Friday, October 30, 2009

Inspiration soup II

After my last batch of chickpeas, I had a ton of chickpea cooking water, so I decided to make an inspiration soup. It was a cold and rainy day, so I wanted something hearty and comforting. Instead of the vaguely Indian spice route I usually take, I decided to go Italian with some rosemary and Italian seasoning blend. I may have overdone it a little on the rosemary, but it was pretty good. I had a gorgeous bunch of Swiss chard to use, and of course some chickpeas. I also wanted something starchy. I decided on some "rice stick" noodles I had in the pantry because I didn't really feel like potatoes, and I didn't have much in the way of regular pasta. I think the rice noodles were perfect. They soaked up the broth flavors very nicely. My chard had pink stems, and the color leached out into the broth, giving it a gorgeous warm oragey hue. I think the carrot helped with that too.

I'll be busy most of the day tomorrow, so this is my last vegan month of food post. It was fun to eat a little more vegan for the month and learn a little bit about some vegan foods I had never tried before. I definitely ate fewer eggs and dairy products because of the theme this month, which was probably good for me and the earth.

Inspiration soup

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
1 carrot, diced
1 bunch Swiss chard, stems and leaves separated, stems diced, leaves cut into thin strips
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp Italian seasoning (blend of thyme, oregano, basil, etc.)
2 quarts chickpea cooking water
1 tsp salt
1 cup cooked chickpeas
4 oz. rice stick noodles

Saute onion, garlic, carrot, and Swiss chard stems in the oil for about five minutes. Add spices and stir briefly. Add chickpea water, salt, and chickpeas. Bring to a boil. Add the noodles. When the noodles are almost soft enough for you, add the Swiss chard leaves. They will wilt very quickly. Stir through, make sure the noodles are cooked to the consistency you like, and serve. You might want to add a little salt at the table.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pineapple peanut butter stew with millet

It sounds odd, but pineapple and peanut butter are both good in savory dishes. I've seen several versions of peanut or groundnut stew, but this is the only one I've seen that (brilliantly) adds pineapple. This is a recipe I got from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, and I think it was my first exposure to kale. You can use any green in it, but kale keeps a lot of texture when cooked, which is nice in this dish. I think millet is the perfect grain for this dish, but couscous and rice are good too. This recipe makes 2-4 hearty servings, depending on how big the bunch of greens is.

Pineapple peanut butter stew (from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home)
Pineapple tidbits are best for this, but crushed pineapple or pineapple chunks are perfectly acceptable. You want pineapple that is packed in pineapple juice, not sugary syrup. Fresh pineapple would be great, I'm sure, but if I've gone to the trouble of disassembling a pineapple, I'm not about to cook it in a stew.

1 cup hulled millet

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 cups undrained canned pineapple (20 oz. can)
1 bunch greens, washed and sliced (5 cups or more)
1/2 cup peanut butter
Tabasco sauce to taste (1 tsp or more)
Cilantro, chopped, for garnish
Crushed peanuts, for garnish

Combine millet, 1 3/4 cups water, and a large pinch of salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook for about 20 minutes, or until water is gone. If it's still a bit crunchy, add a couple tablespoons of water at a time and cook until tender enough.

In a large pot, saute onion and garlic in oil for about 10 minutes, or until the onions are lightly browned. Add the pineapple and its juice to the onions and bring to a simmer. Stir in the greens, cover, and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring a few times, until greens are wilted. Mix in the peanut butter and Tabasco sauce and simmer for 5 minutes. Add salt to taste. Garnish with cilantro and crushed peanuts if desired.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Stuffed Peppers

I love vegetables stuffed with stuff. It just seems fancy to go to the trouble of sticking food into food. Here is a recipe for stuffed peppers that I tried a few weeks ago on experimental Indian night.

