Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Bonus Recipe! Stir Fried Sweet Potatoes

Alongside the Hot Sauce-Glazed Tempeh, I served some boiled kale and stir-fried sweet potatoes. I thought I'd share the sweet potato recipe with you. It's of my own creation, but is inspired by a recipe in the Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook (which is simultaneously hopelessly out of date and quite strong on technique).

Here's what you need:

1 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large dice
1/2 cup vegetable stock or water
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon minced ginger

1. Parcook the potatoes in boiling water for 10 minutes or so, until soft but not too much so.

2. Meanwhile, mix the stock, soy sauce, and sugar together.

3. Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add salt, then ginger, and stir-fry until the ginger just starts to release its fragrance, 30-45 seconds.

4. Add the sweet potatoes and stir until coated with oil.

5. Add the stock/soy sauce mixture and stir. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and let cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and sweet potatoes are tender.

6. Serve, accept compliments with grace.

Hot Sauce Glazed Tempeh

I have never understood the appeal of tempeh.

Tofu, I get and I like. It can be creamy or chewy, and absorbs damn near any flavor you put near it. Tempeh, on the other hand, reminds me a bit of a Duraflame log. Only made of fermented soybeans and a lot less flammable. For the record, I have cooked with tempeh before, and haven't managed to find the recipe to convert me.

But vegans seem to like tempeh, and the Hot Sauce-Glazed Tempeh (p. 129-130), which meets my pro-spicy sensibilities and was endorsed by the omnivorous Nadine at Culinate, seemed like a decent recipe to get going with.

So here's the method. You cut your package of tempeh into eight wedges, then simmer it in hot water for 10 minutes. This turns out to be an interesting step, because the tempeh expands pretty dramatically. Terry & Isa say that boiling it helps make the tempeh more receptive to receive the marinade.

Sounds kind of sexy.

Anyway, the marinade is made up of hot sauce, wine, olive oil, soy sauce, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, oregano, and cayenne. On that last one, Terry and Isa say, "we know, with hot sauce? Yes." They're right, and let's pause for a minute and consider why. It's easy to think that the only flavor peppers impart is heat, but if you think about it, you'll know that's not right. You can think of bell peppers as super-mild hot peppers, and you know that green bell peppers and red bell peppers taste different. Granted, those are the same species of pepper at different stages of ripeness, but that should get the point across. Once you get beyond the heat, different types of peppers taste, well, different. So -- the dominant flavors of Cholula are hot, vinegar, and salt. For 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne, it's not really adding heat in competition with 1/4 cup of hot sauce, and it's not adding acid or salt, either. It's just giving you a piquancy that the Cholula leeches out of its peppers. If you're using sriracha, your results may vary, but I'm pretty sure Terry & Isa are referring to your standard vinegar-based sauces.

Whatever. Just use the cayenne. Anyway, so you let all this crap marinate for an hour.

It was far too cold to grill, so I chose the pan-frying method You just add a bit of oil to a hot pan, then put the tempeh wedges in, turning it frequently and spooning the marinade over it to keep it from drying out. This method seems to work pretty well.

So finally, I pulled this off and served it alongside some boiled kale and stir-fried sweet potatoes (bonus recipe!).

Pretty, but a little spare. The verdict around the table was, frankly, mixed. Iv thought it was unbearably salty. E. thought it was crazy spicy, but he's a wimp. I liked it. But I also agreed with Iv that the salt was insane, but at the same time, the marinade actually brought out what's good about tempeh for me for the first time. Bittman refers to it as having a "haunting" flavor, and I've never gotten what he's talking about, but having the marinade acting as an extreme contrast brings it out. The marinade doesn't totally penetrate the tempeh, so the exterior is spicy, while the interior has an almost creamy, mild nutty flavor. It's nice.

But we've got to deal with the salt. It's the heat that brings out the contrast, not the salt. So the better way might be to take a look at some of the recipes for homemade Tabasco that you can find online and use one of them as the base for your marinade. A project for another time. For now, I recommend this recipe, with the reservation that you make your own hot sauce, or at least seek out a low-salt alternative.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving post mortem

Thanksgiving is not an even remotely vegan affair for my family.  Which is fine, since I'm not even vegetarian.  Amazingly, though, besides the turkey, the star of our Thanksgiving dinner is the consolation prize I always made back when I was vegetarian, and have continued making ever since.  Matar paneer (homemade cheese cooked with tomatoes and peas) has become a family tradition, to the point that my cousins who weren't able to come this year asked for my recipe (for the record, I use Julie Sahni's, with a few alterations borrowed from Lord Krishna).  Searching the vegan blogosphere, by the way, I find that most people seem to have success subbing tofu for the cheese, or you can try this vegan paneer recipe, whose quality I can't vouch for.

