Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Basmati Pilaf with Almonds and Cilantro

Rice is a staple in many households - whether vegan or otherwise - and for good reason. It has protein, amino acids, and vitamins, brown versions more so than white of course, but even white basmati can be a nutritious choice. The trick is to make sure you don't let this essential side dish become boring. The bold flavors of cilantro and toasted almonds make this easy pilaf different and tasty.

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 cup uncooked basmati rice
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 and 1/4 cups vegan beef broth (prepared from Not Beef bouillon)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add the almonds and saute for 2 minutes, until lightly browned.

2. Add the rice and garlic; saute for 2 minutes.  Stir in the water and broth; bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.

3. Remove from heat and stir in the cilantro, green onions, salt, and black pepper.

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

Tasting Notes:
Fresh and green tasting, like an herb garden has taken up residence in your plate of rice. If you like cilantro, you will love this. The toasted almonds add pleasing crunch, and you can definitely taste a richness from using vegan beef broth to simmer the rice rather than plain water. The grains of rice are tender but retain a separateness (unlike, say, sticky rice), which is characteristic of rice prepared in Indian cuisine. In fact, I can easily imagine being served this at an Indian restaurant. Enjoyable all around.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Iceberg Lettuce Wedges with Thousand Island Dressing

You can purchase vegan thousand island dressing from Organicville, but it's super simple to whip up a batch at home too. I drizzled the dressing over iceberg lettuce wedges tonight for a variation on this rather retro salad. It seems I'm actually in-step with culinary history; according to the Food Timeline, the iceberg wedge salad was a "ubiquitous menu entry of the 1950s and 1960s" and then lost its place in the 70s to "more interesting salads." Lately however - have we all been watching too much Mad Men perhaps? - the wedge salad has made a bit of a comeback.

  • 1 cup vegan mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons bottled sweet pickle relish*
  • 2 tablespoons bottled chili sauce
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 head iceberg lettuce
1. In a bowl, combine the mayonnaise, water, relish, chili sauce, ketchup, mustard, and black pepper.

2. Cut the lettuce head into 6 wedges, and place 1 wedge on each of 6 plates. 

3. Drizzle each serving with about 1/4 cup dressing.

A few notes on ingredients: I recommend a light vegan mayo (like reduced-fat Vegenaise) to keep the salad healthier overall. I also recommend using filtered water, since it is never boiled in this recipe. Here's a line up of the rest of my vegan condiments for the dressing:

If you want to continue with the retro theme, try serving with the vegan breaded shrimp from Sophie's Kitchen.

*I actually took a gamble with the sweet pickle relish tonight. Whole Foods 365 brand is organic - including organic (non bone-char) sugar - but contained ever-suspicious "natural flavors." However, I have a soft spot for Whole Foods and trust the company, and since there was no allergen warning for dairy or shellfish, I went out on a limb and assumed the flavors were vegan and I could make the salad tonight. I almost never use an ingredient before receiving a confirmation on the source of natural flavors, so do hope I'm right on this one! I have an inquiry into the company to confirm my hunch, so stay tuned for the answer.

Update: I am pleased to report this response from Whole Foods: "Thank you for contacting us.  The natural flavors in our sweet relish are all vegetable in nature." Thank you Whole Foods!

Nutrition Info:
6 servings (1 lettuce wedge, 1/4 cup dressing), Calories 97

Tasting Notes:
Thousand Island dressing was my favorite in high school (vegetarian, not yet vegan), and one bite of this salad transported me back. A delight for the tastebuds. I'll confess I was always confounded as to what actually went into Thousand Island, never able to discern the components. Now knowing that there was Dijon, relish, and chili sauce, I was easily able to distinguish all three. This salad was way more dressed than usual for me, so felt like an indulgence even though light.


Vegan extra:
A little side note tonight on some of the wines I've been enjoying this winter. The colder the weather, the more I crave full-bodied wines, the liquid equivalent of winter comfort food. Some great vegan ones to try are the zinfandel from Grisole vineyards:

the syrah from Buenas Ondes:

and the merlot from Badger Mountain:

A rich chardonnay makes a good winter white; Buenas Ondes is a good one to try.  These wines are all certified vegan and available from The Organic Wine Company.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Wheat Berry-Stuffed Winter Squash

Turn wheat berries into a hearty stuffing for this visually-arresting entree. Choose acorn squash that are about 1 pound each (many at the store these days seem to be twice if not three times that size).

