Sunday, November 29, 2015

Banana Cake

Emboldened by the successful poached pear pie, I decided to do something about the four overripe bananas in our fruit basket. This came out delightful--moist, fragrant, wholesome, and not too sweet.

4 ripe bananas
1/2 cup coconut sugar, brown sugar, or maple syrup
3/4 cup vegetable oil (I used safflower oil)
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
tiny bit of salt
optional: almond slivers, unsweetened coconut flakes

Heat oven to 375 Fahrenheit. Mash bananas in a bowl and add sugar and vegetable oil. When sort of mixed, add flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt and mix until combined (not too much). If you like, add almond slivers and coconut flakes. Transfer to pan (I like my Bundt cake silicone pan) and bake for about 35 minutes, or until a knife or toothpick inserted in the middle comes out dry. Wait until the cake cools to invert and slice.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Poached Pear Pie

We've been invited to a post-Thanksgiving party called You're Welcome! And we're not coming empty-handed. This beautiful (and entirely vegan) pie will be our contribution to the festivities.

6 ripe pears
1 cup unsweetened cranberry juice
1 herbal tea bag (we used rose hip and lavender)
2 cinnamon sticks
5 cloves
4 cardamom pods
1 splash whiskey
1 homemade or bought pie crust
1/2 cup maple syrup
4 tbsp agar flakes
1 tsp powdered cinnamon
1 tsp powdered nutmeg

Halve the pears and core them. Place the pear halves in a bit pot. Add cranberry juice, herbal tea bag, cinnamon sticks, cloves, cardamom, and whiskey. Then, add hot water to cover the pears. Simmer for about 15-20 mins.

Remove pear halves from syrup. Wait until they cool down a bit, then slice thinly and arrange in pie crust. 

Strain syrup from all whole spices, add powdered spices, agar, and maple syrup. Cook until reduced to a syrupy consistency (a bit liquid is okay; the agar will help it gel). Drizzle onto pie to cover pears. Bake for 30 mins at 350 degrees. Let cool completely.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Delicate Zucchini Soup

It's a cold post-Thanksgiving morning, with a gorgeous but deceitful sun outside. To stay warm, I made a simple green soup. It's creamy, yet not too rich, and very easy to make.

6 zucchini
2 potatoes
1 onion
2-3 garlic cloves
optional: powdered dried vegetables or a bouillon cube
1/2 cup unsweetened soymilk or other nutmilk
4 tbsp olive oil
salt, pepper, and parsley to taste

Cover zucchini, potatoes, garlic, and onion with salted water, add dried vegetables or bouillon, and bring to a boil. Then, lower the heat and simmer until vegetables are soft. Transfer vegetables, and some of the water, into a blender and puree. Add soymilk and olive oil and puree again until smooth. Return to pot, mix with broth, and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle fresh parsley on top.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Tom Kha Kai

The intense travel and business obligations have finally won: I'm unwell. Chad very kindly made a beautiful pot of Tom Kha Kai, one of my favorite Thai soups.

1/2 package extra-firm tofu
10 white mushrooms
8 cloves garlic
1/2 butternut squash
3 tbsp curry paste
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 can coconut cream
1-2 cups water
1 cup chopped greens (we used mustard greens, but any greens will do)
2 roma tomatoes, diced
a few stalks lemongrass
1 oz galanga root
2 leaves from lemon tree (kaffir lime would've been authentic, but we have a lemon tree
1/2 package rice noodles

Stir-fry and brown tofu, mushrooms, garlic and squash with curry paste in sesame oil. Once browned, add coconut cream and an equal amount of water. Add diced tomatoes and greens, as well as galanga, lemongrass, and lemon leaves. Lower the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Separately, soak rice noodles in boiling water and add to soup right before serving.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


My one and only friend Dena has outdone herself again. Her birthday gift to me was Amanda Feifer's beautiful book Ferment Your Vegetables. 

Feifer, the owner of Phickle blog, is a true fermentation enthusiast, and her descriptions of bacteria and biological processes bubble, pun intended, with a vivacious spirit of experiment. She explains the process clearly and helpfully, details the necessary (cheap) equipment (you pretty much already have what you need) and provides dozens of great recipes for different vegetables.

I plan to make pretty much everything in the book! Today I started off with her radishes and onion recipe, modifying it--I can't seem to make any recipe as written--by adding the beets we have left over from a week of soups and juices. I shall report back on the outcome, but this is basically what I did:

8 radishes
4 beets
1 red onion
2 cups water
4 tbsp salt

I sliced the radishes and beets to a 1/2 inch thickness, tetris-ed them into a jar, then poured the water and salt brine on top. I weighed down the veg with a silicone glass cover, and now we wait.

