Thursday, August 28, 2008

Quasi-Caribbean Feast

I'm going to start this post with a shout-out for a great restaurant in my very own hometown. The One Love Cafe is a tiny storefront place that serves Jamaican food in a warm, homey atmosphere, usually with Jimmy Cliff or Bob Marley in the background. Best of all, they have a whole page of vegan options, and for anyone who has ever fallen in love with Caribbean food, finding an animal-free interpretation within 10 minutes of your own kitchen is pretty sweet.

That said, we don't get to eat there (or anywhere!) as often as we'd like, because we have kids, work, school, animal companions, crazy families and all the other stuff that informs modern life. On the other hand, I love cooking gigantic meals, especially when there's a's kind of like a costume party for food, you know? So it was that a recent craving for sweet/hot/spicy food resulted in a really excellent dinner; what follows is a litany of several dishes, some original, some adapted, that complement one another beautifully. As ever, you should feel free to tinker with seasonings, quantities, etc., (to my mind, the fun of cooking is all about experimentation), but I can honestly say that all of these recipes kick some serious butt just as they are.

So. We have a few things going on here, but let's start with what I'm calling "Quasi-Caribbean Marinade for Tofu and/or Veggies." This is basically an adaptation of the Jerk Seitan marinade in Vegan With A Vengeance, except I’ve added some coconut milk and upped the onions and sweet spices. I’m not too crazy about seitan, so I used tofu instead, and it turned out fine; the key is to press the tofu for at least 30 minutes, so it will soak up the marinade. One batch will easily marinate a pound of cubed, extra firm tofu and a whole mess of veggies: an eggplant, a huge zucchini, a yellow bell pepper and two sweet potatoes took a bath in this after the tofu had its turn, and they were all great. With some rice or millet (recipe follows) on the side, and a generous application of jerky coconut sauce (ditto), this is the perfect dinner for when you want something that tastes warm and sunny. A few rum drinks wouldn’t come amiss, either, so make sure to lay in some ginger beer for dark & stormies.

Quasi-Caribbean Marinade
~ 2 tbsp. oil (I used hot chili oil, but use whatever you like)
~ 2 tbsp. maple syrup
~ 2 tbsp, minced garlic
~ 2 tbsp. grated ginger
~ 1 cup finely chopped onions
~ 2 tbsp. tamari
~ 3 tbsp. fresh lime juice
~ 1 tbsp. good curry powder
~ 1 tsp. cinnamon
~ ½ tsp. each: cayenne, nutmeg, allspice
~ Fresh black pepper to taste
~ 1 cup lite coconut milk

~ In a large-ish mixing bowl, mix all the ingredients and stir well to combine.
~ Add 1 lb. extra firm tofu, pressed and cut into 1/2" cubes, and marinate at least 2 hours; I leave it all day if I can get sufficiently organized in the morning.
~ Remove the tofu cubes from the marinade and place on an oiled baking sheet. Cook for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees, turning once halfway through.
~ Serve with rice or (even better!) the millet recipe below; in a perfect world you’ll have some sautéed collard greens on the side as well.
~ NB that you can use the remaining marinade for whatever vegetables you plan to have alongside. Just rub it all over them, add a little coarse salt and pepper, then roast them on an oiled baking sheet at about 450 degrees until they’re all brown and lovely. The time will vary according to the vegetables; I think sweet potatoes, red bell peppers and zucchini lend themselves particularly well to this treatment.

Onion and Scallion Millet
~ 1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions
~ 1 cup finely chopped onions
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, curry powder, coriander
~ Fresh black pepper to taste
~ 1 cup millet
~ 2 cups vegetable stock

~ In a dry skillet, toast the millet over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the grains begin to brown and give off a toasty scent. Remove from the pan and set aside.
~ In a saucepan, heat a little broth and add the scallions. Saute over medium heat about a minute before adding the onions and cooking another 2-3 minutes.
~ Add the millet and seasonings; continue cooking another 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
~ Raise the heat, add the stock, cover, and bring to a boil.
~ Reduce the heat to low and cook for 20-25 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed.
~ Fluff with a fork and serve alongside marinated, baked tofu and roasted vegetables, topped with...

