Monday, April 26, 2010

Moosewood-Inspired Macaroni, Russian Style


This is more of an homage than a straight-up veganization of Mollie Katzen's "Whole-Wheat Macaroni, Russian Style," from the classic Moosewood Cookbook. The original was a great favorite back when I was living in my first apartment, learning to cook and experimenting with the goodies I brought home from the local health food store. In those days, I was a skinny little vegetarian, completely unfazed by the fact that, like many dishes in Moosewood and its follow-up, The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, this carbtastic standby featured shocking quantities of butter, both cheddar and cottage cheeses, and a hefty dose of sour cream, just to ensure no artery was left unclogged.

Youthful metabolisms being what they are, neither I nor the people to whom I served it took any permanent harm, but while I can't vouch for the recipe's "Russian" street cred - especially since Mollie suggested topping it with sunflower seeds and/or that standby of 1970s hippie cookbooks, wheat germ - I will say that it was extremely filling. Like, "I think I'll go lie down for a while" filling.

In this lighter, more animal-friendly version, the dairy-fest has been replaced with a combination of cashew ricotta and soy yogurt, the mushrooms, onions and seasonings increased to make up for the fact that I didn't have the cabbage called for in the prototype, and the caraway seeds completely eliminated, for the simple reason that I don't like them. So there.

Finally, I eschewed the wheat germ in favor of panko crumbs to give the whole business that crispy, crunchy goodness that is the birthright of all casseroles. Baked to golden perfection and served with a side of sauteed green beans and caramelized shallots, this was a cozy Sunday night dinner as it exists in the mind of God (especially if he happens to be vegan, Russian, and/or a bit of a hippie).

Moosewood-Inspired Macaroni, Russian Style

The Filling

Ingredients
~ 1 cup raw cashews, soaked and drained
~ 2 lbs. firm tofu, drained and crumbled
~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1/3 cup lemon juice
~ 1 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, parsley, dill
~ 2 cups plain, unsweetened soy yogurt

Directions
~ In a food processor, combine the first 6 ingredients (cashews through dry seasonings), and blend until smooth.
~ Transfer the tofu mixture to a large bowl, then stir in the yogurt. Combine thoroughly and set aside.

The Veggies

Ingredients
~ 2 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 2 large onions, chopped
~ 1 lb. mushrooms, thinly sliced (I used baby bellas)
~ 1 large carrot, diced fine
~ 2 tsp. dill
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, paprika, parsley
~ A few generous grinds of fresh, black pepper
~ 1 green bell pepper, diced

Directions
~ In a large skillet, melt the margarine and saute the onion over medium heat for 5 minutes.
~ Add the carrot, mushrooms and spices, and cook another 10 minutes, until soft.
~ Add the green pepper, and cook another few minutes. Remove from heat.

Also
~ 1 lb. macaroni, or similar size pasta (white or whole wheat), cooked until al dente, drained, and tossed with a little margarine to prevent sticking.
~ 1/2 cup panko crumbs
~ 1 tbsp. margarine, melted
~ Paprika and dried parsley for garnish

The Assembly
~ Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit, and coat a 9 x 13" baking dish or casserole with cooking spray.
~ Combine the filling, sauteed vegetables and cooked pasta, then transfer to the prepared baking dish.
~ Sprinkle the panko on top of the pasta mixture, drizzle on the margarine, and sprinkle with a little paprika and parsley.
~ Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes.
~ Remove the foil and bake another 15 minutes, until browned and bubbling.
~ Allow to sit for a few minutes before serving.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Swedish Meat(less) Balls with Mushroom Gravy

