Sunday, June 14, 2015

Greek Salad with Tofu Feta

Like all good (half) Greek girls, I used to love me some feta cheese, although - as with black olives - it took me awhile to come around to appreciating its salty, briny charms. But once converted I was a big fan, and since being vegan, I've tried a few commercial non-dairy versions, in hopes of finding a decent approximation. Unfortunately, there was always something missing: too dry, too bland, too grainy, wrong seasonings, etc. And then one day, while snacking on the fantastic house-cured olives from our local Mediterranean grocery, it occurred to me that the brine might be just the thing for transforming pressed, crumbled tofu into feta.

I gave the notion a shot, and while the results were good, I still felt it needed more oomph, so I mixed and measured and sprinkled and stirred and came up with today's recipe, which I am happy to share with you. This stuff is so simple that I can see it becoming a weekly occurrence, especially now the weather is heating up. We've been mixing tofu feta into green salads like the one below, but it would also be a great addition to tabbouleh or couscous salad, which I'll be trying as we get further into our summer salad days. Because I am not so green in judgment that I don't know a good thing when I've found one!

Tofu Feta
~ 1 14 oz. package extra firm tofu, pressed for at least an hour
~ 2 tbsp. each: red wine vinegar, lemon juice, dill pickle brine
~ 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
~ 1 tsp. each: prepared mustard, vegan Worcestershire sauce
~ 2 cloves crushed garlic (or ½ tsp. garlic powder)
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, oregano, basil, mint
~ ½ tsp. dill

~ Once your tofu is good and pressed, slice or crumble it into roughly 1" cubes
~ Mix all the remaining ingredients thoroughly in a container with a lid, then add the tofu. Put the lid on and give the whole business a few good shakes to make sure all the tofu is coated with the marinade.
~ Refrigerate for at least a day (a few days is better) before using, to let the flavors infuse the tofu.

The Salad
~ 8 cups crunchy salad greens (romaine lettuce is perfect here)
~ 1 cup chopped fresh parsley
~ 1 cup halved grape tomatoes
~ 1 cup cubed cucumber
~ 1 cup cubed bell pepper (yellow looks pretty)
~ ¾ cup quartered black olives
~ Pita chips (homemade or store bought)

~ Transfer the marinated tofu to a colander and allow it to drain for about 10 minutes.
~ In a large bowl, combine everything but the pita chips.
~ Add the drained tofu feta to the salad and mix thoroughly. I like to use a bowl with a fitted lid so I can give everything a few really good shakes.
~ Allow the salad to rest for a few minutes, or refrigerate if you're making it ahead.
~ Serve topped with pita chips.
(NB - many Greek salads call for red onion, but I have an intolerance for any and all uncooked onions and eschew them religiously. Those not similarly afflicted may add a handful if they so choose!)

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Peanut Butter & Banana Pancakes

As the youngest of four children, I grew up with a lot of hand-me-down books. One of these was Danny and the Pancakes, the story of a little boy with a positive mania for his favorite breakfast: an obsession that leads, if not to disaster and grief, then at least to indigestion. I liked the pictures of pancakes, and the fact that Danny shared them with his dog, Brownie, but I was troubled that his family left him home alone, where he proceeded to do the scariest and most forbidden thing possible by cooking on the stove. As a rule-follower who always sided with The Cat in the Hat's super-ego-embodying fish, I was both horrified and fascinated by Danny's culinary hubris; the fact that I still remember this discomfort attests to its effect on my tender, infant psyche.

Years passed, and before you could say "carbohydrates" I was cooking for myself and - eventually - my own children, who share Danny's taste for pancakes, if not for dangerous gluttony. Today's recipe for Breakfast Nirvana was inspired by the Puffy Pillow Pancakes from Isa Does It, which are absolutely fail-safe and endlessly adaptable. Mashed, ripe bananas, cinnamon, and a little extra sugar add sweetness, and peanut butter replaces the usual canola or grape seed oil to work its ineffable magic, resulting in pancakes that will disappear immediately into the mouths of your adoring loved ones.

I got an even dozen pancakes from this recipe - as opposed to the even one hundred produced by Danny's - which proved more than ample for four people not intent on a visit to the ER. (NB we are big peanut butter fans at my house, but those who are allergic and/or averse can easily substitute another nut butter like almond or cashew with equally happy results.) I served these as is with Earth Balance and maple syrup, but ½-¾ cup chopped apples, nuts, raisins, or fresh berries would make nice additions to the batter if you're feeling adventurous.)

Peanut Butter & Banana Pancakes
~ 2 cups plain, unsweetened soy or almond milk
~ 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
~ 1 tbsp. ground flax seed
~ 1 tsp. vanilla extract
~ ¼ cup natural peanut butter (or almond, cashew, etc.)
~ 3 very ripe bananas, mashed until smooth
~ 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
~ ¼ cup sugar
~ 1 tbsp. baking powder
~ ½ tsp. each: salt, cinnamon
~ Dash nutmeg

~ Place a non-stick baking sheet in a 200 degree oven.
~ In a beaker, combine the milk and the apple cider vinegar and allow to rest about 5 minutes. Add the flaxseed and whisk vigorously for a minute or so.
~ Add the vanilla extract, peanut butter, and mashed bananas and stir until combined.
~ In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
~ Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the peanut butter/banana mixture. Stir until just combined to make a relatively thick batter (you can add an extra splash of liquid if it seems too gloppy).
~ Coat a large skillet with cooking spray and place over medium-high heat.
~ When the skillet is hot but not smoking, ladle about 1/3-1/2 cup batter into the pan and smooth it out to form a circle; I usually cook two pancakes at a time.
~ Cook the pancakes for about 2-3 minutes, until bubbles start to form on the surface. Flip and cook another minute or so, and then transfer to the oven to keep warm. Continue in this way until all the batter is used up.
~ Serve hot with Earth Balance (or other vegan margarine) and maple syrup.