Saturday, April 25, 2009

Manicotti with Walnut, Tofu, and Roasted Garlic Ricotta

I love stuffed pastas, from ravioli to gyozas to pierogies - there's good reason these dishes show up in food traditions around the world. The combination of fillings, pasta, and sauce include so many flavors in every bite, and the opportunities for variety are boundless. This was a really easy dish, mostly because I did most of the prep work - making a vegan "ricotta" filling and a nummy red wine tomato sauce - the night before.

Tofu and walnuts, with a healthy dose of roasted garlic, form the base of the ricotta-style filling. Here's the ingredients:

1 14 oz. package firm tofu, pressed for an hour to drain excess moisture
1/2 cup walnuts
6 cloves roasted garlic
2 tbsp. nutritional yeast flakes
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, loosely packed

I mixed everything but the basil in the food processor, but you can do it with a fork. Mix in the basil after everything else is well-combined.

The tomato sauce can be replaced in this recipe by any decent prepared pasta sauce, though I went the home-made route. It's a basic sauce of tomatoes, garlic and onion, with some oregano and a little bit of sugar, salt, and pepper. A shot of red wine added to the sauteeing garlic and onion brought some nice character, but it's optional.

The manicotti are boiled until just slightly undercooked, about 7 minutes, since they finish cooking while baking. After draining the boiled manicotti, and rinsing with cold water, I used one of those pastry decorating funnels (what are they called, anyway?) to squeeze the "ricotta" into the manicotti tubes. This could be done by hand or with a spoon, but would be a lot messier...well worth picking up one of those pastry tubes. Pour your pasta sauce over the stuffed manicotti to cover everything, and bake at 375 F for 45 to 50 minutes.

I sometimes avoid making stuffed pastas because it can seem like a lot of work, but this is a very easy way to create those tastes with pretty minimal effort. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ceviche Salad with Hearts of Palm and Avocado

Ceviche, the Latin American dish of raw fish "cooked" in lime juice, works as a technique for preparing this hearty, tangy salad. The star here are some hearts of palm I picked up in a grocery store clearance bin - what a great find! They're combined with avocado, tomato, sweet corn, and mango, marinated in a lime juice and cilantro "ceviche" base. Here's the simple recipe, inspired by a ceviche salad in Rick Bayless' Mexican Everyday.

Marinade ingredients:
Juice from two limes
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
1/2 tsp. salt

Stir up the ceviche marinade, and add whatever fruits and veggies you like. I used:
3/4 cup sliced hearts of palm
1 avocado, diced
1 roma tomato, diced
1/2 cup sweet corn kernels
1/2 a ripe mango, diced

Garnish with additional cilantro and lime. Popcorn is a fun traditional ceviche topping, but I skipped it today - I recommend it though.

I had to snap a picture of these delicious slices of raw bread - I finally picked up Ani's Raw Food Kitchen last week, after seeing so many amazing pics online from her recipes. This is the sesame sunflower bread - really tasty, and ground flax seeds work so well to bind the bread together. I don't have a dehydrator, but I do have a gas oven. The pilot light always keeps the oven slightly warm and very dry, so I made these by just keeping them in the cooled oven overnight. I know it's slower than a real dehydrator, and probably wouldn't work for a lot of things, but I'm definitely making these on a regular basis.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Kimchi fritters and adventures with cashew "goat cheese"

These fried kimchi nuggets started life as mini-pancakes, but I decided the fritter label was a better fit, since they're crispy, golden-brown, and greasy. I'm all for lots of greens, and think eating raw is pretty cool, but I'll never stop loving all that is deep-fried. My cabbage kimchi was developing some "character" as it matured, and it was mixed here with a batter consisting of: equal parts water and all-purpose flour, 2 tbsp. rice flour, and 2 tbsp. egg replacer (basically just potato starch).
This photo looks kind of like some deformed sea creature, with the billowing tail and all, but it's actually a vegan "goat cheese" from a recipe in the April Vegetarian Times. I've never eaten real goat cheese, but it seems like a perennial favorite with foodie types. Soaked and ground cashews and lemon juice are the main tastes, and it's a fun recipe. Working with cheesecloth was a little clumsier than I expected, but I managed to come up with a nice log of very creamy cashew "cheese."
I ate some in sandwiches and some in soup, and also made these delicious proto-jalapeno poppers - just stuffed and baked, forgoing the mess of battering and frying. The peppers were roasted long enough to cut back on the spiciness, but kept a fairly firm form. Really good, and the cashew cheese browns nicely.

Finally, stuffed baked potatoes. Here I mixed about a half cup of cashew cheese with the insides of two medium sized baked potatoes, adding some sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, and rosemary. These were super-easy and made me wonder why I don't make stuffed potatoes more often.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Fanesca - Easter soup from Ecuador

This soup is required eating in much of Ecuador during Semana Santa, the week leading up to Easter. Where I lived, lunch on Good Friday was time for fanesca, a soup inspired by the Catholic tradition of refraining from meat during holy week, especially on Good Friday. Traditional fanesca includes a broth based on salted cod and milk - as most vegans are aware, lots of people don't consider fish to be meat. We'll leave that mindbender for another day, and fanesca works just fine without the cod, since it's packed (and I mean packed) with hearty beans, squash, and grains.

As a nod to the twelve apostles, a good fanesca includes 12 different beans and grains, so it's a great reason to tap into those random half empty bags of adzuki beans and split peas and wheat berries waiting in many of our pantries. Because this soup invites so many ingredients, a definitive recipe probably doesn't exist. Like so many food traditions, every family has it's own interpretation of the soup - my host family's fanesca was pretty awesome, and that was the taste I was going for here.

While looking at recipes (and there's a ton of them) online, I found a nice New Yorker article by Calvin Trillin about looking for good fanesca in Ecuador. It's a great combination of food and travel writing, well worth a read.

