Sunday, August 31, 2008

Red River Dolmas (Stuffed Wild Grape Leaves)

This was my first attempt at making stuffed grape leaves, and the result was a delicious surprise. The leaves are wild and abundant here, and for a stuffing I used brown rice, dried apricots, walnuts, and a few fresh herbs and dried spices. I have been meaning to try my hand at dolmas since I first saw folks picking wild grape leaves along the river downtown a couple of years ago. The wild grape bushes are thriving along the banks of the Red River this summer. Here's a couple of grape leaf pictures, with the muddy Red in the background.

I picked a couple of dozen, with an ample choice of big, tender leaves with no blemishes or spots.

At home, the first step was to give the leaves a quick cleaning rinse, and cut off the stems right at the leaf base. Next, blanch the leaves in boiling water, followed quickly by submersion in ice water to keep them from cooking any more. The blanching makes the leaves pliable for wrapping around the dolma filling. I dipped them in boiling water for just a couple of seconds - they turned almost instantly from a bright green to the more olive green color typical of canned grape leaves.

Meanwhile, it's time to make a stuffing. I tried to come up with something vaguely Eastern European/Mediterranean, and the filling is a fine salad on its own.

Here's a list of the stuffing ingredients:
1 cup cooked brown rice
1/2 cup dried apricot, diced
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, diced
1/2 cup fresh parsley
1/2 cup fresh mint
1/4 cup fresh chives
1 1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. cumin powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Now it's time for a big dolma assembly line in the kitchen. Place a single grape leaf with the veins facing up on your work surface. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of filling onto the leaf, about a half inch above the bottom center of the leaf. Fold the leaf bottom up over the filling, and fold in the left and right sides. Holding the sides securely above the filling, roll the rest of the leaf up like a spring roll or a tortilla. This is pretty cool, because the leaf vein at the top of the grape leaf should line up exactly with the base of the stem. The stuffed leaf should hold together well (despite my doubts, every one stayed intact).

Continue the process until you have a pan full of lovely stuffed grape leaves, like this:

Now it's stewing time. I saw this part on a cooking show one time - cover the bottom of a large stew pot with thinly sliced potatoes. This keeps the leaves from burning during the stewing process, as they are shielded by the valiant potato defense. Place the dolmas on top of the potato layer, and add just enough water to cover the dolmas, along with a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of lemon juice.

Place a heavy plate on top of the dolmas, which will keep them from moving around during the stewing process. Stew for about a half hour over heat just high enough to keep the water simmering. After stewing, allow the liquid to cool a bit before removing the dolmas, which will have swelled up with lemony olive oily tastiness. Don't throw out those potatoes either, which are a tasty by-product. The dolmas will keep for a few days chilled in the fridge, and I think the flavor gets better a day or two later.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Brown Basmati Rice Salad with Grapes and Pistachios

I came back this morning from walking the dog crew on what turned into a hot and windy day, and improvised this salad. I loved it - the tomato, basil, and mint are Fargo-grown, and the other ingredients were in the fridge. The pistachio nuts and rice make this a satisfying meal, but it would be wonderful in a smaller portion next to grilled tofu, eggplant, or other roasted vegetables.

Rice Salad with Grapes and Pistachios
1 cup brown basmati rice (cooked and chilled)
10 or so seedless green grapes, halved or diced
1 Roma tomato, diced
1 1/2 tbsp. capers (these were packed in a balsamic vinegar brine)
1/2 cup pistachios, lightly toasted
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. salt
ground black pepper to taste

1. Mix it all up and enjoy. I had raw pistachios which I toasted for about 10 minutes over low heat in a dry frying pan. I let them cool a bit before adding to the salad.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Cream of Collards Soup

I'm trying to eat as many of my collards as the butterflies hanging around in my garden. They (the collards, not the butterflies) usually find their way into stir-fries or vegetable soups, but this was a good chance to give them a starring role. This soup was adapted from a swiss chard cream soup from my old Peace Corps cookbook, "Buen Provecho."

Cream of Collards Soup
4 cups collard greens, coarsely chopped
1 red potato, boiled or baked
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp. all purpose flour
1 1/2 cup soymilk (or any other nondairy milk)
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. vegan margarine
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a soup pot, steam the collard greens with about a half cup of water. Steam just until they turn a bright green. Remove and drain, reserving the cooking liquid. Allow the greens to cool a little, then blend with the potato in a blender or food processor.

