Chickpea picatta

Sometimes a recipe turns out to be greater than the sum of its parts. Such was the case with the Post Punk Kitchen’s Chickpea Picatta. Obviously something attracted me to the dish enough that I wanted to make it (possibly the part in the post where adorable Isa says, “Picatta is like an instant fancy dinner,” since “fancy” is one of my favorite and most frequently used words), but the list of ingredients looked very basic and the recipe sounded like it might even turn out a little dull. The centerpiece of the dish is canned chickpeas, which I tend to find stiff and gross and reminiscent of hellish vegetarian scavenging at omnivore salad bars, especially in recipes that only call for them to be warmed, not stewed for hours.

But I made it, and I tasted it, and then I had one happy, happy mouth. The flavor combination may seem simple but it adds up to pure deliciousness. I used vermouth instead of white wine, and then there were shallots, capers, lemon juice, and thyme. The chickpea mixture comes out so saucy and yummy, and then you put that on top of mashed potatoes, and put those on top of arugula… It’s like having your main, your side, and your salad all together in one giant bowl full of goodness. It was great hot, and it made great leftovers. I will definitely be making this again.

The return of pizza

How freaking good does that look?

I have so many recipes for gluten-free pizza crust bookmarked. But the truth is that since even before I stopped eating wheat, I’ve always balked at any recipe containing the words “yeast,” “knead,” or “allow to rise.” I’m not a bread baker. I’m a cake queen, a mistress of vegetables, a goddess of savory dishes from all corners of the globe. I’ve conquered my fear of homemade beans and my pressure cooker paranoia. I’ve learned to ferment my own sauerkraut and kimchi. I’ve even finally managed to remember to defrost the darn stock/beans/etc. ahead of time, at least most of the time. But I’m simply not that interested in learning to make yeast breads.

The thing I miss about pizza is the convenience. It’s a magical meal where every part of the meal – starch, veggie, and protein – is stacked neatly together. For a few dollars you can get a slice of this efficient deliciousness just about any time of day or night. It’s tasty as heck, but if I’m going to put in hours of work it’s not going to be for pizza.

Well, today I made my first socca pizza for lunch. The whole meal took maybe 30 minutes, tops (which for me is practically an Olympic record), and, unlike some previous weird attempts I’ve made at gluten-free pizza, this actually recreated the experience of pizza. Savory, flavor-packed crust, crisp at the edges and chewy in the middle. Tomato sauce, veggies, and creamy cheese, piled onto a slice that actually survives being lifted and bitten into without flopping down and spilling its toppings hither and yon.

Socca pizza is similar to the socca de Nice I’ve made in the past. But instead of using chickpea flour to make crepes on the stove, you bake your chickpea batter in a skillet in a very hot oven. Then you top it with yummy things, run it under the broiler, and pretend you didn’t notice how the recipe said “serves 2 to 3″ so you can, with a clear conscience, devour the entire thing.

I topped my pizza with marinara sauce from a jar, a sauté of dino kale, red onion, and garlic, and dollops of vegan cream cheese. I left the sauce off of a section of the pizza, and I couldn’t decide which style I preferred. I’d take a bite of one and say to myself, “Oh God, this is the one, no sauce, so crispy and delicious.” And then I’d take a bite of the marinara side and go, “PIZZA! YUM!” and it just went on like that back and forth until the whole thing was gone.

I’m so excited to have pizza back in my life again. And seriously, making socca pizza is almost as easy as heating up a frozen pizza, only it’s five times cheaper and a billion times more delicious. I’m already thinking about which toppings I’ll use tomorrow…

Socca Pizza with Kale and Red Onions
This dish was inspired by a post from Celiacs in the House, and adapted from recipes from the blogs A Mingling of Tastes and Simply Sugar & Gluten Free, and The Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook by Cybele Pascal.

Serves 1-2, as a main dish.

