Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tandoori Chicken

I love the flavors of Indian food, but have a hard time eating out at Indian restaurants - although easily vegetarian, nearly all vegetable dishes contain ghee (clarified butter), and I'm always leery that some will wind up in my plate even with a special request to leave it out.

Luckily it's not hard to capture the flavors of Indian cuisine at home.  Although this recipe is not actually cooked in a tandoor (clay oven), it keeps all the great flavor by giving Gardein chicken a long marinade.  It's a great recipe for busy weeknights; you can make the marinade in the morning and forget about it until evening, at which point the rest of the preparation comes together in about 20 minutes.

  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely chopped and peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 peeled garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup plain non-dairy yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Dash of ground nutmeg
  • 4 Gardein Tuscan chicken breasts (without sauce)
  • Cooking spray
1. Place the onion, ginger, and garlic cloves in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.

2. Add the yogurt, lemon juice, paprika, cumin, coriander, salt, chili powder, black pepper, and nutmeg.  Pulse about 4 times, until blended.

3. Cut 3 diagonal (1/4-inch deep) slits in the top of each Gardein chicken piece, and place in a large zip-top plastic bag with the yogurt mixture.  Seal and marinate in the fridge for at least 8 hours - or up to 12 hours - turning the bag occasionally.

4. Remove the chicken from the bag and discard the marinade.  Grill on an outdoor grill or indoor grill pan coated with cooking spray over high heat for 6 minutes on each side.

Note: this dish was another chance to play with my counter-top Griddler grill, but if you prefer, you could broil the chicken in the oven for the same amount of time on each side.

To continue with the theme of the night, I cut store-bought pitas into wedges, and made a quick homemade tabbouleh, that comes together while the chicken is grilling: soak 1 cup of uncooked bulgur in 2 cups boiling water for 20 minutes, just until tender.  Drain.  Combine the bulgur in a bowl with 1 and 1/2 cups chopped flat-leaf parsley, 1 cup chopped tomato, and 1/4 cup chopped green onions.  In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice, 1 and 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.  Drizzle the lemon juice mixture over the bulgur mixture and toss to combine.

A quick tip when chopping large amounts of fresh herbs, such as the flat-leaf parsley in the tabbouleh: Snip with kitchen shears over a measuring cup, rather than chopping with a knife, and you'll have a much easier time of it.

Nutrition Info:
4 servings (1 chicken breast), Calories 146

Tasting Notes:
The chicken really did have an oven-baked taste to it, from the toastiness of the spices and the stint on the grill.  I would not discard the marinade next time, to capture even more of that flavor, and also recommend a little yogurt dipping sauce on the side.  Perfectly tasty nonetheless, and the tabbouleh and pita rounded it out into a satisfying meal.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ham and Cheese Scones

Try this savory take on scones any time of day - for breakfast, a snack, or as a light lunch or dinner when paired with soup and a salad.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons vegan sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 3 tablespoons vegan butter
  • 3/4 cup shredded Daiya cheddar
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped vegan ham (such as Lightlife)
  • 3/4 cup vegan buttermilk*
  • 2 Ener-G eggs
  • Cooking spray
1. Lightly spoon the flour into dry measuring cups and level with a knife. Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and ground red pepper in a large bowl.  Cut the butter into small pieces, and cut into the flour mixture with a pastry blender until the mixture looks like coarse meal.  Stir in the cheddar and ham.

2. Whisk together the prepared buttermilk and the Ener-G eggs; add to the flour mixture and stir just until moist.

3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Knead a few times, then transfer to a baking sheet coated with cooking spray; pat into an 8-inch circle.

Note: scone dough tends to be very sticky.  Make sure to have enough flour on your work surface and to use floured hands while kneading, to prevent a sticky mess.  If you can only get in 1 or 2 kneads, that's fine.  In fact, the less scone dough is worked, the better, in order to achieve a light texture.

4. Cut the dough into 8 wedges, cutting into, but not all the way through the dough.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes - the scones should be lightly browned. 

I particularly enjoyed the scones for dinner alongside a warm bowl of Amy's split pea soup.

