Thursday, July 29, 2010

Achiote Seitan Tacos with Yemeni Tomato and Cilantro Salad

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The chicken-style seitan in these soft tacos gains a deep red color and distinctive flavor from a marinade with achiote, also known as annatto. For a little achiote illumination, here’s Harold McGee, in On Food and Cooking:
“It is the seed of a bush, Bixa orellana, native to tropical America, and is much used in various cooked   dishes from southern Mexico to northern South America. The bright red-orange pigment bixin is found in the waxy coating of the seeds, and readily changes into a number of chemical variants that are different shades of orange, yellow, and red.”
I don’t know of anything else that makes things such a dramatic red as achiote. Whole seeds are commonly available in Mexican markets, where you can also find prepared achiote seasoning mixes. I used the latter here, though I’ve experimented a couple of times with achiote seeds. Achiote seeds are very hard, so you need to spend some quality time with a mortar and pestle, or a serious spice grinder, to make a fine powder for marinades or rubs. Whole seeds can also be sautéed in a little olive, corn, or peanut oil and strained out, making a brilliant red oil for drizzling wherever you like.

Besides it’s use as a flavoring and colorant, achiote paste is used in some indigenous South American cultures as a body paint and hair coloring.  I have a story about that, but I’m here today to talk about tacos.

Using prepared achiote seasoning, these were really easy. I just mixed a spoonful of achiote mix with some olive oil, water, and sherry vinegar, and soaked about a cup of chicken-style seitan strips in the marinade for an hour or so. Fry the marinated seitan for just a few minutes, until the pieces lightly brown, and you’re there.
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 The idea for this tomato and cilantro salad comes from my kitchen calendar, the 2010 International Calendar produced by the RPCVs of Wisconsin - Madison. Each month features a beautiful photo and basic cultural information, like recipes! Yemen is featured for July, and inspired me to use some fresh cherry tomatoes to make banadura salata b’kizbara, which also includes fresh cilantro, lemon juice, chili peppers, and olive oil. Despite the distance between Yemen and Mexico, those flavors sounded right at home in a taco.
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That’s it for food today. I still have high hopes to get back to posting on a regular basis, but summer heat leaves me less than motivated in the kitchen. On my evenings and days off, the pups and I tend to wander off someplace we can go swimming - temps have been over 100 F on a regular basis. Otter and Maya have never been big swimmers, but the California sun has changed that. Otter turns 10 sometime this summer, and I thought she gave up swimming a few years ago. She’s back, and sometimes does laps around me in the swimming holes of Chico Creek. Maya has been afraid of water past her knees for most of her three years, but is turning into a comfortable swimmer.
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 Here's Otter keeping cool.
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And Maya, in one of the swimming holes in Chico Creek Canyon north of town.  Taking this picture made me think about how nice a waterproof camera would be.  This concludes the “bragging about my awesome dogs” section of the blog.

Finally, if anyone is curious, I’m completely loving my new job. I’ll be back here soon with some photos of our friends at Farm Sanctuary.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sopes with Porter-Glazed Black Beans, Guacamole, and Pineapple Salsa

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Corn masa flour is one of the cornerstones of Mexican cooking, and appears in an endless variety of shapes and sizes, from tamales to tortillas to empanadas. Sopes are another member of the family, essentially thick corn tortillas with a raised lip around the perimeter, which acts as a container for any filling you like.

I found a brand of sopes (pronounced so-pays) with no preservatives at a market in Chico, so knew I had to give them a try. It was also an excuse to make beer-glazed black beans with Sierra Nevada Porter, inspired by a Mark Bittman recipe in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I live just a few blocks from the Sierra Nevada brewery, and wanted to try their porter, but drinking dark beer in 90 F weather doesn’t have much appeal. To me, porters and stouts are for fall and winter. Consuming said beer as a saucy glaze for black beans, though, sounds like a pretty good idea.
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 You could use canned black beans for this, but whenever I’m making something specially flavored I strongly prefer cooking my own dry beans. In my cast iron frying pan, I sautéed a half cup of diced white onion, with a few cloves of crushed garlic, in corn oil. When the onion begins to brown, add 2 or 3 cups of cooked and drained beans, along with a 12 oz. bottle of porter, 1 tbsp. molasses, and 1 tbsp. ancho chili powder, along with salt and pepper. Use whatever chili powder you like - or none at all - depending on your heat preference.

Bring the bean and beer mixture to a boil, and reduce the heat to a light simmer, stirring occasionally. Cook until the beer has almost completely evaporated, leaving the beans in a thick sauce. I found the flavor almost a little too bitter at first, thanks to the porter, but that seemed to go away as the beans sat for a while after cooking. After the flavors mingled for a while, the result was a rich dark sauce - beer gravy, if you like - slightly sweet from the molasses, with just a hint of chili heat from the ancho powder.
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 While the beans are resting, fry the sopes in a little corn oil if you want a crunchy exterior, or simply warm in a dry frying pan. If my toaster had come along on the move, that’s what I would have used to make these - I think toasting would be perfect, since they are firm enough to survive a toaster, and would nicely brown on either side.

