Saturday, July 17, 2010

Potato Zucchini Cakes with Coconut Sauce

Despite choosing “potato” as the primary word for this recipe, this idea was all about the squash. I love my weekly share provided by Desert Roots Farm. There is nothing like a ripe batch of yellow pear tomatoes, freshly plucked green onions, or perfectly small apples to brighten up a Saturday morning when I pick up my bag of joy. Always surprise. Always inspiring. But right now - always a huge load of squash. My goodness, I had heard of squash being a long-lasting and high volume nuisance in the sense that you can’t make it stop growing once it springs from the ground. It’s hard to find ways to use it all and still be creative. I have 9 crooknecks waiting patiently in my crisper for that stroke of genius to hit – the moment where I discover a way to make summer squash pudding or sorbet perhaps.

This recipe may not have been a stroke of genius, but it does involve fusion. Thanks to my latest enthusiasm for the Indian realm of vegan cooking, inspiration is easier to find. I’m really into the flavors we learned in class at Indika in Houston and am determined to apply lessons instead of forgetting them. In class, my other half and I made a particularly scrumptious batch of Potato Cakes stuffed with Coconut Chutney, and I felt some serious pride in the final results. Most class members seemed to be impressed, but we had chef supervision and a commercial kitchen at our disposal. How am I to know if these lessons are effective if I don’t recreate at home? So my goal with this recipe was not to duplicate the original, but to make something using it as a foundation with my own interpretive twist.

While ideas for recipes often have far too many potential directions, this one was dead set on the concept of Indian cooking lessons using zucchini. I am now confident that my lessons will not be temporary or wasted – the cakes were delicious. The sauce was a risk and there will be many more versions. I only used mushrooms this time because of a sad portabella hanging out with some saggy gills. Maybe red peppers in the sauce next time? Maybe take the fennel out of the cakes and put it in the sauce? You tell me. But try it.

Potato Zucchini Cakes with Coconut Sauce
Makes 4-6 cakes
Prep time: 20-30 minutes
Cook time: 6-8 minutes


Potato Cakes
3-4 Red potatoes, boiled/steamed* & grated1 c. Zucchini or yellow summer squash, grated
1/3 c. Onion, minced
1/3 c. Breadcrumbs, homemade or store-bought
1 ½ T. Ginger, minced
1 ½ T. Garlic, minced
1 T. Jalapeno, minced
½ tsp Ground cumin
½ tsp Fennel seed
½ tsp Salt
Canola oil for pan frying

Coconut Sauce
1 tsp. Canola oil
¾ c. Mushrooms, minced (optional)
½ T. Garlic, minced
½ T. Ginger, minced
¼ tsp Salt
2/3 c. Coconut milk, light or regular
1 tsp Cornstarch + 2 T. Water

For protein: 1 c. Mung beans or lentils, cooked
For garnish: ½ c. Red bell pepper, finely diced

*When you cook the potatoes, be careful not to over cook them. Otherwise these will be less like latkes and more nuggets. Which might be ok with you. It might be ok with me too. Also be careful not to undercook them or the cakes won’t hold together. It’s not as hard as it sounds.


For the Potato Cakes: In a medium bowl, combine the all ingredients and adjust the seasoning to taste. Working with 2-3 inch pieces in hand, form mixture into patties. Add breadcrumbs if mixture isn’t sticking well. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and fill up to ¼ inch with cooking oil. Use a piece of scrap or stray veggie to test the readiness of the oil – if the oil bubbles excitingly over the tester scrap, it’s ready. Place cakes in the pan and cook on each side until edges are brown, about 3-4 minutes per side. Set cakes aside on a plate lined with a couple of paper towels to pat them dry.

For the Coconut Sauce: Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and add mushrooms (if using), garlic, ginger and salt. Cook until mushrooms are very tender, about 3-4 minutes. Add coconut milk and cornstarch mixture. Cook until just starting to thicken, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Remove from heat and set aside.

To assemble: Place 2-3 potato cakes on each plate and cover each serving with half of the beans (if using). Drizzle coconut sauce over cakes and garnish with red pepper.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Succotash Stuffed Squash

It’s no surprise to those that know me that I often eat incredibly late at night. Whether it’s because I’ve already had a post-workout snack earlier in the evening or because I ate a large lunch, the grumblies just come a knockin’ around 9pm. That doesn’t exactly give me a lot of time to come up with a perfect meal plan or spend hours chopping and assembling. This is why I have the “quick and easy” category as a label on my recipes – for as much as I love to take my time cooking, it’s not uncommon for me to have to figure something out in a pinch. Much like any other person in this world that works hard and plays hard.

