Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Beech mushrooms with simmered tofu on sesame rice

Are these cute, or what? These are beech mushrooms, which I saw for the first time the other day in the local Asian market.

And here's something you haven't seen on this blog yet—a super-macro photograph taken inside under the pathetic lighting conditions in my house, in Canada, after the end of July, so it's far from perfect, but still kind of attractive in its way, I think:

We'll keep trying. Tonight I cooked these beech mushrooms in a recipe I found on FatFree Vegan Kitchen, which Susan says she got from a book called A Cook's Book of Mushrooms, by Jack Czarnecki. Susan calls it Maitake and Beech Mushrooms with Simmered Tofu on Sesame Rice, but I had enough beech mushrooms to make half the dish, which was my goal, so I didn't fret about using another kind. I'm going to give you SusanV's recipe word for word—other than halving it, the only substitution I made was to exchange the green beans (which I didn't have) for the same weight in baby bok choy (which, obviously, I did). The results look a bit different from Susan's, but I was super-pleased with all of the recipes, particularly the simmered tofu, which I kept warm in the toaster oven while I did the stir fry in the same pan I had simmered it in, making this, my friends, a two-pan meal. Enjoy:

Maitake and Beech Mushrooms with Simmered Tofu on Sesame Rice
from FatFree Vegan Kitchen

Make these recipes in the reverse order that they are listed. Put your rice on to cook about an hour before you plan to eat. Then, chop the vegetables and mushrooms, and cook your tofu. When it's done, make the stir-fry, which should be ready at the same time as the rice.

8 ounces green beans, ends trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
1/2 large yellow onion, cut into thin wedges
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
4 ounces maitake or hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, cut apart along their natural lines
4 ounces beech mushrooms, separated
Simmered Tofu (see below)
1/3 cup water or vegetable broth
2 tsp low sodium soy sauce
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp sugar or agave nectar
1 tsp Sriracha sauce (or other chili sauce) or to taste (1 tsp. may be too spicy for sensitive palates)
Sesame Rice (see below)

Spray a large skillet with a light coating of oil and heat it on medium-high. Add the green beans and 3 tablespoons of water and saute for four minutes. Add the onion and cook until for another 3 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and the mushrooms and cook, stirring gently, until the mushrooms are tender, about 2 minutes.

Simmered Tofu

1 package firm or extra-firm (non-silken) tofu (about 1 pound)
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp low sodium soy sauce or tamari

Cut the block of tofu into pieces about 1/2-inch thick. In a large skillet, mix the broth with the sesame oil and soy sauce. Add the tofu and bring to a simmer on medium heat. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until sauce has almost all evaporated. Gently remove the tofu and place it on a plate. Cover to keep warm until ready to use.

Sesame Rice

1 1/2 cups long grain brown rice
3 cups water
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp toasted sesame seeds or gomasio
1 tsp salt, or to taste

Put all ingredients into a pot and heat to boiling. Cover and lower heat to a simmer. Cook for 40 to 50 minutes, until water is absorbed and rice is tender. (You may also do this in a rice cooker.) Keep warm until ready to use.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pa'chan (Korean pancakes with peppers & mushrooms)

You know how sometimes I say that a cookbook is worth buying just for one recipe? This is one of those times. What you are seeing here is Madhur Jaffrey's Savory Korean Pancakes with Peppers and Mushrooms from World Vegetarian. Go out and buy it. Buy it now. I can't even imagine you'll ever have a better meal than this one. I wasn't even hungry when I started to cook. I was thinking of skipping supper, and after all that business with the yuba this morning I was looking for something really simple, maybe to help use up some of the end-of-season zucchini….

I'm so sorry I can't copy the recipe onto this blog without permission, since all the recipes for Pa'chon (which is the Korean name Madhur Jaffrey gives this recipe) that I can find online look totally different from this. Suffice it to say that the pancakes are composed of equal amounts of unbleached white and rice flour, mixed with water, roasted sesame oil, salt, and 1 egg's worth of Ener-G, and that you pour this batter over a very lightly stir fried mixture of hot and sweet peppers, mushrooms, shredded green onions, and sesame seeds. Cook it covered for four minutes over medium-low heat:

Flip it and cook it another four, covered, on the other side:

Uncover and keep flipping until you get the surface texture you want, then remove it from the pan, cut it into wedges, and serve immediately with dipping sauce the recipe for which I can provide, since I made it up:

Korean dipping sauce

1/3 cup soy sauce
juice of 1 lime
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp roasted sesame oil
1 tsp dried chilli, crumbled (I used hothot Hungarian chillis that my dad grew, but you can substitute whatever)

It seems there's something about rice flour that gives pancakes made from it, like these, and the dosas I made a few days ago, a glossy, crispy, absolutely wonderful texture. Add sesame oil and you get pancake paradise.

Okay, now this is served with the Ensalata Esmeralda from Sundays at the Moosewood Restaurant, which is essentially lightly steamed zucchini, chopped avocado, the juice of one lemon, a pressed garlic clove, salt, and some vegetable oil (and, inspired, I added some dried tomatoes). However much vegetable oil you think ought to go into this dish, double it, and you've hit on the secret. Also excellent!

You know those dreams where you get to eat forever and never get full? Tonight I wished I lived in one of those…tonight I'm so glad I have a blog to inspire me to cook new things…

Yuba from scratch

Yuba, if you're unfamiliar with it, is the unappetizing-sounding "skin" that forms on soy milk when it has boiled. If you've ever boiled soy milk for your latte in the microwave by mistake, you already know what yuba is, even if you didn't know you knew. In Japanese cuisine, this is a delicacy. I've eaten yuba many times, but always from the dried sticks or sheets that you buy. Today, in the spirit of my VeganMoFo 2009 personal challenge, I wanted to try making some myself, since fresh yuba is supposed to be quite unlike, and amazingly better than, the dried. And it is, even when made by a beginner like me! Here's a link to a series of pictures showing how yuba is made professionally in Japan, and here's what I did.