*To prepare the buttermilk for this recipe, place 2 and 1/4 teaspoons lemon juice in a liquid measuring cup.  Fill with plain non-dairy milk to equal 3/4 cup and whisk together.  Let stand for 5 minutes so the mixture can clabber (sour), before adding to the recipe as directed above. 

Nutrition Info:
8 servings (1 wedge), Calories 217 

Tasting Notes:
I really enjoyed these savory scones - incredibly tender inside with a nice flaky crust, and great flavor from the ham and cheddar.  I recommend baking about 5 minutes extra - and wish I had trusted my instincts to do so - in order to achieve a crisper, flakier outside.  I also wasn't a huge fan of the ground red pepper - it didn't improve upon the rest of the recipe, and I'd omit it next time. 


Monday, September 26, 2011

Tempeh Satay with Curried Cashew Sauce

It's finger-food time again!  Earlier this month I put up a post for Hiziki Caviar with Lemon Tofu Cream and Chives; I loved creating an elegant hors d'oeuvre that looked professionally catered.  I'm going for the same effect tonight with these deconstructed satay skewers; tempeh and cashew are a fun variation on the traditional chicken and peanuts.

For the tempeh:
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup mirin
  • 2 teaspoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1 crushed garlic clove
  • 1 pound tempeh
For the sauce:
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 teaspoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 chopped garlic cloves
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cashews
  • 1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1. To make the tempeh, combine the rice vinegar, soy sauce, mirin, 2 teaspoons ginger, canola oil, and crushed garlic clove in a large skillet.   Cut the tempeh into 40 cubes and add to the mixture, tossing to coat.  Bring to a boil; cover; reduce heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes.

2. Uncover and increase the heat to medium-high.  Cook for a final 4 minutes, turning the tempeh frequently, until it is golden brown on all sides.  Let cool.  Place a toothpick in each tempeh cube and arrange on a platter.

3. To prepare the cashew sauce, heat a small saucepan coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add the onion, 2 teaspoons ginger, salt, and chopped garlic; saute for 5 minutes.  Stir in the curry powder and turmeric; saute for 1 minute.  Add the water and bring to a boil; cook for 1 minute. 

4. Let the mixture cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to a blender. Add the cashews and lemon juice; process until smooth.  Spoon the cashew sauce into a bowl, and serve while still warm, with the tempeh cubes.

If you want to continue the Indonesian theme, consider serving a dish like nasi goreng (a fried rice dish):

Anther fun Indonesian dish to try is gado-gado, a platter of vegetables and tofu in peanut sauce.  I'll leave it to you to search out your favorite version; there are dozens of variants of each available online, easily made vegan. 

Nutrition Info:
20 servings (2 tempeh cubes, about 2 teaspoons sauce), Calories 50

Tasting Notes:
Addictive little bites.  I found myself reaching again and again for another toothpick to pop one of these little goodies into my mouth.  The tempeh cubes alone were quite yummy, with great umami flavor from the soy.  The sauce was creamy and full of curry and onion.

I only have 2 complaints.  1) Definitely increase the cashews.  Two tablespoons was hardly enough to let the flavor come through, and I think adding more will make the sauce thicker and richer too. You might also try cashew butter.  2) The recipe was very unclear about what to do with the copious soy sauce mixture left in the pan after cooking the tempeh, and I hate it when recipes are unclear.  Perhaps evaporate the soy sauce mixture down after you've removed the tempeh from the pan, and turn into a richly concentrated glaze to drizzle over the tempeh before dipping in the cashew sauce.  As written, it felt like a waste to have so much unused soy sauce mixture in the pan.  But this recipe gets high marks for taste nonetheless.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Beef with Mustard-Tarragon Cream Sauce

I have only used Match beef a handful of times, but I am continually impressed by the way in which the company's products mimic recipes using chicken, pork, and - in tonight's case - beef.  Fashion the Match beef into little "steaks" that get topped with a decadent creamy sauce, for an elegant dinner.  Match is sold in 1 pound packages, so the 18 ounces called for in this recipe will be slightly more than 1 package - it's perfectly safe to re-freeze the remaining beef for another use.

