Friday, December 30, 2011

Crostini Two Ways: Bruschetta and Navy Bean Dip

We had a delicious multigrain baguette in the house, as well as lots of leftover beans from my soup experiment, so I decided to make crostini with a couple of toppings.

Crostini is really just a fancy name for thinly sliced, toasted bread.  This recipe is a great guide.  I very thinly sliced the multigrain baguette, put the slices on a baking sheet and brushed them with olive oil, and sprinkled on the black pepper.  I let the slices toast for about 17 minutes until they were golden and toasty.

For the two toppings, I first decided to do a traditional bruschetta topping.  Since I think this mix benefits from some marinating time, I did this earlier this afternoon while my soup was cooking.  I diced a package of cherry tomatoes, finely diced a medium red onion and a made a chiffonade with few handfuls of basil.  I then stirred in three minced garlic cloves, a generous pour of olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  I was worried that I overdid it with the garlic, but the ratio ended up being fine.

For the second topping, the navy bean dip, I broke out the food processor.  First, I pulverized four cloves of garlic.  I then added in three generous cups of the cooked navy beans and a handful of curly parsley and pulsed the mixture until the beans were somewhat blended. 

Next, I added the juice of one lemon.  A trick I use when juicing a lemon is to put a mesh strainer directly over the bowl (or, in this case, the processor).  As you squeeze the lemon, the strainer will catch the seeds and the pulp, and all of your lemon juice goes right in the recipe.

I then seasoned the bean mixture with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and gave it another pulse to mix.  After scraping down the bowl, I poured some olive oil down the small feed tube, pulsing the mixture again to combine.

I then served the two toppings along with the crostini.  We enjoyed both toppings, but especially scarfed down the bean dip, which husband said was "incredibly fresh."   I saw him licking the spoon later, so I know he wasn't lying!  The bean dip would also be nice with veggies, and would provide a nice protein kick.  I think it would also be a nice sandwich spread or wrap filling, given how nice and creamy it is.

Vegetable Soup with Navy Beans

Wow, was my last blog December 18?  Holy cow.  Let me give you a quick recap of the past few weeks - our niece arrived December 19, then it was Hanukkah, husband's birthday, making a few meals (nothing I haven't blogged before) for my brother & sister-in-law, volunteering on Christmas Day at Washington Hebrew Home, a road trip with the in-laws and grandmother-in-law to visit the new baby, home yoga practice and lots and lots of naps to recover from it all.

With all this busyness and craziness, we decided we could use some serious comfort food.  And what's better comfort food in the winter than homemade soup?  Better yet, a hearty, vegan friendly vegetable and bean soup?

I've been wanting to play with dried beans for awhile.  Sure, they're a heck of a lot less convenient than canned, but the trade-offs are worth it, especially when it comes to texture and flavor.  Also, the variety of dried beans at our local Whole Foods is amazing.  They have a number of heirloom beans that I'm really looking forward to trying.  So, if you are able to plan your meals ahead, I really encourage you to give dried beans a try!

For this soup, we decided to go with a simple navy bean.  Fun fact - these beans got their name not because of their color (they're off-white), but "because they were a staple food of the  U.S. Navy in the early 20th Century."  Like other legumes, navy beans are an excellent source of fiber and protein, and are also a "good source of folate, manganese and vitamin B1 as well as the minerals phosphorus, copper, magnesium and iron."

Beans soaking
Beans cooked
I used as a guide to preparing the beans .  After picking through the three cups of dried beans, I soaked them for eight hours in nine cups of water.  I then boiled them in the soaking liquid for ten minutes, skimming foam off the top.  After ten minutes, I reduced the heat to a simmer, added a generous teaspoon of salt, and simmered the beans covered for one hour.  My husband and I tasted the plain beans when they were done and agreed that we vastly preferred them to canned!  We then put them in the fridge to use in today's soup.

One of my favorite soups is minestrone, which traditionally includes vegetables, beans and pasta.  According to Wikipedia, minestrone translates to "the big soup" and is usually made from whatever ingredients you have in the fridge.  What I ended up making was minestrone inspired, as we used up a lot of what we had in the fridge.  But, I elected to leave out the pasta at the last minute, so I'm hesitant to call it a true minestrone.