For the early years of my adult life, I lived with a Swede; my children are half Swedish, and I feel attached to Scandinavian culture for many reasons. (These include - but are not limited to - my own English heritage, that whole medieval/Anglo-Saxon/Viking/Danegeld thing, and a truly excellent seminar on Norse mythology and Icelandic sagas, which I took a few years back with the amazing Steve Mitchell at Harvard.) In any case, there's a lot to like - cool folklore, nifty holiday customs, those cute wooden horses, socialized everything, Elsa Beskow stories, aqavit - but the one area where the lovefest starts to fall apart is the food. The traditional Scandinavian menu tends to be heavy on starch, roots, dairy and meat/fish, without a whole lot of seasonings to liven them up; the desserts are nice, but I don't really care about sweets, and [wo]man does not live by princess torte alone, right? This being the case, holiday meals on that side of the family often left me feeling hungry - not to mention tipsy - and while I loved our several trips to the Old Country, and enjoy knäckebröd as much as the next girl, one reaches a point where the dearth of leafy greens and corresponding ubiquity of boiled potatoes seems a reasonable explanation for the berserker phenomenon.

So it seemed somewhat perverse that on a recent, unseasonably cold and rainy afternoon, I was struck with a craving for - of all things - Swedish meatballs. Gravy, noodles, lingonberries, the lot. Now, my (British, married to a Greek) mother has long been famous for her Swedish meatballs, which follow an old-school recipe that entails grinding up pretty much everyone in the farmyard - "Oops, sorry, Thorvald!" - but I clearly wasn't going to do that. Anyway, as with most veganizations, it's really a matter of replicating textures and seasonings, rather than "meat," per se, and meatballs are about as easy as it gets. There are a number of recipes online, many with a specifically Italian or Swedish twist, and there are also some very good ones available commercially, which tends to be my preference in these situations, since I'm A. lazy, and B. as far as I'm concerned this is really all about the gravy.

Google "Swedish meatballs," or even "vegan Swedish meatballs," and you'll get fairly consistent results, but when it comes to the gravy, they're all over the map: some versions are brown, some are red wine-based, some are creamy, and a few feature lingonberries in the sauce, rather than as a garnish. There are recipes that call for onions and/or mushrooms, include dill, allspice, or nutmeg, and others that are completely smooth, and hardly seasoned at all. My mom's rendition is a brown gravy with sauteed onions, and a little sour cream stirred in at the end, so I decided to make that the starting point, and work from there. To my mind, everything is more fun with fungus, so I added chopped mushrooms, and used soy yogurt in place of sour cream; I was also a bit more generous with the spices than most of the traditional models, but we think that's a good thing. All in all, this made for a very pleasant afternoon in the kitchen, and I'm happy to report that the results, served atop of a pile of noodles, with lightly steamed carrots, asparagus, and a dollop of lingonberries on the side, satisfied my deepest quasi-Scandinavian longings, while allowing the denizens of the barnyard to keep on mooing, oinking, etc. (NB that mashed potatoes are also a great vehicle for these; I just happened to be in a noodley mood). The best part? As luck would have it, there was actually some aqavit in the freezer: Skol, baby!

Swedish Meat(less) Balls with Mushroom Gravy
Ingredients
~ 2 12 oz. packages vegan meatballs, cooked according to directions (I like Nate's or TJ's)
~ 2 tbsp. Earth Balance
~ 1 cup diced onion
~ 1 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 2 cups mushrooms, chopped very fine
~ 3 tbsp. flour
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, parsley, dill
~ 1/4 tsp. each: allspice, nutmeg, cardamom
~ A few grinds of black pepper
~ 1 tbsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce
~ 2 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 cup plain, unsweetened soy yogurt

Also
~ 1 lb. noodles, cooked, drained, and tossed with margarine, salt, pepper and parsley
OR
~ A big batch of your favorite mashed potato recipe
~ Lingonberries (or unsweetened, whole berry cranberry sauce, in a pinch)

