Wednesday, March 24, 2010
In my younger omnivore years, we usually pulled out the Ragu and some ground beef to throw on top of spaghetti. I remember coming home from soccer practice really not wanting to wait for food and even waiting for the meat to cook was too time consuming. This was very much the sentiment when we got home last night from the first official volleyball match of spring followed by a beer to welcome the season (I’m in the fan club though I prefer the unofficial coach title). With only rutabaga and beets for exciting vegetables in the fridge, even I wasn’t really feeling the bulbous vibe at 9:30pm. I wanted to save those for a more intentional, playful meal. Referring to my sweaty, sandy, and hungry volley baller, he echoed my exact memories of coming home from games….how about some pasta? Sounds good. I had an open can of diced tomatoes to use up and a fresh package of tempeh.
When I think of traditional red pasta sauce, Bolognese comes to mind. This version is what we all typically think of when we see a red sauce with ground meat. When I think of a less traditional sauce but that can be made in a flash with tons of flavor, I think Puttanesca. Less familiar in the American crowd, it is devilishly delicious and takes hardly any time to prepare. Puttanesca is derived from the Italian word for whore (I’m not making this up) and is suspected of being name so for its enticing aroma – sounds like a G rated version of some saucy story, but who knows. Core ingredients in the classic recipe include onions, garlic, olives, capers and anchovies. With just a few herbs to top it off, this is a salty and sinful treat. Of course I unapologetically skip the anchovies, which doesn’t seem to harm its flavor. Instead of choosing, I decided on a Puttanesca flavor base with ground tempeh to get the feel of one and flavor of the other.
Just a quick note about cooking tempeh: when you buy tempeh raw from the store, it needs to be steamed or boiled to loosen it up before cooking. This will allow it to absorb flavor well and will keep it from becoming too tough when pan fried. I combine the loosening and flavoring in one step rather than steaming it first like most recipes suggest. The texture and flavor of the tempeh held remarkably well after browning it for a while. It gave just the right amount of herbal flare to the sauce which could even stand for some fresh parsley or oregano to top it off, though I didn’t have any at the time. I’m sure adding a dash of red wine vinegar would be positively wonderful as well.
Makes 2-3 servings
Cook time: 30 minutes
5-6 oz. Whole wheat or gluten-free spaghetti
For the Tempeh
2 c. Water
1 tsp Basil, dried
¾ tsp Garlic powder
½ tsp Fennel seed
½ tsp Thyme, dried
½ tsp Onion powder
½ tsp Salt
¼ tsp Crushed red pepper
½ package plain Tempeh, cubed
1 T Olive or canola oil
For the Sauce
½ T Olive oil, divided
¼ Medium onion, chopped
1 Medium celery stalk, chopped
1 Large clove garlic (½ T)
4 Kalamata olives, chopped
1 T Capers
1/8 tsp. Crushed red pepper
1 ½ c. Diced tomatoes, canned in juice
Fresh parsley or oregano, chopped
Cook pasta according to directions on package. Set aside.
For the Tempeh
Combine all tempeh ingredients and bring to a boil in a medium sauce pan. Slight reduce heat to medium high and maintain rigorous boil until half of liquid has evaporated, about 15 minutes. Drain tempeh reserving liquid and transfer to food processor. Pulse a few times until tempeh is coarsely ground. Heat olive oil over medium high heat and add tempeh. Cook until brown, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking to pan. Remove from heat and set aside.
For the Sauce
Heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté onions and celery until translucent, 8-10 minutes. Add garlic, olives, capers and red pepper. Cook an additional minute or until garlic becomes very fragrant. Stir in tomatoes and remaining cooking liquid from tempeh. Lower heat and simmer for another 15-20 minutes. Taste the sauce and add additional pepper to your liking. While simmering, remove 1 cup of sauce and transfer to food processor. Puree until completely smooth and return mixture to sauce. Stir in tempeh and adjust salt and/or pepper if necessary. Ladle sauce over noodles and enjoy!
