Monday, September 20, 2010

Potato and zucchini omelet with scorched tomato sauce

Today's supper is more or less courtesy of Anna Thomas, from her Vegetarian Epicure: Book Two, and it does, in accordance with the current necessities of my life, incorporate the entire holy trinity of tomatoes, zucchini, and cucumber.  And it's delicious and contains a genius technique, to boot.

Genius technique of Anna Thomas: scorched tomatoes.  You know how recipes often call for tomatoes, peeled.  Until today, the only easy way I knew of to peel tomatoes was to freeze them, then thaw them out a little in warm water and slip their skins off.  That's a good way, but this is actually better because (1) the scorching gives the tomatoes an extra flavour boost; and (2) quite a bit of water comes out of them while they're being scorched; this can be poured off and you're that much further ahead in your sauce-making.  You don't, of course, require cherry tomatoes for this recipe, but that's what I have, and they really are so darn cute.  Put them in a pan and place the pan under the broiler, shifting them around once or twice until they're partly charred. 

Take them out of the oven, pour off any water that has accumulated in the pan, cool the tomatoes somewhat so you don't burn yourself, then slip the skins off.  Yes, they slip right off!

Now to make the sauce, I heated a little Earth Balance with some dried basil, thyme, turmeric, and pepper, and, when bubbling, added the tomatoes.  These cherries just cooked down to a nice paste all by themselves in a short time, but if you were using larger ones, you might need to chop them up and/or use a blender.  My sauce was very sweet from the tomatoes alone--next time I think I'd add something that would complement this, such as, perhaps, brandy.

For the omelet, parboil potatoes for about 5 minutes in salted boiling water; after about 2 minutes, add diced zucchini.  When the potatoes are still not-quite-tender, drain them and set them aside, while you fry onions and a few mushrooms in olive oil. 

Add the potato-zucchini mixture, a little dried dill, some red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste, and continue to cook until the potatoes are tender and a little brown:

For the omelet, I used my favorite recipe from Vegan Brunch, but this time (gasp!) changed it a little, in that instead of the nutritional yeast I used Joanne Stepaniak's All-season blend (see my sidebar for the recipe), and added quite a bit of water so the omelet was very thin.  I really liked it this way.  I also sprinkled on some black salt when it was nearly done.  Goodness me, by this time I was dancing around the (rather messy, by now) kitchen in my eagerness to eat.

But first, I made a little cucumber salad, just cucumber julienned with the coolest new tool that I will feature in a future post, mixed with just a bit of rice vinegar, roasted sesame oil, and salt and pepper.  This is a very nice mix, and took mere seconds to put together. was everything I had hoped for.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini, oh my!

Tragedy has struck our local ecosystem, and we had two nights of hard frost.  Sometimes this doesn't happen until October, but this year, bad luck.  It's supposed to snow tonight.  Anyway, we had advance warning, so I was out and picked all my sweet millions before the plants unfortunately froze to death.  There were millions, and now they're in my basement.  This is the "before" picture.  The "after" picture is much the same except that all of the tender plants are now brown.  The parents likewise had to bring in their hot weather crops, so the result (in my tiny personal world) is that I'll be blogging all this stuff for the next little while. 

So for the moment it's goodbye, Asian cuisine, hello Mediterranean!  That's okay, because I needed to be catapulted out of my rut.  So, yes, here are some nice meals I've had lately using garden ingredients.

Incidentally, it's interesting to see what assumptions cookbook authors make about their readers.  In their header notes to the Velvety carrot and ginger soup, shown here, the authors of The Candle Cafe Cookbook write "It's even more nutritious when you can find just-dug, farm-fresh carrots from your local market."  How about just-dug, fresh carrots from your own garden?  But maybe they don't have those in New York...the soup, however, was excellent.  I always have to get over (yet another of my many) irrational prejudices, this one against creamed soups which somehow have been classified in my mind (I blame you, Mom) as "not food."  The recipe is here, "adapted" (oh my god, de-veganized!), so sub vegetable broth for the other thing and leave out the tomato puree and veganize everything else and you'll be good to go.  I just loved this soup, and instead of a pinch of cayenne I used about a teaspoon of it, so it was bright orange and very fiery.  Note the beet chips used for garnish, an idea which I stole from Rose's blog Dandelion. This is a very good way to cook beets!

