Thursday, January 21, 2010

Spanish-Style Quinoa Stuffed Peppers, with Refried Black Beans

If you're anything like me, the thought of a giant ceramic plate at your local family-owned Mexican restaurant heaped with Spanish rice and refried beans makes you go into a drooling coma of tasty daydreaming.  But, if you're like me, actually eating said giant plate of food usually puts you into a much less pleasant food-induced coma, the kind where you're holding your tummy and groaning, "Why did I eat that 4th serving?  Why???"  Plus, almost all refried beans you can order in a restaurant are not vegan.  Sad face.

So this is a revamping of the classic delicious combo, using healthy quinoa instead of rice, and sneaking some actual vegetables in there, too.  If you haven't yet discovered the wonders of quinoa, go eat some.  Right now.  It's gluten-free, high fiber, high iron, super high protein, and a complete protein (meaning it has a balanced set of all essential amino acids).  It's the food that you point to when arguing with folks who say vegans can't eat enough/the right kind of protein.  Plus, it's tasty as hell, fluffy and soft and just mmmm.  It takes almost no time to cook, especially if you get the pre-soaked kind that you don't have to rinse.  Quinoa comes in a couple different varieties, and I used the Inca Red kind from Ancient Harvest for this because the color is so pretty against the yellow peppers I got in my produce box.

This is another of those "make a bunch of individual things, then stick it all together at the very end" recipes.  I made the Spanish-style quinoa, then the enchilada sauce, then the refried beans, and then finally stuffed it all in a couple yellow bell peppers and roasted the whole thing, topping with fresh avocado slices.

You'll notice that all these recipes call for chili powder.  If you have or can find ancho chili powder, it will give everything a little extra oomph, so you should use it if you can.  But I didn't have any, so I used regular, which still worked fine.

Spanish-Style Quinoa
Adapted from this Authentic Mexican Rice recipe on
  • 1 c. uncooked (pre-rinsed) Inca Red or traditional quinoa
  • olive oil for sautéing
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1 hot pepper of your choice, chopped finely (I actually used some canned hot green chilis leftover from the enchilada sauce)
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • salt, to taste
  • 2 c. no-chicken broth
  • 1/4 c. ketchup
  1. Heat oil in a large pot (with a lid) or pressure cooker over medium-high heat.  Toss in chopped onion, and sauté until soft.  Add the garlic, and sauté just 30 seconds more or so.
  2. Add the dry quinoa to the pot.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the quinoa, onions, and garlic are all nicely browned.  If using red quinoa, you won't be able to see when it's browned, so you're going to go by smell.  The whole thing should have a lovely toasty-carmelized aroma when ready.
  3. Mix in the chopped tomato and pepper, cumin, and a few shakes of salt.  Let everything sizzle for a minute.
  4. Deglaze the pan with 2 cups of water or vegan chicken broth.  Stir in the ketchup, and bring everything to a boil.
  5. Seal the pot or pressure cooker with a lid, and then follow the directions on the quinoa package or your pressure cooker instructions to cook the quinoa.  This depends on the type of quinoa you're using, and the cooking method.
  6. Finished quinoa should have absorbed all the water, and be fluffy, moist, soft, and delightful.  Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
This is a good base for a lot of meals - it's not too spicy, not too flavorful, just a great canvass to work with, if you will.  I'd recommend stirring in some beans, veggie ground crumbles, tempeh chorizo, and/or fresh chopped cilantro.

Refried Black Beans
Adapted from Refried Black Beans from Vegetarian Times
  • 3 c. cooked black beans
  • olive oil, for sautéing
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can hot roasted green chilis, chopped
  • 2 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • fresh lime juice, about 2 tbsp. or to taste
  • salt, to taste
  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Sauté the onion until soft.  Then add the garlic and the green chilis, and cook until lightly browned.
  2. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, and cooked beans.  Cook for a minute, just enough to get the beans all mixed in with the spices.
  3. Turn the heat down to medium-low.
  4. Using a good potato masher, start smooshing the beans right in the pan.  Once you get them moderately mashed, add the vegetable broth.  Continue mashing over medium-low heat.  This way, you get the beans smoother as the liquid mixes in and then cooks off, saving time.
  5. Once the consistency is the way you want it, remove the pan from the heat.  Don't overcook the beans, or they'll get gluey.  If, once they're just thick enough, they're still too chunky for your tastes, use a hand blender to break them down more, or toss the whole thing in a food processor for a few seconds.
  6. Stir in lime juice and salt to taste, adding more cumin or chili powder if necessary.  Be generous with the salt and seasonings: they're what gives this dish pop.
Serve these with or in any Mexican-style meal - burritos, tacos, fajitas, tostadas, enchiladas, or just by themselves.  They're super versatile.

Enchilada Sauce
Adapted from Enchilada Chile Sauce from Veganomicon, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero
  • olive oil, for sautéing
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 small cans hot roasted green chilis
  • 3 tsp. chili powder
  • 1-1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. marjoram
  • 28-oz. can diced roasted tomatoes
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • salt, to taste
  1. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Sauté the onions until soft.
  2. Mix in all the remaining ingredients, stirring well.  Bring to a simmer, cook for a couple minutes, then remove from heat.
  3. Let the mixture cool for a few minutes, then toss it in a blender or food processor, and purée until smooth.  Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed.
This is a great, versatile enchilada sauce that's tasty and tangy, without any of that canned-enchilada-sauce bitterness we all hate.  Pour it over... well, pretty much anything.

