Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Black-Eyed Peas with Okra and Sweet Potatoes


Incredibly, we have reached the end of 2008. Like every year, it's had some good, some bad and some ugly, but as we stand on the precipice of 2009, it's time to look back on what's happened and use what we can to make the future a better place. So I'd like to take this opportunity to wish everyone peace, love, happiness, prosperity, and lots and lots of beans.

Legumes are a major staple of our diet, and at this time of year they even have folkloric street cred: in the southern United States, black-eyed peas are traditionally eaten at New Year's to ensure good luck for the coming twelve months. A cursory Google search says the black spot represents a "lucky streak," and notes that "the legumes are typically accompanied by either hog jowls or ham...the hog, and thus its meat, is considered lucky because it symbolizes prosperity" [although not, it must be noted, for the hog itself - ed.], while another site offers the following: "Some say the black-eyed pea's association with good fortune dates back to the pharaohs.

Others say it started in Vicksburg, Virginia, during the Civil War when the town ran out of food while under siege and the inhabitants were lucky enough to discover dried black-eyed peas among their stores. Meanwhile, cabbage leaves are thought to bring prosperity to those who eat them on New Year's Day." Of course, the "luck" conferred upon the digestion by the combination of legumes and cabbage may be open to debate, but it still sounds a lot better than hog jowls, unless you're Granny Clampett, in which case you probably don't want to spend New Year's with us, anyway: we have a much smaller fancy-eatin' room, and no cement pond at all.

But whatever the reason, Egyptians or Damn Yankees, eating black-eyed peas is a time-honored way of ushering out the old and ringing in the new, and this is the way I do it. Let me say straight up that A. this makes a ton (I like to freeze things for when I'm too lazy/busy to cook), but can be easily halved for a more reasonable quantity, and B. my version is more curried than Cajun, but go ahead and adjust the seasonings to suit your own taste. I've used frozen black-eyed peas when they happened to be on hand, but soaking raw ones is even better, provided you remember to do it (so don't forget, okay?). With some rice, garlicky greens, and extra hot sauce, this is a delicious, healthy start to a brave new year: the best one yet!

Black-Eyed Peas with Okra and Sweet Potatoes
Ingredients:
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic

~ 4 cups onions, diced

~ 1 cup each: celery; bell pepper, chopped

~ 3 cups vegetable stock
~ 1 28-ounce can fire-roasted tomatoes
, including liquid
~ 1 lb. okra, tops removed and sliced 
(4 cups, or a 1 lb, bag if using frozen)
~ 3 sweet potatoes, chopped
~ 1/2 cup white wine or broth
~ 1 tsp. Thai red curry paste
~ 1 tbsp. Jamaican curry powder
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, chili powder, cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, thyme, garam masala
~ ¼ tsp. each: cayenne pepper, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg
~ 1 tbsp. each: molasses, maple syrup
~ 3 cups frozen black-eyed peas (or 1.5 cup raw, soaked overnight)
~ Lots of black pepper, or to taste
~ 4 cups baby spinach (approximately), chopped

Directions:
~ Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium flame. Add the onions and cook, stirring regularly, until they begin to brown, about 8 minutes.
~ Add the garlic, bell pepper, celery, sweet potatoes and spices. Cook for 5 minutes, and add the wine or broth to deglaze the pan. Stir in the tomatoes and cook for another minute or two.
~ Add all remaining ingredients except the spinach, and cook over medium heat until okra is thoroughly cooked and the mixture has thickened, about 45-55 minutes.
~ Add the baby spinach and a little more stock if desired; it should be thicker than a soup but still a bit brothy.
~ Cook another 20 minutes over low heat, then allow to stand awhile; the longer it sits, the better!
~ Serve over rice with sautéed kale, chard or (ideally) collard greens and extra hot sauce.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Curried Winter Squash Soup

First of all, I'd like to wish everyone a happy Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Giftmas, Dance-Naked-Around-the-Back-Garden-Day, and/or whatever combination of these or other holidays you observe at this festive time of year. I'm also wishing all good things for 2009; if it's anything like 2008, we are certain never to be bored. That said, I am filled with a sense of cautious optimism , which is partly due to our incoming new president, and partly to the fact that I'm a shameless Pollyanna sentimentalist around the holidays. But let's face it: it's as easy to be hopeful as pessimistic, besides being much more fun.

So heigh-ho, sing heigh-ho unto the green holly, most friendship [may be] feigning, most loving [possibly] mere folly, but for a few weeks of the year it's fun to bring trees into the house, eat too many cookies, and get in touch with people we love but see far too infrequently.

Which brings me in a roundabout way to the subject of this post, which happens to be soup (we like soup, so sue us). Way back in the second millennium, I lived in Rindge, New Hampshire for a year, where I made an awesome friend named Hal, with whom I shared a passion for squandering youthful energy and limited funds chasing the Grateful Dead all over Christendom, having what we called "loads-o-fun." To enumerate our many hijinks would be to squander the gentle reader's time and patience, but one illustrative anecdote involves him returning one of my Indian bedspreadesque hippie skirts, and leaving a message with my bemused roommate that he liked it but wanted a longer one next time (having discovered what everyone ought to know, which is that dancing, twirling, and spinning are more fun in a skirt). Get me started on our food-based adaptations of Dead lyrics - "Walk me out in the honeydew, my melon," "Don't you let that meal go down" - and we'll be here all night. Good times.

So what does any of this have to do with soup, you ask? Well, I'm getting to it. For many years, I've been making this curried squash soup, which my omnivorous, butter-obsessed mom has always loved. Not long ago, she asked where I got the idea for it, which is where Hal comes in. He did his BA at Keene State College, and after I'd fled the Granite State for Massachusetts, I'd go up to see him occasionally. I was a vegetarian in those days, and there was a place called Henry David's (like Thoreau, get it?) in Keene that was a sort of classic college town restaurant, with groovy salads and stuff like hummus that were still vaguely exotic in that time and place. Once upon a time we had a butternut squash bisque there, which was sort of sweet, a little spicy, and vaguely curryish. Even back then, I was tasting stuff in restaurants and thinking how I might reproduce/improve it, so I did some messing around with squashes, vegetable stock, and various spices, and this was the eventual result.

Having made it - or variations on it - for lo, these many years now, I still like it a lot; something about it just says "autumn." Sometimes I use parsnips instead of apples, or even both; like most pureed soups, it's pretty forgiving. Mix and match, use butternut, acorn squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, or some combination: it's all good. I find this soup is best served with dense, crusty bread and a big, groovy salad; in a perfect world, there will be alfalfa sprouts and a nice tahini-based dressing like Annie's Crack...er, I mean Goddess Dressing. That stuff makes me want to find a good Dead show on the archive and spin around until I'm dizzy (oh, and Hal: you can borrow a skirt whenever you like!).

Curried Winter Squash Soup
Ingredients:
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 1 large stalk celery, diced
~ 2 large apples, chopped (or 3-4 parsnips, or some of each)
~ 1 winter squash, cut into 1/2" cubes (about 8-10 cups)
~ 1 tbsp. good curry powder
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, cumin, fenugreek powder
~ ½ tsp. each: chili powder, dill, smoked paprika
~ ¼  tsp. each: cinnamon, turmeric
~ ½ tsp. cayenne or 1 tbsp hot sauce; more or less to taste
~ A few grinds fresh black pepper
~ Dash nutmeg or mace
~ 2 cups no chicken broth
~ 2 cups apple cider (or more broth if you don't have/like it)
~ 1 15 oz. can lite coconut milk

Directions:
~ In a large pot, heat the oil and saute the garlic, onions and celery for about 5 minutes over medium heat.
~ Add the apples and/or parsnips and spices; stir to coat and cook another 5 minutes.
~ Add the cubed squash and the apple cider; raise heat to high and bring to a boil.
~ Turn the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 30-40 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft, stirring occasionally.
~ Remove from heat, add the coconut milk, and puree with an immersion blender or transfer to a food processor in batches. Return to almost (but not quite!) boiling, and serve hot.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Socca (Provencal Chickpea Flour Pancake)



Chickpea flour is one of those amazing things I discovered relatively late (like olives, which I thought were disgusting until I was in my 30s; now I would mainline them if I could just figure out how to go about it). I'd eaten it in Indian cooking forever, but it never occurred to me to take some home and play around with it. Turns out that you can make a lot more than dosai with this stuff; I've already posted about the wonderfulness that is "fronch" toast, and with this recipe we travel to the sunny south of France, where we get to eat chickpea flour and olives on the same plate! (Can't you just smell that lavender?)