This is all an aside before getting to Friday night, when Iv and I were over at my aunt's house with a number of other relatives, and I noticed that my aunt owns both the Veganomicon and Vegan with a Vengeance.  So my aunt and I spent much of the evening discussing vegan cooking over a plate of my uncle's unbelievably melt-in-your-mouth ribs.

Vegan readers may see my description of this as smirking irony at best and outright offensive at worst, but I'd call this progress.  The fact of the matter is that I do not agree with the idea that eating animals, much less drinking milk or eating honey, is immoral (though this article should give us all pause).  But what my aunt and I do agree on is that eating less of these things -- whether for health, solving world hunger, environmental or humane reasons, or just for fun and variety -- is a good and necessary thing.

So, I think vegans and vegetarians alike should be encouraged that even though not many of us omnivores are considering giving up animal products, some of us are taking your arguments and your cooking seriously.  And whether those conversations are taking place over a conversation of ribs or ribz, I think that's a good thing.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Spaghetti & Beanball Update

I returned to the spaghetti and beanballs this evening, this time using pinto beans instead of chickpeas. I ran into some problems, though. The recipe said you want to start with about 3 cups of beans, which prompted me to use two 15-oz cans because the can said each can yields 3.5 1/2 cup servings. So I stuck with the rest of the recipe, with two minor exceptions. I added a little bit of minced onion (a follow-up on my idea from last time), and again, we still don't have any steak sauce, so I used ketchup in place of that.

But here's the problem. I think 3 cups is the wrong starting number, because the beanballs completely fell apart on me. The problem? 1/4 cup of wheat gluten is too little to seitanize three cups of beans.

The good news is that the beanballs taste much better with pinto beans than chickpeas. And I also chopped up some of the roasted bell peppers we had in the freezer and threw them in the sauce, which gave a nice, smoky flavor.

Mixed results, all in all. But I think I should have either halved the beans or doubled the wheat gluten.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pumpkin Baked Ziti with Caramelized Onions and Sage Crumb Topping

Straight up now tell me
Will you cashew me forever?
Oh oh oh
Or is this tofu gonna run?
Straight up now tell me
Can garlic and basil together
Oh oh oh
Make a ricotta approximation?

I regret to inform you that the Amish CSA is taking a few months off as a theme for the blog, as we recently received our last shipment of vegetables. In it were a couple of acorn squash.

I am generally unfamiliar with the squash genre of vegetables. I grew up detesting zuchinni and yellow squash -- texture violation issues, generally -- I still prefer them a bit firm. But finally I came around, and have been cooking with summer squashes regularly. I'm still generally a bit unsteady with winter squash.

But here we had these acorn squash, sitting nice and pretty on the counter, and we had to do something with them. Enter the Pumpkin Baked Ziti with Caramelized Onions and Sage Crumb Topping (p. 194). I decided to substitute the acorn squash for the pumpkin.

But before we get to that, let's talk about one of the components of this dish: the Cashew Ricotta (p. 206). First, if you try this dish, you will be making it a lot. Which means you may need a supply of cashews. And for all y'all budget-conscious vegans who shop at Ye Olde Natural Foods Warehouse, the prospect of buying cashews may fill you with dread. But fear not! Your local Indian grocer is your friend! I bought 3 pounds of cashews at International Bazaar on Lafayette Road for $12! Remember, you're not looking for whole cashews because you're just buying them to grind up to make awesome fake ricotta anyway, so don't pay more than you have to...bits and pieces are fine.

This facsimile of ricotta cheese is made of cashews, tofu, garlic, basil, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. You just throw it all in a blender, and voila! ricotta-like goo. And I have to tell you, this is the first recipe that Iv and I have licked off the spatula. This is some mighty fine stuff.

So onto the rest. I made Iv peel the acorn squash for me because it was a major pain and he's good at that kind of stuff. Though not without swearing. The skin on this sucker is tough. Anyway, he ultimately triumphed, and I finally cut them in half.

And then cut them into little cubes, tossed them with a bit of olive oil, and roasted them at 400 for 20 minutes until they caramelized a bit. They should look like this when they're done.
So once this is done, you mash the roasted squash with a potato masher, then mix it with the cashew ricotta and the onions you've been caramelizing over low-medium heat while all the rest of this excitement has been going on. Then you mix it all up with some cooked ziti, and lay it out in a greased casserole dish.

