Friday, July 31, 2009

Nigiri Sushi & Zucchini Pizza

I'm torn between two conflicting forces. On the one hand, I try hard not to buy stuff I don't need - consumerism, simplicity, and so on. On the other hand, I'm a sucker for those kitchen gadgets that may have an extremely limited function, but perform that function extraordinarily well. Enter my new nigiri sushi maker - the consumer wins the day.

Nigiri sushi can be made by hand, but this little plastic sushi maker is totally awesome. Stuff some toppings and seasoned rice in the ice cube-shaped mold, press together with a second piece, and pop out perfect nigiri sushi that sticks together like magic. It makes five at a time, so it's quick too. Limited time offer! Buy now! But wait, there's more!

Aren't they the cutest things though? I cut slices of toasted nori to wrap the little guys, like the pros do. There you go...fight the recession, go buy stuff you don't need :)

We've had a cool July here. I know parts of the US are roasting this summer, but it was cool enough one night this week to turn the oven on and make a pizza. This is topped with thinly sliced fresh tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, onions (pre-carmelized in a pan before adding), zucchini, and mushrooms. The basil leaves were added after turning off the heat - I put them on the pizza, and popped it back in the oven for just a couple minutes to wilt the leaves. After snapping the photo I added nutritional yeast, red pepper flakes, and more olive oil.

Every time I make pizza or see it on blogs now I'm even more convinced that vegan pizza is the way pizza was always meant to be.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Shojin Cooking

I have a couple of pictures of simple plates from The Enlightened Kitchen, Mari Fujii's beautiful book on Japanese Buddhist temple food - shojin ryori. In a nice opening essay, Fujii defines shojin cuisine as free of animal products, in line with the Buddhist ethic of nonviolence. Seasonal ingredients, and simple flavors like soy sauce, mirin, and miso are other hallmarks of temple food. The tradition is to begin the meal with soup, followed by a main course with rice. Shojin tradition has an interesting prohibition on leeks, scallions, garlic, and onion - according to Fujii because this family of veggies promotes certain energies which complicate a monk's training.

I add garlic and onions to almost everything without even thinking about it, and shojin cooking is one of those "less is more" concepts - by removing ingredients we are so accustomed to, it allows the basic flavors of the underlying vegetables to shine through.

I have two of the entree recipes here - above are shiitake mushrooms stuffed with tofu, and below zucchini with a peanut butter and miso sauce. I used zucchini to replace pumpkin in the original recipe, since the garden dictates all zucchini, all the time right now. I made this before with acorn squash, which was a better match for the rich sauce of peanut and miso, but fried zucchini was still pretty good. Most of Fujii's recipes are for lighter soups, salads, and sides, so I hope these heavier dishes don't misrepresent the cookbook. It's worth checking out if you find it, with recipes I haven't seen anywhere else, and tantalizing photos of almost every dish.

Below is a recipe from Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's The Vegan Table. I just added black grapes to canteloupe with a sweet coconut milk-lime juice sauce. Her recipe calls for honeydew, but any melon would be great with the rich coconut topping.

I made this rice salad over the weekend too - it's short grain brown rice, with carrots, edamame, and hijiki, marinated in lemon juice, sesame oil, and tamari. Continuing the parade of cookbooks, this is from The Complete Vegan Kitchen, by Jannequin Bennett.

On Sunday the pups and I went out for a hike on a section of the North Country Trail, through the Sheyenne National Grasslands in southeastern North Dakota. This is a new trail system, running from Lake Sakakawea in ND all the way east to New York, though I'm not sure if the entire length has been linked and marked with trailposts. It's the upper midwest/rust belt's answer to the Appalachian Trail. It was another perfect day, but pretty hot.

Otter took a dip every time we passed a pond or a water hole on ranch land.