Stuffed Peppers

  • 4 large yellow or orange bell peppers, washed, halved, and seeded
  • one batch Spanish-style Quinoa (above)
  • whole black beans, veggie ground crumbles or tempeh chorizo, and/or fresh, chopped cilantro (or whatever other fillings your little heart desires)
  • one batch Enchilada Sauce (above)
  • one batch Refried Black Beans
  • one ripe avocado
  1. Place the peppers cut-side down on a baking sheet.  Place them under the broiler in your oven, and broil until just soft, and the skin just starts to brown.  This could take anywhere from just a few minutes, to around 10, depending on your broiler.  WATCH CAREFULLY to avoid burning the crap out of your peppers.
  2. Mix the whole black beans, veggie meat, fresh chopped cilantro, or any other desired fillings into the Spanish-style quinoa.
  3. Place the broiled pepper halves face up on a the baking sheet.  Fill evenly with the quinoa mixture.  Stick the quinoa-filled peppers back under the broiler, just until the quinoa starts to brown on top.  Transfer the peppers to a serving plate.
  4. Cut the avocado into slices, and layer them on top of the quinoa-filled peppers.
  5. Pour enchilada sauce over the whole shebang.
  6. Serve along with refried beans and a good Mexican beer.
This makes 8 servings (or 4 servings for very hungry people).  It saves and reheats beautifully, too.

When I made these, I didn't do the initial pepper-broiling step, but I wish I had.  I'll also kick up the spice of the whole thing next time with some Cholula.  But overall, this was super tasty, and I didn't feel like a fatty fat after eating it.  The fresh cilantro and cool, ripe avocado were the little extras that kicked it over the top for me.  Be adventurous with your mix-ins, and use fresh herbs if you got 'em.

Happy eating.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Chipotle BBQ Seitan Nuggets

When I first became vegetarian, I missed barbecue flavor more than almost anything.  (And hot dogs... but that's a different story.)  We love to buy those Morningstar BBQ Riblets, but they're, like, crazy expensive on a student budget.  Plus, they're full of processed soy, and I'm not a big fan of that sort of thing.

These BBQ nuggets are made with my homemade seitan, which is bar none the best seitan I have ever eaten - if I do say so myself.  I'll post the recipe sometime soon.  You can also use storebought seitan, but frankly, it's totally bland and the texture is just blah.  Making your own seitan is a little time-consuming, but totally worth it for the extra yumminess.  And it's about a third the price to make your own.

The barbecue sauce is a tasty smoky-sweet sauce, based on a honey chipotle barbecue and veganized to substitute agave nectar.  It's a great way to use up those extra chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.

Chipotle BBQ Seitan Nuggets
Adapted from Honey Chipotle Barbecue Sauce at
  • about 16 oz seitan, cut into nuggets
  • 1/2 c. flour
  • salt and pepper
for sauce:
  • 1/2 c. ketchup
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp. agave nectar
  • 2 tbsp. chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped finely
  • 1 tsp. adobo sauce from the peppers
  • 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Mix ingredients for sauce together in a mixing bowl.  If you desire a perfectly smooth sauce, purée with a hand blender or in a food processor, but I like the small chunks.  Refrigerate the sauce to blend the flavors.
  2. Squeeze as much of the water out of the seitan nuggets as you can get without damaging them.
  3. Put the flour and a little salt and pepper into a medium mixing bowl.  Toss the seitan in the flour to get a light coating, and shake off the excess.
  4. Heat oil to 350° in a deep fryer, or heat an inch or so of frying oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan.  Fry the seitan nuggets until golden brown and slightly crispy.  Cook in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding the oil.  Drain the nuggets briefly on a paper towel.
  5. Empty the remaining flour out of the mixing bowl.  Put the cooked nuggets back in the bowl and toss with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the BBQ sauce.  You should still have sauce leftover for dipping, if desired.
For best results, serve immediately.

This is a great recipe to make when you're stuck inside on a chilly winter day.  You can serve it with coleslaw and fruit salad, and pretend like it's summer.

Happy eating.

Crispy Sweet Potato Fries

Yes, you read that right.  No, I'm not using creative license.  I made sweet potato fries, and they were legitimately crispy.

Thank you, thank you... please hold your applause.

So here's the deal.  The reason sweet potato fries usually get soggy in about the time it takes you to get them on your dining table is that they have a higher moisture content than regular potatoes.  So this method removes some of that moisture by boiling them in very salty water.  This is when your high school chemistry class comes in handy - we're putting the potatoes in a hypertonic solution, so the water molecules want to leave the potato and go into the saltwater in the pot.  Boiling them also cooks them briefly, so that when we fry them later, we can cook them to perfect crispy brownness without worrying about the doneness of the potato inside.

The upside to this is that you get delicious, crispy, golden sweet potato fries.  The downside is that it's a whole lot of work, and it's also quite high in fat.  But seriously - they're fries.  Come on.

You vegetable purists will insist that there's a difference between sweet potatoes and yams; and you're right, they are technically different plants.  But, with the varieties of each that are generally available here in the US, they are completely interchangeable in any recipe.  Actually, I have a sneaking suspicion that most grocery stores are selling the very same crop as both "sweet potatoes" and "yams."  So for most cooking purposes, sweet potato = yam and I don't want to hear about it.