Start with homemade soy milk with no additives, or buy soymilk with only soybeans and water as ingredients. Pour it into a wide skillet—I used about an 8-inch skillet but next time I'll use a bigger one—and heat it to boiling. Turn off the heat and leave the soymilk for about ten minutes. A thin skin forms almost immediately:

It gets thicker and more interesting as the soy milk cools:

And now after about ten minutes it's ready to be lifted out:

This is the tricky part, which I didn't get the hang of right until the end, after I took the below picture, so my yuba looks like sticks rather than sheets, which is okay, but it was kewl to get the sheets finally. What you do is, first, move the point of a knife all around the edge of the pan to loosen the yuba, then lift one corner with a chopstick (that's the part I didn't do right) and quickly slide another chopstick underneath the yuba and lift it out. Let it dangle there over the pan for a few seconds to drip, and then take the whole thing, chopstick and all, and hang it up to finish drying:

Heat the milk again until just boiling, and continue the above steps until there's no more soy milk left in the pan.

The point of this is not to dry it thoroughly, of course, but to eat it soft, though it should dry out a little bit. In the picture at the start of this post there's a little piece of fresh yuba with soy sauce and chives. It's just a bite, no more than an inch across. I got eight of those using five cups of soy milk and the 8-inch skillet and about two hours, though your mileage may vary.

The taste is sweet and creamy, altogether pleasant, and the bit of soy sauce and chive tips accented it nicely. And that's how you eat five cups of soy milk in eight bites.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The shopping trip

You knew it had to happen. Here's the stuff I bought for the commencement of my VeganMoFo 2009 Japanese challenge—well, okay, some of it. When I got home from shopping, I went through all my cupboards and drawers, the refrigerator and the freezer, reorganizing for the month to come.

Then I cleaned the lily pad, and then I was very tired, too tired to cook. My mom brought over the last of the roma tomatoes, since it appears we may have a freeze this week.

So after all that, what did I have for supper? This!

Sometimes it pays to have a freezer full of good things.

Anatomy of a stir fry

There's a reason there are so many stir fries on this blog—well, several reasons. Stir fries are generally fast, not too difficult, can be infinitely tweaked so that each one has an original look and flavour combination, you can make just exactly as much as you want and no more which is a real bonus when you're cooking for one, they taste great, they're nutritious, and they're usually very pretty, taking full advantage of the natural beauty of the ingredients and sometimes—as with broccoli just very lightly stir fried—enticing them to bloom into even greater gorgeousness than in their raw state.

But I've never really posted about the method, even though it's not a no-brainer. It's easy to wreck a stir fry, and I've wrecked many in my time, so that you're left with a brownish, soggy, overcooked mess or, arguably worse, with chunks of unappetizing sweet potato so raw you can't stab them with a fork distributed throughout the finished dish like little bombs. Here are a few simple tips:

1. Prepare everything before you even get out your wok. Stir fries go fast, and if you think you'll have time to chop the green pepper while the garlic and ginger are frying, I'm here to tell you from experience that it doesn't work that way. If you need to pre-cook anything, like breaded tofu, have that done. Your sauces should be mixed and right at hand, and any toppings or accessories should be ready. Stir fries need to be served immediately and hot, so, again, it's a good idea to have the table set and your workspace tidied before you cook.

2. Chop your vegetables with a mind to how long they'll be cooking for, which is sometimes mere seconds. Keep the pieces small and thin with lots of surface area unless you're going for raw-ish crunchiness in the case of something naturally tender like, for example, zucchini. You may want to parboil vegetables like carrots or sweet potatoes, or put them in the microwave for a few seconds to give them a head start.

3. Heat the wok before you add any oil, and heat the oil before you add any stir fry ingredients. (This, by the way, is also the secret to successful cooking on cast iron.) When the vegetables hit the oil, their surfaces should sear slightly, sealing in the vegetable juices and quick-cooking the insides. What you don't want is to have them slowly sucking up oil while everything heats.

4. Once the oil is hot—on medium high heat—add the aromatics like onion, garlic, and ginger. Swirl them around for a few seconds until they're heated and beginning to cook, then add longer-cooking vegetables like carrots. Things should sizzle as you toss them in, not just sit there. Stir frying should be a noisy, steamy, fast process. It's better to cook individual batches of ingredients or individual stir fry servings than to have your vegetables steam instead of fry, and turn into stew.

5. Keep adding ingredients one at a time, energetically tossing everything with a spatula to keep it moving. There's an art to timing the additions that only comes with practice (in my case, a lot of practice, mostly because I was foolishly resistant for a long time to proper advance preparation). If the bottom of the wok begins to scorch, deglaze it with a tablespoon of water, broth, or wine. Some vegetables, like tender bok choy, snow peas, or bean sprouts, you won't add at all during this initial fry stage.

6. The vegetables should still be crisp when you add the cooking sauce, since they'll cook some more as the sauce is heating. I tend to like my stir fries a little soupy, so I try to have my cooking sauce at room temperature or a little warmer before I add it because, again, you don't want to boil the vegetables but keep them still crisp and just as it were embraced by the sauce. The cooking sauce will contain things like water or vegetable broth, soy sauce, sherry or mirin, rice vinegar, lemon juice, a little Sriracha or cayenne. Watch the salt content of the sauce; it should taste delicious by itself and not over-salty. When I add the sauce is usually when I also add the snow peas and fresh tofu (if I'm using that; in the stir fry shown here I used pre-soaked and marinated Soy Curls and browned them with the aromatics).

