Friday, May 27, 2011

Greens Week, Part III

And now for something a little different...greens don’t have to be a side dish, as I talked about in the last post. But, they don’t have to be the only thing on the plate either. Greens are also an excellent complement to a variety of flavors. This was a dish I loved before I became vegan, a simple tomato, sausage, and spinach risotto. Obviously a little adjustment was needed, but the best part about this recipe is how the rice absorbs the juice from the tomatoes, and the massive amount of spinach wilts throughout the risotto. Adapting dishes from omnivore to vegan means paying careful attention to the purpose of each ingredient. In this case, omitting the sausage leaves a textural and flavor opening. My readers know that I am not a big fan of faux “meat,” so I knew I would have to think outside the box. There’s a meaty quality to walnuts, and lightly toasting them adds a smoky richness. Great plant based food is all about creativity and flexibility!

Tomato, Spinach, and Walnut Risotto

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup white wine
1 large can diced tomatoes
1 small can vegetable broth
1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
6 cups spinach

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the onion and sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the rice, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, coating the rice completely with oil. Add the white wine, and simmer until the wine is almost completely absorbed.

Meanwhile, drain the tomatoes reserving the juice. Combine the juice and the broth in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Gradually add half-cupfuls of the tomato broth mixture, allowing it to be almost completely absorbed until the rice is almost tender, about 25 minutes. Add the walnuts and tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes. Finally, add the spinach, and stir until wilted and completely combined. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Greens Week, Part II

Greens are one of the most versatile ingredients to work with, not to mention how quick and easy they are to prepare. A huge pile of spinach and arugula, microwaved for two minutes, topped with lemon juice and salt, makes a great addition to any lunch. When making a side of greens for dinner, I like to incorporate similar flavors from the main dish. This broccoli was conceived as a side dish for an Asian tofu stir-fry, incorporating chili, garlic and soy. Later, I was testing one of my recipes, a Southeast Asian tofu dish, and it did not turn out well. I already had brown rice prepared, I was starving, and I had nothing to eat. Remembering this flavorful, and satisfying broccoli dish, I adapted it to spinach, and added some cashews for a little protein and fat. 5 minutes later, I had a nourishing and tasty dinner. Eating greens shouldn’t be an ordeal, and eating well shouldn’t take hours of preparation. You can use this recipe for a main dish, or a side, and have a spectacular and good-for-you dinner in minutes.

Chili Garlic Greens

1 tablespoon chili garlic paste
2 tablespoons chinese rice wine
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Greens of your choice (1 head broccoli, 6 cups spinach, etc.)
1/2 cup cashews (optional)

In a large sauté pan, combine the chili garlic paste, rice wine, and soy sauce. Stir to combine, and bring to a simmer. Add the greens, cover, and simmer until tender; time will vary depending on which green you are using. Toss and serve immediately.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Greens Week, Part I

Welcome to Greens Week! I talk about this a lot, how important it is to eat a wide variety of leafy green vegetables on a daily basis. Eating greens two or three times a day has been the single greatest change I have made to my diet in the last year. Most of the time, my greens appear as a side dish, gently sautéed with olive oil, lemon, and salt. But they can also be the star of the show, seamlessly integrated into stir-frys, risottos, and more. 

You’ve been hearing it your whole life, Eat your greens! And it’s true; they’re so good for you! Calorie for calorie, leafy green vegetables are absolutely loaded with minerals and nutrients: calcium for your bones, iron, complex carbohydrates for energy, fiber, and tons of antioxidants. Green vegetables give your body everything it needs to be healthy, energetic, and strong, in the most efficient and delicious way possible.

So, what do you actually eat? Over the next week, I will provide a few recipes highlighting specific greens, but these recipes can be adapted to suit any of the wide variety of tender, bitter, and fresh leafy greens you can find in your grocery store, or at the farmer’s market. Kale, collard greens, dandelion greens, spinach, broccoli rabe, arugula, dinosaur kale, broccoli, and bok choy are some of the dark green vegetables you will soon love!

Bok Choy Skillet Supper
adapted from Vegetarian Times

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
8 oz. crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2 shallots, diced finely
1 cup bulgur
1 cup vegetable broth
1 1/2 cup water
1 sprig fresh thyme
4 heads baby bok choy, halved
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the garlic, and sauté until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms, and brown for 5 to7 minutes. Set the mushrooms aside, and add the tomatoes to the pan, face down. Cook the tomatoes until browned, about 10 minutes. Set aside with the mushrooms. Add the shallots to the pan, and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the bulgur, vegetable broth, water, and thyme to the pan. Cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Arrange the bok choy on top of the bulgur radiating out from the center of the pan. Sprinkle the tomatoes and mushrooms on top of the bok choy. Cover, and simmer for 10 more minutes. Remove from heat, and let sit for 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Vegan Products I Love: Danville Chocolates

When people hear that I am vegan, they often tell me they could never be vegan because they could never give up cheese. But occasionally they ask how I can possibly live without chocolate, or wine, to which I respond, "What animal does chocolate come from again?" Yes, I can be a bit salty at times. But, I did want to take this opportunity to reiterate that being vegan doesn't mean giving up all the wonderful things in life like good chocolate and a glass of wine. 

