Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Butternut squash and apple cider soup

It feels kind of like fall is here, at least Houston's version of fall. I had tea and granola on the balcony this morning, and it was pleasantly cool. It's in the 80s this afternoon, but the humidity is low, so we can imagine that it's crisp outside even if it is a little warm. This is a great fall soup. Squash is of course a classic fall ingredient, and the warm curry spices and sweetness of the cider are perfect when the weather is cooler. With a nice green salad or a big helping of sauteed kale and maybe some crusty bread, this makes a healthy, hearty dinner. The recipe is from Jeanne Lemlin's Vegetarian Classics, my very first vegetarian cookbook. My grandparents got it for me the year I "converted", and it's full of good, solid recipes I keep coming back to.

Butternut squash and apple cider soup
Serves 4 as a main course.

3 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
3 cups water
3 cups apple cider
3 pounds butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 7 cups)
1/3 cup uncooked white rice
1 tsp salt

Heat the oil at medium in a large soup pot. Add onions and garlic and saute until onion is soft, about 8 minutes. Sprinkle on the curry powder, toss, and cook one minute. Pour in the water and cider, then stir in the butternut squash, rice, and salt. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook until the squash is very soft, about 20 minutes. Conveniently, the rice will be done by then too. Puree in batches in a food processor or use a hand blender and blend it in the pot.

Bonus recipe:
Instead of throwing out the butternut squash seeds, you can roast them like you would pumpkin seeds. Lightly coat them with olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt, pepper, seasoned salt, cayenne, or whatever suits your fancy, and roast them at 400 F until they start turning golden. I do this in the toaster oven because it's really easy to monitor them.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Ricotta and pea dumplings

It has been a very busy couple of weeks, so although we have still been cooking and eating (Jon doing most of both), we haven't posted anything in a while. On top of that, my camera was totaled in an accident involving the floor. I have a backlog of food photos, but after that we'll be switching to a photo-free format until I can get a new camera. Luckily one of the last meals I photographed was very beautiful.
I got the idea from 101 cookbooks, and I didn't change much. I don't care for raw alium, so I omitted the shallots because the pea mixture wouldn't be cooked for very long. I also am not as artistically gifted as Heidi, so my dumplings were not as artfully rolled up as hers. But I was very pleased with them.

First, I must tell you about ricotta. In the past, I implied that ricotta and paneer were basically the same, but I used a dedicated ricotta recipe just for kicks instead of my usual paneer recipe, and it really made a difference. This was sweet and milky and soft. I think lemon juice, the acid of choice, is less acidic than vinegar, so it didn't curdle as quickly and tightly.
Here's my ricotta recipe:
Bring 2 1/2 quarts milk to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly so the milk doesn't scorch on the bottom.
Add about 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice and stir until curds form. Keep stirring for a while to get as much curdling as you can. Remove from heat.
Line a colander with 4 layers of cheesecloth or some loosely woven fabric like muslin. With a slotted spoon, scoop out as many curds as you can.
Here's where I deviated from the recipe. The whey was still pretty milky looking, so I knew there was more protein and fat we could get to curdle. I set aside the delicious, soft, sweet ricotta I had made and added a splash of vinegar to the remaining milk. It curdled instantly, and I drained the translucent yellow whey away. That cheese was not as delicate as the other ricotta, but there's no sense in wasting perfectly good cheese, so we used it for another recipe later. (Speaking of which, if anyone knows how to use whey, I'd love suggestions. I attempted to make an Icelandic whey cheese, and it didn't go so well.)

We have big plans for future ricotta. We think it will be excellent on pizza, perhaps with pesto and grapes or pears.

Back to the recipe at hand. We used the homemade ricotta and frozen peas to make this dumpling filling and then pan-fried some of them and steamed some of them. Both were good, but I thought that steaming let me appreciate the flavor of the filling more. The fried stuff tasted like delicious fried stuff, which is nice, but I when I go the trouble of making ricotta, I want to taste it. We think that this would also be great with spinach or chard in place of the peas. These don't need a dipping sauce. I think if you had one, it would overwhelm the delicate pea and lemon flavors.

