An old nemesis revisited

So I had this eggplant. One medium-sized eggplant. And these zucchini, a whole bunch of them. And I wasn’t cooking them, and every day I’d poke them to see if they had developed the dreaded soft spots that those veggies get shortly before they turn into produce bags full of mush and slime. (Sorry, that’s a pretty gross way to start a food post.) Eggplant I’d normally make into baba ganoush, but if I’m going to wash the food processor I want to be making more than a spoonful; my usual recipe calls for three eggplants and only one had come in my box. Zucchini I’ve been roasting all summer, and it’s been excellent and easy, but I was starting to get a little bored.

So I went online to see what you could make with eggplant and zucchini. And mushrooms. I had this paper bag of mushrooms that I was also anxious to make use of before they left the edible zone. And the internet told me… ratatouille.

Ah, ratatouille. Years of choking you down at Mediterranean restaurants where you were the only vegetarian option on the menu. And these were the eggplant-hating years, even. I look at ratatouille the way soldiers in the field probably look at their MREs. Pure sustenance, nothing more.

Here are the problems I have with ratatouille: 1) It’s bland. It’s basically just a bunch of vegetables, cooked for a long time. Back in Provence in the 19th century or whenever it was invented, I bet that tasted amazing. But modern vegetables just don’t pack that kind of flavor wallop anymore, especially not tomatoes. 2) It’s usually served over couscous or, occasionally, rice. Because it’s bland, it doesn’t sauce up the grain, rather the grain pulls it even further into tastelessness. 3) The eggplant is ALWAYS undercooked, and therefore spongy, bitter, and unpalatable. Undercooked eggplant is the reason I hated eggplant. Now that I understand this I mostly only eat eggplant in three culinary situations: at home, where I control the cook time; in Chinese food, where they fry the heck out of tiny tender eggplants; in Indian food, where they cook the eggplant so long it’s barely recognizable as such by the end (mmm baingan bharta!).

But that got me to thinking. Here I was with eggplant, zucchini, tomato, onion, and mushrooms (I wouldn’t have thought of mushrooms in ratatouille ’til I came across a yummy-looking variant online). I’ve loved eggplant now in many forms when I’ve cooked it at home (click the eggplant tag at the end of this post to see) so who’s to say that being the author of the experience couldn’t transform ratatouille the same way?

Making the ratatouille took a long time because the each of the vegetables was first cooked separately so it could brown rather than steam. I believe the extra time is worthwhile in this case since that’s the very process that is going to transform your vegetables from bland, stewed mush to something more transcendent. It’s also important to me to make the distinction with recipes between difficult and time-consuming. This recipe is incredibly easy, just throw on an apron, turn on an audiobook, and chop and sauté and simmer your way to ratatouille bliss in a few hours.

And bliss it was indeed. This ratatouille was delicious. Deep rich caramelized flavors and a heartbreaking melting texture. I ate it for three meals straight and then I put the last remaining bit into tacos for a some fusion fun. I could go either way on the mushrooms – if I had them on hand I would include them again, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to get them for this recipe, which I think would be excellent without them as well.

I’m linking this recipe up to the weekly What’s In the Box linkup hosted by CSA blogger In Her Chucks. I love contributing my weekly CSA box-contents post to the linkup, but I also love when people post recipes they’ve made using their CSA veggies, so I thought I’d try out doing the same. Do check out the links – there are some seriously yummy things being made out there.

Non-Disgusting, Totally Not Bland Ratatouille (vegan, gluten-free eggplant, tomato, zucchini, onion, mushroom stew)
This is a lightly adapted version of a recipe from The Kitchn, which is definitely worth checking out since it’s a real recipe from a genuine Frenchman, as opposed to my perhaps inauthentic – but delicious! – version. I originally made half a recipe because I only had one eggplant, and it worked out fine, but if I was planning on sharing this yumminess with anyone else I would make a whole recipe’s worth.

2 eggplants
2 yellow onions
6-8 zucchini
1 pound cremini mushrooms
4 large tomatoes
1 1/2 – 2 tablespoons olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
1 T. herbes de Provence, or more to taste
Red wine suitable for cooking, about 1 cup
Chopped fresh parsley (optional)
Salt and pepper

Begin by peeling the eggplants and chopping them into bite-sized cubes. Put them in a strainer set over a bowl (or in the sink) and toss with a tablespoon of salt. Let the eggplant sit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Dice the onions. Warm a teaspoon of olive oil in a large (at least 5 1/2 quart) Dutch oven or pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and a generous pinch of salt. Sauté until the onions have softened and are just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes.