4 green bell peppers, about 1 inch of tops cut off and saved, seeds and pith removed

1 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 onion, diced
1 tomato, diced
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp turmeric
a bit of coriander, cayenne, garlic powder, salt and pepper
2 cups basmati rice, cooked
2/3 cup French lentils, cooked

Bake peppers at 350 F for 20 minutes before stuffing.
In the meantime, saute the onions. When soft add in diced tomato and seasoning. Saute for 5 minutes. Add rice and lentis and mix well, cooking for 2 minutes. Stuff peppers with filling. Bake until the pepper skins start to wrinkle and char.

Deconstructed hummus

This post has three parts. In the first, I wax poetic about bulk spices. In the second, I wax poetic about dry chickpeas. In the third I give you a recipe.

The Central Market near me recently (past six months or so) started selling bulk spices. Oh my goodness, it's awesome. I have often read that buying spices in bulk was the way to go, but there weren't many places for me to do that. I could get a few things in gigantic bags from Indian, Middle Eastern, and Chinese grocery stores, but while I saved in the unit price, I had to get a lot at one time. Now I can get exotic spices tablespoons (and cents) at a time, saving me money and storage space and keeping my spices fresher. Combined with my recent acquisition of a spice grinder, I lead a charmed life.

Since I love listening to Saturday morning radio (Car Talk, Wait Wait, and even the insufferable twits on Says You) and have an HD radio in the kitchen, I like to have cooking projects on Saturday morning. This past Saturday, I made a batch of granola and cooked up a pound of chickpeas I had soaked overnight. I am always amazed at how cheaply I can make food from dry beans. I can buy a pound of dried chickpeas for 99 cents at my Fiesta. Cooked, that's about six and a half cups. I made two cups of the chickpea salad below and used two cups in Mark Bittman's roasted chickpea dish. (It's quite nice, and I might post it on here later once I play with it a little more.) I had two cups leftover. Some have gone on salads, and I used some in a delicious "inspiration soup" last night. I probably have about a cup of chickpeas still left in the fridge. I saved the cooking liquid and used it as the base of the soup. All those recipes for under a dollar's worth of chickpeas! It's great. Canned chickpeas are also quite cheap compared to meat or restaurant food, but the dried ones are unbeatable.

Deconstructed hummus

2 cups cooked chickpeas
Juice of 1/2 lemon (about 1 tbsp)
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp za'atar (to make your own, see next recipe)
Salt to taste

Combine ingredients and adjust seasoning to taste. I wanted to let you know whether it was better the next day, but Jon ate it all before I had a chance. It was really good.

Za'atar (from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman)
1/4 cup sesame seeds
2 tbsp dried thyme
2 tbsp sumac

Toast the sesame seeds in a toaster oven or a dry skillet until golden. Allow to cool. Combine spices.

Monday, October 26, 2009

My first tofu scramble

Hooray, I have met another goal of vegan month: I have now made a tofu scramble. I based it on this recipe, suggested by mollyjade. It contains nutritional yeast, which I had never used before. I don't know exactly what it contributed to the taste, but the scramble was definitely very savory and good. I enjoy egg scrambles at breakfast, and I can definitely see myself doing some tofu scrambles instead. Next time, I will add more vegetables because my preferred tofu brand (aka the cheapest one at Fiesta) comes in 1-pound containers, and that's a lot of tofu. I might also omit the lime juice. I found the sourness a little odd. Below is the scramble exactly as I made it this morning. My tofu expired several months ago, so it had dried out somewhat and I didn't have to drain or press it. If you are more punctual about eating your tofu, you might want to press it or drain it on towels.

Tofu scramble
This made two hearty helpings, and we had about one cup left over.

2 tsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
2 Swiss chard leaves, stems separated from green parts, both chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp ground smoked paprika
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
1 lb tofu, crumbled
juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
whole cumin seeds for garnish, optional

Saute the onion, red pepper, and chard stems in the oil for about 3 minutes, or until soft. Add the spices and stir. Deglaze the pan with about 1/4 cup water. Stir in the tofu and cook for about 7 minutes. Add the chard leaves and cook until wilted, about 3 more minutes. Stir in the lime juice and nutritional yeast. Garnish with cumin seeds if desired.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Eggplant Salad

Here is an eggplant salad from the Moosewood New Classics cookbook. It is really good plus it is a pleasant way to eat eggplant on a hot summer day.