Jerky Coconut Sauce
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tbsp. ginger
~ 2 tbsp. flour
~ 2 tbsp. maple syrup
~ 1 tsp. each: curry powder, allspice
~ ½ tsp. each: cayenne, nutmeg, salt
~ Fresh black pepper to taste
~ 1 cup lite coconut milk
~ 1 cup unsweetened soy milk
~ ¼ cup peanut butter

~ In a saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and add the garlic and ginger. Saute for about 3 minutes, adding some water if necessary to prevent sticking.
~ Reduce heat to low, and add the maple syrup and seasonings.
~ Add the flour and about ¼ cup of the soymilk, stirring constantly to make a roux.
~ Raise the heat to medium, and gradually add the remaining coconut milk, soymilk and peanut butter, stirring constantly until it thickens (this could take 5-10 minutes; be patient, already!).
~ Serve over tofu, millet, roasted veggies, or whatever else you like; seriously, this stuff would be good on anything.

Wash it all down with my preferred version of a cocktail that claims to be "Bermuda's national drink." Be that as it may, it's good with Jamaican food, too...I think this is what the better class of pirates would drink at a cocktail party.

Dark & Stormy
~ 6 oz Gosling's Black Seal rum
~ 8 oz high quality ginger beer, such as Barritt's
~ Juice of 1 lime
~ Lime wedges for garnish

This is a drink that you "build." Divide the rum between two ice-filled glasses (highballs, if you've got 'em), then top with the ginger beer and lime juice. Give the most perfunctory of stirs, and serve garnished with lime wedges. Aarrgghh; bottoms up, maties!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Corn and Zucchini Bisque

August can be such a bittersweet month. On the one hand, summer is drawing to a close, the days are getting shorter, and the whole back-to-school thing looms ever larger on the horizon. It's sort of like the Sunday afternoon of the year: there's nothing on TV but "Wild Kingdom," and you haven't even started your homework yet. On the other hand, Mother Nature's bounty is at it's zenith: there's fresh corn! And tomatoes! And zucchini...lots and lots and lots of zucchini. As noted in a previous post, I'm personally incapable of raising anything but our annual bumper crop of mint, but we're blessed with green-fingered friends who are generous with their bounty (Christine and Jeffrey, you know who you are). Why, in the past three days alone we've produced a couple dozen zucchini muffins, a pile of party-bound crudites to accompany muhammara and hummus, and the zucchini pasta with raw cashew alfredo sauce from "Ani's Raw Food Kitchen," which was not only incredibly easy but totally yum; highly recommended. Nonetheless, we still have a few left, just crying out to be eaten before it's too late.

To complement this plethora of pulses, two days ago we picked up a dozen ears of beautiful corn, of which we ate only six. I am a firm believer that just-shucked corn should be cooked immediately and eaten right off the cob, but the fact is that it's easy to get a little excited at the farm stand and overbuy. All that uneaten corn provoked the overpowering urge to make some sort of chowder or bisque, and it occurred to me that here we had two summery things could only be made better by swimming together (well, actually, being pureed together) in a lovely, thick, thyme and tarragon-scented soup. And so they were; this recipe is the perfect use for the extra ears you couldn't quite finish, and tastes really good on those late August evenings that carry just a hint of cooler nights to come...and it will get rid of some of that zucchini, too!

Before making this, you should banish any nasty childhood memories of those gross, mushy chowders with the flavor of bacon grease and the texture of {{shudder}} canned creamed corn, and get ready for this fresh, mildly spicy concoction that knows what a corn-based soup should be. Be forewarned that this recipe calls for a ton of vegetables, and the lion's share of the labor is in the chopping; don't be alarmed by the volume of the ingredients, because they cook down a lot, and once pureed make a perfectly reasonable quantity of soup. You're going to want it for leftovers, anyway, because it will be even better the next day. This soup is actually surprisingly filling, and a little goes a long way. We had it with just a great big salad, but it would be delicious with some nice crusty bread, especially as the weather cools down. Neither corn nor zucchini season is over yet, so we'll probably be having this at least another once or twice before it's time for apple pie.