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 and 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
  • 1 cup uncooked wheat berries
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1/4 chopped dry-roasted cashews
  • 1 tablespoon peeled and grated fresh ginger
  • 1 seeded and minced jalapeno pepper
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and 3/4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 acorn squash
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Cooking spray
  • Cilantro sprigs (optional for garnish)
1. Heat the canola oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the onion, wheat berries, and mustard seeds; saute for 3 minutes.

2. Add the cashews, ginger, and jalapeno; saute for 2 minute.

3. Add the water, salt, and vegetable broth and bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 2 hours - the wheat berries should be tender.  Stir in the minced cilantro and lemon juice, then set aside.

4. Meanwhile, prepare the squash: cut in half lengthwise, and discard the seeds.  Combine the maple syrup and cinnamon in a small bowl, and brush evenly over the squash.  Place the squash on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray, cut sides down, and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes, until tender.

5. Divide the wheat berry mixture evenly among the squash halves (about 3/4 cup per half).  Because the liquid doesn't fully absorb during cooking, ladle the mixture out with a slotted spoon. Garnish with cilantro sprigs for a pretty presentation, if desired. 

For more fun with wheat berries, see my post for Wheat Berry, Black Bean, and Vegetable Stew. If this stuffing doesn't intrigue you, try my recipe for Roasted Squash Stuffed with Corn Bread Dressing.

Nutrition Info:
4 servings (1 stuffed squash half), Calories 319

Tasting Notes:
The wheat berry mixture is savory and complex, with delectable tidbits of cashew and jalapeno (although I sadly couldn't taste much ginger). The acorn squash is just heavenly, with a sweet maple-cinnamon coating that felt almost buttery after baking. What I didn't love about the dish was the presentation (aesthetics aside). Either I would serve this more like a pilaf, with cubed acorn squash, maple syrup, and cinnamon stirred right into the saucepan with everything else, or I would leave the wheat berry mixture in the excess broth and serve like a stew.  The current presentation did not make the best use of that delectably tender acorn squash, which got buried underneath the stuffing.


Vegan extra:
I've been having a bit of fun lately with probiotics. Don't be fooled into thinking you need to eat dairy yogurt and kefir to obtain these good-for-your bacteria, even though those are the sources most cited in health articles. Do make sure, however, that your probiotics are grown in a non-dairy medium.

I learned the hard way that one always needs to double-check when it comes to probiotics while enjoying Stonyfield's O'Soy yogurt back in 2007. Who ever heard of a soy yogurt that didn't bother to be vegan? Good lord.

Instead, try Whole Soy yogurts:

There's even coconut milk kefir from So Delicious, to help you obtain billions of these "live active cultures."

Supplements are another option. Companies that grow their bacteria in a non-dairy medium include New Chapter Organics and SunBiotics.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sichuan-Style Stir-Fried Chicken with Peanuts

This dish is quite close to the kung pao chicken you may have ordered before becoming vegan. It's a great introduction to the western school of Chinese cuisine, in case you're still thinking of "Chinese food" as one broad category. Known primarily for its spices, the western school aims for a blend of hot, sour, sweet, and salty all in one bite. This recipe has those flavors and more.

For the marinade:
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine*
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
  • 6 Gardein Tuscan chicken breasts (without sauce)
For stir-frying:
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
For the sauce:
  • 1/2 cup vegan chicken broth (such as Imagine)
  • 2 tablespoons vegan sugar
  • 2 and 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine*
  • 1 tablespoon Annie's Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 and 1/4 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced green onions
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons minced and peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon chile paste with garlic
For the remaining ingredients:
  • 1 and 1/2 cups drained sliced water chestnuts
  • 1 cup (1/2-inch) sliced green onion tops
  • 3/4 cup unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
  • 6 cups hot cooked long-grain rice
1. To prepare the marinade, cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces.  Combine in a bowl with 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons rice wine, 1 teaspoon cornstarch, and 1 teaspoon dark sesame oil.  Cover and chill for 20 minutes.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the canola oil in a large skillet (or wok if you have one) over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken mixture and stir-fry for 4 minutes.  Remove from the pan.

3. Meanwhile, prepare the sauce: in a bowl, combine the broth, sugar, 2 and 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons rice wine, the Worcestershire sauce, 1 and 1/4 teaspoons cornstarch, and 1 teaspoon sesame oil, stirring well with a whisk.  Set aside.

4. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon canola oil in the pan; add 2 tablespoons green onions, the ginger, the garlic, and the chile paste.  Stir-fry for 15 seconds.  Add the sauce mixture and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly, until thick.

5. Return the chicken mixture to the pan, along with the water chestnuts, 1 cup green onions, and peanuts.  Cook for a final minute.