Then, you create the bread crumb topping. Now, I have to tell you, this recipe calls for margarine. But I am here to say that you don't have to use it. Here's what I did. For breadcrumbs, I bought 3 multi-grain rolls at Kroger, tore them into bits, and ran them through the food processor. I did the same thing with the walnuts.
Then I just mixed the bread crumbs and walnuts with the herbs and fried them in the equivalent amount of olive oil and let them cook until the breadcrumbs were nice and crispy.

Seriously, folks, you don't need margarine for this.
Finally, you just layer the breadcrumbs over the rest of the casserole, then stick it in the oven, and wait for the goodness to emerge.

And oh man, is this good. It's garlicky, salty, and sweet from the squash, with a nice sagey crunch from the breadcrumbs. If you didn't know this was vegan, you wouldn't know this was vegan -- though you might wonder a little bit about why it doesn't hold together as well as baked ziti usually does. But whatever. It's moist and delicious and so on. Make this. It's very good. And it's awesome the next day, too. Iv took some for lunch, where he was brown-bagging with one of his coworkers, and was moved to pity him for his wretched peanut butter sandwich. Yes, this recipe has the power to move you to condescend to your less fortunate friends. All bow to the Pumpkin Baked Ziti!

Technique Check - Roasting Bell Peppers

Between our garden and our CSA, Iv and I found ourselves overrun by more peppers than we could possibly use before they went bad. I opted to store them by roasting them, then wrapping them up in freezer bags and storing them like high-falutin' acorns.

This seemed like an apt opportunity to check the Veganomicon's method for roasting bell peppers (p. 33). It's easy enough. Preheat the oven. While you're doing that, cut the peppers in half, and seed them. Then put them on a baking sheet, coat lightly with oil, and pop them in the oven.

Terry and Isa suggest leaving them in the oven for 20-25 minutes, but at least in our electric oven, that wasn't quite long enough to get the nice charred skin. Still, they wound up soft and flavorful, and we now have a colorful collection of peppers in the freezer to see us through winter.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Spicy Peanut and Eggplant Soup

As fall sets in in newly blue Indiana, soup starts looking better and better. During one of his recent farmers market forays, Iv brought back a late-season eggplant for me, which I turned into the Spicy Peanut and Eggplant soup (p. 147).

You start out by sauteeing some sliced shallots in peanut oil, an idea I was immediately on board with since crispy shallots are a frequent addition to stews in southeast Asian cooking. Once the shallots are brown, but not yet crispy, you remove them and add some cubed eggplant.

I have to take issue with the way Terry and Isa suggest dealing with the eggplant:
  • Peeling eggplant is pointless. Don't bother.
  • Brining eggplant is not completely pointless, but I've never found it to be worth the effort. The idea is to reduce some of the eggplant's bitterness, but I've always found that if you're cooking the eggplant long enough and/or putting it in a highly flavored dish like this one, the bitterness cooks away. Don't bother.
  • The one advantage brining the eggplant brings is that much of the water will already be leached out, so the cooking time on the stove will be a bit shorter, which means you can actually get away with the 1 tablespoon of oil Terry & Isa suggest. You'll want at least two tablespoons when you're starting with raw eggplant cubes.
Anyway, you cook the eggplant. It will look like this when you're ready to pull it off the heat.

Finally, you add a bit more oil to the pot, and add your onions, ginger, hot pepper, and spices. But let's stop here for a minute, because you don't want to follow the book's directions, here, either - and this spot's a bigger deal than the eggplant brining issue. See, Terry & Isa suggest starting out frying the ginger and chile for 30 seconds, then adding, the dry spices and cooking for another 30 seconds, then adding the onion and cooking until soft. If you do it this way, you will curse them, because you're dealing with a relatively high quantity of spices (~1 1/2 tablespoons, all told), a relatively small amount of oil, and relatively low water content in the ginger, pepper, and onion. So what you'll end up with doing it this way is a dry mixture that sticks to your pot while you're trying to cook. Even if you end up not burning the spices, cooking them this way adds significantly to their intensity, and you run a pretty strong risk of an excessively bitter dish, which may not be the result you intend.

Do it this way instead (this is my preferred technique, learned from Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking):
  • Fry the onions till soft
  • Add the ginger and chile pepper, cook for an additional minute
  • Add the dry spices, cook for an additional 30-secs to one minute -- you just want them to get very fragrant
Then, and you need to be speedy here, add the diced tomatoes. Terry and Isa tell you not to drain them, but do it...just reserve the juice. You'll cook the onions, spices, etc. with the tomatoes till they get a bit saucy. Then, you can add the juice, the vegetable stock, tomato paste, green beans, eggplant, etc.