While the onions are cooking, you can cut up the rest of your vegetables. Keep them separate because you’ll be cooking in batches. chop the zucchini and tomato into bite-sized pieces, slice the mushrooms, and mince (or press) the garlic.
When they have softened and begun to brown, transfer the onions to a large bowl.

At this point The Kitchn offers some helpful advice which I followed liberally, using much red wine: During cooking, a brown glaze will gradually build on the bottom of the pan. If it looks like this glaze is beginning to turn black and burn, turn down the heat to medium. You can also dissolve the glaze between batches by pouring 1/4 cup of water or wine into the pan and scraping up the glaze. Pour the deglazing liquid into the bowl with the vegetables.

So after you move the onions, go ahead and deglaze with 1/4 cup of red wine and then pour that off into the bowl with the onions.

Add another teaspoon of oil to the pot and sauté the zucchini with a generous pinch of salt until the zucchini has softened and is beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer the zucchini to the bowl with the onions. Deglaze!

Add another teaspoon of oil to the pot and sauté the mushrooms with a generous pinch of salt until they have softened and released their juices, about 10 minutes. Put them in your big veggie bowl. You know the drill – it’s probably time to deglaze!

While the mushrooms are cooking, rinse the eggplant under running water and squeeze the cubes gently with your hands to remove as much moisture as possible.

Warm two teaspoons of oil in the pan and sauté the eggplant until it has softened and has begun to turn translucent, about 10-15 minutes. Don’t skimp on time here. A cube of eggplant should taste edible – maybe not scrumptious, but cooked enough to be edible – before you transfer the eggplant to the bowl with the other vegetables. (You’re about to add the tomatoes, which are acidic, like wine, so they will take care of the deglazing on this step.)

Warm another teaspoon of olive oil in the pan and sauté the garlic until it is fragrant and just starting to turn golden, which will only take a few seconds or a minute at most. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, and herbes de Provence. As the tomato juices begin to bubble, scrape up the brown glaze on the bottom of the pan.

Add all of the vegetables back into the pan and stir until everything is evenly mixed. Bring the stew to a simmer, then turn down the heat to low. Stirring occasionally, simmer for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 1/2 hours. Shorter cooking time will leave the vegetables in larger, more distinct pieces; longer cooking times will break the vegetables down into a silky stew.

Remove the bay leaf. Stir in some chopped parsley if you like, or sprinkle some over each bowl when you serve it. Enjoy ratatouille alone, as a stew – not as a topping for something else.

The Kitchn says: Leftovers can be refrigerated for a week or frozen for up to three months. Ratatouille is often better the second day, and it can be eaten cold, room temperature, or warmed.

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.

A Hot Pockets dream come true

It has been a long-held dream of mine to make gluten-free hot pockets. I can’t even remember why anymore. (It’s sort of like what happened at the conclusion of the Great Dutch Oven Quest.) I’ve never even eaten a hot pocket of the Hot Pocket ™ variety. (Because, EW.) But the dream persists nonetheless.

(awesome image by n8less)

I’m really not a savory baker. (A baker of savory things? I like to think that I myself am fairly savory. If “savory” is the opposite of “unsavory.”) I don’t bake much bread – I’ve never baked a loaf of gluten-free yeast bread in my life. But I really like this idea of having a freezer full of hand-pies, delicious little meals that are all packaged up in their own goodness, waiting to be brought back to life by the toaster oven. I just had no realistic idea of how to make this dream come true.

So when a friend showed me his newly purchased copy of Flying Apron’s Vegan and Gluten-Free Baking Book, and I thumbed through and saw they had recipes for several different kinds of “apron pockets” I got super excited and ran to reserve the book from the library. Many months later, my name had worked its way to the top of the reserve list and a copy of the cookbook landed in my hot little hands. After a few nights of contemplation and one trip to the farmer’s market, I knew what I wanted to put in my pockets. The actual project went smoothly (I even tracked down my never-used rolling pin!) – the filling was just the right amount for the pockets, and the dough held its integrity while being folded and crimped. I popped them in the oven and when they emerged I could scarcely believe my eyes. There they were, the hot pockets of my dreams! And let me tell you – these babies taste SO good they almost didn’t make it to my freezer.