Crispy Sweet Potato Fries

  • 3 medium-sized sweet potatoes or yams
  • 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp. white sugar
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1-2 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • about 1/4 c. salt for the water
  • dipping sauce, like sweet-chili sauce
  1. Peel the sweet potatoes, and chop them into fry shapes.  Go for 1/4" thickness on all sides, and cut them into manageable lengths if necessary.
  2. Heat a large pot of water to boiling.  Add about 1/4 cup of salt to the water.  Taste it to make sure it's salty enough; it should taste like the ocean.
  3. Start heating your cooking method.  I used a deep fryer; you can also use about an inch of frying oil in a good heavy-bottomed pan.  If you don't want to fry, you can try baking them at a very high temperature, like 450°, instead - if you do, let me know how it works!
  4. Toss your fries into the boiling, salted water and cook for a few minutes, until a fork goes through them with just a little resistance.  (Don't cook them so much that they get mushy.)  If you have one, use a pasta strainer or even a metal mesh colander immersed in the water, and then you can just lift the fries out of the water all at once.  Otherwise, you'll have to fish for 'em with a slotted spoon.
  5. Spread the fries out over a paper towel to cool and dry briefly.
  6. Mix the flour and spices together in a small bowl.
  7. In a different mixing bowl, toss a handful of the partially cooked fries.  Only grab as many fries as will fit in whatever you're using to cook them without overcrowding: if it's a small fryer, maybe just a small handful; if it's a large pan or baking sheet, maybe all of them at once will work.  Use your judgment and don't overcrowd.
  8. Sprinkle some of the flour-spice mixture onto the fries, enough to do just a very light coating.  Again, this depends on the size of your batches, so use judgment.  Toss the fries to coat evenly.  The residual moisture from the fries will make the flour sort of clump up - this is a good thing.
  9. If you're frying the fries, shake the excess flour mixture from the batch, and then toss them in the oil.  It's a good idea to have a lid available in case they hiss and sputter.  Fry them until they're browned and crispy.
  10. Remove the fries from the oil and cool them on paper towels.
  11. If you're doing multiple smaller batches, repeat steps 7-10 for the remaining fries.
This makes a large plateful of fries.  Serve with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce, like a Thai sweet chili sauce, or just a kicked-up ketchup.

Try to not feel too guilty as you enjoy this fabulous snack.

Happy eating.

Banana Bread

This is a variation from my grandmother's banana bread recipe, which means it can't help but be anything other than delicious.  My grandma is the queen of comfort food.  I've veganized the recipe and made it just a bit healthier, so this is my version.

This recipe uses agave nectar instead of white sugar.  Agave nectar is the ingenue of the health food world, and we vegans use it instead of honey.  (Yes, honey is an animal product, you nay-sayers out there.)  But agave can also be used instead of regular white sugar, with some definite health benefits.  It's sweeter than sugar per calorie, so you use much less; it also is low in the glycemic index, making it good for diabetics and people on low-carb diets.  I also use half white and half whole-wheat flour, to up the fiber and general wholesomeness a bit.

The result is a banana bread you can feel a little better about eating, but it's still moist, tender, fluffy, and tastes like you're being very, very bad.

Banana Bread

  • 1 tbsp. egg replacer (like EnerG), plus 4 tbsp. water
  • 1/2 c. melted vegan margarine (I like Earth Balance sticks)
  • 1/2 c. (+ a tbsp. or two) light agave nectar
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 3 overripe bananas
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. whole-wheat flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • chopped walnut (optional)
  1. Lightly grease or spray 2 loaf pans.  Preheat oven to 350° if you're using glass or light metal loaf pans, 325° for dark metal loaf pans.
  2. Whisk the egg replacer with the water in the bottom of a large mixing bowl.
  3. Melt the margarine by microwaving an unwrapped stick for 30-40 seconds.  Whisk into the egg replacer mixture in the mixing bowl.
  4. Add in 1/2 c. agave nectar and the vanilla and mix in completely.
  5. Peel the bananas (they should be very squishy) and toss them into the bowl.  I prefer to mix them in by hand using a potato masher and, when they're mostly mashed, using the whisk to purée them just a little.  This leaves little bits of banana in the bread.  If you prefer a perfectly uniform bread with no banana bits, use a hand mixer.
  6. Add the flours and baking soda, and mix in by hand.  Stir as little as possible, just until all the flour is mixed in.  Overmixing will make the bread less tender.
  7. Taste and adjust the batter.  If you prefer it to be sweeter, add a tablespoon or two more agave.  The consistency should be similar to a thick cake batter.  If the batter is too thick to pour, add a tablespoon more water until it's thick but pourable.  If the batter is too thin and watery, add more all-purpose flour a tablespoon at a time until it thickens up a bit.
  8. Pour the batter evenly into each greased loaf pan.  Spread out the batter into an even layer.  If desired, sprinkle walnuts on top of the batter.
  9. Bake for 30 minutes, then check for doneness.  Loaf should be evenly brown, and toothpick inserted into center should come out clean.  The bread should be soft, but not doughy.
  10. Remove from pans and cool on a wire rack.
Bread is delicious hot out of the oven, or it can be stored for up to a week in a sealed container.  Warm up in the microwave for 15-20 seconds, and slather with EB or vegan cream cheese.  Just like grandma's house.