One of the things I love to do on my blog is highlight those things that make being vegan just a little bit more wonderful. I am lucky enough to have a multitude of restaurants, grocery stores, and coffee shops to choose from in the Bay Area. But one place has become my new obsession, Danville Chocolates. Located on the corner of Front and Prospect Streets, it is a bright and airy space, doors wide on a warm spring day, and a cozy haven of sugary aromas in the winter.

It’s the perfect place to pop in after lunch downtown for a sweet afternoon treat. While they are better known for their truffles, it’s their wide variety of chocolate-dipped foods that entices me. Apricots, orange peel, cherries, Oreos, almonds, macadamia nuts, and walnuts all dipped in high quality dark chocolate. The apricots are my favorite; they’re juicy, tender, and perfectly complemented by dark, bitter chocolate. Delicious desserts coupled with great service and a friendly atmosphere make this an excellent addition to the Danville Community.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Cornmeal Pancakes with Blueberry Raspberry Syrup

One thing I love about being vegan is that it has given me a new way of thinking about food. And I really love thinking about food. Throughout my life, I have always been a bit of a slave to my cravings, and they are often bemusing. For example, the whole time I was reading The Good Earth, I craved Dim Sum Sticky Rice. Studying tangents in Geometry had me salivating over Tangerine Beef from my favorite Chinese restaurant. And several moments in my life have made me hungry for cornmeal pancakes: reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic book series, Jack London’s Call of the Wild, and the quintessentially Californian year dedicated to studying the Gold Rush. Something about being out in the mountains, eating your food off tin plates, and heating coffee over your campfire demands tender, hearty cornmeal pancakes. And even though I don’t like to do any of the aforementioned activities, I still enjoy an outdoorsy breakfast in the comfort of my home.

Cornmeal Pancakes
adapted from The Joy of Cooking

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons stone ground cornmeal
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsweetened non dairy milk
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
3 tablespoons water

Combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In a blender, mix the flaxseed and water, and blend until thick and frothy. Add the flaxseed mixture to the milk, oil, and maple syrup. Whisk thoroughly, then add to the dry ingredients. Heat a skillet over medium heat. The skillet is ready when a splash of water sizzles and evaporates quickly. Pour 1/4 cupfus of batter onto the skillet. When the pancakes start to bubble in the middle, and look cooked around the edges, flip them, about 5 minutes. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes on the other side. Serve immediately!

Blueberry Raspberry Syrup

1/2 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 cup frozen raspberries
1/4 cup  water plus 1 tablespoon
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon cornstarch

In a small saucepan, combine the blueberries, raspberries, 1/4 cup water and maple syrup. Heat over medium heat until the mixture boils. Simmer until the fruit breaks down, and the mixture thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and 1 tablespoon water. Add to the fruit and simmer briefly until the mixture becomes thick. Serve immediately.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Any Kind of Vegetable Soup

This isn’t really a post about cauliflower soup. This is a post about any kind of soup you want. I have a somewhat strange work schedule, which happily allows me to cook and write blog posts. But, it also means that I often don’t eat dinner until 9:00 or later. For a while, I was subsisting on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (read almond butter and snobby orange marmalade) and raw veggies. But, here’s the thing. I don’t like cold food. I’d rather have cold food than nothing, but it doesn’t feel like a true meal to me unless it’s hot, sautéed, roasted, or otherwise. I like soups, pastas, stir frys more than salads and sandwiches, no matter how convenient.

Coming home late at night, though, I didn’t want a big thing of food just sitting in my stomach while I try to sleep. I needed something light, something filling, but nothing too heavy. Soup seemed the perfect choice. And even better, light, fresh, puréed vegetable soup. The recipe below is a base to which you can add any vegetable; carrots, broccoli, zucchini, peas, corn, and more would all be great additions to this base. And it’s the perfect thing to make at the beginning of the week, and live off of for the next few days.

Rice and Onion Soup Base
adapted from Julia Child’s The Way to Cook

1 medium onion, sliced
2 tablespoons non dairy butter
4 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup arborio rice
3 cups vegetable of your choice
Salt and pepper

Add the onion and butter to a large pot, and heat over medium heat. Sauté the onions until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the rice and stock, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes, until the rice is tender. Add the vegetables, and simmer until tender. Purée using an immersion blender, or transfer to a blender or food processor. Add liquid if you would like a thinner soup, or add unsweetened, non-dairy milk for creaminess. Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Top with toasted almond breadcrumbs.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

I don’t like to play favorites, but I think cookies are the best sweet treat. A wide variety of textures, flavors, and styles, mean that cookies can satisfy so many different tastes. They’re also quick to put together, easily assembled from your standard pantry ingredients, and flexible. I’ve been working my way through Alice Medrich’s Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy, Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies recently; see the Peanut Butter Cookies I made a few months ago. Teaching high school students gives me a lot of opportunity to test recipes, and my family is also willing to evaluate any treats that happen to appear in the kitchen. So far, everything has gone over superbly; the Salted Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies are becoming my signature recipe.