  • Cooking spray
  • 18 ounces Match beef, thawed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup vegan dry white wine
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons vegan sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup vegan sour cream
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh tarragon
  • Tarragon sprigs (optional for garnish)
1. Shape the Match beef into 6 (3-ounce) patties, making each about 1-inch thick.

Note: it's helpful to coat your hands with cooking spray when working with uncooked Match, which can be slightly sticky. 

2. Sprinkle the patties evenly with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and the black pepper.

3. Heat a large skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat.  Add the beef and cook for 3 minutes on each side.  Remove from the pan.

4. Add the white wine, the sugar, and the Dijon mustard; bring to a boil.  Continue to cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and stir in the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, sour cream, and chopped tarragon.

5. Spoon the sauce over the steaks to serve.  Fresh tarragon sprigs make a lovely garnish. 

To round out the meal, I added very simple red potatoes: cut red potatoes into quarters and toss with just a little olive oil, minced garlic, black pepper, and salt to taste.  Cook in the microwave until done - it could take anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes, depending on your microwave and number of servings - figure on 1 to 2 red potatoes per person, depending how big they are.

Nutrition Info:
6 servings (1 steak, 1 tablespoon sauce), Calories 213 

Tasting Notes:
The cream sauce was absolutely lovely.  I enjoyed the licorice notes from the tarragon in combination with the tangy mustard.  To make this dish even better, I would double the amount of sauce, and spoon at least 2 tablespoons over each little steak - not just for the great flavor, but also because the Match was a little dry without it, and was yummiest where liberally covered in the sauce.  Very quick and easy, a good recipe for your repertoire.  


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Black-and-White Cake Cookies

I thought it would be fun to make a vegan version of the iconic black-and-white frosted cookies that are ubiquitous here in New York City.  The base is a cake-like cookie, with a frosting duo applied on top.

For the cookies:
  • 1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup applesauce
  • 1 cup vegan sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegan butter
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 Ener-G eggs
For the frosting:
  • 1 and 1/2 cups vegan powdered sugar, divided
  • 3 tablespoons plain non-dairy milk, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1. Lightly spoon the flour into dry measuring cups and level with a knife.  Combine the flour in a bowl with the baking powder and salt; set aside.

2. Meanwhile, let the applesauce stand in a fine-mesh sieve for 15 minutes - doing so drains off the extra liquid that would otherwise make the batter too runny.

3. Place the drained applesauce in the bowl of a stand mixer, along with the sugar and butter; beat at medium speed for about 2 minutes, until blended.  Add the vanilla extract and Ener-G eggs; beat until combined.  Add the flour mixture and beat until blended.

4. Drop the dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper, 12 cookies per sheet - make sure to space the cookies about 2 inches apart so they have room to spread as they bake.

5. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes - the cookies should be just set, but not browned.  Cool on the baking sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

6. To make the white frosting, whisk together 3/4 cup powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon of the milk, and the almond extract in a bowl, stirring until smooth.  Working with 1 cookie at a time, hold over the bowl and spread 1 teaspoon white frosting on half of the cookie, scraping the excess frosting from the edges.  Repeat with the remaining cookies, and let stand for about 10 minutes until the frosting is set.

7. To make the black frosting, combine the remaining 3/4 cup powdered sugar and the cocoa.  Gradually add the remaining 2 tablespoons milk, whisking until smooth.  Working with 1 cookie at a time, hold over the bowl and spread 1 teaspoon chocolate frosting over the other half of the cookie, scraping the excess frosting from the edges.  Repeat with the remaining cookies, and let stand for another 10 minutes, until the frosting is set.

A couple tips on the frosting: it is definitely helpful to sift the powdered sugar, for the smoothest consistency.  Because of the different amounts of liquid, I found the white frosting to be just a tad too thick - it was a race against time to frost all 24 cookies before the mixture set - and the black frosting to be just a tad too watery.  As a result, you might try using a middle amount - say 1 and 1/2 tablespoons - of non-dairy milk for each version.

