Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sweet Potato, Chard, and Lentil Curry

This is a warm, comforting, mild - and healthy! - curry that makes a nice change from all those heavy, starchy, traditional western "holiday" foods that many of us have been eating this past month or so. I made this the day after our first proper blizzard of the year, which just happened to occur on St Stephen's Day. Served with saffron basmati rice and a dry-fried lotus root curry (recipe to follow, once it's been rationalized and typed up), it made a perfect meal on a cold winter's night when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.

Sweet Potato, Chard, and Lentil Curry
~ 4 cups lite coconut milk (2 cans)
~ 3 cups broth (I'm currently addicted to the Better Than Bouillon "No Chicken" flavor)
~ 2 tbsp. oil
~ 1 tsp. black mustard seeds
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 1 tbsp. each: minced garlic, fresh ginger
~ 1 tbsp. curry powder
~ 1 tsp. each: cumin, fenugreek, salt
~ 1/2 tsp. cayenne (more to taste)
~ A few grinds of black pepper
~ 3 tomatoes, chopped
~ 4 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1" cubes
~ 2 cups lentils, soaked (the longer they soak, the quicker they'll cook)
~ 1 large bunch Swiss or rainbow chard, chopped

~ In a large beaker, combine the coconut milk and broth and bring to almost boiling (a few minutes in the microwave).
~ In a large, deep pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat and add the mustard seeds. Stir them about a bit, and wait until they start to pop (be careful!).
~ Add the onions, garlic, ginger and dry seasonings. Stir to combine and cook about 5 minutes, until the onions are glassy and the whole mess is fragrant.
~ Add the tomatoes, and cook another minute or two before adding the sweet potatoes and 2 cups of the coconut milk/broth mixture.
~ Cover and cook over medium heat, about 10 minutes.
~ Add the soaked, drained lentils and the remaining coconut milk/broth mixture. Combine thoroughly, cover, and bring to a boil.
~ Lower the heat to simmer, crack the lid about an inch, and cook for 25-30 minutes, until the lentils are cooked and the sweet potatoes are tender.
~ Stir in the chard, allow it to just wilt, and serve hot, ladled over basmati rice.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas, and a very happy new year!

Many thanks to all the people who have the patience to read my ramblings, who take the trouble to try my recipes, and who spare the time to offer such wonderful support and feedback. I wish everyone a very happy holiday season, and all good things for 2011. (And, as Tiny Tim observed: God bless us, every one!)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wintry, Shroomy Stroganoff

About a week ago, after picking up our - beautiful, fragrant, eight-foot-tall! - Christmas tree, we stopped to refuel at the monthly all-you-can-eat buffet at our local Loving Hut ( Before leaving, we checked out the (rather dizzying) array of fake meat in the freezer case, and eventually came away with a package of May Wah "vegetarian pepper steak." In considering what to do with it, it occurred to me that  - since it's been really, really cold here lately - something involving noodles might be in order, and "beef" stroganoff sounded perfect. A quick Google search revealed that there are about a million recipes available, but I basically started with the one in the Fannie Farmer Cookbook and went from there. Since the original is extremely timid (a tablespoon of minced onion? Seriously?), I had some upgrading to do, but the end result was extremely satisfying, and gets my unqualified recommendation for those bleak, mid-winter nights when you want a hearty, homey dinner like Mama used to make. We liked the May Wah stuff, but if you don't have access to it, you could easily substitute some other vegan "meat" like seitan, Gardein, reconstituted soy curls, or just skip it altogether and use extra mushrooms, which to my mind are really the main point of this dish, anyway. It's very filling, so you're sure to have leftovers unless you're feeding an army; stroganoff is usually served over noodles, but a fluffy bed of mashed potatoes would work just as well. Since no plate looks right without something green on it, I steamed some string beans to have on the side, drizzled with melted Earth Balance and lemon juice. And Bob's your uncle: dinner!

Wintry Shroomy Stroganoff
~ 1 tbsp. Earth Balance
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 large onion, diced
~ 1 lb. fake "beef," sliced thin
~ 1 lb. mushrooms, sliced (2 lbs., if omitting beef substitute)
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, parsley
~ 2 tsp. each: paprika, dill
~ Pinch of nutmeg
~ A few generous grinds of black pepper
~ 1 tbsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce
~ 1 cup vegetable broth
~ 2 cups vegan sour cream or plain, unsweetened soy yogurt
~ 1 lb. noodles, cooked and drained according to package directions (vegan "egg"-style noodles would be perfect), or a big batch of your favorite mashed potatoes