For socca crust:

1 T. olive oil + 1 T. olive oil
1 C. cold water
1 C. chickpea flour (also called besan at Indian markets; Garfava flour works, too)
1 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. dried rosemary
1/2 t. dried oregano

For toppings:
1/2 jar marinara sauce (optional)
2 t. olive oil
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
5 leaves kale, washed, stems removed, and sliced
Vegan cream cheese (optional)
High quality olive oil & sea salt if you are opting not to use marinara sauce

Put a 12-inch cast iron skillet (10-inch is fine, too, the crust will just be a bit thicker and chewier) into your oven and preheat oven and skillet to 450 F.

In a blender, combine water, chickpea flour, 1 T. olive oil, salt, cumin, rosemary, and oregano. Blend until smooth, scraping sides of blender if necessary. Refrigerate batter until oven has preheated.

Remove cast iron skillet from oven. (Careful! It’s very hot!) Put 1 T. olive oil into pan and swirl carefully to coat the bottom and about 1/2 inch up the sides. Return oiled skillet to the oven for a few minutes until oil is hot and shimmering.

Remove skillet from oven, pour batter into skillet and place back into oven and cook for 15 – 20 minutes, or until center is set and edges are browned and pull away slightly from the pan.

Turn on broiler. Leaving the socca crust in the pan, spread on a layer of tomato sauce (some like it thick, some like it thin). If you are not using marinara sauce, drizzle some good quality olive oil and sprinkle some nice sea salt. Or skip both – it will still be delicious, I promise! Spread kale topping (see below) evenly across the pizza. Dot with knobs of vegan cream cheese, if using. Place pan under broiler until cream cheese is very lightly browned, being careful not to let the kale burn, about 3 minutes.

Remove pan from broiler and let pizza rest for 5 minutes. A steady hand and a spatula will easily slide the pizza from the pan onto a waiting surface, where you can cut it into slices and devour.

To make topping: Heat olive oil in a pot or pan and sauté red onion until it begins to brown. Add in garlic and sauté until it begins to brown. Add kale and saute until it reaches your desired texture (some like it al dente, some like it meltingly tender).

Tomato basil scones

This past week was all about trying out my new Vitamix blender. For my very first recipe, I made a potato soup following a blog recipe specifically intended for the Vitamix. It turned out to be the worst thing I’ve ever cooked. The thing of it is, the Vitamix’s blades go so fast that they can turn whole veggies into hot soup. However, this rapid whirring does not actually cook the soup. The internet seems quite divided on whether or not putting raw onions into Vitmaix soups is a good idea. I can say with total confidence that I am now firmly in the camp of “No freaking way, never again.”

The soup emerged as a greyish sludge (which I had been expecting since I opted to leave on the potato peels for flavor and nutrition). It was so acrid and bitter (from the half a raw onion I’d blended into the mix) that it was inedible. I should have just thrown it away, but instead I spent an inordinate amount of time cooking it on the stove, trying to mellow the onion, adding sprinkles of this and that in an attempt to recover it. The soup barely made it over the line to “edible,” but the acrid flavor stayed with me all night. Ugh.

Well, lesson learned! The Vitamix is not a place to dump raw veggies and expect them to turn into soup. Duly noted.

Luckily for me, for Disher, and for the sanctity of dinner, I had also made tomato basil scones to go with our soup. And the scones totally saved the day. They were savory and just a little bit sweet. They were moist but light, bursting with tomato flavor, and truly beautiful to behold. They were incredibly easy to make, they were undetectably both gluten-free and vegan, and they handily used up the half a bunch of basil threatening to wilt in my fridge. We ate a bunch (okay, I ate a bunch!) and then I froze the rest. They’ve reheated beautifully – I’m going to make a second batch soon and freeze them all, as they are perfect for a tired-night, no-cook supper of soup and scone.

Vegan, Gluten-Free Tomato Basil Scones
The original recipe for Tomato Rosemary Scones is from Vegan Brunch, and I found it online here. I’ve changed it a bit, reduced the sugar (maybe less is needed since basil is a sweeter herb?) and made the directions more clear. The original recipe has directions for making triangular scones – the directions here will result in drop scones, as shown above.

Ingredients
3 cups gluten-free baking mix + some extra in case dough is too sticky
(1 teaspoon xantham gum if your mix doesn’t already contain it)
2 tablespoons baking powder (or less if your mix already contains it – I used 1.5 tablespoons additional with a mix that contained baking powder)
2.5 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
1 (14 ounce) can tomato sauce (about 1 1/2 cups) (*see note)
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped

Directions
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease a large baking sheet.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and pepper.