And now we're back on track with the recipe. Whew!

After all this mix has boiled for a few minutes, you take out a bit of the broth and emulsify it with 1/2 cup of peanut better, then add it back to the pot and stir it in. This step may look a little unintentionally evocative.

You cover this and let it cook for 30-45 minutes, then serve in bowls with cilantro, lemon juice, and roasted peanuts.

This is good, rich stuff, ideal for a cool night. Nicely spicy, but not too much so. The eggplant retains its form, but virtually melts in your mouth. The peanut butter adds a nice, deep creamy texture, but the quantity is small enough relative to the other ingredients that the peanut flavor is actually pretty subtle. It was even better for lunch the next day.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Spaghetti and Beanballs - Bittman/Veganomicon Mashup

Looking for something quick I could make for lunch today in advance of an Obama volunteer training session, I settled on the Spaghetti and Beanballs recipe (p. 189).

Last night Iv asked me if I was going to ever cook a recipe from this cookbook as written -- do I really want to get attacked for not following the recipes exactly like that woman in Portland? Today I decided the answer was that I don't care about following recipes precisely, and I'm trusting my readers (whom I know to be few) not to flame me for trying to make good food. Because really, the Veganomicon is a great resource for fun and interesting ideas, and occasionally has some interesting techniques, but there are times that I just don't have an ingredient and can't be bothered, or that I just know that my way is better - and in those cases I'll tell you exactly what I did, and you can try it by the book, then try it my way, and tell me who's right.

In any case, both the lack of appropriate ingredients and ad hoc adjustment issues came into play with this recipe. The beanballs are supposed to be made with canned kidney beans. We have some dried ones, but I was under a tight enough deadline that I didn't have time to pressure-cook them, so instead I just thawed some chickpeas I had in the freezer.

You start by mashing the beans till they're mostly smooth, but still retain a bit of texture. Then dump in some garlic, soy sauce, olive oil, bread crumbs, wheat gluten, oregano, thyme, lemon zest. You're also supposed to add steak sauce or tomato paste. We didn't have either in the fridge, so I used ketchup.

After mixing all this up, you form them into balls. I ended up with 13.

This is where I started straying from the method. What the Veganomicon calls for is making a batch of their marinara sauce recipe, cooking the beanballs, then coating them with a half-cup of the sauce, and cooking for a while more, then just topping spaghetti with the marinara and beanballs.

While this method is adequate, I thought I'd try the method from How to Cook Everything (page 152), which works fantastically for real meatballs. The basics of this method are to brown the meatballs, remove them, then make a quick tomato and onion sauce, then drop the meatballs back in and cook for another 15 minutes. I thought there was little reason wouldn't work equally well for beanballs. One of the specific advantages I thought this would have is that braising the beanballs in the sauce would help the wheat gluten to seitanize a little bit, giving the beanballs a meatier texture.

So I browned the beanballs in the oil left over from the broccoli and millet croquettes for about 15 minutes. The texture while I was doing this was alarmingly mushy. I was a bit concerned that the beanballs wouldn't hold together, but I pressed on. The beanballs absorb the oil really well...this wasn't shaping up to be a low-fat dish.

Then I removed the beanballs and kept them on a plate in the warming drawer in the oven. Enter Bittman. I dropped in one medium chopped onion, and fried it for a few minutes until it was just turning brown. At the same time, I took a 28-oz can of whole tomatoes (undrained), and tore the tomatoes apart with my hands. Once the onions were slighty browned, I poured in the tomatoes with their juice, and simmered it for about five minutes, until the tomatoes were just starting to break down.

At that point, I added back the beanballs,and let them cook for 15 minutes, along with some salt and pepper, stirring just occasionally to make sure nothing was sticking. Meanwhile, I cooked the spaghetti. Once the spaghetti was drained, I removed the beanballs, and tossed the spaghetti and sauce together. I divided the spaghetti up among three plates, placing some beanballs atop each.

The verdict was positive. The sauce was great, and the beanballs were very flavorful. Fortunately my intuition about the effect of simmering the beanballs in the sauce was correct, and they did have better structural integrity than it appeared, though they were still smoother and mushier than I'd prefer...a bit like hummus balls, which would be an argument for definitely sticking with kidney beans next time. Some other traditional meatball ingredients, like parsley and finely chopped onions, might also help with this issue. I also suspect a temperature factor might have bean at play. Since I thawed the frozen chickpeas on the stovetop, the mixture was pretty warm when I started frying them, and starting with cool ingredients, or refrigerating the mixture before cooking, might also help.

