Monday, December 21, 2009

Squash and Potato Gratin

In honor of the first day of winter - the official season of podge - I hereby present the gentle reader with this delightfully starchy, homey casserole, invented to answer the burning question of what to do with some beautiful delicata squash, picked up on impulse at the local health food store a few weeks ago. At the time, I wasn't sure what their fate would be, but they looked so pretty that into the cart they went.

I then became really busy with end-of-semester stuff, and didn't lift a hand in the kitchen to make anything more time-consuming than tea for about a week. At that point, having turned in the last thing I'll have to write for another month or so - YESSSS! - I announced, "I want to do something weird with squash." My partner responded with an expression best described as simultaneously uncomprehending and mildly anxious, but was instantly reassured upon hearing that potatoes would form part of the picture (that man sure does love his spuds).

What I had in mind was something along the line of the old-school scalloped/au gratin potatoes that used to appear on my childhood dinner table, only with squash. It took a little while - mostly because I kept tinkering with the sauce, so you don't have to! - but it was worth the wait, and the finished product turned out really well. This recipe would easily lend itself to the inclusion of other vegetables; I'm thinking of subbing mushrooms and leeks for the squash next time. This would make a nice side dish for a big "Sunday lunch" sort of meal, or you could do what we did and just eat it all by itself; add a salad to provide some greenness and you've got a very filling dinner for a chilly winter night.

Squash and Potato Gratin
~ 4-5 good-sized potatoes, sliced into 1/8" rounds
~ 2 medium sized or 1 large squash, cubed (I had delicata, but acorn or butternut would be fine)
~ 1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
~ 2 tbsp. canola oil or vegan margarine
~ 2 tbsp. flour
~ 4 cups plain, unsweetened soy or other non-dairy milk
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, thyme, tarragon, parsley
~ Black pepper to taste
~ 1/4 cup vegan parmesan substitute
~ 1/4 cup nutritional yeast (use a 1/2 cup if you don't have vegan parm)
~ 1 cup panko crumbs
~ Paprika for garnish

~ Preheat the oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit
~ Slice and chop the potatoes, squash, and onions and set aside while you make...

The Sauce
~ In a heavy-bottomed saucepan on medium heat, saute 1 cup of the chopped onions in the oil or margarine until softened, about 5 minutes.
~ Slowly add the flour, stirring to make a roux; add a splash of water to prevent sticking if necessary.
~ Gradually pour in the soy milk, stirring constantly with a whisk to prevent clumps.
~ Add the seasonings, vegan parmesan and nutritional yeast, making sure to combine thoroughly.
~ Lower the heat to simmer and cook another 5 minutes or so, until it reaches the consistency of an Alfredo sauce (you can add a bit of water or some more milk if it thickens up too much).
~ Remove from heat and set aside while you turn to...

The Assembly
~ Coat a 9 x 13" casserole with cooking spray and scatter 1/4 cup of the panko crumbs across the bottom.
~ Make an overlapping layer of half the potato slices; be sure not to leave any spaces!
~ Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the remaining chopped onions and some kosher salt and black pepper over the potatoes.
~ Ladle on about a cup of the cream sauce, topped with another 1/4 cup of panko.
~ Arrange the cubed squash in a single layer and pour on another cup of sauce (try to distribute it somewhat evenly, but it's not an exact science).
~ Add the rest of the potato slices in an overlapping layer, then scatter the remaining chopped onion over the top.
~ Pour on the rest of the cream sauce, then press the top of the casserole firmly with a spatula, to make sure it oozes down between the layers.
~ Top with the last 1/2 cup of panko and some extra paprika and parsley for garnish.
~ Cover with foil and bake at 425 degrees for about 40 minutes, until the squash is tender.
~ Remove the foil and press with the spatula again to further compress the layers.
~ Bake uncovered for another 20 minutes or so, until browned and bubbly.
~ Allow to sit for 10-15 minutes before slicing.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Nog is my Co-Pilot

"Old Fezziwig laid down his pen, and looked up at the clock, which pointed to the hour of seven. He rubbed his hands; adjusted his capacious waistcoat; laughed all over himself, from his shoes to his organ of benevolence [snicker!-ed.]; and called out in a comfortable, oily, rich, fat, jovial voice: Oi! You there! Ebenezer! Dick! Bring me some soy nog with rum in it! Then put away those dusty ledgers and have the band strike up 'Sir Roger de Coverley' cuz Ima cut me a rug with Mrs. Fezziwig!"

Okay, so Dickens didn't transcribe all of this speech. The Fezziwig estate didn't want any overt mention of the patriarch's veganism in the published text (although, rather puzzlingly, they had no problems with the reference to his "organ of benevolence" - go figure!), since they felt it might alienate/scare away the "roast goose and joints of beef and gross suet puddings" hipsters - *yawn* - whose gullible pockets were even then so easily emptied by the latest artery-clogging foodie gimmick. But now it can be told. Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig were so blithe and jolly on that long ago Christmas Eve because "there was Raspberry Blackout Cake With Ganache-Y Frosting, almond-milk negus, and great pieces of Cold Roast Seitan, and vegan mince-pies, and plenty of beer."

Of course, in Victorian London, there was no commercially produced soy nog, so every housewife had to make her own from scratch according to a cherished family recipe. In fact, "Bob Cratchit always said, and calmly too, that he regarded his wife's nog as the greatest success achieved by Mrs Cratchit since their marriage." (Which, when you think about it, isn't entirely surprising in light of the whole Tiny Tim thing.) But I digress. Nowadays, there is a plethora of non-dairy nogs available, and in our house we have historically been devotees of VitaSoy's Holly Nog during the festive season, typically laced rather generously with dark rum. Alas and alack, however, in the past year it's stopped being available in the US - yet another area in which our neighbo(u)rs to the north have a clear advantage. I mean, national health care AND Holly Nog? Damn.

Anyway, we tried a few alternatives, but one recent freezing evening we returned from buying our Christmas tree to realize were fresh out, and nobody felt like going to the store. Thus it was that necessity once more became the mother of invention (Freak Out!), and it occurred to me that making our own was probably not rocket science; how hard could it be, right? So it was that while my partner and my middle son grunted and sweated under the weary load of a Fraser fir, I headed into the kitchen and produced a pitcher of delicious frothy seasonal goodness. It's yummy, it's creamy, it has way fewer things you can't pronounce, it's an excellent vehicle for rum, and - best of all - it's vegan! Somewhere, Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig are smiling.

~ 4 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1/2 cup Mimicreme or soy creamer
~ 1 tsp. vanilla extract
~ 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
~ 1/4 tsp. each: nutmeg, cardamom, ground cloves, allspice

~ Combine all ingredients in a large pyrex beaker or pitcher and whisk thoroughly for about 2 minutes, until well-combined and frothy.
~ Pour into your favorite nog-drinking vessels and add about 2-3 ounces of dark rum to each (optional, but come on!).
~ Garnish with an extra sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg and serve.
~ "And God bless us, every one!"~

Monday, December 14, 2009

Vegan Murgh Makhan

We decorated our Christmas tree this weekend, and while hanging ornaments, I was struck by the variety of chickens represented - fat ones, attenuated, vaguely Seussian ones, folksy ones. Apparently, we have a bit of a thing for them, a realization which led me to musing about the strange position they occupy in the popular imagination. In our culture, chickens are among those animals made to straddle the weirdly fascinating space between the sunshiny farmyards of childhood picture books (the happy mama, followed by her fuzzy yellow chicks) and the center of the dinner plate (or as Colonel Sanders used to put it, "get a bucket of chicken, have a barrel of fun!"). I mean, check out this mother hen, all puffed up with pride as she surveys her brood of fluffy offspring as they peck around in the dirt; who doesn't find this charming? But few children who grow up in urban or suburban surroundings have much occasion to spend time with any actual, living birds, and it's precisely that distance that allows the disconnect between cute, clucking chickens and "chicken."

This is a particularly heartbreaking state of affairs, since nearly all children feel a natural affinity with animals - think of the affection lavished on our pet dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, etc. - and might have a very different reaction to those ubiquitous "nuggets" if they'd ever held a baby chick. We have several friends who keep backyard chickens, and anyone who has ever seen them in action can attest that they have a lot of personality, and can be very funny and affectionate. One couple, who also have several ferrets, relate that their oldest hen's favorite pastime is climbing onto the windowsill so she can look in and watch them playing; it's like interspecies reality TV! So how can we bear to condemn billions of similarly alert, curious animals to the miserable fate suffered by chickens who produce the eggs, boneless breasts, and "drumsticks" tossed heedlessly into grocery carts every day? Well, maintaining that sense of distance is a good place to start - the minute we start making that chicken=chicken connection is the minute we can start realizing who those nuggets are actually made from. (Hint: they have feathers, enjoy eating corn, and say "cluck-cluck-cluck!")