7. When the sauce is steaming hot and the vegetables are just on the brink of perfection, add a little cornstarch mixed with a little water and keep flipping everything until the sauce thickens and turns translucent. If everything is at the right temperature, this should take maybe 30 seconds.

8. Now sprinkle on your toppings and serve! The third little bowl in my sauces picture is "vegetarian nuoc mam" from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, but it could be any strong-tasting sauce. This I would add to my individual stir fry bowl as a condiment, or have on my table for my guests to do the same according to their own tastes.

Friday, September 25, 2009

VeganMoFo 2009 – Personal Challenge – Japan

My blog is new, but I've been vegan for a long time. I'm comfortable with veganism, and good at it. As Vegan Man once wrote so eloquently, "this Integrated Veganosity has blurred the line between 'Vegan Man' and just plain old 'Man.'" This is the first VeganMoFo that I've participated in, and I've decided to make it a personal challenge. The idea behind VeganMoFo is to try to post about vegan food/veganism/related topics as near to every day as possible for a whole month. As an enthusiastic beginning blogger, I've basically been doing that for the last three months already, but for the month of October, I will be cooking, eating, and blogging only Japanese-type vegan food.

What I know about Japanese food right now is:

(Image lifted from http://www.sacred-texts.com/, but I own the DVD and will probably be referring to material from it during this series!) However, it's a cuisine that's always fascinated me as it were from afar, though I can't say that when I've tried it I've always liked it—I also can't say I've given it a fair chance, which is what this month is intended to do. I'll be researching, experimenting, and posting about what I've learned, with pictures.

This experience is all about learning, not only about Japanese cooking, but also somewhat about Japan itself and specifically Japanese Buddhism, a huge influence on Japanese vegetarian cuisine. In conjunction with the food challenge, I'm also going to try to read through Heinrich Dumoulin's Zen Buddhism: A History – Japan (more on which later). This is one of those books I bought years ago intending to read it "when I have time"—well…what better time than now? So I'm hoping that there will be some inspiring Buddhist-themed quotations along the way.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Watermelon margarita

Farewell, summer! Yesterday's record-breaking 34C was a fitting end. I had the day free, so I invited my mom and sister over to celebrate in the afternoon with watermelon margaritas. These are much more delicious than they originally sounded to me when I first read the recipe. Why, I now ask myself, wasn't I making these all summer long, not just once on the very last day? I apologize to the original poster of this recipe, which I downloaded from the Internet some time ago, but now can't find again to link to.

Watermelon margarita
This makes 3 large servings

5 cups watermelon, cubed, seeds and rind removed, and frozen
1 cup silver Tequila
1/2 cup Cointreau or Triple Sec
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup sugar

Put everything into a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into margarita glasses and garnish with a wedge of watermelon or slice of lemon if you like. This is a great drink, but powerful. Celebrate responsibly, my friends.

South Indian dosas

This was an interesting experiment, one that I think I'll be repeating (actually, I'll be repeating it tomorrow because I've still got quite a bit of batter left over). You may remember that I had experimented with dosas using rice flour and urad flour rather than soaking and grinding the grains themselves; this time I did the long version and apart from the waiting periods and having to wash the blender, it wasn't any more difficult, and the results were superior, though I wouldn't mind trying the batter from the flours again and leaving it the full twenty hours as I did this time, because it really does foam up near the end in quite an astonishing way without, however, changing colour or looking or smelling odd; in fact the taste is much the same throughout and it seems to be the texture that changes. This recipe is from Madhur Jaffrey's World of the East Vegetarian Cooking, with the method adapted (simplified) here, and further simplified by me. The recipe in the book is very long and contains some additional directions, but this version will get you the results you need. I served it with the aloo gobi (cauliflower and potatoes in spices) and panak paneer (spinach with paneer—or in this case, fresh tofu) from Monisha Bharadwaj's India's Vegetarian Cooking: A Regional Guide. This is a really beautiful book, and I've found the pictures in it to be rather heavily Photoshopped as to colour but the recipes all still work even if your results aren't as pretty as the ones in the illustrations. The aloo gobi was particularly tasty. Here's a beauty shot of the mise-en-place:

South Indian dosas
makes 8 pancakes

1/2 cup urad dal
1 cup long-grain rice
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp ground cumin seeds
1/2 cup vegetable oil (about)

Pick over and wash urad dal. Soak in 2 cups water for 8 hours.

Wash rice and soak in 3 cups water for 8 hours.

Drain dal and rice and add to blender with 1 1/2 cups water; process until light and fluffy.
Here's what it looks like in the "light and fluffy" stage:

Cover and leave in a warm place to ferment, 16-20 hours. The fermented batter should be frothy:

Add the salt and cumin and stir to combine.

Have all cooking paraphernalia ready and at hand. You will need to have near your skillet: 1/4 to 1/2 cup of vegetable oil in a cup or bowl with a small spoon, a larger spoon to spread the batter, the bowl of batter with a 1/2-cup measuring scoop/cup, a spatula for turning the pancakes, and a plate on which to place the finished dosas after they are cooked.

Pour 1 tsp of oil into the skillet and tilt to distribute evenly. Heat the skillet over medium-low until oil is hot. Pour 1/2 cup of the mixture onto the center of the hot skillet. Use the large spoon to spread the batter in a spiral motion, until the pancake is about 6-7 inches in diameter. Drizzle another 1/2 tsp of oil over the top of the pancake. Cover and cook approximately 2 minutes until the bottom is lightly browned. Turn pancake and cook another 2 minutes on the other side, uncovered this time. Remove pancake to plate and repeat with remaining batter, adding enough additional oil to the skillet as needed to keep surface evenly greased.