The most amazing thing about Medrich’s book is how perfectly every recipe turns out. Medrich is fastidious about her books, each recipe tested extensively, and the specificity of ingredients unparalleled. I’ve never been a huge fan of oatmeal raisin cookies. They seemed kind of pedestrian, nothing spectacular. But, somehow Medrich manages to elevate even the simplest of cookies. Melted butter and sugar creates a caramelized edge, pairing perfectly with cinnamon, chewy oatmeal, and plump raisins. Great texture and great flavor have now made these cookies among my favorites.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup water
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup non dairy butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
3 tablespoons water
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup raisins

In a small bowl, combine the oats and 1/4 cup water. Stir to combine, then set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Whisk together thoroughly.

Blend the flaxseed and 3 tablespoons water until thick and frothy.

Add the butter to a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat until completely melted. Remove from heat, and add the brown sugar, granulated sugar, vanilla and salt. Whisk together thoroughly. Add the flaxseed mixture, and stir to combine. Add the flour mixture, and stir until just combined. Stir in the raisins, walnuts, and oats. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least two hours, preferably overnight.

Heat the oven to 350ºF. Scoop tablespoons of dough onto cookie sheets, and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom, and front to back halfway through. Remove from the oven when the cookies are golden brown on the bottom, and transfer to a cooling rack.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Toasted Almond Breadcrumbs

I’ve mentioned these toasted breadcrumbs in a few recent recipes, like the fresh pea soup and asparagus and lemon risotto. They are so delicious, salty, crunchy, and just a little rich; they are an excellent substitution to parmesan cheese.

I’m a little wary of vegan cheese. It is not quite the right texture, color, or flavor, and while great for a first bite, it doesn’t really hold up for a whole pizza. As such, I have generally avoided non dairy cheddars and parmesans. But, I miss that final complementary touch on top of soups and pastas. Rather than mess about with dissatisfying vegan substitutes, I am always happier cooking outside the box. The sprinkling of parmesan on pasta or soup is salty with a little fat. Obviously, the texture of breadcrumbs is different from cheese, but this topping fulfills a similar function. I’m pretty much putting them on everything, so don’t hold back!

Toasted Almond Breadcrumbs

1/4 cup raw almonds
1 slice whole wheat bread (about 1/2 cup)
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Add the bread, almonds, and garlic to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the ingredients are in small crumbs. Add the breadcrumbs to a small skillet with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Heat over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until the bread crumbs are brown and toasty, about 7 to 10 minutes. Use immediately, or store in a tupperware container, and refrigerate for up to 4 days.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Spring Dinner: Orange Glazed Carrots

So far, this spring dinner has been distinctly verdant, but green is not the only color associated with the season. Looking in my backyard I see alongside all this green, pink, red, yellow, orange, and purple in every shade and variety. It seemed only appropriate that my spring table be equally representative. Orange is a great complement to the green and cream of my other dishes, but food is more than a visual experience. It is truly about taste above all else.

Carrots, tender and bright, are an excellent side dish in any season. In the fall and winter I like to glaze them with maple syrup for a sweet and juicy vegetable. But, spring is about a different palette of flavors. Growing up, my family’s traditional Easter breakfast was homemade biscuits with sliced ham and orange marmalade. The combination of salty ham and biscuits with sweet, bitter orange marmalade was unique and delicious. My vegan food life is less about finding one-to-one substitutions, like a vegan ham, but about identifying similar taste experiences. Carrots glazed with orange marmalade are bright and citrusy, but also savory and filling; the final piece of a light and vibrant dinner. 

Orange Glazed Carrots

4 carrots, sliced into 1/2” sticks
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons orange marmalade

Heat the oven to 375º. Place the carrots in an oven proof dish. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss the carrots to coat. Bake until fork tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Spoon the marmalade over the carrots and stir to coat each carrot. Return to the oven for 5 minutes, until the jam spreads evenly over the carrots. Enjoy immediately!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Spring Dinner: Asparagus and Lemon Risotto

Apologies for my spotty posting lately, dear readers. We’ve been having spectacular weather and I’ve been working more on my tan than on my blog. Warm weather has a tendency to make me feel a bit lazy, more interested in lying in a hammock with a good book than anything else. I am deeply inspired by food though, and the compulsion to share that inspiration is the foundation of this blog.

Fresh pea soup was the first course of my spring-themed Easter dinner. This was followed by asparagus and lemon risotto. Asparagus is a classic spring food; grilled, roasted, or just lightly steamed, this vegetable makes you feel light and fresh. And the bounty of fruit on my lemon tree is a testament to its vernal influence.

Asparagus and Lemon Risotto

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 cup white wine
4 cups vegetable stock
1 bunch asparagus, steamed and sliced into 2” pieces
1 tablespoon lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the rice. Stir to coat in oil, and cook until each grain is translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and stir until almost completely absorbed. Add the vegetable stock in half cup-fuls, keeping the rice from becoming dry. Continue adding liquid, stirring constantly to keep the rice from sticking. Cook until the rice is tender and creamy, about 30 minutes. Add the lemon juice and zest. Taste for salt and pepper. Stir the asparagus into the risotto, and stir immediately.