Ricotta and pea dumplings (from 101 cookbooks)
2 cups frozen peas
2/3 cups fresh ricotta
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Zest of one lemon
Wonton wrappers (these can be frozen indefinitely and thaw very quickly on the counter)

Fill a small saucepan about halfway with water and bring to a boil. Add the peas and cook for 1-2 minutes. Run under cold water to stop the cooking. Combine peas, ricotta, oil, and salt in a food processor and process until mixed through. It's fine if there are still whole peas in the mixture. In a medium bowl, combine pea mixture with Parmesan and lemon zest.
Now you're ready for filling. Spoon about 1 tsp filling into the center of a wonton wrapper. Dip your finger in warm water and run it along the edge of the wrapper. Fold one corner up to the opposite corner to make a triangle, and press the edges together. If you're more agile than I am, feel free to experiment with other wonton shapes. Once you've filled as many as you think you want, either steam or pan-fry them. (I'm sure they'd be delicious deep-fried as well.)

To steam them, bring about an inch of water to a boil in a wide-bottomed saucepan. Place dumplings in a metal colander or strainer a couple inches over the boiling water. Cover and steam for about 4 minutes or until they look translucent. (Sometimes the corners of mine didn't cook all the way. It didn't bother me much.)
To pan-fry, pour a little oil into a small skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the dumplings and cover. Cook for about 2 minutes on the first side, then flip them and cook until the other side is brown and has those lovely little bubbles on it too.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Seaweed, celery, and tofu skin stir-fry

Please don't let the bad photo dissuade you from trying this recipe. I was too hungry to take my time on the pictures and got what I deserved. I got Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian last year, and he has recipes for several ingredients I had never tried before, most unusually seaweed (which he seems to be campaigning to call sea greens). I'm fairly adventurous, and I was very pleasantly surprised when I tried a seaweed salad in a Japanese restaurant for the first time, so I bought several kinds of seaweed when I was in Chinatown. They might also be available at Whole Foods and Central Market type stores, but they're dirt-cheap in Chinatown.
I don't know very much about seaweed, but there are several different kinds. Of course, everyone knows nori, which is used to wrap sushi. Kombu, or kelp, usually comes in brittle flat sheets and is used to make dashi, the stock used in miso soup. Hijiki, arame, and wakame come as small tendrils. Wakame is pretty salty, but none of the other ones I've mentioned are. I used half wakame and half hijiki in this recipe. Bittman says that arame and dulse can also be used. I've never encountered dulse, but he says it's a red seaweed native to New England. None of these are the kinds you find in Japanese restaurant seaweed salad. I don't know if that is easy to get fresh outside of Japanese restaurants. There are also sea beans, but I find them gaggingly salty.
In case you have trepidation about eating sea greens, you should know that I definitely didn't grow up eating them, but they aren't slimy or overly salty or fishy. They are high in iron, potassium, protein, and essential trace minerals like magnesium. (Not every one is high in every category, but most of them are high in at least one of those.)

Seaweed, celery, and tofu skin stir-fry (adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman)

2/3 cup dry seaweed, some combination of arame, dulse, hijiki, and wakame (I used half hijiki and half wakame)
1 4x4-inch square of kombu, thinly sliced (scissors work well to cut it)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup onions, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
3 stalks celery, cleaned and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 oz tofu skins, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted if you want

Put the seaweed in a 2-cup measuring cup and add warm water up to 2 cups. The seaweed will expand like crazy. It's pretty amazing. You should have about 2 cups at the end. If you've got too much, just toss a little extra in the stir-fry or add it to the next Asian-style soup you make, or dress it with some sesame oil, ginger, and soy sauce for a little salad.
Cover the kombu in plenty of water and simmer for about 15 minutes so it will get soft. Save the soaking water, call it dashi, and use it to make miso soup later. Reserve the kombu.
Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions, garlic, and ginger and cook until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the seaweed, celery, kombu, and tofu skins. If the seaweed was well-drained, add a little water (not more than 1/4 cup), but if it wasn't, it shouldn't need more water. Cover the pan and cook for about 7 minutes. Stir in the soy sauce, sesame oil, and sesame seeds. Serve. I think this would be ideal served over brown rice, but I forgot to start cooking it, so I used black rice noodles, another exotic Chinatown find.

To make up for the bad picture at the beginning, here's a cool picture of some tofu skins before getting chopped and cooked.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Caramelized onion tart

This is kind of the opposite of the last post, at least in my food world. It's very rich and indulgent. Luckily, since it's so rich, you don't want to eat a lot of it. As you can see above, I just had a small piece of this tart with a big salad and a bunch of asparagus for a very nice meal. Jon and I managed to make it last two dinners and one lunch. If you know Jon, you know that is quite a feat.

