Monday, June 28, 2010

Baked Hummus and Pasta Casserole

I think we all make the occasional mistake of preparing rather more food than we need, don't you? A few weeks ago, we had a party to celebrate my son's birthday and high school graduation, a party for which we had a lot of Middle Eastern food because A. we're part Greek, and B. everyone loves Middle Eastern food, right? And so they did, but when the cake had been consumed, the dust had settled, and the glasses were cleared away, we found ourselves with a surplus of leftover hummus. While the quantity in no way approached that shown in the picture (the current Guinness World Record holder, weighing in at a mighty 881 lbs, on a plate measuring some fifteen feet across), the fact remains that there's only so much pita and crudités you can eat before the thrill begins to wear off.

So, how to use up this beauteous bounty? It was one of those post-party days when you have a lot of some stuff (in this case, hummus; there were also a fair number of Kalamata olives) but not a lot of other things, combined with a complete lack of inclination to go shopping. Fortunately, there were enough staples on hand to whip up something that turned out quite beautifully. It's sort of like pastitsio, only I tossed the pasta with - you guessed it! - hummus, and replaced the traditional béchamel topping with a creamy sauce incorporating even more of that garlicky amalgam of chickpeas, tahini, and lemon juice. For a random weeknight experiment, it was a great success, and was so popular that it was all eaten within 24 hours, which may represent some kind of casserole-eating record, even for our hungry house. Definitely one to make again; probably the day after our next big party!

Baked Hummus and Pasta Casserole
The Filling
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 cup onion, chopped
~ 1 tbsp. garlic, minced
~  2 cups cooked brown lentils, mashed
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, basil, parsley, cinnamon, chili powder
~ 1/2 tsp. each: cinnamon, oregano
~ 1/4 tsp. each: nutmeg, cayenne pepper
~ 1/2 cup dry red wine
~ 1 15 oz can fire-roasted tomatoes, including liquid
~ 1 cup chopped black olives
~ Fresh black pepper to taste

~ Preheat the oven to 400.
~ In a large, deep skillet or wok, heat oil, and sauté the onion and garlic over medium-high heat until golden, about 5 minutes.
~ Add the mashed lentils and seasonings, and continue cooking about 5-7 minutes more.
~ Pour in the wine, stir to combine and cook another minute or two, until the alcohol smell dissipates.
~ Add the tomatoes and cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t stick (you can add a splash of water if necessary).
~ Stir in the chopped olives, remove from heat, and set aside.

The Sauce
~ 1 tbsp. vegan margarine (e.g., Earth Balance)
~ 1 tbsp. all purpose flour
~ 2 cups prepared hummus, homemade or store bought
~ 2 cups warm, unsweetened nondairy milk (I used soy)
~ Salt and pepper to taste
~ Shot of hot sauce
~ Dash of nutmeg

~ In a saucepan, melt the margarine over low heat and whisk in the flour to make a roux.
~ Begin gradually adding the soy milk, whisking constantly.
~ Mix in the hummus, salt, pepper, hot sauce, and nutmeg, stirring thoroughly to combine.
~ Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until thickened (about 5-10 minutes).

~ 12 oz. penne or ziti, cooked and drained according to package directions, then tossed with 1/2 cup prepared hummus.

The Assembly~ Spread the pasta evenly in the bottom of a greased casserole (mine is 9 x 13").
~ Cover with the filling, then pour the sauce over the top, smoothing with a spatula.
~ Sprinkle with a little paprika and parsely for garnish
~ Bake at 400 for 20-25 minutes, until golden; if you like, raise the heat to 425 for the last few minutes to brown it a bit more.
~ Allow to sit for about 10 minutes before slicing. This is pretty filling, so a nice green salad and a glass of cold, white wine should be all you need to round out the meal.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Asian Style BBQ Tempeh Wings