All in all, the dish was a winner, though. Nice, hearty, and satisfying - not usually the sort of description associated with vegan cooking.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Broccoli-Millet Croquettes, modified

Iv and I are members of an Amish CSA, which has been great this summer, as we've gotten some incredible produce. But to be honest, we've had a problem from time to time because we get vegetables in unpredictable quantities, and sadly, some food has gone bad before we've had time to get to it. In an effort to stem the problem, I looked in the bag Iv brought home this week, and spied a nice head of broccoli, which naturally led to the question of what to do with it.

Since I just made the butternut squash spring rolls a couple weeks ago, the Broccoli-Millet Croquettes, which appear on the same page (51), came to mind.

So Wednesday I resolved to make these. The only ingredient for this dish I didn't already have in the house was millet, plus canned navy beans for the accompanying sauce. At the store, I discovered, however, that my Kroger, despite having a fairly sizable natural foods section, does not carry millet. I was left to improvise -- abandon ship, or come up with a millet substitute? (The possibility of driving 16 miles round-trip to the nearest Whole Foods for millet crossed my mind, but the incremental expansion of my carbon footprint seemed antithetical to the project.)

I recalled a mention in the recipe suggesting that the millet should cook to a risotto-like consistency, so I picked up some arborio rice. Upon coming home, I re-read the recipe and saw the consistency should in fact be polenta-like, but I'd come this far, so there was no stopping me now.

So you start by chopping your broccoli into pea-sized pieces.

Then you fry some garlic and herbs, drop in the dry arborio rice, and fry it for a few minutes until it achieves a measure of translucency, then dump in some vegetable stock and cook the rice for a 10 minutes.

Add in the broccoli, stir it up, and cook it for a while more. During this process, I found that the amount of water the Veganomicon suggests for millet is too little for arborio, so I added water periodically throughout the cooking process.

In any case, the end product of the rice and broccoli cooking together, ended up as a nice mix, with the rice fully cooked and sticky, and the broccoli retaining just a slight bit of crunch.

From here, you let the mixture cool for a while, and then put it in the fridge for 45 minutes or so.

While this cooled off, I started on one of the sauces Terri and Isa suggest for it, the white bean aioli. It's just canned navy beans, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and a few cloves of garlic sauteed in a hefty amount of olive oil. Put it all in a blender, and puree until smooth. I doubled the amount of lemon juice called for, because I like a bit of extra acidity.

Once the rice and broccoli mixture had cooled, I formed them into little patties, ready to be fried. The mixture was still a bit warm, but the end result was ok, so don't freak out if this happens to you. The method the Veganomicon suggests -- forming into a golf ball shape and mashing down a bit, works nicely.

So then, I just poured a thin layer of olive oil into my favorite cast iron pan, and fried these babies away. Probably 4-5 minutes on each side over medium heat.

Terry and Isa said to serve these things immediately, so I took them at their word. Here they are, piping hot, in the company of the finished aioli.

This, it turns out, is the first recipe where Terry and Isa really sell themselves short. They say, "They are delicately flavored, so definitely include a sauce when you serve." Which I took to mean...they're pretty but about as interesting as a Miss America contestant. But this turns out not to be true. The combination of garlic, tarragon, and red pepper gives these a really nice flavor on their own, and the texture is decidedly akin to a crab cake. The thing I can't tell you is whether this is dumb luck due to using arborio rice instead of millet, but I really liked these a lot. The crust turned out nice, slightly chewy, with a pleasantly caramelized flavor in the darkest spots. The white bean aioli also turned out to be a nice complement, with the flavor of the garlic intensified after spending 30 minutes in the fridge.

The other nice thing was that while Terry and Isa say you have to serve these immediately, they actually work really nicely the next day for lunch. They were little worse the wear for coming out of the microwave at the office the next day.

No question, these are great, at least using my variation. I'll let you know when I actually try them again using millet. But my variation using supermarket ingredients worked very nicely.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Revenge of the Frozen Chicken (aka Quesadilla, hold the Queso)

Iv was going to cook dinner tonight--he picked up a chicken and was going to roast it, but when I got home the chicken was sitting in the bathtub and was still largely frozen. But he'd already peeled sweet potatoes to accompany it. What to do?

Veganomicon to the rescue! Tonight we're doing the first recipe for blog purposes that I've made before, and it's a good one. Bring on the Sweet Potato and Black Bean Quesadillas.

This is a variation on the Grilled Yuca tortillas on page 49. The recipe as written is for a quesadilla-style tortilla filled with mashed yuca, lime, and bell pepper. This mixture is supposed to be the base for the variations, but instead of adding sweet potato and black beans to the yuca mix, I've always just omitted the yuca and increased the sweet potatoes, which works well.