At this point the (probably vegan) reader may be thinking, "Okay, fair enough - I don't eat chickens or eggs; are you going to share a recipe with me now or what?" Well, it just so happens that I am, and a really good one, at that. Based -AHA! - on a dish often known as "Indian butter chicken," it's the result of one of those quixotic impulses by which I am occasionally seized. One afternoon I was looking online for something interesting to do with some now-forgotten ingredient, when I stumbled on a reference to Murgh Makhan; once the idea got in my head, there was nothing to do but give it a shot, and in the end it was no big challenge. Marinating the soy curls all afternoon turned them into the perfect stand-in for our feathered friends, and it was easy to replace the butter and cream of the original recipe with non-dairy versions. My partner - drawn from his work by the intoxicating fragrances wafting from the kitchen - had every confidence in a happy outcome, but the experimental nature of the enterprise decreed that I issue an honorable disclaimer, just in case. Luckily, I needn't have bothered, because this turned out so well that it's destined to become a regular meal, and one I wouldn't hesitate to serve to company. So - why not leave the real poultry in motion and give this a try? You won't be sorry, and neither will the chickens!

Vegan Murgh Makhan

~ 2 cups soy curls
~ 2 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, chili powder, garam masala, curry powder, fenugreek
~ 1/2 tsp. cardamom
~ 1/4 tsp. each: ground cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg
~ 1 tbsp. each: minced garlic, ginger

~ Mix the soy milk and and seasonings in a large beaker, bowl or pot, add the soy curls, then cover and bring to a boil (about 4 minutes in the microwave, probably a minute or so more on the stovetop).
~ Leave covered and set aside for at least an hour; I left mine 3-4 hours, and highly recommend you do the same if possible.

~ 1/2 cup soy yogurt
~ 1/2 cup raw cashews (soaked in hot water for 30 minutes, then drained)
~ 1/2 cup mimicreme or soy creamer

~ Place all three ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.

And now...

~ 3 tbsp. vegan margarine (I used Earth Balance)
~ 1 ginormous onion (or 2 normal ones), chopped (about 3 cups)
~ 1 14 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes, drained

~ In a large skillet or wok, melt the margarine and saute the onions over medium high heat about 10 minutes, until clear and glassy.
~ Stir in the drained tomatoes and cook another few minutes.
~ Add the soy curls and their marinade and cook 5-10 minutes more, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
~ Pour in the processed yogurt/cashew/mimicreme, mix thoroughly and heat through.
~ Cook another 5 minutes before serving hot with biryani, naan, a vegetable curry and/or plain boiled rice.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Simple Sweet Potato Curry

First of all, I think we can all get pretty excited about wishing John Milton a very happy 401st birthday today - bless him, he barely looks a day over 397! After all, according to Paradise Lost, Adam and Eve were originally vegan (although apparently teetotallers, alas):

They sat them down, and after no more toil
Of thir sweet Gardning labour then suffic'd
To recommend coole Zephyr, and made ease
More easie, wholsom thirst and appetite
More grateful, to thir Supper Fruits they fell,
Nectarine Fruits which the compliant boughes
Yielded them, side-long as they sat recline
On the soft downie Bank damaskt with flours:
The savourie pulp they chew, and in the rinde
Still as they thirsted scoop the brimming stream.

It wasn't until that disaffected serpent got involved that they were sent East to find that...

The World was all before them, where to choose
Thir place of rest, and Providence thir guide:
They hand in hand with wandring steps and slow,
Through Eden took thir solitarie way.

Which in some ways sounds like a great opportunity, except that in this particular case it meant that "our original parents" would no longer be immortal, have to work for their food, and bring forth children in pain and misery. Oops! (Presumably that was some juicy apple!) But I digress, and must now to my text, which is not the Fall of Man, but a nice, simple curry that's not too spicy, adapted from a fairly bare-bones recipe on the BBC's "good food" website, and renamed in honor of the "Lady of Christ's College" - a soubriquet apparently bestowed by Milton's classmates at Cambridge because of his long ringlets and "general delicacy of manner."

In any case, this proved an excellent (and wholly pre-lapsarian) way to use up the sweet potatoes that didn't get cooked for Thanksgiving, on a night when we were feeling fed up with "traditional" holiday food. In addition to the sweet potatoes, almost any vegetables you have on hand would make a good addition to this - my refrigerator happened to have mushrooms, bell peppers and baby spinach, so that's what got thrown in. We had leftover dal to eat with our curry, but this could easily be a one-dish meal with the addition of some cooked lentils, baked tofu, or even just a can of chickpeas. The coconutty sauce is particularly good for soaking up with rice and naan.

I should also note that the image above is from a truly creepy vintage sign I picked up in New Orleans several years ago. It features King Yam - scion of the Tuber dynasty - resplendent in all the trappings of his sovereignty. Sorry in advance for any nightmares provoked by the weird, spindly little arm with which he wields his sceptre, but I like to think that before the Fall, there was room in Eden even for the most freakishly anthropomorphized root vegetable. Happy birthday, Uncle Milty!

Simple Sweet Potato Curry
~ 1-2 tbsp. canola oil
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, cumin, garam masala
~ 1 tbsp. curry powder
~ 1 small red bell pepper, cut into large dice (about 1/2")
~ 3 tbsp. yellow curry paste
~ 10 oz. mushrooms (I used baby portobellos), thickly sliced
~ 2 large sweet potatoes, cut into 1" cubes
~ 1 14 oz. can coconut milk (regular or lite), with 1/4 cup reserved
~ 2 tsp. cornstarch
~ 3 cups baby spinach, roughly chopped
~ Shot of hot sauce to taste (optional)

~ In a large skillet or wok, heat the oil and saute the onion over medium heat about 10 minutes, until very soft.
~ Add the dry seasonings and the bell pepper and cook a few minutes more.
~ Stir in the curry paste, then add the mushrooms and sweet potatoes, making sure all the vegetables are coated. Cook about 5 minutes more, stirring frequently to prevent sticking.
~ Raise the heat to high, pour in the coconut milk, and bring briefly to a boil. Cover the pan, lower the heat to simmer, and cook about 15 minutes.
~ Remove the cover and cook another 10 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are tender but not falling apart.
~ In a separate container, whisk together the cornstarch and the reserved 1/4 cup coconut milk. Add to the curry and stir to blend.
~ Add the chopped spinach and cook another few minutes, until the sauce thickens and the spinach is wilted.
~ Stir in hot sauce (if using), and serve with rice and/or naan bread.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Easy Peasy Quasi-"Naan" Bread

We love Indian food, and so we make it a lot; one of the many rewards of learning another culture's cuisine is discovering delicious items you might not "ordinarily" have come across, which become Your Favorite Things. For instance, the first time I ate a samosa, way back in the dim and distant past (at the now sadly defunct local Annapurna restaurant, which was not only vegetarian but run by two biology professors from Holy Cross College), it was like that moment in The Ten Commandments when the clouds part and the sun breaks through (cue music). On that day, I fell in love with subcontinental cuisine, and have never once looked back.

Nowadays I'm pretty adept at cooking various curries, vegetable dishes, dals, etc., but there are still a few items that have remained restaurant and/or Indian grocery fodder. Naan bread has historically fallen into this category, and since many commercial brands include milk among the ingredients, we hardly ever get to eat it at home, and just make do with rice.

Until now! While searching online for an old-school scone recipe, I came across the BBC's "good food" website. Passing over their rather sad excuse for a vegetarian section (heavy on punitive delicacies like Parsnip Cranberry Nutloaf, with virtually nothing free of eggs and/or dairy), I clicked on "Indian," where I was rewarded with a few basic curries and a recipe for a fried flatbread that looked like a baby could do it. Being just that essential, able-to-use-the-stove bit smarter than a baby, I decided to give it a try, and was soon rewarded with the perfect accompaniment to a simple sweet potato curry and some excellent leftover khichari. While I make no claims to this being a traditional or "authentic" recipe/method, it was so easy, fast, and good that I'll definitely make it again, since there's really no comparison between fresh bread and even the best store-bought varieties. Try it - you won't be sorry!

