Celebrating a full pantry with a vegan, gluten-free Menu Plan Monday

I let myself completely run out of olive oil, then grapeseed oil, then sesame oil, then peanut oil. I ran out of chickpea flour which meant no socca pizza for fast and easy meals. I ran out of balsamic, onions, thyme, tofu, tempeh, and tamari, and how do you cook without the basics? (My mom would laugh at me for considering balsamic a “basic” – I remember I amused her greatly when I called her from college and said, “I don’t know how our grocery bill is so high, we just bought the essentials, you know cheese, bread, vegetables, capers…”) I’ve still managed to feed myself pretty well thanks to the farmer’s market and the generosity of friends and family. (I was treated to dinner or cooked for three times last week!)

Socca Pizza

Late last week I finally managed to make the grand tour, from the Indian market to Rainbow Grocery, my vegetarian co-op, to Trader Joe’s. I really love the full-pantry feeling. It just makes me feel so safe and secure. And it makes me want to cook! My well-stocked pantry has inspired my first proper menu plan in over a month. (I’ve still been doing less formal private menu planning – I can’t really remember how I used to cook and shop without it – but it’s better when I get to share it with you!)

Edamame, Corn, and Tofu Succotash

This week’s Gluten Free Menu Swap is hosted by Heather of Celiac Family with the theme of corn. I am super, super excited about corn. I didn’t make it to the farmer’s market last week so I’m not sure if it has arrived there yet (or actually if any of the farmers at my market grow corn – there are so many fewer produce stands than there were last year), but I’ve certainly been seeing it in all the grocery stores, from Rainbow and Whole Foods to Trader Joe’s. Corn is one of my favorite parts of summer. Like asparagus, it is an entirely seasonal treat that I only get to eat for a few months a year. Unlike asparagus, it doesn’t cost $6 a pound. I’ll be trying a new recipe with corn this week, the Post Punk Kitchen’s fresh corn johnnycakes. And I’ll be making one of my favorite easy dinners, The Splendid Table’s edamame and tofu succotash with fresh corn. If there is indeed corn at the farmer’s market, I’ll get a bunch and make my absolute favorite corn recipe, Fresh Corn Polenta, every morning. Oh, my mouth is watering just thinking about it…

Fresh Corn Polenta with Sauteed Cherry Tomatoes

Have a great week of cooking, everyone! For a giant round-up of menu plans, check out the Menu Plan Monday compendium over at orgjunkie.

Monday
Socca pizza with chard, cream cheese, and red onion
Impressionist cauliflower

Tuesday
Red lentils & kale with coconut and crispy shallots

Wednesday
Fresh corn johnnycakes
Brazilian shredded collard greens (Viva Vegan, sub collards for kale)
Warm sweet potato and black bean salad

Thursday
Edamame and tofu succotash with fresh corn (marinate/broil tofu instead of buying smoked)
Green salad

Friday
Chickpea picatta with mashed potatoes

Saturday
Leftovers

Sunday
Tempeh helper,
Steamed broccoli
Chocolate cupcake brownies

Shopping list: 3 red onions, chard, 2-3 spring onions, 1 bunch kale, 5 shallots, 4 ears corn, collard greens, 3 sweet potatoes, frozen shelled edamame, tofu, 1 large tomato, scallions, 4 cups arugula, potatoes for mashing, (capers?), broccoli

More mint, GF tabouleh, and a review

When I bought my giant bunch of mint at the farmer’s market to use for my milkshake experiments, I bought a giant bunch of parsley at the same time. There’s something about huge gorgeous bunches of fresh herbs that are almost impossible for me to pass up. Maybe it’s because I’ve always hated that $2 at the supermarket will only get you a teeny bunch with a few stalks of mint, so when I see a veritable bouquet of herbs for the same price, I have to take it home with me.