2. In the same pot (well dried), heat oil and margarine and saute onion and garlic until just beginning to brown. Add flour, and stir constantly as the flour cooks in the oils - just a couple of minutes.

3. Add the soymilk and vegetable broth and bring to a simmer, stirring to blend well with the flour-onion mixture. Add the collards and potato blend. If the soup seems too thick, add the remaining collard cooking liquid, or a little more vegetable broth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sesame-Garlic Eggplant

The first meal I ever had in New York's Chinatown was a garlic eggplant dish at a restaurant whose name I can't remember. It was phenomenal, and ever since I've been trying to come up with something similar. This is the best this North Dakotan has come up with so far. I've been treating my garden eggplants with love and care, and decided to take another shot at imitating that meal.

Sesame-Garlic Eggplant
1 large eggplant, cut in roughly one inch cubes
canola oil
2 tbsp. fresh ginger, peeled and minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup onion, diced
1 green hot chili pepper, finely chopped
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tbsp. sake (if you don't have sake on hand, try a white wine)
1/2 cup shiitake mushroom broth*
1 tsp. sugar
2 1/2 tbsp. tamari or other good soy sauce
2 tbsp. sesame oil
salt and black pepper
fresh chives and sesame seeds for garnish

* The shiitake broth is the liquid left over from rehydrating dried shiitake mushrooms. Vegetable stock or another mushroom broth is a fine substitute.

1. In a (preferably non-stick) frying pan, fry the eggplant in about a quarter inch of canola oil. If you think that's a little much, use less oil or bake the eggplant. I like a little greasy goodness now and then. Fry eggplant, turning occasionally, until lightly browned on all sides. Remove from pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper as it rests.

2. In a bowl, combine tamari, shiitake broth, sugar, sake, and red pepper flakes. Set aside.

3. Heat 1 tbsp. canola oil and 1 tbsp. sesame oil in the pan (less if there is some residual oil from the eggplant). Add onion, ginger, and garlic, and stir-fry until lightly browned. Add green chili, and cook for another half minute.

4. Add fried eggplant, followed by tamari-broth mixture. Bring to a simmer, and remove from heat. Let cool a few minutes before serving. Sprinkle with some sesame seeds and chives, and a healthy drizzle of sesame oil. Rice is great to soak up the extra eggplant sauce.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Plain old nummy Tabouli

Everything is in perfect alignment these days for a big bowl of tabouli, which has been lunch the past couple of days. It's hot and humid, and most of the ingredients are growing in my garden. The mint is from a forgotten patch in the fields where the dogs and I go walking every day - I need to make some mojitos while I'm at it. This is a pretty typical tabouli salad, kept chilled in the fridge, where the flavors seem to get better every day. Coming home for lunch today, all sweaty and sticky and nasty, all I could think about was this salad and some shade. Even Otter wanted to get in on this, and she's usually not a salad fan, unless the salad includes peanut butter dog biscuits. Which it usually doesn't.

1 cup bulgur wheat
1 medium cucumber, cut in bite-size chunks
2 Roma tomatoes, in more bite-size chunks
2 cups, more or less, coarsely chopped fresh parsley
2/3 cup fresh mint leaves
juice from half a lemon
1 tsp. cumin powder
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt

1. Boil one cup of water, remove from heat, and add 1 cup of bulgur wheat. The bulgur will soak up the water within 15 minutes or so, and become tender. Drain off any excess water, but at a one to one ratio, there shouldn't be much extra.

2. Allow the bulgur to cool completely, so it doesn't wilt the herb leaves. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, and refrigerate (or eat at room temperature, but the flavors improve with a little time). Serve cold, and add a little more oil or lemon juice if you like.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Rhubarb Ice Cream Pie

Rhubarb + pie + ice cream = good times. The ice cream machine is back.

Rhubarb Vegan Ice Cream
Rhubarb Puree:
2 cups fresh rhubarb, chopped to 1 inch pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water

Ice Cream:
2 1/2 cups regular soy milk
1/2 cup soy creamer (or another half cup soy milk)
2 tbsp. arrowroot powder
1/2 cup sugar

1. In a medium sized saucepan, bring the rhubarb pieces and water to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, and lightly simmer for about 10 minutes, until the rhubarb pieces are soft and easily smushed with a fork. Add the sugar, continue cooking until sugar dissolves, and remove from heat. Let cool to room temperature, or refrigerate until ready to combine with ice cream mixture.