Behold the aftermath of the chopping!
To start the soup, I diced one large white onion, half a bunch of celery, three yukon gold potatoes and two zucchini.  I also sliced up several handfuls of baby carrots and minced four cloves of garlic.  I sauteed all the veg in olive oil until it was translucent, about ten minutes.  When the good brown bits started to stick to the bottom of the pot, I poured in a little bit of vegetable broth to deglaze the mix.

I then added in a large can of whole tomatoes and their liquid, breaking up the tomatoes with a spoon.  Then, I added three cups of the cooked beans.  Using the neat little herb mill my sister-in-law gave me recently, I ground up some sage and rosemary and mixed that in, along with fresh thyme, dried oregano, sea salt and black pepper.  Finally, I added a carton and a half of veggie broth.  Once the soup came to a boil, I let it simmer for an hour, which made our entire apartment, and probably the hallway, smell like yummy vegetable soup.

We had the soup for lunch today with some crusty bread.  It was warm, hearty and had a nice kick from the garlic and pepper!  Better yet, we have tons of leftovers, and I think it will taste even better reheated, as the flavors will continue to combine.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Quinoa Pasta with Quorn, Brussels Sprouts and Carrots

Since I know so many folks with gluten intolerance, I like to play around with various gluten free pastas.  Also, since I don't like to eat a lot of things made with refined white flour, I find that some of these pastas are good options in lieu of traditional boxed pasta.

Tonight, I decided to play with Ancient Harvest's Quinoa Shells.  The shells are actually a blend of quinoa and corn.  They're a little brighter yellow than your average pasta, but otherwise, the texture doesn't differ greatly, especially in a sauce.  I bet they'd be good in a soup, so I may try and make minestrone with the rest of the box.

For tonight's meal, I started with a sauce.  It was a shallot, soy-free Earth Balance and garlic base, which I deglazed with vegetable broth.  I then added the Quorn grounds.  Quorn does contain a trace amount of egg, so it's not suitable for those following a strict vegan diet.  So, if you prefer to make this dish purely vegan, but don't have a soy allergy like yours truly, any textured vegetable protein (TVP), such as Smart Ground, would be a good substitute.

I then added in some brussels sprouts I roasted yesterday, along with red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.  When I mixed the pasta in, I decided it needed a pop of color, so I added some shredded carrot to the pan.

I think I undercooked the pasta shells a bit, but I liked the contrast of the meatiness of the quorn with the carrots & brussels sprouts.  It also had a nice kick due to the healthy shakes of red pepper flakes I put in.

My Very Vegan Hanukkah: Sweet Potato Latkes and Cauliflower Latkes

Last week was a bit of a challenge on the eating front - husband and I got hit with a particularly nasty bout of stomach flu, so we subsisted on ginger ale, pretzels, dry toast and gatorade for the beginning of the week.  Vegan?  Technically, yes.  Nourishing. Not at all. So, of course, with our early observed  celebration of Hanukkah taking place this Saturday, I was going to have a chance to get back to some actual fruits and vegetables appearing on my plate.

For those of you not familiar with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, it is the celebration of a miracle that occurred after the destruction of the temple and it's rescue by the Maccabees.  There was only enough oil to light the Ner Tamid, the eternal light, for one day.  But, the light lasted for eight days.  To celebrate Hanukkah, Jewish families light a menorah, a candleholder with nine branches - eight branches to hold candlesto recognize each day the Ner Tamid remained lit, and the ninth, the shamash, holds the candle that lights the other eight.  On the first night, you light one candle, the second two, and on and on through the eighth night, when the entire menorah is lit.   In my family, on the first night, we also say the shehechyanu, which is a prayer said on holidays or other occasions you with to note the significance of.

What, you may ask, does all this have to do with vegan food?  Well, Jews like to eat fried things on Hanukkah.  It's said to be eating anything fried in oil is a tie back to the miracle of the Ner Tamid.  Some people (aka not me, who can't tolerate the soy) celebrate by eating, I kid you not, jelly donuts.  But, I think the fried food most folks think of most when it comes to Hanukkah is latkes.