They're thicker than I expected, gorgeously crispy on the outside and tender inside, and they don't taste "fermented", just really light and addictive. Madhur Jaffrey writes, "Dosas, plain or stuffed, may be served at breakfast, brunch, lunch, or as a snack. In South India, they are often accompanied by glasses of buttermilk or cups of steaming hot, sweet, milky coffee." Having tried the dosas, the steaming hot, sweet, milky coffee option sounds perfectly divine.

On edit: The batter only improves with time, becoming more sour and thicker, and it really is great with soy latte ;-)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Virginia apple pudding

You know how some women get pregnant and think, "Yay, now I can eat whatever I want since I'm eating for two," and they do eat for two—two sumo wrestlers—instead of a normal-sized woman and a baby still the size of a grain of rice, and they gain a hundred pounds of which they then have to lose 92 after their 8-pound baby is finally born?

Starting a food blog is very exciting, actually a lot more so than I thought it would be, though probably less so than having a baby. Suddenly, with a bit of an audience, or even a potential audience, the bar gets raised and you don't want to eat the same thing two nights in a row, two days in the week, ever at all. You're browsing through thrilling recipe books and suddenly that recipe with the 25 separate spices that takes three days to complete doesn't seem so utterly ridiculous since at least you can write about the process of putting it all together—with pictures! Luckily, I haven't gained a hundred pounds since most of the time I love to cook even more than I love to eat, so if I'm not making something interesting I generally just get by on bread-and-water type foods. Sometimes, actually, like today, literally bread and water, but I'm cool with it since I know I've got something stupendous planned for supper.

You know how some people start a food blog and they think, "Yay, now I'm pepped for making all these new recipes, I can buy whatever I want since I'm cooking for the whole world," and they do buy whatever they want, until their refrigerator is so packed the things at the back are starting to freeze solid, and every time they open their overstuffed cupboards packets of lily buds and rice stick fall out, and the deep freezer is so full that I—I mean they—can't squeeze in even one…more…tomato, let alone the botanical balls and gluten flour and Soy Curls and edamame beans and heaven knows what all? There was this thing going around several months ago where food bloggers were taking pictures of the insides of their freezers—this was before my blog, but I particularly remember Terry Hope Romero's, which was practically flipping empty except for (I'm exaggerating slightly) a carton of soy ice cream and a bag of kitchen scraps to take somewhere for composting. These were the freezer parts of their refrigerators, not big deep freezers like mine that you could stuff a couple of bodies into if you had to. Oh, my god, those posts made me wonder, even at the time, do I have a problem?

You do not get to see inside my deep freezer, or even the freezer portion of my refrigerator, nor my cupboards overstuffed with packages of yuba and cans of coconut milk and translucent threads of agar agar, and dried coconut in various cuts and varieties of sweetness, nor my auxiliary spice cupboard (in addition to the three spice racks hanging on my kitchen wall), nor the puzzling collection of cooking-type liquors, vinegars, and oils that I have collected somehow in my lovely faux-antique dry sink, or the pasta/dried bean depot and shelves of canned goods in the basement…am I all alone? I mean, do you all shop every day, or do any of you share my feeling of emptiness if your personal pantry isn't as well stocked as the local Superstore?

Don't misunderstand me, my kitchen is clean and tidy, and even the deep freezer gets thoroughly emptied, defrosted, and reorganized three or four times a year—I know what's in there, though sometimes the prospect of actually getting to it is a bit daunting. I can't stand clutter, and I'm very frugal except in this one single area, where, it seems, money is no object and anything goes.

When I started this blog, my sister, who has never seen any of these chipmunk-like hoards, said, "Ooh, show them the top of your cupboards!" My sister doesn't believe I use all the beans/dried mushrooms/seaweed/besan flour/rice/oatmeal/brown sugar/large spices like star anise and cinnamon bark that are up there. But I do. I need it all! Maybe not today, but tomorrow, or someday. I just need it.

Well, the point of this post is that I really have to start using some of it up, if only to make room for more…so, er, the other day I used two whole cups of frozen chopped apples from my parents' apple tree in something that I'd been craving without ever having tasted it before—apple pudding.

I googled "apple pudding" and came up with this recipe, that didn't even need to be veganized except for substituting Earth Balance for butter. And you know, it was simple, but really good, better than the dimply plum cake the next day, and apart from the cooking time took literally five minutes to put together. The only change I might make is to use more apples next time, maybe three cups instead of two.

Virginia apple pudding

1/2 cup Earth Balance, melted
1 cup white sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup soy or rice milk
2 cups chopped, peeled apple
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375F.

In a small baking dish, combine Earth Balance, sugar, flour, baking powder, salt, and soy milk until smooth.

In a microwave-safe bowl, combine apples and cinnamon. Microwave until apples are soft, 2 to 5 minutes. Pour apples into the center of the batter.

