Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Preserved Lemons

preserved lemons 069_thumbPreserved lemons are often described as one of the signature flavors of North African cooking, adding a salty, citrus note to pilafs, tagines, and stews. I haven't been to Morocco or Algeria or Tunisia (yet!), nor have I ever tasted preserved lemons, but the latter will change in a few weeks. That's when this quart jar of lemons, salt, and spices will come to maturity, and I'll pretend I'm sitting down for a bowl of lentil tagine with preserved lemons in Tangier or Casablanca. How's that for budget travel?

Organic lemons are preferred for this, because the peels are the ultimate ingredient, and that's where pesticides can concentrate in non-organic lemons. Some preserved lemon recipes call for nothing more than lemons and salt, and some include lots of spices and sweeteners. I took the middle path, with lemons, salt, and spices, but no sweetener.

After sterilizing a wide mouth quart jar and lid in boiling water, I filled the jar with layers of sea salt (a half cup!), quartered lemons, and spices including cardamom pods, cloves, star anise, a cinnamon stick, and black peppercorns. If this works out, I'll post the actual recipe in a few weeks...I don't want to lead anyone astray in the meantime :) After filling the jar with lemons, I squeezed the juice of the extra lemons into the jar, until all of the lemon quarters were submerged in lemon juice. I used about two pounds of lemons in total. Now I'm shaking the jar every day, to keep the salt and juice mixed. The pickled lemons are rinsed of much of the salt before eating, so don't be freaked out by that half cup of salt.

This is sort of a recipe in progress, so I'll be back in a few weeks with the results, and hopefully a fabulous Moroccan recipe to showcase these guys. Meanwhile...

preserved lemons 065_thumb[1][1]

I've meant to make the tempeh sausage pastry puffs from Vegan Brunch since the first time I opened that book, but felt like they deserved a special occasion. I don't think Monday Night Football qualifies as a special occasion, especially when the Vikings lose, but I went ahead and made these last night anyway. They're delicious, with a spice mixture including fennel seeds, sage, thyme, red pepper flakes, and mustard seeds giving them a definite sausage vibe. Great served with mushroom gravy.

preserved lemons 043

Another cookbook winner, this is a take on the Pad See Ew from Vegan Yum Yum. The greens are yu choy, which is pretty close to Chinese broccoli. The rice noodles here are kind of interesting too - Thai noodles called "Rice Flake" on the package. They look like flat cut-up squares of dry spring roll wrapper, but when cooked they roll up into cylinders. I was entertained (it's winter), and the noodle tubes are nice vehicles for the sweet and spicy Pad See Ew sauce. Yu choy is harvested fairly young, so even the stems are pretty tender after a quick stir fry.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cremini and Oyster Mushroom Pizza Rolls


Whenever we bring food home for the holidays, or to work or a potluck, we are ambassadors from vegan land. Our diplomatic duty is to show that vegan food isn't weird or bland or covered with alfalfa sprouts. Not to diss alfalfa sprouts, but they have their place. Vegans know we eat awesome food, but there are still some pretty powerful mindsets to overcome. My entry at Christmas this year will be these pizza rolls, inspired by this post at Bitten, Mark Bittman's blog at the New York Times.

The post is by Annemarie Conte, one of the blog's contributors. Many of the comments asked about making vegetarian or vegan versions of the rolls, which were heavy on mushrooms but also contained cheese and pork. I kept the mushrooms, but added sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, and capers. You could dress these up with all kinds of things - vegan cheese, cooked spinach or other tender greens, olives, marinated artichokes, etc. Anything you would like on a pizza. I just used what was on hand.

I chopped the oyster and cremini mushrooms to tiny bits in the food processor, and sauteed them in extra virgin olive oil for about five minutes. Next I added finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes, minced garlic, and two teaspoons of capers. Saute for a few minutes more, until the mushrooms release most of their moisture and the mixture is very fragrant. After cooling for a few minutes, spread the mushroom mixture on a prepared rectangular sheet of pizza dough. I'll probably use a home made dough next time I make these, but I was in a convenience mood and used Pillsbury pizza dough, which is vegan :) After topping the dough just as if you're making a pizza, roll it up and press the edges together. I baked the roll at 375 for about 20-25 minutes, and served the slices with a good pasta sauce. The rolls are plenty good on their own, but the sauce is a nice addition.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sesame Long Beans with Five Spice Tofu

tofu beans plate

This dish came about as I was fiddling with two different recipes over the weekend. I made some roasted tofu last night, inspired by a tofu technique from Chow Vegan which uses paprika to give the tofu a striking red coating. The tofu cubes are oven roasted on parchment paper, which is helpful in two ways: first, the spice mixture tends to stick better to the tofu rather than the baking dish. Second, by using a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper instead of a smaller baking dish, there's more space between each tofu cube, which helped them brown nicely. (tofu recipe below)

I hadn't cooked long beans (a.k.a. yard long beans) before, but picked some up at Fargo's Asian and American Market. These long beans - close relatives of black-eyed peas, by the way - weren't quite a yard, but still pretty lanky. I cut them into thirds.

raw long beans

Sesame Long Beans

This recipe features all things sesame, at least in my kitchen, with dark sesame oil, tahini (sesame seed paste), and white and black sesame seeds for garnish.