5 cups peeled eggplant (in 1 inch cubes)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 large cucumber (peeled)
1 pepper
2 tomatoes
2 scallions

Bake the cubed eggplant on 450 for about 25 minutes stirring every 10 minutes. The should be soft and diminished when the are done. Slice the scallion, cucumber, tomatoes and pepper.

Prepare marinade:
1/4 cup lime juice
1 Tbsp lime zest
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 Tbsp fish or soy sauce
1 or 2 Tbsp fresh mint
1/4 cup chopped Thai basil
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
chili to taste

Whisk marinade and add to eggplant. Let sit for a bit (they say an hour). Combine with the salad. We like to serve this with noodles (say rice noodles or vermicelli). In this form I find it can be a meal (though you may want to add some tofu for protein). It can be good with a bit more eggplant (which is the star) and marinade.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Roasted root vegetables with fennel spice blend

My sister gave me a coffee grinder for my birthday so I could use it as a spice grinder. I had always relied on pre-ground spices before, including a lot of pre-mixed spice blends. Now that I have the spice grinder, I feel free to make whatever exotic spice blends I want. This month's Vegetarian Times had an interesting-looking fennel spice blend, so I made it, and now I'm trying to use it in a bunch of different stuff. It was OK but not great in hummus and pretty good sprinkled on roasted butternut squash seeds, but it was perfect with this vegetable roast.

The vegetables themselves were pretty exciting. We used a total of seven different vegetables. Five of them were new to me in cooking, although I have probably eaten them before. Instead of the usual sweet potatoes, we used a garnet yam and a Japanese sweet potato (at least that's what Central Market called them). The Japanese sweet potato had deep maroon skin but a white interior. It was stickier than regular potato or sweet potato when cooked.
Japanese sweet potato on the left, garnet yam on the right
I am looking forward to doing a potato and sweet potato roast with Japanese sweet potatoes and normal new potatoes. I think the contrast in texture and flavor would be neat since there wouldn't be a color contrast. The other new to me root vegetables were celery root, turnip, and rutabaga. The celery root was pretty neat. I only used half of it and plan on trying remoulade with the other half. The rutabaga and turnip mostly provided contrast. This dish took a lot of scrubbing and chopping, but other than that it was really easy. Next time I might start cooking the celery root before the other vegetables. It was still a bit crunchy when the other ones were done, but we didn't mind the textural contrast. We served this with a beautiful salad made by Jon and corn chowder I made while the veggies were roasting. That recipe should be posted here soon.

Roasted root vegetables with fennel spice blend
Of course, you can vary the roots as desired. I think we had about 8 cups total.

1 garnet yam
1 Japanese sweet potato
1/2 of a large celery root, peel removed (This is a bit annoying. Just accept that you'll lose some of the root and use a sharp knife to cut the peel away as best you can.)
2 carrots, peeled
3 beets, greens and "tails" cut off
1 turnip, peeled
1 rutabaga, peeled
1 tsp olive oil (not extra-virgin)
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp fennel spice blend (see next recipe)

Preheat oven to 400 F. Thoroughly wash and scrub all the vegetables that aren't peeled. Cut everything into 1 1/2-inch-ish chunks. Place all vegetables in a large baking pan. Mine was 13x9x2. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat thoroughly, adding a little more if necessary. Sprinkle with salt and fennel spice blend. Bake until vegetables are tender, about 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Sprinkle with more salt and fennel blend at the table if desired.

Fennel spice blend (from Vegetarian times)
If you don't have a spice grinder, you can use the same amounts of pre-ground spices instead.

