Thursday, December 30, 2010

Kale and tofu salad

I got this recipe off of Cheap, Healthy, Good a few months ago but just got around to making it. Believe it or not, I had never had raw kale, and I was a bit wary. I didn't think it would taste bad, but I didn't think kale's bitter green virtues would be accentuated by raw consumption. I was wrong. I think I still prefer the just-wilted taste, but the raw kale was a nice change of pace. I was also wary of the combination of soy sauce and balsamic vinegar, but it was pretty good. The only thing is that I found it overly flavored when I made it the first time. I had let it sit in the marinade for several hours. I think just a 30-minute marinade is ideal.

Kale and tofu salad, slightly modified from this post.

1 pound extra firm tofu
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp honey

4-5 cups chopped kale (I just used regular curly kale, but any kind would probably be good)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
3 tbsp olive oil
Juice of 1-2 lemons
Salt and pepper

Cube the tofu. Mix together next 4 ingredients and marinate tofu in them for about 30 minutes. Place tofu on oiled baking sheet and pour excess marinade over it. Cook tofu in 375 oven for about 30 minutes, flipping after 20 minutes.

Put the kale in a big bowl. Mix together next four ingredients and adjust acidity and seasoning to taste. Toss kale with dressing. Add tofu.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Festive salad

This is a salad Jon and I co-invented a few nights ago. Jon doesn't tend to go for salads with fruit in them, but the grapefruit seemed like a nice change of pace for the evening. We peeled all the membrane off the grapefruit for extra fanciness. And I think having the cucumber slices peeled made it seem fancier as well. The fig vinegar was a gift from a friend. It's very thick and syrupy, and we were happy to use it for the first time on this salad. Delicious!

Salad ingredients:
Lettuce (both red leaf and romaine)
Cucumber, peeled
Red grapefruit
Feta cheese
Sunflower seeds

Topped with:
Fig vinegar
Extra-virgin olive oil
Black pepper

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Eve dinner

We decided to make the Persian layered pilafs from Vegetable Heaven by Mollie Katzen for dinner yesterday. The idea is that you make three different rice pilafs, one with beets, one with carrots, and one with onions (to which we added some cooked beluga lentils), and layer them. Your adoring husband, mother, or other guests ooh and aah as they take slices of this spectacular tower of rice. You can eat the layers separately or mix them together. The problem is the layering (and my hubris). Our first idea was to press each layer into a small ramekin and then turn them out onto a plate, one on top of the other. Jon tried to do this. Much to my surprise, the second layer was perfect. I snapped a picture, just in case.
And it was a good thing, because the third layer ended up like this.
Then I, in my hubris, decided that it would be better to layer them all in a large ramekin and turn them out onto a plate all at once. I pressed the rice into the ramekin really tightly, found a big plate, and turned it over. As I slid the ramekin off, I told Jon to get the camera quick. He snapped the first picture mere seconds before the second one.
I tried in vain to scoop up the pink layer as it fell, but it was useless. Then the other side started crumbling. I whisked away the precarious tower of rice and took it back to the stove where it wouldn't continue to get the table dirty. Then I went back and gathered as much rice from the table as possible. My plate ended up looking kind of like Rainbow Brite vomited on it.
(Sorry so blurry. It looked clear on the camera screen.)
After eating, I did my best to separate the rice back into three pilafs. They stacked much better like this.

I think next time I do this, we will put the pilafs into ramekins to shape but have them sitting next to each other on the plate rather than trying to stack them. We think it might make a nice base to some cooked bok choy, or a simple piece of chicken or fish (if we ate that). I have hope for this, but I don't think it's ready for prime time yet.

Tonight we're having friends over for dinner. Jon is making his delicious mac and cheese and kale, our friends are bringing a salad, and for dessert we're having leftover cranberry upside-down cake my mom made for us when we were in Dallas earlier this week.

I leave you with a Christmas miracle.

We had been having a dickens of a time finding a good avocado. The ones that felt right tended to be black and hard inside. Then Jon found this. With hummus, sprouts, and veggies, it made an epic sandwich. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Inspiration Soup III

It's been a while since I made inspiration soup, but a recent freezer reorganization reminded me of some neglected chickpeas and their cooking water. We also had some leftover potatoes Jerusalem artichokes/sunchokes in the fridge from a previous root veggie roast, and I wanted to get them into something. In case you are unfamiliar with them, Jerusalem artichokes are not from Jerusalem, nor do they resemble artichokes in any way. They are very knobby and kind of look like ginger. The taste is very reminiscent of potatoes, but they are a little sweeter and hold their texture better than potatoes do. The soup itself is vegan, but I like to finish it with a little parmesan cheese or a poached egg, as pictured above.

Inspiration soup III (Return of the inspiration):
Makes about 4 servings

Vegetable oil
1/2 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 new potatoes, diced
1/2 pound Jerusalem artichokes, well scrubbed and diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 quart chickpea cooking water
1 1/2 tsp salt
About 2 tsp total of dried basil, oregano, rosemary, and other such herbs you've got lying around
Big pinch cumin
Big pinch smoked paprika
Black pepper to taste.
1 cup cooked chickpeas
4 kale leaves, washed and coarsely chopped

Saute onion in vegetable oil for about five minutes. Add garlic, potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, and carrot and saute a few more minutes. Add chickpea broth and seasonings. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer and cook until potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes are tender. Add cooked chickpeas and kale, and heat until kale is wilted.

Asian Risotto

This idea came to me when I added some of Ev's wonderful spicy spiced oil to leftover mushroom risotto. We don't do much fusion food, but here is our contribution to the genre.
Just a warning: all ingredient measurements are approximate.

Risotto ingredients:

1/4 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
1/2 cup white mushrooms
2 oyster mushrooms
1 small onion
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 Tbsp oil
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 cup white wine
1 1/2 cup arborio rice

Broth ingredients:
5 cups water
2 tsp Better than Bouillon mushroom base
2 star anises
1/2 tsp whole szechuan peppercorns
1/4 tsp black pepper
3 slices dried ginger

For serving:
Sauteed kale or (baby) bok choy
Soy sauce

Combine the broth ingredients in a stockpot. Bring to a simmer and keep on low heat.

Reconstitute the dried shiitakes in about 1 cup of hot water. Drain and put the liquid in the broth.

Dice the onions and mushrooms. Heat the oil over medium heat in a wok or deep pan. Add mushrooms and salt. Cook until they have given up their water. Add the wine and rice. Cook until the wine is absorbed. Add broth to the risotto. Cook until the broth is mostly absorbed and add more broth (1/2 a cup at a time). Repeat until the desired consistency is reached.

Finish with some spiced oil and serve on a bed of greens. Season with salt or a little soy sauce to taste.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

10 and 10

I picked this idea up from Cheap, Healthy Good. Here are two lists: one of ten things we spend (almost) no money on, and one of ten things we are willing to splurge a little on. Neither is in any particular order.

