Sunday, June 14, 2015

Greek Salad with Tofu Feta

Like all good (half) Greek girls, I used to love me some feta cheese, although - as with black olives - it took me awhile to come around to appreciating its salty, briny charms. But once converted I was a big fan, and since being vegan, I've tried a few commercial non-dairy versions, in hopes of finding a decent approximation. Unfortunately, there was always something missing: too dry, too bland, too grainy, wrong seasonings, etc. And then one day, while snacking on the fantastic house-cured olives from our local Mediterranean grocery, it occurred to me that the brine might be just the thing for transforming pressed, crumbled tofu into feta.

I gave the notion a shot, and while the results were good, I still felt it needed more oomph, so I mixed and measured and sprinkled and stirred and came up with today's recipe, which I am happy to share with you. This stuff is so simple that I can see it becoming a weekly occurrence, especially now the weather is heating up. We've been mixing tofu feta into green salads like the one below, but it would also be a great addition to tabbouleh or couscous salad, which I'll be trying as we get further into our summer salad days. Because I am not so green in judgment that I don't know a good thing when I've found one!

Tofu Feta
Ingredients
~ 1 14 oz. package extra firm tofu, pressed for at least an hour
~ ¼ cup each: red wine vinegar, lemon juice, dill pickle brine
~ 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ 1 tsp. each: prepared mustard, vegan Worcestershire sauce
~ 2 cloves crushed garlic (or ½ tsp. garlic powder)
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, oregano, basil, mint
~ ½ tsp. dill

Directions
~ Once your tofu is good and pressed, slice or crumble it into roughly 1" cubes
~ Mix all the remaining ingredients thoroughly in a container with a lid, then add the tofu. Put the lid on and give the whole business a few good shakes to make sure all the tofu is coated with the marinade.
~ Refrigerate for at least a day (a few days is better) before using, to let the flavors infuse the tofu.

The Salad
~ 8 cups crunchy salad greens (romaine lettuce is perfect here)
~ 1 cup chopped fresh parsley
~ 1 cup halved grape tomatoes
~ 1 cup cubed cucumber
~ 1 cup cubed bell pepper (yellow looks pretty)
~ ¾ cup quartered black olives
~ Pita chips (homemade or store bought)

Directions
~ Transfer the marinated tofu to a colander and allow it to drain for about 10 minutes.
~ In a large bowl, combine everything but the pita chips.
~ Add the drained tofu feta to the salad and mix thoroughly. I like to use a bowl with a fitted lid so I can give everything a few really good shakes.
~ Allow the salad to rest for a few minutes, or refrigerate if you're making it ahead.
~ Serve topped with pita chips.
(NB - many Greek salads call for red onion, but I have an intolerance for any and all uncooked onions and eschew them religiously. Those not similarly afflicted may add a handful if they so choose!)

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Peanut Butter & Banana Pancakes

As the youngest of four children, I grew up with a lot of hand-me-down books from my older siblings. One of these was Danny and the Pancakes, the story of a little boy with a positive mania for his favorite breakfast: an obsession that leads, if not to disaster and grief, then at least to indigestion. I liked the pictures of pancakes, and the fact that Danny shared entire stacks of them with his dog, Brownie, but I was troubled that his family left him alone at home all day, where he proceeded to do the scariest and most forbidden thing possible by cooking on the stove. As a rule-follower who always sided with The Cat in the Hat's super-ego-embodying fish, I was simultaneously horrified and fascinated by Danny's culinary hubris; the fact that I still remember this discomfort attests to its effect on my tender, infant psyche.

Years passed, and before you could say "carbohydrates" I was cooking for myself and - eventually - my own children, all of whom share Danny's taste for pancakes, if not for danger and gluttony. Today's recipe for Breakfast Nirvana was inspired by the Puffy Pillow Pancakes from Isa Does It, which are absolutely fail-safe and endlessly adaptable. Mashed, ripe bananas, cinnamon, and a little extra sugar add sweetness, and peanut butter replaces the usual canola or grape seed oil to work its ineffable magic, resulting in pancakes that will disappear immediately into the mouths of your adoring and appreciative loved ones.