Bake in the preheated oven 30 minutes, or until golden.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Edamame corn salad

This is from Veganomicon, but I found the recipe here. As many in the blogosphere have remarked, this is a deceptively simple salad with fantastic flavours. The smoky sesame, cut ever so slightly by the rice vinegar and soy sauce which don't overpower this salad, a little sea salt…it came together in five minutes or so, chilled while the zucchini was draining for zucchini cakes, and altogether made a very good meal. When will I tire of zucchini cakes? My friends, never, and I'll only stop making them when I run out of zucchini. Which will be all too soon, unfortunately. I'm down to a few late summer deformed fruits which nevertheless have that great zucchini taste/texture/colour/general zucchini amazingness, so bear with me just a little longer…

Edamame corn salad

2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp soy sauce or tamari
2 cups frozen, shelled edamame
1 cup fresh corn, or partially-thawed frozen corn
2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
Generous pinch of salt

Add edamame to boiling water and cook for 3 minutes. Add the corn and boil for another 2 minutes. Strain into a colander and run under cold water until cool enough to touch. Set aside.

Whisk together sesame oil, rice vinegar, and tamari in a medium size bowl. Mix in edamame and corn and then stir in toasted sesame seeds. Salt to taste. Let sit in refrigerator for at least 15 minutes before serving to allow flavors to meld.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Rice noodles in a spicy broth

Who needs Ichiban when you can spend the whole day slaving over the stock pot? Yesterday was chilly and windy, an anomaly in the midst of our wonderful long Indian summer, and I was craving soup, and specifically a noodle bowl—not the kind I usually make, which is more of a stir fry, but noodles as it were paddling in hot fragrant broth with raw or just very slightly steamed vegetables arranged prettily on top.

It was a stock-making kind of day, and so I defrosted my little cache of scraps, added an onion, a couple of carrots, a few crushed cloves of garlic, fennel tops, parsley stalks from my garden, a handful of cilantro stems, some dried shiitake mushrooms, and maybe a few other odds and ends, and let them simmer in water just to cover for about an hour, then strained it all through cheesecloth (saving the mushrooms for the soup). Here's what it looked like in the stock pot:

I flavoured my broth with a little additional mushroom soy sauce, lime juice, Sriracha hot sauce, and sherry, and simmered it a little longer with a handful of Soy Curls (fished out again temporarily after they had softened and absorbed flavour and colour from the stock). Once the stock is done, to finish the dish, cook some rice noodles in a separate pot, drain them, and place them in the bottom of a serving bowl. Pour a little broth over the noodles, then arrange red onions, bean sprouts, slivered green onions, sliced mushrooms, the Soy Curls, and a little fresh cilantro--or, of course, your own additions of choice--on top. So good, and now that the broth is made and frozen in single-serving containers, so very fast and easy!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ginger Soy Curls with peppers, mushrooms, and onions

Ooh, my new Soy Curls have arrived! They are fresh, they are tasty, they are nice! Their best before date is well into the future, and it does make a difference. You may remember that I'd been cooking with Soy Curls two years past their best before date until now. Well, no more.

This dish is based on several recipes from the Stir-Fried Dishes section of Bryanna Clark Grogan's Authentic Chinese Cuisine, and man was it good. Did I mention that I love Soy Curls? Bryanna's original recipes call for slivered seitan, or tofu, or reconstituted textured soy protein chunks, and I think it would work just fine with any of them, but there is something about the texture of the Soy Curls in stir fries that is just so perfect.

One tip: have your sauce made and all your ingredients fully prepped before you start cooking—the cooking goes too fast to allow any chopping as you go.

Well, another tip: do use the sherry. You can really taste it; it's worth keeping a bottle on hand just for recipes like this.

Spicy ginger Soy Curls with peppers, mushrooms, and onions

1 cup Soy Curls
1 tbsp dry sherry

Cooking sauce ingredients:
1/3 cup water or vegetable broth
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp light brown sugar
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp dry sherry
2 tsp cornstarch

For the stir fry:
4 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 tbsp oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp slivered ginger
½ sweet red pepper, chopped
½ tsp red chilli flakes (or to taste)

1. Start the Soy Curls soaking in about 2 cups of hot water. They need about half an hour, as will the shiitake mushrooms, which you should begin soaking in another cup of hot water now. While they rehydrate, you can do the rest of your prep.

2. Stir together the cooking sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

3. Cut up the onion, garlic, ginger, and red pepper and set aside. Have your cooking oil and chilli flakes handy. Get out a wok or large deep frying pan.

4. Squeeze as much of the soaking water out of the Soy Curls as possible, replace them in the now dry soaking bowl, and stir in the sherry. Thinly slice the mushrooms (save the tough stems and mushroom soaking water for stock) and put them with the rest of the stir fry vegetables.

5. When you're ready to start cooking, heat the wok on medium-high heat. When hot, add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the Soy Curls and all the stir fry ingredients, cooking rapidly, constantly stirring, until the Soy Curls begin to brown and the onions are turning translucent. You will probably need to deglaze the pan with a little water or white wine from time to time.

6. Add the cooking sauce and continue stirring and flipping until the sauce thickens and clears. Serve immediately over rice or noodles.

I also made Bryanna's Zucchini with Ginger for the side. She's put the recipe on her own site, along with a lot of other great zucchini recipes. I used my vegetable peeler to peel off long pasta-like slices. Yum!

Zucchini with ginger

1 lb medium zucchini
1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup vegetarian broth
1 tbsp dry sherry
2 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp roasted sesame oil

Cut the zucchini into 1/4" slices. Heat a large wok or heavy skillet over high heat until very hot, then add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the zucchini and ginger. Stir-fry one minute. Add the broth, soy sauce, and sherry. Stir-fry over high heat until the broth cooks down a bit and the zucchini is crisp-tender. Remove from heat, sprinkle with the sesame oil and serve.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Whole wheat pasta with mystery peanut sauce and steamed vegetables

Peanut sauce goes really well with whole wheat pasta. This peanut sauce was made by my mom, who was too scared to eat it, so she gave it to me. Admittedly, a certain amount of faith and daring is required to try it the first time, but screw your courage to the sticking place and make the effort. There are many variations—with coconut milk or without, with garlic, with hoisin sauce, with lime, with various chillies, herbs, and spices, cooked or stirred up raw. Be careful with the garlic, if you're keeping the sauce for more than one day, as it becomes more and more powerful over time. Unless you're a raw garlic lover, use roasted garlic or just the smallest clove of fresh. What my mom did was probably something like this:

Simple peanut sauce

1/2 cup unsweetened creamy peanut butter
1 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 small garlic clove, mashed to a paste
1 tsp chilli-garlic paste
1 tbsp dark sesame oil
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup water

Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Stir until well combined, adding more water to thin the sauce if necessary.