2. Pour about 1/3 cup of the soy milk into a cup and mix with the arrowroot powder until well combined. Set aside.

3. In another medium sized saucepan (preferably non-stick), bring the soy milk and soy creamer just to a simmer over medium heat on the stove. When soy milk is beginning to bubble, add the cup with the soy milk-arrowroot mixture. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the mixture begins to thicken. It will start getting thicker in just a couple of minutes as the arrowroot starts doing it's thing. Add sugar and continue stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat.

4. You can make your ice cream after the rhubarb mixture and soymilk have cooled to room temperature, but it's fine to refrigerate them both until the next day. Combine the two and mix just to combine, and pour all contents into your ice cream maker. Proceed according to the specific instructions of your ice cream maker.

5. Use the result however you wish, but I spread out my rhubarb ice cream into this graham cracker pie crust. Keep in freezer...I don't need to point that out, do I?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Red Curry Eggplant Soup

I guess this is a close cousin of the tomato-basil soup I posted yesterday. It includes the rest of the grilled veggies - eggplant, potato, carrot, onion, and garlic - I made this weekend. In addition, I added a couple of cups of spinach and tender collard greens from the garden while I processed the grilled vegetables. Here's the play by play in the food processor. (I gave up fighting with this program to get these in one left to right row, so the steps can be visualized counter-clockwise.)

So the end result might not be the appetizing looking thing in the world, but the idea was to create a roasted vegetable blend that could easily be turned into soup, stew, or sauce for pasta or grains. This is such a simple technique, and any number or variety of roast-able veggies would work. The finished curry soup was very simple - I made it during my lunch break today. In a soup pot, I brought 2 tbsp. of Thai red curry paste to a quick boil along with 3/4 cup of coconut milk. Add two cups of the vegetable mixture to the curry-coconut mixture, along with another half cup of vegetable stock. Heat just until the soup is nice and hot, and serve immediately. Since I still have a little jar of basil cuttings on the counter, I had a nice garnish. Thai basil or cilantro would be great here too. Any grain would add some nice body to the soup - I used some leftover brown rice.

Peaches and Cream Smoothie

As simple as it gets, and way delicious. I bought some peaches with the intention of making a peach pie or other dessert, but this was a good consolation prize.

2 peaches, peeled and pits removed
1/4 cup sweetened soy milk
1/2 cup soy creamer
1 tbsp. sugar or other sweetener (optional...I usually don't add any additional sweetener)

1. Add everything to the blender, and blend away. Softer peaches will liquefy almost immediately, but these were a little on the firm side, so I blended them a while longer.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Tomato-Basil Soup with Grilled Veggies

I spent a couple of hours playing with the charcoal grill in the front yard last night, and ended up with a big mess of flame-grilled and roasted vegetables. This tomato-basil soup features fire-roasted tomatoes, and roasted onions and garlic that I cooked in a covered grill pan.
The tomatoes were coated with just a little olive oil, and cooked directly on the grill over hot coals. They were over the flames for about 15 minutes, turned frequently since the skin chars pretty fast. They ended up with nice grill marks and great flavor. All of the other vegetables - carrots, potatoes, eggplant, onions, and garlic - were roasted for over an hour in the foil-covered grill pan shown here. The roasting brings out the sugars in the vegetables, which lends a warm, sweet flavor to the soup.
3 large fire-roasted tomatoes
1/2 cup roasted onion
4 cloves roasted garlic
1 cup fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp. Earth Balance vegan margarine
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/4 cup soymilk (sweetened or unsweetened - a little sweetness is fine)
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. salt
fresh ground black pepper
a few extra basil leaves, in chiffonade cuts, for garnish

1. Start by making a roux in your soup pot. This is a little easier in a non-stick pot, but by no means is non-stick necessary. On a medium flame, melt the Earth Balance margarine and olive oil. Add flour, and stir constantly. A thick, creamy gravy-paste will emerge as the flour cooks and dissolves in the oil. Add the thyme, oregano, and salt. Add soymilk and vegetable broth, and continue stirring frequently for about five minutes over medium-low heat. It looks something like this.
2. After making the roux, this soup is a snap. Add tomatoes, garlic, and onions. Since they're already cooked, I just re-heated them in the soup. Remove from heat, and let the soup cool until you're comfortable to put it all in a blender or food processor. This means different things for different people, so use your judgement, you know?