~ In a large, deep skillet, melt the EB and the olive oil together, then saute the onions over medium heat, about 5 minutes.
~ Add the "beef" (if using) and cook about 5 minutes more.
~ Add the seasonings and the mushrooms, stir to combine, and cook - you guessed it! - 5 minutes.
~ Add the broth and the Worcestershire sauce, cover the pan, and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.
~ Stir in the sour cream, mix thoroughly, and remove from heat.
~ If using noodles, toss them with a little margarine or oil, salt, pepper, and parsley.
~ Place the noodles (or mashed potatoes) on plates, ladle the stroganoff on top, and serve garnished with a little extra parsley and a grind or two of black pepper.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Tofu Scrambly Breakfast Hash

Recently, tofu scramble and I have been enjoying a sort of passionate second honeymoon. It's not that we were ever properly estranged, or even got to the point where counseling was called for; it was more that I'd become distracted by other things. (Oh, all right, I'll admit it: I've been seeing other brunches, but it wasn't serious.) In the last month or so, however, I've been eyeing the scramble in a fresh and attractive light. I don't know if it's been working out or what, but suddenly the appeal of a skillet full of mashed tofu and veggies, generously dusted with nooch, has gone through the roof, and - to exhaust the metaphor (phew!) - I'm interested in exploring all kinds of exciting new possibilities.

This particular interpretation is really more of a scramble/hash amalgam, but this should by no means be seen as a mésalliance, since its end result was altogether more "love child" than "bastard." It came about because there was a big bunch of neglected kale in the refrigerator; when considering (yet another) scramble for breakfast, I thought I might as well toss it in. In the event, the kale sort of overwhelmed the measly 1/2 pound of smoked tofu we had on hand, so I chopped up a few Field Roast sausages, added them to the mix, and cooked the whole business to a crispy fare-thee-well. The finished product was tasty, and - yes! - nutritious, without losing that hearty, filling, warm-you-up-from-the-inside feeling you get from the best diner breakfasts. We had ours with roasted potatoes, and toast with our own home-made marmalade, which made the perfect fuel for a day of pre-holiday preparations. (And, tofu scramble? I promise to never again lose touch with how much you mean to me!)

Tofu Scrambly Breakfast Hash

~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 2 carrots, diced
~ 1 small (or half of a large) green bell pepper, diced
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, paprika, poultry seasoning
~ A few generous grinds of black pepper
~ 1 tsp. hot sauce (more to taste)
~ 1 head kale, stripped, cleaned, and chopped fine
~ 1/2 lb. smoked tofu, mashed (or use plain, firm tofu; I just happened to have smoked)
~ 2 vegan sausages, chopped (we had Field Roast Italian, but suit yourself!)
~ 1/3 to 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
~ 1/4 to 1/2 cup plain, unsweetened soy milk, as needed to prevent sticking

~ In a large skillet, saute the onion and carrot in the olive oil over medium heat, about 2 minutes.
~ Add the garlic, the bell pepper, and the seasonings, and cook another 2-3 minutes.
~ Add the kale, combine thoroughly, and cook until wilted.
~ Add the mashed tofu and the sausage, and cook about 5 minutes more.~ Stir in the nutritional yeast, raise the heat to medium-high, and cook another 10-15 minutes, stirring every couple minutes or so. If things get sticky, add a little of the soy milk to get things moving again. You want a crust to just begin to form on the bottom, at which point you mix it all up and let it happen again.
~ Serve hot with your preferred accompaniments.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Easy As Pot Pie

Here's a health to the ox and to his right eye, 
Pray God send our master a good Christmas pie, 
A good Christmas pie as e'er I did see. 
In the Wassail bowl we'll drink unto thee.
 ~ The Gloucestershire Wassail

It is my firm and considered belief that (almost) anything can be improved upon by being encased in, topped with, or otherwise surrounded by a layer of pastry. This universal truth lies at the root of my abiding passion for pasties, samosas, empanadas, and anything en croute, to say nothing of that classic example of Mom's Home Cooking, the pot pie. My mom was what I can only call a dab hand at pastry, and she made chicken or beef pot pie pretty often when I was little, probably because it was a good way to use up leftovers. Oh, god, how I loved those biscuity top crusts; if I could have managed it, I would happily have stolen the entire "lid" for myself, and left the filling for everyone else (minus most of the gravy, of course).

Considering my love for savory pastries of all types, one might imagine that I developed a facility for making them at an early age, but one would be mistaken; as with many things at which my mother excelled (gardening, sewing, knitting), the pie crust gene seemed to have passed me by. Until recently, when I've been emboldened to roll up my sleeves and roll out - if not in - some dough, in the hope that practice might in time make perfect. While I still wouldn't attempt some fancy-pants thing like pâte à choux, I'm happy to report that I can now provide  my household with all the pasties, biscuits and savory pies our greedy, carb-obsessed little hearts might desire.