Next up, zucchini pancakes from Canadian Living.  I subbed urad flour for the eggs just as an experiment, but with non-spectacular results.  The recipe could be veganized any way, and I don't think you even would need to sub anything at all for the eggs.  I liked it though; the cornmeal gave it a nice crunch.

Then I got into Donna Klein's The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen.  This is an interesting vegan cookbook for many good reasons, one among which is that she isn't into substitutions at all.  There are no meat or cheese analogues in any of her recipes, and I'll be corrected if I'm wrong, but her recipes don't even seem to call for non-dairy milk.  So I had to balance her out a little with Bryanna Clark Grogan in this meal.  Here's a dish that uses my sweet millions, Sauteed cherry tomatoes with Mediterranean herbs.  It's simple, but brilliant.  You saute the tomatoes in oil, so they go from this:

to this:

with just a few chopped herbs, and salt and pepper to taste.  You can serve this as is, or add it to another dish, which I did, to her Zucchini-lemon couscous (to which I also added some giant lima beans).  The dish in the making: 

Served here with a kabocha squash gratin and Bryanna Clark Grogan's Hot Italian sausage, formed not into sausages, which IMO would be kind of gross, but into innocent round balls, which are delicious and somehow non-gross.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bat nuts

I promise, this is not the way my October is going to go.  I saw these in the vegetable section of my local oriental market and, with no idea whatsoever what they were, brought them home.  They're European water caltrops, also known as bat nuts, bull nuts, devil's pod (for obvious reasons), and a variety of other names, including Jesuit nuts, and (one of) their Chinese name(s), ling jiao

They're called caltrops after the vicious four-spiked medieval weapon (the caltrops in my post have two spikes, but some varieties have four), and believe me, you wouldn't want to step on one. 

Here's the innocent-looking plant they grow from:

There are also some nice photos over here.  Water caltrops are the nuts of the aquatic plant Trapa bicornis.  In some areas of North America they are apparently growing out of control and have been designated a noxious weed.  In China (I read) they are cultivated and considered lucky because one of their Chinese names, fu, is the same as the Chinese word for happiness.  The Chinese Mid-Autumn festival is coming up, and these nuts are sometimes served as a traditional food for it, boiled or roasted.  So much for my erudition, picked up here and there on the Internet over the last day or so, before which I had never even heard of these creatures. 

So, okay, what are they like?  Well, you see them:

I admit to some difficulty working up any kind of enthusiasm about the prospect of eating fact I had to try very hard to get over the idea that it didn't want to be eaten. 

The shell is very tough and brittle.  You need a nut cracker or pliers to crack it open.  But don't eat the meat raw--it's toxic that way!  So are cashews and lima beans, so I could get over that.  What was a little (okay, a lot) more scary was that you can apparently sometimes get worms from these nuts.  But, bravely, I forged ahead.  I hope I don't get worms.

The nuts seemed fresh, but they had a faint unpleasant sewage-y smell, even after a vigorous washing and brushing, that grew more unpleasant as I worked with them.  I tried boiling them for 20 minutes with some star anise, as recommended here:

Despite the anise, the smell intensified, and I am almost positive that the star anise was added to the "recipe" to mask it, since the anise taste doesn't actually get into the nut meat.  It was nauseating enough that I opened all the windows to allow it free passage out of the house.

The cooked bat nut (which still had to be cracked open with pliers):

What does it taste like?  The taste was like chestnuts, sort of fresh-but-nothing-much.  The bad smell seemed concentrated in the shells.  The texture of the cooked nut was powdery and starchy, and I don't know how you would get the meat out whole (though no doubt there is a way: if they can do it with Brazil nuts they can do it with these).

Yes, these would make great Halloween decorations, if not for the scent, which though it departed quickly from my house, has made itself at home in my memory and I won't be buying these again...though I like the idea of a Mid-Autumn Festival a lot...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Lion's head meatballs (with okara) + experiments with rice and nut milks

This has been a strange food month for me because all I've really wanted to cook and eat are hot pots and noodle bowls, and I have made literally dozens of them by now.  I'm not quite sure what the deal is with that, why they're so irresistible to me, but I think it has something to do with their being light (i.e., served in broth rather than a thick sauce), and not based on onions (though I love onions), and the whole arranging-everything-so-prettily-in-the-pot-thing has bewitched me entirely.  And also in the fall for some reason I always crave Asian food.  Then I went away on a holiday where I was forced to eat other dishes, delicious ones cooked by others and by me, but not hot pots, and I just couldn't wait to get home and have a steaming, fragrant, colourful hot pot and indeed had to restrain myself from having it for breakfast the day after I got back, and managed (just) to hold off until lunch!

