Friday, April 29, 2011

Spring Dinner: Fresh Pea Soup

In case I haven’t mentioned this before, I love Spring. I love sundresses, sandals, and the heat on my shoulders when I go for a run. I love grazing at the farmer’s market, scooping up fresh peas, asparagus, and mint. I love the tulips, daffodils, and lilacs thriving in my backyard. Springtime is part of the reason I knew I belonged in California. For all that talk about how California doesn’t have seasons, we have longest, most beautiful Spring. In snowy climates, there is a desperation that accompanies spring. When if finally becomes warm in late April or early May, it is at the last possible moment, the moment when you just can’t take it anymore. I’ve never been one for such a masochistic relationship.

Spring in California is lush, and continually building; every week something new is in bloom, flowering pear and cherry trees, lilacs, hyacinth, poppies, and snapdragons. The trees go from bare to bursting seemingly overnight. The food of Spring embodies this optimistic renaissance. Everything is green, new, and super fresh. Easter Sunday seemed like the perfect occasion to feast on these Spring treats.

Fresh Pea Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, minced
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups fresh or frozen peas
1 tablespoon fresh mint, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Sauté the onion until tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the vegetable stock and peas. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the mint. Blend with an immersion blender until mostly smooth. Taste for salt and pepper. Top with toasted breadcrumbs and serve immediately!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Bucatini al Pomodoro

Oh. My. God. It’s time for my monthly Bon Appétit post, and this one is not to be missed. May’s publication is the Italy Issue, stuffed with irresistible recipes and luscious pictures. It has a distinctly vintage feel, celebrating the stylish Rome of La Dolce Vita and Vespas. And gracing the cover is the “simplest, silkiest sauce you’ll ever make;” a perfect bird’s nest of bucatini al pomodoro that instantly called out to me.

The entire magazine made me homesick for my year in Italy; for long evenings of conversation over bowls of pasta and vino della casa, for late night slices at Pizza Pazza after an evening of dancing in Testaccio, for slowly sipped espresso in Piazza Navona. This pasta immediately brought me back to that time. So, for a taste of my Italian experience, simmer a pot of this simple tomato sauce, and eat it late at night, preferably outdoors, with a glass of red wine.

1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
28 oz. can peeled tomatoes
3 large fresh basil sprigs
16 oz. bucatini or perciatelli
2 tablespoons non dairy butter
salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and sauté until tender, about 12 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 4 minutes. Add the crushed pepper and cook for one minute more.

Purée the tomatoes in the bowl of a food processor, then add them to the sauté pan. Season with salt. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add the basil, remove from heat and let sit until the pasta is ready.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the directions. Drain the pasta reserving 1/2 cup pasta water.

Discard the basil (I ate it as a pre-dinner snack) and heat the sauce over medium high heat. Add the pasta water and the noodles, stirring to coat all the noodles. Add the butter and stir until melted. Taste for salt and pepper. Top with fresh basil and toasted breadcrumbs. Enjoy while piping hot!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Make Your Own Preserved Lemons

I came home from work the other day to find a huge pile of lemon tree branches studded with lemons in varying stages of ripeness. It turns out my mother had been overcome with the Spring Cleaning Urge and had been weeding, pruning, mulching, raking, and the like for hours. But, what to do with 25 or so stunningly beautiful lemons? It was too many to use in quotidian cooking, and many were still a bit green to be entirely useful. I never drink lemonade, and am utterly dissatisfied with my lemon bar recipe. What else do people do with lemons?

Preserve them! Preserved lemons are a staple in Moroccan and Middle Eastern cooking imparting a bitter, salty lemon flavor unlike anything else. They are also a bit of a commitment, not for those seeking instant gratification. So if you have a peck of lemons just waiting for a purpose, try this recipe. It can, of course, be reduced for a smaller harvest.

Slice 5 lemons lengthwise into quarters keeping them attached at one end. Measure 1/4 cup salt. Rub the inside of each lemon generously with salt.