1/4 cup whole fennel seeds
2 tsp whole coriander seeds
1/2 tsp whole peppercorns
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp paprika, either smoked or regular

Toast fennel seeds, coriander, and peppercorns in a dry skillet on medium heat for 2-3 minutes or until they are very fragrant and maybe have gotten a little golden. Put aside to cool. When they are cool, grind them with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder until they are just short of completely powdered. Stir in the cinnamon and paprika. Store in a resealable baggie or rinsed-out spice jar.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Veganized Banana Bran Bread

My first experiment with veganization was a resounding success! I have never veganized an already-vegetarian recipe before, but one of my goals this month was to try some simple substitutions, and this one worked very well. About two weeks ago I made the standard recipe for Jeanne Lemlin's banana bran bread from Vegetarian Classics. It was a great bread. It is less sweet than standard banana bread, and the bran gives it a nice chewiness. Both aspects make it more breakfasty and less desserty than normal banana bread. As written, the recipe contains eggs and melted butter. I made it as written first to make sure it was a good recipe before I started messing with things. In the vegan version, which I made last week, I used flax seeds mixed with water in place of the eggs and vegetable oil in place of the butter. I was worried that my naive substitutions would mess up the chemistry completely, but when it came out of the oven, it was great. I didn't have a piece of the first batch to compare it to, but it didn't seem to suffer at all from being veganized. Hooray! I look forward to using the flax-egg substitution in the future. Flax has a lot of fiber and omega-3's and is much lower in calories than eggs, so it is a good healthy alternative.

Veganized Banana Bran Bread
You can probably substitute whole wheat pastry flour for the all-purpose flour with no problems. I was out, so I didn't.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup wheat bran
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg, optional
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
2 tbsp ground flax seed mixed with 6 tbsp water
2-3 mashed ripe bananas
6 tbsp vegetable or nut oil

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Use shortening or oil to greast a 9x5-inch loaf pan. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients and mix. In a medium bowl mix together the flax mixture, bananas, and oil. Scrape into the flour mixture and stir just to combine. Pour into the prepared pan.
Bake for 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removing from the pan. If you have superhuman self-control, cool completely before slicing.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Quinoa salad with peas and pine nuts

This dish has four ingredients (five if you count water), and I don't think it could be improved. I intended to dress it with sesame-lemon dressing, but it was so darn good without it that I left it alone. Later I did try it dressed, and it was not nearly as good. The pine nuts are so rich and toasty that the dressing just seems sharp and unnecessary. Jon says I should call this a salad, but I think the pine nuts make it somewhat pilaf-y as well. I could definitely see this served in a butternut or acorn squash for an attractive Thanksgiving treat.

It's funny, I normally have quinoa in the pantry, but I don't actually cook it very often. This week, I've made it three times, and now it's all gone. I guess making it the first time just reminded me how good it was, so I made it some more. I think quinoa is a really good dish to take in for lunch if you don't have leftovers handy. The quinoa itself only takes about 20 minutes to cook, and while it's cooking, you can prep whatever veggies, beans, or nuts you want. You have a healthy, tasty lunch in just 20 minutes.

Quinoa salad with peas and pine nuts

1/4 cup pine nuts
3/4 cups quinoa (I used a mix of white and red)
generous pinch of salt
1 cup frozen peas

First, toast the pine nuts. I spread them out on a tray in the toaster oven and click "toast" and take them out the moment I can see that they've started to brown. You can also toast them in a dry skillet over medium heat. Set aside to cool.
Combine quinoa with 1 1/2 cups water and a large pinch of salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed. Stir in the peas and pine nuts. It's OK if the peas are still frozen. The heat from the quinoa will defrost them, and they'll bring the temperature of the quinoa down so you can eat it sooner. Serve warm or room temperature, not cold.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