Corn and Zucchini Bisque
~ 1 tbsp. oil
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 2 cups chopped onions
~ 1 cup chopped scallions
~ 1 cup diced celery
~ 1 cup diced carrots
~ 1 cup diced bell pepper
~ 8 cups chopped zucchini
~ 8 cups corn (about 8 cobs' worth)
~ 1 tbsp. tarragon
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, parsley, basil
~ 2 tsp. each: rosemary, dill
~ ½ tsp. nutmeg
~ ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper,
~ ¼ cup fresh thyme
~ 2 cups vegetable broth
~ 1 cup soymilk

~ In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for a minute or two before adding the garlic and celery. Sauté another 3-4 minutes, adding a little of the broth to prevent sticking if necessary.
~ Add the scallions, carrots, bell peppers and all the seasonings except the fresh thyme. Stir until well combined and cook another 5 minutes.
~ Add the zucchini and mix thoroughly. Add 1 cup of the broth, bring to a boil, then cover and cook for 10 minutes, until the zucchini is getting soft.
~ Add the corn, fresh thyme and remaining broth, return to a boil, then replace the cover and cook over low heat for 10 more minutes.
~ Remove from heat and add the soymilk. At this point, you can transfer the mixture to a food processor and blend in batches, or simply puree with an immersion blender; we're going for a smooth, bisquelike texture here.
~ Return to heat, being careful not to boil, and serve immediately.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Minty Lentil and Bulghur Salad

One of the problems with summertime is that hot weather often means a decreased interest in cooking, which doesn't necessarily equal a disinterest in eating. As the lazy afternoon wears on, dragging what's left of your ambition inexorably in its wake, empty tummies can turn into a serious nuisance. This is when a substantial grain and/or bean salad can be a lifesaver: if you make it in the morning, while everything is still cool and pleasant, it can sit contentedly in the refrigerator all day, just waiting for you to come along and eat it, preferably on a bed of leafy greens with a nice, cold glass of dry white wine.

Fresh herbs add something wonderful to salads like this, but be aware that, should you feel moved to make this in the winter, you can also substitute dried mint. Mint has a particularly summery taste, and we use a lot of it at my house, for the simple reason that we have so much, and thereby hangs a tale. First, the gentle reader should know that I come from a long line of gardeners; both my mother and sister are blessed with what the English charmingly call "green fingers," as opposed to just thumbs, which is all we get here in the States. In fact, I have an as-yet-undeveloped theory that this digital disparity may explain the overall floral lushness on the other side of the pond, but I don't want to digress. Anyway, the sad part of this story is that this green gene is apparently recessive, because whether the fault lies in my fingers or thumbs, I am the horticultural aberration in my clan: I can kill a houseplant at 20 paces, with the very kindest of intentions.

When I moved into my house, one of my homely domestic ambitions was to plant an herb garden, which I immediately did. It wasn't large or splendid, but it had a pretty wide variety of things, and I actually met with a bit of success, at least at first. Everything went south when I foolishly introduced (wait for it, gardeners...) mint into the mix; soon after, I had a truly magnificent mint garden, which continues to flourish to this day. Of course, this is still a very useful thing, and over the years I've developed a lot of recipes using this most aggressive of herbs. It's good for tea, mojitos, and Pimm's cup, but I think it's especially good in Mediterranean-themed salads like this one. Combining lentils, bulghur, bell peppers and---that's right, kids---KALE with a healthy dose of mint, it's fresh, nutritious and filling without being heavy. Be warned that this recipe makes a lot, enough for a party, or to feed off for a few days, so you can cut it in half if you want a more reasonable amount of food. The best part is that if you make it ahead of time, all you have to do is take it out of the refrigerator when you're uncorking that wine and everyone will think (okay, know) that you are a sorceress, a goddess, and the heroine of the dinner hour! Unless you're a dude, of course, in which case you can switch that to "sorcerer, god (in the classical, pantheistic sense) and hero." But enough talking: now, we cook!