Otter and Maya leading the way through the high plains. There were lots of wildflowers still blooming, after a wet spring and early summer. Here's North Dakota's state flower, and one of my faves, the prairie rose.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

German Borscht, classic sammies, and gardens gone wild

I don't really know the details, but somehow my dad's side of my family ended up in North Dakota a century or so ago. Chances are pretty good that we were part of the mass immigration of Germans living in Russia who immigrated to the Great Plains of the US at the end of the 19th century. I mention this here only because somewhere along the way dad learned how to make a mean borscht, the eastern European beet soup.

When I was a kid, we had this tradition where dad would make borscht once in the summer, always on a Sunday, outside on a Coleman camp stove. Usually the whole family would get together for it. As I remember, it was made strictly with food from the garden, so we usually had it this time of year. As soon as we had beets, potatoes, and carrots, we would make this soup, with beet roots and beet greens as the centerpiece. Dad would always use a beef bone stock, which my veggie stock replaces here in fine style, thank you very much :)

I made this myself for the first time over the weekend, with fresh veggies from the farmer's market in Fargo. The beets and carrots were oven-roasted before adding to the soup, which also contains shredded cabbage, beet greens, new red potatoes, onion, garlic, and barley. If you like a deep red soup, my method works fine, since the roasted beets turn every bit of the soup red in a couple of hours. My dad's version always had a more clear stock, and I guess his trick was to boil the beets separately, and then strain off the liquid and add the cooked beets to the rest of the soup in a second pot. Beyond the veggies, seasoning is just salt, pepper, and a generous shot of fresh lemon juice.

So there you go. Even without the beef stock, my first spoonful of borscht was one of those transporting moments when taste evokes memories, like going back in time. I'm sure this recipe hasn't changed much since the German immigrants were making it in the 19th century, so I'm happy to keep at it.

Here's a couple of vegan takes on classic sandwiches too. Above is a seitan BLT, with fresh tomatoes - this thing was totally bursting with flavor, thanks mostly to real summer tomatoes. I gave thinly sliced seitan a quick treatment with the usual tempeh bacon recipe, frying the slices with a little maple syrup, tamari, and a wee bit of liquid smoke. There's a nice tempeh bacon recipe in The Vegan Table, among other books and blogs.

And this was lunch today. Vegan Brunch introduced many of us to black salt - you may find it as kala namak in Indian/Asian grocery stores - which magically adds the sulfury taste of actual eggs for all of those great vegan egg style dishes. I finally picked up a package - it's cheap! - at my local place, after Bianca over at Vegan Crunk made what may be the first ever vegan deviled eggs with it (speaking of food from my childhood). Can't wait to try those!

Anyway, that's a tofu salad sandwich, with good ol' kala namak making it taste just like an old school egg salad sandwich. Are vegans awesome, or what?

Finally, a picture of my garden...we hardly ever stop complaining about the weather up here, between endless winters, spring floods, and hot, humid and windy summers, but summer this year has been uncommonly mild and just beautiful. The garden is loving it. My nextdoor neighbors share the west end of this chaotic mess, on the left side. I think we were a little over-excited in the spring, and planted more than this space can take. Let me run down what's in this thing - butternut squash, turnips, swiss chard, kohlrabi, spinach, five kinds of salad greens, Italian parsley, basil, red basil, sage, rosemary, fennel, zucchini, and five kinds of tomato plants, plus at least three volunteer tomato plants from last year that already have fruit on them. I don't know what the hell we were thinking, but it's sure fun to go exploring in there. There's a line of tomato plants trailing off the left side out to the street too.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Polenta, Zucchini, and Tomato Napoleon; & Cherry BBQ Seitan

This summer vegetable napoleon has a few things going on. First, I picked up Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's The Vegan Table this week, and made a pan of polenta with sun-dried tomatoes and fresh garden herbs, from her beautiful "polenta hearts" recipe. She includes nutritional yeast in her polenta recipes - the nutritional yeast flavor isn't as pronounced as it is in most vegan cheese recipes, but it adds a subtle yet rich dimension to polenta.

