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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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Pho with Tofu and Vegetables (E.A.T. World: Vietnam)

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I'm jumping into the stove-top travel project E.A.T. World with a trip to Vietnam, for a steaming bowl of pho.  If Vietnam has a national soup, this would be it.  Pho typically features beef broth and fish sauce, but a rich broth of ginger, onions, star anise, cloves, and vegan "beef" broth powder (with a few more additions) packs more than enough great flavor.

A quick side note on the E.A.T. World format - I know I'm not sufficiently organized to do this alphabetically, so I'm using a random approach.  Thus, starting with "V."  My goal is to cover the alphabet in the next few least I say that now :)

I've had pho (pronounced "fuh," by the probably knew that, but I've said "fo" more than once), but never made it at home, so I scanned a few relevant cookbooks for ideas.  My main source is Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table, by Mai Pham, another good library find.  Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian has a nice faux pho recipe too.   I'm used to soup being an easy and improvisational affair, but pho is nothing to mess around with.  The key is the broth, so let's begin at the beginning.

Making Pho Broth 
Pham's recipe for pho calls for toasting or charring the ginger, onions, and spices before adding to the soup broth.  This makes sense, because roasting vegetables always brings out flavor that simple boiling does not.  I charred the ginger and yellow onion over my gas stove burner, and peeled away the charred parts before adding to the broth.  Here's the onion, which actually set off my smoke alarm.

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The star anise, whole cloves, and black peppercorns were dry-toasted in a fry pan for about two minutes, before adding to the ginger and onion broth.  Other broth ingredients include one crushed garlic clove, one tbsp. sugar, 1 tbsp. vegan beef broth powder, a pinch of kelp powder (a vegan nod to the fish sauce) and salt and tamari to taste.  I simmered the two quarts or so of broth for about an hour, and then let it sit.  The flavor developed nicely after the broth sat for a couple of hours, so if you make this I highly recommend making the broth well ahead of time, even the night before.  After the broth has cooled, pour it through something to strain out the ginger, onions, and spices.
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On we go to the soup ingredients.  Since pho can include so many great fresh veggies and herbs, it really was born to be vegan, if I may say so.  The trick of pho is to let the boiling hot broth cook the soup ingredients just before you begin eating.    To ensure that everything cooked fairly evenly, I used naturally thin veggies - snow peas - and thin sliced carrots and broccoli florets.  Deep-fried tofu cubes and cooked rice sticks provide the soup's bulk, with boiling hot broth poured over the tofu, noodles, and veggies.  My ingredients are assembled below - the chopped serrano peppers, scallions, bean sprouts, thai basil, and cilantro are added as garnishes, to your taste.
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Here's a broccoli floret, a brilliant green after a few minutes in the broth.  The vegetables will still be pleasantly crisp, since they do their little bit of cooking in the soup bowl.  It may be a good idea to blanche the vegetables for a moment in boiling water right before assembling the soup, just to preserve the heat in the serving bowl.

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I almost forgot about the limes!  Fresh lime juice is sprinkled in along with the other garnishes, like these bean sprouts and thai basil.  I also made a little dipping bowl with hoisin sauce and hot pepper sauce (sriracha), since I've seen that done.  The sauce was great with the tofu and veggies, and can also be used to further season the pho.  Mai Pham frowns on that though, since she says it masks the subtle flavors of the pho broth.  She has a point, but hoisin shares the licorice flavor of star anise, so I think they go together well.
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Pho requires more than a little special preparation, but it really is a treat.  It's also a good reason to break out the chopsticks, and pick up one of those cool soup spoons at any Asian market.  The rice sticks tend to bunch together into one long rice stick weave, so I recommend shamelessly slurping and shoveling with your chopsticks.  I think that adds to the fun.  One more tip:  use the biggest soup bowl you can find, since the more broth you use, the longer the soup stays nice and hot.  Any proper pho is a meal in itself, so don't be shy about that big bowl.

Monday, January 11, 2010

E.A.T. World

I love this idea. I've been a little lazy about coming up with interesting food lately - there was even a four day stretch last week of rice and lentils or beans every night, where I felt so much like the vegan stereotype...even though I think rice and lentils can be awesome.
Enter the E.A.T. World project! I just found this over at River's excellent The Crafty Kook , with an amazing introductory voyage to a sidewalk cafe in Austria. The rules, such as they are, are covered over there. In summary (and this is the best thing) there really aren't any rules. It's just a cool way to encourage everybody to try out recipes and inspiration from all over the world, with an alphabetical theme. There are even cool logos to use. I hope this spreads all over the place - it's a wonderful idea, and I can't wait to go travelling with you all!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Paella with Oyster Mushrooms & Sherry-braised Seitan Sausages

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First, happy new year everybody! I hope you all have a great 2010, and that our new decade is an improvement on the last. We'll leave it at that.

I would love to claim this recipe as my own, because it was perfectly awesome. It's from Tal Ronnen's The Conscious Cook. I picked up the book this weekend, with a Christmas gift card from my brother and sister-in-law. She said she wanted to give me a vegan cookbook, but they got a gift card so I could pick it out - very cool, so thanks Kim!

The Conscious Cook was on my cookbook wish-list. He was the chef who prepared Oprah's meals during her vegan experiment earlier this year, and clearly wants to eliminate any "second class" status for vegan cooking. All of the recipes and photos look like things you would find in a high-end gourmet restaurant. At least I assume that's what they look like, since I've never been to one of those places.

This paella sticks pretty close to Ronnen's recipe, and any changes were minor. Simmering the sausages in sherry just seemed like a good excuse to sip a little sherry while I was cooking. The oyster mushrooms were sauteed in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and dusted with nori flakes to give them a sea flavor. That trick alone made this recipe worthwhile - the nori-oyster mushrooms are simply delicious.