Nutrition Info:
24 servings (1 cookie), Calories 106 

Tasting Notes:
These were incredible.  The cookie itself is so cake-like that it was almost like eating a thin, moist, chewy piece of frosted cake, instead of a cookie.  The chocolate half instantly brought me back to chocolate-frosted birthday cakes of my youth.  The almond was an unexpected jolt of flavor on the white side, but also yummy.  And a bite down the middle with both frostings was just delicious.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Butternut Squash and Rosemary Gratin

A couple nights ago, I made a Butternut Squash Pudding so sweet I thought it was better suited as a dessert than a side dish.  As a result, I was craving a more traditional side made of this versatile winter squash, and this one fits the bill. 

  • 3 cups mashed and cooked butternut squash*
  • 1/4 cup vegan Parmesan sprinkles, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/4 cup shredded vegan cheese
1. Combine the squash in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan sprinkles, the salt, the rosemary, and the black pepper.

2. Spoon the mixture into a 1.5-quart baking dish coated with cooking spray.  Sprinkle evenly with the remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan sprinkles and 1/4 cup of your favorite vegan cheese.  In recipes that call for a sharp dairy cheese like Asiago, I turn immediately to the strong cheddar from Sheese, which I think captures that flavor well.  The Parmesan and Sheese will combine to form the crunchy browned topping that characterizes any gratin.

3. Bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes.  This dish will pair with just about any fall-flavored entree you can think of.

*Cook and mash the squash in the afternoon, so that the gratin comes together in a flash come evening.  Simply cut a 3-pound butternut squash in half lengthwise and discard the seeds and fibers.  Place the squash, cut-sides down, in a 13x9-inch baking dish, and fill the dish with water to a depth of 1-inch.  Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes, until tender. Let cool, and then scoop out the pulp with a spoon.  Mash the pulp with a potato masher until smooth, and refrigerate until ready to use.

Nutrition Info:
4 servings (3/4 cup), Calories 129 

Tasting Notes:
Just about as perfect and simple as side dishes come.  Absolutely no hassle to throw together, in and out of the oven in no time, and packed with great flavor from very few (and very fresh) ingredients.  The butternut squash was autumn on a fork, and I thought the amount of rosemary was perfect.  If you want to play up the rosemary factor a little bit more, you could add an additional 1/4 teaspoon.  Great Parmesan taste, and a nice contrast between the crisp cheese topping and soft squash interior.  So simple but good that you'll make this all season.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Butternut Squash Pudding

I had a rather amusing moment with a friend the other day, where we shared our mutual excitement that the fall season - and fall produce - is upon us, for those of us who try to eat seasonally.  At the same time, we both grinned and exclaimed, "Butternut squash!"

Yes, winter squashes have hit the markets, and I am delighted to re-incorporate these vitamin-packed powerhouses back into my cuisine for the months ahead.

  • 2 cups mashed and cooked butternut squash*
  • 1/2 cup plain non-dairy creamer
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped crystallized ginger**
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 Ener-G egg yolks
  • 3 Ener-G eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vegan sugar
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs***
1. Combine the mashed squash, creamer, maple syrup, crystallized ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and Ener-G egg yolks in a large bowl, stirring until blended.  Set aside.

Note: as a reminder, use only 1 tablespoon warm water per 1 and 1/2 teaspoons Ener-G powder to mimic a "yolk" versus a whole egg.  For this recipe, you'll need 4 and 1/2 teaspoons powder in 3 tablespoons water.

2. Make the 3 Ener-G eggs in a large bowl.  Beat with a hand mixer for 12 minutes - you'll wind up with a foamy thick mixture that mimics the stiff peaks of egg whites.  About halfway through, gradually add the sugar, while continuing to beat.

Note: since the purpose of the egg whites in this recipe is for thickening - rather than superior rising like in an angel food cake or souffle - you probably don't need to beat for a full 12 minutes.  The 12 minute trick, though, is one that I'm fond of sharing with fellow vegans, since I believe it is a secret that few of us are on to; I'm even intending to try it for meringue cookies soon.  Check out my posts for Blueberry Angel Food Cake and Hot Chocolate Souffle for more adventures in vegan egg beating.

3. Stir one-fourth of the beaten Ener-G mixture into the butternut squash mixture, and then gently fold in the remaining beaten Ener-G mixture.  Spoon the mixture into an 8-inch square baking dish coated with cooking spray.  Sprinkle with the graham cracker crumbs.

4. Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 to 45 minutes - the mixture should be set.

*Ahead of time, cut a 2-pound butternut squash in half vertically and scoop out the seeds and fibers.  Place the squash halves, cut sides down, in a 13x9-inch baking dish, and fill the dish with water to a depth of 1 inch.  Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes; the squash should be tender and pierce easily with a fork or small knife.  Let the squash cool, then scoop out the pulp.  Mash with a potato masher until smooth and refrigerate until ready to prepare the rest of the recipe.  A 2-pound squash should yield almost exactly the 2 cups needed in this recipe.

**I like the crystallized ginger from Woodstock Farms, which uses raw cane sugar.  Look for it in health food stores or Whole Foods. 

***My go-to graham cracker brand is the amaranth graham crackers from Health Valley, the only kind I know of which does not contain honey.  You can get yours online at If you're wondering what to do with the leftover graham crackers in the package, make s'mores of course; mine are made with melted dark chocolate and Dandies marshmallows.

Nutrition Info:
6 servings (1/2 cup), Calories 177

Tasting Notes:
This side dish was like nothing I've ever tasted - incredibly sweet from the maple syrup, and cooked to an almost jelly-like texture in the center, while the edges closest to the pan set into more of a bread pudding-ish consistency.  The pop of spicy ginger was a really nice contrast, and I would add up to 2 tablespoons next time.  My only complaint is that it was a bit too sweet since it is meant as a side dish; I recommend increasing the amount of butternut squash to 3 or 4 cups, so that the squash stands up better to the rest of the yumminess going on.

Update: after finding that the pudding was so sweet, I decided to try chilled leftovers for dessert instead the next night - and liked it even better.  After chilling, the mixture had set closer to what I would consider a "pudding," and was delicious either plain or dolloped with a little vanilla non-dairy yogurt. 


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Eggplant Sandwiches with Spinach and Cheese

Eggplant stands in for slices of bread in this intriguing recipe, sandwiched around a savory spinach-and-cheese filling.  I wanted to make this recipe while the last of the season's eggplant is at the market; at its best only through early fall, eggplant can become quite bitter out of season.  When selecting your eggplant, be sure to choose ones that feel heavy for their size - if they are suspiciously light, it's a hint that the seeds inside are already large and bitter.

Although I enjoyed the flavors in this recipe, I was quite disappointed in the preparation method, which felt...wasteful in many ways.  I've reproduced the recipe as it originally appeared, but I give my suggestions for improving upon it at the end in my Tasting Notes.

  • 2 (1-pound) eggplants
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, divided
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 (9-ounce) package fresh spinach
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 and 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup shredded vegan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons vegan Parmesan sprinkles (such as Galaxy Foods)
  • 1/4 cup plain non-dairy milk
  • 3 Ener-G eggs
  • 1 cup dry polenta
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  • 14 lemon wedges
1. Peel the eggplants, and cut each into 14 (1/2-inch thick) slices.  Sprinkle the eggplant evenly with 1/2 teaspoon of the sea salt.  Place half of the eggplant slices on a baking sheet and broil for 5 minutes on each side, until lightly browned.  Repeat the procedure with the remaining eggplant slices.  Set aside.

2. Meanwhile, bring the water to a boil in a Dutch oven.  Add the spinach; cover and cook for 2 minutes, until the spinach is wilted.  Drain.  Place the spinach on several layers of paper towels and cover with additional paper towels; let stand for 5 minutes, pressing down occasionally.  Coarsely chop the spinach and set aside.

3. Heat a medium skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat.  Add the onion, crushed red pepper, and garlic; cook for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the lemon juice; cook for 30 seconds, until the liquid is evaporated.  Combine the onion mixture with the chopped spinach in a bowl, and stir in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon sea salt and the black pepper.

4. In a small bowl, combine the shredded cheese with the Parmesan sprinkles.

Note: for the yummiest sandwich, you'll want a gooey, stringy cheese that mimics the creaminess of a cheese like Fontina.  Try the shredded mozzarella from Daiya, which melts beautifully.

