Monday, January 19, 2009

Manzana Chili Verde

I don't speak Spanish. So my first exposure to the word manzana was on a trip to Mexico some years back when I discovered the delightful Manzana Lift, a carbonated apple soda manufactured by Coca-Cola. I drank it constantly while I was there, and on returning to the States, promptly started e-mailing Coca-Cola to see why it wasn't available here. I actually got a message back, stating that there wasn't sufficient demand to justify its distribution here, which just seems silly to me. After all, you have however many million people of Mexican descent in this country, yet only 50-odd thousand in Greenland. Greenland gets Coca-Cola, but we don't get Manzana Lift...what gives?

I digress. My point was that due to my positive association with Manzana Lift, I have always been drawn to the word manzana, so the Manzana Chili Verde recipe (p. 171) immediately caught my eye.

It's essentially a white bean and potato chili with tomatillos, poblano peppers, and apples. It's quick and easy to prepare, and has become one of my favorite recipes from the Veganomicon; I've made it a number of times.

So the method is this -- you cut up some potatoes and set them boiling in a pot of water to tenderize. While this is going on, you saute some onions, jalapenos, and your cut up poblanos together. T&I tell you that you can use green bell peppers in place of poblanos if you have to, and it might work, but I'd really work to get the poblanos instead. They're a mild pepper that lacks the bitterness green bell peppers would have.

So once all that is soft, you add some garlic and herbs, then shortly thereafter, some white wine and tomatillos. The recipe calls for fresh tomatillos, and it is better this way, but I've used canned tomatillos, too, with excellent results, so if you can't find fresh, you'll still be fine.

Then you add two sliced granny smith apples, which add a nice layer of sweet-tartness, scallions, and vegetable stock, along with plenty of cilantro, and let it simmer for a while. Then take out your immersion blender and puree it till it's just a little chunky.

Then toss in the potatoes and a can of white beans and heat for a couple more minutes till everything is nice and hot. Then just add some more cilantro and lime juice, and serve it with sliced avocado.

Don't skip the avocado! This stew is plenty good without it, but avocado adds a nice creamy texture that just makes this super-awesome. Obviously don't bother if you can't get ripe avocados, but if you can...oh man. No one will care that this is vegan. They won't even notice.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Technique Check - Roasting Garlic

I roasted three garlic heads today in preparation for the Spinach Marinara Lasagna, which will be the subject of an upcoming post (but which I'll tell you know involves THREE POUNDS OF TOFU, just to whet your appetite). Anyway, T&I suggest the roasted garlic variation for the marinara sauce, so I figured this was as good a chance as any to check their garlic-roasting technique.

If you haven't ever had roasted garlic, you should. Roasting it softens the cloves, and mellows the flavor out to a nice, soft sweetness. I had actually never roasted garlic before, but I did crosscheck the Veganomicon against Bittman just to see how much of a difference there was. I can report that the principle is the same, but that the Veganomicon's method is simpler.

Bittman is a little clearer, though. You start off by slicing the top off a head of garlic. And I'll bet I'm not the only one who actually wasn't completely certain which end was the top. Bittman tells you it's the pointy end...T&I assume you know this.

Then you pour just a little olive oil over the garlic head, and wrap it in aluminum foil.

You roast it by putting the little foil packets in the oven at 375 for 25-30 minutes. Just put them straight on the grates -- they'll be fine. The garlic gets super-fragrant before it's done, filling the kitchen with garlicky goodness.

Pull it out of the oven, and let it cool down till you can handle it. The cloves pop out of their skins easily, and they're soft and ready to spread on bread (like buttah! or margarine, whatever), throw into some hummus, or mix into a marinara sauce that has a hot date with THREE POUNDS OF TOFU. Did I mention the nutritional yeast in the lasagna? Mmmm.

Snacktime Special: Hummus and Mediterranean Style Cashew-Cucumber Dip

Happy New Year everyone! Things kind of got away from me in December, so even though I actually have been continuing the project, I haven't been super-diligent about updating. But let's just say that I have a little inspiration to be a bit more serious here, because the financial crisis basically ruined any semblance of a fitness routine, and I've put on a little weight. Ok, enough weight that my pants only barely fit. And while I'm aware that some of the recipes in this book are a wee bit heavy on the olive oil (or, egads! margarine) and hence may not be quite the thing for weight loss, I suspect diligent and careful incorporation of vegan cooking (along with a return to the gym, recently begun), can help my clothes feel comfortable again.

But before we get all low-fat up in here, let's have a snack. Maybe two.

First, does anybody not already know how to make hummus? I guess you need a recipe if you're writing the ultimate vegan cookbook, and Terry and Isa tacitly acknowledge this by titling theirs "A Hummus Recipe". There's nothing particularly unusual about it -- chickpeas, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, etc. Throw it all in a blender, and you've got hummus.

A couple additions I made -- a dash of cayenne to give it just a little bite, and a drop or two of soy sauce, which is completely inauthentic but contributes a nice smoky flavor. Also, it makes a lot of sense to cook the chickpeas yourself (which T&I suggest). I hadn't used canned chickpeas for a while, and this hummus, while good enough, had a decidedly metallic tang.

Onward to the next recipe -- Mediterranean Style Cashew-Cucumber Dip (page 66). This purports to be similar to tzatziki sauce, and there's a reminiscence, I guess. In any case, my notes on buying cashews still apply.

You start by peeling and seeding a couple cucumbers, then grating them. Squeeze as much water as you can out of them. Combine half the cucumber with some cashews, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, salt, and white pepper in a blender, and puree it till smooth (this may require the addition of a bit more lemon juice or olive oil). Scoop it out, and add the other half of the cucumber and some dill.

Then you're ready for a presentation like this.

There's nothing revelatory about these recipes, but they're satisfying, and they make enough that I took them to work with some pita bread for lunch a couple days. The hummus is a no-brainer, obviously, but the cashew-based recipe is a clever concoction. It doesn't taste even a little like yogurt, really, but it's creamy and satisfying on its own.