Happy eating.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Kale and Roasted Vegetable Soup

This soup is ridiculous.  So delicious, and so healthy... such a combination should be illegal.  You could eat your fill of this tastiness, and not feel a bit of guilt.  Except maybe that there's none left for anyone else in your family to eat.

This is also a great way to eat kale, if you're the type to be a little weary of dark, leafy greens.  In case you're new to the nutrition train, dark green vegetables are some of the most nutritionally-dense foods you can consume.  They have tons of vitamins A and C, lots of iron, and more calcium per serving than cow's milk (without all the nasty lactose, hormones, antibiotics, pus, and cruelty!).  I think the only reason "Got Greens?" never caught on is the fact that they make a far less attractive mustache.

But I digress!  My point is that kale is incredibly healthful, but can be a little bitter and tough compared to other greens like spinach, so it tends to scare people off.  Soup is the solution.  Not only does simmering get the kale nice and tender, and all those savory roasted veggies mellow out the flavor oh-so-nice, but since the broth is part of the meal, all the nutrients that would leach out during cooking still get eaten in the soup!  It's win-win.  Or win-win-win.  Whatever - it's kale ftw, peeps.

Roasting the veggies is key here, folks.  It caramelizes and sweetens, and is absolutely necessary for the flavor of this soup.  I didn't roast the garlic because I use that already-prepared kind in a jar, and out of the peel, it would burn in the oven; but if you have a bulb of fresh garlic cloves, you should roast it by cutting off the top of the whole bulb, drizzling it in a little olive oil, and setting it upright on the pan with the rest of the veggies.  Check it each time you stir the pan of vegetables, because you may need to remove it from the oven before the rest of the vegetables to avoid burning.  Then you squeeze out the meaty parts, finely mince them, and use as directed.

Kale and Roasted Vegetable Soup
Adapted from 
  • 3 medium carrots, quartered lengthwise
  • 2 large tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 large onion, cut into 8 wedges
  • 1/2 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut lengthwise into 1/2" thick slices (I have used sweet potatoes instead of the squash with good results; pretty much any sweet vegetable would work)
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 8 cups vegan chicken broth (or 4 bouillon cubes, like No-Chicken)
  • 1 bunch kale, de-stemmed and chopped
  • 1-1/2 c. or 1 can white beans (like Great Northern or cannellini)
  • 1 tbsp. ground thyme (or use fresh if you have it, about 3 large sprigs)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • couple tbsp. olive oil
  1. Preheat oven to 400°.  Lightly oil a baking sheet, and place the carrots, squash, tomatoes, and onion in a single layer on the pan, and drizzle with a little more olive oil.  Lightly season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat.
  2. Roast vegetables until they are browned and tender, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes.
  3. Chop the roasted squash and carrot strips into bite-sized pieces, and set aside.
  4. Toss the tomatoes and onions into a food processor or blender, and add the garlic.  Purée until almost smooth.
  5. If using bouillon, dissolve in 8 cups of water.  Pour a little of the broth onto the roasting pan, and scrape off any caramelized brown bits.  Pour all the broth into a large soup pot.
  6. Add the kale, thyme, and bay leaf to the pot.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered about 30 minutes, until kale is tender.
  7. Add carrots, squash, and beans to the pot.  Simmer for 5-10 minutes to blend the flavors.  I usually add a little more broth or water at this point if the soup is too chunky.
  8. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs.
Makes 6-8 servings of soup.  Delicious when served right away, but tastes even better after it's been in the fridge for a day.

I love to serve this soup with a hearty bread or roll.  It keeps beautifully in the fridge for up to a week.

Happy eating.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Curried Rice

This was a pressure cooker project for me.  I wanted to test out the pressure cooker I got for Christmas, which may very well be my new favorite appliance.  You can make this dish without the pressure cooker, but you will need to cook it longer, and possibly add a little more liquid.

The rice turned out great, and was a total success in the pressure cooker.  It has that spicy-sweet curry flavor TB and I love, offset by crunchy cashews, sweet raisins, and tart green apples.  It's a pet peeve of mine when recipes call for "curry powder," because there are thousands of spice blends all called curries, and they're as different from one another as cinnamon and mustard powder.  So for this recipe, I used a salt-free, mild yellow curry, which is an Indian curry blend with coriander, tumeric, cumin, and cinnamon, among other spices.  You could definitely use a spicier blend if you wanted more kick.

I used brown rice instead of the traditional basmati, which is why this dish doesn't quite have that signature bright yellow color (which comes from the tumeric, fyi).  But nearly all the nutrients in rice are found in the husks, which get removed in the process of refining the grains of white rice.  So I'll sacrifice the color and pop for nutritional value in this case.