The Flying Apron pockets call for cooking up a delicious sauce and a yummy filling and then folding these into a disc of dough made using the bakery’s eponymous Flying Apron House Bakery Bread. The bread recipe is the bakery’s signature recipe so, as I did with The Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook’s brownie recipe, I am going to refrain from posting it here. I will assure you, however, that it makes a terrific hot pocket wrapper. (Though I would add a bit of salt or herbs to the dough as the texture is great but the flavor is a bit bland.)

I will tell you how to make the filling I chose and how to assemble and bake your pockets. And I’ll be delighted to hear how it goes if you try a different GF dough for the wrappers. I am so baking-ignorant that I have no idea if there are special requirements to make a bread dough serve double duty as a pocket-wrapper.

Vegan, Gluten-Free Hot Pockets

Pocket dough:
1 batch of gluten-free, vegan yeasted bread dough

Sauce:
Roasted Eggplant Caponata (adapted slightly from GF Goddess’s Eggplant Tapenade)
1 large or 2 smallish eggplants
Sea salt
1/2 red onion
5 cloves garlic
2 large tomatoes
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Dried oregano, thyme, marjoram
1/2 cup cured pitted olives (like Kalamata, Nicoise etc., not black olives)
2 tablespoons capers
1 tablespoon or more chopped fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 400.
Peel your eggplants and cut them lengthwise into slices about 3/4-inch thick. Sprinkle them with sea salt and set them aside to let the salt leach out bitterness from the eggplants.
Chop the onion and garlic into large pieces and quarter the tomatoes.
After 10-15 minutes of sitting with the salt, the eggplant should be exuding moisture. Blot with a paper towel and then cut the slices into rough chunks.
In a large bowl, toss the eggplant, onion, garlic, and tomatoes with good-sized glugs of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with the dried herbs. Stir to coat.
Line a roasting pan with parchment paper (or oil the inside) and put the eggplant, onion, garlic, and tomatoes into the pan. Face the tomatoes cut side up.
Roast in the oven until the eggplant is very tender – this should take an hour or more. Remove from oven and let the veggies cool.
Put the eggplant mixture into a food processor with the olives, pulse until the mixture is mostly pureed. It doesn’t need to be completely smooth.
Mix in capers and chopped parsley. Taste test for seasoning adjustments- more salt? Vinegar? Olive oil? Some pepper? Cover and chill until serving.

Filling:
Mushroom, Spinach, and Navy Bean Filling (adapted from Flying Apron’s Vegan and Gluten-Free Baking Book)
1 T. olive oil
1 medium red onion, quartered and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 oz. crimini, baby bella or white button mushrooms, sliced into 1/2-inch slices
1 T. finely chopped fresh basil
1 t. dried oregano, plus more for sprinkling the pockets
1 t. dried rosemary, plus more for sprinkling the pockets
1/2 t. dried thyme, plus more for sprinkling the pockets
1 15 oz. can navy beans, drained and rinsed (or 1 23 cup cooked navy beans)
5 oz. frozen spinach (half a bag), thawed
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the red onion and sauté until slightly brown, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to sauté for another 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and herbs (fresh basil, dried oregano, thyme, rosemary) and cook, stirring occasionally, about 7 minutes. The mushrooms will have started to soften and release their juices. Add the navy beans and stir to combine. Stir in the frozen spinach (it’s okay if it is still a little frozen) and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 7 more minutes.

Assembling the pockets:
Make dough, sauce, and filling. (I made the sauce a day ahead so it wasn’t such a time-consuming process.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Take balls of your bread dough and roll them out on a countertop sprinkled with brown rice flour or other gluten-free flour. You want 6-inch circles of dough that are fairly thin but still hold together – the thickness of the discs will depend on the composition of your dough.
Spread a large spoonful Eggplant Caponata over the circle, leaving a 1-inch margin around the perimeter of the dough. On one half of the circle, spread 1/2 cup of filling.
Using a large spatula or your hand (again, depending on how delicate your dough is), bring the other half of the dough up and over the filling. Seal the edges by crimping with your fingers.
Carefully transfer the pockets to a well-oiled baking sheet. Brush the tops with olive oil and sprinkle each pocket with dried herbs.
Bake until the thickest part of the pocket is firm and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes. This took more like 45 minutes for me.
Eat and enjoy your hot, savory deliciousness!