6. Prepare the rice in the meantime, so it is hot and ready to go.  Serve 3/4 cup stir-fry over 1 cup rice on each of 6 plates.

Add a steamed vegetable like snow peas to round out the meal.

Incidentally, this dish is very nice with a glass of vegan red wine, like the zinfandel from Girasole Vineyards.

*I used the rice cooking wine from Ka-me, as I couldn't find true Shaoxing rice wine at my local wine store. I also was unable to dig up any information on rice wine and filtration methods, so was just as happy to use the "cooking wine" version, despite the added salt.  Sake would make a fine substitute, but just make sure to choose an unfiltered or vegan-friendly brand.

Nutrition Info:
6 servings (3/4 cup stir-fry, 1 cup rice), Calories 590

Tasting Notes:
The heat in this dish was perfect for me, a warming kind of spice rather than a tongue-searing one. If you like spicier food, you can easily increase the amount of chili paste, as 1 teaspoon is quite judicious. After all, Sichuan cooking is infamous for its tongue-tingling heat.  The sauce had a nice blend of sweet, spicy and savory, although all of those elements could be increased, and I was not really able to taste the ginger and garlic. Next time I'd swap in broccoli for the green onion tops, which I didn't love. Rice makes a good base to soak up the rest of the sauce, except next time I'd flip the portions when plating: more chicken mixture, less rice.


Vegan extra:
A few more notes about the ingredients in this recipe. This recipe already includes many of the hallmark seasonings in the western school of Chinese cuisine, including the chile paste, ginger, garlic, water chestnuts, and nuts. If you're not up for cooking but want to eat something similar, try the vegan kung pao chicken from Vegetarian Plus. The mixture contains dried chiles, and I stirred in chopped fresh ones for extra heat:

The chile paste, an essential component of the Chinese pantry, is a blend of crushed chile peppers, oil, vinegar, and garlic. 

If you can't find it, substitute crushed red pepper, but it won't quite be the same. Leftover chile paste, is delicious spooned over the vegan Peking duck from Macro Vegetarian.

Dark sesame oil, often labeled as either toasted or roasted sesame oil, is another key component here. 

However, since the flavor can break down at high heat, you might consider drizzling it over veggies as a seasoning, rather than using it for stir-frying. Some other veggies you might find in western Chinese cuisine are mushrooms and bamboo shoots:

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Chocolate Bread

Honestly, a bread machine is not a necessary appliance in your kitchen. Once you get the hang of it, kneading dough and letting it rise requires little effort, involves mostly hands-free time, and produces beautiful loaves of bread. But let's face it: sometimes everyone feels a little lazy, and those lazy days are when I like my bread machine. Put all the ingredients in the basket, press start, and about 3 hours later, a baked loaf comes out. It's not the best bread in the world, but it certainly is easy.

  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1 cup warm water (between 100 and 110 degrees)
  • 1/3 cup vegan sugar
  • 1/4 cup Dutch process cocoa
  • 1 tablespoon vegan butter
  • 2 teaspoons bread-machine yeast*
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 ounces coarsely chopped dark chocolate**
  • 1 Ener-G egg yolk
1, Prep all your ingredients so they're lined up and ready to go: lightly spoon the flour into dry measuring cups and level with a knife; heat the water; chop the chocolate, and make the Ener-G egg yolk (1 and 1/2 teaspoons powder whisked into only 1 tablespoon warm water).

2. Place the ingredients in the bread machine basket in the order specified by the manufacturer's instructions. Generally, this will follow the pattern of liquids, then dry ingredients, and the yeast last (the yeast should not touch the liquid). I placed everything in the basket in this order: water, Ener-G yolk, flour, sugar, cocoa, butter, salt, chocolate, yeast.

3. Select the cycle and settings for a 1 and 3/4 pound loaf on your machine, and then kick back for a lazy weekend afternoon while the machine does all the work.

Here's an update on the bread after kneading, at the stage where you remove the kneading paddle from the basket:

And here's the machine that gets all the credit:

This bread seems tailor-made for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (I particularly liked it with strawberry jam).

Or toast a slice for a quick breakfast, and spread with jam. 

*Make sure you use a yeast that is specifically formulated for bread machines, since not all active dry yeast is. Red Star brand works great, and says right on the package that it is "ideal for bread machines."