Succotash is a beautiful thing: lima beans and corn with a little twist and shout depending on where you’re from or what you live. Said to be one of the first dishes taught to the settlers by Native American, succotash was also popular during the great depression. That may be the reason there is a regional version of succotash all around the US. It’s made with bacon fat in the dirty south or milk and cream in the northeast, but it takes very well to healthy versions and is easy to play with. For instance, I used edamame here to substitue lime beans and added some red pepper for color. While there are an overwhelming number of recipes for succotash online, no cook – novice or expert – really needs that much guidance. So why put a recipe up?

Because not enough people know about the loveliness of the three sisters! Native Americans used to plant corn, beans and squash together, because it was an efficient use of soil. The corn stalk provided a platform for the beans to hang on to, and the leaves provided shade for the ground-bound squash. Just toss all three seeds in the same hole, and voila. They also compliment each other nutritionally speaking which may be why they taste so good together. Since succotash doesn’t typically have squash in it, why not serve it in squash?

I rarely use my microwave, it kind of creeps me out. But cooking winter squash is one of the few instances I feel it is very convenient to have as a kitchen tool. Zap a whole squash with some water in the micro and it cuts down about 40 minutes on baking time. The succotash only takes about 10-15 minutes to prepare, so I see no sense in using the oven for that long. Broiling the squash after microwaving it gives it the nice golden edge of roasted squash. Use whichever additional spices or herbs you prefer in the succotash and enjoy your edible American roots.

Succotash Stuffed Squash
Makes 2 servings
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes


1 Delicata or acorn squash, cut in half & seeded
Olive oil

½ T. Olive oil
¾ c. Onion, diced
1 T. Garlic, minced
½ T. Ginger, minced
1 c. Edamame, boiled & drained
½ c. Red pepper, diced
½ c. Corn, cooked or frozen (thawed & drained)
2 c. Spinach
Salt and pepper to taste


Turn oven on high broil setting.

Place squash flesh side down in a microwave-safe baking dish and fill with ½ - ¾ inch of water. Microwave on high for 5-6 minutes or until squash is tender. Drain water from baking dish and flip squash over, skin side down. Brush or spray a thin layer of olive oil over the squash and broil while you prepare the succotash.

To prepare the succotash, heat olive oil over medium high heat in a skillet. Sauté onions until translucent, 5-6 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, and a pinch of salt. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, and add edamame and red pepper. Cook until pepper begins to soften, about 2-3 minutes, and finally add corn and spinach. Stir until spinach is just wilted and turn off heat. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Remove squash from oven and scoop ½ of succotash into each side of the squash.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Spicy Lentil Hummus with Chapati

I’ve embarked on a recent journey toward the world of fresh and dry legumes, parting ways with my former reliance on canned beans. While I miss the ease of reaching into the cupboard and relative ease of opening a can (our can-opening device is slightly defunct), I can adjust to the lifestyle of dried beans. Types that need a good soak before cooking require more planning, but they are truly superior in taste to canned versions. Creamier on the inside, firmer on the outside – I don’t know anyone that likes the soggy mushiness of canned beans after having tasted a fresh batch. Even bean purees are much tastier, which is what lead to this Indian version of a middle eastern staple.

As for my health tangent of the day – most of us keep hearing about BPA as the latest bizarre and potentially harmful compound invading food packaging for whatever reason cheapie commercial manufacturers give. BPA is illegal in many countries and linked, however convincingly, to a whole gamut of maladies. And not so good ones to boot. Despite many companies having stepped up to discontinue the use of BPA in plastic bottles, canned food is still BPA strong and stubborn due to lack of strong evidence of its adverse affects. I don’t care how many studies it takes to make the FDA buck up and lay down the BPA law, I can live without it. So long my BPA-laced convenience!

