Thursday, August 27, 2015

Collard Pesto and Caprese

To your left is a nice, summery Italian meal: pasta with a Pesto of Hidden Value and magical caprese. All of this is vegan, with a helpful hand from Miyoko's Kitchen!

First, the clandestine pesto. I added an entire giant bunch of raw collard greens to the classic recipe, to which it adds some intense green color and a bit of flavor. It's the newest addition to my old bag of tricks--I try to add leafy greens to everything I make, partly because of their fabulous calcium content--and pesto is the ideal delivery vehicle for it.

To make this marvel, you'll need:

1 bunch collard greens
4 large garlic cloves
3 tbsp pine nuts
1 cup basil leaves
olive oil (in a bottle that allows drizzling)
a dollop of Miyoko's Kitchen Double Cream Chive

Cut collard greens into ribbons and place in food processor. Process until very thinly chopped. Add garlic, pine nuts, and basil, and continue processing; slowly drizzle olive oil from the top as you're processing everything else until it reaches a consistency you like. Add a few small chunks of Miyoko's Kitchen cheese, if you like, and continue processing until more or less homogenous. Mix with pasta and serve.

Second, the caprese: this salad was one of the grand loves of my pre-vegan life, and today a marvelous thing happened: I received my shipment of Miyoko's buffalo-style vegan mozarella. We had a giant heirloom tomato lying about, so I sliced it, placed a piece of mozarella on each slice, and decorated each with a basil leaf.

Now that I've eaten this salad I can happily say that veganism does not entail even a shred of sacrifice, and all my culinary pleasures are well satisfied without cruelty. Thank you, Miyoko!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Summer Hosting: Stuffed Mushrooms and Eggless Salad

Sunday Streets, a city-organized block party occurring in a different neighborhood every month, was in the Excelsior today. Salsa and rock bands, booths, food trucks, and lots and lots of happy people on bicycles.

On a whim, we sent out an email inviting friends over for an open house today, so I made some cool snacks: it's always good to serve some cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks, and blanched green beans, and I had a winter truffle cheese from Miyoko's Kitchen. I also roasted an eggplant and served two fun inventions:

Eggless Salad

1 block extra-firm tofu
1.5 tbsp Just Mayo or Vegenaise
2 tbsp good quality brown mustard
about an inch off a leek, just the white part
1 large dill pickle
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp chana masala/garam masala powder
salt and pepper to taste

Mix mayo and vegenaise in a mixing bowl. Slice leeks very finely, then cut through to obtain thin strips. Cut pickle into small cubes.

Crumble entire block of tofu into bowl. Add leeks and pickle and mix well. Season to taste and keep refrigerated.

Stuffed Mushrooms

20 white or brown champignon mushrooms
1-2 tbsp Bragg's Liquid Aminos
2 tbsp parsley
3 onion cloves
2 tbsp strained tomatoes
1 vegan sausage (I like using Field Roast)

Carefully remove stems from all mushrooms. Place stemmed mushrooms on a tray and sprinkle Bragg's Liquid Aminos on top. Slice sausage into twenty discs and place one in the hollow of each mushroom. Finely chop the stems, parsley, and garlic, and mix with strained tomatoes. Spoon a bit of the mix on top of the sausage in each mushroom and bake for about 30-45 mins or as long as you like until the tops are browned.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Fantasy Vegan Cookbooks: Perfect Photos, Perfect People, Perfect Food

Right after polishing off a plate of veg, bean, and potato salad, I realized something interesting: I was inspired to make these very simple dishes after spending last night gushing over Rich Roll and Julie Piatt's The Plantpower Way. Is it just me, or have vegan cookbooks massively improved in production, photography, and design recently?

Fancy cookbooks are all over the place; our local cookbook store, Omnivore Books,  has tons of gorgeous exemplars. But I think that in vegan cuisine this trend is a conscious effort to counter an opinion that may still prevail among some meat eaters--namely, that veganism is ascetic, joyless and prohibitive, and that we don't enjoy our food. Which is why I'm noticing beautifully-photographed and conceptualized books devoted to the pleasures of veganism.