Roasted Root Vegetables

This simple dish is something I often make to accompany other things. I got extremely lucky yesterday: Whole Foods had purple yams, which I had never seen before. The combination of white, orange, and purple made the dish beautiful as well as tasty.

The principle is simple: Take whichever root vegetables you have and dice them into 1.5-inch cubes. Place in one layer in on a baking sheet. Add olive oil, rosemary sprigs, garlic, some salt and pepper, and roast in a 350-degree oven.

An important improvement: Roasted roots are juicier and more moist inside if roasted inside an oven bag. Don't forget to poke a few holes in the bag for steam to escape.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

White beans with Kale

Cannellini beans work very well with kale, and in this gentle recipe they combine to form a warm and satisfying dish.

4 cups cannellini beans, dry
2 package dino kale
2 tsp olive oil
juice from 1 lemon
1 tsp salt
handful sage leaves
1 tsp herbs de provence

Soak beans in water (for hours if possible; if not, soak briefly in boiling water).
Tear kale leaves into little pieces, getting stems out of the way. Add 1 tsp olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and massage leaves until tender, dark green, and not bitter anymore. Set aside.

Meanwhile, drain beans, add fresh water to cover them, and cook until tender.

Mix beans with kale, sprinkling sage and herbs de provence on dish.

Green Salad and Red Salad

Two of my favorite vegetable salads: a green one with avocado and grapefruit, and a tomato-mint based red one.

Green Salad

1 large package mixed greens, or 50/50 mixed greens with baby spinach
2 ripe avocados
2 red grapefruits
1 tbsp good quality mustard
1 tsp olive oil
juice from 1/2 lemon
3 tbsp water

Peel and dice avocados and grapefruit. Toss with mixed greens in big bowl. Shortly before serving, mix remaining four ingredients and drizzle over salad.

Red Salad

10 Roma tomatoes
6 radishes
1/2 red onion
juice from 1 lemon
1 tsp olive oil
handful mint leaves

This one works best with very thin slices, so strive for those as you slice tomatoes, radishes, and onion. Place in bowl in layers and drizzle lemon juice and olive oil on top. Sprinkle thinly ribboned mint leaves.

Two-Step Spicy Green Beans

In 2009 I backpacked in China with my friend Rosie. When we arrived in Xi'an to see Emperor Qin Shi Huang's terracotta army, we found the city just as fascinating, complete with a beautiful Muslim quarter with mosques. The food in the Muslim quarter was spicier than anywhere else we went; Rosie could not even eat the green beans because they contained more chiles than beans! But we did like the flavor very much, enough to try and replicate it upon our return with just a tad less heat.

It turns out that the special flavor and texture of the beans requires a two-step process. The excellent resource Serious Eats explains that, in China, this comes from deep-frying the beans as Step 1. They suggest, instead, broiling the beans before tossing them with the aromatics. Alas, I don't have a broiler, so I tossed the beans in a very hot dry pan (no oil at all) until I charred them, and then tossed them with the remaining ingredients.

4 cups green beans
10 shiitake mushrooms
1 chile
2 tbsp chopped scallions
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp grated garlic
1 tbsp Bragg's Liquid Aminos or soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil

Trim edges off green beans. Heat a dry pan, and when it's very hot, toss beans in. Keep moving the beans in the pan until you can see some searing on all the beans. Remove from pan.

Add oil and thinly sliced chili to pan. Heat for a couple of minutes, then reduce heat and add scallions, ginger, garlic, and Bragg's. Cook for another two minutes. Add mushrooms and toss around until soft. Then add beans and toss a bit. Serve hot right away!

Vegan Chocolate Pots-de-Creme

Tonight I'm serving dinner for 20; my seminar students are coming over for our last class. Lots of beautiful salads, grains, legumes, roasted vegetables and other exciting things in the making; the first thing to be prepared and in the fridge is dessert.

My friend Andrea forwarded me a recipe for pots-de-creme, and I've modified it a bit and made enormous quantities. The following will leave you with a blenderful of creme, which you can serve in nice glass cups, pour into little filo dough ramekins (that's what we did here), or freeze for ice cream.

2 packages tofu: I used one silken and one firm. Soft would do just as fine.
2 1/4 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1 package (approx 2 cups) dark chocolate chips
2 tbsp baking cocoa
optional: 2 tbsp brown sugar or maple syrup

Heat almond milk in saucepan until very hot but not yet boiling. At the same time, place tofu, chips, cocoa powder and sugar in blender. Add hot milk and blend until very very smooth. Refrigerate for several hours before serving.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Red Lentil Stew

This stew is so simple and incredibly tasty. I made it after a long day of eating less-then-optimal food at a work event (bagels for breakfast, sandwiches and chips for lunch; would you like more starch with your starch?). After learning lots of interesting things, and collaborating with others in a new initiative that, it is hoped, will make the world just a bit better, I worked out and then decided to make something warm and nice for dinner. It's a pretty red soup, but to my surprise it doesn't become beet-pink. I bet the leftovers will be even better at lunch tomorrow!