My new veggies have started to sprout! I have kale, broccoli, beet, and carrot shoots out the wazoo. Of course, I am very excited, but it also means it's time to thin. Not my favorite. I know that the plants need space to grow, but I feel so bad about pulling up my babies. The carrots are going to be the worst because I had a little spill while I was planting them and ended sowing way more than I had intended. The various websites I've consulted differ, but I think I need to go to a spacing of at least 1/2" now, and I'll need to thin them a little more in a few weeks. I have already thinned the beets a little, but I'll need to thin more soon. I haven't touched the kale or broccoli yet. I will probably thin them to 4" now and a little more in a few weeks. I was going to do it last night, but I lost the nerve. At least the sprouts are tasty, so all is not lost. The kale and broccoli sprouts have a distinct broccoli taste, and the carrot sprouts have a carrot flavor without the sweetness. Like the flavor of an overgrown, bitter carrot. But also a lot of grassiness. It's neat. The beet sprouts don't taste like much, but they're bright pink, so that's neat. Now I'll leave you with a few other garden pictures taken with my new camera.

This is a volunteer dill plant along with some dill sprouts that came from grocery store seeds. I can't tell yet whether any of the cilantro plants have sprouted because the newest sprouts are too delicate for me to sample.

This is my purple globe basil, which, with a little help from the oregano, completely outcompeted the parsley and chives. I think the better herbs won.

This is my sorrel. I am very pleased that it made it through the summer. The tag that came with it said it didn't like the heat. It has sour leaves, and I think they're especially nice in salads with lemon-sesame dressing. The stems are nice in spring rolls. I think there is a traditional Jewish sorrel soup called shav, but we don't have enough to make soup.

And this is my favorite plant. I know that's like having a favorite child, but this is the volunteer basil plant that doesn't appear to be related to any of my other basil plants. It has smaller leaves than my Genovese basil and larger, less-purple leaves than Thai basil or purple globe basil. The taste is more floral than Genovese or purple globe, and I've convinced myself that it has some anise notes. My theory is that it's a hybrid between the Genovese and Thai basils, but it is still mysterious. It also seems to be very hardy, and it has grown like mad since mid-July when it first popped up. Also pictured: a little red pepper (left) and some beet sprouts (right).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Experimental Indian night

Last week, we had my old roommate over for an evening of culinary experimentation and playing a card game called Rook. We would like to make "Cook and Rook" a regular occurrence. Jon made peppers stuffed with Indian-spiced lentils and rice, and I tried dosas for the first time. Dosas are thin Indian pancakes made with a batter that uses soaked (instead of cooked) rice and urid dal (split black lentils). You let it ferment for a while and then spread it as thinly as possible and cook it like a crepe. I used Mark Bittman's recipe, but I think I'm going to browse around and look for other ones. I had trouble getting it thin enough, even after adding a lot more water than Bittman suggested. But it was fun to try a new, very different food, especially since it is fermented. I like fermenting things. The filling for the dosas was amazing: potatoes, onions, and spinach spiced with garlic, ginger, turmeric, smoked paprika, cumin, and coriander. The smoked paprika isn't particularly Indian, but it added a lot to the dish.
I enjoyed our experimental night. Usually I am opposed to cooking a new dish for company, let alone something as different (for me) as dosas, but since it was billed as experimental, I wasn't worried about it falling flat. I will probably try dosas again in the not too distant future, and if they work out better, I'll put the recipe up here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Quinoa lentil salad

I made this dish kind of on a whim last Friday to use up some extra lentils we had. We liked it so well that I made up another batch of it this morning before going to school so we could have it for lunch. It is a really quick dish. I think it could definitely become a potluck/picnic standby for me. Although it has a lot in common with my famous lentil salad, it is much subtler. I think of it as lentil salad's sophisticated older sister. We used French green lentils, which might be called de Puy lentils in your supermarket. Regular brown lentils would work fine in here, too. I don't think red lentils would work very well because they get so mushy. According to wikipedia, quinoa is high in protein, fiber, and iron. It also has a pleasant taste and texture, similar to white rice or millet. I used 1/4 red quinoa and 3/4 white for a little color contrast, but I think the taste and nutrition of both kinds is the same.