Easy Peasy Quasi-"Naan" Bread
~ 2.5 cups all-purpose or whole wheat pastry flour
~ 2 tsp. salt
~ 1/2 tsp. each: cumin, fenugreek powder
~ A few grinds of black pepper
~ 3 tbsp. olive oil
~ 10 oz. warm water
~ 1/4 ounce yeast (one little packet)

~ In a large bowl, combine the yeast and warm water.
~ Add the flour, salt, pepper and oil and mix to make a soft, but not sloppy, dough.
~ Knead well for a just minute or two, then place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a clean cloth and allow to rise in a warm place for an hour, until doubled in size.
~ Place a baking sheet in the oven on "warm."
~ Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 6-8 pieces. Use a rolling pin to flatten each one into a rough circle, about 5" in diameter. Leave the pieces on a lightly floured baking tray to "prove" for 5 minutes.
~ Heat a large frying pan to a medium heat and coat lightly with oil or cooking spray. Fry each piece until browned on both sides, about 5 mins in total.
~ Transfer cooked pieces to the oven to keep warm while you cook the rest.
~ Allow to cool slightly before serving with your favorite Indian meal. (If there's any leftover, it also makes a great next day breakfast food!)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Make Tofu Scramble, Not War

Even in an otherwise exemplary movement such as veganism, rifts and schisms are bound to occur, and few topics provoke a more passionate response than The Great Tofu Scramble Controversy. This ideological battle - between the proponents of cubed tofu and those who swear that mashed is the only way to go - has been raging for so long, only the sort of pundits interviewed on The History Channel claim to know when it began, and even they are divided. Some believe the argument originated in 1517, when Martin Luther nailed a list of no fewer than 95 recipes for cubed scramble to a church door in Wittenberg, thereby angering Pope Leo X, a famous lover of mashed tofu. Others swear the issue dates all the way back to antiquity, when Julius Caesar (cubed) took offense at Caius Cassius' popularization of the mashed variety, which great Caesar insisted resulted in lean, hungry (and therefore dangerous) men. While we may never know the truth of the matter, the fact remains that the subject continues to raise tempers, voices, and hackles in a way few others issues can match.

So, what's an herbivorous pacifist to do, faced with the painful spectacle of her brothers and sisters rending one another's flesh and tearing each other to pieces (which is so not vegan)? In my desperation, it occurred to me that compromise might be a good place to begin; recalling a recipe for a baked tofu breakfast burrito, I thought that by combining seasoned, baked cubes (remain calm, please!) with the sauteed vegetables of an ordinary tofu scramble and then mashing them to a point where they were no longer geometric, yet not wholly lacking in structural integrity, a happy and delicious middle ground might be reached. And so it proved! After just one serving, the scales fell from my eyes and I saw the fundamental mistake of taking either extreme, divisive position: the simple truth is that tofu scramble is best when it is both cubed and mashed. You heard it here first, folks - let the healing begin!

Peace for Our Time Tofu Scramble
The Tofu
~ 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
~ 1/4 cup chickpea flour
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, cumin, chili powder, parsley, dill, garlic powder, onion powder
~ 1/4-1/2 tsp. chipotle chili powder (or cayenne), more to taste
~ A few grinds of black pepper
~ 1 lb. extra firm tofu, pressed and cut into small cubes (about 1/2")

~ Preheat the oven too 400º fahrenheit.
~ Combine the nutritional yeast, chickpea flour and spices in a large bowl with a tight-fitting lid.
~ Add the cubed tofu, put the lid on and shake well to coat completely (it's like Shake 'n' Bake, for tofu!).
~ Arrange the coated tofu cubes in a single layer on a greased baking sheet and bake at 400º for 30 minutes.
~ While it's baking, prepare...

The Veggies
~ 1-2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 1 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 1 large rib celery, diced
~ 2 carrots, diced
~ 1/2 large red bell pepper, diced
~ Salt and pepper to taste
~ Shot of hot sauce (optional)

~ In a large skillet or wok, heat the oil and saute the onion over medium heat about 3 minutes.
~ Add the garlic, celery, and carrots, and continue cooking another few minutes until softened.
~ Add the bell pepper and seasonings, then continue cooking - stirring frequently to prevent sticking - for about 10-15 minutes, until the vegetables are getting ever so slightly charred.

And now...
~ Remove the baked tofu from the oven and add to the vegetables.
~ With a potato masher or large fork, partially break up the tofu - remember, you do not want a totally mashed, soft texture, this is more a sort of half and half proposition.
~ Mix it all together, adjust the seasonings, and serve. (We had ours with pita crisps for one of those random weekday brunches, but roasted potatoes, baked beans, or even plain old toast would also be lovely - just make sure to eat it while sitting around a campfire, singing "We Shall Overcome!")

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Here in the US we've just survived Thanksgiving, that first blast of the trumpet heralding the holiday season's monstrous regiment. This big family gathering (pictured above, and on pretty good behavior for a change) traditionally happens at my house, and this year I wanted to shake things up a little. So alongside the roasted root vegetables, sage and onion stuffing, mashed potatoes, etc., we had a big pan of pastitsio, a Greek casserole sort of halfway between moussaka and lasagna.

My mother's pastitsio was a childhood favorite I'd been vaguely meaning to veganize for years, but it wasn't until one of my culinary heroes posted about an elaborate Greek dinner that I finally got around to doing it. I started with his recipe as a basic model, but I did make a few significant changes. (NB I was able to procure #2 pastitsio macaroni from our local Greek market, but if you can't lay hands on some, bucatini or even linguine work just as well.)

The one caveat I would offer to those unfamiliar with Greek food is don't be weirded out by the cinnamon and/or nutmeg in this recipe! I realize they may seem incongruous in a savory dish, but once it's all baked and sliced and you're eating a huge slab of it, you'll be saying "Mmmmmm, it tastes so Greek." To which I (standing in the spirit at your elbow) will reply, "I told you so!"(Also please note that I was cooking for a big, holiday dinner, so feel free to halve the recipe accordingly; on the other hand, this dish makes great leftovers, which is always a fine thing.)

The Filling
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 2 tbsp. chopped, fresh parsley
~ 2 tbsp. garlic, minced
2 packages TJ's veggie meatballs, mashed (or Nate’s, Gimme Lean, or other ground meat substitute)
~ 1 bay leaf
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, basil, cinnamon, chili powder
~ ½ tsp. each: nutmeg, oregano
~ 1/2 cup dry red wine
~ 1 28 oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, including liquid
~ 3 tbsp. tomato paste
~ Fresh black pepper to taste

~ Preheat the oven to 400.
~ In a large, deep skillet or wok, heat oil, and sauté the onion over medium-high heat until golden, about 5 minutes.
~ Add the parsley and garlic, and cook for a few seconds before adding the mashed “meatballs" and seasonings.
~ Continue cooking about 5 minutes, then add the wine and cook till it evaporates.
~ Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and continue cooking for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t stick (you can add a splash of water if necessary).

The Sauce
~ 1 cup raw cashews
~ 3.5 cups warm, unsweetened nondairy milk
~ 2 bay leaves
~ 1 tbsp. vegan margarine (e.g., Earth Balance)
~ 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
~ ½ tsp. salt
~ Black pepper to taste
~ Dash of nutmeg

~ 1/4 cup vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast
~ 1/2 cup cold soy milk, mixed with 2 tsps. cornstarch

~ In a beaker, microwave the milk, the cashews, and the bay leaves until nearly boiling. Allow to soak for at least an hour (the longer the better).
~ Remove the bay leaves, and puree the milk/cashew mixture until completely smooth.
~ In a saucepan, melt the margarine over low heat and whisk in the flour to make a roux.
~ Continue cooking for a few minutes, then gradually add the milk/cashew puree, whisking constantly.
~ Add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, and parm or nooch; stir thoroughly to combine.
~ Add the cold soy milk/corn starch mixture and whisk thoroughly.
~ Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until thickened (about 5-7 minutes).

~ 1 lb. #2 pasta (bucatini or linguine, if you can't find it), cooked and drained according to package directions, and then mixed with 2-3 tbsp. olive oil to prevent sticking.
~ A little extra paprika and parsley, for garnish.

The Assembly
~ Spread the pasta evenly in the bottom of a large, greased casserole.
~ Cover with the filling, and pour the sauce over the top, smoothing with a spatula.
~ Sprinkle the top with a little extra paprika and parsley to make things pretty.
~ Bake at 400 for 40-45 minutes, until golden and bubbly; if you like, raise the heat to 450 for the last 5 minutes to brown it a bit more.
~ Allow to sit for about 15 minutes before slicing.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

"Pamela's Polenta," from Uneeda Rest Dinner

Today's post is a truly collaborative effort between Desdemona and myself - let's just call me "Robert," shall we (since that is in fact my name)? - in which the contextual setup is mine, and the recipe adaptation and cooking directions are hers. So now that we've cleared up the question of authorial voice, let's get on with tonight's dinner, which is the veganized interpretation of an old family favorite - oops, favourite. Various branches of my family in the Old Country (in my case, Canada) used to run summer hotels on Sparrow Lake, in Ontario’s cottage country. Most of them have disappeared now, but fifty or sixty years ago, there were a passle of them, serving plain but hearty country fare, offering a great spirit of camaraderie among the guests - many of them Americans who would come year after year from places as far afield as Ohio and Pennsylvania - and consisting of sometimes fairly basic accommodations (people of my father’s generation still remember the phenomenon of the Eaton’s department store catalog serving as toilet paper in the outhouses).