10 things we don't spend money on:
1) Bottled water. We just drink tap water.
2) Restaurant meals. We go out very rarely (less than once a month on average when we're not traveling), although when we do, we don't worry about trying to get the cheapest things on the menu. Not going to restaurants much
3) Coffee/tea from coffee shops. We make it at home, although occasionally we go someplace with friends, and this year I have occasionally gone to a local tea place to spend the day working and studying.
4) Books. For the most part, we utilize libraries. We are both fortunate to be affiliated with universities with well-stocked libraries and generous lending time frames, and we take advantage of it.
5) TV and internet. We use the internet at school, but we do not have it or TV in our home. In addition to costing money, we find that it can be a huge time suck. We are able to have our attention undivided when we are together at home, and that is very important to our relationship. It is sometimes inconvenient not to have internet access at home, but we have gotten used to it.
6) Shoes. We do, of course, buy shoes, but we make do with just a few. I wear my trusty Birkenstocks most of the time (with socks in the Houston "winter"-I am a mathematician, after all) and have a couple nicer pairs for church or going to concerts.
7) Shampoo. Once again, I do buy shampoo (I go for mid-range brands), but I only wash my hair every five or six days, so it goes a long way. I think my hair is healthier, and it cuts down on my shower time.
8) Jarred spices. When possible, we buy spices in bulk at Central Market. Every once in a while we go to Penzey's for a treat or gift for someone, but it's pretty cool to see how 20 cents of something will fill a jar that originally cost $4.
9) Fancy phones. I am using a friend's old one, and Jon got the cheapest model he could when we switched phone companies in August. We also don't have text messaging or data plans, and so far we are pretty happy with that.
10) Meat. Well, I don't spend money on it. Now that Jon lives on his own, he eats it a little.

10 things we splurge on:
1) Air travel. We live apart right now, and seeing each other is a big priority. When we do live together (only 6 more months, hopefully!), we enjoy going on trips, and we usually try to get more convenient itineraries, even if they cost a little more. We also live far away from many family members, and we like to see them.
2) Good cheese. Ever since going to France in the summer of 2009, I have been willing to buy the really nice imported blue cheese because I realize that the difference in quality is worth it. An added bonus, however, is that I only need to eat a little bit of the expensive cheese to feel satisfied, so it goes a long way.
3) Good olive oil. Central Market has some nice stuff that isn't super-expensive but is a lot more than the cheapest we could get.
4) Good gin. I enjoy my Gordon's cups and Tom Collinses, so we keep Hendrick's and Bombay Sapphire on hand.
5) Fabric stores. I can't help myself. When I go to a fabric store, I invariably leave with patterns I didn't plan on buying, remnants I don't need, and fabric that was too pretty to pass up. I am trying to cut back on my fabric buying, at least, and just use my stash, but it is hard to resist.
6) Concert tickets. We are lucky because as a student I often get good discounts, but I enjoy going to the symphony, theater, and opera, and I am willing to get nice tickets when I go. I don't let money be the reason I don't see a group perform a piece of music I really like.
7) Rent. I am still living in the two-bedroom we have been in for over two years, and Jon has his own apartment in Chicago. We didn't want to go through the hassle of moving, and emotionally, I think it's nicer for Jon to be able to come home to a place that is both of ours.
8) Good chocolate. Self-explanatory, I think.
9) Grapefruit juice. Whole Foods has some absolutely amazing fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. It's $7.50 per half gallon, but I love to have it with breakfast. I rationalize it by noting that it is less expensive than wine (a half gallon is more than two bottles) but gives me more happiness.
10) Painting with a Twist. It is one of those places where they have canvas and paint for you, and an instructor walks you through a particular painting. I feel a little embarrassed, but I really love going there and coming home with a pretty picture. Jon and I have gone together twice, and it's fun to see the similarities and differences between our paintings.

Probably the splurges outweigh the frugalities right now. Splurges 1 and 7 are pretty big but should decrease when I graduate and we are living together again.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Braised tofu in caramel sauce

This was one of those recipes that seemed so unusual that I just had to try it. It comes from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I am not very familiar with Vietnamese cuisine, but he says that this sauce, which is caramel with lots of black pepper, is typical Vietnamese fare. It is really good! The caramel is sweet but a little bitter, and the salt from the soy sauce balances out the sweetness. 1 teaspoon of pepper is quite a lot. We aren't used to pepper being so integral to the taste of the dish. It's really nice.

The one thing I plan on changing next time is to add some vegetables. I am a vegetarian in part because I love to eat vegetables, and a meal of rice and tofu with brown sauce is not veggie-laden enough for me. The first time I made this, I made a side of kale, and it was really good. We had some spinach on the side last night when we had it, but while we were brainstorming, we decided that next time we're going to add some cubed eggplant to the sauce itself while it's cooking. I also think carrot and broccoli might stand up well to the sauce and be good additions. We'll let you know how it turns out.

Braised tofu in caramel sauce

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tsp dulse, optional (makes the soy sauce taste a little more like fish sauce)
1/2 cup diced onion
1 tsp ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lime
1-2 lbs. tofu, pressed if you have time, and cut into 1-inch cubes

Cooked brown rice for serving

Put a large, deep (we used a Le Creuset pot) skillet over medium heat. Add the sugar and 2 tbsp water. Cook, occasionally shaking the pan and/or stirring with a wooden spoon, until the sugar liquefies and darkens. Turn off the heat.

Combine soy sauce, dulse, and 1/2 cup water. Very carefully, add the soy mixture to the caramel. It will bubble furiously. Don’t let your skin be too close to it. It’s a little scary. When it has stopped bubbling, turn the heat up to medium-high and cook, stirring, until caramel has all dissolved into soy sauce liquid. It should only take a minute or so.

Add the onion and cook until soft, 3-4 minutes. Add black pepper, lime juice, and tofu. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tofu is heated through and seems to have taken in a lot of the caramel mixture. If you can’t tell, five minutes should be about right.

Serve over brown rice with a side of kale or other veggie.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Evelyn's Bob's Red Mill

Nothing major here. Just sharing a nice oatmeal alternative for chilly mornings. We call it Evelyn's Bob's Red Mill because we started eating Bob's Red Mill 5-grain cereal instead of oatmeal a while back. It's about $3/lb, but we discovered we can buy the rolled grains in bulk and have a similar experience. I think what I like about it is mainly that the rolled grains are thicker than regular rolled oats. I figure the mix of grains is probably healthy, too. The Whole Foods near me has these grains in bulk for prices ranging from $1.19-1.99/lb, so it's significantly cheaper than buying the packaged one. I think I've seen rolled triticale and quinoa in addition to the grains below, but they didn't have any on my most recent trip.

Here are the toppings I've been using recently:
-1/4 cup frozen blueberries, 1 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tbsp ground flax seed, 10 chopped hazelnuts
-8 fresh raspberries, 1 tbsp brown sugar, 2 tsp whole chia seeds, 10 chopped hazelnuts

I really like having the cold fruit because then I don't have to wait very long for the cereal to be cool enough to eat. The flax seeds and chia seeds add omega-3's and extra fiber. I'm not usually into supplement-ish food, but I saw these on sale, and I figure it can't hurt. Plus I like to feel like a weird health food nut every once in a while.