Cali-Mex Feast

Last night, according to my menu plan, I was supposed to make Raw “Pasta” Puttanesca from The 30-Minute Vegan, using zuchinni strips as the “noodles.” But I’d had Salade Nicoise the night before, and Epic Salad the night before that, and I was beginning to feel the early warning signs of vegan, gluten-free crankiness. You know, the unsatisfied feeling you get when you haven’t had anything substantial pass between your lips in a few days? It’s not hard to eat satisfying, filling meals that are vegan and gluten-free, but it’s all too easy not to, as well.

Yesterday morning I went online to find out if Trader Joe’s sells brined olives of any sort (I had to make a Two-Buck Chuck run and figured I’d grab some olives for the Puttanesca at the same time) and came across a curious blog called Cooking with Trader Joe’s. As far as I can tell the women who write it are unaffiliated with Trader Joe’s, although they have also written two cookbooks about cooking using ingredients found at everyone’s favorite food emporium. I started scrolling through their recipes, fascinated, until my attention was arrested by a delicious-looking pile of goodness called Tamale Bake. The recipe for Tamale Bake called for three zucchini… the very zucchini I’d been planning to slice up into fake, raw, cold noodles. The idea of something hot, filling and gooey immediately trumped fake, raw, and cold. I jotted down the ingredients and took my list to TJs.

As promised, I was able to find all of the ingredients for Tamale Bake at Trader Joe’s, though I didn’t need zucchini since of course that was what I was trying to use up from my box. I bought the soy chorizo and the bottled enchilada sauce (WARNING: it contains FLOUR, as does, apparently, most traditional enchilada sauce – wtf?), found two cans of black beans and picked up some sliced mushrooms and a can of sliced black olives. But when it came time to get the two tubes of precooked polenta, I balked. It was FOUR dollars for two tubes. I can’t remember how much bulk polenta costs at Rainbow, but it’s certainly not four dollars for a couple of cups of dry polenta. Before I realized how easy it is to make polenta in the rice cooker, I might have treated myself to the convenience of the tubes, but I have no excuse now for not making it from scratch.

I assembled my Tamale Bake, which was both easy and convenient, and while it was in the oven I pondered proper accompaniments. I’d just received a beautiful little watermelon in my box, as well as some lovely peaches that needed to be eaten right away. I decided to start with the yummy Mexican snack of chile and melon, so I sprinkled slices of the watermelon with chili powder. I also made a gorgeous fruit salad with watermelon, peaches, and grapes from my box and strawberries and blueberries from TJs. I rounded out the meal with a salad of CSA lettuce, Persian cucumbers, green onions, and toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) with an avocado-lime-cilantro dressing. I improvised the dressing based on several others I found online and it ended up way too sweet (curse you, agave nectar!). I liked the concept a lot but I’ll need to keep working on the execution.

Nothing was authentic, of course, but as a native Californian who grew up eating California Mexican food, I do feel I have a certain amount of leeway in improvising “Cali-Mex”-style dishes. And what could be more Cali-Mex than a pseudo-Mexican meal involving locally, sustainably grown veggies and soy chorizo? When the timer went off and I pulled my tamale bake out of the oven, I felt I had a winner on my hands. And I was right – it was delicious, filling, a bit healthy, and very, very satisfying.

Tamale Bake
This recipe is slightly adapted from a recipe from the blog Cooking with Trader Joe’s. It would make a fabulous potluck contribution and makes wonderful leftovers.

2 cups dry polenta
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped (I used a red onion)
4 zucchini, sliced
Sliced mushrooms (I used a “bag’s worth” from TJs)
1 can sliced olives
1 package Trader Joe’s Soy Chorizo (unlike most meat subs, does not contain any gluten!)
2 (15 oz) cans black beans, drained
1 cup Enchilada Sauce (TJ’s contains flour – a nice thin red salsa, which they have at TJs, could be a good substitute)
1/4 cup cilantro (optional)

In a rice cooker, combine 2 cups dry polenta and 1 tsp salt with 6 cups water and cook on “white rice” setting. Test for doneness, and stir thoroughly when finished. (You can also cook polenta with the same proportions in a pot.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Saute onions for 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and saute until they begin to soften, then add zucchini and cook 5 minutes longer, until zucchini is tender.
Lightly grease a 9″x13″ baking pan with Earth Balance. Spread half the polenta on the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle on half of: the chorizo (remove it from its plastic casing!), black beans, sliced olives, onion/zucchini/mushroom mixture, and enchilada sauce or salsa. Spread another layer of polenta on top and then sprinkle on remaining half of ingredients.
Bake for 30 minutes until casserole is piping hot. Sprinkle cilantro evenly on top.