Back to the beans: we were having a couple of people over last minute for the 4th of July and because of the late notice, I had not spent my typical 3-5 days planning the edible entertainment. The crowd was small and wasn’t going to be starving or expecting food, but in my house any guest equals food and I still needed to eat. My default in this case: hummus, chips and salsa, and fresh fruit. Going back to the fact that beans take some planning…I didn’t have any soaked chickpeas or canned beans. My ready-to-cook selection consisted of mung beans and lentils. I love mung beans, but they are not the best chickpea stand-ins for hummus. Lentils however were a fabulous alternative.

Having recently attended a vegan cooking class at a superb Indian restaurant in Houston, I learned a few lovely spice combinations during my time at Indika. What better opportunity to apply new knowledge than a small gathering where people may or may not eat? It takes the pressure off of the testing phase, and a chance at fusion made it even more thrilling. Aside from spices, we also got an impromptu lesson from the chef herself about making Indian flatbread made from garbanzo flour. Though I had garbanzo flour, which I used in the hummus recipe, I decided to try it with plain ole whole what flour. Zero leftover and a double batch the next day….pretty good results.

Spicy Lentil Hummus with Chapati
Makes 2 c. Hummus and 8-9 Flatbreads
Total Prep Time: 1 hour


For the Hummus
½ c. Lentils, dry or 1 ½ c. cooked*
¾ c. Chickpeas, cooked or canned (drained & rinsed if using canned)*
1 ½ T. Tahini
1 T. Lemon juice, freshly squeeze
1 T. Garlic, chopped
1 T. Jalapeno, chopped
¾ T. Fresh Ginger, chopped
½ tsp. Ground cumin
½ tsp. Sea salt
¼ heaping tsp. Garam masala

For the Chapati
1 c. All purpose or whole wheat flour
¼ tsp. Salt
Olive oil

* I cooked dry lentils and used the cooking liquid with Bob’s Red Mill garbanzo bean flour instead of actual chickpeas. To do it this way, bring 1 cup of the lentil liquid (or add enough water to lentil liquid to make 1 cup) to a boil and whisk in ¼ cup of garbanzo flour. Lower heat to medium low and simmer about 3-4 minutes – clumps are ok. Pour into food processor with lentils.


For the hummus: If lentils are dry, cooking in 3 cups of liquid by bringing lentils and water to a boil with a pinch of salt and 1 bay leaf. Cook until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain lentils (reserving liquid if using method above) and place in food processor. Combine remaining ingredients in food processor and process until completely smooth. Adjust seasonings to taste, using more or less jalapeno depending on your spice preference.

For the chapati: In a medium mixing bowl, combine four and salt and mix well. Slowly add ¼ cup water at a time until you have a stiff dough. If dough is too sticky, add 1-2 tablespoons of flour. If too stiff, add 1 tablespoon of water at a time. Knead dough for 5 minutes. Roll into a ball and place in refrigerator wrapped in plastic for 1 hour.

Once the dough has sat, knead again for another 5 minutes. Tear off a hunk of dough and roll into a ball about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Repeat with the rest of the dough which should yield 8-9 pieces. Coat dough with cooking spray or olive oil and roll each ball out into a small flat disk, about 1/8 inch think and 5 inches in diameter. Heat a dry electric or stovetop griddle over medium heat. Place however many pieces you can easily fit without crowding. Cook 30-45 seconds on the first side and flip over. Cook until golden spots appear on other side. Flip once more and press each chapati with a cloth until if puffs up. Repeat with remaining chapati.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Sassy Sushi Rice & Lazy Sushi Salad

Just because I don’t eat fish, doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the fresh taste of a well wrapped roll chalked full of crisp vegetables and dunked into a muddy swamp of wasabi and soy sauce. What is sushi without the raw fish you might think? Well few of you may know that sushi actually refers to the rice, not the fish – it literally means “seasoned rice.” So there. Seasoned rice is vegan rice and just as important to perfect as any other tuna topped tidbit. With a good batch of rice, you can have just as much fun on sushi night without the guilt of supporting overfishing and/or unsustainable fish farm operations… Sorry had to put in some kind of plug to remind myself of why avoid it.

I came across a great idea for sushi in Vegan Lunch Box, an excellent cookbook containing fun vegan recipes that are mostly kid and picky-eater approved while also maintaining a pretty impressive nutritional profile. Though I love a good sushi happy hour, I have to admit to feeling a little iffy about eating so much nutritionally void white rice. Quality sourdough bread or prefect baked baguettes invoke the same sentiment – so delicious, but not much going on apart from the addictive properties of processed foods. So I set out to make a healthier rice to roll around some seaweed, but doesn’t that almost seem to betray sushi tradition? Absolutely. Real sushi chefs would shake their heads and spit on my alternative. Whatever - they butcher fish, I butcher recipes.

