Pickle Porn

I mean like food porn. Geez, I say pickle and look where your mind goes!

I’ve been really into making refrigerator pickles these days. They’re easy and super gratifying.

I made dill pickles for the first time, with my friend Iris, and when they were finished we were so excited because they looked exactly like dill pickles! It was like making a cake that looks exactly like the one on the magazine cover. Only really, really easy to achieve.

As exciting as the dill-pickle-looking pickles were, my visual favorites this time around were the carrot pickles. Iris brought us beautiful carrots that were not only a variety of colors but also had rings of color going towards the core. Sliced in half and pressed up the side of a pickle jar they are gorgeous.

The recipes I used during this particular pickling session were for dilly beans, sweet and spicy daikon and carrot pickles, and dill pickles. We also threw some garlic and some cherry tomatoes into leftover brine. For the record: putting cherry tomatoes into a jar of brine does not lead to pickled tomatoes. Which might be for the best, because I’m not sure I’d like pickled tomatoes.

In terms of flavor my favorites are the carrot and daikon pickles. But that’s because the dilly beans and the dill pickles both have a strange, chemically aftertaste to them that Iris and I can taste but other people seem not to be able to discern. I used a super cheap gallon jug of white vinegar, on the assumption that all white vinegar is created equal, but I’m wondering if it was the culprit in the off flavor.

Anyways I am now always on the lookout for fridge pickle recipes to feed my new addiction. Any favorites?

In other news, I have a guest post up today at xgfx for Vegan MoFo!

Through the grace of pickles

I’ve been sick twice in the past month. Boo! Always sore throat, achey body, congested nose type stuff. The sore throat has been predominant. You know that feeling when you’re totally dehydrated but it hurts too much to drink water? Or when your whole body just feels parched? Or when you’re hungry, but the idea of eating food is physically repulsive?

Yeah, all that good stuff. For some reason the one thing I could stand to eat during my bouts of illness was pickled vegetables. Lucky for me, I’d just made big batches of pickled mushrooms and carrots, and then a friend brought over a jar of amazing pickled daikon. It was like a pickle party every night, and through the grace of pickles I recovered my health and was able to return to normal functioning once again.

The friend who made the amazing daikon pickles is currently riding a bike 600 miles from SF to LA to raise money for the fight against AIDS. (Awesome!) So I’ll have to get that recipe to you later. I’m thinking I may have to engineer a whole series of guest posts from him, since he also just invented what is pretty much the best vegan, gluten-free cracker ever in the history of crackers. (As a side note: Am I weird for experiencing this feeling of absolute bliss that my life has turned out such that I have friends who bring me jars of homemade pickles?)

My own recent adventures in pickling started when I had a bunch of mushrooms left after making a delicious lentil, millet, and mushroom loaf. I never buy mushrooms because they’re pricey and they don’t keep well, but here I was with a large quantity of them to spare. I rushed to my recipe files – it seems like there are always mushroom dishes I have to pass up – but ultimately realized that what I really, truly wanted was Russian-style pickled mushrooms. (Some part of me must have already known I was getting sick!)

I Food Blog Search‘d and found a wonderful blog about Russian cooking called Yulinka Cooks. The author has been on an entire odyssey of mushroom pickling in an attempt to find a recipe she likes. I went with the recipe that has met with the most approval so far, though her quest seems by no means over. My feeling after making the recipe myself was that it nails the texture perfectly (which is actually the thing I was craving) but the clove flavor is way too dominant for me. So I’ve modified the recipe to be much less clovalicious. Your mileage, as they say here on the interwebs, may vary.

I had a good bit of extra brine left after I pickled my mushrooms, so I dumped in a whole bunch more sugar and white vinegar, chopped some carrots into sticks (using these Smitten Kitchen carrot pickles for inspiration) and pickled those as well. They came out crunchy and delicious. Next time I’ll try the Smitten Kitchen pickling liquid, which uses dill seeds. Fun!

Russian Pickled Mushrooms
This recipe is adapted from one found at Yulinka Cooks, which was adapted from a Russia! magazine recipe. The texture of these will be firm yet supple, just how I like my mushroom pickles!

1 pound button mushrooms
2 small garlic cloves, peeled and thickly sliced
handful black peppercorns
2 whole cloves
2-3 bay leaves
1 T. salt
1.5 T. white vinegar
1 t. sugar
1.5 C. water

Wash the mushrooms and slice in half. Place in a pot or large pan, cover with water, bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Reserving the liquid, drain the mushrooms. You can either use the liquid in place of the water in the pickles, or save it for mushroom stock.

Transfer the mushrooms to a clean glass jar. Toss in the sliced garlic cloves as well.

In a small saucepan, combine the peppercorns, cloves, bay leaves, salt, sugar, vinegar and water or mushroom stock. Bring to a boil. Pour over the mushrooms in the jar.