Monday, March 22, 2010
So with each Minnesota visit comes a somewhat elaborate vegan feast. I, more or less humbly, secretly dote on demands that I cook at home, because I am more than eager to produce another plant-based meal on this planet that may have otherwise been meat-infested. Menu planning can be positively challenging, however, particularly when the northern farmers markets are in the last stages of hibernation before the first spring picks are ready. I say “positively” because it’s not necessarily difficult to plan and the available resources are generally inspiring: the bulbous root vegetable bunch, the cruciferous crew, and the beloved winter squash family. Wild rice is another valuable ingredient, not to mention a local specialty that is delicious and gluten-free (still trying really hard to limit wheat these days). The challenge lies in the timing and the crowd. When it feels like spring before it actually is spring, how do you make a bright meal out of winter crops?
The more personal challenge lies with the audience. The real menu planning challenge is making a meal taste un-vegan and family friendly without putting a plate in front someone that looks completely foreign. Though my family is generally open, I don’t typically cook outlandish, exotic meals unless we have a themed night plan where everyone knows we’ll be eating Ethiopian or Indonesian. The chef in me often wants to prepare a 5-6 dish gourmet spread. The daughter, sister, and aunt in me brings me down reminds me though that the best way to have an effective vegan influence is to prepare not necessarily omni-preferred analogues, but something that is equally familiar as it is exploratory. Though anything foreign has to be snuck in gently, it pays dividends to both eager-to-please chef and hesitant eater.
Results: the taste and feel of this meal matched the chilly but sunny limbo weather perfectly! It wasn’t a spring meal in terms of crunch pods or baby greens, but it was a far cry from a heavy winter goulash. With a side of steamed broccoli, it was a delectable brightness to inspire enough freshness to tide everyone over until spring comes in a couple of weeks. As for the other challenge – when your meal has gained the approval of a 14-month old and his incredibly wary mother, you know you’ve pulled of some special vegan magic.
Tip: To make this all together, use one medium or large butternut squash. Cut in half and scoop out the seeds. Leaving the peel on, microwave the bottom half (the round half) in a glass dish filled with ¾” water on high for 6-7 minutes or until very tender. Peel the top half, cube and use in the wild rice pilaf.
1 tsp. Sage, dried
¾ tsp. Garlic powder
½ tsp. Marjoram, dried
½ tsp. Thyme, dried
½ tsp. Onion powder
Dash of ground cloves, nutmeg, or allspice
2 T. Soy sauce
½ c. Boiling water
1 c. TVP
1 ½ c. Butternut Squash, cooked and mashed
2-4 T. Corn flour or masa (as needed)
Pepper to taste
¼ c. Canola oil
Mix together first 5 ingredients in a small bowl. Whisk in soy sauce and mix until well blended. Pour hot water into herb mixture and whisk well.
Place TVP in a medium bowl, pour seasoned water over TVP and stir to blend in herbs. Let hydrate for 5-10 minutes or until TVP has absorbed all of the liquid and is soft in texture. Mix in the mashed squash and pepper to taste. Add flour as needed if the mixture does not hold together well. Mix with hands and form into small patties. Transfer cakes to a medium baking dish coated with cooking spray and refrigerate patties 15-30 minutes to set. Preheat oven to 450˚F.
After cakes have set, bake in oven 10-15 minutes or until the cakes feel firm to the touch. Remove from heat and set aside. Heat canola oil over high heat in a large frying pan until oil is very hot. Place each cake carefully in oil and fry until cakes are browned and crispy on the outside, about 2 minutes per side. Remove from pan and set on a paper towels to absorb excess oil.
Wild Rice Pilaf
Makes 6-8 servings
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
2/3 c. Wild Rice
3 c. Water
½ T. Olive oil
1 ½ c. Butternut squash, uncooked and cubed
Salt and pepper
1 T. Olive oil
½ Medium onion, chopped
2 Large celery stalks, chopped
4 Garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. Thyme
½ tsp. Salt
1 Red bell pepper, chopped
Vegetable broth (as needed)
Pepper to taste.
Bring water and rice to a boil. When water starts to boil, turn heat to low and simmer until rice is tender, 50-60 minutes. Drain (if necessary) and set aside.
Preheat oven to 450˚F.
In a medium mixing bowl, coat squash with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Roast in oven 25-35 minutes or until brown and crispy on edges. Set aside.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté onions and celery until transparent, 8-10 minutes. Add garlic, thyme and salt and cook an additional minute. Add red bell pepper and ¼ cup of vegetable broth to deglaze pan if too dry. Cook mixture until vegetables are just tender, 5-6 minutes. Mix in wild rice and butternut squash and let cook until all liquid has evaporated. Season with pepper and additional salt to taste.