Here's a quick rundown of my first take on only problem with the finished result is that the broth was a little darker than normal. I used homemade vegetable stock for the base, and my stock ingredients were pretty heavy on trimmings from dark greens, which resulted in a darker color. Real fanesca ought to be bright yellow, so I cheated a little and mixed turmeric with coconut milk to save the color. Anyway, here goes:

Soak the beans, and any grains which might benefit from soaking, overnight. Not to dissapoint any of those apostles, I made sure to go for the full twelve. Here's the list, and I used about a quarter cup of each (dry):

1. chickpeas
2. great northern beans
3. black-eyed peas
4. yellow split peas
5. brown lentils
6. adzuki beans
7. black beans
8. wheat berries
9. quinoa
10. barley
11. sweet corn
12. green peas

I cooked all of the soaked grains and beans on a low simmer in veggie stock for an hour or so, adding frozen corn, green peas, and chopped scallions towards the end. Every bean/grain has a different cooking time, but with fanesca it doesn't matter if some things get too soft, since it all adds to the creamy nature of the soup. Just stir once in a while to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot.

While the beans are cooking, I sauteed some red onion and minced garlic cloves, adding them to the bean/grain pot close to the end of cooking.

In the blender, I mixed a medium-size roasted butternut, a baked potato, a cup of coconut milk, and a cup of vegetable broth. Blend until smooth. This is where I added the spices too - just a tablespoon of ground cumin, and salt and pepper to taste.

Back to the beans and grains. Continue simmering until most of the liquid has evaporated. Fanesca is somewhere between soup and stew, but it should be nice and thick. Add the blended squash mixture to the beans and grains, bring it back to a low boil, and remove from heat. Like any soup, this only gets better after it sits for a while.

I used cilantro for garnish, and seasoned with some hot pepper sauce. Those are patacones - deep-fried and slightly mashed plantains - on top, as if fanesca isn't hearty enough. I know these aren't the most organized cooking directions, but you get the idea - fanescas are like snowflakes or fingerprints, no two ever the same.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Thai Red Curry Seitan Wings and Cabbage Kimchi

These seitan "wings" are from a recipe from Tami's Vegan Appetite blog. Thai red curry paste replaces the usual hot pepper sauce here, with vegan margarine, lime juice, agave, and sriracha hot sauce rounding out the flavors in the "buffalo wing" glaze. These aren't as blisteringly hot as wings made with just hot sauce and margarine, but still plenty spicy, with all the complex flavors of red curry paste. This would be good with other kinds of curry pastes too, but red curry is most similar in appearance to traditional wing recipes.

Keeping with the Thai theme, I used a coconut milk based dip to replace the ranch or blue cheese dips that usually accompany wings. The dipping sauce is coconut milk, a little agave, 1 tbsp. lime juice, and some thinly sliced Thai basil leaves on top. I thought it might be a little thin, but it was pretty substantial. Good stuff, and it performs the same function as those dairy-based dressings, as a cooling counterpoint to the heat from the "wings." The seitan is home made (as usual based on the Veganomicon recipe), first boiled, then cut into triangles, lightly breaded, and baked just until the breading lightly browns.

This weekend I made a batch of Napa cabbage kimchi too. It's pretty good, just hot enough to get your attention, and I have a couple of kimchi-based recipes in mind. Half of a big Napa cabbage, along with about a dozen scallions, garlic, and ginger, yielded just over a quart of kimchi.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Stuffed Papaya, and Peanut Butter Dog Biscuits

This recipe didn't quite work out, but it was a good practice run at stuffed papaya. My neighborhood grocery store had mini papayas on sale, and I thought their size would be perfect for single serving stuffed papayas. Unfortunately, I bought one of those fruits that never really ripens, and goes from unripe to just plain bad. I'm sure there's a good scientific explanation for this, which may have something to do with getting papayas from trees in Mexico to markets in North Dakota. Another argument for eating local I suppose, but I can't resist some great tropical fruit once in a while.

Since I had a declining green papaya on hand, I tried poaching it. After simmering over 30 minutes, it got a little softer, but still didn't taste great...not bad, just bland. I had a stuffing made anyway, which redeemed the dish. Here's the stuffing ingredients:

half a ripe banana, diced
half a ripe avocado, diced
1/2 cup cooked jasmine rice
1/3 cup diced ginger seitan (home made seitan with a healthy dose of grated ginger)
1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 tbsp. agave nectar
1 tsp. sriracha hot sauce

I cooked the rice, seitan, agave, lime, and hot sauce, just until warm, and gently mixed in the soft avocado and banana and removed from heat. The stuffing was great, but the papaya was a loss. I found lots of recipes online for making savory stuffed green papayas, but I think a stuffing like this would be awesome in a good, sweet, ripe, raw papaya. Next time. Now for a recipe that had everybody smiling here:
I finally got around to making my own dog biscuits! I had fun making these, and the dogs love them. It's a simple recipe, just sort of a mess to mix completely, and I ended up with sticky peanut buttery hands, but that's ok. They came out nice and crispy, and I even tried one myself...with more sweetener, these would great peanut butter cookies. This is a fusion of a few vegan biscuit recipes I found online. Here's what I used:

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
1/2 cup natural peanut butter
1 1/2 tbsp. molasses
3 tbsp. canola oil
a cup of liquid (I used half almond milk, half water)
I think that's dog bone cookie cutter went into overdrive, and I made two full pans with this recipe, baked at 375 F for 15-20 minutes. Here's satisfied customer Maya.
Yes, I'm posting two dog pics this time, but I love this photo of Maya licking her lips post-biscuit. She's in her favorite chair, where she can look out the window and see if anyone needs a good barking.