Quinoa lentil salad

1 cup quinoa
2 pinches salt
1 1/2 cups cooked lentils (from about 1/2 cup dry, I would guess)
1/2 cup fresh herbs, finely minced (I used thyme and oregano, but rosemary, basil, dill, and even mint would probably be nice)
2 stalks celery and some celery leaves, chopped

Red wine vinegar
Dijon mustard
Black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil

In a medium saucepan, bring quinoa, salt, and 2 cups water to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes, or until water has been absorbed. Mix together cooked quinoa, lentils, herbs, and celery. Whisk together a mild vinaigrette from remaining ingredients and dress the salad. I don't include amounts because I wasn't really paying attention when I made it. Just do what feels right.


I'm not from gumbo country and didn't grow up eating it, so apologies to those who are and/or did, for this is probably a slap in the face of all that is actually "gumbo". But I call it that because it's faster than "okra bean stew thing". And because Barbara Kafka did in the cookbook whence comes the recipe. This is one of the few meals I make that Jon doesn't love. He's not a fan of tomato-based stews. But I love it. The beans make it hearty and filling. The kale and okra give it a lot of texture. The corn bits are sweet. The roux and chipotle give it a nice smokiness. It's great. I serve it over rice or cornbread. This recipe makes an absurd amount, so it's perfect for serving to friends or freezing for lunch later. As is the case with most spicy recipes on this blog, the heat level is appropriate for me, and I am a big wuss. So feel free to add more chipotles, dried chilies, cayenne, or Tabasco sauce as you see fit. This recipe is a good place to hide leftover or excess veggies you have. I have had zucchinis and yellow squashes lying around that get thrown in there, and I'm sure leftover potatoes, broccoli, green beans, etc. would be good too. It's very flexible.

Vegan gumbo (from Vegetable Love by Barbara Kafka)
Makes about 13 cups, serves at least 8 very hungry people

1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 large onion, diced
5 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, finely chopped
2 small or 1 large bunch kale, stems removed, leaves coarsely chopped
4 cups canned tomatoes, crushed or diced, with their juice
1 pound okra, cut into 1/4-inch slices (fresh is better, but frozen save so much time that I use them instead)
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
2 cups beans, either canned or cooked from dry, any kind (I usually use kidney or cannellini beans, but anything works in a pinch)
1 cup frozen lima beans
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste

First, make a roux. To do this, heat the vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes or until the mixture begins taking on a lot of color. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook until the roux is a warm brown, like a Hershey's bar. How long this takes is very stove-dependent.
Add the onion to the roux. Remove from heat and continue to stir. The onion should wilt but not burn. When the onion and roux have stopped sizzling, return the pot to medium-low heat. Stir in the garlic, chipotle pepper, and kale. Cook, stirring occasionally, until kale is wilted, about 7-10 minutes.
Add 4 cups of water and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, okra, and two cups of water. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the corn, beans, and limas. Season with vinegar, salt, and pepper. The salt will depend a lot on how salty your beans and tomatoes were. If you used unsalted tomatoes and beans you cooked from dry yourself, add some salt. Otherwise, I prefer just to add the vinegar and salt it myself at the table. If you can let the soup sit for 30-90 minutes before serving, it will let the flavors meld nicely. But if not, no big deal because you will have leftovers, and they will taste even better the next day.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mung beans and greens in coconut milk

This is a picture from several months ago. That time, we made it with beet greens and served it with beet salad.

This is a great recipe I got out of Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant. I find the Moosewood cookbooks very accessible, and in addition to a lot of tasty, healthy, easy recipes, they have a lot of basic information about beans, grains, and vegetables that is really helpful. Sundays at Moosewood is a collection of various ethnic dishes from several different regions of the world. This recipe is from the Southeast Asian section of the cookbook. They claim it is from the Philippines, but I've never been there, so I don't know how authentic it is. But it's very tasty and filling. I would describe it as comfort food.