I hope I don't seem to be callously undercutting Bob's Red Mill. I find it to be a good, if sometimes slightly expensive, brand, and I often buy their whole grains and flours. It's just good to know there's a cheaper alternative to this particular product, and this is really what we've started calling it.

Evelyn's Bob's Red Mill
This is just a suggestion. Any combination of rolled whole grains would be good.

1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup rolled wheat
1/2 cup rolled rye
1/2 cup rolled barley
1/2 cup rolled spelt

Stir together. Store in a sealed container at room temperature. To cook, bring 1 cup water to a boil and add 1/2 cup grains. Cook, stirring occasionally, until water has boiled off.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Job application food

I am in my final year of my Ph.D. program, so I am applying for jobs right now. It is somehow difficult, tedious, and scary all at the same time. That, combined with the fact that Jon is not here most of the time, means that I haven't been cooking a lot of blog-worthy meals. I noticed that I've been going to the egg+grain+green formula quite a bit on busy days. I find it very comforting. Here are two incarnations, both of which I found very good. By the way, if you're thinking about hiring a mathematician, let me know!

Egg and kale sandwich

Butter for frying an egg
1 egg
2 slices of bread
A few shaves of parmesan cheese
2 leaves of kale, thick stems removed, leaves coarsely chopped

Heat butter in a small frying pan over medium heat. When it's hot, crack the egg into it and fry it. (I cook it for a while on one side and then flip it and cook for just a little bit on the other side.) While you're doing this, you can toast your bread. Place the egg on one slice of bread with some shaves of parmesan and a healthy helping of za'atar. In the remaining butter, saute the kale until it's wilted. Put it on the sandwich and close it up.

Bulgar and mustard greens with poached eggs
This will make extra bulgar. I got a total of three meals out of it.

1/2 tsp salt
1 cup bulgur
Vegetable oil for sauteeing
1/2 small onion, diced
1 bunch mustard greens, thick stems removed, leaves chopped
1 egg
1 lemon slice

Heat 1 1/2 cups water and salt to boiling. Stir in bulgur, turn off heat, cover, and let cook for about 30 minutes. It's no big deal if the bulgur is a little wet, as long as it's tender enough. In a saute pan, heat the oil over medium. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the mustard greens and cook just until wilted. It's OK if they're not all the way wilted because the bulgur will wilt them the rest of the way.

Combine bulgur and greens in a large bowl. Put a blob of it on a plate.

Poach egg. I'm not an expert egg-poacher, so you should probably just do it your own way, but here's how I poach an egg. Fill up a medium saucepan with water. Heat it until it's close to boiling but not quite there, and try to somehow keep the temperature there. There should be little bubbles coming up and the water should look active. (Good luck.) Crack the egg into a small bowl and dump into water. Don't touch it for a while. After about 3 minutes, loosen it from the bottom and see if the white seems to be all the way cooked. Once it is, remove it with a slotted spoon and put it on top of the bulgur.

Squeeze some lemon juice and sprinkle some za'atar over the bulgur and egg.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Moroccan lentils and couscous

Jon has moved to Chicago to start a new job, and I have taken his absence as inspiration to eat down some things in the pantry and freezer that have been sitting around for a while. Looking around for lunch one day, I decided I wanted to use up some couscous. I also had half a bag of lentils in the pantry and a cup of cooked kidney beans in the freezer. To season, I went to the veggies I had on hand and my spice cabinet. Couscous makes me think North Africa, so I just put in everything that reminded me of Morocco, and it turned out pretty well. The hot smoked paprika was especially key, in my humble opinion. I don't know if that is Moroccan, but the spiciness and rich smoky flavor really pulled everything together.

Something like this is a great pantry-cleaning meal. Of course, the problem with pantry-cleaning is that it makes me think I need to buy more things to fill the pantry up again! I'm trying to hold off. I think the pantry still has plenty of meals in it before it needs a restock. (And I like the creative aspect of figuring out what those meals are.)

Are there any pantry items you tend to have around but don't use all that much? Couscous is probably the worst culprit for me.

Moroccan lentils and couscous

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 diced green pepper
1 celery rib, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 cup vegetable broth
1 cup dry brown lentils
1 cup cooked kidney beans

1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp curry powder (I used Penzey's Balti seasoning, which isn't as fragrant as some curry powders. I think it blends well with other spices if you're not looking for a classic curry flavor.)
1 tsp hot smoked paprika
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger

1 cup whole wheat couscous

Heat the vegetable oil in a large saute pan or medium saucepan over medium heat. When oil is hot, add onion, pepper, celery, and carrot and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the spices and stir to coat in oil. Add broth, 1 cup water, and lentils. My kidney beans were on the crunchy side, so I added them at the same time, but if you're using soft or canned ones, wait until later. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until lentils are soft, about 35 minutes, adding more water if the lentils dry out.

In the meantime, prepare couscous. Bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil. Stir in couscous, remove from heat, and cover. In about 10 minutes, open the lid and see if the couscous is soft and the water is absorbed. Drain or place over high heat for a few minutes if the couscous has a good texture but is too wet.

Serve a blob of lentil stuff over a blob of couscous. You'll probably want to add salt at the table; there is a ton of flavor in here but no added salt. (You could, of course, also add salt to the lentils or couscous while cooking, but I myself prefer to salt at the table.)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Evelyn's amazing chili paste

This is the story of how I, a girl with a Midwestern-level spice tolerance, invented a chili paste that my husband, who gets the food with four chilis next to it at Thai restaurants, loves. It all started in Malaysia. I loved the food, but of course it was all too spicy. (Seriously. Even breakfast. At a hotel that caters to westerners. I really am pathetic.) I really liked nasi lemak, rice cooked in coconut milk with various stuff on the side. The stuff on the side varied, but there were always peanuts and sambal, a blisteringly hot chili paste. I liked the texture, but I could barely use any. When I made my own version of nasi lemak at home last week, I wanted a similar condiment, but one that I could comfortably eat. Obviously, it couldn't be entirely chili-based, but I had to replace that flavor with other Southeast Asian flavors so it would still pack a punch. I decided that tomato paste and fresh tomatoes would add some depth of flavor in addition to non-spicy volume. Then I threw in basically everything Southeast Asian in my spice cabinet. The result is a really flavorful paste with just the right texture that even my poor wimpy taste buds can handle.

I wasn't sure if something like this would be up Jon's alley because he likes the truly fiery real chili paste, but he absolutely loved it. He has been eating it with anything he thinks it will work on, including on bagels with cream cheese. When he first tried it, he didn't know it had tomatoes in it. I had been worried that the tomatoes would be too acidic and overwhelming, but they just contributed to the overall depth of flavor without adding too much acidity or characteristic tomatoey-ness. It's a winner. Not very Malaysian, but really nice on coconut rice (or bagels).