Curried Rice
Adapted from Curried Rice with Raisins and Cashews on
  • olive oil, enough to coat the pan
  • 1/4 c. finely minced onion
  • 1 tbsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp. yellow curry powder
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 cube vegetable boullion
  • pepper, to taste
  • 1 c. uncooked brown rice
  • 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 c. water (according to directions on your rice for 1 c. rice)
  • 1/3 c. raisins
  • 1/3 c. cashews
  • 1/3 c. chopped, unpeeled green apple
  1. Heat oil in the bottom of a pressure cooker over medium heat.  Add the onion, and sweat it until it's translucent.
  2. Reduce heat to low, then stir in curry powder, garlic powder, chili powder, and pepper.  Fry briefly, until the spices become fragrant.
  3. Dissolve the boullion cube in the water.  Add the boullion and water to the pressure cooker.
  4. Add the rice to the pressure cooker and stir well.
  5. Turn heat up to high, and seal the lid on the pressure cooker.  Follow your pressure cooker's directions for cooking brown rice; mine takes 15 minutes from the time it fully pressurizes.  Reduce heat as appropriate to maintain a steady pressure, again according to the pressure cooker instructions.
  6. Once cooking time is up, remove pressure cooker from heat, and allow the pressure to neutralize.  Then remove the lid, stir in cashews, raisins, and chopped apples, and put the lid back on the pot for a few minutes.  The heat and moisture in the rice should help plump up the raisins, and just barely cook the apples.
Makes about 4 servings of curried rice.  Serve either hot or chilled.

This curried rice is a great side dish for any vegan meal, and is also a great introduction to curries for those who might be a little fearful of spice.  Go to a good spice store to get your curry blends - the quality is very much worth a little extra time and expense.  If you live in Denver, I recommend Savory Spice Shop.

Happy eating.

Orange-Soy Broccoli

It doesn't happen often, but sometimes, I get tired of raw broccoli with hummus.  Wondering what else to do with the two stalks of broccoli in my produce box this week, I stumbled across this fabulous little recipe on, which is one of my go-to sources when I'm having a "What the heck do I do with this vegetable?" moment.

Normally, I'm not a fan of cooked broccoli, but this is a delicious side dish, and chock-full of the kind of texture and flavor that makes my mouth go mmmmmm.  I actually had to stop myself from eating the whole thing in one sitting.  Just try it... you'll see.

Orange-Soy Broccoli
Adapted from Broccoli with Orange Peel and Walnuts on
  • 2 c. broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 orange
  • 1/2 c. pecans or walnuts
  • 1/2 tbsp. finely minced ginger
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce, preferably low-sodium; if regular, use less
  • 1/2 tbsp. pepper
  • vegetable oil for sautéing
  1. Peel the orange in 1" strips using a vegetable peeler.  Remove any white pith from the inside of the peeled strips by scraping with a spoon.  Save the orange; you'll need the juice momentarily.
  2. Heat a 12" skillet, with enough oil to coat the bottom, over medium heat.
  3. Sauté the strips of orange peel for a couple minutes, just until the edges begin to brown.  Be careful not to burn.
  4. Add the ginger, and sauté another 30 seconds or so.
  5. Turn the heat up to medium-high.  Add the broccoli and pecans, cooking until the pecans get toasted and the broccoli just begins to turn soft and bright green.  Don't overcook the broccoli; you still want it nice and crunchy.
  6. Toss in the soy sauce and pepper to taste.
Makes 3-4 servings of broccoli.  Best when served right away, but can be saved and served later either hot or chilled.

Trust me, even the broccoli-haters in your family will like this crunchy, citrusy side dish.  The nuts compliment the texture of the broccoli beautifully, and the crispy orange peel pieces are a delight.

Happy eating.

Taco Salad

This is one of those old, easy standby recipes that I always rely on when I can't think of anything else to make. What makes this particular version extra-special is the chipotle ranch dressing. You can buy chipotles in adobo sauce (which are smoked jalapeno peppers canned in a spicy red sauce) at most grocery stores, but this is one of those tricky ingredients that you only use a little bit of at a time, so you always have some left over. Luckily, they are fairly well preserved in their natural spices, so they'll keep in your fridge for awhile. I've found several recipes that make great use of their unique, smoky flavor, like a veganized version of Rachel Ray's Caution Flag Chili, and I'm going to attempt a chipotle BBQ sauce in the near future.

My taco salads - for those of you unfamiliar with this bastardized Tex-Mex deliciousness - consist of romaine lettuce, black beans, grilled fajita vegetables, tortilla chips, and toppings like guacamole, salsa, and chipotle ranch dressing. I'll provide recipes for the guacamole and the chipotle ranch below, but everything else is pretty much up to you.

I usually do a couple different colors of bell peppers, onions, and a jalapeno pepper, and cook them briefly over very high heat to get that nice fajita char while still keeping a good crunch in the veggies. Mushrooms, zucchini, or carrots would also work nicely. I cooked the black beans in my brand-new pressure cooker, but canned would work just as well. You can use store-bought tortilla chips out of the bag, or you can fry up some strips of corn tortillas for a bolder taste. And for salsa, make your own if the season's right and you have the fixins - or, I really like 505.


NOTE: This recipe is made entirely "to taste," meaning the amount of cilantro, onion, and lime you add depends completely on the size of your avocados, freshness of the ingredients, and your personal preference. Start by blending in just a little of each ingredient; then taste, and add more if necessary. Raw, fresh cilantro and onion have pungent flavors, so you don't want to overdo them.