I went to the farmers' market on Saturday and splurged on a big bag of sweet potato leaves. I had never tried them before, and the lady said it was the last of the season, so I decided to get them. Any time I get to try a new green, I am happy. Sweet potato leaves are about the size of spinach, although they hold up to heat a little better. I used about half of them in this dish and saved the rest so I could eat them in a more pure form and get to know their flavor better. (In case you're curious, they taste pretty much like any other green, but when you cook them, there is a distinct sweet potato aroma.) The sweet potato greens worked well in this dish, but so do any other greens.

This dish is an example of luxurious, indulgent vegan cooking. Coconut milk is incredibly rich, so you will not feel like you're depriving yourself of anything. In fact, you'll probably want to round out your meal with something light and fresh to balance the richness of this dish. We made more plumcot spring rolls, which fit the bill perfectly. A green salad with a nice acidic dressing would be good too. This is good served over either jasmine or brown rice, but it's good on its own too.

Mung beans and greens in coconut milk
It's almost impossible to have too many greens in this dish, so if you've got a giant bunch of something and no other plans for it, just throw the whole thing in.

1 1/2 cups whole or split mung beans (I prefer whole)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1-1 1/2 cups chopped onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger, optional
1/2 tsp salt
1 can coconut milk
2 tbsp soy sauce
Dash Sriracha or cayenne or some other spicy-maker
3-4 cups greens, chopped (I've used beet greens, chard, red Russian kale, and now sweet potato leaves, all to great effect)

Cover mung beans in plenty of water and bring to a boil. Simmer until the texture is to your liking. 35 minutes is good for me. Drain beans and set aside.
Saute the onion in the oil over medium heat until the onion is translucent, about 4 minutes. Lower the heat, add the garlic, ginger, and salt, and cook for another 4 minutes or so. Add the beans, coconut milk, soy sauce, and Sriracha and simmer for about 5 minutes. Throw in the greens and cook them, stirring occasionally, until they wilt. Taste and add a little more soy sauce or Hoisin sauce if you want.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Fall planting

I have a little garden on my balcony. I started it in March. I plantedherbs, including
dill and
mint. I also planted some vegetables like
lettuce, and

Amazingly, most of it has survived for more than six months! I have been meaning to do my fall planting for a while now. The summer plants have mostly stopped producing, and now it's time for plants that can't tolerate the heat. On Saturday, I finally got around to it. Luckily, Houston doesn't have a hard winter, so I think the plants will survive despite my procrastination. I pulled out the remnants of lettuce and tomatoes that had gone to the big garden in the sky and poured new dirt into a bunch of my pots. I planted carrots, kale, beets, and broccoli. I don't know if all of them will make it, but I look forward to seeing their little heads poke up through the dirt in the next couple of days. I also planted some dill and coriander seeds from the spice section of the grocery store. I don't know if they will germinate, but it will be fun if they do. I have a lot of volunteer basil and dill plants that have started poking up in various pots and might be able to hang in there for the long haul. After I finished my planting, there was a gentle rain on and off for the next two days. I think that was a good omen.

Having a garden has really changed the way we cook, especially with herbs. The vegetables were fun but produced small fruits sporadically, so we couldn't base a meal on the tomatoes from our garden or anything. Each vegetable was a treat that we carefully bisected and savored raw. But the herbs have grown very well. I have always enjoyed cooking with fresh herbs, but when you buy them from the store, they usually wilt before you can use them all, so I didn't do it very often. I have gotten so much enjoyment from sprinkling fresh herbs on salads or wrapping them in spring rolls. I learned that I love the combination of carrot and mint. Fresh rosemary and basil are excellent on pizza. They all look beautiful as garnish, and it's lovely to sit on the balcony sipping wine and nibbling on mint and basil.