Wings, as the good people at Herbivore remind us, were created for flying, not for frying. That being the case, the "wings" in today's post have neither flown nor been fried, but are a variation on the sweet and spicy BBQ tempeh recipe I made a few weeks ago. We still had a few packages of that awesome Henry's Gourmet Tempeh in the refrigerator, and were looking for something Asian-tasting to go with the leftover dry sauteed green beans and brown rice from the previous night's dinner (a typical genesis for recipes around here). I basically just played around with the sauce until I got the flavor I was looking for, then proceeded as before. I've reposted the method for the tempeh, so you don't need to refer back to the earlier post; then again, if you're feeling ambitious and/or have a crapload of tempeh on hand, you might throw caution to the wind and make a batch of each! (Oh, and if you want some cool t-shirts, buttons, stickers, or other neato vegan stuff, go here and they'll hook you up!

Asian Style BBQ Tempeh Wings

The Sauce

~ 2 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
~ 2 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 2 tbsp. freshly grated ginger
~ 2 tsp. hot sauce
~ 2 tbsp. tart marmalade
~ 2 tsp. Liquid Smoke
~ 1/2 cup mirin (or dry white wine)
~ 1/2 cup soy sauce (low sodium is fine)
~ 1/2 cup agave syrup
~ 2 cups orange juice
~ 4 large scallions, thinly sliced
~ 2 tbsp. sesame seeds

~ In a saucepan, heat the seasme oil and saute the garlic and ginger for about a minute over medium flame.
~ Add all remaining ingredients except the scallions and sesame seeds, stir to combine, and bring to a boil.
~ Simmer, stirring often, for 20 minutes, until reduced by about a third.
~ Stir in the scallions and sesame seeds, cook another minute or two, then remove from heat and set aside while you prepare...

The Tempeh

~ 2 8 oz. packages tempeh
~ 1 cup plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 cup flour
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, ground ginger, garlic powder
~ 1 cup panko

~ Preheat your oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit, and coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
~ Cut the tempeh into four equal rectangles, then carefully slice those rectangles in half horizontally; using both packages, this will give you 16 pieces.
~ Set up an assembly line with 3 bowls: soy milk in one, flour and spices in another, and panko in the third.
~ Take a piece of tempeh, dip it in the milk, then in the flour mixture. Dip it once more into the milk, then coat it in the panko. Continue until all the pieces are used up, and place them on your greased baking sheet.
~ Spray the tops of the tempeh with cooking spray, and bake for 15 minutes. Remove, flip over, and bake for another 15 minutes.
~ Remove from the oven and set aside.

~ Ladle about a cup of your sauce into the bottom and spread it around.
~ Arrange your tempeh pieces in the baking dish, then pour the remaining sauce over them, making sure they're all nicely coated (you can flip them over once or twice to be sure, if you like).
~ Bake, uncovered, at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until the sauce has baked on and the tempeh is starting to blacken ever so slightly around the edges.
~ Remove from the oven and allow to sit for a few minutes before serving.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Random Weeknight Coconut Tofu Curry

By now it's pretty much an open secret that coconut milk and I are madly in love - we've been carrying on for awhile now, and the time has come for me to shout it from the rooftops. The funny thing is that this passion came as a bit of a surprise: as a child, I only ever encountered coconut in sweets, and never liked it. It invariably lay at the center of the last, forlorn chocolate in a Valentine's box, I didn't care for German chocolate cake, and when coconut made an appearance in a mainstream candy bar like an Almond Joy, it only spoiled my joy.

But what a difference a new cuisine can make: the first time I tasted a Thai coconut curry, I basically went out of my mind. From there on, I went on to get all swoony over Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Carribbean dishes, and eventually determined that maybe I could make some of this stuff myself. Many cookbooks and web searches later, coconut milk is a  cupboard staple, and while I still don't care for its flavor in sweets (of course, I'm not that crazy about sweets anyway), I adore and lust after it in savory, spicy dishes.

