Tired of heavy potatoes?

I’ve mentioned several times here that I’m getting overwhelmed by potatoes. They arrive every week in my box and I simply haven’t been able to keep up with them. When it comes to veggies, I am much more drawn to leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, and other produce that has a higher moisture content. Does that make sense, do you know what I mean? Potatoes feel heavy to me, not hydrating or refreshing. And the recipes you can make with them are always dense and rich.

I thought some acid might help to brighten things up, so I searched for recipes involving potatoes and tomatoes. In a Chowhound thread someone mentioned a Marcella Hazan recipe that I thought might be just what I was looking for. I veganized it, cooked it up, and it was fantastic. It tasted best after about two days, so it’s definitely a “let the flavors mingle” kind of thing.

I want to give you guys the recipe, but I was too tired to be doing any photoshoots so I have nothing to illustrate it. I dislike putting up posts with no photo at all, so you get this silly one of me from the hotel we stayed at last weekend on Long Island when my cousin was getting married. We arrived after a long day of traveling and all I wanted was a giant pile of broccoli. (See above re: hydrating vegetables.) So the first thing I did was put on my PJs and call room service and ask them if they could send up a giant pile of broccoli. I was thrilled when they agreed, although I didn’t have high expectations, I never do when I’m eating vegetables on the East Coast. Yet what arrived was indeed a giant pile of broccoli goodness, cooked perfectly crisp-tender and dressed with lemon and olive oil with such a light hand I could barely tell the dressing was there, just that the broccoli was some of the most delicious I’d ever eaten. So now you know, if you’re ever at the Hilton on Long Island, order broccoli!

Without further ado, your potato recipe:

Roasted Potatoes with Tomatoes
Veganized and otherwise adapted from a Marcella Hazan recipe found on a Chowhound forum thread

2 pounds potatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 C onions, thinly sliced
1 28 oz. can of whole tomatoes, torn into small pieces (just the tomatoes, not the juice)
3/4 t. dried oregano
1/2 C water
1/3 C olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix potatoes, onion, tomatoes, oregano, 1/2 cup water, and salt and pepper.

Put 1 T. olive oil in a large casserole dish and spread it around to coat the bottom and sides of the dish. Put potato mixture into dish and pour in the remaining olive oil.

Roast 1 hour or more on the top shelf of the oven until the potatoes are tender and yummy, turning potatoes every 20 minutes while they roast. Let sit to cool a little, serve warm, not hot. Or better yet, let them sit for at least a day. The flavors just get better and better.

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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.

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!

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.

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.

Middle Shelf & Door

The fridge project continues! One girl. One chaotic refrigerator. One New Year’s project. Watch her take on unidentifiable sauces in tiny tupperware, three plastic bags full of raisins, ziplocs full of things we think we’re going to eat but never get around to, and seven-year-old apple butter!

Who knows what secrets lurk in the heart of the middle shelf?

Who knows what secrets lurk in the heart of the middle shelf?

The top shelf called mostly for organization and patience. The middle shelf, however, would bring its own unique challenges. Almost two separate worlds in one shelf, the middle shelf’s front half is the home to snack material like bread and cheese and tortillas and baba ganoush. It has its share, too, of little bits of leftover sauce and dressing put into tiny containers and left to leak quietly onto the shelf below. But the back half of the middle shelf is more like a pantry – loose floppy plastic baggies of raisins, nutritional yeast, rice, and flax seeds are crammed into the back and make periodic surges forward, tangling their plastic tails in amongst the mochi and miso trying to live a quiet life up front.

Pulling out the contents of the middle shelf was like a revelation. It was as though a veil of crinkly plastic was lifted from my eyes. Hiding there I found several beets, fuzzed with mold around their tops but still firm and ready to go. I found a white onion that came in my CSA box – putting it at an August 27th, 2008 arrival date at the most recent. A box of tofu was just barely holding on, and several pomegranates had begun to wither in on themselves.

Baked Beets and Onions with Horseradish Sauce

Baked Beets and Onions with Horseradish Sauce from the middle shelf

The real source of chaos on the middle shelf was the aforementioned bags of dry goods, and luckily all these found happy new homes. Some went into the actual pantry, some into the freezer, and the rest were sorted into labeled jars and tucked back into the fridge where their plastic effluvium would bother us no more. Ever since the advent of our wonderful portable dishwasher I’ve been much more diligent about washing and saving food jars rather than recycling them away (no matter how much you wash it by hand, a pickle jar still smells like pickles!) so I had a great collection of multi-sized options to choose from.

The fridge door was a relatively easy affair, mostly a question of moving things I use more often into better positions. I’ve known for a while that I’m a mustard addict, but organizing the door forced me to confront my addiction. (Or do “normal” people keep 8 different kinds of mustard in their refrigerators?)

I ended up with quite a tasty meal from the middle shelf: Chili-glazed tofu (nothing like a tangy chili glaze to cover the tangy taste of near-spoilage!). A tubful of pomegranate seeds, great for snacking, especially when the house gets so dehydrating with the heater on. And a new recipe: Baked Beets and Onions with Horseradish Sauce (recipe follows below), with the door contributing a jar of grated horseradish that hadn’t made an appearance since Passover of ’05.

The plastic menace has been transformed!

The plastic bag menace has been transformed!

Top Shelf
Bottom Shelf & Crisper Drawers

Baked Beets and Onions with Horseradish Sauce (inspiration taken from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)

Beets
Onions
Olive Oil
Salt & pepper

Yogurt
Grated horseradish
Sugar to taste
Salt to taste
White wine or sherry vinegar to taste

Preheat oven to 375 or 400 degrees. Scrub beets but leave the peels on and cut into large pieces. Remove peels from onions and cut into thick slices, sprinkle with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Line a baking dish with parchment paper (optional – makes clean-up much easier!) and spread out beets and onions in pan. Put about 1/4 inch water in the bottom of the pan and cover pan with foil. Bake until beets are tender, about 30-40 minutes.

Mix yogurt and horseradish to taste. (You want to make sure it isn’t too spicy or bitter for your palate.) Add a little sugar, a little salt, a little vinegar, but make sure to save the final seasoning for when your veggies are done, because the sauce tastes very different against the sweetness of the baked beets.