Latkes are potato pancakes that are fried in oil until they're crispy.  Traditionally, latkes are made with grated white potato, flour and egg, perhaps with a little onion for seasoning.  My versions were veganized, and also quickly pan-seared and baked to cut the grease factor.

The first recipe, the sweet potato latkes, was made was a riff on a recipe that came from what I call my mother's Jewish recipe envelope collection.  When my mother saw a Jewish holiday recipe (or any recipe) she liked, she would cut it out and stick it in an envelope.  Somehow, I ended up with the envelope full of Jewish recipes, so I can't credit the source of this recipe other than to tell you it was cut out of a pamphlet, judging by the condition of the paper, sometime between 1982-1995.

Look at all this parsley.  Nanny Sadie would be proud!
The sweet potato latke recipe called for one sweet potato, two yukon gold potatoes, one onion, four eggs a quarter cup of matzo meal and salt and pepper to taste.  I actually added a third potato and, in honor of my great-grandmother, who wouldn't dream of making a dish without parsley, a healthy handful of chopped fresh parsley.  To replace the eggs, I used Ener-G egg replacer, which, as I mentioned before, binds these types of patties more firmly than eggs in my opinion.  I also used a cup of whole wheat panko in place of the matzo meal.

To shred the potatoes, I used the shredding disc on my food processor.  I took out the sweet potato, the three yukon gold potatoes and the onion in approximately thirty seconds.  If that's not a Hanukkah miracle, I don't know what else might qualify.  After browning the latkes on both sides in some cooking spray, we decided they weren't quite crispy enough, so we threw them in a 375 oven for 20 minutes. 

I have made the cauliflower latkes before as part of my vegetarian Rosh Hashanah, but my husband's grandmother enjoyed them so much that I decided to make them again.  The last time I made them, I made them with eggs, but I used the Ener-G this time, and I also finished them in the oven.

We used our largest platter (two feet long!) to serve the latkes, and it was completely filled.  After all seven of us ate, there were three latkes left.  Three!  Lack of leftovers = recipe success. 

My personal Hanukkah miracle!
While our guests also enjoyed bagels and lox and other spreads, I was quite content with my light dinner of latkes, whole grain bread with earth balance (my husband's grandmother also opted for the bread) and a big pile of fresh fruit.

What yummy vegan treats will you be cooking up for the holidays?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Simple Spinach and Lentils with Rice and Quinoa

I know I like to make a lot of dishes that involve multiple ingredients, lots of prep and lots of pots and pans.  But, sometimes I want something super simple, but hearty, and tonight was one of those nights.

I had leftover golden lentils in the fridge, so I decided to do something with them.  I also picked up a big container of baby spinach after yoga (we go through two containers a week here), and decided I would incorporate that in the dish as well.

To start the dish, I sauteed some minced shallots in Earth Balance.  I then added some tomato paste concentrate.  When the brown bits started to appear in the pan, I added a couple of pours of vegetable broth.  I used Safeway Organic brand, which, unlike some other boxed broths, doesn't contain soy. Pacific Organic's vegetable broth is also soy-free.

I then added a few handfuls of the cooked lentils.  As the lentils integrated with the sauce, I futzed a bit with the dish, adding vegetable broth as I thought it needed more liquid, and tomato paste as it needed more color.  I then added several handfuls of roughly chopped baby spinach.  As the spinach wilted, I added even more to get even more green into the dish.

To season the lentils & spinach, I added some freshly ground black pepper and a few drops of sriracha, a Thai hot sauce that has become pretty trendy over the past few years. It's made of chili peppers, distilled vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt. Some srirachas have fish sauce as an ingredient, but the one we use, which is made by Huy Fong Foods, does not.  

Despite the fact that there was salt in the vegetable broth and and in the sriracha, I decided it would benefit from a little bit of sea salt, so I stirred some in.