I got an even dozen pancakes from this recipe - as opposed to the even one hundred produced by Danny's - which proved more than ample for four people not intent on a visit to the ER. (NB we are big peanut butter fans at my house, but those who are allergic and/or averse can easily substitute another nut butter like almond or cashew with equally happy results.) I served these as is with Earth Balance and maple syrup, but ½-¾ cup chopped apples, nuts, raisins, or fresh berries would make nice additions to the batter if you're feeling adventurous.)

Peanut Butter & Banana Pancakes
Ingredients
~ 2 cups plain, unsweetened soy or almond milk
~ 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
~ 1 tbsp. ground flax seed
~ 1 tsp. vanilla extract
~ ¼ cup natural peanut butter (or almond, cashew, etc.)
~ 3 very ripe bananas, mashed until smooth
~ 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
~ ¼ cup sugar
~ 1 tbsp. baking powder
~ ½ tsp. each: salt, cinnamon
~ Dash nutmeg

Directions
~ Place a non-stick baking sheet in a 200 degree oven.
~ In a beaker, combine the milk and the apple cider vinegar and allow to rest about 5 minutes. Add the flaxseed and whisk vigorously for a minute or so.
~ Add the vanilla extract, peanut butter, and mashed bananas and stir until combined.
~ In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
~ Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the peanut butter/banana mixture. Stir until just combined to make a relatively thick batter (you can add an extra splash of liquid if it seems too gloppy).
~ Coat a large skillet with cooking spray and place over medium-high heat.
~ When the skillet is hot but not smoking, ladle about 1/3-1/2 cup batter into the pan and smooth it out to form a circle; I usually cook two pancakes at a time.
~ Cook the pancakes for about 2-3 minutes, until bubbles start to form on the surface. Flip and cook another minute or so, and then transfer to the oven to keep warm. Continue in this way until all the batter is used up.
~ Serve hot with Earth Balance (or other vegan margarine) and maple syrup.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili

Once again, I must  apologize for my recent radio (i.e. blogging) silence. Once The Winter That Would Not Die finally turned up its toes, spring arrived and got very busy very quickly with conferences, end-of-semester stuff, grading, projects, etc. All of which means I haven't had much time or energy for culinary experimentation, but now that everything is blooming and the farmers' markets are in full swing, I'm hoping the influx of fresh local produce will spark some ambition. In the meantime, here's an ass-kicking, nutrition-packed chili that is filled with everything good. (One note: the idea to use coffee for part of the liquid came from several recipes I've seen online, and I decided to give it a shot. And while I think it did add a certain something, you could easily do without it and simply make up the difference with more broth or water.)

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili
Ingredients
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 large onion, diced
~ 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
~ 3 large portobello mushroom caps, chunky dice
~ 4 cloves garlic, minced
~ ½ lb fresh tomatoes, diced (I used grape tomatoes)
~ 2 tsp. each: cumin, chili powder
~ 1 tsp. each: smoked paprika, marjoram
~ ½ tsp. each: salt, white pepper, cinnamon
~ ¼ tsp. cayenne (more to taste)
~ 1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
~ ½ cup red lentils
~ 4 tbsp. tomato paste
~ 1 tbsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce
~ 1.5 cups "no chicken" broth
~ ¾ cup strong brewed coffee (or more broth)
~ ½ lb. frozen spinach
~ Juice of 1 large lime
~ ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley (for haters)

Directions
~ In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, sauté the onion in the oil over medium heat for 3-4 minutes.
~ Add  the sweet potatoes, mushrooms, and garlic; cook another 5 minutes, stirring to make sure things don't stick (you can add a little water as needed).
~ Add the diced tomatoes and dry seasonings; stir to coat, and cook another 5-6 minutes, until the tomatoes are beginning to soften.
~ Stir in the black beans, lentils, tomato paste, and Worcestershire sauce. Mix well and cook another minute or two.
~ Pour in the broth and coffee, cover the pot, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lentils have broken down and the vegetables are soft.
~ Add the spinach and cook another 10 minutes.
~ Stir in the lime juice and the fresh herb and serve hot with rice and/or cornbread. (A margarita wouldn't come amiss, either.)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Perfectly Simple Yellow Dal

This deceptively simple dal packs a lot of flavor, and with its smooth, porridgy texture and cheerful yellow color, it's like a big, warm hug for your stomach. I served it alongside saag (minus the tofu) and ginger-garlic sweet potatoes, but it can easily be a meal on its own ladled over basmati rice.