Evelyn's amazing chili paste

2 dundicut or other whole dried chilis, or to taste
1 inch ginger, peeled and cut into a few chunks
1 clove garlic, peeled and cut into a few chunks
1 lemongrass stalk, tender inside part only, cut into 1/2-inch lengths
1/2 tsp whole coriander seeds
1 tsp good curry powder (Penzey's Maharajah is great)
1 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
16 grape tomatoes, quartered, divided
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp hoisin sauce

Place the chilis, ginger, garlic, lemongrass, coriander seeds, and curry powder in a food processor (a small one is nice if you've got it). Grind until it's pretty ground up. Add the tomato paste and half the grape tomatoes and process until paste-like. Heat the vegetable oil over medium in a frying pan. When the oil is hot, add the paste from the processor and the rest of the tomatoes. Cook for about five minutes. It should be thick and smell insanely delicious. Remove from heat and stir in the sesame oil and hoisin sauce.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Unitaskers and the whisk

Jon loves Alton Brown, and one of Alton Brown's "things" is his anti-unitasker stance. (Except in the case of using dried beans as pie weights, but I digress.) In general, Jon and I try to avoid unitaskers, but quite a few have found their way into our kitchen. (Moving seems to be the best cure for unitasker accumulation, and we have lived in the same place for more than two years now, so they've built up a bit.) I find a pastry cutter really useful when making pie dough, but it definitely can't do anything else. We have a coffee maker and a Teavana tea maker (which is surprisingly great). And yes, we have at least one ice cream maker. We let unitaskers in when they make a common kitchen task significantly easier or more successful and don't take up an inordinate amount of space.

Which brings me to the whisk. Are we the only people who feels that a whisk is not only a unitasker but a unitasker that is not very good at its one task? Usually I reach for a fork instead of a whisk because the forks are in a more convenient location in my kitchen. When I do go to the trouble of getting a whisk out, I usually switch to a fork after a few minutes because it is better at whisking. Maybe I'm just bad at using a whisk. I don't know. In any case, I don't think our whisks will be making the next move with us.

What about you? Do you have any favorite or least favorite unitaskers? Any tips for more effective whisking?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Split pea veggie patties with cabbage salad

I got this recipe out of the October 2009 issue of Vegetarian Times, and I’m going to come right out and tell you that it has an Achilles heel. Like many Vegetarian Times recipes, it doesn’t fill me up, at least not at anywhere near the suggested serving size. I think VT is very health-conscious, which is great, but their form of health-consciousness is a little different from mine. I think that by eating a wide variety of foods, mostly not-very-processed plants, I am doing OK. I am not trying to lose weight, and I don’t count calories. VT has a little bit of a war on calories. I think 350 Calories is their definition of “lite,” and I think they try to make sure a high percentage of their recipes come in under that mark. I am a hungry girl, and 350 Calories is not a meal for me! I halved the original VT recipe, which claimed to serve 6, and had a little more than a third of it for lunch. An hour later, I was hungry and ended up having a not very nutrition-dense snack of bread and butter. I had the rest of the recipe for dinner, and while I didn’t go to bed hungry, I wasn’t terribly full either. So the original recipe probably serves more like 2-3 people than 6. This is both an advertisement and a warning. This meal is yummy and full of good veggies, but it might not fill you up for long. (In case you were wondering, the recipe says that 1 of their servings, which is 2 patties and 1 cup of salad, has 190 Calories. If I had read that first, I probably would have known that I needed to increase the serving size dramatically.) If you are looking to cut calories and lose weight, this is probably a great recipe for you.

Now that I’ve ranted about VT’s mission to deprive me of satiety, let’s move on to the recipe. The patties are held together by leftover split pea soup and an egg, which I think is ingenious. I have made veggie patty-type foods quite a few times, and often they don’t hold together very well at all. The soup really takes care of that. Some carrot, sugar snap peas, and corn round out the patties. I like that the patties are flavored with sesame oil, soy sauce, and ginger, but those flavors are not overwhelming. It’s served on a terrific bed of cabbage and carrots. This might have been my first time to eat Napa cabbage. It is not exotic to me, but it’s something, like turnips or radishes, that I see all the time in the store and never eat. Napa cabbage is pretty awesome! I guess I kind of just thought it was expensive white cabbage, but it has a less bitter flavor, and the leaves are easier to work with than cabbage leaves. I guess it’s more like lettuce that way. I really liked the crisp texture of the cabbage in the salad.

Split pea veggie patties

makes about 6 patties, 3 VT servings, 1-2 Evelyn servings; multiply as needed

1 cup split pea soup (of course, you could use canned)

1 egg

1/4 cup cornmeal

1/2 cup sugar snap peas, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup grated carrot

1/2 cup corn kernels (frozen are fine)

1 green onion, chopped (both white and green parts)

1 tbsp toasted sesame oil

1 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp fresh ginger, minced or grated

Whisk together soup and eggs in a medium bowl. Stir in cornmeal, followed by the rest of the ingredients.

Heat a nonstick or your preferred frying pan over medium. Add some oil if you need it, and once the pan is hot, drop 1/4-cup scoops of pea mixture onto the pan. Flatten into disc shapes with a fork and cook 5 minutes, or until bottom is slightly browned. Flip and cook 5 minutes more.

Serve 4 patties each on a bed of cabbage salad, below.

Cabbage salad

makes 1 salad; multiply as needed

4 leaves Napa cabbage

1/2 cup grated carrot

2 tsp sesame seeds, toasted if you feel like

Miso salad dressing or other salad dressing (An Asian-ish one makes a lot of sense, but I think this would be fine with a vinaigrette or whatever you have. OK, not ranch.)

Thoroughly wash and thinly slice cabbage leaves. Combine with grated carrot and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Dress salad with 3 tbsp or so miso salad dressing (probably less of other salad dressings). Place 4 veggie patties on cabbage salad and dress with a little more dressing to taste.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Miso-basil salad dressing

I had the same package of miso in my fridge for well over a year, and I still hadn’t gotten around to making a salad dressing out of it. I really like miso salad dressings, so on Monday while I was waiting for my split peas to soften, I used the last of the miso to make a salad dressing for my salad at dinner. I love my lemon-sesame dressing, and I think it’s great when I’m in the mood for some Asian flavor on my salad, but I wanted a change of pace.

I figured Mark Bittman would have a miso salad dressing in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and I was right. I made his recipe with a few variations. First, I added some Thai and regular basil because I have a ton of it and it’s really bright, a nice foil for the richness of miso. I also added some soy sauce. Bittman says to use sake or water to thin the miso. 3/4 cup of sake seemed like too much. I didn’t want to be able to make a cocktail out of my salad dressing, so I used 1/4 cup sake and 1/2 cup water. The sake flavor adds complexity without giving it any alcoholic taste. Bittman uses no oil in the dressing, which means it’s low in fat, but it’s also very thin. In this form, I think it would be a great marinade or sauce for cooked vegetables, but I had higher-viscosity dreams for my salad. I added some sesame oil directly to the dressing and combined about 1/4 cup dressing with 1 tbsp vegetable oil for my salad that night. I recommend that you add some oil when you make it or as you go along if you want a typical salad dressing consistency.