Back in the day, a Moosewood recipe for Tamale Pie used to be one of my staple recipes. It was great to bring to potlucks because it was vegetarian, filling, and always super popular. I’ve thought about it often over the years. First when I went gluten-free I thought about what a drag it would be to make the cornbread topping GF, and then once I went vegan it seemed impossible – the dish would just be too dry and not nearly gooey enough with no cheese added. But this recipe takes care of all of these dilemmas and more! Which makes it a perfect dish to submit to Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays – all the indulgence of a favorite dish, with none of the ingredients I can’t or don’t want to eat. Check out the other great indulgences this week for more inspiration!

While I’m at it, this is a perfect and pretty submission for Tasty Tuesdays and Tuesdays at the Table! Tuesdays are a big day for food round-ups, it seems!

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.

Kim Chee had a party…

Go kim chee! It’s your birthday! Or rather, it’s your “done fermenting” day, although that doesn’t have the same ring to it.

If you recall, my Culture Club (a club for fermenting, pickling, canning, and preserving) made Radish and Roots Kim Chee from the book Wild Fermentation a little while back. I eagerly checked it every day, making sure my two jars (Medium and Spicy) had enough brine to cover all my veggies, and tasting (what a hardship!) to see if they tasted done. And when it was all fermented and ready to go, and I wanted to do something special for that first kim chee meal.

If you memory goes back eveeeen farther, you may remember that I got a book from the library called Glorious One-Pot Meals, with a patented (!) system for cooking a complete meal – including your rice/pasta/polenta/etc. – in a single Dutch oven, in the oven. I tried a lot of recipes from the book and had a lot of problems, which after a frustrating time of eating really gross food I traced to the fact that my oven thermometer was off by 50-75 degrees. By then the book needed to be returned to the library, so I wasn’t able to really give it a proper chance. But one recipe stuck with me, even under such trying circumstances.

The author calls this dish “Sesame Shitake Tofu.” I call it “My name is Scrumptious, and I am a vegetarian bibimbap addict. Please help me before I walk, zombie-like, to the nearest Korean restaurant and spend another $15 on a single bowl of food.” (We all know how much I object to spending $15 on a single bowl of food…)

I became a bibimbap addict during the year I lived in Massachusetts. Every weekend I would commute for a couple of hours each way from the rural area where I lived and worked to a town outside of Boston where I volunteered for an amazing organization called The Children’s Room. On the way home I’d be so hungry and tired I would stop first to get dinner. I’d been curious my whole life about Korean food but it never seemed to be vegetarian. But when I found a menu with something called “vegetarian bibimbap” I decided to give it a try.

The bibimbap in the Dutch oven, so you can see how the layers look after it's cooked. Check out that sexy browned rice!

The first thing that was unusual to me was that there were two prices for the bibimbap. For a several dollars more, you could get what seemed like the exact same ingredients, but served in a “stone pot.” I figured this was my one shot at Korean food, so I splurged and went the distance. What arrived at my table was a revelation. A bowl of rice with vegetables and an egg on top – but somehow so much more! The stone pot is heated to a high temperature and then coated with sesame oil. The egg cooks from the heat of the bowl, and the rice sizzles and browns in the best way. The veggies are sauteed and subtly seasoned, and there is often tofu, seaweed, bean threads, and other delicious unidentifiable morsels. Mostly it’s all about the rice, sizzling and browning to form an incredible crust.

Every time I order bibimbap and take the first bite, I invariably think to myself, “Why do I love this so much?” Despite the seasoned veggies and the crispy rice it has a kind of bland, sesame-oiliness to it that is a bit ho-hum. (Especially at $15 a bowl…) But you are meant to add hot chili sauce and other seasonings to it, to make it saltier and spicier. And once you do this, your second bite will be incredible. By the third bite you’ll be burning your mouth on the hot rice as you shovel it in.