This baked pancake is sort of like a fritatta, sort of like a dosa, and sort of like a pizza. It's a bit fiddly, and after substituting a cast iron pizza pan for the big cast iron skillet we no longer have, I highly recommend using the latter, even if you have to go out and buy one: I know what I want from Santa this year. That said, it's totally worth it, and it made a delicious brunch on a Saturday morning (oh, all right, it was actually 12.30pm, but whatever), and in fact there was so much leftover that we had it again on Sunday; with the addition of a nice green salad, it could be a perfectly acceptable lunch or dinner as well. It's traditionally eaten as is, but since I can never leave well enough alone - and I was cooking as a procrastination tactic to put off writing a paper; gotta spin that action out as long as possible - I made a sort of saucy topping to spoon over the individual slices, for which I include the recipe. As those creepy Campbell's Soup kids used to say: mmm-mmm, good!

The Pancake
Ingredients:
~ 2 cups chickpea flour
~ 1/2 tsp. each salt, thyme
~ A few grinds of black pepper
~ 3 cups warm water
~ 4 tbsp. olive oil

Directions:
~ Preheat the oven to 500 degrees fahrenheit
~ In a mixing bowl, combine the chickpea flour, salt, spices, water and oil. Mix thoroughly with a whisk and set aside for 0 minutes (during that time you can prepare your topping, below).
~ After 30 minutes have passed, place an oiled cast iron skillet or deep-dish pizza pan in the oven for 5 minutes.
~ Give the batter another good stir, then pour it into the heated cast iron pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until solidified and brown, but not too crisp (don't worry, you'll know, really).
~ Remove from oven, allow to stand about 5 minutes before cutting into slices, and serving at once, covered with the topping below, or anything you like, really (next time I'm going to try it with caramelized onions and mushrooms).

The Topping
Ingredients:
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 2 cups chopped onion
~ 1 bell pepper, chopped (about 1 cup)
~ 1 cup pitted, sliced black olives
~ 1 15. oz. can fire-roasted tomatoes
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, thyme, tarragon, basil
~ Lots of fresh black pepper
~ 1/2 cup white wine

Directions:
~ In a large skillet or wok, heat the oil over medium heat and saute the garlic and onions 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently.
~ Add the seasonings, peppers, tomatoes and olives and stir to combine. Continue cooking another 10 minutes.
~ Raise the heat to high and add the wine; cook another 5-10 minutes, stirring often until the liquid reduces. Remove from heat and spoon over your slices of socca.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Cream of Mushroom Soup



Given the fact that they have featured prominently in my last several posts, you might be getting the idea that we really like mushrooms. And you would be correct in that assumption, because we actually loooove them: as in, we love them so much that we would probably polygamously marry them if that were legal in the state of Massachusetts. (Baby steps, people: we shall overcome!) So get ready, because here comes another fungus-based recipe, this time an attempt to recapture the taste of a favorite childhood comfort food.

It's a sad fact that no matter how well we take care of ourselves, sometimes we get sick, especially at this time of the rolling year. In our house, we've had a recent visitation of generalized fatigue, muscle aches, stuffiness, and an overall stupid-headed feeling that necessitated a day or two of laying low, drinking tea, and - are we lucky or what?! - watching a Twilight Zone marathon on the Sci-Fi Channel. Ask me about the episode in which Shakespeare is conjured by an aspiring writer via "black magic" to coauthor a cheezy TV pilot circa 1963, featuring Burt Reynolds as a poor man's Marlon Brando. No, seriously, ask me; I thought I was having febrile hallucinations. Worst of all, my lifelong hero came off as a bit of a hack; see gods, clay feet, etc. Sigh. (That said, if he wants to come back and help me with my current writing project, he needs only to ask.)

But I digress. My partner, wracked with malaise, expressed a wistful desire for the canned cream of mushroom soup of our youth: an idea which became a very maggot in my brain, especially after Shakespeare socked Burt Reynolds in the jaw. So once I'd had enough Rod Serling, I went down to the kitchen intending to gratify this wish. Now, it should go without saying that I am incapable of producing an exact copy of that canned elixir. For one thing, I haven't the first idea how to replicate its ribbed, cylindrical splendor - nothing rude about that - but I do know my way around a mushroom, and after nibbling a bit here and drinking a bit there, I came up with something pretty close, but even better. I believe it's the unexpected addition of coconut milk (thanks to the PPK for the tip!) that hits that "cream of" spot we all remember; whatever works, right? So get into your jammies, make a pot of this soup, and eat it in front of the television. Add toast and maybe a couple reruns of Scooby-Doo, and I promise everything will be all better.

Cream of Mushroom Soup
Ingredients:
~ 1 cup unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 cup vegan "chicken" broth
~ 1 15 oz. can "lite" coconut milk
~ 2 tbsp. Earth Balance (or other vegan margarine), divided
~ 1/4 cup diced celery
~ 1/2 cup finely diced onion
~ 1 lb. chopped mushrooms
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, parsley
~ 1/2 tsp. each: sage, rosemary
~ A few grinds fresh black pepper
~ 1/2 cup dry white wine
~ 2 tbsp. flour

Directions:
~ In a bowl or large beaker, combine the vegetable broth, soy milk and coconut milk, and set aside.
~ In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat 1 tbsp. of the margarine and saute the celery and onions for about 5-7 minutes, until softened.
~ Add the mushrooms and seasonings, then cook about 10 minutes more.
~ Add the wine, stir thoroughly and cook another minute or two until some of then alcohol smell dissipates.
~ Cover the pot, bring just to a boil, then reduce the heat to low.
~ Continue cooking over low heat for another 10 minutes, checking occasionally to be sure it doesn't stick; add a splash of water if necessary.
~ In a saucepan, heat the remaining tbsp. of margarine over low heat and add the flour gradually to make a roux. Stirring constantly, add 1 cup of the broth/milk mixture until it begins to thicken. Set aside.
~ Pour the remaining broth/milk mixture into the vegetable mixture and simmer 15 minutes over low heat.
~ Add the thickened roux to the soup, and stir thoroughly to combine.
~ Adjust seasonings and puree the soup with an immersion blender (or transfer in batches to food processor or regular blender) until it reaches your desired degree of smoothness.
~ Serve with generously "buttered" (we recommend Earth Balance) toast for the perfect lunch or dinner when it's cold outside and you're feeling poorly.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Mashed Potato Pancakes


The weather around here has been really cold and grey lately, and the result has been a fair amount of podgy, wintry food...pasta, potatoes, savory pies, etc. (Hey, they say it's going to snow on Sunday, and aren't bulky sweaters a wonderful thing?) Anyway, everyone in my house has a deep, burning passion for mashed potatoes, so we make them pretty often; in fact, we always manage to make too much. Which is actually a good thing, because these pancakes are the best use for leftover mashed potatoes. Period. They are loosely based on the ones my dad used to whip up when he was in a mood to be especially nice ("Food As Love" was big in our family; don't even get me started on his fettuccine alfredo). I've made some important adaptations to his method, leaving out the eggs and adding a few sauteed veggies, but mixed with a little flour and fried in olive oil, they hit exactly the same spot. They're especially good for an indulgent weekend breakfast; we actually had ours with leftover mushroom gravy from the previous night's dinner, for which I'll include the recipe if you're inclined to do the same.

Mashed Potato Pancakes

Ingredients:
~ 2 cups leftover mashed potatoes
~ 1/2 cup plain unsweetened soy or other non-dairy milk
~ 1/3 cup flour (I use whole wheat pastry for everything, but all purpose is fine)
~ Salt and pepper to taste
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 4 thinly sliced scallions (or 1/2 cup chopped onion)
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 cup chopped mushrooms
~ Olive oil or cooking spray for frying

Directions:
~ Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray and place in a preheated, 400 degree oven..
~ Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat; add the garlic, scallions and mushrooms and saute about 5 minutes. Set aside.
~ In a mixing bowl, combine the potatoes, soy milk and flour together to make a thick batter; add a bit more flour if it seems too wet.
~ Add the sauteed vegetables and mix thoroughly.
~ Wipe out your skillet and coat with cooking spray or a thin layer of oil, then place over medium-high heat.
~ Drop the batter into the hot pan with a large serving spoon, one spoonful at a time, and flatten slightly to form a patty about 3" across; 3 at a time is about as many as you want to fry at once.
~ Cook for 3-4 minutes on each side until golden brown, then transfer to the baking sheet until they are all cooked.
~ Serve with applesauce, non-dairy sour cream or...