Minty Lentil and Bulgur Salad


The Salad
~ 1.5 cups green or brown lentils
~ 4 cups water
~ 1 stick cinnamon
~ 1 bay leaf
~ 2 cups bulghur wheat
~ 3 cups vegetable stock
~ 1 small bunch kale (or baby spinach), about 4 cups chopped
~ 1 yellow or red bell pepper, diced
~ 2 small carrots, diced; about 3/4 cup
~ 1/2-1 cup chopped fresh mint, depending on your mint jones (or 2 tbsp. dried mint, if it's winter!)
~ 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts

The Dressing
~ 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
~ 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
~ 1/4 cup lemon juice, about 2 lemons' worth
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, tarragon, thyme, marjoram, and dill
~ Fresh black pepper to taste

~ In a saucepan, bring the 3 cups of stock to a boil. Remove from heat, stir in the bulghur, and cover tightly. Allow to sit about 20 minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed.
~ In a separate pot, bring the 4 cups of water, the cinnamon stick and the bay leaf to a boil. Add the lentils and return to a boil before lowering the heat to simmer for 25 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked but still have some bite. Remove the cinnamon and bay leaf, drain and set aside.
~ In a large bowl, combine bulghur, lentils, chopped vegetables and mint.
~ Whisk the dressing ingredients together and pour over the salad mixture; stir thoroughly to combine.
~ Refrigerate for as long as possible before serving; I make this as much as 24 hours in advance, because the longer it sits, the better it tastes. Top with the pine nuts and serve on salad greens; it's equally good cold or at room temperature.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Blueberry Peach Muffins

There are few things more wonderful than fresh peaches in season, but sometimes they make loving them so hard ('tis ever thus where such burning passions rage). The problem is that their charm is so inextricably bound up with their mercurial nature: you bring them home from the market, hard and unyielding, and it seems as if it will be a week before they're fit to eat. And then, overnight, in the mere blink of an eye, they cross that crucial line between ripe and rotting and are fit for nothing but smoothies. Not that there's anything wrong with smoothies, but I had higher hopes for this last batch. Since it was Sunday, which always makes me think "muffins," and we also had a whole lot of wild blueberries, I thought I'd combine the two in a little breakfast experiment.

I was a bit worried that the peaches would turn to mush in the batter, but in the event they held up nicely, and---if I say so myself---these turned out to be delicious: moist, fruity and somewhere between a muffin and a cupcake. And since they have whole wheat pastry flour, almost no fat and only 1/4 cup maple syrup in the whole 2 dozen, you can smear on all the jam and/or Earth Balance you want with total impunity, and they'll still be healthy! That said, they're so yummy on their own that they really don't need anything at all, except maybe a nice cup of tea (as opposed to one of those evil, ill-natured cups of tea that are best avoided). Peach season is still happening, so I'll definitely be making these again soon; probably very soon, because they're already mostly gone.

Blueberry Peach Muffins

~ 4 cups whole wheat pastry flour, plus 1/2 cup for tossing with the fruit
~ 1 tbsp. baking powder
~ 1 tsp.baking soda
~ 1.5 tsp.salt
~ 1 tsp. cinnamon
~ 1/2 tsp. each nutmeg, allspice, ground ginger
~ 1/3 cup applesauce
~ 1 tbsp. canola oil
~ 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
~ 6 oz. plain or vanilla soy yogurt
~ 1.5 cups soy, rice or other non-dairy milk
~ 1 tsp. vanilla extract
~ 1/2 tsp. lemon extract
~ 2 cups chopped, ripe peaches
~ 2 cups fresh blueberries

~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit
~ Toss the peaches and blueberries in the 1/2 cup flour; this will keep them from sinking to the bottom of your muffins.
~ In a large bowl, sift all the dry ingredients together, making sure they are thoroughly combined; you don't want to encounter any big, bitter hunks of baking powder!
~ In a separate container, combine the wet ingredients and add them to the dry ones, along with the fruit/flour mixture.
~ Mix well, and spoon into 2 greased tins or muffin cups. This recipe will easily make 2 dozen muffins, so you can be generous with the batter.
~ Bake at 375 for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
~ Allow to cool in the pans for 15 minutes or so before turning them out. These are delicious hot or warm, but I think they taste best at room temperature.

