, or about 5-7 minutes. Flip everything with a spatula and broil the other side for about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven. Place the jalapeños in a bowl and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. Alternatively, place them in a paper bag and close it tightly. This will steam the charred skins off and make the jalapeños easier to peel. Once they're cool enough to handle, peel the jalapeños and the garlic cloves. You don't have to completely peel the tomatillos, just do your best to remove the blackened parts of the skin.

2. Place the tomatillos, jalapeños, garlic, lemon juice and salt in your food processor or blender and whiz until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the onion and the cilantro. If you'd also like to add avocado, I'd recommend doing so right before you're about to serve the salsa, to prevent it from getting mushy. Serve chilled or at room temperature over tostadas, black bean tacos, or with your favorite chips.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mushroom, Asparagus and Tempeh Sauté

For several years now I've been reading and loving Heidi Swanson's blog, 101 Cookbooks. So have tons of other people, actually, including critics who have bestowed lots of awards upon it. With its killer combination of healthy vegetarian recipes, beautiful photography and elegant prose it is definitely deserving of all those honors. Since I wanted Heidi's personal voice and wonderful food to have a permanent place on my shelf, I gifted myself a copy of her latest book - Super Natural Every Day.

The book is every bit as gorgeous as her blog. Most of the recipes include ingredients that most of us don't use on a daily basis (harissa, farro and green curry paste, just to name a few) but the end result is worth going on a grocery scavenger hunt. I didn't cook tempeh for years, precisely because I didn't want to go on a Whole Foods expedition. As of recently though, both Harris Teeter and Trader Joe's have started carrying it so I've put it on our regular protein rotation. I decided to substitute it for seitan in the Mushroom Sauté recipe in the book and the result was fantastic. Just ask my coworkers how good my leftovers smelled today.

Mushroom, Asparragus and Tempeh Sauté
Adapted from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day  
Makes 3 servings
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 8 oz / 230 g tempeh, cut into about 1/2 inch / 1.25 cm cubes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds or slivered almonds
  • 1 tablespoon Earth Balance or other non-dairy butter 
  • 9 oz / 255 g fresh mushrooms, sliced or cut into strips (I used a mix of shiitakes and creminis)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 14 oz / 340 g thin asparagus, though ends trimmed and cut into 1 inch / 2.5 cm pieces
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon
1.  In a large pan, heat 2 teaspoons of oil over medium-high heat. Add the tempeh, sprinkle it with about 1/4 teaspoon salt and give it a stir. Once it's brown on one side, which should take a couple minutes, flip it with a spatula to give the other sides a chance to brown. Repeat until most sides are golden. About a couple minutes before the tempeh is done, toss in the sunflower seeds. Once the sunflower seeds are toasted, remove everything from the pan and set it aside. Wipe down the pan so you can use it for the mushrooms.

2.  Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of non-dairy butter over medium-high heat. Toss in the mushrooms and sauté them undisturbed for about 4 minutes or until their undersides are brown. Flip the mushrooms over with a spatula and let the other side brown. When the mushrooms are almost done, add the garlic, asparagus, remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Give everything a quick stir and let it cook for about a minute.

3. Stir the tempeh and sunflower seeds back in and remove the pan from the heat. Add in the lemon zest and serve immediately. We enjoyed our sauté with these vegan twice baked potatoes.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Roasted Summer Vegetable and Chickpea Salad

A few weeks ago Austin brought home dinner from Saladelia, the Mediterranean deli down the street. I asked for a vegetable side sampler, which he picked using his best judgment. When he got home and I saw he'd brought me some eggplant salad I thought "Yup, he knows me well".  I love almost any (vegetarian) dish containing it, and this salad was no exception. Besides roasted eggplant, it had chickpeas, tomatoes, parsley abd some spices I didn't bother to try and identify. Simple but delicious.

So delicious in fact, that I couldn't get it out of my head. When I got some Japanese eggplant in my CSA box, I knew I'd use it to make a similar dish. The thing is, I'd also gotten some squash and purple onions that I had no plans for, so they found a home in the salad too.  If it had been up to me, I would have left the eggplant unpeeled (especially since mine had particularly thin skin) but Austin probably wouldn't have been too happy. He says he hates eggplant, but when probed admits that it's really the skin he has problems with.

Even he enjoyed the salad, though. It was delicious the night I made it, but even better the next day once all the flavors had a chance to marry. So, if you also have to put a dent in your seasonal veggie supply, you won't be disappointed if you give this at try. I'm always looking for new ideas for how to cook summer veggies, so if you have a favorite way of decimating your squash and eggplant stash, please share it with me.