Miso is delicious. Every time I eat it, I promise myself I will use it more often because it’s so rich and has a great slightly sweet, fermented, salty taste. Looking through my mountains of cookbooks and recipes, I see quite a few with miso, and I hope to be trying more of them soon.

Miso-basil salad dressing

makes about 1 cup before adding oil

6 tbsp miso

1/4 cup sake or water

1/2 cup water

1 tbsp sweetener (I used agave nectar; sugar or honey would be fine)

1/2 cup Thai or regular basil, finely minced

1 tsp soy sauce

1 tbsp rice wine vinegar, or more to taste

Juice of 1/2 lime

1 tsp toasted sesame oil

Vegetable oil, optional

Combine miso, sake, and water and whisk with a fork until smooth. Add the rest of the ingredients except for vegetable oil. Season to taste with rice wine vinegar. Add vegetable oil until your desired consistency is reached.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Split pea soup

Mm, green.

I am taking German right now, and I love it. Monday morning, my bike ride to school was pleasantly cool, so I declare that we have now entered Suppezeit! Suppezeit is a great time of year, albeit somewhat short in Houston. Only in a place as hot, humid, and long-summered as Houston would someone declare Suppezeit on an 86-degree day. But get this, although the temperature was 86 degrees, it only “felt like” 83 degrees, according to whomever decides these things. If you’ve lived in Houston, you know what a big deal that is. But I digress. The point is, I love soup, and I am very happy to be moving into soup season.

I made this soup on Monday after a long day at school. With just a little measuring, chopping, and patience, I had a warm, filling dinner and over a quart of leftovers. Stay tuned for a nice use of those leftovers in an upcoming post. While the soup is cooking, you can make a salad and some nice salad dressing (recipe also forthcoming). I also ate it with a slice of yogurt bread toast with a lot of butter.

I love the cumin-smoked paprika combo I used in this soup. Both spices add a lot of umami, which makes the soup really satisfying. Some vegetarian split pea soups are bland or way too salty, but I think the spices in this one give it some depth and flavor without adding too much salt. This vegetarian thinks that smoked paprika is a great substitute for the smoky, savory ham flavor in a lot of split pea soups. I put celery seeds in there because I didn’t have celery. They were fine, but add a diced celery rib if you’ve got one.

Split pea soup
makes 6 cups-ish, enough for at least 4 meals

2 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 celery rib, diced, if you have it
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1/4 tsp celery seeds if you don’t have a celery rib
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 lb split peas
6 cups vegetable broth or 6 cups water with 1 tbsp Better than Bouillon soup base

Heat vegetable oil in a soup pot over medium heat. When it is hot, add the onion, carrot, and spices. Saute until onion and carrot are soft and onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add split peas and broth and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cook until peas are done to your liking, about 40 minutes.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Boozy fruit, an experiment (part 1)

Last week I saw an article in the New York Times food section about preserving fruit with alcohol. Alcohol is antibacterial, so according to the article you can preserve fruit without having to sterilize cans like you do with making jams. In addition, it just sounded intriguing to me. The article suggests that you can serve the fruit and liqueur with ice cream, custard, in trifle, or other dessert options, you can make a drink out of them or garnish drinks with them, or even make muffins out of them if you don’t mind a little buzz in the morning. It seems this is a great idea for gifts at Christmas or throughout the year.

The basic idea seems to be 1 pound of fruit, 1/2 cup of sugar, booze (at least 40% alcohol by volume) to cover, and 4-12 weeks of macerating time. I stared at my liquor shelf and came up with three combinations I wanted to try: gin and cucumber, strawberry and tequila, and plum or apricot and kirschwasser, which is a cherry brandy.

I went to the store and bought a pound of cucumbers, a pound of strawberries, three plumcots and three plums. I also picked up more gin (I didn’t want to use the good stuff for this experiment) and some regular brandy because I didn’t have enough kirschwasser, and the corner liquor store didn’t have it. I didn’t have any quart-size jars, and each pound of fruit makes about a quart, so I just used two smaller jars for each batch. This also gave me the opportunity to experiment with flavorings.

Tequila and strawberries

I paired these two because strawberry margaritas exist and are tasty. I washed the strawberries, cut the stems off, cut large ones in half, and cut all the soft or bad spots off. I figured bad spots would not fare well sitting in a cabinet for months. I divided the strawberries into two jars and added some lime zest to one of them. I added 1/4 cup sugar to each jar and filled with tequila.

Brandy with plums and plumcots

I picked this pairing because one of the recipes was in this vein and I had some kirschwasser I never used. I wasn’t really sure which stone fruit to use, cherry, apricot, or plum, but plums and plumcots were on sale at the store, so I went with those. I washed the fruit and poked it all over with a needle as advised in one of the recipes I had seen. I put the three plums into one jar and the three plumcots into another. To the jar with the plums I added 1/2 a cinnamon stick, some fragments of a nutmeg I had cracked previously, and 1/4 tsp vanilla bean paste. To the jar with the plumcots I added 1/2 cinnamon stick and 1/4 tsp whole cardamom seeds. I added 1/4 cup sugar to each jar, divided the kirschwasser between them, and filled the jars the rest of the way with brandy. The plums didn’t fit in the jars very well, so I ended up cutting one of them in half in each jar for geometry’s sake. I am interested in seeing if this changes the taste or texture.

Gin and cucumbers

I paired these two because of my favorite drink, the Gordon’s cup. I was also a excited to have a reason to use juniper berries. I received some as a gift about a year ago and hadn’t figured out a use for them yet. Using my mandoline, I sliced two cucumbers into 1/4-inch thick slices. I divided them between two jars. Into one jar I also placed 2 tsp juniper berries. Into the other I added a little lime zest and 1 tsp coriander seeds. I sprinkled 1/4 cup sugar into each jar and covered with gin.

There was a good amount of undissolved sugar at the bottom of all the jars, so I shook them around. After an hour or so of shaking every once in a while, the sugar had all dissolved.

All the fruits I used are less dense than alcohol. The plums were wedged into the jars pretty well, so they were completely submerged, but the strawberries and cucumber slices were poking up. I didn’t think that was a good idea, and I didn’t want to spend the next month rotating the jars so all the fruit would be submerged regularly, so I searched my house for ways to hold them down. I ended up putting the two halves of my tea ball into two of the jars, the top of one of our cocktail shakers into another, and an empty sample-sized glass jam jar with no label into the last one. These were just tall enough to push down the fruit so it wouldn’t be exposed to air. I hope none of them are alcohol-soluble. My life isn't very exciting; my quest to submerge fruit made me feel like MacGyver.

