Thursday, December 29, 2011

Savory French Toast (or Got My Mojo Workin')

I've really been enjoying getting back in touch with my kitchen mojo this past week or so, and the (temporary) leisure has awakened my (temporarily) dormant urge to experiment. Today's brunch/lunch was a perfect example, because it's something I've been wanting to try but for which I have had neither time nor energy: French toast that isn't sweet!

When it comes to breakfast foods, I rarely see the appeal in sugary things if there's a savory alternative. Don't get me wrong; I like a stack of pancakes with maple syrup just fine, but I'll get a whole lot more excited if those are potato pancakes or (better yet) black pepper biscuits with gravy. Every time we go to a place that does vegan brunch - of which there are increasingly numerous examples these days, thanks be to god - there's a plethora of French toast offerings featuring stuff like berry sauces, whipped cream, and (what??) chocolate chips, but there's a conspicuous lack of a savory version of this ever-popular breakfast staple. So it became apparent that if I wanted such a thing, I had to make it my own damn self.

To my knowledge, the closest non-sweet analogue is a dish served in the UK made from stale bread soaked in milk and beaten egg, fried in butter, and seasoned with salt and pepper. They call it by the refreshingly straightforward name "eggy bread," but since my version is ovum-free I've opted for "savory French toast" despite its cross-Channel spirit. The beauty of this is its versatility: we had ours with sautéed mushrooms and Hollandaise sauce (recipe below), but it would be great with asparagus, garlicky greens, roasted tomatoes, or anything you please. Then again, it would be fine served as is, or as an accompaniment to roasted potatoes, baked beans, stewed tomatoes, or tofu scramble. Bon appétit!

Savory French Toast
Ingredients
~ 1.5 cups plain soy milk
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, paprika, marjoram, dry mustard
~ A few generous grinds of fresh black pepper
~ 2 tbsp. corn starch
~ 1 cup chickpea flour
~ 8-10 slices stale or lightly toasted baguette
~ Canola oil or cooking spray

Directions
~ Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
~ In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except the 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.
~ Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and coat with cooking spray or a very thin coat of 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 their 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 hot as is, or topped with sautéed mushrooms, asparagus, leafy greens, or whatever you like. If you're feeling fancy, you might also drizzle on a nice sauce like this hollandaise (think of it as the new maple syrup).

Hollandaise Sauce
Ingredients
~ 3/4 cup raw cashews
~ 2 cups plain, unsweetened soy (or other non-dairy) milk
~ 1/4 tsp. saffron threads
~ 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, turmeric, dry mustard
~ A few grinds of black pepper
~ 1 tbsp. Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
~ 1 tsp. tarragon
~ 1 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 2 tbsp. flour
~ Juice of 1 lemon

Directions
~ Heat the soy milk almost to boiling, add the cashews and the saffron threads, and allow to soak for 30 minutes.
~ In a food processor, combine the milk/cashew mixture, the nutritional yeast, salt, turmeric, mustard and pepper. Blend thoroughly until smooth.
~ In a saucepan, melt the margarine over low heat, then add the garlic and tarragon. Saute briefly before adding the flour to make a roux.
~ Raise the heat to medium, then begin gradually adding the blended milk/cashew mixture, stirring continually.
~ Cook about 5-7 minutes, continuing to stir, until heated through and thickened; if the sauce gets too thick, add a little water to thin it out to the consistency you like.
~ Remove from heat, stir in the lemon juice, and serve hot.

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