I wanted some sort of grain to go with the dish, but I hadn't cooked any up in advance.  Situations like this call for microwave bagged rice.  While some microwave bagged rices and grain mixes aren't veg friendly or have lots of unnecessary additives and tons of sodium, I have found a few I like courtesy of Seeds of Change and Safeway Select.  Tonight, I opted for Safeway Select Brown & Wild Rice with Quinoa.  90 seconds in the microwave and, voila, rice

I put the rice in a bowl and then ladled in some of the spinach & lentil mixture and gave it a quick stir.  I was so happy with this dish.  The sriracha had a nice heat that pleasantly snuck up on me, and I loved the texture and combination of flavors.  The warm lentils, rice & quinoa and spinach were very filling and satisfying, the perfect dish for a cold, winter day. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Kale Simmered in Tomato Shallot Broth

Our local market always has a ton of kale, so I cook with it a lotKale is a form of cabbage - it comes in green and purple, as well as curly and flat leaf varieties.  You may also see Dinosaur Kale, which is also known as Tuscan Kale or black kale.

Kale is "very high in beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, lutein and reasonably rich in calcium."  Fun trivia fact from Wikipedia - "During World War II, the cultivation of kale in the U.K. was encouraged by the Dig for Victory campaign. The vegetable was easy to grow and provided important nutrients to supplement those missing from a normal diet because of rationing."

Since still had some leftover lentil cakes,  I decided to make a quick kale side to go with them.  I sauteed some shallots and garlic in olive oil, and then added a few dollops of concentrated tomato paste.  I then added a head of flat leaf kale, ribs removed and leaves coarsely torn, and two cups of vegan bouillon.   I put the lid on and let everything cook down, seasoning it with black pepper and red pepper flakes before removing it from the pan.  The whole process took about 15 minutes total. 

I liked the flavors, especially the kick of the red pepper flakes, but if I do this again, I'd change two things.  First, I'd use a lot less liquid - it essentially became a quick soup.  Second, while the kale cooked down quite a bit, I think I'd chop it up more to make it more manageable to eat.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Golden Lentil Cakes and Rainbow Carrot Coins

The new Whole Foods that has opened by my office has become a fun place for me to play during my lunch hour.  I am especially enjoying the bulk aisle and wondering why I haven't spent more time there.  Not only is the pricing better than the packaged goods, but I can control the quantity of food that I buy and only buy the amount I need for any given cooking experiment.  Also, the variety is excellent.

This week's bulk aisle find for me were petite golden lentils, which are teeny tiny little lentils with a bright yellow hue.  When I googled them to get ideas, I mostly came up with soups, but I decided to do something a little different.

Since the lentils were so tiny, I thought it might be fun to mix them with a bunch of veggies and form a patty.   Since I was craving stuffing today for some reason, I decided to also incorporate the flavors I associate with that dish, namely celery and sage.

While I normally just describe what I cook, I actually put together some semblance of a recipe this time, which I will post below after a few notes.

One thing I did do here in 1)the name of experimentation and 2)to keep this recipe vegan, was to use Ener-G Egg Replacer as a binder.   This product is a mix of potato starch and tapioca starch, and, when mixed with warm water in the correct ratio, can function as an egg for both cooking and baking.  Thus, it's a great option for folks who are allergic to eggs, vegan or who prefer not to eat eggs.  I actually found it to be a more reliable binder than using a real egg - my patties held together quite well!

Unfortunately, the local market was out of fresh sage, so I made do with ground.

I also made a pan sauce for the patties to add additional moisture using the leftover sauteed veg, a minced shallot, vegan bouillon and lots of soy-free Earth Balance.  The brand of bouillon I used was Rapunzel, which is one of the few bouillon cubes I've found that's soy-free.

As a side dish, I made rainbow carrot coins.  My local market was selling bunches of orange, yellow, red and purple carrots, which I thought would be a fun side for the patties.  While they lost some of their vibrant color when I peeled them (especially the purple ones), they were still pretty.  I sliced them in to coins, mixed them with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted them for 30 minutes at 425.

And, without further ado, here's my lentil cake recipe!

