Sunday, September 29, 2013

Tomatoes Provencale

I happened by an event in NYC today called 'Taste of France' - a complete coincidence, as I already had the ingredients on hand to prep these Provencal-style tomatoes for dinner. But it served as a nice reminder that it need not be difficult to be vegan in France (you can even stay at all-vegan inns, these days), and that some of the best flavors we associate with French cuisine - the fresh tomatoes, thyme, olive oil, and garlic in this recipe, to wit - are vegan to begin with.

  • 8 tomatoes*
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1 (1/2-ounce) slice sourdough bread
  • 6 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup vegan Parmesan sprinkles (such as Galaxy Foods)
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Thyme leaves (optional for garnish)
1. Cut the tops off the tomatoes, and discard.  Seed the tomatoes, leaving the shells intact.

Note: This step isn't hard, just a little delicate. I recommend cutting in a circle around the inside of the tomato with a serrated knife, then using a spoon to scoop everything out.

2. Sprinkle the cut sides of the tomatoes with 1/4 teaspoon salt and place, cut sides down, on several layers of paper towels; drain for 15 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, place the bread in a food processor and pulse about 10 to 20 times; coarse crumbs should measure about 1/2 cup.  Combine the breadcrumbs in a bowl with the parsley, Parmesan sprinkles, and garlic.

4. Heat the olive oil in a large oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat.  Place the tomatoes cut sides down, in the pan and saute for 5 minutes.

5. Remove the pan from heat and turn the tomatoes over.  Spoon about 2 tablespoons breadcrumb mixture into each tomato, and spray the breadcrumb mixture with cooking spray.  Sprinkle evenly with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and the black pepper.

6. Wrap the handle of the pan in aluminum foil and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes - the breadcrumb mixture should be browned.  Sprinkle with thyme leaves for a pretty garnish.

I rounded out my homey French-themed meal with chickpea soup, and little noshes of artichokes, roasted bell pepper, and extra sourdough bread.

Serve with a good French red wine of course. I'm still searching for a vegan Chateauneuf du Pape, but you can find similar varietals (Cotes du Rhone and Crozes Hermitages) that are certified vegan at the Organic Wine Company.

*Make sure you buy tomatoes large enough to stuff - about 8 ounces each.

Nutrition Info:
8 servings (1 stuffed tomato), Calories 73

Tasting Notes:
The Parmesan is fantastic, the best use for vegan Parmesan sprinkles I've found yet, and the first thing that hits you when you take a bite. The tomatoes are so soft and sweet from roasting that they are melt-in-your mouth. To really make this a "5," I would bulk up the filling with a little more sourdough, and add thyme right into the mix instead of saving it for a garnish.  Also fantastic if you spread the whole mixture on top of additional slices of good sourdough, for something a bit like pan catalan.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Risotto Cakes with Pine Nuts

This dish is a little time intensive, but the resulting little risotto cakes are an elegant addition to an upcoming fall dinner party. I served with Gardein chicken for the mock-meat lovers in my household.

  • 1 and 1/4 cups water
  • 28 ounces vegan chicken broth (such as Imagine)
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 1 and 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 and 1/4 cups uncooked Arborio rice*
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts**
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/3 cup white cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1. Combine the water and broth in a saucepan and bring to a simmer, but do not boil.  Reduce heat and keep warm over low heat.

2. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat.  Add the mushrooms and onion; saute for 5 minutes.

3. Stir in the rice and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Stir in 1/2 cup of the warm broth mixture and cook until the liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly.

4. Begin adding the remaining broth mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, while stirring constantly and waiting for each portion to absorb before adding the next - you'll need anywhere from 20 to 50 minutes.

5. Remove the rice mixture from heat, and stir in the parsley, pine nuts, salt, and black pepper.  Spread the rice mixture onto a baking sheet and chill for 20 minutes.

6. Divide the rice mixture into 8 equal portions, shaping into 1/2-inch thick patties.  Place the cornmeal in a shallow bowl and dredge the patties in the cornmeal.

Note: If you have leftover white cornmeal and need ideas, I've got you covered.

7. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 4 of the patties and cook for 4 minutes.  Turn over carefully and cook for an additional 4 minutes.  Repeat with an additional tablespoon olive oil and the remaining patties.

*If you don't have Arborio rice on hand, any short-grain rice will work. In fact, I was about 1/4 cup shy on the Arborio tonight, so made up the difference with sushi rice.

