Saturday, January 31, 2009


Given my torrid, lifelong love affair with Middle Eastern food, it's shocking that I reached adulthood without encountering muhammara: a deceptively simple combination of roasted peppers, walnuts, bread, and olive oil that is immeasurably more than the sum of its parts. I was first exposed to this addictive dip at the home of an Armenian friend, via an enormous batch of his auntie's recipe served at a party. After eating almost the entire bowl, I begged for the magic formula so I could have more the very next day.

I made a few minor adaptations - more nuts, less oil, slightly more assertive seasoning - but otherwise it's pretty faithful, and I happily share the results with you here. Do be aware that this recipe makes a lot, but it tends to disappear quickly so trust me: you really can't have too much. It's good with pita wedges, atop a green or grain-based salad, or in a sandwich, but for the Optimal Muhammara Gluttony Experience I highly recommend getting your hands on some good lavash.

~ 2 12 oz. jars fire-roasted peppers, including liquid
~ 1.5 cups chopped walnuts, toasted in a dry skillet, or in the oven for 10 minutes at 350 degrees (watch closely so they don't burn!)
~ 4 slices toasted whole wheat bread, crumbled
~ 2 tbsp. each: minced garlic, lemon juice
~ 1 tbsp. pomegranate molasses
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, cumin, basil, paprika
~ 1/2 tsp. each:  fresh black pepper, red chili flakes (more or less to taste)
~ 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
~ 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

~ In a blender or food processor, puree the peppers, their liquid, the oil, spices, lemon juice and molasses
~ Add the toasted walnuts and crumbled bread; process until almost smooth, adding a little water to thin if necessary (you're going for a consistency a bit thicker than hummus, but still retaining a bit of texture).
~ Serve as a dip with lavash or pita bread and/or crudites, or make it a little thicker and use as a sandwich spread. Or cut out the middleman entirely and just fill the bathtub with it and climb in: yummy!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sweet Potato and Peanut Soup

Once upon a time, in the good old days before ginormous chain stores choked the life out of small local businesses, we had a great independent bookstore in our town, which was for years our go-to place for birthday gifts, holiday shopping, or just killing a little time. Besides the acres and acres of reading material, there was the added attraction of breakfast, lunch or dinner at their charming cafe, where you could sit down, rest your feet, pore over your new books and eat something yummy, like their signature African Peanut Soup. Now, there are lots of recipes for peanut soups out there, in cookbooks and on the interwebs, but their rendition was particularly spicy and delicious, and (as a purely aesthetic bonus) was always served in those thick, old-fashioned mugs that you find in diners.

Recently, my dear friend Valerie Clark mentioned how much she missed that soup, and paid me the signal compliment of requesting that I recreate it, which I have in all good faith attempted to do. To begin with, I looked at several different versions, including the one in Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant, and went from there, changing up the seasonings and adding some extra vegetables along the way. At the last moment I decided to throw in some greens, which turned out to be a stroke of genius, because A. they add flavor, nutrition, and do really nice things for the texture, and B. I'm obsessed with kale (of course, you can leave it out if you want, but I'll definitely include it in future batches). Also, feel free to add more heat if you want it spicier, especially if you don't have hot chili oil on hand; this came out just about right for us, but everyone's different!

Sweet Potato and Peanut Soup

~ 1 tsp. hot chili oil
~ 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ 2 heaping tbsp. minced garlic
~ 2 cups chopped onions
~ 1 cup diced carrot
~ 4 cups diced sweet potatoes (about 2 large)
~ 2 cups chopped, fresh tomatoes (or 1 15 oz. can diced, fire-roasted if possible)
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, curry powder, cumin, thyme, smoked paprika
~ 1/2 tsp. each: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice
~ 1/4-1/2 tsp. hot sauce or cayenne pepper (more to taste)
~ Fresh black pepper
~ 1 cup dry red wine
~ 5 cups vegetable broth
~ 4 thinly sliced scallions
~ 1 cup natural peanut butter, smooth or chunky
~ 4 cups chopped kale, spinach, chard or collards (I like kale best)

~ In a large, deep pot, heat the oils and saute the garlic and onions over medium heat for about 3 minutes.
~ Add the carrots, sweet potatoes and seasonings and stir thoroughly. Continue cooking another 5 minutes, adding a splash of water to prevent sticking if necessary.
~ Add the tomatoes and the wine and raise the heat to high, stirring constantly to deglaze the pan.
~ Add the vegetable broth, bring to a boil, and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 20-25 minutes, until the vegetables are completely cooked.
~ Remove from heat and puree with an immersion blender, or transfer in batches to a food processor before returning to the pot.
~ Turn the heat to medium-high, then stir in the peanut butter, scallions and greens. Combine thoroughly and cook another 5-10 minutes, until the greens have wilted, but still retain some of their chewy texture.
~ Enjoy with some nice, crusty bread, a glass of red wine and a good book.
~ NB that this also excellent ladled over grains like rice, millet and/or additional vegetables.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bush is Really Gone, and Obama is Our President!!!!!