From here, use any fillings you like in tacos or any other Mexican food - salsa, guacamole, vegan cheese or sour cream, seasoned greens or mushrooms, roasted veggies, olives, baked tofu, etc. I made simple guacamole with cilantro and fresh lime juice, and another simple salsa, with tomatoes, lime, green onions, and pineapple chunks. The bright, sweet taste of pineapple or other citrus fruit is a welcome contrast to the porter sauce.

Like any customizable foods - sandwiches, pizza, tacos - these would be great for a party or cooking with friends. Just get a bunch of good fillings together on the table, fry or toast a few sopes, and let everyone make their own to their liking.

Here’s a simple sope with beans, to give an impression of the saucy porter glaze.  A light Mexican beer like Corona would be perfect with these, especially in summer.  Salud!
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P.S.!  I recommend everyone head over to The Crafty Kook right away for a beautiful video (with perfect musical background) from Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.  For those not keeping score at home, that's where I'm from, and TRNP is one of the treasures of the state.  Very cool, River - thanks for the memories!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Beet Green Frittata with Beet and Potato “Home Fries"

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  When you think of great breakfast food, beets may not be the first thing on your mind. I’ve been picking up a couple of nice bunches of beets every week at the farmers market, and they were welcome in this weekend breakfast of frittata and something like home fries.

Tofu frittata really captures the flavor and heartiness of a traditional baked egg frittata, and is a great vehicle to sneak a bunch of greens into breakfast. I used greens from a half dozen red and pink beets, sautéing the chopped greens in a little olive oil and minced garlic just until they wilted down.

This frittata is pretty simple, and like all of my frittatas and omelets, owes much to Vegan Brunch. In a large bowl, mix the following: lightly cooked greens* (about 1 cup), one 14 oz. block extra firm tofu, 2 tbsp. nutritional yeast flakes, 1 tsp. turmeric, 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard, 1 tsp. tamari soy sauce, 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, a little pinch of thyme, a pinch of black salt powder**, and a big pinch of red pepper flakes. Mash everything well with a fork or your fingers, and bake in a lightly oiled dish at 375 F for 25 to 30 minutes, until lightly browned on top. It can be served right away, but tends to hold its form better if allowed to cool. I sprinkled a light dusting of smoked Spanish paprika on the cooled frittata.

Since the oven was on anyway, I roasted beets and red potatoes at the same time, wrapping them in foil. This next step is optional, since roasted beets and potatoes are fine as is, but I finished them with a light fry in a little oil, just to give the potatoes a bit of browning and crunch. Season the potatoes & beets with salt and black pepper.

If you wanted to make this even easier, you could bake the potatoes and beets - thinly chopped as to cook evenly - right into the frittata, for a close vegan relative of the classic Spanish egg and potato tortilla.

One final note - I made all of this the night before, with a super easy breakfast in mind the next morning. The frittata especially benefits from the few hours of resting - it may be reheated if you like, but I think it tastes great at room temperature or even cool right out of the fridge. Serve with ketchup or hot sauce, or fresh salsa romesco if you really want a treat.  (I list the ingredients on the link - not the quantities, but it's easy to figure out.)

By the way, thanks SO much to all of you who've left such kind comments about my recent move out here!  I'm still trying to catch up on everyone's blogs, but I so appreciate your thoughtfulness and general good feelings about it all.  Thanks everybody :) 
* - I used beet greens here, but you can use just about anything - spinach, chard, broccoli, kale, collards, bok choy, etc.
** - Black salt powder is available at Indian markets, and makes tofu taste like eggs. Honest.  Thanks again to Vegan Brunch!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Roasted Tomatillo Soup with Nopalitos & Mushrooms, and Daiya Cheddar Quesadillas

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 The weekly routine here in Chico isn’t complete without a bike ride downtown to the Thursday night market. Cherries and new red potatoes are coming into season, joining the mountains of strawberries, fresh herbs and flowers, Asian greens like bok choy and Chinese broccoli, and more. One of the new items last week - new to me, at least - were cactus paddles (nopales or nopalitos in Spanish.)  Here they are now:
 Whenever I have a question about traditional Mexican cooking or ingredients, I turn to my copy of Rick Bayless' Mexican Kitchen, one of a handful of cookbooks I packed for the move. Bayless recommends roasting or grilling cactus paddles, and the recipe I knew I needed to try was a tomatillo soup with mushrooms and nopales. My version was a quick and simple adaptation, mostly because I lacked a few traditional herbs and chilis.