Caramelized onion tart (from Jeanne Lemlin's Vegetarian Classics)
If you caramelize the onions the night before, this comes together very quickly.

1 sheet frozen puff pastry
1 tbsp olive oil
2 lb onions, thinly sliced (about 9 cups)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
Dash cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese (we used Ementaler)

Let the puff pastry thaw for at least 30 minutes on the counter or a few hours in the fridge. You want it to be cool but not frozen when you work with it.
While you're waiting on the puff pastry, prepare the onions. Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the onions and partially cover the pot. Cook, stirring often, for about 40 minutes or until the onions are a deep caramel color and very soft. You'll want to turn down the heat as the onions begin to soften so they can cook slowly and get all nice and brown. Scrape the bottom of the pot often to prevent sticking. Marvel at how much their volume decreases. Let the onions cool.
Lightly butter a tart pan or pie dish. On a lightly floured surface roll the puff pastry into an 11-inch square (just a little thinner than its starting size.) Press into the buttered pie dish and tear off the bits than hang over unless you want puff pastry charcoal at the end.
Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Beat in the cream, cayenne, and salt. Stir in the cheese and onions. Spoon the mixture into the pie dish. It might look underfilled, but it will fill out as it bakes. Bake 30-35 minutes at 425, until the custard is set and the crust is a deep gold. Ours looked like this:
Cool on a wire rack for 15-20 minutes before serving.

Ginger-miso yam wraps

In the airport on my way to a wedding last weekend, I was browsing through magazines to kill some time and the Vegetarian Times caught my eyes. This was the first recipe I flipped to, and it looked intriguing enough that I bought the magazine. It provided good reading and lots of inspiration on the flight. I even bought a subscription when I got home, so I'm sure you'll see many more VT recipes on this blog.
This recipe turned out really well, and I would not thought to have put it together. In the magazine, it doesn't call for blanching the collard leaves, but it makes them more supple, so they don't crack when you roll them up, and I like the taste better. I will say, however, that the raw ones are a little less messy to eat, so if you wanted to eat this in the car or somewhere you didn't have access to a napkin or utensils, you might want to go with raw. You can probably use other greens in place of the collards if you want, but collards are generally the cheapest green at the store, and they work perfectly well. The recipe called for smooth peanut butter, but I didn't have any, so I substituted tahini. I know people often make the substitution the other way in hummus. Both of them are rich and nutty and work well.

Two blanched leaf wraps on the left, one raw leaf wrap on the right

Ginger-miso yam wraps (from Vegetarian Times)
1 lb sweet potatoes (2-3 small or 1 large)
2 tbsp miso paste
1 tbsp smooth peanut butter or tahini
1 tsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp finely chopped shallot or onion
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup frozen shelled edamame
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
6 ox firm silken tofu, crumbled (1 cup)
2 tbsp chopped cilantro, optional
8 collard green leaves

Bake the sweet potatoes. I poke them a few times, wrap them in foil, and bake at 400-425 for an hour or so. When they have cooled enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and mash it. You can do this up to three days or so in advance and just keep it in the fridge. Mash the miso and peanut butter or tahini into the sweet potatoes.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium and add the onion, ginger, and garlic. Saute them for about 3 minutes. Add the edamame, 1/4 cup water, and cayenne. Cook 3 minutes more. The water should be mostly evaporated, and the edamame should be a good texture. Remove from heat and stir in tofu, cilantro if using, and sweet potato mixture.

Now prep the collard leaves. Wash them thoroughly and cut off the bottom part of the stem that extends past the leaf. Don't cut out the thick part of the stem in the leaf, but do thin it by cutting it in half through the part that sticks out behind the leaf. (I hope that made sense.) You can either use them raw or blanch them. If you want to blanch them, bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Place the leaves in the water and remove them almost immediately with tongs. I do this one at a time so none of them will get mushy. They should turn bright green and become very pliable.

To assemble the wraps, spoon 1/4-1/3 cup sweet potato mixture onto a collard leaf. Roll it up the best you can, trying not to let the mixture spill everywhere. I'm imperfect at this right now, but it still tastes good. You can also make smaller, two-bite wraps by cutting the leaves into halves or thirds before filling them. I would say 3 wraps is a good serving. Vegetarian Times says 2 wraps is a serving, but that's only 179 calories, and that's not many for a lunch. In case you're curious, they include the nutritional info for two wraps: 179 calories, 10 g protein, 5 g fat, 25 g carbs, 302 mg sodium, 5 g fiber, and 8 g sugars.