Roasted Summer Vegetable and Chickpea Salad
Makes about 4 servings
  • 1/2 lb eggplant, peeled, if you'd like, and chopped into about 3/4 inch cubes
  • 1 lb summer squash, halved if the squash is large, then sliced into about 1/3 inch rounds
  • 1 small red (or other) onion, chopped
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 15 oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 15 oz can diced fire roasted tomatoes, drained 
  • 1/2 cup packed chopped basil
  • 1/3 cup packed chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1. Preheat oven to 350 F / 175 C. Arrange the eggplant, squash and onion in a single layer on a greased, foil or parchment lined baking sheet. Drizzle the vegetables with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season them with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper. Roast the vegetables for about 30 minutes or until they're tender and have started to brown in some places.

2. In a medium to large salad bowl, combine the chickpeas, fire roasted tomatoes, basil and parsley. Once the vegetables are roasted, add them to the bowl too. Drizzle the salad with the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil, 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper. Toss until all they ingredients are evenly coated. Taste and adjust the seasoning if you think it's necessary. Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving. I know I say this often, but the world won't come to an end if you eat this room temperature (or even warm, if you're really hungry).

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Cashew, Coconut and Date Bars

Eating breakfast is kind of ritual for me. I take my grapefruit, granola, green juice, smoothie, or whatever else I'm into eating at the time, and park myself front of my computer. While I eat, I catch up on my RSS feeds, read the paper, check Facebook and tend to my email. Not wanting to miss the excitement, Lira usually sits next to me in Austin's desk chair. This morning routine is a simple pleasure, but I consider it a vital one. It's so important to me, in fact, that I wake up about half an hour earlier than necessary just to fit it in. It probably seems a bit crazy to Austin, who goes about his mornings quite differently.

He follows the "get out the door as quickly as possible" schooMl of thought, which has resulted in him skipping breakfast for a while now. He says it's because "he doesn't have time" for it, which I'm almost certain means he'd rather sleep in an few extra minutes. I hate to get all "breakfast is the most important meal of the day" on him, but I do believe everyone should eat something before they start off their day. I thought if I made his breakfast as grab-and-go as possible he'd be more likely to actually eat something before lunch. That's where these bars come in.

I wanted to make a snack reminiscent of a Larabar, one that's vegan and made from just a few, relatively unprocessed ingredients. Specifically, I was thinking of the Cashew Cookie flavor, which has just two ingredients -- dates (mmm, nature's caramel!) and cashews. My bars have a higher nut to date ratio though, so if you'd like a chewier, stickier bar just increase the amount of dates to about 2-3 cups. You can also leave out the coconut or substitute it for something else, like chopped dried fruit or chocolate chips. The recipe below is just a guideline, so please experiment and make it your own.

I'm pleased to report that these bars were tasty enough to persuade Austin to eat breakfast several times this week. I'm sure he'll get sick of them eventually though, so I'd love to hear what portable breakfasts you all enjoy. 

Cashew, Coconut and Date Bars
Makes 8 bars
  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • 1 1/2 cup packed pitted dates, or about 17 large dates (they can be pricey, so I buy mine in bulk at Sam's)
  • 1/2 cup dried, unsweetened coconut
1.  Toss the cashews into the food processor and pulse a few times to chop them. Add the dates and the coconut, processing until the dates are chopped and the mixture starts to stick together. Try to form a golf size ball with the mixture. If it doesn't stick together, add more dates.

2.  Transfer the mixture to a parchment or plastic lined square or rectangular baking dish. If you have an 8 by 8 baking dish, use that. Evenly distribute the mixture along the bottom of the pan, pressing it down firmly. If, like me, you're using a larger baking dish, just spread the mixture along the pan until the bars are about 1/2 inch thick and even out the edge that doesn't touch the pan with your hands.

3.  Refrigerate the bars for at least 1 1/2 hours before carefully cutting them into 8 sections. If you've added more dates, you can probably get away with shortening chilling them for a shorter period of time. Individually wrap them, put them in plastic baggies or tupperware and store them in the fridge until you're ready to enjoy them. If left outside the fridge, they'll get softer and may not hold together as well, but they'll still be delicious.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Onion and Jalapeño Home Fries

Last Saturday was one of those days when vegging on the couch seems like the only reasonable thing to do. That's exactly what I was up to when Austin asked "Babe, how do you bake a potato in the microwave?". "Just pierce it with a fork and cook it for about 5-7 minutes, if it's small. Wait, why are you baking potatoes?", I said. "Home fries", he responded, then adding "What spices do you think the people at Rick's use on theirs?".  "If I give you my best guess will you make me some?",  I tentatively asked. "Already planned on it", he replied. "I think they use chili powder, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper". Yes! If his home fries were even half as good as the ones at Rick's I'd be having a great breakfast.