Tea ball to the rescue!

Having dissolved the sugar and submerged the fruit, I rinsed the jars so they wouldn’t leave sticky rings and placed them in a corner of a cabinet, the closest thing I have to a cool, dry place in my Houston apartment. Unless I get too antsy, I plan on trying them in around six weeks, which will be November 9th-ish. I’m excited. I’ll let you know how they are and what I decide to do with them. At that point, if they’re good, I can make more batches that will be ready just in time for Christmas.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Refreshing Health Beverage/Red Rover

Have you ever tried cranberry juice? I don't mean cranberry juice cocktail or a blend of grape, apple, and cranberry juice. I mean the real stuff.
You can get it at most grocery stores. It's a bit pricey (from $4.50-$9 for 32 oz), but it's really sour, so you probably won't be able to drink much at a time. I was having some physical problems that I thought cranberry might be good for, so I decided to start incorporating some of the real stuff into my diet. (Side note: I'm generally not a fan of treating food like medicine, and I recognize that the small amount of cranberry juice I drink each day probably does nothing tangible for my health, but I wanted to feel like I was being proactive in some way, plus I like it.)

I find cranberry juice too intense to drink by itself, but a combination of cranberry juice and sparkling water is tasty and refreshing. I'm not a fan of drinking really sweet stuff with meals, so I like that this has some flavor but isn't sweet. Jon and I call my cranberry and seltzer combo "Refreshing Health Beverage." One night we were about to watch a movie, and Jon wanted a festive beverage to accompany it. He added rum to Refreshing Health Beverage, and I dubbed it Red Rover. You don't often see non-sweet rum drinks. I think the tartness brings out the flavor of the rum in a totally different way than most things.

Refreshing Health Beverage
1/3 cup 100% cranberry juice
8 oz sparkling water

Pour cranberry juice into a glass. Add water.

Red Rover
1/3 cup 100% cranberry juice
1/3 cup rum
6 oz sparkling water
1 lime wedge, optional

Pour cranberry juice and rum into a glass. Add water. Garnish with a lime wedge if you feel festive.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Celery and tofu salad

We have really been enjoying the spice oil! I have been using a mixture of it, sesame oil, and regular vegetable oil to saute onions and kale. Yum! Jon topped some popcorn with spice oil and salt the other day. The non-capsicum spices really came through on the popcorn.
(Sorry, it just looks like popcorn.)

We have also made the celery-tofu salad from the Minimalist column that originally gave us the idea to make the spice oil. We were quite underwhelmed with the recipe as written, but we made some tweaks that really takes it up a notch. Even when generously salted, I found Bittman's version hot but lacking in depth of flavor. We upped the flavor with ponzu sauce and sesame oil, and it's now quite nice. (Ponzu sauce is a Japanese condiment made from soy sauce and citrus juice.) I think the ponzu was key because it added both saltiness and acid, which the spice oil doesn't have. To bump up the calories a bit, we have also served this over rice noodles, but you'll still be chewing for a long time if you want to fill up on this. I'd recommend eating something more substantial with it to make a full meal.

If you haven't seen pressed tofu before, ours comes in a package like this.
And the bricks look like this.
(I forgot to take the picture until after I had sliced it, so I just stuck it back together.)

It is, as the name suggests, pressed until it is very firm. Some brands are also lightly spiced as well. The texture is really nice for dishes where you won't be cooking the tofu, like this salad or a spring roll. It's also good just cut up on regular salads if you want to pump up the protein a little.

Sorry, I don't include amounts on any of the ingredients. The amount of celery and tofu you use depends on how much salad you want to eat, and the other ingredients are all to taste.

Celery and tofu salad
Pressed tofu
Sesame oil
Ponzu sauce
Rice noodles (the flat ones), cooked, optional

Slice celery into thin spears. I did this by slicing each rib into three pieces and then each piece into two or three pieces lengthwise. Cut the tofu into thin slices roughly the same size as the celery. Top with sesame oil, spice oil, and ponzu sauce to taste. Serve over rice noodles if desired. Chopped celery leaves are nice for garnishing if you're into that kind of thing.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Corn chowder

I can't believe I've never posted our corn chowder recipe! This, spanakopita, and sweet potato gnocchi might be why Jon married me. We made this on Saturday as a pre-ballet dinner for us, his mom, and a friend. The recipe is from Vegetarian Classics by Jeanne Lemlin. While we're here, I must put in a good word for this book. When I became a vegetarian in 2002, my grandparents gave me this book for my birthday. Back then I didn't know how to make pretty much anything. The recipes in this book are always easy to follow, don't use obscure ingredients, and most importantly for a new cook, work! We still refer to it a lot, and it has ingredient combinations and techniques we wouldn't think about but end up being really good. I highly recommend this for anyone's vegetarian cookbook collection.

Corn chowder

2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
2 medium onions, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups vegetable broth
2 large potatoes, diced (about 2 1/2 cups)
1 celery rib, sliced
2 red bell peppers, diced
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
pepper to taste
4 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
Fresh basil to garnish

Heat the butter and oil in a stockpot on medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until onions are soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in the stock and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes, celery, red peppers, bay leaf, basil, sugar, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, partially covered, until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

Add corn kernels and heat through. Remove the bay leaf. With an immersion blender or food processor, partially puree soup. It should still be basically a chunky vegetable soup, but pureeing a little bit gets some of the potato starch into the broth and makes it extra rich and creamy. Stir in cream and milk and serve. Garnish with fresh basil.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Chinese spice oil

First, a moment of advertising. I like to make things other than food. Check out to see my sewing projects, old and new.

We made this beautiful red spice oil from a recent Minimalist column in the New York Times. We plan on making the celery and pressed tofu salad from the column later in the week. Jon is in love with this oil. He poured some on the eggplant flan we had for dinner, and when we strained it, he mopped up the bits still in the pot with bread. It is a bit spicy for me, even though I halved the amount of red pepper flakes from the original recipe. I might have to make a very mild version for myself, or just dilute this one to taste. The next time I make it, I might try to get the coriander and cumin tastes to be more prominent. Cinnamon and cloves are so strong that I might need to reduce or leave them out in order to taste the other spices. We plan on using this on the aforementioned salad, in dipping sauces for spring rolls, in stir-fries, and wherever Jon can think to add it for himself.

This was our first time using Sichuan peppercorns, although I had had them in a dish in Singapore. They are kind of trippy. They have a peppery, citrusy aroma, but they numb your tongue slightly, so you don't taste the heat as much. I don't think it would be a big deal to replace the Sichuan peppercorns with black peppercorns, but you would lose that tingly sensation. You can get Sichuan peppercorns at Asian grocery stores. I think Central Market also stocks them.