The cactus was surprisingly simple to prepare, especially since the vendor had removed the thorns. All I did was rinse it, cut it into chunks about an inch square, and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. I roasted the pieces for about 20 minutes at 375 F, in the same pan as about a half dozen husked and rinsed tomatillos. After about 10 minutes the nopales and tomatillos began to soften and release their moisture, and I added about a half dozen peeled garlic cloves to roast with them for the final 10 minutes.

After roasting, the tomatillos were soft and lightly browned, and the nopales were tender and juicy. They have a taste all their own, but I was reminded of a cross between roasted green peppers and good sour cucumber pickles, with a twist of lime juice.

Reserving the nopales in the roasting pan, I removed the tomatillos and roasted garlic and let them cool for a few minutes.  They're then pureed in the blender with a little vegetable stock and water, and salt and pepper to taste. The resulting soup base was tart and tangy, with warmth from the roasted garlic and a pleasingly creamy texture.

Everything else came together in minutes. About a cup of sliced cremini mushrooms were sautéed in olive oil and a little salt in the soup pot for a few minutes, until lightly browned and fragrant. Add the tomatillo soup base to the pot, and stir in the roasted cactus paddles, keeping the soup over medium heat just until warmed. I mixed in a little fresh cilantro at the end, and garnished it with red pepper flakes and more cilantro. If you have fresh limes or vegan sour cream on hand, they would be naturals here too.
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 The soup was tangy and richly flavorful on its own, but pairing it with simple quesadillas made it special. I stuffed corn tortillas with Daiya nondairy cheddar cheese, and warmed them in a dry pan for just a few minutes, until the cheese melted. I’m pretty sure Daiya is the cheese substitute many vegans have been waiting for - it tastes great, and most importantly it melts.  I've been using it everywhere.

The flavor combination of cheddar quesadillas with this soup was strikingly similar to one of my favorite dishes at Mexican restaurants - cheese enchiladas with green sauce. Dipping the quesadillas into the soup brought back fond memories of those meals.
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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Goodbye Fargo, Hello Chico

 I’m starting this post about changes with a final picture from my place in Fargo, North Dakota, which has been home for most of the past seven years. This is Maya, who I still call the puppy, though she turns three this summer. Time goes by a little faster every year. Maya’s chair was one of the last things we moved out of the apartment, and I think that’s when she sensed something funny was going on.

So what has been going on, and why did Maya lose her favorite nap spot? I have a new job, at Farm Sanctuary in California! This is something I’ve thought about for a long time, after interning at the California shelter two years ago, and visiting again for a couple weeks last spring. I was hired in March, but was grateful to have enough time to wrap things up in Fargo during April and spend time with family and friends before leaving in early May. I just finished my second week of work here - I’m a caregiver assistant - and I’m loving the job, which I expected.

I assume most of you are familiar with Farm Sanctuary, but if not check out their web site, which is linked here. The California shelter, with rolling hills and the Coast Range on the western horizon, is a beautiful place, and I feel pretty lucky every morning I go to work there.

Though it’s nice to be in northern California, leaving North Dakota was hard. Fargo is a wonderful place, and if you don’t believe me go visit sometime, though maybe not in January. The Fargo-Moorhead area has been showing up at or near the top of all kinds of livability and environmental reports in the past few years, and three major universities and significant communities of new Americans create a cultural atmosphere you might not associate with North Dakota. I don’t mean to go all Chamber of Commerce on you here, but I won’t leave Fargo without giving it a big hug. Fargo rocks.

Of course, I said my goodbyes to family and friends in person, so I won’t elaborate here. If you’re reading, thanks for everything, and I hope to see you out here sooner or later! I’m especially missing my 3-year old nephew Lucas, who has been my buddy in Fargo and an inspiration to all of his extended family. His attitude and energy light up wherever he is, and I hope to see him again soon.

I’m living in Chico, in an upstairs apartment in an older house. The neighborhood is full of huge shade trees, and I share a giant fenced backyard with my downstairs neighbors. There are dogs everywhere - woohoo! - so I couldn’t have hoped to find a better place for Otter and Maya.

From all indications so far, Chico rocks too. On Thursday nights throughout the summer there is a street fair/produce market downtown, that attracts big crowds of happy looking people. The fruits and veggies are abundant, varied, and cheap, so I’m already a big fan of the Thursday market after two visits.

If you’ve made it this far, I’ll remind you that this blog is usually only about food. So let’s get on with it. My cooking has been pretty basic so far, since I’m rebuilding my kitchen and pantry. In honor of simplicity and the Thursday market, here’s my Thursday Market Salad. Everything is fresh and local - avocadoes, phenomenal strawberries, walnuts, sweet peas, and spring greens including chard, spinach, and a few types of lettuce. The dressing is sherry vinegar, olive oil, black pepper, salt, and a little sugar.

