Monday, April 16, 2012

Moussaka (almost) like Mama used to make!

I grew up thinking of moussaka as the sort of meal you make when you have lots of ambition and unlimited time to spend in the kitchen. My mom made it once or twice a year, and it was always kind of a big deal: not only was it time-consuming, it was nonsensically rich, and had that ineffable "special occasion" feeling that comes with a holiday or someone's birthday. 

Back when I ate animals, I used to love the stuff, but it didn't love me: eating the big plateful my mouth wanted meant making a deal with my stomach viz. the heartburn that inevitably followed. In later years, my mother made a vegetarian version using ground walnuts and chopped mushrooms for the meat, which helped some, but it could still be a bit of a gut-bomb. For ages after making the switch to vegan it was classed in the "too much trouble" category, until the Muse of Adventure paid me a visit and I decided to give it a try.

For me, the point of such an apparently quixotic enterprise is that aha! moment of
emotional, sensory recognition. In fact, one of my primary reasons for starting this blog was to have a place to record these experiments so that, having successfully conjured a fond memory or association by replicating some long-beloved recipe, I'd be able to A. do it again, and B. share the results with anyone who might be interested. 

So let's just say that I was dead chuffed at how well this turned out, and very happy to serve it to my family on Greek Easter (see above for pic. Nice looking group, eh?), which just happened to coincide with my birthday this year. The bonus? It's not nearly as much work as I imagined, and certainly nothing that a Bloody Mary or two couldn't ameliorate!

The Filling
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 2 tbsp. chopped, fresh parsley
~ 2 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 2 packages TJ's
veggie meatballs, mashed (or Nate’s, Gimme Lean, or other ground meat substitute) or 2 cups brown lentils, cooked until soft and mashed thoroughly
~ 1 bay leaf
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, basil, cinnamon, chili powder
~ ½ tsp. each: nutmeg, oregano
~ 1/2 cup dry red wine
~ 1 28 oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, including liquid

~ 3 tbsp. tomato paste
~ Fresh black pepper to taste

~ Preheat the oven to 400.
~ In a large, deep skillet or wok, heat oil, and sauté the onion over medium-high heat until golden, about 5 minutes.
~ Add the parsley and garlic, and cook for a few seconds before adding the mashed “meatballs" or lentils and the seasonings.
~ Continue cooking about 5 minutes, then add the wine and cook till it evaporates.
~ Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and continue cooking for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t stick (you can add a splash of water if necessary).

The Sauce
~ 1 cup raw cashews
~ 3.5 cups warm, unsweetened nondairy milk
~ 2 bay leaves
~ 1 tbsp. vegan margarine (e.g., Earth Balance)
~ 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
~ ½ tsp. salt
~ Black pepper to taste
~ Dash of nutmeg

~ 1/4 cup vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast
~ 1/2 cup cold soy milk, mixed with 2 tsps. cornstarch

~ In a beaker, microwave the milk, the cashews, and the bay leaves until nearly boiling. Allow to soak for at least an hour (the longer the better).
~ Remove the bay leaves, and puree the milk/cashew mixture until completely smooth.
~ In a saucepan, melt the margarine over low heat and whisk in the flour to make a roux.
~ Continue cooking for a few minutes, then gradually add the milk/cashew puree, whisking constantly.
~ Add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, and parm or nooch; stir thoroughly to combine.
~ Add the cold soy milk/corn starch mixture and whisk thoroughly.
~ Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until thickened (about 5-7 minutes).

~ Enough potato slices (about 1/8” thick) to cover the bottom of a deep casserole; I used 3 medium sized Yukon Golds.
~ Enough eggplant slices to form a similar layer. You can bread and fry these, bake them in the oven, or be totally lazy and cook up some of those frozen Dominex eggplant cutlets (which I have done with unqualified success).
~ About a cup of tomato sauce (jarred is fine).

The Assembly
~ Grease your casserole generously, and spread about a cup of tomato sauce on the bottom. Arrange the potato slices in an overlapping layer.
~ Cover with the filling, and arrange the prepared eggplant slices on top.
~ Pour the sauce over the whole business, smoothing with a spatula.
~ Sprinkle the top with a little extra paprika and parsley.
~ Cover loosely with foil and bake at 400 for 40-45 minutes.
~ Remove foil and continue baking another 20-25 minutes, or until golden and bubbly. If you like, you can raise the heat to 450 for the last few minutes to brown it a bit more, but keep an eye on it so it doesn't burn.
~ Allow the casserole to rest for about 15 minutes before slicing.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Simple Sesame Asparagus

This is one of those things that hardly deserves the designation of a "recipe," but is just too good not to share. The key thing is getting that oh-so-fleeting, super-thin baby asparagus; the thicker stalks can still be good, but you'll have to steam them longer, and I really recommend this preparation for the fresh, local stuff that needs very little interference. It's delicious hot, cold, or at room temperature, and with asparagus season upon us (can fiddleheads be far behind?), who can have too many quick, easy uses for everyone's favorite - albeit all too ephemeral - green vegetable?

Simple Sesame Asparagus
~ 1 lb. very thin young asparagus spears, snapped in half
~ 1/4 cup soy sauce
~ 1 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
~ 2 tbsp. sesame seeds

~ In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce and sesame oil; set aside.
~ Saute the sesame seeds over medium heat in a dry skillet, until golden brown and giving off a toasty aroma. Remove from skillet and set aside to cool.
~ In the same skillet, bring about an inch of water to a rolling boil. Place the asparagus in the water, cover, and cook for about 90 seconds (the spears should be bright green). Transfer immediately to a colander, and rinse with cold water to stop the asparagus cooking.
~ Blot the asparagus on a lint-free tea towel, transfer to a large bowl, and pour on the sesame/soy mixture. Sprinkle on the toasted sesame seeds, and mix thoroughly to coat.
~ Serve immediately, or if you'd like to have this cold, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.