Pack the lemons tightly into a 1 quart sealed glass jar. Add the remaining salt to the lemons.

Cover completely with lemon juice, 8 to 10 lemons.

Seal the jar and set aside. Invert the jar every day for 14 days. Come to Dinner Peace to find out what you should do with them!

Monday, April 18, 2011

VegNews, Controversy and Solution

Lemons from my tree, sitting on my kitchen counter.

One of the reasons I started this blog was because I am such a visual creature. All summer, I had been relishing the bright, fresh, incredible plant based food I had been enjoying. I felt continually compelled to photograph this food and share it with people. And I am likewise inspired by other food photographers. Every time my new issue of Bon Appétit arrives, I melt into a puddle of desire over whatever is on the cover.  So you can imagine my disappointment over the recent VegNews stock photo controversy. For those of you not immersed in the vegan culture, a brief summary. Readers recently discovered that photographs of the food in the magazine had been pulled from I was disheartened to learn that the photographs next to a given recipe are not actually of the dish itself. For example, a recipe for Banana Cream Pie appeared alongside a stock photo of Coconut Cream Pie. But, many magazines use stock photos. They are cheap and convenient, especially for online content. So, why did these photos cause such an uproar? It turns out  that many of the stock photos employed by VegNews, a wholly vegan magazine, are actually of meat and dairy products. It seems counterintuitive to devote a magazine to the joys of compassionate, plant-based eating, and then undermine that message with pictures of chicken and pork. It also sends the implicit message that plant based food isn’t delicious or appealing enough; you need the “real” thing.

Unfortunately, this controversy has cast doubt on every food outlet. I am now eyeing all my magazines suspiciously; what is that fleshy looking thing in Vegetarian Times’ Cabbage Rolls? So, just to alleviate any doubts, every picture on my blog is taken by me, in my own kitchen of entirely plant based food. More so, every photograph in my blog is of food that I have just scooped out of the pan and am about to eat in a moment. This is a snapshot of my food life. And I have a solution for you, VegNews. Put your readers to work for you. Send me some of your recipes, and I will gladly prepare them and photograph them for you. Just mention me in the magazine. And I’m willing to bet there are dozens of other readers, bloggers, and people willing to do the same. Think about it.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Whole Wheat Pancakes with Peach Compote

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, unequivocally. I notice such a difference when I start my morning with whole grains, protein, and healthy fats. Breakfast is particularly enjoyable on the weekends when I have the time to prepare muffins, scones, and waffles galore. Pancakes are traditional weekend breakfast fare, and I have waxed poetic about them before. Often, I make slight changes to previously discussed recipes and I always want to share them with you because I am so delighted by the joy I feel about food. This morning’s pancakes featured salty walnuts in tender, chewy whole wheat pancakes topped with a sweet and tart peach compote. Yum!

1 cup frozen peaches (if using fresh, peel them)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water

Combine peaches, maple syrup and water in a small saucepan. Simmer over medium heat until the mixture starts to break down a little. In a separate bowl, combine the cornstarch and water, then add to the peaches. Cook briefly, until the mixture starts to thicken. Spoon on top of whole wheat pancakes or buckwheat waffles.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Kitchen Failure: Black Bean Cakes

I don’t like to write about recipes that don’t go well, but it feels dishonest to pretend to you, dear readers, that I don’t have my share of kitchen mishaps. About a year ago, I made these amazing black bean cakes from Christina Pirello’s cookbook. Served with a bright tomato salsa, I was in heaven. Realizing that I hadn’t made this dish for my blog, I decided to rectify that immediately.

Ugh. What a mess. In the interest of efficiency, I made a few changes to the recipe; fresh bell pepper instead of roasted, and polenta instead of corn meal. I couldn’t anticipate what a difference this would make. What resulted were wet, black bean balls sizzling passively in hot oil. Recovering from my first instinct to just throw the whole pan in the sink, I fished them out of the pan and stuck them in the oven. Half an hour later they were still a bit soft, but they were hot and at least a little crispy.