**Opt for a bittersweet dark chocolate with a high percentage of cacao, otherwise you'll wind up with something more like a cake than a bread. I used the 88% dark from the Endangered Species Chocolate CompanyBonus points for that cute face on the wrapper:

Nutrition Info:
14 servings (1 slice), Calories 183

Tasting Notes:
Well bread machine, I am impressed. You turned out a loaf with a nice crust (like sliced sandwich bread you buy at the store), and the most beautiful, moist crumb interior. The bread tastes of chocolate without being cloyingly sweet, thanks to the use of a bittersweet dark variety.  In fact, although almost a touch bitter alone, this bread is basically tailor-made for the most perfect pb&j sandwiches you'll ever make.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Ultradecadent Double-Chip Brownies

Two kinds of baking chips make their way into these yummy dessert bars - the chocolate minichips from Enjoy Life and vanilla-flavored white chocolate chips. 

  • 1 and 1/4 cups applesauce
  • 2 and 1/2 cups vegan sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 Ener-G eggs*
  • 1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chocolate minichips (such as Enjoy Life)
  • 1/2 cup vanilla-flavored baking chips (such as Paskesz)
  • Cooking spray
1. Spoon the applesauce into a fine-mesh sieve and place in a bowl.  Let stand for 15 minutes to drain off the excess liquid. This will prevent your batter from becoming too runny.

2. Transfer the applesauce to a large bowl, and add the sugar, vanilla extract, and Ener-G eggs, stirring until blended.

3. Lightly spoon the flour into dry measuring cups and level with a knife.  Combine the flour in a bowl with the cocoa and salt.  Add the flour mixture to the applesauce mixture, stirring just until moist. Fold in the minichips and vanilla chips.

4. Spoon the batter into a 13x9-inch metal baking pan coated with cooking spray.

5. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, then cool completely on a wire rack before cutting into 24 brownies.

*Unlike with, say, vegan angel food cake, there's no need to beat the Ener-G eggs in this recipe for a long time. However, since there is no other leavening agent in the batter, I recommend beating the Ener-G with a hand mixer just for a minute or two before adding to the other ingredients.

Nutrition Info:
24 servings (1 brownie), Calories 175

Tasting Notes:
Super chocolatey and rich; these brownies definitely live up to their decadent moniker. I would, however, use less cocoa because all that yummy chocolate made it hard to taste the tidbits of vanilla chips and minichips. The brownies are also quite sweet, so you really don't need a full 2 and 1/2 cups sugar.  Still, fantastic, with a soft, chewy center, crisp edge, and just the right touch of salt. Even better after a day in the fridge, believe it or not.


Friday, February 15, 2013

Chicken Francais

Here's my attempt to veganize a classic French restaurant dish known as chicken francais, or "French chicken," a floured and battered chicken cutlet in lemon sauce.

  • 6 Ener-G eggs
  • 1/4 cup vegan Parmesan sprinkles (such as Galaxy Foods)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup vegan dry white wine, divided
  • 5 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 8 Gardein Tuscan chicken breasts (without sauce)
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 tablespoons vegan butter
1. In a shallow dish, combine the Ener-G eggs with the Parmesan sprinkles, parsley, 1/4 cup wine, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, salt, hot pepper sauce, and garlic.  Set aside.

2. Place the chicken pieces between 2 sheets of plastic wrap, and pound gently with a meat mallet until about 1/4-inch thick (use a gentle pounding motion, as otherwise the Gardein may pull apart).

3. Place the flour in a second shallow dish.  Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour and then dip in the Ener-G mixture.

4. Heat 1 and 1/2 teaspoons olive oil in a large skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat.  Add 4 of the chicken pieces and cook for 4 minutes on each side.  Remove from the pan and wipe the pan with a paper towel.  Repeat the procedure with the remaining 1 and 1/2 teaspoons olive oil and remaining chicken pieces.

5. Melt the butter in the pan.  Add the remaining 1/4 cup wine and 3 tablespoons lemon juice.  Bring to a boil, and cook for 10 seconds.  Drizzle over the chicken and serve immediately.

To round out an elegant French supper, serve with the leftover white wine from the bottle you used for cooking, haricots verts, and white rice sprinkled with a touch of parsley.

If you want more pronounced lemon flavor, serve lemon slices on the side and squeeze over the chicken just before serving.

Nutrition Info:
8 servings (1 chicken breast, 2 teaspoons lemon sauce), Calories 211

Tasting Notes:
Absolutely, unexpectedly beautiful, far more so than I imagined during prep. The Parmesan sprinkles, white wine, and lemon juice combine into the best cheesy but not overpowering coating over the chicken. The sauce is full of bright lemon and just a hint of silky butter. This dish would do for company for sure. If you are just making it for a simple family dinner, however, I recommend halving the recipe, so you don't need to worry about cooking 2 batches in the skillet. The only reason I'm withholding a "5" is that a touch of breadcrumbs added to the flour coating would take this dish over the top.