Saturday, June 27, 2009

Zucchini Flower Pasta with fresh herbs

The biggest reason I planted a few zucchini bushes in the garden this year was to have access to zucchini flowers - not that I don't love zucchini, but it's so plentiful and cheap at the farmers' market all summer, so why grow it? The blossoms, on the other hand, are more elusive. I know a lot of markets out there feature squash flowers, but I haven't seen them here before. They're delicate and fragile and perishable soon after picking, so I understand why they can be hard to protect and transport to markets.

Since this is my first time growing zucchini, I've been closely watching the blossoms for a few weeks now, and reading about them online. They grow at least twice as big as the ones above, but with a thunderstorm on the way this afternoon, I picked a few instead of letting them stay out in the wind and even a bit of hail. This was the first garden zucchini too, along with flowers and herbs:
I really want to try stuffed, battered, and fried zucchini blossoms, but these little guys were way too delicate for anything like that. Instead, I added them to a pasta salad with zucchini and fresh herbs - this would be great picnic food! The sliced zucchini were sauteed in olive oil until just softened, and tossed with the thinly sliced herbs, cooked pasta at room temperature, and salad dressing. Here's the fresh herbs, and salad dressing ingredients:

1/3 cup mint leaves
1/4 cup basil leaves
1 sprig of fennel
2 or 3 sage leaves
1/4 cup Italian parsley
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. agave nectar
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
2 tsp. dijon mustard

I added the flowers last - they don't require any cooking. A story on the NPR food podcast from earlier this month described the texture of fresh squash blossoms as "like eating air." That's about right...aren't they pretty?

There's more zucchini in this pic from the week, but this time paired with grease and gravy, instead of flowers and herbs. It's "chicken-fried" tofu, with mushroom gravy made with a can of Hamms beer. Hallelujah.

I've been eating fresh garden salad after work all week - just took a picture because I know it will be gone too soon.

This morning I made the Hollandaise sauce from Vegan Brunch, which was super, of course. Instead of the full tofu benedict in the book - doesn't that look awesome? - I topped some hashbrowns and scrambled tofu with the sauce. It was brilliant - thanks again Isa!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Tempeh Kafta Balls, grilling time, and raw soup

Kafta caught my attention while I was paging through The Arab Table, by May S. Bsisu. Kafta refers to a family of grilled, baked, or fried meat dishes across the Arab world, and in different places is made with lamb, beef, or fish, parsley or cilantro, and a range of spices. At first I thought it might be one of those veganized meat dishes that sort of strain credibility - I'm still trying to comprehend the vegan Monte Cristo sandwich, for example (though I've seen tempting photos). But then I figured that if kafta can be something different in Egypt, Syria, or Palestine, why not work on a vegan North Dakota version? I've had worse ideas.

I built my kafta with a tempeh base, using quick oats and wheat gluten for binding. Here's the ingredients, inspired by a recipe in The Arab Table:
1 8 oz. package tempeh
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and coarsley chopped
1 cup flat leaf parsley
1/3 cup quick oats
1/3 cup wheat gluten flour
1 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
vegetable broth

Prep was easy - just pulsed everything in the food processor until well combined, leaving the onions, parsley, and tempeh still in coarse pieces. I added just enough vegetable stock to moisten the oats and wheat gluten, making a firm "dough." Form into walnut sized balls, like these:
A deep fryer would be ideal to fry the kafta, but I fried them in ample corn oil in my cast iron frying pan - as the top photo shows, I fried them to a nice deep golden brown. They were super crispy outside, and tender and spicy inside - here's a closeup:

The tomato sauce, by the way, is another recipe from The Arab Table. It's very simple, with sauteed garlic, tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and cinnamon - a nice complement to the taste of the kafta spices. Mint garnish wrapped up the Middle East vibe.

This weekend I broke out the grill for the first time this summer - nice to cook outside instead of heating up the apartment. Plus, standing in front of the grill with a beer is one of the finer things in life, I believe. Here's before and after shots of zucchini, BBQ-rubbed tempeh (from a BBQ rub in this month's Vegetarian Times - num!), baked potatos, and a kabob with mushrooms, onion, and yellow bell pepper. As the second pic shows, I let things get a little burnt, but isn't that the whole point of grilling?