I went all fancy and made this napoleon stack because I wanted to do something special with my first tomato of the summer, which I picked up with a bunch of other goodies at the Fargo farmer's market down by the river...I try to make it down there every Saturday morning during the summer. It's amazing to taste the first real tomatoes of summer, after eating canned tomatoes or the ones from the supermarket all winter and spring. The zucchini comes from my garden, and I used my new cookie cutter to make the round polenta slices - both the zucchini and polenta were lightly sauteed in olive oil. That's basil and mint pesto - both fresh and local! - on top of and underneath the polenta and veggies.

Quick thoughts on The Vegan Table: I was really looking forward to Patrick-Goudreau's new book, since I'm a huge fan of her first, the Joy of Vegan Baking. Besides the wonderful, creative recipes and beautiful photos, I really appreciate the thoughtful essays and commentary throughout the book. She's a wonderful advocate for veganism and compassionate living, and it's so cool that vegans have a new book focused on entertaining and cooking for friends and family.

Fresh cherries are one of my very favorite summer treats, and I love this short window when Washington cherries are bargains at the grocery store - they're 98 cents a pound this week, and off sesaon they're 5 bucks a pound sometimes. I've been eating cherries every day for about two weeks, and made this BBQ style sauce with them. If I remember right, here's what I used - this was very much put together at random, tasting as I went along:
20 fresh red cherries, pits removed
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2 small white onions, diced
4 cloves garlic
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
3 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. maple syrup
1 tsp. agave nectar
1 tbsp. Jim Beam bourbon, just because
1 tbsp. guajillo chili powder
1 tbsp. tamari or soy sauce

I may be forgetting something, but BBQ sauce is really flexible. I processed everything to a smooth puree in the food processor, then simmered for around 45 minutes over low heat. The result looks exactly like cranberry sauce, but the taste had the right elements of sweet, sour, and savory of a good BBQ sauce. Served with herbed mashed potatoes and seitan fried in a little olive oil and a tiny bit of agave nectar, which helped give it a good browned exterior.

A couple more snapshots here - I need some mac and cheeze once in a while, and my recipe is always changing, and comes from a mix of cookbooks and blogs...this time I used tahini and soaked cashews for a really creamy sauce.

Finally, I made this ratatouille with white beans and zucchini (remember, I'm up to my neck in garden zucchini for the rest of summer!), also a recipe from The Vegan Table. I made this into more of a soup than what I usually see labelled ratatouille. Fresh herbs really made this shine, and a reminder to enjoy summer while it lasts - I managed to work fresh basil, rosemary, sage, and Italian parsley into this, and the fresh herbs really make all the difference.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Vegan Chicago!

Hi everybody! I got back this morning from a long weekend in Chicago, my first real trip to the city after a couple of quick past visits. The general theme was baseball, bars, and music, so clearly I was in the right town. All of that, plus around 24 hours on Amtrak, makes me more than a little tired right now, but here's some pics from the weekend. That's the skyline as seen from out on Navy Pier.

We're starting with food, of course. On Saturday we had lunch at Frontera Grill, the Rick Bayless restaurant. Since I have done more than a few Bayless recipes here, and love his PBS series, this was sort of a big deal for me :) Given the place's stature, I thought it would be more expensive than our cheap selves were willing to go for, but it's pretty reasonable. The food, to pull out a word I promise you won't see often here, was exquisite. Plus, they were really cool about making vegans happy. First course was this salad of jicama, cucumber, and pineapple, powdered with guajillo chili powder and drizzled with lime juice. Served in a banana leaf, it's a lovely presentation of a street stall standard from much of Latin America.

Here's my meal - enchiladas stuffed with fresh mixed greens, topped with awesome crispy onions and a tomato-guajillo sauce. I've made recipes like this from Bayless cookbooks, but this was perfect. Plus, it was outside on Clark Street on a perfect July day, with a bottle of beer, and all of those things never fail to make food even better. If it's not clear yet, I was crazy about the place :)

Food was great and veg-friendly all weekend, and yesterday lunch was at the Chicago Diner, on the north side just down the street from where I stayed. As spelled out in a big sign on the side of the building, "Meat-free since '83!"