Directions
~ Cook the meatballs and set aside (I bake mine, but if you prefer them fried, go for it).
~ In a large saucepan, skillet, or wok, melt the EB and saute the onion over medium heat, about 5-7 minutes.
~ Add the garlic and chopped mushrooms, dried seasonings, and Worcester sauce; cook another 10 minutes, until the mushrooms are very soft and have released their liquid.
~ Stir in the flour and cook a minute or so, until thoroughly mixed with the vegetables.
~ Slowly begin adding the soy milk, stirring constantly. Continue cooking 5-10 minutes, until thickened (you can raise the heat if this isn't happening fast enough to suit you).
~ Stir in the soy yogurt and combine.
~ Add the cooked meatballs to the gravy, and heat everything through.
~ AT THIS POINT, you can serve the meatballs over noodles or mashed potatoes, OR you can go for the (highly recommended) gusto and...
~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit, and coat a baking dish or casserole with cooking spray.
~ Pour the meatballs and gravy into the baking dish, place in the center of the oven, and cook uncovered for 25 minutes, until the gravy has thickened and the meatballs have softened a bit.
~ Allow to rest a few minutes, then serve hot over noodles or mashed potatoes, with a dollop of lingonberries (or cranberry sauce), and - for the love of Odin! - some vegetables on the side.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Swiss Chard and Chickpeas with Taratoor and Toasted Walnuts


This all came about because I was feeling a bit jaded with the whole cooking thing - yes, this occasionally happens - but had a great, big bunch of beautiful swiss chard in the refrigerator that really needed to be cooked, tout de suite. Something vaguely middle eastern sounded good, maybe involving chickpeas, which hadn't appeared on the table in a while; I've also had a tahini jones lately, so maybe some kind of sauce...? In the event, I wound up massaging a few different recipes until we had the delicious dinner that I share with you here. As a matter of fact, it was so delicious that it was all gobbled up before we got around to taking a picture, but trust me (have I ever lied to you? Exactly). The nice thing about dishes like this is that you can easily substitute various ingredients - white beans for chickpeas, kale, collards or spinach for the chard, pine nuts for the garnish - and it will be just as good. (Also: if you don't feel like having/making the sauce, it will still be totally yummy, but come on - you know you want to!)

The Chickpeas and Chard

Ingredients
~ 2 tbsp. olive oil
~ 2 cups chopped yellow onion
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, cumin
~ 1/2 tsp. each: dill, red pepper flakes
~ 2 cups cooked chickpeas (or 1 15 oz. can, drained)
~ 1 bunch Swiss chard, washed and roughly chopped
~ 1/4 cup tomato paste
~ 1/4 cup vegetable stock or water

Directions
~ In a large, deep skillet or wok, heat the olive oil and saute the onion over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, until softened and translucent.
~ Add the garlic, seasonings and tomato paste and cook about 3 minutes.
~ Raise the heat to high, add the chickpeas, and cook a few minutes more.
~ Pour in the broth or water to deglaze the pan, then add the chard in batches, stirring until each batch wilts before adding the next.
~ Cover the pan and reduce the heat to low; allow to cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
~ Set aside to rest while you make...

The Taratoor

Ingredients
~ 1 cup sesame tahini
~ 1 tbsp. garlic, finely minced
~ 1/2 cup lemon juice
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 1/2 tsp. parsley
~ 1/4 to 1/3 cup ice water
~ 1 cup chopped, toasted walnuts (for garnish)

Directions
~ Place the first 5 ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree, adding the ice water in a thin stream as it blends, until you have the consistency of a thick mayonnaise.
~ Transfer to a small saucepan and warm slowly over low heat, making sure it doesn't boil.
~ Now you can...