The recipe below is another curry that started out wanting to be something else, but wound up being massaged to suit the contents of my cupboard. I was running low on vegetables, and I think the inclusion of something green and crunchy (broccoli seems perfect) would only make it better. Even so, I don't mind saying that this was yummy-sound-inducingly good, and the fried tofu was probably the best I've ever made, which is sayin' summat. But it's the sauce that makes it special; it may seem a bit time-consuming, but most of that time is spent hanging out in the kitchen listening to music or posting nonsense on Facebook while it simmers. And anyway, trust me: it's totally worth it.

When it comes to coconut milk, I generally use the "lite" variety, sometimes the full-strength, and occasionally, when I want to pull out all the stops, the high test coconut cream, which can make a person gain five pounds just by looking at the unopened can. But so what? Coconut milk adds that ineffably rich, creamy, tropically exotic deliciousness to a recipe that never fails to make your guests (and even your jaded, experimented-upon family) say "mmmmmmm." And that's exactly what you want them to say, isn't it?

Random Weeknight Coconut Tofu Curry
The Curry
~ 2 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 1 tbsp. yellow curry paste
~ 1 tsp. each: dried lemongrass, coriander, hot sauce (I use Sriracha)
~ 2 tsp. Thai red curry paste
~ 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
~ 1 cup chopped, fresh coriander, including stems
~ 1 15 oz. can of lite coconut milk
~ 3 cups vegetable broth
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 2 tsp. each: curry powder, sugar
~ 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
~ 2 tsp. cornstarch

~ Place ingredients from the garlic through the fresh coriander in a food processor, then process to a semi-smooth paste.
~ Heat the remaining oil in a saucepan and fry the spice paste on medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring frequently – it should cook slowly, without burning.
~ Add the coconut milk, broth, curry powder, salt, and sugar, then simmer gently for 30 minutes.
~ In a small bowl, mix the lime juice and cornstarch and whisk until smooth.
~ Stir into the curry mixture, combine thoroughly, and cook another 5 minutes or so, until slightly thickened.
~ Remove from heat and set aside.

The Vegetables and Tofu
~ 1 tbsp. canola oil
~ 3 medium size carrots, cut into matchsticks (about 2 cups)
~ 8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
~ 4 large scallions, sliced
~ 3 cups chopped, fresh basil leaves
~ 1 lb. extra firm tofu, pressed and cubed
~ 1/3 cup cornstarch
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, curry powder
~ Extra oil for frying

~ In a large skillet or wok, heat 1 tbsp. of oil, then stir fry the carrots and mushrooms for 5 minutes over medium-high heat.
~ Add the scallions and basil and cook another minute or two. Transfer to a plate and wipe out the pan.
~ In a large zip-loc bag or bowl with a top, combine the cornstarch, salt and curry powder. Add the tofu cubes and toss thoroughly to coat.
~ Pour a few more tablespoons of oil into your skillet and heat it up to medium-high again. Shake off any excess coating, and place the cubes carefully in the hot oil; allow them to cook a few minutes before gently flipping them. (You might need to do this in more than one batch.)
~ When all the cubes are golden brown, remove them from the pan and let them drain a few minutes on paper towels or - even better - an old brown paper grocery bag.

~ Heat up the curry for a few minutes, then add the cooked vegetables and fried tofu. Once everything is heated through, ladle the curry on top of rice or noodles (short grain brown rice is my favorite), maybe with an extra squeeze of lime juice and/or some chopped peanuts.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Potato, Kale, and Black Bean Enchiladas

Let the sky rain potatoes;
let it thunder to the tune of "Greensleeves,"
hail kissing-comfits, and snow eringoes; let
there come a tempest of provocation, I will shelter me here.
- The Merry Wives of Windsor (5.5.18-21)

Ah, the homely, humble, yet glorious potato: staple comfort food for lo, these many generations. But when Shakespeare's Sir John Falstaff first uttered the words above, in the late 1590s, the potato was a relative newcomer on the culinary scene. Its first appearance in Europe, around 1536, was the result of Spanish expeditions to the Americas, and John Gerard, in his 1597 Herball of the same period, reports that potatoes were being grown in Italy by circa 1585. However, as has often been the case throughout history, the latest craze took a bit longer to reach England. It's generally agreed that the tuber that would launch a bazillion chips was first introduced there in 1580, when Sir Francis Drake brought them home - probably along with all sorts of other fabulous salty seadog booty - on his return from circumnavigating the globe.