**Toast the pine nuts in a small skillet over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Stir or shake the nuts frequently to prevent them from burning, then add to the recipe as directed.

Nutrition Info:
8 servings (1 risotto cake), Calories 229

Tasting Notes:
The risotto turned out quite well, both in terms of taste and texture - I particularly loved the occasional crunch of a pine nut, the freshness from the parsley, and the earthy mushrooms. I would, however, use less onion, and also chop the mushrooms finely instead of slicing them. Unfortunately it was tough to get these little patties to come together right, and I'd tweak the preparation a little next time. First, I recommend overcooking the risotto slightly, so the mixture is quite dry, in which case the patties would shape together better. I'd also stir white cornmeal into the mixture as a binder, then use a second coating of cornmeal for the exterior breading, in which case these would hold up better during cooking and flipping over. If you don't mind a slightly messy presentation, the taste will still be worth it as is. Close to a "4" for taste, but minus points for presentation and ease of preparation.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Curried Squash-Apple Soup

Before tonight's post, I need to rave about a weekend visit to Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. We fed blueberries to chickens who were just rescued in a special chartered flight across country, snuggled up with sheep and goats, and gave a belly rub to one of Julia's piglets (an honor!). It was a humbling experience to visit these animals who are not here for human consumption, use, or entertainment, but are just living out their natural lives. They are truly the Lucky Ones, and please visit Woodstock or any other animal sanctuary near you to support the efforts of the folks who run these places.

Now back home in NYC, I'm turning my attention to autumn and two of my favorite fall foods: butternut squash and apples. Combine them both in this warming bowl of soup, with a dash of curry powder thrown in for good measure.

  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 3 and 3/4 cups (1/2-inch) peeled and cubed butternut squash
  • 3 and 3/4 cups chopped Golden Delicious apple
  • 2 and 3/4 cups water
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped celery
  • 2 and 1/4 teaspoons curry powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon peeled and chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 seeded and chopped serrano chile
  • 1 vegetable-flavored bouillon cube
1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, until soft.

2. Add the butternut squash, apple, water, celery, curry powder, ginger, serrano, and bouillon cube.

3. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes - the squash should be tender.

4. Ladle half of the squash mixture into a blender and process until smooth.  Transfer the pureed soup to a large bowl and repeat with the remaining squash mixture.

Note: I recommend covering the center piece of your blender's lid with a dishtowel or paper towel so steam can escape - otherwise you risk a messy explosion.

Nutrition Info:
4 servings (1 and 1/2 cups), Calories 141

Tasting Notes:
I went back and forth at first, wondering if the soup was too sweet from the apple. Ultimately, I decided I enjoyed that the squash and apple are equal players in this recipe. If you want a more traditional squash soup, increase the butternut slightly and decrease the apple. The heat from the curry and serrano is just right though, and the soup has a very creamy, rich body, almost more like a bisque.

Update: Leftover soup is just as yummy chilled the next day, so consider saving some or even making a double batch.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pear Cake with Pine Nuts

Here's a perfect fall cake - any variety of pear will work, so use your favorite (bonus points if you've gone to the fruit orchard to pick it yourself). The pine nuts give a nicely different, savory element to the topping. Toast them ahead of time in a small skillet over medium heat for about 3 to 5 minutes, being sure to shake or stir in the pan frequently to prevent burning.

  • 1 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup vegan sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup vegan butter
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup vegan sour cream
  • 1/4 cup plain non-dairy milk
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 Ener-G egg
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 cups thinly sliced and peeled pear
1. Lightly spoon the flour into dry measuring cups and level with a knife.  Combine the flour in a bowl with the sugar and salt.  Cut the butter into small pieces, and cut into the flour mixture with a pastry blender - the mixture should look like coarse meal.

2. Transfer 1/3 cup of this flour mixture to a small bowl, and stir in the pine nuts and cinnamon; set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the remaining flour mixture, the sour cream, milk, lemon rind, vanilla, baking powder, baking soda, and Ener-G egg.  Beat with a mixer at medium speed until blended.

4. Pour the batter into a 9-inch round cake pan coated with cooking spray.  Arrange the pear slices over the batter - any pattern will do, but I find concentric circles to be the prettiest.