The way this works, then, under my modifications. You saute some garlic, bell pepper and jalapeno, then add it to some boiled sweet potatoes and mash it all together with some lime juice, salt and pepper. The recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of lime juice, but I suspect it's supposed to be 2 tablespoons. Just keep adding lime juice till you've got the acidity you like...you'll do fine.

Add the black beans, then spread the mixture on half a tortilla.

Grill it in a cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat until both sides are nice and crisp, cut in half, and eat.

While this lacks the structural integrity of a real quesadilla, where the meltiness of the cheese holds things together, these are really, really good. Iv says if these were served at a restaurant -- any restaurant -- he would go just for this. But he doesn't have to go to a restaurant, because he has me and my crazy project! I can just make these and then we'll plop down on the sofa and watch Dexter!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Butternut Squash & Pumpkin Seed Rice Paper Rolls

Nothing says Fall like butternut squash, pumpkin...and cilantro, right? Iv, who apparently has been won over to the granola-crunchy side of things, rode his bike to the farmer's market Saturday morning while I slept and tried to improve our net worth on mint.com, and came back with greens, eggplant, regular radish, watermelon radish, and butternut squash.

Tonight I decided to tackle the butternut squash, which is an ingredient I've eaten before, but never actually used. Terry & Isa have a recipe on page 50 for what is basically a traditional Vietnamese spring roll except with roasted squash subbing for the shrimp.

The squash goes in the oven for about 25 minutes, getting tossed a couple of times. Meanwhile, you cook rice vermicelli, then run it under cold water for a minute or two two bring it down to spring roll wrapping temperature. Chop up some pumpkin seeds and cilantro and you're all set.

Spring roll wrappers actually come in brittle dry sheets. This is Golden Boy brand. You have to soak them for a minute in hot tap water to get them pliable.

Place some rice noodles in the lower third of the wrapper once it's laid out, add butternut squash, cilantro, and some pumpkin seeds, and roll it up. The recipe says you're supposed to get 12 of these, but I got eight.

The rice paper is kind of tough to control. If it starts sticking to itself, just put it back in warm water; it will start to loosen up.

Once the filling is in, just roll it up.

The finished product, together with a super-easy dipping sauce of rice vinegar, soy sauce, chili oil, sesame oil, and sugar.

Iv was still under the weather tonight, so I served this alongside a chickpea stew with carrots, tahini, and lemon juice (basically hummus in soup form). It's vegan, too, but it's a recipe more or less of my own making, so it doesn't qualify for the blog. When I called him from work, he said what he really wanted for dinner was a bacon bleu cheese burger (which he'd really rather you righteous vegans didn't know about), but he sacrificed for the sake of the blogosphere.

The spring rolls were a triumph of deliciousness. There's nothing wrong with them. We should all eat them constantly. If there's a criticism, maybe they could use a little more texture, but they're just generally wonderful, so you should serve them to all your friends. Make them today!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Black Beans with Chipotle Adobo Sauce

The weather in Indiana has been getting cool, meaning that today was looking like a good day for soup. This afternoon, Iv and I stopped at Saraga International Grocery, where they were offering a mountain of dry black beans for $0.59/lb, so we filled up a bag, and I settled on the Black Beans with Chipotle Adobo Sauce (page 122) for a late lunch.

I started out pressure-cooking the beans, then set them on the stove over a simmer with onion and bay leaf for a while. Turns out, this is a pretty aromatic dish while it's cooking, so the smell was wafting out of the kitchen before long.

As the beans cooked, I started the sauce, which involves a pretty simple combination of ingredients -- just onion, garlic, and canned chipotles. Saute, puree, and done. The recipe says to mince the chipotles, but since the sauce gets whirled through the blender anyway, I just cut them into a few pieces. The San Marcos brand of chipotles leaves a bit to be desired on the spelling front.

The dish took longer than I expected, mainly due to having to wait for the pressure cooker to depressurize before I could get to the cooked beans, so by the time I was assembling this, we were getting out of late lunch territory and into early-bird special.

Terry and Isa suggest that you serve the beans over rice, with sauce drizzled over them. I tried this, but the sauce is more of a thick puree rather than anything particularly drizzleable, so I sort of mounded it on the beans and tried to fancify it with a lime slice.

