A tale of two saags

It has been a very eventful couple of weeks. A friend in the hospital, a big gathering held at my place, and to top it all off I got sick! So needless to say I haven’t been keeping up with my box too well. But when I looked in the fridge and saw I had spinach, beet greens, kohlrabi greens, and two separate tupperware containers of leftover tofu, I knew I had to take action before these delicate items spoiled and I was crying my way all the way to the compost bin.

I wracked my illness-addled brain to come up with something that would deliciously combine everything I wanted to use up and finally I hit upon the idea of palak tofu. Palak tofu is a riff on the traditional Indian dish palak paneer, which combines cubes of soft Indian cheese with a smooth spinach base. My dish would also contain greens other than spinach, technically making it saag tofu (palak just means “spinach,” saag means “greens).

I turned to my beloved Food Blog Search to find a recipe and ended up with about six that I finally narrowed down to two. Both recipes had me pan-fry the tofu separately, which was a nice touch that kept the tofu from just being cubes of blandness. I had some firm and some extra-firm tofu and I definitely preferred the firm as it had a softer, more paneer-like texture. I might even try medium tofu if I make this dish again.

I liked the more extensive ingredients list of this recipe from Monsoon Spice, which has a variety of spices as well as a few cashew nuts for richness and creaminess. But the steps were overwhelmingly complicated, so I instead followed the directions from this recipe from FatFree Vegan Kitchen. I also added in the soy yogurt called for by the FatFree Vegan Kitchen recipe because my curry came out really spicy! The yogurt cooled it off to just-bearable, which suited me perfectly. I like my curry with a kick.

I started cooking my saag tofu at midnight (why do I always do this?) and it took me a good couple of hours to finish. I think I was making apple crisp at the same time, though, so the time sort of blurs together. I enjoyed the results but I definitely want to tweak the recipe a good bit before I post it here. It was lacking something essential (perhaps due to my incongruous combination of two very different recipes?) but with my palate all wonky from being sick I’m going to have to make it again before I can identify the missing piece. Nonetheless, even though the dish succeeded only somewhat at being tasty saag tofu, it hit a home run for making good use of ingredients before they could be left to languish in the fridge.

Total winter comfort food

Last Sunday I woke up at a friend’s place after a big night out, having slept no more than a few hours, and drove home in the midst of a monsoon. The rain was coming down so hard my windshield wipers were inadequate, and I seriously considered pulling over to wait out the rain even though the trip between our houses is only 40 blocks or so. The sky was so dark, and the light so filtered, that it seemed perennially like the hour just before dawn. When I finally made it into my house I was cold and wet and exhausted and it should have been the perfect day to curl up with a book and my cat and listen to the rain come down.

It may look ugly, but it tastes amazing!

But instead, for some reason, I wanted to make lasagna. Butternut squash white lasagna with spinach and beet greens, to be exact. Vegan lasagna is quite an undertaking, since you have to make the ricotta substitute by hand, and white lasagna is even more work because it also requires the concoction of a vegan bechamel or other white sauce. And of course I didn’t have any tofu with which to make my ricotta, and I was worried I didn’t have enough gluten-free lasagna noodles on hand, either.

Sigh... it's so hard to make a pan of lasagna look pretty!

So I put on my slicker and my pink plaid rain boots and headed out into the storm to the market a few blocks from my house. I picked up tofu and noodles and the ingredients for vinegret and slogged back home. By the time I got home, my jeans were soaked through to the skin. But it was worth it. I really, really wanted that lasagna. People kept calling to invite me over but I couldn’t imagine getting back in the car in the rain. And as I may have mentioned, I really wanted that lasagna.

Super delicious, rich, creamy cashew ricotta

I tried some new things this time. I made Veganomicon’s cashew ricotta (which is still tofu-based but made much richer and creamier by the addition of cashews) and tried out a new vegan bechamel using Mimic Creme, a nut-based soy-free cream substitute. My recipe is basically cadged together from different sources, but the result is divine!