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Here’s some nachos, with beans and guacamole. The chips are topped with Daiya cheese, which I’ll have more good things to say about in my next post.  Like I said, we're keeping it simple.

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 I can't break in the new west coast version of my site without a couple of pictures of Otter and Maya exploring their new environment.  I think they'll enjoy the break from winter, but it's a little harder to find open spaces nearby to run around off the leash.  I'm sure we'll figure that out soon enough.  Here's Otter looking for fish, or maybe at her reflection, in a Chico creek.

 One more of Otter and Maya for the road.  I think they like it here.

Thanks for making it to the end of a longer than usual post, but we had some catching up to do.  Speaking of, I'm looking forward to catching up with all of your amazing blogs that I've been following the last couple of years.  Until next time, goodbye from rainy NorCal!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bistro Asparagus Twists from American Vegan Kitchen, & Primal Strips vegan jerky

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This will be a quick post, but I couldn't keep these puff pastry-wrapped asparagus twists to myself.  They're from American Vegan Kitchen, by Tamasin Noyes.  Tami does the Vegan Appetite blog, which never fails to feature awesome vegan goodies.  The cookbook is exceptionally well done, and delivers on it's promise of "delicious comfort food from Blue Plate Specials to homestyle favorites."  I've also made the sweet garklicky ribz, and a fabulous non-meatloaf from this book.

This asparagus recipe is fairly simple, but looks and tastes totally elegant.  Asparagus spears are blanched and then wrapped in strips of puff pastry brushed with mustard, and baked.  There's a good dipping sauce to go with these too. 

I've become a big fan of Primal Strips vegan jerky, since the nice folks at Primal Spirit Foods sent me a sample pack a couple weeks ago.  There are six flavors - my favorites are the teryaki and mesquite lime, though they're all really good.  Some are seitan-based, some soy, and the "Hot and Spicy" version is made with shiitake mushrooms, which is really creative.  I was a big jerky fan in my younger days, so this is one more food I'm no longer denied, though I've long since lost the idea that eating vegan means "denial" in any way.  These are great, and have been my staple afternoon snack since I received them.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Feijoada (E.A.T. World: Brazil)

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 Feijoada is Brazil's take on one of the world's great food pairs - rice and beans.  In it's traditional form, feijoada (pronounced fay-zwah-duh) usually contains meat, and judging by recipes online, lots of it.  Since vegans know a thing or two about rice and beans, there are lots of recipes out there for vegan or vegetarian feijoada.  I based this on a recipe in American Wholefoods Cuisine, my go-to old school veggie cookbook.

Everything here is pretty straight forward - long grain brown rice is cooked in water and tomato juice, along with a dried chili pepper and bay leaf.  Black beans are seasoned with onion and garlic, and another couple of dried chilis.  The greens are collards, also simply prepared and seasoned with a little salt and some chopped onions.

I was surprised by the great flavor the orange slices added, mixed with the rice and beans.  Plus, they just look pretty as a garnish.  At the bottom left is a spicy onion salsa, made by blanching sliced onions in boiling water for a few minutes, and marinating the drained onions in fresh lime juice and hot pepper sauce.

One of the classic Brazilian flavors I didn't incorporate here, but would like to try, is farofa, which is coarse ground, roasted cassava or manioc flour.  This post from SHIFT Vegan has a nice pic of feijoada with farofa.  If you want more Brazilian food, don't miss The Crafty Kook's trip to Brazil from earlier this winter!

I don't bake nearly often enough, so when I do I like to share it here :)  I was cleaning my fridge this afternoon, and found black cherries and some cranberries in the freezer, so made this pie from The Joy of Vegan Baking.  Yum.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Ancho Chili Enchiladas & French Meadow Bread Pressed Sandwiches

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 Every time I make my own enchilada sauce with dried chilis, I wonder why I ever buy the canned stuff.  Making your own is cheaper, it's really easy, and the results are always worth the extra effort.  This was made with dried ancho chili peppers, seeded and soaked in hot water, and blended with roasted garlic, Mexican oregano, and ground cumin seeds and cloves.  Apple cider vinegar and salt are mixed in at the end - as usual, my chili sauce is based on recipe from Rick Bayless' Mexican Kitchen.