When Duck and I made our first batch of Sesame Shitake Tofu and I took my first bite, that same thought crossed my mind. “This is so bland, and kind of oily… But wow, that rice crust is really great… and that seaweed… and those mushrooms… What if I added some tamari and hot chili sauce?… OH MY GOD IT’S BIBIMBAP MORE MORE!”

Something like that.

So when it came time to premiere the kim chee, I knew just the star vehicle to show off its spicy, salty talents to the utmost! It’s an incredible gift to have found this recipe, since most bibimbap recipes understandably (and authentically) are very complicated and time-consuming what with preparing all the seasoned vegetables and so on. (For example this Fat Free Vegan recipe that says “You will need to prepare at least 3 of the following recipes to go on top (4-5 is preferable).”) So even though I hate to pay so much (although it’s so totally worth the extra for the stone pot) I have never attempted to make bibimbap at home. To find a recipe that recreates, if not the exact composition, then very much the experience, and that recipe is made entirely in ONE POT… it’s like a Fermentation Day miracle!

One-pot Vegan Nearly-Bibimbap
Adapted from Sesame Shitake Tofu recipe from Elizabeth Yarnell’s very cool cookbook Glorious One-Pot Meals. Her method is very carefully designed, and I may have strayed from it in my adaptation, so any cooking snafus are my own error, not an error of her method! This recipe, written for a 2-quart Dutch oven, will serve two very generously. To fill a larger (3 1/2 – 4-quart) Dutch oven, simply double the recipe and add a few minutes to the cooking time – go by the “aroma” test, rather than the timer. You should also be able to make the smaller recipe in the larger Dutch oven with no problems.

2 t. sesame oil
1/3 cup dried arame seaweed
4-7 oz. extra-firm tofu, drained, pressed, cut into small cubes
1/4 C. + 1/4 C. Annie’s Sesame Shitake Vinaigrette (or other sesame dressing) (I used Annie’s)
1 C. sushi rice
8-10 dried shitake mushrooms, soaked in boiling water until tender, about half an hour (reserve soaking water)
1-2 C. napa cabbage, chopped
10 oz. package frozen spinach (no need to thaw!)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Wipe the inside and lid of a 2-quart Dutch oven (cast iron or enamel-lined) with the sesame oil.
Place the arame in a small bowl and cover with water, set aside.
Stir the tofu cubes with 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette, gently coating the cubes.
Put the rice in the bottom of the Dutch oven. Add 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon of liquid – using the shitake soaking water if you have enough, or adding more water as needed to reach the desired amount. Smooth rice and liquid to make an even layer in the bottom of the pot.
Chop the shitake mushrooms into small cubes and scatter in a layer over the rice.
Spread the tofu cubes in the next layer, making sure to get all the extra dressing from the bowl.
Drain and rinse the arame and sprinkle over the tofu.
Spread all the napa cabbage on the next layer.
Then top it all off with a layer of frozen spinach. (Don’t worry about frozen/not frozen ingredients – it all works out!)
Pour the remaining 1/4 cup of vinaigrette over the spinach.

Cover and bake for 45 minutes, or, as Elizabeth Yarnell says, “until 3 minutes after the aroma of a fully cooked meal escapes the oven.”

Scoop a big hunk from the pot, getting all the layers. Don’t be afraid to mix it up together on the plate or in the bowl. Serve with spicy and salty condiments on the side like kim chee, tamari/soy sauce, hot chili sauce, chili garlic sauce, etc…

Eating with the season on a vegan, gluten-free Menu Plan Monday

I’ve just arrived home from a fascinating four days at the Hazon Food Conference in Pacific Grove. The conference explored all kinds of interesting intersections, between environmentalism and food systems, Judaism and food ethics, social justice and foodie culture, personal financial investment and sustainable agriculture, and many more. I learned so much, both from the sessions and panels I attended as well as all the informal conversations I had with fellow conference-goers. You can read more about my time there here and here. I feel deep gratitude to the Joyce and Irving Goldman Family Foundation for sponsoring around 40 young adults, including me, providing full scholarships for all of us to the conference.