Mushroom Gravy

Ingredients:
~ 2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 2 cups thinly sliced mushrooms
~ 2-3 tbsp. flour
~ 1 cup plain, unsweetened soy or other non-dairy milk
~ 1 cup vegetable broth
~ 1 tsp. each salt, thyme, sage, dried parsley
~ Lots of fresh black pepper
~ 1/4-1/2 tsp. hot sauce, to taste

Directions:
~ Combine the soy milk and vegetable broth and heat to almost boiling, either on the stove or in the microwave.
~ In a skillet, saute the garlic, mushrooms and seasonings over medium heat until softened, about 5-10 minutes.
~ In a saucepan, warm the oil over medium-low heat and add the flour and the spices, stirring to make a roux.
~ As it begins to thicken, add about 1/2 cup of the broth/soy milk mixture, stirring until smooth.
~ Add the sauteed vegetables and then, gradually, the remaining liquid, stirring constantly as it begins to thicken.
~ Raise the heat to medium and continue cooking 5-10 minutes, until you get the consistency you like (you can always add more liquid if it's too thick, or turn the heat up to reduce it if it's not thick enough).
~ Serve over mashed potatoes, mashed potato pancakes, biscuits, or whatever else you like.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mushroom and Barley Soup



This is one of the best soups I have ever made, which is sayin' summat, since I make a lot of soup. It started out as a veganized conflation of two recipes from Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook (Hungarian Mushroom and Mushroom Barley soups, respectively), but evolved into something else: something, if I say so myself, immeasurably better than then sum of its influences. Back in the day, I made quite a bit of use of the first two Moosewood books, and have always liked the Eastern European quality of many of those recipes; one of these days I'm definitely going to veganize the "Whole Wheat Macaroni and Cheese, Russian Style" that was such a staple of my early repertoire. Of course, nowadays I sub olive oil for the often copious quantities of butter, and forget the sour cream entirely (the Tofutti stuff is okay, but really, who needs it?), but the flavor combinations remain compelling. So maybe it's the dill, maybe it's the paprika, maybe it's the cheap red wine, but there's something so comforting and warm about this soup, especially on a day when boiling water for tea steams up the kitchen windows. We are lucky enough to have a fireplace in our drafty, uninsulated 118-year-old house, so we ate it in front a roaring blaze; accompanied by a loaf of crusty bread and the rest of that wine, it made a really cozy dinner on a wintry night. Now, if it would just hurry up and snow, already - if it's going to be cold, it might as well be pretty!

Mushroom and Barley Soup
Ingredients:
~ 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ 1 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 2 cups chopped yellow onions
~ 3/4 cup chopped celery
~ 3/4 cup diced carrots
~ 1 lb. sliced mushrooms (about 6 cups)
~ 3/4 cup pearled barley
~ 1 tbsp. each: dill, sweet paprika
~ 1 tsp. each: kosher salt, thyme
~ Lots of fresh black pepper
~ 3/4 cup dry red wine (cheap is fine; in fact, it's perfect)
~ 7 cups vegetable broth

Directions:
~ In a large, heavy bottomed pot, melt the margarine and oil together over medium heat. Add the onions and saute about 3 minutes.
~ Add the garlic, celery and carrots and cook another 5 minutes.
~ Stir in the seasonings and the barley; saute another minute or two until everything is coated.
~ Pour in the red wine to deglaze the pan, then add the sliced mushrooms. Stir to combine and cook another 10 minutes, adding splashes of broth or water as necessary to prevent sticking.
~ Add the vegetable broth, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about an hour, until the barley is tender and the soup has thickened.
~ Serve with crusty bread and maybe a nice green salad.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Biscuits and Gravy!



You're probably wondering what's up with Scarlett O'Hara and the Twelve Oaks barbecue, aren't you? Well, I just bet that she's eating a big ol' plateful of biscuits and gravy, which are the subject of today's post. Yes ma'am, even with a corset laced to 16 inches and every inbred swain in the county swarming around brandishing a mint julep, Miss Scarlett has her priorities straight. Besides, we all know that she is going to "catch a husband" (several, in fact) even if she does "eat like a field hand and gobble like a hog," or whatever gustatory indiscretion it is that Mammy accuses her of. So bon appetit and fiddle-dee-dee!

One of the funniest (in both the "peculiar" and the "ha-ha" senses) things about being vegan is the way reinterpretations of foods in which you had no interest as an omnivore become strangely appealing. For instance, I seriously doubt that I would have ever ordered, eaten, or indeed even thought about biscuits and gravy in the days when I "could" have them. But a few weeks ago, we were walking down a street in Brooklyn on a cold, rainy, miserable night, and passed a very busy-looking fried chicken and biscuits place, whereupon I chirped, "Ooooh, I'm going to make biscuits and gravy next weekend!"

Since we've left the antebellum South behind and are now on the subject of Brooklyn, most vegans know that Isa Chandra Moskowitz includes a by-now famous recipe for biscuits with tempeh and white bean sausage gravy in Vegan with a Vengeance, which is the source of my (somewhat adapted, 'tis ever thus) biscuits. I didn't feel like tempeh, and hadn't a single white bean in the house, so for the "sausage" part, I sauteed some onion and mushrooms, into which I crumbled two - YES, SAY IT!Amy's veggie burgers and a few spices; for the gravy, I started with a pretty standard roux, added equal parts vegetable stock and plain soy milk, salt, pepper, some additional thyme and sage, and a last-minute shot of hot sauce. Ladled over biscuits, this was not a particularly photogenic meal (hence the substitution of Miss O'Hara with her pretty little head in the proverbial feedbag), but it was the kind of weekend brunch that will literally send you back to bed with the dog, the cat, and the Sunday NY Times; it worked for us!

The Biscuits:
Ingredients:
~ 2/3 cup plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
~ 2 cups all-purpose flour
~ 5 tsp. baking powder
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 1/2 tsp. each thyme, sage
~ A grind or two of black pepper
~ 1/4 cup chilled Earth Balance or other vegan margarine

Directions:
~ Preheat the oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit and grease a large baking sheet.
~ In a bowl or beaker, combine the soy milk and apple cider vinegar and set aside to curdle for a few minutes.
~ In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and seasonings.
~ Add the shortening and mix with your fingers until it resembles coarse crumbs.
~ Whisk the soy milk/vinegar mixture with a fork, and add it to the mixing bowl. Stir well with a wooden spoon until you have a smooth dough.
~ Turn out onto a floured surface and roll or press until the dough is about 1/2" thick.
~ Use the floured rim of a glass to cut the dough into circles, and place on the oiled baking sheet. Bake at 450 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

The "Sausage":
Ingredients:
~ 1 tbsp. canola oil
~ 1/2 cup chopped onion
~ 1 cup finely chopped mushrooms
~ 2 veggie burgers, crumbled (I used Amy's California burgers, but any vegan burger or ground meat substititute like Gimme Lean would do)
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, thyme, sage
~ Fresh black pepper

Directions:
~ In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat and saute the onion about 5 minutes.
~ Add the spices and chopped mushrooms; cook another 5 minutes or so.
~ Add the crumbled veggie burgers, raise the heat to high, and cook 5-7 minutes more, stirring often and adding a splash of water if necessary to prevent sticking. Remove from heat and set aside.