10 to 12 long beans, ends trimmed and cut in thirds

1 tbsp. peanut oil or other vegetable oil

1 tbsp. dark sesame oil

1 tsp. sugar

1 tbsp. tamari or other good quality soy sauce

1 tbsp. tahini

1/4 cup water, sake, or white wine (I used wine)

Black and white sesame seeds, 1 tsp. each

Over high heat, stir fry the beans in the oil (you can get by with less - I tend to be generous with oil). Mix the sugar, tamari, tahini, and water or wine in a small bowl, and add to the beans after they begin to soften. They cook quickly, so this is just around 3 or 4 minutes on medium high heat. Cook, stirring frequently, for another couple of minutes, just until the sauce thickens. Let cool a minute before serving, and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.

Roasted Five Spice Tofu

Paprika is the dominant spice here by quantity, but a little Chinese five spice powder goes a long way, and that's the flavor you'll notice. I made a slurry (for lack of a better term...slurries never sound very appetizing) with 1 tbsp. peanut oil, 1 tsp. tamari, 1 tbsp. Hungarian paprika, and 1/4 tsp. five spice powder. Coat the tofu cubes evenly in the oil-spice mix, and roast on parchment paper at 400 F for 30 minutes, flipping halfway through.

You can make your own five spice powder - it contains Sichuan peppercorns, anise, cloves, cinnamon, and fennel - but I use a prepared blend from the store.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cheesy Mac and Ginger Tea (comfort food and drink)

mac cheez ginger tea 004

Winter arrived with blunt force this week, and the long semi-hibernation of the upper midwest begins anew. I’ve turned to a couple of my favorite comfort food standbys to cope. This time of year at work means catching up on all our remaining outside jobs of fall, even though it’s been below 0 F most mornings. Before and after work it's dog time, though they're tougher than I am regarding the cold. After our walks I spend much of my time inside just being grateful I’m no longer outside. Mac and cheese and ginger tea keep me from feeling too sorry for myself :)


The cheesy macaroni above is an amalgam of lots of vegan recipes, with a cheesy sauce of nutritional yeast, vegan cream cheese, tahini, miso, lemon juice, non-sweetened almond milk, and the rest of the usual suspects. I prepared the pasta and sauce, then mixed in a can of tomatoes and a bunch of fresh spinach, and baked it for about a half hour. The result was a really nice hotdish, or casserole, or whatever you like.


Ginger tea is another reason to make peace with winter. It’s super easy – just chop fresh ginger into coarse bits, then boil it in a few cups of water over a medium flame for 20 minutes or so. Strain it into your mug, and it’s pure bliss. I often add a little agave nectar for sweetener, and in the bottom shot I mixed in about a tbsp. of pomegranate juice.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Somali Sambusas

I found out about sambusas just a few weeks ago, at Fargo's new International Grocery store. They have home-made sweet breads and other Somali specialties, and were very generous with free samples, so they've earned a fan here :)

Their sambusas - Somalia's samosa, you could say - looked good, but had a beef filling. I was curious to make my own, and found a very nice recipe at My Somali Food. That recipe is also for beef sambusas, but I just substituted cooked lentils and was on my way. Browned onions, garlic, scallions, and green chile, along with generous shots of cardamom, cumin, and coriander, make the lentils something special. Here's my recipe, heavily borrowing from My Somali Food:

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups cooked and drained brown lentils
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1 chopped green chile (I used one serrano pepper)
2 tsp. cumin powder
2 tsp. cardamom powder
2 tsp. coriander powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped

Wrapper dough
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tbsp. olive oil
2/3 cup luke warm water
1/2 tsp. salt

I made the filling and wrapper the night before assembling and frying, just so the filling was cool and the dough had rested. For the filling, saute the onions in oil for about five minutes on medium heat, until they start to soften. Then add the garlic, chopped serrano pepper, and scallions, and saute for a minute or two more. Add all of the spices, and saute another minute, just until they become toasted and fragrant - you'll know :) Add the cooked lentils and fresh cilantro at the end, give it a stir, and remove from heat. Cover and let sit a couple hours or overnight. I lightly processed it all in the food processor at the end, which helps the lentils stick together and makes the filling easier to work with.

Mix the dough ingredients well, and let it rest at least a half hour or overnight as well.

The rest is easy, as long as you're careful while frying. Roll golf ball size pieces of dough out very thin - between 1/4 and 1/8 of an inch, if you can, and cut them in squares. Place a heaping spoonful of lentil filling in the center of each square, like this:

This dough is fairly moist, so you should be able to seal it just by pressing firmly, without fussing with water or a water/dough paste. I pressed the edges together and trimmed them with a scissors, making a neat, sealed triangle.
That's about it! I fried these in a half inch of canola oil in my cast iron pan, about 4 at a time over medium-high heat. A deep fryer is a better option, and they would be nice baked too.

And now for something completely different. From deep-fried and spicy to sweet and mostly raw, this is the cashew-cranberry cheesecake from the Nov/Dec 09 Vegetarian Times. It's straight from the magazine, though I subbed agave nectar for honey...there might be a little maple syrup in there too. I brought these home for Thanksgiving - my mom loved them, which is a good endorsement. The cranberry topping is awesome, and my mom couldn't believe there wasn't cream cheese in the filling.All the cashews make this recipe a little pricey, but it's worth it for company or a holiday.