In another bowl, combine wet ingredients and basil.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid. Gently mix with a wooden spoon.

Add a little extra flour if the dough seems sticky. In the bowl, use your spoon to gently divide your dough in two, and then into quarters, and then divide each quarter into thirds.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Scoop the dough into 12 mounds on the cookie sheet (like drop biscuits).

Place scones on the baking sheet and bake 14-16 minutes or until the tops are firm. Remove and let cool a bit on plate or cooling rack. Serve either warm or at room temperature.

*Note: I made “tomato sauce” by putting a can of ground tomatoes in the blender just until the consistency was smooth and even. I recommend using plain tomatoes as opposed to a flavored pasta-sauce type of tomato sauce.

Curtido!

It sounds like a rallying cry, doesn’t it? “Curtido!,” I cry, waving my hat from up on the ramparts. And you are inspired! Inspired to make amazing Salvadoran cabbage slaw.

Salvadoran cabbage slaw accompanies a nutroast sandwich

I haven’t been posting much lately. I think I lost my focus when I had to put my CSA box on hiatus for financial reasons. Makes sense, since the CSA box actually is the focus of the blog, and therefore if there’s no CSA box… Well, we all see where this is going. It’s been great to have a place to plan my weekly menus and stay in touch with my GF and vegan blogger communities, but I definitely seem to be posting much less than I used to.

Today I’m going back to my roots. In My Box is a place to learn what to do with veggies, whether they come in a box or from the farmer’s market or the bargain-bin grocery store. (What up, FoodsCo, my financial salvation!) So here’s my new favorite thing to do with cabbage. It may not be strictly seasonal right now, but it’s always cheap!

One of the awesome cookbooks I got from my awesome mom this Christmas was Terry Hope Romero’s new book about vegan Latin cooking, Viva Vegan. I’ve only made a few recipes from it so far but they have all been excellent. By far my favorite, and one that I keep coming back to again and again, is her recipe for Salvadoran cabbage slaw, aka curtido. Most of the recipes in Viva Vegan range from fairly to extremely complicated. I feel like cooking from it is an investment in learning to cook authentic Latin cuisine, so it’s worth the time and effort, but they aren’t recipes I’ll put in my everyday arsenal.

Creamy corn-crusted tempeh pot pie (Pastel de Choclo) from Viva Vegan

Curtido, on the other hand, is ridiculously simple (although even tastier if you make it a day ahead). I love the silky texture, the sharpness of the vinegar, and the unexpected burst of flavor from the oregano. I’d never eaten anything before where oregano was so the predominant flavor, and it works addictively well in this salad. I just recently bought some Mexican oregano, which I’ve never cooked with before, and I’m super excited to see what that’s like in my next batch of curtido.

Curtido with an Arepa with Sexy Avocado-Tempeh Filling (from Viva Vegan)

The recipe is already floating around the internet, so I’m going to repost it here for your future cabbage-preparation enjoyment.

Curtido (Salvadoran cabbage slaw)
This recipe is from the super delicious cookbook Viva Vegan by Terry Hope Romero.
Makes about 6 cups

Ingredients
1 to 1 1/2 pounds of green or red cabbage, shredded very finely (8 to 10 cups of shredded cabbage)
1 to 2 picked or raw jalapeños, seeded and finely chopped
1 large carrot, shredded (sometimes I leave this out because shredding carrots is annoying!)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilanatro or parsley, or a combination of both
1 Tb coarse salt
2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 cup white vinegar, or more to taste

Directions
1. If you’re shredding the cabbage yourself, the best possible tool to use is a mandoline gratter. Second best is a large food processor fitted with a shredding blade, but it’s entirely possible to also thinly slice cabbage with a sharp heavy chef’s knife and a cutting board.
Slice the cabbage in half, remove and discard the core, slice the cabbage into chunks that can fit on your mandoline or into your food processor, and shred it all up. If you have any remaining odd shaped pieces, chop them into fine shreds with a knife.