This particular pie came about as a vehicle for the leftover mushroom gravy from Thanksgiving, and a worthwhile vehicle it proved. You could obviously use whatever "beef" substitute you fancy (seitan, Gardein, etc.), but I will say that soy curls are particularly good here because of their capacity to absorb liquid and flavor; similarly, you could toss in whatever veggies you have on hand, especially if you have leftover bits and pieces you want to use up. Pop this in the oven, make a batch of mashed potatoes, and in relatively short order you can be digging into a cold weather comfort meal par excellence: easy as (pot) pie!

"Beef" Pot Pie
The Filling
~ 1.5 cups soy curls
~ 3 cups mushroom gravy
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 1 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 2 carrots, cut into 1" slices on the diagonal
~ 2 stalks celery, diced
~ 2 bay leaves
~ 1 tsp. poultry seasoning
~ Black pepper to taste
~ 1/2 cup frozen green peas

~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit, and coat a casserole dish with cooking spray.
~ In a beaker, combine the soy curls and the gravy.
~ Cover and bring to a boil in the microwave, or in a pot on the stove top.
~ Allow to sit, covered, for at least an hour (the longer the better), until the liquid is mostly absorbed.
~ In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil and saute the onions and garlic over medium heat, about 2 minutes.
~ Add the carrots, celery, and seasonings, and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
~ Add the soy curls and mushroom gravy, and the frozen peas, combine thoroughly, and cook another 5 minutes or so, until everything is hot.
~ Remove the bay leaves, and transfer the mixture to your greased casserole. Set aside while you make...

The Crust
~ 2 cups all-purpose flour
~ 1/2 cup cold vegan margarine or shortening (I use a frozen stick of Earth Balance)
~ 8-12 tbsps. ice water

~ Put the flour in a mixing bowl, and cut or grate in the cold margarine or shortening. Mix with your fingers until you get a texture like course crumbs.
~ Add 8 tbsps. of the ice water and mix; add as much additional water as necessary to make a rough, slightly sticky dough.
~ Form the dough into a ball, then turn it out onto a floured board, and use a rolling pin to shape it fit your casserole dish. Carefully transfer the pastry on top of the filling, crimp around the edges to seal, and poke a few holes in the top with a fork.
~ Brush the top with a little plain, unsweetened soy milk, and bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the crust is golden brown. (NB that ovens vary - and mine tends to be a bit slow - so keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't burn!)
~ Allow to sit briefly before serving hot (accompanied, in a perfect world, by mashed potatoes).

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Killer (Glazed) Tofu

Fast food feels fuzzy
Cause it's made from stuff that's skuzzy
I always thought I was such a nerd
I refused to eat that strange bean curd
I wouldn't eat it, WOW! But it ate you!
Ah eeh ooh, Killer tofu.
Oooh eeh ooh, Killer tofu!

So sang The Beets, in the early '90s cartoon series, Doug. It's a catchy tune, but one that paints an inaccurate picture of tofu's agenda and/or capabilities: to my knowledge, there have been no known cases of tofu killing or eating anyone. On the other hand, "that strange bean curd" gets eaten a lot as a staple of many Asian cuisines, and of vegetarian diets all over out little blue planet. (Tofu brings magic happy!) At my house, we love us some tofu, and use it for all kinds of things: cashew ricotta, scrambled, pureed with chickpea flour to make frittatas, or as its own adorable self in a variety of dishes from miso soup to po' boys or vegan "fish" and chips. This sticky, sweet, slightly spicy glazed tofu is an easy way to turn out something pretty impressive in a short amount of time, making it perfect for a weeknight. Whip up some steamed rice and stir-fried green beans or bok choy, and you will have a - dare I say it? - killer dinner on the table in less than half an hour.

Killer (Glazed) Tofu
The Glaze
~ 2 tbsp. cold water
~ 1 tbsp. cornstarch
~ 1/2 cup orange juice
~ 1/4 cup soy sauce
~ 1/4 cup rice vinegar
~ 2 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
~ 1 tsp. hot chili oil (or 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes)
~ 2 tbsp. agave nectar
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tbsp. grated ginger

~ In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch and cold water; set aside.
~ In a saucepan, combine all remaining ingredients, bring to a boil for about a minute.
~ Stir in the cornstarch mixture. whisk to combine, and remove from heat.

The Tofu
~ 1 lb. extra firm tofu, drained, pressed, and cut into cubes
~ 2 tbsp. canola oil
~ 4 scallions, thinly sliced
~ Salt and black pepper

~ In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the tofu cubes, sprinkle with salt and black pepper, and cook about 10 minutes over medium-high heat, turning occasionally to make sure each cube gets browned all over.
~ Add the scallions and cook another minute or two.

~ Pour the sauce over the tofu and give the whole business a stir to make sure everything is coated.
~ Turn the heat to low, cover, and cook another 10-15 minutes, until the sauce has formed a sticky glaze.
~ Serve over steamed rice. (We had ours with Szechuan green beans: highly recommended!)