The Gravy:
Ingredients:
~ 1 tbsp. canola oil
~ 2-3 tbsp. flour
~ 1 cup plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 2 cups "no chicken" broth
~  1 tsp. each: thyme, sage, dried parsley
~ 1/2 tsp. salt
~ Lots of fresh black pepper
~ Shot of hot sauce, to taste

Directions:
~ Combine the soy milk and vegetable broth and heat to almost boiling, either on the stove or in the microwave.
~ In a saucepan, warm the oil over medium-low heat and add the flour and the spices, stirring to make a roux.
~ As it begins to thicken, add the broth/soy milk mixture gradually, stirring constantly.
~ Raise the heat to medium and continue cooking 5-10 minutes, until you get the consistency you like (you can always add more liquid if it's too thick, or turn the heat up to reduce it if it's not thick enough).
~ Add the "sausage" mixture and combine thoroughly.
~ Ladle generously over your delicious biscuits for a delicious and filling breakfast. Or lunch. Or whatever. In fact, this was so good that we had the leftovers for dinner the same day!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Saffron and Lemon Risotto with Peas


I go through periods when I'm sort of obsessed with a certain flavor or ingredient. Currently, that ingredient is saffron: I just want to put it in everything. Not only is it subtly exotic, fragrant and delicious, but it turns everything a cheerful, sunshiny yellow! I also love making risotto, because I actually welcome an excuse to slave over a hot stove for half an hour or so, especially if someone will hang out with me, put on some music and make drinks. I made this beautiful, yummy saffron and lemon risotto on a recent evening when the temperature outside was frigid (18 degrees in November: BRRRR!); we had it with a melange of roasted root veggies drizzled with aioli (for which I'll post my recipe once I rationalize the quantities and type it up), and it warmed us right up.

Saffron and Lemon Risotto with Peas

Ingredients:
~ 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ 1 tbsp. Earth Balance (or other vegan margarine)
~ 2 cups chopped yellow onions
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tsp. each salt, tarragon
~ Fresh black pepper to taste
~ 4 cups vegetable broth, heated to almost boiling with 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
~ 1/2 cup white wine
~ 1.5 cups arborio rice
~ Zest and juice of 1 lemon
~ 3/4 cup frozen baby peas

Directions:
~ In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, melt the EB and oil together over medium heat.
~ Add the onions and saute 5 minutes.
~ Add the garlic and seasonings and continue cooking another few minutes before adding the rice.
~ Stir thoroughly to coat the rice with the vegetables and seasonings.
~ Pour in the 1/2 cup white wine and stir to deglaze the pan; cook 2-3 minutes.
~ Begin adding the hot vegetable broth/saffron mixture by 1/2 cupfuls, stirring constantly until all the liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes.
~ With the last addition of broth, add the lemon juice, zest and frozen peas. Once all the liquid is absorbed, remove from heat and allow to stand about 10 minutes before serving.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Banana, Pear, and Almond Muffins


Again with the muffins! But last Friday was a really muffiny sort of day: cold, drizzly and miserable in that special November way. Not only that, I was actually able to justify doing something other than writing a paper, so I made a big pan of baked pumpkin pasta, using a big old butternut squash instead of the pumpkin, and decided to turn the two overripe pears and a two of their buddies in the fruit bowl (equally overripe bananas) into some warm, comforting muffins. With some raisins and slivered almonds thrown in, they definitely turned out better than the sum of their parts, and all that fruit meant that I didn't add any sugar at all, if you care about such things.

Banana, Pear, and Almond Muffins
Ingredients:
~ 2 cups flour
~ 1 tbsp. baking powder
~ 1/2 tsp. each salt, nutmeg, allspice
~ 1 tsp. each cinnamon, ground ginger
~ 1/2 cup slivered almonds
~ 3/4 cup raisins
~ 1 tsp. vanilla extract
~ 6 oz. plain or vanilla soy yogurt
~ 1 tbsp. canola oil
~ 2 very ripe bananas
~ 2 equally ripe pears (apples would work, too), coarsely chopped

Directions:
~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.
~ In a mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients (including the almonds and raisins) and sift thoroughly.
~ Put the bananas, chopped pears, yogurt, oil and vanilla extract in a blender and process until smooth.
~ Pour the blended mixture into the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined.
~ Scoop the batter into greased muffin tins and bake for 20 minutes, or until a knife or toothpick comes out clean.
~ Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before turning out and eating with EB, jam, peanut butter, or all by their sweet selves. Cozy!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Black-Eyed Peas with Mushroom Polenta



Tonight was the first time in awhile that I've been in the kitchen with an Actual Idea about what I wanted to cook (as opposed to what was available and theoretically edible). Now, don't go imagining that I've been to the grocery store, because I have not. BUT. It is amazing what you can find to make a meal when reduced to bare essentials...I realize that many of my posts lately have had this McGyver/Great Depression subsistence vibe (thanks, Aoife!), but grad school is currently keeping me on the hop, so an afternoon in the kitchen seems like an exciting prospect.

And besides: BARACK OBAMA IS OUR NEXT PRESIDENT! (Sorry, but I'm still pretty buzzed about this whole "feeling optimistic about the future" thing, it's such a strangely disorienting notion after the past 8 years.)

Anyway, there's no substitute for dried beans (how's that for a non sequitur?), if you can just remember to soak them; they really make canned beans look like...well, canned beans. Last night I came home from an all-too-short weekend in Brooklyn/Williamsburg (the brunch! the shops! the galleries! the vegan restaurants! the company!) and knew that A. I had to spend the entirety of today finishing a paper, and B. we would be hungry at dinnertime. 'Tis ever thus. So I heroically put some black-eyed peas in water and went to bed in the full confidence that by 5pm the following day I would have come up with something to do with them. And, after 7--count 'em--hours staring at my laptop, I headed into the kitchen and made...THIS:

Black-eyed peas and veggies
Ingredients:
~ 1 cup black-eyed peas, soaked at least 8 hours, rinsed and drained
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 3 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 3 cups chopped onions
~ 1 cup diced celery
~ 1/2 cup diced carrots
~ 1 tbsp. tarragon
~ 1 tsp. each salt, thyme, marjoram, basil, 2 bay leaves
~ Fresh black pepper to taste
~ 1 28 oz. can fire-roasted tomatoes, drained
~ 2 cups vegetable broth

Directions:
~ In a large, deep pot, heat the olive oil and add the onions.
~ Cook for 2 minutes, then add the garlic and celery; cook another 3 minutes.
~ Add the carrots, spices and tomatoes; raise the heat to high and bring to a boil.
~ Add the drained black-eyed peas and broth; return to a boil.
~ Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally to make sure it dosen't stick.
~ Turn off the heat and remove the bay leaves.

Mushroom Polenta (with olives and sun-dried tomatoes)
Ingredients:
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1/2 cup chopped black olives
~ 1/4 cup minced sun-dried tomatoes
~ 1 tsp. each salt, thyme
~ 4 cups mushroom broth (ideally made from 1 cup dried mushrooms, steeped in 4 cups boiling water for at least 2 hours and pureed in a blender; but packaged is okay, too)
~ 1.5 cups polenta

Directions:
~ Heat the oil in a 4 qt. saucepan, then add the garlic and saute for a minute or so.
~ Add the chopped olives, sun-dried tomatoes, thyme and salt, and cook another minute or two.
~ Pour in the mushroom broth and bring to a boil.
~ Add the polenta, stir, and reduce the heat to low.
~ Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, then remove from heat.
~ Grease a serving bowl and spoon the polenta into it; allow to stand for 15-20 minutes before turning out onto a serving plate.
~ Pile the polenta on plates with the black-eyed peas and (in a perfect world) some garlicky greens and dig in.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

We WON!!!!


Okay, this is totally not about food; in fact, I'll come clean and admit straight up that we had veggie burgers and french fries while we watched last night's election. But so what?! History was made, right in front of our eyes, and we were privileged enough to be a part of it. Today, I am happy to say that I'm actually proud to be an American. Three cheers for our brave new world, which we will now toast with cheap pink champagne...nothin' but the best (it's a long story...suffice to say that in our house it's FESTIVE)!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Pissaladiere



FINALLY, it's election day! I think we can all agree that this election season has been nothing short of a trial by ordeal; everyone I know has been describing their mindset as a sort of free-floating, pervasive sense of angst und furcht for the past several months. But I just came home from voting and am feeling ridiculously optimistic: the sun is shining, it's a lovely morning, and all's relatively right with the world, especially since by this time tomorrow we'll have a new president, and I'm cautiously optimistic it will actually be the one for whom I voted (for a change).

Complex times like ours demand complexly yummy foodstuffs, so I give you last night's Election Eve dinner, leftovers from which I'm about to eat for breakfast because it was Just That Good. In Harvard Square is a perfectly charming bistro called Sandrine's, where the signature dish is "tarte flambée," or "flammekueche." It's basically an Alsatian pizza, consisting of flatbread with a variety of toppings; they look and smell delightful, but unfortunately, the toppings usually involve butter, cheese, meat, or that old standby: butter-and-cheese-covered meat.