Golden Lentil Cakes

 Makes 12 cakes (3-4 cakes per serving)

For the cakes:
2 cups of cooked petite golden lentils (For a lesson on preparing cooking lentils, click here)
3 small leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced
4 celery ribs, minced
1 cup of grated carrot, chopped
Ground or fresh sage, to taste
Fresh thyme to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup of fresh parsley, chopped
2+ tablespoons of Earth Balance
1 cup of whole wheat panko bread crumbs
2.5 tsp Energ-G Egg Replacer plus 2 tbsp warm water (2 eggs, beaten, can also be substituted)
Cooking spray

For the sauce:

1 cube of vegan bouillon
1/2 large shallot, minced
3+ tablespoons of Earth Balance
Fresh parsley, chopped

Heat oven to 350 degrees

Saute the lentils, celery and carrot in earth balance for 10 minutes, or until translucent.  Season throughout cooking with sage, thyme, salt and pepper.  Spoon cooked vegetable mixture into a bowl and set aside Reserve the same pan, including any stuck on cooked bits, for your sauce.

In a small pot, boil two cups of water.  Add in bouillon cube, stir and remove from heat.  Take the pan you cooked the vegetables in and add shallot and one tablespoon of the Earth Balance.  When shallot is lightly browned, pour bouillon into the pan and cook on medium heat.  Stir in more Earth Balance and fresh parsley throughout cooking, until sauce reduces (Mine took about 30 minutes to get where I wanted it.)

Meanwhile, if using Ener-G, combine the powder and water in a small bowl and mix thoroughly.  Combine lentils, cooked vegetables, fresh parsley and panko.  Stir in Egg Replacer or eggs.  Form the mixture into small cakes.   Spray a large saute pan with cooking spray.  On medium high heat, brown each side of the cakes (about 3 minutes per side - your mileage may vary.  Cook a bit longer if using egg to ensure it cooks through).  Once cakes are browned, put them in the oven for 5-10 minutes.

Serve warm, with sauce spooned over top.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Light Saturday Lunch: Couscous, Bean and Vegetable Salad

I don't think it's a coincidence that two of my favorite ways to spend my free time, cooking and knitting, are both activities I associate with my grandmother.  So, it was nice to bring together these two activities today when I hosted a few friends at my apartment today for lunch and knitting lessons.

For lunch, I prepared a couscous, bean and vegetable salad.  The couscous was Bob's Red Mill Tri-Color Pearl Couscous.  The orange and green colors in the couscous come from tomato and spinach.  As I mentioned in a previous blog, pearled couscous is larger and rounder from regular old couscous.  I happen to prefer pearl couscous, or, as it's sometimes called, Israeli couscous, to the other kind.

I prepared two cups of the couscous according to package directions (1.25 cups of water for each cup of couscous, bring water to boil, add couscous, bring back to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes).  Since the couscous will absorb all the water, it has a tendency to stick to the pan, so stir it occasionally.

When the couscous was done, I transferred it to a bowl and immediately poured in a generous amount of my lemon vinaigrette (the same dressing I put on my salad for Wednesday's pasta and salad dinner).  A tip if you're reusing the vinaigrette & it's been refrigerated - let it come up to room temperature and shake it to help it recombine a bit.  Pouring the vinaigrette on the hot couscous helped the flavors really combine - you could smell the lemony goodness waft through my kitchen.

I then added one can of black beans (rinsed first), two handfuls of carrot shreds and a few generous handfuls of arugula.  I then seasoned the mixture with salt and pepper and let it set out at room temperature until my friends arrives.  Because of the vibrant green and orange of the arugula and carrots, the tri-color couscous didn't pop as much as I thought it might, but it was still good.

I also made some roasted brussels sprouts & shallots that folks could eat on the side.  I think I am on a mission to revive the reputation of the brussels sprout and let people know it can indeed be a tasty vegetable if prepared properly!

For dessert, we had some fresh strawberries provided by my friend Marie, as well as some vegan cookies provided by my friend Elena.  The Andean Dream Chocolate Chip Cookies are made with quinoa.  They're wheat-free, dairy-free, soy-free and made in a tree-nut free facility, so they are great for folks with allergy issues and gluten intolerance, but who are also living a vegan lifestyle.  And, they're tasty!

We also sampled Pamela's Ginger Cookies with Sliced Almonds.  These are also wheat-free, gluten-free, soy-free and non-dairy, but not appropriate for those with nut allergies.  They're chewy, gingery and tasty, which is a welcome treat after my sad discovery that the ginger snaps I've been getting have soy in them.