The end result? This was really good. The sauce has an almost creamy texture, which binds the rice and beans together nicely. It's pretty spicy, though, so beware. Iv has a cold, and it cleared up his sinuses right away, but then he headed for the kitchen and came back with a box of crackers to try to ease the fire on his tongue. I was feeling a little scorched as well, but I think I've got a slightly higher heat tolerance. In any case, be warned, and if you're timid on spices, just go easy on mixing the sauce into the beans. Still, for both of us, it turned out to be compulsively eatable, despite the sweat forming on our brows.

The recipe says you can skip the sauce if you want to and just serve the beans as they are. This is incorrect, unless you are a flavor-hater -- despite smelling good, the beans on their own are pretty bland. If you're looking for a simple, non-spicy, black bean recipe, use Bittman's black beans with cumin instead.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Caramelized Onion Marinara with Almesan

So I was tired tonight and I wasn't even planning to cook for the purposes of this project, but Iv suggested spaghetti, which sounded like a good idea. Then I started thinking that it always seems that vegetarian and vegan cookbooks are so often focused on being all righteous and tofu-ey that they forget that a lot of regular foods are vegan. So before getting started, I checked to see if the Veganomicon had a regular-people pasta sauce recipe.

And indeed it does, with variations. So I went for the Caramelized Onion Marinara, which is cooked precisely how you think it is--caramelize the onions, add garlic, tomatoes, and herbs, cook down, and done. Classic, no soy products involved.

What was more interesting was what the Veganomicon calls Almesan, a concoction that is supposed to serve the same function as Parmesan cheese. It's essentially ground almonds, toasted sesame seeds, lemon zest, and salt. We were out of lemons, so I used dried lemon peel, which might not have been the right choice.

A tiny cast iron pan is essential for toasting sesame seeds. Also good for toasting cumin.

Whirl all this stuff around in a blender (being mindful not to do too much whirling, or you might end up with almond butter), and this is what you get.

I tried talking Iv into agreeing that it smelled like Parmesan. No dice. It smells like toasted sesame. Which was fine.

So here's dinner, on display on the coffee table before we watch the Project Runway we recorded while we were both out of town.

Here's the deal. The spaghetti and sauce were fine. And I should be clear, it was far better than spaghetti sauce from the store -- Iv and I haven't used store-bought spaghetti sauce since we moved in together. So I will say this: if you are buying sauce at the store, stop it right now and make your own. It's so much better, and it's super-easy. You can make it while your pasta is boiling.

And actually, the Almesan was pretty good, too. It imparts a distinct sesame flavor, though, and I think should try making it again sometime with fresh lemon peel. But this has me thinking about, of all things, Lynn Rosetto Kasper. She kind of drives me crazy, because everything's so "fabulous" and all, but every now and again, she talks about the concept of umami, or the quality of "savoriness". And the ingredients she consistently mentions as having this quality are red meat, red wine, parmesan cheese, soy sauce, and fish sauce. Exactly two of which are vegan. Anyway, the thing that's not satisfying about the Almesan is that it really lacks the depth of flavor that Parmesan has.

So I'm on a mission now, which is not really to develop the perfect fake Parmesan, but to work on ways to really get depth of flavor into vegan cooking without using soy sauce for everything. The difficulty that the vegan ethic imposes is that omnivorous cooking can always rely on beef or chicken stock as a shortcut to complexity and deliciousness, but vegan cooking doesn't provide that option (at least not in Western culinary traditions). The vegetable stocks I've made before are not a satisfactory solution.

Together we will find a way to deal with this problem. Veganism is a human ethic, not one that denies the Yum. Let's figure it out!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Hash! (Pie?)

Of all things, it was browsing through the 1971 edition of the Joy of Cooking that I rediscovered the concept of hash. That version, called Red Flannel Hash, is essentially a repurposing of New England Boiled Dinner, which is corned beef, various root vegetables, and cabbage. So you chop up the leftovers, maybe add an egg or some milk to bind it together, then put it in a hot pan, fry it till it's nice and crusty, and you've got hash.

Over the last couple months, I have been redeploying hash in lots of unlikely ways. Iv threw a surprise NC-style BBQ birthday party for me a couple months ago, and I used the leftover pork, potatoes, collards, and whatever else to make a most excellent hash. Another time, I used leftovers from some kind of crazy Indian dinner that somehow involved beets, stewed eggplant, and something else I can't remember, mashed them all together, and made some delicious crap that tasted like something the Bollywood Waffle House would serve up.

So tonight, it was vegan hash. Kind of. I had the leftover Greek potatoes from the other night, Iv's spaghetti with homemade sauce (mirepoix, represent!), some leftover vegan cutlets, and some tomato paste to use as a binder. I mashed up the potatoes, diced the cutlets, and loosely chopped the spaghetti. I heated some olive oil in my trusty twelve-inch cast iron skillet, and dropped the mixture in.