Chinese spice oil

1 cinnamon stick
1 2-inch segment of ginger, peeled and cut into a few pieces
3 cloves
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
4 star anise
1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
1/8 cup (2 tbsp) red pepper flakes (this is half of what the original recipe calls for, and it's plenty spicy for me)

1 cup vegetable oil (we used a corn/canola blend; Bittman recommends peanut oil)

Throw all the spices into a pot. Pour in the oil. Heat over medium until spices are sizzling. Remove from heat and allow to come to room temperature. Strain. Discard the spices. We're storing it in the fridge, but it's probably fine on the counter.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Rye berry salad

This is an antidote to the avocado milkshake and ice cream recipes I have been posting. It's just a simple, healthy, grain salad made with stuff lying in my fridge. I had picked up wheat and rye berries at Central Market ages ago and kept them in my freezer. When we were clearing out space to store the ice cream, I remembered them and decided to use some of them. Wheat and rye berries are the most natural form of wheat and rye. They take a long time to cook, but it's not active time, so this was a pretty easy meal. Pretty much any leftover cooked vegetables you have would be good in this, too.

Rye berry salad
Makes approximately two dinner-sized portions and one lunch for the next day.

1 cup whole wheat or rye berries

4 leaves kale
Sesame and vegetable oil

Cherry tomatoes (I think we had 10.)
1/2 cup cooked adzuki beans
1/4 cup sunflower seeds (I used pumpkin seeds, but I think sunflower would be better.)
1 oz goat cheese, crumbled

Salt and lemon juice to taste

Place the rye berries in a pan and cover with plenty of water. Bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook until berries are soft enough for your liking, about an hour. (Tip: when you test a few, they should feel a little softer than you think you'd like them to be. They seem firmer when you're eating a whole bowl of them than when you test them.)

In the meantime, wash and chop the kale leaves. Saute in a generous amount of mixed vegetable and sesame oil until wilted. (This will basically become the dressing for the salad.)

Halve cherry tomatoes. When the rye berries are cooked, combine all ingredients, including the oil from the pan with the kale, and mix well. Season with salt and lemon juice to taste.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Jus Alpokat

As I mentioned in my post about Singapore, one of the great things I got to try there was jus alpokat, a delicious avocado-based beverage. It was described as Indonesian avocado juice, but it is basically an avocado milkshake. It was a great treat, although it's very rich, and usually the whole glass was too much. My birthday was on Monday, and I decided I wanted a yummy meal reminiscent of my time in Singapore: jus alpokat and curry laksa. (I'll post about the curry laksa later. It was great.)

I looked online for jus alpokat recipes and decided to use a kind of consensus. Some use milk and sugar, some use milk and simple syrup, and some use sweetened condensed milk. The one below uses milk and sugar because it seemed easiest. I loved it. Jon liked it at first, but it was too much for him as he kept drinking it, so I ended up getting to have some the next day as well. The amount below was advertised as making two servings, but it's so rich that it's probably better to split it four ways. Avocado is great in sweet things, and I definitely recommend trying this. I am eventually going to try a vegan version with coconut milk. I think it could be good.

I couldn't find my camera when I was making these, so I used my laptop instead. The pictures kind of freak me out because of the mirror image thing. My kitchen doesn't look like that! My left front tooth is behind my right one, not the other way around! (Yeah, I know I always see myself in the mirror like this, but I'm not used to pictures of me looking like this.)

Jus alpokat

1 1/2 large avocados
1 cup milk
Sugar to taste (about 2 tbsp)
Chocolate syrup

Scoop avocado flesh into blender. Add milk. Blend until smooth. I used the "blend" setting at first and moved up to "liquefy," the fastest setting, after it had gotten pretty blended. Add sugar to taste and blend again. To serve, pour chocolate syrup onto the sides of 2-4 glasses. Spoon the avocado mixture into the glasses. Without washing blender, place ice cubes into blender and pulse a few times to crush. Top each glass with crushed ice. Eat a little of it immediately because it has a great texture and it's avocado flavored, and then mix the rest into the beverage.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Yogurt ice cream

Jon and I made two batches of ice cream this weekend! Both were great. The first one was Jon's choice, lemon ice cream. It turned out really well, but the second one, a yogurt ice cream recipe from last September's Bon Appetit, took the cake. It also keeps a really great texture even after being frozen, something some homemade ice creams, like our lemon one, don't do as well. I would post the lemon ice cream recipe, but I'm going to hold off in case we refine it. The yogurt ice cream needs no refinement, although Jon thinks it would be better with another flavor, maybe lemon or blueberry, in it. I say he's crazy. It is rich, sweet, and slightly sour.

Yogurt ice cream
The Bon Appetit recipe calls for Greek yogurt. I used my own homemade yogurt and drained it until it was about 2/3 of its original volume.

1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar, divided
3 egg yolks
1 cup thick yogurt

Combine milk, cream, and 1/2 cup sugar in a medium saucepan. In a heatproof bowl of volume at least a quart, combine egg yolks and remaining 1/4 cup sugar.

Over medium heat, stir milk and cream mixture until all sugar has dissolved. Slowly pour milk mixture into egg yolk mixture, whisking to combine. When all the milk has been stirred in, pour entire mixture back into saucepan.

Over medium heat, stir constantly until mixture reaches 170 degrees or coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat, pour into bowl, and allow to come almost to room temperature. Stir in yogurt.

Chill until chilled, then freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Food in Singapore

Mango ice kacang

As I mentioned in my last post, I had the good fortune to spend three weeks in Singapore this summer for a math program. During that time, I also took a short jaunt to Melaka, Malaysia, about 5 hours away by bus. Here are some thoughts about eating while I was there. This is a long post, so bear with me. (Or not, if you don't want to.)

First, I should say that I did not eat strictly vegetarian while I was there. There are several reasons for that. After eight years of being a vegetarian, I wanted to see the other side again, and I've partially fallen away from my rather naive reasons for becoming a vegetarian, so it wasn't important to me to avoid meat. I also found myself in many social eating situations where I did not want to make my food choices a big issue. I'm sure many other people with different diets can sympathize with this. It gets tiring always to feel like your dietary choices cause a hassle or even just raised eyebrows to others, so I took the easy way out. My third reason is that when I travel, I like to try new and authentic local specialties, and those are often meaty. If I am with Jon, I can just try a few bites from his plate, but on my own, I just order it. After three weeks of not being vegetarian (in which I probably still ate vegetarian more than half the time), I was ready to go back. Meat just isn't my thing.

That said, Singapore is a pretty easy place to be a vegetarian. Most Hindus and many Buddhists practice full- or part-time vegetarianism, and most food courts have clearly labelled vegetarian stalls. One difference from the US, however, is that in Singapore a non-vegetarian stall or restaurant may have no vegetarian options at all, whereas here, most restaurants have at least something, BBQ and steak places possibly excepted.