2. Combine the shredded cabbage and remaining ingredients in a large bowl and toss well to coat everything with the salt and vinegar.

3. Place the slaw into a very large resealable plastic bag, at least 1 gallon or more. Press out all the air and tightly seal the bag.

4. From here you can either seal it into another bag, place on a shelf in the fridge, and place a heavy object on top. Or place the bag in a large bowl, place a few heavy cans or a big bag of rice on top of the slaw, and transfer to the refrigerator.
Chill for at least 1 hour or overnight; the longer the cabbage chills, the more tender and juicy it will become. (But it’s also delicious straight away – it just won’t have the amazing tender texture yet.)

Quinoa pickle bowl

After my sushi party I had a couple of special circumstances to address. The first was that I was totally wiped out from the party, both from the frenzied prep and the epic experience itself. The other was that I had a ton of leftovers, but not the kind that lend themselves to easy munching. The sushi rice had disappeared before the party even ended, so afterwards I found myself with a fridge full of Japanese side salads and sushi fillings. Mainly pickles.

Some of the stuff that ended up in bowls in my fridge:
Carrots simmered in sake and mirin
Shitake mushrooms simmered in soy sauce and Shaoxing cooking wine
Takuan (pickled daikon radish)
Japanese cucumber pickles
Gobo (pickled burdock root)
Avocado
Steamed sweet potato
Shiso leaf
Ground toasted sesame seeds
Pickled ginger
Cucumber sunomono (thinly sliced cucumbers in rice vinegar)
Goma ae (cooked spinach with sesame seeds)
Mung bean sprout salad

Situation B turned out the be the perfect solution to Situation A. For days after the party, I’d make a big batch of quinoa in my rice maker and then, when it was done, throw in a ton of chopped sushi fillings, pickles, and giant spoonfuls of cucumber, spinach, and bean sprout salads. The dressings from the salads served as sauce for the quinoa, the sweet, sour and salty flavors from the pickles brought the whole dish to life, and the colors were phenomenal. Plus shiso makes everything taste extra-special and magical, to my taste buds at least.

So, not so much a recipe as a serving suggestion/solution for what to do after a giant sushi party leaves your fridge full of Japanese pickles. Quinoa pickle bowl was so good and kept my mouth so interested that I basically lived off of it for days!

Cornmeal-crusted tofu cubes

Monday night I got home from a weekend away to find a house nearly bereft of food. At least, that’s how it seemed on the surface, but of course, pantry-hoarder that I am, I can always rustle up something.

I settled on Tinkyada brown rice pasta shells with TJ’s marinara sauce. To perk up this dull combo a bit I added previously-frozen green beans and sauteed red onion. I wanted something more, though, something savory and chewy. I had a half a block of tofu in my fridge (amazingly it hadn’t gone bad despite being of unknown provenance), but what to do with tofu that would make it go well with Italian-ish pasta?

I must be on a roll, because for the second time this week I managed to completely improvise a recipe. I’ve missed that feeling of imagining something I’ve never made before and just intuiting how to make it. I wanted cornmeal-crusted tofu, but I haven’t made anything-crusted-anything since pre vegan and gluten-free days. But my brain engaged handily and so I just made some right then and there. And they were awesome. I had to restrain Disher (who thinks that tofu is just about the blandest food there is, and this from a guy who normally loves bland food) from eating them all!

Gluten-Free Vegan Cornmeal-Crusted Tofu Cubes

Grapeseed oil or other high-heat oil
1/2 block tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup + 1 T. cornmeal
1 t. cornstarch
2 T. chickpea/garfava flour
Dried oregano, salt, and pepper to taste

Combine cornmeal, cornstarch, chickpea flour, and seasonings in a small bowl and stir to combine.
Pour enough grapeseed oil into a pan (preferably cast iron) to thickly cover the bottom of the pan.
Heat oil on medium-high heat.
Roll tofu cubes in cornmeal mixture and drop them into the oil. Fry them until they are a nice golden-brown, then flip them and repeat on the other side.
Place on a paper towel to drain excess oil.
Eat them while they’re hot!