So when I saw the recipe below in the NY Times Sunday Magazine a few weeks ago, it lodged in my head as a way I might approach this seductive dish, since it's basically a Provencal analogue, hailing from a region where things tend to involve olive oil rather than butter. As is my wont, I made a few adaptations: subbing whole wheat pastry flour for all-purpose, replacing the anchovies in the original with sun-dried tomatoes, and increasing the quantity of onions, olives, and seasonings. The result was so beautiful, so delicious, so somehow, ineffably French, that it's destined to become Company Food. Try it with something like a nice glass of Cotes du Rhone, and let the chill of November election anxiety melt away: tomorrow is a new day!


The Crust
Ingredients:
~ 1 1/4 oz. active dry yeast (1 little packet)
~ 1 cup lukewarm water
~ 1 tbsp. agave nectar (or sugar)
~ 2.5 cups whole wheat pastry flour
~ 1 tsp. salt

Directions:
~ In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast and agave/sugar in the lukewarm water. Add 1 cup of the flour and stir to combine. Allow to rest for 15 minutes until the batter looks a bit foamy.
~ Add the salt and the remaining flour bit by bit, until the dough is too stiff to stir.
~ Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, until smooth. You may need to add a bit more flour if it's too sticky to handle.
~ Pour a few tablespoons of olive oil into the bowl, then return the dough to it, flipping it over so it's coated.
~ Cover and set aside to rise in a warm place for about 1 hour, until doubled in size.
~ Punch the dough down, replace the cover and allow to rise another hour.
~ Turn it out onto the floured surface again, and roll it out into a rough rectangle that will fit a baking sheet (about 11"x14").
~ Grease the baking sheet and place the dough on it, pressing it into place with your hands and making a ridge of dough around the edges.
~ Set the dough aside to rest for another 15 minutes.

The Topping
Ingredients:
~ 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ 2 big yellow onions, sliced into thin crescents (about 5 cups when sliced)
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 15 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes, drained
~ 1 tsp. each kosher salt, thyme, tarragon, parsley
~ Fresh black pepper
~ 1 cup black olives, pitted and halved (or sliced, if you prefer)
~ 1/2 cup chopped, sun-dried tomatoes
~ Dried basil

Directions:
~ In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil on medium and add the onions.
~ Cook the onions for 2-3 minutes, then add the garlic, drained tomatoes and seasonings. Stir well to combine and cook another 5 minutes.
~ Cover the pot, turn the heat to low, and allow to cook for about an hour, stirring occasionally.
~ Remove the lid, raise the heat to high, and cook 5-10 minutes more, until most of the liquid is gone and the onions are caramelized and beauteous. Turn off the heat and set aside to cool a bit.

The Assembly
~ Spread the caramelized onion mixture all over the crust, then top with the olives, sun dried tomatoes and the merest sprinkling of basil.
~ Set aside for 15 minutes while your oven preheats to 450 degrees fahrenheit.
~ Bake for 15-20 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow to rest about 15 minutes more (lots of things in this recipe take 15 minutes, go figure) before serving, ideally with lemony roasted asparagus, sauteed mushrooms and/or a nice green salad. Oh, and red wine!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Rice Pilaf



Katie at Don't Eat Off the Sidewalk has been posting an "Iron Chef Challenge" every week lately, and yesterday's was particularly resonant for me. In the interest of brevity (which is the soul of wit, and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, etc.), I'll quote directly: "The first two days of November are when a lot of people celebrate the Day of the Dead. It’s just a day to take time to remember those who have left us...one of the ways of celebrating is by making a dish that your deceased loved one enjoyed! So that’s the challenge. Make or veganize a favorite dish of someone you’ve lost."

My father, who was a professional chef and an amazingly intuitive cook, passed away in early 2007. His parents emigrated to Chicago from Greece circa 1915, and we never knew how old they actually were, since all their village records were burned when it was sacked by Turks. (No, seriously, it was sacked by Turks; you think I can make this stuff up?!) They both lived to be quite old, and I especially remember my grandmother's braid, which reached to her waist and was iron grey at the top but a rich chestnut at the bottom. She also had all her teeth after giving birth to twelve children - all but the youngest delivered at home - and subsisted on a diet composed largely of greens and her own home-made bread (NB they were poor as well as Greek).

Bearing in mind that my Greek father had fallen in love with and married my English mother, when I was growing up it seemed like we ate a lot of potatoes. Baked, mashed, boiled, and even fried on occasion (O, gladsome day!), potato appearances on our dinner table definitely outnumbered other starches by a pretty wide margin. This lingering impression may be due in equal parts to my mother's admitted love for spuds and my own less-than-wholly trustworthy memory, but my older sister bears me out, since much of the peeling and preparation of these tubers fell to her.

As the obnoxious picky youngest child, however, I greatly preferred rice, so I was psyched whenever my father made his amazing rice pilaf. Looking back at a lot of the things my father liked to cook for himself, they were not only pretty healthy but largely veg-friendly: sauteed greens (spinach, chard, dandelions, collards) with olive oil and lemon juice, stewed green beans with tomatoes and garlic, and these incredible spicy baked beans that I have yet to replicate. Of course, he also made a mean Fettuccine Alfredo, but that's another post. Rice pilaf would invariably appear on holidays, especially at Easter, but he'd occasionally make it for ordinary meals, too. So delicious was this rice that my own youngest child, who as a toddler was so picky (what goes around, etc.) that we used to call him, "Little Bobby Sands" and beg to know under what conditions he would agree to eat something, anything, would put away several platefuls at a time. Of course, Dad's pilaf used meat stock and about a ton of butter, and my adult taste buds and sensibilities prefer brown rice and whole wheat orzo to their paler analogues, but this reinterpretation hits damn close to the mark!

Rice Pilaf
Ingredients:
~ 1 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 cup chopped yellow onions
~ 1 cup diced celery
~ 1 tsp each: salt, dill, marjoram
~ 1/2 tsp. each: sage, ground rosemary
~ Fresh black pepper to taste
~ 3 tbsp. tomato paste
~ 1 1/4 cup long grain rice (I like basmati)
~ 3.5 cups "no chicken" broth
~ 3/4 cup whole wheat orzo
~ 2 tbsp. chopped, fresh parsley

Directions:
~ In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the oil, then add the onions and saute over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
~ Add the celery, the seasonings and the tomato paste; continue cooking another 3 minutes or so.
~ Add the rice, raise the heat to high, and cook for a minute or two until the rice is thoroughly coated with the seasonings.
~ Pour in the vegetable stock, cover, and bring to a boil.
~ Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.
~ Add the orzo and stir to combine; replace the lid and cook another 10 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed but the mixture is still fluffy.
~ Remove from heat, stir in the fresh parsley, and serve to the picky eater in your family.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Happy World Vegan Day...with Pancakes!


Yes, in addition to being All Saints Day (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_Saints_Day), it's the 14th annual World Vegan Day (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Vegan_Day). Since I couldn't allow so an illustrious an occasion to pass unmarked, I made some really good pancakes for breakfast. They were basically an adaptation of the peach and walnut pancakes I made a few weeks ago, but using apples, pears and more autumnal spices; they made a good start (at 11am!) to what by all rights should be a very busy day...we'll see how that goes, shall we?

Apple, Pear and Walnut Pancakes

Ingredients:
~ 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
~ 1 tbsp. baking powder
~ 1 tsp. each cinnamon, vanilla extract
~ 1/2 tsp. each nutmeg, allspice, salt
~ 1/4 ground cloves
~ 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
~ 1/2 cup raisins
~ 3 cups ripe, chopped pears, apples, or (optimally) a combination
~ 1 cup soy milk
~ 2 tbsp. canola oil
~ 2 tbsp. maple syrup
~ 1 tbsp. freshly grated ginger

Directions:
~ Preheat the oven to 300 degrees fahrenheit.
~ Combine all the dry ingredients thoroughly in a mixing bowl; add the raisins and walnuts last, tossing them in the flour mixture until coated.
~ In a blender or food processor, combine the chopped fruit, soy milk, oil, syrup and ginger. Blend until liquified.
~ Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and stir thoroughly to make a smooth batter.
~ Lightly coat a skillet with oil or cooking spray, and place over medium heat.
~ Add the batter by large spoonfuls, about 2 at a time, and cook about 4 minutes before flipping and cooking another 2-3 minutes; they should be firm enough to remove from the pan without falling apart. Again, a sacrifice to the Pancake God may be necessary; just consider it a part of your World Vegan Day observances.
~ As the pancakes are cooked, transfer them to a cookie sheet in the oven to keep warm.
~ Serve with maple syrup, Earth Balance, and extra sliced fruit on the side. Or tempeh bacon. Or both!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Vegan MoFo #31: What Does Vegan MoFo Mean To Me?