(That is all. Our long national nightmare is over; I'm going back to my champagne!)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Double Cornbread

I love quick breads. (I also love yeasty breads that require multiple kneadings, risings, etc., while you make some giant, time-consuming stew, but that's another post.) There's just something so wonderful about grabbing a few things from the cupboard, throwing them into a mixing bowl, and having bread emerge from the oven within a half hour or so, especially on a cold morning. When I was a kid we always had homemade corn muffins on hand; I swear my mother must have baked them 3 times week, and I remember hers being very buttery and sweet. As what generally passes for a grown-up, I prefer a more savory cornbread, and have toyed with various approaches over the years. But by George, with this one I think I've really got it! For one thing, I highly recommend using a coarse cornmeal (I use Bob's Red Mill Polenta), and we like to add fresh or frozen corn for a nice, chewy texture. You can also throw in some scallions, chopped olives or sun-dried tomatoes, the sky's pretty much the limit; then again, you can also make it plain and simple with delicious results. This is great with the expected things like chili, or black-eyed peas and collards, but it's good for breakfast, too; the most recent batch was the perfect accompaniment to a tofu frittata on a snowy weekend morning.

~ 1.5 cups whole wheat pastry flour
~ 2 cups coarse cornmeal
~ 1 tbsp. baking powder
~ 1 tsp. kosher salt
~ 1/2 tsp. each thyme, smoked paprika
~ Fresh black pepper to taste
~ 1/3 cup oil (I used olive, but canola or safflower would be fine)
~ 2 tbsp. pure maple syrup
~ 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
~ 1 15 oz. can lite coconut milk (or 2 cups other non-dairy milk)
~ 1 tbsp. oil or vegan margarine
~ 1/5 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
~ 2 scallions, thinly sliced, and/or 1/4 cup chopped olives or sun-dried tomatoes (optional)

~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.
~ In a mixing bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients until combined.
~ In a separate container, combine the oil, coconut milk, cider vinegar, and maple syrup; stir thoroughly.
~ Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined.
~ In a skillet or saucepan, heat the oil and saute the scallions or other veggies (if using) and corn kernels over medium-high heat for about 5-10 minutes, adding a little salt and pepper if you like.
~ Remove the corn from the heat and stir into the batter.
~ Pour the batter into a greased 9 x 13" pan and bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until a knife or toothpick comes out clean. If you can, allow it to cool for 5-10 minutes so it can set up a bit before you slice it into big squares and devour it.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Avgolemono (without the "avgo")

My father's parents emigrated from Greece early in the last century; he and his eleven - count 'em - brothers and sisters were born in Chicago, but Greek was his first language. Thanks to this heritage, my own siblings and I were exposed to foods like baklava, spanakopita, dandelion greens with garlic and lemon juice, and a number of other things that seemed fairly exotic in our primarily Catholic, Irish and/or French Canadian working class neighborhood. One of my all-time favorite things that my father used to make was a thick, pale yellow soup called avgolemono, which was sort of like cream of chicken soup as imagined on Mount Olympus. It was made with chicken stock, lemon juice, and an egg beaten in at the very end. Sometimes (but not usually) he would throw in some shredded, leftover chicken, but I never really watched the process. I just ate the results.

Years went by when I would occasionally think about recreating this soup, especially after my father passed away in 2007, but I never bestirred myself until a recent craving inspired me to make a workmanlike effort. I looked at a few different recipes and then winged it by messing around with a dash of this and a splash of that, and  it turned out really tasty: definitely a "make again." I think this version has the perfect amount of nice, bright lemon flavor, but you can adjust the tartness to suit your taste. Also note that the turmeric is purely for color, but few things are nicer than a bowl of cheerful yellow soup on a grey, wintry day: something comforting and delicious that makes you think of a warm, sunny place where figs and olives grow on trees. (NB this is particularly good if you have a cold, or are just in need of the liquid equivalent of a hug.)