In other exciting news, I have joined up with a fabulous project that I am super excited about. Bloggers Kittee (Cake Maker to the Stars), Jessie (happyveganface), and Allyson (Manifest Vegan) have started xgfxcommunity, an awesome hub of vegan, gluten-free goodness! So many of the blogs I read are vegan but not gluten-free (and are obsessed with baking wheaty cupcakes!) or vegetarian but not vegan, and so on. So they certainly serve as sources of inspiration, but are often sources of frustration or a sense of deprivation as well. But when I read the posts from any of the xgfx blogs, I can read with ease, knowing that every recipe on every blog will be one I can actually make! It’s a great feeling – I actually didn’t realize how relaxing and abundant it would feel until I experienced that kind of unfettered blog-reading – and I love that xgfx is bringing us all together in one place.

So head over and take a peek. You can always find xgfx through the pretty “Vegan Gluten Free” flower design in my sidebar (they have a great design sensibility, too – these ladies are on it!) and all our blogs link back to the hub for easy clicking about through the marvelous world of vegan, gluten-free awesomeness.

The most delicious Indian baby food ever!

Last night marked the beginning of the Great Pressure Cooker experiment. I made Curried Potatoes with Cauliflower and Peas from this month’s Vegetarian Times, and I am pleased to report that I did not have my face scalded off by an explosion of steam, nor was I decapitated by a flying pot lid.

At the last minute – literally, I had a spoon in one hand and my laptop in the other – I finally found an article online that walked me through step by step how my old Mirro Matic pressure cooker works. All pressure cooker recipes assume you know what it means when they say “bring up to high pressure” and so on, but I needed a detailed, basic tutorial to get me started and I was lucky to find one in time to make my first pressure cooker meal!

When the cooker had cooled and I was able to open the lid, I stuck a fork into the potatoes and cauliflower and was shocked and dismayed to encounter no resistance at all. Ah yes, I learned that fateful night that the pressure cooker is a force to be reckoned with, a powerful tool whose might should not be underestimated. I had my friend Disher try some and he agreed with me that the flavor was terrific, and that we had just made the most delicious Indian curry baby-food ever. So, next time I’ll turn the heat waaay down. It was confusing trying to figure out when the weight was “only hissing and jiggling 2-3 times per minute.” But I clearly overdid it by a long shot.

My new BFF FoodsCo had bunches of Chinese mustard greens for $0.58 yesterday, so I made a batch of those to go with our tasty baby food. I wonder if something is changing in my brain, because for the first time in a long time I had no problem improvising a recipe. I prepared the greens with onions, tomato, and capers, and they were phenomenal. Both recipes are below.

The texture of this dish is supposed to be chunks of potato and cauliflower, not a smooth creamy mass as shown here!

Curried Potatoes with Cauliflower and Peas
Adapted from Vegetarian Times Jan/Feb 2011. I added more spices because I love whole cumin and mustard seed, and I added some lemon juice at the end because it really needed a bit of acid to balance the flavors. This is supposed to be a “30 minutes or fewer” recipe and it actually did take 30 minutes (not including prep time, of course, because they never do…).

2 tsp. canola oil
1 large onion, chopped (or a 10-oz pkg diced onions)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. minced fresh ginger (I use Ginger People’s in a jar)
1 tsp. curry powder*
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. mustard seeds
1.5 tsp. whole cumin
1/2 tsp. turmeric
6 Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (1.5 lb)
1 head cauliflower, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces (1.5 lb)
1 tsp. sugar
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/4 tsp. lemon juice, or to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Set out peas to thaw
2. Heat canola oil in pressure cooker over medium heat. Add onions and cook 2-3 minutes or until softened.
3. Stir in garlic, ginger, curry powder, ground cumin, mustard seeds, whole cumin, and turmeric, and saute 2 minutes.
4. Add potatoes, cauliflower, sugar, and 1/2 cup water.
5. Close pressure cooker and bring up to high pressure. Cook 5 minutes. (To do this on an old-fashioned Presto or Mirro Matic, read this article.)
6. Release pressure with quick-release button or transfer pressure cooker to sink and run cool water over rim to release pressure. If dish is underdone, close the top, return the cooker to high pressure, and cook 3-5 minutes more.
7. Stir peas and lemon juice into cauliflower mixture and season with salt, pepper, and additional lemon juice to taste.
Serves 6.