Vegan Gluten-Free Butternut Squash White Lasagna with Spinach and Beet Greens
Based on recipes from Coconut & Lime, Book of Yum, and Veganomicon

Ingredients

1 box gluten-free lasagna noodles (I prefer Tinkyada brand)
1 1/2 cups toasted walnuts (these are for topping the lasagna after it comes out of the oven)

Filling:
1 medium to large butternut squash, sliced lengthwise and seeds removed or 2 packages frozen butternut squash
1 large bunch Swiss chard or beet greens, chopped
1 large bunch spinach, chopped
1 medium onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage (or dried sage)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

Cashew Ricotta, a double recipe of a Veganomicon
recipe:
1 cup raw cashew pieces (approximately 4 ounces)
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
4 cloves fresh or roasted garlic
2 pounds firm tofu, drained and crumbled
3 teaspoons dried basil
3  teaspoons salt

Vegan Bechamel, adapted from Book of Yum:
scant 1/2 cup flavorful GF flour (brown rice, chickpea, etc.)
2 cups Mimic Creme
1 cup rice (almond or soy, if not intolerant) milk
bay leaf
salt, freshly ground pepper
fresh nutmeg, grated

Directions:

If using fresh squash: Preheat oven to 400. Cut squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Brush the butternut squash with olive oil. Place cut side down on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until fork tender. Allow to cool slightly. Scoop out the insides.
If using frozen squash: Steam according to package directions.
For either baked or steamed frozen squash: Mash. It should yield about 3 1/2 to 4 cups of squash (more is fine). Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Meanwhile, cook the noodles according to package instructions. Drain and arrange in a single layer on baking sheets until ready for use.

For the filling: Heat the oil in a large skillet. Saute the onion and garlic until fragrant, then add the chard, spinach, and sage. Saute until the greens are soft. Allow to cool slightly then combine with the cashew ricotta, nutmeg, salt, pepper and paprika.

To make cashew ricotta:
In a food processor, blend together the cashews, lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic until a thick creamy paste forms. Add the crumbled tofu to the food processor, working in two or more batches if necessary, until the mixture is thick and well blended. Blend in the basil and salt.

To make vegan bechamel:
Make your bechamel sauce by combining ingredients and let the mixture come to a low boil, whisking constantly until sauce is thickened. Simmer for a few minutes with bay leaf and seasonings and then reserve.

To assemble: Preheat oven to 375. Spread some sauce on the bottom of a 9×13 inch pan. Top with noodles then layer with a layer of squash then the chard-ricotta mixture and drizzle with sauce. Repeat until the pan is full, then top with a final layer of noodle and the remaining sauce.

Bake covered for 30-40 minutes, then remove cover and bake for another 10 or so minutes. Allow to sit about 5 minutes before slicing and serving. Serve topped with toasted walnuts.

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!

Spin the wheel, make a salad!

Many of you know how much I love my Bay Area Local Foods Wheel, a gorgeously illustrated and super-handy contraption that spins around to show you what foods are currently in season. Sometimes, when I’m in need of menu ideas, I’ll check in with my food wheel and see what’s coming in hot off the farms in order to use that for inspiration.

So a couple of weeks ago I gave my wheel a twirl over to April and found (to my surprise, actually) that avocados and grapefruits are both currently au courant. (Do you like how I basically just said “currently current” but got away with it by putting one of them in French?) So I decided to make a recipe from one of my first and favorite cookbooks, Moosewood Low-Fat Favorites, called Spinach Avocado Grapefruit Salad.

I had briefly perused the ingredients before going to the store, but when the time came to actually crack open the cookbook and make the recipe, I was a little shocked. The salad has no real dressing! Just a tiny bit of olive oil and a clove of garlic! Avocados and grapefruit are all very well and delicious, I thought to myself, but eating piles of unseasoned raw spinach doesn’t sound very appealing. But then I figured, Moosewood knows what they’re doing. They wouldn’t print a salad recipe with no dressing unless it really makes sense when you eat it. So I gave it a shot.

And boy am I ever glad I did! I sort of vaguely remember what else I had for dinner that night (some sort of soup, was it?) but the star of the show was clearly the salad. The flavors were so bright, so fresh, so utterly delectable. And for those of my readers who are a little quicker on the ball than I am (you always know whodunnit it your mysteries, too, I bet), you can all shout it out together: Avocado + grapefruit + olive oil + garlic = creamy + acid + fat + garlic = the best salad dressing ever, obviously! This salad is so simple it dresses itself. Could there be anything better?