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • palmful of fresh cilantro
  • about 1/4 of a red onion
  • couple tbsp. of lime juice
  • salt

NOTE: If you have a food processor, it makes everything much easier. If not, you'll need lots of patience to chop the onion and cilantro very small.
  1. Peel and pit the avocados, and toss them in your food processor.
  2. Pull the leaves from the stems of the cilantro, and toss about half into the food processor. Blend until smooth, scraping the sides as necessary. Taste, and add more cilantro as desired, blending until smooth again.
  3. Roughly chop about 1/4 of a red onion, and toss about half into the food processor. Blend until smooth, taste, and add more as desired.
  4. Add about a teaspoon of salt, blend, and taste. Add more as desired.
  5. Add about a tablespoon of lime juice, blend, and taste. Add more as desired.
By the end of this process, you should have guacamole that's so tasty, you have to stop yourself from just digging in with a spoon. Play with the flavors until you get a blend you like.

Vegan Chipotle Ranch
Adapted from Vegan Chipotle Ranch on The Palatial Palate
  • 1 pkg. silken tofu
  • 1-1/2 c. vegannaise
  • 1/4 c. canola oil
  • 1/4 c. fresh cilantro, torn into pieces
  • 2 tbsp. lime juice
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 chipotles in adobo sauce
  1. Blend all ingredients in a food processor until creamy and smooth.
  2. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes, to give spices a chance to marry.
This yields a ridiculous amount of dressing, like 4 or 5 cups. It also turned out a little thick for my tastes: it's too thick to pour. Next time I make it, I will omit the tofu and cut down on the spices a little, to make a thinner dressing and less of it.

Now, just toss some romaine lettuce and black beans with a couple spoonfuls of dressing, top with fajita veggies, crunchy tortilla strips, guacamole, and salsa, and enjoy!

Happy eating.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Homemade Gnocchi with Fried Eggplant

I have a thing for homemade pasta. But, I do not have a pasta maker. Gnocchi are the perfect solution: chewy little potato dumplings that can be made entirely by hand. They're a little time-consuming, but totally worth it for fresh, handmade pasta.

I paired the gnocchi with a fresh tomato sauce, and topped the whole thing off with slices of crispy fried eggplant. Gnocchi are usually served with a very light sauce, like a vinaigrette or pesto, to really let the pasta itself shine through, and this simple tomato sauce compliments them perfectly. I was originally going to roast the eggplant for this, but the boy (hereafter referred to as TB) wanted fried eggplant, and I just couldn't say no to that face. Actually, the crispy breading made a wonderful contrast to the soft gnocchi, and the whole thing turned out delightful.

Homemade Gnocchi

Adapted from Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

  • 2 russet potatoes, scrubbed
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3/4 to 1-1/4 c. all-purpose flour (if you like your gnocchi firmer, substitute bread flour or add some gluten)
  1. Poke a bunch of holes in the skins of the potatoes with a fork. Bake them at 400° until very tender, about 45 minutes. No need to wrap them in foil; just stick 'em right on the oven rack. Potatoes are done when a fork pierces easily, and can be wiggled around a bit inside the potato.
  2. Remove potatoes from the oven and let them cool a few minutes, until you can handle them without burning the crap out of your hands. Peel them with a paring knife, being careful to not lose too much of the flesh. Cover the peeled potatoes with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel, and leave them to finish cooling completely.
  3. Place cooled potatoes in a large mixing bowl. Mash them with the olive oil and salt, as smooth as you can get them by hand; do not use an electric mixer, as this will make your gnocchi sticky.
  4. Add about 1/2 cup of flour and work it into the potatoes. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and continue working in more flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until you get a smooth, un-sticky but not dry dough.
  5. If you're cooking the gnocchi immediately, put a large, salted pot of water on to boil.
  6. Divide the dough into 3 or 4 sections, and roll each one out into a long rope about 1/2" thick. Cut the ropes into small 1/2" pieces. Roll the pieces down the tines of a fork with your thumb, so that the dough curls around your thumb on one side, and has ridges from the fork on the other side. (You want the dimple from your thumb, because this is where the gnocchi catches a lot of the sauce.)
  7. Drop the pieces one at a time into the boiling water. Cook in batches, if necessary, to avoid overcrowding the pan; you don't want the gnocchi sticking together. They will sink to the bottom of the pan at first, then rise to the top as they cook. Once they rise, cook them for another couple of minutes, then pull them out of the water and into a colander. Rinse them briefly to remove some of the sticky starch on the surface, then place in a single layer on a plate to cool.
NOTE: If you want to freeze the gnocchi for later, you freeze the dough pieces, before they're cooked. The best way to do it is to place them separated on a cookie sheet and freeze them for a few minutes, until hard to the touch. Then you can toss them in a container or freezer bag, and freeze for up to 3 months. To cook later, just toss the frozen gnocchi in boiling water, and follow the directions above.

Makes about 4 servings of gnocchi. These are best when served immediately after cooking, but they will keep in the fridge for a few days.

Fresh Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Pasta with Roasted Eggplant and Tomato on
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 c. fresh basil, chopped with chiffonade technique
  • splash of balsamic vinegar (red wine or sherry vinegars would also work)
  • 1 c. (about 2 Romas) diced tomato
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • salt
  1. Heat olive oil (just a couple turns of the pan) over medium heat in a large skillet. Sautée the onion just until it starts to brown. Add garlic and cook for another minute or so. Deglaze the pan with a splash of balsamic vinegar.
  2. Toss the diced tomato, red pepper flakes, and basil into the pan. Sautée for a few minutes, until everything is heated through and the tomatoes and basil are soft.
Makes about 4 servings of sauce. This is a light, chunky sauce, not really similar to a marinara; TB describes it as "Italian pico de gallo." Good, vine-ripened tomatoes are the key to a good flavor here.