When I first started my garden, I was pretty sure I was throwing my money away, and I would have been satisfied if any of my plants had lasted a month. I have truly been blessed by the fantastic success of my garden. I love watching the miracle of new life sprouting up before my eyes, and I hope to see those fall sprouts soon.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Vegan mofo and plumcot spring rolls with basil dipping sauce

I decided to "officially" join veganmofo 2009, which I mentioned yesterday. I've never participated in a blog community thing like this before, so I make no promises. Considering I haven't yet made 20 posts in a month, I probably won't hit the 20-post goal. But I do have a nice list of vegan recipes I've made recently and not posted or want to try this month. I'm not limiting myself to vegan food posts this month either. I've got some other recipes to share as well. A few goals for myself this month: try some common vegan substitutes I haven't tried before, like nutritional yeast, flax meal for eggs, and tofu scramble. It should be fun.

First up, some spring rolls I made this past weekend, along with a simple but delicious dipping sauce. Of course, my award-winning* watermelon rind spring rolls are still the reigning champs of my spring roll world, but variety is the spice of life. This past weekend I had some plumcots and a bunch of alfalfa sprouts to use, so I decided to try a fruit and sprout spring roll. I rounded it out with yellow bell peppers and cucumber. I thought basil would pair well with it, so I made a basil dipping sauce. It was all really nice. I really like a bit of fruit in a spring roll. Mango, peach, or apple would be good in place of the plumcot. Or, of course, plum or apricot.

Plumcot spring rolls
No amounts here. Just cut up a little of everything, roll it up, and make some more if you're still hungry.

Yellow bell pepper
Alfalfa sprouts
Spring roll wrappers

Thinly slice desired amount of plumcot, yellow bell pepper, and cucumber. Soften one spring roll wrapper in water that is hot to the touch but doesn't actually burn you. Place small amounts of plumcot, pepper, cucumber, and sprouts on the wrapper and roll it up. Repeat as desired.

Basil dipping sauce (based on a recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman)

2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup basil (I used a mixture of Thai and regular), thinly sliced
dash of Srirachi sauce, or more to taste

Combine all ingredients. Bonus points if you make it an hour ahead of time so the basil can infuse the rest of the sauce.

*They got a "most creative" prize at a recent potluck.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Creamy polenta

I just learned by reading mollyjade's blog that October is the Vegan Month of Food, and there are a bunch of bloggers writing about their favorite vegan recipes all month. I didn't get the memo in time, so today's recipe is made with cream, but this month I will try to highlight some of my favorite vegan recipes. For those of you who care, I have added a vegan tag, so you can search just for those if you want. (I have delusions that there are hordes of you out there searching my blog for inspiration.)

Today, however, we are swimming in cream. I ended up taking home some leftover roasted eggplant, squash, onions, tomatoes, peppers, and garlic from a church dinner on Sunday. They were tasty, but a big pile of roasted vegetables isn't quite a meal for me. I wanted a grain to go with it. I considered rice, bulgur, bread, pasta, and quinoa, but none of them sounded right. Finally I hit on polenta, and it sounded perfect. It worked like a charm. This would also be good with sauteed greens or a chunky tomato sauce.

Creamy polenta (recipe from the back of a parmesan cheese container I bought in 2003)

2 cups broth (I used 1 1/2 tsp Better than Bouillion dissolved in 2 cups water)
1 1/3 cups water
1 cup cornmeal (doesn't have to be labeled "polenta")
1/2 cup cream or milk
1/4 cup grated parmesan, romano, or asiago cheese

Bring the broth and water to a boil over high heat. Add the cornmeal slowly while whisking to prevent lumps. Mine always has lumps anyway, but they're small and few in number. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring constantly, for about 15-20 minutes. The recipes always say "until mixture is pulling away from the sides of the pan", but I'm not patient enough, and it's usually thick enough for me after 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the cream or milk and cheese.