Monday, March 15, 2010
I love comfort foods and I like them even better when they're vegan. If I can get a little gluten free edge in there too, I'm in heaven. Regular noodles are fine, whole wheat noodles are ok, but I do favor quinoa elbows. This time around, I only had some gluten free fusili, or spirals, on hand, but they turned out famously. One of these days my grocery store will sell a whole wheat or gluten free version of the pin wheels. Those were by FAR my favorite shape growing up. And of course, as a kid, I swore they tasted better.
I don't typically use a recipe when I make Mac n’ Cheese, but this was claimed to be the best batch yet. My habit, much like most recipe research I engage in, is to read through other vegan chefs’ techniques and ingredient lists to muster up some ideas. Then I usually end up dumping various, inconsistent amounts of herbs or spices to jazz up my version. Here are the basics: Nutritional yeast is the "cheese" of most vegan cheese sauces. It can also be used as a parmasan sprinkle to top off pastas and is the main ingredient in any store-bought vegan parmesan substitues. Flour is the key thickener, and pretty much any standard non-dairy milk can be used as the milk base - I've used both soy and almond milk with great results. From there, some vegan flavoring staples like garlic and onion powder are essential to giving the sauce some pizzazz and some sharper flavors are crucial to mimicking the powerful cheesy essence that makes this so addicting. The sharper ingredients are usually mustard and/or soy sauce. But I turned to the lovely miso in this case with very good results.
The sauce will always take some tasting and tweaking before it becomes just they way you'd like it, but I found that this recipe captures the right silky-but-edgy cheesiness of that Mac n’ Cheese from days gone by. The touch of miso really gave it a certain je ne sais quoi… or call it that enzymatic flare that is characteristic of real cheese (you know, the mysterious stuff in cheese that recent research is claiming keeps us addicted and incapable of restricting its consumption for some speculative reason). There is just something that it does to take this up a very important cheesy notch. Bon Appetit!
Mac N’ Cheese
Cook Time: 10 minutes
8 oz. Elbow macaroni, rotini, or fusili (gluten free or whole wheat)
2 T. Earth or Smart Balance
¼ c. All purpose flour
½ heaping cup Nutritional yeast
2 c. Almond or Soy Milk
1 tsp Garlic powder
1 tsp Onion powder
1 tsp Salt
1/8 tsp Turmeric
2 tsp Mustard
2 tsp Miso
2-4 T. Water
Pinch of white pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
Cook pasta according to directions. Drain, set aside and mix with a bit of olive oil to keep from sticking.
In a sauce pan over medium heat, melt margarine and add flour. Stir until well blended and add nutritional yeast. Whisk in almond milk, stirring constantly until smooth. Add garlic and onion powder and mustard, continuing to whisk mixture. Let sauce come to a slow bubble and keep whisking to prevent clumps from forming. Let simmer until sauce thickens, 3-4 minutes.
In a small bowl whisk miso with 2 T of water and add to sauce. Add more water if sauce is too thick Add a pinch of both white pepper and nutmeg at the very end.
Pour cheese sauce over noodles and stir to coat completely.
Friday, March 12, 2010
Quinoa Stuffed Peppers
Prep time: 30 min
Cook time: 45
3 Large bell peppers, halved with stems in tact and seeded
4 T. Oil, canola or olive
½ Medium red onion, diced
3 Garlic cloves, minced
1 c. Red bell pepper, diced
1 c. Corn, thawed if using frozen
½ tsp Salt
1 ½ c. Quinoa, cooked
1 ½ c. Tempeh Chorizo (below)
1 T. Red wine vinegar
¼ c. Cilantro, chopped
1 c. Vegan cheese, shredded (optional)*
Vegan sour cream (optional)
Preheat oven to 450º F. Place pepper halves facing down on a glass baking dish or roasting pan. Coat pan and peppers with cooking spray. Roast in oven 10-15 minutes or until softened (but not blackened). Lower oven temperature to 400º F.
Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add tempeh chorizo and cook until browned, 8-10 minutes.