This of course leads to entire shelves in my fridge being devoted to herb storage, and then there’s the anxiety and pressure that comes from worrying that I won’t use them up in time and they’ll wilt and I’ll feel wasteful. (Yes, I know, I’m a high strung person these days…) The answer to the question of what to do with huge bunches of herbs is, of course, to make herb salads. One of my favorites, tabouleh, is something I haven’t had in years. Tabouleh is made with bulgur; people often ask me if bulgur is among the gluten-free grain options, but it’s not, sadly bulgur is actually the name for wheat that has been parboiled and dried. Another food that people ask me if I can eat is couscous. Most don’t realize that couscous isn’t a grain at all – it is made from semolina (wheat) flour, just like pasta. Couscous is teeny tiny pasta!

Staring at my mint and my parsley, I could just taste the lemony, herby deliciousness of tabouleh on the palate of my mind. (Is that a weird thing to say? You know what I mean, right?) I even had a bunch of cherry tomatoes leftover from making raw kale salad the night before. (I never buy tomatoes out of season except the few times a year I need a total health and yumminess infusion from raw kale salad, and then I’ll sneak a box of cherry tomatoes, which are the only decent-tasting tomatoes I can find in the off-season.)

So the big question that remained was what to use in place of the bulgur. I could use quinoa, which is a great go-to substitute, and which people use in place of bulgur and couscous and wheat berries, etc., all the time. But quinoa lacks a sort of soft quality that bulgur has. Because bulgur has been parboiled, when you cook it you are essentially rehydrating it, rather than really cooking it, and so it has a soft, chewy texture that is quite wonderful. I had recently picked up a new (to me, at least) product at Rainbow made by Lundberg Farms, a local rice farm. It’s called Roasted Brown Rice Couscous, and I assume it has been processed in some way and parcooked, because, like regular couscous, it cooks very quickly.

The rice couscous was perfect for tabouleh. The texture was a bit soft, fluffy, a bit chewy, and altogether delightful. I loved how quickly and easily it cooked up, and the “grains” of couscous absorbed the dressing well, which meant the tabouleh got more and more delicious the longer it sat. It’s been a few years since I’ve eaten regular semolina couscous, so I can’t compare the two closely. But I do remember that my favorite part about couscous was how fast it was, and that part definitely carries over here in the rice version.

To make my tabouleh, I used a wonderful recipe I found on the blog Whole Grain Gourmet. The author there talks about how she (he?) made tabouleh many times, and it was good, but never as good as what she had in restaurants. Then she made this version, which involves a tiny bit of cinnamon, and suddenly all the flavors came together in a way that was exactly “right.” I tried this recipe and had the same experience! The cinnamon makes all the difference. I loved this so much (and had so much parsley and mint) that I made several batches, and so ended up creating my own, slightly tweaked version of the recipe. The flavors are so clean and bright and fresh. The rice couscous feels light, not doughy or heavy. I could eat a mountain of this stuff (and I did!).

Gluten-Free Tabouleh Salad
Adapted from a recipe found at Whole Grain Gourmet

1 package Lundberg Brown Rice Couscous
1 1/2 cups minced parsley
1/4 – 1/2 cup minced mint leaves
1/3 cup minced green onion
2 tomatoes or a large handful of cherry tomatoes, diced
1/2 – 1 cucumber, diced

Dressing
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup lemon juice (you may want to start with less)
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Fresh ground black pepper to taste

Prepare rice couscous as directed on package. (It will take about 15 minutes plus time to bring the water to a boil.)

While couscous is cooking, whisk together dressing ingredients in a small bowl: olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and cinnamon. Don’t put all the lemon juice in at once – I like my dressings to have a lot of acid, but I know not everyone feels the same way. Start with about half the amount and keep adding to taste.

Fluff couscous and put in a large bowl. Toss with the parsley, green onion, mint, tomatoes, and cucumber.

Pour the dressing over the couscous and toss until well coated. Refrigerate for about an hour before serving. The flavors will get even better if it sits overnight!