~ 2 tbsp. Earth Balance, olive oil, or 50/50
~ 1 cup chopped onions
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, dried parsley, marjoram
~ 2 tsp. dried dill (or a handful of fresh)
~ 1/4 tsp. turmeric
~ Fresh black pepper
~ ¾  cup dry white wine
~ ½  cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
~ 4-5 cups vegan "chicken" stock (I use Better than Bouillon)
~ 3 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 tbsp. corn starch or arrowroot powder
~ ½ cup long grain basmati rice, cooked in 1 cup broth
~ Optional additions: 1 cup cooked chickpeas and/or 1 cup frozen spinach, to be added after the soy milk and cooked rice

~ Cook the rice according to package directions and set aside.
~ In a large, deep pot, melt the margarine and sauté the onions and spices over medium heat for about 10 minutes.
~ Add the wine to deglaze the pan, stir, and cook another minute or two.
~ Pour in the lemon juice and the vegetable broth, and bring to a boil.
~ In a separate container, mix 1 cup of soy milk and the corn starch with a fork until smooth.
~ Add the soy milk mixture and the cooked rice, stir well, and then add the chickpeas and/or spinach, if using.
~ Add the remaining two cups of soy milk, mix well, and simmer over low heat another 10 minutes until thickened to your desired consistency, adding a little extra water or broth to thin if necessary.
Serve hot with crusty bread; add a green salad and a glass of wine for A Perfect Meal.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Tofu Frittata with Mushrooms and Spinach

I've realized, since starting this blog, that I make pretty regular references to The Vegetarian Epicure, which was one of the very first cookbooks I owned as a teenager, and from which I cooked well into my twenties. Since becoming vegan, I often find myself moved to revisit those recipes and adapt them to the way we eat now. The dish below is a prime example; as a fledgling cook, an unbroken omelet was completely beyond me, and a frittata offered all the same stuff without the attendant stress of turning out a flawless, golden brown crescent of Julia-Childesque splendor. This being the case, they appeared on my table with a certain amount of frequency in those years, making use of whatever vegetables happened to be on hand and usually turned out looking, and tasting, quite nice.

Nowadays, we are all about brunch, so it's not too unusual for us to eat some elaborate, multi-dish meal at 1pm on Saturday and Sunday, if time and opportunity serve. This Sunday I woke up after a shockingly late night, and thought about making a tofu omelet. But then I said to myself, "Hey, self, you haven't made a frittata in yonks," so that's just what I did. And man, was it yummy; it was also easy, which goes a long way with me. It has everything we like the most in breakfast foods: mushrooms, spinach, lots of garlic, tofu, nooch: a veritable cornucopia of brunchy goodness. With some roasted potatoes, toast, and a mimosa, Bloody Mary or a, um, fortified coffee (it's 1pm, people!), I guarantee it will give you the strength to finish the Sunday Times crossword, or take that nap you've been looking forward to all week. Or both. Why choose?

Tofu Frittata with Mushrooms and Spinach
The Vegetables:
~ 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 cup chopped onion
~ 1/4 cup each: chopped celery, carrot
~ 2 cups thinly sliced mushrooms
~ 1/2 tsp. salt
~ 1 tsp. each: dill, basil, tarragon, smoked paprika
~ 2 cups baby spinach

~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit
~ In a large skillet or wok, heat the olive oil and saute the onions, garlic, carrots and celery over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
~ Add the mushrooms and seasonings and cook another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
~ Add the baby spinach, stir to combine and cook until just wilted. If the mixture seems wet, raise the heat to high and cook a few minutes to evaporate some moisture.
~ Remove from heat and set aside.

The Batter:
~ 1 lb. extra firm tofu, crumbled
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
~ 1/3 cup unsweetened soy milk
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, black pepper, turmeric, paprika
~ 2 tbsp. soy "cream cheese" (optional but nice, I used Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese)
~ Extra paprika and dill, for garnish

Combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth (wasn't that easy?!)

The Assembly:
~ Coat a deep-dish pie plate with cooking spray
~ Spread the vegetables evenly over the bottom of the pie plate
~ Pour the batter over the filling, smoothing with a rubber spatula to cover the veggies
~ Sprinkle with a little paprika and dill to make things pretty
~ Bake uncovered in the center of the oven 25-30 minutes, until the batter is set and golden brown on top. (Check on it occasionally during the process, since ovens differ; mine tends to be slow)
~ Allow to sit another 10-15 minutes before serving with a little hot sauce, some home fries, toast, fruit salad, or whatever else turns on your brunch light.