Now that's what I call some muffiny goodness.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Vegetable, Black Bean and Cornbread Casserole

Here we have one of those all too rare mealtime phenomena: a dish that every single person in the house actually likes. It often seems well nigh impossible to make everyone happy, but this casserole comes pretty damned close; even the picky one who only likes potatoes will (usually) eat it. It's a fairly free adaptation of a recipe posted on EatAir last fall or winter; I confess my utter inability to follow any recipe exactly to the letter, and this is a prime example. While my compulsion to tinker is occasionally the result of not having the specified ingredients on hand, it's more often a matter of wondering what would happen if I subbed X for Y, or just thinking that something else might work. In this particular case, it helps that I was starting from a great prototype: black beans, fire-roasted tomatoes, cornbread, how could this possibly be bad?

One of my besetting culinary sins is the urge to add more vegetables to everything, and that is indeed my main point of departure from the original version. I increased the quantity of onions and beans, and added garlic, scallions, celery, yellow squash, mushrooms and some refried black beans. As a rule, I don't usually cook with a lot of canned stuff, but sometimes a person is in a hurry, you know? The beauty of this recipe is that you spend about 15 minutes chopping stuff (which is fun anyway), add some beans and tomatoes, mix it all up, and in under an hour you've got a big, beautiful pan of food. Emphasis on the "big," because this makes a lot. Enough, in fact, to feed the population of my eternally hungry household; it's also one of my go-to potluck contributions. You'll want a big old baking dish to hold it all, and with just some salsa, guacamole and a green salad on the side it's a seriously substantial meal (and the best part is that you can definitely count on leftovers for the following night).

Vegetable, Black Bean and Cornbread Casserole
The Filling
~ 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ 1-2 tsp. hot chili oil (optional)
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 2-3 jalapeno peppers, chopped (canned is fine)
~ 1 cup chopped scallions
~ 1 cup chopped onions
~ 1/2 cup chopped celery
~ 1/2 cup chopped carrots
~ 1 cup chopped bell pepper
~ 1 cup chopped yellow squash
~ 2 cups thinly sliced mushrooms
~ 1 28 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes, drained
~ 2 15 oz. cans black beans, drained
~ 2 15 oz. cans refried black beans
~ 2 tsp. each cumin, regular chili powder
~ 1 tsp. each salt, chipotle chili powder
~ 1/2 tsp. each nutmeg, cinnamon
~ 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
~ 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley (nice, but optional)

~Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit.
~ In a large pot, heat the oils over medium heat. Add the onions, scallions, celery and garlic, and sauté about 5 minutes.
~ Add the jalapenos, bell pepper, carrots, squash, mushrooms and all the seasonings except the cilantro; sauté another 10 minutes or so, until the veggies are getting soft.
~ Add the tomatoes, beans and cilantro, if using. Mix well, bring to a simmer and reduce heat to low. Continue cooking until everything is nicely combined and fairly gloppy (we're going for a sort of sloppy joe-like texture here).

The Topping
~ 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
~ 1.5 cups coarse cornmeal
~ 4 tsp. baking powder
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 1 tsp. dried rosemary
~ 1 15 oz. can lite coconut milk (or 2 scant cups plain soy or other non-dairy milk)
~ 1 cup fresh or thawed frozen corn kernels
~ 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
~ 2 tbsp. agave or maple syrup
~ 2 scallions, sliced

~ In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.
~ In a blender or food processor, blend the coconut milk, corn kernels, scallions, oil, agave syrup, and rosemary until smooth.
~ Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the mixture from the blender. Stir until thoroughly combined.
~ Pour the bean and vegetable mixture into a greased casserole dish, spread the cornbread batter on top and bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes, until the top is crunchy and golden brown. Allow to cool and set up for about 20 minutes before slicing into huge slabs and overeating.