Let sit at room temperature for a few hours. Taste the liquid and adjust the seasonings. Then transfer the jar to the fridge and let the mushrooms marinate at least 48 hours. Mushrooms will keep, tightly covered in the fridge, for at least a week.

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.)

Culture Club ~ A story in (mostly) pictures

As I mentioned in my last post, I love love love fermenting food. For a long time I was interested but terrified – terrified of botulism (which you actually can’t get from fermenting food, just from canning it improperly) or any other undetectable-yet-deadly bacteria I might grow and then unknowingly kill myself and others with. I went to a lot of workshops and read some books and then was lucky enough to live with my very dear friend Farmer B. Farmer B is not only fearless about this kind of thing but also has a real talent and instinct for it. She’s a bacteria and yeast whisperer, you might say.

Farmer B getting ready to do some bacteria-whispering

The other barrier to doing urban-homesteader type food projects is time. There’s a reason we as a civilization have moved further and further away from DIY methods and developed all these conveniences – they save us the tons of time it takes to make foods by hand. To ferment vegetables you have to brine them for hours. Canning similarly involves hours of sterilizing, filling, boiling, etc. Of course a lot of this is down time, but let’s be realistic, you’re still going to spend the whole day in the kitchen.

So many veggies to chop and brine...

Which is why Farmer B and I created Culture Club. When you can chat while you chop and play games while the veggies are brining, crafting food becomes a party rather than a chore. It’s been hard to coordinate Culture Club with Farmer B so frequently away (farming!) but we took advantage of a window of Bay Area time and gathered friends together.

It's better with friends!

Culture Club has two components. One is making foods and the other is tasting/demoing foods. This is so that people who are perhaps interested in kombucha, say, can taste it and get an overview of the process before they commit to making it themselves. This time around we had two projects. The first was kimchi, using a recipe from Sandor Katz’s marvelous book Wild Fermentation. (Katz has been invaluable in helping me get over my paranoia about killing my loved ones with improperly fermented foods.) Culture Club had previously made a radish and roots kimchi, but this time around we went for the classic combination of napa cabbage, carrot, and daikon radish.

Giant, beautiful produce makes me dreamy! (That's a daikon radish I'm swooning over, there.)

Our second project was a blood orange cordial. A few months ago, I found an electric cordial maker (called “Cordially Yours!“) at Goodwill that promised to make cordial in hours rather than weeks, and I was super excited to test it out. I had done a small test-batch a few days earlier (no sense in wasting all that vodka if the thing didn’t even work) with Royal mandarins, but then a friend brought over blood oranges for a snack during a movie night and Farmer B and I just fell in love with the color. How dreamy would it be to have blood-orange colored cordial?

Zesting and juicing blood oranges for cordial

Blood orange juice & zest + vodka + sugar + "Cordially Yours!" + 4 hours = cordial. We hope!

While we waited for the vegetables to brine and the cordial maker to work its magic, we had our demo/tastings/lunch. Farmer B brought kombucha for all to try, and made a big pot of ogi, a fermented millet porridge, following another Sandor Katz recipe. We ate the ogi with stir-fried Chinese greens and homemade sauerkraut and turnip pickles, which were my contributions to the tasting party. I rounded out our lunch with cheela (mung bean pancakes) with tomato-coconut chutney. We also enjoyed a healthy amount of my initial test batch of cordial, which we had to drink for informational purposes of course. How could we know how to adjust the recipe if we didn’t drink thoroughly of the test version? And no Culture Club would be complete without a rousing round of some game, so after lunch we sat down with Balderdash (“the hilarious bluffing game!”) while we waited on the vegetables.

Tasting cordial out on the porch, where we brought the brine to cool it in the open air

Trying to fool each other with made-up definitions of obscure words

Once the vegetables had finished brining, we mixed them with a paste we’d made in the food processor of garlic, scallions, and ginger. I use a special Korean chili flake that seems like it has been deyhydrated in some way (not just dried, which I realize is the definition of “dehydration” but these seem like they were made into chili paste and then that was dehydrated and flaked and then you reconstitute it with warm water) and we made a paste from that and added it in as well. Kimchi can take a lot of heat before it starts to get spicy – we went through almost an entire giant bag of chili flakes.

Brined vegetables topped with two types of flavoring paste

Mixing the kimchi is the best part of the whole experience. We get to wear gloves – it’s DIY food surgery! (Is that gross?) The chile paste and the salty brine can be quite painful on your hands, but with protection you can flip and toss to your heart’s content.