5. To assemble the sandwiches, top each of 14 eggplant slices with about 2 and 1/2 tablespoons spinach mixture and 2 teaspoons of the cheese mixture.  Cover with the remaining 14 eggplant slices, gently pressing together.

6. In a shallow bowl, combine the milk and the Ener-G eggs, stirring with a whisk.  Place the polenta in a second shallow bowl.  Working with 1 "sandwich" at a time, brush both sides of the sandwich with the milk mixture and then dredge both sides in the polenta. 

7. Heat 2 teaspoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add half of the sandwiches; cook for 5 minutes on each side, until browned.  Remove from the skillet and repeat the procedure with the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil and the remaining sandwiches.  Serve lemon wedges on the side for a quick spritz at serving time.

Nutrition Info:
7 servings (2 sandwiches, 2 lemon wedges), Calories 236

Tasting Notes:
As noted in my intro, the taste of these sandwiches - when the preparation method was spot-on - was quite tasty: tender eggplant, gooey melted cheese, and a nice crisp breaded exterior. I'd never encountered a recipe using uncooked polenta in this way before, but doing so gives the sandwiches a pleasing crunch.

Unfortunately, the preparation method left much to be desired, and needs some serious tweaks to make sure your final product comes out evenly.  First, as a general rule, eggplant tend to taper, starting narrow at the neck and becoming bulbous toward the bottom.  As a result, half of the eggplant slices were quite small in circumference compared to the others.  The smaller eggplant slices were barely able to contain the filling, and lost much of it in the assembly process, meaning only about half my sandwiches came out as intended.  Although it may seem wasteful, I would recommend cutting 28 eggplant slices from the roundest part of as many eggplant as you need (perhaps 3 or 4 eggplants total). You can then save the narrow part of those eggplant for another recipe.

My second tweak involves the filling - I wanted way more spinach and way less onion, and would alter the ratios to reflect that.  Likewise, I would add more cheese to each sandwich. Except for the rare moment where the full 2 teaspoons melted together in one gooey clump, the overall effect was lost, a shame, because I am a huge fan of Daiya.

Finally, you won't need nearly 1 cup dry polenta for breading the eggplant, and using so much felt like a huge waste.  When I saw how much polenta I had left after putting my first batch of eggplant sandwiches in the skillet, I thought perhaps I wasn't using enough polenta per sandwich.  As a result, I patted the polenta on thick for my second batch of sandwiches - only to find that they didn't cook nearly as well, with a polenta exterior that didn't brown, and detracted from the taste of the overall sandwich.  (You can see a comparison between my first batch, pictured at the top of this post, and my second batch, pictured below).

So even though I followed directions exactly and know that it was through no fault of my own, I can't help being disappointed in the results of this recipe.  They still get a "3" for taste because I love eggplant, but rate only a "2" for presentation, and need definite tweaking.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Crispy Phyllo Napoleons with Blue Cheese, Nectarines, and Pears

This dessert is beautiful and impressive.  It also makes use of one of my favorite indulgences - the vegan blue cheese from Sunergia (which yes, I have been known to eat by the spoonful).  There are several parts to the dish, but you can prepare the separate components ahead of time, and assemble just before serving, making it an ideal dessert for company.

Interestingly, 'napoleon' - the American term for the French dessert "mille-feuille" - is not in fact a reference to the French emperor by the same name.  Rather, it is a corruption of 'napolitain', an adjective for the city of Naples.  There goes my theory that the little stacked desserts were poking fun at the 'Napoleon complex' in their attempt to grow taller.

For the compote:
  • 2 and 1/2 cups diced nectarine
  • 2 cups diced Bartlett pear
  • 1/4 cup vegan sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed vegan brown sugar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 (4-inch) vanilla bean, split lengthwise
For the phyllo napoleons:
  • 3 (13x18-inch) sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons melted vegan butter
  • 6 tablespoons vegan powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup ground hazelnuts*
  • Cooking spray
For the remaining ingredients:
  • 6 ounces vegan blue cheese (such as Sunergia)
  • 1/2 cup caramel sundae syrup**
1. To prepare the compote, combine the nectarine, pear, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon sticks, and vanilla in a large saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 35 to 45 minutes - the liquid should be almost all evaporated.  Cool completely.  Discard the cinnamon sticks and vanilla once cool.