I decided to serve them as Mexican falafels, one cake with a fresh corn tortilla, spicy, bright tomato salsa, and crispy cabbage and carrot slaw. The mix of flavors and textures was awesome. But, the black bean cakes were just not quite right. The oven had dried them out a little bit, and without pan frying, they lacked the crisp outer edge I remembered. I’m not providing a recipe yet, because I’m definitely giving these cakes another go. Roasted bell pepper, fine cornmeal, and pressed tofu should help rectify these soggy black bean cakes. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

WTF Natalie Portman?

Celebrity is a somewhat fraught topic in our culture; the inexplicable worship, paparazzi stalking, Stars! They’re just like us. One of the great things about celebrity though is a star’s ability to direct much-needed attention to deserving causes, like George Clooney’s work for the crisis in Darfur, or Sean Penn’s efforts following the massive earthquake in Haiti. These people get attention, money, and resources in a way you or I could not. Veganism has benefited greatly from representation by highly attractive and well-liked celebrities like Alicia Silverstone, Ginnifer Goodwin, and Ellen Degeneres. The downside to this is when one of these representatives ditches their plant-based diet, that too gets a lot of attention and seems to prove all the naysayers right.

Yesterday the internet was abuzz with Natalie Portman’s repudiation of her vegan diet while pregnant. ABC, NBC, FOX, Huffington Post, MSN, Yahoo, Perez Hilton all had mentions of Natalie’s comments, and my heart sank. This is not the kind of press we vegans enjoy. What is especially disappointing is the fact that Portman knows well the benefits of being vegan. In 2009, Portman wrote an articulate and moving piece for the Huffington Post on Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals and how it influenced her to make the shift from vegetarian to vegan. Portman details the toll taken on the animals and the planet, but most compellingly the toll taken on humans. She writes:

"What Foer most bravely details is how eating animal pollutes not only our backyards, but also our beliefs. He reminds us that our food is symbolic of what we believe in, and that eating is how we demonstrate to ourselves and to others our beliefs...I remember in college, a professor asked our class to consider what our grandchildren would look back on as being backward behavior or thinking in our generation, the way we are shocked by the kind of misogyny, racism, and sexism we know was commonplace in our grandparents' world...Factory farming of animals will be one of the things we look back on as a relic of a less-evolved age."

Only a year and a half ago, Portman was declaring herself not only a vegan, but an activist, dedicated to planting the seeds of her experience in the greater consciousness. Yesterday, however, Portman reported, “I actually went back to being vegetarian when I became pregnant, just because I felt like I wanted that stuff...I was listening to my body to have eggs and dairy.” Listening to your body...a phrase that covers all manner of sins. It’s something I told myself after my first six weeks of being vegan, when I was reluctant to commit to a life without Spaghetti Bolognese and Eggs Benedict; everyone is different, my body wants meat and dairy, I’m just listening to my body. Really, I was listening to my tastebuds. I wanted meat and dairy, but as the last year has shown me, my body doesn’t want meat and dairy. My weight loss, increased energy, and exuberance for life are proof that now I am truly listening to my body.

I have never been pregnant, so I cannot speak to a body’s changes during this extraordinary event. But, having experienced the bounty of benefits to my own health, I can’t imagine that the values wouldn’t be even greater for my baby. Because of her fame, Portman’s comments are not merely about her own experience; they become about every vegan. They shed doubt on this lifestyle. If it’s not good for pregnant women, then who is it good for? Veganism is not unnatural, unhealthy, or harmful. The body, pregnant or otherwise, does not need eggs, dairy, or meat to be healthy and happy.