Serve!
~ Heat up the chickpea/chard mixture, and serve on top of rice, bulgur, quinoa, or the starch of your choice.
~ Drizzle the taratoor on top (I love this stuff, so I tend to be, well...generous, but suit yourself; NB that it's also perfect on falafel), sprinkle on the toasted walnuts, and dig in.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Simple Kantola (spiky Indian gourd) Curry


On a recent trip to the Indian grocery, we picked up a few interesting and unfamiliar vegetables, including jackfruit (which wound up in a Thai-style green curry) and a bag of frozen kantola. Having never tried it before, we weren't sure what to expect beyond the label's description of it as an "Indian gourd." A quick web search revealed that its proper name is momordica dioica, "commonly known as "teasle gourd kakrol, kankro, kartoli, kantoli, kantola or kantroli...a relatively small, oval to ovoid vegetable, it is a very highly prized vegetable in the Indian sub-continent though relatively rare. It is only available during the rainy months." Fair enough, but what should I do with it? A little more digging came up with a basic curry recipe, to which I added onions, bell pepper, and a dash of sugar to cut the bitterness common to many gourds. With some naan and spicy pickle, it made a nice accompaniment to some leftover chana dal khichari; if you don't have access to kantola, I think this would be very good with okra, or even eggplant, which are more widely available. However, if you are lucky enough to have a good Indian market nearby, pick up some of this stuff and give it a go, if only so you can answer the inevitable question, "What's for dinner?" with "Spiky, bitter Indian gourds - you wanna make something of it?"

Simple Kantola Curry
Ingredients
~ 2 tbsp. canola oil
~ 1/2 tsp. black mustard seeds
~ 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
~ 1 red bell pepper, chopped
~ 1 12 oz frozen package kantola (Indian gourd), or okra
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, fenugreek powder, sugar
~ 1/2 tsp. each: coriander, cayenne pepper
~ 1/4 tsp. turmeric
~ 1/4 cup water

Directions
~ Heat the canola oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet; add the mustard seeds and fry over medium-high heat until they pop.
~ Add the onions, and cook a few minutes, until they are just starting to soften.
~ Add the bell pepper and fry about 3 minutes more; add the kantola and remaining spices, stirring to coat.
~ Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring at regular intervals to prevent sticking. If necessary, add a bit of water (up to 1/4 cup) to the pan to deglaze it.
~ Remove the lid, raise the heat to high, and cook another 5 minutes, stirring frequently until the vegetables are brown and slightly crisp.
~ Serve with dal, rice and/or naan bread, and the spicy pickle of your choice.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Leek and Mushroom Risotto


Henry V. Act I, Scene I. France. The English camp.

FLUELLEN:
I say, I will make him eat some part of my leek, or
I will peat his pate four days. Bite, I pray you; it
is good for your green wound and your ploody coxcomb.

PISTOL:
Must I bite?

FLUELLEN:
Yes, certainly, and out of doubt and out of question
too, and ambiguities.

PISTOL:
By this leek, I will most horribly revenge: I eat
and eat, I swear-

FLUELLEN:
Eat, I pray you: will you have some more sauce to
your leek? there is not enough leek to swear by.

PISTOL:
Quiet thy cudgel; thou dost see I eat.

FLUELLEN:
Much good do you, scauld knave, heartily. Nay, pray
you, throw none away; the skin is good for your
broken coxcomb. When you take occasions to see leeks
hereafter, I pray you, mock at 'em; that is all.

As we see from this heated exchange between the Welsh Fluellen (speaking in the politically incorrect, comic dialect assigned him by our favorite early modern playwright) and the English Pistol, not everyone is a born lover of the allium ampeloprasum. Which is a pity, since the leek is a fascinating vegetable with a noble heritage; as one of the national emblems of Wales, it is traditionally worn, along with the daffodil, on St. David’s Day, celebrated annually on March 1. Legend has it that this association stretches back to the 7th century, when King Cadwaladr ap Gwynedd ordered his soldiers to wear the vegetables in their helmets to commemorate a military victory over the Saxons, which happened to take place in a leek field (hey, it's no sillier than the Plantagenets being named after a penchant for sporting yellow flowers, right?). Shakespeare even has Henry V, the hero of Agincourt, admit to rocking the leek on "St. Davy's Day," in honor of his ancestor, Owain ap Maredudd ap Tewdwr: "I wear it for a memorable honour,/ For I am Welsh, you know, good countryman."