Self-Dressing Spinach Avocado Grapefruit Salad
This recipe is from Moosewood Low-Fat Favorites. I have added my usual overzealous detailed directions for certain parts.

5 oz fresh spinach
1 tsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 grapefruit
1 avocado (preferably Hass)
salt and ground black pepper to taste

Combine the olive oil and garlic in a very small bowl.
Stem and rinse the spinach. Spin or gently pat it dry. Tear the large leaves into smaller pieces but keep the small leaves whole. Put the spinach in a large bowl and toss with garlic and olive oil. Set aside.
Peel, seed, and section the grapefruit. (That means pull off the membraney stuff on each section and just use the fruity inside part.) The grapefruit sections will probably tear into smaller pieces as you are taking the membranes off, and that’s fine. The other sections you can leave whole or tear into smaller pieces as you prefer. (I like bite-size pieces as you can see above.)
Halve the avocado and remove the pit. Carefully use a knife to slice the avocado into 1-inch slices, slicing vertically, while it is still inside its peel. Then slice horizontally once or twice, depending on how large you want your pieces to be. Use a large soup spoon to carefully scoop the already cut avocado pieces from their peels. Add them, along with the grapefruit, to the bowl of spinach.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper, toss lightly, and serve immediately.
Also tastes great the next day, so if you have leftovers, save ’em!
Serves 4.

I meant to submit this to the fantastic soup and salad blog event No Croutons Required, because this month they wanted salads featuring ingredients from the allium family. This was a perfect recipe because the garlic features so prominently, as one of only five ingredients! But I missed the deadline, so sad! The reason I’m telling you all this is to say that if you want to check out more fabulous alliumy soups and salads, you should check out the No Croutons round-up!

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.

Pesto Potato Pinenut Pizza

Sometimes everything your boyfriend brings home from the farm is so yummy the two of you just have to cook it all up and throw it into a delicious, to-hell-with-gluten-free-eating Vicolo cornmeal pizza crust and you have to eat every bite because it’s just that darn good and you’re probably not allergic to wheat, anyways, right? Right.

What are other peoples’ secret glutenous temptations? French bread? Chocolate cake? Oreos?

potatopizza1

Mine is Vicolo cornmeal pizza crusts, which with a name like that should be gluten-free but sadly the first ingredient is wheat flour. But there’s just nothing else like them. I dream of their crunch, their heart-meltingly good flavor, bold enough to stand alone, tender enough to cradle and enhance all the lovely things Duck harvests from the ground.

Crisp slices of grilled eggplant, garlicky sauteed spinach, barely toasted pine nuts, oven-baked new potato slices, homemade vegan basil pesto, and diced tomatoes from a tin. Each ingredient on this pizza demanded its own cooking method (not counting that not-particularly-laborious stint with a can opener) but it was so worth it to have each vegetable singing out at its very best.

Scrap Stock IV – Mega-edition

Another consequence of being too tired to cook or blog or generally do anything was that my veggie scraps really started piling up. By early this week most of my fridge’s top shelf seemed to be devoted to scraps, waiting like pining lovers for the transformative kiss of the stock pot. So when I finally started to have a bit more energy, it was time to brew up some stock and get that shelf cleared.

I ended up having enough material to make two pots of stock, ending up with 13 cups of rich, savory broth, tinged a beautiful pink from the beet scraps. My freezer is truly well stocked now, which saves me from treating the stock like it is a scarce commodity.

Two pots of scrap stock

In this mega-edition of scrap stock:

Spinach crowns
Garlic peels and trim
Carrot trim and tops
Chard stem
Kale stem
Asparagus trim
Red cabbage trim
Fennel stalks
Apple cores
Radish trim
Leek trim
Green garlic trim
Arugula trim
Sugar snap pea trim
Thyme stalks
Red onion peels and trim
Shallot peels and trim
Mustard green trim
Beet trim
Bay leaves