*I HATE store-bought curry powder; it’s one of the few flavors I can’t stand. I prefer to always use a blend of individual spices when I am making curries. However, I know that some recipes (like this one) call for curry powder for speed and convenience, so I make up small batches of a homemade blend made from ground whole spices that I keep on hand. (I can’t find the recipe for you right now… I guess I’ll be in trouble when I run out!)

Chinese Mustard Greens with Tomatoes and Capers
This dish would work well with any kind of mustard green, turnip greens, or even collards, though the cooking time will be quite a bit longer for collards and you should use only the leaves, not the collard stalks.

1 tsp. olive oil
1/2 an onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bunch Chinese mustard greens, washed and sliced into thin ribbons (you can include the stalks, just slice them thinly)
1.5 T capers
1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes
Salt and fresh ground black pepper

Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, season lightly with salt and pepper, and saute 2-3 minutes until onion has softened.
Add greens to pan and allow to deflate slightly. Then gently toss and stir greens and onions until greens deflate significantly.
Sprinkle capers over greens and stir to combine. Continue to cook greens until they are barely tender.
Pour diced tomatoes into pan. For fresh-tasting greens with crisp stalks, cook only until tomatoes are heated through and greens and stalks are tender and edible. For Southern-style longer-cooked greens, let the tomatoes come to a simmer and simmer greens until they are dark green and delicious!
Season with salt and pepper to taste (you may not need any more salt because of the onion-salting step, and depending on how salty your canned tomatoes are).

Brunch for dinner, cakes without crabs

My dirty little secret is that I didn’t become vegetarian for the animals. I didn’t even become vegetarian for the planet. I became vegetarian because I thought meat was gross (in taste and texture, not particularly in concept), and I realized one Thanksgiving that if I became a vegetarian no one could ever expect me to eat turkey again. I was a young teen at the time and my awareness of the world was far from sophisticated. As I got older I woke up to animal suffering and to the planetary hunger epidemic, and my detailed study of anatomy meant that a piece of meat would never again just look like “food” and not like “flesh.” In contrast, my decision to become vegan a little over a year ago was entirely grounded in ethics (and logic). But for the first several years of being mostly vegetarian, I still ate meat on the rare occasions when I actually wanted it, which would end up being a few times a year.

Even back when I still ate meat occasionally, I was particular about what forms it took. I loved sushi, my mother’s brisket, bagels and lox, pate de campagne on a baguette with cornichons, and Chinese potstickers – and that was pretty much it. Then at some point I discovered crab cakes (I’d previously been totally uninterested in all forms of shellfish) and a sixth “exception” was added to my line-up. There was something about crab cakes that made them irresistible – fried, breaded, served with lemon and a yummy sauce, what’s not to like?

It’s not really the crab that makes crab cakes awesome, though. I think crab tastes kind of gross and the texture… I don’t even like to think about it. It’s all about the breaded, the fried, the delicious pickly mayo sauce, but of course it’s been years now since a crab cake has passed between my lips. So when I saw that belle of the vegan ball Isa Chandra Moscowitz had posted a recipe for “Chesapeake Tempeh Cakes” on the Post Punk Kitchen website as a preview from her new book Vegan Brunch, I immediately started dreaming of them. You should click on the link right now and check out Isa’s photograph, where the tempeh cakes look exactly like crab cakes. Go ahead, I’ll wait. (And yeah, I don’t know why the cakes in my photo ended up looking like weird raisin-studded veggie meatballs. They didn’t look like that in real life, although they were nowhere near as crab-cake-esque as Isa’s.)

I made a triple recipe one night with a bunch of friends, and we were all in agreement that Chesapeake tempeh cakes are winners. We did end up adjusting a lot of the flavor proportions, but since we were using homemade vegan mayo and GF waffle crumbs instead of bread crumbs that isn’t too surprising. I would definitely make these again – for dinner, for brunch, for a party – and it’s nice to know that even though Mom’s brisket and pork potstickers are gone forever, all the deliciousness of crab cakes has come back into my life for good.

