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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Potato and leek gratin

So. Many. Potatoes. Normally this would be a good thing, but because I can’t seem to find a place in my house to store the darn things without them going bad asap, I need to keep them (along with my onions and garlic) in my fridge. And those babies take up a lot of room. So I’ve been struggling to keep up with the constant summer influx of potatoes. As much as I like potatoes, they differ from other overabundant CSA veggies in one critical way. I can eat an entire bunch of kale or two pounds of zucchini or head of lettuce on my own in a single sitting and feel quite smug about how many servings of my daily vegetable requirement I’ve just downed.

But eating a couple of pounds of potatoes on my own feels over the top. I’m not a huge subscriber to the empty-carbs-evil-carbs perspective, but that many potatoes feels like a giant wallop of glycemic-spiking starchy calories. Much as I learned during my cauliflower revelations, potatoes are probably actually incredibly healthy, especially with the skins still on, but I still prefer to eat them in moderation.

Another thing taking up an absurd amount of room in my fridge was a leek from a few weeks back. This single leek was so long it fit across almost the entire width of my refrigerator! I’m doing a slow-cooker cookbook exploration this week and came across a recipe for a vegan gratin of potatoes. That sounded interesting because it’s a way to use up a ton of potatoes at once but then dole them out slowly as a small side dish, but doing it in a slow cooker seemed unnecessary when I could just make them in the oven. (Making them in the slow cooker does eliminate the need to precook the potatoes, but this recipe is so delicious I think it’s worth the extra step, though I can’t say for sure having never tried the crock pot version.)

So, using the “cheese” sauce from The Vegan Slow Cooker and a Gruyere-filled potato and leek gratin recipe from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone for inspiration, I whipped up something pretty delicious. It’s a bit bland and quite rich, but I think that’s just what a gratin is intended to be. There are some lovely garlicky notes and thyme is the standout seasoning, which is something I really enjoy.

Vegan Potato and Leek Gratin
With inspiration from The Vegan Slow Cooker and Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

Cheese sauce:
1 C. cashews, soaked
1 C. nutritional yeast
5 cloves garlic
1 t. sea salt
1.5 C. almond milk

3 lb red potatoes, unpeeled, thinly sliced
1 giant leek or 2 regular leeks, white parts only, thinly sliced into half moons
1 quart almond milk (or more if needed)
2 t. dried thyme or 3 sprigs fresh thyme
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 t. salt
Fresh grated nutmeg
Fresh ground black pepper
Garlic and vegan butter for the dish

Heat oven to 375. Run a cut clove of garlic thoroughly over the inside of a large gratin dish (this usually refers to an oval casserole dish – you’ll need either a deep one like I used in the photos above or a very large one, 9×12-ish, or you can just use a regular casserole pan – but if you do, beware of spillage in the oven!). Butter generously.

In a large pot combine potatoes, leeks, milk, thyme, garlic, and salt. Make sure potatoes are at least barely covered by the milk. Bring slowly to a boil, then simmer gently until potatoes are barely tender but not falling apart.

While potatoes are simmering, blend sauce ingredients in a blender until smooth.

Drain potatoes RESERVING THE MILK or you can use a slotted spoon to lift out as many as you need at a time.

Put a single layer (roughly, doesn’t have to be perfect) of potatoes in the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle with nutmeg and pepper. Top with some of the cheese sauce. The way I did this was to pour a thick line of cheese sauce from the blender down the middle of the dish and then use a fork to gently push it across all the potatoes. It’s a very thick sauce and easy to spread. Continue layering potatoes, nutmeg & pepper, and cheese sauce until there are no more potatoes. Top with cheese sauce. Take the reserved milk and, carefully pushing the potato mixture away from the wall of the dish, pour in a little bit so it runs down through all the layers. Repeat this on all four sides of the dish. You want the milk to come up to the level of the potatoes, but they will probably be quite wet and saturated already so add in your milk carefully.

(Any leftover milk can be saved as a base for soup. Or you can do what I did – I poured my leftover milk, with potato and leek bits, into the blender that still had residue of my cheese sauce and blended it all together. It turned into a pretty amazing cream of potato soup.)

Bake the gratin in the oven, an hour or more, until a bubbly brown crust forms on top. Let sit for ten minutes and serve warm.

Let’s Turn Up the Heat

It’s summer! I love summer. Summer means gorgeous produce I only get a few months out of the year – corn and tomatoes and peaches and nectarines. Summer means it stays light until late and the days feel like they might go on forever. Summer means bundling up in my warmest scarf and wool socks, turning the oven up to 450, and huddling beside it in my unheated kitchen. Wait, what? Oh, I should have mentioned, this is summer in San Francisco. It is, in fact, colder here in the winter than it is in the summer. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get damn cold here ‘twixt May and September.