Stuffing jars with kimchi (with gloves to protect our hands from the chile paste)


The cordial finished with little fanfare. It turned out I hadn’t stirred long enough to dissolve all the sugar so there was a (tasty) bunch of it left on the bottom of the machine, which hadn’t happened during my test run. Even though the Cordially Yours! remarkably cuts the time cordials need to sit, the instructions do recommend that fruit cordials be allowed to steep for three days after the machine has worked its magic. So we poured it into jars and sent everyone home with their cordial and their kimchi. In three days and a week or two, respectively, each would blossom into the exciting foodstuffs of our dreams! (I know that’s the stupidest ending sentence ever for a blog post but it’s been a really long day and for some reason this post took forever to write. The whole “story in pictures” thing was supposed to make it go faster, but apparently that plan was a failure. Anyways. Let’s look at the pretty pretty things we made:)

The finished products! Blood orange cordial in the foreground, kimchi in the background.

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.

A taste of Spring in the far North

I’m going to tell you now about my very favorite food in the world. I know, you’re shocked – I’ve been writing this blog for almost three years, and only now do I decide to tell you about my favorite food in the world?

I have nothing to say for myself, no excuse. I think I’ve put off posting it for the same reason I’ve put off making it: it has a lot of ingredients. I don’t like to type any more than I like to chop (repetitive stress injuries in my hands and wrists), but in both cases there are definitely times when it is worth the pain.

So then, why now? The wonderful blogs Diet, Dessert, and Dogs and Affairs of Living are hosting a new monthly event called the Sweet or Savory Kitchen Challenge. I’m very excited about this event because its guidelines are meant to lead to glorious round-ups full of things that people on special diets (like vegan, no refined sugar, no processed foods; or “healthy, sensible diets” as I like to call them) can eat and enjoy. I know I’ll look forward to the round-up each month and always take away new inspiration and ideas, but I also want to contribute to such an excellent project myself. When I saw that the theme this month is Beets, I knew it was time. Some chopping, some typing – it’s worth it to share with you my favorite food in the world.

It’s a bit of an odd choice for this event, since from some perspectives it might not be construed as glowingly healthy – it’s basically a giant bowl of carbs. But this is total comfort food, and it’s a heck of a lot healthier than most comfort food out there – I think it straddles the line between indulgence and nourishment quite nicely.

A little history: My mom started going to Russia way back when it was still the Soviet Union. She made a lot of friends, did a lot of work there, helped a bunch of families to immigrate to the US. A few times I went with her, both before and after the fall of the USSR, and I grew up surrounded by wonderful Russian and Ukrainian friends. All this led to my studying Russian in college and eventually moving to St. Petersburg my junior year to do study abroad.

Russian cuisine can be amazing, and I had the chance to eat in homes all over the Soviet Union, from Moscow and St. P to the Ukraine and Siberia. Even when there was barely anything to eat – Bozhe Moy! – the things these women could do with a potato! Everything is strange and wonderful and particular, like the Salat Olivier, which contains potatoes and pickles and eggs and boiled chicken, all dressed with mayonnaise, and is much, much better than it sounds.

I don’t remember the first time I had the Russian salad known as Vinegret. But I do know that it had already become one of my favorite foods by the time I went off to St. Petersburg for my study abroad year. My host family was a mother and fourteen year-old daughter, money was tight, and, unlike the celebratory feasts I had always been treated to when I was just visiting the country, the majority of our meals were the simple, everyday food eaten in lower-income Russian households. Hotdogs, boiled and then fried. Potatoes, boiled and then fried. Cabbage, boiled. A variety of meatpastes spread on dry white bread. Throughout the whole winter I never ate a raw vegetable or fruit. I had made the conscious decision to stop being vegetarian while I was there (I would have starved and made my host family miserable), but my body simply wasn’t used to the kind of diet I was eating. I was constantly sick and the fact that the temperature was around 10 degrees Fahrenheit wasn’t helping.

The minute spring tentatively began to arrive in the frigid Northern city, I trekked out to the farmer’s market, rubles in hand. There among the potatoes and the cabbages I found what I had dreamed of finding, a few feathery stalks of early dill and a bunch of bright scallions. I loaded up my plastic sack (a true Russian never leaves home without at least one) with potatoes and beets and carrots and onions, made the long commute back home to our Khrushchoba (a play on the name of 1960s Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev and the word for “slum”), and made a huge mountain of vinegret. I am a little ashamed to say that I sat in the kitchen on a stool in the otherwise empty flat and ate the entire mountain by myself. But the next day I did trek back to the market, buy all the same ingredients, and make another even more colossal mountain of vinegret, so that this time my host family, too, could have that tiny taste of spring.

This salad is a true Russian classic. It draws on the sustenance of those long winters in the beets and potatoes and carrots, root-cellar foods (my host-mother kept ours stored under the piano, with pumpkins and other squashes, too). It has the wild flavor of dill so beloved to Russian cuisine, and the peculiar surprise of the dill pickle, which the Russians really do love to put in many places I had never encountered it before (soup, salad, meat stews). And then there are the peas. I’ve seen recipes here in the states that call for frozen peas or even (gasp!) fresh peas, but for me the canned peas are essential. They’re mushy, true, but for me they are an important reminder of the time when mothers stood in line all day long, not even knowing if there would be anything to buy at the end of the line, just to get a can of Soviet peas to bring home to their children.

