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.

More mint, GF tabouleh, and a review

When I bought my giant bunch of mint at the farmer’s market to use for my milkshake experiments, I bought a giant bunch of parsley at the same time. There’s something about huge gorgeous bunches of fresh herbs that are almost impossible for me to pass up. Maybe it’s because I’ve always hated that $2 at the supermarket will only get you a teeny bunch with a few stalks of mint, so when I see a veritable bouquet of herbs for the same price, I have to take it home with me.

This of course leads to entire shelves in my fridge being devoted to herb storage, and then there’s the anxiety and pressure that comes from worrying that I won’t use them up in time and they’ll wilt and I’ll feel wasteful. (Yes, I know, I’m a high strung person these days…) The answer to the question of what to do with huge bunches of herbs is, of course, to make herb salads. One of my favorites, tabouleh, is something I haven’t had in years. Tabouleh is made with bulgur; people often ask me if bulgur is among the gluten-free grain options, but it’s not, sadly bulgur is actually the name for wheat that has been parboiled and dried. Another food that people ask me if I can eat is couscous. Most don’t realize that couscous isn’t a grain at all – it is made from semolina (wheat) flour, just like pasta. Couscous is teeny tiny pasta!

Staring at my mint and my parsley, I could just taste the lemony, herby deliciousness of tabouleh on the palate of my mind. (Is that a weird thing to say? You know what I mean, right?) I even had a bunch of cherry tomatoes leftover from making raw kale salad the night before. (I never buy tomatoes out of season except the few times a year I need a total health and yumminess infusion from raw kale salad, and then I’ll sneak a box of cherry tomatoes, which are the only decent-tasting tomatoes I can find in the off-season.)

So the big question that remained was what to use in place of the bulgur. I could use quinoa, which is a great go-to substitute, and which people use in place of bulgur and couscous and wheat berries, etc., all the time. But quinoa lacks a sort of soft quality that bulgur has. Because bulgur has been parboiled, when you cook it you are essentially rehydrating it, rather than really cooking it, and so it has a soft, chewy texture that is quite wonderful. I had recently picked up a new (to me, at least) product at Rainbow made by Lundberg Farms, a local rice farm. It’s called Roasted Brown Rice Couscous, and I assume it has been processed in some way and parcooked, because, like regular couscous, it cooks very quickly.

The rice couscous was perfect for tabouleh. The texture was a bit soft, fluffy, a bit chewy, and altogether delightful. I loved how quickly and easily it cooked up, and the “grains” of couscous absorbed the dressing well, which meant the tabouleh got more and more delicious the longer it sat. It’s been a few years since I’ve eaten regular semolina couscous, so I can’t compare the two closely. But I do remember that my favorite part about couscous was how fast it was, and that part definitely carries over here in the rice version.

To make my tabouleh, I used a wonderful recipe I found on the blog Whole Grain Gourmet. The author there talks about how she (he?) made tabouleh many times, and it was good, but never as good as what she had in restaurants. Then she made this version, which involves a tiny bit of cinnamon, and suddenly all the flavors came together in a way that was exactly “right.” I tried this recipe and had the same experience! The cinnamon makes all the difference. I loved this so much (and had so much parsley and mint) that I made several batches, and so ended up creating my own, slightly tweaked version of the recipe. The flavors are so clean and bright and fresh. The rice couscous feels light, not doughy or heavy. I could eat a mountain of this stuff (and I did!).

Gluten-Free Tabouleh Salad
Adapted from a recipe found at Whole Grain Gourmet

1 package Lundberg Brown Rice Couscous
1 1/2 cups minced parsley
1/4 – 1/2 cup minced mint leaves
1/3 cup minced green onion
2 tomatoes or a large handful of cherry tomatoes, diced
1/2 – 1 cucumber, diced

Dressing
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup lemon juice (you may want to start with less)
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Fresh ground black pepper to taste

Prepare rice couscous as directed on package. (It will take about 15 minutes plus time to bring the water to a boil.)

While couscous is cooking, whisk together dressing ingredients in a small bowl: olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and cinnamon. Don’t put all the lemon juice in at once – I like my dressings to have a lot of acid, but I know not everyone feels the same way. Start with about half the amount and keep adding to taste.

Fluff couscous and put in a large bowl. Toss with the parsley, green onion, mint, tomatoes, and cucumber.

Pour the dressing over the couscous and toss until well coated. Refrigerate for about an hour before serving. The flavors will get even better if it sits overnight!