Note: The liquid that comes to a boil is produced when the sugars melt and the fruit cooks down - so don't worry if you think you are missing a liquid ingredient in the ingredient list.  After about 5 minutes on the burner, liquid will appear in your pot and begin to boil.  If you prefer, you can vary the fruit in the compote to suit your taste.  Apricots would be delicious in place of the nectarines, and any variety of pear, such as Anjou, can stand in for the Bartlett.

2. To prepare the phyllo napoleons, line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  Place 1 phyllo sheet on the parchment paper and lightly brush with the melted butter.  Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the powdered sugar and with 4 teaspoons of the hazelnuts.  Repeat the layers twice - 1 sheet phyllo, 2 tablespoons powdered sugar, and 4 teaspoons hazelnuts, followed by a second sheet of phyllo, the final 2 tablespoons powdered sugar, and the final 4 teaspoons hazelnuts.

3. Use a pizza cutter to cut the phyllo into 24 rectangles (make 5 slits lengthwise and 3 slits crosswise, for 24 equal portions).  Cover the top layer of the phyllo stack with parchment paper.  Coat the bottom of a second baking sheet with cooking spray and place, coated side down, on top of the phyllo stack.

Note: covering the phyllo with a second baking sheet in this way keeps the phyllo flat and crispy while baking - otherwise phyllo has a tendency to curl up.  You can use a sharp knife to cut the phyllo into rectangles instead, but a pizza cutter really helps to cut through without creating tears.

4. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes - the phyllo should be golden.  Carefully lift off the top baking sheet and top piece of parchment paper.  Cool the phyllo rectangles completely, still on the bottom baking sheet, on a wire rack.

On a side note, I was pleased and surprised that, while baking, the 24 rectangles pull apart from one another - who knew?  This made it a snap to take the individual rectangles off of the baking sheet once cooled, since I had assumed that they would still be fused together.

5. When it comes time to assemble the dessert, place 1 phyllo rectangle on each of 8 dessert plates.  Spoon 1 and 1/2 tablespoons compote and 1 tablespoon crumbled blue cheese over the rectangle.  Repeat the layers - 1 phyllo rectangle, 1 and 1/2 tablespoons compote, and 1 tablespoon blue cheese - and top each stack with a final phyllo rectangle.

6. Drizzle each napoleon with 1 tablespoon caramel syrup; these will be best served immediately.

*Grind the hazelnuts in a spice grinder ahead of time; I recommend giving them only a coarse grind, so that there are still some crumbles, rather than a fine hazelnut meal.  It makes for a pleasant crunch in contrast to the tender fruit.

**I've avoided recipes that called for caramel syrup until now, because I didn't feel that there was a vegan one on the market that met my standards.  Well, that changed when I learned about the caramel agave syrup from Fun Fresh Foods - with the thick, creamy consistency of milk-based caramel sundae syrup, a whole new world of recipe possibilities has opened up.  Buy it online at  

Nutrition Info:
8 servings (1 napoleon), Calories 328 

Tasting Notes:
My rating system on this blog was devised with "5" being top honors, and I do not lie when I tell you I very nearly considered creating a category "6" for this recipe alone, after the first bite.  You know that show "The Best Thing I Ever Ate," on Food Network?  Well, this was quite literally the best thing I've ever eaten.

Okay, let me cease the hyperbole and try to be articulate.  The phyllo squares were like a wafer-thin flaky version of the fried dough that I used to get at country fairs, redolent with the taste of powdered sugar and what felt like the essence of hazelnut baked right in.  The caramel syrup was gooey and amazing, and delicious in combination with the salty blue cheese.  The fruit compote was perhaps the weak point - next time I would liberally pile on more fruit between the layers - but by "weak point" I merely mean not as scrumptious as all the rest, with wonderfully tender pear and nectarine, but not as much cinnamon and vanilla as I might have liked.