You see, I power ballad love the home fries at Rick's Diner (I've been known to make them my one and only brunch item). You may not share my enthusiasm if you prefer your home fries dry and crispy on the outside, though. The ones at Rick's are soft, moist, slightly spicy and have a hint of sweetness from the softened onions. Austin's rendition was almost identical to the original dish except for the addition of jalapeños. I really enjoyed the flavor they provided and, since they were seeded, they didn't overwhelm the potatoes. I thought they were so delicious that I ate my share and then snagged a few of Austin's while he wasn't looking.

Of course, Austin didn't measure any of the ingredients so in order to write down the recipe I had to make these again on Sunday. Home fries two mornings in a row? I won't say not to that! And after you taste these, you'll won't either.

Onion and Jalapeño Home Fries 
Inspired by the home fries at Rick's Diner
Makes 2 potato fiend servings, 3 normal ones
  • 1 lb 3 oz / 540 g young red (or other) potatoes, scrubbed clean and dried
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 jalapeños, seeded and julienned
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1.  Pierce each potato a few times with a fork. If you'd like to do this more elegantly, bake the potatoes at 350 F / 175 C for about 45 minutes to one hour (young potatoes are smaller and less starchy so they don't take as long to bake) or until just tender. If, like Austin and me, you don't mind taking a dirty shortcut, you can bake your potatoes in the microwave. To do so, make sure they're all roughly the same size. If that means cutting larger potatoes in half, do so. Place the potatoes on a microwave safe plate and microwave them on high for about 5-7 minutes, or until they're tender, but not falling apart.
2.  While your potatoes are cooking, heat the oil over medium heat in a medium pan. Add the onions and cook them about 3 minutes or until they start to soften. Toss in the jalapeños, and cook for another 3 minutes or so. Slice the potatoes into bite-sized pieces, and add them to pan along with the spices and the salt. Give the mixture a good toss, to make sure everything is evenly coated and cook, stirring a couple times, for about 4 minutes. Serve piping hot alongside the rest of your brunch or, if you're an indulgent potato lover like me, all by themselves.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Falafel with Tahini Sauce

I've made falafel at home about a half dozen times, from as many recipes, and it's never really turned out right. While most of my patties tasted fine, few of them actually had the right texture or held together. Some of these falafel fails are on me, though. I thought I could make baked falafel as crunchy as the stuff cooked in a deep fryer, and that falafel "fried" in a nonstick skillet seasoned with a measly teaspoon of oil would surely result in a wonderfully crispy exterior. Nope, not at all. This week I tried yet another recipe, and I'm happy to report that my minor tweaks didn't end in disaster. 

A quick Google search for "authentic falafel" (because if it's authentic I can't mess it up, right?) led me to this recipe by Mordehai (Moti) Zadik. Next to the recipe is a picture of it's creator, Moti, and I could see in his friendly and wise face that he had the secret to the perfect falafel (but don't trust me, you be the judge of his apparent culinary wisdom). 

Feeling good about my decision to trust Moti's expertise, I read the recipe instructions carefully, and then proceeded to do the usual -- do things slightly differently. I couldn't be bothered to soak dried chickpeas overnight (mainly because I almost always buy them canned, gasp!) so, as Moti reluctantly suggests in the recipe, I used a can. He also instructs readers to let the mixture sit in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Well, it was a weeknight and we were hungry so one and half hours would have to do. I fried up the falafel in a generous amount of oil and they turned out exactly how I'd hoped, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. My falafel fail streak is officially over.

Adapted from Mordehai (Moti) Zadik's recipe 
Makes about 8-9 falafel balls
  • 1 15 oz / 425 g can chickpea, rinsed and drained
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 6 tablespoons whole wheat (or all purpose) flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro
  • 1 small onion, very finely chopped
  • About 1/2 - 1 cup canola (or other vegetable oil)
  • Optional: 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
 1.  Toss the chickpeas, garlic, baking powder, flour, spices, and salt in the food processor and pulse until the chickpeas are broken down and a dough starts to form, scrapping down the sides of the bowl if necessary. Add in the fresh herbs and pulse a few more times until they're chopped small, but not so much that they completely blend into the dough. 

2.  Transfer the chickpea mixture into a bowl, add the onions and mix them in using your hands. At this point, you should be able to take a small hand full of the dough, form a ball and have it retain its shape. My dough came out just the right, but all it takes is a particularly juicy or dry onion to offset that delicate moisture balance. If the dough is too dry, add a tablespoon of water at a time. If the dough is too wet, add more flour 1/2 of a tablespoon at a time. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, put it in the fridge and let it rest for at least 1 1/2 hours, although 2-3 would probably be even better. Letting it rest will make it even easier to form dough balls and have them stay together.