The Plantpower Way is a classic example. It's essentially a coffee-table cookbook full of pictures of Rich Roll, the lawyer-turned-ultra-athlete, and his very good looking family (gorgeous yogini wife and four exceedingly handsome teenagers.) The book is so saturated with images of these folks' beautiful house, great clothes, and fantastic food, that it gave me the uncomfortable feeling that these folks' happy family life is a sex scandal waiting to happen. :) If you have a cynical bone in your body, you have to ask yourself whether these folks are always as happy and brimming with vitality as they are in the photos (and whether collaborating with their teenagers on such a nutritious diet is always successful). But if you are willing to suspend your disbelief a bit and engage in the fantasy lifestyle of the Rich and Famous, these folks are the poster children for happy, healthy vegans. The recipes are also pretty great, and despite the elaborate photographic appeal not all that cumbersome, if you have a good blender and food processor. The text is all about optimizing nutrition, throwing greens in whenever possible, and other principles--occasionally it veers into not-uncommon hooey about "food vibrations"--but the recipes themselves seem very tasty. Even though the book admonishes us to make our blends (smoothies) more about vegetables than fruit, and to eschew the nut milks, the recipes themselves don't feel masochistically healthy, have a healthy share of fruit and other yummy ingredients, and there's a whole chapter on latte coffees and teas that features abundant nut milks. I should mention that these folks have a mysterious aversion to onions and garlic, presumably to make their meals more palatable to kids, but I grew up eating tons of onions and garlic in the Middle East as a kid and am surrounded by children who love both. But what do I know? Your pleasure in this book depends on how fantasy-prone you are, or on how much you're willing to "live with your imperfections" (as these perfect folks instruct us) and enjoy the recipes without turning green with envy at the time and resources that make this diet possible.

The Plantpower Way is not the first exemplar of this trend, of course. One of the first cookbooks I bought last year was Pure Vegan, which does not feature fancy characters but does have luxurious, hedonistic recipes. The sweets and desserts section is particularly marvelous, and I've made the olive oil and pistachio cake from this book with great success (even neater if you bake it in a bundt pan!). On the health-hedonism spectrum, I'd say this book falls toward the latter end. Some of the recipes are elaborate and involved, but some only seem so because of the gorgeous photography. There's not a ton of information here, but it is certainly an inspiringly beautiful book that I like to leaf through when I plan a party or something of that ilk.

Then, of course, there's The Oh She Glows Cookbook, which evolved from the famously beloved blog of the same name. As with the Plantpower Way, the book features beautiful people living in a beautiful home, exquisitely photographed cooking and enjoying beautiful food (according to the blog, there's now a baby in the mix, also!). This one also promises to be fairly hedonistic, and there's a good mix between elaborate and simple recipes. There are also some practical make-ahead solutions, which are far less fancy-schmancy in terms of preparation than the excellent photography would suggest. And again, the sweets and desserts section is interesting and useful, at least to those of us that still indulge in added sugars once in a while.

Finally, no round-up of fantasy vegan publications is complete without Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Diet and her lifestyle blog, The Kind Life. This book is an intro to veganism, full of thoughts from Silverstone, who talks about being a celebrity invested in a cause that is near and dear to her heart. There are some photos (beautiful people, beautiful home, beautiful food...) but the recipes are not a big part of it. It's more of an introductory text for folks for whom Silverstone might open the door to compassionate eating and living. The website is full of sweets, baked goods, and hedonistic recreations of non-vegan foods--made with healthy ingredients and sometimes credited to other vegan cooks. A nice transition, perhaps, for new vegans.

I enjoy these books mostly as visual inspiration, but I find the humorous and down-to-earth work of Isa Chandra Moskowitz, and the practicality and pioneering inventiveness of Miyoko Schinner, more useful on an everyday basis. And, of course, my beloved classic by Phyllis Glazer is at this point the foundation of my cooking style. I'm probably going to continue inventing my own recipes, but looking at the pretty photos for inspiration and presentation.