Whereupon it immediately became clear that this wasn't going to be a hash. See, for a hash to work, there has to be little enough that you can flip it with a spatula, and after getting this stuff in the pan, I found that the mass of stuff was so big, that just wasn't going to happen. So I just spread it out so it was more like a pie, kept it on low heat on the stove so it would develop a bit of a crust, then put it in the oven on 325 for 15 minutes.

Once I pulled it out, I sliced it up like a pie, but it didn't hold together well. So, not very photogenic, which means you get no pictures. But, seriously people, this was delicious. Turned out that it was better than the potatoes, the spaghetti, or the chickpea cutlets. Vegan comfort food, people. Learn to use your leftovers.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Public Service Announcement re Miso and Sesame Sauce

I want to keep expectations low here, so I won't be posting every day. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to make a public service announcement. See, I made a double-batch of those chickpea cutlets last night, thinking they'd be good in a pita sandwich with some lettuce and some of the tahini-miso sauce on page 93. This seemed like an intuitive combo to me, since I love tahini, and I always put a few drops of soy sauce in my hummus, and miso's just another salty soy product, so what could go wrong?

Nothing did, really, but I've never actually used miso before, just had it in soup with sushi. Anyway, the whole sauce comes together in an instant in a mass of ecru goodness. And cut with lemon juice, it tasted pretty good, just licking a little of it off the spoon.

But let me tell you, a little of this goes a long way. This is good stuff, no question, but this is like a double-concentrate dressing, and if you put a couple tablespoons of this in your pita like I did, you better really be into the whole miso-tahini subculture.
All things in moderation, my friends. After getting halfway through my sandwich at work today, I texted poor Iv--because I made him one of these miso overload sandwiches, too. He was kind enough just to text back and say one of our friends just had a baby. So the miracle of life made all this better.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Chickpea Cutlets with Mustard Sauce, Lemony Roasted Potatoes

Trying to get started with a spirit of discovery, I chose not to lead with a recipe I've made before and whose goodness I already knew. So, obscure meat substitute it was!

Terry and Isa sell the chickpea cutlets as vegan food you can eat with a steak knife. The base recipe calls for them to be pan-fried, but they can also be baked.

So you start with some cooked chickpeas. Canned would be fine, but I cooked dry ones in a pressure cooker. Then you mash them with olive oil, and add in bread crumbs, soy sauce, vegetable stock, thyme, and sage. Wheat gluten (found with all the gluten-free flours at your local supermarket) provides a meaty texture.

Knead it for a while.

Then you just divide it into pieces, flatten it out, and pan-fry. It has a not-unpleasant herbal smell to it before you start cooking, but my boyfriend -- let's call him Iv (which I don't, but a lot of other people do) -- said it smelled like dirt.

And that's it. This part was easy enough. Terry and Isa say this takes about 30 minutes. It took me a little longer, but not by much.

So then I got started on the mustard sauce. Once the cutlets were fried, I just figured I'd deglaze the pan to make the sauce (though I can confirm that there's not much advantage to be gained from that when making chickpea cutlets, other than just keeping one less dish to clean). I sauteed garlic with thyme, then added cooking sherry, soy sauce, vegetable stock, cornstarch, mustard, thyme, and capers.

Concurrently, I had the Lemony Roasted Potatoes going in the oven. This was a couple pounds of russet potato wedges, olive oil, lemon juice, tomato paste, salt, pepper, and vegetable stock.

Plated up and ready to go. I'm showing this to you on the table, but we actually ate this in front of the TV watching Survivor (they've probably got one of the best-looking casts in a few seasons, but the contestants seem a little more idiotic than usual).

The dinner review, then. The potatoes were good, though the suggested russet potatoes may not actually be the best for this dish; they seemed a bit dry, and Yukon gold may prove to the be the better bet. Iv said that the chickpea cutlets probably wouldn't fly with Joe Sixpack, though he liked them. I thought the sage gave them a faintly poultry-like flavor. As for the claim that it was vegan food that needed a steak knife? Well, if you're the kind of vegan who's really looking for an excuse to use a steak knife, then by all means, feel free. The mustard sauce was nice, but between the cooking sherry, soy sauce, and capers, was pretty damn salty, and would have been even saltier if I'd used commercial vegetable stock instead of homemade stuff from our freezer. So if you make this, which I recommend, you'll probably want to use regular sherry or white wine instead of cooking sherry, at the very least.

All in all, a successful meal, but maybe not the one you want to sneak onto your carnivorous friends. We ended with clean plates, though.