Cheela ~ Savoury mung bean pancakes

These are my new addiction.

As part of my budget adventure, I’m trying to use up stuff from my pantry. (Well, more like I was too anxious about finances to go to the grocery store so I was forced to turn to the seldom-used items in my pantry…) Last week I came across a jar of mung dal (split mung beans) that I’d never cooked with, so I looked online to see what kind of recipes I could make.

I found a recipe for something called cheela, savoury Indian mung dal pancakes at the so-delicious-I-want-to-eat-everything-she-makes vegetarian blog Lisa’s Kitchen. I normally shy away from getting out my food processor except on special occasions (because I don’t like to wash it!) but I felt like having a little adventure, so I went for it. Little did I know I’d be washing the food processor three times that night… but it was totally worth it.

So these are ridiculously delicious and I never seem to get tired of them. The texture is somewhere between soft and crisp (softer than a dosa, much thinner than an uttapam) and they are flexible enough to fold in half without cracking. The flavor is remarkable, due mostly, I think, to the whole coriander seeds blended into the batter. They are dry enough that they definitely need some kind of moistening accompaniment. I went with the cashew chutney Lisa recommends on her blog and improvised a tomato-coconut chutney as well (recipe follows). Both were super delicious, although the cashew chutney is incredibly rich (and not particularly budget-y) so now that I eat these all the darn time I’ve just been topping them with the tomato chutney.

Mung dal pancakes with cashew and tomato-coconut chutneys

I keep a container of the batter in the fridge. It makes an easy protein-and-fiber breakfast every morning, and an excellent quick (cheap!) snack to reach for when I have guests who need to be fed pronto (like this afternoon when Farmer B came over to make sauerkraut). When the batter is close to running out, I set out another cup of mung dal to soak, then a few hours later get out my food processor and make another batch. I make them in a cast iron pan with just a tiny bit of oil, so as far as I can tell they’re a fairly guilt-free indulgence, too. (Although the first time I made them, I didn’t have any soy yogurt, so I improvised “yogurt” using cashew butter, almond milk, and vegan cream cheese. As Duck said, it was probably the most expensive yogurt substitute ever made!)

Cheela ~ Savoury mung dal pancakes
This recipe is from the blog Lisa’s Kitchen. I have adapted it very slightly – made it vegan, added the dried chiles at an earlier step to save washing another bowl, used less oil. This means the recipe is that much further away from authentic. But it’s the version I’ve been eating every day, so it’s the one I can highly recommend!

1 cup split mung beans without skins (mine were split but had skins and turned out fine)
1/2 cup soy yogurt (did you know you can freeze soy yogurt? I freeze it in 1/2 cup portions in ziploc bags to use for this recipe)
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon asafoetida
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/3 cup water
4 dried red chillies, or to taste (I used a combo of tobagos and red chiles)
Olive or canola oil for cooking

Rinse the dal thoroughly under cold running water, then place in a bowl and cover with water so that there are several inches of water above the dal. Soak for at least 3 hours or overnight, then drain and discard the soaking water.

Put the soaked dal in a food processor or blender and blend for several minutes, stopping now and then to push the dal down with a spatula. (It may take a while to get to the fine consistency you want to achieve, but don’t give up!)

Add the soy yogurt, coriander and fennel seeds, salt, asafoetida turmeric, and dried chiles and blend for another minute. Add enough water to make the batter thickish, like a lightly whipped cream.

Preheat a 10-inch frying pan or cast-iron pan over medium-low heat for 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle a few drops of water on the pan to test the temperature — if it is just right, the drops will dance and sputter before vanishing. If the drops vanish right away, turn down the temperature slightly, or if the drops just sit on the surface before boiling, turn up the temperature slightly. Brush the surface with a light film of olive or canola oil.

Scoop slightly more than ¼ cup of the batter and place on the middle of the pan.Place the bottom of a ladle or large spoon in the centre of the batter and spread it outwards in a continuous spiral, pressing lightly, until you have a thin round or oval pancake. Cook for 1 minute.

