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

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!

Hallelujah! Vegan gluten-free brownies at last!

I wish I had some photos for you of some of my previous gluten-free vegan brownie attempts. I have tried to make vegan brownie recipes using gluten-free baking mix in place of flour. I have tried using vegan substitutes for eggs and butter in gluten-free brownie recipes.

You may recall this choice paragraph from a few months ago:
Last weekend Duck and I tried to make Rebecca Reilly GF mint-chocolate brownies using egg replacer instead of eggs. When the timer went off and I pulled the brownie pan out of the oven, it was full of a bubbling, boiling, oil-slicked mass of goo that hardened as it cooled to something completely inedible. (I was trying to describe the texture to my mom: “They were hard, but not like crisp hard…” “Hard like resin?,” she suggested. “Yes, exactly!”)

I’ve heard from other bakers both on the internet and in my offline life that gluten-free vegan brownies are the ultimate challenge, the impossible holy grail. Cupcakes, cake, muffins, pies, savory breads – all a snap compared to the agony of the brownie. But the thing is, I don’t like cupcakes, cake, muffins, pies, or savory breads. I don’t really like sweets, but when I do crave something, I pretty much only want brownies. And I want to be able to have my brownies free of wheat, free of gluten, free of animal suffering. Is that so much to ask?
A pan of gluten-free vegan brownies

It’s not if you’re Cybele Pascal, author of The Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook and all-around baking goddess! (Does anyone else look at the author’s name and immediately visualize Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield making allergen-free treats in their suburban kitchen? No? Okay, then.) Ms. Pascal is a damn fine baker, and she really knows her stuff. This cookbook is bursting with actually delicious baked goods free from wheat, gluten, soy, eggs, dairy, tree nuts, peanuts and sesame. If I were unable to eat all those things I would not even know how to begin, but then good old Cybele would come and save the day!

So back to these brownies. They have a secret ingredient that I’m sure makes a huge difference but can’t be carrying the day entirely. This is just a really well thought out recipe. The brownies are fudgy, seriously fudgy, with a gorgeous glossy top and crisp edges, and absolutely no grittiness or rice-flour taste if you eat them in the first four days or so. The second time I made a batch I divided them into pretty small portions but some folks still found them too rich to eat a whole one at one sitting. And that is not a bad thing, as far as I’m concerned. When a tiny corner of brownie satisfies your brownie urge for a week, that’s a winner in my book.

I hate to disappoint you after all this build-up, but there is no way I’m posting this recipe. This is the Holy Grail, the recipe that Cybele Pascal will pass down in a hope chest to her children, the golden ticket. If you want to make incredible gluten-free vegan fudge brownies you’ll have to buy the book (or at least get it from the library, like I did). I did feature another recipe from the book a few months ago, for Socca de Nice, incredible savory chickpea crepes, but this one seems way too precious to let spill onto the careless breezes of the internet.

So vegans, check out this book and bring a pan of these to your next ubiquitous Vegan Bake Sale so us no-wheat vegans can finally buy something, too. And gluten-free-ers, make a batch of these for your next potluck, and help all us sad-eyed vegans come out of the corner where we’ve been nibbling on crudites and trying not to stress our friends out with questions about how the wine was manufactured. These brownies will bring the world together, they really will!

Avocado for breakfast

It’s always fun to see what search terms bring people to my blog. One of the most enduringly popular phrases that leads people to In My Box is “spinach for breakfast.” Well, I don’t seem to get spinach in my box anymore, but instead these past few weeks have been all about “avocado for breakfast.” Avocados have always been a treat, something to be savored and parceled out, but we have been in the heart of major avocado season, and my CSA box, the farmer’s market, and Rainbow have just been overflowing with beautiful, ripe, local(ish) avocados. And in the midst of this unprecedented avocado glut I’ve discovered that the beautiful, precious avocado is the brilliant answer to all my vegan, gluten-free breakfast needs.

Fatty, filling, and flavorful — avocado turns a collection of  dairyless, gluten-free ingredients into a satisfying meal.