The most "Northern Gothic" of them all was Uneeda Rest (pictured above), run by a branch of my grandmother’s family, the Clipshams. The name comes from one of the hotel’s earliest guests, a salesman for the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco), one of whose products was called “Uneeda Biscuit” [Okay, sorry for sticking my oar in here, but this name never fails to remind me of the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass, who continually presses unusually dry, tasteless morsels on poor Alice, insisting that it is exactly what she needs to cure the thirst incurred by a long run. Sorry, I'll stop now.- D.] The hotel closed in the early 1960s, but the building remains, a haunting ruin on the rocky north shore of the lake, a portion of which which one of my Clipsham cousins and his partner have renovated as their home. In 1999, these cousins (Robert and Pamela) threw a big party to celebrate the centenary of its opening, and plenty of clan members attended, wandering the faded, crumbling hallways and marveling at the ancient fixtures and appliances, all pretty much untouched since the closing.

At this point the reader could be forgiven for asking, "what possible connection could any of this have to polenta?" Well, my parents still see a fair bit of the Clipsham cousins, and it was the eponymous Pamela who devised this splendid and infinitely adaptable recipe, which my mother duly copied out and gave to me on a yellow recipe card (now more of an ochre color after years of loving kitchen stains). My mother’s letters, cards, diary entries, and recipes all share a highly characteristic style, rich in memory, anecdote, asides, and UPPER CASE INSTRUCTIONS for emphasis. She’s especially good at attributing recipes and recalling the specific occasions when she and Dad enjoyed a delicious meal in happy company. This is a classic of the genre, the “Uneeda Rest Dinner” in the title referring to the time they enjoyed it in a friendly corner of that starkly comfortable old lodge. Veganizing it proved an easy matter of substituting olive oil for the butter and vegan cheese for the mascarpone and parmesan called for in the original. We used the olives, sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts recommended on that well-worn index card, but the beauty of this dish is that you can really use any topping you happen to fancy and/or have on hand (next time, we're planning on chopped portobellos, a ton of garlic and fresh basil, which can't possibly be bad). So head into the kitchen, see what's handy, then make a big pan and dig in, eh?

Pamela's Polenta
~ 6 cups vegetable broth or water
~ 1.5 coarse cornmeal (I use Bob's Red Mill polenta)
~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 tbsp. dried basil
~ 1.5 cup grated Blue Sheese (optional, but highly recommended; if, however, you decide to skip it, add 1 tsp. salt to the broth/olive oil mixture along with the cornmeal)
~ 1/4 cup each: chopped black olives, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts
~ A few grinds of black pepper and some extra basil for garnish

~ Preheat oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.
~ In a large pot, bring the vegetable broth and olive oil to a rapid boil.
~ Stir in the cornmeal and - according to Mary Lou's index card directions - "WHISK LIKE MAD." Cook for about 10 minutes, until thickened but still soft.
~ Add 1 cup of the grated Sheese (if using), stirring well to combine and make sure that it melts. Remove from heat and set aside.
~ Coat a 9 x 13" casserole or baking dish with cooking spray, and spoon in the polenta, smoothing the top with a rubber spatula.
~ Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup Sheese, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts over the top of the polenta, finishing off with a few grinds of black pepper and a sprinkle of dried basil.
~ Cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.
~ Remove the foil and contune cooking another 15-20 minutes, until the polenta is setting up and the top is getting browned (not too browned!)
~ Allow to sit for about 10-15 minutes before slicing into squares and serving. (Be aware that this is really filling, and a little goes a long way. A green salad and a glass of red wine is all you need to make this A Proper Meal, although it's so delicious that you'll probably want seconds anyway!)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Potato Onion Mushroom Tart Thing

This extravaganza of wanton yumminess was inspired by a post for Welsh Onion Cake over at The Great Vegan Conspiracy (, which - if you've yet to have the pleasure - is a terrific blog that seeks to recreate the sorts of cozy, podgy British food I grew up on, in a way that is incredibly evocative of childhood comfort food while remaining completely vegan: a noble goal if ever there was one! Anyway, midway through a bright, sunny, but proto-wintry November Sunday morning, I was feeling extremely hungry but uncertain what to do about it when - AHA! - inspiration struck, and I remembered this recipe. As hath ever been my wont, I decided to tinker with it and see what happened; there were some mushrooms in the fridge, in danger of passing their prime unloved and uneaten, and since I figured that their presence in a dish consisting primarily of potatoes, onions and fat couldn't possibly come amiss, they were duly sliced up and thrown in. With the addition of a few extra herbs, this not only made the kitchen smell incredible, but turned out to be both beautiful and delicious: a dish that will surely be making reappearances on our table in the upcoming months. As we were feeling a bit nostalgic for the old sod - bless 'im! - we put on our favorite Magpie Lane CD, The Oxford Ramble, and sauteed a couple cans of old-school Heinz baked beans with some sage, smoked yeast, a chopped onion and the rest of those mushrooms to go alongside. In short: the perfect way to start the day at the crack of noon!

Potato, Onion, and Mushroom Tart Thing

~ 4 medium potatoes, thinly sliced (I used Yukon Gold)
~ 1 large onion, sliced into thin crescents, then sliced again (quarter crescents!)
~ 2 cups thinly sliced mushrooms (about a dozen good-sized 'shrooms)
~ Salt, pepper, thyme, marjoram, tarragon
~ 2 tbsp. each: melted vegan margarine, olive oil (or could use 4 tbsp. of either, I just like a combination)
~ Paprika for garnish


~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.
~ Coat a deep-dish pie dish with cooking spray (I used a straight-sided quiche pan).
~ Cover the bottom of the pie dish with an overlapping layer of about 1/3 of the sliced potatoes, followed by a layer of half the onions, then half the sliced mushrooms.
~ Sprinkle with salt, pepper, thyme, marjoram, and tarragon, topping with about 1/3 of the margarine/oil mixture.
~ Repeat the layering process (including spices, oil mixture), then end with a - neatly overlapping, if you can manage it! - layer of potatoes.
~ Top with the remaining oil mixture, a few grinds of salt and pepper, and a sprinkling of paprika for garnish.
~ Cover with foil and bake for about 45 minutes.
~ Remove foil, raise the heat to 425, and bake another 20 minutes, until beauteously browned and beginning to get crispy.
~ Allow to set up about 10 minutes before cutting into slices and serving (since it was brunch and we were feeling a bit British, we had some baked beans on the side, but this would - and certainly will, in our house - make a great supper dish with a salad or some other veggie dish on the side).

Monday, November 9, 2009

Chickpeas In A (Magically) Toasty, Nutty Sauce

In this, my third guest post, I hereby declare my most characteristic trait as a cook: although highly recipe-dependent and generally fearful of experimentation, I’m also prone to inattentive reading of a given recipe, resulting in subsequent disaster or near-disaster, and - finally - a neat save (or, alternatively, hideous crap that has to be politely accommodated by family and friends, or thrown into the bin). The night this dish was born was just such an occasion, as I had a chickpea craving and got all enthusiastic about scouring our numerous Indian cookbooks for some satisfying, semi-spicy dish on a cold, late autumn evening. I consulted the index to Yamuna Devi’s biblical Lord Krishna’s Cuisine, and settled on "Chickpea, Almond, Sesame Sauce." Wow, that sounds great, doesn’t it? How could chickpeas, almonds, and sesame seeds be bad? It couldn’t! Let’s launch into it, then. Toasted sesame, cumin, and mustard seeds? Check! Toasted almonds? Check! OK, let’s….oh wait. Put it in a food processor along with the chickpeas? What? That sounds like it’s going to be a…oh. Sauce. Right.

