Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Summer Quinoa Salad with Fresh Okra

Oh my Okra - I had been waiting for this green, starry gem to appear on the farmers’ tables since it hit 100º a couple of weeks ago. And to my pleasure, it arrive last week. Okra grows well in high heat and drought conditions, so naturally I became quite familiar with it when I moved to Arizona. I had no idea what it looked or tasted before relocating. When I signed up to receive a weekly share from a local farm, it became quite obvious that only certain things will grow well in the desert during the middle of August. Okra, okra and more okra. It was love at first bite – after I got over the shock of pearly seeds in the middle. I had done my research upon receiving my first batch and picked up a few tips that helped to fight the common misconceptions regarding this pretty pod.

Poor vegetable – such an underdog. When it comes to popularity and general reaction when mentioned in passing conversation, okra does not have a good reputation. Slimy, hard to cook, bad texture, weird seeds....it saddens me to think this is the only view some have of the tender tube. Okra is much like brussel sprouts or beets – highly misunderstood, commonly overcooked, and full of potential. I always feel compelled to rescue a misjudged food from neglect and damnation such as this sorry but scrumptious bunch. I’ll feature beets at dinner parties or serve caramelized brussel sprouts for someone who couldn’t recognize them on a plate for a million bucks but still thinks they are nasty. With a few tricks up my sleeves, I was ready to rejuvinate the okra aura.

Okra is at its best when prepared in the simplest of ways or eaten raw. Selecting okra is a skill no one should ignore as it’s easy to develop and critical to enjoying it. Some pods tend to be very fibrous – you’ll feel like you are chewing on tiny sticks. If you are careful when you select them, you’ll feel which ones will be tender and which might be more like bamboo floss. When preparing them, you only need to know one thing…don’t overcook it. Overcooking okra is what makes it slimy, mushy, and tasteless. Southern cooks would probably shake me like a shake n’ bake if they caught me saying this: okra does NOT need to be stewed. Not in gumbo, not in jambalaya. Do not boil it for 10 minutes; do not stew it in a sauce for a half hour. It doesn’t need to absorb spices or flavors, because its flavor is so delicate and light. Okra can simply be sautéed with salt and pepper for a few minutes, until bright green and just tender. Add it on top of a nice southern stew or gumbo for a good crunchy touch.

In this recipe, the okra is left raw and sliced into small chunks. The smaller the pod, the better it will be in raw form. Even raw okra has a touch of “slime” to it when you start cutting, but you won’t notice it in the salad. This recipe also features yellow pear tomatoes that also grow well in hotter temperatures and tend to be included in the same share from the farm. If you have to pass on the raw okra, at least try it sautéed or in its very best form….southern fried okra.

Summer Quinoa Salad with Fresh Okra
Serves: 3-4
Prep time: 10 minutes


For the Dressing
3 T. Red wine vinegar
2 tsp. Walnut or olive oil
2 tsp. Thyme, dried (or 1 T. fresh)
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. Agave nectar
¾ tsp. Salt
½ tsp. Freshly ground black pepper

For the Salad
2 c. Quinoa, cooked
1 can or 1 ½ c. cooked chickpeas (drained & rinsed if using canned)
1 c. Okra, sliced into ¼ inch pieces – stems discarded
1 c. Yellow pear tomatoes (or another small, mild variety)
¾ c. Red bell pepper, diced
¾ c. Carrots, grated
¾ c. Corn, fresh or frozen
¾ c. Cucumber, diced


Whisk all dressing ingredients together in a small bowl. Adjust seasonings to taste – for a less tart dressing, add more agave and additional salt & pepper to taste. Set aside

Combing all salad ingredients in a medium or large mixing bowl. Drizzle with dressing, stirring to coat completely. Season with additional salt and pepper if necessary.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Curried Kale Salad with Roasted Cauliflower and Apples

Silly admission # 473 (yes they happen that often): I’ve been craving legumes like normal people crave ice cream. During the month of May in which my token omnivore voluntarily followed a vegan diet, I avoided making too many bean dishes so as not to deter him from the already….windy side effects of eating so much fiber. While I didn’t omit beans entirely, I certainly treaded carefully seeing as though he has a natural aversion to the magical fruit. He’ll eat certain kinds so long as they aren’t cooked to absolute mush, but I didn’t want to overdo it during his vegan trial for fear of exhausting him on the beany buggers. Now that he’s back on the flesh wagon however, I don’t feel bad reintroducing beans as my vegan superstar ingredient. Packed full of iron and healthy fiber, my body was screaming for the little pearly pockets of yum. And part of me wants to overdo it now since his body is probably going through some nutritional withdrawal since his sudden reversion to cholesterol and saturated…I mean meat.