I tried the seitan wings and this California Reuben. It's thinly sliced "turkey-style" seitan, with a crunchy coleslaw topping and vegan cheese on a nice marble rye bread. The sides alone at the Diner are worth a was hard to decide, but I opted for these sweet potato fries.

I didn't take any pictures there, but the Pick Me Up Cafe, also up in the Wrigleyville neighborhood, was lots of fun too. Very hip, which only matters if the quality of the food matches the ambience, which it did. Here's a couple of non-food pictures too - this is the Jazz Record Mart, one of those music stores where you could spend a whole day looking around. Owner Bob Koester was there dealing directions and commentary...a big figure in the Chicago music scene of the last half century, he had a recent profile in the New York Times. He once called Iggy Pop and his friends "stooges," after thowing them out of his apartment.

Sunday was a day game at Wrigley. Cubs win! Here's the view from section 239. My first Cubs game too!

I heard a ton of good music over the weekend too, at clubs and the Chicago Folk and Roots Festival on Sunday at Welles Park after the game. I didn't bring the camera there, but did get a shot of these towers downtown, familiar to any Chicago folks or Wilco fans...thanks for indulging my little slide show! Back to a food focus soon :)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Spanish Fried Almonds

This is as simple as a recipe gets, but I had to share the love for these fried spiced almonds, from My Kitchen in Spain by Janet Mendel. Raw almonds are fried for a couple minutes in extra virgin olive oil, then tossed with coarse salt, cumin, and Spanish smoked paprika. I used the almonds for a roasted red pepper and almond spread over toast for lunch today, and tossed a few over this salad from the garden. They would be good in all kinds of recipes, but they've been disappearing too fast as snacks every time I walk through the kitchen.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sweet Corn and Zucchini Burgers

The 4th of July holiday triggered some kind of deep burger-craving mechanism in my head. At the same time, I'm trying to keep up with what's in the garden, so making frozen veggie burgers seemed kind of lame. These zucchini and sweet corn veggie burgers rode in to the rescue, courtesy of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. There's a section on veggie burgers for all seasons, and the summer one was just what I needed. As anyone who has grown zucchini knows, they're crazy productive plants, so I might need to rename this Zucchini for the People for the next couple months.

These burgers are really heavy on sweet corn, which is a good thing. Fresh corn is ground to a paste in the food processor, and cornmeal provides a little more binding. Hot green chilies, onion, and garlic round out the flavors, giving the burgers a good kick. Since zucchini and corn are the main components, they're much lighter than burgers heavy on beans or tempeh or other more dense ingredients. Great for summer.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Spicy Green Papaya Salad, & Ethiopian Crepes

I love finding food I've never seen before, so had to buy a little bag of shredded green papaya this week at Fargo's Asian and American Market. Hema Parekh's The Asian Vegan Kitchen has a nummy spicy papaya salad recipe, without which I wouldn't really have known what to do with it. The photo doesn't convey the kaleidoscope of flavors, which includes green beans, peanuts, tomato, hot chilis, tamarind, lime juice, and tamari - all ground up in the food processor and tossed with the shredded papaya. Parekh's recipe is wonderful - sort of like a spicy Thai coleslaw. It's Som Tam in Thai, and apparently really popular in street stalls.

I'm still cooking my way through Vegan Brunch, and made the Ethiopian Crepes, one of the recipes I knew I had to try. The crepes are made with chickpea and all-purpose flour, and after making them a few times they seem just as easy as making pancakes. The filling is a delicious spicy lentil and tomato mix, with lots of spices...reminds me of many Indian curries, but unique. I have zero experience with Ethiopian food, but this makes me want to try more. Crepes are cousins of Ethiopia's injera bread, which I'd also love to try sometime.