Three Simple Salads

I woke up in the mood for something simple and nostalgic for lunch and dinner. My grandma and I talk on the phone every day, and her stories about her family reminded me of the salads she used to make for us when I was little. They are a mix of Russian and Egyptian cuisine, simple and flavorful.

The bottom 50% of the plate is filled with a simple vegetable salad with romaine, raw zucchini matchsticks, cherry tomatoes, red onions, parsley, and a very simple dressing: 1tsp mustard and 1tsp apple juice (I made an enormous bowl and ate it all up; this is just the remainder).

In the top right corner is a bean salad, made from the leftover Christmas lima beans:

1/2 onion, thinly sliced
3 cups cooked beans
olive oil
salt and pepper

Caramelize the onion in a bit of olive oil. Meanwhile, place the three-or-so cups of leftover cooked beans, with a tablespoon of olive oil, into the food processor. Add salt and pepper. After processing it for a few moments, add half of the caramelized onions and process again to the desired consistency (I like it a bit chunky), and finally mix it with the remaining onions and placed in the fridge.

And in the top left corner is a quick potato salad. I'm not as pro-potato as I was when my metabolism was faster, but I still like it a lot, so this is a special treat.

4 medium-sized potatoes
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
big handful parsley
big handful other herbs (chives, green onion, oregano, thyme)
3 dill pickles
1 tbsp Just Mayo or Vegenaise
salt and pepper to taste

Microwave, bake, steam, or boil the potatoes until soft, then dice them up (my grandma always peeled them, but I never do). Place in a mixing bowl and add a very thinly sliced 1/2 onion, and the thinly sliced parsley and other herbs. Add the pickles, thinly diced, and mix with vegenaise, salt and pepper.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Orzo with Vegetables

When I was a kid, one of my favorite comfort foods was "ptitim", otherwise known as orzo or by the misleading name "Israeli couscous". This short and springy wheat pasta is unrelated to the original semolina couscous, and actually has an interesting recession-era history. In the 1950s, during the age of austerity in Israel, Prime Minister David Ben Guryon ordered the Osem factory to come up with a cheap alternative to rice. Ptitim came to be known as "Ben Guryon rice." They are now manufactured in various shapes.

Here, sometimes people cook them like pasta--boiling in a lot of water, then draining--but that's not the best method, I think. This basic recipe is pretty easy, but today I dressed it up with lots of wonderful vegetables straight out of our CSA box. Here's what I made:

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion
3 carrots (I used one purple, one orange, and one pale yellow)
1 summer squash
5 mushrooms
1 cup whole grain orzo
1 cup boiling water
1 tbsp blackened rub
1 handful fresh parsley

Heat olive oil in a small pot (and keep the lid nearby). Thinly chop carrots, onion, squash, and slice mushrooms. Saute onions until translucent, then add other vegetables and orzo. Cook in olive oil for about 2-3 minutes, or until the orzo begins to be a bit golden. Then, add the water and the blackened rub, lower the heat and cover the pot. Cook for about 10-15 minutes or until all water is absorbed; if water is absorbed and orzo is still a bit too al-dente-ish for you, add more water and cook a few more minutes. When all water is absorbed, fluff up with a fork, then put the lid back on for a couple of minutes. Serve with fresh parsley sprinkled on top.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Christmas Lima Beans

This evening we ate Christmas Lima Beans, toasted with lemon juice and massaged kale (with olive oil) and lightly seasoned with a teaspoon of Pike Market dipping herbs. We also had a large platter of crudités with tahini and sliced, roasted potatoes.

The reason I mention this very simple but delicious meal is that I keep encountering vegan cookbooks that call for super complicated dishes that try to recreate, in a healthy/compassionate form, convenience food with animal ingredients. It's nice to eat that way once in a while--I made the mac-and-cheese pretty recently and it was yummy--but the bottom line is that, regardless of your eating regime, eating more simply and relying mostly on vegetables and fruit is a good idea.

I also mention this because there are many, many kinds of interesting and delicious beans in the world, and they are so flavorful that they don't require much fuss to make a good meal.