3. Blend the soup thoroughly in your appliance of choice. Return blended contents to soup pot, and add the cup of basil leaves. Keep cooking on medium just until the soup is hot and the leaves have begun to wilt. Overcooking the basil causes them to lose some flavor and texture.

4. Serve topped with a little ground pepper and garnished with those pretty little chiffonade basil leaves.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Every Day is a Dog Day

I just sat down after a good long day of work and dog walking. Every Wednesday I walk the dogs at the Fargo-Moorhead Humane Society, and those dogs never fail to make me happy. They end up there because of bad luck or neglect or plain old rotten circumstances, but they usually end up in good home pretty quickly. It's nice to know there are so many individuals and families here who give these dogs a second chance. There was another puppy mill bust in Minnesota today - though it's not clear yet whether this operation will actually be shut down, or if the owner will just pay the fines and keep on exploiting these animals for a quick buck. It's so frustrating. This place had over a thousand dogs, and the usual littany of terrible conditions and abuses. Whenever something like this goes down, Otter and Maya get extra hugs when I get home.
On to food - I have a few random photos of foodness from the last week. It has been so nice here lately - we're in that perfect stretch of summer when the winds die down and the sunsets come a little earlier each evening, reminding us to savor this while it lasts. For that reason, I don't get to the computer until the late hours of the day. Anyway, here we go:

Scrambled tofu on English muffins, with your standard issue vegan cheese sauce - some nutritional yeast here, a little tahini there. Honestly, I botched the sauce because I was in a hurry for no good reason. Still edible, but I'll be back someday with the badass vegan Trucker's Skillet recipe that will claim breakfast for vegans forever. Next...
General Tso's Tofu! I won't be modest - this rocked. The spinach is there because everything I eat these days includes spinach from the garden, except maybe the odd peanut butter sandwich...but that might work too. And furthermore...
Here's my first cucumber, peeled and chopped and mingling with a tomato that was so ripe it felt like a water balloon in my hand. Toss with olive oil and a smidge of salt, and with four ingredients you have the best salad/side you'll find. According to me. Que mas?

Last night's soup, with lentils and zucchini and a mess of collard greens. I'm up to my neck in collards, and not complaining. And the parting shot...

How did people go on and on about their gardens, to the amusement of none, before the internet? My garden is getting all chaotic and unruly. Example: this cucumber, which has taken up residence on one of my eggplants. I planted one little cucumber plant, which I thought wouldn't make it because it was so wet here in May and June. Undeterred, it proceeded to take over it's corner of the garden, and climb up the nearby evergreen tree and onto the surrounding plants. My eggplants are just getting ready to pop, so I hope to be back rocking the eggplant parm and garlic eggplant stirfry and grilled eggplant and all types of eggplant madness. Until then, I'm going back outside.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

No-Bake Tomato-Basil Pita Pizza

I've had big plans to make a vegan Pizza Napoletana ever since I got the new issue of National Geographic, which has a short piece on the traditional pie. Problem is, it's way too hot these days to think about firing up the oven. Instead, I came up with this little guy for lunch today, which still features the triad of tomatoes, basil, and (a vegan version of) cheese. The sauce features fresh tomatoes from the Fargo farmer's market, which I blended with a cashew-nutritional yeast combo I've been using to top pastas and other things where parmesan cheese or gomasio might be nice. The toppings are fresh basil and a few kalamata olives. Pretty good, and I promise to get around to that pizza as soon as it cools off here.

whole-wheat pita bread
10 or so fresh basil leaves, cut in ribbons
a few kalamata olives, or whatever else you have lying around that would be nice on a pizza

1 cup coarsely chopped tomatoes
2/3 cup raw cashews
1 tbsp. nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp. salt

1. In a blender or food processor, grind the cashews with the nutritional yeast and salt until the cashews are a coarse powder. This is a great (and cheaper) substitute for the commercial vegan parm products.

2. Add the tomatoes, and pulse just until the tomatoes are incorporated into the nut mixture.

3. Spread the tomato-cashew mixture on the pita, and top with basil and olives. That's as easy as it gets, and a great way to approximate the pleasure of eating homemade pizza in the dog days of summer.

While I'm at it, here's a shot of a salad I made this afternoon (yes, I do eat some things without taking pictures of them). My spinach plants are going to seed and on the way to their reward, so I'm trying to use every last bit of goodness. This is just spinach, cukes, and a tomato, with a few stray basil leaves and a maple-lime-olive oil salad dressing.