For these enchiladas, I covered the corn tortillas with ancho sauce, then fried them for a few seconds on each side in a lightly oiled pan.  Speed is of the essence - fry the tortillas before they get soggy from the sauce, and carefully remove them from the pan after just a moment of frying on either side.  It's a little messy, but I love how the chili sauce gets seared into the tortillas.  These are stuffed with roasted chayote, & sauteed spinach and mushrooms.  The cheesy looking bits are a provolone "uncheese" recipe from The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook, by Joanne Stepaniak.
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Here's a couple of sandwiches, made with spelt bread from French Meadow Bakery, thanks to some promotional coupons they sent me.  There aren't a lot of French Meadow products at stores here in the Fargo-Moorhead area, but I really like this spelt bread - I'll have to try their rye too, which I also found.  Since they're made without preservatives, they're in the freezer section.  This bread includes exactly three ingredients: organic spelt flour, water, and salt.  I've long since gotten tired of reading the long list of fine print ingredients on most supermarket breads, so I appreciate what they're doing here.

I used my Foreman grill for some pressed sandwiches, which makes this one of my fave kitchen gadgets.  Elvis inspires the sandwich at top, with peanut butter and sliced bananas, and a bit of agave nectar to make it gooey and sweet. 
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This is my spelt bread panini, stuffed with roasted red pepper, sliced avocado, more of that provolone "uncheese", and a simple pesto of Italian parsley, spinach, garlic, and walnuts.  Tasty stuff.  The French Meadow slices are on the small side, making for nice little snack size sandwiches.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Fresh Herb and "Chicken" Larb with Sweet Mango Sticky Rice (E.A.T. World: Laos)

It's been great to see E.A.T. World taking off across the blogs, and I've enjoyed travelling with everyone!  Our ongoing mission: to explore new food worlds, to seek out new ingredients and new recipes, to boldly go where I almost certainly have not gone before.  Like Laos!
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My alphabet soup approach to E.A.T. World brings us back to southeast Asia, for an introduction to larb, sometimes called the "national dish" of Laos.  Larb (or laap, larp, laab, or's one of those words with a slippery spelling as translated to English) is a salad of meat, fresh herbs, lime juice, hot peppers, and an abundance of fresh flavors.

This recipe comes from Cooking from the Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America.  The Hmong are an ethnic group from mountainous regions of Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, and southern China, and the authors of Cooking from the Heart say nobody makes a better larb than Hmong cooks.  I've been curious about Hmong cooking and culture since getting to know some awesome Hmong students in a summer program a few years ago - there is a large Hmong population in Minnesota, especially in the Twin Cities.  This cookbook nicely combines recipes with information about Hmong tradition and culture in Laos and America. 

Vegan Chik'n strips from Morningstar Farms are the meat substitute here, although nicely marinated or seasoned tempeh, seitan, or extra firm tofu would be really good too.  The flavors in this salad are so bold that whatever protein you use will be instantly infused with larby goodness and taste spectacular.  Promise. 

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Regarding all those flavors, this salad is a showcase for a few ingredients I've never used before - Sichuan peppercorns, roasted rice powder, and galangal.  Sichuan peppercorns can be tricky to find because they are quite often not labelled as Sichuan peppercorns, rather "dried pepper corn" like the packet above, or other variations on that theme.  If you're not sure, ask the folks are your local Asian market, like I did.  They have a light citrus scent, and a reputation for causing mild numbness on the tongue.  I toasted these and ground them before adding to the larb, and used a fairly generous amount.  The effect, and I mean this in the most complimentary way, is a little what licking a battery must feel like.  My whole mouth felt all tingly and sparkly after a few larb lettuce rolls.  Really worth checking out, if you haven't tried Sichuan peppercorns before.

Regarding battery-licking, I'm sure you can find a lot of videos of kids doing that on Youtube, if you want to make yourself wish the Internet was never invented.
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Above, from left to right:  Galangal, lemongrass, mint, culantro, and green onions.
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Besides the process of collecting and chopping all of the ingredients, larb is pretty straight-forward to make.  The Chik'n strips were marinated and lightly sauteed in rice wine and lime juice.  To this, I added all kinds of good stuff:  lots of fresh mint and cilantro leaves, fresh culantro, green onions, a red jalapeno pepper, lemon zest, galangal, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, white pepper, more lime juice, and lemongrass.  A few spoonfuls of roasted rice powder, pictured earlier, is added at the end.  It adds a crumbly, sticky texture, and a distinctive and pleasing smell.  You can make your own rice powder too, but it's really cheap to buy.
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Once everything is tossed together, the preferred way to eat larb is in lettuce wraps.  They're really onto something here, as the cool and crisp lettuce wrap is the perfect contrast to the chaotic jumble of flavors inside.  Chaotic might be exactly the wrong word though, because all of these flavors come together in what might be better described as a chorus in perfect harmony.  My ability to come up with a metaphor to describe what larb tastes like ends here, so I can only recommend you try it yourself sometime.  I used butter lettuce, but Boston or good old iceberg lettuce would be fine too.