I stirred a few tablespoons into the cooked pasta, then added steamed vegetables and tofu, and topped it with a little avocado and cucumber and sesame seeds.

If you're not too concerned about looks, you can make dishes like this in one pot. Boil lots of water for the pasta in a big pot, enough so it won't cool each time you add something to it, put in the pasta, and then, cleverly timing your additions, drop in your vegetables one at a time—in this case it would be cauliflower, then sweet red pepper, then tofu, then snow peas just seconds before the pasta is finished. Drain the whole mess, add the peanut sauce, mix it all up, sprinkle on the toppings, and you've got your meal ready in the time it took to boil the pasta.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fresh fennel two ways

Both of these dishes were either from, or inspired by, recipes in Veganomicon. I'd bought my very first fresh fennel bulb ever, after being thrilled with the dried fennel I've been using in cabbage rolls and meatballs, and was I ever glad I finally did. The bulb looks a little like a celery root, smells a little like liquorice, tastes a little like both, but so very fresh and pleasant.

This is the Midsummer corn chowder with basil, tomato and fennel, which I halved but otherwise made according to the recipe. I even made the Fresh Corn Stock, which is essentially the usual stock suspects plus the cobs from the corn broken in half and the stalky feathery bits from the fennel. I'll be making this soup again next year, when the new corn arrives. The farmers come into town and sell it—just corn—from the backs of trucks seemingly on every street corner at this time of year. So I used local, in season and very fresh peaches and cream corn, which retained its sweet crunchiness through all this cooking—and the fennel. As you can see by the recipe, the vegetables are lightly sautéed, but not browned, and this brought out the full fragrance of the fennel.

I have to learn to take better pictures of soup. One reason for the extreme food close-ups on this blog is that there is a single extremely limited area in my house (the top of my stove, actually) which gets more or less enough artificial light for photographs during the ten months that are not June and July when no sunlight shines directly though my windows. Soup photographs really require accessories, though. I found the recipe online here, and reproduce it for you:

Midsummer Corn Chowder With Basil, Tomato, and Fennel

6 ears fresh corn
3 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large onion, diced
1 bulb fennel, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 lb waxy potatoes (about 2 medium), diced
2 tsp dried thyme
2 quarts Fresh Corn Stock, vegetable broth or water
1 pound tomatoes, chopped
1/3 cup basil leaves, chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Remove husks and silk from corn. Carefully slice off the kernels into a large bowl. Break cobs in half and keep to make corn stock or simply add them to the soup while simmering.

2. Heat olive oil in large soup pot over medium high heat. Add onions, garlic, thyme, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir and cover, sweating them for about 5 minutes.

3. Add carrot and celery, stir, cover, and cook for 2-3 minutes.

4. Add the fennel, stir, cover, and cook for 2-3 minutes.

5. Add the potato, stir, cover, and cook for 2-3 minutes.

6. Finally, add the corn, stir, cover, and cook for 5 minutes.

7. Add the water or stock (and optionally the corn cobs and bay leaf, making sure to remove before adding the tomatoes and basil), stir, cover, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and allow the soup to simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally.

8. Remove 1 1/2 cups of the soup, cool in a bowl, and blend with immersion blender, food processor, or blender, then add it back to the soup.

9. Add the chopped tomatoes and basil and return just to a simmer.

10. Adjust salt and pepper, serve.

And the second dish is based on the Pasta della California, also from Veganomicon. Y'all can go straight to the source at the PPK website to see a picture of what it's supposed to look like when you don't sub out all of the ingredients, including the pasta (for homemade okara gnocchi in this case) and get the recipe. I mostly kept the sauce ingredients the same, though, and the combination of olive oil, garlic, vegetable broth, white wine, lime juice, and lime zest is pure genius.

I stir-fried the second half of the fennel bulb in my version of this dish, and it was good, but not nearly as spectacular as the light sauté and simmer in the soup.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"Fronch" toast

From Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Vegan with a Vengeance. Found (uncredited) here, so here's your credit back, Isa: this stuff is marvelous! I've made it many times with all kinds of bread. For taste, whole wheat can't be beat. But for looks, I'll go with the white artisan anytime.

I halved this recipe, used all unsweetened soy milk in place of the creamer/soymilk mix (though this is one recipe where the commercial "original" soymilk flavours work just fine), and got enough for the two large slices of artisan bread you see pictured on this post, but no more.

Served here with a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar and peeled orange segments.

"Fronch" toast

1 small loaf of bread (white or whole wheat; a little stale and dry is best)
1/2 cup soy creamer or rice milk
1/2 cup soymilk
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup chickpea flour
3 tbsp vegetable oil

1. Pour the soy creamer and soy milk into a wide, shallow bowl. Mix the cornstarch and stir until dissolved. Add the chickpea flour and mix until mostly absorbed; some lumps are okay.

2. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add enough oil to creat a thin layer on the bottom (a tablespoon or two).