The classic Blackadder II episode "Potato" gives credit to Sir Walter "Ooh what a big ship I've got" Raleigh, but this apparently has as much truth to it as that whole "throwing his cloak over a mud puddle so that Gloriana's dainty feet might remain unsullied" thing. That said, "Potato" holds a particularly soft spot in my heart; Tom Baker's Captain Redbeard Rum, addressing these timeless lines to Miranda Richardson's Elizabeth I, is worth the price of the whole boxed set:

"You have a woman's bottom, my Lady! I'll wager that sweet round pair of peaches has never been forced 'twixt two splintered planks, to plug a leak and save a ship!"

Sheer poetry; in light of such transcendent genius, one is prepared to overlook picayune quibbles about historical accuracy.

So regardless of who gets the nod for its introduction to that sceptr'd isle, Solanum tuberosum caught on quickly, and a pre-spud Albion is difficult to imagine. I can't recall the exact statistic (and am too lazy to look it up) but I remember reading in some English newspaper about the per capita consumption of potatoes, and being absolutely astonished. And while it seems doubtful that Elizabeth I, Francis Drake, Walter Raleigh, John Gerard, or the (fictional, and therefore abstemious in fact if not in reputation) Falstaff ever had the pleasure of eating enchiladas, I like to think this recipe would have scored an adventurous gastronomic hit in that golden age of rampant proto-imperialist, "exploration and discovery."

The recipe below was inspired by the Potato Kale Enchiladas from Veganomicon, to which I added black beans, extra kale, additional spices, and an almost completely different sauce, so it's more of an homage than a straight-up adaptation. This dish is not very spicy (and is pretty kid-friendly), but you could easily up the heat by adding some cayenne, hot sauce, or extra red pepper flakes to the sauce and/or filling. Be forewarned that this makes a huge pan - enough to feed the entire court, in fact - and they're very substantial, so be prepared for leftovers. The good news is that they'll be even better heated up tomorrow (and tomorrow, and tomorrow).

Potato, Kale, and Black Bean Enchiladas
The Sauce
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 large onion, finely chopped
~ 1 tbsp. chili powder
~ 1 1/2 tsp. cumin
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, marjoram, smoked paprika, sugar
~ 1/2 tsp. each: cinnamon, nutmeg
~ 1 28 oz. can crushed fire-roasted tomatoes, with liquid
~ 1 15 oz. can lite coconut milk
~ 1 cup Daiya, or other vegan cheddar, shredded
~ 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

~ In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, sauté the onions in the olive oil over medium heat, for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure they don't stick.
~ Add the seasonings, tomatoes, and coconut milk and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and cook about 5 minutes.
~ Stir in the Daiya and the red pepper flakes, and continue cooking until the cheese is melted and incorporated into the sauce. You can add a little water, broth or unflavored soy milk to thin the sauce if it gets too thick. Remove from heat and set aside while you make...

The Filling
~ 1 lb. waxy potatoes (I used Yukon gold), scrubbed and cut into 1" dice
~ 1-2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 2 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 1 red bell pepper, diced fine
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, cumin, thyme
~ 1 lb. pound kale, washed, trimmed, and chopped finely
~ 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
~ 1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
~ 1 package flour tortillas

~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit.
~ Heat a big pot of water, and boil the potatoes until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.
~ In the same large pot, heat the olive oil and saute the garlic over medium heat for a minute or two.
~ Add the bell pepper, salt, cumin, and thyme, and cook another 2 minutes.
~ Begin adding the kale by handfuls, stirring well with each addition to to incorporate it with the oil, garlic, etc.
~ Pour in the lime juice and cook another few minutes, until the kale is wilted.
~ Mix in the potatoes and black beans, making sure to mash some of the potatoes as you do so. Cook another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, and remove from heat.