Well that’s a little off track for this recipe, but it leads to my inspiration. I hadn't soaked any beans and for dried beans that cook quickly, mung beans were the only option. I’ve made them time and time again, but as hard as I try to be creative, the dish always ends up tasting the same. This time was no different. Always delicious, but always the same. Mung beans stewed with potatoes, carrots and tomatoes with a generous pinch of cumin seed and crushed red pepper. If I try to get fancier, it complicates the dish which ends up tasting rather blah. Since I knew what the dish was going to taste like, I thought I could at least make a well-paired saladn to get creative. Trying to think of something that would go well with a stewed dish, I recalled working at the Afghan restaurant in Madison. Kabul had a killer curry salad dressing that was the talk of the town. Made with raw eggs, tons of oil and about a pound of sugar per batch, patrons rarely knew what was coating their lettuce. Tasty nonetheless. So I attempted to recreate a healthier, vegan version.

Raw eggs and lots of oil - sound like anything familiar? Perhaps a well-known American condiment? Hello mayonnaise. For the Memorial party, I had made my own vegan sour cream that sort of morphed into mayo after the leftovers spent a few days in the fridge. Since real mayo shares many similarities with the original dressing ingredients, I figure this would be a good stand-in. Instead of adding a ton of oil, I used some leftover broth that didn’t make it into the stew with just a touch of walnut oil. Agave replaced white sugar of course and the tiniest pinch of turmeric gave it that signiature yellow hue that comes from the egg yolks in the old recipe. My version was every bit as tasty. The crunchy roasted cauliflower was perfectly matched by sweet apple slices. The curry tied it all together. The mung beans were fine, but the salad was delish!

Curry Kale Salad with Roasted Cauliflower and Apples
Makes 2 side salads
Prep time: 15 minutes


1 c. Cauliflower flowerets
½ tsp Salt
½ tsp Freshly ground pepper
2 tsp. Nutritional yeast
Cooking spray

¼ c. Vegetable broth, from bouillon
2-3 T. Vegan mayo
1 T. Lemon juice, freshly squeezed
½ T. Mild tasting oil (walnut, avocado, canola)
¾ tsp. Curry powder
¾ tsp. Agave nectar
1/8 tsp. Turmeric
Salt and pepper to taste

3-4 Large kale leaves, ribs cut out and sliced thinly into ribbons
½ Medium apple (gala, pink lady, or other sweet varienty), thinly sliced with slices cut in half


Preheat oven to 400˚F.

Place the cauliflower in a medium mixing bowl and coat completely with cooking spray. Season with salt, pepper and nutritional yeast. Roast for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown and crispy on the outside. Remove from heat and set aside.

While the cauliflower roasts, prepare the dressing by whisking the next 7 ingredients together. Season with additional agave if too acidic and salt and pepper to taste. In a separate mixing bowl, pour ½ of dressing over kale and apples. Let sit while cauliflower finishes cooking.

To serve, divide salad into 2 portions and top each with half of the roasted cauliflower.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Vegan Entertaining! Southwest Summer Spring Rolls & More

Hooray for another party! Another reason to cook! Another reason to EAT. Memorial Day has previously been an underappreciated holiday for me, but I now understand and value its critical timing (Hello…No days off between MLK Day and now?) and its All-American fervor. As stated in a recent post, I don’t explore American cuisine very much, but this holiday was calling me. So I set out to cook up some grub that could appeal to the average racecar lovin’, trucker hat wearin’, sunburn coated American. While throwing burgers and brats on the grill is the typical way to welcome summer, this vegan can’t pass up the chance to prove that meatless eats go beyond packaged goods and our options are more extensive than beans. Why would I just buy some tofu pups and veggie burgers when I could spend 6 hours cooking something way too elaborate for a simple pool party?

So in searching through Memorial Day menus and recipes, a few ensuing questions came to mind in my search for inspiration. What do my coworkers usually bring to potlucks? What do I normally see at picnics that I can never eat? Layered dip. Check! Rolls or wraps of sorts always laced with cream cheese or ground pork. Coleslaw, duh. And there never fails to be a scrumptious looking dessert that could so easily be made vegan if you replaced the butter with Earth Balance…which led to the following menu.
  • - 7 Layer Taco Dip
  • - Salsa and Queso
  • - Southwest Summer Rolls
  • - Purple Coleslaw
  • - Apple Crisp
 Holy cow did I binge on some taco dip. I also ate about 3 “practice” summer rolls before the party even started and I am still happily finishing the last of the purple slaw that somehow made it through as leftovers (ok it was a huge batch). I’m still not over that layered dip though. While I made my own vegan sour cream and taco seasoning, you could easily purchase toffuti, some pre-mixed seasoning and packaged seitan to make this super quickly. This queso is a perfected vegan nacho cheese recipe that I make about once a week by request from my token omnivore.