Portman’s main complaint about being a pregnant vegan was “If you're not eating eggs, then you can't have cookies or cake from regular bakeries, which can become a problem when that's all you want to eat.” Well, let me make you an offer, Ms. Portman. I make unbelievable cookies and cupcakes, and I would be happy to send you some if that’s what you need to be vegan. Just let me know.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Noodle Soup

It’s funny how dishes come into being. Several weeks ago, I started a hunt for udon noodle soup recipes, and found nothing really inspiring. So, I forgot about it for awhile. Then, I was at the Asian market, and found the udon noodles, and then forgot about it for awhile. A couple weeks ago, I actually had udon noodle soup at a Japanese restaurant in San Francisco, and it was pretty good, but I knew I could do better. Finally, this past weekend, as we were driving to the grocery store, my Mom pointed out a noodle place and suggested it for dinner. I responded that I didn’t know anything about it; was it good? It turns out that she meant making noodles for dinner, not eating at that restaurant. All the pieces had finally converged and the conditions seemed right for noodle soup.

Winging it has had varied results for me in the past; see my first attempt at wonton soup. But, I’ve learned some things in the past year, and have a few more tricks up my sleeve. This soup is definitely one of my best results; light, fresh, and so good for you, and it tastes amazing to boot!

Noodle Soup

2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon ginger, grated
1 carrot, sliced diagonally, 1/4” thick
1 cup mushrooms (you can use pretty much whatever kind you want)
1/4 cup Chinese Rice Wine
1 red bell pepper, sliced into 1/4” strips
1 cup snow peas
3 to 4 heads baby bok choy, chopped roughly
2 zucchini, halved and sliced 1/4” thick
1 package extra firm tofu, diced into 1/2” cubes
1 pound fresh udon noodles
4 cups vegetable stock
1/4 cup soy sauce
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 tablespoon chili garlic paste
Sliced Green Onions for garnish
Cilantro for garnish

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic and ginger, and fry for 1 minute. Add the carrots and mushrooms, and sauté until tender, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the wine to deglaze the pan, scraping up all the stuck bits. Add the bell pepper, snow peas, bok choy, zucchini, tofu, and stock. Bring to a boil. Add the noodles, soy sauce, lime and chili-garlic paste. Simmer for about 3 minutes, until the noodles are tender. Taste for seasoning, and add more soy or lime if necessary. Scoop into large bowls and top with cilantro, green onion, and a wedge of lime. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Vanilla Sugar

Writing this food blog has opened my life in a lot of different directions: my own recipe development, recipe testing for Christy Morgan, planning and hosting Dishcrawls with Tracy Lee, even part-time subtle persuasion at Williams-Sonoma. When Tracy and I met up for the vegan Dishcrawl a couple of weeks ago, she had just come from another event the night before, where Dishcrawlers had visited Xanath Ice Cream in San Francisco. Xanath, while not vegan, is devoted to pure, clean flavors, especially vanilla and saffron. As a parting gift, Xanath gave every visitor a vanilla bean, and Tracy passed one along to me. I confess, I’ve never worked with a real vanilla bean before. I am a devoted user of pure, high quality vanilla extract, but have never had cause to use vanilla bean. A quick google led me to vanilla sugar, which I whipped up in about 5 minutes. It has to “marinate” for a couple of weeks, which will give me time to think of something lovely to use it for.

Vanilla Sugar

1 vanilla bean
2 cups sugar

Using a small, sharp knife, slice the vanilla bean in half, lengthwise. Use the edge of the knife to scrape the seeds out of the pod, then deposit in the sugar. Bury the two halves of the bean in the sugar, and pour the whole thing into an airtight container. Let sit for two to three weeks. Check back to see what happens next!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pasta with Asparagus, Artichokes, Spinach, and Peas

I’ve talked many times before about Bon Appétit, the magazine. I probably mention it monthly when it arrives in my mailbox and I immediately devour it. The magazine has recently seen a shift at the helm, with Barbara Fairchild no longer Editor-in-Chief. This rocked my world because Fairchild has been synonymous with Bon Appétit all of my sentient food life. Recently, BA has made strides toward vegan inclusivity with meatless dishes and menus, and features on How to Cook Everything Vegetarian author, Mark Bittman. I was anxious to see the new Editor’s attitude toward a plant-based lifestyle. The first order of business was a pages long feature on baked pastas...loaded with cheese and meat. I was ready to give up. But, my spring issue recently arrived and I found this gem hidden in the early pages (14); my faith was restored. In the best interest of its readers and itself, Bon Appétit should be taking wider strides toward plant-based living. With dishes like this, I’m willing to wait.