You can see what I mean by “inattentive reading.” What to do now? To intensify the situation, the eponymous Elizavegan called in the middle of the whole crisis to say she’d be home earlier than expected for dinner. I felt like Samantha Stephens, having to whip up something spectacular when Darren calls to say that Mr. and Mrs. Brewster are coming for dinner (honey), and the big account needs saving because Larry Tate is really riding his ass...well, okay; whatever Derwood would have said when he really meant "ass." Well, as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of bullshitting, and in the absence of magical powers or an intervention by Dr. Bombay, a rethink was clearly called for. In the end, I decided that everything in the “sauce” up to that point was bound to be awesome, so I just reconceived it as a glazed-tomato chickpea dish with the nutty sauce thrown in and - hey presto! - with a big pile of garlicky collard greens on the side, it all worked out fine. So: I hereby present to you this (succesfully) improvised reinvention of yet another Ayurvedic classic.

Chickpeas In A (Magically) Toasty, Nutty Sauce

~¼ cup sesame seeds
~1 teaspoon cumin seeds
~½ black mustard seeds
~¼ cup chopped almonds
~¼ cup raw cashews (optional but awesome)
~1 tablespoon olive or sesame oil
~3 medium-sized tomatoes, diced
~Juice of 3 limes
~1 tablespoon brown sugar
~½ teaspoon asafoetida
~2 cups cooked chickpeas, drained
~1 teaspoon salt
~ ½-1 cup water

~Combine the sesame seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, and nuts in a large, heavy-bottomed frypan over medium-low heat and toast until the sesame seeds turn golden brown and it smells really good.
~Empty into a food processor and blend for 30 seconds or until coarsely powdered.
~Heat olive or sesame oil in the same pan over medium heat, then add diced tomatoes. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until the tomatoes are soft and sensuous (sounding a bit more like Nigella Lawson than Elizabeth Montgomery there!)
~Add the seed/nut mixture and stir until blended.
~Add the lime juice, sugar, asafoetida, chickpeas, and salt. Continue cooking over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, adding water as needed to prevent sticking and make a rich, saucy consistency.
~Serve over basmati rice with some hot Indian pickle, and you'll have the Brewster account in the bag before Endora can show up, get everyone drunk, flirt with Mr. Brewster, and turn his wife into a teapot!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Split Pea Soup with Dumplings

Each year, on the day after Halloween, something remarkable occurs: November arrives!

I realize that this may not seem like an especially perceptive observation, but the change I refer to involves a great deal more than the simple turn of a calendar page. The difference between October and November is the difference between the warm colors of autumn and the spare, wintry aesthetic of bare branches and grey skies. The sun gives less heat, the evenings draw in earlier - see you next year, Daylight Savings Time - and the alarm clock wakes us up to ever colder mornings. In some ways, this all sounds very bleak, but there's a certain stripped-down beauty to this time of year, as the earth prepares to take a break and get a few months' rest.

Another bonus to cooler weather is soup. On a chilly afternoon, when the air turns sharp and the sun is dipping below the trees by 5 o'clock, few things are more comforting than coming home to a warm, bright kitchen and a big pot simmering on the stove. Today's recipe is a classic winter soup featuring split peas, lots of veggies, and big, fluffy dumplings. So settle in, pour a glass of red wine, ladle out a big bowlful, and forget the darkness outside."If winter comes, can spring be far behind?"

Split Pea Soup with Dumplings
The Soup
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 2 cups onion, chopped
~ 1 cup celery, diced
~ 1 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 1 cup carrot, diced
~ 1 tsp. kosher salt (more or less, depending on the saltiness of your stock)
~ Fresh black pepper
~ 1 tsp. each: thyme, parsley, marjoram, tarragon
~ 2 bay leaves
~ 2 cups split peas, picked over, rinsed and soaked at least an hour (the longer you soak them, the faster they'll cook!)
~ 1 tbsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce
~ 2-3 tsp. Liquid Smoke
~ 8 cups vegetable stock

~ In a large pot, heat the oil and saute the onions and celery over medium heat about 5 minutes.
~ Add the garlic, carrots and dry seasonings and cook about 5 minutes more.
~ Stir in the (drained!) split peas, bay leaves, Worcestershire sauce, and Liquid Smoke. Stir to coat and cook another few minutes.
~ Raise the heat to high, add the vegetable broth, cover and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and simmer about 45 minutes.

The Dumplings
~ 1.5 cups flour
~ 1/4 cup cold vegan margarine (I used Earth Balance)
~ 1 tbsp. baking powder
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 1/2 tsp. each: thyme, sage
~ 1/2-3/4 cup cold soy (or other non-dairy) milk

~ In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and seasonings.
~ Add the margarine and mix with your fingers until it resembles coarse crumbs.
~ Add the soy milk, and mix with a fork until you have a soft dough.
~ Remove the bay leaves from the soup, then drop the dough by tablespoonfuls into the pot.
~ Cover the soup pot tightly and cook another 15-20 minutes.
~ Pour into bowls and serve hot.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"Shady" Fake Chicken & Eggplant Stir-Fry

Fake meat. What is it? In what way is it "fake?" In what way - if any - is it "meat," beyond that word's original definition: "food, as nourishment for people and fodder for animals"? For those of us who don’t eat animal flesh, what is it about "meat" that we sometimes feel the urge to replicate? Jonathan Safran Foer reflects on the value, significance, history, and ethics of the foods we grow up with in his current memoir/manifesto Eating Animals (which is getting a lot of buzz), taking the WWII-era experiences of his European Jewish grandmother as a starting point. In a recent excerpt published in the New York Times, he wrote: “The story of her relationship to food holds all of the other stories that could be told about her. Food, for her, is not food. It is terror, dignity, gratitude, vengeance, joy, humiliation, religion, history and, of course, love.”

Foer goes on to mention that one of the intra-familial cultural ramifications of raising his own children vegetarian is that they "will never eat their great-grandmother’s singular dish [chicken with carrots]....and never receive that unique and most direct expression of her love." Of course, he recognizes that there are greater issues at stake, and later reveals that the same grandmother has gone to the effort of making vegetarian chopped liver especially for him. (For my own part I've found that, with thought and creativity, animal-free analogues of emotionally resonant dishes can be recreated, and everything tastes better when eaten with a clear conscience.)

All of which raises the question: what's actually so important about the foods we associate with childhood or adolescence? How much of it is a texture that was pleasing to our young mouths (and heaven knows there are many things that are intolerable to childish palates)? How much of it is the visceral memories of particular favorite meals: Mom making spanakopita for Greek Easter, Dad making Welsh rabbit on a Sunday night before Disney, bacon and cheese squares for a special - yet pretty frequent - Saturday lunch? How much of it is in the blood, the clan, the immigrant transformation (whether one generation back or four), and preservation, of identity and experience? And after we’ve done with all that, and factored in our later, more educated reflections and interventions on behalf of animals, health, and the environment, is there some irreducible core of meatiness that remains impervious to all these speculations? If there is, then that must be what carnivores embrace and vegetarians refuse: the point is that a choice is involved.

A number of veg-curious people (and there are an increasing number of these), observe that the whole fake-meat phenomenon is a bit “shady.” I suppose that's hard to argue with from an omnivorous perspective, and yet the most suspicious thing about the best of of it is when it’s sufficiently convincing to make you check the package - or interrogate the waitstaff when dining out - to be sure some evil flesh-mongering cabal isn’t foisting actual meat on to (in to) unsuspecting herbivores, in the hope of re-addicting or re-acculturating them to a carnivorous lifestyle.

This past weekend, we attended the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival, and among the many other delights of Middle Eastern, South Asian, East Asian, Caribbean, and Anglo-American comfort foods, we happened upon a minimally labeled but wildly popular booth selling about 17 different varieties of mock meat, from barbecue beef to saucy salmon to chicken nuggets. Now, the fact is that we aren't actually all that into "mock meat" (a term which invariably evokes the Mock Turtle's Song from Alice in Wonderland: "Beautiful soup, so rich and green, waiting in a hot tureen!”), but once in a while you taste something that makes you say, "Aha! With this I could perfectly recreate [insert favorite pregan dish] without chomping down on the carcass of a fellow creature!"

Well, this past Sunday was one of those occasions, and the next time you're in the mood to mock some meat, we can recommend this stuff pretty highly. I used a package of their Vegetarian Goong Bao Chicken in that evening's dinner, and the result was a basil-infused stir-fry worthy of any Chinese restaurant I've patronized, omni or veg (that includes you, Grasshopper). So I guess what I'm saying is that "fake" meat is easily procured and can taste remarkably like its animal prototypes, without the misery that attends actual animals' short, sad journey from horrible factory farm to fork. In the final analysis, some people might feel that "ersatz" meat may is shady, but it's better than the "real thing," which is cruel, exploitative, and just plain cagy. Or, as Jonathan Safran Foer's grandmother put it, relating how she refused to eat pork  to save her own life as a starving, homeless refugee in flight from the Nazis: "If nothing matters, there’s nothing to save.”