The purple coleslaw was the result of have too many veggies in the crisper in quantities too small to stand alone in any dish. So I combine red cabbage, broccoli stalks, carrots and cucumbers together in one happy purple mess. The dressing was based off a traditional recipe but made healthy by mixing in some leftover homemade vegan sour cream into a standard sweet red wine vinaigrette instead of loading it with a bunch of mayo and sugar.

The apple crisp – not much needs to be said. It’s like a traditional recipe but with Earth Balance instead of butter. Lots of oats on top with some pecans to boot. Crumble it up with some margarine and throw it over sliced apples. Delicious.

And the All-Star Summer Rolls…. Inspired by the famous Chile’s southwest egg roll appetizer, these were by far the favorite. I’ll admit I stumbled on the recipe for the Chile’s version and used it as a starting point. I added more veggies of course and replace the chicken with marinated tofu. I then baked them instead of deep-frying and served them without a dip – because they don’t need anything to cover up their deliciousness! These are super easy even if you make your own tofu. The assembly of course is the most time consuming, but this is worth it for special occasions. To save time, buy the pre-baked and pre-seasoned tofu whose texture is just right for these. I’d also recommend Daiya cheese for the filling: it’s my favorite.

Southwest Summer Rolls
Makes: 14-16 rolls
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes


1 pkg. Extra Firm Tofu, pre-marinated and baked or homemade (recipe below)

1 T. Olive or canola oil
2 Green onions, sliced - white and green parts divided
2 Garlic cloves, minced
¾ c. Mixed bell peppers, diced
½ c. Corn, fresh or frozen (thawed)
½ c. Spinach, cooked or frozen (thawed)
½ tsp. Chili powder
½ tsp. Ground cumin
½ tsp. Salt
¼ tsp. Cayenne pepper
½ c. Vegan cheese, grated (i.e. Daiya - Italian)

1 pkg. Spring roll wrappers


If you are using pre-baked and marinated tofu, cut the block into ¼ inch thick slices, about 12-14 per block. Cut each individual slice into 3 or 4 matchsticks and set aside. For homemade baked tofu, do not cut into matchsticks until you have baked the tofu. To make your own marinated baked tofu, see below.

To make the filling, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and sauté onions, garlic and peppers until vegetables are just tender, 4-5 minutes. Add corn, spinach and spices and cook until corn and spinach are heated through (the peppers should not be al dente but not mushy). Remove from heat and transfer to a medium bowl. While mixture is still hot, fold in vegan cheese until well blended and melted. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

To assemble, place one spring roll wrapper on a plate or cutting board. Have a small bowl of water and a brush set aside to help seal the rolls. Fill each wrapper with 2 T. of filling and 3-4 pieces of tofu. Brush the top edge with water, about ½ inch down. Starting at the bottom, fold the bottom edge over the filling and secure the filling tightly. Fold each side of the wrapper over the outside edges of the filling and finish by rolling upwards. Press the edge firmly and set aside. Repeat with remaining wrappers. Brush each with canola oil or coat all sides with cooking spray. Bake for 10-13 minutes or until starting to brown. Turn the rolls over and bake an additional 10-13 minutes, or until rolls are golden and crispy.

Marinated Baked Tofu
Makes: 12-16 slices
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes


1 pkg. Extra-firm tofu, sliced into ¼ inch thick rectangles

¼ c. White wine or sherry
3 T. Red wine vinegar
3 T. Olive or canola oil
2 T. Soy sauce
2 T. c. Lemon or lime juice, Freshly squeezed
1 tsp. Chili powder*
1 tsp. Ground cumin*
½ tsp. Garlic powder
½ tsp. Onion powder
½ tsp. Paprika*
½ tsp Salt
½ tsp. Black or cayenne pepper

* Note: This is a southwest marinade. The recipe can be used for any dish by toning down the southwest spices. For a basic marinade, only add onion and garlic powders, salt and pepper.


Preheat oven to 450ºF.

Place tofu on paper towels and cover with additional paper towels. Pat dry to ensure most of moisture is removed. Place slices in a glass baking dish and set aside.

Whisk all marinade ingredients together and adjust seasoning to taste. Pour over tofu and flip tofu over to coat all sides. Bake for 15 minutes and flip tofu pieces. Bake an additional 15 minutes or until all the marinade is absorbed.