Add onions, garlic and bell peppers. Sauté until vegetables are nearly tender, 8-10 minutes. Add corn and salt and cook an additional 5 minutes until corn starts to brown. Remove from heat.
In a large bowl, combine quinoa, tempeh, sautéed vegetables, vinegar and cilantro. Toss well to incorporate all flavors. Fill each pepper half with about ½ cup of the filling. Bake in oven about 20 minutes. Add shredded cheese if using and bake an additional 5-10 minutes until cheese has melted. Serve with salsa and a dollop of vegan sour cream.
Cook time: 30-45 minutes
1pkg Tempeh, cut into ½ - 1 inch cubes
1 c. Vegetable broth
1 c. Water
2 T. Apple cider vinegar
4 Garlic cloves, chopped
2 tsp Chili powder
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Salt
½ tsp Cinnamon
½ tsp. Cayenne pepper
Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium and cook at a rolling boil uncovered until almost all liquid has evaporated, about 30-45 minutes. When the sauce is thick, stir tempeh and remove from heat. When tempeh has cooled slightly, transfer to food processor and pulse until tempeh is ground (but not to a complete mush).
Monday, March 8, 2010
How much fun is spaghetti squash? Between scooping out its stringy flesh and eating it like faux pasta, I don’t know which part I like more! It’s a great source of complex carbs with fewer calories than pasta and more vitamins than a bleached noodle to boot. I’ve been hanging onto this squash for a month now waiting for some inspiration to strike, but it’s mostly been sitting there dormant among the potatoes and garlic. Once again in preparation to travel and looking to use what I have instead of making a grocery run (does anyone really know how hard it is for me not to go to the food store?), I finally spotted my bumpy yellow friend and decided it was time.
Taking stock through my kitchen, I eyed a few crinkly orbs in the produce drawer. There was absolutely no way I was going to take even a slight risk of those brussel sprouts going bad while I was gone. Too much love for my cruciferous friends… I wanted to include them somehow. A recipe search led me to a very simple yet tantalizing dish. Though I tend to overcomplicate recipes at times because I can’t stop ideas from bouncing around in my head while I’m in the kitchen, the sound of a simple sauté involving garlic and crushed red pepper sounded superb. Sometimes I skip over those recipes because they sound too rudimentary. But who am I to sneeze at the loveliest of spice-herb combinations?
Ok so this might be a shot at my own creative ego - this recipe is not only based but essentially the same as a wonderful recipe by Anne Burrell listed on the Food Network site. While I deviated some from her recipe, it pains me to think I actually have to cite it for fear of copyright infringement. Oh well. While she adds cilantro, I have my own twist by adding a fresh and light coulis as a drizzle over this fabulous side dish. It is absolutely delish without the coulis as I discovered today while making this again to use of the rest of my spaghetti squash, but the sauce could also be tweaked as you like by adding any herb of your choice. This is definitely omnivore tested and approved.
Cook Time: 10 minutes
For the Squash Sauté
1 Medium spaghetti squash, cut in half and seeds removed
½ T. Olive oil
3-4 Large garlic cloves, minced
¼ - ½ tsp Crushed red pepper
8-10 Brussel sprouts, sliced 1/8” inch thick
½ tsp Salt
Pepper to taste
For the Coulis
2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
2 tsp Red wine vinegar
½ tsp Oregano or another dried herb of personal preference
Salt to taste
For the Squash Sauté
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Fill a roasting pan or glass baking dish with about 1” water. Place the squash in flesh side down and cover. Bake 40 minutes or until squash is tender and pulls easily away from skin. Alternately, microwave squash for 6 minutes on high or until tender. Scoop out squash and divide in half. Set one half aside for use now and refrigerate the other half for tomorrow when you decide to make this again because it’s so fast and delicious.
Heat olive oil over medium low heat in a skillet. Sauté garlic and red pepper until garlic becomes golden, being careful not to burn. Add brussel sprouts and salt and toss well in pan making sure they are coated well in garlic. Increase heat to medium high and cook sprouts until brown, about 3-4 minutes. Add spaghetti squash, another little pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Cook until mixture is warm and brussel sprouts are cooked to your liking. Remove from pan and set aside in serving bowl. Turn heat off, but keep pan warm for the coulis.