The salad does require a lot of prepwork, but it makes a large quantity and is truly delicious. The beets will turn everything a bright magenta, which makes it super fun to eat, and the flavors and textures mix and mingle in ways you simply can’t imagine from just looking at the recipe. Mmm… just writing about it makes me crave it. I think I could eat another mountain’s worth!

Vinegret (traditional Russian salad)
This recipe is modified slightly from the wonderful Russian cookbook Please to the Table by Anya Von Bremzen and John Welchman. Please see above for my justification for using canned peas, but if you hate mushy peas and are less of a romantic than I, feel free to substitute cooked frozen peas. For a really terrific picture of Vinegret, check out the glamour-shot over at Beyond Salmon.

2-3 large beets with skin, but stemmed, washed, and dried
3 med. boiling potatoes, peeled
2 med. carrots, peeled
3/4 cup chopped onion
3 med. dill pickles, in 1/2-inch dice
1 can of peas, drained
1/4 C. chopped scallions*
1/4 C. finely chopped fresh dill
Salt & pepper to taste

Dressing
1 tsp dry mustard (or use fresh mustard, it’s fine)
1/4 tsp agave nectar
3 Tbs red wine vinegar
1/3 cup unrefined sunflower oil or olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

The harder but more delicious way to prep the beets: Preheat oven to 375, wrap beets in foil and bake until tender, about 1 1/4 hours. When cool enough to handle, slip off beets skins under running water and cut into 1/2-inch dice.
The easier and still tasty way to prep the beets: Bring a very large pot of water to a boil. Boil beets in boiling water until tender, about 45 minutes – 1 hour, depending on size of beets. About 30 minutes into the beet cooking, add the potatoes, then add the carrots ten minutes later. Keep poking everything with a fork and remove each piece as it gets tender.
If you baked the beets, follow these directions for the potatoes and carrots: Cook potatoes in a large pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. Add carrots and cook until tender, about ten more minutes.
Drain all veggies. When cool, slip skins off of beets under running water and cut beets, potatoes and carrots into 1/2-inch dice.
In a small bowl, mix together all the ingredients for the dressing.
In a large salad bowl, combine diced beets, potatoes, carrots, onions, pickles, peas, scallions, and dill. Toss with dressing, and adjust salt and pepper to taste.
This salad is fabulous warm and scrumptious at room temperature and even better the next day!

*My instinct on the scallions is to chop the white parts only, but my host-mother Marina was shocked at the waste. She gathered up the discarded green parts and made a terrible spread/dip thing with sour cream and the bitter green scallion tops that we all tried to eat. Thank goodness for scrap stock, is all I have to say!

Earlier this week I’d been pondering what I might make for the fabulous Family Recipes event hosted by The Life & Loves of Grumpy’s Honeybunch, The Spiced Life, and Lynda’s Recipe Box. I’ve never entered anything, but I love reading the stories and memories people share about the foods they make. Tonight I was musing again on what I might make to submit when I realized that Vinegret would be perfect for this event! It’s a true “family recipe” belonging to all my extended Russian family, and has especially strong ties to memories of my St. Petersburg host family.

In which breakfast is tackled by a Vegan, Gluten-free Menu Plan

"Green smoothie" with apple, pear, kiwi, ginger, lemon, kale, mint, and coconut milk

Vegan, gluten-free breakfast is really, really tough. I think it’s the hardest meal category to adapt – well, that and baking, obviously. I was never that into sweet or super carby breakfasts, so I don’t miss pancakes and waffles much, but I really miss eggs and yogurt. I miss them not only for their tastiness, but also for how filling and easy they were.

This week I decided to step up my menu planning. First of all, I want to start planning breakfast, too. Not necessarily scheduling it, but having a roster of options on hand so that, whatever my appetite and time-frame, I am not just stuck wandering around the kitchen, hungry but unsure what to make. I also want to make a few larger dishes that I can eat over several days. I want to make sure I am getting fresh veggies with every meal by planning out what vegetable I’ll have each night, not just buying a bunch of different options and hoping I cook one. I want to eat more seaweed, that mineral-rich magic food. And for whatever reason (maybe because it just got ridiculously cold here) I want to make soup. Which means I want to plan out in advance when to defrost my homemade stock from the freezer. I also want to make stock this week – my scrap bag is full to brimming.

So there’s a lot on my plate – literally and figuratively – this week, but I feel good about getting it all done. I actually planned this week out a few days ago and took the whole list to the store and stocked up on everything I’ll need. Making some larger dishes means I’ll have to cook on fewer nights. And I’m thrilled about having some answers to the sleepy, cranky morning question of “What’s for breakfast?”

