Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tortilla a la paisana

This is a recipe adapted from Anna Thomas's The Vegetarian Epicure: Book Two. I bought this and The Vegetarian Epicure: Book One not too long after they were published, in the 1970s, and must say that in many ways they shaped my culinary tastes. Reading through them now, I can see they're dated and written by a young person. For instance, back then even vegetarians were absolutely paranoid about where they were going to get their protein, so these recipes are very, very high in cheese, eggs, cream, sour cream, butter, and every other kind of dairy product you can imagine, which seems extreme today, but honestly were just par for the course in the 1970s whether you were omni, vegetarian, or whatever—the word vegan was coined in 1944 but take my word for it, in 1972 and 1978 when these books were published, not a lot of people knew what it meant. These were the books I learned to cook from. Soufflés, rye bread, pumpkin corn bread, cream of carrot soup, béchamel sauce, spinach and cheese gnocchi, fried mozzarella, oh my god the memories! I would weigh 400 pounds and have a heart condition if I were still cooking like that today, but this, my friends, was good food.

The books contain sentences like "This two-hours-later course is especially recommended if grass is smoked socially at your house. If you have passed a joint around before dinner to sharpen gustatory perceptions, you most likely will pass another one after dinner, and everyone knows what that will do…" Well, it was another world.

My copies of both volumes are lovingly bound together with duct tape.

Imagine the thrill, so many years later, of hearing that Anna Thomas was coming out with a third volume, The New Vegetarian Epicure. I was so standing in line to buy it! But I guess the new part referred to the inclusion of recipes for roast turkey and chicken stock as a regular ingredient, WTF? I couldn't get over it. No matter how often I tried to give that book a chance, my fingers would automatically riffle with horrified fascination through to her husband's (?) extremely graphic roast turkey recipe ("Even the vegetarians want to try a slice of my roast turkey.") Uh, no. They don't. Or they're not, you know, vegetarians. Anna, if you are no longer a vegetarian, that's your choice, but calling your book The New Vegetarian Epicure was an epic error. If you'd just called it something neutral, like Lorna Sass did after she reverted, I'd have been able to deal. I own many omni cookbooks, but for heaven's sake, roast turkey? On a spit? In a recipe fully three pages long and set on specially coloured pages so you can't possibly miss it? You must really, really love your husband. Probably you have suffered enough already over this unwise decision, if even I, a normally pacificistic and gentle person, am thrown into such a violent excess of rage by it that wouldn't even publish my review, but I had to give the book to charity and you have lost my love and my money for all time in the future.

But your two first cookbooks remain classics in my world. I can't help it. Even though I'm vegan now and have to veganize nearly every recipe, I don't care. I still love them. I'm imprinted.

So, in the spirit of cooking for one, I give you the following:

Tortilla a la paisana
adapted from The Vegetarian Epicure: Book Two and Vegan Brunch
serves 1

Omelet ingredients (this is basically 1/3 of the divine and ever-versatile tofu omelet from Vegan Brunch)
1 small garlic clove
1/3 lb fresh or silken tofu
2 tsp nutritional yeast
2 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp chickpea (besan) flour
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch or arrowroot

Throw all this into a blender and puree until smooth, adding a little water if you need to to make it blend. Set aside.

Tortilla ingredients
1/2 small potato, peeled and finely diced
1/4 medium-sized onion, finely diced
1/2 medium sized carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup green peas, fresh or frozen (I used edamame because that's all I had and it worked out very well)
1/4 cup sweet red pepper, finely diced
salt and pepper

In a non-stick pan, heat the olive oil, and, when hot, add the potato, onion, and carrot and stir fry for about 3 minutes. Add the peas and red pepper, and continue to cook until the potato is just tender, about 5 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper.

Now stir up the omelet mixture one more time and pour it over the vegetables, shaking the pan gently to distribute the mixture evenly. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and cook the tortilla for about 10 minutes, or until the omelet is set.

Loosen the edges of the tortilla with a knife or spatula. Turn a large plate upside down and place it over the pan like a lid. Holding the plate in place, overturn the pan quickly, dropping the tortilla onto the plate. Slide the tortilla carefully back into the pan and brown the other side for a few minutes (I was careful, but my tortilla still stuck to the plate. Don't fret, it will still be great!).

The tortilla may be served at any temperature, from hot to very cool.

This was served with some shredded cabbage--purple, green, and Chinese--stir fried in Earth Balance with a little nutmeg, salt, and pepper; some mango salsa from Rebar; and Champinones a la plancha also from The Vegetarian Epicure: Book Two, which are essentially mushrooms sautéed in Earth Balance, garlic, and white wine and seasoned with parsley and salt and pepper (enokis were on special at the Asian market this week so I used those but any mushroom would have been just as good). I also topped it with some plain cashew cheese, which I am liking more and more the more I eat it. As you can see, it even melted a little!

What a great meal! Challenging, yet rewarding. Delicious, and I also got to vent about Anna Thomas in public, which I have been dying to do for years. A great day!


  1. The tortilla really looks and sounds great. And I loved your Anna Thomas vent. I also own a well-loved original copy of "The Vegetarian Epicure" but never bought the others so I didn't even know about the turkey. Did you know she just came out with a soup cookbook that is vegetarian and vegan? (I reviewed it on my blog.) The recipes are deliciously modern, and may redeem her memory for you. I think one or both of her sons are vegan, and they influenced her recipes!

  2. I totally agree about TNVE. Strangely enough, the recipes that are vegetarian aren't even that good. I should get rid of my copy because I never use it.

  3. PS what is your cashew cheese recipe, or is it a product you bought?

  4. Andrea and Stacy, thanks for your comments! Checking for a Look Inside on for Love Soup (there isn't one) so I could read a little of the introduction, I looked up TNVE as well, and see that there are other huffy reviewers out there besides me. I agree with you, Stacy, about the general lack of appeal of the recipes, too, which was one reason, but not the main reason, I gave it up. I wish AT well, from a distance.

    The cheese recipe I used was adapted from The Uncheese Cookbook, and was basically the Swiss Cheeze without the nutritional yeast or dill seed. You can find it, and several others, online at But there are a lot of really interesting looking cashew cheese recipes out there...

  5. What a colorful, fresh, delicious meal! When I went vegetarian at 14, my mother bought me a copy of The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. It was the only vegetarian cookbook she knew about (there weren't many in the early 90s), and she was afraid I would starve. I learned a lot about cooking from that book (especially how to make yeasted bread from scratch), and I still enjoy the illustrations, but many of the recipes taste dated now. Lots of 70s hippie health food flavors. How far vegetarian/vegan cuisine has come!

  6. Mary, I'm so there with you! I have all of those early Moosewood cookbooks, but like you, find most of the recipes from the first two a little bland and health-foody for today's tastes. But I loved them then and love them now anyway, if only for the memories. They were so cool back in the day! Their coolness lingers in my memory... Not so with Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home and presumably anything after that, which are just plain good cookbooks. Er, we must be pretty much the same would be kind of neat to do a pastiche of recipes from these old books, to show where we started, and, as you say, how very far we have come.