I'm not reprinting the entire recipe from Cooking from the Heart here, since I'm hesitant to copy recipes out of cookbooks without permission.  There are a lot of larb recipes online, so google away...every one is a little different, so you can adapt to your tastes.
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To settle things down after larb, here's a simple dessert of sweetened sticky rice with coconut milk and mango, also from Cooking from the Heart.  I'm new to sticky rice too, and I screwed this up by overcooking the rice.  It ended up as sweet sticky rice porridge, still pretty tasty, though the rice was supposed to hold together in a neat ball on the plate.  Whatever :)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Potato Pancakes and Mulled Wine (E.A.T. World: Czech Republic)

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We're in the Czech Republic for today's stop on the E.A.T. World tour, enjoying a bit of street food and drink.  These potato pancakes - I see them called bramboráky or bramborová placka - are the essence of the street food ideal: portable, hearty, and fried.  If you'd like something to wash down those greasy golden wonders, you could do worse than svařák, mulled wine served steaming hot.  Sitting here in midwinter, this pair seems pretty appropriate for a chilly weekend afternoon.

To set the scene, come along with me to Český Krumlov, along the winding Vltava River.  I took this photo last January, from the castle overlooking the old town center.  With ice on the river and snow on the ground, mulled wine was the perfect companion as I wandered around the city.  One guy - just up the street from the bridge on the left side of the picture - sold cups of mulled wine at a table on the sidewalk, from one of those big coffee thermos servers.  It's a brilliant idea for getting through winter, and I can't imagine why the concept never caught on here.
We'll get to the wine in a moment, but potato pancakes come first.  They often contain eggs and maybe milk, but vegan bramboráky deliver exactly what a potato pancake should.  They're crispy and golden on the ouside, soft and creamy on the inside, and flavored with onion, garlic, and marjoram.  Sauerkraut is an optional addition.  As a sauerkraut fan, I mixed a healthy dose into the potato batter, and loved the sharp and tangy flavor it added.
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These are easy, and the quantities are pretty flexible.  I found just a couple of tablespoons of all purpose flour was enough to bind about two cups of shredded potaotes while frying.  Here's my quantities, and basic directions:
2 cups raw potatoes, peeled and shredded (use a grater or food processor)
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup sauerkraut (optional, but very nice if you like sauerkraut)
1 tbps. dried marjoram
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1/3 cup unsweetened almond milk, or any other non-dairy milk, or water
2 tbsp. all purpose flour (maybe a bit more, depending on your first pancake)
Oil for frying, enough to liberally coat the bottom of your pan

Here's what worked for me - mix everything together in a big bowl, keeping a little extra flour on hand.  Test to see if your oil is hot enough by adding a tiny bit of potato - if it sizzles immediately, the oil is ready.  Next, make a small potato patty with your batter as a test run.  Let it brown on one side for a few minutes, then flip over.  If it holds together, you have enough flour.  If it's a little loose, mix another tbsp. of flour into your main bowl of batter, and make another patty.  I mention this just because you might get a little variance in the moisture content of the potatoes or sauerkraut, so the amount of flour needed may fluctuate a little.

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Fry on each side for 3 or 4 minutes, until nice and golden brown.  I found the oil maintained a nice temperature, without cooking too fast, at medium high heat.  After draining on paper towels for just a couple of minutes, enjoy them while they're piping hot and crispy.

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I found a bunch of different takes on mulled wine online, but the fundamentals are red wine, spices, and sweetener.  Here's an excellent article on Czech mulled wine, as well as varieties from other cold countries of Europe.  For the base of my svařák I used a bottle of Yellow Tail cabernet sauvignon, which is vegan - all of their reds are vegan, but not their whites. 

Rather than getting into the whole vegan wine/beer briar patch here, I'd just recommend you check online about whatever brand you like and is available to you.  Many companies - like Yellow Tail - include FAQs on their sites.  And if you don't drink at all, problem solved :)
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Cinnamon and cloves in the mulled wine will make your place smell like the winter holidays.  Orange zest adds a little zing, and agave nectar and brown sugar heightened the sweetness.

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While you can make mulled wine on the stove top, I took a tip from the Czech wine vendor and made it in my coffee pot.  Here's the logic - my coffee machine pot never boils, so I put this on and let it be for almost an hour.  You can do the same thing on the stove top, just as long as you keep the wine from boiling - the alcohol will burn off as the wine boils. 
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For a one liter bottle of red wine, I mixed in 2 tbps. each of agave nectar and brown sugar, 1 tsp. orange zest (lemon is great too), a cinnamon stick, and 4 cloves.  Whether in the coffee pot or on the stove top, keep it hot but not boiling for at least a half hour.  It can be kept hot throughout a party, and leftovers apparently keep pretty well.  I just had a little cup when I made this, and put the rest back in the wine bottle.  Now it's back in the fridge, ready to go whenever the mood for mulled wine strikes...which I think is right about now! 
Na Zdraví!  (That's Cheers!, folks :)
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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Harissa Seitan "Wings"

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Before we move on to the next stop on the world tour (remember your winter jacket!), I have a short follow-up from Tunisia.  Harissa seemed like a natural for a vegan wing sauce, and this is a super easy recipe, useful for tofu, seitan, tempeh, or any other "meaty" food.