3. Soak the bread slices (as many as will fit in your pan) in the mixture and transfer to the skillet.

4. Cook each side for about 2 minutes; if they are not brown enough when you flip them, heat for 1 to 2 more minutes on each side. They should be golden brown with flecks of dark brown. Serve immediately.

Dimply plum cake

Adapted, barely, from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours, via Smitten Kitchen, where there are some lovely pictures of the process, and veganized by me. Google the recipe for many other examples of it online; it's blazed across the Internet like a major theme, for good reason. I've been half-consciously fixated on it ever since I saw the Smitten Kitchen post, and when I saw these beautiful plums on sale, I was done for.

The texture of this cake is superb, especially on the first day, firm in the middle and crunchy around the edges. It becomes softer overnight. The edges are so the best part that I would consider making it in muffin cups or those teeny little white crème brulee ramekins, each just big enough to hold a single plum half. Wouldn't that be adorable?

If you read Deb's post, you'll see she swapped the cardamom for cinnamon. I like cardamom, so I swapped it back, but in the end, both would be good.

Dimply Plum Cake

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
Scant 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
5 tbsp Earth Balance, at room temperature
3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
Substitutes for 2 large eggs (I used Ener-G Egg Replacer)
1/3 cup flavorless oil, such as canola or safflower
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
8 purple or red plums, halved and pitted

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan, dust the inside with flour, tap out the excess and put the pan on a baking sheet.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and cardamom together.

Working with a mixer, beat the Earth Balance at medium speed until it’s soft and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar and beat for another 3 minutes, then add whatever you're using in place of eggs. Still working on medium speed, beat in the oil, zest and vanilla; the batter will look smooth and creamy, almost satiny. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are incorporated.

Run a spatula around the bowl and under the batter, just to make sure there are no dry spots, then scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Arrange the plums cut side up in the batter, jiggling the plums a tad just so they settle comfortably into the batter (I actually had to press them in).

Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until the top is honey brown and puffed around the plums and a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 15 minutes before cutting.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Stir-fried greens with tofu + "papered" zucchini

This is the stir-fried greens (which here means gai lan) with tofu, garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes from here, along with some more zucchini sliced superfine with the vegetable peeler, then lightly fried with salt and pepper and served over soba noodles. Green and good...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Szechuan green beans

...from Robin Robertson's Vegan Planet, packed with extra garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes, plus brown rice stir fried with big chunks of fresh tofu, and zucchini cakes (this time I grated the zucchini and let it sit with a little salt for 20 minutes or so, squeezed it out, added besan flour and pepper, and fried it--even though I said before that you don't have to squeeze your zucchini, you get a crispier cake if you do). A salty, spicy, oily treat of a supper...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Root vegetable gratin + zucchini "noodles" with a balsamic reduction

What a great late summer meal! Who doesn't adore a crispy-on-the-outside-meltingly-tender-on-the-inside gratin? And this zucchini recipe is another one to die for—or, as it were, to live for, otherwise you won't be able to enjoy it again and again.

The gratin is potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, and turnips, all julienned and steamed in batches for about five minutes each, just until barely tender, then mixed with a spicy béchamel sauce (which I topped up with some added vegetarian broth powder) and baked in a shallow casserole for about 45 minutes, removing the casserole briefly about five minutes from the end to sprinkle on some almonzano (or you could add buttered breadcrumbs, but I didn't have any). Oh, my word! You'll see so many more gratins from me before the winter is ended.

Meanwhile, the zucchini is based on this recipe, but instead of cutting the zucchini with a knife, I used a vegetable peeler to peel off paper-thin slices. Did this work out well or what?

You'll need about one store-sized zucchini per person, and don't use anything bigger or you won't be able to get the slices off it, and don't try to fry more than one zucchini in one pan at one time—you want them fried, not steamed. Put the "noodles" into a non-stick pan with a generous splash of pre-heated olive oil and two cloves of garlic, sliced, some lemon pepper, and fry away until it seems perfectly done to your taste. Then spill it out onto a plate and drizzle the balsamic reduction (simply some balsamic vinegar cooked in a small pan until it reduces to about 1/3 its former volume, which takes about 10 minutes for approximately half a cup over medium-high heat) over it. Divine!

The beans are just steamed green beans with a little more of the lime-tarragon mayonnaise from the other night (I liked it so much I made more).

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Dehydration station

That's my place these days, partly because my deep freezer is temporarily too full to pack any tomatoes in there, partly because dehydrated vegetables are really tasty and neat. I can eat them straight off the tray. They even look pretty. Right now the dehydrating process is all about tomatoes (and a little bit about zucchini) because zucchini freezes badly, and tomatoes only freeze for sauce—there will be plenty of sauce too, in time.

Our dehydrator is probably 30 years old. It's electric, with a heating coil at the bottom, but nothing about it is adjustable except for the number of trays you stack up, and the size of the holes at the top for letting out moist air. It runs on the principle of convection—the air at the bottom heated by the coil rises, taking with it incidental moisture being expelled by the vegetables, and drawing fresh dry air in. The instruction booklet is long gone, so every time I get the thing out, I have to re-learn several lessons, which I repeat here for my future self and any readers finding themselves in the same predicament.

Don't fill the dehydrator too full, or the vegetables will take too long to dehydrate. How long is too long? In my case, if the tomato slices are still damp 24 hours after they've been put in, they'll develop mould. What does mould look like? On tomatoes, like sprinklings of white dots or powder, which, in a super macro closeup, resolve themselves into this:

This photograph was a real relief to me because when I first caught sight of the sprinkles I thought they were bug eggs. Insects don't go near the dehydrator, though; maybe its 140F temperature is too hot for them, or maybe they don't like to fly against the convection current.