It all started with the breakfast burritos. Breakfast burritos are one of my top, top foods. (I know I have a lot of top foods but really, this time I mean it!) But this month I have elevated the vegan, gluten-free breakfast burrito to its highest form. It all started with these amazing Gluten-Free Teff Wraps from La Tortilla Factory. These things are serious flour tortilla impersonators. They’re flexible, light, chewy, roll without cracking, and brown beautifully in a pan. (My favorite burritos have that browned, crispy exterior to contrast with their soft, gooey interior.)

First I lightly brown one side of the wrap in a cast iron pan with no oil, and then flip it over so the browned side faces up. Then I just throw in anything that seems yummy. A thick smear of refried beans, a stripe of soy cream cheese, some sweet potato chunks maybe, or some leftover rice bowl with dandelion greens or even steamed broccoli. Top it all off with salsa and several slices of perfectly ripe avocado, leave it in the pan until the outside is golden and a bit crisp, then roll it up and eat it while moaning with pleasure. Sounds pretty amazing, right?

Then, inspired by Vegan Express by Nava Atlas, a cookbook I’ve been reading as part of my quest for simple, easy meals, I started making what Atlas calls “big quesadillas.” It’s like a breakfast burrito… only with no rolling! Brilliant, eh? Daiya cheddar vegan “cheese” was on sale at Rainbow this week so I decided to try it out, so I’ve been adding it to my quesadillas alongside my avocado, which I have to say really does make cheese irrelevant. (Plus, :-8******* That’s the “vomit” emoticon Duck invented for me. I am not a fan of Daiya. You know how American cheese tastes like the plastic version of cheese? Well, Daiya tastes like the plastic version of American cheese. And it doesn’t even melt very well. Ugh.)

Into every avocado-for-breakfast life, a little rain must fall, and one day I inevitably ran out of my precious teff wraps. No problem! That merely inspired my new, new favorite thing: Soft-cooked polenta, warm, mixed thoroughly with mashed avocado, a few squeezes of lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. It’s seriously the best thing ever, and so ridiculously simple. I invented it when I made a batch of polenta for breakfast and discovered to my total surprise that Earth Balance can indeed go bad. (I do think that tub had been in there since January or so.) I wanted something to add that little kick of smooth, fatty mouthfeel to the polenta, and so of course I turned to my best friend and constant companion. Look what a lovely shade of green the polenta turns! And the lemon sets the flavors off beautifully. It’s a true FASS meal, with fat from the avocado, acid from the lemon, salt from the salt, and sweet from the cornmeal.

So the next time you’re wondering what on earth to eat for your vegan, gluten-free breakfast that will be satisfying and delicious, turn to your friend the avocado! (And don’t worry about that whole fruit-made-of-pure-fat thing – read this article, The Avocado Advantage, and all your worries will melt away! Just like a delicious mouthful of perfectly ripe avocado…)

Gluten-free style from the Emerald Isle – Menu Plan Monday

About a month ago, Duck and I went to Ireland to participate in his sister’s wedding to a lovely Irish boy. (Boy? Man? He’s younger than me and quite hip, but maybe getting married gives you an automatic bump up to “man.”)

Things I was prepared for as I headed to Ireland: Serious difficulty and perhaps impossibility in sticking to our normal food regimes (vegan for him, gluten-free vegetarian for me). Ireland has has a much better climate for raising food from the animal kingdom than the plant one, and that means meat in and with everything. An unavoidable abundance of gluten; after all, drinking Guinness is one of the national pastimes, and that’s basically a big, dark, delicious glass of wheat. A whole bunch of new people to whom I would have to explain my dietary requirements and get funny looks or a frenzy of worry.


What I totally did not expect on my journey: Walking into the local Super-Saver and finding nearly half of a huge aisle devoted to gluten-free products. Pita bread, tender and fluffy; garlic-coriander naan, the perfect combination of crisp and soft; ciabatta rolls with a toothy crust an Italian grandmother would approve, just waiting to be layered with fresh mozarella, basil, and tomato. Table water crackers and digestive biscuits, which I thought I would never eat again. Scones with raisins. Pizza crusts that make Kinickinick look like rank amateurs. All of it packaged, not bakery-fresh and on the verge of going stale, happy to sit quietly on the shelf and be brought alive with the barest of toastings. I even found Worcestershire sauce that is both gluten-free and vegan, which I thought was like a mermaid or a unicorn, something only to be dreamed of but never actually encountered. Ireland even came up with the coolest not-that-healthy health food ever – thin rice cakes topped with a layer of that sweet yogurt that coats yogurt-raisins. (They come in chocolate-orange, too!)