This rice was so good I forgot it was healthy. I like chewier rice, but the texture didn’t even remind me that this was a nutritionally superior version. The trick to any rice intended to be used for sushi is twofold: 1) use the right rice; 2) get the seasoning right. Black, brown or white, the rice you use must be short grain or sticky rice. None of this medium or long grain business – save those for your curries. The seasoning is simple, but you can’t over or under do it. “Seasoning” makes it sound more complicated than it is. The seasoning is simple sugar dissolved in rice vinegar with a tiny pinch of salt poured over warm rice. Using too much will give you gloppy rice, but using too little will give you tasteless rice. So you just have to keep tasting while you make it!

 The wonderful thing about all of these ingredients is the freedom you have to make your own concoctions. Make a maki, make a hand roll, or be lazy and just throw them in a bowl to make a salad like I did for lunch with the leftovers. Use whatever you have on hand or try a fun new ingredient you’ve never tasted before. This is open to any and all preferences to whoever decides to step up to the countertop. Make a night out of it – have some people over and let everyone bring something and choose their own edible destiny for the evening. Just provide some good sake.

A few tips: when you prepare the rice, make sure the vinegar mix is at room temperature before you mix it into the rice, and make sure the rice is still warm. However, the rice must be COOL before actually uniting it with nori. Lightly steam or blanch any vegetable that is super hard in its raw form. And no matter what – no matter how poorly you roll or how sloppy you cut your veggies – always eat it! Never throw away good sushi. That’s the rule.

Sassy Sushi Rice & Lazy Sushi Salad
Makes about 2 cups
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Prep: about 2 hours (with cooling time)


For the Rice
½ c. Brown rice, short grain or sticky variety
2 T. Amaranth
2 T. Red quinoa
2 T. Rice vinegar
¾ tsp. Sugar
½ tsp. Salt

For the Accompaniments
* All of these are optional – be creative.
Pickled radish
Radish sprouts
Summer squash, green or yellow
Sweet potato
* These are a must.
Nori sheets
Seaweed flakes or seasoning (dulse, kelp, bonito, etc…)


For the rice: Bring the rice, amaranth and quinoa to a boil in 1 ½ cups of water. Lower the heat and simmer until rice is tender, about 40 minutes. Transfer to a stainless steel or type of large mixing bowl. While the rice is cooking, mix the vinegar, sugar and salt in a small bowl. Heat mixture in microwave in 10 second spurts, stirring in between heat waves until the sugar has dissolved. Let cool to room temperature before mixing into rice. When the vinegar has cooled, stir into rice and mix well. Set rice aside to cool (but do not put in refrigerator.

For vegetables of choice: Cut avocado, carrot, cucumber, radish, squash and sweet potato into 5-6” matchstick pieces. Blanche asparagus, carrots, or sweet potato and plunge in ice water to stop cooking.

To prepare a sushi roll: Lay a sheet of nori, shiny side down, on a bamboo sushi mat. Makes sure to keep your hands moist or wet while handling the rice, as it gets very sticky – keep a small bowl of water in easy reach. Place about ¾ cup sushi rice (more or less to preference) in palm and form into a loose ball. Press the ball all over nori, spreading the rice into one thin layer. At this point, you can either flip the sheet over for an inside out roll or lay your veggies on the rice for a regular roll. Place 3-4 pieces of each desired veggie and a few sprouts on top of rice or nori. Pick up nearest side of the sushi mat and fold nori over the vegetables. Be sure to press the mat both evenly and very tightly as you roll forward, sliding the mat inch by inch as the nori rolls underneath until you’ve reached the end. If you are making an inside out roll, sprinkle the seaweed seasoning on the outside over the rice. If you are making a regular roll, cut the roll into 6-8 pieces and lightly sprinkle seaweed seasoning on top of each piece.

To prepare a lazy sushi salad: place a ½ cup of sushi rice into a serving bowl. Top with desired vegetables as prepared above. Sprinkle with seaweed seasoning, drizzle a little soy sauce on top and finish it off with a generous pinch of sprouts. A dollop of wasabi can be applied as desired.