The Assembly
~ Coat a large casserole or baking dish with cooking spray, and ladle a cup or so of the sauce into the bottom. (I like to place the baking dish on top of a cookie sheet to catch any leaks.)
~ Place about 1/3 - 1/2 cup filling in the top third of each tortilla and roll up into a tube. Place the filled tortillas snugly up against each other, seam side down, in your casserole until all the filling is used up and the dish is full.
~ Pour the sauce over the whole business, making sure to let it ooze down into the filled tortillas, and smoothing the top. If possible, set the assembled casserole aside and allow to sit for awhile before baking, so all the elements can get better acquainted; I left the most recent batch for nearly an hour and they were amazing.
~ Garnish the top with a little fresh parsley, cover with foil, and bake at 375 degrees about 25 minutes, until bubbling.
~ Raise the heat to 400, remove the foil, and bake uncovered another 15 minutes, until browned and lovely.
~ Set aside to cool for 15 minutes before slicing and serving with rice, guacomole, salsa, and maybe a green salad. (NB that sangria, a margarita - or even Falstaff's preference, a few flagons of Rhenish - wouldn't come amiss as an accompaniment. )

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Yet Another Corn (Maize) Soup

Few things herald the onset of summer more categorically than the appearance of fresh corn at grocery stores, farmer's markets, and cookouts. When I was a kid, it seemed like we ate corn on the cob all summer long - which is probably one of those nostalgic misapprehensions to which we are all prone when it comes to childhood memories - but even if it was true, it would have been fine with me, because I never got tired of the stuff. Here in Massachusetts, June is still a bit early for local corn (July-August is pretty much peak season), but the first ear to show up on my plate at a party or a BBQ still has the power to make me feel a little giddy inside.

If there is one truth universally acknowledged when it comes to buying corn, it's that one becomes inappropriately excited, and way too much gets brought home. Since corn should really be eaten immediately after cooking, the leftover ears wind up looking a bit forlorn, which is where soup comes in. I've been writing this blog for nearly two years now, and each summer - this being the third! - I've posted a recipe specifically designed to maximize the potential of this inevitable surplus. The version below is fairly simple, yet sort of beautifully herby and pure: no fake bacon, no potatoes, not much fat, just lovely corny goodness. We made this the night after a wonderful evening with our dear friends Andy and Heather, who kindly sent us on our way with the relict cornivorous bounty of a ginormous feast - for which we gave heartfelt thanks, because the results were delicious! (You can see the entire exchange depicted in the image above; I just really hope they washed those blankets we gave them in return!)

Yet Another Corn (Maize) Soup

~ 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ 2 cups chopped leeks
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1/2 cup each: diced celery, carrot
~ Kernels from 8-10 ears cooked sweet corn (about 6 cups)
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, thyme, parsley, ground rosemary, dill
~ 2 tsp. tarragon
~ Fresh black pepper
~ 1/2 cup dry white wine (cooking wine is okay)
~ 2 15 oz. cans lite coconut milk (4 cups)
~ 3 cups unsweetened almond (or other non-dairy) milk

~ In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook for a few minutes.
~ Add the garlic, celery and carrots, and seasonings; sauté another 5-7 minutes.
~ Stir in the sweet corn and make sure it gets all cozy and well-acquainted with the oil, spices, other veggies, etc.
~ Cook the vegetables for 5 minutes, stirring constantly, then pour in the wine to deglaze the pan; stir everything around and cook another minute or two.
~ Stir in the coconut milk and one cup of the almond milk, then cover and bring to a simmer.
~ Reduce heat to low, and simmer, partially covered (just crack the lid of the pot an inch), for 20 minutes.
~ Remove from heat and add the remaining almond milk.
~ With an immersion blender, partially puree the soup; you don't want it completely smooth like bisque, it should still have a bit of texture.
~ Return to heat, being careful not to boil, and serve hot, or at room temperature, if it's a sultry summer night.