Beyond its roles as cultural signifier and fodder for Elizabethan ethnic jokes, the leek has a long and illustrious culinary history. According to Wikipedia, "dried specimens from archaeological sites in ancient Egypt, as well as wall carvings and drawings...[indicate] that the leek was a part of the Egyptian diet from at least the 2nd millennium B.C.E. onwards." Furthermore, "surviving texts...show it had been also grown in Mesopotamia from the beginning of the 2nd millennium B.C.E.," and "the leek was the favorite vegetable of the Emperor Nero, who consumed it most often in soup." But wait - if the endorsement of a ruler whom the Roman historian Suetonius described as having "...a body marked with spots and malodorous, his hair light blond, his features regular rather than attractive, his eyes blue and somewhat weak, his neck over thick, his belly prominent, and his legs very slender" isn't enough to convince you, consider that leeks are also a good source of manganese, vitamin C, folate, iron and vitamin B6.

Perhaps more important than all these things, however, is the fact that they are yummy. Leeks are closely related to garlic, onions, shallots and scallions, and while delicious when used in any recipe calling for those vegetables, they have a special character all their own. In our culture, they are most often found in dishes like potato-leek soup, but they are also lovely when roasted, in tofu quiches or scrambles, and in recipes like the one below (you were wondering when I'd get to the point, weren't you?). Risotto gets a bad rap for being labor and time intensive, but it's actually very simple - all you need is the right type of rice, a little patience, and about 30 minutes when you can stand at the stove, holding a wooden spoon and drinking a glass of wine. That doesn't sound too difficult, does it? So don't wait until next St. Davey's Day to pick up some leeks, some mushrooms, and a jar of Arborio rice, and within an hour you'll have a meal that could be proudly served to Cadwaladr, Henry V, and Nero - now that would be an interesting dinner party!

Leek and Mushroom Risotto
Ingredients
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 2 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 2 large leeks, cleaned, sliced in half lengthwise and chopped
~ 1 10 oz. package mushrooms, sliced
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ 2 tsp. tarragon
~ A few healthy grinds of black pepper
~ 1/2 cup plain, usweetened soy milk
~ 2 tbsp. Earth Balance (or other vegan margarine)
~ 1 medium onion, chopped
~ 1/2 tsp. salt
~ 1 tsp. parsley
~ 2 cups arborio rice
~ 1/2 cup dry white wine
~ 5-6 cups hot vegetable broth
~ Juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup)

Directions
~ In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and saute the garlic over medium heat for about a minute.
~ Add the leeks, and cook about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
~ Add the mushrooms, salt, tarragon and pepper, and cook 5-7 minutes more, until the mushrooms are giving up their liquid.
~ Raise the heat to high, pour in the 1/2 cup soy milk, and cook another minute or two, until the mixture is creamy and slightly thickened. Remove from heat and set aside.
~ In a large, deep saucepan, melt the margarine over medium heat and add the chopped onion, salt and parsley.
~ Cook about 5-7 minutes, until the onions are softened but not brown.
~ Add the rice, and cook for about a minute, making sure the rice is coated with the margarine/onion mixture.
~ Pour in the wine and stir to deglaze the pan.
~ When the wine has mostly evaporated, begin adding the hot broth about a 1/2 cup ladleful at a time, stirring constantly until all the liquid is absorbed.
~ As each ladleful is absorbed, add another, until all the broth has been used. Remember to keep stirring! (This part of the process should take about 20-25 minutes; if you think the liquid is disappearing too quickly, lower the heat.)
~ When all the broth has been absorbed and the rice is tender, add the leek & mushroom mixture, along with the lemon juice.
~ Stir to combine and serve hot, topped with a sprinkle of fresh parsley and/or basil.