Interestingly, the mould at this stage has no taste at all. However, I didn't want to take chances of it being somehow deadly poison (even though I ate some as an experiment with no ill effects) or an allergen (sending a guest to the emergency ward or the morgue isn't an experience any cook enjoys), so I threw out two batches before determining that, for tomatoes, four shelves at a time is the maximum. In the composter, the mould developed further into a beautiful pure white fuzz. Fruit flies seem to love it.

Slice the tomatoes no more than ¼ inch thick. Romas are great because they are less juicy than other kinds of tomato so they'll dry into slices thicker than a sheet of paper. Sheets of paper are fine too; they're just harder to get off the tray.

Rotate the shelves a few times during the next 16-24 hours to allow everybody to get some bottom time, where it's hotter, and then peel them off the trays and put them into a bowl or on a plate until they're completely cool:
I'm keeping my dried tomatoes in the freezer or I'll pack them in olive oil, so I'm not paranoid about getting every last molecule of water out, but of course if you're planning to store them in jars or bags or take them on hiking trips as part of a soup mix, you want them totally, crackably, shatterably dry.

Once I got over the distress of losing my mouldy batches, the process became really fun and it certainly isn't time consuming (for me personally with preparation and the like) or messy, so I think I'll keep the dehydrator out and try a few other things, maybe even some molecular cuisine. That's…oh…months in the future though, once the tomatoes are gone.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Rebar's botanical burgers

Vegans, here's an informal quiz: How many of you have ever attended a barbecue hosted by omnis and found yourselves, for one reason or another, saying stoically, "Oh, don't worry about me, I'll just have a bun with condiments—don't they look scrumptious!" and then…enjoying your meal enormously and maybe having seconds, or even thirds, it was so good? All of you? I thought so. Who could ever have gagged down a hot dog or hamburger without the mustard, relish, ketchup, mayonnaise, pickles, tomato, avocado, lettuce, onions, and all the other good things that make those foods as fun to eat as candy?

That said, I'm always on the lookout for a good vegan protein element to serve with all these delicious condiments. Granted, it's been 32 years since I've tasted meat, but I've got a persistent culinary prejudice that burgers should be firm on the inside, crunchy on the outside, and when they come apart, they should do so in big chunks. Sometimes they're dry, but they're never mushy.

Now, I never liked the taste or smell of meat, and most of the time the texture of it made me feel sick, but in my opinion a burger of whatever kind should have the above noted qualities. When will I abandon my quest for the perfect vegan burger? I don't know. Maybe never. That's one reason I prefer balls to burgers: I don't have textural expectations of balls.

My stars were aligned this week—when it would ever occur again that I would happen to have all the multifarious ingredients for Rebar's botanical burgers in stock at one time I could not even imagine, so my deciding to try them was, as it were, fated. On the whole, I'm glad I did. Apart from anything else, they were a real contrast to my recent spate of rather colourless meals. These are colourful and visually pleasing in every way. You could use this image as your desktop background, it's that pretty:

They are also strangely delicious. Maybe it's the hazelnuts. Maybe the tarragon. Maybe it's just the genius combination of everything. They really tasted good. But they were mushy. I followed the recipe. I added lots of extra starch. I weighed my patties. I cooked them sloooooowly to try to dry them out. But they were not firm on the inside. They were not crispy on the outside. They did not break apart into large pieces. Eating this burger, I thanked my same stars that I was eating alone because the mess was just out of this world (though I admit, it was a fun kind of mess, with condiments everywhere, scooping up bits and pieces of things with my fingers and so on while my house filled up with bad-tempered, hungry autumn wasps attracted by the fragrant odours, so there was a powerful element of anxiety and suspense to this meal as well as just the usual spirit of scientific experimentation).

As always with the Rebar recipes, the sauce in the little sidebar that was recommended to go with the burgers, called lime-tarragon mayonnaise, totally and utterly rocked, even though all it was was Veganaise with a little lime zest and tarragon added: intermingled, these ingredients became so much more than the sum of their parts.

Would I make this again? Let's see how the balls turn out. I couldn't face putting together just ½ cup zucchini, ½ cup beets and so on, so I made the full recipe. Besides the four burgers pictured in this post, I got around 40 walnut-sized balls, which are now safely frozen and awaiting regeneration at some future date.

Admit it, this looks fantastic:

And, the recipe, found here and reproduced for you:

Botanical burgers
from Rebar: modernfoodcookbook

2 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup grated carrot
1 cup grated turnip
1 cup grated beets
1 cup grated zucchini, water squeezed out
2 tsp salt
1 tsp dried dill weed
1 tsp cracked pepper
1 cup mashed potatoes
1 cup cooked brown rice
½ cup hazelnuts, roasted
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
2 tbsp tarragon, minced
2 tbsp parsley, minced
Fresh breadcrumbs (optional)

Heat oil in a wide-bottomed pan and sauté onion until translucent. Add garlic, grated vegetables, dill, salt and pepper. Stir thoroughly and cook for 10 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring regularly. Transfer to a large bowl and cool. Place cooled vegetables, rice, and hazelnuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely combined. Transfer to a large bowl and mix in all of the remaining ingredients. Season to taste. Take a handful of the mix and test it to see if it holds together. If not, add breadcrumbs, ½ cup at a time until the mixture firms. Shape into 5 oz patties and sauté in olive oil until browned on both sides.

On edit: Forget the frying pan. Dredge them in whole wheat flour and bake them on a heavily greased pan at 350F for half an hour. The texture then becomes much, much better. Oh, happy day!