Shady Fake Chicken & Eggplant Stir-Fry
~2 tbsp. peanut oil
~1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
~1 tsp. hot chili oil
~2 small eggplants, cubed (about 6 cups)
~1 tbsp. minced ginger
~2 tbsp. minced garlic
~1 small red bell pepper, diced (3/4 cup)
~8 large scallions, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
~12 oz. shady fake chicken (or pressed, cubed firm tofu)
~2 cups fresh basil, chopped

~1 tbsp. each: soy sauce, brown sugar, Chinese garlic sauce (I used Dai Day:, whisked together
~1/4 cup cold water, 2 tsp. corn starch, whisked together
~An extra shot or two of hot sauce to taste (optional)

~In a wok, saute the eggplant over medium-high heat in the combined oils for 5-10 minutes, until softened.
~Add the ginger and garlic and cook another few minutes.
~Add the bell pepper and scallions; continue cooking 5 minutes more.
~Stir in the "chicken" (or tofu) and the soy sauce/brown sugar/garlic sauce mixture.
~Cook another 5 minutes until heated through, stir in the chopped basil and hot sauce (if using), and serve over steamed short-grain brown rice.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Moosewood Russian Carrot Pie, Veganized!

I've written previously about my affection for Mollie Katzen's earliest tomes of vegetarian cookery, The Moosewood Cookbook and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. It would not be an overstatement to say that these books, along with Anna Thomas' The Vegetarian Epicure, quite literally taught me how to cook, and I have many fond memories of spending an afternoon or evening chopping, stirring, tasting and ultimately eating something like Broccoli Mushroom Noodle Casserole or Lentil-Walnut Burgers. Most particularly, though, I have to give Mollie credit for inspiring my life-long passion for savory pies; growing up, I was familiar with things like shepherd's pie or chicken pot pie, but the likelihood of a quiche or some groovy vegetable tart showing up on the dinner table was pretty remote. But those early Moosewood books were big on pie for dinner, which was a huge revelation to me: I mean, it's pie! And it's dinner! How can this possibly be bad, right?!

Mollie was also into distinctly Eastern-European flavor combinations, so her recipes often included lots of dill, paprika and mushrooms; of course, they were also filled with cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream, and butter. On a more hippieish note, wheat germ often figured prominently, and back in the day, my refrigerator always held a big ol' jar of the stuff because it seemed like all my cookbooks demanded its presence in more things than not. The original version of this recipe features nearly all of these things--she skipped the sour cream this time--but mine has none of them except the carrots, onions and seasonings. (Oh, and a crust.) Isa's quiche formula from Vegan Brunch turns out to be an ideal substitute for all that cottage cheese, and I lightened up the fat a little on the veggies, while upping the spices and using panko in place of the ubiquitous wheat germ.

And yet. Despite these emendations, I swear that when I tasted the filling before spooning it into the pie crusts, the years melted away and I was right back in that teensy-weensy first apartment, home from my job at the health food store and feeling like a Real Grown Up, with a glass of wine and a boyfriend on his way home and everything. (NB the circa 1987 Jerry Garcia Band show playing in the background did nothing to dispel this illusion). In short, these pies were absolutely delicious, and I am now inspired to revise and revisit more old favorites; watch this space, because that Whole Wheat Macaroni, Russian Style is gonna get veganized, and soon!

Moosewood Russian Carrot Pie, Veganized
The Cheesy Part
~1 lb. extra firm tofu, drained and crumbled
~3/4 cup raw cashews, soaked in hot water for at least an hour
~2 tbsp. oil (I used canola)
~1 tsp. each: salt, paprika, dill
~Pinch of nutmeg
~A few grinds of fresh black pepper

~Combine all of the above ingredients and puree thoroughly in a a food processor (wasn't that easy?)
~Set aside while you make...

The Carroty Part
~1 tbsp. Earth Balance (Mollie wanted 3 tbsp. butter: oy!)
~1 cup finely chopped onions
~1 lb. carrots, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
~1 tsp. each: salt, paprika
~2 tsp. dill
~Fresh black pepper, to taste
~3 tbsp. flour

~2 single pie crusts; I used store bought, but if you prefer home-made, go for it (in fact, Mollie recommends an "eagerly awaiting nut crust," make of that what you will)!
~1/2 cup panko crumbs
~1 tbsp. melted Earth Balance
~1/2 tsp. each: dill and paprika, for garnish

~Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit.
~In a large skillet or wok, melt the Earth Balance and saute the onions until soft, about 10 minutes.
~Add the sliced carrots, salt, paprika, dill and black pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes more, until the carrots are soft but not mushy.
~Stir in the flour to coat the vegetables, and remove from heat.
~Add the tofu mixture to the vegetables and combine thoroughly. Spoon the filling into your (eagerly awaiting) pie crusts.
~In a small bowl, combine the panko, melted EB, dill and paprika, then sprinkle half the mixture over each pie. Cover with foil, and bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.
~After 15 minutes, raise the heat to 400 degrees, remove the foil and bake an additional 15 minutes, keeping an eye on things to make sure the topping doesn't burn.
~Remove from oven and allow to set up for at least 10-15 minutes before slicing. We ate our carrot pie with a green salad topped with toasted walnuts, fresh basil, and Annie's Organic Goddess Dressing (because we're still kinda hippies).

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pumpkin French Toast

Happy Halloween, Mo'foers! Hard to believe that we've already come to the end of the month, innit? Over the last 31 days, I have been so impressed by the creativity, skill and talent of the vegan bloggers who participated in our annual month of compassionate gluttony; if we get to even half the recipes we want to make before December, it will be this year's Miracle of Christmas! In honor of All Hallow's Eve, my last post for Vegan MoFo III features everyone's favorite member of the squash family in the uncannily delicious Pumpkin French Toast. This is basically a mash-up of a couple different recipes, along with my own messing around, but believe me when I tell you that the appeal of this breakfast staple is only enhanced by some sweet, jack-o-lanterny goodness. The trick to making this treat is chickpea flour; it imparts an astonishing (dare I say it?) "egginess" to the batter and helps it crisp up as it fries, so if you don't have any, go get some right now, okay? This is especially perfect on a crisp October day, but it's yummy enough to be a frightfully (Okay, I'll stop now) welcome breakfast--or brunch, or dinner--at any time of year.

Pumpkin French Toast

~1 cup pureed pumpkin
~1.5 cups plain soy milk
~2 tbsp. maple syrup
~2 tsp. vanilla extract
~1 tsp. cinnamon
~1/2 tsp. salt
~1/4 tsp. nutmeg
~2 tbsp. corn starch
~1/2 cup chickpea flour
~Oil or cooking spray
~8 slices stale or lightly toasted bread (I used Ezekiel, because that's what we had; a stale baguette would be even better)

~ Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
~ In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except the toasted bread and whisk thoroughly. The batter doesn't have to be totally smooth, but everything should be well combined. Place two slices of the bread in the batter and let it sit for a few minutes to soak up the pumpkiny goodness.
~ Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and coat with cooking spray or about 2 tbsp. canola oil.
~ Add the soaked bread to the pan and cook on each side for about 3-5 minutes, until miraculously brown and crispy; as you cook the soaked slices, put two more in the batter to await its turn in the pan.
~ Adding more oil or cooking spray as necessary to prevent sticking, continue until all the bread is cooked, transferring the finished slices to a baking sheet to keep warm in the oven.
~ Serve with Earth Balance, maple syrup, and maybe some stewed apples on the side, for a meal so good it's SPOOKY!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Big Fat "Turkey" Tetrazzini

When I was a little girl, one of my favorite games was "school" (as opposed to "house," which is also fun, but different). If no human playmates were available, I conscripted stuffed animals as my hapless students, and well into my adulthood, my mother told the story of the autumn afternoon when I began teaching at the university level. I lined up all the bunnies, puppies, kitties, etc. for their first lesson, and the text was my own composition: "Big fat turkey, gobble, gobble, gobble." This anecdote has followed me, yea, even unto graduate school; only a few months ago, my sister wished me luck on a conference paper via a text reading, "Don't forget to open with 'Big Fat Turkey.'"

I recall that first whiff of academia's rarefied, ivy-scented air as November draws near and images of those oddly noble birds begin appearing, especially since I'm mired in mid-term obligations and want nothing more than to escape into the kitchen. Singing sophisticated, turkey-related songs puts me in mind of Thanksgiving, which inevitably leads to thoughts of food, and thence to Oxfordian, perspiring dreams of bubbling casseroles. If you are anything like me, nothing says autumn-shading-into-winter like a beautiful pan of baked carbohydrates, and so today I offer a reimagining of that classic Thanksgiving leftover dish: (big, fat) turkey tetrazzini.