Pasta with Asparagus, Artichokes, Spinach, and Peas
adapted from Bon Appétit, April 2011

1 lemon
1 bunch asparagus spears
1 fresh rosemary sprig
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen green peas
3/4 cup basil, loosely packed
1 box frozen artichoke hearts
3/4 cup fresh fava beans, or frozen lima beans
1 pound garganelli, chiocciole, or penne pasta
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons non dairy butter
1/2 onion, minced
1 clove garlic, crushed
4 cups spinach
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oven to 375ºF. Snap the ends off the asparagus. Place in a single layer in an oven proof dish. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil, the zest of 1 lemon, and salt and pepper. Top with the rosemary sprig. Place in the oven, and cook until fork tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, slice diagonally into 2 inch pieces, and set aside.

Place the peas in a small saucepan. Just cover with water, sprinkle with salt, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, and drain. Add to the blender with the basil.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the artichokes and cook for 5 minutes. Add the lima beans or fava beans and cook for 1 minute more. Drain and set aside. Bring the water back to a boil and cook the pasta according to the directions. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.

In a large pot, heat the remaining olive oil and butter. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onion is tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the artichokes, beans, spinach and asparagus. Add the pasta water to the peas and basil and purée until smooth. Add the pea purée to the vegetables. Add the pasta and toss everything together. Taste for salt and pepper. I think this dish could benefit from a little textural variety, so next time, I would top it with toasted almond breadcrumbs. Serve immediately.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Wishing For Spring

After a week of rain, clouds, mists, hail, torrents, and deluges, California has returned to a state of sunshine and heat. Instead of perching in front of a fire with a glass of wine and a bowl of stew, I am longing for greens harvested from my garden, willful tulips pushing themselves out of the earth, and tripping barefoot to the lemon tree, sun on my neck. Daffodils and lilacs are the quintessence of spring, and my invocation to warmth and light.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Conversation With a Teenage Vegan, II

We're two weeks into Lent, and I wanted to check in with my sister, Summer, to hear how her vegan experience has been going. She seems to be having a pretty easy time with it so far. Read on to find out what a teenage girl thinks about being vegan!

Dinner Peace: What has been the hardest part of being vegan so far?
Summer Boucher: I keep forgetting that I’m completely vegan now, because I was mostly vegan before.So, I keep forgetting that I can’t have some of my friend Sanjna’s birthday cake, or when I go to Starbucks with my friends, I can’t find anything to eat for breakfast. One day, I was sitting in class and it came up that I was vegan. Of course, people asked me what I eat, and I told them, normal stuff like pasta and Mexican food. One of my friends responded that I was missing all the good stuff like shrimp in shrimp fajitas. Then they started having their own conversation about how delicious shrimp fajitas were.

DP: Did that make you miss shrimp fajitas?
SB: Not really. But, the other day, I was in the grocery store, and I was really hungry, and I smelled a rotisserie chicken, and it smelled soooo good.
DP: I had the same experience the other day. I was out shopping, and I smelled hamburgers, and it smelled soooo good.

DP: What’s the best vegan food you’ve had in the last two weeks?
SB: Vegan spring rolls, the Macrobiotic Lunch at Koji’s Sushi, and pretty much all Asian food. The Oriental flavored Ramen Noodles. And Chocolate-Dipped Oreos.

DP: How do your friends respond to you being vegan?
SB: They think it’s weird, and say they could never do it. They tell me they could never give up meat or cheese, and I tell them that it’s actually not that hard.

DP: Do you think it’s hard?
SB: No. It’s easier this time, because before, we changed our diet so dramatically. Now, I already eat vegan most of the time, so it’s easier.