Fried Eggplant

  • high-heat frying oil (canola, grapeseed, and safflower all work well)
  • 1 small eggplant
  • kosher or pickling salt
  • 1/2 c. nondairy milk
  • 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c. breadcrumbs
  • dried garlic, basil, oregano, marjoram, or other Italian seasonings
  • salt and pepper
  1. Slice the eggplant into 1/4" thick slices. I like to cut them in half again into half-moon shapes, but you can leave them whole if you like. There is no need whatsoever to peel eggplant, unless it is very out of season and tough and bitter.
  2. Place the eggplant slices in a colander, and toss them with some kosher or pickling salt. This will draw out some of the moisture and bitterness. Let them sit for at least 20 minutes or up to an hour, and then rinse them thoroughly with cold water and pat dry.
  3. Heat a generous amount of oil over medium-high heat in a large steel or cast-iron pan. Using enough oil (but not too much) and being careful to not overcrowd the pan are key to making nice, crispy eggplant.
  4. Get yourself 3 flat-bottomed bowls.
    • In the first, whisk about 1/4 cup of the flour into the nondairy milk to thicken it up.
    • In the second bowl, toss the rest of the flour, and season it with pepper and a little bit of salt (go easy on the salt, because purging the eggplant slices with salt makes them a little, er, salty, even after rinsing).
    • In the third bowl, mix the breadcrumbs with the various dried herbs and spices.
  5. Dip the eggplant slices one at a time in the soymilk, then toss them in the flour, then dip into the soymilk again, and then coat in breadcrumbs.
  6. Toss the breaded eggplant slices onto the pan and fry for a couple of minutes per side, until they're brown and crispy.
Like the gnocchi, this should be served and eaten right away. It will get soggy if you refrigerate or reheat it.

Now all you have to do is assemble! Toss the gnocchi in the tomato sauce, then layer some fried eggplant slices on top. Sprinkle some fresh basil or parsley on top for fanciness, and enjoy!

Happy eating.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Beet and Potato Pancakes

Beets! Beets! Beets! Other than Brussels sprouts, I can't think of any other vegetable that inspires so much fear and dread from cooks and eaters alike. But guess what? Beets are freaking delicious. They have a delightfully crunchy texture, and a tangy flavor with just a touch of sweetness.

These beet and potato pancakes are a perfect introduction to beets.
The beet flavor is muted a bit by the potato, but you still get that tasty tang. They're crunchy and oniony, and delicious paired with a horseradish dipping sauce.

A note about beets, if you've never cooked with them before. They will stain the crap out of everything they touch, including hands, clothing, and counters. It'll wash off your hands after a day or so, but you'll need bleach to remove it from clothing or counters. So be careful when slicing these babies.

Beet and Potato Pancakes

Adapted from the Beet and Potato Pancakes recipe on

  • 1 large beet
  • 1 large russet potato
  • 1 onion
  • 1 c. whole wheat flour
  • water
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Peel the beet and potato. Grate both into a medium-sized mixing bowl.
  2. Finely chop onion, and add it to beat and potato mixture.
  3. Stir in the flour.
  4. Mix in enough water to make everything stick together, and salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Heat a generous coating of oil over medium-high heat.
  6. Form the beet/potato mixture into flat, palm-sized patties. Drop them into the hot oil and fry for 3-4 minutes per side, until nice and brown and crispy.
Makes about 18 patties. Serve and eat immediately. I like to serve these with a horseradish dipping sauce, made by just mixing some prepared horseradish into vegan mayonnaise.

Don't skimp on the onion - it caramelizes on the pan and adds the most delicious flavor to these pancakes.

I like to serve them with a horseradish dipping sauce, made by just mixing some prepared horseradish into vegan mayonnaise. Vegan sour cream would be a good choice, too.

Happy eating.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Peanut Butter Crisscross Cookies

Dessert is always my favorite starting place, so I figured I'd kick it off with some cookies. A quick disclaimer, though: I am not a baker. In the world of cuisine, usually there are cooks, and there are bakers. I am the former. Baking is far too sensitive to carefully-measured proportions of ingredients for my usual style of grabbing a handful of something and tossing it into a bowl. I also live at 6000 feet, which usually means that muffins burn and cookies flatten down into gooey messes.

But these beauties turned out lovely. These are light, delicate, crumbly shortbread-style peanut butter cookies, not soft and chewy peanut butter cookies. I like both styles, but the texture of these is just delightful with a cold glass of almond milk.