The main food traditions in Singapore are Chinese, Malaysian, Indian, and Peranakan, which is a blend of Chinese and Malaysian very distinctive to Singapore and some parts of Malaysia. While there were lots of restaurants specializing in just one food tradition, there is also a lot of merging of them, and it can be particularly hard to separate Peranakan from Chinese and Malaysian. I must say that eating a few traditional Chinese meals has dispelled any pretension I had of being an adventurous eater. Especially as a vegetarian, a lot of the dishes were well outside my comfort zone. Indian and Peranakan food were more my speed, but they were almost always too spicy for me. Singapore was a British colony for quite a while, so English is one of the official languages. This made dining much easier because I always at least had some idea of what I was eating. Western food is also available, and there are a few very highly-rated French and Italian restaurants, but the only non-Asian meals I had were salads.

Food in Singapore is relatively cheap compared to the US, and in Malaysia it is even cheaper. Hawker centers/food courts/canteens are ubiquitous and cheap. They are areas where lots of different food merchants set up shop, so you can pick and choose whatever you want. Each one has rather limited offerings, but the variety is so great that it can be really tough to choose. They're like food courts in malls but with really good food at great prices. The university where the conference was held had several canteens, all of which had several different stalls and were ridiculously cheap. For my first lunch there, I was worried that the plate I had ordered for S$3 (about $2.25) wouldn't be enough, so I added a S$1 side dish and barely got through half of my meal. I think it's very hard to get a huge, filling meal at a college cafeteria in the US for $3. Food in the rest of Singapore was about 30% more expensive than on campus, but I was still eating well for about $5 a meal. In Malaysia, I had some great meals for RM6-12, which is about $2-4. On the other hand, alcohol was very expensive, so I only drank when someone else was paying for it.
This picture doesn't show you the vast scope of this hawker center, but it does show you that it had a stage on top of one of the dessert stalls.

The Indian food I had was fairly comparable to Indian food in the US. There were both North and South Indian restaurants, but a lot of restaurants served food from both areas. Many of the Indian restaurants were vegetarian, I think to a larger extent than in the US. The people eating Indian food were much more authentic in Singapore. Many people used their hands instead of utensils, although I was always given a fork and a knife. I tried a new beverage in one of the Indian places I visited: jal jeera, a bracing lime, cumin, and salt concoction. The idea was OK, but the end product was pretty intense. I ended up ordering a sweet lassi (yogurt drink) as well to counter the spice of the food. I might explore the idea of a similar beverage, but it will be much less strong. One very popular Singapore Indian dish that I never tried was fish-head curry. I did a lot of stepping outside my comfort zone, but I never got around to stepping out in that direction.

Peranakan food was really great. One of my favorite dishes in both Singapore and Malaysia was laksa. There are two types, curry laksa, which has a spicy coconut milk broth, and asam laksa, which has a sour (I think tamarind-based) broth. I loved curry laksa and had it a lot. I only tried asam laksa once, and I wasn't a fan. The curry laksas I had varied a lot, but they all had noodles and spicy coconut milk and seafood broth. The other toppings included fried tofu, bok choy, eggplant, fish balls, shrimp, mussels, octopus, bitter gourd, mushrooms, and seaweed. I liked everything but the mussels. I've had mussels a few times now, and they taste like sea mud to me. I am definitely going to try to make my own vegetarian laksa here.

A great Malaysian dish I only managed to try once was nasi lemak, which is rice cooked in coconut milk and served with fish, breaded chicken, peanuts, sprouts, and fiery sambal sauce. Once again, it can be adapted to whatever you have on hand, and I was just intoxicated by the coconut milk rice. It wasn't sweet at all but just had a rich, coconutty flavor and texture. I have only used coconut milk a few times in savory dishes, and clearly between laksa and nasi lemak, it's time to explore that more.

Soy and adzuki bean products are all over the place in Singapore, and what I loved about them is that they usually weren't trying to be something else. In the US, we buy vanilla soy milk and chocolate soy yogurt and fake bacon strips. I went to a Mr. Bean soy shop one time toward the end of my stay. Mr. Bean is all over the place and sells soy milk beverages, frozen soy desserts and the like. I got a drink with soy ice cream on top, and the ice cream tasted like sweet frozen beans in the most wonderful possible way. I had some tofu in a soup in Malaysia that tasted fresh and beany. I've never had tofu here that really tasted so much like itself. Usually before cooking it, it tastes like nothing, and afterwards, it tastes like whatever I cooked it in. I am really going to have to get myself down to Chinatown and see if they have any tofu as good as the stuff I had in that bus station in Malaysia. It was a revelation. The exception to the "not trying to be something else" clause is that the Chinese vegetarian restaurants and stalls are masters of disguise and use a lot of very realistic fake meat. But this soy posing is pretty much confined to Chinese vegetarian restaurants and can be kind of fun, although I tended to prefer the dishes with less fake meat.
Revelatory tofu soup from a Malaysian bus station

One of the best things about Singapore was the abundantly available fruit and fresh-squeezed juice. At home I don't drink much juice, and it's usually a little bit of grapefruit or orange juice with breakfast. In Singapore, I drank juice with almost every meal, in part because it was so tasty and in part to tame the spiciness of a lot of the food. Honeydew-pineapple was one of my favorites, and watermelon was not far behind. Sugarcane juice was widespread. It was a small amount of pressed sugarcane diluted with water and ice, so it wasn't as sickly sweet as I had expected. Indonesian alpokat juice, a smoothie of avocado, sugar, condensed milk, and chocolate syrup, changed my life. Oh my gosh, it was amazing. I will definitely try to recreate it here.

I also drank and ate my very first whole young coconut while I was there. And then had probably 10 more over the course of my stay. Coconut water is not very sweet and has a complex but very fresh flavor. The most satisfying coconut I had probably came at the end of the day I spent mountain biking around Pulau Ubin, a smaller, less developed island owned by Singapore. I think coconut water had just the electrolytes I was looking for.
A great Indian meal, including my first coconut

On the other hand, it is very hard to find raw vegetables in this part of the world. I talked to a Malaysian friend recently about this. He has lived in the US for about five years now and has finally gotten over his initial reaction to salad, which was disgust, and gotten used to the idea of eating a pile of raw veggies, although he doesn't do it left to his own devices. It is just a cultural difference, I guess. I did eat two meals at a salad restaurant in the downtown business district because I was really craving them.
A really great (and welcome) salad

Finally, something must be said about cendol and ice kacang. These two desserts have the same idea: shaved ice, syrup, red beans, corn, jellies (like the texture of jello or the tapioca balls in bubble tea), and either coconut (cendol) or sweetened condensed (ice kacang) milk. They look truly wacky and taste great but are way too big for just one person. The ice is very finely shaved, so it isn't long before it's melting and you're eating sweet, cold, brightly colored soup. There are lots of variants, and you can also get the shaved ice with almond milk or other fruits, but I never got around to that.
Cendol. The bright green things are not alien eggs. They're sweet jellies of some sort.
Ice kacang at a soupy stage

All in all, I think my time in Singapore has given me a lot of great ideas for my own cooking and eating. I haven't tried any yet because I've spent the last week eating non-Asian-type food because I was kind of tired of Asian food, but maybe next week I'll crack open some cans of coconut milk and make some magic.