Needless to say, I came home with an entire carry-on full of food. I’m trying to ration my new treats (they all have expiration dates around mid-July), but this week’s (retroactive, as usual) menu plan includes some full-on celebrations of Irish, gluten-free bounty.

For other marvelous menu plans, check out the huge Menu Plan Monday compendium over at Organizing Junkie. For more gluten-free menu plan madness, pay a visit to Cheryl at Gluten Free Goodness. She is hosting this week’s Gluten-Free Menu Swap.

Monday: Homemade falafel with baba ganouj, heirloom tomato, red leaf lettuce, and Sriracha hot sauce, stuffed into an incredible gluten-free Irish pita, kale with kale sauce

Tuesday: Broiled tempeh marinated with fennel, soy sauce, and apple cider vinegar (Moosewood at Home), roasted broccoli with lemon zest and pine nuts, quinoa with coconut oil

Wednesday: Gluten-free Irish pita stuffed with broiled eggplant (marinated in balsamic, olive oil, and herbes de Provence) and feta and buffalo mozarella marinated with balsamic, olive oil, and fresh basil, fruit salad, green salad

Thursday: Rice, lentil, and potato pilaf with cardamom, Impressionist cauliflower, spicy collard greens, gluten-free Irish garlic-coriander naan

Friday: Sauteed broccoli rabe with garlic and chile flakes in a gluten-free Irish pita with Bravo farms cheddar cheese

Saturday: Gluten-free Irish pizza crust topped with pesto, tomatoes, mushrooms, and broiled eggplant marinated in balsamic, olive oil, and herbes de Provence, salad

Sunday: Dal with potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, and ginger, red and white quinoa, raita of goat yogurt with mustard seeds and spices

The thing of it is, I don’t even care much for bread products. But until this week, I had forgotten how amazingly convenient they are. One night I was super tired but I really wanted to cook up two gorgeous bunches of organic broccoli rabe (my absolute favorite veggie, but I rarely find it organic, so it was a real treat). But after cooking them I was so tired that I was kind of like, well… what now? Will I just have vegetables for dinner? But then I grabbed a pita, tossed it in the toaster for a minute, and made a mouth-wateringly scrumptious sandwich with white cheddar cheese and sauteed broccoli rabe. No long-cooking grain, no need for mind-bending creativity, and absolutely no stiff, crumbly, barely-worth-the-title GF bread. Most of the time I love the challenge and creativity of GF cooking, and I love that it calls on me to make, not buy, most of the elements of my meals. But sometimes it sure is lovely to have a break – and not feel cheated or deprived when I do.

Sweet, sweet night

On Thanksgiving, as on all Thanksgivings, we ate and ate and ate. Thanks to a menu that leaned generally towards the healthy side, I actually didn’t get that traditional, but painful, groaningly stuffed feeling. I felt just right – like I had feasted but not overindulged. However, there was still an entire dessert course waiting to be conquered – or would it conquer us?

Vegan Chocolate Mousse with Whipped Cream and Fruit Preserves

Vegan Chocolate Mousse with Whipped Cream and Fruit Preserves

We decided to go for a walk. After much bundling up and changing of shoes, we all trooped out to Golden Gate Park. The whole neighborhood was nearly deserted, even usually-bustling Haight Street was dark and silent. We moved in and out of happy, chatting pairings between old friends and new acquaintances. I led us in a big loop through the park and the Panhandle, but it didn’t really matter where we were going. This wasn’t actually about the fresh air or the exercise or the sightseeing. This was about making room for dessert!