In the spirit of dishes that last for more than one meal, I made my first nut-loaf this week. It’s a classic staple of old-school vegetarian cooking and something I’ve always wanted to make. Most recipes either call for eggs or bread or both, however, so I hadn’t attempted it before. But the awesome blog Vegan Lunch Box has created the Magical Loaf Studio (I love the name – it reminds me of Questionable Content’s Magical Love Gentlemen yaoi spoof) where you can choose all your own ingredients, and then it puts them together in a magical recipe for you! I chose lentils as my protein, millet as my carb, and flax meal as my binder. I think the loaf came out fantastic – dense but not at all dry, savory and delicious with sage and thyme flavors, and topped by a sweet tomato sauce that provided a perfect counterpoint. The texture even seems like it has egg in it – as I eat it I have to keep reassuring myself that it’s vegan!

This week’s Angela’s Kitchen is hosting the Gluten Free Menu Swap with the theme of coconut. I don’t cook much with coconut, but I do happen to have two coconut recipes on my meal plan this week – coconut milk in my green smoothie (under breakfast ideas) and vegan coconut macaroons for Passover. Yummmm… I love macaroons! And of course you can also check out the huge compendium of Menu Plan Mondays from all over the web at OrgJunkie!

Roasted asparagus with Meyer lemon

Monday
Magical Loaf Studio Production 1: Lentils & Millet & Mushrooms with sweet tomato sauce (recipes are below)
Roasted asparagus with Meyer lemon

Tuesday
California Minestrone (defrost stock!)
Spinach avocado grapefruit salad (Moosewood Lowfat, p 135)

Wednesday
Leftovers

Thursday
Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie (Moosewood Lowfat, p 238) (defrost mushroom gravy from freezer!)
“Venice in your mouth” escarole

Friday
Edamame and Tofu Succotash
Easiest broccoli with garlic and soy sauce
Quinoa

Saturday
Leftovers

Sunday
Fennel and kale pasta with Tinkyada brown rice pasta
Baked sweet potato

Baking
Coconut-orange macaroons

"Fronch" toast

Free-form brainstorm of GF Vegan Breakfast Ideas:

This discussion thread from a college forum has a ton of great ideas.

Vegan with a Vengeance “Fronch” toast made with GF, vegan bread (This stuff is seriously insane – it tastes better than regular French toast, in my opinion. No need for the bread to be stale when using GF bread.)

Green Smoothie (quarter recipe for blender, add some coconut milk for healthy fat)

Quinoa mixed with pre-cooked sweet potato & other leftover veggies, rolled up hot in nori roll, with flax oil and sesame seeds sprinkled on (bake sweet potato ahead in toaster oven)

Miso soup with seaweed and beet greens (I would use white or light miso, not dark miso, for breakfast miso soup)

For those who do like sweet & carby breakfasts: Quinoa Breakfast Brownies

The classic: Roasted root vegetables, tempeh bacon, and tofu scramble (I still haven’t found a tofu scramble recipe I love, though. Any suggestions?)

Plus: See more great breakfast ideas from Angela of Angela’s Kitchen in the comments section below!

Miso soup with wakame, carrot, beet greens, and shitake mushrooms

Magical Loaf Studios Production 1: Lentils & Millet & Mushrooms
This recipe was generated for me by Vegan Lunch Box‘s Magical Loaf Studio

Ingredients:

1/2 cup walnuts
2 TB olive oil
One onion, diced
One large garlic clove, minced
One large carrot, peeled and grated
Two celery ribs, diced
One cup mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
2 cups cooked lentils
1 cup cooked millet
1/4 to 1/2 cup vegetable juice, as needed
1 heaping TB flaxseed meal
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried sage
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1/4 tsp. dried rosemary
Several dashes vegetarian Worcestershire Sauce
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp. salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350º. Spray a loaf pan or 8×8 square baking pan with nonstick spray and set aside (an 8×8 pan makes a crisper loaf).

Grind the walnuts into a coarse meal using a food processor or spice/coffee grinder. Place in a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Sauté any vegetables you’ve chosen in the olive oil until soft. Add to the large mixing bowl along with all the remaining ingredients. Mix and mash together well, adding only as much liquid as needed to create a soft, moist loaf that holds together and is not runny (you may not need to add any liquid if the grains and protein are very moist). Add more binder/carbohydrate as needed if the loaf seems too wet.

Press mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until cooked through. (Mine took well over an hour.)

Let the loaf cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then turn out onto a plate or platter and slice.

Cold leftover slices of make a great sandwich filling.

Sweet & Smooth Tomato Sauce (for topping loaf)
Adapted from a recipe at Tinned Tomatoes

1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1-2 clove garlic, minced or crushed
1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 T. tomato paste
1/3 C. water
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp dried basil
Freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste

Sautee the onion and garlic until soft and translucent. Add in the tomatoes, tomato paste, 1/3 C. water, sugar, and basil, crushing basil between finger to release flavor. Simmer gently for 15-20 minutes until reduced and thickened. Adjust seasonings as needed. Puree until fairly smooth in a food processor.