So I think I'm just going to have to give in and post about them, because one post in two weeks is just not acceptable, especially when I've been cooking and experimenting the whole time.  But I'll do my best to make them all different, introduce new recipes and techniques and so on so it won't be too boring and samey.

Plus, because it's relevant here, I'll take this opportunity to announce my VeganMoFo 2010 theme, which is to try something new (to me) every day during the month of October.  Not new recipes, since I do that all the time, but new ingredients.  They may be things that some of you eat almost daily, like grits, or something perhaps not many of you have even heard of, like natto or bat nuts, but they'll all be new to me.

A bat nut: tell me you've ever seen anything this creepy at the grocery store...
 Another thing that happened when I returned from my holiday (which by the way was visiting my brother Bert and favorite SIL Pieternella along with the rest of my family near Kelowna, British Columbia, where we had a lovely time--if you click on the Flickr link in the sidebar you'll see pictures of deer and bighorn sheep that were taken basically in their backyard, neat-o!) was that I had no soymilk and no soaked soybeans on hand.  So after experiencing shame about cooking the same dish every day for two weeks I decided to step out of the box milk-wise at least and try some of the other recipes in my SoyQuick instruction book.

The pictures are underwhelming, as you might expect, but what you see here is rice milk made with jasmine rice and shredded coconut on the left, and plain jasmine rice milk with no coconut on the right.  I can tell you that rice milk made with jasmine rice smells absolutely wonderful, like wildly, headily great, and the fragrance stays with it throughout its incarnations in smoothies, etc.  The texture of rice milk is slightly glutinous, and you can see the plain rice milk is somewhat translucent.  Neither kind was very good in a latte, in my opinion, but on the plus side I didn't have to soak the rice before making the milk, and it only needed one filtering through the filter that came with the maker, so there was hardly any mess and the whole process from measuring the rice to the end of cleanup took little more than 20 minutes--plus, and it's a nice plus, the rice milk "okara" is basically rice pudding, and very tasty on its own!  The rice-coconut "okara" I ate with a little brown sugar and rice milk as rice pudding, and the plain rice "okara" I had with a little zucchini dal that I made for lunch--both ways were delicious, so there was no waste at all.

The dal
Then I tried almond milk, which was okay, but in my opinion the above plusses for the rice milk didn't really apply.  I got about 3/4 cup of "okara" which was pretty tasteless and fibrous and though I did do something with it, one is faced with the same problems as with soy okara.  I followed the directions in the book to soak the blanched, slivered almonds for 12 hours on the counter and another 12 in the refrigerator, which the SoyQuick people claimed would keep it from separating (true, it did).  The milk is very white and better for lattes than the rice milk but still not as tasty as soy, in my opinion.  Plus, it was very much more expensive.  The almond milk didn't have much taste, though the colour and texture were nice, very white and opaque.  Again, though, I filtered this through just a gold filter right into its storage container and only had to do it the once, so apart from soaking the time involved, and the cleanup, were minimal.   Next up, mung bean milk!

So with the almond okara, I made meatballs.  These are based on the ones from Bryanna Clark Grogan's Authentic Chinese Cuisine, which I have made several times in the past, always with good success.  Lion's head meatballs are traditionally made with pork and if you look up recipes for them you'll see that everybody has a theory about where the name came from, and every recipe is different, but the unifying feature is that these meatballs are big.  So is the head of a male lion, so, er...anyway, this is another good use for okara:

Lion's head "meatballs"
adapted from Bryanna Clark Grogan's Authentic Chinese Cuisine
serves 4

1 cup TVP
3/4 cup warm water
3 tbsp soy sauce (or 2 tbsp regular soy sauce and 1 tbsp mushroom soy sauce)
2 tbsp dry sherry or sake
3/4 cup well-squeezed okara, almond milk "okara", or mashed tofu
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 large garlic cloves, mashed
1 tbsp roasted sesame oil
1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup gluten powder

oil for pan frying

In a medium bowl, stir together the TVP, the warm water, 2 tbsp of the soy sauce, and 2 tbsp sherry or sake.  As you prepare the other ingredients, except the gluten flour, just place them on top of this mixture, then when everything is in the bowl, mix it up well.  Wait to add the gluten powder until the mixture is cool, or it will congeal into unappetizing strings.