This technique can be used with any hot chili sauce, be it sriracha, red curry paste, chipotle salsa -whatever you like.  Mix one part chili sauce with about half as much Earth Balance margarine, mixing together over low heat on the stove top.  Toss the results with whatever "wings" you're using - baked tofu, fried tempeh, etc.  In this case it was breaded and fried seitan pieces. Serve hot with a nice cooling dip on the side.  For this, I blended together a little silken tofu, along with tahini, fresh lemon juice, minced garlic, and a pinch of salt.

My fried seitan chunks benefit from a couple of hints picked up from The Splendid Table: room-temperature foods tend to behave better when fried, and develop a nicer, crunchy coating.  This worked like a charm, and I won't try to bread and fry anything straight out of the fridge again.  Also, I mixed in a tbsp. of corn starch with the coating of flour, salt, and pepper.  This adhered much better to the seitan bites than my usual breading, which usually is just all-purpose flour and some spices.  These two tips were a big help for me, as I'm often stumped with getting a good, golden brown coating on fried foods.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Roasted Veggie Couscous with Harissa and Preserved Lemons (E.A.T. World: Tunisia)

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 We're still in Africa for our third stop on the E.A.T. World tour, where the Atlas Mountains meet the sea, in Tunisia.  The sun is shining in a clear sky, the Mediterranean is a sparkling blue, and I'm on the beach.  North Dakota in January, with our ice storms and blizzards and Minnesota Vikings, are far, far away.  Life is good.

I didn't know much of anything about Tunisian food, besides those four words in the title: couscous, harissa, and preserved lemons.  That's a shame, but learning about food traditions is what makes E.A.T. World so much fun.  Tunisia, as a coastal nation with indigenous diversity and historical influences from Spain to Syria, has a stunningly diverse food heritage.  I began at the beginning, with a simple combo of roasted vegetables and couscous, as a base to experiment with the signature flavors of harissa and preserved lemons.

My veggie couscous contains a variety of roasted and stir-fried vegetables (cauliflower, sweet potato, carrots, zucchini, raisins, asparagus, eggplant, red bell pepper, chickpeas, onions, and garlic), seasoned with a little salt, pepper, cinnamon, and cumin.  Toss the veggies with prepared couscous, and you have a versatile and easy meal.  I used a ton of veggies because I roasted a bunch over the weekend. 

Harissa is a hot chili sauce that seems to be mandatory in any Tunisian meal.  I looked at a half dozen or so recipes, and no two are the same.  I made this with dry pan-toasted caraway and coriander seeds and garlic cloves, along with chili powder, one fresh fire-roasted hot chili pepper, olive oil, and white wine vinegar.
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My harissa is mostly based on the recipe in Robin Robertson's Vegan Planet.  That's a great cookbook of international recipes, and also the name of Robin's blog.  Here's my minorly adjusted harissa recipe:

1 tbsp. caraway seeds
1 tbsp. coriander seeds
3 cloves garlic
1 small fresh chili pepper (I don't know the name of the one I used, but it looked like a red jalapeno pepper, but a little hotter)
1/3 cup chili powder
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt

Dry toast the coriander and caraway seeds until they become fragrant - just a few minutes.  Dry toast the peeled garlic cloves as well, watching that they don't burn.  I did these in my cast iron pan, without any oil.  Because I had that mystery pepper around, I fire-roasted it on my gas stove, and peeled and seeded it after allowing it to cool down.  If you have a spice grinder, grind the whole spices, and mix with the ground chili and diced garlic and any fresh chilis, and the liquid ingredients.

For me, it was another chance to use the mortar and pestle - fast becoming my favorite kitchen gadgets.  Here's the final product, with a little water added to thin it out a bit.
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I introduced my preserved lemons in a previous post, and I'm trying them here for the first time, after letting them cure for nearly four weeks.  Upon opening the jar, I was pleasantly surprised!  They didn't go bad, which means the jar was sterilized well, and I managed to follow an extremely simple recipe.  Good for me, I guess :)

To make one quart of preserved lemons, I used two pounds of organic lemons (organic is important here, because you're eating the peels) and a half cup of sea salt.  After sterilizing the jar and lid in boiling water, fill the jar with alternating layers of quartered lemons (with the pulp and seeds still intact) and salt, and a few spices if you like - I used one cinnamon stick, 1star anise, 5 cardamom pods, 4 whole cloves, and a few whole black peppercorns.  After the lemon quarters are filled to within a half inch of the jar top, squeeze juice from the remaining lemons into the jar until all the lemon quarters are submerged.  Different recipes suggest letting the lemons cure for different periods of time, but three weeks seems about average.  After curing the lemons in the sealed jar at room temperature, the lemons keep in the refrigerator for months.