Makes enough sauce for a nut loaf made in an 8×8 square pan.

Culture Club: Winter Radish and Root Kimchee

It was Farmer B’s idea to start a club for people to get together and share knowledge and skills about fermenting, pickling, canning, and preserving. Then one night when I couldn’t sleep I sat there thinking idly of potential names, getting nuttier and nuttier in my sleep-deprived brain, and ultimately decided it would be called “Culture Club” (y’know, like the bacterial and yeast cultures that ferment foods…). The basic idea is for people of varying degrees of skill and experience to get together and make stuff, share tips and ideas, and end up going home with delicious treats.

The club did our first project on Sunday, a kind of dry-run with friends before we try opening up to the community at large. FB (as club president and all around most-knowledgeable leader) chose winter-appropriate Radish and Root Kimchee from Sandor Katz’s great book about live-culture foods, Wild Fermentation. We had an amazing time, from the gorgeous abundance of the Berkeley Bowl produce section (where else can you reliably count on finding burdock root, Jerusalem artichokes, and fresh horseradish?) to the end of the long day when we revisited the wacky-name-game and brainstormed silly titles for our gorgeous jars of kimchee. (The winner: The Root of Passion, for its root veggie content, fiery color, and the fact that we made it on Valentine’s Day!)

There was a lot of chopping. We used turnips, daikon radish, carrot, red radish, burdock root, Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), and leeks as the base veggies, and blended up red onion, garlic, ginger, and horseradish for the seasoning. Farmer B had acquired particular Korean chili flakes made especially for kimchee, and we learned how to use them on the fly. We each took home a couple of jars of our spicy concoction (there are mild, medium, and hot variations), and will patiently check them each day to make sure they are still covered in brine while we wait for the miracle of fermentation to work its magic.

The whole process is very straightforward but does take a long time (about 4-5 hours for us, not including shopping), which is why it’s great to do with friends! Especially when one of them baked gluten-free chocolate ginger torte and another one brought Cranium Hoopla and you can sit around stuffing your face and playing games while you wait for the veggies to brine.

Kimchee would be a great thing to do with any CSA veggies that are fermentable. (I don’t know enough about fermentation to know if some are and some aren’t, or if anything goes.) I definitely started fantasizing about kimchee green beans while we were making this batch, and of course I love the traditional napa cabbage version as well.

Some fermentation tips Farmer B shared with us beginners:

  • Never use chlorinated water, as it kills off the cultures necessary for fermentation. You can use distilled water or purified water or boil the water and cool it to room temperature or just leave the desired amount of water sitting in the open air for 24 hours. (Britta-style filters only remove the taste of chlorine, not the chemical itself.)
  • Never use iodized salt, for the same reason. Non-iodized sea salt is good to use.
  • Things to use as weights: best are glass bottles (in a smaller jar) filled with water or plates (in a big crock) weighted down with a heavy jar or can. You want your weight to be as wide as possible, it should be almost the size of the mouth of your container. Some people use ziploc bags filled with brine (you want brine, not water, in case it leaks), but FB and I feel sketchy about leaching plastic into our food.
  • Make sure to check your batch daily as it sits, as the brine can sometimes evaporate unexpectedly. Any of your mixture above the brine level is in danger of molding, rather than fermenting. If this happens, you can just scoop off the moldy part and toss it, but the stuff still below the brine level will not be contaminated. To add more brine, mix up very salty water – saltier than you would feel comfortable drinking, is a good rule of thumb – and add it to your jar until the brine covers the top of your veggies again.

Radish and Roots Kimchee
This recipe is from the amazing live-culture foods book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. And of course, though kimchee is traditionally made with fish sauce, this recipe is completely vegan (and naturally gluten-free).

INGREDIENTS (makes ~ 2 quarts – what you see in the photos above is many times the recipe)

2 clean, dry quart jars, or 1 gallon jar
sea salt
1-2 daikon radishes
1 small burdock root
1-2 turnips
a few Jerusalem artichokes
2 carrots
a few small red radishes
1 small fresh horseradish root (or a tablespoon of prepared horseradish, without preservatives)
3 tablespoons (or more!) fresh grated gingerroot
3-4 cloves garlic (or more!)
1-2 onions/leeks/shallots/scallions
3-4 hot red chilies (or more!), depending on how peppery-hot you like food, or any form of hot pepper, fresh, dried, or in a sauce (without chemical preservatives!). We used hot chili flakes from the Korean market in the Richmond, with a picture of a kimchee napa cabbage on the label. If you are using these flakes, start by mixing about 1/4 cup with warm water to make a paste, and then add to taste. Kimchee can take a LOT of heat before it gets too spicy, so don’t be shy!