Peanut Butter Crisscross Cookies
Adapted from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero

  • 1/2 c. vegetable shortening (non-hydrogenated is best, but Crisco works)
  • 1/2 c. natural smooth peanut butter (preferably no-stir; otherwise, stir really well first)
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp. agave nectar
  • 1-1/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly grease 2 cookie sheets.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat together shortening, peanut butter, and sugar until light and fluffy, around 2-3 minutes. Make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl periodically. You can also do this by hand with a fork or heavy-duty whisk if you have lots of patience and massive forearm muscles.
  3. Stir in vanilla and agave nectar.
  4. Mix in the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt. Use your hands to really work everything together. The dough should hold together and be able to be formed into balls. If it's too dry to stick together, add a tablespoon or two of your preferred nondairy milk, but be careful here - to get the cookie texture right, you want as little liquid in the dough as possible.
  5. Roll the dough into 1-1/2" diameter balls (the size of the center indent of your palm). Flatten them a bit in your palm, then place on a cookie sheet and flatten them more with the bottom of a mug. (These don't spread out while baking, so you pretty much want to get them in their final shape before you stick 'em in the oven.) Use the tines of a fork to make crisscrosses on the tops of the cookies.
  6. Bake for about 10 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned. Remove from the oven, and let them cool on the sheets for at least 10 minutes (if you don't, they'll crumble into oblivion). Then transfer them to wire racks to finish cooling.
Yields about 3 dozen cookies.

Enjoy these within a couple of days for maximum deliciousness, and make sure you store them in a tightly-sealed container. I hope you love the tender, flaky texture as much as I did.

Happy eating.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Co-Op

Door to Door Organics
Photo by Alexis DeCook

My Produce Box
Photo by Alexis DeCook

First things first: the people responsible for delivering a cornucopia of delicious, organic, seasonal, so-fresh-you-have-to-shake-the-dirt-off-your-greens produce to my doorstep every week.

Door to Door Organics. I love them.

No, really, I'm completely in love with this company. Go to their website, and you'll see why. There's a picture of a smiley-face made out of oranges and a banana. If you could be besties with a company, we would be painting each other's toenails.

Their produce is amazing - some of the most delicious fruits and veggies you have ever tasted. Their website is super easy to use, and friendly and colorful to boot. Their service is excellent. They work with farmers in Colorado (or your local state) and just a few neighboring areas, all of whom use certifiably organic farming practices.

If you live in an area where you can receive their deliveries, you should. We get a medium-sized combo box delivered every Wednesday, and split between 4 people, it comprises the majority of our groceries. Since we were eating a plant-based diet anyway, we're actually spending less on food now than before the co-op. It will force you to eat healthier, increase your fiber and nutrient intake, and broaden your palate. It's basically good for every part of your life.

Plus, it's like getting a present every week! A gift of vegetables! Well, I get excited about it, anyway.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

What the world needs now... another vegan food blog! In my opinion, there can never be too many vegan food blogs. Together, we make the internet more delicious every day.

A bit about me:

I am a 22-year-old almost-vegan with a handsome boyfriend, adorable fluffy dog, and 2 insane cats. I have a day job doing psychological research, an embarrassing addiction to Twilight, and a passion for improvisational cooking. I love to read and write and rant. My love of good music borders on obsession, as does my preoccupation with correct grammar. I'm loud, temperamental, and I curse like a sailor - especially in the kitchen - but lucky for you, you're reading this, so I've had a chance to calm and censor.

A bit about this:

Three things recently conspired to push me headfirst into cooking from scratch: first, my shift from vegetarianism toward veganism; second, our participation in a local produce co-op; and third, our budget constricting like a hungry snake. The result of this is that each week, I get a box of fruits and vegetables on my doorstep, and I have to figure out how to turn these seasonal and often unfamiliar (weird) plants into healthy, fast, animal-free meals that both the boy and I will eat with minimal complaining and maximum nom nom nom, for about $50 a week. I satisfy all these requirements - and hopefully, our tummies - by making almost everything from scratch.

I usually use a combination of Google, cookbooks, and questionable intuition to cobble together four or five dishes each week, using everything in the box and as little else as I can manage. I spend an afternoon or evening cooking, then package everything away to be reheated as needed during the week. Some things turn out to be culinary genius, some things turn into abominations in my trash can, but almost everything is at least edible.

I have never followed a recipe precisely in my entire life, and don't intend to start now. I love spice, salt, freshness, rich creamy deliciousness, and hummus. I follow four principles in life and cooking:
  1. Shake 'em if you got 'em. If a recipe calls for walnuts but I have pecans in my pantry, you can bet your buns you'll find pecans in my dish. I am queen of substitutions, adaptations, and random additions. Stroke of genius? Moment of insanity? The mystery is half the fun. Also, I try to buy local and in season - use what's available to you. Many resources are wasted in growing and transporting exotic crops.
  2. Waste not. I will use every root and fruit I get each week, no exceptions, and I will gleefully butcher any recipe to make that happen. I also try to use every part of every plant (did you know you can eat carrot greens?), and will never peel, seed or strain unless absolutely necessary. All the antioxidants are in the skins and seeds, anyway.
  3. Mother (nature) knows best. The closer to the vine something is, the better it is for you. Preservatives are the devil. I strive to use foods in the least processed form possible, and I prefer to get all essential nutrients from food, not supplements. This is difficult to do on a budget, but I give it my best shot.
  4. It's all in the journey. Cooking is a process of constant trying, failing, and learning. Recipes are fluid and should be adapted to your needs, not followed in goose-step. I very rarely make the same thing twice. Go where the wind blows you, dude.
So, welcome!

Each week, I'll post the recipes I make, photos and descriptions of the finished products, and analysis of the nommable-ness. I'll also probably throw in some random thoughts, observations, music, news, and other stuff to stimulate your mental and physical appetites. If you're into fresh, seasonal, adventurous veggie-based meals, stick around.

Feel free to comment, criticize, question, or whatever. I'm a feedback whore.

Happy eating.