3.  Put enough oil in a small pan so that it comes up about 1/2 inch. Heat the oil over medium to medium high heat, making sure not to let it smoke. When you drop a bit of dough in the oil and it sizzles immediately you're ready to start frying. Divide your dough into 8-9 portions and roll them into balls. Flatten them slightly and drop them in 3-4 at a time. Once the falafel are golden brown on their undersides, which should take about 3 minutes, flip them and cook them for another 3 minutes or so. When they're browned on both sides, transfer them to a plate lined with a couple paper towels. Serve them hot, with a generous drizzle of tahini sauce. I ate mine over greens but you can also stuff them in a pita with tomatoes, greens, and whatever other vegetables you'd like.

Tahini Sauce
Makes about 3/4 cup

  • 1/4 cup tanihi
  • 5 tablespoons water
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon minced parsley
Put all the ingredients except the parsley in the food processor (a mini one or a Magic Bullet works best for this) and blend until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the parsley. Drizzle over falafel, use as a veggie dip or a salad dressing.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Oatmeal Carrot Muffins

A couple days ago I was sitting on my couch, thinking "I really wish I had a piece of cake to dig into". I could have left the house to procure myself a sweet treat, but instead I went all DIY on my craving and make some muffins. Now, if I'd really had my heart sent on devouring the most similar treat to cake in the shortest amount of time I should have made cupcakes, but on that lazy night some muffins were going to have to cut it.

These muffins are mildly spiced, not overly sweet, dense and delicious. Not only did they satisfy my immediate need for something dessert-like, they also were great for breakfast for the next couple of days. So, if you're in the mood for a quick, moderately healthy, carrot cake substitute (sans frosting) these muffins are for you!

Oatmeal Carrot Muffins
Makes 12 muffins
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons / 6 tablespoons water
  • 3 tablespoons chia seeds or ground flax seeds
  • 1/2 cup almond or other non-dairy milk
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup quick oats, processed until almost flour-like (leaving some half or quarter oats is fine)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
  • 2 cups grated carrots, loosely packed
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil (I used coconut oil, which is solid at room temperature, melted in the microwave)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
1.  Preheat the oven to 350 F / 175 C. Grease a muffin tin or put paper liners in each cup. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the water and the chia or flax seeds together. Set aside for about 5-10 minutes or until the mixture is gelatinous. In a mixing cup or small bowl, combine the vinegar with the almond milk. Measure the dry ingredients while the liquid curdles.
2.  Combine the flours, processed oats, spices, baking soda and baking powder in a large bowl. Once the dry ingredients are mixed, toss the carrots until they're evenly coated.
3.  Pour the curdled milk into the chia or flax seed mixture, which after about 10 minutes should have a gelatinous texture. Whisk in the brown sugar, vegetable oil and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
4.  Fill each of the muffin tin cups with batter to the top. Bake for about 25-28 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the muffin comes out clean.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Lemon and Almond Roasted Broccoli

Honestly, I'm not a huge broccoli fan. For some bizarre reason I feel that someone like me, who will happily eat almost anything green, should be in love with this cruciferous vegetable. Not the case at all. Don't get me wrong, I'll voluntarily eat cooked broccoli occasionally, especially if my palate is distracted by other ingredients in the dish. Heck, I'll even stomach it raw if it's the only vessel for, say, some hummus. Mostly though, when I eat mini-trees I'm thinking "Nom, nom, vitamin C, A, calcium, iron..." not "Mmmm, tasty". However, there is one preparation that brings fire to my otherwise chilly relationship with broccoli. It's so tasty that it makes me lick my chops... and my plate if nobody's looking.

When Austin and I first moved in together, I would often come home to find dinner on the table (sadly, it's a rare event these days, in part because I've taken over the kitchen). One of those nights, Google had led him to a Barefoot Contessa recipe for roasted broccoli and, probably not knowing how I felt about it, he decided to make it. I'm glad he didn't ask my opinion on his choice of side, because if he had I probably would have never discovered that broccoli can be delicious. Since that night when broccoli and I found our happy place, I've modified the recipe and am more in love with it than ever. Thank you BFC, for showing me all of broccoli's potential.

Lemon and Almond Roasted Broccoli
Makes about 3 servings
Adapted from Ina Garten's (or Barefoot Contessa's) Parmesan-Roasted Broccoli
  • 6 cups small broccoli florets
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped almonds
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons basil cut into a fine chiffonade
1.  Preheat the oven to 350 F. Combine the broccoli, garlic, almonds, lemon zest, salt, pepper and oil in a baking dish. Toss until the broccoli is evenly coated. Roast for about 30 minutes or until the broccoli is fork tender and the nuts are fragrant.
2.  Add the lemon juice and basil to the broccoli, tossing it once again to coat. Serve warm or at room temperature.