This casserole has everything any rational person could possibly want: noodles, mushrooms, creamy sauce, and crunchy topping; all without harming our feathered friends. Best of all, it was only about 90 minutes between the time I started chopping vegetables and my family's first appreciative yummy sounds. So what are you waiting for? Pop this baby in the oven, belt out a rousing chorus of "Big Fat Turkey," and enjoy a dinner like Mama used to make, but so much better, healthier, and kinder.

Gobble, gobble, gobble!

Big Fat "Turkey" Tetrazzini
~ 1 lb. pasta, cooked and drained according to package directions (I like fusilli)
~ 4-5 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 tbsp. vegan "chicken" bouillon (I swear by Better Than Bouillon)
~ 2 bay leaves
~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 yellow onion, chopped
~ 1 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 3 cups mushrooms, sliced
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, thyme, sage, parsley, marjoram, paprika
~ Fresh black pepper
~ 1-2 tbsp. flour
~ 1/2 cup vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast, divided
~ 1 package Trader Joe's or Gardein "chickenless" strips, cut into 1/2" pieces
~ 3/4 cup frozen green peas
~ 1 cup finely crushed Ritz crackers
~ 1 tbsp. melted Earth Balance (or other vegan margarine)
~ 1/2 tsp. each: parsley, paprika

~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit, and coat a large baking dish with cooking spray.
~ In a large beaker, combine the soy milk, the bouillon, and the bay leaves. Cover and microwave until hot but not boiling (you can also do this in a pot on the stove; just keep an eye on it so it doesn't boil over). Set aside.
~ In a large, deep skillet or wok, saute the onions and garlic in the oil over medium-high heat for 5-7 minutes.
~ Add the mushrooms and dry seasonings; cook about 10 minutes, until the mushrooms have released their liquid.
~ Add the flour and 1/4 cup of the parmesan or nooch, and stir for a minute or two.
~ Fish out the bay leaves from the soy milk/bouillon mixture, and begin adding in half-cupfuls, stirring constantly until combined.
~ Add the "chicken" and the frozen peas, mix thoroughly, and cook another minute or two until the peas are bright green. Remove from heat, add in the cooked, drained pasta, and transfer the whole business to your prepared baking dish.
~In a small bowl, combine the cracker crumbs, melted margarine, paprika, parsley, and remaining 1/4 cup of the parmesan or nooch; sprinkle evenly over the top of the casserole.
~Cover with foil and bake at 400 for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake another 15-20 minutes until browned (watching carefully to be sure the topping doesn't burn).
~Allow to set up for about 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Welsh Rabbit

Welsh rabbit is a funny thing. To me it represents (along with rice pudding and any number of potato-based things covered in gravy) the quintessence of childhood comfort food. Yet many Americans have never heard of it, and the basic definition - "melted cheese on toast"- is sadly inadequate to describe its ineffable homespun charm. The inexhaustible fount of wisdom that is Wikipedia tells us: "The first recorded use of the term Welsh rabbit was in 1725, but the origin of the term is unknown. It may be an ironic name coined in the days when the Welsh were notoriously poor: only better-off people could afford butcher's meat, and while in England rabbit was the poor man's meat, in Wales the poor man's meat was cheese."

That seems fair enough. My mother (who introduced me to this dish, probably in the womb) grew up during WWII, and there were times she'd have been lucky to get anything on toast, so we've got the poverty thing covered. The interesting part about my own early experience with Welsh rabbit is that, for some unknown reason, it was always associated with Sunday evenings in our house; I'm honestly not sure if we ever ate it on any other day of the week. Sometimes my mom made it, and sometimes my dad did, but in my memory it is inextricably linked with an early bathtime followed by The Wonderful World of Disney (each week, as Tinkerbell flew up to Cinderella's Castle and tapped it with her wand, you'd hope for something like Lady and the Tramp or Sleeping Beauty, but more often than not it would be one of those tedious offerings like The Love Bug, The Nutty Professor, or The Apple Dumpling Gang. *YAWN*). On such occasions, a few slabs of toasted crusty bread covered with gooey, mustardy, vaguely beer-scented cheese were the high point of the evening.

Now, the weirdest thing about this is that my partner recalls having exactly the same experience, right down to the Sunday-night-specifics! Since he grew up about 600 miles north of me, we are left to speculate that it must have something to do with my mother being British and his parents being Anglo-Canadian: perhaps, in their tender, formative years, Churchill had extolled the virtues of eating Welsh rabbit on Sunday as a means of defeating the Hun? My inner folklorist wonders if a tradition of having a comparatively "light" meal in the evening might have arisen as a result of the big "Sunday lunch" so beloved by the English at midday, but research into the matter has thus far yielded nothing to link this poor Welshman's treat to the Lord's day of rest. So if anyone out there knows anything about this, let me know, okay?

At this point in my ramble down Memory Lane, the gentle reader would be forgiven for thinking, "Oi! You don't eat cheese or rabbits, innit? So wot's yer bleedin' point?" (Assuming the gentle reader is an '80s skinhead.) Well, last week it occurred to me that some melty cheesy stuff on bread might be just the thing to temporarily chase away those overscheduled mid-semester blues. There was about a cup remaining in our dwindling hoard of cheddar-flavor Daiya, but with the addition of some Coleman's mustard and help from the one lonely beer in the house (among other things), I was able to come pretty close to the taste of those long-ago Sunday nights. I've now made it twice, with excellent results; first on a Tuesday evening, and then on a Saturday morning. The fact that this radical departure from tradition caused no discernible tear in the space:time continuum leads me to believe it would be perfectly safe to whip up a batch any day of the week, so go mental! That said, I think I'll wait for a Sunday to make it next time, then get into my pajamas and fire up 101 Dalmations for old times' sake.

Who says you can't go home again?

Welsh Rabbit
~2 tbsp. Earth Balance
~1/4 cup finely minced onion
~2 tbsp. flour
~1/2 tsp. each: salt, white pepper, paprika, turmeric
~1 heaping tsp. dry mustard (I used Colman's)
~ Pinch nutmeg
~ 3/4 cup decent beer or brown ale (not stout)
~ 2 tsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce
~ 1 tsp. Marmite
~1 cup cheddar flavor Daiya (or other vegan cheese; I love Cheezly when I can get it)
~1/4 cup nutritional yeast
~1 tbsp. lemon juice
~A shot of hot sauce (optional)
~8 slices ripe tomato, patted dry, salted & peppered, and/or 1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced and browned in a very hot pan (also optional, but nice)
~1 large baguette, sliced lengthwise, cut into 8 slab-like slices and toasted lightly

~Preheat oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit (my oven tends to be slow; you know yours best, so adjust accordingly).
~In a saucepan, melt the Earth Balance and saute the minced onion over medium-low heat about 5 minutes, until softened but not browned.
~Stir in the flour, salt, paprika, turmeric and mustard. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, another 3 minutes or so.
~Whisk in the beer, Worcestershire sauce, and Marmite; keep stirring!
~When the mixture is smooth, turn heat to low and add the Daiya cheese and nutritional yeast, stirring until you get a smooth, uniform texture.
~Add the lemon juice and hot sauce and cook another minute or two. Remove from heat and allow to sit about 5 minutes. (It will get a bit gloppy as it cools; no worries!)
~Spoon the mixture onto the toasted baguette slices, top with a tomato slice and/or sautéed mushrooms, if using, and place on a baking sheet.
~Cook at 450 degrees for about 10-12 minutes, until golden brown and bubbly. If you like, turn the broiler on for the last minute or two, but keep a careful eye so they don't burn!
~Allow to cool for a few minutes and devour. Blimey!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Quasi-Persian Eggplant Stew

Ever since reading my friend Bazu's lovely post about her grandmother, I've had Persian food on my mind. This is a cuisine with which I'm not very familiar apart from a few memorable restaurant experiences; while it shares some elements with my father's Greek heritage (both feel the eggplant love in a big way), there's a certain sweet-smoky-spicy-sour-something that really sets it apart.

Today's recipe came about on a rainy Saturday when our refrigerator had some eggplants burning a hole in its metaphorical pocket; I searched around a bit online, and what resulted was a sort of mash-up of various recipes incorporating the ingredients on hand. So while I make no claims to authenticity, I will say that this was pretty damned good, and it definitely hit the rainy-night-at-home spot, helped along by a pomegranate martini and a showing of The Letter on TMC.