2 cups red lentils
4 large carrots
3 large zucchini
3 medium-sized beets
4 large shiitake mushrooms
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp dried vegetable powder
1 tbsp baharat
1 tsp salt

Dice all vegetables. Place in pot and cover with hot water. Cook for at least 30 minutes; the longer this cooks, the better, and you might need to add some water once the lentils drink it up.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

What I'd Really Like for my Birthday

As the semester reaches its usual boiling point, I think of home as a place of rest and repose. Which is why, for my birthday, which happened this weekend, I didn't actually want to do anything special. Still, many special things happened. We had a wonderful dinner at Greens. I got a beautiful white orchid from my friend Raul and a vegan chocolate cake and a snazzy handmade dress from reclaimed sweaters and a gorgeous mug for my morning tea from Chad. And my parents funded my new Vitamix, which is a source of endless cooking magic. And this morning, my beloved friend Dena sent me a fermenting book, Amanda Feifer's Ferment Your Vegetables. I can't wait to make my own kimchi!

I have everything I could possibly need, live happily and want for nothing. But if you really, really want to give me a birthday gift, please exclude meat, cheese, and eggs from a meal, or two, or five, or all of them, this week. There is nothing that will make me happier than more animals that will get to live thanks to this simple action. Thank you!

Chamin 3.0: Extreme Departure from Tradition

It's finally raining a bit in San Francisco--just in time to help our new olive tree, whom we named Habibi, to adapt to its new surroundings, and to irrigate our newly-in-the-ground purple cauliflower and brussels sprouts. Of course, this also means putting up a new chamin pot.

My prior forays into the world of chamin produced this wonderful pot and this delectable version. But today, the slow cooker includes:

1 cup azuki beans
1 cup mung beans
1/2 cup brown rice
1 sugarpie pumpkin, lightly roasted in the oven
1 big onion, chopped and lightly browned in olive oil
5 shiitake mushrooms
1 package of kale

Not quite Eastern European, but very delicious. I seasoned it with cloves, cracked cardamom pods, and a couple of spoonfuls of dried vegetable powder, and covered with hot water for a long cooking time (4 hours on high, 10 more hours on low). The nice thing about layering the ingredients neatly in the pot  is that you can serve yourself whatever you like and leave behind things you like less. In my case, this is not a problem, as I like everything!

Homemade Pita

Who doesn't like a fresh pita, straight from the oven? If you don't, it's because you've been eating thin, inadequate North-American ones, not the fluffy Middle-Eastern ones. Chad got this recipe from Aba Gil, who now has a gluten-free, vegan deli in Tel Aviv. Before his gluten-free phase, Aba Gil had a wonderful organic humusserie, which we used to frequent when we lived in Israel. And he taught (and still teaches) great workshops. Chad attended one of those and kept the recipe for posterity; today we made some of these and ate them with fragrant ful, jalapeno"cheese", and vegetables.

Anyway, here goes:

Mix and knead a bit:

500g flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 packet active yeast
350cc water (about 12oz)

These will create a firm dough - for those of you used to baking non-pita bread in a pan, the dough will be firmer than your remember. You should exercise some judgment with the water; you might not need all of it. Place dough in a bowl, cover with a towel, and leave somewhere warm for an hour (we used our old oven, with the pilot light on.)

After an hour, break the dough, which should be pretty gargantuan by now, into six balls of aproximately 4-5 inch diameters, and give them a bit of a mushroom cap shape. The original recipe calls for letting those sit for an additional 40 mins, but our meticulous experiments prove you can wait only 10 mins or so and that's enough.

When ready to make, roll the balls into 8-9 diameter flat discs, approximately 1cm (2/5 inch) thick.

Heat a dry frying pan to a very, very, very hot temperature! Place the pita on the pan and wait for it to balloon up (that's the pocket, you see). Flip so that both sides are heated evenly. When ready, take out of pan and enjoy warm and fresh.

Jalapeño "Cheese"

This one is very, very, very easy, and is an excellent sandwich filling. Highly recommended!

1/2 package firm tofu
2 jalapeño peppers
a bit of lemon juice
a bit of salt

Open the jalapeños and get as many seeds out as you like (the more you leave in, the spicier it will be). Place them in blender or food procesor with tofu, lemon juice, and salt to taste; blend/mix until homogenous and pink. Note that the image shows it on homemade pita; recipe forthcoming.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Pumpkin Bread

Pumpkin bread!