Before you begin: I recommend reading the “tips” section above if this is your first time fermenting!

1. Mix a brine of about 4 cups water and 3 tablespoons salt.

2. Slice daikons, burdock, turnip, Jerusalem artichokes, and carrots, and let them soak in the brine. If the roots are fresh and organic, leave the nutritious skins on. Slice the roots thin so the flavors will penetrate. I like to slice roots on a diagonal; you could also cut them into matchsticks. Leave the small red radishes whole, even with their greens attached, and soak them, too. Use a plate or other weight to keep the vegetables submerged until soft, a few hours or overnight.

3. Prepare the spices: If you are using chili flakes, mix with warm water sufficient to form a paste and set aside. Then grate the ginger; chop the garlic and onion; if you are using whole chilis, remove seeds from the chilies and chop or crush, or throw them in whole. Kimchi can absorb a lot of spice. Experiment with quantities and don’t worry too much about them. Mix spices into a paste, adding grated horseradish. (We prepped everything in a food processor, and if you are using chili paste, you actually will want to apply it separately from the other ginger/onion/etc paste.)

4. Drain brine off vegetables, reserving brine. Taste vegetables for saltiness. You want them to taste decidedly salty, but not unpleasantly so. If they are too salty, rinse them. If you cannot taste salt, sprinkle with a couple of teaspoons of salt and mix.

5. (It’s best to mix and stuff jars with your hands here, but if you are using chili paste you probably want to wear gloves.) Mix the vegetables with the chili paste first, if you are using chili paste, until you reach your desired level of heat. Then mix in spice paste. Mix everything together thoroughly and stuff it into a clean quart jar. Pack it tightly into the jar, pressing down until brine rises. If necessary, add a little of the reserved vegetable-soaking brine to submerge the vegetables. Weight the vegetables down with a smaller jar, or with a zip-lock bag filled with some brine. Every day, use your (clean!) finger to push the vegetables back under the brine. Cover the jar with a clean dishtowel or other cloth to keep out dust and flies.

6. Ferment in your kitchen or other warm place. Taste the kimchi every day. After about a week of fermentation, when it tastes ripe, move it to the refrigerator.

Savoy Cabbage and Bartlett Pears ~ Week of December 9th

It has been really cold here. Really cold. And it’s not just me being a thin-blooded California wimp, either. It snowed in the Berkeley Hills a couple of days ago. Snow!

I know, I know. “Boo hoo, cry me a river,” you’re probably shivering at me from the middle of a Minnesota winter. We are spoiled here – even when it’s winter, it’s summer. Or something like that.

Nothing exemplifies a Bay Area winter meal more than what we had for dinner tonight: California Minestrone and Salade Nicoise. Lots of tummy warming goodness from the soup and stick-to-your-ribs heartiness from the potatoes in the salad, but the crazy thing is that it’s December and every single element of these two veggie-intensive meals came straight out of our CSA box. (Except for a couple things in the salad: olives – left over from Thanksgiving – and tomatoes – doubtlessly hothouse.)

I’ve been wanting to make California Minestrone ever since the weather started getting nippy. The recipe is from the fantastic cookbook Spa Food by Edward J. Safdie, chef of the venerable Sonoma Mission Inn. The plating and food design are entirely 80s (the cookbook was published in 1985) but the recipes for healthy, satisfying, sophisticated food featuring California flavors are timeless. I grew up eating from this cookbook (my mom and I have made nearly every recipe in it) and this soup in particular invokes for me both the chill and the bounty of a Bay Area winter.

I was lacking only a leek and some cabbage to make the soup (I often skip the green beans and spinach for my winter version), and when I opened our box today, there they were. Here’s the complete record of what came in today’s size “small” box:

Satsuma Mandarins (2 lb)
Bartlett Pears (1.5 lb)
Savoy Cabbage (2 lb)
Collard Greens (1 bunch)
Baby Bok Choy (1.5 lb)
Broccoli (1 lb)
Red Onions (0.5 lb)
Leeks (1 lb)
Yellow Onion (0.5 lb)

California Minestrone (from Spa Food by Edward J. Safdie)
This is a light but filling soup that can be made with a variety of vegetables, but I think the leek, carrot, cabbage, and tomatoes (I used canned whole tomatoes) are essential for giving it sweetness, acid, and depth. Serve it with a crusty loaf of rustic bread if you eat bread and with a hearty sprinkling of Parmesan cheese on top if you eat dairy.