For the Coulis
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process until completely smooth. Taste the sauce to be sure it is salted to your preference. Pour the sauce in the warm pan, scraping off any remaining squash and/or garlic bits. Remove from heat and set aside in a small bowl.
Divide squash into two bowls and drizzle with coulis. Add a few shakes of nutritional yeast if you’re feeling ambition or a couple crushed walnuts. Enjoy!
Thursday, March 4, 2010
My first experimentation with polenta, beyond just buying a tube at the food store, was highly fascinating: whisking boiling water vigorously as the cornmeal is poured in slowly to reduce chewy globs (it will happen to you at least once, I promise), then switching to a whole different cooking utensil as it takes on a completely new texture! It was an inspiring transformation and tasted delicious. In the end though, it was still a pile of mush. It took me a while to figure out how to play with it in order to get the fancy tube shapes sold at the market. After much exploration, I’m 100% convinced that there is no limit with what you can do with polenta.
As I’ve continued my journey through a more health-conscious, vegan life, polenta has been a fabulously satisfying grain: relatively low in calories for the volume you can get out of it. And because of its mystical morphing into a sticky but sturdy substance during the cooking process, it serves as a great source for brainstorming. Why not use it as a pizza crust? How about a pie base or shepherd’s pie-like topping? Or a pedestal for other delicious foods? While this recipe is labeled as a pie, it’s more like a platform. And the ingredients on top…well that’s where the hodgepodge part comes in.
Almost any roasted or sautéed vegetable(s) would work as the middle layer for this pie: eggplant, zucchini, pearl onions, or cruciferous crunchies, whatever you’d like. You could even play around with the coulis or sauce that you whip up to pour over it. As always, you can certainly toy with the seasonings, shapes or cooking methods of the tofu topping. There is plenty of freedom and room for creativity here. Unless you end up with the clumpy globs…then you’ll really have a hodgepodge to deal with.
½ T. Olive oil
4-5 Fingerling potatoes, cut into smaller chunks
½ c. Leeks, sliced
¾ c. Green beans, cut into ½ - 1” pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
½ T. Olive oil
¼ Medium onion, diced
1 Large garlic cloves, minced
5-6 Sun dried tomatoes, rehydrated (if not packed in oil) and chopped
½ tsp Rosemary, dried
½ tsp Salt
2 c. Water
½ c. Polenta
2 T. Nutritional Yeast
Salt and Pepper to taste
6 oz. Tofu, cut into 2x2” squares
1 T. Cornstarch
½ tsp Basil, dried
½ tsp Tarragon, dried
½ tsp Salt
1 T. Canola Oil
1 Medium tomato, chopped (about 1 c.)
2 tsp Balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 425ºF. In a medium bowl, toss potatoes and leeks in olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper and roast for 20 minutes.
While the potatoes roast, make the polenta. Sauté onions in olive oil over medium heat until translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Add garlic, sun dried tomatoes, rosemary and salt. Stir and cook until garlic becomes fragrant, about 1 minute. Increase heat to high and add water. Bring to a boil and once the water is boiling, slowly pour in the polenta, stirring vigorously with a whisk to avoid clumps. Turn heat to low and let polenta cook at a slow simmer. Switching to a wood spoon or spatula, keep stirring the polenta until tender, about 8-10 minutes. When done the polenta will be slightly sticky and pull away from the pan. Remove from heat and stir in nutritional yeast, salt and pepper to taste. While still hot, pour polenta into a 6” spring form pan and spread evenly. Let cool at room temperature while you prepare the tofu.
Back to the potatoes: remove the potatoes from the oven and stir in the green beans. Put vegetables back in oven and roast an additional 10-15 minutes or until potatoes are brown and beans have a slight crisp. Remove from oven and set aside.
Drain, rinse and pat tofu dry. In a bowl, mix cornstarch, herbs and salt. Dredge tofu in cornstarch and set on a small plate. In a medium skillet, heat canola oil over medium-high heat in a skillet. Add tofu and fry until crispy on each side, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove from heat and return to plate.
To make the tomato sauce, puree the tomato and vinegar in a food processor until completely smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Assemble the pie: pour the roasted veggies on top of the polenta base. Spread the tomato sauce in dollops over the veggies and top with crispy tofu. Remove outside of spring form pan and voila! Hodgepodge pie.