So, what does Vegan MoFo mean to me? Well, it's certainly been an adventure, and I am not going to lie to you fine people: I am stunned, astonished and not a little impressed with myself that I managed to post (and, for the most part, cook!) something every single day while taking care of kids, animals, housework, classes, reading, writing, life, the universe and everything. On the one hand, I feel pretty bad ass; on the other, I'm totally exhausted and may spend the next month eating PB & J. Or not.

Most of all, though, I'm amazed at the wonderful variety of vegan blogs out there, and the beautiful food everyone is making and sharing the recipes for; we have cooking ideas stockpiled for at least another month! It's encouraging to see so many smart, interesting people participating in this purely positive project, and the whole exercise has been very inspiring. As I'm fond of saying, the simplest way to convince someone that being vegan is easy (and it is!) is to feed them lovely, delicious food; everyone likes to eat, and once they've got some distance from their old SAD---that's Standard America Diet, but you knew that---approach to food and realize how much better they feel, they're more open to considering the serious implications of eating and exploiting our fellow creatures (especially since they no longer have bits of them stuck in their teeth). In general, this is much more effective than guilt-mongering or shock tactics, and understandably so: most people are hard-wired to go on the defensive when they're attacked, at which point they can't "hear" you anymore. My feeling is that veganism is more about spreading light than heat, and Vegan MoFo has done more than its share towards that end. So three cheers for everyone who participated, and here's to the next one (I should have recovered by then)!

(And Happy Halloween, too...go cook something involving a pumpkin!)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Vegan MoFo #30: MacGyver Spaghetti


Giving the lie in the very throat of my previous post about the periodic paucity of pasta on my personal plate (how's that for alliteration?), I give you: last night's emergency dinner! Well, not an emergency in the sense of there being any actual danger, but in that of being hungry with few available ingredients and absolutely no ambition whatsoever. Such was the situation chez moi after a very long day that started way too early and encompassed way too much stuff; by 7pm I was too tired to go out or even decide on take-out. I addressed this parlous state of affairs in the usual way: grubbing around in the vegetable crisper until something suggested itself, and in this case that thing was spaghetti with what we'll call "MacGyver Sauce."

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I should confess that I have never actually seen a single episode of MacGyver, but the character's ability to make do with whatever lay at hand was the recurring and highly amusing joke of a former colleague, and I love the Simpsons episode where Patty and Selma kidnap him and devise increasingly difficult situations from which he's supposed to escape. I'm not sure when my partner started calling me "MacGyver in the Kitchen," but it makes me laugh, and I admit that there is a certain satisfaction in producing a meal--even a basic, workmanlike one--from an apparently empty larder. So here you have pretty much everything that was left in our refrigerator and cupboards, interpreted as spaghetti and "meat"balls; NB that we don't use a lot of meat analogues, but they were sitting there in the freezer, saying, "here we are, so eat us already," so in the spirit of the occasion, we did. I guess this means I have to go grocery shopping now!

MacGyver Spaghetti

Ingredients:
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 2 cups chopped yellow onions
~ 1 cup chopped bell pepper
~ 2 cups sliced mushrooms
~ 1 tsp. each salt, oregano
~ 2 tsp. basil
~ Fresh black pepper
~ 2 15 oz. cans fire-roasted tomatoes, drained

Also:
~ 1 lb. whole wheat spaghetti, cooked according to package directions and drained
~ 1 package Trader Joe's meatless balls (this is totally optional, or use whatever brand you like/have on hand; I just really like typing "meatless balls!"), cooked in the oven according to directions and set aside.

Directions:
~ In a big skillet or wok, heat the oil over medium and add the garlic.
~ Saute the garlic for a minute or two, then add the onions; continue cooking another 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
~ Add the peppers, mushrooms and seasonings and continue cooking about 5 minutes more,
~ Pour in the drained tomatoes and stir throughly to combine. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to low, and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes until slightly thickened.
~ Add the cooked meatless balls (there's that phrase again) if using, bring everything to just about a boil.
~ Serve over your cooked spaghetti with a salad and some bread; not bad for there being "nothing in the house!"

Vegan MoFo #29: Lemony-Basil Pasta Sauce


Pasta is one of those foods I tend to run hot and cold on; sometimes I really like it and want to eat it all the time, and then months will go by when it would never occur to me. In general, I prefer whole grains like rice, millet or quinoa, but there are times when noodles just hit the spot. Before I was vegan, I would almost invariably choose creamy sauces over the tomato-based varieties, but one of the funny things about "giving up" dairy products (and probably the single thing that non-vegans have the most trouble believing) is that the desire for them disappears almost immediately...it's like you forget that you ever considered that stuff food at all. I won't bore you with the whole scientific explanation for this, although there is one; unsurprisingly, it involves breast milk, but that's all the information you're getting from me at this time. Suffice to say that what most people consider their "love affair" with cheese is actually a sick, unhealthy obsession they should put an end to immediately and leave it at that, shall we?

Anyway, I'm not interested in becoming the vegan Dr. Phil (for one thing, my store of corn-pone self-help aphorisms is woefully inadequate), so back to the pasta. It is a truth universally acknowledged that one of the greatest things to put on pasta is pesto, which is easily made or indeed purchased sans cheese. One cold and gloomy afternoon it occurred to me that something nice and "spring"-tasting would be just the ticket, and when I looked around my kitchen I came up with whole wheat rotini, lemons, pesto and some silken tofu...a short while later I had this sauce, which has a fresh, bright flavor that manages to be substantial and filling, too. It would be good over any pasta, or even rice, so go ahead and play around with it; I guarantee you will never miss the Parmesan!

Lemony –Basil Pasta Sauce

Ingredients:
~ ½ cup vegetable broth
~ 2 heaping tbsps. chopped garlic
~ 2 tbsp. vegan pesto
~ ½ cup lemon juice
~ 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
~ 1 cup unsweetened soy milk
~ Zest from 1 lemon
~ 1 tsp. sea salt
~ 1 tsp nutmeg
~ Fresh black pepper
~ 1 lb. soft silken tofu
~ 1/3 cup nutritional yeast

Also:
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 2 large, chopped onions
~ 1 lb. sliced mushrooms
~ 1 cup frozen peas
~ 2 cups fresh, chopped basil

Directions:
~ Saute garlic in the broth over medium heat until fragrant.
~ Add pesto, lemon juice and zest, vinegar, spices and soy milk, stirring constantly.
~ In a blender or food processor, combine the silken tofu and nutritional yeast; add the liquid ingredients in a slow stream until smooth.
~ In a saute pan or skillet, warm olive oil over medium heat, then add the onions and saute for 10 minutes until they begin to caramelize, adding a little water or broth to prevent sticking.
~ Add the mushrooms and cook another 10 minutes, until the vegetables are brown and fragrant.
~ Add the peas and fresh basil; stir till the basil is just wilted, then add the pureed mixture to the pan and stir until thoroughly combined.
~ Serve hot over any cooked pasta.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Vegan MoFo #28: Perfect Roasted Potatoes




I love eating potatoes for breakfast, especially on the weekend (and who has time to cook anything on weekday mornings, anyway?). Over the years, I've discovered that roasting them in the oven is a million times better than frying them in a pan; not only are they not greasy at all, they get much crispier, which to my mind is a very important quality in breakfast potatoes. Of course, they are equally good at dinner or lunch, and you can even toss in some other veggies along with them: green beans, asparagus, thinly sliced onions, etc. For my money, though, roasted potatoes are the ideal accompaniment to scrambled tofu and crusty toast at 11am on a Saturday morning, along with some ketchup, hot sauce, and multiple cups of strong tea. I always make a lot because they're good leftovers in the unlikely event you don't snork them all down at once. Then you can go have a nap with your dog!

Perfect Roasted Potatoes
Ingredients:
~ 6-8 large Yukon Gold potatoes (or other biggish variety, I just like YG best)
~ 1-2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ Kosher salt
~ Fresh black pepper
~ About 1 tsp. each thyme, rosemary, paprika (this is imprecise; obey your taste/instincts!)