After you've added the gluten, form the mixture into 16 golfball-sized balls.  My mixture seemed a little wet, but it kept its shape well, which seems to be the test.

Heat a non-stick pan to medium-high.  When hot, so that drops of water bounce off the surface, add about 2 tbsp canola or other oil, and when the oil is hot, add the meatballs.  I did mine in two batches and had to add extra oil at various times.  Move the meatballs around to brown them on all sides.  You're not cooking them at this point, just browning them, so it should only take a few minutes.  The meatballs will be very delicate, so treat them kindly.  Once they're browned, remove to a plate.

Now, ahem, build your hot pot.  Traditionally, this dish is cooked only on chopped cabbage, but where's the fun in that?  Keep in mind that you will be steaming the meatballs with the vegetables but that the meatballs will fall apart if they're boiled right in a broth, so you'll need to raise them up on top of the vegetables.  For this reason, a smaller, higher pot is better.  I cooked four of the meatballs in a small saucepan and froze the rest.

Pile up chopped cabbage and, on top of that, anything else you're using, and lay the meatballs carefully on top.  Make a fragrant little broth.  This one is based on Bryanna's, and is for the whole recipe, not just four meatballs in a little pot, so if you're making less you'll want to adjust accordingly:

1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
2 tbsp light soy cauce
1/2 tbsp sugar or sweetener of choice
1/2 tbsp cornstarch

Mix all this together well and pour it into the pot.  Looking down into the pot, you shouldn't be able to see any liquid.

Cover, bring to a quick boil over high heat, then turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes.  If you're adding quick-cooking ingredients like snow peas, add them after the 15 minutes are up and cook another minute or so.

Serve hot, over rice, or in this case over a multi-grain mix (Kingo brand, which I bought at the oriental market, containing short grain brown rice, hulless barley, French red rice, rye berries, purple barley, black China/Japonica rice, and no, I couldn't resist taking a super-macro shot).  This looks a bit gross in the bowl, but the taste is lovely, very chewy and flavourful; I was experimenting and added a bit too much water.

End result: thumbs up; I love these meatballs.  Okay, I love all meatballs...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hortopita #2

The parental CSA
Ooh, I hit the vegetable motherlode this weekend over at the parents', and they sent me home with lots of good things from their garden, some of which, like the beet greens, wouldn't last long, so I made another hortopita.  This one was very similar to the one I did in July, only it's made from leftover phyllo scraps rather than whole rectangles cut to fit the pan. 

If you're afraid of phyllo dough, don't be.  It's very easy to work with; cutting the pieces to fit the pan before you make your dish also helps!

I also used a different technique for the greens, one that Katee brought back from her last trip to Greece.  Made this way, you don't pre-cook the greens at all, but wash them, cut them up fine, and rub them with salt.  Then leave them to drain for half an hour or so, and squeeze as much water out of them as you can with your hands.

The filling was these greens (beet greens, broccoli rabe, arugula), along with drained and well-pressed tofu, nutritional yeast, ground walnuts, dill, lots of chopped green onions, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.

I'm not going to even try to give measurements--this dish is very forgiving of everything except wetness and so long as the end result is relatively dry, you can make it however you like.

The phyllo scraps, as you might expect, get layered, slightly overlapping, in the pan.  After 6-8 such layers, each brushed with olive oil, add half the filling and gently press down, add two more layers of phyllo, the rest of the filling, and top it off with more layers of phyllo:

Bake at 350F for about half an hour, until hot and golden brown:

If you can wait until it cools to cut it, you'll get nicer slices (I couldn't wait so mine are a little messy). 

Served here with Greek meatballs, which were a riff on Bryanna Clark Grogan's polpetti from Nonna's Italian Kitchen, but with mint instead of oregano, and baked in tomato sauce, along with a simple tomato and cucumber salad and Italian bread to eat it with.  Yum!