Poached Pears in Spiced Red Wine

Poached Pears in Spiced Red Wine Syrup

We returned home having found a few crevices and crannies in our bellies where just a bite of something sweet might possibly find a home. Duck and I had planned the dessert course with even more military precision than the rest of the meal, attending to the balance between chocolate, spices and fruit, making sure to include a complement of traditional holiday flavors, and supplying beverage choices ranging from tea and coffee to a honeyed, floral dessert wine.

Chocolate Mousse with Whipped Cream and Fruit Preserves (recipe follows)
Pumpkin Pie from Crave Bakery (review follows) *not vegan
Poached Pears in Spiced Red Wine Syrup (recipe follows)
Chewy Ginger Cookies (recipe follows) *not GF
Muscat de Beaumes de Venise
Coffee & tea selection

More on each dish follows… Continue reading

The Accidental Mochi, or how I stopped worrying and learned to love pancakes

I’ve been meaning for a while now to post reviews of some of the gluten-free products I’ve been cooking with. Celiac disease and gluten-free eating are really rising in the public consciousness these days, which is wonderful because there are so many more options now, from convenient snack foods that return easy choices like cookies and crackers to our pantries, to guaranteed-gluten-free oats. Oats, which don’t even naturally contain gluten, have had in the past such a likelihood of contamination that they used to live permanently on the “no” list. But now, at last, several companies are making the effort to ensure that their oats are processed in a gluten-free environment, returning oats to the “safe” list for many people.

Mochi-like pancake made with Trader Joe's Gluten Free Pancake Mix

Mochi-like pancake made with Trader Joe's Gluten Free Pancake Mix

But this proliferation of choices means what it always means – some of these new products are awesome, and some are so-so, and some are just, well, gross. Some don’t deliver what they promise, whether that’s bread you can enjoy without toasting or cake mix that makes something actually resembling a cake. And some are so good that they by far transcend the category of “gluten-free substitution” and can (and should!) take their rightful place on any table, dietary restriction or no.

Tinkyada brown rice pasta is one of these heavenly foods. I sang its praises in an earlier post; its perfect texture and creamy flavor actually brought pasta back into my life after maybe a decade. It’s interesting to me looking back now – there are a lot of foods other people seem to love that rate with me from indifference to loathing on the likeability scale. Pasta, cake, cookies, sandwiches, and pancakes are all things that I can generally do without. But now that I know gluten and I are very much not friends, I have to reevaluate my distaste. Have I unknowingly come to dislike these foods because they’ve made me sick in the past? Have I come to unconsciously associate their particular textures and mouthfeels with fatigue and gastrointestinal distress? Or do I genuinely not like them for themselves? I certainly continue to adore well-made bread pudding and really good French baguettes.

gfpancakemixOkay, enough speculative musing, time to get to the point. Duck and I made a rare shopping trip last weekend to Trader Joe’s. While we were there we came across their Trader Joe’s Gluten-free Pancake Mix, which I had never seen before. Breakfast has been a real struggle for me lately – I can’t eat bagels, and I’ve stopped eating eggs until I can source them from a place where the chickens aren’t killed after two years. Duck very sweetly asked if I thought I might eat gluten-free pancakes if he made them for me. Even though I generally shy away from pancakes, who could resist such an offer? (Which, in addition to being incredibly sweet, isn’t even a rare occurrence; Duck makes breakfast for me several times a week.)

The mix itself was vegan, but it called for two eggs and milk in the preparation. Duck used Ener-G egg replacer and rice milk, and brought the first pancake out to where I was bundled on the living room couch. It was lovely and perfectly golden-brown, dotted with Bonne Maman Four Fruits jam. “I think the pancakes came out sort of… funny,” he said, handing me a fork. I dug in. The pancake was elastic, almost gooey, as I cut into it.

The first bite was heaven. I love mochi, which is sweet glutinous rice pounded until it becomes soft and pliable and, in my opinion, perfectly textured. There’s nothing quite like it, and I often dream of making it at home, but I’ve heard it can be quite complicated. Well, I’m here to tell you, making mochi is a snap if you have Trader Joe’s Gluten-free Pancake Mix! Or, if not exactly mochi, then something close enough that even as I enjoyed my “pancakes” with berry jam I was already dreaming of a future experience with them involving sesame oil and scallions. I don’t know if the effect will be the same if you use actual eggs, or if the whole recipe became something of a binder overload between the arrowroot, tapioca, and other sticky things attempting to replicate the cohesion of both gluten and egg.