Cover the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes until the bottom is golden to reddish-brown. Loosen the edges with a spatula and turn the pancake over. Cook, uncovered, for another minute or so, then flip over once again, fold the pancake in half and slip it out of the pan on to a warming plate or into an oven preheated to 150° while you repeat the process. Repeat the water sprinkling to test the temperature and brush the pan with more oil before making each pancake. Makes 9 or 10 pancakes.

Serve hot, or store wrapped in aluminum foil and reheated in a 350° oven.
Serve with cashew chutney and tomato-coconut chutney, or some other moistening accompaniment/sauce.

Quick and easy tomato-coconut chutney

1 can diced tomatoes (those fire-roasted ones would be amazing here)
1/2 cup dried coconut
a sprinkle of cayenne
1 large chile (or more, to taste)
a sprinkle of asofetida
1 T. grated ginger
2 tsp. canola oil
2-3 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp mustard seeds

Into a food processor: the can of tomatoes, dried coconut, cayenne, chile (fresh or dried), asafetida, ginger. Don’t process yet.

Heat the canola oil in a pan over high heat. Add the cumin and mustard seeds (and cover with a spatter screen if you’ve got one). When the spices stop sputtering, pour them into your food processor as well. Process until you reach your desired texture (chunky or smooth).

Washoku – five colors, five tastes

“Five tastes, or go mi, describes what the Japanese call anbai, the harmonious balance of flavors – salty, sour, sweet, bitter, and spicy – that ensures that our palates are pleasantly stimulated, but not overwhelmed.” — Elizabeth Andoh, Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen

I haven’t posted a washoku meal for a while now. I began my exploration of the Japanese “harmony of food” by attending to the five colors (red, yellow, green, black, and white) on my plate. Then I turned my attention to the principle of “five ways,” which encourages the cook to incorporate several different cooking methods in preparing the meal.

Today’s lunch focused on inclusion of the five flavors. I had sweet from the corn in the polenta and the mirin-sake-tamari-shitake broth in which the carrots had been simmered. Salty came from the miso in the goma miso dressing and spicy from the red pepper-yuzu condiment sprinkled on the broccoli. I made a little salad of radish, hijiki, black sesame seeds, and rice vinegar which pulled in bitter and sour notes to complement the rest of the meal.

Five colors were also represented – red from the carrot and radish, yellow from the polenta, green from the broccoli, black from the hijiki and sesame seeds, and white from the radish – as were five cooking methods – simmered carrots, steamed broccoli, dry-roasted sesame seeds in the goma miso sauce, and the radish salad which was somewhere between pickled and raw.

I had wondered if the polenta, which is fairly neutral but still tagged as “Mediterranean” in my mind, would go well with the Japanese flavors of the carrots and broccoli. As promised by washoku, however, somehow the radish salad, with its crisp texture and bright flavors, created a kind of flavor bridge that pulled the whole meal together, and indeed I found my palate “pleasantly stimulated, but not overwhelmed.”

Goma Miso Dressing
This is one of my favorite sauces. I can rarely resist ordering goma ae (goma miso sauce over cooked spinach) at Japanese restaurants. I hadn’t realized how easy it is to make at home!
Recipe is from Elizabeth Andoh’s Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen .

1/4 cup white sesame seeds
2 T. sweet, light miso
Scant 1/4 cup dashi (I used my mirin-sake-tamari broth instead)
pinch of salt, if needed

Heat a small, heavy skillet (dry, without oil) over medium-high heat and add sesame seeds. Stir with a wooden spatula or gently swirl pan occasionally. In about a minute the seeds will begin to darken and you’ll smell them – remove from heat and continue to stir seeds in pan for another 20-30 seconds. If the seeds look in danger of scorching, put them immediately into the food processor. (The seeds may pop quite a bit – I like to cover my pan with a splatter screen while roasting the seeds.)

Process still-warm seeds in a food processor until all the seeds have been evenly crushed. Add a tablespoon of the miso and two tablespoons of the broth and pulse until combined. Taste and adjust sweetness with salt, if needed. Scrape down the sides of the food processor bowl, add the remaining miso and broth, and pulse until smooth. Makes about 1/2 cup, which was way more than enough for three large stalks of broccoli.