Perfectly Simple Yellow Dal
Ingredients
~ 1 cup chana dal (yellow split peas)
~ ½ cup red lentils
~ 2 bay leaves
~ 2 tsp. fresh ginger
~ ½ tsp. turmeric
~ 1 tbsp. each: canola oil, Earth Balance
~ 1 cup chopped shallots
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 large tomato, diced
~ 1 tsp. each: cumin, garam masala, chili powder
~ ½ tsp. each: salt, asafoetida, coriander, white pepper
~ ¼ tsp. cayenne (more to taste)
~ ½ cup fresh, chopped cilantro

Directions
~ In a saucepan, combine the chana dal, lentils, broth, bay leaves, and ginger. Cover, bring to a boil, and turn the heat to its lowest setting. Cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft and mushy, adding a little extra water as needed to keep the mixture from sticking. (We’re going for a texture like porridge.)
~ When the legumes are cooked, combine the oil and margarine in a skillet over medium heat and sauté the shallots for about 5 minutes, until softened but not brown.
~ Add the garlic, tomatoes, and dry seasonings and cook about 5-7 minutes more.
~ Tip the cooked dal into the skillet, remove the bay leaves, and combine thoroughly. Continue cooking another 5 minutes, stir in the fresh herb, and serve hot with basmati rice and/or naan, chutney, and a good, spicy pickle.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

White Beans with Leeks and Carrots


This thick, creamy stew makes a comforting dinner on a chilly evening, or any time you're feeling a bit bashed about. Flavor-wise, it put me in mind of my mother's pot pie filling, only less podgy; perhaps because I used beans instead of fake meat. We ate ours in shallow bowls atop a pile of champ - thereby redressing any potential podge imbalance - which was a perfect pairing of flavors and textures, but it would be lovely ladled over noodles, rice, or biscuits, too.

White Beans with Leeks and Carrots
Ingredients
~ 2 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 2 tsp. "no chicken" bouillon
~ 1 bay leaf
~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 large leek (or 2 small), cleaned and chopped
~ 2 large carrots, diced
~ ½ tsp. each: thyme, marjoram, white pepper, Adobo seasoning
~ Dash each: mace, turmeric
~ 1 14 oz. can white beans (I used cannellini), drained and rinsed
~ 1/2cup frozen peas
~ 2 tbsp. flour

Directions
~ Combine the soy milk, bouillon, and bay leaf, and heat almost to boiling (a few minutes in the microwave will accomplish this nicely). Set aside.
~ In a largeish pot, saute the leek and carrots in the olive oil over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, until beginning to soften.
~ Add the seasonings and beans, and cook about 5 minutes more, crushing some (but not all!) of the beans with the back of a wooden spoon.
~ Stir in the flour and cook for about 30 seconds, then begin adding the soy milk/bouillon mixture, stirring constantly to proven lumps.
~ Add the green peas and allow the stew to cook for about 10 more minutes, until thickened.
~ Serve hot over rice, noodles, biscuits, or - my strong recommendation - champ.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

"Egg" Foo Yung


Full disclosure: I have never, to my recollection, actually eaten or even seen egg foo yung, which Wikipedia defines as "an omelette dish found in Chinese Indonesian, British and Chinese American cuisine." Although a standard offering in old-school American Chinese restaurants, this menu staple somehow passed me by (or vice-versa) back in my omnivorous days, along with hybridized offerings like chop suey and chow mein. (The queasy-making orientalism surrounding putatively "Asian" food and culture in twentieth century American pop culture is another topic for another blog post. Then again, maybe not.)

Anyway, I became curious about this dish after a friend posted about making it; I wasn't entirely sure what it was, and a little Googling piqued my quixotic culinary interest. After consulting several sources (including "traditional" egg-based versions and Robin Robertson's To-Fu Yung from Vegan Planet), I headed into the kitchen, and basically just played around a bit. Today's recipe is the end result of my experimentation, and while I can't say how it compares to the original (whatever such a term even means), I can say that it's delicious, and makes a somewhat "fancy" impression that belies its easy preparation. Best of all, no eggs, hens, or chicks are involved!