5. Sprinkle with the pine nut mixture, then bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes - a wooden pick inserted in the center should come out clean.  Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

Nutrition Info:
8 servings (1 wedge), Calories 252

Tasting Notes:
The slight graininess of the pears and the toasted pine nuts are an elegant and delightful combination. There was also a surprisingly nice burst of fresh lemon to each bite, from the rind. The cake is a perfect texture, with just the right touch of sweetness to the sugar topping, making this one a keeper. I also appreciated the ease with which it came together, since the flour mixture is used both in the batter and the topping. The perfect kind of cake to serve with coffee or brunch.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Grilled Cuban Sandwiches

Finally I have my hands on Daiya's new Swiss slices. Swiss cheese was my absolute favorite as a vegetarian, so as far as I'm concerned, this is the greatest food item to join the vegan ranks since the invention of tofu. I decided to feature it in a Cuban sandwich, which is traditionally made of ham, Swiss, and pickles, and then grilled. The sandwich supposedly earned its moniker because it was a popular lunch for cigar factory workers in Cuba. It later made its way to factory workers in Key West, where the sandwich remains popular. This version isn't technically grilled, but placing a heavy skillet on top helps mimic the plancha sandwich press in which traditional versions are cooked.

  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 (8-ounce) loaf French bread
  • 8 slices Daiya Swiss cheese
  • 12 slices vegan ham (such as Lightlife)
  • 8 sandwich-sliced dill pickles
1. Cut the bread in half horizontally, and spread the mustard over the cut sides of the bread.

2. Arrange half of the Swiss slices and half of the ham slices on the bottom of the loaf.  Top with the pickle slices, and then with the remaining Swiss slices and remaining ham. Cover with the top half of the loaf. 

Look the Daiya Swiss even has holes!

3. Cut the sandwich into 4 pieces.

4. Heat a large heavy skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat.  Add the sandwiches and cover with an additional heavy skillet (cast-iron works well).  Cook for 2 minutes on each side.

I served with baked chips to round out this easy meal.

Nutrition Info:
4 servings (1 sandwich), Calories 335

Tasting Notes:
Well, now I know - why serve pickles on the side when you can add them right to the sandwich? The Swiss was exactly like I remember Swiss cheese to be, and got nicely gooey, melting into the ham and pickles. My baguette was quite crispy/crunchy, so next time I might use a slightly softer loaf (Italian bread perhaps), but that doesn't stop this sandwich from earning a 5.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Braised Zucchini and Leeks

Use up the last of your (or your farmers' market's) bumper crop of zucchini here. The heat wave is ending in New York and it looks like fall weather is about to move in, so after tonight I might be shifting gears...

  • 1 tablespoon vegan butter
  • 2 cups finely chopped leek*
  • 6 cups finely chopped zucchini*
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
1. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the leek and saute for 2 minutes.

2. Add the zucchini, salt, and garlic to the pan.  Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Uncover and cook for a final 10 minutes over medium-high heat; most of the liquid should be evaporated.

The veggies are best served immediately. I rounded out the meal with sauteed seitan and polenta rounds.

*You can chop the leeks and zucchini in advance, which means the rest of the recipe will come together in a pinch. Just store in separate zip-top plastic bags until ready to use.  Don't forget to rinse the leek in a sieve after chopping; otherwise you won't be able to get the sand and dirt from all the layers.

Nutrition Info:
8 servings (about 2/3 cup), Calories 52

Tasting Notes:
Hmm, well this was definitely too salty, and I think you'd still be able to braise the zucchini just fine if you use only 1/2 teaspoon. Aside from that fact though, quite nice - the preparation feels very French, and the zucchini and leeks were just tender enough.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Uruguayan Bean Salad

South American cuisine is a bit of a mystery to me. Aside from knowing they eat a lot of steak in Argentina, and having sampled cocktails like the pisco sour or caipirinha, I know almost nothing about a "typical" cuisine from many South American countries. When I spotted this salad, it jumped out at me because I had a couple cans of fava beans at home, and the simplicity of it sounded perfect for capping off a busy day.  If you don't have fava beans, try it with kidney or pinto beans.

  • 3 cups rinsed and drained canned fava beans
  • 1 cup seeded and chopped tomato
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
1. In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients, tossing gently.

I served with cornbread (made from a mix, easy peasy) and Gardein's beefless strips.