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To use, scrape out the pulp and seeds, and rinse in water to remove some of the salt.  The flavor is - surprise! - salty and lemony.  Use the diced or sliced lemon peels to season North African stews or tagines or wherever else a dose of salt and citrus sounds like a good idea.  As with harissa, it makes sense to serve these as sides or relishes, so anyone can use them to their taste.

One final thought on harissa - I made much more than I could use with this couscous, so I have one thing on my mind: vegan harissa wings, which I remember seeing on someone's blog.  I like the idea of combining North Africa with sports bar food, though I won't be bringing them to any Superbowl party.  Thanks Vikings...though if Brett Favre is reading this, we'd love to have you back next year :)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Berbere Lentil & Seitan Stew with Injera and Awase (E.A.T. World: Ethiopia)

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Once in a while I get mildly obsessed with finding a food I've never eaten before, and for a few months that's been the case with injera.  And it may come as a surprise, but injera isn't exactly easy to find in North Dakota.  So in the spirit of E.A.T. World, fasten your seat belts - we're off to Ethiopia.

Injera is a spongy, soft, and slightly sour bread (the batter is fermented, like sourdough) that blurs the line between bread and table cloth.  Saucy stews or stir frys are served over injera, and the bread acts as plate and utensil, with scraps of injera used to scoop up portions of stew.  It's one of the trademarks of Ethiopian cooking, but since I've never been to an Ethiopian restaurant, or for that matter Ethiopia, it was just one of those things I read about. That's why I was happy to find it at a new east African market in Fargo - it's actually made at the East Africa Injera restaurant down the road in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

I've even tried making injera a couple of times.  Once I just ended up with sour pancakes - lame, but edible - and another time with a gooey batter that was impossible to flip over.  Just lame.  I'm not giving up, and even have a little bag of teff flour - injera's main grain - on the shelf.  But for now, I'm happy with the stuff made by the professionals in Saint Paul.

OK, enough with my injera relationship.  We've got a meal to get to: an Ethiopian stew of lentils, seitan, onions, and tomatoes, seasoned with a berbere spice blend, and an additional red-hot sauce on the side, awase.  I did a little searching online for guides, but this is mostly out of Marcus Samuelsson's beautiful book The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa.  It's full of gorgeous photos, and plenty of techniques, spice blends, and ideas to make a vegan cook happy.

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Berbere is a wonderfully multi-dimensional spice blend, heavy on hot chili peppers, and another foundation of Ethiopian food.  I made my own, first pounding the whole spices - coriander, fenugreek, cardamom pods, peppercorns, cloves, and onion flakes - to a fine powder with a mortar and pestle.  Then I mixed in the chili powder and other spices.
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Here's the quantities I used:
2 tsp. coriander seeds
1 tsp. fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
6 cardamom pods
4 whole cloves
3 tsp. onion flakes (or powder)
2 tsp. ground ginger
3 tbsp. paprika
1/3 cup guajillo chili powder*
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. salt

I like guajillo for it's balance of bright flavor and heat - it's hot, but not blazing.  You can use any chili powder you like, but mind the heat, since a third cup is a lot of chili powder.  A third cup of cayenne, for example, would be pretty damn intense.  Here's my finished spice volcano, Mount Berbere.

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On to the main course.  I used brown baby lentils (masoor matki at your Indian grocery) and seitan for a dish based on Samuelsson's recipe for a stir-fried beef stew.  Thin sliced red onion and seitan are sauteed in 4 tbsp. (you know you love that) of Earth Balance margarine, standing in for the traditional butter.  When the seitan and onions are browned, add 1 cup of diced tomatoes, 1 cup of cooked lentils, 3 cloves of diced garlic, 2 heaping tbsp. of berbere powder, a dash of ground cumin, and a half cup of dry red wine.  Simmer for another few minutes, letting the alcohol from the wine cook off.

The sauce in the little plastic bowl is awase, a hot condiment that lets each diner regulate the spiciness for individual taste.  It's a couple tablespoons of berbere powder, with a heaping teaspoon of cayenne pepper to make for serious heat.  The spices are mixed with a tbsp. each of water, lemon juice, and red wine.  Tear off a piece of injera, scoop up a bit of stew, and dip the roll in awase to your liking.  One final note: if you're not a fan of seitan, or have a problem with wheat gluten, this is also excellent with diced eggplant replacing the seitan.  I made that too, and it was every bit as good as the seitan version.
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