The Local Foods Wheel

On Sunday, right before we left for home, the conference had a big marketplace where folks could give out info and sell books they’d written or published, foods they’d made, and so on. At one of the tables I came across one of my favorite things ever, the San Francisco Bay Area Local Foods Wheel, being sold by one of the wheel’s creators. I first encountered the wheel, which is a stunning combination of gorgeous artwork and design with intriguing, well-presented information, on a refrigerator in the Spirit Rock kitchen when I was working back there during a retreat. (You’re not supposed to read anything on retreat, but who could resist those tiny, perfect line drawings with their little cursive labels?) Now it’s the most popular item on our refrigerator; every guest and visitor is magnetically drawn to it and we usually have to pull them away – they just want to stand there spinning it and spinning it and looking at every picture! The wheel shows on its top layer all the foods that are in season year-round in the Bay Area (and we’re lucky – there are so many of them!). Then you spin the top layer around to match up with the current time of year, and the bottom layer reveals the foods in season at this time.

Our CSA keeps us local and seasonal at every meal, but we’re not getting a box this week, so I turned to the wheel to help me plan this week’s menu. (My other goal for the week: use up all the lettuces from our box we’ve been keeping on life support for the past couple of weeks!)

For an assemblage of great, gluten-free menu plans, check out this week’s Gluten-Free Menu Swap over at The GF CF Cookbook. (The theme for this week’s swap is leftover ham, which, as a vegetarian, I can’t contribute to at all. I do have smoky beans and tempeh bacon this week, though, which are kind of the same flavor profile.) And, as always, for a huge round-up of menu plans from all over the web – and the world – check out the giant MPM compendium over at orgjunkie.

What’s in season:

Monday: Winter greens
Wine braised lentils over toast with Tuscan kale and pearl onions (Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Suppers)
Red leaf salad

Wine braised lentils over gluten-free quinoa toast with Tuscan kale and pearl onions

Tuesday: Butternut squash
Vegan “mac and cheese” made with butternut squash “cheese” and Tinkyada brown rice spirals
Romaine lettuce salad with balsamic vinaigrette

Wednesday: Brussel sprouts and wild mushrooms
Brussels sprouts and mushroom ragout with herbed vegan, GF dumplings (Vegetarian Suppers)
Mixed lettuces salad

Brussels sprouts ragout with wild mushrooms and herbed gluten-free dumplings

Thursday: From Duck’s mom’s garden!
Simple oven-roasted butternut squash
Arugula salad with sauteed red onions and toasted walnuts
Tangy red lentils
Quinoa with coconut oil

Friday: Savoy cabbage
Savoy cabbage gratin with tempeh bacon
Baked sweet potato
Homemade smoky pinto beans

Savoy cabbage gratin with tempeh bacon

Saturday: Parsnips, winter radishes, rutabegas
Roasted root vegetables with home-grown rosemary
Chard and walnut yum
Impressionist cauliflower

Sunday: Meyer lemons
Roasted broccoli with meyer lemon zest and pine nuts
“Sloppy” sushi with balsamic-glazed portobello mushrooms

Seasonal extras: Turnips and pomelos
Middle Eastern-style turnip pickles

A fresh batch of turnip pickles (with beet for color)

Candied pomelo peel

Candied Pomelo Rinds Dipped in Bittersweet Chocolate

Welcome home to a vegan, gluten-free Menu Plan Monday

Butternut Squash and Carrot Stew with Quinoa Pilaf
I just got back from a long trip. I had a great time (I was with my mom on the East Coast and in Canada), but the traveler’s diet is not heavy on dark leafy greens, and it was such a relief to come home and dive back into a delicious pile of kale. Duck had one waiting for me, of course, the minute I walked in the door.

We’ve put our CSA box on hiatus again, which means we can menu plan from cookbooks this week. So most of our meal plan is from Veganomicon or another cookbook, The Vegan Table, that we are trying out from the library. I hated it when I first looked at it because it seemed to be full of ingredients like “eggless mayonaise” and “tofu cream cheese,” but then I looked it over again and found many recipes that excited me, and then I tried a few and am back to feeling wary. I’ll let you know how the week goes.

Because of the heavy reliance on cookbooks I don’t have a lot of links or photos for you this week, just a few of the old standards – sorry!