This has also been a very tired summer for me. Since finishing up my first year of grad school, there has been a distinct increase in bed days and rest days. No problem, that’s what that 450 degree oven is for.

Two ears of corn on a green plate, sprinkled with nutritional yeast, with a shaker of nutritional yeast next to the plate.

It started with the corn. I love corn. My favorite way to eat summer corn is in fresh corn polenta. But that requires me to shave the kernels off the cobs, which involves a bowl and a knife and stuff. Too tired. I could steam it, but I have a bad habit of putting things on to steam and then getting back into bed, having one of my famous memory blips, and coming back far too late to find a scorched, dry pot. Consulting my trusty copy of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (love that “what do I do with this vegetable?” section in the middle!), I learned that corn can be roasted. IN THE HUSK. Here are the steps: Turn oven to 450 degrees. Take corn ears out of CSA box. Lay corn ears onto oven rack. Come back in 15 minutes (give or take, if you space out it’s cool, they are far from burning). Give a little tug and all the husk and silk come gently off at once. WOW.

Two ears of corn sprinkled with nutritional yeast, with a grey cat sniffing at them while standing on a red and white checked tablecloth

As an experiment I tried sprinkling it with nutritional yeast. It was pretty great. And I wasn’t the only one thought so! Miss Violet went absolutely bananas. She’s usually pretty good about not being on the table. She might jump up to check something out, but if I say her name or give her tail a little whack she’ll jump down right away. She knows she’s not supposed to be up there. But this time I had to forcibly remove her, picking her up off the table, with her struggling the whole time to get back to the nutritional yeast-covered corn. A little internet research seems to indicate it’s okay for cats to have (or very good for them, depending on the source) so Miss Smushyface was ultimately distracted with a little saucer of her own so I could eat my corn in peace.

A white bowl with chunks of zucchini, roasted and thickly sprinkled with herbs.

I had such a good time with the corn that I tried some zucchini next. My favorite way to eat summer zucchini is Pan-Seared Summer Squash with Garlic and Mint but that requires slicing the zucchini thinly, searing it a few pieces at a time in a pan, flipping and searing more, then repeating until all the slices have been cooked. Mint must be chopped, lemons must be squeezed, garlic must be minced. My new method: Chop zucchini into chunks. Toss with a teaspoon of olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbes de Provence. Put in a parchment-lined baking dish (or rimmed baking sheet) for ~45 minutes or until your desired texture. WOW.

I also tried this with some russet potatoes and cauliflower that came in my box. I don’t have a picture because we ate it too fast. Disher said it was one of the best things he’d ever put in his mouth. I have to concur. Roasted cauliflower is amazing.

So I have my new summer formula. And as an added bonus, it helps keep the house warm on those foggy damp summer nights.

Summer Roast Corn

Fresh corn, still in its husk

Preheat oven to 450. When oven is heated, lay corn on oven rack. Let roast for 15 minutes. Remove corn and, using some sort of heat protection on your hands, pull away the husk. All the silk and husk will just slide right off. Sprinkle with nutritional yeast if desired.

Summer Roast Zucchini

Fresh summer zucchini

Preheat oven to 450. Cut each zucchini lengthwise down the middle, then cut across into 1-inch chunks. Toss with a little olive oil (I use a 1 1/2 teaspoons for 4 zucchini), salt, pepper, and herbes de Provence. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Roast zucchini 45 minutes to an hour, or until meltingly tender and browned.

Summer Roast Potatoes and Cauliflower

Potatoes (I’ve tried Russets and Yellow Finn)
Cauliflower

Preheat oven to 450. Cut veggies into small pieces. Cauliflower florets around 1 inch, potatoes around 1/2 inch. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Roast veggies 45 minutes to an hour, or longer, or until tender and browned.

Variations on a theme

More socca pizzas!

One of the things I miss most from my gluten & dairy days is Indian pizza. It’s a regular pizza, covered with a sort of curry sauce, and then “Topped with Spinach, Egg Plant, Cauliflower, Ginger, Garlic, Green Onions & Cilantro.” It’s one of those foods that transcends its ingredients list, that forms an alchemy of flavor your mouth never forgets. They even make a vegan version of Indian pizza, so it’s really the wheat crust that is keeping me from experiencing that perfect taste again.