We used the basic recipe from the Minimalist Baker and made a few substitutions - doubling the recipe and using ingredients we happened to have at home. The method of preparation is the same, but our ingredients were:

1 cup jaggery
6 tbsp olive oil
3tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
pinch sea salt
pinch chana masala seasoning
1 cup soy milk
2.5 cups whole-grain flour blend (we used about 40% oat, 25% buckwheat,  25% brown rice, 10% arrowroot powder)
1/2 cup currants
1/2 cup roasted walnuts
1 tbsp flax
3 tbsp water

We served it with a dollop of cashew cream on top (unsweetened, but with a tad of vanilla extract) and some fresh kiwi on the side.

Winter Is Coming Garden Soup

Growing vegetables in a small plot, or in windowsill boxes, is easy, cheap, and very gratifying. In Tel Aviv, I grew herbs in boxes on my balcony; in El Cerrito, I had a little plot in the back yard. Here in Mission Terrace we grow vegetables all around the garden, surrounded by flowers and, sometimes, by curious cats. But one of our favorite vegetable growing spots is in the L-shaped plot around our house. We don't have, never have, and never will have, a lawn; instead, we have fruit trees and a variety of California natives (the yerba buena is particularly aromatic and gladdens our neighbors; several of them have mentioned how much they like to walk by and smell our plants). The advantage of natives, beyond their beauty, is their adaptive nature; they deal better with the drought than other plants, and certainly better than water-intensive lawns, many of which are now dry in California.

[As an aside, brown lawns have become a bit of a status symbol in the Bay Area, n'est ces pas? It saddens me a bit that we're engaging in these showy water-saving displays when eating plants in lieu of animal products is the single most meaningful and important step everyone can take to save water. Eating a burger--one burger--is the equivalent of showering for two months straight. I wish the powers-that-be were less preoccupied with placating this cruel industry; if all Californians refrained from eating meat, dairy, and eggs on a fairly regular basis, much of these brown-is-the-new-green dramatics would be unnecessary.]

But back to the vegetables. Surrounded by flowers we have a vegetable plot in which we grow seasonal produce. In the picture you can see a colander full of freshly picked chard and kale (several varieties of each.) There is so much that can be done with them, but yesterday's drizzle called for some soup, so here it is:

1 pound chard, kale, and other green vegetables
1 sweet potato
1 potato
4 celery stalks
1/2 onion
1 cup Pomi or other canned tomato product (or fresh tomatoes)
Herbs de Provence to taste
(if you have any) 2 tbsp dried vegetable soup mix

Slice and dice vegetables and place in pot with Pomi, herbs, and dried vegetables. Cover with water and cook for 45 minutes.

Grilled Vegetables

Vegetables on the grill are so delicious that the prominence of meat in the many grilling events I've attended over the years is somewhat befuddling. All you need is some produce and a bit of creativity, as we found out yesterday at Tomales Bay

The sky was overcast and it was gently drizzling the whole time, but it did not deter us from going for a nice swim in the chilly bay, where we had a couple of pelicans for company. They swam and flew very close to us--how exciting!

The pelicans reminded me of how much I love Judy Irving's terrific documentary Pelican Dreams. In fact, that's the movie that pushed me to become vegan, because I realized, while learning about the environmental threats faced by these beautiful birds, that everything is interconnected, and that the best thing I could do for all animals--farm animals AND wild animals--is to stop consuming them in any form.

But back to the vegetables. After our swim, we sliced up a potato, a yam, and a red onion, removed the less-exciting parts of several green onions, sliced up two Field Roast sausages lengthwise, and removed the stems from an entire bunch of rainbow chard leaves. We set all of this up in one layer on foil, drizzling olive oil and sprinkling cumin on our bounty.

Setting up the grill is easy, but time consuming. It calls for a match, some kindling (we used splinters) and coals. We started by lifting the grid (and cleaning the ashes inside), and then by making a little fire with the splinters and doctoring it to health. This requires some patience when there's wind and a drizzle, but is certainly doable. Then, we gently and carefully placed the coals atop the little fire, taking care not to extinguish it.

The idea behind cooking on charcoal is as follows: when oxygen (in the air) meets carbon (in the charcoal), they produce CO2 (they also sometimes produce CO, carbon monoxide, which is why doing this indoors is a very bad idea.) A by-product of the chemical reaction is heat. You can tell that things are going okay by the coals starting to become white and ashen. When the process starts, it's time to put down the grid and layer the foil atop it. It helps with steaming if you cover your food with a second piece of foil.

Everything on the grill was delicious, but I was particularly fond of the chard and sweet potato. The grilling process imparted a smoky and wonderful taste, which you can sort-of-but-not-accurately recreate at home by adding liquid smoke. The big discovery was how unnecessary meat was. While the vegan sausages were great, the vegetables were terrific, and I can see us trying with eggplant, green beans, and tomato slices next time.

Finally, before heading home, don't forget to extinguish the fire!