Don't be off-put by how complex this recipe is.  It will be well worth the reward in the end.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Hiziki Caviar with Lemon Tofu Cream and Chives

While planning my wedding, I became intrigued with bite-sized appetizers - I see so many platters being whirled about at so many events, and yet rarely find a platter containing something a vegan can eat.  So when I stumbled across this delightful little recipe, I had to give it a try.  I'll probably try one more bite-sized hors d'oeuvre recipe before the month is out, so stay tuned.

The first component to the dish is a simple tofu cream.  It is admittedly way easier than putting the entire recipe together, and would be great for dipping crudites, so keep it in mind on nights when you want a less complicated but still tasty appetizer.

For the Lemon Tofu Cream:
  • 1 (2-inch) piece peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 8 ounces firm silken tofu
1. Grate the ginger, and place on several layers of damp cheesecloth.  Gather the edges of the cheesecloth together and squeeze the ginger over a bowl, to extract 1 teaspoon ginger juice; discard the grated ginger and cheesecloth.

Note: to dampen the cheesecloth, fully wet with water and wring out.

2. In a food processor, combine the extracted ginger juice, lemon juice, canola oil, salt, and tofu.  Process until smooth.

You'll only need half of the tofu cream for the hiziki caviar below, so keep the rest for dipping raw veggies.  I liked it with yellow squash, zucchini, and button mushrooms best. 

Nutrition Info:
8 servings (2 tablespoons), Calories 34

And now for the hors d'oeuvres themselves.

For the caviar:
  • 1 ounce dried hiziki seaweed*
  • 1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon canola oil
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 minced garlic clove
For the remaining ingredients:
  • 1 lemon
  • 48 sesame-flavored rice crackers
  • 1/2 cup Lemon Tofu Cream
  • 48 (1-inch) pieces sliced fresh chives
  • 48 pieces matchstick-cut carrot
1. To prepare the caviar, place the hiziki in a large bowl and cover with hot water to 2 inches above the seaweed.  Cover and let stand for 30 minutes, until soft - the seaweed will swell in volume during this time, so make sure to use a large bowl.  Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain again.  Place the seaweed in a food processor and process until minced.

2. Heat the sesame oil and canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the seaweed; cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add 2/3 cup water, the soy sauce, and the garlic.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 6 to 12 minutes, until the liquid is evaporated.  Set aside.

3. Peel the lemon, and cut lengthwise into 6 wedges.  Cut each wedge crosswise into 8 pieces, for 48 triangles total.

Note: I've never peeled a lemon before, and was amazed at how much thick pith there was to peel through.  Do make sure you get through to the flesh underneath, because the pith is quite bitter.  You'll wind up with 6 wedges that look like orange segments, and those in turn get cut into the 48 triangles.

4. Now it's time to assemble: It's most helpful to have your chives and carrots ready to go, and to line up the sesame crackers on a large work surface.  Place 1 teaspoon seaweed caviar on each rice cracker.  Place 1/2 cup Lemon Tofu Cream in a zip-top plastic bag and seal.  Snip a small hole in 1 bottom corner of the bag, and pipe about 1/2 teaspoon onto each cracker.  Top each cracker with 1 lemon triangle, 1 chive piece, and 1 carrot piece.

*Hiziki is a very thin, ribbonlike seaweed.  Look for it with other seaweeds in the Japanese section of your market - I used Eden Foods.  If you can't find hiziki, substitute nori.  Although nori doesn't come in ribbons, it won't matter because you're going to mince it in a food processor anyway.

Nutrition Info:
16 servings (3 topped crackers), Calories 40

Tasting Notes:
An absolute burst of flavor!  Eat these in one bite for the full effect; the fishiness of the seaweed caviar is offset perfectly by the bright pop of lemon, crunchy carrot, and crisp rice cracker.  As for the Lemon Tofu Cream, it is one of those dips that you quite simply need to keep dipping into - addictive.  Since the dip is so easy compared to the (admittedly complicated) rest of the recipe, I will no doubt revisit it when I need a simple crudite-and-dip fix.  I would increase the amount of fresh ginger juice, which got lost under the lemon and tofu.  Likewise, when assembling the appetizer, I would add more tofu cream to each cracker.  In sum, time consuming but worth it!