1 T. unsalted butter or Earth Balance
1/2 an onion, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 leek (white part only), washed and cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 carrot, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 celery stalk, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 garlic clove, minced
3-4 canned plum tomatoes, drained or 2 unpeeled tomatoes, seeded and chopped
6 cabbage leaves, coarsely chopped
6 oz. fresh green beans, ends trimmed and cut on a slant into 1/2 inch pieces
2 quarts stock (I used our latest batch of scrap stock)
10 spinach leaves, washed, drained, and coarsely chopped
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Salt or vegetable seasoning to taste
1 t. pesto (I usually use more like 1-3 T. vegan pesto, which is often pretty mild)
1/4 C. grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese

In a 4-quart pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, leek, carrot, celery, garlic, tomatoes, cabbage, and green beans, and saute over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring often.

Add the stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 25 minutes.

Add the spinach and simmer for 5 more minutes. Remove the pot from heat and stir in the pesto. Taste the finished soup and adjust the seasonings.

Serve in large heated soup bowls and sprinkle with 1 T. grated cheese over each portion.

If you follow the recipe exactly, this will make 4 servings, at 150 calories per serving.

“Semi-homemade” from scratch

Yuck. I’m sick. (*whine, whine, whine*)

I have some kind of sore throat, stuffy nose, achey sinus thing and I feel gross all over. When I feel this way, there is only one food I want: Tom Yum soup. Lovely clear broth so it’s light on the system, lots of heat to open up those sinuses, enough veggies and tofu that my body has some fuel to keep going. And that lilting, incomparable flavor – lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves and lime juice – like sweet-and-sour refined and taken to the pinnacle of possibility.

tomyum_soup

Usually when I’m sick I get a big tub of it from the Thai place down the street, but lately their tubs have been shrinking and besides we had take-out from them last night, before I knew I would be sick and require my Tom Yum fix. So I decided to try to make my own version, figuring if I could at least hit the basic notes – acid, heat, sweet – I would get a similar medicinal effect if not the exact flavors. I started surfing the web for ideas and it quickly became clear that I had one major problem: no lemongrass.

You can’t make Tom Yum soup without lemongrass. It would just be some other kind of soup. And you can’t really make lemongrass flavor from something else, either. But then in my web travels I came across an old Slashfood post called “Semi-homemade: Tom Yum” that sang the praises of using prepared Tom Yum paste (that the author buys, coincidentally, at my favorite Asian-foods market here in SF) to whip up a bowl of Tom Yum in minutes. No need to keep lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, etc., around the house at all times. All very well and good, only I didn’t have any prepared Tom Yum paste, either. Or did I?

I did a search for Tom Yum paste and found the ingredients: Lemongrass, soya bean oil, onion, salt, chili, water, galangal, lime juice, sugar, garlic, msg, kaffir lime leaves, shrimp extract flavor, citric acid. Leaving aside the fillers and the non-veg ingredients, I realized Tom Yum paste was an awful lot like the homemade yellow curry paste I had sitting in my freezer.

yellocurry2a

See, I love those little jars of red and green curry paste made by Thai Kitchen. I find them perfectly acceptable for making curry at home. But my favorite, above all other Thai dishes, is yellow curry, and I have been unable to find prepared yellow curry paste anywhere. So last summer I found a wonderful recipe from Jugalbandi, bit the bullet, and made my own yellow curry paste (more complicated in the ingredient-gathering than the actual preparation) and ended up with an extra 1/4 cup wrapped in wax paper in my freezer.

tomyum_paste

The soup itself was a very improvised affair. I’m not going to bother with giving a recipe, because if you have the ingredients around to make curry paste from scratch, which you would have to do in order to reproduce my version of the soup, then you might as well make actual Tom Yum soup from scratch. And if you are using a prepared Tom Yum paste, your flavorings may be completely different and the proportions of lime juice, etc., that I used won’t be very helpful.

tomyum_ingreds

I’ll sketch a basic outline, though, in case you happen to have some yellow curry paste around and feel like making Tom Yum soup with it.

Vegetarian Tom Yum Soup from Yellow Curry Paste

Bring 4 cups broth plus 2 cups water to a simmer and add 1/4 cup yellow curry paste. I threw in 3 large kaffir lime leaves I had in my freezer as well. At this point I also added half a pack of firm tofu, cubed. The tofu comes out pretty bland, but that’s part of the Tom Yum experience for me. Simmer everything for 5 or so minutes. Then add half an onion, thinly sliced, 1 carrot, thinly sliced on the diagonal, a few sliced shitake mushrooms (already soaked in hot water for 30 minutes), half a can of sliced water chestnuts, and some frozen peas. If you have canned straw mushrooms, canned baby corn, button mushrooms, and/or baby bok choy, these would all be yummy to add.  Cook for a few minutes, then add a tomato, sliced into thin wedges. Also add lime juice (at least 1 lime’s worth – I use a plastic squeezie lime), and a little mirin or sugar. Season to taste using lime juice, mirin or sugar, and a tiny bit of soy sauce if necessary (I do not like soy sauce in my Tom Yum, but Duck loves it). Serve immediately, plain or over cooked rice noodles, topped with full stalks of cilantro if you have it.