Once I became obsessed with making socca pizza, I decided to see if I could recreate or approximate the magical memory of Indian pizza. On a base of Trader Joe’s madras curry simmer sauce, I spread happyveganface’s potato-spinach-pea patty mixture (only I used red chard, which is why mine is purple), which I then topped with a thick swirl of cilantro-parsley sauce, loosely based on happyveganface’s green chutney. I didn’t even come close to the original Indian pizza flavors (possibly because the elements I was using didn’t really come close themselves), but I did make quite a tasty treat for myself nonetheless. I ate, oh… let’s see… about four Indian pizzas in a week? (There was a lot of potato patty mixture to use up!)

I did discover during my Indian pizza week that eating a full cup of chickpea flour every day (which is what happens when you eat half a socca pizza for breakfast and half of one for lunch) for many days in a row will lead (at least in me) to a tummy-ache. So consider yourself warned in the event that you turn out to be as much of a socca-glutton as I am.

But once I figured I had given my tummy sufficient rest and recovery time, it was back into the frying pan! My next creation involved a layer of vodka sauce (which is a tomato sauce with MimicCreme and vodka) topped with chard and kale steamed and tossed with balsamic vinegar, balsamic-roasted chard stems, and toasted walnuts. I toasted the walnuts separately and added them after the pizza came out of the broiler, so I didn’t risk burning them. There’s just something about the chard and nuts on pizza that makes me weak in the knees!

Chickpea picatta

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

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

The most delicious Indian baby food ever!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chiles rellenos

When I graduated from college I moved back to the Bay Area with my boyfriend, who was from Minnesota. He’d only ever lived in the Midwest and on the East Coast, and I would be totally mortified when he mispronounced the double-l in Mexican food. Unfortunately for my tender 22-year-old sensibilities, chiles rellenos (as in “chilis re-LEN-os”) was one of his favorite foods. Eventually through my gentle (?) corrections he learned to speak Cali-Mex with the best of us, and could cringe right along with me when his parents came to visit and totally mispronounced all those Js and LLs.

The lovely pasillas are in the back left corner of this photo from the farmer's market

I’ve never been that into chiles rellenos myself. They’re just so heavy on the cheese and the fried.  But the other day at the farmer’s market I saw these incredibly gorgeous, shiny, firm Pasilla peppers and they just cried out to be stuffed. This notion was a pretty radical departure for me since a) I hate peppers, especially cooked peppers and b) I hate stuffed vegetables of all kinds (squashes, tomatoes, etc.). But I found myself putting three of those pretty peppers into my shopping bag nonetheless. I decided I wanted to make chiles rellenos, although the fact that in their traditional form they are basically peppers stuffed with huge hunks of cheese and dredged in an egg-and-flour batter did give me pause on the whole vegan, gluten-free front.

Luckily after I got home and did some internet searching I found a fantastic-sounding vegan and gluten-free (basically) recipe from Terry Hope-Romero, author of the Latin cookbook Viva Vegan that has been getting great reviews from my fellow vegan bloggers. I ended up making my chiles late one night when I came home jazzed from an evening out. I riffed on Terry’s filling (and was also inspired by this yummy but very vegan-cheese-heavy recipe) until I came up with what I can honestly say ended up being one of the best things I’ve ever cooked. The combination of mashed potatoes, vegan cheese, and nuts was the most delicious, savory, mouth-feel-full concoctions ever made in my kitchen. The batter doesn’t replicate the fluffy egg batter of the non-vegan version, but it provides a great, savory shell to hold in all that goodness.

Super Delicious Vegan Chiles Rellenos Filling (for instructions on how to prepare the chiles and stuff and batter them, see the recipe on Terry Hope-Romero’s blog)

For stuffing 3 pasilla peppers:

1 T. olive oil
2 small red bliss potatoes, chopped into 1-in pieces and steamed
5 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 cup mixed chopped walnuts, cashews, almonds
1/3 cup corn kernels (fresh or thawed frozen)
3 T. vegan cream cheese
3 T. grated vegan mozarella
juice of one small lime
grind fresh black pepper
salt to taste (it may not need any)

Heat olive oil in a medium-sized pan over medium heat. Saute garlic until it becomes fragrant, then add nuts and saute, stirring constantly, until they brown, about 3-5 minutes. Add in corn and saute another 2 minutes. Add in potato, mashing it up and combining it with the other ingredients in the pan.

Remove pan from heat and add cheese, cream cheese, lime juice, and a grind of fresh black pepper and salt to taste (it may not need any salt). Follow instructions on Terry’s blog for stuffing and battering the peppers.