Cheryl at Gluten Free Goodness is hosting the GF Menu Swap this week with the theme of Carrots, which inspired me to take on the delicious (and time consuming, but worth it every once in a while) Moroccan butternut squash and carrot stew shown above. If you’ve been trying to eat quinoa regularly but are running out of ideas, try the quinoa pilaf that goes with the stew recipe. It’s so good that I often make it on its own. And of course, for a huge compendium of menu plans from all over the web, check out the massive Menu Plan Monday round-up over at OrgJunkie.

And please don’t forget – Sunday is the deadline to send me a favorite, tried-and-true, tested-and-approved recipe for beans, lentils, dried peas, and other pulses. I am putting together a master collection to help me – and others – conquer beanphobia. No need to write up something new for this event – the recipe can be in an old blog post, and in fact the longer you’ve been making it the better! Then come back here Wednesday, Nov 18th to check out pulse inspiration from all over the world!

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Monday:
Broiled smoky tempeh (VCon)
Smoky sauteed kale with onions (VCon)
Millet

Tuesday:
Rice bowl with black rice, kale, and leftover broiled smoky tempeh
I Am DIY Rice Bowl

Wednesday:
Hot and sour soup with tofu, carrots, shitake mushrooms, napa cabbage, and button mushrooms (VCon)
Braised bok choy with toasted sesame seeds (VCon)

Thursday:
Chana masala (made with canned chick peas)
Pumpkin coconut curry (The Vegan Table)
Brown basmati rice

Friday:
Cornmeal pizza crusts with chard & caramelized onions (Vegan Table) and balsamic portobellos (Vegan Table)

Saturday: Movie night – Little Chihuahua chile verde tofu burritos to sneak into the theater

Sunday:
Moroccan butternut squash and carrot stew with quinoa pilaf

“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.

Let’s get this party started

Tonight was the first chance I’ve had to look over the photos from Thanksgiving. They bring back many delightful memories of an evening well spent in the company of those I love, but when it comes to the food photos it’s a different story. It was a very catch-as-catch-can situation – dim lighting, distracted camera-wielders who were for some reason more interested in eating than in taking pictures, and gorgeous food that did not show itself off at its best when piled helter-skelter onto well-laden plates full of gravy.

pate1

I wish I had better photos to do justice to this meal (it is time for a new camera, that much is painfully clear) but I’ll just use the best ones I have, since one purpose of these posts is to help folks find new vegan, gluten-free holiday meal options. Being able to anticipate the finished product goes a long way, for me at least, in helping me plan a menu.

So let’s start where all good parties start, with the appetizers. Our Thanksgiving starters this year were mushroom-walnut pate, home-pickled turnips and zucchini, and assorted olives.

turnipsThe turnips were an unqualified hit, which was gratifying for me as I’m just beginning my foray into hardcore homemaking (which for me means making my own stock and pickles and such). They were just my usual recipe for Middle-Eastern-style turnip pickles, only I left out the beet that usually turns them bright pink because these turnips were so lovely, slender white roots with lavender tops. The sweet-and-spicy zucchini pickles were an experiment that turned out okay but I still want to tweak the recipe before I share it.

The mushroom pate was fantastic, and got even better over the next few days. I had quite a few post T-day meals that consisted entirely of pate and crackers! I started with a recipe from Cooking Debauchery (check out her post for a much better photo of the pate!) but when Duck had whipped it all up in the food processor and we’d each had a bite we turned to each other, a little panicked. It was just… blah.

After a fair amount of experimentation we determined that the missing elements were salt and onions. We sauteed a diced onion until it was fairly brown and threw it into the food processor with the pate and that was perfection! Reading over the Cooking Debauchery post I see that the author can’t stand onions in any form, and notes that the recipe is adapted from a Passover cookbook (yes! perfect vegan chopped liver!) so I wonder if her adaptation was to remove the onions…?

We doubled the original recipe, and while only half of the pate was eaten that night, the bowl was scraped clean and we were too busy to refill it, so who knows how much could have been put away by our kitchen full of guests if we had let them eat their fill? I would say that for a dozen guests it would be best to make the double recipe, just to be safe, plus, as mentioned above, the leftovers are AWESOME. The only other change I made was to use Shaoxing cooking wine instead of sherry or cognac. I often see that you can use sherry as a substitute for Shaoxing wine, and so I figured the substitution would work in the other direction as well.
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