Quasi-Persian Eggplant Stew
~ 4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ 2 cups onion, chopped
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic, minced
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, dill, parsley, cumin
~ 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
~ 1/4 tsp. each: nutmeg, cayenne pepper
~ 2 tsp. brown sugar
~ 2 small eggplants, cubed (about 6 cups)
~ 3 cups mushrooms, sliced
~ 2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
~ 1/2 cup vegetable broth or water
~ Juice of 1 lemon
~ 1 tsp. Liquid Smoke
~ 6 tbsp. tomato paste
~ 1/2 cup plain, unsweetened soy milk
~1 cup toasted chopped walnuts (5-7 minutes on a baking sheet in a 300 degree oven should do it)

~ In a large, deep pot, heat the olive oil and saute the onion 5 minutes over medium-high, until glassy.
~ Stir in the garlic and dry seasonings. Stir to combine and cook another few minutes.
~ Add the eggplant, stir to coat, lower heat to medium and cook 5-7 minutes, until the eggplant begins to soften.
~ Add the mushrooms and cook 5-10 minutes more.
~ Stir in the tomatoes, broth, lemon juice, liquid smoke and tomato paste. Mix thoroughly, raise heat to high and bring briefly to a boil, then cover and turn to low.
~ Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
~ Add the soy milk and toasted walnuts, stir to combine and remove from heat.
~ Serve hot with rice or couscous, and maybe some garlicky greens on the side.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Chile Cornmeal-Crusted Tofu Po’ Boys

Hi again, Elizavegan fans; guest post partner blogger here with another yummy recipe for you. Wednesdays are particularly nuts for our local goddess, so I thought some good comfort food would be just the thing at the end of the day. Looking for ideas, I flipped through the Veganomicon, Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s bible of culinary delights: it’s adventurous, eclectic, sometimes traditional, sometimes gonzo, and you’ll never get to the bottom of it. This is a pretty minimal revision of their version of a fishy po’boy. I first tasted a (fishy) po’boy in New Orleans some years ago, and I remember liking it a lot, despite the fact that (i) the party I was with had real trouble getting a restaurant table in the Faubourg Marigny at a busy weekend time (ii) we had consequently been substituting drink for food (iii) it got to be very late, and (iv) when the Po’ Boy finally appeared before me, though it was truly delicious, it seemed that the bread was too firm for the overall mise-en-scène, and the result was somewhat of a mess in my mouth and on the plate and table, and my lap. I daresay this was the point of the whole dish, and I’m just finicky, and perhaps had had one too many drinks at that time. Excellent nonetheless, and well worthy of adaptation. As I say, I didn’t mess much with Isa and Terry’s recipe. The main differences are:

(i) For the mayo, I started with dried chipotle peppers and soaked them in boiling water for an hour or two, instead of using canned peppers. It’s pretty similar – I just enjoy soaking dried things.
(ii) Instead of making coleslaw, I just bought broccoli slaw from the supermarket and threw it right into the mayo.
(iii) I thought a baguette might be too stiff for this sandwich (perhaps I was still traumatized by the big mess in NOLA), so I substituted a “Portuguese Roll” (???) from the same local supermarket, which seemed to me a step up in soft trashiness from the ubiquitous “bulkie roll.” Whatever – this stuff is going to taste good on anything!

Chile Cornmeal-Crusted Tofu Po’ Boy
(slightly adapted from Veganomicon)

The Tofu

~Corn or other vegetable oil for frying
~1 pound extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed for 1 hour (following Desdemona’s lead on this, I put several layers of paper towel underneath it, several above it, then wrapped it in a small towel and put a cast iron frypan and a couple of big cans of food on top. A lot of water will come out of it)
~1 cup soy or rice milk
~2 tablespoons cornstarch
~1 cup cornmeal
~2 tablespoons chili powder
~1 teaspoon ground cumin
~½ teaspoon cayenne
~1 tablespoon grated lime zest
~1 ½ teaspoons salt

~Slice the tofu widthwise into eight slices, then cut each of those slices in half diagonally – from the upper left corner to the lower right corner – so that you have sixteen long triangles. Set aside.
~Combine the soy milk and cornstarch in a wide, shallow bowl. Mix vigorously with a fork until the cornstarch is mostly dissolved.
~In another shallow bowl, toss together the cornmeal, spices, lime zest, and salt.
~Heat about ¼ inch of oil in a large skillet (cast iron or nonstick) over medium heat. To test if the oil is ready, sprinkle in a pinch of batter. When the batter sizzles and bubbles form rapidly around it, you’re good to go.
~Dip each individual tofu slice in the soy milk mixture. Drop it into the cornmeal with your wet hand and use your other (dry) hand to dredge it in the mixture, so that it’s coated on all sides. I managed to do it all in one large pan without crowding; if it seems crowded, do two batches.
~Fry tofu for 3 minutes on one side, use tongs to flip over each piece, and fry for 2 more minutes. Admire it while it cooks, cuz it’s so purty.
~Drain the fried tofu on a clean paper bag or paper towels.

The Spread

~½ cup vegenaise
~2 dried or canned chipotles
~½ cup slaw (I used brocolli/carrot/cabbage slaw, but any bought or homemade slaw will do)

~If you’re using dried chipotles, soak them in ½ cup boiling water for two hours, then chop them finely. Combine all ingredients. If you want to thin it out a bit, pour in a little of the soaking or canned liquid – it will increase the agreeably smoky spiciness.
~Slice and toast your rolls or bread. For extra excitement, discard the frying oil but leave a bit in the pan, then grill the rolls in that for a minute or so. Yum!
~Put three triangles of tofu and a dollop of spread on each roll, and laissez les bons temps rouler!!!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Samosa-esque Chickpea Pancakes

The past few weeks have been a blur of stuff - some good, some bad, and some downright ugly - with the result that I haven't been doing as much cooking as usual. There are the evenings when I'm out, but also a fair few when I'm home but just too tired and/or lacking in ambition to get busy in the kitchen. This is unfortunate, because I generally use cooking as a way to unwind and decompress: a little music, a cheerful cocktail, some chit-chat with my partner, kids, dog, cat - typically some combination of these - and I'm able to gain some temporary distance from whatever's pressing my stress button.

That being the case, I've found myself compensating by cooking at weird times, like weekday brunch (one of the many sweet things about being a grad student living with a professor who is currently on leave!). In fact, this very morning I announced my intention to "do something crazy with chickpea flour and that bowl of leftover mashed potatoes," a threat upon which I proceeded to make good. The result was something between a pancake, a crepe, and a dosa, with a vaguely samosa-like filling. They were really good, and really filling; we only managed to finish one apiece, so there will be plenty of leftovers. Most importantly, making this satisfied my craving to cook while providing the necessary fuel for yet another multi-faceted day. On to the next thing!

Samosa-esque Chickpea Pancakes
The Filling
Ingredients~1 tbsp. oil (I used canola)
~1 cup onion, chopped
~1 tbsp. garlic, minced
~1 tsp. each: salt, paprika, curry powder, cumin
~1/2 tsp. dill
~1/4-1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste
~A few grinds of black pepper
~3 scallions, thinly sliced
~1/2 cup green peas, fresh or frozen
~2-3 cups leftover mashed potatoes

~In a large skillet or wok, heat the oil and saute the onion over medium-high heat about 5 minutes.
~Add the garlic and all seasonings and continue cooking another few minutes.
~Raise the heat to high, add the scallions and mashed potatoes and mix thoroughly. Continue cooking for another 5 minutes or so, being careful to keep the mixture moving so it doesn't stick (you can add a splash of water if necessary).
~Add the green peas, stir to combine, and cook 5 minutes more, until the mixture is getting browned and slightly crispy.
~Cover and set aside to keep warm while you make...

The Pancakes

~1 1/3 cup chickpea flour, firmly packed
~1/2 teaspoon each: salt, curry powder
~1/4 teaspoon turmeric (optional)
~1 1/4 cup water
~Vegetable oil for cooking

~In a large beaker, sift the chickpea flour, salt, curry powder and turmeric.
~Slowly add the water, stirring well to eliminate any clumps.
~Coat a large non-stick skillet with a thin layer of oil and heat to medium-low.
~Stir the batter and pour about 1/2 cup into the skillet. Turn and tilt the
skillet to spread the batter into a circle about 6" in diameter.
~Cover the skillet and let cook for about 5 minutes; the pancake should be slightly
crisp at the edges and bottom.
~Carefully ease a plastic spatula underneath, lift it and place on a plate. Cover the plate with foil to keep warm until all the batter has been used.

The Assembly (this is the easy part)
~Place a pancake on your plate (warmed plates are nice!), then spoon about the filling across one side.
~Fold over, et voila! Serve immediately, ideally with some sweet mango pickle or chutney. (This would actually make a great dinner, especially with some dal and a green vegetable on the side to round things out.)