I feel like I was given an unexpected gift today. A gluten-free pancake mix that yielded fluffy, doughy pancakes would have been a passable way to get my morning calories. Instead I got something surprising and wonderful, a new treat made with one of my favorite textures of all time. They say gluten-free cooking opens up new possibilities, and right now I am definitely feeling it!

Pesto, pasta, wow!

One thing about summer – you get a lot of the same foods in your box, over and over again. A glass-half-empty type might yawn “Boring!” and roll her eyes at the six-millionth bag of basil, shoving it in the back of the fridge next to the other limp and blackened bunches. But a perky glass-practically-brimming-full type will see this as an opportunity to really stock up, to get ahead on the endless task of feeding her family. For the first, exhausted half of the summer I would use a few leaves from each bunch of basil, pairing them with some tomatoes or garnishing a dish, and then, sad to say, the blackening and wilting would begin in earnest. But the basil, undeterred, kept arriving each week, each bunch fuller and more bountiful than the last.

Gluten-free spirals with vegan pesto, zucchini, and tomato

Gluten-free spirals with vegan pesto, roasted zucchini, and tomato

It was time to do right by this basil, I finally decided. The thing is, I don’t like pesto that much. It’s often too oily and sticky and rich, and sometimes I even get a gross little rash around my mouth when I eat it. But that’s what you do with massive quantities of basil, you make pesto. I do like to always have pesto on hand that I’ve frozen into ice cube trays so I can throw a cube or two into soups and other things that need a little boost, so I figured I would just fill a lot of ice cube trays.

My family has a beloved heirloom pesto recipe that has been passed down to me, but I ventured out to find recipes for vegan pesto so that the basil bounty would be edible for all members of the household. I came across several versions, including some that were just the usual pesto recipe without the parmesan cheese, but Duck and I had already tried this as a basil puree and had found it too strong and sharp without the cheese to mellow things out. The one that sounded best to me was this vegan pesto recipe from the vegan blog Vegan Spoonful that uses nutritional yeast in the place of the cheese.

I was dubious at first, because everyone is always trying to claim that nutritional yeast is “just like cheese!” “Put it on your popcorn – just like cheese!” “Make vegan mac and cheeze!” But no, no, it’s not like cheese, and don’t insult me by pretending that it is. Duck was the designated pesto processor, so I had him make a small batch to start so we could taste it and see what we thought. Ladies and gentlemen – when it comes to pesto, nutritional yeast is not just like cheese, nope, it is BETTER. All the creamy, mellowing effects, with none of the greasy heaviness. This was some of the best pesto I’ve ever tasted. Duck blended it all, using bunch after bunch of basil that had been stockpiling in the fridge. We ended up with a huge jar of pesto which I resolved to get into freezer trays as soon as possible.

But my freezer plans went out the window when Duck cooked dinner that night. He prepared a batch of Tinkyada gluten-free pasta spirals, roasted chunks of zucchini in the toaster oven, cut up sweet, fresh summer tomatoes, and stirred all of it up with our shiny new pesto.

It has been years since I’ve enjoyed pasta. I don’t like simple carbs very much, wheat makes me sick, and I OD’d on it in college before I was a junior. But this Tinkyada brown rice pasta is incredible. It has a toothiness that is one of the best textures I’ve ever put in my mouth. And considering that gluten-free pasta is generally known for its horrid texture, this is nothing short of a miracle. And, combined with the yummy roasted zucchini (another vegetable that shows up week after week without mercy), the juicy tomato, and our heavenly pesto, this pasta dish is quickly becoming a dinnertime favorite. The other day I finally decided I’d better put the pesto in the freezer in case it started to go bad. I fetched the jar and looked inside – there’s about enough left from our huge jar’s worth to maybe make another bowl of pasta. Clearly I’ve been converted!

Recipe follows… Continue reading