Directions:
~ Preheat the oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit.
~ Pierce the potatoes with a knife and microwave on high for about 5-7 minutes, until they are mostly cooked but not mushy.
~ Once the potatoes are cooled a bit, quarter them and cut into cubes.
~ Place the sliced potatoes on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Pour the oil and seasonings over them and make sure they are thoroughly coated.
~ Bake at 425 degrees for about 30 minutes, stirring them around at least once so they get nice and brown on all sides.
~ Remove from the oven, add more salt and/or pepper to taste and eat them up, yum!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Vegan MoFo #27: Lentil, Split-Pea and Vegetable Soup


It wasn't until after I became a vegetarian that I got interested in learning to cook; once I did, however, I was very excited to experiment with all the various grains, beans, vegetables and other ingredients that were new to me. Among the earliest of these was lentils. When I was growing up, my mother always made soups and stews from scratch, but as a notoriously picky eater, I was deeply suspicious of any soup that didn't come out of a red and white can, usually with "cream of" featured prominently in its name. So it goes without saying that I considered both lentil and split pea soups disgusting (which may have also had something to do with the ginormous hunks of ham that were usually floating in them).

BUT. I vividly recall a day when I was about 17, hanging out at my friend Aldona Shumway's house and being completely blown away by the lentil soup she'd made, all by herself. Aldona was a vegetarian before me, and was already into reading cookbooks like The Vegetarian Epicure (there it is again!); she made this soup fairly often, but unfortunately I don't have a clear memory of what spices she used, or even the ingredients besides onions, celery, carrots and--of course--lentils. I do however recall that it had a fresh, simple and totally satisfying flavor that was a revelation to me, and I've been in love with legumes ever since. The following recipe is the way my lentil/split pea soup has evolved over many years of cooking it. Like many such recipes, it can be pretty flexible: sometimes I toss in some rice, barley or potatoes, sometimes I have different vegetables or only one variety of legume on hand, but in a perfect world, this is the way I like it best. Ideally with a big hunk of crusty bread and maybe a nice green salad. (Oh, and Aldona, if you're out there, thanks!)

Lentil, Split-Pea and Vegetable Soup

Ingredients:
-2 tbsp. vegan bouillon mixed w/1 cup boiling water or broth
-1 tbsp. olive oil
-3 cups chopped onions
-2 tbsp. chopped garlic
-1 cup chopped celery
-1 cup diced carrots
-2 cup chopped mushrooms
-4 cups chopped spinach
-2 cups yellow split peas, rinsed
-1 cup red lentils, rinsed
-1 tsp each:
-sea salt
-thyme
-sage
-tarragon
-basil
-dill
-marjoram
-parsley
- ½ teaspoon each:
-cumin
-coriander
-1/4 cup chopped fresh dill (or an additional 2 tsp. if using dried)
-1 bay leaf, crumbled
-Fresh ground black pepper to taste
- 6 cups stock or water

Directions:
-Sautee onions and garlic in about ¼ cup of the bouillon mixture for about 5 minutes, adding more liquid as needed.
-Add celery, carrots, mushrooms and seasonings. Saute for about 10 minutes, adding the rest of the bouillon mixture to keep things nice and moist.
-Add the split peas, lentils, spinach and fresh dill. Stir to combine, then remove from heat and allow to sit at least a half hour, so the legumes will begin to absorb the seasonings.
-Add 6 cups of water, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 1 ½ to 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the peas and lentils have broken down and the soup is very thick; Add more water if you want a thinner consistency, or to prevent it from sticking if it gets too dense.
~ Serve hot with crusty bread: delicious.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Vegan MoFo #26: No Knead Bread


Today's post features another kick-ass bread recipe from Joe, courtesy of the New York Times. This bread, hot out of the oven at about 10pm on a Saturday evening, provided the perfect accompaniment to the DVD of "Talking Heads," an astonishingly funny, moving and thought-provoking series of monologues written by Alan Bennett and performed by the likes of Maggie Smith, Eileen Atkins and Bennett himself (check it out, it's well worth your time: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_chip_in_the_sugar). With some Earth Balance, raspberry jam, and a nip of whisky, it was exactly what our...um...cravings required!

No-Knead Bread (Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery)
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

Ingredients:
~ 3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
~ ¼ teaspoon instant yeast
~ 1¼ teaspoons salt
~ Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

Directions:
~ In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
~ Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.
~ Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
~ At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.
~ Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Vegan MoFo #24: Nanny White's Centenary



Today would have been my grandmother's 100th birthday. Her name was Beatrice (née Kirby) White, and she died just a few weeks after her 90th birthday, on November 11th, 1998: an appropriate departure date for the daughter of a World War I veteran. My grandmother was born, raised and lived her entire life in and immediately around Birmingham, in the English West Midlands, but the Second World War brought the world to her; throughout my life, my mother's childhood memories of ration books, empty stomachs and nights spent in the bomb shelter have painted a vivid picture of an ordinary British working class family in extraordinary times. You might wonder what this has to do with veganism, and the answer would be: more than you might think. It just so happens that the word "vegan" was coined in England in 1944, the same year Donald Watson established the Vegan Society, remarking that, “We can see quite plainly that our present civilisation is built on the exploitation of animals, just as past civilisations were built on the exploitation of slaves, and we believe the spiritual destiny of man is such that in time he will view with abhorrence the idea that men once fed on the products of animals' bodies." 

Of course, even for committed omnivores, the rationing instituted by the Ministry of Food meant that a lot of wartime meals were vegan by default, since most things people couldn't grow themselves were hard to come by. It's no coincidence that many British kitchen staples like Bisto and Bird's Custard Powder were so popular during those years; products that could create gravy and custard in a meat-free, eggless environment must have had enormous appeal. So there's that. 

But now I bet you're wondering what the hell is up with Dr Carrot, and about the crazed, war-weary parent who would let him anywhere near their children, never mind allow him to be their "best friend." Well, when we were in London this summer, we spent an emotionally exhausting afternoon at the Imperial War Museum, which everyone should visit once; should you need any reminders that war is A Really Bad Idea, I guarantee that it will do the trick. Among their temporary exhibits was The Children's War, which focused on what the youngest members of the British public had to endure as a result of grown-ups' stupidity. Follow the link if you'd like to learn more, but suffice to say that halfway through I had to excuse myself and go cry in the Ladies' because I was overwhelmed at the reminiscences of these (now elderly) people whose childhoods were so like my mother's, to say nothing of the photos and artifacts representing those who didn't survive to remember the experience.


The flipside, however, was an astonishing and comprehensive collection of wartime propaganda, featuring posters with themes ranging from the need for scrap metal and the wisdom of evacuating your little ones ASAP to admonitions to "Eat Less Bread!" and "Save Kitchen Scraps to Feed the Hens and Pigs!" The food and nutrition-centered images were my favorites, and we came home with a sheaf of postcard-sized facsimiles, some of which are now hanging in our kitchen (albeit that they have had little to no effect on bread consumption, which basically puts us in league with the Hun). Among the most arresting - and frankly bizarre - was the hydrocephalic Dr Carrot, striding purposefully along with his medical bag, which is apparently chockful of Vitamin A. Carrots, like other root vegetables, are easily grown in the British climate, so they got a fair bit of press during the war years. The humble but versatile had its own mascot, Potato Pete, who not only had his own cookbook and song, but served both in uniform and at the dinner table

Together Pete and the good doctor made quite a team; it's tempting to picture them hoisting a few pints of bitter after tough day selling out their fellow roots and tubers. And while my peacetime reaction to seeing Dr Carrot on the doorstep would be to slide the bolt and call the authorities (for one thing, I have doubts about his credentials), things are different when there's a war on. With all the able-bodied humans at the front, sometimes you have to take what you can get, even if that means allowing a huge, anthropomorphized root vegetable to look at Trevor's sore throat. The fact that Dr Carrot is prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to be "the children's best friend" is just one more testament to the courage and fundamental unselfishness of all products (and indeed produce) of that sceptr'd isle, that demi-paradise, that other Eden, my ancestral soil. 