Gratitude and cool

I’ve written before about my tendency to fall in love with a particular dish from a particular restaurant and then dream of it constantly until I can have it again. If only I didn’t have such expensive taste, though… the obsession I developed with Cafe Gratitude’s $9 (formerly $12!) raw mint milkshakes (the “I Am Cool” – everything there is named with an affirmation) meant I had to make a choice between satisfying my gluttony or avoiding bankruptcy. (I chose avoiding bankruptcy – I’m headed there well enough on my own right now, thank you very much, without any ten-dollar milkshakes helping me a long.) But these milkshakes are really, really good; I hadn’t had one in a many months but I fantasized about them still.

So when my sainted mother gave me the Best Present Ever, aka my Vitamix blender, I knew I had to take my shot at recreating this particular fantasy food. All the vegans have been abuzz over Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss “ice cream,” so I decided to try using that as my base. Cafe Gratitude uses their house-made nut-based ice cream, and they’ve just come out with a retail version made from nuts and coconut milk, so hopefully I’ll be able to try that soon as well. I got a huge bunch of mint from the farmer’s market and I started experimenting. This was a good experiment. I was very happy to contribute to the advancement of scientific knowledge in the arena of mint chocolate milkshakes.

Some recipes (including CG’s) add a handful of spinach or some spirulina to give the milkshakes that classic green tint. I don’t really care what color my shake is, though, and it’s another ingredient to have to buy. The idea here was to see if I could create a high-quality, low-cost milkshake; I think the shake is visually appealing on its own. A lovely pale green, flecked with the brown speckles that announce, “Chocolate inside.”

A short sidebar before I give you my entirely bootlegged recipe for this mint milkshake: I give Cafe Gratitude a hard time for being so darn expensive. And also for seeming like a crazy cult where to order food you have to say things like, “I’d like an I Am Alert with a side of I Am Accepting” and where everyone does Landmark Forums and there are superhippydreamy paintings on the walls. But they’re actually pretty awesome. They have some cool behind-the-scenes business practices that aren’t obvious from just going there as a customer. They offer the Grateful Bowl, a delicious raw kale and grain bowl whose cost is “pay what you can,” and they serve 37,000 of them a year. They’re entirely vegan, which is a huge contribution to the wellbeing of the world as far as I’m concerned. They work hard to source food locally, and even have their own farm where a lot of the CG produce is grown.

What I’m trying to say is that I don’t think the milkshakes are $9 because CG are elitist, bourgeois jerks. I think that’s probably a price that reflects the cost of having good business practices, buying local food, making your own raw vegan ice cream from nuts, and subsidizing projects like the Grateful Bowl. And right now what I’m grateful for is the inspiration, because for $9 I can make eight milkshakes at home (or four, rather, because I tend to guzzle the whole 16 oz. on my own…), and nothing inspires gratitude in me like being able to indulge my longing for a super refreshing vegan mint chocolate milkshake without breaking the bank.

I Am Inspired Vegan Mint Chocolate Milkshake
With gratitude for inspiration from Cafe Gratitude and Raw Food Recipes

1/2 cup vanilla high-quality vegan ice cream (I like Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss)
3/4 cup “milk” (I use almond, CG uses hazelnut)
24 mint leaves
2 pitted dates
1/2 – 3/4 cup ice cubes
1 T. cocoa nibs

Stick two glasses in the freezer to chill. Place all ingredients except cocoa nibs into the Vitamix container in the order listed. (If you don’t have a Vitamix you need to have a blender that can really handle ice in order for this recipe to work.)

If your Vitamix has a Frozen Desserts setting, just set it and let it run. Be sure to use the tamper throughout the cycle to keep incorporating the ingredients, or you’ll end up with little bits of date and mint leaf. If you don’t have the FD setting, use the variable speed and turn it quickly to high, using the tamper to incorporate, until four soft mounds form in the container. Check the consistency at this point. If it is too thin, add more ice and process again at high speed. (You can also add more ice cream, of course, but that’s not the most budget-conscious way to thicken the milkshake, and adding ice really does do the trick.) If it’s too thick, I’d just scoop it out and eat it with a spoon, but you can thin it out with a little more milk if you prefer.

Add cocoa nibs and process on high for a few seconds. Pour into chilled glasses and serve!

Makes 2 8-oz. servings.