Saturday, July 28, 2012


We are just back from a whirlwind trip to Portland, Oregon, where we attended the New Chaucer Society conference, saw (and met!) some wonderful friends, pounded the pavement, took a couple of beautiful hikes, feasted on vegan food, and even - yes! - shopped at what I believe is the world's only vegan mini-mall (thus far). All that is fodder for another post when I'm less travel-weary, but since I seem to have been on a roll of blogging our summertime standbys, I hereby present my go-to, killer approach to yet another one.

Tabbouleh is one of those things that used to seem kind of exotic - found only at Middle Eastern restaurants and (as the image above suggests) hippie potlucks. Nowadays, it's readily obtained in any supermarket produce section, so it's easy to fall into the habit of buying it - and its similarly ubiquitous cousin, hummus - rather than making it from scratch. Well, I am here to tell you that doing so is a huge mistake, because real taboulleh kicks the ass of that insipid stuff in the plastic tub: once you've made your own, you will never again be satisfied with such pallid, watery impostors.

The magic secret  - which isn't magic, or even a secret, since I'm about to share it with you right here on the interwebs - is a lot of fresh herbs. Don't be alarmed by the quantity of green in this recipe, because A. it will wilt down quickly amid the lemon juice, veggies, and olive oil, and B. it will be delicious, so trust me. I also like to add chickpeas, which provides some extra protein and texture, while kicking it up from "salad" to one-dish meal in one fell swoop.

So head for the kitchen and get busy; if you make this right now, you can do whatever else you like with a hot summer day, in the virtuous knowledge that dinner is waiting, whenever you're ready to eat it. (NB tabbouleh is traditionally made with bulgur, but is also delicious - and gluten-free - with quinoa; just prepare the same quantity of the latter according to package directions, and proceed as follows.)

~ 1.5 cups bulgur
~ 3 cups vegetable broth
~ 6-8 scallions, thinly sliced
~ 2 large tomatoes, diced
~ 1 large cucumber, diced
~ 1 large carrot, grated
~ Juice of 2 lemons
~ 1/4 cup olive oil
~ 2 packed cups chopped, fresh parsley
~ 2 packed cups chopped, fresh mint
~ 1 15 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (optional)
~ 1 tsp. salt
~ A few grinds fresh black pepper

~ Bring the vegetable broth to a boil and add the bulgur; stir briefly, cover, and remove from heat. Allow to stand for 10-15 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed.
~ In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients, then add the cooked bulgur. (Pro tip: if you share my intolerance for uncooked oniony things, put the sliced scallions in a dish with a few tablespoons of water and microwave for two minutes to - as I like to think of it - "take the curse off." Drain and proceed.)
~ Mix everything until thoroughly combined, then cover and refrigerate for at least an hour (the longer the better) to allow the flavors to blend.
~ Serve cold or at room temperature.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Picnic Pasta Salad

I like to have a big vat of something in the fridge on hot days, so people can just grab a bowlful whenever they get hungry, and this salad is a summertime staple at our house. Be forewarned that there is absolutely nothing fancy, elegant, or especially innovative going on here: it's just an old school pasta salad like Mama used to make, only with more veggies and less saturated fat. (In fact, you may notice its remarkable resemblance to the potato salad I posted a few weeks ago; in food - as in so many other things - familiarity is the essence of comfort.) Anyway, a batch of this pasta never lasts more than a day or two around here, so if you're in the market for a quick, filling dish that is super kid-friendly and a guaranteed hit at picnics, cookouts, potlucks, etc., look no further: this is your man!

Picnic Pasta Salad
~ 1 lb. fusilli
~ 1 cup frozen peas
~ 1 onion, diced
~ 2 stalks celery, diced
~ 2 carrots, diced
~ 1 red bell pepper, diced
~ 2 tbsp. dill pickle relish
~ 1 tbsp. each: prepared mustard, vegan Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce (Frank's is good)
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, dill, parsley
~ ½ tsp. garlic powder
~ A few healthy grinds of black pepper
~ 3/4 - 1 cup vegan mayonnaise, such as Just Mayo or Vegenaise

~ Cook the pasta according to package directions, adding the frozen peas in the last minute of cooking. Drain in a colander, rinse with cold water, and set aside.
~ Place the chopped onion in a dish with a little water and microwave for 2-3 minutes; drain and set aside to cool (NB you can omit this step if you have no objection to raw onions).
~ In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients from the relish through the black pepper and mix thoroughly.
~ Add the vegetables and cooked pasta, and mix to make sure everything is coated with the dressing. Cover and chill for at least an hour before serving cold.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Summer Evening Shirataki Noodles

I threw this together one steamy evening, shortly before fleeing the New England heat for two cool, rainy weeks in the UK (during which time I was too busy/lazy to do much cooking or posting). If you're unfamiliar with tofu shirataki noodles, they're available in most Asian groceries, and an increasing number of health food stores and markets. I'd been meaning to try them for awhile, and finally picked some up on a whim. My experiment was an unqualified success (i.e., there were no leftovers), but I want to stress that they should be rinsed thoroughly and then dry-roasted as directed below to produce a traditional "noodley" texture while removing what The Tempest's Trinculo might describe as "a very ancient and fishlike smell." Anyway,  while you could obviously do this with regular pasta, we found them a light, healthy (and gluten-free) change of pace on a warm summer evening; I recommend giving this interesting alternative a try!

Summer Evening Shirataki Noodles
~ Two packages Shirataki angel hair noodles
~ 1 cup vegetable broth
~ 1 tbsp. garlic
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, oregano, parsley
~ Fresh black pepper
~ 1.5 cups coarsely chopped ripe tomatoes
~ 3 packed cups baby spinach
~ 1 packed cup chopped, fresh basil
~ 1 12 oz. package smoked tofu, cubed
~ 1/4 cup nutritional yeast 

~ Place the tofu cubes on a non-stick baking sheet (or one coated with a little cooking spray), and bake at 400 degrees fahrenheit for about 15-20 minutes, turning once. Remove from oven and set aside.
~ Drain and rinse the shirataki noodles under warm water for a minute or two, then pat dry with a tea towel.
Heat a non-stick skillet over high heat and add the noodles. Dry roast for 1-2 minutes, stirring gently; when the noodles are dry, you may hear a squeaking noise as you move them around in the pan.
Add the broth, garlic, and dry seasonings; stir to combine.
~ Mix in the tomatoes, tofu, and spinach. Cook for a minute or two, until everything is just heated and the spinach wilts.
Add the chopped basil and the nooch, stir to combine, and serve.