The "Egg" Foo Yung
Ingredients
~ 1 14 oz. package firm or extra firm tofu, drained and crumbled
~ ¼ cup each: chickpea flour, nutritional yeast
~ 1 tbsp. soy sauce
~ 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
~ 2-6 tbsp. water
~ 1 tsp black salt
~ 1/2 tsp. each: turmeric, ground ginger, garlic powder, white pepper
~ 4 large scallions, chopped
~ ½ red bell pepper, small dice
~ 1 small carrot, shredded
~ 1 stalk celery, small dice
~ 2 cups bean sprouts, roughly chopped

Directions
~ Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and coat two baking sheets with cooking spray.
~ In a food processor or blender, puree the tofu, flour, nutritional yeast, soy sauce, sesame oil, and dry seasonings, adding as much of the water as needed to make a smooth mixture about the consistency of a thick muffin batter.
~ In a large mixing bowl, combine the scallions, bell pepper, celery, and bean sprouts; stir in the tofu mixture and combine well.
~ Wet your hands and form the mixture by 1/3-1/2 cupfuls into round “omelettes” about ½” thick, spacing them evenly on your prepared baking sheet. (I got ten from this recipe, but your mileage may vary.)
~ Bake at 425 degrees for 30-40 minutes, flipping halfway, until golden brown and firm.
~ While that's happening, you can make...

The Sauce
Ingredients

~ 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
~ 2 large shallots, minced
~ 1 clove garlic, minced
~ 1 tsp. grated ginger
~ 1 tbsp. each: soy sauce, hot sauce (I used Sriracha)
~ 2 tbsp. dry sherry
~ 1 tsp. each: vegan Worcestershire sauce, sugar
~ 1.5 cups "no chicken" broth
~ 1 tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in 1/2 cup cold water

Directions
~ In a saucepan, sauté the shallots in the sesame oil over medium heat for about 2 minutes.
~ Add the garlic and ginger and cook another 30 seconds or so.
~ Add the soy sauce, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, and sherry. Stir for a few seconds to let the alcohol burn off a little.
~ Begin adding the broth slowly, stirring all the while; turn the heat to simmer and allow to cook for another 5 minutes.
~ Whisk in the cornstarch and water mixture and combine thoroughly. Raise the heat back to medium-high and cook another 5-7 minutes, until thickened.
~ When the egg foo yung is finished baking, place each omelet on a bed of steamed brown rice and ladle the sauce over the top to serve. Stir-fried broccoli, mushrooms, and/or bok choy make a nice accompaniment.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Apple Banana Muffins



Well, despite the calendar's claim that we are within two weeks of spring and today's marginally warmer temperatures, the snow piled up outside my door makes it look a lot like winter. And so the heat remains on in my drafty old house, which in the absence of both insulation and money to burn translates to fuzzy socks, sweaters, and plenty of baking.

These big, puffy muffins are perfect for those days when you've got bananas that are too far past their prime to be eaten "as themselves," but not so far gone to be of no further use. Mash those babies up, toss in some chopped apple, maple syrup, and wintry spices, and you've got the recipe for a warmed-up kitchen;  add a cup of tea and you've got a perfect afternoon snack.

Apple Banana Muffins
Ingredients
~ 4 very ripe bananas
~ ¼ cup each: canola oil, maple syrup
~ ½ cup each: plain (or vanilla) almond milk, orange juice
~ 1 tsp. vanilla extract
~ 1 tbsp. each: apple cider vinegar, ground flaxseed
~ 2.5 cups white whole wheat flour
~ 1 tbsp. baking powder
~ ½ tsp. each: baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger
~ ¼ tsp. nutmeg
~ 1 large, ripe apple (any type), small dice

Directions
~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit and coat a muffin tin with cooking spray.
~ In mixing bowl, mash the ripe bananas until smooth. Add the oil, maple syrup, almond milk, orange juice, vanilla, and cider vinegar, and mix until smooth.
~ Stir in the ground flaxseed and stir well for about a minute.
~ In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.
~ Add then diced apple and stir well to coat with the flour mixture.
~ Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and fold in the banana mixture. Stir to combine, being careful not to over mix.
~ Spoon the batter into your prepared muffin tin (the batter will be quite puffy, but not to worry!).
~ Bake at 375 degrees for 20-22 minutes, until the muffins are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of one comes out clean.
~ Remove the muffins from the oven and allow to rest in the baking tin for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool.