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Cheeky Chickpea Falafel

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One way that I knew I was becoming an adult was that my method of making falafel evolved past using the boxed, pre-made falafel mix produced by Manischewitz. Upon producing my first batch of from-scratch, homemade falafel, I felt something akin to what people must feel when they make their first batch of homemade chicken noodle soup or their first non-frozen, non-Stouffer’s lasagna. Heck, I felt that way when I made my first from-scratch pancakes, and pancakes are one of the simplest (and cheapest) things to produce from scratch.

Why do we rely on pre-made goods to deliver the foods we enjoy? I think it’s a combination of the following things: Over-reliance on the food experiences we are used to, fear of screwing up our favorites, and limited time, patience, energy, and equipment. Also, for years I prepared food mainly for myself and most recipes, whether it’s a pot of soup or a plate of falafel, produce too much for one person to consume in a short period of time. Short of dinner parties and potlucks, a can of soup made more sense for my lifestyle.

I cook for two (sometimes three, if our roommate is home) now, so the amount of food is no question. But I have a long commute to and from work, so when I come home to prepare dinner, fast and simple is usually the rule. One of the defining factors of my adult life is when I decided fast and simple did not have to mean pre-made or processed.

Thanks, adulthood!

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CSA #10 and the Wonderful World of Tempeh

It was a hectic Thursday of CSA pick-up and more sad goodbyes. Everyone is leaving town and I’m swimming in beautiful farm-fresh vegetables, not a terribly opportune moment to have a kitchen so plentiful, but so be it. James and I have somehow managed to get the stuff eaten, even if a few items end up sacrificed.

And I’m getting better and better at using what we have on hand. Just a quick (and unfortunately photo-less) recap:
– The Swiss chard ended up in another vegan frittata
– The carrots and summer squash went into a salad of shredded red cabbage
– The beans and broccoli were steamed and eaten as a late-night snack
– One tomato was used in the production of TLTs. The others were diced up and served on pasta, along with fried zucchini and summer squash.
– The Chinese eggplant was sliced, sauteed, and eaten over rice.
– The array of small tomatoes made their way into various pastas and salads
– The onion and garlic were used throughout the week, portioned out over various dishes.

We’ve eaten pretty darn well thanks to the CSA subscription. I’ve been holding onto the beets, but I’m thinking a beet and spinach salad might be in order for later on today. With the fair amount of cooking done over the weekend, the simpler the better for this rainy Monday afternoon.

I didn’t get time to take pictures of the entire CSA bounty for this past week, but among the highlights:
– Another robust eggplant
– Kale
– A beautiful assortment of tomatoes
– Braising greens
– Carrots
– Potatoes (all were promptly eaten the next morning)
– Purple beans
– Zucchini
– Garlic
– Onion

Last week also marked a transition for me as I went from casual to utterly devoted fan of tempeh. While I eat tofu at least five out of seven days a week and have even tried my hand at making my own seitan more than a few times, I have only worked sparingly with tempeh. The earthy, slightly nutty, slightly mushroom-y flavor has always been something I was hesitant to work with, not so much in regards to my own palate as others. No matter what you do with tempeh, it’s always going to have those underlying flavors. The trick to working with it is to use it in dishes where its primary qualities play into the overall flavors of the dish. Tempeh doesn’t change, it changes you.

Tempeh has been a staple of Indonesia for thousands of years. Soy beans are plentiful, the production method is fairly simple, and the result is a versatile substance that is a protein powerhouse. Seriously, in a nutritional battle between tempeh and its Southeast Asian soybean brother, tofu, tempeh wins every round. The traditional starter for the fermentation process even boosted the B12 levels of the tempeh to ridiculously high proportions, although production stateside tends to be without this property.

While tofu is available in nearly every supermarket now, tempeh is still mostly relegated to specific larger groceries (Whole Foods) and specialty food stores. Its stunted availability is probably one of the reasons why many vegetarians and vegans don’t acquaint themselves with tempeh right away. Getting to know tempeh allows one to adjust to its unique flavor properties. Learning the intricacies of the food allows you to better utilize its strong points in the dishes where it is incorporated.

Unlike tofu, which is a veritable flavor sponge, tempeh has restrictions, but not as many as you might think. The nutty flavors play well against most basic sauces and its texture makes it easy to use for sandwiches, stir fry, pasta, etc. The best way to get to know tempeh early on is to grill it. Grilled tempeh toughens up the texture to a chewy, meaty consistency, and accentuates the smokey qualities. It also takes to a marinade really well, so there’s no excuse for lack of flavor.

Because most of my cookbooks are still packed, I’ve been steadily working my way through the indispensable Vegan Brunch. For months, I have been eyeing up “Tempeh Sausage Pastry Puffs,” thinking two things: 1) “What a great way to use tempeh!” and 2) “Holy shit, puff pastry!” When I had my family over for brunch to break in my new residence, I figured now was the time to shoot for something a bit more advanced than pancakes and scramble and potatoes.

Given all the skills I have developed over the past few years, surely I could make something as simple but sophisticated as these lovely little puffed squares. Surely something this manageable was within my purview. I could even make a decent vegan gravy to match. It was all going to be so simple.

Of course I screw it up. Not having ever worked with puff pastry, I didn’t exactly interpret the instructions correctly. Or maybe I did but became convinced that I hadn’t. Not really sure, but either way, I had to abruptly alter plans. That’s how square pastry puffs turned into pastry puff pinwheels. The rest is quickly devoured history.

Note on the recipe: The original called for at least an hour of marinading the tempeh, but I suggest overnight for full flavor. And don’t skip the fennel. It really brings together the sausage flavor of the filling mix.

Tempeh Sausage Puff Pinwheels

Ingredients
– 8 oz. tempeh, crumbled
– 1 package puff pastry (as recommended by Vegan Brunch, Pepperidge Farm puff pastry is vegan)

For the marinade:
– 1 cup vegetable broth
– 3 tbsp soy sauce
– 2 tbsp lemon juice

For the tempeh filling:
– 2 tbsp olive oil
– 1 red  bell pepper, finely chopped
– 1 small onion, finely chopped
– 2-4 garlic cloves, minced
– 2 tsp fennel seeds, chopped
– 2 tsp dried basil
– 2 tsp dried rosemary
– 1 tsp red pepper flakes
– Salt and black pepper to taste
– Extra olive oil

– Combine the ingredients for the marinade in an airtight container. Toss in the crumbled tempeh and seal. Keep in the fridge overnight.

– Prepare the a large pan over medium heat. Saute pepper and onion until the onion is translucent, then add garlic and spices and saute until garlic is slightly browned. Add drained tempeh and turn the heat to medium high. Cook for up to 15 minutes, stirring often to prevent burning.

– Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Apply a fine layer of olive oil to a large baking sheet.

– You should have two sheets of puff pastry. Cut each sheet into nine squares. You should have a total of eighteen rectangles.

– To assemble the pinwheel, take a rectangle and unfold it so that it is a single layer. Brush a little olive oil on the inside, then apply some of the tempeh filling. Gently roll up the dough around the filling. Whatever falls out can be stuffed back in once the edges are sealed. It does not have to look perfect, but the edge should be sealed with your fingers or a fork so that it does not fall apart while baking.

– Repeat steps until you have all eighteen filled or have run out of filling. Line the finished pastries on the baking sheet about an inch apart.

– Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the pastries are puffed and golden. Serve warm.

(Recipe adapted from Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskowitz)

CSA #8: Summertime? Time for Summer Squash!

By this past week’s CSA, I had assembled quite a collection of summer squash, specifically the yellow summer squash variety. Why have I been carefully sealing the squash up and storing it in my crisper when I could have been cleaning it, chopping it, and cooking it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?

Well, the short answer is… I don’t really know. The longer answer, the answer that you know I’m going to expound upon because you read this blog and you know how long-winded I can get about trivial matters, is that I’ve become a bit of a hoarder when it comes to foods. Whether it’s a trip to the market or our weekly CSA, there are certain vegetables that I hold onto till the point of inspiration, and sometimes well past the point of inspiration. These are the foods that I can’t simply dump into just any old dish. These are the foods whose mere presence in my fridge makes me that much happier to be in the kitchen in the first place. These are the foods that are stored in the crisper until the brink of rot, just to be rescued at the last minute by whatever dish could use a little extra something. They were meant for so much more, but alas, time is a merciless force upon produce.

It’s a pseudo-fixation that is seemingly random as to the choice of its targets. For instance, though I use onions in almost every other dish I make, I have no intention of hoarding onions. It would make much more sense if I were hoarding onions, considering how often I use them, but instead, I hoard things like summer squash, for which I have limited (but delicious) uses. Is my hoarding inspired by my desire to keep close something that is not oft present in my fridge?

Or is it mere laziness and lack of knowledge? Perhaps I hold onto veggies that I don’t use on everyday basis because I simply don’t trust my ability to cook them effectively. Such was the case with the kohlrabi earlier in the CSA season. The bok choy. Even the radishes! (Although after finding that cold salad recipe, I haven’t had any issues using up my radishes.) Maybe my hoarding isn’t hoarding at all, but an insecure act of protection to keep the vegetables from being used incorrectly.

Anything in your crisper you’ve had trouble letting go of? If so, why?

Onto the bounty and bonus recipe!


Braising mix, sweet peppers, assorted tomatoes, summer squash.


Beets, purslane, eggplant, green beans.


Onions, Swiss chard, basil, carrots, potatoes.

Summertime Pasta with Eggplant and Summer Squash

Ingredients
– 1/2 lb to 1 lb of whole wheat pasta, prepared as directed
– 1 medium-sized eggplant, sliced into half-inch rounds
– 1 large summer squash, sliced into quarter-inch rounds
– 1 medium onion, chopped
– 1/2 cup of roasted red peppers, sliced
– 1/2 cup of unsweetened non-dairy milk
– 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
– 2 tsp dried rosemary
– 2 tsp dried basil
– 1 tsp smoked paprika
– Salt
– Ground black pepper
– Olive oil (for the summer squash saute)
– Vegetable oil (for frying the eggplant)

Prepare the squash saute
– In a medium-sized pot with a lid, saute the onions in olive oil until translucent. Add the squash, roasted red peppers. Allow to simmer at low heat until everything is tender, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Prepare the eggplant
– Pour the non-dairy milk into a shallow bowl. In a second bowl, combine the flour with the rosemary, basil, smoked paprika, salt and pepper.

– Coat your eggplant by first dipping the rounds in the milk, then by tossing them in the flour. Make sure to get a light, even coat around the whole piece, including the sides.

– Heat vegetable oil a large frying pan on the stove. Add the slices, frying until each side is golden brown. Set eggplant rounds on a paper-towel covered plate to cool and drain.

Plate your pasta
– A top of a generous helping of pasta place two eggplant rounds, then a scoop of the squash saute. For non-vegans, add a sprinkling of Parmesan or a few chunks of Gorgonzola.

CSA #6, the Best 80’s Movie to Feature Nuns and Dance Competitions, and Putting Gravy on Your Veggies

I spend most of June not believing it’s finally summer, so July is when the feeling really sets in. That can be a good thing and a bad thing. While I love warm weather activities, I tend to get more lethargic as the season makes its steady stretch to the end of August. Maybe it’s the heat or the sunshine or the overall slower pace of things, but I just don’t get very much done this time of year. Summertime is just about the best time to make excuses for inactivity.

That’s my half-assed excuse for not being especially prolific with blogging these days. My other, more reasonable excuse is that I am moving, therefore any extra time that isn’t spent packing is time that I feel like I’m wasting. Which is never really true when that time is put toward something I love, like blogging, but is definitely true when that time is put toward something like watching Girls Just Want to Have Fun on Encore.

Wow, the Dog Days really have me so lazy and distracted that I’m filling out a post with a movie trailer when I’m supposed to be focusing on our nutritious and body-enriching weekly CSA. Which is a shame considering out great our yield was (again) this week.

Kale and carrots

Radishes, sweet peppers, garlic, onion

Summer squash and potatoes.

I’ve taken to including a recipe at the end of these posts, showcasing just how we’re incorporating the CSA into our meals. This weekend, however, we didn’t do anything particularly fancy with what we used. We just made our favorites that much better with the addition of farm-fresh produce.

Better tasting, that is. Not necessarily better for our health. Observe Saturday night’s feast:


Yes, that is gravy smothering the corn, the potatoes, and the Southern-fried tofu. You might remember the tofu and gravy from a prior post. The corn is, admittedly, canned corn, drained and seasoned with salt, pepper, and vegan margarine. The mashed potatoes are a mix of the yellow and purple potatoes that came to us in our CSA and two Russet potatoes I purchased at People’s down the street.

The only gravy-less item on the plate is the slow-cooked kale, which will serve as my humble half-assed recipe for today. This method works equally well for collard greens, as well as broccoli and cauliflower.

[On a side note, take a look sometime at the beneficial elements of kale. Thanks to its high levels of antioxidants, beta carotene, Vitamin K, Vitamin C, and carotenoids, it’s a nutritional powerhouse and damn tasty to boot. It’s also fairly easy to grow, so if anyone is thinking of starting a garden or adding to their bounty, it’s a good crop to consider.]

Slow-Cooked Summer Kale

Ingredients
– 1 lb (or so) fresh kale, rinsed and dried
– 1 tbsp vegetable oil
– 1/2 cup vegetable stock
– 1 tbsp tabasco
– 1 tsp red pepper flakes
– Salt and pepper to taste

– In a large pot, heat the oil, stock, and tabasco. Add the kale (you can keep it on the stalk if you plan to cook it for a long time, or tear off the leaves if you’re only planning to cook it for an hour or so), red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Stir until all the leaves are well coated, then cover and allow to simmer on low heat for up to four hours.

CSA #4 & Asian Slaw!

The third week of our CSA was the most adventurous yet, what with cauliflower, green kohlrabi, and a big bunch of bok choy. I’ll get to the eventual fate of the kohlrabi and bok choy in a minute, but first: CSA #4!

From left: kale, salad greens, brown rice.

Swiss chard, cabbage, broccoli

Green onions and radishes

There was a large patch of black raspberries growing, so one of the volunteers offered to make a batch of jarred preserves for the CSAs this week. We ate our way through it most of the weekend, smearing it on whatever neutral surface we could find. I tried to convince James to eat it with a spoon, but he had to draw the line somewhere.

Whatever.

Anyway, as to the fate of the green kohlrabi and bok choy, I was a little worried about spoiling if I held onto them past this week, so I made it one of my meal-planning objectives to figure out a good way to use them. A few of you had some really great suggestions. I especially loved the idea of making a nice vegetable stock with the bok choy, but with the summertime heat and the lack of open windows in my kitchen, it was a tad too warm for anything that needed to simmer for a long while on the stove top.

I was still riding on a cold salad high from last weekend, so I decided to take it a step further and experiment with a slaw based off of the bok choy, the kohlrabi, cabbage, and a big yellow bell pepper. Because I don’t have quite the right equipment to make a really shredded slaw, mine came out a bit chunky and extra crunchy. For a finer crunch, really shave down those veggies. A microplane works nicely – and I should get one, along with a knife-sharpening kit.

Summertime Asian Slaw

Ingredients
– 1/2 pound bok choy stalks, sliced down into thin strips
– 1/2 pound green kohlrabi, peeled and thinly sliced or shaved
– 1/2 pound green or purple cabbage, chopped and shredded
– 1 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
– 1 tbsp brown sugar
– 2 tbsp soy sauce
– 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
– 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
– 1 tbsp canola oil
– 2 tsp powdered ginger

– In a large bowl, combine sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, canola oil. Mix until well combined.

– Throw in veggies and toss in dressing. Add the ginger one teaspoon at a time. Mix until all ingredients are evenly coated. Allow to chill for an hour.

Good Morning, Vegan Strawberry Cupcakes!


Strawberry season is in full swing. When I was a kid, strawberry season meant heading over to Trax Farms where for around two bucks a pound, you could pick your own berries and take them home, where many of them would not get eaten in time and would be thrown out in less than a week.

Strawberries are evocative of many of life’s pleasures: Sweet, crisp, a little tart, a wonderful thing to behold in so many ways, but all to quickly, they turn, they brown and get soft. White little spots of mold cover the stems. Overripe, they have limited uses, but they’re no longer the hand-held confection perfect for snacking. A little farther down the line, the strawberry isn’t good for anything, except maybe compost. So something that starts out so wonderful and appealing is, within a few days time, a rotting, disposable mess.

Luke, of the Food Bloggers Meetup, had a solution to how to use his large yield of strawberries from the East Liberty Farmer’s Market. Much like every neighborhood church, he decided to hold his own little strawberry festival and invite the bloggers into his home to consume his fruit before its time was past.

Because I also had strawberries to unload (and because I hate going to things like this empty handed), I decided to crack open the lovely and reliable The Joy of Vegan Baking and see what uses Colleen Patrick-Goudreau has for strawberries. After paging through pies and tarts and crisps and cobblers, I settled on an unlikely candidate: Strawberry cupcakes.

Most people give me funny looks when I tell them that I hate cupcakes. They don’t really believe me, and that’s fair enough, because I don’t hate cupcakes. But I do think they’re greatly overrated, and not just because of the cupcake craze that still hasn’t left this city, but because even as a child, I disliked the notion of cupcakes, a cake that was supposedly meant for hand to mouth consumption but never quite got there in a fashion that didn’t leave frosting on your mouth, on your face, on your hands.

And the cake was always so disappointing. Dry and crumbly. The frosting, even when good, was always too too much. As a child at birthday parties, I awaited the inevitable dessert with trepidation. While other kids went face first into their cakes and emerged somehow spotless and satisfied, I picked at mine with the slow patience and tact of an archaeologist and still somehow got icing on my clothes.

Anyway, so I don’t hate cupcakes as much as I think they’re a lot of fuss for little payoff. But many of my strawberries were going soft, and I was worried that they weren’t appropriate for most non-baked goods. I’ve made strawberry-banana muffins before, but they didn’t seem to be an appropriate fit for a dinner party. So strawberry cupcakes won out. And I’m glad that they did.

I topped my cupcakes with a variation on Patrick-Goudreau’s chocolate frosting, adding almond extract to give it a bit of Nutella-like flavor. Because the actual cake isn’t super sweet and the flavor of the strawberry is fairly mild, it takes well to almost any frosting. Don’t overdo it on the amount, however, cause too much frosting will overwhelm the rest of the cake. [If you are a frosting junkie, the actual yield of the frosting recipe surpasses the regular dozen cupcakes, so save the leftovers and consume in whatever way will please you.]

Strawberry Cupcakes

Ingredients
– 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
– 1 tsp baking soda
– 1 cup sugar
– 1/2 cup vegetable oil
– 1 tablespoon white vinegar
– 8 ounces strawberries, pureed
– 5 to 6 large strawberries, sliced (optional for garnish)

– Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin tin or line with cupcake liners.

– In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, and sugar. In a separate bowl, combine oil and vinegar. Add the pureed strawberries and mix until combined.

– Pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Stir until just mixed. Pour batter into prepared muffin tray, about halfway in each cup.

– Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and tin, cooling the cakes on a wire rack. Frost and garnish once cool.

Chocolate-Almond Frosting

Ingredients
– 1/2 cup non-dairy butter
– 3 cups confectioner’s sugar
– 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
– 1 tsp almond extract
– 2 tbsp soy milk

– Cream butter until smooth, then add the confectioner’s sugar. Cream for about two minutes, then add cocoa, almond, and milk. Beat until fluffy, then cover and chill.

(Recipes adapted from The Joy of Vegan Baking by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau)

Good Morning, Vegan Southwest Quiche!

Are you a quiche eater?

A 1982 bestselling book, Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche, firmly defined the egg, cream and cheese savory pastry as feminine and therefore beneath the standards of masculinity for any man who didn’t want to been seen as some namby-pamby New Age sort. The book goes on to describe this man as the sort who refers to his significant other as “life partner,” and who likely make the quiche, serve it to his partner, and wash up afterward. Needless to say, this man is not to be aped but to be despised and dismissed.

Due to the book’s 55 weeks on the bestsellers chart, “quiche eater” became briefly synonymous with a person too fancy to get his hands dirty. Having made more than a few quiche crusts, I find the insult to be a little ironic, considering how quickly the hands get floured, crummy, and sticky while forming the dough. But maybe the idea is that the quiche eater doesn’t make the crust.

Actually, going even further on this line of thought, the book admits that it’s perfectly masculine for a man to eat an egg and bacon pie that his spouse might offer him, but to make it himself would be deemed less than masculine. So it’s somehow less dainty to be waited on? Bruce Feirstein, you’ve got me thoroughly confused.

Anyhoo, there are many good vegan quiche recipes among my collected cookbooks, but for Sunday morning’s pie, I used what I had on hand and made a sort of Tex-Mex, Southwest pie with red onion, red bell pepper, mushrooms, and some of the field garlic we received in our CSA this week. Filling in for the egg and cream, I mashed in a pound of extra firm tofu. You can take or leave the turmeric in the recipe, but I think it gives the overall look a nice, rich color.

Word to the wise on tofu-based quiches: I don’t mind mine being a little loose and crumbly, but if you want a tighter, more gelled pie, use a food processor to blend the tofu smooth before adding it to the sautéed veggies.

Southwestern Quiche

Ingredients
– 1 9″ vegan pie crust
– 1 medium red onion, chopped
– 1 small red bell pepper, diced
– 5 or 6 fresh mushrooms, chopped
– 1 stalk field garlic, finely chopped (optional – but tasty)
– 1 pound extra firm tofu
– 2 tsp chili powder
– 1 tsp garlic pepper seasoning
– 1 1/2 tsp cumin
– 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
– Turmeric (optional)

– Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

– Saute the onions in oil until translucent. Add the bell pepper and continue cooking for three minutes. Add mushrooms and seasonings and saute until everything is tender.

– Crumble in tofu and turmeric, then stir briskly with a fork until everything is well combined and fairly smooth, adding a tablespoon or two of water if needed. Pour into pie crust.

– Bake the quiche for 40 minutes in the oven, until the edges are browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes before eating.