So here's to Dr Carrot, Potato Pete, and all the other weird shit that helped everyday families like mine get through unimaginably strange and challenging times. Nanny White lived through two such times - first time as a child, and later as a parent - and I like to think that on her centenary she'd be proud that I'm giving Dr Carrot the credit he deserves lo, these many years later. Then again, she might just be deeply confused; but one way or another, it's been a full century since she entered this troubled, troubling, yet wonderful world, and that's pretty cool to think about.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Vegan MoFo #23: Macaroni & Sleaze with Caramelized Carrots & Onions


Today was one of those raw October days when you're forcibly reminded that winter is right around the corner; to make matters worse, I think I'm getting a cold, and it was Wednesday. What, you ask, is so bad about Wednesday? Well, it's not so much "bad" as it is The Most Cluttered Day of the week, and today was no exception, even though the clutter was all composed of cool stuff (good class, interesting colloquium, tea party with fellow students, etc.). So when I crawled in the door at 5.30pm after nine hours of unrelenting intellectual stimulation, I was A. hungry, B. in need of comfort food, and C. not at all sure I felt like cooking anything. But I put on my thinking cap and managed to whip up something that turned out pretty well. With a side of roasted walnuts, sweet potatoes and salad greens with generous lashings of Annie's Crack...er, I mean "Goddess"...Dressing, this made for a happy tummy and a positive attitude at the end of a long day. In a perfect world, your local liquor store will be having a sale on Folonari Pink Pinot Grigio (I am not making this up), featuring a label with a Legally Blonde cartoon girl walking a pink poodle (I tell you, I am NOT making this up) for $4.58 (see previous paranthetical comments in re: NOT MAKING THIS UP), which will provide a "fun, fruity and fabulous" complement to your meal, as well as a "pink twinkle in the glass and a tingle on the tongue" (I'm not telling you again). Add the entire series of Slings & Arrows on DVD and things are definitely looking up!

Macaroni & Sleaze with Caramelized Carrots & Onions

The Sauce

Ingredients:
~ 2 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 1 tbsp. flour
~ 2 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, thyme, sage
~ 1/2 tsp. each: paprika, hot sauce (or 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper)
~ Fresh black pepper

Directions:
~ In a saucepan, melt the margarine; add the flour and stir for a minute or so to form a roux.
~ Add 1/2 cup of the soy milk ad stir to combine.
~ Add the seasonings and nutritional yeast, then gradually add the remaining soy milk, stirring constantly until the sauce begins to thicken. Remove from heat and set aside.

The Carrots & Onions

Ingredients:
~ 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ 3 cups chopped onions
~ 1 cup diced carrots
~ Salt & pepper to taste

Directions:
~ In a skillet or non-stick wok (my favorite cooking vessel), heat the oil over medium-high heat and add the carrots.
~ Cook for a minute or two before adding the onions, salt, and pepper. Stir thoroughly to combine, cover, and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are nice and brown.

The Pasta:

~ This is the easy part: cook 1/2 lb. pasta of your choice (I used whole wheat elbows) according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

The Garnish:

1/2 cup whole wheat panko crumbs, combined with 1 tbsp. melted Earth Balance and about 1 tsp. paprika.

The Assembly:

~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.
~ Combine the cooked pasta, sauce and caramelized onion/carrot mixture and pour into a greased casserole dish or deep-dish pie plate.
~ Top with the panko mixture and bake uncovered for 20 minutes, until the topping is golden and the pasta is bubbling.
~ Allow to cool at least 15-20 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Vegan MoFo #22: Baighan Bharta with Lentils and Saffron Rice


Maybe I shouldn't really call this baighan bharta, since the traditional recipe doesn't include lentils; then again, it does often include a shocking quantity of ghee, which I don't, so maybe it all balances out in the end. In any case, here is another Indian dish featuring eggplant in a rich, filling stew to be eaten with or over rice. Since I was making it for a main course, the lentils were tossed in for protein; I cooked them separately, then added them to the almost finished product so they'd retain some texture. This recipe is pretty mild in terms of seasonings, but we tend to eat a lot of hot pickle with our Indian food, which more than makes up for it; you could certainly throw in some cayenne or other heat source if you want it spicier, though. The saffron rice is a fairly basic rendition, to which any number of things can be added: raisins, slivered nuts, peas, finely chopped carrots, you name it. I kept it simple here because there was a lot of other stuff going on with the stew, and we had aloo gobi on the side as well, but go ahead and get as crazy with it as you like!

Baighan Bharta with Lentils
Ingredients:
~ 1 tbsp. hot mustard oil
~ ½ tsp. each: cumin seeds, black mustard seeds
~ 1 tbsp. garlic
~ 1 tbsp. ginger
~ 3 cups chopped onion
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, cumin, garam masala, curry powder, fenugreek
~ ½ tsp. each: coriander, turmeric, chili powder
~ 3 cups roasted, mashed eggplant
~ 1 15 oz. can fire-roasted tomatoes
~ ½ cup frozen green peas

Also:
~ 1 cup green or brown lentils, cooked for 30-40 minutes in 2.5 cups vegetable stock, until the liquid is completely absorbed.

Directions:
~ In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil and cook the cumin and mustard seeds over medium-high heat, until they begin to sizzle and pop.
~ Add the onions, garlic and ginger, stir to combine, and cook another 5-10 minutes until the onions start to brown, adding a splash of water if necessary to prevent sticking.
~ Add the remaining seasonings, eggplant and drained tomato. Mix thoroughly, then lower the heat, cover, and cook about 10 minutes more.
~ Remove the cover, add the frozen peas and cooked lentils, stir to combine.
~ Raise the heat to medium and cook another 5 minutes or so, until the peas are bright green.
~ Serve hot over...

Saffron Rice
Ingredients:
~ 2 tbsp. Earth Balance (or oil; I just like EB here)
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 4 scallions, thinly sliced
~ 1.5 cups jasmine or basmati rice
~ 3 cups vegetable broth
~ 5-6 saffron threads
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ ½ tsp. cardamom
~ 1 cinnamon stick
~ A few grinds of black pepper

Directions:
~ Heat the broth to nearly boiling; add the saffron threads and cover for 10 minutes.
~ Melt the Earth Balance in a heavy-bottomed saucepan; add the garlic and scallions and sauté over medium heat for 5 minutes.
~ Add the rice, salt, cardamom and cinnamon stick; cook for another minute or two, until the rice is completely coated.
~ Pour in the saffron/broth mixture and return to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed.
~ Remove the cinnamon stick, fluff with a fork and serve.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Vegan MoFo #21: Ginger, Pear and Chocolate Chip Muffins


Ginger is one of the best tastes and smells in the world: simultaneously warm, spicy, light and fresh. I use it a lot, in all kinds of things, and there's really no substitute for fresh ginger in a recipe (besides which, grating it is another of those excellent jobs to delegate to the person or people hanging out in the kitchen while you cook). I originally conceived of what turned out to be these muffins as a veganized, pear-centric update of an apple "brownie" recipe that my sister gave me ages ago. When I looked up the recipe, however, I decided that my eggless, butterless adaptation would be better suited to muffins than something that needed to be sliced. I've sung the praises of muffins before, but one of the greatest things about them is their portability: if there's a basket of muffins sitting on the kitchen table, there's a good chance people will just grab one or two as they walk by, as opposed to something they need to--GASP!--take out, uncover, cut or otherwise meddle with. These muffins are sweet, but not too sweet, and made a nice snack with the mid-afternoon cup of tea I find so salutary these days!

Ginger, Pear and Chocolate Chip Muffins

Ingredients:
~ 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
~ 1 tbsp. baking powder
~ 1 tsp. each: cinnamon, ground ginger
~ 1/2 tsp. each: nutmeg, allspice, salt
~ 3/4 cups (vegan) dark chocolate chips
~ 3 Bosc pears, diced (3 cups; any variety of pear would do)
~ 1/2 cup applesauce
~ 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
~ 1 tbsp. canola oil
~ 2 tbsp. freshly grated ginger root

Directions:
~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.
~ In a mixing bowl, sift all the dry ingredients together, then add the chocolate chips and stir to coat them with the flour mixture.
~ In a separate bowl, combine all remaining ingredients (from the pears through the grated ginger root) and stir thoroughly.
~ Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet mixture. Stir well to combine.
~ Coat a muffin tin with cooking spray, then spoon the batter into the cups; this is a pretty generous batch and should fill them all right to the top.
~ Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, until a knife or toothpick comes out clean.
~ Allow to cool in the pan for about 20 minutes more before turning out and eating, ideally warm.