Finally, time to cool down with this avocado soup from Ani's Raw Food Kitchen - a good book to have on hand as summer heats up.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Spring Greens, Spring Rolls, & Sea Veggies

I made these spring rolls with some mixed greens I'm growing in the garden this year. I planted a mesclun seed pack, and they've really taken off. It's a nice mix of pretty looking and tasty greens, including arugula, endive, red kale, red and green romaine, and Salad Bowl and Lolla Rossa lettuce. The arugula is growing fastest and biggest so far, and it tastes wonderful - I've never grown arugula before, and the taste when it's fresh picked is really cool. It tastes like any other mild green at first, then this great peppery taste floods good. I pick a couple leaves every time I go past them. Here's a pic from the garden:

Making spring rolls is pretty easy, and it forces me to clear off my little kitchen counter when I make them, to have all of the ingredients at hand. Here's what I used:

3 cups fresh greens - anything that is good raw
1 medium cucumber, peeled and seeded, and cut in strips roughly 4 inches long and 1/4 inch wide
1 medium carrot, cut in thin strips with a veggie peeler
1/2 cup raw cashews
mung bean thread noodles, rehydrated in boiled water for 10 minutes
rice paper spring roll wrappers - I made around 8 with these quantities

The rice paper needs to be soaked in cold water for about 1 minute, and then handled very delicately when removed. They do tend to tear pretty easily, but if you stay cool and work slowly, they're easy to use. Place about 1/3 cup of bean threads around the bottom third of the rice paper wrapper, and top with the carrots, cucumber, cashews, and greens. Here's a sample - I put around 6 leaves in each roll - as much as can be handily rolled up without over-stuffing the spring roll. Here's a roll before placing a few more greens:

After this, fold the bottom third up over the filling, then fold in the sides, and roll up to the's pretty intuitive once you get started. The moistened rice paper sticks together well after rolling. Once you have them ready, they can be eaten right away, or chilled for a few hours. I wanted a dipping sauce that complemented without overwhelming the greens, and used pineapple juice, and little lemon juice, grated fresh ginger, agave nectar, and a tiny bit of soy sauce and sesame oil.

Here's a plate from last week - I must have been in a sea veggie mood, since I made sushi rolls and these tofu burgers the same day. The tofu burgers are another recipe from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and include a good portion of rehydrated wakame. These burgers easily pass my only veggie burger test, in that they hold together and stay firm while frying or baking. I ate them with just a little soy sauce and pickled ginger, but they would be great in buns, using the pickled ginger like a relish, along with any other burger toppings.

Here's a bonus non-food picture from this weekend - my two brothers and I go on a river trip each summer in the Minnesota/North Dakota area, and this year we went down the Pembina River in northeastern North Dakota. It was a beautiful day, and a really fun river. So glad summer's finally here!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Roasted Garlic Bread Spreads, & Sweet and Sour Pomegranate Tofu

For the past few weeks, I've been trying to bake some kind of bread each weekend. Bread making is one of those pursuits where it's pretty easy to get down the basics, but a lifelong challenge to get to anything approaching perfection. I'm certainly still in low-novice mode, but even half-decent bread is rewarding, and can be made for a fraction of the price of commercial bread, especially the good stuff. This weekend I made simple baguettes, loosely in the French or Italian "peasant bread" style you see at good bakeries.

With a couple loaves of good bread on hand, I decided to make a few Mediterranean style bread spreads - pesto, a bean puree, and a tapenade with sun-dried tomatoes and roasted red peppers. The unifying element in all three is a bulb of roasted garlic that I had in the oven along with the bread. Roasted garlic is one of my very favorite ingredients, and no matter how much I make I find all kinds of places to use it. It's great everywhere.

Going from left to right in the photo, first is a simple parsley pesto. This is a standard basil pesto recipe, with parsley because it's so much cheaper than fresh basil, at least until farmer's market season comes along and my little garden starts producing. I used half a bunch of parsley, a quarter cup of pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, and a few cloves of roasted garlic.

Center is another simple and delicious combination - great northern beans whipped to a puree with more olive oil, roasted garlic, and a little salt.

At right is a rich and tangy tapenade, with a half dozen sun-dried tomatoes, a few pieces of roasted red pepper, green olives, a tbsp. of capers, and more olive oil and roasted garlic. All of this would be great party food, with bowls of spreads served with lots of sliced and toasted bread. It's all easy to prepare, and though the pesto tends to lose it's bright green color fairly quickly, all keep in the fridge for days of great snacking.

If you want to eat more purple food - and who doesn't? - this is a good place to start. I bought some shiso leaves (also known as perilla) at Fargo's Asian & American Market last week, just because I've never tried them. They have beautiful green and purple color, but I didn't really know where to use them. As with lots of fresh herbs, they're pretty versatile, and I sprinkled a few on top of this stir-fry. Pomegranate juice is the heart of a sweet and sour glaze for stir-fried tofu, edamame, and carrots. The glaze is very simple, with pomegranate, brown sugar, and a little corn starch and tamari, added at the end of stir-frying the veggies and tofu. The shiso leaves tasted lovely on top. Wikipedia compares them to fennel, mint, or basil, which is about right...sort of a cocktail of those flavors. Sounds good to me :)