An impeccably seasonal vegan, gluten-free menu plan Monday

This week and last I’ve been trying out menus from the cookbook Fresh Food Fast by Peter Berley. (Review to come!) The cookbook is organized into four chapters of seasonal menus, and each menu has two different dishes meant to complement each other. I’ve flipped through seasonally-organized cookbooks before, and even cooked from a few, but this cookbook is truly impeccably seasonal. at least as far as the summer menus are concerned. When I take my produce list to the farmer’s market, every single item on there is available. Even when I think something won’t be there (“Oh, I haven’t seen yellow wax beans. Maybe none of the farmers at my market are growing them.”), I have inevitably found someone selling it. It’s pretty amazing!

On the other hand, I did get kind of sick of corn, tomatoes, and zucchini at some point last week. But hey, it’s what is actually in season. Fancy that! I know I’ve mentioned this before, but this market is really making me feel connected to the seasonality of my food. Getting to taste twelve different kinds of peaches, nectarines, and plums every week and pick out which ones are tastiest right then is like my idea of heaven. This week it was Arctic Jay nectarines and some kind of nectaplum (!!) that I can’t recall the name of.

This week’s Gluten Free Menu Swap is hosted by Heather of Celiac Family with the theme of tomatoes. Speaking of seasonal… This is a perfect theme for me this week as my box preview tells me I’ll be getting a pound of heirloom tomatoes, a pound of slicing tomatoes, and a basket of cherry tomatoes. So I’ll be excited to see what my fellow GF swappers are doing with their tomatoes this week! My plans are pretty simple – three different tomato salads, one of them topping a pizza! – but I’ll also hopefully try something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time – Roasted Tomatoes! I’ve always been both intrigued and intimidated, but the glut of tomatoes I’ll be getting this week has inspired me to just go for it. A few other delicious things I’ve done with tomatoes in the past are a Cook’s Illustrated Fresh Tomato Soup with Basil, Summer Bounty Gratin with tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes, and basil (best way to use up summertime CSA boxes!), and my favorite Raw Kale Salad with Avocado and Cherry Tomatoes (ooh, that’s what I should use my cherry tomatoes for!).

As always, there’s a big ol’ roundup of menu plans today over at OrgJunkie, so be sure to check that out as well!

Monday
Pizza with kalamata olives, vegan mozarella, and chopped salad (FFF, 130)
Assorted summer squashes pan-seared with garlic and mint (FFF, 131)
Impressionist cauliflower

Tuesday (cook 1 C. brown long-grain rice ahead of time)
Golden tofu triangles with rich peanut sauce (Vegan Express, 46)
Steamed broccoli
Nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice) with homemade kecap manis

Wednesday
Szechuan-style tofu with eggplant (Vegan Express, 56)
Fatiguer’s-style gai lan
Quinoa

Thursday
Roasted cauliflower and zucchini
Green salad with citrus vinaigrette
Baked sweet potato

Friday
Leftovers
Tomato salad with marinated shallots

Saturday
Chana masala (Vegan Express, 99)
Curried cashew quinoa (Vegan Express, 93)
Salad of chopped tomato and cucumber with Annie’s Goddess dressing

Sunday
Leftovers
Roasted tomatoes

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!

Riding the vegan express train ~ Review of Vegan Express by Nava Atlas

If you’ve been reading along lately you’ll know that I have been attempting to streamline my cooking process. Left to my own devices I am given to elaborate preparations, multiple courses, long baking times, and sauces, dressings, and marinades of all sorts. This produces generally excellent meals, of course, but the trouble is that if I’m tired or pressed for time my only option is to put an Amy’s into the toaster oven. (And, because I don’t have a microwave and Amy’s takes 45-55 minutes in the toaster oven, if I am really pressed for time my only option is my friend the Bumble Bar.) So I’ve been wanting to retrain myself, to open up an avenue into the type of cooking that doesn’t take all night.

I have a fun thing called brain fog that means it’s hard for me to process complex information quickly. This in turn means that improvising under pressure is not my forte. So to help guide me to quick-meal paradise, I turned to my local library for support. The first book I checked out was Vegan Express, by longtime vegetarian cookbook author Nava Atlas.

Vegan Express offers recipes that can be prepared in 30 to 45 minutes. Each recipe comes with a comprehensive list of menu suggestions that include both ideas of other recipes from the book to pair with the dish as well as accompaniments that don’t require a recipe. An example of this would be the suggestion, “If you want to add one more item, steamed broccoli would be just the thing. Or, if time is not an issue, may I suggest upgrading that to Spicy Sesame Broccoli (page 197)?”

Bok Choy, Edamame, and Celery Quinoa with Toasted Cashew and Mandarin Oranges from Vegan Express

I’ve read through the entire cookbook, and have made five different recipes from the book, one of them twice already! I have really enjoyed cooking from Vegan Express. Atlas introduces each section and each recipe with a bit of information, which is almost always a cookbook requirement for me. I just like this so much better than when a recipe is simply presented unannotated as a bare list of ingredients and directions. The recipes generally conformed to the time frame (as with every “quick” cookbook, it all depends on how fast you prep veggies, and how dirty your greens are), and most importantly the directions were extremely clear. I’m willing to spend a little more time cooking as long as it’s entirely stress-free. Vegan Express walked me carefully through each dish and, with one exception, everything I needed to know was there on the page.

I had a great time matching up the veggies that came in my CSA box to recipes from the book. It felt like the recipes were very flexible and accommodating in terms of substitutions. I did do a little flavor doctoring on each recipe, but I pretty much always end up doing that with cookbook recipes, and the base recipes made a wonderful starting point and made it easy and obvious to bring the flavors up a level.

Vegan Express is not gluten free, but most of the recipes will work with a gluten-free diet. There’s a yummy section on seitan that made me a little sad, but all the pizzas, pastas, quesadillas, and wraps would work if you had the appropriate GF bases on hand (let’s hear it for Tinkyada brown rice pasta! and La Tortilla Factory teff wraps!). I try not to be overly reliant on soy, especially processed soy like soy cheese and soy creamer, and there are a fair number of tofu recipes and recipes that use soy cheese, etc., but there are many more recipes that use beans, lentils, nuts, and so on, so I think the book would even have a lot to offer someone who was avoiding soy entirely.

Pasta "Carbonara" with Tempeh Bacon and Baby Broccoli, Salad with Avocado and Pumpkin and Sunflower Seeds with Basic Vinaigrette from Vegan Express

The five recipes I tried were Tofu Aloo Gobi (cauliflower and potato curry); Tempeh, Kale, and Sweet Potato Skillet; Pasta “Carbonara” with Broccoli; Bok Choy, Edamame, Cashew and Orange Rice; and the Basic Vinaigrette. The section on “big quesadillas” also inspired me to start making my breakfast burritos as quesadillas instead – more room for filling! – and the salad suggestions prompted me to incorporate more creative fixin’s into my salads which I then topped with the excellently balanced Basic Vinaigrette, made with apple cider vinegar.

All four main-dish recipes were terrific – filling, delicious, creative, packed with protein and veggies, and easy to prepare. My favorite was the tempeh, kale, and sweet potato skillet. It’s an unexpectedly simple recipe that contains the one flaw I found: the recipe tells you how to prepare the sweet potatoes and the tempeh and has you set them both aside, and then never mentions them again! But I just used them to top the kale mixture and the final result was phenomenal. I made the aloo gobi twice in two weeks since I had two heads of cauliflower. Once I used fresh tomatoes and once I used canned, and the dish came out perfectly both times.

It’s been a while since I bought a new cookbook, but I’m going to be ordering Vegan Express when the time comes to return this copy to the library. Here’s a little teaser of a recipe for you – if this recipe or anything I’ve written here intrigues you, I encourage you to check out Vegan Express yourself!

Tofu Aloo Gobi from Vegan Express

Tofu Aloo Gobi (Cauliflower and Potato Curry)
(recipe is straight from Vegan Express by Nava Atlas so you can get a sense of what the cookbook offers)

2 T. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
1 medium head cauliflower, cut into small florets
2 tsp grated fresh or jarred ginger
1 tsp garam masala or good-quality curry powder, or more to taste
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp dry mustard
8 oz firm or extra-firm tofu, sliced, blotted dry, and cut into small dice
2 med or 3 plum tomatoes, diced (I used part of a can of diced tomatoes one time and it was great)
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup minced cilantro, optional
Salt to taste
(I added a little sweetener and extra grated ginger at the end)

Heat oil in a wide skillet or stir-fry pan. Add the garlic and saute over medium-low heat until golden.

Add the potatoes and about 1 cup of water. Cover and bring to a simmer, then cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.

Add the cauliflower, sprinkle in the ginger, garam masala, cumin, turmeric, and mustard, and continue to simmer gently for 5 minutes.

Stir in the tofu, tomatoes, and peas, and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Stir in the optional cilantro (and extra ginger/sweetener, if using), season with salt, and serve.

“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.