Nutrition Info:
6 servings (2/3 cup), Calories 167

Tasting Notes:
The oregano and parsley pair so wonderfully together, making me think you could make this more like a tabbouleh, with loads more fresh parsley, and the fava beans would take the place of the bulgur. Fava beans have a great meaty texture, and so this salad is a nice showcase for them. Aside from the raw onion, which I wasn't wild about, I'd leave everything else the same.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Wild Mushroom Risotto

Is that a fall chill I feel in the air? Whether real or imagined, September and back-to-school season are here, and my taste buds are on their way back towards fall foods even though summer isn't technically over yet. The earthy mushrooms in this risotto fit the bill perfectly to kick off the season.

  • 1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1 and 1/2 cups water
  • 28 ounces vegetable broth
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 2 and 1/2 cups sliced shiitake mushroom caps
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 and 1/2 cups uncooked Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup sherry*
1. In a bowl, combine the porcini and boiling water.  Cover and let stand for 15 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender.  Drain through a colander over a bowl, reserving the soaking liquid, and set the porcini aside.

2. Combine the reserved liquid in a saucepan with the remaining 1 and 1/2 cups water and the vegetable broth.  Bring the mixture to a simmer, but do not boil, then reduce heat and keep warm over low heat.

3. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the garlic; saute for 1 minute.  Add the shiitake mushrooms; saute for 2 minutes.  Stir in the porcini mushrooms, thyme, salt, and black pepper. Add the rice and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

4. Begin adding the warm broth mixture, 1/2 cup at a time. Stir constantly and wait for each portion to absorb before adding the next - you'll need 20 to 30 minutes total.  Stir in the sherry and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly; the liquid should be nearly absorbed.

The risotto will be best served immediately. A side salad of romaine lettuce rounds out the meal nicely.

If you want to stretch out summer a little longer, use summer fruits like peaches or blueberries in your dessert - or just serve bowlfuls of fresh fruit!

The dish pairs well with an equally earthy red wine. I chose an unfiltered Spanish red.

Unfiltered wine folks, they're a vegan's best friend.

*It can be very hard to find sherry that you're sure is vegan. Instead, I recommend the cooking sherry from Napa Valley Naturals.

Nutrition Info:
8 servings (3/4 cup), Calories 255

Tasting Notes:
It's the sherry that really distinguishes this risotto, so if you like sherry, this recipe is for you. Personally, I'd decrease the amount to about 1/4 cup, and I'd also double the amount of mushrooms. Lovely earthy flavor though, just as I hoped, so no complaints there.


Monday, September 2, 2013

Orzo with Chicken, Broccoli, and Pesto

Flat-leaf parsley and mint form the base of this slightly unusual pesto, which would make a great sauce over any pasta and vegetable combo besides the one I present to you here. You can cook the Gardein chicken ahead of time, using either the refrigerated Tuscan or herb dijon chicken breasts, or the frozen chick'n scallopini; cook according to package directions and shred with a fork or by hand to measure 1 and 1/2 cups.

  • 2 cups small broccoli florets
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts*
  • 1 peeled garlic clove
  • 1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 1/4 cup vegan Parmesan sprinkles (such as Galaxy Foods)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup uncooked orzo
  • 1 and 1/2 cups cooked and shredded Gardein chicken breast
1. Steam the broccoli, covered, for 2 minutes, just until crisp-tender.  Rinse with cold water, drain, and transfer to a large bowl; set aside.

2. To prepare the pesto drop the pine nuts and garlic through the chute of a food processor while the processor is on, and process until minced.

3. Add the flat-leaf parsley, mint, and Parmesan; process until finely minced.

4. With the processor still on, add the olive oil, lemon juice, water, salt, and black pepper; process until well blended.

5. Meanwhile, cook the orzo according to package directions - you should end up with 2 cups cooked pasta.  Add the orzo, chicken, and parsley pesto to the broccoli, and stir well to combine.

*Toast the pine nuts in a skillet over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Shake or stir frequently to prevent the nuts from burning.

Nutrition Info:
5 servings (1 cup), Calories 258

Tasting Notes:
I may never make pesto without mint again - the subtle minty flavor is incredible, and it's the special touch that makes this dish. Great Parmesan and pine nut flavor in the pesto too. The amount of pesto coating the orzo is quite judicious though, so double the pesto if you want a richer dinner. Perfectly steamed